December 9 – 15: “What are some examples of books with strong architectural details that helped build suspense?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week join ITW Members Ralph Pezzullo, Amy Lignor and J. H. Bográn as they discuss thrillers and architecture, and try to answer the question: “What are some examples of books with strong architectural details that helped build suspense?”


heros companionAs the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL were her heroes. Her Tallent & Lowery series has been a huge hit with readers – and is growing with each new puzzle she offers. Working as an editor in the publishing industry for decades, she’s now the Owner/Operator of THE WRITE COMPANION along with a new publishing company that will begin in November of 2013. A reviewer and writer for many, Amy contributes to SUSPENSE MAGAZINE, AUTHORLINK, THE FEATHERED QUILL and many others.

hunt the falconRalph Pezzullo is a NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books include Jawbreaker and The Walk-In (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen, Inside SEAL Team Six, Plunging into Haiti (winner of the Douglas Dillon Award for Distinguished Writing on American Diplomacy), At the Fall of Somoza, Most Evil (with Steve Hodel), Eve Missing, Blood of My Blood, Hunt the Wolf and Hunt the Scorpion (with Don Mann), and the upcoming novel Saigon.

FirefallJ. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers. His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll. FIREFALL, his second novel, follows former firefighter Sebastian Martin, now investigating insurance fraud, as he comes head-on against an international band of car thieves.

  1. For me, the true masters at this are the authors who put their main focus on just one thing. One of the best is Stephen King when he utilizes the small town ways he knows so much about. ‘Needful Things’ is a great representation of this. He creates and heightens the suspense by leading the reader down small, peaceful roads in the proverbial ‘charming’ village. But King shows that small-town folk are not nice farmers and librarians; he offers up the white house with a picket fence, the a boy enjoying his bike ride and dreaming about baseball – and all the locals who have a facade of innocence – but skillfully reminds you that they’re human. It’s not the ‘devil’ on their turf that makes the book shine; that’s the required evil presence. The suspense builds as the veil of serenity is slowly raised to show everything, from family feuds to long-time grudges to hate and jealousy that runs rampant in the little town square.

    Preston & Child have a way of throwing in political views, historical views and glimpses of the supernatural – especially in ‘The Relic’. They build on what you already know to be true, and then completely show you you’re wrong. The locale they use – the American Museum of Natural History – is a well-known site that’s infused with some of the most frightening exhibits imaginable. The police work is understandable at first in this novel, but to use the architecture of that building and place a relic into it, the ‘normal’ murder story turns on a dime into a gothic, religious, historical nightmare. (It’s also the first book that introduced Pendergast, and he brought his own brand of genius, cold humor and oddities to that world that made him as frightening as the beast, itself.)

    Dean Koontz’s ‘Odd Thomas’ series uses the supernatural, but the architecture is all about the human mind. What is true, what isn’t…and he leads readers to question if their own dreams and everyday experiences could actually be far more fearsome than they’re willing to acknowledge. The internal fear is the successful framework for me, but his dry humor and mystical moments add to the fun.

  2. I mentioned this question at a party this weekend and the grouped reminisced about Rear Window, which centers on the building’s central open space and the limited ability to view neighbor activities. And The 39 Steps – not the film – but the original book. Architectural space is essential for the initial murder and during later chase scenes; indoor spaces alternate with the outdoors, corresponding with the main character’s mood and confidence.

  3. When used effectively architectural details combine with sound, color, and weather to create a unique and sometimes forbidding sense of place. The thriller that comes to mind does that so strongly is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre. Le Carre draws on his dense knowledge of Cold-War spycraft to craft a complex, unpredictable, and chillingly realist story. Intelligence officers, on both sides East and West are depicted as amoral and burned out from the numblingly endless games of deception. There’s no end in sight and there are no real victories.

    The book opens and closes in East Germany just after the construction of the Berlin Wall. That architectural abomination looms over and informs the entire book, as do the chilling Soviet-style apartment blocks always shrouded in gray. They tell us that no living organism can thrive this way, least of all the human heart.

  4. Sorry for coming late to the game.

    Already a declared Ken Follett fan, I must present his book Pillars of the Earth as it centers around the construction of a church in the middle ages.
    From the burning of the old church by one of the main characters, to the inauguration of the final building, the plot is intertwined with its making in every aspect.

    In his short story The Hildebrand Rarity, Ian Flemming puts James Bond aboard a luxurious vessel owned a sadistic American millionaire. I found the description of the different scenarios to contribute to the overall tension of the story.

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