No, wait. I remember. Candy and Karl are the professional hit men who insist on getting to know their targets before taking them out. First met them in Martha Grimes’ goofy send-up of the book industry, 1983’s Foul Matter, where they gave new meaning to the term “publishing contract.”
Now, Candy and Karl return in a satirical sequel, The Way of All Fish (Scribner, purchased e-book), this time going after unscrupulous literary agent L. Bass Hess. They find much to dislike about oily L. Bass, who sues former clients for commissions on books he did not sell. Fortunately for L. Bass, Manhattan publishing pooh-bah Bobby Mackenzie and best-selling author Paul Giverney (also from Foul Matter) don’t want the agent dead. No, they decide to drive him crazy, which is where Candy and Karl come in, as well as literary novelist Cindy Sella, a sleek Malaysian grifter, several kind-hearted Brooklyn slackers, a pig farmer/button man, L. Bass’s wealthy aunt (formerly uncle) who lives in South Florida, and numerous tropical fish. Choice set pieces involve an alligator, a junkyard ghost, a seance in a Pittsburgh museum, and, at book’s beginning, a shoot-out at the Clownfish Cafe that shatters an aquarium.
“Now the brightly colored fish, clown fish, tangs, angelfish of neon blue and sun-bright yellow, were drawing last breaths until the blonde who had been eating spaghetti tossed the remnants of red wine from her glass and scooped up some water and added one of the fish to the wineglass.” Other diners follow her example until the cafe’s tables are filled with pitchers and glasses, “and in every glass swam a fish, its color brightened from underneath by a stubby candle that seemed at last to have found a purpose in life.”
Anyone who has read Grimes’ other novels, including the long-running Richard Jury detective series, knows that she has a way with words and quirky details. Such a lovely wit. And no one does mist and melancholy better.
The Way of All Fish is as funny as Foul Matter, although not quite as fresh because readers already have been introduced to aptly named publishing houses like Mackenzie-Haack and Swinedale and the depths to which writers, editors, publishers, agents, etc. will descend. As Candy and Karl discovered, “Books were to die for. Literally. . .How would they have ever guessed the publishing world was so shot through with acrimony that they’d just as soon kill you as publish you?” Now, the two are wise to the industry, hanging out in Barnes & Noble and flipping the pages of PW. However, they have yet to write their own book. Then again, Grimes is doing a whale of a job for them.
If you like this kind of inside-pages tale, check out Jane O’Connor’s Almost True Confessions (HarperCollins, digital galley), which I galloped through last fall. Free-lance copyeditor Rannie Bookman’s thrilled to get a chance to edit the latest top-secret tell-all by an infamous celebrity biographer. But then Rannie finds the author’s dead body and puts on her sleuthing cap against the advice of her cop boyfriend. She suspects the murder may be tied to the manuscript’s enigmatic dedication. What or who is “Audeo”? I’ll never tell…