Excellent Eco-Thrillers (Part 1)

I first discovered the eco-thriller genre – action-packed books focusing on environmental threats – through The Swarm by Frank Schatzing. It’s a somewhat intimidating book because of its length, but extremely well done in action, characterization, and scientific explanation. Ocean creatures begin unexpectedly attacking humans, and it’s up to a diverse set of scientists and environmentalists to figure out what’s causing it and how to stop it. The answer to the puzzle is both bone-chillingly deadly and incredibly beautiful. If you’ve ever felt worried about just how deep the oceans are and how little we know about them, this book will fascinate (and maybe terrify) you.

Inspired by how much I enjoyed The Swarm, I started a quest to read more eco thrillers and see how they compare. Here are my first two contenders and how they measure up.

First: Zoo by James Patterson. This book was made into a TV series a few years ago, though the series only loosely follows the plot of the book. In the book, we follow almost-scientist full-time conspiracy theorist Jackson Oz as he struggles to understand and raise awareness of the rash of animal attacks spreading across the world. He’s aided by beautiful French scientist Chloe along with a host of military and government figures. The picture of humanity’s future that this book paints is chillingly real, to say the least, though honestly the characters are such standard action-movie stock as to be disappointing. In my opinion, it doesn’t measure up to the complex mosiac of The Swarm.

Second: Eden by Tim Lebbon. In this book, Dylan, his daughter Jenn, and their team are escaping the polluted, climate-change-wracked world by an adventurous race across one of ‘The Virgin Zones’: protected swaths of land where no humans are allowed to live or visit. They’re attempting to be the first to cross Eden, the oldest Virgin Zone which has swallowed up many would-be adventurers. Once inside, their adventure turns frightening as the jungle turns against them, a malicious force which might be responsible for the disappearance of Jenn’s mother… This book is very good at building suspense and a sense of horror, getting more gory toward the end as the climax is reached. I wasn’t as convinced by the Nature Personified element or the resolution, but the characters and action are well-drawn. It almost measures up to the Swarm, but not quite.

The one thing all three had in common is a sobering message of warning for humanity: if we abuse our planet and its resources past a certain point, there will be consequences that we’re most likely not prepared for. The realism of that message makes these books heavy material to consider, but moving, important, and thought-provoking. This is a fascinating genre to explore, so stay tuned for a possible part 2!

The Roads to Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a classic novel for very good reason — the suspenseful tone, the clever writing style, and compelling characters all make it a story for the ages. The original novel was published in 1938, and was turned into first a play in 1939, a film in 1940, and most recently a Netflix film released this year. If you’re not already aware (and let’s be honest, obsessed) with this story, here are some details about it and some different ways to experience it.

First, the basics: a young woman falls in love with an older man, Maxim De Winter, while working as a companion to a rich American woman in Monte Carlo. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and return to his estate, Manderley. Once they arrive, the young woman discovers the house is a monument to her husband’s deceased first wife, the Rebecca from the title. The house’s habits, decoration, and staff all bear her stamp, including a sinister housekeeper who undermines our insecure narrator at every turn, bullying her with stories of the glamorous Rebecca. In mounting distress, the narrator struggles both to escape Rebecca’s shadow and to uncover the dark secrets her husband is keeping from her about his past. Eventually, he confides in her, but that may only cause them more problems…

What I love about this book is how the writing style underscores the plot — the narrator is given no name other than Mrs. De Winter, while her predecessor Rebecca is not only named but is the book’s title. The narrator’s identity is literally erased, insignificant compared to Rebecca. Also, the story is told as a flashback, giving the reader enigmatic hints of the book’s ending long before it arrives – much as the narrator learns about Rebecca in mysterious bits and pieces.

Intrigued? Check out the book or the film version (or any one of the several available) from the library. But wait, there’s more!

Also released this year was a YA novel which retells the Rebecca story in a modern setting, to chilling effect. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick echoes Du Maurier’s twisty plot full of drama, chills, and unexpected revelations. In this case, the story is about Anna, who comes to the Hamptons to spend the summer working as a nanny. She’s hoping for a fresh start but finds herself instead overshadowed by Zoe Spanos, a local girl who recently went missing, and who looks a LOT like Anna… Slowly, the mystery of Zoe Spanos takes over Anna’s life until she’s sure they’re linked by a dark connection. But did Anna really kill her? And how can she find the truth?

This is far from the only retelling of or companion to this iconic story, of course. There’s also Rebecca’s Tale, The Winters, Mrs. De Winter, In Her Shadow, and more. If you like atmospheric mysteries, thrillers, or marriage stories, check out any of these titles from the Rebeccaverse.

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

Recently, I met best-selling author Brad Meltzer in a Chicago book store.  Naturally, I picked up an autographed copy of his newest novel, The Inner Circle.  (He had a large following — I had to wait in line a long time!)

The book revolves around Beecher White, a young archivist who loves his job at the National Archives.  When his childhood crush, Clementime, shows up seeking help in tracking down the father she never knew, he takes her on a private tour, and even shows her the secret vault used only by the  President.  Within moments ( is it by accident or plan?) they discover a priceless artifact hidden under the President’s chair.  Minutes later, the security guard who admitted them to the vault is found dead.  In hours,  Beecher is on the run, unsure who he can trust,  yet frantically trying to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers by successfully decoding concealed messages.

This is a fast-paced read and those interested in political conspiracies or action-packed thrillers will be entertained with all the unexpected twists and turns.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the ending, but then it made more sense when I read that  Meltzer has a sequel planned, using  Beecher again as the primary character.  He is a rather lovable archivist, after all.

For those who may be further intrigued by the mysteries of symbols and codes, check out the author’s show on the History Channel, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.

Book Watch : Stop, You’re Killing Me!

Looking for a good mystery?  We’ve got you covered!

Besides having one of the best website names ever, Stop, You’re Killing Me! is the best place to go if you’re a fan of mystery, crime, suspense, thriller and spy novels. Indexing the works of over 3.500 authors, you’ll find lists of books set in specific locations, during historical time periods, by diversity (for instance, Native Americans or Gypsies or Disabled detectives), by job title (such as wedding planners or pet sitters) and genres (vampires anyone?) New titles are listed each month, including new Large Print and new Audio Books. And there are extensive lists of mystery book award nominees and winners.

This site is fairly minimal – no fancy graphics or distracting ads. Titles are linked to amazon.com for further information (and where you can find a picture of the book cover), but this is mostly a presentation of lists, brief descriptions and links. It’s up to you to uncover your next favorite mystery – and with these tools, it should be an open and shut case!