Olivia and the Missing Toy
Roberta Rogow

The police aren't summoned in Ian Falconer's Olivia and the Missing Toy (Simon & Schuster, $17.99). Olivia, that feisty little pig, is anxiously waiting for her mother to transform an ugly green soccer shirt into a much more attractive red one when her favorite doll disappears. Not one to stand by idly, Olivia takes matters into her own hands, questioning the most likely suspects and searching until she nails the culprit. The toy is found, the perpetrator is punished, and Olivia repairs the damage in her own inimitable way. Falconer's trademark charcoal and pencil drawings are splashed with patches of red and green, for a sophisticated, clean look. Young sleuths may be able to spot the toy-napper lurking in the corners of the pictures before Olivia does, but that's part of the fun of this picture book.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 22:33:42

The police aren't summoned in Ian Falconer's Olivia and the Missing Toy (Simon & Schuster, $17.99). Olivia, that feisty little pig, is anxiously waiting for her mother to transform an ugly green soccer shirt into a much more attractive red one when her favorite doll disappears. Not one to stand by idly, Olivia takes matters into her own hands, questioning the most likely suspects and searching until she nails the culprit. The toy is found, the perpetrator is punished, and Olivia repairs the damage in her own inimitable way. Falconer's trademark charcoal and pencil drawings are splashed with patches of red and green, for a sophisticated, clean look. Young sleuths may be able to spot the toy-napper lurking in the corners of the pictures before Olivia does, but that's part of the fun of this picture book.

Mystery
Roberta Rogow

Arthur Geisert has a little piggy solving her own Mystery at an art museum, where the unnamed piglet and her Grandma have gone to sketch on 'Copying Day.' Someone has been cutting bits out of the paintings, replacing them with crude drawings. All the evidence points to a pesky raccoon, but our little porker thinks he's being framed, and uses observation and deduction to unmask the real villains. Geisert's tinted drawings are full of visual jokes as well as the clues that lead to the final conclusion. This is definitely a book in which the pictures tell half the story.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 23:07:33

Arthur Geisert has a little piggy solving her own Mystery at an art museum, where the unnamed piglet and her Grandma have gone to sketch on 'Copying Day.' Someone has been cutting bits out of the paintings, replacing them with crude drawings. All the evidence points to a pesky raccoon, but our little porker thinks he's being framed, and uses observation and deduction to unmask the real villains. Geisert's tinted drawings are full of visual jokes as well as the clues that lead to the final conclusion. This is definitely a book in which the pictures tell half the story.

Dot and Jabber and the Mystery of the Missing Stream
Roberta Rogow

Ellen Stoll Walsh's mouse detectives are back on the case, in Dot and Jabber and the Mystery of the Missing Stream. This time they are faced with an ecological disaster: a storm has filled the stream with twigs and leaves, but the water has disappeared. Where did it go? Dot and Jabber follow the clues back to the sourcee literally! A note at the end of the book explains the building of dams and how they are used. Walsh's cut-paper collage illustrations evoke the forest floor, and her clever mice will surely be ready for more investigations.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 23:12:01

Ellen Stoll Walsh's mouse detectives are back on the case, in Dot and Jabber and the Mystery of the Missing Stream. This time they are faced with an ecological disaster: a storm has filled the stream with twigs and leaves, but the water has disappeared. Where did it go? Dot and Jabber follow the clues back to the sourcee literally! A note at the end of the book explains the building of dams and how they are used. Walsh's cut-paper collage illustrations evoke the forest floor, and her clever mice will surely be ready for more investigations.

Alphabet Mystery
Roberta Rogow

There's not too much mystery in Alphabet Mystery, by Audrey Wood, with illustrations by Bruce Wood. Little X is missing from the alphabet's nightly bed check, and the other letters must go out on their trusty pencils to find him. They run into some unusual obstacles, including the reluctant X himself, but on the final page the secret is out, and X realizes his true value. The true value of this slight offering is in Bruce Woods' digitally produced 3-D illustrations. The two-page spreads create a game of alphabetical hide-and-seek that will encourage young readers to find more letters and numbers throughout the book.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 23:15:12

There's not too much mystery in Alphabet Mystery, by Audrey Wood, with illustrations by Bruce Wood. Little X is missing from the alphabet's nightly bed check, and the other letters must go out on their trusty pencils to find him. They run into some unusual obstacles, including the reluctant X himself, but on the final page the secret is out, and X realizes his true value. The true value of this slight offering is in Bruce Woods' digitally produced 3-D illustrations. The two-page spreads create a game of alphabetical hide-and-seek that will encourage young readers to find more letters and numbers throughout the book.

The Great Art Scandal
Roberta Rogow

Anna Nilson has a combination of art appreciation and detective work that will appeal to older readers. The Great Art Scandal is part Where's Waldo, part Clue, in the format of a picture book for older readers. The basic premise is somewhat complex: four teams of artists have been assigned to take elements from various works of art and combine them into their own paintings. Unfortunately, some joker has gotten into the pack, and is deliberately forging paintings, which will, of course, ruin the work of the honest teams. The mission (should you decide to accept it) is to find what elements are being used, how they are being used, and by a process of elimination, find the joker. There is a key to the puzzle at the end of the book, with a list of the works of art, their origins, and their present locations. How many times this book can be used before the readers learn the key is problematical; however, the artworks are worthy of examination, and the puzzle concept may draw older readers back to the museum to see these paintings as they really are.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 23:29:23

Anna Nilson has a combination of art appreciation and detective work that will appeal to older readers. The Great Art Scandal is part Where's Waldo, part Clue, in the format of a picture book for older readers. The basic premise is somewhat complex: four teams of artists have been assigned to take elements from various works of art and combine them into their own paintings. Unfortunately, some joker has gotten into the pack, and is deliberately forging paintings, which will, of course, ruin the work of the honest teams. The mission (should you decide to accept it) is to find what elements are being used, how they are being used, and by a process of elimination, find the joker. There is a key to the puzzle at the end of the book, with a list of the works of art, their origins, and their present locations. How many times this book can be used before the readers learn the key is problematical; however, the artworks are worthy of examination, and the puzzle concept may draw older readers back to the museum to see these paintings as they really are.

Blue's Clues Series
Roberta Rogow

There are plenty of mass-market media-driven paperbacks out there for eager young readers. The most ubiquitous for the nursery set is Blue's Clues, based on the Nickelodeon series of the same name. Blue is a little dog who follows clues to a logical conclusion with the help of a human interpreter Her fans can find her in various formats, from board books with lift-the-flap interaction, to brief paperbacks in the standard sizes. Blue's Clues is an excellent place to start a child on the road to enjoyment of mystery fiction.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-04 23:33:29

There are plenty of mass-market media-driven paperbacks out there for eager young readers. The most ubiquitous for the nursery set is Blue's Clues, based on the Nickelodeon series of the same name. Blue is a little dog who follows clues to a logical conclusion with the help of a human interpreter Her fans can find her in various formats, from board books with lift-the-flap interaction, to brief paperbacks in the standard sizes. Blue's Clues is an excellent place to start a child on the road to enjoyment of mystery fiction.

Charlie Chan, the Chinese Parrot
Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 00:06:04
"If you've ever read a mystery story you know that a detective never works so hard as when he's on a vacation. He's like a postman who goes for a long walk on his day off."

—Charlie Chan, The Chinese Parrot by Earl Derr Biggers, 1926

Elmore Leonard Is Justified
Oline H. Cogdill

Justified, now on the FX channel, showcases Elmore Leonard in a way that no other TV show has.

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Justified is the story of Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood). With his Stetson and Kentucky drawl, it’s easy to dismiss Raylan. That would be wrong. He’s a complicated character who is a crack shot. Raylan has been reassigned to Kentucky, where he grew up, after a shooting incident in Miami. He expected the Marshal service to save him from his coal mining hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. Instead, Harlan is now his punishment.

We’re sure to hear more about Raylan’s past, especially when his career criminal father Arlo (Raymond Barry, Cold Case, Training Day) comes on board. Raylan also has an old friend and former coal miner who’s now a bank robber, a ex-wife and assorted other friends and relations from his old days.

