Who reads what? Book- industry experts point out that readers favor popular fiction a.k.a. genre fiction over everything else. Within that, the numbers show the two biggest categories are mystery-thriller and romance.
Mystery-thriller authors have become so prolific and their stories so sophisticated that it's a stretch to show much appreciation (or even remember) the genre's formative years, when the post-World War II "crime novel" made its mark, largely in pulp fiction format.
Still, let's give the old boy a round of applause, inspired by the recent release of the rudely titled "Lady, Go Die!" by the late Mickey Spillane and his friend, literary executor and occasional co-author Max Allan Collins.
Comic book writer-turned- novelist Spillane (1918-2006) introduced "hard-boiled" private eye Mike Hammer to audiences in the landmark "I, the Jury" in 1947. Hammer was the protagonist in 18 more book adventures and "starred" in several movies and TV series.
"Lady" (Titan, $25.99, 272 pages) is being promoted as "the lost Mike Hammer novel." Collins has explained: "The most exciting discovery (when I went through) Mickey's papers was the sizable fragment of what was clearly the second Mike Hammer novel, 'Lady, Go Die!', written between 'I, the Jury' and 'My Gun Is Quick (1950).' "
Collins turned that "fragment" into "Lady" and has plans to finish and publish two more "half-completed" Hammer novels that Spillane "entrusted me with": "Complex 90" (May 2013) and "King of the Weeds" (May 2014).
In "Lady," Hammer and his secretary-love interest, Velma, are vacationing in a Long Island beach town when they inadvertently become enmeshed in the case of "a missing, well-known New York party girl." Mayhem ensues.
For the record, Spillane was a Grand Master in the Mystery Writers of America, and sold more than 225 million books worldwide. He also filmed a series of tongue-in-cheek TV commercials for Miller Lite beer, still worth a laugh on YouTube.
Turning to college life ...
Independent publisher Sourcebook has its focus on education. In that vein, it offers this timely trio for grads and their parents:
"The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" by Harlan Cohen ($14.99, 544 pages): Sound advice for students gearing up for campus life. Issues range from humorous to serious, with useful stories and tips from students themselves.
"The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only" by Harlan Cohen ($14.99, 496 pages): When should parents be concerned? When should they back off? For Mom and Dad, this advice-filled guide is the next best thing to being there.
"U Chic: The College Girl's Guide to Everything" by Christie Garton ($14.99, 432 pages): From health and finals to romance and sororities, this detailed guide of indispensable advice is from responsible, savvy college women (www.universitychic.com).
The ascent of Alan Furst
Best-selling author Alan Furst and I had breakfast together in San Francisco a few years back, during his book tour for "The Foreign Correspondent."
At one point, the modest writer harumphed at the notion of one day becoming the successor to John le Carré ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") and laughed at critics' comparisons of his works to those of Graham Greene ("Our Man in Havana").
"I have a niche audience, but fortunately that niche grew," he said.
Furst mines his gold from a brief period in Europe shortly before and during World War II, a window of unprecedented drama and, at the time, the focus of the world's attention.
"If you look at 1933 and the ascent of Hitler, you've got an incredible number of major events and steps on the way to war," Furst said at the time. "And steps on the way to war are where intelligence services involve themselves, and that gives you spy novels."
Now Furst's 12th literary espionage thriller is about to be released, and the advance industry buzz is loud and laudatory.
"Mission to Paris" (Random House, $27, 272 pages; on sale June 12) is set in 1938 Paris, where Hollywood movie star Fredric Stahl is to make a film for Paramount France.
Turns out he's a spy being handled by the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and he's determined to uncover a few of the Nazis' secrets.
Along the way he encounters a German baroness, two assassins, a Russian movie actress, a Hungarian spy and a socialite who becomes "the magnetic woman" in his life.
Intrigue, romance, danger, excellent writing it's all there.
Visit Furst at www.alanfurst.net to see his upcoming appearances in San Francisco.
Medals for Excellence
The American Library Association and the Carnegie Corp. have teamed for the inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction For Adults. Winners will be announced at the ALA's conference, June 24 in Anaheim.
For readers, literary awards programs serve as signposts to the next good read.
"Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" by Robert K. Massie: Biography of the German princess who became empress of Russia.
"The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleic: How human knowledge is transmitted, from "talking drums" to the World Wide Web.
"Malcolm X: A Life of Re- invention" by Manning Marable: Biography of the civil rights leader during the most turbulent years.
"The Forgotten Waltz" by Anne Enright: An extramarital affair that affects all around it.
"Lost Memory of Skin" by Russell Banks: A group of sex offenders confronts the justice system.
"Swamplandia" by Karen Russell: Adventures of a 12-year-old alligator wrestler in Florida.