Just a brief addendum to the posting below to let you know that today is the official release date for the new US mass market edition of The Shadow Walker. Available in all good bookshops and, I hope, quite a few not-so-good ones too.
And I'll be back with some more substantive posts very shortly. Promise.
Apologies for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks - unfortunately, I've had one or two other distractions to contend with. For the moment, just a brief interruption of the radio silence to let you know that those good people at Berkley Prime Crime have just sent me some advance copies of the new mass market edition of The Shadow Walker, due out in the US at the beginning of March. As always, they've done a terrific job - coverwise, it's quite a different feel from previous editions, but just the thing to catch your eye at the airport.
I am, in the literal sense, a child of the 1960s. But the 1970s was really the formative decade for me. Even now, much of my taste - in books, films, music - seems to have its roots in that decade.
I was intrigued, therefore, by Francis Wheen's new book, Strange Days Indeed, an account of the 1970s subtitled 'The Golden Age of Paranoia'. As Wheen indicates, the book is in part a prequel to his last, highly entertaining work, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, which began with the oddities of the Reaganite 1980s. He quotes John Fowles in turn referencing Gramsci's Prison Notebooks: '...the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.' Wheen's book details just some of the 'morbid symptoms' that characterised the decade that sat uncomfortably between the optimistic idealism of the 1960s and the increasingly unfettered capitalism of the 1970s.
Like its predecessor, Strange Days Indeed feels more like a collection of essays than a sustained history, and at times this left me feeling slightly frustrated. There were points where I would have preferred a clearer exploration of cause and effect or a more thorough exposition of the linkages between the various phenomena that Wheen describes. But the descriptions themselves are fascinating. We get chapters on Nixon and Watergate, the Heath and Wilson governments, international terrorism and the 'underground' movement, the Oz obscenity trial, developments in Russia and China, Idi Amin, the CIA, Uri Geller and Erich von Daniken, and plenty more. One senses that Wheen wasn't exactly short of material.
Wheen describes the 1970s as 'that most distant of times, the day before yesterday'. It may be that any decade, subject to this kind of scrutiny, would reveal its share of peculiarities. But there does seem to be a sense that, for a few years, the world lost its collective senses (alongside Sir William Armstrong, head of the civil service during the Heath government, who at the height of the Heath's conflict with the National Union of Mineworkers had to be led away babbling about Armageddon). Many of the stories - Nixon effectively bugging himself, the faked suicide of the MP John Stonehouse, Harold Wilson having to break into his own aide's property to recover papers withheld in a fit of pique - seem scarcely credible to a contemporary reader.
And yet, as Wheen concludes in the final chapter, there are odd parallels with our own time - global economic crisis, the US engaged in a prolonged and increasingly intractable war, the resurgence of fanatical terrorism, the prevalence of conspiracy theory and political paranoia. It may be that our current fascination with the decade - from Mamma Mia to Red Riding, from Frost/Nixon to Life on Mars - reflects a growing sense that they are perhaps tapping into a contemporary zeitgeist. If so, we should perhaps treat Wheen's enjoyable book as something of a warning.
MIdwinter is the time for ghost stories, and I was pleased to see that this year the BBC revived its practice of producing a spooky Christmas drama, though this year opting for Henry rather than M R James with an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. Sadly, I've not yet had a chance to view it as it clashed with yet another showing of that splendidly creepy film, The Wicker Man. Even though I possess both the original version and the so-called Director's Cut on DVD, I never pass up an opportunity to see it again. (I should perhaps point out for younger readers that this is the original 1973 film with Edward Woodward not the quite remarkably dire Nicolas Cage remake. I still can't understand why anyone would want to remake the original film while apparently having no understanding of its unique qualities.)
My real ghostly treat this year, though, was re-reading Kingsley Amis's wonderful short novel, The Green Man. Since his death in 1995, Amis's reputation seems to have faded slightly, and there's a danger that he may be remembered for little more than Lucky Jim. Wonderful as that first novel was, there's plenty more in Amis's oeuvre that's equally worth of attention, and The Green Man is a splendid example, not just of Amis's unique genius, but also of his craft. It's a beautifully constructed tale of an alcoholic innkeeper and restaurateur, Maurice Allingham, and his encounter with the troublesome spirit of a prior inhabitent of the inn that gives the book its title (and which itself takes its own name from some apparently older inhabitent of the woodlands around...). Amis was a great admirer of M R James, and the book brilliantly translates James's methods into a modern setting. Like James, Amis is adept at balancing humour with terror, and the novel applies typically Amis comedy as a counterpoint to some genuinely unnerving scenes. Above all, unlike many ghost stories, The Green Man is filled with utterly convincing, three-dimensional characters. Allingham's alcoholism, for example, is not simply a plot device - though it usefully positions him as the most unreliable of narrators - but is also fully explored and realised. Amis even manages to contrive an encounter between Allingham and God, which somehow succeeds in being both moving and disturbing, rather than risible.
