Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Battle Is Joined

We reported just a couple of days ago on Penguin’s aggressive efforts to capture a larger share of the UK crime and thriller market. Those moves seem to have kicked other British publishers into higher gear, as they try to hold their ground.

Among the houses girding for battle is Headline, part of the Hachette Livre group (France’s largest publisher, which also owns the UK’s Orion Publishing Group). Last week, Headline hosted a Crime Fiction Party at Browns Courtrooms on St. Martin’s Lane near Covent Garden, in London, to promote its authors in the genre. I attended with Shots editor Mike Stotter, and the two of us met up with author-reviewer Peter Guttridge (Cast Adrift) and Crime Time editor Barry Forshaw for a quick beer before the festivities commenced. We frequently compare notes on what’s new and forthcoming in the genre, as we all of us are under daunting reading pressures at this time of year, what with the summer publishing schedule approaching.

Finally joining the party, Mike and I toasted publicist Becky Fincham, who we’ve known for many years, and who was at HarperCollins UK before her recent move over to Headline. The party also introduced Headline’s newly revamped Web-based magazine, Crime Files, which is (thankfully) no longer in PDF format, and gives a good overview of Headline’s future titles and information about its stable of writers. Well worth a browse.

Headline did a fine job of gathering together its very diverse group of crime and thriller authors. And book critics, besides. Among those on hand were Mike Ripley, Ayo Onatade from the Mystery Women site, Geoff Bradley from the magazine CADS [Crime and Detective Stories], Bob Cornwall from the Tangled Web site, the ubiquitous Maxim Jakubowski, and John Dugdale of The Guardian.

As I made the partying rounds, I chatted with Mark Billingham, who, I discovered, is currently taking a break from his Tom Thorne police procedurals (Buried) in order to pen a crime standalone (for release in 2008). But fear not, Thorne fans, for another entry in that series, Death Message, is due out this summer. In addition, I encountered such novelists as Lesley Horton, Rob Ryan, and Louise Penny. I also heard whispers about one of my favorite authors, Paul Johnston, who has been seriously ill, but is thankfully back in action, with a heavily anticipated, standalone thriller, Death List, due this summer.

Typical of parties thrown by large publishers here in London, the drink and food were plentiful at this Headline fête, and members of the Headline team were on hand to talk up coming titles on their crime and thriller list. I must say that I’m impressed by the fact that in addition to Headline’s big-name wordsmiths, such as David Morrell (Scavenger), Martina Cole (Close), James Patterson (Step on a Crack), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (whose Sherlock Holmes books are all being reissued with a “stunning, fresh new look”), the house also promotes lesser-known authors such as Patrick Quinlan, Scott Frost, the aforementioned Ms. Penny, and Jed Rubenfeld, whose best-selling debut novel, The Interpretation of Murder, just won the Richard & Judy Best of the Year Award.

Being something of a party animal, I enjoyed the hectic scene of mingling and chatting about books, glugging back glasses of red wine and grabbing proof copies of upcoming Headline treats. And I left with plenty of photographs, which I’ve organized into a slideshow, available here.

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