Early in 2007, I met Maxine Clarke in person for the first time. We had met "virtually" a year or so earlier via our blogs. Maxine was a regular commenter here at Reading Matters and often linked to my reviews. We had exchanged emails about books and authors we liked (we were both big fans of Nicci French, for instance) and we had done the odd book swap via Royal Mail.
We agreed to meet at Foyles on Southbank one wintry evening. "How will I know what you look like?" I asked. "I'll be the one with a copy of Nature tucked under my arm," she responded.
Little did I know Maxine had a high-powered editorial job at Nature and that she would offer me much wise counsel about my own career — not only at that first meeting where we bonded over a light meal and a bottle of wine, but in the years to follow. As recently as a year ago, she saw that I had gone freelance and put me in touch with one of her old colleagues who was looking for a freelance editor. It proved to be a very valuable introduction: I've been doing regular contract work for them ever since.
But that's what Maxine was like. Generous, warm-hearted, always willing to help. She was opinionated too, but I liked that, probably because she reminded me of myself.
And her blog, which evolved over time from a miscellaneous resource about science, technology and fiction to one that concentrated purely on crime fiction, particularly crime in translation, was smart, entertaining, thoughtful — and prolific. I loved her crisp, clear writing style and the way she structured her reviews, but most of all I loved the way she built and nurtured an entire community of crime fiction lovers. She founded the Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Room, which drove quite a bit of traffic to my site (Maxine always flagged up my crime reviews), and contributed to Euro Crime. And on top of that, she left comments all over blogland! (According to my Typepad account, Maxine left 260 comments on my blog over the years. Her last one was on 28 November under my review of Broken Harbour.)
Only recently it occurred to me that I hadn't "seen" Maxine about the internet for awhile. Her blog Petrona was last updated in October, probably about the time we last exchanged emails. That's when she told me she was no longer going in to the office because her health was so bad, but the internet was keeping her company and she was looking forward to reading JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.
I didn't like to pry about her health — it was the first time she'd ever mentioned it — but I now realise she was in the last months of her life. Today, I discovered she died in late December.
A blog to her memory has been set up — it's called Petrona Remembered — which I urge you to visit if you want to know more about Maxine's life. The book blogging community will be all the poorer for her absence and I will miss her reviews, comments, tweets, emails and generous words of encouragement.
My deepest condolences to her husband and two daughters.