On crime fiction and true crime, current and long-ago releases, stuff I'm working on, and other related things.

The Crime Lady V2, #7: You Can't Like Everything (But Mostly, You Can)

Dear TCL Readers,

Two weeks into 2019 and things are already weird and strange. I’m adjusting to full-time writer life, which, truth be told, isn’t that much different than full-time freelancer life or book-leave life, but still feels psychologically distinct. I’ve jumped off a cliff, and even though I’ve let go of the metaphorical parachute to a safe landing, it’s hardly guaranteed I’ll end up where I think I will end up. Thank god for deadlines, of which I have plenty, for the new book, for longform projects, and other short pieces.

This week my immediate attention is on two events: first, at McNally Jackson on Wednesday, January 16, where I’ll be in conversation with Amy Gentry about her standout sophomore suspense novel Last Woman Standing. (I reread it over the weekend and it was as audacious and humane and twist-laden as I remembered, and also, unfortunately, as timely as ever.) Then the following morning, on January 17, I’m giving a talk about The Real Lolita at the JCC Mid-Westchster in Scarsdale . (Details here.)

Book-related travel picks back up again in February, but as many of these events aren’t ready to be announced yet, stay tuned in future dispatches.

**

My latest CrimeReads column went up at the beginning of the month, and it’s all about David Maurer, the University of Kentucky professor who made it his mission to chronicle the peculiar speech rhythms and argot of criminal subcultures. (That’s him with one of his beloved pet Airedales from a 1960 Louisville Courier-Journal profile.) He’s best known for The Big Con (1940), which when I read it last year seemed like a secret skeleton key not only to contemporary crime fiction, but American culture (specifically, the importance of the grift to the maintenance of American culture), but aside from Luc Sante’s introduction to the 1999 reissue, there wasn’t all that much about Maurer online — something that I knew, with judicious research, I could fix. My column is, I believe, the most comprehensive biographical sketch of Maurer available to the general public, and I’d love for there to be a full-scale biography of him someday.

**

Monday’s print edition of the Washington Post includes a piece of mine that is most atypical for me: a negative review. I generally subscribe to the belief that with books, it is better to say nothing at all rather than say something not nice, unless there is some larger purpose behind the negativity. I also believe that if you must pan a book, you have to put yourself on the line as much, if not more, than the author did. Because, having reviewed books for more than a decade and a half, and also now the author of a book that garnered praise and pans, I know how subjective reviews are. You bring your own sensibility, your own biases, your own ground axes, mix everything, and season to taste. Your taste. No one else’s.

But Leila Slimani’s debut novel Adele — which preceded her international hit The Perfect Nanny, a novel I quite liked — was the exception to all my rules. I’d been asked to blurb it, and decided not to, and keep my mouth shut. Then the Post came calling, and just when I was about to decline I began to write my editor, Nora Krug, the following email: “It’s funny, I was sent an ARC of that book for blurb purposes and I disliked it so much I decided not to say anything about it! So I think reviewing it might count as a conflict, but at the same time, it may be worth articulating why it doesn’t work for the general public, so I shall leave it for you all to decide. Does that make sense?”

Krug not only did not think this was a conflict, but thought it would benefit readers to understand this bit of publishing inside-baseball, and then get into the gist of why the novel didn’t work. I think I wrote the opening portion of the review within a half-hour of our email exchange, then put it away for a couple of weeks, before finishing the piece up in a similar inspired burst.

Now it’s up for people to assess or ignore, criticize or praise as they see fit. I’m sure others will like Adele a lot more than I did, and that’s fine — just as it’s fine when people criticize books I love, as it helps me articulate all the better why I loved the book. (Case in point: Parul Sehgal’s critical take on Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This, a collection I found uneven, but enjoyed.) But I think I’ll steer clear from pans for a good long while.

**

The irony is that most of my reading in January has been related to the new project or books for possible blurbing, so I’m loath to discuss them now. But I did want to start 2019 off on a contemplative yet active note, and so I picked up Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which was one of the clearest-eyed, thoughtful books on how pervasive, and pernicious, white supremacy is in society, America in particular, and one I recommend so long as you’re willing to go into it with an open mind and heart, and a willingness to see your own faults and do the work. Which, I grant, is difficult. Reading it made me very uncomfortable. But comfortable is how we got into so much trouble, and living within, and breaking through, the discomfort is how we may yet get out of trouble.

And so far, 2019 in crime is shaping up to be a very strong year. Some of my favorite reads to date, aside from Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing, include:

  • Lyndsay Faye, The Paragon Hotel

  • Maureen Johnson, The Vanishing Stair (I did not know she would thank me in the acknowledgements of the book, nor that Johnson would shout out my book in a recent interview, by the way!)

  • Stephen Mack Jones, Lives Laid Away

  • Lauren Wilkinson, American Spy (February)

  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing (February)

  • Kyle Swenson, Good Kids, Bad City (February)

  • William Boyle, A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself (March)

  • Anna Merlan, Republic of Lies (April) — yes, it’s really about conspiracy theories, but that counts as criminal in far too many instances

My most-anticipated crime nonfiction books are Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (May), Josh Levin’s The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth (May) and Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession (August). As for fiction, I will be most curious to read Denise Mina’s Conviction (June) and Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back (July) in tandem to get at the true crime podcast element in both; Kate Atkinson’s bringing back Jackson Brodie in Big Sky; Laura Lippman and Alafair Burke are automatic buys; and Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek (April) is the debut I most have my eye on.

Here’s to a healthy and productive January, and I’ll be back next month. This newsletter is free, but the next will go out to paid subscribers only, so if you’re inclined to kick in a few bucks a month or pay an annual fee for exclusive TCL content, please do switch over your subscriptions.

Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady V2, #6: The Year That Was, The Year That Will Be

Dear TCL Readers,

As 2018 draws to a close, I can make one promise for 2019: I’ll be sending more newsletters, and at a reasonably regular (if still occasional) pace, than I did this year. It did get a little busy: The Real Lolita, its publication and book tour, occupied most of my waking moments. And truth be told, it was a lot easier, and lazier, to tweet or post photos on Instagram than get into a regular posting rhythm here. But not only will it be less sporadic, I’m cooking up some original content that would be newsletter-exclusive, which means The Crime Lady’s going paid (sometimes.) I’ll have more details on how that will work after the New Year.

Summing up things since the last newsletter:

  • Harlan Coben recommended The Real Lolita on the TODAY Show, an honor I will never get over, and Esi Edugyan recommended it in the New York Times, another honor I won’t get over. The book also featured on best-of lists from the Washington Post, NPR, Vulture, the National Post (which counted it among the 10 best of the year), BuzzFeed, CBC Books, and CrimeReads.

  • BuzzFeed also asked me to pick my own favorite crime books of 2018, and I obliged.

  • Published a few more pieces, including an essay on Tana French’s new novel, The Witch Elm, for Bookforum; a review of Stephen L. Carter’s Invisible for the New York Times Book Review; my most recent Crimereads column, on the life and work of Merriam Modell, who wrote as Evelyn Piper; and an essay on Rosemary Ridgewell, the “Showgirl Who Discovered Lolita”, for Literary Hub.

  • I appeared at book festivals in Austin, Chicago (here’s video!), Portland OR, and Miami, that last one in a delightful conversation with Washington Post critic Ron Charles. I also read at an all-nonfiction/true crime Noir at the Bar at Kew & Willow Books, along with the likes of Bob Kolker, Carolyn Murnick, Piper Weiss, Jonathan Santlofer, and Cutter Wood. And I was on a couple of podcasts: Gangrey, to talk about my book and career; and Says Who, hosted by Maureen Johnson and Dan Sinker, to get silly about the political situation.

  • And two major events that are related: I sold the next book to Ecco and Knopf Canada, and left Publishers Marketplace after eight years to pursue the full-time writing life.

So first, that new book project, officially announced right after Thanksgiving. The working title is The Convict and the Conservative, and it’s about a time, five or so decades ago, when William F. Buckley so believed in the innocence of New Jersey Death Row inmate Edgar Smith, incarcerated for the 1957 murder of a teenage girl named Vickie Zielinski, that he not only helped free him, but helped launch Smith as something of a literary celebrity. This, shall we say, did not end up being a good idea.