If you feel like seeing out the old year with a chill to match the weather outside, I'd recommend settling down with The Green Man. In any case, best wishes to everyone for the coming year and thanks to all those who've supported my various endeavours over the last twelve months.
It's perhaps reassuring that the hype around the latest Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol, died away rather quickly (albeit leaving record sales in the process). I don't particularly share the usual critical negativity about Brown - though this may be because I've never ventured beyond The Da Vinci Code. And, in truth, I only read that because there was a copy in a holiday cottage we rented a year or two back. The book struck me as splendidly silly and, at times, almost wilfully badly written (the Daily Telegraph once produced a highly entertaining 'Top 20' of Brown's worst sentences). But, in fairness, I finished the book in a few hours and felt no particular inclination to put it down, which is what you expect from a thriller. I'd describe him as an adult Enid Blyton except that I think that, for a host of reasons, Blyton's a much more interesting writer. But more of that some other time.
I mention Brown because his name floated into my head while reading Andrew Grieg's intriguing novel, Romanno Bridge. I'd picked up the book partly because I've had a couple of other Grieg novels sitting on my 'to be read' pile for ages and hadn't got round to them (and if you ask why I didn't just read those, then you're obviously not a true book-buyer), and partly because I'd regularly driven past the village of Romanno Bridge on drives to Edinburgh and was intrigued by the name. Mostly, though, it was because the book had a fascinating premise, prompted by the 1950 theft of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. The book plot draws on the idea - which has some roots in legend, if not necessarily in historical fact - that, not only was the Stone replaced by a fake after the theft, but that the Stone itself was only a surrogate for an older, more ornate Coronation Stone.
At one level, this is just the McGuffin around which Grieg builds a thriller involving a raft of intriguing characters. At the same time, though, the book is also a meditation on Scotland and Scottishness. Beyond that, in line with its Borders setting, the book is also a tribute to the work of John Buchan. It's a sequel (or, at least, includes the same characters as) Grieg's earlier more explicit tribute toBuchan, The Return of John Macnab.
The plot parallels with the Dan Brown oeuvre are evident, and it's illuminating how differently two writers can treat superficially similar material. If Brown writes spectacularly badly, Grieg writes beautifully, evoking the Scottish setting with a poet's touch. If Brown ends every chapter on a cliff hanger, Grieg is not afraid, even at the most tense points, to slip away from the narrative into leisurely digression. If Brown's characters are two-dimensional, Grieg's quickly become real - even the psychopathic killer who stalks the plot has an interest in ornithology.
I suspect that some readers may find that the book sits awkwardly between thriller and literary novel. Personally, though, I was enthralled by its quirky charm. And now I really should get round to those other Grieg books on my shelves.
My editor at Berkley Prime Crime, the ever-enthusiastic Leis Pederson, has just been kind enough to send me an advance sighting of the cover of the forthcoming US mass market edition of The Shadow Walker. All of the Berkley covers have been terrific and this, as you can see, is no exception - I think it's quite superb. And it's fascinating to see yet another different visual interpretation of the book.
The new edition is due for publication in March next year.
Thanks to the all-knowing Dave Lull for alerting me to the sad death, just short of his 90th birthday, of Stanley Middleton. I've written before of my enthusiasm for Middleton's work. Despite his winning one of the earliest Booker prizes for his novel Holiday in 1974, Middleton remains perhaps one of the most under-rated of British novelists. His work is resolutely unfashionable, dealing with middle-class, middle-English, largely uneventful lives. And yet his prose is capitivating, and his plotting turns the minutiae of everyday living into gripping narratives.
Middleton's death doesn't yet seem to have reached the British press, other than The Guardian. I hope that other obituaries will appear in due course. In the meantime, thanks to Dave for drawing my attention to this piece by Ross Bradshaw of Nottingham-based Five Leaves Press, excellent current publishers not only of Middleton's Holiday, but also of a series of splendid short crime books by the likes of John Harvey, Stephen Booth and Lawrence Block.
Update: Today's Guardian carries an excellent obituary on Middleton, written by Professor Philip Davis, who was himself one of Middleton's pupils.
I've written before about Susan Hill's fine Simon Serrailler series. Perhaps along with Kate Atkinson, Hill has been one of the most successful mainstream interlopers into the crime genre. Many of the distinctive qualities of her writing - strong characters, a powerful sense of place, an intriguing, slightly enigmatic style - lend themselves very well to crime fiction.
Her new book, though, is something of a return to the mainstream. The Beacon is a short, intense book - little more than a novella in length, but it leaves a powerful impression. The book describes the Primes, a farming family who had lived for generations at The Beacon, a farmhouse in a remote part of Northern England. May, the eldest daughter, has devoted her life to caring for her widowed mother, and the books begins at the moment of the mother's death. We then gradually learn the history of May and her siblings - and in particular that of the estranged youngest brother, Frank.
May, we learn, was academically gifted and won a place at London University, but was driven back home by a series of panic attacks and terrifying visions. Her younger brother and sister, Colin and Berenice, have made unambitious but largely satisfactory lives for themselves in the local community. Frank, silent and watchful as a child, also went to London and made a name for himself, first as a journalist and then through a 'miserylit' memoir in which he described the abuse he supposedly suffered as a child at the hands of his parents and siblings. May, Colin and Berenice are horrified by Frank's fictitious claims and, prior to their mother's death, have had no contact with their brother.
In other hands, this might have been the basis for a melodrama of claim and counter-claim. But Hill is more interested in the restraint and repression that underpins this family - a life in which most things are left unsaid and everyone copes. We are left to ponder on the possible links between Frank's depiction of the family and May's unexplained London panics. We are left also, particularly in the eerie final paragraph, to consider the possible truths - emotional if not physical - that might lie behind Franks outrageous claims. And we are left to meditate on the nature of family life - the changing generational dynamics, the meaning of 'home', the significance of one's relationship with these unchosen others.
It's a beautifully written book without a wasted word (although, as one reviewer has pointed out, with some odd and clearly deliberate verbal chimes which contribute to the reader's unease), intensely powerful in its depiction of both the family and the seasonal landscape around them. In a world of blockbusters, it's refreshing to read a brief, perfectly constructed fable that carries such resonance.
Rafe McGregor, a fascinating author and enthusiastic blogger (not to mention very good company at this year's Crimefest), has been kind enough to interview me for his McConfidential series. Some very intriguing questions, and you can read my responses here...
For those who are interested, Berkley Prime Crime are featuring me in the regular Q&A session on their website. I've also been asked to submit the book to Marshal Zeringue's intriguing Page 69 Test, so I'll be thinking about that over the next day or two.
Looking back at 2008 (part 5) - and forward to 2009
Many thanks to Maxine Clarke for giving this week's postings a very nice plug on her always-excellent blog. I'm not sure about Maxine's suggestion that I should post more often - some might say the opposite... But one of my new year resolutions is to do just that, so don't say you haven't been warned.
I thought I'd conclude this little sequence of postings by thinking about some of the stuff other than crime fiction that I've enjoyed over the year. Interestingly, when I started to think about other fiction I'd read in 2008, many of the books that had made an impression - for example, Catherine O'Flynn's eerie What Was Lost or Sebastian Faulks's Engleby - turned out to be crime fiction in all but marketing category. Taken alongside the growing tendency for 'literary' novelists - John Banville, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson and even Faulks himself with the Bond franchise - to move into the crime/thriller field, this suggests that there's something in the wind, but I'm not sure what.
I've also worked my way through a lot of non-fiction during 2008, much of it as research for the book I'm currently working on (more of that later). But I thought it was worth highlighting a couple of recent reads that, in different ways, I found particularly inspiring. The first was actually a re-read - and not for the first time. It's wonderful book of collected essays by the novelist, Alan Garner, which was published under the title, The Voice That Thunders. Most people know Garner best as a children's writer - we all grew up on The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Elidor - although he's not really been that for a long time. His most recent novels, Standloper and Thursbitch, are very much aimed at adults, and are extraordinary creations. Garner's never been prolific, but I think it's arguable that he's the most interesting English novelist working today. The Voice That Thunders is a marvellous companion to his novels - a series of beautiful written, tremendously thought-provoking essays, at least a couple of which are likely to change the way you think about the world and landscape around you. Sadly - outrageously - the book is currently out of print and second-hand copies seem to command absurdly high prices. But if you can find a copy in a library, don't pass it by. (Incidentally, if you're looking for a tenuous crime fiction connection, Garner's editor for many years was Christopher MacLehose of the MacLehose Press, UK publishers of Steig Larsson).
The second is also a book of essays, though much more readily available. Over the Christmas break, I've been working my way steadily through Clive James's monumental Cultural Amnesia, which he subtitles Note in the Margins of my Time. Most are aware of James as presenter, witty autobiographer or TV critic, but not of his further incarnations as, for example, rather good poet or serious cultural critic. This book focuses very much on the last of those roles - it's a massive collection of short essays each of which begins with a quote from a significant cultural figure (ranging from philosophers, artists and writers to Hollywood stars). Sometimes the essay actually concerns the figure in question, but often the quotation is the starting-point to a wider ranging discussion. The core theme of the book is the continuing struggle between James's notion of liberal democracy and the various forms of tyranny that would seek to stifle it. The overall effect is to produce a unique cultural history of the 20th Century. You don't have to agree with everything James's writes (I don't), but he always writes it beautifully - elegant, provocative, mind-expanding. And the sheer intellectual enthusiasm is as bracing as a cold January day.
I had thought about saying something about music in 2008, but in truth there wasn't a great deal new that excited me (I'm thinking of the popular stuff here - my appreciation of classical music, although sincere, tends to be stifled by my complete and utter lack of anything that could be dignified as knowledge. I know what I like, though.)
Possibly my favourite album of the year, largely for sentimental reasons, was Robert Forster's The Evangelist. Forster was formerly one half of the Australian band, the Go Betweens, alongside the late Grant McLennan. The Go Betweens' music meant a lot to me, and McLennan's solo work meant even more (his album, Horsebreaker Star, is a small masterpiece). In May 2006 - is it really that long ago? - I was on the train to London and opened a copy of The Independent to be faced, out of the blue, by McLennan's obituary, following his death from a heart attack at the age of only 48. I'm not generally emotionally much affected by the deaths of celebrities I've never met, but this one caught me by surprise. Apart from the personal tragedy for McLennan's family and friends, there was a real sense of artistic loss. The Go Betweens, after a period apart, were back recording and were better than ever. And now it seemed that McLennan's unique mix of the joyous and the melancholic had been silenced forever.
But not quite, as it turned out. While the Go Betweens were no more, and Forster had partly reinvented himself very successfully as a journalist, this year he finally released a new solo album. Better still, it's not just a solo album because three of the songs were completions of work that Grant McLennan had begun before his death. Even without the weight of sentiment that inevitably lies across it, it's a lovely record - restrained, heartful, deeply moving. A worthy tribute to Grant McLennan. And the high spot is McLennan's song, Demon Days, which Forster finished and sings as the perfect tribute to his late partner. Even if you don't buy the album, download that song and give it a listen. Dry-eyed, if you can.
The other musical high points of the year were largely live ones. Finally seeing Nick Lowe live. Having the opportunity to witness one of Leonard Cohen's majestic performances. Having another chance - shifting literally from the sublime to the ridiculous - to see the increasingly marvellous Half Man Half Biscuit perform (they also had a great CD out in 2008). Actually, there was quite a lot, now I come to think of it.
So what does 2009 hold? Well, little good, by most accounts, though I'm generally an optimist by nature. From a personal perspective, The Adversary will be out in the US in March (with that great cover), and The Outcast paperback will be out in the UK soon afterwards. I'm currently working on a new book which I'm hoping will be the first in a new series - I don't want to say too much about it just yet except that it's not set in Mongolia and, in some respects, it seems to have become unexpectedly topical.
And, just in case Nergui fans are getting anxious, I've also got a fourth Mongolia book all planned out. Although the books always develop considerably in the writing, I'm excited about the way this one is looking. There are some challenging times ahead for those characters...
Anyway, a very happy New Year to you all. Now we've put 2008 to bed, let's get on with 2009. I've got a feeling it may not be so bad after all.
I'm pleased to see that the first couple of reviews of The Outcast have appeared. Maxine Clarke, who's been a great supporter of the series, has reviewed it for Eurocrime...very positively, even though she would have preferred more development of the characters in the second half. It's an interesting question. In writing the series, I've tried to balance the central events of each novel (which typically happen in a very tight timeframe) against the slower-paced evolution of the characters and their stories across the three books and beyond. I don't know if I've always got the balance right, but I hope Maxine will be reassured that, in my plans for the fourth Nergui book, some of the central characters will be facing some dramatic (and possibly traumatic) challenges...
Thanks also to the astoundingly well-informed and ever-helpful Dave Lull for drawing my attention to a review in the Coventry Evening Telegraph. I don't think it's available on-line but it describes The Outcast as 'a thriller which boils gently up to an explosive climax'. Which is pretty much what I was aiming for.
Thanks as always to all those who've contributed or commented on here over the past year. I'm planning to write a more considered round-up of my various thoughts about 2008 over the next few days (and what a strange year it's been...), including, for what it's worth, my own list of the crime books I've enjoyedmost over the year. In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable Christmas (or appropriate festive alternative) and I wish you every good wish for 2009.
I won't give away too much, but The Outcastincludes among its cast of characters an ethnic Mongolian, born in the 'autonomous region' of Inner Mongolia. The tension between his ethnic background and his Chinese citizenship is one of the springboards for the book's plot.
With that fresh in my mind, I was struck by this very interesting article from the Kansas City Star which discusses the increasing dilution of the Mongolian identify in the region. Wang Huiming, the vice director of the local ethnic affairs commission, states that Inner Mongolia is "recognized by the central government as a model autonomous region" with "very stable" social and political conditions. On the other hand, one local ethnic Mongolian says: "We used to be the hosts here. Now we feel like the guests in our own land."
Always an exciting moment - I've just received advance copies of The Outcast, the third Nergui book, which comes out (I think I might have already mentioned this) on 6 November. Quercus have gone for a slightly more dramatic cover this time, and I think it looks pretty splendid.
I understand that's what they're called - all those people out there in cyberspace who share your name (I think one of the oddest experiences is to put your own name into Google Images and find endless pictures of people who might easily have been you in another life).
This was all brought to mind because someone drew my attention to this page for The Shadow Walker at the Abunga.com bookstore site. The page helpfully informs us that 'Michael Walters is the Vice President of Information Technology at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming'. I'm sure he is, but unfortunately he didn't write The Shadow Walker. That was a different Michael Walters.
'The Shadow Walker' becomes 'Blutiger Schnee' - and Michael becomes Mike...
Yesterday, I received advanced copies of the German edition of The Shadow Walker, retitled Blutiger Schnee (which means 'blood on the snow' or thereabouts), which is to be published there by Goldmann in October. Slightly mysteriously, it's written by my alter-ego, Mike Walters, who I imagine to be a rather tougher, more noirish character than Michael. But I have to say that, whoever wrote it, Goldmann have done a terrific job in its production.
I received an interesting e-mail today from the crime-writer, Mary Reed. Mary had come across a (very enthusiastic, I'm pleased to say) review of The Shadow Walker in the newsletter, I Love a Mystery. The reviewer had mentioned in passing that my publisher had apparently claimed Nergui to be the only Mongolian detective in fiction.
I'm only too happy to set the record straight, and also to draw your attention to Mary and Eric's excellent website. The website covers their fascinating-sounding John the Chamberlain series, set in 6th Century Byzantium, and also contains a wealth of stories, essays, reviews and other material (including an absolutely stunning set of links to Golden Age crime stories and M R James-style supernatural fiction, available through Project Gutenberg). The website is a superb resource and I'll add a permanent link to it on here.
Apologies to Mary and Eric for my publisher's over-selling of Nergui's uniqueness - but at least it's enabled me to discover their splendid site. I'll now seek out the stories, and I'll be interested to see how our perspectives on Mongolia compare. And perhaps one day we should collaborate on something which brings Dorj and Nergui together...
Just received the uncorrected proof copies of the US version of The Adversary. I've discussed the marvellous cover by Richard Tuschman before on here, but this gives me an excuse (as if I needed one) to show it you yet again.
If you've looked at the News section on the main site, you'll have noticed that The Shadow Walker is now out in the US. I'm pleased to say that it's already picked up one or two very positive reviews - I was particularly pleased with this one from Bookpage.
A tip of the proverbial to the ever-informative Petrona blog as I almost missed this article in the Independent newspaper which appeared while I was on holiday. Jonathan Gibbs took it into his head to recommend crime novels set in 80 different locations and there, at number 70, is Mongolia and The Shadow Walker. As always, one can debate endlessly about which locations were included or excluded, but I'm not complaining.
The academic and critic John Sutherland is adept at highlighting literary quirks (as in his splendid books and Is Heathcliffe a Murderer?and Where was Rebecca Shot?which explored the possible implications of apparent literary anomalies). In a piece in Saturday's Daily Telegraph, he examined the tendency, common in crime fiction but unusual elsewhere, of applying themed titles to series novels. Some are obvious - Erle Stanley Gardner, James Patterson - but others are less so. The Raymond Chandler thematic signature is obvious but for some reason had never occurred to me. And of course I'm also guilty of this practice myself...
Incidentally, the list of James Patterson's 'nursery rhyme' titles seemed ripe for parody and reminded me vaguely of a New Statesman competition some years back in which readers were asked to come up with suggestions for as yet unpublished novels by famous authors. My favourite was John Le Carré's One Potato, Two Potato, Spy.
Sergei Bodrov's film, Mongol, opens on 6 June in the UK (and, I believe, in the US). It's been generally well-received, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Movie. But views within Mongolia itself seem rather less positive...
A while ago, I posted a link to the fascinating blog maintained by Richard Tuschman, the artist who has designed the splendid cover for the US edition of The Shadow Walker. Richard's posting on the subject was fascinating because he described the thinking that had led him to the final design, and also provided examples of some of the alternative designs he'd discarded along the way. It offered a remarkable insight into the creative process.
By coincidence, I was reading in this morning's Guardian about the increasing expansion of Tesco into book retailing in the UK. Joel Rickett of The Bookseller notes that Tesco is moving well beyond simply stocking the obvious bestsellers, but notes in passing that 'the supermarket is typically unapologetic about its influence on the homogenisation of book cover design - pointing out that shoppers need to instantly recognise genres'. I'm not sure whether that's true or not, but I hope it doesn't prevent artists such as Richard Tuschman from deploying their very considerable talent.
Thanks to Karen of the entertaining and informative Austcrime blog for a very generous review of The Adversary. The words in the title, incidentally, are those she chooses to describe Nergui. Just right, I think.
Maxine Clarke, of the ever-excellent Petrona blog, has been good enough (in her comment on my posting below) to draw my attention to an article in the US Publishers Weekly about the current wave of British and Irish crime books being published in the US. The article lists many luminaries from this side of the Atlantic, but finds time also to reference the forthcoming US publication of The Shadow Walker by Berkley Prime Crime. The Shadow Walker also gets a nice mention in this article from the US Library Journal.
