It may be the holiday season, but it’s also the time for all the “best of the year” lists. Book awards and top 10 lists have been coming out in droves over the past few weeks. For instance, earlier in the month, Goodreads announced its top-voted mystery of the year: The Housemaid's Secret by Freida McFadden.
But going beyond naming the top mystery and crime books of the year, Murder & Mayhem has interviewed mystery authors, agents, and more about the mystery trends of 2023. Some of these trends have been simmering over several years, finally making their big splash in 2023. Some crashed into the scene out of nowhere.
And to give you a taste of this year's mystery offerings, we’ve also got some great reading suggestions for each trend.
Last year we talked about this trend, specifically seeing mysteries and science fiction joining forces. This year, we’re seeing even more genres blending with mysteries!
Olivia Blacke, author of The Record Shop cozy mysteries series with book three Rhythm and Clues coming out in March 2024, said, “it's exciting watching the genre lines blur. Take Jesse Q. Sutanto and Elle Cosimano for example. Do you shelve them as humor, mystery, romance, action/adventure? All of the above? It's a very fun space!”
Sutanto is behind the popular Dial A for Aunties and its sequel and Cosimano’s Finlay Donovan is Killing It (and its sequels).
Jennifer J. Chow, author of forthcoming new cozy Ill-Fated Fortune (February 20, 2024), agreed about these mashups, citing Sutanto’s Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, which Chow describes as “a mystery with a quirky amateur sleuth but also focuses on characters’ growth by using multiple perspectives.”
Speaking of genre-blending, the “rom-cozy” category is becoming its own force of nature (granted, romance is definitely having its moment. After all, Goodreads created a new award category of Romantasy—romantic fantasy books—this year.)
“I'm a huge sucker for ‘rom-cozies’,” Blacke explained, “or 'murder-mance's' or whatever you want to call the intersection of cozies and romances. There's a lot to love (no pun intended) when romance and murder mystery intersect.”
Books in this category include the likely coiner of the phrase rom-cozy, Gabby Allan’s 2nd in her Whit & Whiskers series Something Fishy This Way Comes, Sara Desai’s To Have And To Heist, and even Blacke’s own Record Shop Mysteries.
Diversity in All Senses of the Word
When people think of mysteries, they often think of well-to-do detectives like Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. These past years, we’ve been seeing more diverse detectives across the board, with more books written by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, and other authors. This year, we also got more queer cozies, or “quozy,” with C.J. Connor’s Board to Death.
While we can’t wait to see even more representation across the genre as a whole, class and employment is another area where we’re seeing a wider range of experiences.
Goodreads pointed out that mysteries in the service industry are having a moment, with maids and housekeepers at the center of more mysteries. That includes Goodreads Choice Award winner for mysteries with The Housemaid’s Secret, Loreth Anne White’s The Maid’s Diary, and Nita Prose’s The Mystery Guest, the sequel to The Maid.
Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery
Another exciting trend is mysteries that play with the genre itself. Sometimes that means using different types of written material, like emails or text messages, to tell the story. You can find this sort of “found text” in books like Janice Hallett’s The Twyford Code and the Christmas Appeal, or with Dann McDorman twisting the structure of murder mysteries in West Heart Kill.
Chow responded to this trend, “I know that other genres have played around with structure, and I love how mystery writers are getting a chance to stretch their creativity muscles and innovate with text.”
Abby Saul, agent at and founder of The Lark Group, saw this category of books having its moment. She wrote in an interview, “Mystery lovers are avid readers and are hard to surprise, so authors who challenge the norms—with either twists, characters, or structure—often stand out and capture the moment. (Of course, the books that challenge the norms and aren't written by already known entities can be the hardest ones for agents like me to sell, but it's worth the push!)”
Light and Dark Themes
One of the trends that Saul saw in the past year is the “continued resurgence of the 'modern' cozy, heralded by the likes of Richard Osman, Nita Prose, Nina Simon, and Jesse Q Sutanto.”
But she’s also seeing mystery/crime books on the other side of the spectrum, calling them “dark dark dark” books with authors like “SA Cosby, Jess Lourey, Brianna Labuskes, and Rebecca Makkai exploring the darker aspects of crime and the criminal brain. Both trending simultaneously is such a treat for mystery readers!”
Crimes Are Us
In the past few years, we’ve been seeing more mysteries where the protagonist isn’t exactly innocent, but not entirely guilty.
This trend seemed to start gaining momentum in 2021 with Sutanto’s Dial A for Aunties (with book three, The Good the Bad the Aunties, coming out next year), and Elle Cosimano’s Finlay Donovan series (with book three, Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun, coming out this year). Last year, we saw Misha Popp’s Pies Before Guys series and its sequel A Good Day to Pie (2023).
This year, we saw Rupert Holmes’ Murder Your Employer, which brought that idea front and center, as well as Amanda Jayatissa’s delightful creepy You’re Invited, where one woman will stop at nothing to stop her former best friend and ex-boyfriend from getting married.
We’ve also got mashups that involve mysteries where the main character is kinda leaning into the villainous side, with John Scalzi’s Starter Villain and Hanna Nicole Maehrer's Assistant to the Villain.
With all the wonderful offerings 2023 had to offer, we can’t wait to see what mystery and thriller trends pop up for 2024!
Featured image: Keith Misner/Unsplash