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A Tribute to David Thompson

Sep 15, 2010 in Books, Booksellers

We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming here today to remember someone who we admired and loved here at Mulholland Books: David Thompson. A devoted bookseller, publisher, lover of crime fiction and supporter of authors new and established. He will be missed. We send our condolences to his family, friends and every person whose life he touched, which we know was many. We will be posting tributes to David throughout the day here.

David was one of the best people I’ve met in this business, probably this world. He was about one thing, getting good stories into the hands of good readers. It’s a simple equation that is often lost. To that end he was a great champion to writers who needed a champion, who couldn’t find a champion in New York. That was David the businessman and publisher. Books first, writers first. But there was also David the friend. He took me to some of the better barbecue places in Houston and, of course, the food was good but I’ll always remember those times and those conversations. With David it was a movable feast. He will be greatly missed. -Michael Connelly

David Thompson’s death is tremendous loss to the crime fiction/mystery reading community. David was a man who loved books and found his dream job as a seller and publisher. He was fortunate in that regard; unlike many, he made his living in an endeavor for which he had great passion. I always looked forward to visiting him in Houston and will remember our excellent dinners together at the Thai restaurant around the corner from Murder by the Book and our spirited discussions there. He was always the first to call or e-mail me with a congratulations when something positive was happening with my career. David was a good guy and a good friend. -George Pelecanos

I did not know David well, but it was abundantly clear on those few occasions when I met him that aside from being a lovely guy, he was someone with boundless enthusiasm and an enormous passion for what he did. In a world where ‘numbers’ and ‘units’ and ‘product’ seem to count for so much, genuine passion such as David’s is something to cherish and he will be sorely missed. -Mark Billingham

Just Monday, David and I were emailing one another – about a book McKenna had liked, about another author whose next novel David was excited to read. In the sad hours after we heard he’d died, I was struck by the number of people saying essentially the same thing – we’d just heard from him, we’d just spoken to him, he’d just written to ask about a book he was interested in. David was an eternal enthusiast, always excited to read new books, always eager to bring them to the readers they deserved. What writer, what publisher could ask for more? And yet – we thought we’d have so much more to look forward to, from someone gone much too soon. -Reagan Arthur


I normally have a book out every summer, but this year I didn’t, since I changed publishers. So I didn’t get to see David this summer, and I was so bummed. I always launch my book tour at Murder by the Book, and David would be the first bookseller to be calling publicists, sharing dates that were open, insisting that I get on the schedule. But he was so much more than a brilliant bookseller. He was funny as hell, a generous soul, a never-tiring friend to authors and advocate for books. I thought I’d get to see him when I come to Houston this fall for a college reunion, and now I won’t, and I can’t wrap my head around the David-shaped hole that is in the world.

He would make off-the-wall suggestions like “Harlan Coben’s signing next week, instead of him talking, what if you interviewed him?”–bringing the kind of author interaction you would only see at a writers’ conference to the MBTB audience. Or I think of the pride he took in the Damn Near Dead short story anthology he published: a collection that garnered multiple awards and nominations, and a Hollywood option on my story (and David was so excited about the idea of a story he’d encouraged me to write making it to TV or film—I would remind him constantly that it faced long odds to reach the screen, but David was the eternal optimist). Or the times he phoned me, to ask my opinion about some aspect of the publishing world (and I could ask his, as a bookseller) and we would end up talking books. This was usually on his day off. But David never really took a day off. That’s what happens when your work is your dream and your passion.

