Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Review: Martin M. Goldsmith, Detour (1939)

Disclaimer: I have seen the movie version of Detour three times before now having read the book, so my reaction to the book is unavoidably colored by my familiarity with the movie (which I love).

Detour the novel alternates between two narrators: Alexander Roth, a jazz musician, and Sue Harvey, a jazz singer. Alex and Sue lived together in New York before Sue left for California to pursue her dreams of Hollywood. Sue's share of the narrative tells of her life in California without Alex. Alex's narrative tells what happens when he tries to hitchhike to California to rejoin Sue. Detour the movie (scripted by Martin M. Goldsmith, who also wrote the novel) tells only Alex's story. In the movie, Sue is already in California, and we never learn anything of what has become of her. In this way, the novel is richer than the movie. Not only do we learn of Sue's fate, but her story and Alex's story enrich each other--his story is made more complex and more powerful by our knowledge of her story, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, there has not been a decent reprint of
Detour since the hardback first edition of 1939. Recent paperbacks by O'Bryan House and are textual disasters. Both seem to have been produced by ten-year-olds who were given OCR software for Christmas. Readers beware! Grade: A


  1. I could not find a record of Martin Goldsmith renewing the copyright. He had to do so on or by 1967. Therefore, the Detour is in the public domain. He did renew his book "The Miraculous Fish of Domingo Gonzale". Thank God. Google will make their OCR version available soon and you can compare.

    I commented on something similar in a related post at:

  2. If Detour is in the public domain, it makes me wonder why no one has ever given it a decent reprint . . . and then I think that maybe that’s the reason why . . . no one wants to bother too much with a small-market reprint they can’t protect . . . Is Goldsmith’s Double Jeopardy also in the public domain?

  3. Double Jeopardy is in the public domain. Copyrighted in 1938, it was never renewed by Goldsmith by the end of 1966 (1938 + 28). Records exist for copyright renewals by him for some of his later works (he renewed The Miraculous Fish published 1950 in 1977), but not these two.

  4. I wonder how much money there would be in carefully e-booking select public domain titles like these. Probably not much.

  5. Charles Ardai, publisher of Hard Case Crime, said in an interview with NPR that initially "maybe we would publish six, seven, eight books...we hoped to reach few thousand people who liked it..flash forward a few years and we are coming up on our fiftieth book."


    Charles has other sources of income and probably publishes as a labor of love more than anything so he may not make a lot of money doing it - at least in the past. But we are on the verge of a major change of how books are read and published.

    A recent July 30th 2010 article in Newsweek titled Who Needs a Publisher (link: talks about self-publishing ebooks.

    Much like what happened in the music industry, I think it is just beginning to dawn on book publishers that backlists could be a good source of income in the digital age.

    Not sure if Google foresaw this revolution or not, but their forthcoming Google Editions extension of Google Books, will have some method of capitalizing on out-of-print and books in the public domain.

    In the public domain area, Google will therefore be a main competitor. However, all is not lost. We may come full circle again with lurid pulp fiction covers as a form of marketing when publishers search for ways to stand out in such online venues as Apple's iBookstore and cover illustrations are previewed in all their colorful glory on an iPad.

    Neuromarketing is coming into play nowadays and is confirming what the old publishers of pulp already knew. And digital is even cheaper than pulp.

    Detour may be a good case in point. I would guess there is even a larger film noir base of fans to market to for this particular book.

  6. One of the things that I'm most interested to see is what prices and product will be like when everything shakes out with public-domain digital books. I know that if you've got a Kindle you can get all sorts of classics for almost nothing, but no one seems to be interested in preparing error-free texts (to say nothing of authoritative texts). All people seem to care about right now is quantity. Will quality ever catch up? I hope so, but I'm worried that to some extent it may be a casualty of the shift (in much the same way that no one except Neil Young seems to care how lousy MP3s sound).