How to Write a Thriller, Post–9-11

Publish and Perish

Yet when he went back to the project last June, he found a renewed sense of inspiration, changing the time frame and plot to reflect the post-catastrophe world. Where before he'd vaguely envisioned the story as a courtroom drama centered around Marilyn Fairchild's murder, it took shape as a thriller in which a serial killer (dubbed the Carpenter by the Daily News, in a typically accurate Block touch) terrorizes the metropolis. "He loved New York," speculates a columnist in Small Town, "and the city betrayed him, taking his loved ones from him all in a single horrible morning. And now he is getting his horrible twisted revenge."

Though Block treats the impact of September 11 skillfully—true to form, his New Yorkers carry on getting and spending, with only passing references to the event—the Carpenter story line lacks genuine tension. (His identity and motivation are given away early on, so there's limited suspense in tracking him down.) And after the initial setup, the book's focus switches to Susan's unlikely transformation into a dildo-wielding dominatrix, the stuff of straight-porn fantasy, complete with lurid sex scenes and girl-on-girl action. (Questioned about the character, Block merely chuckles and replies, "Several people in publishing called me up to ask me for her phone number.") Even more absurd is her love connection with Creighton: "Susan was his ideal reader . . . the one for whom he'd been writing all his life." Far from being jealous, he encourages her to sleep around, breathing, "It's who you are. It's your art."

Lawrence Block: "He loved New York, and the city betrayed him, taking his loved ones from him all in a single horrible morning."
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Lawrence Block: "He loved New York, and the city betrayed him, taking his loved ones from him all in a single horrible morning."

Fortunately, there's more to Block's art than that. At his best, the writer conjures a recognizable universe of flawed heroes and thoughtful villains—like reality, only with better lines. His description of Creighton's multimillion-dollar manuscript could well apply to his own body of work: "It was a good story, the protagonist richly human . . . the other characters sharply drawn, the prose and dialogue deceptively simple, transparent as glass." In a publishing industry dumbing down more every day, it's a pleasure to be reminded that bestselling and intelligent aren't mutually exclusive terms.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
New York Concert Tickets
Loading...