Crime fiction comes in all sorts of flavors, and it can be harder to tell one sub-genre from another than a green apple Jelly Belly from a kiwi flavored one. Luckily, publishers are savvy enough to slap titles on the books that give readers broad hints about the sub-genre. For instance, publishers like to identify cozy or traditional mysteries by using punny titles. We’ve all seen them: covers with cats, cookies or craft supplies on the front, blazoned with To Brie or Not to Brie (Avery Aames), Tressed to Kill (Lila Dare) or Crime Rib (Leslie Budewitz). We know immediately that the book will not feature assassins, dismemberments or serial killers.
Those thrillers, noir, and hard-boiled PI books—the darker side of crime fiction, if you will—tend to feature one or two word titles that hint at darkness (literal or figurative), pain and killing: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), Deal Breaker (Harlan Coben), Killing Floor (Lee Child) and Hurt Machine (Reed Farrel Coleman). Women’s suspense tends toward titles with The or A, followed by an adjective and a noun: The Lost Year (Mary Higgins Clark), The Wrong Girl (Hank Phillippi Ryan), The First Lie (Diane Chamberlain). (Gasp! I just this instant realized that my forthcoming women’s suspense title, The Reckoning Stones, fits this pattern and it definitely wasn’t on purpose. Zeitgeist? Something in the water? Eerie.) Now, don’t go listing 4,206 books in the comments section that don’t fit these molds. I am not saying that all books in a particular sub-genre have cookie-cutter titles. It’s interesting to analyze them, however. I suspect that those of you with a preference for cozy fiction find yourself attracted by punny titles again and again, while those of you who like more action inevitably go for the books with one or two word titles on the spine.
Mix and Match
I wonder what would happen if we mixed it up, if we gave traditional mysteries thriller-type titles and noir books punny titles? Using some well-known books, here are my revised versions of their titles.
Traditional Titles Thrillerfied:
- Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)/OFFTRACK
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle)/GROWL
- The Nine Tailors (Dorothy Sayers)/DEATH TOLL
Thriller Titles Punnified:
- Any Jack Reacher title (Lee Child)/OUT OF REACHER
- Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris)/FLEECE AND DESIST
- Presumed Innocent (Scott Turow)/INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN QUILTY
Somehow, I don’t think these books would attract quite the same audience with the new titles. Can you come up with more titles switcheroos? I’m offering a signed advance copy of THE READAHOLICS AND THE FALCON FIASCO for the best one.