Our illustrious editor, Mike Stotter was laid up in bed after an
operation on his back and therefore unable to come to Cambridge to
Bodies in the Bookshop, one of the most interesting
bookstore events in the British crime and mystery fiction
calendar. But he told me to venture forth and see what the various
crime and mystery writers were up to.
It looks like 2003 will be a signal year in terms of both
literary events as well as books being published in the crime
genre. As I am also interested in the slew of new talent that has
broken out this year, it was one of my objectives to find out more
about these folk, and why they entered the genre, as well as
telling you what to look out for on the ever-expanding shelves
that are labelled, Crime and Mystery.
Armed with a camera and dictaphone, I went down to that
picturesque University town Cambridge to discover more. It was a
blazingly hot afternoon, and I thanked Carl von Linde, the
inventor of refrigeration for giving us air conditioning, as the
drive would have been unbearable otherwise. Bodies in the Bookshop
is a quintessentially British affair where around 50 fifty authors
descend upon this world famous university city to sign books, meet
readers and drink the odd glass of wine.
Selina Walker, Mike Jecks & Edwin Thomas
|As I wondered through the market square, I bumped
into the glamorous Leslie Forbes and we talked about her new
book, Waking Raphael which has just been released. As I
continued down the square, I noticed Michael Jecks sipping
coffee at a pizzeria, as well as some other authors strolling in the
summer sun. What dark thoughts were percolating in their minds I
wondered? I then decided to have a cold beer at Café HA HA,
which is next door to Heffers on Trinity Street. As I entered I
noticed Mark Billingham knocking back a cold beer. A large
section of the bar occupied by the gang from Orion books, all led by
editors, Jane and Jon Wood (who are not related). As I sucked back a
beer with Mark Billingham, I was joined by Jon Wood who is very
enthusiastic about the nine writers that make up the New Blood
series that Orion are promoting.
|Some of the
writers are familiar to the hardened folk at Shots, such as US crime
writer Denis Hamiliton, James Lee Burkes daughter
Alafair, but others such as Steve Mosby, Stuart Archer
Gordon, Victoria Blake, Richard Frozen Burke, Massimo
Carlotto, John Connor (not related to the Terminator Movies) and
David Corbett are new names on these shores. The list is as
international as it is eclectic. Jon Wood was flanked by the smartly
suited Roger Jon Ellory, another of Orions recent
acquisitions a debut novel Candlemoth a
prison drama set in South Carolina. I realised that tonight I would
need a lot of tape as there were many writers I wanted
to listen to. I looked over to Mark Billingham who necked the foam
from his beer, smiled, looked at his watch and whispered, Showtime.
With that I followed him into the store.
As I walked in, I met my dear friend and editor, Selina Walker
of Transworld clutching The Blighted Cliffs a
much spoken about debut from Edwin Thomas. Selina was
delighted with this first novel, and despite my taste leaning
toward more contemporary crime-fiction, I decided I must grab a
copy. Edwin Thomas was short-listed for the CWA Debut Dagger last
year and word of mouth was very strong with regard his debut
Transworld were helping sponsor Bodies in the Bookshop as they
had several goody bags with their latest information pack Transworld
: Crime and Thriller Bulletin. They had also published John
Burdetts Bangkok 8 the first in a new series
about a Thai Buddhist detective as well as the US No1 seller The
Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown which had split critics
right down the middle. The one book that I was really anticipating
was Mo Hayders long-awaited Tokyo which
Selina informed me would be out later this year.
After entering the bustling store, I tracked down Richard
Reynolds Heffer's crime fiction buyer to find out exactly why
they stage this event Bodies in the Bookstore?
Richard was supervising the staff in laying out the crime books
along tables for the event. It was obvious that he was ensuring
that plenty of books were available for the authors to sign, as
well as ensuring cold refreshments were available for reviving all
those who came to the event, in what must have been one of the
hottest days of the year.
Ali : Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to Shots eZine.
Richard : Not at all and great to see you again!
Ali : How complex is organising an event such as Bodies in the
Richard : Well this is our 13th year so we have had
some practice as well as having some great help from our staff.
Also a number of the authors have come to this event before, so
they are pretty familiar with the set-up. However, every year we
get new people so I guess I start organising it around February by
talking to the editors and publishers.
Ali : Do you actually sell many books during the course of the
event? As I notice the presence of many book-dealers coming with
huge bags and holdalls of books for signature?
Richard : We do sell a great deal of stock sold on the day, but
also we have increased sales for the following few weeks as we are
moving a great deal of signed stock. A number of
people order signed books, but cant make the
event, so they will come in later and collect their orders.
Ali : Your are based in a University City, so what rough
percentage of books sold are crime/mystery?
Richard : Well I would say that it is very significant, its
difficult to rather actually quantify, but it does form a very
important part of our stock portfolio.
Ali : What trends to see developing in the genre?
Richard : Well over the last two or three years there has been
significant growth in historical crime fiction, and in fact there
has been a huge comeback in this area. As an example Elizabeth
Peters, publishers such as Constable who are bring those books
back into print. You have authors such Phillip Gooden, Lindsey
Davis who are both here tonight incidentally. Headline are
re-issuing the Paul Doherty and related historical crime. We also
buy a great deal from the US such as Steve Saylor, who was here
Ali : You do have a very broad range of crime/mystery fiction in
the shop, and I am very impressed by your stocking of mid-list
authors. How important is the mid-list to Heffers?
Richard : Very much. It is very important to us as we do like to
have as broad a selection as possible for our customers. I guess
it is also fuelled by my own interest too. When customers notice a
gap in our range, they often tell me and I order in the books
almost immediately. I believe we have a very good relationship
with our customers.
Well weve always said that at Heffers we believe very
strongly on both the mid-list as well as the back-list. However a
great deal is governed by high-discounts on the volume-sellers
too, and that does help support the back and mid-lists. We also
stock many US editions of books that are not published in the UK.
Example we stock some of Paul Dohertys books that are only
available in the US, we sell loads of those. I am gladdened that
both Constable and Alison and Busby have been re-issuing a great
deal of authors who had been previously published say by Headline
and the like.
Our philosophy is that if we can sell books, and develop a
market irrespective of whether the books are back, mid or
bestsellers (in terms of category) then lets do it!
Ali : And what about foreign translations from the like of the
Richard : Oh yes, there is a huge interest in Euro-crime.
Examples the Kurt Wallender books from Henning Mankell which are
hugely popular, as well as Penguins re-issue of the works of
George Simeon and his excellent Inspector Maigret series. Also we
stock Euro-crime books as well as classic US-crime from Black
Lizard, such as Patricia Highsmith, Sjowall and Wahloo and also
Orion have this interesting Modern Classics series
which is very popular. They started with them in hardback and
paperback, that was a very nice idea, but I guess they couldnt
sustain the interest in the dual format, so the paperbacks are the
way to go.
Ali : As a bookseller, what do see as the effects both positive
and negative of the abolition of the Net Book Agreement (NBA)?
Richard : On the positive side, it has really opened up the
market. But it also has caused a narrowing of the selection that
is carried by many booksellers. From a personal perspective, I
just wish we could go back to that way it was before the Net Book
Agreement was removed. But as we cant so the reality is that
we are where we are.
Ali : But we now have the ridiculous situation where some
supermarket chains are retailing books below what many bookstores
can buy them from the publishers?
Richard : Yes, that is a valid point and a very real problem for
the independent bookstores. On the other hand it also opens up the
market to people who would buy or read books, as they dont
visit bookstores, but do visit supermarkets. Harry Potter is a
good example as it is growing a new generation of readers, who
hopefully will go to bookshops to get the back-list which is not
available at supermarkets as an example, and who hopefully will
try other authors.
Ali : How have you managed to keep Heffers like a local
bookstore, even though you are part of a large book-chain?
Richard : Possibly because weve been here a long time, as
have many of our staff, and our booksellers. So weve built
up friendships amongst our customers and I hope that we have built
up a community spirit. One interesting facet is that many of our
customers are academics and clergymen and they do like detective
Ali : That is interesting. I have heard from many authors and
publishers that you cant really generalise on the types of
reader who people the crime/mystery genre due the diversity of the
genre. Is this true of Heffers customers?
Richard : Despite covering the whole breadth of the genre I
suppose we do appeal more to the traditional cosy readers. As an
example, we dont seem to sell much work by say Mo Hayder, as
they are rather graphic. This is a real pity as both Birdman
and The Treatment are remarkably well-written, despite
their graphic depiction of evil. We do have many customers from
the student body also, and they do pick up crime/mystery while
buying their textbooks.
Ali : You mentioned Mo Hayder, which is interesting as I do see
a trend with the more contemporary work within the genre becoming
darker, even Peter Robinsons excellent Inspector Banks
series has become very bleak and tough. Do you see this trend
Richard : I agree with you. The genre is getting darker. People
want to be frightened, but when the book is ended they can return
to the relative safety of their lives. Writers such as Mark
Billingham do really frighten you, even if its only in a
Ali : Talking about the horrors of the real world, how popular
is true-crime? As Ive heard that sales in that
sub-genre are falling?
Richard : Yes that is interesting. We have only a small section
devoted to true-crime. I suppose the reasons why the
sales have reduced is that people are reading more about true-crime
in the newspapers rather in book form. When there is a book on
say, Harold Shipman or Tony Martin, the interest is reduced
because most people have read about those cases in the dailies. I
would say that shops such as Murder One in London have
a much wider selection of true crime and perhaps the
customers of this sub-genre are located more in the larger cities
such as London than in the provinces like Cambridge. But who
Ali : So if I were to inspect your reading pile, what books am I
likely to discover?
: I would recommend a first novel by Chris Simmss Outside
the White Lines. That is one book that you would not want to
go on the motorways after reading it. It is an excellent book,
published by Hutchinson. A really blistering debut.
One book I really enjoyed was C J Sansoms Dissolution
(Picador) which had one really bad review which I didnt
understand. I thought it was a really excellent historical novel
almost as strong as Umberto Ecos Name of the Rose.
He has a real future ahead of him.
There is a book by Steve Hamilton Blood is the Sky
which I really enjoyed. I read his earlier books which I didnt
enjoy that much, but Blood is the Sky is a real
Barbara Clevely The Last Kashmiri Rose was great.
Lee Childs Persuader was absolutely excellent,
and the Jack Reacher series just gets better and more interesting
with each book.
Alexander McCall Smiths No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
series though not strictly crime-fiction are just a delight. The
fifth The Full Cupboard of Life has just been released.
There will be a sixth next year, and hes starting a new
series featuring an academic, which again is not strictly
crime-fiction, but anyone who enjoys the No 1 Ladies
Detective Agency series will enjoy the new series too.
But the reality is that I have no doubt missed some good ones
too, where does one stop? I would indicate that more information
is available from our website www.heffers.co.uk
Ali : Richard, thank you very much for your time, and we
appreciate your insight into the world of crime/mystery fiction
and good luck with the 13th Bodies in the Bookstore.
Richard : Thank you Ali, and good to see you again, and please
pass my very wishes to Mike Stotter and hope he has a speedy
|I then went and grabbed a
drink at the refreshments table. Heffers have wine, crisps and soft
drinks for the assembled writers, readers, editors, publishers and
book dealers. I counted close to 50 authors and realised that this
could be long night. Sipping a glass of orange juice was my old
friend Stephen Booth, so I slowly approached with my
Steve Booth & Chris Simms
Ali : Hello Stephen, would you care to tell us about your new
book Blind to the Bones?
Stephen : Hi Ali, and new book indeed! Blind to the Bones
has been out a couple of months, so for me that is the old book
I am now working on book #5 so that is the new book
Ali : So lets talk about book #5
Stephen : Its due for 2004 but doesnt have a title
yet, as Im only halfway through writing it. And I have bad
days when I really dont know what the book is about
seriously I have a contract for three more in the Ben Cooper /
Diane Fry series, so there will be at least two more after book
Ali : So tell me a little about the way that you write?
Stephen : I write in a very strange fashion I guess. I write in
what I term a bits and pieces type of way, but there
always comes a time when it all gells together and then I realise
and understand what the story is really about. But on book #5 I
havent reached that point yet so I cant tell you
Ali : Well we look forward to it, and seeing you at Bouchercon
With that, I left Stephen to his orange juice and noticed Peter
Robinson had finished signing a huge stack of Inspector Banks
novels so I crept up behind him with my microphone. I must just
add that Peter Robinsons Inspector Banks novels are now one
of my favourite series. They have grown darker and more complex in
terms of character and plot, but they really do now delve deeply
under the rocks and examine evil in the most fascinating way. I
last saw Peter at Dead-on-Deansgate where shared some wine and
talked about how he came to write The Summer That Never was
(aka in the US as Close to Home).
Ali : We loved your last book, in which you dragged poor Alan
Banks from his Greek holiday back to England to investigate the
death of his childhood friend. So what are you working on
currently and whats in store for Alan?
Peter : I have just about finished Playing with Fire
which comes out in January next year. Basically its about an
arson investigation and it is also about art forgery. As you know
in the Banks books, there are personal involvements that spill
over during the course of the investigations. As we discussed last
time Alan Banks maybe a police detective but he is far from being
defined by his job.
Ali : You have been giving Alan Banks a pretty tough time
recently, what with the case in Aftermath, and then the tragedy of
his school friend in The Summer that Never Was
Peter : It gets worse.
Ali : ,,,(laughing)
everytime I ask you whats next
for Banks, you keep the pressure on and it does get worse for him.
Peter : Yes indeed, and in Playing with fire it gets
Ali : Thank you Peter and we look forward to reading it.
A group of book dealers appeared so I left Peter Robinson with
another pile of books, and the thoughts of what horrors he has
in-store for Alan Banks, and with those thoughts, I moved over to
see what Danuta Reah has been up to. Her last book Bleak
Water shares a theme with Peter Robinsons upcoming Playing
with Fire in-so-far as it is set in the world of Art. She
also proliferates her novels with dead bodies and dark motivations
Ali : Hi Danuta, and can we congratulate you on the success of
that dark masterpiece Bleak Water. Can you tell us
what you are working on currently?
Danuta : Thank you, Ali. Well I have just handed a manuscript
in. It is a book that I have been wanting to write for a long
time. It is an important book for me as it is personal and based
upon my fathers experience before and during the Second
World War. I wanted to write about how the events of the past
reverberate down the generations and how they affect the future. I
wanted to write about the way in which survivor-guilt (even when
there is nothing to feel guilty about) can warp the rest of a
Ali : Bleak Water, like all your work takes a real look into the
dark parts of peoples lives. Where does this fascination stem
from? And are you interested principally in dark-motivations?
Danuta : I think I must do, as it does come out in my work. I
think everyone has a dark-side. When you look at people they may
appear on the surface as ordinary, but the reality is
that there is no such thing as an ordinary person. When you strip
them down there will always be something dark lurking below that
veneer or ordinariness. I think everyone has the
capacity to be a murderer; everyone has the passion to kill. Its
just a matter of how that passion can get triggered, and what
warps people toward that direction that I find fascinating.
Ali : An interesting way of looking at people. Thanks for your
I saw from the corner of my eye, the criminal lawyer and
best-selling as well as award-winning crime-novelist, Francis
Fyfield arrive to sign copies of her latest novel Seeking
Sanctuary. I decided to ask her a few questions before she
got embroiled signing the stack that lay ahead of her.
Ali : Francis, it would be a great pleasure to talk about your
Francis : Sure, Seeking Sanctuary is set against a
very claustrophobic background. It is set in a convent but more
specifically in the garden of that convent, so the theme I guess
is about all the people that seek sanctuary in that place, both in
terms of the nuns that live there themselves, as well as the
people that come there to find sanctuary. And into that place of
sanctuary creeps an evil, and the two main characters are sisters
who have different levels of belief. One his a deeply-seated
Catholic who entered the nunnery as a young girl, while her sister
is an agnostic who lives near the convent trying to get her sister
out. So I guess it is a book about faith or the lack of it. It
also looks at how faith can also make you naïve. I also I
wanted to explore the wider aspects of faith, and what we believe
in, and the differences between the religions in terms of faith
and what it means. But I guess at its core I wanted to have
someone talking to God!
Ali : From a lawyer that is an interesting comment.
Francis : And I would like to point out that there is not much
law in this book
apart from a will.
Ali : Thank you for your time, and I must admit that Seeking
Sanctuary does sound interesting.
Francis : I hope you enjoy it.
I noticed Fidelis Morgan signing her stack of books, so
I thought Id find out what is new in her world.
Ali : Fidelis, great to see you in such fine humor. Would you
care to tell us what you have in store for the Countess Ashby and
Alpiew in the upcoming Fortune's Slave?
Fidelis : They have earned a bit of money in The
Ambitious Stepmother and decide to invest it. So in Fortune's
Slave they meet the brave new world of High Finance
The Bank of England, the Stock market and all that comes with
Theft, embezzlement, fraud and of course murder.
Al;i : What in your opinion do you put down to the renewed
interest of the Historical Crime Novel?
Fidelis : I wouldnt know. I dont really think of my
books as historical crime so much as modern crime books set in the
past. I can only speak for my own books and I think they do well
because people like a puzzle and a laugh. And it is probably quite
reassuring to read about the past and find that everythings
been done before. In Fortune's Slave, for example, the
Countess encounters a little problem called The Turnpike or
a charge for vehicles driving into central London
Ali : The Ambitious Stepmother is out in paperback,
and is the third in the series. Did you consider that your series
would attract such a loyal following?
Fidelis : I write my books to entertain myself. I dont
think I realised that so many people shared my taste!
Ali : I see that you are very active at Crimescene and
Harrogate with the Rogues and Vagabonds troupe. Would you care to
tell our readers how this all came about and what the troupe
Fidelis : Mark Billingham and I got talking about being
performer-writers at the same time as Anita Brookner published her
diatribe against having to "perform" i.e. read aloud and
speak in public. And we thought that, although some writers might
hate it, it was the new way, and we rather excelled in that
method, as its our other job. So we gathered together all
the other performer-crime-writers we could find, and hey presto:
It does actually work!
Ali : As well as writing, you also are busy on the stage. Would
you care to tell us about your recent as well as future projects?
Fidelis : I am not really officially an actor anymore. I dont
have my mugshot in Spotlight or anything. But if a director or
casting agent I have worked for before offers me something tasty
which wont eat into too much of my time, or drag me away
from home for months on end, I like to do it. I was recently in
Peter Loveseys Dead Gorgeous. Only one days
work, but much fun. I also took a few months out to go back to The
Glasgow Citizens Theatre, where I had been a leading player for
about 10 years. The triumvirate of directors who ran it are
leaving, and the old famous Citz company will be no more. I really
couldnt not be there for the grande finale, and had a
wonderful time playing Cheris mother in Colettes own
adaptation of her book.
Ali : Thank you for your time.
Fidelis Delighted as ever.
My old friend, the historical novelist, Deryn Lake
appeared with some glasses of wine for Fidelis and I, as she could
see that we were in need of some refreshment. After asking where
Mike Stotter was, she agreed to telling me about what was new in
Ali : Hello Deryn, can you tell us about what is happening to
John Rawlings after the excitement of Death in St. James
Deryn : The new book is called Death in the Valley of
Shadows and is about a mass murderer or murderers, in fact
there are bodies all over the place youll love it. So
how does John Rawlings get involved? Well a man rushes into his
shop looking for sanctuary, Help me, Im being pursued
he screams. Rawlings hides him and then a woman comes into the
shop asking if hed seen a man fleeing
.and the whole
tale starts from that mystery.
Ali : Excellent Deryn, I look forward to reading it!
Deryn : Good to see you too.
So after that refreshment and chat I bumped into Chris Simms.
His debut Outside the White Lines has had some very
strong word of mouth, and Richard Reynolds of Heffers rated it
highly, so I was eager to meet this young author.
Ali : Hello Chris and welcome to Shots EzIne. Could tell us a
little about Outside the White Lines and your
Chris : Thanks Ali and Id be delighted to. I come from a
freelance copywriting background which I have been doing for
around four years now. I have always wanted to write a novel and
the idea came one Christmas when I broke down on the hard-shoulder
of a motorway at 2am. As I sat down waiting for the breakdown
vehicle, a white van with flashing white lights appeared behind
me. It turned out to be a motorway maintenance vehicle coming to
clear up some broken glass from a previous crash. As I sat in my
car with these guys behind me, I realised exactly how vulnerable I
actually was sitting on the hard-shoulder. That was really where
the idea of Outside the White Lines came from. The
idea of having a killer who roams the motorways imitating a
breakdown recovery man seemed rather scary to me after that
episode. The whole idea of such a deranged person roaming the
roads in the early hours of the morning, putting on his flashing
lights when he sees someone parked on the hard-shoulder, and
pretending to be from a local garage because the AA/RAC are too
busy to attend, and then we have brain-tissue on the tarmac
Ali : Scary stuff especially as I use the motorways a great deal
and I have read some great reviews, but I gather it is rather
Chris : Yes, when the killing occurs I didnt hold back.
