Plenty of subgenres fall under the "mystery" umbrella, including cozies written by Agatha Christie, humorous crime capers by Donald Westlake and Carl Hiaasen, and political thrillers by Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn.
But perhaps the most famous is the hard-boiled crime novel, written by such classic authors as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and modernized by James Ellroy, Robert B. Parker and Walter Mosley. The bad guys call women "dames" and the detectives routinely dish out as much punishment as they take.
Some Valley fans of the hard-boiled style of crime fiction have been congregating at the Poisoned Pen, a mystery bookstore in Scottsdale, every last Thursday of the month to take part in book discussions led by longtime store employee Patrick Milliken, who graduated with a degree in literature from ASU and who was initially uninterested in crime fiction.
"I really wasn't very well-read in the genre when I started at the store, but have done my best to make up for lost time," Milliken says. "I remember a great quote from (blues great) Lightnin' Hopkins when he was asked if some of the guys in his band could read music. He said 'Some of 'em do, but it don't hurt 'em none.'
"So many students of literature are spoon-fed the canon and never learn about the great stuff that exists out there on the margins," he says. "I was amazed by the sheer breadth and quality of crime fiction that's out there, and I think much of the best writing today is done in the genre."
Milliken, who has led the Hardboiled Crime Club at the Poisoned Pen for eight years, tries to diversify the books he selects for the group.
"I like to mix up classic writers such as Chandler, Hammett and (Jim) Thompson with contemporary material," he says. "One of my main goals is to select writers who perhaps aren't as well known, such as Carlo Lucarelli, Jack O'Connell, Horace McCoy and Kenneth Fearing, and I also try to pick writers from different cultures. We'll be discussing French crime novelist Jean-Claude Izzo's 'Total Chaos' and Japanese author Natsuo Kirino's 'Out' in the coming months."
Milliken says that there are a few of the club's members who have been coming to the gatherings since the beginning and adds that new members show up all the time.
"It's a lot of fun," says Milliken, "and the discussions can get very intense."