Contract Thrillers, by Debbie Bennett
What am I binge-watching on Netflix at the moment? Well for the past month or more, Andy and I have been glued to the television and obsessed with Homeland. To the exclusion of everything else – I don’t think we’ve even watched a film or browsed Amazon Prime or Disney+ or anything else. Which is good because we were bored with it all and looking for something new to get involved with.
Since early 2020, television has featured far more in our lives. When staying-in became the new going-out, having a smart tv and sharing various streaming subscriptions with our daughter was essential to stave off the boredom. And since downsizing our house in 2018, we now only have the one lounge – I don’t count a bedroom television. I never watch tv in bed – so we generally need to agree on viewing material and I can only take so much Wheeler Dealers and Top Gear!
So we are about to start season 6/8 of Homeland. That’s 60 almost-hour episodes in. And it’s gripping stuff. Twists more twisty than a corkscrew and plots with more layers than millefeuille and we have no idea what’s going to happen next. And even now we’re not quite sure which characters are ‘safe’ and which may potentially die in ever new and interesting ways.
One we loved way back in the when was Spooks. We even bought all the series on DVD a few years back and watched it all again. What made Spooks different was that absolutely nobody was safe and the main characters were killed off sometimes seemingly at random. But it made it all the more tense.
What is it that keeps us gripped by television and books? That – often literal – explosive end of episode, so you have to just ‘watch another 5 minutes’ and before you know it, an hour’s gone by. The book where you can’t sleep until you’ve found out what happens. I have to admit I’ve read a few recently where I’ve been avidly reading waiting for something to happen, only to find it never actually does. There’s no tension, no gradual tightening of the plot net around you so you can’t escape. Am I just less patient than I used to be? The author enters into a contract with the reader: In return for a few quid and your trust, the author will lead you through their world and there is a promise of delivery of something – a payoff for the investment of your time. Be it satisfaction, resolution or whatever, that author can’t break that contract or the reader will never trust the author again. There are some prolific authors whose books I will no longer read because they broke that contract and therefore lost my trust. And some authors whose books I will buy - pre-order - unseen, because I know the book will deliver.