Tuesday, September 29, 2009

O Death, where is thy sting?

Death comes to us all, but the way we die varies. This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go enumerates 75 different ways that people annually kick the bucket. From a Great White Shark attack to anthrax, from going over Niagra Falls in a barrel to being slimed by a dart frog, authors H.P. Newquist and Rich Maloof catalog our road to dusty death.

The book rates each death for frequency (only one or two people a year is eaten by an alligator), lethality (maybe you can escape being totally eaten and just get chewed up a bit) and its horror factor (the alligator thing is thought to be quite terrifying). You even get an urban legend or two, like the one about the Boy Scout Troop that was wiped out from toasting marshmallows over a fire made of oleander leaves.

There is a forward by a doctor from the Mayo Clinic, so one suspects that the science is right. It's easy to pick up and put down (each death is covered in two to three pages), so you may want to leave a copy in the bathroom this Halloween. Anyway, at $14.95 it's a cool read.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fictional author's fiction
Cabot Cove's Jessica B. Fletcher has a long string of mysteries to her name, and we don't mean the novels mentioned on the show Murder She Wrote. And although the show never mentions author Donald Bain, it's pretty much an open secret that he's the brains behind such novels as The Corpse Danced at Midnight and Mystery of the Mutilated Minion, for which Fletcher has been credited through her publisher New American Library. (Bain has written a host of novels under his name and others, and there are some who claim he actually wrote all of Margaret Truman's books, althou
gh Bain has denied that.)

Now comes another fictional fiction writer to the mystery world: Richard Castle. You may have caught him on the TV show Castle where he is a consultant for the NYPD. Anyway, Castle, so the story goes, has just killed off his popular fictional detective Derek Storm and is now researching a new series. The result is the just-released Heat Wave, available in bookstores from Hyperion Press. It follows the exploits of NYPD's Nikki Heat who, Castle fans might recognize, is based on Detective Kate Beckett, one of that show's main characters. (The book is dedicated "To the extraordinary KB and all my friends at the 12th" (precinct, that is).

Heat Wave has a blurb by James Patterson (don't most books get those?) who along with Stephen J. Cannell (with blurb on back cover) have appeared on Castle as themselves as Castle's poker game buddies. Now, the real game begins as fans of the show speculate who actually wrote Heat Wave. (Note: Fans of Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle on the show, will be pleased to hear that there is a large, color photo of the actor on the back cover. Now, if we could just get him to do some author appearances -- that would be awesome.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading redux

Like most people with favorite authors who are no longer writing, I like to go back every few years and reacquaint myself with their work. It not only helps me in my job by reminding me what is good out there, but it also informs me what is gone. Take Ross Thomas, for example.

The fact that he was a great novelist, writing 26 witty thrillers in as many years, doesn't come into play:
Most of his work is no longer in print. Reprints of what is still available attest to his powers: Introductions to his stories are written by Sara Paretsky, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block, among others (no slouches in the writing department themselves). And I guess we should be thankful that Twilight at Mac's Place and The Fools in Town Are on Our Side remain available, along with his Edgar winners, Briarpatch and Cold War Swap.

But after re-reading Chinaman's Chance and Out of the Rim, both featuring con artists Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, one logically wants to move on to their third adventure, Voodoo Ltd. However, moving on is itself limited because the third in the trio is o.p. And after you've read the two Mac McCorkle and Michael Padillo books available (Cold War and Mac's Place), you'd expect to fill in with the other two: Cast a Yellow Shadow and The Backup Men. And if you are hunting for a St.Ives novel, forget them: All five are nowhere to be seen.

While I applaud St. Martin's Press for making a third of Thomas' oeuvre available, I'd like to also make a plea to some enterprising publisher out there. If you are looking to do some great reprints, think of Thomas. I, for one, will be eternally grateful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Talking mystery

The annual New England Crime Bake, sponsored by the New England chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, will be held Nov. 13-15 at the Dedham/Boston Hilton.
This year's guest of honor is Sue Grafton, whose latest alphabetical entry U is for Undertow goes on sale Dec. 1.

As usual, there will be agents to meet (if you are a writer), author breakfasts (if you like authors or eating) and master classes (if you want to write and are just learning how). There will also be seminars, manuscript critiques (for those who've finished their tome), a cocktail party, some mystery theater and a forensic presentation.

Go to: www.crimebake.org for details, fees, times, etc.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some pooch
I'm not a great fan of mystery books featuring talking cats. Truth to tell, I'm not a great fan of cats, in general, although I share a house with two and we seem to tolerate each other...mostly.

So, when I picked up a copy of Spencer Quinn's Dog On It, a tale of murder narrated by a talking pooch, I didn't have much hope for it. After reading the first chapter, I put it aside and went on to other books. A couple of months on, I picked up Dog On It again ... and, dog gone it, I found it to be a delight. The story of Chet (he's the dog) and Bernie (he's a human) in search of a missing girl and getting mixed up with the Russian mob is entirely engaging.

Quinn, known in other circles as Peter Abrahams (The Fan, Delusion), ladles his tale with large dollops of suspense and a healthy sprinkling of humor. I can't wait for the next one.

In the meantime, Dog On It gets its paperback release on Sept. 29, and all we can say to you is "fetch"!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wally the Mart strikes again

Just when you thought that life at an independent bookstore couldn't get any tougher, out comes Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Not that the book is a problem, or even Mr. Brown or his publisher. No, it's the wonderful world of discounting that is eat into your neighborhood bookstore a surely as a mouse can gnaw through a flaking classic.

For months, Amazon.com had been promoting The Lost Symbol at a discount of 42 percent, which is cheaper than your mom-and-pop bookshop can get it from a wholesaler. Then comes WalMart offering a whopping 52 percent off each copy...or well below the price that motley mom and pooped-out pop can buy it directly from the publisher.

So...what's an independent bookstore to do? Suck it up and remind you that as you bemoan the bookshops closing around you, remember that buying from your independent bookseller will go a long way toward keeping bookstores alive.

A side note: WalMart's current TV and web ads feature the game Monopoly. To our mind, that seems a bit redundant.