Category Archives: Marcia Muller

You and Me Got Staying Power*

Staying PowerThere are some crime fiction series that really have what you might call ‘staying power.’ They last through fifteen, twenty, or sometimes many more entries. How does that happen? What is it about those really enduring series that keeps them appealing to readers even after the 20th, 30th, etc. novel?

Of course there’s the obvious answer: some authors just have a lot of writing talent. And that’s true. But beyond that (perhaps in part because of it), I think there are some things that keep a series going well beyond just five or ten novels. Here are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear yours, too.


The more restrictive a series is, the less durable it arguably is. A series that is less ‘rigid’ is likely to stay around longer. And there are many ways in which a series can show that flexibility.

For example, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series has remained flexible in a few ways. As the series has continued, Rankin has addressed the changing landscape of Scottish politics and economic issues. He’s even addressed changes in the way crimes are committed, and the people who are responsible. And as the nature of Scottish life has evolved, so has the series.

Of course, this is a proverbial double-edged sword. Too much focus on one or another issue can date a book or series. But when the focus stays on the crime(s) and investigation, moving along with the political and economic times can help keep a series relevant.

There are other ways, of course, to keep a series flexible. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, for instance, takes place in a thinly-disguised New York City. It’s a large metropolis that attracts many, many different kinds of people. So there are all sorts of possibilities for plot lines. Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy novels are set mostly in Sydney, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. In both of those cases, there’s a lot of opportunity for flexibility just based on the setting.

The 87th Precinct series is also made more flexible by its ensemble cast. Although Steve Carella is one of the main protagonists in the series, he’s by no means the only major character. Sometimes he’s not even a ‘major player’ at all. That ensemble approach allows for a wide variety of plot threads and conflicts.



Closely related to flexibility is, I think, evolution. That, too, takes lots of forms, not the least of which is character evolution. People change over time, even if their basic characteristics are stable. A well-written series that lasts 20 books or more will reflect that fact.

For example, Someone Always Knows, the 35th of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels, is due to be released this summer. Fans of that series can tell you that over time, she and the series have evolved. She started as a fairly ‘hardboiled’ private investigator, both pragmatic and hard-edged. But she’s gotten more psychological depth and, some would say, maturity over time. Interestingly enough, not everyone has celebrated the changes to her character or to the series. Some say she’s ‘lost her edge,’ and that the series now has too much focus on the domestic. Whether that’s objectively true or not, there’s no denying that today’s Sharon McCone is not the same Sharon McCone we met in 1977, when Edwin of the Iron Shoes was released.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series has evolved over time, too. When the series begins, Kilbourn is a university professor and political scientist who’s still dealing with the murder of her husband, Ian, and the realities of raising three teenagers. Over time, her character and life circumstances have changed, as they do for most of us. I won’t spoil story arcs by giving specific examples, but we can see how she has evolved over time. It’s important to note, though, that her basic character has remained stable. She’s grown and changed, but the things that make up her personality in the first novel, Deadly Appearances, are also there in What’s Left Behind, which has recently been released. That stability makes a series more credible.



You could argue that variety is also closely related to flexibility. It goes without saying that readers don’t want series that make use of the same sorts of plots over and over. And the best and most enduring series don’t fall into that trap.

For example, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels, a play, and over 50 short stories that feature Hercule Poirot. Strictly speaking, they aren’t a series, although they are loosely connected to one another. But they do follow Poirot through his career. Even though they feature the same protagonist, there is a great deal of variety among them. Christie experimented with different points of view, different settings, and different sorts of puzzles. There are stories with prologues, and stories without them. There are stories with a large group of characters, and some with only a few. There are ‘country house murders,’ and there are murders that take place in London. There are…well, you get the idea. Even Christie’s most ardent fans will admit that not all of her work is anywhere near her best. But its variety is part of what made her so popular, and what has kept readers following her work nearly 100 years after she started writing.

