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October 22, 2014

Getting the Cover Right: In the Spider’s House

Sometimes a cover comes together in a snap: A concept emerges right away, or you find just the right image, or you are working with someone like Eduardo Recife, who can come up with the perfect yet unexpected cover on the spot.

And then other times, as was the case with the cover for Sarah Diamond’s In the Spider’s House (due out next year) it’s endless iterations where nothing seems quite right.

We started here, with variations on the original British edition:

Then we came up with the idea of having the protagonist look in the mirror and see the child whose story she is becoming obsessed with.

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Unsatisfied, we veered in a completely different direction:

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And even went sort of horror:

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From this latest version we ended up preserving the spidery font, which is in fact an Eduardo Recife designed font called “disgusting behavior” (love that name!).

But we still wanted the cover to convey something of the doubling of writer and research subject, the sense of increasing identification between the two, and so we kept coming back to the mirror and the little girl reflected there. Somewhere in the process we came back to the idea of a split cover, with the lower and upper halves (above and below the author band) being different images, and the lower image stuck, but we were still not happy with the upper image.

And then we realized we had to make the little girl a little less angelic, to depart from the physical description provided in the novel. And there we were.

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What do you think?

Death of a Dormouse, by Reginald Hill

October 20, 2014

Felony of the Week: 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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A Chill Rain in January, by L.R. Wright

October 14, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Two Titles by LR 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.”

Enjoy.

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The Rainaldi Quartet, by Paul Adam

September 22, 2014

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

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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Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

September 9, 2014

Felony of the Week: Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

I was visiting some friends over Labor Day weekend, and they have a marvelous set-up that allows them to stream music from their computers over speakers in various rooms of the house. Offered for our listening pleasure was the “Harry Belafonte” station on Pandora, which didn’t seem to have a massive amount to do with Mr. Belafonte, but was a line-up of pretty much everything I want to hear. We segued from “Mambo Italiano” to “The Way You Look Tonight” to “Sing Sing Sing” to “The Sloop John B” to “Jamaica Farewell,” and my but I was a happy woman.

I feel almost as sorry for people who don’t love music as I do for people who don’t love books. What an enormous amount of joy they’re missing out on! A natural-born glutton, I like as much pleasure on my plate as possible, so though I don’t like to read while music’s playing – the two experiences cancel each other out – I love to play music in my head as I read, bopping along to the soundtrack that, in my imagination, animates the plot. Readers of our blog know that we often create “playlists” for our books, offering our take on the music that the characters might hear on the radio or sing around the piano.

We’re hardly alone in this endeavor: George Pelecanos, for instance, has gone so far as to include CDs with some of his mystery novels. And F&M’s own Sarah Rayne has talked at length about the extent to which music is a silent player in many of her gorgeously spooky reads: Ghost Song, which revolves around an abandoned London music hall, is practically hummable.

The book of ours that is most thickly laced with music, though, is Arabesk, the third in Barbara Nadel’s atmospheric series set in contemporary Istanbul. In a musical context, “Arabesk” refers to a genre that is passionate, massively popular, massively overwrought and somewhat déclassé: It’s like an entire radio station that plays nothing but Mariah Carey. One of the main characters is obsessed with Arabesk’s throbbing chords and aching melodies; they make him feel alive to his own feelings in a way that gives him great pity (and contempt) for the higher-class Inspector Suleyman, with his elite musical tastes.

You may not love Arabesk music – I don’t – but I do love the book, and the music enriches it to an extraordinary extent. Trust me, if you’re a music lover, take a chance on Arabesk, on sale this week at 25% off. And before you dive in, give a listen to Ibrahim Tatlises, one of the giants of the genre:

There’s an aphorism I once heard, something to the effect that “They deny it, but in their hearts men love fat women, sweet wine, and the music of Tchaikovsky.” I suspect that the Turkish version would substitute Arabesk. Spend a little while with Ibrahim – or with Ferdi Tayfur

or Sibel Can

and see if you don’t find yourself yearning, just a little, for an ice-cold bottle of Blue Nun.

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September 8, 2014

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

Can it be? Has science actually produced an answer to one of the most enduring, captivating mysteries of the past two hundred years? If in fact DNA analysis has succeeded in proving the Ripper’s identity – after more than a century of Holmes-style deduction has failed – it is at least gratifying to know that the perp was on Scotland Yard’s short list. The good guys, in other words, were on the right track.

There will of course be scores of Ripper-enthusiasts, known as “Ripperologists,” who will not be pleased by this latest development: They have their pet theories, and will no doubt make a fair amount of noise in defense of their own, hand-picked suspects. We would expect novelist Patricia Cornwell to be among the most eloquent of noise-makers: Her 2002 work of non-fiction, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed pointed the bloody finger at Walter Sickert, a well regarded, influential artist known in part for his paintings of prostitutes. That’s ok, Patsy: We still love Kay Scarpetta.

Science does appear, here, to have trumped the little grey cells, but in reading the article in the Daily Mail – a newspaper that does love the gory details – my favorite gory details concern not the DNA analysis but that bloody bloody shawl. First, the copper took this grisly, bloodstained shmatte home as a present for his wife? Thanks awfully, but you never heard of flowers and chocolates? Second, the family shoved the thing in a drawer without washing it and kept it in all its yucky, stained nastiness for generations – sufficiently convinced of its importance to hold onto it, apparently (and hold onto those stains as well), but somehow not sufficiently convinced to, say, bring it in to the local police station: “I dunno if anyone’d be interested, like, but this shawl, see, it got soaked in the Ripper victim’s blood…” I mean, really, has nobody in that family ever seen “Cold Case” or “Crimesolvers”?

And finally, still on the shawl, I desperately want the name of their dry-cleaner. That thing looks pristine. A hundred-plus years stuffed in a drawer, stiffening with arterial blood and semen and kidney cells, nibbled by the kind of critter for whom that sort of glerp makes the ideal snack, and look at it now! They even ironed it. Leave aside the provenance, and you’d pay $200 for it at Bloomingdale’s.

Or would you? Are you a Ripperologist? What do you think of this latest twist in one of our favorite never-solved whodunnits?

Unorthodox Practices, by Marissa Piesman

August 25, 2014

Felonies of the Week: The “Nina Fischman” series, by Marissa Piesman

I recently read an article in the Guardian about what kind of stuff AirBnB clients tend to stow in their hosts’ refrigerators. (Can you tell I was trying to avoid working?) Scandinavians need pickles, apparently, to feel at home, while Germans opt for liver sausage and the French require nothing but champagne. The article didn’t mention American guests, but based both on its level of stereotyping and Guardian readers’ assumptions about U.S. eating habits, I’m going to guess that we stand accused of hauling industrial-size containers of high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, and bad coffee across the Atlantic, and then griping about how little space there is for them in the tiny fridge.

As is usually the case with this sort of (non)article, the comments section proved a livelier read. Guardian readers are nothing if not contentious, so there was one contingent that wanted to talk about how AirBnB and related offerings put millions of hotel-employees out of work, and another group that was all high-dudgeon-y about the pathetic traveler who is so wimpishly attached to the foods of his homeland that he can’t stand to be separated from his pickles and liver sausage.

In truth, though, neither the article nor the response held much of interest, no stories about guests who brought in really bizarre foodstuffs, or ate the host’s child’s science project, or created Babette’s Feast and then decamped without cleaning up. But I have rented flats (through AirBnB and other facilities) a number of times. For years I traveled with a bag of fresh-ground coffee, because I am a screaming java-snob and so many places specialized in ancient tins of Maxwell House. Other than that, I have never brought edibles along.

But I have found some.

They have ranged from lovely to mysteriously awful. A previous guest at a flat in London left a mayonnaise jar filled with something that wasn’t mayonnaise, along with a box of PG Tips teabags pasted with a yellow sticky note on which was scrawled “KEEP YOUR CRAP TEA!” I arrived at a B&B in Provincetown to find a box of chocolates next to the bed, which would have been charming except that several of the chocolates had very clearly been nibbled and put back. On the other hand, my delightful landladies in Boston left me a cheese-plate in the fridge, along with two chocolate croissants for breakfast. The best find, though, was at a second flat in London. There was no food in the fridge, but on a little bookshelf, next to the TV set, was a small stack of books. THREE of them were Felony books, bound together with a rubber band. And tucked under the band was a note reading “Great fun. I hope the next reader enjoys them as much as I did.”

