It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and I’m actually quite excited to be back doing them! Each month (usually) I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’
The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.
Let’s take a look!It’s when you try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it. You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes. You’re paralyzed.
No…. wait…. wrong Thriller.
The thing with Thriller (the song) is that it’s a pop song with a horror theme but the feelings it describes within the lyrics are not actually too dissimilar to what you would expect when reading something within the thriller genre.
To put it simply thrillers should, well, thrill you. Having a physiological response shouldn’t just be common, it should be expected.
I’m going to talk about thrillers in terms of their ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs.’
The devices that make a thriller (the inputs) are elements of suspense, conflict, and fast pacing. Although they don’t have to be present it’s not uncommon for red herrings, plot twists and cliffhangers to exist within the pages.
There also doesn’t have to be a happy resolution to a thriller.
Part of the thrill is that you never know whether the hero or the villain will win. You can think the hero will win and then at the last minute something occurs which means the villain triumphs.
This is where those ‘outputs’ come into play. The devices and the heightened stakes of never knowing whether a happy ending is guaranteed mean thrillers should elicit feelings of anticipation and anxiety.
Thrillers should make you feel tense and, at times, uncomfortable.
Ultimately that tension should continually build until the conclusion. It’s at this point, and usually only at this point, you can either relax and let those endorphins kick in or throw the book down into a corner and clutch your blanket to you tighter.
You just don’t know which one it will be.
Welcome to the thriller.
Thriller as a genre has been around for a lot longer than we would think.
If I go to Wikipedia it tells me that The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is considered a revenge thriller and that was written way back in 1844.
As we go through the historical list of thriller books I can see a lot of overlap going on with spy fiction. I wrote about spy fiction aka espionage fiction a while ago on a previous book theme post (here) and I’m not surprised to see this overlap occur.
What I didn’t go into in the above section is that thrillers have plenty of sub-genres. No genre can truly exist in a vacuum and that seems to go for thriller’s more than most.
We have mystery thrillers, psychological thrillers, crime thrillers, sci-fi thrillers, horror thrillers and yes, spy thrillers.
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915), The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (1963) are some examples of early thriller books which also heavily involve the spy genre.
If we look at the dates when these books were written, at times of international conflict, are we surprised? It may be easier to write about heightened events when the state of society is already feeling higher levels of tension than usual.
As time moved on and the suspicions of your next door neighbour being a spy lessened, the thrall that thrillers held over people didn’t.
An article I read (dated 2017) claimed that thrillers, especially crime and mystery thrillers, were one of the most profitable genres for books with an estimated $728.2 million profit. They are second only to romance and erotica.
If we look at Forbes richest writers list in 2018 (because that’s the only year I could find) a good few of the names are highly prolific thriller writers; Dan Brown, John Grisham, and James Patterson. Chuck in some other names such as Iain Banks and Jeffrey Archer from previous years and you have a veritable older white guy list of thriller writers.
The fact that these thriller writers appear on the Forbes list shows how popular and beloved thrillers are as a genre. But yes – I did mention that it’s an ‘older white guy list’ as thrillers aren’t exactly known for their range of diversity.
That being said, we do have some incredible female thriller writers (although the only one I believe that has made it onto Forbes would be Paula Hawkins). There is Agatha Christie, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwell, and Ruth Rendell.
What I do find interesting is that these female writers are still white. While the thriller genre may be breaking down some barriers with gender diversity, racial diversity is still sparse on the ground.
This is based off of the ‘Popular Thriller Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 100,000 entries (and I think this is the most entries I’ve seen on a list so far). The top ten are: –
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
- Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
- The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
- The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
- Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
It made me laugh because places 11 – 13 are also Dan Brown. I was incredibly surprised though to see that James Patterson didn’t make it onto the top 10, or as I continued up the list, onto the top twenty.
But all that means is that people who buy books and people who use Goodreads are not necessarily the same people.
I don’t actually read a great deal of thriller stories. I’m not adverse to them and have read a few if the plot looks like it will appeal but I guess it’s not my favourite of genres.
I think it’s because I’m a highly neurotic and anxious individual who doesn’t want to add to those feelings via the topics in the books she reads. I don’t tend to watch thrillers in movies or shows either.
That being said, I have read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and loved the flip out of it. Sharply written with clever twists and engaging (but oh so horrible) characters.
As I go up the list I can also say that I’ve read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (my favourite of hers), The Firm by Robin Waterfield, and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (which was actually a DNF).
Let’s end on a bad pun shall we? Sadly, while thrillers may do it for others, I don’t find them…. thrilling.
That’s thriller’s my friends!
I adore Gone Girl, love And Then There Were None and I read and enjoyed The Last by Hanna Jameson and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton so perhaps it’s not that I’m not into thrillers, I just need to find the right kind of thrillers.
The above are quite psychological/ murder mystery so if anyone has any recommendations of books of that ilk I’m all game!
Until next time!