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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Being Affected by a Male Author Creating a Female Sleuth

Greg McGee
Last year I wrote about mystery authors Alix Bosco, from New Zealand, and Inger Ash Wolfe, from Canada, being pseudonyms. Bosco’s creator, Greg McGee, revealed himself. While I keep searching I have been unable to find conclusive proof on Wolfe’s real identity.

In the past month I have read Slaughter Falls by Bosco (McGee) and The Taken by Wolfe. While reading them I thought about the gender of the authors.

In my previous post I explained McGee’s primary reason for a pseudonym that was vaguely female, certainly ambiguous on the author’s gender:

He said that he had used the pseudonym as he was convinced the book would not get a fair chance to succeed if readers knew the author was a man, especially a man known as a rugby player, whose lead character was a woman. His decision was confirmed by a panel of readers. The two who knew he was a man did not find it credible. The three who did not know had no problems with credibility.

On identifying himself as the author I said:

McGee said he went public with his real identity because he heard it been a letdown when Bosco won the Ngaio Marsh crime writing award and there was no one to accept the award.

Even with the third in the Wolfe series being published this summer the author has chosen not be revealed.

When I read Slaughter Falls I found myself too focused on whether the sleuth, Anna Markunas, was a convincing woman character. I do not think about Agatha Christie being a woman when I read Hercule Poirot mysteries. I am equally unconcerned when I read one of my favourite Canadian series in which Louise Penny’s sleuth is Armand Gamache.

Yet I kept thinking about Anna’s creator being a man. It seems I had questions about a man creating a female sleuth. There is no good reason for doubts. Each gender must be able to develop good characters of the other gender.

Margot Kinberg at her wonderful blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, had a test in a post that showed me I had little ability to distinguish male writers from female writers in anonymous short passages from their books.

When I read The Taken I was not as distracted. While the evidence would suggest Wolfe is a male author the identity is publicly anonymous. Not knowing the author’s gender made a difference in reading the book. I was more focused on the plot and was not trying to determine if Hazel sounded like a woman.

I was not reading Slaughter Falls rationally. When I read Thomas Perry’s series featuring Jane Whitfield I have not thought about the gender of the author.

I believe I influenced myself by reading about McGee’s concern in getting fair reads if it was known he was a man. I would have thought his fears were unfounded until my personal reaction while reading Slaughter Falls.

Without doing an analysis I believe I might also have been affected because I can think of far more women writing books with male sleuths than men creating female sleuths.

Going forward I am going to do my best to just concentrate on the book. As blogger, Maxine Clarke, from the excellent Petrona blog said in a comment on my review of Slaughter Falls:

To me, the gender of the author is irrelevant. I have a review going up tomorrow of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain, which is such an accurate, and wonderful, portrait of a woman on all kind of levels. Amazing that it was written by a man? No. Just someone with talent.


  1. It is interesting, then, that it is only if the author makes a big deal of gender that the reader can be distracted by this question - authors please take this into account in your publicity!

    Years ago in the UK there was a big (publishing/media industry) scandal when it turned out that one of Virago's authors was a man - an imprint for female writers. I think he might have won a prize & that's how it came out. Storms, teacups....

    I agree with you that it is impossible to tell, often, the gender of the author if you don't know it. An author can be good at characterisation or bad, it does not seem to me that a particular author is necessarily good or bad at male or female characters, they can be bad at both or good at both. (or better at one than the other).

    Quite often when an author uses initials, reviewers and commenters get the gender wrong in online discussions, etc. I see that as a compliment to the author, in a way!

    (Thanks very much for the kind mention in your post.)

  2. I think if a male author is a good writer and understands women characters, then the books should be good.

    One of my best examples of the phenomenon of a man writing about not only a woman protagonist, but about a crime against women is Arnaldur Indridason's Outrage.

    Some women reader-friends were bowled over by Indridason's writing of this book.

    This word jumble thing just became hieroglyphics. Maybe I really do need new glasses -- or an electronic microscope. Yikes.
    I do not always find this comes off successfully. Sometimes woman characters are just action figures, not developed characters or their thinking is now how most women think about certain things.

    I do not like male authors using women's names as pseudonyms. This is because still on so many "best book lists," "award nominees," "authors of books reviewed," male authors still predominate. Sometimes only male authors take up entire categories.

    I read a list posted at a good website two years ago that had the "best crime fiction of the year." There were 30 books listed, only one, by Nina Revoyr (it was good), was by a woman.

    And even in this year's mystery fiction nominations men predominated in many categories.

    So I just don't think it's fair for men to encroach on the few spots in which women manage to gain a nomination.

    Even this year's Dagger, only one woman, Asa Larsson, was nominated of six.

    And many other award nominations are a lot worse, with maybe 4 women nominated of 30 names.

  3. I just had to verify 10 times to get it right.

    We need to take vision tests to blog!

  4. Bill - What an interesting post! As I read your post and thought about the question, I wondered whether not knowing the author's gender may have played a role. To put it another way, you know that Agatha Christie and Louise Penny are women. You know that Thomas Perry is a man. So it's easier to focus on the story. On the other hand as you say, you weren't distracted by the gender question when you were reading The Taken. To me that shows that we're affected by a lot of factors when we read. Under certain circumstances, the gender of the author might make a difference. Under others it wouldn't. Just goes to show you I think what a complex process reading and absorbing a story really are.

    And thank you very much for the kind mention :-).

  5. Maxine: Thanks for the comment. You identify a good point in that the author making an issue of gender helped cause my distraction.

  6. kathy d.: Thanks for persisting and getting the comment made. If you would ever prefer to just email me go ahead.

    You raise several good points.

    I think authors using psuedonyms should use gender neutral names or better yet initials before surnames.

  7. Margot: Thanks for the comment. You are right. It is hard to identify the factors that affect reading. You aptly pointed out a contradiction in what influenced me.

  8. Interesting post Bill - and I appreciate your perspectives and those of everyone commenting. It's an interesting case for me, because I was involved a little on the fringes, with the Ngaio Marsh Award Greg/Alix won etc.

    I read both books before I knew the writer was a man. I like to hope it wouldn't have affected how I read the books to know this - but I can't be sure. For me personally, when there was all the speculation (and there was a lot in NZ literary circles) about who the writer might be, I thought it was most likely a woman. Incidentally, so did Val McDermid, who chatted to me about this while she was in NZ in 2010, as she'd just read and loved CUT & RUN.

    I appreciate Maxine's comments too - though in this case it wasn't the author making a big deal about gender, it was lots of other commentators and readers etc. So it became a big deal (in NZ at least - wasn't really a blip on the global reading scene, so I get how overseas bloggers might not comprehend that) - and the author 'came out' because of the award, and thinking it was time, and a few other things (plus with two books under his belt, both of which were well-received and acclaimed, he thought the character had more chance of standing on her own than if he'd come out prior to the first book).

    I still hope that Greg/Alix will write a third Anna Markunas novel, but we'll have to wait and see. It will be interesting for me to see whether I read it differently now knowing who the author is. It shouldn't matter, but as you've noted Bill, maybe it subconsciously affects us a little, regardless...

  9. I agree on the author using initials or a gender-neutral pseudonym.

    I have gotten confused on S.J. Bolton and S.J. Watson, which caused me to read about these authors. Some readers thought Watson was a woman due to the initials. However, I think an author's identity should be known, not secretive.

    Now to the hieroglyphics challenge to unscramble the code.

  10. Craig: Thanks for adding a direct New Zealand perspective. I hope Alix/Greg writes another Anna mystery which can be assessed simply as a book.

  11. kathy d.: Thanks for the comment. I also do not like pseudonyms.

    On the hieroglyphics I believe Maxine suggested they could be handled by tying in two random numbers.