Sunday, February 17, 2019


Thriller Fiction - Thrillers heighten suspense, sustain tension, cause curiosity, place obstacles before protagonists, employ literary devices such as plot twists/ cliffhangers/ reversals, and always lead to a climax. Early proto-thrillers began with adventure fiction in pulp magazines, and the genre solidified with the introduction of spies. The Riddle of the Sands, below, created the term “Spy Novel”. Detectives are also suitable protagonists in thrillers. Generally speaking, the strong man (hero) wins “the girl” and the villain is vanquished. A successful thriller causes apprehension, conceals important information, builds momentum, and reveals carefully constructed information. Manipulating revealment/ concealment/ sequence of important points is crucial. While not directly considered to be speculative fiction (supernatural, fantasy, superhero, science fiction, horror, etc.), thrillers often contain elements of horror, crime, pulp and hardboiled fiction. Many classic slasher horror books could be considered thrillers, as long as they are undiluted by a supernatural element, and take place in a conventional world. There are numerous types of thrillers: legal, spy, medical, romantic, historical, political, religious, high-tech, military, scifi, etc.
What’s most important is execution, regardless of type. For this reason, few if any thrillers deviate from three-act structure and are never experimental in form. The only distinction between thriller and suspense is the intensity, whereas drama is more nuanced, open to multiple interpretations. A good thriller delivers strong execution: an enticing hook hurtling toward the end, intense plot points, raising stakes, plenty of tension, and a satisfying climactic ending, which ties the whole thing together. A boring thriller is an oxymoron.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1846)
Betrayed by his friends, an imprisoned man escapes, he seeks to enact revenge on his captors by assuming a new identity as a count.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
An adventurer travels to the heart of Africa up the Congo River. Atrocity and inhumanity are exposed, which makes one wonder what it means to be civilized.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (1903)
An officer navigates sand banks via small boat, to investigate a secret project on an island.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
When an expatriate allows an American to hide in his flat, he returns home to find him dead, struck through the heart with a knife.

The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich (1943)
After her husband’s mistress is murdered, his wife tracks down the suspects, systematically destroying them.

Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry (1948)
A playwright fires an actor as she workshops her play prior to opening night. She becomes embroiled in a tangled web of a murder plot, a double cross, jealous rivals, a frame job and a counter attack. With her husband, a bourgeois girl she saves from drowning, her secretary and her financial advisor.

The Nine Wrong Answers by John Dickson Carr (1952)
The nine wrong answers are a series of near-fatal traps navigated by an imposter. He confronts the villain with the correct, and tenth final answer in the climax.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)
James Bond, secret agent 007, targets a communist paymaster, LeChiffre, under the Soviet murder organization named SMERSH.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (1980)
Plagued with amnesia, Jason Bourne must uncover his remarkable abilities, and his true identity. All while being chased by an assassin who wants him dead.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988)
Buffalo Bill kidnaps, starves, skins and sews his victim’s skin into suits, then dumps their remains in nearby rivers. Clarice Starling questions Dr. Hannibal Lecter as she tries to locate him.

Phantoms by Dean Koontz (1983)
Heavily influenced by Lovecraft, two sisters return home to find everyone mutilated or missing. Their town was built over the den of amoeboid shapeshifter that mimics and consumes life forms.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
When a man complains of insomnia, his doctor advises him to attend a support group to experience real suffering, like Fight Club.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
When a symbologist investigates a murder in the Louvre, the victim is discovered with an inscription beside his body. This involves him in a battle between two secret monastic orders.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005)
In this vast locked room murder mystery, alternate story lines are merged later on, that follows a sprawling cast of characters. Wherein a journalist pairs with a private investigator to uncover the truth of a young girl’s disappearance.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)
At the Sparrow School, a former ballerina is forced to undergo espionage training, to seduce targets of the Russian government.

Comes the Dark by Michael Prescott (2013)
Time is running out for two siblings, orphaned by a double murder decades earlier. When a local girl's remains are discovered at the river, the sister retraces memories from her youth, and suspects her brother of murder.

1 comment:

  1. Some great fiction there. I prefer writing sci-fi thrillers or mystery suspense/thrillers myself.