The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is primarily an example of a mystery novel, a genre of fiction in which the central character investigates and solves a mysterious crime, usually a murder. In mystery novels, the investigator is singularly motivated to solve the crime by considering all possible suspects with reasonable motives. Christopher Boone explicitly tells the reader in Chapter 7: “This is a murder mystery novel...In a murder mystery novel someone has to work out who the murderer is and then catch them.” Like many mystery novels, the story opens with the discovery of a gruesome death. In the first chapter, Christopher finds Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington, dead in the front yard with a garden fork stuck through his body. Christopher decides to investigate Wellington’s mysterious death, despite his father’s constant objections. Although Christopher is a child with a unique developmental disorder, he shares many qualities with the archetypical, savant-like detective characters of the mystery fiction genre, such as Sherlock Holmes. Christopher admires detectives like Holmes who disregard supernatural explanations for odd occurrences, and similar to Holmes, Christopher is logical, intelligent, and observant, but struggles to connect with others and understand their emotions. Unlike other mystery novels in which the crime is resolved at the end, Christopher solves the mystery halfway through the novel, when his father admits to both killing Wellington and lying about Christopher’s mother’s death. Instead of building continual suspense and intrigue—as is typical of the mystery novel genre—the second half of the novel follows the repercussions Christopher’s discovery has on his life, health, and relationships.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is considered a bildungsroman because it follows Christopher’s transition from childhood to independence, telling the story of his development as he navigates new obstacles and builds confidence in his own abilities. Bildungsromans are a subgenre of coming-of-age stories, and their focus is on the growth of a young protagonist. From the very beginning, Haddon establishes that Christopher’s life is profoundly shaped by his unique developmental disorder, even though his condition is never labeled. Christopher lacks knowledge of the world and struggles to build relationships, preferring to dwell on mathematics, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and other specific fixations. He lives completely unaware of the messy connections between his mother, father, Mr. Shears, and Mrs. Shears. Upon learning that his mother is still alive and that his father killed Wellington, Christopher’s trust shatters, and these revelations spur him on a journey to London in which he faces numerous fears: large crowds, physical touch, loud noises, unfamiliar routines. While Christopher mightily struggles with his personal limitations, he successfully arrives at his mother’s flat, and by novel’s end, he also writes a book and passes his A-level mathematics exam. Christopher concludes that from now on, he “can do anything.” While Christopher doesn’t necessarily reach maturity—as is typical of the bildungsroman genre—and doesn’t vastly improve his relational skills, he does gain knowledge about the world and feels more prepared to face his looming adulthood, which are marked signs of growth from the novel’s beginning.