Martin Amis isn’t the first literary novelist to roll up his sleeves and crack his knuckles to compose a thriller. Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham indulged in cloak-and-dagger affairs. James Jones, the author of such heavy-going group studies of manpower in action as From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, and Some Came Running, tore loose late in his career with a private-detective yarn called A Touch of Danger, an unintentionally hilarious outing in which Jones’s hero—called Lobo, no less—beds a fine lady named Chantal and informs us afterward that “her lovemaking had the same style and class as the rest of her.” Aiming higher and also missing by a mile was Norman Mailer, whose Tough Guys Don’t Dance offered nastier portions of sex and violence, steeped in Mailer’s pretentious notions of evil. Susannah Moore, normally a novelist of designer-perfume sensibility, went...


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