How I Came to Write this Book
THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE
I’m fascinated by favourite books. And I don’t just mean the stories they tell within their pages, I mean the memories and emotions that can be tied up in a particular edition.
Take the books on the shelves in my study. There are a whole bunch of titles that it would kill me to lose. There’s my Penguin paperback of Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, the book that first made me want to write, with its yellowed pages, bent cover and cracked spine. There’s my second-hand Vintage Crime edition of THE LONG GOODBYE, the book that introduced me to Raymond Chandler, with a pencil note on the inside cover that tells me I bought it for three dollars from a second-hand book stall in New Orleans. There’s my Faber & Faber paperback of Paul Auster’s ORACLE NIGHT, a book I’ve read more times than any other. There are my treasured signed editions of a quartet of hardboiled gems by a certain Megan Abbott. And there’s my school thesaurus, which dumb superstition makes me hold onto and use to this day, even though it’s falling apart, the pages all torn and hopelessly out of sequence…
I could go on. Believe me. And it’s the same for Charlie Howard – hack mystery writer and globetrotting burglar-for-hire -- the lead character in my Good Thief’s Guide series of mystery novels. The only difference is that Charlie’s emotions are all wrapped up in a single book -- a signed first edition of Dashiell Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON.
THE MALTESE FALCON is the one constant in Charlie’s life, the only possession he takes with him wherever he travels in the world. He keeps it in an airtight picture frame above his writing desk. Charlie’s superstitious, too – I guess a lot of writers are – and he truly believes that he’s incapable of writing a publishable book without Hammett’s novel watching over him.
I knew all this before I wrote THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE, but I didn’t know why the book was so important to Charlie, or how he’d come to own it. I didn’t know exactly how much it meant to him, or just how far he’d go to protect it.
So I decided to find out, and it’s for this reason that VENICE opens with Charlie discovering a glamorous female cat burglar inside his apartment, stealing his prized copy of Hammett’s book. And from there, everything that Charlie thought he knew is turned on its head. This time around, he’s not the criminal, but the victim. He’s no longer the most talented thief in town. And when he finds himself blackmailed into breaking-into a Venetian palazzo in exchange for getting his book back safely, it’s not to steal something, but to return it.
One final note. I now have something else in common with Charlie. A couple of years ago, my wife gave me a birthday gift. It’s a hardcover edition of THE MALTESE FALCON, published by Orion in 2004, with an introduction by Sara Paretsky, illustrations by David Eccles, and a handsome slipcase cover. I keep it on the low bookcase to the side of my desk, where it watches over me as I type. And it’s the book I value above all others.
Chris Ewan is the author of three previous novels, all of them shortlisted for CrimeFest’s Last Laugh Award. They are THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM (Winner of the Long Barn Books First Novel Award), THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO PARIS and THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VEGAS. You can find him on Twitter @chrisewan and his website is www.thegoodthief.co.uk
Chris has just signed a two book deal with Faber and Faber for two standalones. Congrats to Chris!!