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remember when thrillers had more than a single plot line?
on 16 October 2012
Ok, you are reading a great thriller - breathless action, compelling politics, engaging characters - and it's working the magic that popular fiction is supposed to work: the dog quits barking, the dishes stay meekly unwashed in the sink, the pile of papers to grade fades away, the phone rings unnoticed. There's the problem of the initial outrage, the chase/investigation, the big confrontation . . . . And then it's all over. Poof. In 210 pages or so, with lots of white space between chapters, you barely get the journalistic W's before you are tossed out the back door.
Mystery/Thriller fiction is getting shorter and shorter. And that's not counting the partials, the "to be continued" truncations now obscenely practiced by some previously admirable writers: Stephen White in LINE OF FIRE, Laurie R King in THE LANGUAGE OF BEES, and Lee Child in 61 HOURS, to name but 3. What's with this?
If you share my frustration with this trend, here's a special treat for you - a book that goes on an on. A real adventure book, this reminds me of the Smiley novels only insofar as Pearce develops all the collateral plot lines in full and crafts his characters as complex individuals, even the baddies.
But the people and the violence are entirely post-modern, not mannered le Carré. Detective Chief Inspector John Kerr is edgy, anti-authoritarian, and flat out psycho-violent, while his loyalty to his team (including a woman who is treated as an equal) is an inspired blend of classical paradigm and gang-think.
The investigations advance because of hard work, not just cyber magic or coincidence. In fact, I can't remember reading a thriller with less coincidence - an excellent absence. The most trenchant element of the novel, however, lies in the observation that, no matter how violently a nation is threatened by its enemies, the greatest danger to the state lies within its own halls of power.