By the time you read this, the new John Grisham legal thriller, The Associate (from that cornerstone of crime publishing, Century), will be the number one bestseller, yet my copy only arrived the day I heard that Murder One on the Charing Cross Road was admitting it was a fair cop, society was probably to blame, and that it would cease trading.
It was an odd juxtaposition of emotions, for, ironically, Murder One was one of the few (if not the only) venues in the UK where John Grisham used to sign copies of his books and I immediately called to mind the visiting crime writers I have met there in the past, including James Ellroy, Robert B. Parker and Ed McBain.
Those were just some of the big name Americans who appeared at Murder One. To run into a British crime writer there was not so much an event as a virtually unavoidable daily occurrence as Murder One was not just a bookshop but a meeting place. Not only did countless authors hold book launches there, but many an author-event took place, such as the announcement of the Sherlock Awards in their early days as pictured here with (among other luminaries): Peter Lovesey, legendary crime editor Hilary Hale, Lindsey Davis and Colin Dexter.
For over twenty years, Murder One was an institution, a Mecca for mystery readers from all over the world and a headquarters for British writers finding themselves anywhere near Tottenham Court Road tube station, where it was extremely convenient for those on urgent business trips to either Gerry’s Club,
The Coach and Horses or The Spice of Life.
One saw off several imitators (at one point there were three crime
One wonders if the recession, which is bound to see a tightening of belts in 2009, will boost the use of public libraries, where crime fiction is the most popular of genres borrowed. It is a thought close to the hearts of many a writer this month as the Public Lending Right makes its annual payments.
I am indebted to that most elegant of crime writers and astute critic (of the Literary Review) Jessica Mann, for putting me on the trail of a 70-year-old archaeological thriller which I had no idea existed.
husband, archaeologist Charles Thomas, in a recent paper for the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall
discussed the role, back in the 1930s, played by one Stanley
Casson in the
excavation and interpretation of the famous
an archaeologist and pottery expert, had also been present at an
on by Jessica’s recommendation, I tracked down the book,
which proved to be an
absolute delight. Set in the mythical town of
Murder By Burial is far from a Golden Age classic in terms of plot or detection (the ‘detective’ doesn’t turn up until quite late in the day), but it is clever, informative if you have an interest in archaeology (and an attention span longer than Time Team’s regulation “only three days...”), very well written and, in parts, extremely funny.
Stanley Casson could certainly turn a waspish phrase when it came to describing the bluff and bluster of the country town middle classes, especially when one faction establishes a proto-Fascist “Roman Guard” to defend the propertied elite against Bolsheviks, anarchists and the great unwashed. (The book was written in 1936/37 against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism).
Ironically, the murderer in the story dies in an air crash whilst escaping to Spain, a cruel prophesy of the author’s own death in an air crash in Greece in 1944 whilst working for British Intelligence.
Apart from being a distinguished soldier (in both World Wars), an expert archaeologist and a gifted writer, Stanley Casson had one other great claim to fame.
student days at
“But Dean,” said Casson, “I am the new archaeology Fellow.”
“Never mind,” replied Spooner, “come all the same.”
I did not know until recently that the title of Tom Cain’s second thriller The Survivor had been re-titled for American publication as No Survivors.
So, no confusion there, then.
Having said that, I have already anticipated Sergio Bizzio’s Rage, to be published later this year by Bitter Lemon, and the late Roberto Bolano’s 2666, the Chilean surrealist’s posthumous masterpiece, published by Picador.
hear of another “literary thriller” from Argentine
writer Pablo De Santis, The
Paris Enigma, set in and around the Great
was a small copper coin worth one quarter of an (old) penny in the days
fond memories have been provoked by reading Farthing, a crime novel
by Jo Walton (published by Tor Books in
the intriguing alternative version of world history (Hitler is still at
understand that Jo Walton is a lady with Welsh origins (and I apologise
profusely if I have mistakenly slandered her) who now lives in
It appears you might have to be French to see the film adaptation of James Lee Burke’s wonderfully atmospheric novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, at least at a cinema.
the much anticipated movie version of the 1993 novel, starring Tommy
as Dave Robicheaux and directed by Bertrand Taverner, seems destined to
Anyone who has not come across the work of Andrew Vachss (with whom I have had the honour to correspond over the years) and particularly the “Burke” series, which began with Flood in 1985, has a serious gap in his or her crime fiction education and is quite possibly beyond redemption. To say that Vachss’ writing is “hard boiled” is a bit like saying that Raymond Chandler once made a wisecrack or that Volkswagen once made small family cars.
Not only does he have a writing ‘voice’ as distinctive as Chandler or Ellroy, but in the Burke books he has created an entire underground universe in which his ensemble cast (Burke’s extended, and criminal, family) inhabit a New York where life is hard but death, perversion and corruption ridiculously easy. Burke’s home turf is drained of colour and devoid of any texture except asphalt and though technically an outlaw, Burke is its resident mercenary dark knight and often the only source of justice for city’s countless victims.
For almost 25 years, Burke has fought tooth and nail (and I do mean that) to protect victims of pornography and sex abuse, especially where it concerns children (Vachss is a lawyer specialising in such cases), though is also more than willing to take on white supremacists and ‘Aryan Nation’ Nazis should the need arise – which it usually does.
Vachss does not provide easy, comforting reads and his aim is to promote anger at the atrocities he sees on a daily basis. Yet there is no denying him a place at the top table of innovative and utterly distinctive mystery writers, which makes the rumour that Another Life could be Burke’s swansong all the more depressing.
novel (which I do not think is published in the
‘To qualify, ‘worm noir’ must be part of the pantheon of the certifiably untalented. It has certain fraudulence about it, a distinctive odour. And all its authors seem to have followed the same path to publication.....How could a sheep walk the mean streets alone? What their herd produces is nothing but recycling.’
Another Life also fills in some of the blanks in Burke’s personal history and there are some surprises, not the least being that he did not know what Steak Tartare was. I would have thought, with his fondness for large and aggressive dogs that he, of all people, would have appreciated raw meat.
Curious Crime Fiction Fact #1: Why was 1993 a busy year for Australian actor Bryan Brown?
Because – and there’s not many people know this – he starred in both the film version of Reginald Hill’s thriller The Long Kill (though the setting was changed to the US and the title to The Last Hit) and he starred as Marcus Didius Falco in a TV movie of Lindsey Davis’ The Silver Pigs, re-titled The Age of Treason.
I first came across the name Patry Francis as one of the contributors to the Killer Year anthology edited by Lee Child. It is not a name you can easily forget, as it is not ‘Patsy’ yet not quite ‘Patricia’ and more people will have to learn to avoid such mistakes over here now as Patry’s first novel, The Liar’s Diary is published in the UK this month by that most impressive, relatively new despite its name, outfit Old Street Publishing.
Liar’s Diary (it’s not giving too much away
to tell readers to keep the title in mind) is an atmospheric,
closely-controlled psychological thriller set in small town
I am grateful to crime writer Jim Kelly for the way he brilliantly depicts the harsh winters experienced by those of us living in East Anglia in his new novel Death Wore White (from those perky publishers at Penguin).
book also marks the debut of detective duo Inspector Shaw and Sergeant
Valentine of the West Norfolk Constabulary and the opening action
two very unnatural deaths) takes
place on the snowbound, storm-lashed
Death Wore White is a determinedly old-fashioned type of detective story and comes complete with a map of “Siberia Belt” (the local name for the coast road where the nastiness happens) which would not be out of place in a green-jacketed Golden Age Penguin.
It seems that winning the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement has done nothing to slow the activities of crime-writing maestro John Harvey who, in 2009, is making a serious challenge for the record number of appearances at crime writing and literary festivals. (The 2008 title was won effortlessly by the ubiquitous Laura Wilson.)
you miss John at the Scarborough Literary Festival in April, you can
at Crimefest in
If you fail to make any of the gigs on the Harvey 09 World Tour (well, England anyway), you can always watch his 2008 Bouchercon interview with Otto Penzler on YouTube or catch a repeat of his TV show explaining “Who Is Kurt Wallender”. And to while away his spare moments, John has started a “Blog” (mellotone70up.wordpress.com) which lists books he has read, films he has seen and tunes he has i-podded recently.
Or you could just wait for his new novel Far Cry which is expected in June.
And speaking of Cartier Diamond Dagger winners, I am delighted that the 2009 “super-sleuth” award will go to that serial prize-winner Andrew Taylor.
Andrew’s achievements in crime-writing are legion, from one of his novels being made a Richard & Judy choice to winning the Ellis Peters award not once, but twice (and being nominated umpteen times). In addition he has not only had the foolhardy bravado to appear in public with me but even subjected himself to being a contestant on a crime fiction quiz show I once chaired (on which he proved to be so knowledgeable, he was never asked back).
So the Cartier Dagger for lifetime achievement is well deserved, not the least for his wonderful series of Bergerac novels in the 1980s under the pen-name Andrew Saville.
I have to welcome a new member of the crime reviewing fraternity in the saddest of circumstances in the shape of Julia Handford on the Sunday Telegraph, as a replacement for Susannah Yager, who died just before Christmas.
Susannah took over from me as crime reviewer for the Sunday when I moved from there to the Daily Telegraph in 1991 and she remained a safe pair of hands for 17 years, latterly contributing an impressive two reviews per week in the magazine section Seven.
Julia Handford’s first column appeared in January and I do hope she quickly finds some crime writers more to her taste than the two she chose to review on her debut: Jeffery Deaver (“...the punch-drunk reader ploughs on and on...”) and Linwood Barclay (“the mechanical plot is not redeemed by the prose which is entirely without style”).
I have mentioned before, and will again, the fantastic quality of spy fiction currently being written and have flagged up Alan Furst, David Downing, Charles Cumming and Aly Monroe as especially noteworthy.
And now I have discovered (a little late in the day, I admit), Olen Steinhauer, whose confident, complex new novel The Tourist is said to be destined for great things when published in March.
The advance hype talks of a 100,000 copy first print run and a pending film deal involving George Clooney. Could life get any better? Well I suppose it could if the book received rave reviews and I am totally confident it will do that (for publishers’ print-run claims and Mr Clooney I cannot speak) as it is a very good book indeed.
A good spy story is plot-driven, an excellent one is plot and character-driven. Steinhauer holds the reins on both elements and he shows he has a pretty firm grip.
The Raymond Chandler/Fulbright scholarships were a wonderful institution and possibly still are, though their profile has dropped somewhat in recent years. In the 1990s, British crime writers Ian Rankin and Denise Danks were granted scholarships from the British end to go and live and write in America, and I remember having lunch with American thriller Ridley Pearson (a great fan of John D. Macdonald and therefore an all-round good guy) on the ‘return leg’ of a scholarship.
But all that was well over a decade ago and I am heartened to discover that the Fulbrights are still doing the job they were designed to do: encouraging and enabling young writers to travel – and above all, granting them the time to do so.
reaches me from the colonies that short-lists for the prestigious 2009
awards (named after E.A. Poe, Esq.) have been announced. Many of the
unfamiliar to me, belonging to authors whose work has not yet crossed
names were familiar, however, and caused a frisson
of surprise here at Ripster Hall. First was that of Meg Gardiner, who
certainly well known in
no doubt the Ms Gardiner is an entirely worthy contender for an Edgar.
surprised me was that the book nominated in the Best Paperback Original
second surprise was to see on the Best Novel short list, The Night Following by
Morag Joss, a book which I had no idea existed! The reason for my
mark is that I rated very highly Morag Joss’ 2005 Silver
Dagger winning novel Half
Broken Things and would certainly have read her
new one had I been
aware of it. It appears that Morag (a charming and foolishly modest
changed publishers and her novel was published last year in the
Sophie Hannah is a poet and award-winning short story writer who has also garnered impressive reviews for her three ‘psychological suspense novels’. Now comes her latest, The Other Half Lives from that noble house of publishing, Hodder & Stoughton.
I have also been pressed by several friends “in the business” to try Sophie Hannah’s novels and the thumbnail comparisons most often used have been the names Barbara Vine and Daphne Du Maurier, and so it was with some trepidation that I started The Other Half Lives.
Neither my colleagues nor literary-minded reviewers in the “quality” press however, had prepared me for how funny the book would be. It is by no means a comedy – it is a genuinely unsettling emotional and psychological thriller about pretty disturbed people – but it is written with genuine wit and flair, with all the best lines going to women, especially the ones about vibrators!
There’s a troubled female police officer who admits that professionally she tends to “Err on the side of negligence” wherever possible and when a friend describes another woman as “a cockroach”, the wisecracking response is: “More of a slug, I’d say she’s all squish and no crunch”. Fabulous stuff.
late arrival at the Hannah party, you might say I’m a
convert. My only carp is
that this book seems to have been physically expanded in the printing
to occupy over 550 pages and it arrived the week publishers in the
One is never too old to learn things in this life and I was hoping to acquire a little bit of knowledge about the crime and mystery genre before it was too late, just so that I could bluff my way through the odd cocktail party, should I ever be invited to one.
I thought my chance had come when I was promised copies of two forthcoming and surely seminal works back in October. One was my old friend Russell James’ Great British Fictional Detectives and the other was the two-volume British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia edited by that distinguished man of letters and lunches, Professor Barry Forshaw.
Sadly neither tome appeared before Christmas or indeed since and so I remain in a state of blissful ignorance.
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