One might say a similar thing about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels The 23rd in that series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is due to be released in November. As the series has gone on, Connelly has integrated quite a lot of variety in it. Bosch has worked in different departments, left the force, returned to the force, gone to some different places, and so on. And there’s been quite a variety in the sorts of plots Connelly has created, too. There are ‘personal’ kinds of murders, and more ‘public’ murders. There are cases that have national and international implications, and some that are quite local. I could go on, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The variety in this series is part of what’s made it so enduring.

What do you think about all of this? Obviously if a series is to be that lasting, it’s got to be based on solid plots, strong characters and skilled writing. But I think there’s more to it than that (or perhaps there are things that fall out from that). What are your thoughts?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Staying Power.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Marcia Muller, Michael Connelly, Peter Corris

‘Cause I Know You Understand*

Crime Writing PairsIt isn’t always easy to share your life with a crime writer. Just ask Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… Or perhaps, better not. 😉 Now, the one kind of person who does know what it’s like to be a crime writer is…another crime writer. And we do see several very successful examples of crime writers who share their lives with other crime writers.

Some of these partnerships have resulted in some memorable co-authored books and series. One of the most famous in crime fiction is arguably the partnership of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Fans will know that these two real-life partners created the ten-book series featuring Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team. Each has individual writing credits too, but they’re most famous for this joint series.

You could say a similar thing about Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the husband/wife team who write as Nicci French. They’ve written several standalones together and recently they’ve also been co-writing the Frieda Klein series – the ‘days of the week’ novels. Both Gerrard and French have written individually as well, but most readers know them best through their collaboration.

And then there are Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini, who are married in their personal lives and co-authors of the Coffeehouse Mystery Series professionally. They use the name Cleo Coyle for that series, and the name Alice Kimberly for their Haunted Bookshop mysteries. They write individually as well, but their best-known work is collaborative.

Sometimes, crime-writer partners are more famous for their individual work than they are for their collaborations. For instance, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have been married for over twenty years. Each of them is famous as an individual. Muller fans will know that she is the creator of the Sharon McCone PI series, which was one of the original American female PI series. Pronzini is of course the author of the Nameless series as well as several other series and standalones. He’s edited a number of anthologies as well. Muller and Pronzini have collaborated on the Carpenter and Quincannon historical series, the second of which came out in December of 2013. But each also has a very long individual ‘track record.’

The same is true of Kenneth and Margaret Millar. As Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Millar was most famous for his Lew Archer novels and story collections. He wrote and edited other work, but his name is most closely linked with Archer’s. Margaret Millar wrote a few short series including the three Tom Aragon novels. But she is possibly better known for her standalone psychological mysteries and character studies. To my knowledge (so please, put me right if I’m wrong!), the Millars didn’t collaborate on novels or series. I wonder what it would have been like if they had…

More recently both Faye and Jonathan Kellerman have each created very successful crime writing careers.  Faye Kellerman is best known for her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, although she’s written other novels as well. And fans will know that Jonathan Kellerman is the author of the well-regarded Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis series. He’s also written other fiction as well as non-fiction books. It seems the family tradition is being passed on, too, as their son Jesse Kellerman is also a crime/thriller writer as well as a playwright.

And then there’s Angela Savage and Andrew Nette. Savage is the author of a PI series featuring Bangkok-based Jayne Keeney. She has also written short fiction as well as non-fiction articles. Her partner is Andrew Nette, the author of Ghost Money. Nette is also the author of several short noir crime stories as well as several non-fiction articles. Both Savage and Nette have also been very active in the Australian crime writers’ community, and they’ve worked together on some projects, such as Crime Factory’s Hard Labour, a collection of Aussie noir stories.

There are of course other crime writers whose partners also write crime fiction. There isn’t really space to mention them all.  I know that there are some interesting conversations around my home because I write crime fiction. And only one of us is a crime writer…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alex Hill and Fats Waller’s I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me).


