Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Action Thrillers Don't Thrill Me

I have nothing against Steve Berry. My writer friends who have met him at conferences say he is a genuinely nice guy. I admire the work he does through his foundation in advancing the study of history, and the man writes well.

The problem is that I don't like what he writes. His specialty is the action thriller, and he masters the genre. He is the king of the short declarative sentence. He keeps his storytelling at a rapid-fire pace. But why don't I like his work? His plots are intricate, and they are nicely formulated. He has a knack for taking historical fact and weaving it into his brand of fiction.

What I don't like is that I don't give a hoot about his characters. Cotton Malone is his protagonist. He is a man of action. He has POTUS on speed dial (which is a characteristic of more than a few action thriller main characters). He has a love of his life. I don't care about her, either. Her name is Cassiopeia Vitt. (I can't help but think of Katarina Witt when I see that name, and that brings up a whole other set of images.) She is a woman of action.

The problem? None of the characters has a heart and soul. They have no depth. They are literary equivalents to G.I. Joe toys, but that is a weakness of the genre. All action, no depth. That is a big reason I don't call my novels "thrillers" anymore. I think the most exact term would be "thriller*". I have action, I have mayhem, I have chaos -- and I have depth of character. That separates me from Berry, Vince Flynn and other thriller writers. (The problem, naturally, is that they are published and I am not.)

I tip my cap to Berry for his success. He is comfortable in what he does, and the way he does it. He just won't find me in the same literary room.

WHAT I AM READING NOW: "Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford. I considered picking up Ford's new novel, but I figured I should become familiar with his debut work first. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for a considerable time. It deserved to be there. Ford weaves interesting lives amid the tales of relocation of Japanese residents at the start of World War II. It is a haunting, emotional, satisfying work.

I also recently completed "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini. It ranks among my favorites. Hosseini has a knack for building characters, and weaving lives together into a seamless creation. There are a number of memorable characters, but my three favorites are Pari (the elder, of course), Idris and Thalia. Two of those characters are pretty minor within the fabric of the novel, but their life stories stay with me long after I finish the book. Maybe I recognize them from people I know. Maybe I see bits of them in me. Anyway, I give the novel an enthusiastic recommendation.

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