I interview former crime reporter Rick Mofina about his latest thriller, INTO THE DARK, at the Big Thrill.
I interviewed the incredibly talented Joelle Charbonneau about her latest novel, a dystopian YA thriller entitled THE TESTING that recalled ENDER’S GAME and the FALLOUT video games, for THE BIG THRILL.
(Click the title above to go to The Big Thrill)
Both Patti Abbott and Spinetingler editor Brian Lindemuth (at Do Some Damage) have asked whether you prefer Mysteries or Crime Fiction, both as a reader, and a writer, when it comes to labeling books.
It used to be that Crime Fiction was a subset to Mystery, and now the tables seem to be turning somewhat. Here is my long comment at DSD.
Almost every story has an element of mystery. What happens next? Parker is on a bridge and he tells a guy off. I like this guy. What’s he gonna do next? But that’s not a story of deduction. Is Tana French’s excellent Faithful Place allowed to be crime fiction? There’s a murder and we don’t know who did it. But her depiction of Dublin and her excellent characters are right out of Hammett or Chandler.
I like both mysteries and crime fiction. I consider Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” mysteries to be cozies. I can never keep up with the classifications that nerds keep narrowing down, whether it’s in music (no dude, that’s not shoegaze, it’s um, darkwave fartsniff dubstep!) or books or whatever. I can’t be bothered.
Let’s face it, Mystery and Crime Fiction are labels to sell a book. If it bothers you to see “Mystery” on a book you like, is it because you imagine Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher and don’t want to be associated with fans of those stories?
Mystery lovers likely get the same shiver when they see Crime Fiction or Noir on a label, they know there may be foul language and testicles (probably severed ones).
It’s a marketing construct. I don’t like either label. “Crime Fiction” can certainly drive away readers who assume it’s all about serial killers and gumshoes wearing fedoras and talking like Bogart, just like “Mystery” may be dismissed as a puzzler to keep you occupied in the waiting room for the gastroenterologist.
What about “Suspense”? I hope your story has suspense, even if it’s “literary fiction.” But heavens forfend it be labeled a “thriller,” those are for reading on airplanes, right? Speaking of thrills, I’m thrilled when an author I like is in the good old Fiction section. Megan Abbott, Pete Dexter, Scott Phillips are all recent sightings. But I don’t mind wandering to the Mystery corner, like the “Adult” section of the video store (if you remember those) to get my kicks.
Like Colson Whitehead says about those who call genre fiction a guilty pleasure:
“Other people’s labels. Other people’s hang-ups.”
In this issue of The Big Thrill, I interview author Amy Lignor about her conspiracy-adventure through history, “13,” which begins in the New York Public Library. The first in her new Tallent & Lowery series, fans of the DaVinci Code take note. Lignor is the author of a the young adult series The Angel Chronicles, and the book sounds like a blast for those of us who like forgotten history and ancient conspiracies. This one’s got Jack the Ripper, Aleister Crowley, and a lot more.
I can see why this is so popular, and I enjoyed it very much. Excellent protagonist who is very sure of herself in some ways and not in others; Katniss Everdeen makes for good company, and I’ve always been a fan of YA dystopias (back in my day, the Tripods books by John Christopher were awesome).
It’s a thriller through and through, and once the games begin it ramps up again and again. Collins learned from Spillane to sell the next book with the last page. I’m very eager to read book two, but I have many more in my TBR pile and I’ll wait for the next movie’s release before I spend an afternoon reading it.
Collins paints characters well, though don’t expect more than archetype for those on the sidelines. This lives up to the hype and I look forward to seeing the post-apocalyptic world fleshed out in the rest of the trilogy. I enjoyed this more than many recent thrillers written for adults, and while some are iffy on questioning government authority when they agree with who is in power, it is always a good subject for readers of any age.
If you don’t mind subtitles, this is one of the best thrillers of 2008. If you mind subtitles, learn how to fucking read. Tell No One is based on the novel by Harlan Coben, a Jersey boy who won’t make Dennis LeHane lose any sleep soon, but who writes solid thrillers about ordinary people thrust into frightening and realistic situations when something from their past rises from the muck and comes out swinging.
Alexandre Beck is a reserved and friendly doctor working at a Paris clinic. We meet him one morning when a brash, thuggish man brings in his child and demands that Dr. Alex see him. We see his calm in dealing with the violent man, and the sadness in his eyes. Through flashbacks, we learn that Dr. Alex’s wife was brutally murdered 8 years ago, as they swam in a lake near a country cabin. He heard her scream, and when he climbed onto the dock he was knocked unconscious. Eventually her murder was blamed on a serial killer operating at the time, but he never confessed. Alex himself was suspected, because he could never explain why he was pulled from the water.
Now eight years later, two more bodies have been unearthed in the same area. The police begin sniffing around again. And on the anniversary of her death, Alex receives a cryptic e-mail he believes to be from his dead wife. How can this be? Is she still alive? He never got to identify the body. Her ex-cop father had that unfortunate task, and he describes the brutality vaguely, with obvious pain. So we have a set up similar to The Fugitive, but instead of fleeing the cops and hunting the one-armed man, Alex finds himself hunted by vicious, powerful men intent on destroying the life he’s managed to cobble together after Margot’s murder.
As he awaits the instructions in the e-mail, he finds that he is being watched. And as he reaches out to friends, they become targets. The pincers of the police digging through the old case begin to close, and Alex has no choice but to go on the run, for his own safety, that of his few friends, and possibly for Margot’s, if she really is alive. Director Guillaume Canet keeps the tension pegged for much of the movie. The nameless thugs are led by a bearded man who kills as if he’s swatting a fly. His consort is a silent woman with ripped muscles who seems to have studied massage therapy for the ability to cause pain instead of relief. Played by Mika’ela Fisher, she’s one scary bitch.
Alex gets stuck between them and the police, with only his lawyer friend on his side. Even Margot’s father turns against him. The film is Hitchcockian in how things close in on Alex, but without the master’s dark humor. Here we are kept in Alex’s shoes for the entire film, and we feel his fear. When he finally runs from the police, there’s a fantastic foot chase through Paris, with none of the usual cliches. When he comes up against a busy highway he can’t just dash across, flip over a windshield and keep going. There’s also no booming chase music, we get to hear his breath, his footsteps, and the sounds of the city around him as he dives through alleyways, the backs of shops, and through street fairs. And unlike most wrongfully accused men, Alex actually gets tired.
The film is taut as a drum, and while we meet many colorful characters- sleazy lawyers to street thugs, senators obsessed with steeplechase horse races- they all matter. The ending is a little too long, and maybe a little too neat, but we get there it’s quite satisfying. Alex is played by François Cluzet perfectly, as a man who dearly loved his wife and is not granted superhuman powers through his righteous anger at her murder. Dustin Hoffman can play him in the inevitable remake. But see it before then, it’s worth a little subtitle-readin’. Even if your lips move while doing it. Then go read the book, too.
4 croque monsieurs out of 5