Daniel Blake’s chilling new thriller, White Death, is set in the world of pro chess. To celebrate publication, Daniel has been kind enough to write a piece especially for us, explaining the three vital qualities chess brings to the crime novel…
Chess metaphors abound in crime fiction. A master criminal uses people as pawns. An impasse is stalemate, a victory checkmate. A detective will try a gambit. The denouement is an endgame. But chess itself is much more rarely used by crime novelists, and it’s not hard to see why. Put bluntly, the game has a massive image problem. Where backgammon enjoys the patina of upmarket gentlemen’s clubs and poker the grungy cool of smoke-filled rooms and vast jackpots, chess is seen as the province of nerds with BO and hair greasy enough to fry chips in.
Since I play chess, apply regular deodorant and have precious little hair left (greasy or otherwise) this portrait of the chess player as über-spod has always irked me a little. I set White Death against the background of pro chess because the game brings three vital qualities to the crime novel: intelligence, intimidation and insanity.
Daniel Blake certainly thought so! Read his article on why he chose to use a natural disaster as the setting for his latest novel, City of Sins.
The moment I first saw footage of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans, I knew I wanted to use the tragedy as the setting for a thriller. If that sounds like exploitation or some literary version of disaster tourism, it’s not supposed to. It’s simply that crime fiction, by its nature, deals with tragedy more often than it does with triumph – and tragedies don’t get much more resonant than the destruction of a great city.
In the case of New Orleans, that resonance was particularly poignant. Even those who’ve never been there feel they have an emotional connection to the place. Think of New Orleans, and you think of many things. You think of partying – Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Big Easy. You think of the music – jazz, blues, Zydeco. You think of the writers – Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Anne Rice. You think of food and drink – gumbo, beignets, daiquiris.
If you’re a strict Christian, you might think of the city as a repository of sin – the Southern Decadence gay festival, the sex shows of Bourbon Street, the shadowy mysteries of voodoo. And whatever your faith, you’d have to admit New Orleans has a darker side, and in spades. One of the highest murder rates in America, a Third World public infrastructure, and levels of official corruption and political intrigue which would have made the Borgias green with envy.
In short, New Orleans is humanity writ large: our excesses, our triumphs, our follies.
Which, of course, makes it a great place to set a thriller.
This time our reviewers were given the chance to review City of Sins by Daniel Blake. A serial killer thriller set against a backdrop of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, this certainly isn’t your average murder mystery…
Jackie Farrant writes:
Detective Frank Patrese is back in this cracking follow-up to ‘Soul Murder’ which sees him uprooted from his beloved Pittsburgh to join a FBI unit in sultry New Orleans. I can honestly say that this is one of the most multi-faceted serial killer thrillers I have read including (takes a deep breath)….the Asian tsunami, body dismorphia, voodoo, ethnic cleansing, Mayan legends, Hurricane Katrina…oh…and a goodly amount of gory murders. I must admit that I felt the flimsy tsunami opener surplus to requirements and added nothing to the plot. One environmental disaster was plenty and the story would have been none the worse for its exclusion. Blake’s depiction of the seedy underbelly and voodoo heritage of New Orleans was exceptionally well-drawn and equally, the tense build-up to Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftermath showed a deftness of touch. I will also say that I have not read any crime novel that used the largely un-addressed issue of body dismorphia as a plot device and this was fascinating and worked well within the overall plot-line. On the subject of character this novel more than establishes Frank Patrese as a credible character with just the right degree of toughness, morality and vulnerability and this bodes well for future outings. Overall, although the central plot-line was a little far-fetched, I found this a good read with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep me hooked and I shall certainly pick up the next one…