Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

Agency Update: Some weeks after I wrote and published the post below, I licensed Amy Knight’s book to the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St Martin’s Press. The manuscript is already being edited and the book, ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder,  will be published in September 2017.

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.

Anticipating a New Way to Sell the Books I Write About to Readers of My Blogs

For book industry pals like me, who’d read and wondered this week about the import of national book distributor Ingram’s acquisition of the digital company, I was excited tonight to read this analysis by friend and industry observer Mike Shatzkin, which anticipates potentially a very dynamic platform, one that could provide thousands of website managers and Internet publishers tools to help them sell books—print and digital editions—directly to their visitors. For my part, I see that it could provide bloggers who write about books, including me, the ability to sell titles directly from our websites to our readers and visitors. I currently affiliate with Powell’s Books of Portland, OR, but that arrangement has long been limited to print copies, with no prospect for selling ebooks, which is the format more likely to be preferred by blog readers, with rapid availability of digital content, and no shipping involved. As a retail bookseller before I was an editor and blogger, with a career-long penchant for sharing my enthusiasms, I’m eager to learn about these new options, and from an industry perspective, I anticipate significant interest from bloggers like me.
Shatzkin speculates that the new platform, combining’s tools with Ingram’s capacity, has the potential to dramatically increase the sheer volume of online bookselling, with the potential to bring along many new types of Web publishers; it could also represent competition for Amazon, hence the title, “Can crowd-sourced retailing give Amazon a run for its money?”
Here you’ll find 1) a screenshot of Ingram’s announcement; 2) a portion of founder Ron Martinez’s optimistic interview with The Bookseller, explaining what the platform provides now, and what it may offer in the future; and 3) some paragraphs from Shatzkin’s cogent analysis. You can read these screenshots by clicking Pause at the upper right corner, and read them in their entirety on the respective websites:  1)  /  2)  /  3).  Ron Martinez

Publishers Weekly Raves about ‘Enjoyable’ and ‘Fun’ Mystery, “The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe”

Orenduff_PotThiefOKeeffeAs readers of this blog may recall from earlier posts, I represent J. Michael Orenduff, author of the POT THIEF mystery series, which in 2009 became an indie- and self-publishing success. In 2013, we licensed the six-book series to Open Road Integrated Media for new ebook and trade paperback editions, and Open Road began publishing the books—The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, The Pot Thief Who Studied EscoffierThe Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid—in 2014. The seventh book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe, will be published in January 2016, and in recent weeks we’ve been receiving blurbs for the new book, and today we got the first advance review, a strong, selling notice from Publishers Weekly, pasted in below.

One of the endorsements came from Anne Hillerman—daughter of the late mystery master Tony Hillerman, a personal favorite—who’s renewed the bestsellerdom of her father with new novels featuring Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito, and longtime series characters Lt Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee in Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock With Wings. Hillerman said this about the latest POT THIEF book:

“The newest installment in J. Michael Orenduff’s smartly funny series is filled with wild situations, clever word play, and a good helping of fast-paced action. I loved every twist and turn.”

Here’s that Publishers Weekly review:










As soon as we have a final cover I’ll post it here. Congrats to the author and Open Road on the excellent review. This link connects to Open Road’s ordering page for the books.

Editing, Once an Upstart, Now a Stalwart

Nicholas Thompson PLCI was glad my friend Mildred Marmur asked me to be her guest today for a meeting of the Publishers Lunch Club, held each month at the Yale Club near Grand Central Terminal, on Vanderbilt Ave, one of Manhattan’s shortest avenues. Today’s featured speaker was Nicholas Thompson, the editor of He took that job in 2012, after several years as an editor on the print side of The New Yorker. He spoke for about fifteen minutes on the evolution of Web culture at the magazine, followed by a Q&A of about the same duration. Covering what he wittily dubbed the ‘five stages’ in the evolution of the Web at the magazine, Thompson outlined a chronology that began before the magazine even had a website, when many there would rather have not bothered having one, to the point where they slowly began developing a site that didn’t have significant editorial or financial resources assigned to it, and which was publishing a different group of writers than the print side was—contributors who were freelance, not on staff, whose work was not at the same level as the print publication. However, like so much on the Internet, it has grown rapidly, to traffic of 10 million visitors a month, numbers even greater than the number of subscribers to the print magazine, with a budget appropriate to a full-fledged mission, generating lots of revenue for Conde Nast. Now they’re able to foster a unique space on the Web, retaining many of the virtues of the magazine—which still has stories that take many weeks, months, and years to write and edit—and more rapid-response coverage of events in the moment, in Internet posts that may take mere hours, days, and weeks to write and edit.

During the Q&A, I asked whether on they choose to link out to the sites of other publications, something I do freely on my blogs, including in this post. Though not totally predominant on the Web, it is more common than not, in an environment where it often seems that generosity, or a willingness to share, is pretty much the default mode. Thompson explained that linking like this is being discussed at the magazine, but there is reticence due to the fact that The New Yorker‘s standards for fact-checking, both on the print and the Web, are more robust than at other outlets. This accounts for a constituency that believes, since they can’t vouch for the accuracy of the linked material, they should refrain from linking readers to it; moreover, readers who click on links like that do leave the host’s site, and may not return to it, at least for a while. Still, Thompson seemed convinced that should link freely, saying that readers are not apt to blame The New Yorker for inferior vetting or copyediting of a story published elsewhere. He said at some point they will probably begin doing it, with an appetite for more dynamic SEO being a key reason. He added that now, after several years of The New Yorker publishing on the Web, readers on the site don’t know, and in a focus group that he described amusingly, couldn’t reliably say what started out as a print story, and migrated to, and what was purely a Web original.

I piped up a second time, asking about what he reads on the Web when he’s not working on the magazine’s site. He immediately lamented the loss of Grantland, a favorite sports site that was shuttered over the weekend, just as the baseball season was ending with the Mets loss in the World Series, a double death for more than a few New York fans in the dining room. Thompson added he reads a lot on Politico, the Washington Post, New York Times, especially in politics and world affairs—subjects that describe a lot of the pieces he personally line-edits, also the subject area I concentrate in most—and about the war in Syria. He seeks out the Twitter hashtag #longreads, the books sub-Reddit, and Longform.

Midway through his talk, Thompson said he had to put in a plug for a new initiative at—which in front of this book business group qualified as having buried the lede: The website will soon begin publishing book excerpts, this even though, he explained, the print magazine has long mostly eschewed running many of them. He even named the two editors there to whom publishers should submit their candidates for excerpting, so it’s a go, beginning soon. Upon leaving the Yale Club, I quickly put that info in to a tweet (found near the top of this post), as I know many book publicists will be excited about this development. Thompson also spoke briefly about The Atavist, an online-only magazine that publishes longform, interactive journalism, which he helped found. His initial reference to it was brief, so I prompted him to say more, since it’s a site I have enjoyed and recommended since their beginnings around five years ago. He explained that while a book imprint they had for a time was shuttered in 2014, when Barry Diller’s IAC, the main investor in it, pulled out of the venture, the magazine itself is going strong, continuing to publish about one story per month, while a CMS they created, similar to the one they use to publish their own articles, is widely licensed to other Web publishers.

As a writer and publisher of two WordPress blogs of my own, I find the Web to be a fascinating domain to inhabit professionally. I’m glad I can be a book editor, and a Web editor, somewhat congruous with The New Yorker‘s evolution in to magazine and website. The New Yorker’s embrace of the Web, reluctant at first, but soon all-in, made for an excellent, thought-provoking discussion. Glad I could join many publishing colleagues there. I’ll continue keeping my eye on, for enjoyment of good up-to-the-moment writing.

*I began The Great Gray Bridge: Spanning urban life, books, music, culture, current events in October 2011 and Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada from Away in September 2013.

“Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” from Blog to Book

Hooray for NYC writer Jeremiah Moss, proprietor of the blog “Vanishing New York,” who will be writing a book inspired by his blog for a HarperCollins imprint. H/t to for reporting the news in their daily deals email. Subscription is required for viewing the book industry site, but here’s a quick screenshot of the item.  

Alfred A. Knopf, 100 Years On

Happy to see that @AAKnopf threw a bash for its 100th birthday last night. I treasure my anthologies from two earlier anniversaries.

New Rizzoli Bookstore Opens for One Night to Media—Public Opening July 27

As I wrote on this blog last week, I’m now working at the soon-to-reopen at Rizzoli Bookstore’s new store in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan. Last night we held a reception for media and book publishing professionals in our handsome, still-under-construction new digs. There was a ribbon cutting with the Manhattan Borough President and celebrity toasts (pictures below). It was a thrill to meet many people to the space and say, “Welcome to Rizzoli’s new bookstore!” I was tickled to bump in to an old friend, Ralph Gardner, Jr., who I knew in NY back in the ’90s, and whose Wall St. Journal article on Rizzoli’s exciting plans, published almost a year ago, I linked to in my post last week. We’ll begin welcoming customers with a soft opening next Monday, July 27. The new store is at 1133 Broadway, near 26th St. This will be a very exciting week.

This photo I took during last night’s party shows gorgeous murals of the Italian artist Fornasetti above the expanse of our literature section.


Click here for more of my iPhone shots from last night.

Happy to be Back in Bookselling with the New Rizzoli Bookstore

To longtime readers of this blog, and many, many friends in the book business, I’m excited to announce a new venture I’m going to be part of. I’ll be working as a bookseller in the soon-to-be-reopening Rizzoli Bookstore here in New York City. You may recall that last year Rizzoli lost its prior location on W. 57th St when their lease there ended. They’ve found a fabulous new location in the St. James, a landmark building on Broadway between 25th St and 26th St in the booming Manhattan neighborhood of NoMad (north of Madison Park). The Wall St Journal’s Ralph Gardner wrote about Rizzoli’s plans in a story here. Earlier this month, Rizzoli sent out this fact sheet. Decorated handsomely with elegant fixtures in a museum-like setting, the new 5,000 square foot store will offer a stellar inventory of illustrated books in art, photography, architecture, interior design, fashion, film, theater, dance, music, and cooking, along with current releases and classics in fiction and nonfiction, and childrens books. The selection of titles will be fabulous.

The store will have a soft opening, apt for our sultry summer weather, starting July 27. While I’m already spending lots of my time there to help get the store opened and underway, and will continue working many hours in the early weeks once it opens, my longterm schedule will nonetheless permit me to continue operating Philip Turner Book Productions, my editorial service and publishing consultancy, and in fact have completed work on two manuscripts for author clients this month.

I am really excited with this opportunity to be back working on the floor of a well-stocked bookstore, which brings my career full circle. It all began for me with Undercover Books, the three-store indie chain I ran with my family in Cleveland, a business I worked in from 1978 until 1985, when I came to NYC and began working in publishing. I worked for big publishing houses from 1986 until 2009, when I began my consultancy. Now, thirty years after leaving Undercover Books, I’m back as a bookseller. I look forward to seeing NY friends and visitors to the city in the new Rizzoli Bookstore, at 1133 Broadway.