2013 Thriller Winners
Oline Cogdill

bookshelves2_stock

The winners of the 2013 Thriller Awards were announced July 13 during ThrillerFest sponsored by the International Thriller Writers.

(For my essay on what is a thriller, visit this previous blog.)

Here are the winners:

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL

Brian Freeman – SPILLED BLOOD (SilverOak)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Sean Doolittle – LAKE COUNTRY (Bantam)

BEST FIRST NOVEL

Matthew Quirk – THE 500 (Reagan Arthur Books)

BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL

CJ Lyons – BLIND FAITH (Minotaur Books)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Dan Krokos – FALSE MEMORY (Hyperion Books CH)

BEST SHORT STORY

John Rector – “Lost Things” (Thomas & Mercer)

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-14 07:34:30

bookshelves2_stock

The winners of the 2013 Thriller Awards were announced July 13 during ThrillerFest sponsored by the International Thriller Writers.

(For my essay on what is a thriller, visit this previous blog.)

Here are the winners:

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL

Brian Freeman – SPILLED BLOOD (SilverOak)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Sean Doolittle – LAKE COUNTRY (Bantam)

BEST FIRST NOVEL

Matthew Quirk – THE 500 (Reagan Arthur Books)

BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL

CJ Lyons – BLIND FAITH (Minotaur Books)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Dan Krokos – FALSE MEMORY (Hyperion Books CH)

BEST SHORT STORY

John Rector – “Lost Things” (Thomas & Mercer)

Downfall
Oline H. Cogdill

A breathless energy and tense situations highlight Jeff Abbott’s exciting series about Sam Capra, a former CIA agent who now runs a series of bars across the world. Abbott has created an incredibly cool world for Sam, with spies, covert missions, and betrayals. But Abbot goes a step further by making Sam a devoted father whose concern for his 10-month-old son propels him into action.

Espionage and families usually don’t go together, but Abbott’s skillful plotting makes this combination appear realistic in Downfall, the series’ third outing with Sam.

Sam now works for the Round Table, “a network of resource-rich and powerful people” who work behind the scenes to be “a force for good in the world.” The 30 bars that Sam manages act as safe houses and drop points for the Round Table.

And, of all the bars in the world, Diana Keene stumbles into Sam’s San Francisco spot, chased by two men, and pleading for help. When the men try to attack the young woman, Sam’s CIA training kicks in and he accidentally kills one of the men during the fight. Diana is being chased by agents of John Belias, who runs a far-flung organization of killers that includes Diana’s mother, Janice.

With his son, Daniel, sent away to safety, Sam and his group of operatives can concentrate on helping Diana, finding Janice, and, possibly saving the world. Saving the world is not too grandiose a claim either, as Sam and his trusted fellow agents learn tha Belias enjoys destroying powerful people, and will even sacrifice his own employees if needed.

Abbott keeps the stakes high as he weaves a labyrinthine plot that melds psychological turns, shifting loyalties, and nonstop action, as it moves from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. Sam is not a superhero, but a complex man who is whip-smart and an expert in parkour. That comes in handy when jumping from building to building.

Abbott also knows that scenes don’t have to resort to gratuitous violence to be compelling, making it one of those rare novels appropriate and appealing to both adults and teenagers.

In Downfall, Abbott delivers one of the most satisfying thrillers of the summer, and, in turn, elevates his work to the level of Daniel Silva and David Baldacci

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 15:53:51

abbott_downfall

A breathless energy and tense situations highlight Jeff Abbott’s exciting series about Sam Capra.

Until She Comes Home
Hank Wagner

Lori Roy follows her Edgar Award–winning debut Bent Road with another superior effort, set in 1958, in the suburbs of Detroit. It’s a time of change for the residents of Alder Avenue, but not the kind of change most of them would choose for themselves; homeowners dread and fear the unknown, represented chiefly by the influx of minorities settling in and around their neighborhood. Tension is rising, forcing many into an unsavory stance of “fight or flight.”

The problems simmering under the surface come to a head shortly after a black woman, rumored to be a prostitute, is murdered near a factory where most of the local men work. On the heels of that tragedy, a simple-minded young woman named Elizabeth Symanski disappears. The ripple effects from these events are varied and surprising, sometimes shocking, affecting each citizen differently, depending on their psychological makeup and the secrets they harbor. In the case of three neighbors, prideful Malina Herz, pregnant Grace Richardson, and Grace’s best friend Julia Wagner, the events compound the first’s fragile mental state, shames the second into silence after being victimized by a group of thugs, and causes the third to question her own ability to raise a family.

This is a very impressive piece of writing, pushing numerous emotional buttons. As affecting and memorable as Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, it’s a masterful character study of the denizens of a small community forced to confront tragedy head on. In some, it brings out the best, in others, their absolute worst. Roy is in total control throughout, bringing her cast to vivid life through acute, insightful observations and flawless, riveting prose. Readers are guaranteed to have strong, visceral reactions to Roy’s protagonists, who come to feel like people they’ve actually met.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:04:45

A racially charged murder in a Detroit suburb in 1958 set off a ripple effect in a quiet community.

Tell No Lies
Hank Wagner

Although born into wealth, Daniel Brasher lives simply, counseling ex-cons during the day, and tending to his activist wife in the evenings. His life becomes far more complicated the day he finds a letter in his departmental mail, addressed to a stranger, stating “admit what youv done. or you will bleed for it. you hav ’til november 15 at midnite” [sic]. Realizing the deadline has passed, Daniel checks the Internet, discovering that the addressee was knifed to death the night before.

Shortly after alerting the police, he receives another threatening missive. This time, the promised attack is only moments away. Realizing the victim lives nearby, he rushes there, only to encounter a hooded attacker fleeing the scene. Unable to subdue him, Daniel becomes further enmeshed in the madman’s mania, later becoming a target himself. As the savage attacks continue, Daniel is forced to consider whether his involvement is accidental or planned.

A mash-up of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Hitchcock thriller, Hurwitz’s latest is a shock-filled, thrilling carny ride that gets right up in your grille and never backs off. It’s fun to imagine what you would do in Brasher’s shoes, with most of us probably only hoping we could be as brave and resourceful. Hurwitz does a terrific job of evoking San Francisco and its environs, and is unafraid to go for laughs only pages after he scares the hell out of you. Add the fact that he writes some of the most compelling action scenes in all of thrillerdom, and you get a book that will resonate deeply with readers, but also something that’s wildly entertaining.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:08:35

hurwitz_tellnoliesAn action-filled, psychological thrill ride about a therapist on the run from his past.

Always Watching
Oline H. Cogdill

Chevy Stevens’ first two novels were taut psychological suspense tales about emotionally detached young women caught up in chaos and violence. Her debut, Still Missing (2010), and Never Knowing (2011) both featured unnerving, but believable, finales and appealing characters whose realistic trials were easy to relate to.

The link in Stevens’ novels has been Nadine Lavoie, a compassionate, intelligent psychiatrist who guided the author’s two respective heroines to acceptance and understanding of themselves.

Now it’s Nadine’s turn, but Always Watching lacks the verve and energized storytelling of Stevens’ previous novels. Despite a few surprises, Always Watching spirals into a predictable, overwrought story, weighed down by too many plot threads. Rather than being the warm, understanding doctor who was an anchor in previous novels, Nadine seems less like a psychiatrist and more like a Job-like character, overwhelmed by numerous devastating revelations when her past and present merge.

For decades, Nadine has repressed that part of her childhood when her mentally unstable mother brought her and her brother, Robbie, to live in a commune near Victoria, British Columbia. The three stayed for months at the community led by charismatic guru Aaron Quinn, until their father showed up one evening to take the family home. Those memories start to return when Nadine begins to treat Heather Simeon, a suicidal young woman who just left the commune, which is now called the River of Life Spiritual Center and is still run by Quinn. Nadine begins to remember that Quinn sexually abused her, and memories about deaths that occurred at the commune and her friendship with a young woman who disappeared one day after a public argument with Quinn begin to surface.

Always Watching’s predictable and uninspiring plot path is most jarring when Nadine remembers her sexual abuse. This revelation is hardly a surprise, but it doesn’t come across as devastating as this horrible incident should. The flashback snippets are used so often they dilute the story when what really happened on the commune is revealed. It’s not enough that Nadine has to deal with her history of sexual abuse, she also has a drug-addicted daughter from whom she’s estranged and who has even more problems than her mother realizes; an emotionally remote brother who knows more about the commune than he admits; and a stepson with whom she who is trying to reconnect. Nadine never seems like a real person, but rather a convenience on which to pile crisis after crisis, issue after issue. The trained and empathetic psychiatrist doesn’t seem capable of having finished one semester of med school.

Stevens’ previous novels had a sense of urgency with unpredictable twists. Always Watching lacks the passion of Stevens’ previous work, while layering enough plot tendrils for three novels.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:12:17

Chevy Stevens’ first two novels were taut psychological suspense tales about emotionally detached young women caught up in chaos and violence. Her debut, Still Missing (2010), and Never Knowing (2011) both featured unnerving, but believable, finales and appealing characters whose realistic trials were easy to relate to.

The link in Stevens’ novels has been Nadine Lavoie, a compassionate, intelligent psychiatrist who guided the author’s two respective heroines to acceptance and understanding of themselves.

Now it’s Nadine’s turn, but Always Watching lacks the verve and energized storytelling of Stevens’ previous novels. Despite a few surprises, Always Watching spirals into a predictable, overwrought story, weighed down by too many plot threads. Rather than being the warm, understanding doctor who was an anchor in previous novels, Nadine seems less like a psychiatrist and more like a Job-like character, overwhelmed by numerous devastating revelations when her past and present merge.

For decades, Nadine has repressed that part of her childhood when her mentally unstable mother brought her and her brother, Robbie, to live in a commune near Victoria, British Columbia. The three stayed for months at the community led by charismatic guru Aaron Quinn, until their father showed up one evening to take the family home. Those memories start to return when Nadine begins to treat Heather Simeon, a suicidal young woman who just left the commune, which is now called the River of Life Spiritual Center and is still run by Quinn. Nadine begins to remember that Quinn sexually abused her, and memories about deaths that occurred at the commune and her friendship with a young woman who disappeared one day after a public argument with Quinn begin to surface.

Always Watching’s predictable and uninspiring plot path is most jarring when Nadine remembers her sexual abuse. This revelation is hardly a surprise, but it doesn’t come across as devastating as this horrible incident should. The flashback snippets are used so often they dilute the story when what really happened on the commune is revealed. It’s not enough that Nadine has to deal with her history of sexual abuse, she also has a drug-addicted daughter from whom she’s estranged and who has even more problems than her mother realizes; an emotionally remote brother who knows more about the commune than he admits; and a stepson with whom she who is trying to reconnect. Nadine never seems like a real person, but rather a convenience on which to pile crisis after crisis, issue after issue. The trained and empathetic psychiatrist doesn’t seem capable of having finished one semester of med school.

Stevens’ previous novels had a sense of urgency with unpredictable twists. Always Watching lacks the passion of Stevens’ previous work, while layering enough plot tendrils for three novels.

Impostor
Sarah Prindle

Tessa is a Variant: she has the unexplained ability to morph her body into anyone she touches. She has spent the last two years training with a secret branch of the government, the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities (FEA), learning to use her ability to fight crime. When a serial killer hits a small town in Oregon, the police have no leads and no suspects. The killer’s four victims have little in common, except the letter A carved into their skin. Tessa is asked by the FEA to impersonate 18-year-old Madison, the killer’s latest victim. (Madison’s death is kept secret—not even Madison’s family knows she is dead; instead they are told she has recovered from the attack, albeit with some memory loss.) Tessa now must literally walk in Madison’s shoes to try and find the killer before he strikes again.

The mission soon becomes personal as Tessa lives Madison’s life and is drawn in by Madison’s family and friends. Since Tessa’s own mother was repulsed by Tessa’s abilities as a Variant, this is her first experience with a loving family. Despite warnings from her friends at the FEA—including Holly, who can become invisible, and Alec, who is stronger and faster than most humans—Tessa becomes attached to life as a “normal” high-school senior. This only complicates her mission as she sifts through multiple suspects, including Madison’s ex-boyfriend Ryan; a nasty schoolmate, Francesca; and a teacher, Mr. Yates, whom Tessa discovers was having an affair with Madison. Tessa encounters a mysterious stalker, contradictory clues, and tons of motives as she walks through Madison’s life, with the investigation culminating in a terrifying battle against the twisted serial killer.

Impostor captures the confusion, heartbreak, and possibilities of a teenage girl who has the ability to impersonate anyone. As it becomes harder for Tessa to give up the family and life she has as Madison, young adults will identify with Tessa as she tries to decide who she is and what she wants in life. A fascinating look at identity, family, love, and truth, Impostor wins as a mystery and paranormal thriller. Susanne Winnacker’s first book in the Variants series, Impostor will move readers and make them eager for Tessa’s next adventure.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:17:35

Tessa is a Variant: she has the unexplained ability to morph her body into anyone she touches. She has spent the last two years training with a secret branch of the government, the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities (FEA), learning to use her ability to fight crime. When a serial killer hits a small town in Oregon, the police have no leads and no suspects. The killer’s four victims have little in common, except the letter A carved into their skin. Tessa is asked by the FEA to impersonate 18-year-old Madison, the killer’s latest victim. (Madison’s death is kept secret—not even Madison’s family knows she is dead; instead they are told she has recovered from the attack, albeit with some memory loss.) Tessa now must literally walk in Madison’s shoes to try and find the killer before he strikes again.

The mission soon becomes personal as Tessa lives Madison’s life and is drawn in by Madison’s family and friends. Since Tessa’s own mother was repulsed by Tessa’s abilities as a Variant, this is her first experience with a loving family. Despite warnings from her friends at the FEA—including Holly, who can become invisible, and Alec, who is stronger and faster than most humans—Tessa becomes attached to life as a “normal” high-school senior. This only complicates her mission as she sifts through multiple suspects, including Madison’s ex-boyfriend Ryan; a nasty schoolmate, Francesca; and a teacher, Mr. Yates, whom Tessa discovers was having an affair with Madison. Tessa encounters a mysterious stalker, contradictory clues, and tons of motives as she walks through Madison’s life, with the investigation culminating in a terrifying battle against the twisted serial killer.

Impostor captures the confusion, heartbreak, and possibilities of a teenage girl who has the ability to impersonate anyone. As it becomes harder for Tessa to give up the family and life she has as Madison, young adults will identify with Tessa as she tries to decide who she is and what she wants in life. A fascinating look at identity, family, love, and truth, Impostor wins as a mystery and paranormal thriller. Susanne Winnacker’s first book in the Variants series, Impostor will move readers and make them eager for Tessa’s next adventure.

Death and the Olive Grove
Robin Agnew

“The story had something at once horrifying and sweet about it, something he had difficulty understanding.”—from Death and the Olive Grove

There are a few poets who are also mystery writers—Georges Simenon, Andrea Camilleri, Colin Cotterill, Matt Beynon Rees, Karin Fossum—add to that short list Marco Vichi. I mean poets in a spiritual sense (though Fossum is actually one). Vichi’s blend of an almost-delicate prose style with a gripping story, as well as a wider look at life, places him in that rarified company. What makes this book special is that it’s thought-provoking as well as hard to put down.

Vichi’s books are set in Florence, Italy—this is the second in a series following Death in August, just now being translated into English. Two more titles, Death in Florence and Death in Sardinia are scheduled to be released in August 2013 and March 2014, resepctively. It didn’t matter to me as I was reading this one that it was the second, as it stands nicely on its own.

His hero is one Inspector Bordelli, who tears around 1964 Florence in his noisy VW Beetle, smoking cigarettes and scaring the life out of his assistant, a Sicilian named Piras. I imagine Vichi set his books during this time period so he could include flashbacks to the war, at that time a not-so-distant memory that had affected everyone in Europe profoundly. Bordelli is a veteran and his memories are frequently disturbing ones.

However, as readers, we’re treated to the whole texture of Bordelli’s life, which includes cooking, lady friends, and a dwarf named Casimiro whose death Bordelli is trying to solve. He’s also trying to solve a string of killings targeting young girls, with very little success or much in the matter of leads.

As Bordelli, slowly becoming an exhausted wreck, tries to come up with a lead, he encounters an old acquaintance, the Nazi hunter Levi. Their paths converge at a certain point, and mutual respect and a healthy hatred of Nazis on both of their parts allows them to walk the same path, however unsteadily at times.

Piras gives him a few leads merely by thinking in a straightforward fashion. Bordelli’s thinking is almost operatic in its complexity; though his hunger for justice is straightforward. Bordelli’s journey through space and time encompasses the war, his childhood, Florence, and the comfortable companionship of a talented, if chatty, cook named Toto, and a retired prostitute named Rosa. There are thoughts on the change washing machines will bring to Italy, how tiny a speck we are in the galaxy, why he hates Nazis, cooking, love, and spaghetti. This is a delicious novel, through and through.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:22:41

vichi_deathandtheolivegroveA thought-provoking mystery novel set in Florence, Italy, and laid out in beautiful prose.

Please Don’t Tell
Sue Emmons

Fen Dexter lives in a remote cottage high in the hills. On a dark and stormy night, a stranger named Alex arrives at her door, covered with blood and claiming to have been injured in an auto accident. Suspicious, Fen checks his story, and does, in fact, find a car smashed into a tree at the end of her driveway. She warily offers aid to the attractive stranger, but in the morning, he is gone. Fen soon learns from her granddaughter, Vivi, an emergency room doctor, that Alex received treatment at the hospital. Vivi also reveals that a young woman near death from a slashed throat was admitted the same night.

Also drawn into the plot is Fen’s other granddaughter, JC, an aspiring artist. Both women were raised by Fen. Fen’s suspicions are sharpened when she learns that the injured man whom she helped had specifically asked for Vivi when he arrived at the emergency room. What, she wonders, does he want with her and her loved ones?

A parallel police investigation about a serial killer loose in Big Sur county, California, who cuts the throats of young women and tapes a note over their mouths with the words “Please Don’t Tell,” brings brawn, bravado, and romance into the story of Fen and her granddaughters. Veteran author Elizabeth Adler, author of 28 novels, is in top form in her latest romantic thriller. She delivers fascinating characters and keeps the reader guessing with twists that shock and surprise. A satisfying climax may well once again propel her onto best-seller lists as have many of her previous thrillers.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:28:39

Fen Dexter lives in a remote cottage high in the hills. On a dark and stormy night, a stranger named Alex arrives at her door, covered with blood and claiming to have been injured in an auto accident. Suspicious, Fen checks his story, and does, in fact, find a car smashed into a tree at the end of her driveway. She warily offers aid to the attractive stranger, but in the morning, he is gone. Fen soon learns from her granddaughter, Vivi, an emergency room doctor, that Alex received treatment at the hospital. Vivi also reveals that a young woman near death from a slashed throat was admitted the same night.

Also drawn into the plot is Fen’s other granddaughter, JC, an aspiring artist. Both women were raised by Fen. Fen’s suspicions are sharpened when she learns that the injured man whom she helped had specifically asked for Vivi when he arrived at the emergency room. What, she wonders, does he want with her and her loved ones?

A parallel police investigation about a serial killer loose in Big Sur county, California, who cuts the throats of young women and tapes a note over their mouths with the words “Please Don’t Tell,” brings brawn, bravado, and romance into the story of Fen and her granddaughters. Veteran author Elizabeth Adler, author of 28 novels, is in top form in her latest romantic thriller. She delivers fascinating characters and keeps the reader guessing with twists that shock and surprise. A satisfying climax may well once again propel her onto best-seller lists as have many of her previous thrillers.

Let Me Go
Sharon Magee

Chelsea Cain is known for inventive gore, and in this, the sixth book in the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell novels (the last was Kill You Twice), there’s gore aplenty. Gretchen Lowell, aka the Beauty Killer, is a female serial killer extraordinaire. She’s blonde, beautiful, and deadly, and has a thing for Portland, Oregon detective Archie Sheridan. He, in turn, is obsessed with her. Why else would he continue seeing her after she destroyed his marriage, drugged and tortured him many times over, and killed the women he cared about? And that’s just for starters. Gretchen has also sliced, diced, and stabbed him; she even cut out his spleen without anesthesia. At the end of each of the previous five Beauty Killer books, Sheridan wants nothing more than to see Lowell dead, or at least locked up forever. But when she escapes once again, he cannot help himself. He needs her in his bed even if it means being tortured beyond endurance. Rest assured, he will be.

Now, Lowell has escaped from an asylum and returned to Oregon to give Sheridan a birthday gift he’ll never forget. It’s Halloween, the perfect time for a serial killer to wander freely in disguise. But Sheridan already has his hands full. Along with his partner Henry and his sometimes-girlfriend Susan of the neon hair, he’s investigating Jack Reynolds, a drug kingpin. Working with them as a confidential informant is Reynolds’ son Leo, who wants to bring down his father’s empire. Sheridan is pulled in too many directions. He must protect Leo, whose father suspects he’s no longer a loving son, stay out of Lowell’s clutches and bed—an impossibility—and protect those he loves from Lowell’s next move.

Cain does not disappoint in this latest offering with her raw, edgy, and sexy prose, along with her trademark black humor. While this book may be too gritty for some, for those who have followed Sheridan and Lowell’s corpse-strewn journey from the beginning, this series and its offbeat characters are addictive. Lowell has become so popular she’s appeared on magazine covers, and readers snatch up T-shirts that read “Run, Gretchen.” Cain has said—tongue in cheek, no doubt—that she hopes to publish 57 books in the series, surpassing the Nancy Drew series at 56. Hopefully, Sheridan’s health will hold out that long.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-15 16:35:28

cain_letmegoArchie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell return for more twisted dysfunction, and inventive shock and gore.

Nancy Martin on Anne George
Nancy Martin

george_anne

"She had me at pimento cheese..."

Anne George (1927 - 2001), an Alabama poet laureate, and the author of the Southern Sisters Mystery series which ran for eight books from 1996 to 2001.

When I set out to write my first mystery, I tried to analyze the genre by re-reading old favorites—Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey and my beloved Mary Stewart. I also picked up books by the women who were currently leading the genre (and still are!)—Sue Grafton and Margaret Maron and Janet Evanovich and Diane Mott Davidson. But when I hit a seemingly ordinary transition passage in an Anne George novel, I had a writer’s epiphany.

george_murdershootsthebullIn the scene from Murder Shoots the Bull, George’s main character, Patricia Anne Hollowell, mulls the whodunit story while throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine and making herself a pimento cheese sandwich for lunch. Instantly, I recognized a woman as familiar as a neighbor.

Yes, George had written her character as a sweet-natured, retired school teacher who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as a prerequisite quirky cast of Southern characters. But it was through her choices of such keen details as pimento cheese that George engaged me—made me slow down to better absorb what she had to say.

Patricia Anne serves Stouffer’s stuffed peppers from the Piggly Wiggly. Her husband wears striped boxer shorts she buys for him in packs of three at Sears. Her sister Mary Alice puts flowers on the grave of Bear Bryant...just because it’s the kind thing to do. These telling details show up in just the first few pages of Murder Shoots the Bull, the sixth of her Southern Sisters mysteries. Every page after that is chock-full of similar observations that define Patricia Anne’s domestic life...and her inner life, too.

There are readers who read for the intricacy of the mystery plot. And there are readers who view the mystery as an excuse to explore a writer’s portrayal of a vivid world populated with recognizably real people who have something to say. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m the second variety.

Before she won the Agatha Award in 1996, Anne George was once named Alabama Poet of the Year, and her poet’s precision of language is clear and evocative. The city of Birmingham’s giant statue of Vulcan, a symbol of the steel industry, wears a bronze apron, but has a prodigious bare behind. Her description of rays of a setting sun glinting off Vulcan’s buns of iron made me laugh, but the information about the statue’s contribution to the city’s industrial heritage tempers a slapstick description with intelligence.

george_murderboogieswithelvisThing is? With her Southern, ladylike voice, George manages to say as much about life and the issues readers really care about as any flawed, hardboiled detective who solves crime in a gritty big city. The people in her world are kindhearted, but not shallow. Wise, but not pedantic. Witty without stooping to sarcasm. Her social commentary is lightly laced through the pages, not slathered with a bricklayer’s trowel. She portrays a quiet life as something that is noble.

In the final novel of the series, Murder Boogies With Elvis, Patricia Anne eagerly awaits the return of her beloved adult daughter Haley, who’s been living in Warsaw Poland with her new husband, who is teaching seminars at a university there. On the last page of the book, the daughter is due home very soon, and Patricia Anne is full of joyous anticipation. But at the time the book was published, author Anne George had already passed away. Before that fictional daughter’s happy homecoming, the idea that Patricia Anne had also died and would never see her daughter or the grandbaby that was on its way just broke my heart. I bawled for her loss as well as mine.For her understanding of the human heart and her ability to convey its complexity in a gentle mystery novel, Anne George still inspires me.

martin_nancy

Nancy Martin is the author of the Blackbird Sisters Mystery Series published by NAL/Penguin. Nancy has served on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters. Her first mystery, How to Murder a Millionaire was an Agatha nominee and the winner of the RT award for Best First Mystery. In 2009, she received the Romantic Times award for lifetime achievement in mystery writing.

martin_littleblackbookofmurder

The author's latest is Little Black Book of Murder: A Blackbird Sisters Mystery (NAL Hardcover, August 2013).

Author website: nancymartinmysteries.com

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews August 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
2013-07-16 20:50:51

martin_nancy Inspired by a writer with a poet's mastery, a woman's sensibility, and a Southerner's charm

Why Can’t They Get Irene Adler Right?
Carole Nelson Douglas

Elementary_Natalie_Dormer_as_Irene_Adler_2013_3That’s the topic of many blogs appearing since three recent major reboots of Sherlock Holmes that also feature the woman—the only woman to outwit him.

In Elementary, Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer) returns from the dead, much to Holmes’ surprise. Photo courtesy CBS.

I asked that same question in 1987 and unwittingly became the first author to make a woman from the Canon the protagonist of her own mystery series, and the first woman to openly write Sherlockian spin-off fiction.

That 1990 debut novel, Good Night, Mr. Holmes, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Seven more novels followed, and now, the first four are newly available as ebooks.

To Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler “is always the woman..... In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” So Dr. Watson introduced Adler in the first Holmes short story Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

To me, who’d read and reread the Holmes stories at a young age, the Irene Adler depicted in Sherlockian films and books was an unsatisfying stereotype, a “Victorian vamp.” She was not only a shady lady, but dead on arrival. And this was “the only woman” to outwit Holmes?

douglas_good_night_mr_holmesSo, after spotting yet another male-centered Holmes spin-off series, I searched the Canon for a heroine and, unsatisfied, reluctantly reread “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I met again the gutsy, empathic, and clever woman whom Holmes respected, with her “resolute mind” and “inviolate word,” a female character strong enough to match the larger-than-life dimensions of the genius detective.

I re-created her as the obverse of Holmes: a musician by profession who moonlights as a private enquiry agent. She honors her talent too much to sleep her way up; it took years of training to don 60-pound costumes and sing for hours in European opera houses, sans microphone. Conan Doyle made her a “prima donna contralto.” No such animal, but I use it to explain Adler following Holmes in male dress: she would have played trouser roles and fought duels onstage.

To later interpreters—all men—Irene is the beautiful, sexy ex-mistress of a besotted king, an apparent blackmailer. Yet she wants only to elude her victim. After successfully evading six of the king’s “best agents,” she then eludes both Holmes and the King once the Bohemian monarch sets the London detective on her trail.

She is no one’s mistress but her own, and marries “a better man” than the king. I kept her happily married, not wanting her in a romantic story line, as women protagonists usually are. Because she’s “presumed dead,” she’s lost her performing art and profession. In her detective adventures, she directs her investigations with the operatic flair she so deeply misses.

So I welcomed 21st-century film versions reimagining Holmes that—hallelujah!—included Irene Adler. Yet Conan Doyle’s 1888 creation is far more liberated (and in my recreation, even more so) than the Irene Adler of modern male writer-directors. Gone is the supposition that Holmes never would consummate anything more than a case, so Irene Adler becomes the nearest romantic object, always sexy and duplicitous and, darn, always in need of rescuing at the end.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s 2009 depiction of Sherlock Holmes in a steampunky 19th-century London features Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler, perky in her unconvincingly pert male attire. As Holmes’ larcenous ex-lover forced to work for Holmes’ archenemy, Moriarty, she pistol-whips and shoots, but she doesn’t even make the second film.

Sherlock_BBC_pulver_as_adler_nakedIn the BBC’s Sherlock, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) is a
vampy dominatrix. Photo courtesy BBC.

Next up: contemporary London–set Sherlock from the BBC and Dr. Who revivifier Steven Moffat. His portrayal of a brilliantly nerdish, sexually ambiguous Holmes made Benedict Cumberbatch a star, but Moffat introduces the most maddening Irene Adler yet: a lesbian dominatrix who, yes, is forced to work for Moriarty, falls for Holmes, then must be saved at the end.

I’ve gotten emails that decry “always sexualizing and criminalizing” Irene Adler, distorting one of literature’s few triumphantly strong women into a loser. In Moffat’s world, Irene Adler (played by Lara Pulver) only “beats” Sherlock Holmes with a tool of her trade, a riding crop. It’s very ’50s naughty and glib, but betrays the woman’s potential again. The final beheading scene—stretched to the very last moment—is a castration-like threat for a woman who says “brainy is the new sexy.” Off with her head, then!

In May, CBS’ hit Elementary series, featuring the very model of a modern 12-step Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and an intriguing female Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu), had a two-hour finale about Holmes’ “lost love,” Irene Adler, murdered by archenemy Moriarty. [Spoiler Alert!] Irene not only turned up alive, she was Moriarty, “the Napoleon of crime.” Now that’s Adler strong. Yet the plot still criminalizes the character, and her affection for Holmes catches her up in the end.

sherlock_holmes_brett_hunnicut

Gayle Hunnicutt’s Irene Adler, in the 1984
PBS version of “Scandal,” remains the best.
Here with Jeremy Brett as Holmes. Photo
courtesy Masterpiece Mystery.

So the 1984 Jeremy Brett/Gayle Hunnicutt PBS version of “Scandal” remains the gold standard with an Adler both classy and clever, although that Irene would never get on Jack the Ripper’s trail, as mine does.

As Michael Collings wrote so eloquently of my Another Scandal in Bohemia in Mystery Scene in 1994: “The private and public escapades of Irene Adler Norton [are] as erratic and unexpected and brilliant as the character herself.... Here is Sherlock Holmes in skirts, but as a detective with an artistic temperament and the passion to match, with the intellect to penetrate to the heart of a crime and the heart to show compassion for the intellect behind it.”

THE IRENE ADLER NOVELS (in series order)

Good Night, Mr. Holmes
The Adventuress, aka Good Morning, Irene
A Soul of Steel, aka Irene at Large
Another Scandal in Bohemia, aka Irene’s Last Waltz

The above now available as ebooks from Wishlist Publishing $5.99.

Also in ebook, print, etc., formats:

Chapel Noir
Castle Rouge
Femme Fatale
Spider Dance
The Private Wife of Sherlock Holmes (novella)

Carole Nelson Douglas is the author of 58 novels, including the Irene Adler Sherlockian suspense series and the Midnight Louie mystery series.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #130.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-18 17:36:21

sherlock_holmes_brett_hunnicutThe debate over major reboots of Sherlock Holmes and their takes (or mistakes) on the woman.

The Crimson Fog
Brian Skupin

The Crimson Fog is the latest of French author Paul Halter's to be translated into English. Originally published in 1988, it won the Prix de Roman d'Aventures. Unusually for Halter, it's a hybrid tale consisting of an 19th-century "impossible crime" English country house murder, followed by a solution to the Jack the Ripper mystery.

Years ago, Richard Morstan was killed in his Burton Lodge country house as he was performing a magic show for a group of children. During the show he is stabbed in the back, with no apparent way for anyone to reach him, with one door nailed shut, the only window watched from outside, and an entire audience watching the stage curtains. Later murders follow and in each case the murderer is chased but seems to slip away when there is no where to go.

It's no spoiler to say that the story's narrator is not who he seems, as he tells us early on that he is not the Scotland Yard Inspector he's pretending to be, and hopes his true identity won't become known. He partners with the deceased's brother, Major Morstan, to try to find the killer, and rekindles feelings he had for one of the girls who'd watched the magic show years ago. The layers of deception run deep and Halter adroitly shifts suspicion among multiple parties throughout the book.

The solution to the impossible stabbing is slightly disappointing despite the clever idea behind it, because it seems not to actually be possible under the conditions given even when explained. In addition, the later disappearances are unconvincing, and the Major and other parties behave inconsistently to allow the plot to function.

What sets the book apart is the turn it takes two-thirds of the way through as our narrator goes on to investigate in real-time the Jack the Ripper murders. While the solution is no great surprise, and the combination of the two parts of the book is not fluid, there is something here for both Ripper completists and locked-room fans.

Brian Skupin
2013-07-18 18:52:02

The Crimson Fog is the latest of French author Paul Halter's to be translated into English. Originally published in 1988, it won the Prix de Roman d'Aventures. Unusually for Halter, it's a hybrid tale consisting of an 19th-century "impossible crime" English country house murder, followed by a solution to the Jack the Ripper mystery.

Years ago, Richard Morstan was killed in his Burton Lodge country house as he was performing a magic show for a group of children. During the show he is stabbed in the back, with no apparent way for anyone to reach him, with one door nailed shut, the only window watched from outside, and an entire audience watching the stage curtains. Later murders follow and in each case the murderer is chased but seems to slip away when there is no where to go.

It's no spoiler to say that the story's narrator is not who he seems, as he tells us early on that he is not the Scotland Yard Inspector he's pretending to be, and hopes his true identity won't become known. He partners with the deceased's brother, Major Morstan, to try to find the killer, and rekindles feelings he had for one of the girls who'd watched the magic show years ago. The layers of deception run deep and Halter adroitly shifts suspicion among multiple parties throughout the book.

The solution to the impossible stabbing is slightly disappointing despite the clever idea behind it, because it seems not to actually be possible under the conditions given even when explained. In addition, the later disappearances are unconvincing, and the Major and other parties behave inconsistently to allow the plot to function.

What sets the book apart is the turn it takes two-thirds of the way through as our narrator goes on to investigate in real-time the Jack the Ripper murders. While the solution is no great surprise, and the combination of the two parts of the book is not fluid, there is something here for both Ripper completists and locked-room fans.

The Two Lives of M.J. Rose
Oline Cogdill

rose_mj

Most days, M.J. Rose feels as if she is two people, working at two different jobs but with one common goal. There is M.J. Rose the author of 13 critically acclaimed novels, the latest of which is the historical suspense Seduction. And there is M.J. Rose, the owner of AuthorBuzz.com, which is considered to be the premier marketing site for authors.

Even her name is the combination of two people: M.J. Rose combines her first name, Melisse (her real name is Melisse Shapiro) and her mother's name, Jacqueline Rose.

But don’t think that Rose has an identity crisis. “I thrive on this dual personality,” said Rose. “I am definitely two people.”

THE RISE OF THE WRITER

Rose has been juggling myriad aspects of her career since she worked as a creative director for an advertising firm while writing screenplays and novels on the side. While her career at a mid-sized advertising agency was thriving during the 1990s, Rose’s fiction writing career was stalling. She had an agent who liked her first novel as well as her second and third but neither her agent nor the publishers she approached knew how to market Rose’s work.

rose_lipservice“They didn’t know if it was mystery or erotica or literary fiction, and no one thought it had enough of each to be on specific shelves in the bookstore. They wanted me to pick a genre,” said Rose of what would be her debut Lip Service set at a sex therapy clinic called The Butterfield Institute.

Being in advertising, Rose was accustomed to looking for unusual solutions. She began researching the idea of publishing the novel on the Internet, which, in 1998 had not yet been done. She set up a website where readers could download Lip Service for $9.95. She also set up five different advertising campaigns for her novel.

“I knew I had a readership for Lip Service. I just had to find out how to find those readers,” said Rose.

Lip Service sold more than 2,500 copies in both electronic and trade paperback format, and its success did not go unnoticed by mainstream publishers. Lip Service is credited with being the first self-published ebook to be discovered online, and published by the Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club and a major publisher.

At the time, the term self-publishing was negatively associated with vanity presses and sloppy writing. Rose said her agent was so against epublishing that they “broke up.” They reconnected when Rose began receiving national attention for her Internet book being picked by the Literary Guild. After that, the agent was able to sell Lip Service to a major publisher “within days.”

Rose’s unprecedented success with ebooks led to a stint as the reporter for Wired Magazine, writing about the Internet, self-publishing, and how authors can market their own books. “I wrote columns in 2000 saying that books would rise through the Internet,” she said. “No one believed me at the time.”

When she got her second book contract, Rose left the advertising agency and began writing novels full time.

THE ART OF THE ADVERTISER

But writing left a void she didn’t expect.

“I really didn’t like only being a working writer. I was trained and brought up in the advertising world and I couldn’t turn off that part of my brain even if I wanted to. So I was coming up with ideas to help myself and other authors regardless of not being in advertising anymore,” said Rose who lives in Connecticut with her husband, musician and composer Doug Scofield, and their dog, Winka.

“Plus, the publishing business was drastically changing and I was not happy with how publishers did marketing. I didn’t think they were being very aggressive or innovative. And I felt that authors were very frustrated with their involvement with their own books. They wanted to do more, but they weren’t sure what they should do,” said Rose.

Fellow authors began asking her advice on publicizing their books and she began holding marketing seminars and workshops for authors.

But Rose soon discovered something about the authors who were taking her marketing workshops. “They wanted the classes," she said, "but what they really wanted, was for me to do the work for them.”

authorbuzzSo she decided, why not do that work that she knew so well? In 2005, she formed AuthorBuzz.com to provide book marketing services and consultation to authors. She followed that up with her popular blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, and has co-authored three books: Buzz Your Book with Doug Clegg, which she uses to teach an online book marketing class of the same name; How to Publish and Promote Online with Angela Adair Hoy; and What to Do Before Your Book Launch with Randy Susan Meyers.

“AuthorBuzz.com gave me the opportunity to not write my books to the marketplace," said Rose. "If you make a living as a writer, you are always very concerned with if your book is a book public wants to read, and I didn’t want to do that in my fiction. I wanted to write what I wanted to write, and pursue the subjects that interest me. AuthorBuzz.com gave me the opportunity to not have to worry about making a living solely as a writer. AuthorBuzz.com has happily turned out to allow me to use my creativity as an ad person and in my creative writing.”

THE BUSINESS OF BALANCE

Rose usually divides her day to accommodate her two jobs. She starts her day as an author, working on her novels from 6 to 10 am at least six days a week. Around noon until 5 pm, she switches to AuthorBuzz.com duties, for which she also has a small staff. Somewhere in there, she takes a walk or runs errands as a break.

AuthorBuzz.com generally handles about 200 books a year with another 100 for Kidsbuzz, the division that handles children’s books. AuthorBuzz.com is a full-service marketing company focused on reaching booksellers, librarians, readers, bookclubs, bloggers, and reviewers through ads, advertorials, and sponsored promotions. Clients include authors, publishers and publicity firms.

“A lot of writers will say that the happiest time they had as a writer was the time before their first novel was published. All they had to do then was write. Just writing and living inside that book. That time was so pure, when there is no business [of writing]. It’s just you telling your story and working on your craft,” said Rose, who is in her fifties.

“Writing is an art and publishing is a business, a very broken business," said Rose. All writers, myself included, struggle with the balance. How do you turn off the worry about the sales numbers if those numbers are down. And should I worry about those numbers when I am in the middle of writing a tense scene?”

rose_bookoflostfragrancesAs much as she enjoys AuthorBuzz.com, Rose also is happiest when she is writing. Her last two novels have featured mythologist Jac L'Etoile, the heir to a storied French perfume company.

“I have strange of process of coming up with characters. I take them with me to places and try to see the world through their eyes and that will tell me about who they are. I have an incredibly difficult time coming up with characters. My weakness is creating these people out of thin air,” said Rose.

A mythologist is an unusual character for a mystery series. To make Jac believable, Rose headed to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, her “go-to place museum for research and inspiration.” She said she was walking through the galleries “with Jac in my mind” when she saw the painting "Pygmalion and Galatea" by Jean-Léon Gérôme. The painting depicts a major myth—of a sculpture turning into a woman. “Using that painting, and its story, Jac evolved into a mythologist.”

While a mythologist opens the door for myriad story lines, Rose says it’s also “almost too much. Writing Jac has been very overwhelming because of the scope of what she is interested in is vast. It is overwhelming what I don’t know about mythology and what Jac would know. It is almost intimidating to write her.”

THE SCENT OF SUCCESS

But that hasn’t stopped Rose. Jac’s first appearance was in The Book of Lost Fragrances, about the search for a mythical scent dating back to Cleopatra’s time that allows the wearer to remember the past. Rose learned much about the perfume industry working about six years on advertising campaigns for Charles of the Ritz and Yves St. Laurent fragrances. She also was involved from the creation to the marketing of the perfume Xie Xieng while working for an advertising firm.

For The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose spent months studying with perfumers and getting a refresher course on the industry. During the writing phase, Rose burned candles, especially those created by Frederick Bouchardy of Joya, “to keep scent as part of my consciousness and to see the world through scent.” She sent an advanced copy of the book to Bouchardy with a note that she would love to have a perfume made for The Book of Lost Fragrances. “He happened to be working on an orange blossom fragrance that fit perfectly,” she said.

joya_amessoeursoerfumeThe result was Âmes Soeurs (pictured right), which is still sold at Henri Bendel and Fred Siegel stores and online. About 600 samples of the perfume were sent out when readers ordered The Book of Lost Fragrances in hardcover.

“Perfumes are dreams in scent. Our olfactory center is next to the memory center in our brain and they are actually touching. That is why scent can be such a memory trigger. Scent enters the brain at the same time. We are making a memory while we are smelling something,” said Rose. Her favorite perfume is Shalimar, which also was her mother’s favorite. But, she added she has been able to wear Shalimar since her mother’s death.

Seduction, her latest novel, mixes fiction with fact. Seduction is based on novelist Victor Hugo’s grief over the drowning death of his 19-year-old daughter and his desperate attempts to connect with her through hundreds of séances from his home on the Isle of Jersey during the decade after her death. Hugo claimed to have communed with Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and was asked by Lucifer to write poetry. Hugo's transcriptions of these conversations have all been published.

“She was the child of his heart and Hugo never got over her death. At the time, table tapping [similar to an Ouija board] was all the vogue. He became obsessed with communicating with her. I loved writing Seduction so much because I took a real person [Victor Hugo] and used his life to tell the story.”

rose_seductionRose is working on her third novel about mythologist Jac L'Etoile and then she plans “to let Jac live life without me, at least for a while.”

“Jac has gone through a life crisis in each book. It’s not realistic to ask her to go through anything else right now,” said Rose, who added she might go back to Jac after a break.

“I really got involved with Jac’s life. I feel I could have a problem if I stay with a character too long. I want to write about upheavals, to put them through the most traumatic situations and then bring them out of it. It’s hard to sustain that if your character is not Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch whose occupations put them through that danger. That’s understandable. It’s not logical for a female mythologist to go through the same thing.”

Although Rose has revisited her Butterfield Institute series in several short stories and says she might one day feature that clinic in a novel, she is excited writing about history.

“It’s a new love I didn’t know I had,” she said.

Part of that love stems from Rose’s enjoyment of research.

“You’re supposed to write about what you know. I say write about what you want to know. I want to be passionate about what I am writing about and I am passionate about what I am learning. Writing these books as been the most glorious experience . . .

“As much as publishers like to say that readers get invested in your characters, I also think they respond to my passion.”

An M.J. Rose Reading List

JAC 'LETOILE SUSPENSE SERIES
Seduction
The Book of Lost Fragrances
The Hypnotist

The Memorist
The Reincarnationist

THE BUTTERFIELD INSTITUTE SERIES
The Venus Fix
The Delilah Complex
The Halo Effect

OTHER NOVELS
Lying in Bed
Sheet Music
Flesh Tones
In Fidelity
Lip Service

SHORT STORIES
In Session

NONFICTION
What To Do Before Your Book Launch

Teri Duerr
2013-07-19 20:09:27

rose_mj2013Meet M.J. Rose, the author of 13 bestselling novels and the force behind Authorbuzz.com.

Denise Mina’s Peculier Award
Oline Cogdill

mina_denise3
My favorite name for an award has got to be the one called Theakstons Old Peculier.

Most Americans don’t know what that means. I know I didn’t for a long time.

Theakstons is a British ale that is quite popular. And I might add quite tasty.

According to the Theakstons web site, “The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of Masham as a ‘Court of the Peculier’ and is also reference to the strong characteristic of the beer! For many years it was affectionately referred to as Yorkshire’s ‘Lunatic’s Broth’.”

OK!

Now we know.

For the second year in a row, Denise Mina won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Gods and Beasts. She is the first author with back-to-back wins.

Mina received £3,000, which translates to about $4,566 in U.S. dollars, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

The award, run in partnership with bookseller WHSmith, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback over the previous 12 months. The award was given during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

Let’s raise a toast to this excellent Scottish author.

PHOTO: Denise Mina with her award.

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-24 14:30:16

mina_denise3
My favorite name for an award has got to be the one called Theakstons Old Peculier.

Most Americans don’t know what that means. I know I didn’t for a long time.

Theakstons is a British ale that is quite popular. And I might add quite tasty.

According to the Theakstons web site, “The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of Masham as a ‘Court of the Peculier’ and is also reference to the strong characteristic of the beer! For many years it was affectionately referred to as Yorkshire’s ‘Lunatic’s Broth’.”

OK!

Now we know.

For the second year in a row, Denise Mina won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Gods and Beasts. She is the first author with back-to-back wins.

Mina received £3,000, which translates to about $4,566 in U.S. dollars, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

The award, run in partnership with bookseller WHSmith, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback over the previous 12 months. The award was given during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

Let’s raise a toast to this excellent Scottish author.

PHOTO: Denise Mina with her award.

Edgar Wallace: the Man Who Wrote Too Much?
Michael Mallory

WALLACE_Edgar_famous_photoBack in the 1920s there was an oft-repeated joke about the British thriller writer Edgar Wallace. A friend was said to have telephoned him one day, only to be told that Wallace was writing a new novel. “That’s okay,” the caller remarked, “I’ll wait.”

One of the most popular writers of the early 20th century, and certainly one of the most prolific, Edgar Wallace turned out an astonishing 130 novels (18 alone in 1926), 40 short story collections, 25 plays, some 15 nonfiction books, plus journalism, criticism, poetry, and columns, in a little over 30 years. During his peak it was claimed that one-quarter of all the books read in England were penned by Wallace, and he remains one of the most filmed authors of all time. Yet today he hovers like a ghost over the mystery genre, his name often invoked, but his books seldom read.

wallace_the_feathered_serpentThe man whose name would become a synonym for crime fiction was born in the London suburb of Greenwich in 1875, the product of a one-night stand between two actors. His mother placed him with a foster family when he was a week old. Called Richard Horatio Edgar Freeman in his youth, he enjoyed a happy childhood and was something of an extrovert, though from an early age he demonstrated a habit of withdrawing and running away from any problems he encountered rather than dealing with them. As a young man he worked a host of different jobs before joining the Army and ending up in South Africa. Upon finding he had little taste for soldiering, he bought his way out, eventually returning to London, where he became a crime reporter. It was then that he adopted “Edgar Wallace” as his byline, borrowing his new last name from General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur.

The first few years of the 20th century would prove to be a challenge for Wallace, who by then had married and had a child, but who habitually lived beyond his means. It was said that he believed any attempt at thrift was a bad omen, implying that his fortunes might someday diminish. In 1902 he went back to South Africa, this time to take a job as a newspaper editor, but, while there, his baby daughter Eleanor became ill and died. Devastated, Wallace and his wife Ivy escaped back to London, but before long he was approached by his birth mother who, because of his growing renown, believed him to be wealthy. Already overwhelmed by the weight of his personal problems, Wallace sent his impoverished mother away with a pittance, an act that would fill him with guilt in later years.

In 1904 Wallace was engaged to cover the Russo-Japanese War for the papers and relocated to Europe. There he met a group of spies, which gave him the idea for his first mystery novel, The Four Just Men, which was published in 1905. The first of Wallace’s “secret organization” stories, it chronicled the actions of a quartet of wealthy vigilantes who combat what they perceive to be unpunishable wrongs through assassination. His decision to publish and promote the novel himself, though, proved financially disastrous and forced him to declare bankruptcy.

wallace_the_green_rustWith nowhere to go but up, he began turning out book after book, scoring his first real success with 1911’s Sanders of the River, an adventure novel based on his time in Africa. More African novels followed, as well as more Just Men adventures, plus a series featuring Inspector Elk of Scotland Yard. After divorcing Ivy in 1918, he threw himself into his writing, producing over the next decade scores of crime thrillers (even a second marriage in 1921, to his former secretary, did little to slow his pace).

The fictional world of Edgar Wallace is populated with colorfully named criminal organizations—the “Fellowship of the Frog,” the “Red Hand,” and the “Crimson Circle,” to name a few—supervillains, outwardly respectable men with secret lives, intrepid young amateur sleuths (often reporters), plucky heroines, and assorted hoods, crooks, and gangsters. He was also one of the first to feature a policeman as the protagonist in a story, as opposed to an amateur sleuth. His narrative style is at once breathless, conversational, and melodramatic, while he frequently confides in the reader.

He could be playful as well. The 1928 adventure The Feathered Serpent opens with the following bit of self-satire:

What annoyed Peter Dewin most, as it would have annoyed any properly constituted reporter, was what he called the mystery-novel element in the Lane case.

A really good crime story may gain in value from a touch of the bizarre, but all good newspapermen stop and shiver at the mention of murder gangs and secret societies, because such things do not belong to honest reporting, but are the inventions of writers of best or worst sellers.

wallace_man_at_the_carltonWallace’s work ethic and concentration while writing remain legendary. He kept the plot of each book entirely in his head, never making notes, and worked very long hours, all the while chain smoking cigarettes through a dramatically long holder, and downing cup after cup of sugared tea. He habitually wrote the first page of each book in longhand, and then dictated the rest either to a secretary or into a machine.

In 1924, he introduced his most resonant series character, John G. Reeder, in the novel Room 13. A former Scotland Yard man, Reeder worked in the Public Prosecutor’s office, but was called upon by the Yard to solve unfathomable cases, most often bank heists. Middle-aged, unfashionably dressed, and timid of character, he possessed a keen, wily intellect whose ability to understand the criminal element actually makes him nervous. “I see wrong in everything,” he confesses in The Mind of J.G. Reeder (1925). “That is my perversion—I have a criminal mind!” Reeder’s adventures were chronicled in three novels and two story collections.

While Wallace’s works had been sources for films as early as 1915, he started writing directly for the movies in the late 1920s. He was lured to Hollywood in 1931, where his most notable script would be for King Kong. He also contributed the screenplay to the 1932 version of Hound of the Baskervilles, which was produced in England. But his roller-coaster life was facing its final turn. Already suffering from diabetes (exacerbated by his passion for sugary tea), he contracted double pneumonia and died in Beverly Hills in 1932, at the relatively young age of 56.

Dark_Eyes_of_London_The_lugosi_Gynt_Over 50 films based on Edgar Wallace stories were filmed in the UK between 1925 and 1939 alone, most enjoyably the flamboyantly sensational The Dark Eyes of London (1939; dir: Walter Summers) starring Bela Lugosi as the villain and Greta Gynt as the lady in distress. It was colorized and re-released after WWII as The Human Monster.

How is it that a writer once considered to be second in popularity only to Dickens, whose face once adorned the cover of Time magazine, became a memory so quickly after his death? Possibly because Wallace’s output was so enormous that it was hard for any one work, even any one series, to achieve classic status. Also, unlike his contemporaries Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, he never created a truly iconic character. It was the name Edgar Wallace that sold the books, not a particular title or character, and once the real Edgar Wallace was gone, his readers moved on and his works fell out of print. But beginning in the late 1950s, Wallace’s name enjoyed a posthumous renaissance in Germany, where film adaptations of his thrillers became a cottage industry. In 1969, Wallace’s daughter Penelope (by his second marriage) formed The Edgar Wallace Society in order to promote his legacy.

wallace_the_four_just_men_movie_posterToday, thanks to the ebook and download revolution, his works are easier to find than at any time over the past 40 years, and anyone today wishing to connect the legendary name with the master storytelling talent behind it would do well to pick up an Edgar Wallace thriller. There, one will discover that the public’s appetite for gripping, bizarre, thrilling adventures involving supervillains with mad schemes was being satisfied long before the creation of a fellow named James Bond.

THE ALL-TOO-POSSIBLE CRIME

In 1905, Edgar Wallace self-published his novel The Four Just Men. As a publicity gimmick he kept back the solution to the mystery and offered a cash prize to anyone who could solve it. The book sold tremendously well and helped set off a craze for detective fiction. Unfortunately for the author, though, the plot wasn’t as impenetrable as he thought—reducing him to bankruptcy. Undaunted, the flamboyant Wallace wrote on—and eventually became one of the most successful writers of his era.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #130.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-23 21:14:49

wallace_the_feathered_serpentRediscover one of the most popular and prolific mystery and crime writers of the early 20th century.

A Time to Kill Broadway Bound
Oline Cogdill

grisham_john4
A Time to Kill
, the first stage adaptation of a John Grisham novel, is scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 28 at New York City’s John Golden Theatre. The play is scheduled to officially open Oct. 20. (Grisham is at left.)

Tony winner Rupert Holmes—a mystery writer himself—has adapted Grisham’s novel for the stage. The play had its world premiere in May 2011 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Ethan McSweeny, who directed the Arena Stage version, has been tapped to direct the Broadway play. The cast will be headed by Fred Dalton Thompson, John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus, who also starred in the Arena Stage mounting. Fred Dalton Thompson, who played District Attorney Arthur Branch for five seasons on Law & Order, will be making his Broadway debut in A Time to Kill.

Information on the Broadway production will be updated on www.ATimeToKillOnBroadway.com.

holmes_rupert
A Time to Kill
, Grisham’s first novel, took the courtroom drama to a new level as it explored racism and legal ethics.

Idealistic lawyer Jack Brigance agrees to defend Carl Lee Hailey, an African American, for murdering the white man who raped his daughter. The case divides the small Mississippi town and pits the young lawyer against the politically connected district attorney.

The prolific Holmes—a playwright, songwriter, and novelist—always brings his A game to any project. (Holmes is photo is at right.) He won an Edgar for best play twice—in 1991 for Accomplice and in 1986 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Holmes earned the 2007 Drama Desk Award for the book of the Broadway musical Curtains, a tribute to murder mystery plots. Holmes’ mystery fiction includes the novel Swing. Mystery Scene's profile on Holmes ran in the Winter 2010 issue, No. 113. It's an excellent profile by Bill Hirschman, a writer I'd am quite fond of. (OK, he's my husband.)

A Time to Kill’s 1997 film version starred Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey.

PHOTOS: John Grisham, top; Rupert Holmes, bottom.

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-07 09:07:29

grisham_john4
A Time to Kill
, the first stage adaptation of a John Grisham novel, is scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 28 at New York City’s John Golden Theatre. The play is scheduled to officially open Oct. 20. (Grisham is at left.)

Tony winner Rupert Holmes—a mystery writer himself—has adapted Grisham’s novel for the stage. The play had its world premiere in May 2011 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Ethan McSweeny, who directed the Arena Stage version, has been tapped to direct the Broadway play. The cast will be headed by Fred Dalton Thompson, John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus, who also starred in the Arena Stage mounting. Fred Dalton Thompson, who played District Attorney Arthur Branch for five seasons on Law & Order, will be making his Broadway debut in A Time to Kill.

Information on the Broadway production will be updated on www.ATimeToKillOnBroadway.com.

holmes_rupert
A Time to Kill
, Grisham’s first novel, took the courtroom drama to a new level as it explored racism and legal ethics.

Idealistic lawyer Jack Brigance agrees to defend Carl Lee Hailey, an African American, for murdering the white man who raped his daughter. The case divides the small Mississippi town and pits the young lawyer against the politically connected district attorney.

The prolific Holmes—a playwright, songwriter, and novelist—always brings his A game to any project. (Holmes is photo is at right.) He won an Edgar for best play twice—in 1991 for Accomplice and in 1986 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Holmes earned the 2007 Drama Desk Award for the book of the Broadway musical Curtains, a tribute to murder mystery plots. Holmes’ mystery fiction includes the novel Swing. Mystery Scene's profile on Holmes ran in the Winter 2010 issue, No. 113. It's an excellent profile by Bill Hirschman, a writer I'd am quite fond of. (OK, he's my husband.)

A Time to Kill’s 1997 film version starred Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey.

PHOTOS: John Grisham, top; Rupert Holmes, bottom.

Eight Beers to Slay Your Thirst
Matt Schlecht

beer

Take a sip out of crime: drink good beer

It’s summer. You’re by the pool or on the porch or in your comfy leather armchair with the air conditioner on high, nose-deep in the latest thriller, hanging on the psychotic killer’s every gruesome act. It’s hot. You need a beer. But are you really going to chase that Scandinavian noir with a Bud Light Lime-a-Rita? Really? Now that would be a crime.

For those with a taste for killer brews, Mystery Scene suggests a few more appropriate alternatives, from light to noir, obviously.

eviltwin_lowlife

Evil Twin Low Life (pilsner)

Some of you are dubious about the craft beer. I get it. You just want to be left alone with your bottle of lager. As you wish. May I humbly suggest one of these before we part. Playing off a certain low-budget brew that aspires to the “high life,” Evil Twin’s pilsner is a perfect choice for readers revisiting a pulp classic or just up to no good in general. Seriously refreshing, and even better on draft. As I began my research with a first pint I declared I would require about 12 more. Sadly, due to budget and liver constraints this was not possible.

eviltwin.dk

eviltwin_femmefatalebrett

Evil Twin Femme Fatale Brett (IPA)

Another one from Evil Twin (hey it’s an evocative name for our purposes here, okay?). The Danish brewery’s offerings have become more widely available in the States since its owner, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, moved to Brooklyn and opened a sleek beer bar, Tørst. Femme Fatale is a hoppy ale brewed with brettanomyces, a yeast that many consider a nefarious infiltrator in fermentation, but provides a tart, funky, some might say seductive finish to the beer. Pair this one with a hardboiled Michael Shayne classic by the genus-appropriately named Brett Halliday.

eviltwin.dk

samueladams_doubleagent

Sam Adams Double Agent IPL (hoppy lager)

From the brewery that has inspired many East Coast drinkers to start exploring the rest of the taps at their local, this new offering manages to embed the hoppiness of an IPA into a crisp lager. It’s a stealthy mission, and one that has the very real possibility of failure when it reaches the palate. Spoiler alert: it’s a delicious cliff-hanger of a finish. And one that is eminently repeatable. If you’re into nonfiction this summer, a six-pack could help you power through Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross, a tale of five WWII-era spies instrumental in the success of D-Day.

samueladams.com

speakeasy_vendetta

Speakeasy Vendetta (IPA)

Here’s a West Coast IPA with a point to prove. Yes, indeed, I’ll have my revenge served cold, thank you very much. An amber-hued beauty that packs an arsenal of hop bitterness and citrus character and still stands up straight with a solid malt backbone. This offering from San Francisco-based Speakeasy goes down nicely with a shot of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.

Facebook.com/SpeakeasyBeer

jacksabby_privaterye

Jack’s Abby Private Rye (biere de garde)

Roughly translated as “beer for keeping,” the Biere de Garde style originates in the farmhouse breweries of northern France. In other words, this was a beer for keeping farmhands happy. It has also been known to produce a revelatory effect in modern-day beer geeks looking for something different. In recent years, brewers have tinkered with the style, boosting alcohol levels a bit higher than might be wise for someone operating, say, a pitchfork in Pas-de-Calais. Jack’s Abby Brewing uses local Massachusetts rye in their version, which adds a bit of spiciness to the proceedings.

jacksabbybrewing.com

arcadia_cerealkiller

Arcadia Cereal Killer (barley wine)

Even though it’s still hot outside, we’re going to stray a bit from thirst-quenching summertime “lawn-mower beers” and check out the alcoholic deep end of this beverage pool. In fact, here’s one that is more likely to mow you down. Arcadia’s English-style barley wine is a sipper at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume), but you’re going to need its sherry-like comforts to deal with all the bloodsport in the latest Jeff Lindsay Dexter novel, right?

arcadiaales.com

brasseriedieuduciel_rigormortis_copy

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt (quadrupel)

A dark toffee-colored quad brewed in Quebec, Dieu Du Ciel’s homage to the ale produced by Trappist monks in Belgium is a North American classic. Coming in at a stiff 10.5% ABV, this beer conjures up dark fruits, chocolate, caramel, and a strange urgent desire for poutine. You really might want to turn down the lights before digging into this one. And once you’re in a cloistered frame of mind, solemnly flip the pages of Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery set in Quebec while you imbibe.

microdieuduciel.com

brasserie_herculestout

Brasserie Ellezelloise Hercule Stout (imperial stout)

This one is a must for any Poirot lover or Agatha Christie completist. It’s an oil-black stout brewed in the town of Ellezelles, Belgium, which celebrates the mustachioed detective as a native son. The roasted grain and chocolate flavors you expect to find are there, but the Belgian yeast profile makes this a unique case indeed, with a few twists and turns on your tongue. Thankfully, there is no hint of a red herring.

brasserie-ellezelloise.be

Teri Duerr
2013-07-31 16:29:33

beerTake a sip out of crime: drink good beer

Eyewitness: Chicks Dig the Car
Kevin Burton Smith

Republic_of_Doyle_01Perhaps the reason for the dearth of quality private eye shows on television has nothing to do with changing fashions, the cheap-to-produce cheap thrills of reality TV (Dummy Boo Boo, America Can’t Sing, Nose Pickers, etc.) or even the insane popularity of slow-mo vivisection featured in cop shows like CSI: Spleen or Rizzoli and Intestines.

PI Jake Doyle (Allen Hawco) and his beloved 1968 Pontiac GTO in the
CBC's
Republic of Doyle. Photo courtesy CBC.

No, maybe the underlying blame is of a more automotive nature. What if it’s simply that there are no more cool cars out there?

Remember the good old days of Rockford in his gold ’74 Firebird trying to lose a couple of gun-toting gorillas while simultaneously attempting to sort out yet another hopelessly convoluted scam? Or Magnum zipping around the Big Island in his bright red Ferrari 308 GTS, the wind blowing through his moustache? Mannix in that snazzy, George Barris-customized Oldsmobile Toronado ragtop he sported in the show’s first season? Or Kookie peeling up in front of 77 Sunset Street, tires squealing, in his souped-up Bucket T with the crazy flame job, and asking Daddy-O if he could borrow a comb?

Those were the days, my friend, when TV’s private eyes drove cars that were as much a part of the show as the detectives themselves. We’re talking personality here.

Honey West in her pearl white Shelby Cobra, a car almost as hot as Anne Francis. The jeans-wearing Robert Urich as Dan Tanna putting on the glitz in Vega$ with an immaculate cherry red 1957 T-Bird convertible, and then moving on to Spenser: For Hire, where he screamed around the streets of Beantown in a similarly classic ivy green 1966 Mustang Fastback, terrorizing pedestrians and vintage car lovers alike. Or sad sack everyman gumshoe Harry O, whose dented, rusty Austin-Healey Sprite was always in the shop—or heading that way.

Burn_notice_westen_with_car_1

Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) of Burn Notice with his ’73 Dodge Rallye. Photo courtesy USA Network.

You could probably blame this ongoing cool eye/hot wheels love affair on—no, not Stephen Cannell—but on one of the earliest TV eyes of all, Eddie Drake, who drove a rare three-wheeled Davis D-2 Divan in the The Cases of Eddie Drake, filmed way back in 1949, more than two decades before anyone ever heard of Jim Rockford.

Hell, a couple of PI shows were even named after the cars their heroes drove: Bearcats! (1971) and Stingray (1986).

So maybe it’s no coincidence that the three private detective shows currently running on North American television all feature cool—or at least distinctive—automobiles.

When Burn Notice’s Michael Westen, everybody’s favorite burned spy and reluctant Miami gumshoe, first wheeled out his black ’73 Dodge Rallye (that once belonged to his abusive father), I wondered if it was the final gasp of a TV trope last seen in the ’80s. Or was it an homage? Or was it simply the fact those old muscle cars were virtually indestructible? Over the course of the show, the Dodge has been burned up, crashed, mashed, and blown up several times, as well as shot up on a very regular basis. Michael explained in the very first episode that he prefers driving older cars so that he wouldn’t be pinned by the airbag in the event of a crash, but given the amount of automotive abuse the Dodge has gone through, I suspect Michael also takes some perverse pleasure in putting his old man’s wheels through the wringer.

And where would Shawn and his hapless partner Gus, the two “police consultant” doofuses from the USA Network’s Psych, be without their bright blue Toyota Echo? Toddling around the sun-dappled streets of Santa Barbara just wouldn’t be the same without “The Blueberry.” It’s a pipsqueak of a machine, a refugee from an automotive flea circus and about as far from “cool” as you can get, yet this smart-but-goofy car kind of suits the show. And it probably gets better mileage than any of the other cars I’ve mentioned, so there. Polar bears probably think it’s cool.

Psych_tv_blue_carThe two police consultant doofuses of USA Network’s Psych, Shawn Spenser (right, played by James Roday) and Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill).

But the coolest PI car currently smokin’ its tires and grabbing air has to be Jake Doyle’s 1968 Pontiac GTO. Sure, you might say it’s just another retro muscle car trotted out to nab some coolness cred, but in the first three seasons of Republic of Doyle, a CBC comedy/drama set in Newfoundland, the car has served unexpectedly well as its owner’s alter ego. Yep, it’s juvenile and immature and occasionally ridiculous, and certainly rough around the edges, but it can take a licking, it’s loyal to a fault, and, darn it, it’s even kinda sexy. And so, Jake tears up and down the twisty-turny streets of St. John’s like a lunatic, much to the chagrin of his stern, no-nonsense father and partner.

The car was chosen, according to writer/producer Allen Hawco (who plays Jake) as a deliberate nod to The Rockford Files. Although there’s a little wish fulfillment in there as well. In his teens, Hawco confesses, “I always wanted to have a GTO.” The car has certainly earned its keep, being regularly involved in high-speed chases and catching more than a few dings—and bullet holes—in the process. But last season’s finale truly ended with a bang—the GTO was blown up. You could hear gearhead hearts breaking all over Canada. What else could the network do? They ran an obituary.

THE GTO 1968 - 2012

1968 PONTIAC GTO. Passed away suddenly when detonated into a fiery ball of death on the St. John’s waterfront at the end of Season 3. Survived by her owner of many years, Jake Doyle. No flowers, please. Donations welcome.

Born in 1968, an Azure Blue, automatic transmission, 360 HP, beautiful metal beast, Jake’s GTO met her untimely demise as an innocent bystander to an intense Doyle case. Until the moment all went boom, she served our hero well for three seasons - the GTO was one of Jake’s most reliable allies, propelling him through countless car chases around the streets of St. John’s, handled like a dream around curving dirt roads, and was just about the best getaway vehicle the ultimate instigator, Jake, could ever ask for. May she rest in peace.

As the show’s theme song would put it, “Oh yeah!”

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #130.

Teri Duerr
2013-08-01 12:20:00

Republic_of_Doyle_01Is the dearth of quality private eye shows on television linked to a lack of truly cool PI cars?

