Hawaii Five-0 Sets the Scene
Oline Cogdill
altWhen Miami Vice aired during the 1980s, it was more than a crime drama. It was a showcase for South Florida, which, at the time, was changing from a mecca for retirees to a vibrant area attractive to European models, fashionistas and, unforuntately, criminals.
Who doesn't remember that opening of Miami Vice with the brilliant water, the beautiful people, the tree growing in the middle of a condo?
Hawaii Five-0 does the same for Hawaii. The opening scenes of this new show, which airs at 9 p.m. CST, 10 p.m. EST Mondays on CBS, shows a breathtakingly beautiful area that has everyone wanting to book their next flight.
Hawaii Five-0 is doing fairly well, according to the Nielsen ratings. At this point, it is the only new show to land in the Nielsen's top 20. And it has been renewed for a second season.
The series stars Scott Caan as Danny "Danno" Williams, left, and Alex O'Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, right.
So does the TV series accurately depict Hawaii? Does it capture the islands' unique atmosphere?
altTo find out, Mystery Scene asked mystery authors who write about the area or who live there. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it came from South Florida author Neil Plakcy. Here's just a few comments. Others will come later.

Neil Plakcy, author of the Mahu series, set in Hawaii. Lives in Hollywood, Fla.: I really like the new Hawaii Five-0, with a couple of reservations. First, the pluses.

Hawaii looks vibrant and exciting, and I love the homage they've paid to the original series, from retaining the character names to the the "book 'im Danno" to the theme music. It's interesting that they've switched the relationship from Steve and Danny from mentor/mentee to "bromance," in keeping with current trends.

I'd like to see more Hawaiian music (a personal love of mine) and I'm irritated by the choice of Daniel Dae Kim to play Chin Ho, because he looks so Korean rather than Chinese, and because he seems to have such a narrow acting range. I was impressed by the local knowledge represented by the prejudice against haoles that came up in a couple of situations.

The first plot was a bit hackneyed, though I thought the immigrant smuggling subplot (which I used myself in Mahu Vice) was a good note. Sadly, though, the later plots have been getting more and more unrealistic, at least in my opinion.

I wish the governor had said "out of my islands" instead of "off my island," though, to indicate that Hawaii is more than just Oahu. I hope the task force will visit the other islands.
Annette Kamalei Mahon, author of Holiday Dreams, part of a Hawaiian romance series. She is third generation Hawaiian of Portuguese/Australian extraction, now lives in Arizona: The opening credits, which seemed to be a montage of old and new, was very nice. Love that they kept the distinctive theme. I wasn't sure about the Steve/Danny interaction at first, but by the end I liked it a lot. Good push and pull there. Personally, I thought the "Danno" origination thing was lame. (I read that the actor hates having to end each show with "Book 'em Danno" but he's stuck with it.)

Having the governor be a haole woman was a nice touch, but maybe just for islanders. My husband didn't know that the current governor is a haole woman from Maui. Interesting that they used the island resentment of haoles as a sub-theme. Being Portuguese myself, I've never considered myself "haole" though my husband does. He's asked around and most people exclude the Portuguese from that designation, though not everyone.

The plot of the first episode seemed a bit thin, and I'm not big on terrorist stories. I'd prefer tales about common criminals. The human smuggling was good, as
that is a big problem and not just in Hawai`i.

Having grown up in the islands, with two sisters who inherited the coloring from the Aussie side of the family, I know that haole prejudice is a real thing. I never encountered any because everyone thinks I'm Hawaiian with my Mediterrean skin color and frizzy hair. My husband has also noticed this prejudice during our visits; he is 6'4" and pale skinned with blue eyes. He thinks his reception among the locals is similar to his experience in Japan (on a business trip). I was just surprised that it was used as a plot devise because it is not a tourist friendly kind of thing.
Debby Atkinson, author of Pleasing the Dead, has lived in Honolulu for more than 30 years: [The series has] some good stuff, but my overall impression is that there's work to be done. We do have a haole woman governor right now, and both my althusband and I reacted to her statement about "my island." Gov. Linda Lingle is pretty savvy about race and inclusiveness and I'm sure she would say "out of OUR islands."
Plural islands, too.
We thought the pidgin was lame to the point of being cringe-inducing. People speak pidgin all the time here, but the writers seemed to be trying to work in pidgin-sounding words no matter what the words meant or the characters said. For example, one character called another a manini. That word is an adjective and means small. Perhaps the writers meant malihini (newcomer), but even that was a stretch under the circumstances.
Another thing that bothered us was the aggression portrayed by the characters. I love thrillers, but fictional people still need to act true to form (and their region), don't they? Our whole family surfs, and though there are some breaks on the north shore that are competitive, usually surfing is pretty mellow -- especially the kind of waves where the Grace Park character was shown. Granted, dropping in on someone is bad manners, but it sometimes happens because it's often difficult to see what's behind you when you're out there and a big wave is roaring toward you. I've never seen anyone slug someone for it. Hope I never do!
Annette makes a good point about Iolani Palace. Yes, it has been extensively restored, and it's a museum. I must have turned on the TV late (typically). I missed that detail and Annette is right -- I can't see any law enforcement offices being placed at Iolani Palace, it just isn't realistic.
As to the haole thing, I've felt some prejudice, but either I'm numb and have my head in the sand or I've been around so long I snort at the ignorance and turn away. I thought 5-0 not only overdid it, it wasn't realistic. It's more subtle when it happens.
I hope the writers listen to locals' suggestions. The show can be a better and more realistic portrayal of Hawaii without losing its thrilling edge. Bad people are
scary and dangerous wherever they are.
Mystery Scene will continue this look at Hawaii Five-0 by authors in another blog.

Xav ID 577
2010-12-19 10:16:56
altWhen Miami Vice aired during the 1980s, it was more than a crime drama. It was a showcase for South Florida, which, at the time, was changing from a mecca for retirees to a vibrant area attractive to European models, fashionistas and, unforuntately, criminals.
Who doesn't remember that opening of Miami Vice with the brilliant water, the beautiful people, the tree growing in the middle of a condo?
Hawaii Five-0 does the same for Hawaii. The opening scenes of this new show, which airs at 9 p.m. CST, 10 p.m. EST Mondays on CBS, shows a breathtakingly beautiful area that has everyone wanting to book their next flight.
Hawaii Five-0 is doing fairly well, according to the Nielsen ratings. At this point, it is the only new show to land in the Nielsen's top 20. And it has been renewed for a second season.
The series stars Scott Caan as Danny "Danno" Williams, left, and Alex O'Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, right.
So does the TV series accurately depict Hawaii? Does it capture the islands' unique atmosphere?
altTo find out, Mystery Scene asked mystery authors who write about the area or who live there. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it came from South Florida author Neil Plakcy. Here's just a few comments. Others will come later.

Neil Plakcy, author of the Mahu series, set in Hawaii. Lives in Hollywood, Fla.: I really like the new Hawaii Five-0, with a couple of reservations. First, the pluses.

Hawaii looks vibrant and exciting, and I love the homage they've paid to the original series, from retaining the character names to the the "book 'im Danno" to the theme music. It's interesting that they've switched the relationship from Steve and Danny from mentor/mentee to "bromance," in keeping with current trends.

I'd like to see more Hawaiian music (a personal love of mine) and I'm irritated by the choice of Daniel Dae Kim to play Chin Ho, because he looks so Korean rather than Chinese, and because he seems to have such a narrow acting range. I was impressed by the local knowledge represented by the prejudice against haoles that came up in a couple of situations.

The first plot was a bit hackneyed, though I thought the immigrant smuggling subplot (which I used myself in Mahu Vice) was a good note. Sadly, though, the later plots have been getting more and more unrealistic, at least in my opinion.

I wish the governor had said "out of my islands" instead of "off my island," though, to indicate that Hawaii is more than just Oahu. I hope the task force will visit the other islands.
Annette Kamalei Mahon, author of Holiday Dreams, part of a Hawaiian romance series. She is third generation Hawaiian of Portuguese/Australian extraction, now lives in Arizona: The opening credits, which seemed to be a montage of old and new, was very nice. Love that they kept the distinctive theme. I wasn't sure about the Steve/Danny interaction at first, but by the end I liked it a lot. Good push and pull there. Personally, I thought the "Danno" origination thing was lame. (I read that the actor hates having to end each show with "Book 'em Danno" but he's stuck with it.)

Having the governor be a haole woman was a nice touch, but maybe just for islanders. My husband didn't know that the current governor is a haole woman from Maui. Interesting that they used the island resentment of haoles as a sub-theme. Being Portuguese myself, I've never considered myself "haole" though my husband does. He's asked around and most people exclude the Portuguese from that designation, though not everyone.

The plot of the first episode seemed a bit thin, and I'm not big on terrorist stories. I'd prefer tales about common criminals. The human smuggling was good, as
that is a big problem and not just in Hawai`i.

Having grown up in the islands, with two sisters who inherited the coloring from the Aussie side of the family, I know that haole prejudice is a real thing. I never encountered any because everyone thinks I'm Hawaiian with my Mediterrean skin color and frizzy hair. My husband has also noticed this prejudice during our visits; he is 6'4" and pale skinned with blue eyes. He thinks his reception among the locals is similar to his experience in Japan (on a business trip). I was just surprised that it was used as a plot devise because it is not a tourist friendly kind of thing.
Debby Atkinson, author of Pleasing the Dead, has lived in Honolulu for more than 30 years: [The series has] some good stuff, but my overall impression is that there's work to be done. We do have a haole woman governor right now, and both my althusband and I reacted to her statement about "my island." Gov. Linda Lingle is pretty savvy about race and inclusiveness and I'm sure she would say "out of OUR islands."
Plural islands, too.
We thought the pidgin was lame to the point of being cringe-inducing. People speak pidgin all the time here, but the writers seemed to be trying to work in pidgin-sounding words no matter what the words meant or the characters said. For example, one character called another a manini. That word is an adjective and means small. Perhaps the writers meant malihini (newcomer), but even that was a stretch under the circumstances.
Another thing that bothered us was the aggression portrayed by the characters. I love thrillers, but fictional people still need to act true to form (and their region), don't they? Our whole family surfs, and though there are some breaks on the north shore that are competitive, usually surfing is pretty mellow -- especially the kind of waves where the Grace Park character was shown. Granted, dropping in on someone is bad manners, but it sometimes happens because it's often difficult to see what's behind you when you're out there and a big wave is roaring toward you. I've never seen anyone slug someone for it. Hope I never do!
Annette makes a good point about Iolani Palace. Yes, it has been extensively restored, and it's a museum. I must have turned on the TV late (typically). I missed that detail and Annette is right -- I can't see any law enforcement offices being placed at Iolani Palace, it just isn't realistic.
As to the haole thing, I've felt some prejudice, but either I'm numb and have my head in the sand or I've been around so long I snort at the ignorance and turn away. I thought 5-0 not only overdid it, it wasn't realistic. It's more subtle when it happens.
I hope the writers listen to locals' suggestions. The show can be a better and more realistic portrayal of Hawaii without losing its thrilling edge. Bad people are
scary and dangerous wherever they are.
Mystery Scene will continue this look at Hawaii Five-0 by authors in another blog.

Sleuthfest a Real Gift
Oline Cogdill
altLooking for that last minute holiday gift? One that the mystery lover on your list will use and not want to return? How about the person on your list who is writing a novel and needs a jumpstart on their writing?
Or how about a gift for you?
Think about the 2011 Sleuthfest.
Think about Fort Lauderdale in March.
Then make your plans to come.
Unlike other conferences, Sleuthfest is a writing conference, geared to aspiring writers and published authors. And fans are welcomed, too.
Sleuthfest, sponsored by the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, begins March 3, 2011, with the Third Degree Workshop and continues March 4-6. Editors, agents, authors and forensic experts will be on hand to discuss writing.
If your holiday gift list includes mystery fans and would-be authors, Sleuthfest registration makes a good present.
Early registration is $235 until Jan. 15, 2011, and $255 after that date for MWA members; for nonmembers, the early rate is $255 and then, after Jan. 15, 2011,
it rises to $275. The rate includes some meals. One-day attendance also is available. Information and registration is at www.sleuthfest.com.
altAs in years past, Sleuthfest will feature two guests of honor. Meg Gardiner, author of “The Liar's Lullaby” and “The Dirty Secrets Club,” will be the Friday guest. Gardiner won the 2009 Edgar award for Best Paperback Original for her novel “China Lake.” Long published in England, Gardiner first came to the attention of American readers when Stephen King praised her work in an Entertainment Weekly column.
Multi-award winner Dennis Lehane, author of “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” will be the guest of honor Saturday. Lehane built his career with Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, who returned in his recent novel “Moonlight Mile.”
In addition, mystery authors S.J. Rozan, James W. Hall, Ace Atkins, Michael Koryta, Dana Cameron, Deborah Crombie, Lisa Unger, Julie Compton, Marcia Talley, and more will attend.
Xav ID 577
2010-12-22 10:56:03
altLooking for that last minute holiday gift? One that the mystery lover on your list will use and not want to return? How about the person on your list who is writing a novel and needs a jumpstart on their writing?
Or how about a gift for you?
Think about the 2011 Sleuthfest.
Think about Fort Lauderdale in March.
Then make your plans to come.
Unlike other conferences, Sleuthfest is a writing conference, geared to aspiring writers and published authors. And fans are welcomed, too.
Sleuthfest, sponsored by the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, begins March 3, 2011, with the Third Degree Workshop and continues March 4-6. Editors, agents, authors and forensic experts will be on hand to discuss writing.
If your holiday gift list includes mystery fans and would-be authors, Sleuthfest registration makes a good present.
Early registration is $235 until Jan. 15, 2011, and $255 after that date for MWA members; for nonmembers, the early rate is $255 and then, after Jan. 15, 2011,
it rises to $275. The rate includes some meals. One-day attendance also is available. Information and registration is at www.sleuthfest.com.
altAs in years past, Sleuthfest will feature two guests of honor. Meg Gardiner, author of “The Liar's Lullaby” and “The Dirty Secrets Club,” will be the Friday guest. Gardiner won the 2009 Edgar award for Best Paperback Original for her novel “China Lake.” Long published in England, Gardiner first came to the attention of American readers when Stephen King praised her work in an Entertainment Weekly column.
Multi-award winner Dennis Lehane, author of “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” will be the guest of honor Saturday. Lehane built his career with Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, who returned in his recent novel “Moonlight Mile.”
In addition, mystery authors S.J. Rozan, James W. Hall, Ace Atkins, Michael Koryta, Dana Cameron, Deborah Crombie, Lisa Unger, Julie Compton, Marcia Talley, and more will attend.
Gifts for Young Sleuths
Roberta Rogow

preller_jigsawjones

Birthdays, graduations, holidays—there are many occasions calling for gifts for the young mystery reader. Here are a few suggestions, currently on the shelves of your favorite bookstore:

Some of our favorite paperback series for children are available in boxed sets. James Preller’s Jigsaw Jones series is already on the scene, with books #1 through 5 in a handsome slipcase (Scholastic).

And the beloved Boxcar Children Mysteries by Gertrude Chandler Warner, are being re-packaged in 3-in-1 omnibus paperbacks. Summer Special (The Mystery at the Ball Park, The Mystery of the Hidden Beach, The Summer Camp Mystery) and Winter Special (The Mystery at Snowflake Inn, The Mystery in the Snow, The Mystery on Blizzard Mountain) are already available, and just out is Spring Break Special (The Mystery in the Mall, The Mystery Cruise, The Black Pearl Mystery). These 3-in-1 collections are published by Alfred Whitman at $7.95 each.

Another old favorite, the Hardy Boys series, has been re-framed for today’s kids: The dauntless Frank and Joe are now undercover agents for ATAC (American Teens Against Crime). The first four books of the new series—Extreme Danger, Running on Fumes, Boardwalk Bust, and Thrill Ride— have been put into a slipcase as The Hardy Boys Spy Set (Aladdin). New adventures continue to come out under the nom de plume of Franklin W. Dixon.

nancydrewpurseInterest in Nancy Drew has been escalating, particularly after the recent movie and the various new formats for paperback books. Now a young lady can get The Nancy Drew Pocketbook Mysteries: the first two of the original Nancy Drew hardcovers in a handsome carrying-case, cardboard overlaid with leatherette binding and canvas handles. (Grosset & Dunlap, $19.99)

For someone old or young who can’t get enough of the teenaged sleuth, there’s The Lost Files of Nancy Drew (Grosset & Dunlap, $19.99), a compendium of Nancy Drew lore in a album format, that contains everything you ever wanted to know about Nancy Drew, beginning with her very first cases in the 1930′s. Using illustrations from the original books, pull-out items, and other oddments, Nancy’s life and times are revealed. There are pictures of her friends and some of her opponents and scenes from the books. A final chapter explains how the books came to be written, some of the history of the Stratemeyer syndicate, and where Nancy is headed as she continues into the Twenty-First Century.

scott_crimescenedetectiveFor the youngster who wants to put some of the stuff he or she is reading into practice, Christ Oxlade has put together a Detective Tool Kit (Running Press). The shrink-wrapped box contains everything a young detective might need as he or she pursues the suspects: a magnifying glass, clue containers, fingerprint pad and paper, etc. The enclosed manual explains how all this equipment is used by working detectives.

Crime Scene Detective: Whodunit and How We Know Kit (DK Children, $8.99). Four crimes are examined carefully, with photos, facsimile notes of interviews, etc. A magnifying glass and fingerprint pad are included, but the real value in this kit is in the book that follows the police investigation step by step, as they solve cases of arson, forgery, theft and murder.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, April 2008.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-17 19:34:49

nancydrewpurseKids classics sure to please.

The Electronic Wilderness
Gary Phillips

kindleandcoffee

As you no doubt know, The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) went on strike for more than three months this past fall and winter.* The main point of contention was their demand for a bigger cut of the revenue from their work in different forms: streaming on the Internet, video downloading, DVD residuals, and so on. The strike has been settled with the producers’ alliance and time will tell if the WGA did well by its members regarding their piece of what’s collectively being called “new media.” As baseball pitcher Roger Clemens said in zen-like fashion during his testimony before Congress about his alleged steroid use, “It is what it is.”

What’s of larger interest is that clearly the Internet and other forms of electronic transmission of news and entertainment, provide opportunities and challenges for writers of various disciplines. For example, during the strike dozens of screenwriters were taking meetings with venture capitalist about creating mini-studios to produce content for the web. In a December 17, 2007 Los Angeles Times article by Joseph Menn, he reported that the Silicone Valley types had historically been averse to backing these kinds of start-ups. But this was before certain websites traded on their popularity for cold hard cash, including Google paying $1.65 billion for YouTube. Which goes to show you what a brand name can fetch considering YouTube is a site where the users supply the content—everything from Paris Hilton flashing her designer underwear to a cool ass music vid of actors and musicians waxing poetic about Barack Obama.

{youtubejw width="500"}lFn1SZj59x8{/youtubejw}

Of course that might mean that people watch the web for those types of quick clips and flit around from site to site—when they should be grinding out that report for their boss—looking for the next instant thrill. There have been episodics on the Internet, with some of that translating into the “old forms” of movies and TV shows. John Ridley’s Undercover Brother started as a series of ten creaky flash animation five-minute episodes on a now defunct website and became a pretty funny live-action flick starring Eddie Griffin. There are other flash animation sites that populate the web these days as do comic strips such as the offerings on and komikwerks.com and bigheadcomics.com.

Then there was the brief hot blaze that was LonelyGirl15. This supposed reality webcam of a teen girl named Bree became all the rage back in ’06. But suspicions arose that Bree’s musings and revelations seemed too polished, the camera work and editing evident. Turns out Bree was an over-21 actress named Jessica Rose and her trials and tribulations were written and overseen by the LG15 creators Ramesh Flinders, Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried. They said of their hoax they were just looking for a movie deal. Not sure what the show’s creators are up to now, but Ms. Rose has done some big screen work—well, nothing epic, but still. Not surprisingly, in the very competitive field of acting having live action examples of your work is a more compelling card than glam head shots.

secondlifeWriters also want to see their words live. That’s why we’re seeing more writers spending their own money to produce video commercials with stills and voice-over or live action shorts advertising their books on the web, and for the big stars, TV. As in-store book signings become much of the same, new methods to reach your potential audience are being tried. Another aspect of the digital age has been not only downloading vids to cell phones but reading on them too. This suggests that just as there are now services that for a fee will help you set up advertising or a book salon on the shared virtual world SecondLife (“Get a Second Life,” Mystery Scene #100), you’ll soon be able to send out a chapter excerpt or short story or your vid hawking your book to cell phones.

I’m not sure that reading pages on a cell phone is desirable, but then, there seems to be a lot of people texting these days so who knows? Already there must be viral marketers who have done this on the web, setting up “real” people to text their friends about this great kitchen cleanser they’ve been using or found just the right pair of shoes at a certain boutique. Why not a recommendation from a book club president or a marquee author for a certain book being beamed to your phone’s screen? It beats banking deals from some prince in Nigeria and specials on penile enlargement herbs showing up…doesn’t it?

