It Is That(!) Time Again

It is that time again–I have to pick the books my crime and mystery book discussion group is going to read this fall.

This past year was a bit challenging for the group. Here is what we read:

FOX EVIL by Minette Walters.
END OF STORY by Peter Abrahams.
THE MADMAN’S TALE by John Katzenbach.
OPEN SEASON by C. J. Box.
AMAGANSETT by Mark Mills.
THE CLUB DUMAS by Arturo Perez Reverte.
MY NAME IS RED by Orhan Pamuk.
BY A SLOW RIVER by Philippe Claudel.

THE CLUB DUMAS failed miserably, even with me. There was just something about that book that made all of us feel inadequate. OK, stupid. While I loved BY A SLOW RIVER, the majority of the group did not think to highly of that title either. Both of these titles have won awards, and my group is now in open revolt declaring all foreign award winners verboten and they are too happy about American award winners either.

So, how do I go about selecting titles for this group? Here is what I suggested in READ ‘EM THEIR WRITES. I think these elements are not unique to crime and mystery fiction but could also be factors in selecting any book to discuss.

. Author-Is the author well respected in the field? If this is a first novel, did it get a great review? Has the author won awards? Is this author a bestselling author?

. Plot-Is the crime compelling by its nature? Is the plot
believable? Are there enough clues? Does the plot play fair? Does the plot hold your interest? Do you care whodunit? Do you care whydunnit?

. Subplots-Are there threads to the plot that were as compelling to read as the mystery/crime?

. Main Character-Do you care what happened to this character? Do you understand what happened to this character? Do you agree with what happened to this character? Do you identify with this character? Is this character heroic? Are the characters’ decisions and actions believably motivated? Is there something about this character that you cannot understand?

. Secondary Characters– Do you care what happened to these characters? Do you understand what happened to all of the characters? Do you agree with what happened to all of the characters? Do you identify with one of the secondary characters? Are any of the secondary characters heroic? Are the secondary characters decisions and actions believably motivated? Is there something about any of the secondary characters that you cannot understand?

. Subject-Is this book about some life experience outside of the mystery/crime? Does this novel teach you anything new?

. Setting-Is the setting of this novel interesting? Are there elements within the setting that taught you something new?

. Time Period-Does this novel hold a mirror up to a particular time period? Are there elements in the time period that taught you something new?

. Structure-Is there something unique or challenging in the structure of this novel?

. Style-Is there something unique or challenging in the style of this novel?

. Theme-Does this novel make you consider an element of life from a new angle? Does this novel challenge your opinion or perspective on an element of life? Does this novel raise your emotional level?

Perhaps part of the problem is that I am the one who wrote, “Has the author won awards?” It has become evident now to me that I know nothing about selecting books of a group to discuss.

Yes, I now have selection paralysis. Check in with me next week to see how I overcame this affliction and manage to make a decision.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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