David often did the author introductions before a talk at the store and the last time I signed there he told the audience, ‘Jeff is family to us’. David, you were family to so many writers, customers, and publishing professionals. We have truly lost one of our own. -Jeff Abbott

David was one of the first people I met in the crime fiction world and, in the larger sense, he was the deep generous heart of it for me. I had the supreme joy of editing an anthology for him, and collaborating on other projects, and I savored every visit to Murder by the Book, evenings out in Houston with McKenna and him, hearing that warm, wry, wonderful voice of his as he talked about books, as he placed books right in my hands, promising me I “had to read this.” He was an unparalleled matchmaker in the book world, introducing me to countless books and authors that made my world brighter, richer. He asked me once who my favorite writer was and, within hours, he’d put me in contact with my literary idol, a dream come true. But these were just daily acts of generosity for David. They came naturally. His friendship meant the world to me, and, for so many book lovers and writers, the loss feels immeasurable. -Megan Abbott

I first heard from David back in 2007 when my first novel, THE MARK, was coming out. He emailed to say he’d been hearing great things and to make sure Murder by the Book received a galley. He asked if I’d come down for a signing, and as I wasn’t touring it didn’t work out. When THE STOLEN was coming out in 2008, I made sure to contact David. We set up a joint event in August with Marcus Sakey, Dave White and myself. It just so happened that our signing coincided with Hurricane Ike. Houston was practically underwater, and barely a dozen brave souls ventured to the signing. But despite the circumstances, we couldn’t have had more fun. David and McKenna treated us like family. They were set to be married in just a few short weeks, and even though David was itching to toss a few pints back, McKenna (rightfully) restrained him, as they still had last-minute planning to do. Since then, I’d had the privilege of talking and drinking with David and McKenna at so many conferences. When THE FURY came out last September, and I had my joint launch with Reed Farrel Coleman (whose TOWER was the first original novel published David’s Busted Flush Press), David was emailing me practically every five minutes to see how the signing was going. I said to a friend yesterday that whenever a friend or loved one is taken from us, we assume God has a reason. However I cannot imagine a reason why such a good man was taken from his beautiful wife and family and adoring friends at such a young age. R.I.P. my friend. -Jason Pinter

I am an inadequate writer in more ways I can easily number, but foremost amongst these has always been my inability to conquer the Writer’s Disease. Shy by nature, retreating behind a wall of words that make me seem bigger and braver and bolder than I am. In the last several weeks, David was once again trying to draw me out, had begun discussing dates for a visit to the store, and had been succeeding as only he could.

I cannot write of David Thompson in the same fashion, in the same manner as those who truly knew him and who enjoyed his laughter and company, as those who know McKenna and grieve with her absolutely. My memories of David are sparer, my contact more limited; but they are, for me, no less profound. An advocate for one’s work is always precious, a champion of one’s chosen form priceless. Absurd as it sounds, David made me feel ‘real,’ as if I belonged; David answered every writers Dirty Little Secret, that each of us, in the back of our mind or deep in our heart, feels somehow fraudulent, as if it’s only a matter of time before we’re found out, before someone quietly takes us by the elbow and escorts us to the door.

David made me feel not only welcomed, but that I truly belonged. Beyond the work, beyond the books, the passion for the form, beyond his advocacy, this remains. One of many legacies he leaves us. One of the many, many reasons to mourn his loss. -Greg Rucka

I’d often e-mail David, giving him reprint suggestions. I’m gonna miss him desperately. He was a giant, a tireless and enthusiastic ally and friend.

When Don Winslow was invited to contribute to Damn Near Dead 2, he asked David to give me a chance and then when I talked to David, he warned me that it had to be great and only if he had room. Then he called me personally to say much he loved The War Zone and would bend space and time to fit it in. He’s giving me my start, and went out of his way to give me editing advice and was there at every step. I was really looking forward to finally meeting him next month at Bouchercon. I will definitely toast him at whatever huge dinner of writers I end up at, it’s the least I could do.

David was huge.

-Cameron Pierce Hughes

It’s impossible to overstate the sense of loss that David Thompson’s far-too-early passing brings to the many who knew him. I remember our meeting — at Alafair Burke’s apartment following the Edgars, when my first book was out and I was a stranger to all and David, as was his way, made it a point to try and make me feel as if among old friends. Amazing how swiftly he could do that. By the next time I saw him, he truly felt like an old and dear friend, and he always will. I’m thinking now of each visit to the store, of each meal shared and each book recommended and each deeply appreciated encouragement, and I’m overwhelmed by just how wonderful those memories are and thus how profound the sadness. David was about passion: for McKenna, for books, writers, friends, customers, dogs and all others who came his way. No one was more generous, more encouraging, and more sincere. My stops in Houston were, and will be, treasured moments because of the time spent with David and McKenna, all of the meals and drinks and laughs. His legacies are many and they are powerful and they are scripted in sincerity and generosity and compassion, truly rare levels of all the best qualities in a man. -Michael Koryta

Here are some links to the kind words that many in the community have said about David:

Jon Jordan
Declan Burke
The Seattle Mystery Bookshop
Edward Nawotka
Bill Crider
Janet Rudolph
Sarah Weinman
Brad Meltzer
Duane Swierczynski
Alafair Burke
Chris LaTray

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10 Responses »

  1. Sorry to hear of this loss. The publishing world needs more Davids with “boundless enthusiasm and an enormous passion .”

  2. I first heard from David back in 2007 when my first novel, THE MARK, was coming out. He emailed to say he’d been hearing great things and to make sure Murder by the Book received a galley. He asked if I’d come down for a signing, and as I wasn’t touring it didn’t work out. When THE STOLEN was coming out in 2008, I made sure to contact David. We set up a joint event in August with Marcus Sakey, Dave White and myself. It just so happened that our signing coincided with Hurricane Ike. Houston was practically underwater, and barely a dozen brave souls ventured to the signing. But despite the circumstances, we couldn’t have had more fun. David and McKenna treated us like family. They were set to be married in just a few short weeks, and even though David was itching to toss a few pints back, McKenna (rightfully) restrained him, as they still had last-minute planning to do. Since then, I’d had the privilege of talking and drinking with David and McKenna at so many conferences. When THE FURY came out last September, and I had my joint launch with Reed Farrel Coleman (whose TOWER was the first original novel published David’s Busted Flush Press), David was emailing me practically every five minutes to see how the signing was going. I said to a friend yesterday that whenever a friend or loved one is taken from us, we assume God has a reason. However I cannot imagine a reason why such a good man was taken from his beautiful wife and family and adoring friends at such a young age. R.I.P. my friend.

  3. I knew David was very well respected in the bookselling/publishing/crime fiction community but as the tributes continue to pile up I am coming to understand that he was so much more. I wish I had known him longer and better.

  4. David and McKenna were so kind to me when I had a series of strokes in 2007 and my tour was canceled. They held a “signing by proxy” for my book and helped save my career. I am forever grateful.

  5. I have a lot of memories of David, but perhaps the best was when I went to the store shortly after the hurricane. David set up a generator to put the lights on. Later, we went to a restaurant that had managed to open, but only enough to grill burgers and hot dogs, and David and I sat outside – under candlelight – and had one of those great conversations that you always had with him.
    I will miss his humor, his kindness, his enthusiasm and intelligence. He was a great friend to, and a leader of, the whole crime-writing family.

  6. I was dreadfully sorry to hear of David’s sudden death. I was not at Bouchercon and only received word of it, from Otto Penzler, last night. I found David one of the kindness men I have ever known. I have a fond memory of appearing at the bookstore in Houston on, of all things, a night when a sleet storm had been predicted. A few brave souls showed up that night, but in the most profound way, it didn’t matter. David was there, and that was all that mattered. His charm, his wit, his love of crime fiction, but still more than anything, his kindness would have made a bomb shelter feel like home. After leaving, I realized that I didn’t do that little thing I usually do, which is to buy a t-shirt from whatever store kind enough to have me. I wrote to David and ordered a t-shirt. NO WAY, he fired back, and a few days later, not one, but two t-shirts arrived at my doorstep. Such was David Thompson, and he will be great missed.

  7. I knew of David at Murder By The Book for many years. He was the one you went to for advice if you needed to contact an an author or for an opinion. He knew everyone and and had a solid grounding in the crime fiction world.

    He was for me an encourager in developing contacts with authors and he kindly understood the importance of small press publishing; he particularly liked and recommended the Scorpion Press series to his customers. More than once he directed me to “up and coming” writers – both here in Britain – and in the US.

    We will miss David in the industry for his generous support of so many writers, publishers, bookstores and readers.

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