Con Lehane’s Pandemic Books

Let me introduce you to Con Lehane.

Con Lehane is a mystery writer, living in Washington, DC. He is the author of the 42nd Street Library mysteries, featuring Raymond Ambler, curator of the library’s (fictional) crime fiction collection. He’s also the author of three mysteries featuring New York City bartender Brian McNulty, and has published short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Over the years, he has been a college professor, union organizer and labor journalist, and has tended bar at two-dozen or so drinking establishments. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing from Columbia University School of the Arts and teaches writing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Today, he’s going to talk a little bit about his reading during the pandemic. Thank you, Con.

Here are some of my pandemic books. It was a strange time for me as well as everyone else, though in some ways – what I did most days – not so different from more normal life these past few years. A good deal of my reading during the period was background research for a book project that’s not part of my 42nd Street Library Mystery series (newspapers, magazines, film as well as books). This meant I read a number of books that had to do with the witch hunt, red scare days, specifically for my project the summer of 1950.

My favorite of these books was Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist by Walter Bernstein. Bernstein, a screen and television writer (Fail-Safe, Semi-Tough), who also wrote for The New Yorker, wrote the screenplay for the Woody Allen film The Front. I also really liked a fairly obscure book A Dancer in the Revolution by Howard Eugene (Stretch) Johnson with his daughter Wendy Johnson, a different sort of memoir of coming go age in Harlem in the 1930s, first as a dancer with the Duke Ellington jazz band (and others) and later as an organizer and leader of the Communist Party in Harlem. I read a couple of anti-Communist books also, Red Masquerade was one, by Angela Calomiris, an FBI informer, who joined the CP at the behest of the FBI and testified at the Smith Act trials, in which the CPUSA leadership was convicted (questionably) of plotting the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

As for mysteries, I read a few by Rex Stout that were set during that period, The Second Confession (which featured sinister Communists), In the Best of Families, and a couple of others. I also read  Colin Dexter’s first (Last Bus to Woodstock) and last (The Remorseful Day) Inspector Morse books, and will most likely read the ones in the middle now. I also read Peter Lovesey’s first book,Wobble to Death, a Sergeant Cribb’s Investigation,  though I’ve read a bunch of his Peter Diamond books. One book published during the pandemic I read and liked was Open for Murder by Mary Angela. I also wanted to mention Adam Oyebanji’s A Quiet Teacher. In a starred review, Booklist said of A Quiet Teacher, “Imagine John le Carré attempting an Agatha Christie mystery. Or the other way around. In any case, that mix is at the heart of this stunning novel.” I read a few other mysteries during the pandemic but either didn’t like them much or don’t remember them at the moment (which doesn’t mean I didn’t like them.)

I wrote a draft of one book (the one set in 1950 that isn’t finished yet) and the fourth book in the 42nd Street Library mystery series, Murder by Definition,(pub date December 6) featuring Raymond Ambler, curator of crime fiction at the library, fellow-librarian Adele Morgan, bartender Brian McNulty, and homicide detective Mike Cosgrove, as well as a collection of victims and suspects. Ambler takes on the papers of once critically acclaimed but of late dissolute and almost forgotten hard-boiled mystery writer Will Ford. The controversial Ford is handful to deal with in real life, but creates infinitely more problems when Ambler discovers an unpublished short story in the collection that points to the possible cover up of a police murder years in the past by some of Mike Cosgrove’s fellow workers at the NYPD.

Here’s the description of Con Lehane’s Murder By Definition, due out Dec. 6. You can order a copy through the Web Store.

Crime-fiction librarian Ray Ambler gets more than he bargained for when he acquires the archives of a controversial hardboiled crime author in this contemporary twisty mystery set in New York City.

Hardboiled crime writer Will Ford might be critically acclaimed, but he’s every bit as debauched and disreputable as the ne’er-do-well private eye in his novels. So when Ford offers Raymond Ambler – crime-fiction curator at New York City’s prestigious 42nd Street Library – a collection of his papers, Ambler wonders if the project will be more trouble than it’s worth. Still, the disgraced author is an important talent, and Ambler’s never been afraid of a fight.

Ambler’s ready for the controversy that greets news of the acquisition. He’s not ready, however, for what he finds when he finally receives the papers: a gripping unpublished short story apparently based on a real case, with an explosive author’s note. If it’s true, there’s been a shocking coverup at the heart of the NYPD – and a cop has got away with murder.

If it’s true. Ford’s not talking, and Ambler’s good friend Mike Cosgrove, a veteran NYPD homicide detective, is beyond skeptical. But as the pair investigate, they’re drawn into the sordid underbelly of 1990s New York, packed with renegade cops, thugs and mobsters . . . and they’ll be lucky to come back out alive.

Gritty and fast-paced, this story of police corruption, murder and mayhem is a great choice for fans of traditional mysteries with complex plotting, atmospheric settings and red herrings a plenty!

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