My Book: Laurel Hells, Grassy Balds, and Wild Boars
Ed Lynskey

lynskey_edEvery novel, including my latest Appalachian noir Lake Charles, is rooted to a specific place. I chose mine with care. One July in the early 1980s, my wife and I packed up our rattletrap Ford Escort, said a prayer, and drove off to stay at a budget motel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Nestled amid the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s a picturesque tourist mecca. I’d already been there a few years before while hiking 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail that rambles along the craggy summits.

We’d camped out, rarely meeting any folks except fellow scruffy hikers along the trail. I did get to see close up a lot of the Tennessee boonies. On the second trip with my wife, however, I rubbed elbows with the natives and took in the local color. At the time, I’d no idea that my seventh novel would spring from my two Gatlinburg experiences, but that’s what happened 25 years later when I wrote Lake Charles.

Gatlinburg had left its lasting impressions on me. My young protagonist Brendan Fishback’s troubles begin after he awakens in his motel bed next to the dead Ashleigh Sizemore, whom he’d met the previous night at a rock concert. As far as I know, no homicide occurred at our motel, but I took away a suggestion of where to stage the death scene in Lake Charles and set in motion the narrative’s conflict.

The Great Smoky Mountains also offered the ideal spot to cast my noirish tale, and I set out to portray my setting with the grit, verve, and energy expected of an Appalachian noir. For instance, one chase scene unfolds in the virtually impenetrable rhododendron undergrowth the locals call a “laurel hell.” The wild boars rooting up the soil are perfect to explore the myth of Circe, the Greek sorceress who bewitched Odysseus and his men, through my femme fatale Ashleigh. The mountain “balds” where little grows except for grass gave me another stage. The boulder beds provided the raw materials to create a burial cairn in a pivotal scene. I even elected to put my fictional hamlet of Umpire just a shot down the highway from Gatlinburg.

lynskey_lakecharlesObviously from the title a lake is central to my novel, and I had a mental snapshot for its design. On the first night of our Appalachian Trail hike, we made an impromptu camp near Fontana Dam. The body of water bottled up there became the literary inspiration for my Lake Charles. In the wee hours, black bears caused us to scurry up the trail for the safety of a bear-proof shelter. We made it out okay.

This isn’t so true for Brendan. He encounters nothing good at the stagnant Lake Charles. While tramping along its brushy banks, he runs up not against local moonshiners, but a drug cartel growing a big, illicit crop of marijuana. The plot amps up, and the rugged terrain broken up by its hollows, creeks, and thickets pose a challenge for him to cross while battling his new enemies.

In fact, absent the mountainous vista, Lake Charles would lose its crisp, hard-edged vividness cited in Publishers Weekly and the key part of its appeal to mystery readers.

Lake Charles, Ed Lynskey, Wildside Press, June 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #120.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-15 23:44:29

lynskey_edEvery novel, including my latest Appalachian noir Lake Charles, is rooted to a specific place. I chose mine with care. One July in the early 1980s, my wife and I packed up our rattletrap Ford Escort, said a prayer, and drove off to stay at a budget motel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Nestled amid the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s a picturesque tourist mecca. I’d already been there a few years before while hiking 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail that rambles along the craggy summits.

We’d camped out, rarely meeting any folks except fellow scruffy hikers along the trail. I did get to see close up a lot of the Tennessee boonies. On the second trip with my wife, however, I rubbed elbows with the natives and took in the local color. At the time, I’d no idea that my seventh novel would spring from my two Gatlinburg experiences, but that’s what happened 25 years later when I wrote Lake Charles.

Gatlinburg had left its lasting impressions on me. My young protagonist Brendan Fishback’s troubles begin after he awakens in his motel bed next to the dead Ashleigh Sizemore, whom he’d met the previous night at a rock concert. As far as I know, no homicide occurred at our motel, but I took away a suggestion of where to stage the death scene in Lake Charles and set in motion the narrative’s conflict.

The Great Smoky Mountains also offered the ideal spot to cast my noirish tale, and I set out to portray my setting with the grit, verve, and energy expected of an Appalachian noir. For instance, one chase scene unfolds in the virtually impenetrable rhododendron undergrowth the locals call a “laurel hell.” The wild boars rooting up the soil are perfect to explore the myth of Circe, the Greek sorceress who bewitched Odysseus and his men, through my femme fatale Ashleigh. The mountain “balds” where little grows except for grass gave me another stage. The boulder beds provided the raw materials to create a burial cairn in a pivotal scene. I even elected to put my fictional hamlet of Umpire just a shot down the highway from Gatlinburg.

lynskey_lakecharlesObviously from the title a lake is central to my novel, and I had a mental snapshot for its design. On the first night of our Appalachian Trail hike, we made an impromptu camp near Fontana Dam. The body of water bottled up there became the literary inspiration for my Lake Charles. In the wee hours, black bears caused us to scurry up the trail for the safety of a bear-proof shelter. We made it out okay.

This isn’t so true for Brendan. He encounters nothing good at the stagnant Lake Charles. While tramping along its brushy banks, he runs up not against local moonshiners, but a drug cartel growing a big, illicit crop of marijuana. The plot amps up, and the rugged terrain broken up by its hollows, creeks, and thickets pose a challenge for him to cross while battling his new enemies.

In fact, absent the mountainous vista, Lake Charles would lose its crisp, hard-edged vividness cited in Publishers Weekly and the key part of its appeal to mystery readers.

Lake Charles, Ed Lynskey, Wildside Press, June 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #120.

My Book: Blood for Wolves
Michael Allan Mallory

mallory_wolfMy palm was red after I pulled it away from my forehead. Then the blood started dripping to my sweatshirt. Ten feet behind me stood three very hungry, really curious wolves, and now the air held the scent of fresh blood. My blood.

But I wasn’t afraid. Rather, I was embarrassed. The wolves posed no danger to me, as a tall chain link fence separated us. No, I was annoyed I’d made myself look silly in front of the one person I wanted to impress with my hard work: Lori Schmidt, the wolf curator at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. I was a volunteer that weekend as part of my research for my next book, Killer Instinct. It was Friday evening of the first day and I’d already screwed up. Several of us were extending the height of the holding fence. I had just climbed down the ladder and, for the first time in my life, I’d forgotten a tool on the top step. As I moved the eight foot ladder, the socket wrench fell and bounced off the top of my skull.

I thought I was fine. I wasn’t. “You’re bleeding,” someone said.

Ushered into the wolf lab, I was examined by another volunteer who used several gauze squares to sop up the blood oozing through my scalp. What if I needed stitches? I fretted. That would mean missing the rest of the evening’s work, as well as looking like a doofus in front of the wolf curator. I was mortified. My goal that weekend was to work hard, get lots of behind-the-scenes information about the wolf center, and see if Lori would be amenable to answering more detailed questions later. Making a good impression was important.

Now I was the first casualty. How would that look?

Soon the door to the wolf lab opened and in strode Lori with a broad smile. “How’s Mr. Head Trauma?” she inquired in good humor. That broke the ice and we talked for a few minutes. The prognosis was good. No stitches necessary. I deferred discussing my book project for a less embarrassing moment. Patched up, I returned to fence work without further incidents.

On Saturday we cleaned out the main wolf enclosure. Dingy winter straw was removed to make way for the growing spring grass. While dragging away a fallen tree branch, another volunteer strayed too close to me and nearly got me in the face. From across the yard Lori laughed. “Stop treating Michael like an Omega!” The Omega is the lowest ranking member of the pack.

mallory_victor_killerinstinctIt was a productive, educational, fun weekend working with the wolves, watching these fascinating, highly intelligent animals up close. Turns out getting smacked on the head was the best thing that could have happened to me. It made me memorable in a sympathetic way. It also provided a perfect opportunity for me to tell Lori about my book project at breakfast the second morning. She was happy to answer my questions and gave me her email address.

The International Wolf Center’s mission is to educate people on this iconic creature of the wilderness. Humans have not done well by the wolves, particularly in the western world. Once one of the most pervasive mammals on the planet, the wolf has been unfairly vilified and eradicated in most countries. Minnesota has the distinction of being the only state in the contiguous 48 United States that never exterminated its gray wolf population. Today nearly 3,000 gray wolves live in Superior National Forest to the delight of many and the concern of others.

This is the backdrop of Killer Instinct. After four wolf carcasses are found illegally killed in the North Woods of Minnesota, zoologist Lavender “Snake” Jones joins a team of wildlife investigators to find out who’s responsible, a volatile situation that soon escalates into murder.

Killer Instinct, Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory, Five Star, January 2011, $25.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 03:33:30

My palm was red after I pulled it away from my forehead. Then the blood started dripping to my sweatshirt. Ten feet behind me stood three very hungry, really curious wolves, and now the air held the scent of fresh blood. My blood.

My Book: Antiques Knock-Off
Barbara Allan

allan_barbara_maxBarbara Allan is two people—Barbara and (her husband) Max Allan Collins. Which is to say, us. Max had been writing professionally for going on two decades when Barb began writing short stories for anthologies.

Barbara and Max Allan Collins, aka Barbara Allan

Unlike most professional writers, Barb did not grow up wanting to be one—it was strictly an accident of marriage. She became Max’s proofreader, editor, and sounding board, and eventually got recruited to plot the Mike Mist minute mystery series in his Ms. Tree comic book. Max claimed to have run out of plots for the puzzle-oriented series, and Barb took a crack at it. Eventually she began scripting the two-page comics feature, then started writing them in short story form. This led to an invitation from Marty Greenberg to contribute to an anthology.

At first, Max took up the proofreader/editor/sounding board role for Barb’s short stories. But on one Cat Crimes tale, Barb came to a scene that she either couldn’t or anyway didn’t want to write. So she asked Max to do it, credited him as co-author, and soon they began writing the occasional short story together.

Their short-story process mirrors that of the novels. Barb comes up with the basic idea, the story is fleshed out in brainstorming sessions at restaurants and/or on trips, Barb writing a first draft purposely on the short side, leaving Max room to expand and explore. Two of Barb’s solo short stories led to the co-authored novels Regeneration (a baby boomer thriller) and Bombshell (an espionage novel in which Marilyn Monroe and Nikita Khrushchev save the world).

We don’t remember who came up with “Barbara Allan” as a joint byline, but we like it very much, with its resonance of the old English folk song. It seemed apt for antiquing-themed mysteries, since such a byline suited both the subject matter and its female protagonist.

We’d had the idea for an antiquing series as early as the mid-1990s, right down to the mother-and-daughter amateur sleuths. But the idea didn’t really get off the ground until Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton approached us about doing a cozy. Originally we didn’t use antiques, instead going with a senior citizen who was part of the Red Hat Society. Our editor gave us guidance: “Try a female protagonist no older than thirty, demote the senior citizen to sidekick, include a cute pet, an exotic setting, an overall theme, and a gimmick.”

We remembered our mother-daughter antiquing amateur sleuth team, elevated the daughter to first position, and brought antiques in as our theme—not the high-end variety, rather the yard-sale bottom-feeding real people indulge in. For our gimmick, “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” tips would appear at each chapter’s end.

allan_antiquesknockoffBut in general we responded to our editor’s good advice with our own twisted slant: our thirty-something protagonist, a divorced single mom on Prozac; her seventy-something mother, a bipolar diva in local theater; the cute pet, a blind little pooch with diabetes; and the “exotic” setting, our own Muscatine, Iowa, on the Mississippi River...renamed Serenity after the spacecraft on Firefly.

We also went for the jugular, where humor is concerned. Every funny situation and outright joke we can think of goes in—first in Barb’s draft, then Max’s. When we submitted the proposal and sample chapters, we expected our subversive approach to get rejected, but instead got the greatest acceptance letter ever—an email stating simply, “More!”

Barb is as slow and methodical a writer as Max is a fast, instinctive one. She works on her draft for at least six months before he spends a month or so on his. For the first five books, Barb developed a story arc, having to do with heroine Brandy Borne settling back in with her eccentric mother in smalltown Serenity, while receiving poisoned pen letters that raise unsettling questions about the circumstances of Brandy’s birth. Each book’s mystery would conclude with a TV season-end style cliffhanger.

Antiques Knock-Off seems particularly satisfying because it resolves that story arc, with the writer of the poison pen notes revealed...and becoming the murder victim. One of the fun things about the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries has been giving Vivian Borne a chapter or two of her own (much to Brandy’s displeasure). Doing two different first-person voices in one novel is fairly unusual and we hope effective. Antiques Knock-Off allowed us to have Vivian become the major murder suspect and even spend a memorable few days in the county jail.

We are blessed to have another three books to write about these fun if flawed women, and a new story arc—with Brandy choosing between three very attractive, eligible suitors—will begin next year in Antiques Disposal.

Antiques Knock-Off, Barbara Allan, Kensington, March 2011, $22.00

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 03:48:42

Barbara Allan is two people—Barbara and (her husband) Max Allan Collins. Which is to say, us. Max had been writing professionally for going on two decades when Barb began writing short stories for anthologies.

My Book: Where the Ghost Walks
Jo A. Hiestand

hiestand_joI hadn’t planned to visit Tutbury Castle. I’d forgotten about it. Its existence and importance were stored somewhere in the back of my mind with useless mishmash like how to solve “If a train left New York, heading west, at 60 mph, and another train left Omaha, heading east…,” and the traditional gift for a ninth wedding anniversary, and the capital of Greenland.

The B&B owner mentioned the castle more or less as an aside during breakfast. I’d taken in the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire the previous day, so I was leaving the area that morning. Since I’d pass Tutbury on my way north, I decided to pop in and view the ancient heap. Castles have always intrigued me. Tutbury even more so.

The castle’s had a long history, construction began in 1068. Mary, Queen of Scots hated Tutbury more than any of her jails. She was held there four times, beginning in 1569.

As a teen, when I first heard about Mary’s imprisonment, I’d always envisioned her sitting in a dungeon. Years later, when I heard she stayed in various castles or stately homes, I thought she was confined to one room. Suffering alone in luxury. Wrong. Mary always had servants with her, always had a suite of rooms. At Tutbury Castle she had sixty attendants who saw to most everything she wanted: horseback riding, walks in the garden, dining with visitors. Not bad for a prison.

hiestand_tutburyYet, it was a prison and Mary despised it. Cold, plagued by drafts and damp, her tower apartments were situated directly above the privy. Its stench constantly drifted into her living quarters. This was no accident. Mary’s jailer tried to make her stay as unpleasant as possible without overstepping the courtesy due a queen, even if she were a captive.

I’m sorry Mary didn’t like the castle. I love it. I love the magnificent view of the town below, the crumbling stone towers, the moody sense that flows through the raftered great hall and roofless south wing. I love gazing through a doorway and imagining the centuries of history and lives that came before me: who they were, what they did, and what happened to them.

Of course I’d feel different if I’d been Mary. But I can still imagine that era and her last days at Tutbury in 1585.

hiestand_sirensongAnd yet, perhaps not really her last days there. They say she comes back. That she is seen regularly on moonless nights. That she is dressed in white. Did I mention the castle is one of The Most Haunted Sites in Britain?

Leslie Smith, the curator, suggested I spend a night there…alone. To “soak up atmosphere.” Thanks, but I’m busy that year.

I spotlight the castle in my mystery novel Swan Song. Leslie recommended the Minstrels Court, a re-enacted medieval fair, as the catalyst for the crime. I took her advice.

Sure, I know I’m lucky. How many people have a curator helping them commit murder?

By the way, the capital of Greenland is Godthab.

Siren Song, Jo A. Hiestand, L&L Dreamspell, April 2011, $18.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 04:03:56

hiestand_joI hadn’t planned to visit Tutbury Castle. I’d forgotten about it. Its existence and importance were stored somewhere in the back of my mind with useless mishmash like how to solve “If a train left New York, heading west, at 60 mph, and another train left Omaha, heading east…,” and the traditional gift for a ninth wedding anniversary, and the capital of Greenland.

The B&B owner mentioned the castle more or less as an aside during breakfast. I’d taken in the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire the previous day, so I was leaving the area that morning. Since I’d pass Tutbury on my way north, I decided to pop in and view the ancient heap. Castles have always intrigued me. Tutbury even more so.

The castle’s had a long history, construction began in 1068. Mary, Queen of Scots hated Tutbury more than any of her jails. She was held there four times, beginning in 1569.

As a teen, when I first heard about Mary’s imprisonment, I’d always envisioned her sitting in a dungeon. Years later, when I heard she stayed in various castles or stately homes, I thought she was confined to one room. Suffering alone in luxury. Wrong. Mary always had servants with her, always had a suite of rooms. At Tutbury Castle she had sixty attendants who saw to most everything she wanted: horseback riding, walks in the garden, dining with visitors. Not bad for a prison.

hiestand_tutburyYet, it was a prison and Mary despised it. Cold, plagued by drafts and damp, her tower apartments were situated directly above the privy. Its stench constantly drifted into her living quarters. This was no accident. Mary’s jailer tried to make her stay as unpleasant as possible without overstepping the courtesy due a queen, even if she were a captive.

I’m sorry Mary didn’t like the castle. I love it. I love the magnificent view of the town below, the crumbling stone towers, the moody sense that flows through the raftered great hall and roofless south wing. I love gazing through a doorway and imagining the centuries of history and lives that came before me: who they were, what they did, and what happened to them.

Of course I’d feel different if I’d been Mary. But I can still imagine that era and her last days at Tutbury in 1585.

hiestand_sirensongAnd yet, perhaps not really her last days there. They say she comes back. That she is seen regularly on moonless nights. That she is dressed in white. Did I mention the castle is one of The Most Haunted Sites in Britain?

Leslie Smith, the curator, suggested I spend a night there…alone. To “soak up atmosphere.” Thanks, but I’m busy that year.

I spotlight the castle in my mystery novel Swan Song. Leslie recommended the Minstrels Court, a re-enacted medieval fair, as the catalyst for the crime. I took her advice.

Sure, I know I’m lucky. How many people have a curator helping them commit murder?

By the way, the capital of Greenland is Godthab.

Siren Song, Jo A. Hiestand, L&L Dreamspell, April 2011, $18.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

My Book: Deadly Research
Beth Groundwater

groundwater_whitewaterI chose to live in Colorado for its beautiful outdoor settings and recreation opportunities, and for the same reason, I enjoy setting mysteries in my home state. Since I ski, raft, hike, and bike myself, when I include those activities in my stories, I can readily describe what they feel like. Invariably, however, I need to dig deeper than my own experience to realistically portray what my characters go through.

This was the case with Mandy Tanner, 27-year-old whitewater river ranger, who is the sleuth in Deadly Currents, my new RM (Rocky Mountains) Outdoor Adventures mystery series. While I’ve enjoyed whitewater rafting many times myself, I haven’t been a river guide, as Mandy has, and I had little knowledge of what whitewater river rangers did. So I contacted the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) headquarters in Salida, Colorado, and arranged to take two expert river rangers out to lunch. They were Sean Shepard, River Section Supervisor of the AHRA, and Stew Pappenfort, Senior Park Ranger of the AHRA. Over Chicago-style subs at Mama D’s, a local hangout, I peppered them with questions.

They educated me about the career field of river rangering, the training and experience required, the equipment they use, and duties of river rangers. These can range from breaking up parking lot altercations and clearing debris to rescuing people who have fallen in the river and investigating river deaths jointly with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department. Stew graciously invited me to observe one day of his three-day swiftwater rescue training course that he teaches all incoming river rangers.

groundwater_rangerI chose to observe the third day, which involved the most on-water work, including extracting boats and rafts wrapped around rocks, rigging lines across the river to which rafts are attached for rescue or search operations, sending a tethered swimmer into the water to rescue someone, and more. I arrived a few minutes late and slid through the conference room door to sit quietly in the back. The previous class day had focused on body search and retrieval. But as Stew talked somberly about what had occurred, I realized that this had not been an exercise.

Stew Pappenfort, Senior Park Ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, Colorado

At the break, one of the rangers explained to me that as they were donning wetsuits to practice in the river, a call came in to the ranger station that the body of a missing local fisherman had been spotted in the river. So, the class conducted an actual extraction.

groundwater_deadlycurrentsSince that day, Stew has been my go-to expert, and he reviews the manuscripts of my RM Outdoor Adventures mysteries to make sure they’re accurate. This past summer and fall have been difficult for him because he headed up the multiple-attempt, multiagency effort that finally extracted the body of a young whitewater rafting guide trapped in an underwater cavern in the deadly Frog Rock Rapid.

The upper Arkansas River in Colorado is the most commercially rafted river in the United States, and having taken numerous trips down various sections, I can attest to the excitement and beauty of this unique whitewater wonder. There are inherent dangers to the sport, however, and the job of the AHRA river rangers is to make us aware of and to minimize those dangers, then to step in when trouble happens. I’m proud to be able to write a series featuring the brave work of these “river rats” who have become rescuers.

Deadly Currents, Beth Groundwater, Midnight Ink, March 2011, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 04:18:23

groundwater_whitewaterI chose to live in Colorado for its beautiful outdoor settings and recreation opportunities, and for the same reason, I enjoy setting mysteries in my home state. Since I ski, raft, hike, and bike myself, when I include those activities in my stories, I can readily describe what they feel like. Invariably, however, I need to dig deeper than my own experience to realistically portray what my characters go through.

This was the case with Mandy Tanner, 27-year-old whitewater river ranger, who is the sleuth in Deadly Currents, my new RM (Rocky Mountains) Outdoor Adventures mystery series. While I’ve enjoyed whitewater rafting many times myself, I haven’t been a river guide, as Mandy has, and I had little knowledge of what whitewater river rangers did. So I contacted the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) headquarters in Salida, Colorado, and arranged to take two expert river rangers out to lunch. They were Sean Shepard, River Section Supervisor of the AHRA, and Stew Pappenfort, Senior Park Ranger of the AHRA. Over Chicago-style subs at Mama D’s, a local hangout, I peppered them with questions.

They educated me about the career field of river rangering, the training and experience required, the equipment they use, and duties of river rangers. These can range from breaking up parking lot altercations and clearing debris to rescuing people who have fallen in the river and investigating river deaths jointly with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department. Stew graciously invited me to observe one day of his three-day swiftwater rescue training course that he teaches all incoming river rangers.

groundwater_rangerI chose to observe the third day, which involved the most on-water work, including extracting boats and rafts wrapped around rocks, rigging lines across the river to which rafts are attached for rescue or search operations, sending a tethered swimmer into the water to rescue someone, and more. I arrived a few minutes late and slid through the conference room door to sit quietly in the back. The previous class day had focused on body search and retrieval. But as Stew talked somberly about what had occurred, I realized that this had not been an exercise.

Stew Pappenfort, Senior Park Ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, Colorado

At the break, one of the rangers explained to me that as they were donning wetsuits to practice in the river, a call came in to the ranger station that the body of a missing local fisherman had been spotted in the river. So, the class conducted an actual extraction.

groundwater_deadlycurrentsSince that day, Stew has been my go-to expert, and he reviews the manuscripts of my RM Outdoor Adventures mysteries to make sure they’re accurate. This past summer and fall have been difficult for him because he headed up the multiple-attempt, multiagency effort that finally extracted the body of a young whitewater rafting guide trapped in an underwater cavern in the deadly Frog Rock Rapid.

The upper Arkansas River in Colorado is the most commercially rafted river in the United States, and having taken numerous trips down various sections, I can attest to the excitement and beauty of this unique whitewater wonder. There are inherent dangers to the sport, however, and the job of the AHRA river rangers is to make us aware of and to minimize those dangers, then to step in when trouble happens. I’m proud to be able to write a series featuring the brave work of these “river rats” who have become rescuers.

Deadly Currents, Beth Groundwater, Midnight Ink, March 2011, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

My Book: Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway, Mystery Fans
Craig McDonald

stein_gertrudeThe conflict between literary vs. genre fiction is an old and storied war with no good end in sight.

Left: Gertrude Stein; Below: Ernest Hemingway

My novels featuring author Hector Lassiter are pitched at the center of that perhaps unwinnable cultural siege.

Hector, a consummate survivor who comes to be known as “the last man standing of the Lost Generation” went to 1920s Paris dreaming of becoming a literary writer. He emerged a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter compelled to apologize for his work to his literary friends who people my novels: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein.

hemingway_ernestMy new novel, One True Sentence, is the one in which Stein and Hemingway cast their longest shadows. OTS is a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s Paris memoir A Moveable Feast as a historical thriller. The murders of literary magazine publishers plague the Left Bank; Stein gathers the city’s foremost mystery writers to catch the killer.

Stein, the Modernist grand dame of 1920s Paris—the woman who coined the phrase “Lost Generation” and an avant-garde experimenter in prose, whose writings remain opaque or even unreadable to the most patient of readers—was, in fact, an avid fan of mystery fiction. Stein affectionately dubbed favorite crime fiction authors her “mystifiers.” She contended the mystery novel was “the only really modern novel form.”

When a young Hemingway, newly arrived in Paris and bearing a letter of introduction from novelist Sherwood Anderson, first visited Stein in her salon, he left with many literary recommendations, including Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper novel, The Lodger.

Stein’s preface to that reading recommendation was charged: “You should,” she said, “only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.” Lowndes’ writing, Stein assured, was “marvelous in its own way.”

mcdonald_onetruesentenceHemingway agreed: “I read all the Mrs. Belloc Lowndes that there was…. I never found anything as good for that empty time of day or night until the first fine Simenon books came out.” For his part, Hemingway remained a crime fiction fan, reading Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ian Fleming when they were each new and still largely under the reading public’s radar. Hemingway’s Key West-based To Have and Have Not, for much of its early going, reads like a hardboiled crime novel.

Consistent with her insistence upon always having the last word, consider Stein’s rather mysterious summation of the value of the mystery novel:

“By having the man dead to begin with the hero is dead to begin with and so you have so to speak got rid of the event before the book begins….The only person of any importance is dead.”

That “important” dead person, to Stein’s mind, was the traditional literary hero. Detectives, therefore, were the survivors, and as such, what Stein termed a new kind of “literary hero.”

One True Sentence, Craig McDonald, Minotaur, Feb. 2011, $26.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 04:33:26

The conflict between literary vs. genre fiction is an old and storied war with no good end in sight.

My Book: Moments of Weakness
Simon Wood

wood_lowlifesFrom time to time someone will take me to task over my characters—usually my protagonists. The usual complaint is over my hero’s “goodness.” The remarks usually center on, “You know, if your main guy had done the right thing in the beginning, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into all that trouble.” And those people are right. My good guys have usually done something to put themselves in the position they find themselves in. It’s somewhat of a personal belief. If you stray from life’s straight and narrow, then life’s probably going to bite you in the ass and keep biting.

I’m happy with this trait of my stories. Squeaky clean characters blazing a trail for all that is good and right don’t excite me. I like fallible people. People who know to put on oven mitts because they’ve gotten burned a couple of times, not because they’ve been told not to touch hot things without them.

I’m not a glass half-empty kind of a guy but more a glass half-filled with something corrosive tipping over and spilling everywhere kind of a guy. I have a habit of predicting how a bad situation will get worse. Once you’ve tempted fate, it has its own gravitational pull that is inevitable.

The spark that ignites my storylines is a moment of weakness. The character is presented with a situation that nine times out of ten they’d ignore, but circumstances are skewed this one time. He’s out of a job. She’s just been dumped. These characters are in a weakened state when an opportunity is presented. Instead of blowing it off, they throw caution to the wind and act out of character. Naturally, it doesn’t pan out and it is going to take a whole lot of fixing to set everything right again. Moments of weakness are dangerous currency.

