This is quite straightforward: I have abandoned my normal blogpost format to write about this treasure of a book, just published. In case you can’t read it, the full title is
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed
Look at that cover. The illo is from Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll, a 1966 corker, (isn’t that the one with the knife through the air tube, and a rather unlikely – for MacLean, whose books contained romance but no sex - bit of almost S&M?). This is the endpage design:
… and frankly I would like it as wallpaper, both computer and real life. I keep staring and staring at it, counting up how many of the books I know.
I like books with detailed clothes descriptions, I like nuanced literary fiction, I like Golden Age classic crime stories, I like a clue that revolves round what kind of dress the murder victim is wearing (one of the first ever entries on the blog back in 2012, laying out my priorities). I am a hardcore feminist, always alert for objectification and sexism in books, and a deep, unreconstructed leftie.
But I also love a certain kind of thriller, and like many people my age, growing up in the UK in the 1960s and 70s, I read literally hundreds of them. They were the kind of books your Dad, and your friends’ Dads, had on their shelves: they were fat, slightly shabby paperbacks that might once have been shiny, often published by Pan. They had dramatic pictures of action heroes on them, and you would never, ever run out of them.
And so, I completely lost myself in this wonderful study/compendium of the books. Mike Ripley plainly loves these thrillers: no-one could write like this who didn’t. I ate up every page of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – even the chapters dealing with areas that I was less familiar with. I didn’t want the book to end, and I also wanted to go back and re-read about 50 different books from my past.
It is a wonderful achievement – serious and well-referenced and orderly and almost academic, but also hilariously funny –
This being Geoffrey Household… the result is something akin to the gunfight at the OK Corral being staged in St Mary Meadand very very nostalgic.
The final third of the book is an encyclopaedic list of every thriller writer imaginable, with biographical details, highlights and most famous books listed.
I was astonished to find that the author of some of my favourite children’s picture books, Martin Waddell, (Once There Were Giants is his masterpiece) was also the author of the Otley books, which I borrowed from the library in my teens. My mouth fell open.
There are so many authors here, with so many books among them – were thriller writers just more prolific than anyone else? Was it easy to make a living churning them out? I have picked out one author to stand in for all the unknown soldiers of the thriller world. I had never heard of this person, but this is a typical entry for a B-team writer:
ANDREW YORKHow can you not want to read a reference book about such writers?
One of the 15 pen-names used by Christopher Robin Nicole (born in 1930 in Georgetown, Guyana but a resident of Guernsey since 1957), the author of over 200 books including the series starring Jonas Wilde, the chess-playing, cocktail-drinking, karate expert assassin, who thinks nothing of accepting a dangerous assignment behind the Iron Curtain in Poland and Russia without speaking a word of Polish or Russian. Wilde’s first appearance was in The Eliminator in 1966 and the book was quickly filmed as Danger Route. Eight more novels followed until 1975.
Anyone who has ever sat up late with an Alistair Maclean or a Jack Higgins should read Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it would make a fabulous gift for any fan you know.
Last year I did a series of entries covering all the James Bond books – roundup post with all the links here – and have also in recent times discovered or re-discovered Victor Canning (his Rainbird Pattern was one of the best books I read in 2016) and done a post on my all-time favourite Alistair MacLean book, The Golden Rendezvous. (Apparently I never learned to spell his name - just had to go through this post correcting his first name...)