Guest Post – Marnie Riches: Serial Heroes
My Serial Heroes feature week draws to a close. For those joining late: I have been asking authors to tell me which ongoing crime/thriller series they enjoy reading (and why).
Thus far we have had Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books – Douglas Skelton‘s selection. Day Two was Angela Marsons talking about Val McDermid’s Tony Hill books. Helen Giltrow introduced us to the wonderful Slough Houses series by Mick Herron and yesterday Michael J Malone took us to James Lee Burke country.
My final guest for this round of Serial Heroes is Marnie Riches. During 2015 I read both of Marnie’s Georgina McKenzie novels: The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and The Girl Who Broke The Rules these were stunning reads – books I could not put down. I included The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die in my Top Ten Books of 2015 and have been delighted to see that several of my fellow bloggers also included Marnie’s books in their end of year selections. I associate Marnie with slick, gritty thrillers so was keen to see what she enjoyed reading.
Before contacting each of the authors that have kindly contributed to this week’s feature I had tried to guess which books they may select. I knew Douglas would likely select Ed McBain and was reasonably sure Helen would pick Mick Herron, however, I had Marnie as a dead cert for Stieg Larsson…nope!
The end of the year on social media brings with it so many exciting round-ups and Top 10s of the year’s best books. I’ve been lucky enough to feature on a couple this year and am delighted that my George McKenzie series has garnered such support from readers and bloggers. There’s something special about discovering a brand new series, isn’t there? Something magical about a character’s fraught and complicated life, unfolding on the pages…a couple of books in, and often, they feel like old friends, telling their stories just for you.
An author who became a great source of inspiration for my own writing is the mighty Jo Nesbo. The Leopard was the first book of the Harry Hole series that I devoured. It was dark. It was brutal. It contained a perfect Scandi-Noir blend of coffee drinking, snow and murder. My imagination caught fire with the introduction of the gruesome Leopold’s Apple as an ingenious and dreadful torture device; a bringer of death by drowning. I had to read on. For me, this is one of the best books in the series, as we discover Harry, hiding away in Hong Kong, trying to smother his demons in a narcotic fug. The switch from Hong Kong’s sweaty high-rises to the snow-bound, claustrophobic Norwegian wilderness and ensuing epic trek to the Congo to catch a killer make this a truly international novel – exactly the sort of thing that I love to read and also to write, of course.
For my part, the real genius in Nesbo’s writing comes not so much from his characters but from his ability to tell a really gripping and often, wildly inventive yarn. Each of his killers despatch their victims in unusual ways, with a variety of different and warped motivations. There are twists and action sequences a-plenty, as we enter the worlds of addicts, ex-servicemen, the Salvation Army, hitmen and even artists. His books from the middle of his series – The Devil’s Star, The Redeemer, The Snowman and The Leopard – contain Nesbo’s best writing, I feel. The plotting is tight. The pace is fast. The books are long and packed with descriptive detail but are neither overblown nor undercooked. They evoke a gritty, realistic, rat’s-eye view of Oslo and its criminal underbelly.
What I also love about the Harry Hole series is the way that Nesbo weaves thematic complexity into his stories, so that beneath the main storyline of Harry-pursues-killer-and-catches-killer, there are layers addressing corruption within the police force, dysfunctional relationships, sexuality, existential angst of the middle-aged and the nature of addiction.
Characters usually constitute the most important element in a series’ success. Harry Hole is a wonderfully tortured individual, continually having to face the perils of addiction, scheming colleagues, sexual temptation from the women who come and go from his life and/or unrequited love for his The One – Rakel. I do prefer a man with a soupcon more sensitivity and an impressive intellect, as well as a propensity for derring-do, however dastardly – hence my enduring love of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter and my compulsion to create the misanthropic art-school drop-out, Van den Bergen. But Hole is indeed a belter, and Nesbo demonstrates beautifully how you must always chase your main character up a tree and then throw rocks at him or her. His subsidiary characters are often interesting too – none more so than the blushing Beate Lonn with her incredible ability to remember every face she has ever seen, diligently watching CCTV footage in the House of Pain. I must confess that my own detective, Marie – Van den Bergen’s IT expert – has, in part, been inspired by Lonn, though I sought to flesh Marie out a good deal more and in different ways. The introverted, soap-dodging Marie, who spends her days tracking the nefarious doings of traffickers and paedophiles online, really comes into her own in my third George McKenzie novel – The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. Nesbo’s Rakel, though, always feels like a rough sketch of a woman. I wish Nesbo had taken the time to flesh his female characters out more, because they count! It’s only a very small criticism of a series that is consistently impressive, in the main.
Oddly, it is often the standalone novels penned by famous authors that turn out to be their best work. If you want to see Jo Nesbo’s writing at its cut-throat, breakneck-paced, fat-free best, read Headhunters. It’s slender in comparison to the Harry books but boy, is it good. And it’s funny too. Sometimes, even in a crime novel, a bit of funny goes a very long way.
So…sold on Nesbo yet? Well, if you haven’t read the Harry Hole series yet, I recommend you discover it this Christmas. Be careful. It’s addictive!
Jo Nesbo’s books can all be found on his Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jo-Nesbo/e/B004MSFDCG/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1450485109&sr=8-2-ent
Marnie Riches has her own Amazon page too: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marnie-Riches/e/B00WBJZ364/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1450485897&sr=8-2-ent and her personal website can be found at: http://marnieriches.com/
You can find Marnie on Twitter @Marnie_Riches or follow her on Facebook.