Why You Need a Speculative Thriller More than Sunscreen this Summer
Read Jeremy Finley's exclusive guest post, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his debut thriller, The Darkest Time of Night!
Think of the most mind-numbing thing you’ve read lately, and I’ll ask you to hold my beer.
A big win for an investigative reporter is to dig up enough misdeeds on the part of an elected official or an agency that the state launches an audit, so it was with a degree of glee that I received a transportation audit last week. It came after a series of stories I’d done about a deeply troubled agency that serves the poor.
It didn’t take long to find one section that stunned me with its complexity and dullness. The header read: “Perform Reconciliation Techniques to Ensure the Veracity of Farebox Revenue.”
The next time someone asks me why speculative thrillers line my bookshelves, I shall shout to the heavens, “Because I had to read the section about performing reconciliation techniques to ensure the veracity of Farebox revenue, that’s why.”
Seriously, life can throw us some seriously boring roadblocks to joy. Balancing checkbooks (am I the last person on earth still doing this?), making spreadsheets, creating subfolders to folders, filling out expense forms, going to conferences in Des Moines, Iowa.
To me, a good thriller paperback is more essential for a business trip than underwear (TMI, I know. I try to remember both). I mean, if you’re stuck in the Spring Hill Suites, a good Grisham will give you reason to live in the hours before the complimentary pancakes are on the warmer.
But friends, pack along a Stephen King or a Jennifer McMahon or a Robert McCammon and everything—even the stale coffee—disappears. A great speculative thriller takes our world, full of its disappointments and frustrations and boredom, and reveals that there’s still so much more we don’t know. That we couldn’t imagine.
So in the thick of summer, should you have an impending trip to the beach with your wife’s cousin’s husband who can’t stop talking about his job in data entry, then fear not, I’ve got you covered with five of my favorite speculative thrillers.
I discovered this book a few years ago, and I still think about it every time the first hint of fall creeps in. Creep, being the figurative word. Set in Vermont, McMahon hooks you from the very sentence, about what a child sees in the woods that is certainly not of the world we know. But it’s what’s hidden in the floorboards that has you tearing through to the end.
What I love about this book is the normalcy of it, set in Indiana in a beautiful hotel. Koryta hooks you by thinking you’ve figured out the true villain, only to realize that there is a greater evil waiting in something as benign as water. You will not take that next drink from the fountain without thinking of this book.
The genius of this book is that everyone is a bad guy. I mean, the people in peril are Nazis. Yet, when they arrive at the keep in the Romanian Mountains and crosses are found on interior walls facing inward, you consider wanting the despicable soldiers to get the hell out of dodge. I’m not ashamed that I took great joy in seeing what waits for them in the dark.
When I heard that the master himself had written a sequel to The Shining, I was counting down the days to the release. I mean, how do you top one of the greatest horror thrillers of all time? He does it by introducing us to an all-grown-up Danny Torrance, who finds that the ghosts from The Overlook Hotel have nothing on the evil that is hunting him and a girl who shares his extraordinary powers. Take note: this is how you do a sequel well.
McCammon’s novel first grabbed me as a college student and has never let me go. Part coming-of-age novel, part murder mystery, what our hero encounters in floodwaters, and later at the circus, is so unexpected and thrilling that it makes me want to stop writing this and go reread the book for the 1000th time.
Now you’re armed—even if it’s only for that overnight trip with the sales staff to debate email strategies. If you forget that sunscreen, just hold up any of these books and hide in their shadows.
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