Thursday, April 9, 2015

Scottish knights and Agatha Christie's editor: Mike Ripley

One thousand mysteries reviewed; twenty novels written; a tireless promoter of great crime writing by forgotten authors; the man who resurrected one of the Golden Age's most beloved characters; stroke survivor; award-winning crime writer; generous mentor; witty raconteur. It's impossible to sum up British crime novelist and critic Mike Ripley in a few words. Perhaps a blurb on the back of one of Ripley's favourite authors' latest book, Paul Thomas's new Ihaka novel, FALLOUT, comes close: "UK crime writing guru Mike Ripley".

It's a phrase that fits. I first became aware of Mike several years ago via his excellent monthly column, "Getting Away with Murder" in Shots magazine. A delightful romp through a variety of crime fiction events, mystery novels new and forgotten, and whatever else he felt like chatting about, the column (now running for more than eight years) is must-read stuff for crime aficionados. I later found out Mike was himself an award-winning crime writer (his Angel series twice won the prestigious Last Laugh Award for the best comic crime writing). It's a fantastic series - I recently read LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL, which was reprinted last year. Terrific stuff - real caper-esque romps.

Mike was also the Daily Telegraph's crime fiction critic for a decade, a scriptwriter for the BBC drama Lovejoy, an anthology editor, lecturer on crime writing at Cambridge University, a judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award in its early years, and more. He is Mr Crime Fiction in the British Isles. Most recently he has, along with his Shots column and republishing forgotten British thriller classics via his company Ostara Publishing, brought Margery Allingham's Albert Campion character back to the page via two new novels - the latest being MR CAMPION'S FOX, released in February. But for now, the guru of British crime writing becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Mike Ripley (right) with fellow Ngaio Marsh Award judges
and Shots! contributors Craig and Ayo in London
1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It has to be Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion. I read my first Allingham when I was about 13 and thought “this is special”. Almost fifty years later I have had the honour to continue Campion’s adventures as a wise old owl of a sleuth who pretends to be “retired”.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Without doubt it was THE COMPLEET MOLESWORTH by Geoffrey Willians and Ronald Searle (1960?), a compendium of the four Nigel Molesworth books. Absolutely hilarious - and still is. There were boys who went for “Just William” or even “Jennings” but Nigel Molesworth was the real deal.

As far as crime fiction goes, it has to be Len Deighton’s THE IPCRESS FILE which was smart, sassy and broke the mould of spy fiction just when the mould needed breaking. I even started smoking Gauloises because of it and at university I had an essay (on the economic policy of Leon Blum!) returned to me from a tutor who wrote across the top “Stop trying to write like Len Deighton!!!!” I took it as a compliment.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had been a journalist and then in PR (for the UK brewing industry) for 14 years, so you could say I was used to writing fiction.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I used to fancy myself as a good cook but my son is far better, so now I regard myself as a good eater. I also had a career as an archaeologist and still go on local digs but now as a volunteer. I go to Italy as often as possible, which is the perfect combination of great food and archaeology.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
My home town for the last 40 years has been Colchester, once the capital of Roman Britain and I would insist (as I do) on showing visitors some of the archaeological gems which get overlooked far too easily.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
My old friend the late Rodney (“Inspector Frost”) Wingfield always said Boris Karloff should play me (and George Clooney him) when they made the film... I suppose I’d like Damian Lewis to be the younger me (both “gingers”) and Sydney Greenstreet the older one.

7. Of your writings, published and unpublished, which is your favourite, and why?
It has to be my 2005 memoir SURVIVING A STROKE, because I did.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a online or physical bookseller’s shelf?
My first novel was accepted by Elizabeth Walter at (Harper) Collins Crime Club. She was a legend and had been Agatha Christie’s last editor, so I was terrified! Her first words to me at our first meeting were: “How many more can you do?”. Publication, in 1988, coincided with the opening of Murder One, the UK’s first mystery bookshop. I arrived for the grand opening party early only to find a yawning gap on the shelves in the ‘R’ section where my books should have been. Naturally, I turned to drink but minutes before the speeches began a black cab pulled up outside the shop and Elizabeth Walter appeared with a box of my brand new novel and began stacking the shelves herself. I just wish I’d had a camera.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
At a festival in Nottingham in 1995 I was on a panel with reviewers but the first question from the audience was specifically for me. An elderly lady on the front row asked if I had named by disreputable series hero Fitzroy Maclean Angel after Sir Fitzroy Maclean, the famous Scottish soldier and politician. I said that I certainly had as I was a long-admirer of Sir Fitzroy’s book EASTERN APPROACHES about his wartime adventures with the partisans in Yugoslavia. The lady thanked me politely as said “He was just curious that’s all”. It turned out she was one of Sir Fitzroy’s secretaries who had been sent (from the Isle of Skye!) to ask me the question. She never let on if he liked my books, though, but at least he’d heard of them.

Thank you Mike. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch


You can read more about Mike Ripley and his writings here: 


Have you read Ripley's Angel series? Do you like some laugh in your crime reads? What do you think about continuing Golden Age and other iconic characters, such as Hercule Poirot (Sophie Hannah), Albert Campion (Mike Ripley), James Bond (several authors), Sherlock Holmes and others? 

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