What A Mystery

So, in continuing our discussion of genre structure we’ve hit mystery, which is almost as much of a problem as science fiction/fantasy.

I’m not sure why these two genres have moved off so far into different structures, except that for a long time they were very popular and everyone read them. But then why hasn’t romance done that?  And it hasn’t.  Other than certain touch points like one will have explicit blow by blow (eh) sex and the other not the structure of all romances is fairly similar.  (You need a little more scene setting in historical, but that’s about it.)

I don’t know.  All I know is that everything from thrillers to cozies gets shoved under mystery, so we’re going to spend a while going over each of the subgenres.  We’ll have to do the same for sf/f, so bear with me.

So, in this post I’m going to identify various subgenres (and will probably miss some) by their central, most obvious characteristic, then leave the detailed structure to do one by one or two by two in future posts.  I’ll inevitably forget one or two subgenres, so please, people, remind me.

Thriller –

There is a big menace on the loose.  This can be a country or a person.  Someone is seriously endangered by this.  It’s kind of like tracking the hunt from the pov of the deer and hoping the deer wins.

It has sub genres:

Women in Peril, often a romance subgenre.  The woman is the one in peril.  She might or might not be involved with the detective trying to save her.  It might also be a woman detective who has a past of a similar death in her family.  These often end badly, but not when they’re part of romance, obviously.

International espionage – I don’t need to explain this, right?

It can overlap with scientific thriller or police procedural.

This is the structure most often ported outside the genre, like to science fiction, particularly hard science fiction.

Police Procedural

Your main characters are police, and it aims to be “realistic”.  It’s of course not realistic, because reality includes a lot of boring things.  The police are USUALLY the good guys.  Crimes get solved.  Mood is often brutal or dingy.

it has subgenres. They’re not VERY distinct, unlike Thriller’s.

Female police detective – often comes with a lot of psychological thriller elements, in that the vulnerability of the female officer translates to elements of WIP.

Noir – Often historical.

Almost cozy – while the police procedural is there, it backs off that and into the psychological makeup of the police officer.

Technical – think CSI.  this is where we become obsessed about pain transfer and particles in a living room.

Cozy

The characters and their relationships are more important than the crime.  Or at least that’s how you solve the crime.  Derided by … won’t say idiots… for not being realistic (look, bub, it’s fiction) it’s the most popular type of mystery.  Attempts to eliminate it result in its splitting off into things like craft mysteries.

It has subgenres.  Oh, boy, does it ever:

Romance- First and foremost, it’s often found as a subplot in romance.  It also usually HAS a romance subplot.  Agatha Christie the grandmama of the genre had detectives who tried to  help couples.

Woman in Peril and ALMOST romance – Any of Patricia Wentworth’s books.  The emphasis is more on the mystery/peril than the romance, but it’s a dang close call.

Craft mystery – this is what happened when they tried to stop publishing cozies for being unrealistic (!)  It just became craft mysteries because the “craft knowledge allows the amateur to solve the murder.”  Yeah.  And I have some beach front property in florida.

Profession mystery – Carolyn Hart and her booksellers mysteries is an example, but there’s mysteries with hotels, restaurants and various stores.  I know there were programmer mysteries, at one type, wonder if there still are.

Location mystery – Can’t go on vacation? Want to live with the rich and famous?  Well, there’s Caribbean mysteries, and various college mysteries, and Hollywood mysteries.

Under this perhaps we should slip Historical Mysteries.  They’re a location and a time, and they have a structure of their own.  There is also some wisdom in picking location and time.

Buddy mysteries – dynamic duos can feature in any kind of mystery, but there is a particular kind of cozy people will tell you aren’t cozies, like say Nero Wolf Mysteries.  I mean, the characters are MEN and one even gets in fights.  But if you look at the structure they’re cozies.  This dynamic duo thing even has a structure of its own, both re: the relationship of the two characters, and their roles.  They don’t need to be same sex or buddies.  Agatha Christie used it for Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple.  And I arguably used it for the Musketeer Mysteries, an historical.  All the same, because of the variation of structure called for, it should be covered on its own.

