London Publishing News
(March 1999)


The six of them had committed a total of 44 murders and were slated for execution, so they had nothing to lose by attempting a getaway. What was surprising was that the attempt succeeded. The prison was new, built at a cost of millions and touted as one of the country’s most secure.

Two newspaper men, Joe Jackson and William F. Burke, Jr., both with Norfolk’s VirginianPilot, have collaborated on Dead Run: America’s Only Mass Escape from Death Row and the Retribution that Followed. The authors shared a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage on the story in 1984 and have won or been nominated for additional Pulitzers.

After being on the run for nine days, the dirty half-dozen were captured; and yes, they met their appointed fates. Dennis Stockton, a prisoner who decided not to participate in the escape although he helped plan it, is a focal character in the story. Author or two unsold novels and publisher-writer of a prison newsletter, he kept a journal from his first day on Death Row. Jackson and Burke relied on this for much of their documentation. Insisting to the end that he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, Stockton was denied a retrial on the basis of a Virginia law limiting the admission of new evidence to 21 days after conviction. At the end of an 11-year fight, he too was executed.

Noah Lukeman, who sold Dead Run to Philip Turner at Random House’s Times Books, has also made a UK sale. Jamie Byng, publisher at Canongate, has acquired the rights through cooperating agent Stella Wilkins at Abner Stein. Times, which is to publish in November, has an offer from William Styron to contribute a preface.

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Another Lukeman sale involves a novel bought by Esther Margolis of Newmarket Press. Newmarket is well known for its books about movies and the people who make them. (Next month it will publish a series of hitherto withheld interviews conducted by Jeff Young in 1973-74 with Elia Kazan. Among other matters, the director discusses his role as informer before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee. Young is an ex-studio executive.) The Press’s newly acquired novel, Black Star Rising, has a link with its movie list through Gene Hackman, co-author with an eminent under-water archaeologist, Dan Lenihan. What they have concocted between them is 19th century sea adventure saga. Newmarket brought in former Dutton publisher/editor-in-chief Richard Marek, now freelancing, to work with them on revisions.

The fact that Hackman, a two-time Academy Award winner, has agreed to stump vigorously for the book in its hard- and soft-cover editions, both at home and abroad, made Dark Star Rising particularly appealing to Margolis.

She has a strong background in promotion, her company controls world rights and it has six figures tied up in the deal.


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