What’s in a mystery? Solving the genre

Everyone loves a good story and there’s nothing better than an intriguing mystery. But there are lots of books with the mystery label so how do you define the genre?

In the typical mystery, the main character solves a crime or a series of crimes and the story finishes with a nice tie-in of facts and events. It’s often full of puzzling clues, shady characters and red herrings. Sometimes the characters are amateur sleuths, sometimes they are professional detectives. While some readers like to solve the puzzle ahead of time, others prefer to see the story unfold. Many readers like complex stories, others like a fast-moving plot.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
is an excellent mystery crime story about a town hampered by racism.

Mystery writers understand that readers have different tastes, which has led to many subgenres. The cozy mystery takes place in an intimate setting and leaves out the gory details. Hard boiled and noir mysteries are gritty and violent. Procedurals include a blow-by-blow analysis. Historical mysteries (surprise!) take place in the past.


Second Street Station and Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy are entertaining historical mysteries set in 1890s New York.

A developing subgenre is the science fiction mystery, which places its characters in a supernatural element. Adding to the list are legal and medical mysteries and comic capers. For those who prefer nonfiction, there are plenty of true crime stories. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is one of the most well-known true crime stories and one that I want to read.

And for readers who like happy endings, there is the romantic suspense in which love and justice conquer. If you like this subgenre, check out Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale.

While these mysteries involve solving a crime, thrillers and suspense come from a different angle – in these the protagonist is in high stakes danger from the very beginning. Many twists and turns propel the reader to an exciting conclusion.


If you like medical thrillers, you will enjoy Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin and her earlier book, The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin, which steps into the medical sci-fi world.

No matter the style, writers of all subgenres often create lasting characters that feature in entire series of books. For an avid reader, what’s better than the anticipation of the next story?

In a rut? Expand your scope! Many mysteries include complex characters and dramatic settings and open the genre to readers who might not otherwise venture down the mystery aisle. From classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to modern writers like Michael Connelly, Peter May and Tana French, you are bound to find an exciting story!

Some mysteries and thrillers overlap subgenres, making them hard to label but always great to read!


Death in a Red Canvas Chair and Death in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger are a little bit cozy and a little bit medical and a lot of fun to read.

In the Woods by Tana French is a psychological crime story with many interesting characters.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly features the recurring character Harry Bosch, also a popular video series on Amazon. Soon I’ll be reading another by Connelly – The Lincoln Lawyer, Book 1 of the Mikey Haller series.


If you like dramatic landscapes and complex characters you will enjoy The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. I’ve read The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man and I’m getting ready to read The Chessmen.

Others I’ve recently read include:

Caught by Harlan Coben
The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner

I’m a novice mystery reader and I’m having fun learning more about the genre. The books I’ve listed represent only a fraction of what’s out there. What type of story do you like? What are your favorites?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

11 thoughts on “What’s in a mystery? Solving the genre

    1. Thanks Lisa, I haven’t read Louise Penny or Anne Perry – might be a little rough for my tastes. I did read one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books years ago and liked it. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hi Jennifer – thanks for stopping by! I will need to plan the right time to read In Cold Blood. I’m sure there are hard parts to read. I read that Truman Capote and Harper Lee worked on the research together and that Capote developed an intense connection with one of the convicts. I recommend In the Woods. I would like to read more by Tana French, although my work book club did not enjoy her as much as I did.

  1. Great discussion. I’ll have to check out Peter May’s books. I’d like to read more Harlan Coben too. I’ve just read one of his but enjoyed it. Thank you so much for including my books! What an honor to be on this list. 😊

    1. Thanks Carrie – Yes I think Peter May is an excellent writer. We’re about to read The Chessmen for work and I’m looking forward to it. I also enjoyed Caught by Harlan Coben. His books are displayed all over the library, so I was curious about him. Happy to include you. I had to write an article about mysteries for work, so in my research I saw that sci-fi mysteries/thrillers are something new. Happy writing!

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Barb. i do like all mystery genres and they have a lot of things in common – a compelling main character, a defined roster of supporting characters, interesting information, and more than one story line to keep the reader guessing not only who done it, but how the two lines will intersect – if at all! Two of my favorite writers are C.J Box and Craig Johnson, maybe because they bring so much of Wyoming nature into their mysteries.

    1. Hi Noelle! Thanks for stopping by. Are you interested in doing an interview? Would you consider your genre cozy mystery or a combo? I was going to talk to you ahead of this but then I had to write an article about mysteries for work so everything got out of order!

  3. An interesting evaluation of the mystery genres. I just finished reading The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay. It was a great mystery.

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