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Solve the mystery: Why are mysteries are so present at the Tucson Festival of Books?

Courtesy Karen Odden
Karen Odden is mystery writer who will be speaking about historical mysteries at the 2019 Tucson Festival of Books.

The Tucson Festival of Books will literally be surrounded in mystery. 

The festival will be at the University of Arizona on March 2nd and 3rd and has numerous various mystery panels scheduled on both days. 

Chris Burke, the chairperson of the mystery genre for the Book and Author Committee for the festival, estimated 25 to 35 mystery vendors will be at the festival.   

Burke has been involved with the festival for 10 years and she has not noticed a sudden increase in popularity in the genre over the years. 

“Mystery has remained a very popular genre,” Burke said. . 

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Bill Adams is the presiding chair for Arizona Mystery Writers, a club of mystery readers and writers whose goal is to share enthusiasm for the genre and support literacy in southern Arizona through writing contests. 

Arizona Mystery Writers will have a booth at the fair. The booth will be staffed by mystery writers and handing out information about their story writing contests.

Adams said mystery novels first sparked interest across a wide audience after the 1887 relase of Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes.” This enabled other popular series, like “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” to also be widely popular later on. 

Adams said mystery has always been popular, with increasing traffic at their booth every year. He partially credits the continued popularity of mystery novels to TV shows. 

“An investigator pieces together clues and identifies the killer using evidence-based reasoning,” Adams said. “The mystery is like logical problem-solving and that’s its basic attraction. People love puzzles.  If, along the way, the reader learns some historical facts, visits some interesting locations, or meets some engaging characters, so much the better. ”

Adams viewed writing and reading mysteries differently. 

“For writers, mysteries, I hate to say this, it’s a formula,” Adams said. “It’s always hard to write a good one, but the formula is there.” 

Karen Odden is a presenting mystery author at the 2019 festival.

“I think the magic thing about mystery is they’re all about backstory,” said Odden. “I like starting from a point and tracing steps back. Where does the tragedy begin?”

There is also something almost cathartic about reading mystery, according to Odden.

“Most mysteries, even if they don’t have a happy ending, there’s a sense of justice restored,” Odden said. “I think that we like that because the world is pretty messy right now.”

Odden will be at the Murder by Gaslight panel with Donis Casey in the Tucson Room in the Student Union on Saturday, March 2 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. They will be discussing the use of historical setting in their mysteries.  

Odden said a unique aspect of her books is the time period: they’re all set in 1870s England.  

“I do tons of research,” she said. “When I was doing my Ph.D. I was researching Victorian railway disasters, which is what I used for my first book.” 

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Adams said another possible reason for mystery’s popularity is people’s inherent curiosity about other people. 

“People can seem like mysteries,” he said. “We say hello and goodbye, but who are those people? What do they really think? Everyone has secrets. We want to know other people’s secrets so we won’t feel so alone.”

To see the schedule of mystery panels, visit the 2019 Presenting Author Schedule at the Tucson Festival of Books website.

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