May 1, 2016 Booklist 17 #mysterymonth
Readers relate to the protagonists and fear for them in the dan-
gerous situations in which they’re placed. Finally, despite threats
and dangers along the way, the protagonist is safe at the end. We
know no one’s going to kill off James Bond. Considering these
genres in this larger context makes it easier to see connections
among these books and to titles outside the adrenaline box.
Many of us have our favorite adrenaline writers, but even if
you aren’t a fan of the genre, these titles are easy to find, as the
authors appear on the best-seller lists whenever they have a
new book. As I write this, Clive Cussler, Jeffery Deaver, Jeffrey
Archer, Lisa Gardner, James Patterson, J. A. Jance, and Harlan
Coben are all represented. At the cinema, too, there are always
thrillers. In fact, all the 2016 Best Picture Oscar nominees, except Room and Brooklyn, would appeal to thriller fans.
A lot of my favorite authors bridge genres—thrillers and mystery
and more. I love Nick Harkaway’s steampunk, science-fiction,
spy-thriller romp Angelmaker, and authors like Michael Connelly, whose compelling mysteries blend elements of thrillers and
suspense and give credence to Booklist’s useful “Crime Fiction”
designation. Other favorites include Naomi Novik’s fantasy reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons; Douglas J. Preston
and Lincoln Child’s Pendergast series, with its touch of horror; Jeff
Shaara’s historical war stories; and nonfiction, like Richard Preston’s
The Hot Zone and Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea.
We really needn’t worry about genre names here. Just share
these heart-pounding titles with fans who prize a page-turning
pace, labyrinthine plot, and thrilling suspense.
with Joyce Saricks
SUSPENSEFUL THRILLERS AND THRILLING SUSPENSE
JOYCE SARICKS, in addition to being Booklist’s Audio Editor, is the author of the second edition of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA Editions, 2009).
What’s the difference, you might ask, between suspenseful thrillers and thrilling suspense? A very good ques- tion and one for which there is rarely a clear answer.
Compare any list of “popular thrillers” and “popular novels of
suspense,” and you’ll find many of the same titles on both. The
association of International Thriller Writers interprets “
thrillers” broadly as “murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror,
supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, adventure,” and
more; Goodreads members vote each year on a category called
“Best Mystery & Thriller Books.” Amazon.com combines best-sellers for mystery, thriller, and suspense. Publishers are no help
either. They seem to apply those terms at random to every fast-paced title they publish.
I like to think that there was once a difference in these books.
While researching, reading widely, and writing about genres at the
end of the twentieth century for the first edition of The Readers’
Guide to Genre Fiction, I identified what I felt were clear differences. Thrillers were filled with the details and jargon of professions
(legal, medical, military, political). Sympathetic protagonists
operated against that background, often on their own because
they never knew whom they could trust. The tone was generally dark (except in spoofs of the genre); plots were cinematic,
often involved conspiracies, and unfolded at a frantic pace. John
Grisham’s early titles typified the genre. Suspense novels shared the
sympathetic protagonists, the page-turning pace, the dark mood,
and gritty details, but they were also distinguished by the points of
view of hero and villain and by a restricted time frame with time
or date stamps at the chapter heads to keep readers on the edges
of their chairs. Prologues set up the action, stopping at a crucial
point and taking the reader back to the story’s beginning, thus
demanding we read as fast as we could to reach that cliff-hanger
again. Harlan Coben makes a great example. But what about
someone like Jeffery Deaver? His stand-alones often open with
cliff-hanger prologues, and the points of view of both killer and
hero allow readers to know more than the hero—typical suspense.
However, in the Lincoln Rhyme series, readers get the two points
of view (suspense), but there are also myriad investigative and forensic details (thrillers), not to mention a nod to the mystery genre
as Rhyme and his colleagues solve the crime.
The distinction between these two genres has probably always
been tenuous—unless you actually read the books. As authors
continue to play with the genre conventions, picking and
choosing elements to add to their stories, the genres have surely
blended completely now. Since genre-blending is so prevalent,
I’ve started linking not just books but also genres by appeal to
create bigger genre boxes: “Genres for the Emotions “(gentle
reads, horror, romance, and women’s lives and relationships);
“Genres for the Intellect” (literary fiction, mysteries, psychological suspense, and science fiction); “Landscape Genres” (fantasy,
historical fiction, westerns); and “Adrenaline Genres” (adventure,
suspense, thriller, and romantic suspense).