Where’s the Outrage?

On her blog, Sara Weinman unearthed an incredible column by Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press and proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop. I don’t know how I missed this article when it first ran in April. I don’t know why every author of cozies and hardboiled mysteries alike isn’t incensed by his article.

The column is incredible because Penzler is something of a leader in the mystery field, both as a prominent NY bookseller, as well as a respected editor and publisher of mysteries. He’s treated as mystery royalty.
He shouldn’t be anymore, because as he reveals in his column, he’s one thing above all else:

A prick.

In his column, he trashes… and I mean trashes, “cozy” mysteries.

The books stacked in front of me are the finalists for the Agatha award, given at the annual Malice Domestic conference. This event honors books written in the mode of Agatha Christie, loosely defined as those that contain no explicit sex, excessive gore, or gratuitous violence. Unstated, but clearly of equal importance, is that they must contain not a scintilla of style, originality, or depth. They must have the texture and nuance of an infomercial, lacking only its philosophical power.

My fiancée, as kind and generous as she is beautiful, defended them briefly by comparing them to television sitcoms, to be read as pure escapism. “They’re throw-away books,” she says. I agree. We just disagree about timing, as I think they should be thrown away before they are read.

There’s nothing wrong with disliking cozies… but then he personally, and quite viciously, attacks the authors nominated for the Agatha Award, some of whom are the sweetest, kindest people you’d ever want to meet (and several of whom… okay, most of whom, are friends of mine). They have also helped line his pockets for decades… making the pilgrimage to his store and signing hundreds and hundreds of books for him to sell. I won’t repeat the individual attacks, but he summarizes his feelings this way:

You know the scariest thing about this little shelf of books? They are the cream of the Malice Domestic crop. That’s crop — with an “o.”

The criticism, as pointed as it is, isn’t the problem. The authors and their work are fair game. But coming from Penzler, an editor, publisher and bookseller in the mystery field, it’s an act of raging hostility, utter stupidity, and naked hypocrisy(not to mention revealing that Penzler has the social skills of a rabid weasel). For a man who has profited off authors for years… whether they write hardboiled mysteries or cozies… to write an article like this is an act of pure malice. I hope the “mystery community” as a whole boycotts this jerk and his store… and makes him as welcome as Legionnaires Disease at the mystery conventions he likes to grace with his presense.

6 thoughts on “Where’s the Outrage?”

  1. “he personally, and quite viciously, attacks the authors nominated for the Agatha Award, some of whom are the sweetest, kindest people you’d ever want to meet”
    Penzler attacks the books, not the authors. You won’t find any personal attacks (such as “social skills of a rabid weasel”) in his review.
    “For a man who has profited off authors for years… whether they write hardboiled mysteries or cozies… to write an article like this is an act of pure malice.”
    I suppose Penzler and other book reviewers with any connection to the publishing and bookselling businesses should just “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” in their reviews. That’ll push even more substandard books into the hands of unknowing outsiders like me and make Penzler even more money.

  2. “The Covers of This Book Are Too Far Apart”

    The other day when I was thinking about good bad book reviews (I mean particularly memorable reviews of particularly bad books), I ran across Otto Penzler’s “Throw-Away Reading — Truly” (NY Sun) (link via A Writer’s Life). Mr. Penzler reviews

  3. It’s not uncommon for mystery novelists to review other mystery novelists…but they don’t have a financial interest as well.
    Otto Penzler isn’t just a book critic…he’s a publisher, editor, and bookseller. He has profited handsomely as a publisher, editor, and bookseller from the same authors he is now so casually trashing. That’s the difference between him and other critics. What is even more galling is that even though he trashes an entire genre (and individual authors in the genre)…he still has no problem selling the books in his store. If he has such a problem with the books, if they disgust him so much, why not purge his store of every cozy in the place? Because he doesn’t want to lose the money they bring in.

  4. What I don’t understand is who thought it would be a good idea for Otto to review the Malice Domestic contenders in the first place. I wouldn’t send my wife, who eats “nothing from the sea,” to a seafood restaurant to appraise the catches of the day.
    Yes, books good and bad exist out there, and so do reviews, good and bad. But (and I think in his own misanthropic way, he is up front about this)Otto has no objectivity when it comes to this sub-genre, which he clearly loathes, leaving him comfortable to trash the entire school of writing and those who choose to participate in it.

  5. Ok, I just read the article. While I agree that he trashes the books and not the authors, he goes way over the top, especially for someone who makes a living off selling authors. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I’ve read three of the nominations. While I didn’t feel that Mumbo Gumbo and CB,LL represented the best from Ms. Farmer or Ms. Andrews (both of whom I love), they weren’t that bad. And, while I didn’t care for Shop ‘Til You Drop, it had little to do with shopping and more to do with the shallow characters. (Not characterizations, but the characters. I can’t stand people that shallow in real life, either.)
    You can bet I won’t be patronizing his store. Not that I would anyway living in southern CA.
    Now that I’ve found your blog, you can bet I’ll be back. (That’s a threat not a promise and will be taken as such.)


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