Last year was pivotal in what’s become my rather unexpected tradition of meeting periodically with British thriller master Lee Child. In 2006, I dined with the author of The Hard Way (and now Bad Luck and Trouble) on a number of occasions. Always to my delight.
Our first encounter of the year came in March during a special party that Child had organized in London during the London Book Fair. It was held in a penthouse overlooking the Thames in Westminster. The guests included his publishing team from the British house Transworld, representatives from his international publishers, his film people, his literary agent, Darley Anderson, his estimable Web site guru, Maggie Griffin, and an array of selected guests, among them Shots editor Mike Stotter and me. Incidentally, the penthouse in which this soirée took place was the same one used as a location for Woody Allen’s excellent 2005 thriller, Match Point.
I composed an article about the event (which celebrated the beginning of Child’s 10th year as a published thriller writer) and took a few pictures to illustrate it (see the finished combination here). A good start to the year.
The next time I saw Child was later that same month, in Bristol, England, during the 2006 Left Coast Crime convention. He was there to support the new International Thriller Writers (ITW) group as it announced its first-ever Thriller Award nominations. LCC was an excellent gathering, and it was great to see so many American writers and readers crossing the broad Atlantic in order to attend. It was especially fun to hang out with members of the ITW board, and I couldn’t help but laugh when we all got together for an evening in the hotel bar. Author M.J. Rose turned at one point to David Morrell and asked him where and when he’d first met spy novelist Gayle Lynds. Morrell replied that it had been during Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas, and that “Ali introduced us.” She then swung over to Child and asked him when he’d first met Morrell and Lynds. “Ali introduced us at Bouchercon Las Vegas,” he answered. I ordered another round of drinks and kept laughing. Just call me Mr. Networker. Hey, somebody’s got to get these isolated, bookish writers talking to one another, right?
Speaking of authors making connections … After the ITW nominations were announced, I joined my friend Maggie Griffin for dinner. Not only is she co-owner of New York City’s Partners & Crime bookstore, but she manages author promotions and Web sites for a variety of crime/thriller writers, including Child, Chris Mooney, Steve Hamilton, Lawrence Block, and many others. (I thought I was a busy guy until I met Maggie Griffin--she makes me feel like a slacker!) Following the fine meal, I got to talking with Lee Child and an interesting Irish playwright and then-new novelist, Declan Hughes (whose second and latest private-eye story, The Color of Blood, has just reached American bookstores). We talked about thrillers we had been reading, and those we really should be reading.
One thing you get to know fast about Child, is how much he enjoys helping authors who are only getting started in this game. A kind word here, a suggested title there, and pretty soon somebody else owes him a debt of gratitude. At Bristol, for instance, he handed me an advance reader copy of a then-forthcoming debut work called The Blade Itself, by American writer Marcus Sakey. Child knows that I’m a big-time fan of Dennis Lehane’s books, and he said that as a result, I ought to enjoy The Blade Itself. He was right, and he has gone on from there to promote the forthcoming UK edition of Sakey’s freshman effort with a priceless cover blurb. He’s also been very supportive of the Killer Year company of first-time novelists in 2007, even agreeing to edit their forthcoming anthology of stories. That’s generosity for you.
Months passed before I saw Child again, and this time it was back at the Waterstone’s bookstore in Manchester, during a launch party for The Hard Way, his 10th novel starring former U.S. military policeman Jack Reacher. As anticipated, the affair was oversubscribed, with more than 200 people crammed into the events room. And the store manager told me that his people could’ve sold another 100 tickets, had there been space for everyone. Even so, it was a hot and sweaty evening, and reminded me of the first such gathering at that store on Child’s behalf, in 2001, when only about 20 people showed up to meet the author and ask him to sign their books. What a difference a few bestselling novels in a writer’s career can make.
As usual, Child asked me to join him for dinner following the Waterstone’s function. Now, in all the years we’ve gotten together like this, he had never once permitted me to pass over my credit card for the cost of our meals. And I’d been feeling a bit guilty about that. So I had concocted a plan this time. I knew that Child (like Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce and me) was a fan of the early novels by Scotsman Alistair MacLean, so I sourced a long-out-of-print copy of Scottish journalist Jack Webster’s biography, Alistair MacLean: A Life, as well as a first-edition hardcover of The Guns of Navarone (1957) in very fine condition--tokens of thanks for the many dinners he’d treated me to over the years. Child seemed very touched, and I felt a bit less guilty.
Finally, in July of that year we met again at the inaugural ThrillerFest (photos here and here) in blistering-hot Phoenix, Arizona. It was a splendid conference, made even more special by the fact that I was asked to be one of the jurors in a mock “trial” of Jack Reacher, based on events in his 2003 novel, Persuader. This event took place on day two, with Child all dressed up as his famous protagonist and being more or less “defended” by Paul Levine, author of the humorous Solomon and Lord legal thrillers. In advance of that trial, Child had pulled me aside and, winking, asked for the names and addresses of anybody who dared to vote Reacher guilty. (I knew he was joking, but it was still a Jack Reacher sort of moment that made me wonder if he’d been spending too much time in the ex-military cop’s company.) South Florida book reviewer and blogger Stacy Alesi, aka BookBitch, recorded the courtroom antics thusly:
Michele Martinez (The Finishing School) was the ferocious prosecutor and her star witness was a law enforcement officer, James O. Born (Escape Clause), with a murky past--something about drunk driving and a bunch of dead nuns? The court was presided over by the honorable M. Diane Vogt, and the bailiff, who spent most of the trial napping center stage, was portrayed by David Dun. Despite the fact that there were two juries, one comprised [sic] of reviewers and press (including your very own BookBitch), and the other of members of the audience, neither could reach a consensus, thus causing a mistrial. It might have had something to do with the fact that despite several objections from Martinez, Lee Child/Jack Reacher flirted shamelessly with the mostly female jurors, or that Paul Levine warned the jury in his closing remarks that if Reacher were found guilty, there would be no more books. More than one sigh was heard at that remark. Rumor had it that if he had been found guilty, there was a contingent of cardboard-gun toting women willing to break him out of jail.All in good-natured fun.
(Incidentally, Lee Child is scheduled to attend ThrillerFest 2007 in New York City this coming July [click here for details], as well as Bouchercon 2007, to be held in Anchorage, Alaska, in September.)
So, with 10 books under his belt and fans hanging on his every written word, what would Lee Child do next?
(Part I of Ali Karim’s tribute to Lee Child can be found here. Part III is available here.)