The Poisoned Pen

img_9500 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.

fullsizerenderThe 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.


With The Poisoned Pen founder Barbara Peters

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.’

Mark Greaney & Barbara Peters

Mark Greaney & Barbara Peters

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.

Today's gratuitous cactus shot: Organ Pipe, near The Poisoned Pen

Organ Pipe, near The Poisoned Pen

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?


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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12 Responses to The Poisoned Pen

  1. Jo says:

    It absolutely sounds like a title… I’m going to try that little trick with my chilies…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    That could be a great title, Angela! And I’m very, very glad you enjoyed your trip to the PP. Among other things, I think we really need to support independent bookshops, and that one has done much to further crime writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t agree more, Margot. We are fortunate to have two independent bookstores within easy access of where I live. The PP has a sticker on the wall (beneath a poster of Humphrey Bogart) that says “Break the chains – Shop at independent stores”. I note that Barbara Peters is also founder of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association — all of which adds up to me not feeling remotely guilty about buying three books last night!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. FictionFan says:

    Oh, I had no idea Poisoned Pen were a bookshop! They’ve been providing me with all the British Library Crime Classics via NetGalley recently, since they do the e-book versions of them all. Lovely to find an indy bookshop thriving so well – I must look out for some of their other titles. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara showed me those British Library Crime Classics on the shelf, FF. And yes, it’s great to see an independent bookshop thriving. In addition to those browsing/buying when I arrived and the 30 or so people at the event, the phones were also running hot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Andrew Nette says:

    Glad you are having a good time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kathy d says:

    That sounds like so much fun. Glad you made it to The Poisoned Pen. (I always read the summaries of the authors’ nights posted up at Kittling Books — and the authors and Barbara
    Peters are not only eloquent, but hilarious.)
    I didn’t realize PP Press published books by Kerry Greenwood and Sulari Gentile, good to know.
    They also have a wonderful website with staff recommendations, a newsletter and more.
    I wish that there was a branch in New York City, as I’d be there constantly.
    The dinner sounds fantastic as well.
    Another title could be “Death by Chipotle!” “Salsa Nights” must have been taken by now.


  6. icewineanne says:

    Enjoy following your journey Angela 🤗
    How about jalapeño heat as a title or choked by chipotles-heh heh

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love the chilli tip … there’s nothing like real Mexican food is there. Sounds like the perfect bookshop for you – so great you were able to get to it AND attend an author event. (I’m keeping this comment short after my last two doozies!)


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