While the mystery genre has a number of well-respected awards, there’s always room for one more, especially when it comes from such a group with a tradition of honoring excellence.
The Women's National Book Association of New Orleans is establishing two prizes for crime fiction to honor the late Diana Pinckley, longtime director of university relations at Tulane University and founder of communications firm Pinckley Inc.
Pinckley also was a long-time supporter of mystery fiction and wrote the "Get a Clue!," column about crime fiction, in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, for more than 23 years.
Pinckley also was a founding member of Women's National Book Association of New Orleans, which began in 2011.
The Pinckley Prize for Debut Novel will honor a debut novelist in adult crime fiction, and the Pinckley Prize for Achievement in Crime Fiction will honor an established writer who has created a significant body of work.
The prizes will be presented for the first time at the 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, which will be held March 19-23.
The entry forms and the website do not stipulate that the authors have to be from Louisiana nor that the novels have to be set in New Orleans or the state. But authors may want to contact the contest organizers first for more details.
The achievement award will be selected by a jury; the debut novel prize judges are accepting submissions of first novels published in 2013.
For more information, go to pinckleyprizes.org.
Historical mystery fiction often weaves in real people to add to the sense of place and time. While some authors use these historical figures as gimmicks, most authors make sure that these people have a purpose to the plot.
Susan Elia MacNeal’s vivid use of real people gives texture to her novels about Maggie Hope, a young woman who works as a “typist” for Winston Churchill during WWII.
During the course of these four novels, beginning with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary in 2012, Maggie grows from a typist, or secretary, to a spy, as in Princess Elizabeth's Spy.
In the latest novel, His Majesty’s Hope, Maggie is now an elite member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE)—a black ops organization designed to aid the British effort abroad. In this novel, Maggie is sent into Nazi-controlled Berlin where she infiltrates the highest level of German society.
MacNeal uses myriad real people, from Churchill to Hitler, in her novel, people well known to readers.
But MacNeal’s meticulously researched novels include people who may not be as well known to readers. (MacNeal is the main profile of the current issue of Mystery Scene.)
In one brief scene in His Majesty’s Hope, Alan Turing makes an appearance. His presence lasts only a page or two, but Turing provides a vital clue that adds to the plot.
Turing was a British mathematician who is considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.
His research often is credited with helping the Allies win World War II. During WWII, Turing devised several techniques for breaking German ciphers, which directed the courses of German U-boats and other vital military maneuvers. This was a major turn during the war and allowed the Allies to have a much needed edge in defeating the Nazis.
Winston Churchill once proclaimed that Turing’s work in breaking the complex Nazi Enigma code may almost single-handedly turned the outcome of World War II.
After the war, Turing continued his research and, among other achievements, designed the ACE, one of the first plans for a stored-program computer.
Turing also was a gay man during an era when homosexuality was considered a crime in the United Kingdom. Despite all his achievements and work, he was prosecuted for being a homosexual in 1952.
As an alternative to prison, Turing received treatment with female hormones. Turing died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning, just a few weeks before his 42nd birthday. His death was ruled a suicide but many believed the death was accidental.
After a robust internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordan Brown made an official public apology in 2009 on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way [Turing] was treated.” About time, I’d say.
Turing has been the subject of an excellent play called Breaking the Code. I saw a superb production of this play back in 1993 with South Florida actor and theater professor Hugh Murphy.
Now Turing’s life is set to become a movie.
The Imitation Game, scheduled for 2014, will star Benedict Cumberbatch, right, as Turing.
Cumberbatch has become well-known to audiences for, among other roles, as Sherlock Holmes in the reboot of the famous detective.
Allen Leech, best known for his role of former chauffeur Tom Branson on Downton Abbey, will play a Scottish spy for the Soviets, who plots against Turing.
Keira Knightley will play a "woman from a very conservative background who not only forms a complicated relationship with Turing but is there for him until the end," according to Variety.
The ads for the new film The Family seem to come every 10 minutes on television.
For those three people who have not seen the clips from this film that opens on Sept. 13, it stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, John D'Leo and Dianna Agron (Glee) as a mafia family living under the witness protection program in France. Tommy Lee Jones is the agent trying to keep them safe.
The clips are so detailed I feel as if I have seen the movie already.
Some readers may feel as if the story is familiar, too.
Although the film clips barely acknowledge it, The Family is based on the 2010 novel Malavita, which translates to Badfellas, by award-winning French author Tonino Benacquista. Benacquista also is a co-writer of the script; The Family is directed by Luc Besson.
According to The Family’s press release, “a mafia boss and his family are relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob. Despite the best efforts to keep them in line, Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer) and their children, Belle (Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo) cannot help but revert to old habits and blow their cover by handling their problems the "family" way, enabling their former mafia cronies to track them down.”
Malavita refers to the family’s dog that accompanies De Niro’s character everywhere. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos of the dog in the press photos.
The Family is rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality.
Photo: Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Dianna Agron, and John D'Leo; photo courtesy Relativity Media
Laurie R. King’s novels about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are renown for her vivid re-imagining of the Holmes cannon.
These novels also are intensely linked to the time and place, beginning with the couple’s first meeting in 1915 Sussex Downs. The latest novel in this series, Garment of Shadows, finds Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in Morocco.
(Here's a link to a profile Mystery Scene ran on Laurie R. King.)
King goes back in time again for her latest novel, The Bones of Paris, which has just been released.
The Bones of Paris, a follow up of sorts to her 2007 Touchstone, transports the reader back to 1929 Paris, a heady time during which Americans found a refuge in the City of Lights.
The Bones of Paris revolves around Harris Stuyvesant, a former agent with the American Bureau of Investigation turned private investigator. Harris is hired to find a missing American girl who was living in Paris.
The well-designed plot takes the reader through the streets of Paris.
“A dizzying panorama of rooftops: Tiles and tin, brick and timber, steeples and drying laundry; centuries of chimneypots and a narrow slice of stone magnificence in the distance. Children’s voices and taxi horns competed with a tram rattle from the rue de Rennes and a neighbor’s accordion, mournfully wading through a lively tune.”—The Bones of Paris
King adds texture and a solid sense of place to The Bones of Paris by injecting real people into the story.
Paris in 1929 had a thriving ex-pat community of artists and writers and King makes the most of these.
“The Dôme was the most American of the American-driven cafes on the boulevard Montparnasse. Every second shouting mouth bore a New York accent, and the rest were from Chicago or Jersey.”—The Bones of Paris
King uses such historical figures as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, artist Salvador Dali, and Surrealist photographer Man Ray.
“Why do so few Americans bother to learn the language? People like that Stein woman—you know her? She has been here for years, yet can scarcely order a cup of coffee.” —The Bones of Paris
These people, as well as a few others, are added to give the story texture and King uses them sparingly.
On Sylvia Beach, the owner of the wonderful bookstore Shakespeare & Co., King writes: “Sylvia Beach stood in the doorway of Shakespeare and Company, looking like a wind-blown city sparrow. She was talking to a poet. Stuyvesant knew he was a poet by the hair, not so much cut as pruned—but then, who in Montparnasse wasn't a poet? .”— The Bones of Paris
A terrific slide show of Paris is on King’s web site as is an interactive map that refers to scenes in the The Bones of Paris.
Art imitates art in the seventh of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels, as Showtime TV’s version calls its final “Cut!” in its eighth and last season. Everybody’s favorite serial killer may be severing his relationship with Hollywood on the small screen, but, on these pages, it’s just beginning.
BTN (Big Ticket Network) is in town to shoot—a pilot, that is, for a CSI rip-off that will be a make-or-break vehicle for aging ingénue Jackie Forrest and famous-on-the-verge-of-has-been Robert Chase. Chase’s role: to “shadow” Dexter. He tells Dexter, “I need to watch you, learn what you do, figure out how to be you.”
“But why?” Dexter shoots. back “Don’t you like who you are?”
Dexter could be asking himself the same question. As the cast does its ridealong research, it turns out Dexter’s “Dark Passenger” has a prime-time counterpart as well, who makes an entrance with the mutilation-murder of a pair of Jackie Forrest lookalikes. While the rest of the Miami PD appears star-struck (even Deborah grudgingly takes a shine to her shadow, Jackie), Dexter struggles with how to ditch Chase—who has become obsessed with his role model—while tracking his next worthy prey.
Then forensics retreats backstage as Dexter instead is tapped as the bodyguard for one of the stars. Room-service meals and Town-Car transport give the always hungry hunter a taste for the high life, whetted by his deepening relationship with his charge. As Dexter compares his grisly existence to the glitz, he seriously considers a change of scene.
Perhaps Dexter—who, like many celebrities, often refers to himself in the third person—relates more to the amoral actors than to his so-called peers. “After all, I had been acting my whole life, playing the part of a human being and a very nice guy, two things I certainly was not.” It is just this distraction that blunts his own killer instincts, leads to a third murder and all but destroys Dexter’s carefully crafted cover of “normalcy. “
As fans know, the books and the show diverged in characters and development long ago. What Lindsay’s prose brings that was not as easily transmitted even through HDTV is his protagonist’s nonstop point of view—the wit that masks his affectlessness and the longing to feel anything besides a scalpel between his fingers. This time out, with tongue still firmly in cheek, Lindsay also offers an insider’s look behind the seamy scenes of an industry that has long hidden its own bad behavior behind a beautifully coiffed public image. And Lindsay seems to have picked up a plotting clue or two from those teleplays, with an end-of-season cliffhanger that leaves viewers…er, readers breathlessly awaiting the next episode.
Who wouldn’t love reading about a morose Irish pathologist named Quirke with a taste for whiskey and an irrational distaste for rain? Our introduction to him in Holy Orders, the sixth book in the popular Quirke novel series, takes place in a storm. Soaking wet and hung over, he enters the morgue where the walls “had a permanent damp sheen, like sweat, and the air smelled of formaldehyde.” A body has been pulled out of the canal, a young red-headed fellow. When the sheet is pulled back on the bruised body Quirke realizes the corpse on his autopsy trolley is someone he knows, a friend of his daughter, Phoebe.
With that we are swept up in this beautifully written mystery that explores the lives and psyches of Quirke, the people around him, and those he suspects of murder. Author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, sets the reader down in Dublin of the 1950s when the Roman Catholic Church exerts a powerful force in day-to-day life. I enjoyed the lush language and languid pacing of this psychological mystery centered around the pursuit of the killer of Jimmy Minor, a crime reporter for the London Clarion newspaper. Carlton Sumner, the owner of the newspaper, smokes Cherotts that look like “shriveled dog turds” He is more angered by at the editor who buried the story at the bottom of page three than by Jimmy's murder. Could the crime have something to do with the last story the reporter was working on?
Quirke and Inspector Hackett of the Dublin police set out to retrace Jimmy’s last steps. Their search takes them through the Dublin streets, heavy with coal smoke and morning fog, and introduces readers to such characters as Packie the Pike with his “great long coffin-shaped face,” a tinkerer, or someone who would be known today as an Irish traveler. Black sprinkles “cant” words in the story throughout their meeting—“cant” being the secret language of the tinkers. Even as Quirke and Hackett dig deeper most people stay reticent, only hinting at disturbing behavior that no one will acknowledge. So popular is this series that the BBC has produced it for television starring Irish Actor Gabriel Byrne as Quirke. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Soho Press is taking a different approach with the publication of Colin McAdam’s third novel, A Beautiful Truth.
Most mystery readers know Soho for its imprint Soho Crime, under which it publishes wonderful international thrillers. But Soho has several imprints and while A Beautiful Truth isn’t a mystery, it sounds like a book that mystery readers might enjoy.
A Beautiful Truth prominently features chimpanzees in several different storylines, including roles in domestic settings, linguistic and medical research facilities.
“The novel is really a collection of true stories,” said McAdams in a release. “I think people are instinctively inclined to believe it is a fantasy because it involves ‘animals.’ All the behavior in the novel is based on documented chimp behavior and on behavior that I witnessed among the chimps I met.”
As a way of showing a commitment to chimpanzees, Soho Press has partnered with Save the Chimps, the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary, to help raise money and spread awareness for the Florida sanctuary. A large portion of the proceeds of book sales will go to the group.
Save the Chimps was founded by Dr. Carole Noon in 1997 and is now home to nearly 300 chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida. Its mission is to provide and build support and permanent sanctuary for the lifelong care of chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, entertainment, and the pet trade.
Many of the chimps who call Save the Chimps home were rescued from situations similar to those described in the novel.
“I did a lot of research for A Beautiful Truth, including spending time with chimpanzees in similar situations as those at Save the Chimps. It makes me happy that the story can make a real difference,” added McAdams.
The fund-raising campaign kicks off this month during booksignings and special events and will continue through next spring. In addition, proceeds to benefit Save the Chimps are for the lifetime of the Soho Press edition of McAdam’s A Beautiful Truth.
For more information, visit Save the Chimps.
More than 50 new shows premiere this Fall across cable and broadcast networks bringing viewers a slew of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here to help viewers make sense of the new lineup is Mystery Scene's picks and skips.
The Blacklist (NBC)
Premieres Monday, Sep. 23 at 10/9c
The charismatic sociopath/bad guy is nothing new to television viewing audiences, but we're banking that three-time Emmy winner James Spader, who plays the most-wanted fugitive Raymond "Red" Reddington in NBC's new FBI crime procedural, has a acting few tricks worth watching under his chocolate-brown fedora (and we don't just mean his bald head). The reasons Red, brilliant and elusive, saunters into the agency lobby, agrees to turn himself over to the FBI and lend the agency his criminal expertise to help track down the terrorists, criminals, and other most-wanteds on the FBI "blacklist," remains both unbelievable and opaque, but realism isn't exactly critical to the setup here.
