What is Mystery? All About the Genre and Sub-genres.

A guide to mystery for English learners.

What is Mystery?

A mystery story asks, “Who did it?” The story starts with a crime, such as a murder or theft. Then, the main characters investigate to find out the truth. The reader often has a chance to “play along” and try to figure out the clues. At the end of the story, we find out, “Who did it?” and “How or why did they do it?”

You will see: Murder scenes. Detectives looking for clues. Police tracking down suspects.

Popular mystery novels and TV series are:

The Popular Sub-Genres of Mystery

Cozy Mystery

Cozy mysteries are perfect for readers who don’t like violent details or scary scenes. Cozy mysteries are… cozy! In the story, we never see gruesome details, such as a descriptions of blood or terrible injuries. Sometimes the crime is nonviolent (a stolen necklace) and sometimes the crime is murder (a poisoned husband). The main character is usually a small town woman with no detective experience.

This sub-genre is fun and light-hearted. People enjoy reading it because you only need common sense to solve the crime. There isn’t a lot of specialized vocabulary, so for English learners, this is a great subgenre to start in!

You will see: Clever, social women. Lazy police. Small towns. No blood.

Popular Cozy Mystery novels and TV series:

Hannah owns a popular cookie bakery in a small town. Every morning, the delivery man visits her shop. But one morning, he is found dead in his truck – with Hannah’s cookies next to him! Was he poisoned by her cookies?
Jessica lives in a seaside town and writes mystery novels. She is unhappy with the local police because they always arrest the wrong suspect, so she decides to solve the murders by herself.
In a small town, a business man dies from poisoned tea. The police believe his wife is the murderer… but later, she also dies from poisoned tea. An old, unmarried woman called “Miss Marple” finds a clue and decides to investigate.

Police Procedurals

This genre focuses on police work. The characters are usually experts that specialize in subjects such as autopsy (examining dead bodies), forensic science (checking fingerprints or DNA evidence), and interrogation (questioning witnesses and suspects). The detectives add up the clues to find out who the murderer is.

If you are new to Tadoku, this is a difficult sub-genre to read or watch. It has a lot of scientific and specialized vocabulary.

You will see: Gruesome dead bodies. Scientific evidence. Chasing down suspects.

Popular police procedural books and TV series:

This team of investigators focuses on analyzing behavior. Usually, the killer is still active, so the team must quickly gather evidence to stop the next murder.
Dexter works on a police force and helps solve murders by looking at blood patterns. This popular novel and TV series has an interesting twist: Dexter is a serial killer.
A scientist teams up with the FBI to solve murder mysteries. The clues are in the victim’s bones.

Paranormal Mystery

Paranormal mysteries are regular mysteries with a twist of fantasy or supernatural. The murders are often believed to be committed by ghosts, vampires, evil spirits or witches. Normal detectives and science can’t solve these crimes, so the main characters usually have some experience with the supernatural or they have a special talent.

Some paranormal mysteries have a cozy mystery feel, and some have a police procedural feel. Depending on style, this genre could be easy or difficult for English learners.

You will see: Angry spirits. Magical ceremonies. Communication with the dead.

Popular paranormal mystery novels and TV shows:

This FBI team investigates strange occurrences. Some of the episodes include alien sightings, monster attacks and ghost hauntings.

A group of friends and their dog investigate paranormal mysteries. They search through haunted mansions and creepy graveyards. In the end, the “ghost” usually turns out to be just a man in a mask.
Rachel’s father is dead and his murder is unsolved. Using ancient magic, Rachel tries to talk to her dead father. Unfortunately, the magic goes wrong, and now an evil spirit has been released.

Caper Mystery

This is a mix of mystery and comedy. Sometimes, the main characters are detectives, but sometimes, the main characters are criminals. These stories will make you laugh because of silly criminals and clumsy detectives. The tone is light, so the crimes don’t usually involve murder. Typically, the criminals attempt a heist (stealing a lot of money or goods) or a ransom (kidnapping someone to get money from their family).

Because the tone is light, there isn’t a lot of scientific vocabulary. But watch out for authors that use a lot of American cultural references for humor – it might be difficult for non-Americans to understand.

You will see: Outrageous heist plans. Clumsy characters. “Dumb-luck” criminals.

Popular caper mystery movies and TV shows:

Childhood friends start a psychic detective business. Shawn has great observation skills and memory, so he pretends to have psychic powers. To the annoyance of the local police, Shawn often solves mysteries faster than them.
A group of criminals team up for a jewelry heist. Their grand plan is successful… but now, they don’t want to share.
Two men kidnap a young boy for a ransom. They think they will easily get money from the family. Unfortunately for them, the little boy is more dangerous than they expected.

Suspense / Thriller Mystery

Suspense and thriller mysteries are packed with tension. Once we start reading, it’s hard to stop. Suspense mysteries have a slow pace, but we fear that something bad might happen soon (a serial killer might strike again). Thriller mysteries have a fast pace, and the characters are usually racing against the clock (a bomb will explode in 20 minutes).

This sub-genre is perfect for intermediate and advanced readers who get bored easily. These stories will keep us turning the page!

You will see: Detectives in danger. Car chases. Gun fights. Kidnapping.

Popular suspense / thriller mysteries:

An American professor wakes up in a Paris hospital with no memory. The next moment, he is chased out of the hospital by a man with a gun. Somehow, without his memories, he must figure out why he is in Paris and who is trying to kill him.
Ten strangers are invited to stay at a mansion on an isolated island. But where is the host? One by one, the guests start dying. Nobody knows who to trust. They must find the killer before they are killed.
A married couple are living a happy, perfect life in a nice neighborhood. One day, their baby goes missing. A detective investigates and finds suspicious neighbors, lies between husband and wife, betrayal and secrets. What actually happened to the baby?


Published by Judy Shinohara

Hello! I’m Judy, living in Osaka! I love teaching English to my students. In my free time, I enjoy simple gardening, reading and writing, art, and watching Netflix.

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