Aug 012014

JOHN BINGHAM – Murder Plan Six. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1959. Dell R112, US, paperback, 1962. First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1958.

   Anyone out there ever heard of this one? I picked up the Dell paperback in a Myrtle Beach used book store, mostly out of boredom. The cover touts it as “in the chilling tradition of Psycho,” but in 1962 they were marketing everything that way, including Miss Marple, so I wasn’t expecting much. This, however, is The Goods: a deftly plotted, skillfully told, constantly surprising bit of work reminiscent of The Red Right Hand, though much better- written.

   The story opens with Tom Dempster, a free-lance writer, asked by his sometime editor to come see him – Oh, and while he’s on his way, could he stop by so-and-so’s cottage and see if she’s heard anything from a chap called Michael Barlow? Don’t tell her why, don’t get her upset just ask in a nice way, will you? there’s a good chap.

   It quickly develops that Michael Barlow is the assumed identity of a very disturbed fellow who has gotten involved in a complex plan to murder his lover’s husband — a plan he is smugly revealing piece-meal to the editor through a series of tapes — and who might just takeanother innocent victim along with if the plot, which he half jokingly calls “Murder Plan Six,” goes awry.

   Author Bingham manages in this slender volume the neat trick of revealing his characters in easy stages as the plot unfolds, so we get a feeling of people shaping and being shaped by events and other characters. He also achieves quite a bit of tense momentum as the story careens to an intelligent and surprising conclusion. The sort of precise, skillful writing we don’t get much of anymore, and I was glad to find it.

 Posted by at 12:59 am
Jul 312014

Getting ready to spend the weekend in not-too-distant New Brunswick, New Jersey with more mystery readers and mystery writers. It's Deadly Ink, and while it's relatively smaller than, say, Malice Domestic, it's just as enthusiastic about the mystery genre and its various sub-genres. The guests of honor this year will be Donald Bain and his wife, Renee Paley-Bain, authors of - among other things - the continuing series of about two dozen novels (so far) based on the characters from Murder She Wrote. Jessica Fletcher may share the bylines, but the Bains have the responsibility.

Also in the spotlight will be Toastmaster Donna Andrews, another award-winning author and one of the funniest people I know. I'm very much looking forward to seeing and hearing her again this weekend.

And for full disclosure: the Deadly Ink folks have been kind enough (or misguided enough) to name me as their Fan Guest of Honor this year.

At Saturday night's banquet, the group will announce the winner of this year's David Award, for the best mystery published during 2013. The award is named for David G. Sasher, Sr., and the nominees this year are:

  • Lethal Treasure, by Jane Cleland;
  • There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron;
  • Condemned to Repeat, by Janice MacDonald;
  • The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan;
  • Dark Music, by E. F. Watkins.

There will, as always, be panels, book signings, and the usual continuing opportunities for schmoozing with other fans about mysteries, which is really the best part of these things. I hope I'll see some of you there!

Jul 312014

Forgotten Books: The Collected Stories of Stephen Crane

As one of  the prime creators of Realism Stephen Crane shocked the world of letters both in his writing and his personal life. His first book was Maggie: A Girl of The Streets and he spent a good share of his adult life (as much of it as there was--he died at twenty-eight) living with Cora Taylor, the madame of a brothel. He wrote dozens of short stories as well as his masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage.

While he was accepted and praised by the literary critics of the time, he was frequently derided for the pessimism and violence of his stories. He brought "the stink of the streets" into literature as one reviewer said. But his streets could be found all over America, not just in the cities.

The Open Boat, The Blue Hotel, The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, Shame and The Upturned Face give us portraits of different Americas. As I was rereading them lately I realized that they all have two things in common--their utter sense of social isolation and the intensity of their telling. Hemingway always put up The Blue Hotel as one of the most intense-"bedeviled"--stories in our language and man he was right. The fist fight in the blizzard on the blind side of the barn is one of those most hellish insane scenes I've ever read. And the ironic words at the last honestly gave me chills, even though I knew what was coming. His years as a journalist gave him a compassion for society's discards no matter where they lived or what color they happened to be.

His sense of place changed writing. Whether he was writing about the slums of Brooklyn or the endless ghostly plains of Nebraska in winter, his early years as a poet gave his images true clarity and potency. One critic of the time said his stories were possessed of "a filthy beauty" and that nails it.

Only a few of his stories are taught today; Red Badge is mandatory in schools. But in the many collections available of his stories you find a passion for life and language that few writers have ever equaled. Too many American masters get lost in the shuffle of eras. Crane is not only an artist he's one of the finest storytellers I've ever read.
Jul 312014

As ever, Block’s writing is crisp and classy. This is pure pulp fiction: there’s no faffing around with detailed back story or sprawling social commentary. Instead we cut straight to the chase, in an urban American cityscape of the late 20th century, where you still drop a dime to call the cops… and confidential information can be bought for the price of a new hat.

Click here to read the review


Jul 312014

When people learn that I am an acquiring editor, I get a few stock responses.

    "Oh, you get to read all day!" That is from the readers.

    "What kind of books do you acquire?" From the writers.

    "Huh? What's that?" Non-readers.

But then we dig into what I really do all day long. I am going to start with yesterday. I had two launch meetings yesterday. At the launch meeting, we determine the cover design, title, series name, taglines, discuss blurbs/reviews, back cover copy, etc. This is the most important meeting we have for any one book. Before the meeting, I talk with the author about what he or she envisions. Then I create a set of launch notes for everyone who attends the meeting describing what I feel the books should look like.

After work, I went to the gym and then to a Midwestern Writers Binder meet up. It ended up only being four of us, and quite a fun time, but still a work function in many ways. This morning, we had our weekly acquisitions meeting. Today I was presenting a thriller that I hope to acquire. To prepare for this meeting, I research the market, collect data about the author and comparable titles. It can take half a day to a full day for me to prepare. It all depends on the other things that interrupt me – phone calls, the art dept (asking me to go look at a cover design or at potential illustrators), marketing or sales stopping by (to ask specific questions about ads, copy, the author), etc.

My to-do list for today:


  • Transmit a revised manuscript to the production department
  • Brainstorm blurb requests with three different authors
  • Gather synopses from the Spring Summer 2015 authors
  • Tweak those synopses and send onto marketing
  • Remind Spring Summer 2015 authors to send in author photos and permission forms
  • Create an offer memo for the ms I presented today (to be pubbed in 2016)
  • Find six manuscripts for the Winter 2016 catalog
  • Read my tarot cards
  • Find time to meditate
  • Sign off on cover routings as they get dropped on my desk. Same for catalog copy and cover designs
  • Return a call to an outside publicist
  • Type up revision requests and send to the authors
  • Answer author and agent emails (this alone could take all day)
  • Read seven manuscripts (I have hundreds of submissions to read, but these seven are time sensitive –manuscripts that I have to formally accept within 30 days.)


Did you notice that reading is the last thing on my list? It shouldn’t be that way, but most days it does fall to the end, and I often have to read at night or on weekends to hit those deadlines. There are other crummy parts of my job. I have to inform authors/agents when we are discontinuing a series. I have to reject manuscripts. And I don’t have time to get thru my backlog of submissions. I feel like I am failing writers by not looking at their manuscripts in a timely manner. But at the end of the day, something has to give because I simply can’t do it all. It stresses me out continually. I wake up in the middle of the night because I have suddenly realized a plot hole or something I have forgotten to do.

But at the end of the day – I still have THE BEST JOB EVER! Reading is my job. I make dreams come true when I offer a contract to a debut author. I get to go to conferences and hang out with my friends in the crime fiction community. I am part of the creative process of taking a manuscript, giving it wings, and watching it fly. That, my friends, is an incredible feeling.

And in parting, I have a question for you all. As you can probably guess, my work doesn’t allow me much time to read for pleasure. If you were to pick the top five books pubbed in 2014 – what would they be? I will always have my favorites – but I am looking for new authors to read. Maybe a debut author? Or someone who writes excellent stuff but hasn’t broken out yet? I look forward to your suggestions.

Have a great day y’all!

Jul 312014
Nick Carter Rips Through A Nest Of Spies
To Hunt A Ruthless Assassin!

Killmaster  #250
Canada is split into two hostile camps. Quebec's left-wing separatists are threatening the prime minister with a bloody secession from the Canadian state. The political scene explodes into an inferno when separatist leader Giles Parisant is cut down by an assassin bullet. The Mounties number one suspect is the prime minister's son. Only one man can pull the nation from the brink of civil war, Nick Carter. Racing against a deadline where one  mistake spells failure, Nick works around the clock to sniff out Parisant's killer, a demonically manipulator who's dug in so deep only Agent N3 can smell his special sent of evil.

Printing History
Written by Jack Garside (1924- )

Berkley Publishing Group
Jove Books
Published by arrangement with The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.
ISBN 515 10034
June 1989

 Posted by at 3:18 pm
Jul 312014
Cabby, by Leonard Jordan No month stated, 1980  Belmont-Tower Books Predating his work on The Sharpshooter (and even the porn novel he wrote as “March Hastings”), Cabby was one of the first novels Len Levinson ever wrote. However despite being written in 1972, the novel went unpublished until 1980. Len has often mentioned this book to me, saying that it was his stab at literary greatness;
Jul 312014
I'm still alive and kickin', though you wouldn't realize it by looking at this blog. I've been on holiday which has also meant not blogging. We've travelled quite a bit and been doing some renovations at our new summer cottage (I'll probably post about that something soon).

But here's something that's more in the vein of Pulpetti. Someone might remember I wasn't thrilled about Charlie Huston's vampire private eye novel Already Dead back in 2007, but I've now read the book in Finnish translation and I'm happy to say I liked it more this time. It's a fast-moving, cynical and very violent book about Joe Pitt, a guy who went vampire when being given a blow-job in a New York punk club in the late seventies and who now works as a private eye between the world of vampires and the real human beings. Highly recommended. And this also proves that translations are sometimes a good thing, even though books are usually best read in their original language. Not this time, for some reason or another.