Wednesday, September 26, 2012: Dedicated Issue: Bourbon Street Books

Bourbon Street Books

Harper Paperbacks: The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris

Bourbon Street Books: Blood Line by Lynda La Plante

Bourbon Street Books: Egypt by Nick Drake

Harper Perennial: Cash Out by Greg Bardsley

Editors' Note

Bourbon Street Books

With support from the publisher, Shelf Awareness here celebrates and investigates Bourbon Street Books, the new mystery and thriller trade paperback line from Harper paperbacks. The stories were written by Shannon McKenna Schmidt.


Harper Paperbacks: Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

Books & Authors

A Stroll Down Bourbon Street

The inaugural list of Bourbon Street Books, the new mystery and thriller line from Harper paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins, provides ample evidence of the line's range: the books include originals, reprints, reissued backlist and classics. Headlining the fall 2012 season are two paperback originals: Blood Line, international bestselling author Lynda La Plante's latest book featuring detective Anna Travis, and The Hollow Man, a debut novel by Oliver Harris (both October).

The first in a series, The Hollow Man is a gritty, London-set thriller introducing detective Nick Belsey. "It's by no means a cozy," said Claire Wachtel, senior v-p and executive editor. "This is a guy who drinks and sometimes walks on both sides of the law." After reading a portion of The Hollow Man, she set it aside to focus on other tasks but kept thinking about the story, she said. "It's simply amazing. You really come to root for Belsey, and the plot is nothing you would ever see coming." Cal Morgan, editorial director of trade paper originals for Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks, agreed, predicting that Harris "is going to be an absolute star." (See below for more on Harris.)

A gripping plotline is imperative in any suspenseful story Wachtel signs up and so is top-notch writing. Like Harris, Edgar Award-winner La Plante delivers on both counts, she said. "The name Lynda La Plante resonates with mystery and thriller readers in a strong way." Along with the Anna Travis page-turners, the author's oeuvre includes the Prime Suspect television show and novels, several of which Harper Paperbacks re-launched earlier this year. (See below for more on La Plante.)

Bourbon Street Books is bringing back into print four titles by classic British mystery author Dorothy L. Sayers. The capers, which feature Lord Peter Wimsey and his love interest, Harriet Vane, are Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Busman's Honeymoon and Gaudy Night (October). Rounding out the fall list is Nick Drake's Egypt: The Book of Chaos (December), the final volume in a trilogy that weaves together mystery, history, religion, politics and court intrigue in ancient times.

Along with publishing new books by both established and undiscovered writers, reintroducing classics and backlist titles under the Bourbon Street banner is a way to recognize HarperCollins's long, successful history in the genre. Its mystery beginnings harken back to 1868 when Harper & Brothers published Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, widely considered the first detective novel ever.

In the same way that many great mysteries, whether set in the Big Easy, London, the far East or elsewhere, convey a memorable sense of place, Morgan and other staffers wanted to be sure the moniker for the new line did the same. Bourbon Street was inspired, of course, by the famed French Quarter thoroughfare, a vibrant, edgy, brash landmark in a city teeming with history, literary significance and a sense of intrigue. "I don't think there's a place in the country that has more atmosphere than Bourbon Street in New Orleans," said Morgan. "It's a wonderful cloak to wrap this line in."

That cloak will help bring a greater level of awareness to all Bourbon Street's offerings by presenting them "in a context," said Morgan. "Members of the mystery and thriller community will begin to know what our tastes are and look to us as a source of great writers."


Harper Perennial

Lynda La Plante: The Return of Anna Travis

Since penning her first television screenplay, a crime drama for British television in the 1980s, Lynda La Plante has often received gruesome gifts from the London police: inside information on murder cases that she can transform into plot lines. In fact, an invitation to visit a crime scene led to the creation of detective Anna Travis, who makes her seventh appearance in Blood Line (October).

A nervous, awkward young policewoman was working the real-life investigation, her first as a detective, and confided in La Plante that until then she had handled only plastic dummies and never a real body. "She was just wonderfully inept," said the author. "I loved her so much Anna Travis emerged." La Plante also drew on some of her own early experiences researching crime fiction, such as the time she fainted during an autopsy and landed on a trolley full of equipment.

In Blood Line, Anna is grieving the loss of her murdered fiancé and throws herself into her new role as Detective Chief Inspector for London's Murder Squad. The routine missing person's case she is asked to look into by a superior takes an ominous turn, leading her on a desperate hunt for a young man who has disappeared seemingly without a trace. With no body and increasing pressure to make an arrest, Anna becomes obsessed with the smallest details of the case, prompting her boss to believe she might be losing control of the investigation--and of herself.

When La Plante traded a successful acting career for one behind the camera, she found her true calling, she said. Seeing that first TV script, the drama Widows, brought to life on the screen was a defining moment for her. "That was it," La Plante said. "I never, ever wanted to act again. The enjoyment of writing surpassed anything I had been feeling lately as an actress." executive editor Claire Wachtel was a longtime admirer of the author's work well before acquiring Blood Line. Another fan is Karin Slaughter, who has claimed that her fellow crime writer "practically invented the thriller." Prior to introducing readers to neophyte Anna Travis, La Plante created Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison, a difficult, brilliant, high-ranking detective who tenaciously does her job amid an old-boy network. The award-winning PBS series starring Helen Mirren garnered a slew of awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Among other accolades, La Plante has received royal recognition for her endeavors. She was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to Literature, Drama and Charity in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2008. La Plante divides her time between London and East Hampton, N.Y., where she spends summers plotting her next novels.

One thing readers will never encounter in La Plante's books is an out-of-the-blue solution to a crime. "I hate when you go through a murder mystery and then at the very end they bring in a new character you've never met before and it turns out they did it; and you think, oh, no, no, no," she said. "I love to write the clues and say to a reader, spot it if you can. Then the jigsaw begins to take shape."


Oliver Harris: Identity and Reinvention in London

A "beguiling bastard of a hero" (Val McDermid) and "London's coolest cop" (The Daily Mail), Nick Belsey makes a memorable first impression in The Hollow Man (October), Oliver Harris's debut thriller. After waking up on the city streets following a bender, he peruses the previous night's crime sheet to see if it mentions his eventful evening. Along with making the misguided decision to go home with the boss's wife, Belsey crashed a squad car he stole from another precinct.

Facing disciplinary action, broke, homeless and mired in gambling debts, Belsey wants out. When Alexei Devereux, a wealthy recluse, goes missing, the down-on-his luck detective sees an opportunity for the taking: a new identity and a fortune. For Belsey's brazen plan to work, though, he needs to uncover the truth behind Devereux's shady dealings while evading the businessman's ruthless enemies and staying one step ahead of Scotland Yard.

Belsey emerged from Harris's fascination with the idea of someone simply walking away from their life--particularly a detective, who would have the skills to pull off such a daring deed. "It struck me as an exciting scenario," Harris said. "He was going to do whatever it took to escape. At the same time, he's not a bad person. He doesn't harm anyone in the process. But like perhaps a lot of people who veer into criminality he tells himself he's doing it for good reasons, which is to start afresh."

Using London as the novel's backdrop offered Harris a reason to roam the metropolis, where he lives, both on his own and while riding along with the police. The story, which takes readers from ritzy to derelict neighborhoods and into the City--an area that in medieval times constituted most of London and today is the financial hub--is "amazingly atmospheric," said editorial director Cal Morgan. "The Hollow Man makes you think of London as though it's a place of threat and menace. The idea of London being a character is never truer than in this book."

In his early 30s, Harris has earned degrees in English literature, Shakespeare studies and creative writing. His résumé includes working as a TV and film extra, assisting with research at the Imperial War Museum, and reviewing for the Times Literary Supplement. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in psychoanalysis and Greek myth while also crafting Belsey's next adventure, which takes the detective into a network of tunnels, constructed as air raid shelters, underneath London.

In The Hollow Man, the well-read Belsey admits to pilfering from pubs some of secondhand books used as adornment, grabbing "dusty hardbacks on history and philosophy" along with a pint. Like the detective, his creator's youthful indiscretions included taking a tome or two. In fact, the first novel Harris ever read by spy master John le Carré was swiped from a bar. Good thing for readers that he engaged in this bit of kleptomania: helping himself to decorative reading material "was actually one of the things that got me into crime fiction, because very often the books knocking around are old thrillers," Harris said.

author photo: Eamonn McCabe

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