What’s so spe­cial about his de­but novel that has made Daniel Mal­lory a world­wide sen­sa­tion?

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - By Priya Bala

“I live in the same apart­ment, work out at the same gym and use the same laun­dry,” Daniel Mal­lory says, when asked how life has changed af­ter The Woman in the Win­dow. That, though, is all that re­mains un­al­tered for the man de­scribed as the ‘megas­tar au­thor of 2018’, whose de­but novel has been hailed as the year’s in­stant best­seller, sold in an as­tound­ing 37 ter­ri­to­ries out­side the United States, mak­ing it to the top of The

New York Times best­seller list, and win­ning a $1 mil­lion movie deal with Fox.

Thirty eight-year-old Mal­lory has now be­come a full-time writer, hav­ing re­lin­quished his job an ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor at Wil­liam Mor­row, pub­lisher of

The Woman in the Win­dow. He is

“When I be­gan my book, I was aim­ing only to type in those two words, ‘The End’”

“I chose to go with a pseu­do­nym be­cause I wanted my man­u­script to be judged purely on merit…,” says Mal­lory, who picked ‘AJ’ from Alice Jane, a cousin he is fond of, and Finn from the name of a French bull­dog, which is his favourite breed”

presently trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively, pro­mot­ing the book in the United States and in Europe. “I’ll prob­a­bly move into a new apart­ment and get a cou­ple of dogs,” he says, speak­ing on the phone, from his home in New York’s Chelsea neigh­bour­hood.

Mal­lory loves dogs – while he doesn’t own any at present, he vol­un­teers at a dog shel­ter twice a week. He wrote his hugely suc­cess­ful novel un­der the pseu­do­nym A.J. Finn, of which Finn is the name of a French bull­dog, his favourite breed. The ‘AJ’ is from Alice Jane, a cousin he’s very fond of.

“I chose to go with a pseu­do­nym be­cause I wanted the man­u­script to be judged purely on merit and not based on au­thor­ship, given my po­si­tion in the pub­lish­ing world. Also, I’m a pri­vate per­son and didn’t want to see my name ev­ery­where. An­other con­sid­er­a­tion was that I felt it would be dis­con­cert­ing for the authors I worked with to walk into a book­shop and see their edi­tor’s name on a stack of hard­cov­ers,” he says.


In any case, both Dan Mal­lory and A.J. Finn have ac­quired world­wide fame now and The Woman in the

Win­dow is that not-so-com­mon phe­nom­e­non, a pub­lish­ing sen­sa­tion. Mal­lory says that with his years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the busi­ness of books – he worked at Sphere, the crime im­print, in Lon­don be­fore mov­ing to Wil­liam Mor­row – he knows there is no such thing as a guar­an­teed best­seller. “Who could have pre­dicted

Fifty Shades of Grey would be­come the hit it did or that erot­ica as a genre would come into its own?” he asks. The psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller has, of course, been en­joy­ing an up­surge in re­cent years, with the suc­cess of

Gone Girl by Gil­lian Flynn – who has de­scribed Mal­lory’s work as ‘as­tound­ing, thrilling, amaz­ing’ – and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Mal­lory has ad­mit­ted these nov­els gave him the im­pe­tus for his work, but adds he did not give a thought to how it would fare with crit­ics or on best­seller lists.

“When I be­gan on this book in the sum­mer of 2015 (he wrote at night and on week­ends while he was still work­ing at Wil­liam Mor­row) I was aim­ing only to type in those two words, ‘The End’,” he says. While work­ing to reach that point, he fo­cused on writ­ing words that would cor­us­cate with el­e­gance and beauty. Con­sider ‘an ar­chi­pel­ago of tiny moles, trail­ing across her back’, ‘a pulpy sun­set, the dregs of dust, build­ings pa­per-cut against the glow’, ‘In­grid Bergman, never more lus­cious, slowly go­ing in­sane’, ‘I shud­der, wade deeper into my wine­glass’, ‘Now the night has my heart in its claws’.

“While psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers are often writ­ten in a flat tone, one of my goals was to write dis­tinct, mem­o­rable sen­tences,” Mal­lory says, much like the prose stylists he ad­mires, Eve­lyn Waugh, Gra­ham Greene and Henry James.


He doesn’t shy away from point­ing to his other key ref­er­ence points, the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller movies he is a fan of, par­tic­u­larly those of Al­fred Hitch­cock. His top film choices are Shadow of a

Doubt (1943) – one of Hitch­cock’s favourites, he points out – Gaslight (1944), and Rear Win­dow (1954). Others in­clude La Di­abolique, the 1955 French clas­sic and Dead Calm (1989), star­ring Nicole Kid­man.

Mal­lory says he is drawn to these films be­cause of the power of sugges­tion and the re­straint they dis­play. “Psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers can so often be sat­u­rated with blood and pro­fan­ity. I have noth­ing against the lat­ter – I swear a great deal my­self – but vi­o­lence puts me off,” he says.

He re­mem­bers as a teenager watch­ing a gory slasher film and Psy­cho (1960) back to back, and find­ing the Hitch­cock film much scarier. “There’s a time­less so­phis­ti­ca­tion to these films,” he says.

Mal­lory says he hadn’t en­vis­aged his novel as a film at the time of writ­ing, but con­cedes it’s a cine­matic book, es­pe­cially given the leit­mo­tif of films noirs. Is he go­ing to have a say in the cast­ing, es­pe­cially who might play the pro­tag­o­nist, Anna Fox?

“No, I will leave that to the folks at Fox,” he says, “though I do know that many ac­tresses have evinced in­ter­est in the part and all of them would be per­fectly suited.”


Fox, the epony­mous ‘Woman’ of the ti­tle is, like Mal­lory, a Hitch­cock fiend. She is suf­fer­ing from a men­tal ill­ness and Mal­lory has been able to nu­ance her char­ac­ter with his own ex­pe­ri­ence of bat­tling de­pres­sion while he was do­ing his post-grad­u­ate stud­ies at Ox­ford and, later, work­ing at Sphere.

“Anna Fox suf­fers from ago­ra­pho­bia,” he says. “And while she’s un­able to step out of her New York apart­ment, there were days when my de­pres­sion was at its worst, when I couldn’t bear to leave my bed,” he says. “So, I have poured a lot of my­self into Anna.”

He also went on­line and con­nected with sev­eral peo­ple af­flicted with ago­ra­pho­bia to un­der­stand the con­di­tion bet­ter. “I de­clared up­front to them what my pur­pose was and I did do my home­work,” Mal­lory says.

He now has a two-book deal and the sec­ond one is in the same genre. It’s set in San Fran­cisco and if TheWo­manintheWin­dow made lib­eral use of clas­sic movies, a re­cur­ring theme in his next novel is go­ing to be the de­tec­tive fic­tion of Agatha Christie. Clearly, the clas­sic and the time­less hold a par­tic­u­lar charm for Dan Mal­lory. His el­e­gantly crafted novel, praised as be­ing ‘one of those rare books that re­ally is un­put­down­able’ by Stephen King, could well stand the test of time, too.

PUPPY LOVE Daniel Mal­lory loves dogs and while he doesn’t own one, he vol­un­teers at a dog shel­ter

brunch­let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ Fol­low @HTBrunch on Twitter Priya Bala is a se­nior writer based out of Ben­galuru. She spe­cialises in food, travel and life­style writ­ing.

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