The weekend article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the latest publishing craze (international mystery novels) got me thinking about my reading habits. I don't have the financial resources for a first hand visit to Rome, Istanbul or Tokyo. But I can do the next best thing...pick up a book. An international mystery, to be more specific.

Thanks to the success of Stieg Larsson, author of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", publishers are frantically searching the world over for mysteries that take place the world over. And since murder is murder, no matter what language you speak, American readers have a lot of good writers to discover.

My preference for authors outside the lower 48 tends to favor our neighbor to the north, Canada, and they have some excellent crime writers who deserve a wider audience.

Vicki Delany writes a fine mystery series set in a small town called Trafalgar, with more than its share of secrets and murder.

Rick Mofina moves from British Columbia to New York and even the Middle East with his mysteries and thrillers, each setting recreated with first rate authenticity.

Sandra Ruttan pens a gritty series that is not for the feint of heart based in Vancouver. Her wicked writing easily ranks with (or above) many American best-selling authors that I can think of (and I'm thinking James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver, Stephen King...)

Who knew Canadians could take such delight in the criminal underworld?

It's not that international mysteries are unknown here in the states ("The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", is one). But compared to overseas readers, the U.S. has been positively xenophobic.

That's about to change.

You can read more about this trend in publishing at the Wall Street Journal's book section. If you're not a subscriber, you can access the article (Fiction's Global Crime Wave) through a link on my blog:

Enjoy your next destination!

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Ah, that one is totally astounding. I cannot read Penny. Though, come to think of it, she may have a very different kind of reader.
I'd be interested to know why you don't like her. If that's not a proper discussion for this thread, reply privately. vicki at vickidelany dot com.
I cannot read Penny. Though, come to think of it, she may have a very different kind of reader.

I read one of her novels, and it was OK...and the food was excellent :) ....:) but the next one I tried I just couldn't get into. And it was about a painter, so I should have liked it. It wasn't the fact that they were set in Canada--that was the best part, actually. I think what I didn't much like was that the mysteries seemed to be just too "cozy school" for me. And then there was the aspect of how the murder was done, in the one that I finished I better not say--that would be a spoiler---but suffice it to say that by then my "willing suspension of disbelieve was dangling by a thread. " But I DID actually like the setting! Since I've only read the one all the way through, perhaps this isn't a fair assessment. But usually, when I find an author I like, I keep reading through the series.
Yup. Same here.
It's very true, Vicki. I just had a major U.S. publisher turn down my latest due to roughly one-quarter of the novel being set in Vancouver. The editor said: "McKenzie is a talent, and his novel compares well with the work of such genre heavyweights as Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay. The set-up in the Washington state mall is quite chilling, and McKenzie is to be commended for his ability to create a complex, taught puzzle of a plot, and a well-imagined domestic life that readers will care about seeing restored. Unfortunately, as strong as the novel is, I worry that, for U.S. readers, the story lingers a little too long in Canada before returning to the States. So, with respect and admiration for McKenzie’s talents . . ."
Not surprised, Grant. Sadly only 1/4 of the book is in Vancouver. Look at Linwood. Lives in Burlington, Ontario. Where does he set his books? Not in Ontario.
One thing that would really help, Grant (and Vicki), is if more Canadians bought Canadian crime fiction. We only seem to buy the books that sell elsewhere first like the Louise Penny.

It's not true with literary books - bestseller lists in Canada are dominated by Canadian books - but not crime fiction bestseller lists.
Very sad, and perhaps short-sighted.
If people know nothing whatsoever about your setting, they won't touch it. That's been my problem.

Though it's hard to believe that with all the media we are exposed to, especially for visual images--- TV, movies, magazines, etc., that there is any country or culture that isn't "accessible" to someone with even a minimum of curiosity. (I confess that I do find ancient Japan fascinating, also the Geisha culture, etc.) And even if you don't know anything, then you can read the novel and learn something, and fill in the gaps--the internet is a fantastic tool.

I think one "problem" might be that contemporary readers have gotten hooked on "forensic" mysteries, the police procedural, and if you are a contemporary crime writer, there's no way you can wholly avoid using that in your mysteries. But it can be over-relied on--- in a modern mystery it's got to be there for authenticity---but readers can still respond to a detective who is sharp enough to catch things that a DNA test won't reveal. So a historical mystery can use "early" forensic techniques (i.e. OBSERVATION) and be just as suspenseful as one set in present day London. Or wherever. :)
That reminds me of the Chinese handbook of crime detection during the 'Tang dynasty, which a friend found for me in translation, and which I downloaded. It was hilarious. Nothing in it was useable for a modern audience. It defies imagination what injustices were committed on the basis of the peculiar experiments they did on dead bodies. Still, you know, I had to try to research the subject before abandoning much of historical forensics.

I like police procedurals myself and the Akitada books have aspects of those. If I move to a modern series, it will be a police procedural.

What has damaged reader support for me is the declared disinterest in a) Japan, and b) 11th century Japan. A woman once e-mailed me to tell me that such a book would be the very last thing she would read. I'm not sure why she bothered. But clearly I overestimated my audience.
What has damaged reader support for me is the declared disinterest in a) Japan, and b) 11th century Japan

Well, then you just have to write the books you want. I wonder if your email correspondent was particularly interested in any other country or historical period? But then, I'm sure we all have areas we avoid; I can't see myself reaching eagerly for, say, a mystery set in Siberia, in a Gulag. But then, you never know; it wouldn't be "cozy school."

I have never been a big "history buff" myself--- but there are exceptions. I find ancient Japan interesting because it is so very different---court life especially, like another world. Also I read a few books on the Geisha, which really intrigued me. Women in particular should find that history of interest, as they had more freedom than other women in the society, though their lives were a curious combination of restraints and freedoms.

Some years ago I read a few of the Cadfael mysteries, until they all started to seem similar. And the TV series was more like a medieval Murder She Wrote, with the characters behaving more like modern people than people of their time. But that's the contemporary fallacy---that all historical periods are only a dim reflection of our own superior one--- and it's especially apparent in most TV & movie productions, where everybody has perfect teeth and modern attitudes. :)o
Yes, I dislike the Cadfael books. I do like Lindsey Davis, who writes a thoroughly modern Ancient Rome. :) At least she brings the time to life, which the writers of medieval European tales have not been able to do. However, most readers prefer Cadfael and its ilk. Must be the cozy crowd.


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