The Keeper of Lost Causes
Barbara Fister

Since Smilla made the bestseller list with her sense of snow many years ago, not many Danish thrillers have been made available in English. The publication of the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, ably translated by Tiina Nunnally, is cause for celebration.

Carl Morck, a caustic, prickly detective, is returning to work after a shooting in which one of his colleagues was killed and another paralyzed. His superiors, tired of his cynical sniping, put him in charge of a new department for hopeless cases, one located in a disused basement office and staffed by a single inexperienced assistant. There the disgruntled Carl's interest is snagged by the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a talented politician who vanished without a trace five years earlier. In alternating chapters, we learn what happened to Lynggaard as Carl begins to piece together clues with the help of his comically hapless assistant, Assad.

The prologue—in which a nameless woman struggles to escape a concrete cell—suggests the book we're about to read will be a grim affair, but it has surprisingly lighthearted moments. Lynggaard is a tough, resourceful woman who refuses to be defeated, Carl is an endearing if grumpy hero, and his Syrian sidekick Assad, who is a terrible driver and a fabulous cook, turns out to have hidden depths.

This winner of the Glass Key, Scandinavia's top prize for crime fiction, adds welcome variety to the Nordic mysteries on our shelves. Readers will be looking forward to the further investigations of Department Q.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Since Smilla made the bestseller list with her sense of snow many years ago, not many Danish thrillers have been made available in English. The publication of the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, ably translated by Tiina Nunnally, is cause for celebration.

Carl Morck, a caustic, prickly detective, is returning to work after a shooting in which one of his colleagues was killed and another paralyzed. His superiors, tired of his cynical sniping, put him in charge of a new department for hopeless cases, one located in a disused basement office and staffed by a single inexperienced assistant. There the disgruntled Carl's interest is snagged by the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a talented politician who vanished without a trace five years earlier. In alternating chapters, we learn what happened to Lynggaard as Carl begins to piece together clues with the help of his comically hapless assistant, Assad.

The prologue—in which a nameless woman struggles to escape a concrete cell—suggests the book we're about to read will be a grim affair, but it has surprisingly lighthearted moments. Lynggaard is a tough, resourceful woman who refuses to be defeated, Carl is an endearing if grumpy hero, and his Syrian sidekick Assad, who is a terrible driver and a fabulous cook, turns out to have hidden depths.

This winner of the Glass Key, Scandinavia's top prize for crime fiction, adds welcome variety to the Nordic mysteries on our shelves. Readers will be looking forward to the further investigations of Department Q.

The Burning
Bob Smith

Finally a serial killer novel that is more than what the genre implies. London's latest killer is dubbed "The Burning Man" from the way he torches his victims with gasoline. He has murdered four young females, but the circumstances surrounding victim number five, Rebecca Haworth, are different and police suspect a copycat killing. Detective constable Maeve Kerrigan is assigned to probe into Rebecca's background while the rest of the force continues the hunt for the Burning Man. Kerrigan's top suspect is Rebecca's former lover who is now making overtures to Louise North, one of Rebecca's closest friends. Kerrigan fears that Louise may be the next victim.

There are no stereotypical, cardboard characters here. Each of the three women involved, Kerrigan, Rebecca, and Louise, ring true and hold our interest. The contrast in the lives of vivacious Rebecca and drab Louise are beautifully delineated. What could have been just another serial-killer-on-the-loose novel turns into a suspenseful probe into the death of Rebecca and an in-depth character study of two very different women.

The author expertly juggles both murder investigations, juxtaposing the massive team efforts of finding the Burning Man with the solo efforts of Kerrigan unraveling Rebecca's murder. Although the hunt for the serial killer is of top priority to the police, the plot that grabs our attention and keeps it is Kerrigan's search for Rebecca's murderer.

Experienced mystery fans may suspect the identity of the killer early on, but the author scatters enough red herrings along the way to keep readers off balance and unsure but turning pages.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Finally a serial killer novel that is more than what the genre implies. London's latest killer is dubbed "The Burning Man" from the way he torches his victims with gasoline. He has murdered four young females, but the circumstances surrounding victim number five, Rebecca Haworth, are different and police suspect a copycat killing. Detective constable Maeve Kerrigan is assigned to probe into Rebecca's background while the rest of the force continues the hunt for the Burning Man. Kerrigan's top suspect is Rebecca's former lover who is now making overtures to Louise North, one of Rebecca's closest friends. Kerrigan fears that Louise may be the next victim.

There are no stereotypical, cardboard characters here. Each of the three women involved, Kerrigan, Rebecca, and Louise, ring true and hold our interest. The contrast in the lives of vivacious Rebecca and drab Louise are beautifully delineated. What could have been just another serial-killer-on-the-loose novel turns into a suspenseful probe into the death of Rebecca and an in-depth character study of two very different women.

The author expertly juggles both murder investigations, juxtaposing the massive team efforts of finding the Burning Man with the solo efforts of Kerrigan unraveling Rebecca's murder. Although the hunt for the serial killer is of top priority to the police, the plot that grabs our attention and keeps it is Kerrigan's search for Rebecca's murderer.

Experienced mystery fans may suspect the identity of the killer early on, but the author scatters enough red herrings along the way to keep readers off balance and unsure but turning pages.

Second Fiddle
Sarah Prindle

In this beautiful coming-of-age story set in 1990, eighth grade violinist Jody Fields—who lives in West Berlin on an American military base—is thrust into a serious situation when she and her friends save a Soviet soldier from being murdered. It is just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Jody's family is planning to relocate to America. Jody is not looking forward to leaving her best friends: the strong-willed Giselle Johnson and the smart Vivian Armstrong. Now the three girls have to find a way to smuggle the Soviet soldier out of Germany, an escapade that brings them to Paris, where they'd been planning to compete in a musical competition. Along the way the girls learn about friendship, caring, and the need to rely on each other to get through tough times.

As an Army wife who moved to Germany in the spring of 1990, author Rosanne Parry gives us a first-hand look at military families, Berlin after the fall of the Wall, and Americans abroad. Jody comments at one point that she doesn't feel any place in America was her home—a feeling no doubt created from her life travelling abroad, which adds an element of compassion for her character. In fact, all the characters—from Jody's trusting mother to her distant father—seem as if they could be your friends or family. Taking us from poverty-stricken East Berlin to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the story moves swiftly and sparks with humor and realism. Second Fiddle also explores music through Jody's love of classical violin pieces, which inspire her to write her own songs. A wonderful tale of music, friendship, history, and learning, Second Fiddle is a gem.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

parry_secondfiddleWhen she saves the life of a soldier, Young violinist Jody Fields, is thrust into a serious situation.

“Me and Eddie Poe”
Elizabeth Foxwell

Millay_Edna_St_Vincent_smallEdna St. Vincent Millay took a single foray into the mystery genre before the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry turned her attention elsewhere. “The Murder in the Fishing Cat” remains a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been.

Illustration: Richard Polt

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was something of a Renaissance spirit. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, she was a celebrated voice of her generation whose candle burned at both ends and in the middle as well. In addition to her poems, she published stories under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd, wrote several plays and saw some of them produced, and acted alongside Eugene O’Neill as a member of the fledgling Provincetown Players.

Her creative output also included a single mystery story, “The Murder in the Fishing Cat.” In a November 1922 letter, Millay told Norma and Charles Ellis, her sister and brother-in-law, that she had sent “Cat” to her agents, describing it as “a story about Paris,” and added, “I tell you, me and Eddie Poe—there’s no stopping us Americans.” The story first appeared in the March 1923 issue of Century Magazine and was republished in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in May 1950. It is likely that Millay wrote it sometime during the early 1920s when she was living in Europe.

"Fishing Cat” is the disturbing tale of a restaurant owner, Jean-Pierre, whose best days seem to be behind him. His wife has left him; his only waiter has been drafted into the army. His once-fashionable Restaurant du Chat qui Pêche (literally, the Restaurant of the Cat Who Fishes) is shunned, and he is reduced to watching the steady stream of customers patronize the new cafe now in vogue next door. Millay’s opening lines set a scene of defeat:

The popularity of a restaurant does not depend on the excellence of its cuisine or the cobwebs on the bottles in its cellar. And you might have in the window ten glass tanks instead of one in which moved obscurely shadowy eels and shrimps, yet you could be no surer of success. Jean-Pierre knew this, and he did not reproach himself for his failure. It is something that may happen to the best of us. (Century, p. 663)

The lonely Jean-Pierre develops a fixation on the sole occupant of his eel tank, which leads to unexpected, violent results and a singular twist at the end.

In addition to the superb depiction of an uneasy, skewed reality, other strengths of the story are Millay’s fluid description and affecting characters who bloom in the merest strokes against the colorless Jean-Pierre—a serious, impoverished little girl selling bright fistfuls of flowers, a kindhearted American youth who buys them, a selfish Parisian matron, Jean-Pierre’s frivolous wife. Millay’s lyrical gift for language also is evident, such as in this passage later in the story:

In the Restaurant du Chat qui Pêche the dusk thickened into dark, the darkness into blackness, and no lights came on. The door was wide open. The night wind came in through the door, and moved through the empty rooms. (Century, p. 675)

In August 1949, Millay told Ellery Queen (actually Frederic Dannay, one-half of the team of writing cousins) that the story was inspired by a lunch in Paris. “I turned my head,” wrote Millay to Queen, “and saw . . . just inside the window of the restaurant, a large glass tank containing water in which eels were swimming. I wished they were not there. The rest [of the story] was all imagination.” The Fishing Cat, she added, was an actual restaurant, although not located where she had placed it in her story.

ellery_queens_mystery_195005Dannay was impressed with Millay’s effort. “In Miss Millay’s prose,” he wrote in the introduction to the “Fishing Cat” reprint in EQMM, “you will find the qualities of both herself and her poetry—the clear, precise voice and the delicate, almost fragile, image; the intensely personal style which is of simple beauty and beautiful simplicity; and the psychological probing of loneliness and mental fatigue, with their twisting emotional crosscurrents and undercurrents...”

In Dannay’s view, there was a particular reason for the strength of Millay’s mystery story: her position as a preeminent poet. “[P]oets, it has always seemed to us,” he noted in the EQMM introduction, “are peculiarly sensitive to the smell of evil, to the sounds of violence, to the sight of cruelty, to the touch of tragedy, to the taste of murder—and to that sixth sense which detects and diagnoses the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Why did Millay write a mystery? The Library of Congress is currently recataloging Millay’s papers, but the material that is available sheds some interesting light on “Fishing Cat.”

Among her 1922 writings is an unpublished essay, “E.A.P.,” in which Millay discusses the verses of Edgar Allan Poe, referring to the Russian and French reverence for Poe’s poetry and the American acceptance of this foreign esteem. She, however, held a far different opinion. “At no point in the reading [of Poe’s poems],” she wrote, “was there produced in me that combined sensation of excitement and peace by what [sic] I know that I have found a poem. I remained throughout untouched . . . unconvinced.”

The essay coupled with the edgy story and the comment in Millay’s letter regarding “Eddie Poe” might suggest “Fishing Cat” was her attempt to “out-Poe Poe” in the short story form in which he excelled, similar to Charles Dickens’ effort with The Mystery of Edwin Drood to “out-Collins Collins”—his friend and successful sensation writer Wilkie Collins.

It is likely Millay wrote “Fishing Cat” for the money—her nine romances under the Nancy Boyd pseudonym in Ainslee’s paid far better than the small sums she was then earning for her poems. At about the same time Millay also was writing well-paid pieces for Vanity Fair. Because she was contributing to her mother’s support as well as her own, money would have been an important factor. Placing the story in Century Magazine was logical; Century under editor William Rose Benet had previously published her poem “Time Does Not Bring Relief.”

Just one month after “Fishing Cat” was published, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize and so turned in earnest to her poetry. For mystery readers, “Fishing Cat” remains a tantalizing dip into possibility.

Where to read “Murder in the Fishing Cat”
In addition to the March 1923 Century Magazine publication and the June 1950 appearance in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Fishing Cat” is reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Poetic Justice (New York: New American Library, 1967) and The Poet’s Story, edited by Howard Moss (New York: Macmillan, 1973).

Acknowledgements
I thank Alice Lotvin Birney, literary manuscript historian, and Nan Ernst, archivist for the Edna St. Vincent Millay collection, the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; and John Harrelson for their assistance in the preparation of this article. Excerpt from the unpublished essay “E.A.P.” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Copyright © The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. Used by permission.

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

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 October 2011 01:10

Millay_Edna_St_Vincent_smallPulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay took a single, tantalizing foray into mystery.

Declassified: the Barry Eisler Files
Kevin Burton Smith

eisler_barry_crop_press_smallBarry Eisler’s thrillers about Tokyo-based John Rain, the conflicted, half-Japanese, half-American freelance assassin, are international bestsellers, translated into almost 20 languages, regularly winning awards and making year-end “best of” lists.

He’s been compared to John le Carré and Ian Fleming. The film rights have been optioned to Barrie Osborne, the Oscar-winning producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And the series, which started with Rain Fall in 2002, just seems to keep moving from strength to strength, as it tracks Rain’s evolution from the man he once was, an emotionless killing machine, to the man he wants to be, capable of love—and being loved. But this is no touchy-feely odyssey he’s on.

