Suspense: KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child

I once read of a technique that is commonly used by suspense writers to raise the tension level in a book. It involves breaking up sentences. Adding variety. Making it sound like a mind in the midst of a complicated problem.

This clue equals this. Except–what about this? And there is this as well.

I first encountered this technique in Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door. It’s an effective way to illustrate panic, helplessness, and anxiety in a character; it makes the reader feel the same way. The second thriller I have finished reading, Killing Floor by Lee Child, uses the same technique.

My exploration of the the thriller genre is creating many chances for me to sample well-known names and series. The Jack Reacher books are stories I never imagined myself reading. For years I have fed my inner reader on flowing sentences from poetic literature; it’s taking me a while to adjust to the jerky, high-energy nature of thrillers and mysteries.

Killing Floor isn’t what I expected–but then, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to give this series a try. I enjoyed the story, and certainly will look for the other books. However, I struggled to find common ground with Jack Reacher himself. I think that might have been done on purpose. 

His character is portrayed as solitary, detached, almost selfish. This means that the characters surrounding him are full of color and life. The romance is detached, surface-level, not the profound stuff that I enjoy reading–but it suits a character like him.

He’s intent on not staying anywhere, living a life of freedom, leaving no trace of his existence, even in the form of receipts.

The plot, though–it is so complex that I forgive the dryness of Jack’s character. The world in Killing Floor is a giant jigsaw puzzle, the kind where you have twenty pieces that are the same color blue. You’ll spend days, probably, trying to get those pieces together, and when at last you discover the order in which they click, the picture has the detail you’ve been missing. 

Such is the world of Killing Floor: You have a handful of compelling but dissonant clues, and wrest with them for a while. By the time Jack has figured out which direction to take, that world is more realistic and beautiful; you want to get deeper in.

By the time Killing Floor has become a safe world with the criminals put away, the book has ended. You’re given a chapter or two of joy and a radiant glimpse at what the town of Margrave will be like without bad guys.

Then, Jack decides he doesn’t want to stay in Margrave–and it’s over. You’ve walked a wild path with him, solving mysteries and staying alive, but just like him, you can’t stay. You’ve been rewarded with only a glimpse of a small town at peace.

This genre of writing is far from what I’m used to, but remains a refreshing change. I’m drinking in the techniques used to write thriller and suspense, hoping to use them one day in my own books. There are so many new books for me to choose from that I feel like I’m in a brand-new playground, surrounded by adventures.

It pays to leave your comfort zone. Try a genre you didn’t think you would like: you will discover literature in all its beauty. It will make you feel, think, and hope for things you hadn’t before. It will widen your worldview. You’ll be reminded that the possibilities with novels and stories are endless.

Have you read the Jack Reacher books? What do you think about them? Which book in the series is your favorite?

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