Psychological mysteries – often focus more on the crime than the solution and creates a “certainty” with its psychological “tech” than is normally warranted by a soft science.  I was nonetheless addicted to these as a kid.  Like the Police Procedural, the hard part is seeming “realistic.”

YA Mysteries – can be any of the other types, but the protagonists are children, the crime is rarely a murder, and there’s a certain structure to them.

Mystery short stories – These are a completely different genre, in that just being about a crime is enough.  There need not be a solution.  In such they often become “crime and punishment” (or lack thereof) morality ( or lack thereof) plays.

Mystery adjacent – True crime.  Stories based on true crimes, often owe more to psychological mysteries than acknowledged.

 

 

 

78 Comments

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78 responses to “What A Mystery

  1. I keep making the mistake of writing short mysteries. (Two pro markets? What am I thinking?) I hope you’ll have time to address the structure idiosyncrasies of the short mystery,

  2. So I think this means my current series is a Technical Buddy Romance Location Short Story (novelette) series. On Mars.

    I see it as a challenge…

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    IMO some Police Procedural stories aren’t “Real” Mysteries as the reader knows “who done it” while the Police don’t know or need evidence to prove “who done it”.

    There the appeal isn’t “guessing who did it” but in the “battle of wits” between the police trying to find the evidence and the murderer working against the police.

    • IIRC, all the episodes of the TV show “Columbo” were of that mold. We see the murder, then we watch “Columbo” solve it – or at least annoy the murderer into confessing just to no longer have to deal with “Just one more thing.”

      • Yes. The mystery is “How does he solve it? What does he see?” We not only watch the murder, we watch the murderer meticulously cover it up. We KNOW there are no clues to find. Yet he finds them.

        I also contend that many Columbo episodes were science fiction, or borderline. The coverup often involved things that were advanced technology in their day: answering machines, photo editors, traffic cameras, etc.

        • Yep. Also tech mysteries often get it wrong. No, seriously. Don’t watch one where the tech is soemthing you know.

          • Mea culpa. So far, no one has called me out on the science in my mysteries, but it’s only a matter of time. My knowledge is no deeper than Wikipedia research.

          • That time Dick Francis tried to write a suspense novel about computer technology.

            • “Basic is one of the best programming languages.”

              • What are the parameters of “best?” I use MS free VB Net for quick and dirty apps at work, and before than used QBasic, and before that GW Basic, and before that the Basic that ran on 8″ floppy disks on a Tandy 4D. I have programmed in DBase, C, C++, and tinkered with 8088 Assembly (using Debug, no less), but have practically forgotten all of it except the Basic. A type of VB Basic shows up in scripts for MS products, and LibreOffice uses a near version. So, for something quick and dirty and non-complex, Basic is the best for me. I wouldn’t want to try and write a spreadsheet with it, but for simple stuff it’s pretty quick.

                Will say that MS Net was frustrating enough that I did almost try C again. MS Net tries to be C like enough that if I had to write it in a quasi-C, I might as well go full C.

                • I was “quoting” from the Dick Francis book, referenced earlier. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t something an expert would say. Not without a lot of qualifications, anyway.

                • Mary

                  Visual Basic is not even closely related to BASIC. A more reasonable quote: “It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.”

                  • Yep. VB is C# with a different syntax – and C# is C++ with the “dangerous” stuff lopped off.

                  • (Looks at book case at a BASIC structured programming textbook)

                    I would disagree. Yes, BASIC has spaghetti code if you write it that way. I did gosubs as functions, then actual functions in QBasic. I’d say most of good programming is copious use of comments, because when you look at the code several years later, most likely you won’t remember your logic at the time.

              • For big projects and “deep” stuff, no (I know, you are quoting) but the great utility of Basic was (was! note tense) its universality and ease of just banging out a short one-off to check this or that.

            • TRX

              “Twice Shy?”

              He wrote that in 1980. He absolutely nailed the state of the art at the time.

          • Draven

            yes, in tech mysteries, more often than not, expect their knowledge of firearms to come from reading The Brady Campaign and Everytown For Gun Safety’s web sites.

        • That is called a reverse mystery. Freeman Wills Croft pioneered the subgenre with a bunch of them. Crime and Punishment too.

        • drloss

          For me some of the best examples of police procedural/cozy books are the old K.C. Constantine Mario Balzic series. Or more properly, the Rocksburg series, as Balzic retires just past the half-way point in the series. You always knew just who had done the crime long before the mid-point of the book, but you were paying rapt attention to learn how the protagonist navigated the various conflicting jurisdictions/bureaucracies/political fiefdoms to enact something resembling justice.

    • Yeah, but that shades into thriller, kind of. Yeah, known and unknown perps are different structures.

  4. Uncle Lar

    Strikes me that Charlaine Harris has one foot firmly planted in the cozy camp and the other settled nicely in urban fantasy. Thing is you can sometimes be half done with one of her books before you know which one you’re in.
    Similarly, one of our own does a very nice blend of UF and police procedural in one of her series and does the UF/cozy dance in another. Waiting patiently for moar please, Ms. Green.

    • Kay Hooper is another one who does a lot of blend—in her case, it’s paranormal thriller with psychic detectives. (A common complaint of this group is “it’s not nearly as easy as you’d think.”) She also does paranormal romance with thriller elements, and it is actually easy to tell the difference, because genre.

  5. carlton mckenney

    Where would you place the JDRobb “Murder” series? Procedural, SF, Cozy, Buddy,…?

    • Hunting Guy

      And to tag along, where do the Mike Hammer stories go?

      Is there a “Hard boiled detective” genre?

      • Of course. I just forgot to list it.

      • The Mike Hammer Collection is on Amazon:

        Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,299 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

        #261 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Crime Fiction > Noir
        #816 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Hard-Boiled
        #1174 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Hard-Boiled

        …because Genre is also defined as “where customers will look for something like this”. So, this is where customers are looking for Mike Hammer.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      In general, IMO the Eve Dallas (In Death) series is Police Procedural.

      There’s some SF elements in it but some of the stories could be set “Today”.

      There’s elements of “Buddy Story” both between Eve & Roarke and between other characters.

      I can’t see it as “Cozy” as none of the characters strike me as cozy. 😉

      • The latest J. D. Robb in the Eve Dallas series is:

        Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

        #17 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Mystery & Suspense > Mystery
        #29 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals
        #35 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals

        Guess that tells you where the customers expect to find it.

    • Don’t read it, so I can’t tell. Maybe someone else can.

  6. Christopher M. Chupik

    “explicit blow by blow (eh) sex”

    Quite literally, in some cases. 😀

  7. Max

    I was hesitant to create a post that effectively said “I think there are more” right up until noticed again that bit of your post that said “… please, remind me.” at which point I thought, “Well, I know of four structural subgenres in mystery that aren’t mentioned here.” One you did touch on a bit, but there are four structural subgenres that every mystery falls into, each one being a case of you’re one or the other. Like I said, these are structural, owing to how they impact the narrative and how the mystery is told, but they do create an instant four-way diagram between mysteries (AB, Ab, aB, ab) that serves as a good codifier for any mystery.

    The first are Open and closed mysteries. This is the one you did reference with the whodunnit. An open mystery is one in which the audience knows who committed the crime, but the characters in the book do not. IE, the book begins with the murder/crime/whatever, so the audience knows who did it. They just might not know why. Usually the thrill there is watching the protagonist solve the mystery, or learning why the crime was committed. The alternative here is, of course, the closed mystery, sometimes call the “audience in the dark” option, where they know only what the protagonist does.

