Monday, February 11, 2008

What's In A Name?

I believe it was William Shakespeare, or maybe it was Erma Bombeck, who wrote that a septic tank by any other name would smell as sweet.

But in a world of 200 channels and 20-second sound bites names mean everything. And titles carry a good deal of weight when it comes to marketing a book. Think about it: how many times have you found yourself intrigued by a book's title to the point of picking it up and at least scanning it?

I recently received the latest copy of the Sisters in Crime Books in Print catalog for 2008. Compiled by Vicki Cameron, here is a list of the mystery titles in current publication by members of an organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of female writers in the mystery genre. It's a list of titles, and this makes for easy browsing at the breakfast table. And even a quick browse reveals one of the reasons I'm drawn to mysteries: the titles are a hoot.

I'm currently reading Casey Daniels' Don of the Dead and finding it loads of fun, but I must admit I was lured into the Pepper Martin series not only by the idea of a woman connecting with ghosts and solving a crime, but also by the alluring cover art... and the drive to read the third book in the series bearing the title Tombs of Endearment. I just can't resist.

I'm not sure exactly when mystery novels starting getting black humor titles. It might've started with Edgar Allen Poe and The Tell-Tale Heart. That Poe had quite a sense of humor. Or maybe it started when us Yanks began retitling Agatha Christie novels. Hickory Dickory Dock became Hickory Dickory Death. Oh yeah, that sells it. Then again, the British have a weakness for the hyperbole in their titles as well. Go on. Ask J.K. Rowling - she of the "Deathly Hallows." (Been watching old Doctor Who videos again, have we?)

Personally, I think it's a holdover from the heyday of pulp fiction.

Oh, how far we've come since then. I mean just look at this! It's an insult to the intelligence. Everybody knows "Hillbilly" is one word.

From the Sisters in Crime Books in Print catalog, here are some of my favorites.

Food is a common theme in mystery titles. We'll spice things up with Susan Wittig Albert's Agatha nominated Thyme of Death. If you're running late for breakfast you can grab Janet and Ron Benrey's The Final Crumpet. Of course we can all agree with Vinnie Hansen that Tang Is Not Juice. Tamar Myers offers a full menu of titles including Hell Hath no Curry, and Between a Wok and a Hard Place. And if that last one made you queasy just remember according to Selma Eichler Murder Can Spoil Your Appetite.

Animals play a large role in the mystery genre. Cats solve mysteries all the time, but Cynthia Baxter wants to know Who's Kitten Who? Dog lovers get equal time in Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis Series including Hounded to Death and Chow Down. For some reason Dachshunds have a rough time of it in mysteries. According to Selma Eichler Murder Can Depress Your Dachshund, and Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund in Blaize Clement's novel.

Not to be left out, birds are the thread in Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries including No Nest for the Wicket, Owls Well that Ends Well, and if this is getting depressing just remember We'll Always Have Parrots.

If you're still with me, plants get in on the act in Kate Collins Flower Shop Mysteries including Acts of Violets, Dearly Depotted, and remember you can always Slay It with Flowers. FTD is not amused. Neither are antiques dealers due to Gilt By Association in Tamar Myers' Den of Antiquity series. Oh well, So Faux, So Good. I guess it's just between The Ming And I. OK, I'll move on.

The delightful Rhys Bowen drops more H's than an Eastenders' marathon in her Snowdonia-based Constable Evans series including Evanly Bodies and Evan and Elle. I'm reminded of an old Scottish tune when I see J.S. Borthwick's My Body Lies Over the Ocean. And perhaps Hemingway will return from the grave to seek his revenge for Jeffrey Cohen's For Whom the Minivan Rolls.

Finally... pause for the big finish... there's one title I think needed a rethink. Lois Greiman's Unzipped, winner of the Toby Bromburg Award, tells the story of a cocktail waitress turned psychologist who is accused of murdering a client with an overdose of Viagra. The title is OK, but if it had been my book I would've named it Hard Up.

Goodnight, folks. You were wonderful.

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