Beware the suspense writer with a cause. Multimillionaire bestselling author Paul Giverney, Martha Grimes’s latest antihero introduced in FOUL MATTER, is on the warpath. His recent triumph over the venal agents and murder-for-hire publishers has whetted his appetite for victory as he takes on an infamously greedy literary agent.
Sweet, innocent damsel Cindy Sella, with one moderately successful novel under her belt, is suffering from writer’s block caused by a former agent’s relentless legal pursuit of an unearned commission. She’s nursing her plight in a popular Manhattan bar when a gangland shooting takes out an aquarium filled with tropical fish, and she makes a heroic dive to save a rare clownfish. No humans (or presumably piscine lives) are lost, but she draws the attention of Karl and Candy, Grimes’s hitmen with scruples, when they arrive in time to chase off the gangsters.
"Grimes ventures into the world she knows best: publishing. You can almost hear the conjectures of fellow writers and other publishing insiders wondering just who is that egomaniacal publisher or that cutthroat agent whose only interest in his client is how much he can make in commissions."
Sentimental hitman Candy, an unlikely aficionado of rare fish, and Karl, just as unlikely a reader of Proust (among other esoteric literati), hear of their fish-saving young maiden’s plight and come gallantly to the rescue. They announce that this contract is pro bono (their fee is usually $1 million for a hit), and they will take out the dastardly L. Bass Hess, but only if he can’t be dispensed without bloodshed. That’s where Paul Giverney comes in. Karl and Candy pay him a visit after working with him to successfully stop a hit on an unsuspecting author in FOUL MATTER. Because suspense writers have famously fiendish minds, who else but an evil genius like Giverney could cook up a plot to drive Hess crazy? With Giverney’s vast bank account, he can produce a gaslighting escapade that moves from Central Park to the Everglades to a Malaysian tropical fish-smuggling team.
Grimes’s stock in trade is her character-driven mysteries and novels. Her dark knight hero, Scotland Yard’s Richard Jury, hangs out with an eclectic Greek chorus of villagers and reluctant royals in more than 20 bestsellers. Her charming young adult series, featuring an adventurous Southern adolescent named Emma Graham, was peopled with characters only found in small Southern towns.
Now, in THE WAY OF ALL FISH and its prequel, Grimes ventures into the world she knows best: publishing. You can almost hear the conjectures of fellow writers and other publishing insiders wondering just who is that egomaniacal publisher or that cutthroat agent whose only interest in his client is how much he can make in commissions. And especially, who is that perfect, almost saintly editor whom writers and publishing houses alike would literally kill to get? Does he or she exist in the known world?
There is a madcap similarity to the antics in THE WAY OF ALL FISH that is reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen, especially when Hess is lured into the Everglades to retrieve a rare orchid. Grimes gives a well-deserved nod to Susan Orlean and other authors, plays, movies and novels when Giverney dips into his plagiaristic dark side to come up with diabolical schemes to make Hess’s life miserable.
Grimes exposes a seamy underbelly of book publishing in tongue-in-cheek fashion, but if you are a writer, editor, agent, publicist or publisher, or an avid reader who hangs out with those who are, the greed that infects Wall Street may be seen as spreading like a horde of silverfish to destroy from within what has historically been thought of as an honorable industry. The damage isn’t easily visible, but the next time you pick up a book and wonder “how in the world did this thing get published?” remember that publishing has become a game like so many others where it’s the bottom line, not necessarily quality, that gets you to the finish line.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 8, 2014