Last month we looked at some of the major types of murder mysteries in lit today. The Whodunit and the Hard-Boiled Detective are classic tropes in mystery fiction. Let’s finish up the list with four more favorites.
The Pastiche is really big right now. You may not know the term, but if you’re into alt-history, you’ve probably read at least one. These are books written by one author in the style of another author. For example, Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary is a Sherlock Holmes book written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle. There are a LOT of Holmes pastiches in print right now, most of which add some new character or maybe a new theme like paranormal, horror, steampunk or even homoeroticism. Some of the best Holmsien authors writing in the past few years include Nicholas Meyer, Laurie R. King, Carole Nelson Douglass, and even Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.
The Police Procedural is also very popular. While the crime is important the plot, the real focus is on the steps the police take to solve the crime. Ed McBain is a master of this form with his dozens of 87th Precinct novels. His fictional island of Isola’s (a stand in for Manhattan) police force solved a wide variety of crimes across more than 50 books over 50 years. While the crimes were (almost) always solved, the real meat of the series follows the officers’ lives as they evolve both in and out of the precinct headquarters. Other must-read writers in this tradition include Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and the amazing Val McDermid.
There’s the Caper or the Heist. There’s a big plan, a big cast or characters and a big list of things that can go spectacularly wrong. And they usually do. That’s what makes the caper so much fun to read. Some of the best heist books include W.R. Burnett ‘s masterpiece Asphalt Jungle, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by John Gody, Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan and even Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty. What you may notice is that many of these are better known as movies. The action and suspense of the classic heist make for fantastic visual storytelling, tropes that even bleed into other popular films like Ant-Man, Fast and the Furious and even The Hobbit.
Finally, there’s the Cozy Mystery. When you think Cozy, think Murder She Wrote. Think Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple (with some caveats). These are the prototypical cozy mysteries. How can you be sure? Well, they usually involve small town or village life, a tight and colorful cast of suspects, a vicious but not-too-bloody murder and — most important — an amateur sleuth. She — and it’s usually a she — is an everyday observer with a remarkable talent for spotting what others miss. When the police are completely dumbfounded, she steps in and, to everyone’s surprise, solves the crime.
Now, there are several other types of mystery novels, but these are my personal favorites. Also, many authors today are combining styles into new narrative forms and mystery traditions.
So, what are your questions and comments on murder mysteries? What’s your favorite type of fatal fiction? Drop me a line — I’d love to hear from you.
Love a good murder? Be sure to take a stab at Thou Shalt Not Kilt, a traditional Southern cozy with Scottish flavor. For my latest news and book updates, follow me on Instagram and TikTok, and sign up for Fatal Fiction, my monthly mystery newsletter — plus, you’ll get a free downloadable copy of Masters of Murder, my guide to the detectives and authors of mystery’s Golden Age!