Cartwright, Justin 1945- (Suzy Crispin, Penny Sutton)

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Cartwright, Justin 1945- (Suzy Crispin, Penny Sutton)


Born 1945, in South Africa; father a newspaper editor; married (special-needs teacher); children: two sons. Education: Attended Oxford University.


Home—London, England. Agent—Peters, Fraser & Dunlop Ltd., Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Author. Has worked in advertising in London, England, as a political party broadcast director for the SDP/Liberal Alliance, and as a filmmaker.


Booker Prize nomination, Book Trust, and Whitbread Prize shortlist, both 1995, and Commonwealth Writer's Prize, 1996, for In Every Face I Meet; Whitbread Prize for fiction, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1998, for Leading the Cheers; Whitbread Prize nomination for best novel, 2002, for White Lightning; Hawthornden Prize and Sunday Times of South Africa Prize, both 2005, both for The Promise of Happiness; M-Net Award (South Africa).


Fighting Men (based on an original script by Brian Clemens), A. Barker (London, England), 1977.

The Revenge (novel), Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1978.

The Horse of Darius (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1980.

Freedom for the Wolves (novel), Hamilton (Clinton, NY), 1983.

Interior (novel), Hamilton (Clinton, NY), 1988.

Look at It This Way (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY) 1990.

Masai Dreaming (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY) 1993.

In Every Face I Meet, Sceptre (London, England), 1995.

Not Yet Home, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1996.

Leading the Cheers (novel), Carroll & Graf (London, England), 1999.

Half in Love (novel), Sceptre (London, England), 2001.

White Lightning, Sceptre (London, England), 2002.

The Promise of Happiness (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

The Song before It Is Sung (novel), Bloomsbury USA (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of works under pseudonyms Suzy Crispin and Penny Sutton.


Film rights to The Horse of Darius have been purchased.


Justin Cartwright's writings include suspenseful adventure novels and satiric works. Even as his work evolves, he "continues to earn praise as one of the finest writers working in the English language," commented Nora Seton in the Houston Chronicle. One of Cartwright's earliest books, The Revenge, details the plans of a former U.S. president, referred to only as "The Old Man" but identified by critics as Richard Nixon, who tries to have a presidential candidate assassinated. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "a tight and knotty little suspenser bristling with edgy detail and chillingly impassive ruthlessness," and "a grittily satisfying package." Barbara A. Bannon, writing in Publishers Weekly, noted that The Revenge has "some moments of considerable drama," and a Booklist critic found the book "beautifully plotted and well written."

Cartwright's next novel, The Horse of Darius, also concerns an assassination attempt. The target is the Shah of Iran, who is endangered by two potential killers while he vacations in Saint-Moritz, a resort in Switzerland. A Booklist contributor called the plot of The Horse of Darius "innovative," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Cartwright "is such a skilled storyteller that he keeps the reader intrigued right to the end."

"As a talented, popular novelist's first effort at a work of higher literary art, Interior is impressive," wrote Christian Science Monitor contributor Carl Wood. After Freedom for the Wolves, Interior is Cartwright's second novel to be set in the place of his birth, South Africa. The English narrator, James, is the son of Lance P. Curtiz, an explorer who vanished, supposedly the victim of drowning, in the West African republic of Banguniland thirty years before the novel begins. James travels to the interior of the region, where his father is rumored to still live, in an attempt to determine the true cause of his father's disappearance. Cartwright employs a humorous, satiric style in Interior, which critics have compared to the works of English novelists Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Wood noted Cartwright's achievement by saying that "his striking descriptions and asides reveal Cartwright as a talented stylist with an intimate knowledge of Africa, England, and the United States, and a provocative, philosophical bent."

"It is a measure of … Cartwright's skill as a stylist that the ripping good West African adventure story that makes up the bulk of Interior is only minimally interfered with by Cartwright's leisurely pace and his essaylike chatty asides," remarked Richard Lipez in the Washington Post. Listener reviewer Peter Parker wrote: "The landscape is wonderfully present throughout…. This is a coolly ironic, intelligently reflective and beautifully written book." Christopher Hawtree, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that "Cartwright has the ability to achieve the effects he desires, conscious all the while of his limitations." Reviewing Interior in Tribune Books, John Manchip White commented: "Cartwright's plot tends to veer around a little, but he more than makes up for this by the excellence of his characterization. He is as successful with his major characters … as he is with a host of minor ones." White concluded: "If you like British humor, you will love this novel."

