Wednesday 18 September 2013

The Secondhand Book Fairs and Shops of Suffolk: Long Melford and Clare, Guest-Starring John Gardner and Boysie Oakes

Ever been on one of those holidays where it goes on a bit too long and you're kind of glad when it's over? Well, I didn't necessarily feel that way about mine and Rachel and little Edie's week-long summer holiday to Suffolk, despite it not being as relaxing as I'd hoped (partly the consequence, I guess, of going away with a three-and-a-half-month-old baby, although we also, I think, at my insistence, tried to do too much); but I – and very probably you – do feel that way about the ensuing over-a-week's worth of blog posts about that holiday and the secondhand bookshops we visited and the books I bought in them.

Thankfully, we're nearly done now – just the journey home to address, which, true to form, involved not only a few bookshops but a book fair too: the Long Melford Book Fair, which just so happened to be taking place on the day we were travelling, sort of en route, in, you guessed it, the Suffolk village of Long Melford. We spent a jolly hour there:

and even had lunch there (local sausage, chips and beans for me, jacket potato for Rachel, milk for Edie), and both Edie and I came away with a book:

In her case Enid Blyton's second Noddy outing, Hurrah for Little Noddy, and in my case, plucked from a cardboard box of books priced at a pound a go, this:

A first edition of The Airline Pirates by John Gardner, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1970, dust jacket design by Peter Cope. Gardner is best-known for his James Bond novels, but he wrote lots of other books besides, including an eight-book series starring reluctant British Intelligence assassin Boysie Oakes, of which The Airline Pirates is the seventh instalment. I took a look at the first instalment, The Liquidator (1964), back in 2010, and in the interim have come into possession of a few other first editions:

most of which I picked up in one fell swoop in the Pantiles Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells during a visit there a year or two ago. Which means I only have two books in the series left to collect – but all of them still to read. (A recurring problem chez Jones.)

From Long Melford we made our way to our final stop, the nearby village of Clare, where I'd read there was not only a good secondhand bookshop but an antiques centre with an excellent books section too. The bookshop, Harris & Harris, turned out to be a very nice one:

with a mixture of new and secondhand books, including a great children's section and a good holding of first editions and crime fiction, but although I spied a run of Anthony Price firsts, in the end there was nothing for me. So we headed down to Clare Antiques & Interiors, a huge place spread across four floors, the books section on the second floor being quite something, especially for those with an interest in real-life espionage:

That's just an indication of the extent of the espionage stock, which fills an entire room within the books department. Sadly I didn't have enough time to explore it properly before we had to be on our way, although to be frank I wouldn't have known where to start anyway, there's so much there. (If Jeremy Duns ever visited the place, I doubt we'd see him again.) In the end I contented myself with a browse through the modern firsts and a dig in a pile of books under a staircase, which netted me one last first edition – an early-'60s entry in one of the most celebrated PI series of all time...


  1. I think you have got me hooked onto the idea of a bookshop tour next time we go to East Anglia. :)

  2. I'm envious, but I'll miss these posts when they're done.

  3. I'm afraid that's kind of it, Kelly – unless you count the book I'll be posting next. And Jane – my work here is done!

  4. Each time you do one of these book shop crawls I am foaming at the mouth. One of these days I'm doing a bookshop tour of your lovely book-laden country. Hay-on-Wye, of course, is still at the top ofthe list. You must've been there for the festival at some time. Or have you?

  5. Nope, never been. I'd love to though, and have told Rachel we're definitely going at some point (preferably before Edie's old enough to object and insist on going to bloody Centre Parcs or something).

  6. Oh, poor John Gardner. You've been on my to-read list for fucking ages. Maybe, possibly, perhaps, I'll finally get around to reading your stuff before Halley's Comet comes around again.

    I can't read his Bond novels. Why? Because I couldn't even finish more than a few of Fleming's. Knowing that he openly hated Bond is interesting, but I doubt it made for interesting books. From what I've read, he treated his Bond novels as straightforward spy fiction, something he was just cranking out for a paycheck, nothing too subversive. The Boysie Oakes stuff sounds a bit more enticing.

    I do, however, have three of Gardner's books on my shelf, thanks to my Sherlock Holmes obsession. I'll give The Return of Moriarty a try, and if I like it, the two sequels. I picked up all three of them for a song.