Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Clustering in Cambridge

R.J. Ellory at Heffers’ “Bodies in the Bookstore” event.

One of the most quintessentially British crime-fiction events is “Bodies in the Bookstore,” an annual occasion at the Heffers shop on Trinity Street in Cambridge. This event is organized by manager Richard Reynolds, who is among of the most knowledgeable genre booksellers in the UK--so knowledgeable, in fact, that he’s also a judge for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award. There are many other crime-fiction-related happenings scheduled at Heffers every year, but “Bodies in the Bookstore” is definitely the highlight for me.

Despite Heffers having been taken over by corporate bookseller Blackwell, this event continues to grow in importance, and has now been running close to two decades. It attracts more than 40 big-name crime and thriller writers each year (from Europe as well as America), who descend upon the historic university city of Cambridge on a July evening to sign their books, sample wines and cheeses, and mingle with appreciative fans. It is akin to a mini-convention, though there are no readings or panel discussions.

I have missed the last two “Bodies” events, due to my attending ThrillerFest in both 2006 and 2007. This year, though, I didn’t go to New York City, but instead made the drive last week to Cambridge.

Cambridge is not a car-friendly town, as many of its streets are paved for pedestrian and bicycle use only. So, after depositing my vehicle in a nearby car-park, I walked to Heffers, enjoying the sun on my face, and met up with Shots editor Mike Stotter, who had grabbed a train from London. Inside the bookshop we encountered manager Reynolds, who said (not surprisingly) that he had a terrific assortment of writers lined up for the evening. More remarkable, I thought, was the wealth of readers who’d come for this event, hoping to have their books signed, and the private book dealers who arrived in force, clutching hold-alls of first editions.

The evening’s delights were many. I finally had a chance to meet two of The Rap Sheet’s guest bloggers, Patrick Lennon (Steel Witches) and R.N. “Roger” Morris (A Vengeful Longing), who turned out to be as interesting in reality as they are on the blogosphere. I also managed to snatch up (on my wife’s behalf) a copy of Mike Ripley’s latest novel, Angels Unaware, signed by the great man himself. Another treat was meeting Chelsea Cain, an American writer who was over in the UK promoting her second novel, Sweetheart. I even managed to grab a photo of Ms. Cain with Tom Cain (no relation), who’d come out of hiding to promote The Survivor, his blistering new follow-up to 2007’s The Accident Man. (That photo can be seen at right.)

However, the night’s real treat was seeing my dear friend Roger Jon Ellory, whose work I have read avidly since the publication of his debut novel, Candlemoth (2003). As his Richard & Judy-nominated novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, has recently been nominated for a Barry Award, with the winners to be announced during Bouchercon in mid-October, I nagged Ellory about going to Baltimore, Maryland, for the festivities. Now, Ellory is a shy guy, who despite having been a great speaker at British library readings, isn’t really a convention-goer; his first such get-together, in fact, was this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. So it took some persuading, but he finally relented, and we agreed to travel to Baltimore together. I am so pleased, as this will guarantee me enjoyable company for the long flight from London to author Laura Lippman’s hometown. Ellory also informed me that interest in a U.S. release of A Quiet Belief in Angels is being mooted, so a trip to Bouchercon can only help the cause.

After taking a few more photographs of the gathering at Heffers, I declined suggestions that I go out for dinner and instead bid Stotter good-night and headed home. I needed to pack for Harrogate.

(Details of Ali Karim’s experiences at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival are expected to follow later this week.)

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