Mystery Subgenres: Recapping our March Program

From left: Dana Delamar, Curt Colbert, Mary Daheim, Boyd Morrison, and moderator Marty Wingate

Our March program featured a panel on the mystery subgenres. Panelists Dana Delamar (romantic suspense), Curt Colbert (private investigator/historical/noir), Mary Daheim (cozy), and Boyd Morrison (thriller/action adventure) responded with care and enthusiasm as our moderator, Marty Wingate, asked some fun and some tough questions.

Here are a few takeaways from the discussion that aimed to highlight the differences between these types of mysteries.

In the thrillers that Boyd writes, the stakes are very high. The world is in peril, there’s lots of action (and car chases), and each chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. He described his Tyler Locke series as Indiana Jones + engineering, since that is his own background.

Dana described her romantic suspense books about a Mafia family as the Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet. Readers expect the romance and suspense to be equally important, and the romance has to end with an HEA (happily ever after) or an HFN (happily for now).

Mary is a prolific writer of cozies with her Bed-and-Breakfast series approaching 30 volumes, as well as the Alpine series and other works. The settings, the relationships, and humor – as well as a murder – are all essential to these mysteries.

Curt’s series takes the noir tone of a Sam Spade mystery and sets the story in a carefully researched Seattle of the 1940s. His PI Jake Rossiter battles the odds as a man of principle, but don’t get between him and his bottle of Scotch.

On body count. . . the “rules” are different for each subgenre. Cozies usually have one or two, while a PI investigation can rack up three or four. In Dana’s romantic suspense mafia books, “a lot of blood” is the rule, and bodies are everywhere. But in Boyd’s thrillers, when it comes to the death toll, the sky’s the limit.

Who dies? . . . All of our panelists turned out to have had experience of readers reacting strongly to the death of a character. In Curt’s first book, one of Jake’s operatives dies and he was surprised that readers were upset because the man was a racist. Mary said she once had a major character that she couldn’t stand. Finally, she called her editor and asked, “Can I kill this character off?” It took a whole book to set up this turn of events, but she did it. Afterward, like Curt, she was surprised to learn that readers had liked him and were sorry about his death.

How many? How long? . . . Another thing our panelists had in common is that they have all written multiple books and more than one series. They generally agreed that the first book took the longest to write (a minimum of two years) but that as they became more experienced, they were able to finish a book in less than a year.

The program concluded with a book signing session, thanks to Third Place Books, which made sure that a selection of each of the writer’s books was available for sale.

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