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The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Best Thriller Ever: Final Round

    The Best Thriller Ever: Final Round

    The Loft Cinema is showing a classic film noir every Thursday night in September. 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 hardboiled detective stories are just one prime example of my favorite genre, the thriller, and I’m counting down to find the 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.

    Final Round: The Contenders

    At the end of the competition Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest have passed the first test. To start with, I’ll knock out one of the Hammett novels and then have that winner face off against The Day of the Jackal to crown the king of all thrillers.

    Red Harvest vs. The Maltese Falcon

    Dashiell Hammett only wrote five novels, but all are shining gems in the world of books, and one is best of all. Red Harvest holds the great distinction of introducing (in novel form) the Continental Op, the prototype for the hardboiled detective and every kind of character that sprang from it. But where the Op is the invention, Samuel Spade is the perfection. He is human and inhumanly amoral all at once, just like the twisted world he inhabits. Red Harvest also has delicious twists and turns, but they are a bit madcap at times, like a very loopy rollercoaster. Not to say it isn’t a hell of a ride, but The Maltese Falcon feels a little smoother without sacrificing any of the adrenaline. Though only by a hair, Red Harvest is not quite as powerful as its chronological and spiritual successor.

    The Maltese Falcon vs. The Day of the Jackal

    It all comes down to this. The two finest thrillers ever written (in one man’s opinion), both beloved by many for excellent reasons. But one must be crowned champion.

    There are obvious differences between the final contenders, but there are also interesting similarities that are telling about what makes a truly great thriller and truly great novel. There’s a brooding, intelligent protagonist, who is, to varying degrees, outside the law. When the story closes the mystery is solved, the crisis is averted, but nobody is happy. This lack of happiness, terrible though it is, brings out some humanity in even the darkest heart, and that, ultimately, is what the thriller is all about. No two novels that I can think of capture this essential cycle of not just thriller, but real life, so well as these.

    That being said, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon does it just a little bit better.

    So there you have it. The Maltese Falcon claims the title of Best Thriller Ever. If you agree, disagree, or have any opinion in between, feel free to weigh in. And read not just the contest’s winner, but all the contenders and thrillers in general. They’re the stuff that dreams are made of.

    Follow us on Twitter @wildcatarts.

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