The Inspector and Silence
Bob Smith

The inspector of the title is Swedish police Inspector Van Veeteren, and silence is what he gets from The Pure Life religious cult when he tries to investigate the rape and murder of two of its young members. Van Veeteren, or VV as his staff calls him, is not your everyday fictional police protagonist. He is laid-back, and more introspective than physical. His thoughts and feelings, good and bad, are clearly spelled out for the reader. We see things through his eyes, and his conclusions, right or wrong, tend to become ours too.

When he is asked to help an inexperienced police chief of the town where the cult has a camp for girls of teen and preteen age, VV, along with readers, is in unknown territory, but one we enter with prejudices against cults in general. As we learn more about this cult, and its charismatic but sleazy leader, our beliefs are both reinforced and challenged. The cult may brainwash the young girls, but are any of its members capable of murder? There is so much more to this Swedish mystery than what seems obvious. That which seems wrong may actually be right, and that which seems unremarkable may harbor evil.

VV runs a casual, but nevertheless dogged, investigation, which ends in a successful and surprising conclusion—though demanding readers may find themselves disappointed by the use of deus ex machina by the author in order draw things to a close. But it’s a relatively minor fault at the end of a solid read. You can add Nesser’s name to the growing list of outstanding Scandinavian writers who are leaving their mark in the world of mystery.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:29:33

The inspector of the title is Swedish police Inspector Van Veeteren, and silence is what he gets from The Pure Life religious cult when he tries to investigate the rape and murder of two of its young members. Van Veeteren, or VV as his staff calls him, is not your everyday fictional police protagonist. He is laid-back, and more introspective than physical. His thoughts and feelings, good and bad, are clearly spelled out for the reader. We see things through his eyes, and his conclusions, right or wrong, tend to become ours too.

When he is asked to help an inexperienced police chief of the town where the cult has a camp for girls of teen and preteen age, VV, along with readers, is in unknown territory, but one we enter with prejudices against cults in general. As we learn more about this cult, and its charismatic but sleazy leader, our beliefs are both reinforced and challenged. The cult may brainwash the young girls, but are any of its members capable of murder? There is so much more to this Swedish mystery than what seems obvious. That which seems wrong may actually be right, and that which seems unremarkable may harbor evil.

VV runs a casual, but nevertheless dogged, investigation, which ends in a successful and surprising conclusion—though demanding readers may find themselves disappointed by the use of deus ex machina by the author in order draw things to a close. But it’s a relatively minor fault at the end of a solid read. You can add Nesser’s name to the growing list of outstanding Scandinavian writers who are leaving their mark in the world of mystery.

Sister
Barbara Fister

This haunting novel opens as Beatrice Hemming travels home to the UK upon learning her sister Tess is missing. The two sisters are temperamentally different, but emotionally close, having survived their difficult, distant mother, and the death of their brother from cystic fibrosis many years before.

As police look into Tess’ disappearance, Beatrice learns that her missing sister was pregnant and had enrolled in a clinical trial to treat her unborn child, who has inherited the genetic condition that killed their beloved brother.

The narrative style of Sister is unusual but effective. Beatrice often addresses her thoughts to her absent sister, telling the story as she does so. At other times Beatrice relates events in the past through her meetings with Mr. Wright, a sympathetic prosecutor. It’s up to the reader to follow the clues and guess what happened to Tess—and what it means for Beatrice. The effect is both disorienting and absorbing, leading up to a surprising twist in the end. But the real power of the book is in the way it explores the relationships between women in the family: between Beatrice and her angry, bereaved mother, and Beatrice and Tess, evoked through vivid memories and a deepening sense of connection.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:35:52

This haunting novel opens as Beatrice Hemming travels home to the UK upon learning her sister Tess is missing. The two sisters are temperamentally different, but emotionally close, having survived their difficult, distant mother, and the death of their brother from cystic fibrosis many years before.

As police look into Tess’ disappearance, Beatrice learns that her missing sister was pregnant and had enrolled in a clinical trial to treat her unborn child, who has inherited the genetic condition that killed their beloved brother.

The narrative style of Sister is unusual but effective. Beatrice often addresses her thoughts to her absent sister, telling the story as she does so. At other times Beatrice relates events in the past through her meetings with Mr. Wright, a sympathetic prosecutor. It’s up to the reader to follow the clues and guess what happened to Tess—and what it means for Beatrice. The effect is both disorienting and absorbing, leading up to a surprising twist in the end. But the real power of the book is in the way it explores the relationships between women in the family: between Beatrice and her angry, bereaved mother, and Beatrice and Tess, evoked through vivid memories and a deepening sense of connection.

Gone With a Handsomer Man
Oline H. Cogdill

It would be too easy to label Michael Lee West’s Gone with a Handsomer Man as just another Southern mystery. Or just another culinary mystery. Or just another comic mystery. Instead, West’s mystery debut fits all those subgenres—with an innovative spin on each.

West, the author of six non-mystery novels and the food memoir Consuming Passions, resists clichés. As in the best Southern mysteries, eccentric characters abound in this vibrant Charleston setting, but none is too outlandish. The recipes sprinkled throughout are plot devices and, in many cases, concoctions for poisons. And the humor is fun but subtle, rising from everyday situations.

Gone with a Handsomer Man introduces Teeny Templeton, an unemployed pastry chef soon to be married to Bing Jackson, a Charleston, South Carolina, real estate agent. That is until she catches Bing playing badminton, naked, with two women. Teeny’s attempt at self-control (shimmying up a tree and throwing unripe peaches at the threesome) is rewarded with an assault charge and a restraining order. When Bing is murdered a few days later, Teeny is the logical suspect. In trying to prove her innocence, Teeny finds an ally in Dora Jackson, Bing’s stepmother, Cooper O’Malley, the lawyer who was her first love, and even Ava, the beautiful Brit who is her romantic rival when it comes to Cooper’s attentions (showing women can be supportive of each other even when interested in the same man).

The novel is full of Teeny’s musings on both food, which has been her main comfort ever since being abandoned by her mother as a child, and relationships. Her need for love makes her a bit naïve when it comes to men, but she is no pushover, and her maturation as the story progresses is delightful to watch. Teeny, so nicknamed because of her petite size, proves full of pluck and inner resolve.

West makes the most of Teeny’s family cookbook that, in addition to mouth-watering recipes, includes several with lethal ingredients. Teeny’s Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake sounds delicious, but watch out for You’ll Get Yours Peach Icing. Gone with a Handsomer Man will make readers long for another serving of this new series.­

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:39:09

It would be too easy to label Michael Lee West’s Gone with a Handsomer Man as just another Southern mystery. Or just another culinary mystery. Or just another comic mystery. Instead, West’s mystery debut fits all those subgenres—with an innovative spin on each.

West, the author of six non-mystery novels and the food memoir Consuming Passions, resists clichés. As in the best Southern mysteries, eccentric characters abound in this vibrant Charleston setting, but none is too outlandish. The recipes sprinkled throughout are plot devices and, in many cases, concoctions for poisons. And the humor is fun but subtle, rising from everyday situations.

Gone with a Handsomer Man introduces Teeny Templeton, an unemployed pastry chef soon to be married to Bing Jackson, a Charleston, South Carolina, real estate agent. That is until she catches Bing playing badminton, naked, with two women. Teeny’s attempt at self-control (shimmying up a tree and throwing unripe peaches at the threesome) is rewarded with an assault charge and a restraining order. When Bing is murdered a few days later, Teeny is the logical suspect. In trying to prove her innocence, Teeny finds an ally in Dora Jackson, Bing’s stepmother, Cooper O’Malley, the lawyer who was her first love, and even Ava, the beautiful Brit who is her romantic rival when it comes to Cooper’s attentions (showing women can be supportive of each other even when interested in the same man).

The novel is full of Teeny’s musings on both food, which has been her main comfort ever since being abandoned by her mother as a child, and relationships. Her need for love makes her a bit naïve when it comes to men, but she is no pushover, and her maturation as the story progresses is delightful to watch. Teeny, so nicknamed because of her petite size, proves full of pluck and inner resolve.

West makes the most of Teeny’s family cookbook that, in addition to mouth-watering recipes, includes several with lethal ingredients. Teeny’s Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake sounds delicious, but watch out for You’ll Get Yours Peach Icing. Gone with a Handsomer Man will make readers long for another serving of this new series.­

Jersey Law
Hank Wagner

Despite having learned the dangers of disappointing your clients, especially when they are sociopathic thugs (see 2007’s highly praised Death by Rodrigo), Camden, New Jersey, lawyers Salvatore “Junne” Salerno Jr., and Mickie Mezzonatti soldier on, providing savvy representation for the lowest of the low. They’ve accepted their lot in life, deciding to make the best of it. But, when they find themselves caught between three very different clients (their landlord, a drug lord, and an electronics mogul) whose lives and legal problems intersect in surprising and dangerous ways, they can almost hear the bullets coming their way.

Former litigator Liebman does a great job setting up this complicated scenario, and an even better one of portraying the personal and professional stresses that the lawyers must deal with, as complex ethical obligations tie them up in knots. Also notable is Liebman’s sensitive handling of closeted narrator Junne’s homosexuality, as he makes some significant decisions about the way he’s going to live. Throughout, the author displays an almost Elmore Leonard-esque talent for providing crisp, authentic dialogue, and an ability to squeeze the last drop of humor out of even the most nerve-jangling situations. Like that great master, he also leaves you wanting more.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:47:25

Despite having learned the dangers of disappointing your clients, especially when they are sociopathic thugs (see 2007’s highly praised Death by Rodrigo), Camden, New Jersey, lawyers Salvatore “Junne” Salerno Jr., and Mickie Mezzonatti soldier on, providing savvy representation for the lowest of the low. They’ve accepted their lot in life, deciding to make the best of it. But, when they find themselves caught between three very different clients (their landlord, a drug lord, and an electronics mogul) whose lives and legal problems intersect in surprising and dangerous ways, they can almost hear the bullets coming their way.

Former litigator Liebman does a great job setting up this complicated scenario, and an even better one of portraying the personal and professional stresses that the lawyers must deal with, as complex ethical obligations tie them up in knots. Also notable is Liebman’s sensitive handling of closeted narrator Junne’s homosexuality, as he makes some significant decisions about the way he’s going to live. Throughout, the author displays an almost Elmore Leonard-esque talent for providing crisp, authentic dialogue, and an ability to squeeze the last drop of humor out of even the most nerve-jangling situations. Like that great master, he also leaves you wanting more.

Under Fire
Bob Smith

Courtroom thrillers often have cookie cutter plots, i.e., a charismatic lawyer defends a wrongly accused client at a tense trial with proof of innocence arriving at the last minute. On the surface, Under Fire fits that mold, but lifts it to a more interesting level. Per the formula, the accused, Amina Diallo, a Senegalese Muslim immigrant, is a sympathetic character and the lawyer (or in this case lawyers—a former prosecutor, Sarah Lynch, and her flamboyant uncle) are dedicated to seeing justice served. Amina is accused of both burning down her business to collect the insurance and of murdering the fireman who tried to rescue her and her son. Sarah is a combination of legal smarts and determination (she’s also a former US Olympic hockey player and medalist) who left law after a professional mistake led to a personal tragedy. She lets her Uncle Buddy, a famous Boston defense lawyer, talk her into assisting him to defend Amina. But with the entire city of Boston convinced she is guilty, it isn’t an easy job.

Although not dissimilar to other courtroom books, in Under Fire it is the trial itself that lifts it above the norm. First time author McLean, herself a criminal prosecutor, knows her law, and, more importantly, how to tell a story. During the trial scenes she centers attention on the jurors and interprets events through them rather than the lawyers. The ebb and flow of the trial is registered mostly through their eyes, each with a separate perspective and each with a firm opinion. The jury’s decision after days of deliberation is surprising, but logical. For a new author, McLean writes like an old pro. She knows Boston; her story is as up-to-date and topical as today’s headlines. This debut effort bodes well for what promises to be a winning career for the author and for Sarah Lynch and her bow tie-wearing Uncle Buddy.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:53:29

Courtroom thrillers often have cookie cutter plots, i.e., a charismatic lawyer defends a wrongly accused client at a tense trial with proof of innocence arriving at the last minute. On the surface, Under Fire fits that mold, but lifts it to a more interesting level. Per the formula, the accused, Amina Diallo, a Senegalese Muslim immigrant, is a sympathetic character and the lawyer (or in this case lawyers—a former prosecutor, Sarah Lynch, and her flamboyant uncle) are dedicated to seeing justice served. Amina is accused of both burning down her business to collect the insurance and of murdering the fireman who tried to rescue her and her son. Sarah is a combination of legal smarts and determination (she’s also a former US Olympic hockey player and medalist) who left law after a professional mistake led to a personal tragedy. She lets her Uncle Buddy, a famous Boston defense lawyer, talk her into assisting him to defend Amina. But with the entire city of Boston convinced she is guilty, it isn’t an easy job.

Although not dissimilar to other courtroom books, in Under Fire it is the trial itself that lifts it above the norm. First time author McLean, herself a criminal prosecutor, knows her law, and, more importantly, how to tell a story. During the trial scenes she centers attention on the jurors and interprets events through them rather than the lawyers. The ebb and flow of the trial is registered mostly through their eyes, each with a separate perspective and each with a firm opinion. The jury’s decision after days of deliberation is surprising, but logical. For a new author, McLean writes like an old pro. She knows Boston; her story is as up-to-date and topical as today’s headlines. This debut effort bodes well for what promises to be a winning career for the author and for Sarah Lynch and her bow tie-wearing Uncle Buddy.

Purgatory Chasm
Kevin Burton Smith

It’s a cold, hard New England that recovering drunk, ex-con, former NASCAR driver and ace mechanic Conway Sax lives in, and a howling wind blows right through it. Yet, in a world of dysfunctional families, hardscrabble homes, petty criminals, and substance abuse, you’ve got to admire his steely determination to be a better man—to his girlfriend and her children, to the alcoholic father who abandoned him as a child, and even to the singularly obnoxious Tander Phigg, a wealthy member of the AA group that helped Conway finally get sober.

Tander asks Conway for help retrieving his precious 1990 Mercedes from a shady New Hampshire auto repair joint, and that’s when things head south. When Phigg’s body is discovered shortly after Conway’s failed attempt to reclaim the vehicle, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this than a “simple favor.” Soon Conway, already balancing a load of personal problems, gets messed up in murder, a missing family fortune, the New York City art scene of 50 years ago, and a drug smuggling ring that’s essentially the French Connection in reverse, run by a vicious Quebecois dealer known only as “Montreal.”

The tough, working class setting and the no-nonsense, wisecrack-free tone will get under your fingernails, and fans of George Pelecanos will dig the eye for workingman, hands-on detail that race car driver and first-time novelist Ulfelder exhibits—whether Conway is drywalling a house, stumbling through a murder investigation, or simply trying to do the right thing, there’s a veracity and empathy that shows the author himself isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty; or apply a little elbow grease when it comes to plotting. The one bum note in this auspicious debut is when the author overplays the Everyman schtick by tossing in a few too many pop culture references that first person narrator Conway claims to not understand. Such disingenuousness rings false when coming from such a true blue kinda guy. More, please.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 20:57:30

It’s a cold, hard New England that recovering drunk, ex-con, former NASCAR driver and ace mechanic Conway Sax lives in, and a howling wind blows right through it. Yet, in a world of dysfunctional families, hardscrabble homes, petty criminals, and substance abuse, you’ve got to admire his steely determination to be a better man—to his girlfriend and her children, to the alcoholic father who abandoned him as a child, and even to the singularly obnoxious Tander Phigg, a wealthy member of the AA group that helped Conway finally get sober.

Tander asks Conway for help retrieving his precious 1990 Mercedes from a shady New Hampshire auto repair joint, and that’s when things head south. When Phigg’s body is discovered shortly after Conway’s failed attempt to reclaim the vehicle, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this than a “simple favor.” Soon Conway, already balancing a load of personal problems, gets messed up in murder, a missing family fortune, the New York City art scene of 50 years ago, and a drug smuggling ring that’s essentially the French Connection in reverse, run by a vicious Quebecois dealer known only as “Montreal.”

The tough, working class setting and the no-nonsense, wisecrack-free tone will get under your fingernails, and fans of George Pelecanos will dig the eye for workingman, hands-on detail that race car driver and first-time novelist Ulfelder exhibits—whether Conway is drywalling a house, stumbling through a murder investigation, or simply trying to do the right thing, there’s a veracity and empathy that shows the author himself isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty; or apply a little elbow grease when it comes to plotting. The one bum note in this auspicious debut is when the author overplays the Everyman schtick by tossing in a few too many pop culture references that first person narrator Conway claims to not understand. Such disingenuousness rings false when coming from such a true blue kinda guy. More, please.

Dreams of the Dead
Debbi Mack

The two sisters writing as Peri O’Shaughnessy handle the fine details of high finance and legal procedure adroitly, without sacrificing suspense, in this novel featuring plucky lawyer protagonist Nina Reilly. Nina is that rarest of animals, a lovable lawyer, depicted as a woman of humor, brains, determination and warmth. (Though why must she seek empowerment by wearing lacy undergarments to court?) She has a handy secretary named Sandy to sweat the details like finding a decent set of matching office furniture. Their banter is priceless.

The plot is a convoluted hotbed of family dysfunction, backbiting schemes, legal maneuvering and personal problems, all set against the glorious backdrop of the mountain resort area of Lake Tahoe and it goes a little something like this: Philip Strong is trying to sell a ski resort in Tahoe, but his no good son, Jim Strong (and former client of Nina’s), files an affidavit (from Brazil, no less), demanding his share of the sale. Nina, the lawyer on the sale, knows the affidavit is a fake, but can’t explain why she suspects it is without betraying some of her own secrets. You see, Jim is a dead man—or, at least, a man who’s supposed to be dead—and Nina, or rather her friend, lover, and protector Paul van Wagoner, made him disappear after Jim Strong killed Nina’s husband and threatened Nina and her son, Bob, years before. Further, there’s a mad killer on the loose who’s killed two women who work at a local casino. Is the killer the hunky investigator hired to verify Strong’s affidavit?

The story has more twists and turns than a Sierra Nevada trail and will keep you guessing up until the end which comes at you so fast and furious, it might merit the warning: steep incline ahead.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 21:01:40

oshaughnessy_dreamsofthedeadProtagonist Nina Reilly is a rarity—a lovable lawyer, with humor, brains, determination, and warmth.

The Counterfeit Madam
Pat McIntosh

This is the eighth novel in the Gil Cunningham series.

Gil is a quaestor in the Glasgow area in 1494, so when an influx of counterfeit silver coins turns up, he is asked to discover where, and from whom, these coins are coming. At the same time, on a more personal project, he is called upon to investigate the value and provenance of several parcels of land that will be divided between his sister and a young boy who is under the care of Gil’s father-in-law.

Before long, Gil is viciously attacked by an unknown assailant and then nurtured back to health by the madam of a nearby brothel. Which of the two investigations was behind the attack? To further complicate matters, a wealthy woman of the town is found dead under very curious circumstances, and a bag of silver coins in her possession has gone missing. Do any or all of these cases tie together? While Gil is tied up with the counterfeit ring and the curious death, his feisty wife takes it upon herself to investigate the land parcels that are a goodly way distant from their home.

Fair warning to readers: since a lot of the dialogue here is written with either a Scots or Gaelic accent, it may take awhile to get the hang of it. On the positive side, once you do, you’ll find yourself transported to the time and place in a way that wouldn’t have worked as well otherwise. The Counterfeit Madam is the real thing.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 21:09:15

This is the eighth novel in the Gil Cunningham series.

Gil is a quaestor in the Glasgow area in 1494, so when an influx of counterfeit silver coins turns up, he is asked to discover where, and from whom, these coins are coming. At the same time, on a more personal project, he is called upon to investigate the value and provenance of several parcels of land that will be divided between his sister and a young boy who is under the care of Gil’s father-in-law.

Before long, Gil is viciously attacked by an unknown assailant and then nurtured back to health by the madam of a nearby brothel. Which of the two investigations was behind the attack? To further complicate matters, a wealthy woman of the town is found dead under very curious circumstances, and a bag of silver coins in her possession has gone missing. Do any or all of these cases tie together? While Gil is tied up with the counterfeit ring and the curious death, his feisty wife takes it upon herself to investigate the land parcels that are a goodly way distant from their home.

Fair warning to readers: since a lot of the dialogue here is written with either a Scots or Gaelic accent, it may take awhile to get the hang of it. On the positive side, once you do, you’ll find yourself transported to the time and place in a way that wouldn’t have worked as well otherwise. The Counterfeit Madam is the real thing.

Murder at the Painted Lady
Sue Emmons

The centerpiece of this mystery by first-time novelist Barbara Warren is indisputably the Victorian house of the title, a marvelous Missouri “painted lady” fallen into in disrepair. Eccentric Eliza Ramsdale wills the edifice to her niece, Allie McGregor, the only member of the family who tried to reach out to the elderly woman after the imprisonment of her late husband, Otis, for a jewel robbery. To complete the transaction, Allie must try to clear his name.

At first thinking to reap the profit from selling the home, Allie instead falls in love with it and, urged on by hunky contractor Clay Carver, decides to restore it to its former splendor. But a bookshop owner, a zealous real estate agent, and a smarmy developer have their own devious plans for the property. And, learning of the bequest, Allie’s controlling former fiancé is also making unwanted renewed overtures. Soon, there are hang-up phone calls, ghostly snippets of music that only Allie hears, and the switching of innocuous items from one place to another in a supposedly locked house. The strange happenings turn to horror when a battered body is discovered in the parlor of the house.

Warren masterfully builds suspense in this locked-house mystery, although the identity of the murderer itself is somewhat pedestrian. Reader’s will empathize with Allie’s plight in this entertaining read with an array of suspects and just the right amount of romance. The real plus, however, is the “painted lady” itself, for which Warren provides intricate details of both decorating and furniture.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 21:12:32

The centerpiece of this mystery by first-time novelist Barbara Warren is indisputably the Victorian house of the title, a marvelous Missouri “painted lady” fallen into in disrepair. Eccentric Eliza Ramsdale wills the edifice to her niece, Allie McGregor, the only member of the family who tried to reach out to the elderly woman after the imprisonment of her late husband, Otis, for a jewel robbery. To complete the transaction, Allie must try to clear his name.

At first thinking to reap the profit from selling the home, Allie instead falls in love with it and, urged on by hunky contractor Clay Carver, decides to restore it to its former splendor. But a bookshop owner, a zealous real estate agent, and a smarmy developer have their own devious plans for the property. And, learning of the bequest, Allie’s controlling former fiancé is also making unwanted renewed overtures. Soon, there are hang-up phone calls, ghostly snippets of music that only Allie hears, and the switching of innocuous items from one place to another in a supposedly locked house. The strange happenings turn to horror when a battered body is discovered in the parlor of the house.

Warren masterfully builds suspense in this locked-house mystery, although the identity of the murderer itself is somewhat pedestrian. Reader’s will empathize with Allie’s plight in this entertaining read with an array of suspects and just the right amount of romance. The real plus, however, is the “painted lady” itself, for which Warren provides intricate details of both decorating and furniture.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher?

altWhen I read a Lee Child novel, I have a distinct picture in my mind about what Jack Reacher looks like.

Bigger than life almost . . . or at least 6 feet, 5 inches as Child, left, describes in the books.

Muscular but certainly not muscle bound like one of those pro wrestlers.

Strong. Lean.

And, of course, handsome in a rugged way.

The image of Tom Cruise never comes to mind.

But it appears that is who we will be seeing as the iconic Jack Reacher. Cruise is supposed to start filming in the fall the movie One Shot based on Child's series. And, yes, Cruise has been signed to play Reacher.

So much for icons.

Child has been quoted recently that Reacher's size is a mere metaphor for him being "an unstoppable force."

I certainly understand that, and agree with Child, whose latest Reacher novel The Affair comes out in September.

But Tom Cruise?

Even if you don't count the fact that Cruise is 5-feet, 8-inches, he just doesn't have that "unstoppable force" we want and need from Reacher.

Cruise is an entertaining actor and I have enjoyed his Mission Impossible roles. But Cruise's Ethan Hunt is a master of disguises; a man who works undercover to blend in and integrate himself as a team member. The third movie in this series Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is due out later this year.

But we need our Jack Reachers to be bigger than life. As readers, we want these heroes to save the day, to give us comfort that justice does rule in the end and that "unstoppable forces" do exist.

One Shot will be directed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose writing credits include Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Usual Suspects and The Tourist, as well as several television dramas.

If you do a search on YouTube, you will find several short films with other actors portraying Jack Reacher. These were made as auditions and for fun but these films will give you an idea of how Reacher could have made it to the screen.

I'll try to keep an open mind about Cruise as Jack Reacher but it won't be easy. And in the end, I'll probably prefer Child's novels.

Xav ID 577
2011-07-20 14:45:09

altWhen I read a Lee Child novel, I have a distinct picture in my mind about what Jack Reacher looks like.

Bigger than life almost . . . or at least 6 feet, 5 inches as Child, left, describes in the books.

Muscular but certainly not muscle bound like one of those pro wrestlers.

Strong. Lean.

And, of course, handsome in a rugged way.

The image of Tom Cruise never comes to mind.

But it appears that is who we will be seeing as the iconic Jack Reacher. Cruise is supposed to start filming in the fall the movie One Shot based on Child's series. And, yes, Cruise has been signed to play Reacher.

So much for icons.

Child has been quoted recently that Reacher's size is a mere metaphor for him being "an unstoppable force."

I certainly understand that, and agree with Child, whose latest Reacher novel The Affair comes out in September.

But Tom Cruise?

Even if you don't count the fact that Cruise is 5-feet, 8-inches, he just doesn't have that "unstoppable force" we want and need from Reacher.

Cruise is an entertaining actor and I have enjoyed his Mission Impossible roles. But Cruise's Ethan Hunt is a master of disguises; a man who works undercover to blend in and integrate himself as a team member. The third movie in this series Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is due out later this year.

But we need our Jack Reachers to be bigger than life. As readers, we want these heroes to save the day, to give us comfort that justice does rule in the end and that "unstoppable forces" do exist.

One Shot will be directed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose writing credits include Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Usual Suspects and The Tourist, as well as several television dramas.

If you do a search on YouTube, you will find several short films with other actors portraying Jack Reacher. These were made as auditions and for fun but these films will give you an idea of how Reacher could have made it to the screen.

I'll try to keep an open mind about Cruise as Jack Reacher but it won't be easy. And in the end, I'll probably prefer Child's novels.

Charlaine Harris: Books of the Dead
Oline H. Cogdill

harris-Charlaine-official-pic-smallHarris’ paranormal mysteries offer an irresistible blend of humor, romance, fantasy, and Southern charm.

Charlaine Harris had a revolutionary idea a few years ago about how to break out of the midlist where she was holding a respectable position: She would write the kind of novel that she had always wanted to write.

It didn’t matter that the kind of novel she set her sights on hadn’t really been done before—a humorous vampire story set in the South. It also didn’t matter that her agent wasn’t enthused about the idea or that it would take two years to sell to a publisher.

What mattered was this was the novel Harris, who had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, believed in.

Thus was born Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic Louisiana barmaid who runs with vampires, werewolves, and assorted creatures. She made her debut in 2001’s Dead Until Dark, which won the Anthony Award for best paperback. Sookie was an almost immediate hit with readers, because amid the fangs and sly humor Harris also tapped into an appealing character who was, above all, a survivor.

More importantly, with Sookie, Harris reinvented herself after more than 25 years as a published writer. The payoff for Harris’ risk-taking has culminated in a wildly successful year.

Just in 2007, Harris published two novels, All Together Dead and An Ice Cold Grave, both of which made the New York Times Best Seller List. There’s also Many Bloody Returns, a collection of short stories co-edited with her friend Toni L.P. Kelner, and the return to print of her entire backlist of novels.

{youtube width="500"}7OaJT9sZuR8{/youtube}

True Blood, a series based on her Southern Vampire novels, was picked up by HBO. The series features Oscar winner Anna Paquin in the role of Sookie Stackhouse. The executive producer is Alan Ball, an Emmy winner for his HBO series Six Feet Under and an Oscar winner for the screenplay of the 1999 film American Beauty.

Not bad for what began as a tough re-examination of her career.

“I was looking at 50 and my career was stuck on the midlist in a good year,” said Harris, now 56. “I couldn’t seem to get the toehold I wanted. I could have chugged along that way and been reasonably happy. But it struck me that if I were to do anything different and break out of that midlist, the time was now. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a wider audience and something that would play to more my strengths than writing conventional mysteries had.”

And Harris knew exactly what strengths she wanted to shine in her novel.

“I’ve always been a humorous person and I thought it would be fun to write something that contained more humor than I had tried to write. I also wanted to try writing a sex scene before I grew so old that it would be silly. And I just wanted to try to write something about the supernatural because I have been fascinated by the supernatural and the macabre for my entire lifetime.

“So I just thought I would write a book and throw everything in together.”

Harris_Dead_to_the_World_copyIn creating her series, Harris used the basics of the vampire legend and then created her own mythology and lore. Harris’ vampires are not Bram Stoker or Anne Rice types, nor do they bear a strong resemblance to the ones that plagued Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In Sookie’s world, vampires co-exist with humans after being “outed” years before with the invention of Japanese-manufactured artificial blood.

Harris has found the appeal of vampires is infinite.

“It’s the whole creature of the night mystique. They’re mysterious, they’re vulnerable during the daytime. They should know how to be very good at sex after all those years of having it. And there is the erotic part of bloodsucking. There’s also fact that they are the repository of living history, which I think is really fascinating.”

Vampires also can be pretty funny.

“I always try to find the humor in every situation. It’s pretty much how I cope. It's part of my character,” said Harris, a gregarious person who in any conversation is quick with a witty phrase and a lilting laugh.

“I would rather see the funny side of things than get bogged down in grief and despair.”

It was this combination of horror, mixed with humor that attracted producer Alan Bell.

“Charlaine has created such a rich environment that’s very funny and at the same time very scary,” Ball was quoted in an article in Daily Variety. “I bought the book on impulse and I just couldn’t put it down.”

Ball is not alone in his admiration of the Sookie novels. The last three Southern Vampire novels have made the New York Times Best Seller List and are published in Japan, the United Kingdom, Greece, Germany, Thailand, Spain, France, Russia, Poland, Korea, the Czech Republic, and Australia.

“She’s become a bit of a brand name, which is what any author wants,” said Richard Goldman, owner of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

Harris said she does very little research for the Sookie novels, preferring fiction writers’ time-honored prerogative to “make stuff up.” Still, the things she has learned about vampires have surprised her.

Harris_Dead_as_a_Doornail_copy“It was news to me that some people actually thought of themselves as vampires. And it was astonishing to me that there are clubs where people can practice deviant sex. I was surprised to learn that Wicca is a recognized religion in the armed forces and people who practice it can get Wicca holidays off. I must lead a very sheltered life,” she said, with a laugh.

Like any vampire devotee, Harris has her favorites. “Of course, I’m a huge Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] fan. Who isn’t? And I have enjoyed many of the heavy erotic elements of Anne Rice. I have really enjoyed the liveliness and vigor of Laurell K. Hamilton’s writing.”

That Sookie and friends resonate with readers shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Harris’ career. She has keenly explored the vagaries of human nature while specializing in distinctive realistic characters who have a bit of an edge to them.

Her Agatha-nominated Real Murders (1990) introduced Aurora Teagarden, a librarian in a small Georgia town. Although she knew the Dewey Decimal System better than the back of her hand, Harris’ Aurora didn’t succumb to librarian stereotypes. Aurora had a genuine interest in true crime fiction, an active sex life and, during the course of the eight-novel series, went through myriad personal changes and dealt with extreme grief.

Her five Lily Bard novels, beginning with Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996), focused on a character who was the survivor of a horrific crime. As a result, Lily had chosen a solitary life, was confrontational, and obsessed with self defense. And despite a firstrate education, Lily preferred to eke out a living as a cleaning woman.

When the Sookie novels were going strong, Harris introduced a new character in Grave Sight (2005): Harper Connelly, whose psychic abilities allow her to find dead bodies.

“I often need to cleanse my palate between books and the best way to do that is to write something really different,” said Harris. “Harper is very different. She doesn’t have the same sense of humor. She has a different world and with that comes different problems.”

The Harper Connelly novels required a bit more research than Harris usually does. Harper’s clairvoyance is a result of being struck by lightning. Reading about the subject wasn’t enough, so Harris joined a message board of lightning-strike survivors with the administrator’s permission.

“Lightning strikes affect people the rest of their lives and it can do all sorts of things to your body.”

Although Harris’ novels generally are classified as cozies and are liberally laced with humor, a darker element pervades her work. The violence in her stories often exceeds that of the traditional cozy. Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang’s upbringing defined a dysfunctional home: Their parents were meth addicts whose downward spiral—and the suffering of their children—is unflinchingly chronicled.

true_blook_Sookie-stackhouseHarris has also written vividly of sexual assault and its consequences. Lily Bard is a rape survivor. Sookie’s childhood abuse by her uncle is revealed in the early Southern vampire novels. Harris’ first novel, A Secret Rage (1984) which was a stand-alone, was about a group of women who banded together to find a rapist.

The characters’ backgrounds were in no small way influenced by Harris’ own life: She was raped by an intruder who broke into her apartment.

It happened after Harris graduated from college and she was working in Memphis. It’s not a subject Harris brings up on her own, yet she has never shied away from talking about it and how it has affected her.

“[The rape] changed everything about my life. I can’t describe what a profound effect it had. I had to re-evaluate everything I had always taken for granted. And every day is a great day because I lived through it. I was very sure I was going to die for about an hour and I had a long time to think about my life and what I had done and not done with it. Most people don’t have that luxury. And it changed my life in almost every respect. It certainly gave me some dark places to go to. I learned a lot about human nature during that hour. And I learned a lot about violence.

“Really it was the most important thing that happened to me in my life in terms of long-term effect on my writing.”

Harris says she still gets letters from rape survivors who connected with A Secret Rage. Since this 1984 novel has been republished this year, Harris expects to hear from more readers.

“And at almost every signing, someone will whisper to me that ‘You know, I was raped, too.’ It makes me feel that I have done them a little bit of service. I say it and I am not ashamed of it. And maybe that will help them get through it.”

It’s that connection with readers that resonates with Harris.

“It’s been wonderful to get emails from readers who say that ‘When my mother was dying I sat next to her bedside and read her your books. And they helped me get through it.' What more could a writer ask for? I don’t want to change the world, but if I can help one reader get out of a bad moment and into a happier moment, then I feel like I have done something really good and positive.”

That thrill of storytelling, of connecting with readers has always been Harris’ goal since childhood.

“I always wanted to be a writer ever since I could read. It seemed to be the greatest thing in the world to be. See how lucky I am.”

The daughter of a school principal and a librarian, Harris says she began writing as soon as she “could hold a pencil.” Her first works were largely ghost stories and poems about teen angst. By the time she was attending Rhodes College in Memphis, she also was writing one-act plays, some of which were produced on campus.

Trueblood3A series of low-level jobs followed college. When she married, more than 29 years ago, she says her husband, a chemical engineer, gave her “a gift”—the chance to stay home and write. Her writing career got off to a good start with two stand-alone novels, Sweet and Deadly and A Secret Rage, both originally published by Houghton Mifflin in the early 1980s. But Harris put her writing career on “sabbatical” to have her children. Today, one son is 23 years old and a computer technician in Fort Worth; another son is 19 and in the Army, based in Alaska. Her daughter is 16 and a junior in high school.

True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse
mysteries, has been a huge hit for HBO since 2008. Sookie
is played by Anna Paquin. Her vampire flame is Bill Compton,
played by Stephen Moyer. Courtesy HBO.

For a couple of years now, Harris has been on a schedule of writing two books a year. For the time being, Aurora and Lily are on hiatus as Harris concentrates on her series about Sookie–“my bread and butter”—and Harper Connelly. By 8 a.m. each morning, she tries to be at work in her office, which is located in a little guesthouse next to her family’s home in a small southwestern Arkansas town.

In addition to her novels, Harris also is an involved parent and a community volunteer. She just finished a term as president of the local softball booster club, and is in her third term as a senior warden at her hometown church. She also is on the board of the Mystery Writers of America and is active in Sisters in Crime and the American Crime Writers League.

And come January, she, like many Sookie fans, will be tuning into HBO to watch how well Anna Paquin brings Sookie Stackhouse to life. While she’s read the script of True Blood’s pilot (“It’s great and I’m not just saying that”), she hasn’t yet seen any advance screenings.

Regardless of the response to the series, Harris has more novels to write. And there’s the satisfaction that Harris’ gamble to take control of her career is still paying off.

“How could I not be happy? Everything I have written is back in print.”

A CHARLAINE HARRIS READING LIST

SOUTHERN VAMPIRE SERIES
(a.k.a. Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries)

All Together Dead, 2007
Definitely Dead, 2006
Dead as a Doornail, 2005
Dead to the World, 2004
Club Dead, 2003
Living Dead in Dallas, 2002
Dead Until Dark, 2001

THE HARPER CONNELLY SERIES
An Ice Cold Grave, 2007
Grave Surprise, 2006
Grave Sight, 2005

SHORT STORIES
Many Bloody Returns (contains a Sookie short story), 2007
My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (contains short story “Tacky”), 2006
Bite (contains “One Word Answer,” Sookie short story), 2005
Night's Edge (a Sookie-universe novella, although Sookie herself does not appear in it), 2004
Powers of Detection (contains “Fairy Dust,” a Sookie short story), 2004

NON-SERIES
A Secret Rage, 1984
Sweet and Deadly, 1981

THE LILY BARD “SHAKESPEARE” SERIES
Shakespeare's Counselor, 2001
Shakespeare's Trollop, 2000
Shakespeare's Christmas, 1998
Shakespeare's Champion, 1997
Shakespeare's Landlord, 1996

THE AURORA TEAGARDEN SERIES
Poppy Done to Death, 2003
Last Scene Alive, 2002
A Fool and His Honey, 1999
Dead Over Heels, 1996
The Julius House, 1995
Three Bedrooms, One Corpse, 1994
A Bone to Pick, 1992
Real Murders, 1990

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #102.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-21 03:43:31

harris-Charlaine-official-pic-smallParanormal mysteries that offer an irresistible blend of humor, romance, fantasy, and Southern charm.

Under Wraps
Jon L. Breen

Lee_Gypsy_Rose_copy_smallSometimes the real mystery of a book is its true author

But could she type? Gypsy Rose Lee in her 1940s prime. The G-String Murders (S&S, 1941) was supposedly written by the famous stripper but in reality was penned by mystery writer Craig Rice. Shown below is the Avon paperback.

A bizarre phenomenon first observed in the 1940s became a crime-fiction epidemic by the 1990s. Famous entertainers, athletes, and presidential relatives began sitting down at the typewriter to bang out mystery novels.

Or so they would have us believe.

In truth, nearly every one of those celebrities made a deal through an agent or book packager, collected a nice advance for the use of the name, and left to a professional ghostwriter all the actual writing.

Ghostwriting is a time-honored practice, and surely most readers realize that movie stars and baseball players have help with their memoirs—just as all politicians these days have help with their speeches, campaign literature, and policy statements. But the dissemination of novels that are ghostwritten seems somehow more blatantly deceptive and ethically questionable.

Look, for example, at the new memoir by veteran ghostwriter Donald Bain, who has written, under his name or others, some eighty books. In Every Midget Has an Uncle Sam Costume (Barricade Books, 2002), Bain entertainingly describes his experiences as an officer in charge of censoring American Armed Forces Television in Saudi Arabia, as a jazz musician, and as an airline public-relations flack in a happier and more free-wheeling era of air travel.

lee_g_stringBut the most intriguing topic in the book is ghostwriting. Bain’s first major success, Coffee, Tea, or Me? (1967), presented the comical amatory adventures of two stewardesses who appeared in public as the authors, Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones. Three sequels followed, plus similar faux first-person accounts of nurses, office temps, teachers, and actresses, always with attractive young women recruited to front the books for publicity purposes. Bain also wrote the autobiography of actress Veronica Lake, crime fiction signed by actor David Toma and ex-cops Nick Vasile and Mike Lundy, and the Murder, She Wrote novels in ostensible collaboration with “Jessica Fletcher,” the fictional character played on television by Angela Lansbury.

There’s no doubt that readers can be extraordinarily naive. About the cover photos on the Murder, She Wrote books, Bain reports, one fan wrote in to say it was “amazing how much Angela Lansbury looked like Jessica Fletcher.” But when the ostensible author is a real person—and the book itself is a novel—readers don’t seem unreasonable in expecting that the person whose name appears on the cover actually wrote the book.

Employing a ghostwriter on a work of fiction is never more dubious than when the putative author really is a writer. Brett Halliday (creator of Mike Shayne), Leslie Charteris (creator of the Saint), and Ernest Tidyman (creator of Shaft) all turned to ghosts to carry on the exploits of their famous characters. The Ellery Queen team employed other writers to turn out paperbacks that were very different from the genuine Queen novels. One case of posthumous ghosting, Chains of Command (1999)—credited on the cover to William Caunitz, who died in 1996, but written almost entirely by Christopher Newman—precipitated a class-action suit by readers who believed they had been defrauded.

Celebrity mystery novels, like other ghostwritten books, differ in the way the actual writer is or is not credited. In the most honest method, arguably not ghostwriting at all, the celebrity makes the writing professional a full collaborator, as in the recent Blue Moon, signed in equalsized print by bandleader Peter Duchin and Edgar Award-winning novelist John Morgan Wilson.

The second method doesn’t admit the ghostwriter’s existence to the world at large but at least tips off others in the writing and publishing trade. Many of the novels attributed to Star Trek’s William Shatner credit in the acknowledgments the assistance of science-fiction humorist Ron Goulart. Actor George Kennedy’s paperback mysteries offer thanks to Walter J. Sheldon. A more subtle variation is to dedicate the book to the real author, as actor George Sanders did for Craig Rice and Leigh Brackett, the authors of the two 1940s crime novels published under his name. (Bain used the same method to give himself credit on the Coffee, Tea, or Me? books.)

The third method is for the celebrity mystery to eschew the slightest hint of a ghostwriter’s presence. Great pains were taken to suggest that the earliest successful example of a celebrity mystery novel, Gypsy Rose Lee’s The G-String Murders (1941), was the stripper’s own work, though it has long been attributed to Craig Rice. The opera singer Helen Traubel’s The Metropolitan Opera Murders (1951) was actually the work of Harold Q. Masur. Though the television personality and show-business all-rounder Steve Allen had a legitimate track record as a writer, his mystery novels of the 1980s and 1990s were all ghostwritten, first by Walter J. Sheldon and then by Robert Westbrook.

Perhaps the most curious subgenre of recent decades is the mystery novel written by the children of presidents. You can see neatly represented in them the three methods of dealing with a ghostwriter. The most recent to enter the field, Susan Ford, credits a co-author, Laura Hayden, for 2002’s Double Exposure: A First Daughter Mystery.

Elliott Roosevelt, whose first novel featuring his mother Eleanor as sleuth was Murder and the First Lady (1984), didn’t offer a shared byline but gave his ghostwriter a nod via a note in his early books, crediting William Harrington as “my mentor in the craft of mystery writing [who] has given me invaluable assistance with the First Lady mysteries.” After Elliott Roosevelt died in 1990, his publishers added to his jacket biography for A First Class Murder (1991) the claim: “A hard-working and prolific writer, he left behind a number of already-completed Eleanor Roosevelt mysteries.”

