Lee Goldberg and his new business cohort, fellow author Joel Goldman, hadn’t set out to launch a crime-fiction publishing company. “The idea came together by happenstance last September at Bouchercon [in Albany, N.Y.],” Goldberg explains. Both men have achieved some success in the tricky field of self-publishing, and as a result other attendees of the New York convention were anxious to solicit their advice on making that same professional leap. Meanwhile, says Goldberg, he “was in talks with the heirs of an obscure but wonderful author about republishing his out-of-print work, because I love his books so much.” During Bouchercon he went to Goldman, a former trial attorney, looking for help in moving those negotiations forward. Goldman, he recalls, “got this funny look on his face and said, ‘That’s a business plan. I really think we’re on to something.’ We? Suddenly, we were partners.”
Just under a year later, this pair await next month’s release of their first 30 titles from Brash Books, the audacious venture that Goldberg and Goldman hope will leverage what they’ve learned about producing novels independently—and, at the same time, revive interest in acclaimed thrillers and mystery tales that have long been missing from bookstore shelves. All of the works Brash is bringing back into print appeared originally over the last four decades, including novels by Tom Kakonis, Dallas Murphy, Maxine O’Callaghan, Bill Crider and Barbara Neely. In addition to those, the house will offer a selection of brand-new yarns.
The stakes here are fairly high. Goldman, the Leawood, Kansas–based concocter of legal thrillers featuring either public defender Alex Stone (Chasing the Dead) or criminal defense lawyer Lou Mason (Final Judgment), and Goldberg, a Los Angeles screenwriter who spent several years penning tie-in novels to the TV series Monk and has since partnered with Janet Evanovich to produce stories of intrigue about an FBI agent and a con man (The Chase), are together fronting the dough for Brash. As Goldman puts it, “This is our baby and we’re going to take very good care of it.” They’re betting they can recognize “the best crime novels in existence,” as they describe their coming releases, and convince others to buy into those same reading choices.
“I began devouring mysteries in the 1970s,” says Goldberg, “so most of the titles we’re republishing are books that I’ve read, loved and been recommending to friends for years. So we’re not only publishing books that have either won, or been nominated for, big awards, but also books that shaped us as writers and happen to be our personal favorites.”
Among those are several works by Kakonis. A Midwest educator–turned-author, he burst onto the genre scene in 1988 with Michigan Roll, about an ex-convict and professional poker player, Timothy Waverly, who becomes embroiled in a fast-clip escapade involving stolen cocaine, a bad boy in need of rescuing and a woman who can make Waverly forget the odds stacked against him. On top of reissuing that novel and three other vintage Kakonis titles in September, Brash will bring out this author’s first new novel in a decade: Treasure Coast, which finds a compulsive gambler, a con man peddling tombstones and a sham psychic all mixed up in a wacky Florida kidnapping scheme (with a “killer hurricane” thrown in for additional excitement).
I’ve previously read a number of the 30 books (by 12 authors) that Brash plans to loose onto the market next month. Michigan Roll is among those, as is Sleeping Dog, Dick Lochte’s Nero Award–winning 1985 “comedy-noir thriller,” offering the initial appearance of southern California private investigator Leo Bloodworth and his roller-skating teenage partner, Serendipity Dahlquist. I barely remember Bragg’s Hunch (1981), the opening installment of Jack Lynch's series about San Francisco gumshoe Peter Bragg, but Brash has it slated for reintroduction in September as The Dead Never Forget, along with four other Bragg adventures. Two tales I’ve consumed more recently are Man Eater and Firecracker, darkly comic thrillers that Gar Anthony Haywood (best known for his PI Aaron Gunner series) published early in the last decade under a pseudonym, Ray Shannon. And don’t hold me to this, but I am fairly certain I once enjoyed Michael Stone’s Low End of Nowhere, which marked the 1996 debut of his Denver bounty hunter–cum-shamus, Streeter. Other volumes in Brash’s initial rollout—notably, Bob Forward’s two tales of The Owl, a vigilante-for-hire who never sleeps—will be as new to me as they are to other crime-fiction fans.
“Oddly enough,” observes Goldberg, “our first 30 books don’t include any by that obscure, deceased author who brought us together. We’re still negotiating with that author’s estate. I’d hoped they’d be the first books we published, but it’s not working out that way. But I’m not giving up hope (and no, I’m not telling you who it is).”
Even without those, Brash’s publishing docket looks pretty full.
“We’re planning to release eight to 10 books per quarter beginning in February of next year,” Goldman explains, “and we’re in good shape to do that with the books we’ve acquired. We’re also going to release some omnibus e-books, containing several books by the same author, between our quarterly releases.” Original new works are in the pipeline as well, both by recognizable wordsmiths, such as Philip Reed and W.L. Ripley, and newcomers yet to be named. Goldberg and Goldman are still trying to secure rights to other novels they’ve admired over the years, and that they would like to bring back into print—a task that occasionally requires considerable searching for the authors or their descendants. “We’ve even hired a PI from Boston to help us, and she’s done a great job,” says Goldman.
One of the most interesting projects this pair have undertaken involves Carolyn Weston (1921-2001), who in the 1970s penned three novels featuring Santa Monica, California, police detectives Al Krug and Casey Kellog. The first of those, 1972’s Poor, Poor Ophelia, inspired the classic ABC-TV crime drama The Streets of San Francisco. Not only will Brash re-release Weston’s existing police procedurals next year, but it has commissioned Robin Burcell, a former cop and the author of five novels starring FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick (Face of a Killer, The Bone Chamber), to extend Weston’s series, bringing it into the present-day and moving the action to San Francisco. Her first new case for Krug and Kellog should also make its debut in 2015.
The Brash editions I’ve seen so far are handsome, trade-size paperbacks, with bold cover imagery and elegant interior design. “Joel and I decided right off that we were either going to do this ‘first-class’ or not at all,” says Goldberg, “with high-quality covers that vividly and definitively establish a franchise for each author or series that we are publishing. We also decided that our covers would be contemporary, regardless of when the stories take place, and that they would pop in thumbnail but be rich in details and textures when seen full-size. We believed that strategy, that look, would instantly set us apart from our competitors, many of whom are either marketing their books with ‘vintage paperback’ or ‘pulpy’ covers that immediately date the product, or are churning out hundreds of generic covers based on a few rigid templates to control their costs. It was a pricey decision for us to make, but we believe it’s the right one.”
Will the gumption and gusto shown by Brash Books help it triumph in an increasingly decentralized publishing environment, one that’s already spawned other paperback reprint houses (such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press)? It’s hard to tell. The two partners behind it, though, are certainly optimistic. “We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing,” Goldberg states. “We are also having a lot of fun together doing this. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also been really exciting and fulfilling…especially when an author, or an heir, tells us how much they love the books and how much it means to them, emotionally, to see them brought back in such beautiful new editions. You can’t beat that feeling.”