By: Daphne M. Matthews of the Crazee Chixz
Was it a dark and rainy night? Was it Miss Scarlett in the Library with the Candlestick? Or was it just a cheesy beginning to a story you read eons ago? Either way, most readers have read a mystery or suspense story in their lifetime. Think “The Boxcar Children’s Mysteries” all the way up to John Grisham. No? What about Scooby-Doo? I LOVE me some Scoobs! So does my son. There’s a local person who painted their van like the mystery machine as you can see below. My son and I hunted the streets of Kingsport, Tennessee, one day until we found it parked so I could get some pics of Jimmy posed with the Mystery Machine! How cool is that!?!
Jimmy Matthews standing by The Mystery Machine
So, what constitutes a mystery novel? When you write a mystery novel, you need to write about solving a crime or a puzzle. Your main character’s goal is to bring the story to a satisfactory solution. Now, having said that, I’m going to throw a wrench in this problem. I love mysteries that throw you for a loop at the end. Think “Sixth Sense”. I literally watched that movie straight through, saw the ending, snapped at my husband and we both said, “No way!” We rewound the movie and watch it again and analyzed each scene to see if it made sense to reach their conclusion. It did. Great movie!
To lay out a mystery novel, a writer typically places the crime or the details of the puzzle at the beginning of the story but leaves the details of the who did what, when, where, why, and how to the end. Great examples are Agatha Christie and Janet Evanovich. But, every great mystery writer knows that there are sub-categories to the genre including:
- Noir which is a tough, hard-hitting, dark story with lots of brutal scenes. This is your tough guy, or gal, out to solve the crime or puzzle no matter what it takes. Think “Kill Bill”.
- Police Procedural subsets feature someone in law enforcement who must use their investigative knowledge to prove the quilt of someone. These stories rarely care about who actually did the crime in a whodunit sense; the story is all about proving the guilt. Think “Law and Order.”
- Private Eye subsets involve the same type of story as a police procedural except they do the job as a private citizen who is licensed to be hired to investigate.
- Cozy mysteries are great for the reader who likes the mystery without the fear and the gore. There are no curse words, no violence, and there is no gore. Think Jan Christensen for a modern example or Miss Marple is a famous blast from the past.
- Historical mystery subsets are sets in the past. No surprise there. As far as the antagonist, it can come from any of the other subsets: the antagonist can be a PI, a policeman, an amateur sleuth, a lawyer, or doctor and more. The only requirement is that the story stay in the past and that the language, scenes, and objects represent that time period (unless, of course, you’re just trying to be funny). Remember, we are writers! We can do anything we want to do. The question is…. Will anyone read it? Yikes!
- Amateur Sleuth stories are fun. They are the ones where the average Joe jumps in and solves a crime. Is anyone thinking, “Murder, She Wrote!”? Well, it can be anyone. A plumber who notices that a pipe has been replaced in a house that is under investigation, a little, old granny who writes down the license plates of all the strangers in her neighborhood, or the kids who think the man down the street who buys all the fertilizer is weird. Think Hardy Boys here.
- Legal mysteries usually involve lawyers solving crimes.
- Medical mysteries usually involve doctors solving crimes or medical mysteries.
Let’s switch over to the suspense novel.
In a suspense novel, the story begins with the main character in danger but may not realize it. Here are a couple of examples:
- Romantic Suspense most always has a female protagonist in danger while she’s diligently solving a crime. She works hard, fast, and in total control. She may get some assistance along the way, but she is in control. She solves the crime, saves herself, and puts the bad guys and gals in jail. And, almost always, there is a back-story of love and in the end, true love wins.
- Psychological Suspense is my ALL-TIME-FAVORITE-GENRE! Back in the early 90s, I saw the movie “Fatal Attraction” and I was hooked on this genre. Complete action, love, lust, mind-games, and in the end, you still don’t know who the hell committed the crimes. It’s like you are an amateur sleuth along with the characters. You read the story or watch the movie and you see every detail. You are trying to decide how you can justify a logical ending but every single time, all you do is become more confused because any of those bitches could have been killers. Now, I apologize for all that language, but if you’ve ever seen “Fatal Attraction” you understand that the language is required to discuss that movie. So, while you are the amateur trying to keep up, the character is either a psychologist or psychiatrist. The novel explores psychological issues of various degrees. Another great example, and another huge favorite of mine, is “The Silence of the Lambs.”
As you can tell, this is the genre that gets me excited. When I wrote my young adult novel, “Only Seventeen,” it is written in the Cozy genre. But, I’ve also written a psychological thriller and trust me they are like night and day. I’m editing the psychological thriller now and hope to have it in print soon.
For now, though, I’m happy to read Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovitch, Jeffery Deaver, John Grisham, and Ray Bradbury. Let me know who your favorite mystery and suspense authors are and why you like them so much. You might introduce me to one that I haven’t found or help me find a story that has yet to catch my eye. I love to talk about books, so hit me up!