Great thrillers based on a danger that threatens a country or the world require the threat of a credible catastrophe to create the tension that drives readers to keep turning the pages or pressing next page on your favourite electronic reading device. Great characters and settings frame a thriller but it is the danger that is the pivot of the plot.
It is not easy to find such a plausible threat.
Louise Penny, in The Nature of the Beast, sought to establish a doomsday scenario with a supergun being found in the woods near the village of Three Pines in Quebec. In the plot former Chief Inspector Gamache and members of the Sûreté du Québec hunt for the plans to the gun before they can be sold to a rogue country.
The plot never had the tension needed for a thriller because in 2016 it is not plausible that a gun designed over 30 years ago can be a modern threat to world order.
There is good reason that the gun, designed by Canadian Gerald Bull, on which the plot was modeled has never been built. It is not an effective weapon. It is too easy to be detected, by its signature once fired, and then destroyed because it is immobile.
In I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes there is a modern terrifying threat to America. The evil Saracen, a committed Islamic fighter, concocts a means of re-introducing a variation of the plague into medicine that will be widely used in America. No vaccine exists to stop its spread.
It is a conceivable form of biological warfare on a vast scale that can be waged by one man.
Such an attack could shake America.
I recall the tampering of containers of Tylenol in 1982. Potassium cyanide had been put in capsules and 7 residents of the Chicago area died. The tampering caused panic in America. Had the tampering been effectively repeated or more widespread or identified with a specific group America would have been de-stabilized. The case has never been solved.
Drew Chapman, in The King of Fear and The Ascendant has perfected a new type of thriller – technological financial attacks. In my last post I put up a review of the book.
The evil Ilya Markov’s devilishly clever planned assault on America’s financial systems in the book was frightening.
Yet, in the current world can one man really threaten the finances of United States?
There have been recent examples of the damage a single man can do to a great bank.
Nick Leeson was a trader for Barings Bank in Singapore. Evading internal controls he made risky investments on behalf of the bank in 1995 that resulted in losses of $1.4 billion and brought about the collapse of the bank.
In 2008 the Société Générale Bank of France lost $6.4 billion during 3 days of trading. The Bank said Jérôme Kerviel was another rogue trader using fake trades to far exceeded his authority. He claimed superiors were aware of his actions and their hasty selling upon discovering his actions greatly increased the losses. He was convicted and sent to jail.
In both cases a single trader devastated huge banks. In neither case was the intent to cause losses.
In The King of Fear Markov with his access to billions of dollars and his recruitment of talented computer hackers was intent on financial havoc. In New York City Markov managed to have ATM’s malfunction and many credit card transactions denied. There were mobs within a day.
The King of Fear makes clear how much of our financial systems are based on trust and confidence in the systems.
Had Markov been able to carry through his subsequent plans a chilling Armageddon awaited America’s finances.
I eagerly await Chapman’s next thriller.