When Brun Radio’s Blake Woodham got in touch asking if we’d contribute to their books programme going out on 19 January 2017, we decided to put together a little overview about action thrillers. It was all part of a cunning plan to complement the show’s exclusive interview with Lee Child, who talked about his recent book Night School, his writing process, the Jack Reacher movies and more…
You can listen to the entire programme right here, and below is the script from our segment which begins at 39 minutes.
A brief introduction to action thrillers
The action thriller never seems to go out of fashion.
Books in this sub-genre tend to be written by men with male protagonists. They’re usually fighting a conspiracy of some kind, and doing so against the odds. And they’ll be resourceful enough, and violent enough, to survive.
Action thrillers are often enjoyed for their escapist qualities – action, thrills, unexpected plot twists and often a fairly black and white standoff between the good guys and the bad guys. But they’re getting more clever, more varied and although a sense of place and atmosphere isn’t as important in action thrillers as in psychological crime fiction, for instance, you’ll find today’s action thrillers do offer plenty of social commentary.
Burning Bright by Nick Petrie
Nick Petrie’s debut, The Drifter, was our favourite first novel of 2016. So, 2017 starts with a bang for the author with the sequel, Burning Bright, released on 10 January. It’s about an Afghan war vet called Peter Ash who’s suffering from PTSD. He cannot stand being indoors, so he chooses to live in a forest in Northern California.
One day he climbs a tree to escape from a bear and finds there’s someone else up there. June Cassidy is an artificial intelligence expert being hunted by the feds and their treetop escape is just the beginning of the action.
Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb
Another debut author should also be at the top of your list. Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead has just come out, and it offers something slightly different.
The protagonist is a female bounty hunter who freelances for a bail bond agency in Florida. Lori Anderson’s daughter Dakota has cancer and she’s struggling to keep up with the bills. A well-paid job comes in but there are two catches. One, there’s nobody to babysit nine year old Dakota. Two, the fugitive she needs to round up is her former lover.
She takes her daughter with her, and it isn’t long before things go south and the child is kidnapped. Plenty of dark and desperate action as they try to get her back.
Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters
Ben H Winters’ recent novel Underground Airlines offers an interesting concept and it’s a topical one given the state of race relations in the US at the moment.
Winters projects a country where slavery wasn’t abolished in 1865, and four southern states still practice it in the modern day. Victor, a former slave himself, is trying to infiltrate the underground airlines, which helps slaves escape. As you can imagine his loyalties are split, but he has no choice – do the job or return to slavery.
All the violence and brutality of the practice of slavery is laid bare in this action thriller.
Turning back the clock
The other thing you can do if you’ve read all the offerings of current action thriller authors like Lee Child and David Baldacci, is to go back to the roots of this sub-genre.
John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps will take you back to 1915, as his hero Richard Hannay becomes caught up in a murderous plot involving German spies and British traitors. He flees to Scotland, and tries to single-handedly unmask the conspiracy.
It’s the classic book in the genre, and you can also enjoy it in the form of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 movie, or as an interactive book by The Story Mechanics, with animations, mood music, clues to examine and puzzles to solve.
Or there’s Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, written in 1939. The unnamed rogue male was on a mission to kill a despotic head of state but was caught. His captors try to kill him by throwing him off a cliff but somehow he survives, and has to hide out in the wilds of Dorset as he’s hunted by the regime.
It’s as wild, visceral and suspenseful as any book you’re likely to read.
So, these are some contemporary and classic action thrillers for you to explore if you’ve become hooked on Lee Child. For more, keep coming back to Crime Fiction Lover where we report on and review the latest crime novels.
Let us know what your favourite action thrillers are below.