In a Thomas Harris-inspired caveat straight out of The Silence of the Lambs, Red refuses to work with anyone except the inexperienced FBI profiler Elizabeth Keene, played by Megan Boone (Law & Order: LA). It remains to be seen whether the convoluted and mysterious plotline opened up at the end of the first episode will live up to its promises of intrigue, but pulled along by the nefarious charm and temper that Spader exudes, Blacklist should be worth a viewing. We're also rooting for Boone's Agent Keene to come into her own against her larger-than-life counterpart as an agent with her own kind of steel and smarts behind those big, blue eyes. Blacklist also stars Diego Klattenhoff, Harry Lennix, and Ryan Eggold.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up where creator Joss Whedon's (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) 2012 movie The Avengers leaves off. For those who aren't already in the comic book-know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, a team of exceptionally good-looking, top-secret "level 7" agents led by Marvel Avengers franchise character Agent Phil Coulson, who, despite (spoiler-alert!) getting skewered to death by Loki in The Avengers movie, is ressurected and reprised by Clark Gregg (who movie fans will recall played Agent Coulson in the Iron Man movies, Thor, and The Avengers).
Agent Coulson's team is comprised of the tall, dark drink of rebel named Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the seasoned and mysterious pro Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), and a pair of bantering lab specialists Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Hacker anarchist, Skye (Chloe Bennet) plays the outsider, still suspicious of S.H.I.E.L.D. and superpowers in general. Those who like their crime super-powered, as well as fans of Whedon's trademark mix of over-the-top action spun slightly askew by goofy humor, should tune in to to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. does "protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary."
The Tomorrow People (CW)
Premieres Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 9/8c
Some may recall Roger Damon Price's groovy 1970s British children's series about an advanced group of human teens with telepathic, telekinetic, and teleportation powers, which ran for 68 episodes from 1973-1979. Others, may remember Nickelodeon's multiculti version from the '90s, but viewers who missed the yesterday incarnations of the Tomorrow People will get their chance to witness the next generation of evolutionarily superior teens when they take on the shadowy paramilitary organization against them on the CW network this fall.
The metaphor of "breaking out" or the triggering of a person's powers as he enters adulthood, is not a subtle one, but there's a reason myths like these are recycled again and again, and it's a coming-of-age theme that lends weight to this slick production, thanks to Robbie Arnell's character, Stephen Jameson. An average teen, Stephen is literally awakened to the fact that he's not-so-normal after all when he begins teleporting in his sleep. Stephen is adopted by John Young (Luke Mitchell), Cara Coburn (Peyton List), and Russell Kwon (Aaron Yoo), who like him, are of a generation of genetically advanced humans. For this group of young people, tomorrow looks likely to hold big thrills and big moral choices. Also stars Mark Pellegrino and Madeleine Mantock.
Gang Related (FOX)
Log line: A breakout star in L.A.’s gang task force finds his crime-fighting duties complicated by his former allegiance to one of the city’s most dangerous gangs.
Cast: Ramon Rodriguez, RZA, Terry O’Quinn, Jay Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sung Kang.
Lacob: Surprisingly great. Fox hasn’t had the best track record with keeping its police dramas on the air for long (am I the only one who watched and loved The Chicago Code?), but I really enjoyed this pilot, and particularly the camaraderie between Rodriguez and RZA. O’Quinn does his usual intense, scary bit as the leader of the joint task force, and the title is so on the nose as to be amusing, but a lot does work within the pilot episode, setting up some intriguing personal and professional conflicts. One to keep an eye on.
Fallon: For all of Fox’s high-concept, genre-heavy new dramas, its most conventional one is the most fun to watch. Gang Related is a buddy cop thriller cut from the same cloth as Hawaii: Five-O, NCIS: L.A., Suits, Rizzoli & Isles, and any number of partners-in-fighting-crime cop shows on TV right now. One partner has a checkered past and a dark streak, the other is a seasoned pro, and they banter as they fight a new crime each week. The series is created and written by Chris Morgan, best known for writing Fast Five and Wanted, which explains the high-octane action sequences that are perfectly timed to break up the drama, not to mention the heavy dose of testosterone that pumps through the entire pilot.
Verdict: Initiate us.
Here are the awards presented during the Bouchercon 2013 weekend.
Congratulations to all the winners as well as to the nominees. In each category, competition was stiff.
Winners have ** in front
THE ANTHONY AWARD:
**The Beautiful Mystery – Louise Penny
Best First Novel
**The Expats – Chris Pavone
Best Paperback Original
**Big Maria – Johnny Shaw
Best Short Story
**“Mischief in Mesopotamia” – Dana Cameron, EQMM, Nov 2012
Best Critical Nonfiction Work
**Books to Die For – John Connolly and Declan Burke, eds
THE SHAMUS AWARDS
The Shamus Award is presented by the Private Eye Writers of America. The winner were announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon.
Best Hardcover P.I. Novel
**Taken by Robert Crais
Best First P.I. Novel
**Black Fridays by Michael Sears
Best Original Paperback P.I. Novel
**And She Was by Alison Gaylin
Best P.I. Short Story
**“Ghost Negligence” by John Shepphird in AHMM
Best Indie P.I. Novel
**White Heat by Paul Marks
THE MACAVITY AWARD
The Macavity Award is named for the "mystery cat" of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats). The winners are selected by the members of Mystery Readers Internationa. nominate and vote for their favorite mysteries in four categories.
Best Mystery Novel
**Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery (Minotaur)
Best First Mystery Novel
**Daniel Friedman: Don't Ever Get Old (Minotaur Books - Thomas Dunn)
Best Mystery Non-Fiction
**John Connolly and Declan Burke, editors: Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels (Simon & Schuster - Atria/Emily Bestler)
Best Mystery Short Story
**Barb Goffman: "The Lord Is My Shamus" (Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder, Wildside)
Sue Feder Historical Memorial Award
**Charles Todd: An Unmarked Grave (HarperCollins)
THE BARRY AWARD
The winners were announced during the opening ceremonies of Bouchercon 2013
Best Mystery Novel
**THE BLACK HOUSE by Peter May (Silver Oak)
Best First Mystery Novel
**A KILLING IN THE HILLS by Julia Keller (Minotaur)
Best Paperback Original
**MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY by Susan Elia McNeal (Bantam)
**THE FALLEN ANGEL by Daniel Silva (Harper
Sue Grafton on...
On Fatherly advice: "Well, I come from a family of lawyers. My father (mystery writer C.W. Grafton) was a lawyer, my stepmother was a lawyer, my uncle was a lawyer, I have two cousins who are lawyers. But my father said, "Don't ever go into the law—you will be so bored."
On one of her first jobs: "I'll tell you, you learn a lot about other people, cleaning their toilet bowls."
On honesty in writing: "Oh, Lord, that has a little ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Then, that may mean something."
On too much honesty in writing: "You know, Mama, let's just be a little discreet here."
On her protaganist: "The whole thing with Kinsey is that she's flawed and inconsistent and yet she works it out. But when they refer to her as a role model, well, that, oh my goodness, it just makes me cringe."
On finishing and starting a book: "Every time I finish a book I think 'that's it.' I am absolutely played out—nothing left to say, no place else to go. And so, when I inevitably start to write again, I have to do my research all over again, because I don't know anything. I've cancelled and deleted all that stuff, cleared it out of my brain, because I just don't have room for it. I have to start all over."
Sue Grafton is the author of the long-running Kinsey Millhone series, which began with A is for Alibi back in 1982. Since then, she has become one of the most popular and acclaimed mystery writers of the last three decades. According to Grafton's website, she has been published in 28 countries and 26 languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian, and has an international readership numbering in the millions. She will be accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from Bouchercon in Albany, New York, this month in recognition of her work.
"Everybody knows—or thinks they know—Sue Grafton," says Kevin Burton Smith, who interviewed Grafton this year for Mystery Scene's cover feature "Kinsey and Her" (Issue #128, Winter 2013). This sense of familiarity is even greater following her very close-to-the-bone Kinsey and Me, a collection of stories that are half about PI Kinsey Millhone, and half about Kit Blue, a fictionalized version of a young Grafton.
"Kinsey and Me was an invasion of privacy I did to myself," said Grafton, addressing the personal nature of her Kit Blue storeies, "A self-inflicted wound."
But the reasons so many of Grafton's readers and peers feel a warm affinity for the author is more than just the vulnerability of her writing. Congratulations to a truly accomplished, but equally warm, funny, and authentic writer.
Author Website www.suegrafton.com
Time is nearing but if you are planning a trip to Great Britain soon, consider a stop at Burgh Island Hotel located in Bigbury-on-Sea in Devon, England.
Why the rush to England?
Because a private exhibit on Agatha Christie ends on Sept. 24. Admittedly, this exhibit began in July but we just found out about it.
While it may be too late for many of us to contact our travel agents—does anyone still have a travel agent?—think about next year because the property looks amazing.
A collection of playful and theatrical collages will be on display at the Burgh Island Hotel to coincide with this year’s Agatha Christie Festival.
“Agatha Christie, a life of ladders and snakes” is a series of 10 images capturing some of the key moments in the life of the queen of crime. The pieces were originally created for the Agatha Christie Festival in September 2010, which celebrated the crime writer’s 120 years since her birth.
OK, first, I didn’t know there was an Agatha Christie Festival in Devon, but I can’t say I am surprised.
This year’s festival began on Sept. 15 and runs through Sept. 22 (see what I mean about the timing). But there will be one next year. All the details are here.
And it sounds like a lot of fun.
According to the website, “Each year, the English Riviera transforms itself into the murder mystery capital of the country, with ladies and gents in their period finery immersing themselves in tea parties, theatre, dinners on steam trains and vintage bus tours. Why? For the annual award-winning Agatha Christie Festival in honour of the Queen of Crime, who was born in Torquay in 1890.”
The collages document the ups and downs of Christie’s life. Since their creation, the collages have been exhibited at Torre Abbey, Greenway National Trust, London’s Science Museum and various art fairs throughout London.
During 2012, the collection traveled around American art fairs, including a stop in the Empire State Building for a pop-up exhibition entitled “Art at the Top.”
A new piece “Daydreaming” was added to the collection, which includes a number of suspects, victims, witnesses and murderers and is a fictional cocktail party from the 1920’s that could have inspired the author’s storytelling.
Two additional pieces, based on the novels And Then There Were None and Evil Under The Sun written while Christie was on holiday at the hotel, have been launched at the Burgh Island exhibition.
There’s always next year.
Photo: Sunworshipper from the collage collection; notice the reference to Evil Under the Sun in the lower right hand corner. photo courtesy Tracy Satchwill
By OLINE H. COGDILL
Foyle’s War: The Complete Saga. Acorn Media. Folye's War: The Complete Saga set includes all 8 seasons, over 5 hrs of bonus features, and a booklet. 28 mysteries, 46 hrs, 29 DVDs, $199.99. Series 1-6 also available as DVD 3- and 4-disc sets at $49.99 each. Series 7 with 3 episodes on 3 discs available at $49.99.
When it comes to showing the horror, the uncertainty and the anxiety of living in a country at war, few series come as close as Foyle’s War.
Through eight excellent seasons, this British program has given an in-depth look at a society under siege during World War II through what essentially is a police procedural.
Foyle’s War revolves around police detective Christopher Foyle, played to perfection by Michael Kitchen. WWII is raging across the Channel, but Foyle, at first reluctantly, is assigned to the quiet English coastal town of Hastings in the Sussex area of Great Britain.
Foyle has great moral convictions but he also is a compassionate man, knowing that people are flawed and often succumb to their foibles. War often exacerbates these failings, making people forget their own sense of morals and give in to their baser feelings.
Kitchen, a well-known British television and stage actor, gives an understated, insightful performance. Kitchen’s expressive face shows Foyle’s shrewd way of looking at a crime scene or talking to a suspect. Foyle only needs a simple glance and a keen ear for the way people speak to prove how a true detective works.
Many of the crimes that Foyle investigates are connected to the war, such as murder, espionage, black marketeering and treason. Many of these crimes occur in peace time, but the war gives them an extra urgency. Too often he comes up against high ranking military officials because the criminals and murderers have special skills needed for the “greater good,” he is told, of the war effort. He also often comes up against the wealthy upper class who believe themselves to be above the law. They are, of course, wrong.
Foyle’s War begins in 1940. While battles don’t occur near Hastings, the town’s residents know the war is too close. A father and son who have just had good news are walking across a field when bombs begin dropping. A young woman sleeping in her bed is awakened by sirens; as she struggles to get out of bed, her flat mate is killed mere inches away. .
Foyle’s War also realistically delves into the anti-Semitism and pro-Hitler sentiments that existed. Perhaps one of the most heart-breaking episodes is when an Italian-born restaurateur who is a long-time member of the community is besieged by a mob consisting of friends and neighbors.
Sexual harassment, racism and classism have, unfortunately, never gone away. Problems relevant during Foyle’s War are still relevant to 21st century audiences.
Because he doesn’t drive, Foyle relies on his driver Samantha "Sam" Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks). At first, she annoys him but soon earns his respect because of her intelligence and commitment to her job. As the series progresses, he thinks of her as a daughter.
Foyle often is assisted by Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), who was a cop before the war. Milner lost a leg in the invasion of Norway and Foyle encouraged him to return to police work. Milner’s job and handicap strain his marriage.
A widower, Foyle has a close relationship with his son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden), a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force.
Creator and scriptwriter Anthony Horowitz has been lauded for the series’ historical accuracy, allowing the events of the war to move along the plots. Still, there are times when liberties are taken with history, but these are in the minority.
The eight seasons of Foyle’s War are perfect for those of us who like to binge watch. And I have been binging on this excellent series with multiple viewings. As bonuses, the package of the six seasons includes interviews with Horowitz, Howell and Weeks, "making of" documentaries, information on historical backgrounds, a look at a real-life Foyle, among other highlights.
The three-episode seventh season of Foyle’s War is set in 1946 and the war is over. Foyle has retired from the police force. But his investigative days are not over. He is recruited by MI5, the British Intelligence Agency, to investigate spies. Sam is still around, now married to a rising young Labour politician.
The change from the rural Hastings to urban London hasn’t diminished the enthralling storytelling of Foyle’s War. There is still a war to fight. And Christopher Foyle is still on the job.
PHOTOS: Top: Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell, Michael Kitchen; center, Foyle often comes up against the military; Kitchen. photos courtesy Acorn Media
“You can’t really go forward without understanding what was behind you.”
Photo: Jenny Walters
Attica Locke quit her job in 2005, took out a second mortgage, and gave herself a year to write a novel.
“Honestly, looking back, it was one of the most idyllic times of my life. I am told I was nervous and scared, but I don’t remember it that way. I remember it as the great year that I wrote a book.”
Risky business? Absolutely. But the gamble paid off.
Locke’s first novel, Black Water Rising, published in 2009, introduced Jay Porter, a former civil rights activist turned attorney with a pregnant wife and a lot of guilt. Black Water Rising was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award for best first mystery, an NAACP Image Award, Britain’s Orange Prize for Fiction, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and made numerous “best of the year” lists.
Her latest novel, The Cutting Season, which has just hit the bookshelves, has been earning praise for its multiethnic story line that takes place on a Louisiana plantation where the body of a female migrant worker is found. The Cutting Season is the first novel chosen by Dennis Lehane for his eponymous imprint of books at HarperCollins Publishers.
For Locke, her two novels, plus the one she is currently writing, represent career contentment.
“I have a sense that I have come home,” Locke said of the writing process. “I was always heading here. This is where I am most at service to the world. This is me doing the thing I love most.”
For more than a decade, Locke wrote for big movie studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, and DreamWorks, turning out intense, character-based scripts. But her career was not the stuff of movies. Despite the good paycheck and the opportunity to write for a living, she became increasingly frustrated.
She never lacked for work as a scriptwriter, but not one of her treatments ever made it to the screen. She was, as she says, “a hired gun” for the studios.
“I am a snapshot for the industry. I made a nice living. I was always working, but none of my scripts ever got made into movies. I got very disheartened. It was like I was only writing scripts for movie executives. There was no audience beyond just going to meetings,” said Locke, whose last script was based on Stephen L. Carter’s novel The Emperor of Ocean Park.
“I wrote screenplays with great moral centers. But so many studios are focused on movies that would make a great ride at Disney or the next remake of Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s not to say that beautiful movies don’t get made, they do,” said Locke.
“I think that people who write screenplays or plays develop an appreciation for what I call the ‘white space’ on the page. I mean the figurative white space when you leave some things unsaid. I think that jazzes up the prose in a way, to leave things unsaid, and it is ingrained in me,” said Locke who was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab.
“I have been told my work is cinematic and I am not trying to be. It is just how it comes out. I would never trade the kind of training I got from being a screenwriter. The constant writing, the getting stronger when it comes to drama and dialogue,” said Locke.
“And I also appreciate getting my ass kicked. Getting all those notes [about changing the scripts], and meeting the various studio executives have made me more laidback about getting suggestions from editors. It can’t get any worse than Hollywood. But also I have a skill set of being able to understand what they mean when they want a scene change.”
Locke says she knew from the beginning that Black Water Rising would be crime fiction.
“It is just my taste. I love movie thrillers. I watch every single episode of Dateline NBC and 48 Hours Mystery. There is something about those heightened scenarios that dance around violence that are a quick way to reveal who someone is. As a woman, I see those shows and novels as cautionary tales, and a way to see what bad behavior looks like and how to avoid it. In a way, most novels are mysteries because the reader doesn’t know that much on page one and then the story gets teased out as it progresses,” said Locke.
Locke’s novels tackle themes of greed, class, and race with a strong emphasis on the past’s impact on the present.
“I am one of those people who feels you can’t really go forward without understanding what was behind you. I see it all connected. Typically, there is some old wound in your past that is interrupting your present. That’s so true of human psychology. Half the time we are reacting to stuff that is really old and not actually happening in the present. But if you don’t go back and heal old wounds, you end up with a lot of baggage that is carried into everything else, and you end up not making great choices,” said Locke. “My hope is that people are not on lockdown by their past. You recognize it, you see it for what it is, but there also can be healing and moving forward.”
Locke found fodder in her own family to flesh out Black Water Rising’s story. Locke’s parents were college activists during the 1970s, but, by the 1980s, their focus changed to raising their two daughters and building their careers.
“A tremendous cultural shift was going on in this country during the Reagan era of the 1980s,” said Locke, who is named after the 1971 prison uprising. Her sister and best friend Tembekile, who acts under the name Tembi Locke, was named by the Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba; the name means “one who is trustworthy” in Xhosa.
“The focus was more on the economic than the political. Money was the new equalizer. My parents played the game, worked hard, bought a house in the suburbs. But I always felt some part of them got left behind. They never talked about it, but I wanted to understand them better,” said Locke, who remains close with both of her parents, her stepmother and stepfather, and her two half-brothers.
But there was another aspect of her life that Locke uncovered when creating Jay Porter—her experiences as a screenwriter.
“At the beginning of the book, Jay wants to just put his head down, not get involved, and just get through it. I had arrived at that place as a screenwriter. At the beginning of Black Water Rising, Jay jumps into the river and that was a metaphor for me starting and writing the book. He can’t help who he is. He is the guy who thinks he is his brother’s keeper. I am the person who has to write the story,” said Locke, who lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, a public defender, and their six-year-old daughter.
“The time period was a way to talk about transitions,” said Locke, 38. “Black Water Rising showed a man and a country in transition. Houston of the early 1980s was emblematic of the start of that decade, the tone of the country, the blind optimism about Reagan. Houston encapsulated all that. Houston also showed that what came out of the big culture and political activism and angst of the 1950s through the 1970s was this thin shellac that we were all going to get rich.
“Of course, Houston didn’t know this big bust was coming,” said Locke, who visited Houston several times while writing Black Water Rising. “Learning about the Houston of the early 1980s also allowed me to understand what it was like for my parents, and how they transitioned out of their activism into their middle-class lives.”
It helped that her father, Gene Locke, an attorney, had worked with the port of Houston when the unions were in the process of integrating. “It was kind of osmosis for me because I had been around so much of the politics and the goings-on of Houston,” said Locke. “Why not use something you have easy access to for research?”
For The Cutting Season, Locke’s inspiration again was personal, only this time it came during a 2004 trip she and her husband made to attend a wedding held at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, about an hour or so outside New Orleans. The sugarcane plantation, with its Greek Revival mansion, 20-foot columns, and wrap-around balcony, is a national historical landmark. It has been a popular spot for movie filming, Civil War reenactments, and private weddings and other events.
Oak Alley unleashed in Locke a sense of “rage and revulsion over what the antebellum scene represented, but also a deep and unexpected feeling of love and filial longing, at an almost cellular level, as if I were coming face-to-face with a distant relative for the first time.” Her emotions were heightened when she saw the former slave quarters and paused over a plaque that listed the names of every slave who had lived there and cut sugarcane.
Locke said she knew she had to return to Oak Alley and finally made the trek in the late fall of 2009 during the sugarcane harvest, also known as “the cutting season.” She arrived at her small rental cottage on the grounds of Oak Alley late, having picked up some wine and crackers at a nearby store, and sat for hours on the screened-in porch, watching and listening. Sometime during that night, she says, she came up with The Cutting Season’s opening scenes, the fictitious Belle Vie Plantation, and the character of Caren Gray, the plantation’s general manager and caretaker who is African American.
