WB buys Matthews' CIA mystery for mid-six figures

NEW YORK — Warner Bros. and producer Denise DiNovi trumped the competition by making a preemptive purchase of “The Cutout,” a CIA mystery written by Francine Matthews.

The buy, which was completed late Tuesday, is worth a guaranteed mid-six figures with bestseller bonuses that could push it higher. It was clinched based on 109 pages of the novel plus a conference call with the author, a former CIA agent.

The novel became the hot book once Bantam paid a low seven-figure sum for its publishing rights in a deal brokered by D.C.-based literary agents Rafe Sagalyn and Ethan Klein. They engaged CAA’s Bob Bookman to move quickly on the screen sale after Gotham-based studio scouts had pried loose copies of the partial manuscript late last week.

Bookman found several receptive buyers, even though Matthews isn’t finished the tome. She’s a former CIA agent turned journalist who has written several mysteries, but this is considered her breakout effort.

With several studios circling, Matthews got on the phone with the finalists to describe where she would go with the plot. DiNovi, working in concert with Warner Bros. senior VP of production Courtenay Valenti, liked what she heard and closed the deal quickly.

For DiNovi, the deal marks another publishing coup. She’s currently in production on two literary adaptations for WB: the Alice Hoffman witchcraft novel “Practical Magic,” in which Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock are starring for director Griffin Dunne, and “Message in a Bottle,” the Nicholas Sparks love story that Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman are toplining for director Luis Mandoki.

“The Cutout” focuses on a CIA agent named Caroline Carmichael, who leads a fulfilling cloak-and-dagger existence in Budapest married to Eric Carmichael, another CIA agent. That all changes when Eric, close to infiltrating a neo-Nazi terrorist group, is reportedly killed.

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