Thursday, 29 May 2014

Patricia Highsmith's The Black House: Signed Inscribed Association First Edition (Heinemann, 1981) with Handwritten Letter

NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 30//5/14.

This second of two signed and inscribed Patricia Highsmith short story collections which I've recently acquired is, I think, more remarkable than both the first edition of Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes (1987) I blogged about last week and the inscribed first of the short story collection Little Tales of Misogyny (1977) I got my hands on two years ago, for a number of reasons. Highsmith's inscription is more fullsome than in both of those books; there's a link between that inscription and one of the stories in the collection itself; and the book is accompanied by something even rarer than an inscribed Highsmith tome: a handwritten letter by the author.

The book is this:

The Black House, Highsmith's fifth collection of short stories, published in hardback in the UK by Heinemann in 1981. I bought this copy of the Heinemann first from Ashville, NY book dealer Warren Berry – thank you to Barbara Berry for answering my questions. Highsmith's inscription is on the front flyleaf:

It reads:

For Katherine Alexander

with gratitude for her reading of my works. I wish I could see Wellfleet again!

Hello also to Donald Olson – and friendliest greetings from

Patricia Highsmith

19 May 1982

Aurigeno 7771


Katherine Alexander was described to me by Barbara Berry as a local librarian, which leads me to believe she was librarian at the Lakewood Memorial Library, a few miles from Ashville; she's mentioned a few times in this history of the library. Donald Olson I'm less sure about; Barbara described him as a local author, and I wonder whether he was the Donald Olson who frequently contributed short stories to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine – to which Highsmith was also a contributor – and who penned a number of paperback potboilers – The Sky Children (Avon, 1975), Beware, Sweet Maggie (Pyramid, 1977) – and hardback suspense novels – If I Don't Tell (Putnam, 1976), Sleep Before Evening (St. Martin's, 1979). Alternatively he could be Donald S. Olson, author of The Secrets of Mabel Eastlake (Knights Press, 1986), Paradise Gardens (Knights Press, 1988), The Confessions of Aubrey Beardsley (Bantam Press, 1993) and, I think, Queer Corners (Bridge City, 1999), although going by the dates of those titles, I think that's less likely.

In any case, plainly this was Highsmith's own copy of The Black House, which Highsmith sent to Katherine Alexander in May 1982 from her then-home in Auregino, Ticino, Switzerland. The accompanying letter – written on a torn-off half sheet of Manegg typewriter paper (a watermark to that effect is just about visible on the original) – sheds light on why Highsmith sent the book:

It reads:

I can't find here a copy of "A Dog's Ransom" but that should be available in Penguin —

The Black House may never be printed in USA. It is very well liked in England, France, [now?] Germany.

Best to you —

Pat H.

19 May '82

The date matches that in the inscription (although curiously it's written in a different pen); evidently Katherine Alexander had asked Highsmith for a copy of Highsmith's 1972 novel A Dog's Ransom, but instead Highsmith sent her this copy of The Black House, a book the author seemed to be proud of – at least her comment about it being "very well liked" in a handful of countries suggests as much to me – but which she feared might not be published in America. In fact it was, belatedly: Penzler Books issued it in the States in 1988 as a hardback and a limited-to-250-copies slipcased signed edition.

Taken purely on its own merits the letter is, I'd suggest, a pretty remarkable document; though it's relatively brief, it's still longer than the one other handwritten Highsmith letter I can see for sale online at present, which has a price tag of nearly £500 (rather more than I paid for my one); and on a more personal level, given that Highsmith is my favourite author, and that I've only managed to get my hands on books containing handwritten letters or notes by their authors (or other interested parties) three or four times before (see here, here and here, although there is also this), my delight at coming into possession of the letter is, I hope, understandable. Add in the inscribed book, however, and the two items become something quite extraordinary. At least one letter from Katherine Alexander to Highsmith is held by the Swiss Literary Archives (to whom Highsmith left her papers, a good many of which can be viewed online), but more intriguingly there's a mention in the inscription of a place which is significant as regards the contents of the book: Wellfleet, a coastal town on Cape Cod.

I'm unsure as to Katherine Alexander's connection to Wellfleet – although one can only assume that for Highsmith to have made note of the town in an inscription to her that she was familiar with the place – but thanks to Andrew Wilson's 2003 Patricia Highsmith biography Beautiful Shadow I do know that Highsmith stayed on Cape Cod. In 1948 she rented a house in Provincetown – the self-styled "Greenwich Village by the sea", at the tip of Cape Cod, not far from Wellfleet – with her fiancé, the writer Marc Brandel; shortly after her arrival Highsmith met Ann Clark, a painter and designer, and the two swiftly became lovers, themselves returning to Provincetown for a holiday in 1950.

All of this is pertinent because both Provincetown and to a greater degree Wellfleet feature in one of the stories in The Black House, "The Dream of the Emma C". Coming at the midpoint of the collection, it's the tale of the crew of the eponymous trawler, who fish a young woman out of the sea and are beguiled by her, variously competing for her affections, writing poetry in her honour and even coming to blows over her as they abandon logic and surrender to a strange dreamlike state. There are parallels here in the way Highsmith's out-of-the-blue encounter with Ann Clark saw her swiftly falling for the other woman, but there's a more concrete connection in that the captain of the Emma C reports the crew's find to Provincetown, and that the vessel's home port is Wellfleet, where the tale comes to a close.

It's a fine story, but it's just one among many fine stories in what is by any measure a brilliant collection, certainly stronger than the later Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes. The range of notes Highsmith hits from story to story, from the amoral ("Not One of Us") to the macabre ("Something the Cat Dragged in"), the creepy ("The Terrors of Basket-Weaving") to the criminal ("When in Rome"), is impressive enough, but the inclusion of tales which embrace themes and styles further afield from her traditional territory, like retribution and forgiveness ("Under a Dark Angel's Eye", elements of which to do with how the elderly can sometimes be a burden on the young would be reprised in "No End in Sight" in Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes), family dysfunction ("I Despise Your Life") and even farce ("Blow It"), is what makes this such a terrific book.

Best of all is "The Kite", in which a young boy channels his confusion over his sister's death and his parents' consequent arguing into building a huge kite. It's a kind of precursor to Up, or maybe more accurately Highsmith's spin on a Roald Dahl fable – Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, say, or James and the Giant Peach, although its devastating ending marks it out as very much not a story for children. That ending is echoed in a similarly shattering climax in the subsequent story, "The Black House", which rounds out the collection, and which is representative of the array of moods and shades and murky motivations at play across the book as a whole and in each individual tale.

Reading The Black House – the Heinemann edition of which, incidentally, can also be found in the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery (the inscribed copy seen here is actually the second copy of the Heinemann first I've bought) – left me in the mood for even more Highsmith, so over the next few weeks I plan on reading and then reviewing the only two Highsmith novels from the 1960s I haven't as yet got round to. Ahead of those, though, I'll be taking a look at the link between Highsmith and another favourite author of mine: Donald E. Westlake.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Patricia Highsmith's Short Stories: Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes, Signed Inscribed Association First Edition (Bloomsbury, 1987)

Signed books have become an increasingly important aspect of my book collecting over the past couple of years, especially books – first editions usually, but other editions too – signed by my favourite authors; I've been blogging about some of my more recent acquisitions in that regard over the past month or so (periodically). But even more fascinating to me than flat signed – i.e. signature-only – books are inscribed ones, particularly those inscribed by authors to friends or even fellow authors – association copies, in the lingo of book collectors. For me it's not so much who they're inscribed to, although that in and of itself can be interesting – witness the Jack Gerson thriller I blogged about last month, inscribed to Doctor Who actress Mary Tamm – nor the matter of provenance, although in purely collecting terms an association copy does bestow a certain authenticity on a signature and inscription (see here, here and here); it's more the implication that the book was probably one of the author's own copies – that it sat on their shelves for however short or long a period of time, was handled by them, and ultimately given away by them.

I own a good number of such books myself, maybe half a dozen or so of which are by some of my favourite authors: Elmore Leonard, Donald E. Westlake, P. M. Hubbard (with accompanying letter), Gavin Lyall, Anthony Price. And then there's Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith is perhaps the author I admire above all others, but she's not the easiest writer to acquire in inscribed first (or any) edition. Flat signed books, no problem – signed copies of the various limited editions of her novels and short story collections published by Mysterious Press or Penzler Books in the States can be had for as little as twenty quid on AbeBooks, while for just north of £100 it's usually possible to obtain the 1991 signed Bloomsbury/London Limited Editions Ripley Under Water (I myself own one). But inscribed copies? I can see barely ten in total for sale online at present, ranging from over £150 to nearly £6,000.

Two years ago, however, I managed to procure, for a ridiculously low price, an inscribed copy of the 1977 Heinemann edition of the (very) short story collection Little Tales of Misogyny – an association copy, inscribed to two of Highsmith's friends and with a little drawing to boot. It was an extremely fortunate find, and I didn't think I'd easily be able to get my hands on anything like it again – which just goes to show how wrong a body can be, because I've since come into possession of a further two inscribed copies of Highsmith books, both of them again short story collections. I'll deal with what I think is the more extraordinary of the two in a subsequent post, but this one isn't half bad by itself:

A first edition of Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes, published in hardback by Bloomsbury in 1987, jacket design by husband and wife team Frances Newell and John Sorrell – latterly of design charity The Sorrell Foundation – with a cover illustration by Kurt Hoyte, who would go on to illustrate the covers of the 1989–90 Corgi reprints of six Jim Thompson novels. I acquired this copy for a very reasonable price from the secondhand department of Kirkdale Bookshop, a splendid bookshop in Sydenham in south London, not far from where I grew up in Beckenham, although I didn't on this occasion purchase the book in the shop itself; I spotted it online. The inscription, in the spidery hand characteristic of Highsmith in her later years, is on the half title page, like so:

