Friday, May 11, 2012

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Okay, so maybe I dramatized the title of this post just a wee bit. After all book reviewer Daniel Cann is not exactly a skin-clad, bull-necked Neanderthal pursuing his next meal, only to discover the sabre tooth tiger he's been tracking is actually tracking him for exactly the same reason. At least I hope that's not how he viewed this interviewee's request to interview the interviewer. (Did I just over "view" that?) Besides, my cuspids are not nearly that big.

I decided to interview Daniel because Daniel just posted his review of my latest Aleksandr Talanov thriller, Greco's Game, and what better way to get back at him! Seriously, after reading his review, I began to wonder what made Daniel click. What motivated him to become a reviewer? I mean, think about it: reviewers, bloggers and critics read huge amounts of material and then write equally huge amounts of articles about that material, which in Daniel's case includes reviews of books, film, travel, and his favorite sport of boxing. As you can tell, he's a typical underachiever! Hence, it seemed only natural -- and fun -- to turn the tables and let you catch a glimpse of the real Daniel Cann.

This blog will be divided into two parts. Part One is my interview with Daniel. Part Two are Daniel's additional remarks about Greco's Game and what led him to make the comments he did about my book. To set the stage, you can read his review of Greco's Game here -- -- and his interview of me, the author of Greco's Game, by clicking here:


JHT: You're a prolific writer. You review books, film, boxing, and travel destinations. How do you do it? Dangerous amounts of caffeine? Guarana? Tequila??? Seriously, how do you manage to produce so much witty, informative, incisive material and still have a life beyond the borders of your Daniel Cann Independent Review site? What's your daily routine?

C: Thank you very much Jim! My website is an eclectic collection of things from my past and present. So the travel section documents places I have visited a few years ago in all their quirky and entertaining glory. I want to share my experiences with my readership so they can have an idea how I felt to see a sunrise at Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), a sunset at the Grand Canyon, or what it was like to swim at the Great Barrier Reef. There were so many great memories from my travel diaries that I had to serialise them: Surfing and White Water Rafting in Australia, jet boating, glacier climbing and whale spotting in New Zealand, exploring the ruins of Mexico and trying to capture the majesty of Niagara Falls and what it felt to go right up to the Falls in the “Maid of the Mist.” Travelling broadens your outlook and makes you realise how small and insignificant you are next to the awe-inspiring and beautiful planet we live on.

Travel writers like Pete McCarthy of “McCarthy’s Bar” and “The Road To McCarthy” and Bill Bryson both had a huge influence on me in the way I wish to capture my experiences. What I like about that duo is they are clearly very intelligent, curious and enthusiastic but also self-deprecating and witty. This style ensures repeat reading and over the years I have lost count of the times I have re-read their books.
And yes, I have to admit it. I am a compulsive reader. As soon as I can remember I have had a book in my hand. My parents told me that when I was a toddler I once held a book and pretended to be reading it!

I grew up on Robert Louis Stephenson, Walter Scott and Mark Twain: Lots of books about adventure and exploration, rites-of passage stories that all had a big impact on my imagination and personality. My Grandpa would tell me stories about his days as a soldier serving in India, Burma (he was awarded the Burma Star) and Egypt. He then spent most of the 1950s working at the mines in Africa and his stories of his exploits, the places, the people he met and the cultures that were introduced to him fascinated and captivated me, so from an early age I always wanted to try to emulate him or at least try to see as much of the world as possible. It also helped that he told me about pirates, smugglers and miners in Cornwall (where he lived) so when the family took a holiday and we visited our grandparents it was not long before my young imagination was fired up!

As for boxing? I have always had a passion for it. My father took me to a few amateur shows as a boy and in the 1980s when I was growing up Barry McGuigan’s fights were being beamed into every living room in the United Kingdom and Ireland and the night he won the world title was unforgettable. Needless to say the whole Cann household were on their collective feet that night cheering him on!
I like to keep up to date with the sport, but I am also fascinated by its history and have read countless autobiographies and books of fighters from the past. Many of them have been reviewed by me on my website in the “Books” section. I will continue to follow boxing and my thirst for information on its practitioners and characters involved in it will never be fully satisfied.

I have always been a film buff. My Dad took me to see a Star Wars double bill as a boy and I found myself totally immersed in the escapism, the sweeping music score, the special effects and the sheer spectacle of it all. From that moment on I have been totally hooked by films. Obviously your tastes evolve as you get older but I enjoy films from all genres and eras. For an emotional punch and powerful life journey I found “The Hurricane” to be a fascinating and moving biopic. But I also enjoy feel good comedies and am equally at home with the likes of “When Harry Met Sally” or “Groundhog Day.” I still find myself angered and appalled by the downbeat ending of “Easy Rider” and also enjoy the oldies from the 1940s and the bleaker films of the 1970s. Once you start to delve into things a little more there is a treasure trove of styles, themes and ideas to explore. So don’t just watch the Summer Blockbusters people! 
So films and books are a way to express so many things – you cannot watch a film or read a book passively, and I hope my reviews bring out my honest and heartfelt thoughts on them.

I must admit I don’t really have a daily routine as such. I can be laid back at times then burst into frenetic activity. Before my website existed I had boxes of unfinished projects and reviews that may have never seen the light of day had it not been for the World Wide Web! So you can blame my current and continuing work output on the internet!

JHT: What inspired you to become a critic?

I see myself as more of a “reviewer” than “critic” as I don’t gleefully take things apart like a lot of “critics” tend to do. One of my pet dislikes is people who delight in rubbishing someone’s hard work, casually dismissing it with no thought of what actually went into it. I like to be as fair as possible and even if I don’t like what I am reading or watching, I at least try to see what the writer or film director was attempting to communicate, then I will add constructive thoughts on how it could have been better (in my humble opinion). 
I remember writing a few reviews for my University magazine after some encouragement from a few friends. There was a gap of a few years until recently I launched my review website and here I am finally doing what I really love.

When I studied law, one of the tenets of natural justice was to "hear the other side" and I believe that this is the job of a reviewer. Try to think who the piece is aimed at? Who would like to read this book or see this film? What would appeal to them?

What do you do to relax?

I enjoy walking a lot as that usually clears my head as well as giving the body a good workout, so sometimes I walk in the surrounding countryside near my home other times I like to explore Dartmoor. I enjoy watching rugby, particularly the Exeter Chiefs so I go to as many games each season as I can. I am also a fan of boxing, especially its history so I watch and read up a lot on that. If I really need to unwind I listen to music and try to go somewhere else in my head. Otherwise I just enjoy catching up with friends and family.

Do you have any quirks or peculiar habits?

None that I am aware of but maybe my friends and family have noticed some?!! I can be a very compulsive person really getting into one subject or project. I have been told at times like these I am like a dog with a bone! I can be very laid back and then spring into action, an all or nothing person really.
I am always up for a laugh and don’t need much persuading to try new things. Going to Newquay with a football team all dressed as Morrismen and going to Ireland to watch a goat crowned King are two spontaneous events from my life that I enjoyed and are typical of me (both episodes can be found in the “Travel” section of my site.
Ultimately I have a light outlook and approach to life and believe that nowadays people put too much pressure and expectation on themselves to achieve and become “the next big thing” and forget to relax and step back and enjoy the more quirky, fun aspects of life. In this celebrity obsessed era a lot of people really beat themselves up if they are not seen to be achieving something. I don’t understand that. Life is to be celebrated and enjoyed and if you are not the best then you can still live vicariously through sports, film or music. Have your own goals pertinent to who you are and remember to have fun!

What is one “yet-to-do” item on your bucket list?

To write a novel or travel book of my own, and I still want to see more of the world. There will always be another project to do and another place to explore.


Now, to Greco’s Game. You describe the book as “emotional” and “gritty”. What scene(s) in particular struck you personally in that regard?

ight from the start the book pulls the rug from right under your feet when you discover Andrea, Aleksandr Talanov’s wife, anchor and love of his life is dead and he has hit rock bottom.

Lots of things hit home, Talanov is in a very bad place emotionally and physically but the prostitute he befriends through circumstance resonates well. Her story is such a painfully familiar one these days of someone who has nothing and is being manipulated by lies and false promises then drawn into a terrible situation.

“Greco’s Game” may be a suspense thriller but it is not a typical one, rather it highlights a very real contemporary problem: the plight of the many innocent and unwitting women who fall victim to human trafficking across the globe.

All I can say is when people read this they should expect their jaws to clench [and] their knuckles to go white. . .

There are many scenes in the novel that jar and hit you in the stomach. I don’t want to spoil it for other readers but let’s just say that by the time Talanov is aware of Larisa’s plight and decides to “get involved” you are willing him on to do as much damage to the network of criminals who are ruining so many lives as possible. He really is like a modern day knight who is going to do all he can to save and avenge the oppressed.

He is also dealing with grief, guilt and self-loathing. The novel is very raw in that respect and you can feel his fury and rage pulsing from the page. That made it more exciting for me as this is not a case of a cool, calm operative going about his job, but rather an angry and vulnerable man who wants answers and is willing to risk all to bring the wrongdoers to task. All I can say is when people read this they should expect their jaws to clench, their knuckles to go white and above all to think “Go get them!”

What was a favorite scene of yours from the book?

I enjoyed the exchanges between Talanov and his old friend Bill Wilcox. It is clear they have a friendship going back some years and it is one ray of sunshine that the otherwise pretty dark novel needed. James Bond had Felix Leiter, Sherlock Holmes had John Watson and Aleksandr Talanov has Bill Wilcox as his trusted friend and ally.
There is a lot going on here, Talanov can be contemplative and analytical and he can also be like a force of nature as he tears into the opposition, but there are some tender moments with Larisa and I think it is a case of two damaged souls coming together and helping each other which truly appeals.

Talanov can be contemplative and analytical, and he can also be like a force of nature as he tears into the opposition.

There is one scene in particular that is a favourite and it may surprise you Jim as it is not a frenetic action scene with your trademark chaos ensuing. I loved the scene where Talanov is stood with his arms folded across his chest, his hand thoughtfully stroking his chin whilst all around him are running around in total disarray unsure of what to do next. The US authorities mistrust him and are clearly reluctant to work with him and yet here he is standing in the middle of all that pressure and madness, the eye of the hurricane and yet he remains stoic and calm. The perfect example of why he was known as the “Ice Man” back in the day.

Sherlock Holmes had “deductive reasoning” and Talanov has “inverse logic” and any scene that illustrates his brain power is every bit as thrilling as the ones packed with action.

What do you like best about Aleksandr Talanov?

e is one of us. He does not belong to any organisation and is independent of any paymasters. He is not the establishment; rather he is a well-placed civilian who, thanks to his KGB background and training as well as his unrelenting physical fitness regime is an asset to whoever needs him. Although he is from the Cold War era and from a regime that did not celebrate the individual, he has very strong independent traits and personal beliefs. He is clearly for the “little guy” and despite being nicknamed “Ice Man” I don’t think he is as cold as we are sometimes led to believe!

What is interesting in the Talanov series is his interaction with others. You introduce so many colourful characters and I really enjoy how they bounce off him. They often provide the lighter flourishes that the novels have for some much needed humanity.

He is clearly for the “little guy”.  He is one of us.

I also find the idea of a hero in his fifties far more interesting and compelling than a superhuman, indestructible, twenty-something, programmed agent. Clearly Talanov is not your typical fifty-something as he has the conditioning of someone much younger, but it is his brainpower and experience as much as his physical ruggedness that makes him so effective. I prefer reading about fallible, vulnerable and more importantly believable characters and he is definitely one of them.

ny final comments about Greco’s Game?

As a child of the 1980s I can remember the last years of the Cold War and what it was like to live slap bang in the middle of two superpowers with vastly different ideologies as well as a frightening stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (we simply called them “nukes” in those days!) So to read about a hero (or anti-hero) that is not only from that era, but also an ex KGB agent now living in the West is fascinating.

I really enjoy reading James Bond and Jason Bourne novels but Talanov is not another clone, being Russian, albeit with Western tastes and ideology, he is perfectly placed to strike a balance between both cultures and provide added perspective. He has a very clinical and very Russian way of analysing and solving problems too which makes him very interesting and compelling.

. . . my jaw hit my chest.

If you enjoyed “Department Thirteen” and “The Identity Factor” you will really enjoy this one. I honestly did not see the scenario Talanov finds himself thrust in coming at all. I thought (and please don’t take offence at this Jim) that we would get another hectic espionage story where Talanov and his wife were having again to stay one step ahead of his past. So when I read that Andrea had been killed off right at the start my jaw hit my chest. A very bold and unexpected move!

I get the feeling that there are plenty more Talanov adventures to come with the surprises and unexpected turns coming thick and fast. Finally I believe one day we will say “that novel was “Turneresque”” rather than “Ludlumesque.”

Greco's Game is available NOW for pre-order!!! Just click the link below.
Official Greco's Game launch date: September 1st, 2012.
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