A mystery is a mystery, right? Well, no. Try to get several people together who claim to like mysteries and you’ll find a great deal of disparity in what they actually like. The mystery genre has so many different sub-genres right now that it’s difficult to keep them all straight.
As a way of getting started, I’ll outline what I see as a high-level list of mystery sub-genres, with examples.
1. The Classic Mystery – This is the classic ‘whodunnit’ type mystery where the emphasis is on the clues and the puzzle. Think Sherlock Holmes, or Nero Wolfe.
2. The Cozy Mystery – This shares many of the characteristics of the Classic Mystery, but Cozy’s tend to have domestic settings, amateur detectives and a high degree of character focus. These novels usually don’t contain much, if any swearing, or any ‘on screen’ violence. Think Agatha Christi, or Jessica Fletcher.
3) The Hard-Boiled Mystery – These stories may or may not include a puzzle, but there’s always a problem to be solved. The central character is often a cynical, ‘tough guy’ type private eye or, or maybe even a criminal. Someone who has seen it all and is not surprised by the bad things that people do to one another. Hardboiled mysteries feature protagonists who confront violence on a regular basis, which leads to burnout and cynicism. Think Sam Spade or Travis McGee.
4) The Police Procedural – These stories focus on the police themselves and the procedures they go through to solve crimes. Many also focus on the drama in the lives of the characters. They often highlight police-related activities like forensics, autopsies, the use of search warrants and interrogation. Think Harry Bosch or Lucas Davenport.
People who love the puzzle solving of classic or cozy mysteries might really dislike the language and subject matter of a police procedural. The people who really appreciate a good hard-boiled mystery might find the rural settings and lack of ‘on-screen’ violence of the cozy mystery make the books unreadable.
So when you’re talking about that great new mystery with your friends it might be a good idea to try and understand the type of mystery they enjoy before making a recommendation.