Robert Ludlum set two of his earliest novels, The Matlock Paper (1973) and The Osterman Weekend (1972) in flatly suburban arenas, where the homogeneity of the upper-middle classes is at any minute about to be ripped open. Robert Ludlum is a conspiracy theorist — his stories are always epic conspiracies —and before he decided to segue that with James Bond influences for the ultimate alchemical plot explosions ever (he predicted), this was his singular contribution to the thriller world. The underbelly in The Osterman Weekend is that of the Cold War and a project called The Omega, which looks set to destabilise the entire capitalist west. What’s of driving interest in these novels however are the characters, swarthy middle aged men with attractive wives, guys who always have a drink after work and seem at a disconnect from the major realities of their country, certainly the realities of politics and social issues.

I first discovered the books of Fritz Leiber through Dungeons and Dragons, because at one stage D&D evolved to include the mythos of many of its players’ favourite fictions, including Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and HP Lovecraft’s Cthulu, both of which could be played if you had the correct edition of Deities and Demigods.

Fritz Leiber’s contributions were more serious than either of these guys’ works were, and better written, almost literary in fact, and told of the city of Lankmhar, home to two of Leiber’s greatest creations, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

In the stand alone romp A Spectre is Haunting Texas, hormone treatment has turned all Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into dwarves.

You may be able to tell from the size of The Matlock Paper (352 pages) that it is not an entire Robert Ludlum novel — complete yes, but not a fullscale cross-generational, Nazi-chasing, conspiracy-theory-based cordite charged Robert Ludlum thriller, of the infamous old-school style.  Instead, The Matlock Paper is more domestic and has as its setting a university campus, not the most auspicious or rip-roaring setting for a thriller of this stamp. 

Still, there is far too much going on in Matlock to describe or even barely handle: gambling clubs, black militants, car chases, disguises, private eyes, mutilations, student prostitution, LSD, weed, and back alley beatings.  And all of this in New England, Connecticut to be exact.

Nothing is Heavy by Vicki Jarrett

With a knack for veracity, Nothing is Heavy from Vicki Jarrett slips twixt past and present in a series of set pieces that offer a gradual building of character in the way a good movie does.

There is always some action in each scene, and a reason for each character to be there — because this novel has direction.  It’s a dependable book and I felt the forward motion pretty much from page one - - what I am suggesting in fact is that reader wants to know what’s going to happen.  You can’t say that about all books but if you read the first page of Nothing Is Heavy, you’ll stick it to the last.

A crescendo of action, from modest beginnings, just before World war II, where some monks work in secret to transport a vault into the Alps by train, having left Salonika with it, and 26 specially arranged secret documents.  The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum does not content itself with a modest world-saving action set in World War II — certainly, not — the magnificent The Gemini Contenders aims higher still.  The hero is a man of means, as are his sons whom we eventually meet — they are the Gemini Contenders — and Robert Ludlum’s story veers all over the place, like a crazed racing car smashing along a high speed track, knocking into everything but resolving itself at the last moment, every time.

Some of us can talk late into the night about what our favourite story is, and very often the horror novel Cujo (Viking Press,1981) is the one that I settle on. I like Cujo because of how much is done with so little, and in essence, the horror of one woman and her son trapped in a car is so complete and well executed that it’s this one that regularly wins my prize. Set in Castle Rock, Maine, Cujo tells the story of a good-natured St Bernard dog, that goes rabid 'n' crazy, winning Stephen King the BFS (British Fantasy Society Award for 1982)

There are plenty jokes in speculative fiction. The electric sheep is a joke, as is the situation of Ragle J. Gumm; all grist to life’s comedy. Dad’s Nuke is full of gags, pretty much delivering one per chapter, per page.  In the first chapter of Dad’s Nuke, Dad’s neighbour unveils his new warhead, which accidentally destroys a nearby golf course. In the second chapter, Dad and Mum call in their youngest son, their twelfth child as it happens, and break the bad news to him that he is gay... and that he was genetically made that way, thanks to government advice to large families.