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What makes a Thriller?

From Tom Clancy to Vince Flynn and Daniel Silva, some of the best thrillers operate on the world stage.
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In these depressing times, when every news and newspaper headline is screaming about coming disaster, you wouldn’t think that burying your head in an ‘international’ thriller is that sensible. But sometimes it’s the perfect way to switch off.

Why? Well the nuances of international politics are reduced to black and white, good and bad, pretty and ugly. The protagonists race around the globe, crash-tackling conspiracies as they go and dispatching evil people to the hereafter. It feels refreshing to read about problems being solved rather than new layers of different problems being added to the existing mix.

The Thriller genre is hard to pin down. In some libraries books in the same series will be categorised as Crime and others as Thrillers. So, who decides? What makes a thriller a Thriller? Does a Crime book have to involve the police or a detective? Where do spies fit in? You could go mad trying to work out the answers!

Here are some of the Thrillers I enjoy:

Tom Clancy
I’ve already touched on how much I enjoy the Jack Ryan series in my blog ‘To read or hear?’. The books are hefty but don’t be put off. The stories are gripping. The fact that Clancy died in 2013 and different authors are continuing to add to the series tells you how great the characters are. I’ve just finished Point of Contact, by Mike Maden, and enjoyed every page. Wonderful escapism!

Mason Cross
I discovered the Carter Blake series quite by accident. The first book (The Killing Season) was published in 2014. Carter Blake is a mysterious ‘agent’ who specialises in finding people who don’t want to be found. He’s asked by the FBI to help them track down Caleb Wardell, the ‘Chicago Sniper’, who’s escaped from death row and is travelling across America killing as he goes. In fact, Blake knew Wardell in a previous life, and he quickly works out that the killings are anything but random. There are 5 books in the series and I haven’t yet read the latest (Presumed Dead) which was published last year. Something to look forward to.

Jason Dean
The James Bishop series begins with The Wrong Man. Bishop is an ex-Marine who’s been framed for murder and is languishing in prison. That might sound hackneyed but the book isn’t. Bishop escapes and is soon hunting down the people who set him up, having to stay ahead of the cops and FBI. It’s a great chase novel. Three books followed in quick succession but sadly it now looks as if Bishop is no more. Dean hasn’t published anything since 2015 and there’s nothing on his website to indicate there’s a work in progress. Very sad.

Vince Flynn
I think I discovered Vince Flynn back in 1999, when I read Transfer of Power, which was the first book about Mitch Rapp. Then I more or less read the series in the order of publication, although things jumped back and forwards a bit when Flynn added two books about Rapp’s early career. Rapp is a CIA super-agent. Part assassin, part secret agent, occasional spy. But mostly man of action. The plots are fast-moving and the pace never slows.

Very sadly, Vince Flynn died young (in 2013) and the Rapp series is now being written by Kyle Mills. Personally, I don’t think the books by Mills are as good. Yes, they’re fast moving but somewhere along the way the characters have been diminished, which makes the stories less interesting. If you haven’t read a Mitch Rapp book I’d recommend you start as near to the beginning of the series as you can and read the books written by Vince Flynn first. Once you’ve read those I think you’ll be more tolerant of the ones written by Kyle Mills. The measure of readability for me is that I do sometimes re-read the earlier Flynn titles but I wouldn’t re-read a Mills book. The ones by Flynn? Well, they’re brilliant – and there are 13 of them to enjoy.

Stephen Leather
I love Spider Shepherd! There are 15 books in the series. The first (Hard Landing) was published in 2004 and the latest (Tall Order) appeared last year. Another (Short Range) is due to be published in July 2019 (hurrah!) and there are lots of short stories too. Shepherd is an ex-SAS trooper who ends up working firstly as an undercover cop, then with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and now for MI5. Working undercover allows Stephen Leather to put Shepherd into all sorts of different situations, from infiltrating a gang of bank robbers, to dealing with Somali pirates or ISIS terrorists. But the stories aren’t just about Shepherd roaming the world sorting out bad guys. To make things more interesting there’s always an element of work-related politics with his handlers, and often a political dimension too. These books grab you, and once you’ve started reading they’re hard to put down.

Daniel Silva
The Gabriel Allon series of 18 books started in 2000 with The Kill Artist, and the latest is The Other Woman which was published last year. Allon is basically an Israeli assassin whose day-job is master art restorer. Sounds totally ridiculous, but don’t be dismayed. The books are written in a way that makes you care about the character. Allon is regularly called away from his picture restorations to help the Israeli secret service with operations around the world. In fact, he’s now ended up as the head of Israel’s secret service. One reason I find these books interesting is because they offer the Israeli view of Middle East conflicts. Whatever you know, or don’t know, about the political situation in the Middle East these books do make you think about the history and motivations of both sides. And that can’t be a bad thing.
Cornish Eskimo

If you enjoy reading crime fiction why not come along to one of our meetings? They’re on the third Friday of every month, 2.30pm @ Oundle Library. It’s all very informal because we don’t have a set reading list. We do, however, enjoy a wide-ranging chat about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. Everyone welcome!