March 31, 2012

Harlan Coben - Up close and personal

Stay Close is Coben's 22nd novel and is one of his standalone books rather than being part of the Myron Bolitar series.

In the standalone books, Coben's particular tactic is to use the 'close' third-person technique. This means that when describing a character's inner life, he moves very quickly from observing the character from the outside to giving us direct access to the character's thoughts:

Ray had gone back to that damn park and snapped pictures. Dumb, but he did it every year. He couldn’t say why. Or maybe he could and that just made it worse. The camera lens gave him distance, gave him perspective, made him feel somehow safe. Maybe that was what it was. Maybe, somehow, seeing that horrible place through that oddly comforting angle would somehow change what could, of course, never be changed.

March 30, 2012

New video

Google blocked my Youtube trailer for Altered Life because I'd used 'Bad to the Bone' by George Thoroughgood as the soundtrack.

So I've taken that soundtrack off and added a 'free' one from Google ... which means adverts now pop up at the bottom. Ho hum. That's the nature of life in the twenty-first century, I guess.

March 29, 2012

New publisher

I've just moved my books (printed versions) to Createspace, Amazon's Print-On-Demand outlet. They were with for a number of years, so let's see if the sales figures go up when they're under the same roof as the Kindle versions. You can find them here:

Altered Life

The Private Lie

March 27, 2012

The Trouble with Harries

I've written my first blog for Mysterytribune, about the Harries Bosch, Hole and Dirty. You can find it here:
The Trouble with Harries.

It's a nice site, presented like an old-fashioned newspaper. You should go visit and give my regards to Ehsan.

March 26, 2012

The pleasures of writing

Ian McEwen has been interviewed this weekend as part of the Guardian's Open Weekend festival. It's nothing to do with crime writing, but his description of the 'happiness' that can arise from the act of writing is one of the best I've heard:

Coben's voice

I'm reading Harlan Coben's latest, Stay Close, at the moment. I'll write more on it later, but I'm fascinated by how he draws you in.

Unless they're part of his ongoing Myron Bolitar series, Coben's books frequently feature 'ordinary' people caught up in extraordinary events. Of course this was Hitchcock's trick, so it's nothing new, but Coben does manage to capture the everyday-ness of life, especially for a particular kind of middle-class, middle-wage, middle-age American. You get the impression that Coben has been there himself - hell, he's probably still there.

But then something out-of-the-ordinary happens to his characters - someone goes missing, or the lead character discovers something that they never knew, or they're attacked for some reason that they can't understand ... Coben's uber-conversational style (he often addresses the reader directly) makes you feel the oddness of the situation and the panic it induces in his ordinary-joe characters.

Seventy pages in and I'm already rooting for the three main characters as they try to figure out what's going on in their various lives. That's quicker than Dan Brown managed ever, as far as I was concerned.

March 24, 2012

Moving the story on

I'm reading a long short-story by The Great Elmore Leonard at the moment - a continuation of his stories about Carl Webster, the Hot Kid, who is some kind of federal agent. The series started before WWII, but the current story is set towards the end of it, with Carl investigating the alleged suicide of a German prisoner-of-war in a camp in the US.

One of the reasons Elmore Leonard is so great is because he doesn't hang around. He gives you just enough physical description of locations and people so that you have a general idea of where you are, but he lets the dialogue do the rest. This is a scene where Carl is interviewing a waitress who has met a German P.O.W. who continually escapes his prison but then gives himself up when, it seems, he gets bored. Carl spends a good part of the story investigating this prisoner, Jurgen, because he feels there's something going on that he doesn't yet understand. Norma, the waitress, describes the moments before Jurgen was last arrested in her cafe:

March 21, 2012

Chandler and Hammett

On the left of the blog there's a new link to a longish article on Chandler and Hammett, two of the giants of American crime writing. This is largely the text of a talk I gave to a literary group here in France, in Montmorillon, the Cite de l'Ecrit. The article looks at what Chandler and Hammett did to create the private eye genre and suggests some reasons for why detective and crime fiction has become so popular since they were writing.

Reading their books now is a strange experience because they're both very lively and their plots - especially Hammett's - are amazingly complex. There's no doubting, however, that the social context has changed dramatically and that some of the attitudes and prejudices of the writers - and their detectives - are uncomfortable for modern readers. Because we identify so strongly with Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, when we see them demonstrating prejudices that we don't like, it's hard to stomach. We have to put it down to 'changes in society' ... but that seems somehow to diminish them.

March 20, 2012

Walter Mosley - elements of a style

Walter Mosley's When the Thrill is Gone is the third of his series featuring black private-eye L.T. McGill. Mosley is probably best known for his first series about Easy Rawlins, the first of which - Devil in a Blue Dress - was made into a film starring Denzel Washington.

Mosley is interesting because his style is both sophisticated and crude at the same time. It's sophisticated in that his characters are all individuated clearly and seem to have lives outside of the stories that Mosley tells about them. His style is crude to the extent that he uses dialogue tags very oddly. Take the following few examples:

“It’ll be eleven years before I put him in the ring,” the brightskinned young thief opined ... "

I hailed a cab and we piled in. Tally gave the driver his address after we both closed our doors.
“I don’t go to Brooklyn,” the foreign white man told us.

“A message?” this middle-aged woman from the middle of Middle America said.

“Hi, Dad,” the dark-olive-skinned Asian girl said.

March 16, 2012

Making characters real

What makes you believe that the character you're reading about is a real person? And what makes you want to find out more about them?

For me, these are two crucial factors for a fiction writer to consider. If you don't believe in the character, you won't be interested in what they're doing or care what happens to them. And if you don't want to find out more about them, then the story will have no real 'guts'.

So how do you establish a level of characterisation?

Good cop dialogue, bad cop dialogue ...

I like good dialogue in a book.

It brings the characters alive, moves the story on, adds depth to the milieu in which the characters move. And to me, good dialogue always involves conflict. Take this example, from James Lee Burke's Sunset Limited. Our hero, Dave Robicheaux, is a cop in Louisiana, and he's about to take delivery of a suspect. This portion of dialogue could have been omitted or it could have been a straightforward exchange where Dave takes the suspect from the deputy and says thanks. Instead, Burke uses it to characterise Dave and the deputy, and the deputy's attitude towards Dave:

A uniformed deputy picked up Cool Breeze in front of a pawnshop on the south side of New Iberia and brought him into my office.
'Why the cuffs?' I said.
'Ask him what he called me when I told him to get in the cruiser,' the deputy replied.
'Take them off, please.'
'By all means. Glad to be of service. You want anything else?' the deputy said, and turned a tiny key in the lock on the cuffs.
'Thanks for bringing him in.'
'Oh, yeah, anytime. I always had aspirations to be a bus driver,' he said, and went out the door, his eyes flat.