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Mystery fiction is a loosely-defined term.
It is often used as a synonym for detective fiction or crime fiction—in other words a novel or short story in which a detective (either professional or amateur) investigates and solves a crime mystery. Sometimes mystery books are nonfiction. The term "mystery fiction" may sometimes be limited to the subset of detective stories in which the emphasis is on the puzzle/suspense element and its logical solution (cf. whodunit), as a contrast to hardboiled detective stories, which focus on action and gritty realism.
Although normally associated with the crime genre, the term "mystery fiction" may in certain situations refer to a completely different genre, where the focus is on supernatural or thriller mystery (the solution does not have to be logical, and even no crime is involved). This usage was common in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, where titles such as Dime Mystery, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Mystery offered what at the time were described as "weird menace" stories—supernatural horror in the vein of Grand Guignol. This contrasted with parallel titles of the same names which contained conventional hardboiled crime fiction. The first use of "mystery" in this sense was by Dime Mystery, which started out as an ordinary crime fiction magazine but switched to "weird menace" during the latter part of 1933.
The genre of mystery novels is a young form of literacy that developed over the past 200 years. The rise of literacy began in the years of the English Renaissance and, as people began to read over time, they became more individualistic in their thinking. As the people became more individualistic in their thinking, they developed a respect for human reason and the ability to solve problems.  
Perhaps a reason that mystery fiction was unheard of before the 1800s was due in part to the lack of true police forces. Before the Industrial Revolution, many of the towns would have constables and a night watchman at best. Naturally, the constable would be aware of every individual in the town, and crimes were either solved quickly or left unsolved entirely. As people began to crowd into the cities, police forces became institutionalized and the need for detectives was realized – thus the mytery novel arose. 
An early work of modern mystery fiction, Das Fräulein von Scuderi by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1819), was an influence on The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1841) as may have been Voltaire's Zadig. Wilkie Collins' epistolary novel The Woman in White was published in 1860, while The Moonstone (1868), is often thought to be his masterpiece. In 1887 Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes, whose mysteries are said to have been singularly responsible for the huge popularity in this genre. The genre began to expand near the turn of century with the development of dime novels and pulp magazines. Books were especially helpful to the genre, with many authors writing in the genre in the 1920s. An important contribution to mystery fiction in the 1920s was the development of the juvenile mystery by Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer originally developed and wrote the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries written under the Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene pseudonyms respectively (and were later written by his daughter, Harriet Adams, and other authors). The 1920s also gave rise to one of the most popular mystery authors of all time, Agatha Christie, whose works include Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937), and the world's best-selling mystery And Then There Were None (1939).
The massive popularity of pulp magazines in the 1930s and 1940s increased interest in mystery fiction. Pulp magazines decreased in popularity in the 1950s with the rise of television so much that the numerous titles available then are reduced to two today: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The detective fiction author Ellery Queen (pseudonym of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) is also credited with continuing interest in mystery fiction.
Interest in mystery fiction continues to this day because of various television shows which have used mystery themes and the many juvenile and adult novels which continue to be published. There is some overlap with "thriller" or "suspense" novels and like authors in those genres may consider themselves mystery novelists. Comic books and like graphic novels have carried on the tradition, and film adaptations have helped to re-popularize the genre in recent times.
Mystery fiction can be divided into numerous categories, among them the "traditional mystery", "legal thriller", "medical thriller", "cozy mystery", "police procedural", and "hardboiled" (for instance, Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon's main detective, Sam Spade. Also cf., Raymond Chandler.).
See also 
- Art theft
- Category:Mystery novels
- Detective fiction
- List of crime writers
- List of female detective characters
- List of mystery writers
- List of thriller authors
- Mystery film
- The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time
- Haining, Peter (2000). The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines. Prion Books. ISBN 1-85375-388-2.
- "A Short History of the Mystery".
- "Mystery Time Line".
- Gilber, Elliot (1983). The World of Mystery Fiction. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-225-8.
- Davies, Helen; Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen (14 September 2007). "21 Best-Selling Books of All Time". Editors of Publications International, Ltd. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- J. Madison Davis: "How graphic can a mystery be?", World Literature Today, July–August 2007