Books by John M. Daniel

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Daniel (Play Melancholy Baby) turns the 1990 Las Vegas ABA convention (now known as BEA) into a murder site in this delicious sendup of the book trade. The meteoric rise of beautiful poet Heidi Yamada begins with the conversion of Guy Mallon, Santa Barbara bookstore owner, into Guy Mallon, publisher. Clever, blatant and aggressive self-promotion wins Heidi a critic here and an agent there. Add a major publishing house and a star is born. But instead of receiving a major literary award, Heidi winds up dead at the ABA (of an apparent drug overdose, according to Publishers Weekly). In their eulogies, her mentor, her agent, her various publishers and the critic who first hailed her, among others, reveal the Heidi they knew. Each adds a piece of the puzzle that Mallon will eventually decipher. The author lampoons everything from the overstuffed collector's editions to the self-importance of critics and the self-interest of publishers and agents as he parades a growing list of suspects in Heidi's demise. Daniel's sharp, sardonic wit and insider's view of book industry foibles are sure to make this bibliomystery a hit. (May 9)
FYI: Daniel is also the founder of the small press Daniel & Daniel.
Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Murder at the ABA convention. The narrator, wry small-press publisher Guy Mallon, begins with the obituary of media-hound poet Heidi Yamada, who's died of a drug overdose in Las Vegas while attending the 1990 American Booksellers Association convention. Flashbacks fill in the events leading up to the crime. Guy meets Heidi in 1977 shortly after spending his last dollar to buy a used bookstore in Santa Barbara. Beautiful, self-promoting Heidi knows nothing about literature but craves fame. With a little coaching from Guy, she writes a hot collection of bogus verse. She and Guy become lovers, each helping the other in their fledgling endeavors before Heidi dumps him for greener mentoring. Thirteen years later, Guy and Carol, his current business partner-cum-lover, have a successful small press. Heidi's been through a series of professional ups and downs, including assorted lovers, most of them in attendance: cowboy bard Maxwell Black, book reviewer Taylor Bingham, illustrious poet Arthur Summers et al. Stirring the plot is a pesky Publishers Weekly photographer named Marjorie Richmond with shaky credentials and a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some pictures Marjorie has snapped prove invaluable to Guy and Carol in their discovery of the clever killer. Nonstop wisecracks and an amiable tweaking of the publishing world add up to a highly entertaining debut, mystery aside—which, for the most part, it is.

The annual trade show of the American Booksellers Association draws a colorful crowd—bookpeople who work the convention floor by day and attend myriad parties by night. Though some may find Daniel's wacky characters over the top, previous attendees of the ABA (now Book Expo) show will chuckle in recognition. In fact, Daniel, a publisher himself, peppers his story with numerous references to real-life authors and publishers, and sets the action at the real-life 1990 ABA convention in Las Vegas. Publisher Guy Mallon narrates the story, which chronicles the life and untimely death of poet Heidi Yamada, whose talent for manipulating men far eclipsed her writing skill. Part of the story is set in the present, and focuses on Guy's investigation into Heidi's death—which the police are calling an accidental drug overdose. Daniel ladles plenty of tasty publishing tidbits into his narrative stew but never at the expense of the suspenseful plot. An affectionate look at the publishing industry from one who clearly knows that world.

Other reviews:

To paraphrase W.C. Fields' favorite irreverence,“Godfrey Daniel, this boy is good!” The Daniel here is John M., who knows how to take the shenanigans of a book convention and turn one of those basically dreary (and often depressing) occasions into a bright, funny, brain-twisting mystery.

Daniel swears that the real 1990 American Booksellers confab in Las Vegas was nothing like this. But his narrator, Santa Barbara bookstore owner Guy Mallon, will have none of that. For one thing, poet Heidi Yamada, who winds up dead (apparently of a drug overdose), was not only Mallon's lover but also the writer who made him a successful publisher.

The high point of Daniel's exercise in suspenseful satire is the series of eulogies delivered at Yamada's service by a wide and woolly collection of recognizable book-industry types—from agents to collectors of overpriced first editions. Lots of scores are settled here, and we get to share in the nasty fun.
—Dick Adler, The Chicago Tribune

Perhaps it's not a new trend, but I'm noticing how many recent crime novels eschew a linear unfolding of plot in favor of a shuffle-and-deal approach. The Poet's Funeral, by John M. Daniel, is a case in point.

The novel opens with the obituary of Heidi Yamada, a poet with more talent for self-promotion than for writing poems. Narrator Guy Mallon reveals the events leading up to Yamada's death. Interspersed are eulogies, each from another character with a motive for murder.

In a flashback from years earlier, Yamada shows up and wheedles Mallon into hiring her to work in his Santa Barbara bookstore. In short order, she seduces him (“Short men fall in love too easily”) and informs him that he is going to publish her book of poems. “How difficult can it be?” she asks, undeterred by the fact that he's not a publisher and she's never written a poem. A week later, she presents Mallon with “And Vice Versa.” By the time he publishes it, Yamada has moved on to her next amorous conquest and publisher.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, during a private party at an American Booksellers Association convention in Las Vegas, Mallon discovers Yamada dead of a drug overdose in the bedroom of the Elvis Presley Memorial Mansion, where else but in a “king-sized, King-sized bed.”

Never mind that, at times, this plot seems to unfold like a game of Clue—was it author Maxwell Black in the bedroom, or book review editor Taylor Bingham in the ballroom? And so what if the story sometimes seems to skitterforward like a needle on a scratched record? This is a very readable novel with a sendup of the publishing industry, told fast and loose by an appealing narrator. Dead poets never had so much fun.
—Hallie Ephron, The Boston Globe

Set in 1990 in Las Vegas during the American Booksellers Association's annual convention, this is a deliciously wicked look at the book world by an industry insider. Like his hero, 5-foot Guy Mallon, John M. Daniel is a bookseller turned small-press publisher.

Mallon got his start in the book business when he stumbled across an extremely rare Jack Kerouac book of poetry at a Santa Barbara used bookstore's going-out-of-business sale. He put the book—obviously misshelved years ago—back where he found it, bought the shop on the spot, and then sold the Kerouac for enough money to put the bookstore back on its feet.

In the rare-book business, knowledge is nine-tenths of the game. Having the nerve to seize the opportunity is the other 10th. Guy's first employee, Heidi Yamada, also knew how to seize the moment, first by talking Mallon into hiring her, then into taking her into his bed (not a difficult feat) and finally into publishing her first book of poetry. Yamada eventually left his store, his bed and his imprint.

Both Mallon and Yamada prospered. His publishing firm grew into one of the most respected small presses in the country, while Yamada became the outstanding poet of her generation. Years later their paths cross again at the Las Vegas ABA when Heidi is found dead of an apparent drug overdose on a king-size bed once used by the King himself, Elvis Presley.

It's murder, of course, and Guy makes for a good amateur sleuth. But the real fun lies in the author's irreverent, wisecracking look at the world of books and, more important, the imperfect people who work together—more or less—to produce them.
Denver Post

Las Vegas has it all: glitz, gambling, intrigue, and murder. A beautiful poet is found dead, her body sprawled across the late Elvis Presley’s king-sized bed, at a swanky party during a book publishing convention in 1990. The official cause of death is accidental drug overdose. Guy Mallon, her former lover and the publisher who gave Heidi Yamada her big break, suspects there’s more going on than the local police admit. His suspicions are confirmed when the photographer he was flirting with, who took photos of the party and Heidi’s body, is roughed up and kidnapped. A roll of her film is in Guy’s pocket, and when he is threatened by a burly cabby, the reluctant Guy finds himself playing sleuth. This mystery unfolds like the first light of dawn spreading across the Nevada desert as Guy interweaves eulogies given at the poet’s funeral with events following Heidi’s death. Heidi had a lot of people who hated her, and most of them were at the convention. Any of them could have poisoned her, but who did? Could it even be one of the speakers at her funeral, one of the people closest to her? The author’s smart wordplay enhances this book beyond the run-of-the-mill “hard-boiled” detective mystery. For example, one hapless fellow is described as walking away with “his shoulders slumped and his hands hanging on the ends of his arms like weights.” Daniel’s use of dialogue among the various characters is also masterful, especially when he relates the blistering repartee between Heidi and several VIPs at the convention. The reader can feel the long-simmering tension between the characters in exchanges such as this, when Heidi quarreled with a literary agent shortly before she died: “You may not have noticed this, Beatrice, but I never embarrass myself,” Heidi answered. “I only embarrass other people.” “I have noticed,” Beatrice said. “You’re good at that.” It was no wonder Heidi had enemies. But did one of them actually kill her? Both Guy and the reader quickly become entrapped in the mystery and are impelled to solve it. The author is a small-press literary book publisher in California, has taught fiction writing at UCLA Extension and Santa Barbara Adult Education, and is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. His previous books include Play Melancholy Baby, a mystery, and Generous Helpings, a story collection. Extremely knowledgeable of the book publishing field, Daniel intersperses tidbits from that industry throughout the book. It’s easy to imagine that the characters in the book are not really fictitious, and that the events in the book actually did occur. Anyone who loves good mystery stories, the publishing industry, or the backdrop of Las Vegas will definitely want to attend this Poet’s Funeral.
(May) Copyright 2005 ForeWord Reviews.
Review Source: ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2005 May/June

In 1977 Guy Mallon wanders into a used bookstore where he finds a signed copy of Kerouac’s first book, which he hides. He buys the store and sells the Kerouac book at auction. Not long afterward, teaching assistant Heidi enters his store and persuades him to hire her, have sex with her, and publish her poetry though she has not written anything yet and he is not a publisher.

In 1990 Guy and his beloved partner Carol Murphy attend the American Book Association (ABA) convention in Vegas. He finds a dead Heidi on the Elvis bed apparently from an overdose. Guy is shocked, but has doubts that someone as egotistical as Heidi would do drugs. Carol wonders if her too short (she is eight inches taller than he) and too young (five years younger) cherished Guy still carries the torch for Heidi. When LVPD Detective Plumley closes the case as accidental due to drugs, Guy is unable to resist investigating Heidi’s death.

This is a tongue in cheek amateur sleuth who-done-it that readers will enjoy. Perspective changes with a different participant taking center stage with each chapter although Guy is consistently in the forefront and ergo the focus of the plot. The story line is amusing and contains several cameos from the famous and though the death occurs toward the middle, the inquiries are handled deftly so that the audience obtains a solid mystery. The big Guy and his woman are a dynamic duo and the support cast enables the reader to obtain a deep look at what happens at an ABA convention. The Poet's Funeral is a unique super tale.
—Harriet Klausner, Midwest Book Review

Dynamic and controversial young poet, Heidi Yamada, dies mysteriously at the American Booksellers Association Convention. While everyone else attributes it to a tragic drug overdose, Guy Mallon, her short term lover and publisher of her first manuscript, cannot believe that the feisty Heidi he remembers would die in such a pathetic way.

The ease in which Daniel draws the reader into this fast paced literary mystery is commendable. Characters are distinct and engaging which keeps readers turning pages faster and faster until the dramatic resolution. Potential murderers lurk at every turn of the page in the perfect blend of action and suspense. Guy's personal investigation of Heidi's death is riddled with amusing references to literary business people, publishing lingo, and even the literary band, The Rock Bottom Remainders.

For anyone connected to the publishing industry, those who wish to be, and those who just enjoy a fun and unique mystery, this book is a must. Not only does it provide some scintillating information about the publishing world, but also creates a vivid mental movie to go along with the dialog. By the end, you'll feel like you've been a bystander at the ABA convention and you'll be ready to pack your bags and visit it again.
—Sarah Lomas,

Guy Mallon may be diminutive in size, but he is a very smart man. He left a job in a bookstore in Northern California and packed up his belongings which included a vast poetry collection. His goal was Los Angeles, but fate stepped in when he had car trouble in Santa Barbara. The result was Guy’s purchase of a used book store, and the reason for the purchase might make a book scout have nightmares. In a history section was an inscribed copy of Jack Kerouac’s first book. Guy expanded his business to include publishing poetry. Heidi Yamada was his first poet, and her skill is debated. All do seem to think she was unique.