    The second subgenre structure that all mysteries fall into is concealed or revealed. This has to do with how clues are given to the audience. A concealed mystery is one wherein the clues are kept from the audience in order to keep them from deciphering the mystery on their own (Personally, I don’t like this type). Any time a chapter concludes with something like “I saw the clue, and I knew who the murderer was” but doesn’t tell the audience what that clue was, or leaves a clue vague or undefined, it’s a concealed clue. For anyone who asks why a mystery would do this, it’s so that a simpler mystery can be made harder to solve for the audience, or so an author doesn’t need to come up with the details of their mystery.

    Revealed, by contrast, makes sure that the audience gets every clue that the protagonist does and in the same amount of detail, this allowing them to put the puzzle together in their own mind. This puts a lot more pressure on the creator to make the mystery a genuine puzzle, for a mystery that’s too easy to solve will be figured out. At the same time, if the majority of the audience figures the mystery out around the same time that the protagonist(s) do, most of them tend to be thrilled. Those that are right get to feel smart, while those who didn’t figure it out get to go “OOOooooh! So that’s who was behind it!

    If you’ve ever seen the TV show Psych, it’s actually a great example of both concealed and revealed, as the first few seasons of the show were all revealed mysteries, with all the clues shown to the audience in the same context the protagonist saw them in, and then the writers got tired and start swapping over to concealed mysteries (including literal moments where the characters would point at something behind set scenery and exclaim “Hey, look at this!” while never showing it to the audience until the finale recap).

    Anyway, from a narrative and structural point, I’ve found those four subgenres (or classes, maybe?) to be enlightening with mysteries. Being able to say “Well, this was a closed, revealed mystery” or “Hey, this is an open, concealed mystery” really tends to categorize mysteries quite well.

    • Those aren’t subgenres. Those are …. structures. Each of the subgenres favors one. For instance Thrillers tend to be open mysteries. you know who done it, the point is catching them. Before they catch you. Some police procedurals also. (about half.) BUT no one says I’m going to buy an open mystery. They say a cozy. See the difference?

      • Max

        This could be a regional thing then, because I’ve only ever heard someone refer to a mystery as a “cozy” online, but I have heard people say “Oh, I really liked this. It was concealed but the plot was really cool anyway.”

        It is a structural thing, but it very neatly divided mysteries cleanly. I think the difference here is in approach. You’re thinking of setting as the basis for genre, while I’m going for structure.

        Again, could be a regional thing.

        • but it’s a division that falls into all genres, and no, I’ve never heard those referred to as genres, nor are they in the listings on Amazon.

          • Max

            Even if Amazon doesn’t acknowledge them, they are still distinct codifiers among mystery as a genre that are synonymous with mystery and serve to break down distinctions between different types of mysteries. Just as you can have “erotic” romance and “Historical” romance, each following its own rules, all mysteries are going to be judged based on whether they’re open or closed, concealed or revealed, even if the reader doesn’t know the terms for them. Call it a master classification within the genre, or anything else, but it can’t be ignored: all mysteries will pick one or the other of the two and operate by those rules, and readers who enjoy one for the type of narrative it presents may dislike another for presenting the opposite approach.

            Even if you don’t want to call it a form of subgenre classification, it’s a distinction that divides all mystery novels, stories, movies, etc, from one another and should be acknowledged by at least the writer in any form of mystery.

            • I didn’t say they weren’t codifiers, and sure they influence the structure, but the way they influence the structure is different for cozies or hardboiled of any of that. Does that make sense? I can touch on them within the sugenre.

