Today’s best thriller writers on one hundred classics of the genre…
Of all the publications put out by the International Thriller Writers since the group’s inception, this is my favorite: one hundred thrillers, all deemed must-reads by those who are continuing the tradition. By the time I got my hands on it, I’d already read a few of the titles on this list, and my goal is to eventually make my way through all one hundred of them.
Most of these books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience.
I decided to kick off this series with Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.
His memory is a blank. His bullet-ridden body was fished from the Mediterranean Sea. His face has been altered by plastic surgery. A frame of microfilm has been surgically implanted in his hip. Even his name is a mystery. Marked for death, he is racing for survival through a bizarre world of murderous conspirators — led by Carlos, the world’s most dangerous assassin. Who is Jason Bourne? The answer may kill him.
Linda L. Richards wrote this particular essay for the ITW anthology, and in it she discusses the novel itself, as well as where it falls in Ludlum’s entire body of work. The characteristics she points out — a struggling underdog, a powerful corporation, and a plot where nothing is as it seems — are common to most of his novels, and yet The Bourne Identity was his biggest success. So, what is it that makes this book stand out? I think it’s the way we can immediately relate to the main character, even though we don’t know anything about him… because he doesn’t know anything about himself. As Richards writes, “each new discovery seems to ask an even greater question than the one just answered…. We accompany Jason Bourne while he uncovers the pieces, and we are just as mystified and misdirected as our unwitting host.”
A successful movie franchise obviously helps to fuel the book’s popularity, even though the movies are only loosely based on the source material, basically using Ludlum’s Bourne as inspiration for a new set of stories. Still, if it keeps the idea of Jason Bourne fresh in people’s minds, it creates a higher potential for modern readers to discover this book. Typically, it seems readers are either into older classics or recent releases; how many people randomly pick up a 30-year-old novel? It falls into an awkward in-between, where it’s obviously dated, yet feels too modern to be timeless. Still, despite the generational gap, I’d put this on a shelf right alongside many of my favorite thrillers of the past ten years, easily.
Richards argues that Ludlum is one of those authors who helped to reshape his genre of choice, writing, “if there was a formula, Ludlum was creating it…. He added a new level of action to the spy genre, and his emphasis on conspiracies created a genre of its own.”
Revolutionary or not, it’s simply a great book. I agree wholeheartedly that this is a must-read for thriller fans. If you’ve only seen the movie, you really ought to think about changing that… and that’s coming from someone who saw (and enjoyed) the movie first.
One down, ninety-nine to go…