Bringing Back The Mysterious Press

As has been widely reported, Otto Penzler and his well-traveled imprint is on the move again, after being domiciled at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the past six years. As of Fall 2011, he’ll publish 10-12 titles a year with Grove/Atlantic, but the books will be branded with a very familiar name: yes, The Mysterious Press is returning, as Penzler re-acquired the rights to the name from Hachette Book Group, which (as Warner Books) bought the original name (and press) back in 1989.

That already sounds like a mouthful, but the story is a lot more complicated from a publishing standpoint. That’s because Penzler has often tied his publishing fortunes to longtime friend Anthony Cheetham, who is close to the nine life professional limit in the UK. Cheetham and Penzler first started working together around 30 years ago, when Cheetham, who was then with Random House UK, licensed  the UK rights to the Mysterious Press list. Then Cheetham nearly set the venture up again at Century/Arrow before things worked out at Quercus, and when Cheetham moved on to Corvus (part of Atlantic Books) so did Penzler.

The longstanding UK connection thus explains the Grove/Atlantic piece of the pie. But Entrekin, years ago, expressed to me that he was looking to acquire more crime fiction, adding to a stable that already includes Mo Hayder, Deon Meyer, Mike Lawson, Donna Leon, and John Lawton. (A stable, I might add, that is primarily edited by Jamison Stoltz.) Adding Penzler and his 10-12 books a year will certainly do that. The trick will be whether the revamped Mysterious Press can freshen up with some new blood, or if current and longtime Penzler amigos like Thomas H. Cook, Andrew Klavan, Thomas Perry, and John Harvey will follow him to Grove/Atlantic.

It also remains to be seen what will happen at HMH. The deal for Penzler’s imprint was done on the Harcourt side, pre-merger; joining Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt together also brought the imprint under the same auspices as the “Best American” anthology series, for which Penzler oversees the Best American Mystery Stories on an annual basis. Now that HMH doesn’t have 6-8 slots a year going to Penzler’s titles, that frees the publisher to diversify their own crime fiction list, if they choose (and my understanding is that this will be the case.) At the moment, non-Penzler crime writers include Inger Ash Wolfe, Elly Griffiths, Karin Fossum, and Sara Gran. Further titles will likely reflect the sensibility of these books.

In other words, Penzler’s peripatetic state (to steal the headline from Publishers Lunch) appears to benefit both HMH and Grove/Atlantic, but it may well benefit crime fiction readers the most. That, however, depends on all the books being published well – no matter the format, no matter who’s responsible.