October 31

Heather Martin and The Reacher Guy

For the first time in a very long time I am delighted to be able to share an interview here at Grab This Book.

Heather Martin is author of The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child.  I reviewed the audiobook of The Reacher Guy (here) and found it to be an engrossing account of an author I have read for years; but actually knew very little about. As TRG has recently released in paperback I was delighted when Heather agreed to chat with me about writing Lee’s biography and I finally got to satisfy my curiosity about how she got accurate answers out of a natural storyteller.

 

Before you met Lee Child and discussed writing about his life I am assuming there was an earlier moment where Jack Reacher first crossed your path. Where did your personal “Lee Child” journey begin? 

They say you remember your first time, but I don’t really. I was in Cambridge. It must have been about ten years before I met Lee Child – One Shot, perhaps, which came out in 2005, so before his first New York Times no. 1 in 2008, before he became a household name, but around the time Tom Cruise signed on and things started getting huge. But one thing’s for sure: Reacher turned up just when I needed him. Doesn’t he always? What’s weird is he kept coming back, not like in book world – twenty-four times I think it was. But I was OK with that. And I do remember where it all started – in the bedroom. I pulled a book off the shelf and hopped into bed and well, let’s just say I didn’t sleep much that night.  

I should add that during this period of innocence the name ‘Lee Child’ meant nothing more to me than the guarantee of a good read. 

 

I had somehow imagined you would have been there from the start. Reacher is one of the few series which I caught early. I was there from Killing Floor and utterly hooked. How I wish I had kept my original copies of the early books (and my Star Wars collection too).  

So, if 2005 was when you first encountered Reacher and it was ten years before you met Lee, where did you finally get to meet the man himself?  

I wish you had too! The thing about the Reacher books is they’re equally addictive no matter where you jump in. The damage is done on page one. Another confession: I wasn’t one who waited on the release date, not at least until I met Lee, and then only because I was curious about the man. But he would never have allowed me to write the biography had I been a classic superfan – it’s in his nature to prefer a degree of scepticism.  

We met over dinner at the old Union Square Café on Manhattan’s East 16th St in the summer of 2015. There were seven of us in total. Lee arrived last and folded himself into the last remaining chair, on my left. He was a little cramped. He surveyed the general scene and said: ‘you should have mentioned my name and we would have got the best table in the house’. Nevertheless we soldiered on. He’d been to the dentist that day and was feeling a little delicate; he drank champagne and had profiteroles for dessert. He lamented the loss of the Labour Party’s original clause IV. Afterwards, one of our group, a brilliant young woman who worked as a parliamentary assistant to Harriet Harman, said she wished he would run for leadership of the party.  

A lucky escape for Lee then as if he HAD run for parliament his popularity would have taken an overnight hammering.  

Was that the dinner where the prospect of writing Lee’s biography was first discussed? How do you get from “pass the breadsticks” to “can I write about your life?”  

And because I am curious – did you know Lee would be there before the meal? Either way I have always thought it to be very cool. 

He was wise to that risk I’m sure. Later he said that if he was made king of the world the first thing he’d do would be abdicate – too much responsibility.   

No mention of biographies, but we got on well and no doubt the seed was sown. We’d already had some correspondence about the Spanish translation of one of his later novels, which I’d critiqued at his request. So yes, I knew he would be there. Our conversation had already begun. After The Reacher Guy was published, Lee told an interviewer for BBC Radio Sheffield it was my commentary on that translation that made him take me seriously as a prospective biographer, because he felt I understood what mattered to him in his writing, what was important. And because I wasn’t afraid to say what I thought. By that point in his career that perhaps wasn’t so common.  

It seems you had established a good relationship with Lee before the biography gained traction. Obviously there came a point where you agreed you would write about his life? I am keen to know where you went from that​ conversation, where do you start?  

Yes, we were already friends. I first heard him speak publicly in 2016 in Cambridge, at the Literary Festival, then Oxford, at the St Hilda’s Crime Conference, in what he affectionately refers to as his ‘establishment year’, when he was also in demand as an essayist from the New Yorker and the New York Times. That was the year in which he was first picked up by the London Review of Books and the TLS. As you know, he’s an enthralling speaker, as good at spinning a historical tale as a thriller. Presumably it was the academic in me, but I found myself taking notes.  

I made the effort to catch up with Lee at festivals and then committed to a couple of short stays in New York so I would have more opportunity to work through my seemingly endless questions. As I’ve said before, the biography arose organically out of a long conversation, and there came a point where we both agreed we thought we could make it work. In between times I covered the obvious bases: I visited the places where he’d lived and worked; I tracked down old friends, teachers and colleagues; I reread all the books, and trawled through the mostly very similar interviews online and on paper, sifting through the evidence and trying gently to separate the man from his persona. Eventually I got access to the archive, which Lee donated to the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2018, in advance of his semi-planned retirement. I had most of the first draft done by then, but I think that turned out well for me, because it meant I knew what I was looking for, but also that when I stumbled across something I didn’t know I was looking for it tended to jump out and grab my attention. I loved those weeks, altogether months in the archive – so absorbing, so revealing, both tranquil and exciting.  

Lee is certainly an engaging speaker so I can imagine listening to him at numerous events must have been fascinating. But if he was also promoting the latest book then possibly some repetition would creep in? 

That thought leads me towards something I had wondered about as I read TRG. You often reference his habit of adapting or elaborating on facts. It seemed there was Lee’s version of events and everyone else’s version. Did you see anecdotes being told and tweaked at different events and how does that impact upon a biographer who is trying to nail down facts? 

And that was a highlight of reading TRG, at times you almost sounded vexed with his recounting of events which others would “amend”. 

Such a good question. The repetition itself was interesting, of course. What made him return to those same themes, what made him reach for the same stories? Did it come from within or without? The reasons are many. Some of it was reactive, and over time, as an essentially shy man, he perfected his public persona. But he also refined his thinking around those topics that preoccupy him most deeply: the nature and purpose of fiction, the nature of humanity (which has no purpose), the transaction between reader and writer. I believe he enjoyed that learning process, which is what makes him such a compelling essayist.   

Where you have repetition, variation is also built in. Some of that repetition was willed, some of it unconscious. To an extent it was pragmatic, his performance tailored to suit the time slot allocated, a skill he’d acquired during his years at Granada Television. If he was talking about the distant past – his early childhood, for instance – then by definition he was dealing in stories that had been handed down by parents and grandparents; if he was talking about the present, there was the Reacher brand – and publisher expectation – to consider. Lee was relaxed about it. Nothing he said ever seemed to him contradictory; his brain could reconcile all the angles. He sees all writing as storytelling, and storytelling as among the most ancient of human habits, long preceding the advent of writing, and in tracing the evolution of fiction homes in on the way writers adapt humanity’s best-loved stories to the needs and desires of new audiences. I think this is one of the main reasons he’s a one-draft writer: that’s just how he told the archetypal story that year – he couldn’t go back and change it.  

For the biographer it’s all grist to the mill. Sometimes I would quiz him about the discrepancies between his recollections and those of others. But rather than being daunted by the vagaries of point of view and memory – which I increasingly acknowledged as a condition of the enterprise – I found them liberating. Both Lee and I were aiming for a truthful account, but we both knew it could only ever be an approximation, so then it became more about authenticity, on both sides. I never saw it as my job to pin him down in the manner of a lepidopterist. I don’t like sticking pins in things. I always expected him to elude me, just as Reacher always eludes the reader in the end, and each of us eludes the other. I hope this is something I managed to bring out in the biography, in the later chapters especially, but also in those on the mother figure, and death. 

I would like to pull you back to the writing process and how you took on the challenge of capturing a lifetime. It sounds like you had several conversations with Lee and you hit the books and the archives. Did you tackle your research chronologically and try to work from his childhood or perhaps you worked back from when the books were releasing (when I imagine information became more plentiful)? 

One thing which did strike me – in the early part of the book he is Jim/James but by the end he is very much Lee. You tell two stories. Is he Jim or Lee to you now? 

Many conversations, over years, and a long correspondence too. My approach was less chronological than thematic, and intuitive. Lee would say things; questions would lead to more questions. He told me about his grandparents, and on the Irish side that led back to his great-grandparents. There’d be an anecdote about his father, then gradually we’d fill in the bigger picture. It took longer to get him to talk about his mother. And I only really made significant progress on the school, university and Granada years, when I was able to go back to him with the memories of others. There was a vast amount of information in circulation about his career, a lot of it misleading or erroneous. What I found hardest to work with, ironically, were Lee’s own introductions to special editions of his books: it was difficult to shake off his words.  

When it came to the writing, I tried not to contemplate the enormity of the task, or indeed the temerity. I simply started at the beginning, relying on a particular image, moment, concept or theme to steer me through. Amazingly, it seemed to work, and I grew to trust my own instincts. I liked the idea of each chapter being a self-contained story, which I thought might suit the reader too.  

Lee would always say to me, and to others, ‘a book has to have a beating heart’. So while I approached the subject with due seriousness, it was mostly, in the end, a feeling thing.  

His books were always there and so too his fame. Which I suppose is the beginning of an answer to your second question. I met Lee as Lee, and he’ll always be Lee to me. But it was Jack Reacher I got to know first, so he was there from the start. Jim Grant was the one I knew nothing about. I barely even knew he existed. But what I discovered as I got to know Jim Grant, which I did, to the point where I was comfortable referring to Lee by his given name as necessary and appropriate, was that Reacher had been there from the start for him as well. Not named, not explicitly formulated, but as the archetypal fictional hero, a source of comfort and hope in a miserable childhood, and a fantasy alter ego too. Reacher saved Jim, thanks to Lee Child.  

That’s quite a thought, that before we got to read about Margrave in Killing Floor Reacher had already saved Jim Grant. A ripple effect though, the stone had hit the loch but the ripples would take some time to reach the shore (and Jim/Lee’s future would be secured). 
So we know Reacher’s story as Lee has told us that. And we know Jim and Lee’s story thanks to The Reacher Guy. What about Heather Martin? We are long overdue an introduction.
Well, there’s a reason we’re talking about Lee Child and Jack Reacher, and not Heather Martin. So it’s tempting to evade this question. But I have to admit that one of the sweetest thrills of publishing The Reacher Guy last year was when Lee interviewed me rather than the other way round – I’ll be forever grateful to The Big Thrill (the magazine of the International Thriller Writers association) for that audacious idea.
I don’t see myself writing a memoir, just as Lee doesn’t see himself writing an autobiography. Even so, many aspects of Jim Grant’s life story resonate with me, and it’s not least on that basis that I hope the same might be true for others. I too spent my childhood dreaming of escape: not just from the redback spiders, and not because I was unhappy at home (I wasn’t), but because I’d already been given the taste for adventure and travel by my bold, adventurous parents – in their day it wasn’t common to up sticks as they did and emigrate for two years from the sleepy town of Geraldton, several hundred miles north of Perth on the edge of the Indian Ocean, to Aix-en-Provence on the fringes of the Mediterranean. I’ll always admire my early-twenties mother throwing herself fearlessly into the fray of the Provençal food markets with her minimal and Australian-inflected French. And like Lee too, I’ve spent the major part of my life in a prolonged flirtation with another country, or in my case, other countries – France, Spain, England, the United Kingdom in general. So I’ve shared in the outsider experience with all its insights and highs and lows. Of course, he is of the colonisers and I the colonised … I’ve been ambitious too, like him, with enough drive to survive and get on, but in a less directed, more pluralistic way. I lack his singular vision, his ruthless eye on the prize. When I first met the man who would eventually become my guitar teacher in London, he told me I would have to choose between music and ballet. I was thirteen at the time, and I didn’t want to choose. I can hear his words even now, and though in some ways he was clearly right, I still feel in my heart he was wrong.
There’s a reason, too, that The Reacher Guy is so grounded in social detail. It’s because Lee insisted that he was no more than a product of the time and place in which he was born. He was ‘a perfectly normal guy’ whose experiences growing up would be representative of many thousands of others. In fact, he attributes his extraordinary success to the very ordinariness of his origins – he had his writing finger (or two fingers, since he is a two-fingered typist) on the ordinary pulse. Paradoxically, it was his ordinariness that enabled him to escape the ordinary, and achieve the extraordinary. He sums it up nicely in respect to his wealth, acquired only in the latter third of his life (as measured by his current age): ‘I’m a poor man with a lot of money.’
Perhaps there is a fundamental truth in there somewhere: that we all are extraordinary, in our ordinary way. Or should it be the other way round?

The Reacher Guy is published by Little, Brown Group and is now available in paperback, digital format and as an audiobook (narrated wonderfully by Juliet Stevenson. You can order a copy here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-reacher-guy/heather-martin/9781472134233  or from any independent bookseller.

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September 30

Cover Reveal: River Clyde – Simone Buchholz

Today I am beyond excited to share something new with you. A first opportunity to see the cover for River Clyde, the next Chastity Riley book from Simone Buchholz which will be published in the new year by Orenda Books.

Before you scroll down to catch that first glimpse of the FIFTH book in this stupendous series I have the FAQ’s too:

River Clyde releases in digital format first.  Ebook will be available from 17 January 2022 with print copies arriving on 17 March 2022.

Once again we can thank Rachel Ward for translating the original German text into English, Rachel translated all four previous books in the series.

Blurb first, cover second and then the handy pre-order links, there is a lot of love for this series and I know you will want to secure this one early to be sure you can get reading as soon as possible.

 

Chastity Riley travels to Scotland to face the demons of her past, as Hamburg is hit by a major arson attack. Queen of Krimi, Simone Buchholz returns with the nail-biting fifth instalment in the electric Chastity Riley series … and this time things are personal…

‘Simone Buchholz writes with real authority and a pungent, noir-ish sense of time and space … a palpable hit’ Independent

‘Reading Buchholz is like walking on firecrackers … a truly unique voice in crime fiction’ Graeme Macrae Burnet 

 

Mired in grief after tragic recent events, state prosecutor Chastity Riley escapes to Scotland, lured to the birthplace of her great-great-grandfather by a mysterious letter suggesting she has inherited a house.

In Glasgow, she meets Tom, the ex-lover of Chastity’s great aunt, who holds the keys to her own family secrets – painful stories of unexpected cruelty and loss that she’s never dared to confront.

In Hamburg, Stepanovic and Calabretta investigate a major arson attack, while a group of property investors kicks off an explosion of violence that threatens everyone.

As events in these two countries collide, Chastity prepares to face the inevitable, battling the ghosts of her past and the lost souls that could be her future and, perhaps, finally finding redemption for them all.

Nail-bitingly tense and breathtakingly emotive, River Clyde is both an electrifying, pulse-pounding thriller and a poignant, powerful story of damage and hope, and one woman’s fight for survival.

 

 

You’ve been very patient so just zip down the page a little futher and enjoy the River Clyde cover in all its glory…

 

 

 

Isn’t it terrific?  I love the stylistic approach that has featured for all the titles in this series and River Clyde really catches the eye.

 

I promised purchase links so you could get an early order in…

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3EZj8XJ
Kindle: https://amzn.to/3F4nuwu
And I am afraid that’s all I have for you today, cover, blurb and order links with a huge dose of anticipation.  Roll on January 17th

 

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August 28

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Jay Stringer

My guest this week once offered a Star Wars book to anyone at Noir at the Bar that would wail like a Wookie. To this day I still have that book.  He is also the first guest to tell me they wanted to select five comic books for their Decades choices – I may need to invite him back just so I can see which books he would have selected.

Don’t mourn the loss of Jay’s comic book picks as he has selected five quality novels which I am delighted to add to my Decades Library.

For those not familiar with #Decades a quick recap. Each week I invite a guest to join me and select five unmissable or essential reads which they would want to see included in my Ultimate Library. When this project started back in January I had no books and a mountain to climb, week on week my guests have selected five books and my library is filling up. You can see all the previous selections (and buy any which catch your eye) here at Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/GrabThisBookDecades

Choosing five books may be challenging but I add a second rule which my guests need to follow.  They can only select one book per decade over five consecutive decades – so they have any fifty year publication span to select from.

This week I am delighted to welcome Jay Stringer to Grab This Book.  As Jay is Glasgow based he is one of the few guests I have actually met and I was thrilled he was able to make time to take on the Decades challenge. Jay’s latest book Don’t Tell a Soul is my current read and it’s flipping brilliant, putting it down to prep this post was a wrench.

