Crime Fiction – Sub-Genres

Crime Fiction

General Definition of Genre

The crime fiction genre deals with crimes. Beyond that simple definition, it deals with detection of crimes, criminals, and their motives.

Basic Structure

A crime fiction story has a crime (usually a murder), an investigation of the crime, and ends with the outcome of the investigation. Most often the outcome ends with the criminal’s arrest or death.

Sub-Genres of Crime Fiction

Amateur Detective: A mystery solved by an amateur, who generally has some profession or affiliation that provides ready access to information about the crime. Writers: Alan Bradley, Ellery Adams, Diane Mott Davidson, Terri L. Austin, Diane Vallere, Larissa Reinhart, Kendel Lynn, and Anna Celeste Burke.

Classic Whodunit: A crime that is solved by a detective, from the detective’s point of view, with all clues available to the reader. The stories feature a mysterious death, a closed circle of suspects who all have motives and reasonable opportunity to commit the crime. Writers: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Patricia Wentworth, and John Dickson Carr.

Comic: A mystery played for laughs, featuring a bumbling detective who is grossly unskilled, but solves the crime anyway. Writers: Jane Jeffry, Mark Schweizer, Alesia Holliday, Joyce Lavene, Dorothy Gilman, and Eric Shepherd.

Courtroom drama: A mystery that takes place through the justice system, often the efforts of a defense attorney to prove the innocence of his client by finding the real culprit. Writers: Kenneth Eade, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, William Landay, Jodi Picoult, David Guterson, and John Scalzi.

Cozy: A mystery usually set in a middle-class environment in a small town where all the suspects are present and familiar with one another. The murder is solved by friendly police, an often eccentric private detective and a dopey side-kick, or an amateur sleuth. There is no graphic description of the crime or gruesome details of the murder. Writers: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Elizabeth Daly.

Forensic: A mystery solved through the forensics lab, featuring much detail and scientific procedure. The lead character is usually a woman who is a scientist or pathologist. Writers: Jeffery Deaver, Patricia Cornwell, and Kathy Reichs.

Hard-boiled: A mystery that contains graphic and gruesome details of the crimes committed, which are often violent or sexual in their nature. These stories often feature psychopaths and serial kills and have detectives with deeply flawed characters. Writers: Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Sue Grafton, and Bill Pronzini.

Heists and Capers: A sub-genre which focuses on the planning and execution of a crime, told from the criminal’s perspective.

Legal thriller: A thriller in which a lawyer confronts enemies outside as well as inside the courtroom, generally putting his own life at risk. Writers: Michael Fredrickson, Steve Martini, John Grisham, and Harper Lee.

Medical thriller: A thriller featuring medical personnel, whether battling a legitimate medical threat such as a world-wide virus, or the illegal or immoral use of medical technology. Writers: Robin Cooke, Michael Crichton, and Tess Gerritsen.

Police procedural: A thriller that has the detective doing things police officers do as they work their way through a case. Writers: Ed McBain, P.D. James, and Bartholomew Gill.

Private Eye: A mystery focused on the independent snoop-for-hire. These have evolved from tough-guy “hard-boiled” detectives to the more professional operators of today. These stories feature more psychology and less action. Writers: Ross Macdonald, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, and Robert B. Parker.

Psychological suspense: A mystery focused on the intricacies of the crime and what motivated the perpetrator to commit them. Writers: Dennis Lehane, Joy Fielding, S. J. Watson, Thomas Harris, Gillian Flynn, Daphne DuMaurier, Lois Duncan, William Landay, Harlan Coben, and Scott Smith.

Tartan noir: A sub-genre with a Scottish heritage. The stories are hard-boiled with main characters that are not very likeable, often deeply flawed and world weary. They usually suffer from personal crises during the course of the story and the crises form a major part of the story. Writers: Lin Anderson, Christopher Brookmyre, Alex Gray, Allan Guthrie, Alanna Knight, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, and Manda Scott.

Thriller: A mystery with a basic set of structural components: threats to the social order, heroes and villains, and deduction and resolution. Writers: Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Gillian Flynn, and Dennis Lehane.



Genres of Mystery and Crime Fiction:

Nine Examples of Sub-Genres in Crime Fiction:

The Tartan Noir webpage: