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Reader's Corner - Mystery: Home

Welcome to the Boston Public Library's Reader's Corner for mystery lovers. Find out whodunit at the Library!

New at the BPL!

What is a Mystery Novel?

Most credit Edgar Allan Poe with "inventing" the Mystery story, but it was the great Mystery authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie, creator of the two classic amateur sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, who established the genre.



Mystery fiction is a genre of fiction typically focused on the investigation of a crime. A detective, either professional or amateur, solves a crime or series of crimes. It can take the form of a novel or short story. This genre may also be called detective or crime fiction.

Whether cozy or classic, humorous or hard-boiled, you can find a mystery novel set in nearly any time period, in any part of the world.

Mysteries are, at their heart, puzzles to solve. Whether it is an amateur sleuth, a grizzled private detective, or a police officer who cracks the case, we invite you to try to figure out the puzzle right along with them.

Types of Mystery Novels


Hard-Boiled and Soft-Boiled Mysteries

Hard-boiled mysteries generally feature professional detectives as the main characters and the protagonists are often struggling with their own demons which haunt them as they solve their cases. Murder and crime happen in gritty settings and the violence is often graphically described. Hard-boiled detectives harken from the noir days of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Present day protagonists include Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, who works the streets of Los Angeles, and James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux who plies his investigative trade on the Louisiana bayou.

A subset of detective fiction that is lighter in tone or with less explicit violence or sex is sometimes referred to as soft-boiled. Examples include Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.


Cozy Mysteries

What's cozy about these books is the setting. The murder takes place in an intimate environment, such as a small town or neighborhood. With the exception of the fact that someone has been killed, a "cozy" is crafted so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. The sleuth who solves the mystery is often an amateur, like Agatha Christie's elderly spinster Miss Marple or Katherine Hall Page's caterer Faith Fairchild.


Police Procedurals

A procedural mystery has as its key factor a blow-by-blow, thoroughly researched and specifically described analysis of how the crime is solved, by whatever means is the specialty of the main character. This may be authentically-researched legwork (such as in the novels of Joseph Wambaugh) or a scientific investigation of the evidence (such as in Patricia Cornwell's books featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta).


Thriller/Suspense Novels

Thrillers and suspense novels have different conventions than other mystery novels. In a mystery novel, the protagonist's role is usually to find the killer. While his or her motivation to solve the case may involve a personal element, physical threat to the protagonist is generally towards the end of the story, as he/she gets close to solving the crime. Thrillers and suspense novels, by contrast, start out with very high stakes for the protagonist. The plot may or may not involve a murder at the outset, but the threat of danger is palpable from the get-go and the plot builds and twists from there. Examples include Alan Folsom's The Day After Tomorrow and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.



Check Out These BPL Booklists!

Hard-Boiled and Noir Mysteries: The Classics

Often set in a major city overrun with crime and corruption, these novels feature loner detectives unafraid to use fists or guns, as well as brains, to solve crimes.

Female Sleuths: Sisters In Crime

Female sleuths run the gamut from sweet old ladies to young, hard-nosed investigators. In their crime-solving, it is more likely that they will use their intelligence and expertise, as well as a keen understanding of human nature.

Historical Mysteries: Well-Aged Murder

A mystery can take place in any time period--from ancient times to the 1980s. Here are just a few to get you started if you like your mysteries aged.

Cozy Mysteries: The Killer Next Door

These mysteries usually take place in a small town or community and are centered on the characters and the crimes they are trying to solve.

Culinary Mysteries: A Taste For Death

These mysteries feature food as a major ingredient. The sleuth is usually a non-professional crime fighter who works as a caterer or restaurateur. They may also include recipes.

Humorous Mysteries: What's So Funny About Murder?

Not all murder investigations are somber, serious affairs. These mysteries offer light-hearted murder mystery puzzles and often feature quirky detective types.

Police Procedurals: Cops & Robbers

Procedurals focus on the police investigation of a crime. They are a behind-the-scenes look at police work and, often, a look into the lonely lives of the detectives.

Thrillers: The Ultimate Page-Turners

Can't resist turning to the next page? Staying up late with the need to know how it ends? Then these books are for you!