Thursday, 10 July 2014

John Harvey and "Fedora"

I enjoyed last week's CWA Daggers Dinner, which was extremely well organised, in particular by CWA director Lucy Santos. It was a pleasure to be invited to join the table of Severn House, publishers of the CWA anthology, and Edwin Buckhalter and his team were very good company. Two stories from Deadly Pleasures, written by John Harvey and by my friend and Murder Squad colleague Cath Staincliffe, were short-listed for the CWA Short Story Dagger,and naturally I was hoping that one of them would prove to be the winner.

And as luck would have it, John Harvey won, for his story "Fedora". But luck really had nothing to do with it, since it is an absolutely terrific story. I had the good fortune, when putting the anthology together, to receive a great many enjoyable stories, and several that I thought were really notable. But none of them, on first reading, made such an impression on me as "Fedora". Sometimes, my judgment of these things proves to be very different from that of the real judges. But with all due deference to the other contenders, I don't think there's a lot of doubt that this was the right choice.

"Fedora" is a story which is enormously topical, in the post-Jimmy Savile era, and John mentioned in his acceptance speech that it was remarkable timing that his award coincided with the conviction of Rolf Harris for several serious criminal offences. I'm not going to spoil the story, save to say that it's genuinely memorable and thought- provoking.

I first came across John Harvey's work when I was sent his first Charlie Resnick novel, Lonely Hearts, to review. I was greatly impressed, although also a bit shaken. His book, like the debut novel I was writing at the time, had loneliness as its theme, but I realised that he was a much more accomplished author than me. I didn't know then that he'd written a lot of westerns and was also a noted poet, but I could tell he was going to be a major crime writer, and when he appeared at a local Waterstone's, I hot-footed it there to listen to him, and to get him to sign my copy. Reading books like John's inspired me to work even harder on All the Lonely People, and make sure it was as good as it could be. John's a different sort of crime writer from me, less interested perhaps in plot and puzzle, but his work is always gripping.

Years later, I got to know him a bit, and I've always found him a thoughtful and interesting person, as well as a fine novelist. He was a worthy winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger in the years when I chaired the sub-committee which drew up the shortlist for that award. As he noted in his acceptance speech, he sometimes needs a bit of encouragement to write for anthologies, but I hope he will continue to do so. His short fiction is just as interesting as his longer work..

No comments: