My favourites, Writing

My favourite authors – #1 David Morrell

Taking a break from talking about my book, over the next few posts, I wanted to pay tribute to three of my favourite authors.

Whilst Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck are all deservedly in the pantheon of writing greats, it’s not these authors who made me want to pick up a book and read long into the night, or to have a go at writing a novel. This list is absolutely personal and includes two authors who made their debuts this century.

But first, I want to go back to the 1980s and talk about Canadian thriller writer, David Morrell. Morrell is best known for creating the character of John Rambo, immortalised on screen by Sylvester Stallone. Whilst the second and subsequent films in the series are pure action movies, First Blood, like Morrell’s 1972 debut novel on which it is based, is a taut piece of suspense. The story is not short of action itself, as Rambo heads into the mountains pursued by a small town sheriff and his deputies, but the focus is on Rambo as a disillusioned Vietnam Veteran; trying to adjust to life back home after the horrors that he suffered (and in some cases inflicted) during the war. His run-in and subsequent incarceration by Sheriff Teasle sets the tone for the story, which Morrell lays out with brutal efficiency.

First Blood wasn’t the first of Morrell’s novels that I read; I’ve read most of his books, but in a roundabout order. His 1985 thriller, Fraternity of the Stone, was my introduction to this master storyteller. A former government assassin hides out in a remote monastery, repenting his sins. This being a tale of espionage, his monastic life doesn’t last long after we first meet him, and after a devastating opening, he sets off back out into the world to discover why somebody from his past wants him dead. For me, this is a true classic of the genre; it has plenty of action, shadowy organisations whose true motives are unclear, and it even paved the way for many religion-related thrillers that followed years later. The book even has a short section that explains the origin of the word assassin.

Fraternity of the Stone was proceeded a year earlier by Brotherhood of the Rose. Another spy thriller, this novel tells the story of two orphans who were trained to be assassins. Like most of Morrell’s thrillers, it features men on the edge, an intriguing backstory, plenty of action, yet doesn’t forget the humanity of its characters. It also features a devastating revelation that is perhaps as much a shock to its main characters as it is to the reader.

In my opinion, the three books that I’ve mentioned above are Morrell’s finest works, but to be honest, you could pick up pretty much any of his books and be guaranteed an entertaining read. His range of characters is as varied as the stories that they inhabit and includes former soldiers, ex-spies, a haunted war photographer, a painter, a Japanese samurai master and a journalist, amongst others. He’s an author who injects realism into his characters, using the knowledge that he no doubt picked up from the wilderness survival, outdoor leadership and corporate security training which he has undergone. Not that you’ll find any info dumping in his books; all that knowledge is seamlessly integrated into his characters stories, never getting in the way of a great narrative in full flow.

Everybody knows Rambo, but I think it’s a shame that more readers, particularly in the UK, don’t seem to know David Morrell. He’s well respected in the industry and has won countless awards for his thrillers. When I have introduced people to his work, I am amazed that they’ve never heard of him; but this is usually followed by gushing thanks for recommending one of his books. This post is my attempt to pass that thanks on; David, if you’re reading this (unlikely, I know), thanks for all your wonderful stories over the years.

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