I was sorry to learn of the death this week of Michael Cox, who became a published crime novelist relatively late in life, but earned massive success in a short career. Michael’s first novel, The Meaning of Night, was many years in the writing, but when he finally finished it, it earned a six figure advance and became a best-seller.
But I met Michael just once, twenty years ago, when he was working as an editor at Oxford University Press. I’d come up with an idea for a reference book about crime fiction – an Oxford Companion. To cut a long story short, I came into contact with Michael, and he was enthusiastic about the concept. So much so that he travelled up to my home in Lymm and proved a very pleasant companion as we knocked ideas back and forth. At this point, I was not a published novelist, but I’d published several non-fiction books, and many articles, and he was very encouraging.
Then came the hugely disappointing news that OUP in the US had just commissioned a Companion which sounded very similar to mine. So that was the end of that. But Michael kindly put me in touch with his American colleagues, and I got to know Rosemary Herbert, editor of the Companion . And I finished up contributing twenty-odd essays to her book. Rosemary’s book turned out to be somewhat different from what I had in mind, but I like it a lot, and I think she did a really good job. I’m surprised the Companion isn’t mentioned more often in discussions about the genre, as it contains much interesting material.
I lost touch with Michael, but I enjoyed several chunky OUP anthologies that he edited and which showed his extensive knowledge of Victorian genre fiction. And then, out of the blue, came the news that he’d published this best-seller. However, his luck was not all good. He’d been diagnosed with a rare cancer that affected his sight. This seems to have spurred him to finish his book. I haven't got round to reading it yet, but I hope its success gave him enormous pleasure. Tragically, the cancer has now claimed him, but he was a nice guy and I’m sorry I never had the chance to work with him.