Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

As I’ve remarked before, life can often seem somewhat surreal, as if taut invisible strands link our lives, and every so often they reveal themselves, showing their chains and connections that were previously hidden from view. (Yes, you guessed it: I’ve been reading Philip K. Dick again.)

Back in 2000, I held a senior role in a multinational engineering company (my day job), and had cause to hire a lawyer--a specialist lawyer, to boot. I asked my brother for advice on who to contact, as he also worked at a senior level in the corporate world. He recommended a lawyer from a Manchester, England-based firm called Mace & Jones. The case I needed handled was a tricky and potentially difficult one, but the solicitor assigned to it proved to be tough, and the affair was settled out of court (thankfully).

What has all this do with crime fiction? I’ll get to that in a second. But let me just say that it concerns the practice of law. And day jobs, which crime novelists often have to supplement their writing, but that they don’t necessarily talk about in public. (We’d all like people to believe that we support ourselves through our prose alone.)

Martin Edwards is a lawyer, when he isn’t penning novels--the most recent of which is The Arsenic Labyrinth (being released this season on both sides of the Atlantic). And I’ve always enjoyed his work. I’m not the only one; fellow Rap Sheet blogger and Chicago Tribune critic Dick Adler has said that “Martin Edwards uses the lovely landscape of the [UK’s] Lake District to fine effect ... clean prose and an engaging love for the territory.”

Apart from penning his Hannah Scarlett-Daniel Kind Lake District novels and a series of Harry Devlin thrillers (First Cut Is the Deepest), Edwards also edits anthologies for the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). The most recent of those, ID: Crimes of Identity, featured stories from Robert Barnard, Peter Lovesey, Edward D. Hoch, French legend Tonino Benacquista, and others.

I often bump into Edwards (pictured here, with Geoff Bradley from CADS [Crime and Detective Stories] magazine on the left) at CWA functions in London, and in fact I moderated a panel discussion he participated in at Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas. He’ll be winging his way off to Seattle shortly to attend this weekend’s Left Coast Crime (LCC) convention, where--like Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce--he will be speaking. While in the States, Edwards will also be promoting The Arsenic Labyrinth during a February 6 event at the Poisoned Pen Bookshop in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Poisoned Pen Press is Arsenic’s U.S. publisher; Allison & Busby is bringing the novel out in Britain.)

Martin Edwards can go on at some length about the Lake District as an evocative backdrop to crime fiction, and he describes The Arsenic Labyrinth--his third Lake District novel--thusly:
This is the set-up: Guy, a drifter with a taste for deception, has returned to Coniston in England’s Lake District after a gap of ten years. The story demanded a credible setting in the vicinity of old copper mines, so Coniston was an obvious choice. There is, in fact, no arsenic labyrinth to be found in the fells above Coniston (and if the term is new to you, do read the book to discover what an arsenic labyrinth is ...), nor any relics of an arsenic works, but arsenic was mined elsewhere in Cumbria, at Caldbeck, and again it seemed right to blend a recognisable locale with made-up events, Lakeland history and even a legend of my own devising. Because the dictates of the story made it essential to utilise Coniston village as a setting, rather than a make-believe village like Brack or Old Sawrey, I took various liberties with the local topography, to make it clear that this is emphatically a work of fiction, not an account of the misadventures of real-life characters. When I was interviewed about the Lakes books by Peter Holland for a feature on BBC TV’s regional news, the pier at Coniston (which plays a part in the climax to The Arsenic Labyrinth) proved an excellent setting for conversation and filming--the search for a suitably accessible ‘coffin trail’ proved more of a challenge ...
So now we come back full circle, to the matter of surreal linkages and my legal case.

Last year, during the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, Edwards’ first Lake District novel, The Coffin Trail, was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. (But Val McDermid’s The Torment of Others wound up winning, instead.) After the awards ceremony, Edwards and I sat in a bar and started drinking and talking. We eventually got onto the topic of “day jobs,” as I knew that he toiled in the legal profession--a more suitable co-occupation than most for a crime writer.

As we quaffed more wine, and as the clock ticked along, Edwards revealed that he worked as a lawyer for a Manchester firm called Mace & Jones. I could only laugh, and then tell him about the tenacious solicitor who had worked on my legal case. Well, it turns out that the solicitor in question reported to Edwards, so he knew her quite well--a disclosure that caused me, in my surprise, to spill wine all over the table. Such are the strands that connect us, those storied six degrees of separation.

As he prepared to embark for Seattle and LCC, Edwards told the Manchester Evening News, “It’s hugely exciting to be going to America. Crime fiction holds a special place in the history of American literature and it is wonderful to be a part of it.” If you happen to bump into him at LCC this weekend, be sure to say that Ali sends his regards.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a great story, but I must ask, did you include the '...settled out of court (thankfully).' as a part of the retainer, and in fear that even at this late date, he'd send a bill?