Out of all the various books genres, it’s no secret that mystery is my favorite. But there are many types of mystery genres. A genre is, more or less, an umbrella term or category that holds subgenres. So, you have the mystery genre, but there are many types of crime novels you can read. So, keep reading if you want to learn more about the 20 excellent types of mystery genres you should know about.
What Is The Mystery Genre?
The mystery genre is what it sounds like. It’s a story where something mysterious happens, or there is a crime that needs to be solved, usually something as big as murder.
Most books tend to have a slight mystery element to them. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a character trying to find out where they came from, for example. They find clues to the mystery subplot as the story progresses and the main plot moves forward.
There are many moving pieces to this genre. There are investigators, witnesses, suspects, victims, and, of course, the culprit. There are also evidence, clues, and red herrings. These can be shown within your mystery story in different ways through subgenres.
But what are the subgenres?
Types Of Mystery Genres
The list of genres and subgenres can go on and on. So, let’s take a closer look at 20 of them.
A caper mystery is a story that’s typically light-hearted and comical. This subgenre allows the reader to relax and have a laugh despite the circumstances.
The crime in this subgenre isn’t normally heavy with homicide but includes robberies or kidnappings. The culprits typically aren’t too competent with whatever they plan, and even the detective may not be as reliable, but they all tend to get their individual job done.
Examples of caper mysteries:
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
- The Heist by Janet Evanovich
- The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake
Cozies are light mysteries. You get the murder without violence, blood, gore, and other gritty details. In addition, the sleuth is typically an amateur, trying to clear either their own name or the name of someone they know.
Most cozy mysteries are set in a small town where everybody seems to know everyone. One trope of this genre is that the sleuth and head detective leading the case will often fall in love, giving a light-hearted romantic subplot.
Examples of cozy mystery books:
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanna Fluke
- Death By Coffee by Alex Erickson
- On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle
Domestic Mysteries can also fall under the cozy mystery category, but they can be any kind of mystery. These types of stories normally have domestic, everyday life things added to them.
For example, domestic mysteries tend to include a cat or a dog that somehow aids its owner in solving the case. Food and baking are another common domestic mystery. Those novels often have recipes included at the end. Knitting, book clubs, and the like are also common.
Examples of domestic mysteries:
- Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
- Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle
- Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay
This type is often about detective stories, who take their job seriously, overwork, are professional, and often fight their inner demons (that sometimes connect to the case at hand).
Hardboiled mysteries aren’t exactly for the faint of heart. Graphic violence, sex, and gruesome details are typically involved.
Examples of hardboiled mysteries:
- The High Window by Raymond Chandler
- The Hunter by Richard Stark
- The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Do you want to see the crime committed from the beginning, in the middle, and through the end? A heist is a fun mystery subgenre where you get to follow along with the culprit. Rather than solving the crime yourself, along with the detective or protagonist, you get the inside scoop from the bad guy themselves. These books often go hand in hand with capers.
Examples of heist books:
- Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
- The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
- The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Historical fiction is a work of fiction with bits of non-fiction sprinkled in. The historical mystery is similar. You have a mysterious plot set in a certain time period. There are often bits of real life within these stories, so you can learn about history as you solve a fictional mystery.
Examples of historical mysteries:
- The Nurse’s Secret by Amanda Skenandore
- The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes
- Where The Sky Begins by Rhys Bowen
Are you more interested in the legal side of things? Do you want to see the killer get justice? Do you want to see things from a lawyer’s perspective and go to court? Well, that’s what legal thrillers are all about.
Rather than following amateur detectives, sleuths, or private investigators, the story is told through a lawyer or someone else looking into the legalities of a case.
Examples of legal thrillers:
- A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos
- Lethal Defense by Michael Stagg
- The Last Juror by John Grisham
Have you ever done an escape room with your friends before? Have you watched the classic movie, Clue? Then you know exactly what a locked room mystery is. These stories are always fun because there’s a sense an urgency to solve the crime. Oftentimes, the culprit is locked inside with the people trying to solve the case as clues are left about in the different areas of the house (or where ever they are).
Examples of locked room mysteries:
- An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena
- One By One by Ruth Ware
- The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
This crime fiction is normally dark and gritty, often going hand in hand with hardboiled mysteries. The private investigator may be equipped with their classic trenchcoat and are often tragically flawed. They may break the rules of investigative work though they almost always solve the crime.
On the flip side, the crime may remain open-ended for the reader. Was the investigator in the right or in the wrong? What about the culprit? The theme of good and evil may not always be clear depending on the choices (and the reasons behind those choices) the characters make.
Examples of noir mysteries:
- An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy
- Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
- Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman
This type of mystery is one of my favorites. Give me a homicide mixed with ghosts any day. Many paranormal mystery books are also classified as cozy mysteries, so they’re pretty low-key and fun to figure out. These books also often contain characters with magic or witches, as well.
Examples of paranormal mysteries:
- Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry
- Haunting Charlie by Wendy Wang
- Mrs. Morris and the Ghost by Traci Wilton
Also known as procedural mysteries, this subgenre focuses on police investigation. These stories are heavily-researched and focus on how the crime is solved. For example, it shows off autopsy reports, forensic science practices, and the like. This can easily fall under the true crime category. Overall, it’s real-life investigative work thrown into a fictional (or possibly true) crime.
Examples of police procedural books:
- In The Woods by Tana French
- Still Life by Louise Penny
- The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
This subgenre is also known as the private investigator, investigator, or detective genre. It’s similar to the police procedural, except the sleuth is a private eye. Instead of working for the police, they often have their own agency solving crimes for clients and don’t need to follow the standard police rules. Think Sherlock Holmes.
Examples of private detective fiction books:
- A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
- Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
This type of mystery fiction can be a hit or miss for some. Psychological thrillers are less whodunit and more hard-core. These books tend to have a main character who is struggling with something psychologically. In some cases, these books have an unreliable narrator.
As you read through a psychological thriller, you often wonder who’s telling the truth and who’s not (and whether they know if they’re lying or not). These books also have many twists and turns, so you never see what’s coming next. They’re entertaining, for sure.
Examples of psychological thrillers:
- Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
- The House Across The Lake by Riley Sagar
- The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
You can argue that romantic suspense is more of a romance subgenre rather than mystery. But it still has a mystery element to it, so I’m counting it anyway. Some books in this subgenre may favor romance over mystery, and others may favor mystery over romance.
Regardless, if you enjoy a healthy dose of romance and mystery, then romantic suspense is a good option. These books tend to have a mystery that can make or break a romantic couple.
Examples of romantic suspense books:
- Edge of Dusk by Colleen Coble
- Help Me Remember by Corinne Michaels
- The Lies I Told by Mary Burton
Softboiled is the opposite of hardboiled mysteries. However, they are lighter in tone and ease up on the details. For example, there’s less graphic sex and violence though they’re not grazed over. Think of this subgenre in between hardboiled and cozy.
Examples of softboiled mysteries:
- Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
- Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer
- Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza
Spy thrillers are more or less the same as any fiction novel labeled as a “thriller.” The major difference is that the story has a huge spy element. For example, the protagonist is a spy or somehow gets wrapped up in a spy’s mission. These stories are often action-packed while ride shotgun on a spy’s secret mission.
Examples of spy thrillers:
- Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
- The Old Man by Thomas Perry
- The Terminal List by Jack Carr
A supernatural mystery is a subgenre that includes elements of the unknown. This can be the afterlife, such as ghostly beings, or it may even include mythical elements as well. In a nutshell, these mysteries have elements of fantasy within them.
Of course, there’s almost always a logical explanation behind these phenomena that the investigator solves. The paranormal elements add more spook to the story and allow things to get twisted.
Examples of supernatural thrillers:
- Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
- The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
- The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Suspense is all about worrying about the unknown and not knowing what will come next as the anxiety builds. This genre is often a slow build before the dramatic reveal at the end. Good things come to those who wait.
Examples of suspense books:
- The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman
- The New Neighbor by Karen Cleveland
- The Other Guest by Helen Cooper
This is pretty much a genre in itself. We’ve touched upon some thriller subgenres already. Thrillers, in a nutshell, are fast-paced and action-packed. These books often contain a lot of suspense, red herrings, and cliffhangers.
Examples of thriller books:
- The Last To Vanish by Megan Miranda
- The Perfect Neighborhood by Liz Alterman
- Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
True crime is the non-fiction subgenre of mystery. These mysteries are based on real-life crimes that occurred. The books explain the story of investigating a popular well-known crime, or sometimes crimes that are not so well known and need the limelight.
Examples of true crime books:
- All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers
- Lying Next To Me by Gregg Olsen
- The Patient’s Secret by Loreth Anne White
How Can You Tell Which Subgenre Your Mystery Falls Under?
It’s important to pinpoint any subgenres your book may hold for your target audience. It’ll allow you to market your book well and talk about it properly to others.
One simple way to narrow down your subgenres is to make a bulleted list of certain qualities your book has. Then, take a look at the many subgenres and determine which one your book seems to be most like.
You can do this as you write or during the editing process.
In addition, when you read mystery books, think about the aspects of each novel and remember where you found them in your bookstore or library. It’ll help you learn about the different subgenres and further your knowledge of the mystery genre as a whole.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.