My work often puts me in contact with literary agents, and I enjoy hearing their insights into the current state of publishing and future fiction releases. Among the top UK representatives working in the crime fiction and thriller genre are Jane Gregory; Ed Victor, who represents Robert Littell; Judith Murdoch, who looks after Tony Black; Broo Doherty, who takes care of Paul Johnston; Carole Blake, whose clientèle includes Peter James; and Jonny Geller, the agent for Michael Marshall and Tom Rob Smith. But I have interacted with one author rep more than any other, and that’s the legendary Darley Anderson, probably because he represents many of my favorite writers: Lee Child, John Connolly, Chris Mooney, and of course Martina Cole.
So it was delightful to spend a little talking with Anderson during last week’s launch party for Martina Cole’s new Hard Girls, held at London’s Cavendish Square. The affair was predictably manic, and since Cole’s books have engendered more and more interest among television and film folk, many of those sort mingled with (and at points threatened to swamp) the book-oriented guests. To escape the hubbub, I found a quiet corridor in which to have an unusually detailed chat with agent Anderson. (In the photo above, Darley Anderson is the handsome devil on the right, with yours truly.)
Since it was Anderson who “discovered” Cole, we naturally discussed the U.S. release earlier this year of Close, which represented her overdue launch into the American market. This isn’t a particularly good time for U.S. publishing, but Cole’s work has apparently been selling well, perhaps due to the popularity of The Sopranos, which tapped a similar blue-collar criminal vein. Anderson remarked on Cole’s willingness to credit everyone else for her success--her publisher, her editor, her agent--but deny herself acclaim for an engaging no-frills, down-to-earth writing style that attracts readers worldwide. Maybe a favorable U.S. reception will change her tune.
Anderson and I went on to talk about Lee Child. He noted that Child’s U.S. publisher is asking for two new Jack Reacher novels in 2010, and Transworld in the UK will introduce both 61 Hours and an as-yet-unnamed book later next year. I reminded him of the wonderful party he and the author hosted in London a few years back to celebrate Child’s first decade as a published writer. And I shared with Anderson an anecdote relative to that event. Two months after the celebration, my wife and I rented the Woody Allen thriller Matchpoint on DVD. With the kids in bed, we were well into our second bottle of Chardonnay, totally absorbed in Allen’s Highsmith-esque thriller about the dangers of infidelity, when I suddenly coughed up a mouthful of wine and pointed excitedly at the TV screen. The picture showed a couple having a steamy session in a Westminster penthouse. “I was there,” I shouted, much to the bewilderment of my wife. Why, her eyes asked suspiciously, had I been anywhere near a place where married people engaged in illicit engagements? “No,” I said quickly, “I don’t mean I had an affair there. That apartment was where Lee Child and Darley Anderson hosted the ‘Jack Reacher Decade in Publishing’ party--in Westminster Tower, overlooking the Thames.” She tutted me. “You and your books,” my wife said with a sigh.
Moving from Child to John Connolly, I reminded Anderson that the latter has also now reached the end of his first decade as a published novelist. And Connolly’s work certainly shows the benefits of that experience. His latest private eye Charlie Parker novel, The Lovers, will likely wind up as one of my favorite books of 2009. Anderson agreed with that assessment, adding that he was sure Irishman Connolly had talent when he picked the first Parker book, Every Dead Thing (1999), out of his slush pile.
I made it a point to congratulate Anderson on supporting Connolly’s ventures into literary territory beyond the popular Parker series, including The Gates, his recently published young adult novel. And I went on to explain that during my attendance at the Indianapolis Bouchercon in October, editor George Easter of Deadly Pleasures had announced that he was scheduling The Gates as the subject of his magazine’s next “Reviewed to Death” feature. All of DP’s critics will be asked to read Connolly’s book and comment on it, giving readers a huge cross-section of opinions.
Anderson voiced curiosity at how I can read so many books each year. I’m passionate about crime fiction, I answered, but then admitted I can now only finish a small proportion of the novels I start reading. Unless they really “hit the spot,” they’re abandoned soon after I crack their spines. My free time is simply too tight to spend hours with fiction that doesn’t captivate me by page 60 (although that isn’t an altogether reliable gauge--an exception was the aforementioned Every Dead Thing, which I almost gave up on, due to the unrelenting grimness of the opening section, but stuck with and liked by its end). I told Anderson that I wind up reviewing only the novels I complete. A very small number of those am I really enthusiastic about, and willing to champion--works such as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, and Nick Stone’s Mr. Clarinet.
“That’s what I love about you,” Anderson said, laughing. “Your enthusiasm is so bloody infectious.”
It was happy with this opportunity to speak at length with Darley Anderson. But our time together ended when Martin Nield from Headline, Cole’s publisher, arrived with the author herself in tow. We proceeded to raise our glasses to Cole’s success at booting Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol from the top of the UK bestseller charts. If anyone could do it, the author of Hard Girls--something of a hard girl herself--was up to the task.