Mike Ripley Getting Away With Murder by Mike Ripley
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Essex Girls (and Boys)


The world of crime writing is well represented in the upcoming Essex Book Festival, which is launched by P.D. James on 1st March in a live broadcast on BBC Radio Essex from Witham Library, which is about two doors down from the home of crime legend Dorothy L. Sayers. As it is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sayers, one of the great “Essex Girls” of crime writing, it is fitting that the annual DLS Lecture should be incorporated as part of the month long festival and will be given, this year, by Simon Brett.


The highlight of the Festival though, I have to say, is an evening in the Civic Theatre Chelmsford dedicated to  Everything you ever wanted to know about Morse (and Lewis) but were afraid to ask starring Colin Dexter and Ted Childs, the executive producer of both Inspector Morse and the new series of Lewis.

Inspector Morse


Now I have to say this is the highlight of the Festival because I will be acting as ringmaster for the event. Sometime in the early ‘8os, I met Ted Childs in a pub in London. In 1990, I first met Colin Dexter in a pub in London. It was a completely different pub of course.


A few years ago, when I was involved in giving a Sherlock Award to Inspector Morse, I hoped I might get the two of them together but Ted couldn’t make it, so Colin and producer Chris Burt had to pick up the statuette of the great Holmes. (We still went round the pub, though.)


If Morse isn’t your scene, however, the bookworms of Essex County Libraries are offering plenty of alternatives. On the crime scene, Peter Lovesey will be appearing at Grays (6th March), Barbara Nadel at Corringham (29th), Gilda O’Neill at South Woodham Ferrers (2nd) Sam Bourne (aka Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland) at Shenfield (15th), Andrew Taylor at Prettygate, Colchester (28th), Lindsey Davis at Colchester Central (9th) and both halves of Nicci French at Felstead (1st).


Full details of the Festival can be found on www.essexbookfestival.org.uk




Surfing the Webnet


I have stumbled upon the website of that talented wee Braveheart, Christopher Brookmyre, on www.brookmyre.co.uk where “CB” as he is known hosts what I believe is called a chat room.

Christopher Brookmyre

{Caught on the CCTV in the famous Murder One bookshop, here is “CB” picking up a Sherlock Award some years ago. Also honoured that day was June Thomson and lurking behind Christopher is Dennis Norden, the guest presenter. Also pictured is Jane Wood, of publishers Orion, displaying a fine pair of Sherlocks.}


Regular visitors to this haven of intellectual life in cyberspace are known as “Brookies” (well, they are now) and contribute under a variety of pen-names such as: Evil Homer, Yoda, Elgrumpo, Drugbuddy, Charmlessman, Intothemyreagain (geddit?) and Colin.


My favourite poster, though, is Gutter Slut who posted the question: “Anyone read either Nick Revell or Mike Ripley? Am ready to take the plunge, but with a fair bit of reluctance in case they, frankly, bite.”


Sadly, we don’t know if Gutter Slut did plunge, for she asked this in 2004 and as far as I can see is still waiting for an answer.


So too is Colin who asked: “Does anyone fancy a bit of Quentin Jardine? Not a patch on CB but better than Rankin.”


Elsewhere on the interweb I discover that Christopher now styles himself “the fourth coolest writer in the world”. Hmm, interesting. I wonder who the other two are?


Another Scottish writer person is Stuart MacBride.

Stuart MacBride

He too has a flourishing website

(www.stuartmacbride.com) and on it, he promises to update it just as soon as his latest book is delivered to “the spoon-wielding Berber ninjas at HarperCollins.”


Now what can he mean by that? I think we should be told.



Letting Slip the Blogs of War


Someone who knows about these things told me recently that this column was being discussed “on the wet floor of the internet” by persons know as ‘Bloggers’, which I had always thought were members of a 17th century protestant sect with egalitarian views on property-ownership.


I have subsequently spent many minutes tracking down the most interesting “blogs”, i.e. the ones that mention me.


Firstly, I discovered the lady (obviously an intelligent and avid reader of fiction) who was complaining that every time she visited her library (in York, I think), it was only to discover that my first attempt at historical fiction, Boudica and the Lost Roman, seemed to be constantly out on loan, I’m delighted to say. (Both copies.)


