Tag Archives: Hannibal Lecter

The Intel: Chet Williamson

Author headshotYou may have heard of a novel called Psycho. Some fellow made a movie of Robert Bloch’s novel which, arguably, changed the course of movies and horror fiction forever. Without Norman Bates there wouldn’t have been a whole slew of slasher movies, or sly, charming killers such as Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman and Dexter Morgan.

In the years since Hitchcock’s movie, Bates, the nerdy fellow with the Mummy issues, has been reinvented several times — sequels followed, and a TV series. But Bloch’s original novel has remained somewhat under the radar. Now Chet Williamson has taken Bates back to his gritty midwestern roots. He’s written an authorised sequel to Bloch’s book, called Psycho: Sanitarium.

In this terrific interview, Williamson talks about what is like to get his hands on one of the most famous characters in fiction, about how Hitchcock’s Bates swerved from Bloch’s original vision — and how, if you want to be a successful writer, it’s perhaps best to stay pessimistic…

How does it feel to have got your hands on one the most iconic characters in crime fiction – Norman Bates? 

It feels fantastic! The film of Psycho terrified me when I saw it as a kid, and I immediately bought the Robert Bloch book and have been a Bloch fan my whole life. To be offered a character that is such an icon of suspense and horror fiction was a dream come true. Having done some licensed characters in the past, I’d determined never to do so again, but to have the opportunity to create a novel with Norman Bates?

There was no way I could say no, especially since it was an immediate sequel to Bloch’s original novel, and I could tell the story of what happens after we leave Norman (and Mother) in his little cell after his arrest. I’d always loved the character, who is as sympathetic and empathetic as he is frightening.

We’re familiar with Hitchcock’s adaptation, but maybe not so much with Robert Bloch’s source novel – how does it differ from the movie?

For one thing, Norman isn’t nearly as physically attractive as Anthony Perkins. He’s in his forties rather than his twenties, and he’s somewhat overweight, which makes his discomfort with the opposite sex more believable. Also, the original isn’t set in California. Bloch never names a state, but internal evidence suggests somewhere in the Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma/Arkansas area.

How has Norman changed since we last met him?

Not much, really. Only a few months have passed since his arrest and confinement, and he’s remained almost completely incommunicative. He’s trying to break out of his shell, but Mother’s having none of it.

Cover imageWhat do you think you have brought to the character that wasn’t in Bloch’s original vision?

I may be a bit more sympathetic toward Norman than Robert Bloch was. While Bloch makes you feel sympathetic toward him in the original novel, when he wrote Psycho II, which is set over twenty years later (and which has nothing to do with the Psycho 2 film), he makes Norman quite monstrous, and his initial acts of violence, which are perpetrated by Norman himself rather than Mother, are shocking in the extreme. I’ve tried to elicit in the reader a greater empathy toward and understanding of Norman, the same feelings that Bloch elicited in the original Psycho back in 1959.

Norman’s in a Hospital For The Criminally Insane, which is fertile ground for crime and horror writers – did you have any other favourite authors or movies you returned to for inspiration? 

Nothing fictional, really, though I did turn, for both research and inspiration, to the 1967 Frederick Wiseman documentary, Titicut Follies, set in Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. If you think fictional films about early psychiatric care are shocking, the real thing as seen in this film is utterly horrifying.

If you could get your hands on another iconic crime fiction character, who would it be?

Well, I do love villains. I’ve always wanted to do something with a super-criminal along the lines of Fantomas or Dr. Mabuse, which I think would be fascinating in these times when he who controls the Internet controls the world.

How did you start writing?

A: I came to it through acting. It’s a long story, but as an actor, which I did professionally for a time, it wasn’t long before I realized that the true creators were the writers. I started writing for theatre, and then turned to fiction. I still keep my hand in as an actor by narrating audiobooks — in fact, I’ve just completed the audiobook of Psycho: Sanitarium. It’s always a delight for me to record my own work, since I know the characters will sound as I intended them to sound.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

A: Not to give up, and never to expect too much. Stay pessimistic and you’ll never be too disappointed to continue. Write for yourself and for those readers who relate to your work.  It’s a rough way to make a living, even more so now with all the competition from self-published writers on the Internet. Fortunately I’ve had a supportive wife all these years. It’s very tough to survive on your own.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Of the old masters, Joseph Conrad, for his ability to make readers see,  P. G. Wodehouse, for never failing to make me laugh, M. R. James, for his truly terrifying ghost stories, and H. P. Lovecraft, one of the most alien writers and human beings imaginable. From my childhood, Robert Bloch, whose clean style I’ve always admired and tried to emulate, and Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury, for their unfettered imaginations. Contemporary writers include Joe R. Lansdale, pound for pound the best writer in America today, and the UK’s Ramsey Campbell, a superb stylist and storyteller.

Give me some advice about writing… 

My advice is to not ever take any advice on writing. Seriously. Everyone works in different ways. Be true to your own method of working. If outlining works for you, then outline. If you’re happier just forging ahead without an idea of where you’re going and can fix things during revision, then do it.

The only books on writing I’ve ever read that were worth a damn were the American John Gardner’s trilogy, On Moral Fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction, and Oscar Lee Brownstein’s Strategies of Drama, which is primarily for playwrights but equally valuable for fiction writers. Whatever you do, avoid books that say, “This is what you must do.” No, you mustn’t.

What’s next for you?

It’s been a full year, with the Psycho book and two collections having come out (The Night Listener and Others from England’s PS Publishing and A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy from Borderlands Press). So after Psycho: Sanitarium is safely launched, I’m planning on doing some reading and research in preparation for a new novel. I have a thematic idea, but little else, and being that I’m an outliner, there’s work to be done!

***

Psycho: Sanitarium is published by Canelo, price £3.99 in eBook.

 

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Guest Post: V.M. Giambanco

The Devil has all the best tunes. You know that, I know that – it’s why we read crime fiction. A good protag is nothing without an evil antag. A deliciously evil – and yet vulnerable – villain can elevate a good crime book to something great. Just ask Thomas Harris, Stephen King or our old friend Conan Doyle.

V.M. Giambanco knows that as well as anybody. In her Alice Madison series she’s earned herself a reputation for specialising in complex and dangerous bad guys.

In the latest, Blood And Bone – which is out today! – Seattle detective Madison finds herself tracking an elusive killer whose brutality is legendary even among high-security prisoners. If you’re a crime reader or writer, you’re going to want to read Valentina’s terrific guest post for Crime Thriller Fella about what makes a satisfying villain. She talks Hannibal, Ripleys Tom and Ellen, and careless dentistry…

What do I want from a villain?

Valentina Giambanco

As I write this post I’m working on the fourth book of the Alice Madison series and when the issue of a subject for this piece came up I had little doubt that I wanted to talk about: villains. Why? Because, more than in any other genre, villains define the crime fiction novel and it is by what villains do that the other characters come alive.

Where would Clarice be without Hannibal? Or Holmes without Moriarty? Or even Nick without ‘Amazing Amy’? The best villain is the one who gets the best out of the hero and by that I mean that it is the character who pushes all others around him to act in ways that make the story compelling, revealing, multi-layered and memorable. And it’s not a small task, which is why – and I’ve only realised this as I started to think about this piece – I generally start each story by working out who the villain is and why he does what he does. Only when I’ve found something that feels suitably gripping does the story really begin.

I have a theory – and obviously it might just be something that works for me and no other writer or reader – but when I’m trying to build an effective villain I need four elements; a couple are pretty obvious, the others maybe not.

First, and it’s no big surprise, my villain has to give the story a real sense of danger which translates into urgency and keeps the clock ticking. Examples are almost unnecessary but for the sheer creepiness of it I’ll mention Annie Wilkes in ‘Misery’, whose mood swings and inner workings are as terrifying as any serial killer out there.

Second, there has to be a motive, something strong enough that the villain can hang his whole behaviour on it and it has to be so powerful that it can carry him throughout the story. By the way, I keep saying he for ease of writing but, as I have just mentioned, crime fiction villainy is an equal opportunity employer – ever met Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell?

Third, and here things get more complicated, I really enjoy seeing the story through the eyes of the villain. Take Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley for example, he is the central character and what he does appears merely as a string of necessary actions to further his very reasonable needs. That’s all.

Blood And BoneWhen Thomas Harris inhabits Francis Dolarhyde’s mind in ‘Red Dragon’ he is so skilled at building character that we can’t help feeling a tiny sting of compassion for him even at his most frightening and amoral. I’ve read once that Harris said he was always glad when he knew he was writing a chapter with Hannibal Lecter in it but was also glad when Lecter left and he didn’t have to see the world through his maroon eyes anymore.

