As regular readers of this column will know, I am not one to blow my own trumpet, even though it is a classic 1919 B-flat model from Boosey & Hawkes. I may have mentioned in the past that I once wrote some crime novels which, in the last century, won an award or two and I could have remarked, in passing, that I served as the crime fiction critic for ten years on the Daily Telegraph when it was once a great newspaper. But I have never admitted – or had to admit – to being a publisher until now; may the gods of writing and the spirit of Sarah Caudwell forgive me.
I can, however, remain in the closet no longer and declare myself to be the series editor for the Top Notch Thrillers imprint of Ostara Publishing, a relatively new print-on-demand publisher which has already had some success reviving classic detective stories.
The mission statement (see how I’m down with the modern lingo?) is to “revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten” which, I am sure you will agree, is a noble aim.
The first four Top Notch titles are now available – in time to make excellent Christmas presents – and can be ordered from any bookshop or from Amazon over the jolly old interweb. They make not only excellent reading (which is why I chose them) but taken together show what a range and variety the British ‘thriller’ covered. Alan Williams, who later made his name with excellent spy stories, cut his novelist teeth on tough tales of violence and adventure in exotic locations of which Snake Water, set in the mountains, swamps and deserts of a South American banana republic, is a prime example.
The late George Sims, in his debut suspense
thriller of 1964, restricts himself to the world of rare book
world he knew well as in real life Sims was a well-known antiquarian
dealer. In The
Terrible Door, the suspense comes through the
weird and at time Dickensian characters encountered by mild-mannered
dealer Robert Sheldon on the trail of some missing (and probably
literary letters. Sims, who was later to be elected to the Detection
a master of the uneasy atmosphere and here he is particularly good at
describing a tired and shabby
Philip Purser’s 1968 thriller Night
of Glass is an absolute gem though I have to admit
I only discovered it
after reading the follow-up Lights
in the Sky, which was written
some 35 years later! Disgusted with Appeasement and the British
handling of the
‘Munich Crisis’ in 1938, four Cambridge
undergraduates decide – almost as a Rag
Week stunt – to engineer the escape of a prisoner from Dachau
camp. To begin with they have little idea what they are up against, but
ex-inmate now a refugee in
A Clear Road to Archangel by Geoffrey Rose is, as one reviewer put it “pure chase”. A un-named, badly trained and ill-equipped British spy, pursued by secret police and the mysterious ‘Captain S’, is on the run across northern Russia in the icy winter of 1917 dodging both Red and White armies, deserters, bandits and wolves. Geoffrey Rose only wrote three novels but they stand out for their unique style and his ability to conjure up fantastical and slightly surreal landscapes.
More Top Notch Thriller titles are planned for 2010, drawn from the 1960s and 70s, which I have come to regard as just as much a Golden Age for British thrillers as the 1930s was for the English detective story. It was a period when thriller-writing names such as Alistair Maclean, Hammond Innes, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Francis Clifford, Adam Hall and Gavin Lyall (I could go on) dominated the bestseller lists to the exclusion of conventional crime novels with detective heroes. That, of course, was to change, probably from the mid-1970s onwards and the fictional police detective rose to prominence in the UK whilst American writers such as Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, David Morrell et al, staked a claim to the thriller.
Names such as Fleming, Maclean and Deighton live on, but many other fine craftsmen and imaginative writers are fading form the memories of publishers and booksellers. We should not let them go quietly into that dark night and I know I am not alone in feeling this. My friend millionaire playboy Prince Ali Karim has already “blogged” about Top Notch Thrillers on one of the many websites he owns on the interweb. I am told he was also “whiffling” and “twittering” but I understand there are tablets for that sort of thing these days.
Notch Thrillers were, naturally, the talk of all of
The most lavish hospitality was on offer at
But soon the pub next door emptied and the party was joined by assorted hacks and scribblers and I managed to catch Peter Guttridge of The Observer making a point – no doubt about Top Notch Thrillers – to the young but ruggedly handsome Jake Kerridge of the Daily Telegraph.
