That got your attention, didn't it? We mystery readers love our mysteries. We have our favorite authors and wait excitedly for their next book (Yes, I preordered Lee Child's next Reacher novel.) We discuss the plots, characters, et cetera over lunch, by Internet, and at mystery cons (Can't wait for B-con in less than a month!) And we devour them one after another, eyeing the next one in the TBR pile as we finish the current one.
But we know they're junk. Throwaways of the literary world. Genre fiction. Passing fancies. Light reading. Something to pass the time.
Think about older mysteries. They become charming reflections of worlds past, but most of us don't read them anymore. Yes, we recognize that Christie and Sayers and Chandler were groundbreakers, but life has passed them by. They're quaint. Out-dated. There's not a CSI in sight.
Even with mysteries of only a few years ago, problems arise. I was re-reading a MS I wrote in early 2011 and realized that technology has already passed it by. The guy is lugging around a laptop so he can connect to the Internet. Yeah, right.
Themes change, too. What was spooky becomes blase, and what was groundbreaking becomes boring. We're told that vampires are out, now (thank goodness) and mermaids are in (WHAT?). Many writers rush off to chase the current trend, but sooner or later, all the crafts will be covered, all the possible serial killer scenarios will be explored, all the life-problems possible for the protagonist will be examined.
So mysteries, at least the vast majority of them, are trash. They will be tossed into landfills, left unread on library shelves, and inherited in dusty cardboard boxes by heirs who try earnestly to give them to someone, anyone. They're so much alike that we can't recall if we read this one or not, so we put a little mark somewhere inside or list it on Goodreads or try some other way to prevent wasting money re-buying an already read book. (E-readers help us keep track: a bonus for technology.) Most of us will admit that even the books of authors we like become a muddle in our heads, and we play the "Seinfeld" game with each other: "It's the one where Betty has to confront the fears of her childhood when Archibald sends her to the Caribbean to look for pirate treasure."
Oh, yes. I did read that one. Wasn't it great?
What does endure in mystery, as in any genre, is quality writing, the capturing of human interaction at its worst and best. All the clever plot devices and eccentric characters in the world can't replace the drama of man versus man (or human versus human if you prefer). Fifty or a hundred years from now, if people are captivated by any of today's mysteries, it might be to get a glimpse of our times, to chuckle at the primitve methods of crime-solving or the antiquated trappings. But if the writing is excellent, if the struggle for good is presented believably and compellingly, then that mystery will not be junk. That mystery will be a classic.