Yesterday, we ran the first part of an epic roundtable discussion with 38 nominees for the Edgar Awards on the state of the crime novel. Today, in part two of the discussion, authors talk genre classics, publishing industry issues, crossover proliferation, and of course, what to add to your TBR list. Keep an eye on the site on Thursday evening for more Edgars coverage.
Molly Odintz: If you could pick one classic crime author to recommend to new mystery readers, who would it be?
Naomi Hirahara (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – Clark and Division): I’ll have to select my go-to—Chester Himes. Of course, his Rage in Harlem and his Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones series, but also his first standalone, If He Hollers Let Him Go, which isn’t quite a mystery per se. I’m currently at work on my follow-up to Clark and Division, and had fun weaving in Himes and his debut novel, which was written while he lived in the Los Angeles home of a Japanese American female writer who had been sent to a World War II detention center.
Elizabeth Penney (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – Chapter and Curse): Long before I became an author, I was a voracious reader of mysteries. Recommended by my British mother, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Winsey mysteries were a delightful introduction to the genre. They’re escapist, tongue-in-cheek jaunts into 1920s England, complete with all the comforting tropes of the time and genre.
Alan Parks ((nominated for Best Paperback Original – Bobby March Will Live Forever): I would always recommend Phillip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther series. The first three—The March Violets Trilogy—are superb. Amazing crime novels and an amazing insight into Germany in the run up to WW2.
Richard Green (nominated for Best Critical/Biographical – The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene): Why, Graham Greene, of course!
R. T. Lawton (“The Road to Hana,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine): Picking just one author to recommend would be very difficult, and even then, it would depend upon the personality of the reader. For well-drawn characters on both sides of the legal fence, for interesting plots and realistic criminal thinking, I’d choose Elmore Leonard. For gritty stories set in Harlem and a good telling of tales, I’d recommend Chester Himes and his Coffin Ed & Grave Digger Jones series. If the reader prefers humor, I’d pick Donald Westlake and his bumbling burglar series.
S. A. Cosby (nominated for Best Novel – Razorblade Tears): Chester Himes.
Will Leitch (nominated for Best Novel – How Lucky): Elmore Leonard. This is a very easy question!
S. J. Rozan (nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award – Family Business): Agatha Christie. She often gets a knock for having stock characters, but actually she understood human motivation supremely well.
Gigi Pandian (nominated for Best Short Story – “The Locked Room Library,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine): Since I’m nominated for a story that directly pays homage to John Dickson Carr, I’ll go with Carr! John Dickson Carr is considered the master of the locked-room mystery, for good reason. His books, short stories, and radio plays combine incredibly clever plots with deliciously atmospheric backdrops.
Elizabeth Breck (nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award – Double Take): Thomas Perry and his “Jane Whitefield” series. As most of my readers know, I am a state of California licensed private investigator. Jane made me a better investigator (I make it sound like she’s a real person; don’t tell me she’s not). She is half Native American, and she uses her Seneca beliefs to supplement her investigative abilities. She takes people who are in danger and puts them in a new place with a new life and a new identity, and she teaches them life lessons steeped in Native American history. It almost seems like magic, but she is just using investigative skills: the biggest one being the ability to observe people and predict their behavior, especially the bad guys who are stalking her clients. Start with Dance for the Dead because I did, and it’s my favorite one.
Juliet Grames (winner of the Ellery Queen Award): Ellen Raskin. The Westing Game is 180 pages of perfection.
Jennifer Nielsen (nominated for Best Juvenile – Rescue): I have recently become fascinated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his possible inspirations, including the lives of Joseph Bell and Adam Worth. Much of the philosophy that Doyle built into his plotting still influences my own writing today.
Rhys Bowen (nominated for Best Novel – The Venice Sketchbook): I’m torn between Reginald Hill and Tony Hillerman. The former for his characters, the latter for setting.
Ann Hagedorn (nominated for Best Fact Crime – Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away): Hmm…one? Not easy. I will say Ruth Rendell.
James Kestral (nominated for Best Novel – Five Decembers): Elmore Leonard.
Caitlin Wahrer (nominated for Best First Novel – The Damage): I’m going to sound like such a kiss ass but I really would recommend Poe to some! It depends on what I know about the person; I do try to tailor book recs when I know the person. If they have a cozier vibe, I might say Agatha Christie or Wilkie Collins. If they read romance, Daphne du Maurier. I love all four of them!
David Bell (nominated for Best Paperback Original – Kill All Your Darlings): Bill Granger, author of the NOVEMBER MAN series. And an Edgar winner in 1981.
M. G. Leonard (nominated for Best Juvenile – Kidnap on the California Comet: Adventures on Trains #2): It was the Agatha Christie mysteries that I read from the age of twelve that turned me into a fan of crime fiction. I always recommend that people start with her. The books are more about the solving of the puzzle, rather than the violence or emotions of a crime, and therefore are appropriate and enjoyable for most readers.
V. M. Burns (nominated for Best Short Story – “The Vermeer Conspiracy” ): Agatha Christie. I’m a HUGE Agatha Christie fan. She was a prolific writer who wrote not only novels, but short stories which were engaging and well-crafted.
Thomas Kies (nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award – Shadow Hill): Elmore Leonard. No one writes leaner prose, crisper dialogue and cooler characters than he does.
Kat Rosenfield (nominated for Best Novel – No One Will Miss Her): Patricia Highsmith! The men who adapt her stories into films are always getting all the credit for her brilliance, she deserves better.
Pamela N. Harris (nominated for Best Young Adult – When You Look Like Us): Would it be too obvious if I said Agatha Christie? Aside from the Dame, there’s one novella I’d recommend every new mystery reader check out, and that’s The Stranger by Albert Camus. I don’t believe it’s universally hailed a crime story, though a crime does take place. I just think it’s a wonderful introspection of human nature and societal expectations.
Marthe Jocelyn (nominated for Best Juvenile – Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden): Since my Aggie Morton books are inspired by the notion of Agatha Christie as a 12-year-old girl detective, obviously I would recommend the Queen of Crime herself.
Fabian Nicieza (nominated for Best First Novel – Suburban Dicks): I was never a big reader of the genre growing up, so I actually don’t feel qualified to answer! Plus, at this point, I am an old man and struggle to qualify what is “classic” vs. “vintage” vs. “antique” vs. “ancient.”
Callie Hutton (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – The Sign of Death): Actually, I would pick three. Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. I’ve read all of the Sherlock Holmes books, all of Miss Marple and Poirot stories, and most of Mary Higgins Clark’s books. If anyone is interested in starting out with brilliant author, fabulous plots with clever twists and turns, these are the authors to start with.
C. J. Cooke (nominated for Best Paperback Original – The Lighthouse Witches): Edgar Allen Poe, of course!
C. S. O’Cinneide (nominated for Best Paperback Original – Starr Sign): Probably Elmore Leonard. It’s a bit unoriginal of me, but there it is. He had a lot of fun with his bad guys. And so do his readers.
Lesa Holstine (winner of the Raven Award – Lesa’s Book Critiques): How can you go wrong with Agatha Christie? She dealt with so many tropes that are in common use today, from the unreliable narrator to the village cozy mystery. Christie is an excellent introduction to the mystery genre itself.
MO: There seems to be an increasing number of crossovers from scifi and fantasy interesting crime readers, and genre itself is an increasingly porous concept. Is there a natural affinity between science fiction and noir? What drives the proliferation of subgenres and crossovers?
Daryl Gregory (nominated for Best Paperback Original – The Album of Doctor Moreau): Science fiction and mysteries are fundamentally puzzle stories. In SF the puzzle may be an entire world. Fans of both genres are active readers who are “fault-tolerant”—they keep reading even though some confusing scenes, because they know that the solution is out there, and they will put together the clues. I’m primarily a writer of SF, but I’ve always loved mysteries (and included murder mysteries in a few of my books) because the structure works.
“Science fiction and mysteries are fundamentally puzzle stories.” – Daryl Gregory
Erin Flanagan (nominated for Best First Novel – Deer Season): I heard recently that given all the algorithms of online sales, readers are finding books more through content than category. Or more accurately, books are finding their readers. In a bookstore, a physical book needs to go somewhere, whether it’s general fiction, mystery, romance, or whatnot, but now there’s some computer crossing that you like urban sci-fi set in 1972 with international travel and a low-key romance, and bam, here’s the book for you. I think that’s both creepy and super cool.
Juliet Grames: The core requirement of the sff genre is compelling world-building, which is, in my editorial opinion, something that writers of every genre should think hard about. Seeing crime fiction writers drawing inspiration and craft from sff tenets is wholly heartwarming to me.
S. A. Cosby: I think noir is a state of mind regardless of genre. Blade Runner is a classic noir story for instance.
M. G. Leonard: I think genre crossovers are a sign of the times we’re living in. People are exposed to such a wide variety of stories in all mediums now, that writers of crime fiction are having to come up with new and exciting ways to interest or capture the imaginations of readers, as well as attracting new readers to the genre. Writers of other genres may have noticed the pleasure and escapism enjoyed whilst reading about the process of solving a crime, as well as the fidelity that readers of crime fiction exhibit, and, at this time, these are highly desirable.
Fabian Nicieza: As someone who has written over a thousand superhero comics and whose 2021 included his debut novel about a pregnant mother of four solving a suburban murder in Jersey while also seeing the release of a children’s animated series I developed for Stan Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger, I don’t know if I’m the right guy to ask about genre crossover!
I’m glad to see such barriers crumbling because I’ve always thought genre restrictions, demographic restrictions—nearly all creative restrictions—are either self-imposed by our own insecurities or imposed on us by the myopia of others.
David Bell: Readers (and even writers) care less about genre categories than publishers. Readers want good stories, and sometimes the best stories come when a story doesn’t fit into a neat category.
C. J. Cooke: I think crime feeds a lot of other genres.
What’s on your TBR list? Who are some up-and-coming writers you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Naomi Hirahara: I’m currently listening to Nekesa Afia’s Dead Dead Girls. So excited about this twentysomething writer’s historical mystery series set in Harlem in 1926. I think the historical mystery subgenre needs to be shaken up a bit and I’m excited to see how Nekesa’s series will bring a crop of younger readers to our fold.
Tracy Clark (nominated for Best Short Story – “Lucky Thirteen,” Midnight Hour): I’m actively writing my next book so I don’t have a lot of time to read at the moment, but I can’t not read. Reading for a writer is just as important as writing has to be. It’s as vital as breathing or sleeping. So I’m slowing making my way through Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister and really enjoying it. I finished recently Delia Pitts’ Murder Takes Two. Also, excellent. I also had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Rachel Howzell Hall’s next book We Lie Here. That one’s not out until July. I highly recommend it.
David Bell: Too many to mention, but shout out to: May Cobb, Tessa Wegert, Kellye Garrett, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Carter Wilson, Rachel Howzell Hall, and all my friends I forgot to list.
Pamela N. Harris: Ooh, I LOVE this question. I’ve recently listened to Like A Sister by Kellye Garrett, and now I’m looking forward to reading her backlist. She has an incredible voice—the perfect balance of humor and mystery. I recently read the premise to Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado and now I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Oh, and I’m a little late to the game, but I’m dying to read Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide. Gossip Girl meets Get Out? Yes, please!
Ann Hagedorn: At the core of excellent writing is the habit of reading well-written books. Thus, in a corner of my office, I always have a pile of books waiting for me to meet the deadlines of my book in progress—like rewards for completing all writing, factchecking, and editing. The collection is usually a mix of books I’ve not read and ones I want to revisit; rereading is often so enlightening.
— The recent pile includes: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. On the Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux. Never by Ken Follett. Amor Towles’ latest novel The Lincoln Highway. And Working by Robert Caro.
— In the “reread” category: We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, A Red Death by Walter Moseley, The Constant Gardner by John LeCarre, Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories.
— Soon to be added to this soon-to-read group are the works of my fellow writers in the Fact Crime Edgar Awards competition: Margalit Fox, Elon Green, Ellen McGarrahan, Benjamin T. Smith, and Curtis Wilkie.
— And I’d like to promote the following writers and their recent books: Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse; When We Were All Still Alive by Keith McWalter; The Italian Prisoner by Elisa Speranza; and the short stories of Corey Flintoff, such as https://www.fantasy-magazine.com/fm/fiction/free-coffin/.
Erin Flanagan: Meredith Doench, Jess Montgomery, Rachel Howzell Hall, Julia Dahl, and Alex Marwood are among my favorites. I cannot click the pre-order fast enough for any of these writers! As for up-and-coming, Aliya Ali-Afzal’s debut novel Would I Lie to You? was fantastic, and I honestly loved all the other books in the Edgar First Novel category and can’t wait to see what these writers do next!
Tracy Gardner (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – Ruby Red Herring): The next few books on my TBR list are The Perfect Neighborhood by Liz Alterman, S.A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears, and How Lucky by Will Leitch. I can hardly wait to get into them. I’m also excited about Zac Bissonette’s upcoming cozy mystery, A Killing in Costumes, which I loved. And my debut author friend Lisa Peers has a super fun lesbian rom-com coming soon from Dial titled Love at 350 Degrees that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.
James Kestral: I recently read an ARC of Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor. It’s out now, and it is a fantastic book. It’s been getting a lot of buzz and it deserves all of it. It’s set in a small Arkansas town where high school football is a necessity as vital as food or shelter. And I’ll be frank: I can’t stand football. I’ve never watched a game from start to finish because I find it excruciatingly boring. But I could not put this book down. I read it start to finish in a single sitting.
Tracy Clark: I’m actively writing my next book so I don’t have a lot of time to read at the moment, but I can’t not read. Reading for a writer is just as important as writing has to be. It’s as vital as breathing or sleeping. So I’m slowing making my way through Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister and really enjoying it. I finished recently Delia Pitts’ Murder Takes Two. Also, excellent. I also had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Rachel Howzell Hall’s next book We Lie Here. That one’s not out until July. I highly recommend it.
Fabian Nicieza: I also loved Lisa Gardner’s newest book, One Step Too Far. I just started reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and my reading OCD will likely drive me to read all of them! I’ve read or am reading all the debut books by my fellow Edgar nominees, and it’s really annoying me because they’re all so damned good! I also really enjoyed Secret Identity by my friend and fellow comic book genre buster, Alex Segura.
S. A. Cosby: Definitely seek out Eli Cranor’s Don’t Know Tough or Laura McHugh’s What’s Done in The Dark or Tracy Clark’s Runner.
Caitlin Wahrer: I recently had the chance to read advanced copies of two crime stories, each with really skillful writing: Eve Chase’s The Birdcageand Jillian Medoff’s When We Were Bright and Beautiful. The last book I bought was Like A Sister by Kellye Garrett, and I can’t wait for it to arrive (I might bring it with me on our trip down for the award ceremony!). I also plan to try a new (for me!) subgenre by reading Lang Johnson’s Devil’s Breath when it releases on May 12—it’s crime and suspense mixed with steamy romance!
Gigi Pandian: Here are a few books I’ve read recently and loved for their twists on established mystery subgenres: Amita Murray’s Arya Winters and the Tiramisu of Death is a terrific update to the cozy mystery, as is Rob Osler’s debut, Devil’s Chew Toy, a self-described “quozy” (a queer cozy mystery). Short story writer Tom Mead’s debut novel, Death and the Conjuror, features multiple impossible crimes and should help convince a new generation that there’s fun to be had with this style of classic crime fiction. And Amina Akhtar’s Kismet is a wickedly witty thriller.
Juliet Grames: A debut I’m thrilled to be publishing at Soho this summer is Ramona Emerson’s Shutter, the story of Albuquerque PD forensic photographer Rita Todacheene, who left the Navajo reservation she grew up on to protect her family from her dangerous ability to see ghosts. I know it’s going to delight the whole MWA community–it is funny, atmospheric, spooky, and terrifying, and heartwarming all at once.
M. G. Leonard: There is always so much to read! I’m a fan of Robin Steven’s Murder Most Unladylike series, which has been huge in the UK. The last two books in the series are currently sitting on my TBR pile. I have been recommended Who Could That Be At This Hour by Lemony Snicket, which I’m excited about reading, however just recently I’ve been too busy writing to be able to read.
Kat Rosenfield: I’m in the midst of researching a new book, so my TBR pile is pretty eclectic right now; I have Tara Isabella Burton’s The World Cannot Give, Les Diaboliques by Barbey d’Aurevilly, and a preparedness guide for guys who are worried about the end of the world. I’m also really looking forward to The Butcher and the Wren, a debut from the true crime podcaster Alaina Urquhart.
Marthe Jocelyn: I’d like to mention a few Canadian writers of middle grade stories: Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Me & Banksy), David A. Robertson (The Misewa Saga), Charis Cotter (The Dollhouse), Colleen Nelson (The Undercover Book List)
C. J. Cooke: I’m reading The Toll House, a wonderful debut by Carly Teagon, and Home by Cailean Steed, due out in 2023. I loved Wahala by Nikki May and Our Lady of the Nile by Sholastique Nukasonga.
Angeline Boulley (nominated for Best Young Adult – The Firekeeper’s Daughter): I just finished the ARC for Sinister Graves, which is the third book in Marcie R. Rendon’s Cash Blackbear murder mystery series. On my TBR: The Peacemaker by BL Blanchard, Bad Cree by Jessica Johns, Buffalo Is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel, and Daughters of the Deer by Danielle Daniel.
Lesa Holstine: I’m usually reading ahead as a mystery reviewer for Library Journal. Mark Pryor is kicking off a new series set in German-occupied Paris in WWII. The first mystery is Die Around Sundown. There’s a new collection, The Perfect Crime: A Diverse Collection of Crime Stories that includes authors such as Abir Mukherjee, S.A. Cosby, Sulari Gentill, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden. Of course, I’m waiting for Linda Castillo’s fourteenth Kate Burkholder mystery, The Hidden Ones, and Ann Cleeves’ new Vera Stanhope, The Rising Tide.
Yes, there are several up-and-coming writers I’d like to mention. I don’t think Katharine Schellman received enough attention for her Lily Adler mysteries, but she has a new series beginning with Last Call at the Nightingale, set in 1924 Manhattan, the Jazz Age and Prohibition. Both of Schellman’s series have an unusual cast of diverse characters for historical mysteries. M.E. Hilliard is a fellow librarian whose mysteries feature a librarian who wants to be a sleuth because of the Nancy Drew mysteries she read. The Unkindness of Ravens was her debut. I loved Raquel V. Reyes’ Lefty Award winning debut, Mango, Mambo, and Murder, as well as both of Mia P. Manansala’s books, beginning with Arsenic and Adobo.
Michael Bracken (nominated for Best Short Story – “Blindsided,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine): As a short story writer and the editor of a mystery magazine and several anthologies, I read far more short stories than novels, and my current three favorite up-and-coming short-mystery writers—other than my collaborator on “Blindsided”—are Nils Gilbertson, Hugh Lessig, and Stacy Woodson. I’ve read several kick-ass stories by each of them and encourage readers to seek them out.
S. J. Rozan: I’m not going to shout-out my TBR list because after all, those books might turn out not to be good when I do get to them; but lately I’ve read the latest by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Kellye Garrett, Naomi Hirahara, and Tori Eldridge. I can recommend them all. Also, there’s a book coming out in June by Peter Speigelman, A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET, that I read as an ARC and loved.
Thomas Kies: I’m not sure these writers are up-and-coming. They feel like they’re already “up”. But I recently finished S. A. Cosby’s excellent Razorblade Tears and I’m looking forward to reading his earlier book, Blacktop Wasteland. And I’m looking forward to reading Kellye Garrett’s newest book Like a Sister. And I’ve just started—and I’m already hooked—on James L’Etoile’s newest book Black Label. These writers have been around for a while, but I’m just discovering how good they are.
C. S. O’Cinneide: I’ll be honest. I’ve been somewhat focused on checking out the writing of my fellow nominees (driven both by fear as well as admiration). I recently devoured The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke, and No One Will Miss Her by Kat Rosenfield is on my nightstand table. When it comes to up-and-coming writers, I’m looking forward to the next book by Erin Ruddy. Her first book, Tell Me My Name was a thriller set in Ontario cottage country. I will never look at an outdoor shower in the same way again.
Rob Osler (winner of the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award): Raquel V. Reyes, Cynthia Kuhn, Mia P. Manansala.
V. M. Burns: My TBR list is HUGE. On top of the list is the new book from Kellye Garrett, Like A Sister. I’m also excited about Wanda Morris, Yasmin Angoe, Andrea J. Johnson, Mia P. Manansala, and Raquel V. Reyes.
Alan Parks: I just read a book called Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray which was great. It’s a mystery set just after WW1 and opened up a whole world I knew nothing about. Also very much looking forward to the new Sarah Pinborough one, Insomnia.
MO: The biggest burden for diversifying publishing is obviously on the industry itself, but what can writers and readers do to help move things along? Do readers and writers have a responsibility to embrace and promote books by a wide variety of authors?
Marthe Jocelyn: It is a responsibility, but really, an opportunity—to add more books to the reading list, to expand the landscape of where we can go, to listen to our colleagues tell stories we haven’t yet heard.
