DIVERSITY ARC#3: Mystery Fiction (5/28/19)

WHEN: May 28, 2019

WHERE: Tewksbury Public Library

Contact: Leane Ellis; rapotential@gmail.com  

  **The last hour of this meeting was a RA Toolbox session. The topic for this workshop was the RA Interview. **

ASSIGNMENT: Everyone read the benchmark:  Rachel Howzell Hall’s Land of Shadows (2014): Detective Elouise Norton series#1 AND/OR you may read one of the others in the series–#2: Skies of Ash (2015); #3: Trail of Echoes (2016); #4: City of Saviors (2017).

Please  record your 2nd titles in this category either from the suggested list below or one that you choose yourself on our blog under Submit 2nd Titles.

For appeal, please focus especially on frame, tone and character

Notes for DIVARC3: Mystery Fiction

Mystery Diversity Second Titltes


Diverse books are those that reflect and honor the life experience of all readers. We Need Diverse Books defines diversity as: “including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”

*including but not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction), as well as a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.

Thank you to the Western MA RA Round Table and the Southeastern MA RA Round Table for forging our path and providing resources and guidance.

ONLINE RESOURCES (again with thanks to the Western & Southeastern MA [Scroll down.] RA Round Tables)

Previous Print/PDF Bibliography  (Available on Google Group) 

Charles, John, Candace Clark, et al. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Mystery. ALA, 2012. p. 1-4, 11-17, 91-103.

Charles, John, Morrison, Joanna & Candace Clark. The Mystery Readers’ Advisory: The Librarian’s Clues to Murder and Mayhem. ALA, 2002. p. 54-58, 92-110. (MYSTERY 11/25/08)

Davidson, Hilary. “A Genre Woman Problem,” Library Journal. V:138:20 (December 2013) p. 72.

Niebuhr, Gary Warren. Make Mine a Mystery II: A Reader’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. LU, 2011. p. 1-2, 45-46, 155-157, 227-229, 239. (MYSTERY 11/22/13 Cozy/Culinary/Amateur)

Wyatt, Neal & Joyce G. Saricks. “Mystery Fiction.” The RA Guide to Genre Fiction. 2019. 3rd ed., ALA, p.31, 51-71.

Zellers, Jessica. “Getting Up to Speed in Mystery Fiction,” NoveList. EBSCO. 2013 (3/07/19)

**RA Toolbox are workshops that allow participants to learn and explore RA topics and skills.  They take place from 11am to 12N during a regular NE RA Round Table meeting, following a genre discussion (topic listed first in posting) in the first hour.**                                                                                                                                                           Contact Leane at rapotential@gmail.com for questions.

Cancellation Policy: If the town/city of the location of the meeting cancels public schools, and/or there is a parking ban–the meeting will be cancelled even if the library in question remains open. We do not have an alternative date. Leane will modify the upcoming schedules to reflect the missed meeting. Leane will broadcast the cancellation of the meeting due to inclement weather by 7:00am or before from the Google group, and post it on this website.

Elective Titles

Leane Ellis

There There – Tommy Orange

In this outstanding literary crime fiction debut, Orange chronicles contemporary Native Americans in Oakland, CA, as their lives collide in the days leading up to the city’s first Big Oakland Powwow. Bouncing between voices and POV, the author introduces twelve pivotal characters supplying a somewhat kaleidoscopic look of Native American life through their experiences and perspectives. The writing styling is innovative and may be difficult for some to initially follow if unused to nonlinear story telling but patience is rewarded with a cohesive story that does eventually coalesce in a crescendo of violence and despair. As each character’s tale unfolds so does a chronicle of domestic abuse, alcoholism, addiction, as well as the perseverance and spirit of characters from both the past and current times. Interludes from an omniscient narrator describe Native American history and culture enriching the journey further. The plot is almost impossible to describe and that becomes part of the novel’s power as the narrative moves forward with a propulsive force as anticipation of the Powwow provides both suspense and a unifying force to the story. The most memorable part of the book for me was Orange’s evocative use of language and his ability to explain how decisions of the past mold the present, resulting in a haunting and gripping story. You even care about the “bad guys” because of the author’s superb ability in rendering such a multi-generational and resonate cast of characters. Orange’s prose is as straight-forward as it is stunning: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” A searing look at the complex Native American diaspora: “…we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.” It is obvious why this book won so much acclaim in 2018.
Readalikes have to include Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. For crime fiction I would point readers to authentic cultural writers like Walter Mosley and Attica Locke for diversity and James Sallis and William Kent Krueger for literary writing. Sadly, even though good mystery writers like Hillerman and Doss have done their homework—the authenticity of a Native American’s own voice is difficult to find.

Gwen Junghanss

The Best Bad Things – Katrina Carrasco
Appeal Factors: Fast paced, gritty, historical, LGBTQ, multiple characters

Summary: In 1887, Alma Rosales goes undercover on the Port Townsend docks as Jack Camp to find out who has been stealing from her boss who runs a successful smuggling ring.

