Tag Archives: mystery genre

November 24, 2014

Recently, at the Bouchercon in Long Beach, CA, there was a panel that did us all proud. A large group of mystery writers, both women and men, gathered together to recommend writers who have undersold . . . in other words, writers OTHER WRITERS feel haven’t gotten the attention and sales they deserved. Instead of recommending individual books I’ve read this month, I’m going to recreate that list. I hope some of you will look up the books they’ve written, and maybe buy one or two. If you’d like to read more, and find out who recommending each writer, go to any of these sites: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Murder by the Book (Houston).

  • Sara Gran
  • Steve Mosby
  • Deborah Coonts
  • Dennis Tafoya
  • Margaret Lawrence
  • Tracy Kiely
  • Amanda Kyle Williams
  • Charlotte Carter
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Lauren Sanders
  • Charles McCarry
  • John Galligan
  • Sarah Weinman
  • Steph Cha
  • Sarah Hilary
  • Wendy Lyn Watson
  • Shannon Kirk
  • Anonymous 9
  • Jen Sacks
  • Bill Loehfelm
  • Tom Savage
  • Jan Weiss
  • Lynne Raimondo
  • Donald Harstad
  • Toni L.P. Kelner
  • Shirley Jackson

The last three were my recommendations; I am rereading Donald Harstad now, and his books strike the same chord with me now that they did the first time I read them. The humanity of Carl Houseman, the reality of his job and relationships, and the very real problems he faces, are still vivid. My friend Toni’s three “Where Are They Now” books never sold as well as they should have. And Shirley Jackson is a great American writer, both funny and terrifying, and of her wonderful work, only “The Lottery” is well known.

I love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite. I love the weather, the food, the hymns, the concept. I need a daily reminder to be thankful for all I have (a home, a stable income), all the people I love, and the country where I live. America is a flawed country, but it’s still the best place in the world to live; I firmly believe that. Maybe the fact that America is constantly self-examining is proof of how great it is . . . or maybe it’s the fact that we’re absolutely free to self-examine.

I don’t know about you, but I have to write a cooking and task schedule to prepare for the holiday. We are having the extended family, and they are all bringing a dish, but I still have to decide when to start preparing, so I can get all my part done. We’ll have house guests of the human variety (at Christmas, we’ll have human and canine visitors). Since I was brought up with strict standards of how my house should be when there’s company, this makes me very nervous, something I’ve worked for 60+ years to overcome.

I know that no one will inspect my laundry room, nor should I care if anyone did. After all, we live here around the year, and there will be stacks of laundry! And I know no one will think the worse of me for having boxes around. After all, Christmas will follow Thanksgiving. But I feel the ghost of my mother standing at my shoulder, and I know she would not approve! So today is the day I’ve designated to get the laundry put away and the boxes stowed. Tomorrow, I start cooking. And if all goes according to plan . . . which it never does! . . . on Thanksgiving Day I will have food to feed my family, the table will be set, the flowers will be on the counter, and everyone will be happy. More or less.

That’s my goal. And I think I can make it.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends and readers.

Charlaine Harris

April 28, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Pack of Strays, Dana Cameron
  • Brazen, Kelley Armstrong
  • Beneath the Dark Ice, Greig Beck
  • Watcher in the Shadows, Geoffrey Household

 

Just about anyone who knows me knows that Dana Cameron is one of my best friends. So you know I’m going to love her work, and Pack of Strays is well worth your reading time. This is Dana’s second Fangborn book – in the Fangborn world, werewolves, vampires, and seers are dedicated to helping humanity – but of course, this isn’t going to go smoothly, since they must keep their existence secret. Zoe Miller, an archaeologist, is a newly self-discovered Fangborn who’s had the misfortune to open Pandora’s Box. She has plenty of enemies to battle now: evil politicians who will reveal the existence of her race, and the Order of Nicomedia, who just wants to wipe out the Fangborn. There’s action and conflict aplenty for any urban fantasy lover.

 

Kelley Armstrong’s Brazen is a fun read for any Armstrong enthusiast (I am one, of course). Nick Sorrentino, the Casanova of the Pack, has to team up with part-demon Vanessa Callas to track packleader Jeremy Danver’s psychotic dad Malcolm. Along the way, Nick is able to show Vanessa he’s a fighter as well as a lover, and she’s able to relax with him enough to discover her inner female. Brazen is a short, fun, novel that expands on Armstrong’s wonderful Women of the Underworld series.

 

Beneath the Dark Ice is like an action movie caught in words. It’s high adventure, and if you’re in the mood for an action book, this is the one you should pick up. Scientists and commandos are sent on a mission together to the Antarctic, where a plane has crashed into a hitherto unsuspected cave system. Within twenty four hours, all contact with the survivors has been lost. Of course there’s a manly leader (Captain Alex Hunter) and a womanly scientist (petrobiologist Aimee Weir) who are attracted to each other while trying to survive all sorts of awful creatures.

 

Every now and then I just have to read Geoffrey Household. With an amazing economy of words and lots of hinted-at depths in his characters, Household gives us genuine tension in the most unlikely settings. In post-WWII Britain, reclusive zoologist Charles Dennim, who had a most interesting war, is tracked by a killer who wants nothing more than to end Dennim’s life in the most painful way possible . . . for exactly the wrong reason. An amazingly spare story, Watcher in the Shadows is everything a suspense novel should be.

 

 

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There are books that are deep and wonderful and rouse great feelings in their passages. There are books that are fun and delightful and entertain you greatly for a certain duration. And there’s nothing wrong with loving both. I read a book recently that was so excellent, so fraught with tension and truth, that I couldn’t think what to read afterward. So I picked up a cozy, a conventional mystery, and was perfectly happy with its crafting motif against which is stacked a murder. Why not? There’s no rule that states that every book we read has to change our lives, or our politics, or our social outlook.

 

I’ve run up against all too many scornful readers, the kind who think that if you’re not reading a book in which a detective comes up against many ignorant and socially backward antagonists, you’re not reading anything worth the paper it’s printed on . . . especially if the ending is unambiguous and satisfying. I don’t prefer one over the other; it’s whatever I’m in the mood for.

 

I don’t listen to the same kind of music all the time, either. Why this militance over reading material?

 

It seems there’s always a brouhaha in the reading world, when some literary lion condescends to visit the genre ghetto, or when some genre writer soars and “transcends the genre,” as if that was something utterly desirable. And then there’s infighting between the knights of noir and the constables of cozy. And they all band together to deride the sameness of romance and joke about the covers.

 

Perhaps musicians do this, too. Maybe country fiddlers mock orchestra violinists, and ukulele players laugh at both. And I’m sure classical ballet dancers have a few things to say about hip-hop moves. To say nothing of the way portrait artists may feel about performance art.

 

I doubt this infighting will come to a stop any time soon. It seems very much like an episode of “Family Feud.” Who knows? Maybe the squabbling attracts spectators who will read/listen to/dance with/buy the art of one or more of the contestants . . . er, combatants.

 

Certainly, I’m not above getting a good mad on, as the Isabel Allende controversy proved.

 

In retrospect, it all seems a bit silly. All we artists are trying to make a living in a world in which fortune favors only a few. It might behoove us to drop our maces and swords (or teacups and petit fours) and concentrate on working harder, rather than swinging at each other.

 

On the other hand, who’s for a good brawl? Man, I can’t stand those game designers . . . or what about bassoon players? Weird!

 

Charlaine Harris

January 31, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Jane and Prudence, A Few Green Leaves, An Academic Question, An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
  • The Cat and Bones books by Jeaniene Frost
  • Indexing, Seanan McGuire

As you can see, I continued my Barbara Pym binge. There are minor characters who pop up in many of the books, and they are fun to meet over and over; and some of the main characters from a previous book also are glimpsed in later books. Pym is at her funniest and most honest when she reveals peoples’ true reactions to the same events. I wonder how she saw the future of her most unlikely couple, Ianthe Broome and John Challow. Pym books are a series of small delights.

 

The Cat and Bones books are far steamier fare, but they’re written with style and verve and an attention to being true to character. Many, many people have enjoyed this series about Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her vampire lover, Bones. I could never stand Cat’s mom, Justina, and I’ve always had issues with her, but the irony of her becoming the thing she hated most – a vampire – and then being such a good one, is not lost on me. From being a damaged child and an endangered teenager, Cat becomes the strongest woman around, which is absolutely satisfying. I’m still reading the earlier books before I read the last one in this excellent series.

 

Indexing, which Seanan McGuire originally presented chapter by chapter, proved hard for me to get into at first. McGuire is a mistress of world building, but I had only a tenuous grasp of this one in the opening of the book. McGuire gives us a world in which fairy tales come true over and over, where a small task force must keep the narrative contained to avoid the general populace being swept up in the consequences. Or simply to keep it secret? I wasn’t sure. The main character, Henrietta (Henry), is a potential Snow White, and her muscle, Sloane, is a potential Evil Stepsister. Like all McGuire books, there are touches of humor and not a little suspense and outright fear, as Henry gets caught up in a place where all the previous Snow Whites are trapped in a snowy wood. Any McGuire is worth reading!

 

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Isabel Allende, originally from Chile and now living in San Francisco, is a bestselling literary author. I know many, many people who admire her intensely, and I am sure this is deserved. By all accounts, she is a great writer. But as far as the mystery community is concerned, she put her foot into her mouth in a major way.

 

She thought she would write a mystery “as a joke.” Though I don’t want to put words into Allende’s mouth, to me this translates: I’m so amazingly ‘literary’ that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny.

 

This is a quote from her NPR interview:

 

“The book is tongue in cheek. It’s very ironic … and I’m not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. … And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

 

There are a lot of factual errors in this statement. There are quite a few mysteries with young protagonists (can you say “Flavia de Luce”?) There are many, many mysteries that do not have promiscuous thin women as protagonists. And most mystery protagonists are NOT bad people. They are driven to solve problems, to seek justice, to right wrongs, to save the innocent. Admittedly, they may do bad things in the course of achieving their goals. But many do not. In limiting herself to bestsellers, Allende left untouched a huge body of work that would have informed her vision more fully: because the mystery genre is ALL about redemption.

 

Allende’s book is Ripper, and before I read the interview, I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don’t think I will. So, am I coming down too heavily on Isabel Allende? As a writer who’s been misunderstood a lot(!), maybe I should have more tolerance for her poor choice of words. And probably, after a week, I’ll just shrug and forget it. After all, it’s not like my opinion will make any difference to Isabel Allende. But I still don’t think I’ll buy the book.

 

Charlaine Harris