What better way to cool off from the summer heat than to dive into a mystery? Whether you're rocking on the porch or lounging on the beach, mysteries will give you a refreshing dose of cold, calculated crime. Mysteries offer a wide variety of subgenres to fit the tastes of every reader. Have you discovered your favorite yet?
"Cozies" are usually what people imagine when they think of a mystery novel. They focus on a limited number of suspects in a domestic setting, and a crime with little gory detail. The sleuth is often an amateur, although this is not always the case. The classic example of this comes from the queen of crime, Agatha Christie. Her two most popular sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, are the stars of dozens of cozy mysteries. Popular titles in each series include "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" and "The Body in the Library." Cozies are also a great choice if you enjoy crafting, cooking, pets or any other hobby, as authors often incorporate those elements into their crimes. Try reading "Catering to Nobody," by Diane Mott Davidson, if you like culinary whodunits, or Laura Childs' "Death by Darjeeling," which features a Charleston tea shop.
If gritty urban crime is more your speed, try a hard-boiled mystery. Made famous by authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, they feature cynical, lone-wolf private detectives and lots of violent action, casual sex and professional criminals. These books aren't for the faint of heart. Fans can pick up titles like "The Monkey's Raincoat," by Robert Crais, whose detective navigates the seamy side of Hollywood, or Reed Farrel Coleman's "Onion Street," which features a Brooklyn PI with a lot of baggage. In the same vein, soft-boiled mysteries are less bloody than their hard-boiled brothers, and while the sleuth is still willing to kill to solve the case, he doesn't like it. These books often include humorous elements, like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, or Tim Cockey's Hitchcock Sewell mysteries about a bachelor undertaker.
For character-driven mysteries full of technical details on detection, try police procedurals. You'll see a step-by-step outline of how police investigate crime, with a main character that belongs on the force and often has a difficult relationship with his superiors. These novels are a balance of plot and character study. Fans of television shows like "Law & Order," "CSI," "Masterpiece: Mystery!" often enjoy police procedural mysteries. Classic series include Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse books and Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn novels. Readers may also enjoy "The Beautiful Mystery," by Louise Penny, "The Private Patient," by P.D. James, or "Faceless Killers," by Henning Mankell.
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Readers can get their fix of fast-paced, action-packed mysteries through thrillers and suspense novels. Although these generally don't include the same need to find out "whodunnit," they offer intensely large-scale villainy, building tension, and emotional manipulation to push the reader forward to the conclusion. Think of James Patterson or Lee Child as go-to authors, but you might also try Jeffery Deaver's "The Sleeping Doll," which pits interrogator Kathryn Dance against a ruthless serial killer, or the legal/political thriller "The Emperor of Ocean Park," by Stephen L. Carter.
Beyond the general categories described, authors are shaking things up by adding elements from other genres into their books. Paranormal mysteries like "A Discovery of Witches," by Deborah Harkness or inspirational detective stories like Vannetta Chapman's "Falling to Pieces" are just two examples of this cross-over. If you'd like more help finding the perfect mystery for you, ask your local reference librarian to help you track it down, and make your summer mysterious.
Ann Cox is a reference librarian at St. Helena Island library.