Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Wishes from Hong Kong

As a new year dawns, we like to look backwards in time; so please find the opening credits to one of our favourite exploitation thrillers – Brian Trenchard Smith’s THE MAN FROM HONG KONG [1975] , which starred James Bond’s George Lazenby and Jimmy Wang-Yu. It also featured a typically retro 1970’s theme song by British Band ‘Jigsaw’. The song ‘Sky High’ was a one hit wonder.

So on the eve of a new year, enjoy this bit of 1970’s nostalgia -

See you in 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Stark Winters' Reading

May the Existentialist Man wish you all a happy Christmas Holiday and let’s hope that 2011 will be a good year for us all. So as I finish up, and head out of London, I must let you know what my reading plans are for the holiday.

I’ve had a very hectic year, with great fun at Crimefest, Harrogate and the thrilling time at Bouchercon San Francisco. But now the adverse weather over the last couple of weeks have been challenging due to my work in Logistics. I am looking forward to a week and a half off, with my family, and a huge stack of books and DVD’s to relax.

Last night I selected a couple of boxes of books from my review pile for my winter holiday reading. I also selected several books by Richard Stark [aka Donald Westlake] who passed away in January 2009 as books for re-reading as I have been collecting the University of Chicago re-issues, as well as the Graphic Novels The Hunter and The Outfit from Darwyn Cooke.

To show how important Westlake / Stark’s work was to the genre, Jeff Peirce published at the Rap Sheet comments from the community and my humble offering -
I first discovered Donald Westlake thanks to the movie version of The Hot Rock with Robert Redford, which led me to explore more of the Dortmunder books, as well as muttering “Afghanistan, Bananistan” to strangers from time to time. But my true love was the Richard Stark series featuring Parker. I loved the spartan style of Stark, and was overjoyed when I read Stephen King’s tribute to Stark in his brilliant novel about split personalities, The Dark Half. (“Anyway, for reasons you’d have to ask Westlake about, he eventually stopped writing novels about Parker, but I never forgot something Westlake said after the pen name was blown. He said he wrote books on sunny days and Stark took over on the rainy ones ...”) It was an apt tribute to a great man.

I only met Westlake once when we came to the CrimeScene convention in London in 2005. I was humbled in his presence, despite his modesty and gentle nature. I find it surreal that when I heard of the awful news [of Westlake’s death], the first words that came into my head were “Afghanistan, Bananistan,” which echoed as a lament for our loss. I miss his words already, as the world just darkened a tad, knowing that he is no longer with us.

So let me leave the last word to Donald Westlake on the lead up to Christmas. This paragraph is rather apt as I survey the year because the word ‘family’ should be viewed in the widest possible context -

“Christmas reminds us we are not alone. We are not unrelated atoms, bouncing and ricocheting amid aliens, but are a part of something, which holds and sustains us. As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same. Christmas shows us the ties that bind us together, threads of love and caring, woven in the simplest and strongest way within the family.”
Donald E. Westlake

Have a great holiday and thanks for reading.
If you haven’t read Richard Stark, perhaps curl up on the sofa and try one of his books, but beware, these are VERY dark novels.

Graphic © 2009 Darwyn Cooke from 'The Hunter'
If you are looking for something to read, head off to January Magazine who have their best of 2010 - plenty of great books to chose from -

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Man from Laramie comes to Yorkshire

Some great news for thriller readers, as Wyoming based C.J. ‘Chuck’ Box is confirmed to attend the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

I’m a long time follower of Box’s Joe Pickett novels, as well as his standalones and interviewed him at Bouchercon Indianapolis in 2009

As unlikely as this may sound, I made the town of Laramie, Wyoming, my home for a time in the 1980s, when I was traveling around America’s West and Midwest. Fortunately for you, I’m not going to go into all of the reasons why I landed in that once lawless frontier burg. But I will say that I had a good time there and made some “interesting friends” at a bar called The Buckhorn. It was there that I met my first real cowboys, and for a time, was a rather unusual regular--a swarthy man with a clipped English accent, who drank gin-and-tonics and talked incessantly about books.

My Laramie days were still very much on my mind in 2003, when I attended my first Bouchercon, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and met C.J. “Chuck” Box. A Wyoming native, Box by then had had two novels published: Open Season (2001) and Savage Run (2002), both of which starred game warden Joe Pickett. Reading Box’s yarns took me back to my time in the West, when I wandered around the Black Hills and attended the Frontier Days celebration in Cheyenne, an event that offered me my first opportunity to ride a bucking bronco. (Yes, my time in America was filled with action!)

Read The Full Interview Here

Corvus Publishing sent me a press release as they are releasing all of Box’s work in 2011 -

Corvus today announces an unprecedented roll-out of twelve new books by the multi award-winning US crime writer C.J. Box in a single year. Corvus is set to publish one book a month from Box’s New York Times bestselling ‘Joe Pickett’ series in 2011. Together with the paperback publication of the 2009 Edgar award-winning Blue Heaven in January and a new stand-alone novel in August, the ground-breaking venture shows a major commitment by Corvus to publishing C.J. Box in the UK. It will be supported by an intensive year-long publicity and advertising campaign and major book trade promotions.

Publisher Nicolas Cheetham says:

‘Every crime writer needs a series character, and Corvus has the great pleasure of introducing Joe Pickett to the growing number of C.J. Box’s British fans. The Joe Pickett books are addictive, each instalment surpasses the last, and that’s saying something when the first book, Open Season, won nearly every crime writing award in the USA. You shouldn’t have to wait for something this good, so we’re publishing the Pickett novels in quick succession. The best way to watch a hit TV series is to buy the box set and watch them all at once… Why shouldn’t it be the same for books? In more ways than one, this is the ultimate Box set.’

Cheetham first introduced C.J. Box to the UK, acquiring three stand alone novels, when he launched the Corvus list in 2009. Box’s use of very normal everyday characters placed in extraordinary situations has already proved a big hit with male and female readers in the US. Now, his captivating, morally complex and exceptionally written series featuring Wyoming game-warden Joe Pickett should find a broad and dedicated fan base – and as Cheetham says ‘should catapult him into the major league of thriller writers in the UK.’

C.J. Box will make his first ever UK tour in July 2011 and will appear at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in the run up to the publication of his new stand alone book, Back of Beyond.


January 2011 Blue Heaven [paperback] £7.99
February 2011 Open Season [Joe Pickett #1] £7.99
March 2011 Savage Run [Joe Pickett #2] £7.99
April 2011 Winterkill [Joe Pickett # 3] £7.99
May 2011 Trophy Hunt [Joe Pickett #4] £7.99
June 2011 Out of Range [Joe Pickett #5] £7.99
July 2011 In Plain Sight [Joe Pickett #6] £7.99
August 2011 Back of Beyond [hardback] £7.99
August 2011 Free Fire [Joe Pickett #7] £7.99
September 2011 Blood Trail [Joe Pickett #8] £7.99
October 2011 Below Zero [Joe Pickett #9] £7.99
November 2011 Nowhere to run [Joe Pickett #10] £7.99
December 2011: Cold Wind [Joe Pickett #11] £12.99

More information about C J Box is available here

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lost Classics

While ploughing through my LOST DVD Box-set I came across this Mama and Papa’s classic song “Make Your Own Kind of Music” used to surreal effect in Season 2’s exploration of what lies beneath The Hatch and the mysterious Desmond, and the 108 minute push-button. I am enjoying watching LOST in a continuous sequence, as it poses many quirky questions and observations about life. I was amused [but not surprised] to see how some people have gotten totally obsessed by Lost, some even attending a cinema marathon screening in London.

Another aspect like the music references, is the plethora of literary observations and winks to many works, including of course Stephen King who is an advocate of the series, and also an influence on the writers.

"Make your own kind of music"
© 1968 written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Nobody can tell ya;
There's only one song worth singin'.
They may try and sell ya,
'cause it hangs them up
to see someone like you.

But you've gotta make your own kind of music
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music
even if nobody else sings along.

So if you cannot take my hand,
and if you must be goin',
I will understand.
You're gonna be knowing

the loneliest kind of lonely.
It may be rough goin',
just to do your thing's
the hardest thing to do.

But you've gotta make your own kind of music
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music
even if nobody
else sings along.

So if you cannot take my hand,
and if you must be goin',
I will understand.
You gotta make your own kind of music

sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music even if nobody
else sings along.

A superb song to kick start anyone’s day

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Library Journal Best Crime and Thrillers

Considering the problems facing our libraries in the US and UK, with budget squeezing, cutbacks, and the like - I am pleased to see LJ battling on. It does seem that Minotaur Books seem to be dominating the L J Selection of the best of the genres 2010, with three nominated books in the crime fiction genre and also I am delighted to see Gayle Lynd’s remarkable ‘The Book of Spies’ selected in the Thriller List, another Minotaur publication.

All these LJ Selections would make excellent presents of Christmas gifts -

Casey, Kathryn. The Killing Storm. Minotaur: St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312379520. $25.99.As Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong investigates the ritualistic killings of prize cattle, a four-year-old boy is kidnapped, and a hurricane heads straight for Houston. Riveting suspense and nifty plot twists in an outstanding series. (LJ 10/1/10)

Elias, Gerald. Danse Macabre. Minotaur: St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312541897. $24.99. The execution of a man convicted of killing a famous concert violinist draws blind violin teacher Daniel Jacobus into an impromptu investigation. Musical know-how, an intricate plot, and fresh characters elevate Elias's second series title above standard fare. (LJ 7/10)

Harris, Gardiner. Hazard. Minotaur: St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312570163. $25.99.A safety inspector probes a fatal mining disaster in Hazard, KY, that may not have been an accident. This outstanding debut boasts vivid details, insider knowledge of the mining industry, spot-on characterizations, and an engrossing mystery. (LJ 1/10)

Larsen, K.J. Liar, Liar: A Cat DeLuca Mystery. Poisoned Pen. ISBN 9781590587256. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781590587270. $14.95.Cat DeLuca, owner of Chicago's Pants on Fire Detective Agency, is up to her eyebrows in trouble when she tries to prove a man's infidelity. Her family of police officers and busybody relatives add comic relief in this cozy debut. (LJ 8/10)

Parker, I.J. The Masuda Affair: A Sugawara Akitada Novel. Severn House. ISBN 9780727869258. $28.95.Sugawara attempts to help an abused boy, reconnect with his wife, come to terms with the death of a son, and solve a murder. Eleventh-century Japan is a perfect setting for this perceptive sleuth and complex crime novel. (LJ 11/1/10)

Connelly, Michael. The Reversal. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316069489. $27.99.Two Connelly protagonists, Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) and Harry Bosch (Nine Dragons), team up in a cold case that gets stranger as more evidence is unveiled. Connelly's latest solidifies his reputation as the master of the modern crime thriller. (LJ 9/1/10)

Dugoni, Robert. Bodily Harm. Touchstone: S. & S. ISBN 9781416592969. $25.A lawsuit against a toy company becomes a gut-wrenching journey for attorney David Sloan. With an intriguing premise and plenty of in- and out-of-the courtroom action, Dugoni's legal thriller will satisfy fans of the genre. (Xpress Reviews, 5/14/10)

Jacobson, Alan. Velocity. Vanguard: Perseus. ISBN 9781593156213. $25.95.FBI profiler Karen Vail (The 7th Victim) must put her personal feelings aside to rescue the man she loves from a killer in Jacobson's best book to date. (LJ 9/15/10)

Land, Jon. Strong Justice. Forge: Tor. ISBN 9780765323361. $24.99.In tackling a case involving a Mexican slave trade with strange ties to her grandfather, fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong has to face her own O.K. Corral. Land is in top form mixing elements of a modern action thriller with the fine tradition of Western novels. (LJ 4/1/10)

Lynds, Gayle. The Book of Spies. St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312380892. $25.99.A rare book dealer is framed for murdering her husband and ends up working with a former intelligence officer to uncover the legendary Library of Gold in this thrilling spy-laden, history-rich actionfest. (LJ 2/1/10)

Click Here for the complete list of all 2010 genre favourites from Library Journal

Photo © 2010 Ali Karim
Hector DeJean – Publicity Manager Minotaur Books with Jeff Peirce of
The Rap Sheet taken at the Minotaur Books Cocktail Party, October 2010 San Francisco

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Larsson Gift for the Reader in your Life

Word is getting out, about the prefect gift for the reader in your family. In my case – myself, as the Stieg Larsson Millennium Series Box-Set is a must purchase and beautifully produced. This collectors set from MacLehose / Quercus consists of 4 volumes [slipcased] hardcover versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest as well as a fascinating fourth volume of correspondence between Stieg Larsson, and Eva Gedin, the author’s editor at Swedish publisher Norstedts, as well as many other snippets for the Larsson reader, placing the adventures of Salander & Blomkvist into context.

Also included is a huge poster featuring the international covers of the Larsson novels, this will be pride of place in many homes this winter.

Just so the US collectors are not left out; an American Edition is also planned for release shortly for the festive season.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Existential 'Lost'

I just can’t get to watch scheduled TV due to time pressure, and the complexity of modern life. So when something interesting comes along, I often have to wait for the DVD boxset, and watch the series in a long sequence. The shows that have captivated me most recently are BBC’s ‘Spooks’ [aka MI5 in the US], the re-worked / re-tooled Battlestar Galactica, and to a lesser extent the BSG Spin-off Caprica.

I have waited for some time for LOST series 6 [the final season] to be released on DVD, with the previous 5 seasons in a boxed-set; as several people have been raving about it. I waited until the boxed-set was reduced in price, and this happened this week. So I watched the first four episodes last night and became captivated by this existentially surreal TV series, with its links to the ‘weird’.

I became interested in LOST after discovering a link between a obscure quasi-SF South American novel ‘The Invention of Morel’ by Adolfo Bioy Casares. This little known novel has been referenced by the writers of the ‘Lost’ [which I discovered after viewing the first few episodes]. The introduction to this novel can be downloaded as a .pdf here]. I strongly recommend this slim mind-flipping little book, which also seems to have influenced Christopher Nolan in “Inception” and also Alain Robbe-Grillet, the screenwriter of Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad’; a film that Nolan acknowledges as an influence on ‘Inception’.

What made me sit up to attention last night, was the close of episode III ‘Tabula Rasa’ which featured a tremendously disturbing song entitled ‘Wash Away’ by Joe Purdy, which like a Leonard Cohen lament has a cheerful tone, which may underpin something far more sinister. The meaning[s] for ‘Wash Away’ are ambiguous; indicating that it is either a song [or lament] about someone changing the direction of their life, or perhaps something far more sinister; a troubled soul preparing for their suicide.

The sequence that the song plays on ‘Tabula Rosa’ is very moving, and one that makes one consider ones’ place in what we term reality.

I got troubles oh, but not today
Cause they're gonna wash away

They're gonna wash away

And I have sins Lord,

but not today

Cause they're gonna wash away

They're gonna wash away

And I had friends oh,

but not today

Cause they done washed away

They done washed away

And oh I’ve been cryin

And oh I’ve been cryin

And oh no more cryin No,

no more cryin here

We get along Lord,

but not today Cause we gonna wash away

We gonna wash away

And I got troubles oh,

but not today

Cause they gonna wash away

This old heart gonna take them away

‘Wash Away’ © Joe Purdy taken from Julie Blue

Friday, November 12, 2010

Withnail and Ali

I had a very enjoyable week with the highlight being the Galaxy National Book Awards, recorded at BBC Broadcasting House in Wood Lane, London on Wednesday. The only disappointment was that Award Nominated crime writers Peter James, Lee Child, Kate Atkinson and the late Stieg Larsson did not win their categories.

But it was a fun event, meeting up with Shots Editor Mike Stotter and Roger [RJ] Ellory as well many colleagues such as Oliver Rhodes from MIRA UK, Barry Forshaw and many others from the UK publishing industry as well as the world of film and TV. One of the delights was meeting and having a drink with Richard E. Grant, and we was very gracious talking about Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I [considering he must get asked all the time about this iconic film]. Grant was a good sport even posing for a Withnail and I style drinking photograph, which I find most amusing.

I’ll leave you with some of the witty dialogue from ‘Withnail and I’ -

Withnail: I've some extremely distressing news.

Marwood: I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything! Oh God, it's a nightmare, I tell you, it's a nightmare.

Withnail: We just ran out of wine. What are we gonna do about it?

Marwood: I don't know, I don't know. Oh God, I don't feel good. Look, my thumbs have gone weird! I'm in the middle of a bloody overdose. Oh God. My heart's beating like a fucked clock! I feel dreadful, I feel really dreadful!

Withnail: So do I, so does everybody. Look at my tongue; it's wearing a yellow sock. Sit down for Christ's sake, what's the matter with you? Eat some sugar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

See you all in San Francisco

Not much to say, except thanks to Roger RJ Ellory, twisting my arm at Harrogate following his winning the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Award for Crime Novel of the Year this summer [‘A Simple Act of Violence’], our bags are packed for the long journey to Bouchercon San Francisco.

Bouchercon is a great place to meet up with our friends; only a few are pictured above , so if you are around – then please say hello as we arrive early hours of Thursday Morning and fly out Monday.

So let’s leave the last word to John Fogerty and Willie and the Poor Boys of CCR -

We’ll have plenty to say on our return, so until then, why not explore Roger’s latest ‘SAINTS OF NEW YORK’.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Big Hand to Henriksson & Forsyth

Despite my badly injuring my right hand this week, [hence the bandages and white protective glove]; I thoroughly enjoyed the Specsavers CWA Dagger Awards in London on Friday. Due to my hand injury, I can only type rather slowly hence a very short piece about the event.

As a true fan-boy there were too many people there to comment and write about, however I must admit that my first ever meetings with Frederick Forsyth and Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, who plays Inspector Kurt Wallander were memorable, truly memorable. I somehow managed to remain coherent despite my inner fanboy tendencies. I did discover that Henriksson is good friends with author Henning Mankell. I also had a fascinating chat with Fredrick Forsyth. I later learned from Forsyth’s publisher Selina Walker of Transworld that when Forsyth’s debut 'The Day of The Jackal' was submitted for publication, it was rejected by all and sundry, apart from one publisher. This publisher decided to take a gamble as he liked the book, but commented it broke the 3 golden rules of thrillers [at that time] so he decided, ‘let’s take a punt’ –

# The Novel was filled with ‘matter of fact’ tradecraft ‘ - that was totally unheard of at the time [which now is a staple of thriller fiction]

# The writing style was totally ‘different’ to thrillers of that time; filled with a style that was excessively descriptive and very ‘matter of fact’.

# The novel was based around true life events, and everyone knew that the Jackal failed in the assassination attempt, hence the climax already known.

The rest, Selina Walker said ‘was history’. I admire people who take risks.

I also admire Frederick Forsyth, as when we had a chat about his work, especially his short stories from his collection No Comebacks which I read while at University; he was interested in one of his stories that still resonates in me for obvious reasons –

There Are No Snakes In Ireland is about an Indian medical student in Ireland who is bullied by the foreman at a construction site where he is trying to earn his tuition. Things go too far and the student decides to take his revenge.

There was some drama, very late in the bar, when I attempted to help Krister Henriksson try and find his CWA Dagger that he mislaid in his goodie bag. I thought ‘surreal!’; me helping Inspector Kurt Wallander on a case. When I told my wife, she rolled her eyes to heaven and said, “You do realize that he’s an actor and not really a policeman….”

There were so many key figures from the Crime and Mystery genre, to list them all would be too hard with just one hand, though special thanks go to my Editor at Shots, Mike Stotter - a true friend who helped me with my bandages.

Now I have to look after my damaged hand, for my trip to Bouchercon next week; so if you trap me in the bar, I’ll tell you more - as typing with one hand is proving a nightmare, but I do like to talk a lot about the genre!

Also - I must thank Dan Wagner for his kind words about the Book Reviewing panel that happens on Thursday, and of course check out The Rap Sheet for details on the Friday Panel entitled Inferno, and see you all next week in San Francisco!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three Seconds and Three Book Videos

I am getting very excited for my trip with Roger Ellory to Bouchercon San Francisco next week, though there is a lot of work behind the scenes for the trip, especially as I have a couple of panels to moderate, parties to attend and generally meeting my friends and colleagues in the Crime and Thriller Genre –

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED - our favorite books
Ali Karim (M) - Chris Aldrich, Sarah Byrne, Janet Rudolph, Andi Shechter
Thursday Oct 14th 10:00am in Seacliff A

I am as ever flattered to be moderating the book reviewing panel where we will discuss our favourite books, past present and future with key critics of the genre. Remember it was at Bouchercon that word about Stieg Larsson travelled from Europe to America, so you may well discover what the critics reckon will become the big books of 2010.

And talking about Stieg Larsson [some people indicate I talk about nothing else…], I am also delighted to be moderating a truly international panel where we will discuss crime fiction set against the backdrops of Iceland, Sweden and the Middle East.

INFERNO : Where will the next great idea come from?
Ali Karim (M), Zoë Ferraris, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Anders Roslund, Börge Hellström, Joshua Sobol
Fri, Oct 15 11:30AM-12:30PM in Grand Ballroom C

Next week The Rap Sheet in a pre-Bouchercon special will be featuring an exclusive 2 part interview with the Swedish crime-writing duo Roslund and Hellström. As I was talking earlier this week about Book Videos, I am delighted to show you three videos revolving around the Swedish Prison Psycho-Drama that is ‘Three Seconds’ –

Video I

Video II

Video III

I hope to see you in San Francisco next week, and those of you who can’t make it, check out The Rap Sheet next week as the exclusive Roslund and Hellström interview goes live on Wednesday and Thursday, during which they tackle the dark subjects that make their fiction so scary, so challenging. Trust me, when I say that they push crime fiction into the very darkest corners of the human condition, making you reflect upon your own value system.

Photo of Roslund and Hellström (c) 2010 Magnus Jönsson

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Making of Mankell

I look forward to meeting Swedish actor Krister Henriksson on Friday at the CWA Specsavers Dagger Awards in London, where he is nominated for an award for his portrayal of melancholic detective Kurt Wallander. I see that the BBC Series featuring Kenneth Branagh as the depressively troubled inspector has its second series currently airing on US TV. Personally I prefer the original Swedish version from YellowBird Productons featuring Henriksson.

Meanwhile The Independent has a lengthy feature with Geoffrey Macnab including an interview with Henning Mankell, the creator of Kurt Wallander –

Speaking from Sweden, where he has been attending the Gothenburg Book Fair, Mankell ponders the reasons for the extraordinary global popularity of Nordic detectives. "Naturally, I've been thinking about it," he tells me. "One [reason] must be pure coincidence. The second is that I guess I worked as a locomotive in some ways. My success has been an inspiration for others. You remember the tennis player Björn Borg? Before that, Sweden had very few good tennis players. After that, we suddenly had a hell of a lot. Maybe that is one kind of explanation."

The main subject of my interview isn't
Larsson or Björn Borg. Nor is it the psychology and unlikely appeal of the morose Detective Kurt Wallander. It is Mankell's ongoing attempts to make an ambitious TV drama and feature film about his father-in-law, Ingmar Bergman – a project interrupted in surreal fashion by the Israeli army.

Earlier this summer, Mankell was aboard the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli forces. To his consternation, part of the screenplay for his new film about Bergman was confiscated by the Israeli soldiers.

"Whatever I do, I am always working on something," says Mankell, explaining how he happened to have the Bergman screenplay in his possession at the same time as he was taking part in a mission to bring aid supplies to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. "When everything was stolen and confiscated, they [the Israeli troops] also took the manuscript," he recalls. "What the hell are they supposed to do with that?"

Four months later, the Israelis still haven't returned Mankell's screenplay. He jokes that the Israelis must have thought the screenplay – called Crisis in deference to Bergman's directorial debut – was written in code. Mankell very much doubts that the young commando soldiers who took the screenplay even knew who Bergman was.

Mankell, now 62, has spent many years living and working in Africa. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a political activist, campaigning against apartheid in South Africa and the US war in Vietnam. Being aboard the Gaza flotilla didn't scare him at all. "I am not an afraid person," he blithely states. "In all the years I have lived in Africa, I have had some quite terrible experiences. What I still think about today is how very stupidly they [the Israeli army] behaved. If they really had had the ambition just to stop the flotilla, they should have done something with the rudder and propellers," he reflects on the incident, which left nine flotilla members dead, saw him arrested and provoked a huge international row.

The crime writer's outspoken opinions about the Middle East have been well chronicled. He likens the plight of the Palestinians to that of black South Africans in the apartheid era and expresses his confidence that the Gaza blockade will eventually be broken. He has no intention of letting up on his activism. "I am a very dangerous man because I know that we managed to crush the apartheid system in South Africa without violence. This is also the idea here. Sooner or later, people in Israel must understand that this is an unbearable situation."

