The Mystery of North Carolina
North Carolina is both home to many mystery writers, and the setting of many mystery novels. This LibGuide looks at a sampling of both from across the web and at those resources that are available at a major library system in the NC Triangle. It also includes some references and resources for further study.
Some Clues to Understanding Mysteries
What is a mystery?
While the elements of a mystery novel can vary greatly, its definition is fairly consistent. A mystery is a specific genre of fiction in which a detective (amateur or professional) solves a crime. The genre is also known as crime fiction or detective fiction, but those titles serve mainly as subcategories of the mystery genre. They are known by their various subgenres that are ever-growing and evolving. Mysteries can be set in real or fictitious locations, feature a hilarious cast of characters, intrigue you with its plot twists or turns, or simply draw you in with creative prose. There is a mystery book out there for everyone; the challenge is locating it. I hope this guide provides a little background into the genre so you can maximize your chances of finding that title!
Mystery subgenres are fluid, but here is a listing and description of some major categories.
Cozy mysteries, or cozies, are considered the gentlest of the mystery subgenres. Violence and sexual situations are usually implied rather than discussed, although there are always exceptions. While they usually involve an amateur sleuth, there are a number of titles that include professionals sleuths (detectives, PIs, etc.). Cozies are known for the variety found within their sub-subgenres. Readers can find cozy mystery series that center around animals, crossword puzzles, food (known within the subgenre as "foodies"), and, of course, libraries!
The caper is a mystery filled with humor. The protagonist is usually the object of the humor, often getting themselves into compromising situations. This subcategory within the mystery genre is meant to be light-hearted, so they are more commonly aligned with cozies. Similarly, the crimes featured in such stories are usually kidnappings, theft, or swindles. Often, the caper will poke fun at traditional themes found within mysteries. For example, a caper may feature an honest criminal and a crooked cop instead of the reverse.
Noir fiction is considered the darkest and most bleak mystery subgenre. It is often associated with the “hardboiled” subgenre, which depicts a no-nonsense detective in an urban setting popularized during the Prohibition era. However, its definition has broaden since then. Noir fiction is characterized by explicit violence and language, impersonal tone, disturbing situations (rape, physical abuse, etc.) and moral ambiguity. Traditionally, the protagonist is a victim, suspect, or perpetrator instead of a detective. Often, the protagonists exhibit self-destructive tendencies that result in tragedy for all involved. Happy endings within noir fiction is the exception rather than the rule. Neo noir, a more contemporary take on the classic subgenre, have become popular as of late. It is often called "edgy literary fiction with a dark undertone."
In a thriller, the protagonist must stop the plans of an enemy rather than uncover a crime that has already happened. The danger within a traditional mystery may escalate as the story continues while a thriller may have non-stop action and danger throughout the story. While a mystery climaxes once the mystery is solved, a thriller climaxes when the protagonist defeats the villain, is able to save themselves and the lives of others in danger. The plot centers on how they will be able to complete all of these tasks.
The private investigator, or PI, subgenre is characterized by a professional that is hired by an individual wanting to solve a mystery to clear the name of a loved one or to locate a missing person. While this subgenre has historically featured male protagonists, female PIs have become quite popular. The PIs featured are usually loners with a wry sense of humor and a way with a gun. This subgenre can be found within a number of other subgenres, from cozies to noir fiction.
Suspense novels can be somewhat difficult to define. In suspense, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The plot usually centers on whether or not the protagonist can prevent the already revealed danger from occurring. What makes this subgenre so intriguing to its readers is that way in which specific details are gradually revealed. The reader waits in anticipation as the protagonist runs out of valuable time trying to prevent a disaster, solve a crime, or save a loved one.
Police procedurals emphasize factual police operations. Usually, the author has done thorough research to ensure their novel remains true to real-life law enforcement situations. Readers can expect a behind the scenes look at police work as well as the personal lives of the law enforcement officers involved. This subgenre can be complicated at times as the protagonist is often juggling a number of cases and emotions, which are put on full display.
A Sampling of Mystery Titles by Subgenre
Ghosts, Psychics, etc.
Cats & Dogs