Filed under Alice Alfonsi, Alice Kimberly, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Bill Pronzini, Cleo Coyle, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Kenneth Millar, Maj Sjöwall, Marc Cerasini, Marcia Muller, Margaret Millar, Nicci French, Nicci Gerrard, Per Wahlöö, Ross Macdonald, Sean French

I’m a Collector of Beautiful Things*

AntiquesIf you’ve ever enjoyed poking around in antique shops, then you know they have an atmosphere all their own. Some people of course are very knowledgeable collectors. Even if you’re not a collector though, it can be a lot of fun to browse in antique-shop neighbourhoods and see what’s there. And you never know when you’ll find something really special. Antiques are a big business too. Atmosphere, money to be made, history, possible conflict…sounds like a great plot thread for a crime novel. So it’s little wonder we see antiques and antique shops woven throughout the genre.

There’s an amusing scene outside an antique shop in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness. Hercule Poirot has received a letter from Emily Arundell asking his help with a very delicate family matter. She’s not specific about the problem, but the letter intrigues Poirot. He and Captain Hastings travel to the village of Market Basing where Miss Arundell lives. By the time they get there though, it’s too late. Miss Arundell has died, apparently of liver failure. But Poirot suspects otherwise and he and Hastings investigate, using the ‘cover’ that Poirot is writing a biography of the Arundell family patriarch. Miss Arundell’s friend Caroline Peabody sees through their subterfuge:


‘I was looking into the window of the antique shop at a very nice set of Hepplewhite chairs when I received a highly painful lunge in the ribs and a sharp, penetrating voice said: ‘Hi.’’


The lunge turns out to a poke from Miss Peabody’s umbrella. Once she gets Hastings’ and Poirot’s attention, she makes it clear that she knows they aren’t biographers. Then she asks why they’re really in the village. Poirot tells her the truth and she actually has some useful information to give him. As they part company, Miss Peabody warns Hastings:


‘Don’t you go buying those chairs. They’re a fake.’


Hastings and Poirot do browse in the shop, but they heed Miss Peabody’s advice.

In Marcia Muller’s Edwin of the Iron Shoes, San Francisco PI Sharon McCone investigates the murder of Joan Albritton, who owned Joan’s Unique Antiques. This murder is the latest in a series of incidents in the area, mostly involving arson and vandalism. One possibility is that the victim was killed as a part of a scheme to get the local merchants to sell up their businesses cheaply so that the land could be bought. If so, the death is probably related to the other incidents. But Albritton had a personal life too, and McCone doesn’t overlook that either. It turns out that several people involved in this case were keeping secrets, and it’s not until McCone peels away the layers of history that she finds out who killed Joan Albritton and why.

In Bartholomew Gill’s McGarr and the PM of Belgrave Square, Garda Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr and his second-in-command O’Shaugnessy investigate the shooting death of antiques and art dealer William Craig. As McGarr and O’Shaugnessy look into the case, they find several possible suspects. For one thing, there’s Craig’s rather enigmatic wife Louisiane Fontaine, who has a mysterious past. There’s also his business partner Pierre Roche, who has a tragic past including Nazi brutality, and who has his own secrets to keep. And then there’s Craig’s son Henry, with whom he quarreled violently shortly before the murder, and whom he’s recently disinherited. Then it turns out that one of the paintings in the shop has been stolen. That too serves as a motive. Then there’s another murder, which could connect the whole business with IRA activity. In the end, McGarr ties the two murders together and finds that both are related to Craig’s past and to wartime history.

In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Turned On and Off, newspaper reporter Jim ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran plans to write a feature on an interesting section of the city where he works. Nicknamed Junktown, the district is full of antique shops, craft shops and art galleries, and it’s got a unique atmosphere. Qwill soon learns that a few months earlier, one of Junktown’s residents Andrew ‘Andy’ Glanz was killed in what everyone thought was a tragic fall. Glanz was a highly respected antiques expert and dealer, so Qwill decides to use the guise of a tribute article to find out the truth about his death. As it turns out, Glanz was murdered, and Qwill uncovers the network of relationships among the residents of Junktown to find out who killed the victim and why.

And then there’s Archer Mayor’s Paradise City. In that novel, Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI) detective Joe Gunther and his team investigate a string of burglaries that have been occurring across the state. Oddly enough, the burglaries aren’t just of goods such as flatscreen televisions and other electronics. Antiques and jewelry have also been stolen and what makes that strange is that in general, those are harder to sell. Reputable antiques dealers usually want the provenance of their merchandise, so it’s more difficult to find buyers for stolen articles. In the meantime, Boston ‘blueblood’ Wilhelmina ‘Billie’ Hawthorn is viciously attacked and some valuable antiques and jewelry are stolen from her home. Her grand-daughter Mina Carson wants answers and is determined to get them. But Boston police detective Jimmy McAuliffe doesn’t make much headway on this case until it’s connected with the cases that Gunther and his team are facing. Then it’s clear that there may be a large crime ring operating in New England. It seems to have its base in Northampton, Massachusetts – ‘Paradise City.’ Northampton is home to a lot of art, antiques and jewelry dealers and somehow, the stolen merchandise is ending up there. Gunther and his team, McAuliffe, and Mina Carson work to connect the attack and robberies to what’s going on in Northampton.

There are also of course series that feature antiques and antiques dealers. I’m thinking for instance of Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series and Jane K. Cleland’s Josie Prescott novels, among others.

Browsing among antiques can be a lot of fun. But as you can see, you’ll want to be careful…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sonny Curtis and Phil and Don Everly’s The Collector.  RIP Phil Everly.  ‘Bye, ‘bye, happiness…


Filed under Agatha Christie, Archer Mayor, Bartholomew Gill, Jane K. Cleland, Jonathan Gash, Lilian Jackson Braun, Marcia Muller

That I Can Tell You in One Word…Tradition!*

TraditionsTradition plays a very important role in our lives. Whether it’s family tradition, religious tradition, sport tradition or something else, our traditions give us a sense of continuity and stability. And that can be comforting and very helpful in a world that sometimes seems upside-down.

There are traditions in crime fiction too. For example, one tradition in crime fiction is that there is an obvious crime, usually murder, which is then investigated. That tradition began with the earliest crime fiction and has continued even to recent releases. For instance, Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, released just a few years ago, features the poisoning murder of Lídia Font. Her wealthy and politically powerful husband Lluís Font is a likely suspect. He believed that his wife was having an affair, and even hired Barcelona private investigators Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez to follow her and find out if she was being unfaithful. But Font claims that he’s innocent, and he wants his name cleared. So he asks the Martínez brothers to continue working on his behalf and find out who the real killer is.

Another tradition in crime fiction is that the sleuth pursues leads, makes sense of evidence and finds out who committed the crime. Again, we see that tradition in a lot of modern crime fiction. For instance, Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs begins with the gruesome discovery of a left foot that has washed up on shore near the Norwegian town of Savern. Chief Inspector William Wisting and his team begin the process of looking for clues, following leads and so on. Then another left foot is discovered. And another. It turns out that these discoveries are linked to the disappearance of a group of residents that have gone missing from the same old-age care home. Wisting and his team also discover that the missing people had another connection, this one going back to the years during and just after World War II. The tradition of narrowing down the list of suspects and finding out whodunit and whydunit is an important part of this novel.

And then there’s the tradition that crime fiction stories are told from the perspective of the sleuth and/or a sidekick/assistant. Although readers may get a look at what other characters do and say, the real focus of the novel is the sleuth. Of course not every early crime novel was written this way (for instance Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone wasn’t). But from the beginning, it’s been customary for crime stories to be told from the sleuth or sidekick’s point of view. And many modern novels follow this tradition. For instance, Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series is told from the perspective of Galloway, who is a forensic archaeology expert at the University of North Norfolk, and the perspective of DCI Harry Nelson, the official investigator of these cases and also the father of Galloway’s daughter Kate.

These and other crime fiction traditions are a critical part of the genre. They are at its roots and they give readers and authors both a structure and a set of important parameters. But here’s the thing. Times change. Ideas change. People change. And if the genre didn’t evolve too, it would become stale and outworn. It wouldn’t meet the needs and interests of today’s readers and it would limit today’s authors. So traditions are perhaps most helpful if they are integrated with adaptation and innovation.

