By Brittany Holness, Holly Butterfield and Gemma Mathers
For the past several years, we have seen the rise of mixed-media mysteries: books that add a slight twist to the classic mystery book. Whether that’s the inclusion of podcasts, film transcripts, photos or maps, these books contain added elements that assist the narrative and keep the readers engaged. The recent success of Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter brings these types of stories back into the spotlight. This TikTok sensation is a murder-mystery told mainly through a TV series transcript, with several other bonus elements, such as text messages and news headlines, which allow the reader to piece together all of the evidence and help to solve the mystery. This week we take a look at some more recent releases, looking at what it is about them that has readers completely hooked.
Due to personal preferences, some book lovers often spend numerous hours reading books with similar themes within the same genre. As a result, they end up reading books with similar tropes and plots. This trend is observable specifically as it pertains to mystery books that often reveal similar dynamics due to the rigid arc structure that they encompass. Therefore, readers may desire to stray from the usual conventions. Mixed-media mystery does this in a unique and exciting direction, straying from the typical way in which classic mystery books are represented. While there is a reason that the original format has been so popular for so long, this additional literary element creates an intriguing new twist whilst also allowing authors to experiment with new ways to provide their audiences with hints and clues as to what has happened in the story. This added information, which is often relayed to the audience as case files, transcripts or other crucial pieces of information, gives mystery lovers the ability to try to solve the case as they read, allowing them to actively play detective prior to the author revealing the truth at the end.
These stories allow the reader to immerse themselves in the presented world, rather than remaining a bystander, through various key elements. There is an array of ways these stories can be formatted, creating a wave of creativity in the publishing world. One example is Grady Hendrix’s 2014 horror comedy novel, Horrorstör, which is formatted to look like an Ikea magazine. Others have included interviews or script transcripts – often with a journalist or a police officer – which provide extra insight into an investigation that a protagonist may be unaware of, giving the reader a more well-rounded and omniscient view of the book. Diary entries have also been used to depict personal insights that might not be shared with other characters, changing the way the reader understands and views the characters. Mixed-media books may be a great option for those who love a good audiobook and want to dive into a different format. Some novels take on a podcast format, telling the story through transcripts or scripted conversations that are then voiced through the audiobook version of the story. Others have included different images, such as maps or newspaper articles, which add a layer of authenticity and imagination to a mystery novel that is otherwise unparalleled in traditional media.
If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve collated some of our favourite mysteries with an added twist. Firstly, it’s not possible to talk about mixed-media mysteries without mentioning Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy. These books tell the story of a young protagonist, Pippa, as she takes on a local case in an attempt to discover the truth. Told through newspaper articles, audio transcripts, maps, photos and an extended project qualification log, this book shares its evidence with the audience in a visual way, allowing them to discover the hidden secrets along with our detective. If you’re looking for uniquely told and formatted stories then perhaps try Janice Hallett and her books The Appeal (told entirely through emails), The Twyford Code (told entirely through voice transcripts) and The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels (told through transcripts, newspaper articles and pages from books and screenplays). Hallett really amplifies the unique and exciting ways that authors can use these formats to engage their readers in different ways, avoiding the classic formats of other mystery books. If you’re looking for a more traditional story, with only a slight added twist, then Sadie by Courtney Summers and The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson both tell their stories in more standard ways, but with podcast transcripts woven throughout that add different insights and narratives into the stories.
No matter the format, there’s a book out there for everyone – and definitely something different and exciting that you can sink your teeth into. With many of these books being top of the bestseller lists, it’s clear that this is a trend readers love and one that won’t be disappearing anytime soon. So, why not pick one up and challenge yourself to piece together all the clues before the detectives?