The Mozart Code
by Dick Adler
Published by Hard Shell Word Factory
E-book virgins often start out judging a book by its cover. Booklover Emru Townsend offers input into why this might be so.
Homicide in Hyperspace
Reviewed by Tom Nolan
A new fictional detective recently debuted on the literary scene: retired Los Angeles magazine editor Ivan Davis -- a portly, opera-singing, womanizing wisecracker who says private sleuthing is "the perfect job for somebody who's basically nosy, lazy and antisocial."
The cigar-smoking, cholesterol-savoring Davis, first-person narrator of Dick Adler's The Mozart Code, admits he was drawn to detection through fiction: "Hammett was a part of it... And Chandler, and Rex Stout, and Ross Macdonald, and John D." Davis doesn't much look the part of a private eye, he acknowledges, describing himself self-deprecatingly during a tussle with a villain as "a heavy, grey-bearded man in a jacket and tie... fat and almost fifty, puffing like a beached seal." But Davis turns his lack of the more obvious P.I. attributes to his advantage. When a man he's waving a weapon at observes, "Mr. Davis... You don't strike me as the type who knows much about guns," Ivan shoots back: "Exactly. That's what makes me so dangerous."
Game for a fight and loyal to a fault, Davis proves more than able to fend for himself in this charming, medium-boiled adventure that catches him up in a hunt for the score of a missing musical masterpiece. The hero's narrative is studded with winningly droll observations ("Vivian appraised me coldly like an investment opportunity she had already decided to pass on") and funny snapshots of the Southern California scene ("The [law] building was also a nest of game show producers; nervous and eager would-be contestants clogged the elevators... to the ninth floor").
The Mozart Code's plot moves briskly from Century City law offices and a Beverly Hills deli to an Apache reservation and a rich people's ecological commune in Santa Fe. Along the way, Davis tracks (and ducks) killers, eats well and romances to his opera-loving heart's content -- declaring himself at the end of his initial recorded case to be suffering "nothing a long, hot shower and a month in the South of France won't cure."
So far, so engaging.
But what makes The Mozart Code of still more interest is the fact that this cleverly written and very likable novel is being presented to readers not in a traditional manner -- between hard covers, or as a paperback original -- but as an "e-book": a text transmitted electronically, to be perused on a computer screen or a handheld "e-book reader."
The Mozart Code, made available by a Wisconsin e-book firm called Hard Shell Word Factory, is one of a growing number of titles, fiction and non-fiction, thus available. It's also one of a smaller number of fiction works that are bypassing the usual publishing routes and going "direct-to-disk."
Its author had no notion of becoming an e-fiction pioneer when he concocted The Mozart Code.
"I wrote this book about eight years ago," says Dick Adler, a veteran L.A. editor and journalist who currently reviews crime fiction (though not his own) for the Chicago Tribune and the online bookseller Amazon.com. "The very first publisher we took it to loved it and wanted to do it. But then this publisher merged with another. The first editor wanted the second house to do the book as the start of a new crime-fiction line; the head of the second house didn't want to be told what to do. So the first editor said, 'Screw it,' and didn't do the book. Word got out that it was turned down, and it languished."
But recently Adler learned through DorothyL, the online chat room for mystery readers and writers, that Hard Shell Word Factory was in the market for out-of-print or original detective novels. Adler got in touch with Hard Shell's publisher, Mary Z. Wolf. Not long after that, his book went online.
"I don't expect to get rich out of it," says Adler. "But it is a very generous royalty deal. There's no advance, but you get a good hefty percentage, much better than a hardcover."
The Mozart Code, like Hard Shell's other 100-some (mostly fiction) titles, is available in three formats. For $3.50, it can be downloaded on a personal computer, to be read on-screen or printed out. For $5, it can be mailed out on a floppy disk (jewel-boxed, with sleeve notes and author photo). For $2.80 (reduced rate), it can be entered into a Rocket eBook reader at Barnes & Noble. And it is now available for Palm Pilot use from Softbook Press, Librius Millennium, Peanut Press and Amazon.com. Hard Shell scrambles The Mozart Code and its other wares in a way that protects copyright and prevents access without payment.
Appropriately for an author whose book exists mainly in hyperspace, Adler has never met his publisher. Based on telephonic exchanges, though, he says: "She's smart and bright. I've had nothing but good dealings with her."
Hard Shell gives Adler his own Web page on which to promote The Mozart Code, which was made available in May. As of mid-November, the page had had nearly 500 visitors. How many visitors became purchasers has not yet been revealed.
"I don't expect this to change my life at all," the author admits. "But it's nice. It's another place to sell your work."
Dick Adler the reviewer sees another benefit to the e-book phenomenon: "Every writer that I review has got six or seven books that are out of print. Even a good writer like H.R.F. Keating: 90 per cent of his books are out of print! It's unbelievable! And this is a way of getting such books back." | November 1999
TOM NOLAN is the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography (Scribner).