Reflections by award-winning maritime historian Joan Druett, author of many books about the sea
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
BRETT BATTLES, PATRY FRANCIS and JASON PINTER
Not long ago, I commented on a collection of thriller shorts by debut writers who had been sponsored by veteran authors, Killer Year. I enjoyed the stories, finding some particularly good, and have set myself a part time task of searching for books written by these fortunate souls.
Jason Pinter's short story was a stand-out for me, so I looked for him first in the library, and found that though he has produced an astonishing number of books in the meantime, they are hard to find -- simply because they are so popular. I finally tracked down The Guilty, so was introduced to the character, Henry Parker, a rookie reporter who gets into trouble very easily. In this one, a female superstar is killed on the red carpet outside a glamorous nightclub, and the fun begins.
It is all very youthful. Pinter writes with the wide-eyed zest of a winger playing for the All Blacks for the very first time, and his hero is naive to suit. Everything is calculated to appeal to the sub-thirties set, which is obviously very successful ploy. Not for the blue rinse set, however.
More mature ladies would prefer Patry Francis, whose the liar's diary is a thought-provoking exploration of the impact of a charismatic eccentric on a small New England community, and the violence that follows. In its way, it is as controversial as the famous Virginia Andrews Flowers in the Attic, but does not get away with it quite as well. This is partly because Francis, aware that she was perhaps being over-ambitious, lacked confidence, and partly because there are unanswered questions that haunt the reader, but do not seem to be deliberate. Also, the main character, Jeanne Cross, is pictured as dependent on alcohol and sleeping pills, to justify her reactions, which is no substitute for good solid psychological reasons for her actions. Judging by the acknowledgments, Francis had a lot of advice and help from people who saw great promise in her work. Another book or two will justify this, I think.
Then I came to Brett Battles, and was astonished. From the very first word of the very first book, this guy writes like a pro. His protagonist, Jonathan Quinn, is a true original -- a cleaner, a crime-scene janitor, the man who clears up the mess after those who have done "the wet work" have gone. Quinn's apprentice, Nate, is even better. It might sound like Batman and Robin, but Battles gets away with it. Let me make a prediction -- Jeffery Deaver, his mentor, has made himself some competition.
I'd like to know more about Battles himself, but his website, while as professional as his thriller writing, doesn't reveal much. His first book was apparently bought by a publishing house called Ugly Town, and plucked out of obscurity to be published by Bantam Dell instead. That's a big step. How did it happen?
It's a mystery worthy of working into a Jonathan Quinn page-turner.