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’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.