Then it was off to the curiously name
Or rather in honour of Cathi’s new novel,
from Profile, named I am sure after that seminal recording by the late
Lyttleton, Bad Penny
Blues, which is set in the Ladbroke Grove area in
years 1959-1965 – an area terrorised by a serial killer who
prostitutes and became known to the police and the media as
this officially unsolved
case, Cathi has crafted an atmospheric novel which comes with advance
from such notables as Jake Arnott and David Peace. And I am sure, had
still with us (or at least in The Coach
and Horses in
On the invitation to the launch party, given the setting of the book, I was advised that the Dress Code was “Party Like It’s 1959” and it was such a relief not to have to get dressed up for once.
Next up was an evening with my old and distinguished dancing partner, the elfin Stella Duffy at the Writer’s House courtesy of the Authors Collecting and Licensing Society – a noble institution to whom many of us are ridiculously grateful.
I was also entreated, nay begged, to attend the Crime Writers’ Association’s Christmas party by at least one person and two CWA members who ought to know better offered to smuggle me in as their guest/lover/bodyguard/evil twin. But good sense and the spirit of Christmas prevailed. It is now ten years since I darkened the doors of the CWA and I saw no reason to spoil their party.
For legal reasons (not being invited), I was unable to enjoy the festivities arranged by Serpent’s Tail and, yet again, HarperCollins, from whose guest lists I seem to have been thoroughly tippexed in the last twelve months though I honestly can’t think why, but I am sure there is a good reason.
the Soprano family being relocated to
I have long thought that Bitter Lemon deserve more credit than they get for promoting crime fiction in translation without resorting to even further saturation of the Scandinavian market.
Their forthcoming titles for 2010 show their range, which includes not only the latest Benacquista (French born of Italian parents), but also the second novel, Entanglement, by Zygmunt Miloszewski, a Pole whose first (horror) novel had him acclaimed as “the Polish Stephen King” and Needle in a Haystack , in June next year, from Argentinian playwright and screenwriter Ernesto Mallo.
But probably their most significant title in 2010 will be the English edition of A Jew Must Die, which caused quite a stir when first published, by noted Swiss author Jacques Chessex, who sadly died after giving a library talk in October.
It was a pleasure, as it always is, to visit the Dorothy L. Sayers Centre house in the public library in Witham, Essex, last month for a crime fiction coffee morning. The speakers included the charming Seona Ford of the Dorothy L Sayers Society and the awesomely knowledgeable Barry Pike of the Margery Allingham Society for both Margery and Dorothy were honorary Essex Girls who lived, for many years, less than ten miles apart in that fine and cultured county.
I was particularly fascinated by one of the artefacts Barry Pike brought along, a percussion-cap pistol presented to Margery Allingham on her being voted “Best Active Mystery Writer” by the readers of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1951.
I remember being mightily impressed with the early adventures of rugby-playing French policeman Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot when Englishman Martin O’Brien launched his series a few years ago.
I seem to have lost sight of the adventures
I will do that whilst also catching up with Storm and Avalanche, the adventure thrillers of Jack Drummond, who just happens to be a certain Martin O’Brien.
It’s that time again, when I dish out those most-misheard of awards the Shots of the Year for 2009; the only awards in crime fiction which come with absolutely no financial reward, no glitzy ceremony, no photo opportunities and a total lack of regard for democracy in the selection process.
It was a very good year for thrillers, especially thrillers with an historical background (a large number of them set in or around WWII) and just to confuse matters, several books qualified in multiple categories.
So I shall plunge straight in as declare that the Shots Thriller of the Year was The Information Officer by Mark Mills, a memorable story set on the besieged island of Malta in 1942 and my Historical Shot of the Year also goes to a wartime thriller, Andrew Williams’ fantastically assured first novel The Interrogator which includes in its cast-list a real life Naval Intelligence officer called Ian Fleming!
My Shot In
Translation goes to the veteran
(and oddly overlooked) Cuban writer Leonard Padura for Havana Fever whilst the Crime Shot of the Year goes to the
up-and-coming young American writer Marcus Sakey for At the City’s Edge, a
stunning but thoughtful mystery as hard as the streets of its
But just to show that
It has become something of an annual tradition now for me to give my bespoke Creative Crime seminar, which is open to all with a passing interest in crime fiction. Usually held in the Gun Room (for obvious reasons) here at Ripster Hall, a redecoration project by the Lady Ripster, heavily influenced by her addiction to Feng Shui (and Gordon’s gin) resulted in a minor disaster when she insisted on placing the rock directly next to the hard place.
