Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Makes a Thriller Great

While often disparaged by those who claim to be of a higher mind as not being great literature (insert your best Downton Abbey accent here) the thriller holds a special place in the hearts of readers everywhere.

There are a handful of prerequisites that separate great thrillers from the average. First a great thriller will drop you into the action right from the very first page; while some think Stephen King writes thrillers, this guy will bury you in 400 pages of background, before he hits you with the action. Get me in the grip of the story right away, or lose me!

Second, while a thriller needs intensity, what really makes it great is tension! It’s the knife edge, the whats around the next corner, the will the hero get caught that drives great thrillers. And last, but certainly not least, a thriller needs to finish strong. You’ve succeeded in dragging me through the twists and turns of a great ride, but then you finish with a slap down or a lame shoot out to end things?! NO! You need to make the action carry right to the last page.

Three recent entries in the thriller sweepstakes hit the mark to varying degrees of success:

Brad Taylor is back with another installment in the Pike Logan series; Enemy of Mine which is chock full of been there done that, insider knowledge. With Pike Logan, Taylor is poised to join the elite class of thriller writers that include Vince Flynn and Brad Thor.

Taylor jumpstarts the action from the get go and ratchets up the intensity as he puts the covert force known as the Taskforce through its paces. The real world believable plot of a terrorist attempt on a U.S. envoy sent to solidify an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord has a ripped from the headlines feel.

While it may not be what is traditionally considered to be a thriller, Lawrence Block’s hit man for hire, Keller is back in Hit Me. While considered a master of mystery, with Keller, Block clearly steps away from the whodunit style with a unique and intriguing character.

Everybody’s favorite philatelist (stamp collector) has retired from the murder for hire game and has migrated from New York City south to New Orleans. Add to the mix a new name, a wife, a new kid and a new career as a home remodeler/flipper in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But, like seemingly everybody else, Keller’s new life gets impacted by the economic downturn and suddenly he is thrust back into the world he thought he left behind. While comfortable, Keller does want to dip into his cash reserves, so when the phones rings and the ever-present contractor Dot offers up work in his former profession, Keller needless to say takes the job.

Block is a master of tension, mixing Keller benign hobby smoothly with his menacing career. The stakes seem higher for Keller as he walks the fine line between his new life and his old. You may end doing a double take when you realize that Block has caught you up in the web so tightly that you are rooting for a man who commits murder for money.

While comparisons to Dan Brown may be a blessing and a curse, TV personality and critic Linda Stasi’s initial foray into fiction, The Sixth Station has all of the elements and alchemy of thriller gold; terrorism, international intrigue and even the very real possibility that someone has utilized religious artifacts to clone Jesus in an otherworld style Second Coming.

Stasi’s wise-cracking, feisty, reporter Alessandra Russo sets the table quickly, when she is seemingly randomly picked from a crowd gathered for the international U.N. tribunal for alleged  terrorist Demiel ben Yusef, and she is on the receiving end of a kiss from ben Yusef that sets the wheels in motion on a global conspiracy.

Is ben Yusef the cloned Son of the Son or the murderous terrorist, who stands accused of killing tens of thousands. The race is on as Russo fends of villains of every stripe in an end of days chase for answers. Stasi does a nice job of balancing religious history and mystery with a tension filled style. The problem is as the story builds and grows to epic proportions that the ending seems to be a letdown. The whats next ending seems to have set the table for a sequel/ follow up to continue the tale.

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