Two Murders in One Book: A Story-Within-a-Story

by V.M. (Valerie) Burns

Each book in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series features a story-within-a-story. My protagonist, Samantha Washington and her late husband, Leon, dreamed of quitting their jobs and owning a mystery bookshop. When her husband dies, Samantha realizes life is too short not to follow your dreams. So, she quits her job, buys the building she and Leon always dreamed about, and opens a mystery bookshop. Owning a bookshop that specializes in mysteries was a dream Sam shared with her husband. However, she also had another dream. She dreamed of writing British historic cozy mysteries, which she does to fill her time after her husband’s death. Each book in the Mystery Bookshop mystery series includes two mysteries, the mystery that Sam is solving in her real life and the British historic cozy mystery that she’s writing.

People often ask, what inspired me to write a story-within-a-story. The truth is this series didn’t start out that way. When I first started to flesh out the idea for the series, my initial plan was that the only murders would take place in the book that my protagonist was writing. I didn’t plan on having Sam solve a murder in her personal life at all. This is where I got the title for the first book, THE PLOT IS MURDER. My theory was that it would be more realistic that way and I wouldn’t have dead bodies littering the streets of the small fictional town of North Harbor, Michigan. However, I wondered if mystery readers would be satisfied with that. Then, I had my eureka moment. What if, I had two mysteries? The protagonist would solve a mystery in her life AND there would also be a murder to solve in the book she was writing. As a mystery lover, I thought that would be a book I would want to read. As an author, I wondered, what was I thinking? It’s hard enough to write one mystery. How was I going to write two?

I tackled the task of writing two mysteries in every book the same way you eat an elephant—one bite at a time. When I started, I didn’t have an elaborate plan (or much of a plan at all). I knew I wanted parallels between my two storylines. My thought was that writing the British historic cozy would help my protagonist (Samantha) solve the mystery in her real life. So, if Sam was faced with a locked room mystery, then there would be a locked room mystery in the book she was writing. 

Another common question I get is whether I write the stories separately or simultaneously. For me personally, I write in sequence. I have friends who can write scenes out of order. However, I can’t do that. I have to write in order. Occasionally, I get stuck (it might be more than occasionally) and I have to move forward and come back and finish a scene later, but that’s about all I can do out of sequence. It’s probably just a personal quirk (I’ve got quite a few). 

My best advice for writing, whether it’s a story-within-a-story, a stand-alone, a series, short story, whatever, is to figure out what works for you and do that. Writing isn’t a one size fits all activity. Just because one method works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Each person and each writer is different. Writing a book from beginning to end is hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to be someone else. Also, keep in mind that everyone doesn’t like the story-within-a-story concept. I’ve heard from readers who found it distracting and have told me they skip the British historic cozy. I’ve also heard from readers who prefer the British historic cozy over the contemporary mystery. Every person is different with their own unique likes and dislikes. It will be impossible to please everyone. As a writer, all you can do is focus on writing the best book you possibly can. Keep your fingers crossed. With perseverance, hard work, and a great deal of luck, your dreams can come true, just like Samantha Washington.

Tourist Guide to Murder_TRD

While visiting the land of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth Samantha Washington finds herself on a tragical mystery tour . . .
Sam joins Nana Jo and her Shady Acres Retirement Village friends Irma, Dorothy, and Ruby Mae on a weeklong trip to London, England, to experience the Peabody Mystery Lovers Tour. The chance to see the sights and walk the streets that inspired Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle is a dream come true for Sam—and a perfect way to celebrate her new publishing contract as a mystery author.
But between visits to Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel district and 221B Baker Street, Major Horace Peabody is found dead, supposedly of natural causes. Despite his employer’s unfortunate demise, the tour guide insists on keeping calm and carrying on—until another tourist on their trip also dies under mysterious circumstances. Now it’s up to Sam and the Shady Acres ladies to mix and mingle among their fellow mystery lovers, find a motive, and turn up a murderer . . .

You can read more about Samantha Washington in the other Mystery Bookshop Mysteries.






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About the author


V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in Northwestern Indiana. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International, Southeast Mystery Writers of America, and is on the national board for Sisters in Crime. V.M. Burns is also the Agatha Award nominated author of The Plot is Murder, the first book in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series; and the RJ Franklin Mystery series. She now lives in Eastern Tennessee with her two poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.



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This article was posted for V. M. Burns by Jackie Houchin.


Author: Jackie Houchin

First, I am a believer in Jesus Christ, so my views and opinions are filtered through what God's Word says and I believe. I'm a wife, a mom, a grandma and now a great grandma. I write articles and reviews, and I dabble in short fiction. I enjoy living near the ocean, doing gardening (for beauty and food) and traveling - in other countries, if possible. My heart is for Christian missions, and I'm compiling a collections of Missionary Kids' stories to publish. (I also like kittens and cats and reading mysteries.)

16 thoughts on “Two Murders in One Book: A Story-Within-a-Story”

  1. Valerie,
    how brave you are to tackle the story-within-a–story structure. Congratulations! I appreciate your line of thinking through your Eueka! moment and making it work successfully enough for the nomination. I sort of fell into the same pit myself with my current novel and as you pointed out, it isn’t easy to keep the two plot lines sensible and readers satisfied. Many thanks. Interesting how solutions often pop up when least expected. Good luck with your next tome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words and I appreciate all of the warm wishes. It isn’t easy to write one book, let alone, two-in-one, but as a reader, I enjoy it. I’m thankful that many readers have enjoyed it too. Best of luck with your novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fun idea–two mysteries in one! I’m sure that’s not easy to write, but it’s great that you do it. Haven’t read them before, but I will now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda,
      Thank you so much. It’s not easy to write, but it can be a lot of fun, too. So glad to hear you’re going to give the series a try. I hope you enjoy the mysteries.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re absolutely right when you say, “writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity”, and how each author needs to find the style that suits them. You also changed your initial concept after considering how readers would react to it, something many writers fail to do. Very good advice throughout. Thanks for a great post, Valerie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miko,
      I think with age comes a certain amount of wisdom. Life is short. We need to read and write the books that make us happy. Hopefully, others will enjoy them too. Thank you so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Valerie certainly caught my attention with her mystery within a mystery. Why not? And the fact she ties the two mysteries together will probably be easier for those who think this might not be a good idea. The double-plot will help the reader as well as the two protagonists solve the crimes. Thanks for dropping by our blog today, Valerie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How fun! I love the idea. The Liturgical Mysteries did something similar. The protagonist wanted to write a Raymond Chandler type book. Done for pure comedy in his books. I just bought the first one in the series and look forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I totally loved the latest book and was mezmerized with how she kept both mysteries going. It was fun to read. Thanks again, Valerie, for being a guest on our blog. Good luck with both series.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Valerie, I am so glad you joined us! (Sorry that I’m late to the party – just dealing with a few dramas here!) I love the journey you’ve taken and can’t wait to read your books – especially the England side of it. You have an interesting concept there – and I admire your writing discipline of running two stories simultaneously. Thanks for joining us…

    Liked by 1 person

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