The Elephant Keepers’ Children
Betty Webb

The Elephant Keepers’ Children, by Peter Høeg, translated from the original Danish by Martin Aitken, is a flat-out marvel. Those who loved the delicacy of Høeg’s breakout novel, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, might be surprised by the often broad humor of this romp through the lives of three children whose parents have disappeared. How broad is it? Well, characters’ names include Polly Pigonia, Einar Flogginfellow, Leonora Ticklepalate, and Bodil Hippopotamus—just to mention a few.

Set in Denmark, this witty but wise tale follows 14-year-old protagonist Peter, his sister Tilte, brother Hans, and dog Basker as they elude capture while attempting to track their errant parents down. Høeg takes stylistic chance after chance as the action shifts from an idyllic Danish island to the somewhat meaner streets of Copenhagen and its churches, ashrams, banks, and brothels. Not only is the book written with flashbacks galore, but we find few simple declarative sentences. Instead, we get long, discursive meanderings that refer to other events, other times, and other places, not to mention a growing cast of what appears to be thousands. If The Elephant Keepers’ Children sounds like it might be difficult to read, yes, it is. However, it’s worth the trouble, because what begins as a mere criminal caper eventually reveals a depth of philosophy and emotional resonance seldom encountered in crime fiction.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 November 2012 02:11

hoeg_elephantkeeperschildrenThe Elephant Keepers’ Children, by Danish writer Peter Høeg is a flat-out marvel.

Lowcountry Boil
Betty Webb

Humor is in the ascendancy in Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Boil. A plethora of Southern eccentrics populate this rousing tale of murder and real estate on the tiny South Carolina island of Stella Maris. After her beloved grandmother dies, PI Liz Talbot suspects murder and uses her considerable investigative skills to find out the truth. Along the way, she discovers a plot to develop the serene island for tourism, something the island’s strict zoning laws have historically forbidden.

Murder may be a serious matter, but there are guffaws galore as author Boyer treats us to some of the goofiest and most loveable characters in crime fiction. There’s Liz’s cousin Colleen, who, due to her untimely death, is now a ghost who delights in popping up at untimely moments; Liz’s mother, who believes that mayhem and heartbreak can be cured by freshening up your lipstick; Liz’s shotgun-toting daddy; her brother, the perpetually perplexed police chief; and last, but certainly not least, Chumley, a drooling basset hound.

Twisted humor has long been a tradition in Southern literature (maybe it’s the heat and humidity), and Boyer delivers it with both barrels. In lesser hands, all the hijinks could be distracting, but not in Lowcountry Boil. Boyer’s voice is so perky that no matter what looney mayhem her characters commit, we happily dive in with them. An original and delightful read.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 November 2012 02:11

Humor is in the ascendancy in Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Boil. A plethora of Southern eccentrics populate this rousing tale of murder and real estate on the tiny South Carolina island of Stella Maris. After her beloved grandmother dies, PI Liz Talbot suspects murder and uses her considerable investigative skills to find out the truth. Along the way, she discovers a plot to develop the serene island for tourism, something the island’s strict zoning laws have historically forbidden.

Murder may be a serious matter, but there are guffaws galore as author Boyer treats us to some of the goofiest and most loveable characters in crime fiction. There’s Liz’s cousin Colleen, who, due to her untimely death, is now a ghost who delights in popping up at untimely moments; Liz’s mother, who believes that mayhem and heartbreak can be cured by freshening up your lipstick; Liz’s shotgun-toting daddy; her brother, the perpetually perplexed police chief; and last, but certainly not least, Chumley, a drooling basset hound.

Twisted humor has long been a tradition in Southern literature (maybe it’s the heat and humidity), and Boyer delivers it with both barrels. In lesser hands, all the hijinks could be distracting, but not in Lowcountry Boil. Boyer’s voice is so perky that no matter what looney mayhem her characters commit, we happily dive in with them. An original and delightful read.

The Politics of Barbecue
Betty Webb

Blake Fontenay’s The Politics of Barbecue dishes up Southern eccentricity along with massive slabs of the Pigg Pen’s barbecued ribs served by busty waitresses dubbed “the Pigglettes.” Set in Memphis, where Elvis impersonators, dirty politics, and country music reign supreme, this rowdy caper delivers— besides the barbecue ribs—Pete Pigg (real name Peter Applewhite), owner of the aforesaid establishment and a mayor who’s raised crookedness to an art form; sleazy union organizers; a civic-minded arsonist; a Hollywood porn producer determined to make Memphis the porn capital of the South; and enough graft and bribery to make Boss Tweed envious. But of all the book’s characters, perhaps the wackiest of them all is the book’s hero, Joe Miller, a cynical public relations man who counts the mayor among his clients.

Now, I don’t often root for the bad guys, but I must admit that Mayor Pete Pigg is so hilariously without redeeming features that I actually developed a fondness for him. And the dialogue is nothing short of knee-slapping, almost a contemporary nod to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. You’ll grin all the way through The Politics of Barbecue just for the sheer pleasure of watching so many characters behaving badly but—as with all good literature—you’ll walk away having learned something important: namely, the real difference between Kansas City and Memphis barbecue.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 November 2012 02:11

Southern flavor, knee-slapping humor, and colorful criminals

What You Wish For
Betty Webb

Janet Dawson’s What You Wish For uses the dangerous tool of coincidence in spinning a yarn that spans five decades, two countries, and the personal problems of a circle of college friends—some of whom have children with unspecified fathers. Although the “Who’s my daddy?” subplot lends the book a slight soap opera-ish feel, the book manages to tie together the war in El Salvador, the plight of the rebels’ kidnapped children, and the raucous lifestyles of California in the 1970s (Patty Hearst makes an entrance in these pages).

Main protagonist Lindsey, a historian living in Berkeley, is writing a book about the slaughter of peasants in the tiny village of San Blas, El Salvador. While doing her research, she interviews Flor, a woman whose husband died during that massacre, and whose toddler son disappeared in the aftermath. In the meantime, Lindsey’s friend Claire Dunlin is battling to take over the Dunlin Corporation, her deceased father’s coffee company. The tie-in here is that the company has been shipping its coffee from El Salvador. An excellent you-are-there exposé of the El Salvador government’s appalling human rights abuses, at times the book gets confusing with its many points of view and various time lines, but What You Wish For succeeds in putting a human face on “the end justifies the means” political philosophy which has savaged the world for far too many decades.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 November 2012 02:11

Janet Dawson’s What You Wish For uses the dangerous tool of coincidence in spinning a yarn that spans five decades, two countries, and the personal problems of a circle of college friends—some of whom have children with unspecified fathers. Although the “Who’s my daddy?” subplot lends the book a slight soap opera-ish feel, the book manages to tie together the war in El Salvador, the plight of the rebels’ kidnapped children, and the raucous lifestyles of California in the 1970s (Patty Hearst makes an entrance in these pages).

Main protagonist Lindsey, a historian living in Berkeley, is writing a book about the slaughter of peasants in the tiny village of San Blas, El Salvador. While doing her research, she interviews Flor, a woman whose husband died during that massacre, and whose toddler son disappeared in the aftermath. In the meantime, Lindsey’s friend Claire Dunlin is battling to take over the Dunlin Corporation, her deceased father’s coffee company. The tie-in here is that the company has been shipping its coffee from El Salvador. An excellent you-are-there exposé of the El Salvador government’s appalling human rights abuses, at times the book gets confusing with its many points of view and various time lines, but What You Wish For succeeds in putting a human face on “the end justifies the means” political philosophy which has savaged the world for far too many decades.

A Private Venus
Betty Webb

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis, gives us the debut of Dr. Duca Lamberti. Although released in Italy in 1966, this is the first time fans of the acclaimed master of Italian noir can read this classic in English, and the time lag does give rise to a few problems. Politically correct it’s not, especially in the derisive language used to describe a homosexual photographer. And the good doctor’s “cure” for alcoholism will have members of a certain Twelve Step program rolling their eyes in disbelief.

