Like teenage children and their parents, authors and publishers have a symbiotic relationship characterised by well-justified irritation on both sides. Judith Flanders’s career bridges this divide. She is now best known as an author of innovatory and formidably detailed books on Britain’s social history in the 19th century. But she also has worked as a publisher, which gives her an insider’s knowledge of the murkier byways of literary London.
Hence the setting for her first novel, Writers’ Block, an entertaining thriller whose narrator, Samantha, is ‘a middle-aged, middlingly successful editor’ in a publisher’s Bloomsbury offices. One of her authors delivers a biography of a recently deceased fashion designer. Unfortunately, the designer’s company turns out to be an elaborate front for money launderers. This leads to unwanted attention from the sort of people who respond with sanctions ranging from prosecutions for criminal libel through burglary to murder.
Meanwhile another professional problem is looming: Breda, an elderly author whose annual bestseller provides Sam’s bread and butter, has struck out in the direction of chick lit, much to the consternation of her publisher. Add in a stray psychopath, an awesomely successful mother, a hunky detective and a reclusive but world-famous architect and the mixture is ready to explode.
We are not meant to take the story’s thriller elements too seriously — merely to sit back and relish their rococo complexity. But the enjoyment of this novel derives most of all from Sam’s wry and wickedly accurate depiction of both authors and publishers.
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