Red on Red
Dick Lochte

This debut novel by Conlon, a detective with the NYPD, is so effective in depicting its two main characters—protagonist Nick Meehan and his detective partner Esposito—and the unique relationship that develops between them that it should put an end to buddy cop dramas, but won’t, of course. Nick is moody, pensive, mildly introverted, the kind of investigator who mulls over a case before acting. Espo is ebullient, outgoing, flirtatious, a corner-cutter who doesn’t much care how the case gets made, as long as it gets made. The initial impression is: this one’s Irish, the other is Italian, but Conlon goes way beyond stereotypical traits in presenting these two men. And, happily, reader Deakins is equally successful in giving them voice.

We meet the lawmen a few months after they’ve met one another, arriving at a probable suicide that will spin out in several investigations ranging from a serial rapist in upper Manhattan to a 12-year-old schoolgirl who’s being stalked to an all-out gang war. Early on, we learn that Nick has made a deal with the devil, in this case Internal Affairs. In return for reassignment to a better location, he has agreed to keep an eye on Espo, believing, as Conlon puts it, that he can “betray his partner just a little and still be friends.” And friends they become.

The author’s style is both poetic (“Their moods turned as gloomy and autumnal as the landscape.”), and terse (“He had shot someone but he didn’t care.”), and sometimes combines the two (“The mid-air fixity of the woman, [hanging] taut on the tentative line, reminded him of a dog straining against a leash.”). Reader Deakins does a fine job of following his lead. He does it for 17 hours, with not a minute wasted.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 11:09

conlon_redonredAn effective debut novel featuring two disparate NYPD partners, Irish Nick Meehan and Italian Esposito.

The Dog Sox
Betty Webb

Russell Hill is back, following las year's extraordinary The Lord God Bird, and with a big surprise. His astounding The Dog Sox proves that the gifted author is as funny as he is poetic—and that he loves baseball. Normally I don’t drool over books about sports teams, but the Dog Sox, a hapless ball team made up of misfits, had me slavering. As unexpected as it is wondrous, The Dog Sox is a delight.

Set in the farming country of Central California, the Sox are such losers that Ray, their owner, runs the hot dog concession to finance them. The tide turns when pitcher Billy Collins (named after America’s former Poet Laureate, quoted in the book) joins the team. Billy has a freak pitch no one can hit, but it only lasts for four innings before his arm wears out. Even worse, Billy is afflicted by a drunken, abusive father who can’t be trusted not to stagger onto the field during a game. To solve the interruption situation, Dutch, the team’s elderly coach/manager, takes the problem to his synagogue, where two just-as-elderly scholars of the Torah try to figure out a way of getting rid of the father—permanently—while remaining in God’s good graces. The old rascals’ religious hairsplitting is hilarious: “So he should go to a bar and maybe he should have one too many and maybe he should get hit by a car or fall down some stairs, God forbid.”

As with the best of novels, each character surprises us in his or her own way. Ray is realistic about his ball team, but still dreams of glory. His lover, Ava, is a baseball-loving broad with a ribald mouth. In the end, this story about a team of oddballs struggling through the season is about something other than baseball. It’s about dreams, and the unlikely, though not impossible, chance of them coming true. If you’re having a bad time, if your car needs a new transmission and your mortgage is upside down, READ THIS BOOK. It’ll give you the laughs—and the hope—you need to keep on keeping on. As Ray points out in one stirring scene, one day you just might make it to the top of the 9th with a 10-run lead.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 01:09

Russell Hill is back, following las year's extraordinary The Lord God Bird, and with a big surprise. His astounding The Dog Sox proves that the gifted author is as funny as he is poetic—and that he loves baseball. Normally I don’t drool over books about sports teams, but the Dog Sox, a hapless ball team made up of misfits, had me slavering. As unexpected as it is wondrous, The Dog Sox is a delight.

Set in the farming country of Central California, the Sox are such losers that Ray, their owner, runs the hot dog concession to finance them. The tide turns when pitcher Billy Collins (named after America’s former Poet Laureate, quoted in the book) joins the team. Billy has a freak pitch no one can hit, but it only lasts for four innings before his arm wears out. Even worse, Billy is afflicted by a drunken, abusive father who can’t be trusted not to stagger onto the field during a game. To solve the interruption situation, Dutch, the team’s elderly coach/manager, takes the problem to his synagogue, where two just-as-elderly scholars of the Torah try to figure out a way of getting rid of the father—permanently—while remaining in God’s good graces. The old rascals’ religious hairsplitting is hilarious: “So he should go to a bar and maybe he should have one too many and maybe he should get hit by a car or fall down some stairs, God forbid.”

As with the best of novels, each character surprises us in his or her own way. Ray is realistic about his ball team, but still dreams of glory. His lover, Ava, is a baseball-loving broad with a ribald mouth. In the end, this story about a team of oddballs struggling through the season is about something other than baseball. It’s about dreams, and the unlikely, though not impossible, chance of them coming true. If you’re having a bad time, if your car needs a new transmission and your mortgage is upside down, READ THIS BOOK. It’ll give you the laughs—and the hope—you need to keep on keeping on. As Ray points out in one stirring scene, one day you just might make it to the top of the 9th with a 10-run lead.

A Slepyng Hound to Wake
Betty Webb

In today’s Kindle and iPad environment, Henry Sullivan, a dorkishly appealing Boston book hound, is struggling financially. One day Eddy Perry, a former book scout now devastated by drugs, sells Henry a book by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. That night, Eddy is murdered, and the police don’t seem optimistic about solving the case. Henry’s own attempts are unsuccessful, too. Then Barbara, a bookstore owner and Henry’s ex-lover, alerts him that a possible case of plagiarism can be tied to best-selling author George Duggan. Henry temporarily puts Eddy’s murder on hold to investigate Duggan, but soon the two cases collide, teaching Henry what a rat’s nest the book business can be.

The mystery itself is intriguing, but the true strength of Hound is author McCaffrey’s ability to create deeply developed characters while delivering an elegy to a disappearing world. As bookstores close and hearts break, Henry mourns, “The number of people who can read goes up, and the number of people who want to read goes down. The ones that do, all read the same stuff.” Anyone who cares about fine books, fine bookstores, and the fine people who frequent them, is bound to love Hound.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 01:09

mccaffrey_aslepyunghoundAn intriguing mystery about the disappearing world of bookstores.

Black Swan
Betty Webb

Chris Knopf’s Black Swan is another engrossing Sam Acquillo mystery. The riveting opening scene takes place in storm-swept Long Island Sound, where Sam and his girlfriend Amanda are attempting to deliver a custom-built sailboat to its new owner. One warning: Knopf is such an effective writer readers susceptible to seasickness (such as myself) might turn a tad green before the beleaguered boat limps into safe harbor on Fisher’s Island. Although it’s the off-season and the island is mostly deserted, Sam and Amanda find lodging at the Black Swan B&B, only to discover that their safe harbor isn’t safe after all when one of the other guests is murdered.

This spin on the classical “country house” mystery is updated by the appearance of Subversive Technologies, a software giant on the verge of releasing a revolutionary program. While the storm still rages, isolating the island, Myron Sanderfreud, the wealthy CEO of Subversive Technologies, is found strangled to death in the Black Swan’s shower. Readers who still view tech types as unworldly nerds will find these venial, hypersexual, money-grubbing suspects enlightening. They include Christian Fey, the computer genius who founded Subversive Technologies, then gave up the high tech high life to run the Black Swan; his daughter, Anika, a predatory programmer-turned-artist; his son, Axel, an autistic numbers savant; and the shifty Derrick Hammon, the chief tech officer of Subversive Technologies, who arrives on the island with thugs in tow. Adding a touch of relative normalcy are Gwyneth Jones, the Wiccan owner of a New Age shop; and gutsy state trooper Jennifer Poole. As always, Sam’s interplay with his smart girlfriend is as enjoyable as Bogart and Bacall’s, and author Knopf is to be congratulated for resurrecting and updating a classic format.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 01:09

Another engrossing Sam Acquillo mystery, this one set on a storm-swept Long Island Sound.

The Lineup: Poems on Crime 4
Betty Webb

so_lineuppoemsoncrime4Poetry fans will enjoy The Lineup: Poems on Crime 4, edited by Gerald So, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez , and R. Narvaez (Poetic Justice Press, $7.00). This wondrous selection of bloody great poems concentrates on the psychological effects of crime. Among my favorites were Charles Harper Webb’s (no relation) superb “Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72,” wherein the poet writes, “May there be an afterlife/ May you meet him there...” An amazing re-telling of a mugging from the point of view of the victim’s bereft son, it has an ending that will punch you in the gut. Also stunning are Jeanne Dickey’s “An Elegy for Susan Atkins,” a reimagining of the life of Charles Manson’s cult follower. Outstanding in its imagery is Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Slider, Part 7,” where a witness to a wartime massacre likens the corpses to something so unexpected your head just might explode. This startling collection, a combination of beauty and horror, is one of Poetic Justice Press’ strongest yet.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 01:09

This startling collection of beauty and horror is one of Poetic Justice Press’ strongest yet.

Investigating Veronica Mars: Essays on the Teen Detective Series
Jon L. Breen

That a television series that lasted only three seasons is the subject of a second collection of scholarly essays is an indication both of the mushrooming of popular culture studies in academia, and (presumably) of the show’s quality and substance. The editors’ introduction does a fine job of summarizing the series for the nonviewer but leads to head scratching when it starts describing the individual essays. While I’ll take the authors’ word for it that Veronica Mars is a well-written and expertly made TV show, I wonder if what sounds like a politically correct teen soap opera is really worth so much close professorial analysis, or if the implication that it will live through the centuries like great works of literature is realistic.

David Lavery leads off with an interesting account of series creator Rob Thomas’ career, but editor Turnbull follows with a piece on performance that belabors the obvious and contains a sore-thumb error, confusing Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt with some other film, probably Suspicion. Other essays concern such matters as motherhood, fatherhood, rape, revenge, and so forth, finishing with a vaguely creepy piece on television fandom. The title of Stan Beeler’s chapter sounds like a parody of academic excess, “Family Matters: Antigone, Veronica, and the Classical Greek Paradigm,” but seems meant to be taken seriously. Beeler views, with apparent approval, the fact that three major teen characters make startling discoveries about their parenthood. It’s the kind of plotting gimmickry that is right at home in the soaps, but for which claims of seriousness seem doubtful.

An appendix lists all the episodes chronologically with airdate, title, writer, and director plus cast credits for continuing characters. That feature aside, most readers with an interest in the show would probably be better served by the less pretentious Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (2007), edited by Rob Thomas with Leah Wilson.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 04:09

That a television series that lasted only three seasons is the subject of a second collection of scholarly essays is an indication both of the mushrooming of popular culture studies in academia, and (presumably) of the show’s quality and substance. The editors’ introduction does a fine job of summarizing the series for the nonviewer but leads to head scratching when it starts describing the individual essays. While I’ll take the authors’ word for it that Veronica Mars is a well-written and expertly made TV show, I wonder if what sounds like a politically correct teen soap opera is really worth so much close professorial analysis, or if the implication that it will live through the centuries like great works of literature is realistic.

David Lavery leads off with an interesting account of series creator Rob Thomas’ career, but editor Turnbull follows with a piece on performance that belabors the obvious and contains a sore-thumb error, confusing Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt with some other film, probably Suspicion. Other essays concern such matters as motherhood, fatherhood, rape, revenge, and so forth, finishing with a vaguely creepy piece on television fandom. The title of Stan Beeler’s chapter sounds like a parody of academic excess, “Family Matters: Antigone, Veronica, and the Classical Greek Paradigm,” but seems meant to be taken seriously. Beeler views, with apparent approval, the fact that three major teen characters make startling discoveries about their parenthood. It’s the kind of plotting gimmickry that is right at home in the soaps, but for which claims of seriousness seem doubtful.

An appendix lists all the episodes chronologically with airdate, title, writer, and director plus cast credits for continuing characters. That feature aside, most readers with an interest in the show would probably be better served by the less pretentious Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (2007), edited by Rob Thomas with Leah Wilson.

The Valley of Shadows
Betty Webb

There’s nothing more bracing than a fast-paced thriller, and Mark Terry has delivered a doozy in The Valley of Shadows. A terrorist group led by a mysterious Pakistani named Kalakar is striking out against America, but instead of setting off bombs in densely populated areas, Kalakar’s followers waste their dirty bomb on a Dallas dumpster, and conduct an even weaker attack on the steps of Chicago City Hall. Intelligence received posits that these attacks are mere preambles to a nuclear attack on the White House. To forestall that attack, Homeland Security’s Derek Stillwater joins forces with FBI Agent Specialist in Financial Intelligence Shelly Pimpuntikar, a Pakistani-American, devout Muslim, and patriot; and nuclear weapons expert Cassandra O’Reilly, a former lover who now loathes him. Fisticuffs, shootouts, and explosions ensue.

One of this thriller’s more heartrending elements concerns an innocent American Muslim family who, because of their adherence to the Muslim tradition of hospitality, is drawn into the terrorists’ horrific plot when Kalakar kidnaps their daughter. Shadows may be a rip-roaring action thriller, but it also asks serious questions about loyalty.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 04:09

There’s nothing more bracing than a fast-paced thriller, and Mark Terry has delivered a doozy in The Valley of Shadows. A terrorist group led by a mysterious Pakistani named Kalakar is striking out against America, but instead of setting off bombs in densely populated areas, Kalakar’s followers waste their dirty bomb on a Dallas dumpster, and conduct an even weaker attack on the steps of Chicago City Hall. Intelligence received posits that these attacks are mere preambles to a nuclear attack on the White House. To forestall that attack, Homeland Security’s Derek Stillwater joins forces with FBI Agent Specialist in Financial Intelligence Shelly Pimpuntikar, a Pakistani-American, devout Muslim, and patriot; and nuclear weapons expert Cassandra O’Reilly, a former lover who now loathes him. Fisticuffs, shootouts, and explosions ensue.

One of this thriller’s more heartrending elements concerns an innocent American Muslim family who, because of their adherence to the Muslim tradition of hospitality, is drawn into the terrorists’ horrific plot when Kalakar kidnaps their daughter. Shadows may be a rip-roaring action thriller, but it also asks serious questions about loyalty.

Nine Man’s Murder
Betty Webb

Those of you who long for a return to the Golden Age of Mysteries might enjoy Eric Keith’s Nine Man’s Murder, an old-fashioned homage to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Nine characters (perhaps more) find themselves marooned at Moon’s End, a Northern California mountain retreat, and as the bodies begin to fall, those left alive realize they’ve been set up. All are graduates of the Damien Anderson Detective Training Agency, and all were present for a series of “accidents” that maimed one man and killed another.

The chapters are seldom longer than two pages, which makes for a breezy read, but often the characters resemble chess pieces more than they do human beings. We never really get to know the crime lord’s bodyguard, the supernatural thriller writer, the nurse, the prosecuting attorney, the defrocked priest, or any of the other people holed up in Moon’s End. But Murder was written by a former puzzle designer, whose intent was to play with our minds, not our hearts. In that, he deftly succeeds.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 04:09

Those of you who long for a return to the Golden Age of Mysteries might enjoy Eric Keith’s Nine Man’s Murder, an old-fashioned homage to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Nine characters (perhaps more) find themselves marooned at Moon’s End, a Northern California mountain retreat, and as the bodies begin to fall, those left alive realize they’ve been set up. All are graduates of the Damien Anderson Detective Training Agency, and all were present for a series of “accidents” that maimed one man and killed another.

The chapters are seldom longer than two pages, which makes for a breezy read, but often the characters resemble chess pieces more than they do human beings. We never really get to know the crime lord’s bodyguard, the supernatural thriller writer, the nurse, the prosecuting attorney, the defrocked priest, or any of the other people holed up in Moon’s End. But Murder was written by a former puzzle designer, whose intent was to play with our minds, not our hearts. In that, he deftly succeeds.

Perry Mason and the Case of the Lucky Legs
Dick Lochte

The Case of the Lucky Legs, the third Perry Mason novel, written in 1934, is typical of the series. The attorney is hired by a Cloverdale businessman ostensibly to take legal action against a swindler who has held a bogus Lucky Legs beauty contest in the small town. The winner was supposed to collect $1,000, a trip to Hollywood, and a tryout in a feature film. Local businesses financed the contest, the prize, and expenses. The swindler reported that the film fell through, pocketed the thou and stranded the winner in L.A. When he’s murdered, the Girl with the Lucky Legs is arrested and it’s up to Mason to defend her.

If you should care to spend an afternoon (avoiding the writing of a novel, say), you could do worse than listen to this new radio adaptation of the book, then follow that up with a viewing of both the 1935 movie version, and the 1959 episode of the Perry Mason TV series. You’ll find, perhaps not surprisingly, that the audio and movie versions are fairly similar, having their explanations and denouements in Mason’s office and not coming within miles of a courtroom. The TV adaptation, with its standard last act played out in front of a judge and jury, is easier to follow, but it’s also fairly dry. The movie, with Warren William in his boozy man-about-town mode (see his version of the Sam Spade character in Satan Met A Lady), is goofy and over the top, but it’s never dull and it moves like a bullet train. The radio play presents a version of Mason closest to Gardner’s original concept, a fast-talking, hardboiled do-what-it-takes lawyer.

Adapter M. J. Elliott’s presentation of the con is a bit more complicated than it should be, and a couple of the performers are barely on the cusp of professionalism, but Jerry Robbins’ Mason is fine (if you can put the memory of Raymond Burr’s famous basso profundo on hold), and the action is swifter than even the movie version. There’s also a pulp fiction quality to it that is as appealing as it is appropriate.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 September 2011 04:09

gardner_caseoftheluckylegsThis radio play presents a version of Mason closest to Gardner’s original concept, a fast-talking, hardboiled do-what-it-takes lawyer.

British Blue Murder Series on Dvd
Oline Cogdill

alt

Many British crime drama series that have successful runs on television in the U.K. never make it to the United States. Not even as PBS series or on BBC America.

Take Blue Murder, which ran in Britain from 2003 to 2009. A complete collection is available from Acorn Media, as season one, two, three and four.

Blue Murder revolves around DCI Janine Lewis, played to perfection by Caroline Quentin, a single mother of four trying to balance her demanding career as head of a high-profile squad in Manchester, England, with raising four children. Her ex-husband left her when her youngest was a toddler.

Showing the struggles that detectives -- especially women detectives -- have in balancing career and home isn't a new theme. But Blue Murder makes this seem like a fresh idea. Janine is an insightful, conscientious cop, but an ordinary cop, not some super detective who can juggle it all. She is good at her job and has the respect of her squad with its diverse personalities.

Home is another matter -- one of her children is acting up, blaming her for their father walking out; others are going through teenage hormones. The contrast between the efficiency of the detectives' work and the chaos of Janine's home is well explored.

altQuentin (Jonathan Creek) delivers terrific performances as Janine, showing the inspector's strength, but also her frustration with her children and her own parenting skills and her overall tiredness. Janine's close-knit squad include D.I. Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey) and Detective Tony Schap (Nicholas Murchie).

Many of Blue Murder's plots come down to the vagaries of family, paralleling Janine's home life with that of the victims and criminals. A cheerleader finds her the body of her mother, who was the squad's adviser; a rock star about to break into the big time; an illegal immigrant with unusual ties.

Blue Murder also shows a modern Manchester, which is known as the world's first industrialized city. Manchester is still known for its commerce as it was ranked in 2010 as the second-best place to do business in the UK and the 12th best in Europe. Scenes in Manchester are intriguing; those episodes that take place in the countryside show are breathtakingly filmed.

Author Cath Staincliffe created Blue Murder and wrote several episodes. Staincliffe is the author of the Sal Kilkenny mysteries. Her latest novel is the standalone Witness.

Blue Murder illustrates how the constant struggle between work and home is fodder for excellent drama.

Photo: The Blue Murder team: Caroline Quentin, front, flanked from left to right, Belinda Everett, Nicholas Murchie, Paul Loughran and Ian Kelsey.
Photo courtesey Acorn Media


Super User
Sunday, 02 October 2011 06:10

alt

Many British crime drama series that have successful runs on television in the U.K. never make it to the United States. Not even as PBS series or on BBC America.

Take Blue Murder, which ran in Britain from 2003 to 2009. A complete collection is available from Acorn Media, as season one, two, three and four.

Blue Murder revolves around DCI Janine Lewis, played to perfection by Caroline Quentin, a single mother of four trying to balance her demanding career as head of a high-profile squad in Manchester, England, with raising four children. Her ex-husband left her when her youngest was a toddler.

Showing the struggles that detectives -- especially women detectives -- have in balancing career and home isn't a new theme. But Blue Murder makes this seem like a fresh idea. Janine is an insightful, conscientious cop, but an ordinary cop, not some super detective who can juggle it all. She is good at her job and has the respect of her squad with its diverse personalities.

Home is another matter -- one of her children is acting up, blaming her for their father walking out; others are going through teenage hormones. The contrast between the efficiency of the detectives' work and the chaos of Janine's home is well explored.

altQuentin (Jonathan Creek) delivers terrific performances as Janine, showing the inspector's strength, but also her frustration with her children and her own parenting skills and her overall tiredness. Janine's close-knit squad include D.I. Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey) and Detective Tony Schap (Nicholas Murchie).

Many of Blue Murder's plots come down to the vagaries of family, paralleling Janine's home life with that of the victims and criminals. A cheerleader finds her the body of her mother, who was the squad's adviser; a rock star about to break into the big time; an illegal immigrant with unusual ties.

Blue Murder also shows a modern Manchester, which is known as the world's first industrialized city. Manchester is still known for its commerce as it was ranked in 2010 as the second-best place to do business in the UK and the 12th best in Europe. Scenes in Manchester are intriguing; those episodes that take place in the countryside show are breathtakingly filmed.

Author Cath Staincliffe created Blue Murder and wrote several episodes. Staincliffe is the author of the Sal Kilkenny mysteries. Her latest novel is the standalone Witness.

Blue Murder illustrates how the constant struggle between work and home is fodder for excellent drama.

Photo: The Blue Murder team: Caroline Quentin, front, flanked from left to right, Belinda Everett, Nicholas Murchie, Paul Loughran and Ian Kelsey.
Photo courtesey Acorn Media


Fighting the Good Fight: James R. Benn’s Wwii Novels
Tom Nolan

bennjamesr2_smallOne of the first people to see a copy of the proposed cover-art for Billy Boyle (2006), the initial book in James R. Benn’s historically accurate mystery-adventure series about a Boston cop-turned-GI caught up in World War II intrigue, was a longtime librarian in Hadlyme, Connecticut. And a certain detail in the prototype jacket’s lower left-hand corner made the librarian shiver. A burning car identified in the book as an English Riley Imp circa 1935 (a sports car in which one of the novel’s sympathetic characters dies in a saboteur’s explosion) was here the spitting image of quite a different vehicle: “I swear to God,” said the librarian, who was also the book’s author, “it was a 1960 Corvette.”

Fortunately, author-librarian Benn got the error corrected before publication. And the eye-catching covers of the Billy Boyle books (six so far, including A Mortal Terror released this fall)—illustrations striking a fine balance between heroic realism and Art Deco nostalgia—have proven a real draw for readers of this critically hailed series.

Each volume explores a true but little-known aspect of World War II: Billy Boyle draws on the smuggling of eight tons of gold bullion for safekeeping from Norway to the US and Canada; The First Wave involves the introduction of penicillin to battlefield hospitals in North Africa; Blood Alone invokes the use of American organized crime figures in the Allied invasion of Sicily; and Evil for Evil takes off from documented contacts between the Irish Republican Army and the German intelligence service.

Obviously, Jim Benn’s skills as a librarian are of great help in writing his fact-based thrillers. But despite Benn’s having worked as a part-time newspaper reporter during college (“At least it helped me learn how to type fast”), it was decades before he steeled himself for his plunge into creative writing.

“It was on my fiftieth birthday that I had one of those epiphanies,” says Benn, now 59. “I had been thinking about writing for about thirty years—and if I waited another thirty years, I’d be too old and decrepit to do anything about it; so I had better get cracking.” Within a few days, he sat down and began his first book.

normandysupply1944cr_smallA mystery novel was always what Benn imagined creating; TV’s Masterpiece Theatre dramatizations of the Lord Peter Wimsey books, starring Ian Carmichael, had first hooked him on the genre. And it was a given that World War II would be the setting, the war having been one of his main interests since a Connecticut childhood rich with tales of his own and other fathers’ military service. “The question in the neighborhood was always, ‘What did your dad do in the war?’ It was just something I grew up with. I remember as a young child in our small town library, when I first got the privilege of going into the adult stacks—it was like a rite of passage, when they allowed you to have your adult card—and finding Guadalcanal Diary. I can still literally see the book on the shelf. I don’t know if it was because it was my father’s generation, or just the scope and the power of those stories, but they grabbed me early on.”

As a template for his first fiction narrative, Desperate Ground (“my learner book”), Benn used a third-person approach favored by Jack Higgins, an author he’d read a lot of. “It was so intimidating to me, the notion of actually thinking of a plot, and carrying through for the length of a novel. I was drowning in an ocean, and looking for something to cling to and I just thought of that structure: the multiple points of view, and how you need to bring them all together at the end.”

benn_amortalterrorBenn’s Desperate Ground was published by a new house that soon went under, but it gave Benn the confidence to try a second, more original book. And it gave him a heroic protagonist in the form of the Irish-American Billy Boyle, who first appeared as a secondary character in Desperate Ground. “I thought, ‘This guy is interesting; maybe I could do more with him.’”

The new work, with Boyle front and center, would be narrated by its hero. But while the author had plot ideas, the necessary first-person voice proved daunting. “I had decided that I just couldn’t do it,” he says. “And then, to tell you the truth, the oddest thing happened. I remember sitting at the computer, staring at the screen and—this is going to sound weird, but—even though I hadn’t planned on it, those first words popped out: ‘I wanted to die.’ I was stunned. All of a sudden, it was as if his voice had just taken hold of me. So I said, ‘Well, let’s go with it, and see.’”

Now, after six books, Benn says he enjoys channeling Boyle’s voice, which has come to seem like second nature. “He gets to be my wise-guy alter ego, who can say whatever he thinks and always has the snappy remark ready.”

Billy Boyle enters World War II from an oblique angle: on assignment to the staff of a general married to his mother’s cousin. But Dwight D. Eisenhower loses no time taking advantage of his “nephew” Billy’s special abilities, and what was supposed to have been an easy wartime berth turns into a cavalcade of exotic adventures. Readers follow Billy from London to all sorts of unexpected locales. But it’s the journeys Boyle takes within his own mind and heart that are of greater import, Benn says.

“The thing that interests me about this is the growth of the character. In the first book he emerged as a kind of stereotypical brash young Yank and I knew that that couldn’t be sustained. I didn’t want this to turn into a sort of Hogan’s Heroes of mysteries because he’s involved in a war. At some points, he’s up close in the shooting war; other points, he’s back from that, but it’s always affecting him. What I’m really trying to track over the course of the series is what’s the emotional affect on Billy, and how that relates to the people he cares about: his family, and the newfound friends he’s making. Also, the whole idea of taking somebody who’s really anti-British—and of course he has to fall in love with a British lady—and having him confront his own biases in life and his own worldview, is something that interests me as well.

B-24Ds_fly_over_Polesti_during_World_War_II_small“And in every situation that I’ll bring him into, it’s the same thing on a larger front. He goes to Ireland, and has to deal with working for the British. He goes into Sicily and has to deal with who he is, and rediscover himself. So the emotional content is what interests me as much, if not more, than the actual history itself.”

But it’s the historical aspects that most intrigue readers who range from the “greatest generation” to teenagers. “I’ve had emails from high school students,” Benn says, “who say, ‘I had to read a book and I liked your cover. Now I love the series, and when’s the next book coming out?’ And that’s gratifying. The younger the reader, the happier I am that somebody’s learning about things that they just didn’t know.

“Then there are a lot of older folks. I had one email from a woman who had taken her mother on a trip to England to visit the grave of her mother’s first husband, who died in the war. This was when Billy Boyle had just come out; and she said, ‘We brought it with us, because we’re both mystery fans. It really gave a sense of what it was like for a young man to be in England at that time.’ And that was very gratifying, because that’s another thing I try to do: to be as conscious as possible of not writing from the point of view of somebody looking back and knowing how things came out, but to try to keep that sense of the newness of it, the ‘great adventure’ part of it for all these young men and women who grew up in the 1930s and never thought they would leave their hometown, much less their state or their country.”

benn_billyboyleBenn also attracts readers who are meticulous in their attention to detail. “They’re very supportive,” he says. “But people are very quick to point out where I’ve made a factual error. So I try to keep those as minimal as possible.” He spends much time researching each of his novels: consulting primary and secondary source material, conferring with experts, and traveling to many of the sites described in his fiction, including London and Sicily. “Actually being there is an immense help. You can write with so much more authority about subjects in much smaller detail when you’ve actually walked the ground.”

What with research, writing a novel a year, and the full-time library position he still holds, James R. Benn doesn’t have much time for anything these days besides work. Happily, his wife, a psychotherapist, is supportive of his activities, he says. “My wife helped me edit the first book, and read it a million times. She got interested in writing and editing and ended up taking a graduate course in editing at Wesleyan University, and now she’s working on her own [nonfiction] book as well. So, at least I have a companion who’s no longer saying, ‘Why don’t we go to the beach this weekend?’”

Unless it’s the beach at Normandy.

Historical photos, from top: courtesy US Coast Guard Museum and US Air Force

A JAMES R. BENN READING LIST

The Billy Boyle WWII Mysteries
A Mortal Terror, 2011
Rag and Bone, 2010
Evil for Evil, 2009
Blood Alone, 2008
The First Wave, 2007
Billy Boyle, 2006

Tom Nolan is the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography (Scribner) and editor of Ross Macdonald’s The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator (Crippen & Landru).

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #111.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 07 September 2011 04:09

bennjamesr2_smallThe Billy Boyle series is a reader favorite with its WWII setting, heroic realism, and Art Deco covers.

Mystery Scene Panel at Bouchercon
Oline Cogdill

Want to know what reviewers really think?

Or some of the books we recommend?

Then attend our panel at Bouchercon.

From 2:30 to 3:30 on Friday, Sept. 16, come to the "Anything for a Friend" panel in the Landmark room.


The panel is subtitled "Getting Critical: A chat with Mystery Scene."

Kate Stine will be the moderator; panelists include Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Brian Skupin, Art Taylor and myself.

We'll have a lot of fun. We promise.

Super User
Thursday, 15 September 2011 06:09

Want to know what reviewers really think?

Or some of the books we recommend?

Then attend our panel at Bouchercon.

From 2:30 to 3:30 on Friday, Sept. 16, come to the "Anything for a Friend" panel in the Landmark room.


The panel is subtitled "Getting Critical: A chat with Mystery Scene."

Kate Stine will be the moderator; panelists include Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Brian Skupin, Art Taylor and myself.

We'll have a lot of fun. We promise.

Charles Todd at Wwi Museum
Oline Cogdill

titleThose of us who have enjoyed the novels of Charles Todd know how these elegantly plotted books immerse the reader in the post World War I era.


Todd’s two series show us the changes, both social and political, that emerged following The Great War. The series are both highly entertaining mysteries as well as meticulously researched history lessons.

Through the eyes of the two series characters --
Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard Inspector who has returned from fighting and suffers from shellshock, and Bess Crawford, a young nurse serving in The Great War – the reader sees these societal upheavals.

Todd, the writing name of a mother and son, will be speaking at the National World War I Museum on Tuesday, September 20th at 7 PM. The event will be broadcast online live from the museum at the following link: http://www.livestream.com/charlestodd.

Todd, a New York Times bestselling author, will discuss how the details that can be gleaned from research has made WWI accessible to mystery readers. According to a release, “Sometimes it is fiction that makes a period more accessible to the casual reader and yet offers a student of the era a new perspective.”

Todd’s novels examine the human experience of war, issues that are with us today.

Super User
Sunday, 18 September 2011 07:09

titleThose of us who have enjoyed the novels of Charles Todd know how these elegantly plotted books immerse the reader in the post World War I era.


Todd’s two series show us the changes, both social and political, that emerged following The Great War. The series are both highly entertaining mysteries as well as meticulously researched history lessons.

Through the eyes of the two series characters --
Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard Inspector who has returned from fighting and suffers from shellshock, and Bess Crawford, a young nurse serving in The Great War – the reader sees these societal upheavals.

Todd, the writing name of a mother and son, will be speaking at the National World War I Museum on Tuesday, September 20th at 7 PM. The event will be broadcast online live from the museum at the following link: http://www.livestream.com/charlestodd.

Todd, a New York Times bestselling author, will discuss how the details that can be gleaned from research has made WWI accessible to mystery readers. According to a release, “Sometimes it is fiction that makes a period more accessible to the casual reader and yet offers a student of the era a new perspective.”

Todd’s novels examine the human experience of war, issues that are with us today.

Anthony, Shamus and More Winners
Oline Cogdill

altBouchercon is over and what a fine conference it was. Hats off and lots of gratitude to the organizers.

The conference was great.

The panels were great. And the guests of honor were great.

Personally speaking, it was great to see old friends and visit my hometown of Charleston, Missouri, and Columbia, Mo., where I went to college. I spent some much needed quality time with friends I have known since I was six years old and some of my relatives.

With Bouchercon comes awards. The lists of nominees were full of excellent novels.

So here's the list of as many winners as we could find. And, of course, congratulations to all.

2011 Anthony Awards, given by Bouchercon from votes by attendees:
Best Novel: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (photo at top)
Best First Novel: The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson
Best Paperback Original: Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
Best Short Story: Dana Cameron's "Swing Shift" in Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side
Best Critical/Non-Fiction: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran
Best Graphic Novel Anthony: The Chill by Jason Star
Best Website/Blog: Stop, You're Killing Me website, maintained by Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich

2011 Shamus Awards, given by the Private Eye Writers of America
Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: No Mercy by Lori Armstrong
Best First P.I. Novel: In Search of Mercy by Michael Ayoob
Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore
Best P.I. Short Story: “The Lamb Was Sure to Go,” by Gar Anthony Haywood
The Hammer Award (Best P.I. Series Character): Sara Paretsky for V.I. Warshawski. Paretsky also has been honored this year with the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award and with Bouchercon 2011’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The EYE (Lifetime Achievement Award): Ed Gorman. Gorman has written numerous standalone detective novels as well as the Jack Dwyer, Tobin, Leo Guild, Robert Payne and Sam McCain series.

2011 Macavity Awards winners:
Best Mystery Novel – Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
Best First Mystery Novel – Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva
Best Mystery-Related Nonfiction – Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran
Best Mystery Short Story – “Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron in Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side
Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery – City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

2011 Barry Awards
Best Novel: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Best First Novel: The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
Best British Novel: The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill
Best Paperback Original: Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid
Best Thriller: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
Best Short Story: "The List" by Loren D. Estleman

Super User
Sunday, 18 September 2011 11:09

altBouchercon is over and what a fine conference it was. Hats off and lots of gratitude to the organizers.

The conference was great.

The panels were great. And the guests of honor were great.

Personally speaking, it was great to see old friends and visit my hometown of Charleston, Missouri, and Columbia, Mo., where I went to college. I spent some much needed quality time with friends I have known since I was six years old and some of my relatives.