Despite these caveats, A Private Venus is so beautifully written that the story has no trouble keeping us glued to the page. Duca, a Milanese physician struck off the medical register after being imprisoned for euthanizing a patient, has been hired by a violent but wealthy man to “cure” Davide, his alcoholic son. Duca believes (we’re talking Italy in the 1960s, remember), the best way to do that is to give Davide everdecreasing doses of alcohol while exploring the real reason for the man’s self-destructive behavior. Before long, Duca finds himself re-examining the year-old case of a young woman who committed suicide after a sexual encounter with Davide. During Duca’s investigation, he meets Livia Ussaro, the dead girl’s friend, a beautiful and intelligent woman who—merely out of curiosity—has been selling her body on Milan’s mean streets.

Suicide, murder, and prostitution aside, there is considerable poetry in these pages. “Life is a well of marvels,” Duca muses at one point. “There’s everything in it: rags, diamonds, cutthroats, and Livia Ussaro.” As an extra, included in the book is the Kiev-born Scerbanenco’s short autobiography, and it’s a wowser.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 30 November 2012 03:11

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis, gives us the debut of Dr. Duca Lamberti. Although released in Italy in 1966, this is the first time fans of the acclaimed master of Italian noir can read this classic in English, and the time lag does give rise to a few problems. Politically correct it’s not, especially in the derisive language used to describe a homosexual photographer. And the good doctor’s “cure” for alcoholism will have members of a certain Twelve Step program rolling their eyes in disbelief.

Despite these caveats, A Private Venus is so beautifully written that the story has no trouble keeping us glued to the page. Duca, a Milanese physician struck off the medical register after being imprisoned for euthanizing a patient, has been hired by a violent but wealthy man to “cure” Davide, his alcoholic son. Duca believes (we’re talking Italy in the 1960s, remember), the best way to do that is to give Davide everdecreasing doses of alcohol while exploring the real reason for the man’s self-destructive behavior. Before long, Duca finds himself re-examining the year-old case of a young woman who committed suicide after a sexual encounter with Davide. During Duca’s investigation, he meets Livia Ussaro, the dead girl’s friend, a beautiful and intelligent woman who—merely out of curiosity—has been selling her body on Milan’s mean streets.

Suicide, murder, and prostitution aside, there is considerable poetry in these pages. “Life is a well of marvels,” Duca muses at one point. “There’s everything in it: rags, diamonds, cutthroats, and Livia Ussaro.” As an extra, included in the book is the Kiev-born Scerbanenco’s short autobiography, and it’s a wowser.

Review: Trial & Retribution
Oline Cogdill



trialretributionseries_seriesTrial & Retribution: Set 5
Acorn Media, 1 DVD/4 episodes, 368 min., $49.99


For most of us, Lynda La Plante will always be associated with the British series Prime Suspect, featuring the wonderful Helen Mirren.

La Plante wrote the first and third seasons of Prime Suspect and won an Edgar for her work.

La Plante also has written several intriguing novels such as Silent Scream and Blood Line about young police detective Anna Travis.

La Plante also devised and wrote Trial & Retribution, a compelling police procedural series that ran from 1997 through 2008 in Great Britain.

Each story is divided into two parts, delving into the crime, forensics and courtroom. Each two-part episode is self-contained with no storylines carried over into the next.

The multi-layered plots give insight into the British legal system while also delving into the individual personalities of the criminals and the cops.

trialretributiondvdcover2
The use of a split screen, showing two or even three scenes at the same time, is effective and reinforces the intensity of the plots.

Like the American Law & Order, Trial & Retribution’s cases also are ripped from the headlines.

Set 5’s four episodes include a man who may have been wrongly convicted of murder, a call girl’s murder, a kidnapped young woman and a pediatric surgeon’s death.

The episodes also show the effect of crime on the survivors with compassion and realism.

The cases are investigated by Detective Sergeant Michael Walker, played by David Hayman, and Detective Inspector Róisín Connor, played by Victoria Smurfit. Their chemistry works well as colleagues who respect each other as well as deal with the occasional friction. They, and the rest of the team, which includes David "Satch" Satchell played by Dorian Lough, are a cohesive group.

Trial & Retribution is addictive.

PHOTOS: David Hayman Victoria Smurfit. Photos courtesy Acorn Media

Super User 2
Saturday, 01 December 2012 11:12



trialretributionseries_seriesTrial & Retribution: Set 5
Acorn Media, 1 DVD/4 episodes, 368 min., $49.99


For most of us, Lynda La Plante will always be associated with the British series Prime Suspect, featuring the wonderful Helen Mirren.

La Plante wrote the first and third seasons of Prime Suspect and won an Edgar for her work.

La Plante also has written several intriguing novels such as Silent Scream and Blood Line about young police detective Anna Travis.

La Plante also devised and wrote Trial & Retribution, a compelling police procedural series that ran from 1997 through 2008 in Great Britain.

Each story is divided into two parts, delving into the crime, forensics and courtroom. Each two-part episode is self-contained with no storylines carried over into the next.

The multi-layered plots give insight into the British legal system while also delving into the individual personalities of the criminals and the cops.

trialretributiondvdcover2
The use of a split screen, showing two or even three scenes at the same time, is effective and reinforces the intensity of the plots.

Like the American Law & Order, Trial & Retribution’s cases also are ripped from the headlines.

Set 5’s four episodes include a man who may have been wrongly convicted of murder, a call girl’s murder, a kidnapped young woman and a pediatric surgeon’s death.

The episodes also show the effect of crime on the survivors with compassion and realism.

The cases are investigated by Detective Sergeant Michael Walker, played by David Hayman, and Detective Inspector Róisín Connor, played by Victoria Smurfit. Their chemistry works well as colleagues who respect each other as well as deal with the occasional friction. They, and the rest of the team, which includes David "Satch" Satchell played by Dorian Lough, are a cohesive group.

Trial & Retribution is addictive.

PHOTOS: David Hayman Victoria Smurfit. Photos courtesy Acorn Media

Meltzer, Connelly, Finder and the Troops
Oline Cogdill

connellysoldiers_uso
Brad Meltzer traveled half way across the world to meet a soldier who lives near his Fort Lauderdale home.

Michael Connelly squeezed in an extra book tour before his scheduled tour for his new novel The Black Box kicked off.

Joseph Finder tried on a “fire proximity suit" to learn how a solider would crawl through a jet-fuel fire in a C-17 cargo plane.

These authors’ book tours have taken them around the world to meet readers and to discuss his work.

But a few weeks ago, Meltzer, Connelly, Finder, along with Kathleen Antrim and Andy Harp, went on their most unusual book tour.

The five authors were part of the “Operation Thriller III” USO tour, which took them to four Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey and Kuwait, where during 10 days they visited eight military bases, including the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, Camp Arifjan, Camp Virginia, Camp Buehring, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and Incirlik Air Base, among others.

connellymeltzer_uso
At each stop, the authors talked with the troops, distributed copies of their novels, and gave dozens of servicemen and women com- memorative coins of appreciation from the International Thriller Writers.

“My bag was a proud 75 pounds, but it was worth it. Amazingly, lots of the troops had our books with them,” said Meltzer in email to me.

“Meeting someone who read my books in Afghanistan, on the warfront, it's just humbling to think that at that great moment of stress, you're what they use to find some semblance of calm,” said Meltzer, whose novels include The Inner Circle, The Book of Lies and The Zero Game.

In addition, the authors observed military demonstrations and toured flight lines. “They let me sign a plane,” said Meltzer, the host of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel. “I've signed lots of books. I've signed iPads and Kindles. But a plane! A C-17 carrier.”

The tour was scheduled just before Connelly was to begin his United States appearances for his latest Harry Bosch novel, The Black Box. Yet he didn’t hesitate to join the other authors.

"We write about characters who stand up for others even at great risk to themselves. Now we get to meet real people who do that for us in real life on a day in and day out basis. If nothing else, we just want to say thanks," Connelly said in a press release.

This is the third year that the USO (United Service Organization) has sent mystery writers to visit the troops in the Middle East. Unlike most book tours, the USO trips are kept secret until the writers return. Aside from family and a couple of close friends, the authors and their publishers did not publicize the trip for fear the authors would become targets. Despite this, the troops were allowed to post on Facebook photos taken with the authors after they left each base.

