Genre: Adrenaline Fiction: Suspense and Thrillers

R.A.R.T. September 22, 2009 Reading Public Library Recorded by Mary Behrle

Present: Tricia Arrington , Eileen Barrett, Mary Behrle, Michelle Deschene-Warren, Leane Ellis, Robert Hayes , Shelley Quezada, Jan Resnick , Becky Rowlands.

Leane showed the new Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, by Joyce Saricks. The author says to “suggest” rather than “recommend” titles to patrons. Let’s start this new R.A.R.T. year with this in mind. Partner (from Saricks) with your readers to make suggestions rather than recommendations.

Those who don’t usually read adrenaline fiction talked about why:

  • •The “creep” factor.
  • Sometimes there are too many things going on at once, at times unbelievable things.
  • Don’t like to be scared to death.

Orchid Beach, by Stewart Woods •

  • Orchid Beach is a thriller; can also be a mystery and a police procedural. •
  • However, even those who don’t tend to read this genre thought it was interesting, wanted to get through it to make sure everyone was okay at the end. •
  • Comments:
    • The group liked Holly, Jackson, Ham, and Daisy. o Is the character of Daisy believable? o
    • Holly trusted Jackson way too early on in their acquaintance. o
    • Barney was the most sinister character. The reader could not tell who was giving him information. o Most were put off by Holly’s comparison of herself with Daisy, as a “working bitch.” Although within the context of the story and Holly’s background in the military, others were okay with it. This analogy is a trigger for readers’ advisors, i.e., pay attention to gender roles in titles. o
    • Most thought the activities going on at Palmetto Gardens seemed unrealistic – by who knows this world of drugs? o
    • Did the author lay the groundwork for the gated community? “Somewhat” and “pretty well,” were the feelings. o
    • A weakness of thrillers – the villains are not as well-developed as in suspense. The reader does not get into the villain’s head. o
    • Parallels: J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, Tony Hillerman’s novels. [Leane’s note: Other readalikes: Nelson DeMille, Lawrence Saunders/Vincent Lardo McNally series, and James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club.]

Appeals: Pacing, Characterization, Frame

On the Street Where You Live, by Mary Higgins Clark. •

  • On the Street Where You Live is suspense. The villain is there right away to grab the reader. •
  • Obvious right from the start that Emily Graham is in jeopardy: she has a stalker, there are bodies found buried in her backyard. The reader is invested in the circumstances right away. •
  • The pace is non-stop from chapter to chapter. •
  • The chapters count down the timeline to the next expected murder. •
  • The style is set up from the beginning – it goes back in time, forward in time, and is in the present. •
  • The setting is a main character. •
  • Lots of secondary characters; there are villains everywhere. •
  • Mary Higgins Clark is formulaic, but people who love her love her. Some Nora Roberts are read-a-likes; [Leane’s note: also Lisa Gardner, Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan series, Joy Fielding]

Appeals: Pacing, Characterization, Story Line

Other Adrenaline:

Jan: Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The first of the Pendergast series. There’s gore and good characterization; it triggers emotions and fears. A parallel with Jurassic Park.

Dead Sleep, by Greg Iles. A photojournalist on a trip to Hong Kong finds her missing sister in a museum exhibit on sleep. But are the subjects asleep or dead? Complex, psychological, with physical danger. Pacing.

Eileen: Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Don’t usually like to be scared, but didn’t find this scary. A literary suspense that takes place on a college campus in Vermont. (Suspense in academic settings is a sub-genre.) At the beginning the reader knows who is murdered and who did it, but doesn’t know why. Psychological, well-written, developed characters.

Becky: Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane. This takes place in 1954 with the disappearance of a mental patient from a hospital off the coast of Massachusetts. There’s an interesting back story. Plot twists at the end. Pacing, characterization.

Eye Contact, by Cammie McGovern. Built as psychological suspense. A young autistic boy is found in the woods with his murdered friend. What happened? The boy is unable to communicate. The backstory is the boy’s mother. The characters are well-developed. There are many turns to the mystery that sometimes felt frantic, but it all added up. Characterization, pacing.

Mary: Borderline, by Nevada Barr. Park Ranger Anna Pigeon vacation in Big Bend National Park becomes a deadly mix of border politics and personal tragedies. Pacing, characterization.

Michelle: Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting. A well-paced YA novel. Violet, the heroine hears “death echoes” from the graves of girls murdered by a serial killer. She is using that sense to help police solve the crimes. There are creepy bad guys, a scare factor with gore, and a good romantic element. Good for adults who might want to ease their way into this genre.

Tricia: Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris. It’s called a “literary thriller,” but feels like a mystery. Takes the reader inside the conservative Muslim world, with wealthy family politics and a twist at the end. No one is in danger. More character development than pacing. (Leane noted that in literary thriller there is a different way to calibrate pacing.)

