SPOOKY SHELVES Brown’s Hay Library will house the thriller archive.
There is a scene in Jon Land's forthcoming thriller novel Strong Rain Falling — set for release next summer — where Caitlin Strong finally arrives in her author's hometown: Providence, Rhode Island. The trigger-happy Texas Ranger who stars in Strong Justice and Strong Vengeance is accompanying her surrogate son for a meeting with Brown University's football coach. And while they're in town, Strong happens to kill four Mexican hitmen in a shootout at WaterFire.
"And it's not just a gunfight," says an excitable Land, sitting in a booth at the Wayland Square Diner, waving his arms, slugging coffee, and taking bites from a bagel. "She shoots somebody, they lose control of the boat, the boat slams into one of the braziers, gasoline sprays everywhere, the boat blows up, and now you've got this big fire."
That Land, who has been writing novels for 30 years, would turn to Providence is no great surprise. After all, the city has become an increasingly irresistible setting for thrillers and noir dramas in recent years. And the capital is about to take on an even grander project.
Thanks to Land's behind-the-scenes campaigning, Brown University recently signed a deal with trade group International Thriller Writers to start a first-of-its-kind thriller archive among its special collections at the John Hay Library. While the industry's biggest annual convention, ThrillerFest, will remain in New York City, the axis of the thriller universe has tilted further in Rhode Island's direction. Starting later this month, the manuscripts, notes, drafts, contracts, and other materials generated by thriller writers around the world will be funneled to Providence.
To celebrate the inauguration of the archive, Land — a Brown alum and former director of marketing for ITW — will moderate a panel discussion on November 15 featuring some of the biggest names in modern publishing: David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille, Steve Berry, Lisa Gardner, and R.L. Stine. Together, those writers boast nearly half a billion books in circulation. That's "billion" with a "b."
"Collecting popular writers and genres, whether it's good literature or not, it really gives an insight in terms of the tastes and the culture of a particular time," says Thomas Horrocks, the director of special collections at Brown and the head of the Hay Library. Traditionally, an Ivy League library might look down on archiving something like the thriller, he says. (Think of Columbia's Butler Library, with "SOPHOCLES" and "ARISTOTLE" etched in its stone facade). But with collections on magic and comic books, alongside works by Abraham Lincoln and George Orwell, Brown has always been mindful of the popular reader's palate as well.
"A hundred years from now scholars will be studying the thriller genre of the 20th century or 21st century," Horrocks says. And when they do, they will come to Providence.
ANATOMY OF A THRILLER
"Give me any great book and I'll explain to you why it's a thriller," Land says. "Hemingway's great war scenes? Nobody wrote a war better than Hemingway; they read like a thriller writer . . . Huck Finn is a great thriller. Huck is trying to rescue Jim, Huck's life is in danger."