Category Archives: Phillip Margolin

For Iago*

iago-charactersOne of the best-known fictional villains is Shakespeare’s Iago. As you’ll know, Iago plans his boss and friend Othello’s downfall, even as he seems to be Othello’s ally. Iago secretly works in the background, pulling proverbial strings to manipulate situations and further his own agenda.

Iago may be one of the most famous such villains, but he’s hardly the only one. There are plenty of Iago-like characters in crime fiction. Sometimes, they turn out to be the killer in a whodunit type of crime novel. But even when they don’t, they can be treacherous. That doesn’t mean they’re not interesting characters, though.

Agatha Christie mentions Iago in Murder in Mesopotamia. In that novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner, who accompanied her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, to a dig a few hours from Baghdad. As is his custom, Poirot tries to get a sense of the victim’s personality, so that he can learn who might have wanted to kill her. One character describes Louise as ‘a kind of female Iago,’ who enjoyed causing drama and setting people against each other. That’s not really the reason she’s murdered. But it’s an important part of her personality.

In one thread of Philip Margolin’s Executive Privilege, former police detective-turned-PI Dana Cutler is hired to follow nineteen-year-old Charlotte Walsh and find out where she goes, whom she sees, and what she does. Cutler’s not sure why Washington’s top power brokers would be interested in a ‘nobody’ like Walsh, but the fee is generous. At first, not much happens. But then one night, Walsh parks her car at a local mall, is picked up in another car, and travels to a remote house. Cutler follows, and is shocked to find that Walsh’s meeting is with US President Christopher Farrington. With such highly-placed people involved, Cutler decides to quit the job. But it’s not that easy. The next morning, Walsh is found dead in her car. And some very ruthless people discover that Cutler took surveillance ‘photos of Walsh’s meeting with the president. Now, she’s going to have protect herself as best she can. Throughout this novel, there’s a character who maliciously manipulates a number of situations from the background, and it’s interesting to see how that character’s machinations play out.

Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace. He and DI Glenn Branson are faced with a missing person case when Ashley Harper contacts them. It seems that her fiancé, Michael Harrison, went missing after a ‘stag night’ prank. At first, Branson and Grace wonder whether it’s a case of a groom-to-be getting ‘cold feet’ about the upcoming wedding. But Ashley is beautiful, smart and accomplished. There’s no reason anyone can see that her fiancé wouldn’t want to marry her, and Harrison had seemed very much in love and looking forward to the wedding. The team wants to find out what happened during the ‘stag night,’ but all but one of the people who were with Harrison were killed in a terrible accident. That one, injured in the same accident, is in a coma. There’s a chance that Harrison’s best friend, and best man, Mark Warren, might know something. But he was out of town, and didn’t make it back until after Harrison went missing. The more the team looks into Harrison’s disappearance, the less it looks like a stupid stag prank gone badly wrong. What they don’t know is that there’s a character who’s been behind the scenes, manipulating things and setting people against each other. And that ‘Iago’ is a formidable opponent.

In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, Dr. Hilla Driver decides to host a sumptuous ‘foodie weekend’ party. The invited guests are, for the most part, members of Mumbai’s glitterati. But among them is also a friend and former police detective, Lalli.  In part, the aim of the party is to show Hilla’s guests the beautiful home she’s recently inherited. In part it’s to celebrate the upcoming eighteenth birthday of her niece, Ramona. At the urging of her cook, Tarok Ghosh, Hilla wants to make this weekend absolutely perfect, and

‘‘…put this place on the culinary map.’’

To that end, Tarok has planned a special, seven-course meal, and everyone’s excited about it. Then, on the night of the big dinner, Tarok prepares special, custom-made appetizers for each guest. It’s soon clear from these dishes that each guest is hiding at least one secret, and that Tarok knows what those secrets are. There was already some friction among the guests, but this makes matters far, far worse. Late that night, Tarok is murdered. Lalli begins to investigate, and she finds that Tarok’s desire to stir up trouble turned out to be his undoing.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse. Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis to help investigate the murder of Angel Macritchie. That murder bears a lot of resemblance to one MacLeod’s already investigating, and it’s hoped that, if it is the same killer, joining forces with the Lewis police will help to catch the murderer. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, as he was raised on Lewis. But it’s not a happy prospect; he had his reasons for leaving. As MacLeod investigates, he also has to face his own past. And that turns out to have real consequences. He learns that someone has been manipulating events behind the scenes, much as Iago does.

Characters such as Iago may not be overtly malicious. And, in crime fiction, they may not even turn out to be murderers. But they’re almost always dangerous. And they can add suspense to a crime story. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by S.J. Tucker.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Kalpana Swaminathan, Peter James, Peter May, Phillip Margolin

How to Succeed*

Internal PoliticsUnless you’re self-employed (and even, sometimes then!), you likely work with other people. And that nearly always means office politics. Political machinations take different forms, of course, depending on the kind of work you do. But they’re likely to be there in some way or another.

All of that tension and conflict can make for very effective plot lines in crime fiction. You’ll notice as this post goes on, by the way, that there won’t be mention of police politics. There are far too many examples out there, as the police figure a great deal in crime fiction. Even taking that form of politics out of the conversation, though, there’s plenty of office politics in the genre.

For example, any attorney can tell you that there’s often a great deal of politics involved in that profession. It certainly helps to have a law degree from a prestigious school. But in many law firms, moving ahead takes more than that. It means very long hours, especially at first, and showing everyone that you’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. We see that in Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall. The main plot thread of that novel is the murder of Katherine Thorn, common-law wife of Toronto radio personality Kevin Brace. Brace himself is the most likely suspect; in fact, he even admits to the first witness on the scene,

‘‘I did it.’’

Crown prosecutor Albert Fernandez knows that a quick conviction in such a high-profile case will mean a lot for his career. And though he’s not unprincipled, Fernandez also knows that getting ahead often means playing politics. So he makes sure to get to his office before anyone else, to be the last to leave at the end of the day, and to ‘dress the part.’ In this particular case, he also goes very hard for the win, as the saying goes. Fernandez’ bosses want him to take the case to trial, too, so he’s under a lot of political pressure to refuse a plea deal with Brace’s lawyer Nancy Parish. He doesn’t want to see an innocent person convicted, but at the same time, a loss in a case like this could spell trouble for him. I won’t give away spoilers, but there are other places in this novel where that kind of politics plays a role.

Fledgling attorneys also know that they may not get very far in their careers if they go against what a firm partner, especially a senior partner, wants. That’s the way law firm politics are. And sometimes that can mean real trouble for the beginning lawyer. That’s what Brad Miller discovers in Phillip Margolin’s Executive Privilege. In one plot thread of that novel, we learn that he’s a newly-minted attorney who works at Reed, Briggs, Stephens, Stottlemeyer and Compton, Oregon’s largest law firm. As do many new attorneys, Miller works an exhausting number of hours, and is otherwise taken advantage of by the partners. One day, the firm’s top attorney, Susan Tuchman, directs him to take on the pro bono case of Clarence Little, who’s been convicted of murdering Laurie Erickson, and is due to be executed. Little wants Reed, Briggs to handle his appeal. From the firm’s perspective, it’s just a matter of form, and Tuchman doesn’t want Miller spending any real time on it. But the more Miller gets to know about the case, the more he begins to suspect that Little is not guilty of the crime for which he’s about to be executed. Now Miller runs straight up against law firm politics. He knows that his career at Reed, Briggs depends on his pleasing the partners and doing what he’s told. On the other hand, this case is turning out to be quite different to what he’d been informed it would be. Among other things, this plot thread gives a really interesting perspective on the politics involved in working for some large and powerful law firms.

As anyone who’s ever worked in a hospital can tell you, politics play an important role there, too. Junior doctors, interns and other medical professionals who are on the ‘lower rungs’ of the hospital hierarchy know that it’s not enough to do one’s job well and establish a good rapport with patients. It’s also important to catch the attention of senior doctors, and get (and stay) in their good graces. Sometimes this means getting caught in ‘turf wars’ between conflicting senior doctors. It’s had a lot of other consequences, too, some of them serious. Authors of medical thrillers often use the reality of hospital politics as important plot points. I’m thinking, for instance, of some of Robin Cook’s thrillers, where we see a junior hospital doctor or pathologist who notices a pattern that senior doctors either want to cover up or don’t believe.

This sort of plot thread has shown up in medical mysteries for quite some time, actually. Michael Crichton’s A Case of Need (which he wrote as Jeffery Hudson), was published in 1968. This story features junior pathologist John Berry, who tries to clear the name of a colleague and friend who’s been accused of negligence and of performing a then-illegal abortion. Along the way, Berry runs up against the most powerful doctor in the hospital, J.D. Randall. That layer of politics adds much to the suspense in this novel.

There’s also plenty of politics in higher education (Oh, come on! You were just waiting for me to mention academia, right? 😉 ). It’s easy to see why, too. For one thing, tenure is highly coveted at institutions that grant it. So some people will go to great lengths to become tenured. And even when that’s not an issue, there are all kinds of promotion, funding, staffing and other decisions that are impacted by institutional politics. I’ve written about it myself (Publish or Perish, if you’re interested).

And I’m by no means at all the only one. Just ask Christine Poulson’s creation Cassandra James. Head of the English Literature Department at St. Ethelreda’s College, Cambridge, she is no stranger to the politics of academia. In one plot thread of Murder is Academic, for instance, she’s just taken the reins at the department, and one of her tasks is to prepare everyone for the upcoming Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The department’s funding and security depend heavily on its success with the RAE, so everyone’s scholarship has to be as impressive as possible. That’s not going to be an easy task, considering that James is also mixed up in the murder of her predecessor (she discovered the body, for one thing). Among other things, this series (of which Murder is Academic is the first novel) gives readers a close look at the internal politics of university life. Still interested in academic politics? You can also check out Sarah R. Shaber’s Simon Shaw mysteries, of which Simon Said is the first. There are many more examples, too.

But you don’t need to be a lawyer, doctor or professor to understand internal politics. Just look around, and I’ll bet you’ll see plenty of examples. That colleague who toadies to all the ‘right people,’ that boss who’s more concerned with her own promotions than with supporting her department, that sales executive who angles for the corner office, well, you know what I mean. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just got an email about a meeting I’ve been invited to attend. Never mind that it’s during the weekend, it could be my chance to really get ahead! 



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Frank Loesser.


Filed under Christine Poulson, Jeffery Hudson, Michael Crichton, Phillip Margolin, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, Sarah R. Shaber

In The Spotlight: Phillip Margolin’s Executive Privilege

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Today is Guy Fawkes Day, the anniversary of Robert Catesby’s failed plot to assassinate England’s King James I. And tomorrow is the U.S. presidential election. What better time to turn the spotlight on a political/legal thriller? So let’s do that today. Phillip Margolin’s legal and political thrillers have gained him a wide readership and well-deserved acclaim, and it’s about time I included one of them in this feature. Let’s turn today’s spotlight on Executive Privilege.

Executive Privilege begins when former cop turned PI Dana Cutler gets a new assignment. Wealthy and well-connected attorney Dale Perry wants Cutler to follow nineteen-year-old Charlotte Walsh and report where Walsh goes, whom she sees and what she does. At first Cutler can’t understand why Walsh would be of any interest to Washington’s power-brokers. But she takes the job and the generous pay and starts her surveillance. At first, not much happens. Then one night, Walsh leaves her car in a mall parking lot and is driven to a secluded safe house. To Cutler’s shock, it turns out that Walsh is meeting with U.S. President Christopher Farrington. Then Cutler is spotted and only barely gets away. With Walsh apparently mixed up in something much bigger than it seemed, Cutler is only too glad to call in to her employer and quit the job.

It doesn’t turn out to be that easy. The next morning Cutler learns that Walsh was murdered after she got back to her car. What’s worse, Cutler’s been identified as the person who took surveillance ‘photos of Walsh’s meeting with Farrington. Now, some very powerful people are after not just the ‘photos and any related files, but Cutler herself.

In the meantime, we meet fledgling attorney Brad Miller, who’s been hired by a large and powerful Portland, Oregon law firm. Although he’s working far too many hours, Miller’s hoping to get a strong start to his career. Then he gets an assignment from one of the firm’s top attorneys Susan Tuchman. She wants Miller to work on a pro bono assignment for convicted killer Clarence Little. Little is scheduled to be executed for a series of horrendous killings, one of which is the murder of Laurie Erickson. Erickson was the daughter of the woman who served as President Farrington’s secretary when he was governor of Oregon and Little is claiming that he didn’t kill her. He wants Miller’s firm to help him in his appeal. The more Miller finds out about Laurie Erickson’s murder, the more he comes to believe that Little didn’t kill her.

These two story lines come together when Dana Cutler learns of some similarities between Charlotte Walsh’s death and Laurie Erickson’s death. With help from FBI Agent Keith Evans, who’s investigating the Walsh murder, Cutler and Miller put their stories together and the picture emerges of a frightening conspiracy (I know, I know, it sounds cliché, but it’s true in this case) that goes all the way to the White House. As it turns out, the murders of Charlotte Walsh and Laurie Erickson have everything to do with a common experience in their pasts.

This is a thriller, so the pacing and action level are what you’d expect for the sub-genre. There are narrow escapes, injuries, high-level enemies, threats and more. Cutler and Miller even end up having to be taken to a safe house. Readers who prefer novels with slow buildup of tension will be disappointed. But that said, the action is credible and so are the protagonists. They use their wits as much as any weapons, and neither has what you’d call superpowers.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a thriller full of gruesome brutality. There’s gunplay and some violence. There is some detailed forensic discussion, and Miller’s meetings with convicted killer Clarence Little include frank (and to me, creepy) conversations about Little’s crimes. But the violence isn’t gratuitous or extended.

Thrillers sometimes get a reputation for not having rounded and well-drawn characters, but that’s not the case here. The characters of Dana Cutler and Brad Miller are important elements in this story. Cutler is a former cop who left the force after a traumatic experience that left her psychologically wounded enough to need hospital care for a time. We learn what that experience was, but again, not in harrowing detail. And her reaction to what happened is both human and credible. So is the person she’s become. She’s tough, resourceful, and smart. But at the same time, she’s vulnerable and plenty frightened when she learns just whom she’s up against in this case. Through her readers get a sense of what life on the run can be like.

For his part, Miller’s a former law school ‘whiz kid.’ He’s a skilled researcher and fairly longheaded as the saying goes. Through him we get a sense of what life is like for the hard-working young legal associate; it’s not easy. Miller feels very much out of his element when he has to interview a serial killer and later use a gun, and he has a believable fear of being involved as deeply as he is in this set of mysteries. These two protagonists complement each other’s skills and they are credible as co-sleuths. Oh, and one other note: I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that Margolin avoids the all-too-common trap of having co-sleuths end up as lovers. These two develop a liking and respect for each other, but they don’t start a relationship.

The story is told from several different perspectives, so readers who prefer only one point of view will be disappointed. It’s through these multiple perspectives though that we get to know Cutler, Miller, FBI Agent Keith Evans and the Farringtons, as well as some of the other characters in the novel. The main storylines alternate between Cutler’s experiences and Miller’s so the reader follows along as each slowly puts the pieces of the larger puzzle together and eventually meet.

Executive Privilege is fast-paced and has more than one twist to it. It features credible co-sleuths, a believable mystery (all the eerier for actually being possible) and solid Washington, DC and Oregon settings. But what’s your view? Have you read Executive Privilege? If you have, what elements do you see in it?



Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday 12 November/Tuesday 13 November – The Paris Lawyer – Sylvie Granotier

Monday 19 November/Tuesday 20 November – Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery – Anthony Berkeley

Monday 26 November/Tuesday 27 November – Desert Wives – Betty Webb


Filed under Executive Privilege, Phillip Margolin

You Never Know Until You Try*

One of the appeals of crime fiction is that it’s a varied genre with many different authors represented in it. What that means for the reader is that there’s an embarrassment of riches as far as choosing authors and types of books. There are too many well-written crime fiction novels for anyone to read all of them so most crime fiction fans find a group of authors whose work they particularly like and follow those authors. I know I certainly have my “favourites” list. But no-one likes to feel stuck in a proverbial rut, especially when it comes to reading, which is supposed to be engaging and absorbing. So lots of crime fiction fans like to “stretch themselves,” step outside their comfort zones and try new authors and new sub-genres. And there’s no better way (at least in my opinion) to get a full sense of the genre than experimenting with a new-to-you author or a sub-genre you don’t usually read. Of course, as with anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages. This is just my view, so of course, feel free to differ if you do:


Advantages of Trying New Authors or Sub-Genres


You might find a real gem.

I’ll bet we’ve all had the experience of trying a new author or sub-genre and being happily surprised. Earlier this year, for instance, I was introduced to William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series, which takes place in the Soviet Union of Stalin just before World War II. Now admittedly I happen to like historical mysteries, so I was probably predisposed to like the series. But that aside, it turned out to be a good reading experience for me. It’s a well-written series with a very strong sense of context. And Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev is a well-drawn protagonist with some solid layers.

The same thing can happen when you step outside your usual sub-genre. For example, if you’re most comfortable reading cosy mysteries, you could discover a well-written police procedural series such as Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss series. Or you might find you really enjoy Andrea Camilleri’s Commissario Salvo Montalbano series. Now admittedly, those series tend to include more violence (‘though it’s not generally gratuitous) and rougher language than a lot of cosies have, but you could find yourself becoming a fan.


You can come back to your usual reading with more zest.

It’s true. When you read an author whose work is new to you, one of a few things will happen. One possibility is that you’ll really like the author’s work. That’s what happened a few years ago when I first read Adrian Hyland’s excellent Emily Tempest novels (A-hem, Mr. Hyland – waiting for Emily Tempest #3….. ). In those novels, there’s a strong sense of place and culture, a set of solid and believable mysteries and some well-drawn characters. That’s enough to get a reader optimistic about the genre in general, and that optimism stays with you when you return to authors whose work you’ve already found you liked.

Another possibility is that you don’t like the author you’ve sampled. How’s that an advantage? How does that give you “reading energy?” Perhaps I’m being idealistic here, but when that happens, it can give the reader a greater appreciation for the good books that are out there. And a good lesson not to read that particular author’s work again.


More authors get their work “out there.”

When crime fiction fans are willing to experiment and try new authors and sub-genres, that makes it possible for more authors to have their work read. For many authors who aren’t exactly “household names” that’s awfully important. And for a talented but little-known author, an open-minded audience who’s willing to take a chance on an “unknown” can make all the difference in the world.


Disadvantages of Trying New Authors or Sub-Genres


You could be badly “burned.”

You know what I mean here if you’ve ever taken a chance on an author only to send that book directly to the DNF pile. No-one likes to feel that sense of having wasted time on a bad book. I know I don’t.  And if you’ve bought the book (rather than borrowed it from the library, for instance) it’s even more frustrating because you’ve spent money on a bad experience. And when you try a new author, even after getting a recommendation from a trusted source, there’s no guarantee you’ll like that author’s work. It’s a risk you take and sometimes it doesn’t pay off.


One bad experience could put you off an entire sub-genre.

Suppose you read a legal thriller that you dislike heartily. You might then decide never to read another legal mystery or thriller again. The trouble with that is that you’d miss some entries into that sub-genre that are truly well-written, such as Scott Turow’s work or that of Philip Margolin. There are other fine authors of legal thrillers and mysteries too whose work you wouldn’t experience. The same is true of any other sub-genre, and missing out on a good reading experience is a loss.


You can’t read everything – even if you only read well-written books.

That means that if you make a habit of trying new-to-you authors and sub-genres, you may not have the time to keep up with the authors and series you like best. Some readers face this challenge by having one book on the bedstand, one in the audio or MP3 player and one on the e-reader. But even so, adding new authors and sub-genres also adds to the time needed to read. And let’s not even discuss one’s book budget…

But on balance, there are, at least in my opinion, a lot more reasons to take a chance on a new-to-you author than not to do so. That’s especially true if that author comes recommended by a trusted source. But what’s your view? Are you generally a person who likes to try new authors? Have you been “burned” enough that you shy away? How do you balance trying a new author with keeping up with your favourites?



On Another Note….


Want a great way to encourage yourself to try a new author?? Why not join the 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet meme? Thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, this year’s Crime Fiction Alphabet journey leaves the station on Monday, 21 May. I’ve found this particular meme to be great fun and it does push me to read authors whose work is new to me and to re-visit stories I’ve loved. What’s not to like??

Want to join the fun? Want to stretch yourself as a reader? You know you do!!

Check out the announcement and get your ticket!




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from America’s Lonely People.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Andrea Camilleri, Helene Tursten, Phillip Margolin, Scott Turow, William Ryan

>People, You’ve Got the Power Over What We Do*

>As any crime fiction fan can tell you, there isn’t just one kind of crime fiction. There are lots of sub-genres, and in many ways, that’s a good thing. There’s something for just about anyone’s taste within the genre, so readers will probably find something they’ll like, and writers will probably find an audience for the kind of crime fiction they want to write. Because there’s such a variety in crime fiction, readers, publishers and agents rely on subcategories such as cosy, noir, and police procedural. Those categories are really useful in helping readers to choose the kind of book they want – a book that will match their tastes. They’re also useful for publishers, booksellers and agents; categories help in marketing. In a very interesting blog post, Alan Orloff makes the point that authors also need to pay attention to the sub-genre they’ve chosen; they need to know the audience for that sub-genre and they need to know what the conventions are for that sub-genre. He’s got a well-taken point. If you’ve ever chosen a book by a thriller writer and discovered that this particular book was really a cosy, you know what I mean. If you’ve ever looked for a book by a cosy author and found that the book was really a dark, bleak police procedural, you also know what I mean. Does this mean that crime fiction authors can’t try different kinds of novels? No. As a matter of fact, sometimes it adds a refreshing dose of innovation to a series if the author tries something a little different. It does mean, though, that it’s important for an author to be aware of what the audience expects from a cosy, a police procedural, a psychological thriller or whatever other sub-genre the author chooses.

Here are just a few examples of what I mean. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of more than I could.

The Cosy

People who prefer cosy mysteries are, in general, most interested in characters and settings. Although they know that murder is tragic, sometimes gory and always horrible, they aren’t as interested in the graphic details of a murder. Although they’re not necessarily prudes, cosy readers aren’t interested in a lot of obscene language or explicit sex. Instead, they like the interplay of characters, an interesting setting and of course, a good mystery to solve.

For instance, the Memphis Barbecue series by Riley Adams (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) features interesting, even quirky characters. There’s Lulu Taylor, who owns Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, one of Memphis’ most popular barbecue restaurants. She herself is an interesting character. The members of her family, and the “regulars” at the restaurant are also interesting and lively. For example, in Delicious and Suspicious, we meet a group of volunteers at Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Nicknamed The Graces, they’re varied, quirky and lively. The Taylor family and the “regulars” get caught up in a murder investigation when Rebecca Adrian, a scout for the Cooking Channel, is poisoned after eating a meal at Aunt Pat’s. Lulu Taylor wants to salvage her restaurant’s (and her family’s) reputation, so she decides to find out who killed Adrian. Besides the mystery, the characters and the Beale Street, Memphis setting are also strong elements in this novel.

The Police Procedural

Police procedural fans enjoy the details of a police investigation. They don’t mind grit and gore as long as it’s not gratuitous, and they generally like complex characters. They prefer real-life, authentic portraits of police work and they are not impressed with “magical” solutions to the case that’s the focus of the novel. They prefer the pieces to come together in a realistic way.

There are a lot of well-regarded police procedural series, so I’m not being fair at all by using just a few as examples. However, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series and Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series demonstrate the kind of focus on complex characters and the details of an investigation that police procedural fans like. What’s interesting about these two particular series is that they’re quite different. Mankell and Camilleri have different writing styles and focus on different things. However, in both series, we follow the police as they make their investigations. We see how cases are solved by police teamwork and not by one person’s brilliant deductions. Fans of those series see the characters evolve, and both series have a sense of realism about them.

It’s not doing real justice to the sub-genre to include the forensics procedural in this category, but in some ways, it’s quite similar to the police procedural. Fans of forensics procedurals also like the details of an investigation. They like their characters complex, their cases solved in realistic ways by hard work and team effort, and like fans of police procedurals, they don’t mind grit if it is important to the plot.

The Thriller

There are several different kinds of thrillers, of course. There are psychological thrillers such as those written by Ruth Rendell and her alter ego Barbara Vine. There are legal thrillers such as those of Phillip Margolin. There are spy thrillers, too, such as those by John le Carré. And I’ve only mentioned a few. Thriller fans like lots of twists, turns and surprises. They like a fast pace and action to the plot. This doesn’t mean that there has to be a gun battle or car chase on every page; in fact, that quickly becomes clichéd. But thriller fans like things to move along. Like fans of some other sub-genres, they don’t mind gore, sex or grit if it serves the plot well, but the best thrillers don’t rely on those devices to get readers to turn pages.

The Detective Novel

In a sense, most crime fiction novels are detective novels. After all, most crime fiction novels involve a crime, a person or people who committed the crime, and the detective who solves the crime. I’m referring here, though, to crime fiction where the focus is on one detective (as opposed to, say, a police precinct) and the way she or he solves crimes.

Detective novel fans often come to love a series because of the personality of the detective. They like to see the detective evolve over time, and they like the focus of the novel to be on the way the detective goes about his or her work. Detective novel fans like the characters they read about to have some depth. That said, though, it’s just as important that the mystery the detective is solving be an interesting, plausible story.

The detective novel has a very long history and there is a rich variety in this sub-genre, so there’s no way that I could possibly mention all of the successful detective series. Let me just refer to two examples. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford novels are all considered great detective novel series. Christie is better known for her genius at plotting than at real depth of character. That said though, millions of fans have become devotees of her sleuths and the ways in which they go about solving crimes.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series has won millions of fans as much because of Bosch’s character as anything else. Of course, fans of this series wouldn’t stay around of the plots and mysteries weren’t interesting and had no twists and turns. But Bosch’s complex character is an important focus of this series.

There are a lot of other sub-genres, such as noir and comic/caper crime novels that I haven’t had space to discuss. Fans of those sub-genres, too, have certain expectations of what they read. And there’s not enough space for me to detail everything that draws fans to cosies, thrillers, and so on. Does this mean that, say, there can’t be a car chase in a cosy novel? Or that a psychological thriller can’t have any quiet moments? I don’t think so. I can think of a lot of novels with what you might call “crossover” elements, and that’s one drawback of having categories; they can be limiting. But in general, crime fiction fans want certain things from the sub-genres they love. What about you? Do you choose novels by sub-genre? Or do you choose your novels by author? Does it put you off to choose a novel by sub-genre, only to find it to be quite different? If you’re a writer, how do you find out what your particular audience wants? How do you frame your work to fit what your audience wants?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jackson Browne’s The Load-Out/Stay


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Andrea Camilleri, Barbara Vine, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, John le Carré, Michael Connelly, Phillip Margolin, Riley Adams, Ruth Rendell