Follow by email

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Men with the Golden Pens

The recently published Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz (expect a full review soon) is the latest in a long line of novels featuring Ian Fleming's masterspy James Bond. And whilst it is commonplace these days for a long running series to continue after the death of the original author, this wasn't the case back in the early 1960's.

Fleming died in 1964, and although he saw the success of the early Sean Connery movies he missed seeing the global phenomenon that his character became after the release of the third Bond movie, Goldfinger.

After the death of Ian Fleming, Glidrose Productions, later Ian Fleming Publications, began exploring the idea of having new writers create new James Bond novels using the collective pen name of Robert Markham. Geoffrey Jenkins, a friend of Flemings and  a fine thriller writer himself seemed an obvious choice. By 1964, he had four best-sellers to his credit and he already had story ideas that Ian Fleming himself had participated in shaping. However when in  1966, Jenkins submitted his manuscript for PER FINE OUNCE.  Glidrose rejected the book and it is now considered a lost Bond novel. The reasons the work was rejected have never been made clear, nor has the manuscript ever turned up.

In  1968 James Bond did finally return in Colonel Sun by Robert Markham (actually written by Kingsley Amis).  As previously noted the Robert Markham name was intended by  Glidrose,  to be a pen name that would be used by multiple authors to continue Flemings work. However this was not to be and although Colonel Sun was reasonably successful it didn't sell as well as had been hoped and the plans for a new Bond literary series seemed to be dead in the water.

The next Bond novels where actually novelisations of two of the movies - The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, both written by Christopher Wood. The film versions were so different to Fleming's original novels that these books, which follow their respective movie's screenplay, can be considered original novels. Both build on their screenplays and we learn from the books that the Jaws character's real name is Zbigniew Krycsiwiki.

In the 1980's the Bond copyright holders decided to bring Bond back in a new series, and thriller writer John Gardner was selected as the new writer. His first book was 1981's Licence Renewed and in all he wrote 16 Bond novels. Licence Renewed / For Special Services / Icebreaker / Role Of Honour / Nobody Lives For Ever / No Deals, Mr. Bond / Scorpius / Win, Lose Or Die / Licence To Kill / Brokenclaw / The Man From Barbarossa / Death Is Forever / Never Send Flowers / SeaFire / GoldenEye / COLD.

When Gardner tired of the series, American author Raymond Benson took up the golden pen and gave us six new novels, as well as novelisations of the Pierce Brosnan movies, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is not Enough and Die Another Day. The Benson Bond's were: Zero Minus Ten / Tomorrow Never Dies / The Facts Of Death / High Time To Kill / The World Is Not Enough / DoubleShot / Never Dream Of Dying / The Man With The Red Tattoo / Die Another Day.

There wasn't a new Bond novel - ignoring the Young Bond novels and the Moneypenny Diaries - until 2008 when noted author Sabastian Faulks wrote Devil May Care. There was much hype around this novel, which was written as a pastiche of Fleming's style but Faulks declined to write more.

Bestselling crime writer, Jeffrey Deaver next took a stab at 007 with 2011's Carte Blanche, and although the previous Bond had been set in the early 1970's, Deaver took the route used by John Gardner and Raymond Benson and set his adventure in the present day.

William Boyd came next with Solo and this time Bond was back in the 1960's - like the two previous authors, Boyd would only write the one Bond adventure.

All of the Bond novels written since Fleming's death have their strong points, but it wasn't until 2015's Trigger Mortis written by Anthony Horowitz that the novels really captured the true feel of Fleming - perhaps because the author was able to use some unpublished Fleming material in his book. The story took up immediately after the climax of Goldfinger with Pussy Galore featuring in the story, well until she ran off with lesbian racing driver, that is.

The book was so well received that Horowitz was asked back for a second Bond novel, the aforementioned Forever and a Day. Let's hope Horowitz does a third because he seems as near as dammit as one can get to the real Ian Fleming.

Forever and a Day is available now in hardcover, audiobook and eBook.

A spy is dead. A legend is born. This is how it all began. The explosive prequel to Casino Royale, from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. 'We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.' 

'It’s Bond, sir,' the Chief of Staff replied. 'James Bond.' 

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time.

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime.
It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Did you hear the one about the actor, the comedian and the novelist? Mark Billingham Interview

Billingham dressed to kill Pic by Donna-Lisa Healy.
Did you hear the one about the actor, the comedian and the novelist?

Well, they're all the same man! Boom Boom!!

Not much of a punchline granted, not even a punchline, but it's the best I could come up with after weeks of footie fatigue; the World Cup being in full swing. And although it might be inane it is fitting to precede our interview with bestselling crime/thriller writer Mark Billingham. 

Billingham, born in Solihull, grew up in Birmingham and spent most of his formative years there. After leaving university, with a degree in drama, he remained in Birmingham and helped set up Bread and Circuses, a socialist theatre company, and after several years of touring shows he left for the bright lights of London to pursue a career as a jobbing actor. It was now the 1980's and Billingham saw himself taking small parts in shows like Dempsey and Makepeace, The Bill and Juliet Bravo. His best known role was as Gary, the dim witted guard employed by the Sheriff of Nottingham in the successful children's series, Maid Marion and her Merry Men.

Billingham though soon grew tired of acting, feeling that the  secret for success was largely based on how an actor looked rather than talent  -' I seemed to be offered bad guy roles such as a soccer hooligan, drug addict, a nasty copper, a racist copper or a bent copper' - and he instead opted to concentrate on stand up comedy. Staring out with 5 - 10 minute unpaid open mic sessions, he soon moved onto 30 minute paid slots, and from there he found himself headlining gigs at the prestigious Comedy Store. 

' Back then it was fairly easy to get into,' Billingham says of his stand up comedy career.  'You'd go to a couple of clubs and do what are called 'Try-outs' which are unpaid spots. You got five minutes, and if you did well that progressed into 10 minutes, and then 20 to 30 minute paid slots. But now it is really big business, and there are big chains of Comedy Clubs. I feel sorry for young comics of 18 or 19 today, as it is so tough now. It's a lot tougher now than it used to be.'

Despite his success as a stand up comedian though, Billingham's first love was writing, something he had been doing since an early age and although his first attempt at a novel, the Birmingham set Mechanic (as yet unpublished), which was a comic crime thriller that he abandoned before completion, the writing bug had bitten.  He loved reading crime novels and so he decided to concentrate on a straight forward crime novel. This would become Sleepyhead - the 2001 novel that all but make him an instant

Sleepyhead is a serial killer thriller with a truly ingenious twist, since if a victim dies the killer considers this a failure. He's not trying to kill his victims but rather to induce a permanent catatonic state through the skillful manipulation of nerves and pressure points - it's called Locked In Syndrome or pseudocoma, a condition in which a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles except for vertical eye movements and blinking.

The thriller introduced us to hard living, country music loving, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and readers instantly took to this new cop on the fictional crime landscape. Despite his rather dodgy musical taste, the reading public loved him and this past month saw the publication of The Killing Habit, the fifteenth book in the Tom Thone series.

TAINTED ARCHIVE: So after so many books featuring the same group of characters, I wonder if the author found it difficult to maintain reader interest. Is it actually easier now that the readers are so familiar with Thorne's universe or is it harder to keep them interested?

MARK BILLINGHAM: I suppose it's a little of both. The tricky part is writing a book in the series which honours those readers who have followed the Thorne novels since the start, while not alienating those who may not have read any of them. It's a tough balance to get right. There SHOULD be pressure, because unless you're always trying to write a better book than you did last time, you really should not be bothering. You certainly cannot take reader familiarity for granted...

TA: A particular strength in the Thorne series are the secondary characters - Tanner, Hendricks, Helen etc. In some way there's something of a soap opera vibe to series fiction in the way that the private lives of character that make up the fictional universe come and go. How to do you keep track of everything that is going on with such a large cast of recurring characters? Is there a series bible for instance?

MB: No, there's no such thing as a bible when it comes to my fictional world. It was a choice I made early on, specifically for Thorne, that I would not lay everything out or know everything about him and the same goes for Phil, Helen and the rest. This can cause problems of course, the most obvious one being that I forget stuff. But I think it's the right way to go in the long run, because it means that the characters can stay unpredictable. If they're surprising me then they have more chance of surprising the reader.

TA: to step away from Thorne for a moment - from time to time you write standalone thrillers. Are these a chance to rest from Thorne's world? Do they enable you to tackle subjects that may not work in a Thorne thriller? 

MB: That's absolutely right and it's a lesson I learned from writers like Michael Connelly. I think it's the best way - possibly the ONLY way - to keep a series from getting stale. You need to step away once in a while and do something else. That way, in theory at least, you can return to your series a year later fired up and ready to get back into it. While it's sometimes scary - and you ask yourself why you didn't just play safe and write another series novel - it's enormously liberating to leave your comfort zone. The standalones are among the favourites of all my novels and I'll certainly be doing some more. As you say, sometimes it's a story that simply has no room for a miserable north London copper... 

 TA: You are all over social media - often giving live Facebook broadcasts whilst wearing some pretty loud shirts, hosting the excellent Podcast A Stab in the Dark. How important is social media to the modern writer?

MB: Social media has, of course, become tremendously important, both to writers and publishers. On the down side, it can be a way for some publishers to do marketing and "publicity" on the cheap, but from a writer's point of view it's a fairly easy way to keep in touch with readers and fellow writers. To let people know what you're up to. Increasingly in recent years, writers have needed to sell themselves as much as their books, so a presence on social media has become pretty much compulsory. For those of us who are not averse to showing off, it's great, but it can also be an enormous time-suck, so I look at it as a treat that I need to earn. I get a chapter done, I can treat myself to 10 minutes on Twitter or whatever. the podcast was great fun and I hope we'll be recording some more very soon.

A STAB IN THE DARK PODCAST: I would urge fans of crime thrillers to check out the podcast - it can perhaps boast the finest line of big name guests of any podcast. Sofia Helfin, Mark Gattis, Michael Connelly, Belinda Bauer and Patricia Cornwell are just a few of the luminaries who have appeared recently. Find details HERE

TA: Given your knowledge of the genre, let's touch on other writers. Who do you particularly like? Are there any authors who you read as each book come out?

MB: There are SO many great writers out there at the moment. In terms of those writers whose early copies I scrounge from publishers it's all the usual suspects. Mick Herron is definitely one of those. His books are like crack! Same goes for Belinda Bauer, Martyn Waites, John Connolly, George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, Steve Cavanagh, Susie Steiner, loads more that I've forgotten and, of course, all my band-mates from the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers. I'm only in that band so I can hang out with them.

THE FUN LOVING CRIME WRITERS:  The band, genre fiction's answer to John, Paul, George and Ringo are Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre,  Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Doug Johnstone, and they regularly appear at festivals and - in their own words: murder songs for fun. 

 This month they will be appearing at the Harrogate Crime Festival and later this year they will be appearing at Bloody Scotland, the highland's own international crime writing festival.


TA: Along the same lines - what are your influences?

MB: There are so many influences. When I was a student I read all the classic US authors - Hammett, Chandler, McDonald, and then later those writers who were shaking things up in their wake - Burke, Ellroy. Before I'd written a word I'd read pretty much everything by the likes of Connelly, Pelecanos, McDermid, Rankin and Harvey, and I still do. It tickles me constantly that all those writers are now my friends. I think I was as influenced by TV and film as much as by anything I read.

