You Can’t Tell A Book By Its Cover

I seldom reread books, and that goes for my own books, with two major exceptions. Whenever I find it necessary to go searching for some small detail in Hour of the Hunter, I’m compelled to read the whole thing. It carries me back to my time on the Tohono O’odham reservation and to the people I met and the things I learned while I was there. And when people write to tell me how Second Watch has spoken to a similar experience in their own lives, I’m drawn back into that one, too.

The first Beaumonts, written in the early eighties, are now legitimately “historical fiction.” Agatha Christie’s first Poirot books were published in the twenties, making them far in the distant past when she was still writing in the nineteen-sixties. I now find myself in a similar situation but one of much shorter duration. My early mysteries were set at a time when there were no “devices” out there. Items that are everywhere now like cell phones, laptops, and tablets were nonexistent. I had an Eagle computer back then. It was a dual floppy desktop with 128k of memory. It wasn’t steam driven, but close. And the crime detection tools available to police investigators, ones we all know about today—like luminol and DNA analysis, for instance—were yet to arrive on the scene.

Several months ago I found myself needing to revisit one of those early books, Beaumont #4, Taking the Fifth. I was working on my upcoming book, Sins of the Fathers, and some of the characters in that are carryovers from that book to this one. In order to get the details right, I had no alternative but to go back and read Talking the Fifth. Let’s just say I was surprised.

It turns out that the early eighties were much more free and easy than I remembered, and much less politically correct. Some things in the book seemed totally out of character with the J.P. Beaumont I’ve grown to know and love. When he hopped into bed with a stranger, a visiting songstress named Jasmine Day, I have to admit I downright surprised and maybe even a little shocked. In the years between then and now a lot had changed in Beau’s life. For one thing, he had sobered up and had turned into what I regard as a far more likable human being.

But in reading that book, I also discovered a couple of items, small but jarring details, that didn’t quite jibe with things I had written in later books. Over the course of writing close to sixty books, it stands to reason that there would be a few dropped threads here and there. I was brought face to face with a major dropped thread problem after the publication of Second Watch. That book’s entire raison d’être is Beau’s service in the military in Vietnam. Shortly after the book was published, a number of readers wrote to me pointing out a twenty-seven word passage in book #9, Payment in Kind, in which Beau’s personal monologue includes mention of his NOT having served in Vietnam. My publisher has since reissued that book, and in the new edition, those offending words have been written out of the text.

It turns out there were a few telling details in the original Taking the Fifth that were also out of alignment. A bright turquoise stiletto heel found at the crime scene is referred to as being of a certain brand. There’s a problem with that, however, because that particular manufacturer never produced high heels. That glaring error needed to be corrected, as did the name of someone who was mentioned only once in Taking the Fifth but who, in later books has become a far more important character operating under a different name.

So last week HarperCollins reissued Taking the Fifth with those corrections installed but with the remainder of the story otherwise unchanged. The back of the newly published book includes a teaser containing the prologue and first chapter of Sins of the Fathers, due out in September. The cover art on the new paperback edition includes a lovely view of Seattle’s waterfront skyline complete with a Ferris wheel front and center. We all know that in real life Seattle’s Ferris wheel showed up decades late, but hey, what is it people say—something about not being able to tell a book from its cover?

Am I saying you must go out and purchase a copy of the new book? No, although you’re welcome to do so if you like. What I am suggesting is that you consider going back and rereading Taking the Fifth. When you do, I’m betting your reactions will be similar to mine. As in, “What the hell is he thinking?!!!” But don’t be surprised or come complaining to me when you discover Beau wandering the streets of Seattle digging for quarters and looking for pay phones. You have been warned!

If you decide to go the rereading route, when Sins of the Fathers goes on sale September 24th, you’ll be locked and loaded.

By the way, the galleys for the new book arrived yesterday, and guess what? There’s a waterfront Ferris wheel view on this one, too, only this time you really can tell the book by the cover..

20 thoughts on “You Can’t Tell A Book By Its Cover

  1. I agree that re-reading older books can be surprising. From your perspective as the author it must be challenging. Time and life changes and we forget what life was like before. I often wonder how an author keeps track of a character in a long running series. J.P. has grown changed but we have too. Thanks for giving us something to think about today.

  2. I recently re-read the oldest Beau books. My copy of “Taking the Fifth” has a different cover than the one you’ve shown. Mine has a couple of bare trees against and red and gold sunrise or sunset. There a path going thru the land with a bench and lamp post. I’m not sure how it gives a clue to the story.

    I have a funny book cover story. Many years ago when living in Denver I had a long bus ride to work and usually had a book to read. I saw a paperback which had a black cover with a big maple or oak tree in color in the center. The title was “Peyton Place”. I had not heard about it or the author. What a surprise.

    I later loaned it to a roommate who made a cover for it as she didn’t want anyone to see what she was reading.

  3. I am not sure that Amazon has caught up with the re-issue of Taking the Fifth. It is featuring the old cover. I think I’ll give it a bit and try again.

    I did just finish Duel to the Death. Not sure why I waited so long to read it. I was riveted as always. Now on to The A List. Then the next and next as long as you keep writing them! Thank you.

  4. How far we’ve come and not all of it is pleasant! I’ve been rereading some old series that I like. I like to start from the beginning and read forward but the library doesn’t have all the books so I settle for what they do have. I still get to enjoy the characters and refresh my memories. Saddest is that I had multiple entire series until I moved and that included all of your series but I simply could not move all those books. Hopefully, everyone picked up some new fans as I took boxes of paperbacks to the jails and local prison. I’ll have to check the library for the old book so I’ll be ready for the new book!

  5. You, and your honesty, never cease to amaze me. I’m ordering a copy of the new one today, so I’ll be “locked and loaded” for the new book in September…can’t wait.
    I may just have to reread of that series (my favorite). Hope you are doing good, and getting settled well as a full-time Washingtonian.
    My best to you and Bill.

  6. Judy, I haven’r seen re-runs of Perry Mason lately, but both he and Paul smoked a lot. I’ve noticed that in a lot of old movies.

  7. I wonder if Amazon “corrected” the kindle editions already installed on readers devices? I imagine the company has the technology to update their product. Which kind of scares the pants off me. The ability to, in effect, change history is a real threat. Obviously, rectifying an error in your series is much different than changing text that describes who won the Civil War, for instance. Just musing. I’ve read all the Beaumont books – in order of course – and I always look forward to the next. But I do wonder about ramifications, if in fact it’s done at all.

  8. Judy,
    Of course, I love your blogs, but I truly enjoy reading all of your fan’s comments, too. Hope you & Bill are loving the full time life in Washington, but I so miss being able to tell my friends, “I actually don’t live too far from Judy Jance”.

  9. So interesting to get an author’s perspective!

    Many years ago I read a couple very early Beau books and thought he was SUCH a creep that I stopped reading them (my lack of life experience may have made me a bit arrogant and intolerant of people with substance abuse issues?). Years later my mom turned me on to the Brady series, then I started reading the Ali’s….and just recently I’ve been working my way through the Beau books in order. Unsurprisingly to your more thoughtful fans, perhaps, I have been pleasantly surprised by their artistry and willingness to portray characters and life of the era warts and all.

    So your writing is a gift that keeps on giving.


  10. I look forward to your blog every week: will have to read the updated version: will ask our library if they can get it!!!

  11. Thank you for an interesting reflection that many of us may not have considered unless we were re-reading those books. Nice job and fun.

  12. Well I turned my house upside down looking for “Taking the Fifth” as I know I have ALL your books (up to a point). It hasn’t turned up yet so I am trying to get my Kindle fired up and read the library’s copy. I haven’t been able to read a book for several years and I am hoping your books will get me back into it. I do have some catching up to do, but I think I’m ready.

    • Nancy, have you taken books off the shelves and looked to see if the book fell back there? I have a bad habit of laying a book on top of those shelved because I have run out of room. Once I found a book I had been looking and it had fallen behind the others on the shelf.

  13. I have re-read and/or re-listened to all of the Beaumont books and a lot of the others. Awaiting the next Beaumont like so many others. I’ve also been to a few “singing and signings” in the Bellingham area.

  14. People who are ordering Taking the Fifth from Amazon are getting the old edition rather than the new one. My publisher is working on this glitch.

  15. Just finished reading the “new” edition of “Taking the Fifth”, and again enjoyed every word!! Picked it up at our local QFC, here in Lynnwood. Looking to give it to my neighbor, and waiting for Sept. Thank you, Judy, for the many hours of enjoyable reading. Beaumont happens to be my fave……maybe because Seattle is my “town” ???

  16. I finished re-reading the entire Beaumont series and anxiously waiting for the next. I got so hooked on your books, I am now re-reading the Brady ones.

    Love your writings. Keep it up.

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