Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blatant Self-Promotion —Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense Are Not All The Same

Coming Soon
Not too long ago, people who wrote fictional pieces about crime were called “mystery writers.”  Many people still use that name and in many bookstores that’s the name of the section where you’ll find suspense, thrillers and, for lack of a better word, whodunits. Or perhaps a better word would be “mystery, if it weren’t confused with such notions as suspense or thrillers.”  In the last few years, there has been a general movement to use “crime fiction” as the general category, a trend I like because I think we should reserve “mystery” for books that encourage the reader to engage in the investigation and solve it before the protagonist does.

I’m not in any way ranking one kind of crime book over another, just calling for a more accurate way of identifying them.  I grew up with The Rockford Files and Columbo as top of the line crime shows.  I read every James Bond Ian Fleming wrote. Like everyone else, I didn’t mind knowing who the perpetrator was during the first five minutes. I also know that one book can be both a mystery and a thriller. And probably most crime fiction benefits from achieving the highest level of suspense possible. But they are not necessarily the same thing.

What I write – for better or worse — are mysteries.  All of them, whodunnits.  One of the things I do before submitting a manuscript to a publisher is ask a few people I know to read it.  I want them to tell me where in the book they stopped reading each time they stopped reading and when interest flagged. I welcome all comments and encourage them to be not to be bashful about criticism.  But the comment I look most forward to hearing is when the reader made his or her first guess about who did the deed.  And if they had a change of mind later, I want to know that too.  I truly want to stump the reader.  But I want a level playing field just as much.

With a mystery comes perhaps a stricter set of rules. I’d put them under the general heading of “fair play.” Here I’ll use an Amazon review of Death in the Haight from my late friend and writer, Randy Rohn.

E-Book Available Now
I always look forward to Ron Tierney's books. His characters, although flawed, are real and in their very human way, heroic. This novella packs a wallop. Well-drawn characters, great plot and an interesting take on a social issue that's making headlines these days. The descriptions of San Francisco make the city come alive. The story is a genuine mystery in the finest sense of the word. There are no cheap tricks like leaving out details until the very end to make the "twist" more unexpected. In this one, you find all the clues just as the protagonist Private Investigator Noah Lang does. And as he muses on different scenarios, you are invited into his thinking process. I read this book in one sitting, because I just couldn't put it down. One caveat, this book might be bad for your diet. Ron's descriptions of San Francisco restaurants were so well conceived, it made me hungry.”

I couldn’t resist leaving in all the flattering remarks.  But the real point of it is his statement that “you find all the clues” just as the P.I. does.  Fair play.

By the way, all my books are mysteries in that sense.  Lately, I’ve been writing shorter tales, tailored to one-sitting reading.  I’m preparing three separate novellas for publication soon and the 11th full-length Deets Shanahan mystery for late next year to celebrate the series’ 25 years in print.

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