Friday 6 January 2012

Competition: Win a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Movie Tie-in Book, T-Shirt, and More!


As promised on Tuesday and Thursday, to round off the first working week of the new year I've something rather special for you this fine Friday – something I've never attempted on Existential Ennui before: a competition! Yes, to mark the general release in the US today of Tomas Alfredson's magnificent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie – adapted from John le Carré's 1974 spy novel classic – I'm offering two America-based readers the chance to win a bunch of tie-in swag, courtesy of the film's US distributor, Focus Features!

Now, I must stress that the competition is only open to US addressees – apologies to British readers of Existential Ennui (and to those elsewhere in the world), but I'm afraid it's out of my hands. (Perhaps I can rustle something up for Brits to mark the DVD release of Tinker Tailor... hint hint, Studiocanal...) However, two lucky American readers are in with a chance of winning the following incredible items: 

• A Movie Tie-in Book!

• A T-Shirt!

• A Voice Recorder Pen!

• A Post-it Note Cube!

That's a Movie Tie-in Book, a T-Shirt, a Voice Recorder Pen and a Post-it Note Cube each (prize value an unbelievable $43) for two US-based readers! Tremendously exciting stuff!

I'll explain how to enter in a moment, but before that, if you're not au fait with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the film, or indeed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy the novel, both star John le Carré's iconic spymaster George Smiley – played by Gary Oldman in the movie – who's brought out of retirement to hunt down a mole, or enemy agent, at the heart of British Intelligence (colloquially known as "The Circus"). It's a beautifully elegiac tale of betrayal on both a geopolitical and human scale, and Alfredson's film is an excellent adaptation of the source novel and an extraordinary piece of cinema in its own right. You can read my review of the movie – which hit British cinemas back in September 2011 – here, and my review of le Carré's original masterwork – and its BBC TV adaptation – here . And here is Mr. le Carré himself, shedding a little light on the creation of George Smiley, with additional insight from Gary Oldman and others:

Splendid. So then: to business. And to be in with a chance of winning the book, the T-shirt, etc., answer the following question:

John le Carré's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first instalment in what's known as the Karla Trilogy, or Quest for Karla; name the second and third novels in the trilogy.

If you're a fan of le Carré or a regular reader of Existential Ennui, answering that shouldn't present too much of a problem, but if you're struggling for the answer, you could always enter "Karla Trilogy" in the search box at the top of EE's right-hand sidebar. But don't let on that I told you that. (Moscow rules, dear boy.)

Answers should be emailed to me at:

using the subject line "Tinker Tailor". Don't forget to include your full name and address, and which T-shirt size you'd prefer, and once again, let me just state for the record that the competition is only open to "the Cousins" – i.e. American addressees – so entries from elsewhere in the world will be automatically discounted. The competition closes on Thursday 12 January at midnight EST, with all entries going into a hat (or similar receptacle), from which will be chosen at random two winners. And I'll be announcing those two winners on Existential Ennui a week today, so at least for two people, Friday the 13th will be quite lucky. Best of British to all of you, though.

Next week, it's back to my series of posts on spy fiction series, with a British espionage series featuring a state executioner... and I'll also have that promised review of Donald E. Westlake's debut crime novel The Mercenaries...

Thursday 5 January 2012

Westlake Score: The Mercenaries by Donald E. Westlake; Signed Association British First Edition (T.V. Boardman, 1961), Denis McLoughlin Cover Art

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

After Tuesday's teaser-preview post on forthcoming delights on Existential Ennui, let's open my 2012 Violent World of Parker cross-post account with a very special Westlake Score...

This is the UK hardback first edition of Donald E. Westlake's The Mercenaries, published by T.V. Boardman as part of their American Bloodhound Mystery line (no. 347 in that line, to be precise) in 1961 – the year following the US Random House first edition – and it is a very rare thing indeed. I've only ever seen a couple of copies of this edition for sale online, neither of them possessing a dustjacket; to give you an idea of how short the supply of the Boardman edition of The Mercenaries is, there are currently zero copies of the Boardman first on AbeBooks.

There are a couple of reasons for the book's scarcity. The most obvious is that The Mercenaries was Westlake's debut novel – at least under his own name; he'd had a number of pseudonymous sleaze efforts published by this point – and is therefore much in demand in first, US or UK. But the Boardman edition of The Mercenaries is additionally collectible for a whole other reason: Denis McLoughlin. McLoughlin was the art director at Boardman (not to mention an accomplished comics artist), producing around 600 covers for the publisher's crime novel list, and his work, with its bold use of chiaroscuro/restricted palette/occasional collage elements, is highly sought after – I posted a gallery of his Westlake covers in 2010 (now updated with The Mercenaries). So that, combined with it being Westlake's first novel, is probably why the Boardman first of The Mercenaries is so elusive.

