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.

Super User
Sunday, 25 September 2011 06:09

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

Super User
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 06:08

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

Super User
Sunday, 28 August 2011 06:08

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.

Super User
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 07:08

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
Thursday, 11 August 2011 08:08

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
Friday, 12 August 2011 08:08

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."

Mourning Enid Schantz
Oline Cogdill

altThe mystery community is quite small and when we lose one of our own, we all feel the loss.

And those of us who consider ourselves part of that community know that it's not just the authors who are the genre's movers and shakers.

Enid Schantz was one of those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and uplift the genre, to improve the quality of novels published and to make sure readers had novels that would appeal to them.

Enid Schantz died at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 11, 2011, from cancer.

To say she will be missed is an understatement.

Our deepest sympathies go to her husband, Tom Schantz, their family, and friends. The photo at left shows Enid as most of us saw her -- always smiling -- with Tom by her side. The young lady on the right is their daughter, Sarah.

Enid was a bookseller, a book publisher, and a reviewer. Since 1970, Enid and her husband, Tom, have been involved in the mystery community and their efforts earned them the 2001 Raven by Mystery Writers of America.

Enid and Tom, Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen, and Jim Huang of The Mystery Company helped found the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA), a trade association of retail businesses wholly or substantially devoted to the sale of mystery books. The IMBA's goals are simple but so important: to promote specialty mystery booksellers to both the book-buying and the publishing communities and to offer support to member booksellers.

Many an author has seen their career boosted because IMBA was behind his or her books.

The legacy of IMBA will continue.

Enid and Tom also were founders of both the Rue Morgue Mystery Bookstore and the Rue Morgue Press in 1997. I was always amused by the description of the Rue Morgue Press on its website: "dedicated to the idea of reprinting what we like to call 'mysteries for little old ladies of all ages and sexes'.” That was, as the couple said, "just another way of saying that our specialty is the traditional mystery which first came to prominence during the Golden Age of detective fiction (1920-1940)." The Schantzes chose the books, edited them and prepared them for publication.

"As a bookseller, critic, and publisher, Enid Schantz was instrumental in the renaissance that the mystery genre has undergone over the past few decades.This is a great loss to the mystery community she and her husband Tom helped build," said Kate Stine, publisher of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Many tributes to Enid are pouring in, posted on DorothyL, other message boards and authors individual websites.

"Enid was a lovely lady. I remember meeting her in the bookstore at one of my early Bouchercons. I was a lost puppy, clueless, and she was very generous with advice and encouragement. Not a good day when we lose a friend like her," said Kris Montee, who writes as P.J. Parrish.

"In 1993 Enid (with her husband Tom) hosted me at the Rue Morgue in Boulder, CO. I was a newbie author who had written a book about dieters getting killed off at goal weight, and I didn't know what to expect," Denise Dietz posted on DorothyL. "The talk/signing was SRO, with people spilling out into the street. Among other things (a buffet of goodies), Enid gave me a T-shirt with my book cover on it. I still have the shirt, although today it's probably two sizes too small. But my heart grew three sizes that night."

Lise McClendon offered this memory on her blog.

Janet Rudolph's blog also brought other authors' comments.

Retired librarian Doris Ann Norris offered this perspective on DorothyL: "I know that one of the quotes often used by people in my profession is that heaven will be a kind of library. I'm all for that, but I will add that it will also be an on-going mystery convention. We will see Enid again, as well as Anthony Boucher, Robert Parker, Anne George, Elizabeth Daniels Squire, who will have no trouble with her memory, etc. etc. And there will also be Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Ngiao Marsh, Carole Epstein,and, of course, Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm certainly looking forward to attending a prequel in St. Louis and while missing Enid, and so many other mystery fans and authors I've met at cons, I will console myself that we will meet each other again at that great mystery convention in the "sky".

May Enid rest in peace and our deepest sympathy to Tom and her family and friends.

Super User
Sunday, 14 August 2011 06:08

altThe mystery community is quite small and when we lose one of our own, we all feel the loss.

And those of us who consider ourselves part of that community know that it's not just the authors who are the genre's movers and shakers.

Enid Schantz was one of those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and uplift the genre, to improve the quality of novels published and to make sure readers had novels that would appeal to them.

Enid Schantz died at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 11, 2011, from cancer.

To say she will be missed is an understatement.

Our deepest sympathies go to her husband, Tom Schantz, their family, and friends. The photo at left shows Enid as most of us saw her -- always smiling -- with Tom by her side. The young lady on the right is their daughter, Sarah.

Enid was a bookseller, a book publisher, and a reviewer. Since 1970, Enid and her husband, Tom, have been involved in the mystery community and their efforts earned them the 2001 Raven by Mystery Writers of America.

Enid and Tom, Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen, and Jim Huang of The Mystery Company helped found the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA), a trade association of retail businesses wholly or substantially devoted to the sale of mystery books. The IMBA's goals are simple but so important: to promote specialty mystery booksellers to both the book-buying and the publishing communities and to offer support to member booksellers.

Many an author has seen their career boosted because IMBA was behind his or her books.

The legacy of IMBA will continue.

Enid and Tom also were founders of both the Rue Morgue Mystery Bookstore and the Rue Morgue Press in 1997. I was always amused by the description of the Rue Morgue Press on its website: "dedicated to the idea of reprinting what we like to call 'mysteries for little old ladies of all ages and sexes'.” That was, as the couple said, "just another way of saying that our specialty is the traditional mystery which first came to prominence during the Golden Age of detective fiction (1920-1940)." The Schantzes chose the books, edited them and prepared them for publication.

"As a bookseller, critic, and publisher, Enid Schantz was instrumental in the renaissance that the mystery genre has undergone over the past few decades.This is a great loss to the mystery community she and her husband Tom helped build," said Kate Stine, publisher of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Many tributes to Enid are pouring in, posted on DorothyL, other message boards and authors individual websites.

"Enid was a lovely lady. I remember meeting her in the bookstore at one of my early Bouchercons. I was a lost puppy, clueless, and she was very generous with advice and encouragement. Not a good day when we lose a friend like her," said Kris Montee, who writes as P.J. Parrish.

"In 1993 Enid (with her husband Tom) hosted me at the Rue Morgue in Boulder, CO. I was a newbie author who had written a book about dieters getting killed off at goal weight, and I didn't know what to expect," Denise Dietz posted on DorothyL. "The talk/signing was SRO, with people spilling out into the street. Among other things (a buffet of goodies), Enid gave me a T-shirt with my book cover on it. I still have the shirt, although today it's probably two sizes too small. But my heart grew three sizes that night."

Lise McClendon offered this memory on her blog.

Janet Rudolph's blog also brought other authors' comments.

Retired librarian Doris Ann Norris offered this perspective on DorothyL: "I know that one of the quotes often used by people in my profession is that heaven will be a kind of library. I'm all for that, but I will add that it will also be an on-going mystery convention. We will see Enid again, as well as Anthony Boucher, Robert Parker, Anne George, Elizabeth Daniels Squire, who will have no trouble with her memory, etc. etc. And there will also be Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Ngiao Marsh, Carole Epstein,and, of course, Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm certainly looking forward to attending a prequel in St. Louis and while missing Enid, and so many other mystery fans and authors I've met at cons, I will console myself that we will meet each other again at that great mystery convention in the "sky".

May Enid rest in peace and our deepest sympathy to Tom and her family and friends.

Play Mystery Scene Hangman!
{iframe height="1000" width="900"}http://www.mysteryscenemag.com/mshangman.php {/iframe}
 
 
Admin
Monday, 10 May 2010 11:05
 

---  -------  ----
 
Guess the book title and cheat the hangman!
What Would Jack Reacher Do?
Oline Cogdill

altThis story was forwarded to me by at least two friends and it is just too amusing to pass up.

Next time you're in a situation that's uncomfortable or face a problem you can't solve, just ask yourself: What would Jack Reacher do?

That's what Desmond Bishop of the Green Bay Packers did when he and his team were to visit the White House recently to celebrate the team's Super Bowl title.

Bishop had forgotten his identification on the team's charter plane and couldn't get past White House security.

But while his team was at a reception with President Obama, Bishop was reflective and philosophical in his tweets: "Tho dissapointed, i ll live vicariously thru my fellow Teammates.. Nap time.. As jack reacher wud say "sleep wen u can.."

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher novels, should be proud. This just shows how popular Jack Reacher is.

Super User
Sunday, 04 September 2011 06:09

altThis story was forwarded to me by at least two friends and it is just too amusing to pass up.

Next time you're in a situation that's uncomfortable or face a problem you can't solve, just ask yourself: What would Jack Reacher do?

That's what Desmond Bishop of the Green Bay Packers did when he and his team were to visit the White House recently to celebrate the team's Super Bowl title.

Bishop had forgotten his identification on the team's charter plane and couldn't get past White House security.

But while his team was at a reception with President Obama, Bishop was reflective and philosophical in his tweets: "Tho dissapointed, i ll live vicariously thru my fellow Teammates.. Nap time.. As jack reacher wud say "sleep wen u can.."

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher novels, should be proud. This just shows how popular Jack Reacher is.

Law & Order: Uk Returns
Oline Cogdill

altI miss Law & Order.

That must seem strange since Law & Order, both the original and its spinoffs, seem to be aired at least 23 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week.

But I miss the new stories that sometimes against my will would pull me in week after week.

OK, truth be told, I am easily riveted even by episodes I have seen 4,322 times.

altMy latest Law & Order fascination is Law & Order: UK, which just launched its third season at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on BBC America. It's also available On Demand. And, of course, the first season of Law & Order: UK is now on DVD.

The set up is the same with the U.K. version: detectives and prosecutors work to solve crimes and bring the criminals to justice in London. Not that much different from the American versions; even Dick Wolf is the creator and executive producer.

But British detectives operate under different rules than their American counterparts as do the prosecutors. This brings Law & Order: UK a different texture that goes beyond the wigs worn in court.

Two friends who also are avid Law & Order: UK fans have told me the episodes are ripped not from the headlines as much as from the original Law & Order. I have no doubt that may be true but to me the British setting makes the episodes seem fresh and new.

altThe new season of Law & Order: UK features Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh), a cop from the East End whose partner is the younger Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber). They report to Natalie Chandler (Harriet Walter).

Courtside is crown prosecutor Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman, left), whose new partner is Jacob Thorne (Dominic Rowan), a gifted and uncompromising criminal prosecutor. Peter Davison (Doctor Who, Unforgiven) plays their new boss Henry Sharpe.

And just like the American version, that two-note music is part of Law & Order: UK.

Photos: Top, Bradley Walsh, center front, Jamie Bamber, left, and Harriet Walter. Bottom: Freema Agyeman BBC America photos

Super User
Sunday, 21 August 2011 06:08

altI miss Law & Order.

That must seem strange since Law & Order, both the original and its spinoffs, seem to be aired at least 23 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week.

But I miss the new stories that sometimes against my will would pull me in week after week.

OK, truth be told, I am easily riveted even by episodes I have seen 4,322 times.

altMy latest Law & Order fascination is Law & Order: UK, which just launched its third season at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on BBC America. It's also available On Demand. And, of course, the first season of Law & Order: UK is now on DVD.

The set up is the same with the U.K. version: detectives and prosecutors work to solve crimes and bring the criminals to justice in London. Not that much different from the American versions; even Dick Wolf is the creator and executive producer.

But British detectives operate under different rules than their American counterparts as do the prosecutors. This brings Law & Order: UK a different texture that goes beyond the wigs worn in court.

Two friends who also are avid Law & Order: UK fans have told me the episodes are ripped not from the headlines as much as from the original Law & Order. I have no doubt that may be true but to me the British setting makes the episodes seem fresh and new.

altThe new season of Law & Order: UK features Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh), a cop from the East End whose partner is the younger Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber). They report to Natalie Chandler (Harriet Walter).

Courtside is crown prosecutor Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman, left), whose new partner is Jacob Thorne (Dominic Rowan), a gifted and uncompromising criminal prosecutor. Peter Davison (Doctor Who, Unforgiven) plays their new boss Henry Sharpe.

And just like the American version, that two-note music is part of Law & Order: UK.

Photos: Top, Bradley Walsh, center front, Jamie Bamber, left, and Harriet Walter. Bottom: Freema Agyeman BBC America photos

The Hour on Bbc America
Oline Cogdill

altThe 1950s were a heady time for the world, especially for America and Great Britain.

WWII was the past; the Cold War was the present. Spies lurked around every corner.

And journalism, especially that new product TV journalism, was changing.

BBC America's The Hour powerfully portrays this changing world with vivid storytelling and realistic characters.

The six-part series airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on BCC America with frequent encores; it also is On Demand. The DVD will be released in mid-September.

The Hour mixes Broadcast News with the era of Mad Men and a smidgeon of Lou Grant. Government conspiracies, espionage, a hit man and a couple of crusading journalists make this first-class drama, the kind we've come to expect from BBC America.

Set in 1956, The Hour concerns the launch of an investigative news show, a newfangled idea for a burgeoning medium. Intelligent journalist Freddie Lyon, played to perfection by Ben Whishaw, is frustrated by what he calls the "brisk banality" of TV news. He gripes that martial law has been declared in Poland but the lead news item is of Prince Rainier with "a showgirl." It's a good thing Freddie isn't seeing what passes for TV news coverage in the 21st century.

Freddie has little hope for The Hour , especially when the lead anchor is Hector Madden (Dominic West), whom Freddie is convinced is hired only for his good looks and his family connections. He's right, of course.

Still he is drawn into the new show to be called The Hour by his friend Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a brilliant producer and one of the few women in management. Freddie and Bel have a close friendship with a strong undercurrent of sexual tension. They call each other Moneypenney and James, a nod to the Cold War and that new novel by Ian Fleming.

Following a meeting with a childhood friend, Freddie is drawn into a series of murders that may be connected to a government conspiracy.

The Hour intelligently hits all the key social and political situations of the time with a subtle hand. Bel is respected for her work but also runs into sexism at every turn. She and Mad Men's Peggy Olson would have much in common, including each's habit of getting involved with "unavailable men," as Freddie calls them. The view of early TV journalism is more than just nostalgia.

Each character is well developed and supported by strong actors. Garai and Whishaw are favorites of British and PBS viewers.

Dominic West is best known for playing Jimmy McNulty in HBO's brilliant The Wire. And West's accent in The Hour is closer to his own than the Baltimore accent he had in The Wire; he was born in Yorkshire. Lix Storm, a celebrated war correspondent, is played by Anna Chancellor, who American audiences may recognize from Four Weddings and a Funeral and MI5.

Photo: In front from left: Anna Chancellor, Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West, Oona Chaplin. BBC America photo

Super User
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 06:08

altThe 1950s were a heady time for the world, especially for America and Great Britain.

WWII was the past; the Cold War was the present. Spies lurked around every corner.

And journalism, especially that new product TV journalism, was changing.

BBC America's The Hour powerfully portrays this changing world with vivid storytelling and realistic characters.

The six-part series airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on BCC America with frequent encores; it also is On Demand. The DVD will be released in mid-September.

The Hour mixes Broadcast News with the era of Mad Men and a smidgeon of Lou Grant. Government conspiracies, espionage, a hit man and a couple of crusading journalists make this first-class drama, the kind we've come to expect from BBC America.

Set in 1956, The Hour concerns the launch of an investigative news show, a newfangled idea for a burgeoning medium. Intelligent journalist Freddie Lyon, played to perfection by Ben Whishaw, is frustrated by what he calls the "brisk banality" of TV news. He gripes that martial law has been declared in Poland but the lead news item is of Prince Rainier with "a showgirl." It's a good thing Freddie isn't seeing what passes for TV news coverage in the 21st century.

Freddie has little hope for The Hour , especially when the lead anchor is Hector Madden (Dominic West), whom Freddie is convinced is hired only for his good looks and his family connections. He's right, of course.

Still he is drawn into the new show to be called The Hour by his friend Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a brilliant producer and one of the few women in management. Freddie and Bel have a close friendship with a strong undercurrent of sexual tension. They call each other Moneypenney and James, a nod to the Cold War and that new novel by Ian Fleming.

Following a meeting with a childhood friend, Freddie is drawn into a series of murders that may be connected to a government conspiracy.

The Hour intelligently hits all the key social and political situations of the time with a subtle hand. Bel is respected for her work but also runs into sexism at every turn. She and Mad Men's Peggy Olson would have much in common, including each's habit of getting involved with "unavailable men," as Freddie calls them. The view of early TV journalism is more than just nostalgia.

Each character is well developed and supported by strong actors. Garai and Whishaw are favorites of British and PBS viewers.

Dominic West is best known for playing Jimmy McNulty in HBO's brilliant The Wire. And West's accent in The Hour is closer to his own than the Baltimore accent he had in The Wire; he was born in Yorkshire. Lix Storm, a celebrated war correspondent, is played by Anna Chancellor, who American audiences may recognize from Four Weddings and a Funeral and MI5.

Photo: In front from left: Anna Chancellor, Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West, Oona Chaplin. BBC America photo

Michael Baron, Andrew Klavan, St. Louis
Oline Cogdill

altEach state in this country can boast its share of mystery writers who give the readers not only involving stories but also personal looks at myriad regions.

The genre is better for these stories that take us from the streets of New York City to small Idaho towns.

Last year, San Francisco was the site of Bouchercon and that gave me a chance to talk about the wonderful mysteries set there.

This year, Bouchercon is in St. Louis so that naturally leads to a discussion about the authors that Missouri has produced. I also have a personal connection as Missouri is my home state. I grew up in a small town in an area of Missouri called The Bootheel. I also graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia as did my husband. We found each other at Mizzou but we two journalism majors met in theater. Long story, but a good one.

So to get everyone in the mood for Bouchercon, we’ll start to look at those mysteries with a Missouri connection. Whether or not you are attending Bouchercon, this will give you insight into the Show Me State.

Some of the best known mystery writers either who either are from Missouri, live there or set there novels there include Sophie Littlefield, Robert Randisi, Elaine Viets, John Lutz, Joel Goodman, Michael A. Kahn, Michael Baron, Eileen Dreyer, Laurell K. Hamilton, Rett MacPherson, Jean Hager, Lise McClendon, Larry Karp, Janis Harrison, Dakota Banks, Shirley Kennett. I am sure I have missed a few, so please, add your favorites to the comments list.

Here’s a glimpse at a couple of St. Louis-based novels.

altMichael Kahn is best known for his novels about St. Louis attorney Rachel Gold, the latest of which is Trophy Widow (2002). After nearly decade, Kahn, a St. Louis attorney himself, has written another Rachel Gold novel that may be published in 2012. More about that from Brian at this post.

But Kahn also wrote the novel The Mourning Sexton (2005) under the pen name Michael Baron. This was my personal favorite from Kahn/Baron.

In The Mourning Sexton, David Hirsch, a once powerful St. Louis attorney who spent seven years in prison for embezzlement, tries to make amends by immersing himself in his Jewish faith. Every day, Hirsch, the mourning sexton, is among the first to arrive at the small, storefront synagogue in St. Louis. He has made his participation in services mandatory; his duties are to make sure there will be at least 10 men there, the minimum required for the daily prayers.

The Mourning Sexton is a heartfelt character study of a man on the rebound who has to fight temptation every day to reclaim his soul.

TRUE CRIME STILL TRUE

altScreenwriter and author Andrew Klavan isn’t normally associated with St. Louis but his 1995 novel True Crime is set in St. Louis. I remember being engrossed in this story about journalist Steve Everett, a foul wretch of a man who ruins just about everything in his life. But in one shining moment, Steve tries to do the right thing – save an innocent man wrongly convicted and do that in the 11th hour before the man’s execution.

A reporter for the fictional St. Louis News, Steve is despised by his colleagues. He lost his last job because he had sex in the supply room with the daughter of the newspaper's owner. He may lose his current job because he is sleeping with his boss' wife.

No one believes Everett's "hunch" that a young man on Missouri’s Death Row is innocent of killing a convenience store clerk. Everett’s editor calls his idea "A desperate attempt to cover the shabbiness of ... personal behavior with a show of professional skill."

Granted, the crusading reporter saving a wrongly convicted man has been done too many times but Klavan had me totally involved with True Crime. The film version starring Clint Eastwood was all right but never captured the novel’s intensity.

Klavan’s view of St. Louis was spot on, including his use of the huge Amoco sign that became kind of a talisman for Everett.

Super User
Wednesday, 07 September 2011 06:09

altEach state in this country can boast its share of mystery writers who give the readers not only involving stories but also personal looks at myriad regions.

The genre is better for these stories that take us from the streets of New York City to small Idaho towns.

Last year, San Francisco was the site of Bouchercon and that gave me a chance to talk about the wonderful mysteries set there.

This year, Bouchercon is in St. Louis so that naturally leads to a discussion about the authors that Missouri has produced. I also have a personal connection as Missouri is my home state. I grew up in a small town in an area of Missouri called The Bootheel. I also graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia as did my husband. We found each other at Mizzou but we two journalism majors met in theater. Long story, but a good one.

So to get everyone in the mood for Bouchercon, we’ll start to look at those mysteries with a Missouri connection. Whether or not you are attending Bouchercon, this will give you insight into the Show Me State.

Some of the best known mystery writers either who either are from Missouri, live there or set there novels there include Sophie Littlefield, Robert Randisi, Elaine Viets, John Lutz, Joel Goodman, Michael A. Kahn, Michael Baron, Eileen Dreyer, Laurell K. Hamilton, Rett MacPherson, Jean Hager, Lise McClendon, Larry Karp, Janis Harrison, Dakota Banks, Shirley Kennett. I am sure I have missed a few, so please, add your favorites to the comments list.

Here’s a glimpse at a couple of St. Louis-based novels.

altMichael Kahn is best known for his novels about St. Louis attorney Rachel Gold, the latest of which is Trophy Widow (2002). After nearly decade, Kahn, a St. Louis attorney himself, has written another Rachel Gold novel that may be published in 2012. More about that from Brian at this post.

But Kahn also wrote the novel The Mourning Sexton (2005) under the pen name Michael Baron. This was my personal favorite from Kahn/Baron.

In The Mourning Sexton, David Hirsch, a once powerful St. Louis attorney who spent seven years in prison for embezzlement, tries to make amends by immersing himself in his Jewish faith. Every day, Hirsch, the mourning sexton, is among the first to arrive at the small, storefront synagogue in St. Louis. He has made his participation in services mandatory; his duties are to make sure there will be at least 10 men there, the minimum required for the daily prayers.

The Mourning Sexton is a heartfelt character study of a man on the rebound who has to fight temptation every day to reclaim his soul.

TRUE CRIME STILL TRUE

altScreenwriter and author Andrew Klavan isn’t normally associated with St. Louis but his 1995 novel True Crime is set in St. Louis. I remember being engrossed in this story about journalist Steve Everett, a foul wretch of a man who ruins just about everything in his life. But in one shining moment, Steve tries to do the right thing – save an innocent man wrongly convicted and do that in the 11th hour before the man’s execution.

A reporter for the fictional St. Louis News, Steve is despised by his colleagues. He lost his last job because he had sex in the supply room with the daughter of the newspaper's owner. He may lose his current job because he is sleeping with his boss' wife.

No one believes Everett's "hunch" that a young man on Missouri’s Death Row is innocent of killing a convenience store clerk. Everett’s editor calls his idea "A desperate attempt to cover the shabbiness of ... personal behavior with a show of professional skill."

Granted, the crusading reporter saving a wrongly convicted man has been done too many times but Klavan had me totally involved with True Crime. The film version starring Clint Eastwood was all right but never captured the novel’s intensity.

Klavan’s view of St. Louis was spot on, including his use of the huge Amoco sign that became kind of a talisman for Everett.

Littlefield, Viets, Kennett: Women of Missouri
Oline Cogdill

altI am always interested in mystery fiction set in my home state of Missouri.

Not just because I like to read about Missouri, but I also recommend these novels to friends I’ve known since I was five years old who live in my hometown down in the Bootheel.

And since St. Louis is the site of the 2011 Bouchercon, it’s an even better time to look at Missouri mysteries. (See previous post here.)

Whether or not you are attending Bouchercon, these mysteries will give you insight into the Show Me State.

And today, let’s look at the Women of Missouri (mystery writers).

Sophie Littlefield
Sophie Littlefield’s three novels – A Bad Day for Sorry, A Bad Day for Pretty, and A Bad Day for Scandal – filled a void needed in the mystery genre and in Missouri novels in particular.

On the surface, A Bad Day for Sorry, her debut that won the Edgar, would seem to be a quirky, cozy tale about a middle-aged Missouri woman who dabbles in helping abused women. With wry humor and a penchant for rural sayings, Stella Hardesty exudes sassiness. The fiftysomething Stella lives in the fictional Prosper, located somewhere in western Missouri.

But Littlefield disarms the reader and quickly spins this premise into a more hard-edge look at domestic violence, vigilante justice, life’s regrets and taking control of your life.

While the author keeps a sense of humor flowing through her novel, she doesn’t sacrifice plot or realism for a joke. One could call Stella “sassy,” but it would be better to call her relentless, capable and perceptive.

She’s no super-hero, but what she does in her “justice-delivering career” is both heroic and illegal.

Littlefield and Stella will be with us for a while.

Elaine Viets
Former St. Louis newspaper columnist Elaine Viets has created three solid cozy series since leaving the Post-Dispatch. Viets sets one of her series – the Dead End Job mysteries featuring Helen Hawthorne – in Fort Lauderdale. But her Mystery Shopper series about single mother Josie Marcus is set in St. Louis.

altSt. Louis plays heavily in Viets’ novels about Josie who shops the high-end stores and the small boutiques. Viets takes the reader on a merry ride throughout the suburbs that are part of St. Louis’ complexion.

Viets is well-known for the humor she infuses in her mysteries and her Josie Marcus novels have laugh-out-loud humor that adds to the brisk action. While her stories take a light approach, Viets strengthens her plots with insightful looks at the bonds between mother and daughter, the challenges of living in a multi-generational household and the rewards of nonjudgmental friendships.

Viets launched her career as a novelist with her mysteries featuring St. Louis City Gazette columnist Francesca Vierling.

Rett MacPherson
Rett MacPherson’s 11 novels about genealogist Torie O'Shea not only give insight to the vagaries of families but also include a bit of Missouri history. Torie lives in a small town on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.

Beginning with Family Skeletons, MacPherson’ cozies featured engrossing plots and lively characters.

Shirley Kennett/Dakota Banks
altDuring the 1990s, St. Louis author Shirley Kennett wrote the PJ Gray series, a psychological profiler who used virtual reality software to recreate crime scenes. Five novels were in this series set in St. Louis: Gray Matter, Fire Cracker, Chameleon, Act of Betrayal (written as Morgan Avery), and Time of Death. Kennett also wrote a standalone, Burning Rose, which features Hawaii-based freelance journalist Casey Washington.

Kennett’s PJ Gray series were a little ahead of their time with virtual reality software still seeming to be a fantasy. Gray’s cutting-edge techniques of virtual reality, the Computerized Homicide Investigations Project, or CHIP, recreated crimes by placing the user in the mind of the perpetrator. I found these novels to be very intriguing with realistic characters.

Kennett now writes a dark urban fantasy thriller series called the Mortal Path under the name of Dakota Banks. The latest is Sacrifice: Mortal Path Book 2.

Super User
Sunday, 11 September 2011 06:09

altI am always interested in mystery fiction set in my home state of Missouri.

Not just because I like to read about Missouri, but I also recommend these novels to friends I’ve known since I was five years old who live in my hometown down in the Bootheel.

And since St. Louis is the site of the 2011 Bouchercon, it’s an even better time to look at Missouri mysteries. (See previous post here.)

Whether or not you are attending Bouchercon, these mysteries will give you insight into the Show Me State.

And today, let’s look at the Women of Missouri (mystery writers).

Sophie Littlefield
Sophie Littlefield’s three novels – A Bad Day for Sorry, A Bad Day for Pretty, and A Bad Day for Scandal – filled a void needed in the mystery genre and in Missouri novels in particular.

