John Murray publisher Mark Richards has pre-empted a novel about a "psychopathic but glamorous and alluring" Russian assassin, Codename Villanelle, by Luke Jennings.
World English rights were acquired from Patrick Walsh at PEW Literary. Richards bought the book just before the London Book Fair, before John Murray sold North American rights to Josh Kendall at Mulholland/ Little, Brown during the fair.
Codename Villanelle follows Russian assassin Villanelle and her nemesis, a "dowdy but dogged and brilliant" secret service agent called Eve, as they play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
The book was originally self-published as four Kindle Singles (typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words). The first Kindle Single was published in 2014, with the others following after that. Based on these, an eight-part television series "Killing Eve", was commissioned from "Fleabag’s" Phoebe Waller-Bridge, produced by Sid Gentle Films Ltd for BBC America. As well as writing, Waller-Bridge will serve as executive producer alongside Sally Woodward Gentle and Lee Morris. Rights to the novel was then snapped up by John Murray.
Jennings is the author of, among other titles, Blood Knots (Atlantic), shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson and William Hill prizes, and the Booker Prize-nominated Atlantic (Vintage). He also co-authored The Faber Pocket Guide to Ballet for Faber and, as a journalist, is currently the dance critic for the Observer.
Richards said: "Codename Villanelle is an outrageously entertaining novel; it takes cues from spy series of the 70s as well as Jason Bourne and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it emerges absolutely its own thing. It is thrilling, sexy and brilliantly written."
Kendall said: “Never has spy fiction felt more relevant and essential, and never has there been a treatment of a villain(esse) and hero(ine) quite like this. Seductively amoral Russian wetwork bursts on the page, along with the kind of gripping, dogged and heartbreaking heroics that keep such evil in check. And yet, evil here isn’t what it seems, and heroics have their cost. Luke Jennings’ novel brilliantly upends the whole thriller applecart.”
Jennings added: "Villanelle is a psychopath very close to my heart. I've never had more fun writing a character, and I'm delighted that she's found a home with John Murray and Mulholland. I look forward to her making a killing."
John Murray will publish in hardback in August this year, with a paperback to follow in early 2018.