First of all, thrillers are fun to write. With thrillers you have men and women running around getting in fights, escaping traps, solving riddles, and outsmarting bad guys. What could be more fun than writing about that? Second, for a writer, thrillers are also a bit of an intellectual challenge. You have to introduce characters and construct a plot that hangs together, leaves people in suspense, and provides clues without giving away the ending. Not easy to do, but fun to work on – like solving an enormously complicated puzzle where the pieces are constantly moving.
But while all of this sounds like fun – let’s face it – it also sounds a bit shallow. Is that all that thrillers are good for – shallow, escapist entertainment? The answer is an emphatic no.
Two writers in particular have proven that thrillers can be used as a vehicle for exploring wider issues and even defining entire eras. Read any of John LeCarre’s cold war novels and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing captures the somberness and suspicion of post World War Two U.S. and Soviet relations quite like a LeCarre book. And the same thing can be said for Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park and what it does for the day-to-day grind of living in Russia during the early 1980s.
But good thrillers can also, as can any good story, do something for us far more important – they can help us understand our own values and who we are. Thrillers, almost by definition, present us with scenes of violence, betrayal, dastardly acts as well as bravery, loyalty, and honesty. As we read thrillers we match ourselves against both the villains and the heroes and in so doing learn something about what we believe and who we are.
I wrote Einstein’s Trunk, and the subsequent yet to be published sequel World of Hurt, because I wanted to say something about love, the complexity of human behavior, and about the courage that is oftentimes concealed and left unacknowledged in humble, simple people.
My next posting will be on what I liked best about Einstein’s Trunk and what parts I had difficulty writing.
Zurich, May 2, 2011