Lawrence Sanders' "The Third Deadly Sin" was among the top selling novels in 1981. This novel ranked eighth among the best selling novels of 1981 with sales of 187, 383. This novel, in which a homicidal, maniac
woman stabs and mutilates male conventioneers visiting New York proved so far his best. Why Sanders' "The Third Deadly Sin" surpassed his first two sin novels and his other novels is due to numerous reasons. These reasons range from his characterizatio
n to his experience as a writer. Although reasons such as the trend in 1981, his name noted as a previous best seller and because of the popularity of the key character Delaney entered this novel on the bestseller list, the novel must have had other chara
cteristics to keep it on the best selling list. These elements are sex, violence, wit, great characterization, the impact it had on the culture and manipulation of the reader's emotions. Although Sanders may have been a veteran to the best selling list
as of 1981, this novel, surpassed all of the others and made him (according to the jacket of the book) one of America's hottest mystery writers.
The Third Deadly Sin appeared on the Publisher's Weekly hardcover fiction list on July 24, 1981 at number fourteen. The book reached its peak on September 4, 1981. The book stayed at its peak for two weeks, but spent a total of twenty-five weeks on the P
ublisher's Weekly Hardcover fiction list. The book debuted on the New York Times fiction list on August 2, 1981 at position six. The book peaked on September 6, 1981 at number two. "The Third Deadly Sin" stayed at its peaked position for one week, but re
mained on the list for a total of twenty-four weeks. The paperback edition was published by Berkley Publishing Company and appeared on the Publisher's Weekly mass market paperback list on August 13, 1982 at the number ten spot. It reached its peak on Sep
tember 3, 1982 at the number one spot and held this position for two weeks. It remained on the list for a total of thirteen weeks. "The Third Deadly Sin" appeared on the New York Times mass-market paperback list on August 15, 1981 at the number fifteen sp
ot and reached a peak on August 22, 1982 at the number two spot. It remained at the number two spot for three weeks and spent a total of fourteen weeks on the list. "The Third Deadly Sin" spent a total of seventy-six weeks on the Publisher's Weekly and
The New York Times lists combined, spending the largest amount of time on these best sellers list than any of Sanders' other bestsellers.
The trend for the year of 1981 was one in which Mystery/Crime/Suspense novels stole the show. From looking in The Bowker Annual for 1982, of the top 15 best selling novels of the year, 10 were in the Mystery/Crime/Suspense genre and five of these in par
ticular were investigative or police procedural novels (* denotes police procedural novels). These top fifteen novels were:
"Noble House" - James Clavell
"The Hotel New Hampshire" - John Irving
"Cujo" - Stephen King
"An Indecent Obsession" - Collen McCullough
*"Gorky" - Martin Cruz
"Masquerade" - Kit Williams
"Goodbye, Janette" - Harold Robbins
*"The Third Deadly Sin" - Lawrence Sanders
*"The Glitter Dome" - Joseph Wambaugh
*"No Times for Tears" - Cynthia Freeman
"God Emperor of Dune" - Frank Herbert
"The Legacy" - Howard Fast
"The Cardinal Sins" - Andrew M. Greeley
"The Last Days of America" - Paul Erdman
*"Free Fall in Crimson" - John MacDonald
Sanders also followed one of the trends of 1981, according to The Bowker Annual, because veteran best selling novelists dominated the top of the fiction best selling list for 1981. Sanders has made quite a name for himself, he has had numerous best selle
rs before this novel. His Mystery best sellers before this sin novel include: "The Anderson Tapes" (1970), The First Deadly Sin" (1973), "The Tomorrow File" (1975), "The Second Deadly Sin" (1977), "The Sixth Commandment" (1978), "The Tenth Commandment"
(1980), which ranked number 15 overall of total sales in 1980, "The Dream Lover" (1978), "Love Songs" (1972) and "Caper" (1980). Of all of his mystery novels published before 1981, 7 of 9 (including "The Third Deadly Sin") were best sellers. But his s
uccess cannot solely be attributed to his name. This may have attributed to him being more recognizable, but this is not enough to keep him on the best seller list. This was evident in that he wrote under the pseudonyms of Lesley Andress and Mark Upton,
and two ("Dream Lover" and "Caper") of those three novels were best sellers as well. So what is the main ingredient for his success?
Having made a name for himself also helps in determining how many books to print. Sanders customers were not the only ones who thought his novel would do well, his publisher did as well. According to The Bowker Annual of 1982, of all of the best sellers
on the best seller list for 1981, 21 of the 25 top selling fiction books sold over 100,000. Sanders' publishers had a lot of confidence in his work because his initial printing was a printing of 125,000 novels. His total sold for the year was 187, 383
. 66.7% of his novels sold were printed in the first printing. Sanders publishers must have known that this novel was going to be a best seller because of his previous best selling novels. Compared to other novels on the Publisher's Weekly best seller
lists for 1981, this is large for a first printing. Of the top sellers for 1981, "Goodbye, Janette" also published 125,00 copies in its first printing, "Gorky Park" and "God Emperor of Dune" both published 100,000 in their first printings, "Free Fall in
Crimson" published 90,000 and "The Cardinal Sins" published about 60,000 copies. The only other novel for which statistics were found that published more than "The Third Deadly Sin" was "The Noble House" which ranked number one for the year and had a f
irst printing of 250,000 which was the largest for the Publishing company, Delacorte. The other novels which had lower first printings than this novel and did not make the top selling list for the year were "The White Hotel" which after five trips to the
press only had 70,000 in print, "XPD" had 80,000 copies in print and "The Company of Women" which after four trips had 135,000 copies in print.
It also helped that "The Third Deadly Sin" is part of a procedural series that Sanders wrote. The First two sins, "The First Deadly Sin" and "The Second Deadly Sin" were already recognized because they were best selling novels as well. The novels are al
so police procedurals and they feature the same main character, Edward Delaney. Why would this novel not be a best seller if the other two novels were?
Sanders was not the only one who made a name for himself. Edward Delaney made a name for himself as well. Sanders' first two novels in which Delaney was the main character were made into hit movies, "The Anderson Tapes" and "The First Deadly Sin." The
se movies premiered in 1971 and 1981 respectively. The year before this book was published, "The First Deadly Sin," premiered with Frank Sinatra playing his character. Who better to play the role of Delaney than the acclaimed Frank Sinatra? And who be
tter to play Delaney's wife than Faye Dunaway? Delaney made a name for himself having appeared on screen twice before the release of this fourth novel featuring him.
Although the above elements may have helped readers to recognize the name "Lawrence Sanders," he needed other elements to keep him on the lists for a total of seventy-six weeks. Sanders' main elements of success with this novel were that it contains the
ingredients for commercial success as George Grella states, "sex, violence, sensationalism, distinctive characterization, and sociological observation." Sex and violence are known contributors to a novel's success. According to Kohli, they help to ent
ertain and inspire the reader. Sex in particular is a repressed issue in our culture. We as a culture tend to want to involve ourselves with issues that we are denied. Also, sex serves to titillate the reader. This novel does just that because it contai
ns many sexual passages in it. Since the novel deals with the third deadly sin, lust, Zoe Kohler seduces the victim before killing him. One particular passage that contains sex is when Zoe Kohler goes to a bar, meets a gentleman and they have sex. San
ders describes this passage through the words and actions of Zoe. This passage is "'Oh,' she had cried out. 'Oh, oh, oh.' 'Good, huh?' he said, grunting with his effort. 'You like this? and this?and this? Oh god!' Moaning, just as Maddie Kurni
tz had advised. And Remedial Moaning. Zoe Kohler did as she had been told. Going through the motions. Threshing about. Digging nails into his meaty shoulders. Pulling his hair. 'So good!' she kept crying. 'So good!' Wondering if she had reme
mbered to turn off the gas range before she left her apartment. Then he kept pumping" (91). Sanders even includes elements of oral sex in his novel. In the same scene as the previous he states, "He clamped her head between his strong hands and guided
her mouth. 'Now you're getting it,' he instructed her. 'Up. Down. That's it. Around. Right there. The tongue. It's all in knowing how, doll. Take it easy with the teeth." (91). Sanders also describes the female body erotically. He says, "S
he started the tub, then returned to the bedroom to undress. When she was naked, she palpated her breasts tenderly. That morning they had been soft, saggy. Now they seemed enlarged, harder, the nipples semi-erect" (31). Sanders goes on to say, "She di
d not masturbate" (31). Because he contains sexual language and scenes in his novel, he provides the reader with an extra source of entertainment. Obviously, it worked.
Violence, one of his other elements of success, was thought by Kohli to be a part of nature and a vital element of life. In addition, our culture is one that is violent. The media is full of violence. In the year 1981, the assassination attempt of Rona
ld Reagan was a key, violent event of that year. A deranged loner attempted to kill the President and the whole nation watched the coverage. Violence is seen throughout our nation. Gory passages in his novel help to bring this factor to light. In a pa
ssage where violence is involved, Sanders describes a scene in which Zoe is killing a male conventioneer. He describes it as "he made a sound, a gargle, and his heavy body leaped convulsively from the bed. Blood spouted in streams, gobbets, a flood that
sprayed the air with a crimson fog. It soaked the bed, dripped onto the floor. Zoe Kohler threw back the sheet, exposing his pulpy abdomen, veined legs, his flaccid penis and testicles, half-hidden in a nest of grayish-brown hair, tangled. With bloodi
ed, slippery hand, she drove the knife blade again and again into his genitals. No triumph or exultation in her face. Not grinning or yowling, but intent and businesslike. Saying with each stab, 'There. There. There.'"(43) Sanders filled his passag
es of Zoe Kohler's killings with gory details such as "handling the Swiss army knife like a dagger, she plunged the big blade into the left side of his fat neck and sawed back toward her" (43). He repeats this process throughout the book again as he de
scribes Zoe Kohler killing. He says, "the blade went into soft cheese. His body leaped frantically, but with her left hand and knee she pressed him down. The knife caught on something in his neck, but she sawed determinedly until it sliced through" (43
9). He continues with "out it went, the blood, in a spray, a fountain, a gash. She held him down until his threshings weakened and ceased. Then he just flowed, and she tipped the torn head over the edge of the bed to let him drain onto the rug" (439).
A violent action is like sex, provides the reader with extra excitement.
Peter Andrews in his review of "The Third Deadly Sin" also attributes the novel's success, like Grella, to its characterization. He states that Sanders has the ability to "lavish enormous care of their development and show them off to their best advanta
ge." Zoe Kohler, our female psychopathic killer, is not your ordinary psychopath. She is a neat, ordinary female character. She is a hotel worker who works in the hotel's security department and seems like an ordinary woman until night strikes and she
decides to kill men. Sanders is able to evoke pity from the reader for Zoe because she has Addison's disease, a rare disease of the endocrine and hormonal system. She is not our typical female serial killer; she does not kill out of passion. Her murd
ers have no pattern. Since she looks like every other female who walks the streets of New York, this makes her less noticeable.
Zoe's plainness in her characterization can also be attributed to the fact that Sanders wanted her to appear as the average 1980's woman. The early1980's, was a conservative time. As I stated before, Reagan was the president and the country was fille
d with preconceived notions of how a woman should act. But, Sanders destroyed this preconceived notion and this impacted the nation. He invented a rarity in his novel, a female psychopathic killer. It even took Delaney a while before he discovered who
the killer was because he was used to murderers being men, such as Jack the Ripper and Son of Sam. Sanders also made Delaney's wife, Monica a feminist and there are several arguments between the two in the book about pre-conceived notions of women. Del
aney has never seen a female murderer like Kohler. He believed they all acted out of passion or greed or because they were drunk, but Kohler did not. In one particular quote from Mrs. Delaney, Sanders reveals the point of his making the murderer a femal
e. She says, " But now you find a female character who's intelligent, plans well, kills coldly with no apparent motive, and it shatters all your preconceptions about women. And not only does it destroy your romantic fancies, but I think it scares you-
in a way." Mrs. Delaney goes on to say, "Because if a woman can act in this way, then you don't know anything at all about women. Isn't that what scares you? Now you've discovered that women are as capable as men. Capable of evil, in this case. Bu
t if that's true, then they must also be as capable of good, of creativity, of invention and art. It's upsetting all the prejudices you have and maybe even weren't aware of. Suddenly you have to revise your thinking about women, all your old, ingrain
ed opinions, and that can be a painful process. I think that's why you want more than the killings ended. You want revenge against this woman who has caused such an upheaval in all your notions of what women are and how they should act" (432). Sanders
is commenting on society's preconceived notions of women. He is saying that if women can become murderers, they are capable of anything. This he portrays through the Mrs. Delaney, who represents his voice, and Edward Delaney, who represents negative
thinkers toward women and their capabilities. This book motivated and changed preconceived notions of women. This same year, Sandra Day O'Connor entered the Supreme Court, an all-male institution. President Reagan nominated her in July of 1981.
Sanders also hooks the reader by using a trick of commercial novelists, he manipulates the reader's emotions. He accomplishes this by telling the story in two viewpoints, that of Zoe Kohler and the other of Edward X. Delaney. Half of the chapters are Z
oe's voice and thoughts and the other half, Delaney's. This makes the reader split allegiance between the two characters. As Andrews states, "it was not easy to empathize with a woman who lures men into hotel rooms primarily to kill them, but I did."
Zoe suffers from Addison's disease and so the reader feels sympathy for her because she has such a rare disease. This is highly emotional subject matter that Sanders has used. Sanders paints a sad picture of Kohler when he describes her disease. He s
ays, " the abdominal pains were constant now, almost as severe as menstrual cramps. Weakness buckled her knees; she frequently felt gridy and feared she might faint on the street. She continued to lose weight; her flesh deflated over her joints; she see
med all knobs and edges. The discolored blotches grew; she watched with dulled horror as whole patches of skin took on a grayish-brown hue (417). Like Andrews said, the reader applauds whenever Delaney finds a new clue, but worries about what danger thi
s provided for Kohler. Kohler was so commonplace, an employee of a hotel. Andrews considers it a waste for a "city to expend such resources in her apprehension." Delaney on the other hand is one of those cops that according to Andrews, "knows how to fo
rget the book and follow his hunches." He is unlike many fictional policemen. Delaney also thought "picking the woman up and getting her out of circulation makes sense. But I think going for prosecution and conviction makes more sense" (429). Andre
ws also thought that, "so many fictional cops feel that being taciturn is a professional requirement, but not Delaney." Delaney thought that "political was everything weak, sly, expedient and unctuous. Political was doing the right things for the wrong
reasons, and the wrong things for the right reasons" (415). Therefore, this trick that Sanders uses adds to the success of the book.
Sanders also uses wit in his novel. The fact that Zoe Kohler goes on a killing rampage during her monthly menstrual cycle is comical. It is also funny that a man writes the book, yet he comments on the pain she feels while on her period. Edward Delane
y is also a comical character throughout the story, particularly his fetish for sandwiches. As Andrews says, "if you get nothing else out of the 'Third Deadly Sin,' you will learn some terrific recipes." Police officers are infamous for jelly donuts,
but this cop is infamous for his love of sandwiches. Several pages of the book can back this up.
Although Sanders' name and main character were previously known before the release of this best selling novel, "The Third Deadly Sin," other factors led to his success. He used these names and the trend for they year to spark his success, but he needed
something to guarantee this success. He used essentials for commercial success: sex, violence, great characterization, an impact on the culture, wit and threw in a bonus trick for the reader, empathy for characters. Although many best selling novels are
popular for many different reasons, these are the reasons for which I believe that Lawrence Sanders and "The Third Deadly Sin" ranked eighth among the best selling novels of 1981.
Andrews, Peter. "Much Blood." New York Times 6 Sept. 1981: 10.
Grella, George. St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers.
Justice. Bestseller Index.
Kohli, Suresh. Sex and Violence in Literature. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private
O'Hare, Joanne and Betty Sun. The Bowker Annual, 1982. 27th ed. New York: R. R.
Bowker Company, 1982.
Publisher's Weekly, 1981
Sanders, Lawrence. The Third Deadly Sin. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.