Tuesday, July 18, 2017

As long as it's a series

By R.J. Harlick

You probably have favorite sub-genres in crime fiction, but do you venture beyond them in your personal reading, like, for example, from urban noir to village cozy

I’m afraid I can’t keep up with the myriad of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that pigeonhole crime fiction into ever smaller categories. I’ve never understood this need to classify mysteries beyond the broad categories of traditional mystery, thriller, cozy, police procedural and amateur sleuth. I once saw a list someone had put together of the various sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of crime fiction. There had to be at least thirty categories. To what end? The only purpose it seemed to serve was to create endless discussion on which books belonged in which categories with little agreement amongst the parties involved.

I read what I like to read regardless of sub-genre or sub-sub-genre.  My key requirements are that the book be well written, that the characters have depth, be engaging and as varied as real people, that the setting has enough colour to draw me into its world and that the story be a well-drawn and credible story with sufficient complexity to keep me guessing until the very end.

While I don’t mind some violence, I do not like violence for violence sake. In my reading life, I have only tossed two books into the garbage. One involved cannibalism with no obvious reason other than to shock the reader and the other was an endless tirade of violence, each scene becoming more graphic, again with no real purpose other than to shock.  

I tend to stay away from serial killer mysteries, primarily because if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. That’s not to say that I haven’t read some very fine serial killer mysteries, such as the ones by Jo Nesbo.  I’m not a big fan of psychotic killers.  I prefer the villains to be ordinary people, like you or me, who, for whatever cataclysmic reason, have been driven to commit the ultimate sin.

I’m a big fan of series. I like to sink my teeth into a good character and go with that protagonist from book to book until the author runs out of steam, often unfortunately before the last book. I find that the later books of many a best selling author are sometimes not as good as the earlier ones. A series helps my decision making process. Deciding on a next book is easy with a series. Whereas with standalones I am back to the dilemma of what to choose for the next book. For that reason, I rarely read standalones. Put it down to laziness. If an author writes both standalones and series, I will always pick the series.

I like to learn something through my reading, so I will often select a book because it is of a culture or place I know little about.  And at the risk of receiving squawks and raspberries from many of my friends, I will admit I am no big fan of cozies. They are too facile for my taste. Sorry guys.

To give you an idea of the crime fiction I like to read, here is a partial list. Anne Cleeves’ Shetland series and Vera Standhope series, Camila Lackberg’s Hedstrom and Falck series, Barbara Fradkin’s Inspector Green series, Giles Blunt’s Cardinal series, Brenda Chapman’s Stonechild and Rouleau series, Eliot Pattison’s Tibet series, Vicki Cameron’s Molly Smith series, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid and James series. I’ve also enjoyed John McFetridge’s Montreal series and Howard Shrier’s Jonah Geller series.

I wouldn’t be remiss in adding that I like to write the kind of mysteries I like to read. Next up Purple Palette for Murder available now for pre-order. Check out my website, www.rjharlick.ca, to find out more about the Meg Harris mystery series.


Paul D. Marks said...

I agree with you on the seemingly endless expansion of sub-genres, RJ...except that I would add hardboiled and noir to your list.

RJ Harlick said...

But, Paul, what is the difference between hardboiled and noir? I would think they are very similar. Isn't noir just a modern version of hardboiled?

RM Greenaway said...

I gravitate to series too. Nice to get attached to a protagonist, or better yet a team.

Paul D. Marks said...

Hi RJ, hardboiled and noir really aren't the same. There can be some crossover but to me hardboiled is as much a style of writing as much as it is about tough, "hard" content. Noir, to me, is about people who are fouled up by their own weaknesses, greed, whatever and spiral downward. These are very abbreviated explanations, but they truly are different.

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Paul, for explaining the difference.