There are so many strands to knit together — true crime, American history of the late 1950s through mid-1970s, neoconservative politics, book publishing, the human capacity to believe and to be manipulated, then duped — that it’s going to be a challenge, but a challenge I cannot wait to spend the next few years of my life meeting. I’ve already spent about four years on the story, off and on, which did turn out to be a very good idea. Unlike The Real Lolita, where I had to fill in gaps when the historical record grew sparse, The Convict and the Conservative is rich in archival material, court documents, media coverage, and (thankfully) living sources, though a few of them need to be tracked down sooner rather than later…

I actually sold the proposal for this book over the summer, but delayed announcing it until promotion for The Real Lolita was mostly complete. Over those intervening months, I realized that I could no longer split my time between a day job and a book, and that it was time to take the calculated risk of full-time writing.

Working at Publishers Marketplace was, without a doubt, the best job I ever had, and Michael Cader is the best boss I ever worked for. I’m going to miss it, and the day-to-day hum of book trade news and gossip, very much. But I’m so ready to commit to this book project, and future ones. I’m a book writer now. This is what I do. And it’s good to take risks, something I want to do much more of in the future.

That’s it for 2018, a banner year for me, a hard one for America and for the planet. Here’s to 2019 being wonderful for us all and less terrible for the world.

Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady V.2, #5: While On the Road

Dear TCL Readers,

The Real Lolita has been out for about five weeks and….a whole lot has happened. I have done events in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Washington, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Victoria, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix, meeting so many wonderful readers, booksellers, fellow authors, literary event organizers, and admirers on both sides of the border. Whether the turnout was low or high, whether I signed many or few copies, whether there were family members, dear friends, professional acquaintances, elementary school teachers (twice!), or complete strangers, it was lovely to meet you and see you and I’ll never forget the experience of this book tour.

And it’s not over yet. Between now and mid-November I’m doing events in Manhattan (tonight! details here) and then Austin, Chicago, Portland, OR, and Miami. More details on the later events, all at book or cultural festivals, are available at my website.

The press the book’s received is the stuff of dreams, where pretty much every major publication that could have chimed in has chimed in, with more still to come. Here are the highlights, as best as I could keep track, of The Real Lolita coverage since publication:

I’ve also published some book-adjacent pieces over the past few weeks, including:

  • At Vulture, the inside story of Lolita, My Love, a musical adaptation that tried hard to make it to Broadway and failed, by people who really should have known better

  • At Longreads, the case of George Edward Grammer, who tried and failed to stage the murder of his wife, Dorothy, as a car accident, and whose story was also memorialized in Lolita

  • For my “Crime Lady” column for CrimeReads, a close examination of Vladimir Nabokov’s public disdain (but far more complex private feelings) for crime fiction

  • And at The Cut, a specific grievance about John Hockenberry’s now-infamous Harper’s essay — one I wasn’t going to read, and then he invoked Lolita…

    (some other pieces are due to appear later this fall, and a couple that I wrote ending up not getting placed, because that’s how it goes; it’s proven, to me at least, that op-eds are not my forte and should generally be left to other people, while I’ll continue to play in the land of longform.)

**

Some of the books I read while on tour:

  • Normal People by Sally Rooney, out now in the UK and in April in the US & Canada, which I think is even better than her brilliant Conversations With Friends. What a marvelous writer, sentence by sentence.

  • The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, which were generally disquieting and off-kilter but in a way that felt like a respite from constant travel? I loved the feeling of disorientation that prevails in her work.

  • Nobody Cares by Anne Donahue, which was delightful and funny and a blast of an essay collection

  • Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser, deserving and then some of its Pulitzer, a masterful biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the worlds she inhabited, in addition to exploring the most incredibly complex relationship she had with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane

  • Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky, which might be the first novel I’ve read that weaponizes exclamation points (and is a wicked satire of the wellness industry, too)

  • Hollywood’s Eve by Lili Anolik, about which I’ll probably say more closer to its January publication, but for now, whether you love and have read all of Eve Babitz’s work or have never heard of her, this book is a must

  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, which sure does read like a thriller, and is very much in keeping with this, our Year of the Grifter.

Finally, a few of my favorite photos from book tour. (The one at the top was taken by Patrick Millikin right before our conversation at The Poisoned Pen.) Here’s one of my and my mother, from the Ottawa book launch, neither of us having any clue we would subsequently survive a tornado:

Me signing stock at Mysterious Bookshop earlier this month:

And finally, this candid shot of me, Esi Edugyan, and Sheena Kamal, after our joint reading at the Victoria Festival of Authors:

Until next time, I remain,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady, V.2, #4: Publication Day For THE REAL LOLITA

Dear TCL Readers,

Today is the day. The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized The World is published in the US (by Ecco), Canada (by Knopf) and the UK (by Weidenfeld & Nicolson). The pre-publication runup is finished, the book is out in the world, and I am so proud to publish this, my first book.

Here is a Twitter thread that goes into greater detail about how The Real Lolita came to be, from magazine article idea to book, and everything in between. I urge you, too, to watch the film clip linked in the last tweet, the only surviving footage of Sally Horner. The first time I watched her move and interact it took my breath away. Hundreds of views later, I still have the same reaction.

Tonight at 7:30 PM I will be at Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, in conversation with David Grann. And tomorrow morning, I leave for DC, the start of two solid months of book tour travel.

The Real Lolita has already garnered a ton of pre-publication press and reviews, most notably:

Needless to say, this is only the beginning. So much more is to come. And if you are reading this newsletter, you were part of The Real Lolita’s journey in ways large or small, and my gratitude is endless. Thank you so much, and see you on tour!

I remain, as ever,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady V.2, #3: Book Tour Updates, and More

Dear TCL Readers,

The Real Lolita publishes in less than two weeks. I’ve done well for months to stay chill and enjoy the pre-publication runup, but the closer to publication I get, the more the jitters want to insert themselves into my brain. It’s normal, I know. And those jitters are still superseded by excitement and a feeling, every now and then, of utter breathtaking amazement that I am publishing a book, this book. I don’t want to lose that feeling. It’s too precious. It’s a link between me, the writer working alone, and me, the author about to meet her public — and express more gratitude than I can possibly convey.

It all begins on September 11, with a preview at Bouchercon. What can you do, in the meantime?

Pre-order. Here are the publisher links for the US, Canada, and the UK editions, so you can choose your preferred retailer, be it Amazon, your favorite independent bookstore, or any other, and buy your copy.

Write a review. It’s been amazing to get so much early feedback, via email, on social media, on Goodreads, wherever. And if you’ve read it and haven’t voiced your opinion yet, please do — and certainly please do so once you’ve bought a copy!

Share the enthusiasm. I keep hearing the phrase “your book is everywhere” and that’s great — but visibility begets visibility, so don’t be shy about posting on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or your social media platform of choice, or sharing this newsletter, or telling people in person (I know, what a concept.)

See me on tour. The graphic gives the highlights; my website has far more details. And there are a number of events in late October, November, and beyond to be announced soon.

**

Here’s what new in The Real Lolita coverage since my last dispatch:

And while it’s not book-related, I also wrote a feature — on what forensic scientists think of the true crime boom— as part of Vulture’s recent True Crime Wave, a collection that I would strongly urge you all to check out if you’ve yet to do so.

**

With the fall approaching, here’s what I’ve read recently and recommend:

  • Sara Gran’s long-awaited third Claire DeWitt crime novel, The Infinite Blacktop

  • Katrina Carrasco’s crackling, rollicking debut historical novel, The Best Bad Things, which you should definitely buy when it’s out in November

  • Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations With Friends, what gorgeous dialogue and an ending that felt so earned for a literary novel. I gather Normal People is leagues better, and I’m curious to know how.

  • Olivia Laing’s first work of fiction, Crudo, the most successful of the novels written post-2016 election I’ve read so far

  • Lea Carpenter’s Red White Blue, which deconstructs the spy novel and puts it back together again in a way that felt contemporary and fresh

  • R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, deserving of all the debut novel hype

  • Dubravka Ugresic’s American Fictionary and Fox, about which more in some other newsletter or venue because I feel like she broke open my brain and entered my central nervous system and now I must read her entire back catalog

  • And Oyinkan Brathwaite’s debut My Sister, the Serial Killer, which is audacious and wonderful and so in my sweet spot.

Next time you’ll hear from me is publication week, when I’ll have so much to share. Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady

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