              • Max

                Yes, it does. I think I do see what you’re saying, and I believe we may just be coming at the same thing from very different directions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but on your end of things, you’re looking at the genre as a function of the setting, characters, and approach in that order. Such as Cozy—it’s about the characters, or Police Procedural, where it’s about being semi-realistic in the world of “true crime” (an oft-oxymoron, as pointed out). I seem to be approaching the genre as a function of approach, setting, and characters, in that order. So I look at whether a mystery is open/closed, revealed/concealed, and then look at setting, character, etc. So it’s not a Detective Noir, it’s a closed/revealed Detective Noir, or an open/concealed “cozy” (I’ve still never used that term, which again may be regional because the closest I ever got to that definition was what I always read of as “neighborhood mysteries”).

                • Kind of. What defines genre is what happens, what can happen, and what emphasis is put on it. ANY mystery can be “concealed” or “open” perpetrator. Open is more common in Thriller and WIP and rarer in Cozy, but it’s not a DISTINGUISHING characteristic of a genre such as defined by Amazon or bookstores. The reason I’m doing genre is PARTLY because of the Amazon classifications. Most of us are at least partial indies. If you put your book under the wrong classification, say ‘romance” because “I have a couple who falls in love” even though the structure and emphasis is all wrong, you’re not going to find your audience, and you’re going to get a lot of people mad at you.

            • Max, Max, Max. Before you start trying to teach Sarah about writing, you ought to re-read her first sentence and try to understand what she wrote. It isn’t difficult. “So, in continuing our discussion of genre structure we’ve hit mystery. . . .” GENRE STRUCTURE. FOR MYSTERY.

              To help you understand what the sub-genre categories of mystery happen to be — since you don’t seem to believe Sarah — check out this link: http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/genres.shtml

              As for your examples, as Sarah said, those have more to do with the structure of the mystery, not with the form or sub-genre. The fact that you did not recognize a “cozy” as a sub-genre simply shows that you are not as familiar with them as you seem to believe. These sub-genres are not something created by Amazon but have been around much longer. However, it is essential for a mystery writer to be familiar with what they are so they can tag their work properly.

    • Whether it is or isn’t a genre or subgenre convention, or codifier of same, isn’t really the issue. The point of the post is to help writers understand better how to put their books on Amazon in order to find readers. So until Amazon starts using open, closed, concealed, and revealed as keywords, those aren’t really germane to the discussion.

    • Mary

      There’s good reason why your ‘revealed” is usually known as “fair-play whodunit.”

  8. “YA Mysteries – can be any of the other types, but the protagonists are children”

    Interesting. In my experience, YA involves teenagers, not children, well, excepting Encyclopedia Brown. Comments?

    • “Children” is a relative term, maybe?

    • Sigh. I should have said “are under the age of legal adults.” Children mysteries were a staple of my youth (Enid Blyton) which skewed my word choice.

    • Zsuzsa

      I’m not sure I would classify Encyclopedia Brown as “mysteries” per se. I would have called them “puzzle books”: five page, textual versions of a “what’s wrong with this picture” comic. There never seemed to be a real sense of “what’s going on here” that I get from mysteries. I enjoyed them but in a different way from the way I enjoyed Nancy Drew or Boxcar Children.

      In terms of other YA mysteries, I remember the “detective” characters being pretty much all ages from Benji of the Boxcar Children, whom I think was about 6, all the way up to Nancy Drew, a grizzled veteran at age 18.

      • Amazon classifies Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective as:

        Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,672 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

        #14 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children’s eBooks > Mysteries & Detectives > Detectives
        #211 in Books > Children’s Books > Mysteries & Detectives
        #427 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children’s eBooks > Literature & Fiction

  9. Nancy Atherton, who writes the Aunt Dimity mysteries (which involve a ghost, though she is not the detective), is apparently a big SF fan. She said during a panel presentation (“F&SF Fans Who Write In Other Genres”) that she’d never had anyone tell her what subcategory her books fall into. After the panel I mentioned “tea cozy” to her (I got it wrong), and she had never heard the term before. (Most of her mysteries don’t involve deaths and the first one was tracking down something that had happened decades earlier.)

