King City
Dick Lochte

Because of his recent television and literary work (15 bestselling novels based on the Monk TV series, as well as scripts for that show and Diagnosis Murder), Lee Goldberg has become something of a specialist at humorous crime. But he's actually a multigenre man, with sci-fi and, more recently, horror (The Dead Man books) as part of his rapidly, one might even say exponentially expanding, oeuvre.

This effective, hard-edged one-off thriller is a case in point. Its hero, Tom Wade, is an honorable detective in the (presumably fictitious) corrupt King City in Washington State who helps the Justice Department take down a bunch of bent fellow cops and pays a high price for it. Ostracized by his own family as well as former friends and associates, he's reassigned to Darwin Gardens, a crime-ridden slummy section of the city that resembles nothing more than a wide-open frontier town in the old wild west. Assisted by two other department castoffs, he begins a Wyatt Earplike town-taming, focusing on a series of murders involving young women. Goldberg begins his tale on a moment of high tension—with Wade facing down one of the crooked cops—and lets up on the action only to add dimensional detail to the characters and the town he's created.

Patrick Lawlor, one of Brilliance Audio's more active readers, understands the need for maintaining a fast, almost breathless pace, but he also knows when to slow things down enough for listeners to share Wade's danger or savor his clever victories.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 04:49:34

Because of his recent television and literary work (15 bestselling novels based on the Monk TV series, as well as scripts for that show and Diagnosis Murder), Lee Goldberg has become something of a specialist at humorous crime. But he's actually a multigenre man, with sci-fi and, more recently, horror (The Dead Man books) as part of his rapidly, one might even say exponentially expanding, oeuvre.

This effective, hard-edged one-off thriller is a case in point. Its hero, Tom Wade, is an honorable detective in the (presumably fictitious) corrupt King City in Washington State who helps the Justice Department take down a bunch of bent fellow cops and pays a high price for it. Ostracized by his own family as well as former friends and associates, he's reassigned to Darwin Gardens, a crime-ridden slummy section of the city that resembles nothing more than a wide-open frontier town in the old wild west. Assisted by two other department castoffs, he begins a Wyatt Earplike town-taming, focusing on a series of murders involving young women. Goldberg begins his tale on a moment of high tension—with Wade facing down one of the crooked cops—and lets up on the action only to add dimensional detail to the characters and the town he's created.

Patrick Lawlor, one of Brilliance Audio's more active readers, understands the need for maintaining a fast, almost breathless pace, but he also knows when to slow things down enough for listeners to share Wade's danger or savor his clever victories.

Mickey Spillane on Screen: a Complete Study of the Television and Film Appearances
Jon L. Breen

The authors of the first book-length Mickey Spillane study, One Lonely Night: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1984; see What About Murder II, #331), return with an even better one, as good a survey of a famous mystery writer's media adaptations as I've seen. You don't have to be a Spillane fan to appreciate it. Following a biographical prologue are sections on theatrical movies (seven based on Spillane's novels plus Ring of Fear, in which he appeared as an actor) and the various Mike Hammer TV incarnations. Extended plot summaries for feature-length cases are bolstered by critical comments, background notes, and black-and-white illustrations. The authors dedicate the book to their favorite screen Hammers, which is most of them: Biff Elliot, Ralph Meeker, Darren McGavin, Armand Assante, Stacy Keach, and Mickey Spillane.

Appendices include a comparison of Hammer's code of conduct in the books and the various adaptations, some of which, notably Robert Aldrich's appropriately celebrated classic Kiss Me Deadly, have makers essentially hostile to Spillane; a discussion of the "Girl Hunt" ballet parody in the musical The Band Wagon; short biographies of performers, writers, directors, cinematographers, and others who contributed to the film and TV versions; listings of the various Hammers, Veldas, Pat Chamberses, and leading women, plus writers and directors; and Collins' 1999 interview with Spillane for his documentary on the writer.

Surprising fact: I always thought Margaret Sheridan, star of the sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World, never made another movie. Turns out she was the very first Velda, in the 1953 version of I, the Jury, and per Collins and Traylor a good one.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 04:55:10

collins_mickeyspillaneonscreenYou don't have to be a Mickey Spillane fan to appreciate this excellent study of the hero on screen.

Dime Detective Companion
Jon L. Breen

Dime Detective Magazine (1931-1953) is generally ranked second only to Black Mask among the great mystery pulps. Slightly less than half this handsome trade paperback originally appeared as Dime Detective Index (1986): an issue-by-issue contents listing, with small black-and-white reproductions of each cover; an author index, index to author profiles and pictures, series character to author cross-reference, appearance ranking of writers (T.T. Flynn on top with 80 is followed by Frederick C. Davis and Carroll John Daly), top ten character appearances (Frederick Nebel's Cardigan comes first with 44), and notes on continuing departments devoted to crossword puzzles and bunco protection.

Additional material includes reprinted articles (Traylor on Dwight V. Babcock and William R. Cox; Marvin Lachman on the contents of the February 15, 1935 issue), and new material (Monte Herridge on G.T. Fleming- Roberts and Davis; Will Murray on the rivalry with Black Mask). The one fictional feature is "The Tongueless Men," a roundrobin novelette from 1936 with chapters by John Lawrence, Flynn, Daly, Davis, and William E. Barrett. Irresistible to pulp aficionados, this excellent volume should captivate any fan or scholar of 20th-century American mystery fiction.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 05:06:20

Dime Detective Magazine (1931-1953) is generally ranked second only to Black Mask among the great mystery pulps. Slightly less than half this handsome trade paperback originally appeared as Dime Detective Index (1986): an issue-by-issue contents listing, with small black-and-white reproductions of each cover; an author index, index to author profiles and pictures, series character to author cross-reference, appearance ranking of writers (T.T. Flynn on top with 80 is followed by Frederick C. Davis and Carroll John Daly), top ten character appearances (Frederick Nebel's Cardigan comes first with 44), and notes on continuing departments devoted to crossword puzzles and bunco protection.

Additional material includes reprinted articles (Traylor on Dwight V. Babcock and William R. Cox; Marvin Lachman on the contents of the February 15, 1935 issue), and new material (Monte Herridge on G.T. Fleming- Roberts and Davis; Will Murray on the rivalry with Black Mask). The one fictional feature is "The Tongueless Men," a roundrobin novelette from 1936 with chapters by John Lawrence, Flynn, Daly, Davis, and William E. Barrett. Irresistible to pulp aficionados, this excellent volume should captivate any fan or scholar of 20th-century American mystery fiction.

Tom Piccirilli: the Fear That's Tailing You
Hank Wagner

Piccirilli_Tom"Are we doomed to walk in the shadows of our parents, our grandparents, our brothers?"

Tom Piccirilli lives in Colorado where, besides writing, he spends an inordinate amount of time watching trashy cult films and reading Gold Medal classic noir and hardboiled novels. He’s married with three dogs: (Lord) Byron, Edgar (Allan Poe), and Dash(iell Hammett). He is the author of more than 20 novels including Shadow Season, The Cold Spot, The Coldest Mile, and A Choir of Ill Children. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, and has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the World Fantasy Award, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Name the genre, and Tom Piccirilli is likely to have written in it. His early efforts were in the horror field, where the four-time Bram Stoker Award winner published such works as Hexes (1999), A Lower Deep (2001), and A Choir of Ill Children (2003). In the early part of the new century, he penned two westerns, Grave Men (2002) and Coffin Blues (2004). Later in the decade, he started doing crossover dark fantasy-crime novels like November Mourns (2005) and Headstone City (2006), before venturing into straight crime material.

“I was naturally drawn to crime fiction since I was trying to carve out a new niche for myself and find another way to craft my writing drives. I’ve said before that, at least in my case, it feels like the horror genre is a young man’s game whereas noir is for older guys. Horror is fantasy that focuses on the fear that’s hiding around the next corner up ahead, whereas noir is about the fear that’s tailing you. It’s about your regrets, disappointments, and mistakes.”

Part of his motivation was simply to try something new. Piccirilli gets bored easily, and assumes that his audience would feel the same if he simply continued to cover the same ground. “My voice is my voice, the themes that affect me deeply are similar year in and out,” says the author. “But my point of view is always changing either subtly or radically depending on what’s occurring in my life. I’m not the same person at 46 that I was at 26. The work has to shift with me or I’m going to kill it or it’s going to kill me.”

That shift didn’t mean he abandoned any of the motifs that had always fascinated him. “My inclination is toward darker matters. The tragedy found there, the seeking of redemption, the draw of a painful past. My father died when I was very young and, to my detriment, I think, my family tried to protect me from the fact for several days, so I wasn’t told he was dead until after his funeral. A part of me has never been able to find closure there for that reason, and that early trauma sort of defined my worldview from an early age. I find more serious subjects in darker material, more resonant topics, more importance, more arcs worth telling.”

His latest novel, which came out in mid-June, is a series debut titled The Last Kind Words. It’s the story of Terrier Rand, a professional thief who returns to the bosom of his criminal family on the eve of his older brother Collie’s execution. (Interestingly, each family member is named after a breed of dog.) Five years prior to the events of the novel, the erratic Collie inexplicably set off on a vicious killing spree, murdering eight people.

Piccirilli_LAST_KIND_WORDSThe unrepentant Collie now swears that he only killed seven people during his rampage, and that the eighth murder was actually the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, wiseguys, and other assorted people from his dark past, but he’s also forced to investigate the night his brother ran amok to find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he wants to know the reason why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Collie’s insanity is not somehow genetic.

Piccirilli’s inspiration for The Last Kind Words came from the desire to write a novel with a greater accent on family matters and family drama. “Most of my other protagonists are loners, but Terrier Rand is a man attempting to do right by his friends, his lover, even his own murderous brother. I’ve always put an emphasis on the search for identity. Are we doomed to walk in the shadows of our parents, our grandparents, our brothers? Terry is a thief like his forefathers, he lives in a huge house surrounded by other generations of the Rand clan. He even looks very much like his brother. When you stare into the mirror and see your brother and not yourself, how does that affect your actions? I wanted to explore a protagonist who didn’t just make decisions for his own good, but ones that had to help others. People he loved, people he was trying to forgive, people he wants to be forgiven by.”

The crime elements in the novel have an authentic feel to them. When asked about that, Piccirilli mentions that he studied true crime works and reality TV investigation shows in order to familiarize himself with the small details found in the lives of professional criminals. The specifics he made up so they would make sense in terms of living the life of an outlaw.

“The group dynamics are what made writing the novel so much fun,” he states. “Figuring out if a family of thieves would steal from each other, if that kind of behavior would be expected. Would they be exceptionally good at hiding their loot? Would they spy on one another? Would they occasionally rob a house just to pick up pocket change?”

The hard-hitting novel reflects many influences without imitating them. “I’m forever rereading classics in the field, the old Gold Medal authors and the staples of the hardboiled and noir genres. I keep the likes of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, James M. Cain, Charles Willeford, Bruno Fischer, Fredric Brown, and Gil Brewer in constant rotation. Even though my own fiction is very different from most of them, they’ve all had a great effect on me.”

He’s also a hard-core fan of Donald Westlake/ Richard Stark’s Parker novels, dubbing them “completely addictive.” He first became aware of them around the time Westlake rebooted the series with Comeback, after a decades-long hiatus. “I snatched up everything that was available and read most of the series in a week or so. Then I had to track down the rarer titles in the series. Each time I snagged one it was like finding the Holy Grail. Parker’s such an iconic character and the bent world Westlake describes is absorbing on every level.”

As is, in the opinion of this humble critic, the world of the Rand family. It’s a sphere that obviously fascinates Piccirilli, who has already written a sequel, The Last Whisper in the Dark. If it’s anything like its predecessor, it will be a must-read for fans of hardboiled crime fiction come 2013.

A Tom Piccirilli Reading List

The Last Kind Words (2012)
The Shadow Season (2009)
The Fever Kill (2007)
The Midnight Road (2007)
Frayed (2007)
The Dead Letters (2006)
Headstone City (2006)
November Mourns (2005)
Thrust (2005)
Coffin Blues (2004)
A Choir of Ill Children (2003)
Fuckin’ Lie Down Already (2003)
Grave Men (2002)
A Lower Deep (2001)
The Night Class (2000)
The Deceased (2000)
Hexes (1999)
Shards (1996)
Dark Father (1990)

Felicity Grove Series
The Dead Past (1997)
Sorrow’s Crown (1998)

The Cold Series
The Cold Spot (2008)
The Coldest Mile (2009)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #125.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 04:33:49

Piccirilli_Tom"Are we doomed to walk in the shadows of our parents, our grandparents, our brothers?"

Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Raymond Chandler
Jon L. Breen

Following a four-page Raymond Chandler chronology, a dictionary-style guide to his life and work includes exhaustive plot summaries (e.g., six-and-a-half double-columned pages on The Big Sleep), identifications of major and minor characters, family and professional associations (e.g., Cissy Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Alfred A. Knopf, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph T. Shaw, Robert B. Parker), and such topics as Alcoholism, Cannibalized Stories, PhD Dissertations, and Women Mystery Writers. This very useful source is spiced by the sort of quirky opinions common to single- author reference books. (Is it really fair to say that John F. Kennedy was "hardly ethical in recommending [Ian Fleming's] From Russia With Love"?) One monumental factual howler, the claim that Hammett "wrote the movie script of City Lights, a Charlie Chaplin masterpiece (1931)," should not detract from an otherwise estimable reference.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 05:16:12

Following a four-page Raymond Chandler chronology, a dictionary-style guide to his life and work includes exhaustive plot summaries (e.g., six-and-a-half double-columned pages on The Big Sleep), identifications of major and minor characters, family and professional associations (e.g., Cissy Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Alfred A. Knopf, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph T. Shaw, Robert B. Parker), and such topics as Alcoholism, Cannibalized Stories, PhD Dissertations, and Women Mystery Writers. This very useful source is spiced by the sort of quirky opinions common to single- author reference books. (Is it really fair to say that John F. Kennedy was "hardly ethical in recommending [Ian Fleming's] From Russia With Love"?) One monumental factual howler, the claim that Hammett "wrote the movie script of City Lights, a Charlie Chaplin masterpiece (1931)," should not detract from an otherwise estimable reference.

Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detecti
Jon L. Breen

Julian Symons dismissively and unfairly labeled several authors of classical detective fiction between the World Wars as the "humdrums." Curtis Evans provides both biography and critical study in his rehabilitative analysis of three of these maligned writers: the prolific military officer Cecil John Charles Street, who wrote under the pseudonyms John Rhode and Miles Burton; the railroad engineer Wills Crofts; and the eminent chemistry professor Alfred Walter Stewart, who wrote as J.J. Connington.

This is an important book of detective fiction history and criticism, with all the scholarly care and rigor of a first-rate academic study combined with an enjoyable literary style, an ideal combination for exploding a particularly pernicious piece of revisionist history: that good British Golden Age detective fiction was an overwhelmingly feminine pursuit. The main text is bolstered by 23 pages of notes, ten more of primary and secondary bibliography. This should be a certain Edgar nominee.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 05:21:02

evans_mastersofthehumdrummysteryThis second look at three maligned "humdrum" writers is one of the year's best critical nonfiction books.
A Difficult Woman: the Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
Jon L. Breen

Though some of her plays are undeniably criminous (The Little Foxes and Watch on the Rhine are covered in Amnon Kabatchnik's Blood on the Stage), Lillian Hellman's greatest interest to mystery scholars is her long association with Dashiell Hammett. This highly readable, well-documented, and balanced biography recognizes both Hammett's seminal contribution to her writing career and her own importance in managing his literary affairs in the latter part of his life and after his death. The author defends Hellman against charges of being an incorrigible liar, particularly as reflected in the memoirs she wrote late in life, stating that she was almost obsessively concerned with truth and that her factual misstatements can be attributed to the acknowledged use of fictional techniques in her memoirs and an admittedly bad memory for dates and details.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 05:32:55

kessler_adifficultwomanWhile often remembered for her association with Dashiell Hammett, this highly readable biography reveals the controversial Lillian Hellman on her own terms.

Masters of Mystery: the Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
Jon L. Breen

In smoothly entertaining prose, a professional biographer who has specialized in rock musicians turns to the rocky personal friendship of two remarkable men, based on their common interest in the occult and Spiritualism—Harry Houdini generally a scoffer, Arthur Conan Doyle a true believer. Both are presented sympathetically, though their foibles (sometimes remarkably similar) are not glossed over. The illusionist Houdini's egotism, showmanship, and thirst for approval often cast doubt on his reliability. The extent of Doyle's gullibility and single-minded devotion to psychic matters, often downplayed in accounts of his life, is subjected to a hard, bright light. The final chapters are a depressing record of human folly and misplaced energies. Overlook the hackneyed title, which may not be the author's fault; the book was published in Great Britain as Houdini and Conan Doyle.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 05:52:13

In smoothly entertaining prose, a professional biographer who has specialized in rock musicians turns to the rocky personal friendship of two remarkable men, based on their common interest in the occult and Spiritualism—Harry Houdini generally a scoffer, Arthur Conan Doyle a true believer. Both are presented sympathetically, though their foibles (sometimes remarkably similar) are not glossed over. The illusionist Houdini's egotism, showmanship, and thirst for approval often cast doubt on his reliability. The extent of Doyle's gullibility and single-minded devotion to psychic matters, often downplayed in accounts of his life, is subjected to a hard, bright light. The final chapters are a depressing record of human folly and misplaced energies. Overlook the hackneyed title, which may not be the author's fault; the book was published in Great Britain as Houdini and Conan Doyle.

Hearse and Buggy
Lynne Maxwell

The setting for Hearse and Buggy is Heavenly, Pennsylvania, a tradition-bound Amish town that deviates from its name in this fascinating book. Author Laura Bradford has done her research, bringing the Amish culture and mores alive for her readers. Her series debut showcases Claire Weatherly, a recent refugee from a barren marriage to a Wall Street executive who scarcely acknowledged her existence. When her aunt invites her to move to her bed-and-breakfast in Heavenly, she jumps at the opportunity to begin her life anew by embracing simplicity. Of course, even simplicity isn't as simple as it sounds, and her new life as owner of an Amish specialty crafts shop is more complicated than she expects, as murder intrudes upon the previously peaceful town.

Bradford skillfully portrays the cultural dissonance between the Amish and "the English" (the Amish term for outsiders) as suspicion runs rampant. To complicate matters, a handsome new police officer, Detective Jakob Fisher, has just joined the force after spending many years in the NYPD. Fisher is a native of Heavenly but renounced his Amish heritage in order to become a New York cop. As a consequence, even his family shuns him. Fortunately, though, he and Claire form an alliance and manage to find the truth. Hearse and Buggy is a powerful beginning to a promising new series, and I hope that Laura Bradford becomes a prolific writer posthaste.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 06:14:45

The setting for Hearse and Buggy is Heavenly, Pennsylvania, a tradition-bound Amish town that deviates from its name in this fascinating book. Author Laura Bradford has done her research, bringing the Amish culture and mores alive for her readers. Her series debut showcases Claire Weatherly, a recent refugee from a barren marriage to a Wall Street executive who scarcely acknowledged her existence. When her aunt invites her to move to her bed-and-breakfast in Heavenly, she jumps at the opportunity to begin her life anew by embracing simplicity. Of course, even simplicity isn't as simple as it sounds, and her new life as owner of an Amish specialty crafts shop is more complicated than she expects, as murder intrudes upon the previously peaceful town.

