December 20, 201210:13 am
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.
October 28, 20117:21 am
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.
July 6, 20108:18 am
Pittsburgh is not a famous city, at least by the standards of the north-eastern United States. I can think of half a dozen bigger places I could have set Soul Murder: New York, Boston, Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia.
Which is, of course, why I chose Pittsburgh.
Daniel Blake’s 10 favourite writers, in alphabetical order:
In Cobenland, the suburbs are not white and shiny behind their picket fences; they’re dark, scary places where everyone carries secrets, and danger occurs when those secrets collide. The familiarity of the settings and the characters seduce the reader; these are people like you, Coben says, barely pausing to strap you in before starting the rollercoaster. His writing is pacy, vivid and often laugh-out-loud funny, almost physically impelling you to turn the page. Plot twists come thick and fast – Coben puts a rug under your feet with the express intention of pulling it out again when you least expect it – but rarely do they feel contrived or overdone.
Martin Cruz Smith.
The Arkady Renko series tick all the boxes of superior crime fiction. Expert characterisation? Check. Tack-sharp dialogue? Check. Sense of place? Check. Deft prose style? Check. Not since Greene has a writer managed to combine character and thrills so seamlessly. Renko is a man we root for, simple as that. He is moral without being a prig, humble and compassionate without being a saint, smart without being pedantic, loyal without being blind, wryly cynical without being bitter, and optimistic without being gullible. A good man, in other words; one with flaws which make us empathise with him, and with qualities which make us aspire to be him.
The search for the ‘new Le Carre’ is one of the publishing industry’s most perennial exercises, and there’s no shortage of contenders. Cumming is arguably the frontrunner. His writing is sharp and deft, and he has the confidence to let his characters drive the story rather than throw in otiose plot twists for the sake of it. He also gets better with every book; his most recent, the China-set Typhoon, is his most ambitious and accomplished work yet. The apprentice may one day overtake the master.
July 5, 201011:55 am
Inspired by Soul Murder, guest blogger Adele from Un:Bound takes a look at the most Memorable Deaths in Fiction.
Playing Cluedo as a child I always felt certain people should use certain weapons, I
felt the game lacked verisimilitude otherwise. Professor Plum clearly would have to use the candlestick. Miss Scarlett should use the revolver like any self respecting femme fatale, Mrs Peacock, portrayed on her card as older and wealthy seemed a shoo in for the dagger since poison wasn’t an option, Colonel Mustard as an army sort ought to have the strength to use the rope and so on. I was possibly putting too much thought into the game, but a steady diet of Morse, Poirot, and Miss Marple will do that to a child.
So the trend was set, it matters to me how you kill people. That’s only reasonable though; there should be method to the madness and meaning to be found behind the method. In Soul Murder (Daniel Blake) the victims are burned alive. This is not only grotesque enough to be memorable, but also raises questions for both the detectives and the reader, the most fundamental of which is: why didn’t the killer take Scott Evil’s advice? “Just shoot him now … I’ll go get a gun and we’ll shoot him together …”