Story Hour

Cartoon of the Day-Hornton Hears a Whodunit


It’s a Mystery to me!!

I have had a couple of requests for more information on various types of mysteries within the genre. What do I mean by Soft-boiled? What is a police procedural? These words get thrown around when talking about mysteries – are they useful?

YES! If you know if a mystery is a Cozy and locked room mystery, well, you know it involves a dead person in a locked room written in the cozy style! This can help you decide if that is the mystery for you. Liking P.I. mysteries doesn’t mean you will necessarily like Animal mysteries or Serial Killer mysteries. And so on.Featured image

I normally break this down by STYLE and TYPE, to try and describe the mystery we each prefer. For instance, in STYLE where there are four choices – Traditional, Hard-boiled, Cozy (sometimes called Soft-boiled), or Combination. I prefer a combination of hard-boiled and cozy or what I call a Combination Mystery.

I like many TYPES of mysteries – P.I., Police Procedurals, Historical, Environmental, Cyber/Technological, Legal, Lone Wolf, and many more. What I do not prefer are Animal, Hobby, Romantic Suspense, Mixed(Sci-Fi), Medical or Religious mysteries. Unless they are good, of course!

The difference in STYLE between the Traditional, Hard-boiled and Cozy is the easiest to see.

  • Traditional — whodunit, emphasis on plot not character, rigid puzzle rules—Think Agatha Christie
  • Hardboiled – usually professional sleuth, violence shown, urban setting, loner sleuth, the world is usually not a moral place – Think Michael Connelly
  • Cozy (soft-boiled) – usually amateur sleuth, not realistic, light tone, closed setting, no bad language nor shown violence, wrong and right clearly defined – Think Janet Evanovich
  • Combination – modern mysteries with elements of both hard and soft boiled – Think Tony Hillerman

There are many TYPES of mysteries—everything from Amateur cop to NoirFeatured image to Culinary. While the STYLE really divides readers by philosophy, the TYPE of mystery usually just describes who the hero/ heroine will be. Here are some TYPES of mysteries:

  • PI — Philip Kerr or Robert Parker
  • Police procedural – Louise Penny or Elizabeth George
  • Police assistant – Martin Limon or Paul Dioron
  • Lone wolf – Carol O’Connell or Thomas Perry
  • Ex-cops – Jonathon King or Lee Child
  • Amateur – Julia Spencer-Fleming or Barbara Neely
  • Reporter – Mary Willis Walker or Denise Mina
  • Historical — CJ Sansom or Anne Perry
  • Serial Killer – Thomas Harris or Tami Hoag
  • Locked Room – John Dickson Carr or John Verdon
  • Noir — Robert Crais or James Lee Burke
  • Caper – Donald Westlake or Roger Hobbs
  • Romatic Suspense – Mary Higgins Clark or Nora Roberts
  • Mixed (with Sci Fi) – J.D. Robb or Ben H. WintersFeatured image
  • Hobby or Themed –Earlene Fowler or Laura Childs
  • Animal — Lilian Jackson Braun or Dick Francis
  • Culinary – Ellen Hart or Tamar Myers
  • Religious –Margaret Frazer or Ellis Peters
  • Environment – CJ Box or Nevada Barr
  • Technology – Robert Harris or William Gibson

And then of course, there is the International Mystery with all the various countries taking the stage as their own type– Not just the British, but the Scandinavians, the Mediterraneans, the Russians, the South Americans, the Asians! And more and more – The Africans.

If you look at the bottom of each blog post on books reviewed, you will see I have labeled the TYPE (and sometimes STYLE) on the tags. For example: Gun Street Girl is Hard-boiled and Historical/ Police Procedural. I only tag Hard-boiled or Cozy in STYLE, as almost all modern books are a Combination.

And finally, if that doesn’t confuse you enough, there are the Thrillers, which I don’t even qualify as mysteries. I enjoy them, yes, but mysteries — no.

But that is for another day…..

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

For some reason I usually avoid mysteries set in Ireland. I guess I feel that they are too dark and foreboding and that there is just too much violence and too few realistic women. I have read Benjamin Black, Tana French and Stuart Neville — all with heavy drinking and heavy soul searching but not eFeatured imagenough thoughtful detecting by likable characters.

I am glad to find a series set in Ireland which I thoroughly enjoyed — Adrian McKinty’s Detective Sean Duffy is my kind of cop. Clever, funny, thoughtful and believable. McKinty is a fine writer who makes the writing seem readable while at the same time uniquely profound. He gives us complex female characters as well as male characters which we admire and want to follow! How daring!

It is Belfast 1985, so the plot does involve “the troubles.” Also gun runners, arms dealers, MI5 and a rogue American agent with a fake identity. McKinty gives us a genuine mystery with twists and turns while teaching us about those times in Ireland. Detective Duffy isn’t at all innocence with his drugs and self-loathing tenancies, but he’s a loyal boss and friend. And he is a good cop.

I am definitely going back to read the first three in this Sean Duffy series, the first being The Cold, Cold Ground from 2012. There is another expected out in 2016 as well, called Rain Dogs. My rating — 4 of 5.

Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman

Those of us who love the mystery genre have a soft spot for Private Investigators. We can argue over which type of mystery is the best (cozies or hard-boiled) or argue the educational advantages of historical mysteries or the vicarious experiences with international mysteries, but we all love that down on his/her heels, the PI.

Featured imageActually, I seldom read a straight-up American PI mystery any more as the genre has grown in so many varied directions. The current trends in this genre are with historical, international and high tech mysteries. But the American image of the mystery is the PI going against the system – and Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman is a delightful way to remember this.

Willis Gidney is a PI in Washington DC who has a juvie record and has lived in the foster system—now at 35 he is tough and cocky but also smart and resilient. As we have seen in many PI novels, a good friend asks him to help find his missing daughter who has been gone for two decades. But if you expect the usual read here, you will be surprised.

I am happy to follow a PI who is not a drinking, sarcastic, tough guy – rather Gidney is often funny with his quirky offbeat thoughts and comments. His childhood trauma has made him strong and clever, not a depressed loner. His business card reads: “I cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.” I can see why this book won the 2008 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition.

Gidney may be scarred, but it has turned him into a modern-day knight with a sense of humor, instead of the usual negative tortured soul. He loves women and children! He charmingly courts a woman! I laughed out loud many times as I read this book – he stole my heart, and I think he will steal yours, too. My rating —  5 of 5.