Mystery Meal

By Toobin, Jeffrey | The New Yorker, January 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mystery Meal


Toobin, Jeffrey, The New Yorker


Back in the nineteen-eighties, when Mary Higgins Clark was on the board of the Mystery Writers of America, the group spent most of its time discussing business. "It was all about publishers and agents, and I thought it would be a good idea to find a place for writers to talk about writing," she said. So she and a small group of friends started having dinner about once a month in a bistro on the East Side. They called it Adam's Round Table, after the proprietor, and though the restaurant is long defunct and the group's membership has evolved, the name and the dinners live on; the most recent one was the other night, at Gabriel's, on the West Side.

Mostly, the writers still talked about business. Or getting out of the business, in the case of Lawrence Block, the author of about a hundred books (he's lost count) under various names. After the appetizers arrived, Block said, "I'm with Philip Roth. Who says writers can't retire?" Nelson DeMille, who is a regular at the Round Table, missed this one, because his publisher was throwing him a dinner to celebrate decades of best-sellers. "They'll give you a dinner, but they won't tell you how many books they've printed," Block observed.

The body count in the collected works of the Round Table writers probably runs well into the hundreds, but on that day the carnage in the publishing industry seemed a far greater menace than any slipped-in arsenic or botched autopsy. The Random House-Penguin merger was lamented, the possible HarperCollins-Simon & Schuster alliance feared. Less competition, lower advances, fewer books. When Harlan Coben, who was more bald and more cheerful than Block, said, "The e-book is killing the paperback," eight heads nodded. Thomas H. Cook, who was taking a break from mysteries (he's written about two dozen), changed the subject to say that he was working on a nonfiction book about the gloomiest places in the world. "I went to a great leper colony in Hawaii," he said. "And Hiroshima and Auschwitz, of course. I think it'll be a stocking stuffer."

Crime fiction has almost as many subspecialties as medicine, and most were represented at the dinner. Coben writes thrillers, Block does (or did) hardboiled. …

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