A Not So Model Home
Sue Emmons

Upscale realtor Amanda Thorne returns for a second outing (after Three Bedrooms, Two Baths, One Very Dead Corpse), in a caper of a case that involves a reality show pitting male models against one another for the right to inherit $15 million and the estate of dying hair-care mogul Ian Forbes. Amanda’s bank account has been hard-hit by the real estate crisis, and the only catch in gaining the lucrative listing for Forbes’ magnificent mansion upon his demise is that she must appear on the show as one of the judges. Bickering breaks out immediately among the contestants, clamoring for Forbes’ affections and the spoils. Amanda’s only on-set ally appears to be Aurora Cleft, a relationship counselor and fellow judge. Amanda does get outside backup, however, from her ex-husband (who turned out to be gay) and business partner, Alex, and her current flame Ken, a seductive Palm Springs homicide detective.

The fun part of this mystery is James’ snarky, sneaky sense of humor that keeps his lively cast of characters believable, if a bit campy, while they strive for Forbes’ money. Murder ensues as the rivalry and conniving among the contestants heat up, and pasts thought long-buried return to stir intrigue. It’s ultimately up to Amanda to piece together the motive for murder amid all the messy relationships.

The book is enlivened by clever chapter headings (“Being World Famous for Fifteen Minutes Is Far Too Long”; “Open Mouth, Insert Prada Loafer”). James’ jacket blurb is almost as much of a teaser as the plot, telling readers that he “has not written any screenplay, never received a Pulitzer and is not a contributor to NPR.” Now that’s cunning.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

Upscale realtor Amanda Thorne returns for a second outing (after Three Bedrooms, Two Baths, One Very Dead Corpse), in a caper of a case that involves a reality show pitting male models against one another for the right to inherit $15 million and the estate of dying hair-care mogul Ian Forbes. Amanda’s bank account has been hard-hit by the real estate crisis, and the only catch in gaining the lucrative listing for Forbes’ magnificent mansion upon his demise is that she must appear on the show as one of the judges. Bickering breaks out immediately among the contestants, clamoring for Forbes’ affections and the spoils. Amanda’s only on-set ally appears to be Aurora Cleft, a relationship counselor and fellow judge. Amanda does get outside backup, however, from her ex-husband (who turned out to be gay) and business partner, Alex, and her current flame Ken, a seductive Palm Springs homicide detective.

The fun part of this mystery is James’ snarky, sneaky sense of humor that keeps his lively cast of characters believable, if a bit campy, while they strive for Forbes’ money. Murder ensues as the rivalry and conniving among the contestants heat up, and pasts thought long-buried return to stir intrigue. It’s ultimately up to Amanda to piece together the motive for murder amid all the messy relationships.

The book is enlivened by clever chapter headings (“Being World Famous for Fifteen Minutes Is Far Too Long”; “Open Mouth, Insert Prada Loafer”). James’ jacket blurb is almost as much of a teaser as the plot, telling readers that he “has not written any screenplay, never received a Pulitzer and is not a contributor to NPR.” Now that’s cunning.

Crashed
Derek Hill

Junior Bender is not your average detective. In fact, he’s not a private investigator at all: he’s a professional burglar. But Bender is frequently forced into snooping around crime scenes to ferret out the perp for other criminals who can’t go to the law because, well, they’re sleazy gangsters, murderers, and thieves.

In Crashed, the first book in the series, Bender is blackmailed by some thugs to help one of the most dangerous and feared mob kingpins in Los Angeles: Trey Annunziato. Saddled with a male name, Trey is actually a feared woman, rumored to have murdered her notorious mobster father in order to take over the family business. Annunziato is getting out of the business, but she wants to maintain her considerable wealth and keep her many employees financially secure. Her plan? To make a lavish multimillion-dollar, hardcore pornography movie with a once-popular television star, Thistle Downing, who is now burned out on drugs and booze. She’s also broke, which is why she agrees to make the adult movie in the first place. Bender is ordered to keep his eyes on the fallen star, and although Downing is a handful of trouble, he genuinely likes her and feels protective of her when the paparazzi pounce. On the first day of shooting, however, Downing disappears from the set and it seems someone wants to shut the production down, even if it means killing a few people.

In Little Elvises, the second book in the series, Bender must help out a venal police detective whose uncle, music producer Vinnie DiGaudio, is about to be investigated for the murder of a scumbag tabloid journalist. DiGaudio, who may have mob connections, was planning to kill the reporter, but ironically never got a chance to accomplish it. He wants to find out who shot the journalist and why. Bender has no choice but to take the job (otherwise he’ll be framed for a crime he didn’t commit), and plummets into a familiar world of violence, double-crosses, and high-level corruption. He gets romantically involved with the dead journalist’s sassy widow, Ronnie, and tangles with one of the most powerful (and feared) old gangsters in Los Angeles, Irwin Dressler. Bender, who tries to live by his own moral code, also helps the alcoholic manager of the motel he’s staying at, whose daughter has vanished with a suspected murderer.

As he feels the walls start to close in, Bender wants to flee, though doing so will only cause more destruction, not all of it far from his own estranged family.

One thing that immediately hits you about Timothy Hallinan’s writing is the clarity and snap of his prose. Junior Bender isn’t a gumshoe, but the cadence of his voice and his observations harken back to other great detectives who were expert at landing a crucial, devastating remark, as well as using their fists or a pistol. It’s a cliché, of course, to bring up Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, but the similarities are nevertheless present in fitting ways. Bender may work in the shadows of the law, but there’s a sense of decency about him, even though he has no illusions regarding what kind of man he is. He’s a career criminal and violence isn’t alien to him. But he’s no thug either. Bender makes for a wonderfully roguish, slightly bad protagonist, equipped with a sharp intelligence and an acidic wit.

Hallinan is also expert at making his many side characters—Bender’s criminal associate Louie the Lost, fallen star Thistle Downing, elderly though still dangerous mobster Dressler, and the combustible Ronnie—come alive, particularly in Downing’s case. What is at first seen as a grotesque parody of showbiz ruin in Crashed, is slowly infused with real emotion and dry insight.

The city of Los Angeles also feels lived-in and tactile, not just a nondescript backdrop that could fit any crime story. Because of his profession, and to keep a few steps ahead of the law (something that doesn’t always work out), Bender must move through many different areas of the city and deal with a variety of people in the process. Hallinan’s Los Angeles is vivid and authentic, a brilliant contrast to the trickery and pretensions of the characters Bender runs into. Both Crashed and Little Elvises were originally published as ebooks, but later snatched up by Soho Crime for print publication. Each book is simply great, and Hallinan displays a special talent for maintaining the careful balance between humor and drama. At times, these are hilarious novels, but they offer up deeper rewards as well. Highly recommended.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

Junior Bender is not your average detective. In fact, he’s not a private investigator at all: he’s a professional burglar. But Bender is frequently forced into snooping around crime scenes to ferret out the perp for other criminals who can’t go to the law because, well, they’re sleazy gangsters, murderers, and thieves.

In Crashed, the first book in the series, Bender is blackmailed by some thugs to help one of the most dangerous and feared mob kingpins in Los Angeles: Trey Annunziato. Saddled with a male name, Trey is actually a feared woman, rumored to have murdered her notorious mobster father in order to take over the family business. Annunziato is getting out of the business, but she wants to maintain her considerable wealth and keep her many employees financially secure. Her plan? To make a lavish multimillion-dollar, hardcore pornography movie with a once-popular television star, Thistle Downing, who is now burned out on drugs and booze. She’s also broke, which is why she agrees to make the adult movie in the first place. Bender is ordered to keep his eyes on the fallen star, and although Downing is a handful of trouble, he genuinely likes her and feels protective of her when the paparazzi pounce. On the first day of shooting, however, Downing disappears from the set and it seems someone wants to shut the production down, even if it means killing a few people.

In Little Elvises, the second book in the series, Bender must help out a venal police detective whose uncle, music producer Vinnie DiGaudio, is about to be investigated for the murder of a scumbag tabloid journalist. DiGaudio, who may have mob connections, was planning to kill the reporter, but ironically never got a chance to accomplish it. He wants to find out who shot the journalist and why. Bender has no choice but to take the job (otherwise he’ll be framed for a crime he didn’t commit), and plummets into a familiar world of violence, double-crosses, and high-level corruption. He gets romantically involved with the dead journalist’s sassy widow, Ronnie, and tangles with one of the most powerful (and feared) old gangsters in Los Angeles, Irwin Dressler. Bender, who tries to live by his own moral code, also helps the alcoholic manager of the motel he’s staying at, whose daughter has vanished with a suspected murderer.

As he feels the walls start to close in, Bender wants to flee, though doing so will only cause more destruction, not all of it far from his own estranged family.

One thing that immediately hits you about Timothy Hallinan’s writing is the clarity and snap of his prose. Junior Bender isn’t a gumshoe, but the cadence of his voice and his observations harken back to other great detectives who were expert at landing a crucial, devastating remark, as well as using their fists or a pistol. It’s a cliché, of course, to bring up Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, but the similarities are nevertheless present in fitting ways. Bender may work in the shadows of the law, but there’s a sense of decency about him, even though he has no illusions regarding what kind of man he is. He’s a career criminal and violence isn’t alien to him. But he’s no thug either. Bender makes for a wonderfully roguish, slightly bad protagonist, equipped with a sharp intelligence and an acidic wit.

Hallinan is also expert at making his many side characters—Bender’s criminal associate Louie the Lost, fallen star Thistle Downing, elderly though still dangerous mobster Dressler, and the combustible Ronnie—come alive, particularly in Downing’s case. What is at first seen as a grotesque parody of showbiz ruin in Crashed, is slowly infused with real emotion and dry insight.

The city of Los Angeles also feels lived-in and tactile, not just a nondescript backdrop that could fit any crime story. Because of his profession, and to keep a few steps ahead of the law (something that doesn’t always work out), Bender must move through many different areas of the city and deal with a variety of people in the process. Hallinan’s Los Angeles is vivid and authentic, a brilliant contrast to the trickery and pretensions of the characters Bender runs into. Both Crashed and Little Elvises were originally published as ebooks, but later snatched up by Soho Crime for print publication. Each book is simply great, and Hallinan displays a special talent for maintaining the careful balance between humor and drama. At times, these are hilarious novels, but they offer up deeper rewards as well. Highly recommended.

Little Elvises
Derek Hill

Junior Bender is not your average detective. In fact, he’s not a private investigator at all: he’s a professional burglar. But Bender is frequently forced into snooping around crime scenes to ferret out the perp for other criminals who can’t go to the law because, well, they’re sleazy gangsters, murderers, and thieves.

In Crashed, the first book in the series, Bender is blackmailed by some thugs to help one of the most dangerous and feared mob kingpins in Los Angeles: Trey Annunziato. Saddled with a male name, Trey is actually a feared woman, rumored to have murdered her notorious mobster father in order to take over the family business. Annunziato is getting out of the business, but she wants to maintain her considerable wealth and keep her many employees financially secure. Her plan? To make a lavish multimillion-dollar, hardcore pornography movie with a once-popular television star, Thistle Downing, who is now burned out on drugs and booze. She’s also broke, which is why she agrees to make the adult movie in the first place. Bender is ordered to keep his eyes on the fallen star, and although Downing is a handful of trouble, he genuinely likes her and feels protective of her when the paparazzi pounce. On the first day of shooting, however, Downing disappears from the set and it seems someone wants to shut the production down, even if it means killing a few people.

