I was disheartened but not surprised on Sunday to find an article in the New York Times called The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy. I wasn’t surprised at this latest example of “entrepreneurial spirit” on the web because the availability of legitimate book reviews has been shrinking for years. This got me thinking about how I choose mystery novels to buy. This post is about my secret sources.
The Mysterious Bookshop Newsletter
The Mysterious Bookshop is “one of the oldest mystery specialist book stores in America,” and each month they publish a newsletter with an extensive list of the new books and reissues they offer. My favorite section is “staff picks” and my favorite staff contributor is Ian. Here you can find very short, honest reviews by knowledgeable people that are well worth checking out. I don’t always agree with them, but I find them invaluable. For example, Ian first called my attention to the wildly imaginative The Visible Man: A Novel by Chuck Klosterman.
The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC
Leonard Lopate hosts a wide-ranging interview show on WNYC, and often has a great selection of guests, including interesting fiction and non-fiction authors. I found Benjamin Black via Leonard Lopate (Black is the Booker Prize Winner John Banville who slums writing quirky mystery fiction). You can check out who Lopate has been talking to online and listen via podcast. Today, for example, Lopate is interviewing Tana French.
If I am intrigued by a book and want to know more, I will turn to the “Editorial Reviews” that are often provided by Barnes & Noble and Amazon on their websites (from legitimate sources like Library Journal, Kirkus Review, Publishers Weekly, and the NY Times [I particularly trust Janet Maislin whose reviews normally only appear during the week]).
If I am still not sure about buying a book, I often have a look at Amazon UK. It is possible that people are selling glowing book reviews in the UK now too, but my past experience is that many more Brits are likely to give honest and fairly well-balanced opinions than Americans, so I often check out what they have to say. The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) occasionally publishes reviews of popular fiction titles, but a subscription is very pricey.
Mystery Scene Magazine
I also use Mystery Scene Magazine as a source. The coverage of the genre is very comprehensive, and includes interviews, news, and a lot of book reviews along with valuable lists of the latest award-winning novels and short stories.
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
I use Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for several things. First, you can sometimes sample an author you are interested in via a short story because the magazine regularly publishes short fiction by wide variety of American and British authors and one story by a new author (see “Department of First Stories” every month), which are often very good. My favorite story is usually in the “Passport to Crime” section, where you will find a story from an international author in translation.
EQMM publishes a small section of book reviews, along with my favorite column called “Blog Bytes” by Bill Crider. The column highlights blogs of interest to writers and to anyone looking for blogs where people aren’t paid (as far as I know anyway) to write mystery genre book reviews.
If all else fails, I will go to my local Barnes and Noble store and read a few pages of a book I am interested in to see what I think of the style or use “Look Inside” (if available) on the Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites. I do most of my mystery genre reading on a Nook with Glowlight, but that’s another blog subject. I think you can sample books on the Nook, but I personally haven’t tried it yet.