AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
It is no mystery that Tana French of Dublin, Ireland, and Sophie Hannah of Cambridge, England, would become good friends. Both are part of the new generation of mystery writers celebrated by critics for the strength of their writing as loyal fans anxiously await their next books.
French, bestselling author of three novels, including the award-winning "Faithful Place," has just published "Broken Harbor," set in present-day Ireland where veteran detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is investigating a gruesome triple homicide. This is French's fourth psychological thriller about the Dublin Murder Squad.
Hannah is the internationally bestselling author of "The Wrong Mother" and "The Cradle in the Grave." In "The Other Woman's House," Hannah's latest psychological suspense novel featuring detectives Charlie Bailer and Simon Waterhouse, a woman's virtual tour of a house on a real estate website reveals a shocking murder.
French and Hannah will be crossing the pond together to do their first joint author event-a luncheon at the Mystic Arts Center on Wednesday, July 25, sponsored by Bank Square Books of Mystic and the Groton Public Library.
The women recently shared their thoughts with Daybreak about their own and each other's novels and the art and craft of writing a mystery.
Both say they've been fascinated by mysteries since childhood.
"I discovered Agatha Christie at the age of 12 and never looked back!" Hannah says. "Mystery/suspense is my favorite genre because I'm a very curious (some would say nosey!) person, and I love that feeling, as a reader, of being desperate to find out what's happened and what's going on, knowing I'll get the answer at the end of the book. It's so satisfying."
"I'm always looking for the potential mystery in things," French says. "I think that's what turns someone into a mystery writer, and that's how I started writing 'In the Woods.' I was working on an archaeological dig (near a wood). I thought, 'That would be a great place for kids to play, but instead of stopping there like a normal person, I thought, 'What if three kids went in to play, and only one came out - and he had no memory of what had happened to the others? And what if he grew up to be a detective, and another case drew him back to that wood?' I went looking for the potential mystery. I think it was inevitable that if I ended up writing anything, it would be mysteries."
Hannah and French agree that in addition to creating believable, fully dimensional characters, it's critical to be accurate with the technical aspects of a murder mystery, and each is lucky to have found a law enforcement mentor to keep her in check.
"I have a good friend who is a police officer, and he's been my point of contact throughout, for all my crime novels," Hannah says. "Every year I spend a day with him, and I talk him through my latest plot idea. He stops me when he hears something that would never happen, and then suggests an alternative way to do it that would be more plausible from a police procedure point of view. He's very helpful and thorough, and makes sure I get all the police detail right."
"I'm very lucky: I know a retired detective who's answered a wild variety of questions for me, over the years," French notes. "More than that, though, he tells me stories about his time as a detective. Those are at least as important as the answers to specific questions, because the stories answer questions I wouldn't even know how to ask - what it feels like to be a detective working a big case, what the atmosphere is like in an incident room - and that's what gives the books whatever authenticity they've got."
When it comes to reading other people's mysteries, Hannah and French are each other's biggest fans.
"What I love best about Sophie's books is the way she structures," says French. "Structure isn't my strong point, I really have to work at it, and I'm fascinated by the fierce tightness of her structuring. She starts with a premise that seems totally impossible, and then she peels back layer after layer of deception and misunderstanding, with surgical precision, to show you how it's not just possible but inevitable."
"I love Tana's books more than any other writer's," Hannah states. "There is no one whose new novel I look forward to reading more than hers. I find them unbelievably gripping and I enter a period of mourning after I finish each one and know I'll have to wait at least a year for the next!
"The similarity between us, Hannah adds, "is that we both write psychological thrillers in which the puzzle/mystery is central but equally strong is an interest in the workings of the main characters' minds and hearts. And we both are at the literary end of the commercial crime fiction spectrum, so the writing, line by line, is very important to both of us."
Hannah points out that their novels differ in that, "We each have our own voice, so our books are inevitably very different in terms of style. I think my plots are more insanely labyrinthine, and Tana's characters tend to be more likeable!"
French and Hannah say they are excited to be touring together for the first time.
"I can't wait," French says. "Whenever I read Sophie's books or talk to her, she gives me a brand-new perspective on something-she's a fascinating person. We don't always agree, but that makes for better discussions. And she's a great laugh."
"Tana and I are good friends as well as colleagues, so it'll be good to get a chance to catch up on gossip!" Hannah adds.
"Broken Harbor" (Viking) by Tana French is $27.95, hardcover.
"The Other Woman's House" (Penguin) by Sophie Hannah is $15, trade paperback.