“This tour isn't about authors. It's about our troops, hearing their stories, and being able to give back to those who sacrifice so much for us” said Kathleen Antrim, author of Capital Offense.

meltzerbrad_usoisiah
Meltzer has been involved the USO for more than a decade, ever since he received a letter from a soldier stationed on a submarine. “He'd read one of my thrillers. He just wanted to say thank you for entertaining him.” That started Meltzer’s involvement with the USO and through the years he has donated more than 40,000 books sent to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I jumped at the chance to go say ‘thank you’ personally.”

Visits with the troops gave the authors many compelling moments. A visit to the Wounded Warrior Project where injured soldiers are treated gave Meltzer his most vivid memory.

“Inside, I found Isaiah. He said he was from South Florida. Just like me. It didn’t take long to realize that he lived right by my hometown in Broward (County)—and that he once worked on the same exact campus where my kids went to school,” said Meltzer. “I almost fell over. I travel halfway across the globe and happen to run into the one soldier who I could’ve seen at the local Chipotle?”

During their talk, Isaiah told Meltzer that he liked to read comic books, especially the Justice League of America, which Meltzer writes.

“Staring him straight in the eye, I opened the USO shirt that I was wearing, slowly revealing the shirt I had on underneath: a gray one with the words Justice League in big red, white and blue letters. I wasn’t supposed to be wearing that shirt. That morning, I had run out of white undershirts, so I grabbed the Justice League one out of pure happenstance. And yes, there I was, on a USO tour in an undisclosed military location, where I was wearing the exact T-shirt for the exact comic book that this young soldier, who lived near my exact neighborhood and worked at my kids’ exact school, happened to mention.

“I also happened to be carrying in my backpack a copy of Justice League, number one. The USO asked us to bring our novels to give out. I also brought a comic. Just in case,” he added.

“And as for Isaiah, [because of] his injury, he could’ve chosen to be discharged. He was hurt enough that he could’ve come back home. Instead, he asked to return to the fight. He’ll be going back to Afghanistan soon.

“I write about heroes every day. But there’s nothing like traveling the world and meeting our troops: the real life supermen and superwomen,” said Meltzer.

finderjoe_uso
One of Joseph Finder’s enduring memories was trying on a “fire proximity suit in the immense belly of a C-17 cargo plane. It took three soldiers to get me into this thing, which looks like a space suit. On the outside it's silver colored, an aluminized Kevlar, I think. You breathe using an oxygen tank. They showed me how to crawl through a jet-fuel fire, flattening myself onto the floor of the aircraft, where in a fire it's least hot," Finder said.

“The suit will protect you from temperatures up to two thousand degrees Fahrenheit—but only for a few seconds. The members of the aircraft rescue and firefighting unit have to drill regularly until they can don the suit in not much more than a minute. These airmen were one short flight away from deploying in Afghanistan, where—next time—it wouldn't be a drill,” added Finder whose novels include Buried Secrets, Vanished, Power Play, Killer Instinct, Company Man, Paranoia, and High Crimes

But Finder’s most “most indelible image” occurred during the last night of the tour at the Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey. “This was a black-tie, full-dress-uniform “dining out” held in an aircraft hangar converted into an elegant banquet hall, with tables draped in white cloths. Looming just outside was a Boeing KC-135, an enormous aerial-refueling jet. An amazing sight,” Finder said in an email to me.

“And then, in the front of the hangar, dwarfed by an immense American flag that must have been fifty feet high, stood the base commander, Colonel Christopher Craige. There was something eerily familiar about this tableau. After a while it came to mind: the opening scene of Patton, in which Old Blood and Guts, General George Patton, delivered that profane, egomaniacal speech to the Third Army.

“But Colonel Craige was being roasted that night, and he took it in the spirit of good fun. Nothing Pattonesque about it at all, as it turned out."

Since their return, many of the authors mentioned they continue to hear from the troops they met. “A few of those relationships are truly treasured. Just happy to hear they're safe,” said Meltzer.

And Meltzer said the experience has changed the way he may approach his future novels. “I'll never write my heroes the same way again,” he said.

Photos courtesy USO. Top, Michael Connelly, Joseph Finder, Kathleen Antrim (wearing brown) and Brad Meltzer in black talk with troops; Connelly and Meltzer wait to discuss their books with troops; Isaiah and Meltzer; bottom, Joseph Finder suits up.

A portion of this column appeared in the Sun Sentinel.

Super User 2
Sunday, 09 December 2012 04:12

connellysoldiers_uso
Brad Meltzer traveled half way across the world to meet a soldier who lives near his Fort Lauderdale home.

Michael Connelly squeezed in an extra book tour before his scheduled tour for his new novel The Black Box kicked off.

Joseph Finder tried on a “fire proximity suit" to learn how a solider would crawl through a jet-fuel fire in a C-17 cargo plane.

These authors’ book tours have taken them around the world to meet readers and to discuss his work.

But a few weeks ago, Meltzer, Connelly, Finder, along with Kathleen Antrim and Andy Harp, went on their most unusual book tour.

The five authors were part of the “Operation Thriller III” USO tour, which took them to four Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey and Kuwait, where during 10 days they visited eight military bases, including the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, Camp Arifjan, Camp Virginia, Camp Buehring, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and Incirlik Air Base, among others.

connellymeltzer_uso
At each stop, the authors talked with the troops, distributed copies of their novels, and gave dozens of servicemen and women com- memorative coins of appreciation from the International Thriller Writers.

“My bag was a proud 75 pounds, but it was worth it. Amazingly, lots of the troops had our books with them,” said Meltzer in email to me.

“Meeting someone who read my books in Afghanistan, on the warfront, it's just humbling to think that at that great moment of stress, you're what they use to find some semblance of calm,” said Meltzer, whose novels include The Inner Circle, The Book of Lies and The Zero Game.

In addition, the authors observed military demonstrations and toured flight lines. “They let me sign a plane,” said Meltzer, the host of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel. “I've signed lots of books. I've signed iPads and Kindles. But a plane! A C-17 carrier.”

The tour was scheduled just before Connelly was to begin his United States appearances for his latest Harry Bosch novel, The Black Box. Yet he didn’t hesitate to join the other authors.

"We write about characters who stand up for others even at great risk to themselves. Now we get to meet real people who do that for us in real life on a day in and day out basis. If nothing else, we just want to say thanks," Connelly said in a press release.

This is the third year that the USO (United Service Organization) has sent mystery writers to visit the troops in the Middle East. Unlike most book tours, the USO trips are kept secret until the writers return. Aside from family and a couple of close friends, the authors and their publishers did not publicize the trip for fear the authors would become targets. Despite this, the troops were allowed to post on Facebook photos taken with the authors after they left each base.

“This tour isn't about authors. It's about our troops, hearing their stories, and being able to give back to those who sacrifice so much for us” said Kathleen Antrim, author of Capital Offense.

meltzerbrad_usoisiah
Meltzer has been involved the USO for more than a decade, ever since he received a letter from a soldier stationed on a submarine. “He'd read one of my thrillers. He just wanted to say thank you for entertaining him.” That started Meltzer’s involvement with the USO and through the years he has donated more than 40,000 books sent to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I jumped at the chance to go say ‘thank you’ personally.”

Visits with the troops gave the authors many compelling moments. A visit to the Wounded Warrior Project where injured soldiers are treated gave Meltzer his most vivid memory.

“Inside, I found Isaiah. He said he was from South Florida. Just like me. It didn’t take long to realize that he lived right by my hometown in Broward (County)—and that he once worked on the same exact campus where my kids went to school,” said Meltzer. “I almost fell over. I travel halfway across the globe and happen to run into the one soldier who I could’ve seen at the local Chipotle?”

During their talk, Isaiah told Meltzer that he liked to read comic books, especially the Justice League of America, which Meltzer writes.

“Staring him straight in the eye, I opened the USO shirt that I was wearing, slowly revealing the shirt I had on underneath: a gray one with the words Justice League in big red, white and blue letters. I wasn’t supposed to be wearing that shirt. That morning, I had run out of white undershirts, so I grabbed the Justice League one out of pure happenstance. And yes, there I was, on a USO tour in an undisclosed military location, where I was wearing the exact T-shirt for the exact comic book that this young soldier, who lived near my exact neighborhood and worked at my kids’ exact school, happened to mention.

“I also happened to be carrying in my backpack a copy of Justice League, number one. The USO asked us to bring our novels to give out. I also brought a comic. Just in case,” he added.

“And as for Isaiah, [because of] his injury, he could’ve chosen to be discharged. He was hurt enough that he could’ve come back home. Instead, he asked to return to the fight. He’ll be going back to Afghanistan soon.

“I write about heroes every day. But there’s nothing like traveling the world and meeting our troops: the real life supermen and superwomen,” said Meltzer.

finderjoe_uso
One of Joseph Finder’s enduring memories was trying on a “fire proximity suit in the immense belly of a C-17 cargo plane. It took three soldiers to get me into this thing, which looks like a space suit. On the outside it's silver colored, an aluminized Kevlar, I think. You breathe using an oxygen tank. They showed me how to crawl through a jet-fuel fire, flattening myself onto the floor of the aircraft, where in a fire it's least hot," Finder said.

“The suit will protect you from temperatures up to two thousand degrees Fahrenheit—but only for a few seconds. The members of the aircraft rescue and firefighting unit have to drill regularly until they can don the suit in not much more than a minute. These airmen were one short flight away from deploying in Afghanistan, where—next time—it wouldn't be a drill,” added Finder whose novels include Buried Secrets, Vanished, Power Play, Killer Instinct, Company Man, Paranoia, and High Crimes

But Finder’s most “most indelible image” occurred during the last night of the tour at the Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey. “This was a black-tie, full-dress-uniform “dining out” held in an aircraft hangar converted into an elegant banquet hall, with tables draped in white cloths. Looming just outside was a Boeing KC-135, an enormous aerial-refueling jet. An amazing sight,” Finder said in an email to me.

“And then, in the front of the hangar, dwarfed by an immense American flag that must have been fifty feet high, stood the base commander, Colonel Christopher Craige. There was something eerily familiar about this tableau. After a while it came to mind: the opening scene of Patton, in which Old Blood and Guts, General George Patton, delivered that profane, egomaniacal speech to the Third Army.

“But Colonel Craige was being roasted that night, and he took it in the spirit of good fun. Nothing Pattonesque about it at all, as it turned out."

Since their return, many of the authors mentioned they continue to hear from the troops they met. “A few of those relationships are truly treasured. Just happy to hear they're safe,” said Meltzer.

And Meltzer said the experience has changed the way he may approach his future novels. “I'll never write my heroes the same way again,” he said.

Photos courtesy USO. Top, Michael Connelly, Joseph Finder, Kathleen Antrim (wearing brown) and Brad Meltzer in black talk with troops; Connelly and Meltzer wait to discuss their books with troops; Isaiah and Meltzer; bottom, Joseph Finder suits up.

A portion of this column appeared in the Sun Sentinel.

Mwa Grand Masters Ken Follett and Margaret Maron
Oline Cogdill
follettken_follett
On the surface, Ken Follett and Margaret Maron might seem to have little in common.

Follett, left, is a master of the international thriller and the historical drama.

Maron is master of the regional mystery, especially her series about Judge Deborah Knott set in the author’s home state of North Carolina.

Two totally different approaches to the work but each set a tone for the mysteries that brought new energy and allowed the genre to branch off in new directions.

In that regard, Follett and Maron have a lot in common, including both being named the 2013 Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America. The Grand Master honorees are part of the MWA’s Edgar Awards.

The finalists for the various Edgar categories will be announced in January. All the awards will be presented during the Edgar Awards banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

Follett has written 20 best sellers and sold more than 100 million books since he began writing in the 1970s. His first success was Eye of the Needle, a spy drama that mixed Nazis, secret codes and a lonely Englishwoman into a gripping tale. It was just the first of many novels that would be labeled enthralling.

With Eye of the Needle, Follett, in my opinion, set the stage for the new thriller, to take that genre to different heights. While I hate the term “think outside the box,” that is exactly what Follett did with Eye of the Needle.

He followed that novel up with Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man from St. Petersburg and Lie Down with Lions.

Sweeping is often used to describe Follett’s novels, especially his historical dramas such as Pillars of the Earth, which has been on bestseller lists for years, World Without End, and Fall of Giants.

His most recent is Winter of the World, his follow up to Fall of Giants about the heroism and honor of World War II, and the dawn of the atomic age.

Starting with her brilliant Bootlegger’s Daughter in 1992, Margaret Maron changed the face of the regional thriller.

maronmargaret_author
Certainly the genre was filled with regional mysteries before, but Maron set the stage for a deeper look at cities and states. Maron showed how place affects the characters and that small towns have a pull on its residents that is just as strong as major metro areas. The world didn’t have to revolve around New York or Los Angeles. And there was just as much crime and nastiness in small towns as any big city.

Judge Deborah Knott’s massive family, their closeness and their differences gave readers an insight to their own lives. I am an only child, but grew up surrounded by cousins, and I could relate to Knott’s family issues. Knott’s closeness to her father echoed my own close relationship with my now deceased parents.

Honoring Ken Follett and Margaret Maron makes perfect sense.

In other news about the Edgar Awards, the 2013 Ellery Queen Award will be given to Johnny Temple, founder and editor of Akashic Books. The Ellery Queen award is given to editors or publishers who have distinguished themselves by their generous and wide-ranging support of the genre. Akashic publishes the Noir series of short stories, which, in my opinion, is one of the best ideas for short story collections. Each collection, whether it be San Francisco Noir, Brooklyn Noir, Kansas City Noir, New Orleans Noir, etc., brings insight to the different regions.

The 2013 Raven Award has two honorees.

The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego and Redondo Beach, California, will receive the Raven, which was established in 1953 to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

According to MWA, the Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego was opened by Terry Gillman, Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Mariotte in 1993. The bookshop has not only served their customers, but has contributed to their community with several successful literacy programs benefiting local schools, libraries and businesses. In 2011, they opened the Redondo Beach store, in the greater LA area.

The other Raven honoree is journalist Oline Cogdill. Yes, that’s right. Me. My reviews, blogs and author profiles appear, obviously in Mystery Scene. I also review for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and those reviews are syndicated around the world.

I have it on pretty good authority that I am thrilled beyond words.

Mystery Scene congratulations all the honorees.
Super User 2
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 04:12
follettken_follett
On the surface, Ken Follett and Margaret Maron might seem to have little in common.

Follett, left, is a master of the international thriller and the historical drama.

Maron is master of the regional mystery, especially her series about Judge Deborah Knott set in the author’s home state of North Carolina.

Two totally different approaches to the work but each set a tone for the mysteries that brought new energy and allowed the genre to branch off in new directions.

In that regard, Follett and Maron have a lot in common, including both being named the 2013 Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America. The Grand Master honorees are part of the MWA’s Edgar Awards.

The finalists for the various Edgar categories will be announced in January. All the awards will be presented during the Edgar Awards banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

Follett has written 20 best sellers and sold more than 100 million books since he began writing in the 1970s. His first success was Eye of the Needle, a spy drama that mixed Nazis, secret codes and a lonely Englishwoman into a gripping tale. It was just the first of many novels that would be labeled enthralling.

With Eye of the Needle, Follett, in my opinion, set the stage for the new thriller, to take that genre to different heights. While I hate the term “think outside the box,” that is exactly what Follett did with Eye of the Needle.

He followed that novel up with Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man from St. Petersburg and Lie Down with Lions.

Sweeping is often used to describe Follett’s novels, especially his historical dramas such as Pillars of the Earth, which has been on bestseller lists for years, World Without End, and Fall of Giants.

His most recent is Winter of the World, his follow up to Fall of Giants about the heroism and honor of World War II, and the dawn of the atomic age.

Starting with her brilliant Bootlegger’s Daughter in 1992, Margaret Maron changed the face of the regional thriller.

maronmargaret_author
Certainly the genre was filled with regional mysteries before, but Maron set the stage for a deeper look at cities and states. Maron showed how place affects the characters and that small towns have a pull on its residents that is just as strong as major metro areas. The world didn’t have to revolve around New York or Los Angeles. And there was just as much crime and nastiness in small towns as any big city.

Judge Deborah Knott’s massive family, their closeness and their differences gave readers an insight to their own lives. I am an only child, but grew up surrounded by cousins, and I could relate to Knott’s family issues. Knott’s closeness to her father echoed my own close relationship with my now deceased parents.

Honoring Ken Follett and Margaret Maron makes perfect sense.

In other news about the Edgar Awards, the 2013 Ellery Queen Award will be given to Johnny Temple, founder and editor of Akashic Books. The Ellery Queen award is given to editors or publishers who have distinguished themselves by their generous and wide-ranging support of the genre. Akashic publishes the Noir series of short stories, which, in my opinion, is one of the best ideas for short story collections. Each collection, whether it be San Francisco Noir, Brooklyn Noir, Kansas City Noir, New Orleans Noir, etc., brings insight to the different regions.

The 2013 Raven Award has two honorees.

The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego and Redondo Beach, California, will receive the Raven, which was established in 1953 to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

According to MWA, the Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego was opened by Terry Gillman, Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Mariotte in 1993. The bookshop has not only served their customers, but has contributed to their community with several successful literacy programs benefiting local schools, libraries and businesses. In 2011, they opened the Redondo Beach store, in the greater LA area.

The other Raven honoree is journalist Oline Cogdill. Yes, that’s right. Me. My reviews, blogs and author profiles appear, obviously in Mystery Scene. I also review for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and those reviews are syndicated around the world.

I have it on pretty good authority that I am thrilled beyond words.

Mystery Scene congratulations all the honorees.
A Spoonful of Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

This fine first mystery introduces “Lucky” Jamieson, who moved out of small-town Snowflake, Vermont, to attend college and never quite made it back until it was too late: her parents perished in a tragic car crash before she had the opportunity to tell them how much she loved them. Grief and guilt follow Lucky back to Snowflake, as she joins her aging grandfather, Jack, to run the family business, the soup shop By the Spoonful. Sadly, the restaurant’s finances are in dire shape, and matters become even worse when the shop’s excellent chef is arrested for murder. Luckily, Lucky rises to the occasion and salvages shop, chef and self. Archer does a superb job of depicting small-town life and family while skillfully addressing the issues of grief and guilt that inevitably beset all of us at some point in life. Savor this one!

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 10:12

This fine first mystery introduces “Lucky” Jamieson, who moved out of small-town Snowflake, Vermont, to attend college and never quite made it back until it was too late: her parents perished in a tragic car crash before she had the opportunity to tell them how much she loved them. Grief and guilt follow Lucky back to Snowflake, as she joins her aging grandfather, Jack, to run the family business, the soup shop By the Spoonful. Sadly, the restaurant’s finances are in dire shape, and matters become even worse when the shop’s excellent chef is arrested for murder. Luckily, Lucky rises to the occasion and salvages shop, chef and self. Archer does a superb job of depicting small-town life and family while skillfully addressing the issues of grief and guilt that inevitably beset all of us at some point in life. Savor this one!

Beef Stolen-Off
Lynne F. Maxwell

Liz Lipperman’s second mystery featuring Ranchero, Texas food columnist, Jordan McAllister. While Jordan aspires to return to her previous writing niche as a sportswriter, she makes do with the job she has at the moment. An unlikely food critic, Jordan can barely cook and thrives at the paper because of her colorful friends who assist by providing her with recipes to publish in her column. Once again, Jordan demonstrates her true talent as a sleuth when she attends the Cattlemen’s Ball, the gala social event of the year, and witnesses a death that turns out be murder. At that point, investigating thefts and irregularities in the beef market becomes part of the murder investigation itself. Jordan and company solve the mysteries, entertaining readers along the way with their antics. While I can’t count myself a devotee of Texas cattle culture, I would gladly accompany the irrepressible Jordan anywhere she cared to go. Get out your steak knives and enjoy!

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 11:12

Liz Lipperman’s second mystery featuring Ranchero, Texas food columnist, Jordan McAllister. While Jordan aspires to return to her previous writing niche as a sportswriter, she makes do with the job she has at the moment. An unlikely food critic, Jordan can barely cook and thrives at the paper because of her colorful friends who assist by providing her with recipes to publish in her column. Once again, Jordan demonstrates her true talent as a sleuth when she attends the Cattlemen’s Ball, the gala social event of the year, and witnesses a death that turns out be murder. At that point, investigating thefts and irregularities in the beef market becomes part of the murder investigation itself. Jordan and company solve the mysteries, entertaining readers along the way with their antics. While I can’t count myself a devotee of Texas cattle culture, I would gladly accompany the irrepressible Jordan anywhere she cared to go. Get out your steak knives and enjoy!

Pies and Prejudice
Lynne F. Maxwell

Pies and Prejudice presents Ella Mae LeFaye, baker extraordinaire. In the throes of a nasty divorce, Ella Mae has fled cosmopolitan Manhattan and her studies at a prominent culinary school, to return to the safety of tiny Havenswood, Georgia, her hometown. With the emotional support and financial assistance of her aunts, Ella Mae is able to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a bakery and pie shop. The Charmed Pie Shoppe is unique because Ella Mae weaves magic into her wares, imbuing her pies with the emotions she experiences as she bakes them. This means that customers experience peculiar sensations and display atypical behavior when they consume her pies. Not surprisingly, then, The Charmed Pie Shoppe is an instant success—until, improbably, Ella Mae is accused of murdering a local veterinarian. Once rumors fly, customers flee, and Ella Mae needs to solve the mystery in order to salvage her reputation and her business. Could it be that Loralyn Gaynor, Ella Mae’s high school nemesis, is somehow behind this murder and attempt to sabotage the bakery? You can make an educated guess on that one, but you will need to devour the entire book to find out why and how the vendetta unfolds. Don’t worry, though. Adams and Ella Mae will be back with seconds in this series. In the end, it turns out that you can go home again—if you are Ella Mae LeFaye.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 11:12

Pies and Prejudice presents Ella Mae LeFaye, baker extraordinaire. In the throes of a nasty divorce, Ella Mae has fled cosmopolitan Manhattan and her studies at a prominent culinary school, to return to the safety of tiny Havenswood, Georgia, her hometown. With the emotional support and financial assistance of her aunts, Ella Mae is able to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a bakery and pie shop. The Charmed Pie Shoppe is unique because Ella Mae weaves magic into her wares, imbuing her pies with the emotions she experiences as she bakes them. This means that customers experience peculiar sensations and display atypical behavior when they consume her pies. Not surprisingly, then, The Charmed Pie Shoppe is an instant success—until, improbably, Ella Mae is accused of murdering a local veterinarian. Once rumors fly, customers flee, and Ella Mae needs to solve the mystery in order to salvage her reputation and her business. Could it be that Loralyn Gaynor, Ella Mae’s high school nemesis, is somehow behind this murder and attempt to sabotage the bakery? You can make an educated guess on that one, but you will need to devour the entire book to find out why and how the vendetta unfolds. Don’t worry, though. Adams and Ella Mae will be back with seconds in this series. In the end, it turns out that you can go home again—if you are Ella Mae LeFaye.

