Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Romantic Thrillers

I've noticed a theme in my reading as of late. In this recent spate of fiction, there seems to be a prevalence of love mixed with the threat of eminent danger.

After rereading a few familiar juvenile novels (The Twenty-One Balloons, Jacob Have I Loved and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--all fantastic, by the way!) mostly because they were there, I was out of reading material. So I looked at the shelves of fiction we had actually unpacked, and chose a P.D. James novel, since I had really enjoyed her book Children of Men.

It was on that note that I have been reading a collection of books that I will dub "romantic thrillers," mostly because the phrase bedecked the cover of one of my recent reads, and it seems an apt description. So instead of just doing mini-reviews, this time you get a thematic assessment, too! Here goes...

  • Death in Holy Orders

  • Excellent P.D. James murder mystery which takes place at a high-church Anglican theological college set on a lonely British seaside. I'm a sucker for a good murder mystery if it's well-written, but I don't really enjoy the genre, per se. Mostly Agatha Christie and the like. However, I might have to check out more of Ms. James' novels, especially since her descriptions, attention to detail and characterizations are riveting. Here, the "romantic" part of this thriller was the landscape, which reminded me of Tintern Abbey or something equally Wordsworthian, desolate, and remote. Yet still, somehow, beautiful. I'd like to visit the east coast of England some day.

  • gods in Alabama

  • Not much to speak of, but it was funny. And there WAS a murder involved, and some definite romance, so I suppose it fits into this category after all. More of a Prodigal homecoming novel than anything else, though. If you've ever lived in a small Southern town, you'll appreciate the humor. Enjoyable, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it.

  • No Place Like Home

  • My go-to beach book author, Mary Higgins Clark. There are three things you will always find in a MHC novel, and this one did not disappoint:
    1. Murder, with the heroine somehow involved and usually in eminent danger herself.
    2. A romantic interest who steps in to save the day at the last minute, though usually the girl gets a bit part in the action, too.
    3. A happy ending for the couple, and proper punishment for all evil parties involved.

  • Thunder on the Right

  • A "highly-charged romantic thriller," or so the cover says, set at a French Abbey, with a twenty-something heroine on a holidy to visit her cousin. A fast, charming re-read, filled with evocative descriptions and lessons in culture and language (some French phrases were left intact). Though the setting is wildly romantic in the literary sense, there is, as always, a bit of romance involved with a young man from her past. Intriguing until the last.

    Mary Stewart was one of my favorite novelists in high school. You may know her from her Merlin trilogy, but I was first familiar with her other fiction. I remember finding a copy of The Stormy Petrel at an outlet bookstore, and I soon gobbled up all our local library had to offer. I appreciate her much more, now, since her books are chock full of literary references and allusions that I wouldn't have caught as a young teen. I was especially proud to understand the nods to Mrs. Radcliffe in this one, since I hadn't even heard of The Mysteries of Udolpho, much less read it, until grad school. Also, she always begins each chapter with a famous literary quote, and though I hadn't read each work she referenced, at least I could say I had heard of them this time!

  • The Moon-spinners

  • Another Mary Stewart novel, this one set on the isle of Crete. The heroine is on holiday from her job in Athens and stumbles upon a young Englishman in trouble. On the edges of the White Mountains her adventure begins, and she finds herself mixed-up with a pack of jewel-thieves. The film version starring Haley Mills is nothing like the book, but is entertaining nonetheless, if I remember properly. The Moon-spinners overflowed with classical allusions and even some actual Greek, which I asked Gaines' assistance in translating. Whenever I read a Mary Stewart novel, I feel like I've taken an actual trip to her locations, since her descriptions are always so vivid and enduring. A highly enjoyable re-read. (Thankfully I forget the plots of books I have read before, so I will probably enjoy this again in another ten years.)

  • Twilight

  • This seems to be on everyone's list nowadays, though it has sitting been idly on my bookshelf for over a year now. A friend from Seattle, Lindsay, gave it to me after Jacob was born, and for some reason I just never got around the picking it up. I've been enjoying it as a diversion these last few rainy days and nights, and I'll let you know if I want to read the rest of the saga once I get to the end. Though there has been no mention of murder (yet), the fact that this is a love story involving vampires MUST place it squarely in my category of "romantic thriller." Surprisingly, though the premise might seem too sci-fi for some, it is actually written in a quite believable way, and I have to say my suspension of disbelief is holding out. I appreciate it for what it is, so far. I would guess that it would be more appealing to women, though, just because of the style. Too mushy for the men. ;)


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