I commiserated with the lady but thought little more about it, until I discovered that a year later the same lady was blogging (if that’s a verb) the fact that tired of being disappointed, she had put in a request to her library and reserved a copy and was now, finally, going to review it.


And her verdict? “It’s a horrible, awful, realistic and rather good book. It’s almost an antidote to some recent Boudica novels.”


Which I think is brilliant and I couldn’t have done better myself. Well, I could, but nobody would have believed me.


Not all blogger-reviewers are so astute and many take strength from anonymity. Their “reviews” can also stay up on the interweb for an amazingly long time (Is there no such thing as ‘out of print’ on the web?).


Take, for example, the ‘review’ of one of my ‘Angel’ crime comedies (though ‘comedy’ is not a word in most bloggers’ spellcheck function) from at least seven years ago, anonymous of course. This berates me personally for “living in Hampstead and driving a big 4 x 4  whilst pillorying people trying to import (smuggle) cheap booze from Europe” when I should really “try and survive on an Aviva bus driver’s salary”.


Which actually raises two points, neither of which I could address because the blogger remained stubbornly anonymous.


1)        I do not live in Hampstead, nor do I drive a 4 x 4. My hero does. I made him up.


2)        What the hell is an Aviva bus driver doing reading one of my books? Hasn’t he noticed his passengers screaming?



Found in Translation


Laughing at foreigners may not be big or clever, but it is easy. Whenever I need a chuckle, I try and find something about me on the interweb and put it through the Google Translator.


This gem is from Amazon France, describing my latest novel (and therefore giving me the opportunity for a blatant plug) Angel’s Share (Allison & Busby).

Angel's Share, cover

In the description, “his latest case” comes out as “his latest box” which is at least sort of logical. But then the phrase “long-lost love” comes out as “length-lost coils” and I start to worry slightly.


Best of all though is the exhortation by Amazon.Fr for browsers to comment on line when it proudly says: Be the first nobody to write a comment on this article.





Flying the Flag (Half-Mast)


Could 2007 be the year when British crime writing becomes a minority sport in Britain? In terms of the number of new titles published by British authors, it could be.


Five years ago the number of new crime titles by Brits represented 57% of the total titles published in the UK and it stayed around that figure until this year when it dropped to an estimated 52%.


It is just possible that 2007 will see the home-grown share of the market (in titles if not sales) drop below the 50% mark for the first time.


One very welcome invader from Europe is Dutch journalist Saskia Noort, whose thriller The Dinner Club is published here in January by those wonderful people at Bitter Lemon Press.

Saskia Noort, The Dinner Club

I think this is the English debut for Saskia, although her novels are published all over Europe and it comes with the hype “Desperate Housewives scripted by Patricia Highsmith.”


Hmm; well I don’t know about that but certainly The Dinner Club was a success in Holland when it came out in 2004, selling over 300,000 copies.

I suspect this is more down to it being a clever social satire on the Dutch suburban middle-classes, rather than a classic crime chiller, although it does deal with numerous crimes (and many misdemeanours)on the way to a snappy bit of violence at the end.


The Dutch title was De eetclub, which you would have thought the publicists could have had a field day with. But then perhaps not, as the first rule of eetclub is never to talk about eetclub…





The Sheriff of Mumbai


The legendary Inspector Ghote may not be with us anymore, and Bombay is now Mumbai, but the equally legendary creator of the self-effacing Indian detective, Harry Keating, is certainly still around and recently celebrated his 80th birthday in perfect style.


The members of that august body, The Detection Club, of which Harry was the President from 1985-2000, have given him the ultimate birthday present in the form of an anthology of specially written short stories, published by Allison & Busby as The Verdict of Us All, with an introduction by Dick Francis and edited by Peter Lovesey.

The Verdict of Us All, Cover


A star-studded cast of contributors includes Lionel Davidson, Reginald Hill, Catherine Aird, Robert Barnard and Simon Brett. As a bonus, Len Deighton produces his first short story for thirty years and Colin Dexter, that old cruciverbalist, has great fun with an Inspector Lewis story (the first one in captivity?)though the fingerprints of the great Morse are all over it.


