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It's a Mystery 4/1/08

What Exactly is a Mystery?

The meanings of the terms Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller are often used interchangeably, but can also be confusing.  A helpful explanation comes from the Cluelass website:

    "There are no hard-and-fast rules, but Mystery and detective fiction emphasizes the puzzle aspect of the plot, with clues and "fair play" for the reader - i.e. the readers should be able to determine the solution at the same time as the protagonist.

    In Suspense, the essential question is not necessarily whodunit, but rather, will they catch the villain before (s)he strikes again?  Suspense novels involving in-depth analysis of character are sometimes referred to as psychological suspense.

    Thrillers are fast-moving, propelled by action, chase scenes, and violence, and frequently involve larger-scale villainy such as espionage, terrorism, and conspiracy."


Author Carolyn Wheat (How to Write Killer Fiction, 2003), offers these differences between Mystery and Suspense.

    "A mystery concerns itself with a puzzle.  Suspense presents the reader with a nightmare.

    A mystery is a power fantasy; we identify with the detective.  Suspense is a victim fantasy; we identify with someone at the mercy of others.

    In a mystery, thinking is paramount.  In suspense, feeling is paramount.

    Readers of mysteries are looking for clues.  Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.

    The hero or heroine in a mystery is looking for suspects.  The hero or heroine in suspense looks for betrayers.

    In a mystery the hero or heroine already has the skills he or she needs to solve the puzzle.  In suspense, he or she must learn new skills to survive.

    Mystery readers expect a series.  Those who read suspense know a book can be a one shot.

    Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying.  Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction."


Whether to put an author in our Mystery collection or the regular Fiction area, where suspense and thriller novels are usually found, is always open to interpretation.  Hopefully we are following general Mystery guidelines so you can locate your favorite authors.





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