After a number of years on the job, during which time I penned the preponderance of the BookPage mystery reviews, Lynn Green (who was either my editor or perhaps promoted to uber-editor by then) asked me one day what drew me to suspense novels. I joked that I had been weaned on the Hardy Boys books; she laughed and mentioned that the BookPage management team was considering doing a four-book monthly column devoted to mysteries, at least on a trial basis, and would I be interested in writing it? Four books a month, especially when working a forty-hour-per-week job, was a fairly serious commitment; it basically meant that all my pleasure-reading time would be absorbed by books for the column, so I decided early on that I wanted to read only the best books I could get my hands on, books I might actually (gasp!) pay my own money for (in some alternative reality). I was given remarkably free rein over what I chose; every month I would show up at the BookPage office to peruse the shelves containing the latest offerings. In any given month, there would be thirty or forty choices, from which I would tentatively choose four to review. I say “tentatively” because sometimes a book didn’t live up to its advance press, and I would need a backup selection in that case, so I always took more books than I could possibly review, erring on the side of wretched overkill. Also, I had to pay my monthly visit to the freebie shelves in the BookPage entry hall, just in case I had a little bit of extra reading time due to a sick day or vacation. Every thirty days or so I stuffed the trunk of my diminutive Honda to its limit with books, and soon my downstairs den began to take on the aspect of a small-town public library. I mean, how can you pass up a complete collection of reissues of Waugh, or a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia? Not to mention the travel books, business and management books for Cyndi, a pictorial history of steam locomotives, and a photo book of aerial views of Tennessee… In short, I became a book junkie. (Bruce: “Hi, I’m Bruce and I’m a bookaholic.” Group (in unison): “Hi-i-i-i, Bruuuuuce.”)
As with every job, there are days of drudgery punctuated by moments of magic. There are few highs (okay, few work-related highs) that equal interviewing a favorite author (Tony Hillerman, C.J. Box, Michael Connelly, and Janet Evanovich jump to mind) or introducing an unsuspecting public to a major new talent (Martin Limon, Timothy Hallinan, Attica Locke, Sean Chercover, Roger Smith, the English language debut of Jo Nesbo, William Monahan, Marcus Sakey, this list just goes on and on). Next month, in fact, I will be covering John Burdett’s The Godfather of Kathmandu. Title notwithstanding, it is the fourth of his atmospheric mysteries set in steamy Bangkok; his first, Bangkok 8, was the no-contest mystery of the month (and perhaps the year), summed up thusly: “Burdett’s command of the language is superb, and the book is intoxicating on every level, laced with expat insights into the contradictory and surreal milieu that is Bangkok.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.