With Bouchercon comes awards. The lists of nominees were full of excellent novels.

So here's the list of as many winners as we could find. And, of course, congratulations to all.

2011 Anthony Awards, given by Bouchercon from votes by attendees:
Best Novel: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (photo at top)
Best First Novel: The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson
Best Paperback Original: Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
Best Short Story: Dana Cameron's "Swing Shift" in Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side
Best Critical/Non-Fiction: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran
Best Graphic Novel Anthony: The Chill by Jason Star
Best Website/Blog: Stop, You're Killing Me website, maintained by Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich

2011 Shamus Awards, given by the Private Eye Writers of America
Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: No Mercy by Lori Armstrong
Best First P.I. Novel: In Search of Mercy by Michael Ayoob
Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore
Best P.I. Short Story: “The Lamb Was Sure to Go,” by Gar Anthony Haywood
The Hammer Award (Best P.I. Series Character): Sara Paretsky for V.I. Warshawski. Paretsky also has been honored this year with the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award and with Bouchercon 2011’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The EYE (Lifetime Achievement Award): Ed Gorman. Gorman has written numerous standalone detective novels as well as the Jack Dwyer, Tobin, Leo Guild, Robert Payne and Sam McCain series.

2011 Macavity Awards winners:
Best Mystery Novel – Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
Best First Mystery Novel – Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva
Best Mystery-Related Nonfiction – Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran
Best Mystery Short Story – “Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron in Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side
Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery – City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

2011 Barry Awards
Best Novel: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Best First Novel: The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
Best British Novel: The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill
Best Paperback Original: Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid
Best Thriller: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
Best Short Story: "The List" by Loren D. Estleman

Ink in Their Blood: the Ten Best Books About the Literary Life
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

nolan_rossmacdonaldbiographyPart the First: THE RATIONALE

Writers write about themselves. In fiction, in nonfiction, in movies, television, comic books, and games, writers always write about writers.

Consequently, there are hundreds of books about the literary life. Some of them are mediocre, some are good, and some are outstanding.

I spent the weeks I had to write this article culling my bookshelves, finding dozens of books I’d loved, even more that I’d never read, and a whole bunch that I couldn’t remember buying, let alone reading. I got overwhelmed by the amount of material and finally decided that I had to limit my criteria.

First, the books had to be interesting to the non-writer. That cleared a whole pile off my shelf. Most books are geared for the writer, and consequently the reader gets lost in the minutiae of the difference between the colon and semi-colon, and quickly gives up.

Second, the books had to be well written. By that, I mean the books need to be a compelling read—impossible to put down. More books cleared off the shelf.

Finally, the books had to take me somewhere new—or present a brand-new viewpoint. I’m a former editor, the former owner of a publishing house, and a full-time writer in several genres. I’ve been in and out of Hollywood, written comic books, and helped write games. In short, I’m very familiar with the literary life. I figured if the books could hold my attention, given all my familiarity, they could hold someone else’s.

One more thing before I get to the list: Even though I’m writing this article for Mystery Scene, I decided not to limit my selections to mystery writers. The literary life encompasses a wide variety of writers, and I thought I’d add a sampling. Besides, if you read the biography of any mystery writer, you’ll find dabbling in comics or television or movies or science fiction. Writers cross genres whether they mean to or not.

Part the Second: THE LIST. DRUM ROLL, PLEASE….

10. Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics
by Julius Schwartz with Brian M. Thomsen (Harper Entertainment, 2000)

Actually, this book should be called Man of a Thousand Worlds since Julius Schwartz has had his fingers in everything from mysteries to movies. Julie (as his friends call him) isn’t a writer; he’s an editor who worked for D.C. Comics (among other employers) for decades. Before he worked for D.C., Julie was an agent for everyone from Ray Bradbury to Robert Bloch. Julius Schwartz has lived the literary life for more than 80 years, and he still shows up at his desk in the D.C. Comics building every week. If you want an overview of publishing and the literary life in the mid-20th century, this is the place to start.

merrill_redhottypewriter9. The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald
by Hugh Merrill (Thomas Dunne Books, 2000)

More on the literary life in the middle of the twentieth century. John D. MacDonald wasn’t just an interesting writer, he was also an interesting person. Merrill does a good job of showing the ups and downs of a writer’s life—and manages to give the reader a taste of what it’s like to make a living one short story at a time.

8. The Engines of the Night
by Barry N. Malzberg (Doubleday, 1982)

A brilliantly written, bitter, sad, and funny book about the publishing changes of the 1970s. Barry Malzberg was and is one of science fiction’s best writers (he also writes marvelous mystery and mainstream short stories), but his career hit a snag from which he never fully recovered. Sharp and irreverent, filled with amazing honesty, The Engines of the Night is a book anyone who thinks the literary life is glamorous should read.

7. Monster: Living off the Big Screen
by John Gregory Dunne (Random House, 1997)

John Gregory Dunne and his wife Joan Didion are both novelists and screenwriters, which is a rare combination. Usually writers begin as novelists and become screenwriters or vice versa. Dunne traces one screenplay on which he and Didion collaborated from pitch to finished product over a period of eight years. In the middle of his perceptive Hollywood analysis, he also manages to write a lot about the literary life—what it’s like to work on novels and movies simultaneously, how to survive a battle between a director and a famous actor over a script, and how to avoid cultural debacles such as the O.J. trial—without losing sight of the most important thing: the work itself. The literary life isn’t glamorous in this book either, but it has touches of glamour—meeting Robert Redford, flying to L.A. at the drop of a hat, tooling around Italy at someone else’s expense. A fun and dishy read.

king_stephen_2009_small6. On Writing
by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000)

If I were making a list of the top ten books for writers, this book would be at the very top. It’s an essential read. King’s essays are always good (see another favorite, Danse Macabre, if you don’t believe me), but the essays in here are superb. The opening section, about King’s life and background, is worth the cover price. The middle, in which he discusses his famous accident and the aftermath, is some of the best writing I’ve read in decades. The final section, on writing, is great reading for the writer, but I suspect it might go slowly for someone who has no interest in writing at all. So this fine book moves to number six on the literary life list because there’s a how-to section in the back.

5. The Crack-Up
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (various editions)

This nearly forgotten book is an accumulation of essays and letters compiled shortly after Fitzgerald’s death in 1941. The Jazz Age, which he had named, ended badly for him: His wife Zelda was in a mental institution, Fitzgerald had become a broke single father, a failure in the eyes of the world, and he had “sold out” to Hollywood. He’d also had a serious breakdown—a collapse—which he analyzed with honesty and a surprising lack of bitterness. Each essay is a gem, particularly “Early Success”—an examination of the pleasures and pitfalls of becoming famous young, and “My Lost City,” a love letter to the New York of the 1920s. If you read this book in tandem with Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, you get not just the glories of the lost generation but their agonies as well.

Goldman_William_small4. Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting
by William Goldman (Warner Books, 1983)

Actually, any of Goldman’s books on screenwriting and Hollywood are worth a reader’s time. Goldman has a delightful personal essay style, and his perspective alone makes the book worthwhile. But I chose Adventures in the Screen Trade because Goldman also discusses his novels here. I particularly love his anecdotes about writing Marathon Man in a tiny New York office with paper-thin walls, and his neighbor’s reaction to Goldman’s tendency to read aloud as he wrote. (Anyone who has seen the dental sequence in the film should have a hint of what I’m talking about.) Goldman gives examples of the literary life in both New York and Hollywood in the golden years of the 1960s and '70s. This one is a classic of literary life.

3. Rewrites and The Play Goes On
by Neil Simon (Touchstone, 1997 and 1999)

It may seem like I’m cheating listing two books together as #3, but I’m not. Rewrites ends with the death of Simon’s first wife, Joan, and The Play Goes On opens at the exact next moment, when Simon realizes he’s alone in the world. The two books are one long memoir. Of all the writers in this list, Simon takes the prize for honesty. These books are almost painful sometimes. However, only Simon and one other writer (yet to come on this list) actually lived the glamorous writer’s lifestyle, the one we readers imagine when we think about “famous” writers. Simon is such a writer (i.e. oblivious to all but his work) that he barely notices as he’s moving from the Golden Years of Television to the Broadway stage (and all its perils) to Hollywood and back to books. At one point, he marries a movie star, hangs out in the “in” crowd, and still remains untouched. What’s important to Simon are his family and his work, and all the rest merely happened. An amazing portrait of the literary life as all budding young writers imagine it.

