Let’s start with an apology, something I so rarely have to do here! My Melbourne Cup tip, Jameka, tried hard but did not win. I did find a winner on the day, however, as I read Saul Black’s new crime novel Lovemurder, which Hachette will publish on November 17. You may remember I liked Black’s 2015 debut, The Killing Lessons, when he was identified only by that name. I did deduce that he was in fact Glen Duncan, a literary novelist who made a popular splash with The Last Werewolf trilogy. This time Hachette acknowledges Black is, well, white and English. I think I’d have guessed it again anyway, due to the joke about Philip Roth. Duncan is deft at letting a little light into dark places. The novel centres on two women: San Francisco detective Valerie Hart and the beautiful, super-intelligent, sadistic serial killer she put on death row six years ago, Katherine Glass. The super-intelligent, handsome, rich man who helped Glass torture and kill six women is still free, and the action is in his renewal of his crimes, in an attempt to free his girlfriend. This novel is brutal in parts. It’s a page-turning thriller that explores the psychologies of serial killers and the police who pursue them, the trauma of being a victim, the public reaction to such horrific crimes, and the random cruelty of the universe. If you like crime fiction, it’s one to put on your radar. If I ever write a memoir about my modest life in the literary world it will be full of appreciation for the authors who have made my job interesting, stimulating, surprising — and fun. That thought reminds me of one of the drawbacks of email. It doesn’t seem as gritty as letters, postcards, faxes and other bits of paper graced with words, such as the bills for long lunches (those I have in a folder, protected, for my good as much as anyone else’s, by a long embargo date). I do have another folder of letters and so on, and it’s a pleasure to look through it now and then. Even so, some emails hold their own. One I still remember came from Clive James some years ago when I ran a piece by him exploring his love of Nicole Kidman. It was a funny article and I asked one of our talented in-house artists to draw a lively caricature of Clive and Nicole. Clive emailed afterwards to thank me, but added a gentle suggestion for any future writer-editor projects we might undertake: leave all the jokes to him. I agreed. He’s the talent.
I mention this because this week I wrote an email to an author that was perhaps the most unexpected to date. It was Gideon Haigh, writer on cricket, crime, corporations and more, about his new book on Victor Trumper, reviewed today by Catherine McGregor. The news I had to break was indeed unprecedented: the review was the most positive I had read, anywhere, any time — ever (to use a word I’m not supposed to as a journalist, because I may read a more positive review in the future. Well, I doubt it). As it happens I agree with McGregor: Haigh is one of our finest writers, and I’m pleased to run a review that says so. Quotes of the week: Almost needless to say, the day after I mentioned Bob Dylan’s silence on the Nobel Prize in Literature, he spoke up, to the Swedish Academy and The Telegraph in Britain. His comments to the Swedes, who had been a bit miffed, could not be faulted for accuracy: “The news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless.” He told the newspaper the honour was “Amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?” Even so, it was not all Greek to him that the academy compared him with Homer. “I suppose so, in some way. Some songs — Blind Willie, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Joey, A Hard Rain, Hurricane and some others — definitely are Homeric in value.” He said he “absolutely” intended to go to Stockholm to collect the prize, “if it’s at all possible”.