What's a mystery book-wise? Well... "If it's got a dead body in it, it's a mystery!" Sounds about right. That's the statement Butch Cassiday, author of Mayhem in the Mainstream: A Study in Bloodlines, received when he asked a neighborhood librarian how she would describe a mystery.
Call them thrillers, crime or detective fiction; all of these and the slang term, whodunits, have been used to describe the mystery or crime story. Readers, it seems, love a good mystery. According to book sales reported by Simba Information, the top two most popular book genres generating big money are Romance/Erotica closely followed by Crime/Mystery. Sex may sell but so apparently do crime and mystery. The 'criminal element' pulls in upwards of $730 million a year in book sales.
Like all genres in literature there is the sub-genre; under romance/erotica there's the lighter version, mostly romance with a sprinkling of sex. In the crime and mystery category there's also a sub-genre that downplays sex and violence; they're called "Cozy Mysteries." The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The Golden Age was the time when a novel, Mademoiselle de Scudéri was penned by E.T.A Hoffmann in 1819, introducing an elderly well-known poet during the reign of King Louis XIV of France, who helps the police in their search for the murderer of a jeweler. She ultimately proves that the main suspect they are holding is innocent... She obviously was a better sleuth!
Cozies are fun to read. There's a formula to the cozies that work very well drawing readers back again and again. The amateurs in such stories are nearly always well educated, intuitive women. Books, especially in series form usually have the story line relate to the detective's job or hobby. Murderers in cozy mysteries are generally intelligent, rational, articulate people, and murders are pretty much bloodless and neat. Violence and sex are low-key and supporting background characters bring comic relief to the story. Some cozy series are set during holidays such as Valentine Day or Christmas making them more intimate to the reader.
The Detection Club, founded in 1930 and including such members as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, created the Rules of Fair Play for those writing this type of mystery. Writers belonging to this club had to create proper mystery stories following those rules and also had to swear an oath written by Ms. Sayers herself.
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?
Love the part about 'mumbo-jumbo, jiggery-pokery!'
Today, authors no longer have to follow 'rules' and now set their own formula for success with their sleuthing women and men, including professional detectives and private investigators. Today's cozy mysteries are popular because readers feel connected to the characters who seem like someone they would want to have as a friend. The situations are never overly done and all is usually neatly tied up by book's end.
The popularity of mystery shows no sign of retiring. The books remain as popular as ever especially since today's mystery writers are more diverse than ever before. While Victorian cozies are highly popular and read by scores of readers, the modern sleuth with her hand on the computer and a cell phone in her pocket are just as popular and gaining more so every day. The strong woman who can kick-box a criminal into submission is becoming a role model. Murder mysteries are a genre which will never fade. In all its forms mysteries will definitely continue to capture readers' imagination,now and long into the future.
Read the adventures of Kristen Houghton's own popular sleuth in the A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series available at all book venues
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