August 22, 2020


JACK REACHER AND THE GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF THRILLERS: Malcolm Gladwell dives into the world of Lee Child and his legendary wandering warrior. (MALCOLM GLADWELL, 8/20/20, Crime Reads)

There are, structurally, four essential narratives in this genre. The first is the Western. In the Western, our hero comes to a world without justice or law, and establishes order. Gary Cooper rides into the chaos of a dusty town and single-handedly subdues the bad guys.

Then there's the Eastern. In the Eastern, our hero works to improve and educate the institutions of law and order in a world where they are incompetent. The Sherlock Holmes stories are all Easterns: Scotland Yard is hapless, unimaginative. Inspector Lestrade and his colleagues dutifully follow rules and procedures. Agatha Christie wrote Easterns as well. What does it say for the English attitude towards authority that they were so willing to believe that a moustachioed Belgian and an elderly spinster from St Mary Mead could outperform their officers of the law? (The Eastern, curiously, is the only one of the four thriller paradigms where the criminal himself is a bit player: the Eastern's narrative emphasis is entirely on the game of wits between our heroic protagonist and the brain-dead institutions of authority.)

Third is the Southern, where our hero restores order to a world that is hopelessly corrupt. John Grisham's novels are all Southerns. The protagonist in Grisham's books is an outsider, a lawyer of scruple and conviction. The villains are all hopelessly crooked and venal insiders: representatives of corporate and political authority. Who is the winner in a Grisham book? The law.

Finally, there is the Northern, in which our hero works to perpetuate order from within a functional system. The popular television show Law & Order is a classic Northern. The prosecutors are hard-working and honest. The police are dogged. By the end, the villain is always behind bars. Virtually all Scandinavian crime fiction--which has recently and deservedly risen to such prominence--is Northern. How could it not be? There is little room in the orderly, rational universe of Scandinavian pragmatism for crooked cops and corrupt judges. (It has been a long time since anything was rotten in the state of Denmark.)

...because, just like Reacher, Shane and Will Kane ride out of town having established order.  

Posted by at August 22, 2020 8:11 AM