Thursday, February 18, 2016

Types of Mysteries

Do you ever hear books described as a "cozy" or "hard boiled" or "steam punk"?

I used to pretty much read only "cozies". I didn't know they were cozies when I was reading them.
Then I read a book that I really like that was described as "steam punk". I had to look that up.  I watch a lot of old mystery movies and hear them described as "hard boiled." I have a vague, kindasorta idea what all of them mean, but thought I would look them up and share the definitions.

I found this list from The Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
Here is what they have to say about the definitions:

"Definitions and labels can help us match you with the type of mystery you are most likely to enjoy! We have included a small number of  examples with each type of mystery we have outlined here, to give you a sense of what each style is like beyond the definition given. 
Keep in mind that these definitions are shorthand labels that can be used as references for discussion. If you ask what a book is like and someone says "cozy", it gives you an idea of what to expect. Also, these styles can be mingled, so a suspense story might be cozy or a whodunnit could be hardboiled."

Here we go.

Mystery Novel
A work of fiction which should meet all the requirements of any novel, and is additionally expected to include four essential elements:
Crime (usually, but not necessarily, murder)
Detective(s), whether professional (police or private) or amateur
An investigative process and
The identification of the culprit(s)

Caper Novel
One of the newer forms, centered on the commission of some type of crime or scam, usually outrageous and frequently humorous. Will it succeed, and will the scoundrels get away with it? Gives us an opportunity to root for characters we might not root for in real life.
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton is the example they give.

Crime Novel
"Mysteries" and more. Perhaps a better term than "mystery novel" to describe the category today, with its implication of a broad variety of approaches to the issue of crime and its implications, less dependence on the four essential elements. A notable example of the newer type of construction is the story told from the standpoint of the criminal – hit man (or woman), con artist, or whatever. Often in a crime novel, the "good guys" and the "bad guys" share equal time – you know whodunit – but you don't know how the story will be resolved.
Well what do you... a book I recently read is listed as one of the top 100 Crime Novels. A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine.
    Although basically a synonym for mystery, the term whodunit is generally used to describe works such as many of the "traditional" or "classic" mysteries of the 1920's and 30's, which contain significant elements of a puzzle.

Charlie Chan books are an example of Whodunits.

   Is a technique where an author imitates another author’s style (and/or characters), in a respectful way. The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr is a pastische, he is imitation and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s style and character, Sherlock Holmes. (never heard of this one myself)

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James is an example of "pastische".

Urban Fantasy
   Is a genre defined by geography; it is a mystery which has supernatural or fantasy elements (read vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and possessions for example), but it must take place in an urban (i.e. city, generally speaking the larger the better) environment some where on earth (usually). It can be set during any time period however a good portion are set in the present or future time period.

Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse books are an example of urban fantasy.
A genera which takes an alternate view of history; what would the world look like today if steam power had never replaced? This genre often feature anachronistic technologies or innovations which could only have been dreamed of during the early 19th century. The fashions, culture, architecture and sheer style are most often modeled after Victorian Britain. If you have seen Warehouse 13 on Syfy or Dr. Who (the new version) on the BBC they both have many steam punk elements.
(Warehouse 13 - why or why did they take that show off? It was soooo good. Oh that's another topic.)
The Spiritglass Charade: A Stoker and Holmes Novel by Colleen Gleason is an example.
Think Agatha Christie. Think cats. Think culinary. The cozy is a mystery in which a murder, perhaps violent, is committed without bringing significant unpleasantness to the reader, or to the other characters in the story. In her entertaining 1977 book, Murder Ink, Dilys Winn described the cozy as "a small village setting, a hero[ine] with faintly aristocratic family connections, a plethora of red herrings, and a tendency to commit homicide with sterling silver letter openers and poisons imported from Paraguay." 
Think Agatha Christie,  Dianne Mott Davidson, The Cat Who... books.
Murder taken out of the drawing room and into the streets. Realism. Chandler wrote about authors who "gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reason, not just to provide a corpse." Generally, but not always, featuring a private detective; usually, but not always, pervaded by pessimism. The humor, if any, will be dark. Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels are excellent examples. This style has been made into movies for decades (The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past) and can also be characterized by the same term, noir. Like crime novels, hardboiled stories tend to be urban.
The realism of the hard-boiled but tempered with optimism, and humor that is light. Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr ("Burglar") novels exemplify this type, and provide a clear contrast to the hard-boiled Scudder.
In The Woods by Tana French is given as an example. (good book by the way)
Police Procedural
A novel which attempts to describe all the activities the police undertake in solving a crime. These novels often have several seemingly unrelated crimes under investigation in one novel. They often employ forensics, autopsies, search warrants, interrogations and interviews to gather the evidence needed for an arrest. The perpetrator of the crime may or may not be know at the beginning of the book.
Michael Connelly books are an example of these.
Tension again. Similar to thrillers, but the danger is more likely to be psychological than physical, based more on expectation or fear of harm than on frankly hazardous situations. In this type of story, the main character is normally an innocent caught up in danger – think of North by Northwest. This is an area that may get blended with a touch or horror, which comes under the term "Gothic".
The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Then There Were None by Agatha Christie are a couple of examples.
Plenty of action, accent on plot. Tension. Emphasis on placing the protagonist in dangerous circumstances – usually physically dangerous. James Bond. Lawyers/defendants in the courtroom. Spies everywhere. Derring-do anywhere. Rather than solving a crime, the object may be to prevent one from happening to our hero or heroine. In this type of book, the main character is active, a professional.

The Bourne Identity books by Robert Ludlum and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (series) by Steig Larson are examples.
True Crime
This is a type of novel which deals with a real crime, with or without a murder, examining the motives of real people and events. These novels can run the gammit of from being highly speculative in nature to sticking the basic facts of the case, ultimately allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. The crimes which are written about can be pulled from current headlines or examine cases from the past, such as; JFK's assasination, the Ripper murders, Marilyn Monroe's death or the Gardner heist.
The Girl in Alfred Hitchcocks' Shower by Robert Graysmith is an example? Huh? I had to look at this one because I am an Alfred Hitchcock fan:
"Marli Renfro was Janet Leigh's body double in the Hitchcock classic "Psycho." When she disappeared, it was believed she was the victim of a serial killer. It was a mystery that took decades to solve-and a crime that could only have happened in Hollywood."
Last but not least I looked up the definition of Young Adult because our Mystery Book Club is going to read our pick of a YA book next month.
Young Adult
Young adult fiction or young adult literature, often abbreviated as YA,[1] is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors and readers of young teen (YA) novels often define the category as literature traditionally written for ages ranging from sixteen years to the early twenties. The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but YA literature spans the spectrum of fiction genres. YA stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.

Nancy Drew!
Whew. Might be more than you ever wanted to know but now you know.


  1. Really enjoyed your post, so much that I shared it on my Leah Nash Mysteries facebook page.

  2. Thanks Susan. I get confused when people are throwing around those terms, so I found it helpful. :)
    I signed up and followed you on FB. I will be putting the Leah Nash mysteries on my to read list!