Here’s the thing. Now we’re through the beginnings of the computer age, and are in the global communications age – don’t you think that (most) modern thrillers have got too technological? And with those technological advances, plots become bogged down with it all, there’s so much telling about the technology necessary to explain what’s happening sometimes.
Don’t you yearn for the days – and I’m loosely talking 1960s and surrounding decades here – where phones were all hard-wired, coin-operated boxes and old-fashioned dials and when portable communications meant a chunky radio set for adventurous types. People had to physically find each other, or find a phone to talk. Chase sequences became real cat and mouse games based on psychology, not tracking on GPS.
I grew up loving adventure novels as a kid – after Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, I devoured Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ series, written from 1949 onwards in which two teenage brothers accompany their father on expeditions around the world getting into scrapes. This series is still in print today.
From there, via big-screen adaptations of Where Eagles Dare and When Eight Bells Toll (with Anthony Hopkins fresh in my mind from War & Peace), it was a short leap into adult thrillerdom – with Alastair MacLean being the first stop. Ice Station Zebra being an early favourite. Natually, Fleming’s James Bond books entered the mix at this time, followed by a long list of other authors – notably Hammond Innes, Desmond Bagley, Helen MacInnes, Wilbur Smith and Colin Forbes to name just a few.
Hammond Innes heroes were typically ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances. My favourite was Campbell’s Kingdom (1952) in which a chap with a terminal disease battles corrupt mining bosses in Canada (and ***Spoiler Alert*** the adventure cures him!). Vintage re-printed many of Innes’s books in 2013, so most are still available. The wreck of the Mary Deare (1956) is one that appeals to me to revisit.
Helen MacInnes is particularly interesting as one of the few women writing espionage novels – still! Her mid-period novels Decision at Delphi (1960) and The Salzburg Connection (1974) remain on my shelves for a re-read some time. Again, her books remain in print through Titan this time. There must be other female thriller writers from this period, but apart from Patricia Highsmith, I can’t think of any – do help me out by leaving a comment if you can recommend any.
Desmond Bagley has also had the reissue treatment. I particularly loved his novels, and reviewed the new reprint of his Icelandic thriller Running Blind for Shiny last month. Again, I’d love to re-read others like The Freedom Trap and The Tightrope Men, espionage thrillers with plenty of adventure. Read my full review here.
The British Library, who have concentrated on classic crime novels, are also releasing occasional classic thrillers including a couple by Eric Ambler – whom I only began to read in recent years (see here, here and here) and later this month the new to me George Sims. I have also yet to discover the delights of Lionel Davidson (beloved by Harriet – see here).
I realise I have only include British/American authors in this post – but I was concentrating on those I read back in the 1970s and their particular ilk.
Who needs modern thrillers when there are so many superb old ones!
Who else from this era should I (re)read?