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Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads Hardcover – July 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Working with a frustratingly broad definition drawn from John Buchan—that a thriller create[s] excitement and quicken[s] the reader's heartbeat—Morrell and Wagner's collection disappoints. Morrell's First Blood was the basis for the Rambo films, and Wagner is a regular contributor to Mystery Scene magazine; they have selected 100 examples of supposedly trendsetting thrillers, each introduced by a contemporary writer of the genre. Beginning with the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and ending with Dan Brown's 2003 bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, the list includes both obvious and puzzling selections. The introductions are also of varying quality, with the more interesting examples coming from writers who explore their personal connection to the work in question, such as the ingenious parallels Lee Child drew as a boy between the Theseus myth and Ian Fleming's Dr. No, or Duane Swierczynski discovering Donald Westlake's (writing as Richard Stark) Parker series and realizing it's fun to read about sons of bitches. But the collection lacks cohesion, and too much space is devoted to minibiographies of the writers (which can be easily gleaned elsewhere). Thriller aficionados may find new titles to add to their reading lists; casual fans will be overwhelmed by the broad-stroke approach. (July 5)
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"A most interesting collection of essays on the genre and one that thriller readers will want to come back to time and again. These are seminal insights from masters of the craft of writing. Highly recommended."
- Midwest Book Review
This is an essential reference book.” ―Library Journal, Starred Review
"This entertaining collection starts with Lee Child's thoughts on Theseus and the Minotaur (1500 B.C.) and ends with Steve Berry's take on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code (2003). In between are some thought-provoking essays by contemporary stars of the thriller field."
- Mystery Scene Magazine
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So, in short, this is a catalogue or brochure that has helped me set up a fairly long "must read" list as I have only read 24 of the 100 included. Given that many have been made into movies (many more than once), you may have tricked yourself like me into believing you read the actual book.
Thrillers covers some classics like Beowulf, MacBeth, Robinson Crusoe, and The Last of the Mohicans ("Replace the tomahawk, bow and arrow, and the muskets with sniper rifles, Uzis, and Glocks, and the plot could have been conjured up by any of today's most successful thriller writers"). It is organized chronologically moving from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, credited with inventing the modern thriller to Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Fearing's The Big Clock and ending with Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
There are great stories and facts in each contribution including Douglas Preston copping to the purloining of Count Fosco for his and Lincoln Child's Brimstone (I love their whole Pendergast series), learning that Jules Verne imagined the Fax machine, aerial warfare, walking on the moon, camera phones, and text messaging long in advance of their actual introductions, and given my day job on Madison Avenue it was interesting to know that King Solomon's Mines benefited from a modern-style advertising and marketing campaign using billboards and posters.
I was most blown away by the biographies of many of the authors - so many having actual military and espionage backgrounds. A sampling of these rich lives includes John Buchan who spent time in British Army Intelligence and was later Governor General of Canada, Mickey Spillane wrote Captain America and Submariner comics prior to writing books, and Richard Condon worked as a movie publicist for Disney.
It is entertaining, informative, quick and makes you want to read much, much more.
Morrell and Wagner offer up scores of books and authors likely to delight fans of the thriller genre. They have enlisted top thriller writers to polish those gems by discussing what makes them work and why they may have pushed the genre in a new direction.
My advice: Enjoy reading the essays about the books you have already read and make a list of those books you will want to read; return to those essays later. But don't make the mistake of skipping books that have been made into movies or TV shows you've already seen. You might be surprised to find them a delight not only for their prose but also for their plots.
Case in point is Morrell's own "First Blood." I know that movie so well ("He could eat things that would make a billygoat puke") that I was reluctant last year to read the novel, which Morrell published a good 10 years before Rambo first hit the screen in the 1980s. Turns out, the novel is different from the film in so many ways that it was exciting on an entirely unexpected level. (By the way, "First Blood" holds up quite well as a thriller that also says something about human beings, a Morrell specialty.) I suspect that other thrillers recommended in this book offer similar unexpected delights.
The essays collected here err at times by telling a little too much about the story, and some are a bit superficial. Those are minor flaws for such a collection. At its best, which is far more often than not, "Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads" is like having coffee with a good friend who tells you, "Hey, you gotta read this!"
The only reason I am not giving it four stars is that I find the exclusion of Gerald Seymour unfathomable, though doubtless there are several authors that didn't make the cut for one reason or another.
The essays put each recommended book in its historical context and explains why the book ranks above other novels in the genre. The editors include suspense novels, legal thrillers, techno-thrillers, adventure thrillers, and spy thrillers as well as some classics in the field like THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and KING SOLOMON'S MINES. I found enough books to keep me reading for a long time and I would highly recommend this book to any thriller fan or anyone who is just looking for an exciting read.