The book takes place at the ABA in Las Vegas in 1990. The American Booksellers Association’s trade show is THE big event in the publishing industry. Guy has taken a booth to promote his line, and his partner in life and business, Carol, is there to help with the duties. Heidi is there to promote a new book, as are many other players in the book trade. When Heidi is found dead at a private party, the police seem to want to treat it as an accident. Guy gets involved in the investigation, and also gets involved, against his and Carol’s will, with a photographer who flaunts her Publisher’s Weekly business card. Guy solves the murder, and gives a good insight into the world of publishing as seen by a small press owner.

My first ABA was in Las Vegas, so this was especially interesting to me. I was overwhelmed by the convention, and Daniel has captured the feel of the show. (He neglected to mention Clive Cussler having some of his vintage cars on display, but hey, Guy was working and probably missed it.) I’m not a fan of poetry, but I still enjoyed this book. Daniel did make a disclaimer that he used the Rock Bottom Remainders before they were formed, but they fit in well with the flavor of the novel. Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for discovering this gem.
—Maggie Mason, Deadly Pleasures

Romp is not one of my favorite words. Books described as romps often leave me rolling my eyes, clutching at my head and wondering "what where they thinking? This is so not funny!"
Okay, okay, The Poet's Funeral is, well, um, a romp. I enjoyed the heck out of this book, all about murder at the American Booksellers Association convention.

John Daniel is a publisher (good stuff too) so his portrayal of the madhouse of booksellers all gathered in (oh lord) Las Vegas in 1990 is informed by someone who's been there. Poor guy. But he offers such a funny, jaundiced, goofy look at the week-long chaos that it's way fun. First, of course, one has to get past the idea of the dead woman, Heidi Yamada, a world-famous poet. We (thankfully, I gotta say) never see any of her poetry, although we hear a lot about it. And about her lovers, and mentors (including Guy Mallon, who more or less taught his protege how to write poetry in a week or two—then she dumped him) because the book doubles as a funeral/memorial remembrance of the dead woman, told by lots of people who knew her. Sort of.

Funny mysteries aren't going to be funny to everyone; I'm rather notorious (or so I imagine) for not thinking some authors are humorous. But this one got to me; maybe it was the whole premise of Heidi Yamada. Maybe it was that I've been to ABA and have heard the war stories of others who've been many times.

There were some pretty over-the-top characters in this story and that's not to my taste, but they were so skilfully drawn, and Daniel just skirted the edge of 'too broad' for me. And in giving voice to many characters, the author managed to do something too few authors do; make each voice sound different. I don't know if that's a skill learned from his editing work or not. I just know that I never got lost here, as I do with other books told from multiple points of view; the people were different, unique, sounded and spoke so that you could tell instantly who was talking. And that's not an easy thing to do, from what I've seen. Thanks go to the Rock Bottom Remainders, the famous author rock band; they didn't exist in 1990, when this story takes place but gave Daniel permission to put them in Vegas. So along with fictional authors, agents, publishers, editors and booksellers, we get a great cameo by the now-famous writers' pick-up band (never mind Julia Child catching fire, it was a
diversion) rocking out. Wish I'd been there. On second thought, maybe not.
—Andi Shechter, Reviewing the Evidence

The Poet's Funeral is a gala mix of fictional and factual characters. And what characters they are! John Daniel appears to be able to take all the good —and bad—of the human condition and mold it into viable characters who seem to leap off the page.

Guy Mallon is attending an American Booksellers Association Convention in Las Vegas with his girlfriend Carol Murphy. He is a small-press publisher and she runs the business for him. They are there to promote the books he publishes. Enter a set of characters who are out for blood—or ink, as the case may be. Publicists are trying to steal new clients. Writers are looking for a new publisher—or any publisher. The background scenes at the convention are wonderfully (if not accurately) written.

A poet of note is found dead in Elvis Presley's king-sized bed at a party at the Elvis Mansion. The Poet's Funeral is ostensibly a tribute to the dead poet, conducted and contributed to by those who knew her best. That is not to say they loved her. Just knew her. The clamor surrounding her death seems minor compared to the schemes of those trying to capitalize on it. This is a very cleverly written story with a plot that winds and wriggles through the world of publishing, name dropping all the way. A fun read.
—Mary Ann Smythe, BookLoons

Poisoned Pen Press, offers a new, wildly funny novel centering on the book trade, one of my favorite subjects. In Daniel’s very funny insider novel, the annual American Booksellers Convention succumbs to murder and mayhem in Las Vegas, as Heidi Yamada, a prominent poet, is found dead on Elvis Presley’s bed. The bookish Guy Mallon, Heidi’s ex-publisher and ex-lover, reluctantly assumes the role of detective, as he tries to solve Heidi’s murder and save his own life. The Poet’s Funeral is great fun, especially for those who have ever attended a conference in the publishing trade. I’ll be looking for more from John M. Daniel, himself a small press publisher.

Don't let anybody fool you: publishing is based on ego and terror. In a very real sense, it's all vanity press because it's through their presumed cultivated taste and judgment that editors and publishers are charged with finding the great work and saving us from the banal—unless, of course, they think it will sell like hotcakes.

John Daniel worked in Santa Barbara with Capra Press before he started his own highly regarded and successful publishing venture here; he's also a writer (seven books including the highly amusing mystery Play Melancholy Baby) with a sense of humor and a wicked eye for the absurd. In the world of publishing, there is little more absurd that the American Bookseller's Association convention every year. You might run into the Pillsbury Dough Boy wandering the aisles; one year a particularly smarmy poet sat surrounded by a dozen puppies as he signed books, and Joan Rivers' publisher distributed black garter belts to promote her newest work.

Mr. Daniel has set his second mystery at the 1990 ABA convention held in Las Vegas giving him layered absurdity before he set fingers to keyboard. His characters enjoy or suffer variations on inflated or fractured ego, and there's enough quiet terror to go around in this gleeful mock of the publishing business.

When the book begins, Poet Heidi Yamada is dead of an apparent drug overdose at a lavish literary party staged at Elvis' mansion, and every chapter begins at the poet's funeral with a eulogy, often self-serving, by those connected to her literary career. Each little eulogy reveals the character and neurosis of the speaker and adds to the clues and red herrings Mr. Daniel scatters by the handful.

As a UCSB undergrad, Heidi Yamada finds Santa Barbara bookseller Guy Mallon and instantly resolves to make him into a publisher and herself into a star-quality poet. She literally seduces Mallon and then figuratively seduces the rest of the literary world with her one-week wonder of a manuscript that proves either ground-breaking or unintelligible, depending on the reader.  Ambitious and wildly self-promoting, Heidi sleeps and charms her way into a major publishing house discarding lovers, friends and publishers as she scales the heights all the way to the cover of People.

By the Las Vegas ABA, Mallon is a successful publisher with his charmingly no-nonsense partner in books and in life, Carol Murphy, while Heidi is making a comeback with a new book and also promoting her sweetly self-effacing, cowboy-poet lover and arm candy. Mr. Daniel juggles a whole series of suspects through the ABA hoopla and deftly works in Publishers Weekly stringer who manically photographs all manner of good and bad behavior, a Julia Child cooking display that goes up in smoke and the Stephen King and Dave Barry driven music group, the Rock Bottom Remainders.

When Heidi turns up dead, the congenial and image/mob conscious Las Vegas police are all too quick and glad to let the death be one more drug overdose and consign it to the back pages of the local paper. Guy and Carol have their suspicions, and soon the heat they feel is more than just the Las Vegas summer sun.

The Poet's Funeral sends up publishers, agents, writers of all stripes, critics, dogged and driven book and ephemera collectors, and others in a gleeful and accurate mock-fest. Amusingly, Heidi Yamada manages to buy and support both Connecticut and Santa Barbara homes on the proceeds from her several poetry books. The whole business of supporting small presses on elaborate and often gimmicky collector?s editions with astronomical prices is laid nicely bare, as is the eternal quest for copy number one.

You will recognize, by name or characteristic, many Santa Barbara events, places, people associated with literature and even local literary myths and stories; part of the pleasure Mr. Daniel provides is comfortably skating the interface between reality and fiction and having a great deal of fun in each realm.

Guy Mallon, in his eulogy to Heidi Yamada, notes that "Happy is the man who has found his work." John Daniel, publisher and writer, should be doubly happy.
—Lin Rolens, Santa Barbara News-Press

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