2. Ross Macdonald: A Biography
by Tom Nolan (Poison Pen Press, 1999)

If Neil Simon lived the glamorous literary life, Ross Macdonald lived the average successful writer’s life. He worked and worked and worked, and struggled for most of his career. When he finally had incredible success, he was so balanced that he wasn’t swayed by all the problems Fitzgerald lists in his early success essay. This biography is also fascinating for the parallel portrait it provides of Macdonald’s wife, writer Margaret Millar, and the way that two different writers (and writing careers) can come out of the same household. And of course, there’s tragedy here too, in the way that Macdonald’s troubles with his daughter managed to replicate scenarios he first thought up in his fiction. An understated, marvelous book about the way writers really live.

korda_anotherlife1. Another Life: A Memoir of Other People
by Michael Korda (Random House, 1999)

Michael Korda has done it all. He’s a famous editor and a famous writer. His books have become blockbuster movies. He grew up in a famous family (his uncle and father were well-known directors), so Michael traveled in the jet set before the phrase was coined. He preferred the world of books. Another Life explores the close-knit world of publishing from the mid-1950s, when Korda showed up in New York as a green, classically educated Brit who wanted a job that allowed him to read, to the late 1990s when the book was written. Along the way, Korda worked with Truman Capote, Jacqueline Susanne, Graham Greene, and countless others. Korda’s life is as literary as it gets. And his beautifully written book gives a personal yet enlightening history of the publishing industry over the past forty years.

In all my memoir reading, I have never come across another book like this, and I doubt there could be more than one. Korda is one of a kind. His book is funny, touching, and informative. What more could a reader want?

Part the Third: THE COP-OUT

I know that the moment I turn this article in, I will change my mind. I’ll read a book (P.D. James’ autobiography is on my nightstand, as is Tony Hillerman’s) that will have to be on this list. And then I’ll read another, and another, and another.

This list, I’ve come to realize, is merely a snapshot of my interests in mid-2003. By mid-2005, I suspect I’ll have an entirely new list (with maybe one or two exceptions).

Because writers write about themselves. And in the end, this eclectic list will probably appeal mostly to me. But I hope I’ve managed to lead readers to books they’ve never heard of, literary lives they could vicariously enjoy.

I know I have—and that’s what makes these books the best.

For the moment, at least.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch (City of Ruins) is an award-winning mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy writer. She has written many novels under various names, including Kristine Grayson (Utterly Charming) for romance, and Kris Nelscott (A Dangerous Road) for mystery. Her novels have made the bestseller lists worldwide and have been published in 14 countries and 13 different languages.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #79.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 11:09

nolan_rossmacdonaldbiographyFrom hundreds of books about the literary life, good, bad, and ugly, here are ten of the very best.

Fall, Issue #121 Contents
Mystery Scene

121cover_250

Features

Val McDermid

This critically acclaimed and reader beloved writer makes a specialty of considering the human condition in all its complexity and variety.
Oline H. Cogdill

Brighton Rock

The new Brighton Rock takes place in the early 1960s when mods and rockers battled in the streets.
by Teri Duerr

Arthur B. Reeve: Pioneer Feminist

Forget Anna Katharine Green, Reeve has the real feminist cred.
by Jon L. Breen

Building Your Book Collection: Following the Flag

An author’s nationality can be a critical element in deciding which first editions to collect.
by Nate Pedersen

James Sallis: In the Driver’s Seat

A hot new novel, critical respect, and a star-studded feature film.
by Craig McDonald

Spider-Man and the American Dream

A comic book character who offers a window into the heart of a nation.
by Nick Harkaway

Sarah R. Shaber: This Woman’s War

A new series that sends a young North Carolina widow off to WWII-era Washington.
by Art Taylor

Supernatural Mysteries

Psychics, ghosts, witches and vampires—it’s the subgenre that won’t die.
by Steve Hockensmith

Nate Heller’s 20th Century

Max Allan Collins’ iconic sleuth has hit both the high- and low-points of the last century.
by Jon L. Breen

The Murders in Memory Lane: Scott Meredith, Pt. 1

A young man’s first foray into the publishing business.
by Lawrence Block

The Return of Inspector Lewis

Season Four is off to a great start.
by Matt Schlecht

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Thriller Awards, MS Online, Alexander McCall Smith

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Martin H. Greenberg, 1941-2011

by Ed Gorman

Gormania

Steven Hockensmith, Mary Higgins Clark, Anne Frasier
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Getting Medieval
by Jeri Westerson

Life in the Fast Lane
by Simon Wood

Joy of Genre
by Michael Lister

A Character Charges into the Future
by L.J. Sellers

Mystery Crossword

"Deep into that Darkness Peering"
by Verna Suit


Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

Advertiser Info

Admin
Monday, 05 April 2010 10:04

121cover_250

Features

Val McDermid

This critically acclaimed and reader beloved writer makes a specialty of considering the human condition in all its complexity and variety.
Oline H. Cogdill

Brighton Rock

The new Brighton Rock takes place in the early 1960s when mods and rockers battled in the streets.
by Teri Duerr

Arthur B. Reeve: Pioneer Feminist

Forget Anna Katharine Green, Reeve has the real feminist cred.
by Jon L. Breen

Building Your Book Collection: Following the Flag

An author’s nationality can be a critical element in deciding which first editions to collect.
by Nate Pedersen

James Sallis: In the Driver’s Seat

A hot new novel, critical respect, and a star-studded feature film.
by Craig McDonald

Spider-Man and the American Dream

A comic book character who offers a window into the heart of a nation.
by Nick Harkaway

Sarah R. Shaber: This Woman’s War

A new series that sends a young North Carolina widow off to WWII-era Washington.
by Art Taylor

Supernatural Mysteries

Psychics, ghosts, witches and vampires—it’s the subgenre that won’t die.
by Steve Hockensmith

Nate Heller’s 20th Century

Max Allan Collins’ iconic sleuth has hit both the high- and low-points of the last century.
by Jon L. Breen

The Murders in Memory Lane: Scott Meredith, Pt. 1

A young man’s first foray into the publishing business.
by Lawrence Block

The Return of Inspector Lewis

Season Four is off to a great start.
by Matt Schlecht

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Thriller Awards, MS Online, Alexander McCall Smith

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Martin H. Greenberg, 1941-2011

by Ed Gorman

Gormania

Steven Hockensmith, Mary Higgins Clark, Anne Frasier
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Getting Medieval
by Jeri Westerson

Life in the Fast Lane
by Simon Wood

Joy of Genre
by Michael Lister

A Character Charges into the Future
by L.J. Sellers

Mystery Crossword

"Deep into that Darkness Peering"
by Verna Suit


Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

Advertiser Info

13 Million Dollar Pop
Kevin Burton Smith

Ever since his auspicious debut in 2008's City of the Sun, Indianapolis PI hero Frank Behr has been put through his paces by his creator. Friends, wives, even children—nobody seems safe from the all-pervasive violence in this series. Which guarantees the books are not easy reads, either emotionally or—given the author's penchant for terse, disjointed, chronological snapshots of lives in freefall from numerous points of view—narratively. But this isn't some string of wafer-thin pawns cynically manipulated and dispatched by some yob intent on riding the neo-noir train. There are real people here getting hurt.

With pregnant girlfriend Susan due to give birth any day, Frank has sucked it up, closed down his own agency, and gone to work for the Caro Group, a blue chip security and investigation firm with fingers in many, many pies. But then Frank is almost killed in a botched assassination attempt on client Bernie Cool, a local wheeler dealer contemplating a leap into politics. And with both the police and Caro seemingly disinclined to pursue the incident, Frank begins to smell a rat. Despite considerable pressure to let it slide from all sides, including an increasingly frightened Susan, Frank stubbornly continues to investigate. He soon finds himself in the midst of a sprawling dung heap of greed, violence and political chicanery, up against everything from a stressed-out and possibly dirty cop recently back from a tour of duty as a Marine sniper to Waddy, an oddly charismatic Welsh hit man.

The 6'5", 240-pound ex-football player and ex-cop may be an unlikely Job, but Frank's attempts to come to terms with the violence of both the world at large and in his own personal life, and the explorations of duty, obligation, and honor that dog him, make for compelling reading. The resulting bloodbath may not be a total surprise, but its intensity and the emotional catharsis is hard to shake. How much more Levien can toss at Frank is open to debate, but for now, I'm more than ready to find out.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:09

Ever since his auspicious debut in 2008's City of the Sun, Indianapolis PI hero Frank Behr has been put through his paces by his creator. Friends, wives, even children—nobody seems safe from the all-pervasive violence in this series. Which guarantees the books are not easy reads, either emotionally or—given the author's penchant for terse, disjointed, chronological snapshots of lives in freefall from numerous points of view—narratively. But this isn't some string of wafer-thin pawns cynically manipulated and dispatched by some yob intent on riding the neo-noir train. There are real people here getting hurt.

With pregnant girlfriend Susan due to give birth any day, Frank has sucked it up, closed down his own agency, and gone to work for the Caro Group, a blue chip security and investigation firm with fingers in many, many pies. But then Frank is almost killed in a botched assassination attempt on client Bernie Cool, a local wheeler dealer contemplating a leap into politics. And with both the police and Caro seemingly disinclined to pursue the incident, Frank begins to smell a rat. Despite considerable pressure to let it slide from all sides, including an increasingly frightened Susan, Frank stubbornly continues to investigate. He soon finds himself in the midst of a sprawling dung heap of greed, violence and political chicanery, up against everything from a stressed-out and possibly dirty cop recently back from a tour of duty as a Marine sniper to Waddy, an oddly charismatic Welsh hit man.