In Little Elvises, the second book in the series, Bender must help out a venal police detective whose uncle, music producer Vinnie DiGaudio, is about to be investigated for the murder of a scumbag tabloid journalist. DiGaudio, who may have mob connections, was planning to kill the reporter, but ironically never got a chance to accomplish it. He wants to find out who shot the journalist and why. Bender has no choice but to take the job (otherwise he’ll be framed for a crime he didn’t commit), and plummets into a familiar world of violence, double-crosses, and high-level corruption. He gets romantically involved with the dead journalist’s sassy widow, Ronnie, and tangles with one of the most powerful (and feared) old gangsters in Los Angeles, Irwin Dressler. Bender, who tries to live by his own moral code, also helps the alcoholic manager of the motel he’s staying at, whose daughter has vanished with a suspected murderer.

As he feels the walls start to close in, Bender wants to flee, though doing so will only cause more destruction, not all of it far from his own estranged family.

One thing that immediately hits you about Timothy Hallinan’s writing is the clarity and snap of his prose. Junior Bender isn’t a gumshoe, but the cadence of his voice and his observations harken back to other great detectives who were expert at landing a crucial, devastating remark, as well as using their fists or a pistol. It’s a cliché, of course, to bring up Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, but the similarities are nevertheless present in fitting ways. Bender may work in the shadows of the law, but there’s a sense of decency about him, even though he has no illusions regarding what kind of man he is. He’s a career criminal and violence isn’t alien to him. But he’s no thug either. Bender makes for a wonderfully roguish, slightly bad protagonist, equipped with a sharp intelligence and an acidic wit.

Hallinan is also expert at making his many side characters—Bender’s criminal associate Louie the Lost, fallen star Thistle Downing, elderly though still dangerous mobster Dressler, and the combustible Ronnie—come alive, particularly in Downing’s case. What is at first seen as a grotesque parody of showbiz ruin in Crashed, is slowly infused with real emotion and dry insight.

The city of Los Angeles also feels lived-in and tactile, not just a nondescript backdrop that could fit any crime story. Because of his profession, and to keep a few steps ahead of the law (something that doesn’t always work out), Bender must move through many different areas of the city and deal with a variety of people in the process. Hallinan’s Los Angeles is vivid and authentic, a brilliant contrast to the trickery and pretensions of the characters Bender runs into. Both Crashed and Little Elvises were originally published as ebooks, but later snatched up by Soho Crime for print publication. Each book is simply great, and Hallinan displays a special talent for maintaining the careful balance between humor and drama. At times, these are hilarious novels, but they offer up deeper rewards as well. Highly recommended.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

hallinan_littleelvisesJunior Bender, a gumshoe with real voice, takes on music and mob in his second outing.

The Aden Effect
Lourdes Venard

In this military thriller, the story seesaws back and forth between three men: Connor Stark, a former naval officer turned mercenary; Damien Golzari, a special agent with US Diplomatic Security; and Abdi Mohammed Asha, a Somali pirate.

Stark, the protagonist, is recalled to service by C.J. Sumner, the new ambassador to Yemen; she wants him to help in negotiating with pirates off the Horn of Africa, who are impeding access to oil fields. But Stark, a taciturn man not ready to rejoin service, is already having his own problems with pirates. Three men tied to Somali pirates, with whom he tangled in the Gulf of Aden, have just tried to kill him.

In the meantime, Golzari, an Iranian by birth who has investigated crimes from Paris to Riyadh, is looking into the death of a young man, the son of a State Department official who died after using khat, an illegal drug being sold by Somali refugees in Maine. As he investigates further, he and Stark will cross paths, eventually teaming up. What they find will lead them all the way to the White House.

The third man stands in their path. Abdi Mohammed Asha is ruthless and hates Americans. He sees the college kids he sells khat to as “spoiled children of soft Americans...so easy to manipulate, so gullible.” But corrupting college students is just his first step in a terrorist campaign against America.

The author, Claude Berube, has worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence and on Capitol Hill. Consequently, his scenes, whether taking place in an embassy or on the high seas, ring true. But this is not just a book for those who like military fiction; plot and characters are well-executed in The Aden Effect, making this an engaging thriller for any reader.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

In this military thriller, the story seesaws back and forth between three men: Connor Stark, a former naval officer turned mercenary; Damien Golzari, a special agent with US Diplomatic Security; and Abdi Mohammed Asha, a Somali pirate.

Stark, the protagonist, is recalled to service by C.J. Sumner, the new ambassador to Yemen; she wants him to help in negotiating with pirates off the Horn of Africa, who are impeding access to oil fields. But Stark, a taciturn man not ready to rejoin service, is already having his own problems with pirates. Three men tied to Somali pirates, with whom he tangled in the Gulf of Aden, have just tried to kill him.

In the meantime, Golzari, an Iranian by birth who has investigated crimes from Paris to Riyadh, is looking into the death of a young man, the son of a State Department official who died after using khat, an illegal drug being sold by Somali refugees in Maine. As he investigates further, he and Stark will cross paths, eventually teaming up. What they find will lead them all the way to the White House.

The third man stands in their path. Abdi Mohammed Asha is ruthless and hates Americans. He sees the college kids he sells khat to as “spoiled children of soft Americans...so easy to manipulate, so gullible.” But corrupting college students is just his first step in a terrorist campaign against America.

The author, Claude Berube, has worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence and on Capitol Hill. Consequently, his scenes, whether taking place in an embassy or on the high seas, ring true. But this is not just a book for those who like military fiction; plot and characters are well-executed in The Aden Effect, making this an engaging thriller for any reader.

City of Saints
Robin Agnew

Andrew Hunt’s first novel is set in a rarely written about time and place—1930s Salt Lake City, Utah. Skipping to the end notes (which really should be read after you finish the book), I found that Hunt is obsessed with the true-life, unsolved 1930 murder of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister in Salt Lake. Using the basic facts of Moormeister’s death, Hunt does what all good historical novelists do: he adds emotional detail, and, most importantly for a mystery reader, a resolution to the case.

The hero of Hunt’s novel is one Art Oveson, at the opening of the novel a deputy sheriff. He is first out to view the battered body of Helen Pfaltzgraff, who turns out to the be the wife of a well-known doctor in Salt Lake. Art is new to the job, and one of the novel’s journeys is following him as he gains experience.

Art is a Mormon whose family life is central to his existence. He adheres closely to the religious beliefs held by much of the heavily Mormon community of Salt Lake City, the original “City of Saints.” Some of the Mormon code includes listening to his parents and older siblings, many of whom are also in law enforcement. This sometimes proves difficult for him.

The investigation of Helen’s murder is an eye-opening experience for Art, who generally lives on the straight and narrow. He’s shocked by some of the more sordid details of Helen’s life, despite her prominent position in the community. It forces him to look beyond the mask of behavior presented to the outside world by Helen’s privilege. It’s Art’s adherence to what’s right (if not always to the straight and narrow) that carries him through his investigation. He’s a white knight, literally sporting a much mentioned (and frequently damaged) white Stetson hat.

Art is partnered with Roscoe Lund, a considerably older and far more cynical officer. Theirs is a nice balancing act. While some parts of the story are predictable, other parts are more refreshing. I knew that Art, who has an issue with Roscoe early on, would circle back to him for help; but I was surprised at the path Art takes to get there. The portrait of Salt Lake City in the 1930s is an indelible one, and I imagine the ice cream parlor frequently mentioned by Hunt is or was a real place.

As the investigation progresses, Art’s changing attitudes and what he is learning about the world are presented in a very believable way. He’s forced outside the conventional workings of law enforcement, and starts to use connections and his own knowledge of Salt Lake City to solve the crime. Working somewhat outside of law enforcement places him firmly in the universe of outsider detectives like Harry Bosch, John Rebus, or even Barbara Havers. All of these detectives use their smarts and instincts, rather than strict rules, to resolve their cases.

The rhythms of the complicated mystery are somewhat gentle, but there are enough twists to keep you reading. I also liked the network of fellow Mormons that Art relies on at crucial parts of his investigation. All in all, this is an original and memorable read.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

Andrew Hunt’s first novel is set in a rarely written about time and place—1930s Salt Lake City, Utah. Skipping to the end notes (which really should be read after you finish the book), I found that Hunt is obsessed with the true-life, unsolved 1930 murder of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister in Salt Lake. Using the basic facts of Moormeister’s death, Hunt does what all good historical novelists do: he adds emotional detail, and, most importantly for a mystery reader, a resolution to the case.

The hero of Hunt’s novel is one Art Oveson, at the opening of the novel a deputy sheriff. He is first out to view the battered body of Helen Pfaltzgraff, who turns out to the be the wife of a well-known doctor in Salt Lake. Art is new to the job, and one of the novel’s journeys is following him as he gains experience.

Art is a Mormon whose family life is central to his existence. He adheres closely to the religious beliefs held by much of the heavily Mormon community of Salt Lake City, the original “City of Saints.” Some of the Mormon code includes listening to his parents and older siblings, many of whom are also in law enforcement. This sometimes proves difficult for him.

The investigation of Helen’s murder is an eye-opening experience for Art, who generally lives on the straight and narrow. He’s shocked by some of the more sordid details of Helen’s life, despite her prominent position in the community. It forces him to look beyond the mask of behavior presented to the outside world by Helen’s privilege. It’s Art’s adherence to what’s right (if not always to the straight and narrow) that carries him through his investigation. He’s a white knight, literally sporting a much mentioned (and frequently damaged) white Stetson hat.

Art is partnered with Roscoe Lund, a considerably older and far more cynical officer. Theirs is a nice balancing act. While some parts of the story are predictable, other parts are more refreshing. I knew that Art, who has an issue with Roscoe early on, would circle back to him for help; but I was surprised at the path Art takes to get there. The portrait of Salt Lake City in the 1930s is an indelible one, and I imagine the ice cream parlor frequently mentioned by Hunt is or was a real place.

As the investigation progresses, Art’s changing attitudes and what he is learning about the world are presented in a very believable way. He’s forced outside the conventional workings of law enforcement, and starts to use connections and his own knowledge of Salt Lake City to solve the crime. Working somewhat outside of law enforcement places him firmly in the universe of outsider detectives like Harry Bosch, John Rebus, or even Barbara Havers. All of these detectives use their smarts and instincts, rather than strict rules, to resolve their cases.

The rhythms of the complicated mystery are somewhat gentle, but there are enough twists to keep you reading. I also liked the network of fellow Mormons that Art relies on at crucial parts of his investigation. All in all, this is an original and memorable read.

The Jewels of Paradise
Debbi Mack

For Donna Leon, who’s best known for her Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series, The Jewels of Paradise represents a new direction in her writing, in at least two ways. For one, although it’s set in her beloved city of Venice, it’s her first standalone novel. And for another, it has a female, amateur sleuth protagonist.

Native Venetian Caterina Pellegrini, who has devoted her life to the study of baroque opera, feels her doctorate in the field is wasted by working as a low-level researcher in Manchester, England. She jumps at the opportunity to return to Venice when it presents itself in the form of a peculiar job offer: Two cousins, heirs of an obscure baroque composer, each claim to have inherited the contents of the composer’s locked trunks, which are believed to contain the composer’s papers. Caterina’s job is to open the trunks and look for evidence of the composer’s intent with regard to whom he intended to bequeath his worldly goods.

As Caterina delves into the research, she unearths information about the composer that suggests that he suffered a tragic life. Furthermore, her historical research uncovers a complex plot within a plot, involving murder, infidelity, and greed, with occasional vague references to “jewels of paradise.” Given the strange manner in which she was hired and that the cousins are only interested in money, Caterina comes to realize that there may be more than just papers within the trunks. She finds herself caught in a situation in which she can’t be sure whom to trust. So, Caterina turns to her family and learns that work can't replace family and friends.

As always, Leon describes Venice in scenes that capture the city in rich detail, such as the sunset behind the domes of the Basilica, boat rides down the Grand Canal, and hurried walks through the darkened calles of Venice at night. The Jewels of Paradise is a suspenseful story that resonates with the theme of how greed can lead people astray from the real beauty of life.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

For Donna Leon, who’s best known for her Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series, The Jewels of Paradise represents a new direction in her writing, in at least two ways. For one, although it’s set in her beloved city of Venice, it’s her first standalone novel. And for another, it has a female, amateur sleuth protagonist.

Native Venetian Caterina Pellegrini, who has devoted her life to the study of baroque opera, feels her doctorate in the field is wasted by working as a low-level researcher in Manchester, England. She jumps at the opportunity to return to Venice when it presents itself in the form of a peculiar job offer: Two cousins, heirs of an obscure baroque composer, each claim to have inherited the contents of the composer’s locked trunks, which are believed to contain the composer’s papers. Caterina’s job is to open the trunks and look for evidence of the composer’s intent with regard to whom he intended to bequeath his worldly goods.

As Caterina delves into the research, she unearths information about the composer that suggests that he suffered a tragic life. Furthermore, her historical research uncovers a complex plot within a plot, involving murder, infidelity, and greed, with occasional vague references to “jewels of paradise.” Given the strange manner in which she was hired and that the cousins are only interested in money, Caterina comes to realize that there may be more than just papers within the trunks. She finds herself caught in a situation in which she can’t be sure whom to trust. So, Caterina turns to her family and learns that work can't replace family and friends.

As always, Leon describes Venice in scenes that capture the city in rich detail, such as the sunset behind the domes of the Basilica, boat rides down the Grand Canal, and hurried walks through the darkened calles of Venice at night. The Jewels of Paradise is a suspenseful story that resonates with the theme of how greed can lead people astray from the real beauty of life.

The Ice Maiden Cometh Not
Oline H. Cogdill

Amateur investigator Gil Yates with his malapropisms is one of the most peculiar sleuths in mystery fiction, and his return after an eight-year absence provides an amusing, albeit flawed, story.

In The Ice Maiden Cometh Not, Gil overcomes his fear of flying in order to travel to Pennsylvania to meet a potential client, the arrogant heart surgeon Chester Kulp. What’s a couple of cross-country plane rides when the payoff will be Gil’s exorbitant fee of $10,000 a day?

The doctor wants Gil to prove that his son-in-law, Sandy Straus, didn’t commit suicide by jumping from his family’s department store. The evidence points to suicide and the cops have closed the case, but the doctor’s beautiful daughter, Ginger, cannot accept that verdict. Gil dislikes the belligerent doctor from their first meeting, but figures he can spend several days on the case and pick up $100,000—which will go a long way to relieving the boredom of his life with his manipulative wife and father-in-law back in California.

Alistair Boyle succinctly illustrates the ennui of the conservative town of Muhlenheim, Pennsylvania, and the rivalry between its two locally owned department stores. Gil slyly plows through conversations with moguls and secretaries to find the truth about whether Sandy’s demise had anything to do with Kulp’s meddling in his daughter’s life. Since he rarely constructs the most common phrase correctly, Gil adds comedy without realizing it every time he speaks. For Gil, snitches blow the trombones instead of a whistle, and one saws, not hammers, out details.

Boyle’s breezy style serves his story well and gives The Ice Maiden Cometh Not an old-fashioned feel, as if it were written in the 1950s. Well-placed red herrings are sprinkled throughout, adding to the surprise of the denouement, but there is little suspense and no tension to the story. This ninth outing in the series becomes annoyingly shallow midway through and the motive behind Sandy’s death is unbelievable and silly. Boyle’s early novels about Gil were fresh, but the detective’s quirkiness has grown stale.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 12:12

Amateur investigator Gil Yates with his malapropisms is one of the most peculiar sleuths in mystery fiction, and his return after an eight-year absence provides an amusing, albeit flawed, story.

In The Ice Maiden Cometh Not, Gil overcomes his fear of flying in order to travel to Pennsylvania to meet a potential client, the arrogant heart surgeon Chester Kulp. What’s a couple of cross-country plane rides when the payoff will be Gil’s exorbitant fee of $10,000 a day?

The doctor wants Gil to prove that his son-in-law, Sandy Straus, didn’t commit suicide by jumping from his family’s department store. The evidence points to suicide and the cops have closed the case, but the doctor’s beautiful daughter, Ginger, cannot accept that verdict. Gil dislikes the belligerent doctor from their first meeting, but figures he can spend several days on the case and pick up $100,000—which will go a long way to relieving the boredom of his life with his manipulative wife and father-in-law back in California.

Alistair Boyle succinctly illustrates the ennui of the conservative town of Muhlenheim, Pennsylvania, and the rivalry between its two locally owned department stores. Gil slyly plows through conversations with moguls and secretaries to find the truth about whether Sandy’s demise had anything to do with Kulp’s meddling in his daughter’s life. Since he rarely constructs the most common phrase correctly, Gil adds comedy without realizing it every time he speaks. For Gil, snitches blow the trombones instead of a whistle, and one saws, not hammers, out details.

Boyle’s breezy style serves his story well and gives The Ice Maiden Cometh Not an old-fashioned feel, as if it were written in the 1950s. Well-placed red herrings are sprinkled throughout, adding to the surprise of the denouement, but there is little suspense and no tension to the story. This ninth outing in the series becomes annoyingly shallow midway through and the motive behind Sandy’s death is unbelievable and silly. Boyle’s early novels about Gil were fresh, but the detective’s quirkiness has grown stale.

Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers
Bill Crider

Native Texan Charlie Boeckman, who writes as Charles Beckman, Jr., among many other pseudonyms, is, at age 92, one of the last pulp writers standing. Last year Wildside Press reissued Honky-Tonk Girl, a novel published by Falcon Books more than 60 years ago, and now Boeckman has collected 24 of his pulp tales in a volume titled Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers. Boeckman is a jazz clarinetist (at last report he was still playing in the Charlie Boeckman Hot Swing Band), and his musical background has a part in some of the stories. If you’ve been looking for some of the Good Old Stuff, you’ll certainly find it here. More good news: this is volume one, so there’s more to come.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 01:12

Native Texan Charlie Boeckman, who writes as Charles Beckman, Jr., among many other pseudonyms, is, at age 92, one of the last pulp writers standing. Last year Wildside Press reissued Honky-Tonk Girl, a novel published by Falcon Books more than 60 years ago, and now Boeckman has collected 24 of his pulp tales in a volume titled Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers. Boeckman is a jazz clarinetist (at last report he was still playing in the Charlie Boeckman Hot Swing Band), and his musical background has a part in some of the stories. If you’ve been looking for some of the Good Old Stuff, you’ll certainly find it here. More good news: this is volume one, so there’s more to come.

Fort Worth Nights
Bill Crider

Native Texan James Reasoner is the author of Texas Wind, one of the best private-eye novels of the 1980s, or any other decade for that matter. The main character and narrator is named Cody, and he’s also appeared in five short stories. Now Reasoner has collected all five of them into one volume and added a 10,000-word novelette. The collection is called Fort Worth Nights. I was especially happy to see the new story “Assisted Dying.” Cody has gotten a good bit older than he was back in 1980, as have we all, and as Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Cody certainly knows his, but that doesn’t mean you can mess with him and get away with it. If you’re not familiar with Reasoner’s work, you should be, and Fort Worth Nights is a great place to start.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 01:12

Native Texan James Reasoner is the author of Texas Wind, one of the best private-eye novels of the 1980s, or any other decade for that matter. The main character and narrator is named Cody, and he’s also appeared in five short stories. Now Reasoner has collected all five of them into one volume and added a 10,000-word novelette. The collection is called Fort Worth Nights. I was especially happy to see the new story “Assisted Dying.” Cody has gotten a good bit older than he was back in 1980, as have we all, and as Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Cody certainly knows his, but that doesn’t mean you can mess with him and get away with it. If you’re not familiar with Reasoner’s work, you should be, and Fort Worth Nights is a great place to start.

Beat to a Pulp: Superhero
Bill Crider

Don’t let the title scare you. These aren’t comic book stories. They’re crime stories, most of them with a dark edge, and the superhero characters will surprise you with their variety. James Reasoner’s story, for example, is set during the American Revolution. You didn’t know there were superheroes then? Now’s the time to find out all about it. This is a surprising and entertaining anthology.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 01:12

Don’t let the title scare you. These aren’t comic book stories. They’re crime stories, most of them with a dark edge, and the superhero characters will surprise you with their variety. James Reasoner’s story, for example, is set during the American Revolution. You didn’t know there were superheroes then? Now’s the time to find out all about it. This is a surprising and entertaining anthology.

Protectors: Stories to Benefit Project Protect
Bill Crider

Protectors: Stories to Benefit Project PROTECT has a noble cause. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the book’s sales go to Project PROTECT, which lobbies “for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.” According to PROTECT, here are some of its victories: “The Protect Our Children Act of 2008, which mandated that the Justice Department change course and design a new national nerve center for law enforcement to wage a war on child exploitation, the Hero to Hero program, which employs disabled veterans in the battle against child abuse, and Alicia’s Law.” The book features 41 writers and they’re all powerhouses. I can’t list them all, but James Reasoner and Joe Lansdale are here. And Ken Bruen, George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Chet Williamson, Ray Banks, Charles de Lint, Dave White, Keith Rawson, Richard Prosch, and on and on. Good stories for a good cause. You can’t go wrong.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 01:12

Protectors: Stories to Benefit Project PROTECT has a noble cause. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the book’s sales go to Project PROTECT, which lobbies “for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.” According to PROTECT, here are some of its victories: “The Protect Our Children Act of 2008, which mandated that the Justice Department change course and design a new national nerve center for law enforcement to wage a war on child exploitation, the Hero to Hero program, which employs disabled veterans in the battle against child abuse, and Alicia’s Law.” The book features 41 writers and they’re all powerhouses. I can’t list them all, but James Reasoner and Joe Lansdale are here. And Ken Bruen, George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Chet Williamson, Ray Banks, Charles de Lint, Dave White, Keith Rawson, Richard Prosch, and on and on. Good stories for a good cause. You can’t go wrong.

Chris Grabenstein’s Fund Raiser
Oline Cogdill


grabenstein_chrisxx
As a South Floridian, I am no stranger to hurricanes. And I know no matter how prepared one is, one is never completely prepared.

So my heart goes out to those affected by Hurricane Sandy’s devastating visit to the Northeast, effects of that continue to impact
lives.

Author Chris Grabenstein found inspiration in the Jersey Shore for his about Iraqi War veteran John Ceepak turned police detective.

Grabenstein set his novels in the Jersey Shore town of Sea Haven, a fictional combination of the very real towns of Seaside Heights and Beach Haven, both of which were slammed by Sandy. The roller coaster that inspired his novel Mad Mouse is now under water following Sandy’s visit.

Now Grabenstein wants to do his part to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

During December, Grabenstein will donate all the money from the Kindle and Nook sales of four of his Ceepak novels: Tilt A Whirl, Mad Mouse, Whack a Mole and Ring Toss.

Grabenstein also will donate all the proceeds from his two self-published ebooks, The Explorers’ Gate and The Christmas Tree (Kindle story only).

The money will be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Super User
Tuesday, 11 December 2012 10:12


grabenstein_chrisxx
As a South Floridian, I am no stranger to hurricanes. And I know no matter how prepared one is, one is never completely prepared.

So my heart goes out to those affected by Hurricane Sandy’s devastating visit to the Northeast, effects of that continue to impact
lives.

Author Chris Grabenstein found inspiration in the Jersey Shore for his about Iraqi War veteran John Ceepak turned police detective.

Grabenstein set his novels in the Jersey Shore town of Sea Haven, a fictional combination of the very real towns of Seaside Heights and Beach Haven, both of which were slammed by Sandy. The roller coaster that inspired his novel Mad Mouse is now under water following Sandy’s visit.

Now Grabenstein wants to do his part to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

During December, Grabenstein will donate all the money from the Kindle and Nook sales of four of his Ceepak novels: Tilt A Whirl, Mad Mouse, Whack a Mole and Ring Toss.

Grabenstein also will donate all the proceeds from his two self-published ebooks, The Explorers’ Gate and The Christmas Tree (Kindle story only).

The money will be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Emotional Terrorists: How We Love to Read About Them
ryanphillipphank_theotherwomanDuring a tense scene of Happy, a play getting a rolling world premiere at several theaters across the country, including New Theatre in Coral Gables, an especially vile character is called an emotional terrorist.

I had never heard that term before but I immediately thought of how “emotional terrorist” perfectly sums up the tension, suspense and plot points of several mysteries.

The conflict between people whether that is spurned on by greed, revenge, love, lust, or power make for great mystery plots.

I imagine that, at one time or another, each of us has known people who love to plays mind games on others; people whose need to one up another makes for toxic relationships.

Hopefully, you have excised those people from your lives.

But, boy, do we love to read about them.

Here are some novels that revolve around emotional terrorists. I reviewed each of these books this past year and am quoting from some of my reviews.

Take Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. On the surface, Nick and Amy Dunne have a perfect marriage. Then Amy disappears on their fifth anniversary and what some may see as a sublime life begins to crumble. The couple’s individual personalities emerge, especially showing Amy to be an emotional terrorist, overly obsessed with being perfect and having her own way. Flynn’s unpredictable plot of Gone Girl careens down an emotional highway.

omaratim_sacrificefly2.jpgIn Laura Lippman’s And When She Was Good, Heloise Lewis is a suburban madam who operates a successful prostitution ring, falling into the career because she felt that line of work was her only option. Confident, unashamed, and devoted to her son, Heloise, nevertheless, is a victim of an emotional terrorist who could destroy her world in an instance. Without glamorizing or judging prostitution, Lippman delivers an insightful character study of a woman who has learned self-preservation at all costs. To free herself of this terrorist, Heloise must realize that her options in life are limitless. Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere also features an emotional terrorist.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Box, LAPD detective Harry Bosch investigates a 20-year-old crime. Harry comes across a set of villains who are bond together by an emotional terrorist. (The latest issue of Mystery Scene features a profile of Connelly.)

As a teacher in a tough Brooklyn school, Raymond Donne meets a lot of kids, and families, held together by emotional terrorists, as Tim O’Mara shows in his exciting debut Sacrifice Fly. Whether these “terrorists” use physical, sexual or verbal abuse, the result is often the same: Children who cannot move forward, families forever stuck in horrible situations.

mcdermid_vanishingpointA British reality show star becomes an emotional terrorist to all who come within her orbit in Val McDermid’s The Vanishing Point. Reality shows can be the consummate scam, as McDermid’s plot illustrates.

Several women are emotional terrorists in The Other Woman, the hardcover debut by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Politics, dirty campaigns and compromised candidates are acompelling plot foundations in any year, but especially in this presidential election year. Ryan combines both a timely tale and a suspenseful multi-layered plot. (Ryan was profiled in the Fall No. 126 issue of Mystery Scene.)

British author Elizabeth HaynesInto the Darkest Corner delivers a gripping psychological thriller that chronicles an abusive relationship, from its seemingly harmless beginning to a searing conclusion. Catherine Bailey is young, happy woman who parties nearly every night at a different club in Lancaster, England, and, yes, is sexually active. Then she meets a supposedly charming man who is the ultimate emotional terrorist.
Super User
Sunday, 16 December 2012 03:12
ryanphillipphank_theotherwomanDuring a tense scene of Happy, a play getting a rolling world premiere at several theaters across the country, including New Theatre in Coral Gables, an especially vile character is called an emotional terrorist.

I had never heard that term before but I immediately thought of how “emotional terrorist” perfectly sums up the tension, suspense and plot points of several mysteries.

The conflict between people whether that is spurned on by greed, revenge, love, lust, or power make for great mystery plots.

I imagine that, at one time or another, each of us has known people who love to plays mind games on others; people whose need to one up another makes for toxic relationships.

Hopefully, you have excised those people from your lives.

But, boy, do we love to read about them.

Here are some novels that revolve around emotional terrorists. I reviewed each of these books this past year and am quoting from some of my reviews.

Take Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. On the surface, Nick and Amy Dunne have a perfect marriage. Then Amy disappears on their fifth anniversary and what some may see as a sublime life begins to crumble. The couple’s individual personalities emerge, especially showing Amy to be an emotional terrorist, overly obsessed with being perfect and having her own way. Flynn’s unpredictable plot of Gone Girl careens down an emotional highway.

omaratim_sacrificefly2.jpgIn Laura Lippman’s And When She Was Good, Heloise Lewis is a suburban madam who operates a successful prostitution ring, falling into the career because she felt that line of work was her only option. Confident, unashamed, and devoted to her son, Heloise, nevertheless, is a victim of an emotional terrorist who could destroy her world in an instance. Without glamorizing or judging prostitution, Lippman delivers an insightful character study of a woman who has learned self-preservation at all costs. To free herself of this terrorist, Heloise must realize that her options in life are limitless. Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere also features an emotional terrorist.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Box, LAPD detective Harry Bosch investigates a 20-year-old crime. Harry comes across a set of villains who are bond together by an emotional terrorist. (The latest issue of Mystery Scene features a profile of Connelly.)

As a teacher in a tough Brooklyn school, Raymond Donne meets a lot of kids, and families, held together by emotional terrorists, as Tim O’Mara shows in his exciting debut Sacrifice Fly. Whether these “terrorists” use physical, sexual or verbal abuse, the result is often the same: Children who cannot move forward, families forever stuck in horrible situations.

mcdermid_vanishingpointA British reality show star becomes an emotional terrorist to all who come within her orbit in Val McDermid’s The Vanishing Point. Reality shows can be the consummate scam, as McDermid’s plot illustrates.

Several women are emotional terrorists in The Other Woman, the hardcover debut by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Politics, dirty campaigns and compromised candidates are acompelling plot foundations in any year, but especially in this presidential election year. Ryan combines both a timely tale and a suspenseful multi-layered plot. (Ryan was profiled in the Fall No. 126 issue of Mystery Scene.)

British author Elizabeth HaynesInto the Darkest Corner delivers a gripping psychological thriller that chronicles an abusive relationship, from its seemingly harmless beginning to a searing conclusion. Catherine Bailey is young, happy woman who parties nearly every night at a different club in Lancaster, England, and, yes, is sexually active. Then she meets a supposedly charming man who is the ultimate emotional terrorist.
My Book: Dark Lie
Nancy Springer

springer_nancyThe unsung heroes of our society are the ordinary women with neither style nor beauty who take up the slack every single day...


I wrote the final draft of Dark Lie in Chile, South America, with bronchitis. My husband took me there to visit his native country, but I spent the vacation mostly sitting up in bed writing Dark Lie on my laptop computer, coughing, and cocooned in my alpaca fleece hoodie because Chile was chilly. Uniformly. And for some inexplicable Chilean reason it was necessary for the windows always to be wide open so that it was cold indoors and out.

While I did not appreciate this local custom at the time, it might have been a fortunate circumstance that I was sick, because I was writing about a chronically ill protagonist. Dorrie White, the middle-aged woman who becomes the unlikely hero of Dark Lie, has a severe case of lupus.

To add another fortunate circumstance, one of my husband’s Chileno relatives happens to be married to a gringa like me, and she has lupus. It was from the Chilean connection and years of friendship with her that I had learned about lupus, and appreciated why its name is derived from the Latin word for wolf. Lupus ravages. I saw for myself its unpredictable flare-ups and fatigue, its red, rough skin rash, the effects of the steroids used to treat it, and the many ways in which it manages to lower a woman’s self-esteem and mess up her life.

springer_darklieIn Dark Lie, Dorrie’s marriage remains childless because of her lupus, and she yearns for the baby she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. She locates this child, Juliet, only to see a predatory male abduct her and drive away with her. And then Dorrie takes action.

For a long time now (ever since my stint as a mom and housewife), I have been convinced that the most frequent unsung heroes of our society are the ordinary women with neither style nor beauty who take up the slack every single day, doing what needs to be done no matter what it costs them. Dorrie is one of these. Her immediate, instinctive reaction to rescue Juliet leads her deeper and deeper into the dangerous shadows of her own past, exposing the lies that have sickened her own psyche.

My bronchitis eventually went away, of course. No big deal. But being held captive by sickness in a cold, foreign land seemed to give me some extra depth of insight. I realized that Dorrie’s lupus, while a practical problem, is also symbolic of predation in Dark Lie and in our lives. Everywhere women go they are stalked by a wolf pack of domestic violence, rape, abduction, even murder. Dorrie White confronts the same wolves that eat at many women, and that comprise part of our society’s “dark lie.”

Dark Lie by Nancy Springer, NAL, November 2012, $14.00

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #127.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 13 December 2012 03:12

springer_darklieThe unsung heroes of our society are the ordinary women who take up the slack every single day...

My Book: Death of a Furry Animal
JoAnna Carl

carl_joannaAny reader or writer of cozy mysteries knows that even fictionally killing a furry animal is an absolute taboo.


OMG! I’m afraid I’ve killed a furry animal. Any reader or writer of traditional or “cozy” mysteries knows that killing a furry animal is an absolute taboo in these books. Years ago, in the rough draft of my second mystery, I killed a feral cat offstage. My editor called the minute she saw the reference. “I want you to think about that,” she said. “Big Writer X won’t even give a blurb to any book that kills so much as a mouse.”

Then a writer pal of mine did kill a cat in one of her books. This was an anonymous stray cat, not a cat who was a character. I was standing beside her at a convention when a fan came up and berated her over it. Berated her very angrily.

So, in my long-ago book, The Devil Down Home (written as Eve K. Sandstrom), I recast the feral cat role to be a rattlesnake. Then—just to add my own quirky outlook—I threw in a lot of stuff about how valuable snakes are to the environment and how harmful it is to kill them indiscriminately.

Nobody said a word.

Twenty years later, I was mulling over possible titles for my next book at the lunch table, and my husband said, “How about The Chocolate Moose Mystery?” I loved the pun. My editor suggested that it should be Motive rather than Mystery, which was fine with me, and the artist came up with a goofy chocolate moose for the cover. We were in business.

carl_chocolatemoosemotiveBut in order to put a moose in my Lake Michigan resort setting, I had to make it a stuffed moose. There are no moose around Warner Pier.

If you have a stuffed moose, you have a taxidermist. I visited a taxidermist and found the operation fascinating. So as part of the setting I created a similar shop, filled with mounted animals and fish. I described the lifelike raccoons, squirrels, ducks, geese, and one moose that occupy it.

Only months later, when it was too late to change the entire book, did I realize that at least a dozen fictional furry animals had given their imaginary lives to make my setting realistic.

Where did this furry animal thing get started? Even in a cozy mystery, the writer can kill, maim, or torture people by any method. But we mustn’t harm animals. Furry animals. Snakes, apparently, are fair game.

If you try to analyze it, it’s incomprehensible. Do cozy readers like animals better than people? Surely not. Do they find animals more lovable then people? Maybe so. Why can we kill one, but not the other?

At any rate, readers should be assured that no real, live animals died to produce The Chocolate Moose Motive. And I’m only going to accept complaints from vegetarians wearing plastic shoes.

The Chocolate Moose Motive by JoAnna Carl, NAL, October 2012, $22.95

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #127.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 13 December 2012 03:12

carl_chocolatemoosemotiveAny reader or writer of cozy mysteries knows that fictionally killing a furry animal is a taboo.

Hank Phillippi Ryan Interviews Kate Stine
Oline Cogdill
127cover_250Those of us who work for Mystery Scene feel we are part of a family united not by blood but by common interests.

We also are united by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, Mystery Scene’s publisher and co-publisher who also are married.

Ever since I joined the Mystery Scene team, I have felt that Kate and Brian go out of their way to make us all feel incredibly welcomed.

When Kate and Brian were the Fan Guests of Honor during the 2011 Bouchercon in St. Louis, they elected not to have the usual one-on-one interview. Instead, they had several of their contributors participate on a panel with them.

So I want all our readers to know that Kate is the subject of the latest Sisters in Crime interview. Kate is interviewed by Hank Phillippi Ryan, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and a fine mystery writer. By the way, I interviewed Hank for the Fall 2012 issue (No. 126).

Here’s the link to the interview:

http://sisters-in-crime-sinc.blogspot.com/2012/12/interview-with-publisher-kate-stine-of.html
Super User
Wednesday, 19 December 2012 03:12
127cover_250Those of us who work for Mystery Scene feel we are part of a family united not by blood but by common interests.

We also are united by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, Mystery Scene’s publisher and co-publisher who also are married.

Ever since I joined the Mystery Scene team, I have felt that Kate and Brian go out of their way to make us all feel incredibly welcomed.

When Kate and Brian were the Fan Guests of Honor during the 2011 Bouchercon in St. Louis, they elected not to have the usual one-on-one interview. Instead, they had several of their contributors participate on a panel with them.

So I want all our readers to know that Kate is the subject of the latest Sisters in Crime interview. Kate is interviewed by Hank Phillippi Ryan, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and a fine mystery writer. By the way, I interviewed Hank for the Fall 2012 issue (No. 126).

Here’s the link to the interview:

http://sisters-in-crime-sinc.blogspot.com/2012/12/interview-with-publisher-kate-stine-of.html
Peter Dickinson: a Writer to Remember
H.R.F. Keating

dickinson_peterH.R.F. Keating considers the extraordinary imagination of Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson. Photo © Fay Godwin

You might feel that a successful crime novelist whose final book, Some Deaths Before Dying, came out in America as recently as 1999 would still be holding his place in readers’ minds. But think how many hundreds of mysteries have appeared since that not-so-distant time. The pace of modern living: that’s the cliché. Unless a mystery writer produces, more or less, a book a year, the shades soon fall. As they did for Peter Dickinson when his British publisher abruptly declined Some Deaths, and, though it was published in the States to appreciative reviews (“like caviar, an acquired taste that can easily become an addiction”—Time), he had to struggle to find another publisher in Britain. He came to feel then that the effort required to write mysteries at the level he aimed for—and the effort is as demanding as that of running a whole business—was too much. He has, however, continued to give us his fine stories for children.

No doubt, here and there, you can still find readers who have some at least of his score of mystery novels securely in their heads. You could not easily forget, for example, a classic detective story set in an upside- down palace in Arabia with a delightful female chimpanzee as the sleuth, who, in a Christie-style final confrontation, exposes the murderer by arranging childlike, coloured shapes into a meaningful order. That’s the plot of The Poison Oracle, Dickinson’s 1974 book. And it is typical of the extraordinary imagination that is his chief gift to the crime novel.

dickinson_Glass-Sided-Ants-Nest-jacket1Another brief example is his 1968 debut, The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (which originally had to be called Skin Deep in England because an old wiseacre at his publisher said books with insects in the title never did well) had murder among a primitive New Guinea tribe who had come to inhabit—guess where—the attics of a row of London houses. The book won the Gold Dagger for that year. As did, in the next year—a feat not yet surpassed—his mystery called, in England, punningly, A Pride of Heroes, and in the US The Old English Peep Show (because a smart New York publisher didn’t get that pun?).

Dickinson’s multifarious imagination, however, is not his only gift to crime fiction. He so much liked detective stories that, during his seventeen years on the staff of that now defunct but once essential magazine Punch, he regularly reviewed the then still highly popular genre. In his own books, he has said, his aim was to keep closely to the play-fair rules, the puzzle solved by intelligence, the clues scrupulously present however disguised. But to those clues he brought his own frolicking style. As you read The Lizard in the Cup, where Superintendent Pibble, protagonist of the first five Dickinson books, is wandering around a nursing home after he has had a mysterious breakdown, you come across a fleeting reference to the kitchen preparing that former staple of British school fare, roly-poly pudding. You smile, perhaps. But later when the enticing odour enters Pibble’s nostrils once more, he takes note, while the reader is busy smiling, of the fact that leads him to solve the crime. Only Dickinson could do that, true detection cunningly made to look like no more than an amusing social detail from past times.

Almost all Dickinson books—the later ones less pure puzzle stories—are set, or partly set, in one particular past time. This is that now literally fabulous era that trickled to its end in the years just after World War Two, carrying with it a whole cargo of upper-class life. At that time, it was the accepted thing to incarcerate your sons in boarding schools such as Eton, where Dickinson himself was educated, and there to feed them on such suety stuff as roly-poly pudding. These sons were also inculcated into a code of behaviour which, for example, made the esoteric game of cricket into a sort of fetish, or which insisted on the particular wearing of special clothes for special occasions (how many buttons, it stipulated, you should fasten on your waistcoat). No wonder the Time reviewer I quoted earlier felt obliged to warn that the Dickinson books are “an acquired taste.”

dickinson_SleepIt is a taste British readers, doubtless, find easier to acquire than American ones, who are perhaps baffled by that rule-bound code of good manners added to by the habit of peppering speech with the odd Latin tag. But sip at the edges of this almost fairy-tale way of life, and there is to be found sweetness beyond even roly-poly pudding.

The underlying reason for that tastiness in such abundance is that Peter Dickinson is a very fine novelist per se (excuse my Latin). His writing is wonderfully evocative and wonderfully easy to read, bar perhaps the occasional learned word—accipitrine or columbaceous, both describing noses. But keep the dictionary for later. Read dizzyingly on. As you do, you will find such descriptions of opening the door to that New Guinea tribe in their London attics “as the caged smells weltered out.” Or, in that solve-the-puzzle story, which also puts into a reader’s mind the way we are all thoughtlessly accepting that we are destroying the world we live in, The Poison Oracle, there is a passage evoking the “the ugly noise of the lung-fish adapting themselves over thousands of generations to live in an altered world.” There, in a single phrase, we are given not only the marshes that surround the palace—all Arabia is not sandy desert, remember—but the ideas that lie behind the weirdnesses of that story. A truly remarkable writer.

A PETER DICKINSON READING LIST
Mystery fiction for adults

James Pibble series
Skin Deep (1968); US: The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest
A Pride of Heroes (1969); US: The Old English Peep Show
The Seals (1970); US: The Sinful Stones
Sleep and His Brother (1971)
The Lizard in the Cup (1972)
One Foot in the Grave (1979)

Other novels
The Green Gene (1973)
The Poison Oracle (1974)
The Lively Dead (1975)
King and Joker (1976)
Walking Dead (1977)
A Summer in the Twenties (1981)
The Last Houseparty (1982)
Hindsight (1983)
Death of a Unicorn (1984)
Tefuga (1985)
Skeleton-in-Waiting (1987)
Perfect Gallows (1988)
Play Dead (1991)
The Yellow Room Conspiracy (1992)
Some Deaths Before Dying (1999)

In addition to his highly regarded literary criticism, H.R.F. Keating (1926-2011) was also the creator of the Inspector Ghote series and the "Hard Detective" series featuring Det. Superintendent Harriet Martens.

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

Teri Duerr
Monday, 17 December 2012 02:12

dickinson_peterH.R.F. Keating considers the extraordinary imagination of Peter Dickinson.

Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Two Stars
Oline Cogdill

jackreacher_movie2
The real curiosity about the movie Jack Reacher is not about the plot or or the action; it’s about the star.

Can Tom Cruise, not known for his height or his brawn, slip into the shoes of Jack Reacher, described in Lee Child’s novels as 6' 5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds?

Well. . .Cruise may play Jack Reacher, but he is no Jack Reacher.

And it is not because physically Cruise doesn’t resemble the Reacher described in the novels.

Granted, movies have a history of those rather short of stature playing bigger than life heroes. Alan Ladd, at 5 feet-6 inches, is about the same height as Cruise, but no one sat higher in the saddle than he did in Shane. (Ladd’s height has been reported to be anywhere from 5-5 to 5-9 with 5-6 being the most accepted.)

It’s not the lack of height that shortens the appeal of Cruise as Reacher.

jackreacher_movie4It’s Cruise himself, and the script.

His personal oddities aside, I generally like Cruise as an actor. He has proven himself to be a decent action hero as Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible series and as a man caught up in situations beyond his control in The Firm and A Few Good Men. As a romantic lead, he’s had me at hello in Jerry Maguire and Top Gun. He’s even shown he has a sense of humor and can riff off his image in Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages. And we sometimes forget that Cruise can be a really good actor as witnessed in The Color of Money and Born on the Fourth of July.

His performance isn’t bad and often is entertaining, but he should not be in this role.

But, Cruise brings nothing new to the role, no nuance, no reason to make those unfamiliar with Child’s novels understand why they are like the crack cocaine of mystery fiction. He is simply Tom Cruise delivering the kind of performance that has worked time and again for him.

Entertaining? Yes? Nuanced? No.

jackreacher_movie7Cruise is playing dress up; he is saying the right things and trying to act like the hero. But it is difficult to buy him as Reacher, even in the scene where he is shirtless.

It’s as if Ethan Hunt from the MI franchise went undercover as Jack Reacher. Any moment he will take off his mask to reveal he is. . . Tom Cruise!

It would have been better to cast an unknown as Jack Reacher, an actor who could make us believe in this character and who would find himself in a star-making role.

But Cruise brings in the big bucks. And that is what counts.

But Jack Reacher ’s shortfall isn’t totally Cruise’s fault.

Spread some of the blame to writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Tourist).

On the page, Child’s drifter-hero mixes the thriller with an old-fashioned western. With his military police background, Reacher knows how to clean up a town, and when to leave. True, there is a formula to the books but it is a formula that is invisible and works every time.

On the screen, that formula overwhelms nearly every scene. Jack Reacher isn’t a bad thriller film, but it’s one we’ve seen way too many times and the predictability blares too loudly.

If you have seen any of the Die Hards, the Bournes or any James Bond films, then you have seen Jack Reacher .

jackreacher_movie6We’ve seen the car chases, the action clichés and we’ve heard the dialogue before, too, though snatches of it are quite clever. And I do want to give mad props to one car chase that doesn't appear to use any computer graphics.

Jack Reacher is based on Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, the ninth in his series.

Evidence points to James Barr, a former military sniper, in the shooting of five people. Reacher has different ideas. Taking a job as an investigator for the accused man’s defense attorney, Reacher comes up against a hired killer and a Russian called “the Zec.”

British actress Rosamund Pike plays the defense attorney and director Werner Herzog gives a turn as a Russian mobster. Both have done better work, as has Robert Duvall who plays the cantankerous owner of a gun range. Look for Lee Child playing a silent desk sergeant.

There are many differences between the novel One Shot and Jack Reacher , none of which add or detract from the story. In the novel, the action takes place in Indiana. The movie moves the action to Pittsburgh; Barr’s sister and a TV reporter who help Reacher are missing.

Jack Reacher features a lot of violence, shootings and fighting. I wish someone could explain to me how this was rated PG-13 and the comedy This Is 40 is rated R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.)

Will Jack Reacher interest new readers to Child’s novels? I hope so. Because then those who are unfamiliar with the novels would know what the fuss over Reacher is really all about.

Jack Reacher is rated PG-13: Violence, some drug material and language. Running time 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photos: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, top two photos. Cruise with Lee Child and Rosamund Pike. Cruise with Robert Duvall. Photos from Paramount Pictures

Super User
Friday, 21 December 2012 09:12

jackreacher_movie2
The real curiosity about the movie Jack Reacher is not about the plot or or the action; it’s about the star.

Can Tom Cruise, not known for his height or his brawn, slip into the shoes of Jack Reacher, described in Lee Child’s novels as 6' 5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds?

Well. . .Cruise may play Jack Reacher, but he is no Jack Reacher.

And it is not because physically Cruise doesn’t resemble the Reacher described in the novels.

Granted, movies have a history of those rather short of stature playing bigger than life heroes. Alan Ladd, at 5 feet-6 inches, is about the same height as Cruise, but no one sat higher in the saddle than he did in Shane. (Ladd’s height has been reported to be anywhere from 5-5 to 5-9 with 5-6 being the most accepted.)

It’s not the lack of height that shortens the appeal of Cruise as Reacher.

jackreacher_movie4It’s Cruise himself, and the script.

His personal oddities aside, I generally like Cruise as an actor. He has proven himself to be a decent action hero as Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible series and as a man caught up in situations beyond his control in The Firm and A Few Good Men. As a romantic lead, he’s had me at hello in Jerry Maguire and Top Gun. He’s even shown he has a sense of humor and can riff off his image in Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages. And we sometimes forget that Cruise can be a really good actor as witnessed in The Color of Money and Born on the Fourth of July.

His performance isn’t bad and often is entertaining, but he should not be in this role.

But, Cruise brings nothing new to the role, no nuance, no reason to make those unfamiliar with Child’s novels understand why they are like the crack cocaine of mystery fiction. He is simply Tom Cruise delivering the kind of performance that has worked time and again for him.

Entertaining? Yes? Nuanced? No.

jackreacher_movie7Cruise is playing dress up; he is saying the right things and trying to act like the hero. But it is difficult to buy him as Reacher, even in the scene where he is shirtless.

It’s as if Ethan Hunt from the MI franchise went undercover as Jack Reacher. Any moment he will take off his mask to reveal he is. . . Tom Cruise!

It would have been better to cast an unknown as Jack Reacher, an actor who could make us believe in this character and who would find himself in a star-making role.

But Cruise brings in the big bucks. And that is what counts.

But Jack Reacher ’s shortfall isn’t totally Cruise’s fault.

Spread some of the blame to writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Tourist).

On the page, Child’s drifter-hero mixes the thriller with an old-fashioned western. With his military police background, Reacher knows how to clean up a town, and when to leave. True, there is a formula to the books but it is a formula that is invisible and works every time.

On the screen, that formula overwhelms nearly every scene. Jack Reacher isn’t a bad thriller film, but it’s one we’ve seen way too many times and the predictability blares too loudly.

If you have seen any of the Die Hards, the Bournes or any James Bond films, then you have seen Jack Reacher .

jackreacher_movie6We’ve seen the car chases, the action clichés and we’ve heard the dialogue before, too, though snatches of it are quite clever. And I do want to give mad props to one car chase that doesn't appear to use any computer graphics.

Jack Reacher is based on Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, the ninth in his series.

Evidence points to James Barr, a former military sniper, in the shooting of five people. Reacher has different ideas. Taking a job as an investigator for the accused man’s defense attorney, Reacher comes up against a hired killer and a Russian called “the Zec.”

British actress Rosamund Pike plays the defense attorney and director Werner Herzog gives a turn as a Russian mobster. Both have done better work, as has Robert Duvall who plays the cantankerous owner of a gun range. Look for Lee Child playing a silent desk sergeant.

There are many differences between the novel One Shot and Jack Reacher , none of which add or detract from the story. In the novel, the action takes place in Indiana. The movie moves the action to Pittsburgh; Barr’s sister and a TV reporter who help Reacher are missing.

Jack Reacher features a lot of violence, shootings and fighting. I wish someone could explain to me how this was rated PG-13 and the comedy This Is 40 is rated R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.)

Will Jack Reacher interest new readers to Child’s novels? I hope so. Because then those who are unfamiliar with the novels would know what the fuss over Reacher is really all about.

Jack Reacher is rated PG-13: Violence, some drug material and language. Running time 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photos: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, top two photos. Cruise with Lee Child and Rosamund Pike. Cruise with Robert Duvall. Photos from Paramount Pictures

Books to Die for a Lively Assortment
Oline Cogdill


connolly_bookstodiefor
OK, so Christmas is over, but does that mean all the gifts have been bought? Or sent? (I promise mine are in the mail!) And some people celebrate Boxing Day.

So if you are still looking for that perfect gift for a mystery fan, there is one book I think everyone should have: Books To Die For, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke.

Connolly and Burke assembled 119 top-notch authors from 20 countries to discuss which writers’ words encouraged them to become storytellers. But these are not gushing fan tributes but thoughtful tributes to fellow writers. We learn as much about the author who inspired as we do about the author who was inspired in Books To Die For.

Michael Connelly cites Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister with its evocative descriptions of Los Angeles. In turn, Connelly’s 1992 Edgar Award-winning The Black Echo inspired co-editor John Connolly who calls it “a stunningly accomplished piece of work.” John Connolly, author of 16 novels, including the Charlie Parker novels, also chooses The Chill, written in 1964 by Ross D. Macdonald. Canadian Linwood Barclay (Trust Your Eyes) cites Macdonald’s The Goodbye Look as he remembers a correspondence and a dinner meeting with the creator of Lew Archer.

Kelli Stanley of San Francisco and Lauren Henderson of Great Britain both cite different Agatha Christie novels.

Sara Paretsky mentions Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and, in turn, Paretsky is honored by Natasha Cooper and Dreda Say Mitchell. Margaret Maron and Louise Penny both honor Josephine Tey.

John Connolly’s intriguing essay on John D. Macdonald in Books To Die For was reprinted in the Fall (No. 126) 2012 issue of Mystery Scene.

Even if all your holiday presents are accounted for, don’t forget that 2013 brings a fresh set of holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

Super User
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 06:12


connolly_bookstodiefor
OK, so Christmas is over, but does that mean all the gifts have been bought? Or sent? (I promise mine are in the mail!) And some people celebrate Boxing Day.

So if you are still looking for that perfect gift for a mystery fan, there is one book I think everyone should have: Books To Die For, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke.

Connolly and Burke assembled 119 top-notch authors from 20 countries to discuss which writers’ words encouraged them to become storytellers. But these are not gushing fan tributes but thoughtful tributes to fellow writers. We learn as much about the author who inspired as we do about the author who was inspired in Books To Die For.

Michael Connelly cites Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister with its evocative descriptions of Los Angeles. In turn, Connelly’s 1992 Edgar Award-winning The Black Echo inspired co-editor John Connolly who calls it “a stunningly accomplished piece of work.” John Connolly, author of 16 novels, including the Charlie Parker novels, also chooses The Chill, written in 1964 by Ross D. Macdonald. Canadian Linwood Barclay (Trust Your Eyes) cites Macdonald’s The Goodbye Look as he remembers a correspondence and a dinner meeting with the creator of Lew Archer.

Kelli Stanley of San Francisco and Lauren Henderson of Great Britain both cite different Agatha Christie novels.

Sara Paretsky mentions Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and, in turn, Paretsky is honored by Natasha Cooper and Dreda Say Mitchell. Margaret Maron and Louise Penny both honor Josephine Tey.

John Connolly’s intriguing essay on John D. Macdonald in Books To Die For was reprinted in the Fall (No. 126) 2012 issue of Mystery Scene.

Even if all your holiday presents are accounted for, don’t forget that 2013 brings a fresh set of holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

A Bit More of Michael Connelly
Oline Cogdill
connelly_theblackbox
No matter how I try, no profile can encompass every snippet of an interview.

And I certainly tried to include every quote in the profile of Michael Connelly, which is the cover article in the current issue of Mystery Scene.

But some things just have to hit the cutting room floor.

Several people offered quotes about Connelly’s well-respected reputation.

Here’s what McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, said:

“In my experience, the vast majority of authors within the mystery community are terrific people: smart, funny, self-deprecating, and truly appreciative of the support of an independent bookseller,” she said.

“Michael Connelly embodies these qualities and more. He is a true gentleman, one whom we are always honored to host, and one whose books are consistently among the best of the year.”

And Connelly, whose latest novel is The Black Box, told me that he prefers to write novels rather than scripts. But Connelly is again “deviating” from his plans by writing a script based on his short story "The Safe Man," a ghost tale that was published anonymously in The Secret Society of Demolition Writers in 2005. The Safe Man is now being sold as ebook and audio book under his name.

“It’s not what I normally write, but I thought it would be a cool writing challenge to do a script based on it. It’s a very visual story.”
Super User
Saturday, 29 December 2012 11:12
connelly_theblackbox
No matter how I try, no profile can encompass every snippet of an interview.

And I certainly tried to include every quote in the profile of Michael Connelly, which is the cover article in the current issue of Mystery Scene.

But some things just have to hit the cutting room floor.

Several people offered quotes about Connelly’s well-respected reputation.

Here’s what McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, said:

“In my experience, the vast majority of authors within the mystery community are terrific people: smart, funny, self-deprecating, and truly appreciative of the support of an independent bookseller,” she said.

“Michael Connelly embodies these qualities and more. He is a true gentleman, one whom we are always honored to host, and one whose books are consistently among the best of the year.”

And Connelly, whose latest novel is The Black Box, told me that he prefers to write novels rather than scripts. But Connelly is again “deviating” from his plans by writing a script based on his short story "The Safe Man," a ghost tale that was published anonymously in The Secret Society of Demolition Writers in 2005. The Safe Man is now being sold as ebook and audio book under his name.

“It’s not what I normally write, but I thought it would be a cool writing challenge to do a script based on it. It’s a very visual story.”
Crime Beat Radio Schedule
Oline Cogdill

Happy New Year.

pennsean_gangstersquad
We at Mystery Scene hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and we wish all our readers a healthy, happy 2013.

On Jan. 2, many of us are going back to work and school; for others, Jan. 7 is the get back to normal day.

To help you plan the month, here is the schedule for Crime Beat, a weekly hour-long radio program that airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST on Artist First World Radio Network. You can listen here http://artistfirst.com/crimebeat.htm.

Crime Beat has been on the air since January, 2011, and averages 130,000 listeners each week.

January 3: Paul Lieberman, author of Gangster Squad, which is the inspiration for the movie by the same name, starring Sean Penn, left, as Mickey Cohen.

January 10: Phil Leonetti and Scott Burnstein, authors of Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra.

January 17: Robert Lombardo , author of Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia.

January 24: Gill Revill, author of Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers and the Meeting that Unmasked the Mob.

January 31: Noam Chomsky, world renowned activist will discuss the U.S. election and crime issues. Lois Banner, the author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, will discuss "Marilyn Monroe, the Mob and the Rat Pack."

February 7: Jack Cole, co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and longtime undercover narcotics officer, will discuss the war on drugs.

February 14: JJ Leyden on "Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope."

February 21: Norma Ramos, executive director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, and Stella Marr, founding member of The Survivors Connect Network.

February 28: Greg Kading, author of Murder Rap: The Untold Story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

Super User
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 11:01

Happy New Year.

pennsean_gangstersquad
We at Mystery Scene hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and we wish all our readers a healthy, happy 2013.

On Jan. 2, many of us are going back to work and school; for others, Jan. 7 is the get back to normal day.

To help you plan the month, here is the schedule for Crime Beat, a weekly hour-long radio program that airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST on Artist First World Radio Network. You can listen here http://artistfirst.com/crimebeat.htm.

Crime Beat has been on the air since January, 2011, and averages 130,000 listeners each week.

January 3: Paul Lieberman, author of Gangster Squad, which is the inspiration for the movie by the same name, starring Sean Penn, left, as Mickey Cohen.

January 10: Phil Leonetti and Scott Burnstein, authors of Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra.

January 17: Robert Lombardo , author of Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia.

January 24: Gill Revill, author of Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers and the Meeting that Unmasked the Mob.

January 31: Noam Chomsky, world renowned activist will discuss the U.S. election and crime issues. Lois Banner, the author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, will discuss "Marilyn Monroe, the Mob and the Rat Pack."

February 7: Jack Cole, co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and longtime undercover narcotics officer, will discuss the war on drugs.

February 14: JJ Leyden on "Skinhead Confessions: From Hate to Hope."

February 21: Norma Ramos, executive director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, and Stella Marr, founding member of The Survivors Connect Network.

February 28: Greg Kading, author of Murder Rap: The Untold Story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

Elizabeth George on Reading
Elizabeth George

george_elizabeth

Reading's pleasure is solitary, but it is also infinite. There is very little in life that gives us so much and asks so little...


It seems to me that I have always been in the midst of reading a book. I can’t remember a time when it was otherwise, although there is a distinct possibility that I wasn’t doing any reading in the crib. But from my earliest memories of being a child, I was surrounded by books, and books and libraries loom large in my personal legend. I became a writer largely because I loved reading. Reading, I found myself swept up in other worlds and in the lives of people whose largeness of experience lived within me long after the covers of the book were closed. Reading, I developed a desire to do the same thing that was going on on the page. But by this I mean that what I wanted to do was write. For what was on the page constituted words, and it was the words themselves that created in my mind the images of Anne Shirley, of Laura Ingalls, of Nancy Drew, of the Boxcar Children, and on and on.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, there were few distractions to lure a child away from books, but I didn’t cling to books because they were the only relief I had from boredom. Indeed, in the neighborhood in which I lived, there were children aplenty so there was very little boredom. We played like demons, returning home only when the “five o’clock whistle” blew at the packing plant in Mountain View, California, down by the railroad tracks but with enough velocity that it could be heard all over town. Our play was filled with games of imagination that always began with one of the children offering the magic words, “Let’s say…” and completing the sentence with something like “we live on the prairie and over there under the plum tree will be our sod house” or “I’m the mother and you’re the father” or “I’m the teacher and you’re the bad kids.” We also played hide-and-seek and kick-the-can and mother-may-I and tag. But when darkness fell or when rain visited the Santa Clara valley, we had books. Or perhaps I should say more specifically, I had books.

I cannot imagine a life in which there are no books. Nor can I imagine a life in which books are merely a second, third, fourth, or fifth choice of entertainment. When I finish one book, I pick up another and to me there never exists the anxiety of "What will I do next?" or "What will I do alone?" or "What will I do while I wait?" I have a stack of to-be-read books that will give me pleasure for at least a decade, and whenever I enter our local bookstore, I buy another and add it to the stack.

obrien_inthelakeofthewoodsI have my favorites, of course. I have read To Kill a Mockingbird at least ten times, and Possession by A.S. Byatt will probably always reign as my choice of best novel ever written although In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien takes a close second to that. I have discovered writers whose work has taken my breath away—who can do otherwise but celebrate the discovery of Tana French, for example?—and I have lived in the descriptive elegance of people who have been writing for years.

As a novelist myself now, I am thrilled when someone tells me they walked down the King’s Road in London to look at the exact house at the corner of Cheyne Row and Lordship Place where my character Simon St. James lives, and I am delighted when I learn that someone else went to a location in one of my novels because I made it so real that they “just had to see it.” For these are things that I myself have done as a reader, eager to experience in part what a writer whom I will never meet has so lovingly crafted on the page.

I celebrate reading, probably more than anything. Its pleasure is solitary, but it is also infinite. There is very little in life that gives us so much and asks so little of us: just to find a chair, to open the pages, and to fall into the embrace of story.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews January 2013 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 10:01

george_elizabethReading's pleasure is solitary. There is very little in life that gives us so much and asks so little...

Dennis Lehane’s Beagle Still Missing
Oline Cogdill
lehanedennis_tessa
This is a blog I was hoping not to write.

More than a week ago, Dennis Lehane appealed via Facebook, Twitter, the media, posters, such as the one at left, and just about any other method to find his lost dog, Tessa. The beagle went missing on Dec. 24 after she escaped from the yard of Lehane’s home in Brookline, Mass.

Lehane has even offered a reward: In his next novel, he’ll name a character after the person who brings back Tessa. (Lehane’s latest novel is Live by Night.)

The search for Tessa has been shared and posted and tweeted and reshared and reposted and retweeted myriad times. Stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Associated Press and in the Boston media. In addition to his own Facebook page, a Finding Tessa page has been set up.

Still no Tessa.

So if anyone who has not heard of Tessa’s plight finds a stray beagle roaming the Boston area, please take her to the nearest veterinarian. Tessa was not wearing her collar but she does have a microchip.

In an Associated Press story a couple of days ago, Lehane was quoted as saying “No dog since Lassie ever got this attention.” In the same AP story Lehane added that finding Tessa was “a no-questions-asked issue.” “Bring the dog to a shelter or call me and I will pick up the dog.”

As a dog lover, I know how Lehane feels. I would be devastated if any of our dogs went missing.

Tessa is a rescue dog. What often doesn’t show up in profiles on Lehane is that he and his wife support several causes, including Beagle Rescue. Many successful authors, such as Lehane, quietly contribute to a number of causes.

I am hoping that within an hour of this blog being posted that it will be old news, that Tessa will be reunited with Lehane and his family.
Super User
Sunday, 06 January 2013 04:01
lehanedennis_tessa
This is a blog I was hoping not to write.

More than a week ago, Dennis Lehane appealed via Facebook, Twitter, the media, posters, such as the one at left, and just about any other method to find his lost dog, Tessa. The beagle went missing on Dec. 24 after she escaped from the yard of Lehane’s home in Brookline, Mass.

Lehane has even offered a reward: In his next novel, he’ll name a character after the person who brings back Tessa. (Lehane’s latest novel is Live by Night.)

The search for Tessa has been shared and posted and tweeted and reshared and reposted and retweeted myriad times. Stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Associated Press and in the Boston media. In addition to his own Facebook page, a Finding Tessa page has been set up.

Still no Tessa.

So if anyone who has not heard of Tessa’s plight finds a stray beagle roaming the Boston area, please take her to the nearest veterinarian. Tessa was not wearing her collar but she does have a microchip.

In an Associated Press story a couple of days ago, Lehane was quoted as saying “No dog since Lassie ever got this attention.” In the same AP story Lehane added that finding Tessa was “a no-questions-asked issue.” “Bring the dog to a shelter or call me and I will pick up the dog.”

As a dog lover, I know how Lehane feels. I would be devastated if any of our dogs went missing.

Tessa is a rescue dog. What often doesn’t show up in profiles on Lehane is that he and his wife support several causes, including Beagle Rescue. Many successful authors, such as Lehane, quietly contribute to a number of causes.

I am hoping that within an hour of this blog being posted that it will be old news, that Tessa will be reunited with Lehane and his family.
W.J. Burley
Martin Edwards

Burley_WJ_seaAlthough he enjoyed a long and successful career culminating in a popular TV series based on his thoughtful Superintendent Wycliffe novels, W.J. Burley has attracted surprisingly little critical attention. Here are some reasons to seek out his work.


Photo courtesy of the W.J. Burley website and ©Alan Burley.

W.J. Burley is best known for the novels featuring Chief Superintendent Wycliffe, which form the most notable detective series ever to have been set in Burley’s beautiful native county, Cornwall. Yet when he died in 2002, Burley’s passing was scarcely noticed in the crime fiction world, a mystery in itself.

The solution to the puzzle lies in Burley’s private nature. He was for many years a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, but he never involved himself in its activities and seems to have spent little time socialising with fellow mystery novelists. He seldom sought personal publicity after turning to fiction, relatively late: he was 52 when his first novel, A Taste of Power, was published in 1966.

The book received relatively scant attention, but it launched a career that was to last for three and a half decades. Throughout that time, Burley’s main preoccupation was to develop his craft. Almost alone amongst major British crime writers, he modeled his style on that of Georges Simenon, whose work he much admired. His books, like Simenon’s, were short and crisply written, but unlike the Belgian master, he did not write full-time until retiring from his career as a teacher.

Intensely self-critical, Burley confessed in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers that he had “never felt very happy with my books—they seemed rather too derivative, following too closely an established pattern.” By that time, Wycliffe was already well-established, but Burley resolved “to break new ground.” He said of Charles and Elizabeth, a Gothic novel of suspense published in 1979: “For the first time I feel that I have written a book which offers something a little different.” Yet despite his efforts to break away from the constraints of formula, he kept returning to Wycliffe, and as the series progressed it displayed an increasing assurance of style. Happily, Burley’s reputation is likely to benefit from the creation of a new and impressive website by a Cornwall-based enthusiast, Mario de Pace. So this is perhaps an opportune moment to take another look at his career.

William John Burley (known as John) was born in the pretty port of Falmouth in 1914. Married with two sons, he worked as an engineer before seizing the opportunity to change direction and study zoology as a mature student at Oxford University. At Oxford, he attended Balliol College, best known to mystery lovers as the alma mater of Lord Peter Wimsey. (Balliol has produced close to 40 writers of crime fiction over the years.) Afterwards, Burley taught biology at Newquay School.

burley_threetoedpussyLike many teachers, he was meticulous in his habits. When he bought a book for his personal library, he not only wrote his name inside it, but also recorded the date of acquisition. Such attention to detail is an excellent qualification for an author of tightly plotted traditional mysteries. Burley went further by compiling “plot books” with plans for his stories. These make fascinating reading and extracts can be seen on the website, which also contains informative material about Burley’s unfinished work—he remained a committed writer up to the very end of his life.

Burley began with books about an amateur detective before deciding to concentrate on the unfolding career of a professional policeman. A Taste of Power involved poison pen letters in a school setting and introduced Henry Pym. Henry is a zoologist with a keen interest in murder and a convenient friendship with senior police officer, Detective Superintendent Judd.

