Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

I recently chatted with Mary Rosenblum from New Writers Interface about what we can expect when it comes to mystery and thriller trends in 2017, as well as what really hooks a reader and draws them into a story. She’s an author, editor, and marketer whose services replace much of what traditional publishing houses once did when it comes to prepping a book for publication and seeing that it gets to the right audience. So if anyone knows what is ahead for readers, Mary does.

Carmen Amato: As a publishing insider who helps bring quality books to readers, what mystery and thriller trends do you see ahead, when it comes to reading and publishing?

Mary Rosenblum: I’m seeing a growing shift to ebooks among the mystery readers in general. It was behind the fantasy, romance, and SF genres for awhile, but the ebook sales  have really strengthened.  It’s still a genre where you want to have the book available in print as well as ebook, however.

Readers are getting pickier now, dismissing books with weak descriptions or slow starts. Most people use ‘look inside the book’ before they buy. Series collections are increasingly popular in the ebook world, and for you authors, free book giveaways no longer translate into an increase in paid sales.  They’re good for boosting your Amazon ranking, though.

There is also a growing need to focus book promotion on increasing your visibility on Amazon.com as book purchases shift more and more to Amazon.  Amazon does not make all books visible equally, and good books can be quite invisible unless you know the author or title.  Don’t depend on Amazon only to find new books.  Use book discounters such as Fussy Librarian or BookBub, be on Goodreads, and follow reviewers in your genre for good leads.

CA: I’ve noticed that more and more mystery series are using title devices. For example, the title of each Hetta Coffey mystery by Jinx Schwartz starts with “Just,” while Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries are numbered. What do you think of this trend?

MR: It started some time ago and has recently gained momentum.  Sue Grafton really brought attention to it with her alphabet series quite a few years ago.

This is all about branding and it’s a really good idea in our world of one second visual hooks!  Some authors use a title device, perhaps using a particular phrase, a color, flower, bakery item or what have you as part of the title.  My own cozy mystery series with Putnam included a flower name as part of the title;  Deadly Nightshade, Bleeding Heart, etc.    Other authors use cover imagery as a brand — the covers all share a similar look.  You want instant reader identification — “Oh, I like that series…”

CA: As both reader and editor, what “hooks” you when you read a book description or see a cover on Amazon? What makes you pass on a book? 

MR: Covers are the first thing I look at and I can tell with about 90% certainty whether they’re professionally done or done by the author.  A good cover reveals the genre, the ‘tone’ of the story, and offers some kind of visual hook.  Vague covers that don’t make the content clear are a turn-off, not just to me but to other readers, too.  It implies a book that isn’t up to professional standard.

I will even turn down free books if the description is poor! I want a description that hooks me right away, gives me a sense of the main character and the central conflict, and excites my curiosity.  If I want to go read more at the end of that description, I’m 2/3 of the way to clicking ‘buy’!  (A quick glance at the start of the book is the deciding third…)

CA: Book reviews, especially on Amazon, have become an essential part of the book industry for both readers and writers. My own experience has been 1 review for every 1500 downloads. Do you think book reviews will become more or less important as time goes on? Why do you think so few readers leave reviews?

MR: Right now, reviews are becoming more and more important to Amazon visibility as are Goodreads reviews and reads.  These things change, but right now, authors need to actively solicit reviews.  But you must do it within Amazon’s best practices rules or risk getting kicked off Amazon.  You cannot offer a reward for a review and it is very dangerous to hire a company to ‘get you positive reviews’.  If that company is on Amazon’s black list, your book gets banned!  NOT good!

The best way to get reviews or Goodreads action is to cultivate a personal connection with  your readers.  Acquire their emails and their goodwill through giveaways of free short content, free book giveaways, contests, invitations to contribute something to an ongoing draft, and the like.  Then ask for reviews the way you’d ask them for a Facebook like.  If your fans feel that they’re your friends, they’re more willing to do you favors.

CA: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? You have a unique place in today’s  publishing world but I think more agents and editors are going to follow your lead.

MR: I raised my kids as a mid-list author with Random House, Penguin, and Torr Books, writing SF and mystery (as Mary Freeman) as well as teaching writing. (And I won some nice literary awards while I was doing that, too).  As the publishing world changed and opened up to self publishing, I saw too many of my students getting scammed by fake ‘publishers’ or publishing books only to see no buyers.  I saw this new world of self publishing as a huge benefit to writers and readers both. The NY marketers were no longer the gatekeepers of published fiction!

