Sunday, August 19, 2012


            Reading is a passion of mine. Delving into a book opens up a new and exciting world for me. While I read all sorts of books, fiction and nonfiction alike, my favorite genre is the mystery.
            The detective story, the who-dun-it?, the mystery has been a popular genre since the mid 1800s. People were fascinated as they read about C. Auguste Dupin who solved The Murders in the Rue Morgue written by Edgar Allen Poe in 1841. In 1868 Wilkie Collins published The Moonstone, whose detective was based on a member of Scotland Yard. The love of a good mystery has never died and those first stories are just as fascinating today as they were over a century ago.
            When it comes to the mystery there are several genres and even subgenres. At times, these subgenres even cross. The basic genres of the mystery novel are the hard boiled, the police procedural, and the cozy.
            The police procedural novel is self descriptive. The novel follows a police officer, or entire department, as he or she follow police procedure to solve the crime.
            The hard boiled mystery is the “tough guy” mystery. This genre was actually developed in the United States in the 1920s when pulp magazines were all the rage. A lot of times the protagonists are tough talking private investigators such as Sam Spade. In general, these books often depict graphic violence and don’t shy away from gore or sex. The hard boiled mystery shows us a gritty, dark, earthy world.
            The cozy mystery is a more gentle mystery. The hero or heroine is often an amateur detective, a regular person who stumbles onto a murder. She could be a soccer mom, a chef, a glassblower. She then gets involved in solving the murder, sometimes to save herself. Even when the hero is a professional, a private investigator or police officer, the cozy mystery has softer edges. It’s more of a puzzle, more cerebral, and oftentimes, more humorous.
            The cozy mystery has a multitude of subgenres. There are culinary mysteries, animal mysteries, craft mysteries, historical mysteries, gardening mysteries, paranormal mysteries, and more. There’s something for everyone. If you don’t believe me, try the Simon Kirby-Jones Mysteries by Dean Jones. The hero is a Southern gentleman who moves to the English countryside. He’s a writer who happens to be gay and a vampire. This series alone gives us 5 diverse subgenres: paranormal, Southern US, English Village, gay/lesbian, and writers!
I’ve noticed a recent trend in mystery novels. If you read several new mystery series you’ll discover a lot of them are what I call “How-To Mysteries”. No, they don’t tell you how to commit crimes or give tips on murdering people, but they will give information and how-to advice on almost any project or hobby you may have.
The How-To Mystery is still a mystery novel with plot, protagonists, victims, criminals, and such. Usually it will fall into the category of cozy mystery and the protagonist will generally be a professional or enthusiast of a certain hobby. It is this hobby about which the reader will learn. Are you in the mood to try a new hobby, but not sure if you really want to get involved? Perhaps you’d like some new techniques for a hobby you already pursue. If so, reading a mystery novel may be your answer.
How these tips are given differs. Usually readers will learn things in the storyline itself as the characters talk about and describe their hobby or work. The real How-To Mystery, however, will also set this information aside from the story. Sometimes the information is contained as one feature and placed at the end of the book, like an addendum. Other times the information is divided into smaller chunks and interspersed throughout the book. A lot of times these pieces will be placed between chapters, sometimes it’s right in the midst of the story itself.
The information available out there is as varied as the mysteries themselves. You can get gardening tips from many series including a Peggy Lee Gardening Mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene. Need a new knitting or embroidery pattern?  Try a Needlecraft Mystery by Monica Ferris. The Soap Making Series by Tim Myers will give you information on soap making and The Bear Collector’s Mysteries by John J. Lamb will take you into the world of teddy bears and the artisans who create them.
So go ahead and try reading a How-To Mystery. You’ll not only enjoy the story, but learn some tricks of the trade as well. If TV shows like Law and Order or CSI are more your style, try a police procedural. Interested in the nitty gritty of crime? Go for that hard boiled story. Whatever your preference, whatever your interests, I’m sure there’s a mystery for you out there-just go find it!

This article was originally published by The Spartan Opinion as Anatomy of the Mystery Novel.

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