Last summer, Opus publisher Glenn Young went to London to meet with Faber & Faber, which releases many of Opus’s titles in the U.K. While he was there, Faber editor Walter Donohue mentioned that U.S. rights to thriller writer Sam Eastland’s Inspector Pekkala novels (which Faber also publishes in the U.K.) were about to lapse with Bantam. The tip prompted Young—the founder and publisher of Applause Books, who launched Opus in 2012—to quickly familiarize himself with the series. “I missed a performance of Othello at the National [Theater] that night to finish two of the novels in the series,” he said. The next morning, “groggy but exhilarated,” Young called Faber to make “the first of several offers.”
He was thrilled to secure rights to three titles in the series—which centers on the eponymous Inspector Pekkala, a police investigator in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era—that pick up where the three books published by Bantam leave off. But, as Young put it, a “greater boon” awaited him; during the acquisitions process, he learned that Eastland is, in fact, a nom de plume of American literary novelist and memoirist Paul Watkins. (Eastland is described in his author bio as “the grandson of a London police detective who served in Scotland Yard’s famous Ghost Squad during the 1940s”—a detail pulled from Watkins’s own life). Watkins’s first novel, Night Over Day Over Night, was published in 1988 by Knopf, when the author was 23 years old, and his most recent novel, The Ice Soldier, was published by Henry Holt in 2005. In 2012, Bantam released Archive 17, the last of its three Pekkala books, and at present it still retains the rights to those titles.
“When a writer tries on an entirely new voice, he wants to do that with the freedom of anonymity,” Young acknowledged. But back in New York, at his first lunch with Watkins, the publisher advised the author that, at this point, “many Watkins followers would [be pleased to] discover there is a burgeoning series waiting for them under a pseudonym.” Watkins agreed, and Opus’s The Beast in the Red Forest, due out in August 2014, will be the first publication in which Sam Eastland and Paul Watkins share a byline.
“I had fallen in love with this new pleasure of flying under the radar and, in one of the great ironies of my career, the fake me soon began outselling the real me by a considerable margin,” writes Watkins in his foreword to The Beast in the Red Forest. Despite his alter ego’s success, the author decided it was “time to take off the mask—however comfortable it has become.”
The book follows an American protagonist who seeks asylum in Stalin’s “worker’s paradise.” It’s the fifth installment in the series, though it will be released ahead of The Red Moth, the fourth Pekkala book (due out in September 2015). Young elected to publish the Opus edition of The Beast in the Red Forest before The Red Moth—out of series order—in part to catch up with Faber’s calendar in the U.K., but also because he felt that a narrative featuring an American character would be fitting for relaunching the Pekkala series stateside. The sixth book in the series is complete but untitled; it’s slated for a fall 2016 release.