My latest book, Lowlifes, really underscores the idea of someone at their lowest ebb because of their human frailties. The story centers on Larry Hayes, a San Francisco police detective. He thinks his life has already hit rock bottom. He’s lost his family to divorce and he’s clinging to his career by a thread. All this stems from a painkiller addiction he can’t kick that he picked up from an on-the-job injury. But there’s another level for Hayes to fall, as he finds out, when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours.

He thinks this is the wakeup call he needs to turn his life around, but his problems intensify when he receives a call from a homicide inspector. Hayes’ informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead two blocks away, beaten and stabbed.

Lowlifes is a little different from my usual books as it’s more than just a book. It’s a collaboration between filmmaker Robert Pratten and me, where we tell a story from different characters’ points of view using various media. Pratten’s short film gives the viewpoint of a PI investigating the cop. The fictional blog catalogs the thoughts and feelings of the cop’s estranged wife. And the book tells the story from the point of view of Larry Hayes, as he investigates what he has done.

While I have never done any of the things Hayes has done, I can’t say I couldn’t land myself in that level of trouble. I don’t think any of us can. We’re all capable of screwing up badly under the right (or maybe it’s the wrong) circumstances. There for the grace of God go I—and you, too.

(People can learn more about the transmedia versions of Lowlifes at www.lowlifes.tv.)

Lowlifes, Simon Wood and Robert Pratten, DVD, Zen Films, Jan. 2011, $11.95; pb, CreateSpace, 2010, $9.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 04:47:57

wood_lowlifesFrom time to time someone will take me to task over my characters—usually my protagonists. The usual complaint is over my hero’s “goodness.” The remarks usually center on, “You know, if your main guy had done the right thing in the beginning, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into all that trouble.” And those people are right. My good guys have usually done something to put themselves in the position they find themselves in. It’s somewhat of a personal belief. If you stray from life’s straight and narrow, then life’s probably going to bite you in the ass and keep biting.

I’m happy with this trait of my stories. Squeaky clean characters blazing a trail for all that is good and right don’t excite me. I like fallible people. People who know to put on oven mitts because they’ve gotten burned a couple of times, not because they’ve been told not to touch hot things without them.

I’m not a glass half-empty kind of a guy but more a glass half-filled with something corrosive tipping over and spilling everywhere kind of a guy. I have a habit of predicting how a bad situation will get worse. Once you’ve tempted fate, it has its own gravitational pull that is inevitable.

The spark that ignites my storylines is a moment of weakness. The character is presented with a situation that nine times out of ten they’d ignore, but circumstances are skewed this one time. He’s out of a job. She’s just been dumped. These characters are in a weakened state when an opportunity is presented. Instead of blowing it off, they throw caution to the wind and act out of character. Naturally, it doesn’t pan out and it is going to take a whole lot of fixing to set everything right again. Moments of weakness are dangerous currency.

My latest book, Lowlifes, really underscores the idea of someone at their lowest ebb because of their human frailties. The story centers on Larry Hayes, a San Francisco police detective. He thinks his life has already hit rock bottom. He’s lost his family to divorce and he’s clinging to his career by a thread. All this stems from a painkiller addiction he can’t kick that he picked up from an on-the-job injury. But there’s another level for Hayes to fall, as he finds out, when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours.

He thinks this is the wakeup call he needs to turn his life around, but his problems intensify when he receives a call from a homicide inspector. Hayes’ informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead two blocks away, beaten and stabbed.

Lowlifes is a little different from my usual books as it’s more than just a book. It’s a collaboration between filmmaker Robert Pratten and me, where we tell a story from different characters’ points of view using various media. Pratten’s short film gives the viewpoint of a PI investigating the cop. The fictional blog catalogs the thoughts and feelings of the cop’s estranged wife. And the book tells the story from the point of view of Larry Hayes, as he investigates what he has done.

While I have never done any of the things Hayes has done, I can’t say I couldn’t land myself in that level of trouble. I don’t think any of us can. We’re all capable of screwing up badly under the right (or maybe it’s the wrong) circumstances. There for the grace of God go I—and you, too.

(People can learn more about the transmedia versions of Lowlifes at www.lowlifes.tv.)

Lowlifes, Simon Wood and Robert Pratten, DVD, Zen Films, Jan. 2011, $11.95; pb, CreateSpace, 2010, $9.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

My Book: Bowling for Rhinos
Betty Webb

webb_rhinoSometimes you do things for research purposes that you wouldn’t dream of doing in normal life. For The Anteater of Death I let a giant anteater lick squashed bananas from my hand. For The Koala of Death, I went bowling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no snob. In fact, I was on my junior high school bowling team. But then I grew up and got serious about Life.

But Life can be a trickster, can’t she? On Monday, I was in the midst of writing The Koala of Death, a mystery novel featuring a California zookeeper and an adorable koala named Wanchu who keeps getting mixed up in murder. On Tuesday, a member of the American Association of Zoo Keepers asked me to take part in Bowling for Rhinos.

“Bowling for what!?” I asked.

Turns out, Bowling for Rhinos is a fund-raiser for rhino sanctuaries throughout the world. Rhinos are nearing extinction, with only 45 Javan rhinos left, 200 Sumatran, 2,700 Indian, 4,280 Black, and 17,480 White rhinos left in the world. To help, the zookeeper said, all I had to do was pay an entrance fee and make a fool out of myself. Why, I might even win a trophy!

I was working on The Koala of Death not The Rhino of Death, but the possibility of winning a trophy appealed to my competitive nature, so on the arranged night, I showed up at the bowling alley wearing my gaudiest Aloha shirt. The place was packed with rhino-hugging zookeepers and their families, most of them crowded around the silent auction tables. Rhino earrings? They were there, along with Bowling for Rhinos T-shirts, rhino necklaces, photographs of rhinos, wood carvings of rhinos, rubber rhinos, ceramic rhinos, salt shaker rhinos, even rhino self-portraits (don’t ask).

webb_koalaofdeathThere was the bowling trophy I lusted for, but instead of a bronze loving cup, the thing was a big ball of gold-sprayed rhino dung. It was the same size as a softball, too big to use as a paperweight—but I wanted that dung.

Life is a trickster, remember? By the end of the night I’d fallen down twice, thrown my arm out, wrecked my knee, and my highest game score was 79. No rhino dung for me. Heck, I didn’t even win the rhino salt shakers. However, I did leave with a new appreciation for the zoo folks whose time and contributions are saving rhinos from extinction. Since 1990, Bowling for Rhinos has raised a total of $3.4 million for rhino sanctuaries. And now I was a part of it.

So what does all this have to do with The Koala of Death? Well, once a mystery writer takes part in Bowling for Rhinos, she just can’t leave it alone. So koala-related or not, the book’s pivotal scene takes place at a bowling alley, in the midst of a goofy fund-raiser called...

The Koala of Death, Betty Webb, Poisoned Pen Press, August 2010, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 22:29:26

webb_rhinoSometimes you do things for research purposes that you wouldn’t dream of doing in normal life. For The Anteater of Death I let a giant anteater lick squashed bananas from my hand. For The Koala of Death, I went bowling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no snob. In fact, I was on my junior high school bowling team. But then I grew up and got serious about Life.

But Life can be a trickster, can’t she? On Monday, I was in the midst of writing The Koala of Death, a mystery novel featuring a California zookeeper and an adorable koala named Wanchu who keeps getting mixed up in murder. On Tuesday, a member of the American Association of Zoo Keepers asked me to take part in Bowling for Rhinos.

“Bowling for what!?” I asked.

Turns out, Bowling for Rhinos is a fund-raiser for rhino sanctuaries throughout the world. Rhinos are nearing extinction, with only 45 Javan rhinos left, 200 Sumatran, 2,700 Indian, 4,280 Black, and 17,480 White rhinos left in the world. To help, the zookeeper said, all I had to do was pay an entrance fee and make a fool out of myself. Why, I might even win a trophy!

I was working on The Koala of Death not The Rhino of Death, but the possibility of winning a trophy appealed to my competitive nature, so on the arranged night, I showed up at the bowling alley wearing my gaudiest Aloha shirt. The place was packed with rhino-hugging zookeepers and their families, most of them crowded around the silent auction tables. Rhino earrings? They were there, along with Bowling for Rhinos T-shirts, rhino necklaces, photographs of rhinos, wood carvings of rhinos, rubber rhinos, ceramic rhinos, salt shaker rhinos, even rhino self-portraits (don’t ask).

webb_koalaofdeathThere was the bowling trophy I lusted for, but instead of a bronze loving cup, the thing was a big ball of gold-sprayed rhino dung. It was the same size as a softball, too big to use as a paperweight—but I wanted that dung.

Life is a trickster, remember? By the end of the night I’d fallen down twice, thrown my arm out, wrecked my knee, and my highest game score was 79. No rhino dung for me. Heck, I didn’t even win the rhino salt shakers. However, I did leave with a new appreciation for the zoo folks whose time and contributions are saving rhinos from extinction. Since 1990, Bowling for Rhinos has raised a total of $3.4 million for rhino sanctuaries. And now I was a part of it.

So what does all this have to do with The Koala of Death? Well, once a mystery writer takes part in Bowling for Rhinos, she just can’t leave it alone. So koala-related or not, the book’s pivotal scene takes place at a bowling alley, in the midst of a goofy fund-raiser called...

The Koala of Death, Betty Webb, Poisoned Pen Press, August 2010, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

My Book: Back Home
Michael W. Sherer

sherer_michaelI wrote five novels in the Emerson Ward mystery series before I discovered who Emerson Ward really is. That may sound strange, especially since the series is told from the first-person point of view. When I came up with the idea for the series—years before the first book sold—I sketched out the basic premise and an outline for about five books. When it came time to write the sixth book in the series, I still hadn’t used one of those outlines. Even though I’d drafted it 30 years earlier, I dug it out, figuring it would at least provide the bare bones of a story.

The premise called for Emerson to investigate the apparent suicide of an old friend to help the victim’s sister understand it. The first thing I realized was that the victim had been a childhood friend. Emerson would have to return to his childhood home.

That’s when it hit me: I didn’t know where that was. Through five books, I’d been the vessel, the mouthpiece, for a man who righted immeasurable wrongs, chased murderers, fought the good fight. I’d felt his pain and joy, gotten beat up and shot at, won and lost with this guy, and I didn’t know a damn thing about him.

Rereading the series, I discovered Emerson had brothers (though I wasn’t sure how many) and that they all had been named for poets. Also, Emerson had grown up in a small town. But where?

For the latter portion of my own childhood, I lived on a farm in northern Illinois. While we could get staples from a town about five miles away, we had to drive farther afield for special purchases. For my sister’s dance lessons and my father’s tailored suits, we went to Woodstock (where Groundhog Day with Bill Murray was filmed). McHenry, the county seat, was where we went for any “official” business.

Every so often, my parents would take me and my siblings to the big city (Chicago, of course) to see a play. This took us through Huntley, a town about 40 miles northwest of the city. Huntley, I realized, was where Emerson Ward had grown up. although he hadn’t returned for 25 years.

sherer_deathonabudgetI emailed a local librarian and the village planner to do some research. They both were extremely helpful, but I knew that I needed to see for myself what 25 or 30 years of change might do to a small town. Twenty years ago, when I used to make the trip to see my grandmother, Huntley had a population of about 1,200. Today, Huntley’s population is 19,000 and is expected to reach 30,000 in the next few years.

So, my wife Valarie and I packed bags, and got on a plane (since we live near Seattle). My mother still lives in a retirement community just north of the city, so we picked her up and went for a drive out to Huntley.

The village planner was expecting us. What we didn’t expect was the warm reception we received. The village planner included both the village manager and the mayor in our meeting, all of them providing a wealth of information.

Afterward, the three of them took us out to lunch, where we were joined by the acting chief of police. Following lunch, the acting chief gave me another hour of his time at the police station showing me around and explaining how they handle law enforcement. (I traded embroidered logos from our local police department for two Huntley PD caps and a pin.) Truly, we experienced an amazing day, the result of which was Death on a Budget, the book in which I finally got to know Emerson Ward.

Death on a Budget, Michael W. Sherer, Five Star, August 2010, $25.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 22:51:19

sherer_michaelI wrote five novels in the Emerson Ward mystery series before I discovered who Emerson Ward really is. That may sound strange, especially since the series is told from the first-person point of view. When I came up with the idea for the series—years before the first book sold—I sketched out the basic premise and an outline for about five books. When it came time to write the sixth book in the series, I still hadn’t used one of those outlines. Even though I’d drafted it 30 years earlier, I dug it out, figuring it would at least provide the bare bones of a story.

The premise called for Emerson to investigate the apparent suicide of an old friend to help the victim’s sister understand it. The first thing I realized was that the victim had been a childhood friend. Emerson would have to return to his childhood home.

That’s when it hit me: I didn’t know where that was. Through five books, I’d been the vessel, the mouthpiece, for a man who righted immeasurable wrongs, chased murderers, fought the good fight. I’d felt his pain and joy, gotten beat up and shot at, won and lost with this guy, and I didn’t know a damn thing about him.

Rereading the series, I discovered Emerson had brothers (though I wasn’t sure how many) and that they all had been named for poets. Also, Emerson had grown up in a small town. But where?

For the latter portion of my own childhood, I lived on a farm in northern Illinois. While we could get staples from a town about five miles away, we had to drive farther afield for special purchases. For my sister’s dance lessons and my father’s tailored suits, we went to Woodstock (where Groundhog Day with Bill Murray was filmed). McHenry, the county seat, was where we went for any “official” business.

Every so often, my parents would take me and my siblings to the big city (Chicago, of course) to see a play. This took us through Huntley, a town about 40 miles northwest of the city. Huntley, I realized, was where Emerson Ward had grown up. although he hadn’t returned for 25 years.

sherer_deathonabudgetI emailed a local librarian and the village planner to do some research. They both were extremely helpful, but I knew that I needed to see for myself what 25 or 30 years of change might do to a small town. Twenty years ago, when I used to make the trip to see my grandmother, Huntley had a population of about 1,200. Today, Huntley’s population is 19,000 and is expected to reach 30,000 in the next few years.