Given that all the contributors seem to know Harry or his work as a crime writer and critic, there are lots of in-jokes and references to India and beards, especially beards; but it was a fabulous way to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone who has contributed so much to the genre.


I am reliably informed that a leather-bound edition of Verdict was produced by Harry’s publishers (those wonderful people at Allison & Busby)and presented to the great man at a dinner for the Detection Club, of which Harry is a past

Grand Wizard.


Now I’m not actually sure if Grand Wizard is a proper title or office, for the Detection Club surrounds itself in secrecy and its meetings are legendary for their ancient rituals and maximum security. I am reasonably certain there was a dinner and that Harry received a leather-bound book but sadly the two undercover photographers I infiltrated into the dinner disguised as waiters failed to return to the Muswell Hill Jobseeker Agency. I have therefore had to resort to a picture of HRFK stolen from the back of one of his own books.


Harry Keating


When I took my first stumbling steps into crime writing, Harry was already a legend, having created Inspector Ghote (without, for a long time, going nearer to India than Dover) and for a fifteen-year stint as crime critic of The Times.


His name was familiar to me not just on the front of the Ghote books, but on the back of most of the detective novels I read, where his reviews were always quoted with pride. A Keating recommendation was highly valued and, a bit like the Soil Association’s Organic symbol, usually a mark of quality.


His tenure at The Times was over by the time my first novel came out and, at the time, I suspect I was rather relieved, for the last thing I wanted in those early days was to be reviewed by someone who knew what they were talking about!


I had already met the critic Julian Symons, whom I got to know quite well. Whilst invariably polite and friendly personally, he did inform me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t like my books because I didn’t take the ‘puzzle element’ seriously enough.


With this in mind, I was somewhat taken aback to be approached (at a launch party for a Peter Lovesey novel I seem to remember) by a soft-spoken, very polite and, yes, heavily bearded, man who seemed to know who I was and what I’d written.


I had already devoured the Whodunit? Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction which Harry edited in 1982 (and is still a standard text for newcomers to the genre)and at subsequent meetings I tried in vain to persuade him to update it.


When I started reviewing and was asked to contribute an article in some American journal, I contacted Harry to quiz him on his other major work of reference, Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books, which had been published in 1987 but I was unable to get hold of. With typical generosity, Harry sent one by return of post, dedicated to me as a “generous and perceptive reviewer”, though that shouldn’t be held against him.


In 1995, he and I appeared together at the Nottingham Bouchercon on a panel entitled “Too Honest By Half? The Art and Artfulness of Reviewing”. I have no idea what the audience thought of it, but I was happy just being there on stage with that encyclopaedic thinking-machine.


Five years later, Harry and I were asked, jointly, to produce “The 100 best crime novels of the 20th Century” for The Times (30 September 2000), which we managed to do by correspondence after two months of re-reading, pencil-sucking and facial-hair tugging, though without tears.


On reflection I am amazed that the exercise went off so smoothly and when compromises had to be made, they were done so in good spirit (“without heat” as Harry put it), though I think Harry still blames me for us having to drop one of his favourites, Guy Cullingford, whilst I feel the same about the rejection of Philip MacDonald.

Since then, I haven’t had the chance to work with Harry and fortuitous meetings at publishers’ parties have been tempered by far more sober telephone calls which, these days, seem to revolve around funeral arrangements for mutual friends and colleagues.

Politically correct?


The adventures of the late W.J. Burley’s Cornish copper, Wycliffe, are currently being repeated on ITV’s digital channels and publisher Orion is doing sterling work keeping the novels, which date from the 1960s, in print.


New paperback editions of two Wycliffes came out just before Christmas and dare one suggest that political correctness is at play now that the title of Wycliffe and the Schoolgirls has been altered to Wycliffe and the School Bullies?


Interestingly enough, the title of Burley’s best-known book, Wycliffe and the Three-Toed Pussy, remains unchanged.



