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January 21, 2014

Die Laughing

Funny mysteries. They’re really great when they’re good, and they’re tough to do right. Over the years at Partners & Crime I saw an awful lot of books come through that were clearly more amusing to write than they ever would be to read. They had an unmistakable odor of smirking self-indulgence, and wound up leaving me, at least, vaguely irritated. And nope, I’m not naming names.

But there are other names I’m delighted to invoke. Donald E. Westlake, in most of his guises (want to be surprised? Read Don’s “Dortmunder” books, come to view him as a sweet and cuddly fella, and then read the ice-cold The Ax – or, for that matter, any of his quite brilliant and quite un-funny “Parker” novels, written under the penname Richard Stark). Robert Barnard, Caroline Graham, Edmund Crispin, Marissa Peisman, Fidelis Morgan, LC Tyler…all gloriously snarky, and can I tell you how proud I am to publish them? We may not be doing brain surgery here, or healing the Middle East, but we do provide some grade-A, genuine, world-class giggles.

Which brings me to Simon Brett, whose mysteries have been making me snort with laughter since Reagan was in office. I have an old friend, a woman I love, who finds silliness, in its various guises, to be somewhat contemptible. We’ve agreed to disagree, because to me, “silly” is a term of the most sincere appreciation. When I say that the “Blotto and Twinks” books are silly to a stratospheric extent, silly at a level that has somehow transcended the pull of gravity such that the stories go whizzing and bopping around the cosmos like brightly colored balls from some particularly loopy pinball machine…when I say that what I mean is that I love them.

There are other funny mysteries that I love and don’t get to publish. How much would I love to publish Don’s “Dortmunder” series, Sharyn McCrumb’s delicious Bimbos of the Death Sun (now, sadly, with a really boring cover; the earlier one was a lot more fun), or Lawrence Block’s swell “Burglar” books. (The exquisite care that Block lavishes on the funny – the long, detailed scene, for example, that exists in The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza SOLELY to set up the line “good fences make good neighbors” – are a lesson in craft). To be honest, I have never read Lee Goldberg’s My Gun Has Bullets, but the book has one of my all-time favorite titles. Carl Hiaasen’s deliriously wacko novels and William Marshall’s “Yellowthread Street” series are way too violent for our line, but they do offer (blood-spattered) chuckles aplenty.

So there you are, tucked up with your favorite funny mystery, and wheezing with laughter at the latest description of crime. Your beloved gazes at you in some consternation, and you suddenly realize that to Beloved, you look very much like Charles Adams’ “Uncle Fester” – beaming in gruesome delight at some scene that is causing everyone else in the vicinity to shriek in horror.

There are worse things.



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