Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:
At the first ThrillerFest, held in Phoenix, Ariz., in the summer of 2006, I had a long conversation with a David Morrell fan. This young enthusiast spoke highly of Rambo’s creator, who received his Ph.D. in American literature from Penn State and taught for many years as an English professor at the University of Iowa before turning to writing full time. He persuaded me that the author of First Blood was worth a serious look.
At the ThrillerFest held in New York in 2009, Morrell received the ThrillerMaster Award from the International Thriller Writers. In his acceptance speech, the author made a cogent case for the contribution of Rambo—as incarnated by Sylvester Stallone on the movie screen—to the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Smuggled Rambo films helped inspire Solidarity in Poland, Morrell said, adding that “Rambo” was inscribed on the Berlin Wall as it fell. Rambo, I was interested to hear, was one of five fictional characters with worldwide recognition; the others are Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, James Bond, and Harry Potter.
I have yet to read a Rambo novel or see a Rambo film, but this summer I couldn’t resist Morrell’s Victorian thriller, Murder as a Fine Art, in which Thomas De Quincy (1785-1859), who wrote a controversial essay entitled “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” plays detective. Aided by his grown daughter, De Quincy investigates the slaughter of a family and their servant that duplicates the brutal murders of the members of a London household decades earlier. A distinctive lead character, an ingenious plot, and plenty of atmospheric period detail help make this book, as the PW reviewer noted, “an epitome of the intelligent page-turner.”