English Translations of Scandinavian/Nordic Mysteries & Thrillers discussion

84 views
Mystery (Non-Scandinavian) > What is the difference between mystery and suspense?

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Anna (new)

Anna (aetm) | 228 comments There are mysteries than can be rather boring. Think of Angela Lansbury mixed with ... some old-fashioned mysteries. Who did it and how... when discovering that is only after 300 pages of old people chatting boring stuff and about what the detective eats (rather than actual procedural police work) or wears, yes, that would be a mystery. Especially if there's nothing thrilling other than a new corpse showing every 50-100 pages.

Suspense and thrillers are supposed to have suspense and/or thrill. They don't have to have who did it as the main thing, as they can also show who did it and how (think of Columbo movies), yet you'll be sweating trying to figure how it resolves and what happens next. Or the characters drive the story, and you know something bad will happen, and you're waiting for that. That bad doesn't have to be the 'who did it', but just a result of the characters.

I've seen even 'thriller' abused as a term. If I have a thriller, I'm expecting it to be more of a Ludlum or Nesbø kind - lots of action from page 1 to the last page (like 500), rather than the "thrill" of something like the Reservoir Dogs movie. Where you (or at least I) get itchy and just wish for the first 95 % of the movie that something would happen and they'd finally shoot someone or all of them. Maybe thatswhy someone invented the term 'psychological thriller' so you won't be expecting any action or any thrill...

There's even a word for "cozy mysteries" where there's usually not that much action or violence or thrill. I can't imagine a "cozy suspense" though. Either it has some suspense or it doesn't.


message 2: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments This is a great question!

And to add a further element, I'm wondering: Where does the term "noir" come into this? Off the top of my head, I think that "noir" implies a mystery, which may be suspenseful, but usually creates a certain mood--something brooding and maybe cynical and world-weary or sad. What do you think?


message 3: by Fizzycola (new)

Fizzycola | 163 comments Florence wrote: "This is a great question!

And to add a further element, I'm wondering: Where does the term "noir" come into this? Off the top of my head, I think that "noir" implies a mystery, which may be suspe..."


I like your definition, that's how I would like it to be, too. Brooding, sad, world-weary... oh yes!

Unfortunately, the official definition is not quite like that. This is how Merriam-Webster defines "noir":

"crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings"

Well, that's what I do NOT like. Hard-boiled characters often mean excessive violence. That's not my cup of tea.


message 4: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments Fizzycola wrote: "Florence wrote: "This is a great question!

And to add a further element, I'm wondering: Where does the term "noir" come into this? Off the top of my head, I think that "noir" implies a mystery, w..."


I'm with you! I prefer atmosphere and psychology to violence. I usually skip over those parts! :)


message 5: by Anna (new)

Anna (aetm) | 228 comments I think that's a good way to put in NYKen. :)

So, we have noir... but there's also giallo - any detective/police/crime/procedural. Interesting story for its history, mostly because Mondadori Editrice used yellow (=giallo) as a color for the police/detective books from 1929. So "yellow" books instead of "romanzo poliziesco", sounds better, doesn't it? I think most Scandinavian crime/procedurals would easily be gialli, whether they have a lot of suspense or not.


message 6: by Ken, Moderator (U.S.A.) (new)

Ken Fredette (klfredette) | 4751 comments Mod
I'll put my two cents in. We can all relate to Stieg Larsson's industrialist, journalist, and security specialist when it comes to real life. We don't have a crime/procedural in any of his books, however, each book was suspenseful. Lisbeth Salander was suspense in herself never leaving a person alone with their thoughts. We were taken for a ride from the inside out to figure everything that happened. Yet it was the most suspenseful read I had to date.


message 7: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments Interesting insights. I would agree, NYKen, that a mystery is something to unravel, and suspense is an ingredient that might or might not be there.

And yes, Kenneth, I agree, whatever suspense is, Stieg Larsson surely could convey it. How many people have stayed up half the night because they couldn't put down his books? It's really an amazing quality, sort of an engine running throughout the book that keeps the reader entranced. It's a great gift.

And thanks, Anna, for the "yellow" info. I didn't know about that! Off the top of my head, I think of the first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, as a classic procedural. It moves at a pace that is slow but true; lots of detailed police work, and then the occasional breakthrough. I like those novels, too; it's a different sort of suspense, I suppose, not as dramatic as Larsson, but I like how true to life they feel.


message 8: by Steven T. (new)

Steven T. Murray | 79 comments NYKen wrote: "What is the difference between mystery and suspense?

To me the primary difference is that mysteries make you think, and suspense makes you sweat.

Feel free to add your comments, details, on your ..."


Thanks, Florence, from the translator of both books you mentioned! For me, suspense does not require a dead body, mystery does.
Steve/Reg


message 9: by Steven T. (new)

Steven T. Murray | 79 comments Thanks, Florence, from the translator of both books you mentioned! For me, suspense does not require a dead body, mystery does.
Steve/Reg


message 10: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments Steven T. wrote: "NYKen wrote: "What is the difference between mystery and suspense?

To me the primary difference is that mysteries make you think, and suspense makes you sweat.

Feel free to add your comments, det..."


Yes, I like the dead body criteria! I think that works well.

Translation is such a subtle art; I'm really grateful for all the translations that feed my Scandi-crime addiction!


message 11: by Steven T. (new)

Steven T. Murray | 79 comments Now you're ready to expand into the German stuff like me -- try Nele Neuhaus, Snow White Must Die!


message 12: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments Steven T. wrote: "Now you're ready to expand into the German stuff like me -- try Nele Neuhaus, Snow White Must Die!"

Eventually I hope to work my way through all of Europe . . . :)


message 13: by Steven T. (new)

Steven T. Murray | 79 comments Then don't miss Andrea Camilleri's Sicily!


message 14: by Anna (new)

Anna (aetm) | 228 comments Or Robert Wilson's Portugal.
Or Fred Vargas' France.

Camilleri's Montalbano is one of those series that are just so much better in original (at least for me), even if I like Sartarelli's translations. It's not the same Montalbano for me in English (but if only English or other translated one, it's ok).
It's funny how some series I don't mind translated, but others seem completely different in other languages. I gave up a Wallander in Finnish because it didn't seem at all like the same Wallander. But inspector Winter felt the same in both languages. Anyone else has this issue?


message 15: by Janet (new)

Janet Martin (janmaus) | 3 comments Standard definition is that a mystery is a crime past, and thriller concerns crimes to come. In the mystery, the detective tries to determine who is the criminal and capture him/her; in a thriller, while there may be past crimes, the main emphasis is to capture the criminal before more crime is allowed to happen. Most "mysteries" are technically "thrillers."


message 16: by Florence (new)

Florence Wetzel (florencewetzel) | 111 comments Janet wrote: "Standard definition is that a mystery is a crime past, and thriller concerns crimes to come. In the mystery, the detective tries to determine who is the criminal and capture him/her; in a thriller,..."

I like this definition; I hadn't thought about it quite this way, but it's true that the time element is a major part of the plot.


message 17: by Janet (new)

Janet Martin (janmaus) | 3 comments Some great thoughts in this thread--personally I always think that mysteries benefit from some suspense, and suspense is always better with a bit of mystery. I know that many suspense books are filled with the villain's POV, so the reader has a good idea of what is coming, but those books usually sacrifice the element of surprise.


message 18: by Anna (new)

Anna (aetm) | 228 comments But many classic mysteries have 100-200 pages of story before the crime happens, and only after then it's discovering the past.
Otherwise I like that definition of a (classic) mystery. :)


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Janet wrote: "Some great thoughts in this thread--personally I always think that mysteries benefit from some suspense, and suspense is always better with a bit of mystery. I know that many suspense books are fil..."

I agree with that sentiment Janet.


back to top