Jam-packed with action, an unforgettable cast of characters and peppered with dry humour, A Good Day to Die marks the arrival of a fresh and exciting new voice in thriller writing. Here Amen Alonge shares the influences behind his debut thriller.
I learned early on never to hesitate to say I don’t know when I don’t know, or I’m not sure when I’m not sure. But whenever I’m asked about my influences for A Good Day to Die, I feel obliged to give an answer. But I don’t know. So, a few months ago, when preparing for an interview where I thought the question would come up (and it did), I took some time to consider if A Good Day to Die was unknowingly influenced by the works of my favourite thriller authors – Lee Child, Martina Cole, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Stieg Larsson, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leanord, Robert Ludlum, Cormac McCarthy, and James Patterson. The answer was, and it remains, I don’t know.
I read a lot growing up, but I started reading thriller fiction relatively late – when I moved to London for university at 17 years old. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and my parents lived apart. My mum is very religious, so when I was with her, I read the bible – back-to-back, several times – and daily devotionals. My dad is very interested in politics, so when I was with him, I devoured non-fiction political books. I tried to figure out if A Good Day to Die was influenced by any of the books I read growing up, and as much as I’d love to say the bible influenced it, I’m not entirely sure about that.
So, I decided to ask the people around me if they saw any influences.
Mum hasn’t read the book yet (I’m so looking forward to that), but I spoke to her about the book, and without hesitation, she said, ‘Oh, sounds like a mix of your two favourite TV shows growing up – 24 and The Wire.’ I was stunned because the moment she said it, I could see it. A gritty crime thriller focusing on the drug trade with realistic portrayals of the characters and the society they exist in, and the unavoidable social commentary that comes with that, mixed with a frenetic pace akin to 24 as the narrative takes place in a day – as the name suggests. I was thrilled with that. And this is where I should mention that growing up in Lagos, I had the opportunity to watch any movie or TV show regardless of rating, and I watched everything. I still remember watching Killer Klowns from Outer Space when I was eight years old. Fun!
I asked a good friend who’s read A Good Day to Die, and he couldn’t come up with any books he felt were similar but said he’d described it to a friend as a gritty London-set Pulp Fiction. I was elated with that.
Then the endorsements started coming in. Trevor Wood thought the body count would make Tarantino blink. Oh yeah! William Shaw thought it evoked the spirit of Chester Himes, and I had to fight back tears because being put in the same sentence as Chester Himes is such an honour that was beyond my wildest dreams, and it let me know my social commentary hit the right notes. Plus, William Shaw said if UK Hip Hop was a book, it’d be A Good Day to Die. I was over the moon.
In a wonderful conversation with Paul Burke on the Crime Time podcast, Paul suggested A Good Day to Die had elements of Homer’s Odyssey as my protagonist is gone for a decade, assumed dead, but returns to settle the score. And a Fistful of Dollars, where a nameless protagonist’s appearance inflames the war to control a town. Those hadn’t crossed my mind, and I loved it. Especially because I watched the “Dollars Trilogy” as a child and loved it, and I believe the stories from ancient Greek, Roman, or African literature are the greatest stories of all.
To finish, I asked my wife, who’s read A Good Day to Die several times through several iterations, and she said it has a unique voice that will create its own space in the market. That was not my intention when writing it, but I agree. And I hope you do. Please enjoy! And let me know if you spot any other influences.