Friday, 16 November 2007

the current big thing

I've been buying books this week. Not for me - what kind of bookstore manager do you think I am? I get sent books to read for free. Granted, they're not always the books I would choose to read, but - they're free. No, I've been buying books for the bookstore; that is, nice people from all the publishers come round and show me powerpoint slides of their books and I decide, on the strength of that, what we'll have in the bookstore next March.

The thing is, I've seen quite a lot of lists in the last week and a half, and it seems to me that (whisper it softly) they all look a bit the same.

To my mind, by next March, we in the bookshops should be bringing out the Next Big Thing. We're done with the Christmas sellers, the books with lists of the top 101 this and the worst 1001 that, the buy-it-for-your-dad thrillers, the celebrity cookbook, the local-photographs-from-yesteryear. We're done with the it's-February-and-I'm-too-depressed-to-buy-books phase. Time for something new. Different! NEW!!

This hasn't percolated to book cover designers, though, who instead of pursuing the Next Big Thing, are firmly sticking with The Current Big Thing. I can't count how many crime/thriller/police procedural books I've seen where the cover has a silhouette of a person (or sometimes a car) backlit by a streetlight a la CSI. For example, for example, and yea, for example.

What I can't quite get over is that The Last Big Thing, or even at this stage The Big Thing Before The Last Big Thing, that is to say, The Da Vinci Code, is still spawning not only cover-alikes but also write-alikes. Remember the cover had the eyes of the Mona Lisa with the face sort of obscured by a pixelated brush stroke affair? Well, see The Archimedes Codex, with Archimedes' face partially obscured by a pixelated torn-away page. I think my favourite is The Magdalene Legacy, which combines the two Current Big Things - a write-alike of the Da Vinci Code with a cover that has a silhouette backlit by whatever is the biblical equivalent of a streetlight.

You would not believe how many books there are out there with the Da Vinci formula for the title: The Freemason's Code, The Grail Conspiracy, The Magdelene Cipher, The Romanov Prophecy, The Templar Legacy. Surely this is the We're So Over It, It's Not Even A Big Thing Any More? But they're still coming; in fact I'm planning to jump on the bandwagon myself, with a smash hit provisionally entitled either The Pilate Palimpsest or the Jesus Jigsaw.

Actually, there is a Next Big Thing, so look out. The Next Big Thing is...

The North.

The Iceman cometh, or at least the Icelandic man cometh, and as from January we'll all be reading somewhat dark, often spooky, sometimes crime-y thrillers from The North, viz, Scandinavia, northern Canada, the outer Hebrides etc. There's The Witch's Trinity set in Northern Germany (which is awesome, and has characters with names like "Gurd" and "Jost"); Sacrifice (coming in Feb, I think) set amongst much weirdness in the Shetland Islands; several dozen Swedish crime novels; and I'm currently reading an Icelandic thriller whose author has the unbeatable name of Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Start boning up on your Finnish, kids. The North hasn't looked so appealing since the Moomins.

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