My Book: Blood Relations
Lisa M. Tillman

tillman_bloodrelationsLisa M. Tillman's TV reality

 

I received exactly one job offer when I graduated from New York University’s Dramatic Writing Program in 1988—one. It was for a trainee position with an upstart television network’s new weekly news magazine program. The job paid four dollars an hour—pretax—and would require copious amounts of overtime.

Low wages and long hours. Great.

Looking back, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had just spent four very expensive years in college studying playwriting and screenwriting, and had loans to pay and aspirations of moving out of my parents’ den, so I went with what was offered to me. My future boss said she couldn’t do anything about the pay, but assured me that the job would be “interesting.” To someone who dreamed of being a writer, “interesting” sounded pretty good.

I discovered very quickly that she wasn’t kidding about the interesting part—two hours into my first day to be exact—when I found myself pressed into a small elevator as a reporter threw a crying, screaming hissy fit, then sucker-punched her producer. Minutes later the three of us trekked out to New Jersey to interview one of the world’s foremost legal experts. Right there, on day one, I knew that this job was going to be an endless source of great material. That’s also how TV reporter Abigail Gardner, the protagonist of my first novel, Blood Relations, was born. Naturally, Abby and I share a lot of the same loves and hates about the job.

I spent over a decade in television, working my way up from trainee to production assistant and all the way to producer. During that time I met Ringo (yes, that Ringo), corresponded with a serial killer, and attended President Clinton’s nomination. I traveled a lot, and wound up spending more time in jails than anyone neither employed nor incarcerated there ever should. I interviewed detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, arson investigators, medical examiners, judges, and personal injury lawyers. I visited crime scenes, crime labs, and reviewed evidence. I went on stakeouts and even conducted undercover surveillance with a microphone hooked to my bra. With each assignment I grew a new mini-niche of expertise—polygamy, silicone breast implants, DNA evidence, Elvis—it ran a long, strange gamut. Best of all was getting to meet ordinary people who did extraordinary things—the Holocaust survivor who helped identify Nazi war criminals that had made their way to the US, or the sexual assault victim who gave public testimony of her terrible ordeal in hope of making it easier for other victims.

Work wasn’t always pleasant. I witnessed up-close the infamous media circus—the press feeding frenzy that festers around a sensational and often tragic event. You know the type—OJ or Michael Jackson—where anyone and everything is fair game as countless reporters and producers trip all over each other trying to get their piece of flesh.

I was able to use such experience in the media free-for-all in Blood Relations. Early on in the book there is a sensational crime—the daughter of a famous American political family is murdered—but this time Abby isn’t part of the group chasing the story. This time she is the story. The dead woman was her brother’s girlfriend and now Abby and her family get to feel for themselves what it’s like to be on the other side of that prying lens.

During my 12 years in television the pay may have gotten better, but the hours got worse and I had a family. Corporate downsizing and relentless travel soured what love I had left for the job. It was time to take all of these experiences—both good and bad—and put them to use. The result became Blood Relations, my first published novel.

Blood Relations, Lisa M. Tillman, Hilliard & Harris, June 2005, $28.95 / Tr. pb. $16.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #91.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 18:56:10

Lisa M. Tillman's TV reality

My Book: Bedeviling the Details
Mary Anna Evans

evans_mary_annaMary Anna Evans does her research

 

A fire chief. A communications expert who helped track O.J. and his Bronco. An illustrious archaeologist. A bunch of historical astronomers. A Biblical scholar. A writer for Archaeology magazine. The folks at the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Service’s Etowah County office. An unnamed employee of the Federal Writers’ Project. What do these people have in common? They kept me from embarrassing myself in front of America’s reading public and I am forever grateful.

My second novel, Relics, has just hit the streets. I get asked a lot of questions these days like, “Where did you get the idea for this book?” Answers like, “Uh… I forgot,” may be truthful, but that’s not the answer your friendly reader had in mind. Still, after months of writing and editing, it’s easy to forget how a book got started. Going back in time to sift through a book’s beginnings is a lot like archaeology. Since I write about an archaeologist, let me take you along with me on an exploratory dig.

The idea for Relics first began to stir when I read an article written in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. It was just a paragraph describing an isolated group of people who have lived in Alabama so long that their origins are lost to history. They have dark skin, Caucasian features, and some Native American characteristics. Local legend says that their ancestors were shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who swam to shore and intermarried with Native Americans and escaped slaves. My protagonist, Faye Longchamp, is biracial, with a smattering of Creek blood, and I knew in my bones that she would dearly love to delve into the history of a people like this. Rather than muck about with the heritage of real, live people, which seemed disrespectful, I created my own isolated ethnic group and named them the Sujosa. The plot to Relics was off to a running start.

A second article, a brief news item in Archaeology magazine, caught my eye a few weeks later. Some artists in Mali had found a creative way to enhance the value of their work. Exactly how they did that will have to remain a secret, because the science behind their nefarious activities is the key to an important crime that Faye has to solve. Suffice it to say that the illustrious archaeologist who vets my work for accuracy called that plot wrinkle “Absolutely ingenious!” Picture me blowing kisses in the general direction of Mali.

evans_relicsThen things began to get tricky. I needed detailed information on how suspicious fires are investigated. (This is no big plot spoiler. A raging house fire is splashed across the cover of Relics.) And I needed to know specifically how fire investigations are organized in Alabama. I now count among my friends a fire chief in Montgomery who’s accustomed to picking up his phone and fielding questions like “Would an arson dog react to the scent of perchloroethene?” (In case that question has been keeping you awake at night, the answer is no.)

Before I zapped the final manuscript off to my editor, my team of friendly experts had helped me figure out where cell phones might work in the Sujosa’s remote valley. I now have the text to a critical passage in the Song of Songs in five different 16th-century Biblical translations. I know where the Confederate army mined scarce metals. And I know what night the stars fell on Alabama.

Could I have written Relics without all this esoteric information? Sure. But I take a lot of pride in getting the details right. When the Florida Historical Society awarded my first book, Artifacts, their Florida Literature Award, I had a moment of sheer terror. “Historians?” I squawked. “Don’t they know I made this stuff up?”

Once I was reassured that the award was, indeed, for fiction, I relaxed. I like to pepper my books with facts. And when it comes time to simply make something up, I still do my research because it’s important to me that my fiction could have happened. I think this kind of attention to detail makes it easier for readers to sink into a book, letting themselves be engulfed by a new world.

I look forward to sharing Faye and her world with you.

Relics, Mary Anna Evans, Poisoned Pen Press, August 2005

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #91.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 19:19:24

Mary Anna Evans does her research

My Book: Gift of the Outsider
Ami Elizabeth Reeves

reeves_ami_elizabethAmi Elizabeth Reeves on the virtues of Arkansas

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A shy first-grader moves from the San Francisco area to Prairie Grove, Arkansas. She doesn’t understand the nuances of the dialect, can’t comprehend the cow in the yard next door, tastes a snowflake on her tongue for the first time. The girl withdraws and begins writing.

This girl, of course, was me.

Desperate to fit in, I made cheat sheets to help with the unique northwest Arkansas accent. “Pah” translates “pie.” “Y’uns” means “you” or sometimes “you and all your friends,” depending on inflection and context. When Miss Carney calls out the word “arn,” she means for students to spell “iron” on the test.

My father was a writer, and from him I learned to make sense of the world by scribbling things down. To give voice to the sour odor of chicken feed and the rawness of being ostracized from a hopscotch game. Deconstruct your parents arguing in the garage. Peel things apart like an onion until you cry. Lay out noun, verb, adjective, and rearrange until you see translucence in the everyday.

Arkansas: Where else do Fortune 500 CEOs and philosophy majors mingle at the same college bar? Where else can you drive through a town tagged by a “Population 499” sign only to round a hairpin corner and find a 20,000-square-foot mansion hulking at the edge of the woods? Where else would you find a ninth-grade boyfriend who draws you pictures of moonshine stills? Arkansas is all this—a mystery, a challenge, a place that never accepted an outsider like me.

reeves_nextofkinThe fictional burg of Delight sprang into being as a place where I could create mayhem with my keystrokes, order the sun to rise and fall over my own organized chaos, explore the Elizabethan rhythm of Arkansas speech patterns, and solve the deaths of locals by exposing a small town’s deepest secrets. At the same time, it’s a celebration of the inherent beauty of quiet streams and fireflies and the violet haze tinting the Ozark Mountains at dusk.

I married into a dyed-in-the-wool Arkansas family, left the mountains at age 27 for a somewhat less charismatic neighboring state, and still found myself longing for inclusion. Next of Kin is an attempt to fight my way into Arkansas’ approval.

So, here it is, a gift with intentions laid bare. Next of Kin holds up a mirror to a way of life that is fading across the South in hopes of lending credence to its chronicler. It is the reflection and remembrance of a culture I was fortunate enough to witness for a brief time, albeit as an outsider who cheated on first-grade spelling tests and talked funny.

Next of Kin by Ami Elizabeth Reeves. Avalon, Aug. 2005, $21.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #91.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 21:47:15

Ami Elizabeth Reeves on the virtues of Arkansas

My Book: Murder, We Wrote
Nancy Pate

cousins_carolineNancy Pate, of Caroline Cousins, details her writing team's working conditions

 

No blood was spilled in the writing of Marsh Madness. This fact causes some amazement among the friends and family of Caroline Cousins, a pseudonym for the writing team of me and my cousins, Meg Herndon and Gail Greer. When our first novel, Fiddle Dee Death, was published in June 2003 and we embarked on a two-week promotional tour of the South with plans to outline a second mystery, those who knew us well just shook their heads. Gail’s husband Jeff went so far as to predict, “There may not be a sequel, but there could be another murder.’’

Ha! Caroline Cousins returns in June 2005 with Marsh Madness, proof not only that three women can travel for two weeks in a van and still be speaking at trip’s end, but that they also can write another book together without violence.

But not without incident. Otherwise, where would we get our material? We hadn’t been on the road long in the silver Turn-Around Van (as in, “Turn around, we should have gone left back there”) before we turned our attention to the next book. “So,’’ said Meg as she polished off the last of our initial supply of Cheetos, “who are we killing off this time?’’

We already had decided that the book would be a sequel to Fiddle Dee Death, featuring our alter egos, the crime-solving cousins Lindsey, Margaret Ann, and Bonnie. The setting would again be Indigo Island, a fictionalized version of Edisto Island, South Carolina, where we spent summers as children and where our parents now live on the same street.

Fiddle Dee Death takes place right before and after New Year’s Day. Because we tend to write together on holidays, we picked the end of March and Easter as the time frame for the new book. Meg, who is an independent florist, wanted there to be a wedding at Pinckney Plantation. Gail, who was an extra for the movie Cold Mountain, suggested Indigo as the set for a feature film. And as a history lover, I wanted to dig up more of the island’s unique past. Add in our mutual obsession with food and family and we had everything and more for a new book—except a plot.

We worked on that as we traveled from Wilmington to Raleigh and on to Charlotte and Columbia, signing books and greeting kinfolk. Our favorite conversation starter in the van—other than “Where’s the chocolate?”—was “What if?’’ Although the book was a sequel, we wanted it to stand on its own, separate from Fiddle Dee Death. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves.

At some point, maybe between Atlanta and Birmingham, we decided we wanted our characters to discover a body in a public bathroom. From then on, we conducted research. “How many stalls?’’ “I like that tile.’’ “Pass me the hand sanitizer.’’ “There’s no hook for my purse.’’ “Hang it around your neck.’’

cousins_marshmadnessWe also realized we couldn’t possibly include all the elements and characters we wanted in what we had taken to calling Marsh Madness. Compromise was in order. The wedding stayed as the main backdrop. The film set evolved into one wannabe actress who would try to steal the show as a bridesmaid. Bits of the island’s history would be mixed in with modern-day crime. We settled on a victim and a killer. Later, we added another victim and switched killers.

Driving through the Tennessee mountains during a nighttime downpour, we proposed adding a storm into the mix. “A hurricane?’’ “Not in March.’’ “A tornado?’’ “Possibly.’’ Little did we know then that Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne, as well as Tropical Storm Gustav, would add to our memories of Hurricane Hugo when writing the spring storm scenes in Marsh Madness. Those chapters were a mutual enterprise.

This brings me to the most frequently asked question about Caroline Cousins. How do three people write a book together, especially when one of them lives in another state—Florida? The short answer: an outline, email, and unlimited minutes on nights and weekends. Our main strategy, though, is divide and conquer. We brainstorm ideas and write the outline when we’re together. Then we assign research and scenes. This time, Gail worked on snakes, boats, and identity theft. Meg provided expertise on flowers and fish. I ended up with gators, poison, and illegal drugs. They emailed me what they wrote, and I put chapters together and emailed them back. We all experimented with duct tape.

Let me repeat, no blood was spilled. But there was some sweat and tears. After all, Southern summers are known for their heat and humidity. As for tears, people often cry at weddings. When Meg’s daughter Erin was married at Magnolia Plantation on Easter weekend a year ago, we all passed the Kleenex—and the bug spray. “Gnats! We need to remember the gnats!’’

Our family, our friends, and Edisto Island continue to provide us with material. I called the cousins from the island on Christmas weekend to make plans for proofing the manuscript. “Jellyfish on the beach,’’ I reported. Yes, they replied, that scene is in the book, after the storm and before the gnats. “I know,’’ I said. “But this is real.’’ I had just walked on the beach, where hundreds of jellyfish had washed up on the sand, perhaps victims of a sudden cold snap. “Life imitates art,’’ Meg said.

“I don’t know about art,’’ Gail commented, “but at least we don’t have to go pick them up before a wedding.’’

Thank heavens. We’re not good with dead bodies. Or blood. Except in books.

Caroline Cousins is a pseudonym for Nancy Pate and her “one-and-a-half-times” first cousins, sisters Meg Herndon and Gail Greer. (Their mothers are sisters, and their fathers are first cousins.) Nancy, former longtime book critic for the Orlando Sentinel, lives in Orlando, Florida. Meg, an independent wedding florist, and Gail, a designer for a floral preservation business and former plantation tour guide, live in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The trio’s first book was Fiddle Dee Death.

Marsh Madness by Caroline Cousins, John F. Blair, June 2005.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 22:12:57

Nancy Pate, of Caroline Cousins, details her writing team's working conditions

My Book: High Stakes in Silicon Valley
Maureen Robb

robb_patternsinsiliconMaureen Robb's mystery stars techies, not 'tecs

 

As the former editor of a business newspaper, I’ve often felt that Silicon Valley has all the elements for an intriguing murder mystery. With its dreamers and schemers, rogue executives, wannabe millionaires, and cocky software wizards, the Valley offers inherent drama and conflict—and then some. As a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve also been fascinated by the Valley’s new breed of techies who are intent on transforming the way we all live.

So when I decided to write my first mystery novel, I looked to the Valley. I’d already developed my series sleuth, Lea Sherwood, chef-owner of a San Francisco restaurant, and I wanted to give her a challenge worthy of her abilities. Accordingly, when a Silicon Valley CEO dies of poisoning over dinner in Patterns in Silicon, Lea must clear her name as the chief suspect in the murder of her old flame.

I found inspiration in Silicon Valley’s distinctive cast of characters: young CEOs of start-ups who sleep under their desks so as not to waste time; white-collar spies and the new class of forensic accountants who attempt to thwart them; and manic software developers who work through the night and, like vampires, shun the light of day. I was also intrigued by ultra-cool website designers; counterfeiters, blackmailers, and smugglers of assorted nationalities; and the rugged individualists for whom Silicon Valley is the modern equivalent of the Gold Rush.

Friends who work in the Valley unwittingly contributed to the development of my characters. Harry, the irrepressible programmer in the book, for instance, shares a past as a semiprofessional magician with a friend—complete with a magician’s guillotine in his living room. The character of Paul has ideals, and gripes, in common with others I know.

As I dug into my research, I became excited by the little-known dark side of the Valley, and the opportunities it presented for plot twists. High-tech is rife with juicy trade secrets and those who would steal them (home-grown thieves as well as foreign agents bent on appropriating American technology). Silicon Valley has its creative accounting à la Enron, and it frequently pits entrepreneurs against “vulture” capitalists who provide mega-bucks seed money. It’s a pressure cooker where getting your product to market first is paramount—because winner often takes all. It’s a quirky place where even Keith Whitten, the murdered CEO, experiments with so-called smart drugs in the belief that they’ll indeed make him smarter. I found that all these issues would create conflict between the characters, provide motives for murder, and generate clues, red herrings, and innumerable plot twists and turns.

Silicon Valley—and by extension the SOMA District in San Francisco—also offered me an intriguing setting. In solving the murder, Lea must maneuver through cutting-edge cyber-cafes, funky SOMA lofts, seedy motels catering to Asian prostitutes, and eerie semiconductor plants that house space-suited workers and dangerous chemicals—and suggest diabolical methods of murder. When I wrote the frightening scene where Lea is held captive at an isolated industrial plant, I was depicting the toxic hazards I’d seen and drawing on my own uneasiness while being escorted around one such compound.

In taking on Silicon Valley, Lea plays for high stakes. In fact the book could be described as Julia Child meets The Firm. But as I learned after hours spent in the corners of restaurant kitchens watching chefs create their art, there are parallels between the Valley and San Francisco’s restaurant world. Both offer intense, competitive environments and 18-hour work days. Both produce countless casualties: few chefs or tech entrepreneurs ever rise to the top. So while the San Francisco restaurant setting in the book provides a foil to the Silicon Valley scenes, it also oddly mirrors them. Elation—and desperation—accompany anyone trying to make it in either arena.

Why haven’t more mystery novels explored the fertile soil of Silicon Valley?

I haven’t a clue.

Patterns in Silicon by Maureen Robb, Drake Valley Press, April 2005, $14.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 22:39:27

Maureen Robb's mystery stars technies, not 'tecs

My Book: One Warped Character
William E. Chambers

chambers_thetormentressWilliam E. Chambers' Tormentress begins with a cocktail

 

The world in which he dwelt was devoid of light, absent of sound, filled with pain. His body was secured by ropes to a heavy oak chair, his wrists taped tightly to its thick armrests. Fear and anger vied for emotional supremacy as Hitter Harrison thought about the beautiful woman who had promised him a world of ecstasy and delivered pain instead.

So starts my novel The Tormentress, newly published by Hilliard and Harris. The idea for this book began at a cocktail party many years ago. A highly educated, well-spoken woman whom I had met on several occasions entered the room sporting a black eye. The last time I had met her she had been nursing a limp; the time before that, a sprained hand. In spite of the cocktail I was consuming, my deductive powers flashed an alert and I asked, “What happened?”

“Someone punched me in the face,” she said.

“Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered.

“This was a mugging?”

“He didn’t take anything.”

“Last time we met…”

“Someone kicked me in the leg.”

“Same man as—”

“No.”

This woman went on to tell me about several bizarre encounters, like the time a nicely dressed lady in the subway spit in her face; or how a distinguished-looking middle-aged man flashed her as she took an evening walk; and of course the teen-age boy who walked up to her one beautiful spring night as she strolled through a pristine city park (Central or Washington Square—I forget) and stopped her for directions then grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm before walking away. Now I know some of you think I am making this up. I wish I were that smart. My final probe brought forth this conclusion. She once dated a man she thinks was in organized crime and all her troubles started after they broke up. No assassinations here. Just harassment.

I don’t know where this woman is now but her story spurred my imagination to create a much deadlier form of harasser. The Tormentress, a female killer-for-hire, uses preternatural abilities to help her succeed in her nefarious doings. First, her psychic tentacles probe the minds of frustrated people, stirring their darkest emotions and deepest hatreds. Then she contacts them telepathically and offers to avenge their perceived wrongs for a price. The more they pay her, the more elaborate the terror, torture, and murder inflicted upon her employers’ victims.

During one of these telepathic fishing expeditions, the Tormentress zeroes in on the negative vibrations emanating from the mind of Dexter Wiley, a man suffering emotional and physical handicaps. She senses how he blames his own suffering and the death of his brother on a beautiful young woman who has just married the man of her dreams. So she stokes the fires of hatred smoldering in his subconscious and offers him vengeance in a dream—for a price. When he subliminally agrees to her devilish bargain, the Tormentress sets her sights on a stunning and successful couple, book editor Jessica Ashford and her male-model bridegroom Jack. The payoff, emotionally for Dexter and monetarily for the Tormentress, is profitable indeed, as each terrifying event afflicting the Ashfords eclipses the one before.

The Tormentress by William E. Chambers, Hilliard & Harris, June 2005, $30.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 23:13:26

William E. Chambers' Tormentress begins with a cocktail

My Book: the Cat Hoarder
Clea Simon

 

simon_cleaClea Simon visits the crazy cat lady

 

Photo: Jon S. Garelick

 

How many cats is too many cats? That’s the question I was asking myself the day I visited the local “crazy cat lady.” I wasn’t looking for a horror story—I love cats! But as I made my way down the rutted country lane, a chill did begin to grow on me. How many animals would I be crowding in with, and what shape would they be in—sleek and happy or starving, sad, and mean? I knew it could go either way. My background as a journalist had driven me to dig out the facts: To learn how “crazy cat ladies,” or animal hoarders, can take in so many felines that their health, as well as their animals’ is threatened. Did you hear about the woman in San Francisco with nearly 300 cats? Or the one near me in Boston who had two apartments cleaned out—but not before sick and dying cats were found cannibalizing each other? Yup, those are cat hoarders, and I’ve written about them all.

What I was hoping was that this old woman wasn’t a hoarder, that despite the number of kitties on the premises—anywhere from 12 to 30 I’d been warned—she was just a lover of animals. Because it’s not the number of cats that makes a hoarder, I’d found out. It’s the person’s ability to take care of them and of herself, and to know when enough is enough. Some can do it, no matter if the cats number ten or 100. It’s just such a woman who now forms the central mystery character of my debut mystery, Mew Is for Murder.

simon_mewisformurderBut some can’t. And when the round little woman of the house invited me in to meet her precious pussies that day, I had my doubts. Yes, the animals I met—13 in total—all looked healthy and well fed as they clambered over her shoulders, her furniture, the kitchen counter, and me. But the persistent smell along with the old woman’s complaints about her home’s lack of heat and other amenities was worrisome. (One big giveaway of a hoarding situation is when the people neglect their own utilities in order to feed their pets.) Hoarding—and it can be done with other animals, although cats are the most common—is now seen as a form of mental illness, probably akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Men have been known to hoard, but women much more commonly become hoarders—and older women, those above 60, most of all. Visit a hoarder and you can tell that this is where a lot of the world’s anti-cat (and anti-woman) bias comes from. These are today’s “witches.”

But when the old lady started to tell me about her neighbors, particularly the mean local kids who sometimes hurt her cats, she won my sympathy. As I sat and played with two Angora-type longhairs, I began to see why she took in every stray she found. When two curled up and groomed each other in my lap, I was conquered. Maybe she wasn’t the most well-balanced woman in the world, but she was trying. These cats were her family, the source of warmth and love. She might be a crazy cat lady, but she was a human and even if her home wasn’t the warmest, it did provide shelter for the local strays as well. At any rate, she won my sympathy and a place in my first novel.

Mew Is for Murder, Poisoned Pen Press, July 2005, $24.95

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-11 23:55:04

Clea Simon visits the crazy cat lady

My Book: Where the Story Begins
Rick Mofina

mofina_rickRick Mofina makes the call

 

Several years ago, I sat in the newsroom of The Toronto Star staring at the note an editor had just given me.

I had to write about a death. A restaurant owner had died of cancer. I was to talk to his family and write his obituary, but I stared at my phone, unable to make the call.

Then I glanced around at the other student interns who were competing for a full-time job. Everyone was going full bore on their stories. Everyone except me.

I’d never interviewed anyone about a death and didn’t know if I could. It got me doubting whether I would ever become a reporter, let alone survive the paper’s tough internship program.

The Toronto Star is one of the largest newspapers in North America, legendary for demanding excellence. Ernest Hemingway, one of the paper’s feature writers, did not leave on the best terms.

As minutes ticked by, the editor returned to my desk.

“This going to be a problem for you?”

Somewhere between contemplating my phone and my future, it hit me: I was either cut out to be a reporter, or I wasn’t.

I made the call.

During my interview with the deceased man’s eldest son, I apologized so many times that he consoled me. Then I poured my heart into the piece, and it turned out to be pretty good. It was a respectful item that the man’s family liked.

It was that moment, as a rookie in The Toronto Star’s internship program, that not only launched my reporting career but also laid the foundation for me as a crime fiction author of six books. In fact, my experience as a Toronto Star intern was the inspiration for my newest thriller, The Dying Hour.

In the book, Jason Wade, a rookie reporter, is competing for a staff job in The Seattle Mirror’s internship program. He breaks the story of a missing college student whose car is found abandoned along a lonely stretch of road in the Pacific Northwest, near the Canadian border. Along the way, he makes mistakes while grappling with competition and paralyzing self-doubt, much as I did.

At the Star, I learned the reporting craft working in the suburban bureaus and the metro news desk at One Yonge Street. I covered a range of stories, including a murder trial and a takedown by the SWAT team looking for an escaped killer.

mofina_thedyinghourI also did time in the “torture chamber,” the cell-like room housing banks of chattering police scanners where you kept your ears pricked for the first hint of a story that could stop the heart of the city. Or break it. And woe to the reporter who missed anything on the Star’s scanners.

By the end of that summer I would write about death a few more times. And in a news career that would span three decades and several newsrooms, I would write about it in all of its terrible manifestations.

I’ll never forget talking to a mother hours after she’d seen her little boy killed before her eyes. Or my face-to-face interview with a murderer on death row who told me his victims visited his cell at night, haunting him from the foot of his bed.

Which brings me back to Jason Wade, the rookie crime reporter in The Dying Hour. The Seattle Mirror introduces him to the story of his life, just as The Toronto Star opened the door to the stories of mine.

For me, it started when an editor passed me a note to write about a man who had just died.

For Jason, it all begins when he breaks the story of missing Seattle college student whose car is found abandoned along a lonely highway that coils through the mist-shrouded mountains near the Canadian border.

The Dying Hour by Rick Mofina, Kensington/Pinnacle, July 2005, $6.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-12 00:33:43

Rick Mofina makes the call

My Book: Bits of Glass in the Mosaic
Julie Hyzy

hyzy_julieJulie Hyzy gets the last word

 

Although Deadly Blessings is my second novel, it’s the first in a series. It features Alex St. James, a news researcher, investigating the story of a young Polish immigrant, pregnant by a Catholic priest. When the girl winds up murdered, and the priest flees to Brazil, Alex digs deeper to discover who killed her, and what she finds causes her to question her Catholic upbringing.

Authors write what they know, and, for me at least, it’s true. Life’s brief moments lodge in my brain and my heart, like bits of glass in a mosaic. Turn them in the light and see the different colors, the shadings, the variations. What I love most about writing is being able to use these bits in my stories—both the cherished moments and the despised ones, to savor the memories and exorcise the demons.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to someone. Father Bruno, a major player in Deadly Blessings, was based on a priest from my life. I met him only twice—the night of my mother’s wake and the morning of her funeral. But his presence there left an indelible mark.

My mother’s name was Margot. It’s French, and it’s pronounced “Mar-go.” She took great pride in her name and its silent T. And the one thing that really ticked her off was when people called her "Mar-gut."

My mom and I weren’t just mother and daughter; we were friends. Losing her was like losing part of myself.

When she died, it was hard enough for my brother and me to get through the ceremonies surrounding her death, but what happened at the wake and funeral was unbearable.

As lifelong practicing Catholics, custom decreed that a priest lead the gathered mourners in prayer over Mom’s casket. But the pastor of the parish couldn’t make it, so he sent Father Bruno (not his real name) instead, an older, sour-looking guy who’d never even met my mother. He didn’t know that she volunteered on the children’s floor at the local hospital, didn’t know she used to play the clarinet, and didn’t know how much she loved butterflies. Yet he was assigned to come pray at the wake and to say the Mass of her funeral.

Two minutes into his bland and good-for-all-occasion speech in front of the casket, he’d called her “Mar-gut” about four times.

I interrupted with a little wave. “Her name is Margot,” I said, quietly correcting him.

Bruno twisted his face into a scowl and chastised me, loud enough for the people in the next chapel to hear. “It has a 'T' on the end of it.”

“Yes,” I said, “but you don’t pronounce it.”

My brother and I were seated way up front of the chapel, of course. Everyone else sat on wooden folding chairs behind us. I could feel the crowd’s breathless silence.

The priest insisted, “If there’s a ‘T’ on the end it should be Mar-gut.”

“It’s Margot,” I repeated, through now-clenched teeth.

He was arguing with me in a funeral home chapel—lecturing me as to how to pronounce my own mother’s name.

The nice thing—perhaps the only nice thing—about being the “most important mourners” at a wake, is that everyone follows your lead. (Barring certain obstinate priests, of course.) When it became apparent that this ignorant man would rather debate me than do what he was supposed to do—offer us some measure of peace—I decided that the prayers were over.

hyzy_deadlyblessingsAnd not just for that night.

“Stand up,” I whispered to my brother.

He stood.

I stood.

And of course, the rest of the congregation did, too.

Growing up as a good Catholic girl from Chicago’s South Side, I’d followed every rule mandated by the nuns and priests who populated my life. Religiously.

But that was a turning point for me, and I began to question the things I’d been brought up not to question.

My experience with Father Bruno isn’t the only reason I wrote Deadly Blessings, but as a writer I get to take what’s real to me, whether it has the power to make me angry, or happy, or touch my heart, and turn it into fiction to share with the rest of the world. I love it. It’s empowering.

The day of my mom’s funeral, Father Bruno said the Mass. I’d complained to the funeral director, so he used my mother’s name correctly about ten times at the church and then again at the graveside.

But then, at the very last prayer, as he commended my mom’s soul to peaceful eternity, he glanced up, smirked at me, then cast his final blessings on “Mar-gut.”

He may have gotten his last word in, but now I get mine.

Father Bruno, wherever you are, I hope you enjoy Deadly Blessings.

Deadly Blessings by Julie Hyzy, Five Star, June 2005, $25.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-12 00:45:43

Julie Hyzy gets the last word

My Book: Sources of Inspiration
Michael A. Black

black_michaelMichael A. Black salutes the veterans

 

From top: the author dons his gloves; Tony Carduff, a retired Chicago policeman; the author’s father, Andy Black (front row, left), with members of his gunnery gang in 1943.

The real Tony Carduff towered over my six-one, even though he’d long since retired from the Chicago Police Department. Tony’d been on the USS Fuller in World War II, along with my dad, Andrew F. Black, and a bunch of other guys from Chi-town. They called themselves “The Chicago Gangsters.” The Fuller was a supply ship, but she won seven battle stars, participating in the battles of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and several other battles in the South Pacific theater.

My father, like so many veterans of the Second World War, never said much about his war experiences, even after I came back from my own “overseas adventure” a generation later. It wasn’t until after he retired and I started making an occasional breakfast meeting with him and his old navy cronies that I heard some of their stories. That’s where I initially met Tony Carduff.

black_carduffThe first thing you noticed about him was his size and friendly disposition. He’d been on the Chicago PD for many years, finally pulling the pin when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 62. After he found out I was a cop, he shared some police stories with me, mentioning that he was still taking down doors with the raid team right up until he left. From the look of him, I never doubted it. Every time the guys would get together for their regular Thursday morning meeting at a local restaurant, Tony would always ask me, “How are things on the south end?” referring to the area where I worked.

About this time, back in 1992, we experienced what came to be known as “The Great Chicago Flood.” Some construction workers were sinking support beams for a new bridge over the Chicago River at Kinsey Street. One of the beams pierced the network of tunnels 40 feet below the street, and the river began rushing in.

Once upon a time, these tunnels had been used to move coal around under the tall buildings of the downtown section known as “The Loop.” After the old coal furnaces were discontinued, city engineers found a new use for the tunnels: housing all the electrical and telephone wires for the superstructures. Suddenly, all power and communications ceased, and the business hub at the heart of the city was shut down. As I watched the mass evacuation on TV, I was fascinated by the story. A couple of knuckleheads had inadvertently shut down the “city that works.” And although the streets topside were dry as a bone, practically every basement in a several square block area of the Loop was flooded to some degree. The television crews broadcast pictures of the clean-up efforts going on around the clock, as the area was cordoned of by an army of coppers. But as I watched the cacophonous symphony of the spewing pumps, something else occurred to me.

black_fatherThis would be the perfect time for someone to knock over one of the big, downtown banks.

And thus, the germ of plot for The Heist was born. It roiled around in my head for years, like a grain of sand gathering enough glimmer to turn into a pearl. My friend and mentor, Sara Paretsky, wrote a fabulous V.I. Warshawski novel (Tunnel Vision) about the flood, but my story still stuck with me. As the characters came to life, I scribbled down scene after scene. I seldom went anywhere without a pen and paper, and even bought a small tape recorder to preserve the ideas that sprang forth while I drove to and from work. I knew I wanted Tony to be one of the characters. And what would a Chicago caper book be without the Outfit rearing its ugly head? Little by little, the plot kept unfolding for me.

Finally, it was time to sit down and write it all out. Now, my Tony character is not a direct copy of the man I’d come to know and respect; this was, after all, fiction, so I couldn’t resist tweaking and changing things. There’s a lot of the real Tony Carduff, as I remembered him, in my Tony. There’s a bit of my dad in him, too. I began writing The Heist shortly after my mom passed away, so one of the themes of the novel was learning to deal with loss.

black_theheistA few years later, Tony, who always seemed larger than life to me, got sick, too. In the end, cancer did what the wartime enemy and a couple of generations of Chicago criminals couldn’t do. He never got to see the novel’s completion. My father is still with me, thank God, and when I got the advance reading copies of The Heist a few weeks ago, I showed him the dedication. It reads: “Dedicated to my Dad, to the memory of the real Tony Carduff (CPD), and the rest of the brave men who served on the USS Fuller, APA 7 during World War II.” I also dedicated the book to a police officer I knew, Detective Wally Rolniak, who was killed in the line of duty last year.

I hope that men such as Tony and Wally will look down from above, and approve of a book like The Heist.

The Heist by Michael Black, Five Star, June 2005, $25.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-12 20:15:32

Michael A. Black salutes the veterans

My Book: Diving Beneath the Surface
Anne White

white_anne_2Anne White gazes into the deep

“Me?” I say. “You talkin’ to me?”

The words are vintage De Niro, straight out of Taxi Driver, which for a woman, especially for a woman of a certain age, isn’t that easy to pull off.

The kid behind the counter at the dive shop repeats his question. “Want me to sign you up? Class starts in five days.”

I manage an answer. “Negative. Need to check my schedule.”

Whether I check my schedule or not, I’m as negative about what he’s suggesting as I am about death and taxes. This muscular Adonis, barely out of his teens, is proposing I join a scuba diving class to be held at—make that in—Lake George. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the class is starting this week, before spring gains more than a toehold on our upstate New York landscape.

“Is the ice out of the lake yet?” I ask with a small smile.

He makes a dismissive gesture. “You’ll be wearing a wet suit. You’ll be so caught up in what you’re doing, you won’t even notice the cold.”

Wanna bet?

While I’m trying to hide my cowardice, I consider how I got myself into this mess and how I can get out of it.

Go back several years. I decide to write a mystery novel, maybe even—I think confidently—a mystery series. If I set the books at Lake George, a few miles from my home, I’ll have plenty of material to draw on.

I begin with An Affinity For Murder, subtitle it A Lake George Mystery, and love every minute of the prep work. Since Georgia O’Keeffe spent 15 summers at the lake and painted some of her best-loved masterpieces there, I’ve picked a fun topic. The research means trips to libraries, museums, and art galleries (heady stuff for a librarian), and I’m delighted when Affinity is nominated as a Malice Domestic Best First Novel in 2002.

Encouraged, I forge ahead with the series. Lake George, the 32-mile-long lake, located not far from the New York/Vermont border, boasts a rich and colorful history. Since 2005 kicks off the lake’s bicenquinquagenary—a five-year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War—I’ve got history on my mind. I’ll call my second book Beneath the Surface and explore what’s under the lake. Fabulous material there, although diving through icy waters to find it is not what I had in mind.

white_beneaththesurfaceI’m psyched—just not that psyched.

I make a mental list of what someone might find on the bottom of the lake.

First: remnants of boats, with emphasis on the bateaux, or longboats, relics from the French and Indian War, many of them sunk deliberately by the British to keep them under the ice and out of the hands of the French during the winters (250 sunk in the fall of 1758 alone). The best known survivors—the Wiawaka Seven, at the southern end of the lake—are much too fragile to raise, my new friend tells me, but can be explored by divers. He’s sure I’ll want to check them out.

Right.

As he bombards me with information on the bateaux, I realize I’m getting a treasure trove of usable material. I can describe the difficulties experienced by the provincials as they build the bateaux, fill them with sinking stones, then pound holes in the bottoms to scuttle them. Not an easy task, but nowhere near as tough as diving into the icy water in the spring and lugging those sinking stones to the surface so the bateaux can be raised and readied for new battles.

And I’m complaining about diving into the lake in a wet suit.

Of course, my buddy goes on, the bateaux are only one example of what’s under the lake. Remains of boats, large and small, cannon balls, dishes and glassware from the old hotels, sunken fishing shanties and docks, even trucks and automobiles whose drivers thought the ice was thick enough to support their weight.

The dive shop gets called in for these lost vehicles, he says. Their divers use a VRS-2000, a self-contained vehicle recovery system, to raise a truck or automobile from the bottom and float it along the surface until it can be pulled out.

Fantastic stuff to include in a mystery, I agree.

And if the divers can’t locate the object, sometimes a dowser can help. Now I’m onto another super topic. A character who’s an accomplished dowser leaps full-blown into my head. He’ll explain how dowsing is the search for hidden things—certainly an appropriate subplot in a mystery—and although most of us think first of dowsing as a search for underground water, it can also be done beneath the surface of a lake and involve searching for a lost boat or vehicle.

Now I am psyched. I sign up for the scuba diving course. Of course, I do ask the last date I can withdraw and get my down payment back.

As I leave the dive shop, my mind is reeling with ideas. The more I think about the title I’ve chosen, the clearer I see how Beneath the Surface can apply not just to the lake itself, but to the happenings in my fictional world as well. My character, Mayor Loren Graham, will discover dark deeds taking place beneath the surface in the sleepy little town of Emerald Point and that discovery will put her own life at risk.

I may be a coward about scuba diving, but I’m not afraid to mangle a metaphor until it begs for mercy.

Beneath the Surface: A Lake George Mystery by Anne White, Hilliard & Harris, June 2005, hc. $28.95; pb. $16.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #90.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-12 21:12:55

Anne White gazes into the deep

My Book: Write What You Don’t Know
Tom Eslick

eslick_tom2Tom Eslick's prison visit

 

"Write what you know” is an old saw that seems at first blush like pretty good advice, but I’ve never really had much faith in it because it suggests that somehow what you know currently is all you’ll ever need.

True, I do write what I know by drawing from years of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the backdrop for my mysteries, but crafting a novel is a knotty sort of thing, and I find, more often than not, what I know proves woefully inadequate.

I realized long ago that even though I write fiction I need to base my novels on fact if I am to persuade my reader to suspend disbelief. In Deadly Kin, for example, I knew my protagonist Will Buchanan had to end up in jail because he couldn’t make bail. But what jail? I didn’t know. A little research turned up the Carroll County House of Correction. So, what’s that like? Thankfully, I didn’t know that either, but my gut told me I had to get into that jail to find out. Cold calls produced little result. I think the powers that be at the prison felt I was going to write an exposé and looked upon my request as suspicious.

I create my novels by stitching together scenes in sequence, and when my writing schedule called for the county jail scene, I still hadn’t been able to arrange a visit to the actual site. I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t you just commit a crime? That should have done the trick. I plunged forward anyway and roughed in the jail scene with whirring electronic doors slamming, interrogation rooms with one-way mirrors, smart-ass detectives—the stuff of too many uninspired TV cop shows.

eslick_mountainperilA few months passed, and my efforts finally paid of with a tour of the Carroll County House of Correction. Now, it’s not really a good idea to walk around a county jail with a tape recorder or notepad asking an inmate what it feels like to be doing ten to 20 for grand larceny, so I quietly followed my tour guide, soaking up sensory detail, listening carefully. Afterwards, I drove to a fast-food restaurant, pulled out my laptop, and produced five pages of objective impressions from memory—a jailer with a huge cartoonlike key ring; a prison originally built around a brig taken from a Navy frigate in the 1700s; chocolate brown walls and robin’s egg blue trim. No whirring doors here, no interrogation rooms with one-way mirrors. I went back and rewrote the jail scene with great excitement and confidence because I now knew what I had to know.

In the beginning stages of my latest novel, Mountain Peril, I knew two things: I wanted to set the novel on Mount Washington, and the plot would have something to do with the murder of a woman, my imagination spurred on by an actual case involving Louise Chaput, whose body was discovered near Pinkham Notch at the base of Mount Washington. Write what you know? Beyond these two ideas, I didn’t know squat. I began interviewing search and rescuers, a world-class mountaineer, a retired fish and game officer, and in a few months I had a rough outline of what I thought the story was about. These people inspired me with their experiences and set into motion a series of ideas that began to develop into the plot for the novel. What I didn’t know to begin with, they helped me to see and understand.

So, write what you know, yes, but a good deal of the satisfaction and fun of putting a novel together comes from finding out what you don’t know.

Mountain Peril by Tom Eslick, Viking, April 2005, $26.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-12 21:49:40

Tom Eslick's prison visit

Breakfast With New Authors at Malice
Oline Cogdill

malicedomestic_banner

I have been reviewing mysteries since 1991 and I can't even imagine how many novels I have read during these past years. But mysteries never fail to interest me.

As much as I enjoy the work of established authors, there is nothing like reading a debut author. There is a certain freshness, an energy and an intrigue about reading an author's first work. That debut sets the tone for the author's entire series. Choices made there affect each novel.

And that leads us to the latest crop of new authors. Naturally the Edgar, Malice, and, later, Anthony awards will make readers more aware of new authors, many of whom they haven't yet discovered.

Each year Mystery Scene does its part for new authors at the Malice Domestic Conference, April 27-29 in Bethesda, MD.

The annual Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast combines two of our favorite things, breakfast and new authors.

The New Authors Breakfast is open to all registered attendees of Malice Domestic. It will run from 7 - 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 28th. Anyone who hasn't registered for Malice but wants to should visit the Malice website.

All of these authors are registered to attend Malice and have had (or will have) their first mystery novel or non-fiction book published between the last Malice Domestic convention and the one this weekend.

bolin_direthreadsDuring this breakfast, you will get a chance to meet and chat with these new authors, many of whom you may be reading for years.

Among the 20 authors attending the breakfast will be Malice Best First Novel nominees Janet Bolin (Dire Threads), Rochelle Staab (Who Do, Voodoo?), and Kari Lee Townsend (Tempest in the Tea Leaves). Also scheduled is Linda Rodriguez, whose Every Last Secret won Minotaur Books' Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

I highly recommend Malice, a great conference that specializes in the traditional mystery.

Due to personal reasons, I haven't been able to attend for about 5 years but plan to come next year for the conference's 25th year.

I also highly recommend Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast, which is a great way to see all the debuting writers in one place.

Like any conference, Malice can get hectic with the great panels and the socializing. So often authors you wanted to see or people you wanted to speak with. . . well, it just doesn't happen.

That's why I love Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast. When I have attended, I generally took notes about which authors I wanted to keep an eye on.

By the way, this year's batch is quite good. I have already read a couple of the authors for May reviews.

Authors scheduled to attend the breakfast are:

Sparkle Abbey: Desperate Housedogs
Esri Allbritten: Chihuahua of the Baskervilles
Lucy Arlington: Buried in a Book
Janet Bolin: Dire Threads
Mollie Cox Bryan: Scrapbook of Secrets
Leslie Ann Budewitz: Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure
Erika Chase: A Killer Read
Jacqueline Corcoran: A Month of Sundays
A. B. Emrys: Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel
Debra H. Goldstein: Maze in Blue
Darrell James: Nazareth Child
Michelle L. Johnson: The Footloose Killer
Alma Katsu: The Taker
Matthew J. Kirby: Icefall
Liz Lipperman: Liver Let Die
Jennifer McAndrews: Deadly Farce
Marie Moore: Shore Excursion
Cathy Perkins: The Professor
Linda Rodriguez: Every Last Secret
Rochelle Staab: Who Do, Voodoo?
Dorothy St. James: Flowerbed of State
Lane Stone: Current Affairs
Kari Lee Townsend: Tempest in the Tea Leaves
Lisa Wysocky: The Opium Equation

 

Super User
2012-04-24 20:04:01

malicedomestic_banner

I have been reviewing mysteries since 1991 and I can't even imagine how many novels I have read during these past years. But mysteries never fail to interest me.

As much as I enjoy the work of established authors, there is nothing like reading a debut author. There is a certain freshness, an energy and an intrigue about reading an author's first work. That debut sets the tone for the author's entire series. Choices made there affect each novel.

And that leads us to the latest crop of new authors. Naturally the Edgar, Malice, and, later, Anthony awards will make readers more aware of new authors, many of whom they haven't yet discovered.

Each year Mystery Scene does its part for new authors at the Malice Domestic Conference, April 27-29 in Bethesda, MD.

The annual Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast combines two of our favorite things, breakfast and new authors.

The New Authors Breakfast is open to all registered attendees of Malice Domestic. It will run from 7 - 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 28th. Anyone who hasn't registered for Malice but wants to should visit the Malice website.

All of these authors are registered to attend Malice and have had (or will have) their first mystery novel or non-fiction book published between the last Malice Domestic convention and the one this weekend.

bolin_direthreadsDuring this breakfast, you will get a chance to meet and chat with these new authors, many of whom you may be reading for years.

Among the 20 authors attending the breakfast will be Malice Best First Novel nominees Janet Bolin (Dire Threads), Rochelle Staab (Who Do, Voodoo?), and Kari Lee Townsend (Tempest in the Tea Leaves). Also scheduled is Linda Rodriguez, whose Every Last Secret won Minotaur Books' Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

I highly recommend Malice, a great conference that specializes in the traditional mystery.

Due to personal reasons, I haven't been able to attend for about 5 years but plan to come next year for the conference's 25th year.

I also highly recommend Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast, which is a great way to see all the debuting writers in one place.

Like any conference, Malice can get hectic with the great panels and the socializing. So often authors you wanted to see or people you wanted to speak with. . . well, it just doesn't happen.

That's why I love Mystery Scene's New Authors Breakfast. When I have attended, I generally took notes about which authors I wanted to keep an eye on.

By the way, this year's batch is quite good. I have already read a couple of the authors for May reviews.

Authors scheduled to attend the breakfast are:

Sparkle Abbey: Desperate Housedogs
Esri Allbritten: Chihuahua of the Baskervilles
Lucy Arlington: Buried in a Book
Janet Bolin: Dire Threads
Mollie Cox Bryan: Scrapbook of Secrets
Leslie Ann Budewitz: Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure
Erika Chase: A Killer Read
Jacqueline Corcoran: A Month of Sundays
A. B. Emrys: Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel
Debra H. Goldstein: Maze in Blue
Darrell James: Nazareth Child
Michelle L. Johnson: The Footloose Killer
Alma Katsu: The Taker
Matthew J. Kirby: Icefall
Liz Lipperman: Liver Let Die
Jennifer McAndrews: Deadly Farce
Marie Moore: Shore Excursion
Cathy Perkins: The Professor
Linda Rodriguez: Every Last Secret
Rochelle Staab: Who Do, Voodoo?
Dorothy St. James: Flowerbed of State
Lane Stone: Current Affairs
Kari Lee Townsend: Tempest in the Tea Leaves
Lisa Wysocky: The Opium Equation

 

Agatha Award Winners
Oline Cogdill

malice_domestic

The winners of the 2011 Agatha Awards were announced during the banquet at the Malice Domestic conference on April 28, 2012.

Here are all the nominees with the winners in red. Mystery Scene congratulates everyone who took home an Agatha and all the nominees.

 

 

2011 Agatha Awards

Best Novel:
The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis (Berkley)
Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet (Minotaur)
Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:
Dire Threads by Janet Bolin (Berkley)
Choke by Kaye George (Mainly Murder Press)
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown)
Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab (Berkley)
Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend (Berkley)

Best Non-fiction:
Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz (Linden)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks by John Curran (Harper)
On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel by A. B. Emrys (McFarland)
The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris (Ace)

Best Short Story:
"Disarming" (PDF) by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - June 2011
"Dead Eye Gravy" by Krista Davis, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
"Palace by the Lake" by Daryl Wood Gerber, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
"Truth and Consequences" by Barb Goffman, Mystery Times Ten (Buddhapuss Ink)
"The Itinerary" by Roberta Isleib, MWA Presents the Rich and the Dead (Grand Central Publishing)

Best Children's/Young Adult:
Shelter by Harlan Coben (Putnam)
The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein (Random House)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (EgmontUSA)
The Code Busters Club, Case #1: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner (EgmontUSA)

Best Historical Novel:
Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)
Murder Your Darlings by J.J. Murphy (Signet)
Mercury's Rise by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)
Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson (Minotaur)
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper)


Super User
2012-04-28 05:00:00

malice_domestic

The winners of the 2011 Agatha Awards were announced during the banquet at the Malice Domestic conference on April 28, 2012.

Here are all the nominees with the winners in red. Mystery Scene congratulates everyone who took home an Agatha and all the nominees.

 

 

2011 Agatha Awards

Best Novel:
The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis (Berkley)
Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet (Minotaur)
Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:
Dire Threads by Janet Bolin (Berkley)
Choke by Kaye George (Mainly Murder Press)
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown)
Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab (Berkley)
Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend (Berkley)

Best Non-fiction:
Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz (Linden)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks by John Curran (Harper)
On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel by A. B. Emrys (McFarland)
The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris (Ace)

Best Short Story:
"Disarming" (PDF) by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - June 2011
"Dead Eye Gravy" by Krista Davis, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
"Palace by the Lake" by Daryl Wood Gerber, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
"Truth and Consequences" by Barb Goffman, Mystery Times Ten (Buddhapuss Ink)
"The Itinerary" by Roberta Isleib, MWA Presents the Rich and the Dead (Grand Central Publishing)

Best Children's/Young Adult:
Shelter by Harlan Coben (Putnam)
The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein (Random House)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (EgmontUSA)
The Code Busters Club, Case #1: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner (EgmontUSA)

Best Historical Novel:
Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)
Murder Your Darlings by J.J. Murphy (Signet)
Mercury's Rise by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)
Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson (Minotaur)
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper)


2012 Edgar Award Winners
Oline Cogdill

mwa_logoThe Mystery Writers of America announced its 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards on April 26, 2012, during its 66th gala banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City. The awards were announced on the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

Mystery Scene congratulates everyone who took home an Edgar Award and each of the nominees.

Here are the winners, marked in bold, and all the nominees.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRAND MASTER
Martha Grimes

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

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

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

Super User
2012-04-26 05:00:00

mwa_logoThe Mystery Writers of America announced its 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Awards on April 26, 2012, during its 66th gala banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City. The awards were announced on the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

Mystery Scene congratulates everyone who took home an Edgar Award and each of the nominees.

Here are the winners, marked in bold, and all the nominees.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRAND MASTER
Martha Grimes

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

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

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

Lisa Gardner: Catch the Rest of the Story
Oline Cogdill

gardnerlisa_catchme2Most times the only way an author expands a story is in a sequel. Once the novel is published, there is no going back.

But Lisa Gardner had a different plan.

For her latest novel, Catch Me, Gardner had written a scene she was quite proud of, showcasing the work of a dispatch operator, which is the job of her character Charlene "Charlie" Rosalind Carter Grant.

Gardner had wanted to highlight the multitasking that this job requires. But no matter how good, the scene just wouldn't fit.

And that's what websites are for.

So Gardner is offering her readers a bonus chapter to Catch Me on her web site.

The chapter doesn't give away any plot points, but may inspire you to get a copy of the novel if you haven't read Catch Me.

Lisa Gardner also is the cover profile of the current issue of Mystery Scene. It's a good profile of this best-selling author who started her career as a novelist while still in college. I know because I wrote it.

Super User
2012-04-15 09:36:23

gardnerlisa_catchme2Most times the only way an author expands a story is in a sequel. Once the novel is published, there is no going back.

But Lisa Gardner had a different plan.

For her latest novel, Catch Me, Gardner had written a scene she was quite proud of, showcasing the work of a dispatch operator, which is the job of her character Charlene "Charlie" Rosalind Carter Grant.

Gardner had wanted to highlight the multitasking that this job requires. But no matter how good, the scene just wouldn't fit.

And that's what websites are for.

So Gardner is offering her readers a bonus chapter to Catch Me on her web site.

The chapter doesn't give away any plot points, but may inspire you to get a copy of the novel if you haven't read Catch Me.

Lisa Gardner also is the cover profile of the current issue of Mystery Scene. It's a good profile of this best-selling author who started her career as a novelist while still in college. I know because I wrote it.

The Raven: 3 Stars
Oline Cogdill

raven_cusackOne of the enduring mysteries about Edgar Allan Poe is how he spent the last week or so of his life. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, on Oct. 3, 1849, “in great distress. . . in need of immediate assistance,” according the newspaper accounts of the day. Poe would die four days later, never coherent enough to tell what had happened to him or why he kept repeating the name “Reynolds.”

So it’s quite possible--though not probable—that the father of the American detective story spent his last days helping the Baltimore police catch a serial killer who based his crimes on Poe’s macabre works as depicted in the highly entertaining movie The Raven.

And possible—though not probable—makes for an intriguing film that is resplendent with details about Poe’s life and work while capturing the spirit of the man, whose fiction and poetry have never gone out of fashion. There’s a reason why the Mystery Writers of America named its version of the Oscars after Poe; the Edgar Awards were announced just last Thursday, which may be the only reason to release The Raven now. While 2012 is the 203rd anniversary of his birth, Poe was born in January and died in October.

The Raven is set during the week before the death of Poe (played by an intriguing John Cusack). On the downside of his career, Poe is a broke, belligerent drunk, so desperate for alcohol he’s willing to get into a fight just to steal a man’s drink. His meager livelihood comes from the acid-dipped reviews he writes for the Baltimore Patriot. But even that is drying up. Instead of running Poe’s scathing review of the latest work by Longfellow, the editor runs Longfellow’s poem. “People like Longfellow,” the editor tells the ranting Poe. Poe is madly in love with Emily (a lovely Alice Eve) whose father Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) despises him. After all, would you want your daughter to marry Poe?

raven2_cusack2The murder of a woman and her daughter in a supposedly locked room is being investigated by the police. Strong-jawed Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans, Zeus in The Immortals) notices that the murder scene has an uncanny resemblance to the killings in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. The detective doesn’t suspect Poe but believes there is some connection between the author and the killer that only Poe can figure out. “We are in need of your unwholesome expertise,” says Fields. This rings even truer when another murder happens, this time with allusions to The Pit and The Pendulum, and the victim is another critic whose venomous feud with Poe was played out in the newspapers.

The violence escalates as the killer challenges the broken-down Poe to write more stories. “I’ve used up all my tricks,” says Poe, who clearly has writers’ block. The game changer is when Emily is kidnapped.

Director James McTeigue (V For Vendetta) wraps The Raven in a Gothic mist that envelopes Baltimore (actually a convincing Serbia and Hungary) as it oozes from every street and also blankets the countryside. The Raven depicts a Baltimore as moody and imbued in squalor as Poe himself. Baltimore also seems to be a city full of ravens. Ravens that swoop down in parks; ravens that flutter out of caskets; ravens that feast on carrion in the streets; ravens everywhere, especially in Poe’s mind.

And as Poe, John Cusack, a personal favorite, slips into the mindset of a drunken, out of control Poe who has pretty much
alienated everyone around him. Cusack easily sheds his High Fidelity/Grosse Pointe Blank/Say Anything persona for that of a
brilliant writer drowning himself in alcoholic haze. His devastation over how his stories are being corrupted is credible.

Scriptwriters Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston have clearly done their homework, loading The Raven with a multitude of details about on Poe and his work. For example, Poe’s last words are apparently accurately portrayed in The Raven. Yet there are a few jarring differences such as the character named Griswold. A critic named Rufus Griswold and Poe did hate each other; Griswald wrote his enemy’s obit and then did his best to turn readers against the late Poe. While the newspaper headlines scream “serial killer,” that’s a 20th century term.

Still, The Raven serves Poe and his reputation well. Poe’s work withstands the centuries. Evermore.

Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images; 111 minutes.

(And here's Poe's poem
The Raven.)

Photos: Top: John Cusack, Luke Evans; Cusack in The Raven. Photo courtesy Intrepid Pictures

Super User
2012-04-29 09:41:43

raven_cusackOne of the enduring mysteries about Edgar Allan Poe is how he spent the last week or so of his life. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, on Oct. 3, 1849, “in great distress. . . in need of immediate assistance,” according the newspaper accounts of the day. Poe would die four days later, never coherent enough to tell what had happened to him or why he kept repeating the name “Reynolds.”

So it’s quite possible--though not probable—that the father of the American detective story spent his last days helping the Baltimore police catch a serial killer who based his crimes on Poe’s macabre works as depicted in the highly entertaining movie The Raven.

And possible—though not probable—makes for an intriguing film that is resplendent with details about Poe’s life and work while capturing the spirit of the man, whose fiction and poetry have never gone out of fashion. There’s a reason why the Mystery Writers of America named its version of the Oscars after Poe; the Edgar Awards were announced just last Thursday, which may be the only reason to release The Raven now. While 2012 is the 203rd anniversary of his birth, Poe was born in January and died in October.

The Raven is set during the week before the death of Poe (played by an intriguing John Cusack). On the downside of his career, Poe is a broke, belligerent drunk, so desperate for alcohol he’s willing to get into a fight just to steal a man’s drink. His meager livelihood comes from the acid-dipped reviews he writes for the Baltimore Patriot. But even that is drying up. Instead of running Poe’s scathing review of the latest work by Longfellow, the editor runs Longfellow’s poem. “People like Longfellow,” the editor tells the ranting Poe. Poe is madly in love with Emily (a lovely Alice Eve) whose father Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) despises him. After all, would you want your daughter to marry Poe?

raven2_cusack2The murder of a woman and her daughter in a supposedly locked room is being investigated by the police. Strong-jawed Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans, Zeus in The Immortals) notices that the murder scene has an uncanny resemblance to the killings in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. The detective doesn’t suspect Poe but believes there is some connection between the author and the killer that only Poe can figure out. “We are in need of your unwholesome expertise,” says Fields. This rings even truer when another murder happens, this time with allusions to The Pit and The Pendulum, and the victim is another critic whose venomous feud with Poe was played out in the newspapers.

The violence escalates as the killer challenges the broken-down Poe to write more stories. “I’ve used up all my tricks,” says Poe, who clearly has writers’ block. The game changer is when Emily is kidnapped.

Director James McTeigue (V For Vendetta) wraps The Raven in a Gothic mist that envelopes Baltimore (actually a convincing Serbia and Hungary) as it oozes from every street and also blankets the countryside. The Raven depicts a Baltimore as moody and imbued in squalor as Poe himself. Baltimore also seems to be a city full of ravens. Ravens that swoop down in parks; ravens that flutter out of caskets; ravens that feast on carrion in the streets; ravens everywhere, especially in Poe’s mind.

And as Poe, John Cusack, a personal favorite, slips into the mindset of a drunken, out of control Poe who has pretty much
alienated everyone around him. Cusack easily sheds his High Fidelity/Grosse Pointe Blank/Say Anything persona for that of a
brilliant writer drowning himself in alcoholic haze. His devastation over how his stories are being corrupted is credible.

Scriptwriters Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston have clearly done their homework, loading The Raven with a multitude of details about on Poe and his work. For example, Poe’s last words are apparently accurately portrayed in The Raven. Yet there are a few jarring differences such as the character named Griswold. A critic named Rufus Griswold and Poe did hate each other; Griswald wrote his enemy’s obit and then did his best to turn readers against the late Poe. While the newspaper headlines scream “serial killer,” that’s a 20th century term.

Still, The Raven serves Poe and his reputation well. Poe’s work withstands the centuries. Evermore.

Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images; 111 minutes.

(And here's Poe's poem
The Raven.)

Photos: Top: John Cusack, Luke Evans; Cusack in The Raven. Photo courtesy Intrepid Pictures

Johnny Depp: the Thin Man?
Oline Cogdill

thethinman_1934The chemistry between a couple in films usually exists on its own plane. It's not something you can easily define or even plan.

It either exists or it doesn't.

And it totally exists between William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in director W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934), one of my favorite crime fiction films. The snappy conversation, the amused looks and the sly glances between the couple give the film its heart. We not only believe that this vibrant younger, wealthy woman would be attracted to this older, world-weary man but that each has found his or her soulmate. Their witty banter was as dry as the martinis they were constantly mixing.

This couple may have had twin beds, due to the film code of the times, but viewers just knew that one of those beds stayed empty much of the time.

deppjohnny_actorBased on a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett originally published in Redbook, The Thin Man features a solid crime plot as former private detective Nick Charles is hired to find the missing eccentric businessman Clyde Wynant. One glance at Wynant's horrible family makes Nick, and the audience, wonder why the man didn't disappear several years before.

Trivia buffs know that the "thin man" of the title didn't refer to Nick Charles but to Wynant. And in Hammett's novel, the couple's dog is a female schnauzer named Asta who, in the film, became a male wire fox terrier.

Hammett wrote only one Thin Man novel but it turned became the basis for six movies. By the time The Thin Man became a television series during the 1950s, the plots were becoming a bit thin. The TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk lasted only 72 episodes, from 1957-1959.

Now it looks as if Nick and Nora again will make it to the big screen. According to Deadline.com, Warner Bros. has signed director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and Johnny Depp to star in this remake. Though the status of the remake is anyone's guess. The Thin Man redux likely will be put on hold as Marshall first concentrates on the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

Until the remake is filmed, one vital part is missing.

They need Nora.

Certainly purists, and I am one of them, will decry the need for a Thin Man remake. There's nothing wrong and everything right with the original. That 78-year-old film holds up pretty well; the plot feels contemporary as do the characters.

But The Thin Man is 78 years old and maybe it is time to bring a new generation to Hammett's work. Depp is an appealing actor and Marshall an innovative director. If anyone could make it work, it may indeed be the team of Marshall-Depp.

Can a younger generation relate to the technology, such as it was back then, shown in the 1934 film? Adding smart phones, the internet, social media, etc., can enhance, not detract, from the plot. No matter how many toys, Nick Charles still has to use his brain and wits to catch the bad guys.

And there are enough age-appropirate actresses who can hold their own with Depp. We'd love to know who you think would be a good foil for Depp.

As for Asta, for him we have an idea. In the novel, Asta was a female schnauzer; in the movies, Asta was a male wire-haired terrier.

The dog's breed has been changed once, why not again? I suggest Uggie, the little scene-stealing Jack Russell from The Artist.

The chemistry would already be there between Uggie and Depp. If, that is, Depp can hold his own with Uggie. And talk about chemistry.

Photos: Top, Myrna Loy, Asta, and William Powell in The Thin Man; center, Johnny Depp

Super User
2012-06-24 09:27:09

thethinman_1934The chemistry between a couple in films usually exists on its own plane. It's not something you can easily define or even plan.

It either exists or it doesn't.

And it totally exists between William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in director W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934), one of my favorite crime fiction films. The snappy conversation, the amused looks and the sly glances between the couple give the film its heart. We not only believe that this vibrant younger, wealthy woman would be attracted to this older, world-weary man but that each has found his or her soulmate. Their witty banter was as dry as the martinis they were constantly mixing.

This couple may have had twin beds, due to the film code of the times, but viewers just knew that one of those beds stayed empty much of the time.

deppjohnny_actorBased on a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett originally published in Redbook, The Thin Man features a solid crime plot as former private detective Nick Charles is hired to find the missing eccentric businessman Clyde Wynant. One glance at Wynant's horrible family makes Nick, and the audience, wonder why the man didn't disappear several years before.

Trivia buffs know that the "thin man" of the title didn't refer to Nick Charles but to Wynant. And in Hammett's novel, the couple's dog is a female schnauzer named Asta who, in the film, became a male wire fox terrier.

Hammett wrote only one Thin Man novel but it turned became the basis for six movies. By the time The Thin Man became a television series during the 1950s, the plots were becoming a bit thin. The TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk lasted only 72 episodes, from 1957-1959.

Now it looks as if Nick and Nora again will make it to the big screen. According to Deadline.com, Warner Bros. has signed director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and Johnny Depp to star in this remake. Though the status of the remake is anyone's guess. The Thin Man redux likely will be put on hold as Marshall first concentrates on the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

Until the remake is filmed, one vital part is missing.

They need Nora.

Certainly purists, and I am one of them, will decry the need for a Thin Man remake. There's nothing wrong and everything right with the original. That 78-year-old film holds up pretty well; the plot feels contemporary as do the characters.

But The Thin Man is 78 years old and maybe it is time to bring a new generation to Hammett's work. Depp is an appealing actor and Marshall an innovative director. If anyone could make it work, it may indeed be the team of Marshall-Depp.

Can a younger generation relate to the technology, such as it was back then, shown in the 1934 film? Adding smart phones, the internet, social media, etc., can enhance, not detract, from the plot. No matter how many toys, Nick Charles still has to use his brain and wits to catch the bad guys.

And there are enough age-appropirate actresses who can hold their own with Depp. We'd love to know who you think would be a good foil for Depp.

As for Asta, for him we have an idea. In the novel, Asta was a female schnauzer; in the movies, Asta was a male wire-haired terrier.

The dog's breed has been changed once, why not again? I suggest Uggie, the little scene-stealing Jack Russell from The Artist.

The chemistry would already be there between Uggie and Depp. If, that is, Depp can hold his own with Uggie. And talk about chemistry.

Photos: Top, Myrna Loy, Asta, and William Powell in The Thin Man; center, Johnny Depp

New Sherlock Returns to Pbs
Bill Hirschman

sherlockpbs_season2Proposition: the British series Sherlock, beginning a second three-episode run on the PBS series Masterpiece Mystery on May 6, may well be the most delight-instilling television detective series ever filmed.

There may be better shows overall; Homicide, The Wire, and Luther come immediately to mind. But for material that makes you repeatedly revel in the joy of intelligence and ingenuity, little is in the class of this transmuting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics into the 21st Century.

The series does not simply update Doyle’s plotlines by injecting cell phones and horseless carriages. The show’s creators Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have invented completely new stories that are crucially informed by more modern psychiatric insights, character interaction and a troubled zeitgeist that riff on Doyle’s tales while honoring the canon.

On the rare occasions that you can see what’s coming, it’s actually a pleasure because it’s confirmation of your own intelligence. Don’t get used to it; it won’t happen often.

Yes, Sherlock, Watson, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Moriarty and Irene Adler are all present, but each is a perfectly credible modern day counterpart.

For instance, Sherlock remains a thinking machine, but here his inability to deal with fellow human beings is more pronounced, the fallout more tragic and his brilliance has a whiff of high-functioning autism. Moriarty is not simply a criminal genius, but an unnerving psychopath who indulges in crime as an exercise for his love of pure evil for its own sake. And Irene Adler’s blackmail scheme...well, it’s nothing Doyle's original editors ever contemplated.

Besides the cunnigly-constructed plotlines and incisive character explorations, one of the series’ joys is its perverse joy in finding analogs between its world and Doyle’s. As with the first episodes, it’s not remotely required to be a Sherlockian to enjoy this series, but the scores upon scores of wry meta-references and inside jokes make it infinitely more rich for members of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The depth of knowledge of the lore to reach that elevated level of appreciation means that purists like my late father would love this series. Even the titles contain both clues to the current stories and plays on the originals: such as A Scandal in Belgravia (as opposed to Bohemia), The Hounds of Baskerville (notice the plural) and The Reichenbach Fall (notice the singular).

sherlockpbs2_season2Among the dozen novel conceits is using graphics to illustrate what we have never been privy to before: the actual interior thought process of Holmes’ rapid fire ratiocination without him having to articulate them.

Each episode has deadly serious overtones, but the writers inject a good deal of gallows humor and lampoons their character’s expense. En route to testifying at a trial Watson advises Holmes at length to avoid long answers or being a smart-ass. Holmes, who acerbically alienates everyone, answers, “I’ll just be myself,” which of course is precisely what Watson is warning against.

The entire cast is back, thank goodness. Tall, slender with a mop of unruly hair and piercing eyes, the oddly good-looking Benedict Cumberbatch is simply brilliant in the title role of a man uncomfortable in the corporeal world, virtually a naïf. He disdains the occasional invasion of human emotions not simply because they cloud logic. He secretly fears them because for all his intellectual prowess, he does not understand them, especially when he feels something himself.

Martin Freeman (soon to star in The Hobbit) is a distinctly un-fuddyduddy Watson, brave, intelligent, loyal, resourceful and a surgeon who saw action in the Mideast. He is also the grease and salve that makes it possible for the decidedly asocial Holmes to function in the real world where his eccentricities in extremis would otherwise have him locked up as insane or beaten to death in an alley behind a pub—or find him a suicide out of loneliness.

The guest cast is superb from terrified Russell Tovey (he of the big ears in Being Human) to the delectable Lara Pulver (MI-5’s last season as well as Claudine Crane in True Blood) creating an indelible character as the dominatrix/master criminal Irene Adler. And there has never been a more unnerving, implacable Moriarty as Andrew Scott.

The series also benefits from deft direction and imaginative editing, especially the “wipes” when a character walks across a scene and changes the environment behind him as he crosses.

The biggest change in this series is that while cell phones and technology still play a role in the investigatory process, Holmes does not rely as heavily on a seemingly impossible command of the use of Smartphones as an instant source of data.

This Sherlock is a thoroughly thrilling exercise for thinking television viewers.

The game is afoot.


The second season of Sherlock airs at 9 pm Sundays on PBS. Check your local listings for time changes and encores.
Here are the episodes
May 6: A Scandal in Belgravia
May 13: The Hounds of Baskerville
May 20: The Reichenbach Fall

Photo: Top: Benedict Cumbersnatch, seated, as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. Center: Cumbersnatch, left, and Freeman. PBS photos

Oline Cogdill
2012-05-05 13:33:51

sherlockpbs_season2Proposition: the British series Sherlock, beginning a second three-episode run on the PBS series Masterpiece Mystery on May 6, may well be the most delight-instilling television detective series ever filmed.

There may be better shows overall; Homicide, The Wire, and Luther come immediately to mind. But for material that makes you repeatedly revel in the joy of intelligence and ingenuity, little is in the class of this transmuting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics into the 21st Century.

The series does not simply update Doyle’s plotlines by injecting cell phones and horseless carriages. The show’s creators Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have invented completely new stories that are crucially informed by more modern psychiatric insights, character interaction and a troubled zeitgeist that riff on Doyle’s tales while honoring the canon.

On the rare occasions that you can see what’s coming, it’s actually a pleasure because it’s confirmation of your own intelligence. Don’t get used to it; it won’t happen often.

Yes, Sherlock, Watson, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Moriarty and Irene Adler are all present, but each is a perfectly credible modern day counterpart.

For instance, Sherlock remains a thinking machine, but here his inability to deal with fellow human beings is more pronounced, the fallout more tragic and his brilliance has a whiff of high-functioning autism. Moriarty is not simply a criminal genius, but an unnerving psychopath who indulges in crime as an exercise for his love of pure evil for its own sake. And Irene Adler’s blackmail scheme...well, it’s nothing Doyle's original editors ever contemplated.

Besides the cunnigly-constructed plotlines and incisive character explorations, one of the series’ joys is its perverse joy in finding analogs between its world and Doyle’s. As with the first episodes, it’s not remotely required to be a Sherlockian to enjoy this series, but the scores upon scores of wry meta-references and inside jokes make it infinitely more rich for members of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The depth of knowledge of the lore to reach that elevated level of appreciation means that purists like my late father would love this series. Even the titles contain both clues to the current stories and plays on the originals: such as A Scandal in Belgravia (as opposed to Bohemia), The Hounds of Baskerville (notice the plural) and The Reichenbach Fall (notice the singular).

sherlockpbs2_season2Among the dozen novel conceits is using graphics to illustrate what we have never been privy to before: the actual interior thought process of Holmes’ rapid fire ratiocination without him having to articulate them.

Each episode has deadly serious overtones, but the writers inject a good deal of gallows humor and lampoons their character’s expense. En route to testifying at a trial Watson advises Holmes at length to avoid long answers or being a smart-ass. Holmes, who acerbically alienates everyone, answers, “I’ll just be myself,” which of course is precisely what Watson is warning against.

The entire cast is back, thank goodness. Tall, slender with a mop of unruly hair and piercing eyes, the oddly good-looking Benedict Cumberbatch is simply brilliant in the title role of a man uncomfortable in the corporeal world, virtually a naïf. He disdains the occasional invasion of human emotions not simply because they cloud logic. He secretly fears them because for all his intellectual prowess, he does not understand them, especially when he feels something himself.

Martin Freeman (soon to star in The Hobbit) is a distinctly un-fuddyduddy Watson, brave, intelligent, loyal, resourceful and a surgeon who saw action in the Mideast. He is also the grease and salve that makes it possible for the decidedly asocial Holmes to function in the real world where his eccentricities in extremis would otherwise have him locked up as insane or beaten to death in an alley behind a pub—or find him a suicide out of loneliness.

The guest cast is superb from terrified Russell Tovey (he of the big ears in Being Human) to the delectable Lara Pulver (MI-5’s last season as well as Claudine Crane in True Blood) creating an indelible character as the dominatrix/master criminal Irene Adler. And there has never been a more unnerving, implacable Moriarty as Andrew Scott.

The series also benefits from deft direction and imaginative editing, especially the “wipes” when a character walks across a scene and changes the environment behind him as he crosses.

The biggest change in this series is that while cell phones and technology still play a role in the investigatory process, Holmes does not rely as heavily on a seemingly impossible command of the use of Smartphones as an instant source of data.

This Sherlock is a thoroughly thrilling exercise for thinking television viewers.

The game is afoot.


The second season of Sherlock airs at 9 pm Sundays on PBS. Check your local listings for time changes and encores.
Here are the episodes
May 6: A Scandal in Belgravia
May 13: The Hounds of Baskerville
May 20: The Reichenbach Fall

Photo: Top: Benedict Cumbersnatch, seated, as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. Center: Cumbersnatch, left, and Freeman. PBS photos

Laurie R. King on Jane Langton's 'the Diamond in the Window'
Laurie R. King

langton_thediamondinthewindowNoble children, nutty relatives,
and magic realism

 

I must have read Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window shortly after it was published, in 1962. I was ten years old. It changed my life. The novel has everything one could possibly want in a tale: noble children, both present and long lost; a mad uncle and a beleaguered aunt; historical truth and philosophical speculation; an exotic Indian prince and the solid Americana of Concord, Massachusetts (Old North Bridge; Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott). Today, the adventure they are all caught up in would be called magical realism. Langton's deft touch manages to build a story both lighthearted and frightening—darkly, creepily frightening—and the whimsical ink drawings by Eric Blegvad are perfect (make sure you get an illustrated edition.)

If any book made me a writer, it is this one.

The amazing thing to me now is, the book holds up. Most of the fiction we loved as children goes flat under adult eyes, when cliché and bad writing make one wince, and regret. Not this one. I read it aloud to my own kids 20 years ago, I still read it from time to time, and love it. It's all about the architecture: not only the house itself—"a great wooden Gothic-Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting," where the key to the mystery is found—but the very real architecture of Eleanor and Edward's inner world. The Diamond in the Window is a child's book, and an adult's book—it is a reader's book. It is also, most emphatically, a writer's book.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews Holiday 2010 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-18 23:55:47

king_laurie_r_smallNoble children, nutty relatives, and magic realism

My Book: You Do What for a Living?
Deborah Donnelly

donnelly_deborahDeborah Donnelly considers the color of her sleuth's parachute

 

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker...wedding planner, smokejumper. Smokejumper? The joy of reading and writing the modern mystery often includes a vicarious visit to the sleuth’s oddball occupation.

My own sleuth, Carnegie Kincaid, is a wedding planner. It’s a job that offers her an ever-changing cast of stressed-out characters, and allows her creator to research brocade and buttercream instead of ballistics and blood spatters. Works for me. But in researching my fourth Wedding Planner Mystery, I fell under the spell of a downright dangerous livelihood: jumping out of airplanes to put out forest fires.

As a recent transplant to Boise, I wanted my Seattle-based sleuth to join me in Idaho for at least one book. So in Death Takes a Honeymoon, I assigned her a wedding in super-wealthy Sun Valley, with a TV star as the bridezilla-style bride. Then I cast around for some colorful work to give the bridegroom. Forest fires are a perennial threat in Idaho, and Boise is home to a smokejumper crew, so I figured that a job as a smokejumper might be interesting.

Interesting, my eye. These people are awesome. I ended up reading a dozen books, touring two smokejumper bases, and interviewing several jumpers in person. And I learned the most amazing things.

Take the physical requirements: seven pull-ups, 45 sit-ups, 25 push-ups, and running a mile and a half in under 11 minutes. And that’s the easy part, the minimum test just to enter the smokejumper training program. The job itself involves parachuting into inaccessible terrain, rappelling down from a treetop if your chute hangs up (as my victim’s does), and then working your heart out at the edge of an inferno for days and sometimes nights on end, wielding a shovel or a chainsaw or the ax-hoe hybrid called a Pulaski. (Murder weapon, anyone?)

Oh, and once the fire is contained, you pack up your hundred-pounds-plus of gear and schlep it for miles, cross-country, to the nearest road. Piece of cake.

donnelly_deathtakesahoneymoonAll this is impressive enough when strapping young men do it, but to a pre–Title IX non-athlete like me, the real revelation were the female smokejumpers. The invasion of women onto this ultra-macho turf was a radical idea back in 1981, but it’s old hat now. Picture me on a visiting-writer gig at a Boise grade school, telling the kids that my work in progress involves smokejumpers. “Can anyone tell me what a smokejumper is?” I ask them. A little hand shoots up and a little boy shrills proudly, “Yeah, my mommy!”

But eventually I had to stop researching and start plotting, and that’s when I ran into the writer’s dilemma: How many of these fascinating facts could I stuff into my story before it burst at its mysterious seams? Instead of being a background detail about the groom, smokejumping had taken center stage, with jumpers as victim, suspects, and finally rescuers, when the wedding party is trapped by fire at a remote lodge.

I worked in as much smokejumper lore as I could, and tried to capture at least some of the strength, courage, and high-spirited camaraderie of the “bros,” the affectionate moniker for men and women alike. But I couldn’t use more than a fraction of the anecdotes and details that I’d gathered.

In fact the best detail—at least the one most pertinent to Carnegie Kincaid—only came to my attention after the manuscript was out of my hands, or else I’d have rushed it straight onto the page. See the young lady in the above photograph, the one modeling the bulky jumpsuit and toting the wire-cage helmet? When Michelle took a break from fighting fires to get married, she designed and sewed her own wedding dress, a strapless white gown with a laced-up back and a ruffled, flowing skirt. She showed it to me with a grin, and I realized that the classic design had an innovative twist—the dress was made entirely from a parachute!

Death Takes a Honeymoon by Deborah Donnelly, April 2005, Bantam Dell, $5.99.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-19 18:21:43

Deborah Donnelly considers the color of her sleuth's parachute

My Book: Finding Takeo
Naomi Hirahara

hirahara_naomiNaomi Hirahara goes to the garden for Gasa-Gasa Girl

 

Finding Takeo was the working title of my second mystery, eventually named Gasa-Gasa Girl. As it turns out, doing research for the book became a search for a real-life Takeo.

This Takeo was Takeo Shiota, a Japanese immigrant who designed the famed Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City from 1914-15. I wanted to set my second book in present-day New York, because the estranged daughter of my amateur sleuth/gardener, Mas Arai, lived there and I had left their tenuous relationship hanging at the end of my first book, Summer of the Big Bachi. I also desired to expand my mystery world beyond the Japanese American community in Los Angeles, the milieu of Big Bachi, to avoid any Cabot Cove “Why is everyone getting killed off in a small village” syndrome.

Since my murder would take place in a Japanese garden, I had to investigate the Japanese-inspired landscape in New York City. My research took me to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), which also has an amazing collection of bonsai hundreds of years old. The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is still one of BBG’s crown jewels, with its serene koi pond and the majestic orange torii gate reminiscent of a much larger one in Miyajima, near Hiroshima. The pond is in the classic kokoro shape—kokoro being the Japanese language character for "spirit" or "heart." The garden is, as most Japanese-style gardens in America are, a fusion of cultural influences. The stonework on the waterfalls resemble the style found in the construction of grottoes, no doubt due to the Italian workmen who had been hired to do the hard labor.

When I visited New York City in April, the weather was extremely erratic—no surprise to the natives. As a Southern Californian who was leaving mild sunny weather, I was shocked to arrive to melting snow and a temperature of 30 degrees. An early trip to the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden revealed bare trees with tiny buds. But on our last day in Brooklyn, the temperature had risen to 80 degrees, pushing open the cherry blossoms, magnificent pink umbrellas around the placid pond. Spring had sprung.

My husband and I continued our research at the New York Public Library, where I was able to locate a document that Takeo Shiota himself had written in English in 1915 about “The Miniature Japanese Landscape.” In some ways, the language was childlike, in other ways profound: “And the older a Japanese garden, the more natural it looks, and added years serve also to increase its glories.”

hirahara_gasagasagirlThere has been surprisingly little written about Shiota’s life. His best biographer so far has been artist and architecture expert, Clay Lancaster (1917-2000), who wrote brief articles on Shiota’s work all along the East Coast. After consulting his writings, other documents and books, professors, and Japanese journalists, I hit a roadblock. No one, not even relatives in Japan, was quite sure how and exactly where he died. The only common thread was that he had spent his last days in an internment camp on the East Coast in the 1940s.

Shiota had a white wife. They had no children. Shiota had one foot in the Japanese world and one foot in the American world—and neither one embraced him totally as their own. As a result, he had no personal historian who followed and recorded intimate details of his life. That nobody really knows about his demise is a tragedy in itself.

Shiota is only a shadow historic character in my mystery, which is essentially a contemporary story with echoes in the past. I quote from Shiota’s essay in a few places; Mas’ grandson is named after the master gardener. But Shiota’s life, his risk-taking, and his interracial marriage are all reflected in the spirit and theme of Gasa-Gasa Girl. Gasa-Gasa in Japanese means “restless,” or “always moving around,” and this characteristic not only refers to Mas’ daughter, but the frenetic nature of New York, and even our ever-changing history as Americans.

As I watched mothers with children in strollers, seniors, and nuns in short, gray habits walking around the kokoro-shaped pond, I was amazed how vibrant the garden experience was to these disparate people. Even though Shiota had created this landscape masterpiece close to a hundred years ago, it is literally alive today. If only my attempts to write mysteries could have the same effect.

Gasa-Gasa Girl by Naomi Hirahara, Bantam Dell/Delta, April 2005, $12.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-19 18:58:13

Naomi Hirahara goes to the garden for Gasa-Gasa Girl

My Book: a Pinball Life
Anthony Serena

 

serena_anthonyAnthony Serena


“...be one of those young men on whom nothing is lost.”—Henry James

Great advice from an old master. I followed it, although probably not in the polite and settled way he intended: I careened through life like a flipped pinball, bouncing maniacally from one experience to another. On the other hand, not much was lost on me either.

Early on in my life, I discovered that my road would be different. I was kicked out of high school and received my diploma only after my father convinced the principal to allow my purgatorial sentence to be fulfilled by my sitting alone in an empty classroom in an empty building for the entire summer.

And so I read.

After graduation, it was then suggested that the needs of the community would dovetail nicely with mine if I joined the military. I spent the next four years on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

Again, I read.

After all this reading, I managed to graduate magna cum laude from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and, later, to attend Claremont Graduate School as a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow. The stated aims of the fellowship were to improve the quality of college professors across America, but a glimpse into the quiet rage of academicians convinced me to consider instead the offers of employment extended by both the CIA and FBI. I chose the FBI. Their offer came first.

Working for the FBI proved to be enjoyable. Mostly I chased down fugitives over rooftops, through basements, and across the fields of the northeast. Then, on Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1970, I found myself holding my seven-year-old daughter’s hand as we walked through a double row of Detroit policemen out of an elementary school that had been declared too dangerous for classes to continue. I was scheduled to spend the next ten years in Detroit.

serena_theaccidentalassassinInstead, I took employment in private industry and within two years was president of the eastern division of a public company that constructed 1,000 homes, condominiums, and retirement communities a year. For the next seven years, I made a lot of money for myself and for the company; that brought us to the attention of the New York mafia. They wanted in. I refused to pay and started carrying my .357 Magnum to work with me.

After that, I went into business for myself and have since led a private and stable life in my own architectural design and building company in the Boston area.

See what I mean about the pinball?

In addition to all this, about ten years ago I began writing a manuscript that I never quite got around to finishing. My daughter found it when we recently remodeled my office and she convinced me to take it up once again. Hence, my first novel, The FBI Murders, was put together with swatches from a patchwork career.

I am enamored with the idea of the author as “maker.” I like to create characters and move them about, put them under pressure and see how they react. Through a lack of experience and perhaps talent, my characters may not be sufficiently delineated to demonstrate this in my books, but in my mind, they are full-blown. I’ve discovered that it is an awesome responsibility to be faithful to them—not to be arbitrary or dictatorial or expedient or cruel.

At this point in my life, I don’t need the income from my writing to survive—a good thing. So I love to bring these characters—people—to life and watch them cope. I think I have been more successful at this in my second novel, The Accidental Assassin.

Altogether, it’s been a good experience. All of it.

The Accidental Assassin by Anthony Serena, Aelred Press, May 2005.

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-19 19:37:02

Anthony Serena

Spring, Issue #124 Contents
Mystery Scene

124cover_250

Features

 

Playing Chase with Thomas Perry

Jane Whitefield is a woman of action—and never more so than in Poison FlowerJane Whitefield is a woman of action—and never more so than in Poison Flower.
by Kevin Burton Smith

John Buchan

The author of The 39 Steps and the father of the modern spy thriller.
by Michael Mallory

Jane Langton

Witty cozies featuring a Harvard professor with wide-ranging intellectual interests.
by Brian Skupin

Hearing Voices

We read PI fiction as much for the voices as the stories they tell.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Reginald Hill 1936-2012

The much-admired novelist was a dominant figure in British crime writing of the last half century.
by Martin Edwards

Where the Ripped Edges Peel Away

Fierce, beautiful, startling, Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary novels explore creative genius.
by Art Taylor

Touch of Genius

An interview with Elizabeth Hand, author of Available Dark and Generation Loss.
by Paul Doiron

Anthony Shaffer: Grand Artificer of Mystery

The celebrated author of Sleuth had a long and varied career criminal career.
by Joseph Goodrich

Author Anagrams, Part III

by Kate Stine

The Red Box Mystery Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Dilys Award, Thriller Award nominations, Left Coast Crime Awards, Endeavour Morse on TV

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Gormania

Mary Astor in Act of Violence, Margaret Millar’s How Like an Angel, Hitch gets kinky in Frenzy
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Mayhem in the Hamptons
by Elizabeth Zelvin

Burnt Offerings
by Michael Lister

Bootlegging in Big Grove
by Sarah Wisseman

Drive-ins, Shootouts, & Fast Cars
by Rick McMahan


Reviews


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertising Info

Advertiser Index

Admin
2010-04-06 02:39:02

124cover_250

Features

 

Playing Chase with Thomas Perry

Jane Whitefield is a woman of action—and never more so than in Poison FlowerJane Whitefield is a woman of action—and never more so than in Poison Flower.
by Kevin Burton Smith

John Buchan

The author of The 39 Steps and the father of the modern spy thriller.
by Michael Mallory

Jane Langton

Witty cozies featuring a Harvard professor with wide-ranging intellectual interests.
by Brian Skupin

Hearing Voices

We read PI fiction as much for the voices as the stories they tell.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Reginald Hill 1936-2012

The much-admired novelist was a dominant figure in British crime writing of the last half century.
by Martin Edwards

Where the Ripped Edges Peel Away

Fierce, beautiful, startling, Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary novels explore creative genius.
by Art Taylor

Touch of Genius

An interview with Elizabeth Hand, author of Available Dark and Generation Loss.
by Paul Doiron

Anthony Shaffer: Grand Artificer of Mystery

The celebrated author of Sleuth had a long and varied career criminal career.
by Joseph Goodrich

Author Anagrams, Part III

by Kate Stine

The Red Box Mystery Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Dilys Award, Thriller Award nominations, Left Coast Crime Awards, Endeavour Morse on TV

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Gormania

Mary Astor in Act of Violence, Margaret Millar’s How Like an Angel, Hitch gets kinky in Frenzy
by Ed Gorman

New Books

Mayhem in the Hamptons
by Elizabeth Zelvin

Burnt Offerings
by Michael Lister

Bootlegging in Big Grove
by Sarah Wisseman

Drive-ins, Shootouts, & Fast Cars
by Rick McMahan


Reviews


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertising Info

Advertiser Index

My Book: Mysteries, Baseball, and the American Dream
Robert Elias

elias_robertRobert Elias' deadly diamond

 

People ask me where I got the protagonist and story for my first novel, The Deadly Tools of Ignorance: A Debs Kafka Mystery. I haven’t the faintest idea.

A budding criminologist working at a Catholic university in San Francisco? A graduate student increasingly disillusioned with academia and criminal justice, who rolls the dice and sacrifices everything for a shot at his boyhood dream—professional baseball? Where did all that come from?

Okay, it’s true that I teach politics and criminal law at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit university in that great city. And yes, I’ve had second thoughts about the lofty ideals we often associate with higher education and law enforcement. And I’ll even confess that I had a fleeting brush with professional baseball. But none of those things had any influence whatsoever on my novel.

Of course, if you believe that, then I have a nice bridge to sell you.

All right, so we’ve all had dreams. But what if you had a dream you thought you’d left behind, and then a murder gave you a second chance to pursue it? That’s where I (and my life) leave off, and my protagonist, Debs Kafka, takes over.

For a literate and worldly Renaissance man, Kafka sure has a lot of problems. His relationship with the exotic and intoxicating Nicole Vermeer is on the skids. He’s plagued with doubt about the academic path he’s chosen, though he’s only a thesis away from his PhD in criminology. His department chair has just been murdered. And he can’t stop thinking about baseball.

Kafka discovers the body of Tom Licente, a criminology professor and Catholic priest. Although horrified by the death of his university colleague, Debs feels ill-prepared to investigate the murder until he sees the police arrest an innocent man. Lured into tracking the real culprit, Kafka enlists his criminal law students in the hunt. As they narrow down the suspects, Kafka’s doubts about criminal justice quickly multiply, and he laments the politics and expediency that so often characterize American law enforcement. When Kafka finally leaves for baseball, with the murder still unsolved, he soon turns frantic when he learns that the murderer is now threatening to kill his teammate, the star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, in the final days of a tight pennant race.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Kafka has one concern after another. He wonders about tough-love philosophies and get-tough policies that only seem to make problems worse. He worries about stereotypes and double standards in the criminal law. He’s appalled by the routine lunacy in academia, and the university’s indifference to social problems. He’s shocked by the abuses in the Catholic Church and the doctrinal pressures it exerts on parochial universities. And, as a throwback, Kafka can only shake his head at a society entranced by fancy new gadgets, electronic gizmos, and shopping malls.

elias_deadlytoolsofignoranceAs his name suggests, Kafka worries about a society where things increasingly make no sense, about a culture that’s surreal, absurd, and irrationally fearful, and about a nation that seems more content with ignorance than enlightenment.

Not coincidentally, those things bother me, too. What’s happened to the dream of American society? In my teaching and previous books, I’ve pondered that question for a long time. But nonfiction social science, even when pitched toward the lay reader, has its limitations. Its findings, statistics, and analyses can’t fully illuminate the conditions faced by real people and the challenges that confront our society.

Ironically, only fiction—the unreal—can bring those experiences to life. So I took a stab in that direction, and wrote a mystery novel, which has been published thanks to the good graces of Rounder Books (the book division of the legendary Rounder Records). While the story, the characters, and the action always come first, the mystery format provided a unique and inviting structure for examining issues I had previously explored only through nonfiction. How would fictional characters confront the social problems that troubled Kafka so much? Writing that story was exhilarating: I knew where I wanted to go, but never knew—until I was finished—where I would end up.

But how does one write, fictionally, about the American dream—my central theme, after all? Among all the possibilities, what metaphor could stand up to the plate? It was a no-brainer: the dream of baseball. Linking the novel’s numerous strands is the national pastime—its lore, its culture, and its lessons for conflict, struggle, and resolution. The late Renaissance scholar and baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti said that baseball “is the last pure place where Americans can dream. This is the last great arena, the last green arena, where everybody can learn the lessons of life.”

And in The Deadly Tools of Ignorance, there are some valuable lessons to be learned. And some glimmers of hope, as well. Law enforcement professionals are increasingly questioning conventional crime policies. Liberation theology is showing the positive role religion can play in society. Academics are more and more concerned about social progress. Some people are taking back their time and lives from the lures of the postmodern world, and exploring the possibilities of a new American dream. Hell, even baseball’s getting serious, with the advent of its new drug policy.

More important, The Deadly Tools of Ignorance follows the witty and feisty Debs Kafka through the dysfunctional halls of academia, into the scandal-ridden Catholic Church, down the dizzying streets of San Francisco, and into the locker rooms of Major League Baseball. Can he fathom the chaos of these different worlds, find the culprit, and still salvage his own aspirations and stormy romance?

Imagine Good Will Hunting meets The Rookie on the Field of Dreams behind the Catholic Church. Well, maybe not quite all that. But close.

The Deadly Tools of Ignorance: A Debs Kafka Mystery by Robert Elias, Rounder Books, April 2005, $24.95.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2012-04-19 20:29:03

elias_robertRobert Elias' deadly diamond