Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meet Mike Ripley

A few years before the Internet, Ask Jeeves or Google, I started an information-sharing network for Mystery Writers of America. My premise was that everyone was an expert on something. Mystery buffs wrote to tell me that they had deep knowledge about fly-fishing or hand grenades or esoteric poisons or NASCAR and were willing to share that knowledge. I created an alphabetized index and it was offered to MWA members for nothing more than the usual SASE. (By the time the internet made it superfluous, us, it ran about 45 or 50 single-spaced pages.) I first “met” Yorkshireman Mike Ripley when he applied for MWA’s associate membership and offered to answer questions about beer or brewing, two subjects which he knew intimately, being a spokesman for the British Brewers Society in London at the time.

I soon learned that Mike had begun a crime series starring Fitzroy Maclean Angel, who owned a grumpy black cat named Springsteen and an ancient black cab named Armstrong.

(That last was a stroke of comic genius. What better vehicle to trail a suspect through London streets?) When he wasn’t playing a mean trumpet at a seedy club, Angel could be found up to his ears in dangerous and darkly funny situations. Unfortunately, they were not available in America, but we began a correspondence that soon included my husband who had recently started brewing his own beer and ales. Letters flew back and forth with recommendations and suggestions for hops and malts and various yeasts.

Then came the London Bouchercon and a chance to meet. I remember it was at a panel of American writers who set their books in England. After one particularly fatuous remark from the podium, Mike leaned over and growled in my ear, “I’m so tired of England being treated like a bloody theme park!”

As a Southerner who’s winced through many bad movies with stereotyped rednecks and hillbillies, I could sympathize and we soon repaired to the nearest pub. Later, in the book room, I was finally able to put my hands on the first two or three Angel novels and took them back to my room with trepidation. More than once, I’ve met and really liked someone and then realized that their books don’t appeal to me.

At all.

Happily, this was not the case with Just Another Angel. It was fresh and funny and written in a cheeky first-person voice that immediately captivated. Indeed, Angel Touch and Angel in Arms both won the Crime Writers' Association Last Laugh Award for Funniest Novel of their years. I came home singing his praises and wondering why he hadn’t found an American publisher. St. Martin’s Press published some of the titles, but did nothing in the way of promotion or publicity and they never really found the following they deserve here. One editor thought it was because they were “too British” and “used slang and language that was incomprehensible to the average American,” which struck me as both condescending and problematic.

Now though, the books are once again available to us on this side of the Atlantic. Go to and click on their Kindle store for all the Mike Ripley titles that are now in electronic format. Best of all, you won’t have to pay for transatlantic shipping. If you like British humor mixed with mayhem, this may be your new cup of tea.

(PS - Don't forget to read last week's post and enter the drawing for a copy of Death in Blue Folders.)

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