Writers of thrillers are the richest authors all over the world.
They may not almost always have high critical acclaim on the literary front, but the publishers do not joke with them because they make millions of dollars and pounds roll into the till.
Back in my secondary school days, the acclaimed king of thriller writers across board in Nigeria was James Hadley Chase, but I have already written about the Englishman whose original name was Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond.
After enjoying James Hadley Chase, lovers of engaging thrillers would then move on to the likes of Fredrick Forsyth, Mario Puzo, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Jeffrey Archer etc.
Time was when the Nigerian economy was in good health and books published in Britain and America would all be readily available in Nigeria and at affordable prizes.
Thrillers and their celebrated writers brought the world together in hip and contemporary engagement.
All it took was to get into a bookshop, and the blurb of a thriller would instantly commandeer all your attention thusly: “One man with a gun who can change the course of history. Who is he? Can he be found before the day of the jackal?”
This way, one became introduced to the bestselling thriller The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.
Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal is an anatomically historical narration of the hiring by the deadly Organisation Armee Secrete of the ace hired killer codenamed The Jackal to assassinate the then French President Charles De Gaulle.
The popular book won for Frederick Forsyth the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel and was made into a successful film starring Edward Fox.
Forsyth published other acclaimed thrillers such as The Odessa File, The Dogs of War, The Devil’s Alternative, The Fist of God, Icon etc. and has sold about 100 million books translated into about 40 languages across the world.
Forsyth who lately confessed to having been hired as an MI6 spy in Biafra has said that he would be giving up writing thrillers because his wife advised him that he has become too old to be travelling to dangerous places!
Forsyth leaves us with these memorable words in The Devil’s Alternative: “Whichever option I choose, men are going to die.”
Let’s turn the thriller lens to Mario Puzo who started out as a wannabe literary fiction writer with such titles as The Dark Arena, The Fortunate Pilgrim, and The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw that did not sell thus fetching him no money.
Then in 1969 he turned to his Italian Sicilian Mafia roots to pen the masterwork in crime fiction, The Godfather, that stayed for some 67 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold about ten million copies in two years.
The Godfather film directed by Francis Ford Coppola is arguably more popular than the book, and the sequel of the film is even hyped in some quarters as trumping the original film!
The global success of The Godfather suddenly turned the erstwhile struggling writer Mario Puzo into a phenomenon who rubbed shoulders with Hollywood superstars.
The downside was that the legendary singer Frank Sinatra threatened to beat up Mario Puzo because it was insinuated in certain quarters that the writer had portrayed the singer as Johnny Fontaine in the novel whose fading singing career had to be revived by being given a film role after the vicious cutting-off of the head of the film director’s prized horse!
Sidney Sheldon was a thriller writer in a class of his own, the author of the worldwide bestseller The Other Side of Midnight.
Sheldon said that his style of gripping the reader was to “leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter.”
He wrote 18 novels that sold more than 300 million copies before his death on January 30, 2007, some 12 days before his 90th birthday.
Hardly any thriller reader of our time escaped the grip of Robert Ludlum, the American spy fiction author of 27 novels who is estimated to have about 500 million books in print at the last count!
Robert Ludlum is best known for his Bourne Trilogy, starting from The Bourne Identity published in 1980 and followed by The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.
In Britain Jeffrey Archer lived a charmed life as a sprinter and politician but had to be saved from bankruptcy when he penned the thriller Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less in 1974.
Archer’s greatest bestseller is the 1979 blockbuster Kane and Abel, dealing with the lives of two men born worlds apart on April 18, 1906 in Poland and USA in abject poverty and great wealth.
Jeffrey Archer boasts of selling over 300 million books worldwide, and he has a Nigerian connection in his short story “Clean Sweep Ignatius” published in his 1988 collection A Twist in the Tale in which the Nigerian Finance Commissioner, Ignatius Agabi, comes to the Swiss Bank to fight corruption by pulling a gun on the head of the Swiss banker but when the banker refuses to release the names of the corrupt Nigerian account holders, Agabi turns round to ask for his own $5 billion loot to be banked there too because the Swiss banker is unbreakable!
As we say here, “Naija nor dey carry last!”