For a while now we’ve been putting on our collective thinking cap, trying to imagine who would be the best new addition to Murderati, to add but another unique voice to the mix (and spare Pari her Herculean every-Monday schedule). As we tossed various names around, one name kept popping up over and over: Tania Carver.

Only one problem. Tania Carver, well, doesn’t exist. 

At least, you can’t shake her hand—or borrow a fiver from her. But she’s alive and well as the pseudonym for husband-wife writing team Martyn and Linda Waites.

I first met Martyn at Bouchercon in San Francisco, and we shared a pint or two (but who’s counting) in St. Louis as well, so I was given the welcome task of, well, welcoming him and Linda aboard. I was beyond thrilled when they agreed.

Martyn, author of nine books himself (The Mercy Seat is one of my all-time favorites), got the idea of teaming up with Linda when a daring proclamation of chutzpah to his editor proved much harder to pull off solo than he’d thought. He needed Linda to seal the deal. And Tania Carver was born. (For the whole story, check out their website.)

The tale just gets better—Ms. Carver became an international bestseller.

The series features Detective Inspector Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito, and the books are set in Colchester, “a large town in the north of Essex, almost in Suffolk, [that] was once the capital of Britain but was destroyed by Boudica and the Iceni in revolt against the Romans… There are ghosts of crimes and the echoes of ghosts of crimes down the centuries. It feels like a modern, well-connected, rational city occupying the same space as an old, isolated, superstitious town.” The fourth novel in the series, Choked, comes out this year.

So, if you would please, put your hands together for the one, the only, quasi-existent Tania Carver.

David Corbett


And here she is / they are . . . Tania Carver!


Well.  I’ve just been to see The Avengers.

What?  That’s how they’re starting?  After that great build up David gave, that’s the first line?   Yes.  It is.  Well, OK.  Maybe I should explain a little more.  It’s Martyn here, half of Tania Carver.  The tall, male half.  If you’ve been to Bouchercon, as David will attest to, you’ll have seen me in the bar.  If you’ve been to virtually any crime fiction event you’ll have seen me in the bar.  And out of the two of us I’m the one with the thing about superheroes.  Which is why I’ve just been to see The Avengers.  Linda didn’t fancy it so I took our daughter along as my human shield and no one could feel uncomfortable about the middle aged man wearing a Jack Kirby t-shirt sitting on his own at a kids film.  As it was, it was just my daughter who felt uncomfortable about that.  It’s a good job cinemas are dark.

Anyway.  I digress.  I loved it.  What a fantastic film.  I wasn’t bored once.  As a lifelong comic book reader (and aspiring writer of them – still) it was everything I hoped it would be.  There were the characters I grew up with, whose adventures I’d religiously followed every month, whose imaginary lives I became completely intertwined with, up on the big screen, fully fleshed out and in action.  Avengers assembled, indeed.

And the cinema was just about full, which was heartening.  And not just with kids, but with middle-aged people like me, some of which hadn’t brought along their own kids as human shields and were shamelessly enjoying the movie on their own.  And that got me thinking.  Why would a whole load of middle-aged people turn up on a Saturday night to watch what is essentially a kids film?  Is it just childhood nostalgia for seeing brightly-coloured characters fight each other?  Or simple, uncomplicated escapism at its most reductive?  Is that it and nothing more?

So was that why I was there too?  Was it just a way to fill in a couple of hours with spectacle or was there something more to it.  Naturally, being a writer with a tendency to over-analyse, I found something more.  Something that could be reduced to a (deceptively) simple phrase: ‘Follow your bliss.’

If anyone reading this knows where that comes from then they’ve most probably read Joseph Campbell.  If you’re not familiar with him, here’s a brief introduction.  He was a writer, best known for his studies in comparative mythology and comparative religion in relation to the human psyche.  His most famous works were The Masks Of God, The Power Of Myth (where the ‘Follow Your Bliss’ quote comes from) and the book that brought him to my attention, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

It’s difficult to summarise Campbell’s work in a few sentences but for the sake of brevity I’ll give it a go.  He believed that all the human cultures of the world, dating back millennia, shared a common mythology.  Common stories, in other words, that were broken down locally to be told and retold.  The myths of Eastern and Western religions, he argued, came from the same source and were just different interpretations of those stories.  But these stories had one thing in common: they were narratives that not only addressed the human condition but allowed people to understand it and, in many cases, transcend it.  ‘Truth is one,’ he said, ‘the sages speak of it by many names.’  He combined this research with contemporary philosophical interpretation, especially the work of Carl Jung’s archetypes, by which time he thought that the telling of myths and stories had passed from religious speakers to artists, filmmakers and novelists.  His work can be looked on as a repository for every story type there is.

