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While reading mostly all genres and wide spread, I read a lot of crime fiction (mystery, suspense, thriller, crime fiction, true crime fiction) because I have always loved them and also for work. The working part means I read a lot about the current genre, news, publications and breaking books so my brain will notice patterns (* cough * yes, “girl” is still in the title of many books relating to adult women * cough) *). Therefore, as much as I love it that lately more authors of colored and marginalized voices are finally publishing in this genre, I am more than aware that it is only a small excursion within the huge genre that is still so much is leaving out many marginalized voices.

If the top five publishers were to put out numbers on how many detective novels they published last year with statistics on author race and marginalization, I’d be willing to bet anything – ALL – that the percentage of authors of colored and marginalized voices is a single drop in the bucket that is crime publications. Of course, I cannot offer these statistics. But I can share things that I come across regularly that make me realize that the mystery genre is still leaving out marginalized voices.

Before I dive in, I want to note that this is in no way scientific. To do this, the top publishers would have to take part in a survey and the authors would have to identify themselves, with the latter being able to venture into problematic territory. So I use what I know about authors, their biographies, interviews and articles, with the caveat that information can be left out.

I can’t do a lot of the funny summaries that I want

Let’s say I read a number of mystery books recently with the core theme that it’s a small neighborhood of people, their secrets, and there’s a murder / crime and I think, “this is going to be a fun round-up for an article or “newsletter.” Being a very popular trope in the genre, it should be a pretty good list. But can I really? And by that I mean, there are plenty of books published recently by color authors Out of My Head: No. After scrolling my Goodreads: Still No. I only have one crime thriller with a quarter full of secrets on my galley list this year: Quiet In Her Bones, I can think of four books (I have a terrible memory) that I read in 2021, like Such A Quiet Place, that go perfectly with it, but they were all, as far as I can tell, by written in white women and takes place mainly, if not entirely, in white and non-marginalized neighborhoods.

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This happens to me so often (where are my fictional true crime podcast books by color writers ?!) that instead of working like this, I have to work backwards. If I’m lucky enough to publish two AOC-written books on serial killers (The Jigsaw Man and Dead Dead Girls) in a year, I can move on with my list as adding non-marginalized authors will be super easy.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m really excited right now when I find two books at the beginning that are marginalized voices because it feels like a lot compared to before. But it’s actually pretty depressing to see how many books there are besides these two. I want to continue to be excited and happy for these premieres and the changes that are happening, but to realize that the bar is on the ground and the changes in the bigger picture are so tiny is heartbreaking.

Domestic thrillers haven’t changed since GONE GIRL

Cover for bathhouse

Gone Girl was released almost a decade ago, and the domestic thriller genre hasn’t changed much in terms of variety. Domestic thrillers are still so white and so straightforward. When a new book follows the formula of the subgenre but with gay leads, it feels fresh and completely new, although the only new thing about it is that the two leads are men in a mutual relationship. How much hasn’t the genre diversified? Here is Goodreads’ landing page for Domestic Thriller: There are, as far as I know, 15 book covers for white authors. Let’s dive a little deeper and click on “more local thriller books”. There are 50 books on this site and they are almost entirely white.

Penguin Random House compiled the post 10 Books to Read If You Love Domestic Thrillers, and it is very little of a diverse list. And Simon & Schuster have put together Domestic Thrillers as well, 15 to be precise, and this list may not have colored authors.

I haven’t looked for links to prove my point, this is just my day I click things so I looked up cozy mysteries on Goodreads out of curiosity and it’s better than native thrillers as it has at least a few of the almost 50 books are out there (look what percentage that is still not good), but while Dead Dead Girls is a great historical mystery for fans of fictional serial killers, it’s not a cozy mystery and is mistakenly on this list.

The Agatha Awards are embarrassingly not diverse

Cover from Zoe Washington's desk

Annually during the Malice Domestic Convention (the pandemic has changed this to virtual and no longer personal), the Agatha Awards are presented to honor books published in the US the previous year. In 2018 Kellye Garrett won Best First Novel for Hollywood Homicide, which came out in 2017. She was the first woman of color to win the award since 1997 (age 21!) When Sujata Massey won the award. In her acceptance speech, “Garrett encourages all of us not to see mysteries written by People of Color as trending because trends are disappearing.” Unfortunately, when looking at this year’s nominees and winners, this message has been ignored as it appears that most of these categories have no color authors.

My inbox and mailbox

My work inbox is filled with emails from publishers and publicists telling me about their books, and as you must have guessed, they are almost entirely white. I literally got an email recently with a headline about social justice thrillers so excitedly I opened it thinking there would be more books like When No One Is Watching coming out soon … and instead it was a list of Thrillers written by white men. Imagine a GIF with someone throwing their laptop out the window. I love when I get an email telling me about upcoming crime books by authors or colored and / or marginalized voices, so one thing that strikes me a lot is that it still feels like a unicorn e- Mail feels like.

My mailbox is not doing better. While unsolicited galleys petered out during most of the pandemic, they have been slowly trickling back in recently. I currently have a stack of books in my entry stack of mail that I haven’t brought to my office, and Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara is the only book out of 11 by a non-white author. It’s also the only book that isn’t technically unsolicited since I asked for an egalley. Before the pandemic, I could actually open a bookstore with just the uninvited galleys I get, and it would be the most diverse bookstore ever.

I could unfortunately give further examples. I enjoy my job so much reading so many great books, but there is also a deep and constant frustration of seeing how much doesn’t change, is just window dressing, or the line has been purposely moved to keep the status quo. Ultimately, the big publishers, the big publishers, have to make the very real and necessary changes in the crime genre.

Cover for the fire attendant's daughter

For now, let me leave you with some great moments from the year: Reese Witherspoon’s book club picked Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter and because it got the marketing and attention, check out all the great things that have happened; Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Dial A For Aunties had a good marketing campaign and an adaptation contract has already been signed; SA Cosby’s Razorblade Tears was a finalist in Jimmy Fallon’s Summer Reads 2021; Stacey Abrams released While Justice Sleeps in the very masculine and very white genre of political thriller, and it actually appears in the top scroll bar of Google search results when you search for “Politics Thriller Books”.

I’d like to go to a place where those rare moments aren’t celebrated and a large part of my job isn’t looking for crime thrillers by colored writers and diverse voices as if they were unicorns.