Friday, June 27, 2008

Flood watch

Floods in middle America have devastated lives and libraries. We bookish types should offer our help. Below is a list of three libraries and links to their devastation. These libraries don't need books, but some monetary infusion sure will help bring them back.

Every dollar helps.

Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation500 First Street SoutheastCedar Rapids, IA. 52401

Friends of New Hartford Public LibraryP O Box 292New Hartford, IA. 50660

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library30 Sixteenth Avenue SouthwestCedar Rapids, IA. 52401-5904

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Macavity noms announced

Mystery Readers Journal has announced its nominees for the 2008 Macavity Award. (For those of you who don't know what a Macavity is, I can only be jealous of you as you have never had to experience the musical Cats. Lucky, lucky reader.)

The nominees are (drumroll):

Best Mystery Novel
Reed Farrel Coleman: Soul Patch (Bleak House)
John Connolly: The Unquiet (Hodder & Stoughton*/Atria)
David Corbett: Blood of Paradise (Ballantine Mortalis)
Deborah Crombie: Water Like a Stone (Morrow)
Laura Lippman: What the Dead Know (Morrow)

Best First Mystery
Tana French: In the Woods (Hodder & Stoughton*/Viking)
Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box (William Morrow)
Lisa Lutz: The Spellman Files (Simon & Schuster)
Tim Maleeny: Stealing the Dragon (Midnight Ink)
Matt Beynon Rees: The Collaborator of Bethlehem (Soho)

Best Mystery Short Story
Donna Andrews: "A Rat's Tale" (EQMM, Sep-Oct 2007)
Rhys Bowen: "Please Watch Your Step" (The Strand Magazine, Spring 2007)
Jon L. Breen: "The Missing Elevator Puzzle" (EQMM, Feb 2007)
Beverle Graves Myers: "Brimstone P.I." (AHMM, May 2007)
Gillian Roberts: "The Old Wife's Tale" (EQMM, Mar-Apr 2007)

Best Mystery Non-Fiction
Barry Forshaw: Rough Guide to Crime Fiction (Penguin Rough Guides)
Jean Gould O'Connell: Chester Gould: A Daughter's Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy (McFarland & Company)
Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley, editors: Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (HarperPress*/Penguin)
Lee Lofland: Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Howdunit Series, Writers Digest Books)
Roger Sobin, editor/compiler: The Essential Mystery Lists: For Readers, Collectors, and Librarians (Poisoned Pen Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery
Rhys Bowen: Her Royal Spyness (Penguin)
Ariana Franklin: Mistress of the Art of Death (Putnam)
Jason Goodwin: The Snake Stone (Faber & Faber*/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Clare Langley-Hawthorne: Consequences of Sin (Viking*/Penguin)
Joyce Carol Oates: The Gravedigger's Daughter (HarperCollins Ecco)
*UK publisher (first edition)

For more information on the awards and on the Journal, go to:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Screening room

The American Film Institute has announced its Top 10 mystery movies. They are:
1. Vertigo
2. Chinatown
3. Rear Window
4. Laura
5. The Third Man
6. Maltese Falcon
7. North by Northwest
8. Blue Velvet
9. Dial M for Murder
10. Usual Suspects

Has anyone noticed that the oldest film among this bunch goes all the way back to 1941 and that three of them are in black and white? How many of these have your grandkids seen? Not many, I'd imagine. (No Donnie Darko here. No Se7en.)

And since we are talking American film, I guess Rashomon, Les Diaboliques, Oldboy, Testament of Dr. Mabuse and Z were pretty much out of the running going into the fray. Luckily for Hitchcock, if a film was based on a French novel (like Vertigo based on "...d'Entre les Morts"), that was okay. (And here I always thought that The Third Man was a British film by directed and produced by Carol Reed with Alexander Korda; must of had some U.S. money in that one.)

Now there are those who will take issue with the list: Where's The Thin Man? Or, alternatively, where's Hot Fuzz?

And if I was to add to the list, I might ask : Where are L.A. Confidential, The Manchurian Candidate, Memento and Citizen Kane (all about figuring out what Rosebud means)?
But it's just a list...a stupid, stupid list that some people might argue over. (Where's The 39 Steps?). But it's just a list, really (Where's The Big Sleep?), so who cares? (Where's The Lady Vanishes? Where's Charade? Where's In the Heat of the Night? Where's Touch of Evil?)

Stupid list. I don't care. Doesn't matter.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Book buying on the party line

The Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans, a new Zogby International poll commissioned by Random House, has some interesting information. It was an online poll of 8218 people.

The fact that more people would curl up with a book than light up a Kindle is no surprise: Most readers are older -- pre-computer generation -- and as a boomer I know my habits are fixed. Besides, those crazy kids like to tool around the Internet with their YouTubes and IMs and play computer games. Us golden oldens are more inclined to opt for paper reading.

However, there's some interesting political information in the report.

According to Zogby, Democrats and independents were more likely to buy books at independent stores while Republicans liked chain stores. What could this mean? Well, we could determine that Democrats and independents support the little guy while Republicans prefer big business. We could infer that tax-and-spend Democrats like to spend and be taxed more for books while Republicans like the discounts at Sam's Club. Or we could assume that the majority of Republicans responding to the poll questions live in areas where malls and chains dominate and that Democrats and independents responding have little access to chain stores.

Democrats, again according to Zogby, like to visit bookstores and linger while independents and Republicans don't like to hang out. Democrats are more likely to be influenced in buying a book after reading a review while Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be influenced by talk radio. More than half of all respondents judge a book by its cover and 89 percent say that if they like a book they will seek out other books by the same author (Both bits of information are of no surprise).

Finally, Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to buy a book they see on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And overall, more respondents were likely to buy a book they saw on Stewart's show than on Oprah's? Does this mean that Stewart sells more books or does it mean that the respondents were more likely to watch Stewart than to watch Oprah?

Next time Zogby throws a book poll, I'd like more background numbers, please.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Random thoughts 3

The book buying business is getting tougher for consumers who like their British imports: The recent Rebecca Tope is a fine example. A paperback copy of Death in the Cotswolds costs 6.99 British pounds as did her earlier A Cotswold Killing. A Cotswold Killing sold here in the US for $9.95 while Death in the Cotswolds has come in with a US price of $15.95.

And don't bother to run out and hope to find A Cotswold Killing at 9.95 anymore. That price too has risen to $15.95.

Thanks to the current English exchange rate, we are getting royally pounded.

Note: Random Thoughts is not a subsidiary of Random House or its affiliates. They are just...well, random thoughts.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New voices

New voices are always a happy discovery. And I find myself reading new authors or authors I've never encountered before. Some is dreck, but some is simply splendid.

So, if you are looking for a good mystery from a voice you've never heard before to brighten up you summer vacation, check out these great titles.

Blood Alley by Tom Coffey is a neo noir in a class by itself. Great background, snappy patter with hints of Raymond Chandler and a nod to the movie Chinatown.

Blood of the Wicked is Leighton Gage's initial outing for Brazilian detective Mario Silva as he investigates the assassination of a bishop and political corruption. It's a solid send-off for this Soho Press series which will continue in January with Buried Strangers.

For those who like their thrillers mean and lean, you can't do much better than Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, as Leo Demidov hunts a serial killer in Stalinist Russia.

Scott Heim, whose Mysterious Skin found fame in Hollywood, returned to fiction with We Disappear, examining the death of his own mother against a fictional background. Heartfelt, heartbreaking and redemptive, the book takes us on a meth-fuel investigation into fate of the missing.

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler sent me back to the first in his series, Full Dark House. Fowler's progatonists John May and Arthur Bryant are a couple of grumpy old men and head of London's Peculiar Crime Unit. If you haven't encountered this pair of aging agents, you're in for some delightful reading.

Finally, Jennifer McMahon's Island of Lost Girls bowled me over. Another writer I had yet to read (I had somehow missed Promise Not to Tell), Island of Lost Girls captures the fragility of innocence and the darkness of the world. This book is disturbing without beginning graphic, making it even more effective.

