4 Comments

  1. Very insightful and thoughtfully explained essay on the subject, Matt! You really hit the nail on the head. Love your distilled version and analogy as well! It explains why I’m not always a fan of truly traditional mysteries – I like action to drive a plot, and traditional mysteries are less in the active now, more in the introspective past.

    • Thanks, Karen. I never thought about it until I started writing A Reason to Live…then the differences became REAL evident REALLY fast. 🙂 As I began dissecting the stories that I’ve always loved, trying to emulate my favorite writers, I began seeing the “seams” of the writing, so to speak.

      For instance, I love Lee Child’s Reacher books, which most people would categorize as thrillers or suspense. But there’s very often (always?) a mystery at the center of the piece and I’ve always been intrigued the way Child tries to write his way out of his self-made play-fair traps (he unapologetically relies on coincidence, but only to get Reacher into trouble, rarely to get him out of it). Once in a while (for me, it’s Tripwire), I think he falls short of being square with the reader…but it’s usually a fun ride, nevertheless.

  2. Very interesting, thoughtful piece. When I wrote Death on a High Floor: A Legal Thriller, I didn’t think consciously about any of those things, although I knew it was a mystery. My wife’s comment, upon hearing an agent describe it as a legal thriller was: but it’s NOT a thriller. To which I responded: well, that’s apparently the sub-genre name for any mystery or thriller with courtroom scenes. Not that she was particularly mollified by that response. 🙂

    Your delineation of categories also helped me think through why I liked Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal so much. It’s a classic piece of crime fiction rather than either a mystery or a thriller, and superb despite the fact that you know in advance that in the end Charles de Gaulle is not going to die. But I suppose it’s a sub-sub-category: a historical crime fiction.

    And speaking of history, that reminds me that long before Poe wrote what most people regard as the first true mystery story (Murders in the Rue Morgue), “true crime” books were very popular in England and elsewhere. These were works which described brutal crimes in detail, plus their perpetrators, settings, etc. So I suppose you could say that mysteries and crime fiction have different ancestors, which is another way to differentiate them.

    • Hi Charles – Great comments. I like some of the thoughts you have about other sub-genres. Day of the Jackal is a great example and it puts me in mind of an in-depth book study I did on Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. I examined that classic in terms of its plot construction, but now I want to go back and take a new look at it in light of this conversation (though, on reflection, I suppose EotN is simply a straightforward historical thriller unlike ‘Jackal).

      And legal thrillers…I like your take on it, even if your wife doesn’t 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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