Saturday 9 October 2010

From the Lewes Book Fair: Voodoo, Ltd. by Ross Thomas

As mentioned in the previous post, Espionage Week – which this really will be the final tenuous instalment of (cue ecstatic cheering) as, quite apart from anything else, all this blogging is keeping me from actually reading some of these bleedin' books – has taken an unexpected turn, due to a couple of the books I bagged at the Lewes Book Fair. What I intended to be blogging about this weekend, if indeed I did do any blogging (which, evidently, I did do... have done... whatever), was an author I blogged about on Thursday – Ross Thomas. But as luck would have it, one of the books I bought at the Book Fair was by... and the title of this post might be a clue here...  Ross Thomas. So instead of blogging about a Ross Thomas book, I find myself blogging about... a Ross Thomas book. Just not the one I thought I'd be blogging about.

Y'know, this could turn out to be the most annoying post I've ever written. Which really would be saying something.

Anyway, the Ross Thomas book I got at the Book Fair was this:

That's the UK hardback first edition of Voodoo, Ltd., published by Little, Brown and Company in 1993 – originally published in the States by Mysterious Press in 1992. The dustjacket illustrator isn't credited in the book – there's a signature at the bottom of the artwork that could be "Milliner" – but for reasons I'll go into at some unspecified point in the future I do know the patterns on the back cover were created by one Elaine Cox.

Now, in that Ross Thomas post on Thursday, I alluded to one of the two series that Thomas wrote during his career. And if I'd ended up blogging about the Ross Thomas book I thought I'd be blogging about (yep, getting reeeaaaally annoying now), I'd be discussing that series now. But Voodoo Ltd. isn't in that series. It's in the other series, the one starring private investigators Artie Wu and Quincy Durant. In fact it's the third book in that series, following Chinaman's Chance and Out on the Rim – neither of which I have. But seeing as this rather fine copy of Voodoo Ltd. was only two quid, and therefore irresistible, it looks like I'll now be collecting this series of Ross Thomas books too; even though I haven't even started blogging about the other series – the one I originally intended to blog about, and will still blog about, at some point.

It's official: the most annoying post ever. I'm going now.

From the Lewes Book Fair: A Perfect Spy by John le Carre

Looks like Espionage Week is stretching into the weekend after all, although not in quite the way I expected it to. Because today the Lewes Book Fair took place, and as a result I ended up with a small pile of books, all of which I'm quite pleased with, two of which fit right into Espionage Week. And the first of those... is this:

A UK hardback first edition of John le Carre's A Perfect Spy, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1986, with a dustjacket design by typographer Howard J. Shaw (author photo on the back by Stephen Cornwell). Not exactly an uncommon book, but this copy is in fine, unclipped condition and was also bloody cheap. It's about the disappearance and possible defection of a secret agent, although I suspect there's a lot more to it than that; I texted Roly while I was at the Book Fair and he reckoned I'll enjoy it. It's certainly highly regarded by some, including Philip Roth.

I also saw a copy of The Little Drummer Girl, but that wasn't in as nice nick as A Perfect Spy, and also, judging by the jacket flap blurb, that one really did fall into Roly's eight point estimation of later Le Carre, so I gave it a miss. By then I'd already bought quite enough books anyway – about which, more soon...

One thing you sometimes find with second hand books bought from shops or book fairs is they occasionally come with little inserts. These can be the previous owner's bookmark, or a newspaper clipping – author obituaries are common – or just a random bit of jetsam. This copy of A Perfect Spy came with a holiday postcard hidden inside it, featuring the most orange beach scene I've ever, well, seen:

"Sun in pretty short supply," eh? Well that's what you get for going on holiday to the planet Mars.

Friday 8 October 2010

Three from Le Carre: Call for the Dead, a Murder of Quality, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

As I might juuuuuuust possibly have mentioned before, I collect books – modern first edition hardbacks for the most part (with the occasional paperback thrown in there, not to mention comics and graphic novels). Despite appearances to the contrary, it's not actually a terribly expensive pursuit, at least not with the authors I collect; the majority of, say, Kingsley Amis, or Gavin Lyall, or even, to a lesser extent, Patricia Highsmith's body of work can be had in UK first edition for around a tenner a book if you know where to look, and there are a multitude of available avenues – eBay, Amazon, AbeBooks, bookshops (both online and bricks and mortar), book fairs, charity shops, and more besides. With a little work (or even using Bookfinder if you're a lazy sod), you can quickly compare prices and editions and get whatever you want. There are pitfalls, as I've outlined previously, but for the most part, the gains outweigh the losses.

But even with the authors I collect, there are still certain books that are, and probably always will be, out of my reach. I can't stretch to a first of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, for example – UK or US (although my UK paperback first does me just fine): we're talking at the very least £500 for a UK first with a dustjacket, and more likely into the thousands. Ditto Amis' Lucky Jim. And now that I've embarked on yet another crazed collecting quest, there's a similar problem with John le Carre's early novels. Because while most of his works from The Looking-Glass War (1965) on can be had for an affordable price (let's not get into the limited edition first impressions of his more recent books, as that way lies madness), first editions of Call for the Dead (1961), A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) will set a body back hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds.

On this matter, however, as on many other book collecting-related matters, I refuse to admit defeat, or see reason, or give in to good sense, or indeed confront the bruising reality of my mundane, soul-crushing, drab, humdrum existence. I will not let such seemingly insurmountable obstacles as a distinct lack of available funds, or for that matter such trifling concerns as continuing to feed and clothe myself (eating's overrated anyway, and as for clothes...) or keeping a roof over my head stand in the way of obtaining the books I want (need?). No indeed. Oh hell no.

So, to round off Espionage Week (possibly; I might still manage some weekend blogging, in which case Espionage Week may continue...), let's have a look at a pair of recently acquired Le Carre books that, while not quite true first editions of those first three novels, are as close as I'm likely to get, and quite uncommon in their own right. First up:

A UK hardback Omnibus of Le Carre's first two novels, published by Gollancz – who published all of the author's initial three books – in 1964. This, I have to say, was an absolute steal. I got it for a knock down price from a dealer on Amazon Marketplace who clearly didn't know what he had on his hands, i.e. the first omnibus edition of Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, and therefore a rather rare and valuable book. The dustjacket's a little knackered, as you can see (Gollancz jackets from around this period are notoriously fragile), but even so, this is the first impression of an edition that went through multiple printings:

so even though the jacket's seen better days, it at least has a jacket, and not price-clipped either. The cheapest first edition/impression I've seen online (apart from this one, which obviously isn't online any more) is about a hundred quid. Bit of a find, in other words. Plus, it's Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, together in one edition, and I haven't read either novel. Result. But possibly not as much of a result as this:

A 1963 UK first edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Le Carre's third novel. Now, those of you not suffering under the early onset of dementia (not sure if I include myself in that category) may be wondering at this point what's going on here. Didn't he state, you might be puzzling, just moments ago, in fact earlier in this very blog post, that a copy of this would set a person back many hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds, and is therefore beyond his self-admitted meagre means? And you'd be correct. But appearances can be deceiving. Because although this is indeed a first edition, it's not a first impression:

It's a second impression, although, as the indicia states, a "second impression before publication". In fact The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was so feverishly anticipated before it was published that it went through a grand total of four printings (impressions) before the publication date. Five months after publication it was up to its eleventh printing, and by July 1964 was up to its nineteenth impression. So while with almost any other book I wouldn't really be happy with a second printing, with this book, it'll do me just fine. First impressions go for at least £300, usually a lot more, but second impressions aren't listed for much less – around £200 (needless to say I didn't pay anything near that for this copy), and actually there are far, far fewer copies of the second impression for sale online than there are of the first.

Of course, at root, the whole question of a book being worth more or less because of the existence or otherwise of a few words stating "second impression" or "reprinted twice" or even "book club edition" (shudder) in or around the indicia is inherently silly... but that's just the way the book collecting world works. You either roll with it, or you don't collect first editions. There are, after all, plenty of other types of books to collect. Like paperbacks, for instance. Speaking of which, I've recently bagged some real doozies there – scarce paperback editions of books by a certain Donald E. Westlake. Only a matter of time before he cropped up again, eh? But those are posts for another day...

Thursday 7 October 2010

Two by Ross Thomas: The Money Harvest and Yellow-Dog Contract

Back at the beginning of Espionage Week, all those many many, er, days ago, I mentioned I'd be posting something on an unnamed author who would be of particular interest to Book Glutton. Well, due to unforeseen circumstances (good circumstances, mind), I'm delaying the posts I intended to write, probably till next week, although they may still sneak into this weekend. We'll see. All is not lost, however, because I have two further books to showcase by that very same author, which, while not quite spy novels, are close enough as makes no difference. At least, not to me, and therefore, not to you either. What's more, they're both from the author's middle career, were published in quick succession in the mid-1970s, and boast fantastic prime examples of flared-trouser big-collar Demis Roussos Abigail's Party Cinzano-and-lemonade '70s cover design from the same photographer/designer.

The writer is Ross Thomas, the photographer/designer is Beverly Lebarrow (or possibly Beverly Le Barrow; the books spell her name one way, the internet another), and the first of the two books looks like this:

That's the UK hardback first edition of The Money Harvest, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1975 (also published in the US the same year by William Morrow), and just look at the state of that cover. Truly, that is an awesome piece of '70s dustjacket design – note the strategically placed pot plant sprouting suggestive fronds, and an almost hidden handgun resting atop the pot, barrel pointing towards nether regions. Nice. Beverly's distinctive photos also grace covers to books by Dick Francis and Herbert Kastle, and judging by these covers:

she sometimes used the same models for different cover shoots. That is the same woman, right?

As for Ross Thomas, it was Book Glutton who set me off in pursuit when he commented on this post – I'd never even heard of Thomas before that. For those who don't know, Thomas was an American author who, from 1966 to 1994, published twenty crime, espionage and political thrillers under his own name and a further five under the nom de plume Oliver Bleeck (plus one non-fiction title). He's often compared to Raymond Chandler, who's another writer I've never tried, but I'm in the midst of reading a Thomas novel at the moment (neither of the ones featured here; I'll be coming back to that one during the future raft of Ross posts) and I must have osmotically absorbed some Chandler over the years, because it feels very Chandleresque to me. There are two series within those twenty own-brand books, one featuring grifters Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, the other featuring bar owners/spies Mac McCorkle and Mike Padillo. You might want to make a note of one of those sets of names for future reference...

Thomas enthusiasts are enthusiasts in a major way; his writing seems to inspire a level of devotion that's in inverse proportion to the breadth of his popularity. Which is to say, increasingly he's something of a specialist pursuit, with many of his books out of print. Book Glutton left a bunch of Thomas-related links on that other post, the most informative of which can be found here, here and particularly here. I'll be writing some more on him once I finish the book I'm reading, but as ever I've no idea if I'll come up with anything insightful or entertaining (on past evidence, almost certainly not), so best follow those links to be on the safe side.

The Money Harvest was Ross Thomas' ninth novel under his own name, and it's actually rather pertinent to current events; it's about (illegal) financial speculation on the commodoties market, something that's been in the news again recently with wheat prices going through the roof. I nabbed it as a job lot on eBay, along with the second Ross Thomas book I have to show you today:

A UK hardback first edition of Yellow-Dog Contract, Thomas' tenth novel, published again by Hamish Hamilton, this time in 1977 (1976 in the States). Have to say, I genuinely love Beverly Lebarrow's (I'll stick to the spelling in the book) cover, which is admirably blunt and unfussy. Cool ski mask on that model; the flared jeans and Adidas trainers are the icing on the cake. The plot of this one centres on the disappearance of a union leader and the political ramifications thereof, which sounds right up my strasse. I'm glad I bagged these two Thomas UK firsts, so ta to Book Glutton for the Ross Thomas tip off, and as I say, I'll have more on him to show and tell very soon. Let's see if we can't whip up a bit of interest in him...

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Is Ian Fleming's James Bond Really a Sexist, Misogynistic Bastard?

One of the questions I'm invariably asked when I tell people I'm reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels is: "Aren't they a bit sexist?" (The other question is even shorter: "Really?" – often accompanied by an arched eyebrow.) This line of enquiry probably dates back to Paul Johnson's 1958 New Statesman review/essay "Sex, Snobbery and Sadism", which he wrote after reading the sixth book in the series, Dr. No, but more recently the question of Bond's misogyny in the novels has become conflated with the on-screen antics of the movie Bond(s) (see here, here, here...). Because for some people, many of whom I suspect have never read Fleming's novels, the Bond of the films and the Bond of the books equate to pretty much the same man: a smirking smoothie who shags his way through at least two floozies every story.

I haven't read Dr. No yet, so I'm not going to mount a blow by blow defence of that particular book. But I have read the five novels preceding it (well, nearly; I haven't quite finished Diamonds Are Forever yet), so as part of Espionage Week, I thought I'd examine James Bond's attitude towards women in those five books from Casino Royale to From Russia, with Love, disentangling the novels from the later portrayals of 007 by messers Connery, Moore et al to see if that sexist reputation is really deserved.

