Paul Giverney is a commercial writer with literary aspirations and the talent to back them up, given the chance. He's looking for a new publisher, and everyone in New York is dying to get him into their literary stable. Paul sets his sights on publishers Mackenzie-Haack, with one stipulation: they must drop author Ned Isaly, whose novels bring the house some literary acclaim but very little profit.
Bobby Mackenzie and his acquisitions agent, Clive Esterhaus, are willing, but how to get rid of Ned when his contract extends to another book? As luck would have it, Mackenzie-Haack recently published a novel by a former mobster, Danny Zito. And if they offer him a contract to write a sequel, Zito's more than willing to help them take out another type of contract on Ned.
That's the absurd and hilarious premise of Martha Grimes' new novel, Foul Matter. As the author of more than 20 books, including the popular Richard Jury detective series, Grimes knows the publishing business inside out. She uses that experience to make observations that are simultaneously cutting, profound and just plain funny. (When Clive wonders if they'll be able to find Zito, who has entered the Witness Protection Program, Mackenzie scoffs at his skepticism. "If you were lost in the African jungle and said, I've got a book contract here,' half a dozen people would jump out of the bush to sign it. Wiesenthal should have come to us when he wanted to find Himmler.")
While the comic action is considerable, it's used to address a serious topic, namely the commercialization of book publishing. Paul's demand and Mackenzie's willingness to comply with it represent the conflicting goals of monetary gain and literary acclaim, not to mention total moral bankruptcy. Grimes has the reader wondering: are the good old days of publishing gone for good?
Readers can draw their own conclusions, but Grimes' breakout from the mystery shelves with this wicked satire should please old fans and win new ones.