Monday, March 8, 2010

Mysteries, thrillers, suspense

I finally got The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction from the library holds list! This year, I'm using the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge to expose myself to and start to get a handle on thrillers, but I've been unsure if what I'm reading are even technically thrillers, and it's starting to drive me nuts.

Joyce Saricks groups thrillers and suspense together (along with adventure and romantic suspense) under the umbrella of "Adrenaline Genres," while mysteries are grouped (with literary fiction, sci fi, and psychological suspense--which explains why I didn't find Lippman's Every Secret Thing all that suspenseful) under "Intellectual Genres." So, the first question is whether a book's strongest appeal lies in a puzzle that engages the mind (mystery) or in its fast pace (suspense and thrillers).

In mysteries, solving a crime drives the plot, and the culprit and motive is revealed by the end of the book. In suspense, readers know something bad is going to happen, especially as the protagonist doesn't. The central focus is on suspense, and information is not withheld from the reader as it often is in mysteries. In mystery, "something has happened," and in suspense, "something is going to happen." Saricks' defines thrillers for their emphasis on details of a profession and the way the protagonist uses his or her professional skills to get out of a dangerous situation.

Obviously, this is more nuanced, and I've only just begun to read the book. But I wanted to get a basic primer down with definitions. To keep things interesting, I will read these three genres for the challenge, but I do want to focus more on thrillers and suspense, since I think I have a better handle on what defines a mystery.

*Edit: I should also add adventure, one of the adrenaline genres, which seems to include a few authors I had previously considered thriller writers, e.g., James Rollins and Clive Cussler. Saricks defines adventure as the story of a hero overcoming dangerous obstacles to find a treasure or save the world, and they typically are set in exotic locales and/or historical periods.

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