Downton Abbey Brings Readers
Oline Cogdill

Downton Abbey, the highly rated and addictive British melodrama on PBS, also is having an impact on readers – or at least publishers and booksellers are hoping it will.

toddcharles_alonelydeathViewers’ fascination with Downton Abbey’s aristocratic family and its servants set against the backdrop of World War I has encouraged publishers to bring out books and novels set during the Edwardian and WWI eras that capture life on British estates, from the high society families to the toils of the maids and other servants.

According to a story in the New York Times, publishers are jumping on this bandwagon as fast as they can.

I am not surprised that those who watch Downton Abbey also would want to read about the era. After all, PBS viewers are highly educated and literate. (Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9 pm on PBS and continues through Feb.19; check your local listings.)

But publishers—and viewers—are slow to understand just how interesting the pre- and post WWI era was in England.

Mystery writers have long been mining this era for fascinating novels.

World War I, or the Great War as it was often called, began on July 28, 1914, and lasted until Nov. 11, 1918, and involved all the world's great powers. It was the first war in which technology entered into the fighting and old-fashioned military tactics no longer worked. It was the first war to use telephones, wireless communications, armored cars, tanks, and aircraft.

World War I also had an immense impact on culture, especially in Britain. It was the beginning of the end of the class system; women had more rights and freedom thanks to the telephone and automobiles. And more women had to support themselves and their families because of the huge loss of young men during the war.

Publishers don’t have to turn to new authors for readers to learn about the war’s devastation and social upheaval. Instead, here are a few authors who have excellent new novels and backlists:

CHARLES TODD:

The mother and son writing team have two series that explore WWI.

todd_impartialwitnessThe longest running is about Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard detective still fighting the effects of being shell shocked. Ian can barely function but forces himself to do his job and fight for justice. He is still haunted by the battles and what he had to during the heat of war so his job is a way of returning to humanity and his atonement for his sins.

Ian also represents the shift in the classes from the male point of view. He comes from a different background than most of the policemen of his day. Ian was from a middle class family – his father was a solicitor (lawyer to us Americans), his mother an accomplished pianist and Ian was university educated. The reader can feel Ian’s pain—the war left him a shell of a man, lonely, almost incapable of having a relationship with a woman or forming friendships with men.


Todd’s 13th novel in this series A Lonely Death came out this month.

The Bess Crawford series gives Todd an opportunity to show England in the midst of the war. Bess is from an upper middle class family but she grew up in India where her officer father was stationed. At the outbreak of the war, she follows his footsteps and volunteers for the nursing corps where she serves on the battlefields of France.

Todd shows in great detail the war in this series. In the first novel, A Duty to the Dead, Bess escapes from the doomed hospital ship Britannic as it is sinking.

An Impartial Witness is the third Bess Crawford novel.

JACQUELINE WINSPEAR:

winspearjac_elegyforeddiexHer Maisie Dobbs novels show the challenges and opportunities that women struggled with in post- World War I. Maisie is a psychologist and investigator who began working at the age of 13 as a servant. Her employer supported her education, which was cut short when WWI broke out. At age 18, Maisie enlisted for nursing service overseas and was sent to France where she served close to the front lines.

Maisie represents the blurring of the class lines – the daughter of a servant who would have become a servant herself if her education had not been encouraged—and the merging independence of women.


Like the other authors in this blog, Winspear features details of the day to make her elegantly written novels realistic. For example, as WWI continued, the ink used to write letters became fainter because people were forced to water down the ink to make to go further.

Winspear’s next Maisie Dobbs novel Elegy for Eddie comes out in March.

ANNE PERRY:
perry_weshallnotsleepBritish author Perry is best known for her many novels set during the 1800s. The William Monk novels are set in the early Victorian era (1850s-1860s) and the Thomas Pitt take place during the 1880s-1890s.

But from 2003 to 2007, Perry wrote fivc novels set during WWI about the Reavley family—Joseph, an army chaplain; his brother, Matthew, an officer in the Secret Intelligence Service; and their sister, Judith, an ambulance driver.

The last novel in this series We Shall Not Sleep came out in 2007.

This is just a small sampling. Do you have a favorite mystery writer who sets her or his novels with WWI as the background?

Xav ID 577
2012-01-22 10:22:07

Downton Abbey, the highly rated and addictive British melodrama on PBS, also is having an impact on readers – or at least publishers and booksellers are hoping it will.

toddcharles_alonelydeathViewers’ fascination with Downton Abbey’s aristocratic family and its servants set against the backdrop of World War I has encouraged publishers to bring out books and novels set during the Edwardian and WWI eras that capture life on British estates, from the high society families to the toils of the maids and other servants.

According to a story in the New York Times, publishers are jumping on this bandwagon as fast as they can.

I am not surprised that those who watch Downton Abbey also would want to read about the era. After all, PBS viewers are highly educated and literate. (Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9 pm on PBS and continues through Feb.19; check your local listings.)

But publishers—and viewers—are slow to understand just how interesting the pre- and post WWI era was in England.

Mystery writers have long been mining this era for fascinating novels.

World War I, or the Great War as it was often called, began on July 28, 1914, and lasted until Nov. 11, 1918, and involved all the world's great powers. It was the first war in which technology entered into the fighting and old-fashioned military tactics no longer worked. It was the first war to use telephones, wireless communications, armored cars, tanks, and aircraft.

World War I also had an immense impact on culture, especially in Britain. It was the beginning of the end of the class system; women had more rights and freedom thanks to the telephone and automobiles. And more women had to support themselves and their families because of the huge loss of young men during the war.

Publishers don’t have to turn to new authors for readers to learn about the war’s devastation and social upheaval. Instead, here are a few authors who have excellent new novels and backlists:

CHARLES TODD:

The mother and son writing team have two series that explore WWI.

todd_impartialwitnessThe longest running is about Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard detective still fighting the effects of being shell shocked. Ian can barely function but forces himself to do his job and fight for justice. He is still haunted by the battles and what he had to during the heat of war so his job is a way of returning to humanity and his atonement for his sins.

Ian also represents the shift in the classes from the male point of view. He comes from a different background than most of the policemen of his day. Ian was from a middle class family – his father was a solicitor (lawyer to us Americans), his mother an accomplished pianist and Ian was university educated. The reader can feel Ian’s pain—the war left him a shell of a man, lonely, almost incapable of having a relationship with a woman or forming friendships with men.


Todd’s 13th novel in this series A Lonely Death came out this month.

The Bess Crawford series gives Todd an opportunity to show England in the midst of the war. Bess is from an upper middle class family but she grew up in India where her officer father was stationed. At the outbreak of the war, she follows his footsteps and volunteers for the nursing corps where she serves on the battlefields of France.

Todd shows in great detail the war in this series. In the first novel, A Duty to the Dead, Bess escapes from the doomed hospital ship Britannic as it is sinking.

An Impartial Witness is the third Bess Crawford novel.

JACQUELINE WINSPEAR:

winspearjac_elegyforeddiexHer Maisie Dobbs novels show the challenges and opportunities that women struggled with in post- World War I. Maisie is a psychologist and investigator who began working at the age of 13 as a servant. Her employer supported her education, which was cut short when WWI broke out. At age 18, Maisie enlisted for nursing service overseas and was sent to France where she served close to the front lines.

Maisie represents the blurring of the class lines – the daughter of a servant who would have become a servant herself if her education had not been encouraged—and the merging independence of women.


Like the other authors in this blog, Winspear features details of the day to make her elegantly written novels realistic. For example, as WWI continued, the ink used to write letters became fainter because people were forced to water down the ink to make to go further.

Winspear’s next Maisie Dobbs novel Elegy for Eddie comes out in March.

ANNE PERRY:
perry_weshallnotsleepBritish author Perry is best known for her many novels set during the 1800s. The William Monk novels are set in the early Victorian era (1850s-1860s) and the Thomas Pitt take place during the 1880s-1890s.

But from 2003 to 2007, Perry wrote fivc novels set during WWI about the Reavley family—Joseph, an army chaplain; his brother, Matthew, an officer in the Secret Intelligence Service; and their sister, Judith, an ambulance driver.

The last novel in this series We Shall Not Sleep came out in 2007.

This is just a small sampling. Do you have a favorite mystery writer who sets her or his novels with WWI as the background?

Travels With Authors
Oline Cogdill

davidsonhilary_nextonefallA couple of weeks ago, my husband and I picked up an old college friend at Port Everglades, following a cruise.

Over lunch, we talked college, of course, friends in common and travel.

The year before she had gone to Peru and had explored the ruins of Machu Picchu.

As she talked about the ruins, I mentioned a couple of tidbits that I knew about Machu Picchu, the geography and the country's history.

When she talked about coco tea, I was able to add impressions I also had heard. Or in this case, read.

Now, I have never been to Peru nor have I tasted coca tea. But I had just read Anthony Award winner Hilary Davidson's The Next One to Fall, which is so wonderfully steeped in the scenery of Peru that I could picture the country as if I had been there.

Davidson shows the reader Peru's geography, its politics, its violence and its people in ways that most travel articles do not.

Authors who show us their scenery abound in the mystery genre, but lately a couple of examples have risen to the top. Nevada Barr has taken readers on myriad tours of America’s national parks from Texas to Michigan to the Florida Keys, including an urban national park in New Orleans, via her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon.

In The Rope, Barr takes Anna back to the beginning when she is a wide-eyed, new widow arriving by bus from New York City to spend the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.The plot is solid, complemented by the scenery that Barr describes so well.

When the reader first meets Anna in The Rope, she has fallen down a solution hole, a dry, natural well caused by softening of limestone. We are there with her every minute as she struggles to free herself.
And we feel that heat of the desert in The Rope, especially when Barr compares it to the streets of New York City:
"Summer heat in New York came from milky skies, pouring moist and heavy over the city, flowing down from the buildings and up from the subways until it suffocated. Desert heat came from hard blue sky and weighed nothing. Like a weak acid solution, cleansing and caustic."
Regional mysteries are our personal tour guide, a way of armchair traveling. I also have often refered to mystery novels when I have planned a trip.

Xav ID 577
2012-01-29 10:59:05

davidsonhilary_nextonefallA couple of weeks ago, my husband and I picked up an old college friend at Port Everglades, following a cruise.

Over lunch, we talked college, of course, friends in common and travel.

The year before she had gone to Peru and had explored the ruins of Machu Picchu.

As she talked about the ruins, I mentioned a couple of tidbits that I knew about Machu Picchu, the geography and the country's history.

When she talked about coco tea, I was able to add impressions I also had heard. Or in this case, read.

Now, I have never been to Peru nor have I tasted coca tea. But I had just read Anthony Award winner Hilary Davidson's The Next One to Fall, which is so wonderfully steeped in the scenery of Peru that I could picture the country as if I had been there.

Davidson shows the reader Peru's geography, its politics, its violence and its people in ways that most travel articles do not.

Authors who show us their scenery abound in the mystery genre, but lately a couple of examples have risen to the top. Nevada Barr has taken readers on myriad tours of America’s national parks from Texas to Michigan to the Florida Keys, including an urban national park in New Orleans, via her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon.

In The Rope, Barr takes Anna back to the beginning when she is a wide-eyed, new widow arriving by bus from New York City to spend the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.The plot is solid, complemented by the scenery that Barr describes so well.

When the reader first meets Anna in The Rope, she has fallen down a solution hole, a dry, natural well caused by softening of limestone. We are there with her every minute as she struggles to free herself.
And we feel that heat of the desert in The Rope, especially when Barr compares it to the streets of New York City:
"Summer heat in New York came from milky skies, pouring moist and heavy over the city, flowing down from the buildings and up from the subways until it suffocated. Desert heat came from hard blue sky and weighed nothing. Like a weak acid solution, cleansing and caustic."
Regional mysteries are our personal tour guide, a way of armchair traveling. I also have often refered to mystery novels when I have planned a trip.

Mary Stewart: Teller of Tales
Katherine Hall Page

stewart_mary_cat_smallStewart’s heroines, her narrators, are independent young women with strong feelings that lead them into danger, and romance. The search for truth becomes intertwined with a search for love.

Photo: ABC; David M. Alexander

Standing beneath Durham Cathedral’s towering Norman rib vaulting, Chancellor William Bryson presented a number of honorary degrees on Friday, July 3, 2009. For one of the alumni recipients of the Doctor of Letters, Bryson could have abbreviated his introduction to four timeless words: “Madam, Will You Talk?”

In a letter to me that same year, Lady Mary Stewart said of the experience, “It was indeed wonderful to be remembered—and in such a way—by my old University.”

There is no question that Mary Stewart is remembered. The mere mention of her name brings instant, and warm, appreciation wherever readers are gathered. Her first book, Madam, Will You Talk?, was published in 1954. Since then she has published over 20 novels, including such romantic suspense classics as Nine Coaches Waiting, This Rough Magic, My Brother Michael, and The Moon-Spinners. In 1970 came The Crystal Cave, the first of her imaginative historical novels retelling the Arthurian legends from the point of view of Merlin.

Mary Stewart, however, is no fan of labels for fiction. “I’d rather just say that I write novels, fast-moving stories that entertain. To my mind there are really only two kinds of novels, badly written and well written. Beyond that, you cannot categorize… ‘Storyteller’ is an old and honorable title and I’d like to lay claim to it.”

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born on September 17, 1916, in Sunderland, County Durham, in the Parish of St. Thomas Bishopwearmouth where her father, an Anglican minister, served. Mary’s mother was from New Zealand. The two met when the reverend sailed around Cape Horn to New Zealand as a young man. Madam, Will You Talk? is dedicated to Stewart’s parents, perhaps acknowledging their spirit of adventure and romance, which was to express itself over and over again in their oldest child’s books. Perhaps also the dedication is a tribute to their encouragement. Stewart’s first published work was a poem in the parish magazine written when she was five. She’d been writing and drawing illustrations since she was three and a half.

Stewart started at Durham University in 1935, and received a First Class Honours BA in English in 1938 and a teaching certificate in 1939. In 1941 she was offered a post at Durham University and taught there until 1945. She also received an MA in English during this time.

stewart_gabriel_houndsIn 1953, at the urging of her husband, the noted geologist Sir Frederick Stewart, Mary submitted the manuscript of Madam, Will You Talk? to Hodder and Stoughton. It came out in 1954 to instant success, launching a career that would bring 14 New York Times bestsellers and delight to millions of readers.

Stewart’s books are characterized by an erudite intelligence, not unexpected given her academic background. They also display a cosmopolitan worldview and a love of history and the natural world. Traveling extensively with her husband provided her with settings. Each locale—Provence, Corfu, the Middle East, Crete, Vienna, the Pyrenees, Austria, England, and others—is integral to the story and described in enough detail to immerse readers without overwhelming the action—a pitfall for many writers.

Her love of nature and descriptive powers found expression in passages like this one from My Brother Michael, which is set in Greece:

"All along the Pleistus—at this season a dry white serpent of shingle beds that glittered in the sun—all along its course, filling the valley bottom with the tumbling, whispering green-silver of water, flowed the olive woods; themselves a river, a green-and-silver flood of plumy branches as soft as sea spray, over which the ever-present breezes slid, not as they do over corn, in flying shadows, but in whitening breaths, little gasps that lift and toss the olive crests for all the world like breaking spray."

A sense of humor, healthy appetites of all sorts, stubbornness, insatiable curiosity, and a penchant for risk-taking place Stewart’s female protagonists firmly in both the 20th and 21st centuries. They are ageless. In a 1964 Literary Guild Review interview, Mary Stewart notes that the kinds of things that befall her heroines—threatened at gunpoint, drugged, chased, tied up and left to die—are not based on personal experience. However, she adds, this isn’t necessary: “I think I know how it would feel.... The place for truth is not in the facts of a novel; it is in the feelings.”

Stewart’s heroines, her narrators, are independent young women with strong feelings that lead them into danger, and romance. The search for truth becomes intertwined with a search for love. They are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and they save themselves, as well as a wide assortment of others, ranging from nine-year-old Comte Philippe de Valmy in Nine Coaches Waiting to a dolphin in This Rough Magic.

And then there are the male love interests, often reminiscent of Heathcliff, the kind of man our mothers would warn us about to no avail.

stewart_ivy_tree“Tall, dark and handsome…the romantic cliché repeated itself in my head—so automatically and irresistibly that I braced myself to dislike him on sight.”
Nine Coaches Waiting

Over her entire oeuvre, Stewart explores the difference between appearance and reality, but never more so than in the relationships between men and women. The supposed hero turns out to be an enemy, albeit charming; the taciturn and guarded farmer is a true love; and in The Ivy Tree, she turns everything upside down. Mary Grey, who bears a startling resemblance to Annabel Winslow, is convinced by Annabel’s charismatic cousin to impersonate the dead woman in an inheritance scheme, but this is only the beginning of a startling roundelay of deception.

