Saturday 6 February 2016

Penguin’s Michael Joseph Crime Party 2016

So as a New Year dawns, book reviewers and literary commentators are readying themselves for the excitement of what newly commissioned work publishers have in store for the market. We have recently enjoyed parties with the Hachette’s Hodder and Stoughton, Headline, Mulholland and Quercus publishing, as well as the big push for Hull based journalist, turned best-selling crime writers David Mark and Peter May; and upcoming next week - the Orion Publishing Crime Party, yet another division of Hachette, which also includes the mighty Little Brown Division.
With reading [as a pastime] being squeezed due to the time constraints that we all face, coupled to all the other distractions that compete for our time, and reducing attention spans – coupled to economic forces putting pressure on the publishing sector, it is becoming harder to establish new work than ever. One sector which is bucking the trend [outside of YA and Children’s fiction] is the dark attraction of Crime, Mystery and Thrillers, as the recent PLR figures from British libraries indicate – Crime and Thrillers are the most popular sector

So clutching my invite to the Michael Joseph / Penguin crime fiction party in hand, I pointed my black Audi toward Soho, London and headed off with the anticipation of what lay in store for my reading. I was also excited spending an evening with friends and colleagues, who share my passion for the genre, and to compare notes, who was reading what, and what were the books that I would mark in my diary to watch out for. Penguin has become part of the Random House Publishing group, but despite these mergers, the imprints all retain their own special flavour, and their stable of authors. In recent years, under the stewardship of Publisher Rowland White, Michael Joseph / Penguin have unleashed many new names and they get introduced at this annual event, allowing the slipstream and momentum of their more established [and best-selling] authors to assist in name recognition, and therefore onto review pages, with interest piqued with the reading public.

As a key publisher, Rowland White is a well-known figure in the industry, though a long term senior figure within the Michael Joseph apparatus, he has spent time at Orion Publishing and has championed many authors, and gained a reputation for breaking out new blood. He has a keen eye on the commercial end of the business, and is a renowned and successful writer himself, best known for the bestselling Vulcan 607

I arrived early, car parked, and excitement mounting, as I walked to the venue in Soho in the rain, with the words of Warren Zevon buzzing in my mind….gonna get a big dish of Beef Chow Mien. Due to the rain, my hair was far from perfect, like a Werewolf from London.

Inside, the Union Club I was impressed by the sign on the door “We apologise to members, Ground Floor closed due to a Private Party”. Penguin had used this venue for several years, to host their gathering, but previously they had a small room on the first floor, but in 2016, they had taken over the entire ground floor, and as I looked at the array of name badges placed in the reception area, I soon realised the sheer scale of tonight’s party. Not only had Michael Joseph’s Penguin division managed to get a huge number of the literary press, reviewers, literary commentators, booksellers, bloggers, editorial staff, promotional staff and their large stable of authors to attend the party, they actually took over Soho’s Union Club.
As I was early, I quickly grabbed a Penguin Catalogue 2016, and chatted to my three colleagues from their Promotional Team, firstly Gaby Young, a professional who had previously held a senior role at Orion Publishing for many, many years. We chatted about Michael Connelly, who was the first author I interviewed for Shots, many years ago, arranged by Mike Stotter and Gaby at the now long gone Borders Bookstore in Oxford. Gaby had worked with Mike Connelly for many years, and so our paths had crossed many times, and thanks to the generosity of the creator of Harry Bosch, we’d both been on the Bosch film set, and dined with this remarkable author in Los Angeles. Both of us were getting excited for Season 2 of Bosch, which was due for streaming at Amazon Prime in March. Gaby had been working with bestselling Penguin author Tim Weaver, and I indicated that I had just started working my way through his remarkable David Raker novels, which had been sitting in my office for some time, anxiously awaiting my time. Last year Rowland had sent his senior editor Emad Akhtar and Tim Weaver to Bouchercon Raleigh in North Carolina, where I co-Chaired Programming, and had slotted Tim onto a panel entitled ‘Crime & Mystery meets Horror & The Weird’, moderated by my very dear friend Nanci Kalanta, the writer, editor who formerly ran Horror World.
Then Tim Weaver arrived with Emad Akthar, and we had a laugh about Bouchercon Raleigh, as last time we met was in North Carolina, though they were there all weekend, we only managed to spend fifteen minutes in a corridor during the entire convention. They both had a swell time in Raleigh, and were relieved that I had recovered, as when they saw me at the time [with my programming hat on]; I was somewhat sleep deprived. Tim was very gracious signing my full-set of his David Raker novels, and I also indicated how impressed I was over his series of ‘Missing’ podcasts, in which he, like his protagonist explored the phenomena of why people go missing. The Missing Podcasts can be downloaded here.

