Mysteries

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Joyce Saricks writes: “Many of us in libraries find that Mysteries are the most popular genre among readers. …As has been the case since the genre’s nineteenth-century beginnings, readers have been fascinated by the character of the detective. Exploring the lives of these sleuths – their past and present, relationships, and friendships – has become, for many readers, as important as solving the Mystery. Series dominate all aspects of the genre, from hard-boiled private investigators (P.I.s) to amateur detectives in Cozies (cases without sex, violence, and profanity) and in Contemporary as well as Historical Mysteries. Despite this fascination with the detectives’ lives, the key to Mysteries remains the puzzle, carefully laid out for both detective and readers to solve, and the more intricate and clever the puzzle and its solution, the more these appeal to our intellects.” (p.196)

“Mysteries are constructed around a puzzle; the author provides clues to the solution but attempts to obscure some information so that the mystery cannot be solved too easily. We, along with the detective, are drawn into the puzzle in an attempt to solve it. This puzzle involves a crime, usually murder, and, of course, a body. There is an investigator (or a team of investigators), amateur or professional, who solves the question of ‘whodunit’. The Mystery tracks this investigation, with its concomitant exploration of the victim’s, murderer’s, and detective’s lives.

Straightforward as that sounds, defining a Mystery is as convoluted and problematic as the cases posed in the genre.” (p.196)

“At one time, Mystery titles were under three hundred pages, and you could tell at a glance that this (or a Western or other genre book) fit in the genre collection, rather than in Fiction. Now that Mysteries are as long as or longer than many mainstream novels, the distinction becomes more difficult. The answer to what belongs in the Mystery collection is that there is no definitive answer; there is often no clear-cut distinction between Mysteries (and much other genre fiction) and mainstream novels. We make our best guess, based on how a book is reviewed, whether we have others by that author or in that series, and, most important, where we believe readers expect to find the book.

Novels that fall within the Mystery genre follow a particular pattern: A crime is committed. An investigator pursues the clues, interviewing suspects and drawing conclusions. The crime is solved, and the culprit is brought to justice. In the hands of skilled writers in the genre, this barebones plot outline can become so much more.” (p.197)

“Since the point of Mysteries is to examine the clues and solve the puzzle, the character of the investigator plays a major role, and these two appeal elements – characterization and story line – intertwine as the crime is solved.” (p.199)

Characteristics of Mysteries

“1. The solving of a crime, usually a murder, drives the plot, and the detective, along with the reader, sort through the available clues to discover the solution. Readers and the detective understand ‘whodunit’ and why by the book’s conclusion.

2. The story focuses on the investigator or an investigative team. Mysteries are often written as a series, following the investigator through several cases. Secondary characters, whether suspects or supporting characters in the investigation, play an important role in the appeal of the Mystery and may also be series characters.

3. The frame in which the Mystery is set – whether a physical location of fascinating background details – plays a crucial role in its appeal.

4. The mood of Mysteries ranges from dark and gritty to lighthearted and witty with a multitude of variations in between.

5. The broad scope of the genre, embracing countries around the world and involving widely differing classes of characters and historical periods, demands a range of language and narrative styles.

6. Since all Mysteries move toward the solution of the puzzle, pacind is relentless and compelling, sometimes slowed by details of time and place, but always moving inexorably toward the solution.” (p.198)

Subgenres of Mysteries

“The character and specific type of investigator or detective are key to the way readers select Mysteries. The story line may control how the characters act, but the personality of those characters directs the book and its appeal to readers. Thus, the most straightforward way to examine the Mystery genre is to focus on these investigator types. As discussed below, however, there is also a particular feel that cuts across these types and may draw readers from one type to another. The types of investigator described here are the private investigator, police detective, and amateur detective. Even here the subgenre lines tend to blur. There are Police Detective Mysteries that feel like (and will appeal to fans of) Amateur Detective Mysteries (those by Louise Penny and Rhys Bowen, for example)….” (p.205)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago

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