Something different?

This is part of a message that I sent to my store's email list this morning. To sign up for Mystery Company updates, visit the store website at

I'm just back from New York, where I spent two days meeting with publishers and other book industry folks as part of a Sisters in Crime delegation. We had a lot of good conversations and I expect that a lot of interesting new ideas and initiatives will come out of this trip.

But there was one disturbing comment that gives me pause. Referring to categories within a large store, and the way mysteries are now sometimes called thrillers and sometimes shelved in the fiction section, a marketing person at a major publisher talked about how mysteries were out of fashion and said "you don't think you'll find something different in the mystery section."

I was astonished by this comment, which is diametrically opposed to what I believe about this genre.  Unfortunately, she was not the only one to express the feeling that "mysteries" are musty or moribund or even dead.

Part of what's going on is the difficulty of classification -- what is a mystery anyway? -- and what I think is the somewhat futile but vocal effort to divide thrillers from mysteries -- aren't most of the best thrillers mysteries too?  Yes, there are some differences between "mysteries" and "thrillers" but the lines are often so blurry as to be meaningless. The real point is that for many decades, thrillers co-existed quite happily with mysteries under the broader banner of "Mystery." What's going on here is relatively new.

There's nothing wrong with saying that thrillers are "hot" -- something that everyone appears to agree on. But doing so at the expense of the larger, deeper and richer mystery label isn't right. The perception that "mystery is dead" has clearly taken root at highest levels at some pillars of the New York contingent of the publishing business. I think they couldn't be more wrong.

If you're reading this newsletter, I can't image that you share the feeling that the genre is dead.  The vitality of our new releases table is astonishing -- new entries in treasured series (we have signed copies of the new Elizabeth George, for example), cool new writers like Richard Thompson and Tom Schreck, etc.  You know that we offer "something different" every day; you may even have heard me say something I say often: you can read ten mysteries in a row and read ten entirely different books.

Don't believe me? Try Alexander McCall Smith's The Miracle at Speedy Motors, Dan Fesperman's The Amateur Spy, Donna Leon's The Girl of His Dreams, Jane Langton's The Transcendental Murder (new edition of a 1964 classic), Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse, Karin Fossum's Black Seconds, Michael Allen Dymmoch's M.I.A., Katherine Hall Page's The Body in the Gallery, Jo Dereske's Index To Murder, Thomas H. Cook's Master of the Delta -- to cite 10 books on the new releases table right now -- and tell me that you're not reading 10 fresh, intriguing, engaging and different books.

We call this store The Mystery Company.  It's a badge we wear proudly.