RARA-AVIS: Re: Jim D's definition of Thriller

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Feb 2009

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    Re your comments below:

    "I don't buy that all thrillers are mysteries, even if you use the loosest definition of mystery."

    Well, you don't have to buy it, but you're not buying it doesn't make it any less true. The term was coined (and, as T surmises, largely for commercial reasons, but then so was "noir," and, for that matter, "hard-boiled") to describe a particular kind of crime story, as a way of separating the Sax Rohmers and the E. Phillips Oppenheims from the Agatha Christies, Dorothy L. Sayerses, and R. Austin Freemans.

    "Wouldn't Andromeda Strain, for instance, qualify as a thriller, a medical thriller, but it's not a mystery."

    Which is precisely WHY it's not a thriller. It may be thrilling (I've neve read the book, but, judging from the film version, it probably IS thrilling), but it's not a thriller, because it's not the kind of novel the term was coined to describe.

    And, while there ARE medical thrillers, they are mysteries that emphasize action, pace, and suspense over cerebration, that happen to have a medical background. Another of Crichton's books, the Edgar-winning A CASE OF NEED (written under the pseudonym of "Jeffrey Hudson", might, arguably, qualify as a medical thriller. Patricia Cornwell's series about forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, might also qualify as medical thrillers.

    "Aren't there sci-fi thrillers?"

    No. There are science fiction novels that are thrilling. Not the same thing.

    However, there are mysteries with sci-fi overtones that are thrillers. The Oscar-winning film SEVEN DAYS TO NOON (which, by the way, is being shown tonight on TCM), for example, is a police procedural about Scotland Yard's efforts to track down a nuclear scientist who has absconded with a suitcase sized atomic bomb. In real life, at the time this movie was made (early '50's) technology hadn't advanced to the point where such a device was possible, but that didn't really make it science fiction in the same sense that 2001 or STAR WARS are.

     "Aren't there horror thrillers?"

    No. Assuming by "horror" you mean "supernatural." Although horror novels would, as a matter of course, have to be thrilling to be successful, as Wm. Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST ably shows.

    And, once more, mysteries that incorporate aspects of horror might be thrillers. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, despite that lack of supernatural elements, won a Bram Stoker award for Best Horror Novel of the Year as well as an Anthony for Best Mystery Novel of the Year.

    And, arguably, some flat-out horror that incorporates certain of the tropes of crime fiction might, on that account, qualify as thrillers. Willim Hjorstberg's (did I spell than name correctly?) FALLING ANGEL, which combines supernatural horror with the hard-boiled private eye story, or films like THEM and TV series like THE X-FILES, which combine elements of the police procedural with horror, might also qualify as thrillers.



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