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All About Locked Room Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Hard-boiled Mysteries, and Police Procedurals

M
ystery fiction has had many labels attached to it over the course of the genre's history and there have been many attempts to classify it.

Thrillers, whodunits, mysteries, crime fiction, detective fiction: all of these, and more, have been used, separately or interchangeably, to describe basically the same thing. They are all essentially referring to the same overall genre of literary fiction, the mystery or crime story.

While there are specific categories of mystery writing that have long been recognized (see below), the overall confusion can perhaps best be summed up in Bruce Cassiday's essay, "Mayhem in the Mainstream: A Study in Bloodlines." Cassiday relates the story of his neighborhood librarian who, when asked to describe the difference between mystery and mainstream novels, replies, "If it's got a dead body in it, it's a mystery!"

Locked Room Mysteries or Puzzle Mysteries

A murder victim is discovered in a room or enclosure with no apparent exit, leaving the detective to ascertain the killer's means of escape. First introduced in Edgar Allan Poe's 1841 story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the locked-room format uses such devices as misdirection (red herrings) and the illusion to deceive the reader into thinking that escape from the sealed room is an actual impossibility. In reality, a very simple solution has been available to the reader from the beginning. A few examples:

"The Big Bow Mystery" by Israel Zangwill (1891)
"The Problem of Cell 13" by Jacques Futrelle (1905)

Read MysteryNet's profile of John Dickson Carr Locked Room Puzzle Mystery Author

Read MysteryNet's profile of S.S. Van Dine: Puzzle Mystery Master

Buy Puzzle Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com

Cozy Mysteries

Also known as the English country house or manor house mystery or cosy mystery, this genre is generally acknowledged as the classic style of mystery writing. Prominent in England during the 1920s and '30s, this style focused on "members of a closed group, often in a country house or village, who became suspects in a generally bloodless and neat murder solved by a great-detective kind of investigator." (Crime Classics) The stories almost always involved solving some form of puzzle, and invariably, observation, a keen understanding of human nature, and a heavy reliance on gossip were indispensable tools used in the solving of the crime.

This style of writing proved to be so popular that The Detection Club was founded in 1928 to outline the Rules of Fair Play, which members needed to follow in order to create proper mystery stories. A few examples of the cozy:

"Murder at the Vicarage" by Agatha Christie (1930)
"The Queen's Square" by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)

Buy Cozy Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com

Hard Boiled

Also known as private-eye fiction or Black Mask, hard-boiled fiction is the United States' foremost contribution to the mystery genre, and it was a dramatic change from anything that had been seen before. Born in the 1920s with the rise of pulp magazines, these stories captured the reality of life in America at this time in history. Most stories featured a tough guy main character, an "isolated protagonist who managed to obey his own code of ethics and achieve a limited and local justice in a less than perfect world." (Crime Classics)

The most famous of these pulps, Black Mask, introduced such private eyes as Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The magazine became "the major proving site for hard-boiled detective fiction." (Crime Classics). Here are a few examples:

"The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
"The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler (1939)

Buy Hard-boiled Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com

Police Procedurals

The main characteristic of these types of stories are their realistic portrayal of police methods in the solving of crime. Police novels, or procedurals, usually center on a single police force or precinct, with each individual within becoming a part of the story. Often showcasing several cases at the same time, procedurals concentrate on "the detailed investigation of a crime from the point of view of the police, and in the best examples of the kind does so with considerable realism." (Bloody Murder)

The procedural format is perfectly suited to television as well, evidenced by the popularity of such shows as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "Dragnet" and "Hill Street Blues."

Here are a few examples of the police procedural:
"Sadie When She Died" by Ed McBain (1972)
"The New Centurions" by Joseph Wambaugh (1970)

Buy Police and Professionals Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com


All About Mystery Genres Comparison at MysteryNet: The Online Mystery Network