As telegraphed in my most recent post, I was able recently to sit down with Lanarkshire’s Mason Cross, a crime writer described as a “bestseller in the making” and whose Carter Blake series has generated many a wave. The biggest perhaps being the recent inclusion of his second book, The Samaritan, in the Richard & Judy Spring Book Club 2016. We met before the emergence of this news, and so while it didn’t feature in our subsequent conversation, we have spoken about it since: I can tell you that Mason is, quite rightly, delighted! We did, however, discuss Mason’s crime-writing influences and, not least, his next Carter Blake book.
An extract from our chat is featured below, and is a prelude to my new review of the first two books in the sequence, which will be uploaded in the days to come. So, Mason Cross, welcome to Brutal Mosaic. The coffee’s on me…
Mason, what can you tell us about book three? What’s next for Carter Blake?
Book three is called Winterlong. It starts out with an unnamed man being chased down and executed in Siberia in the depths of winter. A few weeks later, Blake receives an email with a photograph of the dead man. Blake realises it’s someone he used to work with, and he knows he’s next. From there, it’s a race against time to travel across America to get back to his home base before the people who are after him catch up. It’s going to be published in the summer, and I had a great time writing it and paying homage to all of my favourite man-on-the-run thrillers, like “North by Northwest” and “Three Days of the Condor”. It’s probably the most cinematic book so far.
Your work is clearly influenced by the American thriller tradition, and you’ve referenced the likes of Chandler, Hammett, Connelly and John D. MacDonald as particular (if by no means exclusive) favourites. What is it about the US tradition that excites you?
I’ve always loved reading American crime writers, from Chandler to Connelly, and I guess that’s why it’s the type of fiction I’ve gravitated towards creating myself. It’s difficult to discuss the differences between British and American crime writing without resorting to sweeping generalisations. That said, modern UK-based thrillers are often police procedurals or domestic noirs, whereas American thrillers tend to be a little more action-oriented, and perhaps the heroes are a little more individualistic. I read and enjoy both, but for some reason I seem to gravitate more towards the American style. I also think there’s a greater tendency for American protagonists to be lone wolves: the private investigator is difficult to do in a UK setting. There are lots of advantages to writing an American thriller: the availability of guns, the prevalence of serial killers, and not least the giant canvas available to you. Millions of square miles, fifty different distinct states. You can go to gigantic cities and small towns and mountains and deserts… and everybody speaks English.
Both The Killing Season and The Samaritan employ different POVs, including Blake, the varying investigatory agents with whom he pals up, and the killers’ too. What are the challenges of such a structure?
For me, the challenges of the structure are massively outweighed by the advantages. The first novel I wrote (which didn’t find a publisher) was all told by the protagonist in first person narration. This felt like a natural way to tell the story, but I realised that it made things more difficult because everything in the story has to happen through one character’s eyes. That means if something exciting happens elsewhere, you only get to hear about it second hand. By alternating between different points of view, you can always cut away to the most exciting event at any given point of the story. I had seen that other writers successfully used multiple POVs, and so the choice to do this was really about making it easier to plot and pace the story. One of the positive side effects is, it’s nice to see the events through the eyes of other characters, and it makes it easier to develop the other main characters.
I’ve seen online the artwork for the US editions of the first two books. You must be excited about your work reaching a global audience, huh?
Definitely! The Killing Season has now been published in the UK and Commonwealth and America, and it’s also been translated into seven foreign languages. It’s interesting to see how the title and covers change in different territories, and it’s great to receive emails, tweets and occasionally even letters from around the world. I’ve been contacted by people in the States, the Netherlands and Australia. It’s great that the book has travelled to places I haven’t, and that people take time to let me know they’ve enjoyed it.
Authors, in the modern era, are very much on the frontline of promoting their books. How do you find engaging with your audience in meet-and-greets, and through social media?
As you say, it’s very much the nature of the beast these days. Luckily, I really enjoy getting out and meeting readers and other authors. The great thing about social media is somebody on the other side of the planet can finish your book and immediately let you know what they thought about it via email, Facebook, Twitter or whatever. So far, that’s almost always been a positive experience, though I know it has its downside. I’m still delighted and slightly surprised when someone I’ve never met has made a commitment of hours or days of their time to read something I wrote.
You’re a veteran(!) now of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival. How do you see the contemporary scene in Scottish crime fiction, and your place within it?
‘Veteran’ makes me sound ancient! Bloody Scotland is a fantastic festival, and a great opportunity to meet other crime writers not just from Scotland but all around the world. The contemporary Scottish crime scene is in very good health, I’d say. Ian Rankin is the megastar, of course, but there are so many people doing great work in Scottish crime – authors like Douglas Skelton, Michael Malone and Craig Robertson in Glasgow, James Oswald, Neil Broadfoot and Doug Johnstone representing the East Coast, all the way out to Highlands & Islands crime with Denzil Meyrick and Ann Cleeves. Geographically Scotland is an amazingly diverse country for its size – whether you want a big city, a small town, a remote island or a mountain, Scotland has it. When I have time I’m definitely going to write a Glasgow-set thriller. As for my place in the contemporary scene, my books are very obviously not Tartan Noir, but I love spending time with authors who are. It’s a very friendly and welcoming scene – the whole UK crime scene is, actually – which could be surprising given that we all spend our days writing about bloody murders!
To peer further into the world of Mason Cross and Carter Blake – including the cover artwork for Winterlong – head to the following: