My first retort is that just because your reviewers can’t think of anything to say doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be said…
Popular media can and does tell us a lot about ourselves as a culture. A good reviewer could easily find tropes of masculinity, or articulations of conservatism, in Tom Clancy, just as Anne Rice’s oeuvre has a lot to say about shifting attitudes towards gender and eroticism. Mysteries and thrillers reflect social attitudes about crime and punishment; George Pelecanos uses the genre as an effective instrument to talk about race relations as well.
I would only add that there is another, even more vital role to be played by smart reviews of dumb books: sending us into delirious fits of righteous laughter. Let me refer you to one of my all-time favorite reviews, which happens to fall into this category. It’s Lorin Stein writing two summers ago on The Emperor of Ocean Park in The London Review of Books:
Stephen L. Carter has written the kind of novel in which the bad guys say “very well” when they mean “OK”; in which the hero calls a visit from old friends “a delightfully rambunctious affair” and his rocky marriage a “tumultuous mutuality”; in which “homes” are “spacious,” jealousy “flames afresh” and eminent legal scholars spend dinner parties debating the existence of God. It is also the kind of novel–I am about to spoil the ending–in which the hero uncovers a vast conspiracy at the highest levels of government, resists the advances of a slinky assassin, faces down a gun-toting Supreme Court judge, and ends up getting promoted. The Emperor of Ocean Park is, in other words, an “airplane book,” as opposed to a “beach read”: it’s trash, but it’s Business Class trash, relentlessly high-toned, tastefully furnished and driven by a Rube Goldberg-like love of complication, minus the suspense.
American reviewers, partly out of deference to Carter’s serious polemics on race, religion and American politics, have tended to treat The Emperor of Ocean Park as a serious novel, which it is not; or as a thriller, which is simply unfair. When an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court looms up out of a dark and stormy night, semi-automatic at the ready, and tells the hero, “don’t play games with me .