Are thrillers the equivalent of crack cocaine?

Lately, I’ve been reading quite a few thrillers, due to being halfway through writing one of my own. I’m not copycatting; I’m simply curious about what’s being written these days in that genre.

I’ve noticed a trend in modern thrillers. And when I say “thrillers” I’m referring to the genre (sub-genre?) of private detectives, police, criminal cases… all that sort of thing, as opposed to the Robert Ludlum or Helen MacInnes style thriller of espionage and spies suavely dropping $50,000 at the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo, etc etc etc.

What’s the trend? The trend is brutal serial killers with weird sexual twists. Most of the books feature an antagonist who is a psychotic serial killer fond of dispatching his victims in painful ways that typically involve some kind of hideous sexual component. The frequency of this antagonist makes me wonder if writers automatically go for the biggest shock value they can dream up (nightmare up). Perhaps they do this because they thing, wrongly or rightly, that readers are jaded and can only be hooked with extreme shock value. The crack addict needs an even bigger hit in order to experience the intensity of the last high.

At any rate, it’s a safe bet that the antagonist of whichever new thriller you pick up will fit neatly into that psychotic mold. And that, my dear penguins, is rather yawn-worthy.

I wish thriller writers would break the mold and write some counter-intuitive antagonists. How about pacifist bank-robbers or artful pickpockets? Shoplifters? Cat burglars? Forgers? Where is the next Flambeau? Even Agatha Christie’s murderers tended to have much more going for them rather than plain old vanilla-flavored psychotic, deviant craziness (yes, that’s redundant, but you get my point…redundancy to the maximum numbness).

Granted, these more modest types of criminals don’t have the gross-out power of a Hannibal Lecter, but they very well might force the writer to get more creative, to rely more on skill rather than bloody cookie cutter stereotypes. After all, when you’ve read one psychotic killer, you’ve pretty much read them all.

One thought on “Are thrillers the equivalent of crack cocaine?”

  1. The other day you used the phrase “violence pornography” (or something like it). I think that totally nails it – in its addictive, gross-out quality and all.

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