Who would have thought that the crime and historical author Mike Ripley is a man overflowing with the milk of human kindness? He certainly is as far as this reader is concerned. The proof? He has produced in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang an utterly mesmerising book just for me — and me alone. As I share his love of the adventure thriller writers of an earlier era (Ian Fleming, certainly, but also some that the average reader may have forgotten – or never known — such as Francis Clifford and Alan Williams), Mr Ripley has furnished an utterly comprehensive, lively and accessible guide to these unjustly neglected writers and their books (crammed with contextual info). In fact, the effect of the book has been to send me back to my shelves to make sure that I have complete collections of such writers as Quiller creator Adam Hall and James Leasor (I don’t have to check that I have complete runs of the heavyweight names here, i.e. John le Carré and Len Deighton – the latter of whom Ripley has a friendship with. Does that account for the very handsome representation the latter enjoys here? No… Deighton deserves every inch of space he gets – if you doubt that, just pick up The Ipcress File again). But (I suppose I have to ask) is this book really written just for Barry Forshaw, even though I get several namechecks? After all, I don’t even have to pay for a copy as a reviewer, so I suppose I have to admit that HarperCollins must have assumed there will be other people out there to be enthused by (and shell out for) Mr Ripley’s encomiums to some terrific writers. And on the evidence of the book, there are at least two other dedicated fans of the era under discussions – there is a foreword by Lee Child and a jacket recommendation by Ian Rankin. Of course Ripley, Rankin Child and myself are all (shall we say) mature men, so one of the great purposes of this volume (one fervently hopes) is that younger readers will be picking up some of the highly accomplished adventure writers garlanded herein — those younger readers who didn’t buy the books on their first appearance (as did the quartet mentioned above).
New readers will discover a whole new world of vividly coloured, pulse-raising fiction. There are, of course elements in these books which have dated, but that’s something that Mr Ripley takes on board; despite the enthusiasm, there are no hagiographies here. My only complaint is that Mr Ripley is making me regret parting with some of the books that are no longer on my shelves so I suppose I’ll be shelling out a little money for those titles not currently in print. As a labour of love for the genre he loves, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is nonpareil. And as Mr Ripley himself says, ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a ‘reader’s history’ – specifically this reader – of a particular period, roughly 1953-1975, when British thriller writers ruled the world…. The appearance of James Bond put a splash of technicolour into a grey, austere and virtually bankrupt Britain still recovering for the Second World War and the arrival of Alistair MacLean (who rapidly outsold Ian Fleming) in 1955 triggered a boom in British thrillers. British writers went on to dominate bestseller lists internationally virtually unchallenged for the next twenty years, whilst the traditional British, actually very English, crime novel went through a cycle of decline (though not a terminal one).’
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Mike Ripley is published by Harper Collins, 9780008172237