Traditional Mystery--Is it on life support or just needing a face lift?

I've always loved the elements of mystery in a good story. Who doesn't want to read and solve the case along with the protagonist? There's nothing better than a good puzzle. But readers today seem to have the attention span of Robin Williams on crack. Do you think the traditional mystery genre needs a shot in the arm to capture new market?

If you think the genre is healthy and thriving, please share your thoughts, but if you think it could benefit from a good face lift, what would you suggest?

And to stir up the discussion--What about the cross genre story? What genre combinations work best with mystery--enough to satisfy the traditional mystery lovers?

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I think that the traditional mystery evolves when writers explore the genre's boundaries (and that's a good thing), but readers still want what readers have always wanted - a good story, well told. And at the heart of the mystery, it's still about a good puzzle.
I'm tempted to suggest that mystery readers are of the higher intellect of society in general, they're drawn to puzzle solving, (they work the daily crossword), and are drawn to that element.

They want to assemble clues, scrutinize suspects, balance timetables, and beat the writer to the conclusion. In effect playing chess with him and beating him in his own game. That doesn't explain the popularity and success of writers like, Robert Crais, who plots are less orderly than the procedure of a board game, and whose characters are much more complex.

But the mystery has to challenge its readers and provide a compelling story that resonates long after he or she has forgotten whodunit.

WHOO?? is such a story...
You've made a great point, Dennis. And I love your chess analogy.

But I get a little confused by those stories that 'push the envelope' of a genre, like what Jeff mentioned. Is the traditional mystery genre SO huge that it encompasses a Crais story and all crime fiction subgenres?

There are elements of whodunit in the police procedural, the cozy, suspense, and the hardboiled PI. Cross genre stories seem to be marketed on the book shelves as general fiction/mainstream, not specifically mystery in its own section. But like Jeff suggested, I'm seeing a benefit to push the envelope to a mystery type story (for example, by adding elements of suspense, romance, or oddly enough paranormal) to give publishers greater flexibility to market your work.

Trends in publishing ebb and flow--what's hot today, won't be tomorrow. As a writer, have you changed your story style to reflect what you perceive to be a trend toward a broader storyline? Has your pacing changed?

Can't wait to read Whoo?? BTW. Is that really the title?
Good points. But I am not suggesting pushing the boundaries to achieve better marketability. I am suggesting pushing the boundaries because it is the story you want to write.
It started as 'Who Killed Hank Bellows'---but then I got to thinking, ha! what a novelty. We would know that sooner or later---as the bodies pile up, old Hank is gonna get 'er. An owl, just a plain old owl kept wondering---Whoo?

Personally, I decided to write fiction with a historical bent, I hate the world I live in. It moves too fast in circles, has no substance---there is still at the max a half an hour worth of news per day. That's a newsy day. Yet, what to we get...I quit the tube cause Natalie whatzhername just wouldn't go away.

Strictly defined, a work of mystery fiction is one that raises and answers its own questions. Good writing will endure, eff genre'---write what you want to read. And, each time at the plate, make it your best cut.

Elmore Leonard, my grand-daddy, has won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and he'll be the first to tell you, he's never written a mystery.

Go figger.

To finally answer your question, I suffer a bit from say, a Harlequin author, I don't write for people who move their lips when they're reading.
Elmore doesn't write mysteries, I agree, but I can't wait to get the end of his books to find out what happens. So what's that?
Jack--Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. A great author and great stories with real cross over appeal.

I also wonder how much filtration is going on with the publishers to define what the public is reading. Houses haven't bought historicals for awhile, saying they're not selling. Yet in a contest my local writer's chapter runs, the reader judges can't get enough historicals, claiming they're not out there to buy anymore. Maybe it's hard to hit the trend right with all the lead time to publish a book.

I've heard this mainly from authors looking at agents who tell them, "I love your story but I have no idea how to market it?" There's risk in publishing and I get the feeling many only want to take the conservative route and pick safe books. My two cents.
"I've heard this mainly from authors looking at agents who tell them, "I love your story but I have no idea how to market it?" There's risk in publishing and I get the feeling many only want to take the conservative route and pick safe books."

Interesting, all-round.

I personally wish they'd have a section in the store called CRIME FICTION and put all the stuff- thrillers, etc. - there. I fully understand that most hard-core genre fans, like myself, don't do much wandering elsewhere in the bookstore. I would estimate 90% of what I've spent money on in the past few years has come out of that one section, and we actually buy a fair bit of stuff - kids books for my niece and nephews, travel books, reference books. That Ken Bruen should be in mystery here and Lee Child is in 'Fiction and Literature' baffles the hell out of me... but guess which one I've read? When I'm shopping Lee is never in front of me, but so many others I've heard of are.

I understand safe. But I also understand vicious cycles. Here's a thought:

Publishing industry facing tough times. Understandably, editors/publishers decide to publish more of what is selling, believing it marketable. Sound business strategy.

Eventually public reaches saturation point. How many times do we see people saying a show has 'jumped the shark' or outlived its day? And same for authors/themes. I was at a book festival last fall and they were introducing an author who was going to read a book about the Knights Templar and a conspiracy theory and I groaned and said, 'Can't we have an original idea?' I mean, come on. What serious author just wants to be labeled a knock-off?

As with all things, there comes a point people want something fresh. If we do not see some degree of growth within the industry I believe we'll ultimately stagnate and die. Now, don't misunderstand that. I'm not saying there isn't growth. Some publishers are expanding, small publishers fill some of the void.

I think what we need to do is give readers more credit. Readers like intelligent stories. Eventually, everyone wants something new. If we just give them 'more of the same' then they go elsewhere.

I see people commenting on lists that they're currently reading something non-crime, because they "need a break". Shouldn't the scope within crime be such that people can feel refreshed without ever leaving the genre? There is a radical difference between reading a Ken Bruen book and reading work by Val McDermid or Laura Lippman, but they all satisfy. I've been sick this week, so I've been reading Rankin, because that's my comfort reading. Like ginger ale, chicken soup and a warm blanket.

Now, the reality for agents is that they do have to think about marketing. And authors do as well, sometimes, from the early stages. If a writer can identify a target audience for their work to an agent they'll boost the chances of being considered. A "my work is similar to so-and-so" line can help the agent spot the target audience, and they know where to work from.

That is, in fact, why you're supposed to query agents with authors whose work is similar to yours, but we digress from the main point.

Traditional Mystery... to me, hearing that conjurs up Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, so I have a hard time thinking in those boundaries. All I know is, I like variety. Here's to more ambitious, innovative authors. I just love it when I read something and think, "Hell yeah, this isn't what every other author's putting out right now - thank God."
LOL Damn, I had just been thinking of a general Crime Fiction section too because that's what I'm looking for in the bookstores. And as I look on my own bookshelves, I'm seeing such an eclectic group of authors but they mostly fit under that banner. And I think there's room in this marketplace for so many varieties of authors and voices. Pushing the envelope like Jeff said.

I think that's why Crimespace has been so intriguing for me as a new author. I'm exposed to the variety of authors here and many are new to me. My credit card and TBR pile will be strained by the sheer volume I'll no doubt be buying, but I am loving this.

And I've also seen a number of horror readers wanting to friend me at MySpace. When you go back to see what they wrote in their book section, you find they are also reading a broader scope of books that they generalize and call 'mystery suspense'. So there is crossover appeal in genres you might not pursue as a market. Yet, as an industry, we struggle so hard to put authors into boxes for marketability when the reading public might lump us all into mystery suspense. Makes you scratch your head and say, "Hummmm."

Love what you said, Sandra. Thanks for your input.
Elmer Kelton, asked to compare his novels of rural Texas to the Westerns of Louis L'Amour, said: Louis' heroes are six-foot-two and fearless. Mine are five-foot-eight and nervous.

At the turn of the 21st Century 50 per cent of booksales were of the romantic genre' but I'm not gonna start tapping them out. Although I could probably whip up a "Bodice-ripper"---lusty tales laid against a historical background with titled damsels and constant raping & pillaging...

Here's more likely to be my fate: Crime novelist Eugene Izzi's death remains his most famous mystery. He was found hanging outside his office window in a Chicago high-rise in 1994, armed with brass knuckles and wearing a bullet proof vest. A decade later, no one has been able to determine whether he was murdered, committed suicide or was a victim of his own research.
I think 50%+ booksales for romance is still true, but they've branched out the genre to include women's fiction, suspense, urban fantasy/paranormal/timetravel etc. I even think we'll see romantic horror before too long (I keep kidding a friend of mine). They moved away from what they called category (the more traditional 'clutch cover' shorter stories) to provide a greater variety for their readership. And as far as sales and a steady readership, who can argue with success, even though you may not want to write it, D. :)

That's an interesting thing about Izzi's death. So you think you're gonna end up being nothing more than a chalk line on the ground--a cold case file? Personally, I think you're gonna end up renting a fishing charter for a THREE HOUR TOUR and never come back. You and Ginger (and Marianne) drifting off into the sunset.
Ha, both Ginger & Marianne are coming along? I can hardly await---my fate.

Did I just rhyme? Gee, I never did that before.

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