My Book: How Pinehurst Became a Character
Roberta Isleib

isleib_roberta_smallTee time with Roberta Isleib

 

Around the time I was groping for the story of my fourth golf lover’s mystery, Fairway to Heaven, I attended a meeting in Pinehurst, North Carolina. I was whining, as writers sometimes do, about finding the right topic and setting for my next book. My ever-practical husband suggested that I jot down some notes about Pinehurst. It is, after all, the golf capital of America, site of many historic tournaments, and elegant beyond our usual vacation dreams.

In 1892, architect Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) was commissioned to design Pinehurst. The commissioner, James Tufts, had determined the area to be a “health-improving climate.” The climate is still marvelous and the town is too, if you can find it. We circled the roundabout outside the community until we were dizzy, finally veering onto the road that leads to town.

As we drove, I scribbled descriptors: quaint, charming, stately—just the kind of perfection that could provide a wonderful foil for murder. You will not find Kmart, Walmart, Jiffy Lube, 7-Eleven, even a grocery store, on the main streets of Pinehurst. (All that is tucked away backstage and out of town, accessible to the natives and subject to strict zoning regulations.)

You will find red brick buildings with green shutters, pine trees, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, white rocking chairs on porches, elegant gift shops, and the best chocolate milkshake in the world. Aside from those charms, the town’s prominent features are historic buildings: the Carolina Inn, the Holly Inn, the village chapel, the Sandhill Women’s Exchange—and a brand new spa. And just up the road lies Pinehurst No. 2, the finest and most storied golf course in America—finer even than Pebble Beach, its proponents argue. For who wouldn’t prefer lawn bowlers dressed in all white (Pinehurst) to the gaudy crashing of the Pacific on the rocks below the fairways (Pebble Beach)?

We decided to splurge on a tee time at the number two course—these fairways hosted Payne Stewart’s glorious 1999 U.S. Open win before his death in a mysterious and tragic plane crash several months later. If I did set Fairway to Heaven in Pinehurst, my characters, including LPGA golfer Cassie Burdette, would be playing this golf course—obviously I needed to be familiar with the facilities. But the health-improving weather turned foul: temperatures in the 50s and sheets of rain. So in the flexible manner of any decent mystery writer, I scheduled appointments at the spa. Surely, as the maid of honor at a Pinehurst society wedding—the scenario that was beginning to take shape in my imagination—Cassie would be sampling the spa treatments.

isleib_fairwaytoheavenOnce home in front of the computer, I realized I needed more details to capture the flavor of the town. My husband discouraged a second trip. So I subscribed to the local paper, The Pilot, for half a year while I pounded out the first draft. The special features of the village grew sharper in my mind—instead of kudos for achievements, the editors award golf scores: birdies might be offered for noteworthy community service, bogeys and double bogeys for poor zoning decisions or no-shows by public figures. Entire pages are dedicated to the interests of the village—bridge, golf, and equestrian activities, including steeplechase horse races and the popular steeplechase tailgate party and hat contest. Wedding announcements are taken very seriously, peppered with detailed descriptions of the bridal parties’ clothing, family lineage, and “courtesies”—otherwise known in the north as bridal showers.

As reported in The Pilot, the unspoiled beauty of Pinehurst has fallen victim to a press for development, spawned by retiring baby boomers. This conflict was conveniently mirrored in the news—the most controversial developer was cast as another Saddam Hussein, the wooded parcel leading into town was defended as Pinehurst’s “17-Mile Drive.” (For those of you unfamiliar with Pebble Beach in Monterey, you access the famous seaside golf course by a winding highway lined with stunning coastal views.) Excellent fodder for a mystery writer…

I shaped these bits and pieces into Fairway to Heaven, in which Cassie Burdette is playing in a three-tour tournament with her estranged father and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Her friend’s wedding preparations weave in and out of the rounds of golf, and Pinehurst poses, stately and perfect, behind it all. As Cassie observes in the lobby of the Holly Inn, the Pinehurst resort feels like another world—one that will remain long after we are gone:

“I sprawled in an upholstered wing chair by the fire. The flames crackled higher, warming the dark paneling from molasses to honey and illuminating the quotation inscribed over the fireplace: ‘Time goes, you say? Ah no! Time stays, we go.’ Harry Austin Dobson.”

Fairway to Heaven by Roberta Isleib, Berkley Prime Crime, March 2005.

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

Teri Duerr
2012-04-19 20:49:48

isleib_roberta_smallTee time with Roberta Isleib

Best Paid Authors, Grisham's Mistake
Oline Cogdill

grisham_john4

John Grisham is one of those authors who is indeed a household name. Beginning with The Firm, Grisham gave the legal thriller a much needed vitamin shot. And while not all of his novels have kept those high standards, he is indeed a most readable author.

Grisham's first baseball novel Calico Jack is now No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Grisham also is high on another list—he's No. 8 on Forbes’s annual ranking of the world’s top-earning authors. His estimated earnings are $18 million. The list comes out each April.

But Grisham's $18 million pales next to the No. 1 author, James Patterson at $84 million. No. 2 is Danielle Steel at $35 million. No. 3: Stephen King, $28 million. No. 4: Janet Evanovich, $25 million. No. 5: Stephanie Meyer, $21 million. No. 6: Rick Riordan, $21 million. No. 7: Dean Koontz, $19 million. No. 8: Grisham. No. 9: Jeff Kinney, $17 million. No. 10: Nicholas Sparks, $16 million. No. 11: Ken Follett, $14 million. No. 12: Suzanne Collins, $10 million. No. 13: JK Rowling, $5 million.

I find it interesting that mystery/thriller writers dominate the list. Patterson, Grisham, Evanovich, King, Koontz and Follett are mainstays in the genre. We can even count Rick Riordan in the mix because he started out writing superb private detective novels before switching to the most lucrative Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles novels for young adults.

Grisham and Patterson also write novels for both adults and young adults.

Naturally, each of these authors spent years taking small advances and, during those years, the closest they would come to a bestsellers list is reading one in the newspaper.

That certainly happened to John Grisham, which he discussed in a recent Newsweek interview titled "My Favorite Mistake."

Back in the 1980s, Grisham was trying to sell his first novel, A Time to Kill. Only 5,000 first-editon copies of the novel had been printed and Grisham had 1,500 copies that he stored in his small law office in Southaven, Mississippi.

That's a lot of books. So why does Grisham call this his "favorite mistake?"

Here's why:

“We stacked them in the reception area, around my secretary’s desk, in the hallways, in my office. We couldn’t move but for all the copies of A Time to Kill,” Grisham said in the Newsweek interview.

“The boxes were everywhere, and I would just give them away. If one of my clients wanted a book, I’d try to sell it. If not, I’d give it away. I’d sell them for 10 bucks, 5 bucks. I used them for doorstops. I couldn’t get rid of these books.”

Today, on the used-book website AbeBooks.com, a signed first edition of A Time to Kill might fetch as much as $4,000, according to Newsweek.

“That’s about $6 million, the way I do the math,” Grisham told Newsweek. “We had no way of knowing then, but I sure wish I had some of those books back. I blew it.”

Brian Skupin
2012-05-16 05:00:00

grisham_john4

John Grisham is one of those authors who is indeed a household name. Beginning with The Firm, Grisham gave the legal thriller a much needed vitamin shot. And while not all of his novels have kept those high standards, he is indeed a most readable author.

Grisham's first baseball novel Calico Jack is now No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Grisham also is high on another list—he's No. 8 on Forbes’s annual ranking of the world’s top-earning authors. His estimated earnings are $18 million. The list comes out each April.

But Grisham's $18 million pales next to the No. 1 author, James Patterson at $84 million. No. 2 is Danielle Steel at $35 million. No. 3: Stephen King, $28 million. No. 4: Janet Evanovich, $25 million. No. 5: Stephanie Meyer, $21 million. No. 6: Rick Riordan, $21 million. No. 7: Dean Koontz, $19 million. No. 8: Grisham. No. 9: Jeff Kinney, $17 million. No. 10: Nicholas Sparks, $16 million. No. 11: Ken Follett, $14 million. No. 12: Suzanne Collins, $10 million. No. 13: JK Rowling, $5 million.

I find it interesting that mystery/thriller writers dominate the list. Patterson, Grisham, Evanovich, King, Koontz and Follett are mainstays in the genre. We can even count Rick Riordan in the mix because he started out writing superb private detective novels before switching to the most lucrative Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles novels for young adults.

Grisham and Patterson also write novels for both adults and young adults.

Naturally, each of these authors spent years taking small advances and, during those years, the closest they would come to a bestsellers list is reading one in the newspaper.

That certainly happened to John Grisham, which he discussed in a recent Newsweek interview titled "My Favorite Mistake."

Back in the 1980s, Grisham was trying to sell his first novel, A Time to Kill. Only 5,000 first-editon copies of the novel had been printed and Grisham had 1,500 copies that he stored in his small law office in Southaven, Mississippi.

That's a lot of books. So why does Grisham call this his "favorite mistake?"

Here's why:

“We stacked them in the reception area, around my secretary’s desk, in the hallways, in my office. We couldn’t move but for all the copies of A Time to Kill,” Grisham said in the Newsweek interview.

