Monday, June 14, 2010

The Thrill of It All

HANK: DO you read thrillers? (There's a reason for the question that could win Jungle Red readers a free book! More about that in a moment.)

Yes, of course, I grew up on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Vicki Barr, girl stewardess. And then Agatha and Dorothy and Marjorie.

But at some point, I do remember sneaking On the Beach from my parents' bookshelves (thinking it would be, what did we call it? "dirty"?) and being surprised, then enthralled, then terrified, then riveted.

Wow. It was different. And then I read Fail Safe. And Seven Days in May. And Alas, Babylon. Fantastic. I proceeded (at some point) to Eye of the Needle. Day of the Jackal. (How perfect is that book? I mean, you're rooting for the bad guy!)

And Nelson DeMille's The Charm School. An amazing reading experience--one of those books that makes you look at the whole world differently. I did, at least.

Do you read them? They're often very different from mysteries. And perfect summer vacation reading! What's your favorite?

RO: Wow. I'd totally forgotten how much I loved those books. I remember waiting anxiously for the next Ken Follett to come out. Are those thrillers? I don't even know what the definition of a thriller is anymore.

ROBERTA: Hank, I'm guessing this might have to do with the upcoming Thrillerfest?? Anyway, I haven't read any of the books you listed. Though I have enjoyed Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, and Lisa Gardner. Are those thrillers? I too find the definition very confusing. Maybe it will all become clear later in this post...

JAN: I never read thrillers as a kid. Or even much as an adult. I read one Harlan Coben novel, but didn't 'like the way it made my heart race when I'm was trying to get to sleep. (which means it was a successful thriller!) But I'm just not into the fear thing. The closest I come to a favorite thriller was Wicked Angel by Taylor Caldwell, which was more a psychological thriller or character study of a psychopath as she progresses from childhood onto ultimate evil.

RHYS: I used to devour The Ipcress File, The Spy who Came in From the Cold, just as I used to like movies like Three Days of the Condor. Now, as I get older, I find I can't tolerate that level of suspense as well. Put it down to an aging heart, I suppose. Also I can no longer watch or read things in which a child is in jeopardy. I personalize too much. I guess I'm a hopeless softie.

What I really love is the thriller with humor. Charade is my all time favorite. And Hitchcock is still the master. And I really like books like Katherine Neville's--sort of cross genre thriller/historical saga. I'm taking 'The Fire' with me on vacation. I figure it's long enough that it will last a couple of weeks.

RO: Love Harlan Coben's books. I wouldn't have called them thrillers, but what do I know - enlighten us!

HANK: Well, I'm so surprised at my JRW sisters! (Hallie's a bit out of touch this week, and I know she'll have somethig to say later--especially since her Never Tell A Lie is certainly part-thriller.) (And I love the fabulous Harlan Coben, too. And Lisa Gardner, who keeps turning out great book after great book. And Katherine Neville, whose "The Eight" kept me in suspense for sdays. And new Tess Gerritsen's Ice Cold--a page-turner of the first water.)

Yeah, who out there has the definition of a thriller? What makes one different from a mystery? I read somewhere that in a mystery, somene gets killed, and the sleuth is trying to find out whodunnit. In a thriller something bad is going to happen, and the main character is trying to stop it.

What do you all think?

SO! Another reason for all this? To give away books! Two lucky JR commenters will get a free copy of the brand new Thrillers: 100 Must Reads!

Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads examines 100 seminal works of suspense through essays contributed by such esteemed modern thriller writers as: David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Heather Graham, John Lescroart, Gayle Lynds, Katherine Neville, Michael Palmer, James Rollins, R. L. Stine, and many more. (Including Hank!)

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads features 100 works - from Beowulf to The Bourne Identity, Dracula to Deliverance, Heart of Darkness to The Hunt for Red October - deemed must-reads by the International Thriller Writers organization.

*So says the promotional material: Much more than an anthology, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads goes deep inside the most notable thrillers published over the centuries. Through lively, spirited, and thoughtful essays that examine each work's significance, impact, and influence, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads provides both historical and personal perspective on those spellbinding works that have kept readers on the edge of their seats for centuries.

Just tell us your favorite thriller--and you'll be entered for the book! Thrilling, huh?


  1. I like thrillers, as long as they aren't too much in the "horror" category. I'm not sure exactly how to describe them: maybe those that just take your breath away in places, holding it to see what is going to happen. I've read most of the ones you named, Hank, and enjoyed them. I've read some of David Baldacci's, and Brad Meltzer--legal thrillers, I guess they are. I also like Robin Cook's medical thrillers, although I haven't read one in a long time! Of course, I've been reading cozies mostly for a long time now!Now that you mention it, I'll probably try to read at least one thriller this summer, though!

  2. I'm kind of torn about "thrillers". They used to be suspense books with stakes of global proportions. Now, they seem to be 'everyday' suspense, probably because publishers are trying to sell more books.

    As a first and foremost mystery (which isn't suspense) fan, I steered away from anything labeled "thriller." But I did read most of Ken Follett and liked them. Also Robin Cook (the science drew me in there) and Michael Crichton.

    My most recently enjoyed "mislabeled" thrillers were Barry Eisler's Rain books. He can make you love an assassin.

    I think for me, it's characters first, genre second (or third)

  3. I didn't realize you could put "On The Beach" into the thriller category. If so that is probably my favorite. Some of the latest ones are just too scary for me.

  4. I write suspense (I finally found my niche!) and I love thrillers! Thanks for recommending Morrell and Wagner's book. I'll get it!

  5. OH, yes, Terry, Robin Cook! There was a fantastic article in the NYT about a million years ago--which dissected COMA as the perfect thriller. Hmmm...I should dig that out...

    Carol, Baldacci and Meltzer can both be terrific--Was it Absolute Power? And the Meltzer one that revolved around a mistaken "zero" in a legal settlement? What a good idea..

  6. Why isn't mystery the same as suspense?

  7. I love thrillers. So much that I have a hard time picking a favorite. I also love horror. Books, not modern movies! I'm adding all the books from the post to my must-read list!

  8. Hmmm, tough call. I haven't read Cook since I was a teen, but Coma was awesome. I like Koontz a lot too, mostly because I like his writing style more than the actual stories themselves.

    For me, mysteries focus on solving a crime. There can be suspense and maybe even thrillerish aspects to them but mostly it's about putting the pieces together, figuring out who did it and nailing them. In suspense and thrillers, actually stopping the villain is the focus. You may know who the bad guy is through most of the book, but can they be stopped before whatever bad things happen? These are far more about the "catching" than the solving. Again, there can by strong mystery elements here as well. Thrillers and suspense are for me pretty blended genres. Only real difference I see is that thrillers have higher stakes, i.e. if we don't catch this bad guy, a lot more people are going to die.

    Do you want to solve the puzzle or ride the roller coaster? That's what it ultimately comes down to for me. Both are great types of reads but very different in flavor.

  9. Grew up on these:
    The Day of the Jackal
    The Eye of the Needle
    The Key to Rebecca

    Underappreciated gem:
    The Eight (you have to stop and remind yourself to take a breath every once in a while)

    And of course, on the gothic-y end of things, Daphne Du Maurier:
    Don't Look Now

    And does Patricia Highsmith count:
    the Ripley books
    Strangers on a Train

    And Ira Levin

    etc etc etc

  10. Hi Hank! Great interview. I knew there was a good reason I love you; I too read every Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and almost every Agatha Christie! :)

    I wrote an essay on REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier. It wouldn't be a thriller by today's standards, but it set the stage for my favorite genre (romantic thrillers) and had a wonderful female protagonist who grew amazingly over the course of the book.

    Hank, Terry has a better answer about mysteries v suspense. Mysteries tend to be "whodunit" i.e. a crime has occurred and it's up to the protagonist to solve the puzzle. Thrillers and suspense are more about stopping something bad from happening (or happening again) and are more about pacing and danger. Mysteries may have danger and may be stopping a subsequent crime, but are generally more about the puzzle. And all thrillers usually have a mystery integrated.

