At present, I'm hard at work on the final stages of my latest Lake District Mystery, but a welcome digression on Saturday involved my annual pilgrimage to the national crime and detection book fair in Harrogate. Fog across the Pennines delayed my journey, but I thought two hours at the fair would still be plenty. It proved to be far from long enough. This may, however, have been a good thing in one sense. Book fairs as impressive as this one can seriously damage your financial health.
As well as specialist crime fiction dealers (plus several who were selling children's books), I was delighted to bump into David Stuart Davies, the Sherlock Holmes expert, who was marketing a selection of his own books. David kindly wrote an introduction to The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and is a good friend of Leslie Klinger, whose work on the Free Sherlock project we both agreed was truly admirable.
One totally unexpected, and quite heartwarming, encounter was with a very pleasant teacher who had brought a group of Year 8 schoolgirls along. She told me that the class has been studying detective fiction - lucky things. That's educational progress for you! She'd had the very good idea of bringing the girls along to the fair, and they seemed to be having a fun time. In fact one had bought a copy of John Bude's The Lake District Murder, and one of the dealers had suggested she asked me to sign it. It would be nice to think that some of those girls will retain a fondness for detective fiction throughout their lives. The teacher was doing a really great job. Very enlightened.
I enjoyed chatting to the specialist crime dealers, and admiring their stock (including a signed book in pristine dust jacket by Patricia Wentworth, for instance, and hard-to-find copies of classics by Henry Wade, John Rhode, and the Coles), as well as soliciting feedback on the proposed cover artwork for The Golden Age of Murder. One dealer told me that he'd brought along a large quantity of titles by E.C.R. Lorac, and nearly all of them had been snapped up by the end of the afternoon. Lorac's work is a good example of what one might call "late Golden Age" writing, and I have quite a few of her books, which originally I bought for my parents, both of whom were Lorac fans. Some other titles, though, are very hard to find; hence the demand for them on Saturday.
Another dealer told me that the British Library Crime Classics series is fuelling interest in the first editions of the writers chosen. Price inflation is occurring as a result, it seems, because the originals are so rare. I was also invited to consider a possible new writing project with Golden Age connections, which will be unique and fascinating to undertake if we can get it off the ground. I saw a number of wonderful first editions in dust jackets that I'll probably never see again, such is their scarcity. Did I make any purchases? Only seven, which I regard as very restrained when surrounded by so many temptations. I'll say more about them in the future, but in the meantime, I'll just mention that one of them was a cheap paperback in the Collins White Circle series with the splendid title Detectives in Gum Boots. The author was Roger East, some of whose other novels I've enjoyed. But I've never seen a copy of this one before, and I simply couldn't resist....