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Mystery Genres Have Many Faces

In April I attended the 30th anniversary of Malice Domestic, an annual conference held in Bethesda of mystery authors and fans. I’ve liked mysteries ever since I discovered Nancy Drew and realized there were books out there that dealt with hidden clues and buried treasure and lost diamonds and deadly secrets. Nancy Drew was always learning new things that played into the mystery to be solved. This planted the seed for lifelong learning in me.

Mysteries also offer the adventure of exploring interesting jobs. Archaeologist, forensic anthropologist, B&B owner, apple farmer, bookstore owner, you name it, there’s a mystery series featuring someone in the job, often written by someone who held that job. When I’ve tried to give up reading mysteries for more “serious” literature, my life lost that special spark.

Now that I’m writing as well as reading mysteries, I’m becoming aware of the many genres and subgenres that exist. I might call my mysteries “cozies” except that I don’t include recipes or tips of any kind. Perhaps my mysteries fit into the “traditional” genre like the mysteries from the “Golden Age” of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. My detectives are amateur except that the lead is a retired detective.

Over the three days, I participated in and attended panel discussions with writers of many different genres and subgenres. Here are gleanings from a few of the discussions.. I was on a panel of more or less traditional mystery writers. It was called the “Antiquities” Panel. I wondered if I was selected for this panel because my 90s Club detectives are all 90, but maybe it’s because my latest mystery is entitled, The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock. Another panelist was Mary Anna Evans, who writes mysteries featuring a forensic anthropologist and Kathleen Ernst whose amateur detective is a museum curator. I love those kinds of protagonists. I was on the right panel.

For Police Procedurals, one of the panelists was a retired police detective sergeant, who, incidentally mentioned that he thought the most realistic police show on TV was Bosch. Another panelist, Keenan Power, a practicing attorney in Anchorage, saw the possibilities when she overheard colleagues discussing the fact that in Alaska, the medical examiner could refuse to autopsy an unattended death and that the body could be cremated within 72 hours.

Crimes in the D.C. Area is a real subgenre. One of the panelists described a section of D.C. called Murder Bay, located in the mall area in the 1890s. This is where the brothels and other sleazy establishments were located and murders happened. Crimes in the D.C. Area could be traditional like Margaret Truman’s mysteries , police procedurals, thriller/suspense novels, or some other genre.

Listening to the panel of writers whose mysteries feature a private detective, I found out that in Virginia, private detectives are not permitted to investigate a murder. In New York, you only need to pass the exam and pay the license fee to get a PI license. Many police officers get their P.I. licenses to moonlight, so although conflict between the PI and the police is often a plot element, they may actually be on the same team. All of the writers on this panel, from J.D. Allen to Lissa Marie Redmond, knew how to pick locks. One panelist even had two lock-picking kits.

At the cozy culinary mysteries panel, the moderator passed around cookies baked from recipes in the books.

Locked room mysteries, originated by Edgar Allen Poe in Murders in the Rue Morgue and expanded by Golden Age author John Dickson Carr, live on in the books and stories of Gigi Pandian. Historical mysteries are another genre, but this time around, I missed that panel.

Next year, Malice Domestic meets May 3-5 and always in Bethesda, MD, but it is only one of the mystery conventions for authors and fans held annually in this country. Bouchercon is another convention, meeting this September 6-9 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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