Mystery and Suspense are broad categories of books, that are very popular to today’s readers. Many of the books in each of these genres can also be called thrillers. Bestselling authors like James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coben, Clive Cussler and Robert Ludlum fall into these categories. Some contain romance, some humor, murder, courtroom dramas, war, western, or religion. The dictionary defines mystery as something that difficult or impossible to understand or explain, or something that baffles or eludes understanding. Any book that keeps you guessing about how it will end includes some element of mystery.
The basic mystery is the “whodunit.” These are crime stories with a detective who follows clues to determine what happened or who the culprit was. A good author will keep the reader guessing with misleading clues, but also drop hints along the way as to the identity of the villain and the reason for the crime – often murder. The basic whodunit was made popular in the 1920s by greats such as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Michael Innes, Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. They often took place in locations like an English garden.
Another for of mystery that developed soon after was hard-boiled crime fiction. They star a tough-guy hero who has perhaps fought in a war, may have a high sense of morality but are not hesitant to step to the dark side including violence to capture their foe. These stories often include graphic sex and violence with many references to women as dams and broads, have protagonists who fight organized crime with a cynical, streetwise edge. Popular authors of hard-boiled mystery stories include Dashiell Hammett with his Sam Spade detective, Raymond Chandler with protagonist Philip Marlowe, and Mickey Spillaine’s Mike Hammer.
Since these two basic types of novels, the mystery/suspense/thriller genre has branched out all over the place. There are FBI suspense thrillers by Catherine Coulter and Kay Hooper, both who started out as romance writers. Other authors who have used FBI agents as their protagonists include Robert Ludlum, Allison Brennan, David Baldacci and Alex Kava. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have a series featuring Aloysius Pendergast as a special agent for the FBI and James Patterson’s Alex Cross was in the FBI for a period of time.
There are styles of mystery books for everyone and choices of protagonists who come in all shapes and sizes, ages, and backgrounds. Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax and D.B. Borton’s Cat Calliban , are unlikely detectives, being that they are senior citizens with no background in crime apprehension. Sarah Strohmeyer’s heroine, Bubbles is a hairdresser turned newspaper reporter who happens on to mysteries. There are any number of culinary themed mysteries, one of which is Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Catering Mystery. There are mysteries that evolve around cats, dogs, horses, veterinarians, book store owners and any other walk of life you might imagine.
Legal thrillers, that often feature police procedure or courtroom drama are among the bestselling books published in recent years. John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, Michael Connelly and Scott Turow are just a few of the authors who write legal thrillers. I could go on forever but I can’t conclude this article without mentioning the humorous mystery. Janet Evanovich has made her bumbling heroine one of the most popular characters today with her 22 Stephanie Plum novels. Other authors who add a touch of humor to murder mysteries include Alisa Craig (Charlotte MacLeod), Bill Crider, Kinky Friedman, Elizabeth Peters and Kathy Hogan Trocheck.
If you are looking for an afternoon of thrilling entertainment on these cold winter days, check out the mystery section at your local book store. There is something for everyone.