A mystery must have certain elements to be considered a mystery. A mystery will
have a puzzle or secret, or layers of puzzles or secrets, a setting that fits the type
of book, a sound motive, red herrings and clues.
Most traditionally accepted mysteries have a murder. This is an element that
compels people to keep reading. In children’s mysteries the crimes tend to be
less violent and center on the disappearance of objects, people, robberies, and
Mystery fiction has had many labels attached to it over the course of its history.
There have been many attempts to classify it into different types. I hope to make
clearer what each type means to the reader and writer of fiction.
Cozy mysteries are a story that takes place most often in a country house or
manor, usually in England. This is a classic style of mystery writing that was
popular in the 1920’s. The characters are part of a closed group of people that
are invited to the manor for a dinner party, or other event who become suspects
in generally a bloodless murder of one of the guests that is solved by a great
detective or investigator brought into the home to solve the mystery. The stories
almost always involve solving some sort of a puzzle. The skills of observation, an
understanding of human nature and a reliance on the gossip of others in the
manor are invaluable in helping to solve the crime.
Examples of the cozy mystery are
“Murder at the Vicarage” by Agatha Christie (1930)
“The Queen’s Square” by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)
Locked Room Mystery
A locked room mystery has a crime, usually a murder victim discovered in a
room with no apparent exit, leaving the detective to figure out the criminal’s
escape. This kind of mystery was first introduced in Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The
Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The locked room format uses devices like red
herrings and the illusion to deceive the reader into thinking that escape from a
locked room is impossible. In reality, a very simple solution has been available to
the reader from the beginning.
Hard Boiled Mystery
Hard Boiled mysteries are detective stories with attitude and action. It deals with
the step-by-step investigation and solution of a crime. The story takes place in a
city or urban setting. It’s gritty. It’s bloody and violent. The detective is usually a
professional Private Eye who has been hired to investigate. The style of the
character is very abrupt and straightforward. The stories feature a tough guy P.I.
character, an “isolated protagonist who followed his own code of ethics and
achieved a limited and local justice in a less than perfect world.”(Crime Classics)
This kind of fiction came from the United States and was a big change from
anything that had been seen before. It was developed in the 1920’s when pulp
magazines became popular. These stories captured the reality of life in America
at this time in history.
The main characteristics of these types of stories are their realistic portrayals of
police methods in solving crime. Police novels or procedurals usually center on a
single police precinct, with each individual becoming part of the story. Often
showcasing several crimes 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 it with some sense of realism.
A crime story is a suspense story where the reader is engaged in following the
planning and carrying out of the crime. The suspense comes from wondering
whether the bad guys plan will work. The reader roots for the criminals because
they are smart, organized, and daring. This kind of mystery is action packed and
The amateur sleuth mystery has a main character that tries to solve the murder of
someone close because the police have tried and failed or misread the murder
as an accident/ suicide. The loss and need for a solution is personal.
The professional sleuth usually is in a unique and intriguing setting and uses inside
information to unravel the clues and solve the case. The reader follows the sleuth
as he unravels the clues and evidence in an almost mind game.
This type of mystery has to do with espionage and the exchange of information
to foreign countries that may jeopardize the safety of a nation.