The Cutting Season delves deep into the issues of race and class while delivering a tense and emotional thriller. At Belle Vie, the fields are now being farmed by Hispanic workers while African Americans are running the plantation. As the story progresses, class and economics again prove to be the main dividing line among Locke’s characters.
“There is no way you could set anything on a plantation and not have race [issues] in it. But a lot of Caren’s story is about class and class ascension. If everyone doesn’t ascend with you, is it that much fun to make it into the big house?
“Certain experiences cut across time. For black people, people of color, and women, our economic ascent is complicated because it comes with a lot of other baggage. I don’t know how you celebrate black people’s progress if you just moved in another brown group. Playing a racial shell game, so to speak, doesn’t actually feel that great,” said Locke.
The Cutting Season also launches a new HarperCollins imprint under Dennis Lehane, an author she admires.
“His work has such a moral center to it. That’s my kind of thing,” said Locke, whose excitement is evident. “It’s not just a ride down dark alleys; [it] has a soul underneath it. He wants to share some of his spotlight, and I think that is very gracious.”
Locke had not planned to do a series when she began to write novels. For her, the idea of a sequel just didn’t work, believing that “a book should be the biggest thing that happens in a character’s life.” Then she read Scott Turow’s Innocent, which gave her inspiration. “He took [the character] Rusty Sabich and turned the plot into a psychological revelation because some people do repeat their bad behavior. Rusty is in his sixties in Innocent, and he is still wrestling with stuff that has been going on for 30 years. Turow took what could be the limitations of a sequel and turned it into a psychological reveal.”
So her third novel, which she is currently writing, returns to Jay Porter and Houston, but moves the characters forward to the Clinton years.
“Someone asked me, ‘What would Jay think of Houston now?’ And that got me to thinking. The city has changed and the characters also have changed with the times,” said Locke, whose father ran for the mayor of Houston in 2009, losing to Annise D. Parker, who still holds the office.
Working in her writing around the book tour for The Cutting Season and around her daughter’s schedule, are Locke’s new challenges, which she welcomes.
“The books are a tangible legacy that the scripts were not,” she said.
There is one moment as a novelist that Locke is looking forward to: “I can’t wait to see both my books side by side on my shelf. Then three books, and then four, then five. I just want a chance to keep doing this over and over again. If I can look back on my life with a stack of books, I will think I really did something.”
AN ATTICA LOCKE READING LIST
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #126.
A good sense of humor, strong empathy for victims, and some righteous country music keep the ever-evolving Inspector Tom Thorne at the top of his game. .
by Oline Cogdill
Boileau-Narcejac: The Ellery Queen of France
Little known outside France today, this wildly successful duo inspired two classic films, Les Diaboliques and Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
by Michael Mallory
Triple Threat: Ingrid Thoft, Sara Gran & Lisa Brackmann
The future of the private-eye novel looks bright with terrific new writers like these.
by Kevin Burton Smith
Hidden Gems: 5 Writers You Should Be Reading
You may not know their names—but you should.
by Tom Nolan
Margaret Maron: Tales from the Tar Heel State
Her Deborah Knott novels revitalized the regional mystery—and continue to enchant.
by Art Taylor
Why Elmore Leonard Matters
His influence as a great American stylist extended far beyond the boundaries of crime writing.
by Laura Miller
Gun Crazy, What Doesn’t Kill Her by Max Allan Collins, Shell Scott, Stephen Marlowe, Charlie Stella
by Ed Gorman
First Lines That Caught Our Attention
“Wolfe Pack” Crossword
by Verna Suit
by Kate Stine
by Louis Phillips
Hints & Allegations
Thriller and Ned Kelly Awards, Harper Lee Prize, CWA Daggers
The Ambitious Card
by John Gaspard
by Reece Hirsch
Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents
by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee
Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed
by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner
What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed
by Jon L. Breen
Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed
by Dick Lochte
Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered
by Bill Crider
Mystery Scene Reviews
Our Readers Recommend
No vacation is complete without a little bookstore browsing (and, inevitably, buying). Brian and I visited possibly the cutest mystery bookshop ever on a recent trip to Maine. Snuggled behind Paula Keeney and Ann Whetstone’s 1790s federal-style home in downtown Kennebunk, Mainely Murders is housed in a converted carriage house. Paula and Ann are exceedingly knowledgeable and enthusiastic booksellers; be sure to stop by if you get a chance.
Mark Billingham is already one of the big guns of crime fiction in the UK, and his Tom Thorne novels are increasingly popular here. In this issue, Oline Cogdill has a revealing conversation with the former comedian and actor in which he describes his own terrifying experience as a crime victim. Michael Mallory discusses French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, or Boileau-Narcejac as they were known. Alfred Hitchcock was a big fan, and he based the classic film Vertigo on their novel D’entre les morts. There isn’t much critical writing in English about this interesting duo; I learned something and so will you.
Tom Nolan would like to bring to your attention five terrific writers who aren’t getting their proper due. We would love to hear from you about other writers that deserve a wider following. Write to us at and help spread the word!
The future of the private-eye novel is bright, according to Kevin Burton Smith. He offers three outstanding new writers—Sara Gran, Ingrid Thoft, and Laura Brack- mann—as proof. Case made!
Whether or not you’ve read her marvelously evocative Judge Deborah Knott novels set in North Carolina—and, if not, by all means do!—Margaret Maron has improved your reading life. She was one of the guiding forces behind Sisters in Crime, an organization that strives to, as she puts it, “make things better for our sister writers and strengthen the field for our sister readers.” (And I can attest that SinC also helped make things better for sister editors in the publishing industry.) She’s one of my personal heroes, and Art Taylor, a fellow North Carolinian, offers a tribute to her work in this issue.
Sadly, Barbara Mertz, another of my personal heroes, passed away on August 8. I started reading Barbara’s books—under her Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters pseudonyms—at the age of 13, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here at Mystery Scene today without them.
Other sad losses this summer include Leighton Gage, author of the excellent Chief Inspector Mario Silva novels, and Vince Flynn, author of propulsive political thrillers. And, as has been widely reported, Elmore Leonard died on August 20. Laura Miller offers her assessment of Leonard’s influence on the general culture at large in this issue.
Mainely Murders Bookstore, 1 Bourne Street, Kennebunk, Maine 04043. Tel: 207-985-8706 Proprietors Ann Whetstone and Paula Keeney bring lifelong passions for mysteries to their business, which opened in 2011. On August 30, the longtime couple were married outside their shop. Congratulations!
When Ben H. Winters won a 2013 Edgar for The Last Policeman, it came as no surprise to me. The book was brilliant. Now Detective Hank Palace is back in Countdown City. The Earth is still doomed (we learned in The Last Policeman that a large asteroid will obliterate it in 77 days), but unlike most of the world’s populace, Palace isn’t working his way through a bucket list or planning his suicide: he’s solving crimes. He’s on his own, though. Policemen are human, and the cop shop where he used to work is pretty much deserted. Still, when a distraught woman begs the now-unemployed Palace to find her missing husband, a former state trooper, Palace sets off on what even he admits is probably a hopeless quest. Along the way, he reconnects with his disturbed sister Nico, a member of a mysterious cult that believes the coming apocalypse could be avoided, but that for some reason, the government is keeping that information from the public. In the meantime, goods and services are collapsing, so Palace and his dog Houdini must bicycle their way through black markets and rioting mobs, looking for the missing trooper. One of the major lures of the Palace novels (a third is planned) is the ex-policeman’s determined decency amidst all the ugliness he encounters. Not only does he continue to do his job—without a paycheck—he takes time out to comfort the sick and care for orphans. Palace isn’t an Everyman; he’s an exceptional man, a man who, whatever the odds, gets the job done even as the world falls apart. This is why, regardless of the dire situation the Earth finds itself in, the Palace trilogy is an uplifting read. These books aren’t really about the End of the World: they’re about the indestructible human spirit.
Revolution is central to Libby Fischer Hellmann’s Havana Lost. Filled with rousing sociopolitical themes illustrated by the failing fortunes of one particular family, this many-layered adventure begins with a simple love story: Luis Perez loves Francesca Pacelli. However, the year is 1958, the place is Havana, Cuba, and Fidel Castro’s forces are preparing for the final assault against Juan Batista, the mafia-friendly (and US-backed) dictator. Since Luis is one of Castro’s revolutionaries, and Francesca is the daughter of a mafia-connected hotel owner, their relationship appears doomed. Several tortures, murders, and one kidnapping later, the novel jumps to 1989, when Luis is fighting in the Southern African country of Angola, while Francesca—now living in Chicago and unhappily married to one of her father’s mob goons—has given birth to Luis’ son. There are enough romantic entanglements in Havana Lost to provide plots for a dozen daytime television dramas, but as with all Hellmann’s novels, Havana Lost is lifted above the usual Romeo-and-Juliet tearjerker by its sweeping overview of modern history. Hellmann has a deft hand at this kind of writing. In the acclaimed A Bitter Veil she tackled the Iranian Revolution; in Set the Night on Fire, she documented our own turbulent ’60s and ’70s. In Havana Lost, as in her previous works, she reveals both sides of an era’s political upheaval, allowing us to make up our own minds as to who was villain and who was victim. This is smart writing, done in accomplished style by an author who never talks down to her readers, and not only delivers an engrossing read, but gives us an insightful history lesson, too.
Sandrone Dazieri’s In a Heartbeat takes a popular suspense subgenre and turns it on its head: a man wakes up and can’t remember who he is. Almost always, these amnesia-driven novels feature a likable protagonist who struggles valiantly against murder charges, while at the same time, repairing the damage memory loss has done to his personal relationships. Nice, but that’s not what happens here. Santo Trafficante, our amnesiac, is not valiant. He’s not even decent. He’s a low-life drug dealer in Milan, Italy, and when he wakes up in a toilet, his first thought is to get even with the equally sleazy business associate who cheated him in a drug deal. But soon Santo discovers that he’s woken up a full 14 years after that ill-fated drug deal. The good news is that he’s now a highly successful advertising executive; the bad news is that he’s fat. And he’s still a sleaze. As he tries to bluff his way through his cushy new life, his bad habits (wine, women, song, drugs, larceny, etc.) come back to haunt him. Yet the villainous Santo remains strangely compelling. He may be accused of murdering his boss at the ad agency—he can’t remember if he did or not—and he might have packed on a few pounds during those missing 14 years, but his upper-crust fiancée remains fiercely loyal, as do several other women in his lusty life. The reader can’t help but root for this charming rascal, too. In this humorous, ever-surprising read, we become his willing partners-in-crime as we follow him down Milan’s mean streets and into his ad agency’s flashy boardroom. No matter what crimes he commits in either place, Santo remains our main man.
If ancient Roman history is your thing, check out Albert A. Bell, Jr.’s Death in the Ashes. This fourth installment of Pliny the Younger’s murder investigations takes place within living memory of the volcanic eruption that buried so many Pompeians alive. Pliny, a teen at the time, miraculously escaped death there, but now the adult Pliny—a Roman citizen—finds he has to return to the volcano-ravaged area in order to solve the murder of Amalthea, a freewoman who worked for a friend of his mother. The novel begins in Rome, however, where author Bell treats us to the sights, sounds, and odorous smells of a city that wasn’t quite as glamorous as its reputation. Bell also excels when he shifts the action to the ruins of Pompeii to show us survivors still occupied in digging their homes out of the ashes. Mount Vesuvius is still smoking, the ground still trembles, and the former Pompeii residents are still traumatized. We’re used to thinking of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a modern affliction, but this book informs us that the ancients probably suffered from it, too. All this adds even more angst to the action as Pliny risks his own death while chasing down Amalthea’s killer. Pliny is an engaging, if conflicted, protagonist. According to the custom of the time, his domineering mother has arranged his marriage to Livia, the daughter of a powerful family. Unfortunately, Pliny loves Aurora, a slave, and marriage between a noble and a slave is unthinkable. These good-versus-evil, love-versus-duty plot points make Death in the Ashes an unusually engaging mystery.
If you love the high-society shenanigans created by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote, you’ll laugh your ascot off at Linda Stewart’s The Great Catsby, a Sam the Cat Mystery. This tongue-in-cheek snicker-a-thon follows Sam, the acclaimed feline detective, as he weaves his way through East Hampton mansions on the trail of a missing, probably murdered, novelist. Yes, cats talk in this book, and to add insult to possible injury, the catty carpers refer to their humans as “roommates.” But since the felines’ comments tend to be deliciously snarky double entendres, even talking-cat-phobic readers will find themselves howling with glee when they meet up with this furry cast of characters. You know you’re in for it when the opening sentence reads, “The first time I saw Catsby he was sitting atop a diving board and staring across a swimming pool at a lantern hung from a tree,” and the lantern just happens to be green. Sound familiar?
The missing writer is Rex Trout (a human), whose tell-all novel based on the real-life antics of the super-rich, is five years overdue. Yes, Trout is a dead ringer for Capote, who infamously accepted a huge advance for his own tell-all book, but never delivered the goods. We also meet a mysterious grinning cat who lives in a tree, reminding us of…well, you know who. Talking cats aside, the really odd thing about this sly, smart mystery is that it’s advertised as a children’s book, “recommended for ages nine and up.” Sure, I can see the kiddies enjoying conversations between talking cats, but for the life of me, I can’t see them snickering over all those meanly funny literary allusions. But grown-ups can—and will.
It’s autumn 1941 in Andrew Rosenheim’s The Little Tokyo Informant, and the United States is experiencing an uneasy peace just weeks before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor wakes the proverbial sleeping giant. Jimmy Nessheim, an FBI Special Agent of German-American heritage, is less than thrilled with his current assignment as an advisor on pro-FBI movies at a small movie studio in Los Angeles. He receives a cryptic message from his Japanese contact, Billy Osaka, saying he urgently needs to see him, but when Nessheim arrives at the meeting spot, Osaka doesn’t show. Then, FBI Assistant Director Harry Guttman calls from Washington, DC. In a clandestine meeting he’s learned the Russians are infiltrating the top levels of the US government and that $50,000 has been wired from Russian intelligence to a Japanese bank in Los Angeles. As various threads intersect, it becomes imperative that Nessheim find Osaka. The trail leads to Little Tokyo with its multitude of restaurants, fetid alleys, dark doorways, mob-run poker games, swinging parties with dangerous women, and eventually to a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, and finally to Pearl Harbor just hours before the bombing.
This is Rosenheim’s seventh novel and the second in a series of historical thrillers (the first, Fear Itself, won uniformly good reviews). Rosenheim shows his keen eye for historical detail as he seamlessly incorporates historical figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s protégé and companion. His main characters are sharply defined and exhibit the mannerisms and language of the early 1940s. Several unnecessary minor characters clutter up an otherwise tightly woven plot, but that doesn’t distract from this raw and gritty look at America on the cusp of war. Jimmy Nessheim and Harry Guttman are sure to be back for many adventures to come.
Twenty-five-year-old Christian Roberts is tall, blond, and beach-bum handsome in Susan Klaus’ Secretariat Reborn. Life is good. He owns a boat rental company, lives on a sloop, and his girlfriend Kate is the foxiest woman in Sarasota, Florida. When Christian receives word that his estranged father, a thoroughbred racehorse trainer, is dying of cancer, he travels to see him for the last time. Dad has a surprise for him. He wants to give him a thoroughbred colt that he says will turn the racing world upside down. But there’s a tiny, little problem: the colt is a clone of champion racehorse Secretariat. Because cloning is illegal, he would not be allowed to race, but Dad has resolved that by fraudulently registering him. And there’s a second problem. Dad still owes the cloner $250,000, which must be paid before possession can pass to Christian. After exhausting all other avenues, Christian takes out a loan from Vince Florio, a New York mobster, whom he must repay in two years at 100-percent interest. When a sheik wants to buy the animal, which would allow Christian to repay Vince, he refuses. He promised his father he would race the colt, damn the illegalities. To add to Christian’s woes, perfect girlfriend Kate is not so perfect. When Christian breaks up with her, she begins stalking him—think life-threatening obsession. He’s now in double jeopardy from Vince and Kate, as is his new girlfriend, horse trainer Allie, his parents, and grandparents.
Author Susan Klaus has bred and raced thoroughbreds and is intimately familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the racing world. She’s crafted her debut thriller, which could more accurately be called a romantic suspense novel, after having written several fantasy novels. Although it’s heavy on horse racing lore and lingo, the premise and plotline will appeal to most readers, racing aficionados or not. Setting is one of Klaus’ strengths and the smells and sounds of the racetrack and the rural life of Florida come through loud and clear. Some of Christian’s problems are resolved a little too easily, but this a thoroughly enjoyable beginning to what could become a series. A sequel, Shark Fin Soup, is in the works.
Pappy and Black are products of the Brooklyn streets who, along with their friends, make a living doing stickups. But Pappy wants out. He dreams of Detroit and college and working with computers. In H.N.I.C. (street slang for head n**** in charge) by Albert “Prodigy” Johnson with Steven Savile, Black, the head of the crew, talks him into just one more job—a bank heist. All they have to do, Black tells the crew, is crash through the door yelling and screaming. This will scare everyone so badly they’ll throw the money at them. But things don’t go as planned. Black, who is in it for the thrills, fires a shot into the ceiling. A guard decides to be a hero and grabs Black around the neck, ripping off his mask. Furious, Black puts three shots into the misguided man. The would-be robbers run for the door. Their take is zilch, not one red cent. Pappy has had it. A bus leaves for Detroit at 7:00 the next morning. He plans to be on it. But Black, whom Pappy is a little afraid of and doesn’t trust, lifelong friend or not, has other plans. He tells Pappy he can’t leave until he tells him he can. He owes him. And he has just one more job that will make them all rich. When it’s over, Pappy realizes there is no such thing as loyalty on the streets, and he knows what he must do to even the score.
Prodigy, who wrote this gritty, mesmerizing novella (123 pages), is one half of the multiplatinum, critically acclaimed East Coast hip-hop group, Mobb Deep. The language is raw, the violence real. But through it all runs the universal themes of love, friendship, greed, and betrayal. This is the initial street lit offering of Akashic Books’ Infamous imprint, overseen by Prodigy and his manager Marvis Johnson, which will bring stories of the streets with their stark realism to the forefront. Well worth the read.
Is there a cozy lover among us who could resist a new series boasting the label "A Food Lover’s Village Mystery"? Read on if you would like to indulge in a healthy helping of Death Al Dente, Leslie Budewitz’ scrumptious new series opener introducing Erin Murphy, the newly minted manager of the family busy, a gourmet food shop in Jewel Bay, Montana. Murphy’s Mercantile—popularly known as “the Merc”—is undergoing a facelift of sorts, as Erin showcases products made in Montana, thereby providing a niche for the shop in Jewel Bay, designated “A Food Lovers’ Village.” In order to unify and promote the town, Erin decides to organize Festival di Pasta, featuring local culinary delights, including classic pasta specialties prepared by Erin’s mother, Fresca. Alas, the festival turns grim when the body of Fresca’s former employee, Claudette, turns up in a nearby alley. Since Claudette left her job without giving notice in order to run off to Vegas with another woman’s husband, suspicion falls upon Fresca. To complicate matters further, Claudette had allegedly been accusing Fresca of stealing recipes from her, a rumor that, if substantiated, would have destroyed Erin’s business. So, what’s a dutiful daughter to do? Why, investigate, of course! During the course of her sleuthing, Erin suspects the philandering husband and/or his wronged wife, discovering at last that the murderer is—but I can’t ruin the suspense. Instead, I encourage you to savor this new culinary mystery that offers a unique taste of Montana. Author Budewitz has created an engaging character, a charming town, and a whole new perspective on the state.
A new culinary mystery on the menu is Paige Shelton’s If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion, her third Country Cooking School Mystery. The series focuses upon Betts (short for Isabelle) Winston and her grandmother, Miz (for “Missouri”), proprietors of—yes, you guessed it—a cooking school situated in small-town Missouri. This is no run-of-the-mill cooking school, however. It is nationally renowned, which enables Betts and her grandmother Miz to be highly selective in admitting but a handful of candidates to participate in the exclusive yearlong program. Imagine their surprise, then, when Freddie O’Bannon, the first student of the year to arrive, is not one of the admitted candidates listed on their roster. Betts and Miz are perplexed and suspicious, and Freddie’s story doesn’t ring true, but this problem pales when the body of another student is discovered on the second day of class. Who could possibly have targeted the genial and talented student? After all, the semester had just begun, and there was insufficient time for animosity to have developed among the students, all apparently strangers to one another. Fans of the series will undoubtedly anticipate the other major plot thread that will ultimately tie things together, but for series newcomers, let me clue you in to the fact that Betts and Miz have talents well