There is an innate thrill that comes with a brand new, whodunnit mystery. It’s exciting really, the chance to put on your own detective hat and finally put all those hours of true crime podcasts (yes, we’re all basically just Stevie Bell from Truly Devious) and Sherlock marathons to the test. It’s not that we’re obsessed with beating our favorite detectives to the final verdict, but if we happen to be the first to crack the case wide open, it’s the confirmation we need that we’re basically ready to launch our own true crime podcast.
For superfans, it’s no mystery that the mystery and thriller genre is the second most popular book genre in the publishing world. While the friends who see our Goodreads updates ask why we’re reading “the same type of book” over and over again, we know the diversity of this genre. Today, the mystery and thriller genre is far more than just the detective novels that originated it and has evolved to include subgenres, such as true crime, scientific mysteries, and even “cozy mysteries.” While the elements of a mystery are often similar (the crime, the clues, the quest for the truth), it’s all about the journey of getting there. As a reader, a great mystery has you riding shotgun along with the main character as you work to put every element of the puzzle together yourself.
On paper, it probably seems ironic that mystery and thrillers can be a comfort genre, considering all the twists and turns and suspense. So what keeps us coming back for more? Well, we wouldn’t be true mystery fans if we didn’t investigate, right?
Why We Love Mysteries and Thrillers
A SLIGHT OBSESSION
It’s the perfect blend of the expected and the unexpected.
While the plots and characters of mystery novels will differ, we generally know the basic formula the story will follow—and that’s exactly how we like it. Crime(s) committed, a curious character begins their quest to solve said crime(s), and after many starts and stops and clues discovered, the truth is revealed. It’s within this outline that the story takes shape, and it’s the perfect blend of expected and unexpected, as we know we’re signing up to be thrilled and challenged when we turn to the first page.
In some stories, the conclusion can be a bit murkier than the classic “IT WAS THIS GUY RIGHT HERE,” which will leave readers on a cliffhanger between possibilities. In these situations, the reader has an even more active role in the story as their thoughts about the case will continue long after they’ve placed it back on their shelf. In these other types of novels (which, if we’re honest, are some of our favorites), the author actively chooses to pursue a different form of “justice” which might not include consequences for the culprit, but simply the reader learning the truth about what happened.
While it would seem like a repeated structure would detract from the genre and make it predictable to readers, it’s this pre-knowledge of a resolution and learning of the truth that allows readers to fully immerse themselves within the book and task themselves with figuring out the “how” of it all instead.
They turn readers into active participants.
While every book is working to fully immerse their readers into the shoes of the characters, mystery books go the extra step of making the reader an active part of the action. For every detail and clue being shared, the reader is as much connecting the dots as the detective in the story, and in many ways, tasked with the same mission to solve the crime before the final chapters. The journey makes these books hard to put down, often becoming a form of escapism for readers who want to take a break from their own uncertainties and challenges.
They provide all the thrill of solving crime without the IRL consequences.
Despite all the action and escapism that mysteries and thrillers provide readers, their appeal is also being able to be a part of the action without really having to be a part of the action. As Psychology Today shared, mysteries allow readers to dig into taboo topics, like death, and allow readers to enter dangerous situations without the in-real life risks. Chasing criminals, exploring dark abandoned tunnels, confronting murderers who think they’ve gotten away—these actions are great in the literary role as detective but in real-life? Yeah, no thank you. The suspense and thrill of these stories keeps us entertained and enthralled as readers, often showing us how we’d wish to respond in a dangerous situation without actually having to put ourselves to the test.
The desire for a clean conclusion is what often keeps us reading.
Wrapping up the case, tying up all the loose ends, seeing justice served…these are the things that make a mystery’s ending so satisfying. And as we spend the hours we should have long ago gone to sleep pouring through the chapters of Now Entering Addamsville and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, it’s our hunger for that ending that keeps us hunting for clues. It allows us to revel in knowing our sleuthing skills were correct or leave us shocked by the final reveal that only our weathered lead detective saw coming. Sometimes the ending is the satisfying wrap up we hope for, but it’s the thrill of the chase and putting everything together that fuels the tank of our mystery reading hearts.
Love mysteries and want more? We’ve got you covered: