Matt Rees's Blog (318)

New West Bank road to peace?

ST. GEORGE’S MONASTERY, West Bank — Gathered in the chapel of this outpost in the Judean Desert last week, the Orthodox priests chanted “Lord, have mercy” in Greek, in a service of blessing for a new road that makes the venerable building accessible to the growing number of tourists willing to dare a visit to the troubled Holy Land.

As far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned, the priests may as well have been speaking, well, Greek. Because the road was built by Israel over land the…


Added by Matt Rees on December 14, 2010 at 2:15am — No Comments

Ikea and the Crime Writer

There are many theories as to why Scandinavian crime writers prosper in the bestseller lists. But I know why it is. Ikea.

I just bought a new set of Ikea shelves for my office. I’ll get into exactly how that has altered the configuration of my workspace, but at this point let me just note that it makes my writing room seem a thousand times more orderly, less cluttered. As any feng shui expert would tell you, a disorganized room will yield fractured thoughts and…

Added by Matt Rees on December 9, 2010 at 7:06pm — 2 Comments

Wikileaks: The Butler Did It

If I wrote a crime novel filled with the kind of twaddle that passes for breathtaking revelation in this week’s blanket Wikileaks coverage, it’d be panned.

Surprise, surprise. The Saudis want America to do a number on Iran, without taking responsibility for it themselves (and meanwhile Saudis are the big funders of al-Qaeda). Sarkozy shouts at his staff. Ghaddafi probably has sex with his blonde “nurse.” Diplomats sometimes say nice things in public about an…

Added by Matt Rees on December 2, 2010 at 4:39pm — No Comments

Clive Owen is going to die

British actor Clive Owen, star of box office hits like “Sin City,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” and “King Arthur,” is expected to die, according to people familiar with death.

The 46-year-old heartthrob, famed for his slightly nasal London twang, lusterless delivery and not being as good as co-star Julia Roberts in “Duplicity,” is in apparently good health, but death experts tell “The Man of Twists and Turns” that he will probably be tragically dead by…

Added by Matt Rees on November 12, 2010 at 12:39am — No Comments

Swallow semen, identify penis: Helen Fitzgerald’s Writing Life interview

It will be a long time before anyone thinks of a better way to open their first novel than this: “My best friend Sarah was asleep. Her husband was lying beside her, and I was swallowing his semen.” That’s paragraph two of “Dead Lovely” by Helen Fitzgerald, a fabulous crime novel which manages to amuse, titillate and disturb. Since she published Dead Lovely in 2008, Helen has released three more adult titles and a teen novel. Born in Australia, she lives in Glasgow, Scotland,…

Added by Matt Rees on November 8, 2010 at 2:43am — 1 Comment

Gentleman and thug: researching my new historical novel

One of the great pleasures of novel-writing is the research which, for almost every book, ought to bring the writer to investigate different areas of inquiry. To become a swift expert in something others might spend all their lives studying.

That’s why I’ve taken up my sword.

I’m working on a historical novel about the great Italian artist Caravaggio. That has meant learning to paint with oils, which has been even more…

Added by Matt Rees on November 5, 2010 at 12:29am — 4 Comments

Compelling seeds of true history: Philip Sington’s Writing Life interview

The best historical novels are based on some element of real history which has been either neglected or is little known. Philip Sington's “The Einstein Girl” grows out of the revelation that Albert Einstein had a secret daughter. Sington takes that seed and, with the hand of a true thriller master, builds around it a story of psychiatry and love in the early days of Hitler’s Germany. It's one of the most touching, beautiful, and…

Added by Matt Rees on October 17, 2010 at 6:49pm — No Comments

Crime fiction’s ‘French porn’: Martin Walker’s Writing Life interview

Martin Walker’s series of crime novels about the chief of police of a small town in the beautiful Perigord region of France are a delight. When we met at a recent “British Crime Fiction Night” in Darmstadt, Germany, he described the books as “French porn – wine, food, women – in a crime fiction frame.” Martin’s bon vivant personality matches the playfulness of his fiction (Though he's a Scot by birth, he divides his time between Washington DC and his vineyard in France). Yet he’s also a…

Added by Matt Rees on October 16, 2010 at 5:30pm — No Comments

Love and the crime novel

The crime novel tradition seems to have little connection to love. Maybe sometimes love in a perverse sense is the spur to the murder at the heart of most crime novels – the spurned husband killing his wife, for example. But usually the detective is a loveless loner, pining without much hope like the great Marlowe for his true love to come along.

As I write more novels, I’ve noticed that love is at the heart of crime fiction. At least, mine,…

Added by Matt Rees on October 14, 2010 at 5:56pm — 3 Comments

Paving Zion to put up a parking lot

Intifada fans can breathe a little more easily.

Just when it seemed as though no amount of building in Israel’s settlements and harsh statements at the United Nations by the country’s foreign minister could truly provoke new violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the Jerusalem municipality came up with something guaranteed to steam up some hotheads.

