Back in the heady days of university, when frivolity was taken extremely seriously, my friends and I would sometimes play a game called ‘Drink While You Think’. For those unfamiliar with the game, it involves one player coming up with the name of a famous person, e.g. Barack Obama, while the next thinks up another whose first name starts with the last letter of the former. Obama’s final ‘a’, therefore, might prompt a suggestion of Angelina Jolie, and so on.
Not especially demanding, perhaps, but for the fact that all the time that a player is thinking, he must also be drinking (hence the title). As the empties piled up, the pauses would grow longer, the repetitions mount, until eventually everyone passed out, then got up at noon and complained about having to write an essay on the origins of the Hundred Years’ War.
The game, however, has a twist. If a player is able to think of a celebrity whose first and last names start with the same letter, the direction of play reverses. Given that coming up with an alliterative name is really the only example of skill demonstrable in the game, this became something of an obsession amongst the more ambitious participants. I recall one late-night session being pinned between two players whose knowledge of double ‘m’s seemed inexhaustible – Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Manson, Michael Madsen...
One thing I’ve retained from this curious game is an interest in alliterative names. There’s something undeniably cool about a person who has one, as though they bring a certain style to the party before they’ve even arrived. This seems particularly true in the world of crime fiction, which is populated by memorable double characters such as Sam Spade, Mitch McDeere, Harry Hole, Sookie Stackhouse.
So when the opportunity arose for me to name my own fictional crime hero, the temptation was too great. In my particular case, the range of possible names was circumscribed – I had chosen to set a crime series in Gibraltar, with a Gibraltarian as protagonist, and credibility was important.
So I headed off on Easyjet to scour the Rock, ears and eyes attuned for the ideal name. One of many surprising aspects to Gibraltar is that over a fifth of the locals have Italian rather than Spanish or British surnames. This is due to the thousands of Italian migrants who sailed there during the Napoleonic Wars to service the needs of the British garrison. Having read Italian at university, I was keen to give my hero Italian heritage, so these were the kinds of names I looked for. On my last day on the Rock, I found something etched in the stone above the door of an old furniture repair shop on Main Street. Sanguinetti. Blood, sang-froid, a rolling four-syllable fullness to the mouth. Perfect.
Then came the next step. Gibraltarians often combine their Latin or Hispanic surnames with an Anglo-Saxon first name – Ryan Casciaro, for example, the recent scorer of Gibraltar’s first goal in a competitive football match. How about ‘Spike’, I wondered? British bulldog, sharp attitude... Spike Sanguinetti, Gibraltarian lawyer – why not?
I returned home, convinced I’d cracked it, until a friend pointed out that few people are actually christened Spike. As I researched notable Spikes, I found to my dismay that he was right. Most Spikes do indeed start life with a different first name – Terence Milligan, Shelton Lee. As for Spike Jonze, he isn’t even a Jonze, let alone a Spike (real name: Adam Spiegel).
If Spike had to be a nickname, therefore, I decided it ought to be a cover for something embarrassing. In the vain hope of riding on Colin Dexter’s coattails, I shall say no more about it here, and urge you instead to read the books. Failing that, we could always have a game of ‘Drink While You Think’, and I’m sure I’ll eventually blurt it out.
The fourth novel in the Spike Sanguinetti series, Sleeping Dogs, is published by Bloomsbury on 9th April 2015. Buy It here