This is a transcript of Recommended Season 5 Episode 10.
You’re listening to Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. From childhood favorites to classics, to new and forthcoming reads, you’ll hear how the people who make books happen have been influenced by the ones they’ve read.
Today, Garth Nix chose The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia chose The Hot Spot by Charles Williams.
Garth Nix’s books have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, the Guardian, and the Australian, and his work has been translated in forty-two languages. His books include the award-winning fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen; Clariel, a prequel in the Abhorsen series; the cult favorite teen science fiction novel Shade’s Children; and his critically acclaimed collection of short stories, To Hold the Bridge. His fantasy novels for younger readers include The Ragwitch, the six books of the Seventh Tower sequence, the Keys to the Kingdom series, and A Confusion of Princes. His new fantasy novel, Angel Mage, takes place in an alternate European world ruled by fearsome magic and deadly passions.
My name is Garth Nix and The Three Musketeers is my recommended.
The Three Musketeers is the story of a young man d’Artagnan who goes to Paris in the early 17th century during the reign of King Louis the 13th to make his name and fortune as a musketeer, which his father was before him. Unfortunately he is denied joining the Musketeers initially, but he makes friends with three Musketeers. So d’Artagnan joins Athos, Porthos and Aramis. And the four of them have a number of adventures involving the plots of Cardinal Richelieu against the Queen via supporters of the queen and the King. In the process d’Artagnan has a love affair as well, and he does make his name and become a Musketeer.
I think my first actual knowledge of the book was in a children’s magazine, a British children’s magazine called Look and Learn, which was an illustrated, highly illustrated magazine, that I absolutely loved because it had these tremendous illustrations and often cartoons and even a very early graphic novel in each issue. And I think that’s where I first saw The Three Musketeers reduced to two pages with wonderful illustrations. And I then sought out the book and read it, and I would’ve been probably only nine or 10. And it is an adult book and the text is moderately dense, I guess. It does depend very much on the translation I should point out. And it’s worth seeking out a translation that captures some of the humor of the original. There’s a very good one, probably my favorite, is one translated by an American called Lowell Bair, B-A-I-R, and it’s published by Random House from memory. So that’s a very good translation. It’s still keeps a lot of the humor.
And so I read The Three Musketeers and I loved it just as much in its more complex novel form as I did in those two pages with pictures.
Also there are sequels to The Three Musketeers which are less satisfying unfortunately, but there’s a number of sequels including Twenty Years After, which is 20 years after The Three Musketeers. In some ways it’s less satisfying because d’Artagnan at that point is not happy. He is a Lieutenant of the Musketeers, but he’s stayed that way for 20 years and he still has higher ambitions. And the characters of other three Musketeers are not quite what they were in the original, in the first book in a way that sequels can sometimes not satisfy the love of the first book.
It’s also very much colored by my love of my favorite film adaptations of the books, which are the 1970s films directed by Richard Lester. It’s probably most famous because he directed A Hard Day’s Night with The Beatles. That’s one of his most famous films, but he had quite a number of others. But I particularly love his two films he made from The Three Musketeers, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.
But I really, I love those films and they have a wonderful cast. And I think I’m influenced by the actors portraying the characters as well as the characters themselves. And so probably my favorite … Kind of sadly because my favorite is probably Athos, who’s played by Oliver Reed in The Three Musketeers. Now Oliver Reed was not a nice man unfortunately and an alcoholic, so the two often combined. So I have to sort of separate that, Oliver Reed as a person and the portrayal of Athos’s by Oliver Reed, is something gruelly attractive about the character who has been betrayed, holds a grudge, sort of tries to lose himself from his noble origins as a Musketeer, but they still sort of shine through. And in the book that’s definitely true and he’s looked up to by all the others, even though d’Artagnan does end up being the leader by default.
It’s a fascinating adventure. It probably appeals to me in the same way that very successful fantasy does because it creates a world which I find very interesting. In this case, it is an historical world which has a lot of basis in fact, though some liberties have been taken, and even by Dumas who was writing only 200 years later, and taking some liberties with various aspects of the history.
But it creates a whole world that you can go into and it’s a world of an adventure and dare and do. And very clever wit, and all of these things just combining together in a great story, or actually a number of great stories within The Three Musketeers. Because there’s a whole sort of series of adventures that intertwine which are concerned with the machinations of the Cardinal against the Queen, the Queen’s love affair with the Duke of Buckingham, the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham, the King being not too bright and being manipulated by the Cardinal and the Musketeers involved in all of this.
I’ve re-read Dumas off and on every few years. I guess I might not read The Three Musketeers but I’ll read one of his. But I did in fact read The Three Musketeers relatively recently because it is a major source of inspiration for my new book, Angel Mage. Which, it’s not a retelling of The Three Musketeers but it’s very much inspired by that world and that story.
