Kansas City-based Brash Books gives life to old mysteries

Joel Goldman is a Leawood writer and co-founder of Brash Books.
Joel Goldman is a Leawood writer and co-founder of Brash Books. Special to The Star

He came up alongside the bed, gazed at her ashen, rigid face, whose features bore an expression neither peaceful nor distressed but more, in his perception, puzzled, as though she wrestled with some particularly knotty mathematical equation. The sum of zero maybe.

— “Treasure Coast”

Just like the many bodies so eloquently described in so many mystery novels, those thrillers have a way of disappearing themselves.

Rather than being shot, poisoned, stabbed or bludgeoned, they suffer the big sleep of falling out of print, leaving behind mourning authors.

Now some guys are digging up some of those old titles — even hiring, yes, a private investigator when necessary.

Brash Books, a new Kansas City-based publishing company, is securing the rights to backlisted or out-of-print mystery/thriller titles, aiming to exhume some and give them new life in print and as e-books, says Joel Goldman, a Leawood lawyer-turned-crime-writer and a Brash founder.

With 30 titles launched earlier this month and at least 70 more coming, Brash Books has muscled through the door, so to speak, with a gorilla in a fedora. That would be Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s mystery/thriller imprint.

A big man with yellow eyes turned to face me and that’s when the bozo caught him in the side of the head with a fist like a travel iron.

— “Sleeping Dog”

The idea grew from a passing conversation at a genre book convention in Albany, N.Y., with Lee Goldberg, Los Angeles author, screenwriter, independent publisher and now Goldman’s partner.

Of Goldberg’s dozens of crimes novels, probably the best known are his Mr. Monk mysteries, which are adapted from the TV series.

Goldman has three of his own series, set in Kansas City, with each following a central character:

▪ Lou Mason, a tough trial lawyer;

▪ Jack Davis, a former FBI agent with the shaking, stuttering condition of his creator;

▪ Female public defender Alex Stone, Goldman’s latest protagonist, who was introduced in 2012.

“I mentioned to Joel that I was trying to secure the rights to an out-of-print series of books, and he told me there might be a business model there,” said Goldberg.

“There are a lot of players in the e-book field, picking up backlisted books and reselling them,” he explained. “Brash Books wants to publish only the best crime novels. We look for critically acclaimed books that won awards.”

They will focus initially on the sales of e-books for the Kindle, available on Amazon. The paperback sales of their titles will use Amazon’s print-on-demand service.

“This business model was not available to authors even five years ago,” said Goldman. “Amazon’s commitment to self-publishing has given thousands and thousands of midlist authors a chance to resurrect their careers.”

Her reaction to the first Soto brother was to light a gasper with a very shaky hand. Mine wasn’t much steadier as I took the pieces of my .38 from the suitcase, fumbled them together, and slipped in some shells.

“Sleeping Dog”

Dick Lochte’s “Sleeping Dog,” which nabbed a Nero Wolfe Award, are among Brash’s titles. So is “Dunn’s Conundrum,” which came from the late Stan R. Lee, a former advertising copywriter most famous for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 political ad “Daisy,” equating Barry Goldwater with nuclear war.

Tom Kakonis hadn’t published a new book in more than 20 years. Despite the accolades his works garnered in the 1990s, they did not go on to become bestsellers. His writing career stalled, and Kakonis was attempting to secure the rights to his own backlisted novels when Brash Books contacted him. They handled that task within a week.

“We want to offer a publishing relationship unlike any our authors have had before,” Goldberg said.

Then the pleased Kakonis reached into his desk drawer and pulled out his unpublished manuscript of “Treasure Coast.”

“It was just in collecting dust,” Kakonis said. “To finally see it in print was extremely gratifying.”

“What’s an anomaly?” Versa said. She was standing in front of her vanity mirror, wearing only pink pumps and earrings, spraying something on places. Vera was five-four, fairly well shaped, good looking. And whatever she had was available for duty.

— “Dunn’s Conundrum”

Some authors now published by Brash Books are deceased, such as Jack Lynch, who wove the Peter Bragg series. “The publicity has been great, especially on the Internet,” the writer’s widow, Marilyn Lynch, said of Brash’s offer.

To track down author Barbara Neely, Brash had to employ a private investigator. Neely had tapped out the popular Blanche White mystery novels, centered on a heavyset black housekeeper who could figure out crimes. The first title in the series, which also explores class and race, was “Blanche on the Lam,” an Agatha Award winner.

Goldman says they were open to all kinds of ideas, “not just hard-boiled recovering alcoholics chasing serial killers.”

Their marketing plan, he says, is “old school meets new school. We want our books to be visually indistinguishable from the books of the big five publishers. Quality is of utmost importance.”

“There weren’t too many shades of gray in Beebe’s mind. He was righteous, judgmental. You were for or you were against. Sober, Beebe looked like he’d make a mean drunk; drunk, he glided lightly around like a fifth of nitroglycerin.”

— “Dunn’s Conundrum”

Brash Books’ relationship with Amazon may raise a few eyebrows, given the ongoing dust-up over control of e-book pricing between the company and Hachette authors. More than 1,000 prolific and renowned writers stand in opposition to Amazon’s tactics at the moment.

Goldman, however, says Amazon is vital to their vision. His partner says he understands the frustration of Hachette authors, but believes “Amazon is the best thing to happen to authors since the Guttenberg Press.”

Hector made an oval of his lips, blew a perfect smokefloat in the air and slowly dissolve. “Sound like you been givin’ this some hard thought,” he said.

“It crossed my head, inside there.”

“Think we could swing it?”

“Can’t see nothin’ blockin’ the road. Not from where I’m sittin’.”

“How do we do it? The whack, I mean.”

“Treasure Coast”

“To me, it’s a crime these books are unpublished,” said Goldberg.

To contact Derek Cowsert, email