Category Archives: Diversity/Mystery

Diversity in Mystery Discussion – Apr. 19

The_Long_FallThe Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) met Wednesday, April 19, at the Attleboro Public Library to discuss the Mystery genre with a focus on titles by authors selected with an awareness of diversity. The benchmark title was The Long Fall, first in the Leonid McGill series, by Walter Mosley. The group will be holding one more meeting, on June 7, to discuss the Fantasy genre before the summer break. New members are welcome to jump in any time; please register on the MLS Workshop Calendar.

We talked about characteristics of the Mystery genre, in general, a bit first, for members of the group who weren’t with us in Year One, such as that a crime has usually been committed; the story has a clear beginning, middle and end; and that mysteries are often written as a series. (Thank you to Leane of the NE-RART for her “It’s A Mystery” handout our first year!) We also talked about reader’s advisory interactions with patrons and the advantages/disadvantages of using NoveList, GoodReads, and just going into the stacks with patrons.

The supplemental readings we talked about were:

In the 2015 Library Journal genre spotlight article, Not Your Usual, by Kristi Chadwick, we read about a push for more diversity in the Mystery genre:

“In recent years, spearheaded by such projects as We Need Diverse Books, an increasing number of nontraditional literary voices (from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, for example) are claiming more attention from critics and readers. Likewise, the mystery genre is undergoing a similar transformation.”

Some publishers and imprints mentioned in the supplemental readings to look to for diversity include Akashic, Kensington (Dafina), Tor/Forge, St. Martin’s (Minotaur), Soho Crime, and Cinco Punto. It’s still hard to find humorous or cozy mysteries that are written by underrepresented authors, but Barbara Neely’s cozies were mentioned.

“Says Minotaur’s [Keith] Kahla, ‘One of the great aspects about crime fiction is that, over the years and decades, it’s been used in so many interesting ways by talented writers to illuminate, explicate, and comment upon their lives, their cultures, their concerns, and their times.'” – LJ, Not Your Usual, 4/15/15

The Long Fall by Walter Mosley was chosen as the benchmark title because Walter Mosley has been writing crime fiction for years, and is especially known for the long-running Easy Rawlins series set in Los Angeles. He has also written in other genres, including erotica and science fiction.

The group was intrigued by the private investigator Leonid McGill in The Long Fall and was drawn into the story by the characters more than the plot. The tone was described as  “hard-boiled”, “gritty” and “noir-ish”. The frame (contemporary, urban, the culturally and class-diverse New York City of the not-rich-and-famous) was important to the story, with readers describing the book as “very visual” and “would make a good movie”. Race is “there” but was not a theme of the book. It was described as a good example of representation, as characters of diverse race/ethnicity were all developed (not caricatures). Skin tones were noticed and mentioned, but “everyone’s” were; there was no automatic assumption that a character was white until described otherwise.

Second titles have been posted; it’s OK to submit yours still, if you haven’t! Second titles in the Mystery genre that we read and talked about in terms of reader’s advisory appeal factors – frame, tone, pacing, plot/storyline, characters – included the following:

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Agency (YA) by Y.S. Lee

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

Apparition Alley by Katherine V. Forrest

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Ghost Month by Ed Lin

Missed the meeting? View the agenda which also lists additional RA resources we talked about.

Please register for the Wed., June 7th meeting, 10am-12pm, at the SAILS Library Network Offices in Lakeville to talk about diversity in the Fantasy genre!

Diversity in Mystery – Second Titles

Here are the second titles the group read and reported on in the Mystery genre with an emphasis on author diversity:

cover imageTitle: The Case of the Missing Servant

Author: Tarquin Hall
Main Appeal Factors: set in India, private detective, charming characters, humor
Genre: Mystery
Annotation/Thoughts: 
Vish Puri fancies himself possibly the greatest detective in India, and quite surely the greatest PRIVATE detective in India. Using old-fashioned methods of detection and a cast of sidekicks with code names like “Facecream” and “Handbrake”, Puri solves crimes in contemporary Delhi. Much to his chagrin, his very capable Mami-ji also sneaks off to help him solve his cases. The characters are charming if a bit irascible, reminding one of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. Lovers of Flavia may enjoy this series, as well as fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

cover imageTitle: Ghost Month
Author: Ed Lin
Main Appeal Factors:
Taiwanese culture and history; dark humor
Genre: Mystery
Annotation/Thoughts: The frame almost overwhelms the mystery plot, but the setting of Taipei in Taiwan with its layers of culture and history, overlaid with influences from other cultures, especially China, is interesting enough in itself to carry the book. First in the Taipei Night Market series, Ghost Month features a young, now parentless, man who returned to Taiwan out of filial duty to take over his father’s food stall and debts, unable to fulfill his own aspirations of college in the U.S. and a successful career.

