Mystery. Thriller. Romance. Science Fiction. Horror. The publishing industry uses these labels for what are called “genre” novels. Literary critics often dismiss genre novels as lightweight, even trivial.
But are they?
After all, it can be argued that even classic literary novels fall within the bounds of some genre. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a romance. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a psychological thriller. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is horror. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is science fiction. The Name of the Rose, the intellectual debut novel of Umberto Eco, is a murder mystery.
And, my goodness, what writer wouldn’t want to be classed with Dostoevsky?
As the author of several thrillers, let me share with you what I believe is special – in fact, important – about this particular genre.
The “Roller-Coaster” is Not Enough
It’s often said that a good thriller is like a roller-coaster ride. That’s true enough, because the genre is about high stakes, countdowns, and suspense, and every compelling thriller delivers this kind of excitement.
But the most satisfying thrillers deliver more: an exciting story that also explores complex issues; that has something meaningful to say about our world. It takes the reader away from the amusement park and sends them on a voyage – an exhilarating journey into a different way of thinking.
I call it Deep Genre.
The job of Deep Genre is to take readers beyond their expectations. To challenge readers’ received wisdom, their acceptance of society’s status quo.
At its heart, Deep Genre is always about confronting power.
John Grisham’s bestselling thrillers often feature a “little guy” up against some form of corporate bully.
John le Carré’s literary thrillers train his unflinching focus on the corrosive commercial and political powers who manipulate our lives.
Denise Mina, a master of “noir” crime fiction, reveals the raw wounds of Glasgow’s poor and powerless, yet her characters are resilient and resourceful.
The most compelling thrillers lead to a climax in which the main character learns something profound about themself and the world they live in. If they don’t, they remain unenlightened, adolescent. They haven’t grown. So neither can the reader.
In other words, the roller-coaster ride is all you get.
A fine thriller may end in tragedy or, more commonly, with justice prevailing. Sometimes it’s a bittersweet blend of both. Whatever the outcome, readers embrace the richness of Deep Genre and welcome the experience. We need it. Because it’s not the roller-coaster ride that stirs the soul. It’s the voyage.
All my best,
P.S. Enjoy the “deep thrill” of my novel The Deadly Trade .