Summer, right? Well, we’re now past Memorial Day, so it must be that time in which livin’ is easy… so they say.
And, a reminder: these new Newzines are not meant to be read in one sitting, as the old Friday afternoon missives could be. We imagine folks coming back to these monthly posts more than once. They’re long, but so are months. Err, or they used to be when we had summer vacation from school!
Something Special from a Good Friend
The following is from one of the SMB’s most valued customers, most supportive collectors, and trusted friends. Steve has had some thoughts since the shop closed, and sent us this:
First, a confession: I am a book collector and assess bookshops with a jaundiced eye. I’ve been in every variety of bookstore from the well heeled, inefficiently designed rare book shop that is a book shy a designer’s idea of a library, to the tatty, dusty, work-of-love, paperback-only shop that can only subside due to free rent while the landlord waits for a real tenant to amble in. I collect first editions of various literary genres, but especially mysteries. My wife and I are passionate about books, so much so that when we paid off our original mortgage we took out another to build the library we’d always wanted in order to house our substantial book collection. Or at least part of it, since books are everywhere in our home and may be the only things keeping it upright.
As a result of my affliction, I loved the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (SMB). When I say that I loved the shop, I loved everything about it, everything that had taken so long for the owners (Bill Farley, then JB Dickey) to compile: the knowledgeable and affable staff; the efficient attention to customers’ needs and wants; the broad assortment of inventory composed of new and used books displayed for comfortable, lazy browsing; the quarterly newsletter focused on upcoming publications that allowed me to send a list to the staff so that they could have my published choices ready for me during my next visit; my own space on their back shelves where I could first see some of the new books I was about to buy; their locked shelves of rarer books where I might, and often did, find a treasure.
But I also loved the composite whole, an institution much greater than the sum of its parts that was a retreat from daily concerns where I could get lost in the possibilities and implicit joys of future reading.
So when SMB finally closed, I was bereft. I had a system that I had worked out with SMB’s staff to ensure that I would never miss a favorite author’s newest work. I had staff backup in case I did miss a favored new work since the staff would always question me about my error. And the staff always made certain to tell me about new authors that I’d never heard of that fell within my range of interests, either spontaneously in a statement of enthusiasm beginning “you just have to read this” or in response to my oft asked question at the conclusion of each visit: “What have I missed?”
It finally became apparent to me that I could no longer argue with JB that he ought to keep the store open. I came to understand the stress he endured from so many pressures: competition from low priced online retailers; rude so-called “customers” who came to sample books they were about to buy on-line for less money; trying to operate a retail shop in a city hostile to smaller businesses; the constant lack of nearby parking spaces; the constant construction and street closures that adversely affected business; the steadily falling income due to the deadly combination of fewer walk in customers, rising hardback prices, and the steadily increasing portion of new books which were lower priced (and, therefor, less profitable) paperbacks; the rise of the e-book; and on and on. JB was stressed by this storm of ill luck and needed a break, so I had to learn to shut my mouth and, as a friend, help him extricate himself from the lifelong dream that had gradually become a nightmare.
But what was I, the now-former customer, to do after SMB closed? I approached this problem with my customary optimism. I have been a professional problem solver all my life, so I just knew I’d find a way. And I tried. Boy, how I tried! But like any other good thing, even I who loved the SMB institution didn’t know how good I’d had it until the institution was gone; I didn’t understand how bad the alternatives could be. I confess to failing to find a good, or even a marginally acceptable, alternative – at least so far. I am still searching.
Since SMB closed, I have tried many things to feed my passion for mysteries. I have subscribed to on-line mystery lists to see what is upcoming, but they are nowhere close to being as comprehensive as SMB’s newsletters which was blind to categorized favoritism and a major publication in and of itself. I’ve tried to deal with other storied mystery retail institutions only to find flaw after flaw in their operations. (One well known New York store never updates its listings of rare books, such that out of the six rare books I have attempted to buy from them only one has been delivered as the others were already sold. I no longer even bother to look at their on-line inventory of rare books on the presumption that if a book is listed there it must be gone. Why waste my time?) I’ve haunted the mystery sections of local booksellers, but none have the breadth of collection that SMB had, and the only one that comes close has no attentive staff dedicated to making my day’s selections as complete or as interesting as they could be. And there is no one there to ask what I might have missed before I go out their door. And even if there were, they wouldn’t know me well enough to advise me effectively.
No, nothing has worked well for me. I’ve made do since SMB closed its doors, but just making do is never very satisfying to a passionate collector. The pleasure in my monthly purchases of mysteries has been reduced from a sigh of contentment to a sigh of regret. I have to make my own lists of wants without help from a knowledgeable staff – lists I either forget to make or forget to take. There is no one who, when I become too ill to visit, will take my orders by email and lovingly wrap and mail them to me as SMB uncomplainingly did. There is no one to make each visit to their store both bookishly satisfying as well as a pleasant reunion with old and dear friends of both the quick and the tome varieties.
I’m about ready to scream my frustration. Hell, I can’t find anyone I can deal with who is even remotely efficient; I’d settle for adequate if I could ever stumble upon it. My frustration is probably Bill’s and JB’s fault for setting the bar so high. If only they and their staff hadn’t created something so perfect, I could have, in my ignorance, settled for so much less.
A New Series of Mystery Reprints
Otto Penzler of The Mysterious Bookshop is starting a new publisher. Penzler Publishing will reissue classic American mysteries. In some way, this press will be filling the void that Rue Morgue left. “Reprints of Golden Age classics by British writers have been very successful,” Penzler noted, “so it seems the time has come to recognize the best American authors of traditional detective fiction.” The first batch of titles due out this Fall are from instantly recognizable authors: Rice, Queen, Rinehart, Hughes, Rawson, and Palmer.
Word of the Month
snollygoster (n.): From 1846, American English slang, a fanciful coinage – “originally an unprincipled politician or crooked lawyer, today in means someone either incompetent or “ethically challenged”, someone who will not keep a promise.” (thanks to etymonline and Says You! #906)
June 2nd, Erica Miner, Third Place Books/Lake Forrest Park, 6pm
June 7th, Leslie Budewitz, Third Place Books/Lake Forrest Park, 7pm
June 7th, Nicola Griffith, Eagle Harbor Books, 6:30
June 11th, Ruth Ware, Powell’s, 7:30
June 12th, Ruth Ware, Third Place Books/Lake Forrest Park, 7pm
June 21st, Christine Carbo, Third Place Books/Lake Forrest Park, 7pm
June 22nd, Cara Black, Third Place Books/Ravenna, 7 pm
Links of Interest
The Guardian, April 27th: Vetting for stereotypes: meet publishing’s ‘sensitivity readers’
Daily Beast, May 1st: The CIA Cleared Her Book Twice. Then It Took It Back. Why? It’s a Secret
The Guardian, May 1st: Books by Women Priced 45% Lower, Study Finds
The Guardian, May 1st: Why does it seem like serial killers all wear the same glasses?
The Guardian, May 1st: Are women responsible for all the extreme sexual violence on screen? (Germaine Greer has stirred up a hornet’s nest with her latest claims, suggesting women are more enthusiastic than men when it comes to depictions of sex and violence. We asked leading crime writers for their views)
BBC, May 3rd: Mystery Pooper Caught In The Act
BBC, May 4th: Whoops! Idaho State University Lost Some Plutonium
Daily Beast, May 5th: From Russia’s Secret Espionage Archives: The Art of the Dangle
New York Times, May 6th: Save Barnes & Noble!
Daily Beast, May 8th: The Surreal Story of a Purple-Faced Lady and My Mom’s Stolen Jewels
The Guardian, May 12th: Barnes & Noble: why it could soon be the bookshop’s final chapter
Daily Beast, May 12th: The Blue Diamond Affair: The Jewel Heist That Became a Diplomatic Nightmare
Vox, May 14th: Louisa May Alcott on Little Women: “I grow tired of providing moral pap for the young”
The Guardian, May 14th: Waterstones accused of breaking pledge not to take on independents
The Guardian, May 14th: Bacon, cheese slices and sawblades: the strangest bookmarks left at libraries
Seattle Times, May 14th: A 14th human foot – this one in a hiking boot – washes ashore in Canada
The Oregonian, May 18th: D.B. Cooper Case Drops Another Suspect Into the Spotlight
The New York Times, May 19th: A Staten Island Man Found a Safe of Cash in His Backyard. Then Things Got Weird.
Crosscut, May 21st: Seattle is a ‘City of Literature’. Now What?
The Guardian, May 21st: “My Friend Dahmer”: is it time to stop glamorising the serial killer?
The Guardian, May 22nd: John le Carré letter reveals author’s contempt for British political class
Atlas Obscura, May 22nd: Lesbian Pulp Fiction That Saved Lives
Seattle Times, May 24th: Daniel Craig to Return as 007 in 2019, Danny Boyle at Helm
Daily Beast, May 26th: Love and Death and the Queen of Diamonds
Seattle Times, May 27th: How a Canadian Mystery Writer Found the Clues to Success (hint: she writes about Three Pines…)
The Oregonian, May 27th: End of a Story for a Hawthorne Boulevard Bookstore (JB used to hit this place on Portland book-hunting trips)
The Atlantic, May 28th: “Killing Eve” and the Riddle of Why Women Kill
New York Times, May 28th: How Dostoyevsky Predicted the ‘True Crime’ Craze
AtlasObscura, May 29th: Secrets Revealed at NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum
AtlasObscura, May 29th: Grave Robbing 101
May 13th – Margot Kidder, Lois Lane in the earlier Superman movies, 69.
May 21st – Bill Gold, one of Hollywood’s best-known creators of film posters, has died aged 97 – the creator of the iconic Dirty Harry, Goodfellas & Dial ‘M’ For Murder and 2,000 more posters!
What We’ve Been Up To
So Pretty A Problem – Francis Duncan
Chief detective inspector Jonathan Boyce’s boss has ordered him to take a holiday. A recent bout of pneumonia has left him weak and tired to the point the commissioner felt the need to intervene. Unable to do anything but comply with his boss’s order Jonathan decided it was high time he paid a visit to his sister in Falporth in Cornwall.
Wanting to impress said sister he asks his friend Mordecai Tremaine if he’d like to come along (she’s read about Mordecai’s second career in the papers and Jonathan’s letters). Mordecai readily agrees to the trip despite the uncomfortable situation it places him in. Oh not with Boyce’s family, but with a close acquaintance who also resides in the small seaside town.
A few weeks previously he discovered that the wife of painter Adrian Carthallow was having an affair, which caused Mordecai’s romantic soul to cringe. When the artist and his wife relocated to their summer home for a few months, Mordecai was relieved….until the unexpected invitation for Boyce propelled him back into their sphere.
Mordecai’s vacation soon turns into a busman’s holiday when Adrian Carthallow is shot dead by his wife. The only hitch in the giddyup? The wife’s story is so full of holes it looks like swiss cheese, and there are about a half-a-dozen other people who had a motive to want the man dead.
I love this mystery!
If you took the setting of And Then There Were None, the motives of Murder In Retrospect, the detective Columbo, and Sherlock Holmes’ pipe, then shook them up in a bag, you might come close-ish to this latest installment in the Mordecai Tremaine series.
Francis Duncan flawlessly combines the locked-room mystery with the English country house murder in this “new” book. What I enjoyed reading was the deftness which Francis manipulated and updated these classic tropes. He was able to keep them recognizable but change them in such a way that made them feel different.
The other fascinating aspect of this book? Every suspect was under the same emotional influence, love. Francis does a great job in showing the variants of this seemingly pure emotion and how it provided more than enough motive for murder.
Though So Pretty A Problem was written in 1947 this book doesn’t feel dated. Which I think broadens the appeal of this mystery to those who enjoy reading the occasional timeless trope. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a classic golden age mystery and/or looking for something to fill the void after finishing the Agatha Christie (or alternatively needing a break from them). Or someone who is looking for something without much blood that doesn’t fall into the cozy trap!
I’m loving my new job still, and it’s always interesting. For example:
So, a guy gets out of jail on Monday. He’s supposed to show up in 24 hours, but hey, sometimes life happens so we gave him 48. Not everybody would, and not every offender gets a break, but once in a while, we’re nice. Don’t judge.
But then, by Wednesday when he’s a no-show, we sigh and put out a warrant for him. We tried to be nice, but the rules are the rules.
Thursday the warrant’s issued, and we trundle along as we always do.
Today. Today he shows up. We ask if there’s a reason he didn’t check in. Nope. Not really. Just didn’t.
We peer at him closely. “Are you high?” He nods, happily.
“Before coming here? What did you take?”
There are several exchanged looks, puzzled and frowny.
“So you took meth before you came here?” He nods again.
“You know that means you’re going to jail, right?” He nods.
More exchanged looks.
“Okay, fill out this form admitting that you’ve used drugs.” He does.
“Alrighty then, you wanna tell us why you took meth and then came here on a Friday afternoon?”
Long pause. “….it might rain?….”
Like I said, my job is always interesting.
Now, before you go sighing, “Oh dear goslings, ANOTHER ONE?” let me tell you that Carrie Vaughn‘s BANNERLESS (Mariner) is not your typical everything’s-awful or how-will-we-survive type dystopian novel. Far from it.
It’s hopeful. And nice.
Dystopian, yes. It’s after the Fall, civilization has collapsed and has been re-formed and made into something that will work, at least for the time period we’re concerned about.
Along the Coast Road region, communities are thriving. People are organized into households within their towns, groups of people who live within their own communities to help each other. The households work together so that the towns thrive, and everyone depends on everyone else doing their part.
When a household has proven its stability and resourcefulness, they can be awarded a banner, which entitles that household to have a child. No children are allowed without a banner; population control is key to maintaining survival. Starvation is still a real possibility. Outcasts and children born outside of the rules are considered to be “bannerless” and are therefore shunned. Mostly.
Crimes tend to be of the more mundane sort – who’s hoarding food, not contributing enough, over-extending their growing fields without permission – and to handle those sorts of things, investigators travel to the communities with problems and resolve them. Investigators’ word is law; they have the power to dissolve households and even remove awarded banners as they see fit.
Enid of Haven has only been an investigator a short while. Generally, being an investigator isn’t a full-time job, so she and her household are doing what they normally do, but then she’s tasked with investigating a suspicious death in a nearby town, Pasaden. Suspicious deaths are very, very rare, so Enid takes this seriously. She and her enforcer, her former mentor Tomas, go to Pasaden to see if they can figure things out.
And on the surface, Pasaden seems to be a quiet, safe and welcoming community. What happened?
This is the first in a series, and I devoured it. In BANNERLESS, Carrie Vaughn has crafted a world that is fully functional, multi-dimensional, and captivating. It’s a straight-up murder mystery (no spoiler there, I promise) but it’s got such complexity and such deep layers that it captures the imagination.
If you like traditional mysteries and are game for a slightly different setting with rules that take a bit of getting used to but which make perfect sense once you do, I can’t recommend BANNERLESS enough. Even if you’re not into science fiction or things of that genre, trust me, you’ll enjoy this one. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
So yeah, here I’m going to be talking about two books, but they tie in together so hang with me. ‘Kay? Thanks!
First, if you haven’t picked up John Connolly‘s book of short stories, Night Music (Emily Bestler Books), you should have. I know there are a lot of you who don’t much like short stories, but please, make an exception here, for two reasons.
One is that you absolutely need to read (or re-read) the seventh short story, “The Fractured Atlas – Five Fragments” before you read his new Charlie Parker novel, about which I’ll talk later.
A lot of what you find out in “The Fractured Atlas” will ring bells for you from things discussed in earlier Parker novels, but having this set of short stories under your belt will make The Woman in the Woods (Emily Bestler Books) much more understandable.
Besides, they’re beautifully written and just creepy enough to make you uneasy. But then, several of the short stories are. You know how John Connolly can take something ordinary and give it a slight twist? These are distilled Connolly.
The last thing I want to say is that when you read – or re-read – the first story, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository”, if it doesn’t ring a chord deep within in you, I’m not sure we can be friends any longer. Yeah, it’s that good.
So then, onto the The Woman in the Woods. Obviously there’s not a lot I can say about it because if you haven’t read the series, there are spoilers, and if you have and are waiting for this one to come out, which it does this month, I believe (thank you, Claire Lamb, for seeing that I got an ARC – I am forever in your debt!) then by reading “The Fractured Atlas”, you’ll know all you need to know.
However, I must say that I absolutely adore the insights into Louis and Angel’s relationship we get due to Angel’s illness, and Charlie is perfect in his response to the whole situation.
Granted, some of Louis’s anger is going to lead to problems down the line, but it’s nothing that can’t be handled. In fact I’m looking forward to that confrontation.
Enough being cryptic. Trust me, you’re going to enjoy The Woman in the Woods and it will leave you wanting the next installment Right Now. In fact, I may have to go re-read the entire series while I wait. That’ll make the time pass quickly and will be such a treat!
I know I wasn’t the only one who was struck by the oddity of the 2003 bank robbery in which a pizza delivery guy held up a bank with a bomb affixed to him. I never really followed the case but I remembered it. So did GM Ford, because he used it in Blown Away, his last Frank Corso novel in 2006. On the last page, he left poor Corso trembling in a bank with a bomb locked around his neck.
If you have access to Netflix (I hope Jerry does) I recommend “Evil Genius“, a four-part documentary about the crime, the cops who investigated it, and those suspected and charged in the crime. Netflix gets it right when they say “This baffling true crime story starts with the grisly death of a pizza man who robs a bank with a bomb around his neck — and gets weirder from there.” Sure as hell does.
Like any fan of crime and mystery and whodunnits, I’ve talked this series over with a number of fans, trying to figure out questions that were left and we can’t get very far. I’ll admit it isn’t for the cozy crowd, but it is a fascinating series, well constructed and engrossing. Give it a try.
Soon as I finish John Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson, I’m going to dig into a large pile of mysteries – new books by Mike Lawson, John Straley, Phillip Kerr, James Lee Burke, John Connolly, and, the most intriguing, Lawrence Osborne’s forthcoming Philip Marlowe novel, Only to Sleep!
When the hell will we see a new book from Carol O’Connell, Carl Hiaasen, Don Winslow, James Ellroy, and Gillian Flynn! We’re so out of the loop now that we no longer see publisher’s catalogs. We’re lost, just like all of you.
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