Sunday, March 01, 2009

Farewell to Franchi

Yvonne Klein, a contributor to Reviewing the Evidence (RTE), reports that Barbara Franchi--who was responsible for setting up that book review Web site back in 2001--passed away on Saturday evening. She was 73 years old. In a note sent to the 4-MA mystery group, Klein wrote:
It makes me deeply sad to have to forward the following note from Rudy Franchi.

Barbara passed away Saturday evening. Her daughters, Jill, Susan, Regina, her son-in-law Tony, her grandson Bennett and her husband Rudy were at her bedside. Barbara, a child of the Bronx, started her life as a teacher of geology and then gained prominence in the worlds of mystery fiction via her renowned review website, and movie poster collecting, through her years of organizing auctions and running a major retail/internet operation. Her true joy was traveling across America with Antiques Roadshow and spending time in London. Barbara’s blunt honesty and acerbic wit will be missed. She mentored many young reviewers, dealers and collectors, dispensing street smart advice mixed with self-learned literary perceptions.

Contributions in Barbara’s name can be made to Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA.
I used to bump into Franchi at various crime-fiction conferences, as well as during her frequent trips to the UK. One of my fondest memories of the 2006 inaugural ThrillerFest event in Phoenix, Arizona, was the afternoon that author Louise Ure and I spent time with Franchi and the late, great Elaine Flinn. (Franchi, on the left, and Flinn are both shown in the photo above.)

The following is an extract from a piece I put together for Red Herrings, the magazine of the British Crime Writers’ Association, talking about the origin and intentions of Reviewing the Evidence:
I was with Barbara Franchi at ThrillerFest 2006, and she and Sharon Wheeler agreed to tell me a little about their work in the genre with Reviewing the Evidence.

It now boasts more than 5,000 reviews archived on the site, is updated every week with 20 new reviews, and has more than 30 reviewers worldwide in the UK, U.S., Canada and Australia.

“With the demise of the mystery site, I felt a review site for crime fiction was needed, especially one that didn’t have to turn a profit (although it would be nice to break even) and one that was not beholden to any publisher or author,” says Barbara, now RTE publisher.

“With the help of [bookshop co-owner and publicist] Maggie Griffin, who told me how to get books, and the original volunteer reviewers, who were willing to work for free books, I was able to do so.

“The addition of Sharon Wheeler as editor in 2003, gave us a professional editor and has kept us in the top group of web-based review sites. Where a large newspaper, such as the [New York] Times can only review six or eight mysteries a month, we review 20 a week, which gives us lots of room to deal with some of the lesser-known authors.”

And that’s what sets RTE apart from many other publications--a willingness to look beyond the best-seller lists. So you’ll find reviews of books from small publishers such as Arcadia Books or Crème de la Crime sitting happily beside those from the likes of Penguin, HarperCollins and Random House.

The site has built up good relations with publishers on both sides of the Atlantic and also in Australia and Canada. The only no-nos are religious crime fiction of any sort, and self-published work is approached with great caution!

The keyword with reviews on RTE is honesty. Reviewers are given a free rein to express their views about a book constructively. So if they don’t like a book, they say so. Readers of the site know that reviewers will tell it like it is.

“One of my pet hates is bland summaries masquerading as reviews,” says editor Sharon Wheeler, a UK-based journalist. “I think it’s vital that reviewers are honest and constructive about what they read. Raving over every book does no one any favours.”

And regular readers also get to know the likes and dislikes of reviewers and who shares their taste in books. Barbara Franchi has a weakness for macho thrillers. Sharon Wheeler is on a significant Euro crime jag. Bridget Bolton adores cosies. Maddy Van Hertbruggen will read the noirest of noirs. Wayne Gunn is an expert on gay crime fiction.

“The site’s main strength is its reviewers,” says Sharon. “We all do it for the love of the genre, but we are incredibly lucky to have such a group of high-quality writers reviewing for us. Their enthusiasm comes across every week in what they write.”
Barbara Franchi will be missed by the many people (myself included) who have enjoyed her laughter and wisdom over the years.

READ MORE:Barbara Franchi,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare); “A Tribute to Barbara Franchi,” by Sharon Wheeler (Hey, Theres a Dead Guy in the Living Room).


Andi Shechter said...

Ali, thank you for this. I've known Barbara for a very long time, as one of the reviewers who came over from Cathy Gallagher's mystery site at (it was Cathy who gave me my reviewing start.) And i honed my craft with RTE.

Never got too much time with Barbara, but Stu and i were so very grateful that when Antiques Roadshow came to Seattle some years back, and getting tickets was beyond impossible, Barbara left passes for us. We got to catch up a little while trying not to block the entrance of hundreds of folks into the show space, as Barbara worked at the "triage" table deciding where to send someone with their treasure. We always tried to get together for dinner when they were here or nearby, but her schedule was always packed.

I'm still working to find the words on my blog. But I'm truly grateful that you posted this wonderful piece and thank you.


Shaz said...

Many thanks for the lovely write-up, Ali. Barbara was a huge presence, and we shall all miss her so much.

Sharon Wheeler