MYSTERY BOOKS: KNOW IT ALL
Mystery has always been a favorite among readers. It is a genre of fiction that follows a crime (like a murder or a disappearance) from the moment it is committed to the moment it is solved. The term comes from the Latin word mysterium, meaning “a secret thing.” They are often called “whodunits” because they turn the reader into a detective trying to figure out the who, what, when, and how of a particular crime. Most mysteries feature a detective or private eye solving a case as the central character.
Most critics and scholars credit Edgar Allan Poe with inventing the modern mystery. He published a short story called The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841 that featured Auguste C. Dupin, literature’s first fictional detective. It was a groundbreaking moment that saw the creation of an entirely new literary genre.
Sub-Genres of Mystery and Crime Fiction
Mystery and crime fiction often fall into four separate sub-genres, each with its own characteristics.
1. Detective novels: These are crime novels that center around a detective (professional, amateur, or retired) investigating a crime or solving a murder case. Detective novels generally start with a mysterious incident or death and unfold as the detective follows leads, investigates suspects, and ultimately solves the case. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to the famous Sherlock Holmes in 1887, when he first began writing the series of stories featuring the popular detective. Other well-known detective novelists include Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Sue Grafton.
2. Cozy mysteries: To solve a case, the detective in a cozy mystery often uses their intellect as opposed to police procedures. The genre has some overlap with detective novels; for example, Agatha Christie is considered both a detective novelist and a cozy mystery novelist.
3. Police procedural: These are mystery novels featuring a protagonist who is a member of the police force. Well-known police procedural novelists include Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill.
4. Caper stories: These are mystery stories told from the point of view of the criminals rather than the detective trying to catch them. They take readers inside the crimes and heists, giving them full access to their motives, tricks, and swindles. Unlike most mysteries, caper stories often include elements of humor. Well-known caper story novelists include W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and Michael Crichton.
Some mystery novels break from the traditional format to heighten suspense or play with readers’ expectations. Most mysteries follow roughly the same structure of the crime, followed by the investigation, the twist, the essential breakthrough, and the conclusion.
Why Should You Read Mystery Books?
We read mysteries for the same reasons we read romance or women’s fiction or sci-fi. We love to escape into brilliant prose and fascinating stories. We find ourselves instantly involved in the characters’ lives, and being there with them, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, and experiencing their emotional journey. What happens is that our view of the world grows.
Mysteries do give us comfort and they can be uplifting because they make order out of chaos. We are taken to the brink of disaster, and then brought back to safety by the use of logic, human ingenuity, and the “little grey cells.” They also offer a puzzle to be solved, which exercises the brain. Humans generally feel better about themselves when we’re actively engaging our brains in something rather than passively observing.
Mystery readers are intelligent people. The mystery story appeals to their sense of curiosity. They enjoy the action. They love to analyze the psychological makeup and motivational drives of characters. Most mystery readers are interested in how and why a crime is committed as they are in who committed it. Sifting through clues and red herrings as the story progresses adds challenge. Mystery readers have a strong sense of justice and expect evildoers to be punished. Most mysteries provide this kind of ending. A mystery story allows the reader to experience danger, suspense, and fear while seated in a nice safe armchair. Mystery fans also want to marvel at the genius of the detective as he finally solves the crime. Indeed, the reader loves to match wits with the sleuth and the criminal—and the author. Perhaps the most satisfying experience a mystery novel reader can have is to figure out “whodunit” before the end of the book.
The modern mystery has broadened its appeal even more, by including elements of other genres such as history, romance, travel, and other cultures. There’s something for everyone in a good mystery novel. Is it any wonder it is fast approaching the level of readership of romance novels?
How to Select a Mystery Book to Read?
There are a plethora of mystery books available, but some of the best mysteries include these elements:
- A strong hook: A great mystery should invite the reader to try to solve the crime, and a great opening is critical to piquing their interest. A mystery should start with just enough information about the crime to build intrigue from the first line. This is the defining moment when a reader chooses whether or not they want to continue. If the dramatic element is missing from the beginning, the reader expects the rest of the book to be the same. The first chapter should initiate the mystery, aligning the reader with the central character on the crime-solving adventure.
- An atmospheric setting: Stories in this genre should create an ominous, uneasy mood through setting to support the anxiety of an unknown antagonist lurking in the shadows. Think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes slinking through the London fog in search of a killer. Settings in mysteries also offer opportunities to plant clues and red herrings.
- A crime: A crime is an event that fuels the plot in a mystery novel. Revealed in the first chapter, a crime creates the central conflict that launches the investigation, sending the main character on their quest and spurring the narrative arc.
- A sleuth: At the heart of every mystery is the main character determined to solve the crime. Mystery writer Raymond Chandler created private detective Philip Marlowe to be a crime solver in his novels. A writer can raise the stakes by making the detective personally invested in solving the crime. Mysteries can center on an amateur investigator—an average citizen who solves the case. The character development of the sleuth is important; they need a back-story that connects them to the crime or the killer, and a motive that explains why solving this crime is important to them.
- A villain: A mystery is often called a whodunit because the culprit is unknown until they’re caught at the end. The story follows their movements, which propel the story forward. The main character and the reader discover the criminal’s identity as the plot reaches its climax.
- Narrative momentum: A mystery plot is in constant motion thanks to a cat-and-mouse narrative thread. The pacing will quicken the closer the plot moves towards the climax and the closer the main character gets to solving the crime.
- A trail of clues: Clues are the literary element that allows mystery stories to engage readers on a deeper level than other types of fiction. The reader becomes an amateur sleuth, following the trail of clues to try to discover the identity of the culprit. When writing mysteries, an author needs to have an organized writing process to keep track of what clues they’re creating, when they appear, and who knows what to make sure the plot lines make sense.
- Foreshadowing: Mysteries often drop hints of things that will happen in the future. This is known as foreshadowing. A writer can hint at a future event with a small clue or through character dialogue. Writers can be more or less direct with foreshadowing, either subtly hinting at future events or explicitly stating what will happen.
- Red herrings: A good mystery throws the reader off track. Red herrings are an essential element in mysteries. These false clues build tension by creating other suspects and distracting the detective—and the reader—and leading them away from the real culprit. A writer creates red herrings by placing extra emphasis on an object, event, or character that catches a reader’s attention, making that element seem more significant than it is to the storyline. In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, there are 10 characters who are all potential suspects. Christie creates red herrings by killing off each character one by one, creating plot twists that send the reader into new directions in search of the killer.
- A satisfying ending: At the end of great mystery novels there is the big reveal—the sleuth discovers the identity of the culprit. An ending should also provide an alibi for any other suspects to strengthen the identity of the real killer and eliminate doubt, tying up loose ends.
Benefits of Reading Mystery Books
There is a reason why mystery novels are one of the best-selling genres of all time. Well, it is more than just the enjoyment of reading them. Mystery books with great narrative and structure give the readers a whole lot more. If you haven’t tried to read a book from this genre, you should. It is worth the try and will surely keep you coming back for more. It keeps your heart thumping and makes you break a sweat like you are part of an actual scene. However, there are many surprising and unexpected benefits that you can surely get from reading the genre. Below are some of the benefits you can get by reading mystery fiction:
- Exercises Your Brain
It is important to enhance your mental capacity to have standout success in life. One way you can do to make this happen is by giving your brain a good exercise or workout. Once you stimulate your brain. You are giving yourself a chance to learn new things. Just like reading any other genre, the mystery genre also helps you with your comprehension skills. Mystery novels feature a story that will require a lot of problem-solving, which can surely give your brain a good squeeze. Your brain will naturally try and help the main character provide solutions to each problem that may arise in the story.
- Helps You Make Friends
Books, in general, help readers with a human connection. Books will allow you to express your thoughts to other people. You will be able to have a bond with readers who also like what you read. It is always great to have someone who understands you. As mentioned, mystery or thriller novels are one of the most-read genres in the world. You will never know when you meet someone that shares the same interest as yours.
- Reduces Your Stress
Sometimes, people need to forget the real-world momentarily to have peace of mind. This will help them avoid further complications, such as depression and anxiety. If you are looking for ways to help you with this aspect, reading should be your first option. A mystery or thriller novel is a good choice. This will give you a different feeling than those other genres and surely make you forget the real world. Plus, it will give you a sense of relief like no other. This happens when a character has surpassed something; you will also feel like you have surpassed something.
- Gives You Hope, Wisdom, and Knowledge
Knowledge, wisdom, and hope empower one’s mind and broadens its range. Like what other genres offer when it comes to giving these aspects in life, mystery books also do the same. When you read the mystery genre, that detective self of yours will also start to act as one. You try to understand the situation, which will require you to know some new words and apprehensions. Reading will allow you to interact with a world full of knowledge. It gives you hope by letting you feel like your life is not as messy as you may think it is. It gives you the idea that everything will be okay in the future.
The mystery genre can be one of the best choices. Hopefully, this blog will lead you to go to your nearest bookstore and purchase a book from this genre.