Friday, October 20, 2006

John Baker: Poet in the Gutter

I'm not sure now how and why I came to be reading John Baker's Poet in the Gutter. But I expect it was because someone had recommended John's Sam Turner private-eye novels, and I decided to start with the first one in the series: of which there are six so far, Poet in the Gutter having come out in 1995.

Well, yes, I can see why the series was recommended. John Baker is an Englishman, born in 1942, and he's knocked around a bit, in the usual (well, often usual for a writer) series of peculiar jobs: social worker, milkman, IT person, et cetera. This sort of thing tends to be useful if you ever write private-eye books.

Poet in the Gutter is set in York, and before long our hero (Sam Turner) resorts to Betty's tea-rooms, thus proving that he is a man of excellent taste (though I prefer the one in Harrogate myself). He gets a job keeping an eye on a man's wife, which is what tends to happen in private-eye books. Actually it's his first job as a private eye, because he hadn't really quite got started until someone asked him what he did and he kind of made it up. And from there Sam picks up various assistants and helpers and finds himself running a business. Of sorts.

This novel is not really a whodunit, because we are pretty clear whodunit from early on. But it's engrossing, none the less. There were one or two points where I thought the book was going to get unrealistically sentimental, but then the author drags us back to reality before it's too late.

Overall, entertaining crime fiction. John Baker has attracted loads of favourable reviews, and his publisher, Orion, seem to think highly of him, because the books have all been issued with standard covers.

John runs a highly professional web site, with masses of information about himself, the books, and a few other things besides. He also provides info on the Murder Squad, which is a group of crime writers, based in the north of England, who have gathered together for the mutual plugging and exploitation of their books. Actually they look like a gang who would more cheerfully commit murder than write about it.

John Baker also has a very well established blog, by the way. This too has a professional appearance and lots of worthwhile content. You might compare, for instance, John Baker's thoughts on the public executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, with my own.

So far as I am aware, there is no sign yet that Sam Turner is going to transfer to the TV screen. That thought came to mind because ITV have just started broadcasting the second series of Vincent, a private-eye drama set in Manchester. And Vincent, so far as I am aware, doesn't have any literary antecedents.

Odd that, isn't it? I often wonder how these decisions get made: no, we won't use a set of novels as the basis for our drama, we'll make it all up from scratch instead; cheaper.

Probably it's all random and it would be foolish to lie awake at night pondering these things. A bit like wondering why Mr Bush decided to go into Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Could you please explain the standard cover thing? I mean, if a first novel sells well then the publisher can just tailor the following covers to that of the first? And you can quit publishing someone just as easy if they've had standard covers for a few books? So in what way does a standard cover indicate that the publisher believes in an author?

/Martin Rundkvist

Elberry said...

the Harrogate Betty's is a pilgrimage site for this poor temp. i had a hot chocolate there that must surely be the master hot chocolate, by which all others must be judged. And it was only about £3.

Dick Headley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dick Headley said...

I see your comments on the British book industry merited a mention on the Guardian's culturevulture. Well done grumpy.

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