Solving the Mystery of the Mystery Books Genre

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Last Updated on December 25, 2022 by Mary Elle

What kind of mystery books do you like to read?

You may be thinking that’s a silly question. Because, well….a mystery is a mystery, right?

Honestly, if you like reading mysteries, the first mystery you should attempt to solve is exactly where your favorite mystery books fall in the vast pile of different mystery categories that make up the mystery books genre.

If you didn’t realize that there was a vast pile of confusion in the mystery books genre, then consider this your ultimate guide to solving the mystery of the mystery books genre.

mystery books

Mystery Books Genre – What Exactly Is This?

By definition, a mystery is simply an unsolved question and an attempt to answer that question.

In general, mystery books follow a formula that readers expect to have in any mystery they read. To start, something usually happens. It could be a crime, it could be a disappearance, or it could simply be something unusual that happens. Once this “something” happens, an investigation is most likely started, and the rest of the book will be filled with clues and witnesses, and suspects will begin to emerge. Sometimes more crimes occur along with twists and tangles to make you, the reader, confused about who the culprit is. And finally, all is revealed at the end of the book. Hopefully!

Different Types of Mystery Books

The mystery books genre is giant. As in enormous!

There are many, many different types of mystery books. Here is a list of the main types of mystery books along with some examples.

One thing I’d like to note is that not only are there many sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of mystery books, not all publishers and booksellers necessarily categorize them the same way. For example, some consider thrillers to be a separate category. For the purpose of this post, I’m including thrillers, crime fiction, suspense, and every sub-sub-genre I can think of as being part of the overall mystery books genre.

Traditional Mysteries

In their simplest form, traditional mysteries generally follow a specific format where a crime (often a murder) is committed in a small or closed social setting, like a small village, a house, a club, or something like that. The murder can be solved by either an amateur detective or a professional one who asks questions, gathers clues and suspects, and finally solves the murder by the end of the book.

Author and book suggestions for Traditional Mysteries:

Crime Novels

Crime novels come in so many different literary flavors and formats that we have to separate out the main sub-genres here because they are each a bit different.

One consistent element is that these books will focus on either the planning or committing of a crime.

True Crime

True crime mysteries tell stories of crimes that actually happened at some point.

Author and book suggestions for True Crime:

Detective/Police Procedural

These are crime novels that focus on the detectives involved in the investigation of whatever crime was committed, or more specifically on the procedures of the police and detectives that are investigating the crime. These will often be a series of books that feature the same detective in each book.

Author and book suggestions for Detective Fiction:

Private Detective

Private Detective mysteries have all the elements that other detective mysteries have, but feature a private detective rather than a police force or police staff detective.

Author and book suggestions for Private Detective:


Noir mysteries are still technically crime fiction, but they typically take place in a gritty, urban setting and have a protagonist with a bleak outlook on life in general and possibly compromised morals.

Author and book suggestions for Noir:

Cozy Mysteries

A cozy mystery still has all the essential elements of a traditional mystery but lacks the harder-core nature of other types of murder mysteries. Therefore, the name “cozy.” So, while it’s understood that these things undoubtedly happened in the story at some point, they will have happened “off the page” so you won’t typically find any graphic descriptions of violence, blood, or gore in a cozy mystery.

Author and book suggestions for Cozy Mysteries:


Caper/Heist mysteries are ones that are usually told from the criminal’s point of view. They’re fun, humorous books.

Author and book suggestions for Capers/Heists:

Romantic Suspense

Romantic suspense books are mysteries that have a romance developing along with the mystery. Or, another way to describe it would be – a romance novel with a plot that focuses on a mystery or suspenseful situation.

Author and book suggestions for Romantic Suspense:


Thrillers are certainly mysteries, but they are a bit different than traditional mysteries. Thrillers have a lot more tension and action than a traditional mystery and are completely action-packed and plot-driven.

Spy/Covert Operative Thrillers

Spy/covert operative thrillers usually include some type of international intrigue with spies or covert operatives from one or more countries pitted against each other.

Author and book suggestions for Spy/Covert Operative Thrillers:

Legal Thrillers

Legal thrillers have a story that somehow takes place either in or around the legal system or court system.

Author and book suggestions for Legal Thrillers:

Political Thrillers

A political thriller is somehow set against the backdrop of some sort of political struggle or struggle between powerful world leaders or governments.

Author and book suggestions for Political Thrillers:

Historical Thrillers

Historical thrillers contain all the action-packed plot-driven elements, but take place in the past.

Author and book suggestions for Historical Thrillers:

Psychological Thrillers

Psychological thrillers generally involve a twisted mind for at least one of the characters, and therefore, can be scary and creepy and totally twist-filled so that you have no idea who to trust.

Author and book suggestions for Psychological Thrillers:

Epic Thrillers

Epic Thrillers most often involve the very highest of stakes. Something like the earth or the human race itself is in peril. You know, the really bad stuff!

There will be nothing cozy about these 🙂

Author and book suggestions for Epic Thrillers:

Historical Mysteries

Historical mysteries are simply novels that have all the elements of a mystery yet take place sometime in the past. In keeping with the general rule of thumb that historical fiction should take place at least 50 years in the past, historical mysteries could also be expected to take place at least 50 years in the past.

Author and book suggestions for Historical Mysteries:

Some of these categories can certainly overlap with each other, but I’ve done my best to give you examples of the different types of mystery books that are out there to help you decide which category of mystery you might enjoy reading the most.

As you can see, mystery books are definitely not a one size fits all situation!

Who Is the Best Mystery Writer?

There are so many great mystery writers out there, so this is a hard one to answer.

If you’re a fan of gripping, page-turning mystery books that will keep you guessing, you’ll definitely want to check out some of the books from this list of mystery book authors that we think top the list of Best Mystery Writers.

Agatha Christie – When we’re talking about authors of mystery books, it’s hard not to start the list with Agatha Christie. What’s not to love about her well-known characters like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot? Some of her most well-known mystery books are:

Daphne du Maurier – Another mystery book author great, as far as I’m concerned! I’m quite sure that you’ll recognize some of her most well-known mystery books, as they’re not only in book form but also up on the big screen, and relatively recently too with a new film version of Rebecca.

Dorothy Sayers – Mystery book author Dorothy Sayers was an English crime writer whose books were published in the early 1900s. She is perhaps best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Here are some of her most famous books.

Ruth Rendell – Perhaps most well-known for her character Chief Inspector Wexford, Ruth Rendell was a British author of thrillers and murder mystery books. She also wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. Some of her most famous books include the following.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – No list of mystery books would be complete without at least a few by the creator of Sherlock Holmes! As to his most well-known mystery books?

Patricia Cornwell – This mystery book author is definitely worth mentioning, as she created the character Kay Scarpetta and went on to write a whole series featuring Kay. But the interesting this is that she went in somewhat of a new direction with this genre at the time, by introducing science and forensics into her mystery books. Try the first few Kay Scarpetta books in the series.

Ann Cleeves – Ann is the bestselling author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are now TV shows. Try the first few books in the Very Stanhope series.

This list of Who Is the Best Mystery Writer could obviously go on forever! But I’ll stop here and let you have a chance to read this list first 🙂

If you’re not too familiar with mystery reading at this point and don’t know where to start, start with this list!

What Was the First Mystery Book?

The Murders In the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe is generally considered to be the first detective story. The story first appears in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s magazine and describes the extraordinary analytical power used by the character Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve a series of murders that take place in Paris.

Although mysteries were not necessarily a new literary form at this time, Edgar Allan Poe was the first to introduce a character that solved a mystery by analyzing the facts of the case. Poe referred to this as “logical reasoning.”

After the publication of Poe’s story, similar detective stories began to appear in the form of novels, with one of the first being The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 1868.

What is perhaps the greatest fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book A Study In Scarlet in 1887.

Who Is the Queen Of Mystery Writing?

Since I’ve discussed the fact that Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be the “father” of the original detective story, it’s only fair to ask who is the queen of mystery writing.

That title can only go to Agatha Christie, one of the most widely celebrated and published authors of all time.

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