We often hear talk of how crime fiction is the social novel of today. Many of the problems faced by society are reflected back to us through the books we read. However, diversity issues still plague this genre. Things are getting better and there are more representations of diversity in both authors and characters with each passing year, but we can still use more of these lesser-heard voices within the crime fiction community. As a way of supporting and encouraging, Dru Ann, Kristopher, and I decided to center our latest Triple Post on the subject of diversity. Fittingly, we each pinpointed and covered the topic in different ways. We hope that you will enjoy our posts and that it inspires you to try something new, something outside of your everyday box.
Let’s be honest here. As a white reader, I didn’t even notice the lack of diversity in the mysteries I read. The characters were either men or women. And, raise your hand if you read Nancy Drew as a child, and thought every female sleuth was blonde and blue-eyed. I never really thought about diversity.
As a librarian, the lack of diversity in literature came to my attention with the convention call that “We Need Diverse Books”, a complaint directed at children’s books. That turned into the website and action group, http://weneeddiversebooks.org. Then, I read about the survey of publishing itself, dealing with the ethnicity of employees in the publishing field. The other day, during a Twitter chat about book recommendations, we were rudely interrupted by the hashtag #WhySoFewLibrariansofColor (I have one answer. Let’s talk about the five to six years of college to get two degrees, and the cost of that education.).
I digress, but it’s really to get to the point, what do we mean by diversity in crime fiction? Are we talking about authors who are the same ethnicity as their sleuths? Are we talking about authors who are knowledgeable enough about the culture and lives of a sleuth to write about one outside of their own personal racial or ethnic experience? Here’s how http://weneeddiversebooks.org defines diversity.
How we define diversity:
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.
I’m sure Kristopher, Dru Ann and I all took different paths in selecting our books for today. I picked three books that struck me as being diverse, either because of the author or the sleuth.
In 2012, I read and reviewed Linda Rodriguez’ Every Last Secret. Honestly? I read it because it won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. I didn’t know Linda Rodriguez was Native American and Latina. But, I appreciated her sleuth, Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, who becomes chief of police on a college campus. When there is sexual assault, theft and murder on the campus, Skeet is guided by the principles of her Cherokee grandmother. “The Cherokee are big on balance. They think imbalance allows dangerous forces into the world. I had to agree. My job was to bring this small world back into balance again.” In Every Last Secret, Rodriguez utilizes her own knowledge of Native American culture as a guiding force for her sleuth.
No one handles diversity in a police force any better than Steven F. Havill does in his Posadas County series. This series is set in a made-up New Mexico county, bordering Mexico, but it deals with all the crimes and issues of a small town police force struggling with border issues. Originally, Bill Gastner was the undersheriff in this series that started in 1991. Havill slowly introduced women and Latina women to the department, as they dealt with some racial and sexual tension. In 2002, Estelle Reyes-Guzman became the main focus of the series in the book, Scavengers, when she became undersheriff. She had grown up in Mexico, and was sent to the United States, to Posadas County, to finish high school. In the course of the series, she deals with small town and border crimes. In the latest book, Come Dark, she and the sheriff, Robert Torrez, are struggling to fill in for absent officers and staff members who are on maternity leave. Havill always manages to be up-to-date with his discussions of crime, social conditions and working issues.
I haven’t had the chance to read Naomi Hirahara’s Sayonara Slam yet, but the new Mas Arai mystery is on my current pile. Hirahara was born in California, as was her father, the model for Mas Arai. Hirahara’s father was taken to Hiroshima, Japan, as a baby. According to her website, http://www.naomihirahara.com, her father was only miles from the epicenter when Hiroshima was bombed. He married her mother in Hiroshima, and moved to California where he established himself in the gardening and landscaping trade. Her amateur sleuth Mas Arai? He is a Japanese-American survivor of Hiroshima who made his living in gardening and landscaping in the Los Angeles area until he realized he was getting too old. At the time of this book, Mas only has one client. Hirahara’s Snakeskin Shamisen won the Edgar for Best Paperback Original. Now, with Sayonara Slam, Mas Arai goes to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, Japan vs. Korea in the World Baseball Classic. The aging, widowed, quiet gardener is soon caught up in murder.
Undoubtedly, diversity in crime fiction means something different to each of us. It will be interesting to see what Dru Ann and Kristopher have to say. Thank you for stopping by the blog today. Please journey over to Dru’s Book Musings and BOLO BOOKS for further discussion of diversity in crime literature.