So, my wife Valarie and I packed bags, and got on a plane (since we live near Seattle). My mother still lives in a retirement community just north of the city, so we picked her up and went for a drive out to Huntley.

The village planner was expecting us. What we didn’t expect was the warm reception we received. The village planner included both the village manager and the mayor in our meeting, all of them providing a wealth of information.

Afterward, the three of them took us out to lunch, where we were joined by the acting chief of police. Following lunch, the acting chief gave me another hour of his time at the police station showing me around and explaining how they handle law enforcement. (I traded embroidered logos from our local police department for two Huntley PD caps and a pin.) Truly, we experienced an amazing day, the result of which was Death on a Budget, the book in which I finally got to know Emerson Ward.

Death on a Budget, Michael W. Sherer, Five Star, August 2010, $25.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

My Book: Dateline: Hemingway
Diane Gilbert Madsen

madsen_dianeErnest Hemingway, arguably the 20th century’s best-known writer, was both a literary genius and a first-class celebrity. This makes him a ready subject in my latest DD McGil Literati Mystery, Hunting for Hemingway. I read that in 1922 a valise filled with Hemingway’s early manuscripts was stolen from his first wife, Hadley Richardson, at the Paris railway station. In Hunting for Hemingway these lost manuscripts turn up in current day Chicago and, if authenticated, would be worth millions.

Much is known about Hemingway’s later typewriters—his Underwood Portable, various Royal typewriters (one of which is still in his office at the Key West Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum), and his famous Swedish Halda typewriter (sold at auction in 2008) on which he typed The Dangerous Summer, but what model did Hemingway use during the early 1920s to type the missing manuscripts—11 stories and 20 poems? After much research, I determined that it must have been a portable folding Corona #3. It was one given to him on his 22nd birthday, July 21, 1921, by his then fiancée, Hadley Richardson. He and Hadley married in September and took it along when they sailed for Europe later that year.

The Corona #3 was the perfect typewriter for Hemingway, the foreign correspondent. Its carriage folded forward and down, so it fit neatly into its carrying case. Light, compact, and durable, Hemingway took it everywhere so he could easily send dispatches to his paper, the Toronto Star. Hemingway, I think, fell in love with this machine. He once declared to Ava Gardner that the only psychiatrist he would ever submit to was his Corona #3. He also sent this poem he’d written about it to Harriet Monroe in Chicago in February 1922:

madsen_huntingforhemingwayThe mills of the gods grind slowly;
But this mill
Chatters in mechanical staccato.
Ugly short infantry of the mind,
Advancing over difficult terrain,
Make this Corona
Their mitrailleuse. *

*An old-style machine gun

The Corona #3 was an instant success when it debuted in 1912, replacing the Standard Folding model of 1906. It was lighter and more compact, made mostly from aluminum. The #3 has three banks of keys and a double carriage shift: one for capitals and one for figures. It was one of the most successful machines in typewriter history, with more than 650,000 machines built and sold over a period of almost 30 years. This machine was so practical that it was chosen for use by the British Army in WWI. In 1926 the Corona factory merged with the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company to form the Smith & Corona company.

A while ago, I purchased a Corona #3 from Hemingway’s era on eBay. It’s still in good condition, and I’m amazed at how light it is and how cleverly it folds into its case. I can easily see how Hemingway fell for it. I keep it in my office for inspiration.

Hunting for Hemingway, Diane Gilbert Madsen, Midnight Ink, September 2010, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 23:06:26

madsen_dianeErnest Hemingway, arguably the 20th century’s best-known writer, was both a literary genius and a first-class celebrity. This makes him a ready subject in my latest DD McGil Literati Mystery, Hunting for Hemingway. I read that in 1922 a valise filled with Hemingway’s early manuscripts was stolen from his first wife, Hadley Richardson, at the Paris railway station. In Hunting for Hemingway these lost manuscripts turn up in current day Chicago and, if authenticated, would be worth millions.

Much is known about Hemingway’s later typewriters—his Underwood Portable, various Royal typewriters (one of which is still in his office at the Key West Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum), and his famous Swedish Halda typewriter (sold at auction in 2008) on which he typed The Dangerous Summer, but what model did Hemingway use during the early 1920s to type the missing manuscripts—11 stories and 20 poems? After much research, I determined that it must have been a portable folding Corona #3. It was one given to him on his 22nd birthday, July 21, 1921, by his then fiancée, Hadley Richardson. He and Hadley married in September and took it along when they sailed for Europe later that year.

The Corona #3 was the perfect typewriter for Hemingway, the foreign correspondent. Its carriage folded forward and down, so it fit neatly into its carrying case. Light, compact, and durable, Hemingway took it everywhere so he could easily send dispatches to his paper, the Toronto Star. Hemingway, I think, fell in love with this machine. He once declared to Ava Gardner that the only psychiatrist he would ever submit to was his Corona #3. He also sent this poem he’d written about it to Harriet Monroe in Chicago in February 1922:

madsen_huntingforhemingwayThe mills of the gods grind slowly;
But this mill
Chatters in mechanical staccato.
Ugly short infantry of the mind,
Advancing over difficult terrain,
Make this Corona
Their mitrailleuse. *

*An old-style machine gun

The Corona #3 was an instant success when it debuted in 1912, replacing the Standard Folding model of 1906. It was lighter and more compact, made mostly from aluminum. The #3 has three banks of keys and a double carriage shift: one for capitals and one for figures. It was one of the most successful machines in typewriter history, with more than 650,000 machines built and sold over a period of almost 30 years. This machine was so practical that it was chosen for use by the British Army in WWI. In 1926 the Corona factory merged with the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company to form the Smith & Corona company.

A while ago, I purchased a Corona #3 from Hemingway’s era on eBay. It’s still in good condition, and I’m amazed at how light it is and how cleverly it folds into its case. I can easily see how Hemingway fell for it. I keep it in my office for inspiration.

Hunting for Hemingway, Diane Gilbert Madsen, Midnight Ink, September 2010, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

My Book: Boston, Inside Out
Rosemary Herbert

herbert_rosemaryIt all began with a toga party.

I was between jobs with three young daughters to support. As days passed in a fruitless job search, I felt as though I was fiddling while Rome burned. That’s when I sent out invitations to everyone I knew in the hope that some face-to-face networking would bring me a job lead. The invitations read, “You are invited to a Fiddling While Rome Burns party. Toga optional.”

I was the only one wearing a toga when my friends arrived bearing grapes and pizza and Chianti galore. While none was willing to don a toga for the occasion, the partygoers did embrace a “When in Rome…” attitude—food-wise, at least.

A few days after the saturnalia, one of my party guests—a journalism professor from Boston University—delivered a job lead that was to change my life. “Normally I’d recommend one of my new grads for this entry-level job,” she said. “But I think you should go for it. As a reporter, you will get to know your city better than you ever imagined. You might get some atmosphere for that mystery you always wanted to write. And there’s never a dull moment at the Boston Herald.”

I did not wear my toga to the job interview. But I did wear my heart on my sleeve regarding my eagerness for the newsroom job. Nearly 20 years older than most applicants for the position, and with books about the mystery genre, book reviews for The New York Times, and columns for The Christian Science Monitor to my credit, I could see that my longing for the low-level job was giving some pause to the editor who was interviewing me.

That’s when I said, “If you hire me, you won’t regret it.”

“Okay,” she said at last. “We’ll hire you on one condition: When you write about us, you change our names.”

And so I began a career as an editorial assistant and eventually as the book review editor and mystery book review columnist in the newsroom of the Boston Herald, a place where dull moments and dullards hardly dare enter.

herbert_frontpageteaserThere, I did get to know my city inside out. I also got a close-up view of the competitive news business in one of America’s rare two-newspaper towns. I was fascinated to see the contrasts in how the tabloid Boston Herald and its competitor, the broadsheet Boston Globe, treated the same breaking news. Hungry to see the decisions reporters, editors, and headline writers made about presenting the news, I was often the first person to cut the plastic bands that bound the stacks of fresh Globes and Heralds that arrived in our newsroom each morning. What a gift it was for a writer to see the same statement quoted at length in one paper and cut to the quick in the other. Remarkably, sometimes the two quotes were equally informative. Other times, the cut quote was not just shorter but misleading.

And when news broke on the two newspapers’ common turf, the contrasts were particularly instructive. For instance, when a drunk driver slammed a lumber truck into a critical support beam for Boston’s elevated highway the Central Artery—spilling hundreds of two-by-fours all over the highway and into the Charles River—both papers used angry eyewitness accounts to bring the situation to life, but the Herald’s headline added editorial attitude to the facts: “LUMBER JERK” the headline screamed in a big, bold, front-page splash.

I tried to capture that editorial attitude, as well as the savvy and spunk of my Boston Herald colleagues, as I wrote Front Page Teaser. And yes, I did make sure to change the names.

Front Page Teaser, Rosemary Herbert, Down East Books, October 2010, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 23:28:48

It all began with a toga party.

My Book: Crime Scene Crazy
L.J. Sellers

sellers_ljCrime writers are a quirky bunch, me included. For example, I’ve been making calls and sending emails to the local medical examiner and pathologist, begging to be allowed to witness an autopsy. I’ve already interviewed the ME and taken detailed notes as he described the sights and sounds of dissecting a dead human being. But I really need to see it for myself.

My detective character, Wade Jackson, attends the autopsy of every homicide victim he investigates, so I feel compelled to experience it first hand. The ME says rookie cops sometimes pass out the first time they hear the whine of the Stryker saw as it cuts through the ribcage, so I see it as a challenge, and I’m now waiting for the call, as excited as any game show contestant would be.

Recently I had an interview scheduled with the sergeant who supervises the violent crimes unit here in Eugene, Oregon. We had planned to talk about a fictional homicide setting with multiple dead bodies and plenty of blood spatter. As I was driving down to see her, she called and said she had to cancel because they’d “had a homicide” and she was at the scene.

Heart pounding, I squealed, “Can I come down? Please?” To my surprise and delight, she agreed. I made a wild U-turn and headed for the park, giddy with excitement. It was a true Castle moment. I was headed to a real homicide!

After a few minutes, the sane (responsible) part of my brain kicked in and I felt guilty about my glee. A person was dead, I reminded myself. Tragically murdered. Have a little respect.

This somber moment lasted all of ten seconds, and then I was grinning again and searching my bag to see if I had my camera and calling my husband to share my excitement.

The crime scene was a disappointment. It was in a public park, and the detectives had strung up crime scene tape around a one-acre area. The victim, a homeless man, was behind a short, makeshift plastic wall. Apparently local residents have complained about the police leaving dead bodies lying in the open while they take pictures and collect trace evidence. So I didn’t get anywhere near the corpse. Nor did I see a single drop of blood or sit in on an interrogation.

As for the detectives at the scene, they were standing around the hood of a car eating pizza! Such a letdown.

sellers_thrilledtodeathIt was just bad timing. I know from my many interviews with homicide detectives that they work round-the-clock for the first few days, and the scenes they process are often gruesome. I’ve looked at the pictures. I’ve picked their brains for details. What did the room smell like? How much blood was on the floor? Do dead bodies really make noises?

For my next novel, Passions of the Dead, I grilled a SWAT sergeant who described how a sniper would kill a hostage taker.

I want my series to be realistic. We have murders in Eugene, but they’re not particularly exotic or complicated, and the perpetrators are rather stupid. I try to find the right balance between a story that is complex enough to engage readers and one that is believable for its physical and social setting.

In my latest book, Thrilled to Death, Jackson investigates the disappearance of two young women with nothing in common. When one turns up dead with no obvious wounds, the crime scene adds to the mystery, and the investigation grows more puzzling.

As for the scene I wrote involving multiple bodies and blood spatter, you’ll have to wait for my fourth book, due out next year. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for gruesome opportunities to add to my résumé. It’s in the job description.

Thrilled to Death, L.J. Sellers, Echelon Press, September 2010, $13.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-17 23:38:46

sellers_ljCrime writers are a quirky bunch, me included. For example, I’ve been making calls and sending emails to the local medical examiner and pathologist, begging to be allowed to witness an autopsy. I’ve already interviewed the ME and taken detailed notes as he described the sights and sounds of dissecting a dead human being. But I really need to see it for myself.

My detective character, Wade Jackson, attends the autopsy of every homicide victim he investigates, so I feel compelled to experience it first hand. The ME says rookie cops sometimes pass out the first time they hear the whine of the Stryker saw as it cuts through the ribcage, so I see it as a challenge, and I’m now waiting for the call, as excited as any game show contestant would be.

Recently I had an interview scheduled with the sergeant who supervises the violent crimes unit here in Eugene, Oregon. We had planned to talk about a fictional homicide setting with multiple dead bodies and plenty of blood spatter. As I was driving down to see her, she called and said she had to cancel because they’d “had a homicide” and she was at the scene.

Heart pounding, I squealed, “Can I come down? Please?” To my surprise and delight, she agreed. I made a wild U-turn and headed for the park, giddy with excitement. It was a true Castle moment. I was headed to a real homicide!

After a few minutes, the sane (responsible) part of my brain kicked in and I felt guilty about my glee. A person was dead, I reminded myself. Tragically murdered. Have a little respect.

This somber moment lasted all of ten seconds, and then I was grinning again and searching my bag to see if I had my camera and calling my husband to share my excitement.

The crime scene was a disappointment. It was in a public park, and the detectives had strung up crime scene tape around a one-acre area. The victim, a homeless man, was behind a short, makeshift plastic wall. Apparently local residents have complained about the police leaving dead bodies lying in the open while they take pictures and collect trace evidence. So I didn’t get anywhere near the corpse. Nor did I see a single drop of blood or sit in on an interrogation.

