This massive collection of thirty-two stories—all but one of which was written specifically for the anthology—is the first publication of the newly-formed International Thriller Writers, Inc., an organization of over 400 writers that seeks to celebrate the genre while enhancing its prestige and profile. With the entertaining “Thriller,” the organization succeeds in advancing the merits of the thriller not simply as shoot-em-up escapism, but as a respectable form of fiction in its own right.
I was one of the readers this collection hopes to rope in, without an idea what the thriller genre entailed before picking up the book.
But after reading it, I still have difficulty defining the nebulous and protean genre, which includes legal thrillers, spy thrillers, and action-adventures, and traces its lineage to a variety of authors including Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad, and Graham Greene.
The cover of “Thriller” features a bloodied hand with a trail of crimson, suggesting an element of the macabre and of violence. It is this element—along with a heavy dose of suspense—that forms the core of these stories and holds this otherwise disparate collection together. The broad thriller genre, it seems, is essentially the literary equivalent of modern films such as “The Bourne Identity,” “First Blood” (better known as “Rambo”), and “Along Came a Spider.” Each of those films are based on a thriller series written or co-written by authors in this collection.
Yet “Thriller” feels too much like a publicity stunt to be fully satisfying.
Almost all of these stories are by established authors who have written many novels, with many of the same recurring characters and themes. As a result, many of the short stories here read more like chapters out of a longer work or pitches for a longer story.
The stories feature many characters that these authors have developed and nurtured across the span of several novels, which creates a feeling of incompleteness.
Allusions to previous plot lines and novels are frequent, and while they are not central to the stories, they leave far too many nagging questions and undermine the collection’s attempt to reach new readers. “The Hunt for Dmitri” particularly irks. The story, set against the backdrop of post-Cold War intrigue, is essentially the prologue for the author’s upcoming novel, and it leaves the reader feeling used, duped into reading the story only to realize that it produces more questions than it answers.
But while some authors travel the worn path of recycling well-known protagonists, some of the best are the more daring, which experiment with giving their secondary characters lead roles, such as the gritty “Epitaph,” a true standout that avoids the typecasting that plagues so many of the other stories in this volume.
Yet the collection’s flaws are forgivable in light of its intentions: it is a survey of the landscape of the thriller genre that includes all the major authors.
Each story begins with an introduction by best-selling thriller writer James Patterson that serves to orient the stories within the fabric of each author’s body of work, and Patterson’s attention to detail will be appreciated by longtime fans and newcomers alike.
In this respect, “Thriller” achieves its aims, successfully connecting the genre with its devoted fans while proclaiming its power to those who never knew it existed.
Edited by James Patterson