Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I'm a Woman and I Read Crime Fiction (plus, a mini-book review)

I've had this entry rumbling around in my head for a few days, then I read Sarah Weinman's post about gender and crime fiction and decided to expand, so please bear with me.

A few books ago, I finished Murder on Ice by Alina Adams, after finding out about her when she guest blogged on Sarah's site. Reading this mystery made me remember why I prefer thrillers (legal, medical, psychological, etc.), police procedurals and even P.I. novels to mysteries that feature "amateur sleuths." The whole premise of an amateur sleuth who is forced into an improbable mystery-solving scenario during the course of their day job is annoying to me. In the case of Murder on Ice, TV researcher Bex is asked by her producer boss to find out who killed a figure skating judge involved in a scoring scandal. And of course, she does. But this just isn't realistic enough for me. There were so many problems with this scenario, I don't even know where to begin (the police were convinced the murder was really an accident, etc.). On top of that, the plot of the book just wasn't very well written. On atleast three separate occasions, the main character Bex paused to reflect on the "clues" by doing the following:
  • Chapter 5, p. 89 - "So. It was time to review."
  • Chapter 5 (still), p. 94 - "Again, it was time for Bex to summarize what she knew." Did that much really happen in five pages?
  • Chapter 11 - "It was time to review."

If the plot is so convoluted (and it wasn't, just lame) that the character needs to actually state that she needs to review everything, than maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Also, this probably would have been a much better book if it had been written in the first person instead of the third. There were lots of conversations taking place inside the main character's head that would have come across better in her own words. But, I'll just chalk this up to a reminder that I don't like cozy or amateur sleuth mysteries and will try not to get sucked into another one again.

All that being said, let's get back to Sarah's thoughts on gender and crime fiction. Most women probably do read cozy and amateur sleuth mysteries more so than other types of crime fiction and may be more drawn to female writers than male writers. Regarding Murder on Ice, there are probably very few men who would be interested in a murder mystery about women's figure skating. I, myself, am often more drawn to female authors such as Nevada Barr, Barbara Parker, Dana Stabenow, Patricia Cornwell, Linda Fairstein, Margaret Maron, Minette Walters, Lisa Scottoline, Kathy Reichs, Val McDermid and others. But I also love James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben, C.J. Box, Richard North Patterson, James Patterson and John Grisham. Take Dana Stabenow for instance. She writes two series, one with a female main character and one with a male. I like them both. I love the dark side of James Lee Burke's books and the fact that Dave Robicheaux is a flawed hero.

But I think the key thing about why I choose to read these types of books is that most of them are much more believable and therefore, more real, to me. It's much more plausible that a police or other type of law enforcement officer (obviously), private detective, lawyer or medical examiner would be involved in solving a crime/murder than a chef who comes across dead bodies every time she leaves her house. Since these seem more real to me, the drama and the character development offer something more as well. I think that's why I also prefer series, which most of the above are, because the characters grow and develop over time and the reader gets to know them. But I'll save my thoughts on all the different series I read for another day!