Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Police Procedural vs. Thriller

Today Riordan's Desk welcomes guest blogger Robin Burcell to discuss her latest novel, THE BONE CHAMBER, and the transition from writing police procedurals to thrillers.

They say write what you know and I did just that when I started my police procedural series with San Francisco Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie. I was a cop, so I figured writing about a cop was the right thing to do, since much of police work was about solving mysteries, so to speak. The mystery genre, what’s not to love?

The Kate Gillespie books are definitely in the mystery genre. A murder occurs and we follow the cops as they investigate and begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the crime.

But what if your editor asks you to jump ship and dive into the thriller genre? What elements do you need to move from mystery to thriller? A thriller might have a mystery in it, and a mystery might have thrilling elements, but there is a difference between the two genres.

In my former series, Kate Gillespie investigates crimes, and her life is often endangered as a result. But the risk is usually only to Kate and maybe a few other characters and it is contained within the San Francisco bay area.

Not so in my new series, which I began moving into the thriller genre, primarily because I am in love with conspiracy theory, and it seemed a tad improbable that a police investigator would continually end up battling world conspiracies in a San Francisco backdrop.

Much like my first series, Face of a Killer (11/08) starts off with FBI agent/forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick looking into a murder, her father’s. All too soon she begins doubting the guilt of the man due to be executed for that murder. That’s where the similarities to my SFPD mystery series ends. A thriller must be bigger in scope, with an imminent threat that has larger than life implications. The investigation in Face of a Killer leads to a cover-up that involves top US officials, the military and the CIA. Should Sydney fail, it isn’t just her life at stake, but that of her family, a number of FBI agents and a worldwide banking scandal that could send the nation’s economy reeling.

My latest novel The Bone Chamber delves even further into thriller territory when FBI’s Sydney Fitzpatrick teams up with black ops agents to battle larger than life enemies (a cabal bent on taking over the world via shadow governments), a setting that encompasses several continents (North America, Europe and Africa), and with even more at risk than just the world economy. It also links three periods in history to the present day: the recent past (1980s), a few centuries past (1700s), and the biblical past (1400s BCE). Add a dash of forensic science, throw in an investigator from the Vatican to assist with all things biblical, threaten the world when the past collides with the present, and voilà!

That’s my path from mystery to thriller. Of course I’m not the only author who’s gone that route. Like I said about the mystery genre, what’s not to love? So, which camp are you in? Mysteries? Thrillers? A little of both? And which authors do you think do them well?

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. THE BONE CHAMBER is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. FACE OF A KILLER received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. For a sneak peek of THE BONE CHAMBER, view the video trailer on her website at: www.robinburcell.com/


At 10:35 AM, Blogger Dana Kaye said...

Great post, thanks Robin and Mark!


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