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Sisters in Crime Solves Your Mystery Problems

by Cari Dubiel

*This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of RA News.*

Who doesn’t love a whodunit? According to Library Journal’s 2015 materials survey, mysteries are the top circulating genre in both print and e-books, and they circulate well in rural, suburban, and urban libraries. Mysteries are so popular that there's a good chance many of your patrons are fans. And the mystery of how to find one is solved: look no further than Sisters in Crime.

National Organization for Mystery Lovers

SinC is a national organization for mystery lovers of all types: writers, readers, librarians, and even editors, publicists, and agents. It was founded by author Sara Paretsky, who had noticed mysteries by women weren’t reviewed, let alone nominated for awards. After conferring with others who felt the same, they officially created the Sisters in Crime organization in 1987. Over time, it has grown into a vibrant community. Famous members include Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard, Carolyn Hart, Dorothy Cannell, and more.

Sisters in Crime has a national board and chapters at the local level. Local chapter members must be members of National, but local chapter membership is optional. I have been the Library Liaison to the national board since 2012. We have a booth at ALA every year, and we have also put together popular panels at PLA. Sisters in Crime has a strong commitment to libraries. I am a member, but membership is not necessary to take advantage of its benefits.

Grants (and more!) for Libraries

On the national level, SinC offers a monthly drawing for a $1000 grants called We Love Libraries. To qualify, a librarian simply uploads a photo of staff posing with books by SinC authors. The grants must be used for collection development, but other than that, there are no stipulations on the money. Format or type of book doesn’t matter. You can even use it to buy non-mysteries (but why would you want to?). There are also no restrictions on the type of library that can win.

The local chapters around the country have their own governing boards; you can find a list of them on the national Sisters in Crime website, and also see who’s listed in their directory of members. This is a great way to find local authors for programs in your library. To extend your reach, consider Skype talks – I’m involved in NEOSinC, which stands for Northeast Ohio Sisters in Crime. I’ve also helped a NEOSinC author, Kylie Logan, talk to book groups in Texas, while authors from other states have talked to my book groups in Ohio.

If your library serves writers, your local SinC chapter is also a good place to find presenters. Local chapters love to put on writing workshops, and pairing with libraries is a win-win situation for both. I have run the writers’ group at Twinsburg Public Library for many years, and once I started partnering with SinC, my writers had opportunities to learn from published authors. Last year, we hosted a publicist and an editor, and we are planning a joint writers’ retreat for the fall. SinC members have access to continuing education through various events around the country, a subsidy for classes at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and online classes through the Guppies, an Internet chapter for unpublished writers. They don’t even need to be mystery writers to join.

SinC is a great resource for collection development, too. Mystery selectors should visit the SinC website regularly for announcements and reviews of must-haves by our authors. Books by Sisters in Crime members run the gamut from creepy thrillers to laugh-out-loud cozies. Read on for some suggestions.

Must-Have Suggestions

Thrilling Debuts: M.P. Cooley’s Ice Shear gives us jaded police officer June Lyons, a survivor with a dry sense of humor. She’s still recovering from the recent death of her husband. Back in the small town where she grew up, June is pulled into a murder case that spirals into FBI territory, her old stomping grounds. Her background is helpful, but her history with the agent involved opens old wounds. In Lori Rader-Day’s debut The Black Hour, which was nominated for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award, college professor Amelia Elliott deals with a broken past. Ten months after being shot in front of a class, Amelia must find out why the gunman, who didn’t know her, targeted her and then turned the gun on himself. In Carved in Darkness, author Maegan Beaumont paints a dark picture in the story of Sabrina Vaughn, an investigator who was kidnapped and assaulted as a young woman. Sabrina has no intention of revisiting her buried secrets, but when a childhood friend re-enters her life, she is forced to confront her attacker.

Double Lives: Many SinC authors write in two genres or under two names. Ohio author Amanda Flower writes the Amish Quilt Shop mysteries under the name Isabella Alan. She’s also published several other titles under her own name, including the charming Agatha Award nominee Maid of Murder, which features a librarian as the sleuth. Flower’s Andi Unexpected, a middle-grade novel, was nominated for the Agatha in 2014. SinC National president Catriona McPherson took the Anthony Award last year for As She Left It, a dark tale of a woman haunted by her past. She also writes the Dandy Gilver series, light Downton Abbey read-alikes set in 1920s England, starring a bored socialite looking for excitement in solving local crimes. Chicago writer Clare O’Donohue reels us in with her Kate Conway series, starting with Missing Persons. O’Donohue has a background as a television producer, and her portrayal of reality TV filming is compelling and accurate. Her double life is also apparent in the Someday Quilts series; O’Donohue was a producer for a quilt show on HGTV.

Historical Homicide: For centuries, London has been a popular location for gritty crimes, and SinC members thrive in that setting. Set in the fourteenth century, Jeri Westerson’s enthralling Crispin Guest series begins with Veil of Lies, which was shortlisted for the Macavity and Shamus awards. These novels mix history and noir for intriguing thrill rides through time. One of our Misters in Crime, Sam Thomas, takes us to the seventeenth century to meet midwife Bridget Hodgson. The character is based on a real midwife Thomas came across in research for his doctoral dissertation, and in The Midwife’s Tale and more Midwife Mysteries, she comes to life. Another educator, college professor Susanna Calkins, brings us seventeenth-century chambermaid Lucy Campion in From the Charred Remains. Lucy doesn’t mean to have anything to do with murder, but as events unfold around the home where she works for the magistrate, she can’t help but investigate.

A solution to a puzzle is a satisfying ending. We start books with questions, and we want to leave them with answers. Perhaps that’s why mysteries are so popular -- even romances, science fiction, and literary fiction (to name a few) use mysterious elements. Sisters in Crime serves as a resource to readers who wish to search for those answers in the many worlds our authors create.

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Cari Dubiel is the Computer Services Manager at Twinsburg Public Library in Twinsburg, Ohio.  She is the Library Liaison for the national board of Sisters in Crime, as well as the co-host of the ABC Book Reviews Podcast).