My biggest problem is that there are too many good authors right now. Back when I worked at The Mystery Company, Jim Huang’s bookshop, I had the naïve goal of reading a book by every author who came in for an event. That ended up being several events a month, often with multiple authors per night. Sometimes that worked out well for me like when Michael Koryta asked me for a good passage he should read from. It also worked out poorly when I tried to compliment a writer for a book she didn’t write.
With mystery writers, if you discover a great find it’s not just a 300-page investment. Chances are they are going to have a new book in 12 months, then another 12 months after that. Some of them are nuts and have multiple a year. The more authors who came into the store, the more I started to read. I subscribed to enough modern writers to keep me busy for the whole year. It was a struggle to keep up.
I say “struggle” which is silly. Oh the horrors of having too many good books to read. The only problem is now there is a gap in mystery education. I’m reading so many modern novels that I am behind on most of the classics.
I entered the genre early with young adult series like the Sammy Keyes books and The Boxcar Children. As great as they were, crimes involving stolen candy didn’t feel like high enough stakes for me. In elementary school I started reading Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie—much to my 5th grade teacher’s dismay when I was showing classmates passages from And Then There Were None.
Most of my family were passing around mystery novels to each other which allowed me to branch out more in addition to pillaging the library whenever possible. I read the complete works of so many brilliant authors, but I still have significant gaps. I’m becoming a bit embarrassed.
I recently finished Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, which was absolutely hilarious. It was one of the few books that consistently made me laugh aloud. Yet when I went to BoucherCon and talked about it, most people were put off it has taken me so long to read a Dortmunder novel.
So let’s just get this out of the way and ruin any reputation I had as a mystery fan. I have never read a single book by Margery Allingham, Robert Crais, Elizabeth George, Reginald Hill, Tony Hillerman, Val McDermid, John D. McDonald, Sara Paretsky, Dorothy Sayers, Mickey Spillane, and Ross Thomas.
Confessions are supposed to make you feel better. That didn’t. That’s why I’m trying to switch it up with every novel I read. When there is a sense of history with the genre, there can be greater appreciation. Reading the influences that inspired my favorites creates a richer experience. But mostly it’s just so I can stop hearing, “What do you mean you haven’t read Busman’s Honeymoon?”
First published in Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence in October