However, superb alternative accommodation
was quickly found at that historic inn, The Swan at Lavenham in
Since my involvement with Top Notch Thrillers became known, I have been inundated with requests from readers to try and include their favourite books in the imprint. The majority of suggestions, I am happy to say, were for authors and titles which I had already placed on my mental ‘shopping list’ but one name, which came up many times, did surprise me: Adam Diment, author of The Dolly, Dolly Spy.
Adam Diment became the poster boy for the crime scene in Swinging London when his debut novel appeared in 1967 when he was a mere 24 years old. His spy hero Philip MacAlpine embraced the lifestyle of the period to such an extent that he is regarded as “the real Austin Powers” and his creator was never shy when it came to being photographed in fast cars or with a super model (or ‘dolly bird’) on his arm.
Yet the really interesting thing about Diment is that after four novels (the last published in 1971), he disappeared and I do mean disappeared; he simply dropped off the grid as the young people say these days. Rumours have abounded ever since: that he followed the hippy trail to India and still lives there in an ashram, that he went on the run after being framed in a currency swindle, that he is currently a successful businessman in Thailand or an arable farmer in Kent.
Whatever happened to this once very
high-profile author is a mystery and makes the idea of getting his
in to print a tempting one. I am told he was an influential writer by
figures in the literary world who, when they arrived on the
associates, as they should, the name of Erle Stanley Gardner with that
most famous creation, Perry Mason. But few readers on this side of the
Until, that is, I had the opportunity to acquire a brace of paperbacks published in 1959 and 1960. And what a fine pair they make. Indeed they don’t make them like that anymore – the small Corgi paperbacks I mean – and I will be settling down in front of a log fire during the Festive Season to devour them at my well-earned leisure.
Mystery Book News reports that “much to our dismay” that fine actor Tommy Lee Jones has pulled out of the proposed movie version of Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer in which he was due to co-star and direct. But, says Mystery Book News, “Matthew McConaughey, much to our dismay, apparently is still attached to play the lead”.
Mr Lee Jones has not had a happy time with
American crime fiction this year. His long-awaited debut as Dave
not often that one comes across what I have always thought of as an
Ann Purser’s latest novel Tragedy
at Two, from those sophisticated out-of-towners
Severn House, features
her new series sleuth Lois Meade, a sensible mother who runs her own
business and who helps the police out with their stickier cases
can. What caught my eye, in these books set ‘in the heart of
More in hope than expectation, I always make a list of suitable Christmas presents for myself to avoid all that time usually spent queuing at the Returns Desk in Marks & Spencer in January. Naturally I list books, for whilst one can have far too many socks, one cannot have enough books, although I do take a break from crime and thriller fiction at this time of year, preferring something lighter.
At the top of my wish list is Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome, which is said to shed light on the Dark Ages, and I simply must catch up on Hitler’s Empire by Mark Mazower.
Yet I have already received an unexpected early Christmas present from those sensitive souls at Simon & Schuster in the form of I, Sniper by that terrific American thriller writer Stephen Hunter.
I was unaware that Hunter had a new book out over here and he is not a writer whose light should be hidden under a bushel. I have been a fan since reading his Pale Horse Coming in 2003, a book which, I predict, will go down as one of the classic American thrillers of the 21st Century with its intermingled themes of old movies, cowboys, slavery and a fairly unique (if radical) attitude to penal reform!
A few things have caught my eye from publishers’ catalogues for the coming year and I will certainly be noting titles in my 2010 Hunting & Shooting Diary – assuming I get one for Christmas.
I know that a large number of fans keenly await the new Roger Morris ‘Porfiry’ novel A Razor Wrapped in Silk in April.
But before then, two books by new (to me) writers have been drawn to my attention.
Will Napier is, I think, a Scot who now
lives in the
Jane Casey is Irish, but lives in
Indeed advance copies come with an endorsement from Sophie Hannah who is generously enthusiastic about her new rival. Other equally gracious and generous messages of welcome come from Robert Goddard and Reginald Hill. One might say that with friends like that before the book is actually published, The Missing can’t really miss.
Season’s Greetings and Toodles,
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