Bradford skillfully portrays the cultural dissonance between the Amish and "the English" (the Amish term for outsiders) as suspicion runs rampant. To complicate matters, a handsome new police officer, Detective Jakob Fisher, has just joined the force after spending many years in the NYPD. Fisher is a native of Heavenly but renounced his Amish heritage in order to become a New York cop. As a consequence, even his family shuns him. Fortunately, though, he and Claire form an alliance and manage to find the truth. Hearse and Buggy is a powerful beginning to a promising new series, and I hope that Laura Bradford becomes a prolific writer posthaste.

Powdered Peril
Lynne Maxwell

Powdered Peril is the eighth in Jessica Beck’s delectable Donut Shop Mysteries. Donut shop proprietor Suzanne Hart is not unacquainted with murder and its vicissitudes. Thus, she isn’t entirely surprised when her best friend’s (newly) ex-fiancé is murdered, and she is compelled to exonerate her friend by solving the crime. As always, Suzanne is warm, witty, and one helluva sleuth. She’s no slouch at donut-making, either. This series is as addictive as the treats it features. Thank you Jessica Beck for sharing the donut recipes—and tempting me away from my dietary resolutions—again!

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 06:18:57

Powdered Peril is the eighth in Jessica Beck’s delectable Donut Shop Mysteries. Donut shop proprietor Suzanne Hart is not unacquainted with murder and its vicissitudes. Thus, she isn’t entirely surprised when her best friend’s (newly) ex-fiancé is murdered, and she is compelled to exonerate her friend by solving the crime. As always, Suzanne is warm, witty, and one helluva sleuth. She’s no slouch at donut-making, either. This series is as addictive as the treats it features. Thank you Jessica Beck for sharing the donut recipes—and tempting me away from my dietary resolutions—again!

A Sinister Sense
Lynne Maxwell

A Sinister Sense is Allison Kingsley's second Raven's Nest Bookstore Mystery. Recovering from heartbreak, series star Clara Quinn is starting over, having taken up temporary residence in her widowed mother's home in Finn's Harbor, Maine. She assists her cousin, Stephanie, as a clerk in her cousin's bookstore. What is most memorable about Clara and select members of her clan is that she possesses the "Quinn Sense," a sort of intermittent psychic power. And she certainly has occasion to employ her powers as she encounters a disproportionate number of murders.

In this engaging book, Rick Sanders, Clara's burgeoning love interest, is, preposterously, implicated in a murder, and the police chief and mayor are happy to wrap up the case and look no further. Clara, then, must conduct her own investigation in order to free the innocent Rick. She and her lifelong accomplice, Stephanie, concoct a singularly ingenious scheme to trick the true perpetrator into incriminating himself. With the additional assistance of Rick's ungainly dog, Tatters, they succeed, much to the chagrin of the police chief. A Sinister Sense is hilarious, and it nicely evokes the nuances of family closeness and complicity.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 06:21:41

A Sinister Sense is Allison Kingsley's second Raven's Nest Bookstore Mystery. Recovering from heartbreak, series star Clara Quinn is starting over, having taken up temporary residence in her widowed mother's home in Finn's Harbor, Maine. She assists her cousin, Stephanie, as a clerk in her cousin's bookstore. What is most memorable about Clara and select members of her clan is that she possesses the "Quinn Sense," a sort of intermittent psychic power. And she certainly has occasion to employ her powers as she encounters a disproportionate number of murders.

In this engaging book, Rick Sanders, Clara's burgeoning love interest, is, preposterously, implicated in a murder, and the police chief and mayor are happy to wrap up the case and look no further. Clara, then, must conduct her own investigation in order to free the innocent Rick. She and her lifelong accomplice, Stephanie, concoct a singularly ingenious scheme to trick the true perpetrator into incriminating himself. With the additional assistance of Rick's ungainly dog, Tatters, they succeed, much to the chagrin of the police chief. A Sinister Sense is hilarious, and it nicely evokes the nuances of family closeness and complicity.

Damage Control
Hank Wagner

In John Gilstrap's Damage Control, Jonathan Grave and colleague Brian "Boxers" Van de Muelebroeke are sent to Mexico to deliver a $3 million ransom to secure the freedom of a group of missionaries kidnapped by terrorists. The whole scenario is an elaborate ruse, however, as the "terrorists" plan to ambush the two rescue experts at the behest of a vengeful drug lord and a corrupt American official. Narrowly escaping that kill box, they embark on a harrowing cross-country odyssey, trying to return the sole surviving missionary to America. Pursued by the Mexican authorities and by the drug lord's minions, they literally must shoot their way across the border.

Gilstrap delivers a cascading series of action-packed set pieces that are stunning in the level of violence depicted. He also cleverly pulls his audience into the action by creating a stand-in for them in youthful missionary Tristan Wagner, whose incredulous reactions parallel those of the average person, providing verisimilitude to those hard-hitting scenes.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 07:11:48

In John Gilstrap's Damage Control, Jonathan Grave and colleague Brian "Boxers" Van de Muelebroeke are sent to Mexico to deliver a $3 million ransom to secure the freedom of a group of missionaries kidnapped by terrorists. The whole scenario is an elaborate ruse, however, as the "terrorists" plan to ambush the two rescue experts at the behest of a vengeful drug lord and a corrupt American official. Narrowly escaping that kill box, they embark on a harrowing cross-country odyssey, trying to return the sole surviving missionary to America. Pursued by the Mexican authorities and by the drug lord's minions, they literally must shoot their way across the border.

Gilstrap delivers a cascading series of action-packed set pieces that are stunning in the level of violence depicted. He also cleverly pulls his audience into the action by creating a stand-in for them in youthful missionary Tristan Wagner, whose incredulous reactions parallel those of the average person, providing verisimilitude to those hard-hitting scenes.

Pulse
Hank Wagner

In Pulse, from Edgar and Shamus winner John Lutz, private investigator Frank Quinn makes his seventh appearance, investigating killings which suggest the return of cross-dressing serial killer Daniel Danielle. Lutz makes it personal for Quinn, as the killer's victims all bear an uncanny resemblance to the PI's paramour and colleague, Pearl.

Lutz has an unsettling ability to draw readers into the story, as he details the actions of the murderer and his victims prior to, and, especially upsetting, during, his heinous crimes. Readers become deeply involved in the grim tale, but can only watch helplessly as the killer cuts a bloody swath through New York City.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 07:16:14

In Pulse, from Edgar and Shamus winner John Lutz, private investigator Frank Quinn makes his seventh appearance, investigating killings which suggest the return of cross-dressing serial killer Daniel Danielle. Lutz makes it personal for Quinn, as the killer's victims all bear an uncanny resemblance to the PI's paramour and colleague, Pearl.

Lutz has an unsettling ability to draw readers into the story, as he details the actions of the murderer and his victims prior to, and, especially upsetting, during, his heinous crimes. Readers become deeply involved in the grim tale, but can only watch helplessly as the killer cuts a bloody swath through New York City.

Power Blind
Hank Wagner

Violence takes a backseat to intrigue in Steven Gore's political thriller Power Blind. PI Graham Gage's third adventure opens as Gage brushes off a desperate phone call from sleazy attorney Charlie Palmer, who specializes in stifling the voices of witnesses testifying against the rich and powerful. An hour later, Palmer is dead, apparently of a heart attack. Something seems off to Gage, whose methodical investigation earns him the enmity of a major corporation and some highly placed government officials.

The book's chief strength is its elaborate plot, coupled with Gore's personal understanding of the nature of PI work, as he provides readers with an intimate glimpse of the painstaking process by which Gage puts the pieces of the puzzle together—readers will walk away with the feeling that they've participated in an actual investigation.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-11 07:18:48

Violence takes a backseat to intrigue in Steven Gore's political thriller Power Blind. PI Graham Gage's third adventure opens as Gage brushes off a desperate phone call from sleazy attorney Charlie Palmer, who specializes in stifling the voices of witnesses testifying against the rich and powerful. An hour later, Palmer is dead, apparently of a heart attack. Something seems off to Gage, whose methodical investigation earns him the enmity of a major corporation and some highly placed government officials.

The book's chief strength is its elaborate plot, coupled with Gore's personal understanding of the nature of PI work, as he provides readers with an intimate glimpse of the painstaking process by which Gage puts the pieces of the puzzle together—readers will walk away with the feeling that they've participated in an actual investigation.

Seven Psychopaths Review: Three Stars
Oline Cogdill

sevenpsychopaths_movie2.jpgA major aspect in any work by Irish playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh is great gobs of pitch black humor.

Comedy so dark and yet so rich that it is nearly impossible to stop a laugh, a giggle, a guffaw from escaping.

Wit like a bar of chocolate that is 98% cacao, which means it is indeed an acquired taste but one that can be savored.

I use that allusion to chocolate for a reason because no matter how horrible the events in one of McDonagh’s works become—and they can get pretty dreadful—there also is a bit of sweetness somewhere to temper all that dreadfulness.

sevenpsychopaths_movie1.jpgxxSometimes you have to look closely for that sweetness, but it’s there, from the dysfunctional mother and daughter in his brilliant play The Beauty Queen of Leenane to the torturous—and torturing—soldier mourning the death of his best friend, who happens to be a cat, in the equally brilliant play The Lieutenant of Inishmore. At the heart of his fascinating and bleak play The Pillowman is a heartfelt relationship between two brothers.

In his second feature film as a screenwriter and director, McDonagh allows that bit of sweetness to seep into Seven Psychopaths courtesy of Bonny, the beautiful little shih tzu who is adored in the most profanity-riddled terms of endearment that owner Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) can muster.

Bonny is the only love of Charlie’s life and the little guy’s kidnapping pushes Charlie to brink of uncontrollable revenge and violence. Not that Charlie, clearly the main psychopath in all this, was all that clear-headed to begin with.

sevenpsychopaths_movie4.jpgBefore I go any further, I must say that while there is a lot of violence and blood in Seven Psychopaths, Bonny—who acts as the film’s moral center—is never harmed. If he were, I don’t know how I could have explained that to our little Houdini, the black and white fluff ball of love at left. Bonny is the tan and white dog.

