I struggled to get past the first 50 or so pages of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, thinking, as I dutifully turned the pages, “this is boring and the writing (or translation) is flat.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit this because it seems that everyone I know has been urging me to read this book (people speak of it with the kind of reverence I usually reserve for the likes of Ian McEwan and Toni Morrison) for months. I’m about 150 pages in now and I’m definitely more engaged, but I’m frankly (don’t yell at me) still at a loss as to why this book has been such a huge global success.
And that leads to the subject of Alexander Nazaryan’s piece in the Daily Beast about the decline of the American thriller now that the category has been hijacked by foreigners. Mr. Nazaryan wonders, “Will the American thriller go the way of the American automobile? Will even this small part of our superiority cede to another part of the world?” My response is “Does it matter?”
In fact, it seems to me that anything that revives this rather tired category is a good thing. The problem, as I see it, is not that the foreigners are taking over, it’s that readers have become so used to the big, bloated franchise writers who dominate the bestseller lists (I’m looking at you Dan Brown and James Patterson) and publishers so unwilling to nurture the more daring and intriguing entries into the field that it takes an international Cinderella story to make American readers pay attention once again.
I’m a big fan of intelligent, well-written, well-plotted thrillers with iconic protagonists and thorny moral issues. And it’s always seemed to me that, like jazz, the thriller is a quintessentially American literary form (no disrespect to Dostoevsky and Hugo). Like all things American, however, in order for this genre to evolve and prosper, it needs to allow and be allowed new influences and styles.
What are your favorite contemporary American thrillers?