King of thrillers keeps it fresh

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TOJohn Connolly credit Mark Condren

John Connolly’s thrillers are not for the faint hearted. He will drag you in kicking and screaming and probably keep your heartbeat up from beginning to end.

His latest, The Wrath of Angels (Hodder & Stoughton, R180) is his 11th Charlie Parker novel and if you haven’t lost your heart to this grizzly bear yet, you surely will with this one.

But while John tells stories as part of his DNA, he always has the larger picture in mind. Deeply interested in his chosen profession, he’s constantly thinking up new ideas like the CDs he introduced with two of his novels to give readers insight into his partic- ular music taste.

Or publishing a limited hardcover edition of a particular book which will allow those who have lost their hearts to holding something in their hands, to spend a few extra bucks. That way they have something they can hold on to and cherish. The others can simply go the electronic route.

It’s almost an adapt-or-die approach, but then he’s always been at the edge of new thinking as he takes chances with how he wants to route his career. Against advice of his publishers a few years back, he wrote a young adult novel because he had a story to tell.

And while he’s no saint and probably hoped that many would read it, he was willing to absorb the blow because he wanted to get it out there.

to wrath of angels

For him it’s about choices. He believes book shops as we know them will disappear, but that won’t mean books won’t be part of our lives. In the meantime, he is going about his business writing books and dealing with things that interest him as much as they would his kind of reader.

A few years back when speaking at one of the Pretoria News book lunches, he talked about his favourite 10 thriller writers just to escape the monotony of always saying the same thing. Now he has teamed up with another writer and put together an anthology that provides those who love their thrillers to discover the favourite book by many of their best loved crime writers.

“It’s been a fun and surprising enterprise,” says John, who was bowled over by some of the choices. It also means that it introduces us to books that come recommended by those who write in the genre which we might not have discovered on our own.

Books to Die For, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Hodder & Stoughton, R300 hardcover) is also on the book shelves, featuring our own Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol and Margie Orford. With so many mystery novels to choose from, and so many new titles appearing each year, where should a reader start? What are the classics of the genre? Which are the hidden gems?

That’s where the idea origi- nated. It’s an ambitious book with the world’s leading mystery writers coming together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that often reveal as much about themselves and their own work as they do about the books that they love, more than 120 authors from 20 countries were gathered.

John was thrilled by the results and found himself discov- ering books he hadn’t heard of, which is quite something. He’s one of those people who is constantly dipping into whatever is out there. Music or film, books and literature: there’s not much that escapes his watchful eye.

Ask him about a favourite movie or tell him about a new fad, he’s on the button. He will talk about something that led him from that somewhere else and it’s not at all about one-upmanship. He’s just one of those people who seems to devour anything that’s out there on the cutting edge in film, books and music especially.

His South African partner, Jenny, and her two sons keep him coming back for visits to this country, and those who have met him always feel blessed. His is an old soul. He is one of those people who sends notes of thanks, who remembers previous conversations and doesn’t rush you through your questions.

There’s old-fashioned chivalry here that’s delightful, especially when you have just finished one of his vicious thrillers.

He smiles when I point to the voracity of the violence in his books as if to imply I shouldn’t be shocked. This is the world we live in and that’s what he reflects on when writing. Bantering about that for a while, I also confide that he truly holds my attention.

What I love about John’s thriller writing is that he delivers. There’s not an obvious formula, he doesn’t slink off into other realms to solve problems and he delivers on the promise from beginning to end. But be scared when you open this latest one. It’s part of the game.

Intent to pinpoint the future of books, he believes that book shops will turn into boutique stores with a very specific reader in mind.

“They won’t be around much longer as we see them now,” he says pointing to one in our line of sight. “They will have to adapt and find new ways, be proactive.” It’s coming, so prepare now, is his message.

Already many of us are buying our books online because it’s accessible, always available and probably cheaper. Whatever the reason , it’s an industry that’s changing and those in it should move ahead quickly. But with John’s way of thinking, he will be one step ahead to get his next book, in whatever genre he picks next, into your hands.


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