Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Three thrillers

During my period of enforced idleness I have been reading a few things, among them 3 thrillers.

There has been a BBC detective series based on the detective novels of Ian Hunter who died recently at the age of 82. Hunter was born at Hoveton, Norfolk and went to school across the River Bure in Wroxham. He left school at 14 and worked on his father's farm near Norwich. He enjoyed dinghy sailing on the Norfolk Broads, wrote natural history notes for the local newspaper, and wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. After the war he managed the antiquarian books department of Charles Cubitt in Norwich. Four years later, he established his own bookshop on Maddermarket in the city. From 1955 until 1998 he published a Gently detective novel nearly every year (46 in all). He retired to Brundall in Norfolk where he continued his interests in local history, natural history, and sailing.

The TV series starred Martin Shaw as a middle aged detective who was very old school in his ways yet sympathetic with the new social changes introduced in the 1960s, like easier divorce, end of the death penalty, tolerance of homosexuality, non-prosecution for attempted suicide, yet resolutely against abortion. The series differ markedly from the books, being set in Northumberland and Durham rather than in Norfolk, and with different characters.

The book I read was Gently by the Shore. I was rather disappointed by it. It was only the second of the George Gently novels and was set in a seaside town in East Anglia. I thought that the TV series was much better but was based on novels written in the 60s whereas this was from the 1950s. It had a rather tame Cold War theme.

I was struck by the very correct use of English with ultra-correct punctuation. Adjectives like 'south-wards' were hyphenated. It was strange to see how the language has changed over 50 years. I was also struck how words have passed out of the language and how the word 'gay' was used to mean 'self-consciously gaudy'. A mentally-handicapped individual was unselfconsciously referred to as a 'half-wit'. Hunter is unafraid to use medical terms like 'thorax' and 'olfactory' or technical words from yachting like 'staithe' and 'chandlery'.

I will try one of the other Ian Hunter novels to see if he is worth persisting with.

Robert Crais (born June 20, 1953) is an American author of detective fiction. Crais began his career writing scripts for television shows such as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Quincy, Miami Vice and L.A. Law. He lists amongst his literary influences the authors Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, Robert B. Parker and John Steinbeck. Crais lives in California's Santa Monica mountains with his family.

Crais's usual protagonist and first-person narrator is private detective Elvis Cole, an ex-Ranger. Cole's partner is Joe Pike, a former Marine. Except for Demolition Angel, Hostage and The Two-Minute Rule, all of Crais' books feature Cole and Pike, with The Watchman (2007), The First Rule (2010) and The Sentry (2011) centering on Joe Pike. The author tackles a variety of subjects in his novels. Sunset Express dealt with a killer who bore an uncanny resemblance to O.J. Simpson. The most frequently recurring theme in Crais's books is the value of honesty; in his works, the long-term value of coming clean always outweighs the short-term benefits of covering up the problem. Crais also delves into issues of family and loyalty.

The book I read was Free Fall with echoes of the Rodney King riots. It is easy to see the influence of Raymond Chandler, though he is nothing like so good a writer. Phrases instead of sentences and the judicious use of the dash instead of punctuation are characteristics. The plot is arranged to provide an opportunity for extreme violence. Very unlike Agatha Christie. I have a memory of reading a Robert Crais novel before and towards the end I wasn't sure whether I had read this Robert Crais novel before. If it wasn't then his books are very similar.

I have also read the latest Lee Child. Jim Grant (born 1954), better known by his pen name Lee Child, is an English thriller writer. His wife Jane is a New Yorker, and they currently live in New York state. His first novel, Killing Floor, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Each of Child's novels follows the adventures of a former American Military Policeman, Jack Reacher, who wanders the United States.

Though Grant was born in Coventry, England, his parents moved him and his three brothers to Handsworth Wood in Birmingham when he was four years old, so they could get a better education. Grant attended Cherry Orchard Primary School in Handsworth Wood until the age of 11 and was one of the cleverest boys in his year. He attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, also the alma mater of J. R. R. Tolkien and Enoch Powell. His father was a civil servant and his younger brother, Andrew Grant, is also a thriller novelist. Some of Grant's early influences include Enid Blyton, W.E. Johns, and Alistair MacLean though his debt to Raymond Chandler is also apparent.

Grant joined Granada Television, part of the UK's ITV Network, in Manchester as presentation director. There he was involved with shows including Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown (TV series), Prime Suspect, and Cracker. Grant was involved in the transmission of more than 40,000 hours of programming for Granada, writing thousands of commercials, news stories, and trailers. He stayed with Granada 1977-1995, After being made redundant he decided he wanted to start writing novels, stating they are "the purest form of entertainment." In 1997, his first novel, Killing Floor, was published and he moved to the US in the summer of 1998.

I read "The Affair", the 16th Jack Reacher novel, which is set in the past when Reacher was still a Miltary Policeman. It lets us know how and why he left the Army. It is the same old Reacher. As usual the story moves along at a cracking pace and gives a satisfying burst of adrenaline. The dashes and short sentences are even more apparent than in the Robert Crais.

The next author I am going to read is Peter Robinson. I'll keep you posted.

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