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

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 09 Feb 2009

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    Re your comments below:

    "Simpler yet ... a thriller is a novel in which danger and tension abound.
      Jim said:
    <<Danger abounds in the Captain Aubrey books by Patrick O'Brian, the Captain Hornblower books by C.S. Forester, the Colonel Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell, etc. <<
    "That makes them historical thrillers."

    No, it makes them historical adventure novels. They're not mysteries and, therefore, can't be thrillers.
    "Jim also said:
    <<You wouldn't call them thrillers, however, because they're not crime fiction>>
    "There are 'crime thrillers,' 'mystery thrillers,' 'historical thrillers,' 'science fiction thrillers,' etc. et al. A thriller in the broadest sense is a novel in which danger and tension abound. (I withdraw my acceptance of excitement because it implies something manic, which it does not have to be.)"

    No. A thriller, in its broadest sense, is a crime story that emphasizes action, pace, and suspense over cerebration, and, consequently, terms like "mystery thriller" and "crime thriller" are redundant. A type of mystery story is precisely what "thriller" was meant to describe when the term was coined. And, most importantly, that's what it is commonly understood to mean now. Look at the books that have won or been nominated for ITW awards:

    NO TIME FOR GOODBYE by Linwood Barclay THE WATCHMAN by Robert Crais THE GHOST by Robert Harris THE CRIME WRITER by Gregg Hurwitz TROUBLE by Jesse Kellerman INTERRED WITH THEIR BONES by Jennifer Lee Carrell BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD by Sean Chercover FROMT HE DEPTHS by Gerry Doyle VOLK'S GAME by Brent Ghelfi HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill THE LAST NIGHTINGALE by Anthony Flacco A THOUSAND BONES by P.J. Parrish THE MIDNIGHT ROAD by Tom Piccirilli THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM by Robert McCammon SHATTERED by Jay Bonansinga FALSE IMPRESSION, Jeffrey Archer KILLER INSTINCT, Joseph Finder COLD KILL, Stephen Leather THE MESSENGER, Daniel Silva BEAUTFIUL LIES, Lisa Unger SHADOW OF DEATH, Patricia Gussin SWITCHBACK, Matthew Klein A THOSAND SUNS, Alex Scarrow 18 SECONDS, George D. Shuman MR. CLARINET, Nick Stone SKELETON COAST, Clive Cussler with Jack DuBrul THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI, Paul Levine AN UNQUIET GRAVE, P.J. Parrish HEADSTONE CITY, Tom Piccirilli MORTAL FAULTS, Michael Prescott PANIC, Jeff Abbott CONSENT TO KILL, Vince Flynn VELOCITY, Dean Koontz THE PATRIOTS' CLUB, Christopher Reich CITIZEN VINCE, Jess Walter IMPROBABLE, Adam Fawer THE COLOR OF LAW, Mark Gimenez COLD GRANITE, Stuart MacBride PAIN KILLER Will Staeger BENEATH A PANAMANIAN MOON David Terrenoire SLEEPER CELL, Jeffrey Anderson PRIDE RUNS DEEP, R. Cameron Cooke UPSIDE DOWN, John Ramsey Miller THE DYING HOUR, Rick Mofina EXIT STRATEGY, Michael Wiecek

    Nary a non-crime novel in the bunch. Private eye novels like THE WATCHMAN and BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD. Police procedurals like COLD GRANITE, COLD KILL, and UPSIDE DOWN. Espionage novels like CONSENT TO KILL and THE MESSENGER. Gangster novels like CITIZEN VINCE and VOLK'S GAME. And the only thing they all seem to have in common is an emphasis on action, suspense, and pace, over cerebration. And these are, after all, the people who've gone to the trouble to form an entire organization just to promote this kind of fiction.
    "It can include the historical novels Jim mentions, books like *The Andromeda Strain,* The Harry Potter Books, even poorly written books like *The Da Vinci Code."

    THE ADROMEDA STRAIN is, as I've already taken pains to explain, not a crime story and, thus, not a thriller (although, as I've also painstakingly explained, elsewhere, this doesn't mean that THE ADROMEDA STRAIN isn't thrilling, nor that Crichton didn't qualify as a thriller writer based on other books).

    The Potter books are thrillers, but only because, mixed in with all the wizardry and fantasy is a fair-play whodunit plot in each entry that qualify each of the books, at rock-bottom, as mystery stories which, with their emphasis on action, pace, and suspense over cerebration (though cerebration is certainly present) are, consquently, thrillers.

    As for THE DA VINCI CODE, quality or lack of it, as with hard-boiled and noir, is not what defines a thriller. There are good thrillers and bad thrillers, just as there are good and bad everything else.
    "What Jim is defining is the 'mystery thriller,' not a 'crime thriller.' A crime thriller requires no mystery just a crime that keeps people in danger and under tension."

    And, as I've already explained, and demonstrated with historical examples, "mystery" does not, and never has, been limited to whodunits. Al whodunits may be mysteries, but all mysteries are not whodunits. Some people may prefer the alternate, and essentially synonomous, term "crime fiction." I like "mystery." It has a long and proud pedigree, and, at least in the United States, it is still the most commonly used term. Be that as it may, mysteries are not always whodunits. Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," to name only two entries from the Holmes saga, are not whodunits. Do you really think you'd be sparing readers confusion if you shelved them someplance else in the library BESIDES the mystery section?

    And, what I am describing is NOT a "mystery thriller," because the qualifier is unnecessary. If you say thriller without such a qualifier, most readers will assume you mean some kind of mystery.
    "A mystery Thriller can include some so-called cozies. *Ten Little Indians,* (American Title) certainly is a thriller ... but I suppose in a sense it is not really a cozy, no matter who wrote it. I don't believe that most Cozies fall into the crime or even mystery thriller category, although they can."

    A thriller, sand the unneccessary and redundatn qualifier, can include so-called cozies. Dame Agatha's TEN LITTLE INDIANS (aka AND THEN THERE WERE NONE) is, as you suggest, a very good example. So is Margery Alingham's TIGER IN THE SMOKE. Most cozies (or, to use my preferred term, "traditional mysteries," since I find the term "cozy" somehat dismissive), however, are, as you suggest, not thrillers.
    "Most of Chandler's work are mystery thrillers, because Marlowe is always in danger."

    I'll go along with that.
    "Cormac McCarthy's *The Road* is a science fiction or future-history thriller, although slow moving. It would have been noir if he hadn't brought in the almost literal Deus ex machina at the end."

    Haven't read it, but if it's science fiction it's not a thriller unless there is a strong element that also qualifies it as a mystery. And, in such a case, it's a thriller DESPITE being science fiction.
    "(I've spent far too much time on this. Others here probably think so too. So I am gone.)"

    As long as you admit that I was right all along, and you were wrong all along, you're excused.



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