The whole motivation of the killer stems from him suffering
advanced road rage, as he spends his whole day stuck in traffic
jams as he is a delivery driver by day, and gets more and more
wound-up during the day, so he roams the motorways at night
killing people that he perceives cause the traffic jams by
breaking down. So I had to make the killings full-on
as they are a result of his rage and they increase in violence as
his road-rage escalates.
Kelly & Chris Simms
Ali : As a reader, do you read widely within the genre?
Chris : I dot around really. I have started reading extensively
in the crime genre since Outside the White Lines was
released, as I really thought of it as more a psychological
thriller but it really resides really in the crime-fiction genre,
so I have read recently Karin Slaughters Kisscut
and as I live in the North West, I have started reading Stephen
Ali : So now that your debut is out, what are you working on
Chris : Its called Pecking Order and Its hard
to describe in a concise way, unlike Outside the White Lines.
It centres on a character called Rubble, who works in a
battery-farm for chickens. Hes a really simple character who
does not really relate to the outside world. He has been
brutalised by working on the chicken farm and is spotted by a more
intelligent guy, who sees in Rubble a child-like naivety coupled
with a layer of cruelty. He soon realises that Rubble is perfect
for a really evil plan that he has in mind, and uses Rubble for
Ali : Wow, sounds like a really dark tale. Thanks for your time
and good luck with Outside the White Lines and we look
forward to Pecking Order which is a great title.
Chris : Thanks for your interest, and good to meet you again as
we did meet at Deansgate last year.
Ali : Yeah, and I was probably flying around like one of the
chickens from Pecking Order
After having a laugh with Chris Simms, I noticed my old drinking
buddy from last years CWA Dinner - Simon Kernick signing a
huge pile of The Murder Exchange his second
novel set against the landscape of gangland North London.
Ali : Great to see you again, and hows The Murder
Exchange doing in the shops?
Simon : Great to see Shots are here again, well The Murder
Exchange seems to be doing very well, but it is still early
days. I have signed a lot of stock at Crime-in-Store, Murder One
and the dealers tell me that its selling well.
Ali : Also your debut The Business of Dying has been
nominated by Deadly Pleasures for a Barry Award, and you are
coming to Vegas?
Simon : Yes, I am. And I am pretty excited to be at Bouchercon.
But talking about the Barry Award, hey its a tough list,
what with Ed O Connor, Mark Billingham as well as John
Connolly and the others, tough list. I am just flattered to be
with such great writers, and as a fan of Deadly Pleasures it makes
the nomination very cool.
Ali : Thanks Simon, Ill let you get on with the business
Simon : Cheers and pass my best wishes to Mike Stotter.
I then spotted journalist, Jim Kelly who I ran into at both
Deansgate 2002 and the CWA Dinner, as he had been nominated for
the Creasey Dagger for his debut The Water Clock. So I
decided to find out what he had been up to since them.
Ali : I really enjoyed The Water Clock last year,
and I see it is out in paperback, could you tell our readers a
little about it please, Jim?
Jim : The story starts with the discovery of the body on top of
the roof Ely cathedral (in Cambridgeshire) - which sounds a bit
bizarre, but it is based on a real incident, I just transposed it
to another cathedral, then the story spreads into The Fens, which
is a very secret landscape, and as the story is about secrets, the
location became vital in telling the story.
Ali : You have journalistic streak which is very apparent in The
Water Clock so what are you working on as a follow-up?
Jim : Well the next in the series is called Firebaby
features the investigative journalist, Philip Dryden and is due
out in March 2004. I hope to have at least four books in the
series, if not more (as long as Penguin are willing). The paradox
in having a journalist as the main character is that I dont
want Journalism to overwhelm the stories, however I do feel
journalists are in a privileged position to be the modern version
of the aristocratic sleuth. They have time on their hands, its
their job to look into things and so they can become a credible
and interesting detective.
Ali : Thanks for your time Jim and we look forward to Firebaby.
I then spotted Selina Walker with Edwin Thomas, a new writer
from Transworld whose novel The Blighted Cliffs has
just been released in hardcover. Edwin was runner up of the 2001
CWA Debut Dagger. I recall the evening well in Manchester as
George P Pelecanos was Guest of Honour and presented the award to
Edward Wright for Cleas Moon (now published by Orion).
Micheal Jecks had been one of the judges and had commended Edwin
Thomass The Blighted Cliffs and it was so good
that Transworld had picked up the novel. This illustrates the
importance of the CWA Debut Dagger competition (so all you budding
writers check out www.thecwa.co.uk
for more details).
Ali : Edwin, congratulations for getting The Blighted
Cliffs into print. Would you care to tell Shots readers
something about it?
Edwin : The Blighted Cliffs came out last month and
it takes place around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, just after
the battle of Trafalgar. I guess its really an
Ali : And the cover is very, how can I put it
Edwin : ..laughing.. I guess the lead character, Martyn Jerrold
is Flashman-esque in terms of hero, except its more
nautical, sort of Flashman at sea. Jerrold is this alcoholic,
womanising, coward who has really no business being in the Navy,
but is forced to join by his uncle in order to make something of
himself, but then gets embroiled in a case of murder and has two
weeks to clear his name or perish in the attempt. Its the
first of a series.
Ali : And is it bawdy and funny?
Edwin : Reasonably and I hope its funny as it does feature
a great deal of misadventures as Jerrold is often in the wrong
place at the wrong time, as when he runs away from danger, he
lands in an even worse situation, so in the pursuit he often ends
up in bed with a strange woman
.a classic semi-autobiographic
laughing sounds a good bawdy tale, thanks for your
I caught up with Jon Wood of Orion next as he was introducing
Roger Jon Ellory a recent acquisition into Orions
stable with Candlemoth
Ali : Hi Roger, we recently received Candlemoth for review,
would you care to tell our readers a little about the book?
Roger : Sure. Candlemoth is a book which
fundamentally deals with the compromises that an individual makes,
the decisions that he makes through his life that puts him in a
situation that challenges his life. The book is about choices,
about decisions, about integrity, and I feel that it deals with
the toughest decisions an individual has to make. It challenges in
effect, the concept of an individuals right or wrong.
As a result of making certain decisions a character finds himself
in a situation that is very unpleasant indeed he winds up
Ali : I see. Its been hyped quite a bit and has a moth a
la Thomas Harris on the cover, so what part of the crime fiction
genre do you see it fitting into?
Roger : That is an interesting question, because I was
interviewed by a journalist for Publishers Weekly who called
Candlemoth non-generic in-so-far as it does not fit
the traditional crime-thriller category. Perhaps fitting more into
a human-drama because the situation that the
individual finds himself in It deals with crime, and it is indeed
a thriller but it deals primarily with the humanity of the
individual and how he deals with the situation that hes in.
It challenges love and loss, and the very reasons why an
individual lives his life and makes the decisions that he makes.
In all essence it doesnt fit that neatly into any category,
but on the whole I would sum it up as a challenging human drama
that deals with many themes that readers will find very appealing
because they are very real.
Ali : Interesting. And your background is?
After that heavy discussion about struggles and life, I decided
to head off and get a cold drink and some hard liquor, but as I
was driving, I settled for an OJ instead. At the refreshment bar,
I bumped into globe-trotting actor, fencing champion, fight
coordinator, and Immortal from Highlander, as well as
historical crime novelist Chris (CC) Humphreys.
We reviewed his last book Blood Ties the second book
featuring Jean Rombauld, the man who beheaded Anne Boleyn.
Ali : Hello Chris good to see you again. Shots loved your last
book, and Carol Heys could not put Blood Ties down,
but could you introduce your series for those who have not been
introduced to your world of swords and mystery?
Chris : Good to see you again. The series begins with The
French Executioner and it is about the man who killed Anne
Boleyn, Henry the VIIIs second wife. Its really about
what happens after the execution and what Anne asks Jean Rombauld
(the executioner), my protagonist to do for her. The plot revolves
around her six-fingered hand, a mark of the witch and get rid of
it. The hand gets stolen by my villain, the Archbishop of Sienna,
and the first book is really a chase through 1536 Europe, as Jean
tries to honour his vow to Anne Boleyn and get the hand back.
The second book, Blood Ties takes place around
twenty years after the main events of The French Executioner
and it is to do both with Jean Rombauld and his generation that
fought to get the hand back and his children. So its like a
relay race, where the baton is handed onto the new generation,
because by halfway through the book its the younger
generation, Jean Rombaulds children who are taking the story
on. So you have a combination of the old world and the new,
literally as with Blood Ties, being Canadian I wanted
to take the story to North America. So the first part of the book
takes place (as The French Executioner did) in
medieval Europe, with gothic towers and dungeons, while the second
half of Blood Ties takes place in the New World, in St
Lawrence in 1555. So it is how the old world impacts upon the new.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me to research Native American
culture and great fun.
Ali : A frivolous question, but why are you marketed as CC
Humphreys as it makes you sound like a motorbike?
..Its interesting that you say
that as lately my publishers and my new agent have been saying
that maybe you shouldnt be CC and then today I
asked my editor if I should revert to my full name Chris
Humphreys but in their marketing meeting they all said No!
as CC has a bit of class, so I will remain CC.
Ali : Dont you find all that research a real pain in the
arse? As your work is very detailed.
Chris : ..laughing
I guess my answer is yes and no. You dont
use probably 80% of your research, but that 20% gives you the
story. In fact I am researching my new book now, as the next book
Jack Absolute is due out in October in Canada and
January 2004 in the UK. This book is set during the war for
American Independence, and is done and dusted. The one I am
researching is set in around the same period, but a prequel to Jack
Absolute and is set around the plains of Abraham and Quebec
and the conquest of Canada and all that.
Ali : Thanks for that Chris, always great to see you and good
luck with Jack Absolute.
I always find Chris Humphreys a great source of information,
with all that eclectic historical detail but I needed something
more contemporary and controversial so I sought out Russell
James. Russell was the former chair of the Crime Writers
Association (CWA) in 2001, and he writes an interesting and
thought-provoking column in Crime-Time magazine (one of our
Rivals). His thrillers are renowned for their look at the world of
low-life crime and he has often been described as the father of
British noir. Recently he has been in the limelight with the
sexually provocative covers featured in Pick any Title
and the pseudo Porn-DVD styled cover of No One Gets Hurt
from The Do-Not-Press. Russell is a colourful and interesting
character who is never short for words.
Ali : Russell great to see you, and I see you signing that stack
of No One Gets Hurt, and a rather provocative cover if
ever I saw one!
.great to see you again, but I
must point that the cover has nothing to do with the book
I just hope it sells.
Ali : Would you care to tell us a little about No One Gets
Russell : Well basically it is about the Internet sex industry
and the commercial sex industry and the great myth perpetrated by
that great cover! The lovely blonde grinning out at you saying, commercial
sex, great fun and no one gets hurt, but this book is really
saying that in the world of commercial sex, commercial gambling,
and things that perhaps you do and I do, it is a fallacy to
imagine that in that world no one gets hurt, because they do.
The book takes an investigative journalist whose friend is
killed in the commercial sex industry and she goes right into the
heart of that world, right into the lions den to try and uncover
what happened to her friend. She wants to know who killed her
friend, but what she also finds of all things that she didnt
want to know is that her boyfriend that has left her pregnant is
well-known to the pornographers.
Ali : That sounds rather intriguing and I look forward to
reading it. I loved your last book Pick any Title but
again the cover was somewhat provocative. I understand why No
One Gets Hurt has the DVD-sex cover, but why did Pick
any Title have that close up of the girl unbuttoning her
Russell : ..laughing
..I like blondes
Ali : Your column at Crime-Time is getting rather controversial
vis-à-vis the theme of the problems of the mid-list
writer. What do you see as the future of the mid-list
in publishing today? And are there any solutions for maintaining a
Russell : The solutions are in the hands of the booksellers, and
by booksellers I really mean independents. The chances of getting
the chains to do what Tim Waterstone did for Waterstones when he
took them over, but sadly now Waterstones have gone down the pan
ever-since as they now resemble the check-out area of a
supermarket. The independent bookstores like Heffers where were
stood tonight they are the ones that can nourish authors,
put them in the window, not refuse to put them on the display
table if theyve not paid £25,000 to be there, thats
really where we are today. And that is the problem because guys
like me, and there is a heck of a lot of mid-list authors, simply
cant get displayed in a bookshop.
Ali : And what I cant understand is that in your case, you
are heavily reviewed, well known in the genre and a former
chairman of The CWA, well I hope No One Gets Hurt does
really well, thank you for your insight Russell.
Russell : And thank you for your interest and best wishes to
Mike Stotter and all the Shots readers for their support!
So with the Porno Theme continuing, I then decided to meet the
very funny Danny King, former porno-journalist and writer
of The Burglar Diaries, The Bank Robber Diaries
and now his latest, The Hitman Diaries.
Ali : Hello Danny and welcome to Shots eZine. Would you care to
tell our readers about The Hitman Diaries which as
garnered some great reviews.
Danny : Well its brilliant isnt it
and make sure you mention that I was being Ironic!
It has had
a good reception and I was worried about it as is so dark. It is
really bleak but it has a lot of humour and I am really pleased
that it has had such a favourable reaction. As it is about a
psychopath and general nutter, I was worried that everyone would
think that I was a psychopath and general nutter as well, but I am
glad to see that a lot of people got the jokes.
Ali : So how did you get into the porn business?
Danny : Its a simple thing. I just saw an advert in The
Guardian and I thought Id apply for it. I thought that even
by just going for the interview, thered be naked girls
everywhere and it would be a good story to tell the lads. I didnt
realise that I would actually get the job. I guess I must be
suited to porn I guess, so Ive been in it for about five
years, but Im on it in a freelance basis now. I edit and
interview girls and it really is a terrible job
.and I am
..thanks for your time Danny!
James & Danny King enjoying themselves!
I then noticed Leslie Forbes who, despite her work with
the BBC, and her award- winning travel writing, has managed
another novel after a few years. I met her at a Deansgate
convention and devoured her previous novels Bombay Ice
and Fish, Blood and Bone which were not conventional
in terms of the crime genre, but beautifully written. Her new book
Waking Raphael has just been released by Weidenfield &
Nicholson in hardcover and I have selected it as one of my holiday
reads for 2003.
Ali : Leslie Forbes good to see you again and I am very
encouraged by the great reviews of Waking Rapael.
Leslie : Yes and its right here! ..pointing to a stack at the
front of the store.
Ali : So could you tell Shots a little about it?
Leslie : I guess anybody who loves Italy will love this book.
Anybody who perhaps wonders why Tony Blair has made an unholy pact
with the unholy Bellesconi of Italy will want to read this book.
In Waking Rapael we find out why, and how, certain key
politicians rose and fell rapidly between 1992 and 1994 in Italy.
No names mentioned to protect the guilty, and apart from that
there is a great deal of food and wine and stacks of crime.
Ali : Great mixture, food, wine, politics and crime, I am really
looking forward to Waking Raphael thanks for your
So from the shores of Italy I decide to venture to the shores
and hidden-hinterlands of Portsmouth to talk to the award-winning
documentary maker, thriller writer and now crime-writer and master
of the police procedural Graham Hurley.
Ali : Hi Graham and I am glad to see the fourth of the Joe
Faraday novels Deadlight out at last. Could you
introduce Joe Faraday to our readers?
Graham : Joe Faraday is a Detective Inspector based in
Portsmouth. Portsmouth is very important to him, and for those
unlucky enough not to know the city, it is a melting-pot of
190,000 people crammed into an Island site. That is the key to me
and Joe Faraday. Portsmouth is a strange city, its a city
that is difficult not to live a stones throw from real poverty,
and for Joe Faraday it becomes a melting pot of peoples, with
substantial violence and volume crime that as a Divisional
Detective he finds a real challenge. Hes moved on from book
#3 (Angels Passing), and hes on the major crimes team, and
that gives him the pick of some rather decent crime even if
that phrase is somewhat of a contradiction.
Faraday is a strange man in some respects. When I was in the
process of creating a character like Faraday, I wanted to make him
somewhat unique, like all writers do. The way I did it was to give
him a deaf son. There is a twist to this. His wife to whom he fell
in love with very early on, an American lady, a gifted
photographer dies very early on. In fact she dies six or seven
months after the birth of their son. The son turns out to be deaf
and dumb, and the point at which you intersect with Faraday (in Turnstone
which is book #1) you find that he has devoted all his private
life, all his non-police working time building a bridge with his
deaf son. So what you have is a very resourceful detective, but in
terms of his private life, he has little else apart from his son.
In book after book he gets into terrible trouble with women.
Ali : So what are we going to see in the new book Deadlight
Graham : Well weve seen him progress from Turnstone,
The Take, Angels Passing and now in Deadlight
hes with the Serious Crimes Unit, which gives him a focus,
and stretches him further. Your point about hinterlands is really
interesting. I invest huge amounts of time in research. I feel if
I dont a book that say, any serving policeman (especially
from Portsmouth) doesnt feel is credible, then I have failed
as a writer. So my work is I guess very authentic, very gritty,
very black accounts of what it is like in my view (and Joe Faradays
view) of being at the very fore-front of a society that is
imploding. If you want a front seat at the ugly spectacle of
family breakdown, on street violence, drugs, alcohol abuse and all
the rest, then my work shows what is like for Faraday and the
various other characters that cleanup the mess. They are the ones
that have to cope with that as they are people too.
I hope as a writer that Faradays hinterland, as well as
the relationship with his son, and their shared interest of
bird-watching (as strange as it sounds) creates a world that is
interesting for the reader.
I noticed that Mark Billingham was now free from a long
line of fans getting their copies of Lazy Bones
signed, so I guess I wanted to see what was new with him, during
his hectic promotional tour. So I decided to give him the last
Ali : Hello Mark Billingham and you look tired, man!
Mark : Hello Shots and yes I am tired I have been pushing Lazy
Bones like a bastard
.I have been
covering the country.
Ali : And I heard you were over in the States.
Mark : Yes I was over for a few days to help launch Scaredy
Cat which has just been released there. It was a week of Los
Angeles, New York , Washington sort of hit-and-run and
it was great.
Ali : Congratulations with Tom Thorne winning the Sherlock as
well as a short story coming out in John Harveys new
Mark : Yes, thanks. John Harvey has this excellent collection,
and a most amazing series of writers like Dennis Lehane, George
Pelecanos, Jeff Deaver and Mike Connelly
and like, who doesnt
it have in it? In fact, I reckon Im in it by some amazing
typing error! And its out in November.
Ali : Busy man, and I hear you are nominated for the Deadly
Pleasures Barry Award at Vegas?
Mark : But the nominated authors are just great, and John
Connolly is up for it too for the fourth year running! So vote
John Connolly I say
I then moved over to a writer that I am ashamed to admit I knew
very little about, though as a writer, Zoe Sharp has been
gaining good word-of-mouth with her series about Charlie Fox.
Ali : Hello Zoe, would care to introduce your work to our
Zoe : I write a series about a tough ex-army self-defense
instructor called Charlie Fox. She progresses to becoming a
bodyguard in my latest book which is called First Drop
and due out in November. That is the fourth in the series and is
about her going undercover at an elite training school in Germany
to investigate the murder of an ex-army colleague who is murdered
Ali : Interesting and I look forward to exploring the series.
Tired and exhausted after all that chatting about crime and
mystery I headed off to the pub with Chris Humphreys leading the
way. Inside the pub I mingled with a number of writers relaxing
their hands around beer after the marathon signings and all were
in good form, enjoying the cool of the evening.
I cannot recommend the event highly enough for the serious
mystery/crime fiction fan and collector, as apart from the array
of authors, you will find Heffers a most hospitable and
Shots eZine would like to thank Richard Reynolds and all the
staff of Heffers for their hospitality and would remind you to
mark your diaries for next years Bodies in the Bookshop event.
Our report from last years event (2002) is archived at :-
More information on Crime/Mystery Fiction (as well as their
excellent crime fiction catalogue) at Heffers is available from :-
Heffers Booksellers, 20 Trinity Street,Cambridge,CB2 1TY
Tel 0044 (0) 1223 568568
Fax 0044 (0) 1233 568591
Or Email Richard Reynolds (The Hound of Heffers) directly :
Ali S Karim is an industrial chemist, freelance journalist and
book reviewer living in England. Apart from his duties as
Assistant Editor for Shots eZine, he also contributes to January
magazine and Deadly Pleasures Magazine, and is
currently working on Wreaths, a
violent techno-thriller set in the world of plant viruses and
out-of-work espionage agents.