02 February 2015

Wanted Mystery Readers

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

Mystery readers are a varied and particular group. The majority of them want what they like to read best and all you have to do is point them to their favorites are.
And exactly what are their favorites? Cozy, Private Eye, Legal, Medical, Historical, Soft boiled, Hard boiled, Noir, Police Procedural, Who Dunnit, Woman in Jeopardy Thriller, Paranormal Cat Mysteries, Dog Mysteries, Comic Capers? And what about True Crime?

Did you realize there are so many different divisions in Mystery? Only when I owned a bookstore did I really realize that there is a huge variety under the mystery umbrella. What's funny to me is many people say, "Oh, I never read mysteries." But when you ask who do they read, they say, "Oh, I read James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Stephen King, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Kathy Reichs, Tony Hillerman, Mary Higgins Clark, Jonathan or Faye Kellerman."

Okay, I guess these authors write what is considered suspense, not mystery. I personally would say all of those authors write mysteries. I don't understand why people don't consider these best selling books are mysteries. Are they ashamed and don't want too admit they read mysteries. Do they think mystery is low-brow. Or maybe they think if a book is on the New York Times Best Seller List it's not a mystery? Often when a writer says they are published and they write mysteries, someone invariably will ask (usually one of your off-side relatives) when are you going to write a REAL book. That's when I want to run away screaming.

What about Harlan Coben's books? They are usually high suspense but they also are mysteries. A crime is committed, usually someone is murdered and a man (or a woman) is caught up in a situation they have no knowledge of or how to solve the mystery. Sometimes they or their loved one is in jeopardy and the main character has to use everything they've ever learned or known to save the loved one or themselves.

Back to my original question, what do mystery readers want? I can only say what I want in a book. I want a character that I like and like to root for, although I don't have to have a perfect character. In fact, it's much better if the main character has vices or flaws. However, it's nice if you see the main character in one place and, by the end of the book, the main character is in another place, perhaps changed a bit. Becoming a better person, maybe or at least has a different outlook on life.

I like reading about a location that's new to me like Alaska or Iceland, Hawaii or Florida. Places where I can learn about a state or country, their customs, foods, peoples.

I feel that way about someone who has an occupation I'm not familiar with, like Fran Rizer's character who works in a funeral home. Her character is also from South Carolina and I've never been there so I enjoy reading about the coastal area of the Atlantic side of our continent.

I also enjoy reading about a place when I have been there and see a few things in the story that I've seen. Like reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, set in Sweden. I had two short trips in Sweden, but I had been to Stockholm and several of the other locations mentioned. That made the book more fun and interesting to me.

I enjoy reading good stories wherever they're set or the people who populate the mystery story. I like a story that begins with some action. I'll go along with perhaps fifty pages but something better be happening by then or forget it. It doesn't have to be a bloody murder; the murder can have taken place off scene, but I want to see the main character doing something to move the story forward. If you're a writer, write the best most intriguing book you can. Don't forget that if you are bored with the story then your readers most likely will be bored, too.

If you're a reader, proudly admit that you like mysteries. Some of the best writing is being done under the mystery/suspense umbrella. Trust me. Mystery writers cover the major issues of the day. And in about 98% of mystery books, the bad guy is caught and justice prevails, which doesn't happen in the real world often enough.

That's my opinion, what do you think, class?


  1. I enjoy a wide range from cosies to hard-boiled to thriller. Although my preference remains the classics, to me, they're all 'mysteries', even the caper variety, if they keep me guessing.

  2. Jan, I agree with you and Leigh. They are all mysteries, and it's a mystery to me why some readers deny their favorite genres.
    PS - Callie says thanks for mentioning her.

  3. Jan, in my writing classes, we look at mysteries as the most intellectual of the genres. The people who read mysteries like to pit themselves against the detective to see if they can figure out who the killer is by the end of the story. It's like playing a chess game.
    I think people like to admit to reading thrillers because it makes *them* seem more exciting. Misplaced projection.
    Me, I'm a mystery fan. I crave the intellectual challenge a writer can give me.

  4. Well, I read anything and everything. I think some of it is that people think they know what a category is - "mystery is Perry Mason, and I don't like that" - and then they read everything James M. Cain ever wrote. Or they don't like romance, but watch "To Have and Have Not" over and over again. Definitions, like denominations, often do nothing but separate people from what they'd truly love.

  5. My favorite kind of mystery is a thriller or a novel of suspense where the author is able to also pull off a true mystery ( who dun it ) element in the susoense/thriller. Presumed Innocent comes to mind. The novel is not your typical mystery , much more of a suspense novel or legal thriller , but the author manages to incorporate a real mystery into the story. We are all wondering and guessing and trying to solve the mystery of who killed Carolyn. The story is full of real suspense as when told from Rusty's POV, we are never really sure if he did it or not. At times he makes himself appear guilty - asking his detective not to pull his own phone records and more. But in the end we find a who dun it mystery wrapped up inside a crime fiction suspense thriller. And I love twist endings.

    In general , I much prefer thrillers and suspense novels to straight who dun it mysteries . I don't mind knowing who the bad guy is from the beginning as long as the author keeps the tension up and increases the stakes as the book progresses . It's fun trying to figure out if and how the MC will stop the villain . I also like dramatic irony - when we the readers are privy to some facts that the protagonist is not. It amps up the suspense when we worry about the MC as we watch her walk into a trap laid by the villain. How will she get out of it? I'm a big crine fiction reader and I prefer suspense and thrillers to who dun it's but its a bonus to read a book that incorporates all three . I also love unreliable narrators


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