Sunday, January 20, 2008

Women and history mysteries

I commented in September about the Women in World History Curriculum's Web site and its advocacy of crime fiction as a teaching tool. More recently, I’ve reflected that the Crime Writers Association award for historical crime fiction, probably the leading prize in the field, is named for a woman, Ellis Peters.

I wondered, then, if female authors are or were drawn to historical crime fiction in greater proportion than male authors and if so, why. It would be easy to imagine that until recent decades, female authors (and readers, for that matter) interested in criminal investigation, and finding few female police officers and investigators in their own worlds, might turn to the past, where they could give their imaginations freer rein.

What do you think?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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11 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Maybe so, but there's always an exception, right? Elizabeth Linington wrote about 80 books, most of them either police procedurals (the Luis Mendoza books as Dell Shannon, the Vic Varallo books as Leslie Egan,) or legal detective cases (the Jesse Falkenstein books as Leslie Egan). Her first book was published in about 1958.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

And Australia had some interesting female crime writers very early on.

But it's a commonplace, perhaps so common that I wouldn't know where to look for confirmation, that more women than men read mysteries. I merely wondered if the trend was more pronounced for historical mysteries.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"more women than men read mysteries"

I'd never heard that before. Hmm. I wonder if anecdotal data about gender could be gathered from the Library Thing groups for crime and mysteries.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

The last instance of that argument I'd heard was invoked as an explantion for why Matt (Benyon) Rees' The Collaborator of Bethlehem became The Bethlehem Murders in the U.K., something about trying to appeal more to women and their supposed preference for murder mysteries. What basis this theory has in fact, I don't know.

I wonder, too, if this dates to the "Golden Age," when the biggest names in crime fiction were women.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Perhaps historical crime fiction is more "respectable" than thrillers which often seem to need to be laced with sex.
Other authors who spring to mind: Antonia Fraser, Elizabeth Peters, Josephine Tey, Victoria Holt, Evelyn Anthony.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I had not thought of respectability as a factor, but that's plausible.

I have read that historical crime fiction set in times before professional police forces frees authors from the constraints of worrying about what their investigators can and cannot do. I suppose freedom from sex-drenched thrillers is a kind of liberation, too.

Mistress of the Art of Death, though, to cite one example of a current historical novel, has a fair amount of sex in its romantic subplot, though. Its handling is one of the interesting aspects of the book.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Barbara said...

I haven't seen any hard data to back up the common notion that women read mysteries than men, but there is quite a lot of survey data that finds women tend to favor fiction and have for many years. The figure that stick in my memory is that fiction makes up about 70% of women's book choices overall, and about 50% of men's choices.

It would be nice to know more about reading choices, but the book industry is notoriously averse to market research. (The Romance Writers of America have more data on reading - within that genre - than anyone has gathered on mysteries or reading in general.)

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Barbara, I wonder if RWA has felt that it needed to defend itself from all the people who sneer at its genre, and that's why it has gathered that data.

If it were me, my defense would be "Here are the sales numbers. Any further questions?"

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Maybe that wariness of market research is not such a bad thing. Excessive attention to market research could exaggerate Borders' trend to stock up on bestsellers and eliminate midlist books.

Maybe the RWA uses its research to gauge what its readers might want. I don't read in that genre, but from time I'll come across an article that discusses some new trend in romance novels. Perhaps those new trends reflect market research.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"Perhaps those new trends reflect market research."

Maybe, although I can't believe a bunch of people in focus groups all said "More vampires!"

I'm not being snarky. Sherrilyn Kenyon has sold a ton of "Dark Hunter" books. Even the RWA's undisputed star Nora Roberts recently put out a trilogy of paranormals with a vampire as one of its stars.

January 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Maybe the focus groups did cry out for more vampires. Or maybe the publishers thought readers were ready for voyages to the dark side. That vampire stories have erotic undertones is a commonplace, so it's not a shock to find them in romance catalogues.

January 22, 2008  

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