For instance, for many years, the crime fiction tradition was that PI sleuths were male (I know there were a few early female PI sleuths; I’m talking in generalities here). But authors such as Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky changed the PI tradition. The genre is better because it includes stories that feature Sharon McCone, Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski. Not only has that innovation welcomed many new readers and authors, it’s also breathed new life into the PI sub-genre. Yes of course there are still traditional male PI fictional sleuths and some of them are terrific characters. But adapting the sub-genre to meet new needs has improved it.

When Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, she got quite a lot of criticism for it because she broke with one of the important traditions in crime fiction. She had kept with the custom of the sleuth (in this case Hercule Poirot) who investigates a murder (here, the stabbing death of retired magnate Roger Ackrody). But she did part with tradition in a fundamental way and plenty of people didn’t like that. There was a feeling she hadn’t ‘played fair.’ And yet, if you read through that novel, there are several clues as to whodunit. This novel was an innovation and helped to change and develop the genre. In hindsight, it’s often regarded as one of Christie’s best and has one of the most famous dénouements in crime fiction history.

We also see a break with tradition in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. The story is told from the perspective of Central City, Texas deputy sheriff Lou Ford and concerns the investigation of a brutal beating and later, a murder. So far, so traditional.  But Lou Ford is not at all a ‘typical’ lawman. He has a hidden dark side – he calls it, ‘the sickness’ – that affects much about him and plays a critical role in the novel. Thompson’s creation added an innovation to the genre and opened it to all sorts of different kinds of plot twists and protagonists as well as new ways to build tension.

And then there’s the crime fiction tradition that a crime novel involves an obvious crime and the ensuing investigation. That tradition is one of the founding principles of the genre. And yet, opening up the genre to include novels where there isn’t an obvious murder or other crime has allowed for memorable novels. For instance, Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost tells the story of Kate Meaney, a ten-year-old would-be private investigator. She’s even got her own agency Falcon Investigations. Kate is content with her life until her grandmother Ivy decides she would be better off going away to school. She insists that Kate sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School and Kate reluctantly agrees after her friend Adrian Palmer persuades her to go. Palmer even goes with Kate to the school to keep her company. Then, Kate disappears. Despite an intensive police search, no trace of her is found, not even a body. Palmer is blamed for her disappearance, although he claims he’s innocent. In fact, his life is made so difficult that he leaves town. We learn the truth about Kate when twenty years later, Palmer’s sister Lisa and a friend of hers Kurt return to the mystery and piece together what happened. Without spoiling the story I can say that this isn’t at all a typical crime-followed-by-investigation kind of novel. And yet it’s powerful.

Traditions link us with the past. They give us a safe structure and they are important in helping us order our lives. But without innovation and change, traditions become limiting. They seem to be most helpful to us when they are seasoned with evolution. What do you think? When you read, what sort of balance between tradition and innovation do you like? If you’re a writer, how does tradition fit into what you write? Or doesn’t it?


On Another Note…
Jackie Robinson


This post is dedicated to the memory of Jackie Robinson. On 15 April 1947, he became the first African-American to play in a major-league U.S. baseball game. Baseball has always been a sport rich with tradition. It still is. But then-Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey saw that in order to attract new fans and make the game more popular, baseball would need to evolve and change the tradition of fielding only White players. Rickey had the idea and Robinson had the courage, the class and the baseball talent to make that idea a reality. And baseball is far better for it. So are we as a people.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the prologue to Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick’s Tradition (Book by Jospeh Stein).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Elly Griffiths, Jørn Lier Horst, Jim Thompson, Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Teresa Solana, Wilkie Collins

Oh, and She Never Gives Out and She Never Gives In*

ViolenceAgainstWomenA fascinating discussion at Mrs. Peabody Investigates (A blog you really need to follow if you’re a fan of crime fiction) has got me thinking about two trends in crime fiction. One of them (and this is what was discussed at the blog) is the increase in depictions of extreme violence against women in some crime fiction. I’ll get back to that shortly. The other trend is the increase we’ve seen in the last few decades of strong female protagonists. I’m most emphatically not saying the two trends are necessarily related. I find that duality really interesting though.

