I read my first grown-up novel when I was nine. It was The Black Gang, the second and best of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond books, it was marvelous, it knocked boys’ books like G.A.Henty’s out of the ring, and since then I have read a great many other thrillers.
I never taught them—well, unless you count including Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File one year in an undergraduate seminar on twentieth-century British literature (it bombed—the book I mean). Nor did I try to publish on them. But they were a steady presence in my life, like one of those ocean currents that underlie the surface turbulences and calms.
They entered into the making of my Violence in the Arts and America and the Patterns of Chivalry (Cambridge University Press, 1973 and 1982), they were value-charged, and eventually I felt the need to spell out what it was that I had been valuing.
This I attempted during my final sabbatical in Mexico in 1989-90, away from reference libraries, but with a lot of books available in an English-language lending library and in a bookstore in nearby Guadalajara. I had taken a number of paperbacks down with me.
This might sound like a fun task, and so at times it was. At least I did know something about the subject.
But when you’re trying to spell out for yourself what you really like about something, and if you don’t want to kill it off by dissection or muffle it under jargon, and if you can’t rely on your potential readers knowing anything about the subject, or even on their taking it seriously at all, well, you do rather have to work at being lucid.
I did my writing on index cards, as was my habit then, and brought back boxes of them when we drove home to Nova Scotia. But I typed up only a couple of the articles before other things intervened, and they seemed to me pretty crude, and thereafter I lost interest in publishing. The cards gathered dust, literally.
And would have gone on doing so if the enthusiasm of the young film-maker Will Fraser (not a relative) for a particular writer hadn’t sent me back a year and a half ago to one of the typescripts.
After which, one thing led to another, and the dust started coming off the cards, and a lot of work ensued, and, to cut to the chase, what you have here is, in effect, a book, though I don’t know what a publisher would make of it.
The page count is based on a book page of four hundred words.
- “Preface” (2 pp.).
- “The Best Thriller” (40 pp.)— an overview of the kinds of works that I have in mind when I use the term “thriller,” followed by an extended appreciation of my own nominee.
- “A Philosophical Thriller” (50 pp.)—an extended analysis of a particularly fine American thriller that goes way beyond the currently fashionable noir values.
- “Writer at Work” (90 pp.)—an even longer appreciation of one of the best American thriller writers.
- “Quickies” (85 pp.)—appreciative comments on thrillers by about fifty writers (this mostly was fun to do, and I hope to go on adding to it).
- “Reading Thrillers (1990)” (15 pp.)—an account of my own enjoyment of the genre.
- “Back-Ups” (15 pp.)— some informal theoretical thoughts, followed by a list of all the writers I remember reading a thriller by; and a list of secondary works that I’ve looked at.
- “Found Pages” (ongoing)—a retrieval, with descriptive bibliography, of the fascinating and all-but-vanished British author behind a number of pseudonyms.
Self-publishing in this fashion has the advantages of speed and independence. The usual copyright conventions apply (I say that for my own legal protection), but I have written to be read, and the longer items will probably be easier to read if run off as hard copy, which is how I envisaged them.
If anyone wants to make use of anything here for public purposes, I’ll be happy to give permission.
Communications addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org will be forwarded to me.
For technical information (font size and so forth), go to Sections 11 and 12 in “About This Site” on the Carol Hoorn Fraser side of the site, which you can reach by clicking on the home-page house in the top left corner.
The Department of English at Dalhousie University, from which I retired in 1993, gave me the sabbatical without demanding a project (I probably just said I was going to write some articles), and was so courteous that no-one ever enquired what I had accomplished down there in Ajijic, pronounced ah-hee-heek, on the shores of lovely Lake Chapala.
Belatedly, my thanks.
Thrillers is for Richard Cody, Raymond J. Peters, and Will Fraser.