Diving Into Sub-Genres: Forensic Mysteries

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

While I mostly review historical mysteries and detective mysteries on this blog, I’m also a huge fan of forensic mysteries. It’s actually a favorite subgenre for both Kate and I. Honestly, at this point, she’s probably more caught up on some of our favorite series than I am, considering the pivot I’ve made in recent years for my reviews here. But what is a forensic mystery?

While the detective mystery is the ruler of the mystery genre, with the story following a detective of some sort (lots of variation for how official this title is), forensic mysteries have exploded in the last 30 years or so, challenging this norm. The popularity of shows like “CSI” and “Bones” can perhaps be attributed to some of this increased popularity. Those examples alone do most of the work defining what makes forensic mysteries stand out: the stories will typically follow a scientist of some sort who is involved in solving crimes by close examination of evidence and expert interpretation of those nuanced facts. You have a lot of coroners, medical examiners, anthropologists, etc. Due to the nature of this type of evidence and work, most forensic mysteries rate high on the gruesome scale, with detailed explanations of anatomy and murder methods. While not exclusively so, the leading characters in this subgenre are often female, serving as a nice balance to the still male-dominated detective mystery genre.

As I’ve said, this subgenre has exploded in recent years. So my list here is just scratching the surface of what’s to be found. There can also be a lot of overlap between forensic mysteries and other subgenres. Let’s take a look at a few!

Book: “Deja Dead” by Kathy Reichs

Having mentioned “Bones” in my introduction, I couldn’t not include the long-running book series on which the show is based. Like the show, the story follows Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. But really, that’s where most of the similarities end. This Brennan has a daughter, a precarious marriage, and, while she does have a few friends, no where near the level of quirky scientist lab friends that she has in the show. There is a character who Booth is loosely based off, but the romance is nothing like the show, with this character not even being a romantic interest at certain points. But Temperance herself is largely similar, being a very analytical and scientific individual. She also has a strong sense for justice which can get her caught up in crimes that then end up striking close to home. This is a long-running, current series with book number 21 coming out just last month.

Book: “The Crossing Places” by Elly Griffiths

Similar to the previous title, this is another female-lead forenstic thriller/mystery series. In this case, the lead is Dr. Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist. As such, her expertise is in bones, thus there is often a lot of cold cases involved in stories. This first book involves the discovery of a set of bones that are suspected to be those of a young girl who went missing years before. But this crime won’t stay in the past, and when another girl goes missing, Dr. Galloway finds herself dealing with a very real killer. Again, this is a very long-running series, with the most recent book involving Galloway’s experiences of the pandemic lockdowns.

Book: “The Bone Collector” by Jeffery Deaver

As a change of pace, this series follows a male lead. The series begins by introducing Lincoln Rhyme, once a well-known, respected criminologist. But he’s been out of the game for a while after an accident turned his life upside down. He’s drawn back into the game, however, when he is personally challenged by a diabolical killer. He must team up with a police detective and solve the complicated forensic mystery laid out before him. This one is a nice change of pace in that the lead has an expertise in criminology, opening up the series to cover a wide variety of various forensic techniques and clues. This series has been running since 1997, so you can guess as to its length so far…

Book: “The Lost Girls of Rome” by Donato Carrisi

Time for stand-alone options, for those not ready to commit themselves to double-digit-long series! This book offers a nice mix of genres, including several nice nods to historical elements that become integral parts of the mystery. The lead is a young widow and forensic analysist who, while trying to uncover the truth in her husband’s death, finds herself caught up in mysterious forces that trace back through Rome’s long and twisting history. While touching on the details and analysis that is at the heart of all forensic mysteries, this one has a lot to offer for fans of lots of different types of books. Plus, like I said, it’s not as much as a commitment as some of the other series on this list!

Book: “Postmortem” by Patricia Cornwell

Like the Temperance Brennan series, this is another cornerstone in the forensic thriller/mystery genre, so it is only fitting to finish up this list with it. This series follows Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner whose close eye and keen sense of justice sees her caught up in one investigation after another (seriously, this series started back in 1990 and the 26th book in the series came out this year, so…). This book is also often credited as the first book in the now popular forensic thriller/mystery subgenres. It’s also not a stretch to imagine that its success also helped build up the ever-popular, numerous, numerous forensic TV shows like “CSI” and the ilk. It’s definitely a must for fans of this subgenre (along with the Brennan series, this it the other series I regularly read, for what that’s worth!).

What forensic thrillers/mysteries do you enjoy reading?

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