Saturday, 27 August 2016 04:08

 

loehfelmbill letdeilout
Each year, I write about Bouchercon, the largest conference for mystery fans.

Bouchercon, for those who are not familiar with it, is a fan-based conference, which means that it is for readers to connect with their favorite authors and meet new ones. This year, Bouchercon is September 15 to 18 in New Orleans.

The conference doesn’t stress the craft of writing, like Sleuthfest, though anyone interested in writing will glean something from Bouchercon.

The main focus of Bouchercon is to look at trends, isssues, and how authors work. For example, this year I am moderating the panel “Even in the Quiet Moments,” subtitled “A good story doesn’t always rely on all-out action,” with authors M.O. Walsh, Tracy Kiely, Leigh Perry, William Lashner, and Annette Dashofy, at 3 p.m. Sept. 17.

I have only missed one Bouchercon since 1997. (Full disclosure, last year I joined the Bouchercon board.) Each Bouchercon has been different—some well organized, some a mess; some in cool areas, some in places I never want to return to.

No matter, I have never had a bad time at Bouchercon.

And because Bouchercon is in a different area each year, I think it is a great excuse to read authors from that area.

So here is a quick primer on Louisiana authors for those going to Bouchercon, or those opting for armchair travels. These are in no particular order and I am sure I have missed a few, so please tell us who I’ve missed.

 

James Lee Burke: Burke’s novels about Dave Robicheaux have been a longtime favorite. Through the years and some 20 novels, Burke has allowed the Louisiana detective to change and go through many life experiences.

Bill Loehfelm: The rebuilding of New Orleans is a metaphor for the emotional recovery of police detective Maureen Coughlin, who finds a fresh start with the city’s police force. Loehfelm’s novels feature an authentic view of New Orleans’ myriad neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants.

herrengreg batonrougebingoGreg Herren: The prolific Herren writes two series about New Orleans’ private detectives. The darker Chanse MacLeod and the lighter Scotty Bradley are both gay men with a strong connection to their homes in New Orleans. Herren’s wicked sense of humor especially shows in his Scotty novels.

Nevada Barr: The author of the bestselling Anna Pigeon novels lives in New Orleans, but has set only one novel, Burn (2010), about the National Park Service ranger in her hometown. In Burn, Anna is assigned to the New Orleans Jazz National Heritage Park where the rangers’ duties are to preserve the area’s music.

Attica Locke: Locke’s novel The Cutting Season (2012) showed the changing face of racism and classism on a Louisiana antebellum mansion that’s managed as a tourist stop by an African American woman whose ancestors were slaves on the plantation.

Tom Cooper: Cooper, who lives in New Orleans, delivered a funny, yet poignant novel with his debut. The Marauders is set in Louisiana’s Barataria swamp after the ecological disaster that was the BP oil spill.

Ethan Brown: Investigative journalist Ethan Brown has two nonfiction books set in New Orleans, the newly released Murder in the Bayou and Shake the Devil Off.

Charlaine Harris: Harris’ popular Sookie Stackhouse novels invented a new genre—the Southern Vampire mystery. Set in Louisiana, these novels gave us a whole new look at vampires and were the basis of the popular HBO series True Blood.

David Fulmer: Fulmer wrote four well-received novels about Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr, set in Storyville, the red-light district that thrived during the early 1900s in New Orleans.

nevadabarr burnBarbara Hambly: Hambly’s excellent novels devled deep into Big Easy history with hero Benjamin January, a former slave who is a surgeon and music teacher in 1830s New Orleans.

Julie Smith: Smith’s novels about police detective Skip Langdon took readers to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Mardi Gras, and city government. Smith also may have been the first to write about a group of people who connected virtually, through an online bulletin board, in her novel New Orleans Beat.

Sophie Dunbar: The late Dunbar has four charmingly light mysteries about New Orleans beauty salon owner Clair Claiborne. Her books are Behind Eclaire’s Door (1993), A Bad Hair Day (1996), Redneck Riviera (1998), and Shiveree (1999). Dunbar died of cancer in 2001.

Saturday, 13 August 2016 11:08

Agatha Raisin Ashley Jensen on Acorn TV MG 2312
Agatha Raisin is a blonde?

For some reason, it never occurred to me that the British public relations guru turned amateur sleuth would be a blonde.

But here she is, played so winningly by Ashley Jensen, in the Agatha Raisin TV series now streaming on Acorn TV.

I won’t say new” series because Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death and the subsequent eight episodes were first aired in Britain in 2014. The series is just now being available for American audiences.

A new episode will be on Acorn TV every Monday through August 29. A free month's subscription to Acorn is now available, and that’s just enough to get you hooked on this network.

