My online friend Kathy in New York told me about The Poisoned Pen when she learned I’d be visiting Phoenix. The famous bookstore in the suburb of Scottsdale was founded by Barbara Peters in 1989, who later went on to establish the Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes several Australian crime writers, including my Sisters in Crime, Kerry Greenwood and Sulari Gentill. (In fact, I tried to convince Sulari to come with me to Phoenix and play Louise to my Thelma, but in the end, I had to settle for delivering a gift to Barbara on her behalf.) It seemed all roads were leading to The Poisoned Pen and, with my dance-card soon to be filled by the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference, tonight was the night to visit.
The Poisoned Pen is a treasure trove of crime fiction in all its forms, with sections dedicated to Southwest crime, historical crime and signed first editions, as well as a vast collection of contemporary crime fiction. It is also renowned for its author events. Photos of famous authors hang from the rafters, and I took vicarious thrills in standing in the same room that had hosted the likes of Sara Paretsky, PD James, Michael Dibdin, Philip Kerr, Ian Rankin and Patricia Cornwall — to name only a very few. Barbara says there are only two days in the calendar that don’t work for author events: Valentine’s Day; and April 15, known in the USA as Tax Day — the day tax returns are due.
Tonight’s author event was with Mark Greaney, author of the military thriller Gray Man series, Tom Clancy’s collaborator on his final three books, and author of several new Jack Ryan novels. Not my style at all. But Mark was an engaging interviewee, and thanks to Barbara’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre, the ensuing discussion was very interesting, ranging from story arcs and settings, to the differences between UK and American spy thrillers, and the subgenre known as ‘K and R’ (Kidnap and Ransom). Mark did make me smile when he said that he’s always looking forward to writing the next book because, ‘The next novel I write is going to be so much fun, unlike the one I’m currently writing, which is a hard slog.’
On the subject of K and R, both Barbara and Mark spoke highly of a new novel by KJ Howe called The Freedom Broker. The author is due to appear tomorrow evening (with Charles Cumming) at The Poisoned Pen, and Barbara made the point that the best time to meet an author is when they’ve just published their first novel. She went on to describe not-then-famous authors The Poisoned Pen had hosted in the past, who drew only tiny crowds — no one other than staff were on hand at the first Lee Childs gig — but who, because they were supported at the onset of their careers, have remained loyal to the bookshop.
As it was, this Wednesday evening gig drew 30 people, some driving significant distances to be there. (I caught the bus from Tempe and chatted with the loveliest driver!). And it seemed everyone was buying at least one book. I bought three, including Phoenix Noir, which was edited by Patrick Millikin, who has worked at The Poisoned Pen for 22 years. I couldn’t resist a signed copy!
I finished off my night with dinner at Restaurant Mexico in Tempe, which boasts ‘Homemade Mexico City and Jalisco Style’. Not only was the food delicious, but I got a hot (no pun intended) tip from owner Juan Carlos on how to grow jalapeños for Mexican cooking: apparently, to get a hot rather than sweet taste, you have to ‘punish the chillies’ by depriving them of water. This turns them from jalapeños into chipotles.
Is it just me, or does ‘Punishing the Chillies’ sounds like it could be the title of a short story in a Phoenix Noir anthology?