Stonemason and strawberry-picker turned writer Eamonn Griffin is this week’s three books guest…
I don’t care about your book! Instead tell me about three books which influenced your book…
A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block
First up, an American noir classic series. The Matt Scudder books, by Lawrence Block, out of which – there’s 20-odd in the cycle – I’d pick A Walk Among The Tombstones as perhaps the best known and my favourite. In the early books, Scudder is an alcoholic ex-cop, lost in self-pity after accidentally killing a child in a shootout. He works as an unlicensed PI, doing favours for money. As the series progresses, Scudder bottoms out, then starts to find himself. The series is fantastic in terms both of setting (we’re in the New York of the 70s to about 2000 by the series’ end) and as a long-form character study, with Scudder’s slow acceptance of himself over the book sequence. Along the way, there’s plenty of tough-guy thrills to be had. Scudder has some of the attributes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher – a man alone, living by a particular code; but where Reacher is an existentialist hero, an avenging angel, and a zen bastard, Scudder is an internalised creature, eating himself up from within with guilt, booze and violence, and who seeks order not because he sees himself as a form of order (like Reacher), but because he has none himself. Dan Matlock, the protagonist of East of England, has a touch of the Scudders about him.
Dark Winter by David Mark
In terms of British noir writing, the perhaps inevitable touchstone is Ted Lewis, most famous for his Jack Carter novels, which are set not a million miles from where East of England is based. While the shadow that Lewis casts is long, the second pick here is from David Mark’s DS McAvoy novels; the first of which is Dark Winter. which explores all manner of bleak doings on both sides of the Humber. These are straightforward police procedurals in form only; Mark is great at complex and conflicted characters, and isn’t afraid to bring both an element of grand guignol to proceedings, but also a real sense of place, as well as delivering in terms of mystery, plausible cop procedure, and an increasing level of reader investment in the characters as the series continues. Dark Winter is a fine stand-alone novel, and sets up themes and recurring plot elements developed in the series well. Though McAvoy is Hull-based, his investigations bring him south into Lincolnshire – where I’m originally from, and where East of England is set – and it’s always good to see your roots being depicted.
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The third book is more of an oblique one, an influence as much in its movie adaptation as in the source novel. I’m a sucker for procedure, and Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal – as well as the Fred Zinnemann movie – is great for this, laying out the planning and preparation of a political assassination. While the concerns of East of England aren’t geopolitical, the stakes are as high, because there’s a man’s life at risk. From Jackal I took a focus on the doing rather than the thinking about; Forsyth’s unnamed character has little interior life, so we know him only through his actions. Dan Matlock has something of that in him too.
Oh, ok – tell me about your book then…
East of England by Eamonn Griffin
As for what my book’s about? Story-wise, it’s about Dan Matlock, fresh out of prison and hoping to be met by his father, who he wouldn’t allow him to visit when inside. When his Dad isn’t there, there’s something wrong, so Matlock begins to hunt his father down, knowing that his seeming disappearance is inevitably going to be wrapped up in the reasons for his imprisonment. I’m hesitant to be overt about themes – they’re for the reader to take for themselves rather than for the writer to try to impose – but there’s stuff about fatherhood and loss, about family duty and the inevitability of facing up to the consequences of your actions. And it’s about life in rural communities, in small towns and flat countryside under big skies and by grey coastal waters.