Robert: Alex Cross’s Trial, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo. Not really an Alex Cross series book, although Alex tells the story of his great uncle in the time of Teddy Roosevelt. There are lots going on: Ku Klux Klan lynchings, politics, historical aspects, courtroom drama, danger most of the time. Character-driven with a twist at the end. (Leane noted that in a historical thriller, the reader usually comes away with something more than the ride–some knowledge of the time, place, culture.)

Leane: Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly. “Best thriller ever!” Read The Poet first, though. Pacing, characterization, tone makes you nervous for Jack McEvoy. Some ST as a female FBI agent comes to rescue Jack.

The Defector, by Gabriel Allon. A current thriller. Pacing, stunning plot.

Jan: Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith. This takes place in Stalin’s time. A serial killer is on the loose in a society that does not admit to serial killings. Bleak Soviet thriller. Stunning conclusion. Will leave readers discussing the setting, circumstances and their reactions.

Second Titles

Michael Connelly’s The Scarecrow
I wait for a Michael Connelly crime title like I used to await Christmas morning with great expectation and a bit of dizzy joy. Although instead of ripping off the paper cover and devouring it like a chocolate-covered cherry—I take my time reading it—savoring his musical language and getting to know his characters as they and I are engaged with the clever and stimulating plot.

Pursuing a big story in anticipation of his imminent layoff, Los Angeles reporter Jack McEvoy (The Poet 1996) investigates the murder confession of a teen drug dealer and realizes that the youth may be innocent, a discovery that pits him against a serial killer operating below police radar. He teams up with his old flame FBI agent Rachel Walling and both sexual tension and brilliant detecting ensue.

In this effort, Connelly describes a horrendous serial killer chase juxtaposed to his elegy to newspaper reporting and the print medium. The whole growth of the Internet and the tension it presents between old and new methods of communication and data storage as well as a brand new supply of crimes is very well researched and explicated.

Using alternating point of view between villain and reporter, Connelly builds tension expertly, using dramatic irony to its fullest potential. The worst part of reading a Connelly novel is that it inevitably ends. Heavy Sigh. APPEAL: PACING/CHARACTER/PLOT

Finding Nouf – Zoe Ferraris
Originally from Palestine, Nayir, a desert guide, is something of an outsider in Saudi Arabia. Yet he is highly regarded by members of the wealthy Shrawi family and when their soon-to-be married daughter Nouf goes missing in the desert they call on Nayir to search for her. When her body is found in a Wadi, his mission changes from search and rescue to murder investigation. At the morgue, Nayir meets Katya Hijazi a lab technician. Nayir is taken aback by her forwardness (no veil, eye contact) but he finds an ally in her. They both disagree with the coroner’s assessment that Nouf’s death was an accident. Nayir is uncomfortable working with Katya, but she is the only way that he has access to the female world of Saudi society.

As someone who married into a family of Saudi-Palestinian bedouins, Ferraris has first-hand knowledge of this world. It is hard to believe that viewing a woman’s ankle could have such an unsettling affect on a man, but Ferraris writes Nayir’s character in a what that is so sincere that you believe his internal struggle to work with a woman. The mystery uncovers a fascinating world where personal ambition and societal norms collide, but the developing relationship between the two investigators is just as engaging.

APPEAL FACTORS: Character, Story, Frame

Six students at Hampden College in Vermont are studying the Greek classics under the tutelage of a brilliant, but reclusive professor. Four of his students become obsessed with recreating a bacchanalian celebration. One of their attempts results in a wild night of debauchery that ends with the murder of a Vermont farmer whose path they unwittingly cross. This sets the stage for a second murder, the murder of fellow student, Bunny. What drove five bright college students to murder one of their own and what are the consequences of their actions? This is a psychological suspense novel of literary fiction quality.

APPEAL: CHARACTER/PLOT/PACING/PLACE Great character development, told in first person narrative by one of the six students, set in a New England (Vermont) college. Although this is not a nail-biting page-turner, the foreboding sense of demise and the psychological aspect of trying to understand why, keeps you turning until you reach page 524.

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
Violet found the body of a little girl when she was eight years old. Attracted by a sound out of place in the forest, she followed it, digging into the soil where it originated from. But that first body wasn’t the last she’d find, and Violet came to call the sounds she heard from murder victims “death echoes.” When teen girls start disappearing in and around her community, Violet begins to suspect that the only way the killer will be caught is if she uses her gift to find him. The problem is, the killer seems to know that she’s feeding her uncle, the police chief, information about the crimes and begins to target her as his next victim.

The Body Finder has all around appeal: Excellent pacing, a strong lead character in Violet, an interesting premise, and a good dose of well-written romance. Though released as a young adult novel, this book could easily crossover to the adult market and those patrons that enjoy a strong suspense tale.

Borderline, by Nevada Barr.
National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, from a deadly winter spent in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park. It’s supposed to be R&R for Anna and her husband as they go on a rafting trip on the Rio Grand in Big Bend National Park. The fun turns into homicide, with a backdrop of political ambitions and personal tragedies. All is softened only by the rescue of an infant whose mother is found floating in the river. More action in a handful of days than most would want in two lifetimes!

Appeals: Pacing, Frame

Michael Gruber’s Book of Air and Shadows fills the bill for a new kind of thriller “the literary thriller” which details the 21st century hunt for an unpublished manuscript of Shakespeare. The story alternates between contemporary Manhattan and 17th century England. The contemporary story is faster paced with many twists and lots of great detail about the fascinating world of rare books. Interesting characters such as an Intellectual property lawyer, an academic from Columbia University and a mysterious archivist mix it up with members of the Russian mafia intent on getting their hands on the manuscript at all costs. The modern story is interspersed with letters from a 17th century soldier who was to have hidden the manuscript…things slowed down here for me and frankly I skipped over a lot of that part to get back to “the hunt for the manuscript”. That said, it was a satisfying read, more sophisticated by far than the Da Vinci Code, but still may appeal to that reader. This is definitely a book to give to someone who has loved Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind or King’s Ex Libris. Appeal: Pacing, Frame

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The jacket claims this thriller is a blend of Jurassic Park and Alien. That may be a bit over the top, but the suspense will raise the hair on your arms, neck, and possibly your head. Something came back in a lost expedition’s shipment from remote South America to the New York Museum of Natural History. The creature lurks in the dark mustiness of the stored exhibits or the menacing subterranean tunnels under the vast museum complex, coming out only to dismember and feed. The NYPD and FBI team up with a couple of museum researchers to contain the ‘museum beast’ before it runs, panics the city, or kills even more people. You can smell the dry cold air of the museum with it’s odor of things long dead and feel the chill draft from the sub basement on your cheek. When the lights go out and the exits crash shut, the scent of blood and terror are all that remain…except the screams.

Relic is Book 1 of the FBI Agent Pendergast series which deals with very odd crimes or extremely menacing perps. For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz or other stories where things hang from cliffs.

APPEAL: Story, Pace, Tone

GENRES: Thriller, Mystery
Dead Sleep by Greg Iles
Award winning, free-lance photojournalist Jordan Glass goes to an exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Art to fill some time before flying home. That random recommendation from a friend turns her life around. Staff in the museum look at her oddly. In the gallery in the back, the ‘Sleeping Women’ who actually seem more dead than asleep, Jordan is shocked to see her own likeness, nude, eyes closed hanging on the wall. Is it her identical twin Jane who disappeared 18 months before? If so, is Jane alive or dead. The pace and tension are relentless. Jordan frantically searches for Jane while she herself is stalked. Links to Jane are eliminated one by one. Is there one serial killer or two? There are layers and layers of back story for the seekers (Jordan, FBI agents), the victims (Jane, other sleeping women), and the killer(s) and enablers. As bullets fly and women die, the reader gradually learns what drives each and what incidents formed their lives.

APPEAL: Story, Pace, and to some degree Character. A fast-paced, complex thriller.

GENRES: Thriller, Mystery

Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern
Billed as a “thrilling novel of psychological suspense,” Cammie McGovern’s Eye Contact was, for me, a wonderfully told, emotionally wrought story of the relationship between a mother and her 9-year-old autistic son, wrapped up in, yes, a thrilling, suspenseful package. In the woods behind Woodside Elementary, the body of a 10-year-old girl has been found, stabbed. The only witness to this horrific crime is Adam, the autistic son of Cara. Adam has severe developmental problems, language not least among them. Cara tries desperately to unlock Adam’s mental world in order to help the police solve the case. She finds an unexpected ally in Morgan, a thirteen-year-old with his own social and developmental problems who is intent on solving the case to atone for, and draw attention away from, his own unrelated crime.

The thing that impressed me about Eye Contact was the sheer number of things McGovern does well. The mystery itself not only keeps the reader guessing, but the various relationships between the characters are handled deftly and sympathetically. The story also provides much insight into the worlds of special-needs children and those who care for them. The mystery itself leads the reader through various twists and turns in the case–my one criticism is that it feels a bit frantic towards the end, although each twist does reveal something more about one or another of the characters. The plot and characters were equally strong appeal factors of this book. Simply said, this book kept me glued to the couch for an entire night; I could not wait to figure out the ending, even though I knew I would be sad when the book finally did end.