I Name a Genre: Running Briefcase Man

Do you enjoy thrillers in which the harried victim is a white-collar stiff, particularly in the executive/legal/political field? Perhaps it’s because you fancy yourself one of these individuals, making the hero that much more sympathetic and his tribulations that much more intense.

Or perhaps you’re not, and you simply enjoy watching these people get run down by black SUVs.

Whichever applies, you like the Running Briefcase Man thriller.

The cover will tell you that he is in a race against time. The back copy will tell you he is entangled in a web of deception with no one left to trust. These elements combine to tell you that he has absolutely no time to change into a pair of New Balance tennies.

This is a subgenre, I admit, that I’ve defined mainly by the book’s cover design. But let’s look at the nuances that exist therein.

Already we have a contender for giant of the subgenre: Joseph Finder. In these two examples we discover an obvious issue:

Often a briefcase is actually involved. Maybe it’s just a circumstantial accessory for protagonist. Or maybe it’s a MacGuffin that’s integral to the plot, like in the movie Pulp Fiction (but what I really want to point out here is that I used a film school term like MacGuffin in a sentence).

Running Briefcase Man novels, though, may not actually involve a briefcase in either the cover design or the narrative itself, but the spirit is there, and you know it when you see it.

Rarely does a John Grisham book qualify as a Running Briefcase Man novel, mostly because it lacks the frenetic pacing of most other legal thrillers, and of course, frequent running.

Let’s consider the telling details. See the Washington Monument there? This protagonist is obviously entangled in a political web of deception—the worst kind! The Feebs planted a tracker on me!  You don’t have the clearance for that! Get the President on the phone!

Now, I realize my genre designation may be considered sexist. I don’t mean to disregard all the Running Briefcase Women in fiction, for there are truly too many to ignore.

But this is just one of those situations in nomenclature where “man” is simply punchier than “person,” and sexism is simply a nonfactor. And by the way, Pussycat, you’d better pick up the pace there or you’ll be doing a nasty roll off that Beamer’s windshield.

Finally, we come to the boundary of the Running Briefcase Man subgenre. Robert Ludlum novels (the Bourne series, etc.) allow their protagonists less awkward running wear, thus disqualifying them from our consideration. But to be fair, more dangers are often introduced to counter this advantage: there tends to be something exploding behind them.


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