Whodunit Trends Target All Tastes

MYSTERY ROUNDUP

By , Michele Ross is a mystery book columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

MENTION mysteries, and some (outdated, uninformed) readers can conjure up only visions of powdery Agatha Christies or pugilistic Raymond Chandlers. What a crime! Mysteries have never been more popular than they are now. Why? One major reason is that there are now so many choices within the genre. Whereas once the field was pretty evenly divided between the ``manly'' stuff (Chandler, Holmes) and the ``lady'' stuff (Christie, Sayers), the trend now is toward diversification of every kind. In short, mysteries cover enough various ``target audiences'' to make an advertiser hyperventilate.

What does this trend mean? It means readers can choose an author as droll as John Mortimer or as dour as Andrew Vaches or Eugene Izzi. They can have their hero hard-boiled and their heroine crazily domesticated; or a heroine who is tough and a hero who cooks with herbs.

In fact, the emergence of women as serious sleuths is a trend within the trend. Think of the authors and their detectives: Sue Grafton (Kinsey Milhone), Marcia Muller (Sharon McCone), Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawsky) or Liza Cody (the wonderful Anna Lee). Gender isn't the only choice, either. Readers can pick a protagonist by location (urban or Indian chief of police).

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But for all the adaptations, mystery writers almost always stick to the universal given: Good triumphs over evil. Although every generation has probably felt the same, today's readers live in a world where mindless, often drug-propelled crime is a given. And given the myriad complexities of today's judicial system, many arrogant killers either never come to trial or are acquitted through fear or technicalities.

Yet in mysteries, most often justice will prevail. And even more important, the bad guy will get what's coming to him. The process is immensely reassuring.

Even though mystery readers can have it all, you may not have all the time in the world to choose a holiday gift book for one of them. Below is a list of but a few of the best mysteries published in 1990.

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