So that's straight genre. You know what you get. But what about the cross-breeds?
First up is Minette Walters The Shape of Snakes This is psychological mystery/detective story, with the added trappings of "real crime" - letters, photos, computer records. And it is absolutely gripping. At its centre is the death of "Mad Annie", an eccentric, mentally ill woman living in London in 1973. Her former neighbour, the amateur detective in the case, returns after many years away and seeks finally to solve the "case", not that anyone else who lived in the street or was associated with the death sees it as such, or at least wants to admit it as such. Gradually, however, the realities are peeled back, and much rot is revealed beneath polite suburban surfaces.
Then there's The Time Traveler's Wife, a novel published this year to considerable critical attention. It could easily be billed as science fiction - at its centre is a man who is shifted back and forth through time - something over which he has absolutely no control, and this "fact" is given a serious, scientific explanation. It is a conceit that works brilliantly. To manage this naturalistically, in a manner that the reader comes to suspend disbelief and really feel for the man's plight, is an outstanding task.
Yet this is not being billed as sci-fi, but a love story, which it is, but that is very much the weaker part of the book - soppy, Hollywoodish and fairytalish. But perhaps because women are perceived to like "romance", and they buy far more books than men, "romance" is the label it wears.
So what conclusions have I drawn from this sample across a range of classic beach reading? "Pure" genre done well can be a joy, but a blend of the same quality is always going to be richer and more gripping, just because you're never sure how the yarns will come together into the whole fabric.
*This is my long-delayed review of my holiday reading. Very alert readers of my home blog Philobiblon may recall I promised it about two months ago. Such a pity they haven't yet invented a conduit between your head and the keyboard that doesn't require use of the fingers. But phew; now I can finally remove that reproaching pile from the corner of my desk.