A Darker Domain
Oline H. Cogdill

The personal and political effects of Scotland's 1980s coal mining strike underlie the gripping and intense A Darker Domain. Using as a starting point the union busting of Margaret Thatcher that plunged hardworking miners into poverty, Scottish author Val McDermid's 22nd novel is a strong, suspenseful psychological thriller about a betrayal, a community abandoned by a favorite son, and the struggle between parents and their children.

Scottish Dectective Inspector Karen Pirie's cold case unit is enmeshed with two crimes from the mid-1980s. In 1985, Mick Prentice, a respected, strongly pro-union member, left his wife and child in Fife to join a group of strikebreakers. Now some 23 years later, his grown daughter has filed a missing persons report on him. At the same time, clues surface in Italy relating to the death of a Scottish heiress killed during the 1985 botched kidnapping of her and her baby, who disappeared.

Pulling together these disparate cases with a skillful aplomb reminiscent of her masterpiece, A Place of Execution, McDermid takes us into the heart of a mining community where unity meant survival. A Darker Domain is a personal story for McDermid who grew up in the Fife area and whose family were coal miners.

Admin
2010-03-31 03:28:00

The personal and political effects of Scotland's 1980s coal mining strike underlie the gripping and intense A Darker Domain. Using as a starting point the union busting of Margaret Thatcher that plunged hardworking miners into poverty, Scottish author Val McDermid's 22nd novel is a strong, suspenseful psychological thriller about a betrayal, a community abandoned by a favorite son, and the struggle between parents and their children.

Scottish Dectective Inspector Karen Pirie's cold case unit is enmeshed with two crimes from the mid-1980s. In 1985, Mick Prentice, a respected, strongly pro-union member, left his wife and child in Fife to join a group of strikebreakers. Now some 23 years later, his grown daughter has filed a missing persons report on him. At the same time, clues surface in Italy relating to the death of a Scottish heiress killed during the 1985 botched kidnapping of her and her baby, who disappeared.

Pulling together these disparate cases with a skillful aplomb reminiscent of her masterpiece, A Place of Execution, McDermid takes us into the heart of a mining community where unity meant survival. A Darker Domain is a personal story for McDermid who grew up in the Fife area and whose family were coal miners.

A Date You Can't Refuse
Lynne Maxwell

As an actor and resident of Topanga Canyon, California, Harley Jane Kozak is conversant with the glaringly bizarre culture of LaLaLand, where life frequently waxes surreal. Witness the peculiar job that series heroine Wollie Shelley (get the literary allusion?) takes on as "social coach" to talented foreigners who come to the US to work but need a crash course in American culture. Strong-armed by her potential employer, the chronically underemployed Wollie reluctantly accepts this position with the shady company MediaRx in order to continue support for her institutionalized mentally ill brother. The fact that the FBI, along with her agent boyfriend, wants to recruit her as a corporate spy only serves to increase her trepidation. Wollie's reservations are rapidly validated when murder strikes in the residence of her many-times married employer. Events unfold at lightning pace as Wollie brings criminals to justice and reignites a romance as well.

If all of this sounds preposterous, you're absolutely correct. Fortunately, this is part of Kozak's genius. She has created an entertaining romance/mystery that adheres to the conventions of such fiction, improbabilities included, but A Date You Can't Refuse—and her other books as well--can also be read as genre spoofs. Kozak entertains while at the same time pointing to the absurdities of a genre that draws huge readership, but requires such enormous suspension of disbelief. Parody notwithstanding, readers who welcome the antics of Stephanie Plum will surely embrace Wollie Shelley. This romp is a mystery you can't refuse.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:00:21

As an actor and resident of Topanga Canyon, California, Harley Jane Kozak is conversant with the glaringly bizarre culture of LaLaLand, where life frequently waxes surreal. Witness the peculiar job that series heroine Wollie Shelley (get the literary allusion?) takes on as "social coach" to talented foreigners who come to the US to work but need a crash course in American culture. Strong-armed by her potential employer, the chronically underemployed Wollie reluctantly accepts this position with the shady company MediaRx in order to continue support for her institutionalized mentally ill brother. The fact that the FBI, along with her agent boyfriend, wants to recruit her as a corporate spy only serves to increase her trepidation. Wollie's reservations are rapidly validated when murder strikes in the residence of her many-times married employer. Events unfold at lightning pace as Wollie brings criminals to justice and reignites a romance as well.

If all of this sounds preposterous, you're absolutely correct. Fortunately, this is part of Kozak's genius. She has created an entertaining romance/mystery that adheres to the conventions of such fiction, improbabilities included, but A Date You Can't Refuse—and her other books as well--can also be read as genre spoofs. Kozak entertains while at the same time pointing to the absurdities of a genre that draws huge readership, but requires such enormous suspension of disbelief. Parody notwithstanding, readers who welcome the antics of Stephanie Plum will surely embrace Wollie Shelley. This romp is a mystery you can't refuse.

A Tight Lie
Jim Winter

Golfer Huck Doyle barely makes a living as a golf pro, so he supplements his income as a part-time PI. His biker dad (who left the LAPD in disgrace) helps him out. When a baseball player is accused of a murder with OJ Simpson overtones, Doyle agrees to help. Why not? He's got a few days to kill before the Pebble Beach Tournament.

Dahler manages to weave golf into a dark tale of Los Angeles vice and crime. If you're not a golfer or have never golfed, some of the early scenes may drag a bit, but when a shady sports agent's tips unwittingly reveal a case connection to a rigged golf game, Doyle proves the old adage that golf is life. Dahler writes in an unorthodox style, using offset paragraphs for dialogue rather than standard punctuation. The result is easy-to-read prose laced with some rather clever dialog. But best of all, we find out exactly what the hardest stroke in all of golf really is—and the answer will bring a murderer down.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:07:28

Golfer Huck Doyle barely makes a living as a golf pro, so he supplements his income as a part-time PI. His biker dad (who left the LAPD in disgrace) helps him out. When a baseball player is accused of a murder with OJ Simpson overtones, Doyle agrees to help. Why not? He's got a few days to kill before the Pebble Beach Tournament.

Dahler manages to weave golf into a dark tale of Los Angeles vice and crime. If you're not a golfer or have never golfed, some of the early scenes may drag a bit, but when a shady sports agent's tips unwittingly reveal a case connection to a rigged golf game, Doyle proves the old adage that golf is life. Dahler writes in an unorthodox style, using offset paragraphs for dialogue rather than standard punctuation. The result is easy-to-read prose laced with some rather clever dialog. But best of all, we find out exactly what the hardest stroke in all of golf really is—and the answer will bring a murderer down.

Above the Law
Beverley J. DeWeese

When Senator Case kills an illegal Mexican immigrant during a turkey hunt on his Texas ranch, legal aid lawyer Casey Jordan wants to help the victim's wife and child, who are being immediately deported, but the powerful Senator controls the local police and judges. But even when this investigation leads to more murder and the unexplained, mass disappearance of other illegal aliens, Casey refuses to give up.

This action-packed story is fast paced, ranging from the senator's isolated ranch to a mysterious, perhaps deadly, factory in Mexico. Both Casey and her assistant, Joe O'Brien, take lots of risks, and are almost killed several times. Casey herself is a tough women's rights lawyer accustomed to dealing with abusive men as she battles to keep her struggling legal service afloat. And fortunately, the formidable Joe is also tough and gutsy, though a bit shy about his own murky past. There is definitely some attraction between the two.

This is a competent, suspenseful thriller with some scary confrontations with colorful (if somewhat standard issue) villains. Furthermore, the observations on the plight of poor women and illegal aliens on both sides of the border add some interesting, perceptive texture. Above the Law makes for an entertaining, if not terribly original, read.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:12:56

When Senator Case kills an illegal Mexican immigrant during a turkey hunt on his Texas ranch, legal aid lawyer Casey Jordan wants to help the victim's wife and child, who are being immediately deported, but the powerful Senator controls the local police and judges. But even when this investigation leads to more murder and the unexplained, mass disappearance of other illegal aliens, Casey refuses to give up.

This action-packed story is fast paced, ranging from the senator's isolated ranch to a mysterious, perhaps deadly, factory in Mexico. Both Casey and her assistant, Joe O'Brien, take lots of risks, and are almost killed several times. Casey herself is a tough women's rights lawyer accustomed to dealing with abusive men as she battles to keep her struggling legal service afloat. And fortunately, the formidable Joe is also tough and gutsy, though a bit shy about his own murky past. There is definitely some attraction between the two.

This is a competent, suspenseful thriller with some scary confrontations with colorful (if somewhat standard issue) villains. Furthermore, the observations on the plight of poor women and illegal aliens on both sides of the border add some interesting, perceptive texture. Above the Law makes for an entertaining, if not terribly original, read.

All the Colors of Darkness
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

A beautiful June day in the Yorkshire countryside is ruined for a group of young teenagers when they discover the local theatre's costume designer hanging from a tree. As Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot investigates, all signs point to suicide, but when the badly beaten body of the suicide's male lover is found in the house the two men shared, Cabbot and her former lover and boss, Detective Inspector Alan Banks, are reunited to solve the case.

On the face of it, the incident appears to be a simple murder-suicide, but everyone who knew the two insists that there is no apparent motive for the crime. Banks suspects that there may be more to this case than meets the eye, and when he's warned by his superiors to close the case immediately, he becomes sure of it. Although officially on a well-deserved vacation, Banks continues to investigate with the clandestine help of Cabbot. Does the crime have anything to do with Shakespeare's Othello, the play the set and costume designer was working on? And why are factions in the government secret service so intent on closing the case?

Robinson pulls the reader in from the first page of this tightly plotted story and the vividly drawn characters only enhance the pleasures of this fine novel. All the Colors of Darkness is the 18th mystery in the multiple-award-winning Alan Banks series—and it's one of the best.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:16:34

A beautiful June day in the Yorkshire countryside is ruined for a group of young teenagers when they discover the local theatre's costume designer hanging from a tree. As Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot investigates, all signs point to suicide, but when the badly beaten body of the suicide's male lover is found in the house the two men shared, Cabbot and her former lover and boss, Detective Inspector Alan Banks, are reunited to solve the case.

On the face of it, the incident appears to be a simple murder-suicide, but everyone who knew the two insists that there is no apparent motive for the crime. Banks suspects that there may be more to this case than meets the eye, and when he's warned by his superiors to close the case immediately, he becomes sure of it. Although officially on a well-deserved vacation, Banks continues to investigate with the clandestine help of Cabbot. Does the crime have anything to do with Shakespeare's Othello, the play the set and costume designer was working on? And why are factions in the government secret service so intent on closing the case?

Robinson pulls the reader in from the first page of this tightly plotted story and the vividly drawn characters only enhance the pleasures of this fine novel. All the Colors of Darkness is the 18th mystery in the multiple-award-winning Alan Banks series—and it's one of the best.

Among the Mad
Lynne F. Maxwell

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries are among my favorites by a contemporary author. Why? They feature the psychologically complex, evolving main character Maisie, whose exploits provide insight into the forgotten aftermath of World War I. Winspear recreates the bleak reality of the maimed and shell-shocked veterans, left to their own devices to survive in an England devoid of jobs. Maisie is enormously sympathetic to the plight of these men, not least because she lost her own beloved fiancé to the war.

Indeed, the novel begins with one such soldier, a crippled beggar, who Maisie stops to helpV—too late, it turns out, because at that very moment, the man commits suicide with a hand grenade. From there, Maisie, psychologist and detective agency owner, is on the case to identify the hapless man and to prevent other incidents of war-induced violence.

Her dedication and sleuthing skills are so renowned that Scotland Yard and the British intelligence agency enlist her aid in locating and disarming another man intent on causing major carnage on New Year's Eve in order to draw attention to the plight of veterans. Working against the clock, Maisie uses her psychological acumen to head off disaster. After reading the engulfing Among the Mad, readers will never regard World War I as just another piece of history.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:21:29

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries are among my favorites by a contemporary author. Why? They feature the psychologically complex, evolving main character Maisie, whose exploits provide insight into the forgotten aftermath of World War I. Winspear recreates the bleak reality of the maimed and shell-shocked veterans, left to their own devices to survive in an England devoid of jobs. Maisie is enormously sympathetic to the plight of these men, not least because she lost her own beloved fiancé to the war.

Indeed, the novel begins with one such soldier, a crippled beggar, who Maisie stops to helpV—too late, it turns out, because at that very moment, the man commits suicide with a hand grenade. From there, Maisie, psychologist and detective agency owner, is on the case to identify the hapless man and to prevent other incidents of war-induced violence.

Her dedication and sleuthing skills are so renowned that Scotland Yard and the British intelligence agency enlist her aid in locating and disarming another man intent on causing major carnage on New Year's Eve in order to draw attention to the plight of veterans. Working against the clock, Maisie uses her psychological acumen to head off disaster. After reading the engulfing Among the Mad, readers will never regard World War I as just another piece of history.

Beyond Recall
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

It had been 34 years since Christian Napier's great-uncle Joshua was killed in Cornwell, England. Now, after a long estrangement from his family, Christian is back to attend his niece's wedding and soon encounters his former childhood best friend, Nicky, a wreck of a man who begs him to find out who really killed Joshua, a crime for which Nicky's father had been hanged. When Nicky shortly thereafter hangs himself from a tree the two friends used to swing on, Christian is determined to find out what really happened on that day so long ago.

Through flashbacks, we learn about the two families around the time of the murder, what the motivation for the crime may have been, and why Nicky and Christian became witnesses for the prosecution even though neither of them was convinced that Nicky's father had been guilty of hiring an accomplice to do the killing. As Christian tries to put the pieces together, someone begins a vendetta against him and his family members. Is it someone from Nicky's family trying to exact revenge? And why now?

As the mystery alternates from past to present, Christian gets closer and closer to the truth of the murder, and closer too to a hidden danger. Though the continued shifting from present to past and back may take some getting used to, it develops a rhythm and enhances the understanding of both eras. Robert Goddard is the author of more than a dozen bestselling mysteries and is a master at surprising readers with the unexpected.

Admin
2010-03-31 04:24:45

It had been 34 years since Christian Napier's great-uncle Joshua was killed in Cornwell, England. Now, after a long estrangement from his family, Christian is back to attend his niece's wedding and soon encounters his former childhood best friend, Nicky, a wreck of a man who begs him to find out who really killed Joshua, a crime for which Nicky's father had been hanged. When Nicky shortly thereafter hangs himself from a tree the two friends used to swing on, Christian is determined to find out what really happened on that day so long ago.

Through flashbacks, we learn about the two families around the time of the murder, what the motivation for the crime may have been, and why Nicky and Christian became witnesses for the prosecution even though neither of them was convinced that Nicky's father had been guilty of hiring an accomplice to do the killing. As Christian tries to put the pieces together, someone begins a vendetta against him and his family members. Is it someone from Nicky's family trying to exact revenge? And why now?

As the mystery alternates from past to present, Christian gets closer and closer to the truth of the murder, and closer too to a hidden danger. Though the continued shifting from present to past and back may take some getting used to, it develops a rhythm and enhances the understanding of both eras. Robert Goddard is the author of more than a dozen bestselling mysteries and is a master at surprising readers with the unexpected.

Killer Voices: Poisoned Pen Press
Mark Terry

Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press sit down with Mystery Scene

poisonedpen_rob_barbPoisoned Pen Press came into being in 1996 partly in response to the shrinking mid-list in mystery publishing. For Barbara Peters, owner of the Scottsdale, Arizona bookstore The Poisoned Pen, too many fine authors were losing their publishers to downsizing. Her husband, Arizona businessman Robert Rosenwald, decided to form an independent mystery publisher to address the problem. Robert is the president and publisher; Barbara is the editor.

Poisoned Pen Press now publishes 36 books per year, according to Robert. "Typically two hardcovers and one paperback per month." They have a "first-look" deal with an independent film producer and their foreign sales are handled by Danny Baror of Baror International.

Mystery Scene: What is PPP's strength? Your weakness? What do you offer that other publishers may not?

Rosenwald: Our biggest strength is Barbara. She has extraordinary taste and is Catholic enough in her tastes to consider most anything. After Barbara, our greatest strength is our passion for what we are doing and our ability to inculcate that passion in other people. They regularly volunteer to help for no compensation, other than being a part of what we are doing. Our biggest weakness is a lack of capital. We actually read and edit the books we publish. That is not a joke because we know for a fact that there are large publishers that take an author's submission, typeset it, spell-check it, and go to press. We also are willing to look at manuscripts that come in over the transom. About 80% of what we have published has been unagented, though we will look at agented submissions with no preference for one over the other.

Peters: Our strengths include the quality of the books we've selected and the input we gather from advance readers in both selection and reviewing our galleys. My weakness is lack of time to do the job I'd like to do for each author and title. What we offer is a sterling reputation (or so I think), as careful editing as possible (not as what would be ideal), and the good luck of excellent review coverage plus quality books. The design and production of our books and the jacket art earns Rob my applause and that of readers.

I was told about two years ago by Jeff Gerecke at JCA (a literary agency) that the mystery market had "cratered." Do you agreed? Has it improved?

Rosenwald: We have published a number of Jeff's books (mostly reprints). I suspect Jeff means that there are fewer "big books" being sold to the large houses, but I have watched our sales increase dramatically every year. Part of that is certainly because people are just discovering what we do and we haven't come close to saturating our market yet. I think there is a very strong market for what we are doing. I'm not interested in selling 50,000 copies of some book if we could sell 5,000 copies of every book we do I'd be ecstatic. So, no, I don't agree.

Peters: I think that, like all genre fiction, mystery swings up and down. It crested in the early '90s and is still down, while thrillers and big box books are up, largely because big publishers need immense numbers. I think readers are becoming bored with big books with high stakes and are willing to return to the smaller mystery. Romance and history work well. So does the regional book, with its deep sense of place. I have expanded my definition of mystery to include the crime novel, and I think there are enough readers to keep us going at the bookstore, which survived 2002 intact, and at the press.


poisoned_pen_logo

How important are the so-called genre conventions to the selection of books you publish? In other words, do your "cozy" characters ever have sex or see blood; do your PI's ever get married?

Rosenwald: Of no importance whatsoever. We publish books we like, based on excellence in writing, voice, originality, setting, characters, dialogue, plotting. We tend to eschew serial killer books or any book that is more action-driven than puzzle-driven. We also avoid derivative and formulaic books.

Peters: I couldn't care less about genres or conventions. We are trying to publish mysteries rather than thrillers, which knocks out some submissions, and I have an infamous prejudice against serial killer books though we have published them. But basically I just look for voice while keeping in mind we have to have a balanced list, not 20 books of similar scope.

In an ideal world, what would you like to see the publishing industry do?

Rosenwald: I'd love to see publishing once again run by people who love books rather than money.

Peters: Lower prices. Be less interested in the star system, that is, in who the author is or what marketing hook the author supplies than in what the author has written and how good it is. As a small press editor, I find the continuing consolidations in big publishing and its Hollywoodization merely opens the road for good books produced at a smaller level, so I don't rant over developments in New York.

What do you want unpublished crime novelists to know about getting successfully published?

Rosenwald: Write the best story you can. Be patient. If it takes us a long time to reject something it's because we are still actively considering it. And don't fall into the trap of believing that you can publish it yourself and thus prove to us that the book is saleable/marketable. A book that has already been published in any form whatsoever is much less appealing to us than an unpublished book. From a marketing perspective, an author can only have one debut novel. And it matters enormously because the media will give much more latitude to a debut than to a second or third effort.

Peters: Master the tools of writing. I am put off by sloppy grammar, bad spelling, poor word choice, repetition, and wandering verb tenses. The more I have to correct on a first reading, the less I focus on the story and the more I think I don't want to invest my time in giving lessons on basic writing. A strong story structure is essential for a crime novel. So are interesting and sympathetic characters who make some kind of journey during the course of the novel. And the book should have an end as good as its beginning.

After a book is published, what do you think the author can do to help guarantee its success?

Rosenwald: Nothing. There are no guarantees to a book's success. However, authors can help enormously by doing whatever self-promotion they can. We have authors who travel heavily to promote their books. We have authors who never leave their homes, but work the web. An author can schmooze and generate interest on the part of others. Books don't sell themselves. People sell books, and an author who can promote him- or herself to booksellers will do a lot better than an author who thinks that a good review is all he or she needs.

Peters: Learn to promote on the internet as well as in person. Travel to promote as much as he or she is able. Summon up past connections, personal and organizational, and market to them. Set up a website and keep it current. Above all, sit down and write another knockout book. Mystery Scene: Describe the novel that you, as an editor/publisher, would most like to have show up on your desk from an unknown, previously unpublished writer.

Rosenwald: Barbara would probably choose one of Jane Austen's books. I'd probably go for Catch-22, Cat's Cradle or Trout Fishing in America. But if we are going strictly with mystery I might pick Mystic River, The Last Coyote, or, if you'll let me call it a mystery, Chinaman's Chance.

Peters: One with a killer voice and set in a landscape I will enjoy, which could be anything. Geographically, politically, historically. There is no right answer to this question.

www.poisonedpenpress.com

Mark Terry is a freelance writer and editor living in Oxford, Michigan.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-31 17:48:45

Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press sit down with Mystery Scene

poisonedpen_rob_barbPoisoned Pen Press came into being in 1996 partly in response to the shrinking mid-list in mystery publishing. For Barbara Peters, owner of the Scottsdale, Arizona bookstore The Poisoned Pen, too many fine authors were losing their publishers to downsizing. Her husband, Arizona businessman Robert Rosenwald, decided to form an independent mystery publisher to address the problem. Robert is the president and publisher; Barbara is the editor.

Poisoned Pen Press now publishes 36 books per year, according to Robert. "Typically two hardcovers and one paperback per month." They have a "first-look" deal with an independent film producer and their foreign sales are handled by Danny Baror of Baror International.

Mystery Scene: What is PPP's strength? Your weakness? What do you offer that other publishers may not?

Rosenwald: Our biggest strength is Barbara. She has extraordinary taste and is Catholic enough in her tastes to consider most anything. After Barbara, our greatest strength is our passion for what we are doing and our ability to inculcate that passion in other people. They regularly volunteer to help for no compensation, other than being a part of what we are doing. Our biggest weakness is a lack of capital. We actually read and edit the books we publish. That is not a joke because we know for a fact that there are large publishers that take an author's submission, typeset it, spell-check it, and go to press. We also are willing to look at manuscripts that come in over the transom. About 80% of what we have published has been unagented, though we will look at agented submissions with no preference for one over the other.

Peters: Our strengths include the quality of the books we've selected and the input we gather from advance readers in both selection and reviewing our galleys. My weakness is lack of time to do the job I'd like to do for each author and title. What we offer is a sterling reputation (or so I think), as careful editing as possible (not as what would be ideal), and the good luck of excellent review coverage plus quality books. The design and production of our books and the jacket art earns Rob my applause and that of readers.

I was told about two years ago by Jeff Gerecke at JCA (a literary agency) that the mystery market had "cratered." Do you agreed? Has it improved?

Rosenwald: We have published a number of Jeff's books (mostly reprints). I suspect Jeff means that there are fewer "big books" being sold to the large houses, but I have watched our sales increase dramatically every year. Part of that is certainly because people are just discovering what we do and we haven't come close to saturating our market yet. I think there is a very strong market for what we are doing. I'm not interested in selling 50,000 copies of some book if we could sell 5,000 copies of every book we do I'd be ecstatic. So, no, I don't agree.

Peters: I think that, like all genre fiction, mystery swings up and down. It crested in the early '90s and is still down, while thrillers and big box books are up, largely because big publishers need immense numbers. I think readers are becoming bored with big books with high stakes and are willing to return to the smaller mystery. Romance and history work well. So does the regional book, with its deep sense of place. I have expanded my definition of mystery to include the crime novel, and I think there are enough readers to keep us going at the bookstore, which survived 2002 intact, and at the press.


poisoned_pen_logo

How important are the so-called genre conventions to the selection of books you publish? In other words, do your "cozy" characters ever have sex or see blood; do your PI's ever get married?

Rosenwald: Of no importance whatsoever. We publish books we like, based on excellence in writing, voice, originality, setting, characters, dialogue, plotting. We tend to eschew serial killer books or any book that is more action-driven than puzzle-driven. We also avoid derivative and formulaic books.

Peters: I couldn't care less about genres or conventions. We are trying to publish mysteries rather than thrillers, which knocks out some submissions, and I have an infamous prejudice against serial killer books though we have published them. But basically I just look for voice while keeping in mind we have to have a balanced list, not 20 books of similar scope.

In an ideal world, what would you like to see the publishing industry do?

Rosenwald: I'd love to see publishing once again run by people who love books rather than money.

Peters: Lower prices. Be less interested in the star system, that is, in who the author is or what marketing hook the author supplies than in what the author has written and how good it is. As a small press editor, I find the continuing consolidations in big publishing and its Hollywoodization merely opens the road for good books produced at a smaller level, so I don't rant over developments in New York.

What do you want unpublished crime novelists to know about getting successfully published?

Rosenwald: Write the best story you can. Be patient. If it takes us a long time to reject something it's because we are still actively considering it. And don't fall into the trap of believing that you can publish it yourself and thus prove to us that the book is saleable/marketable. A book that has already been published in any form whatsoever is much less appealing to us than an unpublished book. From a marketing perspective, an author can only have one debut novel. And it matters enormously because the media will give much more latitude to a debut than to a second or third effort.

Peters: Master the tools of writing. I am put off by sloppy grammar, bad spelling, poor word choice, repetition, and wandering verb tenses. The more I have to correct on a first reading, the less I focus on the story and the more I think I don't want to invest my time in giving lessons on basic writing. A strong story structure is essential for a crime novel. So are interesting and sympathetic characters who make some kind of journey during the course of the novel. And the book should have an end as good as its beginning.

After a book is published, what do you think the author can do to help guarantee its success?

Rosenwald: Nothing. There are no guarantees to a book's success. However, authors can help enormously by doing whatever self-promotion they can. We have authors who travel heavily to promote their books. We have authors who never leave their homes, but work the web. An author can schmooze and generate interest on the part of others. Books don't sell themselves. People sell books, and an author who can promote him- or herself to booksellers will do a lot better than an author who thinks that a good review is all he or she needs.

Peters: Learn to promote on the internet as well as in person. Travel to promote as much as he or she is able. Summon up past connections, personal and organizational, and market to them. Set up a website and keep it current. Above all, sit down and write another knockout book. Mystery Scene: Describe the novel that you, as an editor/publisher, would most like to have show up on your desk from an unknown, previously unpublished writer.

Rosenwald: Barbara would probably choose one of Jane Austen's books. I'd probably go for Catch-22, Cat's Cradle or Trout Fishing in America. But if we are going strictly with mystery I might pick Mystic River, The Last Coyote, or, if you'll let me call it a mystery, Chinaman's Chance.

Peters: One with a killer voice and set in a landscape I will enjoy, which could be anything. Geographically, politically, historically. There is no right answer to this question.

www.poisonedpenpress.com

Mark Terry is a freelance writer and editor living in Oxford, Michigan.

John Grisham Testifies
Tom Nolan

grisham_john_2010_small

Bestselling author John Grisham spins tales from his early writing days—including the $6 million worth of first editions he once had in his law office—and talks about his current spectacular success, which includes new legal thriller The Litigators and a planned 2012 TV series, The Firm.

"More often than not, I will take an issue and weave a novel around it...whether it's capital punishment in The Chamber or homelessness in The Street Lawyer or tort reform in The King of Torts or tobacco litigation in The Runaway Jury. I think those are the better books."

John Grisham, born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1955, lived in several small towns throughout the South before his family settled in Southaven, Mississippi, in 1967. During the heart of Grisham's childhood, he and his baseball-loving siblings lived in the Memphis area, where they lay awake each night listening to announcer Harry Carey's play-by-play of St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. "We would actually argue about which of us was going to play what position, one day, for the Cards," Grisham remembers. "The dreams were that real." And John dreamt the biggest: "I wanted to be a star, I mean—I wanted to be the next Stan Musial. I wanted to bat cleanup, and play the outfield, and—be Stan the Man."

John Grisham never got close to playing pro ball; he says, "I barely made my high school team." But in time, he achieved the essence of his dream: He became an undisputed all-star, a Hall of Famer, in his chosen game. For over a decade, he has been one of the world's bestselling novelists.

We spoke with John Grisham recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, before an audience of 600 people in the Culbreth Theatre, during the Virginia Festival of the Book. Here is an abridged version of that interview.

Tom Nolan for Mystery Scene: In the late 1980s, you were practicing law in the state of Mississippi, and had been elected to the State House of Representatives, where you served for seven years. You were happily married, I presume. Whatever possessed you to separate yourself from your work and your family for however many hours a day, and commit a first novel?

John Grisham: Well, when I started writing what eventually became A Time to Kill, the first thing I'd ever written, my motives were pure. I had a story that I wanted to tell, based on something I'd seen in a courtroom; and I concocted what I thought was a really compelling courtroom drama, as seen through the eyes of a young attorney in a small town—very similar to myself at that time. I was happily married, but a struggling young lawyer.

And the story became an obsession.

Finally, one night I literally sat down with a legal pad and wrote "Chapter One"—and started writing this story. My wife and small son were in bed asleep, and I stayed up late that night, writing, for the first time in my life, something that was fiction.

I worked on it for a few days and finished the first chapter. And I read it, and I thought it was—pretty good. (audience laughter) My wife was an English major in college; and she reads five to eight, ten books a week, all different types of books. So I finally got the courage to say, "Look, I've got something I'd like you to look at, if you don't mind."

She said, "What is it?"

I said, "Well, it's a book I'm writing."

And she gave me that look, like: "Unh, here he goes again; some other scheme ..."

I gave it to her. I was so nervous, I went for a walk around the block; I couldn't be in the house with her when she was reading my first chapter. And when I came back, she said, "Well, this is pretty good; I'd like to read some more." And I said, "Okay, I'll go write some more and bring it back ..." (laughter)

And that's how it got started.

And even now, I'll write a chapter, and she'll read it; or now, like sections—100 pages or so—and she'll read it, and we'll talk about it—and sometimes argue about it. Sometimes yell about it. (laughter) The kids have sort of grown up over the years, with some yelling in the house. They realize: "Oh, it's just mom and dad, fighting over the book," so it's no big deal...

But that's how it got started. And it took three years. Took three years of really early mornings, and working late at night, and a lot of lost sleep, to finish the story. Now again, this is a long answer—and by the way, I give long answers.

grisham_timetokillFine with me.

After about two years, when I realized I was halfway finished with A Time to Kill, my motives changed. I started thinking about getting published... I bought a book, the name of it was How to Become a Bestselling Author—written by a guy who never sold anything, but he got fourteen dollars from me. (laughter) I got really motivated to finish the book and to try to get it published...

Once A Time to Kill was finished, I spent a year submitting it to New York publishers. I'd read all these books on how you submit. I would copy the first three chapters. My secretary made a list of like thirty agents on one sheet of paper, and thirty publishers on the other; and we would do multiple submissions. She'd pick the first five on one list, the first five on the other. So at any given time, I had ten submissions floating around New York. And I'd send one batch off, they'd send them right back! They were coming back real fast!

The first one, by the way, was from Doubleday, my publisher for the past fourteen years... I kept that letter and shared it with them a few years later, and we all had a big laugh... But my secretary would go to the next name and cross it off, and just resubmit and resubmit and resubmit. And it was kind of fun. I mean, the mail was happening, something was going on. I was getting all these rejections... (laughter)

You know, I'd read so much about publishing that I knew there are wonderful stories about writers who get great books rejected twenty, thirty, forty times; I'd read all these stories, and so I wasn't really worried.

But one day I came in from work, and (my wife) Renee and I were having dinner. I was kind of down; I'd had a bunch of rejections that day. And we talked about it. She said, "Well you know, you're sending off the first three chapters of the book." I said, "Yeah, that's what you're supposed to do." She said, "Well ... the first three chapters are not the best ones in the book. Why don't you pick three other chapters?" And I said, "You mean, just pick three chapters at random?" And she said, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, that's pretty stupid. Who wants three random chapters?" And she said, "Well you're not doing so hot with the first three, so..." (laughter)

So I did. I went to copy the first chapter, the third chapter, and the seventh chapter; something really pivotal happens in the seventh chapter. I went to the next five names on the list, five agents, and sent some out. Within a week, three of the agents had called. So, around home I said, "Okay, now what do we do?"...

It took a year for my new agent to sell A Time to Kill to a very small, unknown, brand new publishing company in New York; the book was published in June of '89. I didn't have a lot of money in June of '89. But I had more than my publisher. (laughter)

That's not a good sign.

They printed 5,000 hardback copies of A Time to Kill, and I bought a thousand of them. (laughter) True story.

They actually shipped me 1,500 to my law office. And...I had to pay for them, of course. The little town we lived in at that time did not have a nice bookstore so our plan was to go to a local library, and I'd invite all my friends to come. I'd have 1,000 books there—and I'd make it both ways, you know; retail, and royalties later. I had it all figured out.

Well, we had a wonderful book party.... We've got pictures of my kids, and they're real small, next to this mountain of books. And when the party was over, I still owned 882 copies of A Time to Kill...

And so for the next year, I sold them out of the trunk of my car, to libraries and bookstores and finally got rid of them.

The funny part of the story is: At one point I had 1,500 copies of that book in my law office; I mean, you couldn't walk in there. And a first edition now sells for something like four thousand bucks. So you can do the math.

That is a funny story.

Yeah. That's real funny. (laughter) It wasn't the first fortune I lost practicing law!

079_grisham_thefirmGiven this return on your investment—what possessed you to write a second book? (laughter)

I'll tell you why I wrote the second book. I'd worked for three years with A Time to Kill, and I'd got in the habit of getting up at five o'clock every morning. My goal every day was to be at my law office at five-thirty, with my first cup of coffee, writing the first word. I did it for three years and it became a habit.

When I sent the manuscript off to New York, my agent was this old really sort of crusty New York guy that'd been around forever, and I called him and said, "Okay, what happens now?" He said, "Look, don't call me every day, okay?" He said, "Let me give you some advice: You start writing another book right now. It'll serve two purposes: Number one, by the time I sell this one, you'll have that one finished. But much more importantly, it'll keep you busy, and you won't be calling me every day."

And so, soon—it was one of those moments that we laugh about now, I'm always pitching ideas to Renee—I said to her, "Okay, I need five minutes, I got an idea for a story." She said, "Okay, what is it?" I said, "All right—there's this law firm that's secretly owned by the Mafia. Nobody knows. It's in a small city; and once you go to work there, no one ever leaves the firm." Blah blah blah. And—I thought I was in trouble again.

Renee said: "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Do that again. Do that again."

And I pitched again. And she said: "That, is a big, book."

And I said, "Okay. I like that idea." I'd worked so hard with A Time to Kill, over a three-year period, that The Firm was just a naked grab for money, okay? (laughter, applause) It's hard work, and if I'm going to do it, I'm going to try to get paid doing it, okay? And honestly, that's what it was.

And it worked.

Still works ...

Anything interesting happen with that second book that was different from the first book?

Oh, everything was different from the first book! I sent the book to New York in the fall of '89, just after A Time to Kill was published. My agent suggested that I make some changes. There were changes I didn't want to make, and I didn't think his ideas were good, and so we sort of argued for a while. And once he realized I wasn't going to change it to suit him, the book sort of languished in New York throughout the fall of '89. I mean there was no stampede, no rush to buy The Firm. It was just sort of lying there, and I was writing book number three.

Because by then, I'd written two books back-to-back, over a five-year period, and it had become sort of a habit.

And unknown to us—and this is the luckiest break I've had in publishing, and I think everybody at some point has to have a lucky break—unknown to my agent, unknown to anybody, a copy of The Firm was stolen from a publisher in New York—a publisher who hadn't read it yet—and it surfaced in Hollywood, sort of a bootleg copy of the manuscript. And a guy got it out there, and made twenty-five copies of it, and give it to every studio, and sort of gave the impression that he was my representative.

Again, this happens all the time, believe it or not, as I've learned.

What I'd hoped to do, with publishing the second book, hopefully, was go from 5,000 copies of A Time to Kill maybe to 25,000 copies of The Firm, then 50,000—and gradually build a readership, so one day I could do it full-time. That was my dream: to leave the law office and just write. It's a wonderful dream, and that was my goal.

During Christmas of '89, we hadn't heard anything from New York in a long time. We were talking one night, and I said, "Wouldn't it be great if we got like a $50,000 advance for The Firm? I mean, that would take care of a lot of problems." And the first week in January—Sunday morning—I had left to go to church, because it takes like three cars to get us to church down the street, and Renee came in late, and she said, "You've got to go call New York."

Well—these (New York) people don't work on Sundays. They don't work on Fridays, or Thursdays. (laughter) I said, "What are you talking about?" She said, "Your agent just called. Something big is about to happen, you've got to talk to him right now."

I raced home. I called my agent in New York, and he said, "I need your permission to take the highest offer from Disney, Touchstone, Paramount, or Universal Pictures for the film rights to The Firm."

And I said, "Slow down, we haven't sold the book rights yet." He said, "I don't have time!" (laughter) He said, "These people in L.A. are sitting by their phones for the final round of bidding."

Well the word bidding had a real nice ring to it... And I said, "Well okay, sure, uh, just for fun—how much money we talking about?" He said, "I'm going to try to get $500,000." I said, "And you want my permission to go do that? Okay, you have my permission."

And I went back to church with Renee. And I was sitting through the worship service; you can imagine what we were thinking about. It wasn't the sermon.

We raced home, and literally the phone was ringing. It was my agent. He said, "We sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures." Then he proceeded to tell me all of the hard-nosed negotiation he had done. I said, "Okay okay okay—just for fun: How much money did we get?" And he said, "Six hundred thousand dollars."

I said, "You were hoping to get five, how'd you get six?"

He said, "I'm just a helluva agent." I said, "Amen, brother. Amen."

We sat down... Renee and I both come from these very close-knit, conservative Southern Baptist families; and we were both raised to never talk about money outside the family. There was no money inside the family, but—you never discussed money, okay? And we knew what we had just gone through was about to change everything. So we told our parents; her mom and dad lived on one side of the house, and my parents lived behind us. We said, "Okay, it's going to be a movie. Maybe it's going to be a book, too, but it's going to be a movie!" (laughter) Of course everybody wanted to know: how much did you get? And we said, "We're not going to talk about the money, we just feel very uncomfortable talking about the money."

Well, Monday morning, Paramount issued a press release, with all the details in it. And that's why that's the only deal I'll ever talk about publicly, because it was publicized.

A couple weeks later, we sold the hardcover/softcover rights to Doubleday and to Dell. And throughout the course of 1990, we sold off the foreign rights. A Time to Kill never went to paperback, let alone foreign rights. So it was fascinating: You write it one time in your own language, and it sells in forty more.

Then when the book came out, in March of '91, it had a lot of buzz, a lot of pressure behind it, and became a big book.

079_grisham_pelicanbriefNow that your situation had changed so much, was there a lot of pressure for the book after The Firm?

We always are pulling for the new guy, whatever it is, whether it's books or movies or sports. We always love the rookie, and all of that. Then we can't wait to see him stumble. That's the way we are: we love the underdogs, but we want people to be kept in their place. I knew the next book, whatever it was, was going to be hammered. So I made a decision—looking back, it was one of the wiser decisions I made—to get the next book out the following year, and go ahead and get the thrashing over with. And I got the thrashing, and I got it over with. I'm still getting thrashed, but I don't care any more. (laughter)

You were happy with the (third) book, though, right? You liked that book just as well as the others?

As time goes by, I look back, I like some books more than others. It's hard to believe there've been fifteen of them now; that doesn't seem like it's possible. But you do at least a book a year for twelve or thirteen years, and you wake up and you've written fifteen.

You have to like a book a lot, you have to love a story, to be able to finish the book. But then when I finish it... I don't dwell on the current publication ... It's time to start thinking about the next book.

As time passes, obviously, I think some are better than others. There are a couple, I think, looking back, that probably weren't very good at all, in my estimation.

But when you do a book a year, I mean—you write the best story you have that year.

And that's what I'm thinking about now. You know, I'm going to do a book this year, and—it's time to pick a story and go.

And when I start a book, I truly think: "Okay, I'm going to make this the best book yet." And—I mean, I take it very seriously, and I try, whatever type of book it is, to make it the best one yet. Sometimes I get close, and sometimes I don't.

You've said that some of your books are maybe a bit more serious or issue-driven than others?

Well, probably more often than not, I will take an issue and weave a novel around it. I do that to—not expose the issue, but just to explore it, to make people stop and think about whatever the issue is, whether it's capital punishment in The Chamber or homelessness in The Street Lawyer or tort reform in the current book (The King of Torts) or the tobacco litigation in The Runaway Jury. I think those are the better books.

At the same time, what I try to do—what I strive for—is a high quality of popular fiction. That's what I'm trying to write. It's entertainment. And I've never been pretentious about it. I want it to be real good—and I work hard at making it good.

There are times when I don't want issues; I want pure suspense, with a lot of mystery in it. There are times when Renee says, "Please stop preaching and just write a book?" And things are pretty testy around the house when she says that, so... (laughter) I'll go off and write The Summons, or I'll write The Brethren...

Were you a great reader, as a kid?

