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The Amateur Sleuth Mystery Genre

What is a Amateur Sleuth Mystery?

By definition, an amateur sleuth is someone who doesn't get paid to look into a murder case. The sleuth could be someone who is suspected of the crime, someone who has a relationship to the victim, or just a curious bystander. Typically, the sleuth has to have a good reason to go head to head with a killer; most sleuths today are helping a friend – or themselves.


Even though the sleuth could fit into any type of crime novel, this subgenre has become associated with the Amateur Sleuth Mystery over time. The amateurs are the ones who want to help a friend or solve the crime next door.

Amateur Sleuth Mystery Characteristics

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  • Level of Characterization

    Characters play a big part in an amateur sleuth mystery. The character must be given enough of a reason to look into the crimes. Are they nosy, or do they care deeply about their fellow man? The reasons why the sleuth is compelled to look into crime tell a lot about the person and his personality.

  • Level of Plot

    Amateur sleuths tend to be faced with difficult plots. If the murder was open-and-shut, then the sleuth wouldn't have a job to do. The character only gets involved when the police cannot solve the crimes in a short amount of time. This gives the character leeway to investigate themselves.

  • Level of Mystery

    These books tend to be what are considered mystery novels. The police either ask for help because of the mystery presented or are annoyed that the amateur is involved because they have the wrong suspect or they have no suspect. There are clues and twists that only the amateur can see clearly.

  • Level of Suspense

    There tends to be a significant amount of suspense in these titles, partly because the amateur isn't really sure what he or she is doing. The sleuth can walk into a trap that the reader already sees or can struggle to save their friend.

  • Level of Thriller

    There are some amateurs who reside in the world of thrillers. In a few cases, the sleuth can uncover a plot to take over the world or steal a bomb, but the chances of this happening are slim. Most amateurs can't compete with the FBI and CIA for information on a global scale.

  • Level of Strangeness

    An amateur who is not sure what he or she is doing can create a lot of strangeness. The awkward situations can create humor or can create a surreal atmosphere to the book.

  • Level of Violence

    The violence in an amateur sleuth novel can vary widely. For the most part, the amateur is not a black belt or a crack shot, so the violence tends to be one-sided. In many of the Dick Francis novels, the hero takes a beating at the hands of the villain, usually described in great detail.

  • Level of Action

    The action is usually on the slower side. The amateur has other responsibilities so the action is limited to weekends and evenings. There are no wild chases or cross-country rides when you have to be back for work the following day.

  • Degree of Thriller, Suspense, Crime, or Mystery in this the Amateur Sleuth Subgenre

    This one mostly falls under the mystery genre. The books can be thrillers if the stakes are high enough,. The book may have suspense if the sleuth is in over his head, and the novel may have the elements of a crime novel, but mostly the amateur has a crime to investigate and a murder to solve.

Related MYSTERY Subgenres

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  • Bumbling Detective. in many cases, the amateur is not graceful or poised. The detective can fall down and make a fool of himself as the occasion permits. Amateur Sleuth Mystery – the amateur is closely linked to the Amateur Sleuth Mystery today, because in most cases, the murder is a local crime and is told from the perspective of a friend or neighbor.

Amateur Sleuth Mystery isn't for you IF...

like lots of blood and guts or private eyes or strong violence. This is the world of Jessica Fletcher, not Mike Hammer.