Based on the bestselling novels by M.C. Beaton, the TV series (and the books) revolve around Agatha Raisin, who sells her public relations firm in Mayfair and takes early retirement.

She moves to the charming, isolated village of Carsely in the Cotswolds for reasons that are clear only to her. She wants a home, a place she can fit in.

But that may be a fantasy as the prickly, assertive Agatha isn’t really adaptable to small-town living. She also is the best-dressed woman in the area and her purses...well, her purses are beautiful.

But she tries, oh boy, does she try.

Agatha Raisin Ashley Jensen and Jamie GloverFor a public relations expert, she’s socially awkward. But like a good public relations agent, she will eventually win over the residents.

The first episode—Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death—portrays her attempts to fit in with her new community by entering a local quiche contest.

She doesn’t win. But the winner’s victory is short-lived.

The judge, Reg Cummings-Browne, had another slice of her quiche at home and died from poisoning.

To prove her innocence and to endear herself to her neighbors, Agatha plays amateur sleuth to find the poisoner.

To find the killer, she just kicks into damage control as she did in her business.

Oh, and by the way, she didn’t actually make that fatal quiche.

The TV series captures the acerbic wit and also loneliness of Agatha, who worked her way up from a terrible childhood and poverty to be a successful businesswoman.

Ashley Jensen is just delightful as Agatha who never gives up.

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Jensen is an excellent character actress and is probably best known to American audiences for her stints as Maggie Jacobs on Extras and Christina McKinney on Ugly Betty.

Jensen is assisted by a top-notch supporting cast including Katy Wix as Gemma Simpson, Mathew Horne as Roy Silver, Jamie Glover as James Lacey, Jason Barnett as DI Wilkes, Matt McCooey as DC Bill Wong, and Lucy Liemann as Sarah.

Currently there are only eight episodes of Agatha Raisin, but Beaton has 27 novels in her series, and a few short stories, so there is no dearth of material.

Photos: Top and bottom, Ashley Jensen; center, Ashley Jensen and Jamie Glover. Photos courtesy Acorn

Tuesday, 09 August 2016 11:08


inspectorlewis pbs
If you need a visual explanation on why the old-fashioned British mystery not only endures but thrives, just watch the ninth and final season of Inspector Lewis, now on PBS.

Inspector Lewis has become as beloved a series as was the original Morse, of which it is a spin-off.

For those who don’t know—or have forgotten—here’s a quick history.

Inspector Robert “Robbie” Lewis started his career as a sidekick, of sorts, to his boss, Endeavour Morse, who was so winningly portrayed by John Thaw. When the Morse series ended, Kevin Whately reprised his role as Lewis, who, as these things go, was promoted from Detective Sergeant to Inspector.

In 2012, viewers saw how Morse became the detective he was with the two-hour film Endeavour. The young Morse was portrayed by Shaun Evans. Set in 1965, the young detective was about to resign when he became involved in the case of a missing student. The fourth season of Endeavour is planned for 2017.

Meanwhile, we can enjoy the last of Inspector Lewis.

Inspector Lewis started with a solid fan base that has grown, and deepened, through the years.

Based on the novels by British author Colin Dexter, Inspector Lewis employs the same rich setting—Oxford, England—and a perceptive look at its sometimes complex society. Lewis’ compassion and frustration with murderers were a bonus that viewers relished.

In Inspector Lewis, the former assistant became the boss with his own sidekick, Detective Sgt. James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). But this final season finds Lewis himself on the way out.

The Oxford detective is now looking at involuntary retirement—a plan by a chief superintendent trying to cut costs. But Lewis will not spend his remaining time on the job sitting at a desk and doing nothing. He’s as keen, and even as insistent, as ever to solve murders.

As Lewis looks at the end of his career, Hathaway deals with the fact that his estranged father is dying.

The partnership of Lewis and Hathaway has been as intriguing as that of Morse and Lewis.

The intellectual snob Morse’s personality was balanced by Lewis’ working-class roots. Inspector Lewis finds the calm Lewis showing the sometimes hotheaded Hathaway a different way of looking at criminals.

As a bit of trivia, both Morse and Inspector Lewis ended after 33 episodes each. It’s now time for Hathaway to continue the circle for the legion of viewers who are fascinated by the British detectives.

Meanwhile, the Inspector Lewis  and Endeavour series are available on Acorn. Alas, the Morse series is no longer on Acorn.

Inspector Lewis airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS with encore showings. Check your local listings as airings may differ.

Photo: Laurence Fox, left, and Kevin Whately on Inspector Lewis. Photo courtesy PBS