Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Life in Thrillers: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

published 2017




Kiss Kiss Bang Bang



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:



Kiss Kiss Bang Bang smaller


… 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 Mead
and 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 YORK
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.
How can you not want to read a reference book about such writers?

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...)




















32 comments:

  1. I'm so pleased you enjoyed this one, Moira. Thrillers really are an important part of the larger crime fiction genre, and it's great to have a book that takes a look at them. It sounds like a fun read, too, which doesn't surprise me, coming from Ripley. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. As I think you can tell, I am full of enthusiasm for the book. I am sure I will use it as a reference work, and also just to pick up and dip into for the sheer enjoyment of it.

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  2. "Gunfight at the OK Corral being staged in St Mary Mead". Who will accept the challenge? Might end up as an advert for the NRA. How about we lose the guns... Monica Dickens has a fight between a large man with a knife and a weedy bloke armed with a bolt of fabric.

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    1. In the first John Grisham book the hero defeats the entire world of organized crime using only obscure legislation. I was very disappoint - wouldn't have happened in a proper Alistair MacLean book. Give me my fit self-deprecating heroes with handy right hooks.

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  3. Great stuff, Moira! I thought the cover looked familiar. I grew up on a regular diet of Jack Higgins, Alistair MacLean, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth, Lawrence Sanders, Desmond Bagley, and other bestselling authors of the 60s through 80s. My dad had these paperback thrillers on his shelf, too, and I remember wanting to read them even then. I'd love to possess this book. Thanks for drawing my attention to it.

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    1. Prashant, I think you will love this book, I thin it is right up your street...

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  4. I am so looking forward to this book, not available until mid-Sept here and I have pre-ordered it. I guess that is OK because I reading a list of 20 books for summer and have two books that movies are based on that I want to read in July / August also (one is Their Finest [Hour and a Half]).

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    1. You and Glen will love it as much as I did, Tracy, I'm sure. The only problem being that it makes you want to read so many books! I hope you will enjoy Their Finest - I'm just thinking I want to see the film again.

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    2. Last year at the book sale I bought a lot of Alistair MacLean books so I am set for a lot of reading in that area.

      Glen was hot to get the film of Their Finest as soon as it came out here and it will be arriving today...but I am reading the book first. We are both big Bill Nighy fans.

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    3. Bill Nighy is wonderful in it, he steals the show.

      I hope you will enjoy the MacLeans too - they were such good books, I would like to do some re-reading.

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  5. The Andrew York books are fabulous! And I owe everything I know about Jonah Wilde, York's spy hero, to Mike Ripley who reprinted many of the Wilde books several years ago as part of his "Top Notch Thrillers" imprint at Ostara Publishing. I have several posts on Jonah Wilde on my blog. Of all the writers to pick out of that book I'm glad you picked Andrew York. I'm eager to get a copy of this. Thanks for the post!

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    1. That's hilarious, so glad I picked that exact one to feature! I was so sure no-one else would have heard of him either, just shows. Look forward to hearing what you think of KKBB when you read it.

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  6. I had to make the decision on whether to order this or the Martin Edwards book first, and I chose the Edwards. This will just have to wait until next month, perhaps. You describe the world of the British paperback thriller perfectly, with the square jawed heroes on the cover of shabby looking Pan paperbacks (the spines of the books tended to get broken rather quickly because you were reading too quickly to bother about damaging the book).

    They don't really seem to write stuff like this anymore, although I may just be falling into the nostalgia trap. Mind you, the Alistair MacLean stuff that I've read recently comes up as fresh as paint, so maybe it's not all nostalgia. ICE STATION ZEBRA is a fantastic piece of thriller writing, with a twist at the end of every chapter, and it manages to entertain at about half the length of the modern American thriller.

    I look forward to Ripley reintroducing me to some of the less well known thriller heroes, such as Rufus Excalibur ffolkes, the woman hating, cat loving, underwater demolition expert of ESTHER, RUTH AND JENNIFER (he really should have been spun out into a series!) I can't wait.

    ggary

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    1. I know, you wait all year for a good overview/reference book in the genres, and two come along at the same time. I am now reading Martin's book. And ending up with a list for re-reading as long as your arm, between the two of them.
      I'd never heard of Esther Ruth and Jennifer, I had to look it up - and hadn't heard of Ffoulkes or the Roger Moore film, so I learned something. Possibly too late for Ripley?

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    2. Yes, about 1979, so it looks just slightly too late. Still, I'm sure that there are lots of treasures waiting to be discovered in the Ripley book.

      Looking back through my collection of old paperbacks in order to check up, I noticed a collection of old Pan Paperbacks from the early '70s with photographic covers. I remember reading that they did this in order to trick the reader into thinking that the book was 'soon to be a major film', which tended to increase sales. In fact, not only were they not going to be filmed, but quite often the action scene on the cover had nothing to do with the story inside the covers!

      ggary

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    3. Oh that's so great, and somehow so typical of the whole story of those thrillers. I love that idea...

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  7. More appealing than the Edwards' book if I'm honest, but one to avoid, coz let's face it I hardly need to track down loads more books now

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    1. ...but it might help you classify the ones you have in the tubs? I'm imagining reading the KKBB book, and being able to look up in my spreadsheet and finding the book of interest was in tub 56...

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  8. I'm just weighing in on Bill Nighy, whom I also like. He was terrific in State of Play. Also, even though he had a small part in Pride, one of my favorite movies, he was good.

    I haven't heard of Their Finest but now I'll check it out. I must look at his list of movies and try to find more over here.

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    1. Bill Nighy is just wonderful. I once stood next to him coming out of a Bob Dylan concert - two heroes in one night!

      I'm sure you will enjoy Their Finest, it is a great film.

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  9. Bob Dylan? I've never even been to a Bob Dylan concert over here -- but I sure did listen to his earlier music, and know many songs of his by heart. And have cd's of two of his best albums.

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    1. I love Bob Dylan, and have seen him live several times, as well as having many of his albums. He tours endlessly and is forever putting out new music: good for him.

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  10. I'm sure you know some of his classics by heart, too.

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    1. I do! I sing along, but not if anyone else is present as it would ruin it for them. Great music for a journey.

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  11. I mentioned to my sister who has a beautiful classically-trained voice that I could listen to someone else sing Dylan's songs and enjoy them as his raspy voice can get to me.
    She replied that the songs wouldn't be the same sung by others, that she rather enjoyed his raspy voice. OK. I give in.

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  12. Actually, Dylan's songs are some of the best political songs ever written, except maybe those by Woody Guthrie, and Civil Rights songs by different people.
    Don't know if you read Suze Rotolo's memoir but she lived with him in the 1960s and influenced his political thinking and that was reflected in his lyrics.

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    1. Yes raspy, and has changed a lot over the years. when you see him live these days you spend half the time trying to work out what the song is from the lyrics - the new arrangements and his voice mean they are otherwise unrecognizable.
      I had heard of the Rotolo memoir, and would like to read it.
      And yes, Dyland was pretty much always on the right side...

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  13. I think he lost some of his political mojo in later years.
    But I lost interest in Joan Baez, she of the lovely voice my sister and I sang along with on her records during our teens, when she sang "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." That did it for me and my Yankee blood started flowing.

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    1. Oh that's hilarious Kathy, I wouldn't be expecting that! Joan Baez did have a beautiful voice. And Bob Dylan kept going in all kinds of different directions, you never knew what he'd be singing about next.

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  14. Did you see "Pride?" I just saw it for the second time and loved it even more, not only the politics and the growing friendships and understanding -- but the colossal British wit -- on both sides. And Imelda Staunton is wonderful - strong, right, principled.

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    1. Yes, it's a lovely film, and one that reflects the nicer elements of British society.

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  15. And the humor!

    But I cried for a week after reading about poor Mark Ashton.

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