Ted Gup, an author, journalist and fellow at Durham University in Britain, lives in Altamont, N.Y.
I have yet to get my promised 15 minutes of fame, but Thursday night brought me a good five minutes, when the elusive Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged co-conspirator in abusing underage girls, was spotted in a Los Angeles fast-food restaurant reading my book “The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives.”
Not long after the New York Post reported the sighting, other publications jumped on board to spread the word. For most, the big news was that Maxwell had been found at all — she had remained out of the limelight while Epstein was being held for trial on sex-trafficking charges in New York and after his apparent suicide earlier this month.
For me, the important thing was that she was reading my book, which was published nearly 20 years ago. That was worth a call both to my mother and my agent. Then text messages from friends across the country began pouring in sharing the big news, along with assorted comments — some respectful, some snarky. “You can’t choose your readers,” a pal texted from California. “Nice plug for your book!!!” said one from Montana. “You’re in the news!!” came the news from Massachusetts.
Ordinarily, any connection with the late Epstein (who goes into the pile of exceptions to the rule “never speak ill of the dead”) would hardly be worth crowing about. But who’s kidding whom here? In the book business, any mention of a reader, especially one of such visibility, is welcome.
Welcome isn’t the half of it. In the day since the book was mentioned in Maxwell’s allegedly nefarious hands, the book has skyrocketed on Amazon rankings from the torpid depths of the mid-300,000s to a sizzling No. 103, closing in on bestseller status among nonfiction books. But then it apparently sold out on Amazon. My agent is contacting the publisher to try to get more books sent over there. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also owns The Post.)
Not since the Irish actor Colin Farrell mentioned the book as a favorite in a long-ago People magazine interview has my stock so soared. In the eyes of my teenage sons, Farrell’s mention bumped me up from “Dreary Dad” to “How Cool” status.
And so I savor the moment, taking my magnifying glass to the New York Post photo plastered on its front page, trying to get a good look at the book open on the table before Maxwell. Alas, the angle is all wrong and the title obscured. Given that she apparently has been trying to avoid publicity, the least she could have done was hold the book over her face. Never mind that she has been portrayed lately as the queen of sleaze, or that she was hanging out at an In-N-Out Burger joint; we backlist authors are in no position to be choosy.
But wait a minute. Something is off here. I am reading the most recent Amazon review of the book, dated August 15, 2019 — Thursday — by a certain “G. Maxwell.” Could it be? “A good friend of mine died recently under very tragic circumstances. Some of us saw it coming for quite a while but it was still a huge shock when it finally happened. I picked up this book at the advice of a friend and absolutely couldn’t put it down.”
Okay, I guess it couldn’t be. But someone was admirably quick with the fake review: “I’d read it walking the dog, getting fast food, or even just lounging around the house. It helped me realize that my friend really believed in something and that giving your life for the CIA, NSA, FBA, Mossad, or other intelligence agency is truly a higher calling and not something to mourn. A wholehearted recommendation.”
Five stars. How can I complain?