Friday 12 August 2011

News of An Exclusive Interview with Dexter Creator Jeff Lindsay, and a Review of Dexter is Delicious (Orion, 2010 / 2011)

Well if you read the previous post (on Anthony Price's Tomorrow's Ghost), you might have already guessed the identity of the author I hinted about having an exclusive interview with (following my recent two-part chin-wag with the aforementioned Mr. Price). It is, of course, Jeff Lindsay, creator of the massively successful series of novels starring sardonic serial killer Dexter Morgan – and by extension of the equally massively successful spin-off TV show. The interview took the form of a short Q&A, with my questions kindly ferried to Mr. Lindsay – in the process becoming rather garbled, which makes for amusing reading – by the ever-helpful folk at his British publisher, Orion, and was arranged to mark the publication in paperback next week of his fifth Dexter novel, Dexter is Delicious. Jeff is actually embarking on a British blog tour to promote the book, and, gratifyingly, Existential Ennui will be the first stop on that tour, followed by a guest post from Mr. Lindsay on Blogomatic 3000 on Tuesday, an excerpt from the novel on Another Cookie Crumbles on Wednesday, and a Dexter competition on the Shots blog on Thursday. So make sure to stop by on Monday for an unintentionally nonsensical interview with Jeff Lindsay!

Ahead of that, though, I thought it might be an idea to review the novel itself. I've touched on the Dexter books before, primarily in this post (still the most popular post on Existential Ennui, with well over 2,000 hits to date), in which I compared them to the television series and gently suggested the TV show may well be the superior beast, especially in Michael C. Hall's portrayal of the murderous, conscienceless, yet still strangely empathetic Mr. Morgan. Some of that, I reasoned, was down to the fact that I came to the show before the books, but some of it was also down, I think, to the Dexter novel I'd just read, 2009's Dexter by Design. Because although I enjoyed that novel, at the time I found Hall's version of Dexter more vivid somehow than Lindsay's one. Where the TV Dexter was becoming more rounded – fatherhood and the horrific events at the end of Season Five causing him to question his Dark Passenger – the novel Dexter seemed slightly stuck.

What's striking about Dexter is Delicious – which was originally published back in 2010 – is how, for me, it almost reverses that conclusion. In this outing, Dexter really struggles with his murderous urges, determining to stay on the straight and narrow now that he is – as in the TV show – a father, with a new baby, Lily Anne, to watch over. Consequently there's an added depth to his narration, something that was slightly lacking in Dexter by Design, although the novel is still littered with the expected sarcastic asides and one-liners. There's more meat on the bones of the plot as well, which concerns a cabal of cannibals operating in the Miami area. And there's a delightful additional wrinkle, in the shape of Dexter's brother, Brian.

Now, if you've only been following the television series, you'll be under the impression that Brian – himself a serial killer of some note (except without Dexter's warped "kill only criminals" code) – copped it at the end of Season One. And so he did. But in the books, Brian merely vanished at the end of the first novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004). It's not spoiling much to reveal that Brian is back in full force in Dexter is Delicious, messing with Dexter's family set-up by befriending Astor and Cody, the children of Dexter's partner, Rita, and encouraging their nascent Dark Passengers. It's an intriguing subplot to go along with the main man-eating action, and is left unresolved at the book's close, boding well for the future.

That central cannibal storyline is certainly more compelling than the commentary on contemporary art (particularly art installations) which characterized Dexter by Design. Bringing to mind the infamous 2003 case of the man who volunteered to be eaten by a German cannibal, Lindsay takes great pleasure in depositing Dexter in some extremely uncomfortable situations, notably in one sequence where Dexter is imprisoned with a willing, er... dinee...? Eatee...? Snackee...? Whatever: a very young lady who wishes to be eaten. The pair are dosed with a potent cocktail of ecstasy and other drugs and wind up, well, becoming rather close, an event – along with its attendant aftermath – that's distinctly squirm-inducing. But there's some solid police procedural and behind-the-scenes cop business as well – largely centring on Dexter's sister, the glamorous but hard-assed Deborah – including one scene involving bribery which to me felt very authentic.

Lindsay's next Dexter novel, Double Dexter, is due in October, and if the author maintains the excellence of Dexter is Delicious, I reckon we're in for another treat. But of course, we don't have to wait until then for more from Mr. Lindsay – oh dear me, no. He'll be along at the start of next week, right here on this very blog. So join me on Monday for a short interview with Jeff Lindsay!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Tomorrow's Ghost by Anthony Price: A Signed UK First Edition; plus a Kim Philby Connection from The Spectator

I tell you what: this cross-posting on Existential Ennui and The Violent World of Parker has the potential to become terribly confusing, even to me. I've only just started posting over there and already I'm getting mixed up as to which blog I'm supposed to be updating on which day. And on top of that, not only will there be interruptions to my only-just-begun series on signed editions here on Existential Ennui, as I cross-post my Westlake/Stark missives in-between the ones about signed books, but I'm having to bring forward by a week the other author interview I've been hinting about, in order to fit in with said author's publisher's plans. I think my brain's going to explode.

I'll reveal more about that interview at the end of this post, but let's return to British spy thriller writer Anthony Price one last time (for now), with the second of two signed editions I nabbed prior to interviewing Mr. Price – plus a fascinating bit of business concerning Kim Philby. And after Tuesday's post on the eighth book in Price's David Audley series, The '44 Vintage, here we have the ninth book:

Tomorrow's Ghost was published in hardback by Victor Gollancz in the UK in 1979. This is the novel that Mr. Price ever-so-slightly spoiled in the second part of my interview with him by revealing the fate of the story's lead character, Frances Fitzgibbon. I guess I should have thrown a "spoiler alert" in the interview, but while that might have been beneficial for you lot, it wouldn't have kept the surprise from me, as I've yet to read Tomorrow's Ghost. Let me, then, refer you to the jacket flaps for further information on the book:

The jacket front photograph is by Oliver Hatch, who provided the cover photographs for a run of Price's novels around this period (there's another from my collection on the right there). Hatch also did a lot of work for the British publisher J. M. Dent in the 1980s, including the cover for the 1987 paperback of crime novelist Simon Brett's Dead Romantic and the cover for the 1982 first edition of saucy UK comedian Frankie Howerd's Trumps (presumably getting to meet the great man in the process). But we're not here to discuss cover design, are we? (Well, not exclusively.) We're here because this is a signed edition, so let's have a look at that John Hancock, on the book's front endpaper:

As with the signed edition of The '44 Vintage, I have no idea who Bob Horan is, but as I now have a number of signed Price books, I can confirm the dedication is genuine. This copy of Tomorrow's Ghost came from Amazon Marketplace, and cost me a bit more than The '44 Vintage – about twenty quid – but unsigned Gollancz first editions of the book (not ex-library copies) go for at least thirty, so it was still a good deal. And there's only one other signed edition of the novel currently listed on AbeBooks – a 1980 Futura paperback – and that's going for almost fifty quid.

Before we leave Anthony Price for the moment, I just wanted to draw your attention to this recent article in The Spectator – which, coincidentally, Book Glutton has also linked to (Jeremy Duns also spotted it) – which concerns a cache of newly discovered letters written by the Soviet spy Kim Philby. The letters date from the mid-1980s, twenty years after Philby defected, when he was living in Moscow. A voracious reader, Philby was barred from accessing English-language books through the British Council or via Moscow libraries, but he was able to order books through the post, from Bowes & Bowes in Cambridge. The letters detail those orders and thus shed light on Philby's reading habits during this period. Book Glutton had the same response to the list of books as I did, noting the twelve Patricia Highsmith novels Philby ordered... and the single Anthony Price. I'm intrigued by that single Price novel; if it was a new book, I imagine it would have been either Sion Crossing (1984), Here Be Monsters (1985) or For the Good of the State (1986). If the article's author, Jeffrey Meyers, ever chances across this post, I'd love to know which it was.

I'll be returning with more signed editions later next week, but before then, as mentioned at the start of this post, I have another exclusive interview for you – rather shorter this time, and also quite amusing for the way in which my questions got garbled – with the author of a hugely successful series of novels – and their equally successful attendant spin-off TV series – both of which centre on an affable serial killer. And I'll be revealing the identity of that author (and character) in the next post, with a review of his most recent novel...

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Westlake Score: The Sour Lemon Score / Deadly Edge (Avon Paperback, June 1985); Plus Rarely Seen Avon Covers

Steering away from the signed editions for the moment, having posted a lengthy, self-serving introduction on The Violent World of Parker on Monday (and a link to said introduction here on Existential Ennui that same day), I've begun my posts proper over there with a Westlake Score – i.e., a post in which I detail a Donald E. Westlake book I've bought recently (in this case on eBay, for a pittance) – which, as I threatened I might do, I'm also posting over 'ere. Two posts for the price of one! (Confused? Yeah, me too, but I'm sure we'll all get the hang of it.) And the book in question is a curious beast indeed:

In the years before the University of Chicago Press began reissuing the Richard Stark novels, yer average Parker fan had to subsist on a diet of often-elusive, frequently tatty editions of the books, almost all of which fell out of print in the 1980s. The last publisher to take a good run at the novels in the States prior to Chicago was Avon Books, who, from 1984–85, issued all sixteen of the initial run of Parkers as mass market paperbacks. For many – especially in the pre-internet age, and particularly with the later books in the original series – these were the only available way to read the Parker stories, and though these days their gaudy (but surprisingly elaborate) photo covers elicit scorn from some quarters, Avon should be given full credit for publishing the entire run (whether they did so in the correct order, however, I'm unsure of).

Sadly, despite much fruitless Googling, I've been unable to determine who the photographer was on Avon's covers, although it's interesting to note the slight shift in style roundabout the halfway mark of Avon's run, where said snapper switched from shots of a partially silhouetted Parker against a cityscape to shots of a more distinct (and strangely young-Burt Lancaster-like, although still seemingly the same model) Parker and a blonde moll. Violent World of Parker supremo Trent's currently missing a few Avon covers from his otherwise excellent cover galleries (which can be found from the dedicated page for each novel), so it's not so easy to spot that... but as it happens, I'm in a position to help out there – a small "thanks for bringing me on board" gift, if you will. I'll return to that in a moment.

First, though, I wanted to spend a minute or two on the Avon book I won on eBay. Because it's not one novel we're talking about here: it's two. On one side of this June 1985 paperback is The Sour Lemon Score, the twelfth Parker novel, the cover of which you can see up top there. But flip the book over and upside down, and you get this:

Deadly Edge, the thirteenth Parker novel. To my knowledge this is the only instance of Avon combining two Parker novels in one, and I'm perplexed as to why they chose these two. There's no real link between them, other than their series proximity – a better coupling might have been The Sour Lemon Score and Plunder Squad (Parker #15), or Slayground (Parker #14) and Butcher's Moon (Parker #16) – so I'm baffled as to Avon's reasoning. The only explanation I can come up with is they were in a hurry to get the books out, although the final two books in the Avon run, Plunder Squad and Butcher's Moon, weren't published as a double. If anyone can shed any light on this matter – or indeed on the identity of the mysterious cover photographer – feel free to leave a comment either here or on the parallel post on The Violent World of Parker.

One final thing: in common with others of the Avon editions, there's an introductory excerpt from each novel on the first page of either end of the book. The one for The Sour Lemon Score bears the unremarkable heading "Out for the Count", but Avon's copywriter must've either been listening to Diana Ross or feeling particularly soppy on the day he/she came up with the heading for Deadly Edge:

Anyway, back to Trent's cover galleries. In the course of what I laughingly refer to as my research for this post, I turned up a few Avon covers that aren't currently in the galleries. So feast your eyes on this little-seen lot, my friends, and I'll be back before too long with the second Anthony Price signed edition, and some exciting news about another author interview...

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The '44 Vintage by Anthony Price: A Signed US First Edition (Doubleday, 1978)

After yesterday's announcement about my additional blogging duties on The Violent World of Parker website, let's return to British spy novelist Anthony Price, with the first of two signed editions of Price's books that I picked up prior to meeting the man himself (at which meeting he kindly inscribed a few of my first editions), and which in turn kicks off a run of posts on a variety of other signed books I've acquired over the past month or two.

This is the US hardback first edition of The '44 Vintage, published by The Crime Club/Doubleday in 1978 (also published that same year in the UK by Victor Gollancz). The dustjacket was designed by Al Nagy, here employing a restricted palette in a screenprint style which I believe was typical of his work. Anthony Price mentioned at the end of the second part of my interview with him that Doubleday's jackets for his novels ranged "from the awful to the quite good", and Nagy's design, I'd suggest, falls firmly into the latter camp.

I haven't got this far in the David Audley series yet – The '44 Vintage is the eighth book, following 1976's War Game – but Price did state in part two of my interview that the writing of the novel was one of the more enjoyable experiences of his career, depicting, as it does, the young Audley's adventures in France after the Normandy beach landings, a subject Price was keen to explore. You can read the Doubleday jacket flap blurb to the right there (click on the image to enlarge) if you want to learn more about the plot, but as this is a series of posts on signed editions, we'd best move on to the crux of the matter, namely this, on the book's front endpaper:

I can't quite make out the surname of the person Price has dedicated the book to – "Brown", maybe – but the "with proper respect and affection" suggests John was a friend or colleague of Price's (I guess I should have asked Mr. Price when I met him). I bought this copy on Amazon Marketplace, and it was something of a blind buy; it was listed merely as a signed book, with no mention of edition. But it was only £7.99, so I took a punt, and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be an American first edition (and first printing) in very good condition. Curiously, the seller was a Christian bookshop in Essex. God knows – possibly literally – how they ended up with it, but considering there's only one other signed edition currently listed on AbeBooks – a 1983 paperback going for just shy of fifty quid – I'm certainly not about to start questioning the Lord's mysterious way.

Let's move on to the second Anthony Price signed edition I have to show you – one which, oddly enough, is also the next book in the David Audley series – plus a bit of business concerning Mr. Price and Kim Philby. Although now that I've begun blogging on The Violent World of Parker site, there may well be a Westlake Score before we get to that...

Monday 8 August 2011

An Announcement: Up to My Neck in The Violent World of Parker

So then. If you followed the link at the end of the previous post (on those Anthony Price signed editions), you'll know that, henceforth, as well as blogging on Existential Ennui, I'll also be blogging on the brilliant Violent World of Parker website, which is the site for all things Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark. This rather exciting turn of events has been in the works for a short while now, with email communications zinging back and forth between myself and Trent, the man behind The Violent World (you might recall my having hinted at it in this post), but the long and the short of it is, Trent invited me to be co-blogger on The Violent World, and I readily accepted.

Longtime readers of Existential Ennui will know the high regard in which I hold the work of Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark, so to be asked to contribute on a regular basis to the preeminent Westlake/Stark/Parker site is a rare honour indeed; I can't even begin to calculate the number of times I've linked to Trent's amazing website, and my gratitude to him for affording me this opportunity is boundless. I've just posted a typically wordy missive over there laying out what it will all entail, so go read that if you want to find out more. But I just wanted to add here that it doesn't mean the end of Existential Ennui (much as many would wish that were so), nor indeed the end of Westlake-related posting over here. I'll be cross-posting a lot of the things I write for Violent World – or at least throwing up a link to those posts – and I'll still be beavering away on my other abiding concerns here on Existential Ennui (starting with that series of signed editions I mentioned). It's a positive move for this blog – and hopefully a positive move for The Violent World of Parker, too – and I strongly suspect it'll result in increased levels of traffic over here.

Anyway: onwards. Next up, the first of those signed editions – which, in keeping with the recent theme, will be an Anthony Price novel – and the first of my posts proper for The Violent World of Parker!