Define the Mystery Genre

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a ‘culinary’ mystery before this post.

It brought to mind a crazy chef trying to hack me to pieces with a meat cleaver. But I was a bit off…


MYSTERY: Genre Fiction.

Mysteries are an unsolved puzzle of some sort, dilemma, or crime to be figured out, step by step. Misdirection and complexities are common, as the entire novel is about the protagonist(s) figuring out the answer to the mystery. There are always secrets that are unknown by both the reader and protagonist, or at least the protagonist until the very end.

There can be one protagonist or a group of protagonists working together. The protagonist’s struggle to find the answer they seek can be physical and/or psychological. It’s not often that the person who committed the crime stays unknown, or the answer to the puzzle or dilemma goes unsolved. Most often the novel ends with the mystery being solved.

Said to be more plot driven and to have the perfect “beginning, middle, end” set up where the plot is concerned. (BEGINNING: Mystery – MIDDLE: Looking for Clues/Facts/Evidence to Solve Mystery – END: Mystery Solved)











Psychological: The mystery to be solved is a mental, psychological puzzle, concentrating on the emotional and mental struggle. These novels tend to be more focused on the “why” of things, moreso than the “who” and “how”.  This can be a subgenre to most of the subgenres of the mystery genre.

Crime: The protagonist is working to find the criminal guilty of said crime and prove their guilt. Focuses on the actual crime and dives into the criminal’s mind and the criminal world.

  • Detective: Normally focuses on the person, whether they’re a pro or amateur, solving the crime and catching the criminal.
    • PI: The protagonist is a Private Investigator.
    • True Crime: These novels focus on the crime scene and the psychological side of the criminal’s mind and crime in general. Sex and graphic violence are more common in these novels.

Cozy: The murder is downplayed and rarely given in detail. There’s not much sex or violence. Normally set in a small town with an amateur sleuth looking for the criminal.

Hardboiled: Originated in the 1920’s. Protagonist is always a professional solving a murder. The tone/mood is dark and gritty but has a sexual undertone sometimes. The protagonist is more often than not cynical.

  • Noir: Branched off from hardboiled detective novels in the 1930’s. Still have professionals as the crime solvers and a sexual undertone. But normally focuses on the psychologically destructive habits of the murderer in specific.

WhoDunIt: Always have a clever investigator. The suspects are usually obvious but the real killer turns out to be someone completely unexpected and is discovered at the very end during a rather calm confrontation.

Supernatural: Crosses over with the fantasy genre. Has the normal mystery atmosphere, characters, and plot but the villain turns out to be supernatural in some way (for example, a ghost).

Woman in Peril: A woman is the victim, kidnapped by the villains. Her husband or lover has to go after her even though the police are against it.

  • Child in Peril: The child is the kidnapped victim and the parents have to go after their child without the help of the police.

Caper: The protagonist(s) is a crook; the role of the anti-hero. They plan an elaborate and highly complicated and detailed robbery/heist but something always goes wrong.

Historical: Mystery novels placed in one of various historical settings.

Culinary: The sleuth is a professional chef, caterer, or works as a cook of some sort. Usually takes place in an exotic place.

Courtroom: The case is solved by a court official or lawyer. They decided to solve the case on their own. The police are either on the wrong track or corrupt.

Romantic: Follow the plot lines of a mystery but most often incorporate a female protagonist who has an ongoing intimate relationship.










This genre is also referred to as Crime/Detective/True Crime. Most refer to it as Mystery. Some believe that Mystery and Crime are two different genres because Crime focuses more on the actual crime, whereas Mysteries focus more on solving of the crime. I personally believe crime to be a sub-genre of the mystery genre.

Also, “hardboiled” and “noir” are sometimes categorized as the same subgenre. I separated the two because most sources show them as separate, as the latter branched off the former, which makes it a subgenre of the subgenre hardboiled, in my mind. There is only a slight difference, but that’s what a subgenre is after all. A lot of times, however, hardboiled and noir are used synonymously.


It all comes down to my personal opinion. I’m no expert, just a mad research lady. All writing is highly subjective as we all know; the genres and their subgenres are certainly no exception.

Do you read a lot of mysteries? Did I miss any subgenres?



Filed under The Odd Bit

7 responses to “Define the Mystery Genre

  1. Pingback: Row80 Check-in Nov. 19th « Lit and Scribbles with Jae

  2. Your post reminded me of the essay by author Hortense Calisher that I discuss in my post today (a different aspect of it). She says, “Any novel worth its salt is a mystery until its end,” while describing how her editor wanted to label her novel a mystery even though she knew it didn’t belong in the genre because there wasn’t enough suspense. I’m terrible at defining genres–there’s just so much overlap.

  3. I always think of Agatha Christie when I hear about a good ‘mystery novel’. I think they are my favourites! 🙂

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