At a recent bookshop promotion I found myself signing books in the company of the charming Zoe Sharp, one of the rising stars on the crime writing scene, who effortlessly wooed a whole posse of readers and fans.
Yet only a couple of days later I choked over my breakfast All Bran when there, leaping out from my Daily Telegraph was a picture of a much fiercer Ms Sharp balancing an AK 47 on her hip.
The accompanying story, about the first Thriller convention in Arizona, claimed:
‘Zoe Sharp learned to shoot when...she acquired a
Now I may have got this crime writing business all wrong, but if you are planning to shoot someone, should you really be telling the Daily Telegraph?
The same article also had a picture of Birmingham-born Lee Child posing in ‘Jack Reacher’ mode with a big automatic hand gun, possibly an upgraded Springfield P9 but I could be wrong.
Lee may look macho, but he doesn’t look very happy. It is probably something to do with the giant ear defenders he’s wearing. He’s either thinking ‘Do these make me look like Princess Leia in Star Wars?’ Or maybe he’s worried about the prospects for his beloved Aston Villa this season.
On the whole, British crime writers are probably best advised not to be seen playing with guns, because somehow it just doesn’t look right.
The nearest I’ve ever come is when my series hero Fitzroy Maclean Angel was enrolled in the National Rifle Association by an American fan in 1992. I have a certificate to prove it and I got a bumper sticker informing me that the West wasn’t won with registered gun.
Where deer and buffalo roam
A new historical mystery published in the US, the debut novel of Steve Hockensmith, features two Montana cowboys investigating the mysteries of life. No, not Brokeback Mountain; these two are brothers, Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer who become the wild west version of Holmes and Watson after following the serialised adventures of the Baker Street duo in imported magazines. The title? Well it just had to be Holmes On The Range didn’t it?
Is it just me, or does anyone else see the striking resemblance between actor and crime writer Martyn ‘Big Man’ Waites and the James Bond portrayed on the cover of the 1960 paperback of Casino Royale?
With the popularity of retro cover art and the upcoming new film based on the first Bond book, Martyn might be in for a lucrative third career as a model. Sorry, Pierce. Sorry, Daniel.
Come to think of it, has anyone notice the similarity between the damsel in distress on this cover and a slightly startled Maria Rejt, the diva crime editrix at Macmillan’s?
Or is it just me?
Two of my oldest and most distinguished friends, Colin Dexter and TV producer Ted Childs both seem to be well-pleased with the response to the first episode of Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis. At least three more episodes are to be filmed this autumn for transmission early in 2007.
Best party of the season was thrown in honour of the effervescent Deryn Lake, the undoubted Queen of the Georgian historical mystery in the top secret headquarters of publishers Allison & Busby, deep in the heart of Len Deighton’s Ipcress File country, where the champagne ran in torrents.
And it was back to London for the inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger awards dinner where the guest-speaker, Radio 4’s James Naughtie, went on far longer than he would ever have allowed a politician interviewee and then, the next morning, there he was on the radio, still talking. Spooky!
One of the main problems on a hot, humid evening was that the Waldorf Hilton seemed to have run out of ice, which was bloody ironic considering some of the interiors for Titanic were shot there. Even the bottled water served at the dinner was room temperature, although Mark Timlin did suggest to a passing waiter that it was warm enough to shave in.
Being hot and thirsty made it difficult to concentrate on the new vocabulary needed for Dagger ceremonies these days.
There is now a Debut dagger, for unpublished work (surely shome mistake, Ed?) whereas the best published debut novel gets the New Blood Dagger, which used to be called the John Creasey Dagger (though booksellers, who get younger every year, don’t have a clue who Creasey was) and must not be confused with the First Blood award of 1995, awarded by crime reviewers and critics when the Crime Writers Association’s judges decided there was nothing good enough to give a Creasey to that year, despite drawing up a short-list of candidates and, cruelly, making that list public.
And of course, the famous Gold Dagger is now the Duncan Lawrie Dagger, though more people at the dinner knew who John Creasey was rather than Mr Lawrie, and there is no Silver Dagger any more.
For thrillers, there is of course the relatively new Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, though eyebrows were raised (in true Roger Moore fashion) as to why Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer (a Richard & Judy favourite) and indeed Martyn ‘Big Man’ Waites’ Mercy Seat were short-listed for the Fleming Dagger but not the Lawrie.
Which comes down, of course, to what you regard as a ‘thriller’ and what you think is a ‘crime novel’.
In the days before anyone thought of the term ‘crime novel’ and the terminology revolved around ‘the detective story’ or the ‘whodunit?’ Dorothy L. Sayers, then crime fiction critic for The Sunday Times had three goes over successive months trying to define the difference between detective story and thriller.
The best she came up with went something like this: In a crime story, it is what has happened before which is
the most important aspect; with the thriller it is what happens next.
More than 70 years on, that’s still not a bad definition. I’d be interested to hear the judges’ definition, if they have one.
Highlight of the Dagger thrash was meeting up with D.V. Wesselmann, a shy and retiring American from the metropolis that is Walnut, Iowa, who writes under the magnificent name of Otis Twelve.
For three years now, I have enjoyed an afternoon snifter with Otis immediately following Dagger lunches held at the Chiswell Street function rooms which used to be the Whitbread Brewery, because for three years Otis has been short-listed for the Debut Dagger.
Now, at his fourth attempt, Otis has gone and won the damn thing! It must be the switch from an awards lunch to an awards dinner. Perhaps Otis works better at night.
And then it was to Cambridge on a hot and sultry night for the annual ‘Bodies in the Bookshop’ thrash run by esteemed crime fan Richard Reynolds in the famous Heffer’s bookshop.
It was alphabetical listing which placed me next to Roman history-mystery expert Rosemary Rowe, though it was an absolute delight to meet her and we spent the evening insulting people in Latin. Due to the tragic decline in educational standards in this country, no-one understood us and so we were able to get away scot-free.
I’d Like To Thank…
Time to get on my high horse again, in pursuit of author’s acknowledgements which could double as Oscar-acceptance speeches, my latest nominee is American thriller writer Vince Flynn.
In Consent To Kill, Vince spends the first two pages thanking 27 different people, including a US Senator, the Directorate of Operations of the CIA and his aunty Maureen.
However, the ultimate dedication must come in Kathleen McGowan’s The Expected One. This is the first in a predicted series which involves sacred scrolls, religious secrets buried in the south of France not far from Carcassonne, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene and historic clues involving, among others, Leonardo da Vinci. (Does any of this sound familiar?)
The book is dedicated to “Mary Magdalene, my muse, my ancestor.”
I wonder who’s going to top that?
At the risk of sounding non-PC and adding to the under-swell of moans about ‘bloody foreigners’ winning all the crime writing awards, I did raise an eyebrow when I received another copy of Roseanna for review, as less than two years ago I was welcoming the reissue of this 1960’s classic from the Orion Crime Masterworks series. But then, you can’t have too much of a good thing.
The crime scene here has absorbed several waves of Viking crime writers in recent years (were Vikings the first illegal immigrants?) but the original ‘Inspector Norse’ was undoubtedly Martin Beck, the Swedish cop hero of a series of ten novels written by husband-and-wife team of Maj Swjowall and Per Wahloo (or ‘Madge and Pete’ as we used to call them).
Although incredibly young and probably still in short trousers, I remember the arrival of the Martin Beck books in the UK in the late Sixties. They were Swedish, which was unusual and faintly exotic and the authors were dedicated Marxists, which gave an edge to the perspective they brought to the crime table.
Roseanna was the first in what was always planned as a series of ten novels, though The Laughing Policeman was probably the best known and the one which went on to win the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award.
In the year 2000, when The Times asked Harry Keating and I to select the ‘Top 100 crime thrillers of the 20th Century’, we chose Roseanna without any debate to represent the Beck series.
Harper Perennial are republishing all ten (in order)as paperbacks between now and December 2007, with introductions by the likes of Henning Mankell, Val McDermid, Andrew Taylor and Michael Connelly, so new readers can get the whole set without having to scour second-hand bookshops as I did on a schoolboy’s pocket money.
Per Wahloo died in 1975, shortly after completing the last novel in the series, The Terrorists, but Maj Sjowall, is still alive and in an interview quoted in the new Harper Perennial edition, she claims that the ten Martin Beck thrillers were always conceived as: ‘A single book of 300 chapters.’
Now that was quite an ambition and none would deny that the Martin Beck series was an outstanding achievement.
Little Englanders can rest easy, for Sjowall and Wahloo never won a crime writing prize in Britain, though much honoured and respected just about everywhere else. Indeed at the time, Maj claims they never expected to get translated into English – “that was for Strindberg, not us.”
The Beck books are rightly regarded as classics of the genre, but the dour Stockholm detective’s real legacy is in the waves of Viking writers arriving from not only Sweden, but Denmark, Iceland and Norway.
And it is from Norway that ‘the next big thing’ comes, in the shape of Jo Nesbo, the author of The Redbreast which is published here (in September) by Harvill Secker.
As one who has not been totally sold on rather gloomy Nordic policemen (Beck apart) in the past, I have to say that The Redbreast seems, at first glance, to do the business for me.
The Outing of Justin
About ten years ago, I lost touch with American writer Justin Scott. We had been Collins Crime Club authors in happier times, before the axe fell with the coming of HarperCollins, and we’re seen here along with Iain Pears before he hit the big time with An Instance of the Fingerpost.
Justin had made his name writing rip-roaring ocean-going adventures such as The Shipkiller and historical thrillers like A Pride of Kings before turning his hand to a very cultured, witty series of crime novels set in New England, featuring Ben Abbott, possibly the only estate agent private eye in fiction.
I became a great fan of Ben Abbott mysteries such as Hardscape and Frostline, but then we both got chopped by Collins and Justin’s visits to London became fewer.
However, thanks to some genuine detective work on my part (and an email to Bill Crider, who knows everything) I have made contact with Justin again and I can proudly out him.
For the last few years he has been working under deep cover producing a series of sailing/high seas adventures such as Sea Hunter and Fire and Ice under the pen-name Paul Garrison.
In January, Garrison reverts to Scott and Ben Abbott makes a very welcome return in McMansion published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press. Set once more in Newbury, Connecticut, Justin’s return to mainstream mysteries involves a good swipe at ‘McMansions’ – identikit oversized, wasteful houses – and venal property developers.
If the book gets picked up by a UK publisher, he’ll have to come up with another title as Murder in a Barrett Homes Executive Mansion probably won’t cut it.
Déjà vu Again
I know you can’t copyright a title, but I have to admit to a double-take at the new Serpent’s Tail anthology London Noir edited by Cathi Unsworth and featuring short stories by some famous diamond cockney geezers such as Martyn Waites, John Williams and Ken Bruen.
Could this noble volume possibly sit comfortably on my shelves next to London Noir, edited by Maxim Jakubowski and published by – you’ve guessed it – Serpent’s Tail?
It is only when I check the dates to find that Maxim’s was published way back in 1994. Bloody hell, where has the time gone? And the contributors to that anthology – Mark Timlin, Chaz Brenchley, John Harvey, Denise Danks, Liza Cody and Julian Rathbone – where are they now?
There was also a fresh-faced young Scottish goatherd called Ian Rankin. I wonder what ever happened to him?
Actually, young Mr Rankin turns out to be responsible for the sale of over 250,000 ‘audiobooks’ (as well as 10% of the gross national product of Crimeland) so it’s nice to see he’s keeping his hand in.
I have to admit to being fairly ignorant of the audiobook market in crime fiction, but it seems that in October, an audio version of a new Inspector Rebus novel, The Naming of the Dead, will appear on tape, on CD and on something called “MP3” whatever that is.
The new Rebus, and several others in the canon, is read by actor James Macpherson, who played DCI Jardine in Taggart for sixteen years. There’s a sort of synergy there.
Orion Audiobooks also publish (release?)sound versions of thrillers by Boris Akunin, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, John Grisham, Joseph Finder, Henry Porter and the late Robert Ludlum, who shows that death has not slowed his productivity.
Most interesting, though, for the audio anorak are the works of Michael Connelly, where the readers include, among others, David Soul, Alfred Molina and Burt Reynolds.
I feel sure there must be a potential Trivial Pursuit question in there somewhere.
Caught on Camera
The normally shy and retiring Rodney Wingfield, creator of Inspector Jack Frost, famously avoids the intrusive lenses of the paparazzi, however I can exclusively reveal he has finally been caught on camera.
Rumour has it that his Italian publishers demanded a picture of the author for the back jacket of the latest Frost they had translated and had to resort to landing a crack team of photographers from a helicopter on to the offshore Napoleonic fort on which Rodney lives and breeds attack dogs.
Their efforts clearly paid off.
The really good news for Frost fans is that Rodney is working on a new novel with working titles of Autumn Frost or possibly A Killing Frost due for publication in 2007.
A reader writes...
Responding furiously to a slur in my last column, Douglas Lindsey insists that he is NOT “the funniest Scotsman since Gordon Brown” but rather the funniest Scotsman since John Reid.
I think this is just to show that he is keeping up with events back in the old country, or at least England, for this summer he has been sweltering in 30+ degree heat (86 degrees F in real heat) in Poland of all places.
But then a Scottish person in 30 degree heat anywhere is just not right; not right at all.
Early Christmas Present
My first Christmas present of 2006 arrived in July in the shape of the excellent Granta Diary for 2007 (Granta Books, £9.99) which features classic crime fiction book covers in full colour, one per calendar week. With an introduction by Maxim Jakubowski, the crime guru of Charing Cross Road, this is the must-have stocking-filler for this year.
It is not clear, though, whether the examples included are ‘classic’ covers, or the covers of ‘classic’ novels. Some could be one or the other, some are clearly neither. Even so, it’s a fascinating, if limited, survey of the artistic effort which has gone into packaging crime fiction and with due modesty, Maxim includes only one of his own books – Skin In Darkness – which must have become an instant ‘classic’ as it was only published earlier this year.
The Name’s Bond
My spies tell me that the hot favourite to be the next author appointed to write the James Bond novels is none other than Mr Peter Guttridge, long known in literary circles as ‘The King of Comedy Crime’. (Just hearing that brings a smile to my lips.)
Naturally, Peter has to deny the rumours as the official announcement from the estate of Ian Fleming is not due until 2007 and will be tied in to the centenary celebrations of Fleming’s birth.
All of us who have attended one of Mr Guttridge’s master classes will agree that this is an inspired choice for he is truly a writer who is never shaken and only rarely stirred, and here I am trying to pick up a few tips on comedy.
Size isn’t everything
Last time, I mentioned that Vikram Chandra’s forthcoming Sacred Games from Faber which, at almost twice the length of The Moonstone, puts it up there as possibly the longest crime novel in print if not ever.
The finished book, and very handsome it is too, comes in at exactly 900 pages and apart from being very long, this tale of gangsters and utter corruption in modern Mumbai is also very, very good. In fact it is the most outstandingly well-written piece of fiction I’ve read this year, so hats off to Faber for taking a risk on a 900-page thriller with a Sikh detective.
Under the latest edict from the Crime Writers Association, any book making it on to the shortlist for the Duncan Lawrie (the old Gold) Dagger will now have to pay a £500 quality tax for being good enough to get there.
I trust Faber & Faber have stashed away £500 in an investment account somewhere. I’ve a feeling that Sacred Games will be needing it by next June.
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