Zaffre, the flagship commercial fiction imprint of Bonnier Books UK’s Zaffre Publishing Group, has acquired debut novel Guilty by Definition from Countdown’s Dictionary Corner star Susie Dent.
Kelly Smith, senior editor, acquired world rights from Rosemary Scoular at United Agents.
Guilty by Definition is a mystery set at the heart of the Clarendon English Dictionary, where a series of anonymous letters challenges its team of lexicographers to unravel a thread of linguistic clues. Hinting at secret lives and a personal link to one of the editors, the letters could lead to the truth behind a decades-old disappearance and an untold chapter in the evolution of English.
Author Susie Dent said: “I am so thrilled to be joining Bonnier Books UK on a completely new venture. Guilty by Definition draws on my work as a lexicographer and etymologist; both jobs involve clues and evidence, and the parallels between word detectives and the real kind seemed a perfect basis for a mystery novel. The story will lay a trail of linguistic clues that the characters – and, I hope, the readers – must unravel if they are to solve a mystery that has lingered for years. Even the most everyday words have secret lives; it turns out the most normal-seeming people do, too.”
Senior Editor Kelly Smith said: “Guilty by Definition perfectly blends Susie Dent’s inimitable talent as a wordsmith with a compelling and moving mystery of a woman’s determination to uncover the truth about her sister’s disappearance. It has been such a pleasure to work with Susie on her first fiction project and I can’t wait to publish this spectacular story next summer.”
Up until now, Susie has only worked on non-fiction projects, making Guilty by Definition her debut fiction book. Susie attended Oxford University and worked for the OED, so the setting of the novel is inspired by her own knowledge of the city, where she still lives.
Guilty by Definition will be published in hardback, ebook, and audio in Summer 2024, from Zaffre.