What’s the Difference between Mystery and Thriller?

What's the difference between mystery and thriller

If you are reading a novel, it is important to know your genre. But before you start calling your novel a mystery or a thriller with suspense elements, you must know what separates these two genres.

A mystery, by definition, is something that defies our common understanding of the world. In mysteries, there are mysteries – things you do not know until the end.

In a thriller, for example, you may know who the killer is from the very first page of the book, but you’re captivated by the chase — and the action must be punctuated at key moments. In a mystery, however, you may not know who the murderer is until the very end.

Mystery Novels

In mystery novels, a crime is committed—almost always murder—and the plot revolves around figuring out who did it and why, as well as obtaining some form of justice.

The best mystery stories frequently explore man’s unique capacity for deception—especially self-deception—and show humble respect for human understanding’s limits. This is generally considered the most cerebral and least violent of suspense genres.

Following are the basic plot elements of mystery:

  • The hidden killer
  • The baffling crime
  • The singularly motivated investigator
  • The cover-up (often more important than the crime itself, as it’s the cover-up that conceals the killer)
  • Suspect identification and elimination (with the creation of false suspects frequently being part of the killer’s plan)
  • Evaluation of clues (sifting the true from the untrue)
  • Identification and apprehension of the killer

Thriller Novels

While mystery stories are the most cerebral of the suspense genres, thrillers are usually the most emotional, focusing on the hero’s doubt, fear, and dread as he faces “terrible trouble,” as Dean Koontz puts it.

This subgenre is a mix of mystery and horror. Thriller, however, shares a literary lineage with myth and epic – terror, monsters, and danger prevails. Thematically, thrillers focus on the unsafe world we live in, the inherent threat of the unknown, and the vulnerability of the average person.

The plot of thriller novels often proceeds along these lines:

  • A heinous crime is about to be committed or has already been committed, with the threat of an even more heinous crime lurking around the corner.
  • The perpetrator is identified, but his guilt is unknown—or the hero refuses to accept the truth of his guilt. This uncertainty heightens the tension.
  • As the hero attempts to prove the perpetrator’s guilt and/or prevent the next atrocity, he is constantly attacked. It’s worth noting how this differs from the mystery genre, where the villain usually remains hidden. That villain can be anyone – a terrorist, a diabolical genius, or an ordinary person with an oversized grudge and a unique capacity for damage.


After a thorough read of this blog, you will completely understand the difference between mystery and thriller novels. Meanwhile, why don’t you check out some of the killer books by Brian T. Seifrit, a fourteen-time published author? “Absolute Anger”, “Return to Red Rock”, “Bloodlines”, “Escape”, “Red Rock Canyon” and “The Coalition of Purgatory” are some of his books that every thriller and mystery lover should read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *