Is it a thriller?

I like books, of course, and I used to say I liked thrillers. Edgy, exciting, with narrow escapes, a bit of luck, coincidences to make the hair stand on the back of my neck, a nice bit of calculation to keep the grey matter going.

But, whether it is a current trend – in what, apparently is called genre fiction, which is supposed to stand in opposition to literary fiction – though I think it is pointless to take such distinctions literally – increasingly, the thrillers I read are merely violent.

John Grisham’s debut, A Time to Kill, is undoubtedly a violent tale. But arguably, it was The Firm a thrilling book with remarkably few references to blood and gore which established his reputation as a thriller writer. Indeed, I always thought that it was the allusions to violence, the danger of it, that made a book thrilling, rather than the blood bath; but in this, I appear to be out of step with modern trends.

I watch very little TV these days, and so films that my daughter would scarcely raise an eyebrow at, would probably give me nightmares. I read few thrillers, either, though many thriller writers excel. Increasingly I blame this on the realisation that I don’t find references to gun toting alcoholics who rape girls, and farm hand yokels who spit and swear, drive pickups and shoot people for fun, thrilling at all.

Last night I had to decide not to continue reading a book, otherwise well written and confident, which was disappointingly violent, and in which the hapless females seemed to have the ill-fortune to encounter violent sociopaths wherever they went, with disastrous and very bloody consequences.

Quite apart from the realisation that most sociopaths I know are socially indistinguishable from my neighbours and hide in plain sight behind the façade of respectability, repeated references in thrillers to downtown yokels with vile morals disrespects the vast majority of people who are kind, thoughtful, hardworking and desperate to escape the burden of nine to five purgatory, wherever they work. It may well be that stories of tormented or doomed young girls in trouble sells copy. Perhaps we find clichés of tough, hardened folk difficult to escape. But readers can choose, and I suspect that the explicit and relentless violence in many thrillers becomes unsavoury and damaging.

Maybe someday, booksellers might look to categorise books according to their ‘blood content’ thus assisting hapless readers like me who are looking for an exciting read which manages to steer clear of violent, misogynistic men and beautiful, tormented, abused girls.


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