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Solving the Genre Mystery

January 13, 2010

Literary fiction’s not considered a genre, but that’s what I’ve read most of my life, particularly literary novels set in exotic locales. Starting with The Good Earth back in middle school, I’ve always been drawn to intricate, elegant stories filled with poetic descriptions, faraway locations, and rich doses of history, drama, and social themes that make me think.

A few years ago, I got hooked on mystery novels, which offer many of those same elements along with a faster pace, higher stakes, and challenging puzzles that often force me to keep turning the pages way past my bed time. Not just following clues to solving crimes and other unusual circumstances but also to figuring out people and what motivates us. All the same stuff I love about literary novels, just presented in a different way.

So as I wrote my first mystery, Breathing in Bombay, I had to figure out what subgenre it fell into within the category. That’s when I realized there are quite a few of them: traditional (also known as cozies), suspense, and thriller; historical and futuristic; police procedural versus amateur sleuth; and so on. The choices seemed endless.

Of course, while I was figuring out my subgenre, I stayed on the lookout for good mystery novels with an international flair. I came across many excellent authors who’ve transported me to fascinating places: Tana French to Ireland, Karin Fossum to Norway, Stieg Larsson to Sweden, and my latest addiction, Arnaldur Indridason, who opened the door to both Iceland and East Germany with his stellar book, The Draining Lake.

I also began reading a new breed of American authors that includes Sujata Massey, S.J. Rozan, and Lisa See, whose main characters straddle two cultures. That’s a concept my series is based on as well, and how I discovered the multicultural mystery subgenre. I was thrilled to find a niche that combines adventure, intrigue, international settings, cultural issues and social themes. A niche where my own book belongs.  It’s been loads of fun to write—and hopefully readers will enjoy it too.

What about you? Have you read any good international or multicultural mysteries lately? I’m always looking for recommendations!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 8:04 am

    Excellent post – thanks for sharing info on authors I’ve never heard of. I’m excited to give them a try. Welcome to being a genre writer! You’ll find the readers are smart, loyal and always enjoy a well told story.

  2. January 13, 2010 10:01 am

    I’m with C.J. on the unfamiliar authors. So I can’t say I have any good international or multicultural mysteries to recommend. I love mysteries, so thanks for getting me started with your list above!

  3. January 13, 2010 1:06 pm

    I’m afraid my international credentials are limited to Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum. But, you did give me some interesting names to check out. The last really good novel I read that was set in a foreign land with American characters was “The Sand Pebbles” by Richard McKenna.

  4. January 13, 2010 2:31 pm

    You know, it’s funny that you describe your novel, Breathing In Bombay, as literary fiction because I was thinking of how to describe it last night (as I was doing my own blog, in which I gave Wicked Writers a plug) and thought how it sounded more literary than a straight mystery genre. I think there’s going to be alot more crossovers in fiction these days, which will be hell for publishers and publicists as they try to market, but good for fans who like different genres!

    I’ve a penchant for mysteries and historical fiction; two of my favorites are Tasha Alexander (her heroine, Emily, solves mysteries in Victorian England) and Laura Joh Rowland is excellent at transporting the reader to 17th century Japan where her detective, Sano, solves murder and intrigue for Japan’s emperor. I also learned alot about 7th century Ireland from Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries.

    Breathing sounds like a fantastic novel, Supriya — best of luck with it!

    • January 13, 2010 4:49 pm

      Thanks for the plug Nicole – you ROCK! (And I know this because I visit your blog and hear the music) 😉

  5. January 14, 2010 1:40 pm

    Nicole, how to thank you—for the support, the plug on your blog, and the wonderful comments about my novel. And thanks for even suggesting it sounds literary! I hope someday my writing could be considered as such–gives me something to shoot for. Can’t wait to dig in to your book recs–they sound great!

  6. Krishna Shenoy permalink
    February 1, 2010 8:19 pm

    ‘Out’ by Natsuo Kirino


  1. A Diverse Group of Writers « By W. J. Howard

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