Come and Find Me
Betty Webb

Suspense fans love the thrill of the chase, so how is it possible to write a successful suspense novel when the protagonist is an agoraphobe who’s afraid to leave her home? Diana Banks, a reformed “black hat” computer hacker, hasn’t left her bunker-like house since her husband Daniel died in a mountain climbing accident. Grief-stricken and terrified of the outside world, she supports herself by working as a computer security consultant for a nationwide health care organization, and lives her “social” life online in the guise of Nadia, her computer game avatar.

Diana appears to be making the best of an unhealthy situation until her sister Ashley disappears. After being blown off by the cops, she realizes the only way to find Ashley is to overcome her terror of the outside world and search for her sister herself.

Psychologically astute and emotionally gripping, author Ephron understands that the fears we inflict upon ourselves can be more crippling than a man with a gun. She brings readers into Diana’s anguished mind so completely that no shoot-outs or car crashes are necessary for us to feel terror right along with her when she leaves her house for the first time in ages. But Diana’s love for her sister trumps her fear. Almost as gripping as the psychological suspense is Ephron’s take on the black hat versus white hat hacker wars, which reveals how their online shoot-outs can have real-life consequences for us all. A unique and compelling novel to be read more than once.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

ephron_comeandfindmeHow do you write a thrilling suspense novel when the protagonist is an agoraphobe afraid to leave home?

Noche Roja
Betty Webb

The torture and murders of dozens of young women in the border town of Ciudad Juárez are infamous, and in this wrenching illustrated novel, they are front and center. Drunken PI Jack Cohen falls into this morass when he’s hired by Paloma Flores, a hollow-eyed beauty who runs a Mexican women’s aid agency. Already grieving because so many of her clients have turned up dead, Flores becomes even more anguished when an innocent 14-year-old disappears on the way home from her job at the maquiladora, a border factory. Flores knows that chances are good the girl will wind up tossed onto the same garbage dump where other victims were found. Cohen, meanwhile, is trying his best to stay sober, but it’s a losing battle, especially when he discovers that the sex crimes have high connections. They are rooted in a snake’s nest of dirty cops and politicians, all of them milking NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows for easy-access commerce between the US and Mexico).

The girls and women of Juarez are caught in the middle. Despised by men on both sides of the border, they have only one way of escaping their horrific lives—to work at the maquiladoras until they’ve saved enough money to buy their way out. This is grim stuff. Writer Oliver spares us no details about the women’s mutilations, as well as the thoughts and language of the men responsible for their fate. Artist Latour’s work is purposely crude, and each of his panels is filled with massive shadows and brutish faces. There’s no beauty here, nor was there meant to be.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

The torture and murders of dozens of young women in the border town of Ciudad Juárez are infamous, and in this wrenching illustrated novel, they are front and center. Drunken PI Jack Cohen falls into this morass when he’s hired by Paloma Flores, a hollow-eyed beauty who runs a Mexican women’s aid agency. Already grieving because so many of her clients have turned up dead, Flores becomes even more anguished when an innocent 14-year-old disappears on the way home from her job at the maquiladora, a border factory. Flores knows that chances are good the girl will wind up tossed onto the same garbage dump where other victims were found. Cohen, meanwhile, is trying his best to stay sober, but it’s a losing battle, especially when he discovers that the sex crimes have high connections. They are rooted in a snake’s nest of dirty cops and politicians, all of them milking NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows for easy-access commerce between the US and Mexico).

The girls and women of Juarez are caught in the middle. Despised by men on both sides of the border, they have only one way of escaping their horrific lives—to work at the maquiladoras until they’ve saved enough money to buy their way out. This is grim stuff. Writer Oliver spares us no details about the women’s mutilations, as well as the thoughts and language of the men responsible for their fate. Artist Latour’s work is purposely crude, and each of his panels is filled with massive shadows and brutish faces. There’s no beauty here, nor was there meant to be.

The Cruel Ever After
Verna Suit

Chester (“Chess”) Garrity is a freelance dealer in antiquities who has come to Minneapolis to try to sell a statue looted from the Baghdad Museum. When he finds his would-be buyer dead he needs to lie low and moves into his ex-wife’s guest room. He is looking for a new buyer and carrying on a sometime affair with his co-conspirator Irina Nelson when Irina’s mother is killed and her antiquities shop is ransacked. Chess becomes the primary suspect and begs his ex-wife for help.

His ex is none other than restaurateur Jane Lawless, an upstanding member of the local lesbian community. Jane isn’t proud of their brief marriage of convenience and wants to keep it quiet, but she also wants to help Chess. The problem is, there is so much about him that she doesn’t know, and what she thought she knew is turning out to be false.

The Cruel Ever After, 18th in Hart’s Jane Lawless series, is a sophisticated traditional mystery. The complex story centers on the problems that Chess’ shady dealings and arrival in Minneapolis cause for the families of the women in his life. Jane’s lawyer father and her brother’s family are dragged in because of their ties to Jane.

Jane’s colorful and overdramatic friend Cordelia provides comic relief to the otherwise serious situation brought on by Chess’ chronic lying and Irina’s increasingly fragile mental state. The leisurely pacing allows in-depth examination of highly emotional situations and complex family dynamics, the volatile ingredients of a surprising climax.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

Chester (“Chess”) Garrity is a freelance dealer in antiquities who has come to Minneapolis to try to sell a statue looted from the Baghdad Museum. When he finds his would-be buyer dead he needs to lie low and moves into his ex-wife’s guest room. He is looking for a new buyer and carrying on a sometime affair with his co-conspirator Irina Nelson when Irina’s mother is killed and her antiquities shop is ransacked. Chess becomes the primary suspect and begs his ex-wife for help.

His ex is none other than restaurateur Jane Lawless, an upstanding member of the local lesbian community. Jane isn’t proud of their brief marriage of convenience and wants to keep it quiet, but she also wants to help Chess. The problem is, there is so much about him that she doesn’t know, and what she thought she knew is turning out to be false.

The Cruel Ever After, 18th in Hart’s Jane Lawless series, is a sophisticated traditional mystery. The complex story centers on the problems that Chess’ shady dealings and arrival in Minneapolis cause for the families of the women in his life. Jane’s lawyer father and her brother’s family are dragged in because of their ties to Jane.

Jane’s colorful and overdramatic friend Cordelia provides comic relief to the otherwise serious situation brought on by Chess’ chronic lying and Irina’s increasingly fragile mental state. The leisurely pacing allows in-depth examination of highly emotional situations and complex family dynamics, the volatile ingredients of a surprising climax.

Found Wanting
Hank Wagner

Richard Eusden is on his way to his humdrum job in the UK Foreign Office one morning when, to his great surprise, he sees a Mazda driven by his ex-wife Gemma in the street in front of him. He joins her in her car and is even more surprised when he learns her purpose in seeking him out after so many years: she wants him to deliver a locked briefcase to her other ex-husband, Eusden’s estranged friend, Marty Hewitson. Because of their past relationship, and because it involves his former bosom buddy Marty, Eusden reluctantly agrees, thus embarking on a long, strange, dangerous trip across several European cities, which, although he does not realize it immediately, may cost him his life.

At times evoking Graham Greene’s The Third Man or John Buchan’s tales of Richard Hannay, Goddard seduces readers with irresistible cliffhangers and colorful locales, as well as a sympathetic leading man, one readers can easily identify with and root for as he attempts to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a woman claiming to be Anastasia, last of the Romanov royal family. Found Wanting is an absolutely wonderful read—fresh and innovative, blending great writing with intelligent plotting, good humor, nail-biting suspense, and sudden violence.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

Richard Eusden is on his way to his humdrum job in the UK Foreign Office one morning when, to his great surprise, he sees a Mazda driven by his ex-wife Gemma in the street in front of him. He joins her in her car and is even more surprised when he learns her purpose in seeking him out after so many years: she wants him to deliver a locked briefcase to her other ex-husband, Eusden’s estranged friend, Marty Hewitson. Because of their past relationship, and because it involves his former bosom buddy Marty, Eusden reluctantly agrees, thus embarking on a long, strange, dangerous trip across several European cities, which, although he does not realize it immediately, may cost him his life.

At times evoking Graham Greene’s The Third Man or John Buchan’s tales of Richard Hannay, Goddard seduces readers with irresistible cliffhangers and colorful locales, as well as a sympathetic leading man, one readers can easily identify with and root for as he attempts to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a woman claiming to be Anastasia, last of the Romanov royal family. Found Wanting is an absolutely wonderful read—fresh and innovative, blending great writing with intelligent plotting, good humor, nail-biting suspense, and sudden violence.

Force of Habit
Dori Cocuz

In Force of Habit Giulia Falcone, formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis, is perfectly happy just to have a job as an office assistant for PI Frank Driscoll. It pays enough to cover her rent and bills, and she can concentrate on trying to fit back into life outside the convent. But when playboy client Blake Parker and his fiancée start receiving threatening packages with passages from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Solomon, Giulia’s expertise is needed to crack the case.

Before she knows it, she’s Frank’s partner-in-training, and falling for Frank in a big way. But when the person threatening Blake and his fiancée begins targeting Giulia as well, things go from weird to disturbingly kinky to just plain dangerous.

Force of Habit does not boast the strongest writing, and readers may find the bizarre ending a bit too over the top, but Giulia herself is a unique and engaging character—made more interesting, no doubt, by the fact that Loweecey is a former nun herself. When Giulia’s life starts to unravel and we really see what she’s made of, this reader truly began to root for her. And when Frank allows his perception of reality to unfairly color his opinion of her, readers won’t be able to help but feel righteous indignation on her behalf. And whether they’ve been a nun or not, plenty of readers will relate to Giulia’s struggle to embrace herself and her sexuality without the burden of guilt.

Genteel readers should be warned that this book contains explicit sex and incest. And Catholic readers should be aware Loweecey often implies that the goings-on behind convent doors are not as serene as one would believe. As a non-Catholic reader, I am intrigued, and hope to learn more in her next book.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

In Force of Habit Giulia Falcone, formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis, is perfectly happy just to have a job as an office assistant for PI Frank Driscoll. It pays enough to cover her rent and bills, and she can concentrate on trying to fit back into life outside the convent. But when playboy client Blake Parker and his fiancée start receiving threatening packages with passages from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Solomon, Giulia’s expertise is needed to crack the case.

Before she knows it, she’s Frank’s partner-in-training, and falling for Frank in a big way. But when the person threatening Blake and his fiancée begins targeting Giulia as well, things go from weird to disturbingly kinky to just plain dangerous.

Force of Habit does not boast the strongest writing, and readers may find the bizarre ending a bit too over the top, but Giulia herself is a unique and engaging character—made more interesting, no doubt, by the fact that Loweecey is a former nun herself. When Giulia’s life starts to unravel and we really see what she’s made of, this reader truly began to root for her. And when Frank allows his perception of reality to unfairly color his opinion of her, readers won’t be able to help but feel righteous indignation on her behalf. And whether they’ve been a nun or not, plenty of readers will relate to Giulia’s struggle to embrace herself and her sexuality without the burden of guilt.

Genteel readers should be warned that this book contains explicit sex and incest. And Catholic readers should be aware Loweecey often implies that the goings-on behind convent doors are not as serene as one would believe. As a non-Catholic reader, I am intrigued, and hope to learn more in her next book.

Heartstone
Oline H. Cogdill

A country in the midst of a controversial war, besieged by inflation and economic crisis, with a leader whose popularity is plummeting and whose policies are constantly questioned—welcome to Tudor England during the uneasy summer of 1545.

The already overtaxed British people, whose coinage has been devalued by King Henry VIII, prepare for attack by the huge French fleet at Portsmouth. Nearly every able-bodied man has been drafted to fight the war. To say the British people are a little fed up by their sovereign is an understatement.

In these uncertain times, English attorney Matthew Shardlake is asked by Queen Catherine Parr to look into a private matter. The son of an old servant of the queen recently committed suicide, distraught because he had learned that “monstrous wrongs” had been inflicted on a former student. Shardlake’s investigation links the student, a ward of the court, with that of a rape victim, who has been institutionalized in Bedlam for more than 20 years. As with anything dealing with the royal court, Shardlake’s latest case is a minefield of political intrigue.

C.J. Sansom delivers a sumptuous, epic story about Tudor England in his fifth novel featuring the brilliant and compassionate Shardlake. Despite its length—640 pages—Heartstone moves briskly, working equally as a war novel and a story about privilege, unchecked power, and abject poverty. Shardlake’s quest for justice has never been more profound than in Heartstone and his concerns never more relevant to today.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 12:03

A country in the midst of a controversial war, besieged by inflation and economic crisis, with a leader whose popularity is plummeting and whose policies are constantly questioned—welcome to Tudor England during the uneasy summer of 1545.

The already overtaxed British people, whose coinage has been devalued by King Henry VIII, prepare for attack by the huge French fleet at Portsmouth. Nearly every able-bodied man has been drafted to fight the war. To say the British people are a little fed up by their sovereign is an understatement.

In these uncertain times, English attorney Matthew Shardlake is asked by Queen Catherine Parr to look into a private matter. The son of an old servant of the queen recently committed suicide, distraught because he had learned that “monstrous wrongs” had been inflicted on a former student. Shardlake’s investigation links the student, a ward of the court, with that of a rape victim, who has been institutionalized in Bedlam for more than 20 years. As with anything dealing with the royal court, Shardlake’s latest case is a minefield of political intrigue.

C.J. Sansom delivers a sumptuous, epic story about Tudor England in his fifth novel featuring the brilliant and compassionate Shardlake. Despite its length—640 pages—Heartstone moves briskly, working equally as a war novel and a story about privilege, unchecked power, and abject poverty. Shardlake’s quest for justice has never been more profound than in Heartstone and his concerns never more relevant to today.

Gone
Leslie Doran

A woman loading groceries into the back of her car is violently shoved aside and a stranger sporting a rubber Santa mask grabs her keys and takes off. She tries to hang on to the car but she is helpless to prevent her daughter, in the back seat, from being stolen away. British author Hayder plays on the fears of every parent in the compelling opening of her seventh novel, Gone.

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Major Crime Investigation Unit arrives on the scene expecting the carjacker to follow past actions where the unexpected presence of children are involved—drop them off somewhere fast. As the hours drag on with no sign of 11-year-old Martha, Sergeant Flea (Phoebe) Marley, a police diver, puts forth an alternative theory: a horrifying pattern where seemingly unrelated carjackings might actually be a well-organized plan to kidnap the children. But why? When a four-year-old girl is taken and Martha still hasn’t turned up, Caffery and Marley realize the stakes have been raised and the proverbial clock is ticking.

Hayder has written a multilayered story that involves dedicated lead detectives, agonized parents, and a brilliant antagonist (who manages to stay one step ahead of the investigation). The author excels at getting inside Caffery and Marley’s heads as they frantically attempt to discover the villain before another child is taken. Her characters are fascinating; flawed and weighted with their own past, but dealing with the demands of the current case. Caffery in particular relates only too well to this case, because as a child, his own brother was taken and never seen again. The detective also navigates his strained relationship with Marley, which began professionally then veered toward the romantic only to be derailed by Caffery’s belief that Marley was involved in the disappearance of another woman.

Gone is a classic tension-filled thriller, elevated by Hayder’s characterization and her facility with description (which especially shines in Flea’s underwater search scenes). The final pages bring surprising revelations and the story ends with a shocking bang.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

A woman loading groceries into the back of her car is violently shoved aside and a stranger sporting a rubber Santa mask grabs her keys and takes off. She tries to hang on to the car but she is helpless to prevent her daughter, in the back seat, from being stolen away. British author Hayder plays on the fears of every parent in the compelling opening of her seventh novel, Gone.

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Major Crime Investigation Unit arrives on the scene expecting the carjacker to follow past actions where the unexpected presence of children are involved—drop them off somewhere fast. As the hours drag on with no sign of 11-year-old Martha, Sergeant Flea (Phoebe) Marley, a police diver, puts forth an alternative theory: a horrifying pattern where seemingly unrelated carjackings might actually be a well-organized plan to kidnap the children. But why? When a four-year-old girl is taken and Martha still hasn’t turned up, Caffery and Marley realize the stakes have been raised and the proverbial clock is ticking.

Hayder has written a multilayered story that involves dedicated lead detectives, agonized parents, and a brilliant antagonist (who manages to stay one step ahead of the investigation). The author excels at getting inside Caffery and Marley’s heads as they frantically attempt to discover the villain before another child is taken. Her characters are fascinating; flawed and weighted with their own past, but dealing with the demands of the current case. Caffery in particular relates only too well to this case, because as a child, his own brother was taken and never seen again. The detective also navigates his strained relationship with Marley, which began professionally then veered toward the romantic only to be derailed by Caffery’s belief that Marley was involved in the disappearance of another woman.

Gone is a classic tension-filled thriller, elevated by Hayder’s characterization and her facility with description (which especially shines in Flea’s underwater search scenes). The final pages bring surprising revelations and the story ends with a shocking bang.

The Devotion of Suspect X
Bob Smith

The Japanese are true devotees of mysteries but regrettably few of their books get translated into English. One of that country’s most noted authors, Keigo Higashino, finally has one of his novels published in America and it is certain to open the floodgates for many more. The Devotion of Suspect X won Japan’s top literary award, the Naoki Prize, the equivalent of our National Book Award, and is a huge bestseller throughout Asia. If ever a novel deserved the accolades that have been heaped upon it, this is the one.

The saying, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” probably best describes this book. The plot seems simple yet is actually complex and puzzling. A woman is overheard by a neighbor when she kills her ex-husband. The neighbor, Ishigami, is a mathematics professor who is secretly in love with her. As a way of proving his devotion he creates an alibi that is perfect in just about every way. The police detective in charge is baffled and turns to his friend Yukawa, a physics professor, for help. Yukawa and Ishigami were university students together and are both considered brilliant in their respective fields. The police cannot break the woman’s alibi but Yukawa suspects that Ishigami is involved and investigates on his own. A battle of wits ensues between these two brilliant men leading to a conclusion so startling, so shocking, and yet so perfect that it will leave you breathless. Author Higashino has played fair and provided every essential clue necessary for the reader to solve the puzzle, but I doubt many will do so. Despite a flat translation, this psychological thriller will stay with you long after you close the covers.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

higashino_devotionofsuspectxOne of Japan’s most noted authors finally brings his excellent psychological puzzler to US readers.

The Kenken Killings
Jackie Houchin

Parnell Hall delivers another witty Puzzle Lady Mystery, featuring his outspoken and opinionated crime-fighting sleuth, Cora Felton. Fans of the series know Cora doesn’t construct the crossword puzzles she’s famous for and couldn’t solve one if she tried, but when it comes to solving murders, she’s always one step ahead of the police.

In this 12th book in the series, Hall introduces KenKen puzzles which are similar to Sudoku but with numeric calculations. Unlike crosswords, Cora can easily solve these, a good thing since they keep turning up at crime scenes.

Cora has had several husbands, but she can’t quite recall the late Chester Markowitz. And yet he has bequeathed her—his beloved wife—$10,000. Cora sees no harm in cashing the check, but when she does, her most recent ex-husband shows up with a sleazy lawyer to stop his alimony payments because she has remarried.

Cora’s in big trouble, but when the key witness in the alimony hearing is murdered and a KenKen is found near the body, the focus shifts from petty squabbles to deadly intent. More puzzles arrive (KenKens and crosswords) and their combined clues lead Cora to the murder weapon. Another murder and set of puzzles convince Cora that someone is constructing an elaborate “frame” on an innocent man. Can she add up the numbers and nail the killer?

Hall’s deadpan humor and lightning-fast dialogue, as well as seven actual puzzles which readers may solve, make The KenKen Killings an amusing and entertaining book. However, a major plot point left unresolved may disappoint diehard detectives.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

Parnell Hall delivers another witty Puzzle Lady Mystery, featuring his outspoken and opinionated crime-fighting sleuth, Cora Felton. Fans of the series know Cora doesn’t construct the crossword puzzles she’s famous for and couldn’t solve one if she tried, but when it comes to solving murders, she’s always one step ahead of the police.

In this 12th book in the series, Hall introduces KenKen puzzles which are similar to Sudoku but with numeric calculations. Unlike crosswords, Cora can easily solve these, a good thing since they keep turning up at crime scenes.

Cora has had several husbands, but she can’t quite recall the late Chester Markowitz. And yet he has bequeathed her—his beloved wife—$10,000. Cora sees no harm in cashing the check, but when she does, her most recent ex-husband shows up with a sleazy lawyer to stop his alimony payments because she has remarried.

Cora’s in big trouble, but when the key witness in the alimony hearing is murdered and a KenKen is found near the body, the focus shifts from petty squabbles to deadly intent. More puzzles arrive (KenKens and crosswords) and their combined clues lead Cora to the murder weapon. Another murder and set of puzzles convince Cora that someone is constructing an elaborate “frame” on an innocent man. Can she add up the numbers and nail the killer?

Hall’s deadpan humor and lightning-fast dialogue, as well as seven actual puzzles which readers may solve, make The KenKen Killings an amusing and entertaining book. However, a major plot point left unresolved may disappoint diehard detectives.

One Rough Man
Oline H. Cogdill

Tough times demand tough decisions made by tougher people. Or, in this case, Pike Logan, who is the toughest and roughest of them all. In One Rough Man, Logan leads the Taskforce, a secret government counterterrorist corps of highly trained soldiers. Set up by the president’s Project Prometheus, Taskforce operates outside the law as its members try to eliminate terrorists. Saving the world prevents most of the members from having personal lives, except for Logan who has a loving wife and daughter. He keeps promising them that each mission will be his last and that he will settle down to a normal life.

Following a personal tragedy, Logan quits the Taskforce and becomes a loner, fueled by alcohol and self-hate. He is pulled back into the fray after he kills two hit men trying to kidnap college student Jennifer Cahill, whose uncle has just discovered an ancient weapon of mass destruction in Guatemala. Logan finds himself up against terrorists who want the weapon to start a war in the Middle East as well as a conspiracy in the highest ranks of the US government.

Brad Taylor, a former Delta Force commander, delivers a high-energy thriller in One Rough Man, but struggles with finessing his characters and plot. A high body count, Jennifer’s too-numerous kidnappings, and wooden dialogue mar the story. While Logan often comes off as a bit too much of a superhero, Taylor has created a true heroine in plucky college student Jennifer. While she’s not in Logan’s league, she knows how to hold her own. Taylor also knows how to create villains; the enemy who emerges is a slimy and nasty piece of work.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

Tough times demand tough decisions made by tougher people. Or, in this case, Pike Logan, who is the toughest and roughest of them all. In One Rough Man, Logan leads the Taskforce, a secret government counterterrorist corps of highly trained soldiers. Set up by the president’s Project Prometheus, Taskforce operates outside the law as its members try to eliminate terrorists. Saving the world prevents most of the members from having personal lives, except for Logan who has a loving wife and daughter. He keeps promising them that each mission will be his last and that he will settle down to a normal life.

Following a personal tragedy, Logan quits the Taskforce and becomes a loner, fueled by alcohol and self-hate. He is pulled back into the fray after he kills two hit men trying to kidnap college student Jennifer Cahill, whose uncle has just discovered an ancient weapon of mass destruction in Guatemala. Logan finds himself up against terrorists who want the weapon to start a war in the Middle East as well as a conspiracy in the highest ranks of the US government.

Brad Taylor, a former Delta Force commander, delivers a high-energy thriller in One Rough Man, but struggles with finessing his characters and plot. A high body count, Jennifer’s too-numerous kidnappings, and wooden dialogue mar the story. While Logan often comes off as a bit too much of a superhero, Taylor has created a true heroine in plucky college student Jennifer. While she’s not in Logan’s league, she knows how to hold her own. Taylor also knows how to create villains; the enemy who emerges is a slimy and nasty piece of work.

Instruments of Darkness
Sue Emmons

Imogen Robertson offers up a fascinating forensic duo in her debut mystery set in England in 1780. Combining crime-solving talents are the solitary anatomist Gabriel Crowther and the strong-willed Harriet Westerman, the wife of a frequently absent naval officer, who asks Crowther for help after she discovers a corpse on her property in Sussex. Westerman is convinced the body is connected to her secretive neighbors at foreboding, gloomy Thornleigh Hall—where the ailing Lord Thornleigh, his wanton young wife, and his alcoholic second son, a former soldier, reside. In a second murder, the owner of a London music store is slain, leaving an orphaned daughter and son, as well as clues that link him to Thornleigh Hall.

Robertson’s plot cleverly ranges from the Gordon Riots, the violent anti-Catholic uprising in London, to everyday domestic life in a small Sussex village to harrowing glimpses of the American Revolution as she dissects the disintegration of a once prominent family. The repartee between Crowther, who has his own dark past to contend with, and Westerman is delightful (as he reinforces her feminist leanings and she, in turn, lures him from his reclusiveness). The telling of this solid tale is somewhat overwrought, but it is likely intentional to convey the novelty of forensics as a crime-solving tool in the Georgian period. Readers will be happy to learn that the author, a former film and television director in London, has already completed a sequel.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

Imogen Robertson offers up a fascinating forensic duo in her debut mystery set in England in 1780. Combining crime-solving talents are the solitary anatomist Gabriel Crowther and the strong-willed Harriet Westerman, the wife of a frequently absent naval officer, who asks Crowther for help after she discovers a corpse on her property in Sussex. Westerman is convinced the body is connected to her secretive neighbors at foreboding, gloomy Thornleigh Hall—where the ailing Lord Thornleigh, his wanton young wife, and his alcoholic second son, a former soldier, reside. In a second murder, the owner of a London music store is slain, leaving an orphaned daughter and son, as well as clues that link him to Thornleigh Hall.

Robertson’s plot cleverly ranges from the Gordon Riots, the violent anti-Catholic uprising in London, to everyday domestic life in a small Sussex village to harrowing glimpses of the American Revolution as she dissects the disintegration of a once prominent family. The repartee between Crowther, who has his own dark past to contend with, and Westerman is delightful (as he reinforces her feminist leanings and she, in turn, lures him from his reclusiveness). The telling of this solid tale is somewhat overwrought, but it is likely intentional to convey the novelty of forensics as a crime-solving tool in the Georgian period. Readers will be happy to learn that the author, a former film and television director in London, has already completed a sequel.

Rat Catcher
Kevin Burton Smith

The crime comic boom continues with this latest graphic novel from DC’s Vertigo Crime line, and this time there are no zombie gumshoes, vampire hit men, or ancient Druid leg-breakers to muddy the waters—just a solid and satisfying meat-and-potatoes, action-packed tale of betrayal and redemption, as a determined FBI agent tries to track down the notorious Rat Catcher, who specializes in taking out informants hidden deep within the confines of the federal Witness Protection Program.

There’s a slight hitch, though—nobody’s ever seen the guy and there are more than a few law enforcement officials who don’t even believe he exists. The action kicks off in the West Texas Badlands, with a massacre at a Fed safehouse. Aging FBI Special Agent Moses Burdon, the man who “practically wrote the book on witness protection,” arrives at the scene to discover several unidentified corpses and the house almost burned to the ground, his partner William Lynch suspected of being one of the dead. Or is he? If not, he’s in the wind. Could Lynch be the Rat Catcher? Either way, Moses needs to find out what happened. Pronto. Despite the two young US Marshals assigned to him who are slowing him down.

There are the usual shapeshifting plot twists and the typical rogues' gallery of violent and/or colorful characters, including the seemingly untouchable Rawlins, a grizzled former slaughterhouse operator and current Texas crime lord who’s the target of an ongoing federal investigation, and Starks, his ex-Marine henchman, who seems to enjoy his fancy artillery a little too much. Diggle and rookie illustrator Victor Ibanez aren’t shy about piling on the shoot-outs and explosions either. But it’s the fleeting glimpses of genuine affection and emotion between characters that really bring this one home.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 March 2011 01:03

The crime comic boom continues with this latest graphic novel from DC’s Vertigo Crime line, and this time there are no zombie gumshoes, vampire hit men, or ancient Druid leg-breakers to muddy the waters—just a solid and satisfying meat-and-potatoes, action-packed tale of betrayal and redemption, as a determined FBI agent tries to track down the notorious Rat Catcher, who specializes in taking out informants hidden deep within the confines of the federal Witness Protection Program.

There’s a slight hitch, though—nobody’s ever seen the guy and there are more than a few law enforcement officials who don’t even believe he exists. The action kicks off in the West Texas Badlands, with a massacre at a Fed safehouse. Aging FBI Special Agent Moses Burdon, the man who “practically wrote the book on witness protection,” arrives at the scene to discover several unidentified corpses and the house almost burned to the ground, his partner William Lynch suspected of being one of the dead. Or is he? If not, he’s in the wind. Could Lynch be the Rat Catcher? Either way, Moses needs to find out what happened. Pronto. Despite the two young US Marshals assigned to him who are slowing him down.

There are the usual shapeshifting plot twists and the typical rogues' gallery of violent and/or colorful characters, including the seemingly untouchable Rawlins, a grizzled former slaughterhouse operator and current Texas crime lord who’s the target of an ongoing federal investigation, and Starks, his ex-Marine henchman, who seems to enjoy his fancy artillery a little too much. Diggle and rookie illustrator Victor Ibanez aren’t shy about piling on the shoot-outs and explosions either. But it’s the fleeting glimpses of genuine affection and emotion between characters that really bring this one home.

Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
Oline Cogdill

titleAugie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in  Forest Park,  Ill., knows he’s one cool bookseller. How cool is he? Cool enough to be called that by many of his customers. Cool enough that the Chicago Tribune named his store one of the Ten Best Bookstores in Chicago.

And cool enough to have earned the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Established in 1953, the award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. This year, Centuries & Sleuths will share the honor with Once Upon a Crime, in Minneapolis, Minn. (Once Upon a Crime will be profiled April 17.) The Raven will be awarded during the 65th Edgar banquet April 28 in New York City.

The Top Ten status and the Raven Award rank as Aleksy’s two proudest moments since he opened Centuries & Sleuths 20 years ago.  “It seems like all my 'moments’ come in two’s,” said Aleksy.

Centuries & Sleuths is a warm, inviting and well organized store where a customer can sit in a rocking chair while looking through books. A bust of Sherlock Holmes exclusively commissioned by Centuries & Sleuths graces the bookstore.

From the day its doors opened, Centuries & Sleuths has been a destination for the discriminating reader, a meeting place for authors and readers and a place for intellectual discussion.  And that’s all been a part of Aleksy’s master plan.

When he was laid off from his job in banking-investments in 1989, he and his wife, Tracy, discussed starting his own business. Aleksy has a bachelor’s degree in political science and two master’s degrees in history and business-finance, so he wasn’t going to rush into a business without thorough analysis. His exhaustive research of bookstores, of readers habits and a survey at a local library proved that the specialties of history, mystery, and biography beat out any other category. The closest was the “Do It Yourself” category, which covered home-repair, gardening and computers. Aleksy took his research seriously. His store specializes in history, mystery and biography, and even some cookbooks that fall into line with these three areas.

“And what’s wonderful is when I look it over after 15 and then 20 years, many of the programs I wanted to do were dreams, but my friends and close customers helped make them happen,”said Aleksy.

The bookstore owner also credits his success with the author support he’s received. Authors both in the Chicago area and beyond regularly return to Centuries & Sleuths for signings and show up to support other authors’ events, and buy their colleagues’ books.

“The authors treat my customers and their reading fans with respect when they talk about their books and writing,” he said.

And authors have become Aleksy’s unofficial promoters, tauting Centuries & Sleuths to other writers and to members of the press, including during radio and TV interviews.

“It was through Barbara D’Amato’s reference to our store that the late Stuart Kaminsky came here for a signing with his mother,” Aleksy said. “Some have even used my name or the store’s in their novels, or in the  acknowledgement, for the help I’ve given. Some also have dedicated their books to myself and the store.”

Authors also have brought Aleksy’s two most memorable experiences since owning Centuries & Sleuths – actor/humorist Steve Allen’s visit in 1992 and Sir Peter Ustinov in 1995.

“It was so remarkable how both came at least 45 minutes before they were due, spoke to my son one-on-one when he was 8 and 11 years old, respectively. Although the ‘private’ conversation was entertaining they made sure of the time and said that ‘No one who comes to see me waits for me.’

“Their discussions with the audience were fantastic and made you feel like they were on stage at Centuries & Sleuths. Both stayed until all their books were signed. They were both so professional and friendly. Many of our guest authors are like that, but these two individuals were of such stature . . . they didn’t forget their manners.”

In addition to booksignings, Aleksy is known for scheduling innovative programs such as mock trials and debates.

One of the store’s first events ever was “The Trial of Richard III” for the murder of his two nephews. A federal court judge, the neighbor of a customer, presided and brought his robes and gavel. Centuries & Sleuths did about 10 performances of that trial with more than 30 people in the audience each time. “The place was packed,” Aleksy fondly recalled. 

The store’s Mystery Discussion Group also has performed six mystery plays, five of which were written by members of the group.

Among the store’s most popular events are the numerous “Meeting of Minds” programs similar to the PBS series.

Aleksy had long been fascinated by Dutch writer and historian Henryk van Loon’s book in which a variety of historial figures would meet for dinner and discussions. When he was making up his business plan, Aleksy recalled that book and also how Steve Allen would have actors portray the likes of Attila the Hun, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther on his PBS series Meeting of Minds that aired during the 1970s. To date, the store has put on 17 Meeting of Minds with more than 50 historical characters such as Ben Franklin, Edward R. Morrow, Sir A.C. Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.B. Shaw, Bram Stocker, W.E.B. Du Bois, and more.

Again, Aleksy knows he can count on authors. “The authors will adjust their tight schedules to be here, or explain why they can’t make it.”

Aleksy has plans for more events. He’d like to do a “Page to Screen,” comparing books to film adaptations and What’s Cooking in History & Mystery. But his next “big” brainstorm is a trivia contest between the History and Mystery Discussion Groups. “Both teams are pretty enthusiastic about the challenge. My wife, Tracy, and I have drawn up at least 50 questions in both categories, but we have to work on mechanics such as rules, time limits. But, my plans are to execute the first contest sometime around the Fourth of July. It always helps to have a deadline.”

Times are tough for bookstores and the publishing industry, but Aleksy’s secrets to his succes are simple.

“I am doing what I want, being creative, imaginative, not being too easily discouraged, having the almost perfect family to be in this business, being friendly and conciliatory as needed, stubborn and firm when necessary, having good customers and intelligent friends, being lucky, and working hard to keep my luck ‘good.’

“I also am watching the bottom line and budget, but not letting it be the sole basis for my decision making. Consulting with smart people like my wife, my accountant and my attorney. But, realizing in all this, the ultimate plan and responsibility are mine.”

Aleksy makes the bookstore business sound simple. Maybe too simple. Back in the mid-1990s, a man called to ask if Aleksy would buy his books since he was closing the bookstore he had opened in Melrose Park, Ill.

The man said it was Aleksy’s fault he was closing.

“Then he explained that he had been to our signing for Steve Allen and that he had a great time and that I made it look like so much fun and easy,” said Aleksy. “Therefore, I was responsible his leaving his job as an electrician and opening a bookstore that flopped. I said, ‘You should have spoken to me first.’ He said, ‘Ya, ya, ya!’ ” 

Super User
Sunday, 03 April 2011 06:04

titleAugie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in  Forest Park,  Ill., knows he’s one cool bookseller. How cool is he? Cool enough to be called that by many of his customers. Cool enough that the Chicago Tribune named his store one of the Ten Best Bookstores in Chicago.

And cool enough to have earned the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Established in 1953, the award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. This year, Centuries & Sleuths will share the honor with Once Upon a Crime, in Minneapolis, Minn. (Once Upon a Crime will be profiled April 17.) The Raven will be awarded during the 65th Edgar banquet April 28 in New York City.

The Top Ten status and the Raven Award rank as Aleksy’s two proudest moments since he opened Centuries & Sleuths 20 years ago.  “It seems like all my 'moments’ come in two’s,” said Aleksy.

Centuries & Sleuths is a warm, inviting and well organized store where a customer can sit in a rocking chair while looking through books. A bust of Sherlock Holmes exclusively commissioned by Centuries & Sleuths graces the bookstore.

From the day its doors opened, Centuries & Sleuths has been a destination for the discriminating reader, a meeting place for authors and readers and a place for intellectual discussion.  And that’s all been a part of Aleksy’s master plan.

When he was laid off from his job in banking-investments in 1989, he and his wife, Tracy, discussed starting his own business. Aleksy has a bachelor’s degree in political science and two master’s degrees in history and business-finance, so he wasn’t going to rush into a business without thorough analysis. His exhaustive research of bookstores, of readers habits and a survey at a local library proved that the specialties of history, mystery, and biography beat out any other category. The closest was the “Do It Yourself” category, which covered home-repair, gardening and computers. Aleksy took his research seriously. His store specializes in history, mystery and biography, and even some cookbooks that fall into line with these three areas.

“And what’s wonderful is when I look it over after 15 and then 20 years, many of the programs I wanted to do were dreams, but my friends and close customers helped make them happen,”said Aleksy.

The bookstore owner also credits his success with the author support he’s received. Authors both in the Chicago area and beyond regularly return to Centuries & Sleuths for signings and show up to support other authors’ events, and buy their colleagues’ books.

“The authors treat my customers and their reading fans with respect when they talk about their books and writing,” he said.

And authors have become Aleksy’s unofficial promoters, tauting Centuries & Sleuths to other writers and to members of the press, including during radio and TV interviews.

“It was through Barbara D’Amato’s reference to our store that the late Stuart Kaminsky came here for a signing with his mother,” Aleksy said. “Some have even used my name or the store’s in their novels, or in the  acknowledgement, for the help I’ve given. Some also have dedicated their books to myself and the store.”

Authors also have brought Aleksy’s two most memorable experiences since owning Centuries & Sleuths – actor/humorist Steve Allen’s visit in 1992 and Sir Peter Ustinov in 1995.

“It was so remarkable how both came at least 45 minutes before they were due, spoke to my son one-on-one when he was 8 and 11 years old, respectively. Although the ‘private’ conversation was entertaining they made sure of the time and said that ‘No one who comes to see me waits for me.’

“Their discussions with the audience were fantastic and made you feel like they were on stage at Centuries & Sleuths. Both stayed until all their books were signed. They were both so professional and friendly. Many of our guest authors are like that, but these two individuals were of such stature . . . they didn’t forget their manners.”

In addition to booksignings, Aleksy is known for scheduling innovative programs such as mock trials and debates.

One of the store’s first events ever was “The Trial of Richard III” for the murder of his two nephews. A federal court judge, the neighbor of a customer, presided and brought his robes and gavel. Centuries & Sleuths did about 10 performances of that trial with more than 30 people in the audience each time. “The place was packed,” Aleksy fondly recalled. 

The store’s Mystery Discussion Group also has performed six mystery plays, five of which were written by members of the group.

Among the store’s most popular events are the numerous “Meeting of Minds” programs similar to the PBS series.

Aleksy had long been fascinated by Dutch writer and historian Henryk van Loon’s book in which a variety of historial figures would meet for dinner and discussions. When he was making up his business plan, Aleksy recalled that book and also how Steve Allen would have actors portray the likes of Attila the Hun, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther on his PBS series Meeting of Minds that aired during the 1970s. To date, the store has put on 17 Meeting of Minds with more than 50 historical characters such as Ben Franklin, Edward R. Morrow, Sir A.C. Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.B. Shaw, Bram Stocker, W.E.B. Du Bois, and more.

Again, Aleksy knows he can count on authors. “The authors will adjust their tight schedules to be here, or explain why they can’t make it.”

Aleksy has plans for more events. He’d like to do a “Page to Screen,” comparing books to film adaptations and What’s Cooking in History & Mystery. But his next “big” brainstorm is a trivia contest between the History and Mystery Discussion Groups. “Both teams are pretty enthusiastic about the challenge. My wife, Tracy, and I have drawn up at least 50 questions in both categories, but we have to work on mechanics such as rules, time limits. But, my plans are to execute the first contest sometime around the Fourth of July. It always helps to have a deadline.”

Times are tough for bookstores and the publishing industry, but Aleksy’s secrets to his succes are simple.

“I am doing what I want, being creative, imaginative, not being too easily discouraged, having the almost perfect family to be in this business, being friendly and conciliatory as needed, stubborn and firm when necessary, having good customers and intelligent friends, being lucky, and working hard to keep my luck ‘good.’

“I also am watching the bottom line and budget, but not letting it be the sole basis for my decision making. Consulting with smart people like my wife, my accountant and my attorney. But, realizing in all this, the ultimate plan and responsibility are mine.”

Aleksy makes the bookstore business sound simple. Maybe too simple. Back in the mid-1990s, a man called to ask if Aleksy would buy his books since he was closing the bookstore he had opened in Melrose Park, Ill.

The man said it was Aleksy’s fault he was closing.

“Then he explained that he had been to our signing for Steve Allen and that he had a great time and that I made it look like so much fun and easy,” said Aleksy. “Therefore, I was responsible his leaving his job as an electrician and opening a bookstore that flopped. I said, ‘You should have spoken to me first.’ He said, ‘Ya, ya, ya!’ ” 

The Killing on Amc
Oline Cogdill

titleOne of Britain’s most popular series is a Danish thriller that is the antithesis of a cop show.

No car chases. No explosions. No serial killers. Cops make mistakes. A crime isn’t solved within an hour.

The show is The Killing and this 20-part subtitled series has been a hit in Britain for the past four years mainly because its action unfolds slowly and deliberately, drawing in the viewer. Friends in Europe claim The Killing it is as addictive as HBO’s The Wire. For the record, the series originally was broadcast in Denmark under the name Forbrydelsen.

Americans will finally get a chance to see what all the fuss is about when AMC’s 13-week version of The Killing debuts at 9 p.m. on April 3. Yes, this is the Americanized version so the dark tone will be a bit uplifted, but not by much. Remember, this is AMC, home of the deliciously dark series Mad Men.

AMC had kept the action low-key, the atmosphere moody, and the emotion tapped-down. Like the original, each hour of AMC’s version will stand in for an entire day but the setting is now Seattle instead of Denmark. If that makes you remember the haunting Twin Peaks, I doubt it’s just a coincidence.

Homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is ready to leave the job to get married. She's a single mom, ready to leave Seattle and move to Sonoma with her child and her soon-to-be husband. But on her last day of work, she is drawn into a new case about the disappearance of a teenage girl, Rosie Larsen. Mitch and Stan Larsen frantically try to track down their 17-year-old daughter when they learn she did not show up at school. The case leads Sarah and fellow detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who was to be her replacement, to Rosie’s school. The teenager’s disappearance also may affect the re-election of City Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell). 

The Killing’s quiet, thoughtful approach makes the investigation nightmarishly unnerving and utterly compelling. This is television to savor.

The Killing will air on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on AMC.

PHOTO: Detectives Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) in The Killing. AMC photo 

Super User
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 06:03

titleOne of Britain’s most popular series is a Danish thriller that is the antithesis of a cop show.

No car chases. No explosions. No serial killers. Cops make mistakes. A crime isn’t solved within an hour.

The show is The Killing and this 20-part subtitled series has been a hit in Britain for the past four years mainly because its action unfolds slowly and deliberately, drawing in the viewer. Friends in Europe claim The Killing it is as addictive as HBO’s The Wire. For the record, the series originally was broadcast in Denmark under the name Forbrydelsen.

Americans will finally get a chance to see what all the fuss is about when AMC’s 13-week version of The Killing debuts at 9 p.m. on April 3. Yes, this is the Americanized version so the dark tone will be a bit uplifted, but not by much. Remember, this is AMC, home of the deliciously dark series Mad Men.

AMC had kept the action low-key, the atmosphere moody, and the emotion tapped-down. Like the original, each hour of AMC’s version will stand in for an entire day but the setting is now Seattle instead of Denmark. If that makes you remember the haunting Twin Peaks, I doubt it’s just a coincidence.

Homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is ready to leave the job to get married. She's a single mom, ready to leave Seattle and move to Sonoma with her child and her soon-to-be husband. But on her last day of work, she is drawn into a new case about the disappearance of a teenage girl, Rosie Larsen. Mitch and Stan Larsen frantically try to track down their 17-year-old daughter when they learn she did not show up at school. The case leads Sarah and fellow detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who was to be her replacement, to Rosie’s school. The teenager’s disappearance also may affect the re-election of City Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell). 

The Killing’s quiet, thoughtful approach makes the investigation nightmarishly unnerving and utterly compelling. This is television to savor.

The Killing will air on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on AMC.

PHOTO: Detectives Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) in The Killing. AMC photo 

Dead Funny
Donna Moore

smiley_balls

Books to make you smile, giggle, chuckle, laugh, smirk, and howl.

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
—George Bernard Shaw

I’m a huge fan of humorous crime fiction. Some of the books I enjoy are laugh-out-loud funny on every page, some of them not so obviously humorous, and some of them are downright dark and warped and I’m a sick, twisted person for laughing. So here are some of the perhaps lesser known or less established humorous authors and books that tickle my funny bone while thrilling me with tales of murder and mayhem.

brown_invitationtofuneralMolly BrownInvitation to a Funeral
The setting is London in the 1670s and playwright Aphra Behn is in financial difficulties. Her last play was a donkey, and in her current play, she’s coping with the world’s worst actress, who just happens to be the mistress of the drunken, debauched and thoroughly wicked Earl of Rochester. As if that wasn’t enough, she decides to investigate the murders of two brothers she used to know. Bawdy and brilliant—a real Restoration romp.

doolittle_dirtSean DoolittleDirt
Quince Bishop is having a bad day. It starts out pretty grim when he has to attend his good friend Martin’s funeral and it goes downhill from there. Literally. When a group of masked environmental activists gatecrash the funeral, one of them lands in the hole on top of Martin’s casket. Stir in a dodgy funeral director, a pair of ex-cons, and a convention for morticians, and you have a noir caper that made me laugh and made me cry—sometimes both on the same page. Sad, touching and bloody good fun.

garcia_anonymousrexEric GarciaAnonymous Rex
Vincent Rubio is a private eye who is addicted to basil. He’s also a velociraptor.What normal people don’t know is that the dinosaurs faked their extinction millions of years ago and are walking amongst us, cleverly disguised in latex suits. Pass me the basil—I want some of what Eric Garcia is having. This book had me going to work wondering which of my colleagues was a triceratops. Eric Garcia has created a bizarre yet oddly believable concept. More than that he has created a charming, imaginative and funny PI.

gischler_gunmonkeysVictor GischlerGun Monkeys
Charlie Swift is a hardworking, loyal, efficient employee. The fact that his employer is one of Florida’s top mobsters is beside the point. Up until the start of this book, Charlie is quite happy with his job—making sure things run smoothly, taking home a decent paycheck, and tidying away the odd dead body. Unfortunately, things start to go slightly awry from page one. Charlie’s driving around with a headless body in the trunk of his car and from there on, the bodies start to pile up so quickly that he’d need a U-Haul to transport them by the end of the book.

guthrie_twowaysplitAllan GuthrieTwo-Way Split
A simple, heartwarming, noir tale of a post office robbery gone wrong, an unfaithful wife, a couple of psychopaths (at least), a pair of seedy PIs, and an ex-con who really loves his mother—Two-Way Split is a book which takes that noir finger of fate, gleefully pokes you in the eye with it and then hands you your eyeball back, just for fun. Dark, warped, violent. Every character is superbly drawn and compellingly believable (although, in several cases, you wish they weren’t). I laughed on numerous occasions, and then worried about what that said about me.

smith_moistMark Haskell SmithMoist
If I tried to give a brief synopsis of this book a) you wouldn’t believe me and b) it would make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Let’s just say there are a couple of tattooed arms without bodies, one tattooed man missing an arm, a masturbation coach, assorted mobsters, sex, drugs and...oh...a bit more sex. This book was completely bizarre, over the top, funny and...well...moist. Highly recommended to those whose favourite word is “warped.”

niles_hellskitchenChris NilesHell’s Kitchen
Apartment hunting can be murder. Millionaire Cyrus has a big gap in his life that all the money in the world can’t fill. Until the day he accidentally shoplifts a self-help book and discovers that The Master has a message for him. And the message is “Cyrus, you need to become a serial killer.” Cyrus is fulfilled at last. He lures desperate apartment hunters to their grisly ends. A very funny book with some great satire and one liners. Hell’s Kitchen has its tongue firmly in cheek and the rest of the body parts neatly tucked away in the fridge.

phillips_cottonwoodScott PhillipsCottonwood
It’s 1873 in the burgeoning frontier town of Cottonwood, Kansas. Cottonwood is a town where the men are men, and so are most of the women. As the town grows, so does sin and crime (and, heaven knows, it was never a sinless town to start off with). Cottonwood is a frontier town where nothing is done in half measure—sex, drinking, and “killin’ those as needs killin’” (and a good few who don’t) are the main pastimes for the town’s bawdy, brash, and brazen residents. And in the midst of all the normal sorts of sin, solitary travellers seem to be disappearing, never to be heard from again. Is there a serial killer at loose in Cottonwood? Cottonwood is base and earthy and darkly comic. It’s not so much Little House on the Prairie as Little Whorehouse on the Prairie.

ripley_angelhuntMike RipleyAngel Hunt
Fitzroy Maclean Angel—cab-driving, trumpet-playing PI in London—is house sitting when someone drops in—quite literally—through the bathroom skylight. Dead. Oh, and by chance, it turns out to be an old friend of Angel’s. Angel is a great character—a rascally charmer who loves booze and birds with equal enthusiasm. Politically incorrect, sardonic, and witty.

shannon_firecrackerRay ShannonFirecracker
Reece Germaine is a successful, independent businesswoman who runs her own PR agency. She’s also eight months pregnant following a wild Vegas weekend. The father is Dallas Cowboys football star Raygene Price who has a soft heart and a soft head—a dangerous combination when you’re worth a lot of money. Raygene dispenses love with indiscriminate and fertile abandon. Reece is not the only woman who Raygene has impregnated—but she’s probably the only one who’s not looking to take him for every penny he’s got. A fast and furious comedic thriller.

snyder_coffinsgotdeadguyinsideKeith SnyderCoffin’s Got the Dead Guy on the Inside
Jason Keltner is doing what he loves to do best—composing and playing music. OK, so his regular gigs don’t pay much, he’s struggling with his latest composition—“Unnamed #23,” and the rent on the dilapidated boarding house he calls home is overdue. He’s contemplating getting away for a while to finish his composition when the mysterious Norton Platt turns up with an offer Jason can’t refuse—despite his best efforts. Platt wants to hire Jason to babysit Paul Reno, a former friend of Jason’s who appears to be involved in some shady deals. Confusion, computer chips, car chases, and comedy. A wonderfully sprightly humorous book.

sullivan_cornedbeefsandwichMark SullivanCorned Beef Sandwich
A really funny and sweet book. Minimal crime but maximum fun. The main premise of the book is a holdup gone awry, the wrong person ends up with the loot and the baddies want it back. But there’s far more to it including a goth protagonist, a halal corned beef sandwich, and some goldfish with really weird names. If Donald Westlake had been born in Manchester and listened to Marilyn Manson, he could well have written this book. Instead, Corned Beef Sandwich is author Mark Sullivan’s first novel, and very enjoyable it is too. Reservoir Goldfish. This is a really good read—completely original, charmingly scruffy and has that real feel-good factor. It’s also the only time I’ve ever found corned beef appealing.

swierczynski_thewheelmanDuane SwierczynskiThe Wheelman
Swierczynski’s Lennon drives cars for the bad guys. He’s also mute following a nasty meeting with a bullet in a previous robbery. He should have taken that as a cue to get out of the robbery business, but no. Instead he takes part in a bank robbery which nets him and his co-conspirators $650,000. Things, as they are wont to do in noir fiction, turn from bad to really, really bad. Lennon is beaten, shot, and stuffed down a drainage pipe. Meanwhile, the body count rises around him. Over the top (in a very, very good way), action packed, violent, and funny, with a plot as convoluted and stuffed full of twists, turns, and shocks as...well...a drainage pipe stuffed full of bodies.

welter_nightofavengingblowfishJohn WelterNight of the Avenging Blowfish
A humorous thriller love story, featuring a Secret Service agent looking for love, happiness, and a covert baseball game against the CIA. His job is to protect the president. From what is never quite clear, although it seems to have something to do with protecting him from eating Spam. Funny and gentle and touching.

williams_deadfolkCharlie WilliamsDeadfolk
Royston Blake is a big man in Mangel—what with being head doorman of Hoppers and driving a clapped-out Ford Capri and all, but there are rumours that he’s lost his bottle. And that’s not good. Not good at ALL. They’re worse than the rumours that he might have killed his wife. Blake is someone that, on the face of it, is not easy to like. He’s violent, drinks too much, and you wouldn’t really want to be his girlfriend, but he sort of sneaks up on you and worms his way into your heart like a slightly lost and endearing tapeworm. Deadfolk is violent, bloody, hilarious, touching. It has a bizarre but brilliant plot, outrageous characters, a wonderfully original voice, and a chainsaw called Susan. Demented, deranged, and totally, utterly delicious.

wiprud_sleepwithfishesBrian WiprudSleep With the Fishes
When Sid ‘Sleep’ Bifulco (so called because he puts his victims to sleep before he whacks them—it's tidier that way) rats out the Palfutti family, he tells the FBI to stuff their witness protection program and comes to an arrangement with a rival mob family. In prison he develops a passion for fishing (which he learns without the aid of water, or fish for that matter) and, on his release, he retires from the wiseguy life to pursue some quiet fishing in Hellbender Eddy. Only it doesn’t quite work out that way. There are some sharks circling, and none of them have gills. This book is a hilarious caper—fish, porn, and two guys named Bob. It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

So there you have it—some quiet and quirky, some rambunctious and rowdy. From cosy to noir, amateur sleuth to police procedural to hardboiled PI, humor can be found in all subgenres of crime fiction. As Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” Thank heavens for those who walk into open sewers and die.

Donna Moore is the author of Go to Helena Handbasket (PointBlank Press, 2006), a crime-fiction spoof and the 2007 winner of the Lefty Award for most humorous crime novel. Her latest novel is Old Dogs (Busted Flush Press, 2010). She lives in Scotland.

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

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 29 March 2011 02:03

smiley_ballsBooks to make you smile, giggle, chuckle, laugh, smirk, and howl.

Rosemary & Thyme: Death in the Garden
Elizabeth Foxwell

Rosemary_Thyme_Stream_small


Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) and Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendall) are gardening experts who go after criminals like dandelions on a lawn in the engaging UK series Rosemary & Thyme, now available on DVD.

© Carnival Films

A team of sleuths delves into garden-variety skullduggery, uncovering bodies, dirt, and other nastiness along the way.

Holmes & Watson? Tommy & Tuppence?

Try Rosemary & Thyme. That’s former horticultural lecturer Rosemary Boxer and ex-cop Laura Thyme who solve murders and rein in wayward gardens on each episode of the British series, which ran for three seasons on PBS. Felicity Kendal, best known in the United States as Barbara in The Good Neighbors, plays the never-married Rosemary, and Pam Ferris, most recently seen as Grace Poole in a new adaptation of Jane Eyre, plays the newly divorced Laura. Producer Brian Eastman created the program, bringing in a leading British plant pathologist, Pippa Greenwood, for the gardening lore and distinguished British mystery author Peter Lovesey as story consultant.

“I’d seen what an outstanding series Brian had made of Poirot,” recalls Lovesey, “and it was good to be recruited.... My job was to contribute ideas and outlines for stories and also to oversee scripts other writers had worked on. I could see right away that combining gardening with mystery was likely to make for a successful series. Gardening programs are almost as popular as cookery [shows] here.”

Rosemary_ThymeAttention to detail is seen in episodes such as “The Tree of Death,” co-written by mystery author Simon Brett, which features a farmer’s murder by bow and arrow and a plot revolving around a yew tree. The production had to find a village complete with a church, a pub, a village hall, and a churchyard with a yew tree in it. Rosemary and Laura frequently unearth information through friendly (and not so friendly) chats with neighbors and impatient police inspectors, late-night stakeouts in gardening sheds, and less than elegant pursuits of suspects in their battered Land Rover. The likable pair display equal measures of ingenuity and haplessness in their investigations.

An important element of each story is a gardening conundrum to be solved, outside of the “too obvious garden poisons such as foxglove and deadly nightshade,” notes Lovesey. One such example is the episode “The Language of Flowers,” in which Rosemary deduces a deceased man’s poignant secret message via the plants that he chose for the garden on the grounds of a spa. Another is “Orpheus in the Undergrowth,” in which the solution to the victim’s death lies in a fungus. Different styles of gardens pose unique problems, such as the restoration of an Elizabethan garden using prison labor in “Memory of Water” and a herb garden in “In a Monastery Garden.”

Some episodes feature exotic gardens and locales, including Spain (“Agua Cadaver,” “Racquet Espanol”), Italy (“The Italian Rapscallion”), and the south of France (“They Understand Me in Paris”). The latter not only features the restoration of a 150-year-old garden but also Rosemary’s fractured French (“This is all the travaille that nous has done”).

The atmosphere of small, cozy villages and tidy deaths is deliberate.

“Part of the ethos of the series,” says Lovesey, “was that it should not dwell too long or too seriously on the violence of murder. It was to be comfortable viewing, insofar as murder is ever comfortable, with gentle humor and lovely settings. There would always be an upbeat end when the garden was restored to its full glory and the mystery solved. It’s a tribute to the quality of the acting and the direction that it became so popular against the trend, when most TV drama is graphically violent and unremittingly tense.”

rosemarythyme_dvd

Rosemary & Thyme is available on DVD from Acorn Media. Allison & Busby publishes novelizations, including Memory of Water, written by producer Eastman and Rebecca Tope. Classical guitarist John Williams performs the show’s theme, a variation of “Scarborough Fair” called the “Rosemary and Thyme Caprice,” composed by Christopher Gunning and included on the Rosemary & Thyme soundtrack issued by Sanctuary Classics.

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

Rosemary & Thyme trailer

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Teri Duerr
Thursday, 31 March 2011 01:03

rosemarythyme_croppedA team of sleuths delves into garden-variety skullduggery, uncovering dirt—and bodies—along the way.

Richard S. Prather & the Shellster
Ed Gorman

prather_circa_67

“Man, she had a shape to make corpses kick open caskets—and she was dead set on giving me rigor mortis.”
—Shell Scott, Dig That Crazy Grave

Graham Greene once said that he wouldn't dream of re-reading the favorite books of his youth. Re-reading them would only spoil their memory.

While that’s generally true, I think, I can still pick up some of the golden oldies and enjoy the hell out of them. Richard Prather came to mind recently as I was looking through the gorgeous Robert McGinnis book of paperback cover paintings edited by Art Scott last year. (The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis, Pond Press, 2001.)

Couple days later I found myself starting my third Shell Scott adventure. And loving it. While the books are funny, the humor sometimes conceals the solid craft of the storytelling. Prather knows all about narrative—color, pace, surprise. His take on women is politically incorrect, of course—not many women today would like to be thought of as “tomatoes”—but it’s an innocent pleasure because he clearly likes and admires women. No rape, no rough stuff, no belittling. Some of his heroines have brains as well as bodies. Shell is clearly a “wolf” in the parlance of the time.

So naturally I started wondering what Richard Prather was doing these days. I gave him a call, the last time I’d spoken to him being in the late 1980s.

Prather_Strip_for_MurderThese days he lives in Arizona and spends a good deal of his time gardening. At 81 he says he’s had a very lucky and enjoyable life. He sounds like it, too. A softspoken man who is as wry as Shell.

He still recalls his first sale. This was 1950—he’s pretty sure it was July 7—when he was down to his last $100. His wife handed him a telegram they’d just received. It was from literary agent Scott Meredith. While Prather’s first novel hadn’t sold as yet, his second one had just been picked up by Gold Medal. The one with Shell Scott in it. Gold Medal liked it so much they offered him a four-book contract. The Case of the Vanishing Beauty appeared soon after and set sales records immediately.

Prather sees the Gold Medal years as the best of his publishing career. They knew how to package and promote the Scott novels. As any aficionado of paperback originals knows, the books went through so many printings over the years that virtually every major cover artist of the era had a chance to do a take on the white-haired hero who was rarely out of his trench coat. (The private eye’s code, you know.)

prather_find_this_womanIn my Catholic junior high school, I met kids who’d never finished reading a book before buying every Shell Scott mystery they could find. We’d swap favorite scenes, favorite lines, favorite sexual moments. Shell naked but for his gun belt in a hot-air balloon seemed to be the all-time favorite. You see, he had to go into this nudist colony looking for a killer and, well, one thing led to another and....

When paperbacks were still a quarter, and I still had a paper route, I could buy eight books a month, most of them Gold Medals. I also read Cavalier, published by Gold Medal’s owner Fawcett Publications. The magazine always announced a couple of months in advance when Shell would have a new adventure on the stands.

Prather says that the worst point in his career was when he got into various legal battles with publishers, battles that became nasty, public, and legendary. He said that Fawcett Gold Medal was honest in reporting not only how many they’d sold but how many they’d printed. They paid royalties upfront on print order. No waiting for returns. Roscoe Fawcett, the CEO, became a good friend.

Prather_Alw_Leave_em_DyingEventually, Prather was lured away from Gold Medal. I can still remember the shock—true shock—when I saw the first cover from the new publisher. A photograph of some dorky male model in a white trench coat with his hair spray-painted white. My Lord. What was going on here?

Not much, apparently. In my opinion the new publisher completely misjudged Prather’s audience by trying to take the Shellster to a higher social level. John D. MacDonald once said that he wrote his books “for men who carry their lunches in buckets.” MacDonald’s audience, until Travis McGee hit big, included a whole lot of working men. A dour guy with spray-painted white hair wasn’t likely to attract the same audience as the happy, smiling, virile ex-Marine who appeared on the Gold Medal editions.

Another high point in Prather’s career was being awarded the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. It demonstrated that Shell Scott still had an active reader base and that Prather’s peers held him in the greatest regard.

For those of you who want to catch up on your Richard Prather reading, innumerable stores stock his books in the used section. Or if you prefer ebooks, you can get all 40 online. Try ’em, you’ll like ’em. They bring back the 1950s in a good-natured and rather innocent way. For more information log on to Dean Davis’ Richard S. Prather website.

Recommended Shell Scott Mysteries by Richard Prather

Find This Woman (1951)
Darling, It's Death (1952)
Always Leave 'Em Dying (1954)
Strip for Murder (1955)
Take a Murder, Darling (1958)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #80.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 31 March 2011 06:03

prather_circa_67_croppedAuthor Ed Gorman rediscovers the Shell Scott PI novels of Richard S. Prather in this out-of-print essay.

Daniel Palmer Barks Up the Right Tree

titleEveryone loves a shaggy dog story. And here’s a different spin.

So many times I’ve heard authors talk about how a character came out of the blue, knocking on their door, begging to be let into a plot.

But for Daniel Palmer, a character didn’t come knocking, but came pawing.

Palmer had pretty much finished his manuscript for his debut Delirious. The story revolves around Charlie Giles, the inventor of a new digital-entertainment system for automobiles, whose life unravels after he has a meltdown in a meeting. Then compromising emails and web sites are found on his company computer.

Charlie is a driven, uncompromising character who undergoes tremendous changes during Delirious.

While the manuscript’s plot worked, Palmer’s agent felt that the character was almost too driven and unsympathetic. Charlie needed something or someone to soften his edges and make the reader want to root for him.

Enter Monte, a lovable, energetic beagle who was just the perfect solution—and companion—for Charlie. Talk about pet therapy.

So Palmer went back to his manuscript and, after consulting a veterinarian friend about the kind of dog Charlie should have, came up with Monte. The playful beagle does indeed allow the reader to see beyond Charlie’s tough exterior. You gotta love a guy who keeps an old shoe in his desk drawer for his beagle’s chewing pleasures, as Charlie does.

And Palmer knows he made the right decision in bringing Monte to Delirious.

"He's a good example of a character just 'barking' to be in a story. I'm glad I heard him," Palmer told me.

Super User
Wednesday, 25 May 2011 06:05

titleEveryone loves a shaggy dog story. And here’s a different spin.

So many times I’ve heard authors talk about how a character came out of the blue, knocking on their door, begging to be let into a plot.

But for Daniel Palmer, a character didn’t come knocking, but came pawing.

Palmer had pretty much finished his manuscript for his debut Delirious. The story revolves around Charlie Giles, the inventor of a new digital-entertainment system for automobiles, whose life unravels after he has a meltdown in a meeting. Then compromising emails and web sites are found on his company computer.

Charlie is a driven, uncompromising character who undergoes tremendous changes during Delirious.

While the manuscript’s plot worked, Palmer’s agent felt that the character was almost too driven and unsympathetic. Charlie needed something or someone to soften his edges and make the reader want to root for him.

Enter Monte, a lovable, energetic beagle who was just the perfect solution—and companion—for Charlie. Talk about pet therapy.

So Palmer went back to his manuscript and, after consulting a veterinarian friend about the kind of dog Charlie should have, came up with Monte. The playful beagle does indeed allow the reader to see beyond Charlie’s tough exterior. You gotta love a guy who keeps an old shoe in his desk drawer for his beagle’s chewing pleasures, as Charlie does.

And Palmer knows he made the right decision in bringing Monte to Delirious.

"He's a good example of a character just 'barking' to be in a story. I'm glad I heard him," Palmer told me.

Once Upon a Crime

When Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze accept the Raven Award later this month, it will be among the proudest moments they’ve had since owning Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis, Minn.

As honored as they are to receive the Raven from the Mystery Writers of America, the couple would have to say that their most memorable experience is their 2007 wedding that took place in Once Upon a Crime. Surrounded by a handful of friends and thousands of books, the couple was married by a chaplain whom Shulze had met while in the hospital. 

And after the wedding, it was business as usual.

“Afterwards, we reopened the store for a Greg Hurwitz signing, only to learn that the 35W bridge had collapsed. Greg felt himself to be a bit anti-climatic,” said Shulze, who held a Maltese Falcon statue during the ceremony; Frovarp held a bouquet of flowers

Once Upon a Crime will share the Raven honor with Centuries & Sleuths, in Forest Park, Ill., near Chicago. The Raven was established in 1953 by the Mystery Writers of America to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. The Raven will be awarded during the 65th Edgar banquet April 28 in New York City.

The Raven will have a place of honor in Once Upon a Crime.

“Definitely thinking of getting a nice little bird cage for it,” said Frovarp. But the bird will have to share the limelight with the dog. The store’s official greeter is Shamus, the couple’s rescue dog who has been mentioned in several articles about Once Upon a Crime. “Shamus is getting much media attention,” added Shulze. Once Upon a Crime celebrates its 25th year of business in 2012. Frovarp and Shulze took over the store on Aug. 1, 2002, a significant day not just from a business standpoint. Five years to the day, that would be their wedding day. Before they were bookstore owners, Frovarp had worked for several local law firms while Shulze was a piano technician for some 30 years following a brief stint as a musician

“Both of us had been wildly out-of-control mystery book collectors for some time, and would bump into each other on scouting trips,” he said. “Pat started working for former owner Steve Stilwell. One thing led to another.” Stilwell was a popular bookstore owner with both customers and authors. Stilwell was the Fan Guest of Honor during Bouchercon XXXI held in Denver in 2000. Stilwell often drops by the store and helps with some of the larger events. “Steve’s a great friend, confidant, mentor, and a treasure trove of information,” said Shulze.

The support from authors has been “simply overwhelming,” said Shulze.

“Most all local authors begin their tours with launch parties at our store. And we seem to have adopted a lot of non-local touring authors as well, who make a point of stopping here for an event -- often for every book,” he added. And that support is personal – going beyond booksignings and events. When Shulze was in the hospital, and recovering from leukemia from 2004 through 2008, many authors volunteered their services to help Frovarp catch a break.

One of Once Upon a Crime’s most popular events is the annual Write of Spring, which began after Minnesota author Mary Logue suggested that the couple do an open house event for local authors.

“We were getting lots of suggestions from all corners on things to do when we first started; this one stuck. We optimistically called it our ‘first annual’ Write of Spring,” said Frovarp. That first year, about 20 authors attended; last year, the number peaked to more than 60 authors. This year, the ninth Write of Spring, brought in about four dozen authors, including four debut authors. The number was a bit down because of “an unusual amount of scheduling conflicts,” said Frovarp. Still, the 2011 Write of Spring, held in early April, sold more than 400 books.

Through the years, more than 96 authors have participated in Write of Spring, several have been to each event. Write of Spring draws in about 200-300 customers during the course of the day. Once Upon a Crime has started to plan for the 10th Write of Spring “to end all Write of Springs," said Frovarp. The 2012 Write of Spring will coincide with the store’s 25th anniversary. Once Upon a Crime is putting together a new anthology of some 40 new stories from past participants, including an unpublished story by Harold Adams, the guest of honor at the first Write of Spring.

Most business owners have stories about odd events that have happened. Shulze said the weirdest event didn’t happen in Once Upon a Crime, but outside the store. While talking to a customer, he saw a naked man, wearing only his shoulder to shoulder eagle tattoo, strutting down the street.

“This was the day of the local "Art Car" parade, which is thrown together each year as an excuse to ‘get weird.’ Hate to say it, but all I could do was gawk along with several other bystanders until he disappeared from view several blocks down the road,” he said.

The couple also has had some fun – and funny moments – during booksignings. “We love all our authors, but can't help making fun of some, and are truly grateful that they take the time to visit our store,” said Shulze. “Sure, some are high maintenance and odd, but you get that in any -- especially creative -- profession. I could tell you some doozies from my days working with concert pianists.”

So they both remember with fondness authors who have broken into song. Or the time the store had in the audience more magicians than mystery fans who had come to see James Swain do card tricks. Or the time Sean Doolittle kept trying to read over the banging noise coming from the upstairs apartment that was right above him. One author gave only one-word answers to everything while another stared at the ceiling the whole time he was talking. Still another nervous author started reading the first chapter of the novel, and kept on through chapter three until “we put him out of his misery with some questions,” she said.

While some bookstores carry a diverse stock, Once Upon a Crime sticks mainly to mysteries. The exceptions are "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein because Frovarp and Shulze became “totally endeared” by the story after a customer insisted they read it. A small section of children and young adult books includes "Walter the Farting Dog" series, which “does very well for us, too. The Walters are great for encouraging reluctant readers,” added Shulze. Continuing its mission of supporting local writers, the store also carries multi-award winner Kate DiCamillo ("Because of Winn Dixie”).
With the economic downturn and the chain bookstores closing, Once Upon a Crime’s formula works, and all signs point to the store celebrating its 25th anniversary on April 1, 2012.

“We don't know any secrets. We just keep doing what we love, focus on local authors and good books, and handsell the crap out of them. We're an intimate, friendly place, get new customers every day who, more often than not, keep coming back,” said Shulze.

Photo: Pat Frovarp, Gary Shulze and Shamus in Once Upon a Crime 

Super User
Sunday, 17 April 2011 06:04

When Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze accept the Raven Award later this month, it will be among the proudest moments they’ve had since owning Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis, Minn.

As honored as they are to receive the Raven from the Mystery Writers of America, the couple would have to say that their most memorable experience is their 2007 wedding that took place in Once Upon a Crime. Surrounded by a handful of friends and thousands of books, the couple was married by a chaplain whom Shulze had met while in the hospital. 

And after the wedding, it was business as usual.

“Afterwards, we reopened the store for a Greg Hurwitz signing, only to learn that the 35W bridge had collapsed. Greg felt himself to be a bit anti-climatic,” said Shulze, who held a Maltese Falcon statue during the ceremony; Frovarp held a bouquet of flowers

Once Upon a Crime will share the Raven honor with Centuries & Sleuths, in Forest Park, Ill., near Chicago. The Raven was established in 1953 by the Mystery Writers of America to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. The Raven will be awarded during the 65th Edgar banquet April 28 in New York City.

The Raven will have a place of honor in Once Upon a Crime.

“Definitely thinking of getting a nice little bird cage for it,” said Frovarp. But the bird will have to share the limelight with the dog. The store’s official greeter is Shamus, the couple’s rescue dog who has been mentioned in several articles about Once Upon a Crime. “Shamus is getting much media attention,” added Shulze. Once Upon a Crime celebrates its 25th year of business in 2012. Frovarp and Shulze took over the store on Aug. 1, 2002, a significant day not just from a business standpoint. Five years to the day, that would be their wedding day. Before they were bookstore owners, Frovarp had worked for several local law firms while Shulze was a piano technician for some 30 years following a brief stint as a musician

“Both of us had been wildly out-of-control mystery book collectors for some time, and would bump into each other on scouting trips,” he said. “Pat started working for former owner Steve Stilwell. One thing led to another.” Stilwell was a popular bookstore owner with both customers and authors. Stilwell was the Fan Guest of Honor during Bouchercon XXXI held in Denver in 2000. Stilwell often drops by the store and helps with some of the larger events. “Steve’s a great friend, confidant, mentor, and a treasure trove of information,” said Shulze.

The support from authors has been “simply overwhelming,” said Shulze.

“Most all local authors begin their tours with launch parties at our store. And we seem to have adopted a lot of non-local touring authors as well, who make a point of stopping here for an event -- often for every book,” he added. And that support is personal – going beyond booksignings and events. When Shulze was in the hospital, and recovering from leukemia from 2004 through 2008, many authors volunteered their services to help Frovarp catch a break.

One of Once Upon a Crime’s most popular events is the annual Write of Spring, which began after Minnesota author Mary Logue suggested that the couple do an open house event for local authors.

“We were getting lots of suggestions from all corners on things to do when we first started; this one stuck. We optimistically called it our ‘first annual’ Write of Spring,” said Frovarp. That first year, about 20 authors attended; last year, the number peaked to more than 60 authors. This year, the ninth Write of Spring, brought in about four dozen authors, including four debut authors. The number was a bit down because of “an unusual amount of scheduling conflicts,” said Frovarp. Still, the 2011 Write of Spring, held in early April, sold more than 400 books.

Through the years, more than 96 authors have participated in Write of Spring, several have been to each event. Write of Spring draws in about 200-300 customers during the course of the day. Once Upon a Crime has started to plan for the 10th Write of Spring “to end all Write of Springs," said Frovarp. The 2012 Write of Spring will coincide with the store’s 25th anniversary. Once Upon a Crime is putting together a new anthology of some 40 new stories from past participants, including an unpublished story by Harold Adams, the guest of honor at the first Write of Spring.

Most business owners have stories about odd events that have happened. Shulze said the weirdest event didn’t happen in Once Upon a Crime, but outside the store. While talking to a customer, he saw a naked man, wearing only his shoulder to shoulder eagle tattoo, strutting down the street.

“This was the day of the local "Art Car" parade, which is thrown together each year as an excuse to ‘get weird.’ Hate to say it, but all I could do was gawk along with several other bystanders until he disappeared from view several blocks down the road,” he said.

The couple also has had some fun – and funny moments – during booksignings. “We love all our authors, but can't help making fun of some, and are truly grateful that they take the time to visit our store,” said Shulze. “Sure, some are high maintenance and odd, but you get that in any -- especially creative -- profession. I could tell you some doozies from my days working with concert pianists.”

So they both remember with fondness authors who have broken into song. Or the time the store had in the audience more magicians than mystery fans who had come to see James Swain do card tricks. Or the time Sean Doolittle kept trying to read over the banging noise coming from the upstairs apartment that was right above him. One author gave only one-word answers to everything while another stared at the ceiling the whole time he was talking. Still another nervous author started reading the first chapter of the novel, and kept on through chapter three until “we put him out of his misery with some questions,” she said.

While some bookstores carry a diverse stock, Once Upon a Crime sticks mainly to mysteries. The exceptions are "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein because Frovarp and Shulze became “totally endeared” by the story after a customer insisted they read it. A small section of children and young adult books includes "Walter the Farting Dog" series, which “does very well for us, too. The Walters are great for encouraging reluctant readers,” added Shulze. Continuing its mission of supporting local writers, the store also carries multi-award winner Kate DiCamillo ("Because of Winn Dixie”).
With the economic downturn and the chain bookstores closing, Once Upon a Crime’s formula works, and all signs point to the store celebrating its 25th anniversary on April 1, 2012.

“We don't know any secrets. We just keep doing what we love, focus on local authors and good books, and handsell the crap out of them. We're an intimate, friendly place, get new customers every day who, more often than not, keep coming back,” said Shulze.

Photo: Pat Frovarp, Gary Shulze and Shamus in Once Upon a Crime 

Marcia Clark: Q&a
Oline Cogdill

titleMarcia Clark’s role as the lead prosecutor in the infamous 1995 O.J. Simpson trial put her in the public eye. Since her resignation in 1997 as a prosecutor for the State of California, Clark has worked as an Entertainment Tonight correspondent and, with co-author Teresa Carpeter, wrote Without a Doubt, a nonfiction book based on the O.J. case.

Clark now makes her fiction debut with Guilt by Association (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown), a legal thriller whose heroine is Rachel Knight, an assistant district attorney in L.A.’s elite Special Trials unit.

Mystery Scene caught up with Clark for a Q&A before she launched her book tour for Guilt by Association, which has been earning positive reviews.
 
Q: What inspired you to write Guilt by Association.
A: I’d loved writing since I was a kid, but it never occurred to me to write full time until I finished co-writing Without a Doubt. At that point, I was excited about the prospect of writing a thriller, but a little – well, let’s face it – a lot daunted by the prospect of writing a book. Then fate, in the form of writing scripts for a legal drama on television, stepped in. The experience of script writing gave me enough confidence to get the ball rolling, and so I began novel writing.

After trying a few different perspectives and styles, I realized that what I really wanted to do was revisit my happiest years as a prosecutor, effectively combining my two greatest loves: prosecuting and fiction writing.

I was big fan of “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin, who created a beautiful world filled with fun, quirky and interesting characters. And that’s what I wanted to do: create a world that would be an ongoing series with recurring characters who’d – hopefully – also be fun, loveable and interesting. And I wanted to create a world that would convey the excitement and satisfaction, as well as the camaraderie and fun, of being a prosecutor.

titleQ:  What was your inspiration for heroine Rachel Knight.
A: Rachel is a composite of many different women I’ve known, which means, of course, that I’m in there somewhere, too. But I think of Rachel as being my “avatar”: smarter, stronger, faster, etc. My real contribution to Rachel is my flaws: obsessive, headstrong, impatient, sometimes impulsive, and always smart-ass-y.

Q: Have you been a lifelong mystery fan? Any favorites?
A:
I have definitely been a lifelong mystery fan, and I have so many favorites, I don’t like to name favorites because I invariably forget to mention someone I love. But I will specifically mention one, because he’s passed and I want to add my voice to the many who keep his name alive: Robert B. Parker. He was a huge inspiration to many, many readers and writers, not just me.


Q: You show a different view of L.A. in Guilt by Association. Do you love Los Angeles?
A:
I suppose I do love L.A, though I sometimes forget because I get distracted by the obnoxious traffic and smog. There’s no city like L.A. When you fly over other cities, you see tightly wound concentric circles of lights; a localized hub surrounded by suburban quiet. But when you fly over L.A., the lights of all the various cities go on and on for miles. The spread of urban-style living is huge and wide.

As a result, L.A. is actually an umbrella that covers many different cities, each with its own unique character. This naturally provides a lot of grist for the mill and a great palette of colors to choose from in writing a book.

Q: Will the O.J. trial always be a part of your profile?
A:
Of course. That trial was a significant moment in history, and it was broadcast across the country, day in and day out, for a year and a half – you couldn’t escape the coverage even if you wanted to. As a result, I think everyone involved will forever be associated with it.


Q: I love the way you show Rachel’s friendship with the other women. Too often women are at odds in novels and movies. Are LAPD Detective Bailey Keller and prosecutor Toni LaCollette based on your own friends?
A:
Yes, they are – I’m happy, and very lucky, to be able to say. I, too, am weary of seeing women portrayed as being at each other’s throats. It’s a clichéd notion that whenever there’s more than one woman in the room, they have to be in competition with one another.

The truth is, women generally understand each other in ways men simply can’t, and that allows them to share a unique closeness. In this series, I want to show the truth about how important women are to each other and how they go the extra mile and beyond for their friends.

Q: What next?
A:
Writing novels – I hope! The second in the series comes out a year from now. 

 

Super User
Sunday, 24 April 2011 06:04

titleMarcia Clark’s role as the lead prosecutor in the infamous 1995 O.J. Simpson trial put her in the public eye. Since her resignation in 1997 as a prosecutor for the State of California, Clark has worked as an Entertainment Tonight correspondent and, with co-author Teresa Carpeter, wrote Without a Doubt, a nonfiction book based on the O.J. case.

Clark now makes her fiction debut with Guilt by Association (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown), a legal thriller whose heroine is Rachel Knight, an assistant district attorney in L.A.’s elite Special Trials unit.

Mystery Scene caught up with Clark for a Q&A before she launched her book tour for Guilt by Association, which has been earning positive reviews.
 
Q: What inspired you to write Guilt by Association.
A: I’d loved writing since I was a kid, but it never occurred to me to write full time until I finished co-writing Without a Doubt. At that point, I was excited about the prospect of writing a thriller, but a little – well, let’s face it – a lot daunted by the prospect of writing a book. Then fate, in the form of writing scripts for a legal drama on television, stepped in. The experience of script writing gave me enough confidence to get the ball rolling, and so I began novel writing.

After trying a few different perspectives and styles, I realized that what I really wanted to do was revisit my happiest years as a prosecutor, effectively combining my two greatest loves: prosecuting and fiction writing.

I was big fan of “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin, who created a beautiful world filled with fun, quirky and interesting characters. And that’s what I wanted to do: create a world that would be an ongoing series with recurring characters who’d – hopefully – also be fun, loveable and interesting. And I wanted to create a world that would convey the excitement and satisfaction, as well as the camaraderie and fun, of being a prosecutor.

titleQ:  What was your inspiration for heroine Rachel Knight.
A: Rachel is a composite of many different women I’ve known, which means, of course, that I’m in there somewhere, too. But I think of Rachel as being my “avatar”: smarter, stronger, faster, etc. My real contribution to Rachel is my flaws: obsessive, headstrong, impatient, sometimes impulsive, and always smart-ass-y.

Q: Have you been a lifelong mystery fan? Any favorites?
A:
I have definitely been a lifelong mystery fan, and I have so many favorites, I don’t like to name favorites because I invariably forget to mention someone I love. But I will specifically mention one, because he’s passed and I want to add my voice to the many who keep his name alive: Robert B. Parker. He was a huge inspiration to many, many readers and writers, not just me.


Q: You show a different view of L.A. in Guilt by Association. Do you love Los Angeles?
A:
I suppose I do love L.A, though I sometimes forget because I get distracted by the obnoxious traffic and smog. There’s no city like L.A. When you fly over other cities, you see tightly wound concentric circles of lights; a localized hub surrounded by suburban quiet. But when you fly over L.A., the lights of all the various cities go on and on for miles. The spread of urban-style living is huge and wide.

As a result, L.A. is actually an umbrella that covers many different cities, each with its own unique character. This naturally provides a lot of grist for the mill and a great palette of colors to choose from in writing a book.

Q: Will the O.J. trial always be a part of your profile?
A:
Of course. That trial was a significant moment in history, and it was broadcast across the country, day in and day out, for a year and a half – you couldn’t escape the coverage even if you wanted to. As a result, I think everyone involved will forever be associated with it.


Q: I love the way you show Rachel’s friendship with the other women. Too often women are at odds in novels and movies. Are LAPD Detective Bailey Keller and prosecutor Toni LaCollette based on your own friends?
A:
Yes, they are – I’m happy, and very lucky, to be able to say. I, too, am weary of seeing women portrayed as being at each other’s throats. It’s a clichéd notion that whenever there’s more than one woman in the room, they have to be in competition with one another.

The truth is, women generally understand each other in ways men simply can’t, and that allows them to share a unique closeness. In this series, I want to show the truth about how important women are to each other and how they go the extra mile and beyond for their friends.

Q: What next?
A:
Writing novels – I hope! The second in the series comes out a year from now. 

 

What’s Happening With... Wessel Ebersohn
Brian Skupin

ebersohn_wessel_smallIn the 1970s South African Wessel Ebersohn started writing thrillers set in that country’s harsh apartheid society. His critically acclaimed series about Yudel Gordon, a prison psychologist, was successful enough to allow him to write full-time.

But Ebersohn’s books were clearly antiapartheid (one is based on the Stephen Biko case). He was repeatedly harassed by the police, his books were later banned, and for a time he was forced into hiding. Ebersohn describes the situation:

“In 1986, when the South African troubles were at their height, Miriam and I had had enough. On the one hand, members of the resistance were being murdered by agents of the authorities and, on the other, township mobs were burning suspected informers alive by the necklace method."

“We fled the entire scene and spent six years in the Knysna Forest.”

In the Knysna Forest, Miriam started a bird hospital and animal sanctuary. Ebersohn wrote for various publications to pay the bills.

Photo: Tes Ebersohn; (Below) The groundbreaking
South African magazine founded by the Ebersohns

Whenever he was working on a business article Miriam helped him do the research. She soon realized that most of the start-up businesses she researched were out of business after a year. At that time there was no place in South Africa for small entrepreneurs—especially the poor and young people—to get information or sensible advice. The Ebersohns discussed creating a magazine that could make a difference by helping people, and the whole country, succeed.

Although they were repeatedly turned down for loans, they refused to let go of the idea. Their son and daughter put their own plans on hold to help.

Just before Christmas in 1994, the same year that apartheid ended, Miriam sold the first advance ad for the magazine, and soon afterward they had enough advance sales to cover the printing. To their dismay, however, no publisher would go to press without cash up front. Succeed-march-2011-cover-250In spring 1995, the Ebersohns talked to businessman Martin Dannheiser, an old friend. They offered him a 50 percent share if he would co-sign payment of the first printing. The next day Dannheiser called back and the entire family crowded around the phone. “Wessel, you know, you don’t need a partner, they are just a problem. What you need is a friend.” They were deeply disappointed. But then he said, “I spoke to the printer last night and told him I would guarantee the printing for a year.”

That was all they needed. The first issue came out in May 1995 and Succeed Magazine quickly became one of the most successful magazines in South Africa. The Ebersohns give away thousands of copies in poor and inner city areas, and make a special effort to provide jobs to women and to blacks.

What about Wessel Ebersohn’s crime fiction? When we spoke to him, he said, “It was our starting of Succeed Magazine that stopped my fiction writing. I do hope to return to it in 2005. As for Yudel Gordon, yes, I think I’d like to revive my clever friend.” [Read the review of Ebersohn's latest Yudel Gordon thriller The October Killings in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.]

“The end of apartheid certainly did change things, but my country remains one of the most violent on earth and there is plenty for Yudel to get his teeth into.”

Wessel Ebersohn Reading List

YUDEL GORDON SERIES
A Lonely Place to Die (1979)
Divide the Night (1981)
Closed Circle (1990)
The October Killings (2011)

THRILLERS
The Centurion (1977)
Store Up the Anger (1981)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #86.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 April 2011 01:04

ebersohn_wessel_croppedMS catches up with the author of the 1970s acclaimed thrillers set in South Africa's apartheid society.

Playing Hardball: Sara Paretsky
Cheryl Solimini

paretsky_scarf_small2

V.I. Warshawski is back, as cranky and committed as ever. And author Sara Paretsky has a few pet peeves and projects of her own.

Photo: Steven E. Gross

Just try separating Sara Paretsky the crime writer from Sara Paretsky the crusader. The real-life causes that she espouses—aiding the powerless and disenfranchised—are echoed in the cases taken on by her fictional detective, V.I. Warshawski.

Unlike her hard-knocks heroine, though, Paretsky has not been shot at, firebombed, or tossed in the slammer for her pains. But this pioneering author, credited with creating the first modern hard-boiled female PI, has often put herself in the line of fire, risking the wrath of readers as well as higher authorities. “I write about things that I feel passionately about,” says the acclaimed author, who was awarded the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 2002. “If I’m just going through the motions, then I’m bored and the reader is bored.”

“Boring” is not a word any Paretsky fan would use to describe Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski or the 12 edgily entertaining, intellectually engaging and intricately engineered novels that she has fueled. Since V.I.’s ground-breaking debut in 1982’s Indemnity Only, Paretsky has had her Chicago shamus fearlessly take on political, police, and corporate corruption, while fighting fiercely, and often in frustration, to right social and moral wrongs. Along the way she paints a vibrant mural of a city and its people struggling with their troubled past, present, and future. What other metropolis could give rise to both a Barack Obama and a Rod Blagojevich?

But it’s been four years since Vic (don’t call her Vicki) was last spotted on the South Side, four years since she was shot in the head, bound, and left for dead on a garbage heap. Though battered in body and spirit, this Windy City pitbull did not leave the crime scene with her tail between her legs. “Actually, I think V.I. got off easy in Fire Sale,” her creator says.

paretsky_hardballSo Paretsky has upped the ante in Hardball, her 20th book and 13th entry in the series, published by Putnam in September 2009. As both Paretsky and Vic’s most passionate and personal journey yet, it was worth the wait. Even the usually self-critical author agrees, “I think it’s the best in the series.”

Early on, V.I. reveals the reason for her absence: extended R&R with a lover. But Paretsky hasn’t had that luxury. As during her last series hiatus—between 1994’s Tunnel Vision and 1999’s Hard Time—the author has been more than busy. Back then, she produced her first nonseries novel, Ghost Country (1998) and the short-story collection Windy City Blues (1995). Her most recent interval brought us Bleeding Kansas (Putnam, 2008), a family saga set in an isolated farming community near Lawrence, Kansas, where the Iowa-born Paretsky was raised; Writing in an Age of Silence (Verso, 2007), a memoir that collects many of her powerful essays and speeches, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and the afterword to a new edition of The Brothers Karamazov (Signet, 2007). “So it’s not as though I’ve been sleeping this whole time.” Paretsky yawns, fighting jetlag from the most recent stop on her book tour. “Funny… Hard Time, Hardball… What will it be after my next break? Maybe Hardtack?”

Paretsky found the inspiration for her latest Warshawski while editing Sisters on the Case (Signet, 2007), a short-story anthology celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sisters in Crime, the support network for women mystery writers that Paretsky founded in 1986. Her own contribution to that collection, “A Family Sunday in the Park,” gives us a ten-year-old V.I. working her first case, her trademark temper and rule-breaking righteousness already fully developed. Set during the anti-segregation march led by Martin Luther King on August 6, 1966, “Tori” rushes headlong and headstrong into the real-life violence against the protestors in Chicago’s Marquette Park.

“It was a pretty lame story, if I say so myself,” admits the straight-shooting Paretsky. “But it made me aware that I really wanted to revisit the summer of ’66 and write about it in a better way than I had done. That’s when I first came to Chicago to do community-service work—or ‘terrorism’ as some would call it.” She adds, “I’m glad I’m not running for President of United States. It doesn’t matter what you say or do, it will be twisted and held up and used as evidence against you.”

Back then, though, Paretsky was a 19-year-old student just arrived from the University of Kansas to help in a summer youth program, educating children about civil rights. On the day of the march, she and two coworkers came upon a church rectory in their neighborhood that had been set ablaze by rioters incensed over the Catholic archbishop’s support of open housing. Aware that all the city’s firefighters would be assigned to the march, the three put out the fire themselves. “Everything about that summer changed my life,” Paretsky says. After graduating with a degree in political science in 1968, she returned to live there permanently, eventually earning a Ph.D. in history and an MBA from the University of Chicago, while also involved with community-service groups.

When a fire heats up Hardball, V.I. does not escape unscathed either, physically or emotionally. Delving into a 40-year-old disappearance connected perhaps to the murder of a black activist during the riots, she digs up another dirty chapter of the city’s past that some would like to keep buried. In the process, Vic also unearths a dark secret about her deceased and beloved father, Tony—a revelation that surprised even Paretsky.

“I admire writers like Elizabeth George and Phyllis James who write comprehensive outlines,” she says. “I think it saves time down the road. But I can’t think in that way. It isn’t until I’m actually writing about characters and putting them into motion that I see how to move the story.

“When I started Hardball, I wanted Tony Warshawski to be the good guy that V.I. remembers. But as the characters interacted with each other, I realized that Tony couldn’t be flawless. He couldn’t have been ignorant to what was happening around him, even if he wasn’t to blame. He had to make compromises that V.I. doesn’t have to make. He had a wife and child to provide for, while she has the luxury of not having to be responsible for anyone but herself.”

V.I. gets a taste of that burden in Hardball, when her college-age cousin Petra shows up on her doorstep and then almost as suddenly disappears, perhaps related to Vic’s current case. But don’t expect Warshawski to go all motherly now that she is nearing menopause.

“Even though it’s a big age difference, her feelings are more sisterly than maternal,” says Paretsky. “Petra’s personality is so different both from V.I.’s and from mine. I couldn’t have her be like a ‘baby V.I.’—who would want another morose, sullen, cranky Warshawski around? V.I. even feels a little jealous that Mr. Contreras is so taken with Petra. He says, ‘Doll, you can learn something from her. Remember you catch more flies with honey,’ and V.I. says, ‘Yeah, if all you want is a whole lot of dead flies.’”

You can be sure, though, that sunny Petra—who takes her protected upbringing for granted—will hang around awhile to learn a thing or two from her independent, street-smart relative. These lessons may be as timely now as they were in the 1970s, when Paretsky, working in the male-dominated insurance industry as a marketing manager, first envisioned V.I. An antidote to the female victims and vamps in Chandler-esque crime fiction, she heralded a Golden Age of women sleuths and crime novelists. But Paretsky is concerned that the pendulum has swung back the other way.

“I’m disturbed that the depiction of women today is as troubling as it was 20 years ago when we started Sisters in Crime,” she says. “There is a reification of women which not only continues apace, but young women seem to feel that it’s totally appropriate and desirable to be reified. You still read books where women are sexual aggressors—what fantasy is that about?—and the relentless rape scenarios. Then in Hollywood, it’s still all about being a hooker! So the next V.I. book that I’m working on, which I’m calling The Body Project, is in response to all that.” Then self-doubt creeps into her voice. “It’s very different from Hardball and that worries me too. I worry about everything! People are really responding to Hardball and I think, ‘Oh, God! They’ll hate the new book, because it’s totally different.’ So it’s a struggle to write. I’m compulsive and anxiety prone, so I don’t have the capability of just letting this roll off me as I wish I did.”

Paretsky seems just as uncertain of any influence her previous work may have had. “V.I. and, of course, Kinsey Millhone and Sharon McCone did open the floodgates for a lot of other voices and writers. But it wasn’t that I was revolutionary. It was that I had something to say that the audience was ready to hear.

paretsky_killingorders“My first V.I. book came out the same year that Chicago first let women be regular police officers and take the detective exam. So, there was already a sea change in women’s lives. I had wanted to create a hard-boiled woman for eight years before I actually got the courage to try writing for publication. So maybe if I had done it ten years earlier, V.I. would have disappeared without a trace just because readers weren’t ready to connect to that sensibility earlier.

“Even so, my readership grew very slowly—my first book sold 3,500 hardcover copies. It wasn’t until the sixth book that I was a national best-seller. Publishers don’t have that luxury anymore. In today’s climate I probably wouldn’t even have been published. The independent bookstores that hand-sold me, brought me to the attention of readers—most no longer exist either.”

She frets too that books themselves may soon be obsolete. When reminded of an interview she gave in 1996, she sighs, “Oh, before e-book readers! I want magazines and books and newspapers and print. I want it to be then, not now.

“The only way I know how to pick a book is to hold it. It’s like shopping for clothes. People do it online, but you never know if it’s going to look good on you. The same thing with books. Until you have actually tried it on in the bookstore, you don’t know if it’s the right fit for you.

“What is even more frightening is that you don’t own an e-book. Whoever sells it can pull it anytime they want. We’re increasingly worried about surveillance and who is tracking us—that means that anyone who wants to can follow your reading habits and they can take it away from you any minute too. So, if you want to have control over your library, buy the damn book! That is my message to America and I’m standing by it!”

It’s hard to imagine that Paretsky would not stand by or speak up for anything that captures her passion. But in Writing in an Age of Silence, Paretsky revealed that at one time she barely spoke above a whisper. Her parents, though highly educated activists themselves, raised her to follow a more traditional path, putting her in charge of her four brothers. The boys went to top colleges away from home, while Paretsky was sent to a secretarial school nearby. On her own, she worked her way through the local university.

“I think that was a reflection not so much of an ideological bent of my parents, but of their emotional neediness,” she says now. “They needed someone to look after them and the girl would be that person. But I think I was just lucky to be coming of age at the time of the women’s movement, the countervailing voice to what I was getting at home. I think otherwise I had a good chance of following my mother’s footsteps and being just a bitter, angry, underutilized woman, underchallenged.

“Still, I think it did leave me with a permanent inability to know what I want and to only worry about what the people around me want. I realize that it has also affected how I write about V.I. That bothers me—that she also seems to have a knee-jerk caretaker response. Somebody comes to her in trouble and she can’t say no. I wonder if the same character with a different psychology would approach those cases differently.”

Yet Paretsky’s relationship with her often-prickly protagonist is clearly symbiotic. Paretsky’s compassion softens V.I., while V.I.’s righteousness strengthens Paretsky. “When V.I. is on her high horse lecturing to people, she is really lecturing me. I’m a person who does duck away in crucial moments, and I hate myself for it. So she is always kind of pissed off with me too.”

But no one else would ever accuse Paretsky of ducking a fight. In speeches and op-ed pieces, she has been openly supportive of reproductive rights and openly critical of Bush Administration policies. And don’t get her started on Dick Cheney. “I decided Dick Cheney is really a flesh-eating zombie,” she says, only half in jest. “No one could really be alive with all those hard issues. Whenever something goes wrong in my life, like I lose my glasses, I know that Dick Cheney has been messing with my stuff.”

Then, in Blacklist (2004), V.I. rammed against McCarthyism and the Patriot Act. Soon after it was published, Paretsky was to give a talk at an Ohio public library on how the Act was affecting writers, readers, and libraries. It was the night of the Iraq invasion and Paretsky was asked to change her topic. Hands gripping the podium to keep them from shaking, she instead delivered her intended speech. The audience gave her a standing ovation.

