(This is an encore FFB from 2011...)
As this year's Edgar Awards ceremony approaches, I particularly enjoy looking at the debut novel nominees,
wondering how where their literary careers might take them from here.
This prompted me to look back at previous nominees and winners, and I
ran across one by an author I hadn't heard of before, Marie R. Reno (1929-2008),
nominated in 1977 for her first novel, Final Proof. I was even
able to get my hands on a copy of the book at my local library,
something of a remarkable accomplishment from a library that doesn't
even have any S.S. Van Dine books.
Yet, when I tried tracking down Ms. Reno, I found practically nothing available in the way of biography or career. The dust jacket indicates Reno had a long and notable career in the book-club world, and was also an editor of This Week magazine. Her book-club connections are probably why she is listed as editor of A Treasury of Modern Mysteries, Volumes 1 and 2, from 1973 and later An International Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, from 1983. It also helps explains why she wrote this first novel, Final Proof, set in a New York book club publishing house.
At the beginning of the Final Proof, Marcia Richardson is found in her home office, shot twice through the head at close range by a .22 revolver and slumped over a set of galley proofs. Although her fingers had been wrapped around the gun in an attempt to make the death look like suicide, there's little doubt she's been murdered. Marcia was editorial director of the Readers' Circle, one of the Big Three book clubs along with Book-of-the-Month and the Literary Guild, and in the small, interconnected world of New York publishing, Marcia's death is talk of the town.
Marcia's friend and colleague, Karen Lindstrom, editor of the Mystery, Suspense and Intrigue line, finds herself working with, and at cross-purposes to, Lieutenant Jack Morrison of the NYPD. At first, he merely seems fascinated by Karen's endless fount of information about the publishing world and isn't particularly thrilled to have her assistance. As the case grinds on, Karen and the Lieutenant find themselves drawn to each other in personal ways that could jeopardize the investigation.
It's quite obvious from all the insider details and observations that the author was indeed employed with such a book club, which seems to be both the inspiration and raison d'etre for the book. I also suspect Reno is a pen name, one reason there isn't much in the way of biographical details—changing the names to avoid getting sued or incurring the wrath of fellow employees (if anyone out there knows his/her real name, feel free to add it in the comments).
As the publishing world seems to change almost daily in our current day, it's a bit of a throwback to read about a segment of the literary establishment that's shrinking, perhaps disappearing altogether. However, some of the author's observations (speaking through the likely-autobiographical character of Lindstrom) are timeless:
We're caught up in such a tide of manuscripts and galleys that we get sort of jaded. I mean, every once in a while something comes along that I really love, but six months later I'd have a hard time remembering it.
The tough thing is dealing with author. All those fragile egos.
There's a lot of sly humor and oblique poking fun at the industry, and if you want some light entertainment with a touch of publishing nostalgia and romance thrown in, then Final Proof is right up your galley. If you're wondering about who actually won the best first novel in 1977, it was a book titled The Thomas Berryman Number by someone you may have heard of. A fellow by the name of James Patterson.