Nine Examples of Sub-Genres in Crime Fiction

All crime fiction is based on the fact that there is a mystery to be solved. Usually, a crime has been committed and a murderer, a spy, or a thief must be caught. Crime fiction will always be popular. The genre has developed sub-genres over the years. Here are nine of the most popular.

  1. In the cosy mystery genre, the detective is usually an amateur, the violence is never described in detail, and the setting is often a small town. The detective uses his or her powers of observation and deduction, as well as an excellent general knowledge to solve the crime. Example: Agatha Christie’s ‘Miss Marples’ 
  2. In the hard-boiled private investigator genre, the detective works in a large city, and the violence is explicit. The detective follows clues in the dark underbelly of the city. Example: Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer’
  3. The legal thriller requires research into the rules and procedures of a legal world. Readers want to know what happens after a crime is committed and an arrest is made. You can use crises of legal conscience to make your characters more rounded. Examples: John Grisham and Richard North Patterson write in this genre
  4. Modern PIs are sometimes women, often former policemen, and wisecracking loners who usually carry a weapon. (They can also be bounty hunters.) They are usually hired by private individuals to solve mysteries or crimes, and to find people. Examples: Lawrence Block’s ‘Matt Scudder’, Janet Evanovich’s ‘Stephanie Plum’, and Sue Grafton’s ‘Kinsey Milhone’
  5. The police procedural is realistic and should be as accurate as the author can make it. The reader is taken to squad rooms, morgues, courts, and crime scenes. This genre is complicated and the detective is often under a lot of pressure. For example, he could be dealing with many cases, he generally has personal problems with relationships, and his superiors want the case solved. There are secondary characters, including suspects, police officers, lawyers, and criminals. Examples: Ian Rankin’s ‘Rebus’, Michael Connelly’s ‘Harry Bosch’, and James Patterson’s ‘Alex Cross’
  6. The medical thriller is a suspense novel that takes place in a hospital. The protagonists are usually doctors or nurses. The plot is based on situations unique to medicine and medical research. Examples: Robin Cooke, Michael Crichton and Tess Gerritsen write in this genre.
  7. The forensic thriller is a fairly new genre. The lead character is usually a woman who is a scientist or pathologist. Research is needed. Accuracy is essential. Most of the action takes place in crime scenes and morgues, and in the lead character’s home. Examples: Jeffery Deaver’s ‘Lincoln Rhyme’, Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Kay Scarpetta’, and Kathy Reichs’s ‘Temperance Brennan’
  8. The general suspense thriller features a protagonist who is generally thrown into the action in the aftermath of a crime. This hero is often an ordinary person who is called on to solve a problem. Sometimes, this person must prove his or her innocence, often to the police and other characters in the novel. Examples: Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’; Gillian Flynn and Dennis Lehane also write in this genre.
  9. The military thriller has a protagonist who is often a member of the military, MI5 or MI6, the CIA or the FBI, or a consultant to a military agency. Readers of this genre love the details and a lot of research is necessary. Often the criminals are crooked politicians or terrorists. The action often spans continents. Example: Tom Clancy’s ‘Jack Ryan’

Please add your favourites in the comments section. 

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16 responses
Cybercrime is becoming the most pervasive and dangerous form of crime, together with its offshoots in espionage and warfare. As life moves onto the Internet, so does crime. The extraordinary thing is that there is virtually no one writing in the area. I did a count on Amazon recently and found fifty cybercrime, as opposed to one hundred and thirty thousand crime, books. In a cybercrime thriller one or more of the characters uses the Internet to carry out or solve a crime. The only best selling writer I've come across in this sub genre is Jeffery Deaver. I think the book was The Blue Nowhere.
I like Spy-Thrillers, especially the cold war books from Le Carre, since it was easier to know who where the bad guys. Now it is harder to find those type of books with the world becoming a bigger blob of political toe-stepping.
What about mysteries in which the locale is important: Donna Leon in Venice, the Montalbano series in Sicily, Michael Dibdin's Zen in Italy, and my own Santo Gordo series taking place in Oaxaca Mexico?
Both Science Fiction and Fantasy (especially Urban Fantasy) have overlapped into the crime genre. Examples include JD Robb's "...in Death" series, which is a police procedural set in the future, though it's light on the SciFi elements. Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series are examples in Urban Fantasy. I think Historical is also large enough to classify as a sub-genre. Examples include CJ Sansom's Shardlake series, Or Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael series. Then, of course, there's romance and so on. Crime really does overlap with nearly everything.
I cross two sub-genres: cozy and police procedural! Somehow, I've managed to make a full-time living at it. Guess I'm just contrary. :D
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