The genre that began with the Iliad and the Odyssey now includes almost any quest story where two strong forces are working in opposition to each other, Land says. But a thriller's stakes run higher than the average whodunit; they often involve conspiracies, corruption, and a hero who doesn't just solve a crime, but has to prevent a bigger one from happening.
"[T]raditional mysteries appeal primarily to the mind and emphasize the logical solution to a puzzle," explains author and former ITW president, David Morrell, in CrimeSpreeMagazine. "In contrast, thrillers strive for heightened emotions and emphasize the sensations of what might be called an obstacle race and a scavenger hunt . . . in broad terms, the contrast is between emotion and logic, between an urgent pace and a calm one."Whatever the exact definition, these visceral, often-grisly stories have long found a home in the Ocean State. Bruce DeSilva, the former Providence Journal reporter who now writes hard-boiled tales of sex and arson set in Rhode Island, traces the DNA of his novels Rogue Island and Cliff Walk to the day when a Rhode Island colonial governor dined with the infamous pirate, Captain Kidd. Since then, he says, the local sinners and saints have always intermingled.
"Places that are all good or all bad are kind of boring," he says. "Where there's a real tension between corruption and people battling against it — those places are more interesting. And Rhode Island, I think, is one of those places."
The hub of the state, of course, has always been at the heart of this struggle. By the time Providence's longest-running mayor was compared to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during his sentencing by a federal judge, the city's reputation was well established. Sure, it was a bastion of religious tolerance and a case study in colonial architecture. But it was also a blood-drenched, sleaze-smeared "petri dish" — a description from Geoffrey Wolff's 1986 thriller, Providence.
"The whole setup seemed like a condensed film noir diorama come to life," says Richard Dean Rosen, author of three sports-themed thriller/mysteries set in Providence in the 1980s. Rosen became obsessed with "pre-Renaissance downtown Providence's eerie emptiness," when he arrived as a Brown freshman in 1967, he explains.
The reasons for this obsession, he says, were legion: "[W]ith Haven Bros., the Industrial National Bank building, the Arcade, the snaking colonial streets, the feeling of a stunted metropolis stuck in time, also the contrast between the Hill's bucolic, red brick beauty and the grimy city below . . . also, of course, the tension between Brown's Ivy Tower and the New England mob's HQ on Federal Hill."
A decade after Rosen's 1984 debut Strike Three, You're Dead, local auteur Michael Corrente would capture that exact mood in a scene from his film, Federal Hill. The film's tinderbox of a plot is sparked when a townie from Federal Hill nicknamed "Freeze" sells cocaine to a Brown student named Wendy on the steps of City Hall. Freeze and Wendy fall in love, but only one lives to see the end of the film.