My copy was a Christmas present from my sister, who I pestered into buying the only Boardman copy on AbeBooks, which was being offered for sale by Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers of Seattle. But I didn't covet it simply because it's the UK first edition (although that would surely be reason enough); there was something even more special about this particular copy:

It's signed and inscribed by Westlake on the front endpaper, and dated in the year of publication. And if we take a closer look at the inscription:

It reads:

Byrne Reginald Spencer Fone Esq.,

Within, an Anglo-American Traveler,

Without, an odd bodkin.


Wessel & Lieberman were a little unsure as to whether the inscription was actually by Westlake, but I asked my sister to take a punt on the book anyway (thank you, Alison), and once I had it in my sweaty palms, I compared the dedication to other Westlake signed books I own (see here and here). And I'm as certain as I can be that the inscription is the genuine article.

But who was/is Byrne Reginald Spencer Fone (who's also signed the endpaper – or rather jotted an ownership name on it)? Well, Fone is – I believe he's still with us – also a writer. He's perhaps best known for penning a number of gay and lesbian studies – Homophobia: A History; A Road to Stonewall – as well as a string of literary studies and, most recently, a number of novels, including American Revolution, "a political crime novel about a gay American president", according to Amazon. As to Fone's connection to Westlake, though, I'm afraid I'm in the dark there. Fone did teach at New York University in the early 1960s, so it's possible he taught Westlake. Then again, they could simply have been friends and contemporaries; as ever, if anyone can shed any light, do leave a comment.

Westlake was evidently proud of The Mercenaries – he sent inscribed copies of both the UK and US editions to a number of his friends and associates – and justifiably so: it's a solid debut, and a convincing portrayal of New York's criminal underworld. Certainly Hard Case Crime thought highly enough of it to reissue it a few years back, retitled as The Cutie. So for my next Violent World of Parker cross-post, I'll be reviewing the novel – something Violent World of Parker proprietor Trent's already done, of course, but you never know: I might find a new angle or two.

Back here on Existential Ennui, however, it's competition time – at least, for my American readers. Because tomorrow Tomas Alfredson's excellent movie adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy goes on general release in the US:

And to tie in with that, in a first for Existential Ennui, I'll be giving away two sets of movie swag, courtesy of the film's distributor, Focus Features. So join me again on Friday for an exclusive Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy competition!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Existential Ennui in 2012: a Competition, a Facebook Page, and a List of Authors

Good Lord, look at that: it's 3 January already. How did that happen? Seems like only yesterday I was slumped on the sofa, staring blankly at the telly and thinking to myself, "I really must write that preview of 2012 I promised I'd post early in the new year"... Oh, wait: it was yesterday. Hurm. Well anyway: happy new year, chums. And what a year it promises to be: mayoral elections in London, presidential elections in the States, the Olympic Games in Britain, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises at the cinema, and, if the Mayans are to be believed, the end of the world on 21 December.

Here on Existential Ennui, however, it'll be pretty much business as usual... with a few twists. For one thing, come the end of the week, I'll be posting Existential Ennui's very first competition, offering American readers (and only Americans; sorry, Brits) the chance to win a bunch of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy movie swag, to tie in with the general release of the film in the US – hence that image of Gary Oldman as George Smiley at the top of this post. You can read my glowing review of the film right here, and don't you dare forget to check back in on Friday for the competition. (Er, if you live in America.)

For another thing, Existential Ennui now has a Facebook page. Quite what I'll be doing with it now I've set it up is something I'm still pondering, but it exists, so you may as well, y'know, go "like" it – if, that is, you do indeed like Existential Ennui; if you don't, I'm afraid there's no "unlike" option, so you'll just have to make do with not "liking" it. As soon as I work out a way to install the "like" button on Existential Ennui itself (as in, the blog) without it appearing as a massive, unattractive, ungainly box that cuts into my sidebar, I'll be doing that, too. (UPDATE: I have now done that. Huzzah.)

All of that aside, though, blogging will continue in much the same vein as usual. You might have noticed that I've changed the sub-header of EE to "Crime and spy fiction, SF, book collecting, comics"; I figured it was about time I stated slightly more clearly what this blog is all about, and those, unsurprisingly, are the areas I'll be concentrating on over the coming months, not least via my ongoing series on espionage series (a series which was, you'll recall, interrupted by my end-of-year round-up posts). That said, there will still be room for posts on other literary matters, whether it be non-fiction, lit-fic, publishing, or whatever else happens to take my fancy.

So which authors can you expect to encounter on Existential Ennui this year? Well, in no particular order, keep 'em peeled for, among others, Dan J. Marlowe, Michael Gilbert, Edward S. Aarons, Ross Thomas, Desmond Cory, Tom Clancy, Patricia Highsmith, Kingsley Amis, Brian Garfield, Graham Greene, Gregory Mcdonald, Len Deighton, Michael Dibdin, Jeremy Duns, Adam Hall, Andrew York, Michael Frayn, Mike Ripley, John le Carré, Tom Wolfe, Kim Philby, George Pelecanos, Peter Rabe, P. M. Hubbard, and, of course, our old friend, Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake. And it's to Westlake that we turn first, with a really quite remarkable Christmas present-cum-Westlake Score...