Cartwright's Masai Dreaming was well received by critics. The novel centers on journalist Tim Curtiz, who is touring Africa for background on a screenplay he is writing about Claudia Cohn-Casson, an anthropologist who was researching the Masai in Africa and who was later sent with her family to Auschwitz. A Publishers Weekly critic felt that past and present time periods flowed seamlessly in the novel, "like a movie that unreels, dreamlike, before the spellbound spectator." George Needham wrote in Booklist that Masai Dreaming was a "fascinating, multitextured novel."

Cartwright's next novel, Leading the Cheers, centers on American expatriate Dan Silas, who is returning to Hollybush, Michigan, from London to deliver the keynote speech for his thirty-year high school reunion. There he is told that he long ago fathered a child with his high school girlfriend, and that his now-grown daughter has recently been murdered by a serial killer. He also meets up with an old friend, Gary, who has come to believe himself a nineteenth-century Native American. Critical reaction to the novel was mixed. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, arguing that the novel will not be as readily accepted in North America as it was in the United Kingdom, found that the themes of the work "bespeak an author's contempt for the overfed flipside of American generosity rather than a damaged expatriate's uneasy reunion with people he once deeply loved." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Valerie Sayers termed Cartwright "an ingenious writer who offers up complicated plots filled with gorgeous sentences and icy observations." Sayers noted Cartwright's strategy in Leading the Cheers was finding similarities between the cliquishness of high school and the Native American tribal ethos, calling it "a nervy move," but felt that "Cartwright's Indians, who seek a balance between the land and its people, come off as heroes." Booklist reviewer Eric Robbins observed that the novel illustrates that the past is not always what one perceives it to be: "Surprisingly funny and compelling, Cartwright's novel takes a fascinating look at memories and how we perceive ourselves. Highly recommended."

Cartwright's next novel is set inside the highest stratospheres of British politics and media in its story of one man's public fall from grace. Half in Love tracks the downfall of Richard McAllister, once a brilliant party strategist selected as a liberal prime minister's "Manifesto Minister," a cabinet post that called for him to devise a historic new ideology to rally the British electorate. McAllister's boss is a thinly disguised version of Tony Blair, the former Labour Party leader in Britain who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Another character bears a remarkable resemblance, as many British reviewers noted, to Blair's formidable press secretary, Alistair Campbell.

Yet Half in Love is less about politics than affairs of the heart, for McAllister is carrying on an affair with a famous film star, Joanna Jermyn, who is married to an equally renowned playwright. The novel opens with McAllister in South Africa, where he is on leave from his post after being stabbed by a hooligan at a soccer game. In the veldt, where he is researching a book about the Boer War, McAllister thinks of his grandfather, a participant in one famed campaign in that conflict, and pines for a bygone era when class structure in England was more constricted. He is recalled to London when word of his affair with Joanna appears in the newspapers. He expects to be pilloried there but is instead confounded by his sudden increase in celebrity; he realizes with dismay that none of his career achievements ever gained him such press. He learns a difficult truth about his love for Joanna when she travels to New York and has another affair.

London Telegraph writer David Robson wondered why Cartwright, "one of the most robustly individual novelists of his generation," would mine such a salacious subject for a novel, but thought the fact that the author has his subject fall in love made for a surprising twist in the story. "It is a bold notion and makes for an absorbing novel," Robson noted, adding: "As always with Justin Cartwright, the writing is elegant and crisp." The book "is not a quick read," according to Sunday Times reviewer Michele Magwood. "Cartwright's immaculate prose keeps one's eyes tethered tightly to the lines." Magwood described Cartwright as "one of [South Africa's] … most successful literary exports. Half in Love continues the arc of his impressive career."

