English Literature
Detective Fiction

Detective Fiction

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The Essentials of an Exceptional Mystery Novel

Detective stories have been a staple in literature, from the cunning Sherlock Holmes to the endearing Miss Marple. But what exactly makes a mystery novel stand out? Let's take a closer look at the key elements that contribute to a captivating and entertaining read.

The Definition of Detective Fiction

A story is classified as detective fiction if it revolves around solving a mystery. The plot usually revolves around one central character, the detective, who may be a professional or an amateur. This character may have their own sidekick or assistant, and the story ultimately ends with the revelation of the mystery and the detective's explanation of how they solved it.

Detective fiction is a genre that features a main character, whether a professional or amateur, solving crimes and mysteries in a fictional world. This genre encompasses a variety of sub-genres, such as police procedurals, cosy mysteries, and supernatural detective tales.

The History of Detective Fiction

The origins of detective fiction are debated, with contenders including One Thousand and One Nights (8th-14th century), Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), and Wilkie Collins' "The Moonstone" (1868). However, these early works have significantly influenced and shaped the genre to what it is today.

The Genre of Detective Fiction

The lines between genres often blur, and this is particularly true for detective fiction. It is common for mystery novels to incorporate elements from other genres, such as the supernatural, urban fantasy, romance, and historical fiction. Some well-known examples include Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897), The Nightside series (2003-2012) by Simon R. Green, The Fiona Mahoney Mysteries (2019-present) by Kerrigan Byrne, and the Brother Cadfael series (1977-1994) by Ellis Peters.

The Characteristics of Detective Fiction

While it is difficult to generalize all detective fiction into one set of characteristics, there are some common elements that can be found in these stories:

  • The main character is typically a professional or amateur detective.
  • The story begins with a crime being committed.
  • Other characters from law enforcement agencies may also play a role.
  • The detective interviews various suspects to gather clues and solve the mystery.
  • The criminal is ultimately brought to justice and punished.

Types of Detective Fiction

Over the years, numerous sub-genres of detective fiction have emerged, including "whodunits", police procedurals, serial killer thrillers, child detectives, cosy mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes stories.


A "whodunit" is a type of detective fiction where the reader is aware of the crime from the beginning, but the detective must uncover hidden clues and question witnesses to identify the perpetrator. This type of story takes the reader on a journey of discovery alongside the detective. Examples of "whodunits" include Dorothy L. Sayers' "Strong Poison" (1930) and Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" (1920).

Police Procedurals

In police procedurals, the main characters are law enforcement agents who solve crimes in an official capacity.

From amateur sleuths to professional investigators, from "whodunits" to police procedurals, the world of detective fiction continues to expand and captivate readers around the globe.

The Fascinating World of Detective Fiction

Detective fiction has been a popular genre for decades, mesmerizing readers with its clever plot twists and intriguing characters. These novels follow amateur or professional detectives as they unravel a mystery, ultimately revealing the culprit. In this article, we'll delve into the various styles of detective fiction, famous fictional detectives, and the key elements that make this genre so alluring.

Three Main Types of Detective Fiction

Detective fiction is a popular genre that has captivated readers for decades. It revolves around solving mysteries through the eyes of an investigative character. There are three main types of detective fiction: whodunits, serial killer thrillers, and cosy mysteries. Each type offers a unique reading experience, so let's explore them in more detail.


Whodunits are the classic type of detective fiction that revolves around solving a murder. The story centers around a detective or a group of detectives trying to uncover the identity of the killer. These stories often involve a closed circle of suspects, all with motives to commit the crime. As the detective gathers clues and eliminates suspects, the suspense and mystery build, leading to a dramatic reveal of the perpetrator. Some well-known examples of whodunits include Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" series.

