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Author of the Month

Name: Jonathan Holt

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: The Abomination

'Jonathan Holt blasts on to the thriller scene with a high voltage, all bets are off, cracker.'

Synopsis:
A body has washed up from the Grand Canal: a woman wearing the robes of a priest. This is what the Vatican calls an ‘Abomination’. The trail leads Captain Kat Tapo from the backstreets of Venice to an abandoned Catholic asylum. Her bosses obstruct her investigation and then the case is shut down. Why?

Carnivia.com is an encrypted online simulation of Venice set up by a reclusive and damaged millionaire. In this online world secrets are shared, and anonymity guaranteed. It's the only place Kat can seek the truth.

In the dark depths of post-war politics, Europe's history was re-written in blood. NATO’s involvement in the Balkan conflict is brought into question. And powerful people will pay any price to ensure the secrets of the past stay buried.

Review:
Jonathan Holt blasts on to the thriller scene with a high voltage, all bets are off, cracker. From the get-go, he yanks you in by the collar and insists you stay with him until the very end. ‘The Abomination’ is an intoxicating mix of thrills, horrors, fascinating characters, stunning location and disturbing secrets - all held together by the clean and confident prose of a born storyteller.

We have two strong female leads and when reflecting on this construct I was able to understand why. As part of their investigations, Kat and her U.S. Army new best buddy, Holly Boland are faced with female trafficking and Croatian rape camps. And seeing this through the eyes of these characters adds power to an already horrific situation. Besides, it makes a welcome change from the all male or male/female chief characters we normally get in a thriller. And to be fair, this is a reader who enjoys meeting kick-ass women in print.

There is much in this book that is relevant and pertinent to the world we find ourselves in today. The issue of female priests, anonymity in the online world and governments who set events in motion that will haunt people for years to come.

The content that concerns the US and NATO involvement in the Balkan crisis is so convincingly portrayed that it will have you searching online with the help of Mr Google to find the truth of Holt’s (fictional?) assertions. As an aside, the author has helpfully set up a website where he gives you the source material he used for his research at Carnivia.com

Comparisons with Dan Brown are facile but will be difficult to avoid, as ‘The Abomination’ contains many of the same elements that Mr Brown employs in his work; The Catholic Church, secret societies, shady government officials and pages that all but turn themselves. For my money, Holt is by far the better writer. If there is any justice in this world he’ll enjoy a good proportion of the attention that our Dan enjoyed at the height of his fame.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Did you choose to write crime fiction or did crime fiction choose you?
I’ll be absolutely honest: my main aim was to write a book that would be read and enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of what they normally like to read and what country they live in. There are some elements of crime fiction that lent itself to that ambition – but equally, I didn’t set out to write about a crime, I set out to write a fast-paced trilogy of thrillers in which the characters are as important as the conspiracies.
2) Could you describe the jumping off point for ‘The Abomination’?
It took me some time to find my plot – in fact, I’d just abandoned the third of three attempts in that direction when my wife and I went to Venice for an anniversary. Coming out of the airport baggage hall, she needed to make some calls, so I bought myself a coffee at the airport bar.

Gradually, I became aware there were a fair few people around in American military uniform. One sat next to me, and we struck up a conversation. He was on his way to a posting just west of Venice, he explained, at one of the largest US bases outside America – which was itself only one of half a dozen in the area.

I asked why there were so many. “I guess after World War Two, the Pentagon realised this was going to be the new front line,” he said. “After all, the Iron Curtain was just over there.” He pointed across the lagoon. “And this was Italy, home of the Pope. If the communists had gotten hold of Italy…”

The trip into Venice by boat has to be one of the most beautiful taxi rides in the world, particularly if you arrive at sunset. The light bounces off the water onto domed marble palaces studded with gothic, barley-twist windows. But even as I took in Venice’s loveliness, I was seeing it through new eyes – the eyes of a military strategist. All that Byzantine-influenced beauty only exists, I realised, because the city sits at a crucial junction between West and East.

Then, next day, I saw a female Carabinieri officer coming out of the converted nunnery in Campo Zaccaria that houses their headquarters, very stylish and confident in her Valentino-designed uniform. What sort of case would challenge her most, I wondered? I looked across the basin from the Fondamenta degli Schiavoni at the church of Santa Maria della Salute, and imagined a body washed up on those steps – the body of a woman, dressed in the robes of a priest.

That was it, really – everything else just unspooled from there.
3) Your two main protagonists are women – two women each in a very masculine world - why did you choose that approach?
I think because of the potential for conflict. It’s one of the differences between crime mysteries and thrillers, I guess – in thrillers, it’s got to be a struggle against numerous adversaries, including your own culture. And it made the initial murder case very personal.
4) I enjoyed the portrayal of the virtual world, Carnivia.com and felt it fitted well with an inhabitant of a city like Venice. What was your aim in introducing us to such a “place”?
I’m very interested in how the internet is changing the way we tell stories. Stories without that dimension now seem rather old-fashioned to me. So I wanted to encapsulate all the possibilities of the internet – anonymity, cyberwarfare, hacking, social media campaigns – into one entity I could use in my plot.

I set myself one main rule: nothing that happens in Carnivia should be new or impossible, even if the reader wasn’t aware of it before. Everything I write about has been done on the internet somewhere: I just draw it together.
5) ‘The Abomination’ has an intricate plot. Do you plan carefully, or did the story grow from the situation in which your characters found themselves?
Well, both, I had the idea, let it grow organically, then plotted the whole book in detail (and the next two books in the trilogy too). Then I started writing it, and the damn thing didn’t work – I had to go back and totally rethink two of the characters before it came together.

Plotting three separate, complex plot strands in such a way that the reader doesn’t want to skip one because it’s less interesting that the others was a real challenge too. Book Two, which I’m writing now, was even more difficult!
6) Why did you choose to set your book in Venice?
As I said, that was where the inspiration came to me. But I was initially worried, because it’s been used so much – in crime fiction alone, by Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin, to name just two. But then I recalled how, when I read ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, it never bothered me that I’d also enjoyed Wallander – I just accepted that there were two completely different styles of crime book set in the same milieu.

Needless to say, I would love to be the Larsson to Donna Leon’s Mankell!
7) What are you reading right now?
Sadly, because I’m writing, I can’t read – partly because I’m cramming with research, and partly because it throws off my writing voice. But some of my thriller-writer heroes are Robert Harris, Christopher Reich, David Ambrose and Thomas Harris.
8) What is the method to your writing? Are you very strict with yourself when you are embarking on a book and during the writing process?
Well, I have a day job. So when I sit down to write, I write hard and fast. That’s partly why I write in short, concise scenes – each chapter is roughly what I can write in a day. So I think it’s probably an approach that suits my material, and my ambition to write a fast-paced book.
9) What are you planning for your next novel?
Book One of the trilogy – ‘The Abomination’ - is all about the characters, and their interplay. Book Two, ‘The Abduction’, which I’m writing now, is more about the action – it’s a tense, race-against-time, murky political kidnap story. Then Book Three – ‘The Atrocity’ – will bring all the plots and the characters together in one mega-conspiracy story, with a big, cinematic climax.

Hopefully, it will work like a series of Russian dolls, with each book revealing new things about the previous plots – and revealing, too, that some things that appeared one way in previous books weren’t that way at all.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
‘Red Dragon’, for sure – I can’t read a single paragraph of it without wanting to read on: Harris is the master of combining far-fetched gothic excess with strong, believable characters. Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, for the aforementioned combination of plot you want to unfold, and people you want to spend time with. And any Dick Francis, for making me realise, even as a very young man, that writing a breakneck page turner is a noble ambition – and a mightily hard thing to pull off.