Chris Ewan’s “The Good Thief’s Guides” have recently been re-issued, I read them all a long time ago now and loved every one – they offer highly intriguing mysteries, following along with an engaging main character in Charlie Howard and are beautifully witty, both funny and fascinating so if you missed them the first time round now is your chance – helpful links at the end of this feature.
So we know how I love to make Neil White work for a living (or in this case simply so I don’t glare at him) so I asked him to have a chat with Chris Ewan all about The Good Thief Guides so you all can find out more about it. Neil also has a book out next week – the first in his new series featuring lawyer Dan Grant – and that one is ok as well I suppose (its blinking brilliant) so you know – I’ve helpfully added some links to that later too…
Over to them then…
Neil: It’s my great pleasure to chat to someone I’ve known around the crime fiction circuit for a few years now and, more importantly, whose books I’ve enjoyed. I feel like I know Chris but perhaps not as well as I should, so this is my chance to explore more about the man and his excellent books and share it with whoever decides to read this.
Chris, I came across you for the first time when you were on a panel of authors at the Crimefest crime fiction festival in Bristol in 2008. I was a little late entering the event and I caught you explaining to the audience that you are a former wrestling champion. Is this true? And if not, who are you? What’s your story?
Chris: Blimey, you did come in late. The wrestling stuff really only happened for a brief spell after my (not too successful) period as an Olympic Triathlete. But to answer your question, I’m the author of nine crime novels: five in The Good Thief’s Guide To … series of mystery novels about globetrotting crime writer and thief-for-hire Charlie Howard, and four standalone thrillers. Probably the best known of my standalone thrillers is Safe House, which has sold over 500,000 copies in the UK and was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Like many of my thrillers, Safe House is set on the Isle of Man, where I lived for eleven years. My Good Thief novels, meanwhile, are set in a number of international cities – from Amsterdam to Paris, Las Vegas, Venice and Berlin. Before becoming a full-time writer, I was also a lawyer, like your good self, though I spent most of my legal career (such as it was) helping to make movies and TV shows on the Isle of Man. Now I spend my time making stuff up (which in some ways isn’t so different from pretending I knew what I was doing when I was a media lawyer …).
Before we get to the Good Thief books, which is the main reason we’re chatting like this, what made you decide to have a go at writing, and how long was your journey to your first published book?
It was down to a book, really. I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road at university, when I was twenty, and it was one of those examples of just reading the right book at the right time in my life, and being inspired by it. I’d always loved reading and writing but On The Road made me get serious about attempting a novel for the first time. So I started to write one book, and then another and another, and over the decade that followed I landed a literary agent but no publishing deal. Then I wrote my first crime novel, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, and I submitted it to a competition the author Susan Hill was running via her small publishing company Long Barn Books. Several more months went by until one day I was at work when my phone rang and I answered it to find that Susan was on the other end of the line. She told me I’d won her writing competition and she was going to publish my novel. Susan changed everything for me with that one phone call.
The journeys of other writers always interest me. What made you turn to crime, and what sort of books were you writing before then?
I started out writing a book that was submitted to publishers as an “edgy” literary novel (I think “edgy” was probably code for unpublishable …). Then I wrote a couple of more mainstream novels. But in all that time, what I was mostly reading was crime fiction and it eventually hit me (after way too long) that crime fiction was what I should be writing, too. It was another book that set me on the path to that – Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s still my favourite crime novel.
This brings us neatly to the Good Thief books, a series of most splendid books. For those who don’t know, tell me about them. What were your thoughts on starting them and what inspired you?
The Good Thief’s Guides are a series of five (so far!) mystery novels about hack crime writer Charlie Howard who pens a mystery series of his own about a burglar and who, unbeknown to most people, also moonlights as a burglar. The books are fun and fast paced and they’re set in a number of international cities. Basically, if you like heist movies like The Thomas Crown Affair and Ocean’s Eleven, I think you’ll love the Good Thief’s Guides.
As I mentioned earlier, each book is set in a different city and deals with a different type of theft and they can all be read in order, out of order, upside down, however you’d like! As you can tell from the settings, they also involve an element of travel writing and it’s always been important to me that the geography and culture of each city I write about has a real bearing on what happens in the books (after all, you can’t have a caper novel set in Vegas, say, without it involving a casino heist and I don’t think you can have a mystery novel set in Venice that doesn’t feature some romance …).
The books grew out of my love of crime novels about crooks and anti-heroes, and I also really liked the idea of writing a series where each book was set in a completely different location. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had to travel to some fantastic cities to research the books …
I knew it was a mistake to always set mine no more thirty miles from where I live! Did writing a villain as a hero cause you any particular difficulties, and what would you say is the key to get the reader to cheer on a crook?
If anything, it’s a huge advantage, I think. Charlie doesn’t need to worry about getting people arrested for their crimes or bringing them to justice in a conventional sense because, as a crook himself, he usually enforces a different kind of justice. Plus, there’s no waiting around for search warrants when Charlie is on the hunt for a clue! A lot of readers have told me they find Charlie a fun guy to spend time with, and I think a big part of that is because all the books are narrated by him and he doesn’t take life too seriously. Also, as the title suggests, he’s really not such a bad guy after all …
Just so that the readers get to know you a little better, what is your writing routine?
It varies. I’m a full-time writer but I also look after my kids three days a week while my wife is at work. On days when I have the kids, I write as much as I can in the evenings before I collapse. On days when my wife is home, I prefer to start work early in the morning because I’m really a morning writer. If I’m working on the first draft of a book, I write five pages every day. If I’m rewriting a book, I work as many hours as I can. It usually takes me nine months to write a book and then another three months to figure out the idea for the next one …
It’s served you well, of course, because you had the runaway success of Safe House, the number one bestseller. How hard was it to follow such a hit, and what comes next?
The nice thing about the success of Safe House was that I’d already finished my follow up novel, Dead Line, before Safe House really took off. So there was no pressure on the writing and, of all my thrillers, Dead Line is probably my favourite. I only wish it had gone on to sell as many copies as Safe House did …
What was behind your decision to bring out the Good Thief books yourself, and how different is the experience to that of being published traditionally, which is how you started out?
The paperback and ebook rights to the Good Thief Guides were held by Simon & Schuster in the UK but the books had gone out of print and they kindly agreed to let me have the rights back. Publishing them myself as ebooks gives me an opportunity to try and take the series out to a wider audience by hopefully communicating my ongoing enthusiasm for the series to readers.
I’m very lucky that the books are well supported by St Martin’s Minotaur in the States, so they’re still traditionally published in the USA and in several other territories. Which I guess makes me a kind of hybrid writer right now. I have to say I’m finding the experience of publishing the books myself really rewarding creatively and I’ve learned a huge amount. But at the same time, it’s a massive amount of work. If I didn’t love writing the Good Thief mysteries as much as I do, and hope to write more of them, I wouldn’t have taken it on. But this seemed to me like the best chance I have of publishing a sixth Good Thief’s Guide novel in the UK.
If there are to be more Good Thief books, where can we expect Charlie to travel next?
I hope there will be more, although it’ll depend to some extent on how the books do. But I really do want to write more books in the series and I know from the emails I’ve had over the years that lots of my readers want more, too. As for where
I’d take Charlie next, there are a few cities on the shortlist. But first, there’s the small matter of getting him out of Berlin …
Thanks for the chat, Chris. The best of luck with the Good Thief series. To anyone reading this, if you like fast-paced fun crime, you should give the series a go. Chris is great, although I’m always bound to say that, him being a former champion wrestler and all that.
And thanks to you, Neil. The next time you need someone to break into a house, you know who to call.
Out 10th August from Bonnier Zaffre
He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost .