Genre Spotlight: Mystery

Mysteries have long been a staple in public library collections, and their popularity has not waned. According to Barbara Hoffert’s 2017 Materials Survey, “Under the Surface” (LJ 2/15/17), mystery remains the top circulating genre in both print and ebook formats, with thrillers coming in fourth place. As readers continue to clamor for more crime fiction, suspense, and thrillers, publishers are once again responding with a great lineup of titles for the summer/fall 2017 season.

Being dead hasn’t precluded several big names from releasing new books from beyond the grave (with a little help from living coauthors, of course). Tom Clancy, who died in 2013, has two Putnam tiles scheduled this year: Tom Clancy Point of Contact by Mike Maden (Jun.) and Tom Clancy Power and Empire (Nov.), which continues Clancy’s popular “Jack Ryan” series with new writer Marc Cameron.

“Tom had an incredible ability to give readers a thrill, combining his terrific cast of characters with edge-of-your-seat action and frighteningly over-the-horizon prescience about world events,” explains Berkley vice president and editorial director Tom Colgan (Clancy’s longtime editor). His posthumous coauthors “have all displayed their abilities to dig into this universe and hit the trifecta of what makes a Clancy book a Clancy book.” Another Putnam author, the late Robert Parker, arrives in May with a new Spenser mystery (Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins) and in September with a Jesse Stone book (Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman).

Yet the standout resurrection of the season is Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz), whose intrepid Egyptologist Amelia Peabody returns for a final adventure in The Painted Queen (Morrow, Jul.). At her death in 2013, Peters had been working on the manuscript, which has now been completed by longtime friend and fellow mystery author Joan Hess. Fans will be pleased at how true Hess has stayed to Peters’s story line and characters. Although not chronologically a finale (the novel takes place during 1912–13, placing the action after The Falcon at the Portal and before He Shall Thunder in the Sky), this will be the last book in the series.


Career switches

Also releasing a final book is Margaret Maron, who recently announced her retirement. After concluding her best-­selling, award-winning Deborah Knott series with 2016’s Long upon the Land, the author pitched a proposal to Grand Central Publishing (GCP) senior editor Lindsey Rose. “Margaret wanted to write something entirely different: different setting (New York City), different time period (the 1990s), different character (a police detective),” says Rose. Arriving in June is Take Out. “I am completely blown away by the result,” says Rose, who notes that longtime fans will recognize Maron’s deft character development, beautifully observed setting, and clever, twisty plotting. “For new readers, it’s a perfect introduction to Margaret’s oeuvre.”

As Maron brings her distinguished career to a close, two successful television writers are entering the crime fiction fold. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner makes his fiction debut in October with Heather, the Totality (Little, Brown), a dark, psychological tale about a privileged Manhattan family on a collision course with a dangerous man. From the pen of Emmy Award–winning Matt Goldman, whose credits include Seinfeld, comes Gone to Dust (Forge, Aug.), a twisty and entertaining Minneapolis-set mystery that features a Jewish private investigator.

Increasingly Multicultural

Meanwhile Empire writer and producer Attica Locke returns to her crime fiction roots with Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland: Little, Brown, Sept.), a noir thriller about a black Texas Ranger investigating murder in a small town seething with racial tensions. Locke, whose first novel Black Water Rising was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award, is one of a new crop of writers of color now getting attention and acclaim in the mystery field (see also “Diversity Is No Mystery,” Collection Development, LJ 11/1/16).

Still, some publishing professionals believe the genre has a way to go when it comes to answering the call for diversity. While she hasn’t seen an increase in such submissions, Midnight Ink acquisitions editor Terri Bischoff is always on the lookout for them. “I am, however, very encouraged that we are even talking about the issue and actively trying to publish more multicultural…books,” she says. One lead debut title on Midnight Ink’s summer list is Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide (Aug.), which Bischoff describes as a cozy featuring an African American actress who gets involved in solving a deadly hit-and-run.

The Seattle-based Coffeetown Enterprises, which publishes mysteries through both its Coffeetown Press and Camel Press imprints, shares a similar goal. “We’re always willing to entertain stories with diverse protagonists,” says publisher Catherine Treadgold, who cites Elena Hartwell’s half Latina, half Jewish series sleuth Eddie Shoes. Her next adventure, Two Heads Are Deader than One (Camel), is an April release. Other crime-solving protagonists of color returning this season include African American female homicide detective Lou Norton in Rachel Howzell Hall’s City of Saviors (Forge, Aug.) and Latino cop Jimmy Vega in Suzanne Chazin’s A Place in the Wind (Kensington, Oct.)

As executive editor of Kensington’s Dafina imprint, which focuses on African American voices, Selena James is always seeking novels with a varied range of protagonists and situations. She is particularly intrigued by Jason Overstreet’s forthcoming second novel, Beneath the Darkest Sky (Feb. 2018), which follows an African American family as they move to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. “Quite a few Americans moved to Russia,” explains James. “It was great to read about diverse historical settings.” Overstreet made a splash last year with The Striver’s Row Spy, a mystery debut set during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.


