Chick Lit Bit

NY Times book critic Marilyn Stasio isn’t fond of "chick lit mysteries."

you can’t miss its gaudy manifestations — those slender volumes with cute
titles like ”Dating Dead Men” and ”Killer Heels” and covers in such juicy
colors you don’t know whether to read the flap copy or lick the jacket.

Slim stories. Joke titles. Juicy jacket art. Does a pattern begin to emerge?
For a category of mystery still relatively new to the market, the babe book has
already settled into some fairly narrow grooves. Even if you ignore the
generally deplorable level of the writing (which is surely an unintentional
aspect of the formula), these novels scrupulously observe all the basic
chick-lit conventions: the giddy girls in their glamorous jobs, the shopping
sprees and fashion makeovers, the gossipy friends, the disastrous dates and the
wry comic voice of a heroine so adorable she could be . . . you.

Book critic, blogger and industry observer Sarah Weinman thinks the mystery world will be buzzing over Stasio’s take on the genre. I don’t think so. The one thing these "chick lit" authors share in common is a strong sense of humor. I think they’ll shrug it off.  How about you?

14 thoughts on “Chick Lit Bit”

  1. I’m with Marilyn Stasio on this one. Mysteries need gravitas. I don’t want heros with vacant wide-eyes. I want a flawed character’s redemptive journey into hell.

  2. Wasn’t Otto Penzler excoriated for expressing a similar idea recently? I can’t say I’ve ever read a chick lit book, nor do I intend to, but from the way they’re described I needn’t waste my time.

  3. I love chick lit (I agree on the great humor part) and I love mysteries…but I somehow can’t picture a plot that would be able to combine both. Chick lit is the literary equivalent of chocolate (the name “chick lit” does have a point after all), but combining it with mystery is like mixing chocolate and cheese, (or like doing a cross-over between “Diagnosis: Murder” and “Clueless”, to get away from the food metaphors). Nothing that I’d want to read, watch or..well…eat.

  4. There does tend to be a certain formula to chick lit mysteries, just as there is to PI novels. It’s what you do with the formula that counts.
    I’ve read a couple that I’ve enjoyed, although for the most part it’s a corner of the genre that I find lacking.

  5. Three days later, I’m pretty close to taking that comment back, but here’s something else to consider: it would be very interesting to see the demographics on the books Stasio lumped together as chick lit mysteries (I wish there was another term, but I guess we’re stuck with it now…) and whether the buying audience is starting, at least a little bit, to skew younger. Because I remember hearing about a panel at last year’s Malice Domestic where one person asked a question as to whether there was any concerted effort to market cozy mysteries to young women, and the panelists — which included authors, editors and agents — didn’t seem to know what to do with the question (and essentially ignored it.)
    So if these books get the 18-34 female crowd, who then might be prevailed to pick up some more traditional mysteries of the past if they are effectively marketed to them, then maybe chick lit mysteries are the gateway to revitalizing the cozy.

  6. maybe chick lit mysteries are the gateway to revitalizing the cozy.

    Does the cozy need revitalizing? Despite Otto Penzler’s distaste for the genre, isn’t it still going as strong as ever?

  7. I do think that the cozy mystery could use revitalizing, just as the PI novel needs it. There are too many books being written and published in the mystery genre these days that are, at best, serviceable and familiar examples of a tired formula. They are books that seem written only to fill a slot on a publishing schedule, not because the author had anything new or interesting to say.
    I think this is true across the board, but it seems especially true in the cozy genre. Recipes are popular? Let’s have a recipe mystery! Candy is popular? Let’s have a candy recipe mystery! Bed and breakfasts? Cross-stitchers? Scrapbooking? You’ve got it!
    I’ve been trying in recent months to include more cozies in my reading and reviewing, but damn it’s hard.

  8. I was struck by Stasio’s column for two reasons: she devoted a lot of ink to books she dismissed as poorly written, to paraphrase her. What also caught my eye was the list of publishers, everyone from Red Dress to Doubleway, Warner, and Harper-Collins. Everyone’s gotta have one and whatever charm or appeal these books hold will be dilluted further by endless waves of imitators.

  9. They certainly go overboard with immitators in cozies. The new trend is gardening/botanical mysteries. There are two or three series out there I haven’t even started to think about reading yet.
    However, that doesn’t mean they’re good or bad. It all depends on the author and how they handle things. This applies to cozies just as much as PI novels and it bothers me that people jump on cozies but not other formulaed genres.
    If you haven’t seen it, I think Susan McBride hit the nail on the head in today’s post on The Lipstick Chronicles.

  10. I think the reason this article hasn’t been so much discussed is that the issue has been kind of talked to death. Yeah, chick lit mysteries are light and fluffy, yeah, a lot of books that don’t necessarily deserve the name are lumped in with them for marketing purposes. And yeah, maybe in a more male-dominated genre (say, thrillers) the existence of some crappy books doesn’t damn the whole field. And everyone who wants to has put their two cents in and no one is too likely to change their opinions at this point. Does that sound bitter? It isn’t supposed to. I just get the feeling that these discussions tend to kind of stagnate after a while.
    (By the way, I am a female age 18-35 and I’m not particularly into chick lit, with or without a mystery, but I don’t object to it.)

  11. Isn’t it obvious? This sub-genre is melding SEX AND THE CITY with the mystery. Juicy humorous commentary and attitude toward a subject that causes angst and dread…all packaged in bright colors so it’s not threatening.

  12. By the way, it looks like I was wrong (kind of). Over on the Lipstick Chronicles Susan McBride has written a hilarious send-up of the debate, thereby proving that one good thing about people who write funny books is that they have a sense of humor.


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