Nano will be a hit
Pia Grazdani a beautiful, gutsy protagonist
By Robin Cook
Putnam 448 pp; $28.50
Ever since his debut as a medical thriller writer more than 30 years ago, Robin Cook, M.D., has used everything from organ transplants to alien viruses as the subject of his novels. In his latest, Nano, he tackles nanotechnology.
It is an excellent choice, because public interest is high in this young science. Nanotechnology allows scientists to manipulate materials at the molecular level.
As the protagonist, the author brings back Pia Grazdani, who uncovered a murder disguised as a laboratory accident in Cook’s last novel, Death Benefit. She was a medical student then. Now, she is a researcher at Nano LLC, a nanotechnology research company in Boulder, Colo.
Despite unwelcome attention from the company’s founder-CEO, who is obsessed with her Italian-Albanian beauty, Pia is happy enough in her new life. Then, a troubling incident occurs, and things change.
While out jogging, she finds a Chinese man lying on the road, seemingly in cardiac arrest. She rushes him to a local hospital, but before he can be treated, Pia’s company supervisor arrives with armed guards and two official-looking Chinese men and forcibly takes custody of the patient. Pia is ordered to forget about the entire episode.
The order has just the opposite effect. She vows to find out what all these Chinese characters have to do with Nano, and what is going on in the company’s high-security complex surrounded by barbed-wire fences.
In Death Benefit, Pia came across as a rather unattractive character, insensitive to other people’s feelings. In Nano, she has blossomed into a perfect protagonist for a thriller — gutsy, tenacious, expert in the martial arts and willing to take risks to get to the bottom of a mystery.
Nano is one of Cook’s best.
The story of 2012 in publishing was the story of Fifty Shades of Grey, in more ways than one.
E L James’ erotic trilogy was easily the year’s biggest hit, selling more than 35 million copies in the U.S. alone and topping bestseller lists for months. Rival publishers hurried to sign up similar books and debates started over who should star in the planned film version. Through James’ books and how she wrote them, the general public was educated in the worlds of romance/ erotica, startup publishing and “fan fiction.”
But the success of James’ novels also captured the dual state of the book market — the advance of ebooks and the resilience of paper. In a year when print was labelled as endangered and established publishers referred to as “legacy” companies, defined and beholden to the past, the allure remained for buying and reading bound books.
James already was an underground hit before signing in early 2012 with Vintage Books, a paperback imprint of Random House Inc., the house of Norman Mailer and Toni Morrison, a house where legacy is inseparable from the brand. She could have self-published her work through Amazon.com, or released her books from her own website, and re- ceived a far higher percentage of royalties.
“We had a very clear conversation back in January about the need for a very specific publishing strategy,” says Vintage publisher Anne Messitte. “We talked about distribution, a physical format, publicity. And she was basically clear that she needed what we did as publishers to make that happen.”
Fifty Shades began as an e-phenomenon, understandable since digital erotica means you can read it in public without fear of discovery. But according to Messitte, sales for the paperbacks quickly caught up to those for e-books and have surpassed them comfortably for the last several months. Everyone was in on the secret. The series sold big at Amazon.com, but also at Barnes & Noble and independents, at drugstores and airports.
Publishers from several major houses agreed that e-books comprise 25-30 per cent of overall sales, exponentially higher than a few years ago, but not nearly enough to erase the power of paper. And the rate of growth is levelling off, inevitable as a new format matures. Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said esales were up around 30 per cent this year, less than half what she had expected.
“We saw all these huge sales for tablets and huge sales for other machines coming out and assumed there would be a lot of new e-book readers,” Reidy says. “But in retrospect there were a lot of current e-book readers who were upgrading their machines. And tablet owners do not use e-books as much as those with dedicated e-book readers” such as Amazon’s Kindle.
“There are some people who think that print will go away, but Fifty Shades is an indication of why that’s not going to happen,” says Messitte, who added that the books attracted many non-readers who don’t own e-devices. “You’re going to need a mix of ways to read.”
The rise of e-books has shaken, but not broken the way books are published and sold. Membership in the independent stores’ trade group, the American Booksellers Association, has increased three years in a row after decades of decline. Amazon is a draw for many self-published authors, but its efforts at acquiring and editing books — “legacy” publishing — have been mixed.
An in-house imprint, headed by former Time Warner Book Group chief Laurence J. Kirshbaum, has so far landed few works of note beyond a memoir by Penny Marshall and an advice book on cooking by lifestyle guru Timothy Ferriss. Rival sellers have refused to stock Amazon’s books, limiting their sales potential. And if publishers suffer from their reputation — often earned — of being slow to adapt to technology, they benefit from a reputation — often earned — for being nice to their writers.
“There certainly is the comfort factor, and part of that comfort factor is the culture of old publishing, which is very collegial and warm and friendly,” says