This spring, when Grove/Atlantic was in San Francisco to introduce its latest hope for a bestseller, Frances Itani's Deafening, it was the publisher's plan to bring bestselling mystery writer Donna Leon back into publication in her native America that literally made booksellers gasp. It's exactly the response publisher Morgan Entrekin had hoped for when he made a deal with Leon just before the London Book Fair in March.
Now Grove is sponsoring a bookseller and librarian contest to promote its September hardcover release of Leon's Uniform Justice and the simultaneous release of her A Noble Radiance as a Penguin paperback. The lucky winners will fly to Venice, Italy, where Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series is set.
The contest is open to all full-time (15 hours or more a week) employees of a bookstore or library. Participants must answer three questions: Who is Commissario Brunetti's superior? How many children do Guido and Paola have? What is the last name of the Vice-Questore's secretary? Entries may be sent to Grove/Atlantic Inc., attn: Sales Department, 841 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10003 or via an on-line entry form at www.donnaleon.net or www.groveatlantic.com. Submissions must be in by September 30.
Why a bookseller/librarian contest? It's only fair, it seems, since it was a bookseller who first brought Leon's appeal to Entrekin's attention. A few years ago, the publisher found himself in the back of Olson's in Washington, D.C., watching a bookseller unpack imports of Leon's books, only to immediately repack them and ship them out to customers. "He said to me, 'These people who start reading her just can't get enough of her,' " Entrekin told PW. "I am convinced that if we can get people to read Donna, then they will come back to the series."
Though she's very popular in Europe, Leon hasn't been published in the U.S. since 1996. Leon, an American who moved permanently to Italy in 1981, told PW, "I think the success of my books in various European countries has prodded American readers to be curious." Before Grove stepped in, fans had to find mystery bookshops that could special-order U.K. import titles. PW's starred review of Uniform Justice (Forecasts, Aug. 4) noted, "European reviewers consistently put Leon in the same class as Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith and American critics should start doing the same."
Uniform Justice is Leon's latest and 12th novel featuring Brunetti; A Nobel Radiance is the seventh book in the series. "We plan on catching up with the U.K. publisher by publishing her remaining novels one every six months, until we get her completely back in print in the U.S.," Grove/Atlantic associate publisher Eric Price told PW. "We should quickly be back on schedule with the U.K. publisher so that all new titles after Uniform Justice will be published simultaneously here in the States."
Booksellers PW spoke with couldn't be more thrilled—with both the contest and the prospect of having Donna Leon back on their bookshelves in hardcover at a $19.95 price point.
"We have fans that just love her and are willing to pay $40—$45 for the imports," observed Ed Kaufman, owner of M Is for Mystery in San Mateo, Calif. At Murder by the Book in Houston, Tex., a bookseller told PW that the staff had been waiting for an American publisher to bring Leon back to these shores. "She's somebody we've always sold really, really well," said the store's senior manager Dean James. "With the right kind of strategy behind it, Leon's books will do quite well."
Barbara Peters at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Ariz., has already entered the contest. She told PW that part of Leon's appeal with her customers is that her characters are not "cookie-cutter" and that she tackles some pretty big social issues, having explored Italian anti-immigrant sentiments, political corruption and even the secret Catholic organization Opus Dei. In Uniform Justice, which opens with an apparent suicide in a military school, Leon goes after the armed services.
"She is going to attract a readership that is interested in Venice and social issues and not just entertainment," Peters explained, adding that the books are also entertaining. "Uniform Justice does have an edge to it," she said, "and not a particularly American resolution. It leaves you hanging." And, hopefully for Grove, it leaves readers wanting more Leon.