About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sleuths with Families

Last week I wrote a post on Sleuths without Families setting forth my position that it was uncommon for Sleuths to have families, especially spouses and children, before the 1990’s. Since the 1990’s I believe far more mysteries have sleuths with families as important to the plots. 

To provide some personal statistical analysis I reviewed the mysteries I have read and reviewed since January 1, 2000. From the 629 books, including fiction and non-fiction, I settled on 41 series. In most of them I have read 2 or more books in the series. The series go back as far as Sherlock Holmes. Most are series that had books in the 1990’s or more recently. 

As I am sure readers are aware statistics can tell many different stories depending on how they are assembled and arranged. I certainly acknowledge my mystery reading is not done with the intent of putting together a scientifically reliable cross-section of the mystery world. As well I am trying not to write lengthy posts. If any reader wants a full list of the 41 sleuths and authors please send me an email. 

Overall there were 21 sleuths with spouses and/or children as characters. Breaking it down further there were:

1.) 11 sleuths with spouses and children;
2.) 9 spouses with no spouse but with children; and,
3.) 1 sleuth with a spouse but no children (William Monk and Hester).

Out of the 22 sleuths without spouses and/or children I made a further division:

1.) 16 of the sleuths had no family involvement; and,
2.) 6 of the sleuths had significant family involvement other than spouses or children.

The last group of 6 refers to such sleuths as Russell Quant created by Anthony Bidulka. The Saskatchewan gay detective has been engaged but never married. While having neither spouse nor children Anthony has made Russell’s mother an important character in the series.

There were 7 series I was reading whose authors commenced writing them before the 1990’s. Of these 7 sleuths there were 5 sleuths with neither spouses nor children in the series. They were Adam Dagliesh, Sherlock Holmes, Spenser, Nero Wolfe and Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte. Of the quintet I do not recall any of them having a significant role by other family members. Two of them, Travis McGee and Rebus, had a child. I appreciate that while Spenser and Susan Silverman were definitely a couple I never saw in the books that they considered themselves as a common law couple. Arbitrarily I have placed Bony in the category of having neither spouse nor children because, though they existed, I have not seen them play any role in the books I have read in the series to date.

Of the 34 series starting in the 1990’s or later there were 17 sleuths without spouses and/or children. Adjusting the analysis to consider significant other family characters it would be 11 sleuths without families.

Every study needs to define its terms. I describe sleuths with families as including spouses, children and significant other family members. Based on my personal parameters:

1.) 2 of the 7 sleuths earlier than the 1990’s were sleuths with families; and,
2.) 23 of the 34 post-1990 sleuths were sleuths with families.

In 6 days on December 28 I am going to write a further post about sleuths with families devoted to Saskatchewan mysteries. Of that sub-genre 8 of the 10 authors, including all 3 series, have sleuths with families. As a bonus I will have explanations from some of the Saskatchewan authors on why they have sleuths with families.


  1. Bill - This is really, really interesting! You make such a good argument here that today's sleuths are more likely to have family involvement (whether or not they are married with children) than sleuths of years gone by. In my opinion, part of this might be that modern readers want their sleuths to seem realistic. They want to believe those sleuths could really exist. Since many of us have family and/or romantic ties, it makes sense that we would also want our sleuths to do so...

  2. What an interesting survey of your reading. I agree with Margot that it is part of a more realistic trend, and probably also a step towards equality - you can´t have a large proportion of modern women in crime fiction without families appearing too :)

    Merry Christmas, Bill!

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am glad there is more effort to be realistic in mysteries. For contemporary mysteries I prefer sleuths who are credible people.

  4. Dorte: Thanks for your perspective. I had not thought about the increasing proportion of women in crime fiction leading to more families in mysteries.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    I am very glad I met you this year through blogging.

  5. I think the increase in modern sleuths with families is due to that being an easy way to add the almost-required emotional padding... sorry, I mean content... that the modern crime novel tends to suffer from... sorry, I meant require.

    Sorry, this is a bugbear of mine - compare a classic mystery with a modern one, and you'll find approximately 50% of the page count and 200% of the plot in the classic one. The modern book will consist of many extra scenes describing how messed up the detective's personal life is which, to me, is often used as a way of distracting from the basic mystery so that when the killer is revealed, you've forgotten who's who.

    Before I get my head bitten off, I know that's a sweeping generalisation and I can think of a few books that I've reviewed that belie this. But I think I've yet to read a 400 page plus mystery novel that couldn't have had sections of the personal life pruned in favour of the mystery.

  6. Although equally one could say that the reason for more 'personal' aspects in the modern mystery novel is the fact that the boundaries of the genres are far more blurred than they were 60 years ago. Science fiction, for instance, was something that was usually published only in specific magazines. It was despised by the more serious literary critics. Nowadays you have stuff like THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, which has a sci-fi gimmick idea but is written and sold as a straight novel without anyone getting embarrassed. Detective fiction has also tried to move into more respectable areas, with the result that when a modern crime novel is reviewed in the papers, it is reviewed in the same way as a 'normal' novel. The lure of respectability is very strong, and I suspect that a lot of crime authors like being part of the mainstream rather than the resident of a literary ghetto.

  7. Doctor: Thanks for your comment.

    It might be interesting to define what is a classic mystery. Is the defintion static?

    I acknowledge a preference for mysteries that involve the sleuth's life in the plots. I think one of the reasons the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries remain fresh are the details of Sherlock's life included in the mysteries.

    I am not in favour of 400 page mysteries - 200 to 300 pages are best for me.

  8. Sextonblake: Thanks for the comment.

    I shall be interested in any comments from mystery authors who are readers of my blog on whether the lure of respectablity to add "personal" aspects to their mysteries has an impact on their plotting.

    In an earlier post I reviewed The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky. It turned out to have a msytery in the plot but it was not the primary story line. I am not sure how much mystery must be in a book to qualify as a mystery.

  9. I suppose that a book qualifies as a mystery when the mystery aspect can be removed without harming the book. If you remove the mystery aspect from MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS then the story becomes meaningless. A few years ago I read a thriller/fantasy/adventure story called THE ISLAND WHERE TIME STANDS STILL by Dennis Wheatley. Early on in the book there is a death which sets the whole plot moving. In the last few pages the death turns out to have been a murder, and the hero of the novel explains who/howdunnit. It's a clever little zinger of a reveal, but the book could get along without it, and in the final analysis the book is still a thriller.

  10. Sextonblake: Thanks for the comment.

  11. A very interesting break-down, Bill. I never mind one way or the other if a detective or other type of crime-solver has family or, for that matter, has not. All I care about is if the book is well written.

    However, to write a series with a happily married crime solver is a real trick. Only the better writers can make it work. I don't like it if the relationship seems forced OR if the author obviously doesn't have much invested in the whole idea. AND, of course, if I'm to meet the other half of a relationship, I'm going to have to like that person.

    If I don't, well, then you really REALLY have to be a terrific writer to keep me. i.e. Robert Parker - who kept me reading though I disliked Susan Silverman INTENSELY.

    I look forward to your next post on the subject, Bill.

  12. Yvette: You add an interesting perspective. I had not thought about whether liking a sleuth's spouse impacts on enjoying the book. I am curious why you intensely dislike Susan.