Saturday, April 11, 2009

So Many Mysteries, So Little Time: Genres of the who-dunit

Noir. Hard-boiled. Cozy. Madcap. Amature sleuth. Thriller. Historical. Paranormal. Police procedural. Psychological. Academic.

The genre of the mystery has many literary flavors. Like other genre fiction (romance, sci-fi/fantasy, horror), it has something for every sensibility.

And the greats of days gone by remain hot mystery properties today. Chandler, Hammett, Sayres, Christie. These books remain in print and not a day goes by that I don't see someone reading one of these standards (it's what I love about riding the New York City transit system, be it bus, train or subway ... getting a gander at the books everyone is reading to take advantage of commuting time).

I've been reading mysteries since I was a young teen reading Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. Then I picked up the books my mother was so fond of: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayres, P. D. James, Ngaio Marsh, and Martha Grimes. My favorite from this august collection has to be Dorothy Sayres, with her Lord Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane characters and the rich evocation of the times and lives of the protagonists who so ably solved the crimes they were dealt by the author.

Since my teen years I've read everything to come down the pike. There've been a lot of male mystery authors whose works I have enjoyed immensely, including Robert Parker and Spenser, Ed McBain's wry and taut urban police series and then most recently James Lee Burke (who was introduced to me by Southern Noir crime fiction author Milton T. Burton, himself no slouch in the genre of crime fiction with a human touch).

But the female authors have always reigned supreme on my mystery fiction bookshelves. Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth Peters have stood the test of time. My current faves are Kathy Reichs, Tami Hoag and Linda Fairstein as well as authors of the less intense series like Joan Hess' Maggody series. And of coures, the initimatable, uncategorizable, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum mysteries.

Lesser known and harder to find, I nonetheless have always greatly enjoyed Joanna Dobson and her Karen Pelletier academic mysteries, Edith Skom's literary mysteries and Sharyn McCrumb's various, especially her riotously funny Bimbos of the Death Sun.

In between there are writers of flower shop mysteries, tea room mysteries, bake shop mysteries, gardening mysteries, fashion design, quilting, sewing, coffee, restaurant, B&B mysteries and even the paranormal mysteries of Yasemine Galenorn and others.

With so much to choose from is it any wonder that I can't pin down my favorite author or sub-genre? Some days I'm in the mood for the intense serial killers of Allison Brennan, others the whacky doings of Sookie Stackhouse and her mystery-solving pals. And then again I'm still waiting to find a female author of noir to sink my teeth into.

And of course, I've got my own mysteries on tap: I call them Suburban Noir.

And another sub-sub genre is born!