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Mystery Loves Company

June 23, 1996

I thoroughly enjoyed Bruce Newman's article on mystery writers ("A Million Mysteries in the Naked City," May 19)--not just because many of my favorite writers were included but also because of what Newman pointed out--that these books are so popular because they're good stories.

I love Patricia Cornwell's books and care not about her personality. Mary Higgins Clark is a great source of reading pleasure: no dirt, gore or abuse of animals or children. And, of course, the fantastic Sue Grafton.

But where was mention of Jackson Braun? The "Cat Who . . ." mysteries are always bestsellers, and those in our library never stay on the shelves long enough to collect dust.

D. Kentnor

Yucaipa

*

As the author of six mystery novels and a columnist for both Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and the Armchair Detective magazine, I applaud Newman's article. But some of his sources seem to have given him dubious information.

Jim Huang's statement that a mystery's making the bestseller list was "extremely unusual as recently as 10 years ago" is way off the mark. Unusual might have been the case in the 1940s and 1950s, but not since. Even eliminating from the category (which I would not) such espionage and thriller writers as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth and others, including a mainstream crossover like Umberto Eco, there were still Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Lawrence Sanders, Dick Francis, Thomas Chastain, Mary Higgins Clark, P. D. James, and others making the bestseller lists during the first half of the 1980s.

The real mystery breakthrough on the lists, again excluding espionage, dates to the late 1960s and early 1970s successes of writers such as Agatha Christie, Ross MacDonald and Phyllis A. Whitney.

Incidentally, the first mystery novel to include recipes was probably Rex Stout's "Too Many Cooks" (1938), and the first series to include them routinely was (again, probably) the late Virginia Rich's Eugenia Potter novels of the mid-1980s. Since Rich died in 1985, Diane Mott Davidson may have been technically correct in stating that when she started in 1990, she was the only one who put recipes in the books. But she was not, of course, the originator of the recipe/mystery series.

Jon L. Breen

Fountain Valley

*

Writing is a lonely business, and mystery conventions and organizations have woven a supportive safety net, one that has rescued me on many occasions.

As a mystery writer--my Delilah West first appeared in print in 1974--I have found that my colleagues, aside from the few rotten apples that populate any field, are friendly, helpful, kind and loving.

Maxine O'Callaghan

Mission Viejo

While it's true that all of Dick Francis' mysteries have something to do with horses, only a few "sleuths" are numbered among his protagonists. Most are regular people with characters so fully formed that they seem real enough to meet on the street.

Victoria Charles

Fullerton

I wonder why Newman used so many words focusing on writers considered by some to be less literary, such as Mary Higgins Clark and Patricia Cornwell, or on gimmicky writers, like Diane Mott Davidson and her food recipes.

The only space allocated to someone I consider a top-notch writer was for the terrific James Lee Burke. For budding mystery fans who want good writing along with good plot, there are authors whose craftsmanship is so high that they really transcend the genre--writers like Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell (and her shadow, Barbara Vine), Robert Barnard, Michael Connelly, a newer writer like Laurie King and the very funny Robert Crais.

Larry L. Carlin

Malibu

My friends telephoned to say: "Hey, do you know you got quoted in the Los Angeles Times Magazine's article on mysteries?"

"I couldn't have," I said flatly. "I never talked to the guy." But there it was in black and white: "Rothenberg says," followed by some vaguely familiar sentiments that trailed off into gibberish. I was confused. But then, as Spillane might say, it hit me: Newman had heard me speak somewhere, had created a crude, phonetic transcription ("sustainable culture" instead of "sustainable agriculture") and implied that he'd interviewed me. It's not bad publicity, and I shouldn't be churlish, but I have to say that Newman is using me to make a point about niche mysteries. He figures that a garbled syllable or two doesn't matter, because my subject matter is so darn esoteric and "gimmicky" anyway. But it isn't. I write about a specific person, in a specific place, with a specific job. So there's some botany, sure; there's also sex, racial tension, greed, jealousy--in short, the elements of a good murder mystery. By the way, since I write fiction, my characters can say whatever I want them to. Newman's shouldn't.

Rebecca S. Rothenberg

Pasadena

*

The author replies: Rebecca Rothenberg is correct that I quoted from her remarks at a mystery convention in Boulder, Colo. She is wrong, however, when she says I figure that "a garbled syllable or two doesn't matter." They all matter. I regret the error.*

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