I love a great mystery. I know, most of the time, what I will get in a mystery. The villain will be caught, and justice will prevail. This allows me to enjoy the satisfaction that, at least in the mystery world, everything ends alright. For many of us mystery readers, part of the fun is attempting to solve the mystery before the titular detective. This was a staple of the early Ellery Queen novels and the children’s book series Encyclopedia Brown. In the TV show based on the Ellery Queen novels, the actor would “break the fourth wall” at the end of the episode and say to the viewer, “well, you now have all the clues. Who did it?” Watching the TV series, I only guessed it once. Most of the time I could not “match wits with Ellery Queen,” but it was always fun to see if I could…  

Other people are drawn to mysteries for the characters. Sometimes, the mystery is just a background for engaging and quirky characters. This is true of Sheila Connolly’s County Cork mysteries and Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop mysteries. (The Bakeshop mysteries are fun because they take place in our very own Ashland, Oregon!) The County Cork mysteries take place in a little town in Ireland. The main character runs an Irish pub, and I love the quirky characters that frequent her small town.  

The private investigator was one of the first mystery protagonists. One of the earliest examples is probably the one-and-only Sherlock Holmes. He is both an amateur detective and PI and set the stage for many that were to come in later years. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner soon took up their pens to write their own PI stories. Many of their characters live on today in books and movies. It is a testament to their writing skill that their characters are still beloved all these years later. Sometimes, personal experience can contribute to the overall success of a story. Hammett actually used personal experience to write his detective novels, and Conan Doyle used experience in the medical field and diagnosing patients to write Holmes’ detecting skills. More modern PI mysteries include the Alex Cross series by James Patterson and the Suburban Detective series by Jon Katz.  

Cozy mysteries are a little more laid-back. Rather than a licensed private investigator, an amateur detective will solve mysteries in their sleepy little town that never saw any murder until they came back home. (Think of the murder rate in Cabot Cove, Maine of Murder, She Wrote fame.) The first book in a cozy mystery series usually follows a formula, a call to adventure, if you will. Someone will be murdered within the first chapter the book. Either the protagonist, the protagonist’s relative, or the protagonist’s best friend or significant other is accused of the crime. The police will refuse to look any further for the guilty party because the evidence is stacked against one of the above suspects. I personally like the stories where the police and protagonist have a working relationship. Too many of the cozy mysteries have the police constantly telling the civilians to “stay out of my investigation,” or have a police force that is depicted as being too incompetent to do their job properly. One of my favorite cozy mystery series where the police and the amateur detective have a good working relationship is the Button Box Mysteries by Kylie Logan. 

Another favorite genre of mystery authors is the historical mystery. In an historical mystery, authors get to have fun with the challenges that modern technology has done away with. This can be as simple as having to find a payphone because the cell phone has not been invented yet! There are also mysteries that take place during important historical events or feature historical characters as the detectives. For instance, in the book The Fyre Mirror, the detective is Queen Elizabeth I of England. There are also countless books about the famous killer Jack the Ripper including the Young Adult novel Stalking Jack the Ripper. Since Jack was never caught, an author can do almost anything with the character as long as they stick to the basic facts of the case. World War II is also a favorite time period for many authors.  

However, there is a fine line between historical mysteries (mysteries written today about some event in the past) and period mysteries (mysteries that were contemporary at the time they were written). Sometimes this line becomes even more blurred as the years go on. For instance, Sherlock Holmes was first written in the early Victorian age, making the books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle period mysteries. However, in recent years, countless authors, such as Laura King in her popular Holmes and Russell series, have written new historical mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes. 

The mystery genre has something for everyone. There are paranormal mysteries, light mysteries, quirky characters, and historical settings that span generations. There are books that take place in small town, USA and books that take place al over the globe The genre is vast and full of enjoyable titles so that you can tailor your reading to your personal preferences. I know what I am getting when I pick up a mystery, especially when I find some of my old favorites. The villain will be caught, and justice will be served. The detective will live to fight another day. Sometimes I figure out the perpetrator before the detective, but not often. It is really one of my favorite genres for a reason.  

If you are a fan of this genre, or just want to explore it… let library staff know what elements of mystery you want by letting us know some of your old favorites or what elements of this post you found intriguing. We are happy to help you find your next favorite mystery! Following are also some lists of mystery books that you might also enjoy. If you can’t make it in to the library, you can also reach out to us via JCLS Discovery or one of our other Book Advice tools!  

PI Mysteries 

Cozy Mysteries 

Historical Mysteries 

Paranormal Mysteries  

Children’s Mysteries 

Guest post by Amanda Kuhs