All of which also gives me the only excuse I need to mention that, following the publication of The Shadow Walker in August, Berkley Prime Crime will also be publishing The Adversary in the US in early 2009.
Incidentally, as an aside, Maxine's current posting actually did make me laugh out loud.
Peter illustrated his piece with an image of the cover of The Adversary, which gives me all the feeble excuse I need to remind you that the paperback is now out in the UK. Available from any half-decent bookshop, and I note that Borders are promoting it as part of their 'buy one, get one half price' so you could get a copy and then save some money on that other book you've been meaning to buy. Or vice versa, of course.
The writing life has its ups and downs, as well as a fair bit of just trundling along the flatlands of everyday existence. Every now and then, though, you get one of those days that justifies all that time spent in the garret (I do literally write in an attic, albeit a rather comfortable one with a bookshelves, broadband and, if I raise my head slightly, a view out over the Pennines). My best day so far was shortly after The Shadow Walker was first published. I'd spent an hour signing some copies in Waterstone's in Manchester, and, for reasons unconnected with my writing life, was then catching a train down to Birmingham. On the way through Manchester Piccadilly station, I bought a copy of The Independent to read on the train. Flicking idly through it, I found myself staring, quite possibly open-mouthed, at a very enthusiastic review by Jane Jakeman of The Shadow Walker, which had been selected as the newspaper's book of the day. I've never had a chance to thank Jane Jakeman for that review - so if anyone out there knows her, please pass on my gratitude.
Yesterday quite didn't match that, but it was still a decent day. I was again in Manchester for various reasons, and took the opportunity to visit the Waterstone's crime section, as I frequently do. I was delighted to see that The Adversary paperback, which is officially released next week, was already stacked high on their display table as part of their '3 for 2' spring promotion.
Then I arrived home to find a neat package waiting for me - copies of the uncorrected proof editions of the US edition of The Shadow Walker from Berkley Books, complete with Richard Tuschman's splendid cover. Looks terrific - I'll be only too happy if people judge this book by its cover.
So - not bad. As Van Morrison once sang: ' Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?'
The always enlightening Peter Rozovsky, in his Detectives Beyond Bordersblog, has written recently about the title changes that sometimes occur when a book is published overseas. The Shadow Walker remains The Shadow Walker for its US edition, but the German edition, to be published later this year by those splendid folk at Goldmann, bears the title of Blutiger Schnee, which my feeble German translates as Bloody Snow. Which seems a fine title to me. More intriguingly, I've been translated into German as Mike Walters - which is also fine by me, though I'll be interested to see if I write differently under that name. Goldmann are also due to publish The Adversary in Germany in 2009
Just to let anyone who might be interested know that the paperback of The Adversary will be published by our good friends at Quercus on 6 March. Available from Amazon and, of course, all half decent bookshops.
A little while ago, I mentioned Richard Tuschman's excellent work on the artwork for the forthcoming US edition of The Shadow Walker - and in particular Richard's fascinating discussion of the thought processes that had led him to the final version.
Well, I've now officially received a copy of the final artwork - you can see it in the Gallery section on here. Still think it looks splendid!
Martin Edwards, in his splendid blog, recently reported on the death of the writer and anthologist, Peter Haining, and there's now an excellent obituary in The Daily Telegraph. As a teenager, I loved Haining's anthologies of supernatural and crime fiction. They were always lovingly compiled, sometimes with a theme, sometimes simply a collection of terrific stories, often mixing the relatively familiar with the highly arcane. Haining was one of the figures who helped turn me into a reader and, in due course, into a writer.
I was slightly startled to discover that he was only 67 at the time of his death. When I read his anthologies, I suppose I'd unconsciously imagined him as some aged Jamesian antiquarian figure, so it's a little disconcertingt to discover that, at the time he was compiling those books, he must have been rather younger than I am now.
A S Byatt wrote in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend about her love for the work of Margery Allingham. It's an enthusiasm I share. It took me a while to get round to reading her because I'd assumed - on the basis of no evidence whatsoever - that she was simply a lesser Dorothy L Sayers. What can I say? I was young.
In fact, her work is unlike that of Sayers - or indeed of anyone else. As Byatt points out, her gift lies in creating a world which is almost like ours, but a little skewed. Byatt suggests, intriguingly, that Iris Murdoch might have been influenced by her. Maybe so.
My own view is that Allingham is one of the great overlooked English novelists of the 20th century - arguably another victim of the much-debated literature/genre schism. I can't see any good reason why she shouldn't at least sit in the pantheon alongside, say, Waugh, Amis, Powell and, yes, Murdoch. While her earlier Albert Campion books may be relatively disposible (if you discount their enormous entertainment value, that is), her later books - The Tiger in the Smoke, Hide My Eyes, Traitor's Purse, even the last-knocking The China Governess - exert an eerie power that must surely constitute literature. She wrote about London better than anyone since Dickens, and about wartime and post-war London better than anyone. If you haven't yet explored her off-centre world, give her a try.
I commented last weekend about the substantial coverage given by The Guardian and Observer newspapers to various writers of crime fiction. But the debate about the supposed abyss between genre and 'literary' fiction (last aired here in relation to Clive James's provocative New Yorker piece) still rumbles on. The current edition of the UK Prospect magazine carries a piece by Tom Chatfield called 'The Genre Divide' (only available on-line to subscribers, unfortunately, though you can read the start of it here).
It's a largely balanced, if slightly odd, article which concludes that genre writing 'is one of the great pleasures and enablers of fiction'. Mind you, the positive tone is perhaps a little undermined by the accompanying photograph of John 'Benjamin Black' Banville captioned 'Banville: slumming it'. Not a phrase that occurs, as far as I can see, anywhere in the article itself.
Interestingly, though, Chatfield's view is that 'genre fiction is difficult to do right' and that the Black novels are 'decent...but unsatisfying...less than thrilling'. I can't comment, because Christine Falls is still sitting there, reproachfully, on my 'to be read' shelves. On the other hand, the latest posting on Declan Burke's consistently entertaining Crime Always Pays blog suggests that the caption on that photo might carry a small ring of truth, after all...
This risks getting rather circular, but Peter Rozovsky has posted an item on his ever-stimulating Detectives Beyond Borders blog discussing Richard Tuschman's piece about the excellent cover he's produced for the US edition of The Shadow Walker, which I mentioned on here a little while ago (hope you're keeping up with this).
Like Peter, I found it fascinating to gain an insight into the thought-processes that had led to Richard's final artwork, as well as to see some of the options that were discarded along the way. It illuminates an aspect of book production which is often neglected by the reader (and probably by the author, too, for that matter).
The always-interesting 'It's a Crime (or a Mystery)' blog has been preparing for Christmas by asking a number of crime writers to recommend what they'd consider to be 'essential reading'. Nobody's asked my opinion (probably wisely), but that's never discouraged me from giving it anyway. Taking a slightly different tack, however, I've been thinking about the books I've enjoyed over the past year.
Everyone's big discovery this year seems to have been my Quercus stable-mate, Peter Temple. I was as bowled over by The Broken Shore as everyone else, and I've subsequently enjoyed the wit and lyricism of his Jack Irish and other books. I should also put in a word for another Quercus-ite, the excellent Phil Rickman, whose Merrily Watkins series just keeps getting better (though I'm saving his new one, The Fabric of Sin, to be the perfect midwinter read).
Still, enough local plugs. As in most years, I've made new discoveries (in the sense of actually getting round to reading authors that I've been planning to for years) - this year the roster included Shane Maloney, Ken Bruen and Graham Hurley. I know, I know - what kept me? Well, I've caught up now.
Closer to home, it's largely been new stuff from the old favourites - Reginald Hill, John Harvey, the sadly now late Michael Dibdin. And I continue to wend my pleasant way through the quirkier residents of mainland Europe - Vargas, Camilleri. I'm struggling to think of an English author who offers a similar level of quirk, which perhaps says something about our national personality (and, today of all days, I'll avoid drawing any footballing parallels...).
Of the newer stuff, well, there were various heavily-hyped volumes which, for one reason or another, didn't do it for me. But I did enjoy Tana French's In the Woods. I was afraid at first that it was going to try to be Literature, but then it settled down into something genuinely distinctive and memorable.
Finally, as in all years, there were occasional serendipitous discoveries. A couple have stayed with me, quite possibly because I read both sitting by a wood-stove, glass of red wine in hand, in a friend's gloriously remote cottage in the Welsh borders. The first was John Harwood's The Ghost Writer, an odd literary Chinese-puzzle of a book, which risks being over-clever but ultimately is simply haunting. The other was Phil Whitaker's The Face, a kind of retrospective police procedural, playing intriguing games with truth and memory. The latter also lingered in my mind, in part, because - like most of John Harvey's books - it was set in my home city of Nottingham, a place that seems never quite to let go of those who have lived there.
I've never been too fussed about whether or not genre fiction is under-rated. After all, some would consider that not being nominated for the Man Booker prize is perhaps a badge of honour.
Nevertheless, I'm encouraged to see the level of coverage given to crime fiction this weekend across those two UK sister newspapers, The Guardian and The Observer. In yesterday's Guardian, we had an interview with James Lee Burke. And today's Observer excels itself with a lengthy review of Burke's new Dave Robicheaux novel, an extended interview with one Ian Rankin, and a substantial news piece about the prospect of Kenneth Branagh playing C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake in a forthcoming TV adaptation. Maybe someone's beginning to notice what's going on out here.
I mentioned a while ago that the US edition of The Shadow Walker would be published by those fine people at Berkeley Books in 2006. You can get a preview of the excellent cover that's been designed by Richard Tuschman on his very interesting blog. Richard also gives a fascinating account of the thought-processes that led to the final version, illustrating some of the discarded options and preliminary stages. Thanks, Richard, for providing such striking and sympathetic artwork!
Sorry - been a little quiet on here over the past week. I've been busy with a stack of things, not least working on the draft of the third Nergui book, The Outcast. I'm fascinated and reassured by John Connolly's latest musings on the writing process. Fascinated, because it's always interesting to get an insight into how other writers approach their craft. Reassured because I always worry that I'm the only crime writer who doesn't have every last plot detail carefully outlined on neatly stacked index cards prior to putting fingers to keyboard. But the truth is that many (most?) crime writers work as I do - starting with an approximate idea of where the book's likely to go, but always ready to be surprised when the plot or characters suddenly spring in an unexpected direction. And I've invariably found that the unpredicted development is more interesting than anything I might consciously have planned.
In my head, I've adopted Paul Muldoon's terrific poem, 'Medley for Morin Khur', as an unofficial epigraph for The Outcast. The poem is quoted in full in James Fenton's review of Muldoon's collection The Horse Latitudes, along with Muldoon's pertinent comment that: "If the poem has no obvious destination, there's a chance that we'll all be setting off on an interesting ride." Quite so.
Missed it last week because the books pages of the Telegraph's website seems to lag slightly behind its print edition, but nice review of The Adversary from Susanna Yager of The Sunday Telegraph (who was also decent enough to give The Shadow Walker a good review last year).
Interesting piece on the Eurocrime website about that fine publishing house, Quercus, including reference to some of the translated crime fiction to be published by them next year, alongside new books by the likes of Philip Kerr, Colin Cotterill and someone called Michael Walters, whoever he might be.
On the subject of Eurocrime and Quercus, I was so overwhelmed by Maxine Clarke's review of The Adversary that I omitted to mention that Eurocrime is also currently carrying a review of The Fabric of Sin, the latest by my Quercus stablemate, Phil Rickman. If you haven't yet discovered Mr Rickman's marvellous Merrily Watkins books - well, it's about time you did. I'm particularly looking forward to this one as it's partly concerned with the great Montague Rhodes James, so likely to be perfect reading as the nights draw in...
The excellent Eurocrime website has just posted a review of The Adversary, written by Maxine Clarke who maintains the equally excellent Petrona blog. The review is so complimentary that I'm almost too embarrassed to direct you to it. Almost, but not quite.
Speaking of blogs, I'm grateful to the excellent Petrona for drawing my attention to the Manchester Literary Festival, which I'd unaccountably managed to overlook, despite living on the doorstep. I was musing recently about Danish crime fiction, and I note that the programme includes a session called 'Danish Invasion' with contributions from Morten Ramsland, Janne Teller and Leif Davidsen, author of 'The Serbian Dane'. Hope to see you there.
Well, I did promise (threaten?) the odd casual reminder. The Adversary hits all good UK bookshops this week, and seems now to be available from Amazon UK. Get it now and be the envy of your friends. Or something.
Delighted to see that my Quercus stablemate, Peter Temple, has won the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for The Broken Shore. It's a terrific book - sparse and poetic, as well as possessing all the more familiar crime fiction virtues.
And, never one to miss the opportunity for a shameless plug, I do notice that Amazon claim it's the 'perfect partner' to go with The Shadow Walker. So, while you're buying The Broken Shore (as you must), you might as well spend that little bit extra...
Well, there it is. I delivered the final edits of 'The Adversary' to my good friends at Quercus today. I'm very pleased with it. I say that, not (I hope) in any spirit of arrogance, but just on the basis that, if I didn't like it, there wouldn't be much chance of anyone else doing so. But I do, so I hope you will too.
And, these things being as they are, I'm already well under way with the third Nergui book. With a working title of 'The Outcast', it's - well, no, I think I'll leave that just for the moment and go and enjoy the evening sunshine instead...
It's been a little quiet on here over the last week or two, partly because we've been rejigging the blog to block the growing influx of spam. I'm assuming that you don't really want endless links to pictures of Lindsay Lohan on here...?
I've also been working on the final edits of the second Nergui book, 'The Adversary', available for pre-order now on Amazon. The excellent cover can be seen both on Amazon and in the gallery here.
'The Adversary' introduces some new characters, including some potential romantic interest for Nergui. I'll say no more than that. Except to add that she's a judge. So, to whet your appetite, here's an interesting article on the Mongolian legal system. Well, what did you expect? Lindsay Lohan?
Anyway, Mongolia has apparently been taking advice from Texas on how to run its legal arrangements. As Judge Spurlock rightly points out in the article, they're both cowboy cultures and they both eat lots of meat. Any further comment would, I think, be superfluous.
Oh, and don't forget the paperback of 'The Shadow Walker'. All good bookshops and all that, or at Amazon.
Just a reminder that The Shadow Walker appears in paperback on 3 May. Our good friends at Quercus have done an absolutely splendid job with the design, as you can see here. Available, of course, from all half-decent bookshops and from Amazon.