When Mysteries and Theater Collide
Oline H. Cogdill

I know I am dating myself here, but the first play I saw that had a strong mystery element to it was Sleuth, during its first round on Broadway. It was in the year 19— (what, you think I am going to say?). It also was my first murderers1experience with Broadway and my first visit to New York City. Sleuth was an epiphany for me—allowing me to see that deft plotting and subtle clues could be translated to the stage. (At least that is what I believe I thought; I was pretty young at the time.) What Sleuth did was give me a lifelong respect for good mystery plays. Frankly, there are not a lot out there but the ones that succeed work well. (For the record, the musical Curtains worked; Agatha Christie’s long-running The Mousetrap does not.) So it was with much skepticism and a bit of apprehension that I attended a recent performance of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Murderers, at the nationally known Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. Hatcher’s (Tuesdays With Morrie) Murderers is a sly trilogy about three people who never expected to become killers, but did. Murderers is set in a fictitious Sarasota retirement community, but the play can be appreciated no matter where you live. The three “murderers” are a 50something man who marries his girlfriend’s mother so the younger couple can avoid estate tax; a woman whose husband’s old love moves into their retirement community; and a manager at themurderers2 retirement community who hates the way some of the residents are treated. The three characters’ monologues are witty, reminiscent of the kind of tongue in cheek work that Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Jeffrey Cohen and Harley Jane Kozak write. The Asolo’s actors are first-class, and the play hinges on professional actors. Lesser talents would not get the nuances of Murderers. Mystery fans would find much to like in Murderers. If it is done in a regional theater near you, I would love to hear your comments. While I am not a theater critic, I am married to one who is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, whose recent conference was in Sarasota, Florida. The conference is a wonderful excuse to sample an area’s best theater; in the past the conference has been held at Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago, among other locales.

PHOTOS: Bryan Torfeh, top, Mercedes Herrero, bottom, in Murderers; Courtesy Asolo

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, May 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-27 19:06:30

I know I am dating myself here, but the first play I saw that had a strong mystery element to it was Sleuth, during its first round on Broadway. It was in the year 19— (what, you think I am going to say?). It also was my first murderers1experience with Broadway and my first visit to New York City. Sleuth was an epiphany for me—allowing me to see that deft plotting and subtle clues could be translated to the stage. (At least that is what I believe I thought; I was pretty young at the time.) What Sleuth did was give me a lifelong respect for good mystery plays. Frankly, there are not a lot out there but the ones that succeed work well. (For the record, the musical Curtains worked; Agatha Christie’s long-running The Mousetrap does not.) So it was with much skepticism and a bit of apprehension that I attended a recent performance of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Murderers, at the nationally known Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. Hatcher’s (Tuesdays With Morrie) Murderers is a sly trilogy about three people who never expected to become killers, but did. Murderers is set in a fictitious Sarasota retirement community, but the play can be appreciated no matter where you live. The three “murderers” are a 50something man who marries his girlfriend’s mother so the younger couple can avoid estate tax; a woman whose husband’s old love moves into their retirement community; and a manager at themurderers2 retirement community who hates the way some of the residents are treated. The three characters’ monologues are witty, reminiscent of the kind of tongue in cheek work that Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Jeffrey Cohen and Harley Jane Kozak write. The Asolo’s actors are first-class, and the play hinges on professional actors. Lesser talents would not get the nuances of Murderers. Mystery fans would find much to like in Murderers. If it is done in a regional theater near you, I would love to hear your comments. While I am not a theater critic, I am married to one who is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, whose recent conference was in Sarasota, Florida. The conference is a wonderful excuse to sample an area’s best theater; in the past the conference has been held at Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago, among other locales.

PHOTOS: Bryan Torfeh, top, Mercedes Herrero, bottom, in Murderers; Courtesy Asolo

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, May 2009.

Hawaii Five-0 Sing Along
Oline Cogdill
If you are like most people who are house bound because of the cold weather or tired of shoveling snow, then you are proaltbably dreaming of warmer weather.

Well, we know that isn't going to happen for a least a month or so.
And pay no attention to the fact that I live in Florida -- the only state that has not had snow this winter. Not that we are bragging or anything.

So here's something to warm you up -- the Hawaii Five-0 series, which airs 9 p.m. CST, 10 p.m. EST Mondays on CBS.

Just watching those warm waters, lovely beaches and sunshine will make you put on your swim suit now...of course, that would look a little silly with your hat, gloves, scarf and coat.

And because we all do need a bit of silliness sometimes, here's a comment and a song about Hawaii Five-0.
Hal Glatzer, author of Too Dead to Swing: It's good to have Hawaii 5-0 back again. The plots are still outlandish - real local crime is rather mundane - but the leading characters now are younger and more likely to crack wise; and as TV cop shows go, they have more "realistic" backstories. The producers kept Morton Stevens’ hard-driving theme music; so I did little Internet research and discovered that there are lyrics to it.
All together now . . . .
If you're feelin' lonely / You can come with me.
Feel my arms around you / Lay beside the sea.
We will think of somethin' to do.
Do it till it's perfect for you / And for me too.
You can come with me.
Who knew there were lyrics to that song! Thanks, Hal.
Photo: Scott Caan as Danny "Danno" Williams and Alex O'Loughlin as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0. CBS photo
Xav ID 577
2011-02-02 10:33:32
If you are like most people who are house bound because of the cold weather or tired of shoveling snow, then you are proaltbably dreaming of warmer weather.

Well, we know that isn't going to happen for a least a month or so.
And pay no attention to the fact that I live in Florida -- the only state that has not had snow this winter. Not that we are bragging or anything.

So here's something to warm you up -- the Hawaii Five-0 series, which airs 9 p.m. CST, 10 p.m. EST Mondays on CBS.

Just watching those warm waters, lovely beaches and sunshine will make you put on your swim suit now...of course, that would look a little silly with your hat, gloves, scarf and coat.

And because we all do need a bit of silliness sometimes, here's a comment and a song about Hawaii Five-0.
Hal Glatzer, author of Too Dead to Swing: It's good to have Hawaii 5-0 back again. The plots are still outlandish - real local crime is rather mundane - but the leading characters now are younger and more likely to crack wise; and as TV cop shows go, they have more "realistic" backstories. The producers kept Morton Stevens’ hard-driving theme music; so I did little Internet research and discovered that there are lyrics to it.
All together now . . . .
If you're feelin' lonely / You can come with me.
Feel my arms around you / Lay beside the sea.
We will think of somethin' to do.
Do it till it's perfect for you / And for me too.
You can come with me.
Who knew there were lyrics to that song! Thanks, Hal.
Photo: Scott Caan as Danny "Danno" Williams and Alex O'Loughlin as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0. CBS photo
Agatha Christie Always in Style
Oline H. Cogdill

poirot
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot and Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in "Mrs. McGinty’s Dead"; Courtesy PBS

Could Agatha Christie be the hottest new author to be discovered by readers? It kind of seems so. And Mystery Scene magazine is in the thick of this new look at Christie. Through July 26, PBS is airing Six by Agatha, a half-dozen whodunits by the famed British author, left. Starting the week of July 5, Mystery Scene Editor in Chief and co-publisher Kate Stine will be answering questions at the Barnes and Noble Agatha Christie TV discussion. Kate’s knowledge of Agatha Christie reaches beyond her role at Mystery Scene. For about five years she was the director of the Agatha Christie Society. Kate will be answering questions during the week of July 5 as part of the teaming up with PBS' Masterpiece Mystery. And BN.com is to give the viewers and readers access to experts connected to each of their programs. If you sign up for the Masterpiece e-newsletter for program alerts, you can be entered to win a set of Six by Agatha books. Kate should offer some thoughtful and entertaining background on Agatha Christie. If you want more info about Six by Agatha, visit PBS’ Christie site. It’s stocked with extras such as an interview with David Suchet, who plays Hercule Poirot, as well as interviews on “The Female Detective” with authors Sue Grafton, Faye Kellerman, and Tess Gerritsen. There also are bits of trivia such as the fact that David Suchet (last seen as Van Helsing in the 2007 Masterpiece production of Dracula) has appeared in his signature role as the suave Belgian detective Poirot in a staggering 61 episodes over the last 20 years. For those who are counting, that means there are just 10 more adaptations to go before Suchet completes the canon. And let’s not forget Miss Marple. Julia McKenzie, who takes over the iconic role of supersleuth Miss Marple, may look familiar to Masterpiece viewers. She played Mrs. Forrester (the widow unusually devoted to her beloved cow Bessie) in last year’s production of Cranford. Here’s what the upcoming episodes of Six by Agatha will include: Hercule Poirot: “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead”; Miss Marple, Series IV: “A Pocket Full of Rye"; “Murder is Easy”; “They Do it With Mirrors”; “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-27 19:27:23

poirot
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot and Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in "Mrs. McGinty’s Dead"; Courtesy PBS

Could Agatha Christie be the hottest new author to be discovered by readers? It kind of seems so. And Mystery Scene magazine is in the thick of this new look at Christie. Through July 26, PBS is airing Six by Agatha, a half-dozen whodunits by the famed British author, left. Starting the week of July 5, Mystery Scene Editor in Chief and co-publisher Kate Stine will be answering questions at the Barnes and Noble Agatha Christie TV discussion. Kate’s knowledge of Agatha Christie reaches beyond her role at Mystery Scene. For about five years she was the director of the Agatha Christie Society. Kate will be answering questions during the week of July 5 as part of the teaming up with PBS' Masterpiece Mystery. And BN.com is to give the viewers and readers access to experts connected to each of their programs. If you sign up for the Masterpiece e-newsletter for program alerts, you can be entered to win a set of Six by Agatha books. Kate should offer some thoughtful and entertaining background on Agatha Christie. If you want more info about Six by Agatha, visit PBS’ Christie site. It’s stocked with extras such as an interview with David Suchet, who plays Hercule Poirot, as well as interviews on “The Female Detective” with authors Sue Grafton, Faye Kellerman, and Tess Gerritsen. There also are bits of trivia such as the fact that David Suchet (last seen as Van Helsing in the 2007 Masterpiece production of Dracula) has appeared in his signature role as the suave Belgian detective Poirot in a staggering 61 episodes over the last 20 years. For those who are counting, that means there are just 10 more adaptations to go before Suchet completes the canon. And let’s not forget Miss Marple. Julia McKenzie, who takes over the iconic role of supersleuth Miss Marple, may look familiar to Masterpiece viewers. She played Mrs. Forrester (the widow unusually devoted to her beloved cow Bessie) in last year’s production of Cranford. Here’s what the upcoming episodes of Six by Agatha will include: Hercule Poirot: “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead”; Miss Marple, Series IV: “A Pocket Full of Rye"; “Murder is Easy”; “They Do it With Mirrors”; “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Dennis Lehane, Dicaprio on Shutter Island
Oline H. Cogdill

Shutter_Island


One upcoming film I am looking forward to is Shutter Island, based on Dennis Lehane's novel. It’s due in national theaters Oct. 2, just in time for lots of discussions at Bouchercon.