Appeal: multiple characters, LGBTQ, fast paced, gritty, historical fiction

Verdict: I think the author does a good job fleshing out the characters. It is an interesting look at a time and place with a twist – a woman who is dressed as a man and is given power and agency to do her gritty, messy job. And, boy does she revel in the freedoms afforded to her as a man – from the fights, to the mind games, to the women and man she seduces. The plot is fast paced and with so many characters at play, there are always surprises and things developing for her at work.

Lisa Francine

Lightning Men – Thomas Mullen
Appeal Factors: Intricately plotted storyline, atmospheric tone, diverse and sometimes flawed characters

Thomas Mullen’s follow up to Darktown is the intricately plotted Lightning Men which again takes place in the segregated Atlanta, Georgia of 1950. Melding the genres of mystery and historical fiction we follow the day in and day out police beat of “Negro Officers,” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith.

Multiple storylines/threads are interwoven in this police procedural:

How do Boggs and Smith effectively “police” when some white officers are members of the Ku Klux Klan?
How do Boggs and Smith support/protect black families as they start to move into predominantly white neighborhoods?

Additionally, Officer Denny Rakestraw, is back again as well, and dealing with brother-in-law Dale, who is a member of the KKK, whereas Denny has refused to be a member. Denny continues to struggle with how to help Boggs and Smith, without drawing too much negative attention to himself from his fellow white officers on the force.

Mullen’s superior storytelling shows us the dignity of these first “Negro Officers” with the ongoing inequities they had to deal with in their jobs, and that moving towards “separate is not equal” took courage, persistence, and personal risk, and many would argue still does in 2019!

Jeanne Swartz

Mayhem & Mass – Olivia Matthews
Appeal Factors: Cozy Mystery, detailed descriptions, racial and religious diversity

A Catholic Sister (Sister Lou), her nephew, and a reporter join forces to solve the murder of Sister Lou’s friend. Characters come from varied social, economic, and racial backgrounds. Tensions arise from religious biases and personality clashes. Very detailed descriptions of setting. I would recommend this book to patrons who enjoy cozy mysteries featuring amateur detectives.

Verónica RB

A Study in Scarlet Women – Sherry Thomas
Appeal Factors: Frame, characters,

-The book is written by Sherry Thomas, an Asian American novelist born in China and raised in the United States.
-The majority of characters in the book are white, with a focus on Victorian England and its upper class.
-The book’s most original factor comes from the gender swap involving characters of great significance in both literature and mystery as a genre. Sherlock Holmes is Charlotte Holmes, Mr. Watson becomes Mrs. Watson, etc. Besides swapping genders, the book focuses on the struggles of an intelligent, 19th-century woman who wants to be independent and treated as a man’s equal.
-I want to say that Thomas hints at neurodiversity, but I’m not 100% sure. The main character has difficulties with social interactions/communication and has an almost obsessive interest in detective work and deduction. Unfortunately, this would be an assumption on my part since it’s not a detail that’s clearly mentioned in the book (at least not in the first one). I believe there are similar theories about Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous detective, but just like Doyle, Thomas doesn’t explicitly describe any disorders. The novel also takes place in an era that didn’t have the same diagnostic tools as we do now, so maybe that’s another factor worth considering.

-The frame is part of the appeal because we’re transported to Victorian England (I’m assuming late 1800s and early 1900s). We get a variety of detailed descriptions to develop the setting, either in London’s cities or surrounding/nearby estates.
-As far as characterization, the author doesn’t focus on just one character, meaning that we get perspectives from different people in order to shape our opinions. Since the iconic Sherlock Holmes became famous because of certain personality traits, it makes sense that Thomas would invest considerable time creating a character mirroring the detective of yore and her relationship with secondary and minor characters.
-Language is important in that we get a peek at the past from the words/terms used and interactions. The author successfully uses words that portray the times, especially in relation to proper behavior and etiquette. Dialogue also plays a very important role in that it delivers a smoother overall development and helps reveal nuances about characters.
-The historical element slows down the narrative due to descriptions, but it’s necessary and doesn’t overwhelm the overall quick pace. Readers are exposed to suspense since the main plotline involves Charlotte trying to solve a murder to protect her sister’s reputation while being aware of potential threats. The plot is as significant as the characters since Charlotte wouldn’t be Sherlock without having specific traits and it wouldn’t be a detective mystery without a murder or crime to solve.

Jerusha Maurer

Rusty Puppy – Lansdale, Joe
Appeal Factors: Character-driven, Fast-paced, Gritty

Hap a former flower power activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel teams up with his best friend Leonard a hardened, gay , Vietnam vet to investigate the murder of a young black man who was conducting his own civilian investigation into the white cop that was stalking his sister.

Jessica Atherton

The Antiquities Hunter – Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff
Appeal Factors: international, travel, spy, female protagonist

Asian American private eye turned spy goes to Mexico to uncover thieves of Mayan artifacts.
Appeal: strong character development (especially for protagonist), detailed settings, non traditional protagonist background (Japanese cop father, Russian witch academic mother)
Issues: book never comes together, too many digressions, cannot figure out if it wants to be a thriller/mystery/procedural (each type has a different pace/tone, which makes for jarring reading), next book in series will stay focused with one style