Thursday 13 January 2011

From the Lewes Book Fair: Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown True First Editions)

And so we heave a sigh of relief as we reach the final missive in this heretofore seemingly endless series of posts about the Lewes Book Fair, which by now feels not so much recent as decidedly dim and distant. But no matter, cos after this, we is done. And to provide a suitably happy finish – or should that be an unsuitably happy finish, given the dark nature of the novels in question (or maybe a suitably unhappy finish? An unsuitably, unhappy finish? Oh whatever) – we have not one book, but two:

A UK hardback first edition/first printing of Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead, published by Little, Brown in 2001, and:

A UK hardback first edition/first printing of Billingham's Scaredy Cat, published again by Little, Brown, this time in 2002. I've been meaning to give Billingham a go since we included Sleepyhead in 500 Essential Cult Books, so when I saw these going fairly cheap at the Fair, I figured I might as well grab 'em. They are, of course, Billingham's first and second novels, both featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, recently played by David Morrissey in the Sky One telly show Thorne. Which, true to form, I missed completely. But no matter, because now I can read the novels instead. (UPDATE: I've since seen the TV show, too; you can read my reviews here and here, and see a brief comment from Mr. Billingham himself here.)

It's well known that, aside from being a crime fiction author, Billingham is also a stand-up comedian and comedy writer. But what I didn't know, and which to me is much, much more interesting, is that he's also an avid collector of first editions, in particular of crime fiction (as revealed in this Shots magazine interview). And true firsts at that, i.e. the first edition and first printing of a book in the country of origin (hence that sly reference in brackets in the title of this post). So he's a fellow book nerd – albeit one who's graduated to being an author himself. He'd hopefully appreciate my Dennis Lehane signed true firsts, then. And I bet this blurb on the back flap of Scaredy Cat from George Pelecanos gave him a buzz (perhaps even a happy finish...): "Mark Billingham has brought a rare and welcome blend of humanity, dimension, and excitement to the genre and earned an instant seat at the top table of crime novelists."

There are no dustjacket design credits on either Sleepyhead or Scaredy Cat, but the cover photo on the former is credited to James Harris, who, if I've got the right man, lists among his clients Faber & Faber, Penguin, Mute Records, The Guardian and the V&A.

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