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The Whodunit Genre

What is a Whodunit?

The Whodunit subgenre is an umbrella term for those mysteries where a crime needs to be solved to determine who is the criminal. The emphasis in the book is placed on solving which of the suspects committed the crime. There should be clues to the crime, which when seen in the right perspective point to one suspect alone as the killer. The sleuth can use either deductive or inductive reasoning to learn who killed the person, but there should be some logic behind the crimes.

There are variations on this where the reader knows the reader knows who killed the victim, but doesn't know how or why. There are also books where the reader knows who killed the victim and how, but does not know how the detective will solve the case. These are called inverted mysteries

Whodunit Characteristics

  • Level of Characterization

    There may be some characterization because the reader is expected to know what type of person is capable of murder. Obviously enough information about the character must be given to know that Old Mr. Jones cannot lift the heavy object to bash the victim. However, you don't necessarily need to know the character's entire backstory..

  • Level of Plot

    The plot, which provides the sleuth with the clues necessary to solve the murder, is the major emphasis in a whodunit. The solution to the crime must be logical and follow the facts of the case.

  • Level of Mystery

    The mystery is the primary focus on the book, so the mystery looms over all else in the book. Learning whodunit is the center of the book.

  • Level of Suspense

    There may be some level of suspense, especially if the hero's life is in danger. The suspense can be ratcheted up by making the stakes high. If the convicted killer is set to be executed or if the kidnapping victim might die, then the suspense can be high.

  • Level of Thriller

    Most of these books are not thrillers. If the victim is a high-placed person, then the police and other security organizations will likely take charge of the investigation, making it more procedural than deductive reasoning.

  • Level of Strangeness

    Whodunits can be strange. There can be weird murder methods. The crimes can be locked room or impossible crimes. Odd crimes can make it more difficult to solve the crime and find the culprit.

  • Level of Violence

    The levels of violence can vary greatly. The killer might have slit the person's throat or poisoned them. The level of violence will depend on the murder method selected.

  • Level of Action

    There may be some action, but this is mainly a book about asking questions. There can be chase scenes and some attempts on the sleuth's life, but in all, this is a book about the solving of a crime.

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

    This book definitely falls into the mystery category. Whodunits are, in many cases, another name for the mystery novel. The language and themes might make it fit into the crime genre, but there will still be a crime to solve and a killer to identify. The suspense might be high if the killer wants to get rid of the sleuth before he's been identified, but it's still a whodunit. There may be elements of thrillers in the book, but the crime must be solved by people and not organizations.

Related MYSTERY Subgenres



  • Murder Mystery. Since the emphasis is on finding out who committed the crime, then murder mysteries are closely related.

  • Puzzle Mysteries. Many of the whodunits involve clues and red herrings that baffle the reader and make it more difficult for them to solve the puzzle.

Whodunit isn't for you IF...

like action and suspense, want books where the crimes are committed on the page and the reader sees who does the killing, don't want to match wits with the sleuth

Popular Whodunit Books