by | Oct 9, 2016 | Extraordinary Guest Bloggers | 6 comments

KJ Howe hosting Ali Karim
I’m honoured to be hosting crime fiction savant Ali Karim on Rogue Women Writers. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ali for many years, and the SHOTS eZine he is Assistant Editor for offers outstanding coverage of mysteries and thrillers along with the most in-depth analysis of crime fiction that I’ve seen.  Smart, funny, kind, Ali is someone that brings a special enthusiasm to our genre, as you’ll soon see.  Please don’t forget to check out the phenomenal video links at the end of the article.  You’re in for a treat.

Take it away, Ali…

When KJ Howe asked me to guest blog at Rogue Women, it was an invitation I couldn’t refuse as I love talking about thriller fiction.  I first met KJ at the Inaugural Thrillerfest in Phoenix in 2006, as we’re both avid readers of thriller fiction.

KJ in 2006 at inaugural ThrillerFest
I was unable to attend this year’s Thrillerfest due to diary clashes, though I’ve been bumping into KJ a great deal recently, with her appearance at Theakstons Old Peculier Harrogate Crime Writing Festival [following her work at ITW Thrillerfest 2016], as well as Bouchercon New Orleans.

So while pondering what to write; I was backing up my photos on my spare hard drive, and discovered I had a photo of KJ from Thrillerfest 2006, and emailed it to her. We both laughed as fast forwarding a decade, we find KJ about to publish her debut thriller The Freedom Broker, and coincidentally my very old friend, Vicki Mellor of Headline Publishing has UK rights.

Anyway, I digress. The issue was the topic or theme she asked me to write about, had me scratching my head – ‘Animals in Thriller Fiction’. I initially thought about fiction that featured Animals, such as the work of Dean Koontz, the work of Nevada Barr, even CUJO by Stephen King. But my knowledge of Animal Fiction is pretty skimpy, so as I pondered on what to write, I recalled the essay, I wrote for MJ Rose that was used as the introduction in the Inaugural Thrillerfest Brochure in 2006. In that introduction I mentioned the significance of Geoffrey Household, and his 1939 novel Rogue Male to thriller writers and readers – as it is a great example of ‘The Lone Wolf’ as Protagonist. Rogue Male features a “Hunter” who becomes “The Hunted”, with a deadly game of Cat and Mouse.

David Morrell wrote about Household’s novel in an essay in ITW : 100 Thriller Novels [Oceanview Publishing] that he edited with Hank Wagner –

Few novels have a more claustrophobic atmosphere. The mud at the start and the burrow at the end are paralleled by an empty water tank in which the main character is compelled to spend a night. He survives a lethal fight in a dark subway tunnel. Chased, he squirms into clay amid soaked cabbages on a field drenched by rain. He hides in night-shrouded ditches. While these constricted settings add to Rogue Male’s tension, they also reinforce one of the elements that make the book distinctive—the vividness with which the protagonist merges with his surroundings, particularly fields, woods, and streams, as if Household felt a kinship with the transcendentalism of Wordsworth’s nature poetry.

But this is a version of Wordsworth channeled disturbingly through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Robinson Crusoe, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, antecedents that Household acknowledged. In the end, the big-game hunter is so absorbed into nature that he descends to the level of one of the animals he used to hunt, a theme suggested by the book’s title and by an epigraph that discusses the fear and cunning of a rogue animal who relies on ferocity after pain or loss separates it from its fellows.

David Morrell had asked Household if he would provide a review or quote for his debut novel First Blood, which like Rogue Male was an outdoor tale of survival where the hunter becomes the hunted. Household declined, citing that he was uncomfortable with the level of violence in First Blood; something that always makes David smile wryly.

The author of a novel in which a rotting polecat is skinned and its guts are used to build a catapult to drive a stake through someone’s forehead told me that he couldn’t possibly give me a quote. “Your novel is far too bloody.”

Ali Karim and Lee Child

Read the Full Essay by David Morrell relating to Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male Here
I recalled that first Thrillerfest Convention in 2006 and how much fun it had been, with especially warm memories of an earlier event, when I first met Gayle Lynds and David Morrell, the founders of ITW [with many colleagues] back at Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas. It was there that David Morrell and I went to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher party at The Peppermill. That time is a much cherished memory for me, as it was there in Las Vegas that the creator of Rambo first met the creator of Reacher.

Boucheron in Vegas, David Morrell and Gayle Lynds

I had arrived in Las Vegas early, and attended a writing workshop which was split into two sessions. The first session was presented by the late Jerry Healy. The second session was presented by Gayle Lynds. I had recently enjoyed her novel The Coil, as well as the thrillers she wrote in-concert with Robert Ludlum which were published in the UK by Orion Publishing. Gayle’s session was most interesting as she focused on the common problems in thriller writing. One issue related to much genre work featuring ‘the lone wolf’, which there are many such as Joe Finder’s Nick Heller, Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, Richard Stark’s Parker, Ian Fleming’s James BondTom Cain’s Samuel CarverCarol O’Connell’s Kathleen ‘Kathy’ MallorySara Paretsky’s V I WarshawskiLee Child’s Jack ReacherDavid Morrell’s RamboFredrick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, John Connolly’s Charlie Parker,  True Detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle,  Peter James’ Roy GraceIan Rankin’s John Rebus and many, many others as the list is long. 

Gayle Lynds explained during her writing seminar on Thriller Fiction, that one of the most common criticisms of this sub-genre of literature is poor characterisation. This is especially true of the protagonist as he/she is often a ‘Lone Wolf’ and like Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan, or ‘The Man With No Name’, they often are silent types, as their actions speak louder than words. It takes great skill writing thrillers with a Lone Wolf as Protagonist, without moving across the line that separates Convention from Cliché.  This was one of the reasons why Michael Connelly was very careful in selling movie rights to his Harry Bosch novels, as his eponymous detective is a lone wolf. In the end, the Amazon Prime TV series appeared the best option, especially in terms of character development of Harry Bosch over a series of TV Episodes, as opposed to the limitations of a 90 minute film. I discussed this very point with Connelly when I was fortunate to be on set and on location in Los Angeles, with Titus Welliver [who plays Harry Bosch] and the Bosch Production team.

I quizzed the author about the task he faced in casting Harry Bosch for the small screen. Connelly explained that finding the right actor to portray Bosch had been difficult, as they needed someone who could command the stage in minimalist fashion (i.e., have an expressive persona). Welliver was ultimately deemed the perfect fit, though I’d always imagined Bosch as being chunkier or bulkier, not so svelte as Welliver.
Ali Karim, “Harry Bosch”, and Michael Connolly
When I told Connelly that, he smiled and said, “Funny you mention that. Just after we cast Titus as Bosch, I did get a call from James Gandolfini [of The Sopranos fame], who said he was a huge fan of the Harry Bosch novels.” He told Connelly, “Yes, I know I’m a little heavy, but believe me, I could be a great Harry Bosch.” Connelly looked at me with a bit of sadness as he said, “Though we cast Titus, I was flattered by the call from Tony Soprano. But either way, I very was saddened to hear of his passing [in 2013].” It’s fitting at least that crime-fiction enthusiast Gandolfini’s last, posthumous role was in The Drop, a movie based on Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue.”
Read More Here and Here
Gayle also explained that care also needs to be taken when considering the Antagonist – the villain. She explained that no one is totally good, nor is anyone totally bad. The best villains are those that the writer makes multi-dimensional, showing all the facets of character, not just focusing on the bad. She quoted Thomas Harris, with his Dr Hannibal Lecter. Apart from the evilness of his nature as a cannibal, he is also incredibly cultured, an epicurean, very well read, and a man of the arts. In later novels such as Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising he becomes an Anti-Hero of sorts, almost akin to his precursor, Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley.
 “….and did you know Adolf Hitler loved Dogs…..” That statement from Gayle’s Thriller Writing seminar really brought home the importance of characterisation of villains – and brought a silence to the room, as we pondered the significance of that insight into our own work. We are all familiar of the photos of Hitler and his beloved German Shepherd Dogs; for when we contrast the horrors Hitler and his henchmen brought in terms of their inhumanity to their fellow man; his love of Animals makes the horrors he inflicted upon fellow humans, even more repellent.

