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On Display at Odum 2022: Mystery

Second Floor Display

Mystery Genre Group Recommendations

About the Genre

Mystery Genre Overview

Mystery is “a genre of literature whose stories focus on a puzzling crime, situation, or circumstance that needs to be solved” (Literary Terms, n.d.).  Stories can be either fictional or non-fictional and usually involves a “whodunit” scenario, meaning the mystery revolves around the uncovering of a culprit or criminal (Literary Terms, n.d.). Mysteries put readers in a world that has been disrupted or disordered by a crime or murder and follows the protagonist through their attempts to find out what happened and to reestablish order (Wyatt & Saricks, 2019). The protagonist(s) could be anyone from amateur to professional—a member of the Neighborhood watch, a high school student, or a retiree, to a police officer, detective, or private investigator. Clues may follow a logical chain of reasoning (at least in retrospect) that can be unraveled by attentive readers; the readers may know more or less than the protagonist. Few readers enjoy Mysteries simply to find out who committed the central crime. Readers want to know why the crime was committed, but they also want a well-crafted story that takes place in an engaging world of fully realized characters.



Mystery Subgenres

Cozy Mysteries: Often set in a small town or in a city neighborhood with some characters who are friends, Cozy Mysteries are usually not excessively gory or explicit. They may revolve around life in a bookstore, garden club, family restaurant, or small college.

Historical Mysteries: A crossover genre with the mystery set in the past (the rule of thumb is 50+ years ago or before the author was born); the mystery and setting truly transport the reader to another time.

Holiday Mysteries: A subgenre of Cozy Mysteries, in which the coziness is amped up by being set around a holiday (especially winter holidays with crackling fires and special treats).

Humorous Mysteries: a laugh-out-loud mystery, such as one from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

Paranormal/Supernatural: A mystery with elements such as ghosts, vampires, psychics, spiritualists, or haunted houses. Sometimes the mystery seems to be based in the paranormal or supernatural but turns out to be a very human crime.

Pets: A subgenre of Cozy Mysteries told from a pet’s perspective or in which a pet helps the investigator solve the crime. 

Police Procedurals: The person trying to solve the case is a police officer who follows realistic investigative techniques.

Psychological Suspense: Tense mysteries that mess with the reader’s head with features such as unreliable narrators  who make it hard to determine what is real (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl).

Romantic Suspense: Mixes romantic tensions with the mystery; sometimes the love interest is a suspect.Suspense/Thriller: A fast-paced mystery in which the protagonist or other characters’ safety is at stake.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy: A crossover genre with a mystery to be solved in a science fiction or fantasy setting (such as P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn).

Spies and Secret Agents: Fast paced and full of conspiracies, double-crossing, and national or international intrigue.

True Crime: Based on actual cases. Truman Capote’s 1965  In Cold Blood is considered a foundational work.

Western Mystery: A crossover genre with a mystery in a Western setting, either contemporary or historical, often nostalgic for the Old West or Wild West.

Contact us

These lists and genre information are brought to you by the students in our genre literature class in the Master in Library and Information Science program. Thank you for sending in such good books, materials, and information. I hope you had a good time with this project!

If any material listed is problematic or you would like to suggest future recommendations and themes please contact Crystal Miller at! They would love feedback, or just to talk about books!