Review

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads

edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner

The title of this indispensable volume, grand as it is, only
hints at the wonders therein. What is presented here, under the
careful editorship of author David Morrell and literary critic Hank
Wagner, is a collection of essays by a veritable Who’s Who of
thriller authors and reviewers. Each essay concerns a classic work
of the thriller genre, arranged in chronological order by
publication. So it is that the book begins with a thoughtful
discourse upon THESUS AND THE MINOTAUR, from 1500 B.C., written by
Lee Child, and ends with Steve Berry’s tribute to THE DA
VINCI CODE by Dan Brown, published in 2003.

Both of these contributions, as well as the other 98 essays that
comprise THRILLERS: 100 MUST-READS, are relatively short (a few
pages each) and do exactly what needs to be done, which is to send
the reader to new and, in some cases, unexpected places. There is a
touch of continuity that flows from essay to essay: each includes
some biographical information about the subject, backstory on the
creation of the book, a summary and commentary concerning the book
(and establishing its bona fides for listing), and some personal
comments about what the book has meant to the author of the essay.
The selection of titles is excellent, while the pairing of each
book with each essayist is in all cases thoughtful and, in some,
the stuff of genius. Think of J. A. Konrath writing about THE GREEN
RIPPER by John MacDonald, or COMA examined by C.J. Lyons, or Lee
Child’s KILLING FLOOR discussed by Marcus Sakey, and
you’ll get the idea.

Those of us who have enjoyed a steady diet of the genre will
find some of the books included here familiar, either by
acquaintance or reputation. There are also titles on the list of
which you may never have heard. All the better. Think of being at a
party with the most interesting people you know, some of whom have
brought new friends for you to meet, others of whom you
haven’t seen in ages. That is what THRILLERS is at its
core.

I never considered THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS by James Fenimore
Cooper to be a thriller novel. I confess I have even made jokes in
the past regarding the way in which Cooper’s books for
generations have created future ex-readers. Yet Rick Wilber’s
essay gave me pause. Wilber goes so far as to call Natty Bumppo,
the protagonist of MOHICANS, the first great fictional hero in
American literature. And he is right, of course. Then there is P.G.
Wodehouse. One would hardly think of Wodehouse as an author of
thrillers, yet R. L. Stine’s commentary concerning SUMMER
LIGHTNING demonstrates conclusively that there was a darkness to
Wodehouse’s comedic bent.

That is not to say that all of the selections come from a
thoughtful left field. The work of Stephen King is represented, as
one might expect. Yet Christopher Mooney --- a noteworthy author of
the genre in his own right --- reaches to King’s groaning
shelves of works and selects MISERY, and for all the right reasons.
Though King is primarily associated with the supernatural --- on
the strength of his early work and his Dark Tower volumes
--- it is this novel that demonstrates that the most frightening of
our demons dwell right on this plane. MISERY has long been my
favorite work of King’s, and so I was delighted to find it
--- and Mooney’s essay --- included here. The presence of
Eric Ambler’s A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, with comments by Ali
Karim, is another wonderful find. Ambler was one of the first
writers of spy novels that it was my pleasure to encounter, and
Karim, who is a tireless and insightful booster of the thriller
genre, is the perfect choice to present Ambler’s work.

There is a true embarrassment of riches here, a term that
applies not only to the quality of the books listed but also to the
commentary provided for each and every one of them. Whether you are
seeking to introduce yourself to the rich and wide range of
thriller novels, or to fill in the gaps in your collection --- and
every bibliophile has at least one --- THRILLERS: 100 MUST-READS is
the final word on the subject.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads
edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2010
  • Genres: Anthology, Nonfiction, Reference
  • Hardcover: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1933515562
  • ISBN-13: 9781933515564