As a child, David Morrell was constantly afraid. His parents often quarreled. He also had to spend time in an orphanage. To escape from this harsh reality, he immersed himself in thrillers.
He went on to create the iconic character of Rambo, write many best-selling action-adventure novels and co-found the International Thriller Writers organization (ITW), aimed at educating the public about the form and encouraging members to explore its creative possibilities.
Now, he and his fellow ITW members have chosen 100 works of suspense on the basis of the impact each had on the genre. An essay analyzing a particular work’s importance is accompanied by brief biographies of the author and the essay writer, often a noted author.
"Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads" starts with the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. It has been deemed the first-ever thriller because the story involves a labyrinth, a monster and a clean escape. The book ends with Dan Brown’s "The Da Vinci Code," a best-seller that dared to challenge sacred religious beliefs in a fresh and entertaining manner.
In between are familiar titles such as William Shakespeare’s "Macbeth," Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein," Graham Greene’s "The Third Man," Agatha Christie’s "And Then There Were None," John le Carre’s "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," Morrell’s "First Blood" and Robert Ludlum’s "The Bourne Identity."
The book shows that thrillers, which could be defined as heart-pounding novels of tension with an atmosphere of fear and violence, cover a wide variety of worlds: the law, espionage, action-adventure, medicine, crime, religion, romance and many others.
Why do the fans of the genre crave to vicariously experience fear, danger and even violence? Do they want to achieve a catharsis of their emotions?
CJ Lyons, a physician-novelist, offers a good explanation. In her essay about Robin Cook’s "Coma," published in 1977 when America was coming out of a deep recession, she writes: "It was an era when real life was so scary that we looked for our entertainment to be even more frightening — as if the adrenaline rush of being terrified by novels and the big screen made our daily worries seem small in comparison."
This volume, full of insightful essays exploring why a particular work touched the public nerve at a particular time, is a great sourcebook not only for thriller fans, but also for anyone interested in the workings of the human mind, including psychologists, sociologists and even philosophers.