The city’s planning committee is considering a proposal to build an…

Added by Matt Rees on October 12, 2010 at 12:00am — No Comments

Urinal-top video

We were on the Hessian plain somewhere outside Frankfurt when I felt as though the drugs had taken hold.

Why am I paraphrasing the great Hunter S. Thompson? Because I endured an experience that Professor Gonzo could only have imagined in his wildest LSD frenzies. Something that made me feel I must be hallucinating, as if the Las Vegas of HST’s fear and loathing had come to me, cleaned up and waterless but every bit as insidious. What I saw was proof…

Added by Matt Rees on October 8, 2010 at 12:22am — 7 Comments

Hezbollah's rapture, resistance, and revolution

Here's my review of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel — by Thanassis Cambanis (Free Press).

Most books on Hezbollah tend to focus, in one way or another, on the Lebanese Shia group’s fundamentalist politics. That’s in contrast to what strikes you as a journalist when you travel to southern Lebanon, one of the Hezbollah heartlands. There the greatest impressions are visceral. The earthquake of an Israeli…

Added by Matt Rees on October 6, 2010 at 1:14am — No Comments

Blissfully blogless

Last weekend, my computer played up. Suddenly I couldn’t post the fascinating blog item I had written. I couldn’t update my Facebook page.

The computer gave me some kind of message about a “Flash” that had “crashed.” I’m old enough to remember the sputtering rockets of Flash Gordon in the 1950s series that was rebroadcast on the BBC in the early 1970s when I was a kid. That image held off my sense of powerlessness and frustration for about a half…

Added by Matt Rees on September 30, 2010 at 5:00pm — 2 Comments

New arms race--on author websites

I have a new book coming out in the UK next spring. So it’s time to start looking around to see what new web gadgets and gismos authors are expected to shell out for from their meager advances to keep their “web profile” current.

It’s a new arms race. Just as the Soviets bankrupted their (morally bankrupt) regime trying to keep up with US developments in mass destruction, writers have to divert their attention from the writing of books and trawl the…

Added by Matt Rees on September 26, 2010 at 10:23pm — 2 Comments

Writers, no email until lunch

Raymond Chandler wrote that a writer shouldn’t read letters until lunchtime. The energy that ought to go into his novel would be diverted to correspondence.

If email had been invented 50 years earlier, we might never have had “The Big Sleep.”

Email has an itching urgency that letters don’t have. And a letter leads only to the end of the page – the internet clicks you on into endless pages and seemingly into other worlds. So…

Added by Matt Rees on September 16, 2010 at 7:58pm — No Comments

Overturning detective fiction: everyone's guilty in my novels

The “Golden Age” of the detective story was the 1920s and 1930s. It was a turbulent period. In Britain, the General Strike. In the U.S., the Depression. Civil war in Spain, and in Germany the rise of the Nazis. Red scares everywhere, fascists too.

But the detective story provided solace to those who lived in such ugly times. In the model utilized by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, the story ended with one criminal fingered by the detective.…

Added by Matt Rees on September 9, 2010 at 8:17pm — 2 Comments

The Inquisition, the Jews of Andalus, and Columbus: 'By Fire By Water' review

Historical novels vie with crime and romance novels for the titles of most derided and most widely read literature. They've had a bad rap ever since the 19th century, when the swashbucklers of Alexandre Dumas looked pretty wooden next to Dickens, and cartoonish in comparison to the depth of Victor Hugo or George Eliot. There have always been marvelous exceptions, such as Mary Renault's amazing novels of ancient Greece, but for much of the last century, historical fiction was…

Added by Matt Rees on September 3, 2010 at 10:47pm — No Comments

Bielefeld does exist!

On my book tours I often venture to places few others visit. There are book festivals in tiny provincial towns. Readings at bookshops in small rural villages. This week I spoke in a German town that many Germans are convinced doesn’t even exist.

Bielefeld (population 330,000) is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia. Or is it?

Since the 1990s, there has been a widespread internet campaign to convince Germans that this town…

Added by Matt Rees on September 2, 2010 at 7:25pm — 5 Comments

Going historical

Writing of the disdain expressed for genre novels by critics, Raymond Chandler said that there were just as many bad “literary novels” of the type favored by critics as there were bad genre stories – except that the bad literary novels didn’t get published. In other words, there’s nothing inherent in so-called genre fiction that makes it lesser than “literary” fiction.

Chandler knew what he was talking about. His great noir novels, such as “The Big Sleep”…

Added by Matt Rees on September 1, 2010 at 6:06pm — 1 Comment

Israeli leaders pass buck

The present Israeli government seems to make a specialty of dropping the ball. The only thing the top ministers won’t drop is the buck. They’re very adept at passing that.

Testimony last week revealed the lack of responsibility at the top of the Israeli government. Before a committee investigating a fouled up military operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have both said they take responsibility for the attempted takeover of…

Added by Matt Rees on August 16, 2010 at 7:30pm — No Comments

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