Hi gang –
So today we are talking mystery genres. If we are moving down the line, from light books to dark here is how it looks to me:
Traditional/cozy – soft boiled – mainstream/noir – suspense – thriller
I didn’t create a separate category for historical because they can fit under cozy, soft, or mainstream.
Last we talked about cozy, amateur sleuth, and traditional mysteries. You can further break them down into culinary, animal/pet, paranormal, crafting, etc.
Same thing for soft boiled. Soft boiled mysteries take the cozy one step further. Quite often there is a hook, but for me, that isn’t the defining point. To me, in a soft boiled mystery, as the reader you don’t have to suspend disbelief as much as in a cozy. The characters grow from what they have learned, which quite often makes the 12th book in a series darker and more serious in tone than the first book in the series. One can only stumble over so many bodies without becoming jaded and a better sleuth. Character development is essential to soft boiled series. This is very true for the Murder by Month series by Jess Lourey. Her character, Mira James, stumbles across a few bodies and over the course of series moves from amateur sleuth to a PI in training.
The second defining point for me, and this truly applies for assigning categories to all books, is tone. Soft boiled may have humor, but it’s not a requirement. In response to Josh’s post, I would say that many mysteries that were previously called chick lit fall into the soft boiled category.
Mainstream encompasses a very large part of the mysteries being written. The plot is believable. Quite often there is a professional investigator involved. There is a high amount of tension and the main character is generally put in a perilous situation, or those closest the main character are. When I owned my bookstore, William Kent Kruger did a signing for every new book. At one signing he said something close to this, “you all know Cork (the main character of his series) is going to survive. After all, it’s called the Cork O’Connor series. Because of that, everyone in his life is fair game.” Which is true. Kent has killed off several characters close to Cork and it’s heart-wrenching every single time. Like soft boiled mysteries, character development is key. As a reader, you become attached to characters - if the author and I are doing our jobs correctly.
Wait, you might be thinking, isn’t character development important for all mysteries. For the most part yes. Just like for the most part, mysteries are series. It’s the stand alone books that are often high in suspense or action where character development isn’t always as important. We’ll discuss that next week when we discuss suspense and thrillers.
Hardboiled and noir, to me, are pretty close to mainstream. In general, the protagonist is a private detective and very cynical point of view. The antihero is often fighting against a corrupt legal system. There are some self-destructive characteristic as well.
OK, that is all for today! Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is name your favorite authors and what category you think they fall into.