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    The Best Thriller Ever: Part Two

    The Best Thriller Ever: Part Two

    All throughout September, The Loft Cinema is showing a classic film noir every Thursday night. In the spirit of this thrilling theme, and in the style of countdown shows like Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich In America, I’m taking this idea into the literary world. Film noir and hard-boiled detective stories are just one prime example of my favorite genre, the thriller, and I’m counting down to find my best thriller ever written.

    Each week in September I’ll eliminate one of the six contenders in a head-to-head battle with another titan of a thriller, and crown the champion from the final three at the end of the month.

    Round 1: The Contenders

    In the last installment, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth beat out John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This week, I pit The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth against Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon.

    The Dogs of War

    A lone mining surveyor in the tiny African nation of Zangaro finds something fascinating. Beneath the surface of the tinpot, backwards dictatorship the earth is teeming with valuable platinum. His British boss, Sir James Manson of Manson Consolidated mining, quickly sees an opportunity to make a killing. There’s only one problem, that being that Zangaro’s mad dictator is loyal to the Soviet Union.

    Regime change is the only way to get that platinum mined, so Manson sends out a call for mercenaries. Enter ‘Cat’ Shannon, fresh from fighting as a mercenary in a West African civil war for a cause and a local general he genuinely believed in. Dispirited though he is, he takes Manson up on his offer to topple Zangaro in a secret coup de tat.

    So begins what is essentially a police procedural, except with European hired guns taking over an African nation. Call it a mercenary procedural, with each minute detail Forsyth observes of Shannon’s incredibly intricate plot fascinatingly and thoroughly enumerated.

    A possible reason for this, and a tantalizing aside, is that Forsyth may have been involved in the real life version of his eventual novel. The tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish speaking country and to this day a tinpot, backwards dictatorship (that’s absolutely lousy with coastal oil, by the way), has been subjected to several local and non-local coups in its terrible history.

    The more famous is a 2004 attempt involving Margaret Thatcher’s son (a very interesting story in itself that’s worth a look), but a lesser known failed attempt by outside mercenaries in the early 70s may or may not have involved Forsyth himself, an international journalist and Africa aficionado at the time.

    The Maltese Falcon

    Is there any tale as deeply rooted in our cultural identity as the plot of The Maltese Falcon? The life of Jesus, the Revolutionary War, Star Wars, maybe, and that would be about it.

    If you really need a refresher course in Sam Spade and his trouble with dames, feel free to type in this author’s name to the search bar and look up the review of the film version. I gave glowing praise to this monolith of cinema, and everything good about the movie is great in the novel.

    Sorry Phillip Marlowe (and I really am, because I like you, too) but Sam Spade, despite appearing in only one full length novel, is the detective of all our times. Brigid O’Shaughnessy is similarly the double dealing femme fatale, and Casper Gutman is one of the better James Bond villains before that was a thing.

    It is a remarkably dark work, as well, really wallowing in the hateful parts of humanity, especially as manifested in Samuel Spade. He’s not a nice guy, probably not even ultimately a good guy like most antiheroes (sorry to bug you again, Marlowe), but he is one of the most fascinating protagonists in literature.

    This rather pleasant blonde Satan is just one flawed character in a real tragedy populated by characters even more flawed than he. Don’t let the darkness fool you, though. It’s less a tearful sob fest and more a hard punch to the gut that will juice you with adrenaline. Don’t not read this book. Just don’t.

    Round 2 Winner: The Maltese Falcon

    I love The Dogs of War. Of all the books that made my top six it was the first I ever read. Africa fascinates me, and so do coups and mercenaries and details and all of it. But The Maltese Falcon is just a class above.

    If you don’t agree with my call, or my list, feel free to chime in with your opinions and picks. And if you feel like watching another film after you visit the Loft for film noir month, may I recommend one of these books’ film adaptations. The Dogs of War is an ‘80s Christopher Walken cheeseball flick that is good for ironic laughs, but Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon is maybe the greatest film noir ever.

    Follow us on Twitter @wildcatarts.

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