14 December 2011

Ed McBain and Jo Nesbø, and a P.S. on Exclusivity

Jo Nesbø (born 1960) must be the crime novelist I write about most often here, and I suspect I've never even mentioned Ed McBain (1926-2005; also known as Evan Hunter, the name under which he wrote Blackboard Jungle and the screenplay for Hitchcock's The Birds). So when a new-to-the-US Nesbø novel goes on sale on the same day that a dozen of McBain's 87th Precinct mysteries, some of them over 50 years old, become available on Kindle (in the US)--you might expect me to cover the 'new' Nesbø and save the 'old' McBains for another day.

Actually, both writers are important to me. Nesbø's the newest writer I'm fervently 'following'; I followed McBain almost as devotedly for the last 20 years of his life and went to great lengths to find and read every last 87th Precinct and Matthew Hope novel from McBain's backlist. McBain seemed to write faster than Nesbø does, and a McBain novel is faster to read than a Nesbø; McBain's Steve Carella looks like a particularly straight arrow if you contrast him with Nesbø's antiheroic Harry Hole; but both writers are significant masters of the police procedural novel.

Today's new Nesbø is Harry Hole's eighth case, The Leopard, and it is very much a follow-up to The Snowman. (For the Harry Hole lineup, see here; for more on Nesbø, continue here.) It's another serial-killer novel, and, if anything, even more violent than its predecessor. Between the two books, Harry has left Oslo and begun a new life in Hong Kong. He has to be fetched back home to help his old colleagues unravel an unusually complicated case: you may find that it looks like Thomas Harris on the outside but more like Christie or Ellery Queen at its core (which, for me, is 'a good thing').

If you've read The Snowman, you probably know whether you want to read The Leopard. If you're new to Nesbø, start with the earliest available novel in the series. (Again, they're all listed here; for US readers of ebooks, the earliest currently available is The Redbreast, which introduces characters who appear in all the subsequent books.)

First edition (Permabooks [imprint
of Pocket Books], 1956)
I should mention, for the benefit of newer readers of this blog, that I've vowed not to advertise ebooks that I consider to be overpriced, and I've encouraged others not to pay double-digit prices for ebooks. That's why I link to the hardback edition of The Leopard, not the ebook. I consider even The Snowman to be overpriced in ebook in the US, although the price will probably come down in the months ahead. [UPDATE: As of 18 January 2012, the US publisher has lowered the ebook prices of each of these novels to $9.99.]

Alternatively, consider taking advantage of Amazon.com's reduced prices for one of the two earliest McBain novels just released, The Mugger (1956) or The Con Man (1957), just $4.99 each for Kindle. They're early books, but in them McBain has already hit the stride he maintained through over 50 novels in the 87th Precinct series alone. Before Hill Street Blues and before all the Law and Orders and all the C.S.I.s--and grittier than any of them--there was the ongoing saga of squad room and crime scene, extending into the private lives of the dozen or so police detectives in a single precinct in a city that doesn't call itself New York but that corresponds to New York in every detail. (Show business trivia: Q: What was Gena Rowlands' breakthrough role? A: Arguably, as Steve Carella's wife Teddy in the 1960-61 TV series 87th Precinct, adapted from the McBain novels.) In every novel there are two or three storylines that may well never converge--just like the storylines in real life…

Print editions of all 12 McBains (and the others available for Kindle next week and the week after) will appear in 2012 and will be distributed throughout the US book trade. (McBain's novels about attorney Matthew Hope, beginning with Goldilocks, will follow in September 2012.) But the ebooks will remain Kindle exclusives for the foreseeable future. The publisher, after all, is Thomas & Mercer, Amazon's new crime imprint.

(One side benefit of Amazon's new investment in [or of] McBain is the page Perspectives on McBain, where Stephen King, Lawrence Block and many others assess their indebtedness to him.)

P.S.: Exclusivity, a budding issue at Amazon, is not necessarily a good thing. I, like most other independent authors, have the option of giving Amazon the exclusive right to distribute A Kiss Before You Leave Me for at least three months. Kiss would be enrolled in a new program that lends ebooks for free to Amazon Prime members, and I'd receive a prorated share of a multimillion-dollar royalty package set aside by Amazon--but I'd have to pull Kiss from the Apple iBookstore, Sony's Reader Store, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. No one of those stores sells as many copies of Kiss as the various Amazons combined--but ebooks should work for access, not exclusivity. Excluding those other vendors would mean limiting the access of readers who depend on an EPUB-friendly device--the majority of ebook readers internationally. I don't fault Amazon for offering exclusive terms--but exclusivity would not be the best arrangement for me and my readers.


Chrissy said...

I just loved reading Nesbø, he's of special interest to me as he is also Scandinavian! Great writing, interesting characters, he must be destined for huge success if he keeps his flow up..

James Hulbert said...

Agree with Chrissy--and thank you for posting. So *many* great Scandinavian crime novelists--but Nesbø is a special favorite of mine, too....