Universally acknowledged as a master at creating suspense, Stewart’s opening lines quickly seize our full attention:

“I might have been alone in a painted landscape.”
The Ivy Tree

“It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”
The Moon-Spinners

“My lover came to me on the last night in April, with a message and a warning that sent me home to him.”
Touch Not the Cat

“Nothing ever happens to me.”
My Brother Michael

“I met him in the street called Straight.”
The Gabriel Hounds

“Carmel Lacy is the silliest woman I know, which is saying a good deal.”
Airs Above the Ground

“I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.”
Nine Coaches Waiting

stewart_thunder_on_rightBetween 1970 and 1995, Lady Mary turned to the legends of Camelot, placing Merlin at the forefront, reinventing Arthur the King as a flesh and blood man, and setting the story in late 5th century Roman Britain, instead of the 12th. Ironically, Stewart’s publishers were not in favor of the project. In an 1989 interview with Randall H. Thompson in Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature, she said, “The publishers didn’t want me to write The Crystal Cave in the first place, because they were doing so well with the earlier books. Publishers never want you to change; if one horse is doing well, they don’t want you to change horses.”

Stewart’s five Arthurian novels employed to stunning effect her imaginative scholarship, narrative skill, and love of language. Here is the opening of The Crystal Cave in which Merlin addresses the reader directly:

"I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King. The years since then seem to me now more dim and faded than earlier years, as if my life were a growing tree which burst to flower and leaf with him, and now has nothing more to do than yellow to the grave."

Living in her beloved Scotland, Mary Stewart is no longer writing. “No new book! I know better than to try at (nearly) 93!” she wrote me in 2009. She has left us with a treasured abundance to read and re-read, but oh how lovely it would be to have just one more.

In Howard’s End, E.M. Forster wrote:

“Only connect!…Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” This notion of connectedness is foremost in all Stewart’s writings, an idea expressed in My Brother Michael by Camilla Haven’s observation that “In the end it’s our place in the pattern that matters.”

Mary Stewart’s place in modern storytelling is assured.

A MARY STEWART READING LIST

Madam, Will You Talk? (1954)
Wildfire at Midnight (1956)
Thunder on the Right (1957)
Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
My Brother Michael (1959)
stewart_touchnotthecatThe Ivy Tree (1961)
The Moon-Spinners (1962)
This Rough Magic (1964)
Airs Above the Ground (1965)
The Gabriel Hounds (1967)
The Wind Off the Small Isles (1968)
Touch Not the Cat (1976)
Thornyhold (1988)
Stormy Petrel (1991)
Rose Cottage (1997)

The Merlin Series
The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
The Last Enchantment (1979)
The Wicked Day (1983)
The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)

Juvenile
The Little Broomstick (1971)
Ludo and the Star Horse (1974)
A Walk in Wolf Wood (1980)

Poetry
Frost on the Window and Other Poems (1990)

The latest in Katherine Hall Page’s award-winning Faith Fairchild series is The Body in the Gazebo (Morrow, 2011). This article is dedicated to the late David Thompson, an ardent fellow Mary Stewart fan.

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

Teri Duerr
2012-01-18 03:09:52

stewart_mary_cat_smallStewart’s heroines are independent women whose search for truth often leads to love.

2012 Edgar Nominations Announced
Oline Cogdill

mwa_logoIt's official—the awards season for mystery fiction has officially begun with this morning's announcement by the Mystery Writers of America of the nominees for the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2011.

This year's Edgar Awards were announced on the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

That's a lot of years that mystery fiction has been savored by generations of readers.

The Edgar Awards will be presented during the 66th Gala Banquet, April 26, 2012, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.

Martha Grimes, below, author of the Richard Jury novels has been named the Grand Master.

Mystery Scene offers its congratulations to all the nominees.

2011 was a terrific year for mystery fiction and we are sure the judges had a difficult time narrowing down the lists to these nominees.

BEST NOVEL
The Ranger by Ace Atkins (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Gone by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Minotaur Books)
1222 by Anne Holt (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Field Gray by Philip Kerr (Penguin Group USA - G.P. Putnam’s Sons – Marion Wood Books)

grimesmartha_author

Martha Grimes, 2012 Grand Master

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Red on Red by Edward Conlon (Random House Publishing Group – Spiegel & Grau)
Last to Fold by David Duffy (Thomas Dunne Books)
All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen (The Permanent Press)
Bent Road by Lori Roy (Penguin Group USA - Dutton)
Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)


BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (Hachette Book Group – Orbit Books)
The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle (Felony & Mayhem Press)
The Dog Sox by Russell Hill (Pleasure Boat Studio – Caravel Mystery Books)
Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper Paperbacks)
Vienna Twilight by Frank Tallis (Random House Trade Paperbacks)


BEST FACT CRIME
The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins (Crown Publishing)
The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge by T.J. English (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (Random House - Doubleday)
Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender by Steve Miller (Penguin Group USA - Berkley)
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal (Penguin Group USA - Viking)


BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL
The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of our Time by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer & John-Henri Holmberg (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making by John Curran (HarperCollins)
On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film by Philippa Gates (SUNY Press)
Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds and Marnie by Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick (University of Illinois Press)


BEST SHORT STORY
"Marley’s Revolution" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by John C. Boland (Dell Magazines)
"Tomorrow’s Dead" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by David Dean (Dell Magazines)
"The Adakian Eagle" – Down These Strange Streets by Bradley Denton (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" – Down These Strange Streets by Diana Gabaldon (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"The Case of Death and Honey" – A Study in Sherlock by Neil Gaiman (Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Books)
"The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Peter Turnbull (Dell Magazines)


BEST JUVENILE
Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)
It Happened on a Train by Mac Barnett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Vanished by Sheela Chari (Disney Book Group – Disney Hyperion)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (Egmont USA)


BEST YOUNG ADULT
Shelter by Harlan Coben (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (Random House Children’s Books – Knopf BFYR)
The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Creek Press)
Kill You Last by Todd Strasser (Egmont USA)


BEST PLAY
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club by Jeffrey Hatcher (Arizona Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ)
The Game’s Afoot by Ken Ludwig (Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland, OH)


BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
"Innocence" – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS Productions)
"The Life Inside" – Justified, Teleplay by Benjamin Cavell (FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television)
"Part 1" – Whitechapel, Teleplay by Ben Court & Caroline Ip (BBC America)
"Pilot" – Homeland, Teleplay by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon & Gideon Raff (Showtime)
"Mask" – Law & Order: SVU, Teleplay by Speed Weed (Wolf Films/Universal Media Studios)


ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
"A Good Man of Business" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by David Ingram (Dell Magazines)


GRAND MASTER
Martha Grimes, above


RAVEN AWARDS
M is for Mystery Bookstore, San Mateo, CA
Molly Weston, Meritorious Mysteries


ELLERY QUEEN AWARD
Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group


THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, April 25, 2012)
Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Death on Tour by Janice Hamrick (Minotaur Books)
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown Publishing Group)
Murder Most Persuasive by Tracy Kiely (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)

Xav ID 577
2012-01-19 14:16:48

mwa_logoIt's official—the awards season for mystery fiction has officially begun with this morning's announcement by the Mystery Writers of America of the nominees for the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2011.

This year's Edgar Awards were announced on the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

That's a lot of years that mystery fiction has been savored by generations of readers.

The Edgar Awards will be presented during the 66th Gala Banquet, April 26, 2012, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.

Martha Grimes, below, author of the Richard Jury novels has been named the Grand Master.

Mystery Scene offers its congratulations to all the nominees.

2011 was a terrific year for mystery fiction and we are sure the judges had a difficult time narrowing down the lists to these nominees.

BEST NOVEL
The Ranger by Ace Atkins (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Gone by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Minotaur Books)
1222 by Anne Holt (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Field Gray by Philip Kerr (Penguin Group USA - G.P. Putnam’s Sons – Marion Wood Books)

grimesmartha_author

Martha Grimes, 2012 Grand Master

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Red on Red by Edward Conlon (Random House Publishing Group – Spiegel & Grau)
Last to Fold by David Duffy (Thomas Dunne Books)
All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen (The Permanent Press)
Bent Road by Lori Roy (Penguin Group USA - Dutton)
Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)


BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (Hachette Book Group – Orbit Books)
The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle (Felony & Mayhem Press)
The Dog Sox by Russell Hill (Pleasure Boat Studio – Caravel Mystery Books)
Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper Paperbacks)
Vienna Twilight by Frank Tallis (Random House Trade Paperbacks)


BEST FACT CRIME
The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins (Crown Publishing)
The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge by T.J. English (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (Random House - Doubleday)
Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender by Steve Miller (Penguin Group USA - Berkley)
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal (Penguin Group USA - Viking)


BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL
The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of our Time by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer & John-Henri Holmberg (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making by John Curran (HarperCollins)
On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film by Philippa Gates (SUNY Press)
Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds and Marnie by Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick (University of Illinois Press)


BEST SHORT STORY
"Marley’s Revolution" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by John C. Boland (Dell Magazines)
"Tomorrow’s Dead" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by David Dean (Dell Magazines)
"The Adakian Eagle" – Down These Strange Streets by Bradley Denton (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" – Down These Strange Streets by Diana Gabaldon (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)
"The Case of Death and Honey" – A Study in Sherlock by Neil Gaiman (Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Books)
"The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Peter Turnbull (Dell Magazines)


BEST JUVENILE
Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)
It Happened on a Train by Mac Barnett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Vanished by Sheela Chari (Disney Book Group – Disney Hyperion)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (Egmont USA)


BEST YOUNG ADULT
Shelter by Harlan Coben (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (Random House Children’s Books – Knopf BFYR)
The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Creek Press)
Kill You Last by Todd Strasser (Egmont USA)


BEST PLAY
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club by Jeffrey Hatcher (Arizona Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ)
The Game’s Afoot by Ken Ludwig (Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland, OH)


BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
"Innocence" – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS Productions)
"The Life Inside" – Justified, Teleplay by Benjamin Cavell (FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television)
"Part 1" – Whitechapel, Teleplay by Ben Court & Caroline Ip (BBC America)
"Pilot" – Homeland, Teleplay by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon & Gideon Raff (Showtime)
"Mask" – Law & Order: SVU, Teleplay by Speed Weed (Wolf Films/Universal Media Studios)


ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
"A Good Man of Business" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by David Ingram (Dell Magazines)


GRAND MASTER
Martha Grimes, above


RAVEN AWARDS
M is for Mystery Bookstore, San Mateo, CA
Molly Weston, Meritorious Mysteries


ELLERY QUEEN AWARD
Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group


THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, April 25, 2012)
Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Death on Tour by Janice Hamrick (Minotaur Books)
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown Publishing Group)
Murder Most Persuasive by Tracy Kiely (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)

A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon
Kevin Burton Smith

Sixteen all-new stories edited and compiled by Laurie R. King (who knows a little about Holmesian pastiche) and Leslie S. Klinger (a Sherlockian scholar), these stories aren't just new—they're written by some of the very top writers in the mystery game, many of whose fictional stomping grounds are very far indeed from 221B Baker Street. Contributors include such left-of-center choices as Lee Child, Laura Lippman, Gayle Lynds, Neil Gaiman, Alan Bradley, and Jacqueline Winspear.

Teri Duerr
2012-01-19 16:28:17

Sixteen all-new stories edited and compiled by Laurie R. King (who knows a little about Holmesian pastiche) and Leslie S. Klinger (a Sherlockian scholar), these stories aren't just new—they're written by some of the very top writers in the mystery game, many of whose fictional stomping grounds are very far indeed from 221B Baker Street. Contributors include such left-of-center choices as Lee Child, Laura Lippman, Gayle Lynds, Neil Gaiman, Alan Bradley, and Jacqueline Winspear.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a Graphic Novel

dragontattoo_graphicnovel

Since this is the Year of the Dragon, it seems the right time to launch the graphic novel of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Okay, so that is a stretch!)


The graphic version of Steig Larsson's mega seller is set the hit the shelves during November, barely making it for the Year of the Dragon!

Crime author Denise Mina will write the book, with the cover image created by Lee Bermejo and art from Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti. In a press release, DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint stated that it is working closely with the estate of Stieg Larsson and Hedlund Literary Agency to adapt the book.

I think Scottish writer Denise Mina will bring a new sensibility and insight to the character of Lisbeth Salander.

Her novels, which include The End of the Wasp Season, Deception and Field of Blood, have a dark approach that have made her an international best seller. Mina is no stranger to graphic novels. Mina has also written for Vertigo’s Hellblazer series. Her latest graphic novel is A Sickness in the Family, also for Vertigo.

Bermejo's latest work is the graphic novel Batman: A Novel, a New York Times best-seller and follow-up to the 2008 hit Joker. Argentinean artist Manco has worked extensively on Vertigo’s Hellblazer series.

Xav ID 577
2012-01-25 10:20:10

dragontattoo_graphicnovel

Since this is the Year of the Dragon, it seems the right time to launch the graphic novel of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Okay, so that is a stretch!)


The graphic version of Steig Larsson's mega seller is set the hit the shelves during November, barely making it for the Year of the Dragon!

Crime author Denise Mina will write the book, with the cover image created by Lee Bermejo and art from Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti. In a press release, DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint stated that it is working closely with the estate of Stieg Larsson and Hedlund Literary Agency to adapt the book.

I think Scottish writer Denise Mina will bring a new sensibility and insight to the character of Lisbeth Salander.

Her novels, which include The End of the Wasp Season, Deception and Field of Blood, have a dark approach that have made her an international best seller. Mina is no stranger to graphic novels. Mina has also written for Vertigo’s Hellblazer series. Her latest graphic novel is A Sickness in the Family, also for Vertigo.

Bermejo's latest work is the graphic novel Batman: A Novel, a New York Times best-seller and follow-up to the 2008 hit Joker. Argentinean artist Manco has worked extensively on Vertigo’s Hellblazer series.

Sequels, Prequels, Pastiches
Tom Nolan

deaver-in-car-CARTE-BLANCHE_smallThe new James Bond thriller is only the latest instance of one writer picking up where a predecessor left off.

American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver took the driver’s seat of the James Bond franchise with Carte Blanche (2011), to glowing reviews. Photo: Jainey Airey.

“Diamonds are forever,” claimed the late Ian Fleming in the title of his 1956 James Bond spy-thriller.

Now, thanks to recent arrangements made by Fleming’s heirs with publishers in at least 14 countries, James Bond himself may become something like forever: achieving perpetual shelf-life through new novels written by an estate-approved writer. This season sees publication (in America, by Simon & Schuster) of Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche: “an adrenaline-fueled thriller…timed to the anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth.”

Bond has been newly updated for the millennium, the publisher’s catalog promises: “This isn’t the Cold War Bond; it’s the best of Fleming and Deaver in one seriously sharp and stylish novel…that takes Bond from the Balkans to London and ultimately to a searing climax on the African Continent.”

Deaver of course isn’t the first author to assume Fleming’s cloak and dagger: Kingsley Amis, as “Robert Markham,” created the 1968 Bond adventure Colonel Sun. Spy-novelist John Gardner wrote 16 Bond books and novelizations in the 1980s and ’90s. Raymond Benson produced nearly a dozen late ’90s and early ’00s Bond titles. This Bond sequel then is but the latest in a growing subgenre of mystery and thriller fiction in which contemporary writers extend the oeuvre of deceased predecessors.

English novelist Jill Paton Walsh was commissioned circa 1999 by the Estate of Dorothy L. Sayers to complete a partial manuscript of a work featuring Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane called Thrones and Dominations; Walsh has since written two more Wimsey-Vane chronicles.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Robert Goldsborough followed in the footsteps of Rex Stout, crafting seven new adventures of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Raymond Chandler’s fragment of a final Philip Marlowe story, Poodle Springs, was completed in 1989 by Robert B. Parker, who then created an authorized sequel to Chandler’s 1939 The Big Sleep titled Perchance to Dream (1991).

And this year, Grand Central published Don Winslow’s Satori, a novel based on Trevanian’s Shibumi.

Winslow (like Deaver, a bestselling novelist in his own right) was a longtime admirer of Trevanian (real name: Rodney Whitaker). “So I approached the possibility…with great trepidation,” he wrote in an afterword to Satori. “First of all, what would the Whitaker family think? And how would his legion of devoted fans respond to a pretender to the throne? But more importantly, could I find a way to be true to the substance and style of the man’s work without falling into the trap of offensive—and ultimately futile—mimicry?” All parties (critics included) seemed to think Winslow did a fine job.

king_beekeeping_ebookBut is it harder to write a prequel (such as Satori) than a sequel? The late Joe Gores felt he had no choice but to do the former if he hoped to approach Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon—because, as he reminded that author’s surviving daughter Jo Hammett Marshall, by the end of Falcon all the main characters (excepting detective Sam Spade) are dead. “Then,” Gores told this writer in 2009, “she said, ‘Okay, do the prequel.’”

He did: Spade & Archer (2009), a novel that follows Falcon’s private eye for the seven years leading up to (and including) the opening pages of that 1930 work. “I ended up with a three-part book, because I thought [19]21, ’25, ’28, you would see [Spade] in various stages of his development as he had a lot of losses and became harder and harder…cooler and cooler.”

Joe Gores (who died early this year) said what he’d most hoped to get right was Hammett’s voice: “I often got a feeling I was channeling Hammett; I mean really, in my own mind. Maybe I was!” Maybe so—for Gores was proud to recount what he thought was his best review for Spade & Archer: “One of my great pleasures is that Jo Hammett said when she was reading it, she sometimes forgot that it wasn’t her father writing the book.”

Sam Spade isn’t the oldest crime-fiction character to receive the attention of sequelists and prequelists; neither is Peter Wimsey. That honor most likely goes to Sherlock Holmes, whose alternate chroniclers have written far more stories about him than did his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Laurie R. King’s books with Holmes—the first of which, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was published in 1994; the most recent of which, Pirate King, will be out this fall—approach the great detective from a different angle: as the partner of an intelligent and resourceful younger female, Mary Russell.

“I never regarded what I was doing as being Sherlock Holmes pastiches,” King says. “[They’re] Mary Russell stories; and in those, Holmes is a supporting actor. It never occurred to me that they would be taken as, strictly, Holmes stories.” She wrote The Beekeeper’s Apprentice without benefit of consultation with the Doyle Estate, for it seemed to her, she says, that the character of Sherlock Holmes (who first saw print in 1891) had entered the public domain.

“However it’s not quite that simple,” she found. “The laws keep changing, up and down; they’re different here than what they are in the UK. I was not publishable for a while in the UK…. I had to wait until things caught up with me.”

Now King’s well-received works are available in both countries, where, she says, they overcame a certain amount of alarm on the part of devoted Holmesians: “At first [the fans] were very dubious about the whole thing. I think they were a little nervous about whether or not these books were going to be some kind of romance or—Sherlock Holmes erotica, which is really quite an alarming thought! But when they realized that I had a great deal of respect not only for the character of Holmes but for the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, they began to relax a great deal. And in fact they invited me this last year to [join] the Baker Street Irregulars; I am now an invested member.”

AtkinsAce3CreditJayENolan_smallSequels, prequels, and pastiches have been around so long—and have attracted such distinguished practitioners—that one sequelist is himself about to be sequelized. Robert B. Parker, who wrote those two books featuring Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe, was best-known for his many titles with his own private-eye hero Spenser. In the wake of Parker’s 2010 death, the Spenser series is being continued by novelist Ace Atkins, whose first estate-approved Spenser title is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2012.

Atkins—who lives in Oxford, Mississippi, but spent some of his youth in Spenser’s Boston—says he started reading Robert B. Parker’s work as a teenager, and that his first original books were in the Parker mode. All the more reason, he thinks, to keep his since-earned own voice out of his new assignment: “I want this to be a Bob Parker book.… I don’t want to put my own ego on it, my own stamp and that kinda thing. … I’m such a fan of his work, I think what he did was so tremendous—I want this to feel like a smooth transition for readers; I want this to pick up exactly where he left off in Sixkill,” Parker’s 39th and final Spenser novel.

Ace Atkins’ The Ranger (2011), features Quinn
Colson, a soldier who returns to rampant
corruption in his Mississippi hometown.
Atkins will turn to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser
next. Photo: Jay E. Nolan.

Nevertheless, Atkins says: “It was an eerie experience.…to take one of your favorite characters, a character that you’ve known since you’re 15 or 16 years old, and start with ‘Chapter One’ of a new book—number 40 in a series—it’s kind of an odd circle I’ve been brought back to.”

But he took courage from Parker’s own example, he says. “I think, you know: If Bob will write new books for Philip Marlowe, it gives me confidence that it’s okay to pick it up and write new Spenser novels.”

Tom Nolan is the author of Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw (Norton).

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

Teri Duerr
2012-01-27 06:03:19

deaver-in-car-CARTE-BLANCHE_smallLiterary franchising: the art of one writer picking up where a predecessor leaves off.

Elaine Viets on the Radio
Oline Cogdill

vietselaine_pumpedformurderxIn her Dead-End Jobs series, Elaine Viets has her character Helen Hawthorne live off the grid by taking a series of jobs with no future, little money and even less respect.

To research these novels, Viets herself works at the same jobs. In the name of deep background, Viets has been employed as a dress store clerk, a telemarketer, a bookseller, and a weed puller at 50 cents a bucket. In Pumped for Murder, she worked in a gym and for her upcoming Final Sail, she takes to the high seas.

In keeping with that theme, Viets will host a half-hour talk show on Radio Ear Network, aptly named The Dead-End Jobs Show. Viets' show will feature the extraordinary secrets of ordinary jobs, offbeat jobs and unusual jobs.

Guests for the first shows, which begin this week, include yacht chef Victoria Allman, international hairstylist Mario Ortega, and world traveler Kay Gordy, who will discuss how to be a guest or a host for SERVAS, an organization in more than 100 countries.

The Dead-End Jobs Show will air Monday 1 pm EST; Tuesday 10 am Greenwich Mean Time, 5 am EST; and Wednesday 6 pm EST. Tuesday’s show is during European prime time, Wednesday’s in East Coast prime time.

Radio Ear Network (REN) is an Internet radio station with more than 6 million listeners around the world. REN is a member of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, with members in 115 countries, including NPR.

Listeners can hear REN’s shows on their computers at radioearnetwork.com. Viets' show can be downloaded to iPods, iPads, Nook, Kindle, Kobo or other e-tablet. To download podcasts, go here. Download shows for tablet computers here.

Viets began her career as a newspaper columnist in St. Louis where she also hosted the syndicated “Travel Holiday Radio Show” and was a commentator for National Public Radio station KWMU. She hosted a primetime television program, “Viets Beat,” for KMOV-TV in St. Louis and won two local Emmys.

In addition to the Dead-End Jobs series, Viets writes a second series featuring St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus. She has won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. Visit her at www.elaineviets.com

Xav ID 577
2012-02-01 10:17:06

vietselaine_pumpedformurderxIn her Dead-End Jobs series, Elaine Viets has her character Helen Hawthorne live off the grid by taking a series of jobs with no future, little money and even less respect.

To research these novels, Viets herself works at the same jobs. In the name of deep background, Viets has been employed as a dress store clerk, a telemarketer, a bookseller, and a weed puller at 50 cents a bucket. In Pumped for Murder, she worked in a gym and for her upcoming Final Sail, she takes to the high seas.

In keeping with that theme, Viets will host a half-hour talk show on Radio Ear Network, aptly named The Dead-End Jobs Show. Viets' show will feature the extraordinary secrets of ordinary jobs, offbeat jobs and unusual jobs.

Guests for the first shows, which begin this week, include yacht chef Victoria Allman, international hairstylist Mario Ortega, and world traveler Kay Gordy, who will discuss how to be a guest or a host for SERVAS, an organization in more than 100 countries.

The Dead-End Jobs Show will air Monday 1 pm EST; Tuesday 10 am Greenwich Mean Time, 5 am EST; and Wednesday 6 pm EST. Tuesday’s show is during European prime time, Wednesday’s in East Coast prime time.

Radio Ear Network (REN) is an Internet radio station with more than 6 million listeners around the world. REN is a member of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, with members in 115 countries, including NPR.

Listeners can hear REN’s shows on their computers at radioearnetwork.com. Viets' show can be downloaded to iPods, iPads, Nook, Kindle, Kobo or other e-tablet. To download podcasts, go here. Download shows for tablet computers here.

Viets began her career as a newspaper columnist in St. Louis where she also hosted the syndicated “Travel Holiday Radio Show” and was a commentator for National Public Radio station KWMU. She hosted a primetime television program, “Viets Beat,” for KMOV-TV in St. Louis and won two local Emmys.

In addition to the Dead-End Jobs series, Viets writes a second series featuring St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus. She has won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. Visit her at www.elaineviets.com

A Writer to Remember: Margery Allingham
H.R.F. Keating

allingham_marg_in_garden_copyIn this 2004 article from Mystery Scene, the late H.R.F. Keating (1926-2011) discusses one of the greats of the Golden Age of Mystery.

Left: Margery Allingham (1904-1966) in her garden.

The best of Margery Allingham's work, like More Work for the Undertaker and The Tiger in the Smoke, well repay reading. And, as I well know, re-reading and re-reading.

Opening my fresh-from-the-printer copy of Mysterious Pleasures, the anthology celebrating the 2003 50th anniversary of the Crime Writers' Association in Britain, I had intended—do all writers?—to flip through the crisp pages, ignore everything else, and gobble up my own new Inspector Ghote tale. But no. No, I saw that the first story culled from that half-century of members’ work was by Margery Allingham. Knowing what a marvellous writer she was, I gave “One Morning They’ll Hang Him” priority.

I was not at all disappointed. The story is a puzzle of how a revolver used to shoot a nasty old lady had totally disappeared. This straightforward plot might seem to be something produced, years ago, for any magazine that would take it. However, the solution is every bit as ingenious and credible as anyone could expect of Allingham. And as I read, I found I was experiencing a deeper pleasure. What gave it to me was its constant vibrating with touches of truth, such as that nasty old lady shown to be sympathetically human, “not a mean old harridan...just quick-tempered.” Simple magazine tale though it initially appeared, the story was the work of a writer on a level with the best of any field.

allingham_moreworkfortheundertaker_smallBoth Albert Campion, Allingham’s hero, and the police detective who comes asking him to explain the inexplicably missing gun, may seem to do no more than fill the classic roles of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade. But almost at once one finds they are human beings with all the complex feelings we humans actually have. They are not, as Holmes and Lestrade often were, cardboard figures lightly humanised. They are two people who, looking at the mess they are investigating, each in his own different manner, experiences depression at the way those involved have become tragically tangled up in a vicious web of real happenings.

Inspired, I plucked from my shelves Margery Allingham’s perhaps crowning achievement More Work for the Undertaker. This was the novel that in 1948 reintroduced Campion, her sleuth from 1927 until Allingham’s death in 1966, to the post-war world. She made a new man of him. Gone were the trappings that had rendered him a sort of updated Scarlet Pimpernel, though he was still a character to whom Allingham brought all the energy of observation and brio with her characteristic command of the language. In place of that caricature-like figure (a sort of sub-Holmes) there came a man with “new lines on his over-thin face” and much of the “old misleading vacancy of expression” banished. He became, in fact, a male Allingham; shrewd, tough, compassionate.

Wrapped deep in the pages, I recognised again the “marvelously rich stockpot of a book” I had written of when I selected it in 1987 as one of my choices for Crime and Mystery, the 100 Best Books. I found once more that gallery, if not galaxy, of characters in it who appear to be too large for life, like the impossibly smarmy funeral parlour owner Jas. Bowels, “nearly as decorative as a coach-and-four,” or the grotesquely multidressed old beggarwoman who turns out to be a charming botanical scholar. But before long you see them and all the rest of the gallery as altogether lifelike, if a bit skewed by the chance oddness of their circumstances.

allingham_black_plumesThroughout, too, you get that Allingham way with the English language, using, as P.D. James does (but with more desperately bursting energy), the full resources of our inherited tongue. “On the desk,” she writes, “the telephone squatted patiently.” It is as if she sees every inanimate object as alive. When Campion questions a subject his companion sees “alarm spread over him like a tide,” and then we see it too.

But even as I revelled in those pages a dart of doubt entered my head. Not doubt about Allingham’s writing, but doubt about whether it may, wrongly, fail to receive its due as the years go by. Looking at the other names I had put among the 100 best, choices I still believe by and large to be valid, I picked out a good handful who are almost certainly scarcely known today to the average reader looking for a well-written mystery. How about Helen Eustis with her beautifully written psychological thriller of 1946, The Horizontal Man? And what about Margaret Millar’s two entries, Beast in View of 1955 and Beyond This Point Are Monsters of 1970? Is she almost forgotten? And even her husband, Ross Macdonald, whose 1970 book, The Blue Hammer, was my choice and who once made the front cover of Time magazine—how much now is he read?

Will the fate that seems to have come to them come to Margery Allingham? Or has it already? Since her death most of her books have been reprinted in various formats (look in Penguin softback for her short novel The Case of the Late Pig), but how many of them will you find among the latest blockbusting bestsellers on the shelves of your bookshop or library? Were they, I wonder, too well-written? There was a British TV series, but it sank with little trace. Possibly this makes their fate as books problematical. Yet the best of them, like More Work for the Undertaker and The Tiger in the Smoke well repay reading. And, as I well know, re-reading and re-reading.

campion_tv_peter_davisonCampion is a television show made by the BBC, adapting the Albert Campion mystery novels written by Margery Allingham. Two seasons were made, in 1989 and 1990, starring Peter Davison as Campion, Brian Glover as his manservant Magersfontein Lugg, and Andrew Burt as his policeman friend Stanislaus Oates.

In 1996, H.R.F. Keating (31 October 1926 – 27 March 2011) received the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement from the Crime Writers’ Association. In addition to his highly regarded literary criticism, he was also the creator of the Inspector Ghote series. His last novel is A Small Case for Inspector Ghote?.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #84.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-02 22:58:36

allingham_marg_in_garden_copyThe joy of reading—and re-reading—More Work for the Undertaker and other works.

Devil in the White City on Film
Oline Cogdill

larson_devilinwhitecityErik Larson's 2003 The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America ranks as one of the best true crime books I have ever read. I put it up there with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

Larson shapes his story about serial killer H.H. Holmes against the context of the era's social and economical events and the history of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Now, The Devil in the White City may come to the movies. According to internet sources, Warner Bros. named Graham Moore to write the script for the film version. Leonardo DiCaprio, whose production company optioned the rights, will play Holmes. The movie is projected to hit the screens in 2013.

If this ever gets made, it should be an enthalling movie. The project certainly has rich source material, as I pointed out in my original review of this book.

In The Devil in the White City, nonfiction author Erik Larson's look at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago gave more than just a view of one of the events that brought America squarely into the 20th century. The history of this event parallels the evolution of America—its progress, ingenuity and violence. With meticulous research, Larson creates a fascinating nonfiction book that reads like a novel and is more unbelievable than fiction. [And I am quoting from my review here.]

"In Chicago at the end of the 19th century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills," begins Larson's tale.

One man is Daniel Burnham, an architect who was a director of works for the exposition and the builder of many of America's most famous structures, and H.H. Holmes, a physician, con man and hotel owner who is considered to be the country's first urban serial killer.

Burnham, the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, DC, among others, organized the six-month fair despite political barriers and constant in-fighting among his teams. His mission was to "out-Eiffel Eiffel," whose still-standing tower had been the hit of the Paris World's Fair.

moore_thesherlockianToday, the only building that survives is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was remade into Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

The Columbian Exposition introduced products and traditions with a lasting effect on American culture, including Cracker Jacks, shredded wheat, the Ferris wheel and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Keep in mind, took, that during 1893, the country was in the middle of one of its worst depressions and high unemployment. Yet the fair inticed an estimated 27.5 million visitors came to the fair; that was almost half of the total number of people who lived in the United States. On a single day, a record 716,881 people attend during "Chicago Day," on Oct. 9, 1893.

This World's Fair also allowed Holmes to operate his chilling trade.

During the fair, Holmes ran a hotel called "The Castle" nearby to appeal to visitors and young women coming to Chicago for work.

In reality, The Castle was a chamber of horrors that was designed for Holmes' grisly plans.

"It's so easy for people to disappear," Holmes said. And scores of people were lost inside The Castle's walls.

It was not until long after the fair closed its gates that Holmes' crimes were discovered. It is believed that Holmes killed between 27 and 200 people.

The story is here and Graham Moore has the skills to pull it off. Moore wrote the intriguing The Sherlockian, which mixed an incident in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's life with a modern-day search for the author's diary.

Xav ID 577
2012-02-05 10:24:14

larson_devilinwhitecityErik Larson's 2003 The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America ranks as one of the best true crime books I have ever read. I put it up there with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

Larson shapes his story about serial killer H.H. Holmes against the context of the era's social and economical events and the history of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Now, The Devil in the White City may come to the movies. According to internet sources, Warner Bros. named Graham Moore to write the script for the film version. Leonardo DiCaprio, whose production company optioned the rights, will play Holmes. The movie is projected to hit the screens in 2013.

If this ever gets made, it should be an enthalling movie. The project certainly has rich source material, as I pointed out in my original review of this book.

In The Devil in the White City, nonfiction author Erik Larson's look at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago gave more than just a view of one of the events that brought America squarely into the 20th century. The history of this event parallels the evolution of America—its progress, ingenuity and violence. With meticulous research, Larson creates a fascinating nonfiction book that reads like a novel and is more unbelievable than fiction. [And I am quoting from my review here.]

"In Chicago at the end of the 19th century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills," begins Larson's tale.

One man is Daniel Burnham, an architect who was a director of works for the exposition and the builder of many of America's most famous structures, and H.H. Holmes, a physician, con man and hotel owner who is considered to be the country's first urban serial killer.

Burnham, the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, DC, among others, organized the six-month fair despite political barriers and constant in-fighting among his teams. His mission was to "out-Eiffel Eiffel," whose still-standing tower had been the hit of the Paris World's Fair.

moore_thesherlockianToday, the only building that survives is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was remade into Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

The Columbian Exposition introduced products and traditions with a lasting effect on American culture, including Cracker Jacks, shredded wheat, the Ferris wheel and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Keep in mind, took, that during 1893, the country was in the middle of one of its worst depressions and high unemployment. Yet the fair inticed an estimated 27.5 million visitors came to the fair; that was almost half of the total number of people who lived in the United States. On a single day, a record 716,881 people attend during "Chicago Day," on Oct. 9, 1893.

This World's Fair also allowed Holmes to operate his chilling trade.

During the fair, Holmes ran a hotel called "The Castle" nearby to appeal to visitors and young women coming to Chicago for work.

In reality, The Castle was a chamber of horrors that was designed for Holmes' grisly plans.

"It's so easy for people to disappear," Holmes said. And scores of people were lost inside The Castle's walls.

It was not until long after the fair closed its gates that Holmes' crimes were discovered. It is believed that Holmes killed between 27 and 200 people.

The story is here and Graham Moore has the skills to pull it off. Moore wrote the intriguing The Sherlockian, which mixed an incident in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's life with a modern-day search for the author's diary.

Ted Bell at Cambridge
Oline Cogdill

bellted_phantomMost Americans probably know Cambridge, England, as the site of one of Britain's most respected universities.

A few might recognize it as the setting for Kate Atkinson's novel Case Histories, Rebecca Stott's Ghostwalk and Robert Harris's Enigma. Sylvia Plath set a number of her short stories in Cambridge.

And here's some real trivia—Pink Floyd was formed here by founding members and former classmates Syd Barrett and Roger Waters.(Puts a whole new meaning to the lyrics "We don't need no education" in Another Brick in the Wall.)

But most of us probably don't know that Cambridge also has strong connections to the practice of espionage.

So it seems fitting that the first official writer-in-residence in Cambridge University’s 800-year-history is a thriller writer who often delves into spies and the world of international intelligence—New York Times bestselling author Ted Bell.

In addition to this unusual and prestigious position, Bell also will work as a visiting scholar at the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Bell's latest novel, Phantom, is, of course, about espionage. Counterspy Alex Hawke, making his seventh appearance in Phantom, hunts a madman about to unleash a new super weapon powered by Artificial Intelligence. In Phantom, Bell shows the dark side of Artificial Intelligence, an expanding area of cutting-edge science, and how it is being applied to modern-day warfare.

In Phantom, Hawke's search for a scientist who specializes in Artificial Intelligence takes him and his MI6 colleague Ambrose Congreve from California to France, Moscow, Cambridge University and the Persian Gulf.

Bell, who lives part-time in Palm Beach and Colorado, started his career in advertising and won myriad awards. By age 25 he'd sold his first screenplay and become the youngest vice president at the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. In 1982 he joined Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, as a creative director, eventually becoming president, chief creative officer.

Credited with developing numerous innovative and award-winning advertising campaigns, Bell joined Young & Rubicam, London, in 1991 as Vice Chairman and Worldwide Creative Director. After 10 years at Y&R, Bell retired in 2001 to write full time.

In addition to the Alex Hawke novels, Bell writes the young adult series about adventurer Nick McIver.

Xav ID 577
2012-02-08 10:30:57

bellted_phantomMost Americans probably know Cambridge, England, as the site of one of Britain's most respected universities.

A few might recognize it as the setting for Kate Atkinson's novel Case Histories, Rebecca Stott's Ghostwalk and Robert Harris's Enigma. Sylvia Plath set a number of her short stories in Cambridge.

And here's some real trivia—Pink Floyd was formed here by founding members and former classmates Syd Barrett and Roger Waters.(Puts a whole new meaning to the lyrics "We don't need no education" in Another Brick in the Wall.)

But most of us probably don't know that Cambridge also has strong connections to the practice of espionage.

So it seems fitting that the first official writer-in-residence in Cambridge University’s 800-year-history is a thriller writer who often delves into spies and the world of international intelligence—New York Times bestselling author Ted Bell.

In addition to this unusual and prestigious position, Bell also will work as a visiting scholar at the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Bell's latest novel, Phantom, is, of course, about espionage. Counterspy Alex Hawke, making his seventh appearance in Phantom, hunts a madman about to unleash a new super weapon powered by Artificial Intelligence. In Phantom, Bell shows the dark side of Artificial Intelligence, an expanding area of cutting-edge science, and how it is being applied to modern-day warfare.

In Phantom, Hawke's search for a scientist who specializes in Artificial Intelligence takes him and his MI6 colleague Ambrose Congreve from California to France, Moscow, Cambridge University and the Persian Gulf.

Bell, who lives part-time in Palm Beach and Colorado, started his career in advertising and won myriad awards. By age 25 he'd sold his first screenplay and become the youngest vice president at the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. In 1982 he joined Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, as a creative director, eventually becoming president, chief creative officer.

Credited with developing numerous innovative and award-winning advertising campaigns, Bell joined Young & Rubicam, London, in 1991 as Vice Chairman and Worldwide Creative Director. After 10 years at Y&R, Bell retired in 2001 to write full time.

In addition to the Alex Hawke novels, Bell writes the young adult series about adventurer Nick McIver.

Time to Kill Is Broadway Bound
Oline Cogdill

grisham_timetokillThe stage adaptation of John Grisham's novel A Time to Kill likely is bound for Broadway sometime this fall, according to a variety of theater-related web sites.

And word is it should be a good production. Last year, the world premiere and first stage adaptation of A Time to Kill debuted at the well-respected Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Reviews for the Arena Stage production were respectable, though not universally raves.

One critic called it "a raw and riveting drama that sears with redemptive emotion." Others were not as enthusiastic.

A Time to Kill was adapted for the stage by the very talented Rupert Holmes, who is a composer, singer, songwriter, playwright, and author of novels and short stories. Holmes has won, among others, a Tony, an Emmy, and Edgar awards.

Set in a small Mississippi town, A Time to Kill concerns Carl Lee Hailey, an African American, on trial for murdering the white men who raped his daughter. Carl Lee's defense is handled by the young, idealistic lawyer Jake Brigance, who probably is outmatched by district attorney, Rufus Buckley. The racially divided town makes justice difficult.

The 1996 film version of A Time to Kill starred Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.

Xav ID 577
2012-02-15 09:56:04

grisham_timetokillThe stage adaptation of John Grisham's novel A Time to Kill likely is bound for Broadway sometime this fall, according to a variety of theater-related web sites.

And word is it should be a good production. Last year, the world premiere and first stage adaptation of A Time to Kill debuted at the well-respected Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Reviews for the Arena Stage production were respectable, though not universally raves.

One critic called it "a raw and riveting drama that sears with redemptive emotion." Others were not as enthusiastic.

A Time to Kill was adapted for the stage by the very talented Rupert Holmes, who is a composer, singer, songwriter, playwright, and author of novels and short stories. Holmes has won, among others, a Tony, an Emmy, and Edgar awards.

Set in a small Mississippi town, A Time to Kill concerns Carl Lee Hailey, an African American, on trial for murdering the white men who raped his daughter. Carl Lee's defense is handled by the young, idealistic lawyer Jake Brigance, who probably is outmatched by district attorney, Rufus Buckley. The racially divided town makes justice difficult.

The 1996 film version of A Time to Kill starred Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.

Philo Vance: S.S. Van Dine's Forgotten Sleuth
Michael Mallory

van_dine_ss“Vance was debonair, whimsical, and superficially cynical—an amateur of the arts, and with only an impersonal concern in serious social and moral problems.”—The Scarab Murder Case, 1930, by S.S. Van Dine

In all of mystery, no major writer has fallen from grace as completely as S.S. Van Dine, the creator of Philo Vance. In the late 1920s and into the 1930s, Van Dine was one of the most popular and successful writers around, in or out of the mystery genre. The public demand for his aristocratic amateur detective seemed insatiable, both in book form and on movie screens. Then, in a plummet almost as dramatic as the rise, it was over a scant quarter-century later. “Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance,” famously needled Ogden Nash, but he got much more than that; he also got cast into obscurity. How could one of the mightiest fictional sleuths of the 20th century fall so far, so fast?

To understand the life and times of Philo Vance, one must first understand those of his creator. S.S. Van Dine was the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright, a man who was every bit as superior-minded as his creation. Born in 1888, Wright was a youthful prodigy with a devotion to Nietzsche. He forged his literary credentials as an art and drama critic, and worked briefly as editor of The Smart Set, a would-be trendsetting publication created by the iconoclastic writer H.L. Mencken and the powerful critic George Jean Nathan. But Wright tended to dabble more than achieve, and by early middle-age his pretensions far outweighed his accomplishments or income.

Philo Vance was born during a two-year period of bed rest for Wright, brought on by the author’s drug abuse. To occupy him, Wright’s doctor suggested light reading, such as detective fiction. For someone who had once written, “There are few punishments too severe for a popular novel writer,” it sounded like a dubious proposition, but to Wright’s surprise, he found mystery novels challenging and entertaining. After reading the genre dry, he decided to get into the act himself. Wright devised the plotlines for three novels—with the intent of writing six in total—and created the nom de plume S.S. Van Dine so his acquaintances wouldn’t know. “Van Dine,” he claimed, was an old family name, but John Loughery, author of Alias S.S. Van Dine, found no evidence supporting that. Wright likewise claimed that S.S. stood for “steam ship.”

One innovation of Wright’s was to also give the name S.S. Van Dine to the first-person narrator of the books, a trick that would later be be used in a similar way by Ellery Queen.

Even the name Philo Vance is a pseudonym. The real detective, we are told, has only permitted van_dine_canarymurdercasepublication of his solutions to “impossible crimes” on the condition of anonymity.

Whatever his true name, the wealthy dilettante lives in a posh two-floor apartment on East 38th Street in Manhattan. When not hobnobbing with his personal lawyer Van Dine whom he calls “Van,” or helping New York District Attorney John F.X. Markham, and the bluff, boneheaded Sergeant Heath of the homicide department keep their jobs, Vance spends his time studying art and aesthetics. Educated in Europe, he still carries the mannered speech of an upper-class Englishman, habitually referring to his colleagues as “old thing” or “old dear,” and punctuating nearly every other sentence with “don’t y’know.” The monocle-wearing Vance is remarkably indolent and frequently yawns his way through conversations. In truth, about the only thing that saves him from total insufferability is a droll sense of humor.

The Photoplay edition of Van Dine’s
The Canary Murder Case included
stills from the 1929 Paramount
film starring William Powell.

This air of condescension is not surprising since Vance appears to be an authority on every subject on the face of the earth, knowledge that he shares with his associates at every opportunity. In solving crimes, however, he puts more stock in understanding a suspect’s personal psychology than he does in picking up tangible clues. “When material facts and psychological facts conflict, the material facts are wrong,” he blithely tells Markham.

Punctuated with frequent footnotes and elaborate diagrams, the Philo Vance novels were well-crafted puzzlers that captivated readers. The first two, 1926’s The Benson Murder Case (which was trumpeted by Scribner’s with the ad line, “At Last—A Detective Story for the Intelligent!”) and 1927’s The Canary Murder Case, were based on real crimes: the 1920 unsolved murder of stockbroker Joseph Elwell and the 1923 killing of Dorothy King, also known as the “Broadway Butterfly,” respectively. Benson sold well, but it was Canary that launched the Philo Vance phenomenon, selling 60,000 copies in its first month and making Willard Wright a wealthy man.

Wright (who seemed not to mind being outed as the author after publication of 1928’s The Greene Murder Case) soon ignored his plan to produce only six books. The Bishop Murder Case (1928) was followed by The Scarab Murder Case (1930), The Dragon Murder Case (1933) and The Kennel Murder Case (1933). The titles are formulaic, consisting of “The [Blank] Murder Case,” with the blank being a word of six letters. The Vance books are built around such rules and gimmicks, including recording the date and time every chapter commences so the reader can chart the timeline of the case, though Rule One was always to play fair with the reader. It was a credo Wright stressed in an essay titled “Twenty Rules for Detective Writing.”

Vance’s enormous popularity can be gauged by how quickly Hollywood beckoned. van_dine_scarab_illoOut of all the classic sleuths created by American writers, only Charlie Chan has appeared in more films than Philo Vance. Dapper, mustachioed William Powell was the first and best portrayer of Vance, offering a pleasing characterization that was high on charm but low on the superciliousness of the print detective. He would play the role four times, from the first Vance film, 1929’s Canary Murder Case, to the best one, 1934’s The Kennel Murder Case. Other Hollywood Vances would include the manor-born Basil Rathbone, the incongruously Slavic Paul Lukas, and the proletarian Alan Curtis.

Meanwhile Wright continued to grind out novels: The Casino Murder Case in 1934, The Garden Murder Case in 1935, and The Kidnap Murder Case in 1936, but public tastes were changing. It may have been the harsh realities of the Great Depression which made the idle, rich antics of Philo Vance seem less amusing, or simply that readers were turning instead to the talented likes of Hammett, Cain, Gardner, and Stout. Whatever the reason, by Garden, sales were dropping severely.

Punctuated with frequent footnotes and elaborate
diagrams, the Philo Vance novels were well-crafted
puzzlers. Diagram from
The Scarab Murder Case.

Vance appeared in only two more books: The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938), the only one to break the title formula, and The Winter Murder Case (1939). Both had actually begun as treatments for Hollywood vehicles, the first for radio comedienne Gracie Allen (George Burns' other half) and the second for ice skater-turned-movie-star Sonja Henie. Wright later novelized the scripts, inadvertently pioneering the concept of the movie tie-in. Both books were poorly received.

Wright died in 1939, before the publication of Winter, and the Philo Vance phenomenon was over. There would be a handful of films yet to come, but increasingly they turned the dapper aesthete into just another B-movie gumshoe. There were a couple of stabs at a Philo Vance radio series as well, a brief one in 1945 with Jose Ferrer, and a longer-lived one that began in 1948 starring radio utility actor Jackson Beck, but these also bore little resemblance to the source.

While virtually forgotten today by the public at large, there is no question that Philo Vance had a big influence on the detectives who were to follow, probably none so much as Ellery Queen (though the Manhattan-flavored eccentricities of Nero Wolfe also faintly echo Vance). The earliest version of Queen, which mystery authority Francis Nevins calls “Ellery I,” is a complete pastiche of Vance in all respects, down to the formulaic titles, the narrator-as-author gimmick, and the nearly insufferable nature of the character. Queen, however, evolved with the times, something that Vance was never quite able to do.

It takes a bit of work to hunt down a Philo Vance novel today, even at the library. If one takes the time, one will discover that the clever plots continue to hold up, though Wright’s beloved psychological deductions are often shaky and Vance himself comes off more as a satire than a serious character. But the works of S.S. Van Dine serve to transport the reader back to a long-gone era of society and style of writing. They spotlight a moment in time when one writer had exactly the right idea at exactly the right time, and made hay, blissfully unaware of how rapidly the sun would set.

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

Teri Duerr
2012-02-07 21:10:48

van_dine_ss“Vance was debonair, whimsical, and superficially cynical...”—The Scarab Murder Case, S.S. Van Dine

The Real Deal: James Swain on a Winning Streak
Tom Nolan

swain_jamesThe real deal

James Swain and his series character Tony Valentine, an ex-cop who makes his living exposing casino cheats and gambling-scam artists, made a splashy debut in the 2001 book Grift Sense, which received terrific reviews. The critics went even wilder for the next year’s Valentine, Funny Money. Now, with the series’ third book, Sucker Bet, readers, reviewers, and fellow writers are proclaiming that Swain (who’s also a celebrated card handler) and his character Valentine are—every pun intended—the real deal.

TOM NOLAN FOR MYSTERY SCENE: When you do book signings, it seems, you also demonstrate some of the tricks and scams in your books. How does that work?

JAMES SWAIN: I have a whole demonstration that I do, at stores that have me do talks. I bring cards, and I show card scams, chip scams. For the particular scam in Sucker Bet, Big Rock/Little Rock, I actually have a marked deck. So I demonstrate it, and then I show that the cards are marked. I show the actual manipulation, which is very slight, I mean it’s just a matter of turning over one card instead of another—but how that is practiced, so that both the movements look uniform. When it was first shown to me several years ago, I was clueless. I didn’t know what was going on. And I think the reason is, when you play blackjack, you really concentrate more on your own cards, because that’s where you think you’re going to win the money. So you don’t pay attention to how the dealer is turning over their cards.

Have you ever done this for a living?

Uh, no. I mean I’ve gambled; I’ve gambled since I was a kid. But I’ve never cheated. I just became fascinated with it. I was a professional magician, many years ago; I’ve always been interested in sleight of hand. And—not to brag, but in the world of magic I’m pretty well known for my sleight of hand.

I didn’t mean had you ever cheated; I meant, have you ever exposed this sort of thing?

No. No. I wish I was Tony Valentine. I had a friend who is in the business send me a videotape once of a guy who was cheating, and he said, “Watch it, tell me what you think.” I called him back and I said, “You know I’ve watched this thing many times, and I can’t figure out what he was doing.” And then I told him what I was looking for. And my friend said, “You’re lookin’ at the wrong guy!” The thing that I find so fascinating about this world of crime is that it’s invisible. It’s sort of like rigging a sporting event. In the book, there’s a basketball game that’s rigged, and that’s the way they really do it!

You can beat any game. But the key is to beat it in a way that looks legitimate. These crimes sort of parallel so many cons and scams that we see in normal life now.

One of the fun things I did with Sucker Bet was talking to con men. One of the old con men said to me, “You know, this ain’t no different than Enron.” He said, “Look what they did: you have to have somebody who’s going to be a booster, somebody who’s going to bring you in and say that you’re a good guy, you’re an upstanding citizen.” He said, “Well, they used analysts. And then they make you a promise; the promise is always too good to be true, and they build your trust—that’s why it’s a confidence game: you get their confidence, their trust.” And he said, “And then you leave ’em holdin’ the bag.” In the last three years, I’ve done an analysis of the cons that we’ve seen, like Worldcom and Enron—and they really follow the structure of the classic confidence games.

swain_suckerbetPlease tell a little bit about your background.

I was born in Long Island, New York—Huntington, Long Island. I grew up there. I got very interested in magic when I was young, specifically sleight of hand. I saw a man do a sleight-of-hand magic act when I was a kid, and he just floored me. Never forgotten it. And when I turned 12, my folks said, “Okay, you really want to learn how to do this, go do it.” So I took lessons. At the time when I was learning, specifically with cards, there were men in New York who would come to the magic shops, who did phenomenal sleight of hand. They weren’t magicians. And I was told that these guys actually did this in games. So I had very early exposure to cheats. And many of them were nice men. You know? They taught me really terrific sleight of hand.

Then I kind of put it out of my mind. I went to college at NYU, and I was bound and determined I was going to become a writer. I studied with Ralph Ellison, and a man named Anatole Broyard. Broyard was a great writing teacher; he taught me an awful lot. So when I got out of school, I became a magazine writer; I worked for Times Mirror magazines, and then decided to switch because there was so little money in it, and went into ad sales for magazines. And the magic helped me with that.

How so?

Well, I knew how to talk to people. I’d been talking to people my whole life, through the magic. And it was a great icebreaker. You know, you take a client out to lunch, and make something disappear on the table, and...

Get an account out of thin air.

Exactly. But I kept writing, working on books and doing articles and stuff. So I kind of had these parallel lives, in writing and in sleight of hand. In 1987, I saw a scam at a casino in Las Vegas: I actually saw a guy switch a hand, during a blackjack game. I couldn’t believe it! He won like 750 bucks. I mentioned it to my friend who worked at the Golden Nugget, and he said, “Well Jim, last week we had a group of cheaters switch a blackjack shoe on the table.” Everyone was involved: the dealer, the people who were at the table. They stole $175,000, and they got away with it.

I became from that point on sort of obsessed. First of all, I couldn’t believe you could do this, with all the cameras and all the surveillance. I started to learn how this worked. I started to collect scams and the little that was written about them. There had been some videotapes produced by people who were cheaters. Then I met two people who were cheaters, both retired, what hustlers call crossroaders: they had actually gone and cheated casinos. “Crossroading” comes from the old poker cheaters in the Wild West; they would pick saloons that were at the crossroads of a town, so if they had to make a hasty getaway, they’d jump on their horses and all go in different directions. You know—good thinking. I also met people who cheated in private games.

For ten years I collected these things. And all this time I was trying to publish novels; I’d written several novels which went unpublished. One day my wife said, “Why don’t you write about those casino scams that you keep talking about?” She said, “Everybody loves when you talk about them, and you obviously know a lot of them.” I thought about it. At that time, casino gambling was exploding in the United States; this was 1997. The Indians were starting to open up casinos, and New Orleans was going to open a casino.

Detroit.

Detroit. Another in Chicago. We have now 38 states that have legalized casino gambling. And 300 Indian reservations! And we have cruise ships: Caribbean, Puerto Rico. So it’s everywhere. It’s the single biggest pastime in the United States. Seventy-five million people will place a bet in a casino this year. So I said, “Okay, I will. Good idea.” And this character of Tony Valentine got created.

I had read everything in the field and seen all the movies about this subject matter. And the drawback to me was it was always from the point of view of the cheater. And the reality is, this is a crime. It’s a bad crime. You can glamorize it as much as you want, but...you’re stealing.

swain_deadmansbluffThe Valentine character was a way that a person who might not be interested in gambling—who might not ever want to set foot in a casino—could read about it, learn about it, and not have to see it from the point of view of the bad guy but the point of view of this person who has “grift sense.” That was the other thing that was pointed out to me: that there were people—not many, but there were people—who had grift sense, which is the ability to spot a scam or spot a hustle. And that’s how Valentine was created. I will be doing quite a few of these books. I just finished book four in the series; that will come out next year. It’s been, for me, a wonderful marriage of the two things that I love: the writing and the sleight-of-hand scams. In the last six years, on top of the scams, I’ve learned about all the different surveillance techniques, the equipment that’s used to catch the people, and the psychology of the cheaters; that’s something that Valentine gets into in the books, now. Again, I see so many parallels to other things that are going on in society that I think make good reading. I guess the other thing is that I think the books are fun.

How did you choose the name “Tony Valentine” for your protagonist?

I think it describes him perfectly, because he’s kind of crusty; he’s a misanthrope. But when you get past that, as my agent says, he’s really a sweetheart; he’s a good man. I also purposely made him Italian, because when I grew up, the Italian-Americans really felt slighted by the film The Godfather, which is one of my favorite films of all time and also my favorite book. But they felt that it gave working-class Italians a black eye. So when I started out with this, I said, “I’m going to make him Italian.”

Your writing seems so effortless. Do you find it easy to do or hard?

It’s very hard to do. I spend about a year on each book, and each book goes through many many drafts until it has the pacing ... I kind of challenge myself with each book, to get it better, and better, and better. Also, you’ll probably notice in my books, I don’t do a lot of “he said,” “she said.” Because if you paint that character correctly, you know who’s talking ... Someone asked Mark Twain why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was better than his other books, and his comment was: “I didn’t let my style get in the way of telling the story.” I have that printed, where I work.

How do you find out about these scams you put in the books?

I have two really fantastic sources who are retired crossroaders—one of them who also cheated in private games—who allowed me into their lives when they read Grift Sense. One of them was nice enough to actually sell me his entire library of notes, everything he’d collected over a period of about 30 years. He said, “I think you’ll have some fun with this.” Some of these people have painted these masterpieces that they can never talk about! And being I’m hiding them through fiction, I’ve learned some really wonderful things. I have enough material now to do probably another eight or nine books. As I said, I’ve just finished book four—and it’s one of these deals where, the more you learn, the less you know. Because there’s just so much out there. I was asked this question the other night: what writer really influenced the kind of books you’re writing? I realized it was Sherlock Holmes—the Conan Doyle books—because those books are about thinking. I like things where you’re made to think; you can engage the reader that way.

Were you encouraged to write as a kid?

Yes, I was. I wrote short stories when I was in high school; and I had a wonderful writing teacher, a Southern lady named Kitty Lindsay. Miss Kitty had written for Playhouse 90; she and her husband had been a very successful team. She gave us probably the best advice that you could give a beginning writer. She was from Virginia, and she would say: “Who aah these people, and why should we cayuh about them?”

At NYU, did Broyard and Ellison know one another?

Very well. Do you know the secret of Anatole Broyard?

Yes. (Broyard was a light-skinned African-American whom most people assumed was Caucasian.)

None of us did; no one but Ellison did, at the school. You may have read the piece about Broyard that was in the New Yorker?

swain_jackpotI saved it.

I wrote a letter that was published about that piece.

I saved that, too!

Broyard taught me how to write a sentence, and Broyard taught me how to read a book....

Do you see your Valentine series as being open-ended?

Right now I see it as open-ended. This book that I just finished is a prequel to the other books. One reason for that is that Tony Valentine is a wounded male. He lost the love of his life. Who is she? Why is this so important to him? So, sometimes you have to go backwards to be able to later go forward. I met a cheater who had worked Atlantic City in 1979 and 1980, and he said to me, “Jim, it was a candy store! We had stuff happen, and stuff that we did—it was incredible!”

And bingo: I had the book in my head. Because I also knew that there had been a serial killer then who had been going into the casinos in Atlantic City and picking up prostitutes, pretending to be a tourist.

This is true?

Yes. So, here was the opportunity to write this crime book that showed Valentine becoming a casino cop. When I got into it, I realized what I really needed to do was explore the relationship between him and his wife. So the readers who have read the earlier books—or even if they haven’t—could see how important this woman was. What’s ended up happening is that I’ve almost created a whole new series. Valentine is 38 years old, his relationship with his wife is extraordinary—it’s like my relationship with my wife, and I could spend an hour talking to you about how she’s influenced me in getting these books right.

His son is only 13 and they have a very unique relationship before his son becomes what we see today. And he’s still a cop. He’s learning, through grifters and through crossroaders. But we’ve figured out, in doing the book—because I did many drafts of it—that the only way Valentine could become this super casino cop is because he was a great cop, a great detective. So we get to see his detective abilities. I actually spent time and talked to a number of detectives who would fit this bill.

The series has now become open-ended, because I will do books in the present and then I will periodically go backwards. There are some wonderful scams that happened in the late ’70s and early ’80s which could not happen today because of technology, but they make great reading. I’ve got five more already planned.

The Tony Valentine Novels

Grift Sense (2001)
Funny Money (2002)
Sucker Bet (2003)
Loaded Dice (2004)
Mr. Lucky (2005)
Deadman’s Poker (2006)
Deadman’s Bluff (2006)
Jackpot (2010)

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

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #80.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-07 22:33:05

swain_jamesThis writer and celebrated card handler is the real deal.

Mystery Scene 25
Kate Stine & Brian Skupin

ms_hatlogoTwo Co-Publishers, Twenty-Five Issues

While preparing this 100th issue of Mystery Scene, it dawned on us that this is also our 25th issue as publishers.

We decided to mark the occasion with The Mystery Scene 25—interesting lists created by various experts for your amusement. Gathered here are favorite novels of one of today’s literary giants, insider tips on hot collectibles, locked room gems that entertain as well as mystify, a wish list of TV detective dream teams, and offbeat reference books that are as fun as they are informative.

We’ll continue offering Favorite Five lists in future issues. Enjoy!

5 Favorite Novels
by Lawrence Block

I think I’ll respond by mentioning books which I recall fondly, for one reason or another. I haven’t read them in decades, and don’t know that I want to, but they made an impression at the time, and (with one exception) have largely disappeared from view since then.

THE MALTESE FALCON
by Dashiell Hammett (1930). First the exception—The Maltese Falcon. What I remember is rereading the book the day after I saw the Bogart-Lorre-Greenstreet film on TV, and being positively gobsmacked over the discovery that every line in the book found its way to the screen, that Hammett hadn’t written a word that wasn’t either heard or shown. Thirty years later I learned the reason; Hammett, convinced that movies were the future, deliberately wrote the book so that it would be a cinch to adapt; in essence he wrote a screenplay in prose form.

THE TOOTH AND THE NAIL
by Bill S. Ballinger (1955). A magician exacts revenge. Hard Case Crime republished a 1960s book of mine this year, Lucky at Cards, and while thinking about it I realized that the storyline owed a lot to Ballinger’s book. I’m not sure I was aware of this at the time. I haven’t read either book in 40-plus years, but I’d have to guess that his is the better of the two.

THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT
by Fredric Brown (1947). A first novel, though certainly the work of a more seasoned writer than most first novels today, as Brown had already written a ton of short fiction for the pulps. The story’s a reworking of the plot of Hamlet, though I didn’t realize that when I read it. It’s also very much a coming-of-age novel, and has a happier ending than Shakespeare’s play. I read and enjoyed everything of Fredric Brown’s; even the lesser books were always engaging.

westlake_361THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT
by Walter Tevis, (1983). When she was running Murder Ink, Carol Brener kept a small section of books that were not mysteries or crime novels in any sense of the term, but that mystery readers were apt to like. I don’t know what her criteria were, but she was generally on the money. I remember Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella was one of her selections. I can’t swear that The Queen’s Gambit was there as well, but I believe it was, and if not it should have been. A wonderful novel, and one I’ve reread several times, with undiminishing pleasure.

361
by Donald E. Westlake (1962). I might as well end by mentioning a book by a friend. Donald Westlake and I found our way into this business together, back in the glorious days of the Harding Administration. His third novel was a tough little gem called 361. I haven’t read it in years, but I may, as it’s in print again from Hard Case Crime. When I read it back in the day, I was struck by the realization that this affable fellow I sat around drinking beer with was going to be a major force in American crime fiction. Gee, I thought. Or words to that effect.

5 New Collectible Authors
by Robin H. Smiley

Ultimately, collectibility is a function of two familiar factors: supply and demand. Of these, demand is the more important, since the rare book market is demand-driven. It is also the harder factor to predict. A small first printing makes a collectible title more desirable, because there is a smaller supply. But if there is no demand for a book, even a tiny first printing will not make it collectible.

I have selected five relatively recent mystery writers whose earliest works were printed in very small hardcover first editions. Their works are already appreciating in price, since they either have already acquired or are likely to acquire a following. They are all British and authors of historical mystery series.

THE LAST KASHIMIRI ROSE
by Barbara Cleverly (Constable, 2001). The first of the Joe Sandilands mysteries set in post-World War One India is great fun and has spawned a highly successful and offbeat series. Lately, however, Cleverly seems to have tired of writing series entries, and has produced several stand-alone works, none of which is as compelling as the Sandilands books. A signed first edition in fine condition: $325-$450.00.*

THE AWFUL SECRET
by Bernard Knight (Simon and Schuster, 2000). This is a bit of a cheat, since this book is the fourth of the Crowner John medieval mystery series. The first three were paperback originals, which had later hardcover editions. Knight is a distinguished forensic pathologist with a profound knowledge of history and a good storyteller, to boot. A signed first edition in fine condition: $30-$40.00.

rowe_germanicusmosaicA GENTLE AXE
by R.N. Morris (Faber and Faber, 2007). The first of a projected series featuring Inspector Porfiry Petrovich, the police inspector who “outed” Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, this story is surprisingly well realized. The first edition was only 500 copies, all sold and now appreciating rapidly in price. A signed first in fine condition: $45-$55.00.

THE GERMANICUS MOSAIC
by Rosemary Rowe (Headline, 1999). Rowe’s Roman series features freedman Libertus, who lives in Britain during the reign of Marcus Aurelius’ successor, the Emperor Commodus. The books are witty and entertaining, and the series has gained in momentum over the years. This first entry is notably scarce; it was also printed on high acid-content paper stocks that are already showing age toning. A signed first in fine condition: $300-$400.00.

UNDER THE EAGLE
by Simon Scarrow (Headline, 2000). Another Roman history series, this one is also set in Britain, this time in 42 A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. The hero is a fresh-faced recruit in the Roman legions, Quintus Licinus Cato, who is well-connected in Rome and not quite as callow as Centurion Macro fears. Again, the series is continuing and attracting a great deal of interest. Author Scarrow has begun another series set in the Napoleonic era. A signed first in fine condition: $600.00.

*Prices found at www.abebooks.com.—ed.

Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine, now in its 20th year, is published 10 times a year.

5 Entertaining Impossible Crimes
by Brian Skupin

Nothing is more tantalizing than an impossible crime, whether it’s murder in a room left locked on the inside, a corpse in sand or snow with only a single set of footprints leading towards it and none leading away, or the impossible disappearance of an object or person.

But many of the cleverest of these mysteries, including classics like The Three Coffins (John Dickson Carr) or Rim of the Pit (Hake Talbot), are so focused on the tricky plot that the characterization, setting, or even story suffer. Here are five diabolically impossible crimes that are also great reads:

THE WOMAN IN THE WARDROBE
by Peter Antony (1951). Identical twins Peter and Anthony Shaffer gained fame and fortune separately, Anthony for the suspense play and movie Sleuth, and Peter for the play and movie Amadeus, and they each had other successes too. But before all that, they collaborated on three mystery novels, including the delightful The Woman in the Wardrobe. A woman is found shot dead in a hotel room locked from inside, and amateur detective Mr. Verity solves the mystery with verve—and excellent diction. The whimsy of the novel is captured nicely by Nicolas Bentley’s illustrations.

THE BURNING COURT
by John Dickson Carr (1937). How can a dead body vanish from a sealed crypt? Is there a logical explanation when a reliable witness sees someone walk through a brick wall? Or is Ted Stevens’ wife Marie really a witch, capable of occult feats? Carr will have you thinking one way, then another, then back again, and even though he ties it all up with a brilliantly logical solution at the end...is it really over? Incidentally, this classic from the master is the only mystery novel that the critic Edmund Wilson admitted to enjoying in his famous “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” article.

lovesey_bloodhoundsTHE JUDAS WINDOW
by Carter Dickson (1938). Carter Dickson was a pseudonym of John Dickson Carr, and his Sir Henry Merrivale novels are beloved by some and abhorred by others. This tense courtroom novel can have no detractors, with the sympathetic hero Jimmy Answell drugged while asking for his fiancée’s hand in marriage, and waking up to find himself alone in a locked room with the dead body of his prospective father-in-law! How could anyone else have gotten into the room with a single locked door and window? And who is blackmailing Jimmy’s fiancée over a series of erotic photographs? This is Carr at his best with a brilliantly practical solution revealed by Sir Henry in a classic courtroom finale.

BLOODHOUNDS
by Peter Lovesey (1996). Lovesey’s Inspector Peter Diamond of Bath stars in a series of fine novels, but this is almost a one-off affair, featuring The Bloodhounds of Bath, who regularly meet to discuss classic crime novels, including locked room mysteries. The theft of a valuable postage stamp is quickly followed by the discovery of one of the group’s members dead in a locked houseboat, with the only key clearly unavailable. It’s a romp for Golden Age Mystery fans, and although the solution is not unique to Lovesey, it’s a honey that you probably haven’t seen before.

THE RED RIGHT HAND
by Joel Townsley Rogers (1945). This gripping suspense novel, reminiscent of Cornell Woolrich, features a crazy little man called Corkscrew who turns a fashionable couple’s elopement into a nightmare. What did Corkscrew do with the man’s severed right hand? Where did he vanish to? And how did the car disappear on its way down a country road? Like other books and stories by Rogers, the pace is breathtaking, the plot is hallucinatory—and the clues are all there.

5 Offbeat and Fun Reference Books
by Jon L. Breen

Asked to name five favorite nonfiction books about mysteries, I could have gone for the obvious, listing works of Howard Haycraft, Allen J. Hubin, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, William G. Contento, Walter Albert, Ellery Queen, Julian Symons, and the other indispensable cornerstones of a mystery reference library. But instead I’ll recommend some books on specialized subjects that have given me particular pleasure. Some are out of print and hard to find, but all are worth the effort.

LOCKED ROOM MURDERS AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE CRIMES: A COMPREHENSIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY.
by Robert C.S. Adey. Revised and expanded edition. Minneapolis: Crossover, 1991. A must-have for lovers of John Dickson Carr’s specialty, practiced by other writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Edward D. Hoch, Adey identifies over 2,000 novels and short stories with brief statements of the problems they present. Solutions are included (often accompanied by amusing critical comments) in an appendix, making it virtually impossible to stumble upon them by accident.

butler_durabledesperadoesOUT OF THE WOODPILE: BLACK CHARACTERS IN CRIME AND DETECTIVE FICTION
by Frankie Y. Bailey. New York: Greenwood, 1991. Bailey’s history, though under 200 pages, is remarkably thorough, well-written, scholarly, and notably even-handed and nonjudgmental given the subject matter. According to Amazon.com, this is still in print, though at the eye-popping price of $100.95!

THE DURABLE DESPERADOES
by William Vivian Butler. London: Macmillan, 1973. The story of British mystery fiction’s criminal and edge-of-the-law protagonists (Raffles, the Saint, and their ilk) is as engagingly written as it is informative. If you believe writing about popular entertainment should itself be entertaining, this is your kind of book.

GUN IN CHEEK
by Bill Pronzini. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1982. A connoisseur of “alternative classics” lovingly surveys some of the worst (or maybe strangest) products in crime fiction annals. This very funny and not at all mean-spirited book was followed by two sequels, Son of Gun in Cheek (1987) and Six-Gun in Cheek (1997), the latter on western fiction.

MYSTERIUM AND MYSTERY: THE CLERICAL CRIME NOVEL
by William David Spencer. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989. Just about every religious sleuth in novel form is discussed in this knowledgeable, scholarly, and readable study, one of the very best examples of specialized mystery criticism. It remains in print in paperback for $24.00.

5 TV ’Tec Dream Teams
by Ron Miller

If they can put comic book superheroes together in teams like The Fantastic Four and X-Men, isn’t it about time some network started developing all-star TV detective teams? Consider these candidates:

PETER GUNN & JOHNNY STACCATO
Imagine what NBC could have achieved if it had teamed up the sleuths from two of its shows of the late 1950s: Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens as a jazz-loving gumshoe whose girlfriend sang at his favorite club, Mother’s, and Johnny Staccato starring John Cassavetes as a jazz pianist at a club called Waldo’s who earned extra bucks working as a private eye. The music for Peter Gunn was provided by Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein supplied the Staccato scores. Those guys would have been in perfect syncopation—and they could have rotated their favorite clubs every other week!

tennison_janeQUINCY, M.E. & "BONES" BRENNAN
This could be the forensic edition of Inspector Morse: Crotchety old Medical Examiner Dr. Quincy (Jack Klugman) from NBC’s now defunct Quincy, M.E. series giving heavy advice to pretty young forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan from Fox’s current Bones series. It would have that ever-popular “father-daughter” formula, but Quincy could occasionally pinch her bottom while her FBI friend Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) wasn’t looking.

rockford_jimJIM ROCKFORD & JANE TENNISON
Think of the sparks if retired British detective superintendent Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), the high-strung heroine of Prime Suspect, came to America and teamed up for a comeback caper or two with private eye Jim Rockford (James Garner) of The Rockford Files, possibly the most laid-back detective in the history of television. Jim could let Jane mess with all the bad guys, then calm her down nicely each night in the trailer home they’d share by the seashore in Malibu.

HERCULE POIROT & ADRIAN MONK
How could you miss if you matched up America’s most neurotic private detective, Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub), with England’s most finicky sleuth, Hercule Poirot (David Suchet)? Both have brilliant minds and meticulous methodology, so no clues could escape their eyes. And think of the fun we’d have watching them fight over how the pictures should be arranged on their office walls.

JESSICA FLETCHER & JANE MARPLE If Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) of Murder, She Wrote took a vacation to England and her tour bus broke down in St. Mary Mead the same day a corpse had been found in the vicar’s garden, how could she resist competing with local amateur sleuth Jane Marple (Geraldine McEwan) to solve the murder? Would Miss Marple let a Yank interloper invade her turf? Not likely. Oh, my, would the feathers fly!

(Above: British Detective Inspector Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) from Prime Suspect and California PI Jim Rockford (James Garner) from The Rockford Files. Photos courtesy PBS and NBC.)

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

Teri Duerr
2012-02-08 16:20:24

Two Co-Publishers, Twenty-Five Issues

A Talk With Lisa Scottoline
Jon L. Breen

scottoline_lisa_small“We have plenty of superheroes in fiction. What we need are more Italian girls.”

Scottoline briefed Mystery Scene in 2003 on matters literary and lawyerly. Don't miss Come Home (April 2012), the latest from this powerhouse thriller writer.

Photo: April Narby

Philadelphia lawyer Lisa Scottoline’s first two novels, Everywhere that Mary Went (1993) and Final Appeal (1994), were both nominated for Edgar Awards in the paperback original category, and the latter was a winner. Moving to hardcover with her third book, she has become one of the most commercially and critically successful writers of legal thrillers. Now a full-time writer, Lisa Scottoline regularly appears on bestseller lists with her novels about the all-female Philadelphia law firm of Rosato & Associates.

The novels shift the focus among the lawyers of the Rosato firm, each of them a distinct and vividly realized character. Benedetta “Bennie” Rosato herself, introduced in Legal Tender (1996), is the central character of Mistaken Identity (1999), in which she is surprised to learn the client she has been engaged to defend on a murder charge is her twin sister. Rosato plays a secondary role in subsequent books, including Moment of Truth (2000), featuring Mary DiNunzio of Scottoline’s first novel; The Vendetta Defense (2001), centered on Judy Carrier; and Courting Trouble (2002), featuring Anne Murphy.

In the latest book, Dead Ringer (HarperCollins), all of these women contribute their humor and expertise, but the focus returns to Bennie. Rosato & Associates is in financial trouble, and a venture into the unfamiliar, cutthroat world of class-action law looks like a possible way out. Then to add to Bennie’s headaches, her bad-news twin sister reappears. Not only is Alice physically identical to Bennie, she is every bit as savvy and resilient. Alice proves to be a formidable and even ruthless enemy, motivated by evil, jealousy, and a nasty case of sibling rivalry.

MYSTERY SCENE: Some popular writers, like Stephen King, are instinctive, beginning the story without knowing exactly where it’s going or what will happen next. Others, like Dean Koontz, plan every move carefully in advance. I have the impression you’re more in the Stephen King category. Is that true?

SCOTTOLINE: Yes, you're right. I don't generally write with an outline, but rather make it up as I go. Besides the fact that I’m just not organized enough to put everything into an outline, I think it helps keep the writing process fun, and I hope that translates into my books. It also provides the flexibility to let the action mold the characters as I go, and it assures that all of the action will flow logically (essential in a wannabe page-turner) because the book is built by asking what would happen next after each event, or chapter. Of course, it also means that I don’t know how the book ends until it is actually finished, and sometimes, even I am surprised. Not the best admission, but it’s the truth.

scottoline_deadringerYou seem to solicit and consider reader feedback more than most writers. When you put a first chapter on your website and invited your fans to play editor, what kinds of responses did you receive? Can you give any specific examples of advice that you did or did not take?

Being a writer is a very solitary profession, but I am a real people person, which sounds corny but is true. I like having company (even imagined company) when I write and I became determined at some point to make the whole writing process more interactive. I appreciate each and every reader, and I want to know what they think. In my mind, that’s an important part of learning, improving, and growing as an author (and person). Readers are smart, and I learn a whole lot from them. They also keep me on my toes. I work hard to make my books as accurate as possible, but if I make a mistake, the readers will let me know, which I appreciate. I normally don’t share any of my book until I feel it is almost ready for publication, but with Mistaken Identity, I decided to just let it rip. So I posted the first chapter on my site and solicited comments. The response was incredible, and there were many great suggestions. I did incorporate several of them, and readers really took the challenge seriously and worked hard on their suggestions. For example, a sentence I was proudest of in the draft of that first chapter—“a prison term is a childhood”—went down the tubes because so few readers understood it. While I liked the drama of equating prisons and childhood (referring to the fact that so many women inmates are mothers), I changed the sentence to read, "a prison term lasts a childhood." I like it less, because it lacks the equation of these two opposed ideas, but ultimately, what matters is to be understood. After two divorces, I am learning to listen....

For me, there can never be too much trial action in a legal novel, which is why I enjoy books like Mistaken Identity and The Vendetta Defense that carry the case from arraignment to verdict. But I realize others glaze over when a book enters the courtroom. Do you get a lot of pro and con arguments on this point from your readers, and what do you feel is the best balance of in-court and out-of-court action?

My biggest concern with writing a book is making sure it is fast-paced, and so I do worry about the amount of time spent in the courtroom, especially because legal proceedings can be so slow in reality. So I edit or usually only show a slice so that readers get a real-time sense but don’t have to sit through an entire proceeding (after all, they’re not billing for it...). And I rely greatly on my wonderful editor Carolyn Marino to let me know if I’m going on too long in the courtroom.

Of course, I’m writing about a law firm, so there are legal issues at the heart of every book, but I don’t force a courtroom scene just for the sake of having it. It needs to be appropriate to the book, and needs to maintain the pace of the book. As for my readers, I really only get positive notes about my courtroom scenes. Probably, people self-select for this; only people interested in courtroom stuff buy legal thrillers. I think what happens is that when people pick up one of my books—even if they've never heard of my books—they know from the flap copy and author bio that they’re in for some lawyer stuff, and they want to see me talk the talk and walk the walk.

Some compromise with reality is inevitable in a fictional trial (or a fictional anything), but at least lawyer novelists are harder for the lay reader to nitpick. Still, I wondered how Bennie Rosato could get away with what she does in her closing argument in Mistaken Identity, continuing her inflammatory accusations even after the judge tells her she must stop on pain of contempt. Are there elements in fictional trials that seem exaggerated but really aren’t, and where do you draw the line on “artistic license” in a fictional trial scene?

I believe in accuracy, and I think that people who enjoy legal thrillers learn about the legal system from my books. A lot of crazy things happen in courtrooms, and many times what may seem exaggerated isn’t far from the truth. In fact, in Courting Trouble, there is a naked man in court in the opening scene. As far-fetched as that may seem, several months later I read an article online from the BBC about a naked man in a courtroom during trial.

As for Bennie in Mistaken Identity, she did push to the limits, and with some judges she may not have gotten away with it. But in my practice, I saw that certain lawyers really did push the envelope, and they were given certain leeway by the bench. In Philadelphia, as in most cities, you tend to see the same judges over and over again, and we come to know each other and have certain expectations. Just like in real life, there are some judges who are stricter than others. I think that Bennie has been litigating for quite some time, and would know with which judges she could get away with it, and which she could not. And you would not believe the lengths that some of the best trial lawyers go to, especially in front of juries. It’s even cooler than fiction.

There’s a fascinating line on page two of your new book, Dead Ringer: “Only Americans tolerate law without justice.” What do you mean by that?

I thought very hard about that sentence, and of course, that’s Bennie speaking. But I agree with her (there’s a surprise). The American legal system is wonderful, and it does serve to protect our rights and our freedoms, in the main. But sometimes there is a price to pay for freedom and protection, and the price is often justice. The O.J. trial is a perfect example. In my opinion, a really poor prosecution enabled a guilty man to go free. The law was followed, but justice got lost in the process.


One radio talk-show host contends that law school makes people worse, because they think in terms of right and wrong going in but legal and illegal coming out. Is there any validity to this?

scottoline_ladykillerIs this host Howard Stern?

Actually, it was Dennis Prager.

I loved law school, just as a discipline for analysis and logic, and I don’t think law school can make anybody better or worse. The notion of right and wrong is inherent within each individual, hopefully instilled before age three, and we all bring that notion to whatever profession we practice. Of course there is lots of room for debate about right and wrong, and plenty of gray area. But for a justice system to work, even the gray areas need to be dealt with, and boundaries need to be drawn. Therefore, when it comes to the law there needs to be a legal and illegal or lawful and unlawful, and the guidelines need to be as straightforward as possible, eliminating guesswork or nuances.

I actually dealt with the reverse situation in The Vendetta Defense. Judy has a very strong moral base and also believes in the letter of the law. In The Vendetta Defense, before she can defend her client, she must redefine her ideas of justice and accept that when it comes to morality, there can be a gray area. I like to think about these ideas; I think everyone does.

There is a continuing theme in your novels of the ambivalence of criminal defense. A public defender from Washington, DC, told me the lawyers in her office cheered the O.J. Simpson verdict, not because they thought he was innocent but because they automatically root for the defense side. While I couldn’t root along with them, I think it was wrong to castigate the defense team for the bad verdict—it seemed more logical to blame the judge or the prosecution or the jury rather than a group who did their job too well. How much of the blame for problems in the criminal justice system can or should we put on the defense bar?

None, frankly. I think the prosecution failed in O.J., as I said, and the real issue is that we have a misconception about the relative roles of the players in the criminal justice system. The prosecution and the defense are not equal and opposite forces: the prosecution is supposed to seek justice, and the defense is supposed to get the guy off. That’s it. Any fault people find is with that system, not with the individuals, and I think the system works, because it does compensate for the prosecution’s having so many advantages over the defendant. O.J. distorts the system because people saw a wealthy, famous defendant, and he walked. In reality, most criminal defendants bear little resemblance to Heisman Trophy winners.

From the 87th Precinct on, several writers have made a “series character” of a group rather than an individual, but no one has done it more successfully than you. The lawyers at Rosato and Associates are so vividly realized, they feel like old friends. The longest-standing and maybe the most endearing is Mary DiNunzio, who figured in your first novel Everywhere That Mary Went. How does Mary manage to stay so fresh and (sometimes) naïve after all she’s been through?

I love Ed McBain, so I appreciate the comparison. I appreciate, too, what you said about my characters. My hope is that people who read my books come to feel like my characters are old friends. As for Mary, she grew up in an incredibly loving and overly protective household, with a stable (if not a little wacky) family, and a strong religious foundation. She ultimately believes that people are good, and is not willing to forgo that belief because of some bad characters she encounters. She is also a very sensitive person. The combination may make her naïve, but ultimately it makes her very likable, and very human. I think, like a lot of people, even though she wants to make great strides and be tough, it’s sometimes a process of two steps forward, one step back. And I like to see her take those very tentative steps. We have plenty of superheroes in fiction. What we need are more Italian girls.

I felt like cheering when Bennie Rosato expressed her qualms about bankruptcy in Dead Ringer. Is that necessary last-resort safeguard taken too lightly in our society?

The true test of a person is how he or she reacts when the chips are down. There are different kinds of people in the world. There are those who can walk away with no regrets, no sense of responsibility, and no guilt. Bennie is not that kind of person—in fact, she’s quite the opposite. She feels personally responsible for all of her debts, and for the livelihoods of those she has hired into her firm. She built the firm, and won’t abandon ship if it starts to sink. It is definitely a financial risk, but for Bennie there is no other choice, even if every accountant out there is shaking his or her head in disbelief.

And yes, I think that kind of person (and I, too) doesn’t like it very much when someone doesn’t accept responsibilities for debts to others, and by that I mean all sorts of debts—familial, emotional, and the like. I think that is the core of Bennie’s response, even manifesting itself in this way, about the bankruptcy system. She is over-responsible if anything, and I love that. You don’t want to know the under-responsible, do you? They’re selfish.

Dead Ringer marks the return of Bennie's twin sister, first met in Mistaken Identity. Why do you think this character struck such a responsive chord with your readers?

The idea of a twin is a fascinating notion. A lot of people think they have a twin out there. People are also trying to discover what is at the core of their own identity and question nature versus nurture. This is the same question that Alice's presence creates for Bennie. She has the identical DNA to Alice, yet they turned out completely different. Bennie wonders whether this is because of the different choices they have made in life, or if they are just hard-wired that way. I think this is a question many people struggle to determine about themselves.

Though you don’t write comic novels per se, your sense of humor always shines through. (I loved the way Bennie gave more dignity to her poor math skills by raising them to the level of a disability.) Are you increasing the quotient of humor in your recent books, or am I imagining it?

My style of writing is just an extension of my personality, so I don’t necessarily set out to be funny, but I want to have fun when I write and most any time. And more importantly, I also want to establish that these characters have some wit (I can be very witty in 372,543 drafts). I think it’s just more entertaining for the reader. However, I can make a distinction between writing a serious book, The Vendetta Defense, and a much lighter book, Courting Trouble. I think right now, the world can use a bit of comic relief, and I mainly use it to diffuse tension in the book. I just want people to have fun when they are reading.

scottoline_thinktwiceA friend of mine who lives and works in the Philadelphia area loves your books because they capture the city so well. Apart from references to specific landmarks, institutions, and traditional foods like cheesesteaks, what in your novels is distinctively Philadelphian? Is there anything that could not have taken place in any other large city?

My home has always been in the Philadelphia area, so naturally I made it the home of my books. Living somewhere is very different from just visiting. When I write about Philadelphia, I want people to feel as if they are part of the city. One of the things that I think is distinct about Philadelphia is the sense of neighborhood. For instance, South Philly. Although people there haven’t grown up with a lot of money or in the most luxurious area, they have a steadfast sense of pride. Grit. Hard work, hard knocks, all that. It’s truly home, and even if they move away, they take a part of South Philly with them. Also, since I know the city so well, I can let my characters speak about it with the same authenticity, and what it (secretly) does is inform the character and underline her authority with the reader. You can tell when someone knows what she’s talking about. And when I talk about Philly, it’s one of those rare times when I know what I’m talking about, and it shows in the characters. In a paradoxical way, because Philly isn’t New York or L.A., most readers identify it with their own cities and extrapolate the details. I see this over and over again in my reader email.

And last—the amazing historical significance makes Philly a great city. I mean, the law was born here. How can you not use it as a setting for legal thrillers?

Do you still read other legal thriller writers, and if so, do you read them in a different way than you did before you joined their ranks? Which ones do you most enjoy? (If you’d care to tell us which ones are terrible, that’s okay, too.)

I love them all. I like David Baldacci and Richard North Patterson and John Grisham, William Bernhardt, Bill Lashner, and James Grippando, and Linda Fairstein, but I don’t limit my reading to legal thrillers. I’m a huge Evanovich fan. I like to laugh!

The label People magazine gave you, “the female John Grisham,” is undoubtedly valuable commercially, but I think it sells you short.

You are too kind. I was thrilled when People magazine called me “the female John Grisham,” and I’m grateful for the comparison. (I still think it’s cool to be in People magazine at all and last year my dogs were in, so they can call me anything they want.) Grisham opened the door to legal thrillers and showed that lawyers can have lives outside the courtroom, at least in fiction, and that’s what I’m doing, too. And frankly, my goal is to be read, and certainly being compared to John Grisham has brought me more readers. However, I don’t think anyone would mistake one of Grisham’s books for mine. Our voices are very different, and besides, he lacks golden retrievers!

If I were looking for a “male Lisa Scottoline,” I might plant the tag on William Bernhardt for his combination of humor, serious legal and ethical issues, and great storytelling. What do you think?

I am a friend and fan of William Bernhardt, and I love his work. It is always flattering to be compared with terrific writers and wonderful storytellers.

You’ve done very few short stories, though I’m sure you get asked a lot. How do you like the short story form, and do you expect to do more in the future?

I have done a few short stories for charitable causes, and really enjoyed writing them. It would seem like writing short stories should be the same as writing a novel, only a lot less words, but it is a completely different kind of writing. It is tough. I need about 95,000 words to make my point and I never shut up. In a short story, you need to get in and out of the story quickly, and you don’t have a lot of time for character development. It is a good exercise, however, in learning how to make the best use of every word you put on the page. It reminds me a little of writing briefs. Every sentence needs to further your cause. I apply the same technique to my fiction writing. Each sentence needs to be relevant and drive the plot. I’m sure I will do more short stories in the future, but they will be limited since I am writing a book a year.

Do you ever get useful input from critics?

All the time. What my readers think is important to me, and critics are readers just like the rest of us, only they get paid to give their opinion. I take every review seriously, just like I take every reader email seriously, and I try to learn from them. Thankfully, the majority of my reviews from both critics and readers have been positive, but I have certainly learned and made adjustments based on the feedback that I have received. It really is gratifying when somebody actually "gets" something you’re trying to do, whether with plot twist or a character, even the smallest thing. That’s when there’s a real connection between reader and writer and that’s what so great about books, how they connect us, one to the other. So I love when they get me, and I try not to cry too long or too hard when they don’t. But I am the softest author on the planet.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?

I’m very excited about the book I’m working on now, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on the research. The title is Lying in Wait and Mary DiNunzio will be the star. She follows up on the case she started in Dead Ringer and to say more would make me nervous.

Anything you’d like to be asked that I haven’t asked?

My favorite color is hot pink.

A Lisa Scottoline Reading List

Legal Thrillers
Everywhere that Mary Went (1993)
Final Appeal (1994)*
Running From the Law (1995)
Legal Tender (1996)
Rough Justice (1997)
Mistaken Identity (1998)
Moment of Truth (2000)
The Vendetta Defense (2001)
Courting Trouble (2002)
Dead Ringer (2003)
Killer Smile (2004)
Lady Killer (2008)
Daddy's Girl (2007)
Think Twice (2010)

*Edgar Award Winner

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #80.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-08 20:55:35

scottoline_lisa_small“We have plenty of superheroes in fiction. What we need are more Italian girls.”

My Book: I Was Going to Introduce My Sleuth Nude
C.S. Challinor

challinor_csC.S. Challinor Goes Brogue in Christmas Is Murder

There I was, happily launched into what ultimately became book two of my mystery series, set in an exclusive nudist resort in the French West Indies, when my sleuth walked (fully clothed) onto the page and said, “Och, wait a minute!” in his Sean Connery voice. “I’m 20 pounds overweight and I refuse to be exposed starkers in my debut novel. I’d rather start out in that traditional English manor mystery you’ve been knocking around in your head.”

Rex Graves is a Scots Presbyterian barrister—a wee bit modest.

“Fair enough,” I replied. “I can’t stop thinking about this English Christmas mystery anyway. We’ll start the series with that. Any other requests?”

“Well, apart from keeping my clothes on, I’d—”

“What if I write in a love interest for you in the Christmas mystery? Will you still be adamant about keeping your clothes on then?”

“Aye, well maybe not,” he demurred. “As long as she’s bonny.”

“Don’t worry. She will be. Anything else?”

“I must solve the case in a way that Hercule Poirot would be proud of.”

That’s what you get when your sleuth is a lawyer: Negotiations, negotiations, negotiations!

challinor_christmasismurder“Bien sûr!” I assured him. “Hercule Poirot will be positively envious.”

“In that case, I accept.” Rex Graves raised his tumbler of Glenfiddich whisky in a toast.

And thus Christmas Is Murder was born. Laced with humor, it is a traditional English whodunit with a contemporary twist and light romance—not to mention a cast of American and British characters you’ll love or hate, including an obnoxious New York literary agent. Any writers out there?

Christmas is murder when you have multiple deaths to investigate and no one is exempt from suspicion, not even the bonny lass in the blue bonnet. What’s a Sudoku-solving Scots barrister to do?

“Get on wi’ the case, that’s what,” Graves replies, logical and to the point, as always. “And for pity’s sake, get me to a gym before the next book comes out!”

Christmas Is Murder, C.S. Challinor, Midnight Ink, September 2008, $13.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #106.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-09 17:28:26

C.S. Challinor Goes Brogue in Christmas Is Murder

My Book: Dead Men Do Tell Tales
Simon Wood

wood_simon_smallSimon Wood Tackles the Sensitive Subject of Suicide in We All Fall Down

Certain people, events and occurrences stick with me and no matter what I do, I can’t forget about them. The death of three men in Bristol, England, is something I’ve never forgotten. They died a few months apart some time in the late ’80s. They weren’t murdered and it wasn’t accidental. All three committed suicide.

What drew my attention to these men were the circumstances of their deaths. All three died in the same city, and they were all working on the same government project. The first man walked into the sea. The second hanged himself from the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The third tied a rope around a tree trunk then around his neck, got into his car and drove away as fast as he could, until he ran out of rope. Needless to say, the deaths made the news, albeit not on a national scale. The obvious questions were raised. Why did these men kill themselves? And did it have anything to do with their work? The questions went unanswered. The story sunk below the surface as swiftly as the first victim.

Anytime anyone mentions Bristol or the Clifton Suspension Bridge, I think about these men’s deaths.

A lot of my fiction is inspired by real life events, but I don’t like to lift fact and fictionalize it. These men’s deaths intrigued me, but I didn’t want to go trawling through their lives for entertainment purposes. While I’m inspired by real life, I’m squeamish when it comes to using real people’s lives in my books. Due to the sensitive nature of the deaths, I was especially squeamish. I want to entertain, not offend. These men were somebody’s husband, son, brother, and friend. I don’t want their family and friends reading what is very real to them in a fictionalized venue. I do this because if I were in their shoes I wouldn’t want something very private to me made public irrespective whether it is public domain or not. I suppose this is a sensitive subject for me seeing as I’ve known three people who have killed themselves.

wood_weallfalldownSo when it came to writing We All Fall Down, I used the premise of a string of suicides for the backbone of the story, but that was it. The book is set in affluent Marin County north of San Francisco and the work the victims were involved in is completely different. Seeing as dead men can’t tell tales, I inserted a character with a similar background to my own to unearth the mystery. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade and through my middle to late 20s, I worked as an independent contractor for a number of firms. Although I was one of the team, I was an outsider. Office politics and rumor floated just above my stratosphere but every now and then, I’d catch a snippet that explained the office dynamic.

In We All Fall Down, Hayden Duke is hired on short contract to help a firm finish a hush-hush engineering project after one of the employees commits suicide. He knows there’s something up at the firm, especially when several other employees die. He takes an active role after witnessing the death of his college friend, the person responsible for getting him the job.

I didn’t set out to answer the question why three men killed themselves in Bristol, so I didn’t research these men’s deaths or their circumstances at the time. Instead, I preoccupied myself with reasons for anyone to commit suicide and invented a story to satisfy my curiosity. While I was searching for reasons, a couple of unrelated news stories provided ample motive for suicide—or in this case, staged suicides. Whatever the reasons behind the original deaths, these men remain in my thoughts and I hope they are truly at rest.

We All Fall Down, Simon Wood, Leisure, July 2008, $7.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-09 18:02:34

Simon Wood Tackles the Sensitive Subject of Suicide in We All Fall Down

My Book: Mysteries & Collecting
Christine Verstraete

verstraete_christineChristine Verstraete Delights in Small Pleasures in Searching for a Starry Night

I have a confession to make: I play with dollhouses.

But I’m not the only one who does. Thousands of adults like me not only collect, but also enjoy reading about collectors and collections, even in their mysteries.

Mysteries, especially those in the cozy and amateur detective categories, have changed over the years. The books have evolved from sleuth-centered stories to stories about sleuths and their pets, professions, or interests.

This trend has produced a crop of books in which the main character is also involved in a craft or hobby. Some detectives knit, crochet, scrapbook, or make dollhouses when they’re not solving the mystery or finding the killer.

My new book, Searching for a Starry Night, focuses on the search for a missing miniature replica of Van Gogh’s famous painting, “The Starry Night.”

Besides checking out potential suspects, my sleuth Sam and her best friend, Lita, with the “help” of a mischievous Dachschund named Petey, naturally explore several dollhouses and miniature scenes in hope of locating the missing painting. Many of the items described in the book are from my own personal collection.

verstraete_searchingforstarrynightNot everyone likes this trend. Some readers prefer their mysteries on the grittier side. I’ve read mysteries like that myself, and I also get my share of gore when my darker half indulges in reading or writing horror, but mostly I find myself gravitating towards the lighter kinds of mysteries, the ones that make me smile or laugh out loud. Even so, sometimes there is a limit. A recent discussion on the Dorothy-L mystery email list had some readers saying they enjoyed such mysteries, while others didn’t like reading about hobbies they didn’t share, especially if they overwhelmed the mystery.

From my viewpoint, part of the fun of doing a hobby is not only reading about it, but also sharing it via photos, my website, and by writing about it. I enjoy such mysteries, even if I’ve never tried the particular craft and never will. The crafters have a zest, humor, and a sense of creativity that I like. It’s the fun of creating that makes them attractive, and makes them good sleuths. After all, you have to be imaginative to be a crafter or hobbyist, a good quality for a sleuth to have. Then there’s the “fun” factor. People do crafts for pleasure. The same goes for the sleuths.

Truth be told, I’d rather take a detour into a dollhouse show, a soap-making lesson, or a scrapbooking class than be subjected to the up-close and sometimes too personal CSI-style forensics that is so prevalent on TV and in many crime novels.

So make me chuckle, give me a sleuth with real-life problems, (but not too many, please), throw in a craft or hobby along with a pet or favorite food (chocolate, of course), and you’ve made me happy. In Searching For a Starry Night, I’ve tried to do the same.

Searching for a Starry Night, Christine Verstraete, Quake/Echelon Press, June 2008, $10.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-09 18:33:51

Christine Verstraete Delights in Small Pleasures in Searching for a Starry Night

My Book: Confessions of a Comic Book Dilettante
Jack O’Connell

oconnell_jack_portraitJack O'Connell Finds Mr. X

I admit it. I’m one of those writers so enamored of fiction that I elevate its needs and its virtues and its abilities above those of history. Be forewarned. Should I ever find a way to fashion my sedate life into a memoir, we should all steer clear of Oprah’s guest booker. My compulsion to invent would make James Frey blush and shudder.

So, I want to insist that I was one of those pop maven kids lodged forever out on the extreme and foggy cutting edge. That back in the ’60s, when my peers were spinning 45s of the Monkees, I was pondering the psychedelia of Roky Erickson over my Hawaiian Punch. That while my neighborhood buddies were lining up to see The Love Bug, I was sneaking into the balcony to witness Midnight Cowboy. And that while my pals were kicking back and reading about Superman’s latest go-round with Lex Luthor, I was awash in the mystic sputterings of Mr. Natural and the pharmacological safaris of the Fabulous Freak Brothers.

I want to insist that all of that happened and a boatload more. But, gun to head—or, really, skeptical eyebrow raised in my general direction—I’d cave and admit the truth. Or, at very least, the closest approximation to the truth of which I’m capable.

My novel, The Resurrectionist, is chock full of comic books. Which might lead the reader to suspect that the same could be said of my childhood. In fact, my relationship with comics while growing up in mill town New England was fleeting, sporadic, and haphazard. I would like nothing better than to report warm memories of breathless, late night, flashlight illuminated, under-the-covers readings of The Hulk and Green Lantern and The Fantastic Four. But the truth is a little more prosaic, if not less revelatory.

oconnell_jackFrom about 1967 or so, the only comic book I read regularly was Treasure Chest—“the Catholic Comic Book,” as the slogan baldly proclaimed. I’ve always believed that Treasure Chest was the product of a rare compromise among the black-habited nuns of my youth. I can still imagine them, encircled like Shakespearean crones around a bubbling cauldron, some ancient Mother Superior deciding, “All right, if they must read comic books, they’ll read our comic book!” Supply your own high-pitched cackle.

Treasure Chest featured the wholesome adventures of Chuck White, an all-American boy running forever through the suburbs of the American Century collecting moral lessons. Think Leave it to Beaver without the edginess. The fact is, I loved the pulpy thing in all its cheery, dogmatic glory. And to this day, there’s a three or four year run of issues mouldering away in a box in my attic.

In general, comic books for me were a summertime phenomenon—like fireflies and Italian ice. But when my father walked my siblings and me up to the beachfront penny candy store, and I stood before those black wire spin racks studying their offerings, I’m embarrassed to admit that, unlike so many of my demographic cohort, I did not select the coolness that was Marvel or D.C. Go ahead. Laugh and sneer. I strolled home, sunburned, along the boardwalk grasping Archie and any number of imprints from the Harvey line—Sad Sack, Richie Rich, Little Lotta.

There is an almost unbearable innocence attached to my memories of these comic books. They are so utterly of another era that they feel near archaic to me. And in this way they stand as polar opposites to the comic book that appears repeatedly in my novel.

That comic book is called Limbo and it tells the story of a group of Eastern European circus freaks and their wanderings through bizarre landscapes in search of sanctuary from a murderous pursuer. Limbo is a dark, adult, complex story. I like to think of the book as what might have developed had Kafka snuck up on Tintin creator Hergé, stabbed the artist to death with his own charcoal pencil and then highjacked the Belgian’s story.

oconnell_theresurrectionistWhich raises the question: how did I move from Treasure Chest and Richie Rich to the hermaphrodite and the mule-faced boy of the Limbo universe?

Well, let’s face it—lots of strange things happened in the ’80s. And while we might want to forget many of them, I’ll always treasure the memory of strolling, on impulse, into a new comic book store—mainly because it was located in a nearby abandoned factory building—and scoring the first issue of Mr. X, Dean Motter’s short-lived, but electric tale of an insomniac architect in a neon-splattered tenderloin district. The comic was full to bursting with all the coolest tropes—film noir, dystopian SF, Bauhaus design, German Expressionism. The story was hip, inventive, surprising, and smart. I was hooked by the checkout line.

Mr. X kicked down a door for me that remains wide-open to this day, allowing a stream of rich narrative to light up my middle-aged melon. Motter’s rococo world may not have lasted long, but it gave me a gorgeous map and a hard shove into the work of Neal Gaiman and Art Spiegelman, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis.

Beyond this, it provided the inspiration for the crucial subplot that would make The Resurrectionist a richer, deeper novel about the ways we find meaning in the most unexpected stories.

The Resurrectionist, by Jack O’Connell, Algonquin Books, April 2008, $24.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-09 18:59:32

Jack O'Connell Finds Mr. X

My Book: in the Name of Research
Jonathan Santlofer

santlofer_jonathanJonathan Santlofer and the Art of Skull Collecting

Scientists working for DARPA, the science arm of the Department of Defense, are busy figuring out ways to make soldiers fearless, keeping them awake for weeks at a time, producing adhesives that will transform them into human geckos able to scale walls, attaching biodynotic limbs that move and think on their own, and that’s just for starters. I discovered this while researching my latest book, The Murder Notebook, featuring police sketch artist Nate Rodriguez.

I am often obsessed by my research. When I wrote my second novel, Color Blind, I read case studies of the criminally insane so horrifying I had nightmares for weeks; researching hate groups for Anatomy of Fear made me paranoid about leaving my house; writing my three Kate McKinnon novels brought me closer, as they say, to my feminine side, cruising high-end women’s clothes that I thought Kate might wear and making decisions about her hairstyle (which my fashion editor daughter insisted be changed when Kate moved downtown).

Now there is Nate Rodriguez, my Spanish-Jewish police sketch artist, who has brought me places I would never have dreamed. It’s true, I sometimes imagine myself as Nate—tall, cool, ruggedly handsome, though a troubled little boy at heart —a guaranteed chick magnet. But then I face the mirror, and reality sets in. Before Nate, I considered myself totally pragmatic. Now, thanks to his Santerian grandmother (a composite character of several grandmothers I have known and loved, and not just my own), I am carving my name into votive candles, wearing beads and shells for luck, and have undergone a limpia—a ritual cleansing—in the backroom of a botanica, where I stood, shirtless, having gladioli rubbed into my chest and egg yolks poured over the nape of my neck.

santlofer_murdernotebookThe Murder Notebook brought me back to my preteen interest in science (from ages 12 to 14 I harbored a secret desire to become an astronaut). I started reading the New York Times science section cover to cover, subscribed to Scientific American Mind, and had long talks with a scientist friend about such terrifying topics as human flesh-eating disease.

I do get a respite from the grisly research since all of my books feature illustrations that I draw myself. In fact I created my sketch artist protagonist just so I could make artwork for my novels. Of course in Nate’s line of work the subjects are mainly thieves, rapists, and murderers, but they are still faces, and fun to draw.

Research can get expensive. And it’s not just the books and magazine subscriptions. For this particular novel I had to research forensic anthropology because Nate gets a very specific assignment from the NYPD: to recreate the face of a dead man based entirely on his skull. Though not exactly new for fictional Nate, who received training at Quantico, for me (the one who has to make Nate’s artwork), it was a challenge. I started with the requisite reading, then studied step-by-step illustrations and when I felt up to the task of making the sculpture—which I planned to photograph in stages—I selected an armature, bought clay, and ordered a specially crafted skull (bullet holes in the forehead included) from a movie prop company in England. I did not anticipate that the skull would look so real it would be held in customs for months as inspectors debated its authenticity while I nervously awaited the late-night knock at the door, arrest papers, calling my lawyer, trying to explain what it was I was doing—all in the name of research. Impatient, I bought a second, plastic skull, but decided it looked too fake, then bought a real one. By the end I had started making paintings of the reconstruction stages and ended up using those instead.

My skull collection—plastic, composite, and real—now sits on top of my bookcase. I enjoyed the work it took to make the drawings realistic, and I enjoyed all the research that make the rest of the book as authentic as possible—even getting cleansed and purified in Spanish Harlem. The fact is I have learned and experienced things I never would have otherwise, and I honestly can’t wait to see where my next book’s research will lead me.

The Murder Notebook, Jonathan Santlofer, Morrow, June 2008, $24.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-10 20:56:11

Jonathan Santlofer and the Art of Skull Collecting

My Book: Liar
Jess Lourey

lourey_jess_smallJess Lourey Explains How Cheaters Never Win

It was fall 2006, and I was teaching a class in Critical Thinking. Every week students would read a chapter, take a quiz, and complete a few short analytical writing assignments. I was happy with how the course and the semester were going.

I even had a little time carved out to read, so when a friend lent me his yellowed paperback copy of And Then There Were None, I was thrilled. I had just gotten Knee High by the Fourth of July off to my editor and needed to grease my mystery wheels to write August Moon, the fourth book in my Murder-by-Month series.

That’s when the train hit the cows. One of my very bright Critical Thinking students came to tell me that two of her classmates were cheating. She had seen them share answers on the weekly quizzes two weeks in a row. I thanked her, said I would handle it, and sent her on her way. Then, I looked up the test results of the alleged cheaters. Let’s call them Liar and Pants-on-Fire.

It was abundantly clear that Liar and Pants-on-Fire had in fact cheated on every single quiz. I called them into my office and laid out the evidence.

Liar was good. She looked me in the eye and said, “We don’t cheat.”

“Really?” I asked. “Eight weeks, and you two coincidentally take the same test back to back, the first one always getting a few wrong, the second one always getting them all right, and alternating who goes first every other week like clockwork?”

“Yeah. Just a coincidence.” Smugness.

I turned to Pants-on-Fire. She looked ready to cry. I felt bad for her, in a way. “You have the same story?”

Liar elbowed her in the ribs. Pants-on-fire nodded.

“Okay,” I said. “Then I have to take it to your program advisor.” I did, and she told me she was pretty sure they cheated in her class, too, but her son was dating one of them and so she didn’t want to start trouble for them. I went to my union rep to get his advice. He said they had cheated in his class, too, but he figured karma would get them eventually.

lourey_augustmoonWhy wait?

I called Liar and Pants-on-Fire back into my office and told them they would both lose all the quiz points, which would drop them a grade in the course. Also, a note would go in their student file explaining the situation. Pants-on-Fire looked relieved, but Liar tossed her glossy brunette hair over her shoulder, pushed up her pink Aeropostale sleeves, and hissed, “You better watch your back.”

The next week, I was called into the Dean’s office. He was pale. Liar’s father, an influential lawyer in Minneapolis, had stopped by. It seems Mr. Liar was close friends with Dr. Jerry Falwell and had been instrumental in setting up the Liberty University School of Law. Mr. Liar was concerned because earlier in the semester, I had required students to read a portion of the Critical Thinking textbook that covered evolution as if it was a fact, and in doing so had discriminated against his daughter and her belief system. The picketers were on their way. The media was coming. I should be prepared for my phone to ring day and night. My kids would be followed to school. I would be outed for the poisonous heathen I was.

However, if I refrained from putting the accusation of cheating in Liar and Pants-on-Fire’s permanent files, didn’t dock them the points, and instead had them write an apology paper that made clear they were sorry but never mentioned what for, Mr. Liar would call off the hounds. The evolution thing had maybe just been a slip-up, see. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

I’m ashamed to say that, after breaking out in hives that didn’t go away for three days, I took the deal. I just didn’t have the cojones to fight that fight. Liar and Pants-on-Fire graduated with honors, no cheating on their file. Oh, and in a classy touch, for her apology paper, Liar compared herself to Jesus, who had also been wrongly persecuted, and wrote that she was sorry that that had happened to him, too.

But the story doesn’t end there because you know the one place you can find justice when there isn’t any in the world? Mysteries. I took Liar and I plopped her in Battle Lake, Minnesota, where she makes frequent and unflatteringly accurate appearances in August Moon. Probably not in the role you would think, however, because remember that I was reading Christie’s book at the time. And Then There Were None is all about hiding the clues in plain sight, and the cadences of that book are woven throughout my own.

I’m pleased to say the story has a happy ending. For me.

August Moon, Jess Lourey, Midnight Ink, June 2008, $14.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-10 21:22:58

Jess Lourey Explains How Cheaters Never Win

My Book: My Town
James Scott Bell

bell_jamesscottJames Scott Bell on the Pleasures of L.A.

I have a number of writer friends who set their novels in exotic locations—Hawaii, Europe, Australia, the Amazon. They do this because they get to travel for research, have fun, and take a fat tax deduction in April.

They chide me because I always set my books in Los Angeles. My tax write-off consists of some mileage and the occasional day pass on the Metro.

So when I started a new thriller series featuring a Los Angeles lawyer named Ty Buchanan, they howled that I was, once again, missing out on one of the great perks of the writing life.

I tell them I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because Los Angeles is my town. I grew up, got educated, and got married in L.A. I’ve waited tables, ushered in movie theaters, practiced law, raised my kids here. I’ve shaken with the ground and wiped out in the ocean waves.

L.A. is where I choose to live.

This my friends cannot believe.

So I call them from Gladstone’s as I down oysters and watch the sun set on the Pacific. Or from the Hollywood Bowl on warm summer nights, before the concert begins. Or from a jazz club, or the Getty.

They try to laugh it off, but it’s laughter tinged with longing. L.A. has a way of getting to you. Yes, we’ve got traffic and crime, and have it more intensely than most other places. But that’s part of our vibe. It always feels like anything can happen, and often does.

From Pershing Square to MacArthur Park, Silver Lake to Koreatown, Studio City to Chatsworth. Throw a stone in any direction and you’re sure to hit a plot line or colorful character. Even our history is compelling. Consider celebrity trials. We put them on the map.

It started with Clarence Darrow, who defended the McNamara brothers back in 1911 on charges of blowing up the Times building. Then Darrow was charged with the attempted bribe of a juror.

So who else to defend him but L.A.’s own Earl Rogers? In the same courtroom at the same time, the two greatest trial lawyers who ever lived.

bell_trydarknessDarrow was acquitted.

It happened in L.A.

Here, Errol Flynn was tried for statutory rape and found not guilty. Robert Mitchum got nabbed for marijuana possession, did 60 days, then resumed his career. And of course there’s O.J., Robert Blake, and, still pending, Phil Spector.

We’ve got the celebrity trial market cornered.

And how about noir, my genre of choice? Can any location beat L.A.?

Are you kidding me?

Read Chandler. Michael Connelly. Robert Crais.

Take a look at films like He Walked by Night, Criss Cross, Too Late for Tears, and Collateral.

No other city has the neon lit, burnt orange, seamy underbelly pulse that my town has.

So it was really no contest on where I’d set my books. Because my narrative imagination has been shaped by Joe Friday and Perry Mason, Phillip Marlowe and Harry Bosch. By City Hall, Chinatown, and the Valley.

Why would I want to live or write anywhere else?

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Ty Buchanan from chasing a lead down the Amazon, if he must.

But he’ll always come home to L.A.

Try Darkness, James Scott Bell, Center Street, July, 2008, $21.99

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-10 21:44:33

James Scott Bell on the Pleasures of L.A.

My Book: Cozy You Say? I Say Scary.
G.M. Malliet

malliet_gmG.M. Malliet Considers the Cozy

Photo: Joe Henson

“It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

That’s Sherlock Holmes, of course, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” But take away that “Watson” for a minute. Doesn’t it sound exactly like Miss Jane Marple—sipping her tea, plying her knitting needles, and commenting on the latest outbreak of fiendishly clever murders in and around St. Mary Mead?

There is nothing, when you get right down to it, scarier than a “cozy” mystery: a mystery with a closed setting and a limited number of suspects, where the killer knows the victim. At least in the vilest alleys of London, you’d be on your guard. You’d know better than to walk those mean streets in the first place. But in your own quaint little village, you might be placidly hoeing your crop of vegetable marrows or haranguing volunteers at the village fete, oblivious to the murderous gleam in your neighbor’s eye. “Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser”—Holmes again.

When I set out to write Death of a Cozy Writer I knew the meanest street my characters could walk was the High, and the walls of nearby Waverley Court could contain a world of wickedness. To my mind, no situation could be more fraught with danger than a family gathering at the manor to “celebrate” the impending nuptials of the cozy writer of the title, the curmudgeonly Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk—especially with a family as fractious as the Beauclerk-Fisks, especially with a cozy writer as curmudgeonly as Sir Adrian. For years he’d played a game of changing his will, disinheriting and re-inheriting each of his children in turn. Now he’d upped the stakes by bringing a new wife into the game.

These people are walking straight into a lethal situation with their eyes tightly closed.

I know some authors writing in the Agatha Christie tradition object to the term “cozy,” and here am I, putting it in the title. This marketing shorthand, by the way, apparently began life as a pejorative thrown by Raymond Chandler at what he may have thought of as books filled with teapots and knitting patterns. That “cozies” are really more about tangled human relationships than tangled skeins of yarn doesn’t stop the people who find the term convenient: people like booksellers and book reviewers and, yes, readers.

The term is limiting, no question, and probably frightens off many readers who wouldn’t be caught dead (excuse the pun) reading anything less gritty than the latest Pelecanos release. They might go so far as to reread an Agatha Christie, no problem, but a cozy?

malliet_deathofacozywriterThere’s a further category of readers who have no idea what a cozy mystery is. I know that’s a hard concept for mystery aficionados to grasp, but I’ve seen the blank stares when I tell the average reader on the street the title of my book.

But it’s too late to change it now. The book came by its title in part because I was submitting it for a Malice Domestic grant. Since Malice is among the coziest of the mystery conventions, I knew the grant committee would certainly get the title. It might make them smile, and they might then give me money to finish the book. Besides, Robert Barnard, to whose work Cozy is very much an homage, had already used, to splendid effect, Death of a Mystery Writer.

But having a “cozy writer” in the story gave me a vast range of conventions to poke gentle fun at, in a way that “crime writer” or “classic mystery writer” would not have done: the vast, isolated manor house, swathed in pre-Christmas snow; the decidedly sinister butler; the greedy patriarch; the grasping heirs; the cats (there are three in the book, but they don’t solve the crime. I have my limits).

I couldn’t resist the only title that fit.

If you object to the term, please overlook it this time, and remember that nothing beats a family get-together for sheer heart-stopping terror. After this, I promise, I’ll stick with “classic mystery.”

Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet, Midnight Ink, July $13.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-10 22:05:00

G.M. Malliet Considers the Cozy

My Book: the Smart Guys Marching Society
Dennis Palumbo

palumbo_dennisDennis Palumbo Marches With Smart Guys

Most of the stories in this collection feature a group of unlikely amateur sleuths who call themselves—only half-kiddingly—“The Smart Guys Marching Society.”

Just so you know, their exploits fall under the category known to most crime fans as “armchair mysteries.” That is, they usually take place in one room, in which the clever main character listens to a story told by someone else in attendance, and, based solely on what’s been related, solves a baffling crime.

I first fell in love with this style of crime story as a teenager, when I was introduced—alas, not formally—to Agatha Christie. Her “Tuesday Night Club” stories featured a recurring cast of characters who met on the designated night and tried to solve mysterious crimes. As one self-important person after another invariably failed to figure out whodunnit, it remained only for the beloved Miss Marple to shed light on the problem.

Soon after, I learned that Isaac Asimov, usually known for his science fiction works, had also tried his hand at armchair mysteries. His “Black Widowers” stories featured a similar set of erudite, articulate characters—all men—who met regularly for elaborate dinners, during which they’d attempt to solve a crime or untangle a puzzle. When they failed to do so—as they inevitably did—their patient, long-suffering waiter Henry helpfully provided the answer.

With these classic stories as inspiration, I decided to try such a series myself. But I also wanted to bring a modern-day sensibility to the form. “The Smart Guys Marching Society” is the irony-drenched name chosen by four reasonably successful baby-boomers for their weekly Sunday afternoon bull sessions. Embattled males all, with assorted wives and kids and mortgages, they seek to hang onto whatever dignity is left to them in middle age by contentiously debating the issues of the day.

At least, that’s what they thought they were going to do. Somehow, though, what they often end up doing instead is solving crimes....

Or rather, trying to solve them. To their surprise, the newest member of the group—a wry, somewhat mysterious old man named Isaac—is kind of a whiz at it.

Agatha Christie’s stories about the Tuesday Club Murders were entirely fictional. But Asimov’s Black Widower stories were based on a real club.

palumbo_fromcrimetocrimeSo is the Smart Guys Marching Society.

Many years ago, my friends Mark, Bill, Fred, and I met weekly in my house in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. As in my short stories—and for similar, self-deprecating reasons—we called ourselves “The Smart Guys Marching Society.” We figured the name would imply that we didn’t really think we were all that smart—which, of course, was exactly what we did think.

Every Sunday, we’d scarf down snacks, drink beer, and discuss what Fred invariably called “the big issues.”

Trust me, it wasn’t as lame as it sounds.

Okay, maybe it was.

I’ve taken some dramatic license in these stories. For example, the dialogue and interactions among the characters, though loosely based on the attitudes and opinions of the four of us, are entirely fictional. The real Fred, Mark, and Bill are all, to a man, more intelligent, articulate, and reasonable than my narrative needs required. Believe me, they’ll be the first to say so.

Even more importantly, the only mystery we ever tried to solve involved a missing tub of artichoke dip.

However, the greatest difference between the real-life Smart Guys and the following stories is that there never was an Isaac. Part wish-fulfillment, part tribute to Asimov’s tales, part memories of my own beloved grandfather, the Isaac that populates these stories is—for better or worse—a figment of my imagination.

That said, this book wouldn’t exist without the real Smart Guys Marching Society, and the friendship—hidden under all the bad jokes, endless debate, and high rant—that grew out of those weekly Sunday get-togethers.

So thanks, guys. I hope I did us justice.

From Crime to Crime, Dennis Palumbo, Tallfellow Press, May 2008, $24.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #105.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-10 22:28:10

Dennis Palumbo Marches With Smart Guys