Thriller Character Names

Cheap thriller protagonists can have very “action-hero” names. Perhaps the most archetypal are Mack Bolan and Jack Reacher. Sometimes they can become ridiculously exaggerated, like “Dusky MacMorgan“. In the “middle” are these.

  • Mark Stone (MIA Hunter)
  • Luke Stone (Luke Stone)
  • Blake Murdock (SEAL Team Seven)
  • John Cody (Cody’s Army)
  • John Rourke (Survivalist)
  • David Saxon (Marine Force One)

But of all of these, my favorite character name has to be author Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken.

The Invasion Novel Itch

A while ago, my specific cheap thriller itch was military sci-fi. Now, more recently, it seems to be “invasion novels” (Red Dawn, Tomorrow When The War Began, etc…). They’re not crowding out everything else, but still, I’m reading more of them than I used to. Don’t ask me why.

Review Cravings

My latest Fuldapocalypse “craving” was thrillers written in the 2000s. As it was not a good decade for that genre (for reasons I’ve explained before and might explain again), why did I go there? It didn’t feel like I wanted a change of pace, as they were stylistically similar in large part to what I’d been reading before and after.

My review craving for low-list 2000s thrillers was probably because I wanted to see “were any worthwhile?” and “if they were bad, how were they bad?” And the answer can be seen in the reviews themselves.

The Truck-APC

One of my weird current fascinations is the “Truck-APC”, for lack of a better word. This is an armored personnel carrier built on the platform of an existing truck. One of the first widespread truck-APCs was the BTR-152.

Since that ZiS-151 with armor rolled across Red Square, there have been many, many, many vehicles of that nature. It’s undoubtedly easier for smaller and/or lower budget firms to make something where much of the “heavy lifting” has already been done by someone else than a clean-sheet design. I’d have to say one of the more unusual (or my favorite) truck-APCs is the kind where the front part is just an uparmored pickup truck, but an “APC-like” troop compartment is placed in the bed.

A reason I think the truck-APC has come to prominence in my mind is the kind of books I read. The truck-APC is more suitable for security forces than it is for higher-end armies squaring off against IFVs. Guess what the small-unit action-adventure novel protagonist is more likely to face?

Reading a long series

So, it’s not uncommon for me to face a long series. Many cheap thrillers in particular have huge numbers of installments in them. The pattern I faced with the Survivalist – grab the whole thing and read it all from start to finish – isn’t necessarily the best. And not just because I’m leery of repeating the gonzo “27 BOOKS I CAN DO THIS!” attitude. Ahern’s knack for long , connected “soap operas” was different from many other books aiming for each installment to be as self-contained as possible. So if there isn’t an explicit connection, then I tend to go for…

  • The initial one. First because it’s the sane place to start, and also because first impressions matter to me.

If it’s short, I just grab the whole series if the first book is good. If not, then…

  • The installment(s) with the most out-there premise. I can read five books about Mack Bolan facing mobsters/terrorists, or I can read a book where he fights some weirdly supernatural, out-of-character opponent. The latter seems more appealing.
  • Failing that, the installment generally considered either the best (obvious reason) or worst (Is it really that bad?).

 

The Changing Face of the Cheap Thriller

I had the joy of reading Bradley Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction. This was an annotated chronology of the type of mass-produced Mack Bolan follow-on novels. Like “progressive rock”, the style of book, which has been called everything from ‘men’s adventure’ to just ‘action-adventure’, is very hard to define. Mengel calls them “serial vigilantes” and leaves out a few edge cases while including some I’d think were oddballs. Literature does not neatly fall into categories.

Still, I could see two clear phases. “Phase 1” was kicked off by War Against The Mafia and the Executioner, spawned countless “The ________” vigilantes, and spanned across the 1970s. “Phase 2” was in the 1980s and, like its technothriller cousin, declined quickly and sharply after the USSR’s fall. There was surprisingly little overlap between the two outside of the big-ticket franchises. Of course (at least before the independent boom), Mengel shows that kind of book reduced to a few sputtering, short-lived series formed after 1991.

But really, the cheap thriller itself, as opposed to that specific kind, was not failing. I know this myself-the Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child) books I found even as a youth speak to that. These were/are cheap thrillers with premises and action that range from “ridiculous” to “really, really ridiculous”. They were in the bigger supermarkets and they were right in the prominent bookstore shelves, while the surviving mass-produced Gold Eagle novels sat in awkward corners.

Serial Vigilantes itself, though dry, is a very interesting book and I recommend it to anyone interested in such fiction.

The Fall of Gold Eagle

So, I found a Nader Elhefnawy blog post on the shuttering of Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint for “men’s adventure” cheap thrillers in 2015 (although Harlequin has continued to release new Mack Bolan ebooks since then). Besides the increasing diversity in media as a whole, the genre is mentioned in the post as being squeezed both from above (from bigger-market, less assembly line-ish cheap thrillers) and below (from independent/self-published ones).

Now the indies and the big-timers both have structural weaknesses and strengths. As for how the Gold Eagle Bolans (and similar professional assembly line fiction) held up, I’ll have to read them. Even Ahern’s Survivalist doesn’t really match up, as that was a giant serial made by one person, not 27 standalone books made by different ones.

Back to a Big Book Backlog

Ok, so now I’m back to a big backlog of books to read. It’s not a bad problem to have. Now, to be fair, almost all of them are cheap thrillers. But I like cheap thrillers, so it’s only fair that I read stuff in a style that I like.

Besides, the cheap thriller genre can be surprisingly diverse, I’ve found. It can encompass everything from throwaway potboilers to gritty and genuinely thought-provoking tales like Peters’ Red Army. And even the former can be incredibly fun.

And even I don’t read only cheap thrillers.