Thrillers / Suspense
So, what’s the difference between a thriller and a mystery novel?
Well, a few things, actually.
In a mystery novel, the detective or sleuth looks backward in time, assembling the puzzle pieces which will unmask the criminal. Think of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. In order to find the killer, Hercule Poirot interviews passengers stuck on a train in a snowstorm about the victim and their prior experiences with him. Through their stories, he gathers the evidence to expose the murderer, only revealing his findings in the end.
In a thriller novel, the action moves forward not backward. The protagonist can be a detective, amateur sleuth, private eye, an ordinary citizen, or even a family member, and the villain is usually known to the protagonist from the outset of the book. The plot of a thriller revolves around the urgent need to prevent a murder, a catastrophe, an apocalypse from happening. In this genre, the protagonist must stop the villain often at his or her own peril before he strikes again.
A thriller is fast paced, an emotional rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, twists and reversals, a story in which the reader is deeply identified with the main character.
Here’s how the International Thriller Writers organization defines the genre: A thriller is a novel in which “tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country or the stability of the free world.”
One of the great recent thrillers that exemplifies all this and more is Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter. The Amazon blurb says this: The Marsh King’s Daughter is the mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future.
The Marsh King’s Daughter has all the ingredients you want in a thriller: a protagonist you can identify with and root for, a complicated, fascinating, dangerous villain, a vivid, atmospheric setting, and a heart-in-the-throat sense of dread and urgency.
“Brilliant . . . ” the New York Times claimed, “about as good as a thriller can be.”