Kwei Quartey (nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award – Sleep Well, My Lady): Absolutely. Readers should strive to be less parochial in their reading habits and not restrict themselves to white authors. Don’t put that book back on the bookstore shelf just because you turned to the back cover and saw that the writer wasn’t a white person. Writers should reach out to other diverse authors writing about diverse locations. I write a blog every two weeks for “Murder Is Everywhere,” which includes authors from South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, West Africa (me), Scotland, India, Greece, and Singapore.
Vera Kurian: I agree that the biggest burden should be on the industry. But I do think there are things that thoughtful book people can do to promote diversity. There are many readers who prefer to read fiction that is relatable—and “readers” is such a broad category that it encompasses everyone from people buying books at the mall, to agents, to editors, to writers themselves. The problem is that some people have a really myopic view of what is relatable. A reasonable person thinks that something that plucks a heartstring is relatable. An unreasonable person thinks that relatable has to mean someone that looks like them or has the same exact experiences. There was recently a dustup about the Pixar movie Turning Red because one reviewer said it was less relatable than previous Pixar movies. Pixar?? The studio that made WALL-E? You find a nonspeaking robot on a desolate planet of garbage less relatable than an Asian girl living in Canada? If you find the need to have fictional characters look exactly like you, or for the worlds they live in to be exactly like your life, you have to start asking yourself some questions. People like me (brown, that is) grew up in a world where the fiction that was put out (whether it was books or movies or whatever) never included people who looked like me, so I had inherent training to put myself into the bodies of others and experience their worlds. Why wouldn’t you want to see something different? Isn’t the whole point of reading to travel to another place and time from the comfort of your home? Read the books that people are talking about, even if they wouldn’t normally be things you’d pick—book clubs are great for this. Read things that make you slightly (or really) uncomfortable. Ask a well-read friend for a book recommendation like nothing you’ve ever read before.
Elizabeth Penney: For me, it’s more pleasure than responsibility. We are now seeing many more diverse authors in the mystery and thriller genre, and it’s fantastic. I especially recommend Olivia Matthews, Raquel V. Reyes, and Esme Addision, my co-hosts in the Cozy Mystery Crew.
Angeline Boulley: I feel that I do have a responsibility to shout out books by Indigenous authors. We’ve always had great storytellers in our communities, but it’s only recently that publishers are taking notice. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my author journey and I want to amplify fellow Indigenous authors.
Of course, buying books helps authors. But there are no-cost activities readers can do to support emerging authors— especially BIPOC authors—such as requesting titles from libraries, rating, reviewing, and recommending to others.
Rob Osler: There’s no escaping the fact that publishing is a business. As a gay author that features LGBTQ+ characters in my stories, my influence is predominately on the supply side. But that’s only half of the economic dynamic. If publishers don’t believe—and then experience—demand for stories that embrace diversity, then even books of the highest craft and worthy of broad readership won’t get a kick at the can. So, yes, as readers and writers, we should be buying, promoting, and supporting “diverse” titles to help drive demand.
S. A. Cosby: I think we have a responsibility to make space for diverse voices. To make sure everyone has an opportunity to sit at the table, so to speak.
Jennifer Nielsen: I firmly believe in the idea that books are both windows and mirrors. All readers have the right to see themselves in a story—this is the mirror—which means we need to constantly embrace a diversity of authors and the characters they can bring to their novels. Books are also windows, a tool through which readers can see life through the eyes of someone who may be very different from themselves. This is vital in our fractured society as a tool to help us better understand others who may not travel in our usual circles.
David Bell: I think we all have a responsibility to share, embrace, and promote a greater diversity of books and writers. Why would anyone want to read narrowly? Read everything by all kinds of people.
James Kestral: I think anyone with a platform has a responsibility to use it well. And I think people who like to read owe it to themselves to read as widely as they can.
Pamela N. Harris: As an author of color, I personally feel that responsibility. I have so many books in my TBR pile, but I’ve been very intentional to place books from authors from marginalized communities to the top of that pile. For so long, I didn’t think I could be an author because I didn’t really see a lot of authors that looked like me on my school library shelves—or at least they weren’t really recommended to me. What I love about authors like Nic Stone and Dhonielle Clayton is that they use their platforms to lift the voices of underrepresented writers, and I’d love to be able to do the same. That’s not to say I’ll stop reading Stephen King! But I want to make sure that I read something by Tiffany D. Jackson right after.
C. J. Cooke: Yes, absolutely we do. But it’s not just our responsibility—we are missing out on literary riches! I’m very glad to see that some crime gems such as Without Prejudice by Nicola Williams and The Dancing Face by Mike Phillips are being reprinted, thanks to a collaboration between Bernardine Evaristo and Penguin. Writers always have a responsibility to call things out, and that includes being proactive about pushing for diversity in publishing.
Caitlin Wahrer: I can’t figure out a way to say this that doesn’t make me sound like I was raised by hippies (I was), but I feel like buying, reading, and promoting books by all kinds of people is one of the ways that I’m able to do right by my fellow people and my community. And as an author, I know that every single book sale matters. So yeah, I feel responsible even as a consumer, but even more so as a person who makes her living from the publishing industry.
Lesa Holstine: I’ll address the second question first. Most readers do not have any obligation to embrace and promote books. Readers have an obligation only to themselves, to find the books they want to read. That’s me speaking with my librarian voice. However, those of us who have a voice or a presence, bloggers or reviewers or writers who share what we’re reading should be talking about a wide variety of authors. Again, as a librarian, I think it’s important for those with any sort of following to offer a variety of choices.
Writers and readers who have an online presence can talk about or write about a variety of books and authors. I might not have the largest group of followers for a blog, but I have faithful readers who often start their day with a cup of coffee and my blog. They tell me they discover new authors and books from my reviews. I’m using my platform to introduce other readers to books and authors they might not have read. That’s what we can do to help diversify publishing. We can share our discoveries with other readers.
Ann Hagedorn: Yes, indeed. We’re all in this together; we must support and promote each other’s works. That’s crucial for many reasons, such as filling the shelves of every library and bookstore with good books that will remind readers of how wonderful it is to read! The love of reading inspires literacy; and literacy keeps democracy alive!
Juliet Grames: Each of us has advocacy opportunities every day. The more people who read a book, the more people who read a book.
“Even though we as readers have different tastes, now more than ever it’s easy to find diverse books that appeal to our individual preferences, from cozy to noir.” – Gigi Pandian
Gigi Pandian: I love to see authors using their platform to make readers aware of some of the great mystery fiction being written by authors from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Even though we as readers have different tastes, now more than ever it’s easy to find diverse books that appeal to our individual preferences, from cozy to noir.
Life’s too short to read books we don’t love, but it’s also too short to stay stuck in a rut. I hope that readers will take a chance on authors from diverse backgrounds who are new to them, then share the books they’ve fallen in love with, since word of mouth is so important.
Laurie R. King (recipient of the Special Award of Grand Master): I don’t know about responsibility, other than those of us who serve on boards and committees, but certainly anyone interested in the genre should be curious about all of its corners. And anyone interested in the community of writers should want to explore the next neighborhood over. Diversity is strength, in all kinds of ways.
Michael Bracken: I think editors play a significant role in encouraging diversity, first by publishing diverse writers and those who write about diverse characters, and second by ensuring that those stories get into the hands of readers.
S. J. Rozan: I can’t speak to the responsibility of readers, except of myself as one. When I read I’m always interested in books that take me inside worlds that aren’t mine and I’ll promote them to other readers. As a writer, to the extent that I have a platform to reach readers I do feel an obligation to promote those same books. When I started writing about Lydia Chin some people would say to me, “Oh, I haven’t read you. I don’t know anything about Chinese Americans.” It always shocked me that they didn’t see that as a reason to read a book about Chinese Americans, instead of a reason to avoid it. I’m sure there are readers who feel that same way about Black, Native, Asian, or LGBTQ books and I do feel not just responsible, but happy, if I’ve liked one, to promote it. The only way the industry will take note is if they see sales numbers going up.
M. G. Leonard: Everyone should be excited to engage with, read and recommend, stories by people from diverse backgrounds. Diverse creators are an untapped mine of unique stories, unheard voices, and interesting experiences. They are the future of this industry and to ignore them is to render yourself obsolete as well as part of the problem.
V. M. Burns: If people value diversity, then they have a responsibility to do more than just talk the talk. They have a responsibility to help initiate change by reading, reviewing, promoting, and supporting books for and by diverse authors. Change will not happen without a concerted effort by people who are already, ‘at the table,’ inviting others to sit at that same table. Use your platform to support others. And, we all have a platform, even if it’s simply recommending that your local library or book club purchases a diverse book. Things to think about. Are the books you’re reading inclusive? Are the books you’re writing perpetuating negative stereotypes? Be mindful. Working together, we make a difference.
MO: There’s a perception in the US that crime is on the rise, but the truth is often more complicated when one dives into which crimes are increasing and how those increases compare to peak crime rates in the 1990s. What is the purpose of fiction when it comes to portraying crime? And what are the risks when it comes to writing exaggerated violence?
Tracy Clark: I think the goal of crime writers when it comes to portraying crime on the page is to give it context, to explore what motivates it, what gives it air. IRL, crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Crime is the symptom of a greater societal failing. In books, the writer and the reader can look at fictional crime through a character’s eyes and maybe learn a little something about its origins, see it from a different angle, understand it from an entirely new perspective. At least that’s the hope.
R. T. Lawton: According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the overall crime rate at its peak in 1991 was 5,856 per 100K population, while the violent crime rate was 716. By 2016, the overall crime rate had dropped to `2,857 and the violent crime rate had dropped to 316 per 100K population.
In my opinion, the public’s perception that crime is increasing can be attributed to the media. In the past, most crime reported on the news seemed to be local crime coverage. Now, the public hears about local shootings and about shootings in other cities, states and other countries. And, they hear about it shortly after it happens and for several days afterwards.
The purpose of some fiction is to make the readers aware of a problem so that something can be done to take care of that problem.
The danger of writing exaggerated violence is that there are some mentally ill or unbalanced people out there who may decide to become copycat criminals and now they have a guide book to go by.
S. A. Cosby: I think crime fiction is the mirror we hold up to society. It’s the prism through which we view the world we live in . Crime and violence are aspects of life that everyone understands or has been affected by. The crime writer uses them as tools to force the reader to confront the darkness that lives on the edges of our lives. When society is less tolerant, crime writers show you the results of that intolerance. When society becomes more cruel, crime writers show you the cost of that cruelty. It’s our responsibility to shove your face in the truth.
C. J. Cooke: I like to think that fiction holds a mirror up to society. But the risk is perpetuating or seemingly endorsing certain ideologies. I’m thinking here of the fine line one has to tread when writing violence against women—we know it happens, and therefore want to speak to that reality, but one has to be careful not to feed misogyny.
“Writing crime fiction is a way to wrestle with the awfulness of crime and the nastiness of people, and control it.” – Kwei Quartey
Kwei Quartey: Writing crime fiction is a way to wrestle with the awfulness of crime and the nastiness of people, and control it. It’s not only readers who like just endings to a story, writers get immeasurable satisfaction from it too. Maybe we’re control freaks, but I think all crime writers have a deep, subconscious desire to make murder go away completely. That’s why many crime writers can be the funniest, gentlest, quietest, humblest, and most loving people. They are the opposite of the violence they portray. What is “exaggerated” violence? Do you mean the writer embellishing violence to an unacceptable level? But what does “unacceptable level” mean? There’s no acceptable level. All violence is ugly, and it should be portrayed that way. Agatha Christie’s genteel type of murder wouldn’t work for me because murder isn’t that way. It’s almost always messy and repulsive.
Caitlin Wahrer: Is there a link between the American perception that violent crime is always on the rise and American entertainment’s heavy reliance on stories that involve violent crime?The lawyer in me is like, “it depends!” Because I do think there’s some involvement, but I have to think the news cycle, politics, and racism have a heavier hand in that (like when I think of the “super predator” myth that ruined so many kids’ lives, especially young Black men). That said, I do think authors and others in publishing have a responsibility to be thoughtful about what violence we portray and how. But fiction is an art form, and people use art to process emotions and communicate ideas to each other. Crime fiction lets authors say things we need to say, and it lets readers experience a story that expands them or makes them feel understood.
Elizabeth Breck: We all have different tastes and tolerance levels for violence in fiction. In general, I prefer my violence to be done off the page (happens elsewhere and we hear about it, and not in detail), both in my reading and in my writing. There are plenty of readers and very successful authors who have different preferences (and frankly I have read my fair share of Stephen King novels, including The Stand, twice, speaking of Covid…). I also don’t care to read books that involve children or animals being injured or afraid. But that’s just me—I can’t tolerate it.
Other than that, I don’t know that fiction has a purpose when it comes to portraying crime. I think some of us just enjoy a mystery, and in order to have a mystery there needs to be a crime, and in order to raise the stakes the crime needs to have violence (no one is going to read a book about the mystery of the missing five dollar bill….well, maybe a children’s book). To me, it is all escapism. Take me out of my life and my problems by letting me read about interesting people as they solve a mystery that I try to solve along with them. That’s all I’m trying to do with my own writing: give people a thrilling mystery that consumes them so that they don’t worry about their own lives for a little while. We especially need that these days.
David Bell: Writers are trying to entertain and also reflect and comment on the world around us. I think we have an obligation to write responsibly about crime, and the best stories show the consequences of their characters’ actions.
M. G. Leonard: I think crime fiction is a character study of human emotion, intension, and impulse. It celebrates intelligence of both the antagonist and the protagonist and usually acts as a type of contemporary morality tale, which is why it can be comforting. The only risk of writing exaggerated violence is that you turn the stomach of your reader and lose them. I don’t believe including it in a story to be read celebrates violence, nor promotes crime.
James Kestral: I think crime fiction can be a great lens for examining society and calling attention to things. Particularly noir—readers come into a noir book expecting a certain style, and a good writer can play around with that stylization. When everything is dark and you shine a light on something, it really stands out. When it comes to exaggerated violence, I do think that writers ought to give some thought to what impact their work is going to have down the road. I’m not saying writers should censor themselves, but I do think they should contemplate what their work is going to contribute to the overall conversation, and if that’s the contribution they want to stand on.
But I also think that, ultimately, the purpose of fiction is to entertain. If readers want a book on sociology, they’re going to go find a book on sociology, not a mystery novel, and not even a Franzen novel.
“The most noble work crime fiction can do is to present a reader with empathy that crosses margins” – Juliet Grames
Juliet Grames: As an editor and as a reader, I find the most interesting elements of a crime novel are not the crime itself but the depiction of community response and jurisprudence in action. The most noble work crime fiction can do is to present a reader with empathy that crosses margins—that looks at the impact of crime, that ignites compassion for difficult situations that may need to crime or that may grow out of its aftermath, and that gives us the tools for sophisticated thinking about justice in our society.
Kat Rosenfield: It’s interesting to imagine fictional violence as a “risky” endeavor. The idea of a causal link between crime fiction and criminal acts seems misplaced (and quaint: recall all those 1990s parents who thought that playing Mortal Kombat might lead us to literally attempt to rip out each other’s spines). I suppose there’s always a risk of upsetting your reader, but it’s impossible to predict what will do that—I got dozens of angry messages about the death of a cat in No One Will Miss Her, but the severed human nose someone pulls out of a garbage disposal ten chapters earlier? Not a peep. Ultimately, I don’t think writing violence is any riskier than writing heartbreak, or tragedy, or betrayal—and I think it’s important to trust our readers, and not overestimate our influence over their lives one way or another.
Richard Green: I think the risks are fairly slight. The need for trigger warnings has been over-done. If a reader finds a book unhealthy, he or she can just lay it down and read another.
Jennifer Nielsen: I write for young readers, so there is obviously some restraint needed when portraying violence and crime. However, within that age-appropriate range, I think there are valuable lessons that young readers can learn from these kinds of books. Most of the time, they will see the consequences of the crime, not only because the criminal will be caught in the end, but books also help young readers to see the emotional consequences of the crime from the narrator’s perspective. These kinds of books also demonstrate to young readers that it is possible to get through difficult situations. As they see the story’s hero work toward a happier ending, they discover strategies in which they can also work toward a better future for themselves.
MO: What do you want to see more of in the genre, and what have we already reached the saturation point with?
Laurie R. King: I personally have reached a saturation point with women as victims—particularly as “fridge” characters (that is, someone brutally killed and disposed of, for example, in the protagonist’s refrigerator) who is only there to prompt the hero into battle.
Vera Kurian: I’m tired of women who lack critical thinking skills and stories where the entire plot depends on memory loss. I would love to see more books that are character driven and involve intricately plotted puzzles. I also have a soft spot for fiction that fully understands the modern world we live in, which includes technology—social media, texting, an online life in general. I’m also a fan of anything that crosses genre lines.
S. A. Cosby: I want to see more Indigenous and LGBTQ authors. I want to see more black and brown authors get big deals. And I want to see more women and authors of colors nominated for the big award.
Erin Flanagan: I have always loved books about cults, mainly because I can tell how susceptible I would have been to them, especially in my twenties. I’m sure someone will say they’ve hit saturation on that, but for me, bring it! One person’s saturation is another person’s happy drowning.
Callie Hutton: Perhaps because my series involves a couple who form a friendship while investigating a murder in the first book, I would like to see more ‘couples’ solving crimes. I come from a romance writer background, which is probably why that appeals to me. The couple in my three books (so far) go from acquaintances, to friends, to engaged, to married.
But the series remains strong on the crime solving, and light on the romance.
Tracy Gardner: I am always a sucker for a good psychological thriller. I can’t get enough of the domestic thrillers, family mysteries, anything that messes with your mind within everyday interactions with folks you know or are acquainted with. I’m not sure what we’ve reached saturation on; I think what people enjoy reading is so subjective, that’s a tough question to answer. There are always great stories, no matter the genre.
S. J. Rozan: I want to continue to see more good books. We’ve reached the saturation point with books with “Girl” in the title.
Elizabeth Breck: I always want to see more female protagonists solving mysteries without the help of a man and without a man “rescuing” her, but again that is a matter of taste. As far as saturation point: I’m done with any book with the word “girl” in the title. Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train were amazing, thrilling books. But they did something new with their titles, and that was part of their appeal. Let us now break new ground, just like they did, instead of trying to re-create their popularity by taking a book about something else and giving it a similar name.
Lesa Holstine: This is a personal answer because of my own reading taste. I am not a fan of the unreliable narrator or domestic suspense, although I buy all kinds of those books for the library system. They’re quite popular. But, there are so many of them out there that they all sound the same to me. I’ve reached the saturation point with those.
I love police procedurals, but they need a whole new angle with all the problems with the police in this country. Josh Stallings took a stab at it with his crime novel, Tricky. Lee Goldberg’s Eve Ronin books feature a young sheriff’s deputy who faces problems within the sheriff’s department. I’d love to see some other police procedurals written from various perspectives.
C. J. Cooke: I’d be interested in more political crime novels, and more crime novels invested in folklore. I think we’ve probably reached the saturation point with missing girls.
M. G. Leonard: More puzzles and cleverness please, perhaps with a sprinkling of humor. There’s a place for violent, shocking, forensic, crime solving, but I do think we’re all overwrought and sensitive after the past two years of dealing with the pandemic. I have a real appetite for cozy crime.
David Bell: I always just want to see stories that are highly entertaining and driven by interesting characters. That’s timeless, and if a writer can do that, they’re set.
C.S. O’Cinneide: I want to see more humor. I think the world needs more good belly laughs punctuated by crime scene tape. (Actually, maybe the world is a bit of a belly laugh punctuated by crime scene tape). When it comes to saturation points, I’m wondering whether the “kid in peril” thing which replaced the “woman in peril” thing a few years back has had its moment in the sun. That being said, three of my novels (including the one coming out this fall) have young people in perilous circumstances, so I’m probably full of it.
Juliet Grames: I’m looking for empathy, humor, and new knowledge in a reading experience. I’m mostly bored with books that are nothing but plot twists—I am hoping that fad is on the decline.
James Kestral: I would never want to say we’ve reached the point of saturation with something. Because who knows? Someone might have a new take on The Girl In The Place With the Thing, and just blow everybody out of the water. I just want to see good books.
Will Leitch: There are some truly incredible books that have been written about spouses who have gone missing and have secrets to be disclosed as the story unfolds. I love those books! But I think I have perhaps read enough of them now.
Rob Osler: I’d love to see more good-hearted, feel-good, traditional, and cozy mysteries with diverse lead characters that avoid lazy stereotypes.
Rhys Bowen: Good writing. Great characterization. There is no reason that a crime novel should not be as rich as a literary novel in terms of character and setting. I think we’ve reached saturation point with the very cozies: the donut shop, girl from city escapes to childhood home, meets rugged lumberjack etc.
Gigi Pandian: I’m happy that traditional puzzle plot mysteries are beginning to see renewed popularity. However, the subgenre isn’t particularly diverse in English-language publishing. (There are many terrific Japanese authors writing impossible crime mysteries, with more being translated into English in recent years.) I’d love to read more diverse locked-room mysteries (hint, hint!).
Fabian Nicieza: I would really like to see more books written by me! I don’t personally think we’re anywhere near the saturation point on books written by me!