For more information, go to:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Notes from the Underground

Note One:

The book business is a strange one.

Recent correspondence with an author is a case-in-point: According to the author, two stores in his/her region charge all authors to sign books in their store. I have never heard of a bookstore charging an author for signing books in a store. When he/she mentioned that his/her book had been published by a Print on Demand publisher (in earlier days known as a vanity press), I explained that it was probably due to the fact that the stores had been burnt by vanity, PODs at some time: Discounts are usually lower than with traditional presses, shipping and handling higher and, sometimes, returns are not accepted. He/she assured me that ALL authors were made to pay to appear in the stores.

I checked out the list of upcoming authors at these particular stores; they included Lee Child, David Sedaris and Jeffrey Deaver. If publishers are paying to have these authors in a store, then the publishers are dumb as mud. Especially when the town has a Barnes and Nobles and a Borders within blocks of the author-charging independents.

Hosting a book signing by a self-published author is not a money-making proposition. Most authors don't know what it costs a store to set up a signing. Most signings bring in few customers, some of whom buy books to be signed while others bring books in to be signed that they've bought at other bookstores. Stores pay for shipping, for the cost of books, flyers, advertising and newsletters to entice customers to meet a new author. Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver will draw in droves; a new author is a difficult draw.

A recent author at our store drew no one, nobody, nada...even though we did press releases, flyers, an e-mail newsletter and radio advertising. But those costs are part of being in the book business. We do it because we love books and authors. We'd like to make money too, but sometimes just being able to pay your bills is success enough. Besides, I loved this author's book and have sold several copies since the appearance.

Second note:

An author sent me two books recently with a request to feature them in the store. The books were published by Booksurge (a POD) and arrived in an box.

At first I thought it was a mistake. I would never order from (Booksurge is owned by

Sending the books was a marketing technique by this author, but what makes him/her think that'd I'd order from the very company that wishes to put independent bookstores out of business? Don't independent bookstores have enough problems struggling against chainstores? Why would we order our supplies from the behemoth?

I get requests every week from authors to carry their books. I go to their website and inevitably they prominently display a link to Authors who want independents to support them should think about adding a link to (in the case of mystery bookstores) the IMBA or for a general bookstore to IndieBound to encourage readers to buy from an independent.

After all, authors are independents too.

For more information, go to:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Write on

For those of us in Vermont all writers conferences are great conferences: Someone knows we're here.

So when I received a flyer for the League of Vermont Writers' "Writers Meet Agents Conference" I thought I'd better get out the word.

If you live in Vermont and can travel to Burlington on Saturday, July 19, there will be a day-long event at Champlain College from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will be roundtables, workshops and a chance for one-on-one sessions. Among the agencies represented from New York will be Curtis Brown Agency, Drystel and Goderich Literary Agency, Fischer-Harbage Agency, The Nancy Love Literary Agency, Spectrum Literary Agency; from Massachusetts, Fairbank Literary Representation.

There will also be a workshop on query letters and information on marketing online. Overnight accommodations are available on campus.

Go to:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random Thoughts

Who will win the Quantity in Publishing Award this year. Certainly not Clive Cussler with only 2 hardcovers scheduled this year or W.E.B. Griffin, who this year will have paltry 3 new hardcovers out. Nope, not even close. James Patterson plans to have 7 new titles in print by year's end. He can write them faster than I can read them. He's less a brand name and more a major industry ... like Velveeta or Cheezwhiz or some other dairy product. (I think this weekend's Strolling of the Heifers is beginning to take its toll.)

Bill O'Reilly's memior will be released Sept. 23. It's called A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. At the end, do we find out it's a cookbook? (Shades of The Twilight Zone.)

Random House will be publishing P.D. James' new Dalgleish mystery The Private Patient on Nov. 18. Meanwhile, those in Great Britain will have access to it in September. Bummer. But it's been three years since The Lighthouse, so we should be able to tough it out a couple of extra months, although I don't know why we should have to.

