One of my favorite classes in graduate school was Reader’s Advisory and Genre Fiction. I took it during the winter semester, so all of the coursework was crammed into five weeks. I read 4-6 books every week, and I absolutely loved it. We explored all the major genres and each genre’s subgenres. I had so much fun that I even enjoyed the textbook.
About five months later, one of our librarians retired and I was asked to fill in for three of her upcoming programs. The final of the three was a discussion on mystery novels. Mysteries are not my go-to genre, but I loved learning about them. I had no idea how diverse the genre was. It truly can appeal to all kinds of readers.
Leading up to the program, I went through the chapter on mystery fiction in my textbook, ordered a few books from each subgenre from other libraries, and developed documents to supplement the discussion. You are welcome to use both or either of these documents.
I wanted to focus on mysteries, so the above materials do not have an explanation about the difference between mystery and suspense/thriller. There are great descriptions of suspense and thriller (I particularly like this one), but the core difference is how the author writes the story. In mysteries, the reader is being challenged to solve the crime before the protagonist does. The author provides clues that the reader can use. In suspense/thriller novels, the reader is along for the ride. They usually have a twist or an unreliable narrator, and solving the crime isn’t always the primary focus.
The program itself went very well. I did it at a nearby community center and all of my attendees were avid mystery readers. They were excited to learn what I had to offer, but they also taught me a lot. About halfway through the program, I was called out on never having read William Kent Krueger. It is totally okay if you haven’t read every author you talk about, but Krueger is big in Minnesota. I admitted that I had just moved to the state, and the participants were gracious in sharing their local knowledge.
The key to making this type of program successful is to prepare for it to look nothing like you expect it to. I provided general direction, but ultimately, it was the attendees who decided where to take it. Prepare something for lulls in the conversation, but don’t stick to a script. When I started talking about hard-boiled versus soft-boiled, a few of the attendees piped up and said that they hated graphic violence and were afraid to try new mysteries because of past negative experiences. As the program went on, I added anecdotes about how to avoid graphic violence and how to spot a cozy mystery on the shelf.
The textbook I used lists the most popular authors and series in each subgenre. I definitely recommend buying it if you want a more in-depth explanation of genre and how each book fits into their genre. There are also great resources online for free, but this is the most comprehensive resource that I have found.
These are the books that I used for the program based on the lists in the textbook:
- In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
- Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert
- Still Life by Louise Penny
- Getting Old is a Disaster by Rita Lakin
- Death on Demand by Carolyn G. Hart
- Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews
- Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen
- City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley
- The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry
- Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
- Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
- Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
- The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais