Mysteries have to be about murder
False! Many well known, popular mystery stories don’t involve murder at all. From my earliest days, growing up with the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series that pre-teens and teens still love, I can tell you this isn’t true at all. Many of our modern cozy mysteries involve heist’s and other thefts, family deception and all sorts of intrigue that isn’t paired with murder on or off the page.
2. Mysteries have to be dark and/or gristly and gory
The advent of female investigators like Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and the return of the cozy style, previously called the ‘traditional mystery’ a la Agatha Christie have all proven that isn’t true. Mystery’s don’t have to be full of blood and guts to be enjoyable or to sell for the author and the publisher. Whether they include a murder or multiple murders, gore doesn’t have to spill across the page to entertain the reader.
3. Mysteries with male sleuths are more popular
Says who? That may have been true pre-1970 or 1980 when Christie’s Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen or Phillip Marlowe were the characters readers clamored after. These days, even more popular than many of those are female characters like Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Evanovich’s Stepanie Plum and on and on. That’s just for starters by just a few of the bigger names in mystery fiction.
4. Sex in a mystery is necessary
Yes, sex sells. Sex isn’t always necessary in a mystery story however and many very popular, top selling mystery fiction authors prove that time and time again by including no sex in their stories or only fade to black scenes. Full on sex that doesn’t add in any significant way to the story is gratuitous and most readers skip right over it.
5. The hero must be the protagonist
True, the vast majority mysteries – especially series fare – focus on the hero crime solver as the protagonist. There are still those books though that grab us and suck us into a story that features the villain as the main character. Two of the most famous examples I can give of this working well are the books, ‘American Psycho‘ by Brett Easton Ellis and ‘Blaze‘ by Richard Bachman (via Stephen King). Both books are fictional criminal mind gold to the mystery lover. Want something less thriller and more mystery? How about Jeff Lindsay’s entire ‘Dexter‘ series?