Mystery Fatigue

I’ve been reading a lot of “vintage” fiction lately… Gold Medal paperback from the 50s & 60s by Harry Whittington, Charles Williams, Dan Marlowe and the like. I’ve also been devouring westerns by Elmer Kelton, AB Guthrie and Frederick Manfred, among others.

I’ve become burned out lately on private eye novels, police procedurals and thrillers. Maybe I’ve just read too many of them…and maybe they are just getting harder and harder to tell apart. I’m tired of seeing all the clues way ahead of the hero… and knowing who the murderer from the get-go. Maybe I just spend way too much time writing, watching and reading mysteries to get much of a thrill out of them these days. I’m even avoiding some of my favorite authors… buying books by Ian Rankin, Robert Parker and others and just sticking them on the shelf until my enthusiasm and interest returns.

As I wrote in a comment on Sarah Weinman’s blog

I’m so tired of the cliches common to police novels on both sides of the pond… the “ex-alcoholic” or nearly alcoholic cop who either has a bitchy ex-wife who doesn’t understand him or is incapable of sustaining a relationship because he brings home the job. I’m also tired of the rogue cop whose commanding officer is a constant obstacle and a police bureaucracy that does its best to undermine the hero at every turn. You’d think after Bosch and Rebus had proved their crime-solving brilliance half-a-dozen times, their superiors would begin to respect their skill and intuition. The constant repeating of that played-out conflict becomes numbing after a while.

There’s a real sameness after a while to the Bosch and Rebus books… mainly, because their characters and professional situations are almost identical. I’m a big fan of both authors but I had to take a break from Rebus for a few novels… and Michael Connelly, luckily for me, saved me the trouble by breaking with the format and making Bosch a PI for a time.

I’ve also OD’d on the wise-cracking, tough-guy PI with the Hawk-esque, violent sidekick. As if Spenser hadn’t been copied enough, Parker himself closed him character for the Sunny Randall books (her sidekick is gay, but just as Hawk-esque and violent).

Maybe I’m just buying the wrong books and need to break some of my bad habits…

But I sure am getting a charge out of those vintage paperbacks, particularly Harry Whittington’s work. There’s something fresh and new, oddly enough, about the older stuff. Most of what I’m reading, on the advice of Ed Gorman and Bill Crider, is also edgy, sexy, violent and surprising. Sure, there are a few cliches, dated references, and musty phrases… but by and large, I’m finding the books far more compelling the what’s hot in the genre today.

3 thoughts on “Mystery Fatigue”

  1. While I highly, highly doubt that the genre’s going to leave the cash cows–which thrillers, police procedurals and to a lesser extent, PI novels are–behind, I do think there’s going to be an upswing in tighter, leaner, more noirish fare. Not quite like the Gold Medal days, but close. Maybe that explains why I seem to want more “meanness” in my crime fiction, or at least something that really taps into the kind of distilled emotion that a lot of the lengthier thriller-type books just can’t do.
    But then I’m reading a lot of Charles Willeford lately. James McKimmey’s SQUEEZE PLAY was also excellent. Dorothy B. Hughes is a new favorite. Because these, and other authors of old and eventually new, don’t overplay their hand. Don’t give away too much, but let the story trump all else.

  2. I’m a HUGE Charles Willeford fan. His Hoke novels are fantastic. I’ve got & read just about everything he’s ever written, even a few rare editions. One of these days, I’ll have to read GRIMHAVEN, his unpublished, and very dark, Hoke novel. I hear there are some bootleg copies floating around…
    But there’s been so much stuff lately, with so much big buzz, that just left me cold… DERAILED, BREATHTAKER, and DaVINCI CODE are a few that come to mind. Maybe I’m not the best judge. I’m one of the three or four people in America who wasn’t wowed by MYSTIC RIVER (though I liked all but one of Lehane’s PI novels).
    The last couple Ian Rankins, Sue Graftons, Steve Hamiltons, Stephen Hunters and Nevada Barrs, for example, have just gone straight to my shelf, unread for now. So, here I am, on a mystery/police procedural/thriller hiatus for the time being…
    That said, there are a few…Thomas Perry, TJ Parker, Ed McBain, Daniel Woodrell, Lono Waiwaiole, and Elmore Leonard among them…that even in this genre funk I’m in are immediate reads and never fail to satisfy, thrill and surprise.

  3. I’m in a bit of a funk right now, crime fiction-wise, but overall I’m still pretty optimistic about the genre as a whole.
    Just started the new Dean Koontz book, which nearly always helps. It’s off to a great start.
    (For the record, I found Mystic River to be unreadable.)


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