I’ve been standing at the intersection between ethnic heritages and cultures all my life and building bridges, so why am I surprised to find that I’m at yet another. I have to confess to the warring sides that I like both good, strong black coffee and hot, sweetened tea, preferably loose and English.
In the crime fiction world, I find a similar dichotomy, one I didn’t notice much as a reader. I only cared whether the book was well-written, had characters I could appreciate, and a suspenseful plot that kept me turning the pages. If it met my criteria, I loved and read all the books by that author, whether they involved espionage, terrorism, serial killers, quaint villages, police procedurals, hard-bitten private detectives, or young housewives and elderly spinsters as sleuths. Routinely, I found books in each of these veins that didn’t meet my criteria, as well as many that did. So I read my way happily across the broad swath of the crime novel from cozy to violent noir.
When I first started thinking about becoming a crime writer myself, I discovered that there were deep divisions between these types of novel. If it took place in a quaint, small town, had an amateur detective as protagonist (often with a family), or was humorous, the book would be automatically classified as a cozy, too often with dismissive wave of the hand by those who preferred the dark, strong stuff. If it took place in a big city, had a private eye, cop, lawyer, reporter, federal agent, or criminal as protagonist (almost always a loner), or was bleak, violent, or dark in outlook, it was increasingly called a thriller, even though the thriller originally had a much narrower premise and choice of protagonist.
Fortunately, today many of those barriers between books have been erased. Traditional mysteries increasingly include thriller elements, especially in the final chapters where the villain may have been unmasked and tries to kill the protagonist. Thrillers now often have protagonists with close family ties who are not involved in the legal or espionage community (on either side). Some fictional quaint villages are the sites of great violence. Some real urban areas full of criminals and violence are made darkly hilarious by gifted writers.
Crime fiction has become one broad spectrum. The extremes at both ends are still pure cozy (with crafts and/or cats where everything always comes right in the end) and pure noir (with violent loners involved in deadly carnage where everything always goes wrong in the end). Neither has been lost. So, whatever your taste in crime fiction, you’ll find authors whose books satisfy it, and if you’re like me and appreciate many different types, now is your lucky time. I don’t believe we have ever seen a wider variety of mysteries and thrillers and everything in between.
I don’t know about the rest of the mystery/thriller community, but I appreciate this spectrum as much as I appreciate the various coffee shops that have sprung up in the wake of Starbuck’s across the country. Sometimes a strawberry frappucino is a delight. Sometimes in the heat of summer I want a fruit-and-iced-tea smoothie. And sometimes nothing but a cup of good, strong black coffee or a pot of hot, honeyed English tea will do.
What’s your preference? The dark stuff or the honeyed?