Saturday, March 4, 2023

The Need for Mystery Fiction Novels to be Given Their Due Respect: Guest Post by Manjiri Prabhu

Manjiri Prabhu: 
The Need for Mystery Fiction Novels to be Given Their Due Respect
Time and again I have heard this comment about a mystery novel – 

“Not great literature but a crackling story….”

“No profound philosophy but a super book….” 

Such comments rankle, but they stem from a stereotypical basic classification of literary and mainstream and good and bad literature, but which to my mind evokes debate at best. 

I won’t go into definitions and arguments (which would change with changing times anyway) but will base my points on my own fiction writing of more than 30 years and my own experiences with readers. 

I have written novels in a variety of genres from mystery, children’s fiction, science fiction to research-based non-fiction and covered many themes and topics. I consider writing mystery fiction the most skillful. Writing Mystery fiction to me is an art - a complete art form which can be distinguished by the virtue of two features –content and craft. 

Without going into the structure of a mystery novel, content wise, mystery fiction can touch upon almost all emotions, stages and elements of life and can encompass other genres within itself. It can comment on socio-political, cultural, religious, and emotional issues, and offer deep insights into the psyche of human beings – all under the guise of beautiful prose and an entertaining mystery story. As such, I feel it fulfils the definition of a classically ‘complete’ novel, in its role and purpose. 

Writing a mystery novel requires a certain command over the craft. Not only in engaging the reader actively in the whodunnit guessing game, but in the manner in which the novel unfolds, the setting, the pace, the plot etc. One of the main yardsticks of a successful mystery novel is the art of holding the reader in surprise, right till the finale. As such, this essential characteristic of mystery fiction which rates the success of the novel, is deeply embedded in the ability of the writer, in effectively deceiving the reader. The writer may employ literary techniques, can create complex yet believable plots and characters, but the ultimate crucifying end-goal is the victory of the writer over the reader. 

I am listing just a few objectives of good, quality fiction here - 

1.      Touches hearts
2.      Helps you reflect
3.      Triggers thoughts, sentiments, memories
4.      Introduces you to something different and unique
5.      Is written in apt and good prose
6.      Stays in your memory long after the book is over. 
7.      A story that has something more to offer than reality and its issues. 
8.      Which creates a profound emotional reality for the reader
Enhances the pleasure of reading

I believe that good mystery fiction has the capacity to do all of this and more. I will cite just two examples to illustrate what I mean. 

My first novel A Symphony of Hearts written in 1994 was romantic suspense. Almost 20 years later, I got an earnest mail from a reader asking me if I had a copy of the novel, because she simply had to read a paragraph from the book every day as a form of ritual and no matter which page of the book she opened, she got guidance for the day. But now her sister seemed to have misplaced the copy, and she desperately wanted another copy of the book, which was now out of print. I obliged her with a pdf copy of the book, feeling deeply grateful for her email. She made me feel that my writing is worthwhile and crucial to her well-being.

When The Cosmic Clues was published in the US, I got several e-mails from readers across the world. The novel was about a lady detective from Pune, who solved different cases with the help of Indian Vedic Astrology. One day, a particular lady from Lucknow telephoned me and spoke to me at length about how the novel had helped her come out of deep depression, was changing her life, and had given her hope. After that, for a year, she continued to connect with me and to share her experiences and progress in life.
These are just two examples of the many that made me reflect on the role of books and the depth of words on paper. And I am sure, mystery fiction writers across the world have their own heart-warming tales to share. 

When your written words and your world of fiction have the capacity to touch a core, impact, and change lives and help people, those words and that ‘world’ deserve to be taken seriously. In such a capacity, mystery fiction with its multiple, 360 degrees purpose and function can certainly fall in the category of ‘good literature’. 

Now, with my latest destination thriller series, my mystery fiction has taken on the role of cultural diplomats. These novels use chosen cities and countries like characters, not merely as a backdrop but with clues, trails, and mysteries embedded into the fabric of that country. The Trail of Four which takes place in Austria, Voice of the Runes in Sweden, and Legend of the Snow Queen in Germany – propagate the themes of Peace and Harmony, thus promoting ideas of democratic values, expression of thought, and feelings of co-existence. As such these well-researched novels try to bridge the gap between the culture of another country and the composite culture of India and in the process, the novels help create an experience of shared cultures and an emotion of rising brotherhood and sisterhood. 

For me, mystery fiction in its varied roles, demands to be taken seriously. And I think we should grant it that respect. I strongly believe that the tag and the popularity of a genre should not go against the judging of its quality fiction. Labelling the mystery genre as ‘frivolous’, ‘un-serious’, or ‘un-great’ subverts the requisites of quality fiction. A book is either good or bad literature. Equating good with serious and ‘un-serious’ as popular and hence ‘un-good’ without considering the merits of the individual work, is unfair and fallacious. Good fiction should rise above genres. When a work of fiction is evaluated at its own literary merit, mystery fiction would automatically be awarded its deserved credit and place in the world.

Dr. Manjiri Prabhu is an award-winning international author of 19 books, mystery and thriller writer, a Short-Film-Maker and the Curator & Founder/Director of two international festivals Pune International Literary Festival and International Festival of Spiritual India (for Humanity  & Wisdom). Her latest novel is LEGEND OF THE SNOW QUEEN, a Re Parkar Destination Thriller based in Germany.

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Award-winning international Author, a Short-Film-Maker and the Curator & Founder/Director of two international festivals


Samar said...

Perfectly said . I'm a big fan of mystery books , they're the best mood lifters and hence the best friends sometimes . Love reading your books ❣️ Wishing you all the best .

Anonymous said...

As far back as I can remember, I think I always loved mysteries, I just did not know it was a mystery at the time. Children’s books have a mystery whether it is looking for a cat, “will they find it”? Or will the little house remain and not be torn down”.I think the thirst to know makes us mystery readers and love the genre. There is so much more, many years ago I compiled a list of women mystery writers, list lost and found for many years. I had read all of those writers. Sometimes I would pick locations, maybe of familiar places I have either lived or been to or wanted to visit. My eldest daughter lives in Portland, Oregon when visiting took me to a bookstore that where all the books were arranged by where they were geographically place. I loved it! Later it was depicted on Portlandia.

Anonymous said...

Heartedly & superlatively expressed by “Queen of Destination Thrillers” ! Manjiri ‘s prolific artful skill when she pens the story mysterious thrillers , is fantastic enchanting work of her hearted mind & soulful experience, the in-depth research by her is felt in every chapter , by her actually visiting the sensational locations in Europe ! From her very first book that I absorbed “Voice Of The Runes” , I have been mesmerised by her prose poetic style, compelling thrilling vibes , as Manjiri gives an engrossingly captivating life to the fiction narrative ( based on real historical episodes in history ) ! Having read all of Re Parker destination Series Thrillers , penned engagingly and captivatingly by “Queen of Destination Thrillers” Manjiri Prabhu , I as a Vivacious & Voracious creative Reader , wish to meet my favourite Authoress in Europe destination as she brings enchantment to another spellbinding historical story , in pages , chapters of fascinating Book , worded by her hearted mind !

Kerry Fryar Freeman said...

Loved this article and appreciated the list of good, quality fiction. I think good mystery fiction can include all of these and they stick with us much longer than the ones that are fast-paced to the detriment of character development. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.