Modern thrillers have a lot going for them, but there is nothing more refreshing than an old-school, no-holds-barred tale of political intrigue, corruption, and murder. Authors who wrote in previous decades have the luxury of avoiding compliance with our modern sensibilities.
What does that mean for this trio of thrillers?
Uncensored violence, sex, language, and a spicy dash of what we would today call racism. Not to say that racism is good or desirable – but it is refreshing to see deep characters who have biases and who behave like real people, rather than the white-washed cast of cardboard cut outs that fill modern novels for sake of making sure no one is really offended too much (iconoclasts aren’t quite what they used to be.) Here’s a break-neck synopsis of each book, and why you should pick up at least one of them right now. You’ll have finished it by a minute to midnight.
1. The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal (1969)
A 60-year old hit man named Garcia takes to the streets of Mexico City when the Mexican government hands him an unusual job: join up with an American FBI agent and a Soviet KGB officer to unravel and stop a plot to kill the American President on his upcoming visit to Mexico. Garcia is old, hardened, and driven by little else but money. He cusses about everything and trusts no one. When he takes an interest in a young Chinese server girl named Marta, Garcia starts to go soft. But two would-be assassins who pay him a visit immediately after he is given the job remind him he has to stay tough, and stay on his toes if he is going to survive, let alone save the American President.
TRIGGER WARNING: fucking gringos, women, Chinese people, gays, and anyone with a special love for Outer Mongolia beware: old Garcia does not think highly of you.
2. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934)
A drifter named Frank comes across a roadside diner where he gets hired by the joint’s Greek proprietor. When Frank sees the Greek’s wife Cora, who works there as a waitress, he is smitten and decides to keep this job a little longer than usual. In the span of 114 pages, Frank and Cora will fall desperately in love and do what people of low intelligence and high desire often do: plot an elaborate murder to free themselves of their situation.
TRIGGER WARNING: gratuitous sex, murder, and extremely aggressive sexual advances made by a male to a female. Also unfriendly to individuals of Greek heritage.
3. The 39 Steps by John Buchan (1915)
A Scot by birth, Richard Hannay is in his 30s and is sick and tired of London. He resolves to take the next ship out if something interesting doesn’t happen the following day. As it happens in thrillers, something interesting happens. A stranger shows up at his apartment and insists that he is being hunted by secretive and powerful forces who are planning an assassination that will lead to war. A few days later, the man is dead in Hannay’s apartment, stabbed through the heart, and Hannay is suddenly suspect number one for a murder and the bearer of a few very dangerous secrets. A marked man, he flees to Scotland where he plans to hide out in the wilderness.
TRIGGER WARNING: Jews are trying to take over the world. They might be anarchists.