Again, the previews look wonderful. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and the film is directed by Martin Scorsese. Need I say more?

Set in the 1950s, Shutter Island is about two U.S. marshals who are called to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts.

lehane_dennisShutter Island was totally unlike any of Lehane’s previous fiction and, if I remember correctly, readers were very mixed on it—either loving it or hating it.

I loved it and named it the top mystery of 2003 for the annual list I compile for the Sun-Sentinel.

Quoting myself, I stated that “Lehane takes still a different route in his seventh novel, Shutter Island, an unconventional psychological suspense tale with elements of an espionage thriller, a noir novel and even the locked-room mystery. It shares strong roots with the best of psychological cinema such as The Manchurian Candidate, The Wicker Man, Gaslight and The Game.”

Again, these previews look terrific. Take a look for yourself.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-27 19:52:00

Shutter_Island


One upcoming film I am looking forward to is Shutter Island, based on Dennis Lehane's novel. It’s due in national theaters Oct. 2, just in time for lots of discussions at Bouchercon.

Again, the previews look wonderful. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and the film is directed by Martin Scorsese. Need I say more?

Set in the 1950s, Shutter Island is about two U.S. marshals who are called to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts.

lehane_dennisShutter Island was totally unlike any of Lehane’s previous fiction and, if I remember correctly, readers were very mixed on it—either loving it or hating it.

I loved it and named it the top mystery of 2003 for the annual list I compile for the Sun-Sentinel.

Quoting myself, I stated that “Lehane takes still a different route in his seventh novel, Shutter Island, an unconventional psychological suspense tale with elements of an espionage thriller, a noir novel and even the locked-room mystery. It shares strong roots with the best of psychological cinema such as The Manchurian Candidate, The Wicker Man, Gaslight and The Game.”

Again, these previews look terrific. Take a look for yourself.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Johnny Depp, Public Enemies at the Movies
Oline H. Cogdill

publicenemies
Depp in Public Enemies; Courtesy Universal

A few years ago my husband I stopped going to the movies. It wasn’t that we disliked movies. Just the opposite, in fact. We both love movies and often quote some of the finest films in certain situations. Films like Animal House, Sunset Boulevard, any James Bond flick, What’s Up, Doc, and myriad other classics. It’s just that live theater took a priority in our lives. The last film we saw was Every Little Step, which was about the casting of A Chorus Line. Now we go for special films, or to join one of our godchildren. But one upcoming film has got my attention and I am really looking forward to venturing to the local movieplex. Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, is set to open July 1 across the country. Directed by Michael Mann, the previews to Public Enemies look terrific. Here, see for yourself. Briefly, Public Enemies shows how the FBI hunted notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s. It also stars Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson and Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd. Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover is certainly an interesting choice. From the previews I’ve seen, Depp should carry this film. Ever since 21 Jump Street, Depp has proven himself to be a real actor who immerses himself into each role. Watch him in Ed Wood as he becomes this mediocre filmmaker who’s naïve, totally unaware of his own limitations and yet so in love with the movies. He embodies everyone who truly is passionate about something yet lacks talent. Or take Sweeney Todd, a totally different approach from the Stephen Sondheim theatrical musical. Yet onscreen, Sweeney Todd works because Depp understands the source material.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-27 20:07:22

publicenemies
Depp in Public Enemies; Courtesy Universal

A few years ago my husband I stopped going to the movies. It wasn’t that we disliked movies. Just the opposite, in fact. We both love movies and often quote some of the finest films in certain situations. Films like Animal House, Sunset Boulevard, any James Bond flick, What’s Up, Doc, and myriad other classics. It’s just that live theater took a priority in our lives. The last film we saw was Every Little Step, which was about the casting of A Chorus Line. Now we go for special films, or to join one of our godchildren. But one upcoming film has got my attention and I am really looking forward to venturing to the local movieplex. Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, is set to open July 1 across the country. Directed by Michael Mann, the previews to Public Enemies look terrific. Here, see for yourself. Briefly, Public Enemies shows how the FBI hunted notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s. It also stars Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson and Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd. Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover is certainly an interesting choice. From the previews I’ve seen, Depp should carry this film. Ever since 21 Jump Street, Depp has proven himself to be a real actor who immerses himself into each role. Watch him in Ed Wood as he becomes this mediocre filmmaker who’s naïve, totally unaware of his own limitations and yet so in love with the movies. He embodies everyone who truly is passionate about something yet lacks talent. Or take Sweeney Todd, a totally different approach from the Stephen Sondheim theatrical musical. Yet onscreen, Sweeney Todd works because Depp understands the source material.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, June 2009.

Laughing With Tim Dorsey, Others
Oline Cogdill
alt"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

That quote has been around for decades, maybe even centuries. Yet no one seems to agree on who actually said it.
Aside from being a line said by Peter O’Toole in the movie My Favorite Year, that line also has been attributed to Edmund Kean, Edmund Gwenn, and Donald Crisp. It could also be one of those phrases that no one said but has become part of our lexicon.

What is true, though, is comedy is hard.

Finding the mesh of humor to appeal to a wide range of people isn't easy. Each of us has a different sensibility. What's funny to me, may not be funny to you. And visa versa.

Comedy is even harder in mysteries.

I've been thinking a lot about humor in mysteries after just finishing Tim Dorsey's recent novel, Electric Barracuda. Dorsey is the Three Stooges of the mystery world, mixing slapstick, politically incorrect humor and wild escapades into what could be called a novel. The plots are outlandish and the characters unbelievable.
Yet for me, they work.

Still, Dorsey's humor isn't for everyone and that's all right.

The mystery genre is blessed with a number of very funny mystery writers. What makes these novels work is the fact that the authors take care to keep the seriousness of the murder serious but find the humor in the absurd behavior of people.

I like different kinds of humor.
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series never fails to make me laugh. Yeah, the plots are the same and Stephanie is still the same person she was when Evanovich began that series with One for the Money. The latest is Sizzling Sixteen and I hope Evanvich can keep that series going for another 16 novels.

Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets and Nancy Martin write funny. Paul Levine also writes funny with his Solomon vs Lord series. And let's also add in Toni Kelner and Steven Forman. Harlan Coben has that perfect mix of humor and seriousness with his Myron Bolitar series.

I know I am forgetting some very funny writers. Who are your favorites?
Xav ID 577
2011-02-06 10:12:33
alt"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

That quote has been around for decades, maybe even centuries. Yet no one seems to agree on who actually said it.
Aside from being a line said by Peter O’Toole in the movie My Favorite Year, that line also has been attributed to Edmund Kean, Edmund Gwenn, and Donald Crisp. It could also be one of those phrases that no one said but has become part of our lexicon.

What is true, though, is comedy is hard.

Finding the mesh of humor to appeal to a wide range of people isn't easy. Each of us has a different sensibility. What's funny to me, may not be funny to you. And visa versa.

Comedy is even harder in mysteries.

I've been thinking a lot about humor in mysteries after just finishing Tim Dorsey's recent novel, Electric Barracuda. Dorsey is the Three Stooges of the mystery world, mixing slapstick, politically incorrect humor and wild escapades into what could be called a novel. The plots are outlandish and the characters unbelievable.
Yet for me, they work.

Still, Dorsey's humor isn't for everyone and that's all right.

The mystery genre is blessed with a number of very funny mystery writers. What makes these novels work is the fact that the authors take care to keep the seriousness of the murder serious but find the humor in the absurd behavior of people.

I like different kinds of humor.
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series never fails to make me laugh. Yeah, the plots are the same and Stephanie is still the same person she was when Evanovich began that series with One for the Money. The latest is Sizzling Sixteen and I hope Evanvich can keep that series going for another 16 novels.

Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets and Nancy Martin write funny. Paul Levine also writes funny with his Solomon vs Lord series. And let's also add in Toni Kelner and Steven Forman. Harlan Coben has that perfect mix of humor and seriousness with his Myron Bolitar series.

I know I am forgetting some very funny writers. Who are your favorites?
Daniel Woodrell's Oscar Nod
Oline Cogdill
altAs a movie buff, I am always interested in the Oscars. I can't help it, but I will watch the Academy Awards presentations every year, no matter how absurd or guady the show is.
As a mystery reader, I am most interested in the four nominations garnered by Winter's Bone. Winter's Bone has been nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence and best supporting actor for John Hawkes.
I hope the attention to this small, lovely film brings more attention to its source material -- the novel by Daniel Woodrell.
Woodrell often has been called the "poet of the Ozarks," which fits. Woodrell writes about an area seldom shown in fiction -- the Missouri Ozarks. His characters are poor with hard-scrabble lives where violence, dysfunction and homemade drugs often enter the picture. His novels also are filled with hope and show how people can overcome anything.
Woodrell also is a beautiful writer whose prose is indeed akin to poetry.
Tomato Red, his sixth novel, won the 1999 PEN USA award for Fiction, and his second novel, Woe To Live On, was adapted for the 1999 film Ride with the Devil, directed by Ang Lee.
One of my favorite Woodrell novel is The Death of Sweet Mister, an uncomfortable look at a young mother, her brutal boyfriends and her impressionable son.
See the film, but also read the novels
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone.
Xav ID 577
2011-01-30 16:01:16
altAs a movie buff, I am always interested in the Oscars. I can't help it, but I will watch the Academy Awards presentations every year, no matter how absurd or guady the show is.
As a mystery reader, I am most interested in the four nominations garnered by Winter's Bone. Winter's Bone has been nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence and best supporting actor for John Hawkes.
I hope the attention to this small, lovely film brings more attention to its source material -- the novel by Daniel Woodrell.
Woodrell often has been called the "poet of the Ozarks," which fits. Woodrell writes about an area seldom shown in fiction -- the Missouri Ozarks. His characters are poor with hard-scrabble lives where violence, dysfunction and homemade drugs often enter the picture. His novels also are filled with hope and show how people can overcome anything.
Woodrell also is a beautiful writer whose prose is indeed akin to poetry.
Tomato Red, his sixth novel, won the 1999 PEN USA award for Fiction, and his second novel, Woe To Live On, was adapted for the 1999 film Ride with the Devil, directed by Ang Lee.
One of my favorite Woodrell novel is The Death of Sweet Mister, an uncomfortable look at a young mother, her brutal boyfriends and her impressionable son.
See the film, but also read the novels
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone.
Remembering Andy, Anne, Shelly, Lesley, Ben & Jill
Lawrence Block

block_lawrence01

Lawrence Block owns up to a career of pseudonymous offspring, now out in ebook form.

By the time you get to read this, 40 or more hitherto out–of–print books of mine will be available in ebook form, courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media. When you add in the 50 or so ebooks already available from HarperCollins, well, that’s a lot of books.

More, in point of fact, than you’ll find on the ad card of my latest hardcover. The ad card is that page in the front of the book that lists the author’s other books, and lately mine has run onto a second page. You’d think it would be complete, but here’s the thing: it’s not.

And those 40–plus Open Road titles include quite a few you won’t find on my ad card. The new books (or newly–acknowledged, let us say, since some of them are a half–century old) are books which appeared originally under pen names. Some of those pen names were a fairly open secret, to collectors and specialists, of not to the general reading public. One or two were not.

In their new ebook existence, their covers will bear both my name and the pen name. So you’ll be able to read Carla, by Lawrence Block writing as Sheldon Lord. Or Thirty, by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson. Or Gigolo Johnny Wells, by Lawrence Block writing as Andrew Shaw. Or—

I think you get the idea.

***

I can explain.

And I think the best way to do so may be in the form of a self–interview. That’s the sort of interview with which I’m most comfortable; when an embarrassing question comes alone, I have only myself to blame.

So let’s begin:

Why use pen names in the first place?

Various reasons. The first time I ever used a pen name it was handed to me. I had two stories in a single issue of either Trapped or Guilty, a pair of alternating bimonthly crime fiction magazines edited. When the magazine hit the stands, one story was by Lawrence Block, the other by B.L. Lawrence. (The editor, one W.W. Scott, rose to heights occasionally; Dan Sontup sold there regularly, and his alter–ego was Topsun Daniels. You can’t make this stuff up—except, clearly, W.W. Scott could.)

Sometimes I used pen names because I was being cute. The first Paul Kavanagh book had a narrator/protagonist with that name, and the book purported to be true. Same thing with the four Chip Harrison titles. Years ago, when the Harrison and Kavanagh titles were reprinted, I put my own name on them.

But most of the pseudonymous books bore pen names because the work on which they appeared was generically second–rate. Soft–core erotic novels for Nightstand and Midwood and Beacon and Berkley. Lesbian fiction. I mean, who would put his own name on a book for Beacon? (Well, Charles Willeford would. But not I.)

So these books were crap, right? So why bring them out now?

Hey, I’m as surprised as you are. For years I used to say that the one comforting thing about my early work was that it had not been printed on acid–free paper. God speed the acid, I said.

You seem to have changed your mind.

Yes, but not overnight. The first shift came some years ago, when the tag team duo of Ed Gorman and Bill Schafer convinced me into consenting to the reprinting of a book I’d called Cinderella Sims, which Nightstand published as $20 Lust. I’d conceived of it as a Gold Medal crime novel, lost enthusiasm for it along the way, and finished it up as that month’s entry for Bill Hamling at Nightstand. Ed and Bill thought it was a good book, and I gave in finally, and the book came out as a handsome hardcover volume from Subterranean Press and got a surprisingly generous reception from reviewers. My agent sold it in France, and they liked it just fine over there.

block_openroadtitles01Then Charles Ardai reprinted a pair of my Gold Medal titles at Hard Case Crime, and asked what else I had, and I dug up A Diet of Treacle, Lucky at Cards, and Killing Castro. The first two were Sheldon Lord books at Beacon, the third a book for Monarch by a pen name no one knew about, Lee Duncan. (His only book.) I got to put my original titles on the first two (instead of Pads Are For Passion and The Sex Shuffle) and Charles came up with a distinct improvement on Monarch’s Fidel Castro Assassinated, and again the critics were gentle. Vintage Lawrence Block, they said, when he was at the height of his powers, before the long slow heartbreaking decline.

They didn’t say that.

Maybe not in so many words. You had to read between the lines.

So you suddenly decided the work was good enough after all?

It’s possible I just relaxed my standards. When Evan Hunter asked what I thought about letting Charles reprint his Matt Cordell stories, I told him I remembered those stories fondly, and they were better than he thought. Anyway, I said, my own working principle was that, when faced with two courses of action, I pick the one that brings money into my house.

In other words, it all comes down to money.

I’m not going to pretend it’s not a factor. But so is age.

I often think of an observation my mother made. “The one good thing about growing old,” she said, “is that every year there are a few more things I just don’t give a shit about.” She was perhaps seven years younger at the time than I am now, and I have to say she got that one right. If I wrote something, why pretend I didn’t? Because someone might think less of me for it? Well, so what? I may have cared once. I don’t seem to care any longer.

block_openroadtitles02And who am I to say what’s good or bad? I’ve always liked the books I wrote as Jill Emerson, and was delighted to have the chance to bring out Threesome when Jim Seels and Bill Schafer proposed so doing. That book was a structural tour–de–force, and I’m still proud of it, so why not republish it? And why not bring out Jill’s six other books as well?

Consider Campus Tramp. It was Andrew Shaw’s first book, written in the summer of 1959, and it became a cult classic at Antioch College, where it was thought to be rather more of a roman a clef than it in fact was. When Creeping Hemlock Press wanted to reprint it, I was okay with it. I was troubled to hear that an old high school friend of mine was reading it; then he emailed me, full of praise for the book, and I decided it was time to quit judging my own work. Maybe he was just being nice. That occurred to me. And it’s certainly possible, because he’s a decent and well–mannered fellow. But I decided I’d rather believe he was sincere.

You believe what you want to believe, don’t you?

You betcha.

And now you’ve got 40 books that you’re suddenly willing to believe are good?

Well, some of them have always borne my name, like Deadly Honeymoon and After the First Death. And then there are the ones I’ve already acknowledged—the Hard Case titles, and the Paul Kavanagh and Chip Harrisons. But there are several Andrew Shaw and Sheldon Lord titles I never thought I’d acknowledge, and then there’s my first–ever book, Strange Are the Ways of Love by Lesley Evans, and there’s a romantic espionage title that absolutely nobody knows I wrote— Oh?

Passport to Peril, by Anne Campbell Clarke. Set in the West of Ireland in the 1960s. The heroine is an American folksinger, hunting songs for her next album, who finds herself an unwitting pawn in a game of international intrigue. In an Andrew Shaw book she’d be a checker, getting jumped left and right.

I’ll let that pass without comment.

It’s the least you can do.

Would I be way off the mark if I guessed that you’ve been thinking about all these works a lot lately?

It could hardly be otherwise. See, for each of the Open Road ebooks, I wrote an original afterword. These run from 800 to 2000 words, so in all I wrote the equivalent of a book’s worth of end notes.

block_openroadtitles03They made you do this? Are you out of your mind? No publisher would dare ask a writer to do that kind of work for free.

No, silly, it was my idea.

And you’re calling me silly?

Point taken. It was, as I said, my idea, and the good people at Open Road thought it was a fine one, so there was nothing for it. I had to get to work. I spent a couple of weeks on it, and Memory Lane turned out to be potted with pitholes and...

Say what?

Pitted with potholes, I mean. It was a bumpy ride, but I fastened my seatbelt and went the distance. In a sense, I was writing a memoir on the installment plan, and it took me to some curious places. I wound up being far more candid than I expected to be.

Do tell.

Well, see, that’s the thing. I did tell. And yes, some day those afterwords might become a book in themselves. Or not. We’ll see.

Anyway, one thing led to another. One of the Jill Emerson titles is A Madwoman’s Diary, and in the course of writing about it I remembered its origin. The plot was based on a psychosexual case history in a book by John Warren Wells. That’s a pen name I used on collections of psychosexual case histories.

Which you drew from a shrink’s files?

No, which I fabricated. I made up the case histories, and one of them sort of stayed in my mind, and I decided it would make an interesting novel.

So you plagiarized yourself.

I prefer to think of it as recycling. But here I was, writing about John Warren Wells, which is something I never do, and it got me thinking.

You’re not going to bring those back, are you?

I might. I wouldn’t put it past me. We’ll see whether people turn out to be interested in the books of mine that Open Road already has.

Forty, I think you said.

Well, 40–plus. And there’ll be some more in a few months, because Charles Ardai and Bill Schafer teamed up to combine two of my books in Hard Case Crime #69, Sheldon Lord’s 69 Barrow Street and Ben Christopher’s Strange Embrace.

Ben Christopher? Where’d he come from?

It was a name Don Westlake and I each used once, for tie–ins. He used it in a lead story for 77 Sunset Strip Magazine, and I used it on this one book, which started out to be a tie–in with the Johnny Midnight TV series. Anyway, Ben and Sheldon teamed up for this one.

And they’re publishing them back to back?

More like belly–to–belly. Remember the old Ace double volumes? And I wrote an afterword for each of them, and after the book’s been out for a few months, they’ll both morph into Open Road ebooks.

You have no shame.

I know.

Seriously, you should be ashamed of yourself.

How can I? You just said—

I know what I said. How is it that you’re able to participate in a self-interview and piss off the person asking the questions?

That’s a good question.

Teri Duerr
2011-02-01 17:16:14

block_lawrence01Lawrence Block owns up to a career of pseudonymous offspring, now out in ebook form.

Romancing the Con
Twist Phelan

Finding true love at a mystery convention.

Match.com, eHarmony.com, SugarDaddies.com... MysteryCon.com? On a per capita basis, mystery conventions are putting Internet dating sites to shame. At last count, at least four couples have found wedded bliss after first encounters at friendly gatherings of mystery fans.

Did their eyes meet at a less-than-scintillating panel? In line for an author signing? Across the room at the hotel bar? Read on for the answers, presented in roundtable format, to these and other questions about discovering true love at a crime convention.

But first, an introduction to the love-crossed couples:

couples1

Tasha Alexander & Andrew Grant (Authors) Teresa & Joseph Scarpato, Jr.
Met: Bouchercon 2008 To be married in 2010* (Book Reviewer - Joseph, and mystery fan)
*Married in the spring of 2010 Met: Bouchercon1998 Married: 2004

couples2

Ruth & Jon Jordan Kate Stine & Brian Skupin
(Publishers, CrimeSpree Magazine) (Publishers, Mystery Scene Magazine)
Met: Bouchercon 1999 Married: 2000 Met: Magna Cum Murder 1999 Married: 2000

Describe your first encounter.

Kate & Brian
K: I was on a panel about book reviewing at Magna Cum Murder and Brian was in the audience. Afterward, I walked up and asked if he had seen the conference organizer, Kathryn Kennison. There was no reason to think that he had, but as a single woman my policy was always to direct questions to the tall, good-looking stranger in the crowd first.

Ruth & Jon
R: We were in the hall of the convention center and struck up a conversation about all the people we’d met and how great the writers were to us. Then Ian Rankin came down the hall, slapped Jon on the butt and told us we were going to the bar.

Teresa & Joseph
T:
Joe had posted to DorothyL, the listerv for mystery fans, that he’d be at the Mystery Review booth in the dealers’ room and encouraged everyone to stop by and say hi. A friend of mine was dying to meet Joe (she found him hilarious on DorothyL), so we went to the dealer’s room to meet Joe and Bob (one “O”) Smith. They were both quite funny, but there was something about Joe that made me want to see him again. I guess you could say it was love at first sight for me.

Tasha & Andrew
T: I was sitting at a table with J.D. Rhoades and a group of friends on the first night of Bouchercon. I was planning on making it an early night until I looked up and saw Andrew leaning against the bar a few feet away from me. I sidled over to him at once and introduced myself. We didn’t stop talking until long after the bar closed for the evening. The next morning, we went to a shooting range, where Zoe and Andy Sharp taught us everything we know about handling guns. It was an excellent first date.
A: I was in Baltimore for my first Bouchercon. In fact, my first book convention of any kind.... I thought the hotel bar would be the ideal place to begin, but when I saw the number of people in there I was horrified. There were hundreds. Maybe thousands. They all clearly knew each other. Walking up to complete strangers and introducing yourself doesn’t come easily to the English, so I decided to walk to the far end of the room then make my way back, talking to as many people as possible on the way. I stood at the entrance, took a deep breath and launched into the place, clear in my mission. I took two steps. Saw Tasha. And changed my plan.... My drink had only just arrived when, as if in answer to a prayer, she came over to talk to me. How kind, I thought. She can see I’m new here and that I don’t know anyone, so she’s being friendly. It was only later I discovered she had other motives.

What was his or her first romantic gesture?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian sent me a charming letter—a sure way to an editor’s heart. Still, I wasn’t certain his intentions were romantic until he suggested flying over from England for our first date—which was at the Malice Domestic Convention in Washington.
B: We had a long distance relationship for some time after we met. Kate sent me a care package of things she thought I would be interested in: music, a locked room mystery to read, that kind of thing. She was very perceptive.

pen_and_heartRuth & Jon
R: He sent me an envelope of magazine clippings and photos all to do with happiness and friendship, about a hundred in all, with a note that said, “When I think of you, I see...”
J: She sent me Miracle Whip and a mini-jukebox.

Teresa & Joseph
T: Joe’s not really that romantic. This doesn’t bother me. He makes up for it in so many other ways.

J: I didn’t know she was interested in me until after Bouchercon, when she emailed me a short story she had written and asked for my comments on it. That began an ongoing email relationship and a long-distance one at that, with her living in Atlanta and me in Boston. Eventually, she came up to visit.

Tasha & Andrew
T: Andrew is, without question, the Master of the Grand Romantic Gesture. The first one he made was flying eight thousand miles roundtrip only a few weeks after Bouchercon to come see me. This was rapidly followed up by the Most Romantic First Kiss Ever, on Fullerton Beach with a magnificent view of the Chicago skyline.
A: Tasha knew that my fortieth birthday hadn’t been celebrated in the most ideal circumstances, so on my second visit to Chicago she turned back the calendar and recreated the whole event—with a very different outcome! How did he or she propose?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian was working in the UK and I came over on a business trip. (I was consulting for Agatha Christie, Ltd. at the time.) He booked us on the Eurostar train to Paris and did a classic, on-bended-knee proposal in the Tuilleries Garden. He was such a stylish boyfriend; now he’s a stylish husband.

pizzaamoreRuth & Jon
R: We were in the grocery store, in front of the frozen pizzas. A plump and cheerful-looking woman tried to sneak by. Jon said to her, “I think she needs to marry me, don’t you?” The woman giggled and said, “Child, you sure do got to marry this man.” My ring came out of the quarter machine at the front of the store.

Teresa & Joseph
T: He didn’t. I found out he wanted to get married at a party for his brother. We arrived at the party and almost immediately, his brother’s wife and his sister came running over to me all smiles and wanting to see my ring. I had no idea what they were talking about. Then Joe’s brother joined us. He introduced me to some of the other guests as his brother’s fiancée. I told Joe’s brother to stop joking around; he looked at me, a little confused, but continued introducing me as Joe’s fiancée. After the party, we were at home watching TV. I finally muted the sound, turned to him, and asked, “Are we getting married?” He responded, “We can if you want to.” And that was that.

Tasha & Andrew
T: Both of us had come through extremely difficult divorces, and each of us assumed the other would never consider getting married again. However, in the midst of one of our long, long conversations while curled up on the couch, it became clear that the opposite was true. Neither of us had a problem with marriage as an institution, just marriages that involved the wrong people being together. We talked about it, and all of a sudden I said, “Did we just get engaged?” and he said, “YES!” The next morning, we went to Tiffany, where we learned they put you in a lovely private room and give you champagne when you buy an engagement ring.

How do you balance work and romance?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian actually works for a consulting company while I work full-time on Mystery Scene, so our collaboration is part-time. The only time it gets a little fraught is when the “What’s Happening With?” interview is running very late.
B: We’re lucky—a lot of the things we enjoy doing for fun, such as attending conventions and keeping up with mystery books, movies, and TV shows, are also things we need to do for work.

Ruth & Jon
R: Our day lives our very different and our time schedules are opposite of each other, so during our time together we try to do special things for one another.
J: Precariously. We make time for non-work stuff. We also share a lot of interests.

Teresa & Joseph
T: I work from home on occasion.
J: Weekends, holidays and vacations are best.

Tasha & Andrew
T: The beauty of both of us being writers is that we can work together, which means lots of extra time together, which we love. It’s wonderful to have someone who intimately understands the writing process right there to discuss a tricky plot point or a character who’s giving you trouble. And when you’re having one of those terrible days when it seems the only thing to do is beat your head against the wall, you suddenly find yourself much more pleasantly distracted.
A: Work and romance go hand in hand, because we get to spend our working days together as well as our free time.

If your spouse wanted to ferret out some secret about you, what fictional detective would best represent his or her investigatory process?

Kate and Brian
K: Brian is an easygoing guy who is also quite shrewd. I think of him as kind of a younger, cuter Columbo.
B: Julia Larwood from Sarah Caudwell’s books.

Ruth & Jon
R: Jon’s a fairly traditional bloke. He’d start off like McBain’s Ollie, slogging through the case, then realize he had just the person for the job and become Nero Wolfe to someone’s Archie or maybe Saul; I’d like to think it would take Saul to ferret out one of my secrets.
J: Ruth is Rebus.

alexander_andonlytodeceiveTeresa & Joseph
T: Hercule Poirot.
J: Her favorite mystery author at the moment is Louise Penny, so probably her detective, Chief Inspector Gamache.

Tasha and Andrew
T: Andrew has the intellect of Holmes, the meticulous nature of Poirot, is as dashing as Peter Wimsey, and as cool as Sam Spade.
A: The only fictional detective who could possibly match Tasha’s wit, charm, and intelligence would be Lady Emily Hargreaves.

Any words of advice for those looking for love at a mystery conference?

Ruth & Jon
R: Good luck! If you meet someone at a Bouchercon, you know you both love mysteries. Not a bad start.
J: Don’t look for it. It finds you.

Teresa & Joseph
T: If you see someone you’re interested in, pursue him or her. However, if that someone is taken, leave him or her alone! There is a woman who pursues Joe every time she sees him at Bouchercon, no matter how many times he tells her he’s not interested. She completely ignores me, even if I’m standing there. I think it’s funny; I know Joe won’t respond.
J: Don’t look for it. Let it find you.

Tasha & Andrew
T: I think looking for love is always a mistake. You’ve got to have reached the point in your life where you are truly happy to be on your own—when you’re more concerned with being yourself and following the path that’s right for you than you are with trying to impress someone. It’s when you’re in this mode that you’re showing people who you really are—and this is the time when you’ll attract someone who likes the real you, not some polished up, looking for love version. It’s foolproof, really, so long as you’re both at that point and both being completely honest.
A: It seems to me that true love is a kind of conundrum—you can only find it when you’re not looking for it. Sorry!

Kate & Brian
K: Walk up to the most intriguing person in sight and ask if he or she knows where Kathryn Kennison is. It worked for me.
B: Go with the tried and true: Head for the bar.

Twist Phelan is the author of the critically-acclaimed Pinnacle Peak mystery series (Poisoned Pen Press), and short stories for various anthologies. She is currently at work on a thriller. Twist met her sweetheart the old-fashioned way: via the Internet.

Originally published in Mystery Scene #113.

Teri Duerr
2011-02-04 20:08:08

tasha-and-alex Four couples share stories of finding true love at a mystery convention.

Get Justified -- Again
Oline Cogdill
altThe mystery genre is loaded with thousands of gripping novels, poignant characters and solid plots.

Yet when it comes to TV and movies, very few of those wonderful novels make it to the big or little screen intact. The exceptions are so good that they become timeless classics -- Mystic River, L.A. Confidential, The Grifters, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and a few others.

Add to that list Justified, which makes its return Feb. 9 on FX. It will air on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Justified's first season is available on DVD.

Justified is based on a Leonard short story about U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, an old-fashioned Kentucky lawman who is a deeply flawed good man. He knows what he is. A relentless lawman, quick on the draw and usually justified in his shooting.
On the personal side, Givens' is incapable of being faithful but he's so darned charming few women can stay mad at him. However, those charms don't work on criminals and he has more than his share of enemies, which will heat up even more during this season.
What makes Justified work -- and I am so looking forward to this second season -- is that the screenwriters cull Leonard's pitch perfect dialogue. Leonard has always been able to say so much with so few words. He makes the dialogue look simple, but it's loaded with depth.

But Leonard has never skimped on action. Justified's second season begins about two hours after the first season ended so expect plenty of fire power.

Leonard currently is working on a full-length novel about U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.
Photo: Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Justified. FX photo
Xav ID 577
2011-02-09 10:46:09
altThe mystery genre is loaded with thousands of gripping novels, poignant characters and solid plots.

Yet when it comes to TV and movies, very few of those wonderful novels make it to the big or little screen intact. The exceptions are so good that they become timeless classics -- Mystic River, L.A. Confidential, The Grifters, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and a few others.

Add to that list Justified, which makes its return Feb. 9 on FX. It will air on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Justified's first season is available on DVD.

Justified is based on a Leonard short story about U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, an old-fashioned Kentucky lawman who is a deeply flawed good man. He knows what he is. A relentless lawman, quick on the draw and usually justified in his shooting.
On the personal side, Givens' is incapable of being faithful but he's so darned charming few women can stay mad at him. However, those charms don't work on criminals and he has more than his share of enemies, which will heat up even more during this season.
What makes Justified work -- and I am so looking forward to this second season -- is that the screenwriters cull Leonard's pitch perfect dialogue. Leonard has always been able to say so much with so few words. He makes the dialogue look simple, but it's loaded with depth.

But Leonard has never skimped on action. Justified's second season begins about two hours after the first season ended so expect plenty of fire power.

Leonard currently is working on a full-length novel about U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.
Photo: Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Justified. FX photo
Baltimore Poe House in Danger
Oline Cogdill
altHe's considered the father of American detective fiction. And now his home is in danger.
Because of a tight budget, the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore is no longer receiving city funding to keep the historic landmark going. That amounts to about $80,000 a year to pay for the curator's salary, a security system, utilities and supplies.
Actually, the Poe House hasn't received any money from the city's general fund since last summer. It has been operating thanks to money that the curator, Jeff Jerome, has raised through the years. Now Baltimore is saying that the Poe House must be self-sustaining by 2012 or it will close.
Poe lived in the cramped three-room row house that's now in a dicey neighborhood with his aunt, cousins and grandmother from 1832-1835, before he became famous for his macabre tales. He never lived in Baltimore again, but he died in the city and and is buried in Baltimore. Poe houses also are in Philadelphia and New York, and other cities.

Landmarks such as the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore are part of our history and should be preserved and open to visitors. While it cannot be torn down because of its historical designation, a vacant house is an open invitation to vandals.
These are tough economic times we live in and every city has had to make uncomfortable cutbacks.
Baltimore alone has had several historic venues such as the Peale Museum and the H.L. Mencken House either go close completely to visitors or open sporadically. Other cities also are shuttering libraries, museums, historical landmarks. Many members of DorothyL have been discussing the closing of the Poe House, showing how mystery readers are united.
There's a petition to sign to keep open the Poe House at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-the-poe-house-and-museum-in-baltimore/.
Currently, more than 2,400 people have signed it. Sign the petition but also send money if you can. If 80,000 peole sent in $2 or $3 each, that would be enough to keep it running for a couple of years.
Photo: The Baltimore Poe House and Museum
Xav ID 577
2011-02-13 10:12:19
altHe's considered the father of American detective fiction. And now his home is in danger.
Because of a tight budget, the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore is no longer receiving city funding to keep the historic landmark going. That amounts to about $80,000 a year to pay for the curator's salary, a security system, utilities and supplies.
Actually, the Poe House hasn't received any money from the city's general fund since last summer. It has been operating thanks to money that the curator, Jeff Jerome, has raised through the years. Now Baltimore is saying that the Poe House must be self-sustaining by 2012 or it will close.
Poe lived in the cramped three-room row house that's now in a dicey neighborhood with his aunt, cousins and grandmother from 1832-1835, before he became famous for his macabre tales. He never lived in Baltimore again, but he died in the city and and is buried in Baltimore. Poe houses also are in Philadelphia and New York, and other cities.

Landmarks such as the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore are part of our history and should be preserved and open to visitors. While it cannot be torn down because of its historical designation, a vacant house is an open invitation to vandals.
These are tough economic times we live in and every city has had to make uncomfortable cutbacks.
Baltimore alone has had several historic venues such as the Peale Museum and the H.L. Mencken House either go close completely to visitors or open sporadically. Other cities also are shuttering libraries, museums, historical landmarks. Many members of DorothyL have been discussing the closing of the Poe House, showing how mystery readers are united.
There's a petition to sign to keep open the Poe House at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-the-poe-house-and-museum-in-baltimore/.
Currently, more than 2,400 people have signed it. Sign the petition but also send money if you can. If 80,000 peole sent in $2 or $3 each, that would be enough to keep it running for a couple of years.
Photo: The Baltimore Poe House and Museum
How Much Sex and Violence Is Too Much
Oline Cogdill
altI've been thinking a lot about sex and violence lately.
Oh, please. Get your mind out of the gutter.
I've been thinking about this topic because I am part of a panel this weekend for the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. The exact title of the panel is "Love & Murder;" but we all know what that means.
Florida author Deborah Sharp, right, who is putting together the panel, has come up with some good questions for the speakers, who include P.J. Parrish (Kristy Montee) and Linda Conrad.
Do authors use too much sex and violence?
I read a crazy amount of mysteries every year. You don't even want to know how many as it would seem, well, crazy.
The good news is I believe that most authors use violence only when needed to get a point across or to add to the heart-stopping action. Some authors such as Jacqueline Winspear, Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben use violence very sparingly, making it organic to the story.
The bad news is that some authors seem to feel that if the body count isn't high, the readership won't be either. These are the mysteries that set my teeth on edge, that succumb to the cliches of the genre and follow what I call the Fair Game syndrome. And I am talking about the 1995 movie with Cindy Crawford, which seemed to have a death in every scene.
When an author believes that he or she has to have more, more, more, then chances are the story is just not there and the author needs to sit back and think long and hard about the type of story he or she wants to write.
The use of violence also parallels the use of sex in mysteries. Too much just doesn't work.
I'd like to know readers' views on the issue of sex and violence. What do you think?
Xav ID 577
2011-02-16 10:41:34
altI've been thinking a lot about sex and violence lately.
Oh, please. Get your mind out of the gutter.
I've been thinking about this topic because I am part of a panel this weekend for the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. The exact title of the panel is "Love & Murder;" but we all know what that means.
Florida author Deborah Sharp, right, who is putting together the panel, has come up with some good questions for the speakers, who include P.J. Parrish (Kristy Montee) and Linda Conrad.
Do authors use too much sex and violence?
I read a crazy amount of mysteries every year. You don't even want to know how many as it would seem, well, crazy.
The good news is I believe that most authors use violence only when needed to get a point across or to add to the heart-stopping action. Some authors such as Jacqueline Winspear, Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben use violence very sparingly, making it organic to the story.
The bad news is that some authors seem to feel that if the body count isn't high, the readership won't be either. These are the mysteries that set my teeth on edge, that succumb to the cliches of the genre and follow what I call the Fair Game syndrome. And I am talking about the 1995 movie with Cindy Crawford, which seemed to have a death in every scene.
When an author believes that he or she has to have more, more, more, then chances are the story is just not there and the author needs to sit back and think long and hard about the type of story he or she wants to write.
The use of violence also parallels the use of sex in mysteries. Too much just doesn't work.
I'd like to know readers' views on the issue of sex and violence. What do you think?
Agatha Award Nominees Announced
Oline Cogdill
Last month we had the nominees for the Edgar Awards; now it's time for Malice Domestic's Agatha Award nominees.

Malice Domestic 23 will be April 29-May 1 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, MD. The Agatha Awards will be given out during the Agatha Awards banquet to be held on Saturday, April 30.
Congratulations to all the nominees.
2010 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Novel:
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mira)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

Best First Novel:
The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames (Berkley)
Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden (Signet)
Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower (Five Star/Gale)
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill (Wildside Press)
Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff (Midnight Ink)
Best Nonfiction:
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin)
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: 50 Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (Harper)
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Stephen Doyle & David A. Crowder (For Dummies)
Have Faith in Your Kitchen by Katherine Hall Page (Orchises Press)
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Best Short Story:
"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight (Berkley)
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice (Level Best Books)
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin' (Wildside Press)
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2010
Best Children's/Young Adult:
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham (Dutton Children's)
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (Candlewick)
Virals by Kathy Reichs (Razorbill)
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith (Atheneum)
Xav ID 577
2011-02-18 01:27:24
Last month we had the nominees for the Edgar Awards; now it's time for Malice Domestic's Agatha Award nominees.

Malice Domestic 23 will be April 29-May 1 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, MD. The Agatha Awards will be given out during the Agatha Awards banquet to be held on Saturday, April 30.
Congratulations to all the nominees.
2010 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Novel:
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mira)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

Best First Novel:
The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames (Berkley)
Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden (Signet)
Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower (Five Star/Gale)
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill (Wildside Press)
Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff (Midnight Ink)
Best Nonfiction:
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin)
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: 50 Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (Harper)
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Stephen Doyle & David A. Crowder (For Dummies)
Have Faith in Your Kitchen by Katherine Hall Page (Orchises Press)
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Best Short Story:
"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight (Berkley)
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice (Level Best Books)
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin' (Wildside Press)
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2010
Best Children's/Young Adult:
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham (Dutton Children's)
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (Candlewick)
Virals by Kathy Reichs (Razorbill)
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith (Atheneum)
Lots to Learn at Sleuthfest
Oline Cogdill
alt
When Sleuthfest first began, it was among a handful of conferences across the country.
That was about 20 years ago and the world -- and especially the mystery fiction world -- has changed.
Now there are so many regional conferences that it's hard to keep track of them all.
What hasn't changed is that Sleuthfest is still one of the few conferences that is geared for writers, not fans. Of course, fans are always welcomed, but Sleuthfest is mainly for writers -- published and unpublished. It is one of the few conferences that has panels for writing and for crime scene detection.
Sleuthfest begins March 3, with the workshop Third Degree Thursday and continues March 4-6. Editors, agents, authors and forensic experts will be on hand to discuss writing.
And did I mention that Sleuthfest is in Fort Lauderdale. In March? And the organizers can pretty much guarantee it won't snow.
Registration is $255 for MWA members; $275 for nonmembers. The rate includes some meals. One-day attendance also is available. Information and registration is at www.sleuthfest.com.
As in years past, Sleuthfest will have two guests of honor. Edgar winner Meg Gardiner, author of “The Liar's Lullaby” and “The Dirty Secrets Club,” will be the Friday guest. Multi-award winner Dennis Lehane, author of “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” will be the guest of honor Saturday.
Sleuthfest will feature other authors. S.J. Rozan will be the spotlight speaker during the Third Degree Thursday.
Les Standiford and Joe Matthews will discuss their nonfiction book Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America, about the Adam Walsh case.
In addition, mystery authors James W. Hall, Michael Koryta, Dana Cameron, Deborah Crombie, Lisa Unger, Julie Compton, Marcia Talley, PJ Parrish, Lisa Black, Lisa Unger, Toni Kelner, James Benn, Lori Roy, Wallace Stroby, Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer, Jonathon King, Elaine Viets and more will attend.
Xav ID 577
2011-03-01 10:48:29
alt
When Sleuthfest first began, it was among a handful of conferences across the country.
That was about 20 years ago and the world -- and especially the mystery fiction world -- has changed.
Now there are so many regional conferences that it's hard to keep track of them all.
What hasn't changed is that Sleuthfest is still one of the few conferences that is geared for writers, not fans. Of course, fans are always welcomed, but Sleuthfest is mainly for writers -- published and unpublished. It is one of the few conferences that has panels for writing and for crime scene detection.
Sleuthfest begins March 3, with the workshop Third Degree Thursday and continues March 4-6. Editors, agents, authors and forensic experts will be on hand to discuss writing.
And did I mention that Sleuthfest is in Fort Lauderdale. In March? And the organizers can pretty much guarantee it won't snow.
Registration is $255 for MWA members; $275 for nonmembers. The rate includes some meals. One-day attendance also is available. Information and registration is at www.sleuthfest.com.
As in years past, Sleuthfest will have two guests of honor. Edgar winner Meg Gardiner, author of “The Liar's Lullaby” and “The Dirty Secrets Club,” will be the Friday guest. Multi-award winner Dennis Lehane, author of “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” will be the guest of honor Saturday.
Sleuthfest will feature other authors. S.J. Rozan will be the spotlight speaker during the Third Degree Thursday.
Les Standiford and Joe Matthews will discuss their nonfiction book Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America, about the Adam Walsh case.
In addition, mystery authors James W. Hall, Michael Koryta, Dana Cameron, Deborah Crombie, Lisa Unger, Julie Compton, Marcia Talley, PJ Parrish, Lisa Black, Lisa Unger, Toni Kelner, James Benn, Lori Roy, Wallace Stroby, Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer, Jonathon King, Elaine Viets and more will attend.
Online With Mystery Writers
Oline Cogdill
title
Back in 1991, Paul Levine's novel Night Vision followed attorney Jake Lassiter who was caught up in the murder investigation of three women who belonged to Compu-Mate, an electronic network whose members talk dirty to one another.
Back in 1994, Julie Smith wrote about a loosely connected group who had an active virtual life on TOWN, a computer bulletin board. That novel, New Orleans Beat, followed Smith's New Orleans detective Skip Langdon investigating what seems to be the accidental death of a man who fell off a ladder at home. The investigation takes a turn when Skip learns that members of TOWN suspect their friend was murdered because he had recently posted about flashbacks to his father's death 25 years before.
Back then, when I reviewed these two novels, the idea of an online community seemed as remote to me as, well, the idea that everyone would carry cell phones.

The internet was a tool I barely was aware of. I didn't even have my own computer then. I would never have thought my work, my friends, my spare time would be consumed by the Internet. I didn't have any idea of the power the Internet would have.
But mystery writers certainly were aware of the Internet's power. Now, so many authors are using the Internet as a major part of their plots.
Here's just a few I've come across recently:
J.A. Jance's latest Ali Reynolds mystery, Fatal Error, concerns man who meets and proposes to women over the Internet. The problem is that he's juggling several women at a time, one of whom may have snapped and killed him. Jance has said that Fatal Error was inspired by one of her friends, who thought she had a serious relationship with a man she “met” online, but then found out he was carrying on in a similar fashion with countless other women.
Daniel Palmer's Delirious revolves around Charlie Giles, the inventor of a new digital-entertainment system for automobiles. Charlie's life unravels when compromising emails and web sites are found on his company computer. A sophisticated hacker is out to destroy him.

In April, Hallie Ephron will publish Come and Find Me in which a young woman retreats to her virtual life following the death of her husband. Unable to cope with the world, she lives in her own world online.
Xav ID 577
2011-03-06 10:04:24
title
Back in 1991, Paul Levine's novel Night Vision followed attorney Jake Lassiter who was caught up in the murder investigation of three women who belonged to Compu-Mate, an electronic network whose members talk dirty to one another.
Back in 1994, Julie Smith wrote about a loosely connected group who had an active virtual life on TOWN, a computer bulletin board. That novel, New Orleans Beat, followed Smith's New Orleans detective Skip Langdon investigating what seems to be the accidental death of a man who fell off a ladder at home. The investigation takes a turn when Skip learns that members of TOWN suspect their friend was murdered because he had recently posted about flashbacks to his father's death 25 years before.
Back then, when I reviewed these two novels, the idea of an online community seemed as remote to me as, well, the idea that everyone would carry cell phones.

The internet was a tool I barely was aware of. I didn't even have my own computer then. I would never have thought my work, my friends, my spare time would be consumed by the Internet. I didn't have any idea of the power the Internet would have.
But mystery writers certainly were aware of the Internet's power. Now, so many authors are using the Internet as a major part of their plots.
Here's just a few I've come across recently:
J.A. Jance's latest Ali Reynolds mystery, Fatal Error, concerns man who meets and proposes to women over the Internet. The problem is that he's juggling several women at a time, one of whom may have snapped and killed him. Jance has said that Fatal Error was inspired by one of her friends, who thought she had a serious relationship with a man she “met” online, but then found out he was carrying on in a similar fashion with countless other women.
Daniel Palmer's Delirious revolves around Charlie Giles, the inventor of a new digital-entertainment system for automobiles. Charlie's life unravels when compromising emails and web sites are found on his company computer. A sophisticated hacker is out to destroy him.

In April, Hallie Ephron will publish Come and Find Me in which a young woman retreats to her virtual life following the death of her husband. Unable to cope with the world, she lives in her own world online.
L.A. Times Book Prize Nominees
Oline Cogdill
altFor the past three years, I have had the honor to be a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category.

This has been the best experience I have ever had being a judge. That's mainly because of the other judges with whom I served—Sarah Weinman and Dick Lochte.
The three of us were focused on choosing the best novels we could.

altWe started with an incredibly long list that we kept narrowing down and narrowing down. That's good news because it means the three of us thought that 2010 was a very good year for mysteries.

Too many times judges let their egos get away from them and they focus on their own agendas, not on the nominees .

I can say proudly that never happened with the three of us. I would serve as a judge anywhere, anytime with Sarah and Dick.
So here is what you really want to know:

altThe 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be awarded April 29, 2011, in a ceremony at the Los Angeles Times building.
Mystery/Thriller category nominees:

Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (William Morrow)

Tana French, Faithful Place (Viking)
french_faithfulplace
stanley_cityofdragonsLaura Lippman, I’d Know You Anywhere (William Morrow)
Stuart Neville, Collusion (SoHo Press) (Neville is featured in the latest issue of Mystery Scene)
Kelli Stanley, City of Dragons (Minotaur Books/A Thomas Dunne Book)
Congratulations to the nominees.
Xav ID 577
2011-02-23 10:44:03
altFor the past three years, I have had the honor to be a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category.

This has been the best experience I have ever had being a judge. That's mainly because of the other judges with whom I served—Sarah Weinman and Dick Lochte.
The three of us were focused on choosing the best novels we could.

altWe started with an incredibly long list that we kept narrowing down and narrowing down. That's good news because it means the three of us thought that 2010 was a very good year for mysteries.

Too many times judges let their egos get away from them and they focus on their own agendas, not on the nominees .

I can say proudly that never happened with the three of us. I would serve as a judge anywhere, anytime with Sarah and Dick.
So here is what you really want to know:

altThe 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be awarded April 29, 2011, in a ceremony at the Los Angeles Times building.
Mystery/Thriller category nominees:

Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (William Morrow)

Tana French, Faithful Place (Viking)
french_faithfulplace
stanley_cityofdragonsLaura Lippman, I’d Know You Anywhere (William Morrow)
Stuart Neville, Collusion (SoHo Press) (Neville is featured in the latest issue of Mystery Scene)
Kelli Stanley, City of Dragons (Minotaur Books/A Thomas Dunne Book)
Congratulations to the nominees.
Death of a Chimney Sweep Contest

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.

{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Brian Skupin
2011-02-24 22:26:33

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.

{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Chimney Sweep Contest

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.




{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Brian Skupin
2011-02-25 17:14:08

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.




{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Chimney Sweep Again

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.

{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Brian Skupin
2011-02-25 18:19:09

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Chimney Sweep

10 CHANCES TO WIN

DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. BEATON

Join police constable Hamish Macbeth as he stokes the ashes of murder!

Learn more about this M.C. Beaton from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette at: M.C. Beaton at Hachette Books.

{aicontactsafeform pf=4|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions

A free copy of the book DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP by M.C. Beaton will be sent to 10 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of book: $24.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends March 25, 2011 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winners will be announced April 1, 2011 and notified by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette directly.
Ian Rankin: Inspector Rebus Turns 20
Oline H. Cogdill

rankin_ian_cropped

The Complaints, the third novel since Ian Rankin retired his popular Inspector John Rebus series, is just out. Read about the author, his work, and John Rebus in this 2007 interview from Mystery Scene #99.

Ian Rankin is the "King of Tartan Noir,” James Ellroy has declared. Two decades after the debut of his moody Edinburgh cop, Rankin’s realm is rapidly expanding beyond the UK where he is the top-selling crime fiction writer.

Inspector John Rebus has become an unlikely goodwill ambassador of sorts for Scotland. His cases have been translated into 22 languages and a second series of the popular TV films starring Ken Stott are in the works. Tourists from around the world trace Rebus’ steps on walking tours through Edinburgh including, of course, a mandatory stop at the Oxford Bar.

A slew of special events are being planned to celebrate two decades of Rebus, including the launching of a special whiskey and a beer named after Rankin’s creation. An exhibition about Rankin and his work will open in May at the Edinburgh Writers' Museum and there will be a special event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. His UK publisher is also bringing out a special collectors edition of the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, which will contain never-before-published material.

Rankin’s novels have won him a string of awards and honors: Two Short Story Daggers and the 1997 Macallan Gold Dagger from the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association, the CWA 2005 Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement and the 2004 Edgar Award. Rankin also has three honorary doctorates—from the University of Abertay Dundee, the University of St. Andrews, and the University of Hull—and was awarded the prestigious OBE in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Birthday Honours List in June 2002.

rankin_namingthedeadThe new Rebus novel, The Naming of the Dead, will be published here in April and Rankin will launch a five-city American tour.

Rebus wasn’t even a twinkle in Rankin’s eye in 1983-84 when he wrote his first novel The Flood, which was published in 1986. Right after he sold that novel to a small independent publisher, he was back in his apartment, supposedly concentrating on his postgraduate studies. Instead, he began playing around with the idea that would become Knots and Crosses, the novel that introduced John Rebus to the world. At the time, Rankin was about 24, unmarried, a nonsmoker; his detective was 40, divorced with a daughter and a nasty nicotine habit.

There was a reason for the differences between the author and his detective. Rankin’s first novel took place in a poor coal mining community, much like his hometown.

“With The Flood, I leaned heavily on the area and really got in trouble with the townspeople, said Rankin. “In a way, Rebus was a safety net. I needed [a character] who was so different from me that no one would see him as me. He is not me. I needed to have what I wrote accepted as fiction.”

Anyone who’s met Rankin knows he’s still nothing like his character. A gregarious man with a sly wit, he seems to genuinely like meeting his readers and fellow authors.

rankin_knotsandcrossesKnots and Crosses was published in 1987, but Rankin set Rebus aside while he wrote a spy novel and a thriller. But Rebus kept calling to him and Rankin returned to him with Hide and Seek, published in 1991. The detective has been part of Rankin’s life ever since: the focus of 17 novels and a short story collection.

After 20 years, Rankin is surprised that he’s still writing about Rebus.

“That first one was just meant to be a one-off,” said Rankin during a telephone interview from his Edinburgh home. “I think that first Rebus sold about 800 copies in the UK. I certainly didn’t give up my day job.” As for the appeal of Rebus, who’s known for his contrariness, his inability to work well with supervisors, his penchant for skirting boundaries, not to mention his bad personal habits, Rankin says he still doesn’t understand it.

“Of course, for a while, he didn’t [have an appeal for readers.] He had only a small passionate following. It wasn’t until Black and Blue (1997) that he really took off.

“People like him for different reasons. Guys probably like him for his sloppy bachelor existence that sometimes we all wish we could still have. If I tried to play my music as loud as he does my 14-year-old kid would come up and complain.

“Cops like him because he has the ideal detective existence. He’s in a case at the very beginning and at the end. That doesn’t happen in real life.”

And women readers seem to like him because he’s damaged goods. “I get lots of comments from women who say they could change him. Frankly, I don’t understand the appeal.”

But, Rankin says, the true reason for the series’ popularity goes beyond the grumpy, disheveled detective. Put aside Rebus, his colleagues and the cases for a moment. The real lead character of the series is Edinburgh.

“Edinburgh is a fascinating city with extraordinary geography. A lot of people think they know it but they are just scratching the surface. For so small a city, it is endlessly complex. Edinburgh presents itself to the world as Jekyll and Hyde. It’s divided into two—the old and the new, and the new area is more than 200 years old.”

{youtube width="600"}MzmW2nv_xfI{/youtube}

A slideshow put together by broaddaylightphoto of stunning photography by Tricia Malley and Ross Gillespie from Rebus's Scotland: A Personal Journey (Orion, 2005), by Ian Rankin.

“It’s a city that changes often,” Rankin said. “In August, it’s a riot of action and color and thousands of events. Other times, it seems dead. It changes day to day. Today, I was walking around and the city was just empty.”

“There is the Edinburgh that belongs to [Muriel Sparks’] The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And there is the Edinburgh that at one time had the highest incidence of heroin addiction and AIDS. The construction of

Edinburgh consists of light and shade, dark alleyways and bright patches.”

After Knots and Crosses, Rankin lived for several years in London and France.

rankin_deadsouls“I spent a lot of time not living in Edinburgh and just imagining it. I spent about ten years away from the place. There was a terrifying moment when I was writing Dead Souls I wondered if I could do it. Would it be journalism or fiction?”

When he started writing about Rebus, Rankin says that the city wasn’t often used as a locale for fiction. “As a student, I couldn’t find anyone writing about Edinburgh. But there were a lot writing about Glasgow.” His original idea was to create a fictional Edinburgh. Rebus was working in a fictional police station, on a street that didn’t exist and drinking in made-up bars in imaginary neighborhoods. “In the early books, I went to great pains to make it fiction and it was obvious it wasn’t real. I thought, why am I making this so hard on myself? So I burnt down the fictional police station and put Rebus in the real one. And I made him drink at the Oxford Bar, where I do my drinking.”

Rebus and Rankin have made The Oxford Bar famous. Readers from across the world often come by the bar to see Rebus. “They’re disappointed that he’s not there, they have to settle for me,” said Rankin. The author even gets mail at the Oxford. “Today I had a letter waiting for me from a guy in New Jersey.” Rankin is bemused by the worldwide success of the Rebus stories.

“I didn’t think they would be easy books to read if one wasn’t familiar with Scotland, Edinburgh, our humor, psychology and philosophy. What interests me is what a person in Idaho or Tokyo finds in the books. They may start reading thinking they know Scotland is tartan, whiskey, golf and just north of London. Or they have the Brigadoon notion of Scotland. But it is a real country with real problems.” Crime readers, he said, constantly want to know about new places. “Early on, I learned that crime fiction is a great way of looking at a society. Crime fiction explores the here and now. It explores the fears and how those fears change.


oxford_bar_edinburgh

The hanging sign out front of The Oxford Bar, made famous by Rebus and Rankin. Image courtesy of Flyin Bayman at TravelPod.

“If I go to a new country, the first thing I do is buy crime fiction. Those novels will tell me about the country and what places to avoid, and about the politics. They are great learning experiences.” Rankin’s affinity for the setting of his novels led to his nonfiction book Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey (Orion, 1997). “It was just going to be a book of photographs of Edinburgh with moody shots and I would write a few essays and answer a few questions,” said Rankin. “But it exploded from there. It turned out to not just be about Edinburgh, but about Scotland. And it gave me an excuse to sit down and re-read the novels in order. You know, once a book is finished, writers don’t re-read; we have to go on to the next one. But to sit there for a month and read 15, 16 books it was great.

“There was a lot I had forgotten about the books. I found myself really getting caught up in the suspense, wondering what was going to happen next. ‘Is Rebus going to die? How will he get out of this?’” American readers will soon see another side of the author. He’s the first non-American to be commissioned by The New York Times to write a serial novel for the newspaper’s Sunday magazine, joining authors Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Scott Turow and Michael Chabon.

“When they called, I said, ‘are you sure?’ It is such a buzz.” The serial, Rankin confirmed, won’t be a Rebus but it will be set in Scotland. “It will be a wild, wacky heist, a kind of Ocean’s 11 in Edinburgh, only with works of art. It’s been great fun to write. I am behind [on other work] but I couldn’t turn it down. I’ll struggle for the Times.”

Rankin has also ventured into television. In 2002, the BBC aired the three-part series Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts in which he explored the meaning of evil, guilt, responsibility and notions of free will with philosophers, theologians, historians, psychiatrists and scientists. In 2005, he had a 30-minute documentary on BBC4 called Rankin on the Staircase in which he investigated the relationship between real-life cases and crime fiction. He also recently finished another documentary about Scotland native Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

{youtube width="500"}b_oYT9mvChw{/youtube}

An excerpted interview with Anne Perry (Juliet Hulme) from the 2002 three-part BBC documentary series Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts, in which Ian Rankin explored the nature of evil.

And fans of the novels will be happy to learn that Rankin is presently at work on a documentary tracking Rebus’ career.

It seems inconceivable that Rankin once planned to spend his life tabulating assets as an accountant.

“It’s true. When I was 16 or 17, I decided I was going to be an accountant. I had an uncle who lived in England who was an accountant and he owned a house and a car. My parents never owned a house or a car. My background is real blue collar. My uncle had unimaginable wealth,” said Rankin who was born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960. His father was a grocery clerk and his mother worked in the school cafeteria and a factory canteen. Rankin was their youngest child with two half sisters who were much older. Rankin was the first in his family to attend university.

“Fortunately, I didn’t do well in economics, but I did extremely well in English,” said Rankin, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a major in literature. Following school came various jobs, including stints as a grape-picker, swineherd, taxman, alcohol researcher, music journalist, college secretary and punk musician with the wonderfully named The Dancing Pigs. “I didn’t do well at any of them,” he said, with a laugh.

Rankin might have considered other careers, but it seems that he was born to be a writer. As a teenager, he wrote a couple of still unpublished novels, including a “Lord of the Flies trapped in high school.” In addition to the 17 Rebus novels, Rankin has published four standalone novels and three novels under the name of Jack Harvey, a pseudonym combining his oldest son’s name and his wife Miranda’s surname. In creating Rebus, Rankin went back to his childhood interests. The detective’s given name John comes from one of his favorite characters—the African American detective John Shaft. The name Rebus, which means puzzle, comes from the Sunday newspaper puzzle, or rebus, for kids.

shaft_film_posterAs a child, he became a voracious reader because of the movies. He was too young to be allowed to see the film Shaft. So when he was about 11 or 12, he bought the record “which was so fantastic” that he went on to read the novel.

“That got me reading. It was like having illicit knowledge. I couldn’t go see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Godfather, but I could read the books. They were just wonderful. My parents gave me no censorship when it came to books.”

But mysteries weren’t quite on Rankin’s radar yet.

“I didn’t read Christie or Chandler. But I did watch a lot of cop shows on TV. I loved the film Where Eagles Dare [written by Alistair MacLean, another Scot]. And I read thrillers as a kid but I dismissed them and went to literature at university.

“Then when I started writing, I had forgotten how wonderful thrillers were. It’s so great to put down James Joyce and pick up crime fiction.” Before Rankin, Scotland didn’t have a tradition of crime fiction.

“What it does have is a tradition of dark, gothic thrillers. Or it has adventure novels such as John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. If you look at The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, there’s a lot of dark and gothic tones in it. Fortunately, there was an author named William McIlvanney who was writing literary novels, but he also wrote three detective novels. He made it OK for me to write crime fiction,” said Rankin. “For me, there is no difference between literature and crime fiction. It has the same quality. In the UK, critics often say crime fiction is too schematic and doesn’t allow for real life. That’s all rubbish. Crime fiction is changing and better and better books are being written. Crime fiction is having a huge explosion in Scotland because there is no tradition authors had to follow. In England, you had to write a certain way, following in the spectre of Agatha Christie. Not in Scotland. Here, you can write anything.”

Now Rankin is joined by such excellent contemporary Scottish writers such as Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Stuart McBride, to name just a few.

Fame has brought him attention, but Rankin seems unaffected.

“Special treatment? Not hardly,” he says with a laugh. “Scots pride themselves on being democratic. It’s like a little tribe. If you think differently, it can be awkward. That’s why many have left Scotland, because they are not understood. It’s like everyone is waiting for you to get self important and then you get knocked down. It can be scary to stand out from the crowd. When I was a kid writing poetry, I didn’t tell anyone. I had to be a chameleon to fit in. It wasn’t until a poem of mine was published in the paper that my parents found out about it. And then someone else had to tell them.”

Rankin and his wife, Miranda, who met at university, have two sons, Jack, 14, and Kit, 12, who has Angelman Syndrome, a rare brain disorder. Rankin has acted as a good-will ambassador for several advocacy groups. For the Special Needs Information Point, based at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, he gave 1,000 signed copies of a short story to auction for its funds. “I became active because of self interest—these organizations helped Kit when he was diagnosed so I wanted to give back.”

Rankin’s success has brought him a better address. As of four years ago, his neighbors now include Alexander McCall Smith, who lives two houses down. (“He’s always on tour in America, but I see him quite a lot.”). And J.K. Rowling lives “at the top of the road.”

“My wife and I were out today and ran into Jo. So we had coffee and a chin wag with her,” he said. “The day we moved in neighbors told me, ‘You know you’re not the only writer who lives here.’”

As Rebus’ 20th anniversary gears up, it’s also a bittersweet celebration. When he began the series, Rankin made the decision that Rebus would age with each book. That once 40-year-old detective is now nearing 60 and Rankin finds himself at a crossroads in this series. At 60, Rebus will be at the mandatory retirement age for a detective in Scotland. Rankin currently is writing the final novel before Rebus retires from the force.

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“I made him age in real time and I am not going to cheat and stop the clock now. But there are a lot of routes he can take. He can do consultant work. A lot of detectives who are retired come back to do cold cases.” One thing for sure, Rankin has said in several interviews that he will not kill Rebus. “Oh, definitely not going to kill him. No…. But, who knows? It’s happens to me a lot: I start with one way and then go another. I love that, the idea of leaving it to chance,” he said, with a laugh. “Right now I have the opening scene and am 100 pages into the draft and I have no idea where it’s going.”

Rebus’ retirement is not being taken lightly. One member of Scotland’s Parliament actually proposed changing the rule in real life so Rebus can keep working. “You can’t imagine the hate mail I’ve gotten from cops who don’t want that [rule] change,” said Rankin.

No matter what, he certainly doesn’t plan to be idle. In addition to his other projects, Rankin will be following his fellow Scot, Denise Mina, by writing six or seven comics about the cult character John Constantine, hero of the Hellblazer series.

And he will have left readers a rich legacy with his John Rebus novels.

“I think I am doing a fairly complete picture of an individual and of Scotland,” Rankin said. “If you look at the series as a whole, the jigsaw will be complete. It will cover racism, religion, politics, economics, all sorts of things. The novels will be a photograph of a Scot and how we got him."

Ian Rankin Reading List

Standalone Novels
The Complaints (2009)
Doors Open (2008)
Exit Music (2007)
Westwind (1990)
Watchman (1988)
The Flood (1986)

Inspector Rebus Novels
The Naming of the Dead (2006)
Fleshmarket Close (2004)
A Question of Blood (2003)
Resurrection Men (2002)
The Falls (2001)
Set in Darkness (2000)
Dead Souls (1999)
The Hanging Garden (1998)
Black and Blue (1997)
Let it Bleed (1995)
Mortal Causes (1994)
The Black Book (1993)
Strip Jack (1992)
Tooth and Nail (1992)
Hide and Seek (1991)
Knots and Crosses (1987)

Jack Harvey Novels
Blood Hunt (1995)
Bleeding Hearts (1994)
Witch Hunt (1993)

Other Titles
Dark Entries (2009), graphic novel
A Cool Head (2009), novella
The Complete Short Stories: "A Good Hanging," "Beggars Banquet," "Atonement" (2005)
Rebus's Scotland: A Personal Journey (2004), nonfiction

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring 2007 Issue #99

Teri Duerr
2011-02-25 19:51:47

rankin_ian_hp_cropIan Rankin discusses his work, and remembers John Rebus in this 2007 interview from Mystery Scene.

Winter, Issue #118 Contents
Mystery Scene

118cover_250

Features

Robert Crais: The Dudes Abide

With Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and a large cast of continuing characters, Crais has created a world—and a new way to tell us about it.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Jill Paton Walsh: As Wimsey Takes Her

Walsh continues the adventures of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, this time in a 1952 murder investigation that has its roots in Wimsey’s very first case 30 years before.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Deadline! Journalists in Crime Films

Like detectives, journalists are often involved in ferreting out the truth and exposing wrong-doers—sometimes with cataclysmic results, as in the Watergate scandal.
by Art Taylor

The Murders in Memory Lane: Evan Hunter, Part I

Over his 60-year career, Hunter (aka Ed McBain) turned out an extraordinary volume of work, and never lost his enthusiasm for it.
by Lawrence Block

Bawdy Bibliophiles

There’s only one thing these folks like more than books...
by Stephen J. Gertz

Steve Hockensmith: Holmes on the Range

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, cowboy brothers turned sleuths.
by Cheryl Solimini

Killer Covers

These book jackets do justice to the excellent stories they promote.
by J. Kingston Pierce

What’s Happening With... K.J. Erickson

by Brian Skupin

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2011 Edgar Award nominations, 2011 Dilys Award nominations, Lawrence Block on Reading Agatha Christie; CWA Diamond Dagger to Lindsey Davis.

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Eyewitness

The Best Damn Private Eye on TV? Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife.
Kevin Burton Smith

Writing Life: Gormania

Forgotten Book: Wild Night by L.J. Washburn, Margaret Millar, Vin Packer
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Deadly Research
by Beth Groundwater

Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway, Mystery Fans
by Craig McDonald

Moments of Weakness
by Simon Wood

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

Admin
2010-04-06 02:39:02

118cover_250

Features

Robert Crais: The Dudes Abide

With Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and a large cast of continuing characters, Crais has created a world—and a new way to tell us about it.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Jill Paton Walsh: As Wimsey Takes Her

Walsh continues the adventures of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, this time in a 1952 murder investigation that has its roots in Wimsey’s very first case 30 years before.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Deadline! Journalists in Crime Films

Like detectives, journalists are often involved in ferreting out the truth and exposing wrong-doers—sometimes with cataclysmic results, as in the Watergate scandal.
by Art Taylor

The Murders in Memory Lane: Evan Hunter, Part I

Over his 60-year career, Hunter (aka Ed McBain) turned out an extraordinary volume of work, and never lost his enthusiasm for it.
by Lawrence Block

Bawdy Bibliophiles

There’s only one thing these folks like more than books...
by Stephen J. Gertz

Steve Hockensmith: Holmes on the Range

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, cowboy brothers turned sleuths.
by Cheryl Solimini

Killer Covers

These book jackets do justice to the excellent stories they promote.
by J. Kingston Pierce

What’s Happening With... K.J. Erickson

by Brian Skupin

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2011 Edgar Award nominations, 2011 Dilys Award nominations, Lawrence Block on Reading Agatha Christie; CWA Diamond Dagger to Lindsey Davis.

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Eyewitness

The Best Damn Private Eye on TV? Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife.
Kevin Burton Smith

Writing Life: Gormania

Forgotten Book: Wild Night by L.J. Washburn, Margaret Millar, Vin Packer
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Deadly Research
by Beth Groundwater

Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway, Mystery Fans
by Craig McDonald

Moments of Weakness
by Simon Wood

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

The Attenbury Emeralds
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Usually when I see books “based on the characters of,” I get a bit nervous. Most of them are nowhere near as good as those of the original author. Jill Paton Walsh is an exception. I’m a big Dorothy L. Sayers fan (I even belonged to the DorothyL listserv for a number of years) and I really enjoyed reading this book.

Having read the entire Sayers canon, I felt like I was revisiting old friends, only no longer a few years after World War I, but instead a few years after World War II—1951 to be precise. At this point, Peter Wimsey and Harriet have three teenage sons and Peter’s manservant, Bunter has one. Although now well into middle age, the trio maintain the same close relationship as before, with the unflappable Bunter still handling all problems with aplomb, and the witty conversations still flowing freely.

As the story opens, Peter is telling Harriet about his first case in 1921 when, as a still shell-shocked veteran attending an engagement party weekend at the Earl of Attenbury’s estate, he helped solve the disappearance of the enormously valuable Attenbury emerald. Shortly after telling the story, the grandson of the Earl asks Peter to help with the provenance of the emerald, which is once again in question. As he investigates, the possible jewel heist becomes a murder investigation involving a number of people from the original party, Scotland Yard, and an Indian maharajah.

Although Sayers wasn’t nearly as prolific as one of my other early favorites, Agatha Christie, now thanks to Jill Paton Walsh, I can continue to enjoy Sayers' characters in new mystery adventures.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-04 13:24:12

walsh_attenburyemeraldsLord Peter Wimsey returns in the latest novel of a series based on the detective of Dorothy L. Sayers.

World’s Greatest Sleuth
Bob Smith

The appeal of Sherlock Holmes is eternal and writers never cease to cash in on his popularity by updating his stories or by including him as a character in their own books. None are more original in concept than the Holmes on the Range series featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers, Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red). The brothers’ relationship and personalities are similar to Holmes and Dr. Watson is some aspects, but where Sherlock roams the streets of London, the Amlingmeyer’s roam the American West; where Sherlock is educated, articulate, and cultured, Old Red is illiterate, tongue-tied, and salt of the earth.

Big Red, the younger, educated sibling, reads the Sherlock stories to his brother from magazines. Old Red, who believes Sherlock is a real person, aspires to be like him and uses Holmes’ logic to solve mysteries. Like Watson, Big Red chronicles the duos adventures and sells them to a publisher of popular ‘dime novels.’ When the publisher invites them to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to participate in a “World’s Greatest Sleuth” contest, they accept. The contest, organized by a man out to prove that most of the ‘real’ detectives are only fictional, pits our heroes against other Americans and Europeans. Initially the brothers are the joke of the competition, but when the organizer is found dead in a vat of cheese (you have to read the book to see how that came about), it is only Old Red who suspects murder and who sets out to catch the killer. This book, the fifth in this fun-packed series, offers the reader not only a great mystery, but also a tour of the “White City” that was the Chicago’s World Fair. Guaranteed sheer enjoyment from start to finish!

Teri Duerr
2011-03-04 13:46:29

hockensmith_worldsgreatestsleuth Cowboy 'tecs, the Amlingmeyer brothers, return for more fun, this time at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.