Monday, April 27, 2015

Word Count Van Helsing, Part Four

The James Gang. More Supporting Material Regarding the Creeping Growth of Mystery Novels.

As I noted in my previous posts, the word count of mysteries began to balloon in the 1980s with the short mystery novel disappearing. Between 1900 and 1979, the median* word count for those novels recognized as being part of the top 100 mystery novels by the Crime Writers' Association and the Mystery Writers of America association, stood at 71,915. After 1980, the median was 90,609. 

*Median means that half of the entries had fewer words, half had more.

I facetiously linked this trend to James Michener and James Lovell whose non-mystery novels, in 1980-81, dominated the New York Times Adult Fiction Best Sellers List filling the number one position for a combined thirty-nine weeks. Their novels ran 505,067 and 414,079 words, respectively.

Perhaps this trend towards increasing length can be best expressed by examining the career of another James: P.D.

Here are the years and book sizes for P.D. James's first ten novels.

Year, title, pages, unabridged audiobook length, estimated word count.
1962, Cover Her Face, 254 pages, 405 minutes, 61,520 words
1963, A Mind to Murder, 224 pages, 410 minutes, 62,279 words.
1967, Unnatural Causes,  278 pages, 510 minutes, 77,469 words.
1971, Shroud for a Nightingale, 315 pages, 590 minutes, 90,418 words.
1972, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, 240 pages, 562 minutes, 85,368 words.
1975, The Black Tower, 288 pages, 588 minutes, 88,788 words.
1977, Death of an Expert Witness, 322 pages, 692 minutes, 105,115 words.
1980, Innocent Blood, 434 pages, 715 minutes, 108,594 words.
1982, The Skull Beneath the Skin 384 pages, 953 minutes, 144,761 words.
1986 A Taste for Death, 480 pages, 1344 minutes, 204,127 words.

To some extent, this might be a sign of her maturing as a writer, ready and willing to take on more complex storytelling. And yet, 200,000 plus words was virtually unseen in mystery writing since the 19th century.

The 2015 Edgars.

The 2015 Edgar Awards will be announced on Wednesday night of this week (April 29). One of the nominees for Best Mystery Novels is relatively short (71849 words) and would be the shortest winner since 1989. For the First Novel award, one is genuinely short (Shovel Ready) and two more moderately short (71K words). Will the 132,000 word book win? Will one of three relatively short novels in the Debut category pull out a victory? We will see if the trend towards engorgement continues.

 2015 Edgar Award Nominees.

Best Mystery Novel
This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash, 256 pages, 473 minutes, 71849 words.
Wolf, Mo Hayder. 417 pages, 813 minutes, 123495 words.
Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King, 449 pages, 862 minutes, 138127 words.
The Final Silence, Stuart Neville, 353 pages, 684 minutes, 103900 words.
Saints of the Shadow Bible, Ian Rankin, 416 pages, 651 minutes, 98887 words.
Cop Town, Karin Slaughter, 466 pages, 872 minutes, 132457 words.

First Novel
Dry Bones in the Valley, Tom Bouman, 289 pages, 473 minutes, 71849 words.
Invisible City, Julia Dahl, 305 pages, 469 minutes, 71241 words.
The Life We Bury, Allen Eskens, 306 pages. (no audiobook)
Bad Country, C.B. McKenzie, 303 pages, 637 minutes, 96760 words.
Shovel Ready, Adam Sternbergh, 258 pages, 411 minutes, 62431 words.
Murder at the Brightwell, Ashley Weaver, 336 pages, 702 minutes, 106634 words.

Word counts estimated from audiobook length, except for Mr. Mercedes, which came from


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