There will always be those things that will get people talking. Everybody has a medical story, a political opinion, and a list of media favorites.
In "Thriller: 100 Must Reads" one hundred works are picked by the International Thriller Writers Association. The pluses are that most of the books listed here probably belong here, and that most of the books have had very good representative articles written about them. Although we also get more than our share of articles in which the author is recommended, not the work mentioned. In the early pages of this book I especially liked the "Robinson Crusoe" and the "Frankenstein" articles. These articles put the books in their proper historical perspective and allow us to understand why they took the world by storm. I was especially interested to find out that William Defoe, being the hack that he was, wrote prolifically about everything. And being so well known as a non-fiction writer, that "Robinson Crusoe" was for years thought to be true. So, it's ironic that the book ends with "The Da Vinci Code", another hoax novel. I did hate the "Kim" article though, it was pretty empty, and the reader will never know WHAT the novel was even about or WHY it should be listed.
Wisely, editors David Morrell & Hank Wagner list the books that are discussed in chronological order, and not in alphabetical order or by theme. The editors also wisely use a (arbitrarily) cut-off date to limit, barely, the scope of books to be discussed. Although why the date used IS used is never explained.
And this is what leads me to two major complaints about this book. The first is complaint who chose these books and why, while the second complaint is "what is a thriller?".
The first complaint first. Who the hell actually choose the novels that are to be discussed? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that something called "The International Thriller Writers" had something to do with this anthology, but what is this association? And what is its agenda? Were these books voted on by the members, or were they chosen by authors of the articles themselves. I ask this because several authors hint in their articles that they had to convince the editor's to write about a certain book that they consider important. The best example of this is the R. L. Stine article on P. G. Wodehouse's comic "Summer Lightning" novel.
So we have to ask: "Why these books?" I can see the fantasy work "Beowolf" being here, but why not also one of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories like "Red Nails", or 'The Phoenix On The Sword'? Or, one of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If short stories 'Rear Window' or 'The Most Dangerous Game' are here, why not 'Leiningen Vs. The Ants'?
Science fiction enters when Jack Finney's "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" is listed, but why not Robert A. Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters"? Or if Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain" is listed, and then is noted as being the first techno-thriller, why wasn't Lester del Rey's 'Nerves' (1942) mentioned, as it was the first story to detail a nuclear plant's meltdown, a true techno-thriller TWENTY-SEVEN years before Crichton's novel. Other sf thrillers that are missing are 'Who Goes There?' (John Campbell), "Slan" or 'The Black Destroyer' (A. E. van Vogt), and "The Mote In God's Eye" by Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven.
Sea thrillers "The Narrative Of Arthur Gordan Pym Of Nantucket" (by E. A. Poe, and another hoax novel), Jack London's "Sea Wolf", and Justin Scott's "The Shipkiller" are listed, so where is anything by William Hope Hodgeson? Surely either his "Ghost Pirates" or "The Boats Of The `Glen Carrig'" belong here. Or, where is "Captain Blood" by Raphael Sabintini?
If we get H. Rider Haggard, why not Harold Lamb?
We get one horror novel ("Off Season" by Jack Ketchum), but why not "The Shadow Out Of Innsmouth" by H. P. Lovecraft, "The Howling" by Gary Brandner, "Darker Than You Think" by Jack Williamson, "Black Easter" by James Blish, or "Witch House" by Evangeline Walton? All have significantly changed the horror thriller landscape after their publishing.
The apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic thriller is completely ignored, so seminal works "The Purple Cloud" by M. P. Shiel, "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson, "Alas Babylon" by Pat Frank, "On The Beach" by Nevil Shute, "Swan Song" by Robert McCammon and the like aren't mentioned. AND NO WESTERNS? How about "Riders Of The Purple Sage" by Zane Gray or "Destry Rides Again" by Max Brand, or anything by Louis L'Amour? C'mon now.
R. L. Stine's formulistic first horror novel is the only juvenile thriller listed, but what about the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books? Pulp hero Doc Savage is listed, but not The Spider or The Shadow? Blah-blah-blah. The point being that if there is no rule as to what can be included, then there is will be too much to be excluded. What may be needed is a two volume work, the early works until 1950, and then one from 1951 until the cut-off point in 2003.
As I have argued, this book just tries to do too much, and touch too many bases without doing a good job on any of them. C'mon, the editors should try to give the readers a working definition as to what a thriller is so that we can appreciate just what it is that they are trying to accomplish. "Thrillers thrill" just doesn't cut it. The long, and vague, definition that IS given could pretty much apply to virtually ANYTHING that is written. What is it that makes the "thriller" genre special enough to warrant the creation of this book, and the justification of us to read it, and follow the article's author's advice?
A little fact checking wouldn't have hurt either. Two authors are mentioned as being the father of the techno-thriller when 'Nerves' has already been mentioned as predating EITHER author. James Patterson is mentioned as being the author of eight Woman's Murder Club novels, when he has had most of them ghosted or co-written by others. "King Kong" is listed as by Edgar Wallace, when it was ghosted by others. I give this book three stars because while it was interesting, readable, and informative, it really is for newbies or casual readers only.
The best thrillers pull no punches. Amen.