The audience was fairly mixed with men and woman, of all ages; fans who had come to hear Crais talk about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and his latest novel, The First Rule.
But during the question and answer session, a man in his mid-thirties made a comment that almost got him thrown out of the bookstore.
“I didn’t expect to see all these old people here,” said the man who was clearly a fan. “I thought it would be more people my age and more guys. I always thought you wrote young.”
Crais does write young. And Elvis and Joe do appeal to a young audience. They also appeal to a middle-aged audience, retirees and, well, just about anyone who can read.
I bring up this age issue because it is a factor in the cover profile of Michael Koryta in the latest Mystery Scene, No. 115. Kevin Burton Smith captures Koryta so well.
Yeah, he’s a whiz kid, all right.
But more importantly, he is an excellent writer. And the only reason his age should made a difference or even be a factor is it means that readers will have more years of enjoyment from his novels.
We’ve already had a good taste of Koryta’s talent. His stand-alone novel Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (Full disclosure, I was one of the judges that year.)
One of the constants about crime fiction is that age, sex, race, sexual orientation and locale matter little to readers.
What crime fiction readers care about – and all they should care about – is if the story grabs them, if the characters are believable, the action realistic or, if it’s not realistic, at least makes them want to go along for the ride.
Mystery readers are sophisticated and are willing to follow an author just about anywhere if the story is worth it.
Sure, Koryta is young.
But he isn’t the only author to start early and continue to write intriguing crime fiction.
Greg Rucka was 27 when Finder was published. Dennis Lehane was 29 when A Drink Before the War came out. Tom Rob Smith was 29 when Child 44 was published.
Michael Connelly was 35 when Black Echo hit the stores, the same age as Dashiell Hammett when Red Harvest was published.
And Lawrence Block was just 23 when his first novel was published; by the time his first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Fathers, came in 1976, Block was 38 years old.
Good storytelling is ageless.
Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of Donna Leon’s lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide Brunetti’s Venice, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.
Brunetti’s Venice (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from Leon’s novels.
This year, I would probably give Doreen, who is an excellent cook, a copy of Brunetti’s Cookbook featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.
Brunetti’s Cookbook is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.
Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.
But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.
Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)
While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.
Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.
On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.