Then I spent time with Francesca Russell, who had introduced me to the work of Jussi Adler-Olsen [amongst others]. This time she intrigued me regarding Julia Heaberlin’s Black Eyed Susans, and a debut that had me rather intrigued Helen Callaghan’s Dear Amy. I marked them on my list, to look out for. Francesca indicated that there were copies circulating for reviewers, in the book bags, so I quickly secured them.
On Penguin’s PR team, Katya Shipster is an imaginative genius when it comes to making reviewers take note of upcoming releases, for she sends us amusing asides with the proofs, including the bottles of Cyanide Mints, that peppered the tables of the Union Club, to celebrate tonight’s gathering. She also organises many launches with her colleagues, and I said how disappointed I was that Felix Francis was unable to attend tonight’s soiree, as I enjoyed the publication launch of the 50th novel of his [and his legendary late father Dick Francis], as that event was very special. I also noted that it was Katya and her colleagues at Penguin that championed the Edgar Nominated Chris Mooney who has his sixth Darby McCormick novel ‘Every Three Hours’ out shortly. I’d known Boston based Mooney for some time now, and enjoyed seeing Penguin release his back catalogue, for he is a writer that should be much better known, though his work is as dark as Obsidian, it is gripping and always one-sitting reads, never requiring a bookmark.

Then it was time to mingle as the ground floor of The Union Club started filling up. I thanked Roland and Emad for their hospitality organising such a well-attended event. The bar was full, though I kept to Ginger Beer, as I was driving, though the canapes were excellent, miniature Fish and Chips, Miniature Burgers, and the like, and I managed one glass of full blooded Red Wine, quaffed slowly.

I also enjoyed the company of some of Penguin’s newest talents who were establishing themselves in the market. I applauded Penguin’s bravery a few years ago when they introduced new writers such as Matthew Frank, James Oswald, M J Arlidge, Howard Linskey, Karen Perry, and Jake Woodhouse to their stable, where they rubbed shoulders with their long term best-selling novelists such as Gregg Hurwitz, former journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, better known as Nicci French, Felix Francis, Tim Weaver, P J Tracy, and Georges Simenon. Particular mention should be made of Penguin’s remarkable re-issues of the Inspector Maigret novels and stories. I applaud Rowland and the team at Michael Joseph for their strategy in making their crime and thriller list merge new talent with their pool of best-selling authors, as well as seeing an increased presence of espionage writers such as Jason Matthews and a new name to me, Jack Grimwood. I had heard rumours of a new work entitled Moskva, which had the tag line “Moskva is a brilliantly written, chilling and sophisticated début serial killer thriller set in Cold War Moscow. Makes Kolymsky Heights look like a walk in Gorky Park”. That short line made me smile, and really provoked my curiosity.

As a big reader of espionage fiction, and having loved the resurgence of Lionel Davidson [from Faber and Faber] and who hasn’t been captivated by Martin Cruz Smith? I was very intrigued, so as Rowland White is a fellow Espionage enthusiast. I asked him about this work Moskva, and who the bloody hell was Jack Grimwood? So he smiled, and introduced me, and then the penny dropped. You are Jon Courtnay Grimwood!” I laughed shaking Jon’s hand, as I loved his work, very different, speculative, SF, weird, but many would know of Jon via his journalism and book reviewing. I hadn’t bumped into Jon since Crimescene and Dead-on-Deansgate events, a decade or so go, though we were in touch via that much maligned internet [but ubiquitous] resource, Facebook. So over chilled ginger beer, I probed Jon or should I say Jack [Grimwood] about his foray into Crime Fiction Moskva.

Jon or Jack as he is now referred to, indicated that it was the hand of his Literary Agent Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown that had come up with the Jack Grimwood name. I smiled recalling that it was Jonny Geller who was also involved with fellow writer of The Weird, Michael Marshall Smith in his alter-ego change to Michael Marshall when he too entered the crime genre with The Straw Men.
So what have we instore with Jack Grimwood’s debut crime novel?

Moskva, is a serial killer thriller set in Cold War Moscow.

Christmas Eve, 1985. The shaved, exsanguinated body of a young man is found in Red Square, frozen solid — like marble to the touch — missing the little finger of his right hand.

A week later, Alex Masterton, the 15-year-old stepdaughter of the British ambassador, goes missing. Army Intelligence officer, Tom Fox, posted to Moscow, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption.

Fox’s investigation drags him ever deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own…

Moskva is due to be published by Michael Joseph/Penguin, on May 6th, 2016.

So I manged to get Jon / Jack Grimwood to sign my review copy of Moskva from my book bag, and he kindly agreed to an interview after I read this work. I noted the publication date in my diary which now resembled a game of snakes and ladders. I grew excited about the release of Moskva, especially with Anglo-Russian relations being strained due to the recent Polonium Investigation due to the strange and curious death of a former FSB operative in London, which coupled to the growing tensions in the Middle-East seemed to be ushering a new era of fraught relations between the West and Russia, reminiscent of those dark days of The Cold War, so the Jack Grimwood novel was rather timely, and I would suggest you also mark your diaries accordingly, as a grime novel from Grimwood, in my opinion, is an event.
By now Soho’s Union Club was heaving, and I have to admit I was really encouraged at the calibre of guests, and the attendance of the Penguin authiors. Then Katya Shipster, Gaby Young and Francesca Russell gently urged us to make our way, for the welcoming speeches and information about the Michael Joseph / Penguin crime list 2016.
So for Shots Readers, we have recorded [in my usual ‘gonzo’ style] the amusing speeches from Rowland White and Emad Ahktar which detail what’s in store for the advocates of the darkest edges of literature, crime and thriller fiction from the Penguin London team.

Then as Emad instructed it was time to replenish our drinks, and despite my one glass of red wine, I was back on the Ginger Beer.

It was difficult to meet everyone as Penguin had assembled an eclectic and comprehensive cabal of London’s Literary Community, but I did my best with camera and glass of ginger beer to mingle. I was delighted to chat to New Zealander [in temporary exile in London], the very well read Craig Sisterson of Crimewatch and organiser of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. We had a laugh over last year’s dinner with Michael Robotham, Mike Stotter and I - that Craig had organised. I have to say, Craig apart from being a really top bloke, is one of the most influential figures in the Crime Fiction Community and no one promotes New Zealand and Australian Crime and Thriller fiction with as much professional insight and enthusiasm as Craig Sisterson, and if you don’t follow his Kiwi Crimewatch, then I urge you to do so, for it is full of excellent interviews, reviews and information from the genre ‘down-under’. We’re privileged to have in London, and hope he stays longer than the ransom demand we organised…….

Of course the ubiquitous and probably the most influential figure in the genre, writer, reviewer, film buff, editor of Crimetime and literary commentator Barry Forshaw was around; and as ever surrounded by writers, but we did manage to have a brief chat, about Jack Grimwood – as Barry and I move in similar circles, as our literary and film interests go beyond crime and thrillers.

From Shots, Michael Stotter and Ayo Onatade were sampling the Red Wine and we compared notes on the upcoming schedule at Shots, in terms of features and reviews. And I was delighted to chat briefly with best dressed man in town, Chris Simmons of Crimesquad, Jon Coates of The Express, and many others.

So, finally filled with more Ginger Beer, than I had planned, I said my farewells and thanked Rowland and his team at Michael Joseph’s Penguin Imprint for their generosity in hosting a remarkable gathering of bibliophiles, that turned out to be a very interesting evening, with surprises such as discovering exactly who Jack Grimwood is, and what he has in store.
There is more information about their authors and upcoming work here

Next week, we are with Hachette’s Orion Publishing Crime Fiction party, so let’s see what else lies in store from Literature’s darkest streets. I plan to let the train take the strain, as there is only so much Ginger Beer one can consume while talking crime and thriller fiction, as my usual tipple is chilled Gin or full blooded Red Wine.

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