“The boxes were everywhere, and I would just give them away. If one of my clients wanted a book, I’d try to sell it. If not, I’d give it away. I’d sell them for 10 bucks, 5 bucks. I used them for doorstops. I couldn’t get rid of these books.”

Today, on the used-book website AbeBooks.com, a signed first edition of A Time to Kill might fetch as much as $4,000, according to Newsweek.

“That’s about $6 million, the way I do the math,” Grisham told Newsweek. “We had no way of knowing then, but I sure wish I had some of those books back. I blew it.”

Lehane, Dicaprio, Winslow at the Movies
Oline Cogdill

dicaprio_leonardo_2012Dennis Lehane's next novel Live by Night won't even be in the bookstores or e-readers until October, but the buzz is good. How good? Well, Warner Bros. already has "snapped up the rights," according to Indiewire reports, with plans to develop Live by Night as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio.

So far, Lehane has a good track record with his novels Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island being adapted into excellent films. And Lehane and DiCaprio make a good team. DiCaprio starred in the adaptation of Lehane's Shutter Island.

Live by Night (Morrow) continues a portion of the story that Lehane started in his historial Any Given Day. Live by Night revolves around rum runners in Florida and carries over one character from that previous novel.

Lehane's novel isn't the only project that DiCaprio may be involved with. Indiewire also reports that the actor is considering Satori, based on the thriller by Don Winslow, published in March 2012 from Grand Central. Winslow's Satori is a prequel of Trevanian's 1979 bestselling thriller Shibumi, which featured assassin Nicholai Hel.

Winslow's work seems destined for the movies. The movie Savages based on Winslow's novel of the same name will be coming out in July, directed by Oliver Stone.

Brian Skupin
2012-06-06 09:54:02

dicaprio_leonardo_2012Dennis Lehane's next novel Live by Night won't even be in the bookstores or e-readers until October, but the buzz is good. How good? Well, Warner Bros. already has "snapped up the rights," according to Indiewire reports, with plans to develop Live by Night as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio.

So far, Lehane has a good track record with his novels Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island being adapted into excellent films. And Lehane and DiCaprio make a good team. DiCaprio starred in the adaptation of Lehane's Shutter Island.

Live by Night (Morrow) continues a portion of the story that Lehane started in his historial Any Given Day. Live by Night revolves around rum runners in Florida and carries over one character from that previous novel.

Lehane's novel isn't the only project that DiCaprio may be involved with. Indiewire also reports that the actor is considering Satori, based on the thriller by Don Winslow, published in March 2012 from Grand Central. Winslow's Satori is a prequel of Trevanian's 1979 bestselling thriller Shibumi, which featured assassin Nicholai Hel.

Winslow's work seems destined for the movies. The movie Savages based on Winslow's novel of the same name will be coming out in July, directed by Oliver Stone.

Astride a Pink Horse
Betty Webb

Robert Greer’s Astride a Pink Horse, a terrific standalone that departs from his popular CJ Floyd series (First of State, etc.), reporter Elgin “Cozy” Coseia turns detective while covering the case of a murdered US Air Force sergeant found hanging upside down in a decommissioned Wyoming missile silo. The corpse has been mutilated, perhaps denoting a particularly nasty hate crime and/or one with sexual overtones. At first that appears to be the case because the victim, Thurmond Giles, was infamous for his tomcat ways.

Soon, however, Cozy discovers that Giles performed high-level maintenance on atomic warheads, and as a civilian, might have been selling nuclear material to foreign governments. Chasing what he sees as the story of a lifetime, Cozy finds himself interviewing elderly Kimiko Takata, a firstgeneration Japanese American who spent much of her childhood at Heart Mountain, Wyoming’s infamous WWII internment camp. An anti-nuke activist who’d had a personal run-in with Giles, she hated the dead man, but so did everyone else in the area’s anti-nuke community.

Like Greer’s CJ Floyd, Cozy is an African American, as are many other of the book’s characters, most notably Major Bernadette Cameron, an Air Force pilot grounded by health issues. Cameron, an Amazon whose martial arts expertise fells bikers with a single kick, is the perfect foil for the more physically timid Cozy. The duo makes for great reading fun, and we can only hope that they reappear in later books. But the true worth of Astride a Pink Horse is found in Greer’s meticulous research into the disarmed US missile program, which left thousands of nuclear warheads still intact. The information on the government’s sloppy atomic scrapping procedures will scare the bejesus out of you. Astride a Pink Horse (the title stems from a horrific scene later in the book) is one more outstanding novel by an always outstanding writer.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 18:06:14

Robert Greer’s Astride a Pink Horse, a terrific standalone that departs from his popular CJ Floyd series (First of State, etc.), reporter Elgin “Cozy” Coseia turns detective while covering the case of a murdered US Air Force sergeant found hanging upside down in a decommissioned Wyoming missile silo. The corpse has been mutilated, perhaps denoting a particularly nasty hate crime and/or one with sexual overtones. At first that appears to be the case because the victim, Thurmond Giles, was infamous for his tomcat ways.

Soon, however, Cozy discovers that Giles performed high-level maintenance on atomic warheads, and as a civilian, might have been selling nuclear material to foreign governments. Chasing what he sees as the story of a lifetime, Cozy finds himself interviewing elderly Kimiko Takata, a firstgeneration Japanese American who spent much of her childhood at Heart Mountain, Wyoming’s infamous WWII internment camp. An anti-nuke activist who’d had a personal run-in with Giles, she hated the dead man, but so did everyone else in the area’s anti-nuke community.

Like Greer’s CJ Floyd, Cozy is an African American, as are many other of the book’s characters, most notably Major Bernadette Cameron, an Air Force pilot grounded by health issues. Cameron, an Amazon whose martial arts expertise fells bikers with a single kick, is the perfect foil for the more physically timid Cozy. The duo makes for great reading fun, and we can only hope that they reappear in later books. But the true worth of Astride a Pink Horse is found in Greer’s meticulous research into the disarmed US missile program, which left thousands of nuclear warheads still intact. The information on the government’s sloppy atomic scrapping procedures will scare the bejesus out of you. Astride a Pink Horse (the title stems from a horrific scene later in the book) is one more outstanding novel by an always outstanding writer.

Curse the Name
Betty Webb

In Robert Arellano’s Curse the Name former journalist James Oberhelm has taken a cushy job working on Surge, the in-house newsletter at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing puff pieces on the quirky hobbies of the lab’s atomic physicists. On an overnight camping trip, he sees some of his articles hanging on the wall of a long-abandoned cabin. Baffled and more than a little frightened, he returns to Los Alamos, where he finds out the cabin was the scene of a mass murder in the 1800s and that other mysterious deaths have been connected to it.

The more Oberhelm investigates, the more his life falls apart. As his drinking and drug use segue from recreational to habitual, his wife leaves him and federal agents question his patriotism. In the meantime, a group known as Pax Kyrie, composed of antinuke activists, arrives in Los Alamos to hold their annual vigil on the anniversary of Trinity, the United States’ first A-bomb test. Oberhelm, no longer quite sober or quite sane, begins to believe the deaths in the abandoned cabin are somehow connected to a future tragedy that involves the entire town of Los Alamos.

Curse the Name is one scary book, and you’ll have a hard time sleeping after you put it down. It describes the government’s sloppy handling of nuclear materials and their possible impact on surrounding communities. The Navajo reservation has already been poisoned, Arellano points out, and posits that the entire state of New Mexico might be next. The author deftly illustrates the tendency of state and federal governments to cover up their mistakes with evasions and lies, even when ever-increasing populations continue to be threatened. Not that Arellano screams from the pulpit. His arguments are subtle, his tone muted. In the end, we are seeing through the eyes of a strung-out, paranoid drug user who may—or may not—be accurately forecasting a nuclear holocaust yet to come.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 18:11:00

In Robert Arellano’s Curse the Name former journalist James Oberhelm has taken a cushy job working on Surge, the in-house newsletter at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing puff pieces on the quirky hobbies of the lab’s atomic physicists. On an overnight camping trip, he sees some of his articles hanging on the wall of a long-abandoned cabin. Baffled and more than a little frightened, he returns to Los Alamos, where he finds out the cabin was the scene of a mass murder in the 1800s and that other mysterious deaths have been connected to it.

The more Oberhelm investigates, the more his life falls apart. As his drinking and drug use segue from recreational to habitual, his wife leaves him and federal agents question his patriotism. In the meantime, a group known as Pax Kyrie, composed of antinuke activists, arrives in Los Alamos to hold their annual vigil on the anniversary of Trinity, the United States’ first A-bomb test. Oberhelm, no longer quite sober or quite sane, begins to believe the deaths in the abandoned cabin are somehow connected to a future tragedy that involves the entire town of Los Alamos.