    Anyone else read them and want to take a stab at identifying the genre?

    • Aunt Dimity and the Widow’s Curse is, according to Amazon:

      Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,667 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

      #354 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Crafts & Hobbies
      #392 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Crafts & Hobbies
      #2088 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Women Sleuths

  10. The only thing I might add is “critter cozy,” where a cat or dog is what/who helps solve the case. “The Cat Who” books fit that, at least before they went off the deep PC end, plus the Sweetiepie Brown series, and other, ahem, copy-cat stories.

    • oh, yeah.
      And how those are handled does affect the structure.

    • Zsuzsa

      Some of those at least I think fall into “craft” mysteries: the Susan Conant Dog Lover’s series, for example, where it’s less that the dogs are solving the mysteries and more that the heroine’s love of dogs gets her poking around into something that turns into a murder mystery. “The Cat Who…” may or may not fall into that structure: I think you could argue that it’s mostly Qwill investigating the mystery do to his reporter curiosity and then later interpreting the cat’s behavior in light of what he already knows.

      • Ayup. Susan Conant’s “A New Leash On Death” is:

        Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,901 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

        #1621 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Animals
        #2187 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Animals
        #6249 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Women Sleuths

        • Yes, Dot, but a lot of this depends on where people stuck it. And this is why we find Vampire unde rscience fiction, and only don’t throw books against the wall because kindle.

          • I don’t disagree on a large chunk of “It came from KULL” – but for the well-known and the touchstones in the field, it’s not nearly as random. In fact, I’d argue that the major names in the field help define a subgenre and point readers on where to look for more if they liked that.

            If you like Scott Turow and John Grisham, well, they’re legal thrillers, so you’ll look in legal thriller for more.

            If you like vampires, you’re not going to be looking in science fiction, so the odd editor completely off their rocker (and how did that even get approved in trad pub?) or clueless indie aside, you’re not going to find vampires in science fiction.

            Instead, you’ll look up your favourite vampire, and depending on your vintage of vampire, there’ll be a subgenre of also-bought waiting to be satisfy.

            Dracula: Horror
            Anne Rice: Horror, or Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense: Suspense
            Anita Blake: Mystery: Supernatural: Vampires / Romance: Paranormal / Horror: Dark Fantasy (depending on where in the series you land)
            Twilight: Teen & YA: Romance: Paranormal
            Kim Harrison: Mystery: Supernatural or Fantasy: Paranormal & Urban

            Because most people don’t wake up one day and say “I want to read a cozy mystery.” Instead, they get a recommendation or otherwise find Miranda James’s Bless Her Dead Little Heart. And they say “I want to read more mysteries with snoopy old ladies and animals, like Miranda James.” And because she is (quite rightly) under “cozy mysteries”, they’ll then start looking for more under that subgenre. (Or, in some cases, they’ll just call them mysteries and plumb the depth of the also-boughts, never noticing that they’re in a subgenre. But if they do notice there’s a subsubgenre, it’ll be cozy: animals.)

            So if you look where the touchstones and the really popular are, then that’s the definition of the subgenre.

  11. Zsuzsa

    So a couple of questions about the mystery structure:

    (1) What about paranormal elements? I know you’ve said in other posts that you need to be really careful about these in something you’re marketing as a mystery (okay, actually you’ve said they need to be non-existent, but since were drilling down to specifics…). What about a “haunting” mystery, where the goal is to find out who’s responsible for the death of the ghost, but the investigation and original crime both use only mundane means? What about a psychic detective, where the reader is given all of the psychic’s visions/impressions/whatever? How much “otherwordly” stuff might you be able to get away with assuming that you never spring it on the audience as a surprise?

    (2) Does the mystery definitely need to be solved at the end? Here I’m thinking of something like Stephen King’s “Colorado Kid” when we never do find out how and why the Kid ended up on a beach in Maine and whether or not he was murdered. Or perhaps Tana French’s “In the Woods” where the police solve one crime but we never do find out what happened to the children who disappeared. How much of that can you include in a mystery before you just make the reader mad?

