All readers are critics, but not all readers (and definitely not all critics) are created equal. So when this reader-blogger offers a critique of a thriller, it’s useful to pay attention. I particularly liked this observation:
There are three ways to go with a thriller. You can write what’s essentially a horror story. You can tell a morality tale. You can make it a comedy. It seems like most contemporary thrillers—books and movies—are horror stories. The bad guys are monsters, inhumanly evil, irresistible, relentless, and possessed of an almost supernatural ability to cause harm and get away with it. John D. McDonald, Raymond Chandler, and Robert B. Parker told morality tales. Most of the crimes in their novels arise from decent people’s moral failings rather than from the intrusion of an outside evil.
That certainly gets at the core of what I like most about John D. MacDonald’s novels. His Travis McGee books are not as consistent as, say, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series, but the only out-and-out stinker of the series, The Green Ripper, goes wrong because MacDonald has his hero tangling with a terrorist cell disguised as a bizarre religious cult. (Great way for terrorists to avoid attention.) There’s also the tired device of having the hero out to avenge the murder of his beloved, but even that might have been less wheezy if MacDonald had kept his villains within the realm of crooked sheriffs, sleazy developers, petty mobsters, and rustic psychopaths — territory MacDonald made his own over the course of dozens of novels.
I’m not crazy enough to equate myself with MacDonald or any of the other authors in Lance Mannion’s piece, but my own fiction rests comfortably within his definition of a morality tale. I tend to nod off when reading about eeee-vil global conspiracies and bands of maniacs with Hitler’s head tucked away in the freezer. I like human-scaled heroes and villains, and I prefer the evil acts to arise from recognizable human-scale behavior.
That’s the case with my first novel, We All Fall Down, and it will be the case with my second, Echo, coming out in about ten months or so. But I’ll get back to that in due course.