First and foremost – get well soon, Erin. Fridays aren’t the same without you.
And so to the business of the day. I’ve heard crime fiction described as a broad church, and while I wouldn’t exactly go along with the church part, as a metaphor I do think it holds water. All kinds of sub- and cross-genres find their way on to the crime shelves in any half-decent bookshop, and more often than not the sub- and cross- parts are integral to the concept, and every bit as well done as the crime part. For instance, a few weeks ago I read a book which turned out to be at least as much urban fantasy than crime, although there were a couple of murders; and I’ve just read a richly drawn and wonderfully researched historical murder mystery which I enjoyed a lot. I subsequently found reviews of both in the one of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, one in the SF/Fantasy section and one in Recent Historical Fiction; both focused firmly on the non-crime element and practically ignored the murders, even though they were pretty central to the story. Which takes nothing away from the crime element in both.
But... Crime sells; of that there is no doubt. Crime fiction is consistently the best selling genre; bookshops devote whole aisles or rooms to it; bestseller lists always feature more crime fiction than anything else, and sometimes more than everything else added together. So I do wonder if there’s an element of bandwagon-jumping in publishing houses. I suppose marketing departments can be forgiven for a) trying to persuade editors to ask authors to write it, or include murders in other kinds of books; and b) trying to convince readers that books which contain a tiny element of crime (which may even have been included at the editor’s behest rather than the author’s intention) are actually firmly in the genre. Mostly. As long as they don’t try too hard.
I suppose it’s tempting to look at a book which falls into a genre, or type, which sells steadily but not in huge numbers, and ask, what can we do to persuade more people to buy it. And it must be equally tempting to look longingly at the genre that does sell in huge numbers – and try to convince people that the first kind is actually the second. Another example: the jacket blurb of one of my recent reads cited the murder of a young woman, and the way the investigation focused first in an obvious place, and then elsewhere when the obvious yielded no results. And that’s pretty much all the jacket blurb said. It certainly didn’t say that the murder happened in the next-to-last chapter, and if I hadn’t read the jacket blurb it would have come right out of left field. Or that the account of the investigation was cursory and inconclusive, took up about ten pages, and left the reader to make up his/her own mind. I’m not saying the person who wrote that blurb set out to mislead, but... OK, there actually was a murder, but it kind of wasn’t the point of the book, and I was left wondering if the author had set out to write a murder mystery in the first place.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon, and I doubt it will be the last. And I have a lot of sympathy with marketing people, whose job it is to place the books they’re responsible for in the sightline of as many people as possible – been there, done that, had a lot of t-shirts printed. But isn’t there a line between making the most of the material at your disposal and giving the reader something that comes close to misinformation?