The American scene
John Sutherland launches his new monthly column with a look under the kilt of a lethally seductive H
Bestseller lists should more properly be called "fastseller lists" - or, perhaps, "hot-cake lists". What they have recorded, since their invention 110 years ago (in America, of course), is titles that fly off the shelves one week but which, in most cases, are forgotten in a year. The lists, even the longest, rarely pick up on "genre" items - science fiction, romance, horror - that pulse out into the market more frequently than blockbusters, but have lower title-for-title sales, and are tailor-made to satisfy the insatiable appetites of their brand- or name-loyal readerships.
Every so often, however, a genre novel does become a bestseller. Hovering at around 20 in the US charts over the past couple of weeks has been a hardback, soft-centred romance with a British hero. The book will, alas, do nothing in Britain: published in August, it currently stands at roughly 1,000 on www.amazon.co.uk - nowhere, that is. Karen Marie Moning's Spell of the Highlander is the sixth in the bestselling series that kicked off in 1999 with Beyond the Highland Mist. With sequels, prequels and interquels (The Highlander's Touch, Kiss of the Highlander, To Tame a Highland Warrior), the author has recruited a vast American fan base, probably one of the biggest around (check her out at www.karenmoning.com).
A Purdue graduate, Moning came to writing in her mid-thirties after bouncing around various professions. She is now very rich and lives in Cincinnati with her cat, Moonshadow. There is, as far as I can ascertain, no record of a Clan Moning keening in the highland mist. But, with Moning, it is what is under the kilt that sells. The appeal of her books is conveyed by a (sadly) typical fan blog to the author from Samantha, posted 23 August:
"i dont understand how anybody could find one of your books not satisfying. i abso-freaking-lutely loved each and every one of them. i have to say the sex scenes were great. not to be too bold but i just love it when they are detailed and he grips her hips and thrusts into her from behind like an animal. you make the men soooo sexy. but just as much as the sex i love the romance. the way he makes the heroines breathless and so in love it hurts. i wish just one man would read one of your books and take the hint that this is what a woman really wants."
Moning's series follows the grips and thrustings of Adam Black, once a 9th-century Highland warrior. A "lethally seductive alpha male of immense strength and dark eroticism", Adam has the gift of immortality. He is, as the publisher's blurb puts it, "the consummate seducer, free to roam across time and continents in pursuit of his insatiable desires".
If Moning's plot sounds familiar, it should. The resemblance to the 1986 film Highlander, starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, can scarcely be accidental. In that film, Connor MacLeod, an alpha male of immense strength, roams across time and continents cutting the heads off rival immortals who, for obscure reasons, tend to live in New York condominiums. The film (like Moning's books) inspired sequels (less good), a long-running Highlander TV series (less good than Buffy), and cartoon versions. Rarely has a slogan ("There can be only one") been less appropriate.
While these sword-and-tartan efforts catered to action-hungry male audiences, Moning has cannily targeted women, who tend to be less interested in decapitation and disembowelling. But why then have the women of Britain not taken Adam Black to their hearts? The reasons could be cultural.
Despite the efforts of Sir Walter, Highlanders, ever since they damned near overran England in 1745 and suffered near-genocidal reprisals, have not had quite the Romantic allure that they have in the United States. Or perhaps British women have better taste.
Spell of the Highlander is available from Amazon.co.uk at £8.83