Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat: Politics and cyberspace – the new thriller zone

Last week Gunter Blank, the Sonntagzeitung’s crime fiction reviewer, lamented the paucity of good crime fiction and gave a list of his top thirteen. However, he did think that the political thriller – and especially the cyber-thriller had good futures. Here are his thoughts:

I stand by the thesis that political thrillers in the Eric Ambler tradition can make enlightening reads.

I would distinguish two different currents in contemporary political thrillers:

Firstly, the more traditional political-thriller which, after the end of the Cold War and, particularly after 9/11, started focussing on the Arab/terrorist threat. Especially worth mentioning here are Patrick Robinson, Michael Lawson, Robert Littell, a guy from Finland named Ilka Remes, and Richard Clarke. They’ve all produced exiting and insightful novels on the new world order, although most of them lean a little bit too strongly towards conservatism.

Nevertheless, they’re intelligent guys and some of them have worked within the secret services and are willing to share their knowledge – or some of it – in order to make an extra buck. The only problem is that none of them can write. They all went into the Michael Crichton school of short chapters and even shorter sentences which allow for action and political schemes, but fall short when it comes to psychological or deeper, let’s say, philosophical insight.

Since John Le Carre there has been no thriller writer, I reckon, who can sit at the same literary table as Ambler, Graham Greene, Len Deighton, Brian Freemantle and of JLC himself.

My strong belief is, that if Ambler were writing today he might not focus on Arab terrorism but on the Chinese takeover of Africa, industrial espionage in the computer age, the merging of state and big corporations, the world battle about raw materials, the rising conflict between the east and the old west.

So you aspiring young hacks out there – do a few years in the secret service, learn something about the world, fine tune your writing skills and there’s literally a whole world there to conquer and plenty of bucks to come with movie options.

Your host here, Mike Nicol, might even tell you a secret or two about writing a good thriller with a political background.

Secondly, the more recent and probably even more interesting and versatile subgenre is the cyber-thriller.

Founded by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, the young genre soon found it’s Leonardo in Neal Stephenson, a math and computer genius who a decade ago delivered the blueprint of the genre: Cryptonomicon. Pretty soon he decided to write scientific historic novels about the genesis of algorithms and stuff but his torch was kept ablazing by guys like John Twelvehawks, Daniel Suarez, Cory Doctorow, Nick Laird.

All these guy have incredible knowledge about computers, the net and enough imagination to point out the dangers that lie only one mouse click away behind the calm surface of your screen.

For beginners, I recommend Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom – two novels that should make you erase your Facebook account immediately. Leave alone Google, the new Behemoth.


Please register or log in to comment