Justified is based on Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole. While Justified has a strong western element—conjuring visions of Gunsmoke and the Wild West—it also works as a look at the angst of small towns, at policing a community where you know everyone and coming to terms with who you are. The plots are also darned involving and the acting first-class. As someone who grew up near Paducah, Kentucky., the accents are dead-on. Justified does justice to Elmore Leonard. I, for one, am hoping for a long run with Raylan and crew.

Justified airs at 10 p.m. EST Tuesdays on the FX Channel. Or watch premiere episode and clips online at fxnetworks.com .

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 00:15:46

Justified, now on the FX channel, showcases Elmore Leonard in a way that no other TV show has.

justified_1024x768_03

Visions of Sugar Plums: an Interview With Janet Evanovich
Art Taylor

evanovich_janet2010

In honor of Janet Evanovich's Sizzling Sixteen out this month, Mystery Scene is re-releasing this gem of an interview with the author of the beloved Stephanie Plum series. (Originally published in sold out Mystery Scene Issue #77.)

When Janet Evanovich sold her first book, the 1987 romance novel Hero at Large, to the now-defunct Second Chance at Love line for $2000, she quit her secretarial job and devoted herself full-time to writing.

Today, Evanovich is not merely one of the best-loved mystery writers in the country, but she’s an industry unto herself, with recent books in her Stephanie Plum series debuting at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, book signings drawing between 300 and 3,000 people, a twice-yearly newsletter with a free subscription base of 70,000 fans, a website (www.evanovich.com) that boasts three millions hits per month and a small line of self-produced T-shirts, key tags, and mugs. She’s even incorporated—Evanovich, Inc.—with husband Pete managing the business, son Peter handling the finances and daughter Alex running the website, all of them working full-time.

And 1987’s Hero At Large? Even with creases, a tear and a cocked spine, a copy of the slim paperback (published under the name Steffie Hall) lists for no less than $35 on the Internet—yet another testament to the public’s steadfast interest in all things Evanovich.

This season, Evanovich takes her writing and the business behind it to yet another level, upping her output to two books per year with the novella-sized seasonal title Visions of Sugar Plums. The holiday fable starts with everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Stephanie Plum visited by a tall, blond, athletic stranger named Diesel who possesses supernatural powers and may be anything from a space alien to the “friggin’ Spirit of Christmas;” the story continues with the two of them trying to track down Sandy Claws, a skip wanted on a burglary rap, and with Stephanie trying in vain to track down a Christmas tree; and the book ends with… well, with yet another success added to Evanovich’s enviable résumé.

Mystery Scene: Mary Higgins Clark has written several seasonal books and John Grisham published Skipping Christmas last year. What prompted you to add a holiday title to the Stephanie Plum series?

Evanovich: First of all, I wanted to do two books a year. My fans had been telling me “You don’t write fast enough” and I knew that I didn’t have time to do two full books a year, so I knew what I really wanted to do was 1 1/2 books. Because my books come out in June, the logical timing to do the second book would be November-December, so it just made sense that it would be a holiday book. Plus I had this idea for a new character that I wanted to bring into this series—Diesel.

plum_rangerAbout Diesel…The Stephanie Plum series occasionally has otherworldly elements—the character of Ranger is certainly out of the ordinary—but the new book steps more explicitly into the fantastic, the fabulous, perhaps even the world of the comic book with Diesel and with Sandy Claws and his elves and with a villain who siphons electricity to blast at the good guys. What sent your writing in this direction? And how do you think readers will react?

The Plum series has always been about heroes, but very special kinds of heroes. These are people like you and me, and just like you and me, sometimes things happen where you just have to put yourself on the line and do the right thing—do something that is maybe a little heroic. In Hard Eight, Stephanie’s sister—who is not a heroic character by any means—has to step in and save Stephanie and do something that she would never have thought that she had the nerve to do. So these are the heroes that interest me—ordinary people who are heroic in their own small ways. I wanted to do a book that had more of this heroic theme to it, but maybe about a guy who, if you met him on the street, looked like you and me but who actually had certain heroic attributes. I think that the reader is really going to like Diesel, because even though he kind of moves into the superhero, fantastic area, he still is somebody that you know. And he’s a sexy guy, a funny guy, and the book is filled with action—all of the same elements that the Plum novels are filled with. I think that the real measure of this is that my daughter started reading the book and said she was sort of put off that I had brought a mystical character into the world of Plum. But by the time she finished, she had bought into the character. And that’s what writing fiction is about: being able to suspend the reader’s disbelief in a way that works.

And if Diesel becomes a regular character, Stephanie’s soon going to have a lot more men to juggle in her life.

Yeah, [laughs] I like complicating Stephanie’s life.

You talk about heroes. Now, more than a year later, we’re all still clearly affected by the events of September 11, 2001. In Hard Eight, you have a character talking about anthrax, but that’s the only small reference to the terrorist attacks, despite Jersey being among the areas most affected by those events. Meanwhile, a fellow Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen, is dealing explicitly with 9/11 in his recent work.

To a large extent, my humor comes from social commentary. And everybody knows that New Jersey, besides competing with L.A. to be the smog capital of the world, is also famous for taking part in the anthrax business. So that was just one of the Jersey things that I threw in as part of the mix. But I made a very conscious decision not to reference 9/11 or terrorists or any of that tragedy because I feel like my job as a novelist is to address positive issues. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make people think, but my mission in life is that when someone reads my book they feel better about themselves and about the world around them. Rather than dwell on the cathartic side of things and feel the need to purge yourself of all the atrocities and the sadnesses, I allow people to laugh, and I create characters that are positive and that people love, and while people read the book, they’re smiling. Maybe they’re nice to their dogs and their kids and their husbands and their wives while they’re reading the book, and maybe they like themselves a little bit better. So that’s my mission statement, and to bring something like 9/11 into it…that’s someone else’s job, it’s not my job.


plum_stephanieIn a Q&A section of your website, you advise first-time authors to “Write for the reader.” And you are very clear about the relationship you want to cultivate between yourself and your reader. You started out as a romance writer. How did those early experiences impact your approach to your readers, to your writing and to your career?

It was a very large influence. Starting in romance gave me a fantastic opportunity to find my voice as a writer. I was writing a lot of books very quickly, and it gave me the opportunity to decide what I liked and what I didn’t like. I realized that I like the positive characters. I loved writing with humor. I found out I did not like writing all the internal narrative that went in a romance—the business about the heroine thinking about her life and her love. And I didn’t like writing the very specific sex scene. What I liked was the adventure of the sexual tension—the chase, the hunt. About two-thirds of the way through that career, I realized that I probably was in the wrong genre, because I wanted more action. The crime element helped move my story forward, so I decided that I would move over into the crime genre, take with me the things that I loved to do and leave the others behind.

Your “Perpetrator Case File” from St. Martin’s Press says you’re wanted for “offenses against literary convention” and for “breaking every rule in the publishing industry.” What are those offenses? How is your career different from that of other writers?

I can’t imagine what they meant by that! (laughs) I think that’s probably stretching it a little, but I like it. Some of it may have to with things other than writing. I think of myself as a full-service entertainer. I try to be a good writer. I try to have good skills. I have causes that I love and I have things that I want to communicate to the reader. But my primary purpose is to entertain, and I’m not sure that that’s true of all writers. When I was in college, I was an art major—a painter—and what we learned was that you paint for yourself. And if someone comes to that painting and takes something away, that’s wonderful, but that’s not really your purpose; your purpose is to serve some higher calling within yourself. When I first started writing, I was writing these very esoteric, unique, quasi-literary sort-of things, and I wasn’t having any success with it, wasn’t even really enjoying it, and I realized after several years of not being published that that wasn’t who I was. My kick came from the audience, from communication, and that really changed the way that I wrote dramatically. I started looking at my audience and loving and respecting my audience and thinking what is it that they need from me that no one else can give them. I started looking for a product that the reader would really enjoy. And I think that that possibly sets me apart from some other writers and from publishing philosophy as well. Also, I spend an enormous amount of my own money on promotion and just on enjoying being a writer. On the web site we have a store where we sell mugs and t-shirts and we don’t make any money on it, it’s all non-profit, but we thought it would be fun. So I think that I do a lot of things like that that not everyone does.

You earn high praise for your writing, your plotting. But you’re clearly a savvy marketer as well. What role does marketing yourself play in your success?

Marketing is critical. And I think it’s very important that you become a business person as well as an author. As I said before, my kick is the audience, and the bigger the audience, the more fun it is for me. If what’s really important to you are the numbers and the readers, then you have to start paying attention to how you reach those people. You can’t just sit back and expect that your publisher is going to do the whole job today, because publishers have tons of authors that they’re trying to promote, and your number comes up once a year. The publicity departments are overworked and publishing has a certain budget for marketing and so I think that everybody has to be very smart about how they use all of these resources. It’s necessary to be just as creative about your advertising and your marketing and the way you sell yourself as you are creative about the book that you put out.

plum_morelliAnd that’s why you and your daughter host the monthly games on the website, provide the chance for people to ask you questions on email? Why you have your mailing address printed right inside the dustjacket of your books?

I didn’t want to be an author in an ivory tower. Maybe it’s the mother in me, but I think of my readers as an extended family, and it seems a shame to drop a book in their laps once a year and then go away. And so we decided that year-round we wanted to be accessible, we wanted to entertain, and so we play games and have contests. We try to think of fun things to do on book tour, because if somebody is going to be driving for four or five hours to come see me, we should have something interesting for them to see. For a couple of cities, we brought in a live band, and this year in New York, I dragged a friend of mine, Lance Storm the wrestler, onstage with me to take his shirt off and read Joe Morelli, and because you can’t have a WWE wrestler without a slut, my daughter volunteered to be the slut of the night. She came out in her little spandex skirt with her bleached blonde hair, and we all had fun. This is what happens when you get a certain amount of success as an author. You have opportunities that you never had before, more money available to you, a little more influence on things. And you get a sense that you’re standing in a bakery and you can eat anything you want. There’s just nothing that you can’t take a shot at, so do something different, have some fun. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, you don’t do it next year. But give something back to the fans and enjoy it for yourself too.

What’s your advice for an aspiring writer who doesn’t have the keys to the bakery? How should they approach their craft and approach the issues of marketing?

First of all, if this is important to you and you love it, you don’t give up. I wrote four books that never got published. It took me 10 years to get published from the time I got started seriously trying to write. If you’re not successful at first, you just need to stick with it. Do a lot of reading and start making lists. What do I love about these books? What do I hate about these books? What am I going to incorporate into my own book? Look at style, at how people build books—because that’s what pacing is about: a chunk of narrative, a chunk of action, a chunk of dialogue—and at how you vary all these elements so that the reader turns the pages. Become the very best craftsman that you can. Think about the reader and respect that reader and write a story for them.

And as far as learning the business part? Finding an agent, an editor, a publisher?

I think that organizations are very helpful. Romance Writers of America, whether you want to write a romance or not, is a very nurturing organization for establishing peers, for learning skills, for getting market information. Sisters in Crime is another great organization. And I think you need to read Publishers Weekly every week to see what’s going on. You want to look at the bestseller lists and see what people are reading and enjoying, and see if you can stay in front of the curve. A lot of writers would disagree with me on this because a lot of writers write the book that’s in their heart and that needs to be written, and I think that’s fantastic. But I’m a very commercial writer and I made part of my success just because of timing. I came in on top of the wave. Women were flooding onto the crime scene, and they offered readers something different: the female protagonist who was not part of a cozy. She was a hardboiled female protagonist, she was her own person, and readers really responded to that. I came on right at that time, right behind the crest of the wave—Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky—and I rode that in. And I think that’s important when you’re starting out to understand where the market is going and see if you can look to the future, see if you’re riding a wave—if a wave exists.

plum_bobRiding the wave, watching the trends…. Perhaps you don’t want to write just for yourself, closing yourself off from your audience, but isn’t there a balance between that extreme and simply responding to what the market demands?

I think that there is a difference between writing for the reader and writing what the market demands. Writing what the market demands is like what they do on television: one cowboy show works so the next season you have 45 cowboy shows. That’s not exactly what I meant. What I meant is that you look at who your audience is and try to figure out what these people need and want from you. At night when they’re tired, they come home from work, they’re overworked, they’ve got the kids in bed and they only have 45 minutes, and what is it that they want from you? What is it that you, as a unique person, can bring to them? And it has to be part of you. The Plum series is me. I know Stephanie inside and out. I am not Stephanie, but this comes from my own childhood. These are people that I know, that I lived with. This is a place that I know—Trenton is a character for me. As a writer, you put an enormous amount of yourself and your experience and your background into this and you do write for yourself to a large extent. But you don’t ignore that person who’s going to be buying that book. You never want to write what the market demands. You just want to look and see what the reader would enjoy. I think that it’s easy to confuse the two.

I’m sure that a frequent question at your readings concerns which writers had an influence on you. As a twist on that, which writers have you had a positive influence on?

I don’t know a lot of writers that I’ve influenced, although I suspect that I have. I think there are probably writers who put a lot more humor into their books because I broke that ground, but I don’t know who they are. But I do know from my fan mail that I’ve influenced a lot of readers to be brave, and to be nice and to smile. I get letters from ladies who have gone through chemo and have taken my books in with them because they knew they would need something to make them laugh and make them feel good. And I get a lot of letters from seniors who say, “I’ve lost a partner” or “I’m a shut-in and your books made me smile.” And I get letters from people who say if Stephanie could get through the day, then even with all of my shortcomings, surely I could do that too. That’s the influence that I know about, and I think it’s real. I don’t try to delude myself that I could change the world or that I could even change one person. But I do think that I have influenced people in small ways… 10 minutes at a time.

And 10 minutes can really go a long way.

I’m happy with 10 minutes. I think that’s a good thing to do.

Illustrations of Ranger, Stephanie Plum, Joe Morelli, and Bob the dog courtesy of www.evanovich.com.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 14:57:09

evanovich_janet2010In honor of Janet Evanovich's Sizzling Sixteen out this month, Mystery Scene is re-releasing this gem of an interview with the author of the beloved Stephanie Plum series. (Originally published in sold out Mystery Scene Issue #77.)

Tv Mysteries Are Hipper Than You Think
Lee Goldberg

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I had a meeting at the network the other day to pitch series ideas. The first thing the network exec said to me was that they weren't interested in any mysteries. Those kinds of shows, he said, were stodgy and dated and their network was far too hip and edgy for that sort of thing. I found this surprising, considering his network has more than half-a-dozen mystery series on the air.

The network exec doesn't realize the shows he loves so much, that define his network as hip and edgy (the networks’ two favorite words) are mysteries. He doesn't realize it in much the same way that the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review doesn't notice that, on any given week, eight out of the ten local and national bestsellers are mysteries. He, too, believes his audience isn’t interested in mysteries. But we aren’t talking about books here, so…back to TV.

We are, in fact, in the midst of a new golden age of mysteries on television. There are more mysteries, and more great mysteries, on the air than ever before. But you’d never know it talking to network executives. The biggest mystery to me is why they don’t realize it. When these execs talk about mystery series, they’re thinking of shows like Murder, She Wrote, Columbo, Matlock, Cannon, The Rockford Files and Diagnosis Murder. Those series were relentlessly old-fashioned, featured veteran stars and drew older audiences. In an era where networks covet viewers who are between the ages of 18-35, those kinds of shows are poison. But when these same execs look at the three Law & Order shows, the two CSI series, and Crossing Jordan, John Doe, NYPD Blue, Robbery Homicide Division, and too many others to name, they don’t see mysteries. They see cutting edge, envelope-pushing, edgy shows that tell stories in a bold new way.

They’re either being fooled or they are fooling themselves.

The new wave of TV mysteries are sticking as closely to the tried-and-true formulas (the closed mystery, the open mystery, the whodunit, the procedural, the cozy), as any episode of Inspector Morse, Hart to Hart, or Banacek. But they hide their genre trappings behind the slicked-up cinematography, music-video editing, and loud score of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

In fact, Bruckheimer is the executive producer of the hottest show on television, CSI (and its clone CSI Miami). Yet, despite all it's cool forensics, quick-cutting, and moody lighting, narratively-speaking, the show is about as revolutionary as Quincy. It's a straight-ahead whodunit and a police procedural, and a damn good one at that.

When Law & Order: Criminal Intent premiered last season, NBC excitedly hyped its ground-breaking new approach. On this edgy new series, we’d see the crime unfold from the criminal’s point of view, and then we’d follow the cops as they tried to solve the mystery. Apparently, nobody at NBC ever watched Hawaii 5-0 or Streets of San Francisco.

The surprise hit of this past summer wasn't another new reality show, it was USA Network’s series Monk, about a clever detective racked with phobias who solves crimes with the help of a plucky assistant. It’s such a hip and unusual series, that ABC made TV history by airing the cable reruns on its primetime schedule. As fun and charming as the series is, it’s essentially a new take on Nero Wolfe.

Why don’t network execs realize these shows are mysteries?

Because their knowledge of television history doesn’t go back much further than Nash Bridges. Because they don’t really understand or appreciate mysteries. And because if they admit these shows are, at their heart, really no different than a hundred old series, they can’t convince themselves they’re buying and developing hip and edgy stuff. It’s not the concepts that set these shows apart from Murder She Wrote, Barnaby Jones and Hawaii 5-0. The big difference is the stellar writing and producing. We’re seeing riskier story-telling, more compelling themes, and more realistic characters. And while the stories follow the familiar formulas of the mystery genre, they are presented in fresh and original new ways. So to the network executives, these aren’t mysteries. They are simply great television shows. Maybe that’s why they are putting so many of them on the air now.

You know, come to think of it, let’s not tell them they’re mysteries…

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 15:36:42

monk_cast From plucky Monk to hi-tech CSI, mystery is more than just Matlock and Murder, She Wrote.

America's Most Wanted: My Life on True Crime Tv
Adam Meyer

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Cold pizza, John Walsh, and bad guys: An insider's glimpse behind the scenes of America's longest-running true crime show.

The bright lights overhead were on at full blast. The huge insignia I’d seen on TV hung on the wall behind me. Three television cameras were positioned at various angles throughout the cavernous studio. I stood in the middle of the soundstage, holding a telephone to my ear, pretending to be one of the hotline operators on America’s Most Wanted.

It was my first week as an intern for Manhunter, an international spinoff of America's Most Wanted, and I'd been invited down to the set to participate in the production of a promotional video for Fox. Since this would never air, staff members were being used as extras. I was thrilled. After spending the last year in graduate school classrooms discussing postmodern theory in the sitcom, I was on a real TV set. And this wasn't just any set—it was the home of the legendary America's Most Wanted, hosted by crimefighter John Walsh. Walsh is a tireless advocate for victim’s rights whose activist career began in tragedy. In the summer of 1981, John and Reve Walsh's six-year-old son, Adam, was abducted and later found murdered.

The Walshes turned their grief into advocacy for missing and exploited children—and in 1988, John turned from helping to pass legislation for missing kids to literally helping to find them, with Fox's America's Most Wanted.

From the start, the show worked with local and national law enforcement to serve up information about violent criminals—in the process, turning the American public into a giant crimefighting task force. This was serious business, and John Walsh was obviously a serious guy.

When he came out onto the set that first day, I was uneasy. In addition to our shared name, I was about the age that Adam would have been had he lived. Would our meeting cause him pain? He looked around, nodded at the people he knew and shook hands with some of them. He even smiled. I had spent the last week watching countless episodes of his show, and while he had displayed many expressions—angry, vengeful, and even sympathetic—cheerful hadn’t seemed to be in his repertoire. Then he made his way to me. “We haven’t met,” he said, putting out his hand.

I tried to speak, but my voice was about as accessible as a maximum security prison.

“This is Adam,” someone said on my behalf. “He’s one of the new interns.” “Welcome aboard,” he said, and there it was—twice in ten minutes—a smile. Then he turned to someone behind the camera. “Now are we ready to do this shot or what?”

That was the beginning of my career at America’s Most Wanted, the only major TV program produced in Washington, DC where the staff doesn’t care who’s in the White House. Within a matter of months, I graduated from being an intern to a production assistant to a writer. I was thrilled. But although my job was technically to write, I spent a lot of time taking notes on what other people wanted me to write. My work week began every Monday morning with the show meeting. About ten producers gathered in the conference room with copies of the rundown for the episode that would tape that Friday. As we looked at the rundown, someone passed out donuts. The amount of looking generally corresponded to how many donuts there were.

Finally someone said, “We started last week’s show with a cannibal who ate his own mother, it’s going to feel repetitive if we open this week with John Bruce Dahmer.”

Every fugitive was called by his full name. Mention Ted Bundy around the office and you’d get a blank stare, but talk about “Theodore Robert Bundy” and you could have a file the size of a phone book within seconds.

“But,” another producer chimed in, “it’s our best story. And last week’s cannibal ate his sister, not his mother. This is completely different.”

After about a half hour of hashing that around, we moved onto acts two and three. Now we were rolling. But by the time we got to act four, there was a problem.

“We’ve got too many Latinos at the front of the show. Maybe we could space them out?”

So we swapped out the Asian bank robber in act five for one of the Latino ax murderers in act two, but then the executive producer wondered if we should move in the Caucasian child molester from next week’s show. When this process was complete, the show was “locked,” which meant it was about as solid as a sand castle in high tide.

americasmostwanted_jonwalshThen I went off to write the witty introductions that John Walsh tossed off at the beginning and end of each individual segment. I soon discovered that the process was like mad libs, with a typical introduction running along the lines of: “[name of crime] is a terrible tragedy. But even more terrible is the grief that has to be faced by [name of victim].” The tags were usually even simpler: “I need your help to catch this [name of reptile]. So please, if you’ve seen him, call our hotline at 1-800-CRIME-TV.”

After that I spent a couple of days writing and then I gave my script to the supervising producer, who offered a few helpful suggestions. Then we had a meeting with the co-executive producer, who hated everything I really liked and liked everything I really hated and sent me off with a batch of new ideas.

On Wednesday, we sat down for our first table reading. This involved the same ten producers who had been there at the show meeting on Monday, only this time there were no donuts and that seemed to dampen the mood. We started reading the script aloud, until someone said, “Should it be ‘I hope someone brings this snake to justice’ or ‘I want to bring this snake to justice?’”

“The second one’s more active,” the executive producer said. “I like it when John’s active.” Another producer disagreed. “It sounds too aggressive, it makes him sound like a vigilante.” We went back and forth on that for a while, and as usual the producer with a longer title won. But it was only the beginning of much haggling over each individual line. The script was changed and changed and changed again, until finally it was Friday: taping day. My job was to sit in the control room just off the set, which had more TV monitors than NASA. There was also a full crew of people to watch those monitors: a director, a technical director, an assistant director, and a director’s assistant. While the various directors directed, I listened as we taped the show to make sure that John read every word in the script exactly as it had been written.

There was always a lot of waiting, until I heard someone radio from the set, “John’s ready,” and then the flurry of activity began.

“Get me X up on the screen.”

“X is up.”

“We’re rolling on X.”

“Rolling on X.”

“And action.”

And there went John Walsh, mouthing the words we had agonized over all week. The show introduction went flawlessly, but we did it four more times just to be sure. Then there was some trouble doing the tag on the first segment. The first time he did it, the camera was out of focus. The second, he stumbled over a word. Take three, and there was a technical glitch. Then, finally, he was going great until I heard“...and I want to bring this lowlife to justice.”

“It’s perfect,” the director said. “On to the next setup.”

But my heart was pounding. Lowlife, I thought. He said lowlife. The script read “snake.” We’d argued about that line for six and a half hours, and John had negated all that effort with one wrong word. I could just let it go, but there was the chance that my boss would see the show on Saturday night and scream, “That’s not what was in the script!” So I had to alert all the directors in this room and all the people on the set that John Walsh had made a mistake, and he would have to do it over again, all because of me.

“Um,” I said, clearing my throat.

The director’s head spun around like the little girl’s in The Exorcist. “Yes?”

“John strayed a little teeny bit from the c-c-copy,” I stammered.

“He should’ve said snake.”

“He didn’t say snake?”

“He said lowlife.”

“Snake. Is that what it says in the teleprompter?” the director asked.

The teleprompter girl quickly scanned her copy. My heart was going faster than an escaped con over a prison wall. “Yes,” she said.

The director nodded. “Okay, let’s go again.”

On about 15 screens, I saw John glaring the way he did when we had a story about a child killer, and through the microphone, I heard him mutter, “Snake, lowlife, what the heck’s the difference?”

I was with John on that one. But if he’d been in the show meeting, maybe he would’ve understood.

Most weeks were a lot like that. I went to meetings, I wrote, I monitored John Walsh’s lines. Then, finally, after weeks of writing “If you’ve seen this lizard, call our hotline at 1-800-CRIME-TV,” I had a chance to work the hotline itself, taking calls from real tipsters around the country.

On TV, what you see is a lot of good-looking people in suits in the background behind John fielding calls, but those are the actors. The real work is done in the conference room 24 hours after the taping, when the show airs, by a lot of normal-looking people in sweat pants eating cold pizza.

There was a TV at the end of the conference room and a phone at each chair. I looked at mine, daring it to ring, and sure enough when the first segment—about a Vietnamese mobster—faded to commercial, the ringing began. Heart in my mouth, I picked it up. “America’s Most Wanted,” I said.

“Yeah, I can’t figure out what to do after I click on start.”

“Excuse me?”

“Is this tech support?”

“It’s America’s Most Wanted,” I said.

“Oh, sorry. Wrong number.”

I’d barely hung up the phone when it rang again.

“I’ve seen him,” the woman said before I could even say hello. “That Asian guy.”

“Really?” I grabbed a pencil and a tip sheet and asked, “Where?”

“He was my waiter. At this Chinese restaurant.”

I scribbled furiously, sure that we were only moments from catching this vicious killer. But when I handed the tip sheet over to the detective handling the case, he raised an eyebrow at me.

“Another restaurant, huh?” he said.

Over the next two hours I received more tips on John Pho, all of which claimed he was a waiter at Chinese and Thai restaurants ranging from Billings, Montana to Miami, Florida. A few other people thought they had seen him in Wal-Mart and one was sure he was her next door neighbor.

We never caught the Vietnamese gangster, but we did make plenty of other captures. Whenever the news came into the office, word would spread from desk to desk like a tidal wave. As soon as the chatter reached my boss, he would march into the conference room and write the fugitive’s name on the wall in magic marker. Everyone would gather around, watching in awe, and feel a sense of pride at a job well done. Sometimes I wondered what would happen when it was time to repaint the conference room, but I never asked.

Finally, after two years at America’s Most Wanted, I wanted to test my skills as a television writer by moving to Los Angeles. But it was a bittersweet departure.

When the taping was over that Friday, I saw John Walsh standing outside his dressing room. “I heard you’re leaving us, Adam,” he said, and I admitted that I was. “Watch out for yourself in L.A. It’s a dangerous place.” I didn’t know if he wanted me to be careful of the assorted snakes, lizards, and other reptiles who slithered along the mean streets of the city, or of the people I’d meet in the television industry. I looked at him, hoping he would elaborate, but he just smiled.

Adam Meyer is a television writer, screenwriter, novelist, teacher, and against his better judgement, commercial actor.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 16:00:10

americasmostwanted_logoCold pizza, John Walsh, and bad guys: An insider's glimpse behind the scenes of America's longest-running true crime show.

The Big Dig
Dick Lochte and Tom Nolan

In The Big Dig, Carlotta Carlyle, red-tressed, six-foot-one former cop, parks and locks her cab to take an undercover job as a secretary in a construction company involved in the aforementioned Big Dig—the never-ending project to construct a tunnel through downtown Boston. The Dig, considered the largest urban development in history, has already passed the 14 billion dollar limit. Carlotta is supposed to suss out evidence of fraud within her company. At the same time, she takes on a moonlighting missing persons case. Barnes is one of the better PI practitioners and, true to the breed, concocts a tale in which both investigations connect. A tidy, smartly wrapped package, well-narrated by actress Bernadette Quigley.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 16:47:14

In The Big Dig, Carlotta Carlyle, red-tressed, six-foot-one former cop, parks and locks her cab to take an undercover job as a secretary in a construction company involved in the aforementioned Big Dig—the never-ending project to construct a tunnel through downtown Boston. The Dig, considered the largest urban development in history, has already passed the 14 billion dollar limit. Carlotta is supposed to suss out evidence of fraud within her company. At the same time, she takes on a moonlighting missing persons case. Barnes is one of the better PI practitioners and, true to the breed, concocts a tale in which both investigations connect. A tidy, smartly wrapped package, well-narrated by actress Bernadette Quigley.

Doors Open
Barbara Fister

Three law-abiding citizens decide almost as a lark to steal valuable paintings from the storage rooms of Scotland’s National Gallery during an annual “Doors Open Day” when the public is invited inside a variety of cultural and social institutions. Mike Mackenzie, software millionaire, does it because he’s bored. His friend Allan Cruickshank does it because he’s dissatisfied with his tame life as a banker. And art professor Robert Gissing is morally outraged that thousands of works of art are hidden away in private hands and in museum storehouses. They are all game, but pulling off the heist requires some know-how they don’t have. Gissing ropes in a clever art student whose portfolio consists of uncannily accurate copies of the masters with signature anachronisms. Mackenzie calls in an old school chum, Chib Calloway, to help with the heavy end of the armed robbery. Unfortunately, Calloway, who runs a number of criminal enterprises in Edinburgh, is behind on payments to a European biker gang and decides to thicken the plot with predictably nail-biting results. Written originally as a serial for The New York Times Magazine, Rankin has developed this trim story into an entertaining character study. Though this diversion doesn’t have the gritty urban density of the author‘s John Rebus books, Rankin has a seemingly effortless ability to tell a good and suspenseful yarn.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 17:32:41

Three law-abiding citizens decide almost as a lark to steal valuable paintings from the storage rooms of Scotland’s National Gallery during an annual “Doors Open Day” when the public is invited inside a variety of cultural and social institutions. Mike Mackenzie, software millionaire, does it because he’s bored. His friend Allan Cruickshank does it because he’s dissatisfied with his tame life as a banker. And art professor Robert Gissing is morally outraged that thousands of works of art are hidden away in private hands and in museum storehouses. They are all game, but pulling off the heist requires some know-how they don’t have. Gissing ropes in a clever art student whose portfolio consists of uncannily accurate copies of the masters with signature anachronisms. Mackenzie calls in an old school chum, Chib Calloway, to help with the heavy end of the armed robbery. Unfortunately, Calloway, who runs a number of criminal enterprises in Edinburgh, is behind on payments to a European biker gang and decides to thicken the plot with predictably nail-biting results. Written originally as a serial for The New York Times Magazine, Rankin has developed this trim story into an entertaining character study. Though this diversion doesn’t have the gritty urban density of the author‘s John Rebus books, Rankin has a seemingly effortless ability to tell a good and suspenseful yarn.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
Sue Emmons

Red-haired Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old, pigtailed, chemistry whiz with a penchant for science. In this charming mystery set in 1950, her sleuthing skills both amaze and amuse. Flavia has her very own laboratory on the top floor of the east wing of Buckshaw, her family's unusual 300-year-old manor, where she brews formulas (poisons are a particular favorite) and plots revenge on her two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia. Other zany relatives include her stamp-collecting, if somewhat remote and bemused, father and a cast of family retainers.

In The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, her second outing, Flavia again matches wits with local Inspector Hewitt, this time to solve the death of famous puppeteer, Rupert Porson. The puppetmaster ends, literally, with a bang when he is electrocuted at the conclusion a charity show featuring his imaginative puppets. The puppeteer's unlikely demise connects to a long ago death in the village and puts Flavia at the forefront of the story as she befriends Porson's coworkers and mingles with villagers to unravel the method and motive behind the murder. In this mystery, subtle humor abounds—the kind that kids who know they're really smarter than adults thrive on. It's Harry Potter territory without wizards and with more erudite writing. Canadian author Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association for his first mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which also featured the derring-do of Flavia. If Bradley's characters don't make it to the big screen, someone out there is reading the wrong stuff.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 18:15:59

The imaginative sophmore effort from Debut Dagger Award-winner Alan Bradley doesn't dissapoint.

Wicked Craving
Sue Emmons

Zaftig PI Savannah Reid and her former police partner, Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter, are challenged by an intriguing murder case centered among rich and famous Californians. Although it stretches credibility a bit to believe that Coulter would allow a civilian (even his former police and donut-munching partner) to become involved in a murder investigation, Coulter takes Savannah along when the body of Maria Wellman, wife of a snarky but very wealthy diet doctor, is found dead on the beach below the palatial home the couple shared on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean.

Maria's death spurs a close look at the checkered past of her husband, a high-profile doctor made rich from pitching diet aid CDs on television. His entourage of former friends, lovers, and enemies also come under scrutiny offering ample opportunity for McKevett to introduce true-to-life and frequently funny characters: an enraged mother whose hapless daughter is pregnant with the doctor's child; a former brother-in-law who contends his ghost-busting equipment was stolen by the doctor; and Savannah's own quirky and beloved grandmother. A plethora of twists and turns produces multiple surprises, culminating in a second, more vicious murder. This is Reid's 15th outing in a series that continues to intrigue with its mix of mayhem and mischief.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 18:24:34

Zaftig PI Savannah Reid and her former police partner, Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter, are challenged by an intriguing murder case centered among rich and famous Californians. Although it stretches credibility a bit to believe that Coulter would allow a civilian (even his former police and donut-munching partner) to become involved in a murder investigation, Coulter takes Savannah along when the body of Maria Wellman, wife of a snarky but very wealthy diet doctor, is found dead on the beach below the palatial home the couple shared on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean.

Maria's death spurs a close look at the checkered past of her husband, a high-profile doctor made rich from pitching diet aid CDs on television. His entourage of former friends, lovers, and enemies also come under scrutiny offering ample opportunity for McKevett to introduce true-to-life and frequently funny characters: an enraged mother whose hapless daughter is pregnant with the doctor's child; a former brother-in-law who contends his ghost-busting equipment was stolen by the doctor; and Savannah's own quirky and beloved grandmother. A plethora of twists and turns produces multiple surprises, culminating in a second, more vicious murder. This is Reid's 15th outing in a series that continues to intrigue with its mix of mayhem and mischief.

Death Without Tenure
Dori Cocuz

When Professor Karen Pelletier's only competitor for a coveted tenure position, Professor Joseph Lone Wolf, is found dead, she should be happy she's now a shoo-in for the job. Instead, she's the police's number one suspect and being hounded by a detective with a grudge against Karen's boyfriend. Knowing the lead detective is focused on her, Karen's begins her own search for the killer while navigating the cutthroat world of academia, where political correctness may have finally gone too far and played a hand in the professor's death.

Death Without Tenure, author Joanne Dobson's sixth Karen Pelletier mystery, is a deliciously ironic peek into the minefield that is modern day in academia. Karen has been pushing the boundaries of what's accepted as literature for years, but suddenly sees her chances at tenure slipping away because the chair of the English department may be too politically correct .

Fit the murder of a Native American professor into the mix, and the result is a well-paced mystery that exposes much of the hypocrisy and inadequacies of life behind the academic curtain. Death Without Tenure may not be for all readers, some familiarity with academic language and ethnic studies goes a long way in translating some of the dialogue and in-jokes. And while making the main character the prime suspect is a bit clichéd, the unraveling mystery of who Professor Joe Lone Wolf is, or was, more than makes up for it.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 18:28:15

When Professor Karen Pelletier's only competitor for a coveted tenure position, Professor Joseph Lone Wolf, is found dead, she should be happy she's now a shoo-in for the job. Instead, she's the police's number one suspect and being hounded by a detective with a grudge against Karen's boyfriend. Knowing the lead detective is focused on her, Karen's begins her own search for the killer while navigating the cutthroat world of academia, where political correctness may have finally gone too far and played a hand in the professor's death.

Death Without Tenure, author Joanne Dobson's sixth Karen Pelletier mystery, is a deliciously ironic peek into the minefield that is modern day in academia. Karen has been pushing the boundaries of what's accepted as literature for years, but suddenly sees her chances at tenure slipping away because the chair of the English department may be too politically correct .

Fit the murder of a Native American professor into the mix, and the result is a well-paced mystery that exposes much of the hypocrisy and inadequacies of life behind the academic curtain. Death Without Tenure may not be for all readers, some familiarity with academic language and ethnic studies goes a long way in translating some of the dialogue and in-jokes. And while making the main character the prime suspect is a bit clichéd, the unraveling mystery of who Professor Joe Lone Wolf is, or was, more than makes up for it.

Our Lady of Immaculate Deception
Lynne F. Maxwell

Nancy Martin has taken an unexpected (to me, at least) detour from her popular series featuring the Blackbird sisters, her déclassé heiresses from Philadelphia's Main Line. Martin's new mystery moves from southeastern Pennsylvania to gritty southwestern Pennsylvania—working class Pittsburgh, to be specific. From blue blood to blue-collar, Martin makes the transition with grace.

Our Lady of Immaculate Deception showcases Roxy Abruzzo, who makes her living by scavenging and salvaging artifacts from buildings undergoing renovation and demolition. Roxy is tough, smart, and connected to the mob through her Uncle Carmine. She is also the devoted, young, single mother of a promising teenaged daughter, fathered by her then (and sometimes now)boyfriend, sexy chef Patrick Flynn. Moreover, Roxy is self-appointed caretaker of‘ Nooch, a somewhat dimwitted childhood friend, who needs her (unsuccessful) help in staying out of trouble with the law. Unfortunately, though, trouble is omnipresent, as Roxy discovers when she‘ liberates a neglected, but apparently valuable, Greek statue from the fire-ravaged mansion (soon to become murder scene) of a scion of a wealthy Pittsburgh steel family. The sculpture proves to be even more precious than anticipated, and Roxy must fend off the attempts of multiple interested parties vying to gain possession of it.

Martin skillfully sustains the suspense as the book hurtles to its startling conclusion. Our Lady of Immaculate Deception is an unusually deft presentation of class struggle in history-fraught, post-industrial Pittsburgh. In Roxy Abruzzo, Martin introduces a remarkable protagonist who will, I hope, make many return appearances.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-05 18:40:02

A tough, smart new mystery from the author of the popular Blackbird Sisters series.

Contest Rules
admin

Mystery Scene readers
Enter to win a signed copy of Lis Wiehl's Hand of Fate!

- 1 Grand Prize winner will receive signed copies ofthe first two books in the Triple Threat series, Face of Betrayal and Hand of Fate.

- 30 runner ups will receive copies of only Hand of Fate. Entries must be submitted between 5/1/10 and 11:59pm 5/31/10. One winner per day, chosen at random.

      Contest participants must include – first and last name, email, and street address.

      **We apologize we are unable to accept PO Box addresses.

      By signing up or entering a giveaway or contest on our Site, you agree to the sharing of your submitted information with the advertiser or sponsor of the that giveaway or contest for a one-time use to notify you if you have won. Personally identifiable information will be collected only if you voluntarily submit it to our sponsors or us. Mystery Scene will not use your your personally identifiable information for any purpose other than the administration of the giveaway or contest without your permission.

      Admin
      2010-04-05 23:35:59

      Mystery Scene readers
      Enter to win a signed copy of Lis Wiehl's Hand of Fate!

      - 1 Grand Prize winner will receive signed copies ofthe first two books in the Triple Threat series, Face of Betrayal and Hand of Fate.

      - 30 runner ups will receive copies of only Hand of Fate. Entries must be submitted between 5/1/10 and 11:59pm 5/31/10. One winner per day, chosen at random.

          Contest participants must include – first and last name, email, and street address.

          **We apologize we are unable to accept PO Box addresses.

          By signing up or entering a giveaway or contest on our Site, you agree to the sharing of your submitted information with the advertiser or sponsor of the that giveaway or contest for a one-time use to notify you if you have won. Personally identifiable information will be collected only if you voluntarily submit it to our sponsors or us. Mystery Scene will not use your your personally identifiable information for any purpose other than the administration of the giveaway or contest without your permission.

          Spring 2010, Issue #114 Contents
          Mystery Scene

          114cover300

          Features

          Lisa Lutz: The Last of the Spellmans?

          Everyone's favorite family of private eyes returns—for now.
          by Cheryl Solimini

          Building Your Book Collection, Part 4: Judging Value

          Value can be very subjective, but there are some rules.
          by Nate Pedersen

          Getting Graphic

          A talk with Karen Berger, the founder of the influential Vertigo line of graphic novels.
          by Ed Gorman

          My Must Read: Killing Floor by Lee Child

          Great plots, compelling prose, and Child's singular take on the classic knight-errant myth made Jack Reacher an instant folk hero.
          by Marcus Sakey

          Cara Black: Je M'Appelle Noir

          Black's Aimée Leduc novels about a Parisian police detective are a Franco-American triumph.
          by Tom Nolan

          Killers, Crooks & Desperados: 5 Great Gangster Movies

          Beginning with D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley in 1912, gangsters have captivated movie audiences. Here are five terrific examples.
          by Charles L.P. Silet

          The Murders in Memory Lane: Donald Westlake

          The long-delayed publication of an early noir novel by the late Donald Westlake raises questions about what might have been.
          by Lawrence Block

          What's Happening With Michael A. Kahn...

          The author of the Rachel Gold legal thrillers is himself a high-powered lawyer—but he's finally had time to write the eighth in the series.
          by Brian Skupin

          Departments

          At the Scene

          by Kate Stine

          Our Readers Recommend

          by Mystery Scene readers

          New Books Essays

          by Maria Hudgins, John Vorhaus, Barbara Fister, Vicki Delany, and Gail Lynds

          Child's Play: Books for Young Sleuths

          by Roberta Rogow

          What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

          by Jon L. Breen

          Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

          by Betty Webb

          Gormania!

          by Ed Gorman

          Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

          by Bill Crider

          Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

          by Lynne Maxwell

          Mystery Scene Reviews

          Admin
          2010-04-06 02:39:02

          114cover300

          Features

          Lisa Lutz: The Last of the Spellmans?

          Everyone's favorite family of private eyes returns—for now.
          by Cheryl Solimini

          Building Your Book Collection, Part 4: Judging Value

          Value can be very subjective, but there are some rules.
          by Nate Pedersen

          Getting Graphic

          A talk with Karen Berger, the founder of the influential Vertigo line of graphic novels.
          by Ed Gorman

          My Must Read: Killing Floor by Lee Child

          Great plots, compelling prose, and Child's singular take on the classic knight-errant myth made Jack Reacher an instant folk hero.
          by Marcus Sakey

          Cara Black: Je M'Appelle Noir

          Black's Aimée Leduc novels about a Parisian police detective are a Franco-American triumph.
          by Tom Nolan

          Killers, Crooks & Desperados: 5 Great Gangster Movies

          Beginning with D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley in 1912, gangsters have captivated movie audiences. Here are five terrific examples.
          by Charles L.P. Silet

          The Murders in Memory Lane: Donald Westlake

          The long-delayed publication of an early noir novel by the late Donald Westlake raises questions about what might have been.
          by Lawrence Block

          What's Happening With Michael A. Kahn...

          The author of the Rachel Gold legal thrillers is himself a high-powered lawyer—but he's finally had time to write the eighth in the series.
          by Brian Skupin

          Departments

          At the Scene

          by Kate Stine

          Our Readers Recommend

          by Mystery Scene readers

          New Books Essays

          by Maria Hudgins, John Vorhaus, Barbara Fister, Vicki Delany, and Gail Lynds

          Child's Play: Books for Young Sleuths

          by Roberta Rogow

          What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

          by Jon L. Breen

          Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

          by Betty Webb

          Gormania!

          by Ed Gorman

          Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

          by Bill Crider

          Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

          by Lynne Maxwell

          Mystery Scene Reviews

          Criminal Offense: Women Writers Overlooked
          Kate Stine

          mcdermid_valIn case you think that discrimination in the crime writing world is a thing of the past, here’s an incident recounted by the Scottish writer Val McDermid. It appeared in The Scotsman, August 15, 2007:

          McDermid said she was sitting next to the thriller-buyer for a major chain at a trade dinner: “He was … talking about his new job, and he said, ‘I had no idea of how much reading was going to be involved in this.’

          “Then he said, ‘Of course, I don’t read books by women.’ And this is one of the most powerful purchasers in the country. And he doesn’t read books by women.

          “What I wanted to do was to grab him by the throat, smack him against the wall and say, ‘You stupid a***hole!’ But what I actually said was, ‘Perhaps you might like to try one of mine?’”

          Congratulations to Val on her restraint!

          From Mystery Scene blog, August 2007.

          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-06 16:52:48

          mcdermid_val_cropped

          Author Val McDermid keeps it lady-like in the face of industry chauvinism.

          Deep Shadow
          Jim Winter

          Doc Ford, a marine biologist with a temper, is making a return engagement in Randy Wayne White’s latest, Deep Shadow. In Shadow, King and Perry are two murderers on the run who figure on stealing a pickup brought by four divers to the Florida lake where the crooks are hiding out. Unfortunately for them, they’ve just crossed Doc Ford.

          In this 17th in the series, Ford, sea dog Arlis, mellow hippie Tomlinson, and troubled Indian youth Will, are diving to recover a Cuban plane full of gold, which may have crashed into the lake back in 1958. Soon the diving expedition is face to face with three unknown dangers: King and Perry, armed and not all that bright (a deadly combination); dangerous diving conditions posed by the unique geologic makeup of the lake; and something else, something living in the lake...something that's been killing and eating the local cattle.

          As longtime fans of White know, Ford is an engaging character, smart, stubborn, with a bit of a mean streak all his own. In ways, he’s not all that different from the story’s two slow-witted villains, except that he has a moral compass–and an IQ over 100. It's an entertaining cast of characters, which includes Ford's companions, an eclectic mix of cranky old man, mellow shaman, and troubled youth. Even the dynamic between King and Perry works as Perry realizes his partner is an egotistical idiot. Most of the novel is a battle of wits pitting Ford and Arlis against the two ex-convicts in a nonstop game of survival with life and death stakes. Randy Wayne White knows how to keep pages turning.

          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-07 03:54:38

          white_deepshadow Marine biologist with a temper Doc Ford is back in Randy Wayne White's latest. See also Mystery Scene's cover feature with White in the print issue of Winter #113.

          Collecting Ephemera
          Kate Stine

          Convention Program Books offer essays about and by mystery authors. If the author you’re collecting has been a Guest of Honor, Lifetime Achievement Award winner, or even just a contributor, you’ll want to get that particular program. Some to look for: Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Crimefest (UK), Magna Cum Murder, and Deadly Ink.

          The Mystery Writers of America puts out an Annual written by its members every spring at the time of the Edgar Awards. These can offer fascinating insights into an author’s career and personality.

          FAN Magazines such as The Armchair Detective (1967-2007) offer interesting collecting opportunities. Cover articles, interviews, and critical assessments are all of interest and many writers contributed articles and letters. Copies are often available on or at mystery specialists. Other magazines: Mystery Scene, Deadly Pleasures, CADS, Mystery FANcier, Mystery News, Mystery Readers International, and Crimespree.

          Author Newsletters by Janet Evanovich, Lawrence Block, Bill Crider, and Elizabeth Peters, among others, are still floating around in print, with many more in electronic formats. There have also been Fan Newsletters devoted to John D. MacDonald, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and many more.

          Chapbooks are sometimes given to customers by booksellers and small presses. Short story specialists Crippen & Landru publishes two notable series, one for C&L customers and another for Malice Domestic attendees. These have featured original short stories by: Peter Robinson, Margaret Maron, Tony Hillerman, Edward Marston, Ed Hoch, and many others. (A full list is available at the Mystery Scene website.) The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City has also published a number of chapbooks with stories by Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block, among others.

          Biographical materials such as high school yearbooks and birth, marriage and death announcements from newspapers, can all add interest and information to your collection. Does an author mention a youthful poem published in his hometown newspaper? Track it down!

          PROMOTIONAL ITEMS such as bookmarks, drawings, recipe cards, maps, music CDs, etc., are often given away at conventions or book signings. Of particular interest are items that the author had a hand in creating.

          bruns_jamaicacoaster child_enemy_medal2004 pickard_drcouchsavesabird pelecanos_hardrevolutionsoundtrack

          From L-R: Jamaica Blue coaster from Don Bruns event, The Enemy medal from Lee Child's event, Dr. Couch Saves the Bird Nancy Pickard chapbook given out by Crippen & Landru to their regular customers, Hard Revolution soundtrack from George Pelecanos.

          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-07 13:41:41

          mwa1995annualgoreyLearn how collecting specialty and companion items to your favorite books can be both fun and valuable.

          The Highly Effective Detective Plays the Fool
          Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

          Teddy Ruzak is a weird cross between Sam Spade and Woody Allen’s film persona. Like Spade, Ruzak has a strong moral compass, good detective instincts, and a sharp, good-looking and loyal receptionist. Like Woody Allen’s schlemiel, he’s bumbled his exam to become a licensed detective. As a result, he is in danger of being shut down by a dogged local official who doesn’t buy his office sign that reads: Research and Analysis, LLC. He is also in danger of being thrown out of his no-pets apartment because he has a dog. What’s worse, the dog seems to like everyone else except him.

          As Plays the Fool opens, a beautiful blonde walks into his office and asks him to get the dirt on her husband’s infidelity. It seems like a simple enough case for a pseudo private investigator, but all is not as it seems and the case takes one bizarre turn after another, including a sudden disappearance and a possible murder.

          It’s hard not to like Ruzak. His offbeat sense of humor and his verbal jousts with just about everyone he encounters are highly entertaining, and his stubborn determination to do the right thing makes you root for him all the more.

          This is the third in the series by Richard Yancey, which also includes The Highly Effective Detective (2006) and The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs (2008). It’s a quick, easy, and enjoyable read and will be highly effective in cleansing the literary palate in between other, generally darker, murder mystery fare.

          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-08 16:25:43

          The latest in the highly hilarious series featuring PI Teddy Ruzak.

          Watchlist: a Serial Thriller
          Tom Nolan

          Twenty-one of the world’s greatest thriller writers including Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, Lee Child, Joseph Finder, David Hewson, and S.J. Rozan write a chapter each for "two serial thrillers in one killer book."

          Writers tend to be solitary creatures: planning and creating stories all by themselves. As bestselling thriller-maestro Jeffery Deaver says, “I never collaborate with other authors in actually writing a short story or novel. I guess you would say I don't play well with others.”

          So what happens when a professional loner like Jeff Deaver accepts an assignment to be one of nearly two dozen writers working in virtual tandem on a couple of collectively-authored original tales?

          What happens is Watchlist (Vanguard, $25.95)—“two serial thrillers in one killer book”—which has good cause to justify being described (by James Rollins, a non-Watchlist participant) as “innovative and unique.”

          For starters, Jeffery Deaver and his fellow participants—who included such well-known names as Lee Child, Gayle Lynds, Lisa Scottoline, Peter Spiegelman, Linda Barnes, Jim Fusilli (who also served as the project’s editor), Joseph Finder, and S.J. Rozan—all worked for free: Both stories, the initial “The Chopin Manuscript” and its successor “The Copper Bracelet,” were done as fundraisers for The International Thriller Writers, Inc.

          In addition, each of Watchlist’s two prose-tales began life as an audiobook performed by actor Alfred Molina and released by Audible.com—with “The Chopin Manuscript” later winning an Audie Award as best audiobook of the year, and “The Copper Bracelet” becoming Audible’s number-one bestseller on its release.

          And making each story in Watchlist even more singular, neither was written with benefit of outline. In each case, Jeffery Deaver began the tale, then passed it on to the next author to add to and forward in turn—with no writer knowing where his or her successor would move the plot. It was Deaver’s added duty, near the end of each chronicle, to receive the collective results and resolve them in a fitting denouement.

          “There was no framework at all,” Jeff Deaver confirms. “I of course had a few ideas about where I would have taken the story had I been writing ‘The Chopin Manuscript’ or ‘The Copper Bracelet’ by myself. But the whole point of this very exciting project was for each author to take the story where he or she thought best.”

          “Jeff was fairly amazing,” says Jim Fusilli, who’d never met Deaver before “The Chopin Manuscript” began. “When he sent me the first chapter, I contacted him and asked if he was sure he wanted to give it away; I think it was brilliant.”

          barnes_lindabattles_brettchild_leecorbett_david

          Pictured L-R: Linda Barnes, Brett Battles, Lee Child, and David Corbett

          That first story turns on a secret message embedded in the score of an unpublished composition by Frederic Chopin; its sequel involves an international plot that could plunge the world into nuclear war. Overarching both tales is the saga of War Criminal Watch, a nonprofit group devoted to tracking down human rights violators wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and other tribunals. WCW, like the authors’ group cooking up their adventures, operates pro bono: “Since they were not affiliated with any law enforcement agency or non-governmental organization and made virtually no money for their work,” to quote a chapter written by Deaver, “they were known as the Volunteers.” “Jeff established the style, and I tried to keep us consistent,” says Fusilli (whose comments to Mystery Scene, like Deaver’s, were made in the same mode as the book was assembled: by email). “The trick was to allow the authors to retain their own voice.”

          Despite its improvisatory nature, Fusilli says, and a trajectory that ranged from Europe to America to the Middle East, Watchlist’s high-wire act was executed with surprising ease: “These writers are seasoned professionals who know how to serve the story. … When readers see what P.J. Parrish did in ‘The Chopin Manuscript’ and what Lisa Scottoline did in ‘The Copper Bracelet,’ they’ll know the authors had the freedom to go where they wanted to. In ‘The Copper Bracelet,’ we had no idea Joe Finder was going to take us to Russia.”

          Jim Fusilli kept running-summaries of the storylines and sent them to each author after each chapter was added. “The challenge,” he says, “was to keep the summaries transparent—that is, not to tip the story in any direction that would suggest to an author where I thought it should go...I was always surprised and a few times I was knocked out by how inventive our contributors were—though I shouldn’t have been surprised: These are some of the best thriller writers in the business.”

          Jeff Deaver was startled too by what his colleagues had wrought from his openings: “The entire manuscript was full of unexpected surprises, which was of course the purpose of the project: to create a very fast-paced thriller filled with twists and turns. In both stories in Watchlist I found only a few places where I needed to go back to the original author of a chapter or two and ask if it was all right to make a minor change; not that there was anything wrong with the original chapter, but I felt to create the greatest impact of surprise a little adjustment earlier on would have made sense. After all, this is the way we all work as thriller-writers. In those few instances, the other authors were generous and accommodating. That in fact was the attitude of everyone involved in the project.”

          These cooperative collaborators produced a pair of adaptable tales equally suited to being heard through the ear or read on the page. Has Watchlist caught a multimedia wave of the future?

          “I think all of us in the business of creating entertainment for our audience should be aware of the convergence of media,” Jeffery Deaver says. “But whether one reads, listens or watches, a good story is always a good story.”

          Jim Fusilli hopes there is room in that media-convergent universe for more adventures of the War Criminal Watch team. “I’d love to see these characters return,” he says. “In some cases, they have major issues that have yet to be resolved. The world needs the Volunteers.”


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          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-14 13:17:43


          deaver_watchlistThe story behind how 21 of the world's best thriller writers came together in one killer new book.

          A Thousand Cuts
          Betty Webb

          In an anonymous city in England, recently hired history teacher Samuel Szajkowski shoots and kills several students and a colleague before he kills himself. Once the bodies have been carted away, author Lelic gives us a horrific yet masterfully written tour of the crime scene by Detective Inspector Lucia May, as the DI envisions the fear and disbelief on the victims' faces when the gun was turned towards them. Fear and disbelief are no strangers to DI May. After joining the police force, she became the target of bullying and extreme sexual harassment by her fellow officers. This close-up experience with workplace cruelty makes her more willing than others to delve into Szajkowsk's possible motives. Had the teacher been bullied? The answer appears to be yes. May's investigation uncovers a school run by a headmaster so insensitive he should never have been allowed anywhere near a child nor a vulnerable adult. And following the headmaster's example, student bullies have also been terrorizing the school to the point of beating one already-disfigured boy so badly that he had to be hospitalized.

          There are no heroes in A Thousand Cuts (named after the ancient Chinese torture, Death of a Thousand Cuts ), just victims, sadists, and example after example of man's inhumanity to man. Even May, in her pursuit of truth, appears oddly loath to rise to her own defense. But the lesson of Lelic's thoughtful book is that despite so-called political correctness, society's propensity for sexual and cultural cruelty remains astounding.

          Teri Duerr
          2010-04-14 16:02:01

          A dark, but thoughtful novel from journalist and author Simon Lelic.