What I'm reading: The Sentry, by Robert Crais
Often we see the two genres combined—it's not unusual to see "mystery/suspense" as a category. But they're not the same. According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how they overlap. But there are distinct differences.
Let's take a look at both:
In a mystery, the reader follows a step behind the detective/protagonist as he or she solves the crime. The reader doesn't know anything until the protagonist does. Normally, the crime has already happened, and the detective has to figure out who did it. Mysteries are puzzles.
Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to POV. If there's a villain's POV, then the reader knows what's happened. Suspense. Think Alfred Hitchcock.
If there's only the detective's POV (and I'm being simplistic, because often there are multiple POV characters in a mystery, but they're not the villain), then the reader doesn't know what happened. Mystery. Think Sherlock Holmes.
And then, there's the other side of the bookstore, the romance aisles. In it is the broad category the publishing industry calls "romantic suspense" which comprises all the sub-genres of mystery, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed.
There can be elements of both, however.
FINDING SARAH starts off as a mystery. Sarah's shop has been robbed and she calls the police. The detective, Randy, tries to solve it. However, later in the book, Randy and Sarah are separated, and Sarah is in danger. Now, the reader will see things through Sarah's eyes that Randy doesn't know, and things through Randy's eyes that Sarah doesn't know. This creates suspense, even though the book wasn't intended as a strictly suspense novel.
In HIDDEN FIRE, the same two characters are part of a more classic mystery. There's been a murder, and Randy must figure out who did it. The reader never sees the killer, so it wouldn't be classified as a suspense.
In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, because the villain was obvious, I included his POV, and that added elements of suspense to the story. But, in my mind, it's still more of a mystery. If I'd been responsible for labeling romance books that include mystery sub-genres, I'd probably have included a "mystery romance" moniker. But nobody asked me (they never do), so we've got romantic suspense novels that might not have any suspense in them. That's why I like to think of my own books as "Mysteries With Relationships."
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