Curse the Name is one scary book, and you’ll have a hard time sleeping after you put it down. It describes the government’s sloppy handling of nuclear materials and their possible impact on surrounding communities. The Navajo reservation has already been poisoned, Arellano points out, and posits that the entire state of New Mexico might be next. The author deftly illustrates the tendency of state and federal governments to cover up their mistakes with evasions and lies, even when ever-increasing populations continue to be threatened. Not that Arellano screams from the pulpit. His arguments are subtle, his tone muted. In the end, we are seeing through the eyes of a strung-out, paranoid drug user who may—or may not—be accurately forecasting a nuclear holocaust yet to come.

The Dead of Mametz
Betty Webb

Jonathan Hicks’ excellent The Dead of Mametz focuses on the carnage of World War I. We learn in the prologue, set in peacetime 1987, that Private Harold Bratton, of the Welsh Regiment, was killed in action on July 7, 1916. Then we hop back in time to the “war to end all wars,” mere days before Bratton’s fatal battle, when a corporal murders two of his fellow soldiers, then shoots himself in the head. Before the corporal dies of his self-inflicted wound, he passes a mysterious note to Bratton. Days later, a Frenchwoman is discovered raped and murdered in a nearby town, and British Captain Thomas Oscendale, a cop in civilian life, is asked to help the French police solve that crime, too.

Mametz vividly describes the horrors of war, especially the kind meted out in WWI: gas attacks, trench warfare, the thousands of rotting corpses hanging on barbed wire in No Man’s Land. In one scene, the author even shines a light on wartime Wales, its landscape polluted by “Hell’s furnaces [feeding] the Devil’s war.” In Hicks’ WWI, everyone profits except the soldiers themselves, who are pawns in a political game played by inept generals and political hacks. The tale is told from various points of view, among them Oscendale’s, Bratton’s, as well as that of a German intelligence officer. This proves especially effective in a lyrical passage where an unnamed soldier in a trench awaits his order to go over the top. Almost dispassionately, the young man wonders if he will die that day. A commentary on the ultimate futility of war, The Dead of Mametz is a superb mystery as well as one of the most moving war novels I’ve ever come across.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 18:15:25

Jonathan Hicks’ excellent The Dead of Mametz focuses on the carnage of World War I. We learn in the prologue, set in peacetime 1987, that Private Harold Bratton, of the Welsh Regiment, was killed in action on July 7, 1916. Then we hop back in time to the “war to end all wars,” mere days before Bratton’s fatal battle, when a corporal murders two of his fellow soldiers, then shoots himself in the head. Before the corporal dies of his self-inflicted wound, he passes a mysterious note to Bratton. Days later, a Frenchwoman is discovered raped and murdered in a nearby town, and British Captain Thomas Oscendale, a cop in civilian life, is asked to help the French police solve that crime, too.

Mametz vividly describes the horrors of war, especially the kind meted out in WWI: gas attacks, trench warfare, the thousands of rotting corpses hanging on barbed wire in No Man’s Land. In one scene, the author even shines a light on wartime Wales, its landscape polluted by “Hell’s furnaces [feeding] the Devil’s war.” In Hicks’ WWI, everyone profits except the soldiers themselves, who are pawns in a political game played by inept generals and political hacks. The tale is told from various points of view, among them Oscendale’s, Bratton’s, as well as that of a German intelligence officer. This proves especially effective in a lyrical passage where an unnamed soldier in a trench awaits his order to go over the top. Almost dispassionately, the young man wonders if he will die that day. A commentary on the ultimate futility of war, The Dead of Mametz is a superb mystery as well as one of the most moving war novels I’ve ever come across.

Murder Unscripted
Betty Webb

At only 112 pages, Clive Rosengren’s Murder Unscripted is more novella than novel, and the story is so entertaining I wished it had continued for at least another hundred pages. Think you’d like to be a movie star? Think again. The author, himself an actor, assures us that the Big Time is no bed of roses, not that everyone in Murder Unscripted has made it to the Big Time. At best, most of these poor wretches are B-listers in danger of slipping into the Cs.

Protagonist Eddie Collins, part-time PI and part-time actor, has been firmly implanted on the D-list for years, relegated to walk-on parts and fried chicken commercials. As the story opens, Collins, dressed like a trail hand, is filming a fast food commercial with an umpteenth piece of fried chicken in his hand. After numerous takes, he avails himself of the “spit-bag” while his partner, not as quick, heaves onto an artificial rock. Soon afterward, we are treated to a hilariously gone-wrong sex scene endured by Elaine Weddington, Collins’ actress ex-wife, during the filming of Flames of Desire. The next time we see Weddington, though, she’s dead; shortly afterwards, another member of the film crew dies. Who better to investigate these deaths than Collins? He might not be an insider, but he knows people who are, and the PI side of him is expert at getting bigwigs to share their darkest secrets.

Told in short, breezy chapters—many less than three pages long—the plot purrs along fast and smooth. Adding to the fun is author Rosengren’s penchant for witty one-liners, such as, “She was pushing the mid-fifties and they were pushing back and winning.” But for all Collins’ cynicism about his tarnished Tinseltown home, he hasn’t given up hoping for a better tomorrow, and the ending of Murder Unscripted delivers him—and the reader—a sweet surprise.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 18:19:32

At only 112 pages, Clive Rosengren’s Murder Unscripted is more novella than novel, and the story is so entertaining I wished it had continued for at least another hundred pages. Think you’d like to be a movie star? Think again. The author, himself an actor, assures us that the Big Time is no bed of roses, not that everyone in Murder Unscripted has made it to the Big Time. At best, most of these poor wretches are B-listers in danger of slipping into the Cs.

Protagonist Eddie Collins, part-time PI and part-time actor, has been firmly implanted on the D-list for years, relegated to walk-on parts and fried chicken commercials. As the story opens, Collins, dressed like a trail hand, is filming a fast food commercial with an umpteenth piece of fried chicken in his hand. After numerous takes, he avails himself of the “spit-bag” while his partner, not as quick, heaves onto an artificial rock. Soon afterward, we are treated to a hilariously gone-wrong sex scene endured by Elaine Weddington, Collins’ actress ex-wife, during the filming of Flames of Desire. The next time we see Weddington, though, she’s dead; shortly afterwards, another member of the film crew dies. Who better to investigate these deaths than Collins? He might not be an insider, but he knows people who are, and the PI side of him is expert at getting bigwigs to share their darkest secrets.

Told in short, breezy chapters—many less than three pages long—the plot purrs along fast and smooth. Adding to the fun is author Rosengren’s penchant for witty one-liners, such as, “She was pushing the mid-fifties and they were pushing back and winning.” But for all Collins’ cynicism about his tarnished Tinseltown home, he hasn’t given up hoping for a better tomorrow, and the ending of Murder Unscripted delivers him—and the reader—a sweet surprise.

Writes of Spring
Bill Crider

What better way to begin spring than by writing about an appropriately titled anthology issued in honor of an independent bookstore? The anthology is Writes of Spring, edited by Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp. It celebrates both the 25th anniversary of Minneapolis’ justly famous Once Upon a Crime bookstore and the 10th annual “Write of Spring” openhouse event at that store.

Not every writer who’s been a guest at the open house was able to contribute to the anthology, but there’s a wide selection of material from 34 of them. Most contributed short stories, but there are a couple of chapters from novels, too. There are also a couple of introductions (from Reed Farrel Coleman and Barbara Mayor) and a fine afterword by Jon Jordan in which he tells why he loves books and bookstores. Mayor’s piece is about Harold Adams, to whom the book is dedicated and whose two stories about Carl Wilcox open and close the fiction section. Other writers include Sean Dolittle, Libby Fischer Hellman, William Kent Krueger, and Brian Freeman. All the profits from sales of the book are going to charity, specifically Memorial Blood Centers. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 18:23:11

What better way to begin spring than by writing about an appropriately titled anthology issued in honor of an independent bookstore? The anthology is Writes of Spring, edited by Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp. It celebrates both the 25th anniversary of Minneapolis’ justly famous Once Upon a Crime bookstore and the 10th annual “Write of Spring” openhouse event at that store.

Not every writer who’s been a guest at the open house was able to contribute to the anthology, but there’s a wide selection of material from 34 of them. Most contributed short stories, but there are a couple of chapters from novels, too. There are also a couple of introductions (from Reed Farrel Coleman and Barbara Mayor) and a fine afterword by Jon Jordan in which he tells why he loves books and bookstores. Mayor’s piece is about Harold Adams, to whom the book is dedicated and whose two stories about Carl Wilcox open and close the fiction section. Other writers include Sean Dolittle, Libby Fischer Hellman, William Kent Krueger, and Brian Freeman. All the profits from sales of the book are going to charity, specifically Memorial Blood Centers. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Bill Crider

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, edited by Terrie Farley Moran, brings together 22 stories by members of the New York/Tri-State chapter of Sisters in Crime. New York is a big city, and there’s always something going on. In Brooklyn, for example, there are vampires, or at least there are in Leigh Neely’s “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” narrated by a police detective who was killed in 1971 by a psychopath who turned her into one of the living dead. Vampires have been legit since 1983, however, because in the world of this story, their blood has healing properties for humans. But some of them are still killers, including Jack the Ripper. Editor Moran’s own story is “The Sneaker Tree,” a combination of a 9/11 tale with a different kind of memorial and some terrifying domestic violence. In “North on Clinton,” k.j.a. Wishnia gives us one of those narrators who sees everything that’s going on but still can’t see what’s really happening right in front of him. The other stories are equally good and all worth your time.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:02:43

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, edited by Terrie Farley Moran, brings together 22 stories by members of the New York/Tri-State chapter of Sisters in Crime. New York is a big city, and there’s always something going on. In Brooklyn, for example, there are vampires, or at least there are in Leigh Neely’s “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” narrated by a police detective who was killed in 1971 by a psychopath who turned her into one of the living dead. Vampires have been legit since 1983, however, because in the world of this story, their blood has healing properties for humans. But some of them are still killers, including Jack the Ripper. Editor Moran’s own story is “The Sneaker Tree,” a combination of a 9/11 tale with a different kind of memorial and some terrifying domestic violence. In “North on Clinton,” k.j.a. Wishnia gives us one of those narrators who sees everything that’s going on but still can’t see what’s really happening right in front of him. The other stories are equally good and all worth your time.

Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!
Betty Webb

Neither hope nor sweetness is to be found in Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!, a top-flight crime and sci-fi anthology edited by Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons, featuring stories by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Sara Paretsky, among others. A collection hardly designed to warm the cockles of your heart, these gritty stories are unsettling and beautifully bleak.

In Andrea Gibbons’ extraordinary “The El Rey Bar,” we are given a Los Angeles of the near future, where anarchy rules the day. Gloria, a nihilistic young woman, is enjoying drinks with some friends while ignoring a man who has just been stabbed three times. But he’s recovered enough to get as drunk as everyone else, and why not, because no one has a future. Race and class wars are the order of the day. Wilshire Boulevard is on fire, tanks are stationed on the corners, and the area is walled off to protect the few wealthy neighborhoods still standing. Nihilistic, yes, but also deeply affecting.

The varying lengths of the stories in Molotov Cocktail can be startling; some stories verge on flash fiction. At only one and a half pages long, Larry Fondation’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a real punch in the gut. In an unnamed foreign country, a soldier tries to talk his veiled lover out of doing something desperate. Don’t expect a happy ending on this one. Longer and creepier (I do love creepy) is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Lunatics,” which follows a party of slave-like miners on the moon as they attempt to escape the serial killer decimating their ranks. Their hellish lives become even more hellish as they tunnel their way through caverns dug far beneath the moon’s surface, not certain that their surface base remains intact. If you’re in the mood for something futuristic and grim, Molotov Cocktail is right up your dark alley.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:36:36

Neither hope nor sweetness is to be found in Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!, a top-flight crime and sci-fi anthology edited by Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons, featuring stories by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Sara Paretsky, among others. A collection hardly designed to warm the cockles of your heart, these gritty stories are unsettling and beautifully bleak.

In Andrea Gibbons’ extraordinary “The El Rey Bar,” we are given a Los Angeles of the near future, where anarchy rules the day. Gloria, a nihilistic young woman, is enjoying drinks with some friends while ignoring a man who has just been stabbed three times. But he’s recovered enough to get as drunk as everyone else, and why not, because no one has a future. Race and class wars are the order of the day. Wilshire Boulevard is on fire, tanks are stationed on the corners, and the area is walled off to protect the few wealthy neighborhoods still standing. Nihilistic, yes, but also deeply affecting.

The varying lengths of the stories in Molotov Cocktail can be startling; some stories verge on flash fiction. At only one and a half pages long, Larry Fondation’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a real punch in the gut. In an unnamed foreign country, a soldier tries to talk his veiled lover out of doing something desperate. Don’t expect a happy ending on this one. Longer and creepier (I do love creepy) is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Lunatics,” which follows a party of slave-like miners on the moon as they attempt to escape the serial killer decimating their ranks. Their hellish lives become even more hellish as they tunnel their way through caverns dug far beneath the moon’s surface, not certain that their surface base remains intact. If you’re in the mood for something futuristic and grim, Molotov Cocktail is right up your dark alley.

Love and Night: Unknown Stories
Bill Crider

Love and Night: Unknown Stories by Cornell Woolrich and edited by Francis M. Nevins, is a reprint of a 2007 limited edition hardcover from Dennis McMillan. These aren’t crime stories, having originally appeared in such pulps as Breezy Stories, but they share many of the same characteristics, and hard-core collectors will want to read them. Others might find themselves enjoying them, too. The book also makes available Nevins’ excellent introduction to the stories, and it’s worth having for that alone.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:41:17

Love and Night: Unknown Stories by Cornell Woolrich and edited by Francis M. Nevins, is a reprint of a 2007 limited edition hardcover from Dennis McMillan. These aren’t crime stories, having originally appeared in such pulps as Breezy Stories, but they share many of the same characteristics, and hard-core collectors will want to read them. Others might find themselves enjoying them, too. The book also makes available Nevins’ excellent introduction to the stories, and it’s worth having for that alone.

Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers
Bill Crider

Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers by Gary Phillips isn’t a book you’d want to give to your best friend who loves cozies, as the subtitle indicates. In fact Maureen Corrigan said on NPR that some of these stories “would make Nancy Drew faint facedown into her cucumber tea sandwiches.” I didn’t know that Ms. Drew was into cucumber tea. Or maybe I’m reading the sentence wrong. At any rate, this is a collection full of the real hardboiled thing.

I’m particularly fond of “Disco Zombies,” and not just because of the title. Those of you of a suspicious nature might think I like it because one of the characters happens to be a sword-wielding tough guy named “Crider,” but I’m much too big a person to plug a story for that reason. Okay, I’m not, but the story’s a lot of fun no matter what the characters’ names are. And speaking of names, there’s “The Kim Novak Effect,” which you’ll have to read for yourself if you want to find out just what the effect is. Though you might have a good idea already.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:44:14

Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers by Gary Phillips isn’t a book you’d want to give to your best friend who loves cozies, as the subtitle indicates. In fact Maureen Corrigan said on NPR that some of these stories “would make Nancy Drew faint facedown into her cucumber tea sandwiches.” I didn’t know that Ms. Drew was into cucumber tea. Or maybe I’m reading the sentence wrong. At any rate, this is a collection full of the real hardboiled thing.

I’m particularly fond of “Disco Zombies,” and not just because of the title. Those of you of a suspicious nature might think I like it because one of the characters happens to be a sword-wielding tough guy named “Crider,” but I’m much too big a person to plug a story for that reason. Okay, I’m not, but the story’s a lot of fun no matter what the characters’ names are. And speaking of names, there’s “The Kim Novak Effect,” which you’ll have to read for yourself if you want to find out just what the effect is. Though you might have a good idea already.

Guilt
Bill Crider

Guilt, by Ferdinand von Schirach, was translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway. The stories in the collection are based on real crimes, and all are told in unadorned objective prose and short, vivid scenes that make them all the more shocking. Schirach is a criminal defense lawyer who has a way of getting under the skin of his characters, and of his readers, too. There are some unusual and terrible situations and crimes here. Just read “Funfair,” and you’ll never look at polka bands in the same way again. Or check out “DNA.” A spur-of-the-moment murder goes unpunished for 19 years. Then the science of DNA comes of age. And then...Schirach underplays it all, to fine effect. It’s up to the reader to decide if the result is justice.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:50:55

Guilt, by Ferdinand von Schirach, was translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway. The stories in the collection are based on real crimes, and all are told in unadorned objective prose and short, vivid scenes that make them all the more shocking. Schirach is a criminal defense lawyer who has a way of getting under the skin of his characters, and of his readers, too. There are some unusual and terrible situations and crimes here. Just read “Funfair,” and you’ll never look at polka bands in the same way again. Or check out “DNA.” A spur-of-the-moment murder goes unpunished for 19 years. Then the science of DNA comes of age. And then...Schirach underplays it all, to fine effect. It’s up to the reader to decide if the result is justice.

One Book in the Grave
Lynne Maxwell

Kate Carlisle’s One Book in the Grave finds series heroine Brooklyn Wainwright once again caught up in a perilous situation precipitated by her remarkably dangerous profession of bookbinding. When a rare edition of Beauty and the Beast surfaces, Brooklyn—along with her hot boyfriend, security expert Derek Stone, and the mysterious bad-boy Gabriel, who always seems to turn up when necessary—confronts past traumas and resolves them favorably. You will need to read the book yourself to see how a friend, long presumed to be dead, is resurrected and the evils leading to his need to fake death are vanquished. As always, Carlisle provides fascinating forays into the intricacies of bookbinding.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 19:56:45

Kate Carlisle’s One Book in the Grave finds series heroine Brooklyn Wainwright once again caught up in a perilous situation precipitated by her remarkably dangerous profession of bookbinding. When a rare edition of Beauty and the Beast surfaces, Brooklyn—along with her hot boyfriend, security expert Derek Stone, and the mysterious bad-boy Gabriel, who always seems to turn up when necessary—confronts past traumas and resolves them favorably. You will need to read the book yourself to see how a friend, long presumed to be dead, is resurrected and the evils leading to his need to fake death are vanquished. As always, Carlisle provides fascinating forays into the intricacies of bookbinding.

