24 May 2017

Otto Penzler

by David Edgerley Gates

A nice piece about Otto Penzler just appeared in Atlas Obscura, an introduction and an appreciation, written by Dan Nosowitz. I personally don't think Otto can be celebrated too much. He himself might graciously suggest otherwise, but the rest of us, no. Credit where credit is due.

(I don't pretend to be impartial. Otto's long-listed me a number of times for Best American Mystery Stories, and I've made the cut in three of them, always in good company.)

I'm fairly confident the Mysterious Bookshop wasn't the first bookstore to focus exclusively on mysteries, but it's now the longest-running. There have been a lot of changes to the book biz since 1979, and brick-and-mortar have taken much of the hit. Mysterious keeps the faith.

Mysterious Press has been around since 1975. Sold to Warner, under the Hachette umbrella, later bought back by Otto and moved to Grove Atlantic. He used his own name for an imprint starting at Macmillan, ending up at Houghton Mifflin. Eric Ambler and Isaac Asimov, Len Deighton, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith, Ross Thomas, Don Westlake.

Best American Mystery Stories, beginning in 1997. The first guest editor was Robert Parker. Followed by, among others, Sue Grafton, Larry Block, Westlake, Ellroy, Nelson DeMille, Carl Hiassen, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Laura Lippman. The anthology's a benchmark, and the contributors number both brand names and newbies.

Otto puts his money where his mouth is. As an editor, as a publisher, as a bookseller and a book buyer. He doth make love to this employment. He knows everybody. Otto's enthusiasm - for writers, for books, for vigorous opinions - is actually his job description. He gets to share his own consuming passion, and I think he's added a room to the house. not that we had anything to be embarrassed about.

This is in aid of saying, if you don't know the guy, or didn't know of him, make his acquaintance in this profile. Otto Penzler has been carrying water for the mystery and thriller community for quite a while now, and had himself a good time doing it. None of us are the poorer.


  1. As you say, David, one should at least know of if not personally know Otto Penzler. I've been aware of him for ages, of course, but finally met him when Amy and I went to NYC in late April. He couldn't have been more gracious. And, as you also say, he does carry the water for the mystery/thriller community.

  2. I can add that he is a charming and supportive editor!

  3. Otto has been kind to me as well, David. Like Paul, I met him in NYC, and he's always there at Bouchercons. A man of many talents and accomplishments.

  4. I've never met him, but I'm in awe of what he does. Thanks for sharing the article with us.

  5. Thanks for this piece, David. Like Eve, I've never met Otto Penzler, but I appreciate what he's done for mysteries.

  6. David, I agree with everything you said here.

    I first met Otto in his bookstore for the signing of the 2013 MWA anthology. Then in 2016, I saw him talking with Linda Landrigan at the DELL Publishers cocktail reception in NYC. Next thing I knew, I had a contract for one of my AHMM stories to appear in Otto's Fall of 2017 anthology, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains. Several personal e-mails subsequently passed back and forth.

    You gotta like the guy.

  7. I met him for about thirty seconds at the signing for Vengeance, which included stories by both Janice and me. For that thirty seconds, he made me feel like the only other person in the room and that he was thrilled to be there with me. Considering some of the other people in the room--Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Janice--that was no small feat. I can't think of many other champions of the mystery genre today who even approach his stature... or generosity.

  8. I enjoyed meeting Otto at the Mysterious Bookshop, and Ian is terrific too.


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