HE WASN'T the first to publish a psychological novel, but Thomas Harris didn't leave the genre the way he found it. Since The Silence of the Lambs (1988), he has wielded immeasurable influence on a generation of writers.
Psychological mysteries and thrillers focus on the, well, not-quite-right minds of detectives and criminals alike and plumb the depths of human depravity. Edgar Allan Poe might be a good place to begin if we were to trace the genre's origins, and his work holds up surprisingly well a century and a half after his death.
Still, as with the shifting conventions of hardboiled and noir fiction, writers constantly up the ante in psychological fiction. What seemed new 15 years ago--the introduction of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta or even the work of Harris himself--shows its age. The best in the business keep up with changing trends, find new ways to captivate, and poke a finger into that undusted cranny that exists in the human mind. After all, what's more frightening than what goes on in there?
Jeffrey Deaver's protagonists include FBI consultants, attorneys, and an American hit man in 1936 Berlin, but his most recognizable characters are Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic forensics expert, and his partner and companion, Amelia Sachs. Of THE VANISHED MAN (2003), which introduces a series of murders based on famous magic tricks, Jon Land writes in the Providence Journal: "[Deaver] continues to resuscitate a tired genre with this often brilliant and starkly original cat-and-mouse game." The Rhyme novels include THE BONE COLLECTOR (1997), THE COFFIN DANCER (1998), THE EMPTY CHAIR (2000), THE STONE MONKEY (2002), THE TWELFTH CARD (2005), and THE COLD MOON (2006). Th e recent SLEEPING DOLL (2007) introduces special agent Kathryn Dance, an expert in interrogation and kinesics.
In RATKING (1988), Dibdin's first of ten Aurelio Zen novels, the Venetian policeman searches for a wealthy industrialist kidnapped from his country estate. Zen's efforts are thwarted, however, by a culture that forces the detective to rethink his methods. Later installments include COSI FAN TUTTI (1996), BLOOD RAIN (1999), MEDUSA (2003), and BACK TO BOLOGNA (2005). Dibdin has also published several novels outside the series, including DIRTY TRICKS (1991), THE DYING OF THE LIGHT (1993), and DARK SPECTRE (1995). All are worth a look.
When it rains, it pours. Enter John Rain...