On the surface, A Bad Day for Sorry, her debut that won the Edgar, would seem to be a quirky, cozy tale about a middle-aged Missouri woman who dabbles in helping abused women. With wry humor and a penchant for rural sayings, Stella Hardesty exudes sassiness. The fiftysomething Stella lives in the fictional Prosper, located somewhere in western Missouri.

But Littlefield disarms the reader and quickly spins this premise into a more hard-edge look at domestic violence, vigilante justice, life’s regrets and taking control of your life.

While the author keeps a sense of humor flowing through her novel, she doesn’t sacrifice plot or realism for a joke. One could call Stella “sassy,” but it would be better to call her relentless, capable and perceptive.

She’s no super-hero, but what she does in her “justice-delivering career” is both heroic and illegal.

Littlefield and Stella will be with us for a while.

Elaine Viets
Former St. Louis newspaper columnist Elaine Viets has created three solid cozy series since leaving the Post-Dispatch. Viets sets one of her series – the Dead End Job mysteries featuring Helen Hawthorne – in Fort Lauderdale. But her Mystery Shopper series about single mother Josie Marcus is set in St. Louis.

altSt. Louis plays heavily in Viets’ novels about Josie who shops the high-end stores and the small boutiques. Viets takes the reader on a merry ride throughout the suburbs that are part of St. Louis’ complexion.

Viets is well-known for the humor she infuses in her mysteries and her Josie Marcus novels have laugh-out-loud humor that adds to the brisk action. While her stories take a light approach, Viets strengthens her plots with insightful looks at the bonds between mother and daughter, the challenges of living in a multi-generational household and the rewards of nonjudgmental friendships.

Viets launched her career as a novelist with her mysteries featuring St. Louis City Gazette columnist Francesca Vierling.

Rett MacPherson
Rett MacPherson’s 11 novels about genealogist Torie O'Shea not only give insight to the vagaries of families but also include a bit of Missouri history. Torie lives in a small town on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.

Beginning with Family Skeletons, MacPherson’ cozies featured engrossing plots and lively characters.

Shirley Kennett/Dakota Banks
altDuring the 1990s, St. Louis author Shirley Kennett wrote the PJ Gray series, a psychological profiler who used virtual reality software to recreate crime scenes. Five novels were in this series set in St. Louis: Gray Matter, Fire Cracker, Chameleon, Act of Betrayal (written as Morgan Avery), and Time of Death. Kennett also wrote a standalone, Burning Rose, which features Hawaii-based freelance journalist Casey Washington.

Kennett’s PJ Gray series were a little ahead of their time with virtual reality software still seeming to be a fantasy. Gray’s cutting-edge techniques of virtual reality, the Computerized Homicide Investigations Project, or CHIP, recreated crimes by placing the user in the mind of the perpetrator. I found these novels to be very intriguing with realistic characters.

Kennett now writes a dark urban fantasy thriller series called the Mortal Path under the name of Dakota Banks. The latest is Sacrifice: Mortal Path Book 2.

Shamus Nominations
Oline Cogdill

Bouchercon isn't just a great event for fans.

It's also the time when several notable mystery awards are announced. Some of these honors have nothing to do with Bouchercon, but the groups sponsoring the awards wisely use this large gathering of writers to make their announcements. This year, Bouchercon is Sept. 15-18 in St. Louis.

The Private Eye Writers of America has announced the nominees for the 2011 Shamus Awards. Winners will be announced in St. Louis during a private Private Eye Writers of America banquet.

Congratulations to all the nominees!

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL
No Mercy
, by Lori Armstrong (Touchstone)
The First Rule, by Robert Crais (Putnam)
Voyeur, by Daniel Judson (Minotaur)If the Dead Rise Not, by Philip Kerr (Putnam)
Naked Moon, by Domenic Stansberry (Minotaur)

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL
In Search of Mercy, by Michael Ayoob (Minotaur)
One Man’s Paradise, by Douglas Corleone (Minotaur)
Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva (Forge)
Random Violence, by Jassy MacKenzie (Soho)
City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL PI NOVEL
Hostage Zero
, by John Gilstrap (Kensington)
Nightshade, by Tom Henighan (Dundurn Press)
Mister X, by John Lutz (Pinnacle)
The Panic Zone, by Rick Mofina (Mira)
Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore (Grove/Atlantic)
The Little Death, by P.J. Parrish (Pocket Star)

BEST PI SHORT STORY
“The God of Right and Wrong,” by Steven Gore
(Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2010)

“The Lamb Was Sure to Go,” by Gar Anthony Haywood
(Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November 2010)

“The Girl in the Golden Gown,” by Robert S. Levinson
(Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2010)

“Phelan’s First Case.” by Lisa Sandlin
(Lone Star Noir, edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd; Akashic Books)

“A Long Time Dead,” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
(The Strand Magazine, June-Sept. 2010)

Super User
Friday, 19 August 2011 01:08

Bouchercon isn't just a great event for fans.

It's also the time when several notable mystery awards are announced. Some of these honors have nothing to do with Bouchercon, but the groups sponsoring the awards wisely use this large gathering of writers to make their announcements. This year, Bouchercon is Sept. 15-18 in St. Louis.

The Private Eye Writers of America has announced the nominees for the 2011 Shamus Awards. Winners will be announced in St. Louis during a private Private Eye Writers of America banquet.

Congratulations to all the nominees!

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL
No Mercy
, by Lori Armstrong (Touchstone)
The First Rule, by Robert Crais (Putnam)
Voyeur, by Daniel Judson (Minotaur)If the Dead Rise Not, by Philip Kerr (Putnam)
Naked Moon, by Domenic Stansberry (Minotaur)

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL
In Search of Mercy, by Michael Ayoob (Minotaur)
One Man’s Paradise, by Douglas Corleone (Minotaur)
Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva (Forge)
Random Violence, by Jassy MacKenzie (Soho)
City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL PI NOVEL
Hostage Zero
, by John Gilstrap (Kensington)
Nightshade, by Tom Henighan (Dundurn Press)
Mister X, by John Lutz (Pinnacle)
The Panic Zone, by Rick Mofina (Mira)
Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore (Grove/Atlantic)
The Little Death, by P.J. Parrish (Pocket Star)

BEST PI SHORT STORY
“The God of Right and Wrong,” by Steven Gore
(Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January/February 2010)

“The Lamb Was Sure to Go,” by Gar Anthony Haywood
(Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, November 2010)

“The Girl in the Golden Gown,” by Robert S. Levinson
(Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2010)

“Phelan’s First Case.” by Lisa Sandlin
(Lone Star Noir, edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd; Akashic Books)

“A Long Time Dead,” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
(The Strand Magazine, June-Sept. 2010)

How to Write Mysteries: in Six Difficult Lessons
Jon L. Breen

Wells_Carolyn_c1862-1942_smallPhoto: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) wrote the first how-to book for mystery writers

In 1913, the Home Correspondence School published Carolyn Wells’ The Technique of the Mystery Story, the first how-to manual for prospective writers of detective and mystery fiction. Today its value is purely historical, giving a detailed account of the kind of mystery Wells and her contemporaries were producing in the years before World War I.

In subsequent years, Wells would be joined at the lectern by such mystery practitioners as Nigel Morland, Marie F. Rodell, Patricia Highsmith, Robert Turner, Joan Lowery Nixon, H.R.F. Keating, Shannon O’Cork, Larry Beinhart, Dean R. Koontz, William G. Tapply, and Carolyn Wheat.

Approaches have been as varied as the writers doing the instructing. One who maps out every move in advance might stress the nuts and bolts of the writing process, while one who sits down at the keyboard and lets fly with no idea where the story is going might take a more inspirational or cheerleading stance. The best how-to books provide a measure of both elements. Early technical manuals concentrated strictly on literary concerns (plotting, style, characterization, research), but those written for the contemporary market are expected also to deal with the business aspects of writing (getting published, finding an agent, promoting the work).

These how-to books have a wider audience than aspiring writers. Apart from biographical and critical insights into their authors, they often can be read purely for entertainment.

Lawrence Block’s Write for Your Life, self-published to accompany seminars he conducted in the 1980s and something of a rarity because of its limited distribution, has been made available as an ebook by HarperCollins. It will undoubtedly be sought by Block collectors and fans who never intend to write a word for publication.

Certain pieces of advice recur in manuals on fiction writing—avoid substitutes for “said”; don’t worry about a bad first draft; avoid agents who charge reading fees; include plenty of conflict; don’t overdo dialect; show, don’t tell; write what you know; research what you don’t know; cultivate booksellers— but the modes of delivery vary tremendously, as the six in-print volumes considered here demonstrate.

hayden_writingthemysteryG. Miki Hayden begins Writing the Mystery provocatively, telling new writers what a good time it is to break in. Publishers are dumping established authors in their quest for the next blockbuster and looking for newcomers who will work cheap. Hayden pays more attention to e-books, independent presses, and the short-story market than most competing works. But her meandering style needs editing; her descriptions of cozy and hard-boiled fiction are exaggerated, and her carelessness with names (John D. and Ross “McDonald”; Jane “Austin”) and dubious statements do not inspire confidence. Most stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine do not “verge on novella length” as she believes, and both magazines are more receptive to new talent than she suggests.

Hayden also gives some questionable advice. Sure, go ahead and send out simultaneous submissions without informing the recipients. Murmur, mumble, and mutter instead of say? Go for it. Tom Swifty adverbial dialogue tags? No problem. While Hayden is a skilled writer of short stories, reading her instruction manual would not be likely to attract anyone to her fiction.

Jean Hager is an expert crafter of traditional mystery puzzles, but How to Write & Market Your Mystery Novel wouldn’t necessarily make me want to read her novels. She offers good advice, but her approach is more simplistic and mechanical than most of the others. However, her brief book gathers strength as it goes along. To prove old tricks are not necessarily useless to the contemporary writer, Hager reprints Lester Dent’s 1936 Master Fiction Plot, which Dale Furutani used to develop his award-winning debut, Death in Little Tokyo.

roberts_youcanwritemysteryThough I haven’t read one of Gillian Roberts’ novels about schoolteacher sleuth Amanda Pepper in some years, the charm and humor of You Can Write a Mystery made me want to seek one out. Her example of awful dialogue is especially choice: “Ever since my treacherous fiancé, Humphrey, tried to force himself on you, my sister, and in a fit of anger I killed him and we buried him near the roses, I can’t sleep or eat because I’m so afraid that the gardener will dig Humphrey up and our secret will be revealed.” She is also good on style and the eternal question: “Where do you get your ideas?” Her stress on the puzzle element is heartening to those of us who believe fair-play clueing is becoming a lost art. These strengths are enough to forgive the misapprehension that Sherlock Holmes, like Nero Wolfe, is “pathologically sedentary.”

If I didn’t already know I enjoyed Roberts’ style, her how-to would attract me to her work. With Elizabeth George, the opposite is the case. Through some blind spot no doubt, I don’t care for her novels, and Write Away struck me the same way, overlong and overelaborated. Still, she is an experienced writing teacher and certainly provides helpful encouragement and sound practical advice. She stresses character to the extreme: her exhaustive system requires full character analyses before the novel is even plotted, let alone written. Her allusions are as likely to come from general literature as from mystery fiction, and her sample quotations, both from her own and the work of others, tend to substantial length. George’s admirers will appreciate the grueling and traumatic process she goes through to create her bestselling novels, reflected in the amazingly insecure and self-doubting journal excerpts used as chapter epigraphs.

estleman_writingpopularnovelLike George, Loren D. Estleman seeks a larger audience than would-be mystery writers in Writing the Popular Novel. Estleman, who looms as large in Western as in crime fiction, is one of the finest stylists in any popular genre, and he has written the most entertaining of the six manuals under review, while also providing useful advice. He has strong views on the English language. Sample opinions: it’s okay to split infinitives, end a sentence with a preposition, and use contact as a verb (no other single word does the job); but it’s not okay to confuse imply and infer, use lay when you mean lie, or make impact into a verb (it means the same as affect). He joins Nero Wolfe in excoriating Webster’s Third. His chapter titles give an idea of the book’s pleasures: “The Rapture of Research”; “How to Ignore an Outline”; “Wyatt Earp and Me”; “Ten Things You Can Do to Avoid Success” (e.g., “End each chapter with a cliffhanger” and “Join a writer’s group”); and “Five Things Your Teacher Never Told You” (e.g., “Believe good reviews ignore bad reviews” and “If you can’t do it right, do it wrong”).

Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel is the first technical manual to be nominated for the biographical-critical Edgar since that award was instituted in 1977. Purely as a textbook, it is much the best of this group. Ephron never talks around a particular writing problem but gives specific step-by-step guidance on every aspect of the process, from schedule and workspace through submitting and selling, complete with focused student exercises. Any reader who conscientiously followed her program would finish a mystery novel—not necessarily a publishable one, but the next try might be.

ephron_writingsellingyourmysterynovelSuggestions are appropriately given with the current market in mind, but contemporary methods are not necessarily the best. Ephron gives terrible advice to Conan Doyle: “If [he] were writing the Sherlock Holmes stories today, he surely would have made Holmes the point-of-view character….Because Holmes is at the center of the action. He should be telling the story.” Sorry, Dr. Watson. Elsewhere she expresses a requirement that some (okay, I) believe reflects what is wrong with much current series mystery fiction: “You have to keep coming up with new catastrophes and life-changing crises to throw at the main character.” If the detective must be the protagonist and must go through devastating trauma, write stand-alones, not series, lest you wind up with soap opera.

Under the joint pseudonym G.H. Ephron, Hallie Ephron writes novels with Donald Davidoff about forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Peter Zak. I have not read them, but her lively style, her sense of humor (wryly countering a writer cliché, she notes, “My characters never take over. How I wish they would”), her stress on the role of clues, and the professionalism she evinces in this guide make me want to try one.

Whether read for enjoyment or instruction, most how-to-write-a-mystery volumes reflect a commendable professional generosity. Any mystery writer who found producing a technical manual a more lucrative use of working hours than writing another novel probably wouldn’t be worth reading in either format.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #95.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 August 2011 01:08

roberts_youcanwritemysterySince the Home Correspondence School published Carolyn Wells’ The Technique of the Mystery Story in 1913, The how-tos of writing over the years have been as varied as the authors doing the instructing.

