A tale of two thrillers

Thrillers tend to appear high up in the sales figures. They’re certainly big in airport book shops. Yet, they get a bad rep … or do they? In the absence of libraries, I was brought up reading what was on my parents’ (and their friends’) bookshelves – thrillers and think I became a reasonably fair critic.

Having read the work of two big name thriller authors in the space of a couple of weeks, I pondered over my thoughts and how each fared, especially in comparison to the other. The covers of each claim their bestseller status and while not doubting their sales, how good are they?

First up was “Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith …


gorky park

The opening is a corker – a triple murder, messily gruesome but alluded to rather than indulging in a gore-fest. Our hero, the detective, spars throughout with his counter-part in the KGB. Scene nicely set.

The blurb describes chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko as brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession. And yet, we see him being human, being puzzled, getting it wrong.

Filled with musings on being Russian (and being all those other nationalities that have emerged since the USSR stopped being a Union). There was also some amusing stuff on the nature of being American, although that worked best when describing the nature of New York’s Irish-American catholic community and cops. It also lays bare the nature of relationships in Russia, and contains the most Russian of love stories. What do I mean by that? Well, read it and you’ll see. It’s not romance in the way we’re used to. It’s obsessional, physical and complex, much bargaining and with deceit ever-present – if only in the imagination.

The ending was a slight disappointment. But was that because it ended, or how it ended? I’m not sure, for this was a superb thriller.

And second was John Le Carre’s “Absolute Friends” …


absolute friends

This one was decidedly a slow-burner, so slow that I put it down and read something else before deciding to return to it. Was I missing the point, I wondered? For we all know that Le Carre is a master at this writing malarkey.

I loved the beautifully observed detail of Mundy’s early life. And parts of his later life as a spy were interesting. How – apparently – easy it was to slip into a life of duplicity, and the musings of our central character on that subject. But he seemed to think and not necessarily care, until the last. Was it that he was older and wiser by then, or that he had more to lose in Zara and Mustafa, than with Kate and Jake?

The randomness of his meeting with Sasha and how they became friends felt – unlikely – to me. In fact, everything about their relationship continued to be tinged with this sense. I’ve no doubt it was perfectly researched and depicted, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

And then it all got too weird and way too heavy-handed – by which I mean the Dimitri and Jay scenario. Too much lecturing, too much hectoring. The Ted Mundy we’d been shown would’ve backed out when Sasha suggested he could. Him attempting to leave and being prevented would’ve added a note of believability to proceedings.

For me, this book was a real disappointment. And the disappointment was more keenly felt because it was Le Carre.


© Debra Carey 2017

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