The cold war heats up

In the area of historical mysteries, World War II continues to fascinate writers and readers. “[It] was the ‘good war,’ so it’s not surprising that people idealize it,” says Coffee­town’s Treadgold. Kensingon executive editor Michaela Hamilton agrees, noting that this time period is rapidly becoming history and not memory for most Americans. She also sees an increased interest in the immediate postwar years, “when the seeds of the Cold War were planted, international alliances were shifting, and our modern world was being shaped.”

Out this month from Kensington is Sara Sheridan’s London Calling, which is set in 1952 Brighton, England, and features a former secret service “back office girl” who calls on her espionage skills to solve mysteries. “For fans of The Imitation Game and Masterpiece’s Grantchester series,” comments Hamilton, “[Sheridan’s] Mirabelle Bevan mysteries are a welcome visit to a not-so-distant past that continues to resonate in our modern-day world.”

The Cold War heats up in 1955 Vienna, the location of Bill Rapp’s The Hapsburg Variation (Coffeetown, Dec.), and East Berlin in the 1970s provides the backdrop for David Young’s debut thriller, Stasi Child (Minotaur, Aug.), in which an East German police officer investigates the death of a teenage girl whose body is found at the foot of the Berlin Wall—strangely, it appears the victim was trying to escape from West Berlin. A serial killer stalks perestroika Moscow, circa 1985, in Jack Grimwood’s Moskva (Thomas Dunne, Jul.).

Too Many Girls?

In the contemporary realm, “girl” psychological thrillers, with their unreliable narrators, show no signs of tapering off. Arriving this July from Dutton is Riley Sager’s Final Girls, which Stephen King has already touted as the “first great thriller of 2017.” But Margo Lipschultz, a senior editor for Harlequin and its new Graydon House women’s fiction hardcover and trade paperback imprint, acknowledges that in a saturated market it is getting harder for books to surprise readers with their plot twists. One of her Graydon House launch titles is best-selling author Kaira Rouda’s Best Day Ever (Sept.); its narrator is a doting husband who might have darker motives for a romantic weekend away with his wife.

Also departing from the unreliable narrator trope is The Girlfriend (Kensington, Feb. 2018) by BBC executive producer Michelle Frances, which pits two equally disturbing protagonists—an overprotective mother and her son’s social-climbing girlfriend—against each other. Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter (Putnam, Jun.) takes a different route in this genre by blending psychological suspense with adventure in the great outdoors.


This season, a growing number of authors are exploring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in all its guises. This August, T. Jefferson Parker’s The Room of White Fire (Putnam) introduces a new series protagonist, U.S. Marine–turned–PI Roland Ford, who is asked to locate a missing fellow veteran with a troubled past.

“Moral injury has always been a human reality,” explains Putnam VP and executive editor Mark Tavani. “But since 9/11, since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, PTSD has been a particularly American reality, one that puts people in difficult positions and forces them to make desperate decisions. And that is exactly the place from which the most affecting and most enlightening crime stories come.”

Alastair Luft’s debut thriller, The Battle Within (Inkshares, Jun.), draws on the author’s own military experience to tell the story of Maj. Hugh Dégaré’s struggles to transition from combat to a desk job with the help of a fellow vet and therapist. Best-selling author Spencer Quinn introduces disabled Afghan vet LeAnn Hogan in The Right Side (Atria, Jun.) as she and her canine partner hunt for a missing child. And first-time author Hart Hanson’s The Driver (Dutton, Aug.) features a former U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant who runs a limo company staffed by wounded veterans.

Still, not every character who suffers from PTSD has a military background. In Nuala Ellwood’s My Sister’s Bones (Morrow Paperbacks, Jul.), a war reporter traumatized by her experience in Syria returns to her childhood home and is convinced all is not well next door. The heroine of The Boy in the Suitcase coauthor Agnete Friis’s solo debut, What My Body Remembers (Soho Crime, May), suffers from PTSD-induced panic attacks.


Is Nordic Noir cooling?

Titan Books senior editor Miranda Jewell has been acquiring fewer mysteries in translation because more English-speaking authors are setting their books abroad. “Scandi seems to have pulled back,” she notes. But other publishers disagree. The key, according to GCP’s Rose, is finding an excellent translator so that the writing doesn’t become a barrier between the reader and the story. She cites as an example Danish author Sara Blaedel (see “Psychological Suspense,” p. 30). “She’s an immensely talented storyteller, and that comes across in any ­language.”

Having bought the rights to her nine “Louise Rick” mysteries, GCP will launch Blaedel’s new series next February with The Under­taker’s Daughter. “This series is particularly interesting for an American audience,” explains Rose, “because the protagonist is a Danish woman who’s just moved to Wisconsin. It’s fascinating to see our own culture filtered through her eyes.”

If the forthcoming film adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, starring Michael Fassbender as iconic Oslo detective Harry Hole, is a box office hit, readers new to Nordic noir may want to follow Hole’s further adventures in The Thirst (Knopf, May), in which a serial killer targets Tinder daters. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Copenhagen cop Carl Mørck and his oddball crew in Department Q will be returning in September’s The Scarred Woman (Dutton), while November marks best-selling Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s new series launch, The Shadow District (Minotaur). Entering the U.S. market for the first time is Swedish writer Jenny ­Rogneby; her best-selling, hard-boiled first novel, Leona: The Die Is Cast (Other, Aug.), introduces Leona Lindberg of Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division, a police officer with a murky past and questionable motives.

Cozy Comforts

Cozy mysteries retain a dedicated readership that can’t get enough adventures in quilting, cooking, and crime solving. “A large part of our audience seems to be women of middle age and above,” says Coffee­town’s Treadgold, who notes their preference for “clean” mysteries. “For many of them, sexual innocence is part of the escapism in a world that seems to have lost its innocence.” From Coffeetown’s Camel cozy imprint comes Jean Harrington’s Murder on Pea Pike (Sept.), featuring newbie realtor and amateur sleuth Honey Ingersoll.

It doesn’t get any cozier or cuter than the teddy bear shop that is the centerpiece of Meg Macy’s Bearly Departed (Kensington, Jun.), the first entry in the “Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery” series. But Michelle Forde, the marketing manager for Kensington’s digital-first Lyrical Press imprint, has spotted a new trend that mixes unusual or quirky hobbies with a historical theme. “Two great examples are Magick & Mayhem by Sharon Pape and Uniformly Dead by Greta McKennan, both May releases. In both the settings are present day, but there is history or legends that date back centuries.” Pape’s heroine comes from a long line of witches with a connection to Merlin, while McKennan’s seamstress sleuth steps back in time sewing costumes for historical reenactors.

So whether mystery fans like their literary poison sweet or bitter, there will be plenty of intriguing titles coming to quench their thirst.

Mystery Lineup

Below are the forthcoming titles mentioned in this article.
Adler-Olsen, Jussi The Scarred Woman Dutton Sept.
Atkins, Ace Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies Putnam May
Blaedel, Sara The Undertaker’s Daughter Grand Central Feb. 2018
Cameron, Marc Tom Clancy Power and Empire Putnam Nov.
Chazin, Suzanne A Place in the Wind Kensington Oct.
Coleman, Reed Farrel Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet Putnam Sept.
Dionne, Karen The Marsh King’s Daughter Putnam Jun.
Ellwood, Nuala My Sister’s Bones Morrow Paperbacks Jul.
Frances, Michelle The Girlfriend Kensington Feb. 2018
Friis, Agnete What My Body Remembers Soho Crime May
Garrett, Kellye Hollywood Homicide Midnight Ink Aug.
Goldman, Matt Gone to Dust Forge: Tor Aug.
Grimwood, Jack Moskva Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s Jul.
Hall, Rachel Howzell City of Saviors Forge Aug.
Hanson, Hart The Driver Dutton Aug.
Harrington, Jean Murder on Pea Pike Camel Sept.
Hartwell, Elena Two Heads Are Deader than One Camel Apr.
Indridason, Arnaldur The Shadow District Minotaur: St. Martin’s Nov.
Locke, Attica Bluebird, Bluebird Mulholland: Little, Brown Sept.
Luft, Alastair The Battle Within Inkshares Jun.
McKennan, Greta Uniformly Dead Lyrical Underground: Kensington May
Macy, Meg Bearly Departed Kensington Jun.
Maden, Mike Tom Clancy Point of Contact Putnam Jun.
Maron, Margaret Take Out Grand Central Jun.
Nesbø, Jo The Thirst Knopf May
Overstreet, Jason Beneath the Darkest Sky Dafina: Kensington Feb. 2018
Pape, Sharon Magick & Mayhem Lyrical Underground: Kensington May
Parker, T. Jefferson The Room of White Fire Putnam Aug.
Peters, Elizabeth & Joan Hess The Painted Queen Morrow Jul.
Quinn, Spencer The Right Side Atria Jun.
Rapp, Bill The Hapsburg Variation Coffeetown Dec.
Rogneby, Jenny Leona: The Die Is Cast Other Aug.
Rouda, Kaira Best Day Ever Graydon House: Harlequin Sept.
Sager, Riley Final Girls Dutton Jul.
Sheridan, Sara London Calling Kensington Apr.
Weiner, Matthew Heather, the Totality Little, Brown Oct.
Young, David Stasi Child Minotaur: St. Martin’s Aug.

Jessica Moyer is a Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A longtime reviewer of mysteries, she is especially fond of Nordic noir and talking cat titles

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  1. To add to this lineup, the newest book in Terri Blackstock’s “If I Run” series (If I’m Found, Zondervan, March 2017; ISBN 9780310332497) deals with both male and female main characters who both struggle with PTSD for different reasons. The male character is a detective who used to be in the military and was exposed to explosive devices. Very differently, the female character was exposed to family trauma as a child and is trying to overcome.

  2. Cheryle Fisher says:

    I found the article concerning translations interesting. I have been reading quite a few of the Scandinavian authors. I have been wondering what the authors thoughts are of the finished much the author is involved in the translation work…how the translators are chosen, etc.

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