Of course, there’ve been crime novels that depict violence against women for quite some time. For instance, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, published in 1952, is the story of Central City, Texas deputy sheriff Lou Ford. Everyone thinks of Ford as a nice, competent lawman, even if he isn’t exactly an exciting person. Then a local prostitute Joyce Lakeland is brutally beaten. Then there’s a murder. As the investigation into these events goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that Ford is not the person everyone thinks he is. In fact, he’s battling with something he calls ‘the sickness.’ While this novel is not as extreme as some of today’s novels, it certainly is uncompromising.

So is Mickey Spillane’s treatment of women. In several of his Mike Hammer novels, women are the victims of all sorts of abuse. And in this ‘hardboiled’ category of noir crime fiction, that violence is not glossed over, even in Spillane’s earlier work. There are other examples too, especially among other ‘hardboiled’ novels, of plots that involve violence against women.

But what seems to be a much more common theme among today’s crime fiction novels is the deliberate targeting of female victims. I won’t – promise – list for you all of the novels in which there’s a series of brutal torture/murders of women. But if you pay attention to crime fiction, you know exactly what I mean. Those who’ve been involved in the discussion on Mrs. Peabody’s blog are right that there are many more of these kinds of plots than there used to be. And in many of those novels, the violence isn’t just extreme; it’s described in excruciating (and I mean that word) detail. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know what the reason is that books like this sell as well as they do. But if they didn’t sell my guess is that fewer of them would be written.

What’s interesting (or maybe it’s just my opinion) is that at the same time as we have this increase in the number of books that feature extreme violence against women, we also have the development of several very strong female protagonists. Again, there’ve been strong female characters in crime fiction for a long time. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane, Patricia Wentworth’s Maude Silver, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Ngaio Marsh’s Agatha Troy are just a few examples of Golden Age female characters. And recent decades have added to that number. From Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone to Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss to Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest, we’ve seen the number of strong female characters grow rapidly. Space doesn’t permit me to mention each one of them (I know, I know, fans of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski).

And even in novels that feature male protagonists, the female characters have gotten stronger and more self-sufficient. Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti for instance is married to the very strong and independent Paola Falier. And Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller was married to the formidable Maggie ‘McFierce’ McPherson, who can most definitely hold her own as a character. There are many other examples too; I’m sure you could give me more than I could ever offer to you.

It’s not just a matter of strength of character either. More and more, female characters have positions of high authority and power, too. Again, I won’t go on and on with a list of examples. Suffice it to say that in just about any sub-genre of crime fiction, there are women who are high-ranking police officers, bank presidents, well-known attorneys and so on.

And from what I read in reviews and on blogs, readers want it that way. They want female characters, whether or not they are protagonists, to be ‘fleshed out,’ to be strong, and to be interesting as people. If you look at the sales for authors such as Leon and Connelly, you know that people buy a lot of books in which women are portrayed as strong characters. What’s more, those authors don’t write a series of books in which killers target only beautiful young women and subject them to unspeakable horrors.

So why are we seeing these two simultaneous trends? I don’t know the precise reason. And it could very well be that the two trends have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I’m going out on a proverbial limb here, not being a psychologist or other expert who’s studied the role of women. One guess might be that different sorts of people buy those two different sorts of books. I don’t have access to marketing data, but I wonder whether people who buy books that feature extreme violence against women also buy books in which they play significant roles and are in fact, strong protagonists. Another guess might be that this dual trend says something about society’s view of women. That’s a complicated issue in and of itself of course. But books usually do have something to say about the society in which the authors live.

I honestly don’t have the answer, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you see this same dual trend? If you do, where do you think it comes from? Where do you see it going? If you’re a writer, do you think about the roles your female characters play?  Thanks, Mrs. P, for the inspiration.




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, Helene Tursten, Jim Thompson, Marcia Muller, Michael Connelly, Mickey Spillane, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Wentworth, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton