Murder and mind games with rhyme and reason
“I always like to start with a hook that’s more interesting than just, you know, here’s a dead body and who killed that dead body. To me that’s not interesting. Somebody killed that person, it’s not that mysterious. It’s bound to be somebody else in the book, and they probably did it because they didn’t like them very much,” she says. “Whereas, if you have a mystery that’s so unusual that readers think, Why on Earth would anyone do that?, that’s what I’m always aiming to create. It might sound preposterous to begin with, but of course it has to transpire that there is one story that will make this hook possible. And once the reader knows what’s going on, then it all makes perfect sense.”
Despite her perennial appearance on the bestseller list, Hannah is aware that her distinctive storytelling style doesn’t necessarily appeal to more conservative readers of the mystery novel.
“They’re very different,” she says of her books, “and that is why people seem to either love or hate them. I get a lot of people who, for example, enjoy a Linwood Barclay or a Lee Child, and then they try one of mine because it’s in the same section in the bookshop, and they think, Hang on a minute. Am I really expected to get involved in all this analytical psychology?
“I think for a lot of readers of conventional, commercial crime, my books seem unusual, but I see them as firmly within the genre. They are driven by a mystery. In that sense they’re quite traditional. Puzzle and solution, that’s the basic structure of each one. But at the same time I’m really interested in people, psychology and human behaviour, so that’s all in there as well.”
In The Carrier, courtesy of Tim Breary’s obsession with poets, we also get a critique of contemporary poetry.
“Since I was about five or six,” she says, “I’ve always loved metrical, rhyming poetry – I don’t much like free verse . . . All the poems in the book are what I call proper poems. Something is being communicated, and there’s a formal rhyming scheme, too. I’m a bit strict about that.
“What I always say is that the difference between crime and poetry, from the point of view of a reader, is that in crime fiction everybody is trying to do the right things – a great story, proper characters that we care about, a surprising plot. That’s what we’re all aiming for.
“With poetry, everyone’s probably brilliantly talented, but they’re all trying to do a silly thing: to banish from poetry rhyme and its music – all the things that make it good.”
Her love of formal poetry is integrated into The Carrier via a kind of narrative rhyming scheme. As is the case in all of Hannah’s novels, the story builds tension by switching between a number of narrative voices: that of the heroine, in this case Gaby Struthers, is told in the first-person, while those of the various police detectives are recounted in the third person.