It’s your favourite time - time to read. You can feel that unmatched feeling of anticipation coming back, as you play ‘ini meenee mini mo’ in your head, trying to decide what to read. You ask yourself, so what is it going to be this time? The latest management guru bestseller, an old American classic from your schooldays, that autobiography of that sportsman you’ve been trying to lay your hands on for a while, or the collection of world war stories? Hmm. How about a crime thriller? Yup, that worked. You’re already smiling.
There aren’t too many who can say ‘No’ to crime fiction, or thrillers, as they are both, affectionately and aptly called. After all, a lot of us cut our teeth with this. And, as we grew, so did the genre, on us.
Be it Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ in 1841 or Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ in 1852, crime thrillers have been around since the longest time. The 1920’s were the Golden Age for British Crime fiction, one that gave us Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, the former responsible for immortal creations like Hercule Poirot – the finicky Belgian sleuth, and Miss Jane Marple, with the latter penning the notable Lord Peter Wimsey. Others who have spun great tales in this genre over the years are GK Chesterton, Ed McBain, Dashiell Hammet, Ruth Rendell, Ngaio Marsh, Benjamin Black, John Dickson Carr, Michael Gilbert, Ronald Knox, James Grady, John Lawton, Caroline Graham, Robert Barnard, Michael Connelly, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, Laurence Block, Rex Stout, James Lee Burke, Simon Brett, Dexter, PD James, John Le Carre, James Grady, Robert Crais, John Lawton, Elmore Leonard, Ken Follet, Jeffrey Archer and John Grisham. This list, of course, is far from exhaustive.
Be it the lone private eye, the disgruntled ex-police officer with his trusted sidekick, or the suave law thrillers of today, the appeal of the classic Whodunit continues.
Ever wondered what gives a crime thriller its distinctive appeal?
Some say it’s the vicarious pleasure of experiencing terrible things happening to other people, from the safety of our armchairs. For others, it’s the satisfying sensation of solving a complex puzzle, as everything finally falls beautifully in place. It could, of course, equally be the deep inner desire in all of us to see order and law being restored, and the bad guy getting his due. Then again, it could be the irresistible allure of watching the larger-than-life hero work his or her magic, much like we watch a theatre, an opera or a magic show. It could even be a case of accessibility – there’s never a shortage of crime thrillers. One thing’s for sure. A crime fiction always makes for a good story. But you probably knew that already, didn’t you?
Here’s something you probably didn’t : Your favourite kind of read, much like your favourite frozen yogurt, comes in more than one flavour. Surprised? Delighted? Let’s find out what they are.
First off, you have the ‘Cozies’, or the ‘soft mystries’. This stuff lets you skip the blood and gore and focus on the quirky and intellectual side of things. The ‘detective’s in this kind of a story will usually be amateurs, and the plots set in small towns. Agatha Christie and Miss Marple are classic examples of this stuff.
Then there are the traditional mysteries, that take you through the classic storyline in structured steps – from the act of commission (of the crime), to narrowing down the list of suspects, to the twists (where, say, the suspect is killed, and everybody has to go back to the drawing board). Great examples here are Nancy Pickard and Margaret Menon.
Moving on, we arrive at the hard boiled thrillers. Here, the lines between good and bad tend to blur, with a cynical protagonist doubling up as the ‘anti-hero’, a corrupt establishment reinforcing the ambiguity, and a villain with a redemptive silver lining adding the final layer of grey. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are all master practitioners of the craft.
Police Procedurals are a kind of thriller where the author deep dives into areas like forensics, autopsies and the court system, and tries to give the reader an inner view of the system. People to check out in this shelf are Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Louise Penny and some Scandinavian authors.
The next kind of thriller is the noir (Roman noir). Similar to hard boiled thrillers but with a greater dose of ‘pathos’, in a sense, a typical noir is a dark sub-genre that will feature a self-destructive, dysfunctional hero who is also often the victim. Gillian Flynn, Patricia Highsmith and James Elroy are great writers to begin your noir journey with.
Researched and detailed, ‘Historical Crime’ novels are for those who love to travel back in time and get under the skin of famous (and infamous) crimes set against specific period-zones like, say, the Roman empire, the World Wars and others.
And finally, there are the ‘pure thriller’s that take the reader through a roller coaster ride of thrills, shocks, tension, emotion, drama, fear and the niggling tension that the unexpected is just round the corner. Terrains a thriller covers are conspiracy, corruption, terrorism, espionage, and more. Love this stuff? You can’t go wrong with Dan Brown, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Greg Ile, Steve Berry, Harlan Coben, Michale Connelly, Lee Child, Gillian Flynn, Maxine Paetro, Frederick Forsyth and Harold Bernard, to name a few.
And much as you would like to trawl through the entire lot, there’s no escaping the fact that time’s a luxury. So what would your top list of reads look like – books you would love to pick up and finish in 2014? Here’s one guaranteed to add just the right mix of alarm, apprehension and panic to your bedtime reading : The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon), In Cold Blood (Truman Capote), The pillars of the Earth (Ken Follet), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson), The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain), And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie), Our Man in Havana (Graham Greene), The Spy came in from the Cold (John Le Carre), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy), Ripley’s Game (Patricia Highsmith), Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane), Gaudy Nights (Dorothy Sayers), Presumed Innocent (Scott Turow), Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), Gone Girl, A Novel (Gillian Flynn), The Day of the Jackal (Frederick Forsyth), A Time to Kill (John Grisham) and The End of the Wasp Season (Denise Mina).
So who are the top names in the crime thriller Hall of Fame? While picking a short-list from a pool as ‘successful’ as this is always dicey, some who would readily make it to the list are detective inspector Thomas Linley (a creation of American author Elizabeth George), Kinsey Millhone (by Sue Grafton), Philip Marlowe (author Raymond Chandler), Sam Spade (by Dashiell Hammet), Feluda (yes, India’s very own super-sleuth, and a creation of Satyajit Ray), Byomkesh Bakshi (that’s right, another Indian – conceived by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay and about to come alive on celluloid), Inspector Roderick Alleyn (author Ngaio Marsh), Jules Maigret (by Georges Simenon), Lord Peter Wimsey (by Dorothy Sayers), Miss Marple (by Agatha Christie), and of course, Hercule Poirot (by Agatha Christie), and of course…
Beg your pardon, did you say? “Of course who?”
You know. The man we haven’t spoken about so far. The man who strode the streets and consciousness of London like a colossus in 19th and 20th century England, deerstalker hat and arched pipe in tow. The man who burst upon the scene in his first novel, ‘A study in Scarlet’. The man who put the ‘detect’ in ‘detective’. The wiry, moody, complex, pipe smoking and violin playing, Sherlock Holmes – the archetype of all detectives, and the immortal creation of Arthur Conan Doyle – A scot of remarkable talents himself.
Few fictional characters have cast such a spell on the public imagination as Sherlock Holmes, and his sidekick Dr.Watson, did between 1887 and 1927, a period during which the duo appeared in four novels and fifty-six short stories. Holmes’ uncanny deductive reasoning, based on his ability to observe and analyze his surroundings, is unparalleled – and unforgettably brought to life in stories like ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ (1892), ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (1892), ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’ (1904), and the celebrated novel ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1902).
It’s a good time to read. Because when it comes to thrills and goosebumps, you’re blessedly spoilt. Where do you begin? Ah. Try the Sherlockian method of deductive reason. Or, well, just go ‘ini meenee mini mo’. It’s a feast, you just can’t lose.