Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Case of the Missing Mystery

A friend of mine is writing a thesis titled "The Shifting Trends in Women's Mysteries in the Last Eighty Years" and she sent me some questions. I'm going to answer them one at a time here on the blog over the next few weeks.

1. What would you like to see more of in today's mysteries?

I want to see more mystery.

I noticed at 2 writers conferences this past month that the term "crime writer" is becoming more prevalent than "mystery writer." A lot of books I've come across the last five years have a body on page one, a straightforward (bordering on boring) investigation, and a solution in the last chapter. They're crime novels, yes, but they don't have much mystery in them. No intriguing clues, no seemingly impossible puzzles. Not even very much in the way of mysterious settings or moods. Danger, perhaps, but too often predictable danger.

I've been told (as an explanation) that these are character-driven novels. I'm not sure what that means, other than that I seem to have to plow through usually too many scenes about the main character's love/sex life or cats or drinking problems or financial woes or dysfunctional family sagas between scant paragraphs pertaining to the crime story.

Think back to all the times Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot found an apparently inconsequential clue: for instance, rye grain in a deadman's pocket. The police ignore it. Yet, that kind of clue is so intriguing that I'll keep turning pages to find out how it fits in.

I've actually heard authors scoff at putting what I think of as "mystery" back into mystery novels. The feeling seems to be that the genre has now matured and that grown-ups don't want silly clues like that in their books. Grown-ups only want violence and sex and gritty reality.

Bunk. Reality neither stimulates my brain nor entertains me. I read to escape reality. If that means I'm not mature, I don't ever want to be.

Elena (still a "mystery" writer)

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