It reads:

For Paul Joyce –

(glad you like this one) –

Best wishes from Patricia Highsmith

8 June 1989

It's my belief that the Paul Joyce of the inscription is this Paul Joyce – photographer, filmmaker and artist. In 1989 Joyce directed a ninety minute documentary titled Motion and Emotion: The Films of Wim Wenders, for which he interviewed Highsmith about The American Friend, Wenders's 1977 adaptation of Ripley's Game (1974). The date of the inscription tallies with the production of Motion and Emotion, which in turn is two years on from the publication of Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes, so if I'm on the right track, that means this was either Highsmith's own copy of the book which she gave to Joyce when they met, or Joyce got her to inscribe his copy.

My suspicion – indeed my personal preference – is for the first scenario, because that would mean the book was in Highsmith's personal library for a couple of years before she handed it on, but either way, and bearing in mind I haven't seen Joyce's documentary, I wonder what the general drift of the conversation was that it should produce a wry comment like "glad you like this one". Did Joyce confess to not liking others of her books?

In any case, I can see just one other signed copy of the Bloomsbury edition of Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes for sale online at present – flat signed, and listed at £150. (There's also a flat signed copy of the 1989 Atlantic Monthly Press edition, listed at £60, which, incidentally, is still more than I paid.) So even if I've got my wires crossed as regards Paul Joyce, it's still quite a remarkable copy of the last collection of short stories to be published in Highsmith's lifetime (there have been a few posthumous collections).

And there are some diverting stories within its pages. Those only familiar with Highsmith's rep as a suspense or crime writer might be surprised by the breadth of the material herein, which ranges from a vignette of a cemetery where towering cancerous growths become a tourist attraction ("The Mysterious Cemetery") to a blow-by-blow account of a whale's war with mankind ("Moby Dick II; or the Missile Whale") to a Pope's attempts to introduce a woman's right to choose into the doctrine of the Catholic Church ("Sixtus VI, Pope of the Red Slipper").

Along the way there's the story of a New York tower block overrun by monster cockroaches ("Trouble at the Jade Towers"), a spot of mild speculative fiction embodied by a woman who lives for over 200 years, draining the resources – financial and emotional – of everyone around her ("No End in Sight"), and a truly apocalyptic climax centring on an American President and First Lady, clearly modelled on Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who distract attention from an Iran-Contra-like scandal by starting World War III ("President Buck Jones Rallies and Waves the Flag").

All this is delivered in typically dispassionate fashion by Highsmith, as she casts an acerbic eye over the world around her. Some of the stories are more memorable than others, and Highsmith's unrelenting misanthropy can become wearying; it's notable how practically the only protagonists who emerge with their dignity intact are those of the non-human variety. But there's no denying the sheer scope of the collection, Highsmith tackling themes as daunting as religion, politics, money, abortion and animal rights and setting her stories on stages as diverse as the USA, post-colonial Africa, South America and the high seas. Perhaps that's why Paul Joyce responded to this book more than others of Highsmith's.

I've added Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes to the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery, but the second signed and inscribed Highsmith short story collection I'll be taking a look at is already represented in said gallery...

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (Michael Joseph, 1954): British First Edition, Review

NB: Proffered as part of Friday's Forgotten Books, 16 May, 2014.

For this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup, host Patti Nase Abbott has requested books which fall under the subject header "crime fiction of the 1950s" – i.e. crime fiction originally published in the '50s (not crime fiction simply set in the '50s). I could have plucked any number of books from my shelves that fit that bill, but I've plumped for this one:

Ira Levin's debut novel, A Kiss Before Dying, seen here in British first edition/first impression, published by Michael Joseph in 1954. The simple but striking dust jacket design is credited to Beytagh, who I believe to be Dennis Beytagh; another example of his jacket work can be found wrapping the 1957 Pegasus Press first edition of New Zealand author Janet Frame's celebrated debut novel Owls Do Cry, but he's perhaps more widely admired for a New Zealand tourism poster he created in 1960 and for his illustrations in the Reed first edition of The Silver Fern: A Journey in Search of New Zealand by Temple Sutherland from the same year – all of which leads me to suspect he was either a New Zealander himself or emigrated there. Nevertheless, his jacket for A Kiss Before Dying wraps a British edition of the novel, so I've added it to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page.

