Griffin, Nicholas 1971-
Griffin, Nicholas 1971-
Born 1971, in London, England.
Screenwriter and journalist. Little, Brown, London, England, sales representative, 1990. Also worked as an associate producer in documentary film production, 1993-96.
Betty Trask Prize, 2000, for The Requiem Shark.
The Requiem Shark, Little, Brown (London, England), 1999, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The House of Sight and Shadow, Villard (New York, NY), 2000.
Caucasus, Review (London, England), 2001, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
The Masquerade, Little, Brown (London, England), 2002.
Dizzy City, Steerforth Press (Hanover, NH), 2007.
Nicholas Griffin started writing historical fiction after helping his father do genealogical research and discovering that one of his ancestors, Phineas Bunch, was a pirate. Before long, Griffin found himself obsessed with pirates and an infamous pirate captain by the name of Bartholomew Roberts, known as "Black Bart." Griffin's research led him to a book called A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, which gave Griffin an insight into how pirates talked. But researching and reading about pirates was not enough; as he noted in an interview on the Random House Web site, "I had asked myself the question—if you want to know what life was like for an eighteenth-century sailor, if you want to know what men saw and sensed, is there any way left to understand?" Griffin realized the closest he could come to understanding the pirate life was to spend time on the high seas. As a result, he sailed as a crew member on a replica eighteenth-century wooden ship built to the same specifications as some pirate seafaring vessels.
Based on his intensive research, Griffin wrote his first historical novel, The Requiem Shark. Called a "Treasure Island for today's adults" by a Publishers Weekly contributor, The Requiem Shark tells the story of the pirate ship Rover and its crew, with the focus on Black Bart and William Williams, who is the ship's clerk and fiddler. Although Williams was essentially conscripted into service on the ship, he discovers that the pirate life may be his true calling. When Black Bart discovers that Williams is an educated man, he has Williams keep a log and diary of his exploits for posterity. Driving the narrative is the pirates' search through the high seas of the Caribbean and West Africa for a treasure ship called the Juliette. "The writing is assured, and the use of journals enhances the plot and characters," wrote Victoria Clark in the Spectator. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Griffin's novel a "rousing debut" and also noted that the author "proves himself an unusually fine chronicler of high seas adventure." Robert Conroy, writing in the Library Journal, called The Requiem Shark a "well-crafted and interesting read."
In his second novel, The House of Sight and Shadow, Griffin turns his attention to early eighteenth-century London as he tells the story of the young Dr. Joseph Bendix, who becomes the apprentice to the surgeon Sir Edmund Calcraft. As he begins working with Calcraft, Bendix soon discovers that the renowned surgeon is conducting his research with corpses in an effort to save his daughter, who is so sensitive to light that she must stay indoors and live in relative darkness at all times. As a part of his effort to save his daughter, Calcraft has Bendix gather corpses from graveyards for his research, which was not an uncommon practice by medical researchers at the time. In addition to the main characters, the novel includes such real-life characters as novelist Daniel Defoe, who is Calcraft's friend, and Jonathan Wild, a notorious criminal of the day who was hanged in 1725 and whose body Calcraft wants for his research.
"Basing portions of this fascinating period novel loosely upon headlines of the day, Griffin delivers a funny, compelling, and touching tale, expertly capturing the oddities and nuances of London life," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. But Tom Arden, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, found the novel "less successful" than Griffin's first book. The reviewer went on to note: "While Griffin provides a well-researched evocation of eighteenth-century London, the novel never manages to be as vivid as it should be, nor as involving." Brian Kenney, however, found the "characters unforgettable," as he noted in Booklist. Kenney also commented: "The pacing, as Calcraft's experiments fail, becomes dramatically intense, making this another spirited and captivating historical read from the author."
For his next book, Caucasus, Griffin turns from historical fiction to a travelogue as he goes to the Caucasus, a mountainous region bordering Iran, Russia, and Turkey. The Caucasus region has been in turmoil for centuries, and the 2000 bombing of Muslim Chechnya into almost complete ruin by the Russians is only one tragedy in a long history of struggle. Griffin goes there to tell the story of Iman Shamil, a legendary Muslim warrior who guided a forty-year war against invading Russians in the nineteenth century and who has long influenced the region's history. Griffin also incorporates his own travel adventures and modern-day accounts of the region's current difficulties into the narrative.
Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Vanora Bennett noted that Griffin "keeps his focus on the main story—that of Shamil—with only brief jocular detours into the detail of his own haphazard travels arrangements and the region's latter-day wars." Bennett also called Caucasus an "enthralling ride…. This deft retelling of the tragedy of these mountains conveys a great deal about life in the Caucasus today." Booklist contributor Jay Freeman said that Griffin's "journey is filled with revealing episodes." Commenting on Griffin's search for historical information on Shamil, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "That quest provides a useful thread to hold together this sometimes madcap narrative." The reviewer also described the books as "lively, thoughtful, and a big help in elucidating bewildering struggles in faraway mountains."
In The Masquerade, published in 2002, Griffin returns to the historical novel to tell a story of mystery and intrigue as the young Lord Stilwell takes the "Grand Tour" of Europe, accompanied by his valet, Thomas Noon, and tutor, Lucius Jelbourne. Jelbourne distrusts Noon, who seems to be too close to Stilwell and too intelligent to be a mere servant. As Jelbourne watches and begins to investigate, he becomes embroiled in political intrigue and espionage as he finds that not all of the subjects of England's King George I are loyal. "Here are several stories within a story, all packed up like a portmanteau," wrote Rachel A. Hyde in a review for the Web site MyShelf. Hyde called the book a "highly sophisticated and thought-provoking treat" and noted that The Masquerade is "not just for literary fans."
Griffin's Dizzy City draws again on his historical background to paint a portrait of America on the cusp of the modern world. The year is 1916, the place is New York City, and the character is Ben Cramb, a deserter from the horrors of World War I, currently raging in Europe. Cramb, wrote a reviewer for Mostly Fiction Book Reviews Web site, is "a London lad who joined the Army with his tearaway pals in order to avoid prison. As with so many others in the trenches, disaster finds them quickly enough and only Ben survives." He slips out of his army hospital and boards a ship for New York, already psychically scarred by the events he has undergone.
Cramb's former experience as an actor and scam artist stands him in good stead as he learns to survive on the streets of early-twentieth-century New York. Soon Cramb falls in with an even more experienced con artist, Julius McAteer. McAteer, wrote a contributor to the Green Man Review, "takes advantage of Ben's fear of discovery and love of the con to ensnare him in an elaborate plot to bilk a Midwestern cattle dealer, Henry Jergens, of a large sum of money. Only Ben's occasional battlefield flashbacks make him less than a perfect man for the job." Together the two launch a plan to relieve cattle magnate Henry Jergens of his cash. But "what neither McAteer nor Ben knows," revealed a Kirkus Reviews writer, "is that Jergens is on to them from the beginning, working his own con to revenge his mentor, whom McAteer robbed years earlier." He is assisted in this effort by a young actress, Katherine Howells, in whom Ben becomes increasingly interested as the novel progresses. The advancement of the scam proves particularly hard for Ben to deal with. As Sarah Weinman explained on the Time Out New York Web site, "as much as [Ben] tries to reinvent himself, his double-crossing ways put him back in touch with his repressed war experiences. For him, the American dream turns nightmarish."
Dizzy City climaxes with the explosion of the munitions depot at Black Tom Island in New York harbor, a historic event that occurred in July 1916. The explosion, which shook the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge and damaged the nearby Statue of Liberty, was widely believed to have been the result of actions by German saboteurs, and the German government was forced to pay reparations for the damage. The author "demonstrates a flare for the historical novel," declared David Keymer, writing for Library Journal. According to Booklist contributor Elizabeth Dickie, the book "keep[s] the reader riveted and guessing until the very end." "Griffin's in fine form," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "and the novel's historical detail and multifaceted plot should keep readers riveted."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2001, Brian Kenney, review of The House of Sight and Shadow, p. 1226; January 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of Caucasus, p. 834; June 1, 2007, Elizabeth Dickie, review of Dizzy City, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, December, 2002, review of Caucasus, p. 1749; June 15, 2007, review of Dizzy City.
Library Journal, March 1, 2000, Robert Conroy, review of The Requiem Shark, p. 124; May 1, 2001, Cynthia Johnson, review of The House of Sight and Shadow, p. 126; January, 2003, Richard K. Burns, review of Caucasus, p. 132; July 1, 2007, David Keymer, review of Dizzy City, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, February 14, 2000, review of The Requiem Shark, p. 170; March 19, 2001, review of The House of Sight and Shadow, p. 76; November 11, 2002, review of Caucasus, p. 47; May 14, 2007, review of Dizzy City, p. 30.
Spectator, October 23, 1999, Victoria Clark, review of The Requiem Shark, pp. 56-57.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), August 20, 1999, David Horspool, review of The Requiem Shark; July 21, 2000, Tom Arden, review of The House of Sight and Shadow; November 2, 2001, Vanora Bennett, review of Caucasus.
EW.com,http://www.ew.com/ (March 18, 2008), David Greenwald, review of Dizzy City.
Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (March 18, 2008), review of Dizzy City.
Mostly Fiction Book Reviews,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (March 18, 2008), review of Dizzy City.
MyShelf,http://www.myshelf.com/ (March 18, 2008), Rachel A. Hyde, review of The Masquerade.
Nicholas Griffin Home Page,http://www.nicholasgriffin.com (April 18, 2008).
Random House,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 18, 2008), "Nicholas Griffin."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (March 18, 2008), Steve McQuiddy, review of The Requiem Shark.
Time Out New York,http://www.timeout.com/ (March 18, 2008), Sarah Weinman, review of Dizzy City.