“Thriller Thursdays” – The Suspense of Silence

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris contains one line that says it all about suspense novels . . . and harks back to my idea about the connection between suspense and human DNA:

“The washing machine’s rhythm was like a giant heartbeat, and the rush of its waters was what the unborn hear – our last memory of peace.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that our last memory of peace should be filled with noise? A comforting noise we grew used to for months. It’s silence that’s truly frightening.

And that was only one of the several terrific passages in this literary thriller. Here are a few more:

“Back at his chair he cannot remember what he was reading. He feels the books beside him to find the one that is warm.”

“Typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place.”

“Over this odd world, this half the world that’s dark now, I have to hunt a thing that lives on tears.”

And, finally, this from Dr. Lecter’s last note to Clarice:

“Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming? . . . I won’t be surprised if the answer is yes and no. The lambs will stop for now. But, Clarice, you judge yourself with all the mercy of the dungeon scales at Threave; you’ll have to earn it again and again, the blessed silence. Because it’s the plight that drives you, seeing the plight, and the plight will not end, ever.”

Whether or not you’ve read the book and/or seen the movie, most of you have gathered enough about the plot of this thriller that I don’t think it’s worth summarizing here. Instead, I want to share a few of my basic impressions.

First, the bad language was sprinkled with care, not enough to make me set the gripping read aside. Though the crimes and criminal behavior described in this story are definitely perverse, it wasn’t a gory read. In fact, Harris is a minimalist when it comes to description. He can tell you everything you need to know about a person with one or two sentences, plus great dialogue.

That’s not to say he left out details. The book teemed with all kinds of information, always specific and important–either to the story or a character. In fact, there was so much detail that I simply had to look up the biography of this author. Had he been a former FBI agent? How did he know all this stuff?

The answer: research. As it turns out, his background is in journalism and he once worked a police beat. Still, the amount of research this novel displays, as well as its range and depth, is IMPRESSIVE!!! (And I’m not easily impressed.)

Two things about the writing stood out:

1) I loved the way he used Lecter to help reveal to the reader in a very natural and unforced way the background of FBI trainee, Clarice Starling. Bit by bit, the story gets peeled away for us.

2) There was an interesting switch to present tense now and then that kind of pulled me out as a reader, pushing the story to a safer, middle distance. In that way, all the uncomfortable aspects came off more clinically . . . as if the whole tale is being played out and observed from behind one of those windows in an interrogation room.

I’m sure if I thought about it longer, I would have a lot more to write, but if you want food for thought with regard to each and every chapter of this book, as well as the author’s own ruminations on his most famous character, I recommend this site.

Harris apparently hasn’t given an interview since 1976, but according to fellow novelist, Stephen King, Harris finds writing to be like “writhing on the floor in agonies of frustration . . . the very act of writing is a kind of torment.” I think you can sense that when you read what he had to say about creating the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the link above.

As a suspense novel, as a thriller, The Silence of the Lambs definitely deserves the five star ranking I gave it.

 

Originally posted 2012-07-05 14:36:24.

“Thriller Thursday” Preview and How Suspense Fits In

Present word count of WIP:  59,427

They say not all thrillers are suspense novels and not all suspense novels are thrillers. So what’s the difference? And how does Mystery fit in?

It remains confusing in my mind, but I like Maeve Maddux’s delineation here. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons I’m taking on this huge reading project is to help me clarify these genres.

As defined by International Thriller Writers, you can characterize a true thriller by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

For a lengthier description of what makes a novel a thriller, I recommend this site.

For those of you who haven’t yet looked up NPR’s list of “Killer Thrillers,” these are the first 20 I’ll be devouring in order:

1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson

4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

7. The Shining, by Stephen King 

8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

9. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker

12. The Stand, by Stephen King

13. The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver

14. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 

15. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

16. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

17. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton

18. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

19. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth

20. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

In all honesty, I’ve already read at least seven of these thrillers (I can’t recall for sure if I read “The Andromeda Strain” or if I’m simply remembering the movie). However, I am not going to skip over those I’ve already read. I’ll read ALL of them in order to gain the full perspective.

One of my readers, Bob, already contacted me about having read and/or seen the movie version of most on this list. I realized then that much of what we might think of these stories has likely been slanted either positively or negatively by their movie versions. I thought that would make for a couple of good questions to put to all of you:

How many of these first 20 have you actually read (before seeing the movie)? (If you only saw the movie, it doesn’t count.) Of those you have read, which would you rank at the top?

 

 

 

Originally posted 2012-06-28 13:16:14.

“Thriller Thursdays” – Sick Suspense of “Kiss the Girls”

Present word count of WIP:  58,116

Sick Suspense. Those are the words that come to mind in describing this psychological thriller by James Patterson.

According to the Oakland Press:

“Move over Thomas Harris, along comes James Patterson. Before you settle into Patterson’s latest book, make sure you’ve got a couple free nights of reading time. It’s the sort of grisly tale that keeps your hands gripping the book and your heart pounding at any unusual noise in the house.”

I beg to differ on two points:

1) Patterson doesn’t hold a candle to Harris.

2) My hands didn’t grip the book nor did my heart pound in fear.

Patterson is not nearly as literary as Harris. He may try to make up for his average writing style with extra graphic descriptions, but that only served to make me feel sick. I almost gave up on the book twice. The only reason I skimmed ahead was to see if my hunch about one of the perpetrators, Casanova, was correct. It wasn’t, so at least he kept me guessing, but the surprise at the end kind of came out of left field. Not so satisfying.

Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross in the movie version

I know many are enamored with his main character, Alex Cross, an African-American detective and psychologist, but I thought the character of Kate McTiernan, the victim that manages to escape more than once, much more intriguing. This is the third book in a row by a male author on this list in which the female main character is as strong, if not stronger, than the male. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a given in successful suspense.

Ashley Judd as Dr. Kate McTiernan

The only thing I really liked about this book?

His first line:

“For three weeks, the young killer actually lived inside the walls of an extraordinary fifteen-room beach house.”

Now, that’s spooky. That conjured up all kinds of scenarios in my head.

Do you think suspense novels are best when they describe everything in graphic detail, or leave that kind of stuff to your imagination?

 

Originally posted 2012-07-26 06:00:53.