In a standard mystery, the explanation for the mystery is gradually revealed by the investigative process of the protagonists. This is accomplished through a mixture of intelligence, ingenuity, the logical interpretation of evidence, and sometimes sheer luck. Many mysteries use a Mystery Arc as the basis of their narrative structure, though variations on the theme can frequently be found.
Detective Fiction is a type of Mystery Fiction that focuses on a detective solving a crime, and the term is often treated as synonymous with Mystery Fiction.
Basic Classes of Mystery
- The Fair Play Whodunnit: You know what the detective knows, and if you're smart enough, at a certain point, you can solve it ahead of him without being Genre Savvy.
- The Clueless Mystery: The author doesn't provide enough clues for the the audience to figure it out.
- The Reverse Whodunnit: The reader knows who, what, where, when, and why, perhaps in more detail than the detective will ever know. For the reader, the question is: How will the detective solve what appears to be a perfect crime?
Subgenres of Mystery Fiction
- Amateur Sleuth: A character with no formal connection to law enforcement regularly solves crimes, but does not get paid for it.
- Cozy Mystery: Sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs and frequently women. They are typically well-educated, intuitive, and often hold jobs that bring them into constant contact with other residents of their town and the surrounding region. This frequently features the Little Old Lady Investigates.
- Great Detective: The classic Great Detective relies on his personal powers of deduction, education and insight to solve crimes.
- Hardboiled Detective: A tough, cynical guy with a gun and a lot of Street Smarts, who solves mysteries with dogged persistence rather than astounding insight, the Hardboiled Detective was America's Darker and Edgier response to the classic ideal of the Great Detective. This type of Mystery Fiction is often associated with Film Noir.
- Paranormal Investigation: Based on the investigation of actual or alleged paranormal activity, this subgenre by its very nature tends to be less realistic than the others.
- Police Procedural: The emphasis is on realistic or at least semi-realistic depictions of modern police investigative techniques.
- For just a few of the other ways of classifying mysteries, see here and here.
For a brief history of Mystery Fiction, see the Trivia page