Wednesday, 23 April 2014

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie Novel #3) by Kate Atkinson: Signed First Edition (Doubleday, 2008)

It was my birthday a few weeks ago. I make mention of this not because I expect anyone reading this to care, nor, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this should care, to elicit belated birthday wishes or, more appositely, expressions of sympathy at my obtruding state of decrepitude, but because by dint of managing to stay alive for another year I received two signed books – one a present from my sister (who has form in this regard), the other a present from, er, myself. And since I'm in the midst of a run of posts on signed books, what better time to unveil them, beginning with the book I bought for myself, which I spotted on eBay for under a fiver and figured that I deserved as a modest birthday treat:


A first edition/first impression of When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, published in hardback by Doubleday in 2008, dust jacket photograph by Tim Kahane. The third novel in Atkinson's four-book (thus far) series featuring dour middle-aged private investigator Jackson Brodie, I have actually blogged about this edition before: I bought a secondhand copy in Oxfam Books in Brighton in 2011 and shortly after posted this missive, in which I made some snide remarks about the dust jacket copywriter (and assembled a Jackson Brodie first edition cover gallery, but that's by the by). As it turned out, those remarks were not only snide but ill-informed and wide of the mark: having since read the novel I've discovered that it does indeed shed "new light on to the nature of fate, and on to the human condition itself", and it has since become my favourite of the Jackson Brodie series: a warm, wise, witty, deeply affecting novel about love, loss and, as Neil Hannon once put it, the certainty of chance.


I'm not sure why When Will There Be Good News? struck more of a nerve with me than the other Jackson Brodie novels – Case Histories (2004), One Good Turn (2006) and Started Early, Took My Dog (20010) – all of which I like a lot; certainly the tangled web of human interaction which drives the story, and which greatly appeals to me, is no more tangled – or indeed web-like – here than in the other books. But the twists and turns do, I think, in this instance pack an additional punch, even for an emotional cripple like myself – no more so than at the midpoint, where Jackson makes a revelatory post-traumatic recovery, and in the penultimate chapter, where a cathartic reveal, also involving Jackson, neatly bookends the horrific prologue in the wheat field.


Anyway, whatever the reason, this signed first edition, bearing on title page the initials version of Atkinson's signature – as opposed to her full signature; see my first of her most recent novel, Life After Life – is a nice addition to my collection, and now nestles alongside my similarly signed first of the preceding Brodie novel, One Good Turn.


Signed editions of Kate Atkinson's various novels are in fairly plentiful supply – there are over 150 on AbeBooks alone, ten of which being the Doubleday first of When Will There Be Good News? – but signed books by the next author I'll be blogging about are somewhat thinner on the ground. In fact there are just two signed copies that I know of among the eighteen novels in his backlist; and with my most recent birthday present from my sister, I now own both of them.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Assassination Run by Jack Gerson (BBC Books, 1980): Signed Association First Edition, Inscribed to Mary Tamm

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 18/4/14.

The next signed book I'm showcasing was given to me by my friend Adam, proprietor of Withnail Books in Penrith, to sweeten the deal on the signed 1970 Dell paperback of Elmore Leonard's The Moonshine War I blogged about earlier in the week:


The Assassination Run, by Jack Gerson, published in hardback by BBC Books in 1980, with a dust jacket – which I've naturally added to British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s – which sports a photograph by Graham Ross. For those who don't know – and I numbered myself among them until I looked it up online – The Assassination Run was a three-part BBC TV spy thriller which aired in 1980, reportedly a kind of loose sequel to 1979 serial Running Blind (which was based on a Desmond Bagley novel). Starring Malcolm Stoddard as British agent Mark Fraser and the late Mary Tamm – perhaps best known for her role as Time Lord Romana, playing opposite Tom Baker in Doctor Who from 1978–1979 – as his kidnapped wife Jill, it was penned, like its predecessor (and like its 1981 three-part sequel, The Treachery Game), by Gerson, a television scriptwriter who, according to his Herald obituary, "cut his teeth writing episodes of Z Cars and went on to work on some of the most popular TV drama series of the time including Sutherland's Law and This Man Craig" – although IMDB suggests a rather different order of events.


His best-remembered telly work these days is probably The Omega Factor, which he created (and which guest-starred his daughter, Natasha, who would go on to feature as Brenda in Gregory's Girl). But Gerson also published around a dozen novels, many of them based on his various television endeavours – The Regiment (Pan, 1973), The Omega Factor (BBC Books, 1979), The Whitehall Sanction (WH Allen, 1983) and so forth – The Assassination Run being a case in point.


Gerson's inscription on the front free endpaper of this copy of The Assassination Run reads "To Mary who is Jill and Lauren who was there too!" You can see Adam's pencilled bookseller note above this, identifying the inscription as "by the author to his inspiration for one of the characters". But I did a spot of idle googling when the book arrived in the post, and having learned that the TV series of The Assassination Run starred Mary Tamm, I began to strongly suspect that the "Mary who is Jill" that the book was inscribed to wasn't merely the inspiration for one of the characters in the show, but actually played that character – i.e. that this was at one time Mary Tamm's copy of the book. Gerson included Tamm, under her first name, in the dedication opposite the prologue:


Alongside Stoddard and the cast and crew of the television series; but what sealed it for me was discovering that Tamm had a daughter, Lauren, who was born in November 1979 – which means if The Assassination Run was filmed the year before its 1980 broadcast, Tamm would have been pregnant during filming – hence the slightly oddly worded "Lauren who was there too!"


It's a fascinating provenance for the book, not just for anyone – like myself and, to an even greater extent, Adam – with an interest in Doctor Who, but anyone – me again (and probably Adam too) – with an interest in inscribed editions, especially association ones; witness, for example, these posts on books bearing inscriptions by Patricia Highsmith, Donald E. Westlake, P. M. Hubbard (with attendant letter), Andrew MacKenzie, Elmore Leonard, Colin Forbes, Gavin Lyall, Joe Gores and Anthony Price. That said, if a book counts as one of your favourites in a series, as the next book I'll be blogging about does, sometimes just a flat signature is enough – even if that signature consists of merely the author's initials.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard (Dell Paperback, 1970): Signed Edition, Book Review

The Moonshine War has for me, for a little while now, been an intriguing novel in Elmore Leonard's backlist. In a sense it's a bridge between two phases or eras of his career – between the westerns he wrote in the 1950s and the contemporaneously-set stories he wrote (with the odd western interspersed) from the late-1960s on, beginning with The Big Bounce. As such, it was a book I was keen to read, but it was also a problematic book for me, in that decent copies of both the American first edition, published by Doubleday in 1969, and the British first edition, published by Robert Hale in 1970, run into the hundreds of pounds, and are thus beyond my increasingly slender means. However, in a fortunate turn of events, my good friend Adam, proprietor of Withnail Books in Penrith, solved my problem when he recently got his hands on a stack of collectible Elmore Leonard books, among them this:


A first printing of the first American paperback edition of The Moonshine War, published by Dell in July 1970 (cover art uncredited). While not as scarce as the UK Hale edition, the Dell paperback is much more uncommon than the Doubleday first – half a dozen copies versus two dozen online; but more importantly, at least from my perspective, the Dell edition tends to be considerably cheaper than the Doubleday edition – even if your copy happens to bear Elmore Leonard's signature:


As mine does, making it very rare indeed: there are about fifteen or so signed copies of The Moonshine War for sale online across all editions, but only two of those are 1970 Dell paperbacks.


Anyway, having now read The Moonshine War, I wouldn't say it's a transitional book in terms of style or tone; with its (seemingly) naturalistic dialogue, lightly sketched but convincing characters and bare bones plot, it's very much an Elmore Leonard novel of the second phase of the writer's career, in the mould of, say, Mr. Majestyk (1974) or Valdez is Coming (1970): a story about a man – in this case deep south bootlegger Son Martin – who takes a stand partly because it's the right thing to do, partly on principle, but mostly just because. That streak of obstinacy is even wider in Son Martin than in Vincent Majestyk or Bob Valdez, however; Son manages to alienate – and even make enemies of some members of – an entire community, including his lover, hotel owner Kay Lyons, all to protect his late father's buried stash of booze from a horde of hoodlums, led initially by Son's former army buddy-turned prohibition enforcer Frank Long.

It's more in the setting that the novel can be seen as a bridge between eras: Kentucky, in the grip of the Great Depression, 1931 – not the wild west (not even geographically), but not quite the modern world either; a place and a time where a family's moonshine still was their only means of support – a situation genially tolerated by the local law, in the shape of septuagenarian sheriff Mr. Baylor. Mind you, if Justified, the TV spin-off from Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens novels, is anything to go by, not much has changed down south in the intervening years, except that drugs have replaced booze as the local currency. And The Moonshine War is a kind of precursor to "Fire in the Hole" and the Givens television mythology – and attendant novel – that that short story begat, from the playful, probing conversations between Son and Kay, anticipating those between Raylan and Winona, to a mention of Harlan County and even a character with the name of Boyd Caswell – markedly close to Boyd Crowder.


I noted above that copies of the 1970 Dell paperback of The Moonshine War are nowhere near as pricey as either the US or UK hardback first editions; that said, I should point out that I still paid a fair amount for my one: not only is it signed, which automatically increases the price, but it's also not a common edition to come across here in the UK. But to sweeten the deal, Adam kindly threw in another signed book – a 1980 first edition of an obscure television tie-in thriller bearing an inscription which, it transpired, boasted a unique association.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Swag by Elmore Leonard: British First Edition (Penguin Paperback, 1984)

I read, and wrote about, Elmore Leonard a lot last year, both prior to and following the author's death in August, my reading and blogging fuelled, as is frequently the case, by a book collecting spree. One strand of my collecting/reading/blogging was the novels Leonard published in the 1970s, especially those issued in the UK by Secker & Warburg. Secker published almost all of Leonard's 1970s contemporaneously-set novels – i.e., not westerns – in hardback in this country: Fifty-Two Pickup (1974), Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), The Hunted (1978; originally 1977 in the US) and The Switch (1979; originally 1978 in the US); in the latter two's cases, it was the first time they'd appeared in hardback (both were issued as paperback originals in the States). But there was one novel missing from that short run: Swag. Published in the US in hardback by Delacorte in 1976, Swag (alias Ryan's Rules) was for some reason – possibly simply caution at overpublishing the still relatively unknown Leonard in the UK market – passed over by Secker, with the result that the first edition published in the UK was this:


The 1984 Penguin paperback, with a cover – which I've added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page – bearing a photograph by Peter Chadwick. I picked this first printing up in Oxfam Books in Brighton a couple of months back for the princely sum of:


ninety-nine pence. Which admittedly isn't much less than you'd probably have to pay, including postage, on, say, Amazon Marketplace; but then, who knows whether you'd be getting a first printing, or even the correct edition at all – a point made by fellow book blogger Ray Garraty in the comments of my post on Donald E. Westlake's Two Much on Wednesday.


Of course, why a body would want a first printing of the Penguin paperback of Swag, especially when said body already owns a 1987 Viking edition of the Elmore Leonard omnibus Dutch Treat, which includes Swag, and in which edition that body read the novel last year and subsequently reviewed it on his daft blog, is a question for minds far more acute than mine; but given that that body also owns two editions of Stick – a 1983 US Arbor House first edition and a 1984 UK Allen Lane signed first edition – which is one of the body's favourite Leonard novels, and which is ostensibly the sequel to Swag, featuring, as it does, Ernest Stickley, Jr., erstwhile partner in crime of Frank Ryan (no relation to Jack Ryan), his co-star in Swag, the acquisition of a Penguin paperback edition of Swag on top of Dutch Treat becomes, perhaps, marginally more explicable.

Perhaps.


I've another Elmore Leonard paperback lined up for my next missive – a signed one, no less, marking the start of an intermittent run of posts on signed editions, featuring authors both familiar and new to Existential Ennui.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Westlake Score: Two Much! by Donald E. Westlake; British First Edition (Hodder & Stoughton, 1976)

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.


My (cross-)posting of this particular Westlake Score was prompted by a newspaper article I noticed last month. I actually bought the book in question – the British first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Two Much!, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1976, the year after the US M. Evans edition – on a whim on Amazon Marketplace at the tail end of 2012 and have had it sitting on my to-be-blogged-about shelves ever since; the Hodder edition is incredibly scarce, and it's hard for me to resist scarce books – especially Westlake ones – when I encounter them. That said, Two Much! doesn't number among Westlake's more celebrated works; pretty much the only reputable reviews of the novel readily available online are this glib Kirkus Reviews one and Ethan Iverson's capsule review as part of his "A Storyteller That Got the Details Right" essay (Ethan places it in Westlake's canon as "probably the darkest of all the humorous crime novels"). It's perhaps better known for its 1995 Hollywood film adaptation – which in turn is arguably better known for the on-set romance which developed between co-stars Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith – and for its 1984 French film adaptation, Le Jumeau (The Twin).


All of which was why I was quite surprised when it cropped up in a Guardian article in March. Written by author Stephen May and titled "The Top 10 Imposters in Fiction", the article caught my eye principally due to a mention of Tom Ripley in its standfirst. Being, as I am, a Ripley obsessive, naturally I took a look to see which of Patricia Highsmith's five Tom Ripley novels had been included (the first, The Talented Mr. Ripley, unsurprisingly; you could make just as strong a case for Ripley Under Ground, but May does at least nod to the greater Ripliad), and there, in the number two position (appropriately enough), was Two Much! It's difficult to tell whether May has read any other Westlake works besides Two Much! – or indeed Two Much! itself; he does little more than recount the plot – but he's obviously aware of Westlake's wider oeuvre, noting that the author "published books under at least 16 names".


To my knowledge this (cross-)post marks the online debut of the Hodder hardback's dust jacket; I'd certainly not seen it prior to getting my hands on the book, not even on either AbeBooks – not least because at present there isn't a single copy for sale there (and only one other copy that I can see for sale online anywhere, making it possibly the rarest of all the Hodder hardback editions of Westlake's novels) – nor at the official Donald E. Westlake website. The jacket design isn't credited, but the designer evidently took a cue from the M. Evans wrapper (image borrowed from the official Westlake site):


Except to my mind the Hodder jacket isn't as well executed. Because while the Evans jacket clearly shows a risque greetings card – the writing of which being the narrator of the novel's profession – it's much less obvious, at least to my eye, that that's what we're supposed to be seeing on the Hodder cover. Still, given how uncommon the Hodder first is – as opposed to the Evans first, of which there are getting on for fifty copies on AbeBooks alone – I know which I'd rather have in my collection.


UPDATE, 11/4/14: The front of the jacket of the Hodder edition of Two Much! has now been added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery.

Monday, 7 April 2014

James Mitchell, alias James Munro: First Editions of Bonfire Night (Callan Spy Novel #5, 2002) and The Money That Money Can't Buy (John Craig Spy Novel #3, 1967)

Television writer and producer James Mitchell penned two series of spy novels of note in his near-fifty year career. The first, a four-book series starring gunrunner-turned-secret agent John Craig, written under the pen name James Munro, ran from 1964–1969; the second, a five-book series starring British Intelligence assassin David Callan, spinning out of the Mitchell-created Callan TV show, ran from 1969–2002. I profiled both series last year, reviewing the first book in each – respectively The Man Who Sold Death and A Magnum for Schneider, alias A Red File for Callan – and showcasing first editions of almost all of the other novels – almost all, because there were two I hadn't at that point got my clammy hands on. Fortunately, in the interim, I have; and so, seeing as I reviewed the second Callan book, Russian Roulette (1973), last week, I figured now's as good a time as any to showcase them. Oldest first, I think:


The Money That Money Can't Buy by James Munro, published in hardback by Hammond in 1967 (dust jacket design uncredited). The third John Craig spy thriller, Kirkus Reviews describe it as "Just so much spy schmaltz", which seems a little harsh to me; of the Craig novels, I've only read The Man Who Sold Death thus far, and though I wasn't as keen on it as I was A Magnum for Schneider, it wasn't that bad, and given the kind of writer Mitchell was, I can't imagine the quality of the series plummets too dramatically – a supposition supported by Existential Ennui reader Darryl Crawford, who commented on my John Craig post that the later books have "some of the coolest villains this side of Modesty Blaise", and Randall Mastellar at Spy Guys & Gals, for whom "the stories are good reads and the character does come up with a couple of the greatest one-liners I've ever read".


I found this first edition on an all-too-rare-these-days trip up to London (I moved down to Lewes from London nearly six years ago), in the basement of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road. (On the same trip I also secured a vinyl copy of my album of the year from last year, Everything Everything's Arc, in Sister Ray on Berwick Street, which I was immensely pleased about because it's incredibly hard to come by on vinyl.) I think I paid about a fiver for it, which isn't bad considering the Hammond first isn't exactly in abundant supply – there are at present only half a dozen copies for sale online – and especially not in the UK, where I can currently only see one jacketless (I believe) copy for sale online (offered, coincidentally enough, by fellow Lewes exile, and fellow blogger, Steerforth).


Even scarcer, however, unless you're prepared to put up with an ex-library copy, is the Callan novel I secured:


Bonfire Night by James Mitchell, published by Severn House in 2002 (shortly before Mitchell's death that same year), jacket photograph by Ute Klaphake. The fifth and final Callan novel, there was a near-thirty year gap between this and the previous one, 1975's Smear Job, and according to reports from Existential Ennui commenters it's either "a bit weird" (Stuart Radmore), "confusing, and reads more like a script than a book" (Saz), or is "Mitchell... operating at the very top of his game in this dense narrative" (the aforementioned Darryl Crawford). Given which, the best thing to do, I imagine, is to read the book oneself and make one's own mind up, which ordinarily would mean stumping up at least twenty-five quid for an ex-library copy of the Severn House edition – the sole edition of the novel to date. Seems the vast majority of the print run of the Severn House edition went to public lending libraries, and even my copy, which I won on eBay (in the end for less than twenty quid), while it isn't ex-library, was evidently intended for libraries:


The book's case replicates the jacket front and back as a PLC (printed laminated cover), rather than the more usual Arlin over boards, suggesting it was bound with libraries in mind. Where it actually ended up, though, was with Mitchell's agent, as evidenced by this stamp on the front free endpaper:


All of which makes one wonder if the entire print run was bound for libraries. Anybody own a copy of the Severn House edition which doesn't sport a PLC...?