Secret Codes of the American Revolution
Kate Carlisle

carlisle_kate_bookshelfA Most Patriotic Puzzle

One of the things I love about writing the Bibliophile Mystery series is the research. At the center of each mystery is a rare book that bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright has been asked to restore, and each rare book is tied to a different, fascinating moment in history. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, each one of those books is also tied to a present-day murder.

Sometimes the rare book in question is real, and sometimes it’s fictional, albeit plausible. Such is the case with the 237-year-old handwritten cookbook/journal at the center of A Cookbook Conspiracy. Within the margins of the old journal, Brooklyn discovers strange squiggles and symbols that could be a code. Is it possible that this journal was once used to pass messages during the Revolutionary War? And if so, for which side?

Accurate intelligence has always been a wartime game changer. Although quaint by today’s espionage standards, these codes were state of the art back then and still can puzzle a civilian such as Brooklyn:

I glanced more closely at the page. Numerous odd looking characters were lined up neatly in the margins. They resembled the type of signs and symbols I’d seen in photographs of the walls of the pyramids. Hieroglyphics.

This cipher was based on symbols, with each letter corresponding to a specific symbol. Another popular secret code of the time was the Cupid Code, in which each letter is represented by a different number, depending on the letter’s placement in the message. The number 1 might represent D if it’s the first letter of the secret message, but if it’s the third letter, it might represent the letter Q—or whatever other letter falls in that column in the chart the parties have established.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the first American intelligence operatives, used passage ciphers, also known as running key ciphers, in which the key to the secret code was a lengthy passage from a particular book. Each letter in the passage was assigned a number, and then the coded messages were written numerically. When a letter appeared more than once in that passage, then it would be represented by more than one number.

The founding fathers just blew your mind, didn’t they?

THE FREEMASON'S CIPHER

carlisle_freemason-cipher_page_1

The Freemason’s cipher is easiest for my brain to grasp—and, therefore, probably the easiest code to crack. Each letter is a fragment of a grid, some with dots and some without. In the Freemason cipher pictured here, the word book would look like this:

carlisle_freemason-cipher_page_2

Using this cipher, can you break the code below which answers the question: What did the British ambassador to Paris call Benjamin Franklin?

carlisle_freemason-cipher_page_3

A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle (NAL, June 2013, $23.95).

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #130.

Solution: A veteran of mischief.

Teri Duerr
2013-08-08 03:26:05

carlisle_kate_bookshelfA most patriotic puzzle

Hallinan and Brackmann on Asia
Oline Cogdill

hallinan_tim
The mystery genre—and readers—embrace myriad voices. We can have 10 different authors writing about Los Angeles or New York City or Chicago and each will have a different take on that city.

That also applies to authors writing about Asia.

Timothy Hallinan, at left, has lived, on and off, in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years. His series include five novels about rough-travel writer Philip ("Poke") Rafferty, including The Fear Artist and The Queen of Patpong, and three comic capers about burglar-detective Junior Bender, including Little Elvises, Crashed, and The Fame Thief. He also edited Shaken, a collection of short stories with proceeds going to earthquake relief in Japan.

Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel Rock Paper Tiger set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists. Brackmann, at right, followed that with Getaway, which won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Her latest is Hour of the Rat.

Hallinan recently interviewed Brackmann about her travels and stint living in China and how those experiences influenced Hour of the Rat.

brackman_lisa
Hallinan: How and why did you choose China as the setting and how did Ellie McEnroe, a very individualistic heroine, come to you?

Brackmann: I’d already written a fair amount of stuff, but to be honest it was mostly pretty weird. I finally told myself I had to write something that someone might actually want to buy. I decided to draw on my background living in contemporary China. I hadn’t seen modern China as a setting in much western fiction, and I thought it would be an awesome location for a suspense novel. Plus, I just wanted to share a little something of the country that I found so endlessly fascinating.

As for Ellie, another essential element in my novels is some issue, or issues, that I’m passionate about. At the time I wrote Rock Paper Tiger that was the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror.

So, I came up with Ellie McEnroe. Brought up by a single mother, a “good Christian girl” who joined the National Guard because she needed money for a potential college education and/or health insurance and finds herself in the middle of a war she’d never intended to fight. I saw Ellie as a person who hadn’t had a lot of formal education but who is smart, and has a strong sense of right and wrong. She’s always struggling with not wanted to get involved but her now deeply rooted need for justice, and anger at injustice, tends to put her in the middle of messes.

Hallinan: In Rock Paper Tiger more than Hour of the Rat, the present-day Chinese art scene is an important element. What is it about it that most fascinates you?

brackmanlisa_hourofrat
Brackmann:
I’d briefly been an art major at UCSD, which is known for its conceptual art orientation, and I have a very dear friend who was deeply involved in the contemporary art scene and who was a gallery director in Los Angeles. So I got to sort of eavesdrop on that world a lot. My first time in China coincided with the Democracy Wall movement, and that I actually saw the groundbreaking Star Star Exhibit there—very briefly, and I had no real idea what it meant. After I returned to the U.S., I followed stories about China, particularly about the rapidly developing contemporary art scene there. I was fascinated by the combination of a repressive government and performance art and other kinds of art with clear political subtexts. In recent years, the Chinese contemporary art market has boomed, with works by Chinese artists selling for a lot of money. The political content has remained in many cases, with various degrees of interference from the authorities. This juxtaposition fascinated me.

Hallinan: How would you describe Ellie?

Brackmann: She definitely knows all the best places to get good, cheap dumplings and she can steer you toward interesting art openings and underground parties. She’s also a good person to have around if you’re traveling in China—she knows all the ins and outs. However, if she invites you out for a late night bar crawl, or tells you that she heard this place is “interesting,” but there’s “absolutely nothing to worry about” —I’d maybe think twice. She doesn’t mean to get into trouble. She’d tell you that the last thing she wants is trouble. But she’s kind of a trouble magnet.

Ellie is a person who covers up a great deal of sensitivity and moral outrage with snark and a hard shell. She’s smart and observant. And yes, she does swear a lot. Part of that “hard shell covering up a sensitive core,” and also, true to her experiences as an accidental soldier and war vet.

She’s also pretty funny. I think these books could get a little didactic without a good dose of humor, and Ellie definitely has a well-developed sense of the absurd. Even in the middle of great outrage she tends to find the humor and absurdity.

hallinantimothy_littleelvises
Hallinan: Tell us a little about how the plots arrive

Brackmann: The key is looking for connections between seemingly disparate things. I am way more a pantser than a plotter—a lot of the story happens when central character runs into that chainsaw (usually not literally, because that could get messy), though generally I have a few emotional high points and major incidents that I’m aiming to get to. Creating suspense can be a matter of both narrative trickery and creating tension throughout. Tension doesn’t have to mean action on every page—instead, I think of it a pulling that narrative thread tight as I can and, I hope, pulling my reader along with it.

Hallinan: Tell us about the emotional arc of your first year as a published novelist

Brackmann: To be honest, I really didn’t expect much to happen with the book. When things actually started going well, it took me by surprise. The first time it really sunk in was when I went to Murder by the Book, in Houston, for my first real book event. I was on a panel with Victor Gischler and Dwayne Swierczynski; I hadn’t slept due to the crazed red-eye I flew in on, and we just had a really great time. Later, the store owners, McKenna Jordan and David Thompson, took us all out to dinner, and I was sitting there with these great people, and it suddenly occurred to me, “Oh, this is what I do now. I’m an author.” It felt really good.

Hallinan: When you wrote Rock Paper Tiger, were you thinking that Ellie might wind up the central character in a series?

Brackmann: I had no intention of making Ellie a series character. Rock Paper Tiger was this kind of weird book, with a lot of emotional intensity in the writing, a lot of issues I was grappling with, and when I wrote “End,” I’d said the things that I wanted to say.

That said, after taking a break from Ellie and her world, I started thinking, Hmmm, maybe there are still more stories to tell. I’d had to cut a lot of backstory about Ellie’s mother from Rock Paper Tiger, for example. I was interested in exploring how Ellie might have grown from the last book—how she changed from facing some of her demons, and if not defeating them, at least enduring them. I also felt that I’d barely scratched the complexity that is modern China. I particularly wanted to deal with environmental issues, which I’m passionate about, and which are central in the contradictions and challenges that today’s China faces.

brackmann_rockpapertiger
Hallinan: Your second series about an American woman named Michelle who tangles with the drug cartels in Puerto Vallarta was launched last year with Getaway. How is Michelle different from Ellie?”

Brackmann: Michelle is older than Ellie, fortyish, and her younger days weren’t full of the kinds of traumas and challenges that Ellie faced. Instead she went through life taking the path of least resistance, seeking a comfortable lifestyle. Which to me is pretty realistic—it’s what most of us do. I certainly have at many points in my life.

She gets into a situation in Mexico where she’s completely in over her head and things go terribly wrong and she has to adjust to an entirely new reality. Although Michelle may be a little naïve at first and inexperienced, she’s pretty tough and resilient. Like Ellie, Michelle’s a sharp observer. Unlike Ellie, she has more of a talent for fitting in, or seeming to.

Hallinan: What is it about Asia that holds you?

Brackmann: I think a lot of it has to do with my living in China at a young age, shortly after the Cultural Revolution. My personality was still pretty fluid, and all of a sudden, was blasted to bits by this series of intense experiences in a culture that was completely alien from the one I’d been brought up in. The whole experience completely altered the course of my life, in so many ways that I can’t even imagine who I would have been if I hadn’t gone.

Then, going back, for all of the tremendous changes in China, for all the negative aspects of my initial experience there—living in a police state among a population traumatized by what was essentially a low level civil war—there was something about it that felt like home. I’ve said before that going back to China felt like excavating my own past, helping me to understand who I was and how I got there. I think that’s true. I think that a part of me will always be in China, and that China will always be “home” to me – maybe not my only home, or the place where I want to live. But I’ll always remember that first time, hanging out with a trio of college students who were struggling with the restrictions that governed their lives, and one of them said to me, “Remember us. Tell others about our lives, what it’s like for us here.”

I’m trying.

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-10 16:47:57

hallinan_tim
The mystery genre—and readers—embrace myriad voices. We can have 10 different authors writing about Los Angeles or New York City or Chicago and each will have a different take on that city.

That also applies to authors writing about Asia.

Timothy Hallinan, at left, has lived, on and off, in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years. His series include five novels about rough-travel writer Philip ("Poke") Rafferty, including The Fear Artist and The Queen of Patpong, and three comic capers about burglar-detective Junior Bender, including Little Elvises, Crashed, and The Fame Thief. He also edited Shaken, a collection of short stories with proceeds going to earthquake relief in Japan.

Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel Rock Paper Tiger set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists. Brackmann, at right, followed that with Getaway, which won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Her latest is Hour of the Rat.

Hallinan recently interviewed Brackmann about her travels and stint living in China and how those experiences influenced Hour of the Rat.

brackman_lisa
Hallinan: How and why did you choose China as the setting and how did Ellie McEnroe, a very individualistic heroine, come to you?

Brackmann: I’d already written a fair amount of stuff, but to be honest it was mostly pretty weird. I finally told myself I had to write something that someone might actually want to buy. I decided to draw on my background living in contemporary China. I hadn’t seen modern China as a setting in much western fiction, and I thought it would be an awesome location for a suspense novel. Plus, I just wanted to share a little something of the country that I found so endlessly fascinating.

As for Ellie, another essential element in my novels is some issue, or issues, that I’m passionate about. At the time I wrote Rock Paper Tiger that was the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror.

So, I came up with Ellie McEnroe. Brought up by a single mother, a “good Christian girl” who joined the National Guard because she needed money for a potential college education and/or health insurance and finds herself in the middle of a war she’d never intended to fight. I saw Ellie as a person who hadn’t had a lot of formal education but who is smart, and has a strong sense of right and wrong. She’s always struggling with not wanted to get involved but her now deeply rooted need for justice, and anger at injustice, tends to put her in the middle of messes.

Hallinan: In Rock Paper Tiger more than Hour of the Rat, the present-day Chinese art scene is an important element. What is it about it that most fascinates you?

brackmanlisa_hourofrat
Brackmann:
I’d briefly been an art major at UCSD, which is known for its conceptual art orientation, and I have a very dear friend who was deeply involved in the contemporary art scene and who was a gallery director in Los Angeles. So I got to sort of eavesdrop on that world a lot. My first time in China coincided with the Democracy Wall movement, and that I actually saw the groundbreaking Star Star Exhibit there—very briefly, and I had no real idea what it meant. After I returned to the U.S., I followed stories about China, particularly about the rapidly developing contemporary art scene there. I was fascinated by the combination of a repressive government and performance art and other kinds of art with clear political subtexts. In recent years, the Chinese contemporary art market has boomed, with works by Chinese artists selling for a lot of money. The political content has remained in many cases, with various degrees of interference from the authorities. This juxtaposition fascinated me.

Hallinan: How would you describe Ellie?

Brackmann: She definitely knows all the best places to get good, cheap dumplings and she can steer you toward interesting art openings and underground parties. She’s also a good person to have around if you’re traveling in China—she knows all the ins and outs. However, if she invites you out for a late night bar crawl, or tells you that she heard this place is “interesting,” but there’s “absolutely nothing to worry about” —I’d maybe think twice. She doesn’t mean to get into trouble. She’d tell you that the last thing she wants is trouble. But she’s kind of a trouble magnet.

Ellie is a person who covers up a great deal of sensitivity and moral outrage with snark and a hard shell. She’s smart and observant. And yes, she does swear a lot. Part of that “hard shell covering up a sensitive core,” and also, true to her experiences as an accidental soldier and war vet.

She’s also pretty funny. I think these books could get a little didactic without a good dose of humor, and Ellie definitely has a well-developed sense of the absurd. Even in the middle of great outrage she tends to find the humor and absurdity.

hallinantimothy_littleelvises
Hallinan: Tell us a little about how the plots arrive

Brackmann: The key is looking for connections between seemingly disparate things. I am way more a pantser than a plotter—a lot of the story happens when central character runs into that chainsaw (usually not literally, because that could get messy), though generally I have a few emotional high points and major incidents that I’m aiming to get to. Creating suspense can be a matter of both narrative trickery and creating tension throughout. Tension doesn’t have to mean action on every page—instead, I think of it a pulling that narrative thread tight as I can and, I hope, pulling my reader along with it.

Hallinan: Tell us about the emotional arc of your first year as a published novelist

Brackmann: To be honest, I really didn’t expect much to happen with the book. When things actually started going well, it took me by surprise. The first time it really sunk in was when I went to Murder by the Book, in Houston, for my first real book event. I was on a panel with Victor Gischler and Dwayne Swierczynski; I hadn’t slept due to the crazed red-eye I flew in on, and we just had a really great time. Later, the store owners, McKenna Jordan and David Thompson, took us all out to dinner, and I was sitting there with these great people, and it suddenly occurred to me, “Oh, this is what I do now. I’m an author.” It felt really good.

Hallinan: When you wrote Rock Paper Tiger, were you thinking that Ellie might wind up the central character in a series?

Brackmann: I had no intention of making Ellie a series character. Rock Paper Tiger was this kind of weird book, with a lot of emotional intensity in the writing, a lot of issues I was grappling with, and when I wrote “End,” I’d said the things that I wanted to say.

That said, after taking a break from Ellie and her world, I started thinking, Hmmm, maybe there are still more stories to tell. I’d had to cut a lot of backstory about Ellie’s mother from Rock Paper Tiger, for example. I was interested in exploring how Ellie might have grown from the last book—how she changed from facing some of her demons, and if not defeating them, at least enduring them. I also felt that I’d barely scratched the complexity that is modern China. I particularly wanted to deal with environmental issues, which I’m passionate about, and which are central in the contradictions and challenges that today’s China faces.

brackmann_rockpapertiger
Hallinan: Your second series about an American woman named Michelle who tangles with the drug cartels in Puerto Vallarta was launched last year with Getaway. How is Michelle different from Ellie?”

Brackmann: Michelle is older than Ellie, fortyish, and her younger days weren’t full of the kinds of traumas and challenges that Ellie faced. Instead she went through life taking the path of least resistance, seeking a comfortable lifestyle. Which to me is pretty realistic—it’s what most of us do. I certainly have at many points in my life.

She gets into a situation in Mexico where she’s completely in over her head and things go terribly wrong and she has to adjust to an entirely new reality. Although Michelle may be a little naïve at first and inexperienced, she’s pretty tough and resilient. Like Ellie, Michelle’s a sharp observer. Unlike Ellie, she has more of a talent for fitting in, or seeming to.

Hallinan: What is it about Asia that holds you?

Brackmann: I think a lot of it has to do with my living in China at a young age, shortly after the Cultural Revolution. My personality was still pretty fluid, and all of a sudden, was blasted to bits by this series of intense experiences in a culture that was completely alien from the one I’d been brought up in. The whole experience completely altered the course of my life, in so many ways that I can’t even imagine who I would have been if I hadn’t gone.

Then, going back, for all of the tremendous changes in China, for all the negative aspects of my initial experience there—living in a police state among a population traumatized by what was essentially a low level civil war—there was something about it that felt like home. I’ve said before that going back to China felt like excavating my own past, helping me to understand who I was and how I got there. I think that’s true. I think that a part of me will always be in China, and that China will always be “home” to me – maybe not my only home, or the place where I want to live. But I’ll always remember that first time, hanging out with a trio of college students who were struggling with the restrictions that governed their lives, and one of them said to me, “Remember us. Tell others about our lives, what it’s like for us here.”

I’m trying.

A Tribute to Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz
Oline Cogdill

mertz_barbaraelizabethpeters
When I was a kid, I wanted to be many things when I grew up. And one of those was being an Egyptologist.

Now keep in mind, I had no idea what exactly an Egyptologist did and this goal, no doubt, came about because of many really bad movies in which crypts and mummies unleashed all sorts of havoc.

That career goal lasted only a little while and was folded into many other occupations that my childhood brain concocted.

But my interest in Egyptology has never stopped. Egypt was full of such interesting events—a boy who is named King Tut, the feral Cleopatra who is a mere teen when she began her rule, the legend that the Napoleon’s soldiers may have used the Great Sphinx of Giza for target practice.

peterseliz_tomb
I use that rather flippant antidote to pay homage to Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz who died last week, on Aug. 8 at age 85.

There have been many tributes and remembrances of Mertz on Facebook, on the various obituary sites and more. I wanted to add one for Mystery Scene but wasn’t sure how to approach it.

Until I remembered how personal each of our relationships is with an author. Each of us can identify with a plot, a character or even a setting because of how it affects each of us as individuals.

For me, and I suspect other fans, the novels written as Elizabeth Peters about daring Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody were what touched me.

She wrote some 19 novels about Amelia and her family that took us into the “Golden Age” of Egyptology with excavations the backdrop for the plots. I don’t pretend to have read more than half of these wonderful tales.

These novels were about possibilities. Of the idea that anything could be uncovered, linking our past with our future.

peterseliz_river
The novels began with Crocodile on the Sandbank, published in 1975, and took us into the crypts, the pyramids, the culture, the desert of Egypt. The novels start in the 1880s when Amelia decided to see the world as a wealthy feminist spinster.

Along the way she would acquire a loving husband and children. Amelia would be witness to some of the most astounding discoveries, including Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, as fictionalized in Tomb of the Golden Bird.

Her last novel was A River in the Sky, published in 2010.

For the pen name Elizabeth Peters, Mertz combined the names of daughter and son.

Mertz also was a true expert on Egypt, receiving her Ph.D. in the subject at age 23.

And she was prolific, writing under the name of Mertz, Peters and Barbara Michaels. She was named Grand Master at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986 and Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards in 1998.

One of the best obituaries of Mertz ran in the Washington Post.

But I also want to mention a couple of other tributes.

peterseliz_portal
On the femmesfatales.com blog, Dean James, who also writes as Miranda James, mentions that with Elizabeth Peters’ novels, “I could escape whatever was going on in my life at the time, and Barbara and her books never failed me. They always pulled me in and gave me respite when I needed it. I never needed it more than when my father died in 1990. That last night in the hospital, awaiting the inevitable, I took with me Crocodile on the Sandbank. I had already read it two or three times but I knew it was what I needed. That night, and through the days that followed, I reread my favorite Elizabeth Peters books. They gave me solace when nothing -- and no one else -- could.”

Also on the femmesfatales blog, Charlaine Harris thinks about the late author soon after reading an essay about America’s rape culture: “I imagined Barbara’s comments about the prevalence of rape culture, about how simply appalling it is that young men thought grabbing women up from behind and carrying them away was a harmless prank. . . . Barbara was never afraid to speak out. She was never hesitant about expressing her opinion. She was never one to back out of a healthy argument. I don’t pretend I was a close friend, but I was a friendly acquaintance . . . and I knew that about Barbara, even on our slim experience of each other. She was a pioneer, and a great example.”

And Elizabeth Foxwell offered this “Barbara's storming of considerable bastions in her life and career has benefited women from many walks of life as well as mystery readers and writers. When she was a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, she was asked, more than once, why she was taking the place of a man, and why was she there anyway, because she was ‘just going to get married.’ . . . Well into her seventies, Barbara was descending into Egyptian tombs and maintaining a schedule that would make someone a quarter of her age relapse onto a Victorian fainting couch.”

Rest in peace, Barbara Mertz and Elizabeth Peters, and thank you for all the wonderful stories you gave us through the years.

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-14 01:27:21

mertz_barbaraelizabethpeters
When I was a kid, I wanted to be many things when I grew up. And one of those was being an Egyptologist.

Now keep in mind, I had no idea what exactly an Egyptologist did and this goal, no doubt, came about because of many really bad movies in which crypts and mummies unleashed all sorts of havoc.

That career goal lasted only a little while and was folded into many other occupations that my childhood brain concocted.

But my interest in Egyptology has never stopped. Egypt was full of such interesting events—a boy who is named King Tut, the feral Cleopatra who is a mere teen when she began her rule, the legend that the Napoleon’s soldiers may have used the Great Sphinx of Giza for target practice.

peterseliz_tomb
I use that rather flippant antidote to pay homage to Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz who died last week, on Aug. 8 at age 85.

There have been many tributes and remembrances of Mertz on Facebook, on the various obituary sites and more. I wanted to add one for Mystery Scene but wasn’t sure how to approach it.

Until I remembered how personal each of our relationships is with an author. Each of us can identify with a plot, a character or even a setting because of how it affects each of us as individuals.

For me, and I suspect other fans, the novels written as Elizabeth Peters about daring Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody were what touched me.

She wrote some 19 novels about Amelia and her family that took us into the “Golden Age” of Egyptology with excavations the backdrop for the plots. I don’t pretend to have read more than half of these wonderful tales.

These novels were about possibilities. Of the idea that anything could be uncovered, linking our past with our future.

peterseliz_river
The novels began with Crocodile on the Sandbank, published in 1975, and took us into the crypts, the pyramids, the culture, the desert of Egypt. The novels start in the 1880s when Amelia decided to see the world as a wealthy feminist spinster.

Along the way she would acquire a loving husband and children. Amelia would be witness to some of the most astounding discoveries, including Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, as fictionalized in Tomb of the Golden Bird.

Her last novel was A River in the Sky, published in 2010.

For the pen name Elizabeth Peters, Mertz combined the names of daughter and son.

Mertz also was a true expert on Egypt, receiving her Ph.D. in the subject at age 23.

And she was prolific, writing under the name of Mertz, Peters and Barbara Michaels. She was named Grand Master at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986 and Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards in 1998.

One of the best obituaries of Mertz ran in the Washington Post.

But I also want to mention a couple of other tributes.

peterseliz_portal
On the femmesfatales.com blog, Dean James, who also writes as Miranda James, mentions that with Elizabeth Peters’ novels, “I could escape whatever was going on in my life at the time, and Barbara and her books never failed me. They always pulled me in and gave me respite when I needed it. I never needed it more than when my father died in 1990. That last night in the hospital, awaiting the inevitable, I took with me Crocodile on the Sandbank. I had already read it two or three times but I knew it was what I needed. That night, and through the days that followed, I reread my favorite Elizabeth Peters books. They gave me solace when nothing -- and no one else -- could.”

Also on the femmesfatales blog, Charlaine Harris thinks about the late author soon after reading an essay about America’s rape culture: “I imagined Barbara’s comments about the prevalence of rape culture, about how simply appalling it is that young men thought grabbing women up from behind and carrying them away was a harmless prank. . . . Barbara was never afraid to speak out. She was never hesitant about expressing her opinion. She was never one to back out of a healthy argument. I don’t pretend I was a close friend, but I was a friendly acquaintance . . . and I knew that about Barbara, even on our slim experience of each other. She was a pioneer, and a great example.”

And Elizabeth Foxwell offered this “Barbara's storming of considerable bastions in her life and career has benefited women from many walks of life as well as mystery readers and writers. When she was a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, she was asked, more than once, why she was taking the place of a man, and why was she there anyway, because she was ‘just going to get married.’ . . . Well into her seventies, Barbara was descending into Egyptian tombs and maintaining a schedule that would make someone a quarter of her age relapse onto a Victorian fainting couch.”

Rest in peace, Barbara Mertz and Elizabeth Peters, and thank you for all the wonderful stories you gave us through the years.

Forbes Top-Earning Authors
Oline Cogdill

bookshelves9x
I love lists and this is one of my favorites—Forbes annual list of the top-earning authors.


While some authors seem to be permanent fixtures to this list, there is a shakeup this year. E.L. James not only makes the list—she tops it.

Here is Forbes’ list of top-earning authors, ranked by earnings between June 2012 and June 2013.

1. E.L. James ($95 million)

2. James Patterson ($91 million)

3. Suzanne Collins ($55 million)

4. Bill O'Reilly ($28 million)

5. Danielle Steel ($26 million)

6. Jeff Kinney ($24 million)

7. Janet Evanovich ($24 million

8. Nora Roberts ($23 million)

9. Dan Brown ($22 million)

10. Stephen King ($20 million)

11. Dean Koontz ($20 million)

12. John Grisham ($18 million)

13. David Baldacci ($15 million)

14. Rick Riordan ($14 million)

15. J.K. Rowling ($13 million)

16. George R.R. Martin ($12 million)

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-21 02:25:57

bookshelves9x
I love lists and this is one of my favorites—Forbes annual list of the top-earning authors.


While some authors seem to be permanent fixtures to this list, there is a shakeup this year. E.L. James not only makes the list—she tops it.

Here is Forbes’ list of top-earning authors, ranked by earnings between June 2012 and June 2013.

1. E.L. James ($95 million)

2. James Patterson ($91 million)

3. Suzanne Collins ($55 million)

4. Bill O'Reilly ($28 million)

5. Danielle Steel ($26 million)

6. Jeff Kinney ($24 million)

7. Janet Evanovich ($24 million

8. Nora Roberts ($23 million)

9. Dan Brown ($22 million)

10. Stephen King ($20 million)

11. Dean Koontz ($20 million)

12. John Grisham ($18 million)

13. David Baldacci ($15 million)

14. Rick Riordan ($14 million)

15. J.K. Rowling ($13 million)

16. George R.R. Martin ($12 million)

Paranoia: Two and a Half Stars

paranoia3_finder
What separated Adam Cassidy in Joseph Finder’s 2004 novel Paranoia from other characters caught up in deceit was his ability to make people want to root for him almost without reserve. Adam’s charisma easily translates to the screen in the entertaining, but flawed film Paranoia.