So I pass you over to Jay but before I do – here is how you get Don’t Tell a Soul: https://www.waterstones.com/book/dont-tell-a-soul/jay-stringer/9781916892309

 

Jay Stringer was born in 1980, and he’s not dead yet. His crime fiction has been nominated for both Anthony and Derringer awards, and shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize. His stand-up comedy has been laughed at by at least three people. He was born and raised in the Black Country, but has since adopted Glasgow as his hometown.

Jay’s newest book Don’t Tell a Soul was released on July 26th.

Also, Jay’s birthday was July 26th. You know what to do.

DECADES

One book from each decade? That’s a crazy rule. I hate rules. So the only way I’m going to get through this is imposing a few more on myself.

  1. I can’t just pick an Elmore Leonard book for each decade (because, seriously, I could.)
  2. No comic books. (Because once I open that door, I pick nothing but comic books.)

 

Okay. On with the list.

 

1970’s. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

 

This decade was hard. So many great books. So many great Elmore Leonard books. But Douglas Adams was one of my gateway drugs to reading novels, as a struggling dyslexic teen, and it still holds up today. Funny. Satirical. Basically accurate and mostly harmless. One of the funniest books ever written.

 

 

 

 

 

1980’s. The Demon Headmaster – Gillian Cross

 

I was a child during the 80’s, and I can’t remove myself from that. This pick is all about memories. Again, as a dyslexic I didn’t read much prose early on. Choose Your Own Adventure books were pretty much my speed, and the rest was comic books. (The 80’s was a great decade for comics.) But I read the hell out of The Demon Headmaster. And had it read to me just as much.

 

 

 

 

1990’s. Stone Junction – Jim Dodge

 

Now then. We. Are. Talking. I love this book. I’d get an all-over body tattoo of this book if I could. What’s it about? No idea. There’s magic, gambling, revenge, and a big diamond. It’s sort of like what Harry Potter would be if he was a cool kid who drank a lot and wanted to be in a punk band. And it’s funny, moving, and occasionally deep. Jim Dodge’s writing is all about the journey, not so much about the destination. But it’s a great journey.

 

 

 

2000’s. Pagan Babies – Elmore Leonard

 

This isn’t Elmore’s best book. But it might be the one that stayed with me the longest after I read it. The key to understanding Leonard is that he was always writing about self-awareness. About characters becoming better or worse at being who they really are. And he often also explored the huge grey area between right/wrong and legal/illegal. Pagan Babies feels like the ultimate distillation of these themes into something simple and primal. And, placed where it is in his career, it feels like the summation of his themes, before he became a little more self-indulgent in his last few books.

 

 

2010’s. Recursion – Blake Crouch

 

It’s not often a book blows me away. I don’t just mean I enjoyed it. I enjoy a lot of books. But this one simply blew me away. It might be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Though to talk too much about it is to ruin the fun. It’s a sci-fi story at heart. But it also feels like it’s about fake news, and the way we’re all living in different realities right now. It’s about the way I can remember using the King Kong statue in Birmingham as a meeting point with friends, even though it left Birmingham four years before I was born. It’s a brilliant book. Go buy it.

 

 

 

 

Thanks again to Jay for these brilliant selections.  If you want to know his comic book selections then tweet him @JayStringer and ask him to tell you what he would have picked! If you do happen to follow him over on Twitter it also helps to know Jay is a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan and this can result in some cryptic sounding tweets landing on your timeline most weekends.

 

DECADES WILL RETURN

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August 20

Decades: Compiling The Ultimate Library with Steven Kedie

My favourite part of the week is when I get to put together the new Decades post. It is my hope that someone will read the selections my guest has made and will discover a new book which they too will fall in love with.

If you have not encountered Decades before today then let me quickly bring you up to speed.  Each week I invite a guest to join me and I ask them which five books they want to see added to my Decades Library.  I started with zero books back in January and now we have had 150 recommendations – each of which can be seen here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/GrabThisBookDecades

Choosing any five books just seemed a bit too easy so I added an extra rule which all my guests need to give a little more thought to – you can only select one book per decade over five consecutive decades.  This week we have the 1970s to 2010’s and a great mix of titles too.

My guest this week is no stranger to the fun which accompanies reaching out to new guests and assembling a weekly blog post. However, Steven Kedie is very much a fan of music and the Eight Albums website sees his guests chatting through their eight favourite albums. It is one of my favourite weekly reads and I have discovered some great music through following recommendations I found there.

Time to hand over to Steven to introduce his selections:

 

Steven Kedie is a writer and co-founder of music website www.eightalbums.co.uk, who lives in Manchester with his wife and two children. He spends far too much time running, writing, talking about albums and trying to complete television. All of which get in the way of his football watching habit.

His debut novel, Suburb, due to be re-released this year, tells the story of Tom Fray, a young man at a crossroads in his life – not a kid anymore, not quite an adult yet – who returns home from university to find no-one has changed but him. When he starts an affair with a neighbour, his simple plan to leave home and travel becomes a lot more complicated.

Steven will release a second novel this autumn. Running and Jumping tells the story of British Olympian Adam Lowe and his rivalry with American athlete Chris Madison. The novel deals with the question: What if you had your greatest ever day and still didn’t win?
Details of his writing can be found at www.stevenkedie.com

 

DECADES

I’m a man of simple pleasures. I like books, music, films and sport. So, when I started thinking about my Decades library choices, I thought I should try and incorporate those things into my selections.
I’ve come up with the below.

All The Presidents Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — 1974

 

The story of Watergate, told by the men who wrote the stories of Watergate in the Washington Post. The book is more than the source material of the fantastic film that followed. Watergate defined America. And this book – inside account of what it was like to break the biggest political scandal in American history – captures that moment brilliantly.

 

 

 

 

Knots and Crosses, Ian Rankin— 1987

Ian Rankin’s Rebus series has been part of almost my entire reading life. I can remember the first time I picked up a copy of a Rebus novel, Strip Jack (fourth in the series), at a friend’s house. His mum was reading it. I read the first chapter and was hooked. I had to force myself not to read on because I’m someone who has to start a series at the beginning.

My girlfriend (now wife) was working at the Trafford Centre, so that night, I went early to pick her up so I could go to the bookshop and buy the first Rebus book. I bought the first three. I clearly remember being sat in the car reading Knots and Crosses and instantly knowing I was a fan. As I type these words, eighteen or so years later, the book I’m currently reading is A Song for the Dark Times, the latest in the series.

I run a music website called eightalbums.co.uk (along with a friend, Matt) where we ask people to write about eight albums that are important to them and why. Early on in the site’s life, I approached Ian Rankin, thinking, given his well-documented love of music (a thread that runs through the Rebus novels), he would enjoy the site as a reader. He actually offered to take part and submitted his own Eight Albums entry. The day his entry went out was absolutely fantastic for me personally, with one of my heroes taking part in something I’d created. It also opened up the site to a whole new audience of people. I’ll forever be grateful to Ian for that.

Anyway, back to the book. I’ve chosen Knots and Crosses because it’s the first in the series. And you should always start with the first one.

 

Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger — 1990

I love books by people who are embedded within a team. There are some fantastic examples over the years: John Feinstein’s A Season on the Brink and the wonderful The Miracle of St Anthony’s by Adrian Wojnarowski, about basketball coach Bob Hurley and his life-transforming high school team.

Sport can often be a vehicle to tell us about the people involved or the society in which they exist. Friday Night Lights is the best example of this concept. Bissinger, a journalist from Philadelphia, wanted to explore the idea of a high school sports team keeping a town together. When he decided to move to a town and experience life through a team, (to quote the opening page): “… all roads led to West Texas, to a town called Odessa.” The town’s high school American Football team, the Permian Panthers, played in front of 20,000 fans on a Friday night.

Through this lens, Bissinger tells the story of a town whose best years seem behind it, of race and class, of what happens when society makes heroes and celebrities of kids (most players are 17), and what the fall out of that is when they stop playing.

 

The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock, John Harris — 2003

A book from the noughties that is very much the story of the nineties.

I turned 8 thirteen days into 1990 and 18 thirteen days after the decade ended. The ‘90s defines who I am as a person. When it comes to the music I love, no era has influenced me more. Britpop has soundtracked much of my life.

Harris’ book covers a period from ‘94 to ‘98 and looks at Britpop and the rise of Tony Blair and the Labour Party as they went on to win the 1997 General Election. Although the book talks about what a great period it was, it isn’t always a love-in of the era. It doesn’t always look back on it as fondly as my hazy memory does. But it’s a book that documents the merging of music and politics, the change in the country, the excitement and feelings of hope at that time. Definitely (Maybe) one that should be in the Decades library.

 

 

The Force, Don Winslow — 2017

This decade’s choice took a lot of consideration. Eight Albums and my own writing has allowed me into a world of creative people I didn’t ever think possible at the start of the 2010. I’ve got friends who have written fantastic books and I probably should’ve done them solid and picked one and talked about how great they are. But the truth is when I think about my last ten years of reading, there’s only one name I kept coming back to: Don Winslow.

I once joked when I grow up, I want to be Don Winslow. I wasn’t really joking. The man writes powerful, thought provoking, entertaining crime books. His Cartel trilogy is an important work that tells the story of the US’s failed War on Drugs. His Boone Daniels series is one of the most entertaining private detective series I’ve read. I could go on. But don’t worry, I won’t.

I’ve chosen 2017’s The Force because it’s a standalone novel. It tells the story of Denny Malone, a star New York detective, and his crew of men who police the streets of New York with their own rules and style. Denny’s story is one of corruption: his own and that of the city he works. It’s a superb piece of crime fiction. Don Winslow is a unique and interesting voice and if someone came to the Decades library looking for a new crime writer to read, The Force would be a fantastic introduction to Winslow and what he’s all about.

 

I think this week Steven has captured exactly what I love about Decades. There is a “how was this one not mentioned before now?” an “I’ve never heard of that one (but it sounds like something I would love)” and even an “ah yes – that’s a belter, I am glad it was picked.”  Terrific choices.

Eight Albums is one of my favourite reads each week. Just looking at the recent guests I spot Tony Kent, Morgan Cry and Simon Bewick – it is my hope I can also persuade all three to take on Decades one day too!

 

DECADES WILL RETURN

 

 

Category: Decades, From The Bookshelf, Guests | Comments Off on Decades: Compiling The Ultimate Library with Steven Kedie
June 4

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Nick Quantrill

If you wanted to assemble a library of the very best books which have been published and you knew you would never be able to complete this mammoth task alone then you would get in touch with booklovers and ask them to help.  Well you would do that if you were me because that’s what I have done.

In January I began to assemble the Decades Library.  I invite a guest to join me and ask them to nominate five books which they think should be added to my Ultimate Library.  I set just two rules which govern the choice of books (sometimes my guests follow the rules)

Rule 1: Choose ANY five books
Rule 2: You can only choose one book per decade over five consecutive decades

 

This week I am delighted to be joined by Nick Quantrill.  I am hugely grateful to Nick for finding time to consider which books should be added to my Library and I was itching to see which books he selected.  Nick always lights up my Twitter feed with a combination of his contributions to some amazing interview panels and also his Hull City football tweets – both brighten my days considerably.

 

Decades

Nick Quantrill was born and raised in Hull, an isolated industrial city in East Yorkshire. His Private Investigator novels featuring Joe Geraghty are published by Fahrenheit Press with the latest being ‘Sound of the Sinners’. Nick is also the co-founder of the Hull Noir crime writing festival.

Nick is on Twitter: @NickQuantrill and online at https://www.nickquantrill.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

1970s – “Jack’s Return Home” by Ted Lewis

Maybe an obvious choice for a co-founder of Hull Noir, but I can’t ignore the credentials of one of our own. On one level, it’s a timeless tale of revenge told through the eyes of anti-hero, Jack Carter, as he leaves London and heads north to the Humber region to avenge the death of his brother. Of course, we know the tale well  due to the film it created, ‘Get Carter’, but read the book and you get a sense of Lewis’s power as a writer. Much like William McIlvanney, Lewis was pioneering something new, something that would stand the test of time. It’s a powerful fusing of the hardboiled American style of crime writing with the social realities of northern England as it started a new decade. Lewis would go on to write a better novel in the form of “GBH”, but this one is undoubtedly a building block of modern British crime writing.

 

 

1980s – “Freaky Deaky” by Elmore Leonard

No library of crime writing is complete without some representation for Elmore Leonard, and although Dutch enjoyed a career spanning almost sixty years, the 1980s capture him at his peak. A high standard indeed. As ever, the focus is on the street and the characters you’re likely to meet. Abbot and Gibbs are fresh out of prison and have a score settle, as well as their services as bomb making experts to sell. Things never run smoothly in a Leonard caper, and so it transpires, as they’re tracked by a world-weary cop. Set in Detroit, the site of all his best work, it’s fast, fun and furious with dialogue that sizzles on the page. Often imitated, but never beaten, Elmore Leonard remains the greatest of the greats.

 

 

 

1990s – “Divorcing Jack” by Colin Bateman

I’d stopped reading as a teenager and only rediscovered my love of it in the mid-nineties as I left those years behind. Irvine Welsh was brilliant, as were Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle, but Colin Bateman was something else. I’d never really understand how edgy and dangerous writing could be, but still remain fun and playful. “Divorcing Jack” introduces us to journalist, Dan Starkey, Belfast his beat. Starkey’s a mess, and after being thrown out by his long-suffering wife, he sleeps with the daughter of an influential politician and opens up a whole can of worms that threaten his life. The start of a long-running series and the basis of a decent film starring David Thewlis, it shows how crime fiction can tackle serious issues from a left field perspective and use humour as its weapon.

 

2002s – “Exit Music” by Ian Rankin

No library is complete without at least one book by Ian Rankin in it, and such is the consistency of the DI Rebus series, it’s no exaggeration to say you can pretty much pick a personal favourite. Once Rankin and Rebus hit their stride with “Black and Blue”, it’s the gold standard. At the time, “Exit

Music”, was billed as the final Rebus novel, and no doubt genuinely so. As ever, Rebus is thrown into a complex murder investigation, possibly a mugging gone wrong, but it’s certainly no random attack. Whip smart with its social commentary, the city of Edinburgh is the quiet star of the show. And as we now know, there was to be a route back for Rebus.

 

 

 

2010s – “Weirdo” by Cathi Unsworth

Despite being longlisted for the Theakston Crime Novel of the Year, “Weirdo”, feels like the one that got away. Maybe it’s because it’s a rare contemporary crime novel from the writer, rather than the historical work that has made her name, but it’s the perfect meeting point of lived experience and imagination. Set in a fictionalised version of Cathi’s home town, the flashbacks to 1984 and the world of teenage Goths draws on her days as a music journalist. The contemporary time line arguably anticipates the current popularity of claustrophobic small town stories, but also features the chilling life-like characters that inhabit such places, showing how they maintain their grip and power by any means necessary. Throw in murder, corruption and a Private Investigator with something to prove, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a modern classic.

 

 

This seems an almost perfect mix of titles. We have new books by returning authors and some new authors who are joining the Library for the first time.  My thanks to Nick for joining me and taking on the Decades challenge.

As ever you can visit the Library here on the blog and see all the books which have been selected thus far. The Library also allows you to see all my previous guests and visit their posts too.  You can start that journey here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=5113

 

 

Category: Decades, Guests | Comments Off on Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Nick Quantrill
May 7

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Douglas Skelton

For the first time in the Decades series I have a returning guest.  Not someone who has already taken part in Decades but an author who has previously joined me as a guest to chat about books.  Before this year I had not hosted any guests at Grab This Book for around three years.  In the first four years of blogging I actually hosted many brilliant authors and ran some recurring features which have since been put out to pasture.

One of the features I ran was called Serial Heroes.  I love an ongoing series with recurring characters and I invited authors to join me to chat about the ongoing series of books they enjoyed and looked forward to reading. That idea came from hearing today’s guest, Douglas Skelton, chatting to readers as part of the North Lanarkshire Libraries Encounters festival.  Douglas told the audience that he had been a big fan of the Ed McBain 87th Precinct stories and my immediate reaction was: YES!  I wanted to know which books were read by the authors I was reading. If you want some more fabulous book recommendations then pop “Serial Heroes” into the search box at the top, right of the page.

So I jumped the gun slightly when introducing Douglas Skelton.  As a former journalist he will appreciate that I have checked these facts from two different sources:

Douglas Skelton has published twelve non fiction books and eight thrillers (many of which have received glowing reviews on this blog). He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and editor. 

