Genres 101: "It was a dark and stormy night…" (Today’s Lesson: Mystery)

Filed in Genres 101 , The Quirky Lover Posted on August 17, 2011 @ 2:01 pm 4 comments

As far back as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of mysteries. I mean, I always wanted to learn the rest of that story Snoopy wrote with the first line, “It was a dark and stormy night…” You just knew things were going to get good from there, right? From comics to novels, I quickly moved on in reading material but each year I still buy at least one book (ok, I’m grossly under estimating) that would be considered “Mystery”.

It’s easy to limit the category to that one title but mystery has many facets and seems to be growing in content as our world is changing. Examples of this type of novel appear in the early 1800’s but it is the master himself, the most familiar name, worldwide, that helped to bring this genre to a whole new level: Sherlock Holmes.

Since then, mystery novels have branched out to include medical thrillers, courtroom dramas, and more. So, let’s break down the differences for some of the subgenres:

Detective Fiction or Whodunit seems like it is the original form of these novels. A crime occurs, and the perpetrator must be found. These novels, for the most part, are usually starring an amateur detective. Think The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and even Sherlock Holmes was a mere consultant to the police at times. While they focus on the “who” of the crime, there is the reverse approach in novels distinguished as Howcatchem, obviously focusing on the apprehension of a previously known criminal. Hardboiled is another off shoot of the detective novel, characterized by its “unsentimental portrayal of violence and sex”, and boasting writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

The Cozy Mystery is a popular brand. I assumed that it was based on crimes in a small town or something of that nature. I was surprised at first, when I read the Wiki entry, with its description of the elements involved in the Cozy Mystery: “sex and violence are downplayed”, murders occur away from the main scene, the protagonist is a woman (college educated, etc.) with any kind of job.

More modern thrillers fall into the main heading of mystery, but can be broken down into subsections, like Medical Thrillers and Courtroom Dramas. The medical thrillers involve solving crimes, through medicine, surgery, etc. Examples shown are books by Robin Cook or The Third Pandemic by Pierre Ouellette. I think closely tied to Medical Thrillers, would be books involving forensic science or autopsies as methods of deduction, like Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell’s novels. These could also be found listed amongst Police Procedurals, which also involves search warrants, interrogations…basically micro-dissection of a criminals life or that of his/her victim.

The Courtroom Dramas focus on the intense battle between opposing lawyers, using evidence and cunning words to determine the guilt or innocence of the person on trial. John Grisham is definitely the master of Courtroom Drama!

More recent offerings in mystery or suspense type books, can also involve Tech-crimes. I read what I thought was a great take on this new era of subject matter in Jeffrey Deaver’s The Blue Nowhere. (I’m feeling a little plumped up knowing this, since it hasn’t been entered on the Wiki site yet as another subgenre, lol.) But, you can see the popularity of it, especially in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A heroine for the new age, computer savvy Lisbeth Salander takes on criminals her own way. (This book is also listed as a Locked Room mystery…where a murder is “committed under apparently impossible circumstances”.)

Historical Whodunits share the same elements as the traditional whodunit, but take place in historical times. One fantastic example of this type of book is Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

Despite this generic comment found about Crime Fiction that ‘one could argue that a crime novel is simply a novel that can be found in a bookshop on the shelf or shelves labelled “Crime”‘, it’s easy to see the wide range of mysteries available, old or new. Have I missed a particular type of mystery or suspense that you enjoy? What are your favourite types or mystery titles? I’d love to know!

About Jackie

Jackie is a quirky mom, living in Ontario, Canada. She's a bookkeeper by day and a book lover by night. She also blogs at The Novel Nation and writes occasionally for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

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  • Sullivan McPig August 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I'm not sure if they have a name, but there's the mysteries that feature famous dead people: Freud, Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins.
    The mystery series featuring Oscar Wilde as murdermystery solving genius is actually quite entertaining.
    (and Wilkie Collins''The Moon Stone' is one of the early mysteries btw and a very good one at that)

  • Wings August 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    So what does sookie stackhouse come under?

  • Stella (Ex Libris) August 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Lol, Amanda, I never would have put the Sookie Stackhouse series under mystery.. rather speculative fiction (but mainly paranormal romance).

    I also love mysteries Jackie, started with Agatha Christie and now enjoy Kathy Reichs and more thrilling chase mysteries as well 😉

  • Sheree August 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Sookie is generally found under fantasy (with the Sci-Fi books). I've never found it under Mysteries that I can recall.

    I was surprised to find that I've been reading more cozies lately: Alexander McCall Smith, Nancy Atherton, and Lilian Jackson Braun. I guess after I decided I didn't like the true crime or hard-boiled stuff, there weren't that many other places to go.

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