cover imageTitle: A Spy in the House
Author: Y.S. Lee
Main Appeal Factors: 
Fairly light YA mystery with a spunky main character
Genre: Mystery
Annotation/Thoughts: Mary Lang, a 12 year old thief, is sentenced to the gallows during the mid 1800s in London. She is rescued by a teacher from Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Mary remains at the school for 5 years and becomes a teacher at the school as well. The head teachers then offer her a job working for “The Agency” which is comprised of former students who become top secret investigators who pose as “spies” to learn information for “The Agency.” Mary becomes Mary Quinn and goes to work as a companion to a young woman whose family is being examined for smuggling antiquities from India and selling them to crooked dealers in London and Paris. The pacing is fairly quick and the plot slowly unfolds as we learn more about the characters. Despite the somewhat depressing time period, the mood is fairly light. Mary proves to be a bright and daring spy and she also develops a relationship with a man which could lead to more than a friendship at some point in the future. The diversity that comes into play is the fact that Mary looks somewhat foreign. She is very closed mouthed about her “exotic” looks but we eventually learn that her father was Chinese and she learns something about her father during her investigation. A quick and satisfying mystery.

cover imageTitle: A Study in Scarlet Women
Author: Sherry Thomas
Main Appeal Factors: Sherlock Holmes retelling, mystery, historical, feminism, female friendships
Genre: 
Mystery
Annotation/Thoughts: 
A Study in Scarlet Women is a retelling of the Sherlock Holmes classic, A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wherein our “Sherlock” is actually Charlotte. All Charlotte has ever wanted was control of her own life. But even that is far too much for a woman to hope for. Seeing no other way out Charlotte makes a desperate choice that results in her being cast out of society. To make matters worse this decision results in the implication of her sister and father in a murder. In an attempt to divert the suspicion from her family she writes to the inspector investigating the murder as Sherlock Holmes. The inspector is fascinated by “Sherlock” and his deductive skills and continues to pursue “his” assistance in the investigation. In the real world, Charlotte is taken in by the former performer Mrs. Watson, a kind widow who understands what it is to be shunned as a result of her time on the stage. Mrs. Watson soon recognizes Charlotte’s brilliant mind and together they concoct a scheme. They begin receiving clients by posing as Sherlock’s sister and Mrs. Hudson, the landlord. By recasting Sherlock as a woman Thomas shines light on the challenges and perils women faced during the time period. Thomas also showcases the power of female friendship and the ability of women to support one another. Additionally there was the beginning of a romance that I believe will blossom as the series continues.

cover imageTitle: The Unquiet Dead
Author: Auzma Zehanat Khan
Main Appeal Factors: Learn about Bosnia war, characters
Genre: Mystery
Annotation/Thoughts: 
The author is a Muslim, British-born Canadian who now lives in Colorado. I don’t know that I got enough sense of what it was like for the main character (Esa Khattak) to be Muslim, but I certainly learned about what it was like to be a Muslim Bosnian during the genocide in the 1990s. Khan did very thorough research and included some of the actual testimony from the trials of criminals in her chapter headings. As a mystery it was slow going. However, because I learned a lot while I read it, I enjoyed it. I hadn’t realized how the UN forces really made the genocide possible.
Pace: slow. Not a real page turner.
Setting: Canada and Bosnia
Characters: complex (and we haven’t learned all we are going to learn about them yet.) Fairness of the mystery: most of the clues were there, but again there were limited characters who could be guilty if indeed there really was a crime
Language: the quotations and the scenes set in Bosnia were a little tough reading because of the atrocities.
Give to readers of Malla Nunn, Martin Walker (Bruno served in Bosnia), and other authors who set their mysteries in difficult settings.

If you haven’t submitted your second title yet, please do so here!