Death in Four Courses
Lynne F. Maxwell

Lucy Burdette (nom de plume for seasoned mystery author Roberta Isleib) is ready to serve it up in style in the sophomore novel in her series starring Key West food critic Hayley Snow. Precariously employed as food columnist for Key Zest Magazine, Hayley hopes to perpetuate her job by copping some major interviews with the famous food writers who are descending upon Key West for the annual Key West Literary Seminar, focusing this year upon food writing. At the same time, Hayley’s mom comes to visit from wintry New Jersey. Luckily, Haley’s mom is also a foodie who is thrilled at the opportunity to meet her favorite food writers—and to accompany Hayley on restaurant-reviewing forays. Unfortunately, the festival turns ugly when preeminent bad-boy food writer Jonah Barrows is murdered at the opening reception. This, of course, mars the festival from its inception, but even worse is the fact that Hayley’s closest friend Eric, a gentle gay clinical psychologist, is arrested for the murder. Compounding this is a second suspicious death. Hayley and her mom know that Eric is innocent and that the second death is a murder, so, when the police refuse to investigate further, they conduct their own investigations. After harrowing near-death experiences, the Snow women make their case, this time to a receptive audience. Death in Four Courses is superbly crafted and thoroughly satisfying. Best of all, though, is that it introduces readers to quirky Key West restaurants and their tantalizing specialty foods. It’s to die for, as is this lively novel.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 11:12

Lucy Burdette (nom de plume for seasoned mystery author Roberta Isleib) is ready to serve it up in style in the sophomore novel in her series starring Key West food critic Hayley Snow. Precariously employed as food columnist for Key Zest Magazine, Hayley hopes to perpetuate her job by copping some major interviews with the famous food writers who are descending upon Key West for the annual Key West Literary Seminar, focusing this year upon food writing. At the same time, Hayley’s mom comes to visit from wintry New Jersey. Luckily, Haley’s mom is also a foodie who is thrilled at the opportunity to meet her favorite food writers—and to accompany Hayley on restaurant-reviewing forays. Unfortunately, the festival turns ugly when preeminent bad-boy food writer Jonah Barrows is murdered at the opening reception. This, of course, mars the festival from its inception, but even worse is the fact that Hayley’s closest friend Eric, a gentle gay clinical psychologist, is arrested for the murder. Compounding this is a second suspicious death. Hayley and her mom know that Eric is innocent and that the second death is a murder, so, when the police refuse to investigate further, they conduct their own investigations. After harrowing near-death experiences, the Snow women make their case, this time to a receptive audience. Death in Four Courses is superbly crafted and thoroughly satisfying. Best of all, though, is that it introduces readers to quirky Key West restaurants and their tantalizing specialty foods. It’s to die for, as is this lively novel.

The Warlord of Willow Ridge
Hank Wagner

In The Warlord of Willow Ridge, by Gary Phillips, career criminal O’Conner lays low in an abandoned suburban home while he waits for his next score. Making the best of it, he finds his unique skill set comes in handy in dealing with the dark side of suburban life. For instance, he quickly and efficiently dispatches a local miscreant, making him a hero to his new neighbors. Later, he uncovers a local meth lab, and then discerns the presence of a motorcycle gang, hoping that their activities won’t negatively impact his plans. He also falls in love, which always complicates things.

Phillips is a great plotter and an efficient writer. He’s also good at creating a convincing cast, the main evidence being the instant rapport he conjures between antihero O’Conner and readers. Besides being a convincing crime thriller, the novel also makes some pointed, if covert, comments about modern suburban life.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 12:12

In The Warlord of Willow Ridge, by Gary Phillips, career criminal O’Conner lays low in an abandoned suburban home while he waits for his next score. Making the best of it, he finds his unique skill set comes in handy in dealing with the dark side of suburban life. For instance, he quickly and efficiently dispatches a local miscreant, making him a hero to his new neighbors. Later, he uncovers a local meth lab, and then discerns the presence of a motorcycle gang, hoping that their activities won’t negatively impact his plans. He also falls in love, which always complicates things.

Phillips is a great plotter and an efficient writer. He’s also good at creating a convincing cast, the main evidence being the instant rapport he conjures between antihero O’Conner and readers. Besides being a convincing crime thriller, the novel also makes some pointed, if covert, comments about modern suburban life.

A Bomb Built in Hell
Hank Wagner

Andrew Vachss takes antiheroism to new extremes in A Bomb Built in Hell, telling the life story of professional killer Wesley. After discovering that he excels at killing while fighting in the Korean War, the aimless Wesley returns home, quickly finding himself in jail. There, he finds his true calling under the tutelage of fellow prisoner Carmine Trentoni, who teaches him about the business side of murder. But, no matter how good he is at his profession, Wesley still feels empty. He doesn’t realize it for some time, but he harbors an intense death wish.

Vachss doesn’t sugarcoat things in this brutal, detailed piece of work, but that’s what makes it fascinating. Vachss’ fans will love this example of the author’s early writing, which predates his Burke books by several years. Rejected by publishers decades ago due to its high level of violence, the years have not diminished its impact.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 03:12

vachss_abombbuiltinhellA brutal piece of work that takes antiheroism to a new extreme.

Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood
Jon L. Breen

This prequel to the author’s Mystery Movie Series of 1940s Hollywood (2010), reviewed in MS #116, meets the high standard of that informative and entertaining volume. Twenty-two film series are covered, ranging from the famous (Philo Vance, Bulldog Drummond, Charlie Chan [75 pages!], Nick and Nora Charles, Perry Mason, Mr. Moto, Nancy Drew) to the forgotten (Alan O’Connor and Bobbie Reynolds, Joel and Gerda Sloane, Barney Callahan), with biographical notes on principal actors and writers, plot summaries with comparisons to print sources, and refreshingly demanding critical assessments. Full credits are not provided but are easily available elsewhere. Ron Backer is sometimes wrong: he finds the Hildegarde Withers novels inferior to the movies and misses an important plotting flaw in the justly celebrated The Kennel Murder Case. But he is more often right, championing The Case of the Howling Dog and The Case of the Stuttering Bishop as the best of the 1930s Masons, celebrating the quality of Charlie Chan at the Racetrack, and discouraging fans of the 1930s Chans from moving on to the poverty-row Monogram productions of the 1940s. In his discussion of the Thin Man series, he doesn’t have the advantage of comparing the second and third films with Hammett’s screen treatments, unpublished until late this year in Return of the Thin Man (Mysterious Press).

Some rare factual errors: Eugene Pallette’s year of birth was 1889, not 1899; Archer Coe’s brother in Kennel was named Brisbane, not Sebastian (thanks for a fine Olympics, Lord Coe); and a reference to author Ben Ames should be Ben Ames Williams. Some oddities: Backer repeatedly uses an annoying grammatical redundancy represented in the phrase “a number of excellent performances in addition to that of Lowe’s” (either “Lowe’s” or “that of Lowe” will do), and his incessant references to the pulchritude of female cast members may irritate some readers.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 03:12

backer_mysterymovieseries1930shollywoodA critically astute and entertaining guide to 22 of the best mystery movie series of the 1930s.

Pulp Fiction to Film Noir: the Great Depression and the Development of a Genre
Jon L. Breen

Though the subject matter seems foolproof, this undisciplined book is sunk by numerous errors, tortured prose style (“Shaw then traversed into a realm of familiarity to those who have viewed the work of one of filmdom’s master directors…”), irrelevant tangents (e.g., an amusing anecdote about Basil Rathbone that has nothing to do with film noir), and regurgitation of mistaken conventional wisdom, such as the belief that Anthony Boucher was hostile to the works of Raymond Chandler, Chandler having reached that conclusion based on a book review he hadn’t even read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 03:12

Though the subject matter seems foolproof, this undisciplined book is sunk by numerous errors, tortured prose style (“Shaw then traversed into a realm of familiarity to those who have viewed the work of one of filmdom’s master directors…”), irrelevant tangents (e.g., an amusing anecdote about Basil Rathbone that has nothing to do with film noir), and regurgitation of mistaken conventional wisdom, such as the belief that Anthony Boucher was hostile to the works of Raymond Chandler, Chandler having reached that conclusion based on a book review he hadn’t even read.

Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom: Essays on the Bbc Series
Jon L. Breen

This collection of essays about the modernized TV series, its impact on Sherlockian fandom, and its connection to Conan Doyle’s original stories and earlier adaptations is not a completely worthless book—readers not immersed in online fan culture will at least pick up some new vocabulary—but after Lyndsay Faye’s good prologue, things degenerate into academic pop culture studies at their most self-indulgent, pretentious, and bela-boring of the obvious, giving undeserved significance to a harmless but minor hobbyist pursuit while leeching all the fun out of it. One scholar reductively stereotypes both Golden Age detection and hardboiled private-eye fiction. Another deploys a triple redundancy straight out of a student paper: “In this modern world we live in…” Others provide horrible examples of professorial prose: Sherlock Holmes is “an evolving transmedia figure, at the center of myriad cultural intersections and diverse representational and fan traditions”; “This incarnation of Holmes engages with decentered and destabilized hierarchies of knowledge typical of networked culture,” but “there are limits to the extent Holmes can incite fans’ participatory culture as a cultural activator, since Sherlock specifically codes fan knowledge cut apart from fan affect.” If any of this sounds remotely interesting, you may be the audience for this book.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 04:12

This collection of essays about the modernized TV series, its impact on Sherlockian fandom, and its connection to Conan Doyle’s original stories and earlier adaptations is not a completely worthless book—readers not immersed in online fan culture will at least pick up some new vocabulary—but after Lyndsay Faye’s good prologue, things degenerate into academic pop culture studies at their most self-indulgent, pretentious, and bela-boring of the obvious, giving undeserved significance to a harmless but minor hobbyist pursuit while leeching all the fun out of it. One scholar reductively stereotypes both Golden Age detection and hardboiled private-eye fiction. Another deploys a triple redundancy straight out of a student paper: “In this modern world we live in…” Others provide horrible examples of professorial prose: Sherlock Holmes is “an evolving transmedia figure, at the center of myriad cultural intersections and diverse representational and fan traditions”; “This incarnation of Holmes engages with decentered and destabilized hierarchies of knowledge typical of networked culture,” but “there are limits to the extent Holmes can incite fans’ participatory culture as a cultural activator, since Sherlock specifically codes fan knowledge cut apart from fan affect.” If any of this sounds remotely interesting, you may be the audience for this book.

The Grand Tour: Around the World With the Queen of Mystery
Jon L. Breen

In 1922, Agatha Christie, author of two published mystery novels with a third forthcoming, joined husband Archie on a yearlong tour in advance of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with a side trip to Hawaii. About 40 pages from Christie’s autobiography serve as a framing device, but the letters and diary entries that make up most of the book are new to print. Illustrations include photos from the trip and its personalities, typed and handwritten letters, postcards, itineraries, menus, newspaper clippings, and maps. Though there’s little reference to Christie’s fiction, as a travel narrative, an insight into her personal life at a very happy period, and a reflection of pleasures and attitudes of the 1920s, this is a most enjoyable account. Its appeal is not limited to Christie completists.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 04:12

In 1922, Agatha Christie, author of two published mystery novels with a third forthcoming, joined husband Archie on a yearlong tour in advance of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with a side trip to Hawaii. About 40 pages from Christie’s autobiography serve as a framing device, but the letters and diary entries that make up most of the book are new to print. Illustrations include photos from the trip and its personalities, typed and handwritten letters, postcards, itineraries, menus, newspaper clippings, and maps. Though there’s little reference to Christie’s fiction, as a travel narrative, an insight into her personal life at a very happy period, and a reflection of pleasures and attitudes of the 1920s, this is a most enjoyable account. Its appeal is not limited to Christie completists.

Ed Mcbain/Evan Hunter: a Literary Companion
Jon L. Breen

Like earlier volumes in this series on John Buchan and E.X. Ferrars, this is a superb reference book, solidly written and painstakingly accurate. It covers all of its prolific subject’s output, short and long, fiction and nonfiction, under various bylines (Richard Marsten, Curt Cannon, and others apart from the two famous ones), most but not all in the crime/mystery genre. Alphabetical entries include novels (with plot synopses, critical comments, thematic identifications), short-story collections (plus a separate article on uncollected stories), film and theatrical scripts, characters (series and one-shot), locales (including New York and the 87th Precinct’s fictional equivalent Isola), associates (Alfred Hitchcock, Craig Rice), and topical essays (Italians, police procedural, pseudonyms, realism, war). Some of the material may be new even to avid fans, such as the extended discussion of the sleaze-paperback byline Dean Hudson, which, though he denied it, is believed to have been used by Hunter. Features include chronological and alphabetical checklists, a brief biography and career chronology, a map of the 87th Precinct and a floor plan of its detective squad room, a list of Hunter/McBain’s playful references to his own work (mostly to the Hitchcock film The Birds), an eight-page annotated primary and secondary bibliography, and a substantial index.

Surprisingly, the meticulous author has missed at least one item, the novella “The Death-Ray Gun” (Manhunt, January 1955).

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 04:12
::cck::4192
The Getaway Man
Dick Lochte

I missed this short, punchy slice of pure noir when it arrived in audio last year. Better late than never. Its antihero, Eddie, is a slow-thinking guy who has spent most of his young life practicing to be the perfect getaway car driver. Via a series of starts and stops, he becomes pretty much the best: talented, extremely focused, and unflaggingly loyal to his fellow robbers—until he falls under the spell of a femme fatale named Vonda. Andrew Vachss’ style raises the story a few notches higher than the pulp paperbacks he’s saluting. And Phil Gigante’s perfectly tuned, affectless country boy narration transforms it into a nifty bit of performance art.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 05:12

I missed this short, punchy slice of pure noir when it arrived in audio last year. Better late than never. Its antihero, Eddie, is a slow-thinking guy who has spent most of his young life practicing to be the perfect getaway car driver. Via a series of starts and stops, he becomes pretty much the best: talented, extremely focused, and unflaggingly loyal to his fellow robbers—until he falls under the spell of a femme fatale named Vonda. Andrew Vachss’ style raises the story a few notches higher than the pulp paperbacks he’s saluting. And Phil Gigante’s perfectly tuned, affectless country boy narration transforms it into a nifty bit of performance art.

Vengeance (Audiobook)
Dick Lochte

It’s probably just me, but I haven’t quite fallen under the spell of Benjamin Black (John Banville’s mystery pseudonym) or his boozy, oddly aloof protagonist, pathologist, and amateur detective Garrett Quirke. Still, there’s enough stylish writing or possibly a perverse quirk of my own half-Irish ancestry, that keeps me coming back to his moody, semi-depressing novels. John Keating’s brogue, alternately lilting or downbeat, certainly helps. In book number five, which like the others is set in 1950s Dublin (and environs), Quirke is asked by the always-in-need Inspector Hackett to help him poke about the suicide of auto repair mogul Victor Delehaye and, soon thereafter, the murder of someone connected to the suicide. The plot seems a little, ah, slight, from a whodunit point of view, but Black provides an assortment of interestingly odd characters. And the evocation of a financially depressed Dublin and its religiously and socially oppressed denizens is both effective and elegant. If that’s not enough, Keating’s melodic narration, even though a tad nasal, could make a Bono lyric sound like a poem by Seamus Heaney.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

It’s probably just me, but I haven’t quite fallen under the spell of Benjamin Black (John Banville’s mystery pseudonym) or his boozy, oddly aloof protagonist, pathologist, and amateur detective Garrett Quirke. Still, there’s enough stylish writing or possibly a perverse quirk of my own half-Irish ancestry, that keeps me coming back to his moody, semi-depressing novels. John Keating’s brogue, alternately lilting or downbeat, certainly helps. In book number five, which like the others is set in 1950s Dublin (and environs), Quirke is asked by the always-in-need Inspector Hackett to help him poke about the suicide of auto repair mogul Victor Delehaye and, soon thereafter, the murder of someone connected to the suicide. The plot seems a little, ah, slight, from a whodunit point of view, but Black provides an assortment of interestingly odd characters. And the evocation of a financially depressed Dublin and its religiously and socially oppressed denizens is both effective and elegant. If that’s not enough, Keating’s melodic narration, even though a tad nasal, could make a Bono lyric sound like a poem by Seamus Heaney.

A Wanted Man
Dick Lochte

As of this writing, Tom Cruise’s version of Jack Reacher is still in the “coming soon” category. Maybe the perennially youthful actor can make us forget the vast physical differences between him and the character. I can say without equivocation, however, that Cruise’s chirpy voice will not be as effective as the cool-but-dangerous one Hill provides the character. That audio interpretation is a good thing, because the new novel, padded and meandering, needs a little help. In it, the mystery field’s favorite loner is in icy Nebraska, hitching to Virginia, when he’s picked up by what seems to be a trio of carpooling corporate types. Though other events are interspersed—a grisly murder, an investigation by an FBI agent whose big blonde description is a clue that she and Reacher will share a destiny—half the book is spent with him in that car. The good thing is that he does a lot of Sherlockian deducing in an attempt to discover who his fellow passengers really are. The bad thing is that this action hero spends half the book in a car.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

As of this writing, Tom Cruise’s version of Jack Reacher is still in the “coming soon” category. Maybe the perennially youthful actor can make us forget the vast physical differences between him and the character. I can say without equivocation, however, that Cruise’s chirpy voice will not be as effective as the cool-but-dangerous one Hill provides the character. That audio interpretation is a good thing, because the new novel, padded and meandering, needs a little help. In it, the mystery field’s favorite loner is in icy Nebraska, hitching to Virginia, when he’s picked up by what seems to be a trio of carpooling corporate types. Though other events are interspersed—a grisly murder, an investigation by an FBI agent whose big blonde description is a clue that she and Reacher will share a destiny—half the book is spent with him in that car. The good thing is that he does a lot of Sherlockian deducing in an attempt to discover who his fellow passengers really are. The bad thing is that this action hero spends half the book in a car.

Black Mask Stories: Volumes 1-11
Dick Lochte

Several issues ago I reviewed the first three audio anthologies carved from the Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, a massive collection of crime fiction culled by Otto Penzler from the 30-plus years of that seminal pulp magazine’s output. The reason I’m taking a second look during this holiday season is that the entire collection is now available in audio format and, if you’re feeling particularly generous, the 11-set assortment of 65 hardboiled, action-packed CDs, which includes fascinating short biographies of each author, would make some mystery fiction fan on your gift list very happy this holiday. But if that’s too big a bundle to fit under your tree, let me suggest a selection of what I think are the more essential samplings.

The most essential would be set #3, featuring Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon as it originally appeared in the magazine in three segments prior to the author’s final edit for the book edition. Jeff Gurner’s narration isn’t quite Bogart-like, but it’s tough enough to get the job done in spades. The set also includes two short shorts: “Cry Silence,” a typical Frederic Brown twist-ender narrated in a vaguely Southern, avuncular fashion by Oliver Wyman; and William Cole’s “Waiting for Rusty,” a crooks-making-their-getaway yarn given a Western twangy, deep baritone delivery by Pete Larkin.

Set #1 is an all-star gathering that includes: “Arson Plus,” a Continental Op yarn, by Hammett (under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson), deep-voiced by Alan Sklar; a Phantom Thief caper by Erle Stanley Gardner, “Come and Get It,” narrated by a not-so- Southern Wyman; while a twang-free Larkin delivers both “Fall Guy,” a Flashgun Casey tale by George Harmon Coxe and Frederick Nebel’s McBride and Kennedy-starring “Doors in the Dark.” The final entry has Gunther putting a nice ’30s tough-guy spin on Lester Dent’s “Luck,” his preferred, unpublished version of his debut story “Sail.”

Set #5 features Rainbow Diamonds, six interconnected stories involving Jo Gar, the “little island detective,” written by Raoul Whitfield (under his pen name Ramon Decolta) with narrator Johnny Heller demonstrating how hardboiled a soft, faintly accented voice can sound. Also included is Carrol John Daly’s “Knights of the Open Palm,” in which private eye Race Williams makes his debut, battling the Ku Klux Klan. Reader Erik Bergmann wisely plays him as being rough, but only mildly uncultured. The set ends with William Rollins, Jr.’s “The Ring on the Hand of Death,” about a naïve young man’s involvement in the murder of a town powerbroker, with Dan Bittner using a properly youthful, golly-gee voice.

Brett Halliday’s “A Taste for Cognac” kicks off Set #7, with PI Michael Shayne searching Prohibition-era Miami for imported brandy and a killer, in that order, and reader Peter Ganim providing the tough but intelligent patter. Erle Stanley Gardner (this time using the pseudonym Charles M. Greene) is repped by a chilly thriller, “The Shrieking Skeleton,” in which a doctor purchases the bones of his enemy to use as a display skeleton and faces the consequences; David Ledoux narrates in a crisp, professorial manner. The deepvoiced Gurner reappears using a fast-paced wiseguy attitude for W.T. Ballard’s movie studio troubleshooter in “A Little Different,” and going much tougher for Hank Searls’ PI story, “Drop Dead Twice.”

Set #9 is highlighted by the last story Raymond Chandler wrote for the magazine, “Try the Girl,” which he reused for the novel Farewell, My Lovely. Scott Brick does an excellent job of matching the author’s cynicism and fluid style. Two West Coast pals, Steve Fisher and Frank Gruber, are respectively represented by “Wait for Me,” one of the few stories to feature a female protagonist—in this case, a woman who wants out of Shanghai in the worst way, narrated in a no-nonsense manner by Carol Monda; and a breezy tale about Oliver Quade the Human Encyclopedia, “Ask Me Another,” read in a rare lighthearted mood by Jeff Woodman. The set also includes another cheery caper, Ray Cummings’ “T. McGuirk Steals a Diamond,” with reader Alan Winter risking vocal damage by going from screechy McGuirk to the growly interrogators seeking the diamond. In Norbert Davis’ “Don’t You Cry for Me,” musician John Collins goes looking for a missing starlet, with reader Eric Conger providing a clean, matter-of-fact play-by-play. Whitman Chambers’ “The Black Bottle” is a romantic adventure yarn about a Navy officer who investigates murders in Panama, fearing his girl may be involved. Narrator Bart Tinapp keeps the too-lengthy novella alive with vivid vocal shifts. Tinapp also ably assists Milton K. Ozaki’s “The Corpse Didn’t Kick,” a can-he-get-away-with-murder tale, with the question neatly answered.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

penzler_blackmaskstories_audioEvery top crime writer of of the '20s, '30s, and '40s contributed to Black Mask, here in audiobook format.

Beneath the Abbey Wall
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

As a former newspaperman before the advent of the computer, I could enjoy and relate to this murder mystery, which involves the staff of a small-town newspaper in the Scottish Highlands in 1957. The peaceful ambience of typewriters, carbon paper, hard type, and rotary phones is shattered one day by the murder of Mrs. Smart, the Highland Gazette’s efficient and well-liked office manager, who is stabbed and left to die on the steps beneath the Abbey wall.

To complicate matters further, Don McLeod, the associate editor of the newspaper, is charged with the crime and chooses to remain circumspect about his relationship with the deceased. The Gazette editor, McCallister, Don’s best friend, is certain that the wrong man is in jail and, with the help of two younger reporters, tries to discover who really committed the murder, all while continuing to put out a newspaper with a diminished staff.

Adding to the enjoyment of the mystery is the complexity of the relationships, romantic and otherwise, between characters as well as cultural references from the post-war ’50s in Scotland, including the increasing popularity of rock and roll singers such as the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley.

This is the third novel in the series by A.D. Scott, who was born in the Highlands and knows the landscape and the Scottish ethos well. She also knows how to maintain our interest in her characters as the relationships deepen and change, and layers of history must be uncovered to determine the motive behind the murder.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

As a former newspaperman before the advent of the computer, I could enjoy and relate to this murder mystery, which involves the staff of a small-town newspaper in the Scottish Highlands in 1957. The peaceful ambience of typewriters, carbon paper, hard type, and rotary phones is shattered one day by the murder of Mrs. Smart, the Highland Gazette’s efficient and well-liked office manager, who is stabbed and left to die on the steps beneath the Abbey wall.

To complicate matters further, Don McLeod, the associate editor of the newspaper, is charged with the crime and chooses to remain circumspect about his relationship with the deceased. The Gazette editor, McCallister, Don’s best friend, is certain that the wrong man is in jail and, with the help of two younger reporters, tries to discover who really committed the murder, all while continuing to put out a newspaper with a diminished staff.

Adding to the enjoyment of the mystery is the complexity of the relationships, romantic and otherwise, between characters as well as cultural references from the post-war ’50s in Scotland, including the increasing popularity of rock and roll singers such as the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley.

This is the third novel in the series by A.D. Scott, who was born in the Highlands and knows the landscape and the Scottish ethos well. She also knows how to maintain our interest in her characters as the relationships deepen and change, and layers of history must be uncovered to determine the motive behind the murder.