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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Who Reads Mysteries?

I’ve been to many mystery writer’s conferences over the years and it’s obvious that there is a serious interest in the genre by women over the age of thirty or so. It’s a fact that has been borne out by several surveys as well. As a matter of fact the industry is dominated by women. The majority of literary agents, editors, and publicists are women. But are they the main body of mystery readers? The studies overwhelmingly say yes. Where does that leave the male reader?

In a former life I was a supervisor in heavy manufacturing. My crews were predominantly men in the reactive maintenance group who kept the machinery running. They would report to their job in the morning and stand at the ready to jump into action if any equipment on the shop floor should break down. In their slack time they would read and more often than not they would read mysteries. Sometimes it seemed as if the filing cabinets in my department held more paperback novels than they did blueprints and machinery manuals. Almost every maintenance technician carried a book in the back pocket of his coveralls.

So here we have two groups of avid mystery fans who are very different from one another in just about every other aspect of their lives. These aren’t the only mystery readers but I’m using them as an example because they represent opposite ends of the spectrum.

So where does this leave me as a writer? Which group do I try to reach? Is there such a thing as shared appeal?

My feeling is that if the story is good, it will attract all audiences. To be sure there will be one faction that is hooked on cozies while another can’t get enough of the hard-boiled action but I’m sure that there is some flexibility even in the extreme camps. Otherwise how could you explain the universal popularity of a book like The Godfather?

My conclusion is that a solid story that is well told will be enjoyed by all readers. So who reads mysteries? Everybody.

2011 Past Columns