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What differentiates mysteries and thrillers?
Dana Kaye
Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 6:10 PM
Joined: 3/31/2011
Posts: 5

Author Andrew Grant uses the Humpty Dumpty analogy. If Humpty already fell and it's the protagonist job to find out how and why, it's a mystery. If Humpty is teetering, and it's the protagonist's job to preventing him from falling, it's a thriller.

What do you think?

L R Waterbury
Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 9:22 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

That's a brilliant analogy. I think it beautifully sums up the essential difference between thrillers and mysteries. Of course, there are always books that fall into the grey areas in between in all genres and it can be a pain in the butt to try and figure out where they belong. Personally, I don't think genre identification should really matter, as long as the book is well-written and entertaining. Publishers and marketers, however, DO care. Phooey!
Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 5:28 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 222

That is a great analogy.

Mystery and thriller, in my opinion, slip into each others clothes at a whim. But, mysteries, I feel, do tend to be about a crime that has already been committed, and the murderer / thief trying to escape from the sly detective.

Thrillers, however, I feel are more than that -- they can be about a crime that has already been committed, if, for example, the person will strike again unless captured.

However, the big issue for me that differentiates the two is the tension. Mysteries can be intellectually stimulating, challenging the mind to come up with the trick of the murder.

Thrillers, well, should be thrilling. I should be seated on the edge of my chair, holding my breath, cursing at the protagonist (Noooo don't do that, the antagonist is going to GET you!) and worrying over if the antagonist will beat the protagonist. While there are some of these elements in a good mystery, mysteries tend, to, well... feel safer.

When I read a mystery, I tend to want to be intellectually challenged. When I read a thriller, I want to have a cold sweat in my palms and want to fret over the characters and what will happen to them. It is more than just Humpty sitting on the wall or having already fallen off of it, but its the reactions that the book causes.

Just my four or five cents.
Jim Bronyaur
Posted: Saturday, August 27, 2011 4:47 PM
Joined: 8/26/2011
Posts: 3

Wow, great points here. I never really thought of them seperated...

I think thriller has more to do with the act of the crime and the person commiting the crime... think of a serial killer, etc.

A mystery is generally focused on the crime itself. Taking it apart, etc.

I also think of thrillers as more gritty and gore-like, even with touches of horror in it. More of an in your face kind of writing style where the mystery is about thought process, details, and surroundings of the crime.

Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2011 11:25 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 43

I like that analogy. Mysteries deal with solving the crime, thrillers have to bring the fear factor into it and send you on adventure and have to be fast-paced.
Clare Price
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 12:24 AM
Joined: 9/14/2011
Posts: 1

My easy defination of a thriller versus a mystery is that in a thriller the reader knows who the "bad guy" is early on and in a mystery they don't learn the idenity of the "bad guy" until at or near the end.
Dave McClure
Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 4:32 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 21

It can be complicated.  I have posted one of my books here, South River, that should be a thriller.  After all, we know who shot John F. Kennedy, right?  On the other hand, perhaps we don't.  So does that make it a mystery?  As a rule, I don't like using genres to make publishing decisions.  That's simple-minded, and publishers today are anything but that.  If your book is somewhere between mystery and thriller, a good literary agent will still recognize a good story and good writing...
April Brown
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 6:57 AM
I miss the mysteries I read as a teen.  Too me mysteries should be just that - a mystery.  Trying to find the missing family member, jewels, geologic feature, or trying to piece together why someone is acting the way they are.  Crimes and murders, usually shelved in mystery belong in the crime section.  I want to read fun, light hearted mysteries, not crimes!

Back to Trixie Belden I guess.

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 9:26 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 26

In a Mystery, the Reader (or - Audience) has no idea whodunnit, or, whytheydunnit... The Reader learns `plot information'/solves the clues, as the characters in the fiction/story/book do so...

In a Thriller, the Reader "knows more" than the characters within the fiction. ie - We (the Reader) know that people in the story are `in danger' (or that they are missing a vital piece of info that `changes everything'), and as a result, we want to tell them "It's behind you!" or "The Butler is doing it!!!" etc.

ie This definition is actually very similar to Clare's comment above, (which I like a lot) but also slightly-more-expanded, to include various `edge cases'... 

ie I'd suggest, that the `bad guy' may not be the `bad' guy we think he is...

ie Suppose for a moment, the crane-chain holding a large, heavy safe may be just about to break 30 storeys above the protagonist in a bustling city street, and we may know this (via the omniscient narration, which both Mystery and Thriller can do)...

However, who's the bad guy in this scenario? Is the chain ethically "bad" for breaking, at that point, and atomizing our protagonist? Most would argue no, but for those who would argue "yes", I would definitely be keen to get stoned with you ASAP, as I might learn something extremely illuminating about the nature of the Universe that I've been missing up to now.


Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 3:10 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

On a similar note, I just read the Bond short story, the Hildebrandt rarity. It, oddly enough, turns into a murder mystery!  Of course, this being a Bond novel, he figures it out in 3 pages, and its of casual interest to him, he doesn't actually DO anything about it.

Michael R Hagan
Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2013 5:18 PM
Joined: 10/14/2012
Posts: 229

Would it be fair to say in most thrillers the readers knows everything that the MC knows; In a mystery, what the MC thinks of out loud to portray?

I think either can have clues scattered about seeming inconsequential.... until they're not.
100% agree that it's where the emphasis is put also. Take the crime into the present, to be described in detail, and the mystery becomes a thriller.


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