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Murder, she writes

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Gary Schulze, co-owner of Once Upon a Crime mystery book store in Minneapolis, describes these books as "light, kind of like 'Murder She Wrote.' " He adds, "There are no onstage murders, though most of the time there will be a body and an investigation involved."

Margaret Maron, an award-winning mystery writer, explains that women who write traditional mysteries "are more likely to know about the preacher who has run off with the choir director" than they are to know about the mafia, international spy rings, or drug peddlers. "We're writing about the crime that might occur in a domestic setting."

Whatever the subject, Mr. Schulze finds women mystery writers often displaying more sensitivity. "They're going away from so much action-driven plot to character-driven plots. They get a better feel for the characters, adding a little bit of subtlety. They're not so in-your-face."

One fan, Amy Cloud of Bellingham, Wash., likes crime fiction by women because characters appear more deeply developed, more empathetic, more "real." Lisa Daily, a columnist in Sarasota, Fla., finds mysteries by women often "funnier and less gruesome." She adds, "You get all of the excitement of a good mystery yarn without having to endure seven nauseatingly descriptive pages of blood."

Trudy Schuett of Yuma, Ariz., praises some crime fiction by women for its "everywoman" tone.

"The characters have human problems, like eating too much junk food or money worries," she says. "The female authors seem to get the idea that a bit of romance is OK, but it doesn't necessarily have to be about sex. Male authors tend to put sex first, romance second."

She finds men "better at making a bad guy chilling and disturbing."

Jean McMillen, who owned a mystery bookshop in Bethesda, Md., for 10 years, criticizes some female authors for their "trivialization" of women. This includes talking down to them and having them deal with less-serious problems.

Women writers often offer unusual perspectives. Rochelle Krich, president-elect of Sisters in Crime, writes two series with Orthodox Jewish settings.

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