Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Opening up new worlds

I’m seeing more diversity offered in reading these days and am reading a lot more diverse protagonists and subjects. I feel as if it’s opening up my world. What trends have you noticed in the last year, for better or worse?

by Dietrich

Diverse characters in mysteries and crime fiction are nothing new, but the ones who are complicated and dynamic often feel like fresh air to me when lined against the stereotypical types of the past decades. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, true originals in their day, and there are many other characters who I like to revisit now and then. But, it is a treat to find a protagonist who’s more than hardboiled, hard drinking and smoking, not just another badass PI in a trench coat, or the rogue, hard-fisted cop with alcohol and marital troubles.

A fine recent example is Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle, released in 2021. Set in the late 50s/early 60’s Harlem, Colson gives us a perfect picture of African American life from a bygone era, and a great character in Ray Carney, a protagonist who is part furniture salesman — somewhere between a go-getter and a crook, but a very believable character indeed.

As for diverse subject matters there’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. Set in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in ’72, it tells what happens after workers dug up a body while excavating a foundation for a new development in Chicken Hill. Enter a host of wonderful ethnic characters whose stories all overlap in the most wonderful of ways. This is a fine example of diverse characters springing to life, thanks to McBride’s incredible sense of dialogue — truly a masterpiece. 

Another fine example is Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. A fast-paced tale of great sacrifice, betrayal, and redemption. It wisks readers to Kabul and introduces them to its well-drawn characters while offering a detailed picture of Afghan life.

Back to mysteries, Sue Grafton gave us a different kind of investigator back when she started her Kinsey Milhorne novels back in the early 80s, and in doing so she inspired a whole generation of female mystery authors. Sara Paretsky, Janet Evanovich and many others have also created strong female characters who do far more than land in a novel as victim or vixen.

I suppose love, money, and conflict will always find a place as themes in the many forms of popular fiction. And while I don’t try to follow trends in what I read or in what I write, it’s always about a good story well told, any genre really. I’m always on the hunt for the next great novel that feels fresh, the ones that continue to inspire my own work.


Christopher Courtin said...

Wonderful selections for sure!
My own reading (and learning) has recently gone through something of a renaissance all thanks to putting up a LFL (little free library) in front of our house. Whenever I visit bookstores or the public library I inevitably head straight to the mystery section and rarely wander further. It’s the genre I love and know the best. But since adding the LFL Ive been finding so many wonderful books across genres I previously had never considered (sci-if, westerns, manga, historical fiction, even romance). A story well told is a good story! And there’s always something to learn from. :)

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You're right, Christopher, A story well told is a good story, regardless of genre. And I love the LFLs too.

Susan C Shea said...

Ray Carney in Harlem Shuffle sounds like a great character! Thanks for the recommendation. Agree that it's been a pleasure to see some noir characters who are beyond the classic mold.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks Susan.