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Sunday 30 November 2008

Smith and Houston.

One of the first thriller writers I ever read was Lionel Davidson, whose books, I am delighted to say, have now all been collected and reissued by Faber and Faber. The covers are rather pale and demure, ‘classical’ in a wreathed 18th Century way rather than ‘classic’ but the main thing is they are there.

Lionel Davidson is a classy popular writer - not limited to one genre - and his versatility and powers of invention may not have worked entirely to the advantage of his reputation. There are some writers who write to a formula or a fantasy and do so again and again and again, certainly from a marketing point of view a coherent strategy. You know what you are going to get.

Lionel Davidson is not like that. I’d guess that, having tried one angle he wanted new challenges. I think The Chelsea Murders is his only crime novel.

My own favourites amongst his books are The Rose of Tibet and Smith’s Gazelle. Both are beautifully constructed and resolved. But I know people who prefer his first book, The Night of Wenceslas, and the tremendous selling A long way to Shiloh (US The Menorah Men.) I think there was a film version of that first book, with Dirk Bogarde, but I am not aware of other movies. Most would be difficult to film.

But, in one sense, the book of his I find most persistent is called Making Good Again. It was published in 1968 and is set against the background of German Reparations for Nazi Atrocities. It involves the legal and social aftermath to the Second World War, the concept that a government can sign up for guilt, but that a population can grow fatigued and begin to doubt an ideal rather than a realistic judicial process – most of us know that reparations may be pursued but, even if they are successful, will always emphasise what is irrecoverable, and often leave absolutely untouched those who see nothing to apologise for.

What I admire is Davidson’s effort to make accessible an historical reality in which present agendas and appetites cloud attempts to fix the past.

Can a popular book deal with historical complexities without simplistic resolutions, and still provide the kind of satisfactions a thriller/adventure/mystery reader wants? Honestly? It’s really tricky, particularly if the subject matter deals with the power and cruelty inherent in some fantasies.

The attraction of Lionel Davidson is that he is not vengeful - no ‘I am the law’ stuff - but almost always ingenious. The thrill is in the curiosity, research and energy he brings to his novels. At his best he stretches the narrative lines with wit and the kind of tension that delights.

If you haven’t read him before – try now.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Goldsboro Books

On Thursday 20th I went to Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court, London, to sign 250 copies of The Maze of Cadiz, which they had picked as November Book of the Month. They had prepared a fantastic window display!

Run by David Headley and Daniel Gedeon, Goldsboro is a lovely find. They specialise in signed first editions of a wide variety of different books. I wish I had had more time to look around, but I had to rush off to my publishers after the signing. If you’re in the area (between the Charing Cross Road and St. Martin’s Lane), it’s worth popping in. They have a new website up, too, so you can browse their collection online. A great idea for a special present for someone.

David and Daniel gave me a really warm welcome and sat me down with a pile of 250 books – all carefully covered with a clear protective removable film on the cover. We chatted as I signed – and I tried not to lose track of how to spell my name, or what the date was. Strange how, after about a hundred signatures, you begin to doubt!

I feel honoured that The Maze of Cadiz was picked as November Book of the Month! Lovely shop and lovely people.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Heffers - Crimecrackers

On Wednesday 19th I had an enjoyable evening at the great Heffers Bookshop in Trinity Street, Cambridge, where I had been invited by Richard Reynolds to meet the Crimecrackers Reading Group and to talk about The Maze of Cadiz.

It was good to meet a group of people enthusiastic about reading and with varied ideas about what constitutes a satisfying book. Does the fascination lie in seeing how all the pieces of a puzzle fit together? Is it important for good to triumph and the bad to be punished, settling the world into a safe place once more? What is the role of fear? Is it, as in a child’s fairy tale, that we like to be frightened – but in a comfortable, controlled setting where the fear is dispelled when all comes right and we close the book?

Several people said that they didn’t like reading about real crimes. But how much reality did they want in the stories they read? Is it important to feel that the story might really have happened? Do you want a book to make you consider questions about yourself and your possible reactions to circumstances? Or are you reading for a respite from reality?

These are some of the topics that were raised during the evening – food for reflection for both reader and writer.

Not everyone had read The Maze of Cadiz yet, but I am grateful to those who showed appreciation of my young protagonist Peter Cotton, interest in the background and setting of the story and curiosity about how he would develop in future books. Thank you, too, to the Crimecracker who said the beginning of the book reminded him of The Quiet American. It’s nice to feel that people are tuned in to what you write.

A number of people asked how they could contact me when they had finished reading the book. You can, of course, post a comment on this blog, but you can also contact me at the following email address: .

You will find also find this email address on the contact page on my website – as well as other things to explore. I will be delighted to receive any feedback from you – and will respond and answer any questions just as soon as I can.

So, thank you Pippa, Richard from Edinburgh, Jane and all the rest of the Crimecrackers, for allowing me to be part of your meeting on Wednesday. Special thanks, too, to Richard Reynolds for inviting me in the first place!

Monday 24 November 2008

Apologies and Reprint.

I have to apologise for going blogless for nearly a month. I have been working on the next Cotton book, to be called WASHINGTON SHADOW, set in 1945, the year after THE MAZE OF CADIZ.

I keep running across famous names in Washington at that time - from Isaiah Berlin, who had just been sent to Moscow, through Roald Dahl (something of an information stud) to Donald MacLean of Burgess and Philby fame, who was the First Secretary when Cotton arrives. Also there, was Lady Baba Metcalfe, sometimes called ‘Baba Blackshirt. She was sister-in-law and lover to Oswald Mosley, grandmother of the Metcalfe who presently runs ‘Prêt à manger’, and close friend to the Ambassador Lord Halifax.

I did begin to worry that I had somehow stumbled into a gossip column. I found out who Millicent Rogers was (Standard Oil heiress), but am more intrigued by Helen Laurenson - author, apparently, of ‘Latins are still lousy lovers’. In the reference I found, she was described as a better writer than Clare Booth Luce (one of Roald Dahl’s more rigorous assignments), but I haven’t yet found examples of her prose.

On The Maze of Cadiz I am delighted to report there was news of a second printing announced on publication day. I have also been lucky enough to get reviews - with one exception, good reviews. This is due I suspect to the hard work of all the people at John Murray: Kate Parkin, my editor, Lucy Dixon who is handling the publicity and James Spackman who is the person who encouraged me to put up a website in the first place.