Your Mystery Questions: Answered

Mystery MonthLast Tuesday, we kicked off Mystery Month a few days early with the webinar, “Beyond Bestsellers: High-Demand Mysteries in Libraries.” If you weren’t able to join us, click on the link and you’ll be able to see the whole thing. Viewers’ questions came fast and furious during the webinar, and our presenters and staff answered as many as they could on the fly. Here, though, we’re giving them a chance to add a bit more detail, or suggest that title that was on the tip of their tongue, or answer the unanswered. In the order that they appeared, our presenters were:

  • Talia Scherer, director of adult trade library marketing for Macmillan
  • Michele Cobb, vice president of sales & marketing for AudioGO (formerly BBC Audiobooks America)
  • Edwin Buckhalter, chairman of Severn House
  • Kate Lyall Grant, publisher of Severn’s newly acquired imprint, Crème de la Crime
  • Maggie Topkis, publisher of Felony & Mayhem
  • Joyce Saricks, author, RA expert, and Booklist columnist


Do you recommend shelving mysteries on their own shelves or tagging them with genre stickers?

JOYCE SARICKS: This is the great debate! Shay Baker’s studies back in the 1980s showed that circulation increased when you created smaller genre collections, but you could possibly make any change that would create smaller collections and that would increase circulation because patrons have a smaller collection to browse. Who knows if the genre collections improved circulation and satisfaction long term. At my library, we separate out mysteries, sf/fantasy, and westerns. We had stickered fantasy and westerns at one point and intershelved, but our collection is too big, and patrons really couldn’t find what they wanted. (We couldn’t easily either.) However, with the genre-blending and genre-crossing that occurs now, it’s harder and harder to say what makes a book a mystery—or almost anything else.
Patron satisfaction should drive whatever you do. Think about permanent displays for any genre that’s stickered and intershelved—or for any collection. I fear I am a display junkie, but I know how effective carefully filled displays can in getting books into readers hands. Decide based on the size of your collection and your patrons’ interests. With both stickering and segregating, your tech services staff needs to know what to do, how to make the decision of sticker or genre collection without having to read every book.
You can debate this forever! If you want opinions, post a query on Fiction_L, the readers’ advisory mailing list housed at

Is the traditional category of cozy mystery still holding its own with library patrons?

JOYCE SARICKS: Absolutely—but not everywhere and certainly not with all patrons. With more violence and profanity in many books in all genres, cozies remain a pretty safe haven for mystery readers, and authors and publishers are capitalizing on the hobbies and professions (gardening, cooking, innkeeping, knitting, book collecting, etc.) that attract fans.

But I think cozy mysteries also make good crossover suggestions for readers who are looking for gentle reads. They’re often domestic stories with the kinds of characters gentle read readers appreciate, violence off stage, and the tone these readers like.

Is there a series similar to Jacquelyn Winspear/Agatha Christie type of series that is in between thriller and cozy mysteries?

beaton-death-smMICHELE COBB: M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series fits this bill well—Death of a Chimney Sweep was released in February. AudioGO carries this series narrated by the fantastic Graeme Malcolm. Anne Perry’s Christmas Mystery series—most recently Christmas Odyssey narrated by Terrence Hardiman and Charles Todd’s (a mother-son writing team) Bess Crawford series including Impartial Witness and Ian Rutledge series including Lonely Death are all fantastic.

JOYCE SARICKS: Hmmm, this is tricky, and I’m not certain I understand the question. I wonder if Anne Perry might be a good match. Probably not her Pitt mysteries which have a much lighter touch but perhaps the WWI series (We Shall Not Sleep, 2007), which is more thriller than mystery, and the William Monk series (Dark Assassin, 2007). Both these share that moody, bleak tone with Winspear’s series, as well as the influence of the war on characters and psychological influences.

Perhaps Charles Todd’s new series as well? Bess Crawford (An Impartial Witness, 2010). Atmospheric mysteries set during WWI. A similar dark tone and stories that are more than just mysteries.

Are there any new “cozy, gentle read” mysteries?

MICHELE COBB: I’m a fan of the Monica Ferris needlecraft series—the last one being Blackwork and Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse series including Murder by Mocha.

Death in the Opening Chapter, by Tim HealdKATE LYALL GRANT: I can highly recommend Tim Heald’s new gentle, witty and elegant mystery series featuring Sir Simon Bognor, the first of which, Death in the Opening Chapter, forms part of our Creme de la Crime launch list in May.


Compared with previous decades, there don’t seem to be as many African Americans writing mysteries. Or those featuring African American protagonists. I am always looking for new books to suggest. Any ideas?

MICHELE COBB: Paula Woods’ Charlotte Justice series including Dirty Laundry and Strange Bedfellows and available in the U.S. for the first time is James McClure’s Kramer and Zondi Series set in South Africa—Snake publishes in August.

KATE LYALL GRANT: I can highly recommend Gar Anthony Haywood’s Cemetery Road and the forthcoming Assume Nothing, featuring reformed thief Errol ‘Handy’ White, and also his previous Anthony Award-winning series featuring African American PI Aaron Gunner.


What mystery titles could be tied into the supernatural trend that I have seen with patrons?

MICHELE COBB: Michael Koryta is also a fantastic author who fits this bill—check out The Ridge and Cypress House. Also, Kelly Armstrong’s urban fantasy series including Frostbitten.

KATE LYALL GRANT: Here, I can highly recommend Sarah Rayne’s forthcoming supernatural mystery series featuring Oxford professor Michael Flint and antiques dealer Nell West. The first in the series, Property of a Lady, in which the pair have to unravel the mystery surrounding an old Shropshire house harbouring a dark and terrible past, comes out in the U.S. in July.

I can also highly recommend Roz Southey’s paranormal historical crime series involving musician-sleuth Charles Patterson, the latest of which, The Ladder Dancer, comes out in May.

Dead in the Family, by Charlaine HarrisJOYCE SARICKS: There are lots of titles, not all precisely mysteries but with investigative and supernatural elements. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse (Dead in the Family, 2010) and Harper Connelly (Grave Secret, 2009) series. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (Changes, 2010) may not be cataloged as mysteries, but they would likely appeal to those who appreciate investigative stories with supernatural elements. Preston and Child’s Pendergast novels (Fever Dream, 2010). Laurell K. Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series (Divine Misdemeanors, 2009). Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey novels (Holy Smokes, 2007). Carolyn G. Hart’s Bailey Ruth Raeburn mysteries (Merry, Merry Ghost, 2009). Try searching Booklist Online for “paranormal mystery” as keywords in Adult books.


Do you see the demand among readers for historical mysteries increasing or decreasing?

MICHELE COBB: This area is definitely growing for us on audio. Charles Todd (a mother-son writing team) has two series—Bess Crawford, including Impartial Witness, and Ian Rutledge, including Lonely Death—that have been in high demand.

KATE LYALL GRANT: I definitely see the demand for historical mysteries increasing. This may have something to do with the increasingly uncertain future we’re all facing in the troubled global economy—perhaps there is comfort to be had in looking back to the past.

JOYCE SARICKS: Increasing. And there are lots of readers who don’t mind a little mystery if the historical details are interesting enough. I see historical mysteries as a way to bring lots of readers into the genres—and there are so many directions we can go, from cozy to noir to espionage. A real range of types of crime stories and moods. What more could we ask?


Are there mysteries that aren’t MURDER mysteries?

KATE LYALL GRANT: One such novel that immediately springs to mind is Kitty Sewell’s Ice Trap—published by Touchstone in the U.S. It’s a really absorbing mystery in which the protagonist, a Welsh surgeon, receives a letter from Canada informing him that he’s the father of 15-year-old twins. The surgeon knows it cannot be true, as he never slept with the twins’ mother—but the DNA test proves otherwise. He must journey to the frozen sub-Arctic to find out the truth. The novel caused much debate when it was shortlisted for the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Award in 2006, as to whether it could be strictly categorized as a crime novel when no actual ‘crime’ was committed.

JOYCE SARICKS: Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Death, the Alexander McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, 2010), most of Janet Evanovich’s books don’t involve a murder, most capers have no murders, and many crime novels are more politics/conspiracy than murder. I suspect the list is very, very long—these are just a few that came immediately to mind.

I’ve noticed that in young adult literature, there have been some exceptional books published by first time authors. Is that true for adult mainstream?

MICHELE COBB: Absolutely. Check out Jan Merete Weiss’s These Dark Things and, less in the mystery vein but both fantastic, The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair and Unsaid by Neil Abramson.

JOYCE SARICKS: In mystery, they’re usually the first of a series. Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Lutz’s The Spellman Files. In mainstream non-mystery too. Lots of wonderful first novels that often lead to more and more.


As a writer, I’m hoping to learn what you’d like to see in submissions for new titles.

KATE LYALL GRANT: In a new mystery writer, I’d want to see an original and intriguing premise, a knockout opening chapter, an entertaining, pacy read involving plenty of unexpected twists and turns which keeps me gripped and guessing throughout. (So no challenge there then!).



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

4 Comments on "Your Mystery Questions: Answered"

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  1.' Gwyn Goodman says:

    I just want to add the Dortmunder mysteries by Donald Westlake to the list of mysteries that do not involve murder. They are ingenious and hilarious caper stories.

  2.' Judy McAloon says:

    Are the Tim Heald Simon Bognor mysteries actually new? I read books in this series 30 years ago; they were excellent, but he seemed to stop writing them.

  3.' Tim Heald says:

    Bognor is back! I wrote about ten between ’73 and ’89 and then did more non-fiction as well as three |Tudor Cornwall mysteries published in the UK by Hale. Now however Severn House are doing B’s return. The first is just out; another follows in October and I am over half way through a third.So yes, they’re new!

  4. Keir Graff says:

    Thanks, Tim–good to hear from you!

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