Faith and the Thriller

Frequent Guardian contributor Jonathan Freedland made a guest appearance in the Sunday Times talking about why the bestseller list is crowded with thrillers of a certain, DA VINCI CODE-ish type — and why the political class should take notice of this particular trend:

If thrillers provide a useful window into the concerns of the hour,

that’s hardly a coincidence, for they rest on conviction. The action

will often involve people engaged in extreme acts — killing or risking

being killed. The reader has to believe in their motivation.

A small grievance or a mild concern won’t do it: they have to

be unshakably certain that something larger than themselves is at

stake. Why else would they throw themselves off a moving train or jump

into a freezing lake? For the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall,

there was a motivational vacuum: with no communist menace to halt, what

might drive the action? The gap could be filled with post-cold war

stories of rogue Russian nukes, or else SAS tales of derring-do,

courtesy of Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. But a cause big enough to

motivate both heroes and villains, that was missing.

To find it writers have gone back to the beliefs that predated

political ideology: faith. Now their characters are driven not by a

desire to advance or thwart this or that political system but to

uncover the truth of some of mankind’s oldest creeds.

Of course, Freedland would know, as he’s jumped quite enthusiastically upon this very bandwagon with the publication of his pseudonymous thriller, THE RIGHTEOUS MEN (appearing in bookshops in the UK under the byline of Sam Bourne.) “If writers and readers are turning to religion,” he says, “that might be telling

us something about not only the state of popular fiction — but the

state of our world.”

Maybe, and maybe not. It may have more to do with what subjects are considered to have “higher stake value”, and religious questions certainly count as major stakes — especially as the scare factor of serial killers has lessened considerably. But as yet another goddamn Templar book arrived my mailbox the other day, I suspect much of this growing trend is all about, well, bandwagon-hopping…