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Monday, 24 March 2008

James Brown?

If there's one thing I hate, it's my books being described as being "like Dan Brown."

The problem is that the unprecedented success of
The Da Vinci Code means that reviewers now use it as the yardstick by which to judge other thrillers, in the same way that all children’s books have to go through the Harry Potter litmus test, and all spy novels get held up against Fleming.

In a way I guess this is understandable, as it helps create a shorthand by which books can be placed in an easy to understand context for readers and the market. But it is clearly overly-simplistic and symptomatic, in many cases, of lazy journalism and commentary - it’s temptingly easy to dismiss or praise a book because it’s like something else rather than recognise its individual qualities or failings.

Personally, I don’t think the comparison is particularly valid or useful, although my publishers invited it to a certain extent by adopting a very similar colour scheme to DVC for The Double Eagle. I’ve always seen my books as more James Bond meets the Thomas Crown Affair with a bit of Indiana Jones thrown into the mix! But then I'm just the author so what do I know?

If there are comparison points, they come because Dan Brown and I share an interest in spinning a story around some interesting historical event(s), but then
Robert Harris does much the same in Archangel. We both make reference to art and art works, but then so does Dashiell Hammet in The Maltese Falcon. We both sprinkle facts and trivia into our writing, but then so does Thomas Harris in Hannibal.

My point here is that the success of the DVC has led many to give Dan Brown “ownership” of certain topics, approaches and techniques, as if no-one else has used them before and that if you do so you are somehow following in his slipstream. The truth is that many of these have been used by other writers for years. And my ideas for a sequence of Tom Kirk books were fleshed out before I’d even heard of Dan Brown. A far more useful comparison for my books, in my view, is with some of the old school thriller writers like Ludlum, Higgins, Flemming, Maclean, Follett and Forsyth.

You might say I shouldn't care, but I think every writer wants to be judged on their own merits and not by comparison with someone else. Especially when for every person who thinks DVC is a well-crafted, interesting, page turning thriller, there is someone else who views it as badly written with terrible dialogue and two-dimensional, caricatured characters!

Still, I wouldn't mind a fraction of his sales ...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Amber Room green light?

First some Double Eagles are found, then the Madonna of the Yarnwinder shows up. Now, it seems, the legendary Amber Room may surface after fifty years of rumour and intrigue. I appreciate that when you write about stolen art, it's an occupational hazard that some of it may turn up, but this is getting ridiculous, if not downright suspicious!

For the uninitiated, the search for the legendary Amber Room is the main premise of The Black Sun. I won't bore you here with this history - you can read it here - but suffice it to say that it was described as the Eighth Wonder of the World (why is everything described as the eighth wonder, never the ninth or tenth?), was stolen by the Nazis. and then lost in the fog of war.

There have been a succession of conspiracy theories as to its current location ranging from an abandoned silver mine in Thuringia and the bottom of a lagoon in Lithuania. In 1997, the son of one of the German officers who had accompanied the wartime convoy from St Petersburg to Königsberg was arrested for trying to sell a small section of the room. Although it is not known how the officer got it, this fragment remains, along with an intricately inlaid chest, the only part of the original Amber Room known to have survived the war.

Now it seems a German MP is convinced he has located the Amber Room's final resting place in an underground chamber near the northern German village of Deutschneudorf, of which he is also mayor. (No conflict of interest there, then. No attempt to boost the local tourist economy, let alone his re-election chances...)
What's more, he believes that whatever is hidden in the underground chamber might be protected with explosives and poison traps and that "There are rivals who want to get to the treasure before you, and there are people who don't want you to find it." This guy should be in Hollywood, not politics.)

For the record, my view (and the one they will whisper to you in St Petersburg) is that having been packed into crates by the Nazis, the Russians destroyed it themselves when their troops set fire to Konigsburg Castle. But rather than admit it, they have deliberately used its loss as a negotiating tool with the Germans every time they have raised the possibility of the Russians handing back all the German loot they still have hidden in their secret storerooms.

When the story broke, my publisher raised the prospect of me writing a piece for the Daily Mail (they love a good Nazi story, if that isn't an oxymoron). They turned me down, saying that the angle they really wanted to cover was that the room still existed.

You've got to love the press - why let the truth stand in the way of a good story.