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The State of the Crime Novel

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I've been blogging at the Huffington Post for nearly a month now, and I haven't yet touched on my bread and butter, my passion and my current profession: the Crime Novel. I'm a crime addict, a thriller writer, a lover of everything that goes bump (and bang, and slash, and boom) in the night. Yet as a former editor I'm fascinated not only in the writing and craft of crime novels, but how they reflect our culture and how our culture inspires these books. I love to know who to read, who to watch for, who people are reading and why. From James Crumley to James Patterson, from Patricia Highsmith to Patricia Cornwell, from Dennis Lehane to Denis Johnson, crime novels have been responsible for some of the most beloved (and loathed) characters of our time, while telling some of the most important stories and peeling back society's flesh to reveal its bare bones. Crime novels can keep us entertained during a long plane ride, or comment on the most relevant issues of the day. Sometimes they do both.

I've asked six of the most renowned crime fiction critics in the country to weigh in with their thoughts on the state of the crime novel. I hope you find their responses as interesting as I did. First, let me introduce our esteemed panelists:

Patrick Anderson has published nine novels and four books of nonfiction and was Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter during the 1976 presidential campaign. He has reviewed crime fiction for the Washington Post for many years and is the author of The Triumph of the Thriller (2007).

A journalist for more than 30 years, Oline H. Cogdill is the mystery fiction columnist for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. She also reviews for Mystery Scene magazine, Publishers Weekly and McClatchy Tribune Features Wires. Her mystery fiction reviews appear in more than 300 newspapers and publication sites worldwide. Oline was awarded the 1997 Pettyjohn, the highest honor the Sun-Sentinel gives, and the 1999 Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing by the American Crime Writers League.

Along with his wife Ruth, Jon Jordan is the publisher of Crimespree Magazine and he spends much too much time reading.

David J. Montgomery is the mystery/thriller columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast. His latest piece of published fiction is the story "Bedtime for Mr. Li," which appears in the anthology Thriller 2, edited by Clive Cussler.

Kate Stine is the editor and co-publisher of Mystery Scene Magazine. Prior to Mystery Scene, Kate worked in the book publishing industry, including stints at Book-of-the-Month, Mysterious Press, and Otto Penzler Books. She was also the editor of The Armchair Detective and her consulting clients included The Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Mystery Writers of America, and Agatha Christie, Ltd.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for the Los Angeles Times and the Barnes & Noble Review, and contributes to publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and New Hampshire Public Radio's "Word of Mouth." She blogs at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, hailed by USA Today as "a respected resource for commentary on crime and mystery fiction."

Books such as Michael Connelly's THE SCARECROW paint a timely portrait of issues in our culture (Connelly specifically addressing the newspaper industry). Do you feel like crime novels are adequately addressing issues in our culture? And do they even need to?

Anderson: Many good crime writers are addressing social issues or at least using them as background for their stories. Sara Paretsky's novels address political issues from a devoutly liberal point of view. George Pelecanos's novels give as realistic a portrait of life in poor black communities as you can find in today's fiction. One of James Lee Burke's recent novels, The Tin Roof Blow Down, gave a powerful account of the post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans. Even as commercial a writer as John Grisham makes good points about the realities of today's legal world. Crime fiction, more than mainstream or "literary" fiction, is confronting the realities of life in America today.

Cogdill: I think one of the main missions of crime novels is to paint a timely portrait of the issues in our times. This doesn't mean these novels have to hit you over the head with a message or make a soapbox with their plots. The more subtle, the better. Crime novels are the social novels of today. We look to these novels as how we are doing at this point in time; the state of our cities, the state of our crime and how we deal with crime and punishment. The Scarecrow vividly points the problems with the decline of the newspapers. Dennis Lehane's Gone Baby Gone is one of the finest novels about who is raising our children as well as about moral ambiguity. Lehane's Mystic River and Val McDermid's A Place of Execution are both novels about the loss of innocence -- of a family, a neighborhood and even a country. These are novels that work to show us the bonds between parents, redemption, the state of racism and sexism in our times. I think Ian Rankin said that if you look at a country's crime fiction, you get a snapshot of that country. Attica Locke's Bad Water Rising shows us what happens to a former black activist when the realities of a family force some changes -- when a man can "no longer afford his principles." Look at George Pelecanos - he is a social historian. And I think this is not limited to hard-boiled stories. Many amateur sleuths are stories about families, relationships and how we deal with each other. Take Elaine Viets. Her Dead-End Job series is light and funny but it also looks at those people who live on minimum wage and are often the "invisible" segment of our society.

Jordan: I don't know that crime fiction needs to address things current culture, but a lot of them do. They actually are a very good look at the times. Ed McBain's 87th precinct books, while timeless in a lot of ways, are also wonderful look at the time in which they were written.

Montgomery:Whether or not they "need" to depends on the dictates of the story. But I think that treating important societal/cultural issues is one of the things the crime novel does best, better perhaps than any other genre of literature. I would say that I generally think writers in the genre are doing a good job of tackling these subjects, although I'd like to see even more emphasis placed on the lives of the working class. I think that is an underrepresented area of fiction.

Stine: There's a crime novel for every social issue but ultimately the story is the most important thing. Writers like Carl Hiaasen on the environment or Betty Webb on polygamous cults in the American southwest can make their passions serve their stories to very good effect. Sara Paretsky looks at Chicago's racial history in her excellent new novel Hardball. Her books have dealt thoughtfully with a number of social issues including, feminism, sexism, McCarthyism, etc. Other books 'illustrate' issues in our culture. I'm thinking of books that relish describing terror, rape, serial killer murders, etc., almost always of attractive, young women. Usually there's some pro forma outrage expressed, but there's an underlying glee that is really disturbing.

Weinman: It's helpful if the crime novel is part of the larger culture because it adds an extra framework to story and character and narrative - and is really part of setting and a sense of place. The success of crime in translation is in large part because of how those novels reflect society, and I know that Karin Slaughter, for example, does huge business overseas because international readers feel they have a glimpse of what attitudes are like in the South (and America as a whole, in some part.) Look at the authors routinely held up as the best of the best of late - Connelly, Pelecanos, Lehane, Lippman immediately come to mind - they very much address social concerns, consciously or otherwise. And some really talented newcomers, like Gillian Flynn or Attica Locke, give us a sense of how real people react and offer insight into particular social milieus we might not normally be exposed to.

What do you feel is your individual mission statement when it comes to covering crime novels?

Anderson: To steer intelligent readers toward good crime fiction and away from bad crime fiction.

Cogdill: I want to cover the crime novel/mystery genre to showcase new books that deserve an audience. To show what is the best and brightest of our times. I don't have a problem giving a book a negative review and in fact do it all the time, but I would rather guide the reader to what they should be reading. In a way, it is consumerism. I think the state of the mystery genre is the strongest it has ever been. I think the stories are stronger than ever, characters more vivid and plots more involved. And that is both in hardback and paperback. Some very strong novels are paperback originals.

Jordan: With Crimespree we hope to turn people on to some books and authors they might not have heard about and give them some insight into authors they might not otherwise get.

Montgomery: I try to highlight the best of the genre, whether by popular authors or unknowns, and help readers to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of crime fiction. My goal is to cover the genre in both a serious and entertaining way, to give the great books and authors the recognition they deserve, but also to emphasize the pleasure to be had by reading crime novels. I also take a particular pleasure from discovering new writers and helping to bring their work to a larger audience.

Stine: My mission as an editor is to hire expert writers and reviewers and make sure that Mystery Scene readers get excellent critical coverage of the entire crime and mystery genre.

Weinman: Ideally, to talk about books I love that others will love as well. But when it's a book I don't love, then I want to tell the truth in an honest but informed way, pointing out what works, what doesn't, or why I may not like it but others might.

Over the last few years, several crime imprints have folded (such as the Mysterious Press), some are about to start up (such as Little, Brown's forthcoming as-yet unnamed imprint). What does a crime imprint need to do to be successful?

Anderson: I assume that to be successful they need a good eye for what will sell. The danger is that this will lead them to publish only the most obviously commercial junk. The wonder is not that there's so much bad fiction published but that so much good fiction finds its way into print.

Cogdill: One of the primary things, I think, has to be a commitment to stories, a willingness to take a chance on a different type of writing or approach to crime fiction. It seems that too often the publishing houses are following a trend - must have symbols a la Dan Brown, women private detectives are in this week, but men aren't, the police procedural is on the uptick, but only this week. Instead, I think the publishers should forget about what is in this week and instead focus on what is good; that never goes out of style.

Jordan: I think an imprint needs good leadership, an editor with a good eye. I also think it important to have at least one author on board with an established track record for sales.

Montgomery: This is going to sound trite, but they need to publish good books. Trying to guess what will sell or what won't sell is often an impossible task. But if a publisher selects the best books they can find to publish, they put themselves in a position to succeed. And, if nothing else, at least they'll be responsible for bringing good books to the world.

Weinman: A strong mission and focus, for one, with someone at the editorial helm with a very good sensibility for what he or she is looking to publish, both in terms of new books and reprints. I had high hopes for Mortalis (the trade paperback crime fiction imprint Random House/Ballantine started a few years ago) but because it struck me as a by-committee dumping ground for certain titles instead of one or two editors/publishers with true sense of what would work in the market and what wouldn't (exacerbated by imprint mergers and layoffs, not to mention the recession) I think its all-but-fading away was inevitable, even though in theory it's still a good idea. Little, Brown I hold out more hope for, pending whomever they hire on as an editorial director - because that hire is really key to the imprint's future, what with it concentrating more on breaking authors out of midlist (or launching new careers.

Which small presses do you feel are doing the best job publishing crime novels? Which large houses?

Cogdill: Bleak House, Midnight Ink and Oceanview are three small presses that are doing a very good job with new writers. The trouble with many of the other smaller publishers is they are taking just about anything, acting as quasi vanity presses with no copy editing, production values, etc. I think the large houses are doing a good job with crime fiction - HarperCollins, Morrow, Minotaur, Berkley and Little, Brown

Jordan: I think Ben (Leroy) and Alison (Janssen) at Tyrus Books really know what they are doing. David Thompson at Busted Flush is also doing a great job. My favorite big three are Minotaur, William Morrow and Little Brown.

Montgomery: I think all of the large houses publish their share of good crime fiction - that's one of the advantages of publishing a lot of books. You end up with a lot of hits. I think Little, Brown, with authors like Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos, is doing especially great work at the moment. But I have favorite authors at all the houses. Of the small presses, I think Busted Flush Press is doing some good work, both with new books and reissuing old books as well. I also think the new start-up press Tyrus Books is looking to bring some distinctive voices to press that otherwise might not be published.

Stine: Poisoned Pen Press has a consistently good line-up, although at this point I'm not sure you'd call them a small press. I've been impressed with the quick growth and editorial eye of Oceanview Publishing. And one of my favorites is a "micro-press" called Busted Flush in Texas. Not only do they select high quality books, they do what so many small presses don't: lavish care on the covers and general marketing materials.

Weinman: They seem to be cutting back with recent seasons but I do like what Europa Editions is doing with crime fiction in translation; Tyrus Books is off to a promising start, and I absolutely believe in Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen, but it'll be a good six to twelve months before we know if the sales match up with their editorial eye. With the bigger houses, I like the way Minotaur has been breaking out more and more authors (cf. Louise Penny staying on the NYT extended list for several weeks) and even though their list is graying, Putnam still has the knack for getting their big-name authors on the bestseller lists. And even though Knopf isn't known for its crime fiction, there is no denying how well they have published Stieg Larsson. Others I'm watching out for include Dutton (who, in part thanks to Ben Sevier, seems to be giving Putnam a run for their commercial bestseller money), Little, Brown (for the upcoming crime fiction imprint, and also to see how Reagan Arthur's crime writers fare under her new, eponymous imprint) and the primordial soup that is the Little Random side of Random House, since Ballantine, Bantam and RH are under the same umbrella, and there's still a ton of redundancy that will probably shake out over the next year or so.

With book reviews being slashed, and with crime fiction having so few homes for mainstream recognition, do you feel a certain responsibility to attract readers to the genre? Have problems within the newspaper industry affected your reviewing or career (and if so, how)?

Anderson: I tell readers that crime fiction is no longer a literary step-child, that it's attracting some of the best young writers and producing some of the best contemporary novels. Examples would include Lehane's Mystic River, Lippman's What the Dead Know, Connelly's Harry Bosch novels and, among spy novels, the work of Alan Furst and Robert Littell.

Cogdill: When I first started to review crime fiction more than 16 years ago, the Sun Sentinel had two full books pages. I could review one to six books a week and averaged about three a week. Through the years, space has gotten tighter and tighter. Now, I can only review one novel a week and it has to be a certain word-count length. Until last month, I also was writing a blog for the Sun Sentinel and I would often put two or three reviews on it a week. It is only going to get worse. This change in space also has brought about a change in philosophy/approach for many newspapers and reviewers, including myself. I don't have a problem with giving negative reviews, but as space has been limited it is more important to focus on those novels that are good, rather than poorly written. I generally tend to do reviews of books I like because I would rather guide the reader toward a book rather than away from a book. To tell them what they should be reading as opposed to not reading. I used to review everything I read. Now, I may read 60 pages or so of a book and decide I hate it. I sometimes read 60 pages or so of 5 or 6 books before I decide on a good one to review. It is more helpful for the reader to know about good books. Perhaps the worst thing you can do to an author is to ignore their book. My reviews are picked up by McClatchy Tribune Features Wire and often end up in three hundred or so newspapers and publication sites across the world. I also will often do a couple of reviews just for MCT. Niche magazines that cover the mystery genre are going to see a rise in circulation, I think. Mystery Scene is a great outlet for reviews and information about the genre. I blog for Mystery Scene twice a week, another outlet for getting the word out about mysteries. The reason is I want to get the word out about mysteries - as many as I can. It's a personal mission for me.

Jordan: The only responsibility I feel really is too be honest about the books we cover. We do try to bring in new readers in a variety of ways tough, including events we are a part of and even just talking books with everyone we meet. It's part of who we are. With less venues for reviews we are seeing a bit of a rise in books coming to us and some of the publicists are getting a little more aggressive.

Stine: Mystery Scene does feel a responsibility to bring in new readers to the genre. Primarily we've done this by instituting a regular children's & YA review book column and by publishing articles about children's and YA writers. Since parents and grandparents buy the first books that kids read, this seems like a good plan to raise mystery fans.

Montgomery: I've always tried to attract readers to the genre, even before the cutbacks in review space. I think there are a lot of great books and great authors working in crime/suspense fiction, so I think there are many wonderful hours of pleasure to be had from reading in the genre. So I want to share that joy with other readers. The problems in the newspaper industry have definitely affected my reviewing work. There are fewer newspapers running book reviews and even those still running reviews are running fewer of them. So there is less work to go around, less space to devote to books, and thus fewer books get covered. The flipside to that is there are more opportunities available in the online world than ever before. Unfortunately the audience isn't quite the same, but obviously that's the trend in reviewing.

Weinman: There is a sense of responsibility, yes, though it's just as important for me to concentrate on being a thoughtful evangelist, for lack of a better term. I've been extraordinarily lucky to have the gigs that I do, but my time at the Baltimore Sun - almost five very good years - ended because of the Tribune's ongoing problems and bankruptcy proceedings. And what the plight of newspapers has taught me is that I must never, ever take any freelance assignment - one-time or ongoing - for granted, and that there are alternate venues to get the word out.

How has the rise in crime fiction blogs and social networking impacted the crime novel?

Anderson: I don't read many blogs but the ones I look at often have intelligent writing and that has to be good for novelists. I know nothing about "social networking."

Cogdill: If anything, it has given authors another outlet to get the word out about their books. If an author is paying more attention to their blog than their writing, that is becoming a problem. Unfortunately, too many blogs by too many people without expertise tend to cheapen many discussions about mysteries. Many bloggers have an ax to grind or are interested only their own self promotion. I also wonder who has the time to read all these blogs, some of which are poorly written. I think people need to pay more attention to those blogs written by those who are attached to a legitimate publication or are well known in the industry.

Jordan: I think it has raised the level of interaction among fans. This leads to certain books being discussed that might normally sit on a shelf. It's an important piece of the puzzle of getting a book known. I do think some of it is overkill. I don't really get the whole concept of Blog tours, especially paying someone to set them up.

Montgomery: To a very limited extent, I think. I think anything that happens in a writer's life has the potential to affect their writing. So the rise of the internet, social networking, etc. will ultimately impact fiction. But I don't think it's a very significant factor. More important is that blogging, social networking, etc. can take up a significant amount of a writer's time, and that's less time that can be devoted to writing fiction. That, I believe, can be a problem.

Stine: I'm not sure how it has impacted the novel itself but it's certainly wasting a lot of writers' time. Most of the blogs appear to be about the publishing or promotion process which attracts would-be writers more than would-be readers. Often writers just end up talking to each other.
Social networking has the same problem: see Crimespace for an example.

Weinman: This question could be interpreted a couple of ways. In terms of content, maybe minimally, in that social networking is mentioned more in crime novels and serve as plot twists. In terms of promotion, absolutely - new venues, shrinking print space, and the like. In terms of what gets published, yes and no - there were some unpublished writers who had advance buzz and their careers didn't take off (or weren't published) so the same rules of taste/great books/luck still apply, if not more so.

Even authors like James Ellroy now have Facebook pages. How important is it for authors to "be visible"?

Anderson: When I was publishing novels in the 1970s and 1980s I had a very unhealthy attitude: that it was my job to write the books and the publisher's job to sell them. Today's writers seem to work harder at "being visible" and if that sells their books that's great.

Cogdill: In the past 15 years, the need for an author to promote himself or herself has grown by leaps and bounds. While I know that writers would rather just write, the reality is that if an author doesn't know how to do some marketing of themselves they will be left in the dust. With the decline in book pages, it is even more important for authors to be visible. They can do this with an excellent website, a Facebook page, Twitter, whatever it takes.

Jordan: Being visible is important, but I also think an author can be too visible. If you get too casual with interactions, some where some time something is going to get said that annoys some of the readers. I also think there are some authors who spend a little too much time on Twitter or Facebook and other places like that.

Montgomery: I think it's a necessary evil. If people don't know your name, they're not going to buy your books. And with publishers cutting back on promotion and publicity, with newspapers and magazines going belly-up, it's become incumbent upon authors to take on a lot of the burden themselves. So that means things like Facebook become a part of the equation for many authors. I don't think these things have a huge impact - but I think it's clear that they have some impact. The problem is that they are very consuming, taking away a writer's time, attention, focus and energies from the most important thing: writing their novels. I'm not sure what the solution is, and think there probably isn't a good one.

Stine: It's very important to have a website that offers solid, up-to-date information: a bio, a booklist, and (please!) some hi-res photos that are updated yearly, if not more often. There should also be some way to contact the writer, either directly, through his agent or through his publisher. Other than that, I think it's up to the writer's personality about how involved they want to get. Here's something to keep in mind: All the writers who have very successful online presences--Janet Evanovich, Lawrence Block (through his newsletter), Lee Child--also have staff.

Weinman: Having some sort of web presence is essential. How that presence takes shape is up to the author, but I think a standalone website with basic information is key so that readers can find out what they need with a Google search. Even as a devoted Twitter user, I'm skeptical of how necessary that medium is for writers (it's more of a journalist/media-friendly tool) and since social media is dynamic - services die off, fall out of favor, and the like - it seems better to do one or two things very well instead of several things poorly.

Do you feel like publishers are taking the same care to grow authors as they did 10, 15, 20 years ago, or is there more of a "swing for the fences" mentality?

Anderson: My impression is that publishers today are less likely to stick with a writer if his or her early novels don't do well. It's a tough business and getting tougher.

Cogdill: Absolutely not. Publishers and even agents do not have the time anymore for the care and feeding of an author. Would F. Scott Fitzgerald have become Fitzgerald without the nurturing of Maxwell Perkins? Bennett Cerf had a talent in building and maintaining relations with authors such as William Faulkner, John O'Hara, James Michener. Because of him, Random House supported them and they supported Random House. Does that relationship exist anymore? Today, writers have to bring their 'A' game the minute they turn in their manuscript.

Jordan: As a whole publishing seems to be less willing to wait for an author to break out. And in todays publishing environment they seem to want an author to be a hit within two or maybe three books. The willingness to let an author find their audience isn't what it once was. There are a number of writers I know who have not had contracts renewed because sales were not as high as they would have liked. 20 years ago they may have been given more of a chance to grow. Of course today there are a lot more authors submitting books too.

Montgomery: Probably not. With the challenges facing the publishing industry, they have to bank more on profitable authors and books, and focus more on publishing books that will bring a more immediate return. I think this is very frustrating for editors and publishers, but it's a necessary evil. If an author has a couple bombs on their resume it has gotten very hard for them to get published. That's why we're seeing so many authors writing under pseudonyms.

Stine: I think the more common attitude, then and now, is "sink or swim." What's changed is the amount of time that larger houses will give an author to get established. Still, what can they do? It's not like publishing has a huge profit margin. Most publishers are owned by mega-corporations who don't want to hear about nurturing authors for years before making any money. If you're interested in seeing which publishers do support their writers, take a look at the ads in Mystery Scene.

Weinman: Definitely more of a "swing for the fences" mentality, made worse by the recession.

How relevant is the crime novel today?

Anderson: At their best, highly relevant.

Cogdill: More than ever, the crime novel is a reflection of our times. It shows who we are. A mainstream novel cannot do what a crime novel does. I think mysteries are the social novel of today -- Walter Mosely showed us what it is like to be a black man in post WWII LA; Laura Lippman has been chronicling the lives of young women in the contemporary world. Even Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series has the undertone of what happens to a brilliant criminalist who can no longer be active, whose mind is sharp but body is betraying him. Mysteries are not about violence, but about why, increasingly a look at the issues of identity of self, family, neighborhood and society. Crime novels also offer us an escape and who doesn't need that.

Jordan: I think crime fiction has always been relevant, but today a lot more of what is being written is no longer seen only as genre fiction and as such it seems mainstream media covers a bit more than they used to.

Montgomery: As relevant as it's ever been and probably more important than ever. Not much popular fiction deals with the important issues of our time, whether it's race or violence or anything else. But crime fiction - the best of crime fiction, anyway - takes those subjects and examines them within the context of an entertaining and engaging story, thus making them accessible to an audience that wouldn't necessarily read a non-fiction book or even the newspaper.

Weinman: I agree with the many who have called it the equivalent of the social novel of yore. Through crime we find out how our worst impulses reflect contemporary society.

How important is it for a crime novelist to get reviewed, and reviewed favorably?

Anderson: Now and then I blast novelists I think are really bad - James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell are two examples - but I know it won't hurt their sales, even though I hear from lots of readers who agree with me. I prefer to use the space I have to praise good writers. A good review will sell some books and may help the writer stay afloat.

Cogdill: Authors and publishers have to answer that. I think a good review can help make an author, at least give them a push toward being recognized. Can a negative review destroy an author? I don't know. Reviewers are often the first reader on a novel. We are often the first ones to get the word out about a novel.

Jordan: Reviews are always important and of course better reviews make it easier to sell books. I do think that some authors get a bit too caught up in the review process and worry about it when really it's not in their control. For instance, I understand people obsessing over Amazon reviews, but frankly, they really don't have that much impact one way or the other.

Montgomery: Reviews are great. They serve an important function in several ways, and can represent an important part of a writer's career. I'd like to see more reviews, not just for crime novels, but for all books. Literature is a crucial component of our lives, so it's important to discuss it in a lively and serious way, and book reviews are a key part of that. Even though print outlets for reviews are dying, we're seeing more and more discussion of books and literature on the internet. That has problems of its own, but reviews aren't going away. If anything, they're only going to grow.

Stine: Obviously, it's important for a book to be reviewed. But I think it's just as important that the review be from a trusted source. Who's to say that Amazon reviewer isn't married to the novelist he's reviewing? I want reviews from someone who has a good grasp of the genre, good judgement, and a knowledgeable editor keeping an eye on things.

Weinman: Speaking as a reviewer, I'm not sure. Co-op at a chain store seems the best way to get the word out right now, and word of mouth is still the great game-changer. Obviously, I like reviewing very much, but with so many books published and so little space, there are a variety of ways to spread the word and I'd encourage authors to see what works and reach for some cumulative effect. But great reviews won't make up for terrible pre-orders, alas.

Who are three veteran crime writers you feel are still at the top of their game? Who are three writers flying under the radar you feel deserve to break out?