But even in this era of seemingly constant sensory bombardment, books still have their place. Overall bookstore revenue was $16.77 billion last year, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year according to Association of American Publishers. Of that $10.8 billion was book sales, up 7.6 percent from 2006. Look, even Kindle needs source material. The old ways aren’t dead yet, grasshopper. We will still rely on the printed word for enlightenment and joy as we continue our journey into the uncharted parts of this vast electronic wilderness.

*This article was originally published in Spring 2008, Mystery Scene #104.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-20 15:29:59

kindleandcoffeeHow e-media is changing the landscape for writers and readers.

5 Great Scottish Mysteries
Jeffrey Marks

Mystery Scene contributor Jeffrey Marks shares five favorite Scottish mysteries.

sayers_5redherrings1. The Five Red Herrings (1931)
by Dorothy L. Sayers

Of course, this Lord Peter Wimsey novel is number one. Not only is it by one of the best of the Golden Age British authors, the dialect is so thick that I had to read it aloud in order to understand the dialog. It was responsible for a rather odd Midwestern version of a Scottish burr for weeks.

shakespeare_macbeth2. Macbeth (1603-1606)
by William Shakespeare

It’s so cursed that you’re not even supposed to say its name. How are you ever supposed to market that today? The ultimate story of greed and desire, it makes Machiavelli look like a saint.

beaton_outsider3. Death of an Outsider (1988)
by MC Beaton

Featuring Constable Hamish Macbeth of the sleepy Scottish town of Lochdubh. I love all of Beaton’s books including the Agatha Raisin series, but the Hamish Macbeth books set in Scotland are by far my favorites.

rankin_knotsandcrosses4. Anything Inspector Rebus.

Having started with Naming of the Dead (2007), I’m a latecomer to the sizable fan club for Ian Rankin’s dour Edinborough detective. But by now I’m several books into the series and waiting anxiously to see what Rankin will do with Rebus post-retirement. Start with Knots and Crosses (1987), the first Rebus novel.

mccrumb_payingthepiper5. Paying the Piper (1988)
by Sharyn McCrumb

American and British archaeologists gather for a dig at a prehistoric burial site on a small Scottish island. The author pokes a little fun at those who make lists like this of all things Scottish.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, September 2007.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-20 16:07:08

sayers_5redherringsMystery Scene contributor Jeffrey Marks shares five favorite Scottish mysteries.

Greatest Novel of the 20th Century?
Kate Stine

lee_tokillmockingbird

One of the most enjoyable facets of editing a magazine like Mystery Scene is the research. Finding photos, writing captions, tweaking articles and reviews, all this requires a lot of rooting about in the history of the genre.

Which is why I recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

There’s no doubt that this tale of racial and class injustice in the Deep South of the 1930s qualifies as an important book. First published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. It is taught in the majority of American schools, and is regularly chosen for “One Book, One City” programs. Recently, librarians voted it the best novel of the 20th century.

Impressive credentials, but dry, very dry. These kind of descriptions don’t convey the sheer pleasure of reading Harper Lee’s novel. Here’s a typical comment from Scout Finch, the book’s narrator, discussing her brother Jem. Atticus Finch is their father.

“The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me – he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn’t see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn’t? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”

This excerpt isn’t a vital part of the narrative but that’s the point. Lee doesn’t skimp on any aspect of writing. The narrative voice, characterizations, setting, plot, and moral vision of this novel are all equally important and equally well-done. This isn’t a dry sermon, it’s a living, breathing slice of life.

Be good to yourself, read, or re-read, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Fall Issue #101 of Mystery Scene has an interesting article on Harper Lee by Art Taylor which we think you’ll enjoy. It includes opinions from Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron and Michael Malone—three writers who know about Southern literature.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, September 2007.


Teri Duerr
2010-12-20 17:33:25

lee_tokillmockingbird

One of the most enjoyable facets of editing a magazine like Mystery Scene is the research. Finding photos, writing captions, tweaking articles and reviews, all this requires a lot of rooting about in the history of the genre.

Which is why I recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

There’s no doubt that this tale of racial and class injustice in the Deep South of the 1930s qualifies as an important book. First published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. It is taught in the majority of American schools, and is regularly chosen for “One Book, One City” programs. Recently, librarians voted it the best novel of the 20th century.

Impressive credentials, but dry, very dry. These kind of descriptions don’t convey the sheer pleasure of reading Harper Lee’s novel. Here’s a typical comment from Scout Finch, the book’s narrator, discussing her brother Jem. Atticus Finch is their father.

“The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me – he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn’t see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn’t? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”

This excerpt isn’t a vital part of the narrative but that’s the point. Lee doesn’t skimp on any aspect of writing. The narrative voice, characterizations, setting, plot, and moral vision of this novel are all equally important and equally well-done. This isn’t a dry sermon, it’s a living, breathing slice of life.

Be good to yourself, read, or re-read, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Fall Issue #101 of Mystery Scene has an interesting article on Harper Lee by Art Taylor which we think you’ll enjoy. It includes opinions from Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron and Michael Malone—three writers who know about Southern literature.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, September 2007.


Call the Mounties!
Kate Stine

mountiecard2

Is it the snappy red coat? That nerdy but winning Dudley Do-Rightish vibe? Whatever their secret, these Canadian cuties have a truly timeless appeal.

Fans will enjoy the outstanding collection of Royal Canadian Mounted Police artwork at The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota.

The Tweed’s collection derives from advertisements of a local Minnesota paper company. Here’s what their website says:

“Beginning in 1931, Northwest Paper Company commissioned nearly 400 paintings and illustrations, in watercolor, oil and line drawings, which were used to merchandise the company’s printing papers. The illustrations of the RCMP in their distinctive red surge uniforms were an instant advertising success.

In all, 16 artists painted Mountie illustrations for Northwest Paper from 1931 until 1970, when it was determined the collection was large enough to meet the company’s future marketing needs. Hal Foster, who went on to create the Prince Valiant cartoon strip, was the first Mountie artist. As Foster devoted more time to cartooning and Northwest Paper’s marketing efforts expanded from illustrations in printing trade magazines to calendars, memo pads and broadsides, other artists were called upon to contribute.

The most prolific and best known of this group is Arnold Friberg. Although most of his works were in oil, Friberg’s first work for the company in 1937 was in watercolor. Over the next 33 years, he sold paintings or reproduction rights on 208 Mountie subjects to Northwest Paper….

There’s lots more of the history at The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota. Their online store offers everything from fine art prints to calendars to T-shirts featuring the classic Arnold Friberg painting of a stalwart Mountie saluting under the corps’ motto: “Maintain the Right.”

Honor (um, I mean, honour) our northern neighbors with a tasteful display in your home or office.

Cheers!
Kate Stine
(happily married to a very nice Canadian fellow)

Artwork Caption: “M.P. with Husky” Notecard by Arnold Friberg. The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, March 2008.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-20 18:01:10

mountiecard2

Is it the snappy red coat? That nerdy but winning Dudley Do-Rightish vibe? Whatever their secret, these Canadian cuties have a truly timeless appeal.

Fans will enjoy the outstanding collection of Royal Canadian Mounted Police artwork at The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota.

The Tweed’s collection derives from advertisements of a local Minnesota paper company. Here’s what their website says:

“Beginning in 1931, Northwest Paper Company commissioned nearly 400 paintings and illustrations, in watercolor, oil and line drawings, which were used to merchandise the company’s printing papers. The illustrations of the RCMP in their distinctive red surge uniforms were an instant advertising success.

In all, 16 artists painted Mountie illustrations for Northwest Paper from 1931 until 1970, when it was determined the collection was large enough to meet the company’s future marketing needs. Hal Foster, who went on to create the Prince Valiant cartoon strip, was the first Mountie artist. As Foster devoted more time to cartooning and Northwest Paper’s marketing efforts expanded from illustrations in printing trade magazines to calendars, memo pads and broadsides, other artists were called upon to contribute.

The most prolific and best known of this group is Arnold Friberg. Although most of his works were in oil, Friberg’s first work for the company in 1937 was in watercolor. Over the next 33 years, he sold paintings or reproduction rights on 208 Mountie subjects to Northwest Paper….

There’s lots more of the history at The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota. Their online store offers everything from fine art prints to calendars to T-shirts featuring the classic Arnold Friberg painting of a stalwart Mountie saluting under the corps’ motto: “Maintain the Right.”

Honor (um, I mean, honour) our northern neighbors with a tasteful display in your home or office.

Cheers!
Kate Stine
(happily married to a very nice Canadian fellow)

Artwork Caption: “M.P. with Husky” Notecard by Arnold Friberg. The Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota.

This article was originally published on the Mystery Scene Blog, March 2008.

The Season of Lists
Oline Cogdill
This is the time of year when people make lists for gifts -- for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate.
This also is the time when critics, bloggers, newspapers and more make separate lists -- for their best of the year picks.
Now tell me you haven't seen at least four different lists of best mysteries of the year -- and none of those lists have the same books.
And we haven't even gotten to the Edgar Awards nominations, which will be announced in January, or the Agatha nominations, or the flurry of other best lists.
Sometimes it seems as if these lists aren't even about books published in the same year. They can be that different.
I say these lists are good a thing. These different opinions show how unique each reader is. How one novel is one reader's treasure but can be another's trash. How we each want a different experience when we read. Some of us love foreign mysteries, others prefer the lighter than light novels.
These different views also prove that it was a good year for readers. 2010 may have been a bad year in many ways, certainly for many countries' economy. But it was a very good year for readers with so many good, solid mysteries being published.
I also know it was a good year because it was difficult for me to narrow down my choices to just my top 20 and 5 debuts. So many good mysteries just had to be left off the list.
So, as 2010 draws to a close, enjoy the variety of lists. My list ran in the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and various others place. My list is, of course, the only list you should pay attention to.
The Mystery Scene family wishes each of our readers a Happy New Year. We hope that 2011 will be filled with health, personal satisfaction, professional success and everything you desire.
Happy reading to each of you. We'll be back next year...which is just a couple of days from now.
Xav ID 577
2010-12-30 00:09:14
This is the time of year when people make lists for gifts -- for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate.
This also is the time when critics, bloggers, newspapers and more make separate lists -- for their best of the year picks.
Now tell me you haven't seen at least four different lists of best mysteries of the year -- and none of those lists have the same books.
And we haven't even gotten to the Edgar Awards nominations, which will be announced in January, or the Agatha nominations, or the flurry of other best lists.
Sometimes it seems as if these lists aren't even about books published in the same year. They can be that different.
I say these lists are good a thing. These different opinions show how unique each reader is. How one novel is one reader's treasure but can be another's trash. How we each want a different experience when we read. Some of us love foreign mysteries, others prefer the lighter than light novels.
These different views also prove that it was a good year for readers. 2010 may have been a bad year in many ways, certainly for many countries' economy. But it was a very good year for readers with so many good, solid mysteries being published.
I also know it was a good year because it was difficult for me to narrow down my choices to just my top 20 and 5 debuts. So many good mysteries just had to be left off the list.
So, as 2010 draws to a close, enjoy the variety of lists. My list ran in the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and various others place. My list is, of course, the only list you should pay attention to.
The Mystery Scene family wishes each of our readers a Happy New Year. We hope that 2011 will be filled with health, personal satisfaction, professional success and everything you desire.
Happy reading to each of you. We'll be back next year...which is just a couple of days from now.
Is 'the Tourist' the Tourist?
Oline Cogdill
altSo many tourists, so many scenes in Venice, so much confusion.

