Behind The Scenes:
Five Writers Who Influenced HUNT YOU DOWN
Guest Post by Christopher Farnsworth
Whenever I publish a new novel, I’m usually asked which writers have influenced me, and I usually give the same answers. I can still remember the first Stephen King novel I read (Carrie, checked out at 12 from my junior high library, started it one sunny afternoon, finished it later that evening, looked up and saw the sky had curdled into a violent black thunderstorm). I still have my mangled paperback copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (I read it over and over one summer, trying desperately to figure out how he was so fluent, how he managed to make the language look so damned effortless). And I usually remember to mention Shibumi by Trevanian (a fascinating spy novel I first found in a secondhand bookstore with no cover, massively smart, deeply cynical, weirdly prescient).
But those are all books and writers from a long time ago now. And while they’re still important, this time I thought it was worth mentioning the writers I read while I was writing the book that would become HUNT YOU DOWN.
I know writers who don’t read fiction while they’re writing because they don’t want another author’s style to bleed over into their prose. I’m the opposite. I read the best stuff I can get my hands on in hopes that some of that intelligence and facility will somehow transfer to me by osmosis.
So when I was writing HUNT YOU DOWN, I was glad to have these writers as companions along the way.
Elizabeth Hand — Elizabeth Hand is a prose stylist on par with Neil Gaiman and an imagination that spans every genre. She can shift gears from apocalyptic speculative fiction like Fire to the brooding haunted house tale Wylding Hall to hardcore noir in her Cass Neary books. Cass is an aging punk photographer with an uncanny ability to be standing in just the right place to see bodies drop. I read the latest Cass book, Hard Light, last year. Hand is a master at showing the real trauma surrounding crime and violence, and her characters are nearly crushed under their burdens. Cass’ gift — and curse — is to expose any secret in her vicinity, and in these books, the truth always hurts.
John Connolly — I’ve met John Connolly several times and he’s been kind enough to blurb one of my books. He’s a charming, funny, and deeply gracious man. Which means I should probably be less envious of him. But he’s just so goddamn good at his job. The Charlie Parker series is about an ex-cop turned private detective whose cases are always tinged with the supernatural after the brutal slaying of his wife and daughter. This brief description does not do the books anything close to justice. His characters — even the ones who are only around for a few pages before they are ruthlessly dispatched — are well-drawn and deep and detailed. Parker himself is a complex, intelligent man who is also a brutal avenger. And John is able to make the scenes of the other world intruding into ours completely believable and deeply disturbing at the same time. I look to John as an example of how to write a new book in a series without bogging the reader down in past continuity. Every Parker book is capable of standing on its own, and every one fits in the larger plan.
Claire North — Claire North is the pen name of Catherine Webb, who wrote her first critically acclaimed novel at 14. (So, right there, again, a knife of envy to the heart.) As North, she’s written two books I love to an unhealthy degree: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Harry August is a brilliantly plotted novel that centers on a man who relives the same life over and over — a time traveler on one very specific path who is eventually able to change his life and the entire world as he goes along. It’s almost dizzying to contemplate how North had to figure out all the various branches of history as she wrote this: I picture a giant wall with graphs, charts, equations, and lots of pins connected with different-colored string. But it’s Hope that really inspired me as I worked on John Smith. Hope is a sometimes heartbreaking novel about a young woman who discovers she is utterly forgettable. Even her own family forgets her existence when she leaves a room. As superpowers go, it’s pretty horrific. She becomes, by necessity and talent, the world’s greatest thief. Eventually she comes into conflict with a tech company with an app that is practically demonic. I’d already decided to write HUNT YOU DOWN about the dark side of social media. And then North came along and made it even darker. It was inspiring. I don’t think I equalled what she did, but I enjoyed trying.
Mick Herron — I read a review of Herron’s work in the Los Angeles Review of Books that intrigued me, so I picked up Slow Horses, the first of his Slough House series about a group of spies exiled by MI-6 to bureaucratic purgatory for their various offenses. And then, almost before I knew it, I was an addict jonesing for the next fix. Herron’s spies are all screw-ups: one triggered a terror alert over a false alarm; another has a problem with drugs and violence; another is a gambler; and one is just so annoying no one wants to work with him. They’re all led by Jackson Lamb, an anti-Bond who is fat and flatulent and whatever the opposite of charming is. They’re supposed to rot in their decaying offices until they retire or die. Except they’re all still spies, and their brand of incompetence turns out to a sort of nobility in a world where the nation’s secrets are guarded by the utterly corrupt. Herron’s plotting is so deft that you almost miss the elegance of his writing. He’s created a brilliant world where anything can happen, everyone is at risk, and the good guys are never really going to win. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book.
John Burdett — Burdett’s Royal Thai Detective series, featuring Sonchai Jitpleecheep, is a masterpiece of first-person narration. Sonchai is the son of a former prostitute, a former drug dealer, a former Buddhist monk, and current homicide detective in Bangkok. His experience of the world is kaleidoscopic and immense — he’s been raised all over the globe by a series of surrogate fathers who were his mother’s clients, he speaks several languages, and he sometimes sees the past incarnations of the people he questions in his duties — but Burdett makes it all flow with sharply observed asides and deadpan humor. Sonchai has an overdeveloped sense of justice, which often gets him in trouble in a precinct where most crimes are greeted with indifference. But he manages to get the answers even in the most bizarre cases, such as the homicide that opens the first book in the series, Bangkok 8, when a man is murdered by a car full of spitting cobras. I re-read all of the books while writing HUNT YOU DOWN just to experience Sonchai’s and Burdett’s voice over and over again.