By 1998’s Murder in the Map Room, they were still touting “a number of unpublished manuscripts to be enjoyed by readers in the years to come.” (A Booklist reviewer dryly noted that Roosevelt had become “one of the mystery genre’s most prolific dead authors.”) Harrington, ironically, would finally be credited as the author of a Roosevelt book, Murder at the President’s Door (2001), only after his own death.

bain_murdershewroteMargaret Truman, the longest running and most commercially successful of the presidential offspring fronting mysteries, offers no hint in any of her books, beginning with Murder in the White House (1980), that she has a ghostwriter, a collaborator, or even a literary mentor. Her “Capital Crimes” novels, which usually use as background Washington, DC. landmarks (the Kennedy Center, the National Cathedral, the Pentagon, the National Gallery, the Library of Congress, etc.), provide plenty of historical tidbits and tourist information. They are far from distinguished detective fiction, but they do rank as above-average celebrity mysteries.

The latest, Murder at Ford’s Theatre, is soundly crafted and professionally paced. The headline-inspired plot concerns the murder of a senatorial intern evocatively named Nadia Zarinski. The stock characterizations sound like casting notes, but at least it’s easy to tell the people apart. The author employs familiar strategies to puff up the page count: potted biographies of characters and repetitious dialogue (as when the cops report to their superior investigative details that are still fresh in the reader’s mind). Truman’s amateur sleuthing team of law professor Mackensie Smith and his gallery-owner wife Annabel are sometimes likened by generous reviewers to Nick and Nora Charles. They share the stage with an odd-couple police team, a Jewish detective who’s also a Lincoln buff and his African-American partner.

The writing is usually efficient but flavorless. Occasionally—in the deadly combination of authorial haste and editorial sloppiness typical these days of books considered to have a ready-made readership—it descends into clunky archaism (“Klayman had proved his mettle on more than one occasion, facing down dangerous situations with steely resolve and audacious fearlessness”), clumsy genre references (“The strange case of the murdering midget. Sounds like a Holmes novel”), ponderous banality (“Sunday, as everyone knows, is a day of rest, except for those in jobs demanding their presence”), and faulty syntax (“Seemingly social brunches offer both eggs Benedict as well as the scrambled eggs of negotiation”).

Arbor House’s Donald Fine, Truman’s publisher at the time of her first mystery, swore she had no ghostwriter, but there was a clue from the beginning: Though widely and favorably reviewed, the novel was not nominated for the Edgar Award for best first novel by an American author, nor, according to Allen J. Hubin, a member of the committee, was it even submitted by the publisher.

Hubin’s Crime Fiction III: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1749-1995, the most authoritative source on mystery authorship, identifies Donald Bain as Margaret Truman’s ghostwriter, based on intelligence from reliable publishing community sources. Bain has flatly denied it, both to Hubin and in an email to me: “I do not ghostwrite Margaret Truman’s murder mysteries.”

bain_donald2But what does Bain’s autobiography have to say? A note at the end of Every Midget Has an Uncle Sam Costume claims that “contractual obligations prohibit Donald Bain from publicly taking credit for an additional twenty novels.” Elsewhere in the book, he partially contradicts this, writing that “some of my best work appears in an eighteen-book series ghostwritten over the past twenty years for a well-known person. It would be professionally inappropriate for me to take public credit for this series, although I’m not under contractual obligation to conceal my involvement.” (Murder at Ford’s Theatre brings the total of Truman’s novels to nineteen.) Obligatory or not, Bain’s denial fulfills his duty as an honorable ghostwriter. In the same chapter, he excoriates, for ghostwriting unprofessionalism, Lucianne Goldberg, who publicly claimed credit for the novel Washington Wives (1987) out of anger over putative author Maureen Dean’s interviews.

In his 2002 autobiography, Donald Bain (above)
recounts stories of his ghosting career including
the
Murder, She Wrote mystery series with
“co-author” Jessica Fletcher.

If Bain is Truman’s ghost, he won’t admit it, but he provides enough clues to support a strong circumstantial case. He states his involvement with the series “for a well-known person” began in 1980 and continues, “I’ve been writing novels in this series ever since, a book a year, most of them well reviewed and appearing on many bestseller lists throughout the country.” How many other candidates for a frequently bestselling book-a-year mystery series beginning around 1980 are there?

Bain writes that he disagreed with a young editor over “a husband-and-wife team of characters [created] for a book in a series I was ghosting. My characters were in their fifties, erudite, physically fit, and madly in love.” Though the editor thought them too old, “The characters stayed and went on to become particular favorites of critics and readers of the series.” That sounds very much like Margaret Truman’s Mackensie and Annabel Smith. In researching the coffee-table book Caviar, Caviar, Caviar (1981), Bain learned of the underground trade in Iranian caviar, smuggled into the United States via Copenhagen. He writes, “I later used what I’d learned as the basis for a crime novel I went on to ghost for a well-known person.” The plot of Truman’s Murder on Embassy Row (1984) involves caviar smuggling.

Recognizing that the ghosting of fiction presents a greater ethical dilemma than nonfiction, Bain asks, “Is a book buyer cheated when buying a novel not written by the person whose name appears on the cover? Is it fraud? I don’t think so, though my bias is understandable.” Perhaps his bias is, in fact, understandable—but he goes on to add: “In most cases, the consumer gets a lot better book than if the nonwriting collaborator had tried to do it solo.” This will not do. The book is sold on the premise that a celebrity wrote it, and there is no excuse for such a pretense other than deceiving the consumer.

Still, one might ask, where’s the harm? The journeymen writers doing the actual work undoubtedly realize more profit from being celebrity ghostwriters than they could from novels under their own names. The idea that the inflated money the celebrity and ghostwriter get would otherwise go to more deserving but less famous professional writers is clearly specious. The deceptiveness of attributing a book to a person who didn’t write it is minor next to the credits for doing nothing that feature in many major motion pictures. And what does the deceived reader care, if the novel is a good read that appears to draw on the celebrity’s area of expertise?

The answer is that there are several harms. The books, even more than most commercial fiction driven by the marketplace rather than the artistic impulse, are rarely good mystery fiction. The celebrity publicity machine attracts readers that might otherwise be drawn to better books. While the big advance might not have gone elsewhere, some of the bookstore display space, public-library buying, and newspaper review attention certainly would. The public impression that anybody can write a book erodes the professional respect accorded to real writers. And finally, in the unlikely event a celebrity author actually writes a novel, no one in the cynical book world will believe it.

Bain writes, “I’m often asked when talking to groups about my career: ‘How can you stand to see someone else’s name on a book that you’ve written?’” He finds it easy to answer: He makes a good living writing for others, and he takes pride in doing the best work he can on every project. Most professional writers would agree. Writing is such a hard way to make a living, it’s tough to blame the ghostwriter for going where the money is.

The parallel question for celebrity novelists is, “How can you stand to see your name on a book somebody else wrote?” That should be harder to answer, but, sadly, it probably isn’t.

This article first appeared in The Weekly Standard, November 18, 2002 (Volume 8, Issue 10), and Mystery Scene Spring Issue #79.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-23 03:44:29

lee_g_stringSometimes the real mystery of a book is its true author.

Operation Thriller: Authors to Visit Troops
Oline Cogdill

reichs_kathy_2

Above: Kathy Reichs is one of a group of crime writers travelling to the Middle East to meet US troops this fall.

Mystery writers don't just make our lives a little richer because of their consuming stories. Many also work at giving back.

Karin Slaughter, Mary Kay Andrews and Kathryn Stockett have helped to raise more than $50,000 for the 25 libraries in the Dekalb County Public Library System in Georgia through the SavetheLibraries.com.

Timothy Hallinan, who writes the Poke Rafferty novels, assembled some of the best mystery writers to contribute to Shaken: Stories for Japan, a collection of original stories with 100 percent of the royalties going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund, administered by the Japan America Society of Southern California.

And for the second year in a row, a group of mystery writers are going on a week-long United Service Organization (USO) tour of the Middle East during Fall 2011.

The authors going this year are Clive Cussler (The Kingdom); Sandra Brown (Tough Customer); Kathy Reichs (Flash and Bones, The Temperance Brennan Series; the TV show Bones is based on her books); Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down); and Andrew Peterson (First to Kill).

During the tour, called Operation Thriller, the authors will fly to the Middle East, where they will sign autographs, pose for photos with the troops and talk about their books, movies, television series and writing. The tour is part of the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour. The countries and tour dates cannot be released because of security reasons.

Last year, authors Steve Berry, David Morrell, Doug Preston, James Rollins and Andy Harp visited five bases in eight days and talked with thousands of service men and women stationed in Kuwait and Iraq. I wrote about that tour, too. Here is the link.

If you want to support this tour, then buy these authors' books. Regardless of how one feels about the war, the men and women who serve in our armed forces deserve our respect and support.

Xav ID 577
2011-07-31 04:19:43

reichs_kathy_2

Above: Kathy Reichs is one of a group of crime writers travelling to the Middle East to meet US troops this fall.

Mystery writers don't just make our lives a little richer because of their consuming stories. Many also work at giving back.

Karin Slaughter, Mary Kay Andrews and Kathryn Stockett have helped to raise more than $50,000 for the 25 libraries in the Dekalb County Public Library System in Georgia through the SavetheLibraries.com.

Timothy Hallinan, who writes the Poke Rafferty novels, assembled some of the best mystery writers to contribute to Shaken: Stories for Japan, a collection of original stories with 100 percent of the royalties going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund, administered by the Japan America Society of Southern California.

And for the second year in a row, a group of mystery writers are going on a week-long United Service Organization (USO) tour of the Middle East during Fall 2011.

The authors going this year are Clive Cussler (The Kingdom); Sandra Brown (Tough Customer); Kathy Reichs (Flash and Bones, The Temperance Brennan Series; the TV show Bones is based on her books); Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down); and Andrew Peterson (First to Kill).

During the tour, called Operation Thriller, the authors will fly to the Middle East, where they will sign autographs, pose for photos with the troops and talk about their books, movies, television series and writing. The tour is part of the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour. The countries and tour dates cannot be released because of security reasons.

Last year, authors Steve Berry, David Morrell, Doug Preston, James Rollins and Andy Harp visited five bases in eight days and talked with thousands of service men and women stationed in Kuwait and Iraq. I wrote about that tour, too. Here is the link.

If you want to support this tour, then buy these authors' books. Regardless of how one feels about the war, the men and women who serve in our armed forces deserve our respect and support.

Remembering Blaize Clement
Oline Cogdill

altOften times mystery writers' lives are as intriguing as those characters they write about.

Take Sarasota, Florida, author Blaize Clement, who died last week of cancer. Blaize was the author of the series about Dixie Hemingway, a pet sitter.

Blaize, who was 78 when she passed away, had battled physical pain all her life. Blaize was afflicted by polio before she was 20 when she was a young mother. She was forced to spend at least a year in the hospital. For the rest of her life, she was not able to walk unassisted.

While she eventually put herself through college to become a clinical psychologist, she also suffered from post-polio syndrome.

Blaize was a lovely lady with a quick wit. I met her a few times when she attended Florida Mystery Writers of America events; she also was a frequent attendee of Sleuthfest.

"I knew Blaize through her writing and I saw her at conferences tooling around in her red scooter. Blaize never talked about her illness. She was interested in perfecting her craft. She wrote until the very end -- that is truly a writer's life," said Elaine Viets, the author of the Dead-End Jobs mysteries.

Blaize published her first Dixie Hemingway novel, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, (St. Martin's) in 2006.

Knowing she had little time left, Blaize worked against deadline, trying to complete the seventh and eighth novels in her series. The new book will be out in January 2012.

But Blaize's legacy will continue. Her son, John, has signed a contract with St. Martin’s Minotaur to write at least two additional books in the series, which is set on Siesta Key, a lovely part of Sarasota.

The eighth book in the series is about half completed, with an extensive outline.

Here is her complete obituary.

Xav ID 577
2011-08-03 10:58:12

altOften times mystery writers' lives are as intriguing as those characters they write about.

Take Sarasota, Florida, author Blaize Clement, who died last week of cancer. Blaize was the author of the series about Dixie Hemingway, a pet sitter.

Blaize, who was 78 when she passed away, had battled physical pain all her life. Blaize was afflicted by polio before she was 20 when she was a young mother. She was forced to spend at least a year in the hospital. For the rest of her life, she was not able to walk unassisted.

While she eventually put herself through college to become a clinical psychologist, she also suffered from post-polio syndrome.

Blaize was a lovely lady with a quick wit. I met her a few times when she attended Florida Mystery Writers of America events; she also was a frequent attendee of Sleuthfest.

"I knew Blaize through her writing and I saw her at conferences tooling around in her red scooter. Blaize never talked about her illness. She was interested in perfecting her craft. She wrote until the very end -- that is truly a writer's life," said Elaine Viets, the author of the Dead-End Jobs mysteries.

Blaize published her first Dixie Hemingway novel, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, (St. Martin's) in 2006.

Knowing she had little time left, Blaize worked against deadline, trying to complete the seventh and eighth novels in her series. The new book will be out in January 2012.

But Blaize's legacy will continue. Her son, John, has signed a contract with St. Martin’s Minotaur to write at least two additional books in the series, which is set on Siesta Key, a lovely part of Sarasota.

The eighth book in the series is about half completed, with an extensive outline.

Here is her complete obituary.

Stella Rimington: the Former Head of Britain’s Mi5 Turns Her Espionage Talents to Fiction
Tom Nolan

rimington_stellaLike her character Liz Carlyle, Stella Rimington rose through the ranks of the M15 Security Service as an agent runner, and later head of the counter-subversion, counterespionage, and counterterrorism branches.

American thriller readers are becoming acquainted this season with the byline of Stella Rimington, author of the well-received debut espionage novel, At Risk (Knopf). But in her native England, the 69-year-old Stella Rimington—Dame Stella Rimington, that is—has been a household name since 1992, when she became the first publicly revealed head of Britain’s MI5 Security Service.

The decision to reveal the identity of MI5’s chief came after Parliamentary restructuring of that organization, recalls Rimington, who was in the States recently for her first American book tour. “I really approved of the decision, in principle, because I’ve always felt that our intelligence services should be as open as they possibly can...unfortunately, I don’t think it was very well done. There was no proper sort of press strategy. And because it was at a time when the IRA was extremely active on the streets of London, we decided that we wouldn’t issue a photograph, for security reasons.”

Adding to the media hubbub was the fact that Stella Rimington was the first female Director-General of MI5. “So the press had this, as they regarded it, amazing announcement about this woman in a man’s job,” Rimington says, “and no photograph to go with it, and nobody to sort of appear on the telly and say anything.” A frustrated press responded by ferreting out Rimington’s home address. “We’d always just lived in an ordinary London street, relying on my anonymity. They came and camped outside the house and caused my younger daughter, who was living at home at the time, immense agitation really—not knowing whether she was supposed to be more scared of the press at the front door, or the IRA creeping up the stairs at the back. We had to sell our house, and move, and really live undercover—which is a very strange way to begin a period of greater openness,” Dame Stella concludes with an understated chuckle, “but that’s how it was.”

rimington_atriskAs a novelist, Rimington (who left MI5 in 1996) now has at least the option of exacting civilized revenge on such former tormentors. Note this thumbnail-observation of “a young man in a leather jacket and a lilac tie” made by Intelligence Officer Liz Carlyle, the protagonist of Rimington’s At Risk:

Journalist, thought Liz. Almost certainly tabloid. That particular blend of the metropolitan and the downmarket was unmistakable.

Having to deal with the press was an undreamt of issue when Stella Rimington began her 30-year MI5 career with an entry-level position in 1966.

“Nobody knew very much about British intelligence services in those days,” remembers Dame Stella, then the wife of a British diplomat in India, “so I wasn’t unique in not knowing what I was getting into! But it was a very exciting time to join, because even though I was only a clerk-typist, I got involved quite quickly in, effectively, the Cold War. It was going on very actively in India in those days, when the Russians and—well, the West, were sort of fighting it out for influence in that part of the world. And our job was to try and find out who the Soviet spies were, and their East European colleagues, and, you know, try and prevent them from doing any harm.”

As she rose through the ranks of the domestic security service, Rimington at one point became, like her fictional 34-year-old character Liz Carlyle, an agent runner; as well as at different times head of the counter-subversion, counterespionage, and counterterrorism branches. And, like Liz, she sought to strike a balance between work and personal obligations, and between having a semblance of a social life and the need to maintain a very low profile.

“You know, most people sort of take it for granted that they’ll go to a drinks party with their neighbors down the road at Christmas,” Rimington points out, “but if you work in the secret world, you have to be quite careful, even about things like that; because you know that the first thing that will happen is that somebody’s going to say to you, ‘And what do you do?’ And you’ve either got to sort of make up some cover story for the evening, or get some sort of second-sight about this question coming up and move rapidly on to another group of people so you never have to answer it.”

FORA.tv clip "The Private Life of an M15 Spy" (2009)

At different times, Stella Rimington says, she posed as different women. “Depending upon what I was doing, I had various covers, as you have to if you are doing the sort of sharp-end of intelligence work. You do find yourself masquerading as other people, or something other than what you are, in order to achieve your objective. Depending on the circumstances and the danger of the situation you’re in, you might well have to ‘live your cover,’ as it’s called—doing what you’re pretending to be.” Asked if she could give an example, she says, “No, I’m afraid I can’t! Because that gets too close to, you know, talking about operations.”

But all this makes it hard for a person in the covert world to have relaxed social relationships, Rimington says. “And I think that’s reflected in the descriptions in the book about Liz’s private life: how none of her relationships ever really seem to work out quite well.” Liz “never quite squares it,” the author notes, “whether what she actually wants to do is go on doing what she’s doing, or whether she’d rather give it all up and go and work with Mum in the nursery-garden in the country. She’s always asking herself that question: ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ As was I. At one stage, I applied to be headmistress of a girl’s boarding school; I wondered whether I would pack it all in and go and be a schoolteacher!”

That momentary crisis passed. And when Rimington did at last leave the secret world, it was to do something even more interesting: write her memoirs—another first, for an MI5 director-general. “I knew that whatever I wrote, I was going to have to submit for clearance,” says Rimington, “because those are the rules. And that if I wrote anything too extreme, then it obviously wasn’t going to get cleared. So in a way, all the time I was self-censoring myself; and that made it more difficult perhaps than it would have been for anybody else.”

rimington_opensecretHer autobiography, Open Secret, was published in England in 2001. After that, writing fiction seemed a natural next step to Rimington, a longtime reader of espionage and detective novels. The result (also vetted before publication by her former employers) was At Risk, in which Liz Carlyle and colleagues in the British Intelligence Joint Counter-Terrorist Group hunt an anonymous agent (an “invisible”) known to be at large in Great Britain and bent on a de- structive mission. Rimington says fiction writing proved to be “less easy” than doing nonfiction. “I don’t find a huge amount of difficulty in the characters, because somebody in my former profession is bound to be extremely interested in people; a good part of the world of intelligence-gathering is about dealing with people: human sources of information, who are often in quite difficult and dangerous situations. What I think I find most difficult is the development of the plot, so that it runs smoothly along and you don’t sort of lose your way down sidetracks.”

In doing At Risk, Rimington had the help of English writer Luke Jennings: “I write first drafts, and he helps me with them; so that, together, we try and pull the thing into a sort of shape, where we have a beginning and an end.” Rimington is at work on a second Liz Carlyle adventure, she says, titled Secret Asset. Informed that this book is already announced at an online site for publication in August, 2005, its author responds, with an- other dry chuckle, “We’ll see about that.”

Reviewers have of course placed Stella Rimington in the tradition of such previous espionage professionals-turned-authors as John le Carré and Charles McCarry. While the new novelist says she’s read and admired such writers (especially le Carré), it’s quite a different sort of thriller-writer whose work Rimington most enjoys.

“Dorothy Sayers,” she says, “is absolutely my all-time favorite, and I am really sad that she didn’t write more novels. I often reread her. I suppose my favorite is Busman’s Honeymoon, which sort of typifies something which I really like about the thriller: a sense of strange things happening in very safe sort of places.” That’s why she set At Risk in Norfolk, Rimington says: “A kind of safe, rural part of England—but you just get this feeling that anything could be happening there. And the same in Busman’s Honeymoon: they go off to this marvelous sort of Elizabethan house to have their honeymoon, and lo and behold there’s a body in the cellar. “And,” this former diplomatic-housewife whose segue into a life of intrigue came about “quite by chance” says, “that's the sort of thing I rather like.”

A Stella Rimington Reading List

LIZ CARLYLE SERIES
At Risk, 2004
Secret Asset, 2005 Illegal Action, 2007
Dead Line, 2008
Present Danger, 2009
Rip Tide, 2011

NONFICTION
Intelligence, Security and the Law, 1994
Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5, 2001

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2011-08-04 16:37:54

rimington_stellaRimington's fifth agent Liz Carlyle novel, Rip Tide, is out this August. Read about how it all began.

Thrilling to Foreign Film
Austin Lugar

American Hollywood thrillers have the tendency to fall into familiar patterns: heroes with missing family members, villains without humanity, logic-defying action with expensive explosions and no consequences. So, it is fun to turn to other corners of the globe, from Japan to Mexico, to see foreign takes on suspense, thriller, and action filmmaking. Here are five favorite foreign mysteries that prove that subtitles are worth it.

High and Low (Japan, 1963)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Yutaka Sada and Tatsuya Nakadai

{youtube width="500"}ketb1jdUxTw{/youtube}

Akira Kurosawa is best known for his impressive samurai films Rashomon, Ran, and Seven Samurai, beloved for their epic feel and careful attention to story. On occasion, Kurosawa made a crime movie set in modern times, but High and Low has a special feel to it. While sticking with realism, the film managed to amp up the anxiety in a way he's never done before.

The screenplay adapted by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Eijiro Hisaita, is based off the Ed McBain novel, King's Ransom. McBain’s detail to the procedural is very apparent in this movie, but the result remains purely Japanese. Kurosawa’s go-to lead actor, Toshiro Mifune, plays Kingo Gondo, who is in the middle of a controversial business deal. A group opposing the deal tries to kidnap his son, but end up taking his chauffeur’s child and soon difficult moral choices must be made. The film is incredibly fast paced so the audience experience matches the anxiety and fear of its principle characters. With his samurai films, Kurosawa used vast landscapes to add heroic scope to his stories, with High and Low the director uses the modern city to create a denser, tenser world.

MORE NOTABLE ASIAN THRILLERS
JAPAN: Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949); SOUTH KOREA: Ki-duk Kim's contemplative unorthodox mystery 3-Iron (2004) and Chan-wook Park's revenge tale Oldboy (2003); HONG KONG: John Woo's classics both starring Yun-Fat Chow Hard Boiled (1992) and the assassin flick The Killer (1989), and Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak's cat-and-mouse thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), which was later remade in the US as The Departed (2006).

Insomnia (Norway, 1997)
Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg
Stars: Stellan Skarsgård, Maria Mathiesen and Sverre Anker Ousdal

{youtube width="500"}ZuiqqRtXTz0{/youtube}

Christopher Nolan remade this film with Al Pacino and Robin Williams in 2002. Usually that results in disaster, but this was an example where both movies stand on their own as very solid additions to cinema. My preference stays with the original because of its amazing use of location.

Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Mamma Mia!) plays Jonas Engström, a Swedish police officer on a murder case in Norway. During a heated chase, Engström accidently shoots and kills his partner and tries to cover it up—and that’s when everything gets complicated.

The American version is set in Alaska, but that can’t match the unnerving stillness of Norway. Much like the films of Sweden, there is a calmness that allows for uncomfortable interactions to take place. Skjoldbjærg sets a tone that makes it impossible to figure out where the film is going: In a still moment, he creates a mood where it appears that nothing is happening, but where the viewer is nonetheless feeling that everything may change in the blink of the eye. It's unsettling not knowing what direction the film is pushing. The world of Insomnia feels like one where there is no hope, and where we question whether there should be any.

MORE NOTABLE NORDIC THRILLERS
SWEDEN: Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Tomas Alfredson's vampire horror suspense Let the Right One In (2008), and Ingmar Bergman's classic The Virgin Spring; DENMARK: Henrick Ruben Genz's film about a disgraced big city cop relegated to a small town in South Jutland, Terribly Happy (2008); ICELAND: Baltasar Kormákur's film version of Arnaldur Indriðason's Jar City (2006).

Le Samouraï (France, 1967)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
StarsAlain Delon, Nathalie Delon and François Périer

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

This film is cool incarnate. Alain Delon plays the hitman that every hitman wishes he could be. He’s silent, he rocks the trenchcoat, and he’s very careful about his job. He abides by a code of the samurai, which makes him very precise about everything he does. Being precise doesn’t make him perfect.

Le Samouraï uses the same essence of cool to convey an essence of dread. Are the walls coming down on him or is he still one step ahead? Most of being cool is based on an earned confidence. That's shown through Delon's unflinching performance, and through Melville's ability to build tension through long, patient shots. One of the coolest sequences of the film is when Delon sits in a stolen car, pulls out his giant set of keys, and one by one tries to find one that fits. Hundreds of keys to try and he never loses his cool.

Plenty of directors including John Woo keep trying to remake this movie without success, and it is my hope that this remains the only version. Jean-Pierre Melville made three more amazing thrillers Army of Shadows (1969), Bob le Flambeur (1956), and Le Cercle Rouge (1970) from among his impeccable canon of films.

MORE NOTABLE FRENCH THRILLERS
Jean-Luc Godard's masterpiece Breathless (1960), Michael Haneke's creepy stalker film Caché (2005), Pierre Morel's near-future pure action flick District B13 (2004), Henri-Georges Clouzot's case of a murder gone awry in Les Diaboliques (1955), Robert Bresson's Nazi resistance film A Man Escaped (1956) and crime tale Pickpocket (1959), Julien Duvivier's Parisian gangster classic Pépé le Moko (1937), and the more recent Guillaume Canet suspense thriller Tell No One (2006).

Run Lola Run (Germany, 1998)
Director: Tom Tykwer
Stars: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu and Herbert Knaup

{youtube width="500"}ta1Sn6MtC9w{/youtube}

The best way to stay fresh is to completely reinvent the game. Run Lola Run is almost ridiculous in how unique it is. German filmmaker Tom Tykwer shoots with a vibrant, insane style where every cut is in tune with how fast your heart is beating. The titular role of Lola was a breakout one for Franka Potenta (The Bourne Identity, Blow) who is running to get 100,000 Deutsche Marks to her boyfriend Manny in only 20 minutes. She doesn’t have the money when she gets the call, but if she doesn’t think of something he will die. Without giving away the creative structure, the film is 80 minutes long and the plot is only about 20. The end result is an absolute blast and one of the most entertaining films in any language. Plenty of films have tried to replicated its hyper-kinetic MTV style of editing but they end up being nauseating. Tykwer succeeds by anchoring the quick cuts with a cool story and endless creativity.

MORE NOTABLE GERMAN FILMS
The Robert Wiene German Expressionist classic often billed as the first horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's fascinating secret police drama set in East Germany The Lives of Others (2006), and Fritz Lang's manhunt for a child murderer M (1931).

The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina, 2009)
Director: Juan José Campanella
Stars: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil and Pablo Rago

{youtube width="500"}a0vIO46jmd4{/youtube}

This is the most conventional mystery on the list, while also being one of the most unconventional in terms of its structure, which jumps around in time as the story is revealed. A retired federal agent (Ricardo Darín) is trying to write a book about one of the most important cases of his career, but is finding it still feels too personal even many years later. Nothing appears hear by accident; every character and plot point have a payoff without a transparent set-up. Wonderfully acted and directed, it’s no wonder this won a 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. There is also a fantastic chase scene set in a soccer stadium that gives the illusion of being the most impressive single take in cinema history.

MORE NOTABLE LATIN THRILLERS
BRAZIL: Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City of God (2002) about two boyhood friends growing up in a crime-ridden Rio de Janeiro slum in the 1960s; COLOMBIA: Joshua Marston's debut feature about a young drug mule Maria Full of Grace (2004); ARGENTINA: Fabián Bielinsky's crime story Nine Queens (2000), which also stars Darín; MEXICO: Alejandro González Iñárritu's film of three interwoven stories in Amores Perros (2000).

Teri Duerr
2011-08-05 17:39:36

5-foreign-filmsFrom Japan to Mexico, here are five thrilling foreign films that prove that subtitles are worth it.

In Plain Sight Finale Sunday
Oline Cogdill

altIn Plain Sight has been a personal favorite since it debuted on the USA network in 2008.
While it revolves around those who enter the U.S. Marshal’s witness protection program (WITSEC), In Plain Sight’s real story is about Mary Shannon and how she deals with her job and her very dysfunctional family.

In Plain Sight mixes Marshal Shannon’s job of relocating Federal Witnesses -- career criminals, whistle-blowers or innocents who witnessed a crime – with Mary’s personal life of caring for her very dysfunctional family. Her most solid and healthy relationships have been with her co-workers, especially her partner, Marshall Mann.

Most TV series center either on the workplace or the home life of its characters. But In Plain Sight ’s mixing of the two has worked brilliantly for this series, which has its fourth season finale Sunday, Aug. 7, at 10 p.m. EST.

altThis fourth season has been one of the best for In Plain Sight, one of the top 10 most watched series on basic cable with 4.5 million total viewers.

