The other day I wrote about the latest Harris Poll on book buying statistics. That poll showed that mystery, crime, and thriller books were rising in popularity.
That reminded me of Talking About Detective Fiction by the talented P. D. James. If anyone knows something about the mystery genre, it's P. D. James.
Her book is a history of the detective fiction genre, and it's written in an easy conversational style. If you're into mysteries, this is a book you should read.
Detective Fiction Morphs
I like what she had to say: "What is surprising is not that the detective story has altered but that it has survived, and that what we have seen since the interwar years has been a development, not a rejection, followed by renewal."
She goes on to hold forth about the realism inherent in contemporary crime fiction, taking into account the scientific and technological advances that have changed the face of detection and therefore must change detective novels. Ms. James thinks that the increased emphasis on environment/setting in crime stories and a more explicit rendering of sexually-based scenes within the stories makes the novels closer to mainstream fiction.
I think she's right. The lines between genres are blurring so that it's difficult to say this novel is a detective novel but this one over here is a mainstream (general fiction) title. Thirty years ago, writing a cross genre novel was the kiss of death. Only Dean Koontz consistently wrote these books that blended mystery, science fiction, thriller, and usually a strong romance element.
Anyone else did it at the risk of not selling the book. Conventional wisdom then said that booksellers simply didn't know where to stock books like this. Did they put it in general fiction, horror, science fiction, mystery, or what? Therefore, publishers didn't want to publish them because it would be hard to sell in sufficient quantities to make the project profitable.
Truth About Readers
Readers don't care so much about labels. They care about good books. They know what they like, and they're willing to pay good money for it when they find it. One good thing about doing online shopping is that a reader can search for the kind of book that rings her chimes by entering keywords that describe her interests.
The ability to search by keywords may be one of the reasons why online book buying keeps growing.