P.D. James' Nonfiction

WHEN it recently came out that Warner Books -- in conjunction with its new publishing partner, The Mysterious Press -- had signed a deal with P. D. James for her next book, it seemed a mystery, indeed. James, after all, has had a seemingly very happy and unclouded relationship with Scribner's since her first novel, Cover Her Face, came out in this country back in 1966. Warner, to be sure, has successfully brought out in paper the most current of James' fiction, and, with their acquisition of Popular Library, they got her backlist titles too. Yet for them suddenly to turn into her primary house, without a peep from Scribner's, well, it was decidedly odd.

A phone call to Roberta Pryor, James' American agent, soon cleared everything up. The Maul and the Pear Tree, which The Mystes Press will release next spring, is a nonfiction book written by P. D. James with a collaborator, Thomas A. Critchley, and was first published in England 14 years ago. "We came upon it sheerly by accident," says Warner editor-in-chief Bernard Shir- Cliff. "We were looking over a list of her books and everyone said they hadn't ever heard of this one. So we immediately got in touch with her agent."

Subtitled The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811 (taking its main title from the name of an inn), it's a "chiller" which reconstructs what happened when three members of a family were savagely killed. (Thomas DeQuincey also wrote about this famous 19th- century crime, but James and Critchley disagree with his conclusions.) Since it's the only nonfiction, book-length work P.D. James has ever turned her hand to, naturally Warner is excited at what they consider the coup of obtaining it for both hard and softcover. Over at Scribner's though, where a new Adam Dalgliesh mystery is scheduled for delivery by James for fall '86, they insist that they're perfectly content to see this forgotten title fall to Warner.

In fact, whenever it's been under consideration over the years at Scribner's, says editor-in-chief Christine Pevitt -- who's just back from London where she met with James -- the verdict was always negative. Terming The Maul and the Pear Tree "entirely different" from what Scribner's has built up James' reputation for doing, she says diplomatically, "We're pleased it's being brought out at last." American Voices

NEW literary magazines debut and disappear with regrettable frequency, but this sad fact hasn't in the least deterred Sallie Bingham from launching yet another quarterly, The American Voice. Formerly the book editor of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Bingham is also a short story writer and playwright, and her announced intention is to create "an eclectic reader -- to attempt to define the American voice in all its diversity, in the broadest terms possible, and with the best writing that the continent has to offer."

"Grand Street is sort of my model, especially because it's so beautifully designed," Bingham told "Book Report.""And I want The American Voice to be political, to carry overtones of the '30s, and that's why I picked the name. It's an attempt to fill a leftish liberal niche which is now considered old- fashioned." Bingham also plans to make strong efforts ("51 percent of the contributors" every time, she says) to represent women writers, as well as "native Americans, minorities, regionalists, and Central and South American and Canadian writers."

The first issue, due out from its Louisville office in December, will include contributions by Leon Rooke (who lives in British Columbia), Janet Beeler Shaw (whose short stories have been published by the University of Illinois) and poet Michael Bluenthal.

Bingham's circulation hopes are modest: "We'll start at 2,000 and try to get up to 5,000." And who knows? Every so often a new literary magazine endures to make its mark and influence the culture. At any rate, Bingham is cheerful about what she's getting into. "We're prepared to lose money forever!" she laughs. The Name of the Pub

ITALIAN writer and semiotician Umberto Eco made himself into an international literary lion when The Name of the Rose came out to wide acclaim and best- sellerdom in 1983. So it was with pleasurable excitement that, several months ago, Mark Gompertz, editor at Overlook Press, heard Eco was coming to sit in at a meeting of the Gloccamorra Club, an informal drinking and gossip society made up of assorted publishing types.

To backtrack for a second: the Gloccamorra Club began its existence last year when Gompertz returned from a business trip to Amsterdam, convinced that what he'd experienced there -- a weekly gathering of editors and writers exchanging news and making friends over drinks -- should be duplicated in New York. Selecting the Gloccamorra, a non-trendy lower Third Avenue bar ("Guinness on tap and they don't mind if you sit for hours"), he began getting out the word to friends and friends of friends in the business. Since then, the club has been catching on with young editors, book designers, publicists and others as a way to find out what's going on in the book trade -- even functioning occasionally as a jobs bulletin board.

"Ling Lucas (Warner Books v.p. for marketing) called me late one afternoon and asked if it was okay if she brought Eco along," recalls Gompertz. (Warner published the paperback of The Name of the Rose.) "He was supposed to meet us there, and Ling had told him the name of the bar. It was his last night in America and he'd been going to fancy parties every night and he'd told her he was glad to have the chance to hang out with a more low-key group."

But the minute of his supposed arrival came and went, and no Eco. "Suddenly he rushed in, carrying a big Unique Clothing shopping bag. And he was very apologetic. It turns out he'd been walking up and down that stretch of Third looking for a Mexican restaurant. He thought it was the Guacamole!"