Death Plays Poker
Barbara Fister

The stakes are high in Clare Vengel's second investigation (following Dead Politician Society, 2010), where she goes undercover to discover who is killing tournament poker players one by one. Clare has to become a professional-quality player and, even more challenging for a young cop who grew up in a trailer park, has to pretend to be a wealthy trust-fund heiress who wears pink designer clothes. But pulling it off is essential; one undercover cop has already been killed, and Clare's life is on the line.

There is a touch of the Golden Age mystery in the way the eccentric cast is introduced, each one of them with a motive for murder. Spano also spices the story with excerpts from a novel that a reporter, George Bigelow, is writing based on the tournament he's following. Another pinch of seasoning comes from the attraction Clare feels toward a mysterious poker player named Nate, whom readers know is traveling under a fake name (though we're not told exactly why). The book is over 400 pages long, and trimming would have improved it, but Clare is an appealing character with a lot of potential for future adventures. And she has a great poker face.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

The stakes are high in Clare Vengel's second investigation (following Dead Politician Society, 2010), where she goes undercover to discover who is killing tournament poker players one by one. Clare has to become a professional-quality player and, even more challenging for a young cop who grew up in a trailer park, has to pretend to be a wealthy trust-fund heiress who wears pink designer clothes. But pulling it off is essential; one undercover cop has already been killed, and Clare's life is on the line.

There is a touch of the Golden Age mystery in the way the eccentric cast is introduced, each one of them with a motive for murder. Spano also spices the story with excerpts from a novel that a reporter, George Bigelow, is writing based on the tournament he's following. Another pinch of seasoning comes from the attraction Clare feels toward a mysterious poker player named Nate, whom readers know is traveling under a fake name (though we're not told exactly why). The book is over 400 pages long, and trimming would have improved it, but Clare is an appealing character with a lot of potential for future adventures. And she has a great poker face.

The Talk Show Murders
Jim Huang

Al Roker, an amiable fixture on The Today Show, and Dick Lochte, author of the amiable Independent Mystery Booksellers' 20th century favorite Sleeping Dog, are well-matched coauthors. The Talk Show Murders, their amiable third collaboration, won't appear on any list of 21st century favorites, but it's an engaging performance.

Chef Billy Blessing is a morning show personality, host of a weekly program on the Wine and Dine network, and a successful restaurateur. His latest outing brings Blessing to Chicago, where, on a local talk show, he shares a couch with fellow guest Eddie Patton, an obnoxious former cop who has come to dish the dirt on a headless corpse who recently washed up on a Lake Michigan beach. Soon, Patton is angling for time on Blessing's own show Wake Up, America! even as he tries to blackmail Blessing over a long-buried secret. No reader will be surprised when Patton is found dead.

Blessing is remarkably unaffected by the accumulation of bodies, attempted kidnappings, sniper fire, blackmail, and problems at his restaurant. He maintains a brisk pace, handling morning show duties at the crack of dawn, racing around Chicago with an impressively large and well-delineated cast of unsavory types, and enjoying many fine meals. He doesn't appear to need much sleep or time to do his job—better to keep the story moving towards its tidy, if unlikely, resolution.

The Talk Show Murders has all the charm and depth of a network morning show. The characters are pithy and colorful, the references from the 2012 presidential campaign to the iPad are topical, and all the women are beautiful. Author Roker, who has hosted the Edgar Awards twice, is a fan of mysteries, but there's little here that seems uniquely Roker: The story would work as well with any other protagonist, and folks looking for something that reflects the Roker TV persona might be turned off by the rough edges and occasional foul language. The fine craftsmanship is a product of Lochte's experience, but the novel lacks the spark that made Sleeping Dog and his Terry Manion novels shine. The Talk Show Murders is satisfying and commands attention, but not so much that it's going to be remembered in the morning when Roker and company start fresh with tomorrow's show.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

roker_talkshowmurdersA third engaging performance from Al Roker and Dick Lochte in their series about sleuthing celebrity chef Billy Blessing.

City of Whispers
Debbi Mack

The 28th book in the Sharon McCone mystery series finds the intrepid San Francisco private eye getting pulled by family ties into a search for her missing half-brother, Darcy Blackhawk. The none-too-stable young man sends Sharon an email from a Bay Area Internet cafe asking for help. Sharon's reply goes unacknowledged and her concerned attempt to find Darcy leads to a dead body and a police investigation. However, it turns out Darcy has been spirited off by someone he refers to as the "brown woman."

Sharon's ensuing investigation into Darcy's disappearance and its possible connection with multiple homicides is told from three points of view: Sharon's first-person perspective; that of her able office assistant Mick Savage (who grudgingly handles some of the field work); and that of Darcy. It's a hardboiled mystery that creates psychological suspense in the way it explores issues of family dysfunction and obligation among blood relatives and old friends, both for Sharon and those around her. Marcia Muller adroitly handles these nuanced relationships in taut, well-written prose.

Although the story takes place over a wide geographic area, ranging from the posh hills of the Bay Area's toniest residences to rural Oregon and parts beyond, Muller's heart is clearly in San Francisco. City of Whispers is a suspenseful tale about family obligation and doing right by those who love you.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

The 28th book in the Sharon McCone mystery series finds the intrepid San Francisco private eye getting pulled by family ties into a search for her missing half-brother, Darcy Blackhawk. The none-too-stable young man sends Sharon an email from a Bay Area Internet cafe asking for help. Sharon's reply goes unacknowledged and her concerned attempt to find Darcy leads to a dead body and a police investigation. However, it turns out Darcy has been spirited off by someone he refers to as the "brown woman."

Sharon's ensuing investigation into Darcy's disappearance and its possible connection with multiple homicides is told from three points of view: Sharon's first-person perspective; that of her able office assistant Mick Savage (who grudgingly handles some of the field work); and that of Darcy. It's a hardboiled mystery that creates psychological suspense in the way it explores issues of family dysfunction and obligation among blood relatives and old friends, both for Sharon and those around her. Marcia Muller adroitly handles these nuanced relationships in taut, well-written prose.

Although the story takes place over a wide geographic area, ranging from the posh hills of the Bay Area's toniest residences to rural Oregon and parts beyond, Muller's heart is clearly in San Francisco. City of Whispers is a suspenseful tale about family obligation and doing right by those who love you.

Mozart's Last Aria
Sue Emmons

A resounding bravo to Matt Rees, author of the beautifully written and diligently researched Mozart's Last Aria. Set in Vienna, Austria, in 1791, this mystery captures both the mood and mores of the time. It begins when Mozart's estranged older sister, Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenberg, known as Nanneri, receives a letter from Wolfgang's widow informing her that he has died. Even more upsetting, the letter reveals that her brother, whose opera "The Magic Flute" has just opened to rave reviews, insisted on his deathbed that he was being slowly poisoned.

Nanneri refuses to bow to her overbearing husband's wishes not to leave her staid mountain village near Salzburg and sets out for Vienna to determine how and why her brother died. She must sort through a conspiracy of rivals, creditors, lovers, and Masonic brethren, all of whom, she learns, collided with the more liberal Mozart—even the royal family emerges as a key in the plot. Nanneri also finds love in Vienna, and her relationship with the Austrian secret policeman is a vast departure from her arranged marriage to an unimaginative husband.

Rees makes the musical realm of Mozart sparkle with intrigue as Nanneri, herself an accomplished pianist, engages in a grand finale set to the music of "Don Giovanni," another Mozart classic, and unravels the plot against her brother's life. Readers may already be familiar with Rees writing as Matt Beynon Rees, author of the award-winning Omar Yussef Palestinian mystery series. A former Middle East correspondent for Time, he resides in Jerusalem.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

A resounding bravo to Matt Rees, author of the beautifully written and diligently researched Mozart's Last Aria. Set in Vienna, Austria, in 1791, this mystery captures both the mood and mores of the time. It begins when Mozart's estranged older sister, Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenberg, known as Nanneri, receives a letter from Wolfgang's widow informing her that he has died. Even more upsetting, the letter reveals that her brother, whose opera "The Magic Flute" has just opened to rave reviews, insisted on his deathbed that he was being slowly poisoned.

Nanneri refuses to bow to her overbearing husband's wishes not to leave her staid mountain village near Salzburg and sets out for Vienna to determine how and why her brother died. She must sort through a conspiracy of rivals, creditors, lovers, and Masonic brethren, all of whom, she learns, collided with the more liberal Mozart—even the royal family emerges as a key in the plot. Nanneri also finds love in Vienna, and her relationship with the Austrian secret policeman is a vast departure from her arranged marriage to an unimaginative husband.

Rees makes the musical realm of Mozart sparkle with intrigue as Nanneri, herself an accomplished pianist, engages in a grand finale set to the music of "Don Giovanni," another Mozart classic, and unravels the plot against her brother's life. Readers may already be familiar with Rees writing as Matt Beynon Rees, author of the award-winning Omar Yussef Palestinian mystery series. A former Middle East correspondent for Time, he resides in Jerusalem.

The Boy in the Suitcase
Barbara Fister

As this book opens, Nina Borg retrieves a heavy suitcase from a Copenhagen train station locker, drags it into a parking ramp, and finds a small boy inside. He's alive, but who is he and why would someone drug a child and hide him in a suitcase? In the next chapters, readers are presented with puzzle pieces: a man in Denmark grows frantic when his plane is delayed; a mother in Lithuania passes out in a playground and wakes in a hospital, her child having vanished; a couple dreams about a new life. The reader wonders where all these stories are headed, but can't stop turning the pages because, well, there is this boy.

Kaaberbøl and Friis have taken a risk by introducing so many characters in this fragmented way, but we quickly become enlisted in the search for answers, and it's a marvelously twisty quest. The authors make us care about all of the characters, even the most violent and greedy. The boy's mother is naturally determined to find him, but Nina Borg's motives for taking the child with her and fleeing both the police and the criminals who smuggled him into the country are more complex. She's a fascinating mess of a character, a Red Cross nurse who feels compelled to care for the most damaged victims of violent conflict, but who is overwhelmed by being a wife and mother. Kaaberbøl and Friis invest such tenderness and feeling in this well-paced and timely story that is an absolute tour de force.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

As this book opens, Nina Borg retrieves a heavy suitcase from a Copenhagen train station locker, drags it into a parking ramp, and finds a small boy inside. He's alive, but who is he and why would someone drug a child and hide him in a suitcase? In the next chapters, readers are presented with puzzle pieces: a man in Denmark grows frantic when his plane is delayed; a mother in Lithuania passes out in a playground and wakes in a hospital, her child having vanished; a couple dreams about a new life. The reader wonders where all these stories are headed, but can't stop turning the pages because, well, there is this boy.

Kaaberbøl and Friis have taken a risk by introducing so many characters in this fragmented way, but we quickly become enlisted in the search for answers, and it's a marvelously twisty quest. The authors make us care about all of the characters, even the most violent and greedy. The boy's mother is naturally determined to find him, but Nina Borg's motives for taking the child with her and fleeing both the police and the criminals who smuggled him into the country are more complex. She's a fascinating mess of a character, a Red Cross nurse who feels compelled to care for the most damaged victims of violent conflict, but who is overwhelmed by being a wife and mother. Kaaberbøl and Friis invest such tenderness and feeling in this well-paced and timely story that is an absolute tour de force.

Savage Rage
Derek Hill

Police officer Jack Warren transfers out of Toronto's dangerous crime-plagued 51 Division to work a less exciting beat. Jack's wife, Karen, is grateful that her husband is safer now, especially considering how thoroughly 51 had branded itself on Jack after just three months: His partner was murdered; a maniac held Karen hostage; and Jack was almost killed by his partner's assassin. Now, Jack is more likely to be busting up rowdy parties of drunken teens than he is arresting crazed crackheads and homicidal psychopaths. He is bored.

The relative tranquility ends, however, when a brutal gangster named Kayne starts building his violent reputation on the streets by carving the letter K onto the foreheads of his victims. Kayne eventually marks a cop for murder and Jack quickly finds himself in the midst of mayhem all over again.

Much like Pilkey's first novel, Lethal Rage, his second book in this series refuses to flinch from the harsh reality of crime in Toronto. One does not always think of it as a city of violence, but every major city has its rough spots, and 51 Division is a pit of vice that Jack cannot resist returning to. Crime novels have long been filled with troubled, violence-prone police officers. However, Pilkey's firsthand experience working the same neighborhoods that Jack does make the gritty details feel authentic.

Jack, with his self-destructive inability to deal with stress in a healthy way, is not always the most sympathetic of protagonists but his portrayal seems true. The opening chapters of the book also lack momentum, more concerned with establishing a distracting rivalry between Jack and his father-in-law than kicking the story into gear. Luckily, it is a minor detour. Once the book is on course, it is a solid and, at its best, a fierce read.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

Police officer Jack Warren transfers out of Toronto's dangerous crime-plagued 51 Division to work a less exciting beat. Jack's wife, Karen, is grateful that her husband is safer now, especially considering how thoroughly 51 had branded itself on Jack after just three months: His partner was murdered; a maniac held Karen hostage; and Jack was almost killed by his partner's assassin. Now, Jack is more likely to be busting up rowdy parties of drunken teens than he is arresting crazed crackheads and homicidal psychopaths. He is bored.

The relative tranquility ends, however, when a brutal gangster named Kayne starts building his violent reputation on the streets by carving the letter K onto the foreheads of his victims. Kayne eventually marks a cop for murder and Jack quickly finds himself in the midst of mayhem all over again.

Much like Pilkey's first novel, Lethal Rage, his second book in this series refuses to flinch from the harsh reality of crime in Toronto. One does not always think of it as a city of violence, but every major city has its rough spots, and 51 Division is a pit of vice that Jack cannot resist returning to. Crime novels have long been filled with troubled, violence-prone police officers. However, Pilkey's firsthand experience working the same neighborhoods that Jack does make the gritty details feel authentic.

Jack, with his self-destructive inability to deal with stress in a healthy way, is not always the most sympathetic of protagonists but his portrayal seems true. The opening chapters of the book also lack momentum, more concerned with establishing a distracting rivalry between Jack and his father-in-law than kicking the story into gear. Luckily, it is a minor detour. Once the book is on course, it is a solid and, at its best, a fierce read.

A Killer's Christmas in Wales
Debbie Lester

Elizabeth J. Duncan's A Killer's Christmas in Wales is the third book in the Penny Brannigan series featuring a transplanted salon and spa owner with a penchant for solving crimes. Penny Brannigan and the residents of the small Welsh community of Llanelen are charmed when handsome American Harry Saunders arrives on the scene and takes a marked interest in widow Evelyn Lloyd. When Harry skips town with a large sum of Evelyn's money and ends up dead at the foot of Conwy Castle with a letter opener in his back, it's up to Penny to figure out who the killer is before Mrs. Lloyd spends Christmas behind bars.

Readers who enjoy classic English mysteries will find lots to love about A Killer's Christmas in Wales. Set in a small town populated with intriguing personalities, this cozy sets a leisurely pace that allows the reader time to consider each suspect and motive. Though the actual murder does not occur until after the first 100 pages, Duncan holds the interest of her readers with snappy dialogue and a well-plotted build-up.

From the resourceful and observant Penny to the debonair Harry, Duncan excels at bringing her characters to life. The author's knack for adding just the right amount of backstory for each character is exceptional. A Killer's Christmas in Wales gives off an air of enchantment as Christmas finds this small village in Wales up to its eyeballs in mystery and mayhem.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

duncan_killerschristmasinwalesA Killer's Christmas in Wales gives off an air of enchantment and murder at Christmas.

Murder in Lascaux
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Take a touch of prehistoric art, sprinkle in some delicious southern French cuisine, add a dash of World War II history and a dollop of murder, and you've got a mystery novel that's both appetizing, intriguing, and informative.

While Nora Barnes and her husband Toby are touring the famous cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France where the walls are covered with Paleolithic drawings, the lights suddenly go out and one of their small party is murdered. As suspects in the grisly crime, the pair are required to stay nearby, conveniently at a chateau that offers classes in the art of French cuisine. But the danger remains, and Nora's inquisitive mind brings her and Toby closer than they'd like to the evil designs of a merciless killer.

Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, both professors emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin, use their combined knowledge of travel and cooking to take readers on a veritable cook's tour of the southern French countryside while providing historical context about the Nazi occupation of the area during the Second World War. They are as adept at describing how the region's delicious cuisine is created, as they are at touching on the lingering effects of wartime on the people who live there.

Although there's lots of description in the novel, it's crisply written and doesn't slow the narrative. I particularly liked reading, along with Nora, the journal of a female artist who lived through World War I and died in 1944. The artist's reminiscences provide the necessary background for the motivation of the later crimes. If you like a murder mystery you can get your teeth into, give this one a try. Bon appétit!

Teri Duerr
Monday, 28 November 2011 02:11

Take a touch of prehistoric art, sprinkle in some delicious southern French cuisine, add a dash of World War II history and a dollop of murder, and you've got a mystery novel that's both appetizing, intriguing, and informative.

While Nora Barnes and her husband Toby are touring the famous cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France where the walls are covered with Paleolithic drawings, the lights suddenly go out and one of their small party is murdered. As suspects in the grisly crime, the pair are required to stay nearby, conveniently at a chateau that offers classes in the art of French cuisine. But the danger remains, and Nora's inquisitive mind brings her and Toby closer than they'd like to the evil designs of a merciless killer.

Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, both professors emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin, use their combined knowledge of travel and cooking to take readers on a veritable cook's tour of the southern French countryside while providing historical context about the Nazi occupation of the area during the Second World War. They are as adept at describing how the region's delicious cuisine is created, as they are at touching on the lingering effects of wartime on the people who live there.

Although there's lots of description in the novel, it's crisply written and doesn't slow the narrative. I particularly liked reading, along with Nora, the journal of a female artist who lived through World War I and died in 1944. The artist's reminiscences provide the necessary background for the motivation of the later crimes. If you like a murder mystery you can get your teeth into, give this one a try. Bon appétit!

Living Legend: a Talk With Richard Matheson
Dick Lochte

MathesonRichardheadshotIt’s hard to believe that anyone interested in suspense, fantasy fiction, film, or television would be unfamiliar with the name Richard Matheson.

Photo: Harry O. Morris


He was one of the select group of writers who helped Rod Serling create The Twilight Zone and was responsible for one of the series’ most fondly recalled 1963 episodes, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which a wing-walking gremlin taunts airline passenger William Shatner to distraction. His television movie script Duel, in which a hapless motorist engages in a battle for survival with the never-seen driver of a giant semi, launched Steven Spielberg’s directorial career. His teleplays for The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler were turned into two of the medium’s most popular movies and prompted the cult TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker series.

Matheson’s long list of screenplays include those penned for Roger Corman’s Poe-inspired films, both the creepy ones (House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror), and the comedic (The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven).

The prolific writer is also responsible for I Am Legend, the seminal science fiction novel about the last human in a world of vampires that has spawned numerous films—official adaptations like The Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and a new version starring Will Smith, and “homages” like Night of the Living Dead. His Shrinking Man has been filmed several times, too, including one version that starred Lily Tomlin and another, currently being prepped by Keenan Ivory Wayans.

Matheson, born 80 years ago in Allendale, New Jersey, has worked in a variety of other genres, including westerns (Journal of the Gun), horror (Hell House), suspense (Ride the Nightmare), metaphysics (What Dreams May Come?) and even a war novel (The Beardless Warriors) based in part on his experiences in World War II.

He has won Edgar, Hugo, Golden Spur and Bram Stoker Awards. Stephen King cites Matheson as his biggest literary influence. Ray Bradbury calls him “one of the most important writers of the 20th century.”

I met with the author several months ago in his home in Southern California, on the occasion of the publication of his latest novel, Women, an apocalyptic fantasy about what happens when the war between the sexes enters The Twilight Zone.

Matheson_Nightmare_twilightDick Lochte for Mystery Scene: Why did you choose the writing profession?

Matheson: I think creative people are born that way. Depending on the circumstances, I could have gone in any direction. I wrote music when I was in college, the Missouri School of Journalism. If I had come from a family of composers, I undoubtedly would’ve been a composer. If they had been painters, I would’ve been a painter. Since the Depression was on, the family couldn’t afford anything elaborate. What I had to work with was a pad and a pencil.

William Shatner in the the famous “Nightmare at 20,000
Feet” episode of
The Twilight Zone. Photo courtesy CBS.

When did you sell your first short story?

“Born of Man and Woman” appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950, the year after I graduated. It was odd enough and different enough to call attention to me and I got an agent through it. Then it was just a matter of putting out the material.

Was that what brought you to the West Coast?

Not exactly. I had what they used to call trench foot. Frostbitten feet. That gave me an excuse to leave the cold climate for California. I was always fascinated by movies, and I think that was an ulterior motive for coming out here.

How did you break into screenwriting?

I didn’t push it. I figured it would be easier if I had something they wanted. That turned out to be my novel Shrinking Man. It has been erroneously stated in some articles that the film came first. That’s not true. I sold the novel with the stipulation that I write the script. They made changes, of course. Not for the better. I wanted to move right away into the main story and use flashbacks. They changed that and the first part of the movie is a little dull.

I’ve heard they’re remaking it.

With Eddie Murphy, I believe. I suppose it’ll be similar to the version they made with Lily Tomlin. I didn’t object to the fact that they turned that one into a comedy. I just didn’t think it was very funny.

You became one of The Twilight Zone’s most frequent contributors.

I think the first call I went on when I started writing for TV was to watch the Twilight Zone pilot. After that, I’d come in, pitch ideas and they’d send me off to write them. When CBS did a history of television and, naturally, brought up The Twilight Zone, the sample of it they used was the one with Bill Shatner on the airplane.

That’s the one everybody remembers. How did you think of the idea?

No surprise, I was on an airplane. I looked out of the window and saw clouds like snow and started to wonder: what if I saw a guy skiing there. That wasn’t very scary. So I had to make the image a little grimmer.

They remade it for the movie version.

Yeah. George Miller, the director of that segment, has done some terrific movies (Mad Max, etc.). In my story, Bill Shatner had had a nervous breakdown and he was afraid that it was recurring. In the movie, John Lithgow was simply afraid of flying. And he started out at 100% terrified. Where could he go from there?

You’ve worked with Shatner several times.

Right. In two Twilight Zones and my one Star Trek.

That is one of the better-known episodes, “The Enemy Within,” where Kirk undergoes a split personality. Why not another?

I don’t know. I kept submitting ideas to Gene Roddenberry and he didn’t care for them. Maybe he didn’t like it that I disagreed with him. I’m not an advocate of “B” stories. They do it all the time in television: an episode has an “A” story and a “B” story. My feeling is if you have a great “A” story, you stay with it. I wanted to stay with Kirk and his effect on the crew. Roddenberry wanted me to add that “B” story.

Duel23Getting back to the sources for your ideas: I suppose you were out driving when you came up with Duel?

That’s it. It was the day John Kennedy got shot. A friend of mine, science fiction writer Jerry Sohl, and I were playing golf when we got the news. We were driving home and this crazy truck driver started tailgating us through the canyon. Going faster and faster. I don’t know why. Maybe he was mad about Kennedy being shot. Finally, Jerry zoomed off to a side part of the road, and we spun around in the dirt. Between being furious at the driver and being totally upset and traumatized by Kennedy’s assassination, we were screaming out the window at this guy as he went roaring past.

Then, being a writer, my fear immediately transcribed itself into a story idea. I grabbed an envelope of Jerry’s and wrote it down. That was ten years before Playboy published it.

I read somewhere that you’re not too fond of a couple of your Twilight Zone episodes, even though they’re considered classics. One example is “The Invaders” duel-1971-02-g(Agnes Moorehead is a virtually silent, hard-bitten country woman whose shack is invaded by tiny space critters).

I just didn’t like the looks of the invaders. I kept thinking about cartoons where some derelict is on a street corner with little dolls hobbling around. My script indicated that you barely saw them. Just a flash. I always think that less is better, an attitude that instantaneously cost me an important screenwriting job. I was called into Alfred Hitchcock’s office to discuss a script for The Birds. I said, “Mr. Hitchcock, I don’t think you should show the birds too much.” “Oh, no. NO,” he cried and that was the end of that.

Tell me about Night Stalker, how that came together.

Well, originally [producer] Dan Curtis wanted to make Beardless Warriors [Matheson’s WWII novel]. Somehow he’d got a copy of the manuscript and made what I thought was an insultingly low offer and I got ticked off. So when I met him at ABC to discuss The Night Stalker I was very rude. That was like risking my life, because Dan had a very volatile temper. He was also a talented man with a big sense of humor, which tends to even things out. Anyway, he showed me the then unpublished novel by Jeff Rice and that was that.

How closely did you adhere to the novel?

It was good enough that I didn’t try to change it much. The main difference was in the character of Kolchak. In the book, he’s sorta like an old boy Hungarian who believes in vampires. I didn’t want to do that, so I changed him to a Front Page type. And Darren McGavin took it from there. He was wonderful.

Was the sequel, The Night Strangler, also based on a novel?

No. It was based on a trip my family took to Seattle. We went on an underground tour and that’s where I got the idea. It was perfect for Kolchak, but McGavin wasn’t anxious to do it, because he thought it was just a rehash of the first one. Which it was, of course. Bill Nolan and I wrote a third script that was never made.

But there was a TV series. Why weren’t you involved in that?

I would have done it if Dan had produced it, but he didn’t. With the second one, I remember a bunch of us sitting in an office at ABC, trying to come up with a monster. At one point, I said, “Isn’t this ridiculous? Five grown men sitting in this elaborate office, trying to come up with a monster.”

Tell me about the Poe movies.

I did the first one (The Fall of the House of Usher) and everybody assumed I was an ardent fan of Edgar Allan Poe, which I wasn’t. But I tried very hard to catch the flavor of Poe’s story. I had to add a character, a suitor for the sister, or there would have been no story. It starred Vincent Price. I have said before, and it’s true, he’s the most charming man I ever met in the business. Generous and warm-hearted.

One of those films rarely gets mentioned, A Comedy of Terrors. Jacques Tourneur just took the script and shot it. The actors all liked that one, especially Basil Rathbone, who hadn’t had a good script in ages. He was a marvelous man, too. He was older than Boris Karloff, but they had to switch roles, because Karloff couldn’t do all the physical moves the role called for.

Price_Vincent_with_cupThe stories you’ve written—about vampires, haunted houses, a shrinking man, etc—have become standards of a sort. They’ve influenced so many filmmakers. George Romero, for example.

I was watching television one night and caught a section of Night of the Living Dead and wondered, “When did they do this version of I Am Legend?” Later, when I was a consultant for Amazing Stories, there was one I felt might be right for George Romero. So I met him for lunch at Delmonico’s. The first thing he said when he saw me was, “It didn’t make any money.” I guess he thought I was going to punch him out. But I wasn’t that upset. That sort of thing happens out here all the time.

Not long ago Gauntlet Press brought out three collections of your stories. Any recent work?

Vincent Price on the set of House of Usher.
Photo courtesy AIP/Alta Vista.

No. Since 1970, I haven’t had any desire to write short stories. In that form, I mean. But Barry Hoffman, the publisher of Gauntlet Press, is always asking if I have anything more in my file cabinet. There were stories I wrote long ago that had never even been submitted. Having grown up in the Depression, it’s hard for me to say no. Especially when Barry does such a beautiful, physical job of presentation. Now, I’ve come to the bottom of the drawer. Nothing left.

Not even ideas?

Oh, yes. I have a novel laid out in file cards that I’ll probably get to sometime. I haven’t written in a while. I had a heart valve replacement surgery. I had back surgeries. You just don’t feel like sitting down and writing. But that can and probably will change.

More Matheson from Gauntlet Press

Bloodlines: Richard Matheson’s Dracula, I Am Legend and Other Vampire Tales, edited by Mark Dawidziak (2007)
Visions of Death: Richard Matheson's Edgar Allan Poe Scripts (House of Usher & Pit and the Pendulum), Richard Matheson (2007)
The Richard Matheson Companion, edited by Stanley Wiater and Matthew Bradley (2007)

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 03:11

MathesonRichardheadshotAnyone interested in suspense, fantasy fiction, or film should know the name Richard Matheson.

Morgue Drawer Four
Oline Cogdill

Dr. Martin Gänsewein sees dead people. He certainly should because as coroner for the city of Cologne, autopsies are routine for him. But Martin’s latest examination of the late Sascha Lerchenberg, a small-time car thief, takes a turn when the deceased starts to talk to him following the autopsy. Pascha, as he prefers to be called, is convinced he was murdered and his ghost plans to hang out around morgue drawer four until he and the good doctor can solve the mystery of his death.


Pascha's last job was to steal a gleaming Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren for a car smuggler. The 24-year-old thief is savvy about his business and, as a routine, he checked the McLaren’s interior before handing it over. The wad of cash he took, of course. But the body of a woman in the trunk was more of a problem. “You don’t hand a car smuggler a car with a corpse in the trunk, not even if it’s an SLR,” he says. But before Pascha had time to dispose of the body, he is pushed from a railroad bridge later that night. 


Now Martin is the only one to whom Pascha’s ghost can talk to, a situation equally disliked by the scruffy low-life (but surprisingly intelligent) thief, and the polite, staid doctor whose idea of a good time is grinding his own coffee beans. The odd-couple pairing of Pascha and Martin is fodder for lots of humor, but German author Jutta Profijt skillfully makes Morgue Drawer Four not only funny, but an insightful look at class and culture clashes, all wrapped in a sturdy plot that is part hardboiled, part heist caper, and enhanced throughout by lively dialogue.

Martin and Pascha's investigation takes them to Cologne’s seediest neighborhoods, including a red-light district, and some of its most upscale areas, while they navigate the world of German car smuggling. Pascha and Martin’s distrust of each other eventually gives way to a begrudging respect as each learns they are not so different from each other. Morgue Drawer Four, the first of Profijt’s series, was shortlisted for Germany’s 2010 Friedrich Glauser Prize for best crime novel and is just now making its US debut.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 04:11

profijt_morguedrawerfourThe odd-couple detecting duo of a coroner and a thief make a promising US debut in this award-nominated German series.

Tnt Appeals to Mystery Fans
Oline Cogdill

Hide_TNTLisaGardner.jpgxx
Once upon a time, years, maybe decades ago, there used to be the TV Movie of the Week.

Every channel had one and, if I remember correctly, a lot of them were pretty good.

Movies that excited us and entertained us, even if many of them didn't make us think too much.

But as quick as they came, those TV Movies of the Week disappeared. Of course, back then channels were limited and the vast number of cable networks, many of which now have their own original films, didn't exist.

But the TNT Network not only is reviving the movie of the week, but the upcoming program should appeal to many mystery fiction lovers.

Scott Turow's Innocent launched TNT’s “Mystery Movie Night,” which will be weekly adaptations of novels by Sandra Brown, Lisa Gardner, Richard North Patterson, April Smith, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, and Patricia Cornwell.

silentwitness_jamesnorthpattersonAnd judging by the advance screenings, these are first-rate productions with good scripts. TNT also has landed some intriguing actors such as Dermot Mulroney, Anne Heche, Judd Hirsch, and Jane Alexander.

Although Innocent first aired Nov. 29, it will have frequent encores. Innocent picks up years after Turow's breakout 1990 novel Presumed Innocent ended.

Presumed Innocent made it to the big screen with Harrison Ford as Chicago attorney Rusty Sabich who was accused of killing a colleague with whom he'd had an affair.

On the small screen, Bill Pullman aptly takes over as Rusty who's now accused of killing his wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden.

No spoilers, but if you are the 10 people who have never read Presumed Innocent, do so before you see the TNT version of Innocent. Of course, I recommend reading the books first anyway.

I guess technically these aren't movies of the week because Ricochet, based on the novel by Sandra Brown premieres at 9 p.m. Nov. 30. Ricochet follows two homicide detectives whose careers – and lives – are on the line during a case of murder and betrayal in high-society Savannah. (I actually saw the crew filming portions of Richochet when I was last in Savannah.)

Emmy nominee John Corbett (Sex and the City, Northern Exposure) stars as Det. Sgt. Duncan Hatcher, who is investigating a corrupt judge, played by Gary Cole. Hatcher also becomes romantically involved with the judge’s wife, played by Julie Benz (Dexter).

I am especially looking forward to Hide, based on Lisa Gardner's novel airing at 9 pm, Dec. 6. (I loved the novel). Hide stars the ever-reliable Carla Gugino as Boston Police Detective D.D. Warren, who is called to the grounds of an abandoned mental hospital where a buried chamber with the remains of six young women is discovered. The case leads D.D. to Annabelle (Bridget Regan), who spent her childhood moving from city to city in hiding. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (TNT’s Franklin & Bash, NYPD Blue) plays Alex Wilson, and Kevin Alejandro (True Blood, TNT’s Southland) is Det. Bobby Dodge.

Richard North Patterson's Silent Witness airs at 9 pm, Dec. 7, starring Dermot Mulroney as defense attorney Tony Lord, who returns to his hometown to defend his friend (Michael Cudlitz of TNT’s Southland), a teacher accused of murdering one of his students. The case will force Tony to relive his past when, as a high school student, he was accused of murdering his first love. Silent Witness also stars Anne Heche and Judd Hirsch.

goodmorningkiller_aprilsmithApril Smith's Good Morning, Killer airs at 9 pm, Dec. 13, starring Catherine Bell, Cole Hauser, William Devane, Titus Welliver and Suleka Mathew. (Loved that novel, too)

And, appropriately, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark will take us to the holidays with Deck the Halls, airing 9 pm, Dec. 20 with Kathy Najimy, Scottie Thompson, Jane Alexander and Larry Miller.

TNT also is looking ahead toward next Spring with an adaptation of Patricia Cornwell's Hornet’s Nest. This novel is not part of Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series but was the first in her mini-series featuring reporter Andy Brazil (Robbie Amell), Police Chief Judy Hammer (Virginia Madsen) and her top deputy, Virginia West (Sherry Stringfield). Set in Charlotte, N.C., Hornet's Nest follows the investigation of a serial killer who targets out-of-town businessmen.

Leave it to the channel that gives us Leverage, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer and Southland to find new ways to entertain us.

And don't forget, reading these novels will make seeing the movie version even better.

Photos: Top, Hide with Mark Gosselaar, Carla Gugino and Kevin Alejandro; Center, Silent Witness with Dermot Mulroney and Judd Hisch; Bottom photo, Good Morning Killer with Catherine Bell and Cole Hauser. Photos courtesy TNT.

Super User 2
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 05:11

Hide_TNTLisaGardner.jpgxx
Once upon a time, years, maybe decades ago, there used to be the TV Movie of the Week.

Every channel had one and, if I remember correctly, a lot of them were pretty good.

Movies that excited us and entertained us, even if many of them didn't make us think too much.

But as quick as they came, those TV Movies of the Week disappeared. Of course, back then channels were limited and the vast number of cable networks, many of which now have their own original films, didn't exist.

But the TNT Network not only is reviving the movie of the week, but the upcoming program should appeal to many mystery fiction lovers.

Scott Turow's Innocent launched TNT’s “Mystery Movie Night,” which will be weekly adaptations of novels by Sandra Brown, Lisa Gardner, Richard North Patterson, April Smith, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, and Patricia Cornwell.

silentwitness_jamesnorthpattersonAnd judging by the advance screenings, these are first-rate productions with good scripts. TNT also has landed some intriguing actors such as Dermot Mulroney, Anne Heche, Judd Hirsch, and Jane Alexander.

Although Innocent first aired Nov. 29, it will have frequent encores. Innocent picks up years after Turow's breakout 1990 novel Presumed Innocent ended.

Presumed Innocent made it to the big screen with Harrison Ford as Chicago attorney Rusty Sabich who was accused of killing a colleague with whom he'd had an affair.

On the small screen, Bill Pullman aptly takes over as Rusty who's now accused of killing his wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden.

No spoilers, but if you are the 10 people who have never read Presumed Innocent, do so before you see the TNT version of Innocent. Of course, I recommend reading the books first anyway.

I guess technically these aren't movies of the week because Ricochet, based on the novel by Sandra Brown premieres at 9 p.m. Nov. 30. Ricochet follows two homicide detectives whose careers – and lives – are on the line during a case of murder and betrayal in high-society Savannah. (I actually saw the crew filming portions of Richochet when I was last in Savannah.)

Emmy nominee John Corbett (Sex and the City, Northern Exposure) stars as Det. Sgt. Duncan Hatcher, who is investigating a corrupt judge, played by Gary Cole. Hatcher also becomes romantically involved with the judge’s wife, played by Julie Benz (Dexter).

I am especially looking forward to Hide, based on Lisa Gardner's novel airing at 9 pm, Dec. 6. (I loved the novel). Hide stars the ever-reliable Carla Gugino as Boston Police Detective D.D. Warren, who is called to the grounds of an abandoned mental hospital where a buried chamber with the remains of six young women is discovered. The case leads D.D. to Annabelle (Bridget Regan), who spent her childhood moving from city to city in hiding. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (TNT’s Franklin & Bash, NYPD Blue) plays Alex Wilson, and Kevin Alejandro (True Blood, TNT’s Southland) is Det. Bobby Dodge.

Richard North Patterson's Silent Witness airs at 9 pm, Dec. 7, starring Dermot Mulroney as defense attorney Tony Lord, who returns to his hometown to defend his friend (Michael Cudlitz of TNT’s Southland), a teacher accused of murdering one of his students. The case will force Tony to relive his past when, as a high school student, he was accused of murdering his first love. Silent Witness also stars Anne Heche and Judd Hirsch.

goodmorningkiller_aprilsmithApril Smith's Good Morning, Killer airs at 9 pm, Dec. 13, starring Catherine Bell, Cole Hauser, William Devane, Titus Welliver and Suleka Mathew. (Loved that novel, too)

And, appropriately, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark will take us to the holidays with Deck the Halls, airing 9 pm, Dec. 20 with Kathy Najimy, Scottie Thompson, Jane Alexander and Larry Miller.

TNT also is looking ahead toward next Spring with an adaptation of Patricia Cornwell's Hornet’s Nest. This novel is not part of Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series but was the first in her mini-series featuring reporter Andy Brazil (Robbie Amell), Police Chief Judy Hammer (Virginia Madsen) and her top deputy, Virginia West (Sherry Stringfield). Set in Charlotte, N.C., Hornet's Nest follows the investigation of a serial killer who targets out-of-town businessmen.

Leave it to the channel that gives us Leverage, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer and Southland to find new ways to entertain us.

And don't forget, reading these novels will make seeing the movie version even better.

Photos: Top, Hide with Mark Gosselaar, Carla Gugino and Kevin Alejandro; Center, Silent Witness with Dermot Mulroney and Judd Hisch; Bottom photo, Good Morning Killer with Catherine Bell and Cole Hauser. Photos courtesy TNT.

New Books: When Worlds Collide
Margaret Maron

maron_margaretMargaret Maron's beloved series protagonists Judge Deborah Knott and Lt. Sigrid Harald meet at long last in Three-Day Town.


When I created Lt. Sigrid Harald an astonishing (at least to me) 30 years ago, I knew a lot about her. I knew that she was 5’ 10” and skinny with gray eyes, that she wore her fine dark hair in a frumpy bun, that she didn’t care about clothes, and she didn’t burble about nature although she did like poetry and had a dry wit that tended toward the intellectual. I knew that while she was thoroughly competent and professional in her work at the NYPD, she was uncomfortable in her skin and awkward with personal relationships. I knew, although she did not, that her boss had once been partnered with her father, who was killed in the line of duty when she was barely more than a toddler. I knew that this would be a series and that it would cover exactly one cataclysmic year in her life. I also knew that there was an overarching mystery about her father and that I would reveal a little more of it in each book as the series progressed.

I did not know what that mystery might be. Nor did I know it was going to take me 14 years to get her through that one 12-month period. “For years, readers have asked for the return of NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald—and they wanted her to meet my other series character, Judge Deborah Knott.”

Every series writer has to decide early on what to do about the problem of time. Does she let her characters age as did Dorothy Sayers with Harriet and Peter Wimsey, and Marcia Muller with Sharon McCone? Or does she keep them the same vague, indeterminate age as Agatha Christie did with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, and Joan Hess with Arlie Hanks?

Sue Grafton finessed the problem by keeping Kinsey Millhone in the 1980s where she began, which means that Kinsey’s only three or four years older and still doesn’t have a cell phone. But most of us choose to write in the current “now” and to let our characters age verrrrry slowwwwly. My Deborah Knott was around 34 when she came to the bench. Seventeen books later, she’s edging up on 40.

maron_three-daytownAlthough the Sigrid Harald books always got good reviews, they never really found an audience. Most readers were inclined to take her at face value, to see only the off-putting surface and not what I had hinted was underneath. They went out of print almost as quickly as they were published. Now, 15 years after the last one saw daylight, they are going online as ebooks and I am delighted with the feedback as more readers have finally begun to “get” her. One wrote to me, “I began the series not liking Sigrid because she was so different from Deborah Knott, but I finished the last book in tears because there are no more.”

From the beginning, though, Sigrid did have partisans who kept bugging me for more books about her. Short stories were not enough. They wanted to see her in a full-length novel and they wanted her to meet Deborah.

Three-Day Town, from Grand Central, is the book they’ve been asking for. Deborah married Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant in Rituals of the Season, but a year later, they still hadn’t taken a honeymoon. In this book they get one. January in New York may not be the most romantic time of year, but that’s life. They have to take what I give them. Of course there’s a murder in the apartment someone has lent them and of course, Sigrid Harald is the homicide detective who shows up.

Alert readers will find all sorts of anachronisms and time slippages, but I’m hoping they’ll suspend their disbelief, go with the flow, and enjoy seeing Deborah on Sigrid’s home turf.

Three-Day Town, Margaret Maron, Grand Central Publishing, November 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 12:11

maron_margaretLong-running series' favorites Judge Deborah Knott and Lt. Sigrid Harald finally meet.

Enroll at the Crime Fiction Academy
Oline Cogdill
block_lawrence01Learning is a lifelong occupation. I don’t care how old you are or how many degrees you have, we never stop learning.

At least we shouldn’t stop.

I think this is especially true of mystery writers—and readers—as each time we delve into a novel we learn something new.

The Crime Fiction Academy is designed for aspiring writers who want to keep learning about the genre,
especially from teachers who lead by example, making us want to succeed.

The Crime Fiction Academy’s dream faculty includes some of today’s top mystery/thriller writers: Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, left, Lee Child, Thomas H. Cook, Linda Fairstein, Susan Isaacs, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, Joyce Carol Oates, SJ Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Karin Slaughter.

rozan_sjAnd you can learn in the very building in which Edgar Allen Poe wrote.

This is the first ongoing, rigorous program exclusively dedicated to crime writing in all its forms. The
curriculum includes a 14-week writing workshop; monthly master classes; a crime fiction reading seminar; special lectures and discussions with editors, agents and others involved with crime fiction and publishing.

How intense will the workshops be? Each workshop will include about 12 students for 14 weekly two-hour sessions. The writer/teacher will set the tone for the workshops but expect in-class writing and analysis of student work. Some students may want to develop short stories or a novel. Spring 2012 workshops will be taught by Jonathan Santlofer, SJ Rozan, left, and Thomas H. Cook.

Megan Abbott is scheduled to lead the 2012 spring’s monthly seminar designed to make students well versed in the genre, focusing on historically significant crime fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries and on contemporary works of note. Students will be encouraged to read and analyze crime fiction as writers and to improve their own work.

Lee Child, Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman, and others, are scheduled to lead the master classes series.


During these lectures, award-winning authors will each focus on one aspect of crime writing—plot, pacing, dialogue, research, etc., and how this relates to their own work.

All classes, workshops, and lectures will be during the evening at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St.,
Manhattan. That’s in the Mercantile Library, where Edgar Allen Poe wrote.

Students may enroll for one term, but a year-long commitment is suggested to take full advantage of the
program.

The Crime Fiction Academy costs $2,800 for the 14-week term. Partial scholarship support may be available.

Admission is limited and competitive and is based on work samples. Applications are now being accepted for the term beginning in February 2012. Visit www.centerforfiction.org/crimefiction for details.
Super User 2
Sunday, 04 December 2011 05:12
block_lawrence01Learning is a lifelong occupation. I don’t care how old you are or how many degrees you have, we never stop learning.

At least we shouldn’t stop.

I think this is especially true of mystery writers—and readers—as each time we delve into a novel we learn something new.

The Crime Fiction Academy is designed for aspiring writers who want to keep learning about the genre,
especially from teachers who lead by example, making us want to succeed.

The Crime Fiction Academy’s dream faculty includes some of today’s top mystery/thriller writers: Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, left, Lee Child, Thomas H. Cook, Linda Fairstein, Susan Isaacs, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, Joyce Carol Oates, SJ Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Karin Slaughter.

rozan_sjAnd you can learn in the very building in which Edgar Allen Poe wrote.

This is the first ongoing, rigorous program exclusively dedicated to crime writing in all its forms. The
curriculum includes a 14-week writing workshop; monthly master classes; a crime fiction reading seminar; special lectures and discussions with editors, agents and others involved with crime fiction and publishing.

How intense will the workshops be? Each workshop will include about 12 students for 14 weekly two-hour sessions. The writer/teacher will set the tone for the workshops but expect in-class writing and analysis of student work. Some students may want to develop short stories or a novel. Spring 2012 workshops will be taught by Jonathan Santlofer, SJ Rozan, left, and Thomas H. Cook.

Megan Abbott is scheduled to lead the 2012 spring’s monthly seminar designed to make students well versed in the genre, focusing on historically significant crime fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries and on contemporary works of note. Students will be encouraged to read and analyze crime fiction as writers and to improve their own work.

Lee Child, Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman, and others, are scheduled to lead the master classes series.


During these lectures, award-winning authors will each focus on one aspect of crime writing—plot, pacing, dialogue, research, etc., and how this relates to their own work.

All classes, workshops, and lectures will be during the evening at the Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St.,
Manhattan. That’s in the Mercantile Library, where Edgar Allen Poe wrote.

Students may enroll for one term, but a year-long commitment is suggested to take full advantage of the
program.

The Crime Fiction Academy costs $2,800 for the 14-week term. Partial scholarship support may be available.

Admission is limited and competitive and is based on work samples. Applications are now being accepted for the term beginning in February 2012. Visit www.centerforfiction.org/crimefiction for details.
Tnt Movies Capture Novels' Spirits
Oline Cogdill

deckthehalls_scottiethompsonkathynajimyclark


Mystery novels don't always make a smooth transition to movies or television because, I believe, the scriptwriters don't respect the source material.

Want proof? Think of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr novels that turned into the film Burglar with Whoopie Goldberg.

Those books that make the smooth transition to film are because of that respect. Think Gone Baby Gone; the Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; The Town, Shutter Island. And on the smaller screen, there’s the series Dexter on Showtime and Rizzoli & Isles on TNT and just about anything on PBS.

Give TNT more credit for its series of mystery movies based on best-sellers by contemporary authors. These movies are capturing the spirit of the novels and showcasing the plots and characters that readers have long enjoyed.

Just this week it was announced that Lisa Unger’s Fragile has been picked up for this series.

Here are mini reviews of the three movies scheduled for this month.

HIDE: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 6 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Lisa Gardner. The appealing and always watchable Carla Gugino stars as Boston police detective D.D. Warren, a complicated, stoic character who has been in several of Gardner’s best sellers. Gugino perfectly captures D.D.’s aloofness, devotion to the job and her compassion. Much is made of D.D. being blonde in the novels, but we’ll take the dark-haired Gugino any day. D.D. and her team’s investigation of bodies found on a long abandoned mental hospital leads to a young woman who has been a victim of a stalker since her birth. Gardner’s novels straddle are gripping and involving, straddling that line between terrifying and gruesome. The TNT movie captures all this and this viewer hopes to see more Gardner novels on the screen, especially with Gugino and Kevin Alejandro (True Blood) as Det. Bobby Dodge.

silentwitness_dermotmulroneypattersonSILENT WITNESS: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 7 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Richard North
Patterson. Dermot Mulroney smolders and tight-lips his way as he plays defense attorney Tony Lord who
comes back to his hometown to defend a coach (Michael Cudlitz) accused of murdering one of his students. One reason Tony agrees to help his old friend is because in high school Tony was accused of killing his girlfriend, a murder that was never solved. Patterson’s novel didn’t set new ground as a legal thriller but it was a solid plot that holds up quite well in the film version. Judd Hirsch always brings a level of intelligence to any role and he does that again as Saul Ruben, a close friend and associate of Tony Lord. Silent Witness was one of Patterson’s stand-alone novels and he has plenty more that would make gripping movies.

DECK THE HALLS: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 20 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Mary Higgins Clark and daughter Carol Higgins Clark. This was the first of the mother-daughter series of holiday mysteries that introduced cleaning woman turned private-eye (and lottery winner) Alvirah Meegan (Kathy Najimy) and detective Regan Reilly (Scottie Thompson). In Deck the Hall, the women investigate the kidnapping of Regan’s father and his female driver just before the holidays. Jane Alexander plays Regan’s mother, famed mystery writer Nora Regan Reilly. This series of novels are light and charming with unmemorable but entertaining plots. And that’s exactly what the TNT movie is. But then again, maybe this is what we need for the holidays, but then again, my favorite holiday movie is The Ref.

PHOTOS: Scottie Thompson, Kathy Najimy in Deck the Halls; Dermot Mulroney in Silent Witness. Courtesy TNT

Super User 2
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 11:12

deckthehalls_scottiethompsonkathynajimyclark


Mystery novels don't always make a smooth transition to movies or television because, I believe, the scriptwriters don't respect the source material.

Want proof? Think of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr novels that turned into the film Burglar with Whoopie Goldberg.

Those books that make the smooth transition to film are because of that respect. Think Gone Baby Gone; the Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; The Town, Shutter Island. And on the smaller screen, there’s the series Dexter on Showtime and Rizzoli & Isles on TNT and just about anything on PBS.

Give TNT more credit for its series of mystery movies based on best-sellers by contemporary authors. These movies are capturing the spirit of the novels and showcasing the plots and characters that readers have long enjoyed.

Just this week it was announced that Lisa Unger’s Fragile has been picked up for this series.

Here are mini reviews of the three movies scheduled for this month.

HIDE: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 6 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Lisa Gardner. The appealing and always watchable Carla Gugino stars as Boston police detective D.D. Warren, a complicated, stoic character who has been in several of Gardner’s best sellers. Gugino perfectly captures D.D.’s aloofness, devotion to the job and her compassion. Much is made of D.D. being blonde in the novels, but we’ll take the dark-haired Gugino any day. D.D. and her team’s investigation of bodies found on a long abandoned mental hospital leads to a young woman who has been a victim of a stalker since her birth. Gardner’s novels straddle are gripping and involving, straddling that line between terrifying and gruesome. The TNT movie captures all this and this viewer hopes to see more Gardner novels on the screen, especially with Gugino and Kevin Alejandro (True Blood) as Det. Bobby Dodge.

silentwitness_dermotmulroneypattersonSILENT WITNESS: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 7 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Richard North
Patterson. Dermot Mulroney smolders and tight-lips his way as he plays defense attorney Tony Lord who
comes back to his hometown to defend a coach (Michael Cudlitz) accused of murdering one of his students. One reason Tony agrees to help his old friend is because in high school Tony was accused of killing his girlfriend, a murder that was never solved. Patterson’s novel didn’t set new ground as a legal thriller but it was a solid plot that holds up quite well in the film version. Judd Hirsch always brings a level of intelligence to any role and he does that again as Saul Ruben, a close friend and associate of Tony Lord. Silent Witness was one of Patterson’s stand-alone novels and he has plenty more that would make gripping movies.

DECK THE HALLS: Airs at 9 pm Dec. 20 with frequent encores; based on the novel by Mary Higgins Clark and daughter Carol Higgins Clark. This was the first of the mother-daughter series of holiday mysteries that introduced cleaning woman turned private-eye (and lottery winner) Alvirah Meegan (Kathy Najimy) and detective Regan Reilly (Scottie Thompson). In Deck the Hall, the women investigate the kidnapping of Regan’s father and his female driver just before the holidays. Jane Alexander plays Regan’s mother, famed mystery writer Nora Regan Reilly. This series of novels are light and charming with unmemorable but entertaining plots. And that’s exactly what the TNT movie is. But then again, maybe this is what we need for the holidays, but then again, my favorite holiday movie is The Ref.

PHOTOS: Scottie Thompson, Kathy Najimy in Deck the Halls; Dermot Mulroney in Silent Witness. Courtesy TNT

Raymond Chandler's Life on Display
Oline Cogdill

chandler_raymond1Few mystery writers or readers would question the influence that Raymond Chandler, left, has had on the genre.

His Philip Marlowe novels such as The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely are classics that are still read today, as timely as ever for his insights into the human condition, his strong plotting and his beautiful prose.

Chandler's impact also translated to the movies with his contributions to the screenplays for Double Indemnity (written with Billy Wilder) and Strangers on a Train. (For trivia buffs, who knows in what scene Chandler appeared during Double Indemnity?)

His only original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). According to several sources, the author had not written an ending for the script but the studio wanted to rush the film's production because it was rumored that the star, Alan Ladd, might have to return to the Army. Chandler agreed to finish the script only if he was drunk, which producer John Houseman agreed to. Apparently this worked because the script earned Chandler's second Academy Award nomination for screenplays.

Clues to Chandler's legacy and his influence will be on display when a sale of books and papers from his personal collection are auctioned off Dec. 13 at Sotheby's in New York.

Among the items will be a first edition of The Big Sleep, inscribed to Chandler’s wife, Cissy, and a copy of The Big Sleep dedicated by Chandler to himself, with the inscription, “For me without my compliments.”

There also will be a copy of The Blue Dahlia script; a first edition of the James Bond novel Goldfinger, inscribed to Chandler by its author, Ian Fleming; and a copy of James M. Cain’s novel Three of a Kind, with a personal note from Cain.

Super User 2
Sunday, 11 December 2011 05:12

chandler_raymond1Few mystery writers or readers would question the influence that Raymond Chandler, left, has had on the genre.

His Philip Marlowe novels such as The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely are classics that are still read today, as timely as ever for his insights into the human condition, his strong plotting and his beautiful prose.

Chandler's impact also translated to the movies with his contributions to the screenplays for Double Indemnity (written with Billy Wilder) and Strangers on a Train. (For trivia buffs, who knows in what scene Chandler appeared during Double Indemnity?)

His only original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). According to several sources, the author had not written an ending for the script but the studio wanted to rush the film's production because it was rumored that the star, Alan Ladd, might have to return to the Army. Chandler agreed to finish the script only if he was drunk, which producer John Houseman agreed to. Apparently this worked because the script earned Chandler's second Academy Award nomination for screenplays.

Clues to Chandler's legacy and his influence will be on display when a sale of books and papers from his personal collection are auctioned off Dec. 13 at Sotheby's in New York.

Among the items will be a first edition of The Big Sleep, inscribed to Chandler’s wife, Cissy, and a copy of The Big Sleep dedicated by Chandler to himself, with the inscription, “For me without my compliments.”

There also will be a copy of The Blue Dahlia script; a first edition of the James Bond novel Goldfinger, inscribed to Chandler by its author, Ian Fleming; and a copy of James M. Cain’s novel Three of a Kind, with a personal note from Cain.

Soho's International Approach
Oline Cogdill

kaaberbol_boyinsuitcaseIt's hardly news that interest in Scandinavian crime fiction has made an impact on American readers.

Sure, Stieg Larsson's trilogy had a lot to do with this. But readers wouldn't be buying these books if the stories weren't compelling.

This focus on international mysteries has been business as usual since 1987 for Soho Press.

More than any other publisher, Soho Press specializes in the unusual mystery set in foreign countries.

Sometimes, that foreign land is as close as England such as James Craig's London Calling, about a Metropolitan police inspector who navigates an election and the British political system to protect the life of the next prime minister; or Cara Black's elegant stories set in Paris, such as Murder in the Marais. Or Michael Genelin's Requiem for a Gypsy set in Bratislava, Slovakia.

At Soho Press, the exotic thrives.

To Americans that means novels such as Quentin Bates' Frozen Assets set in Iceland; Graeme Kent's Devil-Devil set in the Solomon Islands; Jassy Mackenzie's Stolen Lives set in South Africa; or Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road, which explores the Australian Outback.

But the "exoticness" of America also thrives. We go up to Alaska with Stan Jones' Village of the Ghost Bears. Or to the heart of New York City's Chinatown with Henry Chang's Red Jade.

And we get a glimpse of WWII with James R. Benn's  Billy Boyle and David Downing's Potsdam Station.


Colin Cotterill got his start at Soho with his Dr. Siri novels such as Love Songs from a Shallow Grave. Cotterill was one of the international guests of honor at this past Bouchercon.

Soho Press also has a real eye for quality.

neville_stolensoulsStuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and his follow-up Collusion made the L.A. Times Book Prize short list. (I was a judge both years). Neville's latest is Stolen Souls.

I always look forward to novels from Soho because I know that these novels are special.

Soho Press launched last month the US debut of one of Denmark's bestselling crime writers. The Boy in the Suitcase is the first collaboration of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Denmark's "queens of crime fiction."

In The Boy in the Suitcase, a nurse, who works underground helping vulnerable illegal immigrants, temporarily leaves her own family as she tries to save a three-year-old boy who's been kidnapped and found drugged, but alive in a suitcase hidden in a Copenhagen train station.

The Boy in the Suitcase is the first installment in the long-running Danish bestselling series featuring nurse Nina Borg. It was a finalist for the Scandinavian Glass Key crime fiction award.

I often pack Soho novels when I am traveling overseas and on several occasions have given a novel to a friend who would be traveling to a specific country.

Of course, the armchair traveler only has to pack these novels to visit another land.

Super User 2
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 05:12

kaaberbol_boyinsuitcaseIt's hardly news that interest in Scandinavian crime fiction has made an impact on American readers.

Sure, Stieg Larsson's trilogy had a lot to do with this. But readers wouldn't be buying these books if the stories weren't compelling.

This focus on international mysteries has been business as usual since 1987 for Soho Press.

More than any other publisher, Soho Press specializes in the unusual mystery set in foreign countries.

Sometimes, that foreign land is as close as England such as James Craig's London Calling, about a Metropolitan police inspector who navigates an election and the British political system to protect the life of the next prime minister; or Cara Black's elegant stories set in Paris, such as Murder in the Marais. Or Michael Genelin's Requiem for a Gypsy set in Bratislava, Slovakia.

At Soho Press, the exotic thrives.

To Americans that means novels such as Quentin Bates' Frozen Assets set in Iceland; Graeme Kent's Devil-Devil set in the Solomon Islands; Jassy Mackenzie's Stolen Lives set in South Africa; or Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road, which explores the Australian Outback.

But the "exoticness" of America also thrives. We go up to Alaska with Stan Jones' Village of the Ghost Bears. Or to the heart of New York City's Chinatown with Henry Chang's Red Jade.

And we get a glimpse of WWII with James R. Benn's  Billy Boyle and David Downing's Potsdam Station.


Colin Cotterill got his start at Soho with his Dr. Siri novels such as Love Songs from a Shallow Grave. Cotterill was one of the international guests of honor at this past Bouchercon.

Soho Press also has a real eye for quality.

neville_stolensoulsStuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and his follow-up Collusion made the L.A. Times Book Prize short list. (I was a judge both years). Neville's latest is Stolen Souls.

I always look forward to novels from Soho because I know that these novels are special.

Soho Press launched last month the US debut of one of Denmark's bestselling crime writers. The Boy in the Suitcase is the first collaboration of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Denmark's "queens of crime fiction."

In The Boy in the Suitcase, a nurse, who works underground helping vulnerable illegal immigrants, temporarily leaves her own family as she tries to save a three-year-old boy who's been kidnapped and found drugged, but alive in a suitcase hidden in a Copenhagen train station.

The Boy in the Suitcase is the first installment in the long-running Danish bestselling series featuring nurse Nina Borg. It was a finalist for the Scandinavian Glass Key crime fiction award.

I often pack Soho novels when I am traveling overseas and on several occasions have given a novel to a friend who would be traveling to a specific country.

Of course, the armchair traveler only has to pack these novels to visit another land.

New Readers for Harlan Coben, Jeff Abbott
Oline Cogdill

abbott_jeff

Mystery writers are among the nicest people. I have said that so many times before and probably will say it many times in the future.


Take Jeff Abbott, left, and Harlan Coben, below left.

Two nice guys who write solid crime fiction novels. Both started out writing quite good paperbacks before moving on to quite good hardcovers.

Both also have been supportive of each other throughout their careers. Panels with the two of them are non-stop laughter.

This past year, the two of them were working on young adult novels at the same coben_harlantime. Again, mutual support came up.

Several months ago, I was interviewing Jeff for a profile in Mystery Scene. That interview was in issue No. 120, Summer 2011.

During the interview, Jeff mentioned that his European publisher noticed that many teenage boys were reading his stand-alone thriller Panic about the exploits of Evan Cashier, the novel’s 24-year-old hero.

So Jeff’s publishers asked to do something radical to draw even more young readers. Could he re-imagine Panic, rewriting it to make Evan a 15-year-old school boy?

“My first thought was this was not a simple search and replace since age 24 is a lot different than being age 15,” said Jeff.

“But my sons had been begging me to write a book they could read. My oldest said, ‘If you do this, I want to read this first.’ So he and his 15-year-old cousin were my first readers.”

The result is Panic: The Ultimate Edition with new characters and different interaction between the characters. The novel is only available, at present, in Europe.

“I had a lot of fun with it and it was an invigorating experience. It was a new challenge, and I am glad to get a Young Adult book done for my sons.”

While Jeff was working on Panic, Harlan Coben also was working on Shelter, his first YA novel. Shelter continues the story of Mickey Bolitar, Myron's very bright nephew.

And Jeff's sons entered the writing process again.

"Harlan asked my sons to vote on covers of his YA book. My sons are listed as cover consultants," said Jeff.

Super User 2
Sunday, 18 December 2011 05:12

abbott_jeff

Mystery writers are among the nicest people. I have said that so many times before and probably will say it many times in the future.


Take Jeff Abbott, left, and Harlan Coben, below left.

Two nice guys who write solid crime fiction novels. Both started out writing quite good paperbacks before moving on to quite good hardcovers.

Both also have been supportive of each other throughout their careers. Panels with the two of them are non-stop laughter.

This past year, the two of them were working on young adult novels at the same coben_harlantime. Again, mutual support came up.

Several months ago, I was interviewing Jeff for a profile in Mystery Scene. That interview was in issue No. 120, Summer 2011.

During the interview, Jeff mentioned that his European publisher noticed that many teenage boys were reading his stand-alone thriller Panic about the exploits of Evan Cashier, the novel’s 24-year-old hero.

So Jeff’s publishers asked to do something radical to draw even more young readers. Could he re-imagine Panic, rewriting it to make Evan a 15-year-old school boy?

“My first thought was this was not a simple search and replace since age 24 is a lot different than being age 15,” said Jeff.

“But my sons had been begging me to write a book they could read. My oldest said, ‘If you do this, I want to read this first.’ So he and his 15-year-old cousin were my first readers.”

The result is Panic: The Ultimate Edition with new characters and different interaction between the characters. The novel is only available, at present, in Europe.

“I had a lot of fun with it and it was an invigorating experience. It was a new challenge, and I am glad to get a Young Adult book done for my sons.”

While Jeff was working on Panic, Harlan Coben also was working on Shelter, his first YA novel. Shelter continues the story of Mickey Bolitar, Myron's very bright nephew.

And Jeff's sons entered the writing process again.

"Harlan asked my sons to vote on covers of his YA book. My sons are listed as cover consultants," said Jeff.

Paul Levine's Weird Florida
Oline Cogdill
levine_paul.jpgBack in 1990, Paul Levine made his debut with To Speak for the Dead, which introduced Jake Lassiter, a
former Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer. Lassiter had a smart-mouth and a self-
deprecating personality that did him few favors.

To Speak for the Dead also introduced readers to how weird Florida could be, showing that what Carl Hiaasen wrote about a few years before was just the tip of the Sunshine State.

Levine steeped his series in details that would seem unusual outside of Florida, such as the courthouse steps being cleaned daily to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals.

Some readers might have doubted that really happens but those would be readers outside of Florida.

Once again, there are certain things you just can't make up.

I couldn't help but think about Levine and his character when this story recently appeared in the South Florida newspapers.

A North Miami Beach officer was fired, accused of trying to cast a Santeria spell over the city manager to stop him from slashing police jobs. The weapon of choice: birdseed sprinkled in the manager's office. The birdseed was believed to have mystical powers that would make the city manager "go away," reported the Miami Herald.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Except in mystery fiction.
Super User 2
Wednesday, 21 December 2011 05:12
levine_paul.jpgBack in 1990, Paul Levine made his debut with To Speak for the Dead, which introduced Jake Lassiter, a
former Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer. Lassiter had a smart-mouth and a self-
deprecating personality that did him few favors.

To Speak for the Dead also introduced readers to how weird Florida could be, showing that what Carl Hiaasen wrote about a few years before was just the tip of the Sunshine State.

Levine steeped his series in details that would seem unusual outside of Florida, such as the courthouse steps being cleaned daily to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals.

Some readers might have doubted that really happens but those would be readers outside of Florida.

Once again, there are certain things you just can't make up.

I couldn't help but think about Levine and his character when this story recently appeared in the South Florida newspapers.

A North Miami Beach officer was fired, accused of trying to cast a Santeria spell over the city manager to stop him from slashing police jobs. The weapon of choice: birdseed sprinkled in the manager's office. The birdseed was believed to have mystical powers that would make the city manager "go away," reported the Miami Herald.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Except in mystery fiction.
What’s Happening With...Peter Bowen
Brian Skupin

bowen_peterPeter Bowen, author of the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries set in Montana, knew he wanted to write from a young age, but also knew he couldn’t start too early.

Photo: Dorothy Bradley

“You have to be in your middle thirties before you have anything worth saying,” he says. Bowen grew up in Montana, and moved to Michigan after finishing high school. He started a degree in fine arts but moved back to Montana before finishing.

“I couldn’t see myself graduating and becoming a professor in some East Jesus state,” he says. “So I went home and started doing whatever I had to do to feed myself.” Bowen is an accomplished guitar player and folk singer, a carpenter, and an outdoors guide.

Bowen started writing in the early ’80s but had bad luck with his first novel. “That book was bought by publishers four different times, but each time something went wrong and it’s never been published.”

Shortly thereafter Bowen found success with his Yellowstone Kelly series of historical novels, and then started writing the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries. Du Pré is a cattle inspector and sometime sheriff’s deputy, and solves crimes with a combination of local knowledge, smarts, and a soupçon of mysticism. He’s an expert fiddler, and mingles with a large and boisterous group of family and friends in bars and in Montana’s beautiful outdoors.

Du Pré is also a member of the Métis, a people of mixed Native American and European heritage who fascinate Bowen, and the books are filled with earthy dialogue in the lilting rhythms of Métis speech. He’s learned about the Métis in various ways.

“I’ve spent a lot of time among them, going to powwows. I’m considered an outsider there—I’m a blond, blue-eyed white boy—so I’ve also spent a lot of time sitting in bars listening to people talk.” Bowen doesn’t always just listen. “I’ve had to crawl out my share of bathroom windows to avoid a fight,” he admits.

The mysticism in the stories comes largely from the key character of Benetsee, a medicine man who has visions and who is often instrumental in Du Pré’s solution of a crime, or in helping someone overcome a personal obstacle. Although Benetsee is not based on a particular medicine man, Bowen is familiar with their work firsthand.

“I grew up around Indian medicine people,” says Bowen. “They know a lot of things about living that we don’t have good explanations for. They’re often unexpectedly funny, and they know things they shouldn’t.”

bowen_nailsA recurring theme is the sometimes unintended results of the work of amateur environmentalists. “A lot of them are romantics, and they get used by other people. One example is the reintroduction of the wolf to the wild. It was a Trojan horse move by the Republicans. They knew that Democrats would get blamed for any environmental issue that went wrong, so Reagan told the Park Service that if they would lobby for the wolf reintroduction, they’d get more budget. Meanwhile most people here, especially the ranchers who are hurt most by the wolf population, were asking, ‘Why do you want to turn this place into a zoo?’”

Something else that Bowen observes about Montana is the vast change in the number of people and towns. “Half the towns in Montana in the 1950s are now gone. Mainly it’s because the ranchers and lumber companies can do more work with machinery and need fewer people. There are towns here that used to have 10,000 people, and now have 400,” he says. “The last thing to go is usually the bar.”

There were 13 books in the Du Pré series, beginning with Coyote Wind in 1994, and ending with Nails 12 years later. Happily for his fans, Bowen has written the next two books in the series, and his agent is working on selling them to a new publisher.

Bowen has many ideas for more novels in the series, and is also excited about a historical novel he’s written about the wilder days of Montana during Prohibition. “In the 1920s the amount of hooch coming over the border from Canada was amazing. There were three paint factories in the town of Havre, even though there was nothing around to make paint with. Chinese immigrants, who were despised, moved to underground quarters beneath the streets and ran brothels, opium dens, and breweries. One time something went wrong, there was an explosion, and manhole covers went flying like tiddly-winks.” Bowen pauses. “Montana used to be a lot more fun.”

A Peter Bowen Reading List

Gabriel Du Pré Novels
Coyote Wind (1994)
Specimen Song (1995)
Wolf, No Wolf (1996)
Notches (1997)
Thunder Horse (1998)
Long Son (1999)
The Stick Game (2000)
Cruzatte and Maria (2001)
Ash Child (2002)
Badlands (2003)
The Tumbler (2004)
Stewball (2005)
Nails (2006)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 12 December 2011 02:12

bowen_peterAn interview with Peter Bowen, author of the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries set in Montana.

What’s Happening With... John R. Riggs
Brian Skupin

riggs_nothinshortofdyin“It was fun. I had a good ride and no regrets.”

That’s John R. Riggs talking about his mystery series starring Garth Ryland: journalist, lover, and sometime lawman in Oakalla, Wisconsin. Riggs’s series featured sharp social commentary seasoned with the fine and quirky details of small-town America. Garth owns the weekly Oakalla Reporter, and throughout the series is generally trying to meet his deadline while solving a murder and exploring a new romance. Among the many colorful characters is Ruth Krammes, the psychic housekeeper whose sharp tongue keeps Garth in line.

“In 1970 I decided I really wanted to write for a living,” says Riggs, a native Hoosier who graduated from Indiana University with bachelor and masters degrees. After school he taught high school and coached football, and started writing novels. He sent them to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. “They charged me for reading manuscripts,” remembers Riggs.

“My themes kept overriding my plot, so I asked myself how I could stick to a plot, and decided to write a mystery.” Riggs wanted to set the book in Mulberry, Indiana, where he’d grown up, but renamed it and moved it to Wisconsin, which he knew well from travels there. “I wanted to avoid lawsuits.” Riggs named the town Oakalla after a lake near his farm in Indiana.

In 1983 Riggs submitted the first Garth Ryland mystery to Dembner Books, the publishing house of Red Dembner, formerly an executive at Newsweek.

“I remember when they called. My son, who was 9 or 10, answered the phone and there was some confusion. Then I got on the line and they told me the book was accepted. It was pretty exciting and I was on my way.”

With Dembner, Riggs felt he didn’t need an agent. “Red was a straight shooter.”

The Ryland novels were extremely well reviewed, and readers enjoyed Riggs’ portrayals of Oakalla life. Any fans visiting real-life Mulberry should recognize it from his books. “Street names and places in and out of town are all based on real places in Mulberry. Garth is based on me, but he’s taller and more laid back than I am.”

Ruth Krammes is a composite. “I know several women who think they’re Ruth, and I let them think so. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble.”

After Dembner’s death the series was picked up by another publisher and eventually ran to 13 books but legal troubles and poor distribution hampered sales. Riggs re-acquired the series rights and got an agent, but no publisher wanted the 14th book in a series. Riggs then wrote the first book of a new series, but had no takers.

Throughout his writing career Riggs had other jobs. After teaching, he worked as a supervisor in a metal stamping plant, a carpenter, and a researcher at Depauw University.

riggs_killingfrost“It used to be my dream to support myself by writing. The closest I came was when Robert S. Woods purchased an option on the books.” Soap opera fans will recognize Woods as the actor who has played Bo Buchanan on One Life to Live for years. “He wanted to stretch as an actor. He took the show to all the networks, and put together several packages.” At one time Woods had producers from the shows WKRP in Cincinnati and McCloud on board. He and Riggs corresponded for years. “He told me whenever he was close, but a deal was never made. One time he said to me, ‘I wish I was a bigger star. If I was I could make this happen.’”

Throughout, Riggs never stopped writing. There are two more Garth Ryland books, and another he has ideas for. He’s also written an unpublished memoir and many essays about country life. “They’re about simple things, like cracking walnuts. I’m not sure if I’ll try to publish them.”

But he has decided to publish at least one more Garth novel. Riggs’ stepdaughter works for a vanity publisher, AuthorHouse, and is allowed to publish one book for free. “I know it’s not the best way to go, but at least this way people will know I didn’t give up on Garth.” The new book is Nothin’ Short of Dyin’ and should be out in 2011.

Asked about publishing ebooks instead of using a vanity press, Riggs agrees that it would be a good idea. “I might do that next time. But it’s hard if you don’t have high-speed Internet, and we don’t have it here [in western Indiana]. If you don’t know what that’s like, just imagine your worst nightmare.”

Riggs knows he’s had a good writing career, and is satisfied whatever happens next.

“A call like this gets all the juices flowing again, but I’ve reached a peace within myself. I’m writing for the fun of it, and I can always write anything I want.”

A John R. Riggs Reading List

The Garth Ryland Series
The Last Laugh (1984)
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (1986)
The Glory Hound (1987) (also as Hunting Ground)
Haunt of the Nightingale (1988)
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (1989)
One Man’s Poison (1991)
Dead Letter (1992)
A Dragon Lives Forever (1992)
Cold Hearts and Gentle People (1994)
Killing Frost (1995)
Snow on the Roses (1996)
He Who Waits (1997)
The Lost Scout (1998)
Nothin' Short of Dyin' (2011)

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

Teri Duerr
Monday, 12 December 2011 03:12

“It was fun. I had a good ride and no regrets.”

What’s Happening With... K.J. Erickson
Brian Skupin

erickson_kj“My father was a psychopath,” says K.J. Erickson, writer of the acclaimed Marshall Bahr series, about a divorced homicide detective in Minneapolis.


Regarding her father Erickson says, “He was a first-class liar, like John le Carré’s father. I inherited the tendency, and I think a lot of writers have this in their lineage.”

“But as soon as I learned to print I stopped lying.”

From then on Erickson was a writer, fascinated with narrative and stories. Unlike many, she has always enjoyed the process of writing itself. (“I really love it,” she emphasizes.) By the time she became Vice-President of Risk Management at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in the late 1990s, she had many fragments of books written and stored in file cabinets. Then she started thinking about becoming a professional.

“I’d been at the Federal Reserve awhile and I could see myself dying with my boots on in there.” So Erickson decided she would quit by the year 2000.

“I didn’t want to leave and then have to write a whole book, so I started right away.” Erickson wrote on weekends and had the book ready before the year 2000. A friend knew William Kent Krueger, so she sent it to his agent.

St. Martin’s eventually saw and rejected the book, but gave Erickson a detailed critique of the story’s structure.

“It was the same kind of dumb thing that I imagine first writers do all the time,” she says. “I had envisioned a series of three books, taking place over the course of years, with eight separate plotlines that didn’t converge until the third book.”

“I spent the day of the rejection kicking furniture, but in less than two months I revised the book down to a six-week time period with only two plotlines.” St. Martin’s accepted it and offered a two-book deal.

The Bahr series eventually ran to four books, each featuring Bahr, his partner and computer expert Nettie, and his son Chris, a remarkably precocious preteenager who manages his father’s life in many ways.

“I got a lot of complaints about Chris not being believable. He was based on my daughter and her best friend, and anything he did in the books, they had done, although of course I realize it’s the writer’s responsibility to make a character believable.” Erickson went to many conventions, and was questioned about Chris’ precociousness every time—except once.

“I was on a panel in California and I didn’t get the question. So at the end, I asked the audience if they didn’t find him too advanced for his age. They just looked at each other and said, ‘No, all kids in California are like that.’”

erickson_aloneatnightErickson continually referred to Marshall as “Mars” throughout the series, and she even gave him the nickname “Candy Man,” a slur bestowed by other cops who resent his close relationship with the chief of police. So it was inevitable that reviewers and publicists would refer to it as the “Mars Bahr” series. But Erickson never intended this.

“I don’t like cute names, and I never noticed the play on words until after I’d submitted the book.” The nickname, which belies the serious and suspenseful tone of the stories, may have prevented the Bahr series from reaching the audience it deserved.

By the end of Alone at Night (2004), serious changes had taken place. Mars gains full custody of Chris from his wife, he’s transferred to the Cold Case squad, and a main character dies. “If I was going to keep the series fresh, someone had to go,” says Erickson.

After that fourth book in the series, real life intervened. “I had a whole series of family crises that took me out of being able to focus on a book.”

After things settled down Erickson wrote The Thirteen Steps, a non-Bahr novel, which was rejected. “They were right,” she concedes. “There were some serious structure problems.” She plans to rewrite it for her own satisfaction.

Erickson does have a new Bahr series book in the works, tentatively called A Lesser Evil, and she expects to finish it by 2012. In this one she’s challenging herself to maintain the recently deceased character as a presence in the book.

“If you talk to people who have suffered losses, you find that they stay connected to those who have passed. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to do that in a book.”

At the same time, she’s working on a book about the last killing fog in London, in 1952, a novel supposing that Leonard and Virginia Woolf had a child, and a children’s book called The Gliss Girls.

Erickson may or may not finish or submit these books, since she is now writing mainly for her own pleasure.

“I just love stories.”

A K.J. Erickson Reading List

Marshall “Mars” Bahr Series
Third Person Singular (2001)
The Dead Survivors (2002)
The Last Witness (2003)
Alone at Night (2004)

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

Teri Duerr
Monday, 12 December 2011 03:12

“My father was a psychopath,” says K.J. Erickson, writer of the acclaimed Marshall Bahr series, about a divorced homicide detective in Minneapolis.

Two Book Picks for Last Minute Gifts
Kevin Burton Smith

For the uncle who is more Bad Santa than St. Nick, or the niece who hangs a deerstalker on the mantel in lieu of a stocking, Mystery Scene presents two new books perfect for the holiday gift list.

dorsey_whenelvesattack

When Elves Attack
by Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, 2011, $16.99

Tired of holly jollies and peace on earth and all that irritating good will towards men? For those on your list who read Christmas cards from back to front, all the better to scope out the price, nothing will echo "Bah! Humbug!" better on the Blessed Morn than this little black cloud of seasonal cynicism and gleeful political incorrectness. Tim Dorsey's gloomy little novel of murder, treachery, and button-pushing, subtitled "A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State," features Florida's very own reality-challenged serial killer/avenging angel Serge A. Storms and his "little helper" Coleman, on a sacred mission through office parties, malls, and the like to kick the tinsel out of the chronic commercialism and ho-ho hypocrisies of the holidays. Along the way, wisecracks, empty beer cans, and bodies will fall like so many snowflakes. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Click to buy

king_astudyinsherlockA Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon
Edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
Poisoned Pen Press, 2011, $29.95

For those who want something a little deeper to dip into until there's room for turkey sandwiches, what could be more Christmas-y than a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories? And you'll be pretty safe in giving your sleuth lover this one. There are no reheated leftovers—just 16 all-new stories. Edited and compiled by Laurie R. King (who knows a little about Holmesian pastiche) and Leslie S. Klinger (a Sherlockian scholar), the 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.

Click to buy

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 13 December 2011 12:12

dorsey_whenelvesattackFor the uncle who is more Bad Santa than St. Nick, or the niece who hangs a deerstalker on the mantel in lieu of a stocking, Mystery Scene presents two new books perfect for the holiday gift list.

What’s Happening With... C.C. Benison
Brian Skupin

benison_cc_2In the late 1990s Douglas Whiteway wrote three mysteries in the Her Majesty Investigates series featuring the detecting duo of Jane Bee, royal housemaid, and Queen Elizabeth herself. He used the pseudonym C.C. Benison.


“I always thought it would be fun to have a pseudonym, and my editor told me I should pick a name that started with A, B, or C, so the books would be at eye level in the bookstore. She suggested the name Blessing, and I changed it to Benison, which is an archaic version.”

Whiteway says the idea for the series came about during a conversation with his sister about Rex Stout’s books. “We were talking about how Wolfe is circumscribed in his movements, while Archie Goodwin, a kind of dogsbody, is free to roam. Certainly the Queen is very circumscribed in her movements and Jane Bee, as a housemaid and a kind of dogsbody, is not.”

He sent his idea to literary agent Janet Irving (novelist John Irving’s wife), who replied that it sounded promising, but explained he would need to actually write the book if he wanted to get a contract. “So I wrote the book, and sent it to her, and she sold it very quickly.”

Death At Buckingham Palace won the 1997 Arthur Ellis Award for best novel by a Canadian, and was followed by Death at Sandringham House and Death at Windsor Castle. Each book is set in one of the Queen’s official residences, and in each one Bee assists the Queen in solving a murder. The comic series is full of British jargon, features lots of royal lore and descriptions of the royal palaces, and has Jane meeting a great many interesting and eligible men.

Whiteway found the research easy. “I visited each site. After I finished the first draft of the first book, I walked my character through the public section of Buckingham Palace to make sure I had it right. But most of the material came from books. I think it would be hard to imagine anyone more written about than the Royal Family.”

Whiteway had timing on his side. “When I started writing the books, the Royals were extremely popular. I was catching a zeitgeist.”

He had originally envisioned a five-book series: one for each of the official Royal residences. But after the third book came out, the Princess of Wales died.

“That changed attitudes a little, and I think my publisher was unsure what the reception would be to more books.”

After that Whiteway continued his journalism career, which started years ago in Winnipeg, Manitoba, his home and near-lifelong residence. Whiteway was a member of Canada’s United Church and a student of religious studies when he wrote in to his local paper to complain about their religion column.

“I basically told them it was crap,” he says a little sheepishly. “But they agreed with me, and asked me to take it over!”

After a graduate degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, Whiteway spent a year in Toronto before returning to his hometown and a job at the Winnipeg Free Press. Later he was editor of the magazine Canada’s History and the writer-in-residence at the Winnipeg Public Library.

In 1992, before writing the Jane Bee series, Whiteway wrote a novel about a journalist. “It was very long, very dense. Something to learn on. I just put it away after I wrote it.” But Death in Cold Type was eventually published in 2005.

benison_12drummersdrummingIt was also in 2005 that Whiteway had an idea for a new mystery series about an English priest. “I went to Devon for reconnaissance, and found the perfect setting. Then in 2007 I left Canada’s History and started working on it in earnest.”

Readers will be happy to hear that Whiteway has a new three-book deal with Bantam for his Twelve Days of Christmas series, beginning with Twelve Drummers Drumming, to be released in 2011. He has a June deadline to finish Eleven Pipers Piping, and the third book will be Ten Lords a Leaping.

Whiteway says the new series is still humorous, but “I wanted to make a book that’s more psychologically rich, with deeper characterizations.” His new character is village priest Thomas Christmas, whose nickname is “Father Christmas.”

And what about Her Majesty Investigates? Will there ever be another book in the series?

Whiteway says no. “I think the time has passed. It would be hard to imagine bringing that back.”

But Jane Bee fans should not despair.

“Ms. Bee does appear in the new series. And she’s now married—to a famous person.”

A C.C. Benison (aka Douglas Whiteway) Reading List

Her Majesty Investigates Series
Death at Buckingham Palace, 1996
Death at Sandringham House, 1997
Death at Windsor Castle, 1998

Standalone Novel
Death in Cold Type, 2005

The Twelve Days of Christmas Series
Twelve Drummers Drumming, 2011

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

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 12:12

In the late 1990s Douglas Whiteway wrote three mysteries in the Her Majesty Investigates series featuring the detecting duo of Jane Bee, royal housemaid, and Queen Elizabeth herself. He used the pseudonym C.C. Benison.

My Book: Who Defines Normal?
Dennis Palumbo

palumbo_dennisIn Fever Dream, the second in my series of crime thrillers featuring psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi, my hero makes use of psychiatric diagnoses when dealing with patients. Yet he also expresses misgivings, as he did in the first novel, about the legitimacy of these clinical terms.


And for good reason. As a therapist myself, I’ve long been concerned about both the validity and reliability of psychiatric diagnoses. For one thing, the list of these mental conditions is constantly being modified by a group of psychiatrists and psychologists, who meet on a regular basis to argue about what should and shouldn’t be in the diagnostic manual used by most clinicians. Which means that the criteria for inclusion or exclusion is primarily determined by social trends, current clinical norms, and a fair amount of politics.

For example, at one time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness; now it isn’t. Conversely, among the more dubious recent additions to the list is Self-Defeating Personality Disorder.

As I see it, there’s another danger to an over-reliance on diagnostic categories; namely, the idea that every aspect of the human condition can be quantified, or reduced to an empirical statistic. In other words, does the prevalence of assigning every single behavior a clinical diagnosis mean that there’s no room for eccentricity, personal quirks, individuality? Are we just trying to define what “normal” is? And if so, are therapists really the best people to make such a determination?

palumbo_feverdreamNow I’m not suggesting that we do away with clinical diagnoses altogether. But I do believe therapists should be wary of seeing their patients only as a set of symptoms. Moreover, especially in public and private psychiatric institutions, once patients have been tagged with a diagnostic label, it’s almost impossible for them to wriggle out of it. It goes in the file. It defines them.

And inevitably, over time, that file gets bigger and bigger. So that after enough years in the system, their particular diagnosis doesn’t merely define them, or limit them. It’s what they become.

Unless, like the character Noah Frye in Fever Dream, they happen to be friends with Dr. Daniel Rinaldi. Despite being labeled a paranoid schizophrenic, it’s Noah’s personality—foul-mouthed, funny and disconcertingly intuitive—that defines him, not his diagnosis. Which is why Rinaldi would agree whole-heartedly with psychiatrist Allen Francis, who warns, “Knowing the diagnosis is not the same as knowing the patient.”

Fever Dream, Dennis Palumbo, Poisoned Pen, November 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 04:12

In Fever Dream, the second in my series of crime thrillers featuring psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi, my hero makes use of psychiatric diagnoses when dealing with patients. Yet he also expresses misgivings, as he did in the first novel, about the legitimacy of these clinical terms.

My Book: Desperate Housedogs
Sparkle Abbey

abbey_sparkle

Mary Lee Woods (left) with Sparkle and Anita Carter with Abbey.


When asked to choose a pen name for our collaboration on the Pampered Pet Mystery Series we tossed around a lot of ideas, but ultimately decided that the combination of two of our rescue pets’ names was perfect. Thus, we became Sparkle Abbey. We’d like to point out that we offered up the names of our two other pets, Chewbacca and Matisse, but our publisher was not impressed.

When the Pampered Pets series was picked up, we’d both been writing for several years. We’d been contest finalists (even won a few), and had received great feedback from some well-respected editors and agents. Still, no sale. Finally when chatting with a knowledgeable agent (okay, we admit it was over margaritas) at a conference, we were told we needed more of a hook. She suggested we browse the craft stores for ideas. There’s nothing wrong with craft or hobby mysteries. Love them. However, one big issue: We may be crafty, but we’re not craftsy. We both have crazy full-time jobs, busy family lives, and no time for hobbies. We didn’t really want to write about our families and couldn’t write about our jobs. (Not if we want to stay employed.) Suddenly it came to us—we love our pets!

Therefore our crime-solving cousins, Carolina Lamont and Melinda Langston, are in the pet biz. Caro is a former psychologist turned pet therapist and Mel owns the Bow Wow boutique. Both are former Texas beauty queens who now live in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna was a perfect setting for the series because the community has over 11,000 registered dogs; more dogs than kids. Plus, it’s a great place to go if you need to make an on-site visit for research purposes.

abbey_desperatehousedogsDesperate Housedogs, the first book in the series, features Caro who makes a house call to an exclusive gated community to help a client whose dogs have gone stark barking mad. Unfortunately for Caro (and the client) two hours later he is found dead, and as the last person to see him alive...well, you get the gist. Book Two, Get Fluffy, follows with Mel as the protagonist. After she finds her most despised client whacked in the head, Mel is knee-deep in lies, secrets, and blackmail.

We’ve adopted a different approach than most cowriters in that each author writes every other book. Sparkle writes the Caro books and Abbey writes the Mel books. We share the setting and some secondary characters and it helps that we share the same twisted sense of humor.

We’ve had fun working on this series together. Following the first two books, Caro and Mel’s adventures continue with Kitty, Kitty, Bang, Bang, and then Yip Tuck.

Desperate Housedogs, Sparkle Abbey, Bell Bridge Books, October 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 04:12

abbey_sparkle

Mary Lee Woods (left) with Sparkle and Anita Carter with Abbey.


When asked to choose a pen name for our collaboration on the Pampered Pet Mystery Series we tossed around a lot of ideas, but ultimately decided that the combination of two of our rescue pets’ names was perfect. Thus, we became Sparkle Abbey. We’d like to point out that we offered up the names of our two other pets, Chewbacca and Matisse, but our publisher was not impressed.

When the Pampered Pets series was picked up, we’d both been writing for several years. We’d been contest finalists (even won a few), and had received great feedback from some well-respected editors and agents. Still, no sale. Finally when chatting with a knowledgeable agent (okay, we admit it was over margaritas) at a conference, we were told we needed more of a hook. She suggested we browse the craft stores for ideas. There’s nothing wrong with craft or hobby mysteries. Love them. However, one big issue: We may be crafty, but we’re not craftsy. We both have crazy full-time jobs, busy family lives, and no time for hobbies. We didn’t really want to write about our families and couldn’t write about our jobs. (Not if we want to stay employed.) Suddenly it came to us—we love our pets!

Therefore our crime-solving cousins, Carolina Lamont and Melinda Langston, are in the pet biz. Caro is a former psychologist turned pet therapist and Mel owns the Bow Wow boutique. Both are former Texas beauty queens who now live in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna was a perfect setting for the series because the community has over 11,000 registered dogs; more dogs than kids. Plus, it’s a great place to go if you need to make an on-site visit for research purposes.

abbey_desperatehousedogsDesperate Housedogs, the first book in the series, features Caro who makes a house call to an exclusive gated community to help a client whose dogs have gone stark barking mad. Unfortunately for Caro (and the client) two hours later he is found dead, and as the last person to see him alive...well, you get the gist. Book Two, Get Fluffy, follows with Mel as the protagonist. After she finds her most despised client whacked in the head, Mel is knee-deep in lies, secrets, and blackmail.

We’ve adopted a different approach than most cowriters in that each author writes every other book. Sparkle writes the Caro books and Abbey writes the Mel books. We share the setting and some secondary characters and it helps that we share the same twisted sense of humor.

We’ve had fun working on this series together. Following the first two books, Caro and Mel’s adventures continue with Kitty, Kitty, Bang, Bang, and then Yip Tuck.

Desperate Housedogs, Sparkle Abbey, Bell Bridge Books, October 2011.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.