As Harry Potter Turns Twenty, Is it Time We Go Back To Basics and Re-Read the Books?

harry potter

Harry Potter has become a cultural icon over the past two decades, and nowadays there is everything from Harry Potter bars and clothing lines through to wand shaped makeup brushes and theme parks dedicated to The Boy Who Lived.

What, I fear, is being lost among all this obsessive marketing, is the sheer simple joy the novels bought to children and the adults who paid for and read them on their behalf. I myself was only a small one when the books were becoming popular, and I used to love being read them so much I memorised whole chapters. There was always someone you could relate to, whether you liked reading, were forgetful or were scared and confused, or all of the above.

The focus on friendship was strong but not in your face, and Rowling has a way of writing novels which are both deeply relatable for young people and completely unpatronising. There was a nice message at the end of every novel, and, perhaps uniquely, the novels grew with their audience. As we reached our teens and started to crave more gore and grown up messages, Harry and his friends delved into ever more dangerous situations. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the turning point for me; when I read that novel I found that these had ceased to be kid’s books and had morphed into real literature.

This was another great aspect of the series; its combination of wizardry, classical tropes and latin phraseology made the novels intellectually stimulating in a way that many children’s series can only aspire to be. Young readers were galvanised into voracious appetites thanks to the Harry Potter novels (I for one was driven to seek out ever more complex books to read or have read to me).

It was when the novels were made into films that people started to obsess; I was not a big fan fiction reader for many years, but now I can see that with the visual representation of the books fanaticism started to become mainstream, and Harry Potter is one of the few obsessions which is actually cool these days. The films became cult viewing and the merchandise that they spawned is now almost endless. You can buy literally anything Harry Potter related, from baked goods right through to condoms and toilet seats (for the utterly obsessed). However, I do feel that we are now missing the point. Many people who have never indulged in the sheer joy of receiving the latest novel for Christmas or a birthday and having to graciously sit around and small talk with the gift giver before sneaking off at the moment it is polite to do so to devour three chapters, racing through to find their favourite character, can never count themselves as a true fan and will never understand the childlike joy these books evoke without the merchandising and the product placement that followed in the wake of their success.

I am also dubious about the constant addition of new information provided via author J.K Rowling’s fan site, Pottermore, as well as various reissuing of the books which add new revelations. Recently we found out the Professor Sprout and Professor Flitwick had a fling, as well as the revaluation a few years ago that Dumbledore is supposedly gay.  Whilst I do not entirely agree with Roland Barthes’s notion that the author is dead once their work has been published, and that their opinions and thoughts on the work are entirely irrelevant, I find this constant meddling in the world of Harry Potter to simply be a ploy to incite continued fascination, which will eventually impede on readers’ enjoyment. There is something to be said for simply reading or re-reading the novels and finding enjoyment and revisiting happy memories, and I do not think that corrupting them with pointless pieces of information which do nothing except slightly alter our perceptions of the novels is worthwhile.

Overall, now that the books are a cult phenomenon, there is something to be said for going back and just re-reading them. Ignore the Harry Potter bedspreads and the Golden Snitch fidget spinners; behind the bullshit there are some truly lovely messages to be found.

Malice Review: Rina Walker’s Back and as Exciting as Ever


The third in the Rina Walker series and the follow up to the excellent Threat (read my review HERE), Malice is every bit as thrilling and exciting as the previous two novels.

As the sixties swing away in the background, Rina finds herself at the centre of a gang turf war and tough cases come her way, sending our favourite hit woman on a whirlwind adventure. Duplicitous to the end, Rina fights as dirty as necessary for those she cares for as she battle against increasingly destructive and manipulative foes. There’s everything from kidnapping to hookers, with Fraser expertly touching on almost every trope thriller writers have ever used without making the text feel too overwhelming.

Like the previous two novels, dialogue is where Fraser both shines and surprises. Anyone who is a fan of his bumbling portrayal of Captain Hastings in TVs Poirot will find it incredible to read the truly spectacular lesson in swearing that makes The Thick of It sound like a nursery rhyme.

Characterisation is also excellent in this series; as well as the fantastically ballsy Rina, there are also a number of characters, both new and reoccurring, whose creepiness, scheming and downright vile natures make them incredibly interesting and who help drive the plot forward.

Fundamentally a solid thriller, Malice is not for the faint hearted; the depictions of violence in this extraordinary novel are both sensational and visceral. If you can handle it then this is the perfect summer showstopper to indulge in, and I would throughly recommend it. It’s not necessary to read the first two novels to understand Malice but if you find yourself light on reading and long on time then both Harm and Threat are worth a read as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Rina on our screens soon; these novels are definitely TV worthy.

Larry Darter Interview: “When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic”


This week I speak to Larry Darter, a Crime Fiction author who writes in a really original, interesting style modeled on some of my favorite authors, including the legend that is Raymond Chandler. He discusses his work, the inspiration behind it and where he hopes to himself in the future.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I’d define my writing style as efficient, with a definite lack of a lot of lofty, eloquent language. By intent, I try to avoid the complicated or ambiguous that may lead to misinterpretations. My aim is to write in such a way that readers really engage with the characters which I think makes for a more realistic and interesting novel, particularly with regard to my chosen genre. I credit my maternal grandmother with the genesis of my interest in crime fiction. She was quite taken with the old-school, hard-boiled American detective greats, authors like Raymond Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald. You could always find those kinds of novels in her library, and I’d read them sometimes when visiting her. Soon I became as taken with it all as grandmother. Ironically when I first decided I was going to write a novel, I chose to write an Old West novel. But once I started writing I always had in mind to write crime novels. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and given my background I feel it’s the genre I’m most suited to writing.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I spent a good many years in military service, first in the U.S. Navy after high school and later as an infantry officer in the Army. After leaving the Army, I worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for a few years. My experience there provoked my interest in becoming a police officer. I worked in law enforcement for a little over 20 years, primarily in patrol and crime scene investigation. During the last four or five years before retirement, I did some freelance writing and had some success with that. Writing novels, I think, was just a natural progression from that. After retiring, I finally had the time to write full time.

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

Since I started writing crime fiction, I’ve written and published two novels, Come What May and Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair. They are really two very different books. Come What May was inspired by a true story, an actual cold case homicide that went unsolved for 23 years. The book is more a Joseph Wambaugh-like police procedural than a Raymond Chandler-style detective novel. I wanted to be as true as possible to the real story and felt the fictional version was most effectively told as a police procedural. Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair is quite a different story. It truly is more of an old school, hard-boiled American detective novel, the kind of book I really wanted to write when I decided to write crime novels. Both books are part of my current Malone Mystery Novels series. I’m presently writing the third book in the series, Cold Comfort, which will be released in November of this year. As mentioned, I define my writing style as efficient. Some might call it bare and spare. Part of that comes from my deliberate effort to follow in the footsteps of some of the old-school, hard-boiled crime novel masters I most admire, authors like Chandler, Hammett, and, Robert B. Parker.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

As far as that goes, I do employ figurative language to a degree, figures of speech and even occasional clichés for artistic effect. I rely a great deal on Shakespeare in my current series for a unifying theme. That starts with the titles of the novels, each of which comes from a line from one of his plays, phrases that have over time become so familiar that they literally have become sayings that repeatedly appear in our everyday speech. I strengthen that Shakespearean connection with a hero, Ben Malone, who frequently quotes Shakespeare in the novels. The purpose of that is to present Malone as a bit of a contradiction. He is tough and street-smart but at the same time an intelligent and educated man. He is a man with foibles, an insolent mouth, a bad attitude toward authority, and a part of him likes the violence he gets involved in. But he is unapologetically heroic and truly wants to help the people he meets who need it. The model for Malone is the anachronistic knight-errant with a pistol in a shoulder holster, which I see as one of the archetypes of American culture.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’m a voracious reader, as I think most authors are. I read both fiction and non-fiction. While I have a university degree, I feel I’m more self-educated than traditionally educated. I attribute that to the non-fiction books I’ve read over the course of my life, the source from which I believe I have learned the things of most enduring value. With regard to non-fiction, I truly love reading history, biographies, and books on finance and investing. When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic. I enjoy military thrillers, crime thrillers, mysteries, westerns, historical fiction, as well as the classics by authors like Steinbeck, J.R.R Tolkien, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Crime fiction is easily the genre I read most and truly enjoy. My favorite contemporary authors are John Roswell Camp who writes as John Sandford, Lee Child, and Robert B. Parker. Not a surprise then that I feel the works of authors like Chandler, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker most influence my own writing. I deliberately use their writing styles as a template for my own.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Collaborating on a writing project isn’t a concept I find particularly appealing. I’m the guy who back in my school days absolutely hated it when a teacher or professor dictated that the class participates in a group or team project assignment. It isn’t that I can’t see the potential value of collaborating with another writer on a joint project. I’m certain I could learn a lot from working with another author, especially if I could pick any author I liked, living or dead. I’m actually not an introvert by nature, but I consider the craft of writing to be a solitary pursuit and feel I’m most creative working autonomously.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

As far as writing goes, as mentioned earlier, I’m currently writing the third book in the Malone Mystery Novels series, Cold Comfort. I’m about midway through the first draft. I’ve also outlined the fourth novel, Foregone Conclusion, which is due for release in the spring of 2018. A related project that I’m pretty excited about is the launch of my new street team initiative, Team Malone. With so many books being published these days,        visibility is the biggest challenge that authors like me who aren’t exactly household names face. The golden age of publishing when all you had to do was write a book and upload it to Amazon and then just wait for readers to discover it has long since passed. Street teams have I think become increasingly important to the successful launch of any book, and so for the first time, I’m trying to organize one. I want my books to be discovered and read, but that’s not the sum total of my desire to build a street team. I’m also looking at it as a way to more closely connect with my readers. Team Malone is still in the very early stages of development, and I’m still sorting it, but a Facebook group ( is in place for anyone who might be interested in checking it out and learning what a street team is all about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Yes, I’m really looking forward to the November 2017 release of the next Reacher novel by Lee Child, The Midnight Line. I’ve read every one of the books in the series and really love the Reacher character as well as Lee’s writing. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed in his last novel, Night School, which was another flashback-type story to Reacher’s former days in the Army. I think the series is a bit mature for that now and so I’m very hopeful that Lee’s upcoming novel returns us to the kind of Reacher story we fans have come to expect. In addition to the big name authors I like reading, I also read a good many first novels, and I recently discovered a very fine UK crime thriller writer by the name of Jennifer Lee Thomson. I just recently read the first book in her new series, Vile City, and it was literally the best thriller I’ve read in years. I’m not sure when it’s meant for release, but I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cannibal City. Jennifer is truly a special talent, and I think she has the potential to become one of those household name-type authors in the not too distant future.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ll just end things with a thank you, Hannah, for choosing to interview me. It has been both an honor and a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed reading the interviews on your site that you’ve done previously with some truly amazingly talented authors. I do hope we speak again in the future. Take care.

Thanks Larry, it’s been great to hear your thoughts and it’s always an honor for me to learn more about the lives of awesome authors. You can read more about Larry’s work HERE.

Five Novels Kenneth Branagh Should Have Adapted Instead of Murder on the Orient Express

poirot branagh

As you can probably tell by my recent POST, I am both excited and slightly dubious about Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Agatha Christie adaptations. What perplexes me the most about this choice is that while it is universally renowned, Murder on the Orient Express isn’t actually a great novel, and as such it seems an odd choice when there are so many great, Golden Age or Golden Age esq novels out there for Branagh to choose from.

Granted, this classic novel does contain some great characterisation, Christie’s typical flair for the dramatic and some superb dialogue, but Murder on the Orient Express is, fundamentally, dull and slow, with a very strange and improbable ending, even for the Queen of Crime herself. So I have made a list of five novels I think Kenneth should have adapted instead, and while I’m pretty sure this will never get back to him and that he will never read this blog, maybe the universe will align and one day he will take my suggestions of his own accord. You never know!

5. Farewell, My Lovely: Alright, alright, so I doubt there’d be a part in this novel adaptation for Branagh, but it would be good to see a decent film version of Raymond Chandler’s masterful second novel (since the 1975 Robert Mitchum movie wasn’t up to very much) and I reckon Branagh would be the best man for the job. As I say, there’s not a part in it for him, not one that wouldn’t make him look ham-fisted at any rate, but he’s done a great job directing gritty, American style thrillers such as the remake of Sleuth and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit before so I think, if he could get some really decent actors in, that he could make an amazing version of this witty and intelligent hardboiled pulp fiction classic. The dialogue is superb and the setting allows for great creativity when it comes to costumes and set design, and if Branagh did adapt it then we would have the chance to see this droll novel to finally get the adaptation it deserves.

4. Cold Granite: Stuart MacBride’s first Logan McRae novel is superb, with excellent dialogue, some brilliant plotting and a truly vicious villain. Children are being abducted and the returning DS McRae is in over his head, with a new DI and some persistent journalists all on his case to turn things even worse. If Branagh wanted to take on the main role in this film version he could just re-channel his inner Wallander- playing the character as a Scottish version of Mankell’s famously dour detective. Accents are clearly something Branagh enjoys bringing to a new role and I’m sure he could get a strong Scottish sorted in no time.

3. Urn Burial: Kerry Greenwood’s novel is written in a classic Golden Age style, making this a great book for Branagh to develop into a thrilling and fashionable film. The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is nothing if not sophisticated, and this would be the ideal space to show off a massive Hollywood budget with exquisite clothing, lavish settings and some of the finest music ever composed. If Branagh wanted to snag a part for himself (and let’s face it here, he almost always does. He reminds me of that Dennis Waterman sketch from Little Britain ‘write the theme tune, sing the theme tune’- picking a part for himself even if he is unsuited to it, like playing a Belgium detective or a Russian villain) then he could easily fit the role of gracious host Tom Reynolds, a former publisher hosting a decedent party at his garish home when sinister happenings force long buried secrets and unflattering home truths to the surface. Drawing on his Gilderoy Lockhart style charm, adding a slight Aussie twang, he could easily portray the belligerent and grumpy Reynolds, giving him both a starring role and directing kudos.

2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: I’m not sure which would be funnier, Kenneth Branagh as Lord Peter Wimsey or as Bunter; either way, Branagh directing one of Sayer’s masterful novels would be intriguing, and I think this is one of the best. Combining mystery with class criticism, this is a real meaty novel for Branagh to get his teeth into, much like Murder on the Orient Express, only with genuinely interesting characters that readers can actually invest in and an outcome that doesn’t defy all logic and reason.

1. Dead Man’s Folly: If you’re going to do Christie, pick a good one. I can just image Branagh as the evil Sir George Stubbs, but even if he chose not to star in the film it would still make for an exceptional adaptation. The characters are rich and, unlike many of those in Murder on the Orient Express, two dimensional; all of the characters feature in the plot and make this a genuinely tantalising whodunit. Although ITV did a good job with Suchet’s version, I would like to see Branagh give it a go.

A Whiff of Cyanide Review: Another Exceptional Modern Golden Age Mystery

a whiff of cyanide

The follow up to Miss Christie Regrets (read my review HERE) and the third in the Hampstead Murders series, A Whiff of Cyanide is another great spin on a traditional whodunit, with enough modern touches to really bring the Golden Age into the twenty first century.

Opening with a dinner party in true Golden Age style, the novel moves on to a writer’s convention, the inspiration for which, I am convinced, must have been taken from author Guy Fraser- Sampson’s personal experience. The vivid, scathing portrayal of the characters and the quick witted dialogue must have a holding in real life, I am sure, and there is something in the smugness of many of the main suspects that is definitely drawn from a previous encounter.

The victim is the unlikeable Chair of the Crime Writer’s Association, which is hosting the convention. With her leadership in dispute, her former friends in revolt and her career on the wane, the character has a troubled time until her eventual death, shortly after she revealed that she carries a bottle of cyanide with her as a sort of deranged prop.

Her murder forms the core backdrop to this fascinating novel, along with a number of interesting and well-integrated sub-plots revolving around the complicated lives of the investigative team that Fraser- Sampson expertly entwines with the main story. Fleshed out, the investigative team are a real success here, and this is one of the main things I like about these novels; the author knows exactly when to take example from Golden Age Crime Fiction, and when to insert more modern touches. In this case, the private detective, sidekick (usually of military extraction) and tame policeman trio which usually forms the protagonists for a traditional novel of this style is overhauled in favour of the more realistic team of experts from various fields, allowing scope for genuine discussion on the case and making the novel feel much more believable (in any day and age I find it tough to imagine former soldiers so at a loss for something to do with their time that they have to follow arrogant, eccentric detectives around and do their dirty work for them).

For anyone seeking an updated Golden Age series, the Hampstead Murders is, to my mind, the best out there. Fraser- Sampson weaves a thrilling and complicated narrative with enough to twists and turns to make the Queen of Crime herself proud. The only criticism I have is that, unlike the first two novels, A Whiff of Cyanide is, at times, a little heavy handed with the symbolism. One of the suspects is a character who has changed her name, by Deed Poll, to Miss Marple. Although Fraser- Sampson wins points for the fact that, as the character is portrayed as an actor who previously played Miss Marple of TV, I did have a bit of a laugh trying to work out if this had any real life significance, and if so who it would be based upon, this seems a little like overkill to me and made the novel feel a little obvious.

However, looking beyond this, the novel is, overall, a triumph for modern detective fiction and I feel certain that A Whiff of Cyanide, alongside the two preceding novels in this masterful series, will end up as a classic novel in a few year’s time.

Anthony Hooper Interview: “I draw on people I know for the characters in the book”

tony hooper

Anthony Hooper, author of Sheffield set thriller The Glass Lie talks me through his work and how he came to publish this innovative novel.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing political thrillers?

I prefer to write in a conversational style. I’m not sure it’s the best way to write a political crime thriller but the feedback so far has been quite positive. The second instalment is finished and written in the same style. The third book is planned out and that will probably go the same way. Originally the idea came to me as a script which may have had a subliminal impact on the way I write.

I am a retired lecturer of politics and international relations. I came to the job quite late after taking a politics degree at the University of Sheffield. I graduated as I approached my fortieth birthday and spent fifteen years teaching undergraduates. Whilst at University I attended a seminar on the cycles of power. Countries and people ascend to a position of power and authority. Some believe these cycles break down and the country or person’s authority declines. Usually, they do all they can to hold on to the privileges of authority. The seminar was about a year after Mrs Thatcher had been removed from office by her own party.

It was after this seminar the idea for the book began to form (1992). I wrote about 5,000 words around a person wanting to desperately hold on to power, only to see it evaporate. Those words stayed in the computer and every incarnation of disk and USB stick until I finally sat down (retirement finally offered me the time).

I met Harlan Coben on his book tour and questioned him about my book. He was very generous with his time and advised me to switch main characters from the civil servant to the police officer. The reason for this was the story was planned as a trilogy with the civil servant rising to the top of the political tree. If I made the police officer the main character, I would be able to write far more than three books, as long as I could think up a decent plot.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?  

Suffice to say, I have had a number of careers, spanning the armed forces, private industry, social services and teaching. The latter, by far, was the most fun and rewarding. I was studying towards my PhD when I retired and it was a source of great disappointment that I did not complete my thesis. The book was a cathartic way of writing 100,000 coherent words. Once the book was finished, it seemed natural to try and get it published. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a literary agent to represent me, so I took the alternative route and sent my manuscript to a number of publishers. Luckily, Scribblin House liked what they read and offered to publish the book for me on a three- book deal.

I draw heavily on my past in couple of important areas. Firstly, the books are set in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where I was born. The Glass Lie is set on a university campus in Sheffield. Although the name of the university has been changed for legal reasons, it wouldn’t take anyone with a passing knowledge of Sheffield geography to work out which university it is. Secondly, there is an element of historical licence within the book, in that certain locations, such as the police headquarters, no longer exist in the location within the book. The police HQ has moved out of the city centre towards the M1 motorway. The building is now the main magistrates court for the city.

The second book also delves into the world of the armed forces (from my very distant past) when soldiers on leave or in uniform are murdered on the streets of Sheffield. Their motivation for the murders takes revenge to a new level.

Please tell me about your books. What do you believe draws readers to your work?

I only have the experience of one book to draw on but the feedback I have received focuses on one theme and that is setting. The book sold very well locally. When speaking to local book clubs (around South Yorkshire) they liked the idea of a mainstream crime novel (they didn’t see it as political) being based in Sheffield. Considering it is the fourth largest city in England, it tends to go under most people’s radar. One reader hoped it would be filmed and then Sheffield ‘really would be on the map’. The setting was just as important when I spoke to a group in York, only for them, it was the Yorkshire setting. We really do see ourselves as Gods own County.

Although mainly based around the city, the original manuscript included far more political discussions in London as the plot centred around a prime minister trying to stay in power by looking tough on a topic that was in the news and wouldn’t go away. Although still there, it is far more diluted than originally planned. However, it is based on campus and students come from all over the country and when two students commit a crime the run away during reading week to a cottage in Wales until everything calms down. The village is very real and the cottage is where I have spent the past week walking in the hills around Harlech.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I draw on people I know for the characters in the book. Although they may not do that job I picture these people when writing and it helps the flow. As I’m new to published writing I haven’t experienced writers block (touch wood). If anything, I have become estranged from the characters in the first two books. They became so entrenched in my head I began to resent them. It’s easy to see how George Martin kills off his main characters with alarming regularity. It’s crossed my mind a couple of times.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

If I could collaborate with anyone it would be someone I have got to know very recently. Sharon Bolton, the crime novelist. Her writing is very dark (much darker than mine), and she draws such wonderful characters. When we exchange comments on Twitter her humour is very similar to mine and that always helps if you’re working with someone.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Beyond book three the publishers have indicated that I can develop a couple of ideas that have been in my head for years. The first one is The Intueri Children; a book about Aliens living amongst us, trying to subvert our civilisation. It is up to a special group of children to stop them. The second book is the Bus Conductor’s Bench, a supernatural themed book about how people pass over to the other side and how they may be given a second chance of life.

