My new novel, The Golden Orphans, was in some ways a conscious effort to emulate the great literary thrillers I had been reading from the mid-twentieth century. So choosing the biggest influences is quite easy. Here is a rogues gallery of disturbed villains, overwhelmed protagonists, fast-moving complex plots, shadowy settings, and shocking twists. And all of it is great literature.
If you want to learn how to make a complex story exciting you can do a lot worse than examining an Ambler novel. Ambler has a knack for creating characters of depth in a genre thick with stereotypes. And he uses large pallets – both politically and geographically. Ambler is quite addictive, so be warned.
Greene was a disciple of both Henry James and John Buchan, and that is never felt as keenly as it is here. That The Golden Orphansis the kind of fast-paced book it is, is in part down to the Damascene moment I had reading this. A book about faith and betrayal and god and man, all wrapped up in a chase narrative.
I came to this book via the classic Nicholas Ray noir with Humphrey Bogart playing a considerably polished up version of Hughes’ violent, manipulative, misogynistic protagonist, Dix Steele. If you’ve seen the excellent film, you need to read the book for the real deal. Hughes is a powerful writer, a careful stylist.
It was never a novel, really, but the publication of Greene’s treatment for a movie – to that extent, it was written for producers, not the reading public. It also opens with a funeral of an enigmatic character, and I figured there was no better way to start The Golden Orphans.
Robbe-Grillet has been rather dismissed as an anti-realist, but he is at his most exhilarating in the spaces he explores between reality and fantasy. I tried to place quite a bit of The Golden Orphans in this same space. In this book, the way the writer controls the viewpoint of the reader is a masterclass in manipulation.
This is a novel about stalking, about toxic masculinity, only written long before these terms were in common usage. It’s unremittingly dark, and is not easy to shake off. The main character’s fantasy world is essential to understanding his decay, which became integral to the central idea of The Golden Orphans.
I have fallen big time for Quin in the last few years. She is experimental, fearless, intellectual, dedicated to darkness. Berg is her masterpiece, a claustrophobic thriller about a damaged man in a dreary seaside town whose only goal in life is to murder the father who abandoned him as a baby.
I have long been a devotee of Powell and Pressburger’s movies, but I am quite new to Pressburger’s novels. This is a story of identity, guilt, and the shadows of the Nazi legacy, all rumbling in the shadows on London side streets and bedsits, and has all the hallmarks of his brilliantly subversive scripts.
This is a cousin of The Third Man in some ways, about crooks working between the cracks of a fractured world. It is a very short book that does the work of a bigger novel – something I wanted to achieve with The Golden Orphans– in that it moves fast whilst also tackling questions of morality and faith.