Laurie Buchanan is one of my fellow authors in the Blackbird Writers group. She’s also the author of the Sean McPherson crime thriller series. Book three, Impervious, just recently came out.
On average, I read and review two books per week. And while I enjoy all kinds of books, my favorite genre to read (and to write) is crime thriller—think David Baldacci, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Robert Bryndza, Liv Constantine, Louise Penny, and Robert Dugoni.
Many people use the terms mystery, thriller, and suspense interchangeably. But there’s a difference. While all books can have a bit of one, the other, or all three woven throughout, I find the difference between these genres interesting.
The main character is busy tracking down clues that lead to the truth about an event—usually, but not always, a murder. If the protagonist (good guy/gal) is in danger, it’s typically limited and bearable at the beginning. But the threat increases exponentially as the protagonist gets closer to solving the mystery. In this genre, the reader and the protagonist work with the same information and, near the end of the book, simultaneously discover “who done it.”
The pace of a mystery storyline varies throughout. Sometimes it’s slow. At other times, it’s fast.
The protagonist is in danger right out of the gate. And the reader, but not the characters in the book, knows who the antagonist (bad guy/gal) is from the get-go. This strategy works because the author has put them in a position of knowledge that spins their nerves tighter and tighter—to the point they want to scream, “Don’t open that door!” “Don’t go into the woods!” And for goodness sake, “stay out of the basement!”
The pace of a thriller storyline is pedal to the metal from beginning to end. And while thrillers and suspense share many commonalities, the pace makes all the difference.
The author’s purpose in a suspense story is to create dread, apprehension, and suspicion in the reader. They accomplish this by using a slower pace to tighten the anxiety screws. But like a thriller, the readers know much more than the book’s characters.
The master of suspense is Alfred Hitchcock. Think Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds, or Vertigo. It’s been said, and with good reason, that “Hitchcock generated true, chilling emotional suspense—the basis of a powerful psychological thriller.”
“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” —ALFRED HITCHCOCK
The pace of a suspense storyline starts at a simmer and then works to a rolling boil.
These three genres—mystery, thriller, and suspense— are similar yet different. But they share common ground. In each case, a character is trying to get at the truth or prevent something horrible from happening.
If you’re a fan of crime thrillers, I hope you’ll read one of the Sean McPherson novels. Start with Indelible, the first book in the series, and you might just find yourself hooked!
You can find out more about Laurie Buchanan on her website, www.lauriebuchanan.com, where can also find links to buy her books.