Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The 5 best thrillers of all time.


Good (Tuesday) morning: it's a landmark post for us--meaning me--at the Tuesday Morning Book Review, Episode#2. I have been hankering to write this one for a while, but other obligations--such as watching basketball and taking a lot of naps--have gotten in the way until now. So, let's get right at it: The 5 best thrillers of all time. (What are the criteria, you ask?  There are no criteria--the book needs only to be a thriller, of any sub-genre, by an author of any nationality, written at any time since Edgar Poe invented the genre.) Here they are, in descending order:

5) The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. This is one of those no-win selections, because Brown has as many detractors as fans, but the top selling thriller of all time can not be left off the list--but not because it's the top selling thriller of all time. Yes, I know, Brown has some--well-publicized--writing issues, but let's face facts: I couldn't put the darn book down (and neither could any one else.) The reason: It's the premise, plain and simple. And the research and the setting as well. The interesting thing: I wouldn't have imagined a book could be on this list without a top-notch main character--Robert Langdon is okay at best, and others have been much more critical--but the plot is just that good.

4) The Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett. There is a reason I have read this book three times, and it has nothing to do with the plot--not that the plot is bad, because it isn't. It's the memorable characters that make this book great: the calculating der Nadel, the courageous Lucy, and let's not forget Professor Percival Godliman, the world's leading expert on the Middle Ages turned counter-espionage agent. Add to these three Follett's tense prose and you have a book worth reading three times. If you haven't read it once; What are you waiting for?

3). Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. I realize I said books, not series, but I did say there were no criteria, and how could I choose just one? Please know I have devoted an entire shelf of my favorite bookcase to this series, so good are they. Silva's formula is unforgettable characters, superior plotting, and the best prose in thrillerdom. When I read a Gabriel Allon book (Note The Heist comes out July 2014) I read it twice: once to appreciate the plot and re-aquaint myself with Allon and Shamron et al., and a second time to appreciate the way Silva puts words together. If you haven't read Silva, buy The Kill Artist and get reading. It isn't just that Silva has created the two best characters since James Bond and Jason Bourne, it's the relationship between them--Gabriel Allon, the art restorer turned spy, and Ari Shamron, the spymaster--that makes this series a must read. As my friend Andy says--'trust me on this one.'

2) The Guns of Navarone, by Alistair MacLean. If Poe invented the thriller, and I have already said he did, then MacLean re-invented the thriller for modern times And though several of MacLean's books could have made the list, I decided on The Guns of Navarone for two reasons. 1) The movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, is one of the best movies of all time. (I can only imagine how good it would be with modern cinematography. #didyouhearthatHollywood?) 2) MacLean wrote very stylistically and The Guns of Navarone demonstrates--in my opinion--the very essence of his style: a) the good guys are very good, and unflappable in the face of overwhelming odds; b) the bad guys are very bad, utterly cunning and ruthless, able to be defeated by only one person--who just so happens to be the main character; c) everything about the book, the setting, what's at stake, the prose, and especially the characters--including the many supporting characters--are all LARGER THAN LIFE. Grey is not a color in MacLean's box of Crayolas: consider the three main characters in the book, Captain Mallory, the world-class climber turned soldier, Corporal Miller, the American Cowboy and--oh by the way--explosives expert, and Andreas, the epitome of a hero: strong as an ox, clever, modest, and possessed of the purest motives. While very different, each of the three is alike in one aspect: Mallory, Miller and Andreas all have moral fiber of infinite strength, which, in MacLean's world, makes them incapable of failure.

1) The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum. If MacLean re-invented the thriller, and I already said he did, then Ludlum made it what it is today, splashy, hard-hitting and complex. When you read a thriller of any sub-genre, the author is expanding upon what Ludlum did in 1980 when he wrote The Bourne Identity. What am I referring to? Ludlum razed the well-demarcated divisions of good and evil that were the hallmarks of earlier writers--particularly MacLean--and showed us a much more realistic world of questionable motives, bad good guys and good bad guys. He added depth as well, and flaw--and the result is Jason Bourne, a killing machine gone bad who doesn't even know who he's fighting for or against. Ludlum turned the whole good v. evil paradigm on its head with this book, painting the CIA with the crude brush strokes formerly reserved for the KGB or der Shutzstaffel. And it was about time someone did: do you really think the moral high ground is the sole domain of the US and its allies? (If you answered yes to that question please seek help.) Ludlum also ushered in the style of using multiple characters working, not in parallel or at loggerheads, but at different angles and dimensions askew to each other. Silva has done the best job of this of late, but Ludlum pioneered the craft. If you are part of the 'saw the movie' crowd but didn't read the book, a) shame on you and b) download it now and start reading. Regardless of what the last five Robert Ludlum books said on the cover--dead men write no books--they were written by someone wholly different than the man himself and you owe it to your self to read the real McCoy, or, in this case, the real Ludlum. You won't be disappointed.

Ok, thanks for patience you showed getting through the semi-colons, parentheses, and em-dashes (Oh do I love em-dashes.) I am sure you might have a few different candidates for this list; please place them under the comments section. For you LeCarre fans out there, I did have a tough time leaving The Spy Who Came in from the Cold off the list, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Here are the links to several other--more legitamite--blog posts:

Reader's Digest list of top thrillers
NPR picks the top 100 thrilers of all time
The Guardian's best 10 thrillers



 Once again, please take a look at The Intern if you haven't already, the serialized novella I am writing on #wattpad, based loosely on my medical internship. And for those of you wondering about ABSOLUTION, the first book of THE JESUIT thriller series, Liz and I continue to revise and edit toward a spring shopping date. Shout out to Liz Kracht, my literary agent, for bringing out the best in the manuscript without inducing me into a state of blubbering. It's a rare skill--and she has it. Thanks, Liz. We hope to see ABSOLUTION in print next year.