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Reader's Advisory

The category of fiction encompasses a wide variety of books. Many people tend to read in just one of these genres, without exploring the different possibilities available. This section will take a closer look at the various fiction categories. We will try to define each genre, explain a little bit about it, and cover some of the popular authors. We hope that you will try at least one book in each category.


Mysteries are probably the most widely read genre, as they appeal to a large cross-section of the reading population. The central part of any mystery novel is the mystery itself, or the puzzle. Over the course of the book, the author provides clues, which a savvy reader can then put together and guess the ending. The puzzle also usually involves a crime, most often a murder. Lastly, the main character in a mystery will fall into one of three categories: a police detective, a private investigator or an amateur detective.

Most mysteries now not only include the mystery itself, but also a certain amount of back-story about the investigatorís life and relationships. This is especially true in books that are part of a series featuring the same set of central characters. The balance between these two elements varies from author to author. The timing of personal revelations also varies, especially in series writing. Sometimes, like in Sue Graftonís alphabet series, it might take many books for us to learn anything significant about a character, and sometimes the important details are revealed right away. Another difference is that some authors write with the goal of providing the readers with enough clues to figure out the mystery on their own, while others like to surprise the reader at the end with an unexpected twist. Mysteries can also have varying amounts of suspense and intrigue.

One way to narrow down the kind of mysteries that appeal to you is to think about which type of investigator you prefer. Stories involving police detectives often include a lot of explicit details of the crime itself, and while the investigator carries legal authority, he or she must also act within the bounds of the law. Private investigators, like Robert Parkerís Spenser, have more flexibility in their actions, but less legal authority, and often have to find other ways of gaining information. Both of these tend to have a certain amount of violence or explicit details (although it does vary, and there are exceptions). For example, Patricia Cornwellís Kay Scarpetta series contains a lot of forensic detail by necessity, as the main character is a medical examiner and her work is the basis of the story.

Amateur detectives, of course, have no legal authority at all, but often have some connection to the police that they use to successfully solve the mystery. For example, Margaret Maronís Deborah Knott is married to a police detective. Books in this last category are often lighter and funnier than stories featuring either P.Iís or police detectives (although both of the latter can include witty dialogue). These books can also vary in the amount of explicit details and violence; although most will offer very little of this kind of detail, as the focus is usually on solving the crime rather than the specific details of the crime. Those at the gentler end of the spectrum are often called cozies.

Amateur sleuths may also have a hobby or profession that figures into the story somehow; for example, Diane Mott Davidsonís Goldy Bear series is based around cooking. Some of these mysteries also include cats or dogs as a central part of the story (Rita Mae Brown, Lillian Jackson Braun, Laurien Berenson).

Overall, tone can vary. Mysteries can be light and funny (Janet Evanovich or Joan Hess) or darker and more complex. Cozies are lighter by definition. By contrast, Michael Connellyís Harry Bosch series can be quite dark and P.D. James books fall on the more literary end of the spectrum. The amount of humor also varies, along with the complexity and the speed of the read. Janet Evanovichís series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is often laugh-out-loud funny. Evanovichís books are also a really fast read, along with Robert Parkerís novels. On the other hand, Jane Haddamís Gregor Demarkian mysteries are a much slower read. They are more of an intellectual puzzle, and have a kind of literary feel. They also usually have no blood and guts details, as Gregor is always called in long after all the details of the crime have been processed.

Mysteries can also vary by geographic setting or time period. For example, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel and Aimee Thurlo base their stories in the present day American southwest, around various Native American tribes of the area, while Robert Parker sets his mysteries in Boston or the surrounding area and Ellis Petersí Brother Cadfael series is set in England in the 1100ís. Setting can also be important in that an urban setting can often mean a darker, grimmer, more violent tone, whereas stories written in a rural or smaller town setting are often lighter and funnier.

In conclusion, mysteries can be slow and thoughtful, dark and grim, light and funny. They can be written purely for entertainment or they can be written with a thought-provoking, almost literary feel. In a genre that covers so much ground, it is only a matter of time before you find something that appeals to you.

Mystery Authors

Amateur Detectives

  • Jeff Abbott
  • Susan Wittig Albert
  • Robert Barnard
  • Cynthia Baxter
  • Laurien Berenson
  • Lawrence Block
  • Gail Bowen
  • Lillian Jackson Braun
  • Rita Mae Brown
  • Edna Buchanan
  • Fiona Buckley
  • Leslie Caine
  • Dorothy Cannell
  • Beverley Cleverly
  • Harlan Coben
  • Margaret Coel
  • Diane Mott Davidson
  • Janet Evanovich
  • Elizabeth Eyre
  • Jerrilyn Farmer
  • Dick Francis
  • Margaret Frazer
  • Jonathan Gash
  • Sarah Graves
  • Lyn Hamilton
  • Rosemary Harris
  • Carolyn Hart
  • Sue Henry
  • Jonathan Kellerman
  • Harry Kemelman
  • Margaret K. Lawrence
  • Laura Levine
  • Margaret Maron
  • Edward Marston
  • Sharyn McCrumb
  • Miriam Grace Monfredo
  • Shirley Rousseau Murphy
  • Sharan Newman
  • Elizabeth Peters
  • Ellis Peters
  • Virginia Rich
  • Gillian Roberts
  • Caroline Roe
  • Dana Stabenow
  • Randy Wayne White

Police Detectives

  • Nevada Barr
  • MC Beaton
  • Stephen Booth
  • Michael Connelly
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Deborah Crombie
  • Colin Dexter
  • Linda Fairstein
  • Elizabeth George
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Leslie Glass
  • Joan Hess
  • Tony Hillerman
  • P.D. James
  • J.A. Jance
  • Faye Kellerman
  • Ed McBain
  • Val McDermid
  • Jill McGown
  • Carol OíConnell
  • Robert Parker
  • Ridley Pearson
  • Anne Perry
  • Ian Rankin
  • Kathy Reichs
  • Peter Robinson
  • John Sandford
  • Alan Scholefield
  • Julie Smith
  • Aimee Thurlo
  • Ted Wood

Private Investigators

  • Richard Barre
  • Liza Cody
  • Robert Crais
  • Lindsey Davis
  • Sarah Dunant
  • Sue Grafton
  • Jane Haddam
  • Laurie R. King
  • Dennis Lehane
  • G.A. McKevett
  • Marcia Muller
  • Robert B. Parker
  • Sara Paretsky
  • Lawrence Sanders
  • Steven Saylor
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