In Katie Gilmartin’s gut-wrenching Blackmail, My Love a man has gone missing in the San Francisco of the early 1950s. Those of us who love the present-day broad-minded, sexually liberated city will be shocked to discover it wasn’t always so accommodating to the LBGT community. In fact, it was downright hostile, with crooked cops raiding gay-frequented establishments when they needed more arrests to fill their weekly quota. For added fun, the cops would then throw the more flamboyant arrestees into cells with hardened thugs, where they were brutalized and sometimes killed. This is the San Francisco protagonist Josephine “Jo” O’Connor arrives in from upstate New York, searching for her brother Jimmy, who appears to have dropped off the face of the earth. Growing up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family, the two had to lean on each other for support, especially since Jimmy is gay, and Jo is lesbian. In her search for the disappeared Jimmy, Jo makes new friends in San Francisco’s underground gay community, but her forthright approach in a tentative time also makes enemies. Blackmail, My Love is at heart a story about a young woman coming to terms with herself in a difficult and dangerous era. During her search for her brother, Jo sheds the frilly dresses she wore back home and begins wearing tailored men’s suits. She wises up, too. Author Gilmartin—who is also the gifted artist who created the book’s gorgeous, noirish illustrations—is the perfect writer for this outstanding historical mystery. Gilmartin earned her PhD in cultural studies from Yale, with an emphasis on queer history, and has taught queer studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. In her book, Gilmartin reveals the viciousness with which gay members of our society have historically been treated, and she supports Jo’s own trail of tears with masterly scholarship in a well-argued author’s note. Be sure and read it.
Susan O’Brien’s Finding Sky presents an unlikely sleuth—divorcée Nicki Valentine, a woman so beset with child-care woes that it’s astounding she can even make it out of the house, let alone solve crimes. But appearances can be deceiving. Nicki, who is working on her master’s degree in forensic psychology, is a great organizer, and she knows how to use her free time (what little there is of it). Kenna, Nicki’s best friend, is about to adopt a child, but when the teenaged birth mother goes missing, Kenna appeals to the wannabe PI for help in locating the young woman. Good friend that she is, Nicki agrees, and begins combing the Virginia suburbs for clues, even though those clues lead her into dangerous gang territory. Nicki is smart enough to know that she doesn’t know enough, so she appeals for help from Dean, the hunky instructor at the PI academy she’s attending, and together they—but mainly Nicki—crack the case. Finding Sky has everything an astute reader could want in a woman-driven cozy: a plausible plot, a smart protagonist, sex appeal, and two adorable, if overactive, children. Thanks to the book’s savvy author, Finding Sky is eminently believable, too. Susan O’Brien is a registered private investigator who is well aware of the legal limitations PIs must adhere to, so she hasn’t written Nicki as a crime-fighting superwoman who solves crime using methods that in the real world, would land her in jail. Instead, O’Brien has written one of the most warm-hearted yet realistic cozies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I can’t wait to meet up with Nicki again.
Stephen Legault’s Black Sun Descending reminds us of something that too many people have either forgotten, or never known in the first place: Decades of uranium mining in the desert Southwest not only poisoned the Navajo Reservation, but also despoiled the Grand Canyon. When university professor Dr. Silas Pearson’s four-years-vanished (and presumed dead) wife Penelope visits him in a dream, he resumes his search for her body. To his shock, he unearths a different murdered woman, this one buried in a heap of radioactive mine tailings near Moab, Utah. Pearson’s find brings the local law enforcers down on him, along with the feds. Given its real-life backdrop, this environmentally conscious mystery is both educational and intriguing, and Pearson’s search for his wife’s body is emotionally affecting. Unfortunately, the mystery is marred by too many references to the work of environmental activist Edward Abbey, which presupposes a familiarity with Abbey’s books that many readers won’t have. Some mentions are understandable given the fact that, when Penelope vanished, she was working on a book about Abbey, but they do take attention away from Black Sun Descending. And that’s a shame, because this fine novel could stand on its own.
