Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The State of Mysteries, and Our Slate of Mysteries

Ever since Boswell opened, we've been periodically increasing our breadth of mysteries and thrillers at the store. We've got several folks on staff who like to read in the genre, including me. And with the loss of Mystery One, we've tried to take a greater role in making sure that mystery authors continue to come to town.

One thing Milwaukee has going for it is Jon and Ruth Jordan, who along with Erica and Penny, run the Murder and Mayhem conference in the fall. These folks read voraciously and seemingly know everybody. Two years ago the Jordans were honored with a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America for "outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing." If you love mysteries, you've got to take a look at the Crimespree website, and consider subscribing to their magazine.

Another person who makes Milwaukee special for folk who like a little crime in their reading time is Carole E. Barrowman. Together with her brother John, she's written memoirs, comics, and novels for both adults and kids. She runs the Creative Writing Program at Alverno College and fills in at Morning Blend. But most important for mystery fans is her monthly column "Paging Through Mysteries" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I love that Barrowman does a great job looking for diverse writers, main characters, setting, and subgenres as she tells us about the best releases.

I've read mysteries since I was a young kid, devouring Agatha Christie in my preteen years. Like many of our current customers, when I discovered an author I liked, like P.D. James or Dick Francis, I would go back and read everything I could get my hands on. Oh for the days of binge reading, something I don't really get to do nowadays!I liked traditional detective stories, neither cozy nor noir, though of course in Francis's case his heroes were generally not detectives, but retired jockeys dabbling in whatever made a good mystery.

We're still always on the lookout for these good reads, in the hopes that we'll discover someone like Louise Penny again. I remember back to my years at Schwartz and the hardcover release of Still Life over ten years ago. From the moment that first book was published, I was surrounded by Penny-philes, and the audience has grown a millionfold since then, or so it seems. And both Sharon and Anne tell me her most recent book, A Great Reckoning, is better than ever.

One traditional author we've had great luck with hand-selling is Elsa Hart, whose novel Jade Dragon Mountain, and its follow up, The White Mirror, had great reviews and reads--four of us read #1 in the series, with Anne leading the charge for #2. The nice thing about reading mysteries is that there are always folks looking for recommendations. I convinced someone to buy Elsa Hart yesterday while waiting in the coffee line.

As you all know, my big handsell of 2016 was The Drifter, the first novel from Nick Petrie. Laden with terrific Milwaukee ambience, Peterie's novel was meant to be a stand-alone, but as he says, a few quick changes made Peter Ash a continuing character. It's a little different in tone and pacing, but no worries, Burning Bright released last month to great reviews. Even better, The Drifter was named as a finalist for the Edgar Awards in the First Novel category.

Like Petrie, the market continues to move further away from traditional mystery and towards thriller. More and more we know who the villains are, and the fun is in the chase. I'm not sure this is due to the appropriation of the genre by film and television, where it's harder to keep the perpetrator a secret. Investigations are not as exciting as action scenes. And to muddy genre walls further, more and more thrillers are taking on speculative elements

But really, the true explosion has been in psychological suspense, a genre that sort of mixes the thriller with the domestic drama, and like most writers in the latter category, the field is dominated by women and often has "Girl" in the title. Look at the bestseller lists and you'll see not just Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, but Ruth Ware and Megan Miranda (more below on her) and Mary Kubica (who had a huge run on the paperback bestseller lists for The Good Girl). The rumor is that J.P. Delaney, the author of  The Girl Before, might actually be a fellow.

How far we've come! It used to be a woman used initials so that readers would mistake her for a man.

Upcoming mystery/thriller events from Boswell:

Monday, February 13, 7 pm, at Boswell: Mindy Mejia, author of Everything You Want Me to Be, in conversation with Carole E. Barrowman. From the starred Booklist review: "Readers drawn to this compelling psychological thriller because of its shared elements with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Mejia's confident storytelling pulls those themes into an altogether different exploration of manipulation and identity."

Wednesday, February 15, 7 pm, at Boswell: Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes. This book, which just debuted on the American Booksellers Association independent bookstore bestseller list, is "a twisty psychological thriller set in North London," per Publishers Weekly. Booklist's starred review notes: "Every word comes back into play and matters as the story moves to the disturbing conclusion that everyone is talking about (it even has a hashtag campaign, #WTFThatEnding). Readers will likely never see it coming. They'll think they've got it, but they don't, and that is a rare joy for readers. Give this intense book to patrons freely, but especially target those who are fatigued with the current spate of female-driven psychological suspense. It will be enough to shake things up for them."

Wednesday, Aptil 19, 7 pm, at Boswell: Megan Miranda, author of The Perfect Stranger, in conversation with Ruth Jordan. The author of the breakout All the Missing Girls (read this review in The New York Times from Jean Hanff Korelitz) which Publishers Weekly called "a fiendishly plotted thriller" has a new novel about a journalist on the run, who runs into an old friend who soon after disappears.

Saturday, April 22, 7 pm, at Boswell: David S. Pederson, author of Death Goes Overboard. Pederson takes a more traditional detective genre and turns it on its ear, by making the protagonist in 1940s Milwaukee a gay fellow involved with a local police chief, both unraveling the case of a freighter and its missing contents, including a lot of money.

Just added! Wednesday, June 21, 7 pm, at Boswell: Haylen Beck, author of Here and Gone, in conversation with Crimespree's Jon Jordan. The internationally acclaimed, prizewriting crime writer Stuart Neville is back with a new name and a new continent (ours). We've had great reads on The Ghosts of Belfast and Ratlines and we're thrilled to see what Neville can do with a Stateside plot.

Addendum: as Sharon was proofreading this for me, she noted that another book I really liked in 2016, Michael Harvey's Brighton, is out today in paperback. The Daniel scoop: "The violence is a bit gorier than you expect from my reading, but the writing is so good, and the characters are so strong that I carried on, steeled against guts pouring out and the like."

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