Bonny is the latest target of a rag-tag gang of dognappers that include Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). The pair kidnaps dogs and then returns them for the reward money. That’s all well and good until they take the wrong dog, the beloved Bonny. Somehow the hard-drinking screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is drawn into the scheme.

The movie is called Seven Psychopaths for a reason and there are indeed seven. Some are real; others are figments of Marty’s imagination and part of the screenplay he can’t quite get off the second line of his legal pad.

A Buddhist psychopath who then becomes an Amish psychopath and finally a Quaker psychopath is a running gag throughout the movie.

McDonagh seems to be having a lot of fun with his many allusions to genre standbys of action films and crime dramas. His deranged wit mixes the sensibilities of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino with his own approach.

Those who appreciate Pulp Fiction, 2 Days in the Valley and Dexter may find much to like in Seven Psychopaths. A movie with the name Psychopath in its title and starring Walken and Harrelson almost seems redundant and both actors make the most of their roles. Harrelson—who is psychopath No. 3—is clearly the worst of the lot and his performance often borders on the clichéd, but that seems to be the point. Walken almost tamps down his usual crazy persona as he plays a loving husband whose wife is dying of cancer.

Grungy handsome Farrell again shows that he’s not just a pretty face but an insightful actor who can toss off witty one liners as well as show that there is a writer hiding behind Marty’s alcoholic haze.

houdinijuly20125xI am beginning to think that Rockwell never plays a normal character, but that is fine. His out of control Billy, who has a lot of secrets, is one of his best psychopaths. And the bunny-cradling Tom Waits, as another psychopath, is searching the world for his true love who dumped him, breaking his heart but leaving him surrounded by rabbits.

Seven Psychopaths is not all dark humor. It also is a violent, bloody movie. Still, only one death—and, no, it is not an animal—is gratuitous and chilling and seems so unnecessary. At the same time, this scene reinforces that Seven Psychopaths is about some very dangerous people from whom no one is safe.

But Seven Psychopaths also is about the unconditional love of little Bonny...well, that, and McDonagh’s dark humor.

Seven Psychopaths rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and some drug use.. Running time: 110 minutes.

Photos: Top: Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths; second photo: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell; third photo: Bonny; fourth photo: Houdini Cogdill-Hirschman. Photos of Seven Psychopaths courtsey CBS Films.

Xav ID 577
2012-10-12 09:52:52

sevenpsychopaths_movie2.jpgA major aspect in any work by Irish playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh is great gobs of pitch black humor.

Comedy so dark and yet so rich that it is nearly impossible to stop a laugh, a giggle, a guffaw from escaping.

Wit like a bar of chocolate that is 98% cacao, which means it is indeed an acquired taste but one that can be savored.

I use that allusion to chocolate for a reason because no matter how horrible the events in one of McDonagh’s works become—and they can get pretty dreadful—there also is a bit of sweetness somewhere to temper all that dreadfulness.

sevenpsychopaths_movie1.jpgxxSometimes you have to look closely for that sweetness, but it’s there, from the dysfunctional mother and daughter in his brilliant play The Beauty Queen of Leenane to the torturous—and torturing—soldier mourning the death of his best friend, who happens to be a cat, in the equally brilliant play The Lieutenant of Inishmore. At the heart of his fascinating and bleak play The Pillowman is a heartfelt relationship between two brothers.

In his second feature film as a screenwriter and director, McDonagh allows that bit of sweetness to seep into Seven Psychopaths courtesy of Bonny, the beautiful little shih tzu who is adored in the most profanity-riddled terms of endearment that owner Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) can muster.

Bonny is the only love of Charlie’s life and the little guy’s kidnapping pushes Charlie to brink of uncontrollable revenge and violence. Not that Charlie, clearly the main psychopath in all this, was all that clear-headed to begin with.

sevenpsychopaths_movie4.jpgBefore I go any further, I must say that while there is a lot of violence and blood in Seven Psychopaths, Bonny—who acts as the film’s moral center—is never harmed. If he were, I don’t know how I could have explained that to our little Houdini, the black and white fluff ball of love at left. Bonny is the tan and white dog.

Bonny is the latest target of a rag-tag gang of dognappers that include Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). The pair kidnaps dogs and then returns them for the reward money. That’s all well and good until they take the wrong dog, the beloved Bonny. Somehow the hard-drinking screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is drawn into the scheme.

The movie is called Seven Psychopaths for a reason and there are indeed seven. Some are real; others are figments of Marty’s imagination and part of the screenplay he can’t quite get off the second line of his legal pad.

A Buddhist psychopath who then becomes an Amish psychopath and finally a Quaker psychopath is a running gag throughout the movie.

McDonagh seems to be having a lot of fun with his many allusions to genre standbys of action films and crime dramas. His deranged wit mixes the sensibilities of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino with his own approach.

Those who appreciate Pulp Fiction, 2 Days in the Valley and Dexter may find much to like in Seven Psychopaths. A movie with the name Psychopath in its title and starring Walken and Harrelson almost seems redundant and both actors make the most of their roles. Harrelson—who is psychopath No. 3—is clearly the worst of the lot and his performance often borders on the clichéd, but that seems to be the point. Walken almost tamps down his usual crazy persona as he plays a loving husband whose wife is dying of cancer.

Grungy handsome Farrell again shows that he’s not just a pretty face but an insightful actor who can toss off witty one liners as well as show that there is a writer hiding behind Marty’s alcoholic haze.

houdinijuly20125xI am beginning to think that Rockwell never plays a normal character, but that is fine. His out of control Billy, who has a lot of secrets, is one of his best psychopaths. And the bunny-cradling Tom Waits, as another psychopath, is searching the world for his true love who dumped him, breaking his heart but leaving him surrounded by rabbits.

Seven Psychopaths is not all dark humor. It also is a violent, bloody movie. Still, only one death—and, no, it is not an animal—is gratuitous and chilling and seems so unnecessary. At the same time, this scene reinforces that Seven Psychopaths is about some very dangerous people from whom no one is safe.

But Seven Psychopaths also is about the unconditional love of little Bonny...well, that, and McDonagh’s dark humor.

Seven Psychopaths rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and some drug use.. Running time: 110 minutes.

Photos: Top: Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths; second photo: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell; third photo: Bonny; fourth photo: Houdini Cogdill-Hirschman. Photos of Seven Psychopaths courtsey CBS Films.

Attica Locke's the Cutting Season
Oline Cogdill

lockeattica_author.jpg2Historical tourism delivers a personal view of the past, but Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season also shows us the ugly parts of our history. And how important it is that we don’t forget the bad, no matter how uncomfortable we feel.

The Cutting Season takes place on at Belle Vie, a beautiful antebellum plantation between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana. Belle Vie’s breathtaking vistas make it a perfect destination for weddings, parties and other festive events.

Belle Vie also started out as a slave-owning plantation. Its sugar fields, vegetable gardens and the mansion were all tended by slaves.

That history is also a part of the history of Caren Gray, who manages Belle Vie. Caren’s great-great grandfather was a slave who, along with his family and fellow slaves, worked the plantation. The irony that Caren is now in charge of Belle Vie is lost on this African-American woman.

Attica Locke’s discussion about The Cutting Season as well as her background as a scriptwriter and her affinity for crime fiction were just a few things that we discussed in the profile that runs in the current issue of Mystery Scene.

Admin
2012-10-17 07:54:20

lockeattica_author.jpg2Historical tourism delivers a personal view of the past, but Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season also shows us the ugly parts of our history. And how important it is that we don’t forget the bad, no matter how uncomfortable we feel.

The Cutting Season takes place on at Belle Vie, a beautiful antebellum plantation between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana. Belle Vie’s breathtaking vistas make it a perfect destination for weddings, parties and other festive events.

Belle Vie also started out as a slave-owning plantation. Its sugar fields, vegetable gardens and the mansion were all tended by slaves.

That history is also a part of the history of Caren Gray, who manages Belle Vie. Caren’s great-great grandfather was a slave who, along with his family and fellow slaves, worked the plantation. The irony that Caren is now in charge of Belle Vie is lost on this African-American woman.

Attica Locke’s discussion about The Cutting Season as well as her background as a scriptwriter and her affinity for crime fiction were just a few things that we discussed in the profile that runs in the current issue of Mystery Scene.

My Evening With Sherlock
J.M. Barrie

Sherlock_Holmes_poster_gilletteIn a neat bit of literary detection in The Baker Street Journal, Charles Press has identified the author of the earliest known Sherlockian parody as J.M. Barrie, best known today as the creator of Peter Pan, and a close friend of Arthur Conan Doyle. Herewith, the piece which first appeared in The Speaker, November 28, 1891, four years after Holmes first appearance in print and just four months after “A Scandal in Bohemia,” appeared in The Strand.


Detail of the poster for the play Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette, 1899.

I am the sort of man whose amusement it is to do everything better than any other body. Hence my evening with Mr. Holmes. Sherlock Holmes is the private detective whose adventures Mr. Conan Doyle is now editing in the Strand Magazine. To my annoyance (for I hate to hear anyone praised except myself) Holmes’s cleverness in, for instance, knowing by glancing at you what you had for dinner last Thursday, has delighted press and public, and so I felt that it was time to take him down a peg. I therefore introduced myself to Mr. Conan Doyle and persuaded him to ask me to his house to meet Sherlock Holmes. For poor Mr. Holmes it proved an eventful evening. I had determined to overthrow him with his own weapons, and accordingly when he began, with well-affected carelessness, “I perceive, Mr. Anon, from the condition of your cigar-cutter, that you are not fond of music,” I replied blandly—“Yes, that is obvious.”

Mr. Holmes, who had been in his favourite attitude in an easy chair (curled up in it), started violently and looked with indignation at our host, who was also much put out.

“How on earth can you tell from looking at his cigar-cutter that Mr. Anon is not fond of music?” asked Mr. Conan Doyle with well-simulated astonishment.

“It is very simple,” said Mr. Holmes, still eyeing me sharply.

“The easiest thing in the world,” I agreed.

“Then I need not explain?” said Mr. Holmes haughtily.

“Quite unnecessary,” said I.

I filled my pipe afresh to give the detective and his biographer an opportunity of exchanging glances unobserved, and then pointing to Mr. Holmes’s silk hat (which stood on the table) I said blandly, “So you have been in the country recently, Mr. Holmes?”

He bit his cigar, so that the lighted end was jerked against his brow.

“You saw me there?” he replied almost fiercely.

“No,” I said, “but a glance at your hat told me that you had been out of town.”

“Ha!” said he triumphantly, “then yours was but a guess, for as a matter of fact I—”

“Did not have that hat in the country with you,” I interposed.

“Quite true,” he said smiling.

“But how—” began Mr. Conan Doyle.

“Pooh,” said I coolly, “this may seem remarkable to you two who are not accustomed to drawing deductions from circumstances trivial in themselves (Holmes winced), but it is nothing to one who keeps his eyes open. Now as soon as I saw that Mr. Holmes’s hat was dented in the front, as if it had received a sharp blow, I knew that he had been in the country lately.”

“For a long or a short time?” Holmes snarled. (His cool manner had quite deserted him.)

“For at least a week,” I said.

“True,” he replied dejectedly.

“Your hat also tells me,” I continued, “that you came to this house in a four-wheeler—no, in a hansom.”

“——” said Sherlock Holmes.

“Would you mind explaining?” asked our host.

“Not at all,” I said. “When I saw the dent in Mr. Holmes’s hat, I knew at once that it had come unexpectedly against some hard object. What object? Probably the roof of a conveyance, which he struck against when stepping in. Those accidents often happen at such a time to hats. Then though this conveyance might have been a four-wheeler, it was more probable that Mr. Holmes would travel in a hansom.”

“How did you know I had been in the country?”

“I am coming to that. Your practice is, of course, to wear a silk hat always in London, but those who are in the habit of doing so acquire, without knowing it, a habit of guarding their hats. I, therefore, saw that you had recently been wearing a pot-hat and had forgotten to allow for the extra height of the silk hat. But you are not the sort of man who would wear a little hat in London. Obviously, then, you had been in the country, where pot-hats are the rule rather than the exception.”

Mr. Holmes, who was evidently losing ground every moment with our host, tried to change the subject.

“I was lunching in an Italian restaurant today,” he said, addressing Mr. Conan Doyle, “and the waiter’s manner of adding up my bill convinced me that his father had once—”

“Speaking of that,” I interposed, “do you remember that as you were leaving the restaurant you and another person nearly had a quarrel at the door?”

“Was it you?” he asked.

“If you think that possible,” I said blandly, “you have a poor memory for faces.”

He growled to himself.

“It was this way, Mr. Doyle,” I said. “The door of this restaurant is in two halves, the one of which is marked ‘Push’ and the other ‘Pull.’ Now Mr. Holmes and the stranger were on different sides of the door, and both pulled. As a consequence the door would not open, until one of them gave way. Then they glared at each other and parted.”

“You must have been a spectator,” said our host.

“No,” I replied, “but I knew this as soon as I heard that Mr. Holmes had been lunching in one of those small restaurants. They all have double doors, which are marked ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ respectively. Now, nineteen times in twenty, mankind pushes when it ought to pull, and pulls when it should push. Again, when you are leaving a restaurant there is usually some one entering it. Hence the scene at the door. And, in conclusion, the very fact of having made such a silly mistake rouses ill-temper, which we vent on the other man, to imply that the fault was all his.”

Baker_Street_Journal_v61_no_4_winter_2011“Hum!” said Holmes savagely. “Mr. Doyle, the leaf of this cigar is unwinding.”

“Try anoth—” our host was beginning, when I interposed with—

“I observe from your remark, Mr. Holmes, that you came straight here from a hairdresser’s.”

This time he gaped.

“You let him wax your moustache,” I continued (for of late Mr. Holmes has been growing a moustache).

“He did it before I knew what he was about,” Mr. Holmes replied.

“Exactly,” I said, “and in your hansom you tried to undo his handiwork with your fingers.”

“To which,” our host said with sudden enlightenment, “some of the wax stuck, and is now tearing the leaf of the cigar!”

“Precisely,” I said. “I knew that he had come from a hairdresser’s the moment I shook hands with him.”

“Good-night,” said Mr. Holmes, seizing his hat. (He is not so tall as I thought him at first.) “Goodnight, I have an appointment at ten with a banker who—”

“So I have been observing,” I said. “I knew it from the way you—”

But he was gone.

Look for “The Authorship of the Earliest Known Sherlockian Parody,” by Charles Press in The Baker Street Journal, Winter 2011. It’s an interesting article in an always enjoyable publication.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #123.

In a neat bit of literary detection in the latest Baker Street Journal, Charles Press has identified the author of the earliest known Sherlockian parody as J.M. Barrie, best known today as the creator of Peter Pan, and a close friend of Arthur Conan Doyle. Herewith, the piece which first appeared in The Speaker, November 28, 1891, four year after Holmes first appearance in print and just four months after “A Scandal in Bohemia,” appeared in The Strand.
Teri Duerr
2012-10-18 16:35:49
 

Sherlock_Holmes_poster_gilletteThe earliest known Sherlockian parody from J.M. Barrie, best known today as the creator of Peter Pan. 

Elaine Viets Is Calling All Bridesmaids
Oline Cogdill

vietselaine_piececake.jog

UPDATE: CONTEST DEADLINE EXTENDED TO NOV. 14.

When I got married, I tried my best not to be a bridezilla. And I succeeded. At least I think I did.

Maybe the fact that Bill, my now-husband, and I were older had something to do about it.

Maybe the fact that we have a great romantic story about being engaged in college, breaking up for some 20 years and then discovering that love was still there.

Or maybe the fact that while I wanted my wedding day to be special, and it was, I also knew that each day I was married would be more important. (And they have been.)

Solid marriages, not weddings, are the main prize.

One area I was definitely not a bridezilla was in the area of bridesmaids dresses. I told my maid of honor, Toni, and my matron of honor, Lynn, to wear what they wanted. I knew they would pick out great dresses; I frankly didn’t care what color.

I just wanted them to look good and feel good and if they could wear the dresses later, that would be the best. Toni wore a greenish grey dress and Lynn a pink number and, while I don’t know if they ever wore them again, they certainly could have.

Not every bride thinks that way.

Elaine Viets knows very well how bridesmaids dresses can be the worst dress you ever wore.

To prove her point, Viets is sponsoring a “National Bridesmaid Dress Contest.”

Viets wants to know “Did you wear a bridesmaid dress you can't believe a bride would inflict on a friend?” Then enter the "I Can't Believe I Wore This Dress. It’s outrageous" category.

She also wants to know about dresses “so pretty you'd want to wear it again.” Those lucky women can enter the "I Can't Believe I Wore This Dress. It’s gorgeous" category.

Of course there’s a mystery component to all this. You didn’t think Viets was just wanted to peer into your closet, did you?

vietselaine_bridesmaidViets’ Murder Is a Piece of Cake, her eighth humorous mystery about Josie Marcus, a mystery shopper who lives in St. Louis, will be published Nov. 6. In this novel, Josie is about to get married, until, that is, her mother-in-law to-be is arrested for murder. So what better way to celebrate Josie’s pending nuptials than this fun contest.

Winners in both categories will receive $100 gift certificates to the bookstore of their choice, for e-books or tree books, and an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Second place is a $25 gift certificate and an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Third place is an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Details on how to enter are at Viets’ web site, where you will find some other classic bridesmaids dresses, including one worn by author Marcia Talley.

The deadline to enter has been extended to Nov. 14, 2012.

Photos: Bridesmaids in Elaine Viets’ wedding. (Viets claims that that pale orange chiffon was cutting edge in Florissant, Mo., in 1971.)

Xav ID 577
2012-10-21 03:13:44

vietselaine_piececake.jog

UPDATE: CONTEST DEADLINE EXTENDED TO NOV. 14.

When I got married, I tried my best not to be a bridezilla. And I succeeded. At least I think I did.

Maybe the fact that Bill, my now-husband, and I were older had something to do about it.

Maybe the fact that we have a great romantic story about being engaged in college, breaking up for some 20 years and then discovering that love was still there.

Or maybe the fact that while I wanted my wedding day to be special, and it was, I also knew that each day I was married would be more important. (And they have been.)

Solid marriages, not weddings, are the main prize.

One area I was definitely not a bridezilla was in the area of bridesmaids dresses. I told my maid of honor, Toni, and my matron of honor, Lynn, to wear what they wanted. I knew they would pick out great dresses; I frankly didn’t care what color.

I just wanted them to look good and feel good and if they could wear the dresses later, that would be the best. Toni wore a greenish grey dress and Lynn a pink number and, while I don’t know if they ever wore them again, they certainly could have.

Not every bride thinks that way.

Elaine Viets knows very well how bridesmaids dresses can be the worst dress you ever wore.

To prove her point, Viets is sponsoring a “National Bridesmaid Dress Contest.”

Viets wants to know “Did you wear a bridesmaid dress you can't believe a bride would inflict on a friend?” Then enter the "I Can't Believe I Wore This Dress. It’s outrageous" category.

She also wants to know about dresses “so pretty you'd want to wear it again.” Those lucky women can enter the "I Can't Believe I Wore This Dress. It’s gorgeous" category.

