After 19 years, her premise: It's no mystery to her.

Boston Sunday Globe, City Weekly Section  |  August 18, 2002
By Jan Gardner


After 19 years running Kate's Mystery Books near Porter Square, Kate Mattes thinks she has a pretty good idea of what mystery lovers want to read. So she's getting her own imprint with a new publishing house, a novel approach for a bookseller but one publishing colleagues think will work for her, given her following.

At a time when it's harder for new authors to get in print and chain bookstores exert major influence over what gets published, Mattes said she hopes her imprint starts a new trend in publishing. "It's putting the customer first. I am thinking about people who walk in the door and want to buy a book," said Mattes.

Rusty Drugan, executive director of the New England Booksellers Association, says booksellers rarely use their own imprints, but he thinks Mattes is on to something. Books that have won awards or been recommended by someone well-known, a la Oprah, always sell well. "Credentialing is a huge issue-more so today than at any time prior because of people's lack of time," said Drugan.

Mattes is well-connected to mystery writers, who regularly meet at her shop. (Author Robert Parker built some of her bookshelves.) In addition to publishing a newsletter, she frequently holds books signings and is a popular speaker. Early next year, the first two mysteries will be published under the Kate's Mystery Books imprint with Justin, Charles & Co., a new publisher in Boston. The imprint grew out of a lunch date a customer arranged for Mattes last year with Stephen Hull of Brookline, who was starting Justin, Charles & Co. after working at Zoland Books in Cambridge, Simon & Schuster, and other publishers for 20 years.

Drugan said that for a new publisher like Hull the arrangement makes sense; already established publishers don't need the boost from an imprint that a new publisher like Hull hopes to get.
Mattes will receive an undisclosed percentage of the proceeds from the sale of books with her imprint.

Mattes and Hull said it's just a coincidence that the imprints first two mysteries have been published in England. Dead Clever by Scarlett Thomas is the first in a trilogy of Lily Pascale mysteries. Mattes said Pascale "could be a friend you could sit down and have coffee with. She's not a professional private eye." Pascale-fed up with her unemployed boyfriend and maxed-out credit cards-lands a job teaching crime fiction at a small university. She finds herself in the middle of a real-life crime when the decapitated corpse of a professor turns up on campus. Hull said he plans to publish the second two Lily Pascale mysteries in subsequent years.

The White Trilogy by Irish writer Ken Bruen-comprised of The McDead, A White Arrest and Taming the Alien-is set in southeast London where even the pit bulls travel in pairs. Mattes said Bruen doesn't fit neatly into a category. His books are packed with corruption, and contain more violence than traditional British mysteries.

In addition to writing some of the most acclaimed British crime novels of the past decade, Bruen has an eclectic past. He spent four months in a South American prison, has taught in Africa and Vietnam, and worked as an actor for horror film director Roger Corman.

At least four of the 12 fiction and non-fiction books Justin, Charles plans to publish next year are mysteries. Hull and Mattes promise the next two will be by Americans.


© 2002 Justin, Charles & Co. All rights reserved.