Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mystery Milieus

I am a huge fan of mysteries of all kinds. And there are all kinds. Many mystery novel and series protagonists are in professions that lend themselves to crime solving: Cops, private eyes, lawyers, spies or even kind-hearted criminals. Or some less obvious jobs that bring the main character into frequent contact with murder victims, like coroner and or mortuary cosmetologist.     When I consider a lot of the books I've read, it occured to me that some settings and or protagonist professions are more suited to good story/mystery plots. On further consideration, I've decided it has little to do with any particular premise, and everything to do with the writer.
     Lots of books and series are given settings to appeal to the different interests of readers- and presumably the writer.  Some of these work really well and some not so much.
     Everyone knows that Dick Francis is my favorite author of all time and a majority of his novels take place in the world of steeple chasing and horse racing. As horses are a strong interest of mine, this appeals to me. And since horse racing is essentially gambling, it lends itself to plots of greed and treachery. However, many of his plots are written around different areas of interest for him: glassblowing, flying, meteorology, physics, etc. No matter the setting his characters are in, his books are amazing.
    I know of at least two authors - well, former jockeys who are mediocre writers - who wrote several books each about the horse racing world. I struggled to read one or two and gave up. The same is true of two authors I tried because their mystery protagonists were equine or small animal veterinarians.
    There are dozens of series written around unique interests. I know of two mystery series centered on solving crossword puzzles and at least three others set in the world of dog breeding and showing.  I am a fan of crosswords and a dog lover, but none of these held my interest.
    While many of these books might be expected to appeal to enthusiasts of certain interests, I think that has very little to do with it. For example, Gerald Brown wrote several popular books with plots that revolve around gemology. I don't know what drew me - or other people - to read any of them, but it wasn't an interest in precious stones. But I read all his books, because they were great.
     This is true of mysteries about other sports, home remodeling, Egyptology. None of those subjects are particular interests of mine (although I think most people are fascinated by Egyptology and Archeology), but I love the books.
    Any premise, however common or unusual, can work for a novel, but that won't make it a great or popular book. A book or story can only succeed if there is good writing, strong plotting and interesting, well-developed characters.

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