    • mrsizer

      I hate stories that leave the main plot dangling. X-Files being an excellent example. All they ever did was run around speculating; nothing was ever concluded. Hated it. Obviously not everyone did.

      • Zsuzsa

        I’m with you on the X-Files, but there’s a difference between leaving the mystery unsolved after a 300 page novel and jerking the audience around for a decade before saying, “What does all this mean? Beats the heck out of me!”

    • Okay, so I’m not solid on genre differences, but I think that it’s like putting lettuce on a hamburger doesn’t make it a salad. You can have mysteries that have elements of science fiction and fantasy, but they remain mysteries. For instance. if it’s still in the Baen Free Library, look for the anthology The Dragon Done It. In it you will find all sorts of fantasy mysteries, including a Jake Sullivan story and another about a wicked witch turned PI. The last two are in the classic hard boiled/noir mystery format, but because the fantasy element is front and center, they are fantasies with a mystery element.

      I think a big difference here is that in SF or fantasy mysteries, the SF and fantasy aspect is integral to the solution. Think the movie I, Robot, which is a mystery, but one where the solution involves robots. But let’s say we have a straight-forward mystery, but one where a dead man hires a PI to find his killer. The solution may not involve any fantasy element at all.

      How much readers of mysteries will stand before slamming the book against the wall? Don’t know. But if the solution requires a ghost or magic or a science fiction gizmo, it might not be well received by those who prefer mysteries.

    • a) You’re on slippery ground. I’d call that a supernatural mystery, which is a sub-branch of fantasy. This is not me saying you can’t call it a mystery. It’s me saying that almost every mystery reader I know gets upset at supernatural elements.
      2) Yes, a mystery needs to be solved. Yes, it’s possible never to figure out a PART of the mystery, but the main mystery Must be solved.

      • Robert Van Gulik’ s Judge Dee mysteries were full of Chinese ghosts and gods. However. Unlike his Chinese models, he was careful to keep dream revelations, ghosts, divine hints, etc. within the constraints of “fair play.”

        He did this by using them as decoration. They called for urgency, or pointed the detective at the start of the mystery, or provided disturbing decor, or applauded him at the end and helped him survive. No interference with the ratiocination, no unfair hints or clues.

    • Disclaimer: Not a hard-core mystery fan, just a reader who reads them now and then, and is friends with people who write them. YMMV.

      1.) This seems pretty heavily tied into what promises you make to the reader up front. If the blurb tells you there’s a haunted house, and you have a ghost sighted in chapter 1, then the reader is either going to drop the book because they don’t like ghosts, or they’re going to be cool with ghosts in your mystery.

      On the other hand, if you start with an idyllic beachfront town and a dead body, modern day, and then in Chapter 15 you suddenly have a murderous ghost going after the detective… nope. That book gets walled. Similar with fantasy & scifi elements, mythological, or other supernatural… or horror, believe it or not. Introduce them up front or not at all. (Some of the most aggrieved reviews I’ve read were of a mystery where magic is revealed to be involved in Chapter 5, but not in the blurb or opening. The mystery readers felt betrayed, because the standards of figuring out whodunit had been yanked out from under their feet.)

      Speaking of WhoDunIt,

      2.) If the mystery isn’t solved, it’s not a mystery. That’s just like trying to call something that has no HEA or HFN a romance.

      A mystery is a race between the author and the reader – ideally, the story will be one bare step ahead of the reader, laying out clues and catching them on red herrings, until the surprising yet inevitable conclusion. Mysteries where the reader gets one step ahead of the author and see the plot twist coming are usually put down and never finished – unless the characterization or pacing is compelling enough to drag them through the end anyway. (Romantic suspense is primarily romance because we KNOW the couple in danger will end up with a HFN/HEA – it’s just a matter of seeing how it happens, and that how is the mystery/thriller plot.)

      Many mystery readers will read a book they liked twice: the first time in a race with the author to see if they can figure it out first, the second time with all the knowledge to see how they were led and misled.

      Horror doesn’t have to solve the initial mystery (see: Lovecraft).

      As for partial solutions: what promises were made at the beginning to the reader? If the initial mystery is solved, but there’s a larger plot arc / series mystery going on, spiffy, the reader is happy. Once that series mystery is solved, though, the series is done.

      See: the television show Lost. No matter how badly they bungled the ending, the point is, they solved the mystery and there’s no more drive to figure it out. (This is a cross-genre problem, with solving the central conflict of a series: If the big mystery is solved, or the big romantic dilemma is solved, or the skeptic is converted, many series lose their driving impetus and are toast. (I will say Mercy Thompson is one of the few series I’ve seen that escaped the “which guy will she choose?” dilemma without ending up toast. Who else can you think of?))

      • Up front, yes please: some years ago I bought an indie YA novel where the blurb, and first chapters, seemed to indicate a thriller. I don’t remember it well anymore but I think the premise seemed to be that a family is taken into protective custody because the father had witnessed something, and the protagonist was the teen daughter who, from the hints, then maybe would need to do some actiony stuff and solve something once they are found by the bad guys (maybe because she did something stupid and revealed their location in a fit of teen rebelliousness). And the bit I read on Amazon was pretty well written and I was in the mood for some light thriller fare.

        But then, after the first two chapters, supernatural stuff started happening, and turned out the girl protagonist was actually supposed to be something like Buffy, and the whole “have to get into hiding” thing was due to her, her father had just decided not to tell her (and due to that she did something stupid and revealed their location to the bad guys who were demons or similar).

        Never finished it. It’s still in the cloud, and maybe I’ll dig it out again one day, as said at least the beginning was well enough written, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a fantasy with a Buffy clone, what I had WANTED had been something totally different. And of course I have never even looked if the writer had written something else.

        You really need to reveal some stuff when you advertise your story…

    • I’ll cite Kay Hooper here again; she has a whole set of paranormal thriller-mysteries. They are structured like thrillers, but psychic elements are front-and-center as well. They’re marketed under thrillers, BUT it’s very clear from the blurbs and everything that the paranormal elements are there (“psychic detectives” is a phrase that is quite prominent.)

      I think it’s a clear sub-genre at this point, and must be doing quite well. It’s also distinct from “paranormal romance”, though there’s a lot of cross-over writers who do both genres. As long as it’s stated up front, I think the readers can have the correct expectations.

    • It’s an older one, but might give some help. The Alexander Hero stories by Paul Gallico tend to revolve around the supernatural. (The MC’s job is, essentially, running around debunking hauntings and other, apparent, supernatural occurances. He does it because he’s looking for the real thing and every book has some element of the supernatural that keeps him looking.)

  12. Where would legal thrillers fit? They seem to overlap quite a bit with the police procedural at times (at least, the ones I used to read did.)

  13. paladin3001

    Lots of subgenres. This could be interesting.

    • Yup. Sarah did not even touch on the subgenres that do not really exist anymore, like locked room mysteries. Obviously they still get written, but nobody sits there reading ten in a row from an Amazon subcategory. (Okay, maybe Japanese people do.)

  14. Are those stories where the sleuth and half of the characters are some historical persons who really lived, the writer just gives them some imaginary crime involving imaginary characters to solve, in their own category, or do they go under one of the already mentioned umbrellas, which mostly probably would be cozy as the characters tend to play a bigger part in the story than the crime at least with the few I have read. At least Eleanor Roosevelt has been turned into an amateur sleuth, also Jane Austen, quite a few others I think (I’d swear I have seen at least one book with Arthur Conan Doyle as the protagonist, although I think he actually may have tried to solve some murder for real once so it could also have been about that).