What is the difference between a crime novel and a thriller? Pauline Rowson discusses

I'm often asked what is the difference between a crime novel and a thriller, and I have to admit I have difficulty in answering this question even though I have written seven crime novels and two thrillers.

So for enlightenment I turned to the International Thriller Writers organisation who characterise a thriller as:

“the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace."

I think this is true of the crime novel. OK, so it depends on what type of crime novel. Some admittedly unfold at a more leisurely pace depending on the personality of the main character, his or her background, the story and the setting. If it is a cozy mystery then, yes, it is less likely to move along at breakneck speed although there will be suspense, peaks and lulls.

So let's hear more from the International Thriller Writers.

"Thriller is a genre in which tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world."

In a crime novel the hero might be a police officer, or a private eye, who can still be tough and resourceful. DI Andy Horton certainly is in my crime novels. And he is pitted against villains determined to destroy him, although not necessarily the country or the stability of the free world. But hang on he might be called upon to do so if there is a terrorist element in the plot, and it could be said that criminals involved in drugs, trafficking and other heinous crimes also threaten the stability of the country and the free world.

Being a police officer though, Horton has a team behind him and superiors above him, but he is a maverick and usually strikes out alone to solve the crime and bring the villain to justice. Horton is not an 'ordinary cop' but a man on a mission to fight injustice and at the same time is being forced to find out the truth behind his mother's disappearance, which puts his life in danger and pits him against that villain who is intent on destroying him and the fabric of society.

So, again I think there can be a certain overlap between the crime novel and thriller.

The heroes in both my thrillers are ordinary guys who find themselves in extra ordinary situations Both Adam Greene in In Cold Daylight and Alex Albury in In For The Kill find themselves pitted against villains determined to destroy them. Often in a thriller the hero is faced with what seem to be insurmountable problems in his mission, carried out against a ticking clock, the stakes are high and although resourceful he faces personal dilemmas along the way forcing him to make sacrifices for others. 

This is true for both Adam Greene and Alex Albury. Adam, in a quest to discover the truth behind his closest friend's death, fire fighter Jack Bartholomew, finds himself up against a huge conspiracy at the top.  His whole way of life begins to crumble before him and he faces many personal dilemmas and danger on his journey.

In In For the Kill, Alex Albury's life has been shattered when sentenced for fraud and embezzlement. On his release from prison he is determined to discover who framed him knowing that he is up against a dangerous and very clever adversary who will stop at nothing to prevent him from finding this out.  Soon, Alex is faced with the ultimate choice to kill or be killed.

In a thriller there is tension and conflict along the way and an unexpected, satisfying conclusion and I believe that also applies to crime novels, well I like to think it does to mine! Whether crime novel or thriller the main characters/s will have internal conflict, moral dilemmas, and tough decisions and choices to make, as these help develop and define them. Their actions drive the story forward.

So am I any clearer on the difference between a crime novel and a thriller?  To a certain extent yes. But concerning my own crime and thriller novels I'm not so sure. It seems that my crime novels are also thrillers or should that be my thrillers are also crime novels?  Does it matter? No. Whether crime novel or thriller all that really counts is that it is a satisfying and enjoyable read.

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