The Promise of Happiness was also well received. This novel explores a modest British family, the Judds, and their prodigal daughter, Juliet, who returns from an American prison where she spent time for selling stolen artwork. Though each family member feels some responsibility and guilt for Juliet's criminal behavior, each reaction is unique, allowing Cartwright to showcase his talent for character development. Juliet, known as Ju-Ju to her family, was her parents' golden child and the object of admiration, if not adoration, of her siblings, Sophie and Charlie. Beautiful, educated, and ambitious, Juliet was expected to rise easily through the ranks of wealth and success. While working as an upscale art dealer, however, she was accused and convicted of participating in the illegal sale of a stolen Tiffany window, a crime that was more her boyfriend's than her own. When the novel opens, Juliet is leaving a federal penitentiary in New York after serving two years for the crime. Since her incarceration, several members of the family had suffered diminished circumstances. Charles, her father, lost his job and has settled into deep resentment of his fate as he slowly falls apart. Daphne, her mother, endures Charles's anger and bitterness, assuaging her own sense of inadequacy through attempts at gourmet meals, which she botches spectacularly. Sophie has descended ever deeper into drug abuse and an affair with a married man. Only Charlie, whose Internet company sells socks, seems outwardly successful; however, he is on the verge of marriage to the woman who is carrying his child, a Brazilian who is outwardly beautiful but whose attitudes and temperament are shallow and money-hungry. It was as though Juliet had been the family linchpin, and while in prison she was not there to hold everyone together. As Juliet assesses her family's problems, she herself longs for some closure to her recent troubles, and sets herself and her troubled clan on a difficult path to reclaiming their individual honor, dignity, and self-worth.

"With its themes of guilt and redemption, The Promise of Happiness is a poignant and interesting novel," Seton observed in the Houston Chronicle. Cartwright's characters are "endearing and his intricate, nuanced portrayals of family relationships astoundingly good," noted Laurie Sullivan in Library Journal. "The five narrative voices are convincing and accomplished," wrote Olivia Glazebrook in her Spectator review, paying special attention to Juliet's brother Charles: "His anxieties, doubts, disappointments, fears—all are painfully acute." An Economist contributor expressed a similar opinion of the major characters, adding that "background characters too come to life." This critic called Cartwright "a perceptive narrator of familial desperation" and described The Promise of Happiness as "a funny, moving and powerful story [that] deserves wide acclaim." Glazebrook called it "a touching, beautifully observed novel written with precision and sympathy." New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani concluded that Cartwright "has given us an elegant, if flawed novel that threads the comic and the tragic together into story that, at its best, is as affecting as it is gripping."

In Every Face I Meet protagonist Anthony Northleach, an otherwise normal English everyman, faces a harrowing, horrifying, and often humorous series of events during a single bad day. As he struggles against the intensely nightmarish turn his life has taken, it seems that a South London prostitute may be the only friend he has left, and the only source for his rescue. The novel was shortlisted for a Booker Prize and Whitbread Prize in 1995, and earned Cartwright a Commonwealth Writer's Prize in 1996.

The protagonist of White Lightning, forty-seven-year-old James Kronk, is called back from London to his boyhood home of South Africa to tend to his slowly dying mother. "It is a journey at once pretext and motor for a story of a failed life, seen through the reminiscences of an initially unappealing figure," commented Gerry Turcotte in the Sydney Morning Herald. Kronk, who makes a modest living as a motorcycle messenger and whose vocations include failed soft-core pornographer, soon finds himself haunted by his own failings as he watches over his mother's demise. He was not a good husband; his son Matt died of an asthma attack while he was engaged in a tryst with an adult movie actress; even his role as son is suspect. While experiencing the primal beauty of his homeland, however, he begins a slow transformation toward renewal in body, mind, and spirit. Walks on the beach and swims in the ocean tone his muscles and improve his physical health. He inherits a substantial sum of money, and buys a farm where he takes up beekeeping, which supplies a form of meditation and order to his life. He rescues an abandoned baboon named Piet, earning the animal's trust and making it his constant companion. He befriends and assists a local family whose son has HIV. Then, in abrupt contrast to the uplift that was temporarily his, Kronk's life begins to quickly unravel. The locals turn against him; he is taken advantage of and abused in business and in love; Piet severely injures the HIV-positive boy, and the animal himself must be killed after being mauled by local wild baboons. "Inevitably, for all the delights of bee and baboon husbandry, it all starts to go wrong, a series of jolts to the progress of this reconditioned middle-aged life that produce a devastating cumulative impact. The African dream dies, to be replaced by someone and something less dramatic—although she and it date back to the old 1980s world of celluloid—but, we can infer from the brief finale, oddly durable," commented D.J. Taylor in the Guardian.

White Lightning is not a "showy, tricksy novel that will dazzle readers with its brilliance; but as a work of literary art, a mellow, beautifully constructed fable about the human hunger for goodness, it is by far the best thing Cartwright has done," remarked a reviewer in the Telegraph. Taylor concluded that Cartwright "looks to be one of the finest novelists currently at work, and White Lightning an altogether stunning achievement."

In The Song before It Is Sung Cartwright recreates the turbulent times of World War II and "examines the moral dilemmas faced by those caught up in human history's darkest hour," commented Library Journal reviewer Edward Cone. The novel focuses on the characters of Elya Mendel and Axel von Gottberg, fictionalized counterparts of Isaiah Berlin and Adam von Trott, two real-life individuals deeply involved in the events surrounding World War II. Berlin was a Jewish historian and philosopher, while von Trott was best known for his involvement in an almost-successful plot to kill Adolf Hitler with a briefcase bomb. For his participation, von Trott was brutally tortured and executed by hanging with piano wire. His death was allegedly filmed for Hitler's viewing pleasure. In Cartwright's novel, Conrad Senior, a former student of Mendel's, receives the bequest of all of Mendel's papers and letters, as well as a request from his former teacher to assemble them for publication. In the process, Senior develops an obsession with von Gottberg, and sets out to determine whether the man was indeed a Nazi or was sympathetic to the resistance and the overthrow of Hitler. He becomes determined to locate a copy of the film of von Gottberg's death, and as he searches for the truth behind the lives and actions of Mendel and von Gottberg, he discovers a hidden history that he did not expect. In the process, he develops and matures in his own right.

"Cartwright's perceptive and revelatory novel illuminates those horrific times and recounts men of character and integrity who take different roads. The work is beautifully conceived and written and is eminently satisfying," commented Valerie Ryan in the Seattle Times. Tim Rutten, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called the novel "a quiet masterpiece. Cartwright has written that rare thing, a novel of ideas intricately and propulsively plotted, deeply humane, elegantly readable." Ryan concluded: "If The Promise of Happiness weren't enough, this novel surely places Cartwright in the company of the finest English novelists at work today."



Africa News Service, August 30, 2005, Celean Jacobson, "Veterans Take the Honours at Book Awards."

Booklist, April 15, 1978, review of The Revenge, p. 1323; May 15, 1980, review of The Horse of Darius, pp. 1343-1344; June 1, 1995, George Needham, review of Masai Dreaming, p. 1726; September 15, 1999, Eric Robbins, review of Leading the Cheers, p. 229; December 1, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 24; May 1, 2007, Brad Hooper, review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 71.

Bookseller, June 7, 2002, Benedicte Page, "The Human Impulse: Justin Cartwright Talks about His Latest Novel, White Lightning," p. 31; August 26, 2005, "Recently Awarded," p. 38; September 2, 2005, "Cartwright Wins South African Literary Award," p. 6; February 16, 2007, review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 12.

Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 1989, Carl Wood, review of Interior; December 25, 2005, Marjorie Kehe, review of The Promise of Happiness.

Economist, August 21, 2004, review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 71.

Guardian (London, England), August 10, 2002, D.J. Taylor, "It May Be Business as Usual for Justin Cartwright, but It's Still a Winning Formula with White Lightning"; August 18, 2002, "Justin Cartwright Evokes a South African Arcadia that is Uncomfortable and Disconcerting in White Lightning"; August 22, 2004, Kate Kellaway, "Justin Cartwright Anatomises the Emotional Void at the Heart of an English Family in The Promise of Happiness"; August 28, 2004, Jem Poster, "Jem Poster Detects Signs of Redemption in Justin Cartwright's World of Misery," review of The Promise of Happiness; February 4, 2007, Adam Mars-Jones, "Justin Cartwright's Fictionalisation of the Generals' Plot against Adolf Hitler, The Song before It Is Sung, Risks Insulting the Real Victims"; February 24, 2007, Helen Dunmore, "Helen Dunmore Hails a Resonant Novel of Ideas that Explores Nazism's Corruptions and the Reversals of History," review of The Song before It Is Sung.

Houston Chronicle, March 19, 2006, Nora Seton, "Guilt and Redemption; A Poignant Portrait of a British Family Starving for Happiness," review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 20.

Independent (London, England), February 11, 2007, D.J. Taylor, review of The Song before It Is Sung; February 23, 2007, Boyd Tonkin, "In the Shadow of Hitler," review of The Song before It Is Sung.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1977, review of The Revenge, p. 1331; May 1, 2007, review of The Song before It Is Sung,

Library Journal, December 1, 2005, Laurie Sullivan, review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 110; May 15, 2007, Edward Cone, review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 78.

Listener, October 27, 1988, Peter Parker, review of Interior, p. 29.

Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2007, Tim Rutten, review of The Song before It Is Sung.

National Post, September 1, 2007, Charles Lewis, review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 12.

New Statesman, March 12, 2007, John Gray, "Freedom Fighter: Isaiah Berlin Believed that Humans Make Their Own Destiny, but His Encounter with Adam Von Trott, Hitler's Would-be Assassin, Suggests Otherwise," review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 54.

New York Times, April 7, 2006, Michiko Kakutani, "The Happy Family, the Golden Girl and the Crime," review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 36.

New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1999, Valerie Sayers, review of Leading the Cheers; January 8, 2006, Tony Eprile, "Redemption Value," review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 13; August 26, 2007, Jascha Hoffman, "Louder than Words," review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly, December 26, 1977, Barbara A. Bannon, review of The Revenge; March 21, 1980, review of The Horse of Darius, p. 53; May 8, 1995, review of Masai Dreaming, p. 285; August 16, 1999, review of Leading the Cheers, p. 58; November 14, 2005, review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 43; May 14, 2007, review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 33.

Seattle Times, July 27, 2007, Valerie Ryan, "Hitler Era Test Friendship in The Song before It Is Sung."

Spectator, August 14, 2004, Olivia Glazebrook, review of The Promise of Happiness, p. 30; February 17, 2007, William Waldegrave, "The Tricky World of Faction," review of The Song before It Is Sung.

Sunday Times (Johannesburg, South Africa), May 20, 2001, Michele Magwood, review of Half in Love.

Sydney Morning Herald, October 5, 2002, Gerry Turcotte, review of White Lightning; February 10, 2007, Tim Howard, review of The Song before It Is Sung.

Telegraph (London, England), January 14, 2001, David Robson, review of Half in Love; August 11, 2002, "A Good Man in Africa," review of White Lightning; February 18, 2007, Jane Shilling, "New Depth to a Profound Story," review of The Song before It Is Sung.

Times Literary Supplement, September 16, 1988, Christopher Hawtree, review of Interior; January 19, 2001, Margaret Stead, "Manifesto Minister," p. 24; August 16, 2002, David Horspool, "A Guilty Man in Africa," review of White Lightning, p. 19; February 16, 2007, Danny Leigh, "Professor's Papers," review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 22.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 30, 1989, John Manchip White, review of Interior, p. 6; August 4, 2007, Tim Rutten, "Realism vs. Idealism: An Intricately Plotted, Deeply Humane Novel of Ideas by Justin Cartwright," review of The Song before It Is Sung, p. 5

Washington Post, May 30, 1989, Richard Lipez, review of Interior.


Best Reviews, (January 10, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of The Promise of Happiness.

Book Show, (January 7, 2008), Ramona Koval, transcript of radio interview with Justin Cartwright.

Curled up with a Good Book, (January 7, 2008), review of The Promise of Happiness.

Fantastic Fiction, (January 7, 2008), biography of Justin Cartwright.

Time Out London, (February 26, 2007), John O'Connell, interview with Justin Cartwright.