Most of the people I would probably try to recommend The Three Musketeers to would have already read it, which is a drawback with a very well-known book. You can’t have the delight of discovering something and passing it on to other readers and be pleased that you shared something new and exciting that they’ve never heard of. But I guess when I’m talking about a book, I’m trying to recommend a book to someone, I will normally think of something within the book that would particularly appeal to them. I wouldn’t necessarily try and sell it on whatever everyone else … how it’s being sold in general or how it’s being described.
And Dumas is a master storyteller so that’s a good one to read, even though some of the actual literary technique within the book would be seen as a bit out-of-date these days. Perhaps some of the construction would typically not be done these days, particularly some very long descriptions and so on. Which you find 19th century novelists doing, you possibly wouldn’t do, depending on what you were writing. But it would certainly, having read them, knowing how to use them, is very helpful. But I think the main thing with Dumas is that he would just invent a great story and one that’s resonated through the years, and has been such a strong story that people had wanted to retell it in different forms, in so many film adaptations, on radio, on television. And lots of books inspired by The Three Musketeers. So I think a great storyteller is always worth reading. You might not even know what you’re getting from it, but I’m sure there’s something being transmitted.
I think the characters are very human. Whether those characters were Musketeers or they were contemporary soldiers, I think a lot of the basic human character is the same. There’s a lot of the same concerns about power and the wielding of power and personal responsibility and the conniving and plotting, I think is all … They’re all still things people do, just whether it’s in the trappings of a 17th century court or it’s a 2019 political scene. All of that is much the same. All these things still go on. So I think there’s a universal appeal in terms of, these feel like real people. They feel like real people and you certainly get the sense of the setting having been real, the history being real.
And so I think anyone who reads it will also just be drawn into the adventure of it, so it’s a great adventure story. It’s got people who feel real, doing things that actually matter to them, that have great stakes. All those things are still with us. Everything else is kind of window dressing that you could probably let pass you by and you’d still get the sense of the story. Depending how you read, I mean, people read in different ways. Someone who was concentrating on every word and really reading it very slowly and wasn’t caught up by the adventure, might find it dated. But I think anyone who just jumped in there and went along for the ride and wanted to be with the Musketeers and wanted to be part of it, would just be swept away by a really great story.
That was Garth Nix, recommending The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. His novel Angel Mage, published by Katherine Tegen Books, is available wherever books are sold! You can follow him on Twitter at garthnix, that’s g a r t h n i x.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones, and the science fiction novella Prime Meridian. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award–winning She Walks in Shadows (aka Cthulhu’s Daughters). Her most recent novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, follows a young woman sent by the Mayan god of death on a harrowing, life-changing journey through Jazz-Age Mexico. Her upcoming novels include the eerie Mexican Gothic and the domestic noir Untamed Shore.
My name is Silvia Moreno Garcia and my recommended is The Hot Spot originally titled Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams.
So the Hot Spot is a 1950s noir. It was actually released under the title Hell Hath No Fury back in the day. And it’s the story of a drifter called Harry Maddox who goes into a town, gets a job selling cars, and then he gets the idea that he could commit a crime. And, uh, basically rob a bank, but at the same time that he’s planning those bank robbery, he becomes involved with two very different women. Gloria, who is a coworker and kind of a good girl in town, but who hides a dark secret, and Dolly who is the sultry wife of his new boss.
I found the Hot Spot because they actually made a movie in 1990 starring Virginia Madsen and Don Johnson and Jennifer Connelly. Um, and I saw it on TV one time and I just thought it was an amazing film, a great neo-noir, uh, had a lot of atmosphere. And it said, you know, in the credits that it was based on the novel by Charles Williams, Hell Hath No Fury. So I went looking for it. And what happened was that it was basically impossible to find.
So it became a story about, um, me looking for this mysterious book that was out of print. And eventually I found it and it turned out that the film is a perfect visual representation of this book, which is this old fashioned noir. Everything feels hot and steamy, and it’s this tiny town and it’s full of secrets and deceit. And it was just this perfect, lovely a crime book, crime thriller that had been lost to the mists of time.
It’s an excellent film and it reproduces all of the elements of the book perfectly onscreen. It’s not a very long book, so it, it doesn’t really change much, but it’s just perfectly all streamlined and beautiful and beautiful to watch and it, and it maintains just that amazing prose, that dialogue that Charles Williams has, um, in the novel really brings all the characters to life on screen. So it’s just an amazing visual experience. But again, Just like the novel, um, the movie is incredibly difficult to find. Um, and the novel is now easier because a few years ago they rereleased, uh, I think a lot of Charles Williams, uh, catalog in ebook form, which is how I eventually ended up reading the book, was getting it in ebook form. Um, but it was a big treasure hunt for, for a long time and Charles Williams has a very interesting story of, of why it’s very hard to find him.
So, um, in the introduction to one of his books by Rick Alderman or the introduction is titled “Charles Williams, the best known unknown paperback original.”
He says that Williams’s agent Don Congdon, who also represented Ray Bradbury and Jack Feeney, said that Williams was just a hard luck kind of guy and he never really made it. Um, he just couldn’t, you know, we would now say ‘break out’ I guess.
And well, he was a paperback writer. That’s, that’s how he made his living. And paperbacks began to fall out of fashion in the 1960s. The ones that he wrote and people were now into detective stories, but series stories, so, you know, volume five over there, whatever series and Williams didn’t write that kind of stuff. Um, so he eventually, um, stopped writing. I think because nobody wanted his stuff anymore and he commits suicide sometimes in the night in the early 1970s, I think after his wife dies and he’s been dealing with depression for a really long time. And then Williams just goes out of print for decades. So that by the 2000s, you can’t find any of his books in any kind of bookstore. And still nowadays, like I said, now they’re available through this small company in ebook form, but he has not had kind of the, uh, re-release and the wide, uh, re-appreciation that some other writers of that time period have had. So he is, uh, I called him, yeah, the best unknown noir writer, um, of the 1950s that everybody who knows noir knows, because the saying is that Charles Williams could not write a bad book.
It’s his prose and it’s also that Williams plays very well with all the noir tropes. So there’s all these elements that with any other writer, they would seem kind of usual, you know, like expected and and that kind of thing. But Williams just brings a certain zest to the, to the whole story. So you’ve got everything that you’re anticipating in a noir that you want in a noir, but you’re not bored because he is just, um, make pumping it up and making, making it exciting. There’s just something spicy and really and really cool about them.
I love noir and now I’m writing crime fiction. So definitely I am writing what I call now, you know, Neo noirs or domestic noirs or whatever. People are calling them these days. Um, then are just, has this really long history in Latin America. Um, Telovela Negra started in the kind of 1980s, and it really is the only genre fiction that we had in, in Mexico growing up. There was no science fiction category or fantasy category or even horror category from local, from the local production of authors. But there was this, um, boom of Latin American authors that starting writing crime fiction around that time and it has continued. So it is something that I think we understand very easily in, in Latin America and that we really like a lot probably because a lot of the themes can be ported out and including things, you know, like not only the crime but also the corruption and um, and a lot of the, a lot of these things from that don’t port very well to other cultures.
I think they do port to us very easily. It also allows you to do a lot of political commentary, which doesn’t sound very usual, but it happens a lot in the crime writing of, of Latin American writers. So yeah, I love noirs and, and I really liked the very old fashioned ones like this from the 1950s kind of kind of like the original ones where everything is is beginning, just because you can see very clearly where tropes and ideas come from. And later on sometimes it’s very hard to distinguish that because things have mutated but you can really see it quite clearly more or less what’s the origin of, of this species and in these kinds of books.
I don’t recommend a lot of things to anybody. Um, I’m afraid I, you know, I kind of review books sometimes for NPR and, uh, and I am going to be doing a book column recommendation for somebody else soon, but I don’t have a lot of conversations with people about books, although that, it may sound odd for a writer, but no, it’s not something that I, that I talk about very often. Um, I have, uh, mentioned it to the people that I know who like more and crime writing and I think none of them have recognized, uh, who this writer is. They’ve gone like, Oh, okay, who was that? And then they were like, Oh yeah, I heard about him. So, um, so it’s that kind of stuff. But I, I generally, yeah, I kind of tend to stay away from a lot of conversations. I’m a very solitary person.
I think if you’ve never read, uh, 1950s noir, um, any of Charles Williams books are a good introduction to that time period. And that kind of writing, but Hell Hath No Fury/ The Hot Spot is, would be really my, my first choice for you. Um, and then if not, there’s Dead Calm. Um, I think that’s what the title is, which is kind of like this thriller about aboard a boat. Uh, and, uh, and he and Charles Williams wrote several kind of boat books too. So if you’ve ever kind of been interested in exploring that kind of thing or you’re wondering where tropes come from, um, Charles Williams is, you know, an excellent choice and you will look very mm intelligent, you know, erudite if you mentioned it to any other newer writer and you can feel superior to them by being like, Oh, I read him. Yes, of course. And, you know, and, and I do hope that at some point there is a revival and uh, his books get released in really nice editions. Um, that would be very exciting for me. Um, so that’s also why I’m talking about him, to kind of maybe force the needle and get some, you know, nice, elegant editions of his books out that I can keep.
That was Silvia Moreno-Garcia, recommending The Hot Spot by Charles Williams. Her novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, published by Del Rey, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at silviamg, that’s s i l v i a m g.
Many thanks to Garth Nix and Silvia Moreno-Garcia for joining us and sharing some favorites.
Thanks also go out to our sponsors for making today’s episode possible. If you’re enjoying the show, please do drop by on Apple Podcasts to leave us a rating or a review. We’re always happy to see the feedback, and reviews help other bookish listeners find our show. You can find shownotes, including titles mentioned, at Bookriot.com/recommended, and you can email us feedback, personal favorites, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.