Anderson: Veterans still at the top of the game certainly include Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos and Sue Grafton. Younger, or at least lesser known writers I admire include Charlie Huston, who does amazing work; Philip Baruth, whose The X President and The Brothers Boswell are delights; and Michael Harvey, whose The Chicago Way was a first-rate private-eye novel.

Cogdill: Michael Connelly is perhaps our most consistent living mystery author and his novels are about moments in our time, how the changing LA copes in the 21st century. Laura Lippman continues to amaze me with how she can so precisely tap into the issues of women. Laurie King's Mary Russell novels would have been the kind I would have loved to have as a young teenager. I think they will be timeless. Val McDermid continues to be one of my favorites and I am looking forward to Dennis Lehane's next novel, especially with the buzz I've been hearing. I also always look forward to novels by Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin and S.J. Rozan, Charles Todd. For breakouts: Michael Koryta is an amazing writer and so young. We'll be hearing a lot more from him. I feel the same way about John Hart, that he will be a novelist with a long career. Linwood Barclay has been around for a while but his family thrillers put him in league with Harlan Coben and may finally put him over the top with American audiences. Some upcoming novelists I think you'll be hearing about are Bryan Gruley (Starvation Lake), Attica Locke (Black Water Rising) and Paul Doiron (The Poacher's Son comes out in April) These are major talents. I loved Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen and I want to see what he does next.

Jordan: Ian Rankin gets better with every book. Val McDermid is always showing something new and Robert Crais is just plain wonderful. Who deserves to break out? A lot of authors I know should be more widely read. The first three I can think of would be Sean Chercover, Martyn Waites and Sam Reaves. There are many more though...

Montgomery: Nobody does it better than Michael Connelly. He has such a smooth style and a fundamental understanding of how to tell a story. Joseph Finder writes some of the best, most professional thrillers around. His craft is superb. I also really like what Laura Lippman is doing. She captures the inner lives of girls and women in a way that few writers can. She just keeps getting better and better. For people under the radar...I think Sean Chercover is going to be a major star in the crime genre. He's got some serious chops. M.J. Rose is writing books like nobody else, a combination of suspense, romance, history and a touch of the paranormal. They're fascinating. I'm also high on Brad Parks, a new writer with a debut novel coming out in December that I think shows a lot of promise. Faces of the Gone is one of my favorite debuts of the year. He's definitely someone worth watching.

Stine: I'll skip the veterans part of the question and list some favorite newish writers: Steven Hockensmith who currently writes the Holmes on the Range series about two cowboy brothers in the old west is going to break out someday, either with those books or others. He has a guiding intelligence that brings a lot of depth to both his characters and story. Catherine O'Flynn's first novel What Was Lost, about a 10-year-old girl who goes missing, was brilliant -- funny, frightening, and ultimately heartbreaking. I can't wait to read her next book. Mary Saums, who writes the southern cozy series Thistle & Twigg, has a real talent for humorous writing. Hank Phillippi Ryan is an award-winning TV investigative journalist and her Charlotte McNally series gives a fascinating insider look at the TV news business. Those books are going to do very well, I think.

Weinman: At random, because that's the best way to go with these questions: Michael Connelly is unbelievably consistent and still manages to surprise - 9 Dragons takes Harry Bosch in a new and welcome direction. I admire the way Sara Paretsky allows VI to grow and change, and the books of late (despite some quibbles) still say something new. And Val McDermid, again, is a model of superior consistency, combining excellent page-turning abilities with characters the reader cares about. Under the radar: I'm still shocked Gregg Hurwitz's Trust No One didn't do better business, as it was a terrific thriller with political relevancy. Chris Mooney should be published in America again (though I'm glad he's doing very well in the UK.) And Jennifer McMahon is one the best new suspense novelists of recent years, and I can't wait to see how her future career goes. And I know you asked for three, but everybody has to read Don Winslow - and demand that The Gentleman's Hour, the sequel to The Dawn Patrol, get published here already! (Note: It was just announced that The Gentleman's Hour will be published in the U.S. in 2011)

JASON PINTER is the bestselling author of five thriller novels with nearly 1.5 million copies in print worldwide (the most recent of which are The Fury and The Darkness). His first novel for young readers, Zeke Bartholomew: Superspy!, will be released in the summer of 2011. Visit him at

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