Thrillers and mysteries have long been seen as split along gender lines, and for the first seventy years or so of the twentieth century, they actually were. But things have been changing.
Thrillers were originally written by, for, and about men. The earliest thriller, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers published in 1903, had not a single female character initially until his publisher forced Childers to add one to the book. Until Ken Follett’s best-selling thriller, The Eye of the Needle, with its female protagonist in 1978, women were only occasional minor characters within thrillers, and the primary readers of thrillers were men. The thriller arose and became popular in the same time period as the western and the hard-boiled detective novel (which grafted the danger and violence of the thriller onto the mystery). All were parts of a male-oriented fiction with the shared elements of idealized male protagonists braving physical danger and escalating threat that built to cathartic endings of explosive violence.
Mysteries, on the other hand, have always had female readers and writers from Louisa May Alcott in the 1860s and her British counterparts, such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, to Anna Katharine Green in 1878 with the first American best seller of any kind and on into the Golden Age with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Mignon G. Eberhart, Helen McCloy, Margaret Millar, and many others down to the present moment.
[He read, she read...]