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What is the difference between a mystery and a crime novel?

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It's a stupid question, I know, but I honestly have no clue. Basically, what's the difference between a mystery and crime novel? Is there a huge difference? Or are the two genres similar?
#1 - April 08, 2012, 06:23 AM

YA & Spec Fic Writer
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The two genres are very similar, because they both have to do with crimes being committed. But my understanding is that generally a mystery novel focuses on just that--the mystery of who committed the crime, which usually is not discovered until the end--whereas crime novels are more about exploring the idea of crime in general--why do people commit crimes?  How does it impact their victims, the people trying to catch them, themselves?  Which is why in crime novels you often get multiple POVs, many times including one or more of the criminals.  Mystery novels I think usually stick to the POV of the mystery solver, so that the reader only discovers clues to the mystery as they do. 

But of course many (most?) crime novels also include some mystery about who the main antagonist is, and some mystery novels break the standard mold (Agatha Christie plays with the tropes a lot, for ex).
#2 - April 08, 2012, 06:59 AM
YA paranormal, sci fi, & fantasy:
Fallen World series
Earth & Sky trilogy

I agree with the above. Huge overlap but in theory a mystery need not involve a crime (some do not, though there may be a perception of crime at the beginning) and not all crime novels involve a mystery.
#3 - April 08, 2012, 09:05 AM

Thanks, Megan.

I'm now curious. . . is there any one here on the BB whom writes YA crime?

#4 - April 08, 2012, 09:45 AM

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Maybe I'm being TOO inclusive, but I'd say that mysteries are more inclusive -- I can think of books that are clearly mysteries that involve no crime per se, or where the crime is hardly the point -- like the Westing Game or even a book like The Golden Compass -- where the main plot is to figure something out.
#5 - April 08, 2012, 10:09 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

I really think that a mystery is a crime novel. I think "crime fiction" includes mystery, thriller, etc... much like "YA" includes "teen romance"
#6 - April 08, 2012, 11:19 AM


This may sound obvious, but for a crime novel to be a mystery, we cannot know "the truth" until the climax.

A crime thriller has no such limitation. (Ever see an episode of Columbo?)

A lot of mysteries retain certain aspects of what are now called cozies. Think Agatha Christie. For example, it is not required, but still often the case, that the villain and the primary suspects are all introduced within the first half of the story, and much of the plot involves following red herrings and excluding suspects. This allows the reader to play detective also, because most of the evidence has been presented before the big reveal.

It's a common formula and still has a lot of legs. But it's by no means the rule.
#7 - April 08, 2012, 12:15 PM


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