Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: e-readers

Cabbie has a body in the trunk

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Peace, Love, and Murder
by Nancy Holzner 
Five Star (publishing) –  367 pages
$.99 e-book

Bo Forrester is a resourceful, latter-day hippie who has returned to the town of his birth in upstate New York in search of his parents who he has not seen since he rebelled against their hippie lifestyle 20 years ago and joined the army.  The pony-tailed vegetarian takes a job as a cab driver where he falls in with an odd assortment of characters including his daily fares and his cab company compatriots.

When a body is found in his trunk, Forrester takes us on a joy ride through a small university town–with side trips to New York City–as the cabbie tries to find evidence that will persuade the local cops he had nothing to do with the murder.  Almost from the beginning, the unusual characters as much as the action propel the first-person story along.  A nympho college art professor and her insanely jealous ex-con husband, a filthy rich graffiti-style artist, an art foundation executive with a gambling addiction and assorted low-lifes populate Nancy Holzner’s first mystery novel.

Trudy Hauser is a petite deputy sheriff who is Forrester’s sometimes nemesis, sometimes partner as the case gets weirder and weirder.  Drug trafficking and assault figure in the plot as author Holzner has her cabbie-detective interviewing suspects and chasing wild leads while Hauser tails him.

Holzner’s assured, straightforward style includes the classic language of the genre.  Forrester learns that the body in his trunk belonged to a well educated, wealthy philanthropist. “A life like that wasn’t supposed to end in the trunk of a cab.”  Later, in his taxi, Forrester says to himself,  “Felicia’s presence lingered in the cab, like a trace of her perfume.”  Forrester almost loses a suspect he was tailing because, “Hedlund moved pretty fast for someone built like a sofa cushion.”

Some of the smart-alecky narrative had me wondering if Forrester sounded more like a street-smart PI rather than a tofu eating refuge from a commune: “I wondered what Felicia was doing, and the best that I could come up with was a blurry image of cocktails, country clubs, and people swanning around in designer clothes.” This sounds strangely like a line from a Mitchum or Bogart film noir.  Regardless, Forrester is a savvy and likable Peace, Love & Murderprotagonist.

He has enough moxie to tough it out in a biker bar by pretending to be a cop, but he’s less sure of himself with Felicia,  the beautiful widow of the corpse in his trunk.  At times his approach to women he’s attracted to seems overly reticent particularly with Felicia.  But as Forrester explains, “…she was so far out of my league we might as well be different species.”

About three-quarters of the way through, Forrester’s run from police in a snowstorm when he’s without a car or a place to hold up is inventive and compelling.

A couple of trivial technical observations:  Hauser carries a .38 semi-auto.  Although such caliber semi-auto pistols do exist, they’re uncommon.  Most .38s are revolvers.  And at one point Forrester thinks about disabling a bad guy’s car by popping off the distributor cap.  Cars haven’t had distributor caps in a long time.  Aside from these quibbles,  the book is smooth sailing.

One of my favorite lines:  “She was furious.  In a comic book, flames would be shooting from her eyes.”

Whether you figure out whodunit may depend on whether you miss a nicely tossed off clue that slipped by me.  This novel is a great example of my favorite form of mystery: one with plot twists and clues that challenge you (and make it possible for you) to solve the puzzle plus a blend of action and suspense to hasten the pace.

An adroit writing style, quirky characters, sufficient plot twists and funny lines that several times made me chuckle out loud combine to create a satisfying, page-turner mystery.

Holzner has also written several well-received urban fantasy books.  We hope a sequel to Peace, Love and Murder is in the works.

Are you an “average” mystery reader?

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How do you feel about e-books?

The average mystery reader is a woman in her 50s or 60s.  She generally buys mass market paperbacks, but e-book mysteries are becoming attractive for some readers.

That’s the short version of many conclusions to be drawn from a collection of recent reader surveys conducted by Bowker, the book information systems company and the official ISBN agency in the U.S.

According to an Aug. 6 Bowker news release, the company’s 2013 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review showed that e-books account for 20 percent of spending on mystery titles.  Spending on e-books in all fiction and nonfiction categories, however, amounted to only 11 percent, compared to seven percent in 2011.

The Bowker release says women increased their lead over men in overall book buying, accounting for 58 percent of book spending in 2012, up from 55 percent in 2011.

Women buy a much bigger percentage of mystery books.  According to a presentation by James Howitt, director of publishing services for Bowker, and reported on the Slideshare.net website, 70 percent of mystery books are purchased by women.

As to the age of mystery buyers, regardless of gender, about 70 percent, according to the Howitt presentation, are 45 years old or older and more than half are 55 or older.

