A GRAVE Situation

I got a phone call this week from my favorite mystery critic. That would be my Dad.
“You were right, it’s a great book!” There really were exclamation marks in his voice. More than one, but I’m showing a little restraint here. After all, I had to ask, “Which book?”
My Dad is a professor by day and he’d saved a particular favorite of mine for after the grade sheets were turned in and before Summer truly began. A summer kickoff if you will.
And then today I clicked on Salon, and there was my precious book, a summer pick.
gravetattooTHE GRAVE TATTOO by Val McDermid is an ambitious and brilliantly executed ‘mysteries’ book. I was not and am not alone in my assessment of this read. A year ago every mystery periodical in the States dropped an issue with McDermid either on the cover or featured within its pages. We’d heard the call of both the book itself and the energy with which it was received by her publishing house. I adore George Easter but for both Deadly Pleasures and Crimespree to feature cover interviews of the same writer proves conclusively that there’s something truly special in the work.
A curious thing happened between the writing,editing and printing of our various magazines and the initially scheduled drop date for the American edition of THE GRAVE TATTOO. St. Martin’s moved it back. Seven months back, From June of 2006 to February of 2007. You’ve got buzz, you have the most extensive genre coverage ever and you send out a giant raspberry to the mystery community.
All of which would have been fine with me,the McDermid Savant I am, if when the book dropped in the U.S. in February they’d have marketed TATTOO to the general fiction community. Tattoo is a book crafted by a genre master. The plot is executed to be ‘historical’, ‘cozy’, ‘thriller’, ‘urban crime’ and two traditional who-dunnits. McDermid, with THE GRAVE TATTOO, has written that rarest form of contemporary literature, the “airport book” that will not disappoint the person who normally picks up a biography for their long flight. A book guaranteed to be reminiscent of that one “genre” book they remember reading time and again before they became ‘effete’. BECAUSE, FOLKS, EVERYTHING IS IN THIS BOOK.
People have guaranteed me that Andy Martin understands what is wrong with St. Martin’s. That he intends to fix past transgressions and clean up this imprint. Crimespree relies on the good will of the mystery market and St. Martin’s is in many respects, “the mystery market, U.S.” They publish more of our favorite authors than anyone else. They believe in this genre. But from A to B they seem to get it wrong.
February came and went, THE GRAVE TATTOO hit American soil already having won “literary” awards. McDermid came to the states to promote and a funny thing happened. After long scheduled dates at mystery indies St. Martins changed up the tour, again with no warning. Long scheduled dates were canceled less than 2 months out. In one case a bookstore learned just 2 days before their publicized event that it was being shifted from a reading ‘meet and greet’ to a drive by. Bad form, St. M’s.
So what are the folk at St. Martin’s thinking? If THE GRAVE TATTOO is indeed Mcdermid’s ‘break-out’ American book (P.W.), why did the company that has lovingly published her for the past decade shoot itself in the foot not once but twice while at the same time giving TATTOO one of their largest initial print runs ever (100,000 is the Amazon count)?
I believe that St. Martins sees quality, but traveling on a wing and a prayer does not fly in today’s publicity blitz oriented world. I also know that for the maximum people who’d enjoy this book and recognize its brilliance to be exposed to the title, St. Martin’s must indeed move beyond the ‘usual genre outlets’. But with TATTOO they failed , cutting off the hand that feeds and failing to regenerate on a bigger scale. They have the technology. McDermid has the capability. Why then is the book still one of this years best kept secrets?

I am frustrated. I am chagrined. But it all comes back to the phone call.
“It’s a great book.”

And so it is. Do yourself a favor, put it on your Summer Reading list. The truest corse in published fiction is the individual interaction with a writer’s prose. THE GRAVE TATTOO is an adventure every reader can enjoy, written by someone who enjoys words and their craft as much as you do. Add Wordsworth, Fletcher Christen, an inner city youth and cut throat academia and you won’t go wrong despite the actions of the author’s publisher.