Publisher of the Year


Because I’m a sad anorak, I try to keep a database of all crime fiction published in the UK and have been doing so for seven or eight years. Normally this involves a painstaking trawl through the catalogues which publishers produce twice a year which are aimed at the trade and so the reading punter rarely sees them. Which is a pity as there is some good stuff in those colourful little booklets.


Some are very well-designed and several are quite informative; some actually turn out to be accurate. When a publisher decides to dispense with a catalogue, and go entirely “on-line”, then it usually ends in tears. (You know who you are, Viking/Penguin.)


My one personal award for Publisher of the Year must go to Little,Brown, whose Spring 2007 catalogue is clarity itself and stuffed with interesting books other than crime fiction which I would otherwise probably never have heard about.


Sadly just too late for my Christmas stocking this year, I note the forthcoming Sphere title:

The Wine Diet: A Complete Nutritional Lifestyle.

To hell with the Atkins, this is the one for me.



Column on the Year


This column is already hot favourite for the award of “Best Column called Getting Away With Murder” 2006, though admittedly there are not many other contenders.


It could sweep the boards in two categories, firstly as an interweb blog thingy and secondly in a print version, for it is indeed a fact that this column is now syndicated on no less than two continents, nestled within the authoritative pages of American magazine Deadly Pleasures, edited by the erudite George Easter.




Most general readers, sometimes known as “civilians”, have little idea of exactly how a book gets from the author’s inkwell and into the shops, or how long the process can take.


An interesting, and very honest, sidelight on the process comes in an author’s note by the ever-charming Natasha Cooper to her new novel A Greater Evil, which is published by Simon & Schuster in February 2007.

Natasha Cooper

To explain the seeming omission of the suicide bombings in London in July 2005, Natasha points out that she actually finished writing the novel in May 2005, two months before that awful act of terror and twenty-two months (if my maths is right) before the book comes out.


With advances in printing technology and the electronic transfer of manuscripts, you’d have thought the process of actually producing a finished book would be faster than ever, but I get the impression it is getting longer




Yule Log-Rolling


The annual round-ups of ‘Books of the Year’ in the quality press seem to be getting earlier. Before November was out we were offered the choices of the great and the good. This has long been known in the trade as a great opportunity for “log-rolling” – where one novelist recommends the latest book of a friend, who then returns the compliment in a different newspaper- but surprisingly few examples this year.


And very little crime fiction gets a mention. The fragrant Jilly Cooper, in The Observer, opts firmly for Ian Rankin’s The Naming of the Dead. Oddly, in the same day’s Sunday Telegraph, she dispenses with crime altogether, going instead for some judicious name-dropping and recommending books by Rachel (sister of Boris) Johnson, Sandra (Mrs Michael) Howard and Annabel Goldsmith.


Only Tibor Fischer, again in the Sunday Telegraph, flies the flag for crime, plumping, with exquisite good taste, for Derek Robinson’s Red Rag Blues and Nick Stone’s Mr Clarinet.


And all that jazz

That writer of most intelligent thrillers and nifty hardboiled crime stories set in the US, Rob Ryan (whose new WWII thriller Dying Day comes out from Review in March) showed off another feather in his cap in November at the London Jazz Festival, as broadcast on Radio 3.


Working with the Guy Barker Big Band, young Rob contributed the story for “dZf” a work more traditionally known as Die Zauberflote  or Mozart’s Magic Flute, but in this case transposed to the West Coast jazz scene with a plotline straight out of early-period Mickey Spillane, the characters relishing “the sweet smell of cordite”.


As we, here in the Fenchurch St Paul Jazz Club (meets alternative Tuesdays in the village hall if wet), would say: “Niiiice.”



Blatant Plug #2


Hearty congratulations are due to that small, but perfectly formed company Telos Publishing who won a special award at the recent World Fantasy Convention in Austin, Texas.


Although far better known for their dedication to the sci-fi and fantasy genres, Telos splashed out into the murky waters of crime last year by re-issuing the first three ‘Angel’ novels from 1988, 1989 and 1990 in splendidly garish new covers.


For anyone not fluent in Japanese, this is the first opportunity for a decade to read the early works of an author many predicted would become a cult.


(At least, I think that’s what they said.)


The Ripster.



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