Welcome reminders of the mystery genre's strengths are the surprising number of responses PW received from smaller houses informing us about their new and forthcoming releases. What follows is just a sampling.
A familiar name in New York book circles is that of Walter Meade, publishing his first novel, Unspeakable Acts, with Upstart Press of New York City. President and editor-in-chief of Avon Books for 10 years, Meade, now living in Florida, uses his middle name for his byline: Walker Meade. "Walker's mystery is our fourth book," says publisher Paul Harris. "I have a home in Florida, too, and we met there as members of a reading group. We're publishing Unspeakable Acts on September 20, his 70th birthday." The plot has to do with a conscientious doctor returning to his hometown in Indiana after stints at a medical mission in Nicaragua and in a metropolitan hospital's ER. He encounters an evil that plunges him into a moral dilemma concerning drugs. "I couldn't put this book down," says Harris. "It's a rather literary mystery novel telling what it's like to live in smalltown America. We've already had some film interest. David Brown [producer of The Sting, Chocolat, etc.] is gung ho about it." Brown supplied a blurb that called Meade's debut "riveting" and concluded, "Read it and sacrifice your sleep."
"Ice Hunter [by Joseph Heywood] is a major step in our diversification into the fiction market," says Tony Lyons, publisher of Lyons Press. It's the launch, he explains, of "a series of Woods Cop mysteries that will take readers into the dangerous lives of conservation officers in Michigan and around the world." Last year, Heywood's The Snowfly introduced conservation officer Grady Service, whose job confronts him with such nefarious doings as drug dealing, domestic disputes and animal poaching. That book was so well received—PW's starred review called it "sparkling" and "engrossing" (Forecasts, Aug. 7, 2000)—that the publisher decided to continue Service's adventures. Ice Hunter, released this past July, officially launched the new series; PW termed it "a standout" (Forecasts, June 4, 2001). Promised for later this year, Silent Rage is the third book in a series by Lee Meadows about Lincoln Keller, an African-American PI in Detroit. It follows Silent Conspiracy (1997) and Silent Suspicion (2000), successes for Proctor Publications, of Ann Arbor, Mich. "Silent Conspiracy was the first bestseller for our small company," says chairman Hazel Proctor. "Lee writes with an urban appeal and a mainstream focus, and is an enthusiastic promoter of the mystery genre." Meadows does a great deal of getting the word out on his own, adds Proctor, which pays a significant dividend for a small house. "For a year, I had a show on a public cable station in Ann Arbor to promote writers in the area," says Meadows, whose air presence also helped advance his own work. "I'm always out pounding the pavement, meeting with reviewers and making contact with local bookstores."
Another new series is the handiwork of Julie Wray Herman, who has a real knack for titles. Three Dirty Women and the Garden of Death, the first entry, was published in April 2000 by Silver Dagger Mysteries, an imprint of Overmountain Press. Last May brought Three Dirty Women and the Bitter Brew. The eponymous heroines are not the bawdy type one might expect—the "dirt" in question comes from their work as landscape gardeners. "Julie really writes her characters well," says managing editor Elizabeth Wright. "She writes to her audience about the people they know, smalltown people, their neighbors." Like Lee Meadows at Proctor, Herman is a prodigious promoter. Says Wright, "Julie always makes herself available to build on her name recognition. That's important to us because we don't have a $125,000 marketing budget."
Mary Branham devised a novel approach for her string of mysteries, says James Clois Smith Jr., publisher of Sunstone Press. Released last January, Three Deadly Days in Spain followed Little Green Man in Ireland and Big Black Dog in Vallarta. "She calls them 'airplane trip' books," says Smith. The jacket copy on Big Black Dog explains: "Having bought numerous thick books at airport shops and left them on the plane unfinished, she determined to write a series that could be enjoyed on a flight of reasonable length." Ranging from 96 to 128 pages, the books are priced from $18.95 to $26.95. "The author is a traveler," says Smith, "and wherever she goes, she tries to think of a plot dealing with that location." The tales' savvy protagonist is Sydney Reardon, a former London actress and New York City decorator who relocates to Santa Fe, N.Mex., which happens to be where both Sunstone and Branham are based.
Air travel, or rather the dangers it entails, provides the drama in Tracon (Terminal Radar Approach Control) by Paul McElroy. His publishing house, Japphire, in Newcastle, Wash., cofounded with Amy Falen (his wife and the company's marketing director), released the book in mass market in August 2000 and in hardcover last month. According to PW, "McElroy's fascinating, frightening saga of the events surrounding a midair collision is being reissued in a 'Commemorative Edition' in hardcover to mark the 20th anniversary of the disastrous Professional Air Traffic Controllers' strike. This is great page-turning fun—with the added punch of social and economic importance" (Forecasts, July 2). In McElroy's words, "Tracon takes the reader behind the scenes of what it's like to be an air traffic controller." Japphire has sold over 10,000 copies of the mass market edition and is preparing to go back to press with a second printing of the hardcover after exhausting the first thousand.
The 50th anniversary of Nevada's first atomic bomb test is not coincidental to the publication of Downwinders: An Atomic Tale by Curtis Oberhansly and Diane Nelson Oberhansly. "We established Black Ledge Press [of Salt Lake City] to publish this and another mystery we're working on," says Curtis. Downwinders, a cautionary tale of the perils of radioactive fallout, is a docudrama, he says. "About 25% of the book is set in the 1950s. We did a lot of research." Adds Diane, "We added the mystery elements to put the plot in motion." The plot involves a Utah rancher, his niece and an attorney who helps in the rancher's defense after the murder of the scientist who managed the Nevada Test Site during the '50s and '60s. It also exposes the lies told to the public by the U.S. government conducting experiments that resulted in a variety of cancers in the citizens who lived downwind. Downwinders was named a Book Sense 76 Pick for July/August.
Calculated Risk by Denise Tiller was published last year by Timberwolf Press, says v-p Jim Cline, and the Allen, Tex., house is looking ahead to Tiller's not-yet-finished Calculated Revenge. "She writes in a fast-moving, breathless style," says Cline. "Her story offers a lot of entertainment." In Calculated Risk, Newport Beach, Calif., actuary Liz Matthews comes face to face with rape, murder and the shocking reappearance of her mother. At least in part, Tiller seems to have followed the adage of writing what you know. "Denise is an actuary herself," says Cline. "She and her husband have written the leading textbook on the subject: Life, Health and Annuity Reinsurance."
With titles like Bad Girls, Psi Cops, Tequila Sunrise and Deadly Campaign, it's no surprise that Michael Bracken's mystery fiction is of the tougher-minded sort—a backstreet traveled once more by All White Girls, which Wildside Press in Gillette, N.J., published in August. "Michael's writing is what makes him stand out from the crowd," says publisher John Betancourt. "His mysteries are noirish, hard-boiled; they take a look at the seedy side of things." The description of All White Girls lays everything out: "One young woman is missing. Another is dead. They were drawn to the Windy City like moths to a flame, but the city's bright lights can't illuminate every dark corner."