There’s only one conspiracy theory: Something is going on that I don’t know about. And the natural human response to this is to develop a more specific theory which says: Something is going on that most people don’t know about, but I do, and it explains everything, so there. Virtually all humankind’s conceptual thought boils down to something like this--Gnosticism, UFOs, 9/11, life after death, JFK, witches, religion, myth, and legend in general. And [it] is most simply enshrined in the notion that God moves in mysterious ways. “Conspiracy” is an attempt to inductively solve life’s oddities and mysteries, to put the theorist in a position of power through allowing him or her to peek behind the veils, and thus to resolve the anxiety of feeling ignorant or confused. So I don’t really have any “favorite three.” My enjoyment instead comes in seeing how they work together, representing different facets of the same crystal, especially if they give some fresh (albeit usually plain wrong) way of understanding the world.I have to smile now, for despite Marshall’s quick dismissal of any conspiracy surrounding the August 31, 1997, car crash that killed Diana (together with Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul) in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, just such a scheme lies at the heart of an astonishing and audacious debut novel, The Accident Man, written by an elusive figure, “Tom Cain,” and being readied for publication in the UK by Bantam Press/Transworld this coming July.
I’ll tell you my least favorite, [though,] which is the death of Diana [Princess of Wales]. There was no conspiracy there--her driver was simply going too fast, and the British public was dying to wallow in mawkish tabloid grief for a while. Frankly, I don’t care anyway. Her death is of real import to her family and friends only, and that’s the way it should be. Any other interest is intrusive. Plus, to be honest, I found her really annoying.
Why do I signal an eyebrow raising in reference to Mr. Cain’s identity? Because he and The Accident Man have been kept on the hush-hush. Until now.
Transworld has apparently been excited about this book for a long time. But suspicions of something odd afoot, as regards its author, were raised at the beginning of April, after a British freelance journalist named David Thomas published a lengthy profile of Lee Child (Bad Luck and Trouble) in the London Sunday Telegraph. Early on in that piece, Thomas remarks:
But then, I love thrillers. In fact, I love them so much, I just wrote one. Like so many thriller writers, including Child, James Patterson and Joseph Kanon, and even Dan Brown, I came to thriller writing in middle-age. It seems to be a job that calls for experience. But it’s the best mid-life pick-me-up one can imagine.Sarah Weinman suggested the link between Thomas and Cain in her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. But when, later, I had dinner with Patsy Irwin, director of publicity for Transworld, she laughed and told me that the book I was inquiring about had been embargoed, but that it centered on a fictional look at the death of Princess Diana and the conspiracy theories surrounding that now decade-old tragedy. Patsy added that she would send me a proof copy of the book as soon as possible, but that I was still not allowed to talk about it. She also told me that Tom Cain might or might not be the journalist who’d penned that Child story (among others).
My book comes out this summer. Sadly, I can’t reveal what it’s called or what it’s about, or even the name under which I’ve written it. My publishers have forbidden me. The whole thing has to stay under wraps until the marketing campaign--the posters, the miles of supermarket book shelves, the full media blitz--gets under way in June.
Subsequently, I discovered that Mr. Cain had set up a blog, in which he thanks the people who’ve already managed to get their hands on copies of The Accident Man for their comments, and then confirms rumors that Paramount Pictures is interested in adapting his novel for the silver screen:
The movie contract for The Accident Man arrived in my in-box a few days ago. It’s very exciting, just what every author dreams about. But sadly (for me at any rate), I won’t be ordering the Ferrari or the private jet just yet.More on a possible movie deal came from the Web site of his literary agent, as did this note about the author’s identity:
As anyone who’s ever sold a book to Hollywood knows, it’s not half as glamorous as you dream it might be. For a start, the chances of a film being made are about 100-1 against. So the overwhelming odds are that the most I will ever receive is a modest option-fee. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because it’s when the film gets made that Hollywood studios really get tough.
Tom Cain is the pseudonym of an award-winning journalist with twenty-five years’ experience working at Fleet Street newspapers, as well as for major magazines in Britain and the US.Then finally, last weekend I discovered a copy of The Accident Man waiting for me at home. I’d just returned from another busy week of reviewing books (and writing my own), networking with agents and other writers, and--not incidentally--meeting the demands of my day job. And there, sitting on the doorstep, was the novel I had been told would be “THE big summer thriller of 2007.” Ignoring all the other titles awaiting my attention, I took Accident Man in hand immediately, sat in my front garden, with the sun shining and a cold beer nearby, and read Cain’s book cover to cover. My thoughts can be summed up in one word:
Although he has edited four magazines, published over a dozen books, written film-scripts and been translated into some twenty languages, this is his first thriller.
