I’m delighted to welcome Paul Finch to the CTG blog. His latest novel, The Killing Club, is published this week, and today Paul is taking over the reins (or rather the keyboard) to guest blog about the books he has read that have been most influential on his career.
Over to Paul …
It would be very easy, I suppose, to respond to the question which books have you read that were most influential on your career, and, given that my own most successful novels are intense murder investigations, simply reel off all the great thriller writers.
It would of course be untrue to say that I haven’t been influenced by other thriller novelists. Stuart MacBride, Mark Billingham, Peter James, Kathy Reichs and Katia Lief are all staggeringly high in my estimation. But I don’t just read within my own genre, and I think it would be an interesting exercise to perhaps consider those other types of books that have blown me away, set me on my current career path, whatever you want to call it.
It’s no secret that, before I began writing my DS Heckenburg thrillers, I dabbled widely in the fields of horror and fantasy. And this wasn’t just during my formative years as a writer, my kindergarten if you like; I wrote lots of this kind of stuff, and still do. I also read in this field enormously. But it’s fascinating now, on reflection, how much these apparently unrelated interests have influenced my DS Heckenburg novels.
For example, THE WOLFEN by Whitley Strieber (pub. 1978) presents us with two tired New York detectives, a man and a woman, investigating the murder and apparent cannibalisation of hobos in the city’s underbelly, and soon reaching the conclusion the perpetrators are not humans, but a highly intelligent werewolf pack.
Now, I suppose there are obvious links here with ‘Heck’: a gang of vicious and relentless killers, a lovelorn boy and girl cop team, and so on. But I think it’s the seamy side of the average detective’s working day that most caught my eye about this striking novel. Strieber really takes us to the backside of New York, the subways and ghettos and derelict lots, and peoples them with hookers, winos and druggies. My own experience as a real life cop taught me these are the places you need to go if you want to catch some bad guys, but here we go way beyond the everyday grim, delving into the world of the true urban gothic: it’s a nightmare landscape, beautifully and poetically described, and yet at the same time filled with such palpable menace that even hardboiled detectives are unnerved.
I make a point of never taking my own crime thrillers into such realms of overt fantasy, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to invoke similar feelings of dread and weirdness in the dark heart of the city.
Another relevant horror novel is surely LEGION by William Peter Blatty (pub. 1983). This is a totally different kind of police story. Again, it follows a time-served detective investigating a series of sadistic murders, though in this case he’s dealing with Satanic ritual. It’s a much subtler tale, ripe with a sense of ancient mystery and slow-burning evil (and that would be real evil, of the distinctly inhuman variety). Yet for all this, the point where LEGION really kicks in is the deep assessment the hero, Lt. Kinderman, constantly makes of himself, examining his own beliefs or unbeliefs, puzzling as to why he exposes himself to this depravity time and again, bleeding inside for the victims. Not exactly Heck, who’s never been much of a philosopher, but the longer you work as a homicide cop, the more you’re going to confront yourself with these issues. There is some really deep character work here by Blatty, which you can’t help but admire.
Moving from horror into science fiction and fantasy, there are two other titles I’d like to mention. The first of these contains the most obvious link to those matters I’ve mentioned previously. It is Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi masterwork, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP (pub. 1968). Most folk will know this as the movie, BLADE RUNNER, but though there are some similarities, the book goes way beyond the limited scope of a Hollywood adaptation. In Rick Deckard, another dogged man-hunter and, thanks to his wife’s depression, a sad loner, working his way through a world gone mad and yet adding to it with his own role, which conflicts him deeply, there is genuine pathos. The movie, of course, had a strong noirish feel – it was almost Chandleresque – which is not prevalent in the book, but the strong central character is still a great blueprint for the fictional lone-wolf detective. For me, heroes always need to be vulnerable: stricken by self-doubt, and with enemies on all sides, some of whom they thought were friends. I’ve never had much time for men of steel, undefeatable icons of hunky machismo, like Superman or Batman. If I took anything from DO ANDROIDS DREAM … it had to be that deep introspection, that guilt, that conscience. It makes our heroes so much more interesting.
On that same subject, the fantasy novel I’d like to nominate is GRENDEL by John Gardner (pub. 1971). I guess we’re all familiar with the tale of Beowulf, the Viking warrior, and his defence of the hall of Heorot against the ravages of the faceless devil, Grendel, who for no reason other than twisted pleasure, came nightly to slaughter the innocent.
As I say, I’m not big on superhero stories. I loved BEOWULF as a kid – it was probably the first spooky tale my late father told me – but as I grew up, I found the monster more interesting. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, Grendel is the prototype serial killer. So in many ways, GRENDEL the novel takes us to the other end of the crime thriller spectrum, Gardner depicting his antihero first as an abused and lonely child, later showing him suffer rejection by those he sought to befriend, and finally having him retaliate with homicidal fury, which at last introduces him to a lifestyle of his liking – if he can’t have everyone’s love, he’ll have their terror. There isn’t as much Norse myth woven into this novel as you might expect. Instead Gardner gives us philosophy, social commentary and, a decade before the FBI commenced offender profiling, the psychology of the reviled. Talk about streets ahead of the game. Of course, we all know what happens at the end of BEOWULF, and it’s the same in GRENDEL, so don’t expect any surprises – apart from the dark joy this narrative will elicit as it works its way through the tormented mind and hideous satisfactions of a creature driven solely to hate.
It’s a strange thing that we think we know ourselves so well, our thoughts, interests and aspirations. And yet clearly there are many subliminal strata to our thinking. Even as I wrote this blog, it became more apparent to me how relevant to my current writing so many of these themes explored by earlier authors actually are. I won’t go over them again, because I think they speak for themselves – they certainly will, I hope, if you get the chance to read any of my DS Heckenburg thrillers, STALKERS, SACRIFICE or, most recently, THE KILLING CLUB. On which note, I suspect it’s a good time to end this monologue. Whichever way you go, please enjoy your reading and writing. There are no finer pleasures.
A huge thank you to Paul for spending time here at the CTG blog today and telling us about the books that have most influenced his career.
To find out more about Paul and his books, including his latest book – The Killing Club – hop on over to his website at http://paulfinch-writer.blogspot.co.uk/
And don’t forget to follow him on Twitter @paulfinchauthor