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October 20, 2014

Felony of the Week: Death of a Dormouse, by Reginald Hill

Death of a Dormouse, by Reginald Hill

It’s probably a good thing I’m not a physicist. Well, given how lousy I am at math, it’s a very good thing. But what I was thinking of was the tendency for physicists to slide down intellectual rabbit-holes, increasingly in thrall to the lure of the ToE – in science-land, that refers to the holy grail, the ultimate prize, the Theory of Everything.

I have never had quite the arrogance to imagine that I could discover the Big Toe, but I do love the hunt for patterns, the sense of stumbling, almost by accident, through the gates of a larger game than I knew was being played. I’ve mentioned before that as a mystery reader, my secret trashy passion is for conspiracy thrillers, yarns in which characters discover, sometimes too late, that they have merely been disposable pawns in someone else’s chess match, and that what they have viewed as simple coincidence has, all too often, been determined and laid down long ago.

I’m thinking of this because of one name that has of late cropped up – more than once – on my radar screen: George Orwell. The folks at Amazon are no doubt painfully familiar with Mr. Orwell’s name by now: They sought to invoke it to bolster their position in their ongoing dispute with Hachette, only to learn that, in fact, Orwell was saying exactly the opposite of what they had believed.

Taking a break from the news about Amazonian doings, I have been re-reading an old Robert Goddard novel set in part during the Spanish Civil War. And whose name should jump off the page but Mr. Orwell’s: His Homage to Catalonia is referenced, in the novel, in a ransom demand.

As any lover of conspiracy theories could tell you, that much Orwell is beyond coincidence; it is clearly some sort of message, some kind of coded instruction. And who am I to disobey? It was obvious to me that I was intended to offer a discount this week on something having to do with Orwell.

Orwell’s books themselves were clearly out of the question: If we had the rights to publish them and sell them, I’d be a richer and happier woman. But we do have a book – a wonderful conspiracy thriller, as it happens – in which Mr. Orwell makes an appearance of sorts. Death of a Dormouse, by Reginald Hill, is probably one of the maestro’s lesser-known titles. It’s not part of the “Pascoe and Dalziel” series, for which he was justly famous, and its protagonist is a depressed middle-aged woman – about as far from glamorous or buzz-worthy as it’s possible for a character to get. But Hill happens to have been astonishingly good at female characters, perhaps particularly good at those who for one reason or another are not considered shag-worthy. He doesn’t pity them or condescend to them or sneer at them or put them on pedestals, but renders them with an absolutely awesome clarity. And in that clear, cold light, Trudi Adamson – the dormouse – is revealed as a true heroine. If the universe is indeed sending a message, I will be very happy to be directed to spend more time – and to encourage you to spend time – with Trudi. She’s a good reminder of the fierceness that lurks within us all, waiting for circumstance to force us to find it. And this week only, that reminder’s going cheap: 25% off on Death of a Dormouse.

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October 14, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Two Titles by LR Wright

A Chill Rain in January, by L.R. Wright

Lyricists, they’ll do anything for a rhyme. Because the truth is, nobody likes New York in June. New York in June is both A) too darn hot, and B) a sweltering reminder that right around the corner lurks August, when New York does its annual impersonation of Mumbai.

No, Autumn is New York’s season – back to school, back to work, orchestras tuning up, Broadway starting to buzz. On the perfect day in October, the air here is crisp and heady as white wine, you can taste excitement on your tongue.

And yet, running beneath it all, like a secret river, is the season’s melancholy. That’s hardly unique to New York: leaves die everywhere. But I’ve been binging on old episodes of “Mad Man” this week, that series that – better than almost anything I know – illustrates how much of my beloved city’s thrill is fueled by fear and loneliness. It’s as though sadness is the black against which the city’s lights can sparkle.

So the theme of the week is contrasts, the way they highlight and reinforce one another. And the author of the week, then, is Canada’s LR Wright, who in 1986 blew onto the U.S. mystery scene like an unexpected storm, and blew away the critics with her first mystery novel. The Suspect went on to win the Edgar award for Best Mystery of the Year – beating out titles by Ruth Rendell, Jonathan Kellerman, and Stuart Kaminsky, among other notables. Like most of the books in Wright’s “Karl Alberg” series (nine altogether), The Suspect is set on British Columbia’s glorious “Sunshine Coast,” famous for its gorgeous gardens. And like all the books in the series, The Suspect centers on the dark secrets that huddle beneath those lovely blooms. It is a masterpiece of psychological suspense.

The Suspect, is on sale, then, but we’re also offering up No. 3 in the series, A Chill Rain in January. If you look at the cover, you’ll see that it shows a stunningly beautiful day. Blue sky, golden sun, fluffy clouds. And in the middle is a pretty little blonde girl. When I told our art director what kind of image I wanted, he was confused: “A beautiful day?” he asked. “What about the rain? What about January.”

“It’s the girl,” I said. “She’s the chilly, chilly rain.”


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September 22, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Rainaldi Quartet & Paganini’s Ghost

The Rainaldi Quartet, by Paul Adam

We got an email from one of our readers, recently, asking why we hadn’t published more of the delightful “Gianni and Guastafeste” books by Paul Adam. I feel her pain: I would love to publish more books in the series, one of my quirky favorites, but the truth is, Mr. Adam hasn’t written any. The nerve! Gives one a renewed sympathy for Kathy Bates.

The good-ish news is that Mr. Adam has said that he would like to write more adventures of the dynamic duo, an oddball pairing of the local chief of police in this Italian town, and his well-into-middle-age sidekick, an expert in violins, a restorer of violins, and only very, very occasionally a forger of violins. We are now attempting to persuade Mr. Adam to pick up his bow again. If we’re successful, that would be good news indeed.

Why do we love this series so? For starters, the violin-lore is fascinating, and it’s clear as the sound of a G-string that Mr. Adam knows and loves it, that he has a deep, rich pool of stories and mythology and aracana to draw from. Then there’s the fact that he began his career with thrillers, which has given him a sense of pace and a mastery of the kind of intricate plots and switchbacks that many more academic writers lack. (Let’s face it, lots of writers may know buckets about music or history or art, but they often know beans about writing mystery fiction, and the result is never as enthralling as one might like.) Finally, there’s our two protagonists, the young lothario and the old geezer with more than a few dances left in him. As I head toward geezer-hood myself, I am particularly pleased to see Gianni get a romantic life, and not with some young twinkie, either!

And finally, finally, there’s Italy. Who wouldn’t like a vacation there, even if it’s the kind that comes between two covers? So, all told, we would be thrilled to publish a third book in the series. And if you’ve missed the first two, grab’em at our special price: The Rainaldi Quartet and Paganini’s Ghost, this week only 25% off.

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