Sunday 28 February 2010

More great British thrillers get a new lease of life

Mike Ripley, thriller writer and editor of the excellent Shots online magazine about British thriller, crime and espionage writing, has sent out news of more developments by new imprint Ostara Publishing, which is specialising in putting back out on the market long-forgotten British thrillers with the aim of attracting a new generation of readers.

Ostara is issuing four more titles in their print-on-demand Top Notch Thrillers series. Ripley set up this new company to, he says, "revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten”. The new titles, originally published in Britain between 1962 and 1970, were selected by Ripley, who is the series editor for this new imprint.

The Tale of the Lazy Dog by Alan Williams is a heist thriller set in the Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam triangle in 1969 as a mis-matched gang of rogues and pirates attempt to steal $1.5 billion in used US Treasury notes. Time Is An Ambush is a delicate, atmospheric study of suspicion and guilt set in Franco’s Spain, by Francis Clifford, one of the most-admired stylists of the post-war generation of British thriller-writers. A Flock Of Ships, Brian Callison’s bestselling wartime thriller of a small Allied convoy lured to its doom in the South Atlantic, was famous for its breathless, machine-gun prose and was described by Alistair Maclean as “the best war story I have ever read”. The Ninth Directive was the second assignment for super-spy Quiller (whose fans included Kingsley Amis and John Dickson Carr), created by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and is a taught, tense thriller of political assassination which pre-dated Day of the Jackal by five years.

Of these new reissues, Mike Ripley says: ‘Our new titles are absolutely in line with the Top Notch ethos of showing the range and variety of thrillers from what was something of a Golden Age for British thriller writing. They range in approach from slow-burning suspense to relentless wartime action and feature obsessive, super tough, super cool spies and some tremendous villains. Above all, they are characterised by the quality of their writing, albeit in very different styles.

‘When first published, these titles were all best-sellers and their authors are among the most respected names in thriller fiction. Many readers will welcome these novels back almost as old friends and hopefully a new generation of readers will discover them for the first time.

As a critic and editor of the Shots website Ripley has shown that he has an eye for understanding what readers are interested in and the potential for injecting new vigour into the British thriller genre by drawing on the lessons of the past. These new books sound pretty cool, and I'm sure readers of this blog would want to check them out.

Monday 22 February 2010

Matt Lynn selects his choice of great British thrillers

Up on the excellent The Browser website, in its Five Books selection - which invites authors to select the best reading in their field of interest - thriller and military action novelist and ghost-writer Matt Lynn selects his choice of the five best thrillers.

His choices would correspond to many a top five list from readers with a keen interest in British spy and political thrillers. He cites Eric Ambler, Frederick Forsyth and Hammond Innes in his top five books.

Also there is Len Deighton's Berlin Game, which Lynn says is the best Cold War thriller he's read. He also makes an interesting observation about the espionage thriller as the extension of the 'politics' of the office:

"All spy fiction is really an extended metaphor for the office. No character captures that better than Bernard Samson, a middle-ranking intelligence executive, who can’t trust anyone."

I haven't come across The Browser before but it's an excellent news aggregation website packed full of the best writing from around the world selected by its editorial team. Well worth a look.

Thursday 18 February 2010

81 candles on the cake...

Today, 18 February, is the birthday of Len Deighton, inspiration for the Deighton Dossier blog on all things spy fiction.

I'm sure the many readers of his fiction around the world wish him 'Many Happy Returns'.

In his 1989 book The ABC of French Food Deighton has this to say on the subject of how a gourmet should celebrate a birthday:

"Pate a choux is hot-water pastry that is piped into shape while still warm, like icing on to a cake. Best known as the éclair or the profiterole, or cheese-filled appetizers. Such pastry filled puffballs are stuck together with caramel and assembled to become a tall pyramid (the croquembouche) or the St Honoré that was at one time the Frenchman's traditional birthday cake. Now my local patissiere tells me birthdays are celebrated with 'American style' layer cakes."

What's the betting Mrs Deighton's whipping up a St Honoré today?

Saturday 13 February 2010

On the road and on the T

I've found an interesting new philanthropic effort by a company called Out of Print, which produces t-shirts with illustrations from famous book covers now out of print.

Out of Print celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Its shirts feature iconic and often out of print book covers; some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art. They work closely with artists, authors and publishers to license the content that ends up in our collections. The nice thing is that for each shirt they sell, one book is donated to a community in need through our partner Books For Africa. So, it's not only a great gift but you make a worthy donation to improving literacy and education in Africa.

One of the items they have for sale is a t-shirt with Len Deighton's 1958 cover for André Deutsch of the UK edition of Jack Kerouac's seminal On the Road. As most readers are still not aware, before becoming a writer of note Len Deighton was a respected artist and illustrator, part of the fifties new wave in British design (along with the likes of Peter Blake, designer of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) breaking from convention in design and adopting changes like bolder use of colour, abstract, print and other new modes of illustration.

This famous cover - a top seller in poster form - is redolent of Deighton's style, with the blocks of simple colour, the heavy black outlining and the jerky, sketched nature of the drawing. Deighton went on to produce at least 40 other cover designs for André Deutsch during a period when the publishing world was moving away from simple designs to more complex covers. In 1962, with the publication of Deighton's own The Ipcress File, his designer friend Raymond Hawkey defied publishing convention with the first book cover with the majority of it white; up till then, covers had never been produced in white as booksellers found that they became dirty after being handled by customers.

Friday 12 February 2010

All-night bomber raid?

Another interesting little follow-on article in The Independent this week following the announcement of the long list for the Lost Man Booker Prize from 1970 (see postings below), for which Bomber is on the long list.

Arts critic Tom Sutcliffe is clearly busy as a bee reading through some of the novels for the Man Booker prize, judging by the second piece in his column, as he has found the pleasure of reading books in one sitting. His contention is that doing so brings something different to the reader's experience of a book.

He seems, as a result, to be anticipating a positive reaction for any of the Lost Man Booker Prize judges reading Bomber in one go (a real challenge - it's 560+ pages):

"I strongly recommend that when they read Len Deighton's terrific novel Bomber – which follows the events of a single wartime raid over the Ruhr – they buckle up on page one and don't unclip the straps until it's all over. It's very good in parts... but I bet it's absolutely terrific as an unbroken whole."

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Guardian blogger roots for Deighton 1970 Booker win

Guardian blogger Sam Jordison has written an interesting comment piece on yesterday's story of the Lost Man Booker Prize from 1970, for which a panel of three judges is producing a short list of novels from that year which missed out on the chance of winning the Booker Prize due to changes in the competition.

Jordison writes that Bomber by Deighton is an intriguing case, given the company it's in on the list, and wonders whether the snobbery of the literary elite may play against it, the book being firmly rooted in the thriller/war story genre:

"It's a moot point. What I am sure of is that if they had dismissed Deighton, they would have been wrong. He is a superb writer, long overdue serious recognition from the literary establishment, so Booker can only be applauded for his nomination. I recently re-read his Game, Set and Match trilogy and the novels seemed stronger than ever. The fact that they now tell of a (thankfully) lost era has only sharpened their edge, while the grumpy, messed-up and too-often-messed-with Bernard Sampson is one of the most compelling characters in recent fiction."

Jordison is clearly a fan of Deighton and marks Bomber out as a dark horse for winning this unusual competition; he read it twenty years ago, recalling the sweaty palms of excitement as he turned each page, the sign of a compelling story:

"I'd be tempted to aim the much-overused word masterpiece at it. But don't take it from me. Take it from Kingsley Amis, who rated it one of the top 10 British novels of the 20th century. As the author of Lucky Jim (which might just squeeze into the top five), he ought to know what he's talking about!"

I may follow Jordison's example and put a couple of quid on Deighton to win!

Monday 1 February 2010

Bomber omission? Deighton up for prize ... 40 years after the event

In 1984 writer Kingsley Amis named Len Deighton's Bomber as one of his 99 books of the twentieth century. 40 years on from its publication, Bomber may be up for another - albeit belated - prize.

Len Deighton is just one of a panoply of great British authors - including Susan Hill, David Lodge, Ruth Rendell and Patrick White  - who are being given the chance to win the Man Booker prize, forty years after the prize should have been awarded. The Lost Man Booker Prize, which has been unveiled today with some good media coverage, is a one-off prize to honour books published in 1970 which missed out on the opportunity to win the Booker Prize.

As the official Man Booker Prize website states: "In 1971, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became, as it is today, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the date on which the award was given moved from April to November. As a result of these changes, there was whole year's gap when a wealth of fiction, published in 1970, fell through the net. These books were simply never considered for the prize."

Three judges - all of whom were born in or around 1970 - has been appointed to select a shortlist of six novels from those books. They are journalist and critic Rachel Cooke, ITN newsreader Katie Derham and poet and novelist Tobias Hill.

Their shortlist will be chosen from a longlist of 22 books which would have been eligible and are still in print and generally available today. Bomber is on that shortlist. 

It would be nice to think that fans of Deighton's wartime fiction could get an opportunity to vote for Bomber if it appears on the shortlist. But that is in the say of Cooke, Derham and Hill...and Deighton's up against some stiff competition. Let's see if they make a wise choice!

The long list in full
Brian Aldiss, The Hand Reared Boy
H.E.Bates, A Little Of What You Fancy?
Nina Bawden, The Birds On The Trees
Melvyn Bragg, A Place In England
Christy Brown, Down All The Days
Len Deighton, Bomber
J.G.Farrell, Troubles
Elaine Feinstein, The Circle
Shirley Hazzard, The Bay Of Noon
Reginald Hill, A Clubbable Woman
Susan Hill, I'm The King Of The Castle
Francis King, A Domestic Animal
Margaret Laurence, The Fire Dwellers
David Lodge, Out Of The Shelter
Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
Shiva Naipaul, Fireflies
Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander
Joe Orton, Head To Toe
Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven
Ruth Rendell, A Guilty Thing Surprised
Muriel Spark, The Driver's Seat
Patrick White, The Vivisector