DorothyL has had a running theme on intelligent mysteries. For those of you who don’t know DorothyL, it is a listserve about mysteries, named after the English writer Dorothy L Sayers, which has a pretty big following. I rarely contribute, but I love the darn thing, because people talk about the books they’re reading, the mystery shows they’re watching and authors contribute by talking about who is on their blog this week, or what book has been released. BSP is restrained so the whole thing is really about mystery.
Anyway, I was following the intelligent mystery thing fairly well, as it started off with the mysteries of Josephine Tey, who I think is wonderful. There was a discussion of a couple of her works, and I resolved to dig them up to reread. But then it turned a little bit harder for me to figure out. One woman went on about how formulaic some of the cozies she had been reading were, and how they were just about women doing what they do. Not intelligent, she said. As a woman, I was a bit offended, although I have been disappointed by a cozy or two myself.
She also opined that older mysteries were more intelligent and she thought Donald Westlake was an example.
Ok. I can accept that I guess. I think Elizabeth Peters wrote some pretty intelligent mysteries and her protagonists were women doing what they do. But maybe I don’t understand the definition of intelligent.
I hate those mysteries where characters start speaking in another language and no translation is offered. I suppose they are intelligent and perhaps I’m not. But unless the other language is French, which I can still read fairly well, despite the lack of practice here in the Rockies, I’m sunk.
I don’t like mysteries where all the characters use words with at least five syllables and pretend to have no emotions. Or heck, maybe they don’t have ’em. What do I know? I suppose they are intelligent. As far as I can tell, all the fifty cent words are used correctly. But they bore me.
What is your definition of an intelligent book? What keeps your interest going?