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The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction Hardcover – February 6, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The reader who isn't a thriller fan but is curious about this enormously popular genre couldn't ask for a better introduction than Anderson's lively and informative survey. Anderson, the Washington Post weekly thriller reviewer and self-described "middlebrow," explains why the genre has come to dominate bestseller lists in recent years: "Decades of war, recession, and political and corporate corruption have made Americans more cynical—or realistic—and thus more open to novels that examine the dark side of our society." Then he quickly covers the 19th-century pioneers (Poe, Collins, Conan Doyle) and the early 20th-century greats (Christie, Hammett, Chandler). The book hits its stride with a chapter on the modern thriller's birth in the 1980s. The author champions such contemporary writers as Thomas Harris, George P. Pelecanos, Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane, but isn't afraid to condemn the work of such bestsellers as James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell. While the generous plot descriptions might spoil a novel like The Silence of the Lamb for those who have never read Harris, this personal, opinionated guide will satisfy even those well versed in the genre. Anderson is also the author of The President's Mistress and eight other novels. (Feb. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Thrillers, argues Anderson, who reviews the genre for the Washington Post, have become the "white-hot center of American fiction." That premise is difficult to prove or disprove, but it's indisputable that a higher percentage of contemporary best-sellers fall broadly into a category that could be called thrillers and, more important, that thrillers, because they are attracting more serious writers these days, are better on the whole than they have ever been. Anderson, who uses the term thriller in its broadest possible sense, as virtually synonymous with crime novel (once you throw out the coziest of cozies), begins by tracing the genre's roots (Poe, Collins, Conan Doyle) and nodding toward the hard-boiled classics (Chandler and Hammett), but his real focus is the contemporary scene, and he capably surveys subgenres (legal thrillers, literary thrillers, spy novels) and identifies four authors he considers modern masters (Pelecanos, Lehane, Connelly, and Harris), defending his choices effectively. The book suffers from way too much plot summary (spoilers galore!), which slows the otherwise jaunty pace, but that aside, Anderson offers an informative and insightful guide to the world of thrillers. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345481232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345481238
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Every Monday, Patrick Anderson writes a book review column for the Washington Post. Instead of covering literary books, Anderson reviews what is popularly known as "thriller" fiction. THE TRIUMPH OF THE THRILLER is Anderson's effort to explain the history and popularity of thrillers, as well as offer his opinion of today's best thriller writers.

THE TRIUMPH OF THE THRILLER is a highly informative book overall. Anderson produces a short history of the thriller as a genre, and provides his opinions of writers as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Lawrence Sanders and John McDonald. He also focuses a lot of attention on modern thriller writers, including the four authors he considers "modern masters" -- Michael Connelly, Thomas Harris, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

I liked this book, because I enjoy reading thrillers. But THE TRIUMPH OF THE THRILLER has some real problems. Most notably, it's highly slanted in favor of Anderson's view of what a good "thriller" is supposed to be. In Anderson's opinion, the best thrillers are serious, dark novels that explore deep psychological issues. For example, Anderson does not consider John Sandford to be a modern master. Why? Because, in Anderson's words, Sanford is "too entertaining" to be taken seriously. Since when is being entertaining a liability? In taking this position, Anderson's views border on the literary elitism that he decries in the later chapters of this book.

Also, Anderson has a rather elastic definition of what a thriller is. Is Sue Grafton a thriller writer? He seems to believe so, but I always thought that Grafton wrote mysteries. And why include Sue Grafton and not Robert Parker? Why isn't Harlan Coben even mentioned? He writes some of the best thrillers around.
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Format: Hardcover
In this plea for "middlebrow" culture, novelist and Washington Post book reviewer Anderson argues that since the "thriller" has risen to dominate bestseller lists over the last 25 years, it's high time the genre got taken seriously. While I don't argue with this premise, Anderson's book is only a shaky -- though entertaining -- first step in that direction. An overarching flaw in the book is Anderson's definition of what constitutes a thriller. If you're going to champion a genre, you should at least give a clear explanation of what the genre's parameters are -- but the closest he comes is to call it "crime-related fiction", which is so sweeping as to be of no use whatsoever. Hence, the book suffers greatly in that most of what Anderson writes about is what most would unambiguously call "crime fiction," from Agatha Christie to Elmore Leonard. But lumped in with this are Tom Clancy technothrillers, John Grisham legal thrillers, and John Le Carré spy novels. This is broad and bewildering scope highlights the book's lack of comprehensiveness (which he readily admits to in the introduction), how are we to understand what a thriller is if the above are discussed, but not writers such as Stephen King or Michael Crichton? This, of course, is part of the problem of "genre" as means of categorizing fiction -- the lines are awfully blurry.

The book's arrangement reflects Anderson's loose approach to his topic. The twenty chapters are divided into four sections, and many chapters read as standalone pieces or profiles, with little or no connection between them.
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Format: Hardcover
Given how thin the book it, it was bound to be quite superficial and selective in its treatment of authors. I have no problem with that. I read this book to get some ideas on who might be good to read now having grown up on the classsics like Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Agatha Christie. Because he does write some quite detailed analyses ( in particular his treatment of Chandler ), the book was bound in other places to just become a litany of "I like this one and the plot is...". That was OK. It was what I wanted. No Harlan Coben was fine with me too. In fact I liked the brief chapter where he put the knife in the authors he really didn't care for best of all.

So, a short book, very subjective, very superficial in parts, very patchy in its coverage. But still pretty interesting for all that.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I live in DC and read the Washington Post daily. I look forward to the Monday edition because there is usually a review of a crime fiction book, and often Patrick Anderson is the reviewer. I would estimate that on those occasions when Mr. Anderson gives a thumbs up, I immediately purchase the subject book - well, at least 80% of the time, reserving a possible "no thanks" when the plot doesn't quite resonate. And so, when I finally discovered Mr. Anderson's "The Triumph of the Thriller" (TOT), I just had to read it since those of us cursed with the crime fiction addiction are always in search of new gems. TOT did not disappoint; I discovered a number of "new" titles.

Let me point out that TOT was written in 2007, and so, given that it is essentially a reference book, it is a tad dated. However, it has riches to yield for most crime fiction readers. Anderson writes glowingly of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, particularly "The Poet", and so I immediately targeted that book as a re-read. And based on the plot description of a number of other Bosch classics, I added another 3-4 books Anderson recommended, none of which I had read. Ditto for a number of other authors.

And then there were the "spy" and "Brit" chapters. More titles. I read his summary of "Tears of Autumn", ordered it, and received delivery this afternoon. How could I have missed this? And yes, I must re-read Littell's "The Company". But why no mention of "Tinker Tailor" or Deighton's stuff ?

Can't say that I agree with everything that Patrick Anderson recommends - I don't care for Pelecanos (Though I thoroughly enjoyed the three books I did read ) - nor do I consider myself a James Lee Burke fan.
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