Sam Marlowe: Who did it.
Albert Wiles: ...That's what they say, 'Whodunnit.'
Also known as a "mystery story" or simply a "mystery", Mystery Fiction is a genre where the plot revolves around a mysterious happening that acts as the Driving Question.
In a standard mystery, the explanation for the mystery is gradually revealed by the investigative process of the protagonists. This is accomplished through a mixture of intelligence, ingenuity, the logical interpretation of evidence, and sometimes sheer luck. Many mysteries use a Mystery Arc as the basis of their narrative structure, though variations on the theme can frequently be found.
Detective Fiction is a type of Mystery Fiction that focuses on a detective solving a crime, and the term is often treated as synonymous with Mystery Fiction.
Basic Classes of Mystery
- The Fair-Play Whodunnit: You know what the detective knows, and if you're smart enough, at a certain point, you can solve it ahead of him without being Genre Savvy.
- The Clueless Mystery: The author doesn't provide enough clues for the audience to figure it out.
- The Reverse Whodunnit: The reader knows who, what, where, when, and why, perhaps in more detail than the detective will ever know. For the reader, the question is: How will the detective solve what appears to be a perfect crime?
- Amateur Sleuth: A character with no formal connection to law enforcement regularly solves crimes, but does not get paid for it.
- Cozy Mystery: Sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs and frequently women. They are typically well-educated, intuitive, and often hold jobs that bring them into constant contact with other residents of their town and the surrounding region. This frequently features the Little Old Lady Investigates, and may or may not contain paranormal elements.
- Great Detective: The classic Great Detective relies on his personal powers of deduction, education and insight to solve crimes.
- Hardboiled Detective: A tough, cynical guy with a gun and a lot of Street Smarts, who solves mysteries with dogged persistence rather than astounding insight, the Hardboiled Detective was America's Darker and Edgier response to the classic ideal of the Great Detective. This type of Mystery Fiction is often associated with Film Noir.
- Historical Detective Fiction: Detective and mystery stories set in the past.
- Paranormal Investigation: Based on the investigation of actual or alleged paranormal activity, this subgenre by its very nature tends to be less realistic than the others.
- Police Procedural: The emphasis is on realistic or at least semi-realistic depictions of modern police investigative techniques.
- For just a few of the other ways of classifying mysteries, see here and here.
For a brief history of Mystery Fiction, see the Trivia page
- Caper in the Castro an LGBT first-person whodunnit adventure. First of its kind!
- Infocom's Deadline is an Interactive Fiction game where the player has 12 (in-game) hours to solve a Locked Room Mystery.
- Discworld Noir combines this trope with Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, casting the player as a citizen who becomes a detective because of the Theory of Narrative Causality.
- Read Only Memories a retraux LGBT first-person adventure.
- Imabikiso, partially since the hero is trying to investigate where the drug Vision is being made from.
- War: 13th Day first challenges you to solve the mystery of what happened to the sun. Later, you're tasked with piecing together the truth between two unreliable narrators. The True End gives you the biggest mystery of all: who are you?