Mystery continues to remain one of the most popular genres for the global reading community across centuries. Fictions like The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe occupy the top positions among best murder mystery books of all time. All bestselling mystery books are ingrained with elements of popular mystery stories specific literary components for the gradual suspense build-up leading to the grand climax.
In this blog, we’ll briefly discuss 5 core attributes of popular mystery stories.
Five Key Elements of Popular Mystery Stories
5 major elements of mystery fiction help keep the course of the story on track while gradually intensifying the tension. These factors allow the reader to connect the missing dots so that the solution of the particular mystery can be revealed in a logical manner.
Now let’s understand each of these 5 elements in detail.
- A Strong Hook
Great mystery stories must begin with a grand opening for piquing the reader’s interest and should encourage them to find a solution to the crime. Particularly the best murder mystery books mustn’t start with more information than required about the crime, allowing the intrigue to condense from the opening sentence. The introductory chapter should evoke the mystery in the reader’s mind and help identify the pivotal character for solving the fictional crime.
- An Atmospheric Setting and the Crime
Best murder mystery books and other mystery stories must be able to build an unnerving, ominous ambiance through the backdrop. Being grappled with anxiety about an unknown antagonist hiding behind the shadows is the defining characteristic of every bestselling mystery novel.
For instance, think of Sherlock Holmes sidling up to the murderer through the dense London fog. Mystery settings also accommodate opportunities for embedding red herrings and clues in the story.
Crime in mystery fiction refers to a certain event that’s integral in constructing the plot. It generally occurs in the introductory chapter of the novel, fueling the central conflict and opening up the scope of an investigation. The protagonist or the sleuth is also introduced to the readers while spurring the mystery narrative after the crime onset.
- A Sleuth or a Protagonist and a Perpetrator or an Antagonist
Not only the best murder mystery books, but all mystery fiction must have a main character for solving the crime. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, there’s simply no dearth of detectives in mystery literature.
A novelist can choose to make the sleuth personally invested in finding a solution to the crime and raise the stakes accordingly. Mystery stories are always pivoted on the protagonist, an average individual who also doubles up as an amateur investigator for solving the case.
It’s imperative for every mystery fiction writer to ensure the character build-up of the protagonist or the detective in the most comprehensive manner. The central character requires a background story so that the reader can logically connect him or her to the killer or the crime itself.
A motive is also needed to elucidate why solving that particular crime is paramount for the protagonist. Mystery novels are known as whodunits as the identity of the antagonist isn’t revealed until the character is brought to the law at the climax. It’s the villainous activities that help steer the story and as it reaches the end, the reader and the protagonist reveal the perpetrator in unison.
- Narrative Momentum Build-Up and the Clue Trail
The ongoing hide-and-seek narrative is essential to best murder mystery books and other mystery novels. The pacing of mystery fiction depends on how fast its storyline reaches the climax and how quickly the focal character solves the crime.
Clues in mystery books help the reader engage more when compared to other kinds of fiction. The reader puts on the hat of an amateur investigator, follows the clue trail, and tries to find out the villain.
- Foreshadowing and Red Herrings Succeeded by a Satisfactory Climax
Best murder mystery books and other mystery novels often provide cues about forthcoming events and this literary technique is called foreshadowing.
Novelists can leverage either a character dialog or a small cue for foreshadowing. They can be less or more direct in their approach, either implicating an upcoming incident or being explicit and stating what’s about to happen.
The significance of red herring elements in building up a great mystery fiction cannot be stressed enough. A good mystery story must be able to throw you off-track.
Dummy clues in mystery novels are essential in building the tensed atmosphere and creating other suspects in the process. These false clues distract the sleuth and also the reader, veering them away from the actual culprit.
Red herrings in mystery literature are usually created by overemphasizing any character or an event for catching the reader’s attention. For instance, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie speaks of ten fictional characters, all of whom appear to be potential suspects.
Christie chooses to introduce the red herrings by murdering each of them as the story proceeds. Thus, she incorporates twists in the plot to change the course of the reader’s mind to an entirely new direction for hunting down the killer.
The grand climax of all great mystery stories allows an opportunity for the investigator to reveal the perpetrator’s true identity. Every mystery fiction’s ending must also offer an alibi for all other suspects to eliminate doubt and accentuate the antagonist’s identity, solving the mystery equation.
So, this was a brief discussion on the key elements of top mystery fiction, including best murder mystery books of all time. If you believe that we’ve missed something, let us know by commenting below.