TA: The crime/thriller genre in itself is in rude health with some great stuff out there. And it is so fluid - I recently listened with great interest in you chat with John Connolly in which he stated that setting does not define a crime novel. He used a hypothetical crime story set in the old west as his example and I think I agree with him. Another case in point is Brookmyre's Places in the Darkness being taken for SF. I guess what I'm trying to ask is are there genre boundaries that can't be crossed without a work transforming into an entirely different genre? Are there firm and hard rules to the crime genre? Your thoughts on this please.

MB: I really enjoyed that chat with John, who is another writer whose stuff I will try and read as early as possible. I agree that the genre is in great shape and I really don't believe it has boundaries. There are certain conventions and I think you'd be foolish to ignore all of them, but there really isn't anywhere you can't go. That said, if you're writing a crime novel that features wizards and dragons, then even though it might still BE a crime novel, it's also fantasy. Maybe mash-ups are the way forward.

TA: Let's get onto your own writing - your work habits?   

MB: I don't really have work habits. I write a book every year, so there are obviously certain things I have to do, but it's not a 9-5 job. If I'm on the road promoting a book that's just come out, I won't be writing the current one. I can't do both things at the same time. I need my office, my desk, my things. When I AM working, it's usually done at night. I TRY to write during the day but I'm easily distracted, so it works best when emails aren't arriving and Twitter has gone quiet. On top of that, I think it suits the kind of stuff I'm writing if I can look out of the window and see only darkness. 

TA: And back to Thorne - what are the chances of him returning to TV?

MB: The notion of bringing Thorne back to TV surfaces every six months or so and there has been plenty of interest, but nothing's going to be happening very soon. Mind you, in television nothing EVER happens very soon. Rush Of Blood is still in development and I'm working on something original for TV, but 99% of all my energy and attention is focused on the books. Oh, and the band of fellow crime-writers I sing and play guitar with. 

 THORNE TV SERIES: The series debuted on Sky 1 in October 2010 with David Morrisey in the title role. Despite considerable success the series has yet to return.

TA: Finally, will be ever see the return of Nicklin? If Thorne is Holmes then he is his Moriarty, and the character is a huge hit with readers. So will our favorite psycho come back?

MB: Ha! I get asked this a lot. Nothing is certain, but the book that will come out in 2020 will be my twentieth novel and will mean 20 years of Thorne. If I WAS going to bring Nicklin back - for one last appearance - that would probably be the time. But I won't do it unless I have an idea that really works...



Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Book Review: The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham

The Killing Habit is the fifteenth book in the hugely popular Tom Thorne series.

The previous Thorne, Love Like Blood was a truly exceptional crime thriller and it must have presented the author with quite a challenge to follow up, but thankfully Billingham was more than up to the task. Again the book uses highly topical issues as its starting point - this time dealing with animal cruelty. Specifically a series of cat killings - this case is based on the real life UK Cat Killings in which someone, still at large, is responsible for the brutal killings of hundreds of cats.

Thorne knows the serial killer archetype and is convinced that someone who kills cats, mutilates them and leaves their bodies on the doorstep for their owners to find them, will progress to killing people, indeed may have already done so. And so Thorne, once again teamed with DI Nicola Tanner begins to investigate. Thankfully the descriptions of the animal torture are mostly kept off scene, and it is not long before the plot moves on and becomes a cat and mouse game (excuse the pun) between Thorne, his team and the demented killer.

There is also a secondary though equally important plot in which Tanner is keeping a man in a safe house while she tries to track down a woman, known as The Duchess who has links to organised crime. As well as all that we also have details of the everyday lives of the main characters, and this soap opera aspect so necessary to long running series is something that Billingham does so well. Thorne is at odds with his partner Helen, feeling that her sister is coming between them and deliberately trying to ruin their relationship, Tanner still mourning the loss of her own partner is flat hunting and the rest of the regular cast put in their obligatory and entertaining appearance. I can never get enough of Hendricks, for example.

Billingham juggles everything with considerable skill and there is a real sense of urgency as the plot unfolds, which leads to a (I didn't see that coming) climax that will have major ramifications as the series progresses.

