Magic OR Brains?

I enjoy paranormal fiction, but reality can be extraordinary, too. Detectives can use deductive reasoning, careful observations and creative thinking to put together the solution to a mystery without the help of supernatural powers. Since I read, and write, conventional mystery fiction AND stories with paranormal elements, I’m conscious of how and when magic fits into the mix.

All too often, a magical power becomes the edge that enables detective (amateur or professional) to prevail. I recently read an interesting mystery set in London’s West End Theater District. Being a theater geek, I was charmed by the setting and really enjoyed the backstage scenes.

The premise was that the son of a prominent family of actors bombs out on his first foray on stage and disappoints the family by leaving the theater to become a cop. He returns to solve a theater-related murder, sent largely because of his insider knowledge of the theater.

The author had me in thrall until the detective gains his special insights from ghostly visitations. He could just have easily ascertained important information by simply being smart and having an unusual combination of skills and background.

Oh, well… sometimes I love it when the detective calls on magical powers, but sometimes the only power is high wattage grey matter. Magic OR Brains… Magic AND Brains… Lots of things to think about while writing!


  1. I have a super low tolerance for magical elements in writing and in movies, but love it when they’re done well. Hubby hates seeing sci-fi or fantasy flicks with me because the WHY part of my brain always goes into overdrive.

    • Candy Korman

      For me, it’s a choice… like chocolate/hazelnut OR black-cherry/vanilla. They are both good choices but the key is to make the choice that works for the characters and the story. When the story is better served by a Sherlock-ian brain, using deductive reasoning, keen observations and an encyclopedic mind, than the cherry vanilla supernatural powers undermine the character’s intelligence, by making it too easy for the investigator. But when paranormal works, it’s MAGIC!

  2. Candy, this is something I struggle with in my Riga Hayworth series (not trying to make this about me, but your post really resonated). I try to write it so Riga acquires clues, not answers, using both down-to-earth detecting and magical powers, but it’s tough to maintain the balance. When does one cross the line?

    • Candy Korman

      As I’m a Riga Hayworth fan, I totally approve of your mix. Riga’s magical abilities are like a great sense of smell or a particularly astute mind — unusual skill sets that aid but don’t miraculously give her the answers. That, to me, is where the balance hangs. I’m getting bored by detectives that rely on magic… if you pardon the literary reference, it’s too much Deus Ex Machina and not enough Sherlock Holmes. When there’s a mix that feels real, it’s not a cheat.

      Keep writing ’em right up to that line!