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What are Mystery Novels?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mystery novels are fictional books that are able to be classified in the "mystery" genre, typically revolving around a crime of some sort. Detective fiction is a well-known type of mystery novel, wherein the reader observes a detective attempting to solve a crime, such as a murder or kidnapping, throughout the course of the plot. The term "mystery novels" may be used as a description for most crime fiction, however. Edgar Allan Poe is one of the first and most well-known writers of mysteries, beginning in the mid-19th century.

In general, there are a few common types of mystery novels. The first, sometimes referred to as "whodunit," is a more classic type of mystery novel in which a person or group of people is attempting to solve a crime through figuring out a series of puzzling clues. These are also sometimes referred to as puzzle mysteries or cozy mysteries. The protagonist is typically an amateur detective without much experience solving crimes, and these books are typically fairly bloodless. They often take place in a small town or country home.

Another common type of mystery novel is a police procedural. In these types of mystery novels, the reader observes a police officer or police detective solving a crime by using common police methods. Police procedurals are often part of a series of mystery novels, where the same detectives will solve different crimes in each novel, but in a strikingly similar manner. Police procedural mysteries are somewhat grittier and more realistic than the "whodunits" above, and may contain more action and more detailed descriptions of crime scenes.

Finally, the third most common type of mystery novels is known as a hardboiled mystery. This type of novel generally features a detective working independently, usually slightly above the law. These are often the grittiest type of mystery novel, and feature a great deal of action, violence, and crime scene description that does not leave much to the imagination. Detectives in this group of mysteries often have somewhat shady pasts, though this is of course not always the case. Hardboiled mysteries are frequently serialized as well.

Mystery novels also frequently cross genres. For instance, a mystery novel may also include elements of romance. Supernatural mysteries are also quite popular, as are historical mysteries that are set sometime in the past. This genre of novel remains popular as ever, with many new mystery novels and short stories published every year.

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Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Sep 05, 2011

I have always loved the suspense of mystery novels. Most of them also have a little bit of romance mixed in with the mystery which makes for some interesting reading.

I have discovered there are many free mystery novels online that I can download to my e-reader. I have downloaded many of them that I haven't had a chance to read yet.

This way I know that I will always have a good mystery available whenever I need it.

By Mykol — On Sep 04, 2011

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Even as a child my favorite books to read were the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mystery books.

I still have a lot of the books which I see for sale in a lot of antique shops. Even when I head to the library to find a good book, the first place I head for is the mystery section.

I could spend a couple hours browsing through the mystery fiction novels section before narrowing down my choices. I always have to be careful that I don't leave with more books than I can read in a 3-4 week period.

Spending an afternoon with my nose in a good mystery novel is my idea of a perfect afternoon.

By jholcomb — On Sep 04, 2011

@MissDaphne - Have you tried any Rex Stout? The Nero Wolfe mysteries are sort of in between cozy and hard-boiled, but I think you would like them. The plots are not as complicated as Agatha Christie and they're not as intellectual as Dorothy Sayers, but they're really funny in places. And the murders are on the bloodless side - no nightmares!

I also like the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander MacCall Smith.

By MissDaphne — On Sep 04, 2011

I like the cozy mystery novels myself. Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot will always be my favorite, but then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey. They are certainly exceptions to the convention of the inexperienced detective! Hercule Poirot is a private detective and retired Belgian police detective, while Lord Peter Wimsey is a former spy.

The main difference to me is that Hercule Poirot is largely untouched by his role in solving crime. He does his thing, the guilty are punished, and he often makes a match or two while he's at it. I mean, he's sad when people die, but he gets over it. (And he seems almost sadder sometimes for the murderer.)

Lord Peter Wimsey, on the other hand, is very affected by his role and is particularly aware that when he catches a murderer, that person will hang. He often questions whether his role is a good one or whether he is just bringing more misery to the world by solving crimes.

By Bhutan — On Sep 04, 2011

I love reading murder mystery novels because I enjoy trying to figure out who the killer eventually is. The suspense of many of these novels is what keeps me hooked. It is like I have to find out what is happening next.

I notice that a lot of these storylines are taken from real life cases. I guess this is where many of these mystery writers get their inspiration. I bet it would be really a lot of fun writing mystery novels. I know that they are definitely fun to read. My favorite author is P.D. James. I love all of her mystery books.

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