As public voting opens for 2013’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year – the shortlist of six includes Faber authors Chris Ewan and Stav Sherez – we asked two people who know the authors well – their editors – to tell YOU why you should vote for them. Angus Cargill gives the case for Stav Sherez here, but going first is Katherine Armstrong. An editor can only ever have one ‘first acquisition’ and, for Katherine, that honour went to Chris Ewan’s Safe House. A validation of her excellent taste then that the book is one of the six finest crime novels of the year. But what makes this Isle of Man-set page-turner worthy of your vote? Let Katherine persuade you …
Voting lines are now open (until 16th July). 20% of the award for Crime Novel of the Year will be decided by the reading public.
Katherine writes …
I first met Chris Ewan at Crimefest in Bristol a couple of years ago. It was my first Crimefest as a commissioning editor of crime fiction at Faber and I hadn’t yet acquired my first novel. This is a big deal for an editor. Your first acquisition defines how you will be perceived in the company and in the wider publishing community as a whole. Get it right and people will listen to what you have to say; get it wrong and, well, it’s a hard slog back to where you started.
So there I was with a clean slate and a few months of reading good submissions behind me, but I’d not yet found ‘the one’ – the book that in your gut you know is a winner; the one that you put in front of EVERYONE in your office and ask them to ‘please, read this, it’s amazing, I have to buy it.’
In the bar at Crimefest on the Saturday night (and believe me, a lot of work is conducted here), I was hanging out with some publishing friends and some other authors. Chris was part of this group and we got talking. I asked him what he was working on and he pitched me the plot of Safe House. ‘Basically, a man wakes up in hospital after a motorbike crash, only to be told that the woman who he claims was on the back of the bike with him doesn’t appear to exist.’ I was hooked. A couple of weeks later his agent sent me the typescript and the rest, as they say, is history.
Safe House has the fast-paced narrative of a thriller and combines this beautifully with believable and relateable characters and a sense of place. The Isle of Man. Not your first thought for the setting of a thriller perhaps, but one that fits the narrative perfectly, having its own laws, the TT road (hence a reason for a motorbike crash) and rumours of ex-security service safe houses dotted about the island. What would be difficult to pull off in, say, London or even in Scotland, seems perfectly believable on the Isle of Man.
On publication last August, I took my first trip to the Isle of Man for Chris’s launch. It is very beautiful and it is its own place, yet at the same time it’s incredibly familiar; there’s the same range of shops that’s in every town across the UK, but then you have the sea.* As you drive around, the sea is a constant presence − you never forget you are on an island (in case you’d missed that fact when you flew in over it). Chris took me up to the house on the plantation that was the inspiration for the safe house in the novel. As a light drizzle of rain came down and we walked out to the house through the trees across a dirt path, and as it got increasingly darker the further we went in, I realised that there really was something a bit sinister about this place and that being on an island with limited options of escape is a truly terrifying prospect if someone is chasing you. Where can you hide that’s safe? And if you are in hiding on a remote island where your nearest neighbour is miles away, who can help you if you’re found?
I would love to see Safe House win the Crime Novel of the Year award. I think it’s a great entry and more than holds its own among the other shortlisted titles. It has a special place in my heart as the first book that I commissioned, but it would also be nice to see the everyman come out on top.
* The Isle of Man is also known for its local delicacy – chips, gravy and cheese – and I can attest to it being surprisingly delicious and well worth a try.
Vote for Safe House!