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HOLIDAY SALE!

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The holidays sneak up every year, don’t they? And every year—if you’re anything like me—you wind up scrambling for The Right Gift. In fact, fairly often, that’s Gifts, plural. Books, of course, make terrific presents; they’re easy to wrap, and relatively gently priced, so they work well as stocking-stuffers or gifts for those holidays, like Chanukah, where tradition points toward multiple presents. And if you’ve got a passionate reader on your list, what could be better than packaging up a few books into one blissful gift, with the promise of hours of great reading.

But…which books? The best readers can actually be the trickiest to buy for, because that passion goes hand in hand with pickiness. To help make things easier, we’ve got lists of suggestions below, for just about anyone who might be on your list. And as a present for you—and who deserves it more?—there’s a 25% discount on all our recommended holiday sale titles, including some highly collectible hardcovers!
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Aldyne Test 2

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Aldyne Test

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Fall 2012 Catalog

Felony & Mayhem, Catalog #2, 2012

Felony & Mayhem Catalog, 2012, #2

Click here to view our current catalog.

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The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice: An Appreciation

The Herring-Seller's Apprentice, by L.C. Tyler

Review: The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice
 by LC Tyler
(2007 novel)

Posted on February 7, 2012 by D Gary Grady

When a friend of mine described this as one of the funniest mysteries he’d ever read, I thought it was worth hunting up, and it was. Ethelred Tressider (his parents assured him he was named after King Ethelred the First, not Ethelred the Unready) is an English genre writer with three pseudonyms, one for a series of contemporary mysteries featuring an eccentric middle-aged inspector, another for historical mysteries in the time of Chaucer, and a third for category romances. (All the romances feature oral and maxillofacial surgeons as heroes, since all the other romance authors else seemed to be using GPs or heart surgeons.)

Ethelred’s ex-wife turns up missing under strange circumstances, including the following apparent suicide note written in block capitals and left in the passenger seat of a rental car in a Channel-side car park:

TO WHOMSOEVER IT MAY CONCERN. DEAR SIR OR MADAM, I HAVE HAD ENOUGH. BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS I WILL HAVE GONE TO A BETTER PLACE. FAREWELL CRUEL WORLD ETC. CORDIALLY YOURS, G. TRESSIDER (MRS)

Ethelred has an agent named Elsie Thirkettle who doesn’t have a very high opinion of the writers she represents, though she thinks more of them than she does of their readers. Her take on Ethelred’s latest manuscript is “It’s crap.” When Ethelred asks if she’d like to be more specific in her critique, she explains, “It’s dog’s crap.”

Elsie volunteers to help Ethelred investigate the mystery of his ex-wife’s disappearance, but he tells her he has no use for amateur detectives even in fiction, and he’s not going to get in the way of the police. She tells him he was a fool anyway to try to stay on good terms with his ex after they split up, and he objects that it’s quite possible for ex-spouses to remain friends. “Geraldine and I must have had something in common, after all. We had a number of happy years together, though admittedly she was simultaneously having a number of happy years with somebody else.”

Of course, circumstances force Ethelred to play detective anyway, and Elsie insists on being involved despite his best efforts to stop her.

It’s a great deal of fun and laugh-out-loud funny in places, and it’s a decent mystery (of the English cozy school) as well. I recommend it.

One curious bit: Here and there the book quotes from an Inspector Fairfax manuscript Ethelred is working on, and one of them contains a paragraph that’s surprisingly poignant in an otherwise humorous book:

That summer Fairfax knew for the first time that he was old, a thing that is not a matter of having lived a certain number of years, but rather of having only a certain number of years still to live, and also a matter of knowing that there were people you had loved that you would never see again and that there were things you had done that you would not do again.

(By the way, Elsie calls mystery writers “herring-sellers” because of all the red herrings they insert into their books, and in appointing herself Ethelred’s assistant detective she declares herself a herring-seller’s apprentice, hence the title.)

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Favorite Felony: Unnatural Fire, by Fidelis Morgan

Unnatural Fires, by Fidelis Morgan

It is an occupational hazard of my life as a book cover designer to almost never be able to read the books that I am covering. Whether because of time or timing, I always seem to rely on our felonious publisher to give me an idea of what a book is about and what the right feeling for the cover needs to be.

Although it would be a great thing—to be able to step out of time and read a book—and then turn the clock back on and design its cover, in reality, it probably works better this way. The job of the book cover designer, says, Chip Kidd, the award-winning associate art director for Alfred A. Knopf and patron saint of the profession, is to ask the question, “What do stories look like?” So someone in the process has to approach the book purely in visual terms, unencumbered by actual details.

In the case of Unnatural Fire, by Fidelis Morgan, the original direction included, “It’s very funny, it’s very bawdy…Bjorn Wiinblad did a lot of line-drawings of ladies in vaguely Regency-era clothing—bosomy, elaborate hair styles, Empire waistlines, big eyes, sharp chins, merry faces.” So off I went to research Bjorn Wiinblad, a Danish artist and designer whose work was popular in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, did indeed include, “whimsical round-faced people,” to quote Wikipedia, but they were all “dressed in vaguely 19th-century costume.” So, right feeling, wrong period. That ruled out repurposing actual Wiinblads.

We often dip directly into art history for our covers, for instance the finely rendered figures of Ingres for Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel Series or the Fauvist fantasies of Redon for the Sheila Radley’s Inspector Quantrill Series. But sometimes literal quotation is not up to the task. I often have to remind myself that every period of history was once contemporary—was a now. So I went looking for an artist who had the whimsical line of Wiinblad, which I took to be a visual representation of the author’s amusing prose.

The first person I though of was the great editorial illustrator Edwin Fotheringham, who I had worked with occasionally but was mainly familiar with from his work in The New Yorker and other high-quality publications where he signed his illustrations, “Mr. Fotheringham.” Apparently you can call him Ed. Of his style, Ed says, “I continue to enjoy solving visual problems with blotty lines.” Perfect, I thought! When I contacted him and explained the direction, he wrote back, “We own a couple of illustrated plates by Bjorn Wiinblad. Funny.” So I knew right from the start that we were in the right hands.

Ed’s first instincts about the drawing were right, as well. The “fabulously bawdy” Countess Ashby de la Zouche, is full figured and amply bosomed, curious and endearing. Her gesture tells you not only that she is a detective (the magnifying glass!) but what kind, a snoop, a voyeur—a gossip columnist! Alpiew is clearly subservient, and the lock of hair over her eyes makes it clear that she’s not the brain power here. And in overall composition we know immediately where we are (thank you, Big Ben) and what is going on. When he got to the color, the blue on blue night scene set the stage and the slash of candle light through the window indicates that there are secrets to be had here.

As Chip Kidd says, “Really, what the cover should do is get you to open the book and start to read it and investigate it. And at that point, the book is going to sell itself to you, or not.” What Ed has done for Unnatural Fire is to create that intriguing invitation to start reading. Fidelis Morgan can take it from there.

Anthony, Art Director

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The Felonious Award-Winners and Nominees

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A list of Felony & Mayhem titles which have been nominated for, or won, literary awards.

The Edgar Allan Poe Awards (“Edgars”)

      Winners:

The Suspect (Best Novel, 1986)

      Nominees:

The Faces of Angels (Best Paperback Original, 2012)

Ten Little Herrings (Best Paperback Original, 2011)

The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice (Best Paperback Original, 2010)

Missing (Best Novel, 2009)

Black Knight in Red Square (Best Paperback Original, 1985)

By Frequent Anguish (Best First Novel, 1983)

The Spy’s Wife (Best Novel, 1981)

 

CWA (UK Crime Writers Association) Award Winners:

      CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Novel:

The Old English Peep Show (aka, A Pride of Heroes), 1969

Skin Deep (aka, The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest), 1968

       CWA John Creasy Award for Best First Novel:

A Very Private Enterprise, 1984

      CWA Ellis Peters Award for Best Historical Novel:

The Innocent Spy (aka, Stratton’s War), 2008

      CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement:

Reginald Hill

Robert Barnard

Peter Lovesey

Julian Symons

Other Awards:

Macavity Award for Best First Novel:

The Killings at Badger’s Drift, 1989

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The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice, by LC Tyler: What Makes This So Special?

The Herring-Seller's Apprentice, by L.C. Tyler

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Specifically, it was a dark and stormy Friday night, which meant I was working at the bookstore, where I’ve been Miss Friday for going on 18 years. I had closed up shop, but was deeply disinclined to venture out into the wet. Why don’t I pick up one of these books that my partner has ordered from England, I thought. I’ll read a chapter or two, and then maybe the rain will have stopped.

By the time I looked up from The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice, it was three in the morning. Oh nuts! I thought, I guess I’m staying the night. In fact, my complaints were purely pro forma: Staying up all night to read through this deliciously silly book in a single sitting was pure bliss. And in fact, it was a very nostalgic kind of bliss: It sent me right back to a time when for me, the right book was better than ice cream, better than cake, better than ice cream WITH cake.

And I’m far from the only member of Team Herring: We published the U.S. edition of The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice, the first in the series featuring Ethelred (a second-rate, sad-sack mystery writer) and Elsie (his superbly irritating agent), in 2009, and it was nominated for an Edgar award for best novel of the year in paperback original (more on Edgar awards in the blog). And the next year, just in case somebody had missed the message, the second book in the series, Ten Little Herrings, was nominated as well. And the year after that, Herring in the Library (that would be Herring #3) won England’s “Last Laugh” award, for the best funny mystery. You could say the books are pretty good.

Truly funny mysteries are very scarce (though sadly, mysteries by authors who think their books are funny, by authors who are trying very hard to be funny, are everywhere). For more from the truly and terrifically funny LC Tyler, please check back in a few weeks, when we’ll be posting our interview with him. For another gloriously funny series starring a lovable loser, try the “Charles Paris” series by Simon Brett (author of the “Blotto and Twinks” books), about an underemployed actor (with an agent who’s even worse than Elsie!). And if the awful Elsie has caught your fancy, you’ll enjoy Matricide at St. Martha’s, by Ruth Dudley Edwards, featuring the formidable (Miss) Jack Troutbeck.

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