A Kiss Before Dying has been on my radar for a while, for a number of reasons. I'd read and enjoyed one of Levin's later novels, The Boys from Brazil (1976), in 2012, and around the same time had seen a copy of the Joseph edition of A Kiss Before Dying in a later impression – it went through four impressions (printings) that I know of before being reset in 1956 – in Camilla's secondhand bookshop in Eastbourne and been mildly tempted (I elected in the end to hold out for a first impression). And then to cap it all a friend of mine, novelist Nina de la Mer, started raving about Levin's work in general and A Kiss Before Dying in particular on Twitter and the like, and as a consequence my curiosity about the book reached critical mass and I actively sought out a British first edition/first impression, by chance finding one right on my doorstep courtesy of Brighton-based book dealer Alan White at the tail end of last year.

And I bought it, and read it, and liked it just fine; the writing is more melodramatic than the calmer stylings of The Boys from Brazil, but many of the things that I found compelling about that later book are present and correct here too, notably the pace and the high concept – the latter being something Levin excelled at; he only wrote seven novels, and yet they begat a clutch of classic Hollywood movies (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, etc.). What's really interesting is how in this instance the high concept informs the structure of the novel. The story centres on a male student – initially unnamed so as to allow Levin to indulge in some deftly handled misdirection regarding the killer's identity – who works his way through three sisters, one by one, in murderous fashion, with the ultimate aim of getting his hands on their inheritance; accordingly the book is broken up into three parts, each named after one of the sisters: Dorothy, Ellen, and Marion.

In the way in which the protagonist attempts to elevate himself from humble origins utilising murderous methods, A Kiss Before Dying reminded me of another 1950s crime novel: Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). For me, though, Levin's tale lacks the psychological heft of Highsmith's. As motivation for the killer's money-grubbing actions Levin sketches in a deprived but golden childhood where success in adulthood seems assured; but that bright future is derailed by the draft, and an episode in the Pacific at the fag end of World War II kindles his homicidal urges. Building character isn't necessarily all about providing backstory, however; we know very little of Tom Ripley's background, and yet Highsmith makes him a vivid creation – a more fascinating one, I'd argue, than Levin's lead – via the things he thinks and says and does.

In fact the net result of my reading A Kiss Before Dying was to leave me hankering after some more Highsmith – her dispassionate eye, her abiding amorality. So it's just as well I've made a few new Highsmith acquisitions – some unique and remarkable items which I'll be unveiling as part of my sporadic series of posts on signed books.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Guest Post: An Interview with Jeffery Deaver

I've posted a handful of interviews on Existential Ennui over the years – with Jeremy Duns, Christopher Nicole, Jeff Lindsay and Anthony Price – and I've hosted a further handful of guest posts; but I've never combined the two and hosted a guest post which is also an author interview. In a first for Existential Ennui, then, I'm immensely pleased to present a guest post by Paul Simpson (of Sci-Fi Bulletin fame; Paul was responsible for another Existential Ennui guest post back in 2011 on the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes audio plays): a brand new interview with bestselling crime and thriller writer Jeffery Deaver. It's a brief(ish) but illuminating chat, not merely for those looking for insights into Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series especially, but for anyone interested in the wider process, in how writers write; Deaver is forthcoming on where he gets his ideas (at least some of them), how and why he maintains an emotional distance when writing, the expectations of his readers – and his expectations of them in return – and how he's settled into a rhythm with Rhyme.

Over to Paul.

An Interview with Jeffery Deaver, by Paul Simpson

Multiple award-winning American novelist Jeffery Deaver has written over thirty novels, many featuring his quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme, who, assisted by his partner Amelia Sachs, solves seemingly impossible crimes from his New York apartment. In recent times, he's introduced Kathryn Dance, one of America's leading experts in interrogation and kinesics (body language to you or me) who has spun off into her own series of stories. The pattern of Rhyme/Dance alternating was interrupted by his contribution to the 007 continuation saga, Carte Blanche, in 2011, and this month sees the arrival of his latest novel, The Skin Collector. Deaver visited the UK to promote the book, and sat down with me at publishers Hodder & Stoughton to discuss the series so far...

PAUL SIMPSON: The Skin Collector is another Lincoln Rhyme story; I was expecting a Kathryn Dance story next...

JEFFERY DEAVER: In theory, yes; my theory is to alternate books and characters and Kathryn's turn had come around. However I was getting some information from fans saying they were curious about certain plot elements that I had built into the [Lincoln Rhyme] books, and I thought it was probably time to resolve those.

The story sort of presented itself. I had plenty of ideas; inspiration is not really a problem for me. I thought as long as it was there, I would write it. Fans tend to like Lincoln Rhyme of all my characters the best, so out came The Skin Collector.

Kathryn is under way; I was actually writing it for a couple of hours this morning before I went to a signing at Waterstones.

You've taken inspiration for your stories from real crimes; is there any specific thing that inspired this one?

A waitress. I knew I wanted to write a true sequel to The Bone Collector, I wanted the themes that I intentionally left open in The Bone Collector, and some characters I originally left open in The Bone Collector to come back. I was not quite sure how to do it, and I wanted a theme that echoed The Bone Collector.