Thanks for taking the time Anthony, it’s been a pleasure.

Writing Good Thrillers: Are Unreliable Narrators the Way to Go?

moshin hamid

During both my English Literature degrees my favourite module was always post-colonialism, as it exposed me to great writers I would otherwise have never even thought about, as well as some fantastic writing and new cultures. I learned to love writers such as Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee and Moshin Hamid.

I had only read Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist until recently, but I found my as yet untouched copy of Moth Smoke a few weeks ago (I haven’t even bought Hamid’s latest, Exit West, or his third book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, yet, which is testimony to how behind I am in my reading) and decided to delve in. I was not disappointed. As thrilling, tense and direct as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke is an equally challenging thriller with a similar style, and a selection of equally unreliable narrators. As with the previous novel this is written mostly in a first person narrative, but with various narrators many of whom are contradictory and conceited, each believing themselves to be more right than anyone else. It is these narrators that form the backbone of the tension that remains taut throughout the novel; from the moment the reader enters the murky world of Lahore’s middle class society to the novel’s tense conclusion.

Despicable, unreliable and downright disgusting characters are a key trope in Hamid’s work. In Moth Smoke, the three core protagonists are all vile; Ozi is a spoiled little rich boy with a corrupt father and a manipulative nature, his wife Mumtaz selfish and bitter. Central character and main first person narrator Daru is morally corrupt and incredibly bitter about the increased good fortunes of his this wealthy, privileged couple, and it is his bitterness and jealousy that sets off a downward spiral in his own life.

So, are unreliable narrators the secret to truly great thrillers? Recently I have been searching for thrillers that are not driven by merciless violence, gore and a strong police presence and coming up decidedly short. Some of the greatest thrillers from the last year, such as The Girl on the Train, rely on unreliable narration to fuel the tension and drive the reader through the narrative, steering them towards incorrect conclusions. In standout brilliant thriller series such as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, readers are made to disbelieve the central characters and distrust their motives, and it is this that fuels their interest in the overall outcome.

Overall, I am inclined to believe that whilst unreliable narrators should feature heavily in thrillers, it would be nice to see some new, original tropes such as setting featuring more heavily in modern thrillers. Moth Smoke encapsulates modern Lahore but, unlike many great thrillers such as Henning Mankell’s novels or Tayeb Salih’s stunning Season of Migration to the North, setting is not used as an additional character, which is what really makes these novels stand out. I would like to see additional uses of key thriller tropes in more modern novels as I continue to play catch up on myself and visit the latest novels of some of my favourite writers, many of whom combine post colonialism perfectly with thrilling stories to create books which stand the test of time and prove to be true classics.

Matt Johnson Interview: “It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write”

Deadly Game cover 2

Matt Johnson, a former solider and policeman who has since turned his hand to writing engaging and exciting thrillers, talks me through his work and the process he uses to create it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?

I describe myself as something of an accidental author. I say that as becoming a writer had never been an ambition of mine and I came to it almost by accident. Many years ago, I received counselling as part of a therapy treating PTSD. Included in that therapy was writing about my experiences, emotions etc. I found I enjoyed it and the counsellor was moved to comment on how much she liked the result. One day, I sat at my PC and started to weave my notes into a work of fiction. That it became Wicked Game, a crime thriller, is almost certainly a product of my working life.

Please tell me about your books. What key narrative tropes do you draw on?

With two books now published, I’m about half way through my third. I haven’t had the benefit of any formal training as a writer so what I generate comes very much from the heart. I just let the words flow as the story grows. Tropes – the use of words for artistic effect – are something that may or may not result. I describe what I see, and use words in the best way I can to do so. If that may be described by those better qualified than me to say as a ‘trope’ then so be it.

How do you draw on your past as a former solider and policeman when writing fiction?

