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THE POET'S FUNERAL
by John M. Daniel
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2005
257 pages
$22.95
ISBN: 159058144X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

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.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, March 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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