As for the detectives at the scene, they were standing around the hood of a car eating pizza! Such a letdown.

sellers_thrilledtodeathIt was just bad timing. I know from my many interviews with homicide detectives that they work round-the-clock for the first few days, and the scenes they process are often gruesome. I’ve looked at the pictures. I’ve picked their brains for details. What did the room smell like? How much blood was on the floor? Do dead bodies really make noises?

For my next novel, Passions of the Dead, I grilled a SWAT sergeant who described how a sniper would kill a hostage taker.

I want my series to be realistic. We have murders in Eugene, but they’re not particularly exotic or complicated, and the perpetrators are rather stupid. I try to find the right balance between a story that is complex enough to engage readers and one that is believable for its physical and social setting.

In my latest book, Thrilled to Death, Jackson investigates the disappearance of two young women with nothing in common. When one turns up dead with no obvious wounds, the crime scene adds to the mystery, and the investigation grows more puzzling.

As for the scene I wrote involving multiple bodies and blood spatter, you’ll have to wait for my fourth book, due out next year. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for gruesome opportunities to add to my résumé. It’s in the job description.

Thrilled to Death, L.J. Sellers, Echelon Press, September 2010, $13.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #116.

My Book: Getting Old Is Murder
Rita Lakin

lakin_rita_2I wanted to write a novel that would be a valentine to my beloved mother. For 25 years, I visited my mom and dad and relatives galore, all of whom retired to Florida from their native Bronx. All of them moved into the same condominium complex. Don’t ask! Oy, the complications that caused!

The years sped by—golden days for them. Alas, no one is left now.

There was the time when most of the husbands were gone, and the women formed new family units. I expected them to be morose, and lonely, but I was fascinated by how well they eventually shifted lifestyles. There was so much laughter. They played cards and cheated and laughed. They stood in line endlessly for early-bird dinners, joined craft groups and made potholders, bickering lovingly all the time. They were enjoying life once again. They had no idea how funny they were. For example, I once asked them why they only used the pool, when Fort Lauderdale’s famous beaches were so close. “What, are you—crazy?” they asked. “You want us to get sand on our floors?”

The novelist in me was hooked. I knew I wanted to focus on this period. I knew ageism would be an issue in my book. I now knew I had the tone. I was going to write a comedy. But I felt I needed one more element before I started to write.

I remembered my mother saying to me years ago in a drama queen moment, “Don’t get old. You know what happens? You become invisible. Nobody is interested in you anymore. You could lie down in a gutter and they’d step on you. People talk to you as if you were an idiot or maybe deaf and dumb. They say anything, thinking their confessions are safe with you. I tell you, getting old is murder.”

lakin_gettingoldistresdangerouxThere it was. I finally had it. These were the perfect characteristics for being a detective. Hadn’t Agatha Christie shown me the way?

My mother always dreamed of having an exciting life, so I took her fantasies and turned her into a private eye. Her partners-in-crime being her sister and their three friends. I now had Gladdy Gold and her girls, as they call themselves, old ladies one and all, senior sleuths solving senior crimes. Their motto: Never trust anyone under 75.

It was an easy segue from retirement to crime. All it took was a series of murders in the condo with the cops calling it “natural causes” because everyone who died was “old.” But Gladdy and her girls knew better. They solved the crime and a new career was born. Wait ‘til you see the girls on a stakeout! Or attempting a car chase at 35 miles an hour! Or getting lost on their way to a funeral and playing bingo instead. Or everyone in the condo chasing the killer with canes and walkers. You’ll laugh ‘til you cry.

Six books later, Gladdy Gold and her girls are still going strong.

Getting Old is Tres Dangereux, Rita Lakin, Dell, June 2010, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 01:38:23

lakin_rita_2I wanted to write a novel that would be a valentine to my beloved mother. For 25 years, I visited my mom and dad and relatives galore, all of whom retired to Florida from their native Bronx. All of them moved into the same condominium complex. Don’t ask! Oy, the complications that caused!

The years sped by—golden days for them. Alas, no one is left now.

There was the time when most of the husbands were gone, and the women formed new family units. I expected them to be morose, and lonely, but I was fascinated by how well they eventually shifted lifestyles. There was so much laughter. They played cards and cheated and laughed. They stood in line endlessly for early-bird dinners, joined craft groups and made potholders, bickering lovingly all the time. They were enjoying life once again. They had no idea how funny they were. For example, I once asked them why they only used the pool, when Fort Lauderdale’s famous beaches were so close. “What, are you—crazy?” they asked. “You want us to get sand on our floors?”

The novelist in me was hooked. I knew I wanted to focus on this period. I knew ageism would be an issue in my book. I now knew I had the tone. I was going to write a comedy. But I felt I needed one more element before I started to write.

I remembered my mother saying to me years ago in a drama queen moment, “Don’t get old. You know what happens? You become invisible. Nobody is interested in you anymore. You could lie down in a gutter and they’d step on you. People talk to you as if you were an idiot or maybe deaf and dumb. They say anything, thinking their confessions are safe with you. I tell you, getting old is murder.”

lakin_gettingoldistresdangerouxThere it was. I finally had it. These were the perfect characteristics for being a detective. Hadn’t Agatha Christie shown me the way?

My mother always dreamed of having an exciting life, so I took her fantasies and turned her into a private eye. Her partners-in-crime being her sister and their three friends. I now had Gladdy Gold and her girls, as they call themselves, old ladies one and all, senior sleuths solving senior crimes. Their motto: Never trust anyone under 75.

It was an easy segue from retirement to crime. All it took was a series of murders in the condo with the cops calling it “natural causes” because everyone who died was “old.” But Gladdy and her girls knew better. They solved the crime and a new career was born. Wait ‘til you see the girls on a stakeout! Or attempting a car chase at 35 miles an hour! Or getting lost on their way to a funeral and playing bingo instead. Or everyone in the condo chasing the killer with canes and walkers. You’ll laugh ‘til you cry.

Six books later, Gladdy Gold and her girls are still going strong.

Getting Old is Tres Dangereux, Rita Lakin, Dell, June 2010, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

My Book: Son of Big Brother
Reece Hirsch

hirsch_reece_2Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched, even though there was no one else around? Your pulse races and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. We usually dismiss that sensation as a momentary spasm of paranoia, but it’s justified more often than most of us realize.

The government is watching all of us as part of its effort to combat terrorism, reading our emails and reviewing our phone records. In order to gather these vast quantities of information, the government requires the cooperation of our telephone companies and Internet service providers. That unsettling fact is at the heart of my debut legal thriller The Insider.

San Francisco corporate attorney Will Connelly’s well-ordered life is shattered when he watches a colleague hurtle to his death outside his office window. Within days, Will is the prime suspect in a murder, the target of an Securities and Exchange Commission insider trading investigation, and a pawn in a complex criminal scheme involving the Russian mafia and a ruthless terrorist plot. Will must ensure that a deadly enemy doesn’t gain access to the nation’s most sensitive and confidential information—and the power to do incalculable, irrevocable harm.

As if Will’s life wasn’t complicated enough, he’s also just been made a partner in his firm. His first assignment as a partner is to negotiate a merger transaction involving Jupiter Software, the world’s leading maker of encryption programs. Will is asked to take over as lead counsel for the transaction because the attorney who was conducting the negotiations is the same one who has just fallen to his death. As he conducts due diligence for the transaction, Will soon discovers that Jupiter Software was built upon a secret.

hirsch_theinsiderIn the early 1990s, the National Security Agency (NSA) developed a powerful encryption device known as the Clipper Chip, which was to be used to encrypt telecommunications transmissions. The encryption software was to be made available for use by private businesses and individuals. However, the Clipper Chip was designed to provide government agencies with “key access” to all encrypted transmissions for law enforcement and national security purposes. The program was criticized in Congressional hearings based upon privacy concerns and was ultimately abandoned in 1995.

The Insider posits that the Clipper Chip program was never really abandoned, but went forward through an undisclosed deal between the NSA and a private software company, and that the NSA continued to secretly monitor the communications of private citizens during the ensuing years. The Insider also considers what might happen if the encryption keys that permitted government access to all of that confidential data fell into the wrong hands.

As an attorney specializing in privacy and security issues, I’ve long been aware of the Clipper Chip program and its ultimate demise. However, the issues highlighted in The Inside are still very much with us today and have never been more timely. In the wake of 9/11, the government has continued its pursuit of what was once referred to as “Total Information Awareness.”

So the next time you have the feeling that you’re being watched … you’re probably right.

The Insider, Reece Hirsch, Berkley Books, May 2010, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 02:00:28

hirsch_reece_2Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched, even though there was no one else around? Your pulse races and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. We usually dismiss that sensation as a momentary spasm of paranoia, but it’s justified more often than most of us realize.

The government is watching all of us as part of its effort to combat terrorism, reading our emails and reviewing our phone records. In order to gather these vast quantities of information, the government requires the cooperation of our telephone companies and Internet service providers. That unsettling fact is at the heart of my debut legal thriller The Insider.

San Francisco corporate attorney Will Connelly’s well-ordered life is shattered when he watches a colleague hurtle to his death outside his office window. Within days, Will is the prime suspect in a murder, the target of an Securities and Exchange Commission insider trading investigation, and a pawn in a complex criminal scheme involving the Russian mafia and a ruthless terrorist plot. Will must ensure that a deadly enemy doesn’t gain access to the nation’s most sensitive and confidential information—and the power to do incalculable, irrevocable harm.

As if Will’s life wasn’t complicated enough, he’s also just been made a partner in his firm. His first assignment as a partner is to negotiate a merger transaction involving Jupiter Software, the world’s leading maker of encryption programs. Will is asked to take over as lead counsel for the transaction because the attorney who was conducting the negotiations is the same one who has just fallen to his death. As he conducts due diligence for the transaction, Will soon discovers that Jupiter Software was built upon a secret.

hirsch_theinsiderIn the early 1990s, the National Security Agency (NSA) developed a powerful encryption device known as the Clipper Chip, which was to be used to encrypt telecommunications transmissions. The encryption software was to be made available for use by private businesses and individuals. However, the Clipper Chip was designed to provide government agencies with “key access” to all encrypted transmissions for law enforcement and national security purposes. The program was criticized in Congressional hearings based upon privacy concerns and was ultimately abandoned in 1995.

The Insider posits that the Clipper Chip program was never really abandoned, but went forward through an undisclosed deal between the NSA and a private software company, and that the NSA continued to secretly monitor the communications of private citizens during the ensuing years. The Insider also considers what might happen if the encryption keys that permitted government access to all of that confidential data fell into the wrong hands.

As an attorney specializing in privacy and security issues, I’ve long been aware of the Clipper Chip program and its ultimate demise. However, the issues highlighted in The Inside are still very much with us today and have never been more timely. In the wake of 9/11, the government has continued its pursuit of what was once referred to as “Total Information Awareness.”

So the next time you have the feeling that you’re being watched … you’re probably right.

The Insider, Reece Hirsch, Berkley Books, May 2010, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

My Book: the Panic Zone
Rick Mofina

mofina_medinaKey scenes in The Panic Zone take place in the maze-like alleys of the medina, the ancient marketplace, of Morocco's capital city, Rabat.

Newsrooms tend to be arenas of understated tension.

There is not much drama until something breaks over a police scanner.

Then emotion hijacks a dispatcher’s voice as it crackles in code about shots fired, or a burning building, or a jetliner in trouble.

Reflecting on my years as a reporter in newsrooms across Canada, the only thing that topped the adrenaline rush of breaking local news was when an editor dispatched me out of town for a major story.

“There’s been a school shooting near Denver, we want you on the next plane. Don’t pack, take a laptop and go. Buy what you need down there.” Or, “We need you to chase something for us in the Bahamas and all we have is this unlisted number.” Or, “We need you to go to Africa.”

In the case of the Colorado shooting, when my plane lifted off, the fear was ten people were dead. A few hours later upon landing, I glimpsed a TV screen in the airport. The toll had climbed and President Clinton was offering condolences.

mofina_medina_2My stomach lurched.

It was gut-churning moments like those that I drew upon for the situations facing Jack Gannon, the protagonist in my new novel, The Panic Zone. In this second story in the series, Gannon joins the World Press Alliance (WPA), a global wire service based in New York and gets his first international assignment.

Ten people have been killed in a café bombing in Rio de Janeiro, including two journalists from the WPA’s Rio bureau. Gannon is dispatched to help find the truth behind the attack, wherever it leads. Were his colleagues random victims of a narco war, or on the trail of a bigger story?

Aided by a local translator, Gannon does what he does best: He digs for the truth.

In Gannon’s case, it pulls him from Rio to London where a source points him to Morocco. In Rabat, the capital, Gannon races through the medina, the ancient market, with its labyrinthine alleyways, in a desperate hunt for a key piece of his story.

mofina_thepaniczoneI had my share of heart-racing times like that, flying in to an alien situation, scrambling to deliver a story while a clock is ticking down. As anyone with firsthand reporting experience knows, it’s part of the job.

Imagine flying into Kuwait City at night. An armed guard seizes your passport and detains you. The next morning you find that the trusted source who had insisted you come has misled you.

It happened to me. Luckily I talked my way out of it, and found another story. It cost me a few arguments and a day of intense pressure, but little more.

For Gannon it’s a different story. What he discovers in Africa is devastating and he pays an enormous price for it. And it does not take him long to learn, as I often found with a major story, that the truth can take you places.

The Panic Zone, Rick Mofina, Mira, June, 2010, $9.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 02:20:47

mofina_medinaKey scenes in The Panic Zone take place in the maze-like alleys of the medina, the ancient marketplace, of Morocco's capital city, Rabat.

Newsrooms tend to be arenas of understated tension.

There is not much drama until something breaks over a police scanner.

Then emotion hijacks a dispatcher’s voice as it crackles in code about shots fired, or a burning building, or a jetliner in trouble.

Reflecting on my years as a reporter in newsrooms across Canada, the only thing that topped the adrenaline rush of breaking local news was when an editor dispatched me out of town for a major story.

“There’s been a school shooting near Denver, we want you on the next plane. Don’t pack, take a laptop and go. Buy what you need down there.” Or, “We need you to chase something for us in the Bahamas and all we have is this unlisted number.” Or, “We need you to go to Africa.”

In the case of the Colorado shooting, when my plane lifted off, the fear was ten people were dead. A few hours later upon landing, I glimpsed a TV screen in the airport. The toll had climbed and President Clinton was offering condolences.

mofina_medina_2My stomach lurched.

It was gut-churning moments like those that I drew upon for the situations facing Jack Gannon, the protagonist in my new novel, The Panic Zone. In this second story in the series, Gannon joins the World Press Alliance (WPA), a global wire service based in New York and gets his first international assignment.

Ten people have been killed in a café bombing in Rio de Janeiro, including two journalists from the WPA’s Rio bureau. Gannon is dispatched to help find the truth behind the attack, wherever it leads. Were his colleagues random victims of a narco war, or on the trail of a bigger story?

Aided by a local translator, Gannon does what he does best: He digs for the truth.

In Gannon’s case, it pulls him from Rio to London where a source points him to Morocco. In Rabat, the capital, Gannon races through the medina, the ancient market, with its labyrinthine alleyways, in a desperate hunt for a key piece of his story.

mofina_thepaniczoneI had my share of heart-racing times like that, flying in to an alien situation, scrambling to deliver a story while a clock is ticking down. As anyone with firsthand reporting experience knows, it’s part of the job.

Imagine flying into Kuwait City at night. An armed guard seizes your passport and detains you. The next morning you find that the trusted source who had insisted you come has misled you.

It happened to me. Luckily I talked my way out of it, and found another story. It cost me a few arguments and a day of intense pressure, but little more.

For Gannon it’s a different story. What he discovers in Africa is devastating and he pays an enormous price for it. And it does not take him long to learn, as I often found with a major story, that the truth can take you places.

The Panic Zone, Rick Mofina, Mira, June, 2010, $9.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

My Book: Killer Careers
Simon Wood

wood_simon_comingforyouRelationships with our coworkers are a vital part of life. Considering that we spend a third of our day in the workplace, they have to be. No wonder we build friendships with workmates. Unfortunately, the flipside of personal relationships in the workplace is that they can turn sour—and violent.

I’ve seen workplace violence up close. At my last job, my employer took out a temporary restraining order against an employee after he threatened to harm a number of staff members (myself included). Let’s just say that’s a tad awkward when you bump into that person in a mall.

Back in the UK, a firm I used to work next to had a problem with one of their people. When they let him go, he tendered his resignation by throwing an office chair through a second floor window. A few days later, he came back at night and drove a car through the main entrance.

According to government statistics, 20 people are murdered at their place of work every week in the US. Retail jobs top the list as the most dangerous profession, and women are the most likely to be killed. Now, the majority of these deaths aren’t committed by a coworker, but it gives you an idea of how dangerous the modern workplace is. By the by, if you want to know which profession suffers the least from workplace violence, it’s mining.

wood_terminatedBut it wasn’t incidents like these that became the inspiration for my latest thriller, Terminated, but what companies are doing to combat workplace violence. Workplace violence isn’t good for business. Not only is it disruptive, upsetting, and frightening, it’s also expensive. Some companies in high profile industries are hiring private security firms to handle claims against violent and potentially violent employees. The security firms provide protection for those threatened and their families, but that’s not the intriguing part. The security firms also investigate and run background checks on the accused. If the investigators find any dirt, indiscretions, or infractions, this is used to build a case against the violent employee. The evidence is then used as part of a criminal case or is just dangled in front of the troublemaker to force that person to leave of their own accord, unless they want their dirty laundry aired to the world.

Terminated chronicles a personal grievance at work that takes on a life of its own. Gwen Farris has the unenviable task of managing Stephen Tarbell who believes he should be the manager, not Gwen. When she issues him a poor performance evaluation, he tells her to change it—or else. Gwen goes to her bosses which only serves to inflame the situation and it all goes downhill from there.

In real life incidences of workplace violence, triggers have been as simple as an off-color joke, a remark about someone’s girlfriend/wife/daughter, a humiliating prank, or an interoffice romance gone wrong.

I came across the astounding story of Marta Bradley and her boss Alan Chmurny by pure luck after I finished Terminated. An incident occurred which resulted in Chmurny stalking Bradley’s every move for four years. His crimes against her escalated from vandalism to breaking and entering and culminated in a failed murder attempt. Chmurny ended up committing suicide in the courtroom after a guilty verdict. What was the reason for all the emotional wreckage? Marta had said publicly that she hadn’t liked Chmurny’s deviled eggs at a company picnic.

Writing this book has been quite sobering. The workplace seems like a safe environment where we feel we know our colleagues, but how well do we really know them? It’s a dangerous world out there and the greatest threat you face might not be from a hostile nation abroad, but from the other side of your cubicle wall.

Terminated, Simon Wood, Dorchester, May 2010, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 02:41:52

Relationships with our coworkers are a vital part of life. Considering that we spend a third of our day in the workplace, they have to be. No wonder we build friendships with workmates. Unfortunately, the flipside of personal relationships in the workplace is that they can turn sour—and violent.

My Book: Mirror Image
Dennis Palumbo

palumbo_dennisGeorge was a paranoid schizophrenic. Without his meds, he suffered from delusions of persecution and gruesome death. So every day he swallowed 100 milligrams of Thorazine. Followed by a Cogentin chaser to quell the Parkinsonian-like tremors caused by the Thorazine. In and out of mental hospitals since his teens, he supported himself doing construction work and odd jobs—in between bouts of delusional terror, homelessness, and street violence.

I met George the very first week of my internship at a private psychiatric clinic. After years of grad school to earn my degree in counseling, it was one of the final steps in my training as a psychotherapist. George was merely one of dozens of schizophrenic patients I would end up treating during my time there.

However, George was his own, very special case: One night, standing just inside the clinic’s rear gate, he saw one of the staff shrinks being manhandled by her estranged husband. George ran over, spun him around, and gave him an elbow smash to the face. The crack of jawbone sounded like a rifle shot.

After that, George assumed a kind of mythic status at the clinic. The other female staffers used to joke about asking George to walk them to their cars. It was as if he’d become a trustee, instead of just a patient.

Then one day his insurance ran out and he was cut loose from the clinic....

I was the one who found him, purely by chance, a few years later. Driving to work one morning, I caught sight of a homeless guy digging in a trash dumpster. His eyes were glazed, hair dirty and unkempt. Then he grinned, and I knew who it was. Whether he knew me, I couldn’t be sure—until he gave me a wry, knowing wink. I pulled to a stop, but he’d disappeared down an alley before I even got out of the car.

I’ve never seen him again. But I’ve never forgotten him either.

palumbo_mirrorimageThis was all many years ago. Now I’m a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, but I’ve woven many of the situations and people I encountered into my first crime novel, Mirror Image. People like George, who was the inspiration for my hero’s best friend, a schizophrenic named Noah Frye: funny, combative and—like George himself—achingly aware of the reality of his situation.

I’ve used other aspects of my life’s experience as well. For example, although my internship was in Los Angeles, the novel takes place in Pittsburgh, my home town. Moreover, the book’s hero, a psychologist named Daniel Rinaldi who specializes in treating the victims of violent crime, shares a similar background to my own—from his Italian heritage to his love of jazz to his teenage years spent working in the Steel City’s sprawling produce yards.

Finally, the setting of the novel gave me an opportunity to explore the current state of the mental health care system. As the murder investigation unfolds, it takes us from a pricey private psychiatric clinic (like the one in which I interned) to a prison-like public institution, from the intimacy of a revealing therapy session to an explosive riot in a rec yard.

When I finished writing Mirror Image, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the experiences I had had as an intern, and afterwards as a licensed clinician. But mostly I was reminded of my great respect and appreciation for the patients—people like George—with whom I’ve been privileged to work. As both a therapist and an author, they remain an inspiration to me.

Mirror Image, Dennis Palumbo, Poisoned Pen Press, August 2010, $24.95 hardcover/$14.95 paperback.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 02:58:29

palumbo_dennisGeorge was a paranoid schizophrenic. Without his meds, he suffered from delusions of persecution and gruesome death. So every day he swallowed 100 milligrams of Thorazine. Followed by a Cogentin chaser to quell the Parkinsonian-like tremors caused by the Thorazine. In and out of mental hospitals since his teens, he supported himself doing construction work and odd jobs—in between bouts of delusional terror, homelessness, and street violence.

I met George the very first week of my internship at a private psychiatric clinic. After years of grad school to earn my degree in counseling, it was one of the final steps in my training as a psychotherapist. George was merely one of dozens of schizophrenic patients I would end up treating during my time there.

However, George was his own, very special case: One night, standing just inside the clinic’s rear gate, he saw one of the staff shrinks being manhandled by her estranged husband. George ran over, spun him around, and gave him an elbow smash to the face. The crack of jawbone sounded like a rifle shot.

After that, George assumed a kind of mythic status at the clinic. The other female staffers used to joke about asking George to walk them to their cars. It was as if he’d become a trustee, instead of just a patient.

Then one day his insurance ran out and he was cut loose from the clinic....

I was the one who found him, purely by chance, a few years later. Driving to work one morning, I caught sight of a homeless guy digging in a trash dumpster. His eyes were glazed, hair dirty and unkempt. Then he grinned, and I knew who it was. Whether he knew me, I couldn’t be sure—until he gave me a wry, knowing wink. I pulled to a stop, but he’d disappeared down an alley before I even got out of the car.

I’ve never seen him again. But I’ve never forgotten him either.

palumbo_mirrorimageThis was all many years ago. Now I’m a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, but I’ve woven many of the situations and people I encountered into my first crime novel, Mirror Image. People like George, who was the inspiration for my hero’s best friend, a schizophrenic named Noah Frye: funny, combative and—like George himself—achingly aware of the reality of his situation.

I’ve used other aspects of my life’s experience as well. For example, although my internship was in Los Angeles, the novel takes place in Pittsburgh, my home town. Moreover, the book’s hero, a psychologist named Daniel Rinaldi who specializes in treating the victims of violent crime, shares a similar background to my own—from his Italian heritage to his love of jazz to his teenage years spent working in the Steel City’s sprawling produce yards.

Finally, the setting of the novel gave me an opportunity to explore the current state of the mental health care system. As the murder investigation unfolds, it takes us from a pricey private psychiatric clinic (like the one in which I interned) to a prison-like public institution, from the intimacy of a revealing therapy session to an explosive riot in a rec yard.

When I finished writing Mirror Image, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the experiences I had had as an intern, and afterwards as a licensed clinician. But mostly I was reminded of my great respect and appreciation for the patients—people like George—with whom I’ve been privileged to work. As both a therapist and an author, they remain an inspiration to me.

Mirror Image, Dennis Palumbo, Poisoned Pen Press, August 2010, $24.95 hardcover/$14.95 paperback.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #115.

My Book: From Murder to Looting
Maria Hudgins

hudgins_archeologyWho should own archeological artifacts? Those with the wealth to obtain them or the countries of origin?

In the third book in my Travel Mystery series, a man disappears off the stern deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the night. I could have put that ship on any ocean or sea in the world, but I chose the Aegean Sea simply because I had recently taken that cruise myself.

At one point it dawned on me that a cruise ship would be an ideal way to smuggle antiquities from the islands along its scheduled route. I don’t know that it has been done, but it could be done.

In Death on the Aegean Queen, Dotsy Lamb is an ancient history teacher with a thing for digging into the past, but she must first dig into the disappearance because her friend is the prime suspect. I gave the ship an archaeology-Ancient Greece-Minoan-Mycenaean theme and a resident archaeologist/lecturer. I scattered the various decks with display cases flaunting real, but not necessarily legally obtained, ancient artifacts.

Dotsy discovers that some of these artifacts are stolen from museum collections such as the Museum of Ancient Corinth where, in real life in 1990, thieves made off with some 250 items. Many turned up years later in a Miami warehouse. Ancient Egyptian artifacts, she learns, are sometimes painted black for export to make them look like cheap tourist junk. The Western world’s greatest museums acquire and display these priceless antiquities while their countries of origin plead for their return.

hudgins_deathonaegeanqueenA prime example is that of the Elgin Marbles, sculptures taken from the Acropolis in Athens by Lord Elgin in 1810, and now on display at the British Museum in London. On my own recent trips to Athens and London, I couldn’t help comparing the physical condition of the pieces in London to that of the caryatids, female figures originally used as porch columns on top of the Acropolis and now kept in a small museum underneath. The Elgin marbles look pretty good, while the caryatids are barely recognizable as human—victims of Athenian air pollution. But Greece has improved its ability to house old treasures and has campaigned for the return of the marbles. England claims Lord Elgin had permission from the Ottoman government of the time. It seems there are always two sides to everything.

Who owns these scraps of history? The countries of origin argue that they do, but boundaries shift, cultures change, and the current occupants of a piece of land may have little connection to the ancient culture that produced the work to begin with. All too often of course, the battle is decided in favor of the wealthier country versus the poorer country.

Death on the Aegean Queen doesn’t solve any of this, but it does answer the question, “What happened to that guy on the stern deck?”

Death on the Aegean Queen, Maria Hudgins, Five Star, May 2010, $25.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 16:33:37

Who should own archeological artifacts? Those with the wealth to obtain them or the countries of origin?

My Book: the Moscow Pigeon Drop
John Vorhaus

vorhaus_moscowAs the author of The California Roll, a novel about con artists, I often hear people boast that they’d never fall for the scams I describe. They are, they insist, too smart, too savvy, or just too damn pretty to get duped. Maybe. But the thing about con artists is, if they hit you when your guard is down, you might not be quite as smart, savvy, or pretty as you think.

How do I know? Because neither might I.

I’m walking through Red Square in Moscow, Russia, gawking like the tourist I am, when the guy in front of me drops his wallet. I scoop it up. I’m going to return it, right? I’m a nice guy. Plus, I notice it’s got US currency in it. Probably he’s a tourist like me. Maybe we can do Lenin’s Tomb together. But he’s no American, as he proves by thanking me effusively in broken English and trying to give me a reward. Then a second guy arrives on the scene, saying he saw the whole thing and making me out to be some kind of hero. That’s ok—I like being a hero—but now here comes a third party, drawn to the scene by all the commotion, and this guy’s a cop.

Well, I guess he’s a cop. He’s not in uniform. He’s wearing blue jeans and a scruffy leather jacket. But he has a badge, which he flashes quickly and then puts away. With his available English, he orders all of us to turn over our passports for inspection. The others immediately comply, and I’m reaching for mine, already wondering how much trouble I’ve accidentally stumbled into here. I was just trying to be a nice guy, right? But try telling that to the Russians when you don’t speak Russian. I’m starting to sweat; visions of gulags dance in my head.

vorhaus_californiarollThen, suddenly, I get it. I’m being pigeon dropped! Right here in Red Square! Me, the author of The California Roll! I literally wrote the book on scams, and they’re trying to hustle me in the classic manner of putting free money in my path and then using my own greed, fear, or innocence to strip-mine my wallet. Well, this just infuriates me. Cranking my dudgeon up to full high, I tell the guy with the badge, “You’re not a cop! You’re not a cop!” and quickly walk away.

Two seconds later, I look back, and all three players have vanished, scattered like dry leaves in the Moscow chill.

You’d have seen it coming, right? Maybe, but I was there, and I can tell you it happened so fast that they came this close to getting my passport. (Which of course is what they wanted, and who knows how much they would’ve charged to ransom it back.) How did they do it? By jacking up the pressure, hard and swift. It’s called rushing the mark, getting you so wound up, so agitated, that you do things reflexively. Things like coughing up your passport...

So if you think you’re too smart or savvy or pretty to get hustled, think again. If scammers catch you with your guard down, there’s almost nothing they can’t do. And I should know. I’m the guy who wrote the book…

The California Roll, John Vorhaus, Shaye Areheart, March 2019, $23.00

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 16:57:55

vorhaus_moscowAs the author of The California Roll, a novel about con artists, I often hear people boast that they’d never fall for the scams I describe. They are, they insist, too smart, too savvy, or just too damn pretty to get duped. Maybe. But the thing about con artists is, if they hit you when your guard is down, you might not be quite as smart, savvy, or pretty as you think.

How do I know? Because neither might I.

I’m walking through Red Square in Moscow, Russia, gawking like the tourist I am, when the guy in front of me drops his wallet. I scoop it up. I’m going to return it, right? I’m a nice guy. Plus, I notice it’s got US currency in it. Probably he’s a tourist like me. Maybe we can do Lenin’s Tomb together. But he’s no American, as he proves by thanking me effusively in broken English and trying to give me a reward. Then a second guy arrives on the scene, saying he saw the whole thing and making me out to be some kind of hero. That’s ok—I like being a hero—but now here comes a third party, drawn to the scene by all the commotion, and this guy’s a cop.

Well, I guess he’s a cop. He’s not in uniform. He’s wearing blue jeans and a scruffy leather jacket. But he has a badge, which he flashes quickly and then puts away. With his available English, he orders all of us to turn over our passports for inspection. The others immediately comply, and I’m reaching for mine, already wondering how much trouble I’ve accidentally stumbled into here. I was just trying to be a nice guy, right? But try telling that to the Russians when you don’t speak Russian. I’m starting to sweat; visions of gulags dance in my head.

vorhaus_californiarollThen, suddenly, I get it. I’m being pigeon dropped! Right here in Red Square! Me, the author of The California Roll! I literally wrote the book on scams, and they’re trying to hustle me in the classic manner of putting free money in my path and then using my own greed, fear, or innocence to strip-mine my wallet. Well, this just infuriates me. Cranking my dudgeon up to full high, I tell the guy with the badge, “You’re not a cop! You’re not a cop!” and quickly walk away.

Two seconds later, I look back, and all three players have vanished, scattered like dry leaves in the Moscow chill.

You’d have seen it coming, right? Maybe, but I was there, and I can tell you it happened so fast that they came this close to getting my passport. (Which of course is what they wanted, and who knows how much they would’ve charged to ransom it back.) How did they do it? By jacking up the pressure, hard and swift. It’s called rushing the mark, getting you so wound up, so agitated, that you do things reflexively. Things like coughing up your passport...

So if you think you’re too smart or savvy or pretty to get hustled, think again. If scammers catch you with your guard down, there’s almost nothing they can’t do. And I should know. I’m the guy who wrote the book…

The California Roll, John Vorhaus, Shaye Areheart, March 2019, $23.00

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

My Book: Blowing Off Steam
Barbara Fister

fister_barbaraWriting helps me figure out what I think and feel, and it helps me blow off steam when I’m frustrated.

My series character is an ex-cop named Anni Koskinen. She’s my height and weight, but more of her weight is muscle and, unlike me, she’s of mixed race, is brave, and knows how to kick ass when necessary. Anni is trying to figure out what to do with her life after resigning from the Chicago Police Department. Her career ended when she was summoned to testify in a brutality case against a fellow officer. She took her oath seriously and ended up sacrificing the only job she ever wanted.

As I worked on Through the Cracks, my first book about Anni, I hoped that the plot, which concerns the US government’s chipping away of civil liberties in the name of national security, would be out of date before it was published, but sadly surveillance of dissidents and loss of privacy persist, even with a new administration. A recent report documents over 2,000 instances in which the FBI abused its power to seize telephone records illegally.

Anni took an oath to defend the Constitution; I and my fellow librarians don’t take oaths, but we take civil liberties seriously. It was a proud day for my profession when an unnamed FBI agent was quoted in the New York Times blaming “radical militant librarians” for calling attention to flaws in the so-called Patriot Act. Hey, just doing our job.

fister_throughthecracksMy new book, Through the Cracks, got its irritable start as I listened to defenses of the use of torture, a practice as ineffective as it is morally wrong. In Chicago, an influential police commander had for years instructed the detectives under his command to get confessions any way they could, and torture was commonly used. What bothered me was not just the violation of the rights of the accused, but the disrespect it showed the victims and their families. Why bother looking for the real offender when it’s so much easier to pick a guy off the street and force a confession out of him? I wondered how the victims felt when those innocent men were set free.

In Through the Cracks Anni tries to find out who raped her client two decades ago and may have continued assaulting women ever since. It’s also the story of the man who spent more than half of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And it’s about a present day crime in which the arrest of an undocumented Mexican gang member has inflamed anti-immigrant feelings.

There are a few other issues tucked in to Through the Cracks, too. I have a lot of steam to blow off!

Through the Cracks, Barbara Fister, Minotaur Books, May 2010, $25.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 17:14:15

Writing helps me figure out what I think and feel, and it helps me blow off steam when I’m frustrated.

My Book: Dodge City Run by the Mounties
Vicki Delany

delany_prospectorsThe late Sir Peter Ustinov once said that Toronto was New York run by the Swiss. I like to say that Dawson, Yukon, in 1898, was Dodge City run by the the Mounties.

An 1898 photograph of hopeful prospectors climbing Chilkoot Pass, headed for the Klondike gold fields. Chilkoot Pass was too steep for horses so a prospector had to climb through the pass 30-40 times in order to bring in the required year's worth of supplies. Photo: Keystone View Company.

Imagine a place in the wilderness, close to the Arctic Circle, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, at the end of the 19th century. A place of no roads, no cars, no trains, no telephone, no telegraph. Accessible only by water, for just a few months a year, or by paths over mountains so steep that horses couldn’t make it. And then imagine tens of thousands of people arriving in this place within a matter of months.

What you would get in almost any other place and any other time would be bedlam. Chaos and anarchy and lawlessness.

This is the setting for my new book, Gold Fever, the second in the Klondike Gold Rush Series, following 2009’s Gold Digger, from RendezVous Crime.

Given that background, you would think that I would have a plethora of scenes of historical murder and mayhem to write about in the books.

You would be wrong.

Because what all those miners and dance hall owners, prostitutes and pimps, bartenders and adventurers, and businessmen (respectable and shady) found when they at long last arrived in the promised land, was the long arm of the law waiting for them, in the form of the North West Mounted Police (precursors of the RCMP).

The border between Canada and the US was at that time still in dispute. The Canadian government had established a police presence in order to strengthen their claim. Prostitution and gambling were illegal in all parts of Canada, but the NWMP recognized, wisely in my opinion, that some things were going to happen whether they were legal or not, and some control was better than none. Thus prostitution was practiced openly and dance halls all had a gambling room. Police oversight was strict and they could, and did, close down any business stepping over the line. However, there were things the Mounties didn’t bend on—the use of “vile language” was an offense, and Sunday closing was strictly observed. People were jailed for chopping wood on a Sunday. Firearms were strictly banned. Every person coming into the Territory was required to have a year’s supply of goods with them: a lesson learned during the previous winter when the town nearly starved. Not only did all those adventure and gold seekers have to climb the Chilkoot Pass they had to do it about 30 or 40 times to get all their gear up. Tougher people than me I can tell you.

delany_goldfeverIn 1898, the year of the height of the gold rush, when the town of Dawson had a population of 40,000, there was not one murder in town. Not one. Reports I have read say that people were comfortable leaving their doors unlocked and their possessions out in the open. In contrast to the nearby town of Skagway, Alaska, where gangsters such as Soapy Smith ruled and crime and corruption were rampant. Soapy himself was killed in a shootout on the Skagway boardwalk in July 1898.

In Dawson, a town where a one-minute dance with a dance hall girl cost a dollar, a bottle of champagne could set you back 40 bucks, and successful miners were known to drop a thousand, ten thousand dollars (all in 1898 funds!) in a night in the casino, a constable in the NWMP earned $1.25 a day (roughly the rate for a laborer in the Outside). Yet the police were largely incorruptible.

In order to create a mystery novel, I had to jettison the sterling record of the NWMP and create a murder. In the second book in the series, Gold Fever, there are two. And, despite one of the main characters in the series being a NWMP officer, the Mounties will prove unable to solve the crime and it will be left to my protagonist, dance hall owner and woman with a past, Fiona MacGillivray, to do so.

Sometimes you just can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Gold Fever, Vicki Delany, RendezVous Crime, March 2010, $18.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 17:25:16

The late Sir Peter Ustinov once said that Toronto was New York run by the Swiss. I like to say that Dawson, Yukon, in 1898, was Dodge City run by the the Mounties.

My Book: the Book of Spies
Gayle Lynds

lynds_gayleI never thought I’d write The Book of Spies, my new espionage thriller. In fact, it made no sense to write it. I was crazy to write it.

For 20 years I told myself that.

It had all begun simply enough. On June 28, 1989, my attention was riveted by “Kremlin Tunnels: The Secret of Moscow’s Underworld,” an article in The Los Angeles Times:

In 1933 two young men found what they were searching for: the entrance to a centuries-old underground tunnel within sight of the red Kremlin walls. As they crept underground toward Moscow’s seat of power, lighting their way with a lantern, the men believed they might find Ivan the Terrible’s legendary library of gold-covered books. Instead they found five skeletons, a passageway sometimes so narrow that they had to file through singly and, within a few hundred yards of the Kremlin, a rusted steel door they could not open.

I was enthralled by this “library of gold-covered books,” which immediately became in my mind the Library of Gold. Kremlin officials stopped the young pair’s exploration and swore them to secrecy with the implied threat of death, then Stalin ordered a swimming pool built over the area, putting a conclusive end to anyone’s investigation there.

But for five centuries not only ordinary people but emperors, potentates, and even the Vatican had been searching for the library, which contained some 800 illuminated manuscripts. The books were fabulous, covered in gold and encrusted with gems, and they were priceless in knowledge, containing lost works dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In today’s financial terms the library would sell for about $4 billion.

lynds_bookofspiesNaturally I found the Library of Gold fascinating. If I could figure out a way for the library to play a pivotal role in one of the modern spy thrillers I write, I’d be able to dramatize not only governments and espionage, but also books and readers—people like us.

I spent nearly 20 years in a futile attempt, periodically researching, making notes, and checking to see whether anyone had found the library. Then in 2008 I had a eureka moment. If a book club owned the library.... If it was the most dangerous book club in the world.... If this cabal of powerful men were so rich they could buy terrorists.... Then the CIA would be motivated enough to try to do something no one else had ever done—find Ivan the Terrible’s long-lost library of gold-covered books.

Next I needed exciting new characters. First Eva Blake, a rare-books curator, appeared. Her dead husband had been one of the world’s leading experts on the library. Then I found Judd Ryder, who’s just retired from military intelligence. His father was somehow involved with the library. Add a CIA black unit, political motivations, and a warlord in Afghanistan, and finally...I had a novel.

It’s called The Book of Spies. And what is The Book of Spies? One of the gorgeous old volumes in the Library of Gold.

The Book of Spies, Gayle Lynds, St. Martin’s Press, March 2010, $25.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #114.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 18:00:17

I never thought I’d write The Book of Spies, my new espionage thriller. In fact, it made no sense to write it. I was crazy to write it.

My Book: Destiny Fulfilled
Kenneth Wishnia

wishnia_kennethI was born on a hot August night back when fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room. They were expected to spend hours pacing around the waiting room while chain-smoking cigarettes. My father found a mystery novel lying on a table and began reading, and several hours later, when the doctor returned to tell him that his wife had given birth and he could go in to see her, my father replied, “Hold on, there are only twenty pages left and I’ve got to find out whodunit.” So you see that I was destined to become a mystery writer.

I broke in back in 1998 when my first novel, 23 Shades of Black (published under the name K.j.a. Wishnia), was nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. But after five novels and a number of short stories, I jumped off the book-a-year merry-go-round to immerse myself in an idea that I’d wanted to work on for a long time: a Jewish-themed historical novel set in the late 16th century.