Laurie R. King: Subversive Fun
Oline H. Cogdill

king_laurie_r_small"One of the duties of fiction is to be subversive, to undermine people's presumptions.... If I can do that and also entertain, I feel I have done my job."

It seems almost inconceivable, but Laurie R. King wasn’t a big fan or even all that knowledgeable about Sherlock Holmes when she began her series about the brilliant Mary Russell, who becomes a partner in every way to the great detective.

After 12 novels in that series, the latest of which is Pirate King, King not only is a fan of Holmes, she’s also a recognized Sherlockian expert. Her stories about the fiercely independent Russell have succeeded in bringing Holmes to a new generation, made him a bit more human and, hard as it is to believe, even sexy.

Perhaps Russell—and also Holmes—found her, instead of the other way around. How else to explain what happened in 1987, with her daughter in second grade and her son off to preschool three days a week, when the 35-year-old found herself with an extra ten hours a week to herself?

She sat down at her kitchen table with a fountain pen and wrote in longhand the opening of what would become The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: “I was fifteen when I met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.”

King had just finished her master's degree. But with her children “still small enough to need me around” and a husband nearing retirement, she hesitated to look for a job or work on a PhD. She also couldn’t seem to find anything at the library that interested her. “I thought maybe I could write something and that would keep me entertained longer than reading would,” said King, who now has 19 published novels.

Call it fate, luck of the draw, or divine intervention—PBS had been showing Sherlock Holmes films with Jeremy Brett. King became intrigued by the series.

“I kept thinking that what Holmes was doing was what mothers do everyday,” said King, now 56. “Women’s intuition often gets downplayed, but when men do it, it’s considered special. I started writing because of frustration, the time on my hands, and an irritation with Jeremy Brett.”

Except for a couple of stories in high school, she was unfamiliar with Holmes. The day after she started writing, she bought a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories.

“I figured I should know something about Holmes since I was going to be using him in my novels,” said King.

Reading Holmes as an adult gave her different insight.

“I had expectations that these would be stories about a terribly clever thinking machine. But the humor and passion of the man were unexpected,” said King, who then began researching Holmes.

king_beekers_apprentice_1stThe Beekeeper’s Apprentice’s first draft of 280 pages was finished in about 28 days. King then rewrote it. Then she tackled what would become her third published novel, A Letter of Mary. Although she had collected a number of rejection slips and didn’t have an agent or a publisher, King had determination.

“An awful lot of crime writers enter the field in their middle years. They’ve done the first part of their careers, they look around and feel dissatisfied with the dimensions of their life. So they think, ‘I love storytelling. I love novels. I think I could write one.’”

Even before she was published, she made a career change. She wrote a third novel, changing her setting from 19th century England to late 20th century San Francisco with Kate Martinelli, a police detective, as her heroine. A Grave Talent—her third attempt at writing a novel—would be her first to sell and was published in January 1993, winning the Edgar for best first novel and the John Creasey from the Crime Writers’ Association.

Mary Russell finally made her publishing debut with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in 1994, and followed up with A Monstrous Regiment of Women in 1995. Since then, King has averaged at least a book a year, alternating between Mary Russell, Kate Martinelli, and her five standalone novels.

King’s background, which includes a nomadic childhood, years of being a homemaker, and two degrees in theology, might seem at odds with crime fiction. But King says every aspect of her life led to being a mystery novelist.

When she was a child, her family moved so often that it wasn’t until she was in high school that she entered the same school in September that she’d been in the previous June.

“Anyone who moves that often as a kid, especially if you’re introverted to begin with, you just sort of give up on people and go for the books,” said King, who now lives in California’s Monterey Bay area and also has a home in Oxford, England.

“That, if nothing else, turned me into a reader, which turned me into a writer.”

In high school, she became a self-described hippie with lackluster grades, preferring reading to homework. But in college, King found her niche: religion. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion and a master’s degree in Old Testament theology. After studies in history, psychology, and anthropology, the subject of religion “chose me,” she often says.

“My [bachelor’s] degree was in studying the world’s religions, but I was most interested in what lay beneath them. [In my master’s work] I was looking at the Old Testament as the underpinnings for what my culture believes and speaks. It is the psychic language on which Western culture is built.”

king_a_grave_talent_1stAs a novelist, she uses the degrees every day. “I think having studied how the human mind and heart work to shape theological concepts, the relationship between the human and the divine, made me look more closely at relationships between individuals. When I am writing about people I am also aware of how they are relating on a spiritual plane instead of just day-to-day. It is the depth of their relationships that interests me when writing a novel.”

She earned the first university degree in her family, but King didn’t actually breeze through college. It took her seven years to earn her bachelor’s degree and another seven for her master’s degree. The reason is simple: Life got in her way. Her studies took a back seat to work, marriage, children, travel, and renovating a home.

In 1977 she married Noel King, a college professor 30 years her senior, with whom she had a daughter and a son. The couple was married for 32 years before his death in February. The couple and their children traveled extensively during their marriage. For 15 years, the family lived in an 80-year-old farmhouse on two acres of land in Pajaro Valley, California. There, Laurie King raised their children, continued her studies, made jams and chutneys, and designed and built a two-story addition to the house.

“I was a homemaker in every sense of the word,” said King, amusement in her voice. “It’s hard to believe that Laurie King used to can tomatoes and knew how to build a house. I can either build or type. I can’t do both.”

The switch from “homemaker” and student of religion to crime fiction has been a good fit for King. Her multilevel novels explore a variety of issues. She was one of the first—if not the first—straight mystery author to make a lesbian the lead character as she has done in her five Kate Martinelli novels.

“It never occurred to me that [Kate’s orientation] was unusual or that I couldn’t or shouldn’t write about it just because I was a straight woman, or that I might not understand the gay community. After all, I had just written about a Victorian male detective and I wasn’t part of that community either. On the whole, the gay community was extremely responsive and accepting of Kate, for which I am very grateful.”

The Mary Russell novels have been a springboard for King to explore historical issues such as women’s rights and the roots of Middle Eastern conflicts.

“One of the duties of fiction is to be subversive. Fiction doesn’t have a lot of responsibility but to entertain. But what comes close is the chance to offer different world views. That’s what I mean by subversive. You want to undermine people’s presumptions and let them see things in a different way. If I can do that in a novel and also entertain people, I feel I have done my job.

The Game shows that our actions at the moment in Afghanistan have reverberations into the future. But they are also in the footsteps of what went on in the last century and the century before that. The novel offers a way of illustrating that in a way you can’t get in a nonfiction book. O Jerusalem shows how the decisions made by the British government shaped the Middle East in a lot of permanent and profound ways.”

But King is always careful to make any issue an integral part of the story, not the main aspect of a novel.

“I don’t feel the need for the smell of soap in a novel. I don’t like the idea of a novel as a soap box,” said King.

“I like the idea of being thought-provoking and being a good read. I don’t feel the two are exclusive. You can have passion without an authoritarian viewpoint.”

Does she have a preference for one of her series?

king_pirateking“Whichever one I am not writing at the time is my favorite,” King deadpanned. “But that’s like asking which child a parent prefers. The Russells are a lot more fun. They’re romps, they’re adventures. They allow me to write bigger-than-life characters and situations. You can’t write a contemporary crime novel about going to live with Bedouin in Palestine. It’s just not real or practical. Russell’s voice is one I have a lot of enjoyment for.”

Her Russell novels also appeal to a diverse demographic, including young girls.

“One of the earliest interviewers wrote that Mary Russell was for all the girls who came to the end of the Sherlock Holmes stories and realized, ‘They didn’t need me.’ At a certain point, you realize that they are more boys’ stories. But wouldn’t you have loved to have had Mary Russell around when you were 14 or so? And because she gets the better of Sherlock, that adds to the fun,” said King. She’s proud The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is listed as a Notable Young Adult Book and an Outstanding Book for the College Bound from the American Library Association.

Sherlockians also have jumped on the Russell bandwagon. She and Leslie S. Klinger, who edited The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, often do events together.

“A lot of Sherlockians were leery at first—they were afraid I was going to do another romantic pastiche like too many others. But when they realized that was not what I do and that I approach Sherlock with affection and respect, they have been welcoming.”

And King the academic has found her novels used in academia. A number of classes about Sherlock use The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Keeping Watch’s Vietnam sections have found their way into the classroom. Folly, one of her stand-alones, has been used in several psychology classes to illustrate depression; the book was recently a community read in Washington State’s San Juan Islands.

“Fiction is an effective tool in talking about ideas,” King said.

As publicity geared up for 2009's The Language of Bees (and continues for 2011's Pirate King), it took a decidedly 21st-century approach. A fundraiser benefitted Heifer International’s beehive project. There were blogs, both on King’s website and the 109-year-old Mary Russell's MySpace page. Russell also joined Twitter. King writes the blogs herself, but gives much credit to the creative people who run the sites for her.

How would Victorian-era characters react to all this technology?

“They’d love it. Especially Mary. She’d be game for it,” said King.

A Laurie R. King Reading List

109Cover465THE MARY RUSSELL NOVELS
Pirate King (2011)
Beekeeping for Beginners (2011)
The God of the Hive (2010)
The Language of Bees (2009)
Locked Rooms (2005)
The Game (2004)
Justice Hall (2002)
O Jerusalem (1999)
The Moor (1998)
A Letter of Mary (1997)
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995)
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)

THE KATE MARTINELLI NOVELS
The Art of Detection (2006)
Night Work (2000)
With Child (1996)
To Play the Fool (1995)
A Grave Talent (1993)

STAND-ALONE NOVELS
Touchstone (2008)
Keeping Watch (2003)
Folly (2001)
A Darker Place (U.K. title: The Birth of a New Moon) (1999)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #109.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 10:08

king_laurie_r_small"If I can [be subversive] and also entertain, I feel I have done my job."

Still Life With Murder: a Chat With Louise Penny
Cheryl Solimini

penny_louise_cr_Ian-Crysler_smallIt takes a village—and its creator, award-winning author Louise Penny—to give this new series of Canadian cozies its well-honed edge

Photo: Ian Crysler

Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in the valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.

First-time visitors to the uncharted hamlet engineered by mystery writer Louise Penny may be forgiven for thinking that they have wandered into Christie country. Cozy English–style cottages of fieldstone, clapboard, or brick and a “business district” composed simply of a bakery, bookstore, general store, and café all rim a well-tended green anchored by the trio of towering evergreens that give the tiny town its name. Until the inevitable unnatural death disturbs the peace, the only reason to bar the doors here would be to keep neighbors from dumping off their overflow of summer squash.

But look out for the few choice swear words, often uttered in French and by citizens well past middle age. That couple who owns the bistro? If Gabriel and Olivier do choose to marry, at least they already live in a country that recognizes same-sex unions. Local murder victims tend to be dispatched not by a genteel dose of strychnine, but by an errant arrow let fly in the brilliantly autumnal woods, or an elaborate electrocution during a curling match. All are rendered in prose graceful but with an edge—rather like a figure skater on the village’s picture-perfect pond in winter.

In Still Life (2006 in the US), Penny first brought American readers across the Vermont border into Canada’s Eastern Townships region. Her second mystery, A Fatal Grace, finds its way back into this area south of Montreal that was first settled by the French and then by colonists loyal to King George III during the American Revolution. “Three Pines is meant to have the tone of this part of Quebec,” says Penny, a Townships resident herself. “The United Empire Loyalists who came across from the States were in many ways more British than the British, so they set up towns that were, in very broad strokes, modeled on English villages. They are little communities unto themselves, very hermetic, very pretty.”

But unlike her fictional suburb, most do not have village greens. “That’s been pointed out more than once by people in the area,” she laughs. “But it was really meant to be my ideal village, set in my ideal geography. I think I imbue Three Pines with a kind of magical realism.”

penny_stilllifeEven the village’s name has a mystical origin. An elderly woman sitting beside Penny at a church supper mentioned that her husband’s ancestors had long ago planted three pine trees on the family homestead as the customary signal to the Loyalists that they were in safe territory. “But then other people from the Townships who have read Still Life say they’ve never heard that story before, so I have no idea if it’s true,” adds Penny. “It’s real imitation folklore.”

Local history also allows Penny to capture the cultural contrast in a province often divided by language. “At times I’ll be in a store speaking in French and the person speaking to me is speaking in French and at the end we realize we’re both Anglophones,” she says. “Here in Quebec, there is always an awareness that we are not the same. There are degrees of tension depending on the political situation, but I hope the impression I give is that, except for people who are unreasonable, this is a place of tolerance.”

It took Penny quite a while to find her own way to Three Pines.

For more than 20 years, she was a radio journalist for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, covering hard news, economics, and political and social issues in several different cities. “If something went wrong, then you were on our program,” says Penny. “But it was really interesting because I got to see, hear, and watch people at the extremes, when things were either going really good in their lives or really bad in their lives.” After all that listening, though, she realized that she needed to find her own voice. “As a radio host, I didn’t really talk or write much. I started to feel that I had sublimated all my opinions for the opinions of others and wondered whether I even had any personal opinions anymore,” she says. “I had been taking things in for so long, and now it was time to start processing it and put it back out.”

So in 1998, she turned in her microphone and, encouraged by her husband, Michael, the head of hematology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, whom she’d met in her mid-30s, pursued her childhood dream of writing fiction. “Initially I thought I was going to write—of course!—the greatest novel ever written and win a Pulitzer Prize. Highways would be named after me and it would all be very embarrassing but I would cope,” she says cheerfully. “I made this announcement all over the studio about what I was going to do. So naturally for the next three years people would come up to me and ask, ‘So how’s the book going?’ And I’d say, ‘Fine, fine.’”

In reality, Penny was blindsided by writer’s block. “I had set the bar so high that I got my knickers in a twist,” she says. Only after she and her husband had moved to the country did she find her inspiration, in a community teeming with artists. “I’m embarrassingly impressionable. Surround me with good, kind, thoughtful, passionate, creative people, and that brings out the best in me,” she says. “My friends helped me realize that I was trying to write the wrong book, this serious literary fiction, but then I looked on my nightstand and all I had piled there were murder mysteries.”

