Fresh Blood

Name: Tom Wood

Title of Book: The Hunter

'This book isnít high octane, its rocket fuel on steroids...'

Say hello to Victor, heís an assassin; he has no past and no surname.

A job in Paris turns very bad very quickly and Victor finds himself running for his life from one continent to another. He is escorted by a woman he doesnít trust and followed by enemies too powerful to elude.

If you rate Reacher, hunger for Hunter or crave Carver then youíll vote for Victor. He is a one man murder weapon. Heíll use a gun, a knife or his bare hands so long as he gets the job done. Thoroughly unrepentant about his work, he kills with impunity and without question although spares innocents where possible.

It would be very easy for me to write this whole review by comparing him to some of the other characters in this same genre so Iím going to try to avoid that save for these comments. He doesnít have Sam Carverís morality for only taking out targets he deems worthy of death, he reminds me most of Mark Burnellís Petra OíConnor aka Stephanie Patrick for the icily cold way he dispatches his targets and then moves on with his day.

The action starts in Paris before ricocheting across Europe and Africa at breakneck pace. Never is the reader allowed to sit back and relax before they are plunged into the next action sequence. For example, I was fifty pages in before the opening scene had finished and the body count was already approaching double figures. This book isnít high octane, its rocket fuel on steroids and somebody has just spilt its pint!

My favourite aspect of the whole novel was the way that Wood explained Victorís thought processes and actions while in battle, which really gave an extra dimension to the whole feel of the book. Some would compare this facet to the way Lee Child explains things with Reacher but I earlier said I wouldnít write a review of comparisons. There is only one Victor; The reader, who now has another hero to champion.

Despite his cold nature I found myself liking Victor greatly as he brooked no nonsense, had supreme confidence in his abilities yet lived with the constant fear that encapsulates all hit men, namely that one day he will wind up on somebodyís hit list and therefore he lives a solitary lifestyle with constant looks over his shoulder and a myriad of precautions to ensure his own survival and anonymity. Rebecca is a fine foil to his brutality and she softens him somewhat. Reed is another ice cold killer sent after him which leads to a wonderful denouement and the scheming CIA men of Sykes, Ferguson and Proctor are replicated by the Russian SVR officers Aniskovach and Prudnikov.

The large cast list means only one thing; action and lots of it as various parties vie for supremacy in a battle-royal which could threaten the balance of power as we know it. The plot is created carefully and is used as a device for bringing the action scenes together, although it is highly credible. The prose is sharp and to the point, setting the scene for the adventure to unfold before the reader.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
Well, my book is an out and out thriller, and I would say itís written in a fast paced, strongly cinematic style. This is partially the natural way I write because Iíve been disappointed by so many boring thrillers that I couldnít write similarly if my life depended on it. So many blurbs claim a thrill-a-minute when the novel itself is padded out with dull back story, unnecessary introspection and outright fluff. Of course, there is a place in fiction for back story, introspection and even fluff, but, first and foremost, a thriller should be thrilling. Itís all in the name. However, I did set out to tell my story in a more visual, cinematic style than the average thriller, and as Iím often told by readers that they could easily imagine The Hunter as a film, I take this as a sign I achieved my goal. I think some of the most powerful and effective writing is that which we can easily picture in our mindís eye, and I tried to make my whole novel like that. I think writing in this way gives the book a powerful forward momentum and relentless pace, and means that the action sequences, which are often complex and difficult to imagine in other thrillers, are fluid and exciting in The Hunter. And that was something I really strived for ó to make the action just as exhilarating as anything on the big screen.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I read all sorts of crime fiction and love both standalone novels and series, but for different reasons. A series is great for the simple reason if you really like a character you want to read more about them. Itís always a delight discovering a new book then finding out there are half a dozen more stories about the same character to get stuck into, and itís reasonably safe to assume if you like one book of a series, youíll probably like them all. But, when reading a series there just isnít the same kind of tension found in a standalone. It can be hard to suspend disbelief when the protagonist is in a life threatening situation when you know there are nine more books about him or her. In a standalone anything can and will happen, and that kind of suspense is very rare in a series.
3) Where did the idea for Victor come from?
I first came up with Victor about ten years ago. I was in my early twenties and writing was still very much a pastime. I didnít have the patience or ability to write a full novel at that age, but what I did do was write lots of short stories and extended sequences of all sorts, in all sorts of different genres and styles. One of these sequencesómy favourite oneówas about a professional assassin who found himself ambushed upon returning to his hotel after finishing a job. At the time there was no plot around the sequence, but every now and again I would come back to it and expand upon the idea until eventually I realised I had a novel in the making. Victorís character developed over time, but I always wanted him to be an anti-hero. In fact, back then, I wanted him to be an outright bad guy. I wanted to write about a character who would be a villain in any other book, but I mellowed somewhat as I got older and Victor isnít quite the monster he started out as. Heís still very much an anti-hero, because letís face it, bad guys are often the most interesting and memorable characters in fiction, and weíve all read a book or watched a film and ended up rooting for one instead of the hero. That isnít to say Victor is an unlikeable protagonist, and there are plenty of other characters in The Hunter a lot worse than he is, but you probably wouldnít want Victor as your friend, and you certainly wouldnít want him as your enemy.
4) There is very little background given to Victor. Most of his contemporaries are ex forces in some manner. Is this something you can tell us now or will Victorís past feature in subsequent books?
As a narrator I try to stay out of the story as much as possible because I dislike it when an author communicates directly with me when Iím the one reading. So in my own writing I reveal only what the point-of-view character is thinking in that moment, not necessarily what I know about them as their creator. If itís appropriate for the character in question to think about his background, he or she does so. If it isnít, they wonít. As a character Victor is entirely forward thinking. He doesnít dwell on the past. He doesnít even have time to think about it. He is continuously analysing his situation to stay one step ahead of his many enemies, which is why heís good at refusing to die no matter what the opposition throws at him. Thatís the character Iíve created, and I believe itís important to be consistent to that character. Therefore if Victor rarely thinks about his past, it makes sense that the reader isnít going to know everything about him there is to know. However, I wouldnít dream of keeping Victor as a completely blank slate, because not only is that dull itís also unfair to my readers, who understandably want to know about the character theyíre investing time in. Hence snippets of information about Victorís background are scattered throughout the novel, but are often inferred. For example, at one point when he is half frozen he remembers something his old drill sergeant used to say about keeping warm, so if he had a drill sergeant he must have been in the military at some point. There is a single flashback in the novel to when he was a small boy hunting with a rifle, so we know heís been shooting since a young age. There are many such moments, and I think that leaving it up to the reader to piece together information, instead of spoon feeding background via exposition, makes for a far more rewarding experience. As for Victorís past featuring in a subsequent book, I really couldnít say at this point.
5) How do you research the dynamics of the action scenes as I found those to be entirely logical and feel they added greatly to my enjoyment of the novel?
As I said before I wanted the action scenes to be as exciting as their cinematic equivalents, and Iím delighted you enjoyed them so much. I spend a lot of time writing these moments, first visualising the events over and over again until I can ďwatchĒ the scene in my mind from start to finish. Sometimes Iíll plan out a scene, but usually itís quite an organic process. I think one of the keys to making action work is to not bombard the reader with too much information. I find that a lot of writers over explain action by describing every single detail of what happens. A punch might be thrown but we learn about the position of the feet, the swivel of the hips, the extension of the arm, the angle of the blow, where it strikes, the effect of impact and so on and so on. But as a reader you get bogged down in all those details and it becomes hard to visualise what is actually happening. By the end of the scene you know who won the fight, but not really how they did it, especially if you spend a few minutes reading about something that in reality would have been over in a matter of seconds. I think by being very selective of the descriptions, a more visceral, exciting and easily understood scene is created.
6) There is a great many authors writing in the genre and subsequent sub genres such as the archaeological thrillers. Do you think the genre has been re-invented or is merely a continuation of the work done by earlier authors such as Alistair Maclean, Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley?
I think genres are too strictly defined in our collective consciousness to ever be re-invented. They are, however, always evolving, as all art does. The basic ingredients of the genre are always the same: thereís always peril, secrets, mystery, suspense, conspiracies and excitement. Archaeological thrillers contain these elements, as do espionage thrillers, or legal thrillers, or any other thriller. The setting may be different, but the story within is the same. Is Where Eagles Dare a thriller or is it a war story? Iíd say itís a thriller set in The Second World War, just as The Da Vinci Code is a thriller set against the backdrop of religious conspiracy.
7) Do you have a Ďgrand planí already mapped out for you and Victor?
A Ďgrand planí sounds very, well, grand, and as Iíve found writing to be such a rollercoaster of a journey, planning any distance ahead is not something Iíve invested a great deal of time in. So I havenít mapped out anything, but I have certainly entered a few possible destinations in my satnav, but Iíll keep any details close to my chest for the time being.
8) Which thriller Ďcharacterí do you most admire and why?
Thatís a tough one, as there are so many, but a name that instantly springs to mind is Tim Carrier, who appears in the novel The Good Guy by Dean Koontz. He may have the most un-heroic name in fiction, but that doesnít stop him. While enjoying a beer in a bar he frequents Tim is approached by a stranger who asks Tim if heís the man heís looking for. A little bored, and in need of mild distraction, Tim plays along and says yes. The problem is the stranger thinks Tim is a hired killer and before Tim has chance to process whatís happening the stranger gives him money and a womanís dossier. What follows is Timís attempt to protect the woman the stranger wants killed from the real hitman. Timís never met her before, but is single-mindedly heroic in his efforts to keep her alive. I think thatís the kind of selfless bravery that is impossible not to admire. Similarly, characters like Jack Reacher, who do the right thing when they can easily walk away, are perhaps more admirable than a cop or a secret agent who receives a monthly paycheque to do the right thing.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi is easily the most twist-filled novel Iíve ever read and contains so many genuinely spine-tingling twists that even if I gave one away here there would be a dozen more to surprise the reader. At heart itís a conventional detective story, albeit one set in Italy, and follows a team of police officers trying to catch a serial killer. Itís incredibly gripping and I dare say impossible to unravel for even the most astute armchair detective, yet for all its twists, it never cheats the reader.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Do TV movies count? If so Messiah, which was a two-part drama based on Boris Starlingís book of the same name. I canít actually remember if I read the book first, or saw the adaptation, but the adaptation is so good it makes a compelling argument against the convention that the film is never as good as the book. Ken Stott, always brilliant, plays the lead inspector as he hunts a prolific killer through London. Starlingís book is dense and complex and the film does an amazing job keeping the essence of the story and characters, while making a number of astute changes to fit the restrictions of adapting a 400-page novel into a 2-hour film.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors in the thriller genre do you most admire and why?
I think itís impossible to be a writer in a genre if youíre not a fan of it, so yes I would certainly say Iím a crime fiction fan, and there are lots of authors within the genre I greatly admire. One, Kevin Wignall, is a terrific writer and one of my influences. His novels People Die, For The Dogs, and Who is Conrad Hirst? are amongst my favourite books and although similar in that they all feature hitmen protagonists, each is a unique, haunting and compelling story that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining. I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin last year and heís an exceptionally funny man who wears especially good shirts. Joseph Finder is another author I admire, and his novel The Moscow Club is one of my all time favourite thrillers. I must have read it four or five times. The plot is beautifully crafted, full of intrigue and surprises, and itís a humbling thought to know it was Finderís first novel, which he wrote while still in his twenties. Heís another author who Iíve been lucky enough to meet. A few weeks after my book came out in America he contacted me to tell me how much he liked it, and since then heís given me lots of advice and a fantastic endorsement. Heís genuinely one of the nicest people Iíve met.
12) What is your ultimate favourite read crime of all time?
As Iím one of those people who finds it very hard to chose my favourite in anything, this is a very tough question to answer. I love so many books it seems unfair to choose an absolute favourite. Just off the top of my head there is The Mermaidís Singing by Val McDermid, Birdman by Mo Hayder, One Shot by Lee Child, Youíre Next by Gregg Hurwitz, The Hired Gun by Matthew Branton, Run by Jeff Abbott... The list goes on and on. Can we come to a compromise and Iíll give you my favourite of this year? If so then Caught by Harlan Coben. There are so many twists and turns it should have had a bowl of spaghetti as the jacket cover. It starts off with Dan Mercer, a seemingly nice guy who helps troubled teens, staring into a TV camera as heís accused of being a sexual predator by reporter Wendy Tynes. When a local girl goes missing, Dan is immediately cast as a suspect, and Wendy sets about uncovering a truth wrapped up in countless layers of deception. The phrase unputdownable is horrifically overused in this industry, but Caught was as close to it as a book could possibly be.