Diversity in 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-RARTfor 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!