Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Last night we held our monthly crime and mystery fiction discussion and as I have previously mentioned, we are doing a mini-genre study this year with the group. On this night we tackled thriller and suspense fiction.
As benchmark authors and titles for the group to read, I had suggested that they try one from a list that included John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dmitrios, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold or Helen MacInness’ Above Suspicion. I could have predicted what was going to happen based on past experience: most of the group enjoyed the books that they read but a few could not get past the fact that the books were old. The dissatisfied readers made limited or no excuses for old styles of writing, cultural differences or the passing of time.
In my book Make Mine a Mystery, I tried to differeniate between what is a novel of suspense and a thriller. I have to admit that my definitions have not had one noticeable affect on the publishing industry or the library community, but I will not be shy with sharing them with you.
In my world, a novel of suspense keeps the reader waiting for particular outcomes, often by having the narrator in some kind of danger even if her or she is the detective. Suspense poses a threat to a character who is often the primary victim of the evil in the book. the central question in a suspense novel is not whodunnit, but who is it going to happen to.
My definition of a thriller is fiction designed to keep the reader interested through the use of a high degree of action, intrigue, adventure and suspense. A thriller involves the reader emotionally and at its best becomes one of those books you just cannot put down.
After our discussion on the benchmark authors, we agreed that all of the books are works of suspense because most of the main characters are beat to a pulp by the end of the book. As to whether they were a thriller or not, it all depended on how invested each reader was in the story and whether or not they were will to suspend their disbelief often because of the issue of the age of the work.
Our contemporary work that we read to discuss was Gregg Hurwitz’s They’re Watching. The main character of this novel is Patrick Davis, a part time teacher who has tried his hand at screenwriting. While his screenplay is about to be released as a major motion picture, his personal difficulites with the film’s star, Keith Connor, has got him labeled person non grata at the studio and sued.
Then after retreiving his morning paper and discovering a DVD tucked inside, he discovers he is being stalked by video. This adds additional pressure to his already failing marriage and makes him a person of interest to the police.
What makes this novel worthy is its compelling pace. While Patrick is not the most lovable of characters not does he always make the best decisions, there is an appeal to his first person narration that holds a reader’s attention. The plot is convoluted as expected but it all makes sense in the end to our group’s satisfaction.
Last night we were in agreement that this novel works both as a work of suspense and as a thriller based on the defintions above. It also proved to be worth of our discussion and a number of participants said they were willing to read another Hurwitz novel. Considering the titles are Minutes to Burn, Do No Harm, I See You, Trust No One, and You’re Next–I think they can safely predict what is coming next.