David Thompson's small mystery press, Busted Flush Press (named in
honor of the boat, won in a poker game, in which John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee lives),
stems from his "love and hate about handselling" at Murder by the Book,
the Houston, Tex., mystery bookstore where Thompson is assistant
manager and has worked for 17 years.
He explained: "I love it that we can get so excited about books we're
reading and get people who come in excited about them, too--and sell
hundreds of copies of the books. It's a fun atmosphere." But when major
publishers decide a book hasn't sold enough even if it does well at
mystery stores like Murder by the Book, then the book goes out of
print, is hard to find, "and the author develops a bad track
record and other publishers are reluctant to pick them up," Thompson
So after running out of copies of too many handselling favorites, last year Thompson decided to remedy the situation by founding
a mystery press that specializes in reprints of "fine thrillers and hard-boiled crime fiction" that "we
ourselves have field tested," he said enthusiastically. "We have lots
of customers who are really trustworthy and have certain authors they
want to see back in print. I'm mainly doing titles I know we can sell a
few hundred copies by handselling."
Busted Flush Press joins several other mystery presses run by mystery
bookstores, such as Rue Morgue Press and the Poisoned Pen Press, as well as
such specialty mystery presses as Felony and Mayhem Press. Busted Flush
is a little different in that it's owned and run by a mystery bookstore
employee rather than a bookstore owner. As a result, it is perhaps even
more a labor of love than other mystery presses: Thompson usually works at the press from 5-9 a.m., then works 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
at the store. Although the store is supportive, Thompson does not work
on press matters while at Murder by the Book.
The press's first few efforts were limited edition books, but this
season it offers the first titles that Thompson hopes will
find spots in other mystery and general stores. One of them, a November
title, Stone City
by Mitchell Smith ($18, 0976715775), is "the book
that made me want to set up the press," Thompson said. A prison crime
novel by an author who has faded into obscurity, "it's one of the
best books I've read." Stone City
was first published in 1990 and
came out in mass market the following year. By 1992, it was already
difficult to find.
But Thompson remained a fan, and several years ago, mystery writer
Phillip Margolin did an event at the store. Asked by someone in the
audience about his favorite books, Margolin said Stone City
was his No.
1 title. "We talked afterwards, and I told him about my publishing
idea," Thompson said. "Margolin said not to get into publishing because
I'd lose my shirt, but he added that if I did do it and published Stone
, he'd write the introduction." So now that Thompson is risking his
shirt, Margolin has written the introduction for Stone City
Two titles that are currently available are:
A Fifth of Bruen: Early Fiction of Ken Bruen
with an introduction by
2006 Edgar-nominee Allan Guthrie ($18, 0976715724), which Busted Flush published in May. This consists of
six early books by Irish writer Bruen that came out originally either
as chapbooks or limited edition small press titles. "They're fantastic
stories," Thompson said.
Damn Near Dead: Old, Bold, Uncontrolled, an Anthology of Geezer Noir
edited by Duane Swierczynski with an introduction by James Crumley
($18, 0976715759). Published in July, this book contains original short
stories ("Swierczynski and I conceived it," Thompson said) by such
Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, John Harvey and Reed Farrel Coleman, among
others. "The stories feature elderly protagonists," Thompson said.
"They're not knitting and playing with cats and doing crosswords;
they're people at the end of their rope, and if they're going down,
they're taking others with them."
In September, he will release "another author I want to push," David
Handler. (Not to be confused with Daniel Handler of Lemony Snickett fame!) The
first Handler volume with Busted Flush Press will consist of the first two
books he wrote featuring a celebrity ghost writer-detective and his
basset hound named Lulu, The Man Who Died Laughing
and The Man Who
Lived by Night
. "There is no cutesy dog thing going on here," Thompson
commented. "It's edgy and cozy. There's profanity, sex and violence but
also a puppy dog." Available in trade paperback and hardcover, these
two titles are the only ones in the eight book series that weren't
printed in hardcover. Altogther Thompson plans to do four omnibus
editions of all eight Lulu books. Colin Cotterill, the Dilys
Winn-winning crime writer, is creating the cover art for all the books.
For now, production is often painstaking since the reprinted titles were
created in the pre-digital era. Thompson has the books scanned, but the
technology isn't perfect, and he compares the scanned material to the original
"character by character."
He's also learning a bit about publishing, particularly "some of the
little things as a bookseller you overlook." For example, "I used to
think why do publishers need a manuscript and cover art a year in
advance?" He learned quickly that editing, designing, typesetting and
printing can take a while and that prepublication reviewers want material
So far sales have been "slow but steady" for the books that are out. Of
the 4,000-copy first printing for A Fifth of Bruen
, for example, the
press has sold 1,000 copies. "A lot of sales are direct," but many are
through stores, a channel Thompson hopes to increase.
Thompson also hopes to sell to libraries that want to fill out their
classic mysteries and will set release dates around the time of mystery
conventions to appeal to the collectors market.
He plans to publish 6-10 books a year. He'll be happy, he said, if he
gets more attention for his authors and helps them "get with someone
bigger. I want to get these books back into print so we can handsell them,
but I also want the authors to get better notice." (He emphasized that he's
not looking for new authors to send manuscripts.)
Thompson may be contacted at email@example.com
or at 713-942-9282; www.bustedflushpress.com