She has also received fan letters from former President Bill Clinton. But other readers have been incensed with some of her stances, and have let her know it. Those looking to escape into a traditional mystery novel might not like being confronted by the plight of minimum-wage workers and illegal immigrants (Fire Sale), of Holocaust survivors and descendants of slaves (Total Recall) and prison abuse (Hard Time). “A web reviewer commented that ‘Sue Grafton always makes you feel good and Sara Paretsky always makes you feel bad’—or words to that effect,” she says with a rueful laugh. “Well, first of all, no matter how much I like Sue as a person and as a writer, you never like being told that your sister is cuter than you are.” Paretsky sounds weary again, though not from jetlag. “But it’s true. I wish I could write in a way that many, many readers would respond to, but you have to write what you need to write. Or maybe I’m just not a good enough writer to write beyond myself.”

Bleeding Kansas seems to come from that need. The recent novel, about two heartland farm families nearly torn apart by societal changes and the Iraq War, draws on Paretsky’s earlier background. “I come from Kansas and I never imagined that I had a word to say about it. Then suddenly I found that there was a lot that I wanted to write about that area. I think that this is probably the best book I’ve written—not that it’s flawless! I never really solved the problem of how to do the story trajectory without a V.I.-type dramatic action scene. It would have been a better book without that. But I guess my mind runs on those paths. Still, I love the chance to write more lyrically, for lack of a better word, than is possible in the V.I. stories.”

The research into her home state’s history also prompted her to start writing a young adult book set there in the 1850s. Perhaps because she still has some personal territory left to explore, the journey “home” from her second standalone to her series was more difficult. “After Ghost Country, I loved being back in V.I.’s voice. So I was sort of surprised that it wasn’t easy to come back after Bleeding Kansas. But I don’t think it’s because I’ve run out of what I want to say about V.I.”

paretsky_bodywork_lg_copySome of the struggle may have been in wanting to reassure patient, long-time fans that the heart of the series hadn’t changed. “Lotty [Herschel, Vic’s friend and mentor] is the second most important person to readers after V.I., so I knew people would want to see Lotty again,” Paretsky explains. “But it’s not easy to bring her into the stories in a natural way. With Hardball, there wasn’t really anything for her to do. But finally I figured out how to give her some face time.”

For similar reasons, Paretsky doesn’t foresee V.I. in a long-term affair. “Each relationship has to be part of the story. If it’s not, well, then it drags down the action. And more so with a lover.” Paretsky herself is enamored of V.I.’s new neighbor, a musician. “But I realized that he is living next door, so that’s not good! He’s going to have to go on a West Coast tour.”

She mulls over possibilities for future plots. “My husband thinks it’s time that V.I. dealt with vampires,” she laughs. This leads her, naturally, to analyze the current fascination with the supernatural. “It’s interesting to me that 19th-century vampires were terrifying, yet 21st-century vampires are protective and consoling. I have a feeling it’s because our lives are so full of fear these days and we want the reassurance of immortality and of comfort. So the vampires are playing a much different role.”

Her own literary focus is on realities that are less comforting, and after 27 years of championing social reforms in fiction, she reflects unsparingly on her own role. “I’ve not been able to change the world. I’ve not been able to liberate myself let alone three billion other women. Add that to the state of publishing and the fact that books may not actually exist in another five years, and I just want to lie down and pull leaves over my head.”

Later, she tells another story. Years ago, Paretsky was contacted by a reader whose mother had died of breast cancer when the young woman was 16. “The mother had bequeathed her all the books I had written up to that point, because she felt that V.I. was a person she wanted looking after her daughter in her absence.

“I still hear from a number of young women who feel that connection to V.I.’s voice. Then I think, ‘That’s the difference that I feel that I’ve made, giving support to young women and also to older women.’ Somehow, it feels like a sacred trust.”

Then Sara Paretsky, crusader and crime writer, says, “I’d rather have that than the Nobel Prize.”

Sara Paretsky Reading List

THE V.I. WARSHAWSKI SERIES
Body Work (2010)
Hardball (2009)
Fire Sale (2005)
Blacklist (2003)
Total Recall (2001)
Hard Time (1999)
Tunnel Vision (1994)
Guardian Angel (1992)
Burn Marks (1990)
Blood Shot (1988)
Bitter Medicine (1987)
Killing Orders (1985)
Deadlock (1984)
Indemnity Only (1982)

SHORT STORIES
Windy City Blues (1995)

STANDALONE NOVELS
Bleeding Kansas (2008)
Ghost Country (1998)

NONFICTION
Writing in an Age of Silence (2007)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #112.
Read more about Sara Paretsky and the 2011 MWA Grand Master Award here.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 05 April 2011 12:04

paretsky_scarf_croppedThe 2011 MWA Grand Master discusses what it takes to be a female shamus—and writer—in a man's world.

The Mother of American Mystery: Anna Katharine Green
Michael Mallory

green_anna_katharine_small

Here’s a pop quiz for mystery buffs: name the father of the American detective story. The fact that you’re reading this magazine means you most likely know that it was Edgar Allan Poe, whose 1841 story “Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduced the concept of the detective hero in the person of C. Auguste Dupin.

But like all living things, the mystery genre has two parents. So, now try to name the mother of the American detective story, the woman who produced the first mystery novel written on these shores.

Give up? You’re not alone.

Even devotees of the genre may have a hard time coming up with the name Anna Katharine Green, whose 1878 book The Leavenworth Case is widely regarded as the first American detective novel.

Anna Katharine Green, 1846-1935. Photo: Library of Congress

It is also the first such novel ever written by a woman, and in the views of some historians, the first bona fide American bestseller, selling a staggering three-quarters of a million copies over a 15-year period. Green’s influence and reputation were so great at the time that Arthur Conan Doyle made a point of seeking her out during an 1894 visit to the United States.

It is therefore ironic, perhaps even tragic, that Anna Katharine Green and her work are so little remembered today; because not only was she a remarkable writer, she was a remarkable woman as well. Born in 1846 in New York, the daughter of a prominent attorney (who was the source of her knowledge of legal and police matters), Green was college educated—rare for a woman of that time—and initially embarked on a career as a poet, but found no success.She began working on The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer’s Story in secret and spent six years on the manuscript, an effort that resulted in overnight success and fame upon its publication by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Green would marry and ultimately support a struggling young actor named Charles Rohlfs, who would later appear in a stage production of The Leavenworth Case before finding great success as a furniture designer. Green raised a family, but still managed to turn out more than three dozen more books over the next 45 years. None of them would have the impact of The Leavenworth Case, which was so highly regarded for its insight into legal matters that it was used in Yale University law classes as an example of the perils of trusting circumstantial evidence.

The narrator of The Leavenworth Case is a young, impetuous New York lawyer named Everett Raymond, the junior partner in the law firm of Veely, Carr, and Raymond. Raymond’s company represents the wealthy, workaholic New York merchant Horatio Leavenworth, who at the book’s beginning is found shot to death in the library of his opulent 5th Avenue mansion (like the title character of the much later novel Rebecca, Leavenworth’s presence, not his physical being, haunts the book’s characters).

Since the angle of the bullet wound rules out suicide, it is judged a clear case of murder, and all of the initial suspects are those living in or frequenting the house. They include Leavenworth’s beautiful, secretive young nieces Mary and Eleanore; his secretary James Trueman Harwell; a mysterious English visitor named Henry Clavering; and a staff of Irish servants that include an officious butler named Dougherty, a lady’s maid called Hannah Chester, the cook Kate Malone, and the upstairs girl Molly O’Flanagan.

On hand to get to the bottom of things is detective Ebenezer Gryce, a somewhat lugubrious, gout-plagued fellow in his mid-50s who, Raymond assures the reader, would never be mistaken for a detective by a stranger:

“And let me say here that Mr. Gryce, the detective, was not the thin, wiry individual with the piercing eye you are doubtless expecting to see. On the contrary, Mr. Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage with an eye that never pierced, that did not even rest on you.”

Gryce’s unwillingness to make direct eye contact may be his most pronounced characteristic, though it is through his slow deliberations of the evidence, his profound knowledge of human nature (which occasionally borders on 19th century sexism), and his ability to manipulate people as he questions them, which Raymond deems “marvelous to behold.”

green_leavencase2Raymond takes on the role of Gryce’s unofficial assistant and legman, which automatically thrusts him into what we now term “the Watson role.” But like so many detectives who would follow, Gryce also utilizes the talents of paid operatives, most notably a shadowy figure called “Q,” short for “Query,” so dubbed because of his skill as an interrogator. His real name is Morris, and in addition to his examination skills, Q is a master of disguise—in fact, in one scene he approaches the unwitting Raymond dressed as a female beggar. Another of Gryce’s agents is a man named Fobbs who, believe it or not, is assigned to watch. (Think about it.)

The major complication of the story—at least from Raymond’s standpoint—is that nearly all of the circumstantial evidence points directly to one person: Eleanore Leavenworth. The lovely but inscrutable young woman has been virtually shut out from her uncle’s will in favor of Mary. But upon first glance, Raymond falls stumblingly in love with Eleanore, who has been capriciously denied an inheritance. This means his task becomes not only to help find the killer, but to do whatever it takes to exonerate his love.

Illustration by G. W. Peters, as published in a 1906 edition
of The Leavenworth Case (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons)

That device has, of course, been used time and time again in mysteries, and for this and other reasons, it is sometimes tempting to fault The Leavenworth Case as a clichéd work…until one realizes that this is the book that established the situations and lines that would later become clichés (for instance, when asked whom he suspects of the murder, Gryce cryptically replies: “Every one and nobody”).

While the characters are generally well drawn—in particular, the author’s writing from the first person point of view of a young, lovesick male is convincingly handled, and the ethical ambiguity that characterizes both Mary and Eleanore is sustained throughout—much of the dialogue is floridly archaic (“Some women in my position would go mad! mad! mad!” Mary cries to the heavens at one point). More than anything, it is these ripe Victorian melodramatics that allowed Green’s work to lapse into obscurity. What saves The Leavenworth Case and makes it a delight to read so many years later though is the author’s deft plotting.

The story goes lickety-split (particularly by 19th century standards) and Green seems to revel in cliffhanger chapter endings. Woven into the tangled plot are a wealth of intriguing elements, including a secret marriage, a past betrayal, a missing key, a vanished servant, a mysterious mustached man, a forged confession, a fragment of sinister letter to the victim, a name etched into a window pane, assumed identities, and overheard arguments. There are red herrings galore and there is even a second murder. Gryce, in his own plodding fashion, manages to cut through it all and find the truth. He even sets up a classic trap into which the killer falls.

Ebenezer Gryce would return in more of Green’s novels and short stories, including That Affair Next Door (1897), Lost Man’s Lane (1898), and The Circular Study (1900), but after the 1923 publication of The Step on the Stair, Green stopped writing (or at least stopped publishing).

The author died at the age of 88 in 1935, well into the era of the Golden Age. By then a new Queen of Crime had arrived upon the scene, England’s Agatha Christie, who in later years would reveal that she turned to writing mysteries after having been influenced by the work of Anna Katharine Green.

While The Leavenworth Case is not officially in print at present, it is not that difficult to find a copy. For devotees of the mystery genre, reading the book can be likened to finding a photo of an ancestor: while it is obviously dated, perhaps even a bit dusty, the charming face is still immediately recognizable and it is quite clearly part of the family.

If any American writer is due for a major rediscovery, even if only on the basis of historical importance, it is Anna Katharine Green. While largely forgotten today, her novels paved the way for…well, for just about everybody working in the mystery genre.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #94.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 05 April 2011 06:04

green_anna_katharine_scroppedA tribute to Anna Katharine Green, the author of first American detective novel The Leavenworth Case.

Rizzoli & Isles Make 30 Rock
Oline Cogdill

titleI am convinced there are TV script writers who are avid mystery fiction fans. How else to explain the little references to mystery fiction that slip in now and then into TV series?

Years ago, the visiting mother of a character on Northern Exposure praised Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and how, even though they were worlds apart, she could relate to the fictional detective.

A couple of seasons ago, two of the con people on TNT's witty Leverage took the aliases of Elmore and Leonard.

And on a recent episode of the NBC comedy 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) asked if Rizzoli and Isles were friends in real life. Liz was, of course, referring to the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen.

Frankly, I could believe that Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon, and Isles, played by Sasha Alexander, could indeed be friends in real life.

Last year, I interviewed both actresses for Mystery Scene. The interview is here.

titleThe first season of Rizzoli & Isles will be out on DVD in June.

Rizzoli & Isles will be back on TNT in July. Tess Gerritsen's next novel in the Rizzoli & Isles series will be The Silent Girl, scheduled to hit the bookstores in July.

But meanwhile, Gerritsen's last Rizzoli & Isles, Ice Cold, is now out in paperback.

Ice Cold is a gripping thriller that shows the author and her appealing characters at their best.

Any one else notice mystery fiction references on TV? Let us know! 

Super User
Wednesday, 13 April 2011 06:04

titleI am convinced there are TV script writers who are avid mystery fiction fans. How else to explain the little references to mystery fiction that slip in now and then into TV series?

Years ago, the visiting mother of a character on Northern Exposure praised Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and how, even though they were worlds apart, she could relate to the fictional detective.

A couple of seasons ago, two of the con people on TNT's witty Leverage took the aliases of Elmore and Leonard.

And on a recent episode of the NBC comedy 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) asked if Rizzoli and Isles were friends in real life. Liz was, of course, referring to the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen.

Frankly, I could believe that Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon, and Isles, played by Sasha Alexander, could indeed be friends in real life.

Last year, I interviewed both actresses for Mystery Scene. The interview is here.

titleThe first season of Rizzoli & Isles will be out on DVD in June.

Rizzoli & Isles will be back on TNT in July. Tess Gerritsen's next novel in the Rizzoli & Isles series will be The Silent Girl, scheduled to hit the bookstores in July.

But meanwhile, Gerritsen's last Rizzoli & Isles, Ice Cold, is now out in paperback.

Ice Cold is a gripping thriller that shows the author and her appealing characters at their best.

Any one else notice mystery fiction references on TV? Let us know!