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The three very sinister mystery genres



I based the following on comments I made as a member of the Vancouver Sun Book Club to our discussion on Fraser Nixon’s Straight to the Head. The original, briefer comments were printed in the July 30, 2016 Sun Review section. Oh, and the photo: West Van Public Library statues plus one.

I figure there are three types of crime genre. The first is the Raymond Chandler type, with the noble but world-weary detective crusading the mean streets and saving those in trouble. The stars of this genre include detectos from Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to Agatha Christie’s fluttery, seemingly dithery Miss Marple to Ms. Perfect, flawless teen sleuth Nancy Drew to my own young, impulsive, flawed but heart-of-gold singing redhead Dinah Galloway.

The second is the protagonist-in-distress type, with the lead character trapped in a web of deceit and danger mostly not of their fault. Classic example: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, about the timid, mousy wife who weds a dashing, wealthy Brit only to find the memory of his previous wife—that would be Rebecca—casting a sinister shadow over their marriage. More recently Nicci French’s novels, before their (Nicci is a couple) mystery series featuring a psychiatrist, are wonderful, gorgeously written, scary examples.

My amusement-park chillers fall into this second genre. Literally fall, in frightening—though fun, I hope—plunges into mystery: as examples, Big Dip, about Vancouver’s antique roller coaster at Playland, and Death Drop, a Hellevator-ish ride featuring Prosephone, she of myth who also took a fall… into Hades.

The third, and very amusing genre, is the Elmore Leonard type, filled with rogues you can’t totally like or dislike. That distance between you and them is what makes the story fun. When bad things happen to them you—well, you do kind of chuckle. Straight to the Head falls into this category. Ted Windsor, the attractive protag, is nevertheless amoral and selfish. His attraction to light-fingered Dorothy is genuine, but for Ted genuine doesn’t necessarily mean steadfast.

I laughed and applauded Ted’s escape from villains’ clutches. I winced at Dorothy’s stealing, yet rooted for her not to get caught. I even had some sympathy with Renard, the contract killer. I relished their misadventures because I knew they were mis-heroes, if you will. Ultimately they’re playing out a comedy in the Restoration tradition.

(If you don’t know what I mean by Restoration, it’s the period after the no-music, no-theatre, no-Christmas Puritans. It’s when my favourite monarch, known as the Happy King, Charles II, came back from exile and restored good times. My friend K.S. from Twickenham, U.K. knows all about this. So does my Vancouver friend J.H., who gave me some Chas II stamps!)


About melaniejackson

Scottish-born and mystery-minded, Melanie Jackson is the author of children's and y/a suspensers published by Orca Books. Melanie is writing this blog to share news, ideas and research on encouraging kids to read. The key is no mystery, she believes. It's all in the story.

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