When I first saw the previews of The Tourist, the movie starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, left, I wondered, is this the same The Tourist based on the 2009 novel by
Olen Steinhauer.

It certainly has a lot of similarities -- Venice, clandestine meetings, spies, and the most beautiful people trying to protect the world since, well, James Bond's last movie.

I wasn't the only reader who was confused.
The Depp/Jolie Tourist movie is about an American tourist named Frank who is an American tourist visiting Italy and gets caught up in espionage when he meets the beautiful Elise. It is based on an original screenplay.
alt
Steinhauer's excellent novel is about a clandestine branch of the CIA whose deep undercover agents call themselves Tourists. Milo Weaver is a black-ops agent who wants to get out of the business and devote time to his wife and 6-year-old stepdaughter. Naturally, he agrees to do one last job for the agency. (Where have you heard that plot spin before?)
Steinhauer's The Tourist is the start of a projected triology. The Nearest Exit, the second novel in the mini series, was published a couple of months ago.
This is where the confusion starts.
Steinhauer's novel The Tourist has been optioned by George Clooney who plans to play Milo. According to as many Websites I could find, The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist is being planned for a 2012 release.
Remember that word "planned" so many novels are optioned but the film version runs only in someone's head, not the screen.
So will The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist be a real visitor or an accidental tourist?
Who knows.
Steinhauer's novel is a multi-layered novel filled with political intrigue and human agnst of a man who had done some terrible things in the name of his country and just wanted a quiet life. I reviewed the novel very favorably and it was one of my favorite books of 2009.
I would imagine that when and/or if The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist makes it to the screen, The Depp/Jolie Tourist will be long forgotten, expect by extreme fans of the actors. (Should anyone care, I am a Depp fan.)
Oh, and let's make it even more interesting. Earlier in 2009, George Clooney starred in The American, based on a novel by Martin Booth. That plot also has some similiar aspects -- "an assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment."
So many tourists, so little ways to keep them straight.
Xav ID 577
2011-01-02 15:03:11
altSo many tourists, so many scenes in Venice, so much confusion.

When I first saw the previews of The Tourist, the movie starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, left, I wondered, is this the same The Tourist based on the 2009 novel by
Olen Steinhauer.

It certainly has a lot of similarities -- Venice, clandestine meetings, spies, and the most beautiful people trying to protect the world since, well, James Bond's last movie.

I wasn't the only reader who was confused.
The Depp/Jolie Tourist movie is about an American tourist named Frank who is an American tourist visiting Italy and gets caught up in espionage when he meets the beautiful Elise. It is based on an original screenplay.
alt
Steinhauer's excellent novel is about a clandestine branch of the CIA whose deep undercover agents call themselves Tourists. Milo Weaver is a black-ops agent who wants to get out of the business and devote time to his wife and 6-year-old stepdaughter. Naturally, he agrees to do one last job for the agency. (Where have you heard that plot spin before?)
Steinhauer's The Tourist is the start of a projected triology. The Nearest Exit, the second novel in the mini series, was published a couple of months ago.
This is where the confusion starts.
Steinhauer's novel The Tourist has been optioned by George Clooney who plans to play Milo. According to as many Websites I could find, The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist is being planned for a 2012 release.
Remember that word "planned" so many novels are optioned but the film version runs only in someone's head, not the screen.
So will The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist be a real visitor or an accidental tourist?
Who knows.
Steinhauer's novel is a multi-layered novel filled with political intrigue and human agnst of a man who had done some terrible things in the name of his country and just wanted a quiet life. I reviewed the novel very favorably and it was one of my favorite books of 2009.
I would imagine that when and/or if The Steinhauer/Clooney Tourist makes it to the screen, The Depp/Jolie Tourist will be long forgotten, expect by extreme fans of the actors. (Should anyone care, I am a Depp fan.)
Oh, and let's make it even more interesting. Earlier in 2009, George Clooney starred in The American, based on a novel by Martin Booth. That plot also has some similiar aspects -- "an assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment."
So many tourists, so little ways to keep them straight.
Randy Wayne White Takes the Plunge Again
Oline Cogdill
altA year ago on the third day of 2010, my husband and I stood on a beach holding towels, a hat and some water to greet Randy Wayne White as he finished his swim across Tampa Bay.

It was one of the coldest mornings last year, but that didn't seem to matter to Randy or the others who were swimming with the Navy SEALS as a fund-raiser. It was an amazing sight and no could help but be moved by watching these hearty men and women come ashore, freezing, but happy and knowing they had just raised money for a SEAL who had been disabled fighting for our country.

I was there to interview Randy for a cover story for Mystery Scene. I had brought the towels in case his wife, the singer Wendy Webb, was unable to get his car to the finish line. We didn't want this New York Times best selling author to freeze.

This year, I stayed home.

But not Randy.

altOnce again he joined the fund-raiser and he was there for the 2nd Annual Frogman “Toasty Warm” Swim, which the organizers hope will be a yearly event to raise money for those brave men and women who have fought for this country. This year, 67 people made the swim in hopes of raising $50,000 for the Naval Special Warfare Foundation, which provides services for Navy SEALs wounded in action and college educations for children of fallen SEALs. More information is on the fund-raiser's web site and here is a link to the St. Petersburg Times story.

Randy said the water was a bit warmer this year but, I am sure, the sight was just as dramatic and the reason for the swim as important as ever.

In the cover story that Mystery Scene published, Randy discussed his volunteer work and I hope the story gave readers a different view of this author whose book Night Vision, his 18th novel about Doc Ford, a marine biologist and former government op who lives on Florida’s Sanibel Island will be published in February. (The interview ran in the Winter 2010 Issue, No. 113.)

Sometimes tells me that, as long as he can, he'll also be back next year to swim with the SEALS.
PHOTO: Randy Wayne White after his 2010 swim. Photo by Bill Hirschman
Xav ID 577
2011-01-05 10:20:07
altA year ago on the third day of 2010, my husband and I stood on a beach holding towels, a hat and some water to greet Randy Wayne White as he finished his swim across Tampa Bay.

It was one of the coldest mornings last year, but that didn't seem to matter to Randy or the others who were swimming with the Navy SEALS as a fund-raiser. It was an amazing sight and no could help but be moved by watching these hearty men and women come ashore, freezing, but happy and knowing they had just raised money for a SEAL who had been disabled fighting for our country.

I was there to interview Randy for a cover story for Mystery Scene. I had brought the towels in case his wife, the singer Wendy Webb, was unable to get his car to the finish line. We didn't want this New York Times best selling author to freeze.

This year, I stayed home.

But not Randy.

altOnce again he joined the fund-raiser and he was there for the 2nd Annual Frogman “Toasty Warm” Swim, which the organizers hope will be a yearly event to raise money for those brave men and women who have fought for this country. This year, 67 people made the swim in hopes of raising $50,000 for the Naval Special Warfare Foundation, which provides services for Navy SEALs wounded in action and college educations for children of fallen SEALs. More information is on the fund-raiser's web site and here is a link to the St. Petersburg Times story.

Randy said the water was a bit warmer this year but, I am sure, the sight was just as dramatic and the reason for the swim as important as ever.

In the cover story that Mystery Scene published, Randy discussed his volunteer work and I hope the story gave readers a different view of this author whose book Night Vision, his 18th novel about Doc Ford, a marine biologist and former government op who lives on Florida’s Sanibel Island will be published in February. (The interview ran in the Winter 2010 Issue, No. 113.)

Sometimes tells me that, as long as he can, he'll also be back next year to swim with the SEALS.
PHOTO: Randy Wayne White after his 2010 swim. Photo by Bill Hirschman
Short Stories Online
Bill Crider

cranmer_beattoapulpI love the Internet. I know that not everyone does. Some people even think it heralds the end of civilization as we know it, and they may well be right. If you’re a fan of short stories, however, the Internet is the place to be, at least some of the time.

One reason would be a website called Beat to a Pulp (www.beattoapulp.com), maintained by David Cranmer and designed by DMix. The editor-at-large is Elaine Ash. You can find a new story there every week. The pulps printed all kinds of things, so while most of the stories are crime-related, there’s also the occasional western, horror, or sci-fi tale. One that got a lot of comments recently is “One Night in Hangtown” by James Reasoner. It’s an offbeat western/crime/fantasy mashup featuring Buck Jones and Bela Lugosi. Highly recommended.

The Internet is also a source of advice. On his blog Gormania, Ed Gorman mentioned several stories in the January/February 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, prompting me to pick up my unread copy.

rusch_caseofthevanishingboyKristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Case of the Vanishing Boy” was the first one I read, and it’s a real winner. The story is set at a regional science fiction convention, and Rusch hits a home run in the first paragraph with her description of the Con Ops room where the convention organizers keep things running smoothly and solve problems, or try to. The subtitle of the story is “A Spade/Paladin Conundrum,” and it appears that the story is the first in a new series. Spade is the nickname of a very large dotcom millionaire whose hobby is preventing disasters and acting as the in-house detective at sci-fi cons. Paladin is a slender young woman, Spade’s physical opposite, who has a card that reads “Have Gun, Will Travel. E-mail Paladin@...” In this case, she’s been hired to find the vanishing boy of the title. The question is, will Spade help her do the job? Well, of course he will, and he does, but the real fun of the story is all the stuff about sci-fi fans and conventions. I hope to read many more stories about Spade and Paladin.

It was Steven Torres, writing on the short-story review blog Nasty. Brutish. Short. (nastybrutishshort.blogspot. com), who mentioned “The Man Who was Kicked to Death,” which appeared in Hitchcock’s for December 2009. The story was the magazine’s “Mystery Classic” selection for the month. It was written by Ecuadorian author Pablo Palacio, who died in 1947. The title character makes his way to a police precinct station just before dying. There’s no evidence to indicate who killed him or why. There are no suspects. This bothers the unnamed narrator, who decides to discover what happened. He has no use for deduction, so he sets about to find the answer by induction, or, as he puts it, going from the least known to the best known. The answer he finds can’t be proved, but it nevertheless seems right on the mark. The story has an interesting introduction by Kenneth Wishnia, who also translated it. And don’t skip the translator’s note at the end.

lupoff_richard

Science fiction and mystery writer Richard A. Lupoff, pictured in 1957. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org.

I don’t need the Internet to point me to stories, however. I can still find them on my own, just by flipping through magazines. One I enjoyed was “Patterns” by Richard A. Lupoff, in the December 2009 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. It’s not often these days that I run across a story told in the epistolary manner, so I was intrigued just by the appearance of the first page. It turns out that the letters are all written by Robert “Bobcat” O’Brien to Zachary Grand, editor-in-chief of Grand Publications, a pulp market that O’Brien wouldn’t mind cracking. O’Brien and Grand are former college roomies, and in the course of the one-sided conversation containing story pitches and reminiscences, we learn that they both remember the mysterious disappearance of a man named Henry von Eisen. I’m probably not giving away too much when I say that either the letter writer or the recipient seems to know a bit more with what happened to Eisen than the other. It’s up to the reader to decide just how much each of these guys realize about this. I find stories with a pulp angle irresistible. Toss in the epistolary form, and you have me hooked.

This article was originally published in Mystery Scene issue #113, Winter 2010.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-03 18:51:09

cranmer_beattoapulpIf you’re a fan of short stories, however, the Internet is the place to be.

A Conversation With J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet
Ed Gorman

rapsheet_pierce-kingston-jOf all the websites that deal with mystery and crime fiction, none offers more breadth and depth than The Rap Sheet. Originally a component of January Magazine’s crime fiction section, The Rap Sheet morphed into the award-winning blog it is today. From its inception, editor and chief contributor J. Kingston Pierce packed his blog with reviews, news, retrospectives, and opinion pieces from writers all over the world.

Aided by a group of regular contributors as well as guests columnists, Pierce is able to use his frequent traveling as a means of introducing his readers to writers from many different countries. His enthusiasm is contagious and more than a few writers owe him a favor for introducing them to his readers.

So who is J. Kingston Pierce?

Ed Gorman for Mystery Scene: Let’s start with you telling us about yourself.

Pierce: I’m a lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, save for relatively brief and job-related periods spent in Detroit, Michigan, and Boulder, Colorado. I now live in Seattle, Washington, with my wife, Jodi, and our big overindulged cat, Monkey.

I joined the newspaper at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and, during that same period, I began to freelance for a weekly paper that served a neighborhood near the campus while writing meatier stuff for Willamette Week, which is Portland’s longstanding and very good alternative newspaper.

By the time I graduated college, I had carved out a spot for myself at Willamette Week. That led to writing jobs at other alternative papers and magazines, and eventually editing positions at magazines in Portland, Detroit, and Seattle.

macdonald_movingtargetMystery Scene: Have you always been interested in crime fiction?

Pierce: As a boy, I was a major reader of science fiction, especially Arthur C. Clarke’s work, and later the stories of Larry Niven.

It wasn’t until I volunteered to help out at the library of my boys-only Catholic high school that I started to read heavily in other areas. The assistant librarian there, a generous woman named Rose Lacey, introduced me to thrillers such as Jaws, by Peter Benchley, and The Rhinemann Exchange, by Robert Ludlum. More importantly, though, one day she gave me Ross Macdonald’s The Moving Target and told me I’d like it. Boy, did I!

A decade after Mrs. Lacey encouraged me to read The Moving Target, I had the chance to interview Ross Macdonald (né Kenneth Millar) for Willamette Week. I took an old hippie bus down to Santa Barbara, California, where he lived with his wife, the novelist Margaret Millar. I was overwhelmed that this star of my literary firmament was letting me ask him questions in his untidy study. (What I didn’t know then, was that he was exhibiting the first stages of the Alzheimer’s disease that would kill him, which is why he couldn’t remember a few things, even about his own past work.) I was even more thrilled when he took me out to dinner that night, just he and I, at a little Chinese joint he enjoyed. Naturally, I told him about how Mrs. Lacey had given me his novel, and how it had sent me on my exploration of crime and mystery fiction. I remember he gave me a small smile, said something about how librarians are the smartest people in the world, and then asked me whether I’d read this book, and that book...and pretty soon I realized just how little I knew of the world that he and other authors had helped shape. I have been trying to make up for the holes in my education ever since.

richards_deathwasinthepictureMystery Scene: How did your association with January Magazine come about?

Pierce: It was back in 1998 and I was just becoming interested in the Internet. I’d penned book reviews ever since my earliest days in journalism, and I was thinking that maybe I could move into reviewing on the Web, too. I stumbled across January Magazine one day, and kept track of it for a while. Finally, I wrote to the editor, Linda L. Richards, asking her whether she was looking for more contributors, and offering her a review I’d done of Larry McMurtry’s Comanche Moon. She wrote back quickly and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m now the senior editor of January, though I no longer have quite so much time to write reviews myself for the magazine.

One funny result of my association with Richards, by the way, is that she wasn’t that familiar with crime fiction before I started reviewing it in January. Yet now she is making a living, in part, from composing crime novels such as this year’s Death Was in the Picture, her second book featuring 1930s detectives Kitty Pangborn and Dexter J. Theroux. I like to think I had some influence on her present career.

rap_sheet_logoMystery Scene: What made you decide to make The Rap Sheet a blog?

Pierce: I began producing The Rap Sheet in the spring of 1999 as a sort of crime-fiction newsletter within January Magazine. I’d long wanted someplace where I could offer up news and other tidbits that didn’t fit within the magazine’s usual framework of reviews and author interviews. The Rap Sheet, which I wrote on a more or less bimonthly basis, was my solution.

But the longer I worked on The Rap Sheet, the bigger it became. The first edition ran to only 2,684 words long. However, in the ensuing years, what with the addition of mini-reviews written by others, that crime-fiction report expanded to more than 16,000 words and turned into a daunting project for all concerned.

By late 2005, I was feeling frustrated with the venture. But, just when I was ready to throw in the towel, January Magazine’s crime fiction department won the Gumshoe Award for websites. It would’ve looked strange to fold up The Rap Sheet at that moment; so instead I persevered, hoping to ride the invigoration brought on by the Gumshoe win for at least a year or two more. No such luck. A few months later, I was right back where I’d started—exhausted and needing a change. Therefore, as January closed out 2005, I placed the newsletter on an unannounced hiatus, unsure of its future.

Meanwhile, I’d been experimenting with blog publishing. The “new” Rap Sheet debuted on May 22, 2006. Three years—can it really have been that long ago?

Mystery Scene: Is your blog what you’d hoped it would be?

Pierce: I think we do a pretty good job of staying on top of news developments within the genre. And we have posted a fine array of feature-length pieces over the years, focusing on individual authors, championing forgotten crime novels, highlighting copycat covers (the use by publishers of the same artwork to illustrate more than one book—for shame!), and also reporting on crime fiction in media other than books (television, radio, magazines, etc.). Even though I have no money to pay contributors, and make not a dime off this venture myself (sigh), I have been able to talk professional writers and authors into submitting their work to the blog. I’m extraordinarily proud of what it has become, and judging by the volume of appreciative comments, I believe readers find value in The Rap Sheet, too.

Mystery Scene: What’s your greatest satisfaction with your blog?

Pierce: I’ve spent much of my journalism career editing magazines, and I see The Rap Sheet as a mini magazine on the Web. It manages to present a pretty good breadth of news and information, despite the fact that there’s really only one guy at Rap Sheet “headquarters,” and he has to sleep sometimes. I am a fairly demanding editor, and the quality of work in The Rap Sheet remains pretty high. I think all of that is demonstrated by the fact that we’ve won several noteworthy prizes. I mentioned the Gumshoe Award before, but we also picked up a 2009 Spinetingler Award (from Spinetingler Magazine), and I was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2008. Although that latter commendation (in the category of Best Web Site) ultimately went to Stop, You’re Killing Me!, I intend to refer to The Rap Sheet as “Anthony Award-nominated” for as long as I can—or until I actually win an Anthony.

Mystery Scene: What is your greatest frustration?

Pierce: That I don’t see a way yet to make money with The Rap Sheet. The absence of financial recompense is the bane of bloggers. I don’t know of a good model for profitable advertising through blogs, and there’s a noticeable shortage of deep-pocketed do-gooders willing to pay me for what I’m already doing with The Rap Sheet. Over the last few years, I have become increasingly disenchanted with mainstream journalism. This blog offers me writing satisfactions I never expected; however, I still have to make a living. I can’t devote myself entirely to The Rap Sheet, though I sometimes wish I could.

My hope is that there will come a day when I can divide my working hours between writing/editing The Rap Sheet and composing crime novels of my own. But first, I have to actually finish work on a novel—an accomplishment that seems ever elusive.

Mystery Scene: Do you read a lot of other blogs?

Pierce: Yes, and not just those devoted to crime fiction, but others that focus on politics and national/world news. As far as crime-fiction blogs go, though, there are several distinguished examples that I look at every day, including Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders, Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays, Sarah Weinman’s Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Lesa Holstine’s Lesa’s Book Critiques, Cullen Gallagher’s Pulp Serenade, and—with a slightly broader brief—Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine. Hundreds of others exist, but unfortunately many of them look and read like hobbies, with their writing only passable and poorly edited (their authors would do well to buy a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook), and their futures dubious, at best.

Mystery Scene: This would seem to be the true Golden Age of detective and crime fiction. Would you agree?

Pierce: Yes and no. While there are indeed many fine writers, bottom line oriented publishers aren’t always willing to pay those authors enough to keep them working. And not everyone can write a book a year. So publishers concentrate their resources on big-name wordsmiths who keep producing, even though they may be churning out the same sort of yarns over and over again. (Sadly, readers don’t always notice this betrayal.)

And while I’m thrilled to have so many reading options in crime fiction, I am disappointed with many of the myriad books hitting the shelves. Too many try to copy previously successful works, or they run a good theme to death. How many more books, for instance, can I be expected to read about serial killers? You would think that such murderers were running rife in the United States, when in fact they’re fairly unusual. And does every mystery story have to be about murder? There are other crimes of sufficiently absorbing magnitude, other ways to build up tension than having somebody new die every two or three chapters.

But then, editors and publishers would have to encourage such innovation. And I don’t think they do, at least not strongly enough.

ellin_8thcircleI’ve found myself lately looking back at older works in this field, books by mid-20th-century writers who were searching for new veins of writing gold, trying to do something unlike what their fellows were up to at the time. Admittedly, there was a lot of trash, but I think no more trash being turned out then than what is being published now. And occasionally, I come across real gems, such as Stanley Ellin’s The Eighth Circle (1958) or Harold Q. Masur’s Bury Me Deep (1947) or Erle Stanley Gardner’s series about mismatched gumshoes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. All of those—as well as the works of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Thomas B. Dewey, Ed McBain, and of course Macdonald—provide the source material mined by today’s crime fictionists. But some of that older stuff still boasts an air of novelty, rather than the reek of repetition.

So, while I am happy to see crime fiction be so popular today, I fear that we’re not getting everything we could from this genre. The willingness of publishers and authors to emphasize profits and productivity over creativity may ultimately be the genre’s undoing. And maybe that’s a good thing, to let the genre burn itself out now and then lie fallow and recoup its innovation in preparation for some future renaissance.

Mystery Scene: Given the range of your coverage, how do you feel about mystery publishing in general? The New York City scene versus the small houses?

Pierce: It’s the smaller houses, such as Hard Case Crime, Bleak House Books, Poisoned Pen Press, and Crippen & Landru, that are producing some of the most interesting works nowadays. Unfortunately, they don’t have the money for promotion that the New York giants possess. So authors like Craig McDonald (Toros & Torsos) and Christa Faust (Money Shot) aren’t selling as well as Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Robert B. Parker, even though their fiction might show more creative promise.

Mystery Scene: Do you see The Rap Sheet changing in any substantial way over the next few years?

Pierce: It’s necessary to change, if the blog is to remain appealing. But I think our commitment to high-quality writing and reporting, interviews with knowledgeable authors, and coverage of crime fiction in all media should not waver. They all help set The Rap Sheet apart from many other blogs in this field. Given the limited time I can devote to this blog, I’d rather concentrate on building upon those strengths than spreading my energies around, trying to build up Twitter and Facebook pages.

This article first appeared in "Gormania" Mystery Scene Issue #110, Summer 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-03 20:17:30

rapsheet_pierce-kingston-jOf all the websites that deal with mystery and crime fiction, none offers more breadth and depth than The Rap Sheet.

Interactive Ya Mysteries
Roberta Rogow

The latest wrinkle in the young adult mystery is interactivity, in which print is combined with internet sites, cell phones, text messages, and even card games, to immerse young readers in a fictional world.

cathysbookSean Stewart's Cathy's Ring (Running Press, $17.95) is the final volume in a trilogy that has the young heroine being chased around the country by everyone, from a gang of Immortals (including her own father), to a wannabe who has decided that Cathy's life is much more interesting than her own. Told in a series of journal entries, and illustrated by drawings, diagrams, and doodles, the story has Cathy reeling from one wild adventure to the next. Penciled notes in the journals contain website addresses and cell phone numbers, which, when accessed, contain yet more of the story. It's a capsule of post-teen life in the twenty-first century, with paranormal implications and a poignant love story intertwined with the frantic action, all related in breezy entries loaded with topical references and current slang.

www.cathysbook.com
www.cathyskey.com
www.cathysring.com

carman_skeletonscreekMuch darker in tone and complexity is Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman (Scholastic, $14.99). Ryan tells the story in his journal, augmented by the videos supposedly shot by his friend Sarah, as they explore the dark past of their small town. They think they may have conjured up the malevolent spirit of a mine worker killed in an industrial accident many years before, when The Dredge was turned loose to locate a gold mine. The journal entries evoke Ryan's terror, while the videos provide more clues to those who have the ability to access them.

www.skeletoncreekisreal.com

39cluesThe ultimate in interactive mystery is The 39 Clues series which is spearheaded by well-known YA author Rick Riordan. The first book, The Maze of Bones (Scholastic, $12.99), sets the premise: the matriarch of the Cahill family, one with extensive connections all over the world, has died, and her estate will belong to the ones who solve the 39 clues. Told in a snarky tone reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, the books follow the adventures of the various Cahill cousins as they travel about and encounter obstacles of one sort or another. The books hold only part of the puzzle, however; other clues are found on the website, and in the cards that accompany each volume. Additional cards can be purchased at bookstores, where the series novels are being sold. Youngsters can register on the website to join in the game and win cash prizes (the first names and home cities of the winners are posted). Many top notch YA authors (Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson) have signed on to write books in this series, which is attracting plenty of readers and players.

www.the39clues.com

This article originally appeared in Mystery Scene Issue #110, Summer 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-03 21:42:40

39cluesThree interactive mystery series for young adult readers.

Honey West Lives On
Oline Cogdill
altA couple of years ago, my husband got me for Christmas the complete season of Honey West on DVD. It just shows you how well he knows me.

Honey West , for those who don't know, was the first "girl" detective series on TV. It wasn't a huge success, lasting one 1965-1966 on ABC. But for some kids of that time, especially girls, who had never seen a woman run her own business, use her head and even get into fights, it was a momumental series.

So the passing of actress Anne Francis last week at age 80 following a battle with cancer needs to be honored.

Francis was the "private eye-full" Honey West, complete with tear gas earrings, lipstick radio transmitters, a black garter tear gas mask (what every woman needs) and other cool gadgets that had, until then, been reserved just for boys like James Bond.

She got all the great toys and a pet ocelot named Bruce.
Oh, how I wanted an ocelot. (Although Bruce looked great on camera, apparently he was quite a wild little beast and not the charming pet he played.)

Honey also had to put up with a lot of sexism like that "private eye-full" comment. In running her late father's Los Angeles detective agency, she also had to work with the firm's former junior partner, Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. While Sam was, admittedly, quite good looking and obviously in love with Honey, he also was dumber than a box of bricks. Not as dumb as Sheena's Bob (she was another childhood hero), but Sam would never be mistaken for a Ph.D. candidate. Sam also thought it his duty to try to boss Honey around. Silly man.

Honey West was created during the 1950s by Skip and Gloria Fickling for a pulp fiction series. But the TV version was a bit tamer, more sophisticated and very glamourous. Who cared how thin the plots were as long as Francis got to change her clothes at least three times an episode?

So does this very dated TV series hold up? Yes, and no.

Francis is obviously having a lot of fun with the character and she is fun to watch. The scripts are so-so. The gadgets are cool, but not very sophisticated looking. It's more the idea of these items than what we actually would see in a Bond movie. And the martial arts that Honey West supposedly knows are quite awkward and phony. It wouldn't be until 1966 when America got a glimpse of a real kick-ass woman who made fight scenes seem real in the form of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel on The Avengers.

Flawed, of course. But I wouldn't part with my Honey West DVD.
Anne Francis, may you rest in peace.
Xav ID 577
2011-01-09 10:48:30
altA couple of years ago, my husband got me for Christmas the complete season of Honey West on DVD. It just shows you how well he knows me.

Honey West , for those who don't know, was the first "girl" detective series on TV. It wasn't a huge success, lasting one 1965-1966 on ABC. But for some kids of that time, especially girls, who had never seen a woman run her own business, use her head and even get into fights, it was a momumental series.

So the passing of actress Anne Francis last week at age 80 following a battle with cancer needs to be honored.

Francis was the "private eye-full" Honey West, complete with tear gas earrings, lipstick radio transmitters, a black garter tear gas mask (what every woman needs) and other cool gadgets that had, until then, been reserved just for boys like James Bond.

She got all the great toys and a pet ocelot named Bruce.
Oh, how I wanted an ocelot. (Although Bruce looked great on camera, apparently he was quite a wild little beast and not the charming pet he played.)

Honey also had to put up with a lot of sexism like that "private eye-full" comment. In running her late father's Los Angeles detective agency, she also had to work with the firm's former junior partner, Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. While Sam was, admittedly, quite good looking and obviously in love with Honey, he also was dumber than a box of bricks. Not as dumb as Sheena's Bob (she was another childhood hero), but Sam would never be mistaken for a Ph.D. candidate. Sam also thought it his duty to try to boss Honey around. Silly man.

Honey West was created during the 1950s by Skip and Gloria Fickling for a pulp fiction series. But the TV version was a bit tamer, more sophisticated and very glamourous. Who cared how thin the plots were as long as Francis got to change her clothes at least three times an episode?

So does this very dated TV series hold up? Yes, and no.

Francis is obviously having a lot of fun with the character and she is fun to watch. The scripts are so-so. The gadgets are cool, but not very sophisticated looking. It's more the idea of these items than what we actually would see in a Bond movie. And the martial arts that Honey West supposedly knows are quite awkward and phony. It wouldn't be until 1966 when America got a glimpse of a real kick-ass woman who made fight scenes seem real in the form of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel on The Avengers.

Flawed, of course. But I wouldn't part with my Honey West DVD.
Anne Francis, may you rest in peace.
Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds
Bill Crider

Marcus Sakey has several well-received novels to his credit, including his latest, The Amateurs, but he’s also written dozens of short stories. He’s chosen seven favorites for an e-book collection called Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds (e-book, July 2010, $2.99). The title lets you know that these aren’t necessarily going to be happy tales, but one of them, “Cobalt,” is both dark and funny at the same time. Remember Y2K? Can you believe it was so long ago? Read this story for a little trip back in time. And speaking of time, these stories are in Sakey’s preferred format for short pieces, brief blocks of prose that jump around in time and even setting. It sounds odd, but it works very well.

Besides the stories themselves, there’s something else I like about this collection. Each story is preceded by a short introduction that tells a bit about how the piece came to be written. I love introductions like that, and they add a lot to the stories. (Note: this $2.99 e-book may be found online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.—ed.)

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:05:56

Marcus Sakey has several well-received novels to his credit, including his latest, The Amateurs, but he’s also written dozens of short stories. He’s chosen seven favorites for an e-book collection called Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds (e-book, July 2010, $2.99). The title lets you know that these aren’t necessarily going to be happy tales, but one of them, “Cobalt,” is both dark and funny at the same time. Remember Y2K? Can you believe it was so long ago? Read this story for a little trip back in time. And speaking of time, these stories are in Sakey’s preferred format for short pieces, brief blocks of prose that jump around in time and even setting. It sounds odd, but it works very well.

Besides the stories themselves, there’s something else I like about this collection. Each story is preceded by a short introduction that tells a bit about how the piece came to be written. I love introductions like that, and they add a lot to the stories. (Note: this $2.99 e-book may be found online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.—ed.)

Innocent Monster
Betty Webb

When Sashi Bluntstone, an 11-year-old art prodigy used by her financially-strapped family as their personal ATM is abducted, semi-retired PI Moe Prager is brought in to find her. Prager isn’t thrilled to be back in the detecting business, though, since his personal ATM is in good shape; he and his brother own several high-end wine stores. But egged on by a personal request from his estranged daughter, he picks up his discarded skills and plunges back into the game. Immediately, he is faced with several questions: Was the child murdered in order to drive up the dollar value of her paintings? Was she kidnapped for ransom? Or is she simply in hiding somewhere, no longer willing to face the outrageous financial pressure her parents have put her under? Besides being a terrific read, Monster spotlights the often vicious side of the art world, where even young children are savaged for sport (“She’s a no-talent freak,” snipes one critic).

If you enjoyed the Work of Art television program, you’ll definitely cotton to this book, but you don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy it, because Coleman’s deliciously snarky snipes at the art world’s pretensions could elicit snickers from a long-dead Rembrandt. The author has twice been nominated for an Edgar, and National Public Radio picked the Moe Prager series as a favorite in 2009.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:25:05

When Sashi Bluntstone, an 11-year-old art prodigy used by her financially-strapped family as their personal ATM is abducted, semi-retired PI Moe Prager is brought in to find her. Prager isn’t thrilled to be back in the detecting business, though, since his personal ATM is in good shape; he and his brother own several high-end wine stores. But egged on by a personal request from his estranged daughter, he picks up his discarded skills and plunges back into the game. Immediately, he is faced with several questions: Was the child murdered in order to drive up the dollar value of her paintings? Was she kidnapped for ransom? Or is she simply in hiding somewhere, no longer willing to face the outrageous financial pressure her parents have put her under? Besides being a terrific read, Monster spotlights the often vicious side of the art world, where even young children are savaged for sport (“She’s a no-talent freak,” snipes one critic).

If you enjoyed the Work of Art television program, you’ll definitely cotton to this book, but you don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy it, because Coleman’s deliciously snarky snipes at the art world’s pretensions could elicit snickers from a long-dead Rembrandt. The author has twice been nominated for an Edgar, and National Public Radio picked the Moe Prager series as a favorite in 2009.

The Broken Token
Betty Webb

In Chris Nickson’s The Broken Token, a young prostitute is found murdered, which isn’t all that unusual in 1731 Leeds, England, where arrogant aristocrats ignore the emaciated bodies of orphans dying in the streets. But Richard Nottingham, a Leeds constable vows to bring down the girl’s killer. While wending his way through neighborhoods even the city’s rats avoid, Nottingham discovers that similar murders have taken place, all of them involving prostitutes and their clients. Ignoring the then-common belief that the only good thief was a dead thief, he enlists a young pickpocket to help him identify men with motives, some of them from the city’s privileged upper classes.

Although the author’s plotting is strong, it is Nottingham’s compassion that remains with us long after we find out whodunit, for Nottingham’s decency provides an enduring beacon of hope to the oppressed souls who turn up on his doorstep. His daughter Emily, a feminist well before her time, makes for a fascinating side character. She has aspirations of becoming a writer, even though her ambition is deemed preposterous in an age when women are expected to keep their opinions—and their talents—to themselves. Nickson has made 18th-century Leeds a character in and of itself, a place where life is lived without a safety net, and where not even the church can help the poor and dying. Anyone wishing a return to “the good old days” would do well to read this well-written novel.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:31:04

In Chris Nickson’s The Broken Token, a young prostitute is found murdered, which isn’t all that unusual in 1731 Leeds, England, where arrogant aristocrats ignore the emaciated bodies of orphans dying in the streets. But Richard Nottingham, a Leeds constable vows to bring down the girl’s killer. While wending his way through neighborhoods even the city’s rats avoid, Nottingham discovers that similar murders have taken place, all of them involving prostitutes and their clients. Ignoring the then-common belief that the only good thief was a dead thief, he enlists a young pickpocket to help him identify men with motives, some of them from the city’s privileged upper classes.

Although the author’s plotting is strong, it is Nottingham’s compassion that remains with us long after we find out whodunit, for Nottingham’s decency provides an enduring beacon of hope to the oppressed souls who turn up on his doorstep. His daughter Emily, a feminist well before her time, makes for a fascinating side character. She has aspirations of becoming a writer, even though her ambition is deemed preposterous in an age when women are expected to keep their opinions—and their talents—to themselves. Nickson has made 18th-century Leeds a character in and of itself, a place where life is lived without a safety net, and where not even the church can help the poor and dying. Anyone wishing a return to “the good old days” would do well to read this well-written novel.

First of State
Betty Webb

This prequel to the popular CJ Floyd series is a bit slow getting off the ground, but once it takes flight, it’s a mesmerizing read. Set in the 1970s, the traumatized Floyd, a young African American, has only recently returned to Denver after fighting through the jungles of Vietnam. Struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he strikes up an acquaintance with Wiley Ames, a white antique dealer specializing in Western memorabilia and old license plates. It’s a fortunate friendship, because Ames’ enthusiasm for history helps take Floyd’s mind off his problems.

Under Ames’ tutelage, Floyd begins dreaming of collecting the first-issued license plate from every state in the US, but this dream is interrupted when Ames and another man are murdered in back of Ames’ antique store. When the local police show no interest in what they see as “just another killing in the ’hood,” CJ vows to seek justice for his murdered mentor. And he does—until, that is, CJ’s elderly uncle asks him to be a partner in his bail bond business. Deciding that family must trump friendship, he becomes his uncle’s reluctant bounty hunter until the day two cases collide and put him back on track.

Author Greer has painted Floyd as a flawed knight in rusty armor, a heartbroken Everyman who never lets his PTSD interfere with his search for the truth. He has seen the very worst that human beings can inflict upon each other, yet against all odds he clings to his vision of a better world. While always proving a compelling read, the outstanding quality of the CJ Floyd novels is that they frequently rekindle our own dimmed dreams.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:36:14

This prequel to the popular CJ Floyd series is a bit slow getting off the ground, but once it takes flight, it’s a mesmerizing read. Set in the 1970s, the traumatized Floyd, a young African American, has only recently returned to Denver after fighting through the jungles of Vietnam. Struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he strikes up an acquaintance with Wiley Ames, a white antique dealer specializing in Western memorabilia and old license plates. It’s a fortunate friendship, because Ames’ enthusiasm for history helps take Floyd’s mind off his problems.

Under Ames’ tutelage, Floyd begins dreaming of collecting the first-issued license plate from every state in the US, but this dream is interrupted when Ames and another man are murdered in back of Ames’ antique store. When the local police show no interest in what they see as “just another killing in the ’hood,” CJ vows to seek justice for his murdered mentor. And he does—until, that is, CJ’s elderly uncle asks him to be a partner in his bail bond business. Deciding that family must trump friendship, he becomes his uncle’s reluctant bounty hunter until the day two cases collide and put him back on track.

Author Greer has painted Floyd as a flawed knight in rusty armor, a heartbroken Everyman who never lets his PTSD interfere with his search for the truth. He has seen the very worst that human beings can inflict upon each other, yet against all odds he clings to his vision of a better world. While always proving a compelling read, the outstanding quality of the CJ Floyd novels is that they frequently rekindle our own dimmed dreams.

Thrilled to Death
Betty Webb

I’ve always been fascinated by L.J. Sellers headline-conscious mysteries, where super detectives don’t exist, but bright and idealistic justice seekers can be found on every page. In Sellers’ Thrilled to Death two Eugene, Oregon women disappear on the same day. One is wealthy and spoiled, the other a desperate single mother on the verge of giving up her baby for adoption. Normally, this would be just another day at the office for Eugene homicide detective Wade Jackson, but he has fallen ill and is facing surgery that will either kill him or, at the very least, keep him out of work for months. When the rich girl turns up dead, Jackson ignores his own health issues to find the other girl before she meets the same fate.

Sellers, the author of excellent The Sex Club and the just-as-good Secrets to Die For, knows how to wring as much tension as possible from her intricate, socially relevant plots, but it is her talent for creating intriguing characters that makes her suspense novels so memorable. In fact, she’s so good that it’s surprising she hasn’t yet broken through the mid-list barrier and into suspense superstardom.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:41:54

I’ve always been fascinated by L.J. Sellers headline-conscious mysteries, where super detectives don’t exist, but bright and idealistic justice seekers can be found on every page. In Sellers’ Thrilled to Death two Eugene, Oregon women disappear on the same day. One is wealthy and spoiled, the other a desperate single mother on the verge of giving up her baby for adoption. Normally, this would be just another day at the office for Eugene homicide detective Wade Jackson, but he has fallen ill and is facing surgery that will either kill him or, at the very least, keep him out of work for months. When the rich girl turns up dead, Jackson ignores his own health issues to find the other girl before she meets the same fate.

Sellers, the author of excellent The Sex Club and the just-as-good Secrets to Die For, knows how to wring as much tension as possible from her intricate, socially relevant plots, but it is her talent for creating intriguing characters that makes her suspense novels so memorable. In fact, she’s so good that it’s surprising she hasn’t yet broken through the mid-list barrier and into suspense superstardom.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Betty Webb

In Don Bruns’ Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, newly-licensed Miami PIs Skip Moore and James Lessor are well-meaning bumblers, but they’re still heaps smarter than the hapless carnies they encounter when they go underground at a carnival. Someone has been sabotaging the rides, resulting in one death and the near-fatal injury of another man.

Told from Skip’s hilarious first-person POV, we see his frustration as his partner falls in lust with a carnival-loving hottie, to the further detriment of his already poor detecting skills. Aware that they’re in over their heads, the two purchase a trunk full of spy gear, then belatedly realize that they don’t even know how to work the stuff. In the meantime, the carnie body count rises. A ride operator is found murdered while answering a call of nature (yes, we’re talking toilet humor, and lots of it, too), and Skip is threatened while walking through the darkened Funhouse.

One warning: political correctness in nowhere to be found in this book. In the scenes that include a dwarf who runs a petting zoo, Skip and James never miss a chance to let fly ribald short jokes. Nevertheless, Bruns treats us to an amusing mystery about two bungling detectives who crack enough one-liners to star in their own sitcom. This is a new direction for Bruns, who is best known for his popular Caribbean mystery series which includes Bahama Burnout and St. Barts Breakdown.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:47:45

bruns_dontsweatthesmallstuffSkip and James, two bungling detectives, crack one-liners and cases in Bruns' latest caper.

Front Page Teaser
Betty Webb

Rosemary Herbert’s Front Page Teaser is set nine months before the horrific events of 9/11, which lends an international thriller aspect to a story about a missing mother. The action begins when Ellen Johansson, intrigued by her Arabic-speaking cabdriver, unwisely says good-by to him using an Arabic phrase she’s learned from a Middle Eastern pen pal. She has no way of knowing that the cab driver is a part of the 9/11 plot, and that her friendly gesture will put her in harm’s way. As the clock ticks down, the action shifts back and forth from Boston to New York, creeping ever closer to the day terrorists attacked America.

The looming tragedy is both the novel’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness, because the memories of the World Trade Center crumbling into dust can’t help but overshadow the book’s characters and plot. Protagonist Liz Higgins, a reporter who is investigating Ellen’s disappearance, is wily and likeable; so is her banjo-playing Irish boyfriend. But as pleasant as the two are, they can’t compete with the world-changing events we know are to come. Even the missing mother’s dire situation seems minor in comparison.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 22:58:49

Rosemary Herbert’s Front Page Teaser is set nine months before the horrific events of 9/11, which lends an international thriller aspect to a story about a missing mother. The action begins when Ellen Johansson, intrigued by her Arabic-speaking cabdriver, unwisely says good-by to him using an Arabic phrase she’s learned from a Middle Eastern pen pal. She has no way of knowing that the cab driver is a part of the 9/11 plot, and that her friendly gesture will put her in harm’s way. As the clock ticks down, the action shifts back and forth from Boston to New York, creeping ever closer to the day terrorists attacked America.

The looming tragedy is both the novel’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness, because the memories of the World Trade Center crumbling into dust can’t help but overshadow the book’s characters and plot. Protagonist Liz Higgins, a reporter who is investigating Ellen’s disappearance, is wily and likeable; so is her banjo-playing Irish boyfriend. But as pleasant as the two are, they can’t compete with the world-changing events we know are to come. Even the missing mother’s dire situation seems minor in comparison.

Murder at the Pta
Lynne F. Maxwell

In Laura Alden’s Murder at the PTA, accidental sleuth Beth Kennedy, mother and children’s bookstore owner, is something less than thrilled when her best friend strong-arms her into accepting the position of PTA secretary. Being secretary of any organization is a notoriously thankless task, particularly when trouble erupts. In Beth’s case disaster strikes when the school’s autocratic principal unilaterally decides to build a new elementary school. Not only does she announce this project as an edict, but apparently it is already a done deal, with architectural plans finalized. Not surprisingly, the townsfolk are aghast and there is a predictable outcry. Still, this news is shortly eclipsed by the murder of Agnes, the selfsame principal, and by Beth’s struggle to discover who Agnes was. Where, for instance, did she acquire the capital to finance such a gargantuan project? Who was she before she came to town and assumed her draconian role as elementary school principal? Much of this book’s thrust, then, is devoted to Beth’s quest to answer a fundamental mystery: Can we ever truly know another human being? Alden’s exploration of this conundrum in Murder at the PTA is well worth your time.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 23:05:01

In Laura Alden’s Murder at the PTA, accidental sleuth Beth Kennedy, mother and children’s bookstore owner, is something less than thrilled when her best friend strong-arms her into accepting the position of PTA secretary. Being secretary of any organization is a notoriously thankless task, particularly when trouble erupts. In Beth’s case disaster strikes when the school’s autocratic principal unilaterally decides to build a new elementary school. Not only does she announce this project as an edict, but apparently it is already a done deal, with architectural plans finalized. Not surprisingly, the townsfolk are aghast and there is a predictable outcry. Still, this news is shortly eclipsed by the murder of Agnes, the selfsame principal, and by Beth’s struggle to discover who Agnes was. Where, for instance, did she acquire the capital to finance such a gargantuan project? Who was she before she came to town and assumed her draconian role as elementary school principal? Much of this book’s thrust, then, is devoted to Beth’s quest to answer a fundamental mystery: Can we ever truly know another human being? Alden’s exploration of this conundrum in Murder at the PTA is well worth your time.

Fundraising the Dead
Lynne F. Maxwell

Sheila Connolly’s Fundraising the Dead also delves into the mysteries of the human psyche, this time emphasizing the allure of money and power. Connolly’s new Museum Mystery series is quite a bit darker than her delightful Apple Orchard Mystery series, but it is even more skillfully executed. Set in Philadelphia, repository of old money and blue bloods, this series debut features astute fundraiser Nell Pratt, director of development for a small but prestigious museum holding collections of valuable papers and objects of local historical significance.

As the story begins, Nell is nervously presiding over a gala fundraiser when she learns that a number of museum items have mysteriously vanished. As the gala unfolds, the museum employee attempting to track down the missing materials meets an untimely demise. Coincidence? Murder? At the instigation of the eccentric Marty, one of the blue-blooded donors, Nell sets out to investigate. While the reader may not be entirely surprised when the criminal is exposed, the motivation for the crimes will come as a shock and it’s a pleasure to accompany Nell on her quest. Fundraising the Dead is a promising debut with a winning protagonist.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 23:17:08

Sheila Connolly’s Fundraising the Dead also delves into the mysteries of the human psyche, this time emphasizing the allure of money and power. Connolly’s new Museum Mystery series is quite a bit darker than her delightful Apple Orchard Mystery series, but it is even more skillfully executed. Set in Philadelphia, repository of old money and blue bloods, this series debut features astute fundraiser Nell Pratt, director of development for a small but prestigious museum holding collections of valuable papers and objects of local historical significance.

As the story begins, Nell is nervously presiding over a gala fundraiser when she learns that a number of museum items have mysteriously vanished. As the gala unfolds, the museum employee attempting to track down the missing materials meets an untimely demise. Coincidence? Murder? At the instigation of the eccentric Marty, one of the blue-blooded donors, Nell sets out to investigate. While the reader may not be entirely surprised when the criminal is exposed, the motivation for the crimes will come as a shock and it’s a pleasure to accompany Nell on her quest. Fundraising the Dead is a promising debut with a winning protagonist.

An Uplifting Murder
Elaine Viets

Welcome the return of an old favorite, Elaine Viets, with the sixth entry in her series featuring Josie Marcus, employed as a mystery shopper in St. Louis. Viets, also the author of the hilarious Helen Hawthorne series, somehow always manages to write energetic, humorous mysteries with fresh plot twists and additional nuances of character. Accordingly, we come to know Josie better with each outing.

In An Uplifting Murder Josie receives a new much-needed mystery shopping assignment. Her destination? An upscale lingerie store. The “uplift” of the title refers, of course, to the bras that Josie must try on as part of her assignment. Accompanied by her customary sidekick Alice—unlike Josie, a prosperous suburban housewife—Josie braves the bra store, only to discover that the manager is her former favorite teacher, one who long ago rescued her from the class bully. To compound the coincidence apparently common in “small town” St. Louis, that very bully also appears on the scene and she hasn’t changed a whit over the many intervening years.

You will undoubtedly guess who becomes a murder victim, but you will want to devour this entertaining book to find out why. As always, Viets creates a heroine replete with wit, intelligence and a sense of humor and entwines her in complicated plot strands. So, for an uplifting read experience Elaine Viets’ An Uplifting Murder.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 23:22:22

Welcome the return of an old favorite, Elaine Viets, with the sixth entry in her series featuring Josie Marcus, employed as a mystery shopper in St. Louis. Viets, also the author of the hilarious Helen Hawthorne series, somehow always manages to write energetic, humorous mysteries with fresh plot twists and additional nuances of character. Accordingly, we come to know Josie better with each outing.

In An Uplifting Murder Josie receives a new much-needed mystery shopping assignment. Her destination? An upscale lingerie store. The “uplift” of the title refers, of course, to the bras that Josie must try on as part of her assignment. Accompanied by her customary sidekick Alice—unlike Josie, a prosperous suburban housewife—Josie braves the bra store, only to discover that the manager is her former favorite teacher, one who long ago rescued her from the class bully. To compound the coincidence apparently common in “small town” St. Louis, that very bully also appears on the scene and she hasn’t changed a whit over the many intervening years.

You will undoubtedly guess who becomes a murder victim, but you will want to devour this entertaining book to find out why. As always, Viets creates a heroine replete with wit, intelligence and a sense of humor and entwines her in complicated plot strands. So, for an uplifting read experience Elaine Viets’ An Uplifting Murder.

Injustice for All
Lynne F. Maxwell

And now, for something completely different, consider Scott Pratt’s Injustice for All. Remember the John Grisham of A Time to Kill and The Firm? Well, if you liked those books then you’re going to enjoy Scott Pratt’s work. Pratt has mastered the disciplines of characterization, plot and narrative, making for an incredible roller coaster of a ride in this compelling book. From the stunning beginning to the equally breathtaking conclusion, Pratt will surely hold you hostage as he portrays Joe Dillard, a Tennessee prosecutor, and his furious quest for justice. Joe’s close friend Ray Miller commits suicide in a public courtroom, which is perhaps the ultimate closing statement. That’s not the end of the horror, though, because the judge presiding over that courtroom shortly meets his own death by hanging. Read on as Joe uncovers layers upon layers of dangerous secrets. In the end, though, has justice been meted out at all? As one of my law school professors commented: “This is law school; if you want justice, go across the street to the theology school.” Injustice for All echoes that sort of cynicism, even as it strives to offer hope.

Teri Duerr
2011-01-05 23:26:57

And now, for something completely different, consider Scott Pratt’s Injustice for All. Remember the John Grisham of A Time to Kill and The Firm? Well, if you liked those books then you’re going to enjoy Scott Pratt’s work. Pratt has mastered the disciplines of characterization, plot and narrative, making for an incredible roller coaster of a ride in this compelling book. From the stunning beginning to the equally breathtaking conclusion, Pratt will surely hold you hostage as he portrays Joe Dillard, a Tennessee prosecutor, and his furious quest for justice. Joe’s close friend Ray Miller commits suicide in a public courtroom, which is perhaps the ultimate closing statement. That’s not the end of the horror, though, because the judge presiding over that courtroom shortly meets his own death by hanging. Read on as Joe uncovers layers upon layers of dangerous secrets. In the end, though, has justice been meted out at all? As one of my law school professors commented: “This is law school; if you want justice, go across the street to the theology school.” Injustice for All echoes that sort of cynicism, even as it strives to offer hope.