CHECK IT OUT: Defining mystery, thriller and suspense — before you check them out

Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 09:42 AM.

The mystery/thriller/suspense genre usually ranks atop the best-selling fiction, whether in print or ebook, but what exactly is the difference in those terms?

Nadine LaPierre’s “Blah, Blah, Blahg” explains:

“Mystery is basically a puzzle waiting to be solved. The protagonist (detective, amateur sleuth, etc.) goes searching for clues, which are only revealed to the reader as the protagonist discovers them, and adds pieces to that puzzle until it is complete and solved.

“Thriller … Well, basically, they thrill. Action such as chases, eruptions of violence, any type of physical sequence of events that gets the readers’ flight-or-fight response going. A more distinct definition between thrillers and mysteries is that in thriller novels the reader knows who the killer is at the outset, but that the 'thrill' is in the hunt or the cat and mouse game between killer and protagonist, and that the protagonist is often in danger. Whereas in mystery the protagonist is not usually in danger; just collects clues and solves the puzzle.

“Suspense: The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, described suspense as 'a state of waiting for something to happen.' He used the example that if two people were sitting in a cafe talking and fifteen seconds later a bomb went off, that for the audience it would be fifteen seconds of mundane conversation followed by surprise. But if the audience saw the saboteur come in, place the bomb and set the timer for one o’clock, that the audience would be in suspense during the couple’s conversation as one o’clock approaches, not knowing if they would be blown to bits or escape unscathed.”

Now, of course, these genre lines are often blurred and combined, giving you thriller/suspense, mystery/romance or even subgenres like legal or medical thrillers. Whatever you want to call the genre, here are some of the “Top 100 Mysteries” to check out:

 • "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep

• "Dance Hall of the Dead" by Tony Hillerman

Dance Hall

• "Eye of the Needle" by Ken Follett

• "From Russia with Love" by Ian Fleming

• "In the Woods" by Tana French

In the Woods

•"Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie

• "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men

• "Presumed Innocent" by Scott Turow

• "Raise the Titanic" by Clive Cussler

• "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier

• "Relic" (Book 1 in Pendergrast series) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


• "Shogun" by James Clavell

• "Sister" by Rosamund Lupton


• "Still Life" (Book 1 in Inspector Gamache series) by Louise Penny

Still Life

• "The Bone Collector" (Book 1 in Lincoln Rhyme series) by Jeffery Deaver

Bone Collector

• "The Day of the Jackal" by Frederick Forsyth

• "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett

• "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (Book 1 in series) by Alexander McCall Smith

• "The Surgeon" (Book 1 in Rizzoli & Isles series) by Tess Gerritsen

• "Wife of the Gods" by Kwei Quartey

And for the young (and young at heart), here are three more:

• "Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective" by Donald J. Sobol (first one in the series)

• "The Secret of the Old Clock" by Carolyn Keene (first one in the Nancy Drew series)

• "The Tower Treasure" by Franklin W. Dixon (first one in the Hardy Boys series)

Sandra Dreaden is the Crestview Public Library's reference librarian.

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