Monday, May 27, 2013

@ The Poisoned Pen with Jon Talton

I've been a longtime fan of Jon Talton's David Mapstone mystery series, and if I can ever crawl out from under this avalanche of advance reader copies, I'll grab one of his Cincinnati Casebooks that are sitting on my to-be-read shelves. Back before Denis started devouring books at a much quicker rate than I, he asked for lots of recommendations, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I steered him right toward Jon Talton.

Now Denis is a fan, and he was happy to see that he was off work on May 14 when Talton was to appear at The Poisoned Pen. We showed up bright and early, but an even more ardent fan had shown up well ahead of us-- and had grabbed my favorite spot to take photos and scribble notes. Ah well. Little did I know that our new location would have its perks!

"My family has been here since the 1890s..."

Barbara Peters, Odin, and Jon Talton
Before Talton began to speak, I was happy to see that The Poisoned Pen dog, Odin, was also in attendance. He is the best-behaved dog I've ever had the pleasure to meet, so it was good to see him again. But I digress!

Talton began by telling us, "My family has been here since the 1890s-- and that includes the prison time." While we were still laughing, Barbara Peters, hostess and owner of the bookstore, informed us that Talton had been reviewed the day before in the New York Times by Marilyn Stasio, which brought on a round of applause.

The Night Detectives is a departure for the main characters who live right here in the Phoenix metro area. Mike Peralta has lost the election for Maricopa County Sheriff. It didn't matter that crime was down and solved cases were way up during his tenure, he was perceived as being soft on illegal immigrants, and the other guy won. Peralta decides to become a private detective and brings along David Mapstone as his partner. When asked if he could see Peralta becoming sheriff again, Talton replied, "I think Peralta will be re-elected when Arizona's not so crazy."

The latest Mapstone mystery is also a departure in that part of it is set in San Diego, California. (This follows Talton's own life, since he left Arizona in 1978 and lived in San Diego for a while.) In the San Diego section of the book, we learn more about David's ex-wife, Patty, who previously had only been mentioned in Cactus Heart.

Speaking of Cactus Heart, when Talton's editor at St. Martin's read it, he thought it had too much sex and wouldn't publish it. The sex didn't bother Barbara Peters (who's also one of the masterminds behind Poisoned Pen Press) at all, and it was this book that Peters picked up. Cactus Heart is actually the second book in the series, but was published as the fifth.

"This is a great town for crime...."

Jon Talton
One of the best parts of the David Mapstone series is learning about Phoenix's history, and Talton shared a tiny bit of his knowledge with us. "This is a great town for crime," he said, "because we have people who came here to reinvent themselves. We were a mob town. At one point in the 1950s, Phoenix had more made men per capita than New York City." (And trust me, that's something you'll never hear one of the city fathers say willingly!) I could've sat there all night and listened to him talk about Phoenix and its history, but since that wasn't going to happen, I've bookmarked his Phoenix 101 series which Talton writes on his blog Rogue Columnist.

The David Mapstone books were originally going to be a trilogy, but the series now numbers seven. In reading these books, Talton suggests, "Read any one of the first five to learn the ropes. With South Phoenix Rules, a very different David Mapstone begins to emerge."

"We keep shooting ourselves in the foot...."

I have to admit that at about this point I was being distracted. Mightily. Odin was keeping an eye on everyone in attendance, and since Denis and I were sitting in the front row, this well-mannered Wire-haired Fox Terrier was trotting back and forth past us. Being the dog lovers that we are, Denis and I couldn't resist encouraging Odin to stop by for a bit of back scratching. We rank up at the top in this fine art, so there were several times that I'd find myself listening intently, scratching Odin till his eyes rolled back in his head, and then scribbling notes like a mad woman! 

When Talton was asked about his Cincinnati Casebooks series, he admitted that they do sell well, but that they "don't have as vehement a fan base [as the Mapstone books]. Must be those passive-aggressive Cincinnati folks," he quipped.

He then made a remark that has made a home in the minds of both Denis and me: "We [the people of Phoenix] keep shooting ourselves in the foot and reloading." The area that contains the footprint of the Salt River Project (which brings water to the metropolitan area) can comfortably sustain 500,000 to 600,000 people. This area now sustains close to six million people. There are some very uncomfortable truths coming in the future.

"Coming here to a bookstore is..."

Available Now!
When asked about his background, Talton told us that he has degrees in theater and history. Marshall Trimble (Arizona's official State Historian) was his Arizona History teacher at Coronado High School. Talton has never based a character on Trimble, saying that he's too solicitous of his former teacher's privacy to do that.

Jon Talton is a man who doesn't accept everything he's told or shown at face value. And he's still a man who loves history. One of his favorite television channels used to be the History Channel "when you could watch it and it was about history. Since when has history got anything to do with Pawn Stars?" he asked.

Talton advised us all to read, to think, to question, to go out and discuss things in groups with other people. "When you think about it," Talton said, "coming here to a bookstore is a deeply subversive act."

Hats off to The Poisoned Pen for encouraging book-loving subversives to gather to talk about books and ideas!


  1. Cathy - What a great post and a what a terrific visit to the Poisoned Pen! Talton seems like a great guy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're welcome, Margot. Glad you enjoyed it! :-)


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!