Mystery Genres

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

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

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:

Buy Cozy Mystery Books at

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:

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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

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

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