File M for Murder
Lynne Maxwell

You just have to love Diesel, the very large Maine Coon cat with an even larger heart, who co-stars in Miranda James’ File M for Murder along with Mississippi archivist Charlie Harris. This book continues to explore widower Charlie’s burgeoning relationship with his grown children who have recently moved home. When his daughter’s abusive ex-fiancé, a renowned playwright-in-residence at the local college, is murdered, Charlie and Diesel hasten to investigate in order to exonerate Laura. As Charlie employs his expert research skills to unearth startling connections from the past, the present becomes more dangerous. Fortunately, Charlie, Diesel, and family are able to band together and bond, thereby solving the mystery.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-30 20:00:03

You just have to love Diesel, the very large Maine Coon cat with an even larger heart, who co-stars in Miranda James’ File M for Murder along with Mississippi archivist Charlie Harris. This book continues to explore widower Charlie’s burgeoning relationship with his grown children who have recently moved home. When his daughter’s abusive ex-fiancé, a renowned playwright-in-residence at the local college, is murdered, Charlie and Diesel hasten to investigate in order to exonerate Laura. As Charlie employs his expert research skills to unearth startling connections from the past, the present becomes more dangerous. Fortunately, Charlie, Diesel, and family are able to band together and bond, thereby solving the mystery.

James Bond Will Return
Oline Cogdill

boydwilliam_author

James Bond continues to live.

Long after his creator Ian Fleming's death, through Sean Connery, Roger Moore, et al, up to Daniel Craig, James Bond is still with us. No villain who wants to rule the world has been able to get rid of super spy 007. Even Q's gadgets haven't killed him.

And he continues to live on the page as well as on the screen.

William Boyd, the author of Restless, A Good Man in Africa, and Any Human Heart, is the third author who has been tapped by the Ian Fleming estate to continue the James Bond adventures.

Sebastian Faulks and Jeffrey Deaver were the first two authors to bring their vision of James Bond to the novels.

Boyd said he was a lifelong fan of the man with the license to kill, having been introduced to James Bond by his father. His
favorite in the series is From Russia with Love, he said.

According to newspaper and website reports, Boyd said he plans to set the novel in 1969, returning to ""classic Bond."" Boyd's 007 novel is slated to be published in the fall of 2013, which will be 60 years after the publication of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

Fleming died in 1964 shortly after the early Bond films brought his character to worldwide fame. He wrote 14 Bond novels and short story collections and penned the children's classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Boyd's novel is slated to be published in Britain by Jonathan Cape, which is Ian Fleming's original publisher and an imprint of Vintage Publishing, and simultaneously by HarperCollins Publishers in the US and Canada.

Brian Skupin
2012-05-30 22:28:46

boydwilliam_author

James Bond continues to live.

Long after his creator Ian Fleming's death, through Sean Connery, Roger Moore, et al, up to Daniel Craig, James Bond is still with us. No villain who wants to rule the world has been able to get rid of super spy 007. Even Q's gadgets haven't killed him.

And he continues to live on the page as well as on the screen.

William Boyd, the author of Restless, A Good Man in Africa, and Any Human Heart, is the third author who has been tapped by the Ian Fleming estate to continue the James Bond adventures.

Sebastian Faulks and Jeffrey Deaver were the first two authors to bring their vision of James Bond to the novels.

Boyd said he was a lifelong fan of the man with the license to kill, having been introduced to James Bond by his father. His
favorite in the series is From Russia with Love, he said.

According to newspaper and website reports, Boyd said he plans to set the novel in 1969, returning to ""classic Bond."" Boyd's 007 novel is slated to be published in the fall of 2013, which will be 60 years after the publication of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

Fleming died in 1964 shortly after the early Bond films brought his character to worldwide fame. He wrote 14 Bond novels and short story collections and penned the children's classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Boyd's novel is slated to be published in Britain by Jonathan Cape, which is Ian Fleming's original publisher and an imprint of Vintage Publishing, and simultaneously by HarperCollins Publishers in the US and Canada.

Corleone Book Trailer
Oline Cogdill

falcoed_familycorleoneI am never sure how effective book trailers are in selling books.

But some book trailers are so sophisticated, so involving that they do entice me to at least read the first couple of chapters. And this is book trailer I couldn't refuse.

The Family Corleone is author Ed Falco's prequel to Mario Puzo's The Godfather, which was published in 1969. It just hit the bookstores and ereaders this week. The Family Corleone is being billed as an "all-new prequel," based on an unproduced screenplay written by Puzo, who died of a heart attack at age 78 in 1999.

Previously, the Puzo family authorized two sequels to The GodfatherThe Godfather Returns in 2004 and The Godfather's Revenge in 2006. Both novels were written by Mark Winegardner, director of the creative writing program at Florida State University. Falco is a novelist, short-story writer and playwright who runs the creative writing program at Virginia Tech.

The Family Corleone is set in New York during 1933. Vito Corleone's business has thrived but he has tried to keep his children out of his organization. While Vito pushes his eldest child, Sonny, to be a businessman, Sonny desperately wants to join his father's real business. And, of course, we know how that turns out.

And here is the book trailer.

Brian Skupin
2012-05-09 05:00:00

falcoed_familycorleoneI am never sure how effective book trailers are in selling books.

But some book trailers are so sophisticated, so involving that they do entice me to at least read the first couple of chapters. And this is book trailer I couldn't refuse.

The Family Corleone is author Ed Falco's prequel to Mario Puzo's The Godfather, which was published in 1969. It just hit the bookstores and ereaders this week. The Family Corleone is being billed as an "all-new prequel," based on an unproduced screenplay written by Puzo, who died of a heart attack at age 78 in 1999.

Previously, the Puzo family authorized two sequels to The GodfatherThe Godfather Returns in 2004 and The Godfather's Revenge in 2006. Both novels were written by Mark Winegardner, director of the creative writing program at Florida State University. Falco is a novelist, short-story writer and playwright who runs the creative writing program at Virginia Tech.

The Family Corleone is set in New York during 1933. Vito Corleone's business has thrived but he has tried to keep his children out of his organization. While Vito pushes his eldest child, Sonny, to be a businessman, Sonny desperately wants to join his father's real business. And, of course, we know how that turns out.

And here is the book trailer.

The Genius of West 35th Street
Annabelle Mortensen

Stout_Wolfe_Illus_1940_copyCelebrating Nero Wolfe and 75 Years of detective brilliance.

 

Carl Mueller illustration for "Bitter End" by Rex Stout in The American Magazine (November, 1940)

 

The bestsellers of 1934 included James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr. Chips, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller, and all 1,224 pages of Hervey Allen’s Anthony Adverse, which Hollywood adapted into a sprawling epic starring Fredric March. But the most notable title of that year may well have been a $2 Farrar & Rinehart hardcover featuring a dust jacket adorned with a pink orchid and the silhouette of a fat man. Rex Stout was 47 years old when he wrote that book titled Fer-de-Lance. He could not have known that 48 Wolfe books were to follow, or that by the time of his death in 1975 his works would be translated into 22 languages and have sold more than 45 million copies. At the 2000 Bouchercon, Stout was nominated as Best Mystery Writer of the Century, along with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie.

Three-quarters of a century after its release, Fer-de-Lance continues to delight readers. In just a few hundred pages, Stout brilliantly melds traditional English whodunits with hardboiled American gumshoes by personifying each in the form of a character, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, arguably the most memorable detective team after Holmes and Watson. Eccentric genius Wolfe deduces in the style of Sayers and Christie, while his streetwise assistant Archie is a private eye in the tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

According to Otto Penzler, proprietor of New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop and publisher of the Harcourt imprint Otto Penzler Books, Stout “remains to this day the only significant writer who was able to blend perfectly the hardboiled and the softboiled.”

Wolfe, for the uninitiated, is a corpulent aesthete living in a four-story brownstone on Manhattan’s West 35th Street. He indulges in reading, drinking beer, eating haute cuisine (courtesy of his live-in four star cook, Fritz), and cultivating a collection of several thousand orchids (tended to by his full time orchidacean, Theodore). Wolfe’s intellect is staggering, as are his sedentary habits. Because he’s loath to leave the brownstone, he depends on Archie (who has a photographic memory) to gather facts and corral suspects. Along with doing the legwork, Ohio-born Archie shrewdly narrates the stories, does the bookkeeping and drinks copious amounts of milk.

Stout_Rex_1975_vikingAlthough Wolfe is a champion of the truth, he makes it clear that he works for money to support his sybaritic lifestyle. Usually Archie has to needle Wolfe into dropping his reading and taking a case. “He doesn’t solve crimes for altruistic reasons; he expects to be paid, and well, because he has a particular skill others do not have,” says Will Thomas, author of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn mysteries and a longtime fan of the Wolfe canon. “He is no amateur, like Lord Peter Wimsey or Miss Marple. Stout has combined the old-fashioned knight errant with the modern businessman who embodied success in post-war America.”

In that sense, Wolfe resembled his creator. In a 1946 interview published in Writers and Writing, Stout quipped, “While I could afford to, I played with words. When I could no longer afford that I wrote for money.” There were other similarities, as Stout’s own mental gifts and idiosyncratic life paved the way for his singular literary creations.

Rex Todhunter Stout was born in Noblesville, Indiana, in 1886, the sixth of nine children in a family of Quaker heritage. He grew up in Kansas, learned to read before age two, and was a four-state spelling bee champion at 11. By that time he’d also read his father’s thousand-volume classical library. He breezed through high school, but was an indifferent collegian.

In 1905 he enlisted in the Navy and spent two years aboard President Theodore Roosevelt’s yacht, the Mayflower, where he made a killing playing cards with ranking officers. After buying his discharge, he studied law for a couple of months and then worked a series of odd jobs, including stints as a bookkeeper, tugboat worker, and tobacco store clerk. In a 1969 interview for Holiday, he stated, “I never had any adventures, but I had a lot of episodes. It was not only good preparation for a writer, but also for life.”

In his 20s and 30s, Stout eventually began to focus on writing, selling short stories and churning out a handful of serialized novels. During that period, he and his brother devised an educational savings program that was marketed to schools. It became an enormous success, and brought Stout the financial freedom to concentrate on literary fiction. In 1929, now living in New York, he wrote How Like a God, a psychological novel about a man obsessed with a seductress whom he murders. Over the next few years, he published four more novels in a similar psychological vein. All received good to mixed reviews, but did not sell well (and are rarely read today).

stout_fer_de_lanceTo make matters worse, Stout lost his fortune when the market crashed. By 1933, he had a family to support—his wife Pola was pregnant and bills needed to be paid. Realizing that his skills lay in storytelling, not “serious” literature, he decided to turn to the more lucrative world of detective stories, a genre he’d enjoyed as a reader. A day after Pola and their baby daughter Barbara returned home from the hospital, Stout began writing Fer-de-Lance. In it, Wolfe manages to link the murders of a poor Italian immigrant and a distinguished college president without setting one foot outside his home. Although it is the first Wolfe story, the characters and tone emerge virtually fully formed. Wolfe’s daily routines are casually revealed: breakfast at eight, two hours with his orchids from nine to 11, office hours from 11 until lunch, then more office hours till four, after which he returns to the plant rooms for two more hours. In an introduction to a 1992 reissue of the book, Loren D. Estleman wrote, “So many references are made to earlier adventures in such an offhand, familiar way by narrator Archie, and his abrasive relationship with his eccentric employer fits them so much like a beloved and well-worn suit of clothes, that the newcomer may be excused the assumption that he has encountered the canon in mid-stride.”

The American Magazine purchased serial rights to Fer-de-Lance and published it under the title Point of Death on October 24, 1934. Two days later, the book was released to favorable reviews, and a series was born. Stout delivered his second Wolfe novel, The League of Frightened Men, the following year. As with this and every other Wolfe story, his first draft—written in longhand—was his last. Remarkably, he finished each story in about five weeks. The rest of his time was spent in private and political pursuits at his beloved New York country home, High Meadows, which he had designed.

Stout-LOFM-1st_copyMore books followed in quick succession as Stout’s popularity grew with readers, critics and fellow writers. Stout briefly flirted with two other sleuths—1937’s The Hand in the Glove introduced female detective “Dol” Bonner, while Double for Death (1939) featured Westchester County detective Tecumseh Fox—but these had little impact. During World War II, he wrote US propaganda materials as chairman of the War Writers’ Board. From the end of the war and onward, Stout only composed Wolfe novels and short stories. He achieved incredible consistency—the works were set in the year they were written, but the routines in the brownstone remained invariable. Taken as a whole, he was able to explore human nature in all its complexity, without sacrificing narrative or character.

Several of the story lines were memorable, such as And Be a Villain, the first of three books that pitted Wolfe against criminal mastermind Arnold Zeck. Nonetheless, the plots have always been somewhat beside the point. The real draw is the interplay between Wolfe and Archie, and the aura of the brownstone. “Rex Stout usually doesn’t make a pretense of playing fair with the reader in the Christie sense,” says Ira Matetsky, the leader (or “werowance”) of The Nero Wolfe Society, a group of aficionados affectionately known as The Wolfe Pack. “He is perfectly capable, in a 200-page novel, of having Saul Panzer fly in from Peru on page 193 with missing information. You can argue about the plot. It’s the characters, the dialog, the humor, the ritual, the sense of family that pulls us all in.”

Fellow Wolfe Pack member and author Jane Cleland concurs: “I still feel like I’m friends with the characters,” she says. “I adore them. Wolfe and Archie fit together like ying and yang.”

stout_blackorchidsCleland usually tucks in a Wolfe homage or two in each of her Josie Prescott antique mysteries. She’s part of a who’s who of writers who have admired Stout’s work—Isaac Asimov, John Lescroart, Lawrence Block, James M. Cain, Donald E. Westlake, Walter Mosley, Stuart Kaminsky, and Susan Conant are among several others. Will Thomas considers his detecting duo of Barker and Llewelyn to be his own tribute to Wolfe and Archie. “I feel that Stout’s influence is widespread among American mystery writers,” Thomas says. “We study him the way an English major studies Shakespeare or Eliot.” And if the creation of Wolfe and Archie weren’t enough, writers have another reason to be grateful to Stout. Long a champion of liberal issues, he was a member of the Author’s League, twice served as president of the Author’s Guild and worked toward securing reprint royalties for writers. He fervently lobbied Congress for copyright reform and was in attendance when President Eisenhower signed the Universal Copyright Convention into law in 1954.

News of Stout’s death in 1975 made the front page of The New York Times. His final novel, A Family Affair, written in his late 80s, had appeared a month before. But Nero Wolfe lives on. In 1977, Boston College English professor John McAleer renewed interest in the author with his exhaustive Rex Stout: A Biography. From the late 1980s to mid-1990s, Robert Goldsborough continued the Wolfe saga with seven novels; the first, Murder in E Minor, initially was written as a gift to his mother, a Stout devotee. In 2000, A&E debuted a television adaptation of Stout’s novels starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton—as Wolfe and Archie, respectively—which ran for two seasons. (This wasn’t the sleuth’s first TV appearance; NBC ran 12 episodes of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe in 1981, with William Conrad in the title role. Additionally, there have been Italian and Russian adaptations.)

NERO_WOLFE_Maury_Chaykin_Timothy_HuttonRight: Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton as Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, respectively, in the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Bantam has reissued many of Stout’s mysteries in paperback, although unfortunately others currently remain out of print. Nonetheless, he continues to inspire passionate fans. They know that Wolfe sleeps in yellow pajamas, can tell you about Archie’s preferences in guns and are able to sketch a diagram of the brownstone’s floor plans from memory. Some of the most fervent enthusiasts are members of the The Wolfe Pack. Organized in the 1970s, today the group boasts more than 400 members; central among its activities is the annual Black Orchid Banquet and the presentation of the Nero Wolfe and Black Orchid Novella Awards. (In honor of the 75th anniversary of Fer-de-Lance, the Wolfe Pack will celebrate with a special banquet on the final night of the 2009 Bouchercon, complete with a full menu taken from Too Many Cooks.)

“The fans are devoted fans, they’re not casual fans,” says Otto Penzler, who himself was a founding member of the Wolfe Pack. “I’ve been in business over 30 years now and everybody likes Rex Stout. Young, old, men, women, people who like cozies, people who like hardboiled stuff—everybody. The brownstone is like 22 Baker Street. It’s just like coming home.”

Before his death, Stout told his biographer McAleer that he hoped Wolfe and Archie would live forever. As the countless readers who have joyfully taken that literary journey to West 35th Street can attest, they do.

“Archie called his employer a genius,” says Will Thomas. “The same could be said of his creator.”

 

Annabelle Mortensen is a librarian and freelance writer living in Chicago.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #111.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 15:26:03

Stout_Wolfe_Illus_1940_copy_croppedCelebrating Nero Wolfe and 75 Years of detective brilliance.

Jeffery Deaver on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Jeffery Deaver

deaver_jeffreyA "masterwork of structure"

 

There are so many important writers I've been inspired by. But the writer who has influenced me the most isn't a mystery or thriller writer, it's J.R.R. Tolkien.

This may seem a bit odd, since I don't write fantasy fiction, but let me explain: First, there's the subjective—that is, emotional—element of being utterly captivated by a work of creativity at a point in one's life when you're on the brink of personal development and exploration. I read Lord of the Rings in middle and high school and literally lost myself in the complex layers of mythology that Tolkien created. It was one of those works of art that kick-started my desire to write. (Robert Frost, Dashiell Hammett, Ian Fleming and Conan Doyle were others—okay, I guess I cheated there, working a few more writers into these comments). But I loved Lord of the Rings best.

Moving on to the second and more significant aspect of the book and how it influenced me, I have to point to Tolkien's craft at storytelling. And of this, I recognize two very valuable lessons he taught me:

1. He continually raises in the reader's mind the question: What is going to happen? And these questions arise both in the short term (what's going to happen on the next page?) and what will the ultimate and overarchingly vital resolution be at the conclusion of the story?

tolkien_fellowshipofthering2. The Lord of the Rings is a masterwork of structure. Tolkien put into my head the idea that a successful novel should follow the symphonic form of the Romantic-era composition: arresting overture, alternating movements of various tempos, resonating themes and variations thereon, point and counterpoint, movement toward a climactic crescendo, a concluding coda—a quiet reflection on what's happened. In writing novels, this translates into working multiple plot lines together (cross-cutting between scenes, a film director would say), pacing the story for most emotional impact, choreographing action scenes imaginatively, developing characters (both good and bad) with depth, and enriching the story with detail while avoiding digressions.

Many novels contain clever or even brilliant set pieces, but the stories meander; there's no sense of a unified purpose. Tolkien taught that an author has to have a complete vision of his story, from page one to the final sentence, and carry the reader along with him, utterly engaged, with not a single word squandered in between.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews June 2012 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 19:04:33

tolkien_fellowshipoftheringA "masterwork of structure"

Eyewitness: Hearing Voices
Kevin Burton Smith

Turner_kathleen_warshawskiVoices. I hear ’em. All the time. All the best private eyes have ’em. Crack open a book, read a few pages, and you can pretty much nail down who’s speaking. No, really. Is there any fan of the genre who could ever mistake Mike Hammer for Lew Archer, or V.I. Warshawski for Stephanie Plum?

Kathleen Turner as V.I. Warshawski in the 1991 Jeff Kanew film

Sure, the prevalence of first-person narration in the shamus game is part of it, but it’s more than that. It’s about attitude and tone and pacing and outlook.

Raymond Chandler, who brought one of the most singular and influential voices to the genre (and arguably to American literature itself), called it style, and he may have had something there.

“The most durable thing in writing is style,” he once wrote, “and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.”

PI_voices_1Right from the start, Black Mask Boys seemed to understand that. The Continental Op and Race Williams had their own voices, and only the most tin eared reader would have had difficulty telling them apart.

Carroll John Daly’s Williams was a man of action, to be sure, but he wasn’t exactly a deep thinker, something of which he seemed inordinately proud. “Sometimes...one hunk of lead is worth all the thought in the world,” was pretty much his credo, whereas Hammett’s Continental Op tended to be a little more philosophical, and icily pragmatic. He’d shoot you if he had to, but only if he had to. “I’m a detective because I like the work.... And liking the work makes you want to do it as well as you can. Otherwise there’d be no sense to it. I don’t know anything else, don’t enjoy anything else...”

And yet, the Op voice is very different from that of Hammett’s other great gumshoe. Sam Spade is the Op with a snarl and a full set of teeth, capable of the same chilly practicality, perhaps, but also more vulnerable to temptation. He may toss off a breezy compliment to his long-suffering secretary Effie (“You’re a damn good man, sister”) but he’s no fan of wasted words. “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter,” he snaps at one point. But it’s in his closing, straightoutta-Hamlet near-soliloquy that his heart is laid bare. He carefully argues the case for turning Brigid in to the law, and then makes the counter-argument. “Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.... But suppose I do? What of it? Maybe next month I won’t.... Then what? Then I’ll think I played the sap. And if I did it and got sent over then I’d be sure I was the sap,” Spade argues, mostly to himself, before summing it up with a frosty “I won’t play the sap for you,” arguably the greatest kiss-off in the genre.

PI_voices_3Now that’s a voice.

And there are so many more:

The fatherly tone of Lew Archer, forever ready to hear confessions, doomed like some mythic Greek figure to trying to understand the past.

The curmudgeonly gloom and weathered-but-sunshiny hedonism of Travis McGee.

Amos Walker’s broad-shouldered, wisecracking spit at the once-shiny chrome of Motown.

The primal roar of Mike Hammer, a hunter loosed on the streets of Manhattan, out for justice and blood.

The giddy romanticism and swaggering self-confidence of Spenser, tempered by a Groucho-worthy smart-ass defiance that’s ready to put the boot to any show of affectation, snootiness or pretense.

The bristly earnestness and closely guarded heart of V.I. Warshawski.

The high-flying slang-slinging gobbledegook of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner.

PI_voices_4The smirky nudge nudge wink wink of Shell Scott and “Where are my clothes?” naïveté of Honey West offer a whole different take on sexuality from the last call frankness of Jill Edmonson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson or the unapologetic let’s-get-it-on pulpy raunchiness of Christa Faust’s new “dyke dick,” Butch Fatale.

The “just folks” Everyman decency—even in the midst of some outlandish scam—of Jim Rockford.

The fatalistic pessimism and survivor’s guilt of Philip Kerr’s Nazi-era Berlin dick Bernie Gunther as he tries to crawl from the shadow of a world gone mad.

The “been there” conversational and confessional vibe of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder after-hours storytelling.

The glacial efficiency and warrior’s fierceness of Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield, as she escorts her charges “out of the world” to safer ground.

The “Have you heard the news?” worried man blues and stubborn defiance of John Shannon’s Jack Liffey. The pub-crawling world-weariness and poet’s broken soul of Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. The “Me, Tarzan” confidence in his own abilities of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. All as individual as fingerprints.

PI_voices_2And so it goes. One of my favorite reads last year was The Cut by George Pelecanos, which introduced Lucas Spero, a 29-year-old Iraq War vet who’s come home to Washington and has more or less stumbled into his present occupation of unlicensed private investigator. As he explains it, “When I came back from the Middle East, I did a little security work. Limo companies, driving celebrities and dignitaries, like that. I also silent-bounced at a couple of clubs. One night at the bar I met a woman whose boyfriend... was a bully; he’d fucked her over.... I agreed to try and get her stuff back.... Her jewelry was worth a lot of money, and my take was substantial. I thought, I can get used to this.”

The plot? No new ground broken there, perhaps, but you’ve gotta love that voice. Sure, at times the tidal wave of twentysomething pop culture references may seem forced (Pelecanos is my age), but there’s no doubt he’s really tapped into something fresh here.

And it bodes well for the future.

Because as long as there are new voices to be heard in detective fiction, voices with something to say about our lives and how we live them, we’ll keep listening.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #124.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 19:56:34

Voices. All the best private eyes have ’em from Mike Hammer to Lew Archer to V.I. Warshawski

You Might as Well Die
Lynne Maxwell

In You Might As Well Die, J.J. Murphy revisits the inimitable Dorothy Parker and her companions from the Algonquin Round Table, adding to the mix another fascinating historical figure, Harry Houdini. Irrepressibly witty, Parker and chief partner in both crime and detection, Robert Benchley, strive to pay their monumental bar tab and to explore the apparent suicide of illustrator Ernie McGuffin. In the process, author Murphy takes readers on a tour of the occult, a historical fascination of the time, with none other than Harry Houdini as investigator of potential fraud. The mystery is clever, the dialogue delightful, and, by the way, the quest successful. Parker and Benchley do procure the funds that will allow them to drink, finally, with impunity.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 21:34:28

In You Might As Well Die, J.J. Murphy revisits the inimitable Dorothy Parker and her companions from the Algonquin Round Table, adding to the mix another fascinating historical figure, Harry Houdini. Irrepressibly witty, Parker and chief partner in both crime and detection, Robert Benchley, strive to pay their monumental bar tab and to explore the apparent suicide of illustrator Ernie McGuffin. In the process, author Murphy takes readers on a tour of the occult, a historical fascination of the time, with none other than Harry Houdini as investigator of potential fraud. The mystery is clever, the dialogue delightful, and, by the way, the quest successful. Parker and Benchley do procure the funds that will allow them to drink, finally, with impunity.

Scrapbook of Secrets
Lynne Maxwell

Mollie Cox Bryan sets Scrapbook of Secrets in rural Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. All is not well in Cumberland Creek. This becomes clear immediately, as the book opens with a mysterious, seemingly senseless knife attack upon a harmless elderly woman, whose daughter owns a dance studio and is a member of a local scrapbooking circle. The crafters are perplexed by a puzzle of their own: the sudden, entirely unanticipated suicide of a young housewife who had recently joined their scrapbooking group. In addition, the crafters are bewildered by the fact that the woman's effects were discarded immediately, placed by the curbside for trash pickup.

Plagued by the incongruous death, the crafters set out to investigate, led by ex-investigative reporter Annie Chamovitz, a young mother recently transplanted from more cosmopolitan Bethesda, Maryland. Annie employs her investigative skills to turn up a number of truly astonishing facts that I won't divulge, lest I spoil the pleasures of the novel plot. Scrapbook of Secrets is a font of ingenuity, providing not only superb entertainment but also a surprisingly successful exploration of marital issues. I'm very much looking forward to the next book in this promising series.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 21:40:47

Mollie Cox Bryan sets Scrapbook of Secrets in rural Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. All is not well in Cumberland Creek. This becomes clear immediately, as the book opens with a mysterious, seemingly senseless knife attack upon a harmless elderly woman, whose daughter owns a dance studio and is a member of a local scrapbooking circle. The crafters are perplexed by a puzzle of their own: the sudden, entirely unanticipated suicide of a young housewife who had recently joined their scrapbooking group. In addition, the crafters are bewildered by the fact that the woman's effects were discarded immediately, placed by the curbside for trash pickup.

Plagued by the incongruous death, the crafters set out to investigate, led by ex-investigative reporter Annie Chamovitz, a young mother recently transplanted from more cosmopolitan Bethesda, Maryland. Annie employs her investigative skills to turn up a number of truly astonishing facts that I won't divulge, lest I spoil the pleasures of the novel plot. Scrapbook of Secrets is a font of ingenuity, providing not only superb entertainment but also a surprisingly successful exploration of marital issues. I'm very much looking forward to the next book in this promising series.

John Buchan and the Birth of Modern Spy Fiction
Michael Mallory

39_stepsMan on the Run

 

Image from the movie poster for Alred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film The 39 Steps, based on Buchan's novel

 

While all authors strive to create memorable characters and lasting books, occasionally those characters and books become so prominent that the identity of the author has to take a backseat. Most people, for instance, have heard of Bulldog Drummond, though these days, far fewer will be able to name his creator, “Sapper.” It is likely that even fewer could cite Sapper’s real identity, H.C. McNeile. A prime example of this phenomenon is John Buchan (1875-1940), a Scottish journalist, historian, politician, and popular novelist, whose name may or may not ring a bell in 2012, though his signature work, The Thirty-Nine Steps can lay a claim as the progenitor of the modern spy novel.

The first book to feature adventurer-turned-agent Richard Hannay, The Thirty-Nine Steps was a success from its very first appearance in serialized form in 1915, in Blackwood’s Magazine. It has been adapted to every medium, with varying degrees of fidelity to the original, including the stage. Yet it is just one of many, many books by the prolific author.

The son of a churchman who delighted in filling his son’s head with Scottish legends and lore, John Buchan attended university through scholarships, and even before graduation had achieved publication. His first work, Essays and Apothegms of Francis, Lord Bacon was published in 1894. Two years later his novel Sir Quixote of the Moors came out. He began a career in law, and in 1902 became personal secretary to Lord Alfred Milner, the colonial overseer of South Africa. Buchan’s experiences in Africa would inform much of his subsequent fiction, though none so much as his 1910 adventure novel Prester John, which involves a Zulu uprising that is connected—at least fictionally—to the medieval legend of a Christian ruler of Ethiopia and other far-off locales. The novel was a popular success and was translated into many languages.

buchan_johnBetween 1910 and 1914, Buchan published another novel and five nonfiction works, in addition to raising a family and getting his feet wet in British politics as a confirmed Tory. But it was a prolonged illness in 1914 that led to his most famous work, which he wrote while bedridden.

At the start of The Thirty-Nine Steps Richard Hannay, an independently well-off Scot in his late thirties, has just returned to London from South Africa, only to find himself bored. He tumbles into intrigue by way of a neighbor named Scudder, who has information about an international conspiracy that is plotting the assassination of a Greek official, the first step of a world-domination scheme. When Scudder is stabbed to death inside Hannay’s flat, Hannay realizes that he must flee, not only to avoid being implicated in the killing, but so he can follow the clues Scudder has left behind in a notebook and try to thwart the conspiracy. “I hate to see a good man downed,” he states, “and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I play the game in his place.”

Hannay proves to be “deucedly” clever while playing the game, though he repeatedly protests otherwise. “All this was very loose guessing and I don’t pretend it was ingenious or scientific,” he tells the reader, after sussing out an otherwise incomprehensible deduction. “I wasn’t any kind of Sherlock Holmes. But I have always fancied I had a kind of instinct about questions like this.” Elsewhere he describes himself as “an ordinary sort of man, not braver than other people.” Yet even after joining forces with official members of British military intelligence, Hannay remains the smartest and most daring person in the room. The Thirty-Nine Steps ends with the capture of a group of German spies, but the overall plot unthwarted and World War I begun.

Hannay returned in the novels Greenmantle (1916), Mr. Standfast (1919), The Three Hostages (1924), and The Island of Sheep (1936), through which he evolved into a genuine secret agent and aged correspondingly. He also made cameo appearances in The Courts of the Morning (1929) and Sick Heart River (1941), released in the US as Mountain Meadow. Hannay was not, however, Buchan’s only recurring character. Scottish barrister and outdoorsman Edward Leithen appeared in the books The Power-House (1916), a thriller; John Macnab (1925), which was more of a caper; The Dancing Floor (1926), a somewhat mystical adventure; The Gap in the Curtain (1932), a quasi-science fiction novel; and Sick Heart River, a spiritual valedictory that was published posthumously. Leithen, who in addition to his other avocations, is a conservative politician, was a fictionalized version of Buchan himself.

buchan_the39stepsPhotos of the author reveal a pinched, dour visage that makes Calvin Coolidge look like a burlesque comic, belying the vibrant and unyielding imagination beneath. In his lifetime, Buchan published some 30 novels, seven short-story collections, and about 50 nonfiction books, including biographies of Sir Walter Scott and Oliver Cromwell. He continued to turn out prose even after being created Baron Tweedsmuir by King George V in 1935 and named governor general of Canada, which he remained until his death in 1940.

When read today, Buchan’s writing style and “I-say-old-chappie” characters seem quaint, albeit charmingly so. Less charming is his tendency to wear his British imperialism on his sleeve, meaning that his books are blithely filled with the sort of racial, religious, and social stereotypes that marked the era. Even so, Buchan’s influence has been enormous. The Thirty-Nine Steps contains what might be the first recorded use of the term “mean streets,” usually associated with Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, but here used to describe the sinister passageways of London. Similarly, the now-iconic scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 North by Northwest in which Cary Grant is chased by a crop duster is presaged in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

In short, had Buchan not road-mapped the path for the man on the run against the conspiracy, there may not have been Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, Alfred Hitchcock, or even Agatha Christie in her “master criminal” mode (The Secret Adversary), at least not as we know them today.

Crikey, what a deucedly cracking accomplishment!

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #124.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 21:11:09

39_stepsMan on the Run

Sportsman's Legacy
Jon L. Breen

The author (1940-2009) was an outstanding mystery writer, but this memoir, first published in 1993, concerns his hunting and fishing experiences and his relationship with his father, outdoors writer H.G. "Tap" Tapply. The main text includes some discussion of writing advice he got from his father, and some of this memorial edition's new material concerns his collaborations with friend and fellow mystery writer Philip Craig. Copious family photos appear throughout. Son Mike Tapply and widow Vicki Stiefel (herself a mystery novelist) provide introductory remembrances.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 21:45:47

The author (1940-2009) was an outstanding mystery writer, but this memoir, first published in 1993, concerns his hunting and fishing experiences and his relationship with his father, outdoors writer H.G. "Tap" Tapply. The main text includes some discussion of writing advice he got from his father, and some of this memorial edition's new material concerns his collaborations with friend and fellow mystery writer Philip Craig. Copious family photos appear throughout. Son Mike Tapply and widow Vicki Stiefel (herself a mystery novelist) provide introductory remembrances.

E.X. Ferrars: a Companion to the Mystery Fiction
Jon L. Breen

Morna Doris McTaggart (1907-1995) was a prolific mystery writer, from her debut in 1940 with Give the Corpse a Bad Name to A Choice of Evils in the year of her death, using the name Elizabeth Ferrars in Great Britain but the gender-unspecific E.X. Ferrars in the United States. She was one of the best and most unfairly neglected of the generation of classicists who emerged at the end of the Golden Age of Detection, a puzzle-spinner in the Christie mode who was ahead of her time in her strong women characters and views on gender relationships.

The second entry in the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, lives up the high standard set by the first, on John Buchan. (Sadly, principal author Macdonald died before the book was published.) Following chronological and alphabetical lists of the subject's works, a brief biography and career chronology, the main section consists of alphabetical entries on book titles (including substantial plot synopses and quotes from contemporary reviews), characters, subjects, locales, subgenre definitions, and themes. Two manuscript pages with corrections are reproduced. The primary and secondary bibliography covers more than 20 double-column pages. One serious error: the late San Francisco Chronicle reviewer and well-known mystery writer Lenore Glen Offord becomes Leonard.

Teri Duerr
2012-05-31 21:52:16

Morna Doris McTaggart (1907-1995) was a prolific mystery writer, from her debut in 1940 with Give the Corpse a Bad Name to A Choice of Evils in the year of her death, using the name Elizabeth Ferrars in Great Britain but the gender-unspecific E.X. Ferrars in the United States. She was one of the best and most unfairly neglected of the generation of classicists who emerged at the end of the Golden Age of Detection, a puzzle-spinner in the Christie mode who was ahead of her time in her strong women characters and views on gender relationships.

The second entry in the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, lives up the high standard set by the first, on John Buchan. (Sadly, principal author Macdonald died before the book was published.) Following chronological and alphabetical lists of the subject's works, a brief biography and career chronology, the main section consists of alphabetical entries on book titles (including substantial plot synopses and quotes from contemporary reviews), characters, subjects, locales, subgenre definitions, and themes. Two manuscript pages with corrections are reproduced. The primary and secondary bibliography covers more than 20 double-column pages. One serious error: the late San Francisco Chronicle reviewer and well-known mystery writer Lenore Glen Offord becomes Leonard.