Monday 31 August 2015

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015

I was delighted to be asked back to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a second year running. This year by luck or design I was sharing an event with my fellow Orion (relative) newbie Steve Cavanagh, who was talking about his excellent debut novel The Defence. He's up for the festival's First Book Award, so if you loved The Defence as much as I did, click here to vote for it.

First of all I stopped by Blackwell's bookshop on South Bridge Street and signed some copies of The Samaritan and Killing Season. It's a great shop with an excellent crime section, which I heartily recommend if you're in the neighbourhood.

I headed over to the book festival, hosted as always in the magnificent Charlotte square, checked into the author's yurt and caught up with Steve. We met up with our interviewer, fellow crime author Russel D Mclean and talked about the format. Shortly before game time, we were mic-d up and escorted to the theatre.

This was an unusual event for me because for once I wasn't the sole American crime fiction writer on the bill. Steve writes New York-set legal thrillers and hails from Belfast, so we both got to talk about the benefits and challenges of writing US-based books, our transatlantic influences, and how we do our research. Steve spoke about the differences between the American and British legal systems, and why the UK system doesn't lend itself particularly well to the genre.

We covered a multitude of other topics, from how we got an agent and published, to who we would cast in the movie. I discovered that Steve's authenticity in fight scenes comes from his boxing days, and that the first novel has a carefully-designed Alice in Wonderland subtext.

After the main event, we met some readers, signed some copies and then retreated to the festival grounds to drink a few beers under the stars. For some reason a pair of F-16s performed a flyby. I suspect it wasn't related to our event, but I wouldn't discount it: this is a book festival that knows how to make its authors feel welcome.

Saturday 22 August 2015

John D MacDonald's Cape Fear

It's summer, and we all know what that means - reruns!

Here's another Murder Room blog I wrote earlier this year, on one of my favourite thrillers by one of my favourite writers.

Again, mine is one of several pieces on an underrated classic, and if you like this taster, you should click on over to The Murder Room to see what Steve Cavanagh, Barry Forshaw and Becky Masterman have to say about John D MacDonald's influential gem.

Mason Cross on Cape Fear

The Murder Room, February 2015

John D. MacDonald’s classic novel of revenge and moral ambiguity was first published in 1957 under the title The Executioners. It would later become famous under a different name, when it was adapted for the screen twice as Cape Fear: J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 version starred Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, and the 1991 remake by Martin Scorsese, this time starring Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte. The change of name was a good idea for a couple of reasons: for one, Cape Fear is just a better title. For another, its original moniker is kind of a spoiler.

MacDonald’s plot is artfully simple: a driven psychopath by the name of Max Cady is released from a long prison stretch, hell-bent on getting revenge against family man Sam Bowden, the person whose testimony sent him down. As Bowden discovers that the law has its limits when it comes to a man like Cady, he realises he’ll have to take matters into his own hands to protect his family.

If you’re only familiar with Scorsese’s slightly over-the-top film version, you may be surprised by how lean and linear MacDonald’s original is. A product of an era when not every thriller had to challenge the phone book for page count, the novel tells a simple but compelling story in fewer than two hundred pages. Its brevity makes it all the more impressive, in that it does double duty both as a page-turning revenge thriller and a complex, thoroughly examined morality play.

Bowden, like many of MacDonald’s protagonists, is a thoughtful and reflective man given to bouts of introspection. This character type really comes into its own in Cape Fear, because the central conflict is as much an intellectual one as it is a physical one. In the book, Bowden is pitted not just against the single-minded brutality of Cady, but against his own morality and regard for the rule of law.

I first read Cape Fear in my early twenties. Reading it again now, it’s easy to see how it’s influenced my work, as well as that of so many other writers. The psychopathic but wily antagonist of The Killing Season definitely has some of Max Cady’s DNA, and I’d like to think that some of MacDonald’s characterisation of his flawed, conflicted hero has rubbed off on me too. It’s that element that seems to have interested Scorsese, who upped the ante in his film by having Bowden deliberately suppress evidence to have Cady put away in the first place.

Cape Fear is a compelling study of what happens when the laws and safeguards of civilised society are a hopelessly inadequate response to an existential threat. But much more importantly than that, it’s a brilliantly written, unputdownable thriller.

Friday 14 August 2015

Reviews and readings

Wow, is it really over two weeks since I last blogged? What have I been doing with my time?

Since last we met, there have been a couple of great new reviews, one online and another one in an actual newspaper.

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph liked it:

"If you love Michael Connelly and Robert Crais thrillers that pack action and nerve-shredding suspense while moving to a cool Los Angeles vibe, you'll rave about this ... Cross - amazingly a Glasgow writer - makes the manhunt so intensely gripping it plays like a Hollywood blockbuster in your head."

Euro Crime posted a fantastic review, saying:

"I was fascinated by the story and once started I just could not put it down. This author who has only published one other book so far, writes with such dexterity and expert plotting that one would think he has many, many titles to his credit. I must try and get hold of his earlier book as I don't think I can wait until next year to read more about Carter Blake. Extremely well recommended."

I'm really pleased that for the most part people seem to be enjoying book 2, and I'm always happy when someone likes it without having read the first one. It can be a tough balance to get right, making sure a book works in the context of a series and in its own right, but so far the feedback is good.

The Daily Record ran a nice feature on The Samaritan as part of their Book Club on Saturday too:

In general, the publicity for The Samaritan is going really, really well. Waterstones have been great as usual, hosting me not just for the launch, but for readings and signings at the East Kilbride store and the brand-new refitted Braehead store as well.

At times, the business of writing a novel can feel like butting your head against a brick wall, so it's actually rather nice to get out and talk to people who are enjoying what you do.



I'm going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks - I have rewrites on the third Blake book to complete, and I'm going to be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 21st August with fellow-Orion dude, legal eagle, and all round good guy Steve Cavanagh.

I've decided to simplify things by hosting all events on the main website, so if you'd like to find out more about Edinburgh and where I'm going to be next, best have a look at the events page!