I love a good thriller. My dad was the first person to introduce me to the genre when he gave me my first Nancy Drew book in the 3rd grade, The Secret of the Old Clock. It was my first "big book" and I was daunted by the number of chapters. So I cheated: after reading the first few chapters, I skipped over the middle of the book all the way to the end. When I reported to my dad that I had finished the book, he asked suspiciously, "You already read the whole thing?" "No," I sheepishly admitted. He ordered me to go back and read all the chapters -in order- and I was forever hooked. I could not get enough of Nancy Drew. After my parents divorced later that year, sometimes we would come home at the end of the day and I would find a new mystery lying on the front porch, a comforting reminder that my dad still thought about me.
When I was in high school, my dad was the person who introduced me to Alistair Maclean, and in college, he gave me his copy of The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy. Our shared love of a good thriller formed a single thread which spanned the physical and emotional gulf that existed between us.
As an adult, I continued to enjoy each of Tom Clancy's books as they were released. My dad and I rarely saw each other any longer, with years passing between each meeting. But during one visit, he handed me a book called A Time to Kill by a brand new author named John Grisham. It was quite a find, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the country discovered Grisham too.
I began looking for other thrill masters, and I read through all of Robert Ludlum's books (Ludlum's Bourne trilogy is the genre at its best, and as usual, the movies are nowhere near as good as the books). I tried other popular authors: Clive Cussler, Stuart Woods, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, Nelson DeMille. I discovered that you can tell a lot about an author by the way the characters in his book behave: I gave Clive Cussler two chances before I decided that his hero, Dirk Pitt, was a womanizing jerk and Stuart Woods' protagonists weren't much better. David Baldacci has some winners (Absolute Power was made into a movie starring Gene Hackman) and some losers (The Hour Game ends like a run-of-the-mill horror story). Vince Flynn's hero, Mitch Rapp, is the literary version of 24's Jack Bauer, but at times, I just feel like telling these guys enough already!
And that brings me to where I am today. I find myself dissatisfied with the current crop of thrillers in the book store. Writers seem to write with a movie contract in mind, and a screen play is a sorry substitute for the multiple layers of plot and character one finds in a first-rate thriller. Maybe, after reading Austen, Bronte and Dickens, I'll never get the same satisfaction I used to receive after reading pop fiction. But I am reluctant to abandon the search.
It seems ironic too, that the relationship between my dad and I has deteriorated to the point where there is no longer any communication at all between the two of us. I suppose the burden of too many years of false hopes and unmet expectations finally snapped the thread that once provided a tenuous bridge over the tumultuous waters of our relationship. I am on my own.