I'd suggest that mysteries and thrillers are two different things, whatever genre they are written in. Expanding from your Hitchcock contribution, dramatic tension in a mystery is created by witholding the who in a crime, and/or sometimes the how. Dramatic tension in a thriller comes from creating anticipation by revealing the who and how but witholding the outcome of the crime; will it be accomplished or thwarted?
Both of these techniques can and are used in a variety of settings, though there's a tendency to equate mysteries almost exclusively with crime fiction even when the who and how are revealed quite early on. Sometimes crime fiction is serially one then the other, the who and how not revealed until late in the book, the remainder devoted to whether the criminal will be caught and the crime thwarted. But I don't think any fiction can be both thriller and mystery simultaneously.
So I'm suggesting that while Strangers on a Train is crime fiction and a thriller, it is not a mystery. That would be true too, of most serial-killer narratives. Not that most literary historians, critics, publicists or water-cooler experts have ever had any interest in the distinction. So maybe I'm wrong. (OK Jim--not being you I am quite assuredly wrong).
----- Original Message -----
From: Mark Sullivan
Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2009 10:59 AM
Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Jim D's definition of Thriller
"Not all adventure novels are thrillers. Not all mysteries are thrillers. But thrillers are always mysteries, and usually adventure novels."
I don't buy that all thrillers are mysteries, even if you use the loosest definition of mystery. Wouldn't Andromeda Strain, for instance, qualify as a thriller, a medical thriller, but it's not a mystery. Aren't there sci-fi thrillers? Aren't there horror thrillers?
From: JIM DOHERTY
Sent: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 3:14 AM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Jim D's definition of Thriller
Re your comment below:
"Ah, like _The 39 Steps_! What a good novel that is. But what is the
difference between 'venture novel' and 'thriller?' I am thinking of
Edward Aarons, a favorite of mine (OK, maybe he was not always a big
ball of fire, but so what?). Also of some of Ross Thomas's novels. It
would be curious to discover that they are in fact thrillers..."
An adventure novel isn't necessarily a mystery (crime fiction, detective story, suspense, fill in your preferred term for the genre-at-large), while a thriller is.
Not all adventure novels are thrillers. Not all mysteries are thrillers. But thrillers are always mysteries, and usually adventure novels.
Think of it as a literary Venn diagram.
As for Ross Thomas, I'd certainly say that THE COLD WAR SWAP was a thriller, and probably the other MacCorkle/Padillo books, too. Ditto the Wu/Durant series.
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