Guns and Roses

During the last year or so, I’ve noticed a growing trend for thrillers on Amazon to have absurd bylines that read something along the lines of: “A gripping psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the final, utterly shocking twist”.

Why are they doing this? Surely a picture of a remote cottage and a title like ‘Nowhere to Hide’ are enough of a clue. Indeed, whatever happened to the cliche about a picture painting a thousand words?

I suppose the answer is that the impact of book jackets has been significantly dimished by the advent of online sellers and ebooks. I’d be interested to know what the average budget for a book jacket today is compared to, say, 20 years ago, when the average cover for a thriller novel was usually understated and very effective.

However go back another 20 or 30 years and once again, subtlety has gone out of the window. Sorting through my decaying inventory last week, I noticed how the covers of older thrillers were all largely variations on the same theme: a man holding a gun, with an often scantily-clad woman next to him.

thriller01
According to Wikipedia, Grant Holmes is a baseball player born in 1996. Further research has been unfruitful. As you can see, like the modern jackets, we have a helpful byline to tell us that this is a ‘hard-driving thriller’, in case the dead body and gun weren’t enough of a clue.

thriller1a

In this cover, we get two guns for the price of one. As for Mike Brewer, a brief internet search has revealed that he owns a car dealership in Sheffield and is also a professor of economics at the Institute for Fiscal Research. There is no mention of any thrillers.

thriller05

We’re now in the 1960s and the raincoats have gone out of fashion.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I always used to think that if a book jacket only had quotes from a provincial newspaper, this was generally a bad sign.The exceptions to this rule were The London Evening Standard, The Scotsman and, perhaps, The Yorkshire Post. I can’t remember why I thought this.

Desmond Skirrow was a local man, who lived in in Brighton and died in his early 50s. According to a Wikipedia article, Skirrow was “Tall, big, bearded and seemingly incapable of being serious for more than a few minutes at a time.” He worked at an advertising agency with the motor racing commentator Murray Walker, who later claimed that they disliked each other intensely.

thriller03

If I was writing a thriller, I probably wouldn’t call my hero Ira Hand. But as names go, it’s not as bad as the one William Shatner chose for the hero of his Tekwar series: Jake Cardigan.

thriller02

We’re now well into the 1970s and this chap isn’t even wearing a tie! But otherwise, the casual sexism and hint of danger remain the same.

Brett Halliday was the pen name of Davis Dresser, which also sounds like a pen name (albeit a rather bad one). As a boy, Dresser lost an eye in an unfortunate encounter with some barbed wire, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a remarkably prolific writer of thrillers, under a variety of pseudonyms.

thriller06
We have now reached the age of what my father used to refer to as “those flippin’ women’s libbers”. The image of a woman holding a gun would have been more of a blow for feminism if she’d been wearing some clothes. As it is, this cover is as dated and sexist as all the others.

These covers are mildly amusing, but they are nothing compared to some of the horrors that I will reveal at a later date.

Beginning at the Ending

I have just closed my bookselling business. It limped along like a consumptive war veteran for five inglorious years before I decided to call it a day. My remaining stock now lies in a cowshed being slowly consumed by cobwebs and mould.

The business wasn’t a complete failure. I managed to sell over 12,000 books and in the early days, worked in an idyllic rural setting with a group of people that included one of the cast of ‘The Archers’. Sadly, I then made the mistake of moving to a remote, malodorous farmyard, where the pleasant bleating of sheep was replaced by the agonised cries of frustrated bulls sodomising each other.

I shared my new unit with four Polish alcoholics, all of whom liked to get drunk within the first hour and race around in a fork lift truck, seeing how close they could get to my shed without crashing into it. It wasn’t quite the antiquarian bookselling idyll that I’d envisaged.

In the end, it wasn’t the bulls or the Poles that finished me off, or even the menagerie of rats, robins, minks, newts, spiders and toads that shared my premises. It was the simple problem of obtaining stock from a recycling industry that found it more cost-effective to bin their old books and sell them to waste paper merchants.

I can’t say that I’m particularly sorry that it’s over. When, during one wet, wintry morning last year, I was almost crushed to death by a one tonne delivery of books, I couldn’t help thinking that there must be easier ways to earn a living.

The next few months will be spent disposing of my stock and fixtures and if I come across any interesting books or abandoned photographs, I will share them here.

I’ll begin with some lost photos, all of which have come from different sources. Most of them have no dates or places, which is both tantalising and frustrating.

img_0004
A timeless scene like this is hard to date, but at a guess I’d say it was taken between the late 40s and early 50s. The rather bland building must have been fairly new then.

img_0004a
The two people who interest me are the waiter and the airman, both of whom are outsiders in this setting. The airman appears to regard the scene with an attitude that could range from simple indifference to outright contempt. (I’m assuming that he’s an airman. For all all know, he could be from the Dutch navy)

img_0003
These women are celebrating qualifying as the runners-up in a ‘Ladies Darts League’, somewhere in the Birmingham area during, I would guess, the late 1950s. I’m particularly drawn to the older woman, who almost appears to be snarling at the camera. Perhaps she had her heart set on the First Prize.

I’ve also noticed that the woman in the back row – second from the left – bears more than a passing resemblance to Cherie Blair.

The next photo appeared perfectly innocuous, then I read the writing on the back:

img_0001
img_0002
I can’t begin to imagine the story that lies behind these chilling words.

img_0006
I like this photo because it is nothing more than a snapshot, but fills me with a longing to be a passenger on that ship, sipping cocktails as the sun sets on the British Empire. In reality, a cruise ship would be my idea of hell.

img_0007
This setting, in Knott End, Lancashire, offers slightly less glamour than the 1930s cruise liner. Indeed, I think that the woman might be sitting on part of a disgarded sewerage outflow pipe.

And that ends this rather inauspicious beginning to my new blog. I had planned something quite different, involving my mother and her friends talking about their memories of World War Two. The aim was for something a little more ‘multimedia’, with podcasts and links to Instagram and Twitter.

My mother had got as far as gaining her friends’ agreement to take part, but then she ruined everything by dying. Now I’m quite rudderless.

However, after waiting in vain for the right moment to begin a new blog, I have decided to just get on with it.