Silent Partners: Literary Life From the Other Side of the Breakfast Table
Twist Phelan

Cannells DorothyJulianDorothy and Julian Cannell. Photo credit: Trevor Cannell.

What is it like to be married to a writer? Late hours, messy offices, and unusual eating habits is the consensus, according to the spouses of award-winning mystery writers Margaret Maron, Dorothy Cannell, Harlan Coben, and Jan Burke.

What do writers eat? What do they wear? What do they like to do on their days off? Read on for the answers, presented in roundtable format, to these and other questions about life with TA (The Author). But first, an introduction to the spouses:

JOE MARON was a Navy officer and Margaret was a summer secretary when they met in the Pentagon. He later earned an MFA and taught studio art at the college level. He and Margaret now live in North Carolina on land that has been in her family for a hundred years. They have one son and two granddaughters.

JULIAN CANNELL is a retired small-town lawyer. He met Dorothy when they were next-door neighbors. They weren’t sure they liked each other until they discovered Anna Karenina was their mutual favorite book. They have been married for over 40 years.

ANNE ARMSTRONG-COBEN, MD, and Harlan have been together since 1982. They met at Amherst College where they both played basketball and were fraternity brothers (Amherst had coed fraternities). They married in 1988 and have four children—two girls and two boys, ages 11, 8, 6, and 4.

TIM BURKE is a musician and co-owner of a private tutoring company. He and Jan live in Southern California with their two dogs, Cappy and Britches.

What was your welcome-to-the-world-of-writing moment?

JOE: I stayed in the Navy for a second hitch after Margaret and I were married, wangling shore duty in Naples, Italy. We had an apartment with a broad terrace overlooking the bay where we used to sit and talk about our future. That’s where we decided we would do all we could to live our lives as creatively as our talents would allow. I suppose my welcome-to-her-world moment was that first sale—a short story to the Alfred Hitchcock magazine. That’s what validates you: somebody you don’t know gives you money for something you made up out of your head. That $65 triggered a lifelong celebration.
JULIAN: When Dorothy sold her first short story, two years before selling her book. Up to that point, I thought writing might be just another hobby, like her macramé (string took over our house) and defensive gardening (only the cacti survived).
ANNIE: There wasn’t really one. I’ve now been with Harlan for 23 years so it was a gradual welcome.
TIM: When Jan first began writing, we discussed whether she should use a pseudonym. I was concerned about protecting her privacy, but Jan decided to write under her real name. About two or three years after the first book came out, she received a fan letter from an inmate at Pelican Bay prison. Although the letter started out polite enough, by the third sentence he was asking for nude photos. We did some research, and found out that he was a serial rapist—who was out on parole! Fortunately (for us, at least) he beat up his roommate within three days of his release and was sent back inside.

What is peculiar or unusual about TA’s work space?

JOE: All Margaret’s books have been written in our house here in North Carolina, the first few on her portable typewriter from college days in a spare room about the size of a walk-in closet. She now has a very comfortable workspace with all the appropriate furnishings. But she’s still very hands-on, and will always try to make it herself instead of buying it new. She cobbled up one of those old teachers’ desks from a thrift store and reconfigured it to perfectly house her computer.
JULIAN: Dorothy’s first “office” was a corner of our cellar, next to the cats’ litter box. She had a $50 manual typewriter, a ream of paper, and a $2.95 lamp on a “desk” that was really a sheet of plywood balanced on two sawhorses. There were no windows. She had a real office for a while, but now she’s back in the cellar while her new office space is under construction. The space has windows, but she doesn’t like them. And she’s moved up from a typewriter to a word processor.
ANNIE: It’s an absolute mess most of the time. Towards the end of finishing a book Harlan refuses to clean it until he’s done and then there is a major, welcome cleanup.
TIM: Jan’s work area is always boiling with activity. It looks like a mad scientist’s lab, with at least five different research projects spread about. The OED is in a place of honor and gets heavy use. Nearby are five Thunderbird action figures (from the TV show), including the evil “Hood” whose eyes light up when he speaks. These were gifts from her niece. There are also several old clocks (she collects them). Oh yeah, and a wind-up “Nunzilla” that walks and breathes fire.

Cobens HarlanAnnieAnne Armstrong-Coben and Harlan Coben

Does TA have any rituals or superstitions that s/he follows when getting ready to write?

JOE: Margaret catches up on all her correspondence and cleans off all the surfaces in her office.
JULIAN: First Dorothy decides on the setting. She will think about it, talk about it with her friends, refine it. Once she has the characters in the setting in mind, she is ready to go. (She doesn’t need to know who the victim or the villain is when she starts. Her characters drive the story.) She also eavesdrops a lot in restaurants.
TIM: I can always tell when Jan is getting ready to write because she undertakes strange cleaning projects.

What things does TA do when writing s/he doesn’t do at other times?

JOE: Solitaire. Whenever Margaret gets stuck, she’ll lay out a hand of solitaire—and she keeps score. There’s a tiny tablet on her desk that has her cumulative score from several books back.
JULIAN: Chews pencils. Doesn’t call her friends. Dorothy is writing all the time—she can disappear into the cellar for six or eight weeks at a time.
TIM: Jan becomes a night owl, writing during the vampire hours. When I get up in the morning, she’s ready to go to bed. She usually picks a certain CD and listens to it exclusively while she’s working on a book. It can be a certain band, an opera, or a classical composer.

Are there any “rules of the house” when TA is in writing mode?

JOE: Not rules exactly, but Margaret does tend to go missing in action. Doesn’t care if there are formal meals, doesn’t want guests, doesn’t want to have to make any decisions of any kind. I’m at one end of a long house and she’s at the other. I probably annoy her periodically with inconsequential stuff but we’re pretty much in tune.
JULIAN: Dorothy must have absolute quiet. Although she generally does not want to be disturbed, occasionally she will appear, read a section, and ask if it’s good. The answer is always “yes.” Finished pages are saved on the table discarded pages are dropped onto the floor. The floor cannot be cleaned until the book is done, in case she decides to use something from a discarded page.
ANNIE: Harlan will lock himself away and the kids know not to bother him. Sometimes they take it to an extreme and will phone me at work with a simple question they could have asked him when he’s sitting right in the next room.
TIM: Don’t talk to the writer. Unfortunately, our dogs (especially Cappy) don’t understand this, so it becomes my job to give them more attention. And our social life (going out to dinner, seeing friends) is substantially cut back.

How does TA change when a deadline is approaching?

JOE: Margaret has always been a night person. In all our years together, I’d be surprised if she’s gotten up for a hundred sunrises. She does most of her writing late in the day and into the night. There have been plenty of all-nighters, so I guess she actually has seen a lot of sunrises, now that I think about it. She’s a crisis writer who hones in under deadline pressure—usually doesn’t miss them or, if so, not by much.
JULIAN: Sometimes Dorothy writes the last 100 pages in three or four days; stopping only for the occasional half-hour or hour nap, she goes around the clock, mainlining Red Bull. (She can go through 36 cans in a week.) She loses all track of time, and is simply writing like crazy to get it all down. She spends time polishing and revising at the beginning of a book, but the last 100 pages is always in finished form in her head.
ANNIE: Harlan tends to get much more focused and less able to write with the background noise of the family. He’s usually quite easygoing and not too serious but we get to see his serious side at that time.
TIM: Jan becomes an introverted hermit. During this period, if she is the driver and I am the passenger, I often find myself asking her, “Where are you going?” because she has just sailed past the turn we were supposed to make. She has been revising chapter eleventeen and has missed the turn.

Burkes JanandTimJan and Tim Burke

What’s TA’s favorite food when writing?

JOE: I’m convinced Margaret would live on sandwiches, nuts, and raw carrots if I didn’t cook occasionally.
JULIAN: Dorothy likes to nibble on raw pieces of spaghetti. It’s a substitute for her pencils.
ANNIE: Harlan used to call me an addict because of my love/need for coffee. He didn’t drink it until he became a writer. He now shares my addiction and does quite a bit of writing at the local coffee shop.
TIM: It used to be Dr. Pepper, then for a while red licorice and tropical-flavored Jelly Bellies. Now it’s pretty much cut-up fresh fruit.

Does TA have favorite “writing clothes”?

JOE: Slouchy sweatshirts and sneakers in the winter; T-shirts, shorts, and bare feet in the summer.
JULIAN: Dorothy’s favorite writing garment finally disintegrated in the wash. It was a long cotton flannel T-shirt with a teddy bear in the front. Now she wears long-sleeved pullovers. When she’s on deadline, I sometimes leave clothes and food at the top of the cellar stairs for her.
ANNIE: No, as long as they’re clean and comfortable. Oh, and Harlan prefers fitted boxers to briefs.
TIM: Clothing can be optional, especially when Jan gets up to write in the middle of the night.

What does TA do on breaks from writing? What is TA’s favorite off-day activity?

JOE: The usual: reading, promotional activities, lunching with friends, us just hanging out together. Margaret used to look for arrowheads when the fields were still being regularly plowed. Now she goes out with a hoe and chops sandspurs. Don’t ask.
JULIAN: Dorothy likes to walk in the woods near our house (she’s a power-walker), and to work out at the Y. She listens to Plácido Domingo and, of course, enjoys her grandchildren. She still gardens—it’s hard to kill mint.
ANNIE: After dismissing the game of golf for years, Harlan has now got the bug. This has been his most recent “break” from work. Harlan also has many other forced but welcome breaks throughout the day keeping up with our kids and their activities. He’s been enjoying watching our oldest playing basketball and lacrosse, and now our two boys have a passion for baseball. Harlan is a great waffle ball pitcher.
TIM: We have “reading parties,” where one of us reads a book to the other. On breaks, we will catch up with family, friends, and movies. Once we spent most of a weekend watching the first two seasons of The Sopranos back-to-back. We’ll also take the dogs to the beach or on long walks.

What does TA do when s/he has finished a book?

JOE: When Margaret’s done there’s the inevitable race to Kinko’s for, let’s see, about six copies: One for the agent, one for the editor, one for a local farmer’s wife (who reads for neighborhood/local color), and three for Wilmington. All the Deborah Knott books go straight to three district court judges down there who check for legal gaffes. Being neither a judge nor lawyer, Margaret has found the ideal solution. Once the manuscript is accepted by the editor she heads down to Wilmington for her “trial.” I usually go along and we take the judges to dinner. After a great meal, out come the manuscript. “I had something on page 24,” is usually the way it starts. Often enough something serious will be troublesome—like the time she wrote that “the statute of limitations ran on that a long time ago,” and was told that no, in North Carolina, there is no statute of limitations on any felony. She had built the whole back end of Home Fires on that premise and she started to panic. But out came the laptops as the judges searched the statutes for loopholes and damned if they didn’t find something called a “naked confession,” which saved the day.
JULIAN: Dorothy crashes and sleeps for a few days. One time I came down to the kitchen at 6:30 in the morning. She was sitting at the table in her nightgown with a snifter of brandy. When I asked her if it wasn’t a little early to start drinking, she told me it wasn’t morning for someone who started work at 9 p.m. and stopped at 4 a.m. She then announced that the latest book was done and asked me to send it off. When I asked her if she wanted to proofread it, she said she never wanted to see the thing again.
ANNIE: Harlan cleans his office.
TIM: Because Jan’s usually exhausted (and ready to dive into the next project), I think I do more celebrating than she does. Sometimes we’ll go out to a restaurant.

Maron Margaret  JoeMargaret and Joe Maron

What’s the worst thing about living with a writer that the public doesn’t know about?

JOE: Finding the best way to help without getting in the way. Margaret does not send her work around for peer review. I am her only sounding board, and she trusts me to tell her what I think. This caused a lot of battles in the past when she’d hand me a chapter to read—only to read—and I (in typical teacher fashion) would blue pencil the hell out of it. Big mistake. We blessedly gave up on that long ago. She now reads each chapter to me as she finishes it and I’m much less likely to jump in. She’s a good reader of her own work. Then we discuss. I must confess that I don’t read much fiction and I’m not especially interested in whodunit. What does interest me is pacing, tone, contrast, flow, that kind of thing. I think of her work as a piece of music.
JULIAN: You have to be prepared to spend time alone. It’s not a problem for me, because I love to read, but it could be frustrating for others.
ANNIE: They’re really working all the time. With Harlan his head is always churning and he’s always got a pen and pad at his side—even in the middle of the night he’ll awaken to write down his most recent “brilliant” thought.
TIM: When the copyedited manuscript comes back, I try to be out of town for at least 24 hours. Jan is either infuriated at the red-lining or feels dumb at missing things. And even though Jan loves it, I don’t like the traveling. I’m not a chatty person when it comes to the phone. I prefer that we talk face to face, rather than by phone—tough to do when she’s on the road!

What’s the best thing?

JOE: Living with a writer is never dull. They really do look at things differently. And mystery writers are always willing to speculate on alternative realities. And all that business about “living on our wits” that we laid out back in Naples? That’s come largely if not spectacularly true. The dog flies are pretty bad in the summer here and it does stay hot an awful long time, but eighteen acres of swaying pines, gardenias, tomatoes, lettuce all winter…. For a kid from Brooklyn, it’s like having your own country.
JULIAN: Writers are marvelous conversationalists and entertainers.
ANNIE: For us, it’s been his availability to the family. Except when on book tour, Harlan is ever present. He’s there to drive the kids to school and activities or just pick them up for a midday lunch. The problem is that when he’s gone, they all decompensate because they miss him so much. I am a pediatrician and am not sure I’d be able to work part-time as I do if his schedule weren’t so flexible.
TIM: It’s a thrill to be involved in the process early on. I get to see the gems that don’t make the cut, and to be a listener when she needs to bounce ideas off someone.

Anything you’d like to say to TA’s fans/readers?

JOE: I think readers might be surprised how much Margaret values them and how much she appreciates the letters and positive comments. It can be a solitary occupation and she likes hearing that someone out there gets it—gets the literary allusions, the sly offhand remarks, the ironies.
JULIAN: In every book, there is a piece of the writer. If you read several books by the same author and/or spend time with her, you will see it. Part of the writer is in her protagonist, part of the personality of the creator is in the character she has created.
ANNIE: Just that he really and truly appreciates them. He never takes that fan base for granted.
TIM: Thank you for your support! But if you mean advice, well …
If you find a small typo or what you think is a mistake in a book, let it go. You’d be amazed at how many lunatics crawl out of their caves because they feel compelled to send Jan a three-page missive to the effect that “you said the sun rose at 5:46, but it never rises any earlier than 5:47 every other leap year in April.”...
Jan loves to hear from readers on how a book meant something to them. She also enjoys the relationships she has developed over the years with fans and booksellers.

If you could change one thing about the publishing world, you would …

JOE: Put all Margaret’s Sigrid Harald books back into print and encourage her to write new ones. I would also, of course, divert the company’s whole publicity budget to her!

If TA weren’t a writer, s/he would be a great …

JOE: Judge—what else?
JULIAN: Comedian, actor (I’m always telling her she should read her own books for audio ), interior designer, craftsperson.
ANNIE: Stand-up comic. I think I fell in love with Harlan for his sense of humor.
TIM: Filmmaker, dog trainer, therapist, song writer.

If there is an Edgar in your house, where does it live? Does TA ever talk to it?

JOE: It lives on a shelf in her office and Margaret doesn’t talk to it, but she does smile at it occasionally.
ANNIE: In a wooden display box with a glass front in our living room. I actually broke the first one cleaning one day. That led to the new protective home. I don’t think Harlan ever talks to it but I’m not sure.
TIM: It lives in Jan’s office on a bookshelf. She never talks to it. However, I have noticed it always has something snide to say to me whenever I pass by. It’s starting to make me paranoid, but I bet many of you already accuse me behind my back of paranoia.

Any words of advice for other writer’s spouses?

JOE: Enjoy the ride and don’t take it too seriously.
JULIAN: Be prepared to spend time alone. Also be prepared to encounter two types of people—those who will be in awe of your spouse, and will invite her to cocktail parties so they can pass her around with the cashews, and those who will like her for who she is, and never talk about her craft.
ANNIE: Just to be supportive and believe in them. When asked to read drafts, give honest feedback but try to always be positive. Harlan’s the first to admit, writers tend to be insecure about their writing and the spouse’s job is to tell them they’re great!
TIM: Never admit you think the copy editor has a point unless you have previously checked out all possible points of egress from the building. Don’t take it personally when a writer asks to be left alone to work; even though it looks as though she is at home, she’s really at the office. You owe it to the writer to be honest—if you think something is bad, you have to say so. You may want to put on hockey gear before you do this.

Twist Phelan is the author of the Pinnacle Peak series, legal-themed mysteries set in Arizona featuring different sports, published by Poisoned Pen Press.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #91.

Teri Duerr
2014-07-31 15:04:18

What is it like to be married to a writer? Late hours, messy offices, and unusual eating habits...

Sandra Brown on the Pleasures of Mixing It Up
Sandra Brown

brown sandra Andrew Eccles 2014

It’s never chocolate or vanilla for me. More like a “swirl.”

Photo credit: Andrew Eccles

“Other than yourself, what authors do you read?”

“Who’s your favorite writer?”

“What genre do you read and what’s your favorite book of all time?”

These are frequently asked questions, but they’re virtually impossible to answer because...I like a mix.

Rarely do I even scan through one of my books after it’s published. To do so would be hazardous to my health. I couldn’t take the pressure of what I’d find. If I love it, I’m an insufferable egotist. If I hate it.... Never mind. I don’t allow myself to go there.

So, who do I read? Just about everyone except myself. I read fiction and nonfiction, adventures, thrillers, mysteries, romances, sci-fi, fantasy, Westerns. I read historical and contemporary. I read the back of a cracker box if I don’t have anything else.

I simply love to read.

My parents are responsible for this insatiable habit. Daddy was an editorial writer for a newspaper. As a sideline to earn a little extra cash, he wrote book reviews. Every so often, he would lug home a box of books sent to him by publishers hoping to entice a review.

Those boxes were treasure troves! In them I discovered books and authors who remain favorites. Some I discarded because they were boring or “good for me,” which is redundant. But I devoured the novels, little caring if the story was set during the Crusades or the Cold War.

My mother was a habitual reader, too, and read aloud to my sisters and me before we could read ourselves. An unabashed romantic, she favored stories of high adventure and melodrama. My imagination was cultivated and fertilized by the animation in her voice as she described the hero’s funny sidekick, the hushed wonder in her tone when a secret cave was being explored, her sigh when the prince finally won a kiss from the princess.

I was just a kid seeking entertainment. I didn’t realize then what an invaluable gift my parents were bestowing on me—this love of words, stories, and books —which would become my lifework.

I can’t nail down a favorite author, because too many have their unique appeal. Nor could dozens of favorite books be narrowed down to one. While I still seek to be entertained, occasionally I’ll read one of those books that’s “good for me.”

What I read isn’t as important as that I do.

Sandra Brown is the author of 63 New York Times bestsellers, including Deadline (2013), Low Pressure (2012), Lethal (2011), Tough Customer (2010), and Smash Cut (2009). Brown began her writing career in 1981 and since then has published over 70 novels, and her work has been translated into 34 languages worldwide.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews August 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-07-31 19:27:26

brown sandra"It’s never chocolate or vanilla for me. More like a 'swirl.'"

The End of Poirot?

poirot davidsuchet1
Is this end of Agatha Christie’s long-standing detective Hercule Poirot, as we know him?

Unlikely, I say.

Although British actor David Suchet is making his last appearances as the dapper Belgian detective, Poirot, like Christie’s work, will never go out of style.

But for now, we must say farewell to Suchet in the final five 90-minute episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Suchet’s final turn as the TV Poirot began with The Big Four on July 27 and with Dead Man’s Folly on Augl 3. Those episodes air on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. The series begins at 9 p.m.; check your local listings for changes, and for viewings On Demand. Those episodes also are available at www.Acorn.TV, Acorn TV for iPhone and iPad on the App store, on Roku and other platforms.

The Big Four also is a bit of a reunion as it brings back several Poirot’s supporting characters. Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) were last together more than a decade ago, in Season 8.

The final three episodes will air exclusively on AcornTV. Those episodes, which are available on Mondays, are Elephants Can Remember (Aug. 11); Labours of Hercules (Aug. 18); and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case on Aug. 25. If you are a Christie fan, then you already have a good idea of what happens during that finale.

In addition to those five new episodes, the 65 previous ones then will be available on the British TV streaming service AcornTV, part of RLJ Entertainment Inc. (These episodes aired in Britain in 2013.)

Suchet has been playing the sleuth for the past 25 years and it is hard to imagine anyone else bringing such life and intelligence to the fussy Belgian, whose appearance is as impeccable as his detection skills. Suchet has given Poirot’s “little grey cells” the upmost respect and care through the years.

And he has had such good material to work with.

Mystery fiction—or crime fiction if you prefer—has radically changed since Christie began writing back in the 1920s. But her work has endured because she is one tough plotter. Her novels were as much about social issues of the time, as today’s novels are. She explored the privileged wealthy, the imperfect justice system, and even the effects of war.

poirot finalfour
Poirot first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920, and left her novels in Curtain, published in 1975. Poirot was the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.

Christie’s novels showed Poirot through the whole of his life in England. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he is a refugee staying at Styles; in Curtain, he makes a final visit to Styles.

The novels gave scant clues to Poirot’s childhood. Apparently, he comes from a large family that had a little money. We do know that Christie wrote that Poirot was a Roman Catholic. His religion gave him a strong sense of morality and justice, which are not necessarily the same thing.

It was the 1926 novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that really put Poirot on the map with readers. The surprising solution to Roger was controversial at the time. Roger is still one of Christie’s most famous novels, having launched myriad parodies as well as proving a springboard for other similar plots. Edmund Wilson used the title for his screed against detective fiction, Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?

But Poirot’s most famous case was Murder on the Orient Express (1934). I never tire of that novel and the 1974 movie with its all-star cast is always a pleasure.

Poirot appeared in 33 novels, one play (Black Coffee), and more than 50 short stories. On screen, he has been portrayed by John Moffatt, Albert Finney, Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Ian Holm, Tony Randall, Alfred Molina, and, of course, Suchet.

While Poirot has never gone out of fashion, he was often criticized by an unlikely source: Agatha Christie. Through the years, Christie often was quoted as saying she had grown weary of Poirot. In 1930, she was quoted as calling him “insufferable.” In 1960, she was quoted as calling him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.”

And that description is never in Suchet’s wheelhouse. Suchet portrayed him as many things—precise, fussy, astute, a bit too know it all. But never a creep, though he could be insufferable to murderers.

No doubt other Poirots will come after Suchet, as did those before him.

But Suchet’s performances as the detective will continue to live on as the actor begins other acting adventures.

Captions: Top, David Suchet as Poirot; Center, From left, Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon), Philip Jackson (Japp), David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Hugh Fraser (Hastings) in The Big Four. Photos courtesy Acorn TV

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-03 06:05:00
Sherlock Holmes Exhibit

sherlockholmes exhibit1
It’s doubtful that Arthur Conan Doyle could have conceived the impact his stories about Sherlock Holmes would have on the literary canon.

After all, he was a young doctor who just started to write stories and his first novels while waiting for patients to show up at his practice in Southsea, a seaside resort located in Portsmouth in England’s county of Hampshire.

Doyle was just 26 years old, a new physician and this practice was not doing well. Patients may not have flocked to him, but in 1886, he began an enterprise that would live forever, creating one of the influential characters of all time.

Sherlock Holmes’ adventures continue to thrive in his own stories, that are still popular, and his deduction skills have inspired countless writers and screenwriters. The Mentalist, Monk, Psyche are just a few TV series that have their foundations in Sherlock Holmes.

Our fascination with Sherlock Holmes never ends.

And Holmes is now the subject of an exhibit that will be making the rounds of several American museums and sherlockholmes exhibit2
science centers.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes allows visitors to step into Conan Doyle’s Victorian London and work side-by-side with his legendary detective.

Visitors become Holmes in tackling new cases. The exhibit also includes original manuscripts, publications, period artifacts, film and television props and costumes. Visitors can learn who to investigative tools and techniques and engage in interactive crime-solving cases.

The exhibit mixes both fun and real science, a friend who went told me.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes can be seen through Sept. 1 at the Center of Science and Industry, often called COSI, in Columbus, Ohio.

Here are the opening dates of the other places the exhibit has been scheduled to visit. Others may be added at a later date.
Oct. 9, 2014: St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, Mo.

Feb. 12, 2015: Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Dallas, Texas.

June 11, 2015: Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, Calif.

Oct. 15, 2015: Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver, Colo.

Oct. 13, 2016: Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Wash.

Photos courtesy The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes; photos by Robb McCormick

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-06 02:05:00

sherlockholmes exhibit1
It’s doubtful that Arthur Conan Doyle could have conceived the impact his stories about Sherlock Holmes would have on the literary canon.

After all, he was a young doctor who just started to write stories and his first novels while waiting for patients to show up at his practice in Southsea, a seaside resort located in Portsmouth in England’s county of Hampshire.

Doyle was just 26 years old, a new physician and this practice was not doing well. Patients may not have flocked to him, but in 1886, he began an enterprise that would live forever, creating one of the influential characters of all time.

Sherlock Holmes’ adventures continue to thrive in his own stories, that are still popular, and his deduction skills have inspired countless writers and screenwriters. The Mentalist, Monk, Psyche are just a few TV series that have their foundations in Sherlock Holmes.

Our fascination with Sherlock Holmes never ends.

And Holmes is now the subject of an exhibit that will be making the rounds of several American museums and sherlockholmes exhibit2
science centers.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes allows visitors to step into Conan Doyle’s Victorian London and work side-by-side with his legendary detective.

Visitors become Holmes in tackling new cases. The exhibit also includes original manuscripts, publications, period artifacts, film and television props and costumes. Visitors can learn who to investigative tools and techniques and engage in interactive crime-solving cases.

The exhibit mixes both fun and real science, a friend who went told me.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes can be seen through Sept. 1 at the Center of Science and Industry, often called COSI, in Columbus, Ohio.

Here are the opening dates of the other places the exhibit has been scheduled to visit. Others may be added at a later date.
Oct. 9, 2014: St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, Mo.

Feb. 12, 2015: Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Dallas, Texas.

June 11, 2015: Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, Calif.

Oct. 15, 2015: Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver, Colo.

Oct. 13, 2016: Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Wash.

Photos courtesy The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes; photos by Robb McCormick

Peaches for You, Peaches for Me


The only thing more delectable than a good summer mystery read may just be a delicious summer peach.

To celebrate the season, Mystery Scene asked some of our favorite culinary mystery authors to share some of their favorite peach recipes. Take it from Joanne Fluke , Daryl Wood Gerber (Avery Aames), Livia J. Washburn, and Cleo Coyle. Murder has never been so sweet...

fluke joanne CR Kimberly ButlerMINNESOTA PEACH COBBLER

by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swenson mysteries)

***Do NOT thaw peaches***


  • 10 cups frozen sliced peaches (2.5 pounds, sliced)
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice (2 tbsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted butter


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick softened butter (1/4 cup)
  • 2 beaten eggs


Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 13 by 9 inch cake pan with Pam.

Measure peaches and put them in a large mixing bowl. Let them sit on the counter and thaw for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle with lemon juice and toss.

In another smaller bowl combine white sugar, salt, flour, and cinnamon. Mix them together with a fork until they're evenly combined.

Pour dry mixture over the peaches and toss them (your hands are best). Once most of the dry mixture is clinging to the peaches, dump them into the cake pan you've prepared. Sprinkle any dry mixture left in the bowl on the top of the peaches in the pan.

Melt the butter. Drizzle it over the peaches. Then cover the cake pan tightly with foil.

Bake the peach mixture at 350 for 40 minutes. Take it out of the oven and set it on a heat-proof surface, but DO NOT turn off the oven.

Now for the crust. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a smaller bowl you used earlier. Cut in the softened butter with a couple of forks until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the beaten eggs and mix them in with a fork. For those of you who remember your school library with fondness, the result will resemble library paste but it'll smell a whole lot better). You can also do this with food processor with chilled butter.

