by Zoë Sharp
Well, I was intending to do another of those blogs about What I Did At Bouchercon, because there were a few stories there that deserve telling – getting mugged by a paramilitary evangelist in Baltimore Airport, for a start. And the museum exhibit designer we met on the plane on the way out, who turned out to be one of those people you instantly take to.
But then I read Dusty’s comments from yesterday about Not Another What I Did At Bouchercon Report, and realised I was going to have to come up with something new. And fast.
So, hello to everyone we met. It was a convention of delights for me. There are people I’ll never forget – mostly for the right reasons! And instead I’ll move to Monday night, New York City. We had dinner with Lee Child, SJ Rozan, and new Brit crime thriller author, Andrew Grant – who also happens to be Lee’s little brother. And the subject of location came up over goat biryani (don’t ask). “There have been very few series that have been truly successful in the States,” Lee said, “that haven’t been set here.”
Now, your first instinct is to deny this. But the more you think about it, the more it seems to hold true. There are the occasional exceptions, of course. Sherlock Holmes, for one. And Golden Age crime seems to demand an English country house setting, some time between the wars. But more recently …?
The only ones that immediately hit me are Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs books, although the time period puts it into a different, historical category. And Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc, not to mention our own Ken Bruen who has his Galway-set Jack Taylor series and the London-based Brant and Roberts books. But even Ken has experimented with US-set novels, like ONCE WERE COPS. There are one or two of the translated authors who are also making waves, such as Stig Larsson. But, others? It starts to get difficult to think of any. Although, I must admit that I’ve literally just got off an overnight redeye flight home, so it is possible that my brain is totally fried.
But, of all the really top authors in the US bestseller charts, I’m not sure I can think of any whose books are set elsewhere. And often, a writer will move his characters to the States partway through a series – I admit to doing this myself, at the behest of my US publisher. The first time it happened, for FIRST DROP, was coincidence. Charlie was working as a bodyguard and the idea for the plot hinged on the book being set during the Spring Break weekend at Daytona Beach. My current US editor read that book, liked it, and put in the request that Charlie might soon be working in America again soon. And when a publisher makes such a suggestion, an author generally takes it on board.
Fortunately, this conversation happened at a stage when I was changing publisher in the UK and my new house, Allison & Busby, were more than happy with the idea. Having Charlie living and working in America not only gives her the chance to carry – and often use – firearms that she would not otherwise get the opportunity to, but it also emphasises her status as an outsider, looking in.
So, the first part of this question is, do you think this is this is the case? Do you think a book has to be set in America to sell well in America. And, if not, why not? I need examples, people!
I have a trio of nice Words of the Week this week. The first is apricity, which is the warmth of the sun in winter. The second is balter, which is to dance clumsily. And the last – and I’m horrified to think this happens often enough to have its own word – is lant, which means to add urine to ale to make it stronger.