Dear Miss Snark,
My novel has been described as a "literary thriller" or a "literary page-turner" by writers with more experience than I have.
The first term seems vague, and I can't shake my preconceived notions about what "thriller" means. The second term seems too obvious. (Who's going to buy a book that isn't a page-turner?) I've seen both terms in marketing for books from The Egyptologist and The Rule of Four to Atonement and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Supposing an author's novel is literary and has elements of a thriller (which I gather to mean exciting plot points). Would she describe it as such in a query letter, or would this designator cause agents to roll their eyes and pass?
Literary thriller is a perfectly acceptable designation for a novel. "Page turner" is a cliche, and solely reserved for the lads in the marketing department who are writing copy for airport bookstore buyers.
A thriller is generally a book in which you know the stakes and the stakes are big (think James Bond saving the world) and the action is fast paced. Not so much whodunit as will he do it.
Agatha Christie did not write thrillers. Neither does Scott Turow or John Grisham.
Ian Fleming wrote thrillers. Really really good ones.