But you have to do it right in order to succeed.  You must have a book that satisfies the readers in your genre and is well edited.  You must publish it in a professional manner.  You must promote it.

I have worked very hard to bring those three elements together for writers as New Writers Interface where I edit and help them publish and promote.  The promotion part has become more important lately, and I spend a lot of time keeping track of what is working for authors today to connect their books to the right readers.  It’s a lot of fun and keeps me busy tracking trends! And I love it when my clients’ books sell well!

CA: Can you leave us with two recommendations: A classic every mystery lover should read, and a book you’d give as a gift.

MR: Ah, I’m usually terrible at these recommendations, but in this case I can manage!  Whew!

The only classic that I’d recommend to every mystery lover is Sherlock Holmes.   No matter what sub genre of mystery you read or write, Holmes works.   The books really don’t fit into any modern genre, but for mystery authors there’s a lot to be learned from that distant, knows-everything character.  The books don’t sell just because they get assigned in high school and college English classes, they still engage readers in spite of the antiquated writing style.  A few authors since then have done very well with the Holmes archetype.  Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, begun in the 30s, was very successful and was quite popular for at least four decades.

A gift I actually gave this Christmas was an assortment of Raymond Chandler mysteries — another classic by the way.  The recipient is a younger mystery reader who likes noir detective fiction and hadn’t heard of Raymond Chandler and Phillip Marlowe.  He was very pleased with the books, and there’s another author whose stories have survived in spite of ‘antiquated’ prose!

CA: Mary, thanks so much for stopping by. This was great information for both readers and writers.

MR: Carmen, thank you so much for inviting me!  I just finished Hat Dance and am moving on to King Peso–I really like Emilia Cruz and her investigations.  And believe me, getting three books into a series is rare for me!  As soon as I start editing, I am done with a book!  That I do for pay, not for pleasure.  Excellent writing, characterization, and plotting.  I’m looking forward to more Emilia Cruz mysteries for sure!

You can find out more about Mary and her magic at http://www.newwritersinterface.com/

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

How to write a political thriller

How to write a political thriller

One of the most often-asked questions for a mystery and thriller author is “Where does your inspiration come from?” Political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY had quite the auspicious beginning . . .

Fateful dinner party

We were invited to a dinner party at the home of another expatriate family in Mexico City. I’d met the mom, Amanda, at a school function. Amanda was a writer and we both participated in an English-speaking writer’s group. Her boys were close enough in age to my kids for them to play together.

A dozen guests sipped cocktails on the patio, then went into a dining room glowing with fine crystal and china. A lovely gazpacho started the meal, prepared and served by the family’s new maid. Itzel was about 18, wearing a stiffly starched uniform and a nervous smile.

We waited quite a long time after the soup for the main course. Amanda excused herself and went into the kitchen. A few minutes later she asked me to come with her.

The main course was fish but it was still raw. Amanda looked close to tears as she contemplated the ruin of her dinner party. She didn’t understand Itzel’s frantic explanation.

But I did. Itzel had turned on the heat and put the pan of fish in the broiler. Nothing had happened, she wailed, and began to cry.

I nearly laughed. She’d put the fish into the storage drawer under the oven, thinking it was the broiler.

We found a frying pan and some butter. Ten minutes later the guests were eating trout almondine while Itzel recovered in the kitchen.

Itzel and I talked after that. This was her first job as a maid. Itzel was from a small town near Veracruz and had never lived with electric appliances, air conditioning, or flush toilets. The young girl went home every other weekend and supported her mother and siblings.

Itzel’s story became that of Luz de Maria Alba Mora, the central female character in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. I left out the part about the oven, however.

Gotta save something for the next book.

Related: Read Chapters 1 and 2 of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY

Inspiring reads

Itzel’s story was only one source of inspiration. Two books also guided the narrative.

Ken Follett’s THE KEY TO REBECCA has always been a favorite, for its characterizations, pacing, and points of view. I wanted HIDDEN LIGHT to have that same sense of developing danger–whether from the drug cartels or Luz’s risks–and for readers to have the same insight into the hero as the villain. Set against the backdrop of WWII and the British campaign in north Africa, it is probably the best thriller I’ve ever read.

