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:
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.