It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write. Ask me, face to face, about something and I may not be able to access the memory. But, once I start writing that changes. Something happens as I ‘get into the groove’ and it all comes flooding back.

How do your various hobbies (beekeeping, motorbike riding etc) influence your work? I’m intrigued!

They don’t really! In fact they are a terrible distraction. I’m the world’s worst at committing myself to the work in progress. So, it might be said that those hobbies slow me down. But, all the hobbies give me time to think. Some of my most creative ideas occur when I’m walking the dogs, out in the fresh air on the mountains near my home in Wales. For the reason, I try to remember to carry a digital recorder as, so often, by the time I’m back at the PC, I forget what the idea was!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

One thing I have learned is ‘just write’. So often we want to get that sentence, that chapter beginning, that point in the plot right, and first time. We forget that the first writing is just that and that it’s going to change. It really doesn’t matter if we get it right first time. So now, I just write and mostly, but certainly not always, the words will flow. And if I get a block, I walk the dogs and just unwind. Ideas often come when you least expect them.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Oh goodness, that’s a tough one. I think it would be Peter James. Peter writes very well and is really thorough with his research. I’d quite like to have my protagonist, Robert Finlay, work on an enquiry with Roy Grace.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I do, but for now I’m keeping them close to my chest. One thing I have learned since my introduction to publishing as that the real competition between writers is not for sales – there are lots of readers who read many different authors – it is for ideas, especially that real gem that will become a best-seller.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Three spring to mind. One is a chap called John Sutherland. John is a Chief Superintendent in the Met and is just about to retire following a serious issue with depression. John’s first book, an autobiographical account of his battle with mental illness is called Blue and is an incredible read. I’ve followed John’s blog – Police Commander – for a long time and I was so impressed with it I suggested he should write a book. I’m pleased he did, because Blue’is quite incredible’

My second choice would be Amanda Jennings, one of last years WH Smiths’ Fresh Talent authors. I loved her book In her Wake.

Finally, I recently met a young man called Matt Wesolowski whose debut is a crime story called Six Stories. The book is very original in both style and content. It’s also very good. Matt is, to my mind, a real talent and one to watch.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thanks for the opportunity, and for getting me writing again! I’ve just returned from a break abroad and was finding it a little challenging getting back to the coalface. Completing this interview has kick-started the grey matter!

Thanks to Matt for taking the time, it was really great to hear from you.

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express Trailer: My Thoughts

Murder on the Orient Express is an iconic novel, although I personally have always found it overrated. The novel is stunningly crafted right until the end, when we are left with a very strange conclusion in which there is no single murderer.

There’s no conclusive evidence that Branagh’s version of the film will remain true to the novel’s plotting, but I imagine this would be the case; there is no point in changing the ending, as this is what makes the novel truly revolutionary and unique.

I have awaited this film adaptation with bated breath ever since it was announced; I am a fan of Branagh’s thanks to his fabulous, if a little dreary, adaptations of Mankell’s Wallander novels, as well as his brilliant Shakespeare work. His cast is impressive; everyone from old favourites such as Judy Dench, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi through to shiny new faces such as Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley and Sergei Polunin is in this star studded adaptation, as well as box office favourites Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe.

All this money and flummery cannot make you a good Agatha Christie adaptation, however. No matter how hard you try, the atmosphere and tension need to be there; without this there is no intrigue and without intrigue there is no point. The trailer is certainly visually stunning, and the voiceover is captivating (although I have to question Branagh’s accent).

Which brings me on to the casting. Pfeiffer is excellent in her brief appearance as Caroline Hubbard, and making the character vampish was a great choice for Hollywood. Depp is uninspiring as ever, and I question Judy Dench’s casting as the Princess- she doesn’t have the shabby, slightly seedy feel you get from the character in the book.

The big question is Poirot himself. Branagh has a hilarious moustache, which makes him look more like Peter Ustinov than David Suchet, the ultimate Poirot. His voice is very forced but it his lack of presence throughout the trailer that bothers me. Although a small man in stature, Christie’s Poirot takes up a great deal of space as he assimilates himself into new situations and generally draws attention to himself in his pursuit of the truth. Although this may simply be artistic imagery used to attract attention during the trailer, I am concerned that the great detective may be reduced to a walking, strangely talking prop in his own case for the sake of a good film.

Only time will tell as to whether I enjoy this film but for now I’d be fascinated to hear the thoughts of any Christie fan: do you think you’ll enjoy the new adaptation?