The Triumph of the Thriller is perfect for those readers not familiar with the thriller genre because Anderson provides its history beginning with what he considers to be the "first great crime thriller," Mario Puzo's The Godfather, right up to the best thriller fiction being written today. Along the way he gives credit to those who most influenced today's thriller writers, starting with Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett, moving on to Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, Ross MacDonald and Charles Williford, and finishing with today's class.
Anderson finds that the "triumph of the thriller reached a tipping point in 1981" when, for the first time, four thrillers were on the list of the top 15 sellers for the year. Along the way, there were some breakthrough books that made it all possible: Deliverance by James Dickey, First Blood by David Morrell, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon and The First Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, among them.
My "To Be Read List" has grown by at least three dozen books as a result of chapters in which Anderson discusses the best writers and books in the several sub-genres included under the thriller umbrella. There are chapters titled: "Dangerous Women," "Lawyers at Large," "Spy Masters" and "Literary Thrillers," all of which, added books and writers to my list for future reading. But, I have to admit that it was even more fun to read what Anderson had to say about certain authors that I've learned to avoid over the last few years. He shows them no mercy.
As he says, "They deal in clichés, stereotypes, cheap thrills, and ridiculous plots. Some of them can't help it - that's how their minds work - but others deliberately dumb down their work because a lot of money is made that way." Chief among the culprits? Let's start with James Patterson whom Anderson calls "a writer to avoid at all costs" and whose book The Beach House "unfolds like an unspeakably dumb comic book" that "no one with even a minimal appreciation of good writing could possibly read for pleasure." Anderson believes that Patterson has set the standard for bad writing to such a degree that he even accuses David Baldacci with his Hour Game of having "entered the James Patterson Really Bad Thriller Sweepstakes."
Anderson goes on to skewer Patricia Cornwell (Trace), David Lindsey (The Face of the Assassin), Jeffrey Archer (The Eleventh Commandment), Nicholas Sparks (The Rescue) and Tom Clancy (for everything). With the exception of the fact that I enjoyed some of Lindsey's early work, I have no quarrel with Anderson's assessment of this group. But as Anderson says:
"So what are we to do about all this deplorable fiction? In the long term, our nation must spend fewer billions on foreign wars and more on literacy programs. In the short term, reviewers (heroic fellows, for the most part) must steer people away from this schlock and toward all those good writers out there.The bottom line is this. If you are already a lover of thriller fiction, this book will provide you with a quick and easy way to expand your world. If you know little about the genre, maybe even looking down your nose a bit at it and its authors, the book should make you aware of some of the great writing that you've been missing. Then the rest is up to you.
We would also do well to look on the bright side. There is so much wonderful writing. To be a book lover in America today, able to enjoy the wealth of fine writing that we and the rest of the world produce, is to be blessed. Ultimately, the purveyors of crap are only a nuisance."
Rated at: 4.0