I remain a bit like a sponge. I was having lunch with my assistant, and a waitress came up to us. We knew her – she's a very charming young lady – and she had a tattoo on her bicep with a rather cryptic message in some Asian characters that I was not familiar with. Interesting... That gave me the idea: "Tattoo: message on victims". I got involved with the tattoo world: I have to learn a little bit about that as Lincoln Rhyme has to put together the message. The next step then, the logical extension of that idea was "rather than using ink he uses poison". Then I sat down and wrote the book.

You make it sound so easy...

There was a little more to it than that, I will admit!

When you're researching something like the tattoo world, do you keep a note of things which may assist with later projects, or do they go to the back of your mind and percolate?

Probably both. I tend not to write things ripped from the headlines. For instance, my book of last year, The Kill Room, was inspired in large part by the drone killing by the CIA of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, who had fled the country and was preaching jihad from Yemen. He was killed in a drone strike along with his associate, also an American citizen. That happened some years ago, and I always had it in mind that I would write a political book about some of the moral issues, and some of the technical issues, of a government extra-judicially taking the life of someone in a quasi-combat circumstance. We are not at war with Yemen, but it could be argued that we are at war with al-Qaeda, and he was an al-Qaeda affiliate, so there was some legitimacy to that. But it's not my job to make a point; my job is simply to ask the question, to make the book more resonant. That came from the headlines certainly.

My book The Burning Wire, about a man who uses the energy grid to kill people, started when I thought, 'If I touch the wrong switch in my fuse box on my circuit breaker, I'm going to die... I like that idea.'

So to answer your question, some yes, and some no.

In every book there is a gross moment, perhaps something which Amelia finds when walking the room; do you ever find, like Stephen King, that you gross yourself out?

In terms of viscera?

Or in terms of character, a revelation of "evil"?

In a more general sense then. First of all, I'm extremely unemotional when I write. I like Wordsworth's comment that poetry is emotion but it's emotion recollected in tranquility. Your heart really cannot be too invested in the story because you need to keep a distant view, a dispassionate view, so that the readers will be engaged.

It's my job to create scenarios that will scare the hell out of my readers, and will shock them, but I need to be pretty aloof from that so I can have my hand on the control. It's like when a pilot can see a thunderstorm; he doesn't care about them. He's flown through a thousand of them. There's no danger – even though we are terrified in the back. he just has to be a bit more vigilant, that's all.

I take that approach so no, I'm fairly detached when I write the books, and I'm very suspicious of scenes that I write and feel emotional about. I tend not to put those in. I think that's inartful, a weakness on my part, to be too engaged in the story.

So you're almost a conduit for the story in that respect?

Exactly. I might say more of a craftsperson, a builder, a joiner. That's the analogy I like to use.

The Lincoln and Kathryn books deal to an extent with the same sorts of ideas, although obviously the approaches are very different. Are there stories that you find you would only tell as Lincoln or Kathyrn, or you'd have to write as a short story?

Exactly – a very good observation. The books which tend to be more scientific in nature tend to be Lincoln's story, because he's of course a scientific individual. The books which are purely psychological, or in which the psychology of evil or psychology of the crimes takes precedence over the technical aspects, those would be Kathryn books.

Of course you can never divorce either of those from any type of crime now, but psychology is marginalised in Lincoln, and forensics is marginalised in Kathryn. The book which I'm working on now – the Kathryn book which I don't want to talk about – there's very little scientific information. There will be fingerprints, there will be fibre evidence, but relatively little of that. Mostly it's the mind of the villain that Kathryn has to get into.

The new Lincoln book which I'm working on for 2016, there will be some sick and twisted psychology on the part of the bad guy but basically it's really about a number of what I find quite interesting, and what I hope the readers find utterly terrifying, aspects of technology. That's what Lincoln has to deal with to solve the crime.

As far as short stories go, they are appropriate when there is basically a twist – usually one surprise, maybe two surprises – which take precedence over the characters so that the surprise at the ending can be revealed in the fact that our hero, the person we've been in love with the whole time, is utterly despicable. I can't get away with that in a novel; some authors do, but I don't like to do that. I want my readers to like the characters that I create and to have a connection with them. In a short story, forty pages, who cares? I'm not going to be spending any more time with this person. They can be utterly reprehensible.

Lincoln is changing: he's worked with Kathryn, he had the operation at the end of The Kill Room. How much of that change derives from the people around him, and how much of it is through what's happening physically?

He certainly has mellowed a bit. People like his curmudgeonliness but he is a bit less edgy than he was in the early books. For one thing he has regained some facility, some physical mobility, which is about as far as the state of the art medicines can go now; there can be no miracles here. The fact is, he has also had some really interesting cases, and he is never so happy as when he's dealing with an intractable criminal situation.