Remove the foil cover from the peaches and drop on spoonfuls of the topping. Because the topping is thick, you'll have to do this in little dibs and dabs scraped from the spoon with another spoon, a rubber spatula, or with your clean finger. Dab on the topping until the whole pan is polka dotted. (Will spread out when baking).

Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for an additional 50 minutes.

fluke peachcobblermurderJOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Apple Turnover Murder, Cinnamon Roll Murder, Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, and, of course, Peach Cobbler Murder. She’s baked over 500,000 chocolate chip cookies for fans since the series debuted 14 years ago, not to mention countless pies, cakes, muffins and other sweets. Like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, where a traffic jam was defined as two cars stuck behind a tractor. She managed to shovel her way out of the snow and now lives in California. Visit Joanne at

gerber darylwood


by Daryl Wood Gerber (Cookbook NOOK Mystery series)


  • 2 peaches sliced in eighths
  • 1 pound prosciutto, cut into thin one-inch slices
  • 12-16 large leaves of basil, rinsed, stem removed


Slice the peaches
Slice the prosciutto
Prepare the basil

Lay one slice of peach in each basil leaf. Using a piece of prosciutto, wrap at the center around the peach/basil combo, twisting or pressing at the end so the prosciutto holds together.


gerber nookcookbookseriesIn the Perfect Peach recipe, the skin of the peach is cut off. I prefer the skin on for texture. You can do either. Also, my husband liked the peach with the prosciutto by itself, no basil. I happen to adore basil and loved the combination. Eat to your heart’s content!

DARYL WOOD GERBER is the author of A Cookbook Nook Mystery series, featuring an avid reader, admitted foodie, and owner of a cookbook store in picturesque coastal California. The series debuted in 2013. In addition, under the pen name Avery Aames, Daryl writes the Agatha Award winning, nationally bestselling A Cheese Shop Mystery series. Visit Daryl at

avery peachesandprosciutto


by Livia J. Washburn (Fresh Baked Mysteries)



  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced candied ginger
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 cups sliced peaches

9" Basic Crust

  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp ice water
  • 1 tsp granulated or turbinado (raw) sugar * Makes a 9-inch pie crust


Preheat oven to 375º. Combine cornstarch, minced candied ginger, brown sugar, and water in saucepan. Cook until thickened and then add peaches. Cook until peaches are hot, about 5 minutes. Pour into buttered 9” pan making sure the ginger is evenly distributed.

Mix flour and salt in chilled bowl, then cut shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter, until mixture resembles the texture of tiny split peas. When the mixture is the right texture, add the ice water and combine with a fork. Quickly gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a 4-inch-wide disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Remove dough disk from refrigerator. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable. Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough disk on a lightly floured surface until it’s bigger than the pan. Transfer dough by carefully rolling it around the rolling pin, lift and unroll dough, centering it over the fruit. Vent crust, and sprinkle granulated or turbinado (raw) sugar on top to give a delightful sparkling appearance.

Bake cobbler for 50 minutes or until golden brown.

The candied ginger gives this dessert a warm zesty taste.

washburn peachofamurderLIVIA J WASHBURN (aka L.J. Washburn) is Livia Reasoner, a mystery, western, romance, and historical novelist. She began to write in collaboration with her husband, author James Reasoner, and soon branched out into telling her own stories. Livia and James have had a long career working together, tweaking and editing each others stories. In recent years she's become involved in the publishing end of the business, producing ebooks and trade paperbacks for Western Fictioneers, and now for Prairie Rose Publications. A good day for her includes having time to create something new in the kitchen, on a story, and designing a great cover. Livia's website can be found at

coyle cleoHoney Cinnamon Peach Sopapillas

by Cleo Coyle (Coffeehouse Mystery series)

Traditionally sopapillas are little pillows of fried dough. They can be served with savory ingredients but also as a dessert with honey and cinnamon. You can certainly make them from scratch, but here's a quick, easy, lighter way to make them using flour tortillas. This recipe serves one.


  • 1 six-inch flour tortilla
  • 2-3 teaspoons shortening (my favorite: cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil, but you can also use olive oil, or your favorite oil, butter, lard, or vegetable shortening - see my note below)
  • Raw honey for drizzling (Health and flavor note: Raw honey is far, far better tasting than heat-processed honeys. It's truly worth the price and makes a huge difference in flavor. If you can find local raw honey, that's an even better benefit for your immune system.)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon mixed with 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 ripe, fresh peach


Place a skillet on medium-high heat and add your choice of shortening (oil, butter, lard, etc). You must use some kind of shortening and enough of it or the tortilla will not properly bubble up.

When the oil is hot (or the butter melted), place the tortilla in the pan. Allow it to heat up (15 to 20 seconds), then flip it and wait patiently for the tortilla to bubble up. If it does not bubble up, you need to increase the heat and keep waiting. Then flip it one more time to finish cooking and remove it from the pan. Slip it on the plate, drizzle it with raw honey, and sprinkle it generously with cinnamon sugar. Use a pizza cutter to slice it into sections.

To serve, slice up a fresh peach and arrange the slices on the center of a plate as shown in my photo. Drizzle with raw honey and cinnamon sugar. Place the sopapilla slices around the plate, top the center of the peach slices with whipped cream or ice cream and eat with joy!


My very favorite shortening for this recipe is cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil. This is a healthy, delicious oil, and of all the shortenings I tested with this recipe, coconut oil gave the absolute best results. It doesn't brown the way butter does at a high temperature; it brings a lovely, slightly nutty flavor to the tortilla; and it creates a nice, crisp texture in the tortilla as it cools.

CLEO COYLE is the pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, who writes popular fiction in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Like their 13 Coffeehouse Mystery novels, their five Haunted Bookshop Mysteries (written under the name Alice Kimberly), are bestselling works of amateur sleuth fiction for Penguin. Visit Cleo at

peachsopapillas clepcoyle

Teri Duerr
2014-08-04 16:22:55

peachThe only thing more delectable than a good summer mystery read may just be a delicious summer peach.

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Teri Duerr
2014-08-06 12:31:17
Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Sarah Weinman

Author Dorothy Salisbury Davis passed away August 3, 2014. Sarah Weinman recently profiled the crime fiction legend for Mystery Scene.

Dorothy Salisbury Davis celebrated her 98th birthday on April 26, making her arguably the oldest living American mystery writer. She is also one of the genre’s very best practitioners, one whose approach to crime fiction was once described by her friend and protégée Sara Paretsky as having “an awareness of how easy it is for ordinary people to do nasty and wicked deeds” and “[a rich] understanding of the human condition that is missing from most contemporary crime fiction.”

For years I had a dim awareness of Davis’ life and work, glimpsing her at the Edgar Awards in 2007 and seeing her name mentioned in mystery magazines as a major force, but it wasn’t until I began collecting stories for my anthology of domestic suspense fiction, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, that I delved into Davis’ oeuvre in a serious manner. What I found backed up the plaudits and confirmed the hosannas: Davis truly understood the complicated nature of human behavior, and how otherwise ordinary people could tumble down the proverbial rabbit hole of sin, temptation, and weakness to commit murder—and keep the reader’s sympathy throughout.

Davis, born in Chicago and raised on dairy farms in rural Illinois and Wisconsin, was adopted and did not learn the truth of her parentage until she was well past middle age. Those hidden origins, contrasted against an otherwise happy childhood, may have led Davis to writing mysteries, though not before several professional detours as a research librarian in the advertising world, a magic show promoter, a director of the benefits program of a major meatpacking company during World War II, and later, as an editor for The Merchandiser magazine. Davis was also active in local theater, and met her husband, the character actor Harry Davis, when he was assistant stage manager for the production of The Glass Menagerie that eventually landed on Broadway.

salisbury judascatThree years into her marriage, Davis published her first novel, The Judas Cat (1949), with Scribner, who remained her hardcover publisher for the rest of her career. Already many of the themes that would recur in Davis’ work—the seemingly close-knit small town populated with flawed but relatable people undone by a murder, and then the corrosive aftermath—appear in this debut, which is set up by a nifty locked-room mystery: How did 92-year-old Andy Mattson die violently in his house with only a cat as witness, and possibly as culprit?

But locked-room mysteries weren’t Davis’ main concern. She was much more interested in the psychology of regular people, especially women of all ages, like the thirtyish spinster Hannah in A Town of Masks (1952), whose timid manner boils over in a murderous, yet justified way, or the elderly matriarch in The Clay Hand (1950) who rules her small town using fear and hatred, yet is herself undone. She also brilliantly captured the downward spiral of a teenage-boy-turned-hoodlum in both Black Sheep, White Lamb (1963) and The Little Brothers (1973), both of which also depict New York City’s Italian-American communities with forthright compassion.

Davis’ Roman Catholicism also figured prominently in a number of her novels. A Gentle Murderer (1951), her best-known novel, begins with a tour de force of an opener, in which a young man gets off a subway in midtown Manhattan, heads for a nearby church, and confesses his mortal sin to the priest: he thinks he has killed a young woman, and he is beside himself. The priest is honor-bound to keep the man’s secret. The cop who investigates the woman’s murder must find a way to coax the information out of the priest without breaking that oath. Meanwhile, the young man finds himself the object of affection of two generations of women at the house where he lodges, and where his secrets are threatened to be discovered.

More than 20 years later, Davis twists the original opening scene of A Gentle Murderer to its near-opposite in Where the Dark Streets Go (1969), as Father McMahon, tasked with writing his weekly sermon, gets an urgent summons to a tenement basement where a young man lies dying, bloody, and stabbed, refusing to divulge his real name or his killer’s. Davis suffuses this novel, too, with an overwhelming desire for absolution in the face of multiple types of guilt. Father McMahon’s struggles become the reader’s struggles, too.

While Davis’ concerns about human behavior and social justice means her crime novels are generally sober in nature, the wicked sense of humor she’s displayed in real life comes through on the page as well. This is most especially true with her trio of novels—Death of an Old Sinner, A Gentleman Called, and Old Sinners Never Die, published between 1957 and 1959—starring the elderly housekeeper Mrs. Norris, accompanying her longtime charge Jimmie, now a Wall Street lawyer, and the police detective Jasper Tully as they investigate serious crimes with a lighthearted touch.

Davis’ humor is also on display in her last four novels, all featuring Julie Hayes, who moves from disaffected, psychoanalyzed housewife and struggling actress (A Death in the Life) to tarot card reader (Scarlet Night) to gossip reporter (Lullaby of Murder) to searching out her own birth parents in Ireland (The Habit of Fear).

salisbury agentlemurderThe Julie Hayes novels are difficult to pigeonhole, however. They feature one of the most dysfunctional marriages in mystery fiction, between Julie, chafing at her own lack of independence, and Jeff, the much older, condescending investigative reporter. Davis thoughtfully examines this relationship as it grows, changes, and eventually, ends. Julie is caustic, eccentric, and resourceful, but also deals with her own brutal rape in The Habit of Fear—more disturbing because Davis describes it without flourish or relish—in a “let’s get on with it” manner that does not diminish the horror. And yet, there is joie de vivre, especially with respect to the late 1970s/early 1980s New York City Davis depicts, a city in great transition that is clearly one the author loves.

While crime fiction was Davis’s primary genre, for which she garnered eight Edgar nominations—as well as the Grand Master designation by the Mystery Writers of America in 1985—she also wrote mainstream historical fiction, including Men of No Property (1956), set in Ireland during the 19th century potato famine; The Evening of the Good Samaritan (1962), set before, during, and after World War II through the vantage point of three generations of men; and God Speed the Night (1968, co-written with Jerome Ross), a suspense tale of Nazi resistance during World War II.

A number of influential writers counted Davis among their friends. She recalled, in an interview for The Daily Beast in 2013, living just two miles away from Patricia Highsmith in the 1950s, being “great friends” with Dorothy B. Hughes, and visiting Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar in California. Davis was also instrumental in cementing Sisters in Crime as an organization to take seriously upon its founding in 1986 by joining as a board member. “She was a pioneer in speaking out for women writers and insisting that a woman’s voice was as valid, as strong, and as important as a man’s,” the noted crime writer Margaret Maron recalls.

Maron, who considers Davis to be “one of my icons,” vividly recalled her first encounter with the author during Edgar Week in the 1980s. “She came into the nearly empty room where I was and smiled at me as she bustled through (she never just strolled, she always moved quickly). I sat there dazed: ‘Dorothy Salisbury Davis just smiled at me!’”

Davis stopped writing novels after her husband Harry’s death in 1993, although she has published short stories as recently as 2009, many of them collected in In The Still of the Night (2001). Readers, luckily, can find out for themselves about the consistent excellence of Dorothy Salisbury Davis’ work thanks to the recent digital reissues of her entire body of work by Open Road Integrated Media.


Mrs. Norris Series
Death of an Old Sinner (1957)
A Gentleman Called (1958)
Old Sinners Never Die (1959)

Julie Hayes Series
A Death in the Life (1976)
Scarlet Night (1980)
Lullaby of Murder (1984)
The Habit of Fear (1987)

In the Still of the Night (2001)
Tales for a Stormy Night (1984)

Crime Novels
The Judas Cat (1949)
The Clay Hand (1952)
A Gentle Murderer (1951)
A Town of Masks (1952)
Black Sheep, White Lamb (1963)
The Pale Betrayer (1965)
Enemy and Brother (1966)
God Speed the Night (1968) (with Jerome Ross)
Where the Dark Streets Go (1969)
Shock Wave (1972)
Little Brothers (1974)

Sarah Weinman is the editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories From the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense (Penguin). She is at work editing a two-volume set of novels by American women crime writers for the Library of America.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #135.

Teri Duerr
2014-08-07 15:41:15

Author Dorothy Salisbury Davis passed away August 3, 2014. Sarah Weinman recently profiled the crime fiction legend for Mystery Scene.

Alison Gaylin and a Perfect Memory

gaylinalison staywithme
We all know that fact is stranger than fiction.

Think about 10 significant but bizarre instances that have occurred during the past 50 years. Now, if any of those instances made it into a novel, would you believe it? Thought not.

Hyperthymestic syndrome, a rare disorder that gives a person perfect autobiographical memory, has been making its way into novels, movies and television shows for the past 25 years.

But when I first heard about this syndrome, I thought that can’t be real. I can’t even remember where I left my glasses 10 minutes ago so how can someone remember every detail about their life?

And yet this syndrome is quite real.

And it makes for some interesting twists in mysteries.

Alison Gaylin has been using Hyperthymestic Syndrome in her series about private investigator Brenna Spector. Stay With Me, Gaylin’s third novel in the series, recently came out.

The ability to remember every moment of her life helps Brenna as a private investigator, but wreaks havoc on her personal life. Brenna developed the syndrome when she was around 11 years old. The syndrome was triggered by the disappearance of her sister, Clea, disappeared at age 17, more than 28 years ago. And that disappearance is the one piece of her memory that is blank, a situation that Gaylin uses well in Stay With Me.

On the CBS crime drama, Criminal Minds, the character Spencer Reid states on many occasions that he possess an eidetic memory, which is often linked to hyperthymesia.

On Unforgettable, another CBS series, Poppy Montgomery plays New York police detective Carrie Wells. She hopes that the job will allow her to try to find out the one thing she has been unable to remember, which is what happened the day her sister was murdered. At the beginning of the show she says: “I'm Carrie Wells. Only a few people in the world have the ability to remember everything. I'm one of them. Pick any day of my life, and I can tell you what I saw or heard: faces, conversations, clues (which comes in handy when you're a cop). If I miss something the first time, it's OK. I can go back and look again. My life is...unforgettable.”

And on the CBS comedy (what is it about CBS?) The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper everything from the day his mom stopped breastfeeding him. He describes that day as “a drizzly Tuesday.”

Actress Marilu Henner has hyperthymesia and can remember the specific details of her everyday life since she was a small child. Henner was one of six people featured during a segment of CBS’ 60 minutes in 2010. (Again, CBS!)

It’s not that people with this syndrome have really good memories, or a photographic memory. It goes much deeper than that.

And if you want more information, Google hyperthymestic syndrome.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-09 03:30:00

gaylinalison staywithme
We all know that fact is stranger than fiction.

Think about 10 significant but bizarre instances that have occurred during the past 50 years. Now, if any of those instances made it into a novel, would you believe it? Thought not.

Hyperthymestic Syndrome, a rare disorder that gives a person perfect autobiographical memory, has been making its way into novels, movies and television shows for the past 25 years.

But when I first heard about this syndrome, I thought that can’t be real. I can’t even remember where I left my glasses 10 minutes ago so how can someone remember every detail about their life?

And yet this syndrome is quite real.

And it makes for some interesting twists in mysteries.

Alison Gaylin has been using Hyperthymestic Syndrome in her series about private investigator Brenna Spector. Stay With Me, Gaylin’s third novel in the series, recently came out.

The ability to remember every moment of her life helps Brenna as a private investigator, but wreaks havoc on her personal life. Brenna developed the syndrome when she was around 11 years old. The syndrome was triggered by the disappearance of her sister, Clea, disappeared at age 17, more than 28 years ago. And that disappearance is the one piece of her memory that is blank, a situation that Gaylin uses well in Stay With Me.

On the CBS crime drama, Criminal Minds, the character Spencer Reid states on many occasions that he possess an eidetic memory, which is often linked to hyperthymesia.

On Unforgettable, another CBS series, Poppy Montgomery plays New York police detective Carrie Wells. She hopes that the job will allow her to try to find out the one thing she has been unable to remember, which is what happened the day her sister was murdered. At the beginning of the show she says: “I'm Carrie Wells. Only a few people in the world have the ability to remember everything. I'm one of them. Pick any day of my life, and I can tell you what I saw or heard: faces, conversations, clues (which comes in handy when you're a cop). If I miss something the first time, it's OK. I can go back and look again. My life is...unforgettable.”

And on the CBS comedy (what is it about CBS?) The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper everything from the day his mom stopped breastfeeding him. He describes that day as “a drizzly Tuesday.”

Actress Marilu Henner has hyperthymesia and can remember the specific details of her everyday life since she was a small child. Henner was one of six people featured during a segment of CBS’ 60 minutes in 2010. (Again, CBS!)

It’s not that people with this syndrome have really good memories, or a photographic memory. It goes much deeper than that.

And if you want more information, google Hyperthymestic Syndrome.

Perfume and Kelli Stanley

kelli cityofghosts

I love exotic perfumes, the kind that you don’t often find in regular department stores. And if those perfumes come with a history, so much the better.

Perfumes also can make a statement about character in crime fiction.

Scents trigger Maggie Silver’s memory in Denise Hamilton’s novel Damage Control. Here's Maggie applying a fragrance: “...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering... Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power.” Hamilton, by the way, is an expert on perfumes.

Perfume, or at least one perfume, has meaning to private detective Miranda Corbie in Kelli Stanley’s latest novel City of Ghosts set in San Francisco during 1940, the time when war was raging in Europe but the U.S. had yet to enter the battle.

For Miranda, the scent Vol de Nuit is important. Not because of its wonderful bouquet, but because Vol de Nuit reminds her of a different time and when she was a different person.

Stanley writes: “Vol de Nuit, replacement for Je Reviens and the happy time, the other Miranda, the girl in New York who liked carnations and violets, the scene of freshly cut oranges and coffee, the sound of the Elevated pounding above her tiny apartment, shouts of kids running to buy candy and a Shadow magazine at the corner store.”

In City of Ghosts, Miranda is down to her last bottle of Vol de Nuit, and knows that there will be no more shipments of the perfume until the war is over.

“She closed her eyes, inhaling the oakmoss and narcissus, the deep vanilla crème and the arid scent of wood bark, straight from the Ardennes,” writes Stanley.

Vol de Nuit is an apt perfume for Miranda to cherish during wartime. Produced by the house Guerlain (who make Shalimar, among others), Vol de Nuit was “composed in 1933 as a tribute to flight, celebrating the novel of the same name by pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Air France.” The novel Vol de Nuit celebrated courage, according to Guerlain.

Naturally, I had to order a bottle. I don’t know how much courage it brings me, but it is a lovely, old-fashioned scent that at the same time is modern.

And every time I wear it, it smells as if it were San Francisco, 1940.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-13 13:05:00

I love exotic perfumes, the kind that you don’t often find in regular department stores. And if those perfumes come with a history, so much the better.

More From the Late Elmore Leonard

leonard elmore
Elmore Leonard left a legacy of novels and short stories when he died Aug. 20, 2013. And nearly a year after his death, his works are as popular as ever.

On Aug. 29, the film Life of Crime, based on Leonard’s novel 1978 The Switch, will hit movie theaters.

True to Leonard’s work, the novel is an edgy, black-comedy approach to crime fiction in which a wealthy man sees the perfect end to his marriage when his wife is kidnapped. If he doesn’t pay the ransom, he reasons, she will be killed, and that, he believes, will save him alimony. Tim Robbins stars as Frank Dawson and Mickey, his estranged wife, is played by Jennifer Aniston. Isla Fisher is Frank’s new girlfriend. Mos Def and Will Forte also co-star.

For trivia buffs, the kidnappers are Louis Gara, played by John Hawkes, and Ordell Robbie, played by Mos Def using the name Yasiin Bey. Louis and Ordell returned in Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, which was made into the 1997 film Jackie Brown. The older Louis and Ordell were played by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown.

But Life of Crime is only the start of what appears to be a mini resurgence of Leonard’s work.

On Sept. 4, the Library of America will release Elmore Leonard: Four Novels of the 1970s, edited by Gregg Sutter. The compilation is a gorgeous book, true to what I expect from the Library of America.

The compilation features four significant Leonard novels, each of which gave us a glimpse of the route that the author was taking—darkly funny with razor sharp dialogue and twists that seem outlandish yet realistic at the same time.

The novels included are:

leonardelmore fournovels
Fifty-Two Pickup
, in which an adulterous businessman runs afoul of a crew of murderous blackmailers. Fifty-Two Pickup also was made into a film in 1986, starring Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, John Glover, and Kelly Preston.

Swag marks the first time that Leonard showed us his brand of comedy. In Swag, Frank Ryan has a plan to commit armed robberies with a car thief.

Unknown Man No. 89 delivers a complex pattern of crisscrossing rip-offs and con games in which Detroit process server Jack Ryan searches for a missing stockholder.

And, finally, The Switch is included. See the film and then reread the novel to decide which is better. (I think I know.)

The Library of America volume also contains a newly researched chronology of Leonard’s life, prepared with exclusive access to materials in his personal archive.

The book is edited by Gregg Sutter, a Detroit native, who began working for Leonard in 1981. He is currently at work on a biography of Leonard, from the perspective of being his full-time researcher for more than 30 years.

And we can expect more Leonard works. British publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson has acquired 15 unpublished early stories, most written while Leonard was working as a copywriter at a Detroit advertising agency in the 1950s. The volume will be released in the fall of 2015, with HarperCollins publishing in the United States.

The stories are set in myriad locations from New Mexico to Malaysia and feature some characters that recur in later works.

And, of course, we have the sixth season of Justified to look forward to next year. Unfortunately, it will be the last season of Raylin and Boyd.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-18 12:05:00
David Rosenfelt and Dogs

rosenfelt davidhoundedx
David Rosenfelt
is the consummate dog lover. You can tell this from his involving novels about lawyer Andy Carpenter.

In each of the 12 novels in this series, Rosenfelt works in a love of dogs as the canines have something to do with the plot.

In Hounded, the latest novel in this series, Andy is asked to take in the eight-year-old son of a murder victim and the boy’s basset hound, Sebastian.

The dog is no problem—Andy often does rescue and fostering of dogs—but a child, well, that’s another matter. Hounded is one of the best novels in Rosenfelt’s series.

Without getting too sentimental or cutesy, Rosenfelt shows in each of the Andy Carpenter novels how our bonds with dogs can change our lives.

Andy’s rescue sideline never overwhelms the plot but it is a part of this character and makes him who he is.

In the novels, Andy owns just one dog—a golden retriever named Tara, who is named after Rosenfelt’s own Tara.

But the author David Rosenfelt doesn’t own a single dog.

He has 25.

Yes, 25 dogs, all of which he and his wife, Debbie Myers, have taken in as rescues.

Of course, that number could be completely different today.

Rosenfelt and Myers rescue dogs, especially golden retrievers, and try to find them homes.

rosenfeltdavid dogtrippingxx
But if they can’t find new homes, well, these dogs have a forever home with them.

Rosenfelt discusses his love of dogs, how he got into rescuing, and how he moved his family and those 25 dogs from Southern California to Maine in Dogtripping.

A funny, insightful memoir, Dogtripping shows how the best plans can go awry when humans, and, well, dogs, too, are in the mix.

When he started the relocation of his pack, Rosenfelt thought he had planned for every turn. He had GPSes, RVs for transit, and loads of food. But he was traveling with 25 dogs and he was in for an adventure.

Spoiler alert: everyone made it just fine.

Dogtripping also is the tale of the beginnings of his dog rescue foundation, which is named after Tara, the beloved golden who lives on in Rosenfelt’s novels.

Those of us who love dogs will find Rosenfelt’s recollections bring a few tears, and a lot of smiles.

And as a consummate dog lover myself, I also know the power of bonding with a dog. My first dog, Lou, came when I was about 11 months old, and, except for college, I have always had at least one dog.

Currently, we have only two—and, yes, both are rescues.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-20 05:42:24
Serial Murders: Crime Fiction on the Installment Plan
Gary Phillips

Dickens Insp Bucket Browne copyIn praise of the delay.

In addition to being an early example of serial fiction, this Halbot K. Brown (“Phiz”) illustration of Inspector Bucket was the first printed picture of a fictional police-detective. It appeared in the first book edition of Bleak House, 1853, by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens wrote several of his novels in serialized form initially, including The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. A friend of mine told me that at some point Dickens had to produce 32 pages of set type per month. This meant that Dickens would, pen quill to ink to paper, write out his installments in longhand, and then do his edits—which might mean rewriting some pages or simply crossing out words and passages and writing in new sentences between the lines. He’d take the completed pages to the printer, who no doubt must have made Dickens stay to go over his scribbles, then type on the Linotype (the desk typewriter didn’t come along until after Dickens died) to cast hot metal slugs.

I imagine after an initial period, Mr. Dickens had a rough idea of how many pages of handwritten manuscript he had to produce to meet his quota, but sometimes he was a few pages under or a page or two over. If that was the case, he’d have had to do some fast editing or additions to make the required number as eager readers awaited what next would befall his characters.

The serial in the Victorian era was the soap opera, the Lost, the 24 of its day. Some of Dickens’ and fellow scribes’ installments went on for more than a year in monthly or even weekly installments in the newspapers and magazines of the day. Naturally this helped build sales and circulation for these publications. The writers were paid per word, which certainly encouraged some flowery passages now and then and the need to fill space. Interestingly, the first such serial, albeit in a loose definition of the word, is credited to journalist Edward “Ned” Ward. His nonfiction reportage, The London Spy, which he described as “…a complete survey of the most remarkable places, as well as the common vanities and follies of mankind (both day and night),” was first published in 1698–1700.

The London Spy was a hit and the serial, while birthed in the UK, quickly spread to Paris in the form of Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas, and later to America with the likes of Mark Twain employing the form. Britisher Charles Reade, whose The Cloister and the Hearth was written in serial form, summed it up best: “Make’em laugh, make ’em cry, make’em wait.” For certainly it’s the serial that perfects the art of the cliffhanger, that last tense scene that suddenly goes to black (the anticlimactic end of The Sopranos being the infuriating exception) and we have to bite our nails until we find out what happened, and what happens next. From the terse scene of Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo being hauled away to the dungeons ending with “To be continued” to the radio serials of the last century where the masked villain crept up, gun in hand on the unsuspecting Nick Carter deep in research in his library, and bang, the haunting organ crescendo, and the stentorian announcer saying, “Tune in tomorrow…”—we’re hooked.

In the ’30s, daily adventure comic strips would tailor their storytelling so there would be cliffhangers or some startling information in that last panel to compel us to return to Flash Gordon or The Phantom the following day. Flash, the Ghost Who Walks (the aforementioned Phantom) leapt from the four color pages, along with Blackhawk from DC Comics, the Lone Ranger, Nyoka, a kind of female Tarzan, and many others to the Saturday morning movie serial. These were something like 10-minute episodes of the exploits of these crime fighters you’d experience in chapter installments over a period of 12 or so weeks at your local movie house. This plus maybe two full length flicks as well. Then like their text ancestors, the serials were recut into their own feature-length films or re-cut again as TV came on strong in the ’50s.

flash gordon trip to mars 1938 copyA scene from the 1938 serial Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (“15 Sensational Sense-Staggering Episodes!”) starring Buster Crabbe as Flash, Beatrice Roberts as Queen Azura, and Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless.

Admittedly, compared to Dickens’ Bleak House, the Saturday morning serial, shot for peanuts, wasn’t big on character, emotional depth, or continuity. In our last episode we found our hero tied up in a Packard, a cinder block pressing the accelerator down, and the whole of it rushing into an exploding ball of gas. But come back next week, and, Rashomon-like, that last scene is shown from a different angle (or in some cases reshot entirely with a different sequence of events), with the hero struggling out of his bonds and leaping from the car just in time. No matter, we kids ate it up and laughed and cheered and couldn’t wait to be thrilled again.

Economics and the advent of better special effects in big budget movies helped to kill off the Saturday morning serial. Yet today it seems the Internet has provided for the return of the serial. Not only can you find and listen to old radio shows, but also new stuff like ZBS Productions' MP3 downloads and the new comic strips, a.k.a. web comics, found on sites such as DC’s Zuda—with the mystical Bayou, Projekt Werewolf, and World of Quest, now a cartoon on the Kids WB on Komikwerks—and Big Head’s The Architect and La Muse. Text, too, is very much alive on the web, from Stephen King’s The Green Mile, which was first a serial, to, where mystery novelist Nathan Walpow is serializing a Joe Portugal story, Bad Developments. (Full disclosure: Nathan is also the editor of the fourstory site, and The Underbelly, my serialized mystery, ran on the site last year.)

Our appetite to be thrilled, to be left wanting until that next chapter, still has a hold on us even in this age of instant gratification. I suppose a psychiatrist might make some analogy to the sex drive and the need for stories—anticipation being stronger than fulfillment, but let’s leave that to the eggheads and bow-tied academics to figure out. Right now I’ve got a new installment to grind out.

Gary Phillips writes fictional stories of chicanery and malfeasance in various formats, often drawing on his past experiences. He is a Los Angeles native, and was born and raised in the then South Central area of the city.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2014-08-21 19:59:43

Dickens Insp Bucket Browne copyIn praise of the delay.

Breathless in 1961 London

breathless tvshowcast
It would be easy—and it has already been done—to call Breathless the British Mad Men.

After all, this British series making its debut as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! is set in 1961 and is thoroughly steeped in the sensibilities of the era.

As we all know, that was a time when societal mores and attitudes were beginning to change, when revolution was in the air, from social reform to the music.

Breathless is divided into three two-hour episodes. The first two-hour Breathless will be shown at 9 p.m. Aug. 24, followed by Aug. 31 and Sept. 7. Check your local listings for changes in times and airing.

Breathless certainly has much in common with Mad Men, that is if the American series were set in London and the advertising firm were a hospital and the “mad men” were not just doctors but gynecologists.

But Breathless delivers even more cynicism about the times that were a-changing, going from the old boys’ network—or, I guess this would be the old chaps’ network—to one in which women and minorities would have more of a piece of the pie.

That changing of the times is the crux of Breathless, a fascinating, often perceptive, but sometimes hollow look at the early 1960s in London.

After watching the initial screening, I am interested enough to want to see the rest of the series.

But I fail to see how Breathless fits with PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. Yes, a cop conducts some sort of an investigation and a death occurs midway in the series. But there seems little in the way of any mystery. Endeavour Morse, Poirot, Miss Marple, and the various Sherlocks have very little in common with Breathless.

Even the British police procedural George Gently, set in the same time, is light years away from Breathless.

At its heart, Breathless is more of a soap opera about men who seem to care little about women’s health—which makes us wonder why they chose gynecology—and more about manipulating women and having as much sex as possible.

Yet, amid this misogyny there is some concern about women’s health.
breathless davenport
Jack Davenport stars as the brilliant London surgeon Otto Powell, a respected physician, a devoted family man with a lovely wife, Elizabeth, and a bright son. But look beneath the surface. He also fools around with nurses, patients, neighbors, and the wives of colleagues whenever he can, and has some dark secrets.

Yet, despite all his caddish ways, Otto is the most unlikely champion of a woman’s right to choose. And he performs safe—though still illegal—abortions on the side to desperate women, many of whom can afford to have a private physician, anesthesiologist, and nurse come quietly to their home. These are not those back-alley procedures that movies of the 1950s showed. One society woman greets Otto and his crew by saying, “I’ve been such a silly muffin.”

Otto’s side business is only one aspect of Breathless. The series’ main focus is showing how steeped the era was in racism, classism, and sexism and how these men, arrogant, snide, thinking they are masters of the universe, are about to get a rude awakening. Anesthesiologist Charlie Enderbury (Shaun Dingwall) can’t believe that the promotion he was sure of might go to a doctor of Indian heritage.

Otto is being investigated—the reason never clear in the first episode—by Chief Inspector Ronald Mulligan (Iain Glen), a ruthless detective whose pursuit seems to harken back to a war. But Mulligan also is a controlling father who was forcing his daughter to marry a man she didn’t love. Mulligan seems determined to disgrace the doctor because his daughter vanished from the hospital and he can’t find her.

Although Breathless is rather weak on plot, its strength is in watching the characters maneuver amid unforgiving times. A newlywed has had to give up her brilliant career as a nurse because, well, she is married. She spends her days smoking, drinking, and trying new recipes, and is constantly being intruded on by the nosey wife of one of her husband’s colleagues. Another wife is being forced to go on tranquilizers because her husband believes “the change” is driving her mad; her rage is inspired not by hormones but by her husband’s affair.

The cast is uniformly good. Davenport has always been a personal favorite since Coupling and The Talented Mr. Ripley; others may recognize him from Pirates of the Caribbean and Smash. He gives a sense of decency and concern for women to Otto, as well as the physician’s sense of entitlement.

Other recognizable actors are Zoe Boyle (Downton Abbey), Catherine Steadman (Mansfield Park), Iain Glen (Downton Abbey), Natasha Little (Case Histories), Oliver Chris (Sharpe's Challenge), Joanna Page (Love Actually), and Shaun Dingwall (Touching Evil).

Breathless also is one stylish series. The cars, the clothes, the little details of the era are lovingly displayed.

The sexual revolution, as Breathless shows (as does Mad Men) was really good for men, giving them a wider field to bed. Not so much for women who may have slept with a man before marriage, but were still stuck with antiquated attitudes about their reputation and freedom. Sure, there was the birth control pill, which was approved in the US in 1961. But in London, this was still a rumor. It wasn’t until 1974 that single women could be prescribed the pill, and during the early 1960s, married women were supposed to have their husbands’ permission.

Breathless didn’t leave me breathless, but, like Mad Men, gives a perceptive window into an era.

Captions: Top, from left to right: Natasha Little as Elizabeth Powell, Jack Davenport as Dr. Otto Powell, Zoe Boyle as Jean Meecher, Oliver Chris as Dr. Richard Truscott, and Sarah Parish as Margaret; center photo, Jack Davenport. Photos courtesy PBS.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-24 02:42:47
"Before I Go to Sleep" Film Adaptation

beforeigotosleep sjwatson
S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep was one of the most haunting novels of 2011.

In this psychological thriller, the British author tackled the power of memory, or rather the lack of memory, and how what we remember can affect our lives and even our emotions.

Before I Go to Sleep was the result of a writing workshop in Britain and was already a bestseller in Europe when it was released in the US. Critics and readers were pretty much unanimous in our enthusiasm about Watson's debut.

In Before I Go to Sleep, Christine Lucas wakes up not knowing who she is or who the man is next to her.

She thinks she is 27 years old, but clearly she is not. She has to look in the mirror to see that she is in her mid-40s. Her loving husband, Ben, tells her they have been married for 14 years and that she lost her memory following an accident years before. (A few ages and other details have been changed from the novel.)

But did she?

And why doesn't she care more about Ben, who clearly adores her? Ben, so patient, so kind, so careful to leave her a list of things she might do that day, things she might enjoy.

Her lack of memory also has taken away her feelings and she cannot connect with her husband. About the only person she seems to have a bond with is a neurologist. He has to remind her every day that she is keeping a journal and where to find it.

Before I Go to Sleep was one of my top debuts of 2011. I remember thinking that with the right cast, this could be a suspenseful film, a kind of updated Gaslight.

I got my wish.

The film version of Before I Go to Sleep will be released on October 31. Just looking at a few photographs and a couple of clips, the casting seems perfect. Nicole Kidman stars as Christine, with Colin Firth as her husband, Ben, and Mark Strong as Dr. Nash. The director is Rowan Joffe.

For a very creepy trailer of Before I Go to Sleep, visit this site.

Photo: Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in Before I Go to Sleep. StudioCanal photo.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-28 02:05:00
Longmire's Cancellation Makes No Sense

longmire roberttaylor3
I know we've written about television and films a lot lately—but they’ve all had an interest for our readers.

But this essay hurts—after three successful seasons A&E is cancelling Longmire, the television series based on Craig Johnson’s bestselling series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.


Yes, and this cancellation makes no sense.

Now, I don’t use the word successful causally when mentioning Longmire the TV series.

A&E network admits that Longmire is its “most-watched original drama series of all time.”

Despite that, A&E will not renew Longmire for a fourth season.

In a lame statement, A&E announced: “We would like to thank the phenomenal cast, crew and producers of Longmire, along with our partners at Warner Horizon, for their tireless work on three seasons of quality dramatic storytelling. We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved together.”

I say poppycock. If A&E was so proud of what they have achieved together, the network would be signing up Longmire for at least three more seasons.

What makes Longmire, the television series—as well as Johnson’s novels—so compelling is the insightful look at a modern-day sheriff dealing with the contemporary crimes that have infiltrated the Old West. And while these crimes are contemporary, many of the atrocities could have occurred when Wyoming was first being settled.

Robert Taylor nailed the character of Longmire, settling into this role as the Australian actor would in an old pair of comfortable jeans.

And who didn’t love to see Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear? He is one of those actors I love to see in anything. Katee Sackhoff brought emotional strength to the role of Vic Moretti.

longmire Lou Diamond Phillips2
According to several reports, including from Deadline Hollywood, the second season of Longmire averaged nearly 6 million viewers, up 9 percent from the first season.

While the third season dropped to 4.6 million viewers, it still is stronger than many of the series A&E airs, coming in only behind Duck Dynasty in terms of viewership.

I still haven’t gotten over the cancellation of The Glades that ended on a cliff-hanger. Likewise, let’s not forget that Longmire’s third season, which aired a few weeks ago, also ended on a cliff-hanger.

The adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t even apply here. Instead A&E is taking a successful product, breaking it in many pieces and then shrugging away. And this from a network that once had a reputation of quality programing.

Apparently, Longmire’s studio Warner Horizons is looking for another network to air the series.

It would be great if Longmire were to be picked up by another network. TNT has had much success with Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes. Longmire would easily fit into TNT’s grid.

Meanwhile, readers and viewers should take comfort that Johnson’s novels continue with more involving plots.

By Any Other Name, the 11th novel in this series, was released a couple of months ago. Buying his books is the best revenge—and protest—for this cancellation.

Photos: From top, Robert Taylor as Longmire; Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear. A&E photos.

Oline Cogdill
2014-08-30 15:32:51
Triple Threat: Ingrid Thoft, Sara Gran, and Lisa Brackmann
Kevin Burton Smith

thoft ingrid CREDIT Doug BerrettExciting New Voices in the Private Eye Novel

Ingrid Thoft. Photo: Doug Berrett.

Back in the heady days of the late 1970s and well into the ’90s, when the PI genre was blowing off the shackles of its past, there seemed to be a new female private detective every week.

But let’s get it straight—V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, Sharon McCone, Anna Lee and all their fellow sisters in crime did not rescue us all from some exclusive men’s-only club populated entirely by sexist, knuckle dragging private dicks.

Such condemnations of the genre’s past flew hard and fast at the time on assorted Internet bulletin boards and in half-baked academic theses; self-righteous accusations full of smug validation, enthusiastic finger-pointing and political correctness gone awry. So eager to dismiss all that had gone before, almost any sweeping generalization was considered fair game, and no charge was too great to fling at such evil pale males as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Mike Hammer or Spenser—as though all these men were virtually interchangeable; their worldviews and philosophies all one big monolithic block of oink-oink misogyny and sexism. But hey, it was easier to spout the rhetoric than to actually read any of the books being so offhandedly dismissed.

Still, there’s no denying it was a great time for female private eyes—and their mostly female authors. Books by the likes of Liza Cody, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman, and Maxine O’Callaghan presented real women being competent and professional detectives, living adult lives and making hard choices, knocking on doors and taking down names, just as their mostly male counterparts had been doing for decades. They were welcome new voices, and they played a large part in a genre that was already in the throes of a second Golden Age, a long overdue renaissance already busting at the seams with new possibilities. Yes, gender boundaries were being shattered in the genre, but so were the limitations of race, sexual preference, regionalism, nationalism, and even settings. For mystery readers—male and female alike—it was an invigorating time, and 20 or so years on, fans of the genre are still reaping those benefits.

But we’ve come a long way, baby, and nobody’s banging the drums simply because these detectives (or their authors) are female. Hell, the fact the following detectives are female may be the least interesting thing about any of them.

INGRID THOFT’S BOSTON PI FINA LUDLOW, the shamus at the heart of the appropriately titled Loyalty, is arguably the most traditional of them, the latest in a long line of rough-edged, truth-seeking private eyes who can easily trace their DNA straight back to Hammett and Chandler, allowing for stops along the genetic road map to borrow a little from Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton (nasty family secrets), Janet Evanovich (a few quirky/cute/annoying traits), and even homie Robert B. Parker, with whom she shares an obsession with personal autonomy and sticky ethical dilemmas.

Working as the in-house investigator for Ludlow and Associates, her family’s blue-blood law firm, run with an iron hand by Carl Ludlow, her domineering father and staffed by her three attorney brothers, the twentysomething Fina’s determined to stand on her own. But when Melanie, her drama queen sister-in-law disappears, Fina discovers that she may have to choose between doing the right thing or protecting her family. When Melanie shows up dead, and her husband Rand, Fina’s brother, is charged with murder, things come to a head.

Fina’s hands-on solution won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read the Spenser books, but she handles it with a wry toughness and true grit, and the Beantown setting and the inclusion of an ass-kicking Hawk-like sidekick suggests that Parker’s ghost might have been riding shotgun on this one. Not a perfect debut, perhaps, but I’ll be one of the first in line for round two.

Brackmann LisaLisa Brackmann

QUESTIONS OF HONOR, LOYALTY, AND AUTONOMY ALSO POP UP IN LISA BRACKMANN’S Hour of the Rat, the rocking sequel to Rock Paper Tiger (2010), where we first met foulmouthed Iraq war vet Ellie McEnroe, who left a big chunk of her leg back in the desert and has carved out a new life for herself in China, of all places, acting as the representative of edgy dissident artist Zhang Jianli.

Although not technically a private eye, her motives, her dogged determination, and her burning sense of moral outrage will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Like that hardboiled classic, Ellie reluctantly agrees to do a favor for a friend and promptly gets dragged into something that’s way beyond her pay grade. It’s only a streak of pure stubbornness and possibly misplaced dedication that keeps her going.

Although Ellie’s rude wit may seem familiar, we’re a long way from Chandler’s beloved Los Angeles’ mean streets of the 1940s and ’50s—modern-day China may be every bit as mean (the air in Beijing, Ellie complains, “is out to kill her”), but Brackmann captures it all with an unflinching honesty and frank sense of moral unease that strips bare the romance and myths of “the new China”—and of the old capitalism running amuck.

Dog, an old Army buddy who got “fucked up royally,” asks Ellie to find Jason, his missing brother, supposedly on the loose somewhere in China. Feeling guilt about a brief affair they had in Iraq, Ellie reluctantly agrees.

But China’s a big country with a lot of people. Nor does it turn out to be a simple wandering-tourist job—Ellie soon discovers that Jason’s an environmental activist who’s angered both the US and Chinese governments, as well as several giant corporations who’d rather their GMO secrets stay secret.

Ellie’s PTSD-tinged hunt for Jason, as she crisscrosses China by train, bus and tractor, journeying from trendy Western-style tourist traps to toxic wastelands and back, is as intriguing as it is disturbing—and disheartening for Ellie. Initially, she considers hauling her “gimpy ass” back to Beijing, but she plows on because, as she confesses, she likes “having a mission.... Having something to do. Something that matters.”

Plus, she notes optimistically, “they might have beer.” And it’s a great way to avoid returning to her Beijing apartment where her visiting mother is waiting.

gran sara 01 crDeborah LopezSara Gran. Photo: Deborah Lopez.

LOCK UP YOUR MEDICINE CABINET, BECAUSE SARAH GRAN’S BISEXUAL DRUGGIE DETECTIVE CLAIRE DEWITT IS BACK. She may stick to the good ol’ USA in her second big adventure, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (after 2011’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead), but the psychological and emotional (and pharmaceutical) territory is all over the map.

The self-proclaimed “greatest detective in the world,” Claire is one of the most original gumshoes to ever help herself to somebody else’s meds, and there’s always another puzzle to solve, another killer to catch, another secret to strip bare, and another emotional scab to pick at.

Once again the all-night drug prowling she-wolf is on the hunt, this time investigating the murder of Paul Casablancas, a local musician and Claire’s ex-lover, who was found dead in his San Francisco home. But equally compelling is the secondary mystery, rendered in a series of flashbacks, that follows the underaged Claire and her chums Kelly and Tracy as they wander the streets of New York City, using fake IDs to drink in bars and experimenting with drugs, sex, and the basic tenets of detective work. Inspired by a series of YA stories featuring Cynthia Silverton, Girl Detective, and Détection, a how-to guide by Jacques Sillette, a mysterious French detective and philosopher whose hazy advice and contradictory ramblings on the nature of truth are taken to heart by the three girls, they are hired to find one of their friends who has gone missing. And then there’s the litany of other cases that pass through the book, some summarized in detail, some dismissed in a line or two, from The Case of the Missing Miniature Horses to The Case of the Green Parrot.

Claire will use every means at her disposal, from legwork, intuition, and blind luck to dreams, hallucinations, and junkie logic to crack a case. But don’t be dismayed. This surreal trip of a novel might be a mess in the hands of most writers, but Gran (the author of the acclaimed modern noir Dope), holds it all together like some sort of literary alchemist, stirring together the gee-whiz innocence of YA girl detective novels with an adult frankness that will have some readers cackling with glee—and others reaching for the smelling salts. Either way, the result is a rich, pungent, reality shaking concoction that’ll make your head spin. Take a whiff.

Kevin Burton Smith is the founder and editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #131.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-02 02:36:56

Exciting new voices from the private eye novel

The Bitter Truth About the Bitter Cold

laseur carriehomeplace
We have a ready answer in Florida when asked what is the hottest summer month.

It’s September.

Yeah, I know. You probably don’t think of September as a summer month, what with the (outdated) ban on wearing white after Labor Day, back-to-school worries, and the fact that September means that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the holiday season aren’t far behind.

But for us Floridians, September can be as hot as any summer month.

I am sure that no one wants to repeat the bitter cold that seemed to go on forever last winter. While we didn’t have that in Florida, I never gloat about the weather. Anything can happen and make the weather in Florida miserable.

But winter is coming, whether we like it or not. And two recent novels sum up winter in ways that make us want to take note.

Carrie La Seur sets her debut novel The Home Place (Wm. Morrow) in Montana, a place where the cold can reach unfathomable dimensions. Her description of the cold winter is sheer poetry:

“The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana is personal and spiritual. It knows your weaknesses. It communicates with your fears. If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity. It gets you alone in a place where it can work at you. If you are white, especially from the old families, the cold speaks to you of being isolated and undefended on the infinite homestead plains. It sounds like wolves and reverberates like drums in all the hollow places where you wonder who you are and what you would do in extremis. In this cold, you understand at last that you are not brave at all.” -- The Home Place

D.A. Keeley’s debut Bitter Crossing (Midnight Ink) also takes place in the winter. But this time the locale is the border area of Maine.

“Winter never seemed to enter on tiptoe in Aroostook County. It was only October, just one month removed from peak foliage season, but the maples stood bare, as if bracing patiently for the snow.” -- Bitter Crossing

Getting out my winter clothes now.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-02 16:15:00
Remembering Joan Rivers, the Mystery Writer

Count me among the fans who will miss comedian Joan Rivers, who died this past week.

I loved her humor, her take-no-prisoners approach to fashion coverage, and the fact that she was a pioneer in the field of comedy. She paved the way for other female comedians.

But Rivers also was, in real life, one of the most gracious women. She genuinely cared about people, and that went beyond making them laugh.

She worked tirelessly to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and many more. Her special charity was God's Love We Deliver. For more than 20 years, she was on the board of directors of God's Love We Deliver, which brings hot meals to those in need.

Rivers also was co-author of the mystery novel Murder at the Academy Awards (Simon & Schuster), which was billed as “A Red Carpet Murder Mystery.” Her co-author was Jerrilyn Farmer, below right, who wrote a series about caterer/party planner Madeline Bean, whose occupation took her into the not-always-so-glamorous world of Los Angeles’ wealthy movers and shakers.

Farmer was the perfect person to write with Rivers. When Murder at the Academy Awards came out in 2009, I talked with Farmer about the experience. She was over the moon about the chance to write with one of the icons of comedy. The novel went on to earn a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a quite positive review from me.

Five years later, Farmer still remembers the experience with much fondness, as she told me this week via email.

“It was pretty surreal to get the call from Joan Rivers telling me she'd read my Mad Bean books and wanted to work with me. It was definitely one of those 'What rabbit hole have I fallen into?' moments,” Farmer told Mystery Scene.

The introduction came via screenwriter and author Lee Goldberg as he had passed along her name to Rivers, who was starting to look for collaborators. Murder at the Academy Awards was published just as Rivers was going on to victory on Celebrity Apprentice. “She lived a very big life,” said Farmer.
farmer jerrilyn
Rivers' premise was to base the protagonist on a red carpet interviewer exactly like herself, “meaning that I would have to know all the true details of her life and lifestyle in order to make this narrator voice work. What a cool opportunity to get to know Joan,” said Farmer.

So Farmer and Rivers spent time together in Los Angeles and also in New York, “going out to dinner, gabbing, talking about Joan's past, and our tastes in humor, jewels (!), and mysteries,” added Farmer.

Rivers was a mystery reader, and was a big fan of Ruth Rendell.

“She had great taste in reading as in most things. It was a kick to go out on the town with her, and I was even invited to attend her celebrity roast for Comedy Central. Joan's life was filled with a lot of work, a lot of travel, and a lot of excitement, and she was a smart, tough businesswoman through it all,” said Farmer.

Rivers also throw herself in doing “high-style promotion,” including appearing on The View. “Amazing how many View watchers ran out to buy this book as a result,” said Farmer.

In her “much lower-key style,” Farmer was invited to The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles to celebrate the book launch with local friends and mystery fans. One of the owners, Pamela Woods, asked Farmer if Rivers might ever be able to stop by the store and sign, too.

“I knew Joan would love to do it. And of course she did,” remembered Farmer. “I also knew her time was super overbooked, but she said, ‘No, I'm coming!’ So, in transit from one studio in L.A. to another in Burbank by a driver and assistant, Joan made them stop off in that little bookstore in Westwood so she could come sign stock. And while there, Joan bought a few more mysteries for her own reading. She was such a great lady.”

Farmer also posted on her Facebook page another remembrance of Rivers.

“I was staying at her amazing apartment in NYC and she had just spent the night before doing QVC. Did she want to rest? Hell, no. She was dying to get to work on our book,” posted Farmer.

“As it turned out, when Joan appeared on QVC, she brought home tons of samples of her jewelry. She told me: 'You go and shop through those boxes. And take whatever you want. Not just one or two items. Take A LOT!' So that's how I spent time with Joan, shopping through hundreds of boxes of Joan Rivers jewelry. And when she saw what I selected, she scolded me and gave me many, many more—including a Faberge egg necklace I treasure.

“Joan loved to make people happy. She was also delightfully well-read, smart, introspective, and filled with a passion for her work. I loved our time working together. This has been a tough day. Our world will miss Joan.”

And as a special tribute to Rivers, we should all have a good laugh, and buy a book. Happy reading.

A FINAL NOTE: At her funeral, Rivers' publicist said that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to God's Love, We Deliver; Guide Dogs for the Blind; or Our House.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-06 11:05:00
"New" Author Tom Savage Returns

savagetom apennyforhangman
Tom Savage
finds himself in a situation he thought he passed years ago.

He can be considered a new author.

Well, sort of.

Savage’s novel A Penny for the Hangman is out October 7—following a 14-year hiatus from being published. A Penny for the Hangman will be published by Random House as part of its new Alibi line, which makes it an ebook only.

And Savage is certainly making up for those 14 years.

In addition to A Penny for the Hangman, Savage is self-publishing four ebooks: two novels he wrote as T.J. Phillips for Berkley Prime Crime will be available, along with a collection of seven short stories reprinted from other publications, one novella under the title Jumbie Tea and Other Things, and a never-before-published novella titled Arden Court.

And if that isn’t enough, Savage just found out—on his birthday, September 2, no less—that Random House has accepted his second new novel. Widow’s Run will be published by Random House next year. Nice birthday present.

Both A Penny for the Hangman and Widow’s Run will take place in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

I’d say, that sounds like 14 years of work.

“I haven't been this busy in years!” Savage said in an email to Mystery Scene.

As for being back on the publishing scene, Savage simply says, “It feels wonderful to be publishing again.”

And, oh yeah, Savage finally joined Facebook.

Tom Savage has been a part of the mystery community for decades.

For years, he worked at the New York-based Murder Ink, the world’s first mystery bookstore.

He has served as a director on the national board of Mystery Writers of America, and he’s served several times on the best novel committees for MWA’s Edgar Awards and for the International Association of Crime Writer’s Hammett Prize. He is a founding member of MWA’s Mentor Program, assessing and encouraging new mystery writers.

savage tom
As an author, Savage also wrote the suspense novels Precipice, Valentine, The Inheritance, and Scavenger. And under the name of T. J. Phillips he wrote Dance of the Mongoose and Woman in the Dark.

His short stories, which will now be published in Jumbie Tea and Other Things, have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and anthologies edited by Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben, and Michael Connelly. His short story “The Method in Her Madness” was nominated for the Barry Award for Best Mystery Short Story of 2005. His bestselling novel, Valentine, was made into a Warner Bros. film.

So why did Savage basically drop out of publishing? After all, his novels under his own name and as T.J. Phillips were well received.

The answer to that question is a bit complicated, he told me. So complicated that he wrote an essay about it from which he asked me to quote.

“I worked for two years on a really ambitious thriller to follow Scavenger, but I picked the wrong subject, the then-unknown abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I knew about it beforehand, from an investigative reporter friend who was working on the story in Connecticut long before it became public knowledge. I handed the manuscript to my agent just as the worldwide headlines arrived. Oops! My prophetic thriller was instantly Yesterday’s News, and no one would touch it. Two years down the drain.”

Then Savage had some personal losses. His mother died in 2003 and his sister a year later. “And for a while I wasn’t able to write anything,” he said in the essay.

Then came more work losses. In 2006, Murder Ink, the bookstore where he worked for years, closed its doors forever, so he was suddenly unemployed. Then he parted ways with his agent of 15 years.

“I spent the next three years sitting around my Greenwich Village apartment in a bathrobe. I continued to write novel after novel, a grand total of four, but I didn’t show them to anyone. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself,” Savage wrote.

Eventually, Savage got a little help from his friends.

“S. J. Rozan, my writer friend who lives near me, yanked me out of my house one day and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to a meeting of her writing group. I’d always sworn to eschew any sort of reading/commenting group situation, so this was the last thing I needed—or so I thought. But once I got there and saw how these people worked, how they helped and encouraged one another, I was hooked. I liked their company, but if I wanted to join them, I’d have to bring samples of my own work-in-progress. So I started writing in earnest again, and soon I was writing a new novel, A Penny For The Hangman,” he wrote.

“Next thing you know, I had a completed manuscript, and the group told me that it was time for me to go out and find a new agent,” he added.

And so he did.

Savage says he found an agent almost immediately. She knew his work and, even better, she liked A Penny for the Hangman. Then came the long process of finding a publisher. His agent shopped the manuscript around for two years and Savage was faced with the reality of how publishing had changed in nearly a decade and a half.

“I’d been away for a long time, and I was unaware of the dramatic changes in our industry. Everyone I ever worked with was gone, and the new, young editors at the reconfigured publishing houses (now known as the “Big Six”) had never heard of me. Fact: A writer in his fifties who hasn’t published in years is actually in a worse position than a new kid starting out with a clean slate. Who knew?” Savage said in the essay.

The A Penny for the Hangman manuscript made the rounds for two years, “and racked up an impressive number of rejections from editors who obviously didn’t even look at it,” he said.

“And why should they? It isn’t just the industry that’s different—the really seismic change of the last decade is in the book-buying public. My thriller doesn’t have teenage vampires or shape shifters or ultra-right-wing Special Ops agents, and there isn’t a single “shade of grey” in sight, let alone fifty.  . . . I was out of step with the new reality, and I was beginning to despair, bracing myself to slink off to the sidelines once more,” he said.

But the new dynamics of publishing turned out to work in his favor. Alibi, a new Random House line of electronic-only books, was interested in acquiring the rights. His agent hammered out a contract. And his friends suggested he also think about self-publishing those manuscripts he had been working on.

“My writer friends encouraged me to take a chance, to step out into the void where no writer has gone before. Ebooks are uncharted territory, they told me, the new frontier in publishing, and somebody has to be Neil Armstrong! And while you’re at it, they added, start a website (I did) and a blog (ditto) and bring back all your out-of-print titles as ebooks (double ditto). Thanks to them, I’m published again, and it feels like I’m coming back to life. Which is exactly what I’m doing,” Savage said.

“I guess I'm the new kind of author—a mix of traditional and self-pubbing. A lot of writers are doing that these days,” Savage told me in an email.

And Savage says there is a moral to his story: “Writers need one another, and we need agents. We’re entering a brave new world of publishing, and—thanks to my agent and my writer friends—I’m in the first launch. I don’t know what I’m about to discover, but the view from here is lovely,” he added in his essay.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-10 09:55:00
Crimetime TV: Tales From the Writing Front
Lee Goldberg

TV writingNotes from the frontline

The stories you are about to read are true, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

We were writing the first episode of a detective series and turned the script in to the network executive for his notes. The first note was in scene one, act one.

“The hero doesn’t know what’s going on,” the executive said.

“That’s right,” I replied. “It’s a mystery.”

“You can’t do that,” the executive said. “The hero should be ahead of the story.”

“Ahead of the story?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“The hero should know,” the executive said.

“Know what?” I replied.

“Everything,” the executive said.

“But he just arrived at the scene,” I said. “He’s taking his first look at the body…and you want him to already know everything?”

“Is he a hero or a complete moron?” the executive asked. “Nobody wants to watch a show about a guy who’s lost, confused, and stupid.”

“It’s a mystery and he’s a detective,” I said. “He’s going to show us how smart he is by solving the crime.”

“If he was smart,” the executive said, “he wouldn’t have to solve it. He’d already know.”

“So what’s the mystery?” I asked.

“There isn’t one,” the executive said.

“So what’s our show about if there’s no mystery to solve?”

“You tell me,” the executive said. “You’re the writer.”

* * *

hunter tvshowI was working on Murphy’s Law, a lighthearted detective series starring George Segal as an insurance investigator, when I got this call from the network censor with notes on our script:

“You’ve got one of your characters calling another character a moron,” the censor said.

“Yeah, so?”

“You can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve approved ‘dolt,’ ‘dummy’ or ‘dink,’ as acceptable alternatives.”

“What’s wrong with calling somebody a moron?”

“You’ll offend all the morons in the audience,” he said. I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t. So I said, “Don’t worry, all the morons in the audience are watching Hunter.”

Three months later, Murphy’s Law was cancelled…and I got a job on Hunter.

* * *

We were writing an episode of a series for a Major Television Producer who had dozens of hit shows to his credit. This particular series, however, was not destined to be one of them.

For this episode, he wanted to do a “modern take” on a “cowboys and Indians” story. He wanted to see “Indians on the warpath,” only with “a contemporary sensibility.”

“Call ’em Native Americans instead of Injuns,” the Major Television Producer instructed us, “that’ll make the story instantly relevant.”

He also wanted it hip, sexy, and edgy. And he wanted women, lots of beautiful women.

I joked that we could have seven supermodels lost in the desert. His eyes lit up. “Yes,” he said. “That’s perfect. That would give the show…sophistication.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t kidding around. We were stuck with seven supermodels.

We went off and worked on the outline for our script. We came up with a scene in which bad guys destroy sacred Navajo ruins, causing the Native Americans to attack the bad guy’s camp. But when the Major Television Producer read our scene, he was outraged.

“You can’t have the bad guys destroy Navajo ruins,” he bellowed. “Those ruins are priceless, historical artifacts. The American public will never stand for it. You’ll offend our entire audience!”

We apologized, explaining all we wanted to do in the scene was provoke the Native Americans into attacking the bad guys.

“Why not have the bad guys rape the seven supermodels,” the Major Television Producer said.

“Sure,” I replied. “That won’t offend anybody.”

“Exactly,” the Major Television Producer said. “Now you’re learning how to write television.”

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar & Shamus Award nominee and the author of over 40 novels and nonfiction books. Goldberg is also known for his screenwriting and producing work on several different TV crime series, including Diagnosis: Murder, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Hunter, Spenser: For Hire, Martial Law, She-Wolf of London, SeaQuest, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Monk.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #84.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-11 03:12:13

TV writingNotes from the frontline

Lehane's "The Drop": 3 ½ Stars

thedrop lehane4
At the heart of the crime drama The Drop—based almost faithfully on Dennis Lehane’s novella—is a story of a man and his dog and how this abandoned, abused pit bull puppy with lots of affection to give rescues the man who rescues him.

Make no mistake, The Drop is not a touchy-feely sentimental tale—we are talking about Lehane here. The Drop is a gripping, atmospheric crime story full of mobsters, severed limbs, and violence, though not as much as in most films in this genre.

But there is this man and there is this dog and they form the crux of what turns into an intense character study of people on the edge, disenfranchised from themselves, people who must learn to care about something before they can care about themselves.

And yes, it is a crime drama, and gritty as they come.

It also is the last movie that the actor James Gandolfini made before he died in June 2013, and his performance in The Drop makes his loss even more acute.

British actor Tom Hardy (Inception, Meadowlands) stars as Bob Saginowski, a lonely guy who tries to mind his own business; he has pretty much withdrawn from life. He works at a Brooklyn tavern called Cousin Marv’s, which happens to be owned by his own cousin, Marv (Gandolfini). There he keeps the regular customers happy, talks with Marv, and goes home alone, never giving much of himself to anyone. He attends Mass daily at the old neighborhood parish church, but never takes Communion.

thedrop lehane6
On his way home one night, he hears a puppy whimpering inside a garbage can in front of a house. As he fishes out the bloodied and abused puppy, the woman who lives in the house wants to know what he’s doing. Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), is more than a little leery of this guy who is going through her trash can until she spots the puppy. But before even talking with Bob, she insists on taking a photograph of his driver’s license, which she will email to four friends.

In her house, the two clean up the dog, who, despite his ordeal, is a friendly, tag-wagging bundle of energy. Tom thinks it’s a boxer but Nadia knows it’s a pit bull.

“That’s a dangerous dog,” says Tom, pulling back.

Nadia, who used to work at an animal shelter, acknowledges that pit bulls can be dangerous but only if the owners let them. “Not this little guy,” she says. “He’s sweet.”

Tom knows all about danger. Years before, he used to run with a “crew” that did some nasty things; he knows that friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood have “disappeared;” and he works for Marv, whose bar is a “drop,” or collection point for unmarked envelopes filled with money that belongs to the Chechen gangsters who rule the streets. And Marv doesn’t really own the bar either—years before, Marv lost it to those same Chechen gangsters. Marv only pretends to own it to make the laundry scheme seem more plausible.

Dozens of envelopes filled with cash are hard to resist. One night after closing, two brothers rob the place. The drops have all been collected by the gangsters but Marv’s profits don’t belong to him. And the gangsters want back the $5,000 that was stolen, from either Marv or those amateur robbers.

thedrop lehane5
It doesn’t take long for it to be revealed that Marv set up the robbery, hoping to recoup some of the money that goes to his “partners” and also regain a bit of pride from the days when he and his crew ran the neighborhood.

“We had a crew back in the day,” Bob explains to Nadia. “Marv, he thought he was a tough guy. Then the neighborhood changed. It wasn't enough to be tough anymore. You had to be mean.”

And Bob’s life suddenly becomes quite complicated, and it may be just what he needs to shock him back to the living. He takes the dog—was there ever any doubt?—and names him Rocco, after St. Rocco, a patron saint of dogs and falsely accused people. He and Nadia are attracted to each other, bound by their mutual concern for the dog, yet keep at arm’s length because of past hurts. The hunt for the robbers intensifies and turns violent. And Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), the dog’s original owner and Nadia’s abusive ex-boyfriend, re-enters the picture. He wants both Rocco and her back. Deeds is known in the neighborhood for his violence and is believed to be responsible for the death of one of Bob’s friends.

As the viewer learns, everyone in The Drop is haunted by his or her secrets and a past that rears its head almost daily. Only little Rocco is the most innocent of all.

thedrop novellehane0001
The acting is first-rate. Hardy’s expressions move almost imperceptibly as he clearly shows a range of emotion and even rage. Hardy’s Bob is a character who should not be underestimated, and the actor illustrates this time and again. Hardy will play the role of Leo Demidov in the upcoming Child 44, which also will reunite him with Rapace. The two have a believable chemistry in The Drop and that should serve them well in Child 44, based on Tom Rob Smith’s novel.

Gandolfini is so perfect in The Drop that he immediately makes us forget about the proud, powerful Tony Soprano that he inhabited all those years. Marv is light years away from Tony. Marv is a sad sack of a man, trying to grab back that one piece of glory he had back in the day, yet knowing his own flaws caused him to lose everything he once had. Marv’s father is on life support, yet he refuses to consider that it may be time to make a decision on this. He lives with his sister, Dottie, who wants a better life, even a trip to Europe, anything to get out of the neighborhood. “That’s what I’ve become, kinda guy goes to Europe with his sister,” laments Marv.

Hollywood has been good to LehaneGone Baby Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island—and The Drop continues those high standards. The Drop is the first English-language film by Belgian director Michaël Roskam, an Academy Award-nominee for Bullhead. Roskam understands the deliberate pacing that is necessary to make a good crime drama that depends on characters driving the plot. The Drop doesn’t have car chases or gun battles, but it does have great pacing, a solid plot, and believable characters who come alive through the superior acting. The violence is measured out so that when it occurs it is shocking. The cinematography perfectly captures a down-at-its-heels neighborhood, a corner bar, streets with broken sidewalks and trash carelessly thrown.

It also benefits from having Lehane write the screenplay. The Drop started as the short story Animal Rescue, which was published in the anthology Boston Noir, which Lehane also edited. Lehane had been working on an adaptation of Animal Rescue when the screen rights were bought by Chernin Entertainment, the production company founded by former president and chief operating officer of News Corporation Peter Chernin. Lehane also moved the setting from Boston to a blue-collar neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Then Lehane’s publisher wanted him to turn his story into a novel to expand on the characters. The trade paperback version of The Drop also is now available.

Captions: top, Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini; second photo: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Rocco; third photo: James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.


Rated R. Running time: 107 minutes.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-12 20:07:24
Kathy Reichs on Reading, Writing, and Raymond Chandler
Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs publicity credit Marie-Reine MatteraThere’s no shelf large enough to hold all the books of advice on how to write. But only one sound piece ever stayed with me. To be a writer you must do two things: read and write.

Photo: Marie-Reine Mattera

I grew up a reader. A classic flashlight-under-the-bedspread case, tearing through Nancy Drew mysteries and little blue biographies of fabulous women like Jane Adams. I loved Toby Tyler, the stories of a boy who ran away to join to the circus.

My own adventurous streak was hankering to turn 16 and get my driver’s license so I could run away to...wait for it...the library. Nerdvana.

It almost feels like cheating that half of my job is doing what I love. When I’m struggling at the keyboard, I can go sit on a beach with a novel and justify it as “genre studies.” Toes in the sand is my favorite place to turn pages, but books are like jeans. They suit anywhereagainst my pillows, on the bus, under a hair dryer.

It’s remarkable that every story ever written is just a different combination of 26 letters. I never lose my awe for the best in the craft. As a writer, I’m always reading, always refining. Luckily, my homework suits me. I primarily like thrillers. Sometimes I wish I strayed further from my own genre, but mostly I’m a happy captive of curiosity and admiration for my peers. It’s the perennial challenge of ‘so many books, too little time.’

I read with a pen. I can’t help myself. When I see a turn of phrase or elegant prose that stops me in my tracks, I underline or make notes. The ink forges a bond with the writer, both tribute and aspiration. A hybrid of kudos, and damn-I-wish-I’d-written-that. Not plagiarism, but hopes of absorbing skill to elevate my style. Like a basketball team reviewing tapes of a competitor’s game, I hope to always improve from exposure to the best.

I’ll be straight, I like dark. I like to see humanity sans make-up, to peek into those battered houses I see from the train. Crime novels take you to worlds gritty and raw, places that (hopefully) most of us never personally encounter. Honest glimpses of darkness, safely contained in fictional cages. Why the attraction? These tales are buoyed by a common nugget of morality. Crime writers pen the worst of humanity, yet with an unshakeable conviction of its goodness. To me, none can surpass author Raymond Chandler.

Given his long shadow, you can easily forget that Chandler published only seven novels. He wasn’t the founding father of hardboiled American noir, but he was a cornerstone. His protagonist Philip Marlowe is the blueprint for the gumshoe as a tired latter-day knight, jaded and sporting bruises, but still able to rescue a citizen in distress. Solitary, wisecracking, hard-drinking, sentimental, tough. A flawed Don Quixote motivated, in the end, by honor and decency. Marlowe says in Playback, “If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.” Chandler describes his detective as “a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.” We thriller writers couldn’t agree more. Chandler’s archetype heralds many of today’s beloved crime-novel protagonists. One glance at a Temperance Brennan novel shows that I am clearly among the beneficiaries of Chandler’s rich legacy.

Chandler’s greatest strength lies not in intricate plotting or in the whammy of the surprise twist ending, but in the masterful use of the English language. His creative metaphors, vivid descriptions, and crisp, sharp dialogue are unsurpassed. Chandler’s first short story, published in the pulp rag Black Mask was so well honed that not one phrase could be cut. Now that’s expertise.

BONES NEVER LIE coverChandler could describe a character without a single descriptive word. Ugly is: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” Pretty is: “A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” Magic. The whodunit matters little. What is important is the style - pure Chandler.

The same goes for setting. Marlowe’s turf is the Los Angeles of the forties and fifties, an urban patchwork of seedy hotels, smoky nightclubs, upscale bars, and dingy train and bus stations. The settings are a mélange of the stark and the glitzy, the sleazy and the swanky. Chandler recreates the place and time so vibrantly the reader can see, hear, smell, and feel it. His images of a Southern California in squalor and in splendor remain etched on the mind.

Without Chandler, the hardboiled crime tale would still exist thanks to Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and others but it would lack the literary polish. Chandler wasn’t a great thriller writer, he was a great writer. Often imitated, rarely duplicated, Chandler’s voice is the siren song to all crime writers. I’m a willing victim, happy to be snared by his lyrical prose. Try him. You’ll be a blissful victim, too.

KATHY REICHS is the author of 16 New York Times bestselling novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Like her protagonist, Reichs is a forensic anthropologist—one of only around a hundred ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. A professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she is the former vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and serves on the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. Reichs’s own life, as much as her novels, is the basis for the TV show Bones, one of the longest-running series in the history of the Fox network.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews September 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-15 18:25:50

Kathy Reichs publicity credit Marie-Reine MatteraThere’s no shelf large enough to hold all the books of advice on how to write. But only one sound piece ever stayed with me. To be a writer you must do two things: read and write.

Malcolm Braly: The Patron Saint of Losers
Ed Gorman

san-quentin-interiorBraly's 1967 prison novel, On the Yard, is an underappreciated American masterpiece.

Malcolm Braly (1925–1980) was born in Portland, Oregon. Abandoned by his parents, Braly lived between foster homes and institutions for delinquent children, and by the time he was forty had spent nearly seventeen years in prison for burglary, serving time at Nevada State Prison, San Quentin, and Folsom State Prison. He wrote three novels behind bars, Felony Tank (1961), Shake Him Till He Rattles (1963), and It's Cold Out There (1966), and upon his release in 1965 began to work on On the Yard. When prison authorities learned of the book they threatened to revoke his parole, and he was forced to complete it in secret. Published in 1967, after Braly's parole had expired, On the Yard received wide acclaim. It was followed by his autobiography, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons (1976), and a final work of fiction, The Protector (1979). Malcolm Braly enjoyed fifteen years of freedom before his death in a car accident at age fifty-four.

—from the 2002 New York Review of Books Classics edition of On The Yard by Malcolm Braly, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

braly malcolmIt's always struck me as strange that in all the nostalgia and excitement over the old Gold Medals, the best serious novelist of them all is rarely mentioned.

We have editor/sage Knox Burger to thank for the far too brief literary career of Malcolm Braly. Burger visited San Quentin when he was editor of Gold Medal in the early '60s and encouraged Braly to write.

Truman Capote, hot again after In Cold Blood, pronounced Braly’s On the Yard one of the best prison novels ever written. Some reviewers compared it favorably with Dostoevsky. It is an important American novel—a masterpiece—that has been allowed to languish. It is now back in print thanks to New York Review of Books Classics, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

The Gold Medals include Felony Tank, Shake Him Till He Rattles, and It's Cold out There. All three are fine pieces of craft, alternately heartbreaking and terrifying. In Tank, a young man experiences jail life for the first time.

Shake Him Till He Rattles is the best novel I've ever read about the intersection of the Beats and criminals in the San Francisco heyday of Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, etc. I'm pretty sure Braly read John D. MacDonald's The Price of Murder before he undertook the book—although Jonathan Craig wrote a similar book before MacDonald, Come Night, Come Evil—but Braly's is by far the better of the two. It is a very precisely written and observed novel about how rich women slummed in the Beat bars of the time and how a cop persecuted the novel's protagonist. It is grim, bleak, and one of the best novels Gold Medal ever published. Bill Crider, for one, thinks Shake Him is even better than On the Yard.

braly on the yardCold Out is not as successful but it is every bit as fascinating. It’s the tale of how an ex-con who is desperately in need of money to keep his parole officer happy sells encyclopedias door to door (a miserable job I—and Don Westlake’s Dortmunder—once had), and how this leads him to get involved with a handful of strange people who live in the same apartment building. The woman, a beautiful but mentally ill innocent, who reminds me of the Marilyn Monroe character in Don't Bother to Knock, inadvertently leads him to his doom. The second act is especially wobbly but the characters (reminiscent of a Philip K. Dick crew, actually) are powerful enough to take your head off.

Braly was the patron saint of losers. I saw him on Johnny Carson one night when On the Yard was in vogue. He was a big guy with a high-pitched laugh. There was that shambling Beat sorrow to him that not even his laugh could disguise. Carson looked alternately baffled and afraid.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #87.

Teri Duerr
2014-09-16 21:08:24

braly on the yardBraly's 1967 prison novel, On the Yard, is an underappreciated American masterpiece.

Ben Winters' Next Novel

winters ben
Although Ben Winters is ending his popular, award-winning Last Policeman series, the author will be back with a new series.

Winters, whose profile graces the current issue of Mystery Scene, has sold a new novel, called Underground Airlines, to Josh Kendall at Mulholland Books.

Underground Airlines is described as an “epic contemporary detective story,” according to Publishers Weekly, set in an alternate world in which the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in the American South. The novel follows an undercover agent trying to capture an escaped slave.

On his website, Winters says that "the hero of Underground Airlines is seriously about as different from Detective Palace as you can imagine, both as a person and as a type of hero. And while the Policeman series was about the end of the world, about death and how we live with death, this book is about race and racism, it’s about grief, it’s about the horror of American slavery (and in particular the Constitutional nightmare of the Fugitive Slave Law), and it’s about compromise."

Sounds intriguing.

Publication is planned for spring 2016, Winters told me in an email

Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy about a pre-apocalyptic planet brought him a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List, critical acclaim, a solid readership, and awards.

Winters’ first in the series, The Last Policeman, earned the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original from the Mystery Writers of America, was named one of the Best Books of 2012 by and Slate, and was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Mystery by Mystery Readers International. The second in the trilogy, Countdown City, won the 2013 Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished original science fiction paperback and was named an NPR Best Book of 2013. The final novel in the series, World of Trouble, hit bookstores and reading devices this past July

Winters, who has written titles for adults and children, also is the author of the bestselling Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-17 03:24:01
Lawrence Block's "A Walk Among the Tombstones": 3 Stars

walkamongtombstones niessen2
A Walk Among the Tombstones
shows that maybe, just maybe, filmmakers finally understand Lawrence Block’s novels.

Based on Block’s 10th novel, with elements from A Dance at the Slaughterhouse and The Sins of the Fathers, A Walk Among the Tombstones captures the spirit of the Matt Scudder novels, especially the nuances of character, while also giving a brisk, action-packed plot packed with creepy villains who are chillingly real.

And Liam Neeson, who has fashioned himself into a not-to-be-messed-with action hero, proves himself to be the perfect Scudder, the former NYPD cop turned unlicensed private investigator.

Is he the Scudder I envisioned when reading the novels? Now that I think about it, yeah, he is.

Hollywood has never been as kind to the prolific Block as it has to the late Elmore Leonard or, more recently, to Dennis Lehane.

Films such as Get Shorty and Jackie Brown and the FX series Justified have captured Leonard’s combination of serious plot, wry wit, and pitch-perfect dialogue. Lehane’s novels such as Mystic River and The Drop, which opened last week and which we reviewed, not only have captured the spirit of his books, but have embraced and enhanced his vivid vision.

Not so for Block.

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While several screen treatments are attributed to Block (you can look up, too), there have been only two major movies based on his novels, and neither did his books proud. The 1986 film 8 Million Ways to Die with Jeff Bridges as Block’s perennial antihero Matt Scudder was just all right, though good luck trying to correlate the film with the 1982 novel. Then there was the what on earth were they thinking? Burglar released in 1987 and starring Whoopi Goldberg as Block’s “gentleman burglar” Bernie Rhodenbarr. The less said about that film, the better.

And now we have A Walk Among the Tombstones, the film that Block fans have been waiting for, well, since the series began in 1976 with The Sins of the Father.

In A Walk Among the Tombstones, Scudder reluctantly agrees to help heroin trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) find the men who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife. Scudder has little use for Kenny the drug dealer but he relates to the man’s grief over his wife. As he investigates, Scudder soon realizes that this is not the first time that the loved ones of drug dealers have been targeted.

As Scudder prowls the backstreets and marginal neighborhoods of New York City, he is aided by Kenny’s addict brother Kenny (Boyd Holbrook) and the homeless teenager TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a character who first appeared in Block’s 1991 A Dance at the Slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, the vicious murderers Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson) have targeted another victim.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is fairly faithful to the essential plot of Block’s novel. The action and the hunt for the murderers are spot-on.

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Gone is Scudder’s relationship with Elaine, a wise move; while it works well in the books, it would have muddied the film’s plot. The screenplay carefully doles out what prompted Scudder to leave the NYPD; if viewers aren’t familiar with the books they will think they know why in the first half hour, but there is more to come.

The violence level in A Walk Among the Tombstones is high, but no higher than your typical thriller and the violence is not gratuitous. But be prepared.

Neeson’s Scudder is how Block has shaped this character—world-weary, resigned to a lifetime of guilt. He has seen too much of the seedy side of life, yet still believes in justice. A man of violence who now abhors violence, Scudder is, nonetheless, prepared to do what he has to do. We want more Scudder movies and with Neeson as the private investigator.

Although a trivia question at the film’s preview asked which PBS series Dan Stevens starred in, the people behind us still didn’t believe that this steely-eyed, dark-haired drug trafficker was the same actor who also had played the aristocratic (and blond) Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. Stevens is virtually unrecognizable in A Walk Among the Tombstones and his transformation again shows what an intense, skillful actor he is. Stevens’ Kenny Kristo would never be mistaken for Crawley, the would-be heir to Downton Abbey who is Lord Grantham's third cousin once removed. Stevens also is starring in the new thriller The Guest, which also is a long way from a dapper British aristocrat.

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The supporting cast also works well to give life to the film. Adam David Thompson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and David Harbour (Elliot Hirsch on The Newsroom, Reed Akley on Manhattan) embrace the chilling criminals and their odd relationship. Boyd Holbrook (Milk, The Big C, Hatfields & McCoys) takes the typical drug-addict character and imbues him with a complexity. Brian “Astro” Bradley (Earth to Echo) shows the survival mentality of this intelligent kid of the streets. And if you are wondering where you saw Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who plays the groundskeeper; he played the groundskeeper in True Detective.

Director Scott Frank, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the plot moving at a fast clip, while lingering over the seedy sides of New York City during the 1990s where the film is set. Frank is best known as a screenwriter for films such as The Wolverine, Marley and Me, and Minority Report.

There never seems to be a definitive answer to the number of books attributed to Block, a four-time Edgar Award winner, among other awards, including being named Grand Master in 1994 by the Mystery Writers of America. He began his writing career in the mid-1950s, in a variety of genres, and has written under several pseudonyms. It has been said that he has written anywhere from 150 to 200 novels and that number actually seems low to me.

No matter the exact number, Block has been on the ground floor of the mystery genre’s transformation. His Matt Scudder novels went from an old-school basic sleuth to one whose interior motivation was as important as the crimes he helped solved while, at the same time, never veering from the tenets that what makes a good detective. Scudder has never stayed in one place emotionally, but has evolved through the approximately 17 novels and various short stories that Block has written about him.

Scudder also was one of the first mystery fiction characters to acknowledge his alcoholism and try to get a handle on it. Scudder’s AA meetings are an important part of the novels and his understanding of the 12 Steps and how these relate to him and his quest for redemption and justice are a major part of the series. The film A Walk Among the Tombstones shows Scudder’s struggles with his addiction and how the meetings are, for a long time, his only lifeline to people.

Now that Matt Scudder has been well represented on film—and, please, give us another with Neeson—it’s time to think of another Block character I always thought would make a good film. Keller, a lonely, wistful hit man, was the subject of Block’s four episodic novels, starting with Hit Man (1998), and one full-length novel, Hit and Run (2008).

Just a suggestion.

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity, 114 minutes

Photos: Top and second photo: Liam Neeson; third photo: Dan Stevens; fourth photo: Liam Neeson with Brian “Astro” Bradley. Photos courtesy Universal Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures

Oline Cogdill
2014-09-19 01:23:52