Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 42.
- Review Date: 2006-11-13
- Reviewer: Staff
The reader who isn't a thriller fan but is curious about this enormously popular genre couldn't ask for a better introduction than Anderson's lively and informative survey. Anderson, the Washington Post weekly thriller reviewer and self-described "middlebrow," explains why the genre has come to dominate bestseller lists in recent years: "Decades of war, recession, and political and corporate corruption have made Americans more cynical—or realistic—and thus more open to novels that examine the dark side of our society." Then he quickly covers the 19th-century pioneers (Poe, Collins, Conan Doyle) and the early 20th-century greats (Christie, Hammett, Chandler). The book hits its stride with a chapter on the modern thriller's birth in the 1980s. The author champions such contemporary writers as Thomas Harris, George P. Pelecanos, Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane, but isn't afraid to condemn the work of such bestsellers as James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell. While the generous plot descriptions might spoil a novel like The Silence of the Lamb for those who have never read Harris, this personal, opinionated guide will satisfy even those well versed in the genre. Anderson is also the author of The President's Mistress and eight other novels. (Feb. 6)
Investigating the mystery genre
Patrick Anderson's The Triumph of the Thriller carries the subtitle "How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction." It was not always thus; in the 1950s and '60s, the fiction bestseller lists were dominated by sweeping, dramatic (not to mention thick) novels: Michener's Hawaii, Uris' Exodus, Gann's The High and the Mighty. By comparison, of the top 16 books on the New York Times bestseller list the week this review was written, an incredible 14 fall into the mystery/thriller genre. Anderson, the thriller reviewer for the Washington Post, draws upon his years of covering this oft-maligned genre to explain what accounts for this phenomenon.
He starts at the beginning, critiquing the suspense works of Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From there, he explores the beginnings of modern detective fiction: Hammett, Chandler, Cain. World War II ushered in the era of the tough guy; descriptions of sex and/or violence only hinted at by Chandler or Cain were spelled out in graphic detail by the likes of Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald and Ed McBain. Anderson devotes a chapter apiece to George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and Thomas Harris, four of his favorites (and mine). Additionally, he offers up a list of his recommendations for the fledgling thriller reader.
More importantly, he gives us a list of stuff to avoid at all costs: "For the most part, I try to find the best books I can, both because I don't want to spend my time reading bad books and because I want to alert readers to good ones. As a result, I write a good many favorable reviews, which might give readers the impression that I'm a nice guy. I'm not a nice guy. I grow surly and vindictive when obliged to read a book that bores me or insults my intelligence. What's more, it makes me crazy when people surrender $25 for some piece of crap." Amen, brother!
BookPage Whodunit? columnist Bruce Tierney grew up reading the Hardy Boys.