Foul Matter

Foul Matter

3.2 20
by Martha Grimes

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The bestselling author of the Richard Jury novels delivers a razor-sharp and raucously funny send-up of the cutthroat world of publishing. And the praise is pouring in:

"A hilarious and wicked caper-adventure on the evils of the book business."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Does laughing uncontrollably on a subway train constitute legitimate

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The bestselling author of the Richard Jury novels delivers a razor-sharp and raucously funny send-up of the cutthroat world of publishing. And the praise is pouring in:

"A hilarious and wicked caper-adventure on the evils of the book business."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Does laughing uncontrollably on a subway train constitute legitimate literary criticism? If it does, then Foul Matter...gets a great review from me." —New York Times Book Review

"She can kick literary butt—in more ways than one." —USA Today

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
… this book is very funny in its own right. You don't have to know anything about Grimes or publishing to be thoroughly entertained by this strange group of characters. — Susan Kelly
The New York Times
The serpentine plot is fun to follow, once Giverney realizes the extent of the mischief he has set in motion. But it's the nasty inside stuff -- from the Dickensian names for authors and their publishing houses to the barbaric rituals of a power lunch -- that incites rolling in the aisles. A reader can only hope that Grimes made it all up. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Red pencils draw real blood in this delightful publishing world crime spoof by Grimes, expert storyteller and bestselling author of the Richard Jury mysteries (The Man with a Load of Mischief, etc.). When Paul Giverney, a hot suspense novelist, seeks a new publisher, he decides on the house of Mackensie-Haack under the condition that they dump their highly respected and award-winning author, Ned Isaly. Ruthless president Bobby Mackensie will stop at nothing to sign Giverney, even though breaking Isaly's contract is a legal impossibility. His solution? Sign another contract-this one with two hit men, who are hired to knock off Isaly. What Mackensie doesn't know is that Candy and Karl are killers with scruples and a keen interest in literature. Isaly, meanwhile, is totally engrossed in finishing his current novel and barely notices the two men as they mingle with Isaly and his friends at popular New York City literary watering holes. Not even when a multitude of bumblers follow him on a visit to his hometown of Pittsburgh-in one of the most humorous episodes in the book-does he realize his plight. Although verging on the caricaturish, the characters are memorable, especially the hit-men duo. Insider publishing lingo, a quirky plot, atmospheric settings and Grimes's dry sense of humor make this a delectable bonbon of a book. (Aug. 18) Forecast: The publicity material states clearly that this is not a roman clef, but hints coyly at the possibility that some of the characters may bear a resemblance to people in the business. Anyone curious about the publishing world will enjoy the backstage feel. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Will a publisher resort to murder to get an author it wants? The answer seems to be yes in this latest standalone novel by Grimes, best known for her Richard Jury mysteries (The Grave Maurice). Best-selling author Paul Giverney will sign with publisher Mackenzie-Haack only if it drops literary author Ned Isaly and assigns Isaly's talented editor to Paul. Ambitious editor Clive Esterhaus wants Giverney for himself but isn't comfortable with the solution proposed by Bobby Mackenzie, owner of Mackenzie-Haack-hiring hit men. Luckily for Isaly, the hit men won't kill until they've made sure that their target deserves to die. This gives Giverney and Isaly's friends a chance to protect the oblivious author. Grimes is spot on with her humor, her digs at the publishing industry, and the self-involved authors in the system. Highly recommended. [For more literary takes on the cutthroat world of publishing, see also Terence Blacker's Kill Your Darlings, Kurt Wenzel's Lit Life, and John Colapinto's About the Author.-Ed.]-Deborah Shippy, Moline P.L., IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Grimes forsakes Supt. Richard Jury's British haunts (The Grave Maurice, 2002, etc.) for a criminal farce played out in the cutthroat world of New York publishers. When you're a wealthy, successful author, with two million copies of your last book sold, who lives modestly in the East Village and watches publishers lining up like trained seals to compete for your next manuscript, you have pretty much whatever you want, and what Paul Giverney wants is Tom Kidd as his editor. More specifically, he wants Mackenzie-Haack, the house Kidd works for, to break its contract with Ned Isaly, a gifted but deeply noncommercial author Kidd works with so that Kidd won't be encumbered by a more talented writer than Paul. Clive Esterhaus, the senior editor at Mackenzie and Haack that Paul offers this deal to, recoils from the prospect of losing not only Ned Isaly but other Kidd authors who'd surely follow their indignant editor out the door, and so does his equally venal publisher, Bobby Mackenzie. But there is a solution to this mass exodus: hire a hit man to kill Ned, freeing up Kidd without collateral damage. So Clive puts in a call to Danny Zito, a Mackenzie-Haack author now in the Witness Protection Program, who delivers not one but two button men, Candy and Karl, who'll be only too happy to take care of Mackenzie-Haack's problem once they've gotten to know their target-by trailing him, reading his books, and hanging around the literary set. By the time Clive realizes this genie is never going back into the bottle, the stage is set for a surrealistic showdown on the streets of Pittsburgh, whither everyone in the cast has adjourned to stalk everyone else. Publishing's archly amusing answer to GetShorty-except that since it's books rather than movies, instead of crazy things happening very fast, crazy things get talked about at length and not all that much happens in the end.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.35(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Foul Matter

A Friend of Long Standing


Paul Giverney aimed a paper airplane at the window of his small office (“off. bdrm 3” in the rental ad) and watched it nose-dive to the floor. The Giverneys’ apartment was in the East Village, not quite as trendy as the Village itself. The rent was unbelievable, the agent a scam artist, but they loved the apartment, especially (for him) the “off. bdrm 3,” which was the perfect size for bookshelves, desk, and computer, a couple of chairs, and with a window that looked out on leafy branches. Hannah was seven and loved the park. Molly was thirty-six and loved the Dean & DeLuca on the other side of it. Paul loved the hungover, brassy scene of the East Village foot soldiers who always appeared to be walking off a morning after, bits of metallic conversations stabbing backward as they passed in the cold air. People couldn’t understand it about the Giverneys; they were extremely rich and yet chose to live in a rental in the East Village. Why didn’t Central Park West beckon to them? Why didn’t they succumb to the siren song of Sutton Place or the Dakota? Why? Because they didn’t. Paul gave a lot of his money to charity, a good third of it. Another third to Dean & DeLuca, but they still managed on the million or two left.

The paper airplane was one of his lists of publishers, one he had stricken several names from. Publishers on the left side of the page, writers on the right side. The airplane he had fashioned was the long list. Now the lists before him were the short ones—five writers, four publishers. He struck one of the publishers off, two of the writers. Three publishers, three writers. What he was doing was matching them up.

“Are you still fooling with that list?” asked Molly, standing in the door and wearing an apron. She might be the only wife in Manhattan who wore aprons to cook. “Dinner’s ready. Anyway, what’s the problem? You know you don’t like any of them, the publishers, except FSG, and you keep saying they wouldn’t publish you. So you might as well keep on with your old one.” She stood there with a wooden spoon in her hand, looking very much the cook. He always liked the props—and preps—apron and spoon— when she was only microwaving Dean and DeLuca.

He said, “Process of elimination.”
“Of what? I mean elimination down to what?”
Well, she didn’t know what he was doing, did she? All Molly thought was that Paul was trying to decide on his next publisher. If Molly knew, she’d give him one of those and-I- thought-I-knew-you looks. Paul shrugged, not knowing exactly how to answer. She said, “You always say there’s no difference, that there’s not room enough to swing a cat in.”

“Swing a cat in? I never used that metaphor. It doesn’t even make sense, not in this instance. Maybe ‘shake a stick at,’ but not ‘swing a cat in.’ Surely.”

“Just tack that list”—she pointed with the spoon—“up on the wall and throw darts. Come on. Hannah’s famished.”

Hannah was always ‘famished.’ It was her current favorite word.
“Just ten more minutes,” he said.
“The food will be a ruin.”
“Then I’ll go to Dean and DeLuca and get us another ruin. Please.”
“Okay. But I’ll have to feed Hannah.”
But Hannah was right behind her. Hannah said, “Just another minute, pul-eze” in such a copy of her father’s tone, Paul wanted to laugh.
Molly sighed. “You, too?” She left.
Hannah produced another chapter of her book. She would ask him to read it before officially including it in the book. “Would you please read this?” she asked, solemnly. It was a grave request.

“Of course,” said Paul, with a frown to match hers as he took the single page. This was chapter 99. Hannah had been writing this book for a year, ever since, at the age of six, she had gotten wind of her father’s astonishing success. Now she was seven and even more determined to be nominated for an award. (“Either that National Book contest one or one of those others, I don’t care which.”)

Her book was titled The Hunted Gardens. Originally, Paul thought it must have been the “haunted” gardens and Hannah had simply made a spelling error. But she did refer to the gardens as “hunted” and he didn’t know what she meant. Also, he pointed out to her that the gardens were oddly bereft of flowers. Why were there no flowers? That had given her pause for a moment. But only a moment. “It’s winter,” she’d smoothly said.

And there seemed to be a lot of dragons lately in this book, hunted by a curious person, the Dragonnier. (Perhaps the gardens were, then, really “hunted” rather than “haunted,” but he still thought it was a Hannah error.) Now, all of this potential slaying was causing her anxiety. But more anxiety came from being afraid somebody” might steal the idea. More than once she had probed her father about this, whether he ever thought of writing a book about dragons.

Solemnly, Hannah waited while Paul read the chapter. All the chapters were short. Even though this was chapter 99, the book itself was still only eighty-some pages long. Paul read that the Dragonnier “gave the dragon a good thrashing.” Paul told her it was very good, but suggested that she supply a few more details about the “thrashing.” You know, how the Dragonnier does it, for didn’t she want her reader to actually see it in his mind? Hannah lay her hand across her brow, thought for a moment, and said, “Okay, I’ve got it. He ‘gave the dragon a good thrashing back and forth.’ ” Pleased with this, she turned and left.

She vanished from the doorway. Oh, for fuck’s sake, he told himself, not everything has to be a life-or-death matter. He sighed and with one finger coaxed a book forward. It was the new book, the one that, along with its cover blowup, crowded Barnes & Noble’s window. Another best-seller, another two plus mil. Don’t Go There, the book was called. Despite the fact that its protagonist was not the mild-mannered, brilliant detective Paul had used before, and despite there being no murder, no gunplay, the book would still be stashed with the mysteries or thrillers. He studied the jacket. It was the jacket he had insisted upon in spite of the art department’s hemorrhaging all sorts of objections, the main one being that its moody jacket—shades of gray edging into black, one retreating gray figure—couldn’t be seen across a room. The chains didn’t much like it, either. Barnes & Noble tried to shoot it down and would have done if his sales weren’t stratospheric.

Paul’s present and soon-to-be-past publisher, Queeg and Hyde, wasn’t on the list because there were no writers there who would do in the situation Paul had dreamed up. He looked at the two lists on which he’d matched up four publishers with five writers. The publisher he really was dying to choose was Mackenzie-Haack because of its snob appeal (unwarranted) and its venal, underhanded president, Bobby Mackenzie. What Paul was looking for in a publisher was one who would stop at nothing and if there was anyone who’d do whatever it took to get whatever he wanted, it was Bobby Mackenzie. Two of the writers on the shortlist were published by Mackenzie-Haack: Barbara Breedlove and Ned Isaly. He crossed out one of the listed writers—Saul Prouil, who was no longer under contract to Colan Meilly, so the plan wouldn’t work. Also, Saul Prouil was rich; family money, certainly not from royalties. He was just a superb writer who’d won the National Book Award, the Pen/ Faulkner, the Critics’ Circle, and several smaller ones.

Back to his other two writers: Breedlove and Isaly. Paul had met both at a Mackenzie- Haack cocktail party to launch a first book—“debut novel” (a phrase that made Paul want to retch)—by a twenty-year-old writer named Mory or Murray-somebody. Paul did not go to publication parties, but he did to this one, following the inception of his little plan. Barbara Breedlove was a good writer, though not as good as she thought she was. She was also too full of herself, too much a networking writer, too much a summer conference person, turning up at Bread Loaf or one of the others, too much a scene player and much too much a snob about genre fiction. A conversation with her had been like sitting on the down side of a child’s slide. She was the one up in the air.

He needed a writer of a certain kind, one who didn’t really think about the arena of publishing. Not that this writer didn’t want to be published, but that he didn’t think about it. Ned Isaly had been short-listed for the Pen/Faulkner for his last book and therefore had a certain amount of cachet. Power. But not nearly the power of Paul Giverney. Paul knew that Isaly was a much better writer than he himself, but the quality of writing had little to do with the plan.
What Paul needed was hard to find: a pure writer.

“How long have you been with Mackenzie-Haack?”

This conversation had taken place at the Mackenzie-Haack cocktail party for Mory or Murray. Both he and Ned Isaly had stranded themselves like a couple of frogs on a lily pad (Ned’s metaphor) while the social scene swam around them.

Ned frowned slightly at the question, as if he really had to dredge up the answer. “Two books ago, so I guess seven, eight years.” He was carrying a brown leather case, which he shifted from one arm to another as he looked for a place to put his empty glass.

“A book every three or four years?”
“That’s about right. I’m pretty slow.”
“Slow? Flaubert was slow—if that’s even a meaningful word.”
“By comparison—”
“You don’t want to make that comparison,” said Paul. Ned smiled. Paul went on: “So, what do you think of Mackenzie-Haack?”
“Oh. I guess they’re all right.”
“Do you think they publish your books well?”
Ned frowned again, mining for answers. “To tell the truth, I don’t pay much attention to that end of things.”
“Your agent takes care of that?”
Ned shook his head. “I don’t have one, actually. I don’t much care for agents.”
“I couldn’t agree more. But you must have someone to intercede, somebody who yells when they want to print your book backward or make it a pop-up. Things like that.”
Ned laughed. “Well there’s my editor.”
Paul feigned astonishment. “You mean you’ve got an editor who actually looks out for you?”
“Tom Kidd.”
Paul felt a stirring of envy that he hadn’t felt since fifteen years ago when a friend had landed a publisher while Paul’s own first book was still hanging out in the slush of unsolicited manuscripts. Christ, he thought, just try that today. “The fabled Tom Kidd.” One of a few—a very few—who actually edited and would turn a script over to a copy editor only after he and the writer had decided it was all right. “The bane of all copy editors. I’ve heard he even does line editing.”
“He does.”
A waiter passed with more flutes of champagne. They exchanged their empty glasses for fresh ones.
“Do you think Mackenzie-Haack is better than, say, oh, I don’t know, Delacroix?” This was a small house known for literature of the highest standard. But it was in the process of being taken over by a Dutch conglomerate.

“I don’t know,” said Ned. “I haven’t really had much experience with different publishers. My first book was with Downtown. Then I went to Mackenzie.”

Downtown had tried too damned hard to be elitist and had folded barely a year after it had opened. They’d hardly had time to get Ned Isaly’s book through production. But it had gotten a lot of good critical attention and that, in turn, had brought several publishers to his doorstep.

“Twelve years ago, that was published.” Ned moved the leather case again, from one side to another, where he clamped it under his arm.

“You know, even twelve years ago it was possible to send in an unsolicited manuscript. Try that today and you might as well try to fly a pig over the transom. What’s in that case you’re guarding?”

“Oh, this? Part of a manuscript.”

“You’ve brought it here to shop around? You’ve sure got enough book people here to make it worth your while.”

Ned smiled. “No. Not likely.” He didn’t explain. He said, “The only time I think about publishing is in wondering what it must have been like fifty, sixty years ago. But, then”— he shrugged—“I like to imagine what everything was like sixty years ago.”

“You don’t really—”

“Don’t what?”

Paul hesitated. Care, he’d been going to say, but that was the wrong word. “I was going to say—if you were to find yourself minus a publisher, how would that affect your writing?”

Ned frowned. “Should it?”

Should it? Jesus Christ, here was a writer to give one pause. “If that book”—Paul tipped his glass toward the leather case—“wasn’t to be published, how would you feel about it?”

“This book?” Ned looked down at the case.

“Yes. Would you keep on with it?”

Ned appeared genuinely puzzled. It made Paul smile inwardly, the way Ned was regarding him, as if he, Paul, were a man of stunted intellectual power and limited imagination. “Of course. Wouldn’t you? Anyway, publishers come and go.”

Paul thought Ned Isaly didn’t give a damn. It was as if he were turning up occasionally in life—as he’d turned up at this party—just to be polite.

Paul sat in his office now looking down at the shortlists and remembering that conversation. He crossed the other publishers and the other two writers off the lists. He was left with Ned Isaly. Mackenzie-Haack.

Over the sushi, Molly asked, “Did you ever decide on a publisher?”

“Yep. Mackenzie-Haack.”

“That’s the best one?”

“No. It’s the worst.” Paul grinned and went on eating his sushi.

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