Of course there’s a mystery component to all this. You didn’t think Viets was just wanted to peer into your closet, did you?

vietselaine_bridesmaidViets’ Murder Is a Piece of Cake, her eighth humorous mystery about Josie Marcus, a mystery shopper who lives in St. Louis, will be published Nov. 6. In this novel, Josie is about to get married, until, that is, her mother-in-law to-be is arrested for murder. So what better way to celebrate Josie’s pending nuptials than this fun contest.

Winners in both categories will receive $100 gift certificates to the bookstore of their choice, for e-books or tree books, and an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Second place is a $25 gift certificate and an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Third place is an autographed copy of Murder Is a Piece of Cake.

Details on how to enter are at Viets’ web site, where you will find some other classic bridesmaids dresses, including one worn by author Marcia Talley.

The deadline to enter has been extended to Nov. 14, 2012.

Photos: Bridesmaids in Elaine Viets’ wedding. (Viets claims that that pale orange chiffon was cutting edge in Florissant, Mo., in 1971.)

Laura by Vera Caspary
Oline Cogdill


laura_themovieLaura is one of the most perfect movies ever made.

A mystery over a murder, unrequited love and a twist at the end come together in this 1944 film, directed by Otto Preminger. It earned several Academy Award nominations.

For those five people out there not familiar with this movie, the Laura of the title has been killed just inside the door to her apartment before the story begins.

Laura Hunt was a successful advertising executive, much loved by the people in her life. With love comes jealous and even hate as New York City police detective Mark McPherson discovers. Those closest to her are also the main suspects: newspaper columnist and her mentor Waldo Lydecker; her gigolo fiancé; and her wealthy socialite aunt who also has been having an affair with Laura’s fiancé.

McPherson learns who Laura was through her letters, diary and inner circle. As he discovers what made this woman so charismatic, he begins to fall in love with her.

And then the real Laura walks in the door.

It is unforgettable when McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, falls in love with Laura while gazing at her portrait. It’s a sexually charged scene enhanced by Andrews taking off his jacket. So is the next moment when Laura, played by Gene Tierney, walks back into the apartment with that hat framing her face.

The movie briskly moves as it delves into the characters. Although released during 1944, this black and white movie should not be considered film noir. Instead it is more romantic suspense with large infusion of noir.

But until recently, I had never read the source material—the novel Laura by Vera Caspary. This 171-page story has been re-released by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York.

laura_thenovelThe slim volume is a handsome book that includes an in-depth discussion of the novel, the film and Caspary’s life.

While there are certainly differences between the novel and the movie, as there always are, both are equally enthralling.

I know that may be heresy to even suggest that a film may be equal to the novel, but there it is.

Laura, the movie, is pure perfection. Tierney and Andrews ooze sexuality and the chemistry is evident. Clifton Webb is imperious as the snobby and controling Lydecker. And Vincent Price slithers on screen as the fiancé who is up for sale.

Laura, the novel, was originally a seven-part serial published in Colliers from October through November 1942, and titled Ring Twice for Laura.

It was published as a complete novel in 1943.

In addition to the movie, Caspary co-wrote a play version of Laura in 1946. It was produced after the movie's success. It was recently revived at the Post Theatre in Highlands, NJ.



In the novel, Waldo is quite heavy and had a physical relationship with Laura while in the movie he is viewed more as a mentor and best friend.

But the novel holds up as well as the movie, which I think I will go watch again.

Xav ID 577
2012-10-24 09:50:56


laura_themovieLaura is one of the most perfect movies ever made.

A mystery over a murder, unrequited love and a twist at the end come together in this 1944 film, directed by Otto Preminger. It earned several Academy Award nominations.

For those five people out there not familiar with this movie, the Laura of the title has been killed just inside the door to her apartment before the story begins.

Laura Hunt was a successful advertising executive, much loved by the people in her life. With love comes jealous and even hate as New York City police detective Mark McPherson discovers. Those closest to her are also the main suspects: newspaper columnist and her mentor Waldo Lydecker; her gigolo fiancé; and her wealthy socialite aunt who also has been having an affair with Laura’s fiancé.

McPherson learns who Laura was through her letters, diary and inner circle. As he discovers what made this woman so charismatic, he begins to fall in love with her.

And then the real Laura walks in the door.

It is unforgettable when McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, falls in love with Laura while gazing at her portrait. It’s a sexually charged scene enhanced by Andrews taking off his jacket. So is the next moment when Laura, played by Gene Tierney, walks back into the apartment with that hat framing her face.

The movie briskly moves as it delves into the characters. Although released during 1944, this black and white movie should not be considered film noir. Instead it is more romantic suspense with large infusion of noir.

But until recently, I had never read the source material—the novel Laura by Vera Caspary. This 171-page story has been re-released by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York.

laura_thenovelThe slim volume is a handsome book that includes an in-depth discussion of the novel, the film and Caspary’s life.

While there are certainly differences between the novel and the movie, as there always are, both are equally enthralling.

I know that may be heresy to even suggest that a film may be equal to the novel, but there it is.

Laura, the movie, is pure perfection. Tierney and Andrews ooze sexuality and the chemistry is evident. Clifton Webb is imperious as the snobby and controling Lydecker. And Vincent Price slithers on screen as the fiancé who is up for sale.

Laura, the novel, was originally a seven-part serial published in Colliers from October through November 1942, and titled Ring Twice for Laura.

It was published as a complete novel in 1943.

In addition to the movie, Caspary co-wrote a play version of Laura in 1946. It was produced after the movie's success. It was recently revived at the Post Theatre in Highlands, NJ.



In the novel, Waldo is quite heavy and had a physical relationship with Laura while in the movie he is viewed more as a mentor and best friend.

But the novel holds up as well as the movie, which I think I will go watch again.

New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial Signed Copy Giveaway

falzini_njslindberghkidnappingtrialWIN A SIGNED COPY

New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping
and Trial

Featuring more than 150 photographs not seen by the public in 80 years, this first ever photographic history of the case takes readers on a behind the scenes visual tour of the Lindbergh kidnapping and the circus-like trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Enter to win an autographed copy that’ll take you on a trip back in time through four years of agonizing drama.

To earn more about New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial and why Defrosting Case Files calls it a “must for all who are interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping,” please visit Arcadia Publishing at the following link:

www.arcadiapublishing.com/Lindbergh

To enter the contest, send the following information by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:
Incomplete entries will be discarded.

Offer Terms and Conditions
One free copy of New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial will be sent to 3 eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of prize: $21.99 USD. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends November 30, 2012, 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winner will be announced and notified by Mystery Scene.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Xav ID 577
2011-02-25 17:14:08

falzini_njslindberghkidnappingtrialWIN A SIGNED COPY

New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping
and Trial

Featuring more than 150 photographs not seen by the public in 80 years, this first ever photographic history of the case takes readers on a behind the scenes visual tour of the Lindbergh kidnapping and the circus-like trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Enter to win an autographed copy that’ll take you on a trip back in time through four years of agonizing drama.

To earn more about New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial and why Defrosting Case Files calls it a “must for all who are interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping,” please visit Arcadia Publishing at the following link:

www.arcadiapublishing.com/Lindbergh

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Sacrifice Fly at the Head of the Class
Oline Cogdill

omaratim_sacrificefly2.jpg
I am grateful for the teachers who have been a part of my life.

In grade school, my mother taught spelling and a couple of other subjects and, while I seemed to resent her presence at the time, I also was glad she was around.

In high school, my favorite teacher was, and remains, Theresa Harbin who taught me how to read. By that I mean how to understand what an author meant, how the subtle aspects of a story can reverberate throughout the plot, how a character’s name can have myriad purposes.

I also salute my friends, Nancee and Patrice, whose careers as first-grade teachers set the course for many people, and the many spouses of my friends who have chosen this career path.

And a big salute to my friends’ mothers who were teachers.

I was thinking about the impact that teachers have on our lives while I was reading the intriguing debut Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara.

In O’Mara’s novel, Raymond Donne has become a teacher in Brooklyn after leaving the city’s police force. But Raymond isn’t just any teacher—he’s very involved with his students’ lessons in the classroom and the real world situations they must face. He’s been known to try to save a student from an abusive home and then heading off to teach the intricate beauty of Walt Whitman’s poetry, as I said in my review.

In Sacrifice Fly, Ray gets eighth grader Frankie Rivas a complete scholarship to a private school because of the student’s impressive skills on the baseball diamond. But Frankie’s scholarship also hinges on keeping up his grades, so Ray is concerned when the student has been missing from school for more than a week. But this is more than a truant child. While searching for Frankie, Raymond becomes involved in a murder investigation.

While, fortunately, no teacher of mine had to make the hard decisions that Ray does. At least not that I know of.

But Sacrifice Fly made me remember the inspiration that a teacher can give to students, how a teacher can make learning such a wonderful thing.

While there are a slew of academic mysteries, there also are a number in which a teacher is the sleuth.

First, let’s start with Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote fame. Before she became an author of detective fiction under the name J. B. Fletcher, Jessica Fletcher was a teacher.

Mignon F. Ballard’s latest series features first grade teacher, Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, during the years of World War II.

Sarah R. Shaber’s first series featured North Carolina history professor Simon Shaw.

Gillian Roberts wrote 14 highly entertaining novels about Amanda Pepper, a high school teacher in Philadelphia

Sujata Massey’s lovely novels about Rei Shimura looked at the cultural differences that her Japanese-American character saw while working as an English teacher in Japan.

This is just a short list of the mysteries featuring teachers. Tell us your favorite.

I’d say that Tim O'Mara's Raymond Donne is in good company.

Xav ID 577
2012-10-28 09:21:25

omaratim_sacrificefly2.jpg
I am grateful for the teachers who have been a part of my life.

In grade school, my mother taught spelling and a couple of other subjects and, while I seemed to resent her presence at the time, I also was glad she was around.

