Third Degree: Zoë Sharp, creator of the Charlie Fox thrillers

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel when she was 15. It was not until 2001, however, after she had tried her hand at jobs ranging from van driver to newspaper ad sales to motoring correspondent, that she finally publisher her breakout Charlie Fox novel Killer Instinct. Fox, the self-defence instructor with a shady military background, has proved hugely popular with readers through nine novels and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. We brought Zoë in for questioning to see who she would like to see playing Charlie on screen, and what TV shows tick the right boxes for her…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
First of all, I should declare that I don’t have ‘proper’ telly. My TV set is just a monitor connected to a DVD player, so in order to watch something I have to have heard enough good reports to go out and buy the series on DVD. There have been quite a few I’ve bought and either watched one series but not been inspired to rush back for the rest, or that I’ve given up on part-way through.

I suppose of recent stuff it has to be Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role as the modern-day Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson. I enjoyed the stylish series about professional con artists, Hustle, and going back years I used to be a huge fan of The Professionals. I also thought The Fixer with Andrew Buchan as government-sanctioned assassin John Mercer, and Vincent with Ray Winstone as the titular private detective, were both very good, but only lasted two short seasons. I LOVED the adaptations the BBC did of three Lord Peter Wimsey stories in the 1980s (which I re-watched recently) with Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock. Pic: BBC

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles vie for the top spot, along with Human Target, about ex-assassin turned protector Christopher Chance. The original CSI is always entertaining, although I giggle at the procedure. [That’s what I refer to as ‘CSI Classic’ (Las Vegas) rather than ‘CSI Lite’ (Miami) or ‘CSI Dark’ (New York)] I’m currently watching the second series of Lie To Me with Tim Roth as Dr Cal Lightman, human lie-detector, which is pretty good, but is it strictly crime? Oh, and I saw the first series of Justified about US Marshal Raylan Givens with Timothy Olyphant—excellent stuff!

Of made-for-TV movies – do they count? – the best has to be the Jesse Stone adaptations of Robert B Parker’s series about the police chief of small New England town Paradise, with Tom Selleck in the title role. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored, and acted with superb understated skill, although only the first few were scripted by Parker himself and I think you can really tell when someone else takes over.
Top TV cop?
Hmm, got to be Sherlock Holmes again, I think, in any of his incarnations. I used to watch reruns of the old black-and-white Basil Rathbone versions, although Nigel Bruce played Watson as such a bumbler. The Jeremy Brett series was excellent, but the current modern setting is extremely well done.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Quintin Jardine’s series about tough Edinburgh cop Bob Skinner is one of my favourites. Or JD Robb’s futuristic series about New York detective Lt Eve Dallas. (Because I guess I’m not allowed to nominate my own Charlie Fox series, although it was optioned by Twentieth-Century Fox TV…?)

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
I’d love the British actress who narrates my UK audiobook versions to be considered—Clare Corbett. I’ve really got used to hearing her voice as Charlie. But I thought Natalie Tena (Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter films) would be excellent, or Kate Beckinsale (particularly liked her in the Underworld films). And I recently saw Haywire with mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano in her first movie role, and she would kick some serious arse as Charlie. But the truth is, because the books are written in first-person—and therefore I look out through Charlie’s eyes all the time—I see the other characters in more detail than my main protagonist. I always describe her fairly lightly, so readers can picture her inside their own minds.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?
The first couple of series of Ultimate Force about an SAS troop, with Ross Kemp, Tony Curran, and Jamie Draven. Didn’t like the later couple of series as much when they’d had big cast changes. It’s incredibly macho-macho, but fun as well. Never been into typically girlie TV, I’m afraid—Sex and the City and Friends largely passed me by.

Least favourite cop show/thriller? I grew up absolutely loving the Leslie Charteris books about Simon Templar, The Saint, but I couldn’t even finish sitting through the dreadful Val Kilmer movie version a few years ago. Such a disappointment. I wasn’t even a big fan of the Roger Moore or Ian Ogilvy TV versions from the 1960s and 1070s. The original books were written and set in the 1930s. It would be very cool to see a period adaptation, one that stuck closer to the original criminal ethos of the character rather than making him into a somewhat wet private detective.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?
Dreadful admission time—I haven’t watched enough of either series to form an opinion.

David Suchet as Poirot. Pic ITV

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?
Definitely Holmes, I’m afraid, although I find the David Suchet version of Poirot slightly more watchable than Miss Marple.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Not watched either <gulp>. Which do you recommend? Actually, I recently saw part of the Swedish-language version of the first of the Stieg Larsson trilogy and found that after a while I was making sense of the language in little snatches, so if I was going to take a flyer on one or the other, I’d try the Swedish version I think.

US or British television crime dramas?
I like both. As long as the scripts are good and they’re well acted, who cares? At the moment there are probably far more US crime dramas I watch enough to buy the series on DVD, rather than UK. Not sure why that should be…

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Ooh, how long have you got? In no particular order: Lee Child, Robert B Parker, Quintin Jardine, JD Robb, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben, John Connolly, Clive Cussler, Dick Francis, CJ Ellisson, Matt Reilly, Timothy Hallinan, Brett Battles, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Lee Goldberg, Blake Crouch, PD Martin, Alexandra Sokoloff, SJ Rozan, Ken Bruen, Terry Pratchett, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers (with or without Jill Paton Walsh) …

Best new crime author to look out for?
Probably Bruce DeSilva. I just read an ARC of his second novel, Cliff Walk, a follow-up to his award-winning debut, Rogue Island, and he has a terrific style, and a great eye for character and ear for dialogue.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
I think I’d go for Dan Walsh, a Mancunian motorcycle journalist who wrote a brilliant book about his travels on two wheels around Africa and South America called These Are the Days that Must Happen to You. He’s a prose-poet, just brilliant.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Again, there are a few, including those Jesse Stone TV movie adaptations I already mentioned. Front and centre is Ronin with Robert Di Niro, superbly directed by John Frankenheimer. That movie also has one of the best director’s commentaries I’ve ever listened to. Under Siege is still one of my favourites, too, plus Heat, The Usual Suspects, Inside Man, and True Lies. Some movies you watch once and go, ‘Well, I’ve seen that now, I don’t need to see it again.’ And others become perennial favourites—comfort movies you put on when it’s raining outside and you’re feeling a bit below par, because you know you’re going to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
If I needed someone to prove it wasn’t me, I’d call on Sherlock Holmes, but if I needed someone to come and bust me out of jail, it would have to be Jack Reacher.

• Zoë’s latest Charlie Fox thriller is Fifth Victim (UK paperback, left, due 30 July; US hardback, right, is already out). While the life of her lover, Sean, hangs in the balance, Charlie throws herself into work protecting wild child Caroline, the daughter of a rich businessman, whose thrill-seeking threatens to put her and Charlie in danger…

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  1. Eh, that poor lass doesn’t have a proper telly. Shall we have a whip round?

  2. Thanks, Paul, but actually I’m quite happy as I am, ta. At least when I get to watch stuff, there are no adverts to get in the way 🙂

  3. Yeah, I watch everything on my lap top. Fits snug under the multitude of chins!

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