Friday, August 28, 2009

Shane's Ravin' Faves

By Shane Gericke

So many books. So little time.

But even with all the new crime thrillers calling my name--particularly those from my colleagues here at Seven, whom I genuinely believe are among the best crime writers in the business--I still leave room to re-read a few of my favorites. The plots and writing are so strong that my eyes soak up the familiar words just for the sheer pleasure of the writer's art--not unlike catching up with old friends who were important at different points in your life. They are:

John Sandford: Every two or three months I pick a Sandford book from my collection and re-read it. Doesn't matter which one--they're all sensational. There's 20 books in the series, and each stars Lucas Davenport of the Minneapolis Police. Davenport is tough, clever and relentless, and Sandford brings him to life so perfectly he seems completely real. Sandford, formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter, is a true master writer, and my single favorite novelist of all time, period. How could he not be with gems like this passage, when a cop is ordered onto the graveyard shift to help catch a serial killer:

“My husband’s going to love this,” one of the women cops muttered.
“Fuck your husband,” said the chief.
“I’d like to,” said the cop, “but people keep putting me on nights.”

And crime-scene descriptions like:

“The house looked oddly like a skull, with its glassless windows gaping out at the snowscape. Pink fiberglass insulation was everywhere, sticking out of the house, blowing across the snow, hung up in the bare birch branches like obscene fleshy hair.”

If you haven't tried Sandford, please do so immediately. You'll be glad you did.

The Day of the Jackal: This 1971 thriller by Frederick Forsyth--who, incidentally, will attend ThrillerFest next summer to accept the award as Thriller Master, ITW's highest honor--is about an assassin hired by a French terrorist group in the early 1960s to kill Charles de Gaulle (photo at left), then the president of France. The assassin is never named, and he is hunted mercilessly by French police inspector Claude Lebed. I read this book so many times as a teen that the pages literally began falling out. The writing is a bit dated by today's standards--after all, it was written during the Cold War--but the relentlessness of the hunt for The Jackal still astonishes.

Killing Floor: Lee Child's writing is powerhouse, and there's none finer in the entire series than his 1997 debut. Hero Jack Reacher, an ex-military policeman, hops off the Greyhound bus in a small town in Georgia, hoping to find information about a dead blues guitarist. Instead, he discovers strange and dangerous things that lead to some of the best action scenes ever put on a page.

A Catskill Eagle. This is my favorite installment of Robert B. Parker's "Spenser for Hire" series. Appearing in 1985, Boston private eye Spenser and his friend Hawk--the latter a lethal criminal when he isn't helping Spenser solve crimes--must track down and rescue Susan Silverman, Spenser's girlfriend. This is Parker at his finest, and the dialogue between Spenser and Hawk is both electrifying and side-splitting funny. It's more of a mystery than a thriller, but hey, this is my blog, so it goes in.

Dirty White Boys. This 1994 masterpiece by Stephen Hunter features two brutal killers on the run after escaping a southern prison, and the cops who hunt them with equal brutality. Dirty contains some of the best hard-core crime writing I've ever seen, and the dialogue just hammers you.

There are other thrillers I re-read time to time, but these are the books I go to when I want to be inspired by sheer writing genius. Hope you like them as much as I do!

Shane Gericke has been fascinated with thriller novels since Frank and Joe Hardy unearthed The Tower Treasure. Catch up with the national bestselling author of the Detective Emily Thompson police thrillers at


Jen Forbus said...

No Shane-o-grams today? I'm devastated. No, just kidding! Good list, Shane. There are a couple I haven't read in there that I'll have to check out. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thank you Shane! I've been meaning to get educated about thrillers, your list will make a great place to start!

I remember as a kid picking up my dad's copy of the Eiger Sanction, and the opening just flabbergasting me. Hoping it holds up on a second read ;)


Shane Gericke said...

Naw, Jen, no Shane-O-Grams today. I was in the Wisconsin Dells until Thursday, hitting the water parks, eating too much, and having altogether a grand time. The vacation gave me time to think of my fave thrillers, though, so I got to combine business with pleasure. I also did some book research, so it worked very nicely. I could put vacation photos in O-Grams next week, if you like :-)

Jen Forbus said...

I would like vacation pics for Shane-o-grams very much! :)

Shane Gericke said...

Don't know if they'll be your cup of tea, Mysti, but they sure are mine. I love the Sandford series, and hope you do too. Writing and plotting and sense of place--the upper Midwest--at its best.

The Eiger Sanction was cool, wasn't it? Book was better than the movie. Too much Clint Eastwood squinting and grunting in the latter.

A soon to come resource you might consider: ITW (the parent organization of Thrillerfest) will be publishing a book called, "The 100 Best Thrillers of All Time," or a title close to that. It's projected for 2010, though pub date isn't finalized yet. Big-time thriller writer David Morrell of Rambo fame--he's also a writing professor--selected the 100 books that represent the best of the best in the thriller business, from historical to this year. A bunch of thriller writers, including yours truly, split up the books and wrote a thousand-word essay about each, explaining why the book/ writing/ plotting/ social context was so perfect. Should be a great resource to learn about thrillers, so keep an eye out. I certainly intend to devour it, as I freely admit my ignorance on all the great thrillers out there. I wrote about, naturally, John Sandford and his series debut, Rules of Prey.

Shane Gericke said...

OK, Jen, you're on. Vacation photos it is!