While much of the criticism of how Bond regards and treats women stems from the films, there is one line in particular from the novels that regularly crops up in critiques, and which, so far as the accusers are concerned, lends weight to their argument. It's the closing line of dialogue from the debut Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), where Bond is informing his superiors of the fate of Vesper Lynd, and it runs thus:

"Yes, dammit, I said 'was'. The bitch is dead now."

What's worse is that this isn't the first time Bond refers to Vesper as a bitch in the book. Much earlier, before he's even met her, he broods on how, having been told by Mathis he'll have a female number two on the mission to bankrupt Le Chiffre, he thinks she'll get in the way, closing out chapter four with a couple of hearty exclamations of "bitch" to the four walls of his hotel room. But the key phrase here is, 'before he's met her'. Yes, at this point in the very first novel, Bond has little regard for women, considering them essentially as little more than recreation. However context, as ever, is all. At this juncture Bond is also seething over the fact that his cover's been blown and the Russians are on to him, and so his anger also gets directed at Vesper, who he thinks he'll have to protect.

Now, I don't want to be too much of an apologist here; Bond's attitude towards women is frequently chauvinistic. But it's worth remembering that these novels – at least the ones I'm considering – were written in the early- to mid-1950s, when chauvinism wasn't exactly out of the ordinary. On top of that, Bond is really only reflecting the attitudes of his creator, Ian Fleming (which is why he's also such a snob for the more luxurious things in life): Fleming, at least in the early books, tends to write women as fairly simpering sorts (the Vesper of the Casino Royale novel isn't nearly so sassy as the Vesper of the 2006 movie).

Thing is, the Bond of these early books really isn't the unfeeling shagger of the movies. In Casino Royale he falls hard for Vesper; he finds in her something which has eluded him in previous relationships, to the extent that he's on the verge of proposing to her before her treachery is finally revealed. And it's the revelation of that treachery and the letter that Vesper writes to him that drives Bond to tears and causes him to utter that last line. As a consequence, we're left with the impression that Bond will henceforth be unfeeling, uncaring: a hater of women, even.

What's surprising is that this couldn't be further from the truth. In the next book in the series, Live and Let Die (1954), Bond again falls for a woman – not as hard as he did for Vesper, sure, but it's also clear that Solitaire doesn't merely represent a fling for him. He reflects at length on her allure, telling her, "You kiss more wonderfully than any girl I have ever known." And if you think that's simply a line on his part, I should point out that it's much, much worse than that: Bond actually means it. In fact, the picture that develops over the course of the next few books is of a man who, far from being a serial sex fiend, is actually more of a serial monogamist. Book to book, when it comes to women, Bond is a big ol' softy.

One thing to bear in mind here, I think, is that although the Bond novels are obviously a series, they're also designed to be standalones, and lean much more towards the latter design than the former. You can pick up any Bond book and dive in, with no knowledge of previous books required. Historically, particularly in the years before the internet made finding out in which order to read books in a series a hell of a lot easier, that's almost certainly the way they were read – bought at random, devoured equally haphazardly. In which light, Bond's romancing of a different woman in each book perhaps isn't so objectionable: for many readers, there wouldn't have been a previous book to compare it to.

But even not taking that into account, the evidence on the page is irrefutable. Moonraker (1955), the next book in the series, presents Bond with a slightly more feisty female in the shape of Gala Brand, a Special Branch agent working undercover at Hugo Drax's missile facility. What's interesting in this book is that 007 doesn't get to sleep with Gala. They share a kiss on a beach and an emotional moment after surviving a bomb blast, but that's as far as it goes. Gala is engaged, and the novel finishes with Bond resolving to "get out of these two young lives and take his cold heart elsewhere". Despite Bond's misgivings about the relative temperature of his heart, however, it's abundantly clear throughout the novel that, once again, he's tumbled head over heels for a dame; for evidence, look no further than a couple of lines earlier, as a tortured 007 ponders, "Why had he imagined that she shared his desires, his plans?" James Bond: denied.

Indeed, by the time we get to Bond #5, From Russia, with Love (as I say, I'm still reading #4, Diamonds Are Forever, although two-thirds of the way through it looks as if Tiffany Case will have the same effect on 007 as every woman before her), it's become so evident that Bond will go utterly gaga at the sight of a pretty lady that the Soviet spy organization SMERSH actively plays on this weakness to bring about his downfall. They dispatch a secret weapon in the shape of Tatiana Romanova, who poses as a defector carrying a stolen decoding device. Ostensibly that's the hook for the British Secret Service... but in reality SMERSH know that Bond will lose his senses at the sight of Tatiana and consequently prove no match for their assassin, Red Grant. Which is very nearly what happens.

I can't yet comment on the books following From Russia, with Love, but if those first five are anything to go by, it's a safe bet that Bond will continue to be beguiled by the birds and frequently determine to down tools and take whichever lass he's besotted with in that particular book off to live in a farmhouse in the country and raise chickens/goats/pigs/children. There's a pattern of behaviour established for 007, one which doesn't really tally with the idea of him being a sexist pig – at least no more than countless other characters – and indeed real live actual men – from the same era.

Based on the novels I've read so far, you could, I think, accuse James Bond – and possibly Ian Fleming – of being many things: a snob, certainly; a masochist, definitely; a homophobe, potentially; a racist, casually – although again those last two are more a product of their time than an active agenda. But a misogynist? I'm not so sure. If anything, I'd suggest that James Bond is, in fact, an illustrious example of that most unfortunate and ultimately doomed of beasts: the incurable romantic. And it'd be churlish to criticize a man for that.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

The Russia House (a Lewes Book Bargain) and Thoughts on Later Le Carre

Presented as part of Espionage Week, I bagged this Lewes Book Bargain in the local Flea Market the other weekend:

A UK hardback first edition of John le Carre's The Russia House, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1989. Not exactly a scarce book, but it was cheap, and I'm on something of a Le Carre kick at the moment, having recently read both the fantastic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. (I was hoping to write about those this week, but I don't think I'll have time to do that now, and anyway I still have the third book in the Karla Trilogy, Smiley's People, to read. So instead I'll be spotlighting a couple of other decidedly scarce recent Le Carre acquisitions...). However, The Russia House is later Le Carre, which, as my friend Roly pointed out to me, is an altogether more thorny proposition. According to Roly, who kindly gave me permission to reprint his thoughts (slightly edited):

"All of le Carre's books are amazing (or at least very good) up to and including Smiley’s People. I would recommend you read the first three (Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) in order – they’re less well known now, but among the best. Exception: The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, which is a now-disowned failed experiment in non-spy novels. (You might not know that such a thing exists?)"

Har de har har. Everybody's a flippin' comedian...

Roly continues:

"Then the later ones are OK (The Secret Pilgrim is very good) but the mode for the later work is very much:

1. Le Carre gets cross about something he reads in a John Pilger book, or Amnesty newsletter

2. He goes to Kenya/Panama/Georgia/Hamburg/etc. and hoovers up local colour

3. Plot: a conspiracy theory paranoia-thriller in which the bad guys are MI6 acting in cahoots with KGB and big business, and mobile phones can read your mind

4. Hero: a lanky, posh, socially awkward comedy Englishman with a failed relationship, nervous tic, nice big house, burning desire to rescue the folk of Kenya/Panama/etc.

5. Heroine: impossibly principled, daring, randy, beautiful social worker/crusading human rights lawyer/principled activist with a nice bum who shags him once (and once only)

6. Normally a couple of heroic locals fighting MI6/KGB/big business etc. from their mountain village in wherever-it-is

7. Good end up dead; bad end up dragging the bodies into the back of an unmarked van and driving off; mountain village burned to the ground by big business; the story is suppressed

8. Out in time for Christmas of even-numbered years

Rule of thumb: if it’s set in Germany or Surrey or London, it’s good and probably quite deep/moving. Otherwise, it’s a Romp."

Thanks Roly. Ever thought about starting a blog...?

Monday 4 October 2010

Espionage Week: Greg Rucka's Queen & Country (A Gentleman's Game, Private Wars and The Last Run)

We've had Westlake Week; we've had, er, Westlake Week Mark II; and now, thrillingly, we have another week of themed posts here on Existential Ennui – and this time they'll be nothing whatsoever to do with Donald Westlake. Exit stage left entire Westlake-obsessed blog readership...

But wait! Stop right there, you little scamps. Because this week's posts may still be of interest to at least some of you, as they'll all be on an espionage tip. Yes, it's Espionage Week here at Existential Ennui, which will consist of a series of posts on espionage-themed books. I should point out there's no great plan at work here (which won't come as much of a surprise to regular readers, I'm sure): serendipitously I just happened to end up with or read a bunch of books that fall into the spy fiction category, so Espionage Week it is – or Spy Week, or Spooks Week, or Secret Service Week, or whatever you wanna call it. Hopefully, barring disaster or a sudden systemic failure of enthusiasm, there'll be posts on John le Carre, Ian Fleming, and one other author who shall remain nameless for the moment, but who'll be of particular interest to Book Glutton.

We begin, however, with these:

A Gentleman's Game and Private Wars by Greg Rucka (dustjacket photography/art on both by Tom Hallman). I've owned the Bantam hardcover first edition of A Gentleman's Game since it was published in 2004 (bought in Forbidden Planet in London in those dark days before I discovered Amazon), and I picked up a cheap first edition of its 2005 sequel, Private Wars, the other week, ahead of the publication of the third novel in the series, The Last Run, later this month:

And if I want to get hold of that one too, I'll have to order it online, because like its two predecessors I don't think it's going to be published in the UK, in either hardback or paperback. Which is odd, when you consider that all three books are set in Rucka's Queen & Country universe, and are therefore about the British Secret Intelligence Service. I think there might be a particular reason for their absence from British bookshops, which I'll come back to, but before that, it's probably worth explaining exactly what Queen & Country is.

Queen & Country began life as a comic book series published by Oni Press in 2001. Greg Rucka had written a miniseries called Whiteout for Oni a couple of years before (since turned into a movie), but primarily he was known as a novelist, having created the Atticus Kodiak series of books. I blogged about Rucka recently; he went on to write some really good comics for DC and recently launched a new series for Oni, Stumptown, but back in 2001, when he was part of a new wave of writers – see also Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis – breaking into the so-called comics 'mainstream', he wasn't terribly well known in comics circles. Which was why Queen & Country was so unusual: an ongoing, black and white indie series about a British, female intelligence officer, set in the UK, inspired by an obscure late-'70s British TV show called The Sandbaggers, and written by an American.

It stood out, but of course in the swamping morass of superhero comics that passes for a functioning American comic book market, that simply equated to 'critically acclaimed but selling bugger-all'. In a just world it should have sold in greater numbers than anything Superman- or Batman-related Rucka put his name to: the lead character, Tara Chace, a 'Minder' (i.e. a Special Operations Officer) for Britain's SIS (a.k.a. MI6) was a compelling fuck-up with a taste for booze, danger and sex – and often a combination of all three – while the scenarios were believably downbeat, morally dubious and messy. It was really very good.

(An aside: it is, I think, no accident that Greg Rucka's – and for that matter Ed Brubaker's and Brian Michael Bendis' – best comics work is also that work which is owned by him/them, i.e. work not done on corporately owned characters like Batman or Superman. One can't in all good conscience criticize these writers too much for working on superhero comics; it's pretty much the only way to make any money in American comics these days, and I'm sure they write the best superhero comics they're capable of. And in a sense, I'm happy to buy superhero comics written by the likes of Rucka and Brubaker if it helps fund the creation of lower-selling work like Queen & Country or Criminal. But I'm in no doubt that even their very best superhero work still isn't a patch on their creator-owned work, and I'd further hazard these writers put a lot more effort into their creator-owned work and probably find it more satisfying too.)

In 2004, with the Queen & Country comic book still in progress (it eventually wound up in 2007), Rucka moved the series into novels with A Gentleman's Game. The novels have proved to be at least as good as the comics (the occasional awkward idiom aside), but it's an element of the plot of A Gentleman's Game that might be the reason it and its sequel(s) have never been published in the UK. The book begins with a terrorist attack on London's Underground train network, as three Islamists wearing backpacks set fire to trains near Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus and King's Cross stations, causing nearly 400 deaths. It proved eerily prescient: just eight months after the US publication of the novel, the Tube was attacked for real, as four Islamists set off bombs near a number of stations, including King's Cross. Fifty-two people were killed.

I don't know if that was the reason A Gentleman's Game was never picked up for the UK, but I can see how any British publishers considering it might have consequently balked. For me, as a Brit, even today it's impossible to read that opening sequence without being reminded of that awful day in July 2005. That said, I can still thoroughly recommend the book, and indeed anything else Queen & Country related. It's a shame the novels have never been published over here, but I'll definitely be picking up The Last Run via Amazon.