The 6'5", 240-pound ex-football player and ex-cop may be an unlikely Job, but Frank's attempts to come to terms with the violence of both the world at large and in his own personal life, and the explorations of duty, obligation, and honor that dog him, make for compelling reading. The resulting bloodbath may not be a total surprise, but its intensity and the emotional catharsis is hard to shake. How much more Levien can toss at Frank is open to debate, but for now, I'm more than ready to find out.

Stolen Souls
Derek Hill

A stranger approaches a young Ukrainian woman named Galya and offers her a job in Belfast as a nanny. The opportunity to make enough money to support herself and help out her family at home is too good to pass up. But Belfast only offers up horror. There is no nanny job waiting for Galya, instead a pair of Lithuanian brothers, Arturas and Tomas Strazdas, force Galya into prostitution. When Tomas tries to rape Galya, she kills him and escapes into the night. Inspector Jack Lennon must stave off his own inner demons in order to help Galya, who is pursued by Tomas' vengeful brother, before she ends up just another dead prostitute.

Readers of Neville will already be familiar with Inspector Jack Lennon (he appeared in the author's previous two novels The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion), and will know that the Belfast inspector is in a personal crisis. His wife was murdered and he is now responsible for raising their daughter, Ellen, with whom he had minimal contact for the first six years of her life. He's a man struggling every day just to hang on.

Neville is not a writer to keep the monsters at bay or prevent readers from witnessing suffering. Violence and human degradation are ever-present and at times the imagery and mood of Stolen Souls borders on horror. Readers not ready for such a full-on descent into the encroaching darkness are hereby warned. However, Neville is no purveyor of cheap, nasty thrills, simply for the sake of it. This becomes clear in his portrait of Galya, a character with emotional depth and a survivor who exhibits real bravery.

Neville excels at conjuring up memorable details: the over-heated claustrophobic room where Galya is kept prisoner; Crawford's hellish, isolated house; and the numerous cold and dusky pubs, back rooms, and back alleys of the city. In Neville's fictional Belfast, everyone is trapped under the weight of their past. Many are crushed under that weight, though characters like Lennon and Galya, who are witnesses to, and sometimes participants in, the misery, may also hold the key to surviving it all. Stolen Souls is a gripping excursion into the nightside of humanity, but it is not without its richness and insights. It burrows into your brain like the best dark fairy tales.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:09

A stranger approaches a young Ukrainian woman named Galya and offers her a job in Belfast as a nanny. The opportunity to make enough money to support herself and help out her family at home is too good to pass up. But Belfast only offers up horror. There is no nanny job waiting for Galya, instead a pair of Lithuanian brothers, Arturas and Tomas Strazdas, force Galya into prostitution. When Tomas tries to rape Galya, she kills him and escapes into the night. Inspector Jack Lennon must stave off his own inner demons in order to help Galya, who is pursued by Tomas' vengeful brother, before she ends up just another dead prostitute.

Readers of Neville will already be familiar with Inspector Jack Lennon (he appeared in the author's previous two novels The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion), and will know that the Belfast inspector is in a personal crisis. His wife was murdered and he is now responsible for raising their daughter, Ellen, with whom he had minimal contact for the first six years of her life. He's a man struggling every day just to hang on.

Neville is not a writer to keep the monsters at bay or prevent readers from witnessing suffering. Violence and human degradation are ever-present and at times the imagery and mood of Stolen Souls borders on horror. Readers not ready for such a full-on descent into the encroaching darkness are hereby warned. However, Neville is no purveyor of cheap, nasty thrills, simply for the sake of it. This becomes clear in his portrait of Galya, a character with emotional depth and a survivor who exhibits real bravery.

Neville excels at conjuring up memorable details: the over-heated claustrophobic room where Galya is kept prisoner; Crawford's hellish, isolated house; and the numerous cold and dusky pubs, back rooms, and back alleys of the city. In Neville's fictional Belfast, everyone is trapped under the weight of their past. Many are crushed under that weight, though characters like Lennon and Galya, who are witnesses to, and sometimes participants in, the misery, may also hold the key to surviving it all. Stolen Souls is a gripping excursion into the nightside of humanity, but it is not without its richness and insights. It burrows into your brain like the best dark fairy tales.

Rip Tide
Oline H. Cogdill

As the first woman director general of Great Britain's MI5, Dame Stella Rimington's thrillers are intelligent, told in a commanding voice, and as timely as they are suspenseful. This is especially true of Rimington's sixth novel featuring MI5 intelligence officer Liz Carlyle, whose career abounds with international intrigue, treachery, and betrayal.

In Rip Tide, Liz investigates why a young British Muslim was among a gang of pirates who attacked a cargo ship filled with supplies for a charity off the Somalian coast. But the case goes beyond this British-born Pakistani from a well-to-do family. It connects to the murder of an undercover agent in Athens, pointing to a far-reaching conspiracy that spans Pakistan, Greece, and Somalia. Rimington masterfully shows a world in which terrorists can, and do, hide around every corner.

While action fuels Rip Tide, Rimington gives special attention to the characters. Liz is an insightful, steely-eyed agent but Rimington also allows her to show her feminine side, especially with her lover who lives in Paris and her close friends. The author's depiction of the intelligence community shows these operatives as individuals who put their work for a greater good ahead of their personal lives. And while these agents bond while on the job, each also is wary of the betrayal that can only come from the people you know best.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:09

As the first woman director general of Great Britain's MI5, Dame Stella Rimington's thrillers are intelligent, told in a commanding voice, and as timely as they are suspenseful. This is especially true of Rimington's sixth novel featuring MI5 intelligence officer Liz Carlyle, whose career abounds with international intrigue, treachery, and betrayal.

In Rip Tide, Liz investigates why a young British Muslim was among a gang of pirates who attacked a cargo ship filled with supplies for a charity off the Somalian coast. But the case goes beyond this British-born Pakistani from a well-to-do family. It connects to the murder of an undercover agent in Athens, pointing to a far-reaching conspiracy that spans Pakistan, Greece, and Somalia. Rimington masterfully shows a world in which terrorists can, and do, hide around every corner.

While action fuels Rip Tide, Rimington gives special attention to the characters. Liz is an insightful, steely-eyed agent but Rimington also allows her to show her feminine side, especially with her lover who lives in Paris and her close friends. The author's depiction of the intelligence community shows these operatives as individuals who put their work for a greater good ahead of their personal lives. And while these agents bond while on the job, each also is wary of the betrayal that can only come from the people you know best.

Nazareth Child
Betty Webb

In Nazareth Child's prologue, set in 1980, Ella Shannon visits Silas, an Appalachian evangelist, in hopes of curing her infertility. The cure comes at a terrible cost. Shortly after the birth of her daughter Del, Ella disappears, leaving her child to be raised by her bitter, alcoholic husband. Thirty years later, Del, now a skilled Arizona bounty hunter, has been ceaselessly searching for her long-vanished mother when she is recruited by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) and FBI agents. They want to use her to infiltrate the Kentucky cult that Silas now runs. As described by author James, who lives in Arizona, Nazareth Church closely resembles that state's infamous polygamist compounds. Financial fraud supports the cult, where women are warehoused to be used as little more than breeding animals, and forced father/daughter incest is the order of the day. Desperate to find her mother, Del travels to Kentucky, where she discovers that religious cultists can be far more dangerous than the felons she's used to chasing. In a lesser author's hands, these cultists could have been portrayed simply as empty-headed prophet-followers, but James takes care to explore the almost hypnotic state they've been seduced into by their charismatic leader. When their lives seemed empty, Silas filled them. Where they felt loveless, Silas promised eternal love. These hapless souls are so blinded by devotion they can't see that their leader is a murdering psychopath. Del does, which targets her and Frank Falconet, her ATF partner, for elimination. While Nazareth certainly delivers all the thrills and chills expected of a good suspense novel, its real power lies in its gripping illustration of how a religious charlatan can use his followers' emotional dependence for his own evil ends. A cautionary tale, and a damned good one.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:09

In Nazareth Child's prologue, set in 1980, Ella Shannon visits Silas, an Appalachian evangelist, in hopes of curing her infertility. The cure comes at a terrible cost. Shortly after the birth of her daughter Del, Ella disappears, leaving her child to be raised by her bitter, alcoholic husband. Thirty years later, Del, now a skilled Arizona bounty hunter, has been ceaselessly searching for her long-vanished mother when she is recruited by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) and FBI agents. They want to use her to infiltrate the Kentucky cult that Silas now runs. As described by author James, who lives in Arizona, Nazareth Church closely resembles that state's infamous polygamist compounds. Financial fraud supports the cult, where women are warehoused to be used as little more than breeding animals, and forced father/daughter incest is the order of the day. Desperate to find her mother, Del travels to Kentucky, where she discovers that religious cultists can be far more dangerous than the felons she's used to chasing. In a lesser author's hands, these cultists could have been portrayed simply as empty-headed prophet-followers, but James takes care to explore the almost hypnotic state they've been seduced into by their charismatic leader. When their lives seemed empty, Silas filled them. Where they felt loveless, Silas promised eternal love. These hapless souls are so blinded by devotion they can't see that their leader is a murdering psychopath. Del does, which targets her and Frank Falconet, her ATF partner, for elimination. While Nazareth certainly delivers all the thrills and chills expected of a good suspense novel, its real power lies in its gripping illustration of how a religious charlatan can use his followers' emotional dependence for his own evil ends. A cautionary tale, and a damned good one.

Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains
Jem Bloomfield

Crime fiction set during the 1920s and '30s is a difficult prospect. Anyone attempting it is being jostled by other crime writers, competing against TV and film images of a very photogenic era, and battling the ghosts of literary titans who were actually there at the time, like Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. But Catriona McPherson proves that it's still possible to write compelling crime fiction capable of showing us the Golden Age from a new perspective.

In Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, the breezy socialite detective Dandy Gilver goes undercover as a maid in the house of a woman convinced that her husband is going to kill her. A typically hokum-filled plot gives McPherson the opportunity to sketch some deft vignettes as her heroine hovers between life below and above stairs. Comparisons with Gosford Park are inevitable, and whilst this isn't such an ambitious work, it's an enjoyable (though milder) dose of "the mixture as before."

The background of the UK's 1926 general strike by industrial workers adds a little more depth to the book, and if Dandy's education in the realities of working-class life has some heavy-handed moments, it never swerves into preaching or smugness. Dandy herself holds the series together with a fluent and likeable narrative voice—it's a pleasure to spend three hundred pages in her company.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:09

mcpherson_dandygilvertreatmentofstainsSocialite detective Dandy Gilver goes undercover as a maid in a new series that updates the Golden Age mystery with enjoyable results.

The Accident
Betty Webb

Real life frequently inspires some of the best crime fiction, and The Accident is a prime example of how real life events as dry as Dow Jones averages can make terrific novels. Barclay's sociologically astute suspense gives us a middle-class Connecticut suburb that's crumbling into a slum. Breadwinners have lost their jobs, houses and cars are being repossessed, health insurance is only a memory. Housewives who once took comfort in their beautifully furnished homes are now using them to host "purse parties"—to sell counterfeit designer handbags—in order to stave off the repo men.

In the midst of this financial Armageddon, Sheila Carver, one of the purse partyers, dies in a drink driving accident that kills not only her but a child in the other car. Her husband Glen, a contractor whose company has taken a hit during the economic downturn, believes his wife never drank to excess until the autopsy proves otherwise. Glen and his young daughter Kelly become social pariahs, shunned by the very people who used to be their friends. Grieving and raging, Glen decides to find out more about the wife he thought he knew, a search that puts him in the middle of a financially stressed-out suburbia where neighbors are desperate enough to do almost anything to save their homes—possibly even commit murder. Glen's life is threatened, and his daughter comes under fire, literally. And things just keep getting worse.

In revealing capitalism's dark side, this bold book shows what can happen when supposedly normal families are only one paycheck away from disaster. The author's grasp of human psychology is spot on, and he displays a masterly ability to create sympathy for good people doing bad things. In a year that has given us many strong books, The Accident stands out among them as suspense writing at its finest.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Real life frequently inspires some of the best crime fiction, and The Accident is a prime example of how real life events as dry as Dow Jones averages can make terrific novels. Barclay's sociologically astute suspense gives us a middle-class Connecticut suburb that's crumbling into a slum. Breadwinners have lost their jobs, houses and cars are being repossessed, health insurance is only a memory. Housewives who once took comfort in their beautifully furnished homes are now using them to host "purse parties"—to sell counterfeit designer handbags—in order to stave off the repo men.

In the midst of this financial Armageddon, Sheila Carver, one of the purse partyers, dies in a drink driving accident that kills not only her but a child in the other car. Her husband Glen, a contractor whose company has taken a hit during the economic downturn, believes his wife never drank to excess until the autopsy proves otherwise. Glen and his young daughter Kelly become social pariahs, shunned by the very people who used to be their friends. Grieving and raging, Glen decides to find out more about the wife he thought he knew, a search that puts him in the middle of a financially stressed-out suburbia where neighbors are desperate enough to do almost anything to save their homes—possibly even commit murder. Glen's life is threatened, and his daughter comes under fire, literally. And things just keep getting worse.

In revealing capitalism's dark side, this bold book shows what can happen when supposedly normal families are only one paycheck away from disaster. The author's grasp of human psychology is spot on, and he displays a masterly ability to create sympathy for good people doing bad things. In a year that has given us many strong books, The Accident stands out among them as suspense writing at its finest.

At the Scene, Fall Issue #121
Kate Stine

121cover_250Hi everyone!

It doesn’t take long for a conversation with Val McDermid to turn to her beloved Raith Rovers Football Club. She inherited this affection from her late father who was a scout for the team in their hometown of Kirkcaldy, Fife. Today she serves on the club’s board and even sponsors a spectators’ stand which the Rovers offered to name The Val McDermid Stand. Instead, as she told The Scotsman, “It's known as The McDermid Stand in memory of my father. Being an internationally-renowned cultural icon is all well and good, ha ha, but in Kirkcaldy I'll always be Jim McDermid's lassie."

To the rest of us, of course, Val is quite famous in her own right for a string of excellent crime novels that stretches back to the 1980s. She’s an interesting woman and I think you’ll enjoy her conversation with Oline Cogdill in this issue.

We also talk to James Sallis, who is having a banner year with a highly praised new novel and a film adaptation of Drive starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. Sarah R. Shaber discusses her new series about a young widow working in intelligence in WWII-era Washington

Everybody loves Spidey, but do you think of him as an embodiment of the American Dream? British writer Nick Harkaway does and his take on Spider-Man offers food for thought.

Vampires, psychics, witches, and ghosts—Steve Hockensmith looks at supernatural mysteries, the subgenre that would not die. Jon L. Breen is celebrating the return of Max Allan Collins’ iconic private eye, Nate Heller, in a new novel with a look at the entire series. And there’s lots more—enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 March 2011 11:03

Read Kate's Fall #121 "At the Scene."

A Killer's Essence
Betty Webb

In a truly chilling scene in the first chapter of A Killer's Essence two young children miraculously elude a murderous pedophile, an experience that leaves one marked for life with a sixth sense for evil. The book then jumps forward to when that child, Stan Green, has become a burned-out Manhattan homicide detective. All he has to show for his psychic talent is a divorce, a cheap suit, and a bitchy girlfriend.

On the case of a particularly grisly murder, Green learns that his sole witness, Zach, was once clinically dead for six minutes. As a result of his near-death experience, and occipital lobe damage, Zach can no longer see people's faces, just their souls. Unfortunately, only faces count during a police lineup, so the police brass discount him as a nut. Drawing from his own past, Detective Green is less judgmental. Furthermore, he suspects that the murder is just the first of a series. He's right. When the slaughter continues, Green uses Zach's ability to see souls in order to hunt down the killer, but damages his already shaky future with the NYPD brass.

In riveting narrative, Zeltserman illustrates what happens to a wounded man whose psychic powers outstrip his ability to cope. Think you'd like the power to see inside the dark hearts of others? Think again. How would it feel if, on the way to the office, we saw demons on the sidewalk, harpies on the subway? This is strong stuff, and the author is expert at sharing Zach's horror, as well Green's empathic reaction to it. In the end discovering the killer's identity isn't half as compelling as the inner torment of two men who are "gifted" with psychic abilities.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

In a truly chilling scene in the first chapter of A Killer's Essence two young children miraculously elude a murderous pedophile, an experience that leaves one marked for life with a sixth sense for evil. The book then jumps forward to when that child, Stan Green, has become a burned-out Manhattan homicide detective. All he has to show for his psychic talent is a divorce, a cheap suit, and a bitchy girlfriend.

On the case of a particularly grisly murder, Green learns that his sole witness, Zach, was once clinically dead for six minutes. As a result of his near-death experience, and occipital lobe damage, Zach can no longer see people's faces, just their souls. Unfortunately, only faces count during a police lineup, so the police brass discount him as a nut. Drawing from his own past, Detective Green is less judgmental. Furthermore, he suspects that the murder is just the first of a series. He's right. When the slaughter continues, Green uses Zach's ability to see souls in order to hunt down the killer, but damages his already shaky future with the NYPD brass.

In riveting narrative, Zeltserman illustrates what happens to a wounded man whose psychic powers outstrip his ability to cope. Think you'd like the power to see inside the dark hearts of others? Think again. How would it feel if, on the way to the office, we saw demons on the sidewalk, harpies on the subway? This is strong stuff, and the author is expert at sharing Zach's horror, as well Green's empathic reaction to it. In the end discovering the killer's identity isn't half as compelling as the inner torment of two men who are "gifted" with psychic abilities.