Before I disappeared to the beach, I promised to list my five favourite airport thrillers of all time. Naturally, these aren’t necessarily the best thrillers ever written. There is no space, for example, for ‘The Secret Agent’ by Joseph Conrad. Nothing by Eric Ambler either. The reason: an airport thriller has to be light, yet still terrific entertainment. Those books are too weighty. So here are five that are fun enough to read by the pool, but also fantastic, enthralling reading for the plane or the pool.
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming.
The best title of all time, if not the best book. And one of the best opening sentences as well, even from one of the masters of the introductory line (and whilst we’re on that subject, was it just me who thought Sebastian Faulk’s opening to the Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Care’ was shamefully weak). Fleming is primarily a prose stylist, and a lot of his plots ranged from the creaky to the incomprehensible. But FRWL cracks along at terrific pace, and has both great villains, and love interest. Perfect in every respect.
Berlin Game by Len Deighton.
Len Deighton never wrote a bad book in his life, but in Berlin Game he hit his best form, a surprising achievement for a writer who’d already been churning out books for 15 years. The beginning of the Game, Set and Match trilogy, it introduces to the character of Bernard Samson, probably the most sympathetic fictional spy ever created. Grumbling and harassed, Samson may work in intelligence, but really he’s just a middle-aged executive trying to stay on top of some very complex office politics. And, hey, the wife turns out to be the Russian spy? Now there’s a twist to make you feel uncomfortable.
The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth.
It’s probably just me, but I’ve never really been able to get to grips with ‘The Day of the Jackal’. But Forysth’s second book is one of the great thrillers of all time. The story of the German crime reporter who stumbles across a conspiracy to protect former Nazi’s is expertly woven. Forsyth lays out his template of forensically piecing together the plot in precise detail, and he’s followed it with brilliant success ever since. If you want to know how to write a thriller, just keep re-reading The Odessa File.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
Dinosaurs. They come back to life. And, yup, they eat people. There was always a crazed genius to Crichton’s high-concept techno-thrillers, and none of them did it better than Jurassic Park. His skill was to take some serious science (genetic engineering, in this case) and mix in some pop science as well (in this case, chaos theory) and blend them into a terrific story. Thrillers have always been partly about information – Crichton nailed that completely. The film is okay, but it is the book that is the real masterpiece.
The Firm by John Grisham.
Like Forsyth, it was with his second book that Grisham really established his style, and The Firm is far and away his best book (although ‘The Pelican Brief’ is brilliant as well, although it is downhill from there on). The sinister law firm, the exploration of offshore finance, the single, young hero placed in terrible danger, and the paper chase that finally defeats the enemy are all expertly told. Grisham is basically about how brains win out over muscle. A breath-taking read. You’ll have landed on the tarmac, and picked up your bags before you know it.
That’s my top five. Any more suggestions out there?