The other book which provided inspiration was THE EAGLE’S THRONE by Carlos Fuentes. In this novel, Mexico’s power players are forced to conduct their political intrigues via letters. The result is a tribute to cunning craftsmanship. But more importantly, from my optic, the book perfectly captured the tone of Mexico’s politics. I wanted to portray the same sense of mistrust, intrigue, and constant one-upmanship.

Musical Interlude

Many authors talk about music they play as they write. I like silence–my head is always crowded with dialogue so things are noisy enough as they are. But I like to match music with characters.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was one of the first Latino music superstars. The Lonely Bull is one of my favorite albums. If HIDDEN LIGHT is ever made into a movie, that title song will be the theme of the main male character Eduardo Cortez Castillo.

Putting it All Together

Pinterest is where all my inspiration for THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY comes together. There’s a board called “Inspiration for a Thriller,” with tons of pictures and videos that reflect the book and the elements that inspired it. If you’re on Pinterest, please follow along! https://www.pinterest.com/carmenconnects/inspiration-for-a-thriller/

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

Book Review: Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

Up for a trip to southern France, where mirth, mayhem, and Champagne rule? C’est vraiment drole! Translation: keep reading.

I not only write mysteries but I love reading them, too. My favorites are the ones that take me to new places and this week it’s a trip to France, all expenses paid by advertising magnate Simon Shaw.

In this week’s book review, Peter Mayle, the UK writer best known for his non-fiction memoir A YEAR IN PROVENCE, checks us into HOTEL PASTIS. It’s a mystery with a light touch and Gallic flavor, along with a generous helping of humor. The novel is perfectly plotted and beautifully choreographed with descriptions and dialogue that match up to both location and characters.

As the novel opens, Simon Shaw is getting divorced (#2) from shrewish gold digger Caroline. His London house is empty–she’s taken everything. But Simon is mega-rich and has the support of his long-time driver/butler/event manager/best friend Ernest who convinces him to take a vacation to France. A small car accident maroons Simon in a small town in Provence, where he meets the lovely French businesswoman Nicole.

Back in London, Simon knows the trip to France has demonstrated just how much he’s fallen out of love with the megawatt advertising world, his US business partner, and the staff at the ad agency Simon built. When Nicole proposes that he buy a half-finished building in Provence and turn it into a hotel, the idea first sounds absurd. But eventually Simon–and Ernest–jump off the corporate ship, bid adieu to London, and build the Hotel Pastis in Provence. (FYI: pastis is the licorice flavor liquor that turnes cloudy when mixed with water. Surprisingly refreshing, it is ubiquitous in the south of France. Pernod is one of the most popular brands.)

Interspersed with the Simon/Ernest/Nicole story line is the subplot of a group of locals who were once in prison together and are now plotting to rob a bank which has foolishly installed a new vault over a riverbank storm drain. The big robbery will take place on a festival day and the thieves will make their getaway by cycling away, hiding in plain sight amid the thousands of cyclistes there for the festivities.

Will the thieves succeed? Will their path cross Simon’s? What about Enrico, the Mafiaoso who threatens Simon and from whom the thieves must buy their false passports?

I can’t give any more away, except that this book draws you in with just the right amount of French lingo. You’ll want to go buy Champagne and foie gras and have a picnic in the sun. There is amusement on every page–Mayle’s writing style is light and deft, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, and just enough suspense to keep the action fresh and brisk. The characters, especially Simon and Ernest, are very well drawn. Not a traditional mystery, but high quality writing, supreme entertainment, and a joy to read from start to finish

Simon’s not the only one who gets to escape in HOTEL PASTIS.

 

Book Review: By Its Cover by Donna Leon

BY ITS COVER is Donna Leon’s 23rd Commisario Brunetti mystery novel and it follows the series’ tradition of immersing the reader in today’s Venice. The mystery revolves around a crime rooted in Italy’s ancient classics yet the country’s modern problems of corruption and over-bureaucracy are key to the plot.

The director of a privately-funded library full of rare and antique classic volumes discovers that books have been pillaged–drawings have been sliced out, rare illuminations taken. When Brunetti investigates, it appears that some books are missing from the library’s inventory. The culprit appears to be an American professor who has been doing research there for several weeks. Alas, he has disappeared, his bona fides are revealed to be false, and the criminal appears to have gotten away with his crime.

Related post: Book Review: THE GOLDEN EGG by Donna Leon

Yet there are other leads for Brunetti to follow. The library owes much of its livelihood to an important patroness, affording Brunetti the opportunity to have a deep conversation about the value of books. The conversation doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward, but serves as a platform for an issue that Leon obviously feels deeply about.

BY ITS COVER refers to apparently real episodes of book looting and subsequent closure of libraries in Italy.  Literary and national treasures are being lost in this way, and through Brunetti’s conversations, we understand what a huge loss to humanity this is.

While BY ITS COVER isn’t the most gripping Brunetti mystery, it may be the one with the most important message. As Brunetti slowly gropes toward a resolution to the library thefts, the familiar cast of the series’ characters  both help and hinder. Vice Questore Patta plays his usual oversight role and his self-serving attitudes and political concerns remain as deliciously crass as always. Brunetti’s wife Paola and Patta’s secretary Elettra both assist in their own ways, while the faithful Inspector Vianello is still the able sounding board as Brunetti pieces together the elements of the case.

Related post: Book Review: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

Many of the more recent Brunetti mysteries refer to Italy’s political corruption and this one sustains the trend.  Leon’s characters are uncomfortable speaking on the telephone, sure their conversations are being overheard. Nearly everyone has caustic remarks to be said about the inefficiency of government and the dishonesty of politicians. If you’ve read anything about the Berlusconi years, it isn’t surprising. The books only ring with greater authenticity for it.

Book Review: Thursday’s List by V. S. Kemanis

Book Review: Thursday’s List by V. S. Kemanis

The Amazon.com description of legal thriller THURSDAY’S LIST doesn’t do justice to what is a revealing dive into the legal tangles involved in catching and convicting foreign money launderers in the US.

Set in 1988, with a pre-cell phone, pre-9/11 and pre-Patriot Act feel, it revolves around an investigation by New York City prosecutors into the flow of drug money by Colombia’s Cali cartel. The 80’s were the heyday of the Colombian drug cartels and the book shines brightest when describing money laundering activities and the agonizing work to find bank accounts, checks, couriers, and other links to the Colombian bad guys. Swept up in the churn is rookie attorney Dana Hargrove. Her best friend not only works in a bank being used by the cartels but is married to a bookish Colombian who thought he’d left his country’s drug mess behind him long ago.

The story starts with action and great atmospherics as Hargrove yawns her way through a shift as prosecutor at a dumpy NYC night court, complete with surly judge in a scene that put me in mind of a darker and more serious episode of the old TV sitcom Night Court. A bad smelling case, however, takes her out of the court rota and into a unit investigating financial crimes.

The financial crimes colleagues are neither forthcoming nor trustworthy and although still young and making mistakes, Hargrove is savvy enough to realize she’s being used. The suspense here isn’t the whodunit variety or a complex plot twist but turns on the question of how long the heroine and her best friend can survive being used by the system before the system catches the bad guys.

I was particularly struck by how THURSDAY’S LIST is the flip side of the fight against drug cartels that I wrote about in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. Hargrove is tracking the money trail on the US side of the border (albeit in 1988) and is subject to US laws and restrictions. In HIDDEN LIGHT, Mexican attorney Eddo Cortez Castillo uses whatever legal, military, and ultimately private means he can in today’s Mexico to investigate money laundering in an effort to get close enough to a drug cartel to take action. Both books describe the practice known as “layering” that cartels use to move and hide money.

Comparing the two descriptions gave me some sad but universal truths about fighting drug cartels and their violence. This book review isn’t about that but the similarities are striking.

FYI–THURSDAY’s LIST is a legal thriller that requires the reader’s full attention. The US legal intricacies of tracking money are complex and dominate the first half while the reader lives inside the heads of Hargrove and her friend for much of the second. An added complication is the book’s non-standard way of referring to characters that are variously called by their first names, last names, nicknames, or in some cases merely by job title.

Lost in Mexico has nothing to do with translation

Lost in Mexico has nothing to do with translation

In CLIFF DIVER, the first full-length book in my new mystery series, Acapulco police detective Emilia Cruz keeps a log of women who have gone missing. For her they are las perdidas, the lost ones, and sometimes it seems as if she’s the only who still cares.

I’d like to say that I made this up, that hey–the book is fiction, that there are no women missing in Mexico or anywhere else. But we’ve seen the news from Mexico over the past few years and know that the battles for money and power between rival drug cartels and between cartel interests and the rule of law have taken a heavy toll.

The conflict bleeds south through Central America and beyond; las perdidas aren’t confined to Mexico. Where I live in Central America, notices like the one above often appear in the newspapers. DISAPPEARED the headline cries. The ads are placed by the families and the size of the ad is usually an indicator of the family’s wealth. (Read my post about violence against women in Nicaragua here.)

How Many Are Missing

In Mexico, leaked government documents from late 2012 put the overall number of missing adults and children as 25,000 over the past five years. In the city of Cuidad Juárez alone, the number of “disappeared” women is hard to calculate. Most know a family with a missing female member. This riveting account from the New Statesman of what is happening to women there is well worth a read.

The Cost of Closure

Trying to find out what happened to your disappeared wife, daughter or mother in Mexico can be fruitless and expensive, according to this report from the Inter Press News Service. One source puts the cost at $23,000. FYI, the average annual salary in Mexico is just over $11,000, according to the OECD.

The dead are easier to count

According to The National Citizen Observatory on Femicides (OCNF) from January 2010 to June 2011, 1,235 women were killed in Mexico. Between 2005 and 2011, in the state of Mexico, adjacent to the capital city and notorious for violence against women, the OCNF recorded 922 victims of femicide. In the state of Chihuahua, home to Ciudad Juárez, in 2010 alone there were 600 cases of femicide.

photo courtesy of BBC News bbc.co.uk

So we’ll continue to see advertisements for the disappeared. Some places will be creative in the search for loved ones and justice, such as Chihuahua’s campaign to place notices for missing persons on tortilla wrappers the way faces and information are carried on milk cartons in the United States.  This photo accompanied this story by BBC News late last year.

I wish I’d made up Acapulco police detective Emilia Cruz’s las perdidas. I really do. But maybe fiction can generate some attention to this wrenching problem. Mexico is a country rich in resources, culture, and tradition. No one should be “lost” there.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

A Little Taste of CLIFF DIVER

A Little Taste of CLIFF DIVER

Just to whet your imagination here’s a snippet of CLIFF DIVER, the first Emilia Cruz novel . . .

The diver stretched to his full extension then pushed off. His back arched and his arms stretched wide and he looked like a crucifix as he sailed over the rocks. His arms raised up over his head and his hands came together right before he impacted with the water. A spume of froth shot skywards and he disappeared into the depth as the crowd on the plaza gasped and applauded.

The diver popped out of the water beyond the rocks and the crowd applauded again. It took a few minutes before the next diver climbed onto the tiny platform on the cliff face. He was older, with a black suit and a heavy torso, and a less athletic look than the younger man. When he carefully turned his back to the ocean the crowd murmured excitedly.

“He’s got balls,” Kurt said. The back of his hand brushed against Emilia’s.

The diver launched backwards off the cliff face and twisted in the air. As his body rotated close to the cliff the crowd gasped, but he made a clean entry into the ocean, the water rippling out around him. The applause was wild.

As the sun set, they watched the other men laboriously climb up the cliff face to the small natural platform, stretch and limber their muscles and dive past the rocks to the perfect spot in the ocean far below.

“That’s me,” Emilia said as the youngest diver in the red suit stood poised on the platform, the spectacular sunset behind him.

“What do you mean?” Kurt asked. His hand turned and a finger stroked the inside of Emilia’s thumb and forefinger.

“That’s me.” Emilia’s hand turned of its own accord and gently played with Kurt’s. He was looking at her, not at the cliff divers, and Emilia heard herself babble nervously. “Falling off a cliff, not ready for it. Not knowing if I’m going to hit the rocks and be smashed to pieces or not.”

Emilia watched as the young diver swung his arms and rolled his neck and she wondered if he was doing it for the crowd’s benefit or if it was a release for his fear and nervousness. He hunched his shoulders forward, then pulled them back. His knees bent and his thigh muscles rippled and then he launched himself into the air. For a moment he was silhouetted against the blue sky and then he curled himself into a somersault. The crowd gasped as one as his body rotated and his hair seemed to kiss the cliff face. Then he stretched out, straining for distance, and completed a soaring arc that plunged him into the water like an arrow shot from a bow and Emilia felt the strain and the pain and the rush of cold water.

Cliff DiverGet it today on Amazon!

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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