In high school, my favorite teacher was, and remains, Theresa Harbin who taught me how to read. By that I mean how to understand what an author meant, how the subtle aspects of a story can reverberate throughout the plot, how a character’s name can have myriad purposes.

I also salute my friends, Nancee and Patrice, whose careers as first-grade teachers set the course for many people, and the many spouses of my friends who have chosen this career path.

And a big salute to my friends’ mothers who were teachers.

I was thinking about the impact that teachers have on our lives while I was reading the intriguing debut Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara.

In O’Mara’s novel, Raymond Donne has become a teacher in Brooklyn after leaving the city’s police force. But Raymond isn’t just any teacher—he’s very involved with his students’ lessons in the classroom and the real world situations they must face. He’s been known to try to save a student from an abusive home and then heading off to teach the intricate beauty of Walt Whitman’s poetry, as I said in my review.

In Sacrifice Fly, Ray gets eighth grader Frankie Rivas a complete scholarship to a private school because of the student’s impressive skills on the baseball diamond. But Frankie’s scholarship also hinges on keeping up his grades, so Ray is concerned when the student has been missing from school for more than a week. But this is more than a truant child. While searching for Frankie, Raymond becomes involved in a murder investigation.

While, fortunately, no teacher of mine had to make the hard decisions that Ray does. At least not that I know of.

But Sacrifice Fly made me remember the inspiration that a teacher can give to students, how a teacher can make learning such a wonderful thing.

While there are a slew of academic mysteries, there also are a number in which a teacher is the sleuth.

First, let’s start with Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote fame. Before she became an author of detective fiction under the name J. B. Fletcher, Jessica Fletcher was a teacher.

Mignon F. Ballard’s latest series features first grade teacher, Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, during the years of World War II.

Sarah R. Shaber’s first series featured North Carolina history professor Simon Shaw.

Gillian Roberts wrote 14 highly entertaining novels about Amanda Pepper, a high school teacher in Philadelphia

Sujata Massey’s lovely novels about Rei Shimura looked at the cultural differences that her Japanese-American character saw while working as an English teacher in Japan.

This is just a short list of the mysteries featuring teachers. Tell us your favorite.

I’d say that Tim O'Mara's Raymond Donne is in good company.

Jack Reacher's Rules to Live By
Oline Cogdill

childlee_jackreacherrules
The Jack Reacher novels have made Lee Child a household name.

From the debut Killing Floor to the newest A Wanted Man, Child has put Reacher on an adventure course that has taken the ex-military policeman across the country, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent.

The Reacher novels are among the genre’s most entertaining series. They are so addictive that I think I it is impossible to read just one.

A Wanted Man came out in September and Jack Reacher, the movie starring Tom Cruise, will be released during December.

So what’s a fan to do in the meantime?

Follow Jack Reacher’s Rules.

This amusing, 152-page book is “written” by Jack Reacher, whose bio at the beginning says that he is a “former U.S. Army Military Police major. Since leaving the army, the authorities have not been able to locate him, although his name crops up mysteriously from time to time in connection with investigations into murders, terrorism, and other breaches of the law.”

childlee_arms2
Perhaps those authorities should ask Lee Child, who is acknowledged as writing the introduction.

Unlike Child’s novels, Jack Reacher’s Rules has no twists, deep plots or snappy dialogue.

Instead, expect lists and hints about how to live like Reacher.

For example:

When in doubt, drink coffee.

If in doubt, say nothing.

Never volunteer for anything.

Don’t break the furniture.

Only one woman at a time.

Show them what they’re messing with.


OK, so Reacher's rules will never be confused with those of Miss Manners, but that's the point.

Sprinkled throughout are quotes from Child’s 17 novels. A few bon mots—a word Reacher would never use—include:

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

“I never get angry. I’m a very placid type of guy.”

“You don’t throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale.”


With the holidays coming up, Jack Reacher’s Rules is sure to make a few gift lists.

Photo: Lee Child photo by Sigrid Estrada

Xav ID 577
2012-10-31 09:30:04

childlee_jackreacherrules
The Jack Reacher novels have made Lee Child a household name.

From the debut Killing Floor to the newest A Wanted Man, Child has put Reacher on an adventure course that has taken the ex-military policeman across the country, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent.

The Reacher novels are among the genre’s most entertaining series. They are so addictive that I think I it is impossible to read just one.

A Wanted Man came out in September and Jack Reacher, the movie starring Tom Cruise, will be released during December.

So what’s a fan to do in the meantime?

Follow Jack Reacher’s Rules.

This amusing, 152-page book is “written” by Jack Reacher, whose bio at the beginning says that he is a “former U.S. Army Military Police major. Since leaving the army, the authorities have not been able to locate him, although his name crops up mysteriously from time to time in connection with investigations into murders, terrorism, and other breaches of the law.”

childlee_arms2
Perhaps those authorities should ask Lee Child, who is acknowledged as writing the introduction.

Unlike Child’s novels, Jack Reacher’s Rules has no twists, deep plots or snappy dialogue.

Instead, expect lists and hints about how to live like Reacher.

For example:

When in doubt, drink coffee.

If in doubt, say nothing.

Never volunteer for anything.

Don’t break the furniture.

Only one woman at a time.

Show them what they’re messing with.


OK, so Reacher's rules will never be confused with those of Miss Manners, but that's the point.

Sprinkled throughout are quotes from Child’s 17 novels. A few bon mots—a word Reacher would never use—include:

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

“I never get angry. I’m a very placid type of guy.”

“You don’t throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale.”


With the holidays coming up, Jack Reacher’s Rules is sure to make a few gift lists.

Photo: Lee Child photo by Sigrid Estrada

Vera From Ann Cleeves
Oline Cogdill


veraset1_anncleeves.pg
Vera: Set 1 and Set 2. Acorn Media. 4 episodes in each set; each episode about 89 minutes. Each $59.99.


Most American readers know British author Ann Cleeves through her intriguing novels set on the Shetland Islands.

These taut, atmospheric novels feature the empathetic Det. Insp. Jimmy Perez and include Raven Black, White Nights and Blue Lightning.

Cleeves also writes a series about Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope that will be released in the United States during the spring of 2013.

But Americans can get a jump on this series with Vera, the British TV series now available on DVD. The first set of four episodes was released last year by Acorn Media and the second Vera DVD has just become available from Acorn.

Like so many British TV series, Vera features involving plots filled with twists that are believable. Vera doesn’t soften the characters of the novels but allows their flaws to be a natural part of their personalities.

Vera, well played by Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies), is a cantankerous cop with the Northumbria, England, police force. Vera is a mess—dowdy, schlepping instead of walking, and her hair could use a good brushing. She makes Jane Tennison look like a beauty queen. Unconsciously, she has a sharp wit.

vera_anncleeves
But like Jane Tennison, Vera is a single-minded detective, so focused on an investigation to the point that she often ignores, or is downright rude, to her squad. Her quick temper often erupts. She doesn’t understand that praise, compromise or just treating people like professionals go a long way.

Despite this, her detectives are loyal to her and, even begrudgingly, respect her. Sgt. Joe Ashworth (David Leon) is her most trusted detective and their relationship, at times, seems like mother and son. Sometimes, Joe spends more time with Vera than with his own family, and Vera pretty much ignores that fact that he has a family. Detective Constable Holly Lawson (Wunmi Mosakua) and forensic pathologist Billy Cartwright (Paul Ritter) also are reoccurring characters.

The eight episodes are beautifully filmed with the British landscape as important as the characters.

The intriguing stories do not have clean resolutions and few escape being tainted with guilt.

veraset2_dvdcover2“Hidden Depths,” the first episode sets the tone for the series. Vera’s father has been dead for six weeks but she is impersonal about his death. She and Joe investigate the death of a 15-year-old, found strangled in the bathtub strewn with flowers. Months before the boy’s best friend had drowned. The investigation has barely begun when a young teacher’s body is dumped on the beach.

In the second season, the episode "A Certain Samaritan" finds Vera investigating the death of a man who had heroin in his system. Memories of Vera’s father consume her when she is given the address of his mistress.

The third season is scheduled to be aired in Britain during the spring of 2013, just about the same time the novels will be released on this side of the pond.

Photos: Brenda Blethyn as Vera; David Leon and Brenda Blethyn in Vera. Photos courtesey Acorn Media.

Xav ID 577
2012-11-04 09:30:33


veraset1_anncleeves.pg
Vera: Set 1 and Set 2. Acorn Media. 4 episodes in each set; each episode about 89 minutes. Each $59.99.


Most American readers know British author Ann Cleeves through her intriguing novels set on the Shetland Islands.

These taut, atmospheric novels feature the empathetic Det. Insp. Jimmy Perez and include Raven Black, White Nights and Blue Lightning.

Cleeves also writes a series about Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope that will be released in the United States during the spring of 2013.

But Americans can get a jump on this series with Vera, the British TV series now available on DVD. The first set of four episodes was released last year by Acorn Media and the second Vera DVD has just become available from Acorn.

Like so many British TV series, Vera features involving plots filled with twists that are believable. Vera doesn’t soften the characters of the novels but allows their flaws to be a natural part of their personalities.

Vera, well played by Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies), is a cantankerous cop with the Northumbria, England, police force. Vera is a mess—dowdy, schlepping instead of walking, and her hair could use a good brushing. She makes Jane Tennison look like a beauty queen. Unconsciously, she has a sharp wit.

vera_anncleeves
But like Jane Tennison, Vera is a single-minded detective, so focused on an investigation to the point that she often ignores, or is downright rude, to her squad. Her quick temper often erupts. She doesn’t understand that praise, compromise or just treating people like professionals go a long way.

Despite this, her detectives are loyal to her and, even begrudgingly, respect her. Sgt. Joe Ashworth (David Leon) is her most trusted detective and their relationship, at times, seems like mother and son. Sometimes, Joe spends more time with Vera than with his own family, and Vera pretty much ignores that fact that he has a family. Detective Constable Holly Lawson (Wunmi Mosakua) and forensic pathologist Billy Cartwright (Paul Ritter) also are reoccurring characters.

The eight episodes are beautifully filmed with the British landscape as important as the characters.

The intriguing stories do not have clean resolutions and few escape being tainted with guilt.

veraset2_dvdcover2“Hidden Depths,” the first episode sets the tone for the series. Vera’s father has been dead for six weeks but she is impersonal about his death. She and Joe investigate the death of a 15-year-old, found strangled in the bathtub strewn with flowers. Months before the boy’s best friend had drowned. The investigation has barely begun when a young teacher’s body is dumped on the beach.

In the second season, the episode "A Certain Samaritan" finds Vera investigating the death of a man who had heroin in his system. Memories of Vera’s father consume her when she is given the address of his mistress.

The third season is scheduled to be aired in Britain during the spring of 2013, just about the same time the novels will be released on this side of the pond.

Photos: Brenda Blethyn as Vera; David Leon and Brenda Blethyn in Vera. Photos courtesey Acorn Media.

Lincoln Child on Josephine Tey
Lincoln Child

preston__child

"In order for a mystery novel to find a truly permanent place on my bookshelves, it has to be utterly unique, cleverly plotted, and influential."

Pictured L-R: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

While most of the books I read these days are either thrillers or nonfiction scientific treatises of one sort or another (an occupational hazard), I’m also a loyal fan of mysteries. As a youth, I devoured the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Jacques Futrelle, and (no surprise) Arthur Conan Doyle. I also greatly enjoyed the canonical “locked room” stories of John Dickson Carr.

In order for a mystery novel to find a truly permanent place on my bookshelves, it has to be utterly unique, cleverly plotted, and influential. One book which meets all these criteria, and to me remains fresh despite being well over half a century old, is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

The Daughter of Time is a fascinating mystery for several reasons. It takes place in a hospital bed, where a Scotland Yard detective is recovering from an accident and going stir-crazy with boredom. As he recuperates, he becomes increasingly obsessed with King Richard III. Was he really the vicious murderer history has painted him, the mastermind behind the killing of the princes in the tower? Or was he victim of a deep and devious plot?

tey_daughteroftimeFrom his bed, the detective undertakes what is, in essence, a murder investigation into the distant past—and the conclusions he arrives at are fascinating not only for their persuasiveness, but for what they have to say about the nature of truth and the evolution—or manipulation—of historical “fact.”

Connoisseurs of such fiction may already be nodding their heads and smiling in fond reminiscence. But if you’re a fan of mysteries and this title is new to you, I recommend it without reservation.

Author Website: www.prestonchild.com

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews November 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
2012-10-30 14:33:03

preston__child

"In order for a mystery novel to find a truly permanent place on my bookshelves, it has to be utterly unique, cleverly plotted, and influential."

Pictured L-R: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

While most of the books I read these days are either thrillers or nonfiction scientific treatises of one sort or another (an occupational hazard), I’m also a loyal fan of mysteries. As a youth, I devoured the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Jacques Futrelle, and (no surprise) Arthur Conan Doyle. I also greatly enjoyed the canonical “locked room” stories of John Dickson Carr.

In order for a mystery novel to find a truly permanent place on my bookshelves, it has to be utterly unique, cleverly plotted, and influential. One book which meets all these criteria, and to me remains fresh despite being well over half a century old, is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

The Daughter of Time is a fascinating mystery for several reasons. It takes place in a hospital bed, where a Scotland Yard detective is recovering from an accident and going stir-crazy with boredom. As he recuperates, he becomes increasingly obsessed with King Richard III. Was he really the vicious murderer history has painted him, the mastermind behind the killing of the princes in the tower? Or was he victim of a deep and devious plot?

tey_daughteroftimeFrom his bed, the detective undertakes what is, in essence, a murder investigation into the distant past—and the conclusions he arrives at are fascinating not only for their persuasiveness, but for what they have to say about the nature of truth and the evolution—or manipulation—of historical “fact.”

Connoisseurs of such fiction may already be nodding their heads and smiling in fond reminiscence. But if you’re a fan of mysteries and this title is new to you, I recommend it without reservation.

Author Website: www.prestonchild.com

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

Eyewitness: the Greatest Pi Show of All Time?
Kevin Burton Smith

Rockford_garner_crowdAs the late critic William DeAndrea pointed out, “Surrounded by six tough guys, Mannix (or a zillion other hardboiled dicks from literature, film, radio, and television) would fight it out with them. Rockford might pretend to faint.”

At a recent “meet the local writers” affair at the Lancaster (California) Public Library, high school teacher and journalist Edward Mooney was excitedly telling us about the “major motion picture” adaptation of his first novel, The Pearls of the Stone Man. Although unsure of final casting, Mooney couldn’t help let slip one of the names in contention: James Garner.

I swear, an actual hush fell over the room—a testament to the ongoing popularity of Garner. And if there’s one role, one performance, one character forever linked with Garner’s long and varied career it’s his portrayal of Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, the enduringly popular NBC series that ran from 1974 to 1980, a character that has been referred to quite often—and I think quite correctly—as “America’s favorite private eye.”

Oh, sure, you can drag out Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe or even Mike Hammer, but for a nation mostly weaned on the electronic boob tube that may not know Raymond Chandler from Raymond Carver, Rockford is the private eye.

I mean, get real. Has there ever been a more beloved TV shamus, or a show that’s had more impact on the genre? My sweetie gave me the long-awaited season one for Christmas, and I’ve been watching the shows in all their unedited, commercial-free glory. Once again I’m blown away by how smart and savvy and downright entertaining the show was—and how it was constantly messing with your expectations—and your heart.

Just as the late co-creator Roy Huggins had fooled around with the conventions of the TV western genre back in the 1950s with Maverick, so did he and then new-kid-on-the-block Stephen J. Cannell wreak havoc on the gumshoe genre with The Rockford Files.

Rockford_Garner_carWhere previous gumshoes had been mostly courageous lone knights fighting for justice and honor, obsessed with the truth, Jim was a con artist with a slick spiel and an occasionally slippery code of ethics who would rather go fishing, and had real problems with playing by the rules. An ex-con (not an ex-cop) who’d served five years in San Quentin before receiving a full pardon, he kept his rarely used gun in a cookie jar, a small press in his Firebird’s backseat to print instant business cards to go with his numerous scams, and lived in a trailer parked on the beach in Malibu. And he was no tough guy.

As the late critic William d’Andrea pointed out, “Surrounded by six tough guys, Mannix (or a zillion other hard-boiled dicks from literature, film, radio and television) would fight it out with them. Rockford might pretend to faint.”

Sure, we all wanted to see ourselves as some two-fisted hero, but I think, in our heart of hearts, the best most of us could count on was being Jim. Which may be why we loved him so much.

Like most of us, Jim lived in a real world, with real friends and family who stuck around week after week, people he cared for, and who cared for him. That was something that, particularly back in 1974, was rare in detective fiction—in print or film. I mean, did Mike Hammer even have a mother?

But Jim had his crusty retired trucker dad Rocky, and their solid, credible fatherson relationship soon became one of the foundations of a show which increasingly became as much about character and relationships as it was about crime or detection. Rocky fretted about Jim, and was always on his case about getting a better job—how much more real can you get?

Friends? How about Sgt. (later Lieutenant) Dennis Becker, the perpetually beleagured career cop whose friendship with Jim was as much blessing as curse? Dennis may have been the mandatory police contact, but his friendship with Jim was always more than a token plot contrivance—despite the constant arguing and bickering, it was obvious they were true pals. And Beth Davenport, the charming idealistic young lawyer (and occasional love interest) who was a sucker for hopeless causes, particularly Jim. But the greatest of all Jim’s pals was undoubtedly Angel (played to weasel-like perfection by Stuart Margolin), a hapless con artist whose hare-brained scams were always bound to fail—and bound to somehow put Jim on the hot spot.

Rockford_TVG_1975There were other great characters who appeared off and on throughout Rockford’s six year run (and a subsequent spate of made-for-TV movies from CBS in the 1950s), like tough-talking Gandolph Fitch (Isaac Hayes), Rockford’s hot-tempered former cellmate who could never quite get Jim’s name right; John, the former outlaw biker and disbarred criminal lawyer who gave Jim legal advice; and Meghan, the fiercely independent blind psychologist who near the end of the series seemed like Jim’s one true love. Then there was sharp-tongued hooker Rita Capkovic (Rita Moreno), determined to go straight, who came to Rockford for help several times (and ended up grabbing an Emmy for her troubles).

And how about all those fellow private eyes, each one of them stranger than the last, who kept crossing Rockford’s path? Like Richie Brockelman, the rookie investigator in tennis shoes who idolized Jim. And, of course, Lance White, the rich, elegant, and annoyingly flawless male model private eye—the walking cliché played to perfection by a then-unknown Tom Selleck?

It was a class act all the way, and there’s no doubt Garner’s persona had a lot to do with its success, but Garner, in the DVD’s far-too-skimpy “bonus feature,” really slams the nail into the hardwood when he says “the secret to all of it...is the writing.”

You won’t get any beef from me on that one: all those great characters, those crazy plots that always zigged where you expected them to zag, all that cleverness and wit—it all added up. Huggins and Cannell, between them, both individually and in collaboration, were responsible for countless memorable crime and detective shows, such as 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive, The Outsider, City of Angels, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, Wiseguy, and The A-Team (okay, I didn’t say they were all good). But it’s Rockford, with its warmth, its sly revisionist charm, its charismatic lead and its lasting impact on the genre that remains their greatest achievement.

Jim, Steve, and Roy, wherever you are...take a bow. And thank you.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #93.

Teri Duerr
2012-10-31 22:50:48

Rockford_Garner_car“Surrounded by six tough guys, Mannix would fight it out with them. Rockford might pretend to faint.”