The 30-second version of the plot: It’s Holy Week of the year 1592. Rudolf II is king of the Protestant land of Bohemia, where the Catholic Church has been reclaiming territory lost during the Reformation. It is also Passover Eve in the Jewish section of the imperial city of Prague, when the body of a Christian girl is found in a Jewish shop and the Jews are given three days to produce the guilty party or the whole community is threatened with annihilation. My detective, Benyamin Ben-Akiva, is a young Talmudic scholar who works as the synagogue’s shammes—a word often translated as “sexton,” which may well be the origin of the modern word shamus. He’s also well versed in Midrash (and the root of midrash means “to investigate”).

I grew up in a secular household where the primary emblems of Jewish culture were bagels and Woody Allen movies, so I had to embark on a three-year course of self-education, reading Jewish commentary on the Bible, mysticism, philosophy, history, linguistics (how many people know that the Ashkenazic Jews pronounce Hebrew differently from the Sephardic Jews?), and extracts from the Mishnah, Talmud, and other Rabbinic writings. I visited Prague Castle and the grave of Rabbi Judah Loew (of the Golem legends), and gathered old maps and postcards to help recreate the layout of the old Prague ghetto, which was the largest Jewish community in Europe at the time.

wishnia_the5thservantThen I started writing. Oy vey iz mir. I spent more than three years writing and revising a novel that was so far outside my comfort zone at first that I had to stop constantly to look things up. Q: Did they have matches in 1592? A: They did not. Q: When did the word taboo enter the language? A: Captain Cook brought it back from the South Sea Islands in the 1770s (I had to use forbidden instead). Q: What about the word fossil? A: In the modern sense, it dates from the 1660s, but in the sense of “some really old stuff dug up out of the ground” it was used as early as the 1560s. Q: What kinds of handguns were available in the 1590s? A: An astonishing variety. [see photo]

I also learned something about the wisdom of the Talmud, which was compiled back in the 5th-6th centuries C.E., yet it abolishes capital punishment, protects a person on trial from self-incrimination, establishes publicly-funded education, permits birth control in certain circumstances, and declares that the rights of the working man always take precedence over those of his employer.

And to think that I owe it all to a random mystery novel whose title has been lost to the memory hole of time.

Oh, and by the way, when Mercy was giving birth to our two children, I was in the delivery room with her to see it happen.

The Fifth Servant, Kenneth Wishnia, William Morrow, January 2010, $25.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #113.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 19:05:59

wishnia_kennethI was born on a hot August night back when fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room. They were expected to spend hours pacing around the waiting room while chain-smoking cigarettes. My father found a mystery novel lying on a table and began reading, and several hours later, when the doctor returned to tell him that his wife had given birth and he could go in to see her, my father replied, “Hold on, there are only twenty pages left and I’ve got to find out whodunit.” So you see that I was destined to become a mystery writer.

I broke in back in 1998 when my first novel, 23 Shades of Black (published under the name K.j.a. Wishnia), was nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. But after five novels and a number of short stories, I jumped off the book-a-year merry-go-round to immerse myself in an idea that I’d wanted to work on for a long time: a Jewish-themed historical novel set in the late 16th century.

The 30-second version of the plot: It’s Holy Week of the year 1592. Rudolf II is king of the Protestant land of Bohemia, where the Catholic Church has been reclaiming territory lost during the Reformation. It is also Passover Eve in the Jewish section of the imperial city of Prague, when the body of a Christian girl is found in a Jewish shop and the Jews are given three days to produce the guilty party or the whole community is threatened with annihilation. My detective, Benyamin Ben-Akiva, is a young Talmudic scholar who works as the synagogue’s shammes—a word often translated as “sexton,” which may well be the origin of the modern word shamus. He’s also well versed in Midrash (and the root of midrash means “to investigate”).

I grew up in a secular household where the primary emblems of Jewish culture were bagels and Woody Allen movies, so I had to embark on a three-year course of self-education, reading Jewish commentary on the Bible, mysticism, philosophy, history, linguistics (how many people know that the Ashkenazic Jews pronounce Hebrew differently from the Sephardic Jews?), and extracts from the Mishnah, Talmud, and other Rabbinic writings. I visited Prague Castle and the grave of Rabbi Judah Loew (of the Golem legends), and gathered old maps and postcards to help recreate the layout of the old Prague ghetto, which was the largest Jewish community in Europe at the time.

wishnia_the5thservantThen I started writing. Oy vey iz mir. I spent more than three years writing and revising a novel that was so far outside my comfort zone at first that I had to stop constantly to look things up. Q: Did they have matches in 1592? A: They did not. Q: When did the word taboo enter the language? A: Captain Cook brought it back from the South Sea Islands in the 1770s (I had to use forbidden instead). Q: What about the word fossil? A: In the modern sense, it dates from the 1660s, but in the sense of “some really old stuff dug up out of the ground” it was used as early as the 1560s. Q: What kinds of handguns were available in the 1590s? A: An astonishing variety. [see photo]

I also learned something about the wisdom of the Talmud, which was compiled back in the 5th-6th centuries C.E., yet it abolishes capital punishment, protects a person on trial from self-incrimination, establishes publicly-funded education, permits birth control in certain circumstances, and declares that the rights of the working man always take precedence over those of his employer.

And to think that I owe it all to a random mystery novel whose title has been lost to the memory hole of time.

Oh, and by the way, when Mercy was giving birth to our two children, I was in the delivery room with her to see it happen.

The Fifth Servant, Kenneth Wishnia, William Morrow, January 2010, $25.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #113.

My Book: the Copywriter Did It
Wendy Clinch

clinch_wendy_2It was a wastewater treatment plant that finally got me.

Over my many years in advertising, I’d written about all sorts of things: pumps for oil refineries; machinery for grinding up garbage; chemicals for cleaning metal parts—in other words, things that you don’t find in the grocery store. Ugly things and unpleasant ones.

I’d gone into advertising because I liked to write. It seemed sexy and exciting, and I pictured myself working on fashion, cosmetics, resorts in the Caribbean. Instead, day after day, year after year, I worked in the down and dirty back rooms of what’s charitably called business-to-business advertising, cranking out ads that appeared in magazines with names like Modern Concrete, Pulp & Paper, Water & Waste Processing, and Iron Age. Not one ounce of glamour in it. And not much fun, either.

So when a client needed an ad for a sludge management process (we all know what sludge is in wastewater treatment, right?), I figured it was time to take a step back. Time to reconsider. Was this really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life?

clinch_wendyDefinitely not.

Was there a way out?

You bet there was.

I decided to quit the 9-to-5 world and become a ski bum.

Unlike advertising, ski bumming has a long and illustrious heritage. Mostly it consists of 1) sleeping in your car in sub-zero temperatures or cramming into a low-rent, shoebox-sized room with ten of your closest friends; 2) taking a more-or-less menial job that lets you ski as much as possible and 3) surviving on ramen noodles, popcorn, and free chicken wings at bars (or mooching off friends with money).

For me, however, being a ski bum was just the ticket. More than anything other than my family, I loved to ski.

My husband took a little convincing. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” he said, then dodged my flying shoe. My 25-year-old daughter thought it was a little odd, too. “Is this a midlife crisis?” she asked.

I did have my limits. I drew the line at sleeping in cars and eating ramen noodles.

Instead, we bought a small house in a small Vermont ski town, and I got a job at a ski shop working weekends so I could ski during the week. Life was good. Why had I waited so long to do this? And what if I hadn’t waited?

clinch_doubleblackSince I couldn’t very well go back in time to find out, I decided to create an alter ego to explore the life I might have lived if I’d taken a different path.

Enter Stacey Curtis, the heroine of my debut novel, Double Black. She’s young, spirited, intelligent, and an avid skier. She ditches her cheating fiancé and moves to a Vermont ski town, where she tends bar at night and skis during the day. Poverty forces her to sleep in her car, until one day she stumbles across a ring of master keys for the area’s vacation condos. Since the condos are unoccupied most of the time, she reasons, “Why not put them to good use?” So she begins going from condo to condo, spending one night here, one night there, until late one night she opens a door and discovers—a dead body.

Double Black is loaded with New England atmosphere, quirky characters, and more twists and turns than a slalom course. Though it’s fun for skiers, it’s just as much fun for people who’ve never visited the slopes. It was a pleasure to write, since it gave me the chance not only to explore what might have been, but to indulge my love of skiing during the off season.

And best of all, there’s not a single reference to sludge management in the whole thing.

Double Black, by Wendy Clinch, Minotaur, January 2010, $24.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #113.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 19:27:39

clinch_wendy_2It was a wastewater treatment plant that finally got me.

Over my many years in advertising, I’d written about all sorts of things: pumps for oil refineries; machinery for grinding up garbage; chemicals for cleaning metal parts—in other words, things that you don’t find in the grocery store. Ugly things and unpleasant ones.

I’d gone into advertising because I liked to write. It seemed sexy and exciting, and I pictured myself working on fashion, cosmetics, resorts in the Caribbean. Instead, day after day, year after year, I worked in the down and dirty back rooms of what’s charitably called business-to-business advertising, cranking out ads that appeared in magazines with names like Modern Concrete, Pulp & Paper, Water & Waste Processing, and Iron Age. Not one ounce of glamour in it. And not much fun, either.

So when a client needed an ad for a sludge management process (we all know what sludge is in wastewater treatment, right?), I figured it was time to take a step back. Time to reconsider. Was this really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life?

clinch_wendyDefinitely not.

Was there a way out?

You bet there was.

I decided to quit the 9-to-5 world and become a ski bum.

Unlike advertising, ski bumming has a long and illustrious heritage. Mostly it consists of 1) sleeping in your car in sub-zero temperatures or cramming into a low-rent, shoebox-sized room with ten of your closest friends; 2) taking a more-or-less menial job that lets you ski as much as possible and 3) surviving on ramen noodles, popcorn, and free chicken wings at bars (or mooching off friends with money).

For me, however, being a ski bum was just the ticket. More than anything other than my family, I loved to ski.

My husband took a little convincing. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” he said, then dodged my flying shoe. My 25-year-old daughter thought it was a little odd, too. “Is this a midlife crisis?” she asked.

I did have my limits. I drew the line at sleeping in cars and eating ramen noodles.

Instead, we bought a small house in a small Vermont ski town, and I got a job at a ski shop working weekends so I could ski during the week. Life was good. Why had I waited so long to do this? And what if I hadn’t waited?

clinch_doubleblackSince I couldn’t very well go back in time to find out, I decided to create an alter ego to explore the life I might have lived if I’d taken a different path.

Enter Stacey Curtis, the heroine of my debut novel, Double Black. She’s young, spirited, intelligent, and an avid skier. She ditches her cheating fiancé and moves to a Vermont ski town, where she tends bar at night and skis during the day. Poverty forces her to sleep in her car, until one day she stumbles across a ring of master keys for the area’s vacation condos. Since the condos are unoccupied most of the time, she reasons, “Why not put them to good use?” So she begins going from condo to condo, spending one night here, one night there, until late one night she opens a door and discovers—a dead body.

Double Black is loaded with New England atmosphere, quirky characters, and more twists and turns than a slalom course. Though it’s fun for skiers, it’s just as much fun for people who’ve never visited the slopes. It was a pleasure to write, since it gave me the chance not only to explore what might have been, but to indulge my love of skiing during the off season.

And best of all, there’s not a single reference to sludge management in the whole thing.

Double Black, by Wendy Clinch, Minotaur, January 2010, $24.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #113.

My Book: the Serpent Pool
Martin Edwards

edwards_martinBooks burn in the opening scene of my fourth and latest Lake District Mystery, The Serpent Pool. And the man who owns the books, an avid collector called George Saffell, watches bound and helpless as the flames race toward him.

It is a dark opening to a novel set in a beautiful part of the world. The Lake District’s landscape is fascinating at any time, and the main action of The Serpent Pool takes place at the start of a new year in the cold days of early January, when fog descends from the fell slopes, and the forecasters warn of avalanches. Researching the real-life scenes of the fictional events of my book was enthralling (at least for me—my teenage children would prefer me to research a series set on the world’s sunniest beaches…) Few areas anywhere that are as small as England’s Lake District (it is roughly 30 miles across) can boast such a rich literary tradition. William Wordsworth was the most famous of the Lake Poets, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey still have admirers. Among novelists, Hugh Walpole (whose few crime novels are well worth a look), Melvyn Bragg, and nowadays Sarah Hall, have all used the landscape of the Lakes to great effect. As an essayist, Thomas De Quincey (who lived in the lovely Dove Cottage, former home of the Wordsworths) is beyond compare.

De Quincey’s dark shadow falls over The Serpent Pool. Apart from Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, a masterpiece of hallucinatory writing, he was most famous for “On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” and this inspires Daniel Kind to study his work while writing a book about the history of murder. In so doing, Daniel encounters a range of characters with something to hide, including the secret behind the violent death of George Saffell. I hadn’t read De Quincey before working on this novel, and I came to admire his writing, even if I remain deeply unconvinced about the benefits of opium to the creative process.

edwards_serpentpoolWhile Daniel focuses on De Quincey, Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett, who heads the Cold Case Review Team, investigates the unexplained death, six years ago, of a woman called Bethany Friend, who was drowned in an isolated patch of water known as the Serpent Pool. Hannah’s relationship with rare book dealer Marc Amos is on the skids, and as the winter weather worsens, the tension builds to a climax at the Serpent Pool. There Hannah comes to learn the truth. And when I wrote the final scene, I couldn’t help remembering that famous remark of Sherlock Holmes in The Copper Beeches: “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

I can only hope the Lake District tourist authorities forgive me for introducing murder and mayhem into this most gorgeous of locations!

The Serpent Pool, Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen Press, February 2010, $24.95/$14.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #113.

Teri Duerr
2011-12-19 19:42:15

Books burn in the opening scene of my fourth and latest Lake District Mystery, The Serpent Pool. And the man who owns the books, an avid collector called George Saffell, watches bound and helpless as the flames race toward him.