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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Australia doesn't have specialist book stores like the US, so every store I go to has a Crime Fiction section just as Sandra mentioned. Maybe that's why I created Crimespace as a crime fiction network. I don't really see as much of the separation between mystery/suspense/thriller/procedural. Just different crime fiction for different reading moods.

He he. Come to Australia, and live the dream.
You put your finger on it, Jordan. It's about marketing rather than the intrinsic merit of the work. But, of course, for those who want to sell their works it becomes interesting all over again. I can't quite fathom how the shelving of libraries or bookstores could be changed. Perhaps a pitch to publishers and distributors suggesting that they could reach a broader and more profitable market with something like crime/suspense might change the way books are sold.
Good point, Ray. Readers don't always make a distinction between types of books.

In the publishing world, there are all the subgenres within this broader category of crime fiction, for example--cozy mysteries, PI books, police procedural, thriller, etc. But the reading public might lump this all together, as you say. On MySpace, a typical reader book section might state - 'I'm an avid reader of horror, mystery, suspense, paranormal, and general murder and mayhem. My fav authors are Robert Crais, JD Robb, Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, Tess Gerritsen, Allison Brennan, Michael Connelly, Sharon Sala etc.'

All those authors cover a lot of subgenres, but the point is, that type of reader will read anything. Therefore, they're a market you really want as an author and a publishing house.
Nobody writes the same way as anybody else. I believe the genre is constantly evolving
What's hot and what's not is always changing. 15 years ago who would have thought Charlaine Harris would be so popular because of vampires in mysteries?

While what's popular is constantly changing there will always be a place for traditional mysteries. Right now thrillers are the hot ticket, but that will change soon too.

So while the volume of traditional mysteries being published and read may go up and down, there will always be a place for the really good ones.

Of course the traditional mystery isn't what it was, the elements are there and the form is there, but what it is saying needs to stay fresh and intune with today's world.
Though thrillers have triumphed (Patrick Anderson makes a good case for why that's the case in his book on the topic) I don't think it's necessarily true that attention spans are shorter. The traditional mystery of the past was a much trimmer book - often under 200 pages. The fact that Laura Lippman's WHAT THE DEAD KNOW cracked the bestseller list suggest people are interested in puzzles, and in stories that are not thrill-a-minute but thoughtful explorations of ordinary people's lives touched by violence. It won't reach the mass audience that the James Patterson factory does, but neither did P.D. James or Dorothy Sayers. The Sherlock Holmes stories were popular, but many of them were more gothic adventure stories than puzzles.

I'll let others answer the cross-genre question. I see a lot of horror/romance/thriller gumbos, but they tend to make me break out in hives :o)
Interesting points, Barb. And there's this strange fascination the public has these days with anything paranormal. You've seen it on TV and in movies too. It's filtered into all writing genres.

Another hot genre these days is Young Adult (YA)--any subgenre including mystery. Maybe the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew after a face lift. This is another market for mystery writers. And I like the fact that younger readers are loving them. Gives me hope they'll turn into adults who love to read period.

Until I got onto MySpace and noticed the young avid readers out there, I had thought the traditional book in print would be a hard sell in this age bracket, but not so from what I've seen.

My comments apply to books I read -- for most part -- mystery, suspense, thriller. My hunch is these notes carry over to other genres as well.

The shelves are crammed with poor writing efforts. The pages are populated with adverbs, adjectives, and punctuation (!) as a substitute for good writing as well as an abundance of superfluous words like: had, that, just, only, etc. I can think of a thriller by a well known, best selling author where I estimated he could have shaved six pages off his novel by eliminating the word "had" from his vocabulary.

I'm a cross-gender writer, but I don't think this counts as a discussion stirrer.

I sure hope mystery fiction is on the rise, I have two in the mill I'm attempting to market.

John Achor (BeeJay)
Okay, John---I gotta ask. I'm a cross-gender writer,

Does this mean? You write as John Anchor when dressed like in your picture---then don the bra & panties and write as (Bee-Jay)?

Ha! Just kidding, I couldn't pass on it. Sorry.

I think this is an interesting thread.

Market forces, ebb and flow, the public (reader's/market's) changing taste.

To me the broad genre of mystery/crime fiction is similar to music. Most styles of music are there, always with some degree of fan base, with greater or lesser degrees of popularity.