You can find the Skelton book collection here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Douglas-Skelton/e/B001K7TR10?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1620335880&sr=8-1

If you follow Douglas on Twitter @DouglasSkelton1  you will know he takes some wonderful photographs and some of his favourites are on sale through his online store here.

He is one quarter of the hilarious “Four Blokes in search of a Plot” and visitors to Bloody Scotland cannot fail to have been impressed the year Douglas played a key role in the Scotland vs England football match (he was the pre-match announcer). He also wrote the 2019 sold-out show You The Jury which wowed audiences at the festival when a criminal trial was recreated with audience members invited to become members of the jury to hear the case and decide if the accused was guilty or innocent of the charges.

As is ever the case with Decades I asked Douglas to select five books he wanted to add to my Ultimate Library.  He could only select one book per decade and he must make his selections from five consecutive decades.

I hand you now to Douglas Skelton…

DECADES

I have a problem whenever I try to pick favourite books because as soon as I decide on one title, I think of a few more. I once vowed to be more decisive but then I changed my mind.

Anyway, here goes:

 

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler (1939)

I am a fan of US detective fiction and thrillers and, as you will see, I have been hugely influenced by both them and their movie counterparts. As anyone who has read the Dominic Queste books knows! I could have selected any one of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books but went with this rich, complex tale of family deception and murder, told with his customary wit and style, not to mention some plot confusion. Who did kill the chauffeur? Who cares? This is literature masquerading as pulp – or maybe even the other way round – and I love it.

 

 

 

 

Shane, Jack Schaefer (1946)

 

This selection will come as no surprise as I constantly name it as one of my favourites. Again, incredibly influential to my work, particularly Davie McCall. It’s a western and the story has become timeless, I can think of at least three movies that rip it off. First published in instalments in 1946 then in expanded book form in 1949, Jack Schaefer’s reluctant gunslinger resonated with me when I read it for the first time as a teenager and has stayed with me ever since.

 

 

 

The Temple of Gold, William Goldman (1957)

I stumbled upon this book as a teenager in a batch given to me by my gran, who we called Nana. I knew the author, William Goldman, from his screenwork, particularly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (when pressed, that’s my favourite movie. Then, as with books, I think of a dozen more). This was his first novel, a funny, moving rite of passage story which I have read and reread many times – and actually have two copies. One is the original which was in no great state to begin with but is extremely fragile thanks to the many re-reads. The other is a much late reprint.

 

 

 

 

 

Fuzz, Ed McBain (1968)

 

If memory serves, this acted as my introduction to the work of Ed McBain, although I read it in the 70s after seeing the movie version with Burt Reynolds. It spawned in me a deep affection for the 87th Precinct novels which remains to this day, even though McBain (or Evan Hunter, or Richard Marston or any of the other names he used – his real name was Salvatore Lombino) has left us. I still pick one up at random and have a read whenever the mood takes me.

 

 

 

Marathon Man, William Goldman (1974)

 

William Goldman again. He was, for me, the master of the reversal. Just when you think the story or a character is one thing, he suddenly twists it and you realise it’s something else entirely. He pulls a few such tricks in the book, most of which could not be replicated in the celebrated movie, although the celebrated – notorious – dentistry scene remains intact. Apart from that, this is a fine paranoid thriller that benefits greatly from Goldman’s use of humour as well as his ability to wrong-foot us! I wish I could write like that. Altogether now – is it safe?

 

 

 

 

I will add these classics to the Library.  My deepest thanks to Douglas for his continued support and for choosing such great books.

You can see all the books which have been added to the Decades Library here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=5113

 

DECADES WILL RETURN

 

Category: Decades, From The Bookshelf, Guests | Comments Off on Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Douglas Skelton
March 26

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Chris McVeigh

Time for a new guest to nominate the five books they want added to my Ultimate Library.  Today I am delighted to welcome Chris McVeigh to Grab This Book.  Chris is Fahrenheit Press.  He runs the show, decides which books they publish and will light up your Twitter feed with his feisty, punkish attitude.

Fahrenheit Press offer noir, thrillers, chillers and even some “spice”. They also do a cracking line in bookish merch. You can visit their website here –  http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/    Buy some books and support an indy publisher.  If you buy a physical copy of any of their books then Fahrenheit also give you a digital copy to upload to your favourite e-book reader.

 

What’s the deal with my Ultimate Library?  Well for new visitors a quick recap: If a Librarian (me) wanted to fill a brand new Library starting with zero books I wondered which books I should be looking to put on the shelves.  I wanted the unmissable, the best, the essential reads. But I knew I could not take on this task alone so I am inviting bookloving guests to help me with this mammoth undertaking – there are two rules which each guest must follow:

Rule 1 – Select Five Books
Rule 2 – They can only select one book per decade over any five consecutive decades

I call this my Decades project. If you are on Twitter search for online conversations using the #Decades hashtag.

Just two rules yet Chris joins previous guest-curator Heather Martin in finding a way to “flex” those rules.  I may need to crack down on anthologies in future!

You can visit the Library here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=5113

Decades

It’s fair to say books have always been a big part of my life.

Professionally I’ve been involved in the publishing industry for the best part of 30 years but my relationship with books stretches back even further to my weekly visits to the local library when I was a kid. Like a lot of working-class households, we didn’t actually own any books of our own. That doesn’t mean we weren’t well-read though. My ma & da came from a background of the self-taught, politically aware, working class that was such a feature of Glasgow life right through the first half of the 20th century. There was very much an attitude of “we might be poor, but we’re not stupid” – the public libraries in Glasgow were the backbone of that philosophy.

I started reading voraciously as soon as I was old enough to get my library ticket and I haven’t really stopped since.

The books on this list are the ones that have endured for me through my own 5 decades – though looking at the list I realise I found most of them in my late 20s & early 30s.

 

Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (1936)

Like most people, I’d been aware of George Orwell from school where Animal Farm and 1984 were on the curriculum.  I didn’t come across Keep The Aspidistra Flying though until I’d skipped off to London to seek my fortune and picked I up a battered old 23rd hand copy somewhere on Camden High Street.

I was a cocky little shit – thought I was smarter than I was and was certain I was destined for better things. As far as I could see the only thing that kept getting in my way was a total lack of opportunity and the enduring absence of any funds – nothing to do with me poncing about in dive bars all day, talking about becoming a Rockstar – clearly it was all Thatcher’s fault.

The main protagonist of the book is fella called Gordon Comstock and it was his constant tallying and re-tallying of resources – cigarettes left, booze in hand, booze desired, number of days till payday – that first caught my attention because that was basically my life at the time. I’ll be honest though, the finesse and the fierce deep satire which Orwell throws at almost every character in the book was lost on me until I went back and re-read it in my 30s. Since then I’ve gone back to it time and time again and I always find something new to enjoy.

 

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse (1943)

This book, honestly don’t know where to start.

The impact this book has had on my life is frankly ridiculous. I came to it young (too young) when I found a battered copy my hippy older brother had squirrelled away somewhere. It’s probably the book I’ve bought most often – in different editions for myself, or more usually as gifts for the people closest to me – but no matter where I’ve been or what’s happened in my life that very first copy, now battered beyond belief and pretty much spineless, has stayed with me – it’s on the shelf right in front of me now as I’m writing this.

As a precocious 14-year old I didn’t know much more than I liked the cover and the title sounded cool – both those things are still true btw.

The scope of the book is huge and takes in themes ranging from Eastern mysticism, classical music, mathematics, art, power structures, free will, and the challenges faced by individuals when faced with forces of fate that seem so much bigger than any person on their own could hope to overcome.

Obviously at 14 I didn’t have a clue about any of this and I didn’t really get stuck into the meat of the book first time around, it was really just a bedroom prop that made me look a bit smarter and cooler than your average Glasgow Joe (at least that’s what I imagine I thought).

A couple of years later I read an interview with David Bowie where he name-checked The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse and the I Ching – that was it – I was hooked – bought myself some yarrow stalks (okay, a box of toothpicks) and set myself up as part-drunk, part-punk & part mystic. Honestly, I really was a precocious little turd back then. Great cheekbones though.

Anyway, point is that once I stopped using the book as a fashion accessory and actually got stuck into it properly in my late 20s/early 30s it genuinely changed my life. It helped me change the way I looked at the world, it helped me celebrate and make peace with the dozens of different selves that were living in my head at that time. This book was only one part of my journey through some very difficult times, but it was an important one and it’s become a talisman for me because of it.

Oh, and it won Herman Hesse the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946 – so it’s not just me.

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

It’d be weird if this wasn’t on my list, right?

Only those closest to me know this because I keep it on the down-low but I’m a total Science Fiction geek. Always have been. When I want some time away from the world, you’ll find me slumped on the sofa working my way through a 20-episode binge of Star Trek, Stargate or BattleStar – not to fussy which – as long as it’s got shiny spaceships and lycra uniforms, I’m totally on board.

Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t the sci-fi book that kicked me off on this lifelong secret pleasure (that was probably Asimov’s Foundation series) but it’s the one I keep going back to.

Its importance in my life isn’t all about the book itself though it’s got a lot to do with the way it’s been re-imagined graphically by so many artists over the years. I must have collected 20+ different editions with different covers over the years.

The imagery of 451 Degrees Fahrenheit being the temperature when paper combusts has always fascinated me and when I set up a digital publishing consultancy it seemed like a no-brainer to call it FourFiftyOne – remember these were the days of 2008/9 when many people thought eBooks would replace paper entirely within a decade. Those who go way back with me will remember that my social media handle for the first ten years social media existed was @4fifty1. When I decided to set up a new publishing company back in 2015 it seemed only natural to continue the brand and that’s how Fahrenheit Press came to named.

The book’s not bad either.

 

A State Of Denmark by Derek Raymond (1964)

For many people crime writer Derek Raymond is regarded as the founder of British Noir (though mention this in the vicinity of a Ted Lewis fan and they’ll most likely dispose of your body in the trunk of a crushed car). Suffice to say though that if you like your crime fiction gritty you should definitely read Derek Raymond’s Factory Series.

A State Of Denmark though, isn’t part of that series, it was published some twenty years before back in the mid-60s under his original pen-name Robin Cook. Brought back into print by Serpent’s Tail in the mid-80s I first came across it in the early 1990s.

It’s literally a book in 2 parts – the story is split between Italy and the UK – and set in a dystopian near-future where Italy has become a sort of haven for bohemian free-thinkers while back in Britain, Scotland, Ireland & Wales have declared independence and England has sleepwalked itself into a dictatorship where political dissenters are held in internment camps and all non-white immigrants have been deported.

It’s pretty grim stuff in parts to be fair but the writing, particularly about Italy, will raise you up – I first read it on a trip around Sicily and the book and the island have been intertwined for me ever since.

Politics in recent years has thrown this book back into sharp relief and when I re-read it again last year I found it more relevant than ever.

A proper hidden gem which I promise you wont regret hunting out.

 

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (1970-1975)

  • Fifth Business
  • The Manticore
  • World of Wonders

 

Bit of a cheat this one as it’s really 3 books in 1 but as I first read it in a single-volume I’m going to include it anyway.

I didn’t go to university or college, closest I ever got to a qualification was my City & Guilds in Floristry. In almost all the ways that matter, these books were my university.

I was first given a copy of this trilogy in the late 80s by the father of a girlfriend. They were one of those hugely posh, well-off, North London, liberal families. Christ knows what they must have thought when their beloved daughter dragged me back to them – all leather, and make-up, and carrying working-class chips on both shoulders. The romance didn’t last long but against all the odds me and her dad hit it off. He noticed I was smarter than I was pretending to be, and he started lending me a few books he thought I’d like. They weren’t really the sort of books I’d come into contact with before but I’d read them and then we’d chat about them.

The Deptford Trilogy was his ace in the hole – he suggested that whenever I came across a word or anything I didn’t recognise I should go and look it up and see where it took me. There was no internet in the 80s so that meant more trips to the library and that’s exactly what I did. All those years I spent boozing it up in Camden and trying to be a rock-star I was also spending afternoons in the library reading up on Rabelias, Hieronymus Bosch, Bach, Rimbaud and a hundred other subjects that I’d scribbled down in my notebooks while reading The Deptford Trilogy (and subsequently the other two trilogies in the series). Every time I came across anything I didn’t know I looked it up and each time I did my knowledge spread like a spider’s web. The internet definitely makes research quicker, but I’m really pleased it didn’t exist back then because every single book I read sank deep into my brain, it was an effort to find out the stuff I wanted to know and it lodged inside. The whole process set a habit that became a pattern ever since and to this day I still don’t really trust anyone who never asks questions or pretends they know everything.

This probably makes these books by Roberston Davies sound worthy and dry – I promise they’re anything but, the storytelling is better than almost anything else I’ve ever read, they’re funny and joyful and mischievous and wise. I’m always constantly surprised that he isn’t more well known than he is. If you haven’t read them you’re in for a real treat.

 

Okay, that’s my 5 books from 5 decades, thanks to Gordon for asking me to take part in this – such a belting idea – I’ve really enjoyed the whole thing.

 

I am extremely grateful to Chris for giving up some of his time to share his selections.  He did suggest a bottle of bourbon may be needed to help him remove some of his favourite books from his final five, I hope the decicion making process wasn’t too traumatic.

Decades Will Return

 

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March 12

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Chris Lloyd

Decades is into its third month and my Library is growing.  Library?  What Library?

Late last year I pondered the dilemma a librarian may face if they were asked to create a new library.  They have absolutely no books, none, a blank slate.  Where would you start?  From here my challenge began – compile the Ulimate Library, invite guests to join me in selecting the books they feel should be added to the shelves.  But we must have rules to govern this venture or we risk anarchy.

Rule 1 – Guests can pick any five books.

Rule 2 – Only one book per decade for any five consecutive decades.

That’s it.  Easy!  Or seemingly not as when my guests try to make their five choices I am told there can be cussing and indecision.

Today I am thrilled to be joined by Chris Lloyd.  When I compiled my favourite Audiobooks of 2020 there was never a doubt in my mind that The Unwanted Dead, published by Orion, would feature. Chris tells me that the paperback of The Unwanted Dead is out on March 18th so I could think of no better guest to invite to participate in my Decades challenge this week.  Before I get Chris to introduce himself I would urge you to seek out The Unwanted Dead this week and when you have finished and enjoyed that one here are some of his other books to get your teeth into: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chris-Lloyd/e/B01GQH7Q5C?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1615537791&sr=8-1

 

Decades

My name’s Chris Lloyd and I have a tendency to go around in circles. I grew up in South Wales, where my parents moved from their native mid-Wales after more than a decade of living abroad, so when it came to my turn, I went and lived in Catalonia for twenty-four years. I lived in Girona and then Barcelona, where I taught English, worked in educational publishing, wrote guide books, almost appeared on TV three times and translated. Interspersed with this, I also lived in Bilbao and Madrid, and I spent six months as a student in Grenoble researching the French Resistance, even though I kept coming back to Catalonia. I told you I went around in circles. As yet more proof of that, I moved back to Wales a few years ago, where I live near enough to the Brecon Beacons to feel the cold, but not so close as to enjoy the scenery. But never mind that as I’m about to move with my wife to my childhood home by the sea, which we’ve been trying to do for years.

I spend part of my day translating academic texts from Catalan and Spanish and another more fun part of the day writing crime fiction. I wrote a trilogy for Canelo set in Girona, featuring Elisenda Domènech, a detective with the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force, which is about to come out in audiobook.

The result of my lifelong fascination with resistance and collaboration in Occupied France, I now write the Eddie Giral series, set in Paris in World War Two and featuring a Paris police detective forced to come to terms with the Nazi Occupation of the city. Seeking to negotiate a path between the occupier and the occupied, Eddie struggles to retain some semblance of humanity while walking a fine line between resistance and collaboration. The first book in the series, The Unwanted Dead, published by Orion, comes out in paperback on 18 March.

You can come and say hello on Twitter at https://twitter.com/chrislloydbcn or take a look at my website at https://chrislloydauthor.com/

I want to thank Gordon for inviting me to contribute to this brilliant idea, and also for setting me the completely impossible task of finding my favourite book from each decade over five decades – I felt actual pain every time I had to eliminate a book I loved from the list to arrive at the five below. I’ve gone for the 1950s to the 1990s, and even that decision was tough. I hope you like some of my choices.

 

 

1950s – The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey    This is the perfect crime book, the Lord Reith of crime writing – it informs, educates and entertains. A story of a police detective confined to a hospital bed who decides to investigate the murder of the princes in the tower, it’s a textbook showcase of the limitless possibilities that crime fiction can offer. It not only contributed to the historical debate about the role of villain that history had assigned to Richard III, it’s also a powerful insight into character and, quite simply, a bloody good detective story

 

 

 

1960s – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré

The lesson this book taught us is that heroes can be amoral, unpalatable people, and you don’t have to root for them any the less because of it. Le Carré changed the rules with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and I firmly believe we as readers and writers have been benefiting from it ever since. He made it all right for main characters to be fundamentally flawed and unlikeable – even ordinary – and for the supposed good that they are striving for to be

achieved using methods that are no less morally reprehensible than the supposed evil they are fighting against. It was a sea change in depth and understanding of character and of heroes and villains.

 

 

 

 

1970s – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

From the very first line with its “unfashionable” end of the galaxy to Marvin the Paranoid Android with a brain the size of a small planet, The Hitchhiker’s Guide taught me that it was perfectly all right for a book to be both very intelligent and delightfully silly. In fact, the silliness is born out of the intelligence and really isn’t that silly anyway when you look close enough. Quite apart from that, it’s also a hymn to playfulness not just with story, but with language. Read this book and your view of the universe will be altered forever – in a good way.

 

 

 

1980s – The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

There are few books that can compare with The Name of the Rose when it comes to creating an unsettling atmosphere. The harshness of the setting and the description of the weather outside the confines of the monastery conjure up a sense of brooding malevolence that is both exacerbated and symbolised by one of the most bizarre casts of characters in any book. Also, I started reading it alone at night in a Spanish castle, which might not have been the best idea, but it certainly helped set the mood.

 

 

 

1990s – Fatherland – Robert Harris

I’m beginning and ending these decades by closing the circle with a celebration of just how far you can go with crime fiction. My favourite ‘What if…’ story, Fatherland takes place in a 1960s Berlin in a world where the Nazis won. A police detective is investigating a case that leads him to suspect a far greater crime, one that we all know with the hindsight of history but that he doesn’t. And that’s the power and brilliance of the book – to be able to take one of the most evil moments in history and reveal it once again with renewed horror as it becomes apparent to the protagonist.

 

 

 

My most sincere thanks to Chris for his excellent selections and for taking time to join my Decades challenge.  The Unquiet Dead is released in paperback on 18th March – 1940, a Paris cop investigating murders while his city is taken under Nazi control…I don’t do it justice when I say I found it a brilliant read.

If you want to catch up on which books have already been added to my Library then you can visit it here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=5113

Decades Will Return

Category: Guests | Comments Off on Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Chris Lloyd
February 12

Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Heather Martin

If you were to fill a library from scratch which books would you put onto the shelves?  That was the question which first crossed my mind one wintery day during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.  I wouldn’t know where to start.

Well that’s not quite true as Terry Pratchett, Lee Child and Agatha Christie could command well over 15o books between them and they are just my first three picks.  But after that I would simply go into a frenzy of dropping author names and a library of nothing but crime novels from Ed McBain to Val McDermid would emerge.  Satisfying, but not really a true reflection of the Ultimate Library.

I decided I needed help.  I would invite book lovers, authors, bloggers and publishers to help me pick the books which need to go into the Ultimate Library.  I have two rules:

Rule 1 – Nominate Five Books which should be included in my Ultimate Library

Rule 2 – You can only select one title per decade and the decades must be consecutive so we get a 50 year publication span.

 

Today I am delighted to welcome Heather Martin to Grab This Book.  As I haven’t given Heather the opportunity to talk about her own book, I asked if she could introduce herself and make sure she took the opportunity to plug The Reacher Guy.

 

I’m an Australian long since settled in England, a willed displacement that I have in common with my biographical subject, Lee Child. Just as he wrote Killing Floor after a long first-act career in television, I wrote his authorised biography The Reacher Guy (out now from Constable at Little, Brown in hardback, ebook and audiobook, with Juliet Stevenson narrating), after many dedicated years as a student and teacher of languages and literature. But there’s one big difference: it’s unlikely my book will be the first in a twenty-four-book continuous bestselling series. The Reacher Guy is the intertwined history of three men: James Dover Grant CBE, and his two great fictional creations, Jack Reacher and Lee Child.

Thank you to Gordon at Grab This Book for inviting me to contribute to the Ultimate Library. Which seductive concept reminds me of one of Lee’s crazier pipe dreams: to build a bespoke library somewhere in the English countryside big enough to house all his books and still leave room for a full-size Bentley parked in the middle.

So … It’s the kind of question that, once asked, you can’t put out of your mind. If you could only choose five books, one from each of five consecutive decades, what would they be? I knew immediately I was doomed to frustration. And much as I respect the literary discipline of working within constraints, somehow that imposition of historical continuity made it all the more difficult. In drawing up this list, I found I spent most of my time thinking of ways to cheat the system. How much could I get away with?

I ruled out the present day: I’ve read too many books in the last year that I loved. Better to go further back, where there was more chance of having forgotten. Back before the nineties, which was when Lee wrote Killing Floor, which could only cause complications. But the eighties … How would I choose between Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, between The Color Purple and Beloved, to (sneakily) name just two?

I love all five of the following books, but a small part of me now hates them as well, because they pushed all the other ones out.

 

DECADES

1930s

Federico García Lorca 1898-1936

Three Tragedies: Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba

I fell in love with Andalusia in my early teens, which was what led me to play the guitar, which was what brought me from Perth to London, and thence to Cambridge to study languages. In the early thirties, Lorca became director of La Barraca, a touring company whose mission was to bring theatre to rural audiences free of charge. Lorca defined theatre as ‘poetry that arises from the book and becomes human’. I love these plays for their lyricism and intensity, their boldness, their powerful portrayal of women. The cheat? A reading of the plays will surely lead on to his poetry.

 

1949

Simone de Beauvoir 1908-1986

The Second Sex

Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was, in her day, the youngest woman ever to pass the fiercely competitive postgraduate ‘agrégation’ examination in France, coming second only to lifelong partner Jean-Paul Sartre. De Beauvoir was fearless, with all the courage of her convictions. And she wrote a big book exploring a very big idea: ‘One is not born a woman but becomes one.’ The Second Sex has extraordinary scope, reaching back to Aristotle and Aquinas and anticipating Germaine Greer and Margaret Atwood, and still holds its own today.

 

1952

E. B. White 1899-1985

Charlotte’s Web

A favourite when I read it as a child, a favourite to read aloud to my own children, and no doubt still a favourite were I to reread it today. Everything about this deeply compassionate book is life-affirming and life-enhancing: the lightness of touch, the playful language, the enchanting line drawings, the humour, the cycle of love and loss. And every single character unforgettable. Cheat: It brings to mind my treasured collection of Puffin paperbacks, many of which I brought with me when I left home years ago.

 

1962

Jorge Luis Borges 1899-1986

Labyrinths

If I’d been allowed only one book, this would have been it. Not because I once met Borges, a few years before he died, and supplied him with a Japanese word he’d forgotten. But because every Borges story, like his aleph, contains ‘the inconceivable universe’. This anthology includes three of the best. ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, a highly condensed thriller and detective story in which all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, with each then leading to further proliferations of possibilities. ‘Funes the Memorious’, my go-to story on memory, whose nineteen-year-old antihero (who for some reason reminds me a bit of Lee) is ‘as monumental as bronze, more ancient than Egypt, older than the prophecies and the pyramids’, and whose poignant moral is ‘to think is to forget’. And ‘The Library of Babel’, ruled by divine disorder, in which is to be found – somewhere, no one knows quite where – the book of books, containing all other possible books. The biggest cheat of all.

 

1979

William Styron 1925-2006

Sophie’s Choice

‘If you read only one book,’ Lee Child once said to me, ‘make it these three’, writing a dedication in a copy of Sophie’s Choice. So I did. And by the time I got to the end I knew exactly what those cryptic words meant. I read it in New York in 2019, while I was deep in writing The Reacher Guy (Lee had told me that the red house of Echo Burning was inspired by Styron’s pink house in Brooklyn). Not much got written that weekend. I didn’t go out. I didn’t eat much either. Not sure I got out of my pyjamas. No matter that the story of Stingo and Sophie and Nathan was more than six hundred pages long, I could barely put it down. And by the end I was heartbroken – in a good way.

