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Different types of crime novels

What are crime novels? Well, they include a perpetrator or perpetrators – the bad guys – who’ve committed an immoral or illegal act and a protagonist – the good guy – who’s trying to bring them to justice.

Most crime novels are either whodunits or howcatchems. They can be set in any time, or location and can be told from different points of view.

Whodunits are pretty self-explanatory – the aim of the story is to discover, with the aid of clues, either alongside or before the detective, the perpetrator of the crime.

Howcatchems are when the reader knows the identity of the perpetrator from the outset. The story focuses on how the detective finds the clues and catches the perpetrator.

These two types of crime fiction are usually approached in the following ways:

  • cosy crime – these are very popular. They are usually set in a middle class environment and often revolve around a murder that’s solved by friendly police or private detective, with his dopey side-kick or an amateur sleuth. There’s no graphic description of the crime or gruesome details of the murder. Once the crime is solved, everyone can go back to their cosy lives, safe in the knowledge that the killer has been caught. • locked room mystery – so called because the crime takes place under an impossible set of circumstances. For example when it’s impossible for someone to have entered or left a locked room

  • hard-boiled – these are the opposite of cosy, they’re graphic, gruesome and unsentimental. They contain details of the crimes committed, which are often violent or sexual in their nature. They often feature psychopaths and serial killers and have detectives with deeply flawed characters

  • private detective – these focus on the work of a private detective, rather than the police, in finding the perpetrator of the crime

  • courtroom – these revolve around the courtroom procedure related to the crime. Inevitably the reader knows the main suspects, as they are in the dock, and the details of the crime are revealed as the court case proceeds. This type of fiction often uses flash-back techniques to reveal the storyline.

  • legal dramas – these are a lot like courtroom dramas but they are not conducted wholly in the courtroom. The main focus of the detective work falls on the legal team

  • spy – the action centres on espionage. It usually features a spy working for an intelligence agency

  • caper – these are told from the criminal’s point of view with the main focus of the story being on the perpetrator’s attempts to avoid detection and capture. These usually have elements of audacity, adventure or humour which distinguish them from normal crime fiction

  • police procedural – these focus on the work of the police to identify the perpetrator and often include lots of detail about crime detection, interview and forensic techniques. The main character is usually a detective or police man

  • tartan noir – a relatively new genre of crime fiction with a Scottish heritage. They are hard-boiled with main characters that are not very likeable. They are often deeply flawed and world weary, as well as having anti-hero traits. They usually suffer from personal crises during the course of the story and the crises will form a major part of the story.


So, if you fancy writing a crime novel, there are plenty of different kinds for you to choose from. And if you’re not sure where to start our Novel and Short Story course is ideal. It’ll show you how to research markets, approach publishers, plan your novel, format and send it to publishers, plus much more. So request a prospectus today!


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Lizbeth Crawford"My debut novel, Hate To Love You, by Elise Alden (my pen name for contemporary and historical romance), received three offers of publication. I went with Harlequin Carina Press.

"So, thank you Writers Bureau, to which I am extremely grateful. The Novel and Short Story course gave me the tools I needed to write my first novel."

Lizbeth Crawford


Institute of Training and Occupational Learning

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