Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of The Stranger, shares how he became an author and why he continues to write.
Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of The Stranger, shares how he became an author and why he continues to write.
Jennifer Jaynes, USA Today bestselling author of Ugly Your Thing, discusses why we're so captivated by today's anti-hero.
They send adrenaline coursing through our veins, tempt us to stay up way past our bedtime to consume just one more episode…one more chapter. We Google, Facebook, and live-tweet, ad nauseum, their latest escapades. We cheer them on as they charge ahead, doing whatever it takes to reach their goals.
Today they’re more popular than ever, leading some to call this the era of the anti-hero.
What Exactly Is An Anti-Hero?
While a more traditional hero is mostly morally sound, possessing primarily good qualities or personality traits, the anti-hero has more bad then good. In other words, he is flawed. Sometimes to the extreme.
Not bound by strict moral codes, anti-heroes destroy stereotypes, blurring the lines of right and wrong, often acting in ways that we find shocking, even repelling, to reach their end.
Anti-heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. Anti-Heroes are everywhere from screen to books, some favorites include:
Walter White. The “everyman” schoolteacher of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Walter is a dying man who wants desperately to ensure his family is provided for once he’s dead. To accomplish this, he cooks methamphetamine for public consumption.
Dexter Morgan. The lead character of Showtime’s Dexter series. Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer, slaying other murderers to help rid the world of evil.
Nancy Botwin. The lead character of HBO’s Weeds. Nancy is a recently widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her children.
Batman. The beloved DC Comics superhero and alter ego of Bruce Wayne. Batman often stoops to ruthless acts of violence in the name of fighting corruption in Gotham City.
Other great examples include Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly’s crime novels), Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s thrillers) and Jack Bauer (FOX Television series, 24).
While noble of purpose and intent, these characters take morally ambiguous actions born from the philosophical perspective that "the end justifies the means."
Why Are We So Drawn to Anti-Heroes?
So what’s so captivating about the good family man gone bad, the killer who justifies his murderous ways, the superhero who resorts to acts of unspeakable violence in the name of fighting corruption? After all, these characters are incredibly imperfect and make bad decisions, yet we want them to win.
The answer is simple: They’re relatable.
These very same imperfections and bad decisions make our anti-heroes feel real to us. The fact that they are not always strong and courageous, that they’re often physically weak, frightened, insecure, rebellious, and that they sometimes make terrible choices intrigues us. They are rife with human frailty, and we find that endearing.
We also identify with the anti-hero’s moral motivations. After all, like Batman’s Gotham, our world is filled with irredeemable corruption. Whether we live in downtown Los Angeles or rural Texas, we flip on the local evening news and tales of murder and mayhem instantly fill our screen—along with reports of unconscionable dealings involving our country’s major corporations, as well as our own political and religious leaders.
What’s more, much like Dexter Morgan, we see the killers, the thieves, and other bad guys continually slipping through the often ineffective nets of justice. And much like Walter White, many “nice guys” find themselves falling victim to circumstance, trapped in a system that seems to reward the bad and punish the good.
We love that our anti-heroes have the courage to say what we are afraid to say, to take action where we are frozen with fear. They are what we cannot be and they do what we won’t do.
They allow us to escape for a few hours, living and escaping vicariously through them. Then, when the episode or chapter ends, we happily switch off our television or Kindle, rise from the couch, and return to our safe, comfortable lives with our morality firmly intact.
We need not fear any physical, emotional, spiritual, or legal repercussions because we were simply consuming fiction, a very powerful, deliciously satisfying form of escapism—and we were just along for the thrill of the ride.
Simon Wood, best-selling author of The One That Got Away, discuses why he loves Audiobooks - and shares his favorites.
Duty. Honor. Country. The words are chiseled on the walls surrounding the hallowed grounds of the West Point Military Academy and engraved on the rings and the hearts of every one of its graduates, including author Brian Haig. In The Night Crew, Haig’s protagonist, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Drummond – son of a West Point graduate, former Special Forces, current JAG lawyer and recalcitrant smart-ass, encounters the most challenging moral and ethical dilemmas of his career – having to choose between those words, and what they stand for.
With the memories of a his last case, a court martial in Korea and the bullet that nearly killed him all too fresh, Drummond is pulled back into another “legal and emotional tar pit and public relations tinderbox.” He is assigned to defend one of the Al-Basari prison guards charged with the sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners and the murder of one of the notorious prison’s highest ranking inmates. Drummond is, understandably, unwilling to take the assignment. For one, it means working again with Katherine Carlson, his nemesis since their days at Georgetown Law and co-counsel in the Korean court martial. But Carlson has already anticipated Drummond’s reluctance and unilaterally had him reassigned from his new position with the CIA to her defense team. Carlson and Drummond mix as well as gasoline and fire. In fact, they are so profoundly different - they might just be perfect together. It gets worse. Drummond’s client is either a dim-witted pigeon the Government is offering up to be a sacrificial lamb, or a depraved and skilled liar who might just be guilty of murder. Key witnesses in the chain of command are either conveniently disappearing or washing their hands and memories of Al-Basari, Katherine reveals long held feelings for Drummond and, just to add more kindling to the fire, someone is killing the lawyers assigned to defend the prison guard defendants and Drummond and Carlson are next on the hit list.
The Night Crew is, first and foremost a thriller. The turns are hair-raising and the twists are edge of the seat thrilling that kept me up late reading. The dynamics of Drummond’s and Carlson’s relationship is at times maddening and at times heart breaking. Drummond is ever cynical, irreverent, combative and dogged, and his quips are laugh out loud funny. The novel asks poignant and contemporary questions – how far should a country go to win a war? How many legal foundations upon which the American judicial system is built should be sacrificed to potentially save soldiers’ lives? When, if ever, should human dignity be ignored?
But beyond all that, as with every Brian Haig thriller, the plot is much deeper than the reader is led to believe, and much more personal for Sean Drummond. As he tries to do a job he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, Drummond not only risks his life but his own moral and ethical code. Can he fulfill his duty as a lawyer to his client and his duty as a soldier to his country? Can he protect his personal honor and still hold dear to his love of his country? Should he hold onto Katherine because he loves her, or let her go for the same reason? It is this personal struggle that engrosses the reader, and draws us into West Point’s storied history as well as the black mark that was Al-Basari. I closed the book with as many questions as Haig skillfully left to haunt Sean Drummond, and hoping that I’m never forced to make the same difficult choices.
I want a sense of urgency in every scene I write: a frantic motorcycle chase, a fight against overwhelming odds, a friend in peril, a nation under the gun, or a ticking bomb on an aircraft. Over nearly thirty years hunting violent criminals, my partners and I felt that urgency countless times—to capture our fugitive before he hurt someone else.
Day Zero opens with the venerable Emiko Miyagi, Quinn’s teacher and friend, in Pakistan, surrounded by men who want to kill her as she searches for the man who can link the President of the United States to a terrorist cell. Jericho Quinn is in a remote Eskimo village in Alaska, healing from his last fight in Japan. He’s still a fugitive, framed for murder by the corrupt administration that will stop at nothing to rid itself of any political opposition. No one associated with Quinn is safe and he realizes the only way to protect his seven-year-old daughter is to get her out of the country on a massive Airbus A-380 bound for Russia. Planning to take care of two problems at once, the administration dispatches a group of Hui Chinese terrorists to detonate a bomb on board the aircraft—hoping to blow Quinn and six hundred others out of the sky, while pushing the United States into war. Following Quinn is his ex-wife, Ronnie Garcia, Deputy U.S. Marshal Gus Bowen, and of course, Gunny Jacques Thibodaux.
Day Zero takes readers from Pakistan, to a remote villages in Alaska (where I’ve spent many wonderful weeks with my Yup’ik friends), to Byzantine the hallways of Washington, D.C. (where I’ve spent many not so wonderful weeks), to secret prisons run by corrupt men, and from 37,000 feet to the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.
I’ve seen my share of evil men and violent conflict, and I hope these experiences inform my novels. A reader once told me she read my books through splayed fingers, afraid of what she might find on the next page. Frankly, that’s what I’m going for. If I’ve done my job correctly, each of Jericho’s adventures is a ticking clock or a countdown toward a final explosive ending…in Day Zero, I mean that literally.
L.J. Sellers, best-selling author of the Detective Jackson series, shares an overview of her series in a 15 second video.
A Pleasure and a Calling author Phil Hogan discusses the inspiration for his character, Mr Heming, and some of his favorite writers.
Q: What inspired you to create the character of Mr Heming?
A: The idea for Heming sprang from a story I’d heard of a couple who had some small item stolen from their house while it was up for sale. The thief was a trusted employee of the estate agent – an ex-policeman, who it turned out was in the habit of collecting ‘souvenirs’ from the properties he was showing to prospective buyers. It got me wondering what kind of a person might do this. It took a while to shake off the complication of his being a cop, and opt for the more direct solution of an estate agent who has a key to all the houses he had sold, allowing him to snoop at will – a man joyously in his element.
Q: Was it difficult to get inside the mind of a man like Heming?
A: It seemed imperative to write this novel in the first person – a single, and singular point of view. Once I’d found Heming’s voice – optimistic, enthusiastic, wheedling at times, unintentionally at odds with his reader – it was possible to have fun at his expense while also revealing his darker side. But it was a balancing act. Heming is almost religiously devoted in his ‘mission’ to keep the life of his beloved town wholesome and functional, seeing no irony in the means he employs to pursue it, or any conflict between his passions and the right of others to privacy. So I had to be on his side throughout – believing, persuasive, unjudging. His language, I felt, needed to be at once banal and rhetoric, with elements of estate-agent-speak rubbing against high-flown accounts of his turbulent emotions.
Q: How is writing a novel different from your day job writing for a newspaper?
A: I make hard work of both, no matter how much practice I get. I’m a laughably slow writer, which is why I could never be a news reporter or sports journalist (as opposed to a TV critic). I’m probably not alone in finding writing fulfilling only after the act. But the two sorts of writing are sufficiently different to make the transition from one to the other a kind of escape. It’s like switching from the rowing machine to the treadmill, though I say that as a complete stranger to gyms. I prefer a slow half-hour walk (if I may stray even further from the question).
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?
A: They are mostly of the American realist sort – John Updike, Philip Roth, James Salter. I’ve read everything by Richard Ford. More recently I’ve enjoyed Lorrie Moore and Ben Lerner. I don’t read enough genre (if that’s the right word) fiction, though the other week I did pick up James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I really liked. Non-fiction-wise I’m a big fan of Tim Parks and Geoff Dyer, both Brits.
Q: What book is next on your to-read shelf?
A: The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. Its pink cover shouted at me from a well-known bookselling website the other week. I’m quite looking forward to it.
Alan Russell, best-selling author of Guardians of the Night, talks to us about why he features canine companions in his work - and how he ensures he gets the relationships right.
Guy Ritchie’s film Snatch is a funny, fast, often upsetting yet endearing look at semi-organized crime in farcical modern London. One of the most memorable scenes comes when Sol and Vinny reveal that the stolen diamond, which Avi is after, has been eaten by the dog. Moments before this discovery, we witnessed Bullet Tooth Tony, at Avi’s request, strangle and shoot 5 people to get at the diamond. His reaction when asked to finally kill the dog and retrieve the stone is an abrupt face on his established ruthless character.
Avi: Look in the dog.
Bullet Tooth Tony: What do you mean "look in the dog?"
Avi: I mean open him up.
Bullet Tooth Tony: It's not as if it's a tin of baked beans! What do you mean "open him up"?
After all this bloodshed and violence, why does Bullet Tooth Tony hesitate when it comes to just killing the dog? The answer to this question is all at once complex and so simple: because people can be awful but dogs (and often cats) are always man’s best friend.
Crime fiction has a long history of dog and cat relationships, from faithful companions to crime fighters themselves. The innocent (sometimes fluffy) nature of animals juxtaposed against the grit of crime fighting is a beloved theme for mystery and thriller writers
We asked our editors, some authors, and friends for their favorite M&T book featuring furry companions. Here are the top answers: