Monday, March 1, 2010

Resurrecting (somewhat) forgotten, but fascinating thriller fiction

As some of you will know, along with reviewing new and yet-to-be-released New Zealand and international crime and thriller fiction (and some other books), I have also been slowly getting my hands on some hard-to-find and out-of-print New Zealand crime/thriller/mystery fiction - building up something of a library, and quickly realising that New Zealand (undoubtedly like many places) has a much deeper and richer tradition of 'under the radar' crime/thriller writing than I thought.

As you can see from the sidebar ("other Kiwi crime, thriller, mystery or suspense authors"), the historic list is much longer that just Dame Ngaio Marsh, with some (e.g. Fergus Hume with his THE MYSTERY OF THE HANSOM CAB) stretching the whole way back to the late 1800s.

Internationally, while some authors of many a bygone (sometimes not that bygone) decade are still in print, often many of their peers are not - and this isn't always to do with the quality of the book, or the size of the readership at the time. I've often wondered how some of these older Kiwi books might have been received by modern audiences, or whether there would be interest if they were (re)published today. Sure, some such books, both here and overseas, have faded from memory (and print availability) because they aren't particularly great, but there are many long-forgotten gems as well. Titles that have largely become part of a forgotten history, and not appreciated in the present, more through quirks of fate, than any sort of meritocracy.

British crime writer and renowned crime commentator Mike Ripley is helping do something about that, with the support of Ostara Publishing. Ripley is the author of the award-winning ‘Angel’ comic thrillers (see fansite here), co-editor of the three Fresh Blood anthologies promoting new British crime writing and, for ten years, the crime fiction critic of the Daily Telegraph. He is now well known for his great “Getting Away with Murder column” in Shots Ezine)

Ostara Publishing re-issues titles that "have unjustifiably become unavailable either through the ravages of time or the forces of publishing economics". They specialise in Crime and Thriller fiction titles and their range goes from the 1920s through to the 21st century. They publish thematically under series and currently have four available and one new series in production. All titles are published in a 'trade paperback' format and printed to order. The series are:
  • Cambridge Crime: Crime fiction titles set in Cambridge or with a Cambridge theme. Many titles have been unavailable for years some early titles from the 1920s and 1930s have never previously been available in a paperback format.
  • College Crime: Crime fiction titles set in a University or academic environment.
  • Clerical Crime: Crime fiction set within a church or ecclesiastical environment or with a theological principal character.
  • Medieval Mysteries: Crime fiction titles set in the Middle Ages.
  • Top Notch Thrillers: Ostara Publishing’s new imprint Top Notch Thrillers aims to revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten. Each title has been carefully selected not just for its plot or sense of adventure but for the distinctiveness and sheer quality of its writing (this is the series Mike Ripley edits)
Overnight I got a message from Ripley about the launch of four new thrillers in the TNT series, which “aims to revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten”. All titles are published, print on demand, for the RRP (trade paperback) of £10.99.

The new titles, originally published in Britain between 1962 and 1970, were specifically selected by Ripley. THE TALE OF THE LAZY DOG by Alan Williams is touted as a brilliant heist thriller set in the Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam triangle in 1969 as a mis-matched gang of rogues and pirates attempt to steal $1.5 billion in used US Treasury notes. TIME IS AN AMBUSH is described as a delicate, atmospheric study of suspicion and guilt set in Franco’s Spain, by Francis Clifford, one of the most-admired stylists of the post-war generation of British thriller-writers.

A FLOCK OF SHIPS Brian Callison’s bestselling wartime thriller of a small Allied convoy lured to its doom in the South Atlantic, was famous for its breathless, machine-gun prose and was described by Alistair Maclean as: “The best war story I have ever read”. Having been a huge Alistair Maclean fan growing up, this one particularly caught my eye.
THE NINTH DETECTIVE was the second assignment for super-spy Quiller (whose fans included Kingsley Amis and John Dickson Carr), created by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and is a taught, tense thriller of political assassination which pre-dated THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by five years.

Announcing the latest batch of reissues, Mike Ripley said: "Our new titles are absolutely in line with the Top Notch ethos of showing the range and variety of thrillers from what was something of a Golden Age for British thriller writing. They range in approach from slow-burning suspense to relentless wartime action and feature obsessive, super tough, super cool spies and some tremendous villains. Above all, they are characterised by the quality of their writing, albeit in very different styles. When first published, these titles were all best-sellers and their authors are among the most respected names in thriller fiction. Many readers will welcome these novels back almost as old friends and hopefully a new generation of readers will discover them for the first time."

It sounds like an absolutely great (and perhaps inspiring) project - there are a few long-forgotten Kiwi crime and thriller titles that could perhaps be deserving of similar treatment, and the print-on-demand technology certainly provides some flexibility for publishers willing to take a punt, and resurrect such past books that deserve more modern-day attention.

You can see the full list of Ripley's Top Notch Thrillers, here. There are also several books that may be of interest in the other Ostara series, which you can view on the same website. Ostara Publishing have said they would welcome reviews of any of their titles . If you would like your review of one of their books to appear on the company's website, you can send it to or use their online contact form.

1 comment:

  1. Craig - Thanks for this post. It's the little-known/forgotten fiction that can be so interesting and that we rarely get to see, so I like that you profiled it here. These are all titles I wasn't familiar with, and I always like the chance to widen my horizons, so to speak.