Saturday, January 8, 2022

Karen Odden's "Down a Dark River"

Karen Odden received her Ph.D. in English literature from New York University and subsequently taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her first novel, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today bestseller, and A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit have won awards for historical mystery and historical fiction.

Here Odden dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest mystery, Down a Dark River:
My protagonist Michael Corravan is Irish in 1870s London, a time when anti-Irish feeling was on the rise. He grew up rough in Whitechapel (to give some context, this part of London was where Jack the Ripper murdered his victims in the 1880s), and after being orphaned at age 11, he took to thieving to survive; later, he did dock work and (illegal) bare-knuckles boxing. So he’s good with his fists, good with a knife, close to six feet tall, sturdy and quick. He also looks Irish, with black hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion.

On a plane a few weeks ago with free movies, I rewatched The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and it occurred to me that this young Daniel Day-Lewis, 35 years old, of Anglo-Irish descent, fierce and intense, would make a wonderful Corravan. You might also recall Day-Lewis playing a young, intense Irishman in Belfast in the movie In the Name of the Father (1993).

As for my heroine Belinda Gale, a novelist and playwright and Corravan’s love interest, a young Madeline Stowe (also from The Last of the Mohicans, as Cora Munro) would be a great casting choice—not just because she looks the part—tall, with dark hair—but because she has a certain poise, seriousness, and maturity. Belinda Gale is financially independent, in part because of money left in trust by her brilliant father and in part because she earns a living by her pen. Raised upper middle-class, insightful, and psychologically astute, Belinda provides the social polish and EQ that balances out Corravan’s street smarts.

Gordon Stiles, Corravan’s young partner at the Yard, was raised working middle-class and had a proper English education. He’s obliging and personable and a bit bookish, with a good sense of humor; at one point, Corravan comments about Stiles, “He was just the person for such a task [convincing a frightened woman to trust him]. Pretty young maids and old harridans, they all unbent for him. James had met him several times and found him a smart, likable young man.” For Stiles, I might choose Tom Holland—friendly, earnest, unintimidating, and someone who can carry off a bookish demeanor.

Dr. James Everett, the erudite doctor in the ward for mental diseases (a proto-psychologist/neurosurgeon), is Corravan’s friend, mentor, and sometimes adversary. Shrewd, rather uptight, and fond of spouting Latin to try to put Corravan into his place, Dr. Everett and Corravan have a complex backstory; they both owe each other favors. A 45-year-old Ralph Fiennes who plays M in recent James Bond movies would be a good casting choice for him.

Harry Lish is a sixteen-year-old boy, Ma Doyle’s nephew, newly orphaned, whom Corravan adopts at Ma Doyle’s request. At first Harry is prickly because he senses Corravan’s reluctance to take him in, and (much like Corravan) he hates the idea of being a burden to anyone. Dark-haired and thin, bookish and clever, Harry reads both Latin and French and wants to be a doctor, so Corravan takes Harry to see Dr. Everett, who kindly finds Harry a role at the hospital. I wrote Harry to be a foil character for Corravan—a version of what Corravan might have become if he’d had a proper education. A young Timothée Chalamet would be a great casting choice for Harry.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

My Book, The Movie: A Lady in the Smoke.

My Book, The Movie: A Dangerous Duet.

Q&A with Karen Odden.

--Marshal Zeringue