Later this week the Archive talks to the author in an exclusive interview.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Magazine Watch: Comicscene

Now this looks interesting.

Issue 1 hits stores this August

You can order your copies now or subscribe in print or digital pdf at

Enhanced digital editions can be purchased for £3.99 at from 1st August

Monday, 2 July 2018

The World Cup is on...we've not got time for this

Absolutely  hilarious responses to Cheryl Cole's tweet about her split from that One Direction guy

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Discovering the Detectives: R. D. Wingfield

To most the name R. D . Wingfield will sum up images of Inspector Frost, his best known creation who was brought to screen by David Jason but that's only half the picture. In fact it's not even half the picture, a quarter maybe or even less because R. D. Wingfield was for around twenty years a prolific writer of radio drama for the BBC- in fact even Inspector Frost made his debut in a radio play.

The Inspector Frost novels are truly excellent but it is with the radio plays - most of which can be found easily on You Tube - that the author did his best work.  Between 1972 and 1988, Wingfield produced a steady stream of intelligent mystery plays with a built-in guarantee of enjoyment for the listener . In fact even when Wingfield fell out with the BBC he continued to sell them plays written under pen names including the name Arthur Jefferson, which was actually Stan Laurel's real name.

'I was radio's blue-eyed boy. Everything I wrote they bought. When I'd sold three plays I thought, I'm on to a winner here, and I slung up my job - I was a clerk in an oil company -and started writing radio plays full-time.' R. D. Wingfield.

In various interviews Wingfield stated that he considered himself a dramatist first, and a novelist second and even when the TV series based around Inspector Frost made him an household name, radio remained his first love.

';I don't watch the television Frost. Nothing against David Jason. I could watch him again and again in 'Only Fools and Horses', but he isn't my Frost, and my fear is that if I were to watch him, then my next Frost would become him.' R. D Wingfield talking to the Radio Times in 1996.

Leslie Sands: First Frost

Back when Frost was first being developed for Radio, Wingfield hoped Ronnie Barker would play the part but recording couldn't be worked in around his TV work and so Leslie Sands was cast - this Frost is actually closer to the character in the novels than the TV series and can be listened to HERE.

Wingfield was an intensely shy and private man, Wingfield lived anonymously at Basildon, Essex, where even his neighbours were unaware of who he was. When ITV bought the television rights to the Frost books in 1992, he continued to live modestly and eschewed the trappings of success; he avoided the hoopla of book launches and publishers' parties, turned down requests for television interviews and was rarely photographed. Nor did he enjoy writing the books, regarding them as a grinding chore and very much a bread-and-butter obligation; radio scripts, on the other hand, were a labour of love, and Wingfield produced a steady stream of some 40 mysteries over a 20-year period until a shrinking radio market and the success of the Frost novels in the early 1990s forced his hand.

These radio plays are all good, many of them are excellent. Check out A TEST TO DESTRUCTION, an early play in which an explosives expert, seemingly caught in a desperate trap, keeps his nerve and thinks ahead. THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY, from 1972, which cleverly resolves an unexplained murder ten years after its commission. Also the serial OUTBREAK OF FEAR (1982), which piles one horrific death onto another in a hair-raising play. And SATURDAY ROSTER from 1974 is the ultimate straight forward police procedural And one I only recently listened to was THE KILLING SEASON, a six part thriller from 1984, which is set during the Christmas period is an absolute classic of crime drama. These are just a few of the excellent Wingfield plays that can be found on You Tube.

The original Frost novels
Below is a list of the Wingfield radio plays together with dates of first broadcast. Source Nigel Deacon's Diversity Website.

As previously stated most of these plays can be found on You Tube - To give you an idea of how highly I regard these plays I'll just tell you that I've ripped them all as MP3 FILES and they have a permanent place on my iPod - they've entertained me on many a long drive.

Compensating Error (45') Aug 68 8.15 R4
Our West Ladyton Branch (60') 13-11-68 8.15 R2
Better never than late (60') Nov 69 2.00 R4
The night they deliver the money (60') 4-4-70 2.00 R4
Double Entry (45') 7-10-70 R4
Test to Destruction (45') 1970 R4
Slow fuse (45') 13-1-71 8.15 R4
Letter of the law (60') 28-4-71 3.05 R4
Cat and mouse game (45') May 71 8.15 R4
Adequate Reasons (45') 21-7-71 8.15 R4
The tenth anniversary (45') 9-2-72 8.15 R4
The Alternative Plan (45') 19-7-72 8.15 R4
A second class risk (45') Jan 73 8.15 R4
Sins of commission (45') 2-5-73 8.15 R4
Cleft stick (45') 19-12-73 8.15 R4
Balance brought forward (45') 27-2-74 8.15 R4
Murder locked out (45') 11-9-74 8.15 R4
Saturday Roster (45') 9-10-74 8.15 R4
Slow Fuse (30' version) May 76 R4
Smiling and beautiful death (45') May 76 3.05 R4
Death of the insured (45') 8-7-76 3.05 R4
Winner takes the Kitty (30') Oct 76 R4
Three days of Frost (90') 12-2-77 8.30 R4
Credit risk (45') 24-2-77 3.05 R4
Daylight robbery (45') 2-6-77 3.05 R4
The last escape (45') 7-7-77 3.05 R4
Blood money (60') 26-8-77 3.05 R4
Post Mortem Shock (45') 2-11-77 R4
Nightmare (15') 16-2-79 1145pm R4
The cellar (15') 7-4-79 1145pm R4
Second sight (60') May 81 3.02 R4
Innocent victim (60') 20-8-81 3.02 R4
A touch of Frost (90') 6-2-82 8.30 R4
Moveable assets (45') Apr 82 3.02 R4
Outbreak of Fear (5 x 30 mins) beginning 29-8-82 R4
The Killing Season (as Arthur Jefferson) (6 x 30 mins) Jan 84 R4
Cover-up (90') 5-1-85 8.30 R4
Hate Mail (as T. Smith) (45') c1985 R4
Deadfall (60') Dec 87 R4. Rebroadcast by ABC, c1995

Rodney David Wingfield, radio scriptwriter and crime novelist, June 6 1928; died July 31 2007

Mark Billingham arrives at the Archive

To celebrate the release of Mark Billingham's new Thorne thriller, The Killing Habit (available now in hardcover and eBook) the Archive will proudly be presenting an interview with the author himself over the coming weeks. And later this week I'll post my review of the new novel - I'm reading this book a little slower than usual.....Hey, it's hard to read with the World Cup in full swing you know...If Mark Billingham will release his books to coincide with the biggest footie tournament of them all then it's his fault. I'm currently half way through and already I can say that the book provides far more thrills than Germany managed in the cup. Yep, you can safely say that Thorne is on top striking form here.

How do you catch a killer who is yet to kill?

We all know the signs. Cruelty, lack of empathy, the killing of animals. Now, pets on suburban London streets are being stalked by a shadow, and it could just be the start.

DI Tom Thorne knows the psychological profile of such offenders all too well, so when he is tasked with catching a notorious killer of domestic cats, he sees the chance to stop a series of homicides before they happen.

Others are less convinced, so once more, Thorne relies on DI Nicola Tanner to help him solve the case, before the culprit starts hunting people. It's a journey that brings them face to face with a killer who will tear their lives apart.

'A new Mark Billingham is always a treat and The Killing Habit hurls the reader straight into the action. Thoroughly enjoyable for being so very real' SUSIE STEINER

'Mark Billingham on superb form. A finely paced and polished procedural, with twists and turns galore and an ending that will chill your soul' CARA HUNTER

'An unconventional literary superstar' MAIL ON SUNDAY

'As ever with Billingham, a rich cast of characters and tense situations are marshalled with panache, leading to a final terrifying encounter' FINANCIAL TIMES
'Thorne is a terrific invention' IRISH INDEPENDENT