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January 13, 2015

British v. American: A Ngaio Marsh Dilemma

Publishing mysteries which have already been out in multiple editions often puts us in the position of having to choose between text variances, especially for books, like those in Ngaio Marsh’s “Inspector Alleyn” series, which have been published in both British and American editions. Here is an example: In Ngaio Marsh’s Clutch of Constables (the “Constable” in question being not the policeman you might expect in a mystery novel, but British painter John Constable), Agatha Troy, Inspector Alleyn’s painter wife says:

‘For pity’s sake,’ Troy said, ‘don’t take my word for anything. I’m not an expert. I can’t tell, for instance, how old the actual canvas may be though I do know it’s not contemporary and I do know it’s the way he signed his major works. “John Constable. R.A.f” and the date, 1830, which, I think, was soon after he became an R.A.”

In the British edition, the paragraph continues with Troy’s thoughts on whether the painting under discussion is a copy of an original Constable. The American edition, however, has one of Troy’s interlocutors, an American tourist, interrupt Troy with a question about the significance of the “R.A.f.,” adding a bit of dialogue, including a joke at the expense of the Americans (and how lucky that that most hapless of Brit fiction characters, the American tourist, happened to be present!):

“R.A.?” asked Miss Hewson.
“Royal Academician.”
“Hear that, Earl? What’s the ‘f’ signify, Mrs. Alleyn?”
“Fecit.”
There was a considerable pause.
Fake it!” Miss Hewson said in a strangulated voice. “Did you say ‘fake?’”
Dr. Natouche made a curious little sound in his throat. Mr. Lazenby seemed to choke back some furious ejaculation. Troy, with Caley’s devilish eye upon her, explained. There was a further silence.

Clearly this was written by Ngaio Marsh, probably at the request of American editors who assumed that their audiences wouldn’t know, offhand, what “R.A.f.” stood for (and they couldn’t google it either, in 1969). We had to decide which variant to use and, when it turned out that the staff of Felony & Mayhem, including our Anglophile publisher, were as ignorant of the significance of the Constable signature as poor Miss Hewson, we decided to go with the Little, Brown edition.

Tell us, dear reader, did you know what Troy meant? And would you have gone American, or British?

SKELETON_KEY

January 8, 2015

Past and Future: The Year in Felony & Mayhem and 2015 Preview

When I was in my 20s, I lived for a while in England, a country known for the fact that its motorists insist on driving on the wrong side. Ok, it’s known for other things too, but when it was time to cross the street, the driving-on-the-left thing loomed much larger in my mind than, say, Shakespeare or Jane Austen or the London Blitz. I would stand at the curb (ahem, the “kerb”), frozen in a parody of indecisiveness, my head frantically tacking one way and now the other, as if I were watching a very fascinating ping-pong match. In fact, I was trying to remember which way the cars would be coming from.

It only got worse when I moved back to the U.S., and worse still when I got hit by a car. Looking both ways was apparently a matter of life and death.

Which is not, in fact, why I’m doing it now. (Though I could make an extremely tortured case for the fact that we publish books about, uh, death, and that glancing over those books is therefore a matter of life and…oh, never mind.) I’m doing it because the turn of the year offers the ideal vantage point from which to look at both past and future, ideally with less of the weird pecking motion that I used to employ when crossing streets.

Oddly, the street-crossing metaphor isn’t quite so terrible as it first might seem. If one were looking down at the street – down from, say, a fourth-floor window – the traffic patterns would be clear as day, but down at street-level, they’re tougher to see. Similarly, when we’re in the thick of making the doughnuts, it gets very easy to focus on one task and then another – send out the contract, write the press release, craft the blog post, pick the image for the cover. It becomes almost impossible to maintain a sense of the line-up of books overall.

Which is too bad, because in looking back from this January vantage-point, I think last year’s line-up was pretty swell. We opened with Blotto, Twinks and the Bootlegger’s Moll, the most recent in Simon Brett’s terrifically funny series about a terrifically stupid Duke in the 1920s, sleuthing around with his brilliant sis. It’s PG Wodehouse with clues. Simon Brett has been making me laugh for – good lord – 40 years, since I first discovered his great “Charles Paris” series, and it’s both a delight and a true honor to be his publisher.

Still chuckling, we brought out electronic editions of the four novels in the “Valentine and Lovelace” series by Nathan Aldyne. Many of my favorite mysteries (see, for example, Sarah Rayne, Elizabeth Ironside) straddle time periods, and these do as well…sort of. They are in fact set in a very specific time and place – Boston and environs, in the disco-fabulous early 80s. But they also refer, deliberately and divinely, to the screwball comedies of the 1930s (think “Bringing Up Baby”) and most of all to the “Thin Man” movies starring William Powell and Myrna Low. The cocktails are cold, the quips are flying…it’s a dandy ride.

Funny mysteries have been a feature of our list since the very beginning, but a girl cannot live by snark alone. Sometimes she wants something with a little meat, something to chew on, and The Wrong Man, by Laura Wilson, does the trick and more. I have been proud to publish all the books in this series, in part because it has been such a pleasure watching Ms. Wilson become a better and better writer with each entry. All the books in the “Ted Stratton” series are based on real crimes of the 1940s and 50s, and some of the characters – most notably the brittle society beauty Diana Calthrop – have roots in reality as well; it all serves to provide the series with an unusual weight and complexity. These are NOT guilty pleasures. Read one of these books, and you know you’ve read something. Plus you’ll come away profoundly grateful that you’re not a gorgeous rich blonde in London just after World War II.

Sarah Rayne’s books ARE guilty pleasures, in the best possible way. We are right now working on the cover for the upcoming Death Chamber, and in critiquing our illustrator’s first pass, I realize that the things missing from her design are exactly the things I love best about Sarah’s books: They are incredibly rich, like a room with one carpet lying on top of another, piles of variously patterned cushions, flowered wallpaper, carved panels. And while, in the hands of a less skillful writer, this mélange might suggest self-indulgent sloppiness, Sarah’s writing is in fact exquisitely controlled: Every element has a purpose and a particular meaning. Her books are sensuous and truly scary, but also impeccable. As a reader, you can give yourself over to her storytelling, an increasingly rare luxury.

Of course, one of the F&M hallmarks has, since the git-go, been our focus on reissuing the best of the past. We publish Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham and Edmund Crispin, and also some lesser-known but still loved writers like Elizabeth Daly, whose series is set in the eternally glamorous New York of the 40s and 50s. We’re about to start bringing out another series, set in the same period, but this time on the West Coast: The author, Lenore Glen Offord, was in fact the mystery reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle for 30 years. What I like best about her books is the extent to which they are simultaneously deeply old fashioned and very modern. On the one hand, she wrote very traditionally structured puzzlers, harkening back to a style of storytelling that had been most powerfully in fashion in her mother’s day. But at the same time, her heroines would not have been out of place in the “Charlie-girl” 1970s, striding across the landscape with confidence and self-reliance. In Skeleton Key, we meet Georgine, a widow with a young daughter and a fairly miserable – but desperately needed – job as a typist for an odd professor. She stumbles over the body of the local air-raid warden during a blackout (there’s a war on, remember), and so a series begins. We’re pleased to have a foreword by Sarah Weinman, a writer who specializes in female mystery writers of the 40s and 50s. And we are hugely pleased with the very cool cover, inspired by the covers of the original “Nancy Drew” books from the 1930s.

To wrap things up, let’s come back to funny, if only because we’ve got such a treat coming out in late spring. Crooked Herring is, no question, the wittiest book yet in the Edgar-nominated “Herring” series, about a hapless mystery writer and his superbly awful agent, Elsie. I am ordinarily a dainty and elegant person, but at one point while reading Crooked Herring I snorted so hard with laughter that a small bubble of coffee exited my nose. Did I mention that, in fact, the “Herring” series has been shortlisted for TWO Edgar awards?

There are more books, of course – more books that we published last year, and more to come. Many of them are in long-running series (by Elizabeth Daly, Ngaio Marsh) with which our readers are generally familiar. I think all of them are pretty swell. And I would love, dearly love, to know what you think.

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December 10, 2014

HOLIDAY SALE!

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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jackiemason

December 4, 2014

Philip Marlowe, Not Sam Spade! Philip Marlowe!

In an earlier version of yesterday’s post, Maggie erroneously identified Raymond Chandler’s detective as Sam Spade (gasp!).

That odd thumping noise you hear? That’s the sound of me knocking my head against the wall. Inside my head is…it sounds very much like the voice of Jackie Mason. And it’s saying “Ooooh, look at you, such a mystery expert. Well, mystery expert, remind me, who was it who created Sam Spade? Wait a minute, the name will come to me. Sounds like…dammit. Yeah, sounds just like dammit. Could it maybe be…Dashiell HAMMETT?”

