Mystery or Crime Fiction? Less Filling.

Both Patti Abbott and Spinetingler editor Brian Lindemuth (at Do Some Damage) have asked whether you prefer Mysteries or Crime Fiction, both as a reader, and a writer, when it comes to labeling books.
It used to be that Crime Fiction was a subset to Mystery, and now the tables seem to be turning somewhat. Here is my long comment at DSD.

Almost every story has an element of mystery. What happens next? Parker is on a bridge and he tells a guy off. I like this guy. What’s he gonna do next? But that’s not a story of deduction. Is Tana French’s excellent Faithful Place allowed to be crime fiction? There’s a murder and we don’t know who did it. But her depiction of Dublin and her excellent characters are right out of Hammett or Chandler.

I like both mysteries and crime fiction. I consider Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” mysteries to be cozies. I can never keep up with the classifications that nerds keep narrowing down, whether it’s in music (no dude, that’s not shoegaze, it’s um, darkwave fartsniff dubstep!) or books or whatever. I can’t be bothered.

Let’s face it, Mystery and Crime Fiction are labels to sell a book. If it bothers you to see “Mystery” on a book you like, is it because you imagine Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher and don’t want to be associated with fans of those stories?
Mystery lovers likely get the same shiver when they see Crime Fiction or Noir on a label, they know there may be foul language and testicles (probably severed ones).
It’s a marketing construct. I don’t like either label. “Crime Fiction” can certainly drive away readers who assume it’s all about serial killers and gumshoes wearing fedoras and talking like Bogart, just like “Mystery” may be dismissed as a puzzler to keep you occupied in the waiting room for the gastroenterologist.

What about “Suspense”? I hope your story has suspense, even if it’s “literary fiction.” But heavens forfend it be labeled a “thriller,” those are for reading on airplanes, right? Speaking of thrills, I’m thrilled when an author I like is in the good old Fiction section. Megan Abbott, Pete Dexter, Scott Phillips are all recent sightings. But I don’t mind wandering to the Mystery corner, like the “Adult” section of the video store (if you remember those) to get my kicks.

Like Colson Whitehead says about those who call genre fiction a guilty pleasure:

“Other people’s labels. Other people’s hang-ups.”

4 thoughts on “Mystery or Crime Fiction? Less Filling.

  1. Barnes & Noble has the most arbitrary sorting criteria I’ve seen. Then again, the “Murder” bookstore in Delray wouldn’t Chris Holm because he’s too “urban fantasy” (not to be confused with “urban” which seems to mean “it has black people in it and won’t show up on an English Lit syllabus”), but they had 50 Shades (“because it sells”) and several books with vampires. Of the two remaining B&Ns relatively nearby, one keeps your girl, Abbott in Fiction, the other “Mystery.” That’s one of the two main things I miss bout Borders: 1) the computer kioks around the store to help you find stuff without waiting in the 5-people-deep line at the reference desk and 2) it had a great view of Middle River (though, that admittedly has nothing to do with book subgenres).

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