Monday, March 2, 2015

A pinch of mystery, a dash of romance

Have you noticed that the jacket blurb for a lot of literary novels has been saying "a great mystery" or "a nail-biting thriller" recently? What do you think is going on? 

by Meredith Cole

I have come to believe that genre is indeed a porous and hard to define thing. Mostly genre is a construct of editors and marketers who need a way to position the work they sell. Mysteries in the end are rather difficult to define with just one or two characteristics. Books in the genre have at the heart of their story a puzzle or a question that needs to be solved--perhaps a wrongful death or a crime. But so do many books we define as literary fiction. So how can any of us tell the difference?

Literary fiction is often defined as more character driven than plot driven, and honestly the genre is not selling very well these days. Genre fiction, specifically mysteries and romances, are doing much better. I just went and counted the number of mysteries/thrillers on this week's hardcover New York Times best seller list. In the top 16, 9 of them were mysteries and thrillers. Nine! So if I were a marketer trying to do my best to spread the word about a book I loved, I might very well choose to emphasize its marketable traits like mystery and romance. That way maybe I could reach someone who had just finished the latest James Patterson and might be looking for something else to read.

In the end, I think every good book has a pinch or mystery and a dash of romance. There is a question at its heart of the story that makes us keep turning the pages to see if we can find out the answer. Interesting characters, intriguing settings, great dialogue and a well-paced plot are all things I look for in a good book. And in the end, I don't care what part of the book store I find it in, only that it entertains me.


Paul D. Marks said...

Meredith, I read somewhere, maybe on FB so I'm not sure how true it is, that Faulkner said all novels are mysteries. But even if he didn't say it, it makes sense. They might not be puzzle mysteries or mysteries in the classic sense, but there is some type of mystery in all books. Anyway, good piece.

Meredith Cole said...

I like it--whoever said it, Paul! It makes sense to me, too...