Mysteries: The Genre That Doesn’t Die

Bookshelves filled floor to ceiling, with deep leather club chairs nearby and a movable ladder handy to reach the dusty tomes on the top shelf, is what I envision for the study of my future home. I discovered my vivid imagination reflected in the ambiance and setting of the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.Beyond my immediate aesthetic joy, I was astonished by the niche within the bookstore–all hundreds and thousands of books were in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres (from here on, “mysteries” encompasses all). In a faltering economy, it’s impressive that such stores for niche audiences seem to be doing things right and are growing.

Though mysteries may frequently be passed over for the more “literary” prizes and awards, they’re often seen on that pedestal of success, The New York Times bestseller list. Dan Brown and Patricia Cornwell have recently led the pack, and it would be hard to argue their books—containing history, religion, forensic sciences and biology within their covers—are less than smart novels.

Sue Grafton and John Sandford, two iconic mystery authors, have flourished for years, intriguing and thrilling their fans time and time again as their main characters developed, aged and learned. Grafton’s 21st novel, featuring the same Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone, is publishing on December 1, and its preorders have earned it a ranking of #21 on Amazon’s book list. 2010 will mark John Sandford’s 20th Prey novel, featuring maverick cop Lucas Davenport; he recently contributed a post to a Barnes & Noble blog titled, “The Best Writers Out There are Writing Thrillers.” More than an acknowledgement to his writing peers (and ultimately, his competition) and their genre, Sandford notes his favorites are writers who have “stuck their fingers into the wound.”

Jen, a crime-fiction book blogger I admire, is behind the popular site, Jen’s Book Thoughts. A blessing to the genre, authors, publishers, and other interested readers, Jen has traveled around the country to various conferences dedicated to the mystery community. She believes the people of this genre are the “nicest people you’ll ever run in to,” and the authors are “generous and appreciative” of their readers and fans. And she is an authority on the subject, having featured exclusive content from authors such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, CJ Box, Laura Lippmann, and more. Like The Booking Community Online, in general, those involved in mysteries are a tight-knit crowd.

While mysteries often delve into the unknown, the devious, and the gory, I see a correlation with the romance genre. While not the same escapism found in romance, there is typically a sense of completion when turning the last page in a mystery novel—the conclusion often having some sort of justice, reached in a way possible only in fiction, but which we all long to be true and real.

As writer Joe Wallace points out, “Once mystery writers have acquired a fan, they almost never lose him/her. That’s reflected in the personality of the fans–they know everything about the characters they love–and also in the stores themselves… It really is pretty remarkable, and gives me some hope for the future.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite mysteries and writers, and how you feel a repeating character develops and grows. I invite you to join me on Tuesday, November 24, on Meritorious Mysteries as I guest blog about my love of mysteries and what it’s like to have a behind-the-scenes, close up look at some of the genre’s biggest names.

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One Response to “Mysteries: The Genre That Doesn’t Die”

  1. Matt McElreath November 20, 2009 at 7:42 pm #


    Great article and you have hit some key points. I invite you and all mystery fans to check out our new magazine (Suspense Magazine) devoted to the growing niche of mystery fiction. I can send a free copy (PDF format) to anyone who is interested.


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