Sub-Genres of Mystery & Crime

Knowing what genre and subgenre your manuscript fits in can help agents understand if the book is for them.  Being as specific as possible can not only help agents, but it can help you outline and write the best manuscript possible.

If you’re a fan of mysteries and crime novels (as I am), here are several subgenres to check out:

Amateur Detective: a mystery solved by an amateur, who generally has some profession or affiliation that provides ready access to information about the crime.

Child in Peril: a mystery involving the abduction or persecution of a child.

Classic Whodunit: a crime that is solved by a detective, from the detective’s point of view, with all clues available to the reader.

Comic (Bumbling Detective): a mystery played for laughs, often featuring a detective who is grossly unskilled (but often solves the crime anyway, owing to tremendous good luck).

Cozy: a mystery that takes place in a small town—sometimes in a single home—where all the suspects are present and familiar with one another, except the detective, who is usually an eccentric outsider.


Courtroom Drama: a mystery that takes place through the justice system—often the efforts of a defense attorney to prove the innocence of his client by finding the real culprit.

Dark Thriller: a mystery that ventures into the fear factor and graphic violence of the horror genre.

Espionage: the international spy novel—here based less on action than on solving the “puzzle”—is today less focused on the traditional enemy spies than on terrorists.

Forensic: a mystery solved through the forensics lab, featuring much detail and scientific procedure.

Heists and Capers: an “antihero” genre which focuses on the planning and execution of a crime, told from the criminal’s perspective.

Historical: a mystery that takes place in a specific, recognizable period of history, with much emphasis on the details of the setting.

Inverted: a story in which the reader knows “whodunit,” but the suspense arises from watching the detective figure it out.

Locked Room: a mystery in which the crime is apparently committed under impossible circumstances (but eventually elicits a rational explanation).

Medical: generally involving a medical threat (e.g., a viral epidemic), or the illegitimate use of medical technology.

Police Procedural: a crime solved from the perspective of the police, following detailed, real-life procedures.

Private Detective: Focused on the independent snoop-for-hire, these have evolved from tough-guy “hard-boiled” detectives to the more professional operators of today.

Psychological Suspense: mysteries focused on the intricacies of the crime and what motivated the perpetrator to commit them.

Romantic: a mystery in which the crime-solvers fall in love.

Technothriller: a spinoff from the traditional thriller mystery, with an emphasis on high technology.

Thriller: a suspense mystery with a wider—often international—scope and more action.

Woman in Jeopardy: focuses on a woman put into peril by a crime, and her struggles to overcome or outwit the perpetrator.

Young Adult: a story aimed at a teenage audience, with a hero detective generally the same age or slightly older than the reader, pursuing criminals who are generally less violent—but often just as scary—as those in adult mysteries.

“The difference between thrillers and mysteries that there’s a puzzle in the mystery. If you can disentangle it, it will lead you to the answer.”
–Jean V. Naggar, agent

Book MarksGenre Clarification

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