Murder and mind games with rhyme and reason
Television show Case Sensitive (starring Olivia Williams, pictured) was based on The Point of Rescue by author Sophie Hannah
Television show Case Sensitive (starring Olivia Williams) was based on The Point of Rescue by author Sophie Hannah (pictured)
There are no such things as guilt and innocence in Sophie Hannah’ s crime books, but there’s a rigorous approach that matches literature with poetry, writes DECLAN BURKE
‘I’ve always loved rhyming, metrical poetry and mystery stories,” says author Sophie Hannah. “Ever since I discovered Enid Blyton and read the Secret Seven books, I can remember thinking: this is what stories should do. They should have a mystery, and why would anyone want to write a story that didn’t have a mystery in it? I’ve never really changed my mind since.”
Hannah is a rare kind of crime author. The daughter of academic Norman Geras and the writer Adèle Geras, she was first published as a poet with the collection Early Bird Blues in 1993.
“I’ve always loved books, and we were a very booky family, but no, I don’t think it was always inevitable that I would be a writer,” she says. “I did get very keen on writing at a very young age, though, and throughout my whole childhood and teenage years, writing was pretty much my only hobby. I always wrote, both poems and stories.”
Those Enid Blyton-inspired stories led to her career as a crime novelist, which began in 2006 with the publication of Little Face, and her novels have since been adopted into ITV drama Case Sensitive. However, Hannah has continued to write poetry, and was shortlisted for the 2007 TS Eliot Award for her fifth collection, Pessimism for Beginners.
In a sense, she embodies the apparent contradiction of a poet who also writes bestselling psychological thrillers. Friendly and bubbly before we sit down in the crypt-like surroundings of the Merrion Hotel’s vaults to talk about her current novel, The Carrier, she is icily precise in her diction and choice of words once the interview begins. It’s a matter of respect for the tools of her trade.
“I read a lot of crime fiction and, while the language is fine and does the job of telling the story, a lot of crime fiction doesn’t have an obvious flair for language,” she says. “It’s perfunctory . . . a bit like reading an episode of Silent Witness adapted into a novel, rather than a proper novel. I’d rather read books that aren’t like that, but the thing is that I’m addicted to mystery. So if I read a literary novel by a brilliant writer I often get impatient because not enough interesting things are happening.
“My ideal is a book that is brilliantly written with a proper, literary use of language, but also with a really gripping plot. That’s why I really like Tana French, or Gone Girl [by Gillian Flynn] – properly good writers writing crime fiction that obeys all the rules of the genre, but being as original as possible within those rules.”
The Carrier is the eighth novel to feature Culver Valley police detective Simon Waterhouse and his team. It’s typical of her original take on the psychological thriller, opening up with a hook that appears utterly preposterous. Tim Breary has confessed to murdering his wife, Francine, but he’s adamant that he didn’t have a motive.