Ruth Cavin, the legendary crime fiction editor for St. Martin’s Press who was instrumental in the founding of the company’s Minotaur Books imprint, died Sunday at the age of 92. Mike Shatzkin has an amazing tribute, and I’m sure there are much more to come (and when they do, I’ll link accordingly.)
Regrettably I never met Ruth, though I suspect we literally crossed paths at conventions, book parties and the like. But there was certainly an aura around her, for several key reasons: through the various contests the imprint ran (with the PWA for a debut PI novel, with Malice Domestic for debut traditional mystery, with the Tony Hillerman foundation for debut crime novel from the Western states) she championed new writers, as well as those who might not otherwise find a home within the publishing industry. People like Steve Hamilton, Bill Crider, Robin Hathaway, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Donna Andrews, Elizabeth Zelvin, Meredith Cole, and John Maddox Roberts owe all or part of their careers to Cavin.
Cavin was also a role model for anyone who thought being of AARP age meant one’s career prospects are finished. After all, she didn’t even begin her stint as a book editor until she was in her early 60s - and St. Martin’s didn’t hire her until she was about 70! Shatzkin’s description of Cavin as “the Grandma Moses of mystery editors” could not be more apt.
Now that she has passed away, that leaves an irreplaceable hole in Minotaur Books. No doubt many of her authors will be assigned to new editors, or have already been assigned. But the institutional memory of how to edit crime fiction, directly from Cavin and also from those she followed, has dimmed a great deal, and that light will not shine as brightly ever again.