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Defining Genre

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True Crime

In comparison to mysteries, thrillers pit hero against villain in an effort to stop continuing danger.  The reader follows the hero into danger and becomes both mentally and emotionally invested (think tension).

  • Settings are grittier, often urban and the danger presented is realistic.
  • There are reversals in the battle between the protagonist and antagonist.
  • Antagonists are malevolent, dangerous to the protagonist, and often known by the reader. 
  • Action is fast paced and adrenaline inducing.

The Crime Thriller

The crime thriller presents both the actions of the police and other criminologists and those of the criminal. Apprehension and elusion of criminals is often the focal point. Checkout Female of the Species by Mindi McGinnis online.

The Legal Thriller

Legal Thrillers focus on the courtroom drama. The investigation into guilt and innocence is ongoing during the trial and may result in danger to the client or the lawyer.  

The Medical Thriller 

These thrillers focus on exposing disease or bio-terrorism.  The investigator is a medical professional.

The Eco Thriller

Eco-thrillers focus on the intense actions needed and taken taken to avert harm resulting from natural or manmade disasters. Check out Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle online.

The Political Thriller

Political thrillers occur around the acts of government agencies and their employees, the threat of terrorist groups, and possible conspiracy theories.  Unlike espionage adventure novels, these stories are focused on the intrigue rather than on the action/adventure of spies.

The Psychological Thriller

These novels present mental conflict, as opposed to physical threat.  The protagonist faces a situation (whether real or inside their head) that threatens them or make them question their own sanity.  Check out If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin and Under the Harrow by Flynn Barry.


There historical thrillers, space thrillers, romantic thrillers, and more...thrillers are often cross-genre creations. Math thrillers are a great example of a very specific sub-genre.  In these suspense novels, mathematical reasoning is key.  Dan Brown's DaVini Code, in which the protagonist must solve a cryptic code, could be classified as a math thriller.  In fact, Brown's father was a math teacher.  

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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