A question came up in one of the groups about writing I belong to about what characterizes the noir genre. Lots of answers, lots of takes, but here’s what I said:

The thing I’ve always noticed when reading either hardboiled or noir is atmosphere and mood. The hardboiled character acts cynical and tough with an edgy voice, but he’s usually a good guy. But he can do some pretty bad stuff to reach the goal of setting something right, and he usually lives and works on the mean streets. In noir, the character can be either good or bad in the beginning, can live anywhere, but is usually a sad mess which only gets worse as time goes by and he or she ends up dead or even more of a mess. And the voice is entirely different in noir, more nuanced, and not as sure of itself as in hardboiled.

It is hard to describe. One of those things–you know it when you see (read) it. So, the best way to know what it’s all about is to read lots and lots of it.

This discussion got me to thinking about all the many subgenres in the mystery field. I decided to list as many as I could think of. Can you add any?

  1. Suspense
  2. Thriller
  3. Noir
  4. Hardboiled
  5. Cozy
  6. Softboiled
  7. Traditional
  8. Crime
  9. Amateur Sleuth
  10. Female Amateur Sleuth
  11. Romantic Suspense
  12. Private Eye
  13. Female Private Eye
  14. Locked Room Puzzle
  15. Historical
  16. Paranormal
  17. Police Procedural
  18. Western
  19. Regional
  20. Caper
  21. Whodunit
  22. Legal
  23. Medical
  24. Literary
  25. Pastiche
  26. Urban Fantasy
  27. Steampunk
  28. True Crime

What have I missed? And how do you decide what your subgenre is while either reading it or writing it? You just have to read a lot in the genre itself. After awhile, it’s pretty easy to peg what you’re reading. Then, if you want to write mysteries, think about the ones you liked best to read. That would probably be the one to write in, don’t you think?


Here are some qualifications—see if you meet them:

  • Children’s Book Writer:  Graduated from childhood with a degree in finger-painting and bike riding.
  • Romance Writer: Has had at least a few failed romances in life, and a couple of good ones. Haven’t we all? Plus read lots and lots of other romance books.
  • Mystery Writer: Might have no background in police work nor been a private investigator. Probably never broken the law, is not an attorney or a judge, doesn’t have a medical degree, never been involved in a murder, either as murderer or victim. Can’t knit, crochet or scrapbook and can barely cook. Has no other hobbies. Not an old woman nor an old man sitting in the corner. Likes to read and write mysteries. Those are the only qualifications, except being alive, preferably breathing.
  • Horror Writer: Dreams are so haunting, they must be written down. Fears rule her life. Come join her if you love thrills and chills.
  • Science Fiction Writer: Can see into the future. You will be amazed twenty, thirty, forty years after reading his books about how much he got right. Come gaze into his crystal ball. Oh, wait a minute. Those are used by the fantasy writers . . .
  • Fantasy Writer: Yes, she believes in unicorns. And fairies and fortune tellers. She loves to create incredible worlds where you both, writer and reader, can lose yourselves and get away from it all.

Oh, wait again, that last sentence is true for all us writers. My point? We’re all qualified to write anything we want to. Of course, we have to research what we don’t know enough about. That said, just write. You might surprise yourself.

Have you any doubts now? How many writers reading this have written something they were afraid they couldn’t pull off because they didn’t know enough? Did you succeed?