As someone who writes on bioethics for The New York Times, Kira Peikoff brings a wealth of knowledge to her second novel, No Time to Die, whose main action centers on the search for an end to human aging. The focus of that search is 20-year-old Zoe Kincaid, who physically stopped aging at 14. Zoe’s DNA is of great interest to scientists, and to various business conglomerates who want to discover the genetic version of the fountain of youth. Zoe’s life is placed in jeopardy when she gets caught up in the ongoing, oft-times lethal battle between so-called bioterrorist Galileo and the Justice Department’s new (and fanatical) Bioethics Committee head Les Mahler. This intelligent thriller will keep you guessing until the very end, as Zoe desperately seeks out assistance in her quest to unlock the secrets harbored in her genome.
Andrew Mayne’s debut novel, Angel Killer, features newly minted FBI agent Jessica Blackwood, who as a child was tutored in the art of illusion by her father and grandfather, both professional magicians. When the Warlock, a killer with a flair for the dramatic, appears on the scene, FBI consultant Jeffrey Ailes enlists Blackwood’s assistance, hoping she will see things other agents don’t. Thus begins a tense battle of wits, as Blackwood pursues the increasingly flamboyant killer. Mayne, who has worked for David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine brings an expert eye to the proceedings, allowing readers a tantalizing glimpse into the otherwise secretive world of executing elaborate illusions.
Janice Gable Bashman’s Predator, a fast-paced novel for young adults, tells the story of Bree Sunderland, a young woman who makes a strange find in the Galamonga Peat Bog in Connemara, Ireland: a huge severed hand covered with long hair. Although she and her scientist father were studying the bog to probe its preservative properties, the hand, which they believe belonged to a lycanthrope (i.e., a werewolf), may be the key to medical breakthroughs in healing, and in creating a new breed of super soldiers. As such, the hand is extremely valuable; the military and certain mercenaries will kill to possess it, while the ancient, secret society known as the Benandanti will kill to preserve its secrets. Tightly written, energetic, and imaginative, Predator is a gripping adventure story teeming with vivid characters and locales, driven by compelling ideas.
Asked what made a good detective story by The New York Times Book Review recently, Sara Paretsky answered, “Believable characters first, a good story, an understanding of how to pace dramatic action.” This is also the formula for a good thriller, and all three books above successfully adhere to it. If there are any flaws in these tales, they lay in the fact that each is the opening salvo in a series—the authors purposely leave numerous plot threads dangling. However, each will leave you eagerly anticipating the next installment in the ongoing saga.
Clinical psychologist Mary Kennedy draws upon her knowledge of Freudian dream interpretation in Nightmares Can Be Murder, the first in the Dream Club Mystery Series. Taking a break from her Talk Radio series, Kennedy dreams up a unique hook for this enjoyable tale set in charming Savannah, Georgia. The novel introduces Taylor Blake, a successful Chicago business consultant with a Wharton MBA, who is visiting her sister Alison, the appreciably less business-savvy owner of a floundering candy store. As Taylor turns around the business with suggestions for expanding the shop to include café offerings, she attends meetings of the Dream Club, a group of women who meet to discuss and unpack the content of their dreams. While dreams might be premonitory, no one could have predicted the untimely demise of Chico Hernandez, the handsome and flirtatious owner of the salsa dance studio across the street from Ali’s shop. Matters deteriorate further when it becomes evident that Alison had previously dated Chico and could be fingered for the murder. Fortunately, the resourceful Taylor extricates Ali from the crisis, and, in the process, forges a new bond with her sister. In the end, Taylor discovers the joys of creativity, while Ali finally develops business sense. And, yes, for a number of reasons that I won’t disclose, Taylor commits to her new life in Savannah.
Merryville, Minnesota, is the setting for Annie Knox’s Groomed for Murder, the second highly entertaining Pet Boutique Mystery. Protagonist Izzy McHale is the proud proprietor of Trendy Tails, an upscale boutique specializing in unique pet garments and sundries. As the novel opens, Izzy and friends are preparing for dual weddings. The marriage between her elderly landlady, Ingrid, and Ingrid’s newly rediscovered beau, Harvey, is a cause for celebration, but the “pupptials” between two beloved dogs owned by several of Izzy’s customers runs a close second. Just as Ingrid’s wedding is imminent catastrophe strikes, when Izzy’s mysterious boarder Daniel plunges to the bottom of the stairs—dead. The murder, as it is soon pronounced, is a showstopper, indeed, and the weddings are commuted to another day. Even worse, though, Lizzy’s Aunt Dolly becomes a suspect and Izzy must exculpate her. When Izzy discovers that Daniel was a big-city reporter, she knows that a major news story must be in the offing. What, though, is the potential scandal, and who is desperate enough to kill in order to silence Daniel? Read this well-plotted cozy to find out.
For the readers among us who are (very) willing to suspend disbelief, Dixie Lyle’s genre-bending To Die Fur should claim first place on your TBR lists. Second in the Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery series, To Die Fur once again features Deirdre “Foxtrot” Lancaster, Tango, her ghost cat, and Whisky, a shape-shifting dog. Yes, the series has a paranormal element, as Foxtrot plies her trade as assistant to eccentric millionaire Zelda “ZZ” Zoransky and spiritual superintendent of ZZ’s pet cemetery. Much of Foxtrot’s time is devoted to resolving problems in the cemetery, where an array of ghost animals reside, not always peacefully. Still with me? This mystery focuses upon a contest of sorts among various parties interested in acquiring Augustus, an albino tiger, whom Foxtrot’s employer has rescued and housed in her specially equipped private zoo. Each of the parties vying for Augustus has discernible drawbacks; is anyone a clear winner? Before ZZ can render her verdict, Augustus dies, victim of an insidious poisoning. End of contest, right? Not so quick! The battle begins again, this time over the privilege of acquiring Augustus’ body. How was Augustus killed, and who murdered him? You’ll never guess!
In Death of a Christmas Caterer, Lee Hollis (actually a brother-sister writing team) presents another rollicking Hayley Powell mystery. As usual, Hayley experiences romantic conflicts, but she receives a seasonal challenge when, at the last minute, her boss assigns her to organize the office Christmas party. When Hayley visits the caterer, she discovers his body instead. Aside from needing to make remedial party arrangements, Hayley must solve a quintessential locked-room mystery. Very intricately plotted!
The author of this lively, readable, and well-researched short biography values Poe the fiction writer over the poet or the critic, writing, “It is the mastery of narrative voice—and above all, the creation of the detective story—that made Poe an author that Lincoln and the world at large placed beside Shakespeare.” He even declares that “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is “literally the most influential short story of the nineteenth century.” Included is a brief annotated primary and secondary bibliography.
When published in France in 1984, the author notes, this biography was not well received because it diverged from the conventional Gallic wisdom about David Goodis the writer (as a literary genius) and the man (as a pauper unrecognized in his own country), exemplifying a French tendency to build legends and ignore inconvenient details. Now translated and revised for an American audience, Goodis: A Life in Black and White makes the biographer a character, describing how he traced and met with his subject’s friends and associates.
A history of the famous Série Noire imprint and the phenomenon of the French embracing undervalued American literature, including some disquieting notes on the very loose French translations of Raymond Chandler and others, is followed by considerable attention to Goodis’ screenwriting career, including quotations from studio memos and descriptions of Hollywood politics, all interesting but some of scant relevance to the subject. For example, a visit to the Motion Picture Country House is described in detail before getting around to resident Finlay McDermid, a sometime mystery writer who had been Goodis’ story editor at Warner.
Though interested in Goodis for his personal oddness (likable, family oriented, but very strange), and his cultural impact, Garnier doesn’t oversell him as a writer. Enthralling as the book is to anyone interested in the American or French paperback industry or in 1940s Hollywood, it may not attract many readers to the subject’s fiction. The illustrations, book covers, and candid photographs, are a decided plus.
No American crime-fiction expert would agree with the description of Gold Medal as a “lowly paperback-only outfit” or “the Skid Row of the paperback industry.” And Baynard Kendrick’s blind detective Duncan Maclane was not, as Garnier believes, subject to sudden blindness at awkward moments. That was John Kobler’s Peter Quest, the “glaucoma detective,” who first appeared in the pulps late in 1938.
Having covered the 20th century in four volumes, Kabatchnik now turns to the earliest known theatrical works, beginning with Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Not surprisingly, the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Elizabethans are most extensively discussed, with the centuries between fairly sparse ground. As in previous volumes, each entry has a detailed plot summary, stage history, adaptations to other media, and where appropriate, awards and honors. Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (c. 429 BC), “one of the first known plays to introduce the motif of crime and punishment, and the step-by-step investigation of a murder by interrogating witnesses,” managed only second prize in the City of Dionysia competition, but Sophocles won many more first prizes than either Aeschylus or Euripides.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the last and longest entry, 35 pages including eight of plot synopsis. The stage history, dense with names and dates, describes what various actors brought to the title role. There are some priceless descriptions of misguided 20th-century productions, low-lighted by three 1969 disasters on New York stages. One had “Ellis Rabb directing and playing the lead in a Nehru jacket and other actors wearing turtlenecks, at times breaking through the fourth wall and walking through the audience. Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune said that, as director, Rabb was ‘all thumbs and all banged thumbs at that.’” Tony Richardson’s production starred “a balding, bearded, machine-gun-paced Nicol Williamson, stressing Hamlet’s love of both Ophelia and Gertrude. His bitter scene with his mother ends with a long embrace.” Joseph Papp’s Central Park production featured “Cleavon Little, his skin color emphasized throughout the proceedings. When Polonius asks what he is reading, Hamlet replies, ‘Ebony, baby!’ At one point Horatio treats Claudius to a custard pie, full in the face. Instead of Hamlet, it is Horatio who speaks with the gravedigger, rebuking him, ‘Don’t give me any of that Shakespeare crap!’”
A reliable and thorough reference source that is immensely entertaining and browsable, this whole series is a landmark of mystery and theatrical scholarship.
Editor Leslie S. Klinger, who won an Edgar for The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, now turns to a supernatural horror icon connected to the mystery genre through some story elements, an early enthusiasm for Holmes, and association with August Derleth and Robert Bloch. An extensive foreword provides a history of Lovecraft’s literary precursors and influences, an excellent biographical and critical survey of his career, and notes on his growing posthumous reputation. The annotations to 22 representative stories appear typically meticulous and are attractively illustrated.
While Lovecraft is a significant figure whose published letters and literary criticism are of great interest, I find his fiction unreadable, a minority view that may not be a reflection on Lovecraft.
As Lawrence Block notes in his foreword, Donald Westlake never wrote “a bad sentence, a clumsy paragraph, or a dull page.” Gathered here are introductions to his anthologies and collections, reprints of his own novels, and books of other writers; reminiscences of print and film work, including an account of his collaboration with director Stephen Frears on the film version of Jim Thompson’s The Grifters; recipes, interviews, a dozen pages from an unpublished autobiography, and a small selection of letters on professional matters. “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You,” his inflammatory 1960 farewell to science fiction, is accurately described by the editor as “one of the most spectacular acts of bridge burning in the history of publishing.” “Tangled Webs for Sale: Best Offer” has an unusual slant on literary and cinematic plagiarism. A previously unpublished essay recounts how the acclaimed 1997 novel Ax affected (at least briefly) his future writing plans.
Personal note: I am honored to have been the recipient of one of the reprinted letters, Westlake’s reply to my request for an essay on Peter Rabe (which is also reprinted in the book) for Murder off the Rack: Critical Studies of Ten Paperback Masters (1989), which I edited with Martin H. Greenberg. The letter begins, “A lot of work for no money. As my agent, Knox Burger, assures me, this is the kind of offer I seem unable to resist.” In a letter requesting information from Rabe, he is even more explicit: “A small article in an obscure volume in an unimportant series from a nothing publisher: hot damn!”
After a few below-par entries, Lee Child seems to have returned to form with a slam-bang international thriller in which his heroic Jack Reacher gets to use his Doc Savage-like physique to bat down Serbian and British gangsters, including a quick-thinking giant bigger and tougher than he, and his Sherlockian powers of ratiocination to figure out why someone took an almost impossible, three-quarters-of-a-mile-away shot at the president of France. An even more cogent question: Who’s the sniper? For a brief moment, I hoped it might be Bob Lee Swagger, moonlighting from Stephen Hunter’s series. But no, the villain is a less honorable homegrown marksman, John Kott, a bad boy whom Reacher put away 15 years before. Free and on the loose, he’s at the G8 summit where his sights may be trained on any number of world leaders. The premise and the challenge are good, and Child and Reacher use them to best advantage. Narrator Dick Hill’s voice sounds a bit croakier than usual, but still has the ultra-confidence, sarcasm, and don’t-give-a-damn quality Reacher deserves.
Back in the late 1950s, when Borderline first appeared, it was called Border Lust and its author was identified as Don Holliday. Holliday was one of the young Lawrence Block’s phalanx of pseudonyms and, considering the amount of skin-on-skin behavior throughout the short novel, the book’s original title was more accurate a description than this Hard Case Crime reissue. Set on the El Paso-Juarez boarder, it involves a quintet of characters who, in Bridge of San Luis Rey-fashion, are unwittingly drawn to a final, fatal meet—professional gambler Marty, borderline-nymphomaniac divorcée Meg, hipster-chick hitchhiker Lily, hot redhead Cassie, and, the wild card, Weaver, a straight-razor-wielding psycho killer. Though the characters are rough-edged, Block does a fine job of weaving their activities into a tightly knit finale. The audio includes three other examples of his early work. “The Burning Fury” is a very short study of a pickup at a logger bar. “A Fire at Night” follows the shifting moods of an arsonist as he watches his effort’s flaming result. Both feature unexpected endings. That leaves the most entertaining, and most Block-like entry in the collection—“Stag Party Girl,” a novella in which private detective Ed London is hired by adman Mark Donahue to keep him alive until his wedding in 24 hours. He’s received threats from his former girlfriend, “a model, more or less” named Karen Price. At Donahue’s bachelor party, Karen pops out of the cake and is immediately gunned down by an unknown member of the party. Donahue is arrested and, shortly after his release, is found dead, an apparent suicide. The cops close the case but London, in true Matt Scudder mode, continues to investigate. Reader Mike Dennis has a deep, rugged voice that sounds as if he swallowed Charles McGraw. It adds the perfect hardboiled touch to these enjoyable, if unvarnished, crime yarns.
I’ve been a Louise Penny fan for several books now, with her last novel, How the Light Gets In, a particular favorite. As excellent as it was, however, it seemed to suggest that her popular series featuring Quebec’s Chief of Homicide Armand Gamache was either at an end or a turning point. What would retirement do to the bold, resourceful and dedicated Gamache? Well, though you couldn’t tell it by the bestseller lists, where The Long Way Home rests at or near the top, the author has provided neither a satisfactory answer nor a particularly good novel. It opens with Gamache fairly content with his lion-in-winter status, quietly healing (after his harrowing ordeal in the previous novel) at the idyllic village of Three Pines with his wife, Rain-Marie. Still very much on the mend, he’s approached by one of his few non-eccentric neighbors, Clara Morrow, a celebrated artist. Her husband, Peter, a painter who, when his fame was eclipsed by hers, left the village over a year ago in a jealous huff, or maybe an artistic snit, promising to return on a specific date to decide the fate of their marriage. That date has passed and a concerned Clara asks Gamache to investigate. There’s nothing resembling solid evidence that Peter is in dire straits but, struck by a sense of doom, or something equally vague, the ex-detective feels compelled to ignore his physical and mental ill-being and his wife’s entreaties and begin a long, long, very long journey to Toronto and Paris and finally to a frozen dot on the St. Lawrence River to find the man. This is a far cry from the author’s previous well-crafted works that displayed careful plotting and seemingly authentic details of police procedure along with in depth characterizations. Instead we have a moody, navel-gazing novel with a bizarrely contrived murder device that seems not only unlikely but impossible. Reader Ralph Cosham, the British-with-a-subtle-hint-of-French voice of Penny’s novels, is as listenable as always. But this is another example of an audio book truth: good writing can overcome a mediocre reader, but the world’s most mellifluous voice can’t do much with mediocre material.
“I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler,” says Mycroft Holmes to Dr. Watson in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” Little did Mycroft know that the indefatigable Watson would still be chronicling those adventures well into the 21st century. Or maybe he did know. At any rate, the original dynamic duo return yet again in The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Loren D. Estleman, who also provides the introduction and contributes the title story, a novella in which Holmes and Watson are joined by Nick Carter himself, the original, not the spy from the long-running paperback series that began in the middle 1960s. There are several excerpts from novels in the book, including one from A Study in Terror (credited to Ellery Queen though written by Paul W. Fairman) that features Jack the Ripper. The novel was filmed under the same title. Another excerpt is Laurie King’s “Two Shabby Figures” from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Pastiches other than Estleman’s include stories by Vincent Starrett, Edward D. Hoch, Adrian Conan Doyle, J. M. Barrie, and Larry D. Sweazy. Not everything in the book is about Holmes and Watson. Sax Rhomer is represented by a selection from The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. Deborah Morgan’s “The Mysterious Case of the Urn of Ash; or, What Would Sherlock Do?” is a contemporary tale of a trunk full of Sherlockian material. There’s a seldom reprinted story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, too, making this a must-have book for the Holmes fan and good reading for anybody.
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, is a bit different in its approach. You should be sure to read the introduction, which mentions the Holmes copyright lawsuit and the Free Sherlock! movement. The book contains “stories inspired by the Holmes canon,” and there’s a blockbuster table of contents with many big-name writers. The book leads off with Michael Connelly’s “The Crooked Man,” a Harry Bosch story, with Bosch and a coroner named Art Doyle, and concludes with Gahan Wilson’s “How I Met Sherlock Holmes,” which features some excellent cartoons. In between there’s a strong lineup of excellent stories, with not a weak one in the bunch.
If you’re in the mood to explore crime fiction’s past, you need look no further than The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century, edited by Otto Penzler. The anthology’s 604 pages cover almost the entire century, with stories by writers both familiar (Poe, Hawthorne, Irving) and unfamiliar (Ottolengui, Moffett, Hinkley). Some of the stories are familiar, too, but many of them will be new to most readers. Penzler provides an informative introduction to the volume, with shorter intros for the individual stories. I learned quite a bit from the latter, including the fact that the fiction of Robert W. Chambers, recently brought into prominence by television’s True Detective, was also the source for one of the more popular shows in radio’s history, Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons, which itself spawned the wonderful parodies by Bob and Ray, Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons. If you have any interest in the history of the mystery, this is a book you need to own. For everyone else, it’s a fine volume to read while sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night.
Most people might think of MWA Grandmaster Bill Pronzini as a novelist, but he’s also had a long and distinguished career as a writer of short fiction. The Cemetery Man and Other Darkside Tales brings together 19 stories (two of them collaborations with Barry N. Malzberg) from five decades. Many of them are quite dark, but the title story offers a glimpse of humanity where it’s not expected. “Hooch” is dark, too, but also darkly humorous. It contains some good advice to aspiring writers who might be tempted to talk too much about that book they’re supposedly working on. There’s an excellent introduction by Ed Gorman in which he discusses all the stories.
This Perfect Crime collection by Tracy Knight has 13 stories and a fine introduction by Ed Gorman. Having appeared in several anthologies alongside Knight, I can speak to the power of his stories. “Mother Cloud, Father Dust” is one that might still be haunting you when Father’s Day comes around again. “Glory Bluff” is a wrenching story about a man who plans to kill his daughter and himself. It doesn’t end well for everyone. These are well-crafted and unsettling stories.
The years immediately after the World Wars were times of change for England with culture and social reform moving faster than many were prepared to accept.
The involving stories of Downton Abbey set in post WWI explore this.
Now the series Grantchester shows the aftermath of WWII on the English countryside. Grantchester airs at 10 p.m. Sundays from Jan. 18, 2015, through Feb. 22 on PBS. Of course, check your local listings.
And yes, in some markets, that means Grantchester follows Downton Abbey, which gives viewers double examples of how England recovered after these wars.
And Grantchester is definitely worth adding to your viewing schedule.
Grantchester is based on James Runcie's novel Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, which has been called "the coziest of cozy murder mysteries."
Frankly, I disagree.
True, Grantchester is set in a time that many look back at as a simpler time.
But there was nothing simpler about this era. Women and minorities had restrictions on their lives; being gay was illegal; the death penalty was enforced.
Yet Grantchester weaves in these social changes with a light approach and a sense of humor that works quite well.
This was a time when the local vicar was the pillar of the community.
But few communities had a vicar as worldly—and as easy on the eyes—as the Rev. Sidney Chambers, played so well by James Norton (Happy Valley, Death Comes to Pemberley).
Sidney is a war hero, and familiar with the human frailties of jealousy, passion, revenge, and prejudice as he has experienced each of these.
Part of the theme of Grantchester is Sidney trying to find solace in the religious life while not denying the secular world.
And of course there are the murders he helps solve, assisting local Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green, Wire in the Blood).
The two men eventually will work well together, as they become bound by respect and past experiences. People naturally confide in a vicar, so Sidney's involvement is organic to the story. Plus, "As a priest, isn't everything our business?" says Sidney.
Norton shows Sidney as a complicated man, yearning to help others as he finds his own salvation. Green elevates any role he is in and his return is most welcomed.
With Foyle's War in its last season, Grantchester's run is well timed, and it also soon becomes addictive viewing.
Photos: Top, James Norton; center, Robson Green and James Norton. PBS photos
The awards season officially begins today.
The Mystery Writers of America announced this morning the nominees for the 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2014.
The announcement coincides with the 206th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.
The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners during the 69th Gala Banquet, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.
There were a lot of excellent mystery novels and thrillers published last year—a testament, I think, to how the genre continues to evolve and get better each year.
Mystery Scene congratulates each of the nominees.
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Wolf by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press)
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster/Scribner)
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville (Soho Press)
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Hachette Book Group/Little, Brown)
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (Penguin Randomhouse/Ballantine Books)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman (W.W. Norton)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Prometheus Books/Seventh Street Books)
Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie (Minotaur Books)
Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (Crown Publishers)
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (Minotaur Books)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Albani (Penguin Randomhouse/Penguin Books)
Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin (HarperCollins Publishers/William Morrow)
The Barkeep by William Lashner (Amazon Publishing/Thomas and Mercer)
The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson (Llewellyn Worldwide/ Midnight Ink)
The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner (HarperCollins Publishers/William Morrow)
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)
BEST FACT CRIME
Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook (W.W. Norton)
The Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman (HarperCollins)
The Other Side: A Memoir by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William Mann (HarperCollins Publishers)
The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter (Amazon Publishing)
The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis by Charles Brownson (McFarland & Company)
James Ellroy: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by Jim Mancall (McFarland)
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: Classic Film Noir by Robert Miklitsch (University of Illinois Press)
Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law: Exploring the Legal Dimensions of Fiction and Film by Francis M. Nevins (Perfect Crime Books)
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker (W.W. Norton – Countryman Press)
BEST SHORT STORY
“The Snow Angel” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Doug Allyn (Dell Magazines)
“200 Feet” – Strand Magazine by John Floyd (The Strand)
“What Do You Do?” – Rogues by Gillian Flynn (Penguin Randomhouse Publishing – Ballantine Books)
“Red Eye” – FaceOff by Dennis Lehane vs. Michael Connelly (Simon & Schuster)
“Teddy” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Brian Tobin (Dell Magazines)
Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Books)
Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
BEST YOUNG ADULT
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano (Penguin Young Readers Group – Kathy Dawson Books)
Fake ID by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books - Amistad)
The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin Young Readers)
The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“The Empty Hearse” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Mark Gatiss (Hartswood Films/Masterpiece)
“Unfinished Business” – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS)
“Episode 1” – Happy Valley, Teleplay by Sally Wainwright (Netflix)
“Dream Baby Dream” – The Killing, Teleplay by Sean Whitesell (Netflix)
“Episode 6” – The Game, Teleplay by Toby Whithouse (BBC America)
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
“Getaway Girl” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine By Zoë Z. Dean (Dell Magazines)
Ruth & Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine
Kathryn Kennison, Magna Cum Murder
ELLERY QUEEN AWARD
Charles Ardai, Editor & Founder, Hard Case Crime
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Tuesday, April 28, 2015)
A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books)
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller (Minotaur Books)
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)