When British editor-writer Maxim Jakubowski recently lost his landmark Murder One Bookstore in London, he never thought of retirement or abandoning his reputation as “The King of Erotic Thrillers.”
After almost 21-years of operation, Jakubowski, an English citizen but raised in France, shuttered the business on London’s Charing Cross Road due to the economic downturn. Customers journeyed from all parts of England for a last buying spree at the world-famous shop, with some devotees even venturing from the European mainland to select rare books from its shelves—the UK’s first specialist crime bookstore.
“It’s sad, of course, but overdue,” Jakubowski says in an interview from London. “The Internet was beginning to take its toll and we were no longer as profitable as we were. I opened the store after leaving full-time publishing as a sort of hobby. At least, we closed with no debts, all suppliers being paid and the staff.”
Now, he’s promoting a pair of new books published last fall, I Was Waiting For You, the last novel in a trilogy of erotic thrillers, and Following The Detectives: Real Locations In Crime Fiction, a collection of 21 essays about cities and the fictional detectives working and living in them. The featured locales include Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles, Travis McGee’s Florida, Inspector Maigret’s Paris, Erlendor Sveninsson’s Iceland, Salvo Montalbano’s Sicily, Sherlock Holmes’s London, Kurt Wallander’s Sweden, and Dave Robicheaux’s New Orleans.
Jakubowski writes, edits, and publishes in various areas of genre fiction, such as science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and erotica. He has edited the highly popular Mammoth Book of Erotica and its companion, The Mammoth Book of International Erotica for several years. The erotica series is now in its 14th year and considered world class in the quality of its contributors and their provocative content. Some of the writers presented in the volumes are M. Christian, Poppy Z. Brite, Cecilia Tan, Alison Tyler, Lisabet Sarai, Anne Rice, Dennis Cooper, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Martin Amis, Will Self, Geoff Nicholson, Thomas S. Roche, and Delilah Devlin.
Bitten by the crime bug very early, he has edited several classic series such as the Black Box Thrillers, Blue Murder, Eros Plus and Neon. ] He currently supervises the MaXcrime imprint for the British John Blake Publishing. He has also published over 30 books of his own, blending complex plots of murder, mayhem, and desire.
As the publisher of James Cain and Jim Thompson, two crime specialists working in twisted matters of the heart, Jakubowski knows a thing or two about sex and eroticism.
“I think the crime genre lends itself well to the use of sexual themes. However, every time I face a new scene of a sexual nature in a novel or a story, I initially despair and hope I manage to come up with a new way of evoking things, without repeating myself. But then, it just comes. Somehow it appears to be what I’m good at, for better or worse.”
Asked about the intersection between sex and eroticism often striking a false note in fiction and film, he laughs when a magazine quote is read back to him: “In real life, sex is not just hydraulics, it’s also a manifestation of love, emotions, relationships. It’s the engine that makes us all function.” Then he jokes that he must have been inspired that day.
“I want to grab the reader by the balls and the brain,” the writer continues. “I pride myself for writing about sex with realism and avoiding any form of vulgarity. I want my eroticism to be true to life, because that’s what sex is all about in real life, whether shielded by emotions or just animal instincts.”
In Jakubowski’s opinion, there is a difference in the depiction of eroticism in fiction written in America and Europe. “It’s just the nature of the literary traditions. I was educated in France so I was fed at the source of some great erotic writing. However, I was surprised there was no such equivalent in the UK or in the U.S. Now, there is some impressive erotic writing in America such as Nicholson Baker, Vicki Hendricks, and Anne Rice. Before, it was confined into the erotic genre.”
Continuing in the foreign erotica line, he admits different literary tastes and soaring translation costs prevent so much of quality erotica from reaching our shores. “There are some incredible contemporary writers who excel in erotica in France and Italy right now, but so few of them are known outside of their countries. I’m a great fan of authors like Vanessa Duries, Florence Dugas, Isabella Santacroce, Francesca Mazzucato, Emma Becker, Bernard Noel, Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues, Melanie Muller, Simona Vinci, and Louis Calaferte.”
Every writer of erotica feels honored to be included in one of Jakubowski’s Best of New Erotica series. “Erotica then was so downmarket and formulaic,” he notes. “I wanted to demonstrate how good it could be in the right hands. When the anthology appeared, it was a runaway success, proving my feelings. It went into over 30 printings and did several hundred thousand in sales.”
How do you judge the quality of stories included in your collections? That’s what all prospective writers wanted to know.
Jakubowski knows what he wants. “It’s gut feeling, instinct. Good writing stands so easily from all the formulaic dross. I go for stories where the stories are real, not just cardboard or fantasy projections. I like to see a storyline, some imagination and not just in the form of sexual encounters. You quickly realize which writers write from the gut and put emotions into their writing.”
Editing is a matter of professional pride with him. “I’ve worked most of my career in mainstream publishing, so editing is in my blood. This is one of the reasons why I both enjoy and edit so many anthologies in the genres I’m involved with. However, I have always considered myself a writer. It’s that side which I find most taxing. Fiction writing takes a massive emotional toll on me. I actually find it painful, even though I’m totally addicted to it.”
His new novel is the first one in five years. Other acclaimed Jakubowski novels include Life in the World of Women, It’s You That I Kiss, Because I Thought I Loved You, On Tenderness Express, Kiss Me Sadly and Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer.
What’s next? Jakubowski will continue to contribute to a number of publications, including his crime columns for Britain’s Time Out and reviewing for The Guardian. Always working, he always has a handful of projects going. His next novel, Ekaterina and The Night, will go on sale this September. Next month, he delivers Venice Noir to Akashic Books and the usual annual anthologies are in the pipeline.
“It appears that I’m so productive, but then one has to make a living,” Jakubowski concludes. “A writer should obey no rules. It should be a complex blend of experience, imagination, and craft, a hall of mirrors where, if done well, the reader should be incapable of discerning what is real and what is untrue. All in all, I keep busy.”