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Kicking Ass and Taking Names
People who have no weaknesses are terrible; there is no way of taking advantage of them.
Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard
How do you sell a thriller or a suspense novel these days? Obviously you advertise, get the word out. Spend money to make money. Develop a cult following. Make frequent public appearances. Send out review copies, make yourself available for interviews — get your face out there. Have a BLOCKBUSTER MARKETING CAMPAIGN , as it says on the back cover of many advance reading copies. And don’t forget, in 2004, it’s extremely important to have a kick ass website. Dan Brown’s website links to an “uncover the code” contest, complete with music. Joseph Finder is getting his publicity ducks in a row — the website for his new novel Paranoia comes complete with an Adam Cassidy game you can play online.
It’s all part of the spin machine. It’s the same for books as it is for movies, music, and now even politics. Reviewing the spin could be a whole new section for book reviews. Authors’ websites range from GeoCities freebie homepages to extraordinary cutting-edge professional web designs. Rather than judge a book only by its cover, we could judge it by its HTML.
But, for a real review of a suspense thriller, the website doesn’t truly matter, nor does the spin. This is my story and I’m sticking to it: When reviewing a suspense thriller, the main point of the article should be whether or not it grabs the reader’s interest and keeps it. All salient factors are covered by this approach to the analysis. Does the novel have an interesting plot, compelling characters and setting and are they all lumped together in a neat package? Isn’t that what we look for, whether or not the book delivers? A Yes or No answer. Simple enough. The review should contain only a brief plot summary, extremely brief. Reviewers should never reveal that critical plot pivot early in most suspense thrillers when the reader should stop and think about the protagonist’s course of action. The “give away point” you could call it. In a really good thriller, readers don’t recognize it until they’re through with the book.
Reviewers should comment on the level of violence in the book. And I mean just that. The gore factor. Extremely vivid violence marked by graphic details, sparse detail with just enough information to get the point, no violence just suspense… you get the idea. Sort of an Agatha Christie vs. James Lee Burke comparison.
Go anywhere past all that in a review and you give the book away. Like movie trailers when done to excess — you’ve practically seen the entire movie after you watch the preview. When I reviewed The Da Vinci Code last year, my initial draft included how I researched the book’s details and my sources for that research. In the final edit, I deleted all that information. Brown noticed and appreciated it. He wrote, in an email to me, ” … I wanted to express my appreciation that you resisted the temptation to which so many lesser reviewers succumbed … that is … telling the secret! Readers everywhere thank you. As do I … :-)Sincerely, Dan Brown”
Paranoia Joseph Finder’s latest, is due out on January 20. Finder, author of High Crimes, The Zero Hour and more, is the quintessential voice of the contemporary thriller. This is due in no small part to his expertise in espionage and international affairs. He writes for The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The New York Times , to name a few. A member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, a summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale, with a Masters in Russian Studies from Harvard, the man is no slacker.
St. Martin’s Press believes Paranoia will be The First Blockbuster of 2004. As a reviewer, I’d have to agree. It’s damn good. The main character gets a 5 on a 1 to 5 scale because he’s a smart ass and as clever as he is funny. I’m partial to smart asses. The attention grabbing quotient of the plot gets a 5 for both speed and efficiency. The gory-ness level is a 2. Not a lot of blood, guts, and gore but Adam does get a smack or two.
The basic plot of Paranoia? Adam Cassidy, young, sarcastic, sharp high-tech guy gets blackmailed into committing corporate espionage. He either cooperates or he goes to jail. Corporate Security trains Cassidy, feeds him insider information, and he rises to the top level of the competitor’s food chain. Or so he thinks. Drives a Porsche, gets a corporate luxury apartment, works as personal assistant to the CEO, falls for a beautiful woman … is it all as it appears? Who can he trust? Who will he betray? Can he even trust himself? Where does survival begin and where do ethics and morality end? Don’t keep yourself in suspense, buy the book. It’s worth the money.
(Then — just about the time you finish Finder’s latest — Reed Arvin’s The Last Goodbye should hit the bookstores. Another HarperCollins thriller, it’s a smart fast read — like Paranoia.)