Three new thrillers ripped from the headlines
Novels cater to our paranoia and hit close to home
Thriller writers are always seeking relevance. In today’s world, that can often mean — surprise, surprise — Islamic terrorism. Some might call this cynical literary opportunism, given the real-life horrors afflicting Middle East politics. But let’s face it — popular fiction has always found it lucrative to cater to our paranoia. And in fairness, there are times when, within this genre, we are rewarded with quality product.
Consider Lorenzo Carcaterra’s The Wolf, which some have called the best Mafia novel since The Godfather. And what does organized crime have to do with terrorism in the Middle East and on the streets of Europe? In the case of this novel’s chief protagonist, Vincent Marelli (a.k.a. The Wolf ) it has everything to do with the fact that Vincent’s wife and daughters had the misfortune to be in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, at the moment when a suicide bomber named Ali Ben Bashir decided to press the button.
The revenge tragedies of Elizabethan times have their counterparts in today’s popular fiction. Meaning that in this novel, Vincent Marelli decides on retribution. Furthermore, he will be a formidable avenger — a ruthless international gangster who runs the biggest criminal operation in the world. Vincent considers himself a businessman who essentially believes in the American way — or rather his definition of the American way. In the grief-stricken aftermath of the Florence bombing tragedy, he knows who the real bad guys are.
Author Lorenzo Carcaterra is an old hand at escapist fare, and The Wolf emerges as a highly readable but blood-drenched thriller.
International villainy also powers The Madmen of Benghazi, the overhyped 2011 thriller by the late Gerard de Villiers. There’s no denying that this novel, set mainly in Libya during the dying days of the Gadhafi regime, displays a certain prescience: It opens with a terrorist attempt to bring down a Boeing 777 airliner with a guided missile — and won’t that seem eerily familiar to anyone following today’s headlines? By the time de Villiers died in 2013, he had published well over 100 spy novels featuring an Austrian nobleman and freelance CIA operative named Maiko Linge. Admirers see him as France’s answer to Ian Fleming and Maiko Linge as his James Bond — but don’t believe it. The Madman of Benghazi, which deals with a cuckoo CIA plot to restore the Libyan monarchy, has a cer- tain topicality, but its characters are cut from cardboard. William Rodarmar’s translation suggests a pedestrian writing style somewhat below even the standards of Dan Brown. The only time the octogenarian de Villiers shows some sign of arousal from his colourless prose is when he writes an explicit sex scene.
In the world of bestselling Canadian writer Linwood Barclay it’s the enemy within that can terrify. His riveting new thriller, No Safe House, begins with a home invasion that underscores its author’s unsettling gift for writing persuasively about the menace lurking beneath the placid surface of suburbia and small-town America. It is in this environment, that he pursues his favourite theme of the middle-class family under siege.
The new novel takes us back to characters first encountered in No Time To Say Goodbye, the novel that catapulted Barclay to the international bestseller lists. We’re re-introduced to Cynthia Archer, who continues to be haunted by memories of the morning when, as a teenager, she awakened to discover her entire family had disappeared, and by the terrifying aftermath she suffered as an adult decades later. Now new horrors are surfacing for herself, husband Terry and rebellious teenage daughter Grace.
Grace makes the biggest mistake of her young life when she and her delinquent boyfriend break into an unoccupied house and into a heap of murderous trouble.
As the deaths and disappearances mount, the family finds itself in terrible peril with Terry — father, husband and Barclay’s latest Everyman hero — struggling to rescue it. Then, an unsavoury figure from their past re-emerges as a potential saviour — and if the finely drawn character of career criminal Vince Kelly raises conflicting emotions in the reader, Barclay will be happy. This, too, is a thriller writer fascinated by moral ambiguity.
Gerard de Villiers