Andrew Gross learned a lot about the writing craft by working with James Patterson, a process he has called “like a combination MFA and MBA rolled into one.” After coauthoring six books in seven years, he struck out on his own and has since made a name for himself with well-plotted, fast-moving thrillers such as Eyes Wide Open (which goes on sale July 12). I’ll be honest: Booklist reviews of Gross have been mixed. But, to quote David Pitt’s take on Don’t Look Twice (2009), “that holds true for Patterson as well, and he’s managed to find an audience.” And the student is now a teacher: at CraftFest, part of ThrillerFest VI, he’ll be instructing aspiring writers on “Ten Ways to Make Your Thriller Ring with Emotion.” Asked to share his favorite read of the past year, Gross had a difficult time making up his mind. But that’s fine with us: both of his picks are top-notch.
I think of myself as a thriller writer whose main goal is to have my readers turn pages, yet I also like to think that what they take away from them is the emotional resonance of families torn apart by crisis and betrayal and ravaged by buried pasts. So while I like to write novels replete with pace and reversals, the ones I like to read are those that help me raise the bar just a bit. So I hope I’m allowed two books from the past year that for me stood apart.
One is Savages, by Don Winslow, a novel about Southern California hipsters who also happen to be marijuana purveyors—hip, nasty, disturbing—a book that is sometimes too cool for itself but one that ultimately draws you into its web of violence and tragedy. In many ways it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite books, Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone, a 1974 National Book Award winner that I think helped create the contemporary literary thriller.
The other is Master of the Delta, by Thomas Cook, and though Tom is a friend of mine, if you haven’t already, I unhestitatingly urge you to discover his work. (Red Leaves leaves everyone spellbound!) Master of the Delta is lyrical, erudite and unmistakably Southern. And while it builds to a crescendo of tragedy, dammit, Tom simply just writes sentences I wish I’d written. Or could write!