13 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Coben and Iles

Welcome back to another episode of writing on reading. Today, we're going to talk about domestic thrillers, specifically Twenty Four Hours by Greg Iles and Just One Look by Harlan Coben.  Both Iles and Coben are accomplished thriller authors, and it was interesting to see the many ways in which these books were alike. Both involve suburban, middle to upper class families with children, both have at least one major POV character that is a housewife, and both involve threats made (and, to some extent, carried out) by bad guys motivated by revenge. In fact, the similarities in these books are probably what made the both effective. Both books held my interest from beginning to end and, at times, were hard to put down. Although none of the protagonists in these books were particularly memorable, they were likable and believable enough so that I cared about what happened to them. In addition, their obstacles were sufficiently challenging that there was some doubt about whether (or how) the protagonists would prevail in the end.

With so many similarities, is it possible to judge one better than the other? Yup. Twenty Four Hours was the better book for a couple of reasons. One, the main baddie was a bit more believable. It's  possible that there might be a smart criminal out there who would develop the perfect (yet simple) plan for kidnap-for-ransom. In contrast, the baddie in Just One Look knew all these pressure point techniques and had this sociopathic personally that made him seem unrealistic. Two, Just One Look was more of a mystery/thriller, with the mystery element being a bit convoluted and implausible.  Some people may like this element, but I thought the plot of Twenty Four Hours was more clean, with the book ending once the protagonists were no longer in peril.

Overall, these are both good thrillers and worth looking at if you are studying how to create tension in your writing.


lesleylsmith said...

Your analysis is interesting. Are you ready to tell us the 'thriller formula' you've gleaned? :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes please tell us the formula!

Also, I happened to see Coben on Court TV's "Murder by the Book." He was presenting the twisted Mark Winger case about which he also wrote. How nice to see another author "making it big" as a result of his writing! For true-crime and thriller fans, here's more info on Coben and upcoming authors on the show: http://www.courttv.com/onair/shows/murder_by_the_book/index.html.