‘If you want a really good thriller,’ Geoff said, ‘try Mick Herron.’ I trust Geoff’s literary taste, so unsurprisingly, soon after our conversation, I got Slow Horses, the first in Herron’s Jackson Lamb series, at the Book Lounge. But it had to wait its turn, no matter how promising it looked on the to-read pile in my bedroom.
Around this time, I was also making one of the most important decisions of my life: a new car. I caused a terrible car accident almost two years ago: fortunately, I was the only one hurt, but the car was a write-off. It was an old, heavy, safe car – it probably saved my life.
Buying a new car, I was looking for three things: it had to be safe, small, and affordable. I wanted a new car with a warranty and no worries. I never had one before. I wanted to know what it’s like to drive and not worry about the condition of your car, to have other people take care of everything for a few years. I wanted to feel safe.
My heart whispered Fiat 500. I had driven two of them across France and Germany as rentals and loved both times – think Normandy to Paris and Görlitz to München (there are no speed limits on some stretches of the Autobahn; the little Fiat is quite comfortable with 160km/h). It is definitely small. I checked the safety ratings. They were perfect: seven airbags, standard. The affordability surprised me, although I had to think carefully how to go about financing it. Finally, end of July, I was ready.
Tyler of William Simpson in Cape Town assisted with the purchase. We went for a test drive and the car felt as good as I’d remembered it. Tyler was very patient in explaining everything; he answered all my weird questions and understood my quirks. My decision was made. Blue is my favourite colour, so I was set on getting the Fiat 500 in the available Azzuro Cappelini and placed the order. A few days later, Tyler informed me that he was terribly sorry, but they would not be able to provide the model I wanted in the colour I desired. They were all gone and the availability in the next shipment was also uncertain. We spoke. ‘I will probably live with this car for the next decade or beyond,’ I explained why I wanted it to be perfect. He promised to see what he could do. In the meantime, to my utter delight, I found out that, in Italy, the Fiat 500 is often referred to as “Topolino”. So Szczurek (little rat) would drive a Topolino (little mouse). We were meant for each other!
The solution Tyler came up with for the body of the car was a colour wrapping that is usually used for higher price range cars. But what is good enough for an Alfa Romeo is good enough for a Topolino. Tyler promised me a Fiat 500 in Azzuro Cappelini and that is what he would deliver – the car would be colour-wrapped for me in the desired blue. Once I heard about this option, I asked whether, in this case, I could perhaps have my absolutely favourite blue…? ‘Sure,’ Tyler said, ‘just please bring me something that is exactly the shade of blue you want.’
I put down the phone and glanced around me. The first thing I found sporting my favourite blue was the spine of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses…
The next day in his office, Tyler had a look at the book spine and said, ‘It will be done. Do you also want it matt, like the book?’
‘Is that possible?’
‘Anything is possible.’
‘Then yes! A resounding yes!’
He had a closer look at the novel in his hands. ‘Do you mind if I read it while it is in my possession?’
‘Of course not! Enjoy. I hope it is really good. I haven’t read it yet, but it was recommended to me by people I trust.’
A few days later, Tyler sent me a note, saying that he was enjoying Slow Horses very much.
Trust me to find a reader to sell me a car.
Trust me to buy a car the colour of a book spine…
When Topolino arrived, it was love at first sight.
That day, I wrote the following message to Tyler:
‘My life in the last two-and-a-half years has been tough, to say the least. My husband died in February 2015 and I have been through hell and back since then. There haven’t been many opportunities for joy or laughter, but today I am happy – truly happy. It is a good feeling to experience. Thank you for my perfect Mick-Herron-book-spine blue Fiat 500. I am thrilled to have it and I am looking forward to driving it across South Africa, my home. Thank you for making the entire process of acquiring a new car so easy and pleasant.’
My first trip was to the Book Lounge – obviously! – where I had to pick up some books in preparation for the Open Book Festival. It rained that day. A blessing.
The first time I filled up Topolino, I overheard the following exchange between the two attendants helping me:
I have now read Mick Herron’s Slow Horses. Sheer brilliance. I can’t wait to read the other books in the Jackson Lamb series and everything else Herron has written.
Thank you, Geoff, Tyler and Mick Herron from Topolino and Szczurek!