And coming full-circle, readers of Geoffrey Household’s 1939 Rogue Male will realise that the target [the European Dictator] that the unnamed hunter goes after is a thinly disguised avatar of the leader of the Nazi party in Germany; the same real life villain who was ultimately responsible for the cruel deaths of millions in World War Two; but we must also remember that he loved Animals, especially Dogs.

To conclude this theme of characterisation of Lone Wolves, Protagonists and Antagonists in Thriller Fiction, why not watch last year’s New England talk between Lee Child and Stephen King where they discuss that Lone Wolf, Mr. Jack Reacher, as Lee Child once told me

“……Seriously neglected among modern works would be Rogue Male [1939], by Geoffrey Household — the protagonist in that story could have been Reacher’s granddad.”

Thanks KJ and fellow Rogue Writers, for inviting me to your Web-Resource allowing me to ramble about Thriller Fiction, which is something of an obsession of mine.

I should also add, I don’t actually like Dogs – in fact I fear them due to a childhood incident, when some Dogs were set on me, but that’s another story, and another time.

Ali Karimis the Assistant Editor of Shots eZine and writes and reviews for many US Magazines and Ezines. He was awarded the 2011 David Thompson Memorial Award for Special Services to the Crime and Thriller Genre and in 2013 awarded the Don Sandstrom Lifetime achievement award for services to Crime and Mystery Fandom. Ali contributed to Dissecting Hannibal Lecter ed. Benjamin Szumskyj [McFarland Press], The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of British Crime Fiction [ed. Barry Forshaw] and ITW 100 Thriller Novels ed David Morrell and Hank Hagner [Oceanview Publishing].

Karim is also an associate member of The Crime Writers Association [CWA] and was judge for the CWA Gold Dagger Award and is currently a judge for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger; an associate member of International Thriller Writers Inc. [ITW] and a former literary judge for both best debut novel and best thriller; and an associate member of the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA], and one of the judges of Deadly Pleasures Magazine’s Barry Awards.Karim is a Board Member to Bouchercon [The World Mystery and Crime Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon 2015, held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

© 2016 A S Karim
Video Links to LONE WOLF 

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Welcome to our website, Ali — so delighted to have your terrific essay here. I recall meeting you at various Thrillerfest conferences, and I know we all appreciate your insightful reviews. In this particular blog you have reminded me of several stories that I had missed and will now go check out. And your discussion of Gayle Lynds' point about how no villain is "all bad or all good" is a great reminder to all of us authors who are endeavoring to craft our thrillers. Also, glad you included those great videos at the end! Thanks so much for this post.

  2. Unknown

    I had vivid memories of reading Rogue Male as a teenager, Ali, and could recall many, many plot details, precisely because, for atmosphere, it is superb. But, as an adult, I couldn't recall the author or title and so was really really pleased, a couple of years ago, when you recommended it and I checked it out to find, yes, that was the book I had really loved. It's fantastic. Thanks again. Peter (John Connor)

  3. Gayle Lynds

    Thank you so much, Ali, for such a rich and fascinating post. I loved Rogue Male and kept thinking for years we needed a Rogue Female … and here we are at Rogue Women (Writers)! It's an honor that you've joined us. You've been instrumental in the growth, quality, and coverage of our much-loved form. Also, I loved revisiting the early days of ITW when David Morrell and you and so many others helped launch the organization. And then there's Shots Mag, such an important voice and supporter of the field. Wishing all the best, dear friend … and a few buckets of blood, sharp knives, and the occasional bomb … x Gayle

  4. Sonja Stone

    Thank you, Ali, for your insightful post today. Thank you especially for the trips down memory lane! I love the Rogue Women photos!

  5. Jamie Freveletti

    Hey Ali-thanks for the guest post! I didn't join the writing world until 2009, so it was great to see the pictures from earlier conferences. Looks like a lot of fun.

  6. Chris Goff

    Ali, I'm coming late to the party. I was in Hawaii with my daughter planning a wedding (hers not mine). Loved the post and love, love, love the video links and old pictures. I especially love the one with you and Lee Child. I had the pleasure of meeting you at Bouchercon 2015, after you helped me with my panel assignment. So glad you were able to guest blog for Rogue Women Writers! Chris