Although we tend to think of mysteries and thrillers together, there is a difference:
- In a mystery, the reader sees the clues and, near the end, discovers the culprit along with the fictional detective.
- In a thriller, the reader learns early on who the villain is and watches as the hero and the villain try to outwit each other.
Despite this technical difference, we tend to think of mysteries and thrillers together because they employ similar literary strategies: The author has to dispense information we need while at the same time building suspense. The best writers dispense information bit by bit in a way that ratchets up the suspense while at the same time giving us the clues we need to follow the action. And along the way the best mystery and thriller writers also probe areas of the human psyche that we usually avoid looking into.
Here, listed in no particular order, are 12 mysteries and thrillers that effectively do all that.
- Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
- A Place of Execution by Val McDermid
- Tell No One by Harlan Coben
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
- The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
- The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
- The Poet by Michael Connelly
- I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
- The Scold’s Bridle by Minette Walters
- Under the Beetle’s Cellar by Mary Willis Walker
- Judas Child by Carol O’Connell
I liked the pace and powerful sense of place in crime fiction. I also liked the strong structure–the beginning, middle and end–the crime, the investigation and the resolution. It all made sense to me. I discovered that everything I wanted to say about the world could be said in a crime novel. So, why would I want to write anything else?—Novelist Ian Rankin