Genre Confusion ~ in mystery fiction and crime fiction

A crime scene

Not Who ‘dun it, but what is it?

Mystery Fiction and Crime Fiction are often lumped together as if they are part of one fiction genre. I believe they are their own separate genres (for clarity sake). Further complicating things, today’s mystery and crime fiction works overlap and often slip-and-slide into each other. Then within the genres a novel may fit into more than one category so that determining what genre and/or category the novel falls into is often subjective. My novels have been called detective stories, murder mysteries, and cozy thrillers. Of course, the reader is always right. However, I’d like to shed some light on what we find in the world of today’s mystery and crime fiction novels. BTW, according to the list below, most of my novels fall into the mystery fiction genre and the soft-boiled detective story category. ~~ Below, I’m looking at novels written in English, mostly in American English.

Mystery Fiction

The Murder Mystery Novel:  This is a classic whodunit, a puzzle. The reader follows the clues as the sleuth discovers them which leads to who committed the crime. It’s usually a murder but can be arson, a bombing, kidnap, cyber crime, theft, embezzlement, stock manipulation and fraud, and a host of others. The author will create red-herrings (false clues), making it difficult for the sleuth and the reader to determine who the criminal is. In the end , the sleuth will catch the bad guy, and hopefully the reader will be surprised.

Detective Stories (hard boiled/noir):  Featuring a professional law enforcement officer (police detective, military police, forest ranger, canine detective and his/her dog, District Attorney’s investigator, a state investigator or state trooper, a private detective, military police, cyber crime detectives, and the like. They are often fighting their own demons such as alcoholism/drug addiction, an abusive past, etc. The murder and perhaps also other crimes happen in unsavory or bleak settings with rough and coarse or disreputable secondary and tertiary characters. Quite often there is coarse or vulgar language. The violence is most often graphically described.

Detective Stories (soft boiled):  These feature professional detectives, but are lighter in tone. There will be more psychology and less action, sometimes humor. The main character(s) will most likely have personal issues but these difficulties will be disclosed in a less gritty manner. Secondary and tertiary characters will be a mix of upstanding and disreputable. There will be less explicit or no explicit language and less violence.

Procedurals: The main character is a professional detective (as described above) or a medical examiner, a forensic behavioral psychologist (a profiler), a forensic scientist (pathologist), and so forth. They stress realistic police operations and/or realistic science where the investigator is constrained by law and department regulations. Departmental politics, even town/city politics will have some bearing.

The Cozy:  This style has traditionally featured well bred characters and a closed community setting. However, today’s cozy could just as easily have a bartender or trailer park owner as its main character instead of a leader in the community. Often there are charming or eccentric characters. The modern cozy doesn’t have to stay in a closed community, but could cross state lines as well as crossing national boundaries. The crime entails minimal violence, may have happened before the story began or occurred off-scene. It may be described, but not graphically.

The Caper:  This is a crime story with a high degree of comedy. In many ways, this is a cousin to the cozy. It may feature an incompetent amateur sleuth who solves the crime by accident (Pink Panther). Or the investigator is competent but a series of zany and outlandish occurrences continually happen to thwart him/her. Or she/he has contrary and/or eccentric family members, or business partners, or whatever that mess things up in a humorous manner. Still, he/she manages to catch the criminal.

MIXED-CATEGORY: Romantic Suspense: Romantic suspense most often falls under the mystery fiction genre as it’s usually on the soft-boiled side and has a happy romantic ending. However, we are seeing more and more gritty romantic suspense novels where the twisted mind of the villain is openly on display. Romantic Suspense is actually a combination of a genre (romance) and a category (suspense which falls under the crime fiction genre). Historical Romantic Suspense: As above, but the story is set in the past. Supernatural/Paranormal Mysteries: This is also a mix of a genre (mystery) and a category (paranormal which falls into the speculative fiction genre). Fantasy Mysteries (a mix of two categories, mystery and then fantasy which falls into speculative fiction).

MYSTERY FICTION SUB-CATEGORIES: heists (often told from the criminal’s point-of-view), historical murder mysteries, legal mysteries, medical mysteries, pet detectives (most often cats in a cozy novel or series, but can be a police dog or bomb or drug sniffing dog in a police procedural, or another animal), equine mysteries. More that are usually cozies – cooking/food mysteries, knitting/sewing mysteries, tea/coffee mysteries, granny mysteries, mommy mysteries, bridal mysteries, and many more. Location based: there are a slew of Florida based mysteries, British Isles mysteries (set in the British Isles, though not necessarily written by a citizen of the UK), Cape Cod mysteries, New Orleans and Mississippi River mysteries, Caribbean Island mysteries, and many more.

Crime Fiction

The Suspense Novel:  This type of story is designed to take the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride and can be quite psychological. There is a murderer or some other type of heinous criminal, and the main character’s job is to catch him/her. The depravity of the criminal’s mind is often displayed. This can be done quite graphically, bringing the story into a noir designation. The protagonist might not be in law enforcement, or could be. There is always a high level of danger either to the main character, his/her loved ones, community, or even her/his nation. The main character may not know what motivates the criminal and must find out. Why, is a big question. Often, at some point, the tables turn and the highly intelligent criminal pursues the main character. How can the protagonist stay alive is the other big question.

The Thriller: There is a threat to the social order, an affront to societal norms and decency. This category most often lands on the noir side and can get very dark before the light comes. The criminal or crime is introduced right up front in most cases, although the motive may not yet be known. The story may have a forensic behavioral analyst (profiler) either as a main or secondary character. There will be tension from the outset and the threat level will increase from there. The protagonist or her/his loved ones will be threatened by a highly intelligent criminal.

Thriller Sub-Categories: the psychological thriller, the spy/espionage thriller. In the legal and medical thriller, while investigating the crime against the community or nation, the lawyer or doctor (or their loved ones) will personally be threatened by the criminal outside of the legal or medical settings.

An Over-Arching Subcategory: Multi-Cultural and Diverse Subcategory. Over-arching because it can be found in both the Mystery and Crime Fiction genres, and in any of the categories and sub-categories.  These novels provide mystery and suspense while giving readers a peek into new ethnic or racial communities and cultures. Another Distinct Subcategory: The Racial/Ethnic Subcategory. This is written, most often, by a member of a racial or ethnic group for the enjoyment of members of that same group. Still another, Over-Arching Subcategory: Christian and clean Mystery and/or Crime Fiction. These novels can be found in either genre and any practically any subcategory but not all. There will be no on-page sex, no profanity, and limited violence and no glorification of these. The Young Adult and New Adult Subcategory: These are also mixes of genres (YA and NA) and the various mystery and crime fiction categories. The extremely dark categories would not be appropriate for this subcategory. Middle-Grade Mystery is a combination of mystery (a category) and (middle-grade which is a genre). These novels must be appropriate for pre-teens and under (Nancy Drew, Lady Grace Cavendish).

 

Angels & Imperfection by Dan Arnold ~ a review

Angels Imperfection

Not angelic. He’s quite imperfect.

This is an unusual mystery/thriller in that the novel is a series of cases, some of them unrelated to the main story line. However, each case whether related to the plot line or not fleshes out the main character, and John Wesley Tucker is not your run-of-the mill private investigator. He’s a devout Christian who sees himself as a shepherd for the Lord here on earth…though in many cases a flawed one. He can rush into a fight almost on impulse, is quite capable of packing a punch, and is not afraid to use a fire arm.

Tucker is hired to do a background check by a powerful and wealthy oil man who has political aspirations and immediately is attracted to the man’s beautiful employee. He asks Christine out on a date which enrages and prompts the oil man’s personal assistant to make unwanted advances toward her. Christine resigns and not long after Tucker hires her as his receptionist. By mutual agreement, their relationship becomes one of employer to employee and they begin to develop a deep friendship. Christine doesn’t believe in God and Tucker witnesses to her. My only criticism of this engaging novel is some of the witnessing dialog goes on too long and interrupts the movement and pacing of the story line. I think it would have been better to cut up the apologetics and sprinkle it throughout the story.

The main characters are highly likeable, and I rooted for them. Secondary character Detective Sergeant Tony Escalante, and Tucker’s best friend, is also likeable and one of the good guys. Tucker pays attention to the rambling of Dustin, a homeless guy with mental issues who seems to be in touch with the supernatural world, and this helps the P.I. solve a child abduction case. The bad guys are truly incorrigible, very dangerous, and they move the mystery forward as they maneuver selfishly to satisfy their dark desires. And their desires are truly evil. This is a novel of good vs. evil. #ChristFic #Cleanread

Purchase Angels & Imperfection on Amazon

FEAR HAS A NAME by Creston Mapes ~ tackling my ‘to read list’

Fear Has A Name

Psychological thriller, FEAR HAS A NAME, pulls together several threads, each with its own angst. There surely is no lack of emotional apprehension in this story, and some unsettling moments

The violent home invasion by a husky man dressed in black forces Pamela Crittendon to flee, with her two young daughters, to a neighbor’s house. Author Creston Mapes delves into the interior of his character’s psyches in a compelling manner. This attack upon their home forces Pamela to fight her tendency toward slipping into fearful agitation (passed down by her fear and anxiety ridden mother).  The author tends to drop things in at the end, and he thereby allows the daughter to discover why her mother is so fear ridden and it brings Pamela closer to her mom.

Reporter Jack Crittendon is writing a series of articles on a missing pastor who left what might be a bogus suicide note. The attack on Jack’s wife and daughters brings back “the old Jack,” the violent side he thought he’d buried. The missing pastor, secondary plotline has its own well developed characters. This sub-story keeps Jack busy on his job at the newspaper, allowing Pamela to deal with scary things on her own, as Jack’s rage increases toward the husky man.  Jack becomes even more unhinged when he’s accused of collecting and distributing child pornography. There were two places that stretched my believably. One was the police investigation of these pornography charges. The police explained too much and just plain talked conversationally way too much to the accused. And two, it was predictable that Pamela would flee to her mother’s house, which puts her on a collision course with danger. These are minor issues in what is a well written psychological study couched in a thriller. This is a good independently published read with a powerful spiritual message.

LOOKS THAT DECEIVE by Braxton DeGarmo ~ a review

Looks That Deceive

Steven James ~ Move over!

LOOKS THAT DECEIVE by Braxton DeGarmo is both edgy and gritty crime fiction and a seat of the pants medical thriller. ‘Edgy’ because it pushes the edge of the envelope. It could be categorized as noir.

Lync Cully, a workaholic, dedicated detective has been loaned to the Major Case Squad. He’s investigating a series of gruesome and bizarre assaults on women in the legal profession, an explosion killing a lawyer, and the torture and murder of another man. The “wonder boy” of the detective squad, he knows these crimes are related.

Amy Gibbs, Cully’s former  girlfriend, is a medivac nurse and part of the team transporting the torture victim by chopper to the emergency room. The horrifically injured man is able to mumble a few words about the killer to her and her partner before expiring. Cully wants to hold back this information from the public, but it gets out to the press, putting Amy squarely in the sights of this heinous killer.

The author uses plot construction often typical of thrillers. The reader is introduced to the highly intelligent and technologically advanced killer as “Lady Law,” a pseudonym the male predator uses online to lure females in the legal profession into his trap. He is adept in the use of aliases and ruse. The reader also becomes aware the killer has relationships with other characters in the story and they are none-the-wiser about his violent and depraved other life.

As it turns out in this deadly tale, looks can be deceiving. If you like unabashed, nail biting thrillers with an inspirational twist, this novel is for you.

DOWN and OUT by Marcy Dyer ~ a review

Down and Out

INSPIRATIONAL THRILLER

From the first words of the first chapter, the author pulls me right into the life of Candace Downs — her situation, her hardships.

Candace originally hailed from Texas, but has been working as a publicist with a Christian theater ministry in New York City. Having just lost that job, she returns home to work in her cousin Carl’s repo business on the night shift. She’s had to condense all her worldly possessions into one suitcase and a carry-on piece of luggage. Having acquired an aging VW Beetle with holes in its floorboard, she shows up for work at the repo agency in what she thinks of as “work clothes,” a skirt and blouse with heels.

That’s when she meets Josiah Bradley, the handsome owner of Viper Security, who has been assigned to train her for her first two weeks on the job. He takes one look at her appearance and thinks she won’t last long. Her partner on the night shift, Beth Anne, takes an immediate dislike to her and calls her “Barbie.” Candace, in a tit-for-tat, returns the favor by calling Beth Anne “Dumpling.” However, Candace soon shows she’s got some mettle. Just as Candace and Beth Anne begin to iron out their differences, Candace is assigned to tow the car of a bank night security guard, Lucien Robard, after his car has been struck in an accident. He is taken by her beauty, begins stalking her, and has designs to turn her into “the perfect wife,” even if he has to beat her into submission

The author ratchets up Lucien’s craziness in a very eerie way. I could feel him mentally upping the stakes as his threats and actions became more menacing, as serial offenders do. The reader gets a glimpse of his madness when in his inner dialog he recall the other women who had not lived up to his expectations. That served to make me wonder what had happened to them. Of course, I could only surmise they were no longer among the living and that question was answered by the end of the book.

One of the most charming elements of the story are the three quirky old lady relatives (Granny and her sisters, Aunt Gertie, and Aunt Bertie). We meet the eccentric trio when they get into a fender bender. The other driver shoves Granny and Aunt Gertie wallops him with her Bible while Aunt Bertie beams him with her umbrella. We later catch them going to a line dancing class and to my surprise they were not members of the class, but teaching teenage girls all the moves.

This story could be considered inspirational, or it could be considered a thriller with major characters who are people of faith. It is not primarily a preachy story. It is definitely an action packed thriller. There were some editing issues with prepositions left out, more so toward the end of the novel. In Today’s publishing environment, this type of thing has become all too common.

Did You Write a Mystery or a Thriller?

Stabbing

Many authors anguish over whether they’ve written a mystery, a suspense novel, or a thriller. This is especially important when entering a writing contest, because if the manuscript is submitted in the wrong category it could be disastrous.
A good rule of thumb says mysteries are about whodunit, while suspense/thrillers are about how it was done and how the protagonist is going to avoid having it done to him/her, or to someone she/he loves.
Most murder mysteries begin with a murder, often on a dark and stormy night. Then the novel proceeds with the main character (an amateur or professional sleuth) finding clues that lead to the eventual capture of the murderer.
A thriller/suspense novel is often character driven and depends upon the protagonist gripping the interest of the reader. Often it’s the sleuth’s foibles or personality and character flaws that engage the reader. The main character is then going to match wits with the killer as the chase is on. A thriller/suspense novel often has the main character trying to prevent the villain from committing an even more heinous crime. If your detective, pair of sleuths, or group of protagonists are in a high stakes environment with a great threat looming and the unthinkable about to happen, you’ve probably written a thriller.
 
But then there are sub-genres. Murder mysteries can be divided into cozies, “locked room” mysteries, food mysteries, pet mysteries, even gardening mysteries. Thrillers can be classified as military or espionage, political, medical, legal, psychological. Just when it looked like it was all figured out, the detective novel messes it all up because some of them are mysteries while others are thrillers. And what about romantic suspense and capers? Yikes!