Welcome to the first installment of Genres Defined, a new Reader Voracious series that deep dives into the nuance of genres: what are the defining characteristics? what is reasonable to expect when picking up a book? Today we are talking Mystery vs Thriller!
Mystery vs Thriller
This whole post came into being because someone recommended a cozy mystery to me as a thriller two years ago. Sometimes it feels like the book community thinks that these two genres are the same; Mysteries and Thrillers are not the same.
The debate between mystery and thrillers has been on my mind for a long time, clearly. Just a little bit of a self roast before we get started… 🤣
What’s the Difference?
Admittedly there is a lot of overlap between the mystery and thriller genres, which I think adds to the confusion. The way I like to differentiate between the two genres is that mystery is primarily concerned with solving a crime and pursuing justice, whereas at its heart a thriller is centered on the main character’s safety and survival.
🔎 Mystery: about a crime and justice
😨 Thriller: about safety and survival
These two central themes help to categorize mysteries and thrillers at a glance, but of course there’s more to it. Often times determination lies in the tone of the book. According to Masterclass, “Thrillers are dark, engrossing, and suspenseful plot-driven stories. They very seldom include comedic elements.” The primary goal of the Thriller genre is suspense and the main character is in an almost constant state of danger.
The plot in a mystery centers around the main character piecing together clues of a crime. The plot is a big puzzle piece, and the tension typically comes from red herrings and misdirects rather than actual danger driving the plot.
Some mysteries are also thrillers (and vice versa!), but not all mysteries are thrillers. Nor should they be! There’s a place for cozies, for noir, for whodunnits. As a mood reader, sometimes we just want a cozy whodunnit where the main character isn’t also fighting for their survival.
Mystery & Thriller Subgenres
The differences between and nuances of the Mystery & Thriller genres are best illustrated by their subgenres.
- Classic Mystery
- Crime Mystery
- Police Procedurals
- Cozy Mysteries
- Action Thriller
- Crime Thriller
- Psychological Thriller
- Political Thriller
- Spy Thriller
If you read similar books to me, chances are you’ve seen a lot of overlap between the two genres: I like my books full of tension, dread, and danger. Both mysteries and thrillers can be page-turners that keep you glued to the book until the final reveal, making both excellent reads in the summer months when you crave fast-paced books.
As you can see, the Mystery and Thriller genres are rather distinct but do have a lot of crossover with other genres. A lot of Mysteries have Thriller elements and vice versa, but the genres are not interchangeable.
Honestly it feels really good to get this off of my chest. I hope you found this topic and new series of interest – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
💬 What do you think about my definitions for mystery and thriller?
💬 How do you categorize these books?
💬 What Mysteries and Thrillers do YOU recommend?