Hooked on Action
Updated: Jan 30
There is a saying in my home state that appears on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and coffee cups from Luckenbach to Dime Box: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Similarly, I wasn’t born loving action thrillers, but I boarded that speeding train as fast as I could. Which, in my case, was in 1971, about the time I turned fourteen. That was when I read my first in the genre.
I didn’t have a steady income source at age fourteen. I made a few bucks mowing lawns or washing cars, but any money earned typically went for Astros tickets or Milky Way bars. I certainly didn’t waste my hard-earned cash on books. Not because I didn’t love books, but because, owing to my father’s love of reading, our home was a small library.
There was a large bookcase in our den that overflowed with reading material. Beneath that were several cabinets, also crammed with books. Roaming the house, I might encounter books on the kitchen counter, living room coffee table, or Dad’s nightstand. Once I even found one in the garage.
Dad had a penchant for two genres, history and action thrillers. To keep things simple, I’ll lump crime fiction and spy fiction in with the latter. In middle school I hadn’t matured enough yet to enjoy reading history books aimed at adults, but action thrillers? Yeah, sure. And the first one I recall picking up was Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal.
The Jackal is a British assassin hired to kill French president Charles DeGaulle. Toward that end he assumes a variety of ingenious disguises, always managing to stay one step ahead of the detective tasked with stopping him. Along the way he casually murders a number of innocents, all in an effort to keep his identity secret. His ruthlessness shocked 14-year-old me. Upon finishing the book, I was hooked.
The 1973 film adaptation features Edward Fox in the title role. It adheres closely to the book and is every bit as gripping. A 1997 remake with the title shortened to Jackal is a much looser version, although Bruce Willis’s character is certainly as deadly as Fox’s. One notable victim is played by funnyman Jack Black who, at the last minute, makes the fatal mistake of trying to increase the fee for his services. The Jackal is not pleased.
On a trip home from college in 1978, I found a copy of Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle on my father’s nightstand. The story concerns an Irishman, Die Nadel (the Needle), being sent by the Germans to England to gather intelligence meant to help the evil Nazis win the war. The Needle is so called because of his habit of offing enemies with his stiletto. He is ruthless enough to dispatch several men and women, be they civilians or soldiers, to preserve his mission.
Ten years after the book’s release, Eye of the Needle hit the big screen with Donald Sutherland in the title role. The photo below shows the actor in character. Don’t let his dapper appearance fool you. Donald Sutherland's Needle wields that stiletto with deadly speed and accuracy. Ultimately, his mission fails when for the first and only time, he allows emotion to cloud his sense of duty. You see, Kate Nelligan's Lucy has entranced him and he lets her live when he should have plunged his stiletto into her liver. Ah, love conquers all, even a heartless Nazi spy.
Reading these two thrillers early on fueled by hunger for more. I long ago lost count of how many I’ve read. I know one thing, though: whatever the number, it’s not enough!
What are your favorite thrillers? Drop me a line and tell me about them. I'll write back!
Speaking of thrillers, how about a couple of free short stories? Into the Fire and Death Train serve as prequels to my upcoming thriller Refuge. Join my email list and receive free copie!