Serial Killer Thrillers

On the other hand, serial killer thrillers have a wider scope and involve a serial killer who targets multiple victims. These stories focus on the psychological aspect of the killer and the detective's race against time to stop them before they strike again. Unlike whodunits, the reader often knows who the killer is from the beginning, adding an extra level of tension as they follow the detective's journey to catch them. Popular examples of serial killer thrillers include Thomas Harris's "The Silence of the Lambs" and James Patterson's "Alex Cross" series.

Cosy Mysteries

Cosy mysteries, also known as "cozies," are a lighter and more lighthearted type of detective fiction. These stories focus less on the crime itself and more on the characters and their relationships. The detective is often an amateur and solves the mystery with the help of their friends and family. The tone of cosy mysteries is often humorous and charming, making them an enjoyable read for those looking for a less intense mystery experience. Popular cosy mystery series include "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith and "The Cat Who..." by Lilian Jackson Braun.

What Makes Detective Fiction Unique?

Detective fiction is a captivating genre that sets it apart from others. In a typical detective fiction, a crime is committed at the beginning, and the detective then sets out to solve it by collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and piecing together the puzzle. While murder is a common crime in this genre, it can also be blended with other genres like supernatural, fantasy, romance, or historical fiction. This blend keeps the genre fresh and exciting for readers.

The Influence of Detective Fiction Today

Detective fiction continues to be a popular genre today, with long-standing series and prize-winning standalone novels. It offers readers the thrill of solving a mystery from the comfort of their armchairs and often provides social commentary on society and law enforcement. So, if you're looking for a thrilling and thought-provoking read, pick up a detective novel and see if you can piece together the clues to solve the crime before the detective does!

The Writing Process

Interested in writing detective fiction? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Choose the type of detective you want to feature, such as a child detective or a police inspector.
  • Set the premise of the crime, including who committed it and their motive.
  • Add complex and plausible suspects to keep the reader guessing.

Famous Fictional Detectives

Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple are just a few of the memorable detectives from the world of fiction. Sherlock Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle, remains a fan-favorite and has been adapted into numerous television shows and films. Other popular detectives include The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Armand Gamache.

Discover the Intriguing World of Detective Fiction

If you're a fan of mystery and suspense, then you're sure to find enjoyment in detective fiction. This genre has been around for centuries, with authors constantly finding new ways to captivate readers with their clever plots and compelling characters. From the classic whodunit to the chilling serial killer thriller, and the cozy mystery, there is a detective story for every type of reader. Two popular series in this genre are "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith and "Murder, She Wrote" by Jessica Fletcher.

The Thrilling Whodunit

One of the most beloved subgenres of detective fiction is the whodunit. This type of story follows a detective as they try to solve a crime and unravel the mystery of who committed it. The suspense builds as clues are uncovered and suspects are questioned, ultimately leading to a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Fans of this type of detective fiction will enjoy "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", which follows the adventures of Precious Ramotswe as she solves cases in Botswana with wit and charm.

The Intense Serial Killer Thriller

For those who crave a more intense and psychological read, the serial killer thriller is the perfect choice. These stories focus on a detective's pursuit of a cunning and twisted killer, often with a race-against-time element. "Murder, She Wrote" is a classic example of this subgenre, as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher uses her sharp mind and keen observation skills to solve a series of murders in her small town.

The Cozy Mystery

If you prefer a gentler and more lighthearted read, the cozy mystery may be just what you're looking for. These stories typically take place in a small, charming setting and feature an amateur detective who stumbles upon a crime and must solve it. This type of detective fiction offers a cozy and comforting read, with characters you can't help but fall in love with. So why not pick up a copy of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" or "Murder, She Wrote" and enjoy a delightful and relaxing mystery.

Final Thoughts

The world of detective fiction is vast and diverse, with something to suit every reader's tastes. Whether you enjoy the suspense of a whodunit, the intensity of a serial killer thriller, or the coziness of a mystery, this genre has it all. So why not grab a book from one of these three types of detective fiction and let yourself be transported into a world of mystery and intrigue.

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