The Crime Lady: Escape Hatch

Dear TCL Readers,

Unspeakable Acts publishes in a little over two months and all of the prepublication trade reviews are now in — with Publishers Weekly delivering a starred writeup: “Weinman provides a worthy successor to the Best American Crime Reporting annual series in this thoughtful and wide-ranging true crime anthology…The superior quality of these essays begs for future volumes.” So the total tally: two stars (PW & LJ) a third rave (Booklist) and Kirkus kinda liked it. I’ll take it all. Here are all the pre-order links for Unspeakable Acts (get used to seeing that in every future newsletter leading up to publication) as well as one go-to link to buy books by most of the contributors.

**

PW’s starred review emphasizes one of the driving forces for producing this anthology, which was to revive, as something of a proof-of-concept, a new version of the Best American Crime Reporting anthologies that published for about a decade in the early-to-mid aughts. So it was strange to hear over the weekend that Best American Mystery Stories, which has published every year since 1997, might go away for good, or at least be in need of a new home after the 2020 edition (with an introduction by CJ Box) publishes on November 3.

This was what I tweeted on May 16:

The story turns out to be markedly different (which is why I deleted the tweet.) On April 27, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt promoted Deb Brody, its editor-in-chief for the nonfiction side, to publisher of adult trade. She took over for Bruce Nichols, who had left for Little, Brown, where he replaced Reagan Arthur, who is now publisher at Knopf. As is a new publisher’s wont, certain publishing programs remain intact and some change, or are ended outright. One of those changes affected the future of Best American Mystery Stories.

On the afternoon of May 14, founding series editor Otto Penzler learned BAMS would be going in a different direction with a new editor. “I was told that the title would be changed to The Best American Mystery & Suspense Stories so, since they were going ‘in a new direction,’ they were going to have a new series editor,” Penzler told me. “Since the series has had suspense stories since it began in 1998, I am unable to understand why the new publisher (if that's her title) thinks there will be a new direction. I cannot deny that I'm disappointed about being replaced but am very proud of the 22 volumes published under my aegis.”

Michele Slung, the longtime editor chiefly responsible for winnowing down the BAMS short story submissions from unmanageable to the fifty that Penzler then sent on to the year’s guest editor, added: “There's a new publisher at HMH, and it's her decision, with my thought being that she, as incoming executives usually do, wants to put her mark where she can. It's business as usual --- only that hardly begins to describe trade publishing right now (also, as we know).”

Neither Penzler nor Slung were told who the new series editor would be. Brody, in a statement Monday afternoon, said: “No, the series is not ending, in fact it’s going in an exciting new direction in response to the changing market and evolving readership and with an increased focus on traditionally marginalized voices. We are rebranding it as The Best American Mystery and Suspense and will make an announcement about the new series editor soon.

“In the meantime we are grateful to Otto Penzler for his many years of dedication to the program and for all he has done for the authors in the category. The change will begin with the 2021 edition; at the moment we are focused and enthusiastic about the 2020 edition (out in November) which will include amazing work by Tom Franklin, Ryan David Jahn, Sheila Kohler and lots more.”

I expect to have a proper Q&A with the new editor — whom I could not be more delighted to see in this role — in a future newsletter, so stay tuned for that. Reports of the demise of Best American Mystery Stories — including, alas, my own — turned out to be most exaggerated.

READ/WATCH/LISTEN

  • Escapism has been on my mind of late, as has this most frustrating experience of not being able to read in the concentrated bursts I’d grown accustomed to. One way around this — as I detailed in a New York Times Book Review piece published last weekend — was to listen to favorite classic crime novels by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, and Margaret Millar in audiobook format. This was a dream assignment (thank you, Lauren Christensen!) and it was also a pleasure to talk with Pamela Paul about the books, and a potted history of 20th century crime fiction, on the NYTBR podcast.

  • That said, I spent a glorious weekend afternoon laughing my head off at Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You, a separate weekday inhaling Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer, and another evening compulsively gulping down an advance copy of Becky Cooper’s debut nonfiction crime book We Keep The Dead Close, about which you’ll be hearing a lot more between now and its publication in November. Plus I’m embarking on a Toni Morrison reading project, starting in order. (The Bluest Eye has fits of brilliance; Sula is a masterpiece. I’m about to start Song of Solomon.)

  • One of my favorite crime novels of the year, These Women, is published today. Ivy Pochoda kindly answered some of my questions for Buzzfeed’s Books newsletter that went out over the weekend. Here’s a screenshot of the last (and best) question:

  • I’m slowly making it through the six-part Netflix documentary Trial By Media, co-executive-produced by Jeffrey Toobin and Steven Brill, that spends each episode on a different trial that garnered extensive — in many cases, over-saturated — media coverage. I thought episode five, on how the 1983 Big Dan’s Tavern rape case (the real-life basis for the 1986 film The Accused) was covered, was generally good, but the omission of any real sense of who Cheryl Araujo was as a person, and her life before and after the crime, was altogether glaring.

  • Did I mention that I have a short story in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine? It’s called “Limited Liability”, I wrote it a million years ago, and explain the genesis of the story — in particular, the first two pages — for Art Taylor’s blog.

  • Talya Zax wrote a stunner of an essay for The Forward on Philip Roth’s friend and caretaker, Russ Murdock.

  • The story that made me wince the most, with the best headline.

  • And finally, Rebecca Makkai put together this amazing compilation of many of your favorite writers — including Lauren Groff, Laura Lippman, Garth Greenwell, Alexander Chee, R.O. Kwon, and yours truly — recreating the dance scene from The Breakfast Club as a fundraiser for the wonderful Chicago independent bookstore Volumes Books. So yes, you can see me dance in the most dorky fashion possible. (The raw footage will never be aired, thank god.) The end result, thanks to the genius editing of Steve Dolahyde, is pretty amazing and I laughed so much watching it, as I suspect you might.

More soon, in any case. Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady