Posts Tagged ‘detective’

I’ve been an inveterate reader of mysteries since my Nancy Drew days, and Asakiyume, who follows my mini reviews of mysteries and other books at GoodReads, suggested that I blog about what I think makes a good mystery. Maybe other readers of these books will chime in.

I like a book that is literate by normal fiction standards. There should be at least one likable character, several plausible perps, no cliches, and loose ends tied up in the conclusion. You should be able to look back in the story and see that clues were carefully laid, and not just in the last quarter. But the clues should be puzzling as you read along. The reader’s brain should be engaged at all times, trying to figure out where the plot is headed.

I like the bad guys or gals to be caught, not to die a natural death or commit suicide, which always feels like a cop-out.

Some people say that Bleak House was the first detective mystery. Dickens certainly sets a high standard for all the measures I value.

I am often drawn to a mystery because of a locale that’s exotic, at least to me, and I find that many authors, even if they have a weak plot, do research into the setting that I appreciate. Still, I may have to take a long break from this genre as I am getting extremely frustrated with increasing inconsistencies, carelessness about plots, typos, and the hostility to readers that starts to appear when authors feel too much pressure to keep churning out more books.

It’s hard to define what I mean by hostility to readers. I noted it, for example, in Martha Grimes, Walter Mosley, and others I once loved but had to stop reading. It has something to do with throwing favorite characters at the reader in a perfunctory way with no new shades. It has something to do with the bones of the formula being too visible, to the point that you can almost see the writer at her desk with her chart of what has to happen in each chapter. And it has something to do with endings that fail to tie up loose threads. I often feel resentment from an author about the pressure from readers to keep delivering this exact sort of book when perhaps the author would prefer to tackle a completely different genre.

Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

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We had a great time at the Concord Festival of Authors Friday night. The brainchild of book maven Rob Mitchell, the festival has been going strong for about 20 years and lasts a month. The authors and topics are always amazing.

The event we most wanted to see this year featured a panel of mystery writers: Archer Mayor,  Spencer Quinn, and one whose books I know well, S.J. Rozan. The fans of these three novelists — and of Concord-based moderator and author Mark De Binder — filled the lobby of the Concord Library to overflowing.

I already knew from the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries that S.J. had a wacky sense of humor, but Mayor and Quinn also were hilarious in talking about their work and their lives. My husband said, “Who knew mystery writers were funny?”

Read about S.J. at the festival here and at her own site here.

“In her new novel, Ghost Hero, American-born Chinese P.I. Lydia Chin is called in on what appears to be a simple case. An art world insider wants her to track down a rumor. Contemporary Chinese painting is sizzling hot on the art scene and no one is hotter than Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero. A talented and celebrated ink painter, Chau’s highly prized work mixes classical forms and modern political commentary. The rumor of new paintings by Chau is shaking up the art world. There’s only one problem—Ghost Hero Chau has been dead for twenty years, killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising.” We enjoyed hearing S.J. read a passage from Ghost Hero, in which she had Bill Smith adopt her grandfather’s Russian accent and locution.

Quinn made me envious of his blog’s success. It attracts hordes of people who love his canine protagonist so much that they upload photos of their  pets to be the dog detective’s friend. Perhaps if I weren’t such an eclectic blogger …

If I had one reliable focus, though, I’d get bored.

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Not sure if, as a fan of detective mysteries, I should be disppointed or delighted about a new police database in Florida.

I learned about the database from an e-mail listserv I receive at the office. It’s called Innovators Insights. Sign up here to tell the Ash Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School what sorts of public policy topics interested you, and they will e-mail Innovators Insights to you weekly with short descriptions of relevant articles from around the nation — and links to the full story.

Here’s the Florida gumshoe story (to coin a phrase).

“In Cape Coral, Florida, the police department is employing a sophisticated shoe-print database that helps investigators quickly identify what type of shoe a suspect was wearing. While shoeprints are often important in identifying a perpetrator, the traditional process of manually casting a shoeprint and searching the Internet and catalogs for the matching type of shoe can be time-consuming when expedience is of the essence. By contrast, the software houses over 24,000 shoe types and allows information like side-shots of the shoes, their manufacturer, and their color schemes to be immediately forwarded to detectives. If investigators have a suspect’s shoe, they can also compare a digital image of its sole with a shoeprint from other crime scenes and look for a match. Cape Coral police have already used the technology to arrest one offender.”

Read all about it. And no matter how many exotic and unfamiliar shoes you buy in places around the world, you better behave yourself in Coral Gables.

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