I was extremely sorry to hear the other day of the death of Ralph Spurrier, a very good bookseller and author of a crime novel, A Coin for the Hangman, which drew on his professional expertise. I've known Ralph since my earliest days in the CWA and he was for a number of years a regular attender at the annual conferences. Although based down in Sussex, he even joined northern crime writers for a memorable weekend symposium arranged by Reginald Hill at Grasmere in the early 90s.
Before setting up on his own as Post Mortem Books, Ralph worked for Gollancz, and he had a fund of stories about that period in his life. He recently contributed an article to CADS about his early days in bookselling and I hope that he managed to continue the series before things became too difficult for him. His occasional ventures into publishing were interesting - for instance, he reprinted Murder in the Dispensary, an early Ellis Peters novel, written under the name Jolyon Carr, and also published some checklists and other pamphlets.
Although I've not seen Ralph in person for a number of years, we kept in fairly regular touch by phone and email. I've bought a number of books from him in the past twelve months, including some titles by C.W. Grafton (father of Sue) with accompanying correspondence to Ralph.
Ralph broke the news to me late last year that he was downsizing his collection and stock because he was terminally ill. I was very shocked. The last email I had from him was in April. It made very poignant reading: 'I am under hospice palliative care which means a weekly visit from the nurse and prescribing of essential drugs to keep me pain free etc. I can still function well enough in the mornings but tend to run out of steam by lunchtime. I am in the process of tidying up all the business and financial ends...An end of an era then but I look back with much joy on the business I built up and all the lovely people I have met. Especially dear to me is to see such authors as yourself, Ann Cleeves and Ian Rankin who all had a tough time getting published and making sales in their early days now becoming high flyers.' As is evident from that small extract, he was a very good-natured fellow and I shall really miss him.