I’ve always liked supernatural thrillers, although they were few and far between until recently. Starting with Laurell K. Hamilton (there were others writing such stuff before her but she seems to have been the first really high profile success – and yes, I’m ignoring Anne Rice here) and her Anita Blake series, there has been a growing sub-genre of urban gothic. It usually posits a re-emergence of some or all of the traditional ghosts and ghoulies into society, either completely openly or partly hidden.

However, being a fan of the supernatural thriller elements in this fiction, I’ve ended up reading a bunch of stuff which has a 180 page supernatural thriller buried inside a 500 page book filled out with kinky sex. I don’t mind the odd sex scene in my fiction. Sex is part of life and including it in fiction can round out the emotional content. However, I find that many of these books are descending into what I’ve decided to dub “Thrills and Moon”, where the sex becomes the principle story and the thriller element becomes a sideline. Here is a list of some of the books in the supernatural thriller category I’ve read, with an indication of how much Thrills and Moon element they contain (all in my opinion of course).

Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files

T&M: 0%

The setup is that Harry Dresden is a wizard. He’s young but magically strong. The world contains faeries (don’t call them that to their face, though), multiple types of vampire (Dracula-type blood suckers, another type of blood sucker, life eaters, and (offscreen) some Asian version), multiple types of werewolf, and evil sorcerors. He openly advertises himself as a Wizard, but most of the magical world doesn’t advertise. There’s very little official acknowledgement of the existence of the supernatural, although there is some. There’s as much sex in this as there is in your usual modern book. Harry gets his end away a couple of times, but it doesn’t linger and it is a fundamental element of the story. Each book is standalone, although there are significant ongoing character and plot developments between books. The “Nevernever”, a semi-jokey name for the alternate planes of the spirit world, has parallels in a number of the other series here. Also adapted into a TV show.

Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer series

T&M: 40%

The T&M element grows as the series goes on, so far as I can tell. I’ve only read the first few but have given up as it seemed to be getting worse. According to what people tell me, it definitely “jumps the shark” part way through the sequence, which is now up around twenty books. The setup is that ghouls and goblins have always been there and known about, but only recently officially acknowledged, following a “dead rights” bill. Anita Blake is principally a necromancer, but also finds a lot of work as a vampire slayer. Again, each book is a separate story with ongoing character and plot developments.

Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Merry Gentry series

T&M: 60% initially, rising to 90%

This is one of the worst for T&M. This is hardly a supernatural thriller, in fact, as although it starts off that way in book one, pretty soon after it gets moved into the realms of the faerie realm. The emphasis is very definitely on the kinky sex side which becomes more and more the front line story, with the faerie politics getting pushed into the background.

Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series

T&M: 30% initially, rising to 75%

This is one of those where there was an “emergence” into the open of the supernatural community. The reason for this is that a genetically modified tomato causes a pandemic killing off large portions of the human population, but not touching the supernatural population, who can no longer hide in plain sight. The main character is a witch (who look like humans but can’t interbreed), together with a female vampire and a pixy family. The first book is mostly thriller with a subplot involving sex and vampires. However, as the series goes on (five so far) the kinky sex side of things starts to come to the fore. Pity, really, as it’s got some very good supernatural thriller elements to it, and it’s a fascinating world. The “EverAfter” jokey name for the magical planes seems a link/reference/ripoff of Butcher’s Dresden Files and its Nevernever.

Lilith Saintcrow‘s Dante Valentine series

T&M: 0%

Another “Emergence” series. However, unlike many of the others using this device, it’s left entirely unexplained in the background, with tiny little bits of explanation being dropped in occasionally. One of the best things about this series is the utter lack of info-dump. Terms and historical developments and legal and social situations are dropped in with a minimum explanation that don’t get in the way of the plot. I was worried towards the end of the first book that it was going to descend into T&M, but it didn’t (I’m only in book 2 so far).

Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor series

T&M: 0%

Mike Carey made his name in comics, writing John Constantine, Hellblazer, and then his own Lucifer (following the Prince of Darkness from Gaiman’s The Sandman after he resigns as Ruler of Hell). They’ve recently started publishing John Constantine novels, but they’ve had reviews as being rather mediocre. I’m not sure if Carey wanted to write Hellblazer novels but couldn’t come to an agreement on money or artistic needs, or if he just wanted to build his own character. Felix Castor is a very Constantine-like character. He’s from Liverpool (a mistake to my mind, as it makes him too close to Constantine) and he’s an exorcist. This is another “Emergence” book, although this time, about twenty years ago, the dead started rising in numerous ways and no one knows why. The supernatural has obviously always been there, but society has had to come to terms with ghosts, zombies and a version of werewolves, as well as demon possession. Very well-written and really interesting. Particularly if you like Hellblazer, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

Rob Thurman‘s Nightlife and Moonshine

T&M: 10%

Rather reminiscent in some ways of Supernatural the TV Show (see below). Cal Leandros is a half-human half-monster in a world where the supernatural is open and visible, and appears to have been for a long time. Nice start, though a little lighter than many others. No sense of T&M in here, though there is some sexual charge in some scenes.

Simon R. Green‘s Nightside series

T&M: 0%

Simon Green often throws the Kitchen sink into his work. The Nightside really puts it all in there, in wonderful short novels. Quite old-fashioned in that sense, with 200 pagers full of action. Great stuff merging supernatural, SF, time travel, and cross-references to his other work (and other people’s like Adam Adamant, Dr Who, Victorian Gothic). Great fun.

Tanya Huff‘s Vicky Hamilton series

T&M: 10%

Vampires as good, bad or indifferent, despite the blood-sucking. A little bit of T&M in the relationship between Vicky Hamilton and the vampire bastard son of Henry VIII, Henry FitzRoy. Henry’s pretty much a good guy and helps Vicky Hamilton deal with various flavours of werewolf in a world where the supernatural (and one science fictional version of a supernatural standby) is present but still hidden. There’s some hints of T&M in Vicky and Henry’s relationship (and Henry’s polyamorous bi-sexual relationships), but it doesn’t prevent them being a good read as urban gothic. Also adapted into a TV show.

Patricia BriggsMercedes Thompson series

T&M: 10%

A new series, with only two books out so far, but a third on the way. It feels at the beginning like it’s going to descend into T&M but hasn’t so far. The main character is a native American theriomorph (shapeshifter) who turns into a coyote. Werewolves, vampires and other supernatural beasties are out and about following their revelation to the world at large. Some kinds are known about and some aren’t, and there’s interesting political background to the interface between people and the supernatural world, as well as the different politics within the groups. Well-written and fast-paced, with maybe just a little too much sex involved.

TV

One of the drivers of the popularity of this kind of book seems to have been the breakthrough into non-genre audiences of the X-Files and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV. Of course there had been supernatural thriller TV shows before, everything from Kolchak the Night Stalker to Dark Shadows. There’s been an increasing number of such shows in the last couple of years in parallel to the explosion of books. Here’s just a quick list of some of them.

The Dresden Files

Based on the books by Jim Butcher. Takes some of the elements of the books, but remixes them, both in terms of characters and plotlines. Unfortunately it was cancelled after it’s initial run of a half season.

Supernatural

A “boy band” version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like Buffy and X-Files it throws every possible myth (and some they just make up themselves) into the mix. Three seasons so far, and no signs of stopping.

Blood Lines

Based on Tanya Huff’s Vicky Hamilton series. As with the Dresden Files, there are different demands on TV shows compared with books, so some things have been shifted around. In some ways this is more faithful to the books than the Dresden Files and it makes it probably a slightly weaker show, due to the mis-match between books and TV in plot requirements. Renewal still up for grabs beyond the first season (shown in two halves but still a single season of production).