Every few years, something happens. Music evolves and a whole new style is created, a la rock and roll in the 50s.

Punk rock is a great analagy of what I see in mystery fiction. In the 70s and the very early 80s, there were a lot of bands out there who were really pushing the envelope of music, creating this genre of punk rock. Black Flag, Dead Kennedy's and more really defined punk.

Time passes, punk is still there, but it isn't as popular.

In the early 90s though, a couple of new bands emerged, Offspring, and a few others. Their message and sound was a little different, but the anger, angst, frustration and all the emotions that made punk punk are still there.

fast forward, there's a new punk resurgence. Bands like Dropkick Murphys (an "Irish music" punk band with a bagpipe player), Mighty Mighty Bosstones (who have big horns in their band), Dance Hall Crashers, the whole ska/punk scene. Again, the attitude, anger, frustration, etc. is still there. It's still punk.

Probably a long rambling irrelevant way to say:

Someone, through their own creative process and not driven by market forces, will write a book. It will be a traditional mystery, but will be a little different. Maybe it will be setting, maybe something with character, but it will be the thing that reignites the traditional mystery. I think it happens in all creative endeavors at some point.

When that happens, of course, the market forces will change, and we'll see a hundred thousand spin offs.
I like your music analogy. It's thought provoking. And it makes me appreciate (all the more) the authors who've weathered the storm of marketability over the decades, finding a strong readership as they evolve and still make a good living.

For the average author who'd like to make a reasonable and sustained income, it may become necessary to understand the marketplace and the trends to stay ahead of the curve. And hopefully, the changing elements to their stories will still appeal to them as writers and be satisfying too. The best of both worlds.
This discussion has taken a decidedly interesting turn. BTW, Love the music analogy as well, because it really is a good example of the same sort of thing. I have to wonder if this whole trying to stay ahead of the curve (which is in reality, the publishers trying to keep up with the curve--if only we had a crystal ball to determine what they think is around the next corner) has much to do with the ebbs and flows of the changing book biz?

For instance, the plethora of religious thrillers (RTs), AKA people waking up, discovering that they've been the chosen one, raised from birth and trained without their conscious knowledge to carry out the mission that protects the Big Secret that will shake the Vatican to its core--something they only discover when their father, mother, brother is killed in an explosion and whispers the secret on their dying breath. So, right away, the publishers are digging out their stock of Religious Thrillers. (Didn't we just see one of those come from Agent X? Call her up, NOW.) And then the stores are saturated, and like good pop music with a catchy tune, you find you tire of the same ol' same ol' and you switch channels to country, thereby discovering the next BIG THING.

And of course, too many authors are trying to catch that curve. hey, I've got a great idea about women from Mars, who are able to give birth without a male donor, and on the day that Christ was born, a space ship landed...yada, yada. But by the time they write it, send it out, the market is flooded and the publishers are already catching that next wave, because they have cleared their calendars of every religious thriller out there.

Of course what happens then is something I've termed the "market correction." We see a shift in what is being published. RTs are out, talking cats are in. (Although in reality, I think, RTs are still in, but they are definitely waning to a degree, shifting to a different sort of thriller.

The publishers are savvy. When they start to see sales drop, they watch their lists, see what looks like it is about to make a move. Then Wham! They discover that it isn't just talking cats hitting the NYT, it's talking cats with cartoon covers in hot pink. And then you see a gazillion hot pink talking cat covers. (Surely you all noticed the chick lit trend with the cute cartoon covers? Whether chick lit mystery or chick lit romance. Perhaps you didn't notice how long they've actually been on the market?) Because like the books, the covers change, too, to keep up with the market.

But one thing that doesn't change is the classics. And many bestsellers today won't make the classics of tomorrow. For instance does anyone really think that DaVinci Code will be a top seller fifteen, twenty years from now? Will his name live on like Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler? I don't think so. I think Code is just another Cabbage Patch Doll or Beanie Baby. Everyone's hot to trot to get them while they're hot, but suddenly they tire and no longer look good on the shelf.

Traditional mystery is a classic form, they'll always be around, but like someone said, they'll change with the times, the mores, the culture around us. This week is used to correct the glut from last week. Now if someone can tell me what the trend for next week is, I'd appreciate it. I left my crystal ball at the office.


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