Yeah, my mom didn't believe in television. She just didn't. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, a lot of little small towns in the deep South, and the first thing we'd do was always join the local Baptist church, and the second thing would be to get our library cards. We would judge the quality of the new town by the number of books you could check out. And also by the quality of their Little League baseball field. My brothers and I could judge a town in a couple hours ...

We always had stacks of books around the house. It was a big family; we would read each other's books, and my mother would read to us. And I grew up loving to read.

I had the benefit of some really good high-school English teachers, who made us read great literature, and taught us how to. In Mississippi, there's a state law that you have to read Faulkner. (laughter)

I didn't know that.

Yeah, well—it's on the books.

It's a good law.

Every school child in Mississippi has to read Faulkner. I had a great teacher who also let us read, like, Steinbeck. So, when I was a senior in high school, I was reading Faulkner, you know, with a migraine—and Steinbeck, who I just adored, because you could understand what he was saying. (laughter)

I mean I never dreamed about being a writer, but when I read The Grapes of Wrath, I remember thinking, "If I could write, that's the way I would want to write." You know: clear, but also with passion, and meaning.

Did you read mystery writers, too?

When I was a kid I read a lot of them, yeah. All the Hardy Boys... (laughter) All of those.

Were you encouraged to write?

Never. No, I never thought about writing. I thought I was going to be an athlete, professionally. Wasn't sure which sport; didn't really matter, I'd figure one out. But I was never recruited, so that was a pretty good indication that I'd...need to study... (laughter)

And somehow I ended up in law school, and I thought I would do that for the rest of my life—until, like I said, I was inspired to write. I was thirty years old. It was 1985 before I started writing.

And how long did you keep practicing law?

That phone call, on The Firm? I think the next day. (laughter) It didn't take long. The legal career, and the political career, went by the wayside real quick, after that phone call.

Do you miss politics?

I don't miss being an elected official; that was really painful. I was elected twice to the House of Representatives in Mississippi. The campaigns were fun, but the job itself was drudgery. I love to watch politics, and I follow politics and keep up with it and get involved a little bit with some candidates I like...

Did you have a high point in your political career?

The day I announced I was not going to seek reelection. It's the last time people stood up and cheered for me. (laughter)

grisham_rainmakerfilm

So, you got involved with these Hollywood people pretty early on. Was that interesting?

Oh, it's a fascinating bunch of people, yeah.... I've never gotten too close to them.... I'll read the script, and make a lot of notes on the script; try to keep the story together. My contract now, I can negotiate certain rights. I don't want to cast for the movies, but if they're trying to cast someone that I really don't like, I can steer them away from that. If there's a director I really don't like, you know, I can request someone else.

But if you start making those choices, you sort of get sucked into the filmmaking process, and I know nothing about it, and I don't want to learn.

But listen: I've had six movies, and I've enjoyed watching five of them. That's pretty amazing.

The Chamber was a train wreck from the very beginning, and a lot of it was my fault. ...The best one is The Rainmaker (applause), with young Matt Damon, and Danny DeVito; Francis Ford Coppola did the movie. I loved the movie... It came out one week before Titanic—so nobody went to see it. But it's the best adaptation.

I met Stephen King a few years ago, at a book festival, in Mississippi... We hung out together for a couple of days, and we were talking about movies. This is a guy who's had forty movies made of his books, or stories... and he said, "Let me give you some advice. When it comes to dealing with Hollywood, there are two groups of writers. There are those who do not deal with Hollywood, okay? Period. That's a small group. The second group consists of those of us who do. And if you're in the second group, there are a couple of simple rules: Get all your money up front; kiss the book goodbye; and expect the movie to be something different. If you don't like that—go join the first group." I thought that was great advice, and I've stuck to it.

grisham_paintedhouseYou said you had some books you sort of prefer or think better of; do you have one that's your all-time favorite?

For years it was A Time to Kill; that was my favorite because it was close to home and all that.

I really like A Painted House. There are no lawyers in it. (laughter) I do get tired of writing about lawyers, occasionally... It's just a different kind of book; it's a childhood memoir, it's a lot of family lore, and there's a lot of autobiography in it; so I think now Painted House is probably my favorite.

Audience question: Do you still get up at five, to write?

Yes, I still get up at five o'clock in the morning. Well, I get up at six. Old habits are hard to break...

The schedule hasn't changed in probably close to ten years now. About this time of the year (March), I'll tell Doubleday yes or no on a book for February first of next year. Then we work back. For them to publish February first, they've got to see a good first draft by November first. And then to do that I've got to work real hard in September, October, and November.

But it's time to start the story really by the time school's out; I'll start doing a page or two a day, and that's usually at six in the morning. Maybe three, on a good day, throughout the summertime. And then, when the kids go back to school after Labor Day, I kind of go in my office and lock the door. There are no phones or faxes in my office, and it gets real dark over there, especially at six in the morning. And I work real hard from six to about eleven or twelve, for the first three months...

I'll spend the month of November doing revisions, which is the least attractive part of it. I'm determined every year to be finished by Thanksgiving. Then they start printing the books December the first, in Berryville, Virginia, just up the road. They print 100,000 a day, for a month.

I actually took my daughter's fourth-grade class to Berryville on a field trip. They were printing The Partner, at like 100 a minute or so. It's kind of fun to watch. Yanked one off the press and signed it for all the kids...

They ship them to the warehouse in January, and they have them in the stores the first Tuesday in February. And that's what's going to happen next year, if nothing bad happens to me. I've got the story.

Audience question: Do you work from an outline?

I work from a real extensive outline. When I think I have a story, I'll say, "Okay, Chapter One"—and write a paragraph about Chapter One. And Chapter Two—and all the way through Chapter Forty.

Forty chapters, at ten pages each, is what I shoot for. They're getting thinner—because I'm getting lazier. The price is not going down, though. (laughter) And they're all from 375 to 500 pages. I think a lot of popular authors get in trouble, because their books just get thicker... Anyway, the outlining process can go on for a long time, even a year or two. But it makes you see the whole story. And when you write suspense it's sort of like writing mystery: you have to drop off clues along the way, you have to make sure you've got your main plot that works, and your core subplot that works. And you've got to be able to see that when you start. You can't predict everything that's going to happen; you can't predict every character you're going to come up with. But I've been in trouble twice, in fifteen books—trouble, meaning I was really worried about a deadline because I couldn't get the story finished—and both times, it was because I'd cheated on the outline. If my outline is in good shape, the book is real easy to write.

Outlining is nothing fun, and the revisions are painful. But I tell students and writers all the time, if you're not willing to do those two things, then you're not going to make it as a writer.

runaway_jury_smallMystery Scene: Do you ever depart from the outline, comfortably?

I don't think so. I can't remember doing that. I'd be afraid to. Especially the way I back myself into a corner with time? I mean, I don't have a lot of extra time! If I had a good case of the flu in October, it would be trouble.

Audience question: How do you develop your characters?

How do I develop my characters? Well, the critics say that I do not! (laughter) And you know, some of that's fair; I'll tell you, it's fair.

When you write suspense, you have to sacrifice certain things, to keep the pages turning. And I deliberately try to make the pages turn. I want people staying up late at night, calling in sick for work... That's what I want.

It's not always easy. But to do that, you've got to sacrifice certain things. You've got to sacrifice things you would like to explore: people, relationships, setting, places, culture, food.

I did that with A Time to Kill. The first draft was some 1,000 pages, because I chased every wild rabbit I wanted to chase. A lot of it came out, but a lot of it stayed. Because it's the only book I've written with no deadline. It's probably the best book I've written.

I try to find characters—You've got to start with your principal character, it's got to be somebody that your reader cares about. And that's the hardest one. You've got to get them in trouble, and you've got to get them out. And your readers have got to care about that person when they're in trouble, or you've lost them. That's basic suspense, and I did not invent it. I heard it from Robert Ludlum...

Audience question: Who do you read, for your own enjoyment?

I'm in the middle of all of the great Raymond Chandler novels, the Philip Marlowe novels? I don't know why, I started reading them last fall, and it's some of the best stuff I've ever read.

I read most of the other lawyer/authors, just to kind of monitor the competition? Some are good; some are not too good.

Oh, my favorite author is a British guy, John le Carré—David Cornwell? He's a master of espionage and suspense; I love that guy's stuff. You know, Pat Conroy's a buddy. Of course he publishes once every ten years, so it's kind of hard to say you live for his books. I guess you do. (laughter)

Audience question: Do you have trouble thinking up a new plot every year or do you have them already lined up?

When you do what I do, and you watch lawyers, and you watch litigation and trends in litigation, and courtroom dramas, and the really colorful, wacky, crazy things that lawyers do—the material is endless. (laughter) I'm not kidding, the material is endless. As someone mentioned earlier: Enron, Worldcom—things like that just, pop up. And it really keeps me awake at night, wondering: How am I going to skewer all these lawyers?

john_grisham_room_smallThe Paper Trail

The John Grisham Room, located in the Mitchell Memorial Library on the campus of Mississippi State University, contains papers and materials donated by the author to his alma mater.

Included are legislative subject files from Grisham’s 1983-1990 service as a representative in the Mississippi Legislature; the original manuscript and various revisions of his first novel, A Time to Kill, as well as drafts of The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client; various photographs of his legislative and literary days; correspondences, including fan mail, personal letters, requests for public appearances, and solicitations; and promotional materials and newspaper clippings.

A JOHN GRISHAM READING/VIEWING LIST

Novels
A Time to Kill (1989)
The Firm (1991)
The Pelican Brief (1992)
The Client (1993)
The Chamber (1994)
The Rainmaker (1995)
The Runaway Jury (1996)
The Partner (1997)
The Street Lawyer (1998)
The Testament (1999)
The Brethren (2000)
A Painted House (2001)
Skipping Christmas (2001)
The Summons (2002)
The King of Torts (2003)
Bleachers (2003)
The Last Juror (2004)
The Broker (2005)
Playing for Pizza (2007)
The Appeal (2008)
The Associate (2009)
The Confession (2010)
The Litigators (2011)

Theodore Boone YA Series
Kid Lawyer (2010)
The Abduction (2011)

Movies
The Firm (1993) Starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Gene Hackman; Directed by Sydney Pollack
The Pelican Brief (1993) Starring Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, and Sam Shepard; Directed by Alan J. Pakula
The Client (1994) Starring Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Mary-Louise Parker; Directed by Joel Schumacher
A Time to Kill (1996) Starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson; Directed by Joel Schumacher
The Chamber (1996) Starring Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, and Faye Dunaway; Directed by James Foley
The Rainmaker (1997) Starring Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, and Claire Danes; Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
79Cover_smallThe Runaway Jury (2003) Starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman; Directed by Gary Fleder
Christmas With the Kranks (2004) Starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd; Directed by Joe Roth

Tom Nolan is the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography and the editor of Strangers in Town: Three Newly Discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald (Crippen & Landru).

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #79.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-31 18:29:48

grisham_john_2010_smallJohn Grisham holds court with MS and shares about his early writing days to his current success.

Gothic Revival
Dean James

jane_eyre_2011_focus_films

Mia Wasikowska plays the title role of Jane Eyre for the 2011 Focus Films remake of the Bronte classic. Directed by Cary Fukunaga.

Once upon a time, an impoverished young woman took a job as governess to the child of a handsome, brooding aristocrat who lived on a remote estate that was rumored to be haunted. The governess, trying to find her way in her new situation, becomes aware that she is attracted to her employer, despite his reputation and despite the fact that his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. A cloud of fear and suspicion seems to hover over the castle, and odd little accidents begin to occur, as the governess delves into matters best left alone. But eventually, the virtuous and brave governess, despite grave danger to herself, exposes the secrets that have tortured the man she loves, and all ends happily. The governess becomes the new lady of the manor, secure in the love of her new husband and her new position in society.

dumaurier_daphneSound familiar? Ever since the publication in the mid-nineteenth century of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, writers of romantic suspense fiction (sometimes derisively known as “Gothics”) have rung many changes upon this theme. With the publication of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca in 1938, this genre of suspense novel gained new interest from publishers and readers alike, and soon many more works of this type began to appear on library and bookstore shelves. In the 1950s, Mary Stewart and Phyllis A. Whitney published novels in this vein, and in 1960, the publication of a novel entitled Mistress of Mellyn under the pseudonym “Victoria Holt” had readers all over the world wondering whether Daphne du Maurier was lurking behind a disguise. Eventually it was revealed that Victoria Holt was the pseudonym of a writer who had already gained a significant readership under the name Jean Plaidy, which was in turn a pseudonym of Eleanor Hibbert.

Stewart, Whitney, Holt—the three Grandes Dames of the modern romantic suspense novel—all became bestsellers in the 1960s and 1970s, and thus the first law of publishing was invoked. If it sells, publish as many like it as you can. Accordingly, the market was soon awash in a sea of Gothics. Some were published in hardcover, but the majority were paperback originals. Ace took the lead in this, bringing out hundreds (if not thousands) of titles, many originals but with some reprints. Besides Stewart, Whitney, and Holt, the premier writers of such fiction in this period were Jane Aiken Hodge and her sister Joan Aiken, Velda Johnston, Dorothy Eden, Anne Maybury, Jill Tattersall, and Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels).

odonnell_peter

British author Peter O'Donnell best known for his Modesty Blaise books, also penned gothic romance under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent.

A number of male writers also tapped into this market, under female pseudonyms, of course, and by far the best of these was Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise, who wrote Gothics as “Madeleine Brent.”

As with any glut in the marketplace, there were many inferior products. A fair number of these books featured dimwitted heroines who went into that proverbial dark room at the head of the stairs with no thought to the danger within, and if they had been murdered, well, it would have been little more than they deserved. Unfortunately, the really good books in this genre got tarred with the pitch of the bad ones, and eventually the rubric “Gothic” became as much a term of derision as anything.

Perhaps it was the advent of feminism that began to erode the popularity of gothics, or maybe it was the resurgence of the mystery novel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with a new breed of heroine, or even a combination of the two, but by 1980 the market had changed. Though a few of the best writers of romantic suspense continued to publish, most fell by the wayside. The best romantic suspense novels, despite the jeers of ill-informed critics, always featured intelligent women who had to work things out for themselves. A man might be there at the end of the day, ready to live happily ever after with our heroine, but it was by her choice, and not his. Let’s not forget Jane Eyre’s triumphant declaration at the end of her story: “Reader, I married him.” Notice she didn’t say, “He married me.” Jane made the choice, not Rochester.

Romantic suspense never went completely away, despite the advent of mystery stories with women in strong roles such as homicide cops, private eyes or medical examiners. Harlequin, the leader in romance fiction for women, has been publishing a line called “Intrigue” for many years, and other publishers have included on their lists novels with romance and a bit of intrigue every year. Romance has been one of the constants of the marketplace in modern publishing ever since Harlequin and Mills & Boon brought out their first titles.

holt_mistressofmellynRomantic suspense these days, however, is in many ways quite different from the classic novels of Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. The pace is faster, the romance is far more sexually explicit, and overall the books have an edginess which earlier books eschewed. Some of these changes are reflections of the changes in mystery fiction in general. Mysteries these days are often darker, more violent, and more explicitly graphic in their depictions of crime and its aftermath than in previous decades. Writers of today’s romantic suspense, like the legendary Nora Roberts (who also writes as J. D. Robb), Tami Hoag, Eileen Dreyer, Anne Stuart, and Iris Johansen, all of whom got their starts writing romance fiction, don’t shy away from graphic sex and violence and rather dark themes in their work. Suspense is an important element of these books, but romance is every bit as important. Love continues to conquer all, but these days the path to “Happily Ever After” is strewn with a few more corpses, which may, or may not, have been dismembered by a serial killer.

Admin
2010-03-31 22:29:34

janeeyre_2011Gothic romance has been popular since Jane Eyre first caught the eye of Mr. Rochester.

The Possibilities of Happiness: a Conversation With Alexander Mccall Smith
Charles L. P. Silet

Alexander McCall Smith's The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is out this spring. In this 2003 Mystery Scene Issue #80 interview, Smith discusses the inspiration for Mma Ramotswe, Botswana, and redbush tea.

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Alexander McCall Smith was born to Scottish parents in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where he spent his childhood and received his early education. He returned to Scotland to attend the University of Edinburgh, where he currently holds a Chair in Medical Law. Since leaving Africa he has lived mostly in Scotland with periods in Botswana and Swaziland, and also in Dallas, Texas as a visiting professor. He has published some 50 books including specialist academic titles, collections of short stories, and quite a number of children’s books before beginning his current series. The fifth of the Mma Precious Ramotswe books, The Full Cupboard of Life, will be published in the United Kingdom in June. The fourth, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, was published in the United States in April.

Mystery Scene: How did you begin writing mystery fiction?

Smith: Well, I suppose by accident, really, because I’d never really been involved in the genre prior to writing the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and it is not a terribly conventional mystery. There is not a great deal of actual crime, and it’s fairly incidental to the other problems that Mma Ramotswe deals with. Mystery readers read the books as mysteries; novel readers read them as novels. So they span both categories. I just became intrigued by the possibility of writing about a woman who has a small private detection agency in Africa, which struck me as being an odd and amusing thing for somebody to do, and the mysteries, such as they are, provide a vehicle for portraying the society and the people who live in Botswana. Obviously if you set up a character with a little tinpot detective agency, all sorts of characters can walk in the door—and do. Then once I’d done that, I realized what terrific possibilities the genre actually held. In mystery or crime fiction you can talk about so much within a society. If you were writing about someone who had a more mundane job, the possibilities would be more difficult. The detective genre also gives a nice potential structure, and then you can branch out and embellish and really write about the things you want to write about while feeling that you’ve still got your readers’ attention.

botswana_mapHow did you decide to set the series in Botswana?

In the '80s, while I was visiting a village in Botswana to the north of the capitol, my hostess took me for a walk, and we called on somebody who was proposing to give her and her husband a chicken for an Independence Day lunch. This lady chased the chicken around the yard creating a tremendous kerfuffle. She was a very well-built lady, and she caught the chicken and promptly wrung its neck and handed it over. She was quite enterprising, cheerful, and ebullient, and I thought it would be interesting to write a story about such a Botswana woman. The germ of the idea was in my mind for a long time, and then around 1996 or 1997 I sat down and wrote the first Ramotswe story which became a book.

Tell me a little about Mma Ramotswe.

Physically she’s described, and indeed she describes herself, as a traditionally built lady, which means that she is quite large. She often says this business about everybody being bony and skinny is a Western idea which is not the traditional view of beauty in Africa. So she’s a large, very cheerful woman, and she’s also very intelligent and has considerable intuitive powers. She sees through people quite easily, she’s very, very direct and sincere, and she can get to the quick of the matter quite easily. She’s proud to be an African, and she’s proud of her country. Plus she’s just tremendous fun.

The series is about a changing Africa and the conflict between the old and new ways. Why focus on a woman to deal with these issues?

In some African societies women can have quite a difficult time, and because African women are usually very hard-working and resourceful and often very put upon, I thought it would be appropriate to describe the society from that particular angle.

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Tell me about the other characters in the series.

The principal male character is Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, who’s Mma Ramotswe’s fiancé. He’s a garage mechanic and a great man. The idea of these books is to be as positive as possible; there is a romantic streak to them, they are about the possibilities of happiness. Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni is very happy when Mma Ramotswe agrees to become engaged to him. Mma Makutsi really stands for all women who encounter a glass ceiling which prevents them from reaching their potential. She’s a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, but she feels that she could be much more, and Mma Ramotswe gives her her chance. And there are the two orphans: Motholeli, and her brother, Puso. They’re based on a couple of real children whom I saw when I visited an orphanage in Botswana. The man who ran the orphanage told me this extraordinary story of how the girl had saved her young brother and then brought him up in somebody’s backyard in Francistown. There are stories like that in Africa of children who somehow survive a pretty difficult beginning. I met the little boy but I didn’t meet his sister. When we go out to Botswana with the BBC—who are doing a show about the background of the books—we are going to track down the girl and find out more about what has happened to her. She does exist and, like the character Motholeli, she’s in a wheelchair.

There is a lyric quality to the books.

There is something very beautiful and beguiling about Africa. There are these great empty spaces and the gorgeous skies and all of that. Also there is a spirituality in life in Africa which I really want to try to get across. One doesn’t want to go over the top, but that does require the prose to have an adequate dignity. So that probably explains it, plus it’s just my style of writing.


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In the books you discuss the traditional values of African society.

Southern African society has quite a strong communitarian culture built on sharing. If you look at traditional patterns of land ownership, the land was held in common, the people had common grazing rights, and neighbors shared common fields. And there were very strong expectations of personal support and help, so you could contact fairly distant cousins if you were in difficulty and claim some help from them. They’re all involved with one another, and they’ve all got responsibilities for one another, but that is changing with urbanization and so on.

Traditionally in Africa there would be no such thing as an unwanted child. The whole idea would be pretty alien to them, in that somebody would take on the child or the child would have a place and an identity. People are raised by communal effort and everybody would have some sort of input into that effort. That’s something that Ramotswe sees changing in Botswana, and she sometimes thinks about the behavior of young people and sees examples of rudeness that would not have happened in her day. Also I think it’s a great pity that when people think about Africa these days they think about the images of starvation, AIDS, and suffering—which admittedly are a part of the reality of Africa—but they are only one part of the reality. People never hear about the decency, the humor, the warmth, the human niceness of so many people in Africa. I would hope these books can try to do something in a small way about portraying some marvelous human values and qualities, to try perhaps to correct the overly sad picture of Africa we get. People are frightened of Africa, they feel there will never be any end to Africa’s suffering as disaster follows disaster. Well, yes, but there is the other side.

The books have been a publishing phenomenon in the States. Do you have any sense why the series has been so popular?

I’ve been delighted that they’ve been well-received in the Unites States, and I’ve thought quite a lot about why that might be so. It strikes me that people in the US actually are quite open-minded, they’re very open to something new, and these novels are a little bit different from what people are used to reading. I also think that perhaps there’s something more profound than that. I don’t know whether I misread the US, but it seems to me that there is a very strong trait of idealism in your country, and the people relate to Mma Ramotswe, to this strong idealistic character.

The reviews here have been very positive.

I can’t tell you how delighted I am. I’ve had the best reaction of anywhere in the US I feel that I have gotten through to my American readers in a way that I have not necessarily gotten through to my readers elsewhere.

One review described Mma Ramotswe as the Miss Marple of Botswana.

I’m flattered but I don’t think she’s really a Miss Marple at all. Precious Ramotswe is far more, how would one put it, modern. When Mma Ramotswe wants to find something out, she just goes and asks somebody and she usually gets the answer. End of the matter. There are no clues, no elaborate working out of convoluted plots; it’s very direct.


no1_ladiesdetective_season1dvdIs it true that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
is going to be made into a film?

We gave an option to an extremely nice American woman, Amy Moore, who is currently based in Johannesburg and has a production company there. Then she went to Anthony Minghella, and he became involved. They were talking about a TV series, and now they are talking about a feature film, but I’m not sure where we are.

Are you going to be involved in any way?

They very courteously tell me what they are doing, so I get regular emails from Amy Moore, but I wouldn’t be involved. Obviously, movies involve money with strings, but I wouldn’t want the books changed in too dramatic a fashion. If at all possible the one thing that I would want them to do is to try and preserve the feel of the books. That would be wonderful, but it’s all very complex.

Would you talk a little about a second series you are beginning featuring another lady detective, Isabel Dalhousie?

She’s a person who’s a moral philosopher and who gets involved in people’s affairs, and the book will deal with philosophical issues. She has a Scottish father and an American mother, and she lives in Edinburgh, so there is a Scottish background but she travels around a bit. The first title, The Crushed Strawberry, is named after the color of corduroy trousers worn by the unsuitable boyfriend of the heroine’s niece. You know, the sort of pinky reddish, crushed-strawberry color. What I’m writing about is the opposite side of Edinburgh from that which is portrayed in the usual Edinburgh novel in the genre, for example, of Ian Rankin. This isn’t in any sense criticizing Ian Rankin, but people are used to the underbelly of Edinburgh, now we’re getting the other side of it. This will be the Edinburgh haute bourgeoisie. You know, very different. No bad behavior. We’re tentatively calling the series the Sunday Philosophy Club, and I think that actually works rather well. The title was suggested by my editor at Random House, Edward Kastenmeier. The BBC have optioned the book for a television series.

smith_fullcupboardoflifeWhat can you tell us about the fifth Mma Ramotswe book, which is going to be published in the UK this summer?

It is called The Full Cupboard of Life. It continues matters at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and a number of new issues arise. I don’t want to give away what happens, but poor Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni is put in a tremendously awkward spot by the matron of the orphan farm, so he’s got to try and get out of his difficulty. I just describe it as a very happy book.

One final question: What is redbush tea?

Redbush tea is a sort of tea that grows in South Africa. It’s naturally caffeine free. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but if you put honey in it, it is quite refreshing. Edward said to me that he wanted more in the books about it, because the readers keep asking for more. In The Full Cupboard of Life there’s a whole chapter especially written for Edward called “Tea Is the Solution to Everything.”

This article originally appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #80.

Teri Duerr
2010-03-31 23:02:59

mccall__smith_alexander_croppedThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency author discusses Mma Ramotswe, Botswana, and redbush tea.

Dell Map Back Mysteries: They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore!
Gary Lovisi

The Dell Map Backs of the 1940s and 1950s were something special. It wasn't only their content as excellent as that often was; they were, quite simply, beautiful books.

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No publisher put more effort into producing fine paperbacks books than Dell. The sturdy laminated covers of the early books showcased illustrations by fine artists such as Gerald Gregg. Later books in the series featured covers by artists such as Bill George and Robert Stanley. Inside, editorial flourishes such as the inclusion of a "Cast of Characters" signified quality publishing. But of course it was the detailed, beautifully rendered scene-of-the-crime representations on the back of these books that made the Dell Map Backs so popular at the time—and so collectible now.

Beginning with Dell Book #5 in 1943, a mystery novel titled Four Frightened Women by George Harmon Coxe, a thin band on the cover proclaimed to the reader "with crime map on back cover." Back cover maps would appear on an amazing 577 volumes from 1943 until 1952. Dell issued a wide array of Map Backs in all genres, but mysteries made up 50% of their list and these are the books that are of special interest to us. They comprise a beautiful series of books and hold a special place in the hearts of mystery readers and fans, yesterday and today.

stout_notquitedeadenoughDell editor Lloyd Smith, born in 1902, came up with the idea for the back cover maps (or someone at Western Publishing suggested the idea to him). Smith was, in essence, a one-man publishing whirlwind. According to most accounts, he designed and envisioned the series, originating the maps, casts of characters and other features, and even suggested the airbrushed covers that Gerald Gregg and others would paint so effectively.

Many of the maps were drawn by Chicago graphic artist Ruth Belew, who created at least 150 of the 577 maps. They showed anything from a nation or state with cities, streets, mountains, seas and lakes, to a Manhattan brownstone with diagrams of the various floors, or a country estate, showing rooms, gardens and outbuildings.

Many popular authors had their books reprinted as Dell Map Backs. Rex Stout and his famous Nero Wolfe stories appeared beginning with Dell Book #9 in 1943. In all, there would be a dozen Rex Stout Map Backs, each offering a unique look at his classic stories and characters. Other popular writers who had books in the series include David Dodge with It Ain't Hay (#27), a crime and drug novel. Its cover illustration depicts Death rowing a boat that carries a giant marijuana cigarette. On the back is a map of San Francisco "where marijuana and murder make a thrilling story."

TOUGH GUYS

hammett_deadyellowwomen_mapbackhammett_deadyellowwomen

The classic tough guy writer Dashiell Hammett had seven Map Backs. The earlier books featured airbrushed covers by Gerald Gregg and later books offered action-oriented and sexy girl cover art by Robert Stanley. While the Hammett covers very greatly in design and content, all are interesting. The maps on the back of these for the most part show the Continental Op's stomping ground in San Francisco. Various maps of 'Frisco appear on the back of at least 5 books: The Continental Op (#129) with a hanging man cover; The Return of The Continental Op (#154) with gun and badge on the cover; Dead Yellow Women (#308) with four dead Asian girls on a morgue slab; Blood Money (#486, reprints Dell #53) with a man pulling a dead woman from the water; and The Creeping Siamese(#538) with cover art showing a sexy girl holding a bloody dagger. Each shows various well-designed maps of the streets of the city where the stories take place.

Some later Dell Map Backs were reprints with new cover art of earlier titles in the Dell series.Hammett's A Man Called Spade (#411, reprints Dell #90) has a cover portrait of private dick Sam Spade by artist Robert Stanley. On the back is a map of the apartment of Max Bliss, the scene of a murder in the title story of this crime collection.

Some of the Map Backs did not have illustrated covers at all but used photos from the film adaptations of the works. Examples of these early movie tie-ins include Night And The City by Gerald Kersh (#374) and Death In A Doll's House by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachman (#356). The former cover shows actors Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, and the later book—filmed under the title Shadow on the Wall—shows the stars of that film, Ann Southern and Zachary Scott.

George Harmon Coxe was a popular pulp and hardcover author in the 1930s and 40s and his Four Frightened Women (#5) was the first Dell Map Back from 1943. He also had many more in the series. Examples include his Kent Murdock novel Murder With Pictures (#101) showing a bold blue map of the apartment where murder takes place and the Flash Casey novel, Murder For Two (#276) with a surreal cover of a giant pencil marking out two dead women. Then there's Murder in Havana (#423), a later novel with a women in bondage cover by Robert Stanley and a back cover map showing Cuba and scenes from the novel.

Brett Halliday was another author who did well for years with Dell Books chronicling the hardboiled adventures of his tough Miami private eye, Mike Shayne. One such example is the dead girl in the water cover for Blood on Biscayne Bay (#268), with a map of Miami Beach and Biscayne Bay where the murder occurred.

hughes_sobluethemarble

TRADITIONAL MYSTERIES

Traditional mysteries held center stage in the Dell Map Back series. Agatha Christie's first Dell Book, and her first Map Back, was The Tuesday Club Murders (#8) from 1943. Many more of her fine books appeared over the years, including Appointment with Death (#105) with a stylish airbrushed cover by Gerald Gregg, featuring the Grim Reaper and a map showing the Holy Land with an insert scene of ancient Petra. The Mysterious Mr. Quin (#570) shows colorful harlequins on the cover while the back has scenes from Canada, France, and other story locations.


Other traditional mysteries in the line included: The Cross-Eyed Bean Murders by Dorothy B. Hughes (#48) with a map of Room 1000 at the Lorenzo Hotel; The Window At the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (#57); with a ghostly cat on the cover; Ill Met By Moonlight by Leslie Ford (#6 and the second Map Back) with a map of April Harbor, the town that was the scene of the murder; Hunt With The Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart (#546) with a map of the state of Virginia and Bedford County; and The Accomplice by Matthew Head (#346) with a haunting cover showing a dead beauty in a chaise lounge with the Eiffel Tower outside her window.

Clayton Rawson's Great Merlini mysteries were popular entries in the Dell series. Rawson himself was a practicing magician as well as one of the premier writers of the "puzzle mystery." One of the best Map Backs is Rawson's The Headless Lady (#176) with a cover that shows a gruesome sideshow barker and a back cover map of the Mighty Hannun Show, the circus where the murder takes place.

GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE

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Some writers only had one book in the Map Back series but what books! Cornell Woolrich's The Black Curtain (#208) had a forbidding, darkly atmospheric cover that accurately reflected his fiction. Popular noir icon David Goodis was represented by Dark Passage (#271), with a stark image of a fleeing prisoner on the front. On the back is a map of Irene Janney's apartment, the place the murderer uses as a hide-out in the novel.

Two popular mystery authors had books under pseudonyms in the Dell series. Erle Stanley Gardner, whose popular Perry Mason books were reprinted by rival paperback publisher Pocket Books, also had a separate series reprinted by Dell. This series chronicled the adventures of Bertha Cool and Donald Lamb and was written under the name of A.A. Fair. Crows Can't Count (#472) is one A.A. Fair Dell Map Back. John Dickson Carr not only had books published under his own name from Dell as Map Backs, but also under his popular pseudonym, Carter Dickson.

AN ENDURING LEGACY

rawson_headlessladyIn 1983, William H. Lyles wrote the scholarly and influential Putting Dell on The Map: A History of the Dell Paperbacks (Greenwood Press). Since its publication interest in the Dell series, and especially the Map Backs, has grown. Today these books are collected avidly.

The design and style of the old Dell Map Backs has had a powerful impact upon editors, and publishers. Decades after the last Map Back was published in 1952, the books still influence the paperback market. For instance, in 1987, when IPL Books reissued The Headless Lady by Clayton Rawson, their edition showcased a back cover map drawn by Jennifer Place. This was based upon the original map on Dell Book #176. Then there are the first two books published in 2000 by the small Hollywood outfit, Uglytown Productions. By The Balls and Five Shots and A Funeral, both by Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe, are hardboiled satires, but in their design and format they look and feel just like classic Dell Map Backs. These fun books have become collectible in their own right.

By the time you read this article, a new crime novel will be published in the classic Dell Map Back format. A Trunkfull of Trouble (Gryphon Books, 2003) is by veteran mystery author Julius Fast. Fast, by the way, was the winner of the first ever Edgar Award in 1946.

Dell Books published an impressive array of authors. Most of them were popular authors of the 1940s and 50s, but many of them have gone on to become real legends today. These authors and these books are perennially popular. They just don't make 'em like that anymore!

Teri Duerr
2010-04-01 00:14:52

hammett_deadyellowwomen_mapback

The Dell Map Backs of the 1940s and 1950s were, quite simply, beautiful books.

Sherlock Holmes, the Adventure of the Copper Beeches
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 11:35:20
adventureofcopperbeaches_illo
“Crime is common. Logic is rare.”
—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Kinsey Millhone, “A“ Is for Alibi
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 16:16:14

“Cheaters win all the time. It wasn't big news, but it was worth remembering.”

—Kinsey Millhone, “A“ is for Alibi, 1982, by Sue Grafton

Nero Wolfe, Black Orchids
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 16:20:08

“It is surprising that Mr. Gould lived long as he did, in view of his character.”

—Nero Wolfe, Black Orchids, 1942, by Rex Stout

Travis Mcgee, the Turquoise Lament
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 16:25:17

“Integrity is not a conditional word.”

—Travis McGee, The Turquoise Lament, 1973, by John D. MacDonald

Cd Sloan, His Burial Too
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 16:29:26

“If...you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.“

—Inspector C.D. Sloan to Detective-Constable Crosby, His Burial Too, 1973, by Catherine Aird

Kinky Friedman, Greenwich Killing Time
Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 16:37:58

“Cats, as a rule, don't like lawyers. They have great insight into human character.“

—Kinky Friedman, Greenwich Killing Time, 1986, by Kinky Friedman

Our Readers Recommend, Issue #114

Give and get the inside scoop on mystery's best reads, and be entered to win a free book.
Email us yours.


highsmith_talentedmrripley


Georgenne Parker (Lincoln, Nebraska) says: I am rereading The Talented Mr. Ripley. I think Patricia Highsmith deserves a new look. Everyone is talking about the Dexter books as the first mysteries written from the point of view of a serial killer. But, although I do enjoy the Dexter books, Highsmith accomplished this 60 years ago.

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johnson_thewomanwhofoundgrace

Robinet Christian (New York, New York): In a letter printed in Mystery Scene, I mentioned the author, B. Reece Johnson. After reading her three books—The Woman Who Followed the Moon, The Woman Who Knew Too Much, and The Woman Who Found Grace—I have seen how this writer exhibits depth to her tales, and characters; combining the idiosyncrasies of each character with each other; and bringing the tale to linger in one’s mind contemplating the life philosophies and characters’ emotional drives. I realize the time it takes to present a phenomenal mystery or book, in general, with honesty, and honor to the writer and the reader. It is evident that the number of books one produces in any given time is not the ultimate goal of a great writer, but the importance and depth of the book’s content. I am just so pleased to find this out from reading her books.


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Luella Rogers (New Orleans, Louisiana) says “I just read City of Dragons, a decidedly different heroine, but one with a steel backbone. The author, Kelli Stanley, has written a gritty and thoroughly engrossing book, and I can’t wait for a sequel. The book is true to its time period and the characters survive hard lives. Definitely worth a look.”

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hoag_deeperthandeadJoann Breslin says “I just finished reading one of the most gripping tales I have ever had the pleasure of reading: Deeper than Dead by Tammy Hoag. She uses the FBI’s SUB group as well as local police to help solve the serial killer crimes which are done in the scariest way ever! I don’t want to reveal the terrible things this killer does to women, but you’ll be shuddering when you see the police in the book find the dead bodies. One of the most incredible scenes, in which the killer leaves a body in the back garden of the woman who founded the shelter for battered women. She calls 911 while her friend is stunned by the discovery and she finds a pulse, so she does everything she can to keep the woman alive. The ending is just as compelling as the terrible crimes are along the way. It’s un-put-downable.”


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Mary Beth Edwards (Greensburg, Indiana) says: “I just finished reading Nancy Atherton’s latest, Aunt Dimity Down Under. It contained a lot of information about New Zealand. The theme of the book is whether a missing person can be found in a short period of time. It was refreshing to read a well written book with no bodies (other than by natural causes) for a change.”

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tallis_viennasecrets

Joan Fillot (Staten Island, New York) says “I’d like to bring to your attention the fabulous mysteries of Frank Tallis revolving around the Viennese psychiatrist, Max Liebermann, and set in the time of Sigmund Freud. As of 2010, there are four—starting with Death in Vienna followed by Vienna Blood, Fatal Lies and, just out, Vienna Secrets. Dr. Tallis is himself a clinical psychologist, but any resemblance between his novels and those of Jonathan Kellerman are purely coincidental. There is a real continental flavor and a well researched historical background in each book. The characters are living human beings with all their concomitant problems, and the plots are uniquely conceived. Try one and I promise you’ll be hooked.”


boyd_bricklayer

Tempe Thompson (Memphis, Tennesee) recommends The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd.

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larsson_girlwhoplayedwithfireStephanie Ackerman (St. Louis, Missouri) wrote to recommend Stieg Larsson’s The Girl who Played with Fire for it’s “interesting characters.”

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Teri Duerr
2010-04-02 20:08:20

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Georgenne Parker (Lincoln, Nebraska) says: I am rereading The Talented Mr. Ripley. I think Patricia Highsmith deserves a new look. Everyone is talking about the Dexter books as the first mysteries written from the point of view of a serial killer. But, although I do enjoy the Dexter books, Highsmith accomplished this 60 years ago.

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Robinet Christian (New York, New York): In a letter printed in Mystery Scene, I mentioned the author, B. Reece Johnson. After reading her three books—The Woman Who Followed the Moon, The Woman Who Knew Too Much, and The Woman Who Found Grace—I have seen how this writer exhibits depth to her tales, and characters; combining the idiosyncrasies of each character with each other; and bringing the tale to linger in one’s mind contemplating the life philosophies and characters’ emotional drives. I realize the time it takes to present a phenomenal mystery or book, in general, with honesty, and honor to the writer and the reader. It is evident that the number of books one produces in any given time is not the ultimate goal of a great writer, but the importance and depth of the book’s content. I am just so pleased to find this out from reading her books.


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Luella Rogers (New Orleans, Louisiana) says “I just read City of Dragons, a decidedly different heroine, but one with a steel backbone. The author, Kelli Stanley, has written a gritty and thoroughly engrossing book, and I can’t wait for a sequel. The book is true to its time period and the characters survive hard lives. Definitely worth a look.”

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hoag_deeperthandeadJoann Breslin says “I just finished reading one of the most gripping tales I have ever had the pleasure of reading: Deeper than Dead by Tammy Hoag. She uses the FBI’s SUB group as well as local police to help solve the serial killer crimes which are done in the scariest way ever! I don’t want to reveal the terrible things this killer does to women, but you’ll be shuddering when you see the police in the book find the dead bodies. One of the most incredible scenes, in which the killer leaves a body in the back garden of the woman who founded the shelter for battered women. She calls 911 while her friend is stunned by the discovery and she finds a pulse, so she does everything she can to keep the woman alive. The ending is just as compelling as the terrible crimes are along the way. It’s un-put-downable.”


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Mary Beth Edwards (Greensburg, Indiana) says: “I just finished reading Nancy Atherton’s latest, Aunt Dimity Down Under. It contained a lot of information about New Zealand. The theme of the book is whether a missing person can be found in a short period of time. It was refreshing to read a well written book with no bodies (other than by natural causes) for a change.”

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Joan Fillot (Staten Island, New York) says “I’d like to bring to your attention the fabulous mysteries of Frank Tallis revolving around the Viennese psychiatrist, Max Liebermann, and set in the time of Sigmund Freud. As of 2010, there are four—starting with Death in Vienna followed by Vienna Blood, Fatal Lies and, just out, Vienna Secrets. Dr. Tallis is himself a clinical psychologist, but any resemblance between his novels and those of Jonathan Kellerman are purely coincidental. There is a real continental flavor and a well researched historical background in each book. The characters are living human beings with all their concomitant problems, and the plots are uniquely conceived. Try one and I promise you’ll be hooked.”


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Tempe Thompson (Memphis, Tennesee) recommends The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd.

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larsson_girlwhoplayedwithfireStephanie Ackerman (St. Louis, Missouri) wrote to recommend Stieg Larsson’s The Girl who Played with Fire for it’s “interesting characters.”

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Shop Indie Bookstores