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Mystery

Whodunit? How? Why? These three questions are universal in mystery stories.  Most adult mysteries revolve around an unexplained, usually suspicious death.  Normally, by the story's conclusion, a motive has been discovered, the instrument of death has been found, a murderer has been identified, and all loose ends have been tied up.  While all mystery stories are not tidy affairs, there is almost always a murder, and a logical conclusion reached by a protagonist who discovers and follows clues.  Mystery protagonist may be hard-boiled private detectives, gritty ex-cops, bumbling gardeners, or curious widows, but they usually have nothing to gain from solving a crime but the satisfaction of a job well done.  Because mysteries are logical, they rarely have psychopaths, serial killers, random acts of violence or supernatural elements.  Because they use some of the same plot devices, particularly the feeling of suspensefulness, there is much cross-over appeal between mystery and psychological suspense, spy stories, horror and police stories.  Recurring characters in series are especially common in mysteries.  The following brief description of several mystery subgenres, which include major authors and their recurring characters, are meant to be used as a starting point of exploring the genre.  Many of the author listed have more than one series with different protagonists, and may write in more than one of the subgenre categories.

Police Procedurals  These novels have protagonists who usually belong to a police force and a crime which is solved using the rules of the police department and forensic rules of evidence. Patricia Moyes (Henry Tibbet), P.D. James (Adam Dalgliesh), Ed McBain (87th Precinct novels), Reginald Hill (Pascoe & Dalziel), Dorothy Simpson (Inspector Luke Thanet), Tony Hillerman (Leaphorn &Chee), Ruth Rendell (Inspector Wexford), Martha Grimes (Inspector Jury), Peter Lovesey (Sgt. Cribb). Private Detectives The hero in these stories is either employed by a large agency, or a loner striking out on his or her own.  These detectives are usually licensed PIs or ex-cops.  Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski), Marcia Miller (Sharon McCrone), Walter Mosley (Easy Rawlins), James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux), Lawrence Block (Matt Scudder), Robert Parker (Spenser), Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe).
Amateur Detectives In these stories, nosy and inquisitive civilians with private occupations not associated with law enforcement, get caught up in mysteries.  The Usually cooperate with authorities, but are viewed as meddling annoyances by police.  Diane Mott Davidson (Goldy Bear), Agatha Christie (Jane Marple), Lawrence Block (Bernie Rhodenbarr), Simon Brett (Mrs. Pargeter, Charles Paris), Jonathan Gash (Owen Lovejoy), Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael). Cozies  English villages or country houses, with peaceful and genteel exteriors are usually the setting for these mysteries.  There is little violence involved (apart from a murder), no gory details and everything is wrapped up in a satisfactory conclusion.  Charlotte Macleaod (Peter Shandy, the Bittersohns, Dittany Henbit), John Sherwood (Celia Grant), Agatha Christie (Jane Marple).
Golden Age of Mystery  These are classic whodunits, usually cozies.  Josephine Tey (Inspector Alan Grant), Margery Allingham (Albert Campion), Agatha Christie (Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot), Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), Ngaio Marsh (Inspector Roderick Alleyn). Hard Boiled  The opposite of cozies, these are gritty "noir" novels involving grim details and tough, hard-bitten detectives.   Dashiell Hammett (Continental Op, Sam Spade), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe), Bill Pronzini (Nameless Detective), Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer).
Further Reading:  Oleksiw, Susan, A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery, G. K. Hall, 1988; DeAndrea, William, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, Prentice Hall, 1994;   Rosenberg, Betty, Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction, Libraries Unlimited, 1991; Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary, Greenwood Press , 1994.  Prepared by Ellen Fain and A. Issac Pulver, Literature and Languages Division, 7/96.

Note:  This was part of http://staff.queens.lib.ny.us/central/my_html/Mystery.htm.   When the page was no longer available (HTTP Error 403), I recreated it myself. Lucky for me I had printed it out! I hope the authors do not object. Since I was being so bold, I also took the liberty to link to my own web site when a common author is mentioned.

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