The credit is due the charming Liam Hemsworth as the ambitious young tech wiz recruited to spy on his boss’s archrival. Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) not only proves himself to be charming—and quite handsome—but also able to hold his own when pitted against his veteran co-stars, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford.


How charming is Hemsworth? Charming enough to be forgiven by his best friends, even when his actions put them in danger. Charming enough that the viewer is ready to give him another chance, even when he has made a pact with the devil.

Hemsworth may not be ready to take over the Indiana Jones franchise and he doesn’t quite have the villainy chops that Oldman has displayed so many times.

But this Australian-born actor is more than a pretty face. Although that face is pretty darn pretty. It runs in the family: Liam Hemsworth’s older brothers are Chris (Thor, The Avengers) and Luke (various Australian TV series).

paranoia5_finder
In my review of Finder’s fourth novel, I said: “Although Paranoia is plagued with more than a few cliches, it’s easy to forgive the thriller’s flaws when the premise is so well executed, the action exhaustive and the characters realistically shaped.”


And that is exactly what is right—and wrong—with the film version. Yes, it is riddled with clichés and several plot holes.

But the film also is well executed and, even when you see a plot twist coming, you’re willing to go along with the ride.

Paranoia makes industrial espionage as exciting as any James Bond spy thriller, and more believable. In Paranoia, the fate of the world isn’t at risk—just two titans of industry.

paranoia6_finder
Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth) and his equally brilliant gang of pals have devised a new phone that they think will set the world on fire.

But their presentation in front of their arrogant boss Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman) goes so badly the gang is fired.

It doesn’t help Adam’s cause that he comes to the most important meeting of their career looking like he just crawled out of bed and is late for a college class, or that he is so distracted by Wyatt’s seemingly lack of interest that he mouths off at him.

Adam still has his corporate credit card so he treats his buddies to a night on the town, spending $16,000 during one evening at a nightclub.

paranoia8_finder
Wyatt calls that embezzling company funds and wants his money back, but Adam doesn’t have it. Plus Adam already owes some $40,000 for the care of his father, Frank (Richard Dreyfuss), because Wyatt’s company canceled his health insurance several days before.

But Wyatt has an option. Go to work for Wyatt’s former partner and rival Jock Goddard (Ford) at Elkon Corp. and steal his secrets.

Adam undergoes a metamorphosis from “bridge and tunnel guy” to a sophisticated sharp dresser. In what seems like a huge leap of faith, Adam is quickly recruited by Elkon and quicker than the latest phone can go out of style, he’s hired and in Goddard’s inner circle.

paranoia10_finder
Adam also has acquired a girlfriend, Emma Jennings (Amber Heard, NBC’s short-lived The Playboy Club). They meet cute on the dance floor during that nightclub binge and have a one-night stand. By coincidence, she turns out to be the marketing director for Elkon.

Adam doesn’t quite realize how volatile the two tycoons’ lifelong feud has become. This isn’t just business; it’s a ruthless hatred that more than once erupts into violence. And Adam may be the collateral damage.

In the world of high-tech, it’s easy to become paranoid when it seems as if every aspect of one’s life is under surveillance. As Adam learns the true meaning of Wyatt’s comment that privacy doesn’t exist anymore, his apartment resembles a scene from the 1974 film The Conversation.

Oldman struts like a bantam when he goes up against Ford’s rabid fox. We instantly know that the sophisticated Oldman is the devil incarnate, from his too sharp clothes to a house surrounded by armed guards. Grizzled Ford prefers comfortable jeans and invites his staff to his airy home for a lawn party. But sometimes the devil wears disguises.

When Oldman and Ford go after each other, it’s like Air Force One all over again.

paranoia11_finder
Australian director Robert Luketic showed a flair for comedy in Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! Paranoia doesn’t concoct any new entries in the drama lexicon, but suspense is not out of Luketic’s wheelhouse. A late-night break-in to a secure floor in a high-rise office building mounts the tension, though the scenes aren’t exactly nail biting.

The film and novel version of Paranoia differ slightly—even the names of the companies have been changed. But the spirit of Finder’s book remains.

In the novel, Adam was an underachiever whose greatest talent was winning people over. He hated his job and his biggest achievement at Wyatt Industries (check on name) was charging to the company a lavish, unauthorized retirement party for one of the men on the loading dock. Adam ends up owing the company $78,000 for the party. In the film version, there isn’t even a loading dock in sight.

In the film version, Adam is an ambitious young man who wants “more” than he had growing up in the poor neighborhood of Brooklyn where he still lives with his father.

Both Adams contend with a dying father, but in the novel the father was cantankerous and verbally abusing. In the film version, Richard Dreyfuss’ Frank Cassidy genuinely loves and supports his son, and wants him to do the right thing. His only sin was working all his life as a low-paid security guard.

The change in Adam and his father in the film version work well. While Finder made us care about Adam, this “antihero” persona may not have transferred well to the screen. Hemsworth’s Adam wants a finer life—a better career, money, an upscale house, and that is easier to relate to in a movie.

Finder has proven himself to be one of the top thriller writers, turning the potentially eye-glazing subjects of industrial espionage into breathless thrillers. He recently signed a three-book deal with Dutton; his next novel will be Suspicion, due out next year.

Production notes: Rated PG-13; 106 minutes

PHOTOS: Top, Liam Hemsworth shows just how charming he can be; Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman's showdown; Ford, Amber Heard, and Hemsworth at Goddard's party; Oldman and Hemsworth in a battle of wits on Wyatt's armed fortress of a house; bottom, Hemsworth, Oldman and Embeth Davidtz after Adam has been changed into a sophisticated executive.
Photos courtesy of Relativity Media

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-16 09:41:16

paranoia3_finder
What separated Adam Cassidy in Joseph Finder’s 2004 novel Paranoia from other characters caught up in deceit was his ability to make people want to root for him almost without reserve. Adam’s charisma easily translates to the screen in the entertaining, but flawed film Paranoia.

The credit is due the charming Liam Hemsworth as the ambitious young tech wiz recruited to spy on his boss’s archrival. Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) not only proves himself to be charming—and quite handsome—but also able to hold his own when pitted against his veteran co-stars, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford.


How charming is Hemsworth? Charming enough to be forgiven by his best friends, even when his actions put them in danger. Charming enough that the viewer is ready to give him another chance, even when he has made a pact with the devil.

Hemsworth may not be ready to take over the Indiana Jones franchise and he doesn’t quite have the villainy chops that Oldman has displayed so many times.

But this Australian-born actor is more than a pretty face. Although that face is pretty darn pretty. It runs in the family: Liam Hemsworth’s older brothers are Chris (Thor, The Avengers) and Luke (various Australian TV series).

paranoia5_finder
In my review of Finder’s fourth novel, I said: “Although Paranoia is plagued with more than a few cliches, it’s easy to forgive the thriller’s flaws when the premise is so well executed, the action exhaustive and the characters realistically shaped.”


And that is exactly what is right—and wrong—with the film version. Yes, it is riddled with clichés and several plot holes.

But the film also is well executed and, even when you see a plot twist coming, you’re willing to go along with the ride.

Paranoia makes industrial espionage as exciting as any James Bond spy thriller, and more believable. In Paranoia, the fate of the world isn’t at risk—just two titans of industry.

paranoia6_finder
Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth) and his equally brilliant gang of pals have devised a new phone that they think will set the world on fire.

But their presentation in front of their arrogant boss Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman) goes so badly the gang is fired.

It doesn’t help Adam’s cause that he comes to the most important meeting of their career looking like he just crawled out of bed and is late for a college class, or that he is so distracted by Wyatt’s seemingly lack of interest that he mouths off at him.

Adam still has his corporate credit card so he treats his buddies to a night on the town, spending $16,000 during one evening at a nightclub.

paranoia8_finder
Wyatt calls that embezzling company funds and wants his money back, but Adam doesn’t have it. Plus Adam already owes some $40,000 for the care of his father, Frank (Richard Dreyfuss), because Wyatt’s company canceled his health insurance several days before.

But Wyatt has an option. Go to work for Wyatt’s former partner and rival Jock Goddard (Ford) at Elkon Corp. and steal his secrets.

Adam undergoes a metamorphosis from “bridge and tunnel guy” to a sophisticated sharp dresser. In what seems like a huge leap of faith, Adam is quickly recruited by Elkon and quicker than the latest phone can go out of style, he’s hired and in Goddard’s inner circle.

paranoia10_finder
Adam also has acquired a girlfriend, Emma Jennings (Amber Heard, NBC’s short-lived The Playboy Club). They meet cute on the dance floor during that nightclub binge and have a one-night stand. By coincidence, she turns out to be the marketing director for Elkon.

Adam doesn’t quite realize how volatile the two tycoons’ lifelong feud has become. This isn’t just business; it’s a ruthless hatred that more than once erupts into violence. And Adam may be the collateral damage.

In the world of high-tech, it’s easy to become paranoid when it seems as if every aspect of one’s life is under surveillance. As Adam learns the true meaning of Wyatt’s comment that privacy doesn’t exist anymore, his apartment resembles a scene from the 1974 film The Conversation.

Oldman struts like a bantam when he goes up against Ford’s rabid fox. We instantly know that the sophisticated Oldman is the devil incarnate, from his too sharp clothes to a house surrounded by armed guards. Grizzled Ford prefers comfortable jeans and invites his staff to his airy home for a lawn party. But sometimes the devil wears disguises.

When Oldman and Ford go after each other, it’s like Air Force One all over again.

paranoia11_finder
Australian director Robert Luketic showed a flair for comedy in Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! Paranoia doesn’t concoct any new entries in the drama lexicon, but suspense is not out of Luketic’s wheelhouse. A late-night break-in to a secure floor in a high-rise office building mounts the tension, though the scenes aren’t exactly nail biting.

The film and novel version of Paranoia differ slightly—even the names of the companies have been changed. But the spirit of Finder’s book remains.

In the novel, Adam was an underachiever whose greatest talent was winning people over. He hated his job and his biggest achievement at Wyatt Industries (check on name) was charging to the company a lavish, unauthorized retirement party for one of the men on the loading dock. Adam ends up owing the company $78,000 for the party. In the film version, there isn’t even a loading dock in sight.

In the film version, Adam is an ambitious young man who wants “more” than he had growing up in the poor neighborhood of Brooklyn where he still lives with his father.

Both Adams contend with a dying father, but in the novel the father was cantankerous and verbally abusing. In the film version, Richard Dreyfuss’ Frank Cassidy genuinely loves and supports his son, and wants him to do the right thing. His only sin was working all his life as a low-paid security guard.

The change in Adam and his father in the film version work well. While Finder made us care about Adam, this “antihero” persona may not have transferred well to the screen. Hemsworth’s Adam wants a finer life—a better career, money, an upscale house, and that is easier to relate to in a movie.

Finder has proven himself to be one of the top thriller writers, turning the potentially eye-glazing subjects of industrial espionage into breathless thrillers. He recently signed a three-book deal with Dutton; his next novel will be Suspicion, due out next year.

Production notes: Rated PG-13; 106 minutes

PHOTOS: Top, Liam Hemsworth shows just how charming he can be; Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman's showdown; Ford, Amber Heard, and Hemsworth at Goddard's party; Oldman and Hemsworth in a battle of wits on Wyatt's armed fortress of a house; bottom, Hemsworth, Oldman and Embeth Davidtz after Adam has been changed into a sophisticated executive.
Photos courtesy of Relativity Media

Carolyn Hart on Clair Blank's Beverly Gray Novels
Carolyn Hart

Hart_Carolyn2011How the classic Beverly Gray novels of Clair Blank changed my life

I look back over a lifetime of reading and remember books from many wonderful writers. I learned from them all, suspense from Alexandre Dumas, courage from Louisa May Alcott, protest from Charles Dickens, the imaginable unimaginable from William Faulkner, anguish from Edna St. Vincent Millay, clear-eyed judgment from Agatha Christie. But if I peel back the years and tell the truth, the books that directed the course of my life were simply-written books for girls, the Beverly Gray novels by Clair Blank. The books chart her college years and her success as a reporter and writer. These books first suggested to me that one could have a life as a writer and as a reporter. I grew up determined to be a reporter. I worked on school newspapers, majored in journalism, worked briefly as a reporter, then turned to fiction in my late twenties. Thank you, Beverly Gray. 

blank_beverlygrayreporterCarolyn Hart's latest from her Death on Demand series is Laughed 'Til He Died (William Morrow, April 2010).

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

Teri Duerr
2013-08-21 17:00:06

How the classic Beverly Gray novels of Clair Blank changed my life

Elizabeth George on A. S. Byatt's Possession
Elizabeth George

george_elizabeth"I hold no book dearer than Possession."

I would have to say that I hold no book dearer than Possession by A.S. Byatt. For me, this book has it all. It's a real writer's book, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. The term tour de force is over-applied in the writing world, but no other term could be used to describe Possession. In one breathtaking piece of work, A.S. Byatt writes a Victorian era love story, a modern-era mystery, an epistolary novel, and a number of pieces of Victorian poetry penned by two different poets. All of this Byatt does while maintaining the individual voices of each of the characters.

It is a dazzling work, a sleight of hand unlike anything I've ever read. John Fowles went far with his turn in this direction when he wrote The French Lieutenant's Women. But Byatt takes it into the stratosphere. It's special to me because it's a masterpiece. Really. That's it. It blew me out of the water. I always read "up" and I don't think I've ever read any "upper." 

byatt_possessionElizabeth George's latest Inspector Lynley novel is This Body of Death (Harper, April 2010).

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

Teri Duerr
2013-08-21 17:24:50

"I hold no book dearer than Possession."