THRILLER, an anthology of short fiction --- where all contributions are from members of the International Thriller Writers Organization --- is, if you will, a literary annual report, a statement of where the thriller genre is at the present time and where it is going. In concept and execution, it's nothing less than perfect: 30 stories from 32 authors, the majority of which has never seen publication before. Together, they create an exhaustive compendium of the breadth and range of the subject matter and the depth of literary talent with which the genre is presently blessed.
When I think of the thriller genre, I generally think of works like David Morrell's FIRST BLOOD, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's THE RELIC, or literally anything Robert Ludlum ever wrote. The genre does not immediately or easily lend itself to shorter fiction. Yet each and every offering here illustrates what makes a thriller a thriller. The stories themselves simultaneously serve as an introduction to new readers while providing additional exploits to the canons of familiar characters.
Lee Child's "James Penney's New Identity" is an excellent example of this. Heretofore published with only very limited distribution, it includes a brief but pivotal appearance by Child's Jack Reacher. Readers unfamiliar with Reacher will find their appetites whetted for more, while fans of the enigmatic wanderer will enjoy the novelty of a story in which their protagonist is relegated to a supporting role. J. A. Konrath, on the other hand, uses "Epitaph" as a vehicle for Phin Troutt, a secondary character in his fine Jack Daniels series, not only shifting primary characters but also mood in this dark tale of double-barreled revenge.
Preston and Child, writing their first short story together (amazingly enough), have contributed "Gone Fishing." It serves as a solo tale for Vincent D'Agosta, usually seen in the company of Special Agent Pendergast. D'Agosta does quite nicely on his own in this chilling story that begins, simply enough, with the investigation of the theft of a rare artifact and ends...well, you'll have to read it to find out.
Obviously, it's difficult to pick a winner in a collection stuffed to the rafters with them. Stalwart authors such as David Morrell, Gayle Lynds and Eric Van Lustbader are featured; a long out-of-print, posthumous contribution from dearly-missed Dennis Lynds is included, as is "Man Catch," an unsettling tale of jealousy, betrayal and revenge from Christopher Rice. There are diverse, exciting stories from Chris Mooney, Alex Kava, Grant Blackwood and Brad Thor --- the work of these and other authors makes picking a favorite almost an impossibility.
If I had to pick one, however, it would be "The Portal" by John Lescroart and M.J. Rose. Lescroart and Rose normally fly solo, a state of affairs that makes the product of this collaboration --- a seamless, tightly drawn tale where things go from bad to awful --- all the more noteworthy. Rose's Dr. Morgan Snow is here, but only briefly --- and to greatly understated effect --- in a story that begins in New York and ends, catastrophically, in Lescroart's San Francisco.
By the way, if this list of authors is not enough reason to read this book, consider this. Each story is prefaced by an introduction from James Patterson that talks about both the story and the writer's work.
Now, consider this: I have not named even half of the noteworthy authors who appear in THRILLER. If you have a favorite thriller writer, prepare yourself for the thrill of reading one of their heretofore unpublished stories and the opportunity to put 31 new favorite authors on your reading list. And if you've never encountered the genre before, set aside a day or two and feed your mind at a rich and bountiful literary buffet. Highest possible recommendation.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub