Defining Mystery Novels

By Crime Mystery Books on May 28th, 2009

There are many different kinds of mystery novels around these days. What is a mystery novel? What makes mystery fiction books different from suspense novels, thrillers, and other crime fiction books? What makes mystery fiction unique?

I try to answer each of those questions today. We’ll see how well I do!

Most people know of the following types of mystery novels. A mystery book/story can be a ‘whodonit’, a ‘cozy mystery’, ‘police procedurals’, and ‘detective stories’. These aren’t the only types of mystery by far, because all it really takes to make a good mystery story is a mystery to be solved and someone to solve it!

Simply having a crime in a story doesn’t make it a mystery. Likewise, having a detective in a book doesn’t mean the book is a mystery.

Even the Mystery Writers of America differentiate between crime fiction and mystery fiction when they say on their website, “MWA is the premier organization for mystery and crime writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and folks who just love to read crime fiction.”

You see, it’s my belief that a mystery can be a crime fiction book, and a crime fiction book can be a mystery, but neither have to be either. :)

Mystery focuses on the solving of a crime or puzzle, using deductive reasoning and logic. Crime fiction can be about nearly anything involving criminals, crimes, and detectives. A thriller or suspense novel might not have a mystery to be solved at all, other than that of how to catch the bad guys.

Detective stories contain detectives who are trying to solve cases. Detective stories can be “hardboiled” or not.

Cozy mysteries have protagonists and antagonists that appear to be regular people living in small towns or are amateur detectives. They tend to be light on violence, in contrast to hardboiled detective stories which often contain graphic violence and greater detail.

Police procedurals focus on the details of the police work. The TV series CSI fits this category quite well!

I hope I’ve given you something to think about when it comes to mystery stories and what makes mystery fiction unique.

What are your thoughts on distinguishing mystery and crime fiction?

Want quicker, easier access to good books?

The Last Policeman  (The Last Policeman Series, #1) Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries, #1) Personal (A Jack Reacher novel)