What do the famous names of Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot, the Hardy Boys, and Philip Marlowe have in common? It certainly isn't their age or background, which range from a 16-year-old high school graduate (Nancy Drew) to an older man living in the late 19th century (Sherlock Holmes). While their ages and professions vary greatly, they all hold together one common thread: each of the aforementioned characters are great detectives in famous novels. Whether you're a fan of the mystery genre in general (attempting to stay one step ahead of the main character to solve the mystery on your own while reading) or a writer hoping to write your first detective novel, knowing what aspects set the best mystery novels stories apart from others is key:

Is the Adversary a Worthy Opponent?

Take a moment to reflect on the villains of some of your favorite detective stories, the capers they pulled off, and the evil that emanated from the pages they appeared upon. In most stories you can think of, it's likely that the villain was a worthy opponent of the protagonist, a challenge to be overcome over the span of the entire book (and potentially sequels). Can you imagine if the main criminal in the story was a weak and measly character, easily overcome with a simple call to the police? If that were the case, the story would be over within one chapter. One of the most important keys to a detective novel that drives the story forward is the powerful malevolence of the villain, who must be a worthy opponent for the main character.

Is the Crime at Hand Significant?

Let's face it: nobody wants to read a full novel about the crime of the missing hamburger at the Memorial Day cookout. That's not the kind of story you'll tell your friends or write a rave review about after reading, because it's simply not a compelling story. The reality is, a fascinating crime within a detective novel must be significant and irreversible-- something like murder or theft on a large scale. If the crime is too small or insignificant, it simply will be too small and insignificant for a great detective to solve (and honestly, too boring for readers).

Are the Clues All Available?

After the scene is set and the plot is moving forward, it's important to make sure that all of the clues to solving the mystery are laid out and available to not only the fictional detective, but the reader as well. Ensuring that the reader has all of the clues is important because it puts the reader into the story-- they are no longer just sitting by and reading about the situation on the page but actively involved in their minds in determining who is responsible and how it happened.