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June 2, 2012

I’m not sure who said it originally, but variety is definitely the spice of life.  And that’s one of the reasons I so enjoy reading mysteries.

Just taking a look at the books I’ve reviewed recently, I’ve gone from present-day Los Angeles to nineteenth-century New York City to twentieth-century China to nineteenth-century Scotland. And all without leaving home, unless you count my trips to the local library or book store.

Last month I attended a panel discussion that featured an author of several novels, two of which I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed.  She spoke passionately and eloquently about her latest novel, which indeed was excellent.  During her talk she mentioned that rarely had she read a mystery novel and never had finished reading one.

I could hardly believe her.  It’s as if she had said she’d never read a non-fiction book or never seen a foreign film or never gone to an art museum.  I’m certain she never would have said any of those things, so why did she think it was alright to say she’d never finished a mystery story?

The funny thing was that after she had said that, she kind of laughed and said that perhaps her latest novel, the one  she was discussing, was kind of a mystery. And indeed it was, I thought.  There was a crime involved, a person who may or may not have been guilty of that crime, and a violent ending to the story.  But it wasn’t about a murder or one that featured a private eye as its protagonist, so perhaps it didn’t fit into her definition of a mystery.

Did she not read mysteries because they scared her?  Because she felt they were not serious literature, only entertainment?  Or was there some other reason?

Of course, her decision is exactly that, her decision.  And although I didn’t question her during the question-and-answer session or approach her after that to ask for her reason, I felt like telling her that there are as many different kinds of novels in the mystery genre as in any other genre, and she was missing a lot of wonderful, well-crafted stories featuring funny heroines, dissipated private investigators, burned-out police officers, and a hundred or so other protagonists, written by authors who have a good tale to tell.

I admire her writing but not her closed vision. It’s her loss, but as I left the talk I felt sorry for her.


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