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Newsletter Extract

An extract from the first Sam Smith Newsletter. The Newsletter will be published, free, in early November and you can reserve your copy by following this link.

Sam Smith Characters #1

Dr Alan Storey

Dr Alan Storey provides the relationship strand to the Sam Smith Mystery Series. Alan is a psychologist who practices Humanistic principles, that is a belief in the positive attributes of happiness, contentment, ecstasy, kindness, caring, sharing and generosity. Humanists focus on the individual, especially the concept of personal choice.

Humanistic Psychology developed in the 1960s and it differs from other branches of psychology in that the psychologist acts as a confident or counsellor and the client (not ‘patient’) must consciously and rationally decide for themselves what is wrong and how the problem should be addressed.

In his early forties, Alan is a widower with a teenage daughter, Alis. As well as the romantic element, Alan also provides psychological insight, when required, on the various people Sam encounters. Although there is a ‘whodunit’ element to the series, I like to focus more on people’s behaviours and reasons for their actions.

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Mr Bazalgette’s Agent

Mr Bazalgette’s Agent is the first British detective novel to feature a professional female detective. Written by Leonard Merrick and published in July 1888, Mr Bazalgette’s Agent slipped into obscurity partly because the author disliked the book and set about buying and destroying all the copies he could lay his hands on. However, despite the occasional use of words that we now find offensive, history has been kinder to the story and the book is now regarded as a novel of some worth.


Mr Bazalgette’s Agent chronicles the adventures of twenty-eight-year-old Miriam Lea. Unemployed, Miss Lea responds to an advertisement placed by Mr Alfred Bazalgette’s private detective agency. She secures a position with the agency and her first task is to find Mr Jasper Vining, a banker’s clerk, who has absconded with a large sum of money. The trail leads to Europe and the diamond mines of South Africa, familiar territories to the author, Leonard Merrick.

Leonard Merrick was born in London in February 1864 as Leonard Miller. His family were prosperous and young Leonard enjoyed a privileged education. In his late teens Leonard Miller changed his name to Merrick when he embarked on a career as an actor. The profession did not satisfy him so he turned to writing. His first novel, Mr Bazalgette’s Agent, was not a critical or commercial success. Even so, he persevered eventually achieving success and the accolade ‘the novelist’s novelist’, offered by J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. Despite receiving rewards and accolades, Leonard Merrick was admired more by his fellow writers than by the public, which is something many authors of today can identify with.

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Spenser is the creation of Robert B. Parker, 1932 –2010. He is a tough, wise-cracking detective from the ‘hard-boiled’school of crime fiction who prides himself in his self-belief and his autonomy. The series is largely set in Boston, USA, and Robert B. Parker’s skilful pen brings the city vividly to life. The Boston backdrop is one of the highlights of the series, which runs to thirty-nine books, along with Spenser’s laconic narration, an easy voice that offers pleasure to the reader.


Boston, the setting for the majority of the Spenser books

Spenser is an ex-boxer and a Korean veteran. He is also ageless and his physical attributes remain undiminished by the passing of time. The reader can see this as a flaw in that it requires too much suspension of disbelief, or you can accept the premise if you subscribe to the notion that ‘heroes never get old’. What is more troublesome, however, are Spenser’s references to his mother: in some of the books, Spenser’s mother died in childbirth, while in others he refers to her homilies and cooking. Given that an international publisher of some repute published the Spenser series, you feel that someone somewhere should have addressed this anomaly.

Robert B. Parker wrote lean, mean prose and personally I think his books are at their strongest when they are lean and mean as well. As Robert B. Parker’s career progressed he changed publishers and his new publishers seemed to insist on longer books, which meant a lot of ‘middle’and chapters that did little for the overall story. Therefore I would recommend the early books, God Save the Child through to Crimson Joy as the strongest in the series.

To many readers the strongest character in the series is Hawk, Spenser’s sidekick. Hawk is a mercenary, an assassin, a man without apparent emotion. In less skilful hands, Hawk would come across as hard and cold, but the genius of Robert B. Parker makes Hawk the centre of attention whenever he appears; the character consistently enlists the sympathy and support of the reader. Without doubt, Hawk is one of the finest creations in crime fiction.

The other leading character in Spenser’s world is Susan Silverman. Susan Silverman first appears as a guidance counsellor in book two, God Save the Child. In many respects, this is the highlight of her involvement in the series. In the fourth book, Promised Land, Spenser and Susan discuss marriage; she is keen, he is reluctant. By the end of the book, Spenser comes around to Susan’s way of thinking and proposes marriage only for Susan to say that she has changed her mind. As a relationship study this book is excellent and I regard it as my favourite Spenser novel.

In A Catskill Eagle, Susan runs off with a lover. She decides that she cannot escape from him, even though she is not being held against her will, and asks Spenser to ‘rescue’ her. This he does, leaving a trail of devastation and murder in his wake – one of the accepted premises of the Spenser series is that he can commit murder with the tacit approval of the authorities – and when he does finally ‘rescue’ Susan, she offers little gratitude. Maybe none of this matters, except that Spenser’s love for Susan is a central part of the series. In A Catskill Eagle, and the middle series novels, Susan comes across as a self-centred, selfish character and it is difficult to understand why all the other regular characters in the series love her as much as Spenser does. Robert B. Parker wrote from life and he based Susan on his wife, Joan. Maybe it says something about Susan when even Joan Parker stated that she did not like the character! The tiresome nature of Susan’s character is a frustration; with a more sympathetic female in her stead, you feel that the series would qualify as the best in private detective literature. As it stands, it is still essential reading for all fans of the genre.

In defence of Susan she is very much her own woman and in the later books there is a mellow glow to Spenser’s relationship with her that displays the familiarity of a long-standing couple. Susan comes across as a more appealing character in these books, especially when compared to the woman who ran off in A Catskill Eagle. This Susan is likeable, and for this reader certainly more likeable than the character portrayed through the middle books of the series.

The Spenser characters were adapted for television as Spenser: For Hire. The show ran for three seasons and sixty-five episodes with Robert Ulrich in the title role, supported by Avery Brooks as Hawk and Barbara Stock as Susan Silverman. Four movies were also made. Unlike the majority of the TV series, the movies were based on Robert B. Parker’s books. These movies were followed in 1999 by three more movies, made with a new, non-TV series, cast.

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The Queen of Disguise

The Queen of Disguise

Known as the ‘Queen of Disguise’, Annette Kerner was a leading detective in the 1940s. Born into a wealthy family, Annette trained as a mezzo-soprano with Ivor Novello’s mother, Clara, before opening the Mayfair Detective Agency in the 1920s.

Annette’s parents opposed her singing career so, aged seventeen, Annette secretly negotiated a singing contract with a nightclub in Geneva. While crossing the Channel to France, she flirted with a fellow passenger who told her that he was an intelligence officer keeping an eye on a suspected foreign agent. The passenger went on to explain that the agent’s briefcase contained vital evidence of his guilt. Eager to impress her new friend, Annette calmly stole the briefcase and presented it to him. The agent responded by contacting his London headquarters; he urged his bosses to employ Annette as a freelance, and they agreed.

Annette Kerner

Annette Kerner, in disguise

Drawn into the world of spying, Annette left the Geneva nightclub and sang instead at a Zürich club, a popular haunt of intelligence agents. She mingled with those agents with ease and when the time arrived for her to return to London she decided that a routine career was not for her and so opened her detective agency.

Although small in stature, Annette was a fearsome opponent and from her Baker Street office she mixed with criminals from all classes. During one investigation in the 1920s, Annette posed as an opium addict. She entered an opium den and to allay suspicion she sampled the drug. She was also held captive during the same investigation and had her wrists slashed, though ultimately she did assist the police in arresting the culprit.

In 1948, Leader magazine described Annette as ‘the woman of a hundred faces – at one moment she is a neat, matronly children’s nurse pushing a pram, only to confront a gentleman blackmailer, then she is an untidy waitress in a dingy backstreet restaurant mixing with fences.’ During her eventful career Annette took on the role of a cheerful char lady, a society vamp and a modest widow proving that female detectives can be as tough as their male colleagues, and just as resourceful.

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A short questionnaire I answered for

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Hannah Howe: My stories develop from the characters, which I create in depth before writing. So I never (touch wood!) get writer’s block.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Hannah Howe: The freedom to explore issues and subjects that matter to you. And the thought that people enjoy your stories and connect with your characters.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Hannah Howe: Deal with subjects that matter to you. Be true to yourself.

What are you currently working on?

Hannah Howe: I am currently writing Ripper, book four in the Sam Smith Mystery Series, and researching material for book five.

How do you get inspired to write?

Hannah Howe: I write books that I like to read. So I ask myself, “what would I like to read next?” Then sit down to write that book.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Hannah Howe: My ideas always come from the characters. Basically, I take the point Sam is at in her life and add the hirer who walks into her office. On this occasion, The Big Chill, that person entered Sam’s office to shoot her, and the story unfolds from there.