Thursday, June 17, 2010

Favourite thrillers: Matt Hilton on David Morrell

Free Agent was selected by the Daily Telegraph as one of its thrillers of the year for 2009. Also on the list were:

Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
Innocence by David Hosp
Trust Me by Peter Leonard
The Last Child by John Hart
The Dying Light by Henry Porter
Dead On Time by Meghnad Desai
Lockdown by Sean Black
Dead Men’s Dust and Judgement and Wrath by Matt Hilton

Sean Black posted here on Tuesday on his favourite thriller, and today it’s the turn of Matt Hilton. A former policeman, Matt burst onto the scene last year with Dead Men’s Dust, a tough and fast-paced thriller that introduced former counter-intelligence officer Joe Hunter. He has since published two sequels to it, Judgement and Wrath and Slash and Burn, with the fourth book, Cut and Run, out in August. Here he is on one of his favourite thrillers.

The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell

By Matt Hilton

Mention David Morrell and a name that immediately springs to mind is that of his most famous literary creation, John Rambo. Now, while First Blood was a landmark novel and firmly set the bar for any author writing in the thriller genre, not to mention earning David Morrell the title of ‘The Father of Modern Thriller Fiction’, it isn’t the book that has influenced me so much as another of his.

For me, Morrell’s The Brotherhood of the Rose (1984) is a book that all other action thrillers should be judged by, particularly those dealing with espionage, assassins and hidden government agencies. The story sounds clich├ęd these days, but that’s because so many other authors have used elements from Morrell’s book, and in its day it was a first. As an author writing in a similar field, I feel that I owe a lot to The Brotherhood of the Rose insofar as I have borrowed the idea of a hidden assassination bureau to give back-story to my own character of Joe Hunter. The Brotherhood of the Rose introduced me to the kind of thriller fiction I’d been longing to read, but had never found before, and as such, all these years later remains one of my favourite books in the field.

In short, The Brotherhood of the Rose is built upon a pact of secrecy among various intelligence agencies, and they run a network of safe houses throughout the world (The Abelard Sanction) wherein agents are forbidden from taking action against each other. Members of the brotherhood each cultivate and train loyal assassins from a tender age, and the book concentrates on two orphans, Saul and Chris, who discover a conspiracy of murder and are targeted for death by their ‘father’, Elliot. When Chris is killed, Saul seeks revenge on the man he loved as a father and in the act contravenes the ‘Abelard Sanction’ and the stage is set for a thrilling chase and counter-attack that sees Saul going up against the most deadly killers the security agencies can send against him.

Two further books formed a loose trilogy, The Fraternity of the Stone and The League of Night and Fog, and David Morrell even revisited Saul’s character to pen the short story The Abelard Sanction for inclusion in 2006’s bestselling anthology Thriller: stories to keep you up all night (Mira Books).

A TV mini-series starring Robert Mitchum (Elliot), Peter Strauss (Saul) and David Morse (Chris) aired in 1989, and I’ve heard recent whisperings about a new Hollywood treatment of the book. I can’t wait.

Matt Hilton is author the Joe Hunter thrillers. See for more information.


  1. I'll have to add it to the list of books to trawl my way through. Great guest write.

  2. 'Frat.' was the first David Morrell book I read (some years back now) and I remember I lterally couldn't put it down. If I'd had to write a list of all the elements I'd want to read in a thriller - this was the first one to cover all the bases!

    One day, when the TBR pile gets a wee bit lower, I intend to go back and read all of them again!

  3. I've never read him, although Fisrt Blood was easily the best of the Rambo films.

  4. I'll have to read this sometime. The only David Morrell novel I've read is First Blood, which wass fantastic.

  5. I've heard of BOTR, but never read it. I'll be sure and check it out.

  6. David Morrell is one of the best - and strangely overlooked. It's good to see him get some "air-time".

  7. If you are avid thriller readers, then I advise you to pick up any of David's books.
    Brotherhood of the Rose, Fraternity of the Stone, and The league of Night and Fog are a loose trilogy. The Fifth Profession is about executive bodyguards, as is The protector, Assumed Identity, Double image, Covenant of the Flame, the list of greats go on. Read them, you won't be disappointed. More recently David has released 'The Spy Who Came For Christmas' and 'The Shimmer', neither of which I've read yet, but am sure to do so.