Susan Vaughan here. Although I’m working on shifting my genre into the mystery arena, I’ve been published in romantic suspense for a long time. When I tell non-romance readers what I write, they look at me blankly. I usually keep the explanation simple that I write romance interwoven with a mystery, and I don’t distinguish between mystery and suspense. Understanding that difference has come up in a couple of my online email groups, so I thought this might be a good time to address it here for readers. There’s certain blending and crossover, but here’s my take on the general difference.
A mystery begins with the crime, usually a murder, and the remainder of the book involves a sleuth, either police or a PI or a citizen with personal reasons for getting involved, trying to identify and apprehend the murderer.
Barbara Ross’s mystery CLAMMED UP features an amateur sleuth whose search for the murderer is tied to her need to save her family’s clambake business.
In AND GOD GRANT YOU PEACE, Kate Flora continues her police-procedural mystery series with Portland Detective Joe Burgess as the sleuth.
A suspense novel, whether romantic or not, involves the hero (protagonist) who may be a federal agent or a police detective or an extraordinary citizen (Think Jack Reacher.), trying to stop the villain (the antagonist) from carrying out his dastardly scheme. Sometimes there are additional crimes/murders as well, and more often than not, the sleuth is in danger at the end when confronting the killer. In a suspense novel, both the hero and the reader might know the villain’s identity. The tension and “suspense” come from the rising action, often a time factor, and from keeping the reader wondering if the villain can be stopped.
My book TWICE A TARGET has elements of both but is primarily a mystery. Holt believes the car crash that killed his brother and his brother’s wife was murder and enlists the help of the heroine, Maddy, a woman he doesn’t trust (old baggage I won’t go into), to help him learn the motive for the attack and identify the killer.
Another of my books, PRIMAL OBSESSION, is more obviously (romantic) suspense. Sam, a Maine Guide, and Annie, an investigative reporter and one of the canoeists on his wilderness trip, discover that the serial killer Annie was writing about has followed her into the woods. To save her life and the lives of others, they must evade him and eventually try to capture him.
Whether mystery or suspense or thriller, readers have more flavors to choose from than vanilla and chocolate.