Thriller Genre Primer

By Katrina Ortega, Manager, College and Career Pathways
October 30, 2017
Collage of 10 mystery book covers.

The Thriller Genre

Thrillers deal in crimes, their detectives, criminals, and their motives. When done well, there is a sustained and gradually heightened sense of suspense and anxiety until you read the end of the book.





Detective Fiction (whodunit?) A.K.A Mystery Fiction

A novel in which a detective -- police, private, amature, or retired -- works to solve a crime, often a murder. The reader is provided the clues along the way as well.  Think Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle

Legal Thriller

In a legal thriller, a large part of the action takes place in a courtroom and many of the main characters are lawyers. The legal system itself and justice are often elements or themes. Popular authors include: John Grisham and Scott Turow.

Political Thrillers

A thriller set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Some authors you probably recognize include: David Baldacci and Vince Flynn.


The hard-boiled subgenre usually involves a detective who is down on his/her luck and an undesirable cast of characters. It usually takes place in an urban setting and the tone is unsentimental, cynical,  and gritty. Some masters of the hard-boiled genre include: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Spy Fiction  

For a novel to be considered spy fiction, some form of espionage must be present in the plot. This can include one spy or a whole agency of spies. Think authors like John le Carré and Tom Clancy.​

Psychological Suspense 

A thriller that emphasizes the psychology of its characters and their unstable emotional states. There is a dissolving sense of reality, moral ambiguity, and complex and tortured relationships. Surely you have heard the names Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins

The Edgar Award is presented by the Mystery Writers of America every year honoring the best mystery fiction.  

If I had to choose 3 books to introduce a reader to the thriller genre... 

HERE is a list of some recent and diverse thrillers to recommend to your patrons.