Four, I’m intrigued when I can see the humanity of the villains: the unstoppable serial killer without weaknesses does not really interest me because it moves through the story in a similar manner to the alien creature in ‘Alien’ – slaughtering everyone in its path until it gets blasted out of the ship, and where’s the fun in that? I absolutely love ‘Alien’: if we’re talking about slowly building menace and claustrophobia and terror, it’s a classic – and the unusual hero of the series is a resourceful, stubborn woman who can operate heavy machinery. But that’s not where I go if I want a complex, multi-layered villain.

So, I have my four elements: physical danger, motive, a different way to look at life and an ember of humanity – this is what I look for in a villain. Sometime they are all found in one character, sometimes the story will give us more than one straight villain to play with and then we can split these elements. Recently I watched ‘Marathon Man’, written by William Goldman from his excellent novel, and the villain is an old man with a lethal blade hidden in his sleeve and dentist’s tools in his satchel. Szell, the Second World War Nazi, is one of the most terrifying villains ever created because he is a little guy who certainly couldn’t run after the protagonist to catch him but, once he has him tied up on a chair, there is no end to the pain he is prepared to inflict to achieve his end. His age, vulnerability and cruelty make him human and real and more repulsive than someone like Lecter could ever be because we know Nazi existed and we know what they did while a cultured, engaging, sociopath with a perfectly replicated middle finger and a taste for murder is yet to be born.

As a crime writer I’m always looking for a great fictional villain and yet sometimes it is reality that is too extreme to be believed: I’ve read online today that a pharmaceutical company has raised the price of a life-saving pill from $13.50 to $750, not even Hannibal Lecter can match that kind of evil.

***

Blood And Bone is available now, published by Quercus Books, in hardback, and also in ebook.

TV Crime Log: Hannibal, 24

This week we welcome back to your screen two transatlantic crime thriller icons.

Hannibal

It all looks rather tense.

First up is Hannibal, who returns to Sky Living tomorrow night at 10pm.

The first season of the horror drama about the titular cannibal was one of last year’s most-pleasant TV surprises. It was compelling entertainment: a masterclass in slow-burn storytelling and visually very striking, with all those antlers and suchlike.

Now it’s back for a second series, with Mads Mikkelsen once again playing Dr. Lecter with chilling understatement, a welcome contrast to the scenery-chewing of Mr. Hopkins.

Taking its characters from Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon, the series explores the relationship of deranged FBI profiler Will Graham – and the even more insane psychiatrist, and talented culinary enthusiast, who helps him solve cases. Trouble is, at the end of the last series, Graham was in clink, having realised too late that Lecter, who was more than a little implicated in most of the unsolved murders, had done him up like a kipper for the crimes.

Taking his artistic cues from David Lynch, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s stated intention is to explore new stories about these familiar characters in the first three seasons, and then segue into a retelling of Red Dragon, The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal in the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons. It’ll then be concluded with an original storyline for the seventh. Thankfully, we will live without a reimagining of the masterpiece that is Hannibal Rising.

But it was touch and go as to whether Hannibal would return after the first series. Despite the great reviews, and a vocal fanbase, low-ratings threatened to scupper a second portion of H. It was renewed, however, and this new series introduces classic Lecter nemesis Mason Verger. He’s the chap with the pigs. This year’s US ratings show signs of lifting out of the sludge, so maybe it’ll even return for a third. Fingers crossed on that.

It’s only been a year since we last saw Hannibal and Will, but it’s been an awful lot longer since poor old Jack Bauer went on the run. But now – rejoice! – Jack’s back.

24: Live Another Day

Look, a red telephone box!

The unlucky counter-terrorist agent has been minding his own business since 2010, but you can be sure that nefarious people are going to give Jack a bad day in the new mini-series 24: Live Another Day.

Any time some miscreant smuggles nuclear weapons or assassinates the president they pin the blame on Jack. It’s now happened nine times — someone give the guy a break.

Excitingly, in this 12-part season Jack goes on the run in London! Hackney cabs! Red buses! The Gherkin! Hello, guvnor! Let’s just hope he doesn’t waste a whole hour of his precious day setting up a congestion charge direct debit.

Before the mooted TV return of 24, the original idea was for Jack to return in a feature film – there was even talk that it would be a 24/Die Hard crossover! – but that never panned out.

However, with the real time one hour/one episode format squeezed into half the usual amount of episodes, let’s hope the producers haven’t dicked around too much with what made the whole thing work in the first place.

