Bodies in the Bookshop 2003 Report

Written by Ali Karim

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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.

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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 Burke’s 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 Orion’s 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.
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As I walked in, I met my dear friend and editor, Selina Walker of Transworld clutching ‘The Blighted Cliff’s’ 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 novel.

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 Burdett’s ‘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 Hayder’s 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 Bookshop?

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 can’t 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, it’s 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 last year.

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 we’ve 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 Doherty’s 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.

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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 let’s do it!

Ali : And what about foreign translations from the like of the Harvill Press?

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 Penguin’s 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 couldn’t 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 we’ve been here a long time, as have many of our staff, and our booksellers. So we’ve 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 fiction.

Ali : That is interesting. I have heard from many authors and publishers that you can’t 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 don’t 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 Robinson’s excellent Inspector Banks series has become very bleak and tough. Do you see this trend also?

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 it’s only in a book.

Ali : Talking about the horrors of the real world, how popular is ‘true-crime’? As I’ve 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 knows?

Ali : So if I were to inspect your reading pile, what books am I likely to discover?

{short description of image}Richard : I would recommend a first novel by Chris Simms’s ‘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 Sansom’s ‘Dissolution’ (Picador) which had one really bad review which I didn’t understand. I thought it was a really excellent historical novel almost as strong as Umberto Eco’s ‘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 didn’t enjoy that much, but ‘Blood is the Sky’ is a real breakthrough book.

Barbara Clevely ‘The Last Kashmiri Rose’ was great.

Lee Child’s ‘Persuader’ was absolutely excellent, and the Jack Reacher series just gets better and more interesting with each book.

Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘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 he’s 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 recovery.

 

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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 dictaphone.
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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…(laughing)….and I am now working on book #5 so that is the new book…

Ali : So lets talk about book #5

Stephen : It’s due for 2004 but doesn’t have a title yet, as I’m only halfway through writing it. And I have bad days when I really don’t know what the book is about…(laughing)…Well 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 #5.

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 haven’t reached that point yet so I can’t tell you anything!

Ali : Well we look forward to it, and seeing you at Bouchercon Vegas.

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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 Robinson’s 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 what’s in store for Alan?

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Peter : I have just about finished ‘Playing with Fire’ which comes out in January next year. Basically it’s 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 what’s 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 much worse….

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 Robinson’s 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 of character.

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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 father’s 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 person’s life.

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. It’s 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 time Danuta.


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 new book.

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{short description of image} 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 I’d 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 money… 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 wouldn’t know. I don’t 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 everything’s 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?

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Fidelis : I write my books to entertain myself. I don’t 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 perform?

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 it’s 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 don’t have my mugshot in Spotlight or anything. But if a director or casting agent I have worked for before offers me something tasty which won’t 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 Lovesey’s ‘Dead Gorgeous’. Only one day’s 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 couldn’t not be there for the grande finale, and had a wonderful time playing Cheri’s mother in Colette’s own adaptation of her book.

Ali : Thank you for your time.

Fidelis Delighted as ever.


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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 her world.

Ali : Hello Deryn, can you tell us about what is happening to John Rawlings after the excitement of ‘Death in St. James Palace’?

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 – you’ll love it. So how does John Rawlings get involved? Well a man rushes into his shop looking for sanctuary, ‘Help me, I’m being pursued’ he screams. Rawlings hides him and then a woman comes into the shop asking if he’d 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 background?

Chris : Thanks Ali and I’d 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 violent?

Chris : Yes, when the killing occurs I didn’t 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.

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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 Slaughter’s ‘Kisscut’ and as I live in the North West, I have started reading Stephen Booth.

Ali : So now that your debut is out, what are you working on currently?

Chris : Its called ‘Pecking Order’ and It’s 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. He’s 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 those ends.

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’…(laughing)….


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 how’s ‘The Murder Exchange’ doing in the shops?

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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 it’s 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, I’ll let you get on with the business of signing……

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 don’t 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, it’s 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 Clea’s Moon (now published by Orion). Micheal Jecks had been one of the judges and had commended Edwin Thomas’s ‘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 it’s really an adventure/crime hybrid.

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Ali : And the cover is very, how can I put it…’Flashman-esque?’

Edwin : ..laughing.. I guess the lead character, Martyn Jerrold is Flashman-esque in terms of hero, except it’s 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. It’s the first of a series.

Ali : And is it bawdy and funny?

Edwin : Reasonably and I hope it’s 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 first novel…..(laughing)…

Ali :…laughing sounds a good bawdy tale, thanks for your time.


I caught up with Jon Wood of Orion next as he was introducing Roger Jon Ellory a recent acquisition into Orion’s stable with ‘Candlemoth’

Ali : Hi Roger, we recently received Candlemoth for review, would you care to tell our readers a little about the book?

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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 individual’s ‘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 on deathrow.

Ali : I see. It’s 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 he’s 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 doesn’t 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?

Roger : …mmmmm….a struggle?

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?

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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 VIII’s second wife. It’s 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 it’s like a relay race, where the baton is handed onto the new generation, because by halfway through the book it’s the younger generation, Jean Rombauld’s 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?

Chris : …laughing…..It’s interesting that you say that as lately my publishers and my new agent have been saying that maybe you shouldn’t 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 : Don’t 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 don’t 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’.

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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!

Russell : …laughing….great to see you again, but I must point that the cover has nothing to do with the book whatsoever…I just hope it sells.

Ali : Would you care to tell us a little about ‘No One Gets Hurt’?

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.

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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 didn’t 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 top?

Russell : ..laughing…..I like blondes…laughing

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 healthy mid-list?

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 we’re 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 they’ve not paid £25,000 to be there, that’s 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 can’t get displayed in a bookshop.

Ali : And what I can’t 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.

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Danny : Well it’s brilliant isn’t it…laughing… 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 : It’s a simple thing. I just saw an advert in The Guardian and I thought I’d apply for it. I thought that even by just going for the interview, there’d be naked girls everywhere and it would be a good story to tell the lads. I didn’t realise that I would actually get the job. I guess I must be suited to porn I guess, so I’ve been in it for about five years, but I’m on it in a freelance basis now. I edit and interview girls and it really is a terrible job….and I am being ironic..

Ali :…….laughing…..thanks for your time Danny!

Russell James & Danny King enjoying themselves! {short description of image}

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.

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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 time.


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, it’s 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. He’s moved on from book #3 (Angels Passing), and he’s 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.

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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 we’ve seen him progress from ‘Turnstone’, ‘The Take’, ‘Angels Passing’ and now in ‘Deadlight’ he’s 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 don’t a book that say, any serving policeman (especially from Portsmouth) doesn’t 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 Faraday’s 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 Faraday’s 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.

 


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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 word.

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…laughing….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 Harvey’s new collection?

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 doesn’t it have in it? In fact, I reckon I’m in it by some amazing typing error! And it’s 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…….


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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 readers?

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 there.

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 interesting bookstore.

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 :-

http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/cambridge/cambridge.htm#top

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

www.heffers.co.uk

Or Email Richard Reynolds (The Hound of Heffers) directly : Literature@heffers.co.uk

 

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Ali Karim



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