A 3-Part Guide To Airport Thrillers (1)
My flight is delayed. I’m in Gatwick Airport, where newsagent-souk WH Smith have attempted to take themselves a tad more upmarket by separating out their curated books from the main shop. The upmarket book part is called ‘BOOKS’. The other part should be called ‘INFLATABLE NECK BRACES, CRAYON SETS AND TOBLERONES’, the idea being that the books are for intelekshuls and the rest is for the Galaxy-Bar-and-a-copy-of-Razzle crowd.
In the BOOKS part are turgid psycho-thrillers all called IN MY EYES or YOU KNOW ME. There’s a peculiar business section full of books called LIE YOUR WAY TO THE TOP and another true crime section full of books called ROGUE TRADER, which seem to cancel each other out. There will be copies of THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT everywhere because it’s too huge to miss in every sense, although I feel I need to go back and reread 1 and 2 before tackling another eleventy-thousand pages. But hey, Mantel, a bloody amazing writer. And there will be a now very tiny section for the airport thriller.
In the flashy 1970s it was a genre that could hold its head up high; a wodge of fast-paced boilerplate writing about three inches thick, bolted together by authors who had flown a Spitfire in the war and had been in MI5. Ian Fleming, Eric Ambler, Paul Gallico, Alistair MacLean, Nevil Shute, Frederick Forsyth, Clive Cussler, all males of course – were any airport thrillers written by women? Harold Robbins and Danielle Steel brought in a slutty new soap opera element but the fun was gone. Luckily Michael Crichton and then Lee Child brought the airport thriller back to life with a roar.
A few writers combined thumping good reads with excellent writing. Richard Doyle wrote a handful, the best being ‘Imperial 109’, about the trip of an Imperial Airways Empire class flying boat which carried mail, cargo and a dozen passengers through Africa and Egypt to Paris. And of course on this flight there’s a tough captain, an international jewel thief (or something similar), theft, blackmail, murder and luxury. In fact, the Sunday Times said ‘If you cut up Airport, The Thirty Nine Steps and Murder On The Orient Express, shuffle the bits around and splice them together you might achieve the effect of ‘Imperial 109′. Pure joy in storytelling.’ The point, though, is that Doyle can write so smoothly that the pages pretty much read themselves.
He wasn’t the only one to understand the airport thriller, though. There were a number of others…(Continued tomorrow)