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.”