    Or, it's just marketing :)

  11. I'm on a mystery kick right now, but it's been a while since I read a thriller. Eye of the Needle is one I remember the most. I haven't read the ones other people have mentioned, like Baldacci and Cook, although I read another blog where Baldacci is mentioned.

    More books to add to my teetering TBR pile.

  12. Not exactly sure what the difference is between mysteries and thrillers but I love reading them. I can remember sitting in a corner reading Rebecca and that was just the first time I read it.

  13. Good question, plastic, about Patricia Highsmith. Strangers on A Train--you know whodunnit, ight? Or who's going to ? So is that a mystery?

    Allison, so wonderful to see you! When's the newest book?

    Oh--we saw Shutter Island last
    night! I loved it. JOnanthan--to put it mildly--did not. What did you think? And that's a thriller, right? Or not? In a kind of psychologial thriller way..

  14. Great topic! I like Thrillers as well as understanding is that both suspense and thrillers are faster pace, longer (90,000+ words), and more action...but suspense doesn't have as much violence (and/or sex I suppose)...I would have put Harlan in suspense.
    The most recent thriller I've read is Black Rain, by Graham Brown. It also has a touch of sci fi...and more so science. I liked Angels & Demons by Dan Brown, and also Patricia Cornwell -- she took a different turn about 4 books back but I hear that they are getting back to her original style now so they are back in the queue!

  15. Oh, NIkki. SO interesting. "Suspense" doesn't have as much action as "thriller." Huh.

    That's a good way to look at it...what do you all think?

  16. Carolyn Wheat has a great section on the diffs between thriller, suspense and mystery in her book "How to Write Killer Fiction."

    I'm with Rhys--since I've had children, I can't read/write things with children in peril. I'm also not interested in serial killer/sicko psycho stuff anymore, although I used to read a lot of it.

    I like the old spy thrillers: Alistair McLean, Helen MacInnes, Follett, Ludlum. I also like Coben (although I prefer his Myron Bolitar books), Finder, some Thomas Perry, Eisler, etc. And I don't think we've mentioned Thomas Harris, but he's written some classics. "Silence of the Lambs," anyone?

  17. Recently read Robin Burcell's The Bone Chamber. Better written than DaVinci and more exciting. Could not put it down.

  18. Can't believe we forgot Silence of the Lambs, Laura! Absolutely a classic.
    ANd hey, Laura/Lila: congratulations on Tressed to Kill! I see it's NUMBER ONE for May at Mystery Lovers Bookshop! Whoo hoo. (GO see what's number two...:-D )

  19. For me the major differences between thriller and mystery are:
    1. the pace. Time compressed. Plot paramount. The characters are literally racing for their lives.
    2. In mystery the character of the sleuth is important. Thriller it's all about the villain.
    3. Mystery solving a crime
    Thriller preventing a crime.

  20. Huh, interesting, Rhys! I read somewhere that said in a thriller, the protagonist and the villain have to be equals. That makes sense--each is a worthy opponent.

    And that in a thriller, at some point the villain turns away from their nefarious big plot and focuses on stopping the good guy.

  21. I prefer RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, at least as a book. The RED DRAGON movies (there were two that I know of--RED DRAGON and MANHUNTER) and though RD was okay, neither was as good as the book.

  22. It's hard to pick ONE thriller, so I'm going to mention two, one that I actually used to teach many years ago.

    Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle may be the greatest unreliable narrator book ever written, with the possible exception of Wuthering Heights (which everyone seems to misunderstand!). I should re-read it just for Jackson's brilliant mix of irony, pathos, and chilling understatement. The revelation is like a wrecking ball in the chest.

    My other favorite is newer: Carol O'Connell's The Judas Child. I like all O'Connell's Mallory books, but this, her first stand-alone, can make you grind your teeth until the enamel comes off in your moouth. I'd love to teach this one in a writing course, too. It's brilliant.