In fact, the sixth and latest, Requiem for an Assassin, may be the hardest-hitting yet. It’s a bruising global ride that finds the angst-ridden assassin in a race to save his friend Dox, the good ol’ boy, former Marine sniper previously introduced in Rain Storm. It’s a situation that would have been almost inconceivable at the beginning of the series, but Rain is no longer the friendless lethal weapon he once was. Nor have the seams in his carefully patched-together persona ever been so gloriously evident.

To rescue Dox from a rogue CIA operative and his team of killers, Rain may have to face a more deadly enemy than usual—namely himself. Rarely in thrillerdom have questions of duty and honor—and their emotional cost—been so sharply examined. And it’s all played against a high-tension cat-and-mouse game full of the diamond-hard action scenes, head-spinning plot twists and the insider vibe that Eisler is routinely and justly applauded for.

Now it turns out that Eisler comes by that vibe firsthand.

Barry was a spy.

Not that I’m Libbying anyone here, but after years of vague rumors about his past, Eisler himself—at the bequest of his publishers—applied to the CIA for a status change. Putnam figured it would make a good publicity hook.

And they were right. I mean, he writes novels full of international skullduggery. And he worked for the CIA. How cool is that?

Pretty cool, it turns out. Eisler spent three years as a case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations. “Mostly they trained me at the SOTC—Special Operations Training Course. Where else can you learn how to pilot small watercraft, conduct airdrops, fire off M-79 grenade launchers, and make improvised explosive devices? And get paid for it?”

But when pushed to elaborate, he tends to downplay his spy days. “I didn’t really do that much. I didn’t even carry a gun. Agency guys don’t usually need to carry guns,” he explains. “Except maybe in war zones or in dangerous cities like Beirut, Bogota, sometimes Manila...

“Despite its arguably sexy image,” he concludes, “the CIA can be a frustratingly bureaucratic place to work.”

He points out that he wasn’t even called a spy. Or an agent. “I was a case officer. In CIA-speak, ‘agents’ are the foreign nationals whom case officers recruit and run.” Barry explains. “Which is odd, given that CIA stands for Central Intelligence Agency. An agency with no agents? Only in the government...”

In fact, most of his tales out of school tend to focus on head-to-head battles with...bureaucracy. For example, during the background check process, Eisler had to take a lie detector test at a Virginia facility. They hooked him up to the gear: blood pressure monitor, respiration, skin conductivity, etc. The examiner, whom Eisler suspects was “selected for his utter lack of humor,” began by asking the standard questions, including the ever popular “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of an organization that seeks the violent overthrow of the US government?”

Nervous, Eisler tried to lighten the situation by cracking wise: “Heh...is there any way someone could answer ‘yes’ to that and still get the job?”

Eisler says the examiner looked at him as though he was “a bug.” Which of course just made him more nervous, so he blathered on. “You know, like, ‘Yes, but only as a high school prank,’ or, ‘Yes, but I was very drunk at the time and I quit the next day?’”

The examiner kept staring. Finally, Eisler surrendered. “Uh, no. Never.”

eisler_barry_09_press_smallThat humorless, bureaucratic mindset was pervasive. At one point, Eisler was rotated over to the Directorate of Intelligence to review the new Soviet constitution. This was the Glasnost era and there was a provision in the new constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. In his analysis, he suggested that the provision wasn’t much of a departure. His supervisor became quite concerned, and called Eisler in.

Supervisor: You say that the new guarantee of freedom of the press isn’t important.
Eisler: It’s not, at least in and of itself. The Stalin-era constitution said the same thing. Maybe other changes will lead to actual freedom of the press in the Soviet Union, but the same old provision in the constitution isn’t one of them.
Supervisor: But this constitution guarantees freedom of the press.
Eisler: But so did Stalin’s. And the press wasn’t free then. Ergo, in the Soviet Union, a provision in the constitution, by itself, isn’t dispositive.
Supervisor: [pause] But this provision guarantees freedom of the press.

According to Eisler, it was “like the scene in Spinal Tap where Rob Reiner’s character can’t convince guitarist Nigel Tufnel that his new amplifier isn’t actually louder even though the new volume control now goes to 11. No matter how he tries to explain it, the guitarist just keeps saying, ‘But this one goes to 11....’”

It’s the sort of situation that would have the pragmatic Rain reaching for a gun. Or a piece of piano wire. Or any of the countless other materials, both exotic (Requiem boasts a great rescue-by-microwave scene) and prosaic (a tree branch), that he’s employed to such deadly use in the series—and that Eisler depicts with chilling verisimilitude.

He credits Uncle Sam for his getting the operator mindset and tactics right. “After all, I was trained by, and worked with these people,” he confesses. “But I also came away with a notion of the government’s limitations and its dysfunctions.”

Dysfunctions?

“Yes. A lot of thrillers are predicated on the idea of some grand conspiracy, which makes for fun fiction, but honestly? Most governments aren’t competent enough to launch and maintain a good conspiracy. The left hand often doesn’t know what the right is doing, far more often than most people realize. Which is why my books tend to focus on the actions of smaller groups, not on government-wide actors.

“As the saying goes: never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.... I try to integrate what’s going on in the real world with Rain’s world. Of course, occasionally, a reader objects,” Eisler admits. “But if they can get past the fact that he kills people for a living, you’d think they could get past the fact that he takes a rather cynical view of the current White House crew, right?”

Eisler, a self-confessed news and politics junkie, is only slightly less outspoken on The Heart of the Matter, his own blog where he attempts to maintain a respectful balance between dissenting camps—a measured, common-sense approach that’s something of a rarity in these increasingly polarized times. As he points out, “I’m sick of flame wars that pass as political discussion, and all the entertainers like Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Michael Moore, and Bill O’Reilly posing as pundits. Calling your political opponents ‘big fat idiots’ or ‘treasonous’ or distorting their statements to fit your diatribe is a great way to sell books, speeches, talk shows, and movies. But that kind of nonsense never enlightens and it never persuades.”

Which may be another factor in the books’ success—Rain may be a killer-for-hire, but he always strives, in his own twisted, tortured way, to take the high road. It’s just one reason he’s such a compelling figure. Another is that Rain’s half-Japanese, half-American heritage makes him a perpetual outsider. When I told Eisler how I felt this was a masterstroke on his part, he shrugged it off.

“I wish I could claim some ingenious insight, but the truth is that originally Rain was a white guy. My agent, Nat Sobel, thought the manuscript had promise, but he couldn’t buy a white guy blending in Tokyo the way Rain did. 'Could he be Japanese?' Nat suggested. But that didn’t feel right either so I compromised. I said, 'Maybe he could be half...' and bam! That was one of those moments where the light bulb goes on over your head.”

“But Rain isn’t really half Japanese or half American,” Eisler is quick to say. “He’s actually completely each. If you met him in the States, other than his Japanese features (which he inherited from his father and had augmented with plastic surgery to make it easier to blend in), you’d assume he was born and bred in America. His English is idiomatic, his accent native, his range of cultural references complete. Likewise in Japan you’d never guess that he was anything other than just another local. This experience of essentially having two souls fascinates me—imagine the phenomenal perspective it must confer. His experience is so paradoxically alienating: he’s fully both, and yet feels truly neither.”

That could be Rain’s motto: Both and yet neither. But even more than his ethnicity, it’s his emotional and existential journey that drives the series—particularly in his latest outing.

eisler_the_detachment_oct_2011Eisler agrees. “A few readers seemed to prefer the more cold-blooded, ruthless Rain of the first book, but what interests me is the way he’s trying to change in response to what he experiences, the way he’s developing. In Requiem for an Assassin all the progress he’s made is erased in a stroke when Dox is kidnapped. Rain snaps all the way back into killing machine mode. But he’s not a loner anymore, and the stress of reverting to his former ways to save Dox—while trying to maintain a relationship with his lover, Israeli agent Delilah—is tearing him apart.

“If there’s an overarching theme to the series, it’s the question of whether Rain can be redeemed for the life he’s led, and the lives he’s taken, or whether he’s irrevocably damned. I don’t know the answer, but until Rain finds out, the story isn’t over.”

Which is good news for his fans all over the world. Eisler is surprised at how well they’ve done in the Netherlands, and he’s pleased—and relieved—at how positive the Japanese reaction has been, given that the books pull no punches in their examination of corruption in Japanese society. “I guess they can sense my genuine enthusiasm for their culture beyond the criticism.”

When asked where that enthusiasm came from, he admits it’s a spin-off from his early interest in martial arts. “I grew up in suburban New Jersey. My father was a salesman, an entrepreneur who never worked for anyone else in his life; my mother was an artist, a homemaker, and even a bit of visionary on what’s now called climate change.

“I was hooked on books, always loved reading and writing. I used to write horror stories about vampires and werewolves while staying with my grandparents on the shore every summer. It was just a good, ordinary childhood.”

He pauses. “Except I got picked on a lot and I wanted to learn how to defend myself. I started wrestling in high school and loved it. Of course, I soon learned that when it comes to confrontations, martial arts aren’t necessarily the solution. But if all else fails, it’s a good insurance policy.”

In college, he met two Japanese business school students who were both fourth dan judoka from the Kodokan International Judo Center, where some of the world’s best judoka study. They were interested in wrestling and Eisler was by now interested in judo. They started working out together. Eisler was also training in karate at the time, and his burgeoning interest in budo soon grew to a more general interest in Japanese history and culture. Eventually, he decided that the only way to completely indulge that interest would be to live in the country.

It took a while, though. After college he took law at Cornell University and “fell in love” with Ithaca, New York, staying for the seven-year program. And then the CIA beckoned. Eisler hoped for a posting to Japan but mounting delays and a growing frustration with the agency’s bureaucracy convinced him to find his own way across the Pacific. He joined the DC office of a New York-based private law firm and eventually took a leave of absence to work with a Tokyo law firm.

“But none of this really explains the feeling I had when I first stepped off the train in Tokyo,” he says. “It was absolute metropolitan love at first sight, and it’s never gone away. I hope it never does.”

By this point, Eisler was in his early 30s, working on the manuscript that would become Rain Fall, but it never occurred to him that he’d be a writer. “Which is embarrassing,” he confesses. “I’d always liked writing. I was always good at it...so why did it take me so long to try to make a living from it?”

eisler_rainfallHe drew on early literary influences ranging from Stephen King and Andrew Vachss, to Judy Blume (“I’m serious! I loved the sex scenes in Forever!”), as well as an obsession with Harry Houdini. “I was about ten when I read a biography where a cop says how fortunate it was that Houdini didn’t turn to a life of crime because he would have been difficult to catch and impossible to hold. I was fascinated by that—that Houdini had managed to gain this ‘forbidden knowledge.’”

The work of such former-intelligence-ops-turned-writers as Fleming and le Carré also played a part; a fact Eisler readily acknowledges in the introduction he wrote for an upcoming reprint of Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only: “What fascinated me as a teenager about James Bond was that he would willingly commit the ultimate crime—killing—and yet remain one of the good guys. Probably no coincidence, then, that I write the same kind of character. Or that I was drawn to the CIA...

“And I’ve always admired how le Carré used his experience not just to craft great spy stories, but to examine what makes us human. I think all authors start off unconsciously trying to imitate other writers they love but eventually, hopefully, imitation fades to influence and your own voice starts to come through.”

For Eisler, that voice includes a certain verisimilitude of which he’s rather proud. “A large part of my ‘brand’ is realism. Except for a way of tapping into a cordless phone in the first book that I made up, all the technology in the books is real. I learned my lesson—anything that I change or extrapolate, I now call out in an author’s note. The jazz clubs, whisky bars, streets, and other locations—they’re all exactly as I find them in on-site research. The martial arts sequences, the tradecraft and operator mindset, it’s all based on my own experience.”

Currently, Eisler lives in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter, but he foresees an eventual return to Japan. “Our daughter’s crazy about anime and manga. She loved it when we took her to visit last year.”

Right now, though, he’s working on a standalone thriller and “having a blast.” Not that fans need be too concerned. Eisler’s already contemplating another book, although this time he’s considering a story driven more by Dox or Delilah, with Rain in a supporting role.

I asked what has surprised him the most about writing fiction, and his response was immediate.

“How the stories just keep coming. Thank God...”

A BARRY EISLER READING LIST

The John Rain Novels
Rain Fall, 2002
Hard Rain (UK: Blood From Blood), 2003
Rain Storm (UK: Choke Point), 2004
Killing Rain (UK: One Last Kill), 2005
The Last Assassin, 2006
Requiem for an Assassin, 2007
The Detachment, forthcoming October 2011

The Ben Treven Novels
Fault Line, 2009
Inside Out, 2010

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


Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 October 2011 02:10

eisler_barry_crop_press_smallA conversation with the spy-turned-author behind the John Rain international thrillers.

Arthur Conan Doyle's First Novel
Oline Cogdill

altOnce upon a time, it was easy to blame the mail for lost letters and lost bills. The phrase "it's in the mail" has a certain comfort to it.

It implies that something will be coming but at the same time holds the suggestion that what was sent may never reach its destination.

I wonder how many authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, also lost their manuscripts to the void of the mail.

Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of his first novel, The Narrative of John Smith, was lost in the mail en route to his publishers.

He later rewrote the novel from memory but it was never published in his lifetime.

That novel was a far cry from the iconc Great Detective. Doyle's debut was about a 50-year-old man who is confined to his room when he has an attack of gout.

Now, I, of course, haven't read it and can't judge it based on that description.

But others will get a chance to weigh in on the novel.

The British Library has released The Narrative of John Smith, making it available to a wide audience. The library also will display the manuscript at its Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in London.

The British Library said in a statement that the novel was written between 1883 and 1884 and is “semi-autobiographical in nature.”


During the novel, John Smith has a series of conversations about issues of the day, including literature, science, religion, war and politics.

Conan Doyle was once quoted about the manuscript's lost: “My shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again – in print.”

Super User
Wednesday, 12 October 2011 06:10

altOnce upon a time, it was easy to blame the mail for lost letters and lost bills. The phrase "it's in the mail" has a certain comfort to it.

It implies that something will be coming but at the same time holds the suggestion that what was sent may never reach its destination.

I wonder how many authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, also lost their manuscripts to the void of the mail.

Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of his first novel, The Narrative of John Smith, was lost in the mail en route to his publishers.

He later rewrote the novel from memory but it was never published in his lifetime.

That novel was a far cry from the iconc Great Detective. Doyle's debut was about a 50-year-old man who is confined to his room when he has an attack of gout.

Now, I, of course, haven't read it and can't judge it based on that description.

But others will get a chance to weigh in on the novel.

The British Library has released The Narrative of John Smith, making it available to a wide audience. The library also will display the manuscript at its Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in London.

The British Library said in a statement that the novel was written between 1883 and 1884 and is “semi-autobiographical in nature.”


During the novel, John Smith has a series of conversations about issues of the day, including literature, science, religion, war and politics.

Conan Doyle was once quoted about the manuscript's lost: “My shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again – in print.”

Denise Hamilton Makes Scents
Oline Cogdill

altDenise Hamilton's latest novel, Damage Control, revolves around a woman who works for a high-powered public relations firm in Los Angeles that specializes in “damage control” for its uber-wealthy clientele.

As she does in her series about L.A. Times reporter Eve Diamond, Hamilton uses this standalone novel to explore issues of classism and identity. Maggie Silver, Damage Control's heroine, knows how to spin doctor the facts for her elite clients because she's done the same thing for her life.

Here's a link to my review of Damage Control.

An ongoing aspect of Maggie's personality is how scents trigger her memory. The smell of a plane passing overhead, the sand and sea all are part of Maggie's history.

But what intrigued me most was that Maggie's olfactory sense was especially spiked by perfumes. Scene after scene had Maggie applying perfumes or catching a whiff of another's perfume and, in both cases, sending her on a memory journey. Think of Proust's description of that madeleine.

I could so relate to Maggie's love of perfume. It's one of my enjoyments, too.

Here's Maggie applying a scent: "...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering... Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power."

When Maggie spoke about spraying on Mitsouko by Guerlain and gave its history, it made me remember wearing this fragrance on one of my first dates with the man who is now my husband. I don't know how much Mitsouko had to do with it—the man now cannot smell burning toast.

But Hamilton's reference triggered my memory: "Mitsouko was one of the original Orientals: a sweet, spicy, leathery, mossy fragrance with hints of peach and oak." Makes me want this perfume again, although it is no longer sold in department stories.

Her description of Dune by Christian Dior as "the bleakest beauty in all of perfumery" was right on the money as that is what I used to think when I wore Dune.

Christian Dior's Jules with its tones of cedar and sage provides a clue to Damage Control's plot, and made me remember how much I love that scent.

I don't know where my love of perfume came from. My mother never wore scents although one of her most cherished possessions was a little trolley of five miniature perfumes that my father had brought her back from WWII. She never opened the perfumes, preferring to look at the lovely gold-plated display. I now have it and it makes me remember my parents and the deep love they had for each other. The perfumes have evaporated through the years and have never been opened.

In high school, I loved Yardley, Heaven Scent, and Jean Nate, appropriate scents for a high school girl. But on my first date, I doused myself with Intimate by Revlon, which prompted my first boyfriend to ask if we spilt some perfume in the house.

I've learned a bit of subtlety since, but during the '80s I would wear too much perfume to work to counteract my boss' cigarette smoking.

Unlike me, Hamilton is an expert on fragrances and writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times. Mystery fans will especially be interested in the column she wrote about perfume as clues to crimes.

Like Maggie, I've gone through various phrases—from Halston to freesia; from high-end fragrances to those available at drug stores to only those sold at the Body Shop or Bath and Bodyworks. I have sought out perfumeries that will mix up a special blend, as well as the Aveda stores that do the same. I've even gone through phases when I wore no scents.

There have been times I wore only Ruffles by Oscar de la Renta (a scent I would probably not like now) or only Joy (still a favorite) or Shalimar (which I can't seem to find anymore). On my first trip to Paris I brought back four bottles of LouLou by Cacharel because it was no longer being sold in the US; I now am down to one bottle.

Right now, my tastes are varied. I alternate between Lola by Marc Jacobs; the entire Dolce & Gabbana line; Summer Linen by Clean; Burberry Summer Perfume by Burberry for women; Bermuda Breeze, a Bermuda-made fragrance I bought on the island; Euphoria by Calvin Klein; Jo Malone's entire line; and the Grapefruit and Sweetgrass fragrances made by the Charleston Soap Chef in South Carolina.

It was nice to find a kindred spirit in Hamilton's Maggie Silver.

Super User
Sunday, 16 October 2011 06:10

altDenise Hamilton's latest novel, Damage Control, revolves around a woman who works for a high-powered public relations firm in Los Angeles that specializes in “damage control” for its uber-wealthy clientele.

As she does in her series about L.A. Times reporter Eve Diamond, Hamilton uses this standalone novel to explore issues of classism and identity. Maggie Silver, Damage Control's heroine, knows how to spin doctor the facts for her elite clients because she's done the same thing for her life.

Here's a link to my review of Damage Control.

An ongoing aspect of Maggie's personality is how scents trigger her memory. The smell of a plane passing overhead, the sand and sea all are part of Maggie's history.

But what intrigued me most was that Maggie's olfactory sense was especially spiked by perfumes. Scene after scene had Maggie applying perfumes or catching a whiff of another's perfume and, in both cases, sending her on a memory journey. Think of Proust's description of that madeleine.

I could so relate to Maggie's love of perfume. It's one of my enjoyments, too.

Here's Maggie applying a scent: "...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering... Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power."

When Maggie spoke about spraying on Mitsouko by Guerlain and gave its history, it made me remember wearing this fragrance on one of my first dates with the man who is now my husband. I don't know how much Mitsouko had to do with it—the man now cannot smell burning toast.

But Hamilton's reference triggered my memory: "Mitsouko was one of the original Orientals: a sweet, spicy, leathery, mossy fragrance with hints of peach and oak." Makes me want this perfume again, although it is no longer sold in department stories.

Her description of Dune by Christian Dior as "the bleakest beauty in all of perfumery" was right on the money as that is what I used to think when I wore Dune.

Christian Dior's Jules with its tones of cedar and sage provides a clue to Damage Control's plot, and made me remember how much I love that scent.

I don't know where my love of perfume came from. My mother never wore scents although one of her most cherished possessions was a little trolley of five miniature perfumes that my father had brought her back from WWII. She never opened the perfumes, preferring to look at the lovely gold-plated display. I now have it and it makes me remember my parents and the deep love they had for each other. The perfumes have evaporated through the years and have never been opened.

In high school, I loved Yardley, Heaven Scent, and Jean Nate, appropriate scents for a high school girl. But on my first date, I doused myself with Intimate by Revlon, which prompted my first boyfriend to ask if we spilt some perfume in the house.

I've learned a bit of subtlety since, but during the '80s I would wear too much perfume to work to counteract my boss' cigarette smoking.

Unlike me, Hamilton is an expert on fragrances and writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times. Mystery fans will especially be interested in the column she wrote about perfume as clues to crimes.

Like Maggie, I've gone through various phrases—from Halston to freesia; from high-end fragrances to those available at drug stores to only those sold at the Body Shop or Bath and Bodyworks. I have sought out perfumeries that will mix up a special blend, as well as the Aveda stores that do the same. I've even gone through phases when I wore no scents.

There have been times I wore only Ruffles by Oscar de la Renta (a scent I would probably not like now) or only Joy (still a favorite) or Shalimar (which I can't seem to find anymore). On my first trip to Paris I brought back four bottles of LouLou by Cacharel because it was no longer being sold in the US; I now am down to one bottle.

Right now, my tastes are varied. I alternate between Lola by Marc Jacobs; the entire Dolce & Gabbana line; Summer Linen by Clean; Burberry Summer Perfume by Burberry for women; Bermuda Breeze, a Bermuda-made fragrance I bought on the island; Euphoria by Calvin Klein; Jo Malone's entire line; and the Grapefruit and Sweetgrass fragrances made by the Charleston Soap Chef in South Carolina.

It was nice to find a kindred spirit in Hamilton's Maggie Silver.

Dennis Lehane: Writer, Publisher
Oline Cogdill

alt
Publishers often have several imprints to market works to different demographic consumers. Think of St. Martin's Minotaur imprint and you automatically know that it is one of its mystery lines.

Soon we'll see Dennis Lehane Books, a new imprint at HarperCollins.

HarperCollins has announced that the author of Mystic River, Moonlight Mile, and other thrillers will oversee his own imprint. According to HarperCollins, Dennis Lehane Books will issue "a select" number of literary fiction works each year that have "a dark urban edge."

Apparently, Lehane won't be just a name on a masthead but will be directly involved in selecting manuscripts. The manuscripts will be submitted to him with authors' names removed so reputation and friendship will not influence his decisions.

The publisher has not set a date for the first book.

Authors such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Charlaine Harris, and Laura Lippman, to name just a few, are brand names as when readers see their names on books they pretty much know what they are getting.

I think Lehane will make a great fit in selecting books for his imprint. He knows what it means to be a urban writer. Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Given Day were each, in their own way, urban novels about moral ambiguity and the loss of innocence, themes that Lehane began in his 1994 debut, the Shamus-winning A Drink Before the War.

During our interview for Mystery Scene magazine, we talked about this.

“I read The Wanderers and it changed my life," said Lehane during our interview. "When I met Richard Price, I told him that his novels lead me to write Mystic River.” Richard said that some kid in Bensonhurst is now reading Mystic River and that would lead him to write something. If people are having a conversation about those great urban classics and I get mentioned in that conversation, then I am happy. All I ever wanted to be was a great urban novelist.”

Now Lehane can help other urban novelists see their work published.

Super User
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 06:10

alt
Publishers often have several imprints to market works to different demographic consumers. Think of St. Martin's Minotaur imprint and you automatically know that it is one of its mystery lines.

Soon we'll see Dennis Lehane Books, a new imprint at HarperCollins.

HarperCollins has announced that the author of Mystic River, Moonlight Mile, and other thrillers will oversee his own imprint. According to HarperCollins, Dennis Lehane Books will issue "a select" number of literary fiction works each year that have "a dark urban edge."

Apparently, Lehane won't be just a name on a masthead but will be directly involved in selecting manuscripts. The manuscripts will be submitted to him with authors' names removed so reputation and friendship will not influence his decisions.

The publisher has not set a date for the first book.

Authors such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Charlaine Harris, and Laura Lippman, to name just a few, are brand names as when readers see their names on books they pretty much know what they are getting.

I think Lehane will make a great fit in selecting books for his imprint. He knows what it means to be a urban writer. Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Given Day were each, in their own way, urban novels about moral ambiguity and the loss of innocence, themes that Lehane began in his 1994 debut, the Shamus-winning A Drink Before the War.

During our interview for Mystery Scene magazine, we talked about this.

“I read The Wanderers and it changed my life," said Lehane during our interview. "When I met Richard Price, I told him that his novels lead me to write Mystic River.” Richard said that some kid in Bensonhurst is now reading Mystic River and that would lead him to write something. If people are having a conversation about those great urban classics and I get mentioned in that conversation, then I am happy. All I ever wanted to be was a great urban novelist.”

Now Lehane can help other urban novelists see their work published.

Dexter Offers a Killing Season
Oline Cogdill

alt

The sixth season of Showtime's Dexter illustrates how this fine series continues to explore new aspects of its murderous hero, played by Michael C. Hall, at left.

Dexter, based on Jeff Lindsay's novels, follows Miami's most unusual serial killer -- a murderer who gleefully dispatches his victims but whose code, honed by his adoptive father, requires him to prey only on those much worse than he. Dexter would never kill a child or any innocent person. But child killers, pedophiles, wife muderers, gangsters and the like are fair game.

In many ways, the Showtime series has proved to be a stronger, more emotionally involved and thoughtful examination of Dexter Morgan than have Lindsay's novels. Both meld humor with hard-boiled plots with existentialist musings from this serial killer. By day, Dexter works as a blood splatter expert in the Miami Police Department.

Both TV and book series tap into the feeling of being an outsider. Dexter is constantly trying to figure out if he fits in, if his reaction to events of the day are what a normal person would have. Each of us – whether we admit it or not – worries when we’ll be “unmasked,” in our professional or personal life. We also worry about how others perceive us.

I said in one of my book reviews: "Lindsay keeps the reader off kilter by making Dexter a bundle of contractions: a funny, killing machine who is genuinely concerned about children; guiltless about his actions, yet meticulous that he be right about his victims’ corruption. Dexter should be repulsive, but isn’t."

And reality is what the TV series maintains while the novels have often veered into the supernatural. While I have disagreed with a few changes the TV series has made -- especially the ending of season four -- Showtime's Dexter has never strayed from the killer's complicated and complex personality.

As Dexter, Michael C. Hall is perfect, showing every emotion and even the character's innocence. The TV series keeps the episodes crisp, the dialogue real and everyone looks as if they really are a cop or, in the case of Dexter, a blood splatter expert. And they also look as if they have just been in the oppressive heat of South Florida.

Each season has focused on how Dexter deals with life -- marriage, fatherhood, loss, family life.

This year, Dexter's spiritually, or lack of it, is explored as two religious loons, played by Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos prey on South Florida.

The sixth season's opener in which Dexter attends his high school reunion was priceless. Unlike in high school, Dexter is now quite the hunk and finds that many of the women are lusting after him. But he is there for one reason. In high school, only one girl was nice to him. Dexter wants to find out if the girl's high school boyfriend who became her husband murdered her. Dexter is not disapponted at the reunion.

Oddly, for a TV series that deals with an unmerciful killer, the way the opening segment plays on perceptions is often the most violent.

Lindsay's sixth novel Double Dexter is now out and is one of the author's strongest.

Dexter airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime with frequent encores.

Admin
Sunday, 30 October 2011 06:10

alt

The sixth season of Showtime's Dexter illustrates how this fine series continues to explore new aspects of its murderous hero, played by Michael C. Hall, at left.

Dexter, based on Jeff Lindsay's novels, follows Miami's most unusual serial killer -- a murderer who gleefully dispatches his victims but whose code, honed by his adoptive father, requires him to prey only on those much worse than he. Dexter would never kill a child or any innocent person. But child killers, pedophiles, wife muderers, gangsters and the like are fair game.

In many ways, the Showtime series has proved to be a stronger, more emotionally involved and thoughtful examination of Dexter Morgan than have Lindsay's novels. Both meld humor with hard-boiled plots with existentialist musings from this serial killer. By day, Dexter works as a blood splatter expert in the Miami Police Department.

Both TV and book series tap into the feeling of being an outsider. Dexter is constantly trying to figure out if he fits in, if his reaction to events of the day are what a normal person would have. Each of us – whether we admit it or not – worries when we’ll be “unmasked,” in our professional or personal life. We also worry about how others perceive us.

I said in one of my book reviews: "Lindsay keeps the reader off kilter by making Dexter a bundle of contractions: a funny, killing machine who is genuinely concerned about children; guiltless about his actions, yet meticulous that he be right about his victims’ corruption. Dexter should be repulsive, but isn’t."

And reality is what the TV series maintains while the novels have often veered into the supernatural. While I have disagreed with a few changes the TV series has made -- especially the ending of season four -- Showtime's Dexter has never strayed from the killer's complicated and complex personality.

As Dexter, Michael C. Hall is perfect, showing every emotion and even the character's innocence. The TV series keeps the episodes crisp, the dialogue real and everyone looks as if they really are a cop or, in the case of Dexter, a blood splatter expert. And they also look as if they have just been in the oppressive heat of South Florida.

Each season has focused on how Dexter deals with life -- marriage, fatherhood, loss, family life.

This year, Dexter's spiritually, or lack of it, is explored as two religious loons, played by Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos prey on South Florida.

The sixth season's opener in which Dexter attends his high school reunion was priceless. Unlike in high school, Dexter is now quite the hunk and finds that many of the women are lusting after him. But he is there for one reason. In high school, only one girl was nice to him. Dexter wants to find out if the girl's high school boyfriend who became her husband murdered her. Dexter is not disapponted at the reunion.

Oddly, for a TV series that deals with an unmerciful killer, the way the opening segment plays on perceptions is often the most violent.

Lindsay's sixth novel Double Dexter is now out and is one of the author's strongest.

Dexter airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime with frequent encores.

New Novels From Ice-T & Wife Coco
Oline Cogdill

title
Ice-T's career as a rapper lead to his career as an actor, mostly for his role as "Fin" Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since that show debuted. (Ice-T, left, came in on the last show of the first season.)

Nicole “Coco” Marrow is an actor and model, but is best known as Ice-T's wife.

Together, the couple, along with their bulldog, star in the reality TV series Ice Loves Coco on E!.

altThe couple, married since 2005, often show up together on talk shows and Coco has appeared twice on Law & Order: SVU, both times as a porn actress.

Both now are making their debut in the book world with their novels released on the same day by Forge Books.

Ice-T offers a gritty street drama about an aged gangster fresh out of prison and looking for revenge.with Kings of Vice.

Coco visits the spiritual side with Angel, the story of a woman who survives a plane wreck but has no idea who she is.

Ice-T and Coco are quite watchable. The couple seems to really like being with each other and Ice-T often seems amused by his wife.

altAs far as writers, well, we'll see.

Both have been making the talk show rounds touting their books. Both are quite open that they had co-authors on their project.

Mal Radcliff is listed on the cover and inside as Ice-T's co-author. But I couldn't find any info about Radcliff during my myriad Internet searches.

I had better luck with Laura Hayden, who is listed on the cover and inside as Coco's co-author. Hayden has written several romantic suspense novels and has co-authored a couple of mysteries with Susan Ford, the daughter of President Gerald Ford.

Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood, Ice-T’s memoir, established him as a compelling storyteller. (He had a co-author on that project, too.)

Super User
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 06:10

title
Ice-T's career as a rapper lead to his career as an actor, mostly for his role as "Fin" Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since that show debuted. (Ice-T, left, came in on the last show of the first season.)

Nicole “Coco” Marrow is an actor and model, but is best known as Ice-T's wife.

Together, the couple, along with their bulldog, star in the reality TV series Ice Loves Coco on E!.

altThe couple, married since 2005, often show up together on talk shows and Coco has appeared twice on Law & Order: SVU, both times as a porn actress.

Both now are making their debut in the book world with their novels released on the same day by Forge Books.

Ice-T offers a gritty street drama about an aged gangster fresh out of prison and looking for revenge.with Kings of Vice.

Coco visits the spiritual side with Angel, the story of a woman who survives a plane wreck but has no idea who she is.

Ice-T and Coco are quite watchable. The couple seems to really like being with each other and Ice-T often seems amused by his wife.

altAs far as writers, well, we'll see.

Both have been making the talk show rounds touting their books. Both are quite open that they had co-authors on their project.

Mal Radcliff is listed on the cover and inside as Ice-T's co-author. But I couldn't find any info about Radcliff during my myriad Internet searches.

I had better luck with Laura Hayden, who is listed on the cover and inside as Coco's co-author. Hayden has written several romantic suspense novels and has co-authored a couple of mysteries with Susan Ford, the daughter of President Gerald Ford.

Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood, Ice-T’s memoir, established him as a compelling storyteller. (He had a co-author on that project, too.)

John Sandford's Certain Prey on Usa
Oline Cogdill

alt

The producers who cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the upcoming movie based on Lee Child's novels should take a cue from those who put Mark Harmon in the lead in John Sandford's Certain Prey.

If the advance clips I saw are any indication, the casting of Harmon as Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Lucas Davenport is inspired.

The Emmy and Golden Globe nominated Harmon is best known for his role as Special Agent Jethro Gibbs on the long-running and perpetually in reruns NCIS.


John Sandford's Certain Prey will air at 9 p.m. Nov. 6 on USA Network. A marathon of NCIS reruns will lead up to Certain Prey.

Harmon has long been a personal favorite and his ability to deliver strong performances has earned him a long career. He's a perfect match for Sandford's long-running and popular series.


altThe made for TV movie is based on Sandford's 10th novel.

The movie was written and directed by Chris Gerolmo (Citizen X, Mississippi Burning).

In Certain Prey, Davenport is called to the scene when a cop is shot after witnessing the murder of a local real estate lawyer's wife.

The husband is the first suspect until evidence suggests elusive hit woman Clara Rinker (Tatiana Maslany).

Davenport believes that Cara is working with Carmel Loan (Lola Glaudini), a high-powered attorney with an intense obsession for the real estate lawyer.

Let's hope that John Sandford's Certain Prey proves a hit with viewers. Sandford has 20 novels in this series, plenty of fodder for TV movies.

I also hope this brings even more readers to Sandford.

Photos courtesy USA Network

Super User
Sunday, 06 November 2011 05:11

alt

The producers who cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the upcoming movie based on Lee Child's novels should take a cue from those who put Mark Harmon in the lead in John Sandford's Certain Prey.

If the advance clips I saw are any indication, the casting of Harmon as Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Lucas Davenport is inspired.

The Emmy and Golden Globe nominated Harmon is best known for his role as Special Agent Jethro Gibbs on the long-running and perpetually in reruns NCIS.


John Sandford's Certain Prey will air at 9 p.m. Nov. 6 on USA Network. A marathon of NCIS reruns will lead up to Certain Prey.

Harmon has long been a personal favorite and his ability to deliver strong performances has earned him a long career. He's a perfect match for Sandford's long-running and popular series.


altThe made for TV movie is based on Sandford's 10th novel.

The movie was written and directed by Chris Gerolmo (Citizen X, Mississippi Burning).

In Certain Prey, Davenport is called to the scene when a cop is shot after witnessing the murder of a local real estate lawyer's wife.

The husband is the first suspect until evidence suggests elusive hit woman Clara Rinker (Tatiana Maslany).

Davenport believes that Cara is working with Carmel Loan (Lola Glaudini), a high-powered attorney with an intense obsession for the real estate lawyer.

Let's hope that John Sandford's Certain Prey proves a hit with viewers. Sandford has 20 novels in this series, plenty of fodder for TV movies.

I also hope this brings even more readers to Sandford.

Photos courtesy USA Network

Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories on Pbs
Oline Cogdill

altScottish author Kate Atkinson’s cerebral novels about Jackson Brodie, a former cop turned private detective, gracefully make the transition to the screen in the three-episode Case Histories, as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series now airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on PBS.

The first installment, based on the novel Case Histories, ran Oct. 16; One Good Turn is slated for Oct. 23; and When Will There Be Good News? will be on Oct. 30. Each episode is two hours. Check your local listings for time changes and encore showings. A DVD of all three episodes will be released by Acorn Media Nov. 8.

In the Case Histories series, Jason Isaacs, left, changes the long blond wig he wore as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies for the jeans-wearing Jackson Brodie who does his best thinking while driving along the Scottish countryside. Brodie is the epitome of the insightful wounded private detective, haunted by his past, at odds with most of his former police colleagues and a soft touch for seemingly lost causes. Isaacs perfectly captures the brooding Brodie without making him a caricature.

Atkinson’s luxurious storytelling transitions well to the PBS series. While luxurious isn’t just another word for slow, Case Histories unfolds thoughtfully at a leisurely pace that emphasizes character rather than action.

Any crimes that affect children or women trigger Brodie’s memories of his sister’s murder that occurred when he was a boy. Brodie often relives that scene, a situation that is core to the novels but on screen seems, at least at first, confusing.

altIn the first episode, Brodie takes on three cases. Two sisters, cleaning out the house of their recently deceased father, find a stuffed blue mouse in his desk. The toy was the favorite of their other sister who disappeared more than 30 years before. A grieving father (character actor Phil Davis) wants to know who murdered his daughter in his own office on her first day of work. The stranger showed up, stabbed her and then disappeared. And, in what seems like a tacked on plot, an aunt wants Brodie to find her niece who disappeared from foster care more than a decade ago. The child’s mother was in jail at the time for murdering her husband.

In One Good Turn (Oct. 23), Brodie jumps into the Firth of Forth to retrieve the body of young woman who drowned. But Brodie loses the body and the police are reluctant to believe the body even exists. DCI Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington, left with Isaacs), his one ally on the police force, is even more skeptical when Brodie seems to see the young woman walking around Edinburgh. A complicated set of other plot threads also are set in motion.

In When Will There Be Good News? (Oct. 30) Brodie wakes up in the hospital after trying to pull an elderly woman from a car that landed on railroad tracks. Brodie’s life has been saved by a whip-smart girl who wants the detective to find her missing employer. This novel is a personal favorite of mine and this episode shines with an emotional ending.

Case Histories does justice to Atkinson’s work but the filmed version points out flaws that erupt when print becomes film. Without Atkinson’s graceful prose, the first episode seems to rely too much on coicidence and stretches credibility. That Jackson has three similar cases in the first episode and is able to solve a 30-year disappearance and a weeks-old murder that have stumped the police seems unbelievable. Atkinson juggles several plot lines in her novels, which work for readers but may tax viewers’ comprehension.

But despite the production’s flaws, Atkinson’s storytelling shines. Supporting characters are richly explored, especially the sisters in the first episode; the teenager and a lunatic husband in the third episode.

Jason Isaacs, who also co-starred in Brotherhood, The State Within and other films and TV series, is quite familiar with Atkinson’s novels, having recorded several of the audio versions. He brings a sense of power and vulnerability to the role of Jackson Brodie.

He doesn’t recover quickly when he is beaten up. And he seems to genuinely care about his clients and finding them justice. A divorced father, he dotes on his daughter and we feel his pain when his ex-wife tells him she is taking a job in New Zealand. And, just to be frivolous, many of us enjoyed Isaacs’ frequent lack of a shirt.

The lovely soundtrack features lots of Nanci Griffin (a personal favorite), Lucinda Williams and Iris DeMent—all of which go well with the Brodie’s personality.

Case Histories airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series. Episode 2, based on One Good Turn, on Oct. 23; Episode 3, based on When Will There Be Good News?, on Oct. 30. Episode 1, based on the novel Case Histories, aired Oct. 16 but is in reruns. Check your local listings. A DVD of all three episodes will be released by Acorn Media Nov. 8.

Photos of Jason Isaacs, top; Isaacs with Amanda Abbington, center. Photos courtesy PBS.

Super User
Sunday, 23 October 2011 06:10

altScottish author Kate Atkinson’s cerebral novels about Jackson Brodie, a former cop turned private detective, gracefully make the transition to the screen in the three-episode Case Histories, as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series now airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on PBS.

The first installment, based on the novel Case Histories, ran Oct. 16; One Good Turn is slated for Oct. 23; and When Will There Be Good News? will be on Oct. 30. Each episode is two hours. Check your local listings for time changes and encore showings. A DVD of all three episodes will be released by Acorn Media Nov. 8.

In the Case Histories series, Jason Isaacs, left, changes the long blond wig he wore as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies for the jeans-wearing Jackson Brodie who does his best thinking while driving along the Scottish countryside. Brodie is the epitome of the insightful wounded private detective, haunted by his past, at odds with most of his former police colleagues and a soft touch for seemingly lost causes. Isaacs perfectly captures the brooding Brodie without making him a caricature.

Atkinson’s luxurious storytelling transitions well to the PBS series. While luxurious isn’t just another word for slow, Case Histories unfolds thoughtfully at a leisurely pace that emphasizes character rather than action.

Any crimes that affect children or women trigger Brodie’s memories of his sister’s murder that occurred when he was a boy. Brodie often relives that scene, a situation that is core to the novels but on screen seems, at least at first, confusing.

altIn the first episode, Brodie takes on three cases. Two sisters, cleaning out the house of their recently deceased father, find a stuffed blue mouse in his desk. The toy was the favorite of their other sister who disappeared more than 30 years before. A grieving father (character actor Phil Davis) wants to know who murdered his daughter in his own office on her first day of work. The stranger showed up, stabbed her and then disappeared. And, in what seems like a tacked on plot, an aunt wants Brodie to find her niece who disappeared from foster care more than a decade ago. The child’s mother was in jail at the time for murdering her husband.

In One Good Turn (Oct. 23), Brodie jumps into the Firth of Forth to retrieve the body of young woman who drowned. But Brodie loses the body and the police are reluctant to believe the body even exists. DCI Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington, left with Isaacs), his one ally on the police force, is even more skeptical when Brodie seems to see the young woman walking around Edinburgh. A complicated set of other plot threads also are set in motion.

In When Will There Be Good News? (Oct. 30) Brodie wakes up in the hospital after trying to pull an elderly woman from a car that landed on railroad tracks. Brodie’s life has been saved by a whip-smart girl who wants the detective to find her missing employer. This novel is a personal favorite of mine and this episode shines with an emotional ending.

Case Histories does justice to Atkinson’s work but the filmed version points out flaws that erupt when print becomes film. Without Atkinson’s graceful prose, the first episode seems to rely too much on coicidence and stretches credibility. That Jackson has three similar cases in the first episode and is able to solve a 30-year disappearance and a weeks-old murder that have stumped the police seems unbelievable. Atkinson juggles several plot lines in her novels, which work for readers but may tax viewers’ comprehension.

But despite the production’s flaws, Atkinson’s storytelling shines. Supporting characters are richly explored, especially the sisters in the first episode; the teenager and a lunatic husband in the third episode.

Jason Isaacs, who also co-starred in Brotherhood, The State Within and other films and TV series, is quite familiar with Atkinson’s novels, having recorded several of the audio versions. He brings a sense of power and vulnerability to the role of Jackson Brodie.

He doesn’t recover quickly when he is beaten up. And he seems to genuinely care about his clients and finding them justice. A divorced father, he dotes on his daughter and we feel his pain when his ex-wife tells him she is taking a job in New Zealand. And, just to be frivolous, many of us enjoyed Isaacs’ frequent lack of a shirt.

The lovely soundtrack features lots of Nanci Griffin (a personal favorite), Lucinda Williams and Iris DeMent—all of which go well with the Brodie’s personality.

Case Histories airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series. Episode 2, based on One Good Turn, on Oct. 23; Episode 3, based on When Will There Be Good News?, on Oct. 30. Episode 1, based on the novel Case Histories, aired Oct. 16 but is in reruns. Check your local listings. A DVD of all three episodes will be released by Acorn Media Nov. 8.

Photos of Jason Isaacs, top; Isaacs with Amanda Abbington, center. Photos courtesy PBS.

A Death in Summer
Dick Lochte

It has never been a secret that Black is the pseudonym employed by mainstream Irish novelist John Banville when penning crime fictions, most of which have featured Dublin pathologist Garret Quirke. This is the fourth in the series, and, maybe I’m imagining it, but it seems that with each Quirke investigation the author has been moving further from Man Booker prize-winner to potential Edgar winner, crafting ever more emotion-and-action-filled plots while easing up a bit on the literary pedal. Not that A Death in Summer would be compared to a Donald Westlake caper. It deals with murder, infidelity, and any number of dark elements that, to keep this review spoiler-free, shall go unmentioned (except to note that Jonathan Kellerman may find one plot device a bit familiar).

Quirke, moody and dark and irresistibly fond of the grape, has become a refreshing reminder of what sleuths used to be in the politically incorrect days of yore, a somewhat selfish boozer and debaucher. If, unlike them, he’s weighed down by guilt for his sins, so be it. He’s Irish. Reader Keating, a television actor (Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie) and member of the theatrical Irish Rep Company, compliments the protagonist’s every mood. He narrates the objectively told novel with an Emerald Isle lilt that keeps us mindful of the locale but is subtle enough that it does not interfere with the serious, sometimes somber atmosphere created by the prose. He smartly separates the voices along socioeconomic lines, adding the sound of arrogance to both an overbearing media mogul and his snobbish, if troubled, son, while capturing the whining pettiness the author reserved for a journo, a recurring character, now working for a bottom rung newspaper. Keating even manages to create acceptable extreme accents for two female characters—the elegant, very French widow of a murdered newspaper tycoon and Quirke’s honey-voiced Dixie-born sister-in-law.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 01:10

black_deathinsummer_audioBlack is the pseudonym of Irish novelist John Banville when penning crime fictions, most of which have featured Dublin pathologist Garret Quirke. It seems that with each Quirke investigation the author has moves further from Man Booker prize-winner to potential Edgar winner...

Blood on the Stage, 1950-1975: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection: an Annotated Repertoire
Jon L. Breen

The third volume of this monumental reference work lives up to the high standard of the first two. Defining crime and mystery broadly as any story involving a crime or the threat of a crime, Kabatchnik begins chronologically with the Damon Runyon-inspired musical Guys and Dolls, a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows in service of Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics, and finishes with Graham Greene’s The Return of A.J. Raffles with over a hundred other stops along the way.

Among the print mystery writers represented are Agatha Christie (most frequently), Audrey and William Roos (aka Kelley Roos), Helen MacInnes, Michael Gilbert, James Yaffe, Henry Cecil (in collaboration with William Saroyan), Hugh Wheeler aka Patrick Quentin), and Lucille Fletcher. Famous playwrights represent a wide range: Sidney Kingsley, William Faulkner, Horton Foote, Arthur Miller, Brendan Behan, Maxwell Anderson, Bertolt Brecht, Elmer Rice, Woody Allen, Tom Stoppard, Jules Feiffer, and John Osborne, plus a few renowned actors: Emlyn Williams, Raymond Massey, and Michael Redgrave. Plays covered include suspense classics (Dial M for Murder, Witness for the Prosecution, Wait Until Dark, Sleuth, Equus), along with more surprising inclusions (Stalag 17, The Crucible, Advise and Consent, The Best Man) and a few interesting turkeys, such as Ouida Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, an unsuccessful vehicle for husband Basil.

A typical entry, running from two or three to over ten pages, includes a synopsis (surprise solution included), critical response, production history, biographies of the playwright and (in the case of adaptations) author of the original work, availability of acting edition, awards and honors if any, and notes. Appendices on plays concerning poison, courtroom drama, death row, and children in peril span the whole 20th century and repeat material from earlier volumes, while providing additional information and corrections. The 23-page index covers personal names and titles.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 01:10

kabatchnik_bloodonthestage19501975The third volume of this monumental reference work lives up to the high standard of the first two.

Die Buying
Lynne F. Maxwell
Laura DiSilverio (actually Lila Dare) has come up with a unique hook whereby she reels in her readers. In Die Buying, DiSilverio introduces E.J. Ferris, mall cop. E.J. isn’t your average mall cop (not that I know any). Ex-military, she takes a job as a mall cop because injuries sustained during her time in Iraq and Afghanistan prevent ready employment in standard police departments. Using a Segway, she diligently patrols Fernglen Galleria, located in small-town Virginia. Secretly, though, she is the daughter of Hollywood heartthrob Ethan Jarrett, who exhorts her to seek more suitable (in his eyes) employment. Ever independent, though, E.J. makes a go of it on her own. Much to her surprise, the sleepy job of mall cop takes a turn for the exciting when an intruder “liberates” all of the reptiles from a pet store, and that’s just the beginning, since murders ensue, as well. I’m eager to read the next installment in this offbeat series.
Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 02:10
Laura DiSilverio (actually Lila Dare) has come up with a unique hook whereby she reels in her readers. In Die Buying, DiSilverio introduces E.J. Ferris, mall cop. E.J. isn’t your average mall cop (not that I know any). Ex-military, she takes a job as a mall cop because injuries sustained during her time in Iraq and Afghanistan prevent ready employment in standard police departments. Using a Segway, she diligently patrols Fernglen Galleria, located in small-town Virginia. Secretly, though, she is the daughter of Hollywood heartthrob Ethan Jarrett, who exhorts her to seek more suitable (in his eyes) employment. Ever independent, though, E.J. makes a go of it on her own. Much to her surprise, the sleepy job of mall cop takes a turn for the exciting when an intruder “liberates” all of the reptiles from a pet store, and that’s just the beginning, since murders ensue, as well. I’m eager to read the next installment in this offbeat series.
Black Orchid Blues
Betty Webb

One of the things I like about historical mysteries is that they teach us so much about interesting times. Some of the best selling of these historicals have taken us back to Roman times, Byzantium, medieval Italy, and Victorian England.

But we don’t need to travel back that far or row across the pond to get good history lessons. One of the most intriguing historicals I’ve yet come across is Persia Walker’s Black Orchid Blues, set in the Harlem of the 1920s. Here we learn about Strivers’ Row, the neighborhood where upper class African-Americans hold court in elegant brownstones and sophisticated salons. The Black Orchid of the title is Queenie, a transvestite jazz singer, whose beauty and voice have made her the talk—and scandal—of the town. When Queenie is kidnapped during a bloodbath at a Harlem nightclub, society columnist Lanie Price, curious about Queenie’s growing reputation, is there to witness the entire thing. A shaken Lanie meets her deadline, then uses her society connections to find out who might be behind Queenie’s kidnapping and its attendant killings. The search immerses her in the world of organized crime, Harlem’s hard-partying gay community, and the conflicts about gender identity at a time and place where Harlem’s “strivers” are desperately seeking equality in a Jim Crow world.

Author Walker’s skills are more than up to the task of dealing with serious topics. She shows us each side of an issue, then lets us draw our own conclusions. Her intricate plot takes so many twists and turns that it’s often difficult to tell villain from hero, evil from expediency. Walker cares about the small stuff, too. Her period details are dead on, from the radio programs of the day, right down to the shape of the telephones. And her characters? In a word, superb. Lanie makes an intelligent, sympathetic protagonist/sleuth, yet in the end, it’s the spectacular Queenie herself who remains with us when we close this breathtaking book.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 02:10

walker_blackorchidbluesA historical mystery set in 1920s Harlem, where African Americans held court in sophisticated salons.

A Tribute to Michael Gilbert (1912-2006)
Martin Edwards

gilbertmichael_smallThis writer combined elegant prose, intricate story lines, and sharp-eyed social commentary to craft intelligent and amusing crime fiction.

Few British crime writers have been lauded as extensively on both sides of the Atlantic as Michael Gilbert, who died in 2006 at the age of 93.

The Mystery Writers of America recognized his contribution to the genre with its highest honour, the Grand Master Award. The Crime Writers Association did likewise when he received the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger.

The Queen appointed him a Commander of the British Empire in 1980 and his books—fact as well as fiction—stage plays, television scripts and radio plays have earned an admiring audience since his first novel, Close Quarters, appeared in 1947. Two of his other novels were adapted into films.

Yet his was never a household name. This was not due to any lack of talent, but simply because he belonged to a generation and a class of Englishmen that regarded the seeking of personal publicity as unseemly. He preferred to let his work speak for itself. And how well it spoke of his gifts for writing clear and attractive prose and for composing intricate and delightful storylines.

Michael Gilbert was born in 1912, the same year as the legendary crime critic and novelist Julian Symons, who became a good friend from the time when, in 1953, they were asked by John Creasey to help found the Crime Writers Association. Educated at Blundell’s, a well-known private school, and London University, Gilbert had a short spell as a schoolteacher before the Second World War intervened.

gilbert_close_quartersBy then his enthusiasm for detective fiction had prompted him to start work on Close Quarters. Conceived in the spirit of Golden Age mystery writing, and still an agreeable read today, this whodunit was set in a fictitious Cathedral close. Before he managed to finish the book, he had served in the Royal Horse Artillery, been mentioned in dispatches, and become a prisoner of war. His experiences in an Italian POW camp provided him with background material for Death in Captivity, a first-rate whodunit. By the time that book appeared in 1952, Gilbert had already published five others and qualified as a solicitor.

Gilbert seems to have had an extraordinary ability to succeed at anything he seriously turned his mind to. He did not merely dabble in legal work whilst trying to build a career as a novelist; he rose to become second most senior partner in a prestigious firm and numbered amongst his clients not only the Conservative Party and the Sultan of Bahrain—but also Raymond Chandler. His legal knowledge informed many of his short stories and novels—including the witty and ingenious Smallbone Deceased, which many regard as his masterpiece.

Cyril Hare, a barrister who became a judge and who also wrote crime fiction, was an influence. Gilbert came across Hare’s classic mystery Tragedy at Law whilst imprisoned in Italy. The men later became good friends and, after Hare’s early death, Gilbert edited a first class collection, Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare. Hare was an excellent writer whose reputation has stood the test of time. But Gilbert’s range—even in his books focusing on legal themes, a small proportion of his total output—was much wider.

Death has Deep Roots cleverly combines a courtroom drama with a thriller set largely in France. Flashpoint, narrated in part by a lawyer who works for the Law Society (the body which regulates the conduct of solicitors), involves political intrigue and dirty tricks played by the security services. The Crack in the Teacup finds a young lawyer running up against corruption in local government. The Queen against Karl Mullen, an outstanding and astonishingly overlooked late work, treats with great skill tricky questions about the fallibility of British justice.

gilbert_danger_withinThe themes are serious, yet invariably Gilbert wrote with a light touch. If he wished to convey a message, he did so with the utmost subtlety. Perhaps that is why the sharp-eyed social commentary in several of his books has so often been underestimated. Legal issues and settings surface in many of the hundreds of short stories that he turned out over more than half a century. Stay of Execution includes several minor masterpieces, not least the short-short “Back on the Shelf.” Anything for a Quiet Life brings together nine stories about Jonas Pickett, a solicitor who leaves London for a quiet Sussex resort but finds himself repeatedly confronted by mysteries that demand to be solved.

Jonas Pickett had earlier appeared in The Long Journey Home, another book which makes good use of Gilbert’s war-time experiences. It is a feature of this author’s work that he regularly created fresh and engaging characters who would pop up in various novels and short stories, without any one achieving dominance. His first series detective was Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, of whom he said (in introducing the Crippen & Landru collection The Man Who Hated Banks): “He was what you might call a standard pattern policeman.”

Soon he introduced Sergeant Patrick Petrella, son of an Englishwoman and a senior Spanish detective. Petrella’s first book appearance was in Blood and Judgment, a police procedural which opens with the discovery of a woman’s body on Bonfire Night.

Although Hazlerigg investigated in Smallbone Deceased, the book also saw the debut of an appealing amateur sleuth, the lawyer Henry Bohun. As Gilbert said: “Bohun’s detective activities arose by chance. Since he suffered from a form of parainsomnia which never allowed him more than two hours’ sleep each night, and sometimes none at all, this left him with a lot of time on his hands which he spent…thinking out answers to the problems that he encountered.” Bohun appeared in no other novels, but five of the short stories about him may be found in The Man Who Hated Banks.

That collection also includes three tales about the unscrupulous former DCI Mercer, whose first outing was in The Body of a Girl. I presume that Gilbert’s political instincts were conservative, but he was never reluctant to explore the dark and dirty corners of establishment life in his writing. There are corrupt cops as well as honourable ones, together with innumerable dodgy politicians. In his espionage stories, especially the highly praised series concerning the veteran agents Calder and Behrens, he does not flinch from the reality that spying is a brutal business.

Gilbert_crack_in_teacupGilbert somehow found time, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, to write extensively for stage, radio, and TV, as well as to coedit the first four CWA short story anthologies and an excellent series of Classics of Detection and Adventure for Hodder & Stoughton. His nonfiction is always worth seeking out and it is a matter for regret that he did not write more regularly about his chosen genre. Had he done so, one suspects that his reputation as an incisive, if traditionally inclined, commentator might have rivalled that of Symons. He contributed a chapter to a book edited by H.R.F. Keating (who wrote an affectionate and perceptive obituary of Gilbert for The Guardian) about Agatha Christie, but perhaps his most original and fascinating essay is to be found in a book he edited himself, Crime in Good Company, a gathering of pieces on criminals and crime-writing put out under the auspices of the CWA.

In “The Moment of Violence,” Gilbert argues that “a thriller is more difficult to write than a detective story.” (He, of course, was skilled at both forms.) He went on to claim that “because thrillers are more difficult, they are, on the whole, written by professionals. Detective stories of the greatest excellence are produced by school-mistresses, dons, County Court judges, poets, lawyers, Army Commanders, chemists, critics and other members of those underpaid professional classes who have to use their spare time productively or starve.” Note, incidentally, how a telling point is wrapped up with dry humour. This is typical of Gilbert. His essay was written nearly 50 years ago and remains a good read today—not least for his explanation, based on personal experience, of what it sounds like to be shot at when you are running away.

Gilbert’s essay is prefaced by a note from the master of the impossible crime, John Dickson Carr:

“Mr. Gilbert is an affable soul about seven feet tall in a bowler hat…”
‘I maintain,’ Gilbert says, carefully, ‘or have maintained so far a steady balance of production both in books and children…two books to one child…I have maintained this rate of production so far and I mean to go on doing it until my powers fail in one direction or the other.’
Gilbert adds wryly, ‘up-to-date figures are ten books and six children, which would seem to give Mrs Gilbert a clear two point lead.’

In fact the Gilberts had seven children in all (one, Harriet, herself became a successful novelist), though Michael Gilbert focused increasingly on producing novels: his final tally reached 30.

One of Michael Gilbert’s unintended achievements was to prompt me to combine qualifying as a solicitor with writing crime fiction. I was much encouraged as a teenager to learn that he did his writing on the train into work, although after I became a lawyer I made the mistake of moving to a house nowhere near a railway station. By then Gilbert had become one of my literary heroes and in 1987, before I had managed to publish a novel, the Law Society commissioned me to interview him for its magazine, the Gazette. He proved to be charm and courtesy itself and I have to this day the letters he wrote to me thanking me for the piece about him:

Gilbert_Night_of_twelfth“In the old days it would, no doubt, have been condemned as advertising. When I started to write reviewers had to be warned that the most they could say about me was that I was ‘a practising solicitor’–extended later to ‘a Lincoln’s Inn solicitor.’ Not so now, of course, with firms competing in the advertising line—to the detriment, in the end, of their clients whose bills will be inflated by the cost. As Dorothy Sayers pointed out, in the end advertising is paid for by the customer.”

These are the views of a member of the old school, and I fear that they would get a modern lawyer nowhere (even though there is much truth in what he and Sayers said.) But above all, they are the views of an honourable and modest man.

I owe Michael Gilbert even more than most crime fiction fans. After I achieved publication of my novels about Harry Devlin, a Liverpudlian solicitor much more down-at-heel than any of his own legal sleuths, he was quick to offer praise that meant much more to me than he can ever have realised.

Gilbert was generous, too. When—having taken over the editorship of the CWA anthologies that he, along with Symons and Josephine Bell had inaugurated four decades earlier—I asked permission to reproduce his stories in collections, he was always willing to help. The last time we were in touch was when he agreed to my reprinting a lovely short story called “A Case for Gourmets” in the 2005 CWA anthology, Crime on the Move.

There is so much in Michael Gilbert’s work to savour—he is never dull, he never writes the same book twice. As well as the titles already mentioned, I would highlight two more. The Night of the Twelfth is an excellent police novel, while The Dust and the Heat (also known as Overdrive) is very different from his other whodunits and action- packed thrillers. It combines an unusual plot with an intriguing character study of Oliver Nugent, a successful businessman with a dark secret dating back to the days immediately after the end of the Second World War. And—guess what?—along the way, Gilbert also pokes a great deal of fun at advertising campaigns. He enjoyed writing his mysteries every bit as much as readers who relish intelligent and amusing crime fiction will continue to enjoy devouring them.

Gilbert_Danger_within_posterAll Grist for the Mill

During World War II Michael Gilbert served in the Royal Horse Artillery in North Africa and Europe. He was captured in 1943 in North Africa and sent to a military prison near Parma in Italy. During his time as a POW, he became interested in crime novels after reading Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law. After the Italian surrender, Gilbert managed to escape from the camp with two friends. Approaching the Allied lines one of his friends was shot and recaptured, but Gilbert succeeded in crossing the lines with his other friend. This experience he later used in the 1952 novel Death in Captivity (published in the US as The Danger Within). This novel was the basis for the 1959 film Danger Within, released in the US as Breakout.

A Selected Michael Gilbert Reading List

Crime Novels
Close Quarters, 1947* (Insp. Hazelrigg)
They Never Looked Inside, 1948 (Insp.Hazelrigg) In US, He Didn’t Mind Danger
The Doors Open, 1949 (Insp.Hazelrigg)
Smallbone Deceased, 1950 (Insp.Hazelrigg)
Death Has Deep Roots, 1951 (Insp.Hazelrigg)
Death in Captivity, 1952 In US, The Danger Within
Fear to Tread, 1953 (Insp.Hazelrigg)
Sky High, 1955 In US, The Country-House Burglar
Be Shot for Sixpence, 1956
Blood and Judgement, 1959
After the Fine Weather, 1963
The Crack in the Teacup, 1966
The Dust and the Heat, 1967 In US, Overdrive
The Etruscan Net, 1969 In US, The Family Tomb
The Body of a Girl, 1972
The Ninety-Second Tiger, 1973
Flash Point, 1974
The Night of the Twelfth, 1976
The Empty House, 1978
Death of a Favorite Girl, 1980 In US, The Killing of Katie Steelstock
The Final Throw, 1982 In US, End-Game
The Black Seraphim, 1983
The Long Journey Home, 1985
Trouble, 1987
Paint, Gold and Blood, 1989
The Queen Aagainst Karl Mullen, 1991
Roller Coaster, 1993 (Patrick Petrenella)
Ring of Terror, 1995 (Luke Pagan)
Into Battle, 1997 (Luke Pagan)
Over and Out, 1998 (Luke Pagan)
The Curious Conspiracy, 2002

Short Story Collections
Game Without Rules, 1967 (US)
Stay of Execution and Other Stories, 1971
Amateur in Violence, 1973 (US only)
Petrella at Q, 1977
Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, 1982
Young Petrella, 1988 (Patrick Petrenella)
Anything for a Quiet Life, 1990
The Man Who Hated Banks, 1997 (US)
The Mathematics of Murder: A Fearne and Bracknell Collection, 2000
The Curious Conspiracy, 2002 (US)

Other
Editor, Crime in Good Company: Essays on Criminals and Crime Writing, 1959
Editor, Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare, 1959; also in US as Death Among Friends and Other Detective Stories
Editor, The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes, 1986

*Dates are for first publication. All books published first in the UK, unless otherwise noted.

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 Spring Issue #94.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 03:10

gilbertmichael_smallA crime writer who combined elegant prose, intricate story lines, and sharp-eyed social commentary.

The Whole Gorey Story
Kevin Burton Smith & Mystery Scene

It's not too late to get ghouled up for the year's most wicked holiday. Around this time, we here at Mystery Scene begin thinking about our annual "Mystery Lovers Gift Guide." When we stumbled across the Edward Gorey House Store, we couldn't resist getting a head(less) start on sharing some of the great gifts ideas we found.

gorey_cat_pin$40-$100 The Edward Gorey Cats & Bats Jewelry Collection

They're creepy and they're gruesome, but mystery-loving (or is that Mystery!-loving?) cat fans will dig the Edward Gorey-inspired pins, necklaces, earrings and charms, featuring assorted felines and bats in suspicious positions. Readers in particular will cotton to the slightly creepy Book Cat Pin ($63.90) which they bill as "a take-it-with-you reminder of one of life's simpler pleasures." Sure, it's just an innocent tabby sprawled on an innocent stack of books—or is that just what they want you to think?

Click to buy

gorey_alphabetmug$12.95 each The Edward Gorey Tinies Alphabet Mugs

A series of 26 11-ounce mugs, suitable for sipping coffee, tea or mercury cyanide, running from A to Z, and each featuring a wrap around image by Gorey. Of particular interest to certain editors is "K is for Kate who was struck with an axe," which adorns one side, while Death and the Gashlycrumb Tinies kids frolic on the mug's reverse side. Or collect them all! "'A' is forAmy who fell down the stairs," "'B' is for Basil assaulted by bears," etc. Dishwasher and microwave safe so you can get out those damned spots.

Click to buy

gorey_gashlycrumblunchbox$16.99 Gashlycrumb Tinies Lunchbox

And while we're on all things Gorey, what disturbed little boy or ghoul wouldn't want to trot off to school with his or her very own Edward Gorey Lunchbox? This full-size lunchbox, which features the complete text from Gorey's classic 1963 alphabet reader (see above) narrates the sad fates of all 26 "Tinies." Suddenly peanut butter sandwiches can be cool again...

Click to buy

gorey_draculamousepad

$13.95 Edward Gorey Dracula Mousepad

It's creepy and it's kooky, mysterious and spooky. Yep, Gorey takes on Bram Stoker's venerable old bloodsucker, and the red, white and black result, captured on this washable, water- and coffee-resistant natural rubber mousepad, is all together ooky. But rest easy, PETA members: the fine people at pomegranate.com assured me that "No mice were injured in testing this product."

Click to buy

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 October 2011 03:10

gorey_draculamousepadIt's not too late to get ghouled up for the year's most wicked holiday. Four Gorey gifts featuring the illustrations of Edward Gorey. Read more...

The Blond Leading the Blond
Jackie Houchin

Ellery Tinsdale is a 40-something third-grade teacher with gray-blond hair who tops out at 6 feet and 200 pounds. To her surprise, she's been summoned to Braddocks Beach, Ohio, to claim an inheritance left by an aunt she never knew she had. Turns out Aunt Izzy Tinsdale was the town's very rich "Queen Bee" and Ellery is her only living relative. When Chief Bennett learns of Ellery and her large inheritance, he promptly accuses her of murdering her Aunt Izzy for the money as it "just stands to reason."

Enter the second blond to the rescue, Samantha Greene. This petite firecracker with a pile of cascading platinum curls that barely reach Ellery's earlobe, quickly dismisses the Police Chief as a fool and sets about introducing the town's new "royalty" to its inhabitants. Not only does Sam make over Ellery's wardrobe, social calendar, and etiquette, she enlists Ellery’s reluctant help in finding "Mizizzy's" real killer.

Soon this unlikely sleuthing duo is up to their respective chins in madcap pandemonium. From potlucks to potshots the women wend their way through a maze of clues and suspects, disregarding civil rules (but never social decorum!) to bring the villain to justice.

Ormerod is adept in the use of metaphor and simile, packing her prose with hundreds of laugh out loud comparisons. She also has an amazing talent for creating unforgettable characters that readers will quickly adore. And wisely, she's left readers with a hint of a new case to anticipate in Blond Luck.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 28 October 2011 04:10

ormerod_blondleadingtheblondAn unlikely sleuthing duo, completely opposite save the color of their hair, take on crime in the Midwestern lakeside town of Braddocks Beach.

A Night in Noir Town (or All Femmes Are Fatale)
Kevin Burton Smith

Look around. Anyone who's ever dipped their toe in the crime fiction stream knows that life is a hard and unforgiving journey through a bittersweet world of bad choices and worse luck. But, really, does EVERYTHING have to be labeled “noir”? Your Honour, let me present my case:


noir_gotham_city_ring$225 Gotham City Ring, nOir Jewelry

Started 14 years ago by designer and stylist Leeora Catalan, nOir offers a “fresh and cheeky take on style” that “blends glamour with an edgy street influence.” No, really, that's what they say, and it seems to be working. Their jewellery is worn by such People Magazine A-listers as Lady Gaga, Madonna, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Katy Perry, and Fergie. Still, I'm not so sure how “noir” any of it is—I mean, among their collections are ones featuring designs inspired by Walt Disney... and Mattel's Barbie. Still, the Gotham City Ring from the DC Comics Collection is sorta cool, in a dark, creepy and tacky sort of way—just like Gotham City, actually. The ring is solid brass plated in Gunmetal and has Cubic Zirconia stones that make up the windows of the buildings. And what a steal at a mere $225 simoles! Although, given the heft of this thing and the way it juts out, it just might make for a dandy weapon.

Click to buy

kissmedeadly_vargasdress$80.00 The Vargas Dress, Kiss Me Deadly

And speaking of seamed stockings...has your best gal ever complained about how difficult it is to find a decent garter set or vintage lingerie these days? Well, the British clothing company Kiss Me Deadly feels their pain. They make period lingerie for “glamorous, sensual and intelligent women” who truly understand that even nice girls like to play naughty sometimes—and that getting dressed in a retro cocktail dress is a little like building something from the ground up. Seems they were called foundation garments for a reason. The people at Kiss Me Deadly understand, and will ship all over the world. The Vargas Dress in Black is their perennial best seller. Alternately called a corselette, body briefer, body shaper, all-in-one, and a host of other names, it's essentially a bra and girdle combo. The underwired, supportive bra is made from lace over lingerie mesh, and underneath, there's a double layer of stretchy control mesh, finished off with six metal garter tabs for stockings.

Click to buy

dortheascloset_floraldressinggown$255.00 The Floral Print Dressing Gown, The Noir Boudoir

Of course, a girl can't wander around ALL the time in her underthings, can she? So perhaps an era-appropriate dressing gown is in order, and the Noir Boudoir (part of the much larger dorotheasclosetvintage.com site) may just have your number. They have an awesome selection of vintage dressing gowns, like this 1930s-styled zippered front dressing gown in polished cotton that puts the hubba back into hubba hubba. A black background boasts a bold pink hydrangea floral pattern, with a wide rounded collar, a bow tie at the neck and a sash at the waist. It measures 36” at the bust, 26” at the waist, 44” at the hips and it's 57” long, but if that's not quite you, they've got plenty of other great choices.

Click to buy

victoriassecret_noirperfume

$29.00-$60.00 The Sexy Little Things Noir Perfume, Victoria's Secret

Of course, any femme fatale worth her seamed stockings doesn't just want to look noir—she wants to smell noir too. With its hints of amber, cattelaya orchid, water lily, apple, sparkling citrus, pineapple, velvet musk, guanabana, pear, red fruit, bergamot, muguet, sparkling nectarine, cyclamen, jasmine, plum, vanilla, dewberry, cassis, musk and, I'm sure, some other ingredients they just made up, this is a scent, slightly fruity, slightly floral and all woman, that has more mystery to it than a shelf full of James M. Cain novels. But on the right dame? Smells like sin to me...

cotedor_noirdenoir$5.99 Noir de Noir 150, Cote D'Or

Like chocolate? The Cote D'Or's Noir de Noir 150 is 150 grams (a little over five ounces) of sinfully delicious plain dark chocolate, imported from Belgium, where noir is just another word for “black.” Sure, at six bucks a pop, it may seem pricey, but after sinking your teeth into some real chocolate, you'll realize that this is the real McCoy, and that biting into most American chocolate is like biting into a birthday candle.

So, she meets you at the door to the apartment in her floral dressing gown, the whisper of silk underthings battling the subtle but insistent hint of a perfume that's making your head swim. She chucks you under the chin and slowly strokes your cheek with the back of her hand, letting that ring lightly graze the side of your face. She gives you a playful slap, tells you in that slightly breathless voice of hers that you need a shave, and then she offers you chocolate. Really, really good chocolate. And all the time she's got those baby blues fastened on you. If that doesn't make you guys wanna push an unwanted husband or two off a train, I don't know what will…

Click to buy

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 29 October 2011 09:10

victoriassecret_noirperfumeLook around. Anyone who's ever dipped their toe in the crime fiction stream knows that life is a hard and unforgiving journey through a bittersweet world of bad choices and worse luck. But, really, does EVERYTHING have to be labeled “noir”? Your Honour, let me present my case...

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Holds Up Well
By Bill Hirschman

By Bill Hirschman

altThe zeitgeist of the world long ago caught up to John le Carré’s Cold War vision of gray civil servants wearily battling their bureaucratic masters as much as the external evils threatening the public, an almost Sisysphean task of protecting society in a world of uncertain loyalties, debatable ethics and ephemeral outcomes.

So the overwhelming but total justification to revisit the 1979 BBC TV mini-series le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (just re-released on DVD from Acorn Media) is not to learn anything new. It’s to revel in the superb artistry of cinematic storytellers deftly transferring a complex, thought-provoking work from one medium to another.

Notable for the work of Alec Guinness, director John Irvin and screenwriter Arthur Hopcraft, this brooding yet riveting six-hour spy story is the product of a troupe of highly skilled craftsmen creating what le Carré himself says is the best adaptation of his work.

The premise sounds simple but it is dense, elliptical and covertly suspenseful in its unveiling: A bureaucratic coup has ousted old-line British spymaster Control and his second in command, the graying George Smiley (Guinness). The coup came just as Control was trying to discover who in his top-level of lieutenants is actually a long-time Russian mole. Smiley is quietly asked by Whitehall to come out of retirement to discover the traitor inside the intelligence service named the Circus, despite having few resources, no authority and almost no one to trust.

Le Carré’s books and films, starting with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, are often described as the real world antithesis of James Bond. This is spycraft without gadgets: a simple wedge in a door is used to keep out interlopers during a black bag job.

Records are not computerized, but kept in dog-earred file folders. There is no glamour or glory, only self-doubt whether the altruistic ends justify the ethically-challenged means. The sparing amounts of violence, on screen and off, are all the more harrowing because the consequences here are prolonged torture and sudden death.

More importantly, the books and this film capture the paranoia and fear as well as any historical document can. Some critics predicted when the Cold War ended that le Carré’s career was over because his genre became irrelevant. This mini-series underscores why that didn’t happen: le Carré’s real focus were the people operating in, around and despite institutions that used ethics and pragmatism, loyalty and betrayal as the coins of the realm. Tales investigating moral ambiguity never go out of style.

Irvin, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts and production designer Austen Spriggs evoke a gloomy and ominous sense of place, not just in England, but of the purgatory of Czechoslovakia (which you’ll be saddened to hear was really filmed in a downtrodden region outside Glasgow.

Another of the film’s virtue is its pacing. Never plodding, its stately gait actually ratchets up the tension. For six hours, (and it’s a plus to see it in one or two sittings) you think of that old cliché, the noose tightening – a noose that strangles people to a very real and horrible death. At the end of each hour’s episode, I found myself not taking a break, but sticking the next DVD in the machine.

Tinker marks one of Guinness’ last great performances (it was sandwiched between the first two Star Wars films). It’s a testament to his genius at internalized acting, often using a subtle pained glance or slight cock of the head to communicate severely-banked emotions and an incisive mind cloaked in a deceptively bland exterior.

The rest of the cast is an amazing collection of character actors whose faces everyone knows if not their names, many of them now dead: Ian Bannen as the consummate field agent, Ian Richardson as an urbane supervisor and Alexander Knox, looking dead already, as the fatally ill Control who is stunned by the horror of the betrayal of his staff. Patrick Stewart has a memorable scene as a captured Soviet spy who does not utter a word and simply glares malevolently with the steadfast ferocity of a true believer.

Hopcraft pulled off the daunting task of making as clear as possible le Carré’s elliptical storytelling. Le Carré’s love of Byzantine plotting here (brought to a head in A Perfect Spy) communicates the author’s goal of making the reader/viewer feel as confused and unmoored as the characters.

A new film version starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth is due out in December; the trailers look promising. But two questions: first, why bother remaking Casablanca or Citizen Kane? Second, at two hours rather than six, a great deal is going to have to be excised when the complexity is the point.

This package contains a booklet listing the entire cast, a dictionary of le Carré’s totally invented spycraft jargon, a description of who each character is to help viewers sort out the mess, a 20-minute interview with le Carré (or David Cornwall), and abbreviated filmographies of the major actors so you don ‘t have to run to IMDB.

Side note: If you love this kind of work, catch the continuing modern British spy series, MI-5 (known as Spooks in Britain), and, even better but harder to find, The Sandbaggers (1978-1970) a British TV series covering the same territory as le Carré, but even darker. All are on DVD.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy available on Acorn Media

Super User
Sunday, 20 November 2011 05:11

By Bill Hirschman

altThe zeitgeist of the world long ago caught up to John le Carré’s Cold War vision of gray civil servants wearily battling their bureaucratic masters as much as the external evils threatening the public, an almost Sisysphean task of protecting society in a world of uncertain loyalties, debatable ethics and ephemeral outcomes.

So the overwhelming but total justification to revisit the 1979 BBC TV mini-series le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (just re-released on DVD from Acorn Media) is not to learn anything new. It’s to revel in the superb artistry of cinematic storytellers deftly transferring a complex, thought-provoking work from one medium to another.

Notable for the work of Alec Guinness, director John Irvin and screenwriter Arthur Hopcraft, this brooding yet riveting six-hour spy story is the product of a troupe of highly skilled craftsmen creating what le Carré himself says is the best adaptation of his work.

The premise sounds simple but it is dense, elliptical and covertly suspenseful in its unveiling: A bureaucratic coup has ousted old-line British spymaster Control and his second in command, the graying George Smiley (Guinness). The coup came just as Control was trying to discover who in his top-level of lieutenants is actually a long-time Russian mole. Smiley is quietly asked by Whitehall to come out of retirement to discover the traitor inside the intelligence service named the Circus, despite having few resources, no authority and almost no one to trust.

Le Carré’s books and films, starting with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, are often described as the real world antithesis of James Bond. This is spycraft without gadgets: a simple wedge in a door is used to keep out interlopers during a black bag job.

Records are not computerized, but kept in dog-earred file folders. There is no glamour or glory, only self-doubt whether the altruistic ends justify the ethically-challenged means. The sparing amounts of violence, on screen and off, are all the more harrowing because the consequences here are prolonged torture and sudden death.

More importantly, the books and this film capture the paranoia and fear as well as any historical document can. Some critics predicted when the Cold War ended that le Carré’s career was over because his genre became irrelevant. This mini-series underscores why that didn’t happen: le Carré’s real focus were the people operating in, around and despite institutions that used ethics and pragmatism, loyalty and betrayal as the coins of the realm. Tales investigating moral ambiguity never go out of style.

Irvin, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts and production designer Austen Spriggs evoke a gloomy and ominous sense of place, not just in England, but of the purgatory of Czechoslovakia (which you’ll be saddened to hear was really filmed in a downtrodden region outside Glasgow.

Another of the film’s virtue is its pacing. Never plodding, its stately gait actually ratchets up the tension. For six hours, (and it’s a plus to see it in one or two sittings) you think of that old cliché, the noose tightening – a noose that strangles people to a very real and horrible death. At the end of each hour’s episode, I found myself not taking a break, but sticking the next DVD in the machine.

Tinker marks one of Guinness’ last great performances (it was sandwiched between the first two Star Wars films). It’s a testament to his genius at internalized acting, often using a subtle pained glance or slight cock of the head to communicate severely-banked emotions and an incisive mind cloaked in a deceptively bland exterior.

The rest of the cast is an amazing collection of character actors whose faces everyone knows if not their names, many of them now dead: Ian Bannen as the consummate field agent, Ian Richardson as an urbane supervisor and Alexander Knox, looking dead already, as the fatally ill Control who is stunned by the horror of the betrayal of his staff. Patrick Stewart has a memorable scene as a captured Soviet spy who does not utter a word and simply glares malevolently with the steadfast ferocity of a true believer.

Hopcraft pulled off the daunting task of making as clear as possible le Carré’s elliptical storytelling. Le Carré’s love of Byzantine plotting here (brought to a head in A Perfect Spy) communicates the author’s goal of making the reader/viewer feel as confused and unmoored as the characters.

A new film version starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth is due out in December; the trailers look promising. But two questions: first, why bother remaking Casablanca or Citizen Kane? Second, at two hours rather than six, a great deal is going to have to be excised when the complexity is the point.

This package contains a booklet listing the entire cast, a dictionary of le Carré’s totally invented spycraft jargon, a description of who each character is to help viewers sort out the mess, a 20-minute interview with le Carré (or David Cornwall), and abbreviated filmographies of the major actors so you don ‘t have to run to IMDB.

Side note: If you love this kind of work, catch the continuing modern British spy series, MI-5 (known as Spooks in Britain), and, even better but harder to find, The Sandbaggers (1978-1970) a British TV series covering the same territory as le Carré, but even darker. All are on DVD.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy available on Acorn Media

Denise Hamilton's Homage to Writers
Oline Cogdill

altI always am looking for those tributes that authors give other writers in novels.

In Denise Hamilton's Damage Control, her heroine Maggie Silver finds that perfumes trigger her deepest memories. (See my post here)

But Maggie also is a reader and Hamilton shows Maggie's personality by telling the reader the books on her nightstand.

During Damage Control, Maggie reads a lot. The books she mentions are:

Toby Barlow’s first book, Sharp Teeth, a verse novel about werewolves: "Fangs, claws, furs. What's not to like?"

Georges Simenon: "whose dogged Paris police inspector understood how affairs of the heart could turn -- given the right mix of motive and circumstance -- to affairs of blood.

Charlaine Harris: "binging on vampires."

Hamilton, who writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times, mentions several authors, such as Jeffrey Marks' The Scent of Murder, in the column she wrote about perfume as clues to crimes.

Super User
Sunday, 25 December 2011 05:12

altI always am looking for those tributes that authors give other writers in novels.

In Denise Hamilton's Damage Control, her heroine Maggie Silver finds that perfumes trigger her deepest memories. (See my post here)

But Maggie also is a reader and Hamilton shows Maggie's personality by telling the reader the books on her nightstand.

During Damage Control, Maggie reads a lot. The books she mentions are:

Toby Barlow’s first book, Sharp Teeth, a verse novel about werewolves: "Fangs, claws, furs. What's not to like?"

Georges Simenon: "whose dogged Paris police inspector understood how affairs of the heart could turn -- given the right mix of motive and circumstance -- to affairs of blood.

Charlaine Harris: "binging on vampires."

Hamilton, who writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times, mentions several authors, such as Jeffrey Marks' The Scent of Murder, in the column she wrote about perfume as clues to crimes.

Authors Vie for Unusual Naming Rights
Oline Cogdill

altCorporations do it; so do organizations; and so do people.

Having something named after you such as a stadium, a school, a library, a theater or even a seat in a theater not only allows your name to be remembered but also shows your support.

Now a group of mystery authors are in a contest to see who can raise the most money to have a morgue at Dundee University in Scotland named after them.

Well, why not?

Crime writers Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs (left), Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver (below), Jeff Lindsay, Stuart MacBride, Peter James and Val McDermid are each trying to get the most votes in the "Million for a Morgue" campaign.

The author with the most public votes will have the morgue named after them.

altFans can vote for a favorite author online - with each vote contributing £1 to the fund raiser. A British £1 is equal to about $1.50 in American money, but the exchange rate changes daily.

Dundee University has committed one million pounds to the project, but another million pounds needs to be raised.

According to BBC News, the new morgue will adopt a "revolutionary" way of embalming - called the Thiel method - which keeps bodies flexible for longer.

This gives medics and researchers a more realistic way of testing techniques and practicing procedures, as well as developing new equipment and approaches, according to BBC News.

Dr. Sue Black, director of Dundee's Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, is no stranger to crime novelists. According to the BBC News, authors often use her expertise.

According to BBC News, McDermid has used Black's advice when constructing the "grisly technical detail" in her novels.

"She has this rare ability to put things in layman's terms," McDermid was quoted.

By the way, my profile of McDermid is Mystery Scene's current cover story.

Super User
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 05:11

altCorporations do it; so do organizations; and so do people.

Having something named after you such as a stadium, a school, a library, a theater or even a seat in a theater not only allows your name to be remembered but also shows your support.

Now a group of mystery authors are in a contest to see who can raise the most money to have a morgue at Dundee University in Scotland named after them.

Well, why not?

Crime writers Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs (left), Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver (below), Jeff Lindsay, Stuart MacBride, Peter James and Val McDermid are each trying to get the most votes in the "Million for a Morgue" campaign.

The author with the most public votes will have the morgue named after them.

altFans can vote for a favorite author online - with each vote contributing £1 to the fund raiser. A British £1 is equal to about $1.50 in American money, but the exchange rate changes daily.

Dundee University has committed one million pounds to the project, but another million pounds needs to be raised.

According to BBC News, the new morgue will adopt a "revolutionary" way of embalming - called the Thiel method - which keeps bodies flexible for longer.

This gives medics and researchers a more realistic way of testing techniques and practicing procedures, as well as developing new equipment and approaches, according to BBC News.

Dr. Sue Black, director of Dundee's Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, is no stranger to crime novelists. According to the BBC News, authors often use her expertise.

According to BBC News, McDermid has used Black's advice when constructing the "grisly technical detail" in her novels.

"She has this rare ability to put things in layman's terms," McDermid was quoted.

By the way, my profile of McDermid is Mystery Scene's current cover story.

Authors Tackle Social Issues
Oline Cogdill

altCrime fiction's relevance comes up daily. Many of the novels I read seem to have their plots ripped from the headlines, tackling the issues that our society deals with. These novels are not just who-done-its but the modern social novel, giving us insight to world events with plots that put us on the scene.

The issue of immigrants, drug cartels and the trials of border patrol are in the news just about every day.

And mystery fiction has been tackling these issues, showing how people are affected as well as how politics enter the fray.

In Triple Crossing (Mulholland Books), journalist Sebastian Rotella delivers an intense novel about immigration's hot-button issues.

In this novel, rookie Border Patrol agent Valentine Pescatore is often uneasy about rounding up the illegal aliens along the California-Mexican border. While many of the patrol agents with whom he works are honest, Valentine also is pressured by those who enjoy using violence and cruelty toward the immigrants. They want him to be as inhumane as they are.

altValentine is recruited by a U.S. agent to infiltrate a powerful Mexican mafia family. Valentine ends up at the “triple border” of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay that is full of smugglers and terrorists.

In The Territory (Minotaur), Tricia Fields also shows the personal side of lawless drug cartels. Fields, the 2010 Tony Hillerman Prize winner, brings the reader to the war zone of Artemis, Texas, located along the Rio Grande at the border of Mexico. The decent people are under constant siege by two rival drug cartels. Chief of Police Josie Gray and her small department are outmanned by the wealthy, well-armed cartels.

In The Ninth Day (Harper), Jamie Freveletti has her biochemist Emma Caldridge taken prisoner by drug lord La Valle when she is in a remote area of Mexico. La Valle's top marijuana crop has been infected by a flesh-eating toxin that kills even those who just touch the leaves. He wants to send these leaves to America to spread the toxins.

Each of these authors brings the hot-button, massive issue to very personal stories populated by characters you grow to care about.

altWhen the relentless violence of the drug cartels reach innocent people, the reader feels for each character affected. Many of us can't wrap our brains about how massive are the issues of immigration and drug cartels. These seem like unsolvable problems fraught with politics, bribes and violence.

But without taking political sides, each of these authors put the human face on the issues and show us that solutions are attainable.

And the novels illustrate things that most Americans probably don't know about.

Rotella's Triple Crossing shows that many ethnicities use the Mexican border to come into the U.S. The smuggling non-Mexicans is incredibly lucrative with Chinese refugees paying up to $70,000 a piece.

There is a sense of compassion in each of these novels for those innocent people caught up in the cross-fire of battling drug cartels; for refugees who want a better life for themselves in the U.S.; and for the cops and agents trying to be the first line of defense.

And while the issues they tackle are tough, none of the novels are depressing. Each of these authors also knows they are writing crime fiction.

Freveletti has several books under her belt and has been tapped by the Estate of Robert Ludlum to write the next novel in the Covert One series about a team of political and technical experts.

Sebastian Rotella's Triple Crossing and Tricia Fields' The Territory are these authors first foray into fiction. I hope we hear more from each of these authors.

Super User
Sunday, 13 November 2011 05:11

altCrime fiction's relevance comes up daily. Many of the novels I read seem to have their plots ripped from the headlines, tackling the issues that our society deals with. These novels are not just who-done-its but the modern social novel, giving us insight to world events with plots that put us on the scene.

The issue of immigrants, drug cartels and the trials of border patrol are in the news just about every day.

And mystery fiction has been tackling these issues, showing how people are affected as well as how politics enter the fray.

In Triple Crossing (Mulholland Books), journalist Sebastian Rotella delivers an intense novel about immigration's hot-button issues.

In this novel, rookie Border Patrol agent Valentine Pescatore is often uneasy about rounding up the illegal aliens along the California-Mexican border. While many of the patrol agents with whom he works are honest, Valentine also is pressured by those who enjoy using violence and cruelty toward the immigrants. They want him to be as inhumane as they are.

altValentine is recruited by a U.S. agent to infiltrate a powerful Mexican mafia family. Valentine ends up at the “triple border” of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay that is full of smugglers and terrorists.

In The Territory (Minotaur), Tricia Fields also shows the personal side of lawless drug cartels. Fields, the 2010 Tony Hillerman Prize winner, brings the reader to the war zone of Artemis, Texas, located along the Rio Grande at the border of Mexico. The decent people are under constant siege by two rival drug cartels. Chief of Police Josie Gray and her small department are outmanned by the wealthy, well-armed cartels.

In The Ninth Day (Harper), Jamie Freveletti has her biochemist Emma Caldridge taken prisoner by drug lord La Valle when she is in a remote area of Mexico. La Valle's top marijuana crop has been infected by a flesh-eating toxin that kills even those who just touch the leaves. He wants to send these leaves to America to spread the toxins.

Each of these authors brings the hot-button, massive issue to very personal stories populated by characters you grow to care about.

altWhen the relentless violence of the drug cartels reach innocent people, the reader feels for each character affected. Many of us can't wrap our brains about how massive are the issues of immigration and drug cartels. These seem like unsolvable problems fraught with politics, bribes and violence.

But without taking political sides, each of these authors put the human face on the issues and show us that solutions are attainable.

And the novels illustrate things that most Americans probably don't know about.

Rotella's Triple Crossing shows that many ethnicities use the Mexican border to come into the U.S. The smuggling non-Mexicans is incredibly lucrative with Chinese refugees paying up to $70,000 a piece.

There is a sense of compassion in each of these novels for those innocent people caught up in the cross-fire of battling drug cartels; for refugees who want a better life for themselves in the U.S.; and for the cops and agents trying to be the first line of defense.

And while the issues they tackle are tough, none of the novels are depressing. Each of these authors also knows they are writing crime fiction.

Freveletti has several books under her belt and has been tapped by the Estate of Robert Ludlum to write the next novel in the Covert One series about a team of political and technical experts.

Sebastian Rotella's Triple Crossing and Tricia Fields' The Territory are these authors first foray into fiction. I hope we hear more from each of these authors.