Read the full feature here

A Plum Job on American Dragon Tattoo

The news from the US production team behind David Fincher’s interpretation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo thriller just gets better and better. We reported about Daniel Craig joining the cast, now we hear Christopher Plummer has signed up to play Henrik Vanger. Former action star Sven-Bertil Taube played the role of Henrik Vanger in the Swedish language original. Though I’m not usually too excited about Hollywood remakes of European originals, but after viewing ‘Let Me In’ last week, my opinion has changed.

Though it’s not all good news as the production currently in Sweden has had a set back as Rooney Mara, who is cast as Salander has been reported [but not confirmed] as injured in Stockholm last week -

25-year-old Mara seriously injured her shoulder, according to the Aftonbladet daily, while preparing for the role of Salander in the Hollywood version of the first of Larsson's Millennium trilogy books. Filming has now been delayed for several days while the actress works to recover from her injury sustained while training for the role.

Mara has been in Stockholm for several weeks preparing for the task of playing the gothic hacker heroine Salander, including learning to ride a motorbike, fight and to build up her muscle strength. She has furthermore been undergoing classes to learn how to speak English with a Swedish accent.
Mara has been spotted undergoing rehab training at the private Sophiahemmet hospital in Stockholm to recover from her unfortunate mishap, according to Aftonbladet."She injured herself during the preparations for the role so seriously that she is unable to record any scenes at the moment," said an unnamed person who had seen the actress at the hospital to the newspaper. However, Malte Forssell, the project leader for filming in Sweden told the newspaper he had no knowledge of the injury. In addition, a representative for Sony Pictures told US entertainment programme Access Hollywood that the reports of Mara's injury were "not true". The US film team have identified a number of locations around central-eastern Sweden for the film. Södermalm on Stockholm will featured strongly, with the production using Mariatorget as a base.

Sweden is all a-go-go with the Hollywood Team landing to film their version of Larsson’s internationally lauded crime thriller –

So far, sites in central Stockholm and the nearby archipelago have been confirmed, as have locations in Uppsala in eastern Sweden, according to the TT Spektra news service."They're going to remake building facades and streets on parts of Drottninggatan. It's supposed to look like it did in the 1960s. Therefore, we've given permits to place work trucks and such on the street," Karin Åkerström of the Uppsala police told TT. The filming is likely to cause some traffic headaches for Uppsala residents, with bus service on Drottninggatan set to be rerouted for at least a month. In addition, an estate outside the town of Katrineholm, located about 140 kilometres southwest of Stockholm, is a likely location for filming scenes in the Hollywood remake of the first installment of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy.
According to the Katrineholms-Kuriren, the Hofsta säteri estate, with roots back to the 1300s, will serve as character Henrik Vanger's compound on the outskirts of the fictional town of Hedestad in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.""We're preparing for filming to start in October, but it's not 100 percent finished," Malte Forssell, the film's Swedish producer, told the newspaper.Film crews are also set to descend on locations in Hälsingland province in eastern Sweden, including Bollnäs, as well as Gävle and Söderhamn. A number of scenes will also be shot in central Stockholm and at three locations in the city's archipelago.

Read More

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lee Child No 1 with a Bullet

It’s Groundhog Day again; Lee Child releases a new book and it hits No 1 in the UK. The interesting factor is that ‘Worth Dying For’ is Lee’s second Jack Reacher novel as earlier this year we had ’61 Hours’ which rocked the house.

So as Jack Reacher escapes the perils of winter in 61 Hours……..

There's deadly trouble in the wilds of Nebraska...and Reacher walks right into it.First he falls foul of the Duncans, a local clan that has terrified an entire county into submission. But it's the unsolved case of a missing eight-year-old girl, already decades-old, that Reacher can't let go.The Duncans want Reacher gone - or dead. And it's not just past secrets they're trying to hide. They're awaiting a secret shipment that's already late - and they have the kind of customers no one can afford to annoy. For as dangerous as the Duncans are, they're just the bottom of a criminal food chain stretching halfway around the world.

Click Here to read the first chapter and Click Here to download to Kindle

If you planning to come to Bouchercon San Francisco next week remember Lee is to be honored with the Distinguished Contribution to the Genre Award. Spotlight event: Lee in conversation with Robert Crais!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chris Fowler’s Cause Celeb

I know many of you enjoy the work of Christopher Fowler as much as I do. I am always amazed at his prolific work ethic, with novels, short stories, anthology editing, films, and reviewing, well it looks now he’s branching out onto the stage.

For those who haven’t sampled his work - Fowler won the British Fantasy Society [BFS] Best Short Story Of The Year 1998, for Wageslaves. In 2004, The Water Room was nominated for the CWA People’s Choice Award, Full Dark House won the BFS August Derleth Novel Of The Year Award 2004, and American Waitress won the BFS Best Short Story Of The Year 2004. His novella Breathe won BFS Best Novella 2005. His short story The Master Builder became a CBS movie starring Tippi Hedren and Marg Helgenberger entitled Through The Eyes Of A Killer, while Left Hand Drive, won Best British Short Film of 1993.

His fiction details urban decay, and is usually classed as horror, or [dark] general fiction with some science fiction / fantasy elements. Fowler's first four novels set his backdrop of London as the source of his storytelling. He debuted in 1988 with the novel Roofworld, which details a story of rival gangs who live on the rooftops of London, fighting arcane battles while the city sleeps. His second novel, Rune, tells the tale of a disparate group of Londoners who band together to prevent the devil's return to earth via modern technology. Red Bride chronicles a modern marriage made hell by a couple who cannot trust each other - even though their lives finally come to depend on it. While Darkest Day is the story of the occult which was later re-worked in his ongoing Bryant and May Detective series.

I was delighted to have lunch with him a few weeks ago at a literary function when he let me know about his branching out onto the stage -

'Celebrity' by Christopher Fowler
Starring Victoria Jeffrey, Neil Burgess, Mark Martin & Lucy Clements.

Nov 23 - Dec 4 (Nightly 7:30pm, Matinees Sat 4:00pm, No perfs Sun, Mon)
The Phoenix Artist Club,1 Phoenix Street, London, WC2H 0DT. (Off Charing Cross Road next to the Phoenix Theatre) Tickets: £10
To book telephone 020 7836 1077 or email:
(+50p CC bookings) Tickets are limited so book today!

‘Celebrity’ is part of the London Fringe Festival

Once there were stars. Now everyone wants to be a celebrity - how did we get from Cary Grant to Jedward?

It’s 1968. Helena runs Albion PR in London’s Wardour Street, looking after ‘difficult’ stars. She hires 19 year-old Billy to teach him the secrets of the business. Saving the reputations of her clients involves an outrageous amount of lying and cheating, but neither Helena nor Billy realize this innocent era is about to come crashing to an end…

‘Celebrity’ is based on the life of a real London PR agent. Only the names of scandal-struck celebrities will be changed to protect us from libel!

I admire Fowler, as I really enjoyed his memoir about growing up with books in ‘The Paperboy’, though I wonder what Bryant and May would think about his new venture in the West End….

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ralph M. Vicinanza passes away

One of my favourite novellas is ‘Sandkings’ by George RR Martin, so I was upset with this sad news as reported by Locus that Martin’s literary agent passed away -

Legendary literary agent Ralph Vicinanza, 60, died without warning in his sleep on September 25, 2010 at his home in Old Brookville NY, from what was apparently a cerebral aneurysm. For over two decades, Vicinanza earned worldwide recognition for his vision in opening the international marketplace for US authors, predominantly in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Born August 8, 1950 and raised in the Bronx, Vincinanza graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and later studied at Fordham University, graduating from City College of New York. He started out in publishing at the Scott Meredith Agency, working with authors including Norman Mailer, Carl Sagan, and
Philip K. Dick, and quickly became known as “Mr. Foreign Rights” for his work in creating a global marketplace for American books. He opened the Ralph M. Vicinanza Ltd. agency in 1987, and was soon working with an ever-expanding roster of names: Stephen King, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, George R.R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Robin Hobb, to name a few.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Calling time on our Libraries

In these times of austerity I am saddened to hear that another blow to literacy is coming, and approaching fast. The library system in the UK is under threat [like in many other countries] as reported today in The Bookseller

Library campaigner Tim Coates has warned between 600 and 1,000 libraries could close over the next 18 months amid a media blitz on last week's declining library visit numbers.Last week The Bookseller reported figures from the Department of Culture Media and Sport that revealed the proportion of adults visiting a library decreased from 48.2% in 2005/06 to 39.4% in 2009/10.The story has been picked up by the mainstream press over the past 24 hours with them also reporting on Ed Vaizey's library support initiative, which proposes cutting costs by giving libraries to communities to run amid other measures.

This is very sad, in these days of anxiety the need for a refugee [such as only a library can provide] for enquiring minds – has never been so important.

The BBC reports that maybe the solution is that the library system needs to evolve –

Meanwhile, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has announced plans to help the library service take a more central role within local communities.

Ten submissions have been chosen from proposals put forward by local authorities.

"A strong library service, based around the needs of local people, can play a key role in our ambitions to build the Big Society by providing safe and inclusive spaces for people to read, learn and access a range of community services," Mr Vaizey said.

He said he wants people to think "imaginatively about where libraries could be" as there are a number of closures being threatened across the UK.
A pub in the Yorkshire Dales is currently being used as a library after the villagers of Hudswell bought it to save it from closing.

The books are from North Yorkshire County Council but the lending is run by the volunteers.

Other suggestions that are about to be trialled in parts of the country are to have library services in supermarkets, shops or run by volunteers.

In Doncaster three libraries have been earmarked for closure and five are under threat in Lewisham.

The whole library closure issue is close to my heart, as my memory reminds me of the little boy who sought refuge and enlightenment in the 1960’s and 1970’s sitting in the library, and having the same access to knowledge as the kids from wealthy families. I recall my parents being bemused by my weekly trips to the library [returning with carrier bags filled with knowledge, and enlightenment about the confusing and dangerous world that surrounded me]. My library card was my access point to the world, and at that time my most treasured possession.

Technology may well be at play here; as the attention spans in our children becomes eroded, and the Soundbite and Facebook updates dominates the extent of their curiosity. The term ‘use it or lose it’ comes to mind, and it looks as if we’re losing it.

Photo © 2009 Ali Karim - Steven T Murray [aka Reg Keeland] signs Stieg Larsson books at Bouchercon Indianapolis 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I have seen the future, baby: it is murder

Call me Cassandra, but everyday, the drip, drip, drip of bad economic news is worrying me; especially what is happening within publishing and literacy. I understand the need to make fiscal cuts to reduce the borrowings in the UK, but cuts of > 25% and more in UK library budgets are worrying. As a child, our family lived on a very tight budget and the library was a refuge for me, a place of escape and a place to help a developing mind understand the world.

It seems that many writers feel the same.

From Library Journal [US] annual report

"I'm a writer because of libraries," asserted best-selling author Dennis Lehane. "Libraries say to working-class and poor kids that they matter, that they can read the same books as the children of the hedge fund managers."

Jeanette Winterson at Herald Scotland agrees

The author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, speaking in Edinburgh at an event to celebrate the 25th birthday of the publication of her most famous book, said she is worried about future young readers, who, unlike her when she was growing up in Accrington, Lancashire, may not have access to literary classics such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Winterson said that as a child her one escape from her oppressive home life was to go to her local library.

Yesterday she said she would “start at A and read Jane Austen and move to B and read the Brontes and go on from there”.

Winterson, 50, said she had been dismayed to visit her old library in Accrington to find it stocked with DVDs rather than books, and said that the less well off, less well-cared for children would not have the same experiences as she did. She said she also feared for libraries under the “Cameron cuts” in Government expenditure and the future of literature as it changes in the digital age.

I know I ‘bang the drum’ about the importance of reading, and how oppressive regimes use illiteracy to control populations – but in these days where the march of technology combined with the economic woes we face, form a perfect pincer-movement against literacy.

We need people of influence, who understand the importance of reading to speak out, like Jason Pinter pointed out in his recent article at The Huffington Post –

As Lev Grossman states in his TIME profile of Franzen, the quotes were taken somewhat out of context, and Franzen did in fact thank Oprah during his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards. Because after all, in our sound bite, knee-jerk culture it was easier to cherry pick the juicy quotes rather than try to understand that, at the time, Franzen was a relatively obscure writer coming to terms with suddenly being a literary post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio. And so now Franzen appears on the cover of TIME, is profiled in Vogue, and has riled up the literary community in a way that would make you think he'd spent the last nine years GTL'ing on the Jersey Shore rather than penning his next novel.