Me (sourly): Ok, ok, so I got it wrong.

Irritating Voice Inside My Head: She got it wrong. The mystery maven got it wrong. Boys and girls, crowd around here, you won’t see this happen very often. Now, dear, what was that again?

Me: I MADE A MISTAKE.

Incredibly Irritating Voice Inside My Head: Once more, a little louder. I want to make sure the people in the cheap seats hear this.

Me: I MADE A MISTAKE I MADE A MISTAKE IT WASN’T RAYMOND CHANDLER OK???? Jeez louise, I was writing really fast, it was late at night…

Voice Inside My Head That’s Going to Get Popped in the Nose: (sotto voce) What’s that thing about the poor workman blames his tools?

Me: I’m. Not. Blaming. My. Tools. (deep breath) My apologies. I stupidly suggested that Raymond Chandler created Sam Spade, when any mystery fan knows I was really thinking of Philip Marlowe. It was a foolish error, and I am thoroughly embarrassed.

Voice: Very nice. That was a nice apology. And it wasn’t so hard, was it? You can have a chocolate cookie.

Me: (fuming silently) (taking a chocolate cookie)

mr-campions-falcon

December 3, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Albert Campion novels by Philip Youngman Carter

Just recently we’ve heard that a long-forgotten work of Raymond Chandler’s has been unearthed, languishing in the dusty stacks of the Library of Congress. But before you get too excited, a few things to note: 1) The literary agent who represents Chandler’s estate is refusing, for the moment at least, to allow the piece to be published; 2) The piece…the piece. The piece is not the second coming of The Big Sleep. It is in fact the libretto for a comic, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style opera called “The Princess and the Pedlar”; 3) You know how Chandler is widely regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) stylists of hard-boiled fiction, famous as much for the quality of his prose as for the creation of Philip Marlowe? “The Princess and the Pedlar” seems unlikely to enhance that reputation. I say this based only on the following lyric, courtesy of the Guardian: “Criminals dyed with the deepest dyes/Hated of all the good and wise, Soaked in crime to the hair and eyes/Very unpleasant are we.” What can I say? Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

I guess he got better as he got older. A whole bunch better.

And yet I will jump on “The Princess and the Pedlar,” if it ever does see the published light of day, and I will meander down some likely-looking mean streets in search of a bootleg copy, and I will do whatever I can to read the thing because.

Because it’s more Chandler. And more Chandler is good, end of story.

And the beginning of the next one, which is not about Chandler at all. It is, however, about someone else who seemed to be done, down for the count, only to bounce back: Albert Campion. That curious, quip-happy gentleman, with a nose for trouble and a knack for getting others out of it.

Margery Allingham, Campion’s creator, died in 1966. Her last Campion novel, Cargo of Eagles, was published two years later, having been completed – at her request – by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter. To have a book come out two years after one’s death! That would seem to be enough immortality for anyone.

But Miss Allingham clearly had enough life-spark for two lives – or perhaps Mr. Campion did. In 1969 a new Campion adventure, Mr Campion’s Farthing, was issued, followed the next year by Mr Campion’s Falcon. Both had been written in their entirety by Youngman Carter, and the New York Times, at least, breathed a sigh of relief: Mr. Campion, they said, was “in excellent hands.”

Were they Allingham hands? No. We could slap “Just as good as when the Missus wrote’em!” on the front covers, in the hope of pulling in a few gullible punters, but we don’t lie to you. However, they are jolly good reads, in the fine Campion tradition. And as with Mr. Chandler, more Campion is good, end of story.

More Campion on sale? That may be an even better story. This week, 25% off Albert (we’ll throw in Rupert Campion, Albert’s sleuthing sprog, for free).

And no, they are not Margery (though we can say, with some reasonable assurance, I think, that they are also not “The Princess and the Pedlar”). But how can you possibly resist Albert Campion in the Age of Disco???

Add Mr. Campion’s Farthing to Stack

Add Mr. Campion’s Falcon to Stack

EbooksX

November 24, 2014

Those pesky Kindle files: A Guide to Downloading Kindle Ebooks

Getting your files to open in a Kindle, if you didn’t purchase them directly on the Kindle from Amazon, is not the most intuitive of processes, so here is a step-by-step guide (the short version of this is: you need to make sure to move the file into your Kindle “documents” folder before it will open).

There are two ways to get your Kindle files onto your Kindle: You may email them to your Kindle email, or transfer them via USB cable from your computer to your Kindle.
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The Faces of Angels, by Lucretia Grindle

Thanksgiving Week Ebook Sale!

It’s Thanksgiving week, a week of heavy travel, and lots (and lots!) of family time. Here at Felony & Mayhem we hold the opinion that nothing helps a person get through long flights, weather cancellations, and that post-Thanksgiving slump like a good book. And if you make it an ebook, well, then you can take as many with you as your heart desires. So this week, we’re offering a serious ebook sale: each title in our ebook catalog for just $4.99. Go ahead, read the entire Julian Kestrel series, it’s a long weekend!

Here are some highlights from the backlist: Caroline Graham’s “Inspector Barnaby” series, as well as her very funny stand-alone parody of a country house mystery, Murder at Madingley Grange; Bob Cook’s Paper Chase and Disorderly Elements, two underrated espionage capers that never take themselves too seriously; Sarah Rayne’s chilling trio of psychological suspense novels (deliciously long too; now here are some books to get lost in!); the genteel yet felonious world of Elizabeth Daly’s 1940s New York; Maggie Joel’s The Past and Other Lies, with a family at its center that will make your family seem utterly angelic, no matter their shortcomings! And, of course, get to know Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn, from Enter a Murderer to Singing in the Shrouds.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Vermillion

November 10, 2014

Felonies of the Week: The Valentine and Lovelace series, by Nathan Aldyne

So here I am, still in the hospital, and still wedded to my habit of reading only books I have read (and loved) before. But for the moment, I have strayed from the F&M line-up, and am happily wallowing in A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s marvelous tale of his attempts – successful and otherwise – to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m a city girl, born and bred, so the Nature Stuff is, frankly, of limited interest to me. What I love about this book, what keeps me reading it again and again, is the relationship between Bryson – middle-aged, with a gut and a wheeze and a taste for niceties like flush toilets, and his pal Katz, who makes Bryson look svelte and fit and low-maintenance. Katz, whose idea of how to pack for an epic journey in the wildness involves many cartons of Little Debbie snack cakes. Katz, who essentially defines the term “pain in the butt.” Katz, who has known Bryson since the two of them represented the entire teenage Bad Element of the state of Iowa, and who therefore represents both a kind and a degree of friendship that cannot be gainsaid by any amount of stupid packing, irritating behavior, or flatulence. I love many things about this book, but most of all I love its hymn to friendship – a relationship that fiction too often overlooks, I think, in favor of the glamor of romance and the meatiness of the parent-child bond.

Sadly, we can’t offer a discount on Mr. Bryon’s work, but the thought did send me looking through our list, to see what we have to say about friendship. I thought first about Anna Blundy’s sharp punch of a story, The Bad News Bible, in that the death of one friend sends another on a quest. It’s a wonderful book – and in fact, I can’t wait to reread it – but in honor of Katz, I wanted something where the friendship is a living thing. So the Valentine and Lovelace series it is, because as many of your female friends will tell you, great friendships don’t get a whole lot greater than those between straight women and their gay best friends. Michael McDowell, who wrote the series with his friend Dennis Schuetz, very consciously based it on the “Thin Man” moves starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. The books are set in Boston and environs in the early 1980s, but they nevertheless do a tremendous job of channeling that glorious “Thin Man” ethos where the wit sparkles as deliciously as the champagne, the martinis are cold, the music is hot, and one solves crimes because really, darling, one can only drive around in fabulous cars so many hours of the day. True, the protagonists of “The Thin Man” are married, but it’s a very swanky, sexless sort of marriage – and very much like the swanky, sexless friendship between Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace, both of whom would look great in satin piped pajamas. It’s a massive stretch, I know, from Clarisse and Valentine (much less from Powell and Loy) to Bryson and Katz…but it isn’t really. Because the thing about friendship is, it may take many different shapes, may be giddy or reserved or centered around burping contests, but at bottom, if it’s there…it’s there. Robert Frost famously said that home is where, when you go there, they have take you in. I’d suggest that a friend is who, when you call them, they come out – in a snowstorm, at 4 in the morning, kvetching all the way – and drive you there. This week only, 25% off on all four of the delightful Valentine and Lovelace books, and in the hope that you all have at least one such good friend. And if I may, it comes complete with a shout-out to the wonderful friends of mine who kept me such good company while I’ve been laid up. I’m a lucky woman.

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