Guest Post: Michael W. Sherer “Top 7 Reasons Thrillers Are Hot”

Thrillers are hot. One of the fastest growing genres in fiction, thrillers are part of the broader category of crime fiction that represents more than 60 percent of popular fiction today. While romance may be queen, thrillers are fast becoming the queen’s consort, attracting readers of every stripe.

Why so popular?

1. They create order out of chaos.

While the real world around us seems to have come unhinged—partial government shutdowns, mass murders, child abductions, terrorism—thrillers try to make sense of senseless violence, giving us clearly defined heroes and villains and a story arc that makes sense. They follow a logical progression as either a detective chases down clues or a protagonist finds herself in increasingly desperate circumstances to which she must rise or be destroyed.

2. They provide a sense of justice in an unjust world.

Real life is shaded in grey. Murderers often aren’t caught, and our messy justice system lets bad guys slip through the cracks or go free on technicalities. Though the issues in a thriller also may be similarly colored, its hero and villain typically see things in black and white. For readers that usually means a satisfying ending where villains get their due, justice is done and loose ends are tidily wrapped

3. They provide an opportunity to rework social development and redress social inequities.

Many authors, myself included, use crime fiction as a vehicle to explore social issues, perhaps presenting them in a new light, giving readers an opportunity to see them from a different perspective. Ultimately, my goal as a crime writer is to entertain, but if I can educate and stimulate thought or discussion in the process I serve a higher purpose.

Many authors are struck by a particular issue or subject which piques their interest. I think few crime writers consciously concern themselves with the reasons for real-life crime, but I do think newspaper and/or web headlines often stir authors to write about an issue. In some of my books, I’ve written about issues that I wanted to explore personally (abortion, the Catholic Church, etc.). More often, I want to explore characters’ motivation and personal journeys and use the vehicle of a crime novel to do so.

4. They serve as parables of modern life.

Crime novels and thrillers don’t serve as guides to life so much as they present a more ordered reality from which readers take comfort, reassurance and resolve. The life lesson most fictional detectives offer is the value of persistence. It’s been said that half of life’s about simply showing up. The other half is about asking questions, tilting at windmills, falling down and getting up again, persistently pursuing one’s own sense of truth. Thrillers often give authors an opportunity to make a point about what matters in life.

5. They breathe excitement into the banality of ordinary life.

In the space of several hours time, readers get to take a journey through a battleground of good and evil, hopefully identifying and empathizing with the characters. And if the author is doing his or her job, that journey will be fraught with danger, filled with excitement and pathos, and keep the reader on the edge of the seat. Thrillers offer readers a chance to escape into a fictional theme park and go on all the rides.

6. They represent some of the most intelligent and lyrical prose in fiction.

The list of crime writers who write beautifully and get us to look outside ourselves is quite long. A few examples, in my opinion are T. Jefferson Parker, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Gruber, Carl Hiassen, Martin Cruz Smith, Lisa Unger, Timothy Hallinan and Tom Piccirrilli. The fictional worlds they create may be small and intimate, their plots about the mundane, not big worldly social issues. But in exploring the small everyday decisions people make that can have life-altering effects, these authors do encourage and even force us to ask ourselves what we would do in the same situations, what moral or ethical decisions we would make.

Truly, any author worth his or her salt can take us outside ourselves and easily convince us to slip into the world they’ve created on the page. Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, John Burdick, Stephen White—they’re all masters, and there are hundreds of others.

7. They offer fun, cheap entertainment.

What else can transport you to another world, make your heart race, trigger a laugh or draw tears for hours at a time so inexpensively?


Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at or you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.


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