So why the animosity? Why the jealousness? Why are people taking potshots at Franzen rather than celebrating the recognition of a writer who is being put out there, front and center, to represent the importance of the written word, to tell people that his profession is worthy of recognition alongside the most important issues of our time?

The sad truth is, with few exceptions, writers are not recognized by the mainstream population or media. My guess is one hundred people could identify Snooki over every one who could identify Toni Morrison. The celebration of being famous for being loud and sloppy has usurped being famous for the act of actually creating. For once, someone who has created something, who is one of us, who not only knows the value of a book but has devoted his life to them, is being presented to society at large as our representative. And some people scorn this, as though they would prefer writers as a whole to remain anonymous, who seem to believe there is some odd nobility in remaining chained to the same desk chair in which you write your books. Or they would rather feud over who deserves what and why until the whole literary culture is fragmented into tiny crumbs that can be ignored and swept under the carpet.

Read More from Jason Pinter Here

When the written word is only available in digital platforms, and our libraries closed, bricks and mortar bookstores closed, then the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” will become a chasm that no one can traverse.

Then it will be too late, but we’ll all be singing this song below – Unless you do something!

Talk about books to your friends, colleagues, contacts, be seen reading a book, always have a book on you, pass books to friends - Reading is important in making people think for themselves, not be 'directed' by forces beyond our control.

All together now –

The Future © Leonard Cohen
Give me back my broken night my mirrored room, my secret life
it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby, that's an order!
Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left and stuff it up the hole in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I've seen the future, brother: it is murder.
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned the order of the soul
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
You don't know me from the wind you never will,
you never did I'm the little jew who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear,
to say it cold: It's over, it ain't going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future: it is murder
Things are going to slide ...
There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms
There'll be fires on the road and the white man dancing
You'll see a woman hanging upside down
her features covered by her fallen gown
and all the lousy little poets coming round
tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson and the white man dancin'

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby: it is murder

Things are going to slide ...
When they said REPENT REPENT

The Future © Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trapped in Inception, Marienbad & Morel’s Invention

It’s amusing how patterns form around the paths that our conscious, as well as our subconscious mind weaves when we think about specific things in detail. I spend a huge amount of my day ‘thinking’ as well as ‘reading’. Recently I spent time with my friend Roger Jon Ellory at the Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival. At one point we discussed why we [and many others] read so many books, be it fiction, fact or combinations of both, such as Roger’s CIA / Serial Killer conspiracy thriller A Simple Act of Violence. Roger’s answer was “Because in the inquisitive, is a need to try and understand what reality is actually about?” Good answer I thought – because at my core I am an analytical chemist, and someone who just loves detective stories, so that would explain the inquisitive part of my nature. The problem then is something that has bothered me for sometime, and something that Martin Rees [Lord Rees of Ludlow, astronomer royal and master of Trinity College, Cambridge] summed up disturbingly at his stint presenting the 2010 BBC Reith Lectures

Some of the greatest mysteries of the universe may never be resolved because they are beyond human comprehension, according to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society.

Rees suggests that the inherent intellectual limitations of humanity mean we may never resolve questions such as the existence of parallel universes, the cause of the big bang, or the nature of our own consciousness.

He even compares humanity to fish, which swim through the oceans without any idea of the properties of the water in which they spend their lives.

“Just as a fish may be barely aware of the medium in which it lives and swims, so the microstructure of empty space could be far too complex for unaided human brains.”

Rees’s thesis could prove highly provocative to other scientists, especially those who have devoted their careers to understanding such mysteries.

Read More from The Times Archive

That is a depressing thought, that perhaps we will never truly comprehend what existence is actually all about, but then again the more you read, the more mysterious existence becomes. It still does not put me off trying to decipher what I see around me. I know at times I can get obsessed when an idea, piece of art, or an image engages. And that neatly sits right at the core of a film that has lead me along a surreal path this week.

With my family away in Dublin, I took some time on Saturday to spend with my elderly parents. Later that day, I took myself off to the cinema to view Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION. To say that the film blew my socks off is an understatement.

If you peruse my Facebook page you can see exactly how deep this particular rabbit hole of mine really is. While viewing INCEPTION, I was reminded of the imagery of the 1961 Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s impenetrable French New Wave Existentialist classic ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. When I got home and searched the internet, I found I was not alone to see the connection –

Like Alain Resnais’ aggressive mind loop, “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Inception” revolves around memories of a past love, which may or may not be “true.” Memory is fallible, dreams are malleable. Charmingly, Nolan has said he’d only ever seen that feat of bold parallel editing after completing this James Bond-scaled movie, but he felt all the other films that had been influenced by “Marienbad” had influenced him. What other influences rest lightly on Nolan’s shoulders?

Though Nolan stated that

"Everyone was accusing me of ripping it off, but I actually never got around to seeing it. Funnily enough, I saw it and I’m like, Oh, wow. There are bits of “Inception” that people are going to think I ripped that straight out of 'Last Year at Marienbad.' Basically, what it means is, I’m ripping off the movies that ripped off “Last Year at Marienbad,” without having seen the original. It’s that much a source of ideas, really, about the relationships between dream and memory and so forth, which is very much what 'Inception' deals with. But we have way more explosions."

The idea had been seeded in my mind, and so I followed it back in time. The curious thing was that [apart from ‘Last Year at Marienbad’] I had also admired Alain Resnais’ startling documentary ‘Night and Fog’ [original title ‘Nuit et brouillard’] due to my interest in modern history and my curiosity about the [limitless] depths of man’s inhumanity to man. While tracking back Resnais’ writer on Marienbad - Alain Robbe-Grillet, I soon discovered that Grillet appears to have been influenced [or even inspired] by an obscure quasi-SF novel ‘The Invention of Morel’ by Adolfo Bioy Casares. This little known novel has been referenced by the writers of the TV Series ‘Lost’. I quickly found this slim novella / novel remains in print and is available, so I quickly ordered it. If you want to follow me down this rabbit hole - the introduction can be downloaded as a .pdf here. I strongly recommend this slim mind-flipping little book.

Then the really weird coincidence appeared, considering my enthusiasm from Inception, Last Year at Marienbad, The Invention of Morel, Lost – while researching I discovered that Alain Resnais directed a film with Marienbad star Delphine Seyrig, entitled “Muriel ou le temps d'un retour”, literally translated as “Muriel, or the Time of a Return”. This film was released in 1963 as ‘Muriel’ in the UK and US. The peculiar aspect is that my wife of 20 years is named Muriel; and I was born in 1963, the same year that Resnais’ film ‘Muriel’ was released – spooky!

OK – I admit I have read far too much Philip K Dick but when one gets trapped in the riddle that is Marienbad, perhaps it does things to one’s mind, but then again, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s screen wives in Shutter Island and Inception, perhaps reality is more mysterious than the alarming views of existence that these films present.

But to prove that I haven’t lost my sense of humour and that my sanity remains intact – click here for an amusing spoiler from Inception that has done the rounds on Twitter – Warning click if you’ve seen Inception [especially the last frame].

I strongly recommend the films Inception, Last Year at Marienbad as well as Shutter Island, if you like mind-bending movies, as well as the weird novella / novel ‘The Invention of Morel’ by Adolfo Bioy Casares, but a warning - they do mess up your mind. As we may be fish swimming in a reality we don’t comprehend, that’s to be expected I guess, according to Lord Rees of Ludlow.

But don’t worry, you’re probably dreaming.

Friday, August 13, 2010

You Are What You Read

I stumbled upon this interesting piece from John Meacham at Newsweek, which opens with this interesting observation about books and friends –

A friend I thought I knew well startled me the other evening with a sweeping literary judgment that led me, for the first time, to question how much I truly understand him. The subject was mysteries and thrillers. “Oh, I can’t stand books like that,” he said, flatly, leaving no room for argument.

My failure to detect such a colossal character flaw before that moment bothered me, but then—reminding myself that we are always to look outward, toward others, focusing not on the devices and desires of our own hearts—I realized that I should reach out constructively rather than simmer silently.

And since argument from example is often the most effective means of persuasion, I thought I would offer a summertime defense of the mystery-thriller genre.

Now like Meacham, I’ve attended many dinner parties and encountered people [mainly men], who discount reading fiction as “….a waste of time as it is all made-up….” I usually counter the argument by explaining that reading fiction helps us in our daily lives –

[a] In work by enhancing the imagination, which in turn helps resolve the constant flow of business problems that many of us have to confront and overcome.

[b] Understanding the random nature of life and also the motivations within people we interact with by giving greater empathy, especially due to reading fiction [this has been proven by New Scientist]

[c] Seeing and observing the world through another person’s eyes and their value system.

[d] Making one inquisitive and not accepting the world as it is presented by a narrow-ranged [and directed] media.

The reason why I so much enjoy attending literary events such as Bouchercon, is that I am with people who value books and reading, unlike those who enjoy the trivial aspects of our lives, such as what car we drive, the brand label of our suit or what celebrity z-lister of the week is doing today.

While some people [who read novels] use the old chestnut of dismissing reading thrillers as ‘down-market’ and ‘irrelevant’ compared to reading ‘literary fiction, however Meacham makes some interesting points -

Mysteries and thrillers are not the same things, though they are literary siblings. Roughly put, I would say the distinction is that mysteries emphasize motive and psychology whereas thrillers rely more heavily on action and plot. Some mysteries are thrillers and some thrillers are mysteries, but not all mysteries are thrillers, nor are all thrillers mysteries.

It has long been intellectually fashionable to dismiss such books as inconsequential. Thomas Jefferson once joked that he defeated insomnia by trying to write such a tale.

The appeal of both genres for me is precisely the appeal of any other piece of fiction, from Jane Austen to Peter Taylor, or George Eliot to John Cheever. The narratives give us a glimpse, however fleeting, of what William Faulkner called the “old verities and truths of the heart…?love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”
Nero Wolfe is no Elizabeth Bennet, nor is Miss Marple another Dorothea Brooke. But Wolfe and Marple—and James Bond and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher—are characters at work in a dark and confusing and fallen world, a world in which murder and betrayal and treason are constant threats and frequent foes. One would like to think of such novels as fantasy, but the fundamental forces with which they deal are all too real.

As dangerous and arbitrary as lists are, here is what I am going to suggest that my agnostic friend (note I forbore referring to him as heretical, or faithless) explore: Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series (Archie Goodwin, who is forever “hot-footing” it up or downtown, is worth the price of admission); anything by P. D. James (her poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh is a model for all repressed men). I am indebted to my friend and colleague Anna Quindlen for recently putting me onto Denise Mina, who writes tough novels about Glasgow; next door in the British Isles, Benjamin Black, a pseudonym of John Banville’s, writes about a compelling 1950s Dublin pathologist with—surprise!—a problem with the drink. Tana French has written three novels, and the first two (In the Woods and The Likeness) are, to me, quite superior to the newest one that is now out, Faithful Place.

In this summer of
Lisbeth Salander, no discussion of such books would be complete without a stop in the colder European climes. I like Henning Mankell and just lately began to read Arnaldur Indriðason, whose fictional universe is set in Reykjavík, Iceland.

On the thriller front, my taste runs to the provincial. Daniel Silva’s first novel, The Unlikely Spy, is a masterpiece, and I love his series about Gabriel Allon, an Israeli assassin with a passion for art restoration. The aforementioned
Jack Reacher collection, by Lee Child, is great fun. David Ignatius writes brilliant novels about the CIA, and I am an admirer of Charles McCarry’s, especially his Shelley’s Heart. In recent years I have become a fan of Alex Berenson’s nascent CIA series about the post-9/11 world.

Read Meacham’s full piece from Newsweek here

In a world where people lie about what novels they have read, while the ranks of the ‘proudly illiterate’ seem to be massing around us; writers and readers need to make a stand at those who really mean that ‘reading is just too difficult and requires too much cognition’, hence why the knob for reality TV and z-list celebrity culture is thriving around us. Beware the dumbing down of our culture; it’s exactly what the men behind the curtain want. The real threat is from ‘The Blind Commissioner’ and the illiterate and under-educated mob.

Totalitarian regimes burn books, as it helps them prevent the population from developing the cognitive skill of thinking for themselves; and thus more malleable to directed propaganda.

I don’t give a shit if you read on a screen, or on paper, what matters is that you read, because you are what you read. Next time you’re at the dentist, doctor, hairdresser, check out who reads the junk magazines and who reads the novel while waiting.

Top Photo © 2009 Ali Karim “Sunday Morning at Bouchercon Indianapolis Book Giveaway”