The Ultimate Guide to Mystery Books

mystery-booksHow much do you know about the genre subsets of mystery books?

Literary genres are labels that characterize the elements a reader can expect in a work of literature. Genres are determined by the subject matter, style, tone, and narrative technique used by an author, and to a degree some set of stylistic criteria used by critics to define genre.

Mystery novels, of course, fall under the major literary genre fiction. But mystery books can be categorized under any number of different crime fiction genre subsets, also known as common genres. To name a few traditional mystery sub-genres, there are

  • Cosy mysteries (or “cozies”) – A sub-genre in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community, often featuring an amateur detective as the sleuth.
  • Hard-boiled (or “detective fiction”) – A sub-genre characterized as graphic, gruesome and unsentimental. These contain details of the crimes committed, which are often violent or sexual in nature and often feature psychopaths, serial killers, and detectives (generally private detectives) with deeply flawed characters.
  • Legal dramas – A sub-genre where the story revolves around courtroom procedure related to the crime or where the main focus of the detective work falls on an attorney or legal team and the details of the crime are revealed as the court case proceeds.
  • Police procedural – A sub-genre where the focus is on the work of the police to identify the perpetrator and a main character who is usually a police detective and which often includes lots of detail about crime detection, interview and forensic techniques.

The above list is not exhaustive but is only representative of major mystery fiction sub-genres. The thing that all mystery novels have in common, regardless of sub-genre, is a story that involves a crime (usually a murder or other mysterious death) to be solved. Mysteries also typically have a lineup of suspects, each of whom has a credible motive and reasonable opportunity for committing the crime, and a central detective character who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts fairly presented to the reader.

Mystery books can also be categorized as “Whodunits” or “Howcatchems.” Whodunits are stories where the aim is to discover, with the aid of clues, the perpetrator of the crime. In Howcatchems however, the identity of the perpetrator is revealed at the outset and the stories focus on how the detective finds the clues and catches the perpetrator.

As a reader, it isn’t really necessary to be able to discriminate between crime fiction sub-genres to enjoy mystery books. But being able to do so can make it easier to quickly find the kind of mystery books you enjoy reading. Authors on the other hand need a good knowledge of mystery fiction sub-genres to properly classify and effectively market their books.

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