Genre of the Week- Mystery/Suspense

I thought it might be time to have a particular topic to post on a weekly basis.  From now until I run out of genres, a different one will be discussed every Sunday.  After seeing the results of the poll I conducted awhile back on favorite genres, it seemed prudent to start out with the most popular one.  The idea for this post is to discuss what we expect when reading these types of novels and what we don’t like.  Each person has their own preferences, but I think getting those out helps readers tell authors what they favor and it helps authors know what to do and not do.

Below are the things I look for in any book (regardless of genre) where mystery/suspense are key elements.  If I have read an author’s book who has posted on this site and their story pertains to what I’m discussing here, they may be used as examples.  Reviews and links to the novels mentioned are available if you do a search on this blog.

1) Predictability: Who wants to figure the mystery too soon?  “Space Turbulence” by Alex Le Soum is a great example of how to keep a reader guessing until the end.

2) Useful Clues:  Some should be real and others red herrings to throw off the readers.  Again, Alex Le Soum did this well in her book.

3) Good pacing and focus on the plot– If you want to keep readers invested in the suspense/mystery of the story, don’t divert from that too much with other things.  Exceptions would be cross-genre books, such as romance, where time has to be spent on the relationship as well.  Yet if you are marketing your novel as strictly mystery and/or suspense, try to keep the story moving forward and limit the character’s personal issues (unless they are part of the obstacles to gaining resolution which I will cover later).  “Shadow Path” by P.L. Blair is one book to see on how to do this.  The author did an excellent job of keeping focus on the main problem and kept personal matters limited to what fit the plot and character development.  She simply left hints that later books in the series could cross into other genres such as romance.

4) Risk and Danger– The best suspense has the character(s) in constant risk of death, even if they don’t recognize the danger at first.  “Call Sign: Wrecking Crew (Storm Warning)” by Lynn Hallbrooks does this.  This is a very long novel and yet the cast of characters remain in constant danger until the end, which causes the reader to keep wondering who many survive.

5) Personal Stake in Resolving the Problem– This can vary depending on the exact nature of the novel.  In a police procedural, it is the detectives job to solve the crime, but that alone doesn’t make for an interesting plot.  What helps make it more engaging to the reader is if the MC had a similar crime occur to them or their family.  Another method is having someone from the detective’s past causing the problem(s).  This raises the stakes and increases the motivation to stop the perpetrator, plus it helps with development of the protagonist and antagonist!  Regardless of the type of novel, it is important that the reader know why the MC should try so hard and risk life and limb to “take the bad guy out”.  Duty alone isn’t always enough.  Once again, “Shadow Path” (mentioned above) is a good example.  Stacey Juba’s “Twenty-five Years Ago Today” is also a good one to look at.


There are many other areas that could be covered, but these are the main aspects I thought important.  Everyone is welcome to give their own observations or provide examples from their books or ones they have read.   Feel free to ask questions as well!

~ by Suzie on August 14, 2011.

11 Responses to “Genre of the Week- Mystery/Suspense”

  1. For me, a great mystery should make you go “oh, of course it was!” at the end. You should be kicking yourself that you didn’t get it. I remember reading one where the murderer was a child playing with an air rifle, which was never mentioned anywhere until the reveal at the end. I can’t remember what the book was called, but I do remember feeling totally cheated – how was I ever supposed to get that! It’s OK too if I do solve it, and can give myself a pat on the back – but not quite as good as where the author beats me.

    • Janet, what is great about your book is you keep people guessing, but a reader does have a small chance of figuring out who the murderer is. Where you kept me in the dark is motivation for the crime. I certainly didn’t see that coming!

      • I agree, I love the challenge of figuring it out, and it’s okay if I do, but like Susan said, I want at least one aspect to catch me off guard. I’m disappointed if I feel like I figured it out too easily.

        It’s funny, I don’t really read Mystery/Suspense, but crime dramas are my absolute favorite genre to watch on TV. I’m very compartmentalized in my likes, hehe.

  2. Really important point regarding Plot and pacing with regard to genre. Mystery almost seems to be a very tight formula when it comes to genre. I’ve gotten to the point where when I describe or pitch my newest novel, ( which contains an element of a mystery, but which is primarily a personal/family journey story) I don’t even use the word mystery in the prose. It seems to attract mystery genre readers & reviewers who are then surprised and disappointed that there is anything besides clues and action! I wish I could think of what to say without making it sound like an apology.

    • Richard, I think it is important for you to emphasize that your novel is a journey of discovery which has internal and external factors. Your book is on my TBR and I’ll be reading it soon, but I have checked the sample already. I can see what you mean based on that. There are a lot of inter-personal relationships going on from what I saw that makes it less of a fast paced book, but well suited for historical fiction. If you have read my reviews, you know I always summarize the story, but can’t say how I would do yours yet until I finish all of it. Hopefully I can give you better guidance then, but this is the best I can say for now. It is certainly important to advertise a novel in the right way or else it can disapoint readers who feel misled.

  3. Anyone that knows me knows that I love mystery books. In particular Medical mysteries. I am a huge fan of both Robin Cook and Patricia Cornwell. Lately, I’ve branched out a bit more. I have read several Dee Henderson books. Dee Henderson is a Christian Based Author. That being said, she can interweave, romance, mystery, and action very well. Sometimes, I think I know who did what but then boom I’m surprised by who did it or why. I like that the best. I’ve even posted reviews on every book that I’ve read by Dee Henderson on Amazon.

    • I like when there is a blend of genres too Lynn. My addiction is romance so it is always better for me if there is at least some aspect of it in a book.

      • Christian Romance is alot different than any other romance type book that I’ve read. You may like the Uncommon Heroes series to start with. Those are the first ones that I read. They have a military theme in them. The O’Malley Chronicles has a prequel, Danger in the Shadows, that really should be read before the others. Of course, I realize that you have a lot of books on your plate at the moment but if you ever get the chance I think you might like these two series.

        • Lynn, thanks for the suggestion, but since falling in love with my husband, I try to stick with romance that keeps religion on the fringes. The battles I faced with some of my more conservative christian family members over marrying a Muslim have caused me to shy away from books with too much religious themes unless it is for specific research. I actually keep the Bible and Quran nearby and look up things from both regularly. I’m more of a person who worships God alone and lets others believe what they want. Hope that makes sense.

          • It does make perfect sense to me. I was just explaining it because, some people may not realize how those books work. I’m sorry you have to go through that. I say as long as two people are happy then leave them alone and let them be happy. You are adults after all.


            Hugs to you.

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