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Author of the Month

Name: Matt Hilton

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Dead Men's Harvest

'I was so enthralled I read until 1.30am before setting my alarm for 6 so I could finish the book before work.'

Synopsis:
Hunterís old enemy the Harvestman has reappeared and he is determined to have his revenge on his nemesis. When Hunterís best friend, Jared ďRinkĒ Rington, is ambushed and captured by a gang of skilled warriors, Joe Hunter is convinced it is a trap to capture him.

To rescue his friend Hunter must go ďrogueĒ and engage in his deadliest game of cat and mouse yet. From the Adirondacks to Maine to North Carolina where The Harvestman holds his ex-sister-in-law hostage aboard a rusting container ship normally used for people trafficking.

Joe Hunter must battle the odds and multiple adversaries to save both his friends and family. Can he possibly pull this off and escape with his own life?

Review:
Like a fine wine Hiltonís writing improves with age. His sixth book to be released within 30 months is hardly much older in publishing terms than the first, yet there is a marked confidence about his writing when you compare the first and last. I think the profligacy of his writing has caused him to focus deeply on his craft and with his current rate of improval Hilton and Hunter have to be among the strongest contenders to take over from the mighty duo of Lee Child and Jack Reacher at the forefront of the crime action genre.

The action starts with the first paragraph and finishes with the last. Whatís in between? Fights, car chases, gunplay, intrigue, double crossing and general mayhem! When reading Dead Menís Harvest you are transported into Hunterís world and see everything through his eyes. Goodness knows how he gets through it because I was exhasted reading about his adventures. I was so enthralled I read until 1.30am before setting my alarm for 6 so I could finish the book before work.

The plotting is quite complex for a chase-action-thriller and the shocks and plot twists just keep coming as lies beget subterfuge which in turn begets hidden agendas. The pace is relentless in the extreme and benefits from Hiltons taut, terse prose. The best example of this is a chapter where The Harvestman travels to the UK and Hilton manages to fit in not only frantic action, but social commentary and a light spot of movie homage. The homage is repeated with a different film for the final encounter and I think fans of this book will have already enjoyed the film.

Hunterís character is filling out with every passing novel and the undercurrents to his emotions are feelings of inadequacy in the relationship he has with Imogen Ballard. Rink, as ever, features, but in a much more diminished role than usual and instead it is Harvey Lucas who steps up beside him along with CIA man Hartlaub. Walter Hayes Conrad plays his usual devious role in proceedings but for me the best of the secondary characters were the bad guys which included the ice cold Baron and the horrific creation that is The Harvestman who wields wisecracks and knives with murderous precision.

Take a word of warning and donít buy this book for the beach. Youíll be so engrossed youíll forget to re-apply sun cream and get burnt!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
This is going to sound a little strange, but hopefully youíll understand what Iím talking about by the end. For me itís all about pace. But pace on itís own is worthless without good characters and good plots. Engaging characters affect the plot, the way in which it plays out. A good plot wonít work without characters the reader cares for, so a good plot on itís own wonít work. But then good characters that simply meander their way through a story without any direction wouldnít hold the attention of the reader for long (a bit like Iím doing now), so they need a plot. But if the characters and great plot simply plod along, then thereís no pace. Therefore itís about meshing together the trinity of pace, character and plot. If the crime thriller lacks any one of those ingredients then it will fail miserably. Seriously though, I do believe that there has to be tension and drama, all delivered at a breathless pace, for the reader to continue turning the pages. For me, in a crime thriller, itís not so much ĎWho done it?í as it is ĎHow the hell are we going to solve this?í. For a crime thriller, the crime element is the nucleus, and is at the heart of the story, but it could have taken place in the past, the present, or will happen if not stopped. A prerequisite for me is that the story has some sort of tension and a sense of foreboding to carry me through to the end and this is what gives me the visceral thrill.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
Iím not surprised at all. There are so many great stories to be told, and each suits a different approach to the way in which itís shown. Some stories are best seen through the eyes of an elderly lady with a crime-solving cat, where others can only be delivered with all guns blazing. As long as crime Ė or the consequences of a crime Ė is at the nucleus of the story then itís all crime fiction to me. Sadly, not everyone would agree. Some readers wonít touch crime thrillers, having made assumptions about the genre that arenít generally true. They see them as being shallow, formulaic, with little nuance, and rely on gunfights and explosions to see them through to the end Ė well whatís wrong with that if they have memorable characters and are good, rollicking and entertaining tales? To be fair, I donít read too many cosy crime novels, but thatís more to personal taste than I think they arenít good books. Most readers, crime or otherwise, tend to have their favourite style and stick to it, without diversifying. That isnít a criticism, just an observation, and there are bound to be hundreds of exceptions to the rule. Getting a little controversial here, I feel there is a tendency for readers in general to follow the leader, or to be pushed in one direction or another. Often this is down to clever marketing by a publisher. Take the success of Steig Larsson for example. People who would not touch a crime novel clamoured to buy a copy of ďThe Girl with the Dragon TattooĒ, because it was the Ďbook to readí of the moment. On the back of that, we got a steady stream of books from the ĎNext Steig Larssoní pushed onto the market, usually filling all the stands at front of store, and pushing everyone elseís books off the shelves and into the warehouse at the back of the shops. Iím not saying that Steig isnít good, but there are many authors writing books equally as good or better who those same readers wonít even look at, let alone read. I wonder how many of those that read ĎThe GirlÖí picked up any other crime novels, or simply moved on to the next craze. Iíve noticed that everyoneís now reading ĎGame of Thronesí, a fantasy novel. Most of those readers would have sniffed at the mention of fantasy once over. In fact it was almost seen as a derogatory genre, with most literary agents stating that they did not handle fantasy or sci-fi. I bet a few more do these days following the Harry Potter and Game of Thrones successes. But, that said, I find that crime fiction readers are an open and friendly bunch. Even if they donít particularly read your specific sub-genre of crime, they still greet you with open arms and friendship. Iíve found that as a group, crime writers are exactly the same; open, honest, and supportive of each other.
3) Since we interviewed you at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival last year you have released two new books, contributed short stories to two separate anthologies and have travelled around the country doing promotional work. Do you ever get chance to relax and put your feet up?
Joe Hunter isnít the only impulsive one in this relationship. I love writing, and even if I werenít being paid to write Iíd still be doing it. Iím one of those people who feel empty if he hasnít penned something every day. So really, the writing is my form of relaxation. Itís true that I have been very busy, but itís work that I love and up until now I havenít burnt out. Some people are shocked to learn that I produce two books a year, but they have to remember that Iím in the fortunate position where I am no longer holding down a full time job, and my children are now adults and have flown the nest, so I have a lot of time on my hands in which to write. My books generally run to about the 90K word length. Thatís the equivalent of one thousand words a day for three months. But to be honest, itís not unusual for me to write around four or five thousand words during most stints at the computer. I am on a bit of a conveyor belt, where Iím usually working on the rough draft of one book, while doing line edits and proofs etc on another. Iíve usually got two or even three books on the go at the same time. The most time consuming aspect of the process is the marketing. I do a lot of social networking, blogging, interviews and personal appearances at bookshops and libraries. These to me are the more tiring aspects of the writing life, but I also love meeting and engaging with readers, so donít see it as a chore. My working day generally sees me at the computer for a few hours in the morning. I then have a few hours off in the afternoon to spend time with my wife, before returning to the computer again in the late afternoon. Iím regularly still at the computer late into the evening, down partly to the fact that my US publishers sometimes forget they are five hours behind and send out emails and requests just as Iím preparing for bed. I do get some days off, and when I can I go away for a few days with my wife for a break. On those occasions Iíve been banned from taking my laptop with meÖbut I sometimes manage to smuggle it along.
4) As readers we can see your confidence and skill growing. Is this something you are conscious of yourself?
Iíve been writing for Ďdonkeyís yearsí and when I look back at my early efforts I can now see how horrible the writing was then. The thing is, the more you do something, the better you get at it. I look back on my first published book Ė Dead Menís Dust Ė and cringe at some of the things I said in the narrative back then. But I understand now that at the time I was an aspiring amateur who still had to master the craft. That isnít to say I donít think itís a good book. It is Ė according to most of the feedback I get from readers Ė but I also now recognise where I could have made it better with the hindsight of writing another seven books in the series. Iíve obviously learned a lot from the input and feedback Iíve received from my editors, and now write with a particular set of Ďrulesí in mind. When I get back line edits and such these days, there is generally very little that I have to change, which means that Iíve learned how to write the books much better than I did at the beginning. I still have to re-write in places, but in general I instinctively understand the mechanics of the novel now and donít fret over them so much. I write from the seat of my pants, and I donít forward plan, just go with the flow. I believe that I now write with a particular voice in my head (Joe Hunterís) and am in tune with the way Ďheí would tell the story. If I was asked to teach someone to write a book, I honestly wouldnít know where to start, itís just something that has come naturally to me after many hours of hard work. Iím pleased that people are beginning to see a change for the better, and hope I can continue to grow as an author.
5) In ĎDead Menís Harvestí you gave Rink much more of a back seat than usual and used other characters to fill his role. Why did you choose to do this?
The reason was threefold, and without giving anything away for those who havenít read the book yet, I wonít go too deeply into the howís and whyís, but for the first of them it was a plot purpose. Believe me, if you havenít read the book, it wouldnít have been a good ending for Rink if heíd followed Hunter to his showdown on the Queen Sophia ship. Another reason was that I wanted Hunter to be off the reins for this book, acting by his own instincts and unrestrained by Rinkís calming hold on him. I also wanted to showcase Harvey Lucas this time, to make him a more important character in the series, and by drawing Rink out of the limelight I was able to do this. It made for a different dynamic and added to the book in my opinion. But donít worry; Rink will be back in all his gaudy glory in future books in the series.
6) Is Rink any closer to getting a book of his own?
The upcoming eighth book in the series is very much a ĎRinkí story, although still seen through the eyes of Joe Hunter, who narrates it. Without giving away any spoilers, the book centres on Rink and his family, and echoes from their past that have followed to haunt them in the present day. For Joe Hunter readers, they will still be very happy as the book has the same familiar voice and action as before, but will also gain the benefit of learning more about Rink, and in particular his Japanese mother, Yukiko. Iíd love to write a ĎRinkí standalone at some point in the future, however at this moment in time Iím contracted to write further ĎJoe Hunterí books. If enough Ďfansí of Rink were to holler loud enough, perhaps my publisher would listen and allow me to write a book from Rinkís perspective. Rink is gaining a number of fans of his own, and I have to admit to enjoying writing him and would love to get fully inside his head for a book or more. Unlike other series where the sidekick is the psychotic killer, itís interesting to me that Rink is Joe Hunterís voice of reason, and itís Joe who is the slightly sociopathic of the two of them. Not that Rink isnít a very dangerous man in his own right, but he tends to think first and shoot or kick butt later. Iím sure it would make for an interesting paradox if the story were shown through Rinkís eyes.
7) Hunter is becoming ever closer to Imogen. Surely you arenít going to marry him off and give him a stable home life?
Hunter doesnít seem to have much luck with women, and **spoiler alert** his relationships with the two previous loves of his life Diane, his ex-wife, and Kate Piers, from Slash and Burn, have come to sticky ends. The same might just happen with Imogen further down the line. Hunter is too impulsive to hold down a meaningful or stable relationship, and he has the knack of drawing trouble to him and those around him. So, no, there wonít be the sound of wedding bells in his near future. The irony is, marriage and stability is the thing he probably longs for most, but itís an unrequited dream for a man in his profession.
8) With yourself, Zoe Sharp, Tom Cain, newcomers like Tom Wood and of course Lee Child all writing in the same genre, what does the future hold for the crime action thriller novel?
My hope is that readers get behind this action-led sub genre of crime and embrace it the way they have with the Scandinavian writers of late. With the exception of Lee Child, most other authors writing in a similar style have previously been lumped under the umbrella of general fiction and often didnít get the recognition they deserved. For instance, Stephen Leatherís Dan ĎSpiderí Shepherd books are crime action thrillers but you rarely saw those books in the crime section. Now that you have the likes of me, Zoe and the two Toms writing in the same genre, as well as others like Sean Black and Matthew Dunn, the bookshops are beginning to recognise our genre as being part of the larger crime fiction community and including us. I love the idea that I am part of a new wave and hope to see it grow and grow. Iím not jealous of anyone elseís success, and if even one of us can achieve success even a quarter that of Lee Child, it can only do us all a great deal of good, and affirm our genre on the book shelves. Once a reader enjoys a particular style of book, theyíll often seek out similar, so there is room for us all. Lee without doubt is the daddy, but thereís always a place for his enthusiastic (literary) children.
9) You paid a couple of homages in Dead Men's Harvest to well known films. Did you set out to include them both or did they just come about when writing the book?
To be honest they just came about. I didnít set out to pay homage, but I guess that there are subliminal influences in any authorís mind that do come out on the page. Looking back over my series, I have actually paid homage to a number of movies, as wide ranging as ĎShogun Assassiní, ĎConan the Barbarianí and ĎItís a Wonderful Lifeí. When you consider that these are three of my all time favourite movies, itís probably not that surprising that they have crept into my writing. Iím a cinematic writer, and by that I donít mean that I write with a movie deal in mind; I see scenes and visualise the action, and itís probably that movies I admire have influenced me more than I know. The Joe Hunter series is also peppered with references from songs and musicians, most evidently in Blood and Ashes. Thereís even a very famous musician called Joe Hunter, though, admittedly, thatís not the reason I chose that name for him.
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
There are so many great crime/thriller novels to choose fromÖbut if I was pushed and only allowed to pick one Iíd have to follow my first instinct and say ďBrotherhood of the RoseĒ by David Morrell. Most people are probably familiar with David Morrellís name Ė being the originator of the Rambo character Ė and in my opinion heís rightly known as the Ďfather of the modern thrillerí. The story concerns two orphan boys, Saul and Chris, who are befriended by an old man, Elliot, who unknown to them is actually a CIA agent. He trains the boys throughout their childhood, and then recruits them as adults as his personal intelligence operatives and assassins. However, to protect himself, Elliot turns against them and Chris is killed, sending Saul on a path to punish Elliot who he realises has been using the boys all along. Itís an awesome book, full of action and authentic spy tradecraft, and really set me alight as a reader. In my books Iíve somewhat recreated this trio of characters with Walter Conrad in Elliotís shoes, and Joe and Rink being the assassins. That has only now struck me as I write this down. A little epiphany I hadnít thought about until now. Brotherhood of the Rose is actually the first in a trilogy, so Iím going to be sneaky here and add ďFraternity of the StoneĒ and ďThe League of Night and FogĒ to the first. In Brotherhood and Fraternity, there are two separate sets of characters with their own tales to tell, who then join forces in League. I tend to see the trilogy as one long book, being one story arch. Brotherhood sounds a little clichťd now, but it was the first of its kind back in the early eighties (that Iím aware of) and has influenced so many crime/spy thrillers since it would be difficult to count. I often cite Mack Bolan (Don Pendletonís Executioner) as a progenitor of Joe Hunter, but in hindsight Iíd also now have to include Saul Grisman.