The novel’s plot, though, cannot be summed up so easily. It starts out mid-action, introducing the mysterious Samuel Carver, who we learn is an ex-military man, British Special Forces if you will, employed on a contractor basis to set-up “accidents” for “enemies of the state,” people who can’t be dealt with through diplomacy and normal police methods--i.e., “drug dealers, terrorists and other scumbags.” It is Carver’s job here to sabotage a helicopter owned by an East European people-smuggler and gangster. Carver has rules: he only arranges accidents for the guilty. So he feels pangs of guilt for doing in the helicopter pilot along with the rest, but his masters/handlers manage to rationalize his turmoil, saying that what he’s doing is for the greater good.
After the copter crash, Carver heads off to his fortress of solitude in New Zealand, comforted by the knowledge that a huge sum of money has been wired to his secret bank account. We learn that his retreat in New Zealand completely cuts him off from civilization. It’s a place to escape the horrors of what he does for a living.
But Carver is still settling into relaxation mode, when he’s asked--no, told--to return to Europe and take another job. This time, he’s supposed to eliminate a Middle Eastern powerbroker who is visiting Paris with his girlfriend. Again, Carver says he doesn’t want to take out the woman in the process, but he’s told that his powerbroker target is funding a group of Islamic terrorists, and that an atrocity in England is mere days away--unless he can arrange a convenient accident in the City of Light. The girlfriend is acceptable collateral damage. Before you can say “sayonara, baby,” Carver is on an airplane back to France. Due to the gravity of his assignment, Carver rigs up his target’s apartment with explosives, just in case his accident misfires. And the accident Carver has arranged? He’s going to follow the couple in their limousine and cause their car to crash in an underground tunnel. Sound familiar?
Anyway, this accident goes according to plan. But what Carver doesn’t realize is that a Russian hit squad is tailing the limo, as well--only their target is Carver, not the powerbroker. Leading that mission is a Russian brute named Grigori Kursk, accompanied by the glamorous Alix Petrova. What the Russians didn’t bank on, however, was Carver’s resilience. In the course of a chase and battle through the sewers under Paris, Cain’s protagonist dispatches Kursk in a slurry of explosives--or so he thinks--and then escapes with the lovely Alix. Yet Carver, who kills several British agents in order to flee, soon realizes that he’s been set up in this exchange. The target was not some unknown panjandrum and his anonymous lover, Carver realizes as the media report feverishly on the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed in that same Paris tunnel.
Carver is crushed. Everything he held to be true has been turned on its head, and he can trust no one. Maybe not even Alix, who in a former life worked for the Russian intelligence services as a “honey-trap” agent. Whose side is she on now?
At this point, The Accident Man becomes a tale of pursuit and deception, with both the British Secret Service and the late Kursk’s overlords hunting for Carver and Alix. Leading the trail, though, is a French freelancer called Papin, who--after realizing where the couple are bound--demands of the British Secret Service a cool half million pounds in exchange for Carver and Alix’s whereabouts. Obviously, Papin has not read Thomas Harris’ Hannibal, or he’d know that--as was proven by Italian detective Renaldo Pazzi--selling the location of a wanted man can come at a steep price. For a hunted animal is the most dangerous kind.
As Cain’s story is measured out, chapter by chapter, Carver finds that he’s enraged at having been tasked to kill “the people’s princess” and her lover. But he also has to ask himself, why? What purpose was served by that assassination? This is just one of many mysteries The Accident Man presents, as Carver and Alix share their life stories (which don’t always hang true), and as the Russians and the British work through their agendas (which don’t always jibe with one another). And all the while, Carver brings into play his deadly tradecraft, along with his money and numerous contacts. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this battle is going to get very, very dirty before a resolution is achieved.
The Accident Man is slicker than an oil spill. It attracts with its sensual women, dark villains, and the well-choreographed cutting back and forth between action sequences. But the novel also boasts an obvious understanding of and feeling for humanity, for people trapped by the bonds of economics and the relentless influence of human nature. Cain’s novel harks back, too, to the conventions of the “Golden Age of Thrillers,” and I just loved the fight and flight across Europe, Ian Fleming-style, with a balance of the high life and the recognition of death lying just a trigger-pull away.
For once, all the publicity hype was right: The Accident Man is one of the fastest-paced thrillers I’ve read in an age. It reminded me why I read: to be thrilled, to travel to dangerous places far from the comfort of my overstuffed armchair, and also to learn a little more about how the world works--or doesn’t work. Sometimes only fiction can offer those opportunities.
So excited was I after reading Tom Cain’s debut, that I dialed up Patsy Irwin at Transworld and asked her to put me in touch with the enigmatic author. What comes of that--and a photo of Cain himself--will be featured in Part II of my report.
(The second part of Ali Karim’s report on Tom Cain and The Accident Man can be found here.)
READ MORE: “B2b Meets ... Tom Cain” (Booktrade.info).