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Louisville

08/27/2007

Okay, so here I am, sitting in a huge black stretch limo that’s taking me from the Caesar’s casino in Elizabeth, Indiana, to the Louisville, KY, airport. It’s a 10-passenger limo — a “liz-zeen,” as my daughter used to say when she was little. Cushy leather seats. Cavernous interior. A full bar with racks of champagne and highball glasses. (It’s 8:55 in the morning, so I don’t really feel like cracking out the booze.) This is one of those ridiculous, city-block-long limousines that I always make fun of.

But that’s me behind the smoked-glass windows. Yep, everyday life on book tour.

Yeah, right. You should have seen me jammed into my seat on a Chautauqua commuter flight yesterday. But never mind. . .

I once read a great quote about how stories only happen to people who can tell them. I don’t remember who said it, and there’s no internet access in this limo — not that I’m complaining, mind you — but the last 24 hours reminded me of the truth in that.
Yesterday morning my editor e-mailed to tell me that a review of POWER PLAY was just posted online, a few days early, on the website of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. It may sound like just a regional newspaper, but in fact its readership is large, and the reviewer, Oline Cogdill, is one of the most widely syndicated — and widely respected — reviewers in the mystery/thriller business. A good review from her can sell a lot of copies. Luckily, this was a really good review (you can read it here.) I was at once relieved and elated.

Then a few minutes later he e-mailed to say that a review was in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, by Tom Nolan (which you can read online for a few days, here). Also a terrific review.

So I went out to pick up a copy or two of the WSJ and discovered that my hotel was located on the corner in downtown Louisville — Fourth and Walnut — where the eminent religious philosopher Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain) had a life-changing epiphany in 1958. As he later wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs.”

Well, I was in a good mood too, but not quite that good. I mean, the folks walking around Fourth Street seemed nice and all, but I wouldn’t go as far as Merton.

When I got back to the hotel, I asked the concierge about something I’d read in a history of the Seelbach Hotel I’d found in my room. Apparently Al Capone, who pretty much took up residence in the hotel in the 1930s, had a secret passageway built through the innards of the hotel to allow him to escape from the feds. I asked the concierge, Larry Johnson, if I could see it. Unfortunately, the Oakroom restaurant (the famous 5-diamond restaurant where I’d had dinner the night before) was closed, and anyway, the concealed entrance to Capone’s tunnel, hidden behind a panel in the wall in one of the restaurant’s booths, had been destroyed in a fire a few years earlier.

But Larry told me that just a few days ago, some hotel workers putting in a new air-conditioning duct had come upon a long-forgotten stretch of Capone’s getaway tunnel.

I asked Larry for a copy of the Seelbach history, and it turned out that he was the author: he’s the hotel historian. He asked for my name, so he could inscribe the book to me — and did a double-take. “You’re Joseph Finder, the writer who’s going to be at Caesar’s casino tonight?”

I said I was.

He told me that a friend of his, an 87-year-old woman named Noni Fischer, was a huge Joe Finder fan and was in the middle of KILLER INSTINCT, and would I do him a favor? He picked up the phone and called Noni, then put me on.

I thought she was going to have a heart attack. (Which worried me: I sure didn’t want to lose such a devoted reader.)

A late lunch at a great restaurant called Lynn’s Paradise Café, where I tried (and loved) fried green tomatoes (rolled in cornmeal, not dipped in batter, much better) and a fried catfish sandwich. Delicious. A very cool place, decorated in high kitsch style, with a collection of the ugliest lamps I’ve ever seen. (Keep eating like this, and I’ll have a heart attack before tour’s over.)

The book signing that night was at Caesar’s Indiana — a casino. I’d never done a book signing at a casino before, and Caesar’s Indiana had never done one either. I was their first. And it turned out to be a huge success. It’s a brilliant idea, still quite new, something that my publisher first tried with Janet Evanovich. But I don’t have a fraction of Janet’s following, so I worried that I’d be sitting there under a poster, ignored by the passing parade of gamblers.

Instead, there were throngs of book buyers, most of whom don’t go into bookstores very often, and many of them hadn’t read me before — but they were willing to gamble. The books were sold by Borders, which was delighted. We sold boxes upon boxes of books. (The publishing industry needs to do more of this kind of out-of-the-box thinking, to reach potential book buyers who just don’t visit traditional bookstores anymore.)

Granted, I did have some people come up to me and say, I’m only interested in this book if it tells me how to win. I told each of them that the secret’s inside the book, including the number of the lucky slot machine. (Note to my publisher: whatever it takes.) Posed for pictures with Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, who kept me company the whole time.

And then who should come up to my table but Noni Fischer, accompanied by the Seelbach’s concierge, Larry Johnson. Noni had just finished KILLER INSTINCT and decided she had to get a copy of POWER PLAY. What a sweet lady. We posed for pictures, which are going right up on my website as soon as we get them.

The Red Sox are 6.5 games ahead of the Yankees, so all is right with the world. Maybe Thomas Merton was onto something.