The grumpy, socially awkward, intelligent and emotionally damaged Mary has, in the past, been the only adult in her family that includes her alcoholic mother and a sister whose choices in men have almost put her in jail. But this year Mary Shannon, so wonderfully portrayed by actress Mary McCormack, had a new family dynamic. Her mother has been in AA and her sister is engaged to a wealthy man. All well on the home front, but Mary has a new problem – she’s pregnant.

altMary Shannon’s pregnancy, prompted by McCormack’s real-life pregnancy, has added a new urgency to this season. Mary Shannon finds herself looking at families differently. Should she give up the child for adoption – a decision she seems firm about – or keep the child? Mary has always been ambivalent about relationships, but this would be a relationship she could not take for granted, or easily walk away from. (Mary McCormack’s baby is due Sept. 16; she said she does not know the baby’s gender.)

Marshall Mann, insightfully portrayed by actor Frederick Weller, also has a new development in his life – a growing relationship with a female detective on the Albuquerque police force.

The fourth season’s finale is called “Something Borrowed, Something Blew Up.” And, without giving away one plot point, I just have to say it is a terrific ending to an already superior season.

A few months ago, Mystery Scene interviewed Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller before this season started. To coincide with In Plain Sight’s fourth season’s finale, Mystery Scene again was offered an interview with these two actors. During both interviews, McCormack and Weller were witty, insightful actors who obviously enjoy each other’s company on and off the job. (The interview included several other TV writers.)

Here’s what they had to say about their characters and the fourth season, without giving away spoilers.

Question: What do you think will be the one thing that Mary and Marshall are going to take away from this year.
altMcCormack:
Mary will probably use birth control from now on. She’s learned about that in a real way. She’s learned AA seems to work, her mother’s still sober, which is a miracle. She’s learned that Marshall’s an even better friend that she thought. One of the things that’s been fun for me this season is that her family has not been the mess ups that they’ve been traditionally. She’s had to figure out who she was when she wasn’t looking after them.
For the first three seasons, she’s been gripping about how she’s the only adult in the family and she has to clean up their messes, and all of a sudden she’s the hot mess. She’s the one who’s knocked up and single and they’re sort of getting on with their lives.
Weller: Marshall learned that while he thought that Mary’s obstreperousness could not get any worse, he found out that there is no ceiling on it, having been with a pregnant Mary for a while. Look it up, obstreperousness. [One definition is stubbornly resistant to control.]
Weller: It’s also hard to escape your nature, especially when your nature’s kind of crucial to the dynamic of the show.

altQuestion: Mary, how difficult is it for you to play somebody who’s so totally opposite from you?
McCormack:
Oh, she’s so similar to me in ways that I think it’s easy. Unfortunately, I am [also] very grouchy, judgmental, and opinionated. Even though I love kids …and always knew I wanted to be a mother. . from the start I’ve known Mary’s point of view. She just doesn’t like kids. So, this [pregnancy] was perfect character development for Season 4 because she’s the least maternal person in the world. For her to be faced with this thing growing inside of her is excellent. I feel so comfortable playing her.

Q: Mary, how do you think the average woman can relate to your character, and in what ways is she’s an inspiration to women?
McCormack:
Part of the reasons she’s always been appealing to women is that women know the truth. We are grouchier and meaner and more judgmental than I think we’ve been allowed to be portrayed. [Look at the] the success of Bridesmaids. We know we’re gross and angry. It’s just sort of been our secret. There’s something cathartic watching a woman say what she’s feels and be ambitious and angry and sort of grouchy once in a while, because we are that way.

Question: If we were to visit your characters five years from now, what do you think will have happened to them?
Weller:
We are probably still arguing.
McCormack: [Mary’s] probably still in the same job, right? I imagine that’s a job that’s going to stick. She likes that job.
Weller: And Marshall’s trying to keep her from making her child a total wreck.
McCormack: You’re implying though I keep the child.
Weller: I don’t know. I don’t know what happens next season anymore than anybody else does. I just want to make it clear right now that I have no idea what happens.

Q: Is Mary as dense as she seems about Marshall’s feelings.
Weller:
Marshall thinks that Mary is afraid of her feelings and that she’s got many layers of self defense over them.
McCormack: I agree with that.

Q: Why does Marshall deny how he feels about Mary?
Weller:
I don’t think Marshall is in denial about his true feelings for Mary at all. I think he’s completely aware of how he feels and he’s come very close to telling her. And I think she probably knows, too. I believe that Marshall thinks she reciprocates those feelings as much as she can. I don’t know if Mary McCormack agrees …
McCormack: I agree. I think Mary Shannon is able to compartmentalize in an unhealthy way, and push things out of the front of her brain and push them to the back of her brain for comfort and ease and survival. Deep down she’s aware of stuff, but she’s able to sort of just push it away, and make noise and fill her life with other things that are easier, simpler.

Q: Will we ever see Mary and Marshall as a couple?
Weller:
I’d like to see him get into some kind of romantic relationship with Mary, but not something that’s too cozy or long lived. I just feel like it’s got to happen at some point. . . But it’s a little bit like the Escape from Gilligan’s Island. I mean, what comes after it [would be] tricky. I don’t want [the show] to jump to shark, but I think that more drama would ensue as a result of that. They’re certainly not going to start getting along better than they do now, which is pretty questionable already. And there’s plenty of room for conflict and trouble. He’s a romantic at heart and I feel like he’s got this undeniable longing for Mary and that it’s always lurking there.

In Plain Sight’s fourth season finale is Sunday, Aug. 7, at 10 p.m. EST.

Photos: Mary McCormack, Frederick Weller. USA photos

Xav ID 577
2011-08-06 19:56:45

altIn Plain Sight has been a personal favorite since it debuted on the USA network in 2008.
While it revolves around those who enter the U.S. Marshal’s witness protection program (WITSEC), In Plain Sight’s real story is about Mary Shannon and how she deals with her job and her very dysfunctional family.

In Plain Sight mixes Marshal Shannon’s job of relocating Federal Witnesses -- career criminals, whistle-blowers or innocents who witnessed a crime – with Mary’s personal life of caring for her very dysfunctional family. Her most solid and healthy relationships have been with her co-workers, especially her partner, Marshall Mann.

Most TV series center either on the workplace or the home life of its characters. But In Plain Sight ’s mixing of the two has worked brilliantly for this series, which has its fourth season finale Sunday, Aug. 7, at 10 p.m. EST.

altThis fourth season has been one of the best for In Plain Sight, one of the top 10 most watched series on basic cable with 4.5 million total viewers.

The grumpy, socially awkward, intelligent and emotionally damaged Mary has, in the past, been the only adult in her family that includes her alcoholic mother and a sister whose choices in men have almost put her in jail. But this year Mary Shannon, so wonderfully portrayed by actress Mary McCormack, had a new family dynamic. Her mother has been in AA and her sister is engaged to a wealthy man. All well on the home front, but Mary has a new problem – she’s pregnant.

altMary Shannon’s pregnancy, prompted by McCormack’s real-life pregnancy, has added a new urgency to this season. Mary Shannon finds herself looking at families differently. Should she give up the child for adoption – a decision she seems firm about – or keep the child? Mary has always been ambivalent about relationships, but this would be a relationship she could not take for granted, or easily walk away from. (Mary McCormack’s baby is due Sept. 16; she said she does not know the baby’s gender.)

Marshall Mann, insightfully portrayed by actor Frederick Weller, also has a new development in his life – a growing relationship with a female detective on the Albuquerque police force.

The fourth season’s finale is called “Something Borrowed, Something Blew Up.” And, without giving away one plot point, I just have to say it is a terrific ending to an already superior season.

A few months ago, Mystery Scene interviewed Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller before this season started. To coincide with In Plain Sight’s fourth season’s finale, Mystery Scene again was offered an interview with these two actors. During both interviews, McCormack and Weller were witty, insightful actors who obviously enjoy each other’s company on and off the job. (The interview included several other TV writers.)

Here’s what they had to say about their characters and the fourth season, without giving away spoilers.

Question: What do you think will be the one thing that Mary and Marshall are going to take away from this year.
altMcCormack:
Mary will probably use birth control from now on. She’s learned about that in a real way. She’s learned AA seems to work, her mother’s still sober, which is a miracle. She’s learned that Marshall’s an even better friend that she thought. One of the things that’s been fun for me this season is that her family has not been the mess ups that they’ve been traditionally. She’s had to figure out who she was when she wasn’t looking after them.
For the first three seasons, she’s been gripping about how she’s the only adult in the family and she has to clean up their messes, and all of a sudden she’s the hot mess. She’s the one who’s knocked up and single and they’re sort of getting on with their lives.
Weller: Marshall learned that while he thought that Mary’s obstreperousness could not get any worse, he found out that there is no ceiling on it, having been with a pregnant Mary for a while. Look it up, obstreperousness. [One definition is stubbornly resistant to control.]
Weller: It’s also hard to escape your nature, especially when your nature’s kind of crucial to the dynamic of the show.

altQuestion: Mary, how difficult is it for you to play somebody who’s so totally opposite from you?
McCormack:
Oh, she’s so similar to me in ways that I think it’s easy. Unfortunately, I am [also] very grouchy, judgmental, and opinionated. Even though I love kids …and always knew I wanted to be a mother. . from the start I’ve known Mary’s point of view. She just doesn’t like kids. So, this [pregnancy] was perfect character development for Season 4 because she’s the least maternal person in the world. For her to be faced with this thing growing inside of her is excellent. I feel so comfortable playing her.

Q: Mary, how do you think the average woman can relate to your character, and in what ways is she’s an inspiration to women?
McCormack:
Part of the reasons she’s always been appealing to women is that women know the truth. We are grouchier and meaner and more judgmental than I think we’ve been allowed to be portrayed. [Look at the] the success of Bridesmaids. We know we’re gross and angry. It’s just sort of been our secret. There’s something cathartic watching a woman say what she’s feels and be ambitious and angry and sort of grouchy once in a while, because we are that way.

Question: If we were to visit your characters five years from now, what do you think will have happened to them?
Weller:
We are probably still arguing.
McCormack: [Mary’s] probably still in the same job, right? I imagine that’s a job that’s going to stick. She likes that job.
Weller: And Marshall’s trying to keep her from making her child a total wreck.
McCormack: You’re implying though I keep the child.
Weller: I don’t know. I don’t know what happens next season anymore than anybody else does. I just want to make it clear right now that I have no idea what happens.

Q: Is Mary as dense as she seems about Marshall’s feelings.
Weller:
Marshall thinks that Mary is afraid of her feelings and that she’s got many layers of self defense over them.
McCormack: I agree with that.

Q: Why does Marshall deny how he feels about Mary?
Weller:
I don’t think Marshall is in denial about his true feelings for Mary at all. I think he’s completely aware of how he feels and he’s come very close to telling her. And I think she probably knows, too. I believe that Marshall thinks she reciprocates those feelings as much as she can. I don’t know if Mary McCormack agrees …
McCormack: I agree. I think Mary Shannon is able to compartmentalize in an unhealthy way, and push things out of the front of her brain and push them to the back of her brain for comfort and ease and survival. Deep down she’s aware of stuff, but she’s able to sort of just push it away, and make noise and fill her life with other things that are easier, simpler.

Q: Will we ever see Mary and Marshall as a couple?
Weller:
I’d like to see him get into some kind of romantic relationship with Mary, but not something that’s too cozy or long lived. I just feel like it’s got to happen at some point. . . But it’s a little bit like the Escape from Gilligan’s Island. I mean, what comes after it [would be] tricky. I don’t want [the show] to jump to shark, but I think that more drama would ensue as a result of that. They’re certainly not going to start getting along better than they do now, which is pretty questionable already. And there’s plenty of room for conflict and trouble. He’s a romantic at heart and I feel like he’s got this undeniable longing for Mary and that it’s always lurking there.

In Plain Sight’s fourth season finale is Sunday, Aug. 7, at 10 p.m. EST.

Photos: Mary McCormack, Frederick Weller. USA photos

Levine, Lassiter Back for Charity
Oline Cogdill

altLast year, Paul Levine celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first novel, To Speak for the Dead, by re-issuing that novel as an e-book. The twist was that Levine wasn't just joining hundreds of other authors who are finding new audiences for their work.

Levine gave ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

The book reached number one on Amazon’s Hardboiled Mystery Bestseller List and raised thousands of dollars for cancer treatment at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

And if something works once, try it again.

Levine has put up his second novel Flesh & Bones as an e-book with all the royalties going to the Fund.

Flesh & Bones continued Levine's series about Miami lawyer Jake Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer.

Levine helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries through these novels that gave the world a new view of what really goes on in South Florida.

Before Lassiter went on hiatus in 1997, the series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.

For those of us who missed the wise-cracking Lassiter, Levine is returning to the series with the aptly named Lassiter, due out in September from Bantam.

Xav ID 577
2011-08-10 10:04:18

altLast year, Paul Levine celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first novel, To Speak for the Dead, by re-issuing that novel as an e-book. The twist was that Levine wasn't just joining hundreds of other authors who are finding new audiences for their work.

Levine gave ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

The book reached number one on Amazon’s Hardboiled Mystery Bestseller List and raised thousands of dollars for cancer treatment at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

And if something works once, try it again.

Levine has put up his second novel Flesh & Bones as an e-book with all the royalties going to the Fund.

Flesh & Bones continued Levine's series about Miami lawyer Jake Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer.

Levine helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries through these novels that gave the world a new view of what really goes on in South Florida.

Before Lassiter went on hiatus in 1997, the series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.

For those of us who missed the wise-cracking Lassiter, Levine is returning to the series with the aptly named Lassiter, due out in September from Bantam.

We Are Readers, So Read!
Oline Cogdill

altWe are constantly being told we are not a country of readers. And while, admittedly, some countries, such as Iceland, read more than the U.S., we do read.

Just think of all the mystery writers you know and how many books you read a year, as well as that ever-growing TBR pile next to your bed. (Or in my case, next to the desk in my office.)

By the way, the photograph is courtesy of my friend and avid mystery fan, Jordan Foster.

And, for a change, there is some good news about the publishing industry.

Total book publishing revenue rose 3.1% in 2010 to $27.9 billion and posted two-year growth of 5.6%, according to figures released recently by BookStats, which is part of a joint program developed to create a comprehensive analysis of industrywide sales. As expected, the gain was due almost entirely to increases in digital products which offset declines in all print formats.
Among the major formats, e-book sales across all categories rose 38.9% in 2010, to $1.62 billion, according to BookStats.

So where are all those readers? Here's Amazon's list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America. The list was based on the number of sales on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents.

The most well-read city? Cambridge, Mass., which is home to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cambridge also was at the top of the cities that ordered the most nonfiction books.

Boulder, Colo., was most well-read in the cooking and food and wine category.

Alexandria, Va., orders the most children's books.

I'm pleased to note that Florida, where I live, is the state with the most cities in the Top 20. Miami, Gainesville and Orlando made list.

Here's the list. Where does your city fall?

1. Cambridge, Mass.

2. Alexandria, Va.

3. Berkeley, Calif.

4. Ann Arbor, Mich.

5. Boulder, Colo.

6. Miami

7. Salt Lake City

8. Gainesville, Fla.

9. Seattle

10. Arlington, Va.

11. Knoxville, Tenn.

12. Orlando, Fla.

13. Pittsburgh

14. Washington, D.C.

15. Bellevue, Wash.

16. Columbia, S.C.

17. St. Louis, Mo.

18. Cincinnati

19. Portland, Ore.

20. Atlanta

Xav ID 577
2011-09-21 10:33:09

altWe are constantly being told we are not a country of readers. And while, admittedly, some countries, such as Iceland, read more than the U.S., we do read.

Just think of all the mystery writers you know and how many books you read a year, as well as that ever-growing TBR pile next to your bed. (Or in my case, next to the desk in my office.)

By the way, the photograph is courtesy of my friend and avid mystery fan, Jordan Foster.

And, for a change, there is some good news about the publishing industry.

Total book publishing revenue rose 3.1% in 2010 to $27.9 billion and posted two-year growth of 5.6%, according to figures released recently by BookStats, which is part of a joint program developed to create a comprehensive analysis of industrywide sales. As expected, the gain was due almost entirely to increases in digital products which offset declines in all print formats.
Among the major formats, e-book sales across all categories rose 38.9% in 2010, to $1.62 billion, according to BookStats.

So where are all those readers? Here's Amazon's list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America. The list was based on the number of sales on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents.

The most well-read city? Cambridge, Mass., which is home to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cambridge also was at the top of the cities that ordered the most nonfiction books.

Boulder, Colo., was most well-read in the cooking and food and wine category.

Alexandria, Va., orders the most children's books.

I'm pleased to note that Florida, where I live, is the state with the most cities in the Top 20. Miami, Gainesville and Orlando made list.

Here's the list. Where does your city fall?

1. Cambridge, Mass.

2. Alexandria, Va.

3. Berkeley, Calif.

4. Ann Arbor, Mich.

5. Boulder, Colo.

6. Miami

7. Salt Lake City

8. Gainesville, Fla.

9. Seattle

10. Arlington, Va.

11. Knoxville, Tenn.

12. Orlando, Fla.

13. Pittsburgh

14. Washington, D.C.

15. Bellevue, Wash.

16. Columbia, S.C.

17. St. Louis, Mo.

18. Cincinnati

19. Portland, Ore.

20. Atlanta

Agatha Christie: Little Surfer Girl
Oline Cogdill

altToo often a photograph of a famous person forever seals in our minds the image of that person at the age when that photo was taken.

It's hard to imagine Winston Churchill or Ernest Hemingway at any age other than the ones depicted in their most iconic photos.

Think about most of the photographs you've seen of Agatha Christie. These photos show a regal, gracious middle-aged lady. We never see the Queen of Crime Fiction as a young woman.

But the updated reissue of An Autobiography may change that.

Imagine Agatha Christie as a surfer. And not just a regular rider of the waves. According to An Autobiography, Christie was one of Britain's first stand-up surfers. She was an avid bodyboarder, taking up the sport during a 1922 holiday in South Africa with her husband, Archie. That's the stuff of songs by the Beach Boys.

altThe new edition of An Autobiography, originally published in 1977, is due out in December from Harper, capping off the 120th anniversary of Christie's birthday.

The new hardcover edition will feature 24 pages of photographs in black and white and in color, and a CD of newly discovered recordings of Christie dictating parts of this autobiography. An introduction by Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, explains how he found the tapes used to make the recordings.

Just paging through the advanced readers copy of An Autobiography that arrived the other day intrigued me. I am especially looking forward to seeing photos of the young Agatha Christie, who 35 years after her death, is still entertaining.

Xav ID 577
2011-09-25 10:44:27

altToo often a photograph of a famous person forever seals in our minds the image of that person at the age when that photo was taken.

It's hard to imagine Winston Churchill or Ernest Hemingway at any age other than the ones depicted in their most iconic photos.

Think about most of the photographs you've seen of Agatha Christie. These photos show a regal, gracious middle-aged lady. We never see the Queen of Crime Fiction as a young woman.

But the updated reissue of An Autobiography may change that.

Imagine Agatha Christie as a surfer. And not just a regular rider of the waves. According to An Autobiography, Christie was one of Britain's first stand-up surfers. She was an avid bodyboarder, taking up the sport during a 1922 holiday in South Africa with her husband, Archie. That's the stuff of songs by the Beach Boys.

altThe new edition of An Autobiography, originally published in 1977, is due out in December from Harper, capping off the 120th anniversary of Christie's birthday.

The new hardcover edition will feature 24 pages of photographs in black and white and in color, and a CD of newly discovered recordings of Christie dictating parts of this autobiography. An introduction by Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, explains how he found the tapes used to make the recordings.

Just paging through the advanced readers copy of An Autobiography that arrived the other day intrigued me. I am especially looking forward to seeing photos of the young Agatha Christie, who 35 years after her death, is still entertaining.

Spying on Spy Kids
Oline Cogdill

altThe reason that movie series thrive is because the filmmakers continue to update the stories, attracting new audiences.

Take the Spy Kids franchise. It's hard to believe that the first Spy Kids came out in 2001. Kids who saw that movie probably are no longer in the demographic who appreciate these charming, fun family movies.

So it's time for a new generation of families to enjoy the new film, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.

Far from the James Bond approach, the Spy Kids films explore the trials of growing up, of dealing with one's parents and, for adults, the need to have a life outside the home.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World opens in movie theaters on Aug. 19 and, judging from the extended clips I've seen, looks to be as fun and charming as the other Spy Kids.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World stars Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale and Ricky Gervais and is directed by Robert Rodriguez.

I'll see anything with Jeremy Piven and Joel McHale!

altThe plot revolves around Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba) who is married to a famous spy hunting television reporter. She is the mother of a toddler and stepmom to twins. But her stepchildren, mother Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), don’t want her around. Her husband, Wilbur (Joel McHale), isn't that great of a spy hunter as he doesn't know Marissa’s a retired secret agent.

Marissa’s called back to service when the maniacal Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven) threatens to take over the planet.

The first three Spy Kids are, naturally, now on DVD and available in a box set. There's also a series of Spy Kids books such as Spy Kids Adventures: Freeze Frame - Book No. 8 and One Agent Too Many (Spy Kids Adventures, No. 1).

Photo: Jessica Alba stars as Marissa Cortez Wilson in Spy Kids: All The Time In The World. Photo by Rico Torres

Xav ID 577
2011-08-17 10:26:40

altThe reason that movie series thrive is because the filmmakers continue to update the stories, attracting new audiences.

Take the Spy Kids franchise. It's hard to believe that the first Spy Kids came out in 2001. Kids who saw that movie probably are no longer in the demographic who appreciate these charming, fun family movies.

So it's time for a new generation of families to enjoy the new film, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.

Far from the James Bond approach, the Spy Kids films explore the trials of growing up, of dealing with one's parents and, for adults, the need to have a life outside the home.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World opens in movie theaters on Aug. 19 and, judging from the extended clips I've seen, looks to be as fun and charming as the other Spy Kids.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World stars Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale and Ricky Gervais and is directed by Robert Rodriguez.

I'll see anything with Jeremy Piven and Joel McHale!

altThe plot revolves around Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba) who is married to a famous spy hunting television reporter. She is the mother of a toddler and stepmom to twins. But her stepchildren, mother Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), don’t want her around. Her husband, Wilbur (Joel McHale), isn't that great of a spy hunter as he doesn't know Marissa’s a retired secret agent.

Marissa’s called back to service when the maniacal Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven) threatens to take over the planet.

The first three Spy Kids are, naturally, now on DVD and available in a box set. There's also a series of Spy Kids books such as Spy Kids Adventures: Freeze Frame - Book No. 8 and One Agent Too Many (Spy Kids Adventures, No. 1).

Photo: Jessica Alba stars as Marissa Cortez Wilson in Spy Kids: All The Time In The World. Photo by Rico Torres

Scarface Back in Theaters
Oline Cogdill

altI remember how intriguing I found the movie Scarface the first time I saw it in the theaters.

It was violent, gruesome and quite cheesy. The dialogue was often silly as was Al Pacino's exaggerated accent as Tony Montana, the cocaine trafficker who becomes a ruthless gangster. Who doesn't remember Pacino yelling, "Say hello to my little friend." Despite all that, I also was wrapped up in the movie.

Yet, sadly, at the same time director Brian De Palma's movie reflected what was going on in South Florida at the time.

I remember also being glad that Scarface was a movie my parents would never see as they were always a bit nervous about me living down here at the time.

The 1980s were indeed the time of the cocaine cowboy in South Florida.

altScarface wasn't some fantasy but real life. Drugs washed up on the beaches; bodies were found almost daily in the Everglades and a machine gun fight erupted in a suburban upscale mall, a place I had shopped at. There were news stories about shipments of flowers and soft drinks containing drugs. I once attended a party in Miami with a girlfriend, saw a pile of cocaine on a coffee table and we both promptly walked out.

No matter how anti-drug one was, the influence of drug dealers was all around us. I don't mean to suggest that every time you walked out of your home you were bombarded with drug dealers, but it was there and one would have to be blind not to see it.

Living in Fort Lauderdale kept that drug culture at bay somewhat, but not completely.

Scarface was like a traffic accident -- repulsive yet fascinating. And while it has recently been in rotation on the AMC network, there is nothing like seeing the spectacle that is Scarface on the big screen.

Audiences across the country will get a chance to see Scarface with restored high-definition picture and enhanced audio on Aug. 31 when it will be shown in more than 475 movie theaters nationwide. Check here for movie houses close to you. The screening also will show a 20-minute special feature with interviews with filmmakers and actors discussing Scarface.

Despite its flaws -- and it has many -- Scarface redefined the classic gangster movie. Its gritty, no-holds barred violence gave a view of gangsters and the drug culture that hadn't been explored before. No longer were drugs affected only users, but the aftermath of violence seeped into the lives of innocent bystanders.

Scarface also showed the underbelly of Miami.

Unfortunately, it made the world think that every refugee who came over during the controversial 1980 Mariel boatlift was a gangster in the making.

That could not be further from the truth.

Many professionals, doctors, lawyers, skilled workers, political prisoners who had fought against Castro and ordinary people came over during Mariel, seeking a better life away from Castro. They took advantage of the opportunity to leave Cuba unnoticed. Yes, Castro opened up his prisons, putting criminals on that boatlift, but they were in the minority; it's been estimated that only 2 percent of the Mariel refugees were "undesirables." The good people who came over on Mariel have added much to the United States and should not be tainted because of Castro's actions.

Scarface may not be a good movie, but it is one of those that is unforgettable. A guilty pleasure for many of us. Tony sitting behind a mound of cocaine that was bigger than he. Tony's creepy obsession with his sister. That gaudy, tacky mansion. Pacino gets through most of the movie with a sneer and a gun. And, oh, that over the top ending.

Scarface was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards (including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score), and was named one of the Top 10 Gangster Films of All Time by the American Film Institute.

The Aug. 31 showing is to promote the first Blu-ray release of Scarface on Sept. 6. For a limited time, the Blu-ray will include a DVD of the original 1932 Scarface.

Photo: Al Pacino in Scarface. Universal Studios photo

Xav ID 577
2011-08-28 10:18:36

altI remember how intriguing I found the movie Scarface the first time I saw it in the theaters.

It was violent, gruesome and quite cheesy. The dialogue was often silly as was Al Pacino's exaggerated accent as Tony Montana, the cocaine trafficker who becomes a ruthless gangster. Who doesn't remember Pacino yelling, "Say hello to my little friend." Despite all that, I also was wrapped up in the movie.

Yet, sadly, at the same time director Brian De Palma's movie reflected what was going on in South Florida at the time.

I remember also being glad that Scarface was a movie my parents would never see as they were always a bit nervous about me living down here at the time.

The 1980s were indeed the time of the cocaine cowboy in South Florida.

altScarface wasn't some fantasy but real life. Drugs washed up on the beaches; bodies were found almost daily in the Everglades and a machine gun fight erupted in a suburban upscale mall, a place I had shopped at. There were news stories about shipments of flowers and soft drinks containing drugs. I once attended a party in Miami with a girlfriend, saw a pile of cocaine on a coffee table and we both promptly walked out.

No matter how anti-drug one was, the influence of drug dealers was all around us. I don't mean to suggest that every time you walked out of your home you were bombarded with drug dealers, but it was there and one would have to be blind not to see it.

Living in Fort Lauderdale kept that drug culture at bay somewhat, but not completely.

Scarface was like a traffic accident -- repulsive yet fascinating. And while it has recently been in rotation on the AMC network, there is nothing like seeing the spectacle that is Scarface on the big screen.

Audiences across the country will get a chance to see Scarface with restored high-definition picture and enhanced audio on Aug. 31 when it will be shown in more than 475 movie theaters nationwide. Check here for movie houses close to you. The screening also will show a 20-minute special feature with interviews with filmmakers and actors discussing Scarface.

Despite its flaws -- and it has many -- Scarface redefined the classic gangster movie. Its gritty, no-holds barred violence gave a view of gangsters and the drug culture that hadn't been explored before. No longer were drugs affected only users, but the aftermath of violence seeped into the lives of innocent bystanders.

Scarface also showed the underbelly of Miami.

Unfortunately, it made the world think that every refugee who came over during the controversial 1980 Mariel boatlift was a gangster in the making.

That could not be further from the truth.

Many professionals, doctors, lawyers, skilled workers, political prisoners who had fought against Castro and ordinary people came over during Mariel, seeking a better life away from Castro. They took advantage of the opportunity to leave Cuba unnoticed. Yes, Castro opened up his prisons, putting criminals on that boatlift, but they were in the minority; it's been estimated that only 2 percent of the Mariel refugees were "undesirables." The good people who came over on Mariel have added much to the United States and should not be tainted because of Castro's actions.

Scarface may not be a good movie, but it is one of those that is unforgettable. A guilty pleasure for many of us. Tony sitting behind a mound of cocaine that was bigger than he. Tony's creepy obsession with his sister. That gaudy, tacky mansion. Pacino gets through most of the movie with a sneer and a gun. And, oh, that over the top ending.

Scarface was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards (including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score), and was named one of the Top 10 Gangster Films of All Time by the American Film Institute.

The Aug. 31 showing is to promote the first Blu-ray release of Scarface on Sept. 6. For a limited time, the Blu-ray will include a DVD of the original 1932 Scarface.

Photo: Al Pacino in Scarface. Universal Studios photo

Bouchercon Comes to St. Louis
Oline Cogdill

altTimes flies, doesn't it?

It seems like just yesterday we were in San Francisco, enjoying crisp California wine, loving the beautiful scenery and, oh yeah, immersing ourselves in all that is mysteries at Bouchercon.
A whole year? Doesn't seem possible.

Yet, here we are, just a few weeks away from Bouchercon, one of my favorite mystery fiction conferences. This year Bouchercon will be Sept. 15-18.

For those who don't know, Bouchercon has been taking place annually since 1970.

Borrowing the next three paragraphs from the official Bouchercon web site: "It is open to anyone and is a place for fans, authors and professionals to gather and celebrate their love of the mystery genre. It is named for famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions, and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre."

altBouchercon is held in a different area each year and 2011 will take us to St. Louis.

The St. Louis locale makes it even sweeter for me since I am from Missouri and graduated with a Bachelor's of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where, even more important, I met my husband.

Bouchercon guests of honor are Robert Crais, Charlaine Harris, Colin Cotterill and Val McDermid. Lifetime achievement will be given to Sara Paretsky. Toastmaster is Ridley Pearson.

I am especially excited about the fan guests of honor, Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, who are Mystery Scene co-publishers.

The Bouchercon panels have been organized and are on conference's Facebook page. Look under the notes section. They will be posted on the web site later.

Next week, to get you even more in the mood, I'll talk about mysteries based in Missouri.

Xav ID 577
2011-08-31 11:21:28

altTimes flies, doesn't it?

It seems like just yesterday we were in San Francisco, enjoying crisp California wine, loving the beautiful scenery and, oh yeah, immersing ourselves in all that is mysteries at Bouchercon.
A whole year? Doesn't seem possible.

Yet, here we are, just a few weeks away from Bouchercon, one of my favorite mystery fiction conferences. This year Bouchercon will be Sept. 15-18.

For those who don't know, Bouchercon has been taking place annually since 1970.

Borrowing the next three paragraphs from the official Bouchercon web site: "It is open to anyone and is a place for fans, authors and professionals to gather and celebrate their love of the mystery genre. It is named for famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions, and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre."

altBouchercon is held in a different area each year and 2011 will take us to St. Louis.

The St. Louis locale makes it even sweeter for me since I am from Missouri and graduated with a Bachelor's of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where, even more important, I met my husband.

Bouchercon guests of honor are Robert Crais, Charlaine Harris, Colin Cotterill and Val McDermid. Lifetime achievement will be given to Sara Paretsky. Toastmaster is Ridley Pearson.

I am especially excited about the fan guests of honor, Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, who are Mystery Scene co-publishers.

The Bouchercon panels have been organized and are on conference's Facebook page. Look under the notes section. They will be posted on the web site later.

Next week, to get you even more in the mood, I'll talk about mysteries based in Missouri.

Linwood Barclay
Tom Nolan

barclay_treesIn 1976 Kenneth Millar, aka Ross Macdonald, gifted a young aspiring writer with an inscribed copy of Sleeping Beauty: “For Linwood, who will, I hope, someday outwrite me.” More than two decades later, Barclay recalls the mentor who first opened the doors to his writing life.

The letters I get from young people, ranging in age from 15 up, are the ones that, for some reason, mean most to me,” Ross Macdonald wrote a friend in 1971, when his success as a bestselling detective-fiction novelist was gaining him new correspondents from all over the world, “and the ones I answer first.”

One such correspondent was Linwood Barclay, of Ontario, Canada. Barclay—now 49, and author of the first mystery Bad Move (Bantam)—initially wrote Macdonald in Santa Barbara, California, in 1975, when he was 20.

Like Macdonald (whose real name was Kenneth Millar), Barclay was born in the United States (in New Haven, Connecticut) and raised mostly in southern Ontario, the son of a commercial artist who specialized in drawing automobiles for ads in such magazines as Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post.

“With the kind of work that my dad was in, he was not unlike a blacksmith,” Barclay said recently. “He was one of the very best at something that nobody wanted anymore: all the car ads were going completely to photography.” Barclay’s parents bought a summer resort in Ontario’s “cottage country” to run as a business in 1966. Linwood was 16 when his father died, and the teenager continued to help his mother run the camp.

By then, he’d become hooked on mystery and other genre fiction. “I started reading all Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels; I was buying those like crazy,” he recalled. “And I was reading Ray Bradbury, and the Star Trek novelizations. Also every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on. And then, probably around the time I was starting high school, I picked up at our grocery store in Bobcaygeon a paperback copy of The Goodbye Look, which I was attracted to by the cover blurb, which said: ‘the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American’—the William Goldman line. And I loved it; I loved the Lew Archer books, because there was always this extra stuff going on: this added dimension of character history and screwed-up families, which I found fascinating.”

Young Barclay read all the Macdonald books he could find. “By the time I got to university,” he said, “I was so interested in detective fiction that I pitched to my English professor the idea of doing a thesis on the history of the detective in fiction, starting with Poe and moving through Sam Spade and so forth. I saw that as an excuse to write to my favorite writer: Kenneth Millar. And he wrote back, to my astonishment.”

Barclay then found the courage to ask if Millar/Macdonald would read the manuscript of a short mystery novel he’d written. “That was, I realize, a huge imposition. And he wrote back and said, ‘Sure.’ I mean, he was wonderfully generous with his time and encouragement.”

Millar told his correspondent the manuscript was nearly good enough to be published, and made suggestions on how to improve it. He mentioned Barclay with enthusiasm to journalists who came to interview him in Santa Barbara. And when Kenneth and his wife and fellow author Margaret Millar made a family trip to Ontario in May of 1976, Ken contacted Linwood and invited him to dinner.

“Typically, in Canada, the thrill would be to meet a hockey star,” Barclay said. “I couldn’t care less about that; but this, to me, was like spending several hours with Wayne Gretzky would be to someone else; I was so excited. I joined them for dinner; and then I took Kenneth Millar in my car and gave him a tour all around my university (Trent); we walked him about. And it’s still probably the most amazing night of my life.” Millar inscribed Barclay’s copy of Macdonald’s novel Sleeping Beauty: “For Linwood, who will, I hope, someday outwrite me.”

His dream, at age 20, Barclay remembered, was to write a series of detective novels with a recurring character, a la Macdonald’s Lew Archer books. But real life intervened.

“I wanted to get a job where I could get paid money to write,” he said, “and the most obvious avenue seemed to be newspapers.” At 22, within two weeks of getting married, Linwood went to work for two years as a reporter at the Peterborough Examiner in Ontario: “Where I wrote about such things as the birth of triplet calves, and (brucellosis), which is a disease that cows get. I wrote so many stories about (brucellosis), I was almost sure I had it.”

As a novice newspaperman, Barclay was still reading crime fiction almost exclusively, and still trying to write it. But there was little time for novel manuscripts once he took the first of several editorial positions at the Toronto Star, in 1981.

barclay_the_accidentThen, in 1993, he got a job at the Star as a thrice-weekly columnist, writing wittily on current events and domestic travails. The column led to two family-humor books and then “a very angry, satirical book” about the premier of Ontario at the time. Linwood Barclay’s fourth Canadian-published book was Last Resort, a charming and poignant memoir of his early years.

“Finally,” in 2002, he said, with his son and daughter all but grown, “I got back to the kind of thing I always wanted to write in the first place.”

He was inspired by his wife’s habit of leaving her purse unattended in grocery-store shopping carts. “Instead of doing some kind of nuclear-terrorist kind of book, I look at ordinary things,” he said, “and then extrapolate from that. I was in the store one day when Neetha left her purse in the cart, and I thought, ‘You know, I should just take this purse and walk off with it, and let her panic; and that would teach her a lesson.’ Which I did not do. But I thought: ‘What if I was the kind of guy who would do that? What if a smartass, know-it-all, anal-retentive guy did this—and it went horribly wrong?’”

Barclay wrote three chapters of his story, then sought professional assistance.

“I called a very, very prominent agent in Canada, who does very well selling all over the world,” he said. “I caught her on the phone and said who I was; she was incredibly unimpressed. And I said to her, ‘I’m writing a comic thriller.’ And she said: ‘Oh.’ She said, ‘Comic thrillers are very hard to do. A straight thriller—that’s one thing; but trying to pull off a funny thriller is really really difficult.’ But she said, ‘If you want, you can send me the first chapter by email.’ So I sent her the first chapter. She phoned me the next day and said, ‘Do you have a second chapter?’ I sent her the second chapter. She wrote back and said, ‘I love this; how much of this do you have done? And I have to know if you have a handle on this, and know where this is going, and if it works.’ She said, ‘Sit down, do a whole plot outline, figure the whole thing out.’ So I took a week and wrote a synopsis; she read that and said, ‘That’s great; finish it.’ She had the finished, revised version of the book in her hand by January of last year; and by April, she’d sold it to Bantam.”

Twenty-eight years after having met Kenneth Millar, Linwood Barclay would see his first novel published (in hardcover) by Ross Macdonald’s longtime US paperback house.

“And it wasn’t just Macdonald,” Barclay said. “The Rex Stout books, the Star Trek books, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone books—just about every book that I bought as a teenager was published by Bantam.”

Linwood Barclay’s own Bantam book, Bad Move, is a sort of edgy cozy: an amusing but suspenseful tale of a man who moves his family to the suburbs to escape city dangers, only to find that the ‘burbs hold their own perils. A literary scholar like Kenneth Millar would no doubt trace this story’s antecedents back to Stephen Leacock, the brilliant Canadian author who was the grandfather of North American humor writing.

“I think it’s a funny thriller,” said Barclay, “that’s grounded in the real world. It’s not a murder- in-the-library, country-club kind of murder mystery; it’s rooted in a very real, everyday existence of working families and parent-teacher meetings—that kind of hectic life that we all are living. In those everyday environments, we have ugly things that happen; and yet, in that sort of chaos, there’s still—I think—a lot of humor.”

Bad Move is Linwood Barclay’s first book to be published “south of the border,” as Canadians refer to the US. He’s already written its sequel for Bantam. And, though no author tour is planned, Barclay said he may go on his own to New York City, simply to see Bad Move on sale in the States. “Or maybe I’ll just drive across the border, to Buffalo.”

And what does Linwood Barclay think Ross Macdonald would say about Bad Move?

“I think that even if he didn’t like it, he would be extremely generous and find nice things to say about it, because that’s the kind of guy he was,” Barclay said. “And I think he’d be thrilled for it to have happened.”

Me too.

Linwood Barclay's book, The Accident, was published August 2011 by Bantam.

Tom Nolan is the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography and the editor of Strangers in Town: Three Newly Discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #85.

Teri Duerr
2011-08-11 12:19:04

barclay_trees_croppedRecollecting Kenneth Millar, aka Ross Macdonald, a writing mentor and friend.

Win a Free Book From Mystery Scene!

ms_facebook_iconMystery Scene is giving away a free book to one Facebook follower a week for the rest of the summer, now through September 22, 2011! Just post your favorite read to the MS Wall. We'll choose one recommendation each week and send the winner a FREE BOOK.

So zip on over to the Mystery Scene Facebook Page, and tell us what you're reading!

www.facebook.com/myster​yscene

CONGRATS TO OUR FIRST WEEK'S WINNERS!

In our first 24 hours of the Mystery Scene Summer Book Giveaway we've received so many great recommendations that we had trouble picking just one. So, we decided to kick off this summer reading fun in style with FIVE WINNERS.

KELLEY CREASEY DWORACZYK said, "My all time favorite mystery would probably have to be Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout. I have read and re-read this book so many times, but I will never get tired of it."

DARRELL MORING wrote to say, "A fantastic novel is In a Lonely Place by mystery writer Dorothy B. Hughes. It is a compelling portrait of a psychopathic serial killer written in 1947. It is of particular interest because the killer's psychological inner thoughts closely mirror what we know of today as to how psychopaths view themselves and the world around them."

CLAUDIA FITCH wrote, "At this exact moment I'm reading CSI: The Burning Season, but in the past week I've read Tahoe Hijack by Todd Borg, I've started A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Larry Block, and I'm in the middle of Without Fail by Lee Child. Wow!"

JACK GOODWIN recommended P.S. Your Cat is Dead by James Kirkwood saying, "Just enough desperation and just enough wonder at repeated burglaries, and then sweet revenge. But then it transforms completely into something else."

CARL CHRISTENSEN wrote, "Just finished The Silent Girl, Tess Gerritsen's first book that has a basis in her Chinese-American roots. A great read, and it was good to find that Tess did not let the TV success of Rizzoli and Isles alter her own depiction of her characters."

Teri Duerr
2011-08-12 12:58:24

ms_facebook_iconMystery Scene is giving away a free book to one Facebook follower a week for the rest of the summer, now through September 22, 2011! Just post your favorite read to the MS Wall. We'll choose one recommendation each week and send the winner a FREE BOOK.

So zip on over to the Mystery Scene Facebook Page, and tell us what you're reading!

www.facebook.com/myster​yscene

CONGRATS TO OUR FIRST WEEK'S WINNERS!

In our first 24 hours of the Mystery Scene Summer Book Giveaway we've received so many great recommendations that we had trouble picking just one. So, we decided to kick off this summer reading fun in style with FIVE WINNERS.

KELLEY CREASEY DWORACZYK said, "My all time favorite mystery would probably have to be Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout. I have read and re-read this book so many times, but I will never get tired of it."

DARRELL MORING wrote to say, "A fantastic novel is In a Lonely Place by mystery writer Dorothy B. Hughes. It is a compelling portrait of a psychopathic serial killer written in 1947. It is of particular interest because the killer's psychological inner thoughts closely mirror what we know of today as to how psychopaths view themselves and the world around them."

CLAUDIA FITCH wrote, "At this exact moment I'm reading CSI: The Burning Season, but in the past week I've read Tahoe Hijack by Todd Borg, I've started A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Larry Block, and I'm in the middle of Without Fail by Lee Child. Wow!"

JACK GOODWIN recommended P.S. Your Cat is Dead by James Kirkwood saying, "Just enough desperation and just enough wonder at repeated burglaries, and then sweet revenge. But then it transforms completely into something else."

CARL CHRISTENSEN wrote, "Just finished The Silent Girl, Tess Gerritsen's first book that has a basis in her Chinese-American roots. A great read, and it was good to find that Tess did not let the TV success of Rizzoli and Isles alter her own depiction of her characters."