The Howitt presentation, based on a 2011 Bowker PubTrack survey, also showed where mysteries are purchased:

E-commerce  (2009) 18%  (2010) 26%

Large chains   (2009) 25%   (2010) 21%

Book clubs   (2009) 15%    (2010) 9 %

Independent bookstores (2009) 7%   (2010) 8%

Mass merchandisers (not warehouse stores or clubs)  (2009) 7%         (2010) 5%

Bear in mind these figures report where books are purchased, not the book format.  The above figures account for about 70 percent of books sales.  The balance come from grocery and drug stores, book fairs and other retail outlets.

Howitt’s graphic presentation also showed the popularity of the various formats for mysteries.  Mass market paperbacks are the most popular with about 30 percent of the market, followed by hardcover at about 25 percent, with e-books and trade paperbacks both accounting for approximately 20 percent each.  Audio mystery books make up less than five percent of the market.

Many other details about mystery readers can be found in a December 2010 Bowker readers survey commissioned by Sisters in Crime, an organization of professional women crime writers.

Some of the findings:

77 percent of mysteries are purchased by households with no children at home.

48 percent of mysteries are purchased by readers who live in suburban areas.

Readers over 60 are more loyal to an author or character than younger readers.

Women mystery readers spend an average of 11.3 hours per week in front of a book, men 8.6 hours.

The survey also addressed e-book mysteries and only 13 percent of the respondents had ever read one.  Half of the mystery readers said they were dead-set against e-books, with people in their 30s and 40s somewhat more likely to be open to reading e-books in the future.

Interested in more details?  The Sisters in Crime survey contains a comprehensive picture of mystery readers, their behaviors and demographics.  See the link below.

Commentary   Surprising to me that women make up 70 percent of mystery readers; not surprising that women read mysteries, but that men don’t.  But men don’t buy as many books nor read as much as women either.  I’ve been in a men’s book group for more than six years and every one of us devours books.  I’ll talk more about that in a coming blog installment.

E-books are becoming more popular–gradually–despite the Sisters in Crime results that say many readers are dead-set against them.  The Sisters survey is a few years old; e-books are gaining acceptance.  I think some people who resist e-books have never given them a fair chance.  Ever try to find a favorite or crucial passage you remember but didn’t mark?  Good luck in a paper book.  Traveling?  Pay the airlines for your stack of books, or carry a lightweight reader or tablet.  But I’ve trod this ground before.

Interesting to note that to the vast majority of mystery readers, the gender of an author is not a factor in their decision to buy or read a book.  One wonders if authors such as J.A. Jance or P.D. James initially picked initials to overcome gender prejudices.

Finally, the Bowker news release noted that despite the growth of ebooks, traditional print book output grew three percent in 2012, from 292,037 titles in 2011 to 301,642 in 2012.   With so many new titles each year, how does an author without a household name get recognized?

Hyperlinks:

Bowker Aug. 6 news release

Howitt presentation

Sisters in Crime survey 

Few dollars faded

E-books: for a few dollars more

For many readers, electronic books are convenient but not a substitute for the printed variety.  E-books are handy for reading on planes, trains and in bed, but you can’t line a bookshelf with them, you can’t scrawl notes on them with a pen and you can’t read them without electricity.

Some people, myself included, like both.  Too bad we have to choose.  But why should we?

Publishers should offer an electronic version of a book–for a few dollars more, say $3–to those who buy a hardback or trade (larger format) paperback.

When you buy software online you’re often given the option to pay a little more and receive the program on a disk, in addition to your download.   Some books, notably how-tos and computer books, come with disks.  Some nonfiction books direct you to a website to obtain additional information.   An electronic option for printed books sounds like a winner.

It’s difficult to see disadvantages in this for either publisher, bookseller or reader.  It probably would not affect separate e-book sales–except for e-book-only publishers and sellers–and it could be a boost for hardbacks and paperbacks.   Yes, it would cut down revenue for books for which individuals typically buy the printed and electronic versions.  But how often does that happen?

I’ve done it once.  I bought the 944-page Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterpiece about Lincoln and his cabinet, in paperback.  Then before I read it, I bought the Kindle version.  The e-book was easier to tote around and although annotating on a Kindle is not speedy, I made lots of notes.  Later I transferred many of my notes and highlighting to the print version.  (This is a book not just to read but to study and I’ve loaned it to a friend.)   I treasure my paperback version.  The pictures of Lincoln and his cabinet are easy to find and it has a prominent place on my bookshelf next to other books about that historical period.

Together, the books cost about $30.  (Prices have come down slightly since.)  This expensive double purchase three years ago demonstrates the many values in getting an electronic version and a printed book.  Not many people buy both versions of a book, but they would–if it was possible for just a few dollars more.

I did not, alas, come up with this concept.  It was one of a variety of otherwise impractical or unnecessary ideas scattered throughout an article by Kane Hsieh on Gizmodo.com.  But what an idea.

You heard it here, second.

Hyperlinks

Team of Rivals

Gizmodo article on e-books

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