George Lucas discovered this after he’d made the first three Star Wars films.  He screened them for Campbell who agreed that everything he’d said was, coincidentally, up there on the screen.  After that, it was open season on Campbell’s ideas.  Everybody claimed them.  Filmmakers from Disney’s The Lion King to The Matrix, novelists, songwriters.  Even game and theme park designers.

Which brings us back to The Avengers.  What does that movie have to do with Campbell?  Well, more than you might think.  Let’s look at the story.  There’s a great evil.  Some heroes are brought together to combat that evil but, for various psychological reasons, they don’t think that they’re up to the challenge.  They then have to put aside their differences and conquer their own fears to face the enemy, defeat it, and in doing so learn truths about themselves that will make them better people.  It’s a classic mythic structure: challenges, fears, dragons, battles and the return home as a different person.  It’s a template that I imagine every single writer has used.  More than once.

I’ve often thought that superheroes were more than just juvenile escapism.  In the right hands they become the contemporary equivalent of, say, Greek mythology.  Or Medieval morality and mystery plays.  But it doesn’t just apply to superheroes.  We might, as writers, think we’re trying something new, something that’s never been attempted before.  We’re not.  We’re just shuffling the words around.  Admittedly some do it with such style and skill that they create scenes, characters and novels that make it seem like those words have never been used that way before while the rest of us just sit and take notes.  But they’re still following Campbell’s archetypes.

‘There are only seven songs,’ Michael Stipe of REM once said (and I may be paraphrasing slightly here), ‘and we do four of them quite well.’  Campbell’s work shows us that like songs there are no new stories and I doubt there ever will be.  Because there doesn’t need to be.  We have the same kinds of songs, we just have different kinds of singers.  When we write, we’re using the same narratives as the Greeks, as the Romans, as Cervantes, as Poe, as Dostoyevsky.  As James Joyce.  As Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  We use the same structures whether we call them by the names Campbell used or not.  Campbell would say that’s down to localism, where we are in the world and how we’ve interpreted those stories.  Where – and how – we’ve been taught or influenced.  Whatever.  All that matters is, we’re all doing the same thing.  Whether we’re writing about superheroes or private eyes, crinolined young women or knights in armour.  We’re all trying to tell stories in our own ways that, in their simplest forms, are doing the same things now that they’ve always done.  Making audiences – making readers – laugh, cry and think.  Connecting.

And in doing so we’re all, hopefully, following our bliss.


  1. Sarah W

    First — I loved Surrogate and Speak No Evil so, so much. And now a comic book superhero post from one-and-a-half of the authors? What a terrific start to the week!

    I'd argue that The Avengers isn't a kids' movie — or not *just* a kids' movie. My entire Hollywood Hype book club ditched our regularly scheduled argument to go see it Friday night, and we weren't the oldest people in the theater (though seeing the 2D version might have had something to do with it). And I'm not the only one who decided to see it again later this week and maybe again after that — it's completely babysitter-worthy (plus, you know, Jeremy Renner).

    But I completely agree about the characters lining up with Campbell's archetypes (I did a paper on Hero with a Thousand Faces for a psychology class a while ago), though even the hubris of the villain has been transformed (as usual) in Joss Whedon's capable hands — far as I'm concerned, he's one of the people you mentioned three paragraphs up.

    There's just something about superheroes who are all too human — even the ones from Asgard.

    (and I can't wait to see what Alex has to say about this movie)

  2. Pari Noskin

    Martyn and Linda,
    How wonderful to have you at Murderati.
    I come very late to the comic book/graphic novel world, but am a long-time admirer of myths and agree totally about the "no new stories," just new tellings philosophy. Joseph Campbell had a tremendous influence on me when I was in high school.

    I think after several decades, it might be worth rereading him.

    And . . . I do plan on seeing the Avengers, especially after reading this.

  3. Gar Haywood

    Great first post, Martyn (and Linda). Welcome aboard!

    I've gotta read that Joseph Campbell. His name keeps coming up around here again and again…

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm a big, big Joseph Campbell fan. I was in film school when a visiting film maker mentioned the book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and George Lucas in the same breath. I immediately went out and purchased the book and began reading. I say "began" because I found that I had to re-read every paragraph four times to really capture the depth of what Campbell was saying. The words were red-hot. I've never read anything in my life that contained so much truth – the kind of truth that is felt in one's bones. It was almost too much for me, and I had to put the book down and read it slowly, over many months. Since then I've seen the Bill Moyers interviews with Campbell, which I recommend as a primer for Campbell's works. It's much more accessible for someone who just wants the bullet points. Campbell also has a series of lectures that really dig deep into his work – university-type lectures where he stands in front of a classroom with a chalkboard.
    We've talked about Campbell quite a bit here on Murderati; I think many of us are influenced by his work. I went so far as to put a quote by Carl Jung in the front of my first novel, Boulevard. And then I discovered, just days before the book was printed, that the quote came from another Jungian psychologist. I had to scramble to change the name – the quote is actually still attributed to Jung in the audio book version. I guess they didn't get the "oh, shit!" memo.
    It's great having you here, Tania! Er…Martyn and Linda!

  5. David Corbett

    Martyn & Linda: Welcome aboard and what a great first post.

    (To fellow commenters: Martyn and I exchanged what I’m about to say in emails before he posted, and he urged me to put this up for the sake of a rousing debate. I wasn’t sure, but since he asked so politely …)

    Ah yes, Joseph Campbell. Call me the Campbell Contrarian of Murderati Street. There are quite a few folks here who worship at the altar, and I guess that's part of my discomfort — there's a bit too much genuflection before the Mighty Joe Campbell for my tastes, and I find it a little overmuch.

    He's been blasted by classics scholars who point out that he cherry-picked elements from various stories in a variety of cultures while largely ignoring the mythic elements that didn't fit his premise. His monomyth in truth exists nowhere but in his own work. It’s his idea, not some ancient truth. (It’s not a bad idea, but why the mystic mumbo jumbo?) And there’s a metaphysical side to the Jungian angle that makes me itch, like a pseudo-religion for atheists. I’ve gone so far as to refer to Campbell on this blog before as "ooga booga." But I do love picking fights.

    Coming more from the Hemingway end of the spectrum — i.e., the less mythic, more journalistic end of things — I tend to think that, if you get your story and characters and setting right, watch carefully and think and feel deeply about what you're writing — engage with the material as they say — the myth business will take care of itself.

    I also think that's where you're coming from, if I understand you. The ones who bug me are the middlebrow scolds and taskmasters who think the Hero's Journey is the magic template, the road map all good little girls and boys abide to the letter, and only a bonehead doesn't revere.

    What I hear you saying is: We can't help ourselves. If we write with sufficient depth and honesty we're going to tread old ground, and that's not a bad thing. It's in fact in the re-invention of the old forms that we get to the real deal. And that I absolutely agree with.

    Mythic heft doesn’t come cheap. You can’t plug in a Mentor or a Visit to the Man Cave (or whatever) and think you’ve done anything except follow a script. Which is the road to cliché.

    But that’s just me.

    Great startin', Martyn. I mean Martyn & Linda. I mean Tania. Rave on.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I am so psyched to have Martyn/Linda/Tania aboard! Anyone who's met M and L at conferences know that despite that incredibly dark turn of mind of theirs they're two of the sweetest (and wittiest!) people on the planet. And they have SO much to offer in terms of genre expertise – and adaptable business strategy as well. And despite being British they're always up for dancing, too, did I mention that I LOVE that about you?

    Ah, The Avengers. Didn't make it to the opening weekend, but – Joss Whedon/Robert Downey Jr./Chris Hemsworth, etc.? What's not to like?

    Well, I'll answer my own question. From a Hollywood perspective that I just can't seem to shake, I'm thrilled at the box office records being shattered here. I'm thrilled for Joss Whedon, who SHOULD be at the top of the food chain; I'm happy to see a true visionary rewarded for doing a commercial movie.

    And at the same time I'm troubled that Hollywood will think this is a mandate to pump out more sequels/graphic novel mashups rather than a mandate to put the best of director/writers together with the best actors with epic material to make great cinema. It keeps the film industry afloat – but it doesn't bode at all well for smaller, smart movies.

    But that's why all the great screenwriters have fled to AMC/HBO, right?

    I don't know. It's a bittersweet day, really.

    However, I LOVE Joseph Campbell. Love love love him. There is no way that you won't deepen your craft if you read his series of books on myth, and watch the interviews he did with Bill Moyers. I am so grateful that I was able to meet and talk with him before he died. I was asked recently on a panel who was the most famous person I ever met, which threw me because I meet famous people all the time, and I could name more well-known people but the two who leaped to mind for me were Abbie Hoffman and Joseph Campbell. Mythic, in every way, both of them.

  7. lil Gluckstern

    I enjoyed the idea of thinking about the Avenger's as a journey movie, but, dear David, the Jungians I know use these archetypes to help describe what people go through, not to define any as gods or religious leaders. Campbell did exhaustive, and sometimes boring, study of myth, and there are similarities among the religious myths out there. But Jung used these archetypes as descriptions of human experience, and it makes many a hero movie more fun, and on some level, gives us the ability to identify with these folks.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, and, what a great Stipe quote: >>>>‘There are only seven songs,’ Michael Stipe of REM once said (and I may be paraphrasing slightly here), ‘and we do four of them quite well.’ <<<<

    I want to know the seven!! Is there a link?

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Martyn and Linda

    Welcome to Murderati! Great you could join us and I hope you'll be very happy here 🙂

    Very interesting post. I read it with some trepidation, as I'm planning on going to see the new Avengers movie but haven't done so yet, so I was wary of plot spoilers. Thank you for not including any. Robert Downey Jr, now he's got his head back on his shoulders, is always worth watching, and I think Joss Whedon is a very, very underrated talent. Plus Jeremy Renner was superb in The Hurt Locker.

    I have not read Joseph Campbell. Instead I have Christopher Vogler's distillation THE WRITER'S JOURNEY, which I've found a useful study of myth and archetype.

    See you at Harrogate, no doubt 🙂

  10. David Corbett

    The Seven Songs:

    1. Happy Birthday
    2. Silent Night
    3. Battle Hymn of the Republic
    4. Louie, Louie
    5. Who Put the 'Ugh' in the Mambo
    6. Wipeout
    7. The Oscar Meyer Weiner Song

  11. David Corbett

    Funny thing is, I had both Ave Maria and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus on my first list, but the arch-sexist in me decided against it.

    I also considered How Much Is That Doggy In The Window, but I was afraid people might think the dog was female.

  12. PD Martin

    Welcome Linda and Martyn! Great to have you guys on board.

    I'm very keen to see the Avengers, although was worried I'd be disappointed (you know, when you build something up too much). But it sounds like it's a winner! Then again, with Joss Whedon at the helm …let's just say I'm a HUGE Buffy fan from way back.

    I've always thought superheroes were for kids and adults. And maybe it is those mythic story structures calling to us all. Like Zoe, I've read The Writer's Journey but not Joseph Campbell. But I certainly do find the hero's journey stuff intriguing.

    Anyway, welcome again and look forward to seeing you guys around online and hopefully meeting you one day!

  13. Martyn Waites

    Wow, so many good things said and so soon. Thank you all. So many points to answer and comments to make but really, everyone's word speak for themselves.

    I think David nailed where I'm coming from in regards to Campbell. To my mind what Campbell did was to spot the narrative threads running through world history and its attendant stories and cultural narratives. And we still tell stories in the same way we always did. And we very probably always will, because our cultural hotwiring says that's how stories have to go. We need narratives to help us shape and understand our lives. And you can find a lot of similarities between superhero narratives and ancient mythology. Or at least I can.

    It's the same as music. Even if we don't all like the same songs we can by and large agree on what constitutes a tune and what doesn't because we recognise and respond chromatically when we hear them. Although Alex has seen me on a dancefloor so she can testify that although my head can claim to recognise a tune my body may not be able to interpret it.

    And it's the reinventing thing too. To me, that's all any writing is. I'm constantly amazed that I just use the same amount of letters that everybody else has used for centuries and time and again manage to get a book out of them.

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