To write what she loved to read, Penny drew on her personal observations as well as incidents from her radio days: One of the central mysteries in Still Life—why a warm, kindly villager never let anyone enter her living room—came out of a story Penny once reported on in Quebec. “Most of my writing is based on something real. I like to think of it as a kind of homage or inspiration, though other people might consider it stealing,” she says. “I consider myself a kind of Dr. Frankenstein, but in a good way. I take an arm here and a leg there and a head there and cobble together all these vital organs from other people and their experiences.”

penny_trickofthelightStill, she is very careful in the fictional company she keeps, populating her plots with artists, poets, innkeepers, and just plain nice folks who look out for each other. “When I started my novel, I knew the chances of being published were minuscule, so I thought the writing of it has to be enough,” she explains. “I knew I needed to write a book that I’d really enjoy writing, with characters I would choose as friends, in a community I would choose to live in.”

Her detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, had to be worth spending time with too. “At first he was going to be some closet coke fiend, a tortured guy,” she says. “But I didn’t want to come down every morning and climb into his head. So I created someone who is kindly and strong, and has integrity and isn’t a bully, and has a sense of humor, and is literate without being pompous, and loves his food—someone not unlike my own husband, oddly enough!”

Though all likeable, her fictional citizens, such as painters Peter and Clara Morrow, are realistically flawed: “Initially I had thought that Peter and Clara would pretty much be the perfect marriage…and then cracks started appearing, which of course made them much more interesting and fun to follow.” One of her most delightful denizens is the acerbic, cane-wielding Ruth Zardo, whose uncensored outbursts are usually offset by samples of her sublimely sensitive poetry. (Ruth’s verses, Penny confesses, are not penned by her but by local and well-known Canadian writers, including Margaret Atwood, and used with permission.) All have secrets and past troubles that are hinted at—and that may or may not revealed by book’s end.

That these usually gentle folk settle in Three Pines is no accident. “Some people who wander in clearly have another agenda, but most who find it are lost in some way,” explains Penny. “I think of Three Pines as a state of mind. It’s a place that has chosen its society wisely. It becomes self-selecting; there is a reason these people are there in this particular village. It’s known grief and sorrow and will again. Yet there’s something potentially redemptive here—because I believe in that. I think bad things do happen but it’s in an envelope of many blessings.”

At intervals within the narrative, Penny pulls these characters aside for individual vignettes that allow a peek inside each one’s thoughts. “I like to give insights into how different personalities function, and also their perceptions of what’s happening and their perceptions of each other—and how sometimes they can get them all wrong,” she explains.

Despite three years of honing her first manuscript, Penny suffered “an exercise in humility” when she began looking for a publisher and sent queries to top agents in New York and London. “I thought that, if I’m going to be rejected, I might as well be rejected by the best.” And she was, time and time again, for two more years. Some responders advised that she switch to a first-person point of view; another went so far as to state that no one would ever be interested in a murder mystery set in Canada. Penny sighs, “What do you say to that? ‘Yes, they will! Yes, they will! And so’s your mother!’”

After a small press in Toronto turned down the manuscript, “I really believed I had reached the end,” she says. “I would have just put it in a drawer and gone back to gardening and would never have written another word.”

penny_maffini_Agathas2011_smallThen she learned Still Life was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger, an award presented yearly by the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain for the best unpublished crime novel. Though her book came in second, Penny landed a London agent. After its release in the UK and Canada in 2005 and the U.S. in 2006, Still Life went on to win Britain’s New Blood Dagger and Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, the US’ Dilys Award from The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, as well as making Kirkus Review’s Top 10 mysteries list for 2006. Now, to ensure that other worthy novels see the light of day, Penny is working with the Crime Writers of Canada for an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Mystery each year.

COOL BREEZE FROM UP NORTH Canadians Louise Penny (left)
and Mary Jane Maffini are on a roll. Shortly after picking up
2011 Agatha Awards at Malice Domestic (pictured) for
respectively, Best Novel and Short Story, they won Arthur Ellis
Awards from Crime Writers of Canada.

Writer’s block is no longer a problem for her. “You always have bad days when the muse isn’t there, and you’re flailing around, and the characters are meandering and bumping into each other,” Penny says. “But for the most part it’s an amazing high!” She laughs at herself. “Now I can’t stop writing. Soon people are going to be saying, ‘Stop, for God’s sake! Send her away!’”

No chance of that. A Fatal Grace (titled Dead Cold in Canada), in which a self-styled design diva à la Martha Stewart meets her end in an electrical “accident” at Christmastime, will be followed by The Cruelest Month, as the Three Pines regulars hold a séance at the gruesome Victorian mansion in town. “They decide they’ve had enough of this old horror on the hill,” Penny reveals. “They are going to free whatever mean spirits are there. Their intentions are good—until, of course, the murder. The old Hadley house will have its way!” As in all her books, this one takes place during a significant holiday. “This time it’s Easter, and gets back to the idea of redemption. Much of the story is about being given a second chance, with Easter and spring bringing up the whole notion of rebirth.”

Her fourth, as-yet-untitled mystery will offer a slight change of scene when the Morrows head to a remote resort for Peter’s family reunion and find a body on the lakeshore. But they won’t be away from Three Pines for long. Will it eventually rival St. Mary’s Mead, where the corpses seem to outnumber the residents? “Yes, we’re going to keep going back to Three Pines,” laughs Penny, “because frankly I love it.”

Readers fortunate enough to find Three Pines and Louise Penny’s carefully wrought mysteries once will find their way back too.

A Louise Penny Reading List

CHIEF INSPECTOR GAMACHE NOVELS
A Trick of the Light (2011)
Bury Your Dead (2010)
*Winner of Agatha Award for best novel of 2010 and Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award
The Brutal Telling (2009)
*Winner of Agatha Award for best novel of 2009
A Rule Against Murder (a.k.a. The Murder Stone) (2008)
NY Times bestseller, nominated for Arthur Ellis Award
The Cruelest Month (2007)
*Winner of Agatha Award for best novel of 2008, nominated for Anthony Award, McAvity Award, and Barry Award for best novel of 2008
A Fatal Grace (a.k.a. Dead Cold) (2006)
*Winner of Agatha Award for best novel of 2007
Still Life (2005)
*Winner of "New Blood" Dagger Award, Arthur Ellis Award, Dilys Award, Anthony Award, and Barry Award

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #100.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 03:08

penny_louise_cr_Ian-Crysler_smallIt takes a village—and award-winning author Louise Penny—to give this Canadian cozy series its edge.

Denise Hamilton and the Power of the Press
Oline H. Cogdill

hamilton_denise2Hamilton's Journalist Eve Diamond Hits the Streets of Los Angeles


Photo: Blake Little


"I see Los Angeles as this huge puzzle that's a sprawling chaos, that has a lot of beauty and lyricism as well as devastation and horror."—Denise Hamilton, whose latest, is standalone Damage Control (September 2011).

Writing about your hometown should be a snap. After all, this is the place where you grew up, attended school, worked, and are now raising your children. There can’t be that many secrets or hidden nooks and crannies left to find.

Unless your hometown is Los Angeles, a city that is in constant flux, that invests new meaning in the word diversity, and where urban sprawl spawns millions of stories.

That’s the challenge—and opportunity—that author Denise Hamilton faces each time she writes a novel in her series about Eve Diamond, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles provides the perfect background as Diamond’s beat takes her into the various hearts of the City of Angels. But just as Diamond is constantly learning about L.A., the author is also always discovering new things about her hometown. A book signing across town is a chance to drive unfamiliar roads; a child’s birthday lets her visit a new neighborhood; an invitation to lunch becomes an entrée to a new ethnic restaurant.

It’s all fodder for the Eve Diamond novels in which Los Angeles is as important as the heroine. As a former reporter, Hamilton knows that being a journalist provides a special invitation to see sides of the city off the beaten path.

“When you’re a reporter, every day is a different short story unfolding before your eyes,” said Hamilton, whose fifth novel, Prisoner of Memory, is hitting the bookstores.

“One day you might be sent to interview Vietnamese immigrants, the next day a celebrity, and everyone in between. Being a reporter is a passport to travel through the warp and woof of L.A., to see every neighborhood, class, culture, and enclave. With my books, I’m trying to document the L.A. that I see. And it’s an L.A. that’s evolving and changing even as I write about it.”

hamilton_prisonerofmemoryWhile a plethora of mystery writers plow Los Angeles for their stories, and bookshelves are filled with the work of reporters turned novelists, Hamilton’s novels open a window into new worlds, uncovering unusual tales.

Her 2001 debut The Jasmine Trade introduced “parachute kids,” rich Asian teens who live alone in California while their parents run businesses in Hong Kong. It was shortlisted for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the Macavity, the Anthony, the Creasey Dagger Award, and the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction.

Sugar Skull enfolded stories about the Mexican-American community and its music with the phenomenon of upper-middle class and wealthy girls seeking out homeless "squatter" boyfriends.

Last Lullaby, named a “Best Book of 2004” by the L.A. Times, a USA Today Summer Pick, and a finalist for the Southern California Booksellers Association’s best mystery award, tackled the vagaries of immigration and drug smuggling.

Savage Garden, a 2005 finalist for best mystery by the booksellers association, explored the theater scene via a playwright whose former life as a gangbanger threatens his new success.

And Prisoner of Memory is set among L.A.’s Russian immigrant community.

It’s no accident that the theme of L.A.’s ethnic diversity courses through Hamilton’s novels. She grew up in North Hollywood, the eldest daughter of an Irish-American roofing contractor and a Russian-French nurse. At home, the family spoke French and English.

“My mother was an immigrant,” said Hamilton, 46. “I always felt a slight tilt against traditional American culture because I had that overlay of European culture and another language....Plus, as a reporter, you have to hold yourself apart and not get too involved. That gave me an outsider’s eye, always peering into L.A., trying to puzzle it out and decipher it.”

Multiculturalism continues to be a part of Hamilton’s daily life. In her son’s class at school alone, the student body reflects more than ten cultures, children who also are growing up speaking different languages at home. Hamilton’s husband is a first-generation Mexican American, and his mother lives with them, so the family also speaks Spanish at home.

“In this city, the majority is minority. It’s not hard to interact with people from different races and cultures.”

hamilton_jasminetradeJournalism, not novels, had been Hamilton’s career goal. She spent ten years at the Los Angeles Times where she started as a summer intern. She had planned to become a foreign correspondent based in Moscow. She gained foreign reporting experience through two traveling fellowships, including a Fulbright, that took her to Hungary and the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s in the midst of the Bosnia war.

Her career plans changed when she started a family with her husband, David Garza, to whom she’s been married for 12 years. During the mid-1990s, the L.A. Times began what is now too often a regular occurrence at newspapers—it started offering employees buyouts. Hamilton was six weeks pregnant and had been doing a lot of re-evaluation of her job.

“I wondered what would happen if I had a baby and had to cover an earthquake.” So she took the buyout and remade herself into a freelance journalist. “I thought if I do this, it will either be the best or the worst thing.” And she didn’t have to look too far for work. “A Friday was my last day, but by Monday I was back freelancing for the Times,” said Hamilton, whose work also has appeared in Wired, Cosmopolitan, Der Spiegel, and New Times.

She also began writing bits of The Jasmine Trade, because the story about the parachute kids that she had covered as a reporter had never left her mind.

“I had to have the psychological distance from the newsroom to dig into a book and write it without [newspaper] editors looking over my shoulders and thinking Eve is me,” Hamilton said of the novel that would become The Jasmine Trade. “I also needed the psychological distance to allow myself to let Eve do what she does.”

In addition to the depiction of L.A.’s subcultures, Hamilton’s series takes a hard look at journalism ethics, newsroom politics, and how newspapers have become more corporate. Although she’s been away from a daily newsroom for more than a decade, working journalists view her novels as realistic, authentic looks at the profession.

“The psychology of the newsroom offers lots of conflict that’s put to good form in this series,” said Hamilton, who still keeps in touch with friends who are in the business.

Often readers, especially journalists, tell Hamilton they are convinced that Eve’s fictional editors, colleagues, and situations are based on real counterparts. They aren’t.

“Fictional characters can take on a life of their own; the emotional reactions of situations can bubble down to the fiction. I want to recreate the feel of the newsroom and the tensions of the editor vs. the reporter. But also, Eve has editors she adores and that’s also realistic.”

hamilton_damagecontrolFor those wondering how close Eve Diamond is to being Denise Hamilton’s alter ego, well, the novelist and the character share more than a profession but the novelist doesn’t mistake her character for herself.

“She’s my wilder alter ego. She takes things to the next level. She does things that I would never have done from a journalistic ethics point of view. She dodges more bullets than I ever did, collars more bad guys than I ever did, and she saves more people than I ever did.

“She’s the super-journo. So much of journalism is work-a-day and boring. It’s very rare that you get into a situation that is dangerous or morally dubious. Eve is flawed. She suffers from nagging insecurities and guilt and envy. I want to explore all those issues with her as a flawed vessel.”

There’s also a chance that Eve Diamond’s adventures may make it to the silver screen. The series has been optioned, Hamilton said, by Kathleen Kennedy, a producer affiliated with Steven Spielberg and whose credits include the Bourne movies, Munich, and Seabiscuit, among others. “The last I heard they were working on a script,” said Hamilton.

Meanwhile, Hamilton has just finished a spring book tour through England, Ireland, and Scotland. She’s also gearing up for her tour in support of Prisoner of Memory, which will take her to a variety of states, as well as a myriad of events in California. She’ll be the toastmaster at the seventh annual Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha over the Memorial Day weekend.

While the fictional reporter has proved to be a real gem for Hamilton, the novelist also is planning to take a break from Diamond. Hamilton currently is putting the finishing touches on her first stand-alone novel that will revolve around the disappearance of a starlet in 1949. True to form, the city will be as important to the plot as the characters. She also will be editing Los Angeles Noir, a short-story anthology from Akashic Books, the publisher that began the city noir collections with Brooklyn Noir.

But Hamilton is not taking a break from Los Angeles

“I see L.A. as this huge puzzle that’s a sprawling chaos, that has a lot of beauty and lyricism as well as devastation and horror. L.A. is endlessly fascinating and endlessly inspiring. You almost never see the same thing twice. You can go to the same neighborhood two weeks in a row and see something different. Everything is so layered.

“It’s a city I never get tired of writing about or will run out of ideas about. All I have to do is step outside.”

94cover465A DENISE HAMILTON READING LIST

Damage Control (2011)
Los Angeles Noir 2 (2010)
The Last Embrace (2008)
Los Angeles Noir (2007)
Prisoner of Memory (2006)
Savage Garden (2005)
Last Lullaby (2004)
Sugar Skull (2003)
The Jasmine Trade (2001)

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

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 25 August 2011 02:08

hamilton_denise_croppedThis former journalist taps the vibrant life of Los Angeles for her crime novels.

The Urbane Innovator: Anthony Berkeley, Aka Francis Iles
Martin Edwards

Berkley_Anthony_Sketch_copy_smallA 1925 caricature of Anthony Berkeley Cox by George Morrow

Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971) established a reputation for innovative crime writing under two different pseudonyms. As Anthony Berkeley, he took the British Golden Age detective novel to fresh heights, while as Francis Iles, he was a pioneer of psychological suspense fiction with a seasoning of cynical wit. His career as a crime novelist lasted less than 15 years, but in that time he helped set the agenda for later generations, as well as founding the legendary Detection Club, an invitation-only social club for prominent crime writers which flourishes in London to this day.

Berkeley was born at Watford into an affluent family. His father was a doctor and his mother’s forbears included the Earl of Monmouth—as well as a notable smuggler, who happened to be called Francis Iles. He served in the First World War, but was gassed, causing long-term damage to his health. His writing career began with humorous sketches for magazines such as Punch, and his first foray into the crime genre came with The Layton Court Mystery (1925), which introduced an amateur sleuth, Roger Sheringham. The book was originally published anonymously—Berkeley was a very private man, to the point of cultivating an air of mystery about himself.

Sheringham’s second outing was in The Wychford Poisoning Case (1926). Key elements of this excellent mystery derive from the classic Maybrick murder case in Liverpool; Berkeley was a student of true crime, and notable cases provided source material for several of his books. His ingenuity in devising a series of plausible solutions to the puzzle is impressive and it is a surprise that this book has not received more critical attention. Berkeley dedicated the book to a writer whose reputation has survived rather better, E.M. Delafield, and he expressed the hope that she would “recognise the attempt I have made to substitute for the materialism of the usual crime-puzzle of fiction those psychological values which are the basis of the universal interest in the far more absorbing criminological dramas of real life. In other words, I have tried to write what might be described as a psychological detective story.”

BerkleyCatCoverRetouchAfter this, Berkeley kept nagging away at the idea of the detective as psychologist. In his third appearance, Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (1927), for instance, Sheringham voiced the author’s views when he said: “Every detective must be a psychologist, whether he knows it or not.” In this book, the amateur worked with Inspector Moresby, Berkeley’s principal police detective, whose ordinariness is constantly stressed. Here, as in Top Storey Murder (1931), Moresby proves to be a more effective investigator than Sheringham: a far cry from the days of Holmes and Lestrade. In another twist characteristic of Berkeley (but not of the period), the culprit escapes scot free and justice is thwarted. There is a similar outcome in The Second Shot (1930), when Sheringham demonstrates, through apparently irrefutable logic, that one particular suspect must have committed the crime and those concerned then agree to shield her. There follows, however, a typically cunning Berkeley twist, with an epilogue in which the real villain of the piece, whom Sheringham has failed to identify, explains why he committed the crime.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) remains, deservedly, the Sheringham novel most fondly remembered by enthusiasts for Golden Age detective fiction. The plot is an elaboration of a brilliant short story called “The Avenging Chance.” Joan Bendix has died after, it seems, accidentally receiving a box of poisonous chocolates and eating them. Six members of the Crimes Circle (based on the Detection Club) seek to discover the culprit and motive. They each come up with a distinct and plausible solution. Sheringham’s interpretation of the facts reflects the outcome in the short story—but with a masterly flourish, Berkeley reveals a different explanation as correct; it is propounded by the meek Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick.

Chitterwick returned in a couple of non-Sheringham novels, including the wonderfully entertaining and ingenious Trial and Error (1937), in which a dying man commits an altruistic murder of an unpleasant woman, only to find that an innocent person is suspected of the crime and that he finds himself quite unable to persuade the authorities of his guilt. Not to Be Taken (1938; in the US, A Puzzle in Poison) is a first-rate non-series mystery and includes one of Berkeley’s most enjoyable female characters, the feminist Rona Brougham. The final Berkeley book, Death in the House (1939), despite boasting a House of Commons setting and an “impossible crime” puzzle, was less successful.

The most direct influence on Berkeley’s Sheringham was E.C. Bentley, who had written the celebrated Trent’s Last Case more than a decade earlier. Like Bentley, Berkeley decided to have a detective who was the antithesis of Sherlock Holmes, explaining in the dedication to The Layton Court Mystery:

“I have tried to make the gentleman who eventually solves the mystery as nearly as possible as he might be expected to do in real life. That is to say, he is very far removed from a sphinx and he does make a mistake or two occasionally. I have never believed very much in those hawk-eyed, tight-lipped gentry who pursue their silent and inexorable way straight to the heart of things without ever once overbalancing or turning aside after false goals.”

BerkleyChocoCoverThe very appealing idea of the fallibility of the sleuth-hero remained at the heart of Berkeley’s approach. Lord Peter Wimsey commented on it in Have His Carcase: “There’s the Roger Sheringham method, for instance. You prove elaborately and in detail that A did the murder; then you give the story one final shake, twist it around a fresh corner, and find the real murderer is B—the person you suspected first and lost sight of.”

The early Sheringham is not only apt to err—he is offensive: loud, interfering, abrasive, vain, and rude. As the years passed, Sheringham—like Wimsey—changed almost out of all recognition. By the time of his final appearance in Panic Party (1934; in the US, Mr. Pidgeon’s Island), he has to assert both considerable intellect and qualities of leadership in order to preserve a veneer of civilisation on an island where a stranded group of which he was a member found their characters tested to the limit.

In the penultimate book in the series, Jumping Jenny (1933; in the US, Dead Mrs. Stratton), Berkeley provided a biographical note about Sheringham. How far the character had, by this time, become one of the good guys is shown by the concluding paragraph:

“In matters of detection, Roger Sheringham knows his own limitations. He recognises that although arguments and logical deduction from a fact are not beyond him, his faculty for deduction from character is a bigger asset to him....He has, in point of fact, very often been wrong. But that never deters him from trying again. For the rest, he has unbounded confidence in himself and is never afraid of taking grave decisions, and often quite illegal ones, when he thinks that pure justice can be served better in this way than by 12 possibly stupid jury men. Many people like him enormously, and many people are irritated by him beyond endurance; he is quite indifferent to both. Possibly he is a good deal too pleased with himself, but he does not mind that either. Give him his three chief interests in life, and he is perfectly happy—criminology, human nature and good beer.”

The first two Francis Iles books are widely regarded as this talented writer’s finest achievements. Malice Aforethought (1931) developed the suggestion he had made in The Second Shot, that it was possible to maintain a mystery reader’s interest in a crime even when the culprit’s identity is known. The ironic flavour of the book is evident from the first lines: “It was not until several weeks after he decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest slip may be disastrous. Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.” The fascination lies partly in watching how he goes about it, and partly in seeing whether he will get away with it.

Berkeley_deathinthehouse_smallBefore the Fact (1932) is a remarkable study of a born victim, the essence of which is again captured in a terrific opening paragraph: “Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.”

Both the Iles books were, by the standards of their time, relatively frank in their sexual references, and this was especially true of the third and last novel that appeared under the Iles name. As for the Woman (1939) seems tame today, but was judged “frank to the point of indecency” by J.D. Beresford in a review for The Manchester Guardian. In this story, Alan Littlewood becomes infatuated with the wife of a doctor. The modern reader instinctively assumes that the story is in the tradition of Double Indemnity, with a femme fatale inciting her lover to murder her husband, but Iles offers unexpected twists on the standard plot. His usual publishers rejected the manuscript, supposedly because they found it too “sadistic,” although this sounds like one of those feeble excuses that publishers reach for whenever an author on their list tries to do something different. When another publisher took it on, they foolishly stated on the jacket that the book “is not intended to thrill. It is no more, and at the same time no less, than a sincere attempt to depict the love of a young, inexperienced man for a woman much older than himself, with all its idealism, its heart burnings, and its inevitable disappointments.” This impression of slushiness is reinforced by the description of the book on the title page as “a love story.” But although the book is weakened by its lack of sympathetic characters, it is clever and original and does not deserve the neglect it has suffered since publication. It was said to be the first of a trilogy, and a follow-up entitled On His Deliverance was announced, but failed to appear; no assiduous researcher has yet managed to find any trace of the manuscript.

Anthony Berkeley lived for another 32 years after his last novel was published. During that time, he earned a considerable reputation as a crime reviewer, under the Iles name. He encouraged several younger writers, and was one of the first critics to recognise the qualities of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. Yet apart from a few short stories, he wrote no more fiction. In the 1940s, Trial and Error was filmed as Flight to Destiny, while Before the Fact was transformed by Hitchcock into a celebrated movie starring Cary Grant—Suspicion—although the screenplay was much weaker than the novel. Even this success did not tempt Berkeley to pick up his pen again.

Perhaps the lack of interest in As for the Woman killed off his enthusiasm. In his interesting and well-researched study, Elusion Aforethought: The Life and Writing of Anthony Berkeley Cox (1996), Malcolm J. Turnbull speculates that punitive income tax rates also discouraged Berkeley from writing. Marital problems (both his marriages failed) and a high level of personal eccentricity (he pursued a bizarre campaign to save King Edward VIII from the clutches of Mrs. Simpson) may also help to explain the mystery.

Iles_TV_Malice_Afore_smallIn his later years, his outlook on life seems to have soured—Christianna Brand, a near-neighbour in London and a fellow Detection Club member after the Second World War, wrote that he had been “charming, urbane and…perhaps the cleverest of us all,” but added that he became “rude, overbearing, and really horrid. And mean!” Poor health probably affected the behaviour of this complex, introspective man and others judged him less harshly. The American critic James Sandoe, who met him in the 1960s, said that “his heart was weak but his spirit gallant.” Certainly, Berkeley’s short and fascinating career deserves to be saluted. For fans of the classic English crime novel, his books remain enjoyable to this day. Nobody has ever done ironic ingenuity better than Anthony Berkeley.

Dr. Edmund Bickleigh (Ben Miller) in the 2005 Mystery! production of the black comedy Malice Aforethought. Courtesy Mystery!/WGBH.

A SELECTED ANTHONY BERKELEY READING LIST

ROGER SHERINGHAM SERIES
The Layton Court Mystery, 1925 (published anonymously)
The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926
Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery, 1927 (a.k.a. The Mystery at Lover's Cave)
The Silk Stocking Murders, 1928
The Poisoned Chocolates Case, 1929
The Second Shot, 1930
Top Storey Murder, 1931
Murder in the Basement, 1932
Jumping Jenny, 1933 (a.k.a. Dead Mrs. Stratton)
Panic Party, 1934 (a.k.a. Mr. Pidgeon's Island)
The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries From Roger Sheringham's Casebook, 2004

NOVELS AS FRANCIS ILES
Malice Aforethought, 1931
Before the Fact, 1931
The Rattenbury Case, 1936
As for the Woman, 1939

OTHER CRIME NOVELS
The Professor On Paws, 1926
Cicely Disappears, 1927 (as A. Monmouth Platts)
Mr. Priestley’s Problem, 1927 (as A.B. Cox)
The Piccadilly Murder, 1929
The Policeman Only Taps Once, 1936
Trial and Error, 1937
Not to Be Taken, 1938 (a.k.a. A Puzzle in Poison)
Death in the House, 1939

Martin Edwards is an award-winning crime writer. His latest is The Hanging Wood (Poisoned Pen Press), a Lake District mystery.

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

Teri Duerr
Monday, 29 August 2011 02:08

berkley_anthony_sketch_croppedAnthony Berkeley Cox, an innovative crime writer under two names: Anthony Berkeley and Francis Iles.

Randisi, Lutz, Goldman
Oline Cogdill

altDuring a recent vacation in Seattle, my husband and I took a bus to the Space Needle. As he looked for a seat, I did what I always do -- look at the book covers of those who were reading.

Among the Lee Childs, Michael Connellys and assorted romance novels was one rider engrossed in Robert Randisi's In the Shadow of the Arch. I wanted to stop and ask this riding reader how he liked the novel, which is part of Randisi's Joe Keough series and is set in St. Louis. But the bus was crowded and seats needed to be found and, besides, the man was quite deep into the novel.

But it illustrates what I have always said, that no geography or region, even any subject, is out of bounds for mystery readers. Perhaps the man had visited St. Louis or was from the Gateway to the West. Or maybe he just wanted a good novel.

With the St. Louis Bouchercon about to start, now's a good time to look at Missouri's Men of Mysteries.

ROBERT RANDISI
To call Robert Randisi prolific is an understatement.

Even he has said he doesn't know how many novels and short stories he has written, though the number has been quoted as more than 500 novels. I'll just say that under his various pseudonyms he's written A LOT.

Randisi's work include private detective novels, historicals, thrillers, science fiction and westerns, which make up the bulk of his books. His detective characters include Miles Jacoby, Henry Po, Nick Delvecchio, and Joe Keough. His latest is a series of "Rat Pack" mysteries such as Fly Me to the Morgue with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and the rest of their pals as sleuths. He also has co-written a series with Young and the Restless actress Eileen Davidson, latest one is Swingin' in the Rain.

Randisi's mysteries are straight forward p.i. or police procedurals with involving plots, full characters and a sense of the area -- all befitting the man who established in 1981 The Private Eye Writers of America, which gives out the Shamus Award.

In the novels he sets in St. Louis, Randisi captured the nuances of his adopted city, not just the obvious like the Arch but the nuances of St. Louis such as the neighborhoods. Randisi's St. Louis novels include In the Shadow of the Arch, Blood on the Arch, East of the Arch and Arch Angels, which was reprinted as Blood of Angels.

There's a good reason why Randisi, along with John Lutz, will be honored during Bouchercon as Living Local Legends.

JOHN LUTZ
John Lutz is the other Living Local Legend who will be honored during the St. Louis Bouchercon.

altLutz also may be the most well-known of St. Louis authors, especially since his novel SWF Seeks Same was adapted by director Barbet Schroeder into the 1992 film Single White Female with Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

But Lutz was known among those of us who appreciate good mysteries long before Jennifer Jason Leigh tried to make herself in Bridget Fonda.

After all, the man has written more than 40 novels. That includes stand-alones, a variety of series including those novels with Fred Carver, Frank Quinn, and Alo Nudger, and enough short stories to fill several anthologies. His latest novel is Serial.

Among his awards are the MWA Edgar, the PWA Shamus, The Trophee 813 Award for best mystery short story collection translated into the French language, the PWA Life Achievement Award, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lutz's 2010 Frank Quinn novel Mister X has been nominated for a Shamus Award for best original paperback private eye novel. Winners will be announced in St. Louis at a private Private Eye Writers of America banquet.

Although he has lived in St. Louis for decades, and is a part-time resident of Sarasota, Fla., Lutz generally sets his novels in New York City.

I have always found Lutz's serial killers novels quite intriguing, stressing the plot and the characters rather than the gruesome. He uses the dramatic structure of a serial killer investigation to tell broader stories.

JOEL GOLDMAN
Let's leave St. Louis for another part of Missouri -- Kansas City, the setting for Joel Goldman's legal thrillers about Lou Mason; the latest of which is The Last Witness, and his novels about former FBI Special Agent Jack Davis, the latest of which is No Way Out.
alt
As a former Missourian, I like both St. Louis and Kansas City. Though they are both in the same state, the two cities are vastly differently. Those coming to Bouchercon will get a taste of St. Louis.

Each author brings a part of him or herself to the books they write. Goldman does this especially with his Jack Davis novels. Beginning with Shakedown (2008), Davis is coming down with a rare movement disorder that has come out of nowhere.

Goldman also has this disorder and writing about it has helped him understand the disorder. Goldman writes about this on his website.

Kansas City has a rich history. Great barbecue, a decent arts scene, good shopping and a sense of what makes a big city but with small-town amenities. Kansas City, both the Missouri and the Kansas cities, have long been a mid-way point for mobsters making drops from the west coast and Las Vegas. And, yes, Goldman has more of Kansas City history on his website.

Goldman's family has lived in Kansas City for more than 100 years and he brings a sense of that history to his novels.

Goldman's legal thrillers and the police procedures are well plotted with characters who are realistic.

Super User
Wednesday, 14 September 2011 06:09

altDuring a recent vacation in Seattle, my husband and I took a bus to the Space Needle. As he looked for a seat, I did what I always do -- look at the book covers of those who were reading.

Among the Lee Childs, Michael Connellys and assorted romance novels was one rider engrossed in Robert Randisi's In the Shadow of the Arch. I wanted to stop and ask this riding reader how he liked the novel, which is part of Randisi's Joe Keough series and is set in St. Louis. But the bus was crowded and seats needed to be found and, besides, the man was quite deep into the novel.

But it illustrates what I have always said, that no geography or region, even any subject, is out of bounds for mystery readers. Perhaps the man had visited St. Louis or was from the Gateway to the West. Or maybe he just wanted a good novel.

With the St. Louis Bouchercon about to start, now's a good time to look at Missouri's Men of Mysteries.

ROBERT RANDISI
To call Robert Randisi prolific is an understatement.

Even he has said he doesn't know how many novels and short stories he has written, though the number has been quoted as more than 500 novels. I'll just say that under his various pseudonyms he's written A LOT.

Randisi's work include private detective novels, historicals, thrillers, science fiction and westerns, which make up the bulk of his books. His detective characters include Miles Jacoby, Henry Po, Nick Delvecchio, and Joe Keough. His latest is a series of "Rat Pack" mysteries such as Fly Me to the Morgue with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and the rest of their pals as sleuths. He also has co-written a series with Young and the Restless actress Eileen Davidson, latest one is Swingin' in the Rain.

Randisi's mysteries are straight forward p.i. or police procedurals with involving plots, full characters and a sense of the area -- all befitting the man who established in 1981 The Private Eye Writers of America, which gives out the Shamus Award.

In the novels he sets in St. Louis, Randisi captured the nuances of his adopted city, not just the obvious like the Arch but the nuances of St. Louis such as the neighborhoods. Randisi's St. Louis novels include In the Shadow of the Arch, Blood on the Arch, East of the Arch and Arch Angels, which was reprinted as Blood of Angels.

There's a good reason why Randisi, along with John Lutz, will be honored during Bouchercon as Living Local Legends.

JOHN LUTZ
John Lutz is the other Living Local Legend who will be honored during the St. Louis Bouchercon.

altLutz also may be the most well-known of St. Louis authors, especially since his novel SWF Seeks Same was adapted by director Barbet Schroeder into the 1992 film Single White Female with Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

But Lutz was known among those of us who appreciate good mysteries long before Jennifer Jason Leigh tried to make herself in Bridget Fonda.

After all, the man has written more than 40 novels. That includes stand-alones, a variety of series including those novels with Fred Carver, Frank Quinn, and Alo Nudger, and enough short stories to fill several anthologies. His latest novel is Serial.

Among his awards are the MWA Edgar, the PWA Shamus, The Trophee 813 Award for best mystery short story collection translated into the French language, the PWA Life Achievement Award, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lutz's 2010 Frank Quinn novel Mister X has been nominated for a Shamus Award for best original paperback private eye novel. Winners will be announced in St. Louis at a private Private Eye Writers of America banquet.

Although he has lived in St. Louis for decades, and is a part-time resident of Sarasota, Fla., Lutz generally sets his novels in New York City.

I have always found Lutz's serial killers novels quite intriguing, stressing the plot and the characters rather than the gruesome. He uses the dramatic structure of a serial killer investigation to tell broader stories.

JOEL GOLDMAN
Let's leave St. Louis for another part of Missouri -- Kansas City, the setting for Joel Goldman's legal thrillers about Lou Mason; the latest of which is The Last Witness, and his novels about former FBI Special Agent Jack Davis, the latest of which is No Way Out.
alt
As a former Missourian, I like both St. Louis and Kansas City. Though they are both in the same state, the two cities are vastly differently. Those coming to Bouchercon will get a taste of St. Louis.

Each author brings a part of him or herself to the books they write. Goldman does this especially with his Jack Davis novels. Beginning with Shakedown (2008), Davis is coming down with a rare movement disorder that has come out of nowhere.

Goldman also has this disorder and writing about it has helped him understand the disorder. Goldman writes about this on his website.

Kansas City has a rich history. Great barbecue, a decent arts scene, good shopping and a sense of what makes a big city but with small-town amenities. Kansas City, both the Missouri and the Kansas cities, have long been a mid-way point for mobsters making drops from the west coast and Las Vegas. And, yes, Goldman has more of Kansas City history on his website.

Goldman's family has lived in Kansas City for more than 100 years and he brings a sense of that history to his novels.

Goldman's legal thrillers and the police procedures are well plotted with characters who are realistic.

Kate White: the Sixes, Cosmos
Oline Cogdill

altBook signings are only partly about getting a book inscribed by the author. These signings also give readers insight to the author and show just what went into that novel.

That's what Kate White gave to an enthusiastic audience during a recent book signing for The Sixes at Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach.

Kate's latest novel is The Sixes, a thriller in which a student's death pulls a woman into a secret society in a small college town.

Best known for her Bailey Weggins novels, Kate also has two stand-alone novels. Her 2010 novel Hush landed on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

But Kate also has another job -- she's the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The two careers work well for Kate's lifelong dream of being a writer. And she wanted to do all sorts of writing -- magazines, newspapers, plays, novels.

"I finally realized that there was no way I could do all the kinds of writing I was interested in," said Kate.

Since she had won Glamour Magazine's Top Ten College Women contest and appeared on the cover, she naturally steered to magazines. She began to work at Glamour as an editorial assistant, rising in the ranks to eventually be an editor in chief, running four magazines.

altBut still she wanted to write so, even with a demanding career and a growing family, Kate would take a few hours on Saturday morning to write. She was about four chapters into her novel when, on a Saturday she was writing, she got a call to come to the office. She wondered if she was going to be fired. Instead, Kate was named editor in chielf of Cosmopolitan.

That was in 1998.

She put the manuscript aside to concentrate on her new job. But about five months later, she "took out those pages and went back to work."

The result was If Looks Could Kill, which was published in 2002 and was selected as Live With Regis and Kelly’s first Reading With Ripa book-club pick.

Since then, she has published five novels in the Bailey Weggins series, two standalone novels and three nonfiction books.

Bailey Weggins will return with So Pretty It Hurts, scheduled for March 2012.

Kate was in her mid-40s when her first novel was published and she admits she had to wait until her children were a bit older so she could better manage her time.

The trick, she said, is not to think that a project is huge but to slice the time into small increments. "Write for 15 minutes. Soon, 15 minutes become 20 minutes and then 20 minutes become 30 minutes," she said.

"The decision was made that I could not let my dreams go," said Kate. "We live serial achievements."

Super User
Wednesday, 05 October 2011 01:10

altBook signings are only partly about getting a book inscribed by the author. These signings also give readers insight to the author and show just what went into that novel.

That's what Kate White gave to an enthusiastic audience during a recent book signing for The Sixes at Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach.

Kate's latest novel is The Sixes, a thriller in which a student's death pulls a woman into a secret society in a small college town.

Best known for her Bailey Weggins novels, Kate also has two stand-alone novels. Her 2010 novel Hush landed on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

But Kate also has another job -- she's the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The two careers work well for Kate's lifelong dream of being a writer. And she wanted to do all sorts of writing -- magazines, newspapers, plays, novels.

"I finally realized that there was no way I could do all the kinds of writing I was interested in," said Kate.

Since she had won Glamour Magazine's Top Ten College Women contest and appeared on the cover, she naturally steered to magazines. She began to work at Glamour as an editorial assistant, rising in the ranks to eventually be an editor in chief, running four magazines.

altBut still she wanted to write so, even with a demanding career and a growing family, Kate would take a few hours on Saturday morning to write. She was about four chapters into her novel when, on a Saturday she was writing, she got a call to come to the office. She wondered if she was going to be fired. Instead, Kate was named editor in chielf of Cosmopolitan.

That was in 1998.

She put the manuscript aside to concentrate on her new job. But about five months later, she "took out those pages and went back to work."

The result was If Looks Could Kill, which was published in 2002 and was selected as Live With Regis and Kelly’s first Reading With Ripa book-club pick.

Since then, she has published five novels in the Bailey Weggins series, two standalone novels and three nonfiction books.

Bailey Weggins will return with So Pretty It Hurts, scheduled for March 2012.

Kate was in her mid-40s when her first novel was published and she admits she had to wait until her children were a bit older so she could better manage her time.

The trick, she said, is not to think that a project is huge but to slice the time into small increments. "Write for 15 minutes. Soon, 15 minutes become 20 minutes and then 20 minutes become 30 minutes," she said.

"The decision was made that I could not let my dreams go," said Kate. "We live serial achievements."

Brighton Rock Film Review
Teri Duerr

joffe_brightonrock_riseboroughrileyThe new Brighton Rock takes place in the early 1960s when mods and rockers battled in the streets.

PINKIE PROMISES Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough

In the new film Brighton Rock, directed by Rowan Joffe and starring Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, and Helen Mirren, a disaffected teen thug named Pinkie Brown violently grips a young girl named Rose on a dark street and spits, “I’m bad. You’re good…. We’re made for each other.”

First-time director Joffe has likened Pinkie’s proclamation to the noir equivalent of “You complete me,” though it’s far from clear whether Pinkie, played with relentless one-note intensity by Riley, means Rose’s passionate, desperate love has touched his otherwise cold and wicked soul, or whether her dogged loyalty (and reluctance to testify against him in court for his murderous crimes) safeguards his ambitions to wrest control of Brighton, England, from crime boss Colleoni, who has moved onto Pinkie’s gang’s turf after arranging the murder of their leader.

And so goes the calamitous love-hate, dark-light, good-bad romance at the center of this latest reimagining of Graham Greene’s 1938 classic noir novel by the same name. Comparisons of Riley to a young Leonardo DiCaprio, with his angular features and brooding gaze, seem apt as audiences watch his character progress from a nervy kid unable to deliver on a threat after cornering his prey in a men’s room, to a murderer in the heat of primal, vengeful rage, and finally to a chilling calculated killer on his climb up the criminal ladder. As Pinkie sees it, the only thing that stands in the way of him and his future kingdom is getting caught, and the only possible witness to his crimes is a nobody waitress named Rose. In seducing her, marrying her, and keeping her close, he intends to keep her quiet, but is surprised and disgusted when her unguarded affections spark reluctant feelings of attachment, the nearest thing Pinkie has experienced to love.

More so than the original 1947 film, directed by John and Roy Boutling and starring a then relatively unknown Richard Attenborough, the new film centers on Pinkie and Rose’s interpersonal drama. This makes for a markedly slower pace, even as Pinkie’s ambitions become increasingly brutal and a cat-and-mouse pursuit begins between Pinkie and Rose’s employer Ida Arnold (Helen Mirren), who is determined to see him brought to justice. Joffe has set the film some two decades later than the novel, in the early 1960s, and takes advantage of the period with highly stylized and evocative set details and costumes: mods, rockers, mid-century modern design, tailored Italian suits, Vespas, and A-line mini dresses, all framed against sparkling seaside piers, crashing waves, windswept cliffs, and mist-shrouded lighthouses by talented cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator, Robin Hood).

Though the choice to update a classic with miniskirts and mop-tops will no doubt raise the hackles of some purists and fans of both the novel and the original film, it’s an interesting gamble for reasons beyond the aesthetic. In choosing to set the film in 1964, a time marked by counterculture movements, social revolution, and the shifting of cultural norms, especially those concerning race and sex, Joffe has updated the themes of the novel, including youth in revolt, marked by Pinkie’s unapologetic ambition and several scenes depicting the Brighton mod vs. rocker riots of the ’60s. Meant to be meditation on the reckless violence of youth and the turbulent social tension between generations, the scenes in which hundreds of mods and rockers zip through the streets on scooters and motorcycles, or converge en masse rioting on the beach in skinny suits and leather jackets, make for lively, if somewhat indulgent, cinematic eye candy—and at the same time strike a strange and unintentional dissonance with the very real and unromantic images of England’s recent youth riots touched off by the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London, this past August.

joffe_brightonrock_mirrenriseboroughThe updated time period of Joffe’s film also seems a fitting context for Rose’s sexual awakening explored through her, and society’s, shifting views of Catholicism, sin, and morality. Riseborough, who stepped in late to replace Carey Mulligan in the role, delivers Brighton Rock’s most compelling performance as the intelligent though maddeningly foolish and unstable teenager. She makes Rose’s internal calculations in the pursuit of autonomy and love far more complex than her previous manifestations either on the page or screen.

THE WAR WITHIN ROSE Helen Mirren and Andrea Riseborough

From the start, Riseborough’s Rose is too smart for her own good, at one point prompting Pinkie to demonstrate what acid might do to a loudmouthed girl’s face. Though viewers will want to slap the wide-eyed Rose for protecting Pinkie and taking his abuse (and indeed are gratified when Mirren’s Ida does just that), Riseborough does well to show her character’s struggle to stake her own claim to independence from an impoverished life with an abusive father through the only escape that presents itself.

Rose welcomes her new life, even while knowing deep in her heart it is the most terrible kind of thrill. When she discovers a drawer of deadly implements in Pinkie’s room shortly after moving in with her new husband, she doesn’t flee for her life, rather, she steals blood money from Pinkie’s medicine cabinet and buys herself a fashionable mini-dress. It’s an exhilarating moment for a girl who viewers realize has never felt empowered to be bad or treat herself to anything in her entire downtrodden life.

Add to Riseborough’s nuanced performance Helen Mirren’s competent turn as the story’s hard-nosed heroine, Ida Arnold, here recast as the owner of the teahouse where Rose works. She is the film’s stand-in for grown-up wisdom, maternal compassion, and honor in a dishonorable world, but she’s no crusading saint. True, Ida is determined to protect wayward Rose, but she’s equally eager to enact cold revenge on Pinkie, who has murdered her friend and preyed upon Rose to cover his tracks. Sexy, elegant, cynical, and a facile manipulator of men, Ida is easily the film’s most appealing character, despite her relatively small amount of screen time. In his remake of this genre flick, Joffe has somehow, perhaps unwittingly, turned Greene’s archetypically chauvinist gangster tale into an unexpectedly female-centric story.

It comes as a disappointment then that Joffe, despite claims that his film is meant to be true to Greene’s book, feels the need to discredit the fascinating journey Rose has taken from frightened, insecure, and lonely girl to passionate, convictive (if self-deceived) woman, by changing the film’s ending to one in which Rose is denied the final epiphany given her character in Greene’s original story. Whether or not audiences find the movie ending better than the novel’s may come down, like many a noir story, to the subjective values of truth, mercy, and justice.

{youtube width="600"}53wd1mfjE3w{/youtube}

Brighton Rock (2010), 111 minutes. US theatrical release August 19, 2011. Directed by Rowan Joffe. Starring Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren. Based on the novel by Graham Greene.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 04:08

joffe_brightonrock_riseboroughrileyThe new Brighton Rock takes place in the early 1960s when mods and rockers battled in the streets.

Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano on Dvd
Oline Cogdill

altAt this time of year, the TV doldrums really set in. The new TV season hasn't started yet and the good cable series have wrapped up. At least this past summer we had exciting episodes of In Plain Sight, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer, The Glades, Memphis Beat, and Burn Notice.

Sure, I can watch those series -- and endless reruns of the Laws & Orders -- countless times. But this is also the perfect time to delve into some of the best crime dramas on DVD.

And by that I mean some of the best international crime dramas on DVD.

MHZ Networks leads the way in releasing a variety of international crime dramas series, most filmed for foreign TV markets. Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, Helene Tursten's Irene Huss, Gunnar Staalesen's Varg Veum and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander are just a few of the crime fiction series being released by MHZ Networks.

The ones I have viewed are first-class productions with breathtaking scenery, involving plots that are faithful to the spirit of the novels and excellent actors who bring these characters to life. Rather than the Hollywood gloss that tends to soften too many crime dramas, the producers use first-rate actors who actually look like the characters, imperfections and all. There is no air brushing or perfect makeup to conceal natural imperfections. In a way, this makes the actors even more striking -- and believeable. Most of the series are subtitled.

A good example of these productions is the 18 episodes of the Detective Montalbano series, the film version of the Il commissario Salvo Montalbano mystery series based on the character and novels created by Andrea Camilleri.

Italian actor Luca Zingaretti is perfect as the fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town.

The Snack Thief, the series' first episode and based on Camilleri's third novel, is an excellent introduction both to the novels and this filmed version.

In The Snack Thief, Montalbano is the only police detective to see a link between the stabbing of an elderly man in an elevator and a worker on an Italian fishing trawler who is machine-gunned to death by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast. His investigation leads to a maid whose young son steals other kids' snacks. When his mother disappears, the young snack thief is the next target.

In the books and the DVD, Montalbano acts as if he considers his real work to be sleeping, eating, drinking and dealing with his long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Police work, he seems to suggest, just gets in the way.

But Montalbano has a deeper side and is a sharp detective, who contends with criminals as well as an administration more interested in a positive image than in fighting crime. Camilleri weaves into his novels myriad contemporary issues such as immigration and unemployment and this translates well to the screen. The Snack Thief also deals with racism, terrorism and political corruption.

In addition to The Snack Thief, the Detective Montalbano DVD of episodes 1 to 3 includes, in this order, The Voice of the Violin (based on the fourth novel) and The Shape of Water (based on the first novel).

The Potters Field, Camilleri's 13th novel to be released in the U.S., recently hit the bookstores -- and the e-readers.


Super User
Sunday, 09 October 2011 06:10

altAt this time of year, the TV doldrums really set in. The new TV season hasn't started yet and the good cable series have wrapped up. At least this past summer we had exciting episodes of In Plain Sight, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer, The Glades, Memphis Beat, and Burn Notice.

Sure, I can watch those series -- and endless reruns of the Laws & Orders -- countless times. But this is also the perfect time to delve into some of the best crime dramas on DVD.

And by that I mean some of the best international crime dramas on DVD.

MHZ Networks leads the way in releasing a variety of international crime dramas series, most filmed for foreign TV markets. Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, Helene Tursten's Irene Huss, Gunnar Staalesen's Varg Veum and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander are just a few of the crime fiction series being released by MHZ Networks.

The ones I have viewed are first-class productions with breathtaking scenery, involving plots that are faithful to the spirit of the novels and excellent actors who bring these characters to life. Rather than the Hollywood gloss that tends to soften too many crime dramas, the producers use first-rate actors who actually look like the characters, imperfections and all. There is no air brushing or perfect makeup to conceal natural imperfections. In a way, this makes the actors even more striking -- and believeable. Most of the series are subtitled.

A good example of these productions is the 18 episodes of the Detective Montalbano series, the film version of the Il commissario Salvo Montalbano mystery series based on the character and novels created by Andrea Camilleri.

Italian actor Luca Zingaretti is perfect as the fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town.

The Snack Thief, the series' first episode and based on Camilleri's third novel, is an excellent introduction both to the novels and this filmed version.

In The Snack Thief, Montalbano is the only police detective to see a link between the stabbing of an elderly man in an elevator and a worker on an Italian fishing trawler who is machine-gunned to death by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast. His investigation leads to a maid whose young son steals other kids' snacks. When his mother disappears, the young snack thief is the next target.

In the books and the DVD, Montalbano acts as if he considers his real work to be sleeping, eating, drinking and dealing with his long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Police work, he seems to suggest, just gets in the way.

But Montalbano has a deeper side and is a sharp detective, who contends with criminals as well as an administration more interested in a positive image than in fighting crime. Camilleri weaves into his novels myriad contemporary issues such as immigration and unemployment and this translates well to the screen. The Snack Thief also deals with racism, terrorism and political corruption.

In addition to The Snack Thief, the Detective Montalbano DVD of episodes 1 to 3 includes, in this order, The Voice of the Violin (based on the fourth novel) and The Shape of Water (based on the first novel).

The Potters Field, Camilleri's 13th novel to be released in the U.S., recently hit the bookstores -- and the e-readers.


The Dewey Decimal System
Betty Webb

Nathan Larson’s The Dewey Decimal System is a sublime, dark, near-future mystery is set in Manhattan, when The Occurrence (a series of Valentine’s Day disasters, including a market crash, a super flu, and city-wide bombings) has reduced all five boroughs to a combined population of less than 800 thousand.

Amnesiac protagonist Dewey Decimal—so named because he lives in the New York City Library—is a freelancer for Homeland Security. In between political assassinations, Dewey keeps his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) under control by re-shelving books. More than a little paranoid, Dewey suspects that the government has implanted false memory chips in his brain. His flashbacks of a nice apartment and a wife and daughter seem to be real enough, but the only thing he’s really certain of is his new assignment: to kill a Ukrainian gangster. This assignment seems standard enough until he hears the Ukrainian’s side of the story, then Dewey begins to question the government itself, especially the motives of his own boss.

Dewey is one of the most unique characters to come along in years, a multiracial man who speaks numerous languages, including Serbian and Mandarin. Dewey is so terrified of germs that he’s become addicted to hand sanitizer. He’s also hooked on the drugs his boss supplies to ensure his cooperation. Although he’s a mess, he’s still a dandy, and loots only from the finest abandoned stores. In the midst of a gun battle, he takes care that blood doesn’t splatter his fashionable suit. Manhattan itself is a leading character in this extraordinary novel. The Brooklyn Bridge is gone, along with most of New York’s other great landmarks. What’s left is a Stephen Kingian shambles, where survivors of The Occurrence subsist in the fetid remains of once-grand hotels.

Author Larson’s voice is note-perfect in this tour de force. When called for, his clipped, brisk prose expands to the lyrical, adeptly singing the praises of beautiful women, cockroaches, and rubble. Reading The Dewey Decimal System transports you to another world, and although that world is a grim one, you’ll be sorry to leave it. Let’s hope that this book isn’t a one-off, that poor damaged Dewey will return to lead us through the ruins on another near-future adventure.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 11:09

larson_deweydecimalsystemA sublime, dark, near-future mystery is set in Manhattan featuring one of the most unique protaganists in years, the multiracial, amnesiac assassin Dewey Decimal.

The Grand Game: a Celebration of Sherlockian Scholarship, Volume One: 1902-1959
Jon L. Breen

king_grandgame1902-1959Commemorating the centennial of Ronald A. Knox’s landmark of mock scholarship “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” the editors choose the best and most important contributions to the game up to 1959, with a second volume scheduled to carry the selection through 2011. King’s introduction lays out the categories, parallel to those in Biblical scholarship, that will form the book’s organization: Textual Criticism (based on establishing the authentic text of the canon, e.g. the Sherlockian chronologies of William S. Baring-Gould and others), Higher Criticism (drawing conclusions based on evidence in the Canon, e.g. Christopher Morley’s “Was Sherlock Holmes an American?”), Radical Criticism (overturning the general understanding to the edge of heresy, e.g. Rex Stout’s “Watson Was a Woman”), and Midrash (“urging an unexpected view of a long familiar text,” e.g. Vincent Starrett’s “The Singular Adventures of Martha Hudson” and other studies of secondary characters).

Knox’s seminal piece is followed by three examples of Sherlockian pre-history: articles published in 1902 by Frank Sidgwick, J.B. Mackenzie, and Arthur Bartlett Maurice. Other contributors include mystery practitioners (John Ball, Helen Simpson, Anthony Boucher), writers best known in other genres (Fletcher Pratt, Red Smith, A.A. Milne), those most familiar for their Sherlockian credentials (H.W. Bell, Jay Finley Christ, Edgar W. Smith, D. Martin Dakin), and names unknown to most mystery buffs outside the Irregular community. The most famous contributor (with a brief letter to Edgar W. Smith) is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many Holmes devotees are notable for their longevity. The longest-lived writer represented is Crighton Sellars, the pseudonym of Irma Maduro Peixotto Sellars (1861-1964), whose “Dr. Watson and the British Army” was published when she was in her late eighties. The only contributor still living is the celebrated scholar of Latin American literature Donald A. Yates.

Some of the discussions may be too abstruse for the casual fan, but others will intrigue a wide range of readers. Was Holmes an Oxford man or a Cambridge man? Dorothy L. Sayers says Cambridge, but others disagree. What’s the story on Watson’s peripatetic wound? Theories abound. Why did his wife call him James when we all know his name was John—and what did the middle initial H. stand for? Sayers puts this one to rest convincingly. Did Doyle put errors in the stories deliberately? A devotee named Pope R. Hill, Sr. thought so. Where exactly was 221B Baker Street, an address that does not exist? Starrett’s friend Gray Chandler Briggs convinced him of an answer, but others disagreed.

Illustrations are few and drawn from the original articles. The most extensive are almost 20 pages of rather fuzzily reproduced photographs accompanying James Montgomery’s article on his effort to locate Birlstone Manor, “the ancestral home of the northern Musgraves.”

Readers familiar with Klinger’s annotated editions of the Sacred Writings won’t be surprised at the quality of the editorial apparatus, notably the biographical notes on the contributors. If your shelves can only accommodate a handful of Sherlockian volumes, this should be one of them.

One odd decision needs to be questioned: why is the 1947 article “Mrs. Hudson Speaks” credited to actress ZaSu Pitts, when it is made clear in the heading of the story that it was written by Russell McLauchlin and only recorded by Pitts?

CLICK FOR PURCHASING INFO

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 11:09

king_grandgame1902-1959The wittiest and most important contributions to Sherlockian studies up to 1959 as chosen by editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger for the centennial of Ronald A. Knox’s landmark of mock scholarship “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.”