  • Writer Duane Swierczynski, author of the comically violent Severance Package, has a new hardcover out from Quirk. It's titled Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor and the author and the publisher have a history together with The Crimes of Dr. Watson. Like the latter, Batman is "interactive" and contains a party invitation, newspaper, map of Wayne Manor and more. Illustrations are by David Lapham (Stray Bullets) and it'd be a great Father's Day gift for the kid in your dad. (Hint. Hint.)

    Earlier this week the Crime Writers Association announced its 2008 Dagger Award nominees. Since the list is comprehensive and you really should visit this organization's site occasionally, you'll have to click on the link below to find out who the nominees are. Winners will be announce July 10 at the Four Season Hotel in Park Lane, London. Oh to be there. (Spoiler: Sue Grafton will be presented the Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence.)
    Go to:

    Note: Random Thoughts is not a subsidiary of Random House or its affiliates. They are just...well, random thoughts.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Today would be Ian Fleming's 100th birthday, so it's a good day to celebrate the creation of spy James Bond.

    I discovered Bond, first, at the movies. It was called Dr. No and one of the photos inside the theater lobby featured Ursula Andress rising from the sea in a teeny bikini. I was in high school; I had to see that film. And I was not disappointed, either by Ms. Andress or the adventure plot.

    With my hormones up and running, Ian Fleming/James Bond became an obsession. I began reading the books. I was not alone; we all read them. (And then along came I Spy, The Man From Uncle and Danger Man to satisfy our burgeoning habit, and Get Smart to laugh at it. And let's not forget to mention infusions of Our Man Flint and Matt Helm. By the late '60s, spies were everywhere.)

    There was much to please a high school boy in the Bond oeuvre of girls, guns and a disdain for authority. Bond even trumped the American government, and poor Felix Leiter, Fleming's cardboard cutout stand-in for American authority, became shark bait while the brash Brit bagged the bird.

    While I loved the names of the women Bond bedded from Honey Rider to Pussy Galore, I had (barely) matured in unenlightened times (this was 1962, well before the Summer of Love) unaware of the sexual undertones throughout. Galore, it turns out, was more interested in women than in men, yet she succumbed to Bond's masculine prowess.

    And Fleming threw us some real curves: Honey Rider (Andress' character in Dr. No) had "a beautiful back... and the behind was almost as firm and rounded as a boy's." Meanwhile Tatianna Romanov's backside (in From Russia With Love) is described as so "hardened with exercise that it had lost the smooth doward feminine sweep, and now, round at the back and flat and hard and the sides, it jutted like a man's." Say what?
    (For more information on Fleming's proclivities, see "That License to Kill Is Unexpired," an article published in Sunday's New York Times [there are also sundry other articles about 007 here] at: )

    And Bond had a tendency to force sex, even on a willing woman. He had a bit of the brute about him, but then you can't blame Bond because he had other issues: Bond villains had a preoccupation with genital torture, so maybe Bond had to work up a head of steam just to get his engine revved. Still, even as a teenager, some of this seemed...well, unhealthy.

    But Bond was raw and unexpected, providing a jolt out of our black-and-white post-war complacency. He smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and still managed to make it to live another day. (Fleming made it to age 56; so much for real life.)

    Then Hollywood smoothed out 007's rough edges and gave us an icon instead of a man. Connery turned him into a god, Lazenby wasn't given a chance; Moore was insipid, Brosnan was Remington Steele; Dalton was too dark and dangerous as escapist movie material. The jury is still out on Daniel Craig.

    So we have two Bonds: the first in print and the second, ever evolving, on film. The latest incarnation in print (and there have been many) is Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care. It is set in the Cold War and the reviews, so far, are good.

    So Bond is back, but I wonder if he will be able to pass his greatest test -- fulfilling the puerile fantasies of high school boys.

    Also see Ursula Andress in the Dr. No bikini at:

    Ursula Andress Dr. No bikini scene at:

    Tuesday, June 3, 2008

    Waiting for Wexford

    Those of us waiting for June 10 may be getting antsy. It's the day that Not in the Flesh, the latest Inspector Wexford novel hits bookstore shelves this side of the Pond (It's been available overseas since last year). Still, waiting a few extra months for a new book by Baroness Rendell of Babergh CBE aka Ruth Rendell is what we are willing to do.

    Rendell, along with P.D. James, has been credited with changing the course of the mystery novel. Where earlier purveyors of English detective fiction gave us the whodunnit, Rendell is among those who elevated it to the whydunnit, immersing us in the psychology of a killer -- development, environment and sexual obsessions.

    With a trunkload of Edgars, Silver Daggers, Gold Daggers, Diamond Dagger and Gumshoe Awards, she's given us a book a year since 1964, writing under Rendell or Barbara Vine. All this while sitting as a member of the House of Lords. Meanwhile, her latest work Portobello comes out in England in November. So we can anticipate yet another next year.

    And with her graceful prose and sharp insights into character, we know that Not in the Flesh will have been worth the wait. And the wait is nearly over.

    Monday, June 2, 2008


    Bouchercon 2008: Charmed to Death happens Oct. 9-12 in Baltimore. Of course, the convention has its own awards: The Anthony Awards. Here are this year's nominees.

    The 2008 Anthony Award Nominees

    Best Novel
    James Lee Burke-Tin Roof Blowdown- Simon and Schuster
    Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble Delacorte Press
    Robert Crais- The Watchman Simon and Schuster
    William Kent Krueger-Thunder Bay Atria
    Laura Lippman – What the Dead Know William Morrow

    Best First Novel
    Sean Chercover- Big City, Bad Blood William Morrow
    Tana French- In the Woods Viking Adult
    Lisa Lutz-The Spellman Files Simon and Schuster
    Craig MacDonald- Head Games Bleak House Books
    Marcus Sakey- The Blade Itself St. Martin Minotaur

    Best Paperback Original
    Megan Abbott- Queenpin Simon and Schuster
    Ken Bruen and Jason Starr – Slide Hard Case Crime
    David Corbett- Blood of Paradise Ballantine Books
    Robert Fate- Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues Capital Crime Press
    P.J. Parrish- A Thousand Bones Pocket

    Short Story
    Rhys Bowen- “Please Watch Your Step” (The Strand Magazine-Spring 07)
    Steve Hockensmith-”Dear Dr. Watson” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
    Toni L. P. Kelner - “How Stella Got her Grave Back” - (Many Bloody Returns edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner) for Ace Hardcover
    Laura Lippman- “Hardly Knew Her” - (Dead Man’s Hand edited by Otto Penzler) for Harcourt
    Daniel Woodrell -”Uncle” – (A Hell of A Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir edited by Megan Abbott) for Busted Flush Press

    Critical Work
    Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley Penguin
    The Essential Mystery Lists Compiled by Roger Sobin Poisoned Pen Press
    The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction – Patrick Anderson Random House
    Deviance in Contemporary Crime Fiction- Christiana Gregoriou Palgrave MacMillan

    Special Services
    Jon and Ruth Jordan- Crime Spree Magazine
    Ali Karim- Shotz Magazine
    Maddy Van Hertbruggen- 4MA
    Sarah Weinman- Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
    Judy Bobalik- for being one of the best friends and supporters of mystery writers anywhere

    Web Site
    Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind- Sarah Weinman
    Rap sheet/January Magazine –J Kingston Pierce
    Murderati – A Writer’s Blog
    Stop You’re Killing Me- Stan Ulrich & Lucinda Surber
    Crime Fiction Dossier- David Montgomery

    For more information, go to:

    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    In print

    Anyone interested in mysteries or publishing in the U.S. should check out the Sisters in Crime website (see below).

    Sisters in Crime is an organization of "authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the mystery genre and our support of women who write mysteries.

    Four Sisters in Crime members trekked to Manhattan to speak with representatives of several publishing houses. If you want to know how the genre is doing and what the genre is doing, this is a great four-part series of articles.

    For information, go to: