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The History Of Thriller Novels


Who hasn't read one?

Hardly any novel fan has not read any thriller novels - the genre is immensely popular with booklovers of all ages. The best thrillers have supplied gripping suspense, exhilaration, and enjoyment to readers since the first beginnings of the genre. Their scope is vast, with many sub-genres.

Which was the first thriller?

Fundamentally, the novel must be able to generate the sensation of being thrilled its readers. Straightforward enough, but what were the origins of the thriller?

The precursors of thriller novels originated with the writers of ancient civilizations such as the Greeks or Persians. For example, the Odyssey in Greek and the Mahabharata in Sanskrit were, arguably created using narrative structures still shown in today's thriller novels. Originating in the 10th Century (so research suggests and translated by Sir Richard Burton in the 19th Century), 'One Thousand and One Nights' (aka The Arabian Nights) plots the first ever detective thriller as a story entitled as “The Three Apples”.

So, what are they?

Thrilling the readers, that’s all its about, and there are so many ways.

Contemporary thrillers can be sub-divided into several genres such as the intelligence related thriller, medical, political, legal case related thriller, historical, techno-thriller, action, adventure oriented thriller, army operation thriller, and romantic thriller. At least. And that’s without mentioning horror and the supernatural.

Normally, all of the genres will be creating the thrill sensation by working on several aspects of the reader’s mind: emotions, empathy with a character, impatience, uncertainty, fear, anticipation and even panic. The most able writer will be playing with more than one of these areas of the reader’s mind simultaneously.

The reader’s imagination, though, is probably the most effective target area for the novelist to work on, but it is also the one requiring the highest skill to manipulate for best effect.

Although each of the sub genres has its inherent features, there are a few regular techniques used by novelists. For example: the disguising of relevant facts from the reader until the climactic point, the dramatic prose describing combat (even if only verbal fighting). Add in foreshadowing to build anticipation, sudden twists in the plot and hanging chapter ends and you have the basic devices which are deployed to work up the thrill and excitement levels in the reader.

Let’s look at a few of the sub-genres in more detail:

The Espionage thriller offers a typical example of the thriller genre-type. Some of these specialize in the mechanisms of espionage structures within particular countries and governments – for example the British SIS or the Chinese Guoanbu. Others focus on detailed spy-craft – dead letter boxes, meeting protocols and the like. The main character is often an anti-hero having a ‘beef’ her organization.

Mystery thrillers focus mainly on the investigation particulars and suspect-pointing device, setting ‘red-herrings’ in the reader’s mind. The detective sub-genre has a subgenre-of its own known as ‘police procedural’ which hinges in detail on the way that police forces investigate crime.

In psychological thriller novels, mind games as well as infatuations, persecutions, mental and physical entrapment and other such concepts are the most frequent elements.

Yes, and we're only scratching the surface!