Harrison, Colin 1960- (Colin Young Harrison)
Harrison, Colin 1960- (Colin Young Harrison)
Born November 27, 1960, in New York, NY; son of Earl Grant Jr. (a headmaster) and Jean Spencer (an actress and teacher) Harrison; married, October 28, 1988, wife's name Kathryn Elizabeth (a writer and editor); children: three. Education: Haverford College, B.A., 1982; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1986, postgraduate study, 1987. Religion: Quaker.
Agent—Kris Dahl, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Harper's (magazine), New York, NY, associate editor, 1988-92, senior editor, 1992-94, deputy editor, 1994-2000; Scribner's, New York, NY, vice president and senior editor, c. 2001—. Adjunct assistant professor, Columbia University, New York, NY, 1993—.
PEN, American Society of Journalists and Authors (vice president).
James Michener fellowship, University of Iowa; Hammett Award nomination, International Association of Crime Writers, 2005, for The Havana Room.
Break and Enter, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.
Bodies Electric, Crown (New York, NY), 1993.
Manhattan Nocturne, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.
Afterburn, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
The Havana Room, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of book reviews to New York Times Book Review, and of articles to Worth, Vogue, and Salon.
Film rights to Manhattan Nocturne have been sold to Constantin Films.
Colin Harrison has won critical acclaim for his novels, including Break and Enter, a suspense thriller, and Bodies Electric, a corporate thriller. Despite rooting his novels in familiar genres, Harrison creates stories that critics find to be more literary than those usually found in genre books. As Robert Nathan remarked in his review of Bodies Electric for the New York Times Book Review, "to label [this novel] a thriller is like calling Hamlet a murder mystery."
Harrison's first novel, Break and Enter, concerns an assistant district attorney named Peter Scattergood who is assigned to prosecute the alleged killer of both the mayor's nephew and the nephew's girlfriend. At work Scattergood soon faces pressure to accelerate prosecution of the murder suspect. But his personal life is in shambles—his wife has deserted him, his mother is dying of cancer, and the alleged killer's brother is threatening him. In addition, as Scattergood conducts his own investigation, he learns that the mayor may be implicated in the killings.
Upon publication in 1990, Break and Enter won praise as a substantial literary debut. Alice Cromie, in her review for Chicago's Tribune Books, proclaimed Break and Enter "suspenseful and unpredictable to the very last page," and Michele Slung, writing in the Washington Post Book World, noted that Harrison's novel shows "wide-ranging, contemplative intelligence," and she praised his storytelling skills. "What is startling," Slung wrote, "is the sureness with which Harrison keeps after his themes and brings ideas … to bear upon a tale so clever and so commercial."
In his second novel, Bodies Electric, Harrison tells the story of Jack Whitman, an entertainment industry executive who becomes dangerously involved with a beautiful, poverty-stricken woman he meets on the subway. While still grieving over his wife's murder, Whitman hopes this new relationship will provide him with the emotional stability he needs. But his romantic entanglement comes while he is involved in a power play at his media conglomerate, and Whitman is torn between conflicting emotions. Mixing corporate infighting with a tangled love story, Bodies Electric takes "eerie, unexpected and always interesting directions," Christopher Zenowich wrote in Chicago's Tribune Books. Donna Seaman, in Booklist, called the novel "a fresh and masterly dramatization of the brutality of the city and the misuse of power in the bedroom as well as the boardroom."
Critics especially praised Harrison's depiction of the backroom deals and power struggles of the corporate world. Whitman takes part in a business conspiracy to merge his corporation with a foreign conglomerate; but the plan runs into opposition from the elderly and well-entrenched chair of the board. Leah Rozen, in People, called the novel's plot "an ambitious but increasingly messy attempt to parallel Whitman's growing involvement with the woman, a sort of domestic merger of op- posing cultures, with his role in the [corporate] merger." Nathan, speaking of the corporate power plays at the heart of the novel, asked, "Can this possibly be the stuff of serious fiction? In Mr. Harrison's hands it can, with a battlefield so exuberantly drawn and warriors so believable that their greed and lust for corporate glory are the stuff of madness." Writing in Business Week, David Greising claimed that Harrison "is smart about cutthroat corporate politics and big-time deal-making." Greising added: "This is a convincing, chilling narrative of base games played in the upper reaches of the corporation." Zenowich commented that "Harrison has brought a new dimension to the genre of corporate fiction. He has described business without parodying it and mediated between the popular and the profound." Gene Lyons in Entertainment Weekly commented that Bodies Electric is a "taut, engaging novel."
Manhattan Nocturne, Harrison's next novel, drew mixed reviews. The plot concerns a journalist, Porter Wren, who at thirty-eight seems to have it all: a booming career, a desirable wife, and an eighteenth-century farmhouse tucked away in a little corner of Manhattan. But when the attractive widow of a trendy filmmaker singles him out for romantic and other purposes, he risks losing all he has. As he investigates the filmmaker's murder, Wren is drawn into "a web of sordid intrigue" in this "briskly paced and intricately plotted … splatter-noir novel," in the words of Entertainment Weekly contributor Margot Mifflin. Mifflin described the book as "vivid and gritty" and "a heartracing adventure." Booklist reviewer Thomas Gaughan called it "a complex and compelling story … filled with deeply etched characterizations and thoughtful, almost epistolary and elegiac ruminations on the joys, pains, and fears of marriage, parenthood, death, and other aspects of life." Rex Roberts, in Insight on the News, called the novel "a delicious menage a murder."
The nightmarish side of New York is again the setting for Afterburn, Harrison's fourth novel. In this story Charlie Ravitch, an aging multimillionaire, seeks a kind of immortality by secretly hiring a young woman to bear and raise his child. But Christina, the woman he becomes entangled with, drags him down into her own sordid past in a "stunning, and at times savage, thriller," as Pam Lambert reported in People. Numerous reviewers found that Afterburn rises far above the usual standard for its genre; Tom De Haven noted that it is "not just a tightly structured novel of suspense but a rich and textured tale of character-as-destiny." De Haven also wrote: "Unlike so many other recent American crime novels … Afterburn never splinters into cheap nihilism. Heroism and loyalty are still virtues here: they're just awfully hard to practice." The reviewer added: "Harrison has created a world that's dangerous, cruel, overbright, too fast, and unreliable—but a world that's worth staying alive in. This is a serious, stylish, generously humane work of fiction."
Afterburn contains graphic scenes of violence. In a Publishers Weekly article, Adam Dunn quoted the author as saying: "I didn't set out to write a book about torture," adding: "I wanted the story to have a certain velocity and enormity, and these are violent people that the main characters deal with, and I wanted the reader to believe that. The violence in the book is always related to money. We live in a money culture, which is part of the reason we live in a violent culture. I don't think that stories are interesting unless they have consequences: that's why we read them, to see what comes of people's choices."
In the same article, Dunn quoted Harrison on the subject of his place within the thriller genre: "What is a thriller? … The term is often used pejoratively to mean a poorly written, fast-moving story that sells a lot of copies and yet which is utterly forgettable. And that's correct." Yet, he continued, "I am not intimidated by the word ‘thriller,’ because I think that the word ‘thriller’ means ‘thrilling,’" The author continued: "You see a lot of so-called ‘literary writers’ working their way into the thriller genre, not because of the money and possibility for commercial success, but because you have the possibility for enormously interesting stories. I'm trying to write a hell of a story. That's what Joseph Conrad and John O'Hara did, and they're my gods."
According to many critics, Harrison accomplishes his goal of writing "a hell of a story" with his novel The Havana Room. Bill Wyeth, a corporate lawyer, accidentally kills one of his young son's ten-year-old friends sleeping over at the house when he unknowingly gives the boy some peanut sauce, which initiates an extreme allergic reaction in the boy. The dead boy's father sets out to destroy Bill's life and career. As Bill's life quickly falls apart, he looks for consolation and meets restaurant manager Allison Sparks, who introduces him to the restaurant's members-only room, known as the Havana Room, where numerous secretive deals go on. When Bill becomes associated with businessman Jay Rainey, he joins Rainey in a shady real-estate business venture. Bill discovers the murdered and frozen body of one of Rainey's black workers on Rainey's property and begins to suspect that the people he is dealing with are not simply white-collar criminals. Eventually, both Bill and Rainey find themselves being stalked by criminals and a merciless entrepreneur.
"Manly middle-age obsessions, including sex, restaurants, real estate, drugs, health, death, sports, fatherhood, and the law, combine agreeably in another intelligent thriller from [Harrison]," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Marianne Fitgerald noted in the Library Journal: "Bill's character is so well developed that readers will feel his pain and dark despair." Jonathan Mahler, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented: "Harrison is a cinematic writer, and the combination of his fast-paced plotting and graphic imagery can give The Havana Room an almost comic-book feel—and I mean that in the best sense. It's technicolor noir, as it were." A contributor to the Economist called The Havana Room "an engagingly unconventional thriller, full of ruminations on the human condition." The reviewer went on to write: "Colin Harrison keeps the pages turning at a spanking clip. The book is nicely put together for maximum suspense, and is strong on characterisation."
In her review in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote that the author "is trying to do for New York what Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy have done for Los Angeles: map the sinister underbelly of the city, the nexus of greed and lust and ambition that metastasizes there and its dark spawn of larceny and murder." Kakutani went on to note: "Though there's plenty of suspense in this novel, we don't keep reading because of plot pyrotechnics, but because we've come to care about what happens to poor Bill Wyeth, and because Mr. Harrison is a master of mood and atmosphere." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Harrison's status as the noir poet of New York crime fiction … will surely be enhanced by his latest thriller."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of Bodies Electric, p. 1492; August, 1996, Thomas Gaughan, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 1854; September 1, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Afterburn, p. 8; October 15, 2003, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Havana Room, p. 357.
Bookseller, January 9, 2004, review of The Havana Room, p. 34.
Business Week, August 30, 1993, David Greising, review of Bodies Electric, p. 14.
Economist, January 10, 2004, review of The Havana Room, p. 75.
Entertainment Weekly, May 28, 1993, Gene Lyons, review of Bodies Electric, p. 60; October 25, 1996, Margot Mifflin, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 105; January 7, 2000, Tom De Haven, review of Afterburn, p. 60; January 9, 2004, Ken Tucker, review of The Havana Room, p. 83.
Harper's, January, 2000, "The Searchable Soul," p. 57.
Insight on the News, February 17, 1997, Rex Roberts, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of The Havana Room, p. 1191.
Library Journal, March 1, 1990, March Annichiarico, review of Break and Enter, p. 116; July, 1991, Jodi L. Israel, review of Break and Enter, p. 152; August, 1996, Mark Annichiarico, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 112; October 1, 1999, Jeff Ayers, review of Afterburn, p. 134; December, 2003, Marianne Fitzgerald, review of The Havana Room, p. 166.
New York Times, January 6, 2004, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Havana Room, p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, June 24, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Break and Enter, p. 22; June 6, 1993, Robert Nathan, review of Bodies Electric, p. 16; October 13, 1996, Jim Shepard, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 13; February 15, 2004, Jonathan Mahler, review of the The Havana Room, p. 5; February 22, 2004, "And Bear in Mind," brief review of The Havana Room, p. 18.
People, June 28, 1993, Leah Rozen, review of Bodies Electric, p. 32; September 30, 1996, Pam Lambert, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 31; March 13, 2000, Pam Lambert, review of Afterburn, p. 55; February 9, 2004, Edward Nawotka, review of The Havana Room, p. 41.
Philadelphia Magazine, May, 1990, Ben Yagoda, review of Break and Enter, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, March 30, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Break and Enter, p. 49; February 22, 1993, review of Bodies Electric, p. 80; July 22, 1996, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 226; November 4, 1996, December 9, 1996, "Harrison is First Synergy Deal for Farrar, Straus & Giroux and St. Martin's Press," p. 20; March 17, 1997, Paul Nathan, "Harrison Ascendant," p. 25; November 22, 1999, review of Afterburn, p. 42; December 6, 1999, Adam Dunn, "Colin Harrison Playing It Close to the Vest," p. 42; November 12, 2001, Steven Zeitchik, "Harrison Named Senior Editor at Scribner: NBA Conflict?," p. 10; October 6, 2003, review of The Havana Room, p. 56.
Time, October 7, 1996, James Collins, review of Manhattan Nocturne, p. 96.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 8, 1990, review of Break and Enter, p. 7; May 30, 1993, Christopher Zenowich, review of Bodies Electric, p. 3; July 31, 1994, review of Bodies Electric, p. 2.
Washington Post Book World, June 24, 1990, Michele Slung, review of Break and Enter, p. 4.
American Society of Journalists and Authors,http://www.asja.org/ (October 26, 2003), "2003 ASJA Writers Conference," brief profile of author.
ReviewofBooks.com,http://www.reviewsofbooks.com/ (March 11, 2007), W.R. Greer, review of The Havana Room.