Sunday, 26 June 2016 04:06


By OLINE H. COGDILL

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Vacations take us to myriad places, and when in other areas, I like to celebrate mystery writers who show us their homes with an insiders’ knowledge.

This summer will find us in Canada—again. This time to the Stratford Festival that specializes in Shakespeare.

So here is a quick primer on Canadian mystery writers. I know I have forgotten several, so please feel free to let us know who we have missed.

And in no particular order:

Louise Penny: Penny probably is the most well-known to American readers with her novels about the small, idyllic-sounding village of Three Pines in the province of Quebec. This fictional village, set just north of the Vermont border, a little east of Montreal, is home to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Peter Robinson: Robinson also is one of the better known Canadian authors with a strong American reader base. Although he lives in Toronto, Robinson writes about Ian Banks, a police detective in Yorkshire, England. One of my all-time favorites

Howard Engel: Author of the award winning Benny Cooperman detective series, Engel is the Crime Writers of Canada’s first Grand Master. In its announcement, the group stated “A mainstay of the Canadian crime writing scene for many years, Mr. Engel helped put Canadian crime writing on the map at a time when few mysteries were set in this country.”

Linwood Barclay: This Canadian author mainly writes about American families under siege—he nails the American scenery so well. One of my favorites.

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Rick Mofina:
Another Canadian author who writes so well about America. Like Barclay, Mofina also is a former journalist, and a personal favorite.

Barbara Fradkin: Her psychological detective novels have been nominated four times for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada, and have won the award twice.

John Farrow/Trevor Ferguson: Under his real name as Trevor Ferguson, this author has written nine novels and four plays. The Toronto Star named him Canada’s best novelist. Now using the pen name John Farrow, he has written three crime novels featuring Émile Cinq-Mars that are simply excellent.  John Farrow/Trevor Ferguson was raised in Montreal and lives in Hudson, Quebec.

Giles Blunt: Best known as the author of the John Cardinal novels set in Algonquin Bay. The first Cardinal novel, Forty Words for Sorrow, won the British Crime Writers Silver Dagger award, and the second, The Delicate Storm, won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis award for best novel, as did the latest, Until the Night. He has been twice longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC award.

Maureen Jennings: Best known for her historical novels about Detective William Murdoch set during the late 1800s in Toronto.

Saturday, 18 June 2016 02:06

 

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In Brad Meltzer’s latest novel, The House of Secrets, Jack Nash is the host of a long-running popular TV series that investigates the unexplained.

The fictional series, which also is called The House of Secrets, indulges Jack’s many obsessions—JFK and Benedict Arnold’s Bible among them.

But after his death—and I am not giving away any spoilers here—Jack’s own house of secrets is uncovered. (My review is here.)

Jack may not have simply been an inquisitive man deeply invested in eccentric facts—he also was working with the government.

In one of those odd truth is stranger than fiction, or maybe fiction follows facts, this kind of really happened.

To Brad Meltzer (pictured at left).

Almost.

Meltzer has been relating this story and how it influenced his novel The House of Secrets.

In an email and a press release, Meltzer explained how he nearly became a secret agent:

“A few years back, I got a call from the Department of Homeland Security asking me if I’d come in and brainstorm different ways for terrorists to attack the United States. I was honored to be a part of what they called the Red Cell program.

“Still, the one thought I was never able to shake was: ‘What a creative way for the government to get information from its citizens.’ Over the next year or so, the government continued to use me to do their own private research,” wrote Meltzer in the email.

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Meltzer added: “When someone has a theory on the true killer of Abraham Lincoln, or the whereabouts of George Washington’s stolen teeth (which really are gone), they don’t send that info to the White House. They send it to me (and Jesse Ventura). Sure, 98 percent of the letters are nuts. But 2 percent of them are right on the money. 

"And I’ve made a career from it,” he added

Meltzer used many of those oddball facts in the History Channel series Decoded, which ran for two years. (The series currently is in reruns.)

The House of Secrets also includes a couple more you-won’t-believe-this oddball facts.

As Meltzer said, “This exclusive revelation focuses on the former leader of a foreign country who publicly looked like an enemy of the United States, but in reality was feeding our government secret helpful information. Why? You won’t believe it.”

And, again, without giving away any plot points, Meltzer uses an amazing story about George Washington and Benedict Arnold in his book.

The House of Secrets also marks the first time that Meltzer has used a co-author for one of his novels.

Tod Goldberg is better known as a literary novelist than a thriller writer. And in this case, Meltzer and Goldberg make a darn good team.

And for a bit of humor, this video that Meltzer made years ago never fails to make me laugh.

Sunday, 12 June 2016 04:06


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Seven seems to be the magic number for TNT’s series Rizzoli & Isles, which has just started its final season on the cable network.

Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, has had a good run on TNT, never finishing lower than fifth among scripted cable series in the Nielsen ratings, and averaging four million viewers a week, according to reports.

While I will be sorry to see this series end when this 13-episode seventh season concludes, let’s celebrate what Rizzoli & Isles has meant to viewers and readers.

Aside from the attention it has brought to Gerritsen’s bestselling novels and their entertaining and interesting plots, Rizzoli & Isles helped usher in TNT’s movies based on other mystery writers’ novels.

While we are not seeing any more of these movies, which included works by Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Gardner, and Richard North Patterson, it was good while it lasted.

But Rizzoli & Isles gave us something else even more important—an involving look at the power of female friendships.

I believe in female friendships—there is indeed a power, a love, a support system that emerges when women are true friends. I have been blessed with several close women friends and I value each of them.

Rizzoli & Isles with Angie Harmon as Detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Dr. Maura Isles showed us that.

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These two women are very different—the tough Rizzoli and the cerebral Isles came from different backgrounds, had different interests, and even different tastes in men.

But they each had a strong respect for each other, their mutual skills and for their differences. They were not jealous of each other, and neither tried to outshine the other. When one was concerned about the other’s behavior, she said so and did her best to support and help her friend.

Too often female friends on TV exist only in sitcoms, and then one is always trying to outdo the other, whether in men, position, or even wardrobe.

Rizzoli & Isles had none of that. Even when Rizzoli or Isles wore low-cut clothes, it wasn’t their physical attributes that were on display but their intelligences.

The last time we had such a female buddy duo in a drama was the wonderful series Cagney and Lacey that starred the incomparable Sharon Gless as Det. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Det. Mary Beth Lacey. (A highlight a couple of years ago was sitting with my husband as he interviewed Sharon Gless who was starring in the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage in Coral Gables, Florida. And yes, she was nice and funny and down to earth.)

Rizzoli & Isles also showed that friendships can be stretched and even severed, and yet also strengthened by a separation, another thing the series shared with Cagney and Lacey when Mary Beth became fed up with Christine’s drinking.

The problem was more severe with Rizzoli & Isles. At the end of the second season, Jane shot Maura’s father, an Irish mobster. Maura only recently has learned about their relationship. Eventually, of course, the two women learned to trust each other again.

Rizzoli & Isles will celebrate its 105th episode after this final season. That is a magic number for syndicate as it means we will be seeing these two for several years in reruns.

Several years ago, I interviewed by Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander before the series was to be launched. Harmon told me that she had read all of Gerritsen’s novels. It was interesting to play her character at a different time in her life than in the novels.

“You’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them,” said Harmon at the time. (The interview is here.)

Gerritsen has told me how pleased she has been with the series though in her imagination neither Jane nor Maura were as glamorous looking as Harmon and Alexander.

So enjoy Rizzoli & Isles as it winds down. And also enjoy Gerritsen’s novels, which are still going strong.

Rizzoli & Isles airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.

Photo: Top: Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander in Rizzoli & Isles. TNT photo; center: Tess Gerritsen