D.O.A.’s Mystery Class Outline

By some miracle I successfully gave a mystery class last week that has taken up all my loose grey cells, thus no posts. I’m including the outline here because I think it could be easily adapted to other mystery sub-genres or topics, or it could even, horror of horrors, be used to do a class on Romance or something unrelated.

I was asked to do a class on Mysteries (no clue why, honestly, and what was I thinking to say yes), but I narrowed it down to Minnesota Mysteries, and further down to four popular sub-genres, and focused on four authors who write in those sub-genres. I have meant to read Minnesota Mystery writers widely for some time, and working on this class has gotten me started on that path. I wouldn’t do the class again until I have alot more hands on readership under my belt, because I’d really like to be able to compare authors within the same genre as a starting point for discussion. Although even within a particular genre writing styles and focus vary widely, knowing what the sub-genres are and if you like the basic elements of a sub-genre or if you hate them, is a good place to narrow things down.

I wanted to provide information, discussion, and places to go beyond the class. Included in my talk are local area bookstores, and mystery specific discussion groups. I had 5 questions for each author, and to tie things together the last question for each author was, do they fit in the genre I placed them in, and would you read more books by this author.

Minnesota Mysteries from Cozy to Criminal

About me and my mystery reading background
What to expect today
How I chose the topic
How I chose the books

 Usually features a female amateur sleuth
 Occupation of sleuth can be anything
 Increasingly tied to a craft or hobby theme
 Typically set in a small town or village
 Suspects all know each other
 Gossip key to solving crime
 Sleuth often is close to a policeman, detective or medical examiner
 Sleuth not taken seriously by local police
 Part of a series but can be standalone
 Recurring side characters
 Sleuth and most side characters very likeable
 Usually “Gentle Reads” no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex
 Crime usually takes place “offstage”
 Often the “victim” was a bad person who “deserved to die”

Police procedurals
 Depict members of a police force, members of political entities that must be dealt with, coroners, psychologists
 Often multiple storylines and crimes
 Criminal often known or revealed at the beginning of the book
 Forensics, autopsies, warrants, interrogations ,day to day goings on in a police station are the themes
 “Real life murders” would be handled by local police
 May be made more realistic by “copies” of notes, maps, police report pages, testimony, diary entries, police sketches, all helping to establish a sense of realism, to give you a snapshot of how an investigation unfolds.
 Large cast of characters
 Can be street cop or detective
 Realistic dialogue
 Often brutal murders or action
 Main crimes solved at novels end
 May deal with social issues
 The city or town setting can be a character

Humorous Mysteries
 Can have elements of other subgenres
 Main ingredient is humor
 Humor arises from anything at all
 Can take place anywhere
 Murder can be most foul or offstage
 It can be anything but must have strong element of humor

Private detective
 Usually a professional who owns or works for an agency
 Likely a former police detective
 Not law enforcement, police, etc
 Solve the crime on their own, work alone
 Charges a fee for his services

Book Discussion: Framed in Lace by Monica Ferris

1. Do you feel that the mystery and craft elements are equal?
2. Was the murderer easily identifiable from clues given? I had these suspects: Martha Winters, Alice Skogland, Vern Miller, Carl Winters.
3. How do the Monday Bunch fit into the story?
4. Is Betsy a good amateur detective?
5. Does this fit as a cozy and would you read more in this series?

Book Discussion: Third Person Singular by K.J. Erickson

1. Do you feel the narrative unfolds smoothly, and that you only know what Mars Bahr knows as you read?
2. A police procedural should show the nitty gritty daily life of the police. Do you feel K. J. Erickson did that successfully?
3. There is considerable dramatic tension in the narrative until the sequence that turns to Bobby’s England visit. Did this seem natural or did it seem to interrupt the story? Was there another way this could have been woven into the tale? Were you convinced after reading this that Bobby could be the killer?
4. What did you think of the ending? Were all loose investigative and other end tied up?
5. Does this fit the Police Procedural genre and would you read more books in this series?

Book Discussion: May Day by Jess Lourey
1. What are some of the story and character elements Jess Lourey uses as points of ongoing humor? (Character is a librarian, her love life, sex in general, the mayor (name, side job), small towns, Minnesota, old people, law enforcement)
2. This story has what elements of a cozy mystery? What makes this *not* a cozy?
3. What was the first really funny scene for you?
4. Did you find this novel to be scary and suspenseful in parts? Do the scary suspenseful elements work with the overall humorous tone?
5. Does this fit the Humor genre and would you read more books in this series?

Book Discussion: Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

1. Why doesn’t Darla LeBeau call the sheriff’s office to look for her missing son? Why does she call Cork?
2. Is Cork O’Connor a hopeless romantic? If so, how does it help and hinder him?
3. Jo O’Connor is motivated by what? Why does she fall in love with Sandy Parrant?
4. How do Indian mystical elements work within the story? Cork is a devout Catholic, does this make him more or less likely to be receptive to Indian lore?
5. Does this fit the Private Detective genre and would you read more books in this series?

How to find a good series, how to find more books and authors like the ones you read now:

Library Print Resources (display and booklist) We have books with list of series and authors by genre with descriptions. These are a good place to start:

Guides to Mysteries

Blood, Bedlam, Bullets and badguys: a readers guide to Adventure/Suspense Fiction by Michael B. Gannon

Critical Survey of Mystery and Detective Fiction (Magill)

Detecting Men: a reader’s guide and checklist for mystery series written by men by Willetta L. Heising

Detecting Women: a reader’s guide and checklist for mystery series written by women by Willetta L. Heising

The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery by Bruce F. Murphy

Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: a comprehensive guide to the art of detection in print, film, radio, and television by William L. DeAndrea

The Fine Art of murder: a mystery reader’s indispensible companion edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff

Make mine a Mystery: a reader’s guide to mystery and detective fiction by Gary Warren Niebuhr

The Murder book: an illustrated history of the detective story

The Oxford companion to crime and mystery writing edited by Rosemary Herbert

Read ‘em their writes: a handbook for mystery and crime fiction book discussions by Gary Warren Niebuhr

Silk stalkings: when women write of murder by Victoria Nichols and Susan Thompson

Finding a new mystery author, fiction sources:

Death on Demand Series by Carolyn G. Hart

The Silence of the loons: thirteen tales of mystery by Minnesota’s Premier Crime Writers

Resort to Murder: Thirteen More tales of mystery by Minnesota’s Premier Crime writers

Ellery Queen Mystery magazine

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazine

Strand magazine: the magazine for Mystery & Short Story Lovers

Check the local paper for author appearances:

St Paul Pioneer Press You will get a good feel for an author and their work and what authors they like as a source for new authors to read. It really is nice to meet the author in person.

Minneapolis Star Tribune (authors appearances) same

We are incredibly lucky to have two mystery specialty bookstores in this area:

Mystery Bookstore: Once Upon a crime
Well read mystery focused staff, author readings and signings, book group led by Minnesota Crime Wave authors William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart and Carl Brookings. In March they have an all day long Saturday event called Write of Spring. Mystery authors appear, talk about their books,sign autographs, answer your questions (why did you kill off my favorite character, why don’t you kill off this character I can’t stand…) Great event to meet authors and fellow readers.

Mystery Bookstore: Uncle Edgars
In the same building as Uncle Hugos Science Fiction bookstore. Knowledgeable staff, new and used books, author events. We have their publication in our mystery section. You may get this list emailed to you, with new books and reviews of mysteries by the owner.

Read the award winners:

Edgar Awards Annual Best Mystery Etc. Also Malice Domestic, etc.

Mystery Book Discussion Groups

There are many general book discussion groups, but if you are an avid mystery reader, there are groups just for you! Indulge your love of mystery by attending one or more discussions:

Ramsey County Library Shoreview
RCL – Shoreview Mystery Book Group
Third Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Third Thursdays at noon (bring your lunch)
“If you enjoy reading mysteries, consider coming to one of our Mystery Club meetings. Newcomers are always welcome! Meetings run about an hour and are held in the Shoreview Meeting room. If you come to the Thursday group, feel free to bring a brown bag lunch. If you have any questions, please see Lynette at the Circulation Desk.”

Ramsey County Library – White Bear Lake Mystery
First Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

St. Paul Public Library
Hamline Midway
1558 West Minnehaha Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Saints & Sinners Mystery Book Club
Meets at 1:00 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
E-mail gerrib@earthlink.net for information. Please include “Saints & Sinners” in the subject line.

(Hennepin, Washington,Dakota,Scott,Carver no Mystery specific group)

Once upon a Crime Mystery Book Discussion
REGULAR EVENTS: Sisters in Crime meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m., excluding July and August.
The Crime Fiction Reading Group meets the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. except June, July, and August.

Clews and Brews
Third Wednesday of the Month at the Chatterbox restaurant (back room) at Cleveland and Ford Parkway in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul at 6:30 p.m., in the back room. Dinner is ordered since it is in a restaurant. Meetings are usually about 2 hours long. Author appearances four to five times per year. Newsletter typically twice per year. No December Meeting. For more information contact Kathy at the Paperback Exchange 612-929-8801

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