A friend e-mailed me asking what the difference is between mystery and thriller tales.
My answer: Thrillers are sometimes mysteries. But by no means always. In every mystery, however, the reader doesn't know who done it, and only finds out in the final climactic scenes. (Agatha Christie was the consummate mystery writer, whose books have outsold the Bible over the years, and for my money the best on-screen Miss Marple was portrayed by Margaret Rutherford back in the good old black-and-white-and-snowy TV days.) In a thriller, on the other hand, the reader might start out knowing full well who the bad guys and the good guys are (though the characters may not realize this themselves) and the story interest is in seeing how the conflict between the two known factions gets resolved. Cleverly-wrought suspense is essential to both genres if a writer wants to sell books.
The "Sherlock" TV series with Ben Cumberbatch as the great sleuth is an excellent contemporary example of the mystery genre. Fine plotting and great dialog, with moments of genuine intelligent humor. “Justified” with Timothy Oliphant as a gritty federal marshal is an exemplary thriller series. Both shows have excellent supporting casts. Both are worthy of study by any aspiring writer.
And although I create thrillers, I write in a constant state of suspenseful personal mystery because I have no idea what the devil’s going to happen next.
Side note: Farewell, Robin Williams. You brightened millions of lives over your years. Thank you.