Genre fiction of the detective variety: “What’s Left?” July 2010, MRR #326

It’s harder and harder for me to get on an airplane these days and fly.

Not because of potential Icelandic volcano eruptions or suicide Islamic extremist attacks. Nor is it because of enervating airport security or a personal fear of flying. No, it’s that I’m running out of authors I can count on for a quick, distracting read during the flight.

Airports and airplanes are dull and boring at best, so it helps to have a mindless piece of genre fiction handy, for a diversion. By genre, I mean formulaic. I’m a fan of only a few types of genre fiction—science fiction and mystery—and for whatever reason, only mystery fiction appeals to me when I fly. Unfortunately, I like only a limited number of mystery writers, and lately, they’ve been dying on me.

I stop in at Compass Books flying out of SFO. It’s a pretty good bookstore, part of the local Books Inc chain, with a wide variety of magazines and newspapers as well. No snacks or knickknacks, just plenty of print. I usually make a beeline for the mystery section and grab the latest by Tony Hillerman, Walter Mosley, or Robert Parker. Hillerman and Mosley could always be depended upon to produce a new book every year. Parker was the most prolific. He had three separate detective protagonists (Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall), and did a couple of Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe sequels.

Parker died at the beginning of this year. Tony Hillerman, creator of Navajo detectives Leaphorn and Chee, died in 2008. Walter Mosley is alive and well, and after killing off his most popular detective, Easy Rollins, he’s started another series around Leonid McGill. Mosley dabbles in science fiction, and fiction like The Man in My Basement, but his meager annual output, even supplemented by potential posthumous Parkers, doesn’t offer much of a selection when it comes to taking my mind off an impending plane flight.

Tony Hillerman once commented: “I am 82 years old. I imagine that I will keep on writing as long as anyone wants to keep reading.” If only this could have been so. Writers we enjoy create unique worlds, populate them with engaging characters, and sustain both through engrossing adventures that allow us to momentarily lose ourselves. They needn’t write literature, just something that entertains.

Now I have to find new writers, and fresh detective series, to be enthusiastic about. Always hit and miss. I’ve followed other mystery writers in the past—Rex Stout, James McClure, Cara Black—though not as religiously as Parker, Hillerman or Mosley. Still others, like Sara Paretsky or Sue Grafton, never really panned out. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I took a chance with The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz and was pleasantly preoccupied. So it’s a pain when I’ve read an author’s output and they up and die on me.

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