In honor of our wonderful, anonymous fan, we’d like to offer a special deal this week on the books she liked so much: 25% off on Marissa Piesman’s deliciously giggly series featuring Nice Jewish Girl Nina Fischman, and Nina’s mother, Ida – who would kvetch mightily about the billing. Are you taking a little break for Labor Day? Anonymous Reader would tell you: Vacation reading doesn’t get much better than Unorthodox Practices, Personal Effects, and Heading Uptown.

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August 15, 2014

The Book that Changed Your Life

This post was inspired by the wonderful Colin Dexter (author of the “Inspector Morse” series), who wrote recently on a book that changed him.

It’s a terrific topic, though as Dickens Death Scenes go, my floodgates open widest for Smike in Nicholas Nickleby. (I am swayed, in truth, by the play: David Thewlis, as Smike, gave one of the most vivid, harrowing performances I’ve ever seen. It’s on Youtube, but make sure you opt for the Royal Shakespeare Company production.)

If I had to pick the Dickens novel that made the biggest impression on me, though, the nod would go to Our Mutual Friend. Which I’ve never read. I was in college, taking the first of what I imagined would be four years of English classes, but I couldn’t get through the damn thing. This was particularly odd because I had read almost all of Dickens before I was 15: My parents had a handsome set in the living-room bookshelf – tooled leather bindings, lovely yellowing pages, that wonderful Old Book smell – and I spent endless hot, airless summer afternoons greedily reading my way through them. But the minute the book turned from a joy into a requirement, the minute I was expected to spit out lists of themes, analyses of social commentary, papers on “The Role of the River in Dickens’ London”…I became unable to read it. And I suddenly realized, with a certainty that I had rarely experienced, that English classes would ruin reading for me. I dropped that one, faked my way through another on Ibsen, Chekhov, and Strindberg, and ran like a refugee into the sheltering arms of the Sociology department. PHEW. Dodged that bullet.

Our Mutual Friend, then, directly influenced my course of study. But when it comes to books that influenced my course of thought…two occur to me: The Naked Hamlet, by Joseph Papp; and Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie. The first was another of the books that was knocking around my parents’ living room. It was a published version of the production handbook that Papp kept while creating his groundbreaking (and critically reviled) production of Hamlet, in 1967, starring Martin Sheen. At the time, of course, it was both fashionable and important to question, rip apart, and (maybe) reassemble anything considered iconic. Much of the time, this “deconstruction” was conducted with little more than blunt instruments and a sense of anarchic release, but Papp was meticulous; no detail was too small to be considered, tried, weighed, analyzed. By the time I got ahold of the book, in about 1974, the production was long gone, but this was the first time I had been given access to the process of creating art – to the process of creating anything, really – and it was intoxicating. It told me what I wanted to do. I wanted to create.

I was quite a bit older by the time I landed on Foreign Affairs. Lurie won the Pulitzer for it in 1985, so I would have been in my mid-20s, mired in a depressing, insufficiently successful acting career, and with any number of affairs under my own belt. The affairs were, in their way, rather more depressing than the acting career, because I cared so much less about them. I knew they were supposed to matter, one way or another, but…they didn’t. And I felt rather clueless as to what I was meant to be feeling. There were plenty of books and magazines on hand to teach me about young love, but none of the lessons really resonated.

The one that did, at last, was about people well into middle age. Even more astonishing, they were not particularly attractive. Vinnie Miner is a short, stumpy academic, with a case of self-absorbed resentment so well developed that she imagines it as a grubby, inconvenient dog that insists on following her around. Chuck, a lumbering Midwesterner down on his luck, with vulgar vowels and an even uglier raincoat, is the fool who loves Vinnie. The hallmark of his foolishness is that he somehow fails to see how small she is, insisting on seeing her as bigger-hearted, braver, better than she is. And because he loves her, she becomes the person he believes her to be.

I reread Foreign Affairs every five years or so. It makes me cry and reaffirms my faith in the possibility of change.

What books have changed you?