24: Live Another Day is on tomorrow night at 9pm on Sky1. But if you’re a stone cold 24 fan – or maybe just an insomniac – the first two episodes are being simulcast with the US tomorrow morning at 1am.

Hannibal, Whicher, Blitz And Life: TV Crime Log

Gosh, start looking for the Record Button on your remote, because there’s tons of stuff on the telly this week.

Unknown-3Hannibal debuts on Sky Living tomorrow night, and is a procedural based on the relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and criminal profiler Will Graham – working together to solve crime! – before Dr Lecter’s cannibal antics rather soured their friendship.

Thomas Harris fans will recognise Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, as the damaged FBI man responsible for Dr. Lecter’s incarceration in the novel Red Dragon. It’s an audacious attempt to kick life into a serial killer character who became a bit of a joke with his Young Hannibal Adventures, or whatever that last book and movie were called.

The aim, says series creator Bryan Fuller, is to explore the relationship between Lecter – played by the excellent Mads Mikkelsen – and Graham in the first three seasons, and then dramatise the events of Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs in two final seasons. A terrific idea, but Hannibal’s in the middle of its run on NBC, and despite decent reviews, recent ratings haven’t been hugely encouraging. Fuller is one of those showrunners whose shows – Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies – are well reviewed and pick-up devoted cult followings, but tend to get cancelled quickly.

Fuller has made changes which invest new life into familiar characters. Graham’s boss JackCrawford is there, as played by Laurence Fishburne, but irritating journalist Freddie Lounds is now a woman.

I shall be watching Sky Living tomorrow – that’s Tuesday at 10pm.

images-1There’s another intriguing premise in Thursday night’s Murder On The Home Front, on ITV.

Yes, we’re in the Second World War again, right in the heart of the Blitz, but the concept behind this crime drama is to discover some of the secrets of the early days of forensic investigation.

Here’s some blurb that may enlighten you further:

‘When young women are found murdered DI Freddy Wilkins believes the obvious suspect is the vulnerable loner, Wilfred Ziegler as a result of the swastikas carved on the victims’ tongues. Dr Lennox Collins the passionate and brilliant Home Office Pathologist and Molly Cooper, his vivacious young secretary have their doubts and employ ground breaking forensic techniques to ensure the right man is brought to justice. However, Lennox soon learns that not only is he fighting a battle to modernise the way in which crimes are solved, but he’s also clashing with a government who will go to any lengths to ensure the country’s morale is sustained – even cover up a murder.’

Based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, secretary to the Home Office Pathologist Keith Simpson, Murder On The Home Front concludes next week. But if it’s a success, I’d imagine we’ll get more of the same.

Unknown-9Life Of Crime, which starts a three episode run on ITV on Friday night, follows three decades in the career of a policewoman in the Metropolitan Police. The aim is to show how the choices she makes as a rookie officer have explosive repercussions on her professional and personal life.

We first meet WPC Denise Woods in 1985, against the backdrop of the Brixton riots, then in 1997 in the second episode, and then in 2013 when she’s a senior office. Woods is played by Hayley Attwell, who also appeared in the movie version of The Sweeney and William Boyd’s spy romp, Reckless.

Life Of Crime is written by Declan Croghan, who penned some of the better episodes of Waking The Dead, and also Ripper Street. You can watch it on Friday night at 9pm – The Gentle Touch slot!

images-2Cranking out the crime dramas like there’s no tomorrow, ITV has a sequel to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on Sunday night.

The Murder In Angel Lane follows  19th Century former Met Detective Jack Whicher as he launches on his career as a ‘private inquiry agent.’

Paddy Considine sports an impressive pair of sideburns as Whicher, who’s employed by Olivia Colman – dusting off her trademark bleak expression from Broadchurch.

This blurb will explain the plot better than I can:

When Whicher saves a respectable country lady from a violent robbery in a dangerous quarter of London, he learns that this woman, Susan Spencer is desperately hunting for her vulnerable young niece, Mary. Mary has come up to London in search of a young man, Stephen Gann who has made her pregnant.

Susan commissions Jack Whicher as a “private inquiry agent” to find her niece and the young man and Whicher is drawn irresistibly into a disturbing and puzzling murder case, which brings him up against wealthy and powerful figures and throws him into conflict with his former colleagues in the Metropolitan police.  The investigation leads to a private lunatic asylum where Whicher himself must confront the darkness of his own demons.

I do believe that ITV is smoothing its skirts and batting its eyelids at the possibility of another Whicher drama in the future. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher is on ITV, Sunday night at 8pm.