The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, May 23, 2008

What Type of Mystery? a couple of states, 20-25% of voters admitted that they wouldn't vote for a black man. And Hillary claims that there has been no racism in this campaign, but lotsa sexism. And Obama, according to her surrogates, has it easier because he is black. I consider this to be either woeful or willful ignorance...or pure politics taken to a really nasty edge. Now, nationwide, I figure the anti-black thing to be somewhere between 5-15%. That would explain the results I see in box office regarding sex. Again, I'm not saying that blacks (in America) have it worse than women. I'm saying that it is impossible to quantify the misery, and that anyone who does probably has an axe to grind, or has swallowed the Kool-Ade.


Had a great time teaching a group at the XX corporation (they run a major theater chain) yesterday. The unexpected joy was that the Aikido teachers leading the class were old friends of mine, Jim and Beth Shibata, absolutely wonderful human beings, and fine martial artists. Would have been a wonderful day, except for getting caught in some of the worst traffic I've ever driven in coming home. Rainstorms and hail just jammed the streets until nothing could move. Three hours, and for the last hour my bladder was killing me. Ouch.


Our editor has read the first half of "In The Night of the Heat" and loves it. Whew. That's a relief. It's fun to branch out to a new arena, but even better to have the hunch that things are gonna work out just fine. We'll be finished with the first draft in a week. Next up: "From Capetown With Love."


There are several different kinds of mysteries, including "Who done it?", "How did he do it?" "What will we do about it?" and "What the hell is going on?" The question for the day is: what is your favorite TYPE of mystery, why, and what is a good example of it?


Mike Ralls said...

I am an odd mystery reader in that I don't really read mysteries to try and solve, "Who done it," while I am reading them, but rather am just along for the ride.

My favorite series are Gordianus the Finder (Ancient Rome) and the Sano Ichiro (Edo Japan). I like my mysteries to be set in an environment that is exotic to me and in a lot of ways Ten's world qualifies for that so I'm looking to seeing the series develop.

Steve Perry said...

I like all kinds, but I tend these days to favor the Why and How Dunnits.

If you read a lot of mysteries, then you get fairly good at figuring out the Who Dunnits -- assuming the writer plays fair. S/he has to give you real clues among all the red-herrings, and if you are paying attention, you'll collect these. That's the game in most of these, the Who, and these tend t be less about character than the puzzle.

Not always, of course, there are plenty of well-written Who Dunnits, going all the way back to Sherlock Holmes.

Good examples of How-Why: the Travis McGee novels.

The old Columbo TV series. Mission Impossible. You know who the bad guy is early on, so does the hero, and the game becomes how to take the villain down.

Not to say you can't throw in some surprises along the way, but for me, it's more fun to see the characters develop, especially when I can figure out who the killer is before the reveal.

Dan Moran said...

If you can put a great fight scene aboard a train in "Capetown," I personally would be deeply appreciative. :-)

Mark Jones said...

Riffing on Perry's comment, I've always enjoyed Alastair MacLean's novels, but it was reading him that I learned the difference between a "mystery" novel and a "suspense" novel. MacLean wrote suspense--he didn't play "fair" with the reader. He had no compunctions about having his protagonist explain how he'd figured out who the bad guy(s) were by mentioning things he'd noticed earlier in the story that the reader was never privy to.

If you were hoping to figure out what was going on based on what you read, you were invariably going to be disappointed. If you just wanted to go along for the ride, as Mike said, MacLean wrote some really great stuff.

suzanne said...

JAmes Lee Burke
I go for the writing style
and the dark labyrinean ways
of the characters

Sean said...

Thrillers aren't mysteries - different mindset for me. There needs to be unknown (person, reason, who/how/why) for me to enjoy it. I want to think "oh crap, I missed that" when the big reveal happens

One of my favorite series is the Garret PI series from Glen Cook (Sweet Silver Blues, Cold Copper Tears, etc.). Mystery, set in a fantasy sword/sorcery world, modeled after Stout's Archie Goodwin/Nero Worlfe. The narrator is a hard boiled PI who carries a truncheon instead of a gun. Lotsa fun

Geoff said...

I tend to go for noir/action stuff, like Burke, or Lehane. (I've always thought the one big ongoing mystery of Burke's novels is why the hell anyone in the books likes Dave Robicheaux...) The questions in noir aren't generally so much about who done it, and how, and how will the good guy catch the bad guy, but whether justice can prevail at all, and what it will cost the good guy to catch the bad guy, and just who is the good guy anyway? How can the knight retain - or regain - his honour? (Someone defined noir as a story wherein in a good person makes a mistake, and hell opens up at his feet.) Beside all the existential angst, noir also tends to have good action.
Spenser used to be good, loved McGee back when, enjoy Sandford, not sure whether Lee Child's Reacher books count as mystery, but I like'em...

At the other end of the spectrum, I also really like the classic detective stuff, Sherlock and Poirot, those guys. Based on a different philosophical view, I'd say: the world, while containing evil, is essentially orderly, and yields to the rational and meticulous; the evil done is a broken gear; when the crime is resolved, the machine is restored to its proper working condition. Those detectives are essentially mechanics, or doctors; find all the pieces, make the diagnosis, effect the repair. McGee is catharsis, Poirot is comfort. Winning a fight vs solving a puzzle. Both good.

Long time faves: any of Lehane's Kenzie books, MacDonald's The Green Ripper, Burke's Burning Angel, and O'Connell's astounding The Judas Child. I've also always considered Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be primarily a detective story, and a darned good one.

Josh Jasper said...

I usually go for hardboiled type detectives with a brain. Early Robert Parker, Rex Stout, and so on.

AF1 said...

Big fan of noir here, too.

I like stuff by Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, and a little Mickey Spillane.

Anonymous said...

My favorites are Sherlock Holmes, Spenser, and Nero Wolf.

Marty S

evs said...

"The question for the day is: what is your favorite TYPE of mystery, why, and what is a good example of it?".

A who's-doing-this-to-me-and-WHY?! Example: The Game w/Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.

God how I love those Torquemada Goes Psywar scenarios.