This is a post for Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books project.
Last Saturday's packing/closing party at Kate's Mystery Books might have been a grim occasion, if not for the company: dozens of authors and book lovers who turned out to pack away 20+ years' worth of books and memorabilia, and find a few treasures along the way.
I was lucky enough to draw Susan Conant as a packing partner, and the two of us were assigned to the back corridor, where we packed unsigned collectible hardcovers. Pulling the books off the shelves was like assembling a syllabus for Crime Fiction 101; what struck both of us, though, was how many of these authors had faded into oblivion after a couple of bestsellers, or a single heavily-promoted, critically acclaimed title.
"Like PAPERBACK THRILLER," Susan said. "That was a wonderful book, came out years ago. The author was a woman named Lynn Meyer. I loved that book. I wonder what happened to it."
As these things often go, I walked outside on my lunch break to see what was for sale on the bargain paperbacks table -- and found a used paperback copy of PAPERBACK THRILLER. Originally published as a Random House hardcover in 1975, it was a main selection of The Mystery Guild, and reprinted as an Avon paperback the following year.
PAPERBACK THRILLER is the story of Dr. Sarah Chayce, a Boston psychiatrist with a tantalizingly under-narrated backstory. She's vegetarian, divorced, childless and apparently the survivor of some long-buried trauma we never get the details of. She's also having affairs with two different men, one of whom is still married. None of these things seems to bother her; in fact, as she tells us her story, she is aggressively sane and well-adjusted, or at least she wants us to think so.
Returning from a medical conference (an excuse for a rendezvous with the married lover), she picks up a paperback thriller in the airport bookstore. It's nothing special; its author, "Greg Pitman," is obviously a pen name. What startles Sarah is the description of a psychiatrist's office that the hero breaks into: it's hers, right down to the powder-blue filing cabinets and the lapis lazuli horse.
Her first, natural assumption is that "Greg Pitman" is one of her patients, but she soon realizes that can't be true. She identifies him as a struggling literary novelist named Charles Elfinstone, with whom she has no apparent connection. He insists he's never seen her office, and says that his description must be a coincidence. But Sarah, for reasons that are not entirely clear to her and are even less clear to us, can't let the question go. She follows it through a tangled, risky web of secrets and shame, to the highest levels of Boston society.
PAPERBACK THRILLER is a time capsule of mid-1970s New England, as acute a social commentary in its way as Updike or Mailer. Sarah Chayce is a truly modern woman, someone who would be an iconoclast even by today's standards. It's fascinating to spend a few hours in her company. (At 188 pages, PAPERBACK THRILLER wastes neither words nor time.)
I haven't been able to find any evidence that Lynn Meyer wrote another book, which is a shame. I'd love to know more about her, and about the origins of this novel.