Foul Matter (Magill's Literary Annual 2004)
Martha Grimes is best known for her eighteen Richard Jury mysteries, in which the English detective, with his aristocratic cohort Melrose Plant, brings murderers to justice. In contrast, several characters in Foul Matter try to prevent a murder, often with hilarious results. Inspired in part by having one of her Jury novels rejected by publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Grimes has written a wicked satire of the publishing industry in which the most dangerous weapons are the egos of the writers, agents, editors, and publishers.
Paul Giverney is an immensely successful thriller writer. Not only do his books sell, but they are also well-written, especially his latest. Paul’s agreement with his publisher, Queeg and Hyde, is about to expire, and he is looking for a new publisher. Grimes’s satire is sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Naming Paul’s publisher after the incompetent naval officer in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny (1951) and the villainous side of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll makes clear that she sees publishers as neurotic and potentially psychotic.
Paul proposes to Clive Esterhaus, an acquisitions editor at New York publisher Mackenzie-Haack, that he will join “Mack Hack” if Ned Isaly is dropped. Mackenzie-Haack is respected as a highly literary publisher, and Ned, despite modest sales, is one of its most distinguished writers. He is scheduled to submit a manuscript soon but cannot devise an end to his...
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Foul Matter (Magill Book Reviews)
Best-selling thriller writer Paul Giverney is between publishers, and instead of having them bid for his services, he makes a modest proposal to Mackenzie-Haack. If egomaniacal publisher Bobby Mackenzie and editor Clive Esterhaus will agree to dump Ned Isaly, a very literary novelist with modest sales who is about to submit his next book, Paul will sign with their firm.
While Clive struggles with the moral and ethical ramifications of this dilemma, Bobby, without hesitation, sees a solution: hiring hit men to take out Ned. What Bobby does not count on, however, is that contract killers can have higher standards than publishers, editors, agents, and writers. Author Martha Grimes masterfully cuts back and forth between Paul, Ned, Clive, Bobby, and their cohorts and Candy and Karl, the colorful hit men who strive to know their marks intimately before deciding if they deserve to die.
Best known for her Richard Jury mysteries, set mostly in England, Grimes has written not a whodunit but a will-they-do-it? In addition to poking fun at the New York literary world, Grimes takes on the Manhattan restaurant scene and paints a nostalgic portrait of Pittsburgh, the hometown of Grimes and several of her characters.
Best of all is the highly quotable dialogue of Candy and Karl, thugs with pretensions who quickly catch on to the argot of publishing. They resemble a merging of the hit men in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers” and Chili Palmer,...
(The entire section is 311 words.)