Sunday, June 12, 2011


I try to talk about the sub-genres of crime fiction in my reviews. I  never thought about the definitions of these  before I started this blog (although I had heard the terms bandied about). I only knew if I liked it or not. this blog has really changed my thought process about what I read and why I like it and I never really thought about that before.  It's  niche, sub genre, a tiny part of the reading public we fit within (and can be marketed to!)

With that in mind I did a little research into the sub-genre category and found these handy and neat definitions in the for mystery addict listserve:

Fred Runk's definitions on 4MA. All of these have substantial followings.

I present this here and add  a little (see italics):

1. Police procedurals: police officers, sheriffs, FBI, law enforcement officers in general. PD James' Dalgleish for example, King's Kate Martinelli.  
Martha Grimes' Richard Jury, J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas, Deborah Crombie's Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, Louise Penny's Armande Gamache, J.A. Jance's Joanna Brady. This is one of the most popular types - some are set in the past, future, or an exotic locale.

2. Talented Amateurs: Like Emma Peel! Agatha Christie's "Miss Marple," Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael, Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, or anyone who ends up stumbling over an inordinate number of dead bodies. This also includes non-human detectives.   
I hate dog and cat mysteries; let me say that again! There are lots of these like Diane Mott Davidson's caterer Goldy Schultz, Hank Phillippi Ryan's Charlotte McNally, Sarah Graham's Jacobia Tiptree, Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper, Carolyn Hart's Annie Darling, Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles, David Skebbins' Warren Ritter, C.S. Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr. Some of these are cosies if they feature minimal violence, cute settings, bunch of friends, and warm community. Some have a recipe or craft component. Historical mysteries often have these kind of detectives.

3. P. I.: private investigators who are professionals (they get paid, or are supposed to, anyway), and not connected to police--Philip Marlowe; Sam Spade; Kinsey Millhone; or Steven Saylor's Roman PI, Gordianus the Finder; or Precious Ramotswe of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency.
Sharon McCone, Sherlock Holmes, V.I. Warshawski, Spenser, Tess Monaghan...

4. The Accidental Detective: one who accidentally comes across a murder or goes to the funeral of a deceased friend or relative and inds out there are some strange elements connected to that death.
Agatha Christie's Anne Beddingfeld (about my favorite of her books), Dick Francis one-time heroes, BTW), gosh, it's really hard to think of these...
Note: accidental detectives are one time only. Either they solve the mystery and are never seen again, or they end up in the "Talented Amateur" category when they show up in book 2.

5. Judicial Detectives: anybody connected with the legal system who spends more time doing the cops' job than their own. This includes various judges, lawyers, DA's, bailiffs, bounty hunters.  
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper.

6. Technical professionals: medical examiners, pathologists, coroners, CSI types, SOCO's, etc. Many of these also spend an inordinate amount of time doing police work, interviewing suspects, etc.  
Lisa Black's Theresa McClean, Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, Ariana Franklin's Adelia Aguilar.

7. the historical detective--Brother Cadfael, Crowner John, Gordianus the Finder, etc.  
Fred thinks this fit in the above categories - and they do - either as police procedurals (Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt), professional PIs (Anne Perry's Thomas Monk), amateur detectives (Sebastian St. Cyr, Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily, Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgiana, Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody, Adelia Aguilar) but I think it's a significant sub-category.

8. the "real person" detective--Jane Austen, Queen Elizabeth, Charles Dickens, etc. (Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series, Queen Victoria, and Virginia Woolf mysteries were terrific, I've read ones that featured Bertie the Prince of Wales, Charlotte Bronte, Abigail Adams, Ed Ifkovic's Edna Ferber; I'm waiting for novels with Lord Byron, Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Gore, Elizabeth Taylor... I don't know... Winston Churchill, Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Lincoln...

9. the retired "detective": retired cop, judge, lawyer, FBI profiler.....(see above...)

Any other categories I've missed?

10. Spy novels mysteries (like recently reviewed Sally Sin)
11. Others? Zombie Hunters, Supernatural (Vampire) - Anita Blake