Pym reappears in Death in Willow Pattern (1969), a high-spirited example of the traditional detective novel that, shorn of a few modern touches, might have been published 30 years earlier. Pym is invited, along with his glamorous secretary Susan, to spend Christmas at Peel Place, a Cornish mansion steeped in dark legends. His host, Sir Francis Leigh, wants his advice on the disposal of antiquarian books and manuscripts, but it soon emerges that Sir Francis may have an ulterior motive for asking Pym to stay. A couple of local girls have gone missing and there are hints that Sir Francis may have inherited the esoteric sexual tastes of a notorious ancestor.

“Crime isn’t a chess problem,” Pym tells Susan. “There can be no dependence on mathematical logic as a tool for unravelling the workings of the human mind.” This is hardly the credo of a disciple of Sherlock Holmes, and Burley seems to have realised that the classic whodunit form was unlikely to give him the scope he needed to explore criminal psychology. So Henry was abandoned—the hint at the end of the book is that he will marry Susan—and Wycliffe, who had made his bow in Three-Toed Pussy (1968), moved on to centre stage in To Kill a Cat (1970).

Burley explained in 1991 that he wanted Wycliffe “to be diligent but compassionate, earnest but with a wry sense of humour, and sufficiently idiosyncratic to be interesting.” He also said, “My next five books exploited the Wycliffe character and three of them, Guilt-Edged, Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat, and Wycliffe and the Schoolgirls, adopted a more psychological approach. This trend culminated in The Schoolmaster, a non-Wycliffe crime story which tells how a sensitive, introspective schoolmaster with a load of guilt finds his way to some sort of salvation.”

One senses that Burley, like so many crime writers, was torn between concentrating on his series and venturing into other territories. For him, the Wycliffe books were not a mere refuge from more testing challenges; he was keen to lift his series above the formulaic. Yet from time to time he succumbed to the urge to try something different. In 1978, he even tried his hand at a different genre. The Sixth Day is a little-known science fiction novel (which is unlikely to become better known unless someone reprints it—the price of the first and only edition are prohibitive to all but the most passionate fan) and he did not repeat the experiment. After The House of Care (1980), which treats the tangled relationships of the Care family in another Cornwall-based Gothic mystery, he seems to have decided to stick to Wycliffe.

This decision was finally vindicated when he was over 80 and HTV, on the strength of a successful pilot show, decided to produce a series about Wycliffe, with the detective played by an excellent, edgy actor, Jack Shepherd. The glamorous Cornish locations may well have attracted the television moguls even more than the mystery puzzles, but the results were consistently watchable and attracted high viewer ratings. Burley preferred the original scripts based on his characters to those adapted from his own novels: “The breakdown in structure involved with adaptation seemed to lose much of the point of the books.”

burley_wycliffecycleofdeathBurley summed up his work thus:

Most of my books are set in the far southwest, and they are concerned with the tensions which arise within small groups of people who live or work together in close proximity—the family in a country house; the partners in a family business; the people living in a village street or town square. My criminals are never professionals but ordinary people who feel driven by repressed emotions of fear, hatred or jealousy to commit crimes which in other circumstances they would find unthinkable. In my more recent books I have used actual locations in Cornwall and Devon, confusing the topography slightly in order to avoid the risk of seeming to represent actual people.

The rural settings suit Burley’s low-key style and offer further confirmation of Sherlock Holmes’ belief, expressed in “The Copper Beeches,” that “the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” By focusing on a region he knew intimately, Burley evoked atmosphere with an insider’s sure touch.

In Burley’s books, the policeman’s lot is far from glamorous. Wycliffe is much given to introspection, especially as a tough case draws to a conclusion. Take, for instance, this passage from the final page of Wycliffe and the Schoolgirls (1976):

Wycliffe went up to his office and stood by the window in the darkness. He was trying to come to terms with himself. Why had he subjected [the culprit] to an interrogation which served no recognised professional end? Out of curiosity? If that meant that he needed to understand. Surely that was more important than knowing about the electrostatic detection of footprints or the latest methods of recording and analysing the statistics of crime.

It is this need to understand the psychological make-up of murderers that drives his detective work. The mood as he solves a mystery is not triumphalist but melancholy, verging on the anticlimactic, and occasionally judgmental. At the end of Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue (1987), he reflects that the killer’s need for a scapegoat “excluded every other consideration. That to me is wickedness. There is no other word.” In the final pages of Wycliffe and the Four Jacks (1985), “the atmosphere in the Incident Room was lethargic, deflated, the process of winding down had started.” Brooding, Wycliffe says to his attractive sidekick Lucy Lane, “That’s what this case has been about—people who have never grown up.” In Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery (1993) the scene is domestic but equally downbeat:

The Wycliffes were in their living room. Outside the light was fading, the curtains were undrawn and in the garden shapes and shadows merged in the melancholy twilight. It suited Wycliffe’s mood. As often before when an investigation culminated in an arrest, he was experiencing a feeling of anticlimax, even of futility.

Downbeat, yes, but not depressing. Thoughtful seems to me to be the right word to describe Charles Wycliffe and the books about him. For readers prepared to have their own thoughts provoked, there is much in the novels to relish.

Cornwall_Porthcurno_beachInevitably, Burley’s bleak yet clear-eyed perspective of human nature does not always make for comfortable, light entertainment. Wycliffe is nothing like Marlowe, Wimsey, or even Inspector Morse. He is a pragmatist first and foremost—and all the more credible a human being for it. We are told in Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death (1990) that the detective “believed the criminal law should aim at damage limitation rather than at some abstraction called justice.”

The plots of Burley’s books are competently constructed, but for him the exploration of criminal motivation is much more important than the weaving of an ingenious puzzle. Although he does not go in for fireworks—he is scarcely as witty as Reginald Hill, and his stories lack the bizarre originality of Ruth Rendell—his economical style makes for vivid characterisation, a lively pace, and contributes to a rapid and enjoyable read.

And then, perhaps above all, there is the romantic peninsula of Cornwall, evoked lovingly but without resorting to sentimentality or purple prose. Forget the travel brochures. If you seek a vivid portrayal of this varied and fascinating English county, with its old tin mines and its sandy beaches, you can do no better than reach for the books of W.J. Burley.

A SELECTED W.J. BURLEY READING LIST

The Superintendent Charles Wycliffe Novels
Three-Toed Pussy, 1968
To Kill a Cat, 1970
Guilt Edged, 1971
Death in a Salubrious Place, 1973
Death in Stanley Street, 1975
Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat, 1975
Wycliffe and the Schoolgirls, 1976
Wycliffe and the Scapegoat, 1978
Wycliffe in Paul’s Court, 1980
Wycliffe’s Wild Goose Chase, 1982
Wycliffe and the Beales, 1983
Wycliffe and the Four Jacks, 1985
Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin, 1986
Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue, 1987
Wycliffe and the Tangled Web, 1988
Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death, 1990
Wycliffe and the Dead Flautist, 1991
Wycliffe and the Last Rites, 1992
Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery, 1994
Wycliffe and the House of Fear, 1995
Wycliffe and the Redhead, 1997
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine, 2000

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

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 08 January 2013 02:01

Burley_WJ_seaDespite his successful Supt. Wycliffe novels, Burley gets surprisingly little critical attention.

Getting Justified for the 4th Time
Oline Cogdill
justified_olyphant9
Timothy Olyphant’s intriguing portrayal of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, above, is one of the main draws that keep us riveted to Justified. But the comely actor isn’t the only reason.


Justified is just so darn well written that it doesn’t fall into any predictable rut.

Each season of Justified takes a different angle than the last while delving deeper into the psyches and souls of the core cast of characters. That’s a lot to ask from a TV series, but Justified, which started its fourth season Jan. 8 on FX, does that each year.

The villains may vary—and we hope they continue to rotate new bad guys each time—but the central characters bring us back to the rough and tumble area of Harlan County, Ky.

Raylan is that rare mix of super tough guy, confident in his skills as a gunman, a lawman who often takes liberties with the law and, yet the same time, a man with integrity. His complicated personal life includes his criminal father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) who is in jail after killing a man he thought was his son, and his on-again, off-again relationship with Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) who is pregnant with his child.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is the man we love to hate, or hate to love. A drug dealer, a killer and a preacher, Boyd grew up with Raylan and they continue to be both enemies and friends.

During previous seasons, Raylan has chased one villain and been involved with one story arc. Season four’s primary plot is a 30-year-old case that involved a man falling from the sky with a parachute and a bag of cocaine. The case involved Arlo and will force Raylan to look at his own fractured childhood. But there will be more subplots, so many that Raylan and Boyd don’t even meet until the fifth episode.

Raylan will start moonlighting as a bounty hunter to earn extra money because he will become a father. No matter what Raylan does, it is unlikely he will be as bad a father as Arlo was. Boyd’s Oxy revenue is threatened by a preacher, and this will not end well, I predict.

New faces this season will include Patton Oswalt as a constable Raylan hires to watch Arlo’s house; Joe Mazzello as a snake-handling preacher who wants to muscle in on Boyd’s Oxy revenue, and Ron Eldard as an old friend and new partner of Boyd.

Justified is based on Elmore Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole published in his collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. Leonard returned to Raylan Givens in his novel Raylan, released last year. In Raylan, the marshal tackles a pair of dope-dealing brothers, a nurse who sells kidneys on the black market and a ruthless coal executive; several of these subplots have showed up in Justified.

Justified airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the FX Channel with frequent encores.

Super User
Tuesday, 08 January 2013 11:01
justified_olyphant9
Timothy Olyphant’s intriguing portrayal of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, above, is one of the main draws that keep us riveted to Justified. But the comely actor isn’t the only reason.


Justified is just so darn well written that it doesn’t fall into any predictable rut.

Each season of Justified takes a different angle than the last while delving deeper into the psyches and souls of the core cast of characters. That’s a lot to ask from a TV series, but Justified, which started its fourth season Jan. 8 on FX, does that each year.

The villains may vary—and we hope they continue to rotate new bad guys each time—but the central characters bring us back to the rough and tumble area of Harlan County, Ky.

Raylan is that rare mix of super tough guy, confident in his skills as a gunman, a lawman who often takes liberties with the law and, yet the same time, a man with integrity. His complicated personal life includes his criminal father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) who is in jail after killing a man he thought was his son, and his on-again, off-again relationship with Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) who is pregnant with his child.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is the man we love to hate, or hate to love. A drug dealer, a killer and a preacher, Boyd grew up with Raylan and they continue to be both enemies and friends.

During previous seasons, Raylan has chased one villain and been involved with one story arc. Season four’s primary plot is a 30-year-old case that involved a man falling from the sky with a parachute and a bag of cocaine. The case involved Arlo and will force Raylan to look at his own fractured childhood. But there will be more subplots, so many that Raylan and Boyd don’t even meet until the fifth episode.

Raylan will start moonlighting as a bounty hunter to earn extra money because he will become a father. No matter what Raylan does, it is unlikely he will be as bad a father as Arlo was. Boyd’s Oxy revenue is threatened by a preacher, and this will not end well, I predict.

New faces this season will include Patton Oswalt as a constable Raylan hires to watch Arlo’s house; Joe Mazzello as a snake-handling preacher who wants to muscle in on Boyd’s Oxy revenue, and Ron Eldard as an old friend and new partner of Boyd.

Justified is based on Elmore Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole published in his collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. Leonard returned to Raylan Givens in his novel Raylan, released last year. In Raylan, the marshal tackles a pair of dope-dealing brothers, a nurse who sells kidneys on the black market and a ruthless coal executive; several of these subplots have showed up in Justified.

Justified airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the FX Channel with frequent encores.