Posted by: nancycurteman | July 1, 2012

9 Popular Mystery Sub-Genres to Explore

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The best way to learn about the many mystery sub-genres is to read a couple of books by authors who write in one of the various categories. An informed knowledge base about sub-genres will help you determine the style you like best and will enable you to label your novel correctly when submitting to editors. Here are some of the mystery sub-genres and some authors who choose to write in that genre.

Cozy: The cozy is a gentle mystery sans explicit murder and sex scenes. Solution to a puzzle is at the heart of these stories.
Authors: Agatha Christie, Sarah Graves, Joanne Fluke

Amateur Sleuth: The amateur sleuth is a mystery in which the protagonist has a regular day job. The normal life of the character is suddenly disrupted by the murder of someone who means something to her. Because the death is personal, the amateur sleuth sets out to solve the murder.
Authors: Lillian Jackson Braun, Harlan Coben, Nancy Curteman

Professional Sleuth: The professional sleuth is an amateur but the murders in these stories always take place in a realm in which the character has knowledge and experience. Often the setting is his work environment.
Authors: Dick Frances, Diane Mott Davidson, Susan Wittig Albert

Police Procedural: The police procedural deals with cases investigated by police professionals using factual police operations.
Authors: James Lee Burke, Ed McBain, Patricia Cornwell

Suspense: The suspense novel puts the sleuth in a threatened position. Circumstances place this character in a situation where he needs to dodge a would-be murderer. Often in trying to protect/save someone he cares about the protagonist becomes a target and ends up having to fight for his own survival.
Authors: Mary Higgins Clark, Frederick Forsyth, Lee Childs

Romantic Suspense: The romantic suspense novel is simply a mystery seasoned with a romantic sub-plot. Both love and justice prevail at the end of the novel.
Authors: J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts.

Historical: The historical mystery is simply a mystery that takes place in the past. For example, it may occur in the 12th century or perhaps in the early 20th century. Accurate setting is important in this type of mystery.
Authors: Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, Margaret Frazer

Private Eye/Noir: The private eye is a crusader for justice and honor. She wants to defend those in need of help. Often you will find noir combined into this category. Noir adds a dismal helping of gore and brutality to this sub-genre.
Authors: Private Eye: Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton
Noir: Bruno Fischer, Elmore Leonard

Caper: The caper is a mystery filled with humor. The sleuth is usually the object of the humor. He is likable, but inept. Inevitably he bungles his way to the solution of the crime.
Authors: Janet Evanovich, J.A. Konrath, Stephanie Bond

As a mystery writer you can experiment with different sub-genres or you can mix them together to create new kinds of mysteries.

More tips:

10 Characteristics of a Cozy Mystery

5 Guaranteed-to-Sell-Elements of a Cozy Mystery

Mystery Novels: Why so Popular?

Five Must-Read European Mystery Writers


  1. Nice overview. I hadn’t thought about mysteries in categories before. It would be interesting to know which types of mystery sell best. Of course, that depends on authors, too.


    • Art, You’re right. The number of sales of a mystery novel does depend on the author and the quality of the novel. However, I’d guess the romantic suspense is probably one of the biggest sellers since romance novels are the most popular genre followed by mysteries in second place. Combining the two genres would make for hot sales.


  2. Hi, This article is very helpful, thanks! I was wondering if you could expand a tiny bit on the suspense sub-genre, how could the sleuth be saving someone? A kidnapping or threats or something?


    • Lilly, The suspense element often comes into play when the sleuth is close to saving a victim but finds herself in danger, e.g. She is in the process of untying the victim…the killer is due to return any second…she has no weapon…That creates suspense.


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