Wednesday 10 June 2015

Eastbourne Book Buys: Victor Canning's Birds of a Feather (Heinemann, 1985) and the Last of Tome

NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 12 June 2015.

We had a family outing to Eastbourne a couple of weeks ago, the highlight of which was undoubtedly Edie's first proper experience of paddling in the sea:

Which, after a cautious start – she was initially reluctant to put her feet down on the wet squelchy sand at the water's edge – entailed much squealing and dashing back and forth into the lapping waves. But as much fun as that was, almost as thrilling in its own way, at least for me (although rather less so, I imagine, for Edie and Rachel), was the acquisition of this:

A 1985 Heinemann first edition of Victor Canning's Birds a Feather, which I bought in Eastbourne secondhand bookshop institution Camilla's, priced £4.50. The final novel in Canning's Birdcage espionage series, it was the only one I was missing in first (non-ex-library copies are quite hard to come by), so when I spied it on the shelves in the basement of Camilla's – luckily it was on one of the higher shelves, otherwise it would've been obscured by the piles of books that sit on the floor in front of the lower third of the bookcases in the basement – I was delighted. Naturally I've added it to the Existential Ennui Victor Canning Birdcage First Edition Book Cover Gallery and to British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s.

But while Camilla's marches on in much the same fashion as it ever has – well, in my experience, in the half-dozen years I've been going there – another, more recent Eastbourne secondhand bookshop is breathing its last. Tome, which opened its doors on Terminus Road (an apt location in retrospect) near the seafront a few years ago, is closing – indeed may already have closed by the time I publish this post. I was alerted to this sorry state of affairs by Existential Ennui reader Gerald, so the trip to Eastbourne was motivated at least in part by a desire to have a last look at Tome's wares. Books were being packed in boxes on the day we were there, but there were still lots on display, all priced at 50p rather than the usual £2 (I do wonder whether that pricing policy was a factor in the closure), and though there wasn't anything I desperately wanted – I've raided Tome's shelves too thoroughly on a number of prior occasions – I still managed to find a few things of interest:

On the bottom row, a 1965 Hodder & Stoughon first edition of The Third Side of the Coin, Francis Clifford's tenth novel – quite uncommon in first that one – and a 1968 Jonathan Cape first edition of The Killing Season, the debut novel by John Redgate, alias actor Adam Kennedy; and on the top row, a 1981 Cape first edition of Once a Spy, Rennie Airth's second novel – also uncommon, not to mention pricey, in first (at least sixty quid on AbeBooks) – and a 1991 Picador first edition of The Mexican Tree Duck, James Crumley's fifth novel. A good illustration of the kinds of unexpected delights Tome invariably offered up, and why the place will be sorely missed. And as further illustration, here's a pile of books I bought in Tome last year – including a signed 2006 No Exit Press first of James Sallis's Drive – as photographed on Eastbourne beach shortly after (and posted on Twitter, but not, heretofore, on Existential Ennui):

And here's Edie – who at two years old has lived her entire life with Tome in it, to the extent that on one occasion she even ate her lunch in the place (and on another occasion, did a poo there) – photobombing:

Cheerio then, Tome. And thanks for all the books.


  1. Gosh, Francis Clifford! I discovered his books in about 1975, the same week I discovered P M Hubbard, and have since forgotten all about him. It's probably too late to start collecting him now given the strict price limits I set myself, but thanks for the memory.

  2. Michael Collins is great! I recommend you to start with his first.

  3. A nice eulogy to a great shop. Being an Eastbourne resident, I could barely believe my luck when Tome opened. Not only was the pricing incredible (alas, I suppose, for them) but the stock was varied and interesting. A combination of that shop, plus Camilla's (plus an ok Oxfam bookshop) turned the town into a gold mine, for a time.

    But all things must pass.