  23. I didn't read so many Nancy Drews back in the day, but I snatched up every Alistair MacLean I could find in our county library. I remember really liking one called "Puppet on a Chain," about narcotics trafficking in Amsterdam.

    I would classify Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli/Isles books as thrillers, even though several also work as whodunits. I think the difference between mystery and thriller is in intensity - in both the story-telling and expectations of reader emotional response.

    I think mystery is written for the puzzle, and thrillers are written to make you feel.

    I also think the Gerritsen series includes good character studies. Both Rizzoli and Isles have strong, dramatic character arcs. They aren't static throughout the series.

    I do think character has a place in thrillers, otherwise Hannibal Lecter wouldn't be the household name he is. And he wouldn't work as well if Clarice weren't who she is, IMO, his Persephone.

    My favorite thrillers? "The Silence of the Lambs." "The Hunt for Red October." "Creepers" by David Morell. Meltzer's "The Book of Lies" (a chase story with an emotionally resonant ending that you'll either love or hate.) And a new Tess Gerritsen dependably gets another hardcover into my hands, but I'm partial to "The Sinner."

  24. Mystery = Intellectual whodunit, hero-centric with a pro detective (e.g., Robert B. Parker).

    Suspense = Emotional, victim-centric tale with amateur sleuth in peril, while we wait for the boom to be lowered (e.g., Mary Higgins Clark).

    Thriller = Action-centric, heart-pounder. One big diff between mystery & thriller is in the latter you know whodunit up front (e.g., James Patterson).

  25. I love thrillers although everyone else here has a better idea of how to define it. I like the idea that it is someone trying to stay ahead of getting axed! Talk about taking your breath away - that's why I read them slowly, putting the book down for awhile and coming back to it. Wish like crazy I could write thrillers. Alas, I've always been too much in awe to give it a go, and I get too scared! I need a primer to gear up on the genre again.

  26. It's impossible to identify my favorite thriller but easy to identify thriller writers that I love. There are so many great thriller writers out there and dozens of authors whose new books I eagerly await, including Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, David Morrell, and James Rollins.

    Great interview and thanks for sponsoring the contest.

  27. I don't know if I could pick one. I love Allison Brennen,Tami Hoag,Iris Johansen,Carla Neggers,Erica Spindler,Lisa Jackson,Lisa Gardner,Tess Gerrisson,heather Graham, beverly Barton and PJ Tracy. I grew up on Trixie Beldon never liked Nancy Drew.
    If I had to pick I would say Ugly Duckling by Iris Johansen because it drew me away from Harlequin Intrigue and I never looked back.

  28. Oops - I forgot to ask you to take me out of the contest. I was just excited to talk about thrillers. Thanks for offering a contest, though.

  29. Tammy, that's a wonderful tibit about Ugly Duckling! I'd love to hear more about how it happened..And I bet Iris would be so thrilled!

  30. To me a mystery is about solving a crime; I'm thinking about it, I'm looking for clues.

    A thriller is more of a grand adventure of riding with the hero as he tries to stop whatever awful thing the villain is plotting.

    Suspense is a little of both, but the readers/viewers often know more than the hero, and that knowledge gets our hearts pumping. Like in Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), we know the little boy's package has a bomb and we want to save him.

    I think a movie like Strangers on a Train, I've never read the book, might have been considered a thriller when it came out, but today it would be considered suspense. It’s lost nothing and is still exciting, but the scale is less epic than today’s thrillers.

    All three, mystery, thriller, and suspense, can be wonderful!

  31. Tammy, that is SO FUNNY!!! You know what book I read right before I started seriously writing? THE SEARCH by Iris Johansen. I love that book, I read it on maternity leave with my son, and kept thinking, why am I not writing anymore? (And thanks for the kudos :)

  32. Oh, oh, oh, I so want this book, and remember my remodel tapped into my book-buying budget... okay, that's a lie. I never let a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g tap into my book buying budget, but love thrillers.

    My favorite thriller/mystery author had to be Lawrence Sanders. Remember him. First Deadly Sin, Second Deadly, Third Deadly... Fourth...

    I read him in college when I should have been studying, but the characterization... Edward X Delaney, cop... eating his oddball sandwiches over the counter and contemplating the case.

    And the Third Deadly Sin ... a woman serial killer ... in the 70s... I'd say he's the reason I write suspense today.

  33. Winner number one--is TAMMY! Tammy,send me your address via "contact" on my website!

    Winner number two--announced this time tomorrow in the comments---and come visit the amazing Julie Kramer, whose Silencig Sam is getting terrific reviews.

    But for now: keep those thrillers coming! Who else has a fave?

    No one has mentioned Peter Abrahams. Anyone read--oh, what's the one where the protagonist nas a nerve disease--oh. Nerve Damage.

  34. I remember Eye of the Needle being one of the most frightening books I ever read, and enjoyed most of Robin Cook's books as well. I have to say that I much prefer mysteries now. I like the problem solving, and the idea of trying to put the pieces together along with the crime solving protagonist. Possibly mysteries are more intellectual, while suspense is more emotional tension. Just a thought.

  35. Welcome, Kathleen! Is your new book "The Gate HOuse" a mystery?

  36. I LOVE thrillers! And Hank, you mentioned some classics! I loved every single one of those books, and gulped down everything that those authors wrote. Admittedly, I'm never sure what the differences might be when people start labeling mysteries, thrillers, suspense, etc. I just give up, make it simple and say something very intelligent and articulate like, "oooh - I read a terrific book. You might like it!" If someone tries to make me define it, I am usually just stumped, and scared to death I might mis-lable it.

    I have a copy of Thrillers: 100 must reads and I am in love with it. I'm a fan of essays, and this collection is wonderful. WHAT a stellar group of writers represented! I'm enjoying seeing the choices everyone has made.

  37. Judy in CaliforniaJune 15, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    I find my reading has changed as I've gotten older--something like Rhys mentiones--My heart can't take the suspense as well as it used to. LOL. When I was younger I devoured the books by the authors Hank mentions. My favorite was Eye of the Needle. I was facinated by the idea that I was "rooting" for a Natzi spy! I don't remember the details, but I recall that I found as a teenager that the love scene between the Spy and the woman seemed to my hormone raging teen self to be erotic. I loved the movie too with a young Donald Sutherland. Judy in California

  38. An old one that I found used several years ago remains one of my faves, RIDE THE PINK HORSE, by Dorothy Hughes. If you can manage to get a copy of it, I guarantee it'll blow you away. It's hard and noir and manages to touch my heart.

  39. Kaye, I'll look for that! Never
    heard of it...

    Oh, yes, how slinky was Day of the Jackal? He was so cool. Whoever he was....

    How about Rosemary's Baby? Or is that--horror?

  40. Steve said--Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle may be the greatest unreliable narrator book ever written..

    LOVED this book. It made my family seem normal.

    Tammy listed a few of my favorites --love Allison Brennen,Tami Hoag,Iris Johansen,Lisa Gardner,Tess Gerrisson, and JA Jance.

  41. I am having trouble selecting one thriller -- anything Ludlum, anything Hiassen, anything John D. McDonald. Two that spring to mind are Robert Ludlum's "The Parsifal Mosaic" and John D. McDonald's "Condominium."

  42. I loved Michael Connelly's "The Poet" and Sandra Brown's "Envy" but, my all-time favorite thriller "Misery" by Stephen King.

  43. Okay, confession. I've never read--or seen--Misery.

    I'm not generally squeamish, or timid. At all! But tht one jsut for some reason--I can;t do it.

    Tomorrow! Julie Kramer. And, like the true intrepid journalist she is, she's exploring some VERY risky territory. Check it out.

    (Thursday--promotion secrets! And Friday--the inside scoop from a Twitter guru.)

  44. Wine of Book nubmer 2--is LYNN! Lynn, contact me through my website..and I will send you the book!