What I find is I've settled into a rhythm with Lincoln where I have to prove him less and less. He's less the centrepiece than he is a traditional Sam Spade detective: we love Sam Spade's personality, we love Philip Marlowe's personality in the Raymond Chandler novels, John D. MacDonald has his character of course, but we focus a little less on the arc of those characters. Now that I know that Lincoln is going to be a long time character, I'm a little less worried about that.

I'll make him real: there will be tragedies. He and Amelia may not be together forever; there certainly is that possibility. Amelia's ex-boyfriend will be returning in one of the future books, and that stirs the pot quite a bit. But I've settled him into a certain place physically and I'm happy to really concentrate on getting a long series of knockdown, drag out thrillers.

Many years ago I read the Nero Wolfe books, and occasionally there's a Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin vibe to Lincoln and Amelia which makes me recall William "Cannon" Conrad as Nero. Do you have anyone in mind now when you're thinking of Lincoln, or is he such a fully formed character in your mind that you know who he is?

It's helpful for authors to envision an actor, so long before the book was bought by Universal Studios, I saw Harrison Ford, the physical archetype of Harrison Ford. Not necessarily his personality, as that does change from movie to movie. The personality was, and always has been, Jeremy Brett from the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series, who was cranky, impatient, brilliant; he did, in that series, use cocaine – Lincoln drinks too much – he has a temper, and does forge a difficult and complex relationship with individuals round about him. So that's the personality I continue to look back at.

For Kathryn Dance, Cate Blanchett has always been one of my all-time favourite actresses. She can do anything; she can be funny, austere, sever, and a bit ruthless depending on the role. I'd always pictured her as Kathryn. Perhaps Americanized a bit: she takes the kids to soccer, she stops for fast food. I can't see Cate Blanchett stopping by McDonald's. (And I apologise on behalf of my country since I see them all the time over here, and Burger King, not to mention Starbucks! You have such good pub food here with the gastropubs. And Costa Coffee is excellent – I get no kickback from this, it's a genuine honest feeling.)

I imagined a younger Kate Mulgrew perhaps?

I don't know her, but I will look her up.

And for Amelia?

My era, hands down Julia Roberts. Now Lincoln does not at all look like Denzel Washington, but Angelina Jolie was not a bad Amelia [in The Bone Collector movie], I have to say. More vulnerable, at least at first, than Angelina Jolie, but remember the books were created sixteen/seventeen years ago, Julia Roberts was the one I had in mind. There are any number of really strong women characters nowadays. Sandra Bullock if they wanted to make a fun version of it...

Thanks to Ellie Cheele and Kerry Hood for their assistance in arranging this interview at short notice.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Peter Cheyney's Dark Series Book Cover Gallery: From Dark Duet (1942) to Dark Bahama (1950)

From 1942 until 1950 (the year before his death), British hard-boiled crime writer Peter Cheyney published an eight-book series of spy novels – the "Dark" Series. The novels detail the exploits – both wartime and postwar – of a rotating cast of counter-espionage agents of British Intelligence, notably Michael Kane and Ernie Guelvada, along with their boss, Peter Quayle. All were first published in hardback by Collins in the UK, as follows:

1. Dark Duet (1942)
2. The Stars are Dark (1943)
3. The Dark Street (1944)
4. Sinister Errand (1945)
5. Dark Hero (1946)
6. Dark Interlude (1947)
7. Dark Wanton (1948)
8. Dark Bahama (1950)

I blogged about a signed limited first edition of the fifth one, Dark Hero, last week, as part of a periodic run of posts on signed books, but I've also been picking up first and other editions of some of the other instalments in the series here and there over the past couple of years. I'm still missing two of them – The Stars are Dark and Dark Interlude – but since I'm not in any special hurry to plug those gaps in my collection, and seeing as I'm on the subject of Cheyney, I thought I'd gather the ones I do own together in a "Dark" Series gallery post, with links in each instance to the relevant pages on the Official Peter Cheyney Website. Like so:

Dark Duet, Collins hardback, 1942
The Collins first edition/first impression of the debut "Dark" novel is quite a rare book; I nabbed this copy on eBay a couple of years ago, but there are at present fewer than half a dozen copies of the Collins first edition/first impression available online. The dust jacket design is uncredited, in common with all the Collins editions of the Cheyney novels I own, but that's a great photo of Cheyney and, I believe, his second wife, Kathleen Nora Walter (nee Taberer), on the back.

The Dark Street, Pan paperback, 1963 (originally Collins, 1944)
This is the first Pan Books paperback edition of the third "Dark" novel, cover art by J. Oval (alias Ben Ostrick); I found this copy in a stack of paperbacks in Lewes (the picturesque East Sussex town in which I live and work) secondhand bookshop A & Y Cumming, paying, I think, a pound for it.

Sinister Errand, Collins hardback, 1947 (originally 1945)
I have a feeling I was under the impression when I bought this copy of the fourth "Dark" novel a few years ago online that it was a 1945 first edition. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be a 1947 edition (printed in the Netherlands); note the reviews of the novel itself on the jacket flaps – always a giveaway that a book is a later impression.

Dark Hero, Collins hardback, 1946 / Collins paperback, 1950
Dark Hero I blogged about last week, but as well as the wrapper of the Collins first edition I've also included here the cover of the 1950 Collins paperback, published as part of their White Circle "pocket" range. Splendid Bravington Rings advert on the back cover there.

Dark Wanton, Collins hardback, 1948
This copy of the Collins first of the seventh "Dark" novel came from Badger's Books in Worthing – a fine secondhand bookshop to spend an hour or two in, if you're ever that way. The jacket has seen better days, but then I don't think I paid more than three or four quid for the book.

Dark Bahama, Collins hardback, 1950
Finally, there's this, my most recent Cheyney acquisition: a first edition of Dark Bahama, which I bought last year in Othello's in Essex at the start of the Jones–Day family holiday; follow this link for the first in an interminable series of increasingly daft posts about that holiday.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Dark Hero by Peter Cheyney (Collins, 1946): Signed Limited Presentation Edition

Thus far in this periodic series of posts on signed books I've showcased signed and sometimes inscribed paperbacks and hardbacks by Elmore Leonard, Jack Gerson, Kate Atkinson and P. M. Hubbard. But I've plenty more hitherto-unseen-on-Existential-Ennui signed books in my collection, and I'll be unveiling some of the more intriguing and even exciting signed and/or inscribed ones over the coming weeks. Like, for instance, this one:

A British first edition of Dark Hero by Peter Cheyney, published in hardback by Collins in 1946, dust jacket design uncredited. Cheyney is best known for his hard-boiled crime fiction, especially his Lemmy Caution novels, but he also penned a good number of espionage works, Dark Hero being one of them – the fifth instalment in his eight-book "Dark" series of spy novels, which began in 1942 with Dark Duet and ended in 1950 with Dark Bahama, and which all feature to some degree master spy Peter Quayle. Although this one is more the story of Rene Berg, one-time Chicago gunman-turned-scourge of the Nazis-turned-secret agent – shades there in Berg's origin of Desmond Cory's later secret agent, Johnny Fedora.

Dark Hero is relatively common in first – indeed there's a copy of the first edition up the road from where I'm sitting right now, in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop (as in, the book's in Bow Windows Bookshop; I'm not in Bow Windows Bookshop, although I suppose I could be, depending on when this post is being read – I do pop in there on occasion) – but much less common is this particular edition of the first edition. See, by 1946 Peter Cheyney had been with his British publisher, Collins, for ten years (his debut novel – also Lemmy Caution's debut – was 1936's This Man is Dangerous), and had sold millions of books for them. To celebrate both the tenth anniversary of this highly successful publishing partnership and to mark the publication of this, Cheyney's twenty-fifth novel, Collins produced a special edition of Dark Hero, limited to 250 copies, each one numbered on a limitation page opposite a photo of Cheyney (looking very dapper), and presented them to the author for him to sign and dedicate to whomsoever he chose.

This copy is number 133, and was inscribed to a C. R. Bl— ...actually I can't work out that surname – suggestions in the comments please. Anyway, whoever, C. R. Bl— was, Peter Cheyney evidently felt he – or she – merited a copy of the special edition of Dark Hero in 1946 – and for my part I felt I merited that same copy when I nabbed it on eBay some sixty-five or so years later for £8.50 – a frankly ludicrously low price when one considers that there are only about five copies available online at present, the cheapest being £75 and the most expensive being over £250.

A nice, rare book to own, then. But it's not the only Peter Cheyney book in my possession – because I've been quietly collecting the "Dark" Series especially over the past few years, as I'll be demonstrating in the next post.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

P. M. Hubbard's A Hive of Glass (Fingerprint Books Edition, Hamish Hamilton, 1972) in British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s

Before I make a belated return to the signed editions, I've one last P. M. Hubbard book I'd like to take a look at to round off this latest run of posts on the author:

A Hive of Glass, Hubbard's third novel for adults and his fifth overall (including his two novels for younger readers). Originally published in hardback in the UK in 1965 by Michael Joseph, the edition seen here is the later 1972 Hamish Hamilton hardback, with a somewhat slapdash but still apposite photo-collage dust jacket designed by Tom Sawyer; those familiar with the novel will doubtless be drawn to the glass tazza in particular, but also perhaps the black-eyed old woman, who I take to be the blind and autocratic Aunt Elizabeth.

Hamish Hamilton was in the habit in the 1970s of acquiring lapsed hardback rights – note the seven-year gap between the Joseph and Hamilton editions of A Hive of Glass, seven years being the typical term of a book publishing contract – on crime and suspense novels and bringing them into the publisher's Fingerprint Books imprint; I blogged about a 1976 Hamilton hardback reissue of P. D. James's debut novel Cover Her Face, originally published in hardback by Faber in 1962 – a fourteen-year gap between the Faber/Hamilton editions there, suggesting Faber reacquired the rights for a further seven years after their initial term – back in 2010, and the back cover of this edition of A Hive of Glass lists many of the other authors and novels Hamilton gathered together.

I've also blogged about A Hive of Glass before; I reviewed the novel in 2011, in a 1966 Panther paperback edition, as at the time I wasn't able to lay my hands on a Joseph first. I still haven't been able to in the interim, hence why I decided to purchase this Hamilton edition, for 99p (plus postage), simply so I could own the novel – arguably the quintessential Hubbard work of dark suspense – in hardback (which format I much prefer to paperback). I'll continue to keep an eye out for a Michael Joseph first edition, but in the meantime, given that the Hamilton edition is itself becoming quite scarce, with at present just one copy on AbeBooks and only a couple more on Amazon Marketplace, this is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Plus it affords me the opportunity to introduce Hubbard into the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery, where there are now seven Hubbard covers, taking the total number of covers therein to 138.

Friday, 2 May 2014

High Tide by P. M. Hubbard (Macmillan, 1971): First Edition, Book Review

NB: Proffered as part of Friday's Forgotten Books, 2/5/14.

Three years ago, in an unrelated comment on this post on an obscure crime fiction novel, my friend and fellow blogger Book Glutton brought the work of suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard to my attention. Since then (for what it's worth) I've written about Hubbard repeatedly – reviewing novels and showcasing first editions, signed books and even a handwritten letter and some publishing paraphernalia – indeed this very missive constitutes part of a current run of posts on the author; but it's taken me until now to get round to the Hubbard novel Book Glutton highlighted in that comment, the first Hubbard novel he himself read:

High Tide, published in hardback by Macmillan in the UK in 1971, striking dust jacket design by Bush Hollyhead of Nicholas Thirkell Associates (who also designed the wrapper of the Macmillan edition of Hubbard's The Dancing Man that same year). Hubbard's tenth novel, it's the first-person account of one Peter Curtis, recently released from prison after serving four years for manslaughter and now travelling across the south of England, driving by night, sleeping by day, with a hazy eventual aim of buying a boat and making a new life for himself somewhere in the west country. But an encounter with an associate of the man he killed sets him on a different course: to a Cornish coastal town where the testing tides of the estuary lead to a deserted farmhouse, the damaged wife of a local novelist, and a secret that Curtis's opponents are willing to resort to murder to uncover.

High Tide was the second of two Hubbard novels I read in quick succession, the first being The Whisper in the Glen (1972); I'd expected to like High Tide more than The Whisper in the Glen – The Whisper in the Glen being more of a gothic romance than a suspense novel – but I was quite surprised when the opposite turned out to be the case. High Tide is a good book, don't get me wrong, but for me it's missing some of the depth of The Whisper in the Glen. Hubbard's evocation of place – in this case the estuary at the fictional town of Leremouth, with its surging tides and dangerous quicksands – is as strong as ever, and in common with The Whisper in the Glen – and other Hubbard novels – there's a romantic infatuation at the heart of the story which unbalances the narrative in a manner I find fascinating; but the MacGuffin which drives the plot is disappointingly prosaic, and the novel lacks those elements that, in addition to Hubbard's feel for locale, make him such a compelling writer – the pervading sense of doom of The Whisper in the Glen, say, or the persuasively creepy atmosphere of A Thirsty Evil (1974) or A Hive of Glass (1965), the latter with its memorably deranged narrator.

That said, it's also for those reasons that I could see High Tide lending itself well to adaptation – which indeed it did, in 1980 as part of ITV's Armchair Thriller series, with Ian McShane (Lovejoy, Deadwood) as Peter Curtis. Shot entirely on film and on location (unlike a lot of similar British television productions of the era, which utilised video and studio shoots), by most accounts dramatiser Andrew Brown and director Colin Bucksey made a pretty good fist of turning the novel into a four-part television drama; I've half a mind to give it a go (it's available on DVD). And it's in seemingly excellent company as well: the subsequent Armchair Thriller story was a six-part adaptation of Desmond Cory's The Circe Complex (1975), while the first series included a six-part adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's A Dog's Ransom (1972).

A final note on High Tide: in a lull before the novel's climax, Peter Curtis has to spend the night in the abandoned farmhouse with only a choice of two novels for company. One is by the aforementioned local author; the other is a Lemmy Caution novel, written by Peter Cheyney – and by chance it's to Cheyney that I'll be turning in the next-post-but-one. First, though, one last Hubbard book (for the time being): a 1972 hardback edition of perhaps the quintessential Hubbard novel.