 

 

Huge thanks to Heather for adding books six to ten to my Library.  It’s taking shape!  The first five books, selected by Sharon Bairden, can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=5056

I would like to add my personal recommendation to read or (as I am currently doing) listen to, The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child.  It’s a terrific book and the audiobook narration by Juliet Stevenson is aural nectar.   You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B086L3VD1T/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

 

Decades will return

 

Category: Guests | Comments Off on Decades: Compiling the Ultimate Library with Heather Martin
December 3

The Last Resort – Susi Holliday Q&A

It is an exciting day here at Grab This Book as for the first time in 18 months I have the pleasure of introducing a guest.  Today I host the latest leg of the blog tour for The Last Resort – the new creepy, tech, chiller-thriller from Susi Holliday.

I reviewed The Last Resort before the tour kicked off (my review here) so this was the perfect opportunity to try to kick start my brain again and see if I could remember how to ask intelligent, book-related questions.  Unfortunately 2020 has mainly been me asking my children “what do you want for dinner?”  After deciding Susi would probably not want to chat about turkey dinosaurs or potato waffles I came up with a few questions about heroes, villains and all things technological.

 

My first question is never a question. Instead I invite you to introduce yourself and take the opportunity to plug your new book: The Last Resort.

Hello, Gordon – thanks for having me on your fabulous blog… again 🙂 I’m Susi Holliday, also known as SJI Holliday, and I write dark psychological thrillers. The latest, The Last Resort, follows the fates of seven strangers as they navigate a small island, lured by the promise of a luxury adventure. It becomes apparent quite early on that there won’t be much luxury, and the promised adventure actually involves them having their shameful secrets projected to the rest of the group.

I reviewed The Last Resort last month when it launched onto the Amazon First Reads programme. In my review I tried to describe the story as “Agatha Christie meets Westworld with some Enid Bylton and Michael Slade”. Not my most elegant description – how do you describe The Last Resort?

I like yours! I’ve been describing it as “Agatha Christie meets Black Mirror” but I love Derek Farrell’s: “The book that Michael Crichton would be writing if he were alive today.” I’ll take that!

Can we focus first on Amelia? I felt the story demanded she was capable and level-headed, particularly when compared to her travelling companions, but she couldn’t be too GI Jane. Could you introduce Amelia and give us a bit of her background? I did wonder if you determined her history before dropping her on the island or did she evolve to cope with what you were throwing at her?

Amelia is meant to be the “good guy” in the story (is she though? You’ll have to read it to find out…) She’s a humanitarian aid worker, and she thinks she’s been invited to the island to assess the infrastructure for the so-called luxury retreat. She’s immediately ill at ease when she meets the other invitees – an influencer, a games designer, a photographer, a journalist, a businesswoman and a nutraceuticals CEO. She’s singled out from the start as being different and she has to work hard to prove herself. She was sketched out a bit upfront as I knew what I wanted her to achieve, but as always, the characters do grow and develop as they interact with the others.

The Last Resort comes with a lot of technology integral to the plot. One key element is the device each of the guests to the island are invited to wear upon their arrival. Could you perhaps outline some of the functions these gadgets can perform?

Then as a further expansion on this. How much of these technological wonders come directly from the Susi Imagination or are the core elements of their devices already out there and you just embellished them up a bit?

Well, they are given a small device about the size of a fitness tracker, and it is clipped over their ear – but then a sharp metal prong pierces the skin and I guess, attaches to their brain! It serves a couple of functions. First, it’s intended to tap into the wearer’s thoughts/feelings/likes/dislikes and help the hosts to determine how to tailor the experience for them – giving them things they want. The Host can also use it to communicate directly with the wearer. All sounds good, right? Except it has another function, where it taps into the wearer’s memories, and at opportune moments through the day’s journey (the whole story unfolds over 24 hours), it projects these memories for the rest of the group to see. This, of course, leads to some shocked reactions from the others. But there are no innocents on this island. That’s the real reason that they are there.

I got the idea for the technology after reading an article in an inflight magazine, where a company in Sweden were using nanotechnology to place chip-like devices into people’s thumbs. The chip would allow you to use your hand as an in-body contactless system, where you could wave your hand over a scanner like you do with your chip and pin card or your smartphone. I thought if that was happening now, it would only be a matter of time before a company started tapping into the wearer’s brain – ostensibly to help in some useful medical way. But of course I decided to twist it around so that the device could only be used for evil purposes. Just as I finalised the edits, I read an article about one of Elon Musk’s companies who are already working in this field. The future is already here, folks!

Joining Amelia on her island adventure is an assortment of largely unpleasant characters. Is it more fun to write about the bad guys in a story? Can you cut loose a little more with the characters the reader is intended to dislike?

Absolutely. I have had a tendency to write unlikable characters from the start of my writing career, because I find them fascinating. Everyone has a dark side – a shadow side – and it’s a lot of fun tapping into that. With this book in particular, it’s kind of all about these unpleasant characters getting their comeuppance. I was inspired by the epic disaster that was Fyre Festival, and all those rich, entitled wannabes paying $12,000 for a luxury festival that ended in them sleeping on wet mattresses in half-erected tents, with processed cheese sandwiches to eat. Yes. Did I mention that I was evil? Haha. Seriously though, yes. I love writing about horrible people.

The 2020 question also needs to be asked. How have you been keeping yourself sane and occupied this year? Personally I lost all my reading mojo between March and the summer and found some bookish comfort reading comic books or escapism through picking up videogames. Were you able to keep focus?

As you know, I have a day job in pharmaceuticals – so that kept me very busy. We were thrown into a position where we had to stop all of the clinical trials, because all healthcare settings were commandeered by virus-related activities. I work from home anyway, but I found myself doing longer hours and suffering more stress, as we had to work on COVID-19 contingency plans to make sure that we could carry on our drug trials as soon as it was possible again. Other than that, I took lots of long walks, and after torturing myself for several weeks, I stopped watching the news. My brain was overloaded. I couldn’t read a thing and struggled to focus on films and boxsets – weirdly, finding comfort in horror, as it made the world as it was/is seem like a walk in the park! I did manage to write a novella that had a deadline during lockdown, but I struggled again after that. I’ve found the whole experience a bit of a mental health rollercoaster to be honest, but now, while we’re in the second wave, I am currently coping a lot better. Reading a lot, writing, planning, and daring to feel a bit hopeful that from spring 2021, things might get a bit better. Ask me again in January when I am completely deprived of sunlight!

You recently Tweeted that your next book had received a thumbs up from your editor – any chance you can share a sneaky clue or two about what we can look forward to in 2021?

Well, seeing as it’s you… It’s called Substitute and it will be out in summer 2021. It poses the question “What if you could prevent the death of a loved one by choosing someone to die in their place?” It’s quite a high-concept idea, and possibly similar to some other recent releases – but I started writing this book in 2014, then put it aside as I wasn’t sure how to make it work. It fits in with The Last Resort in that there is a scientific backdrop to it, a huge moral dilemma, and it’s all wrapped around a domestic noir storyline. I’m editing it now, and I have to say, I’m very excited about this one!

Of all the reading recommendations I see on Social Media every week I think you have matched me with some of the stories I have enjoyed the most. What gems have you read recently which you think we should be picking up?

We have very similar tastes, I think. I’ve recently been raving about The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean, which scared the pants off me. A couple of months ago, it was all about Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser, possibly the first book I have wanted to read with my eyes shut; and a recent one you might have missed me sharing called Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy – which is one of those books you can’t say much about, but I will just say if you liked Misery, you will love it… oh, and of course, next year’s big book – The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward. The ultimate in books that can’t be discussed as any words at all would be a spoiler, but it is just brilliant – please tell me when you’ve read it so we can discuss it! Wait though… also a final shout for Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn – which is nerve-shreddingly dark and will be fighting hard against Catriona’s for best book of 2021!

 

My thanks to Susi for being a fabulous guest and allowing me the opportunity to return to sharing something other than my usual ramblings.  Her support is always very much appreciated and now I have the urge to chat with a few more people…watch this space!

The Last Resort is published by Thomas & Mercer and is available in paperback, digital and audiobook format. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B085HCCP4W/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

 

 

 

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