one-time contributor for SHOTS now turned author, and the Gold Dagger-winning
Slough House series takes time out of his busy schedule to give us his thoughts
about book titles …
It’s a tradition of publishing houses, as all in the
book trade know, to render book titles in block caps. Or, as online discourse
would have it, to shout them out loud.
Thus, letters and emails from agents and editors tend to
exhibit symptoms of a peculiarly literary form of Tourette’s: glimpsed through
half-closed eyes, lines of polite print suddenly erupt with a full-volume
reference to MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, and whispered sweet nothings whip themselves
into a frenzied shout-out to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Raised in a politer society
then the fulminating bear-pit that is the modern publishing industry – more
accustomed to the apologetic throat-clearing of the italic font – I’ve never
quite got used to this, though I’ve learned to join in, and now caps-lock my
bookish name-dropping as a matter of course. When asked if I liked THE GIRL ON
THE TRAIN, I happily yell back that we’ve not been introduced, though I’ve
heard she likes A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF.
Anyway, titles have been on my mind lately, because
I’ve just finished a new book, the fourth in a series. The first of these, SLOW
HORSES, set the tone. Animal titles – everyone likes a sequence. SLOW HORSES
was named after its characters, the no-hope denizens of Slough House, a career-terminus
for those who’ve messed up badly in the Intelligence Service. Its successor,
DEAD LIONS, followed the same pattern: a one-two syllable punch with thematic
relevance, the lions in this case being a bunch of sleeper agents, as quiescent
as the players in the children’s game of the same name; at least, until they’re
roused. And rounding off this trio is the newly published REAL TIGERS: not,
note, mere paper ones. These guys comprise a tiger team, whose task it is to
test the Intelligence Service’s security system, though turn out to have an
agenda all their own.
Three books, then, and three animal titles – and
that’s quite enough of that. There’s a reason why the Rule of Three law is not,
say, the Rule of Four. So, on finishing the new one, I told my editor I’d be
dropping the animal nomenclature. Fine, he said. Apart from anything else,
it’ll spare those disappointed naturalists who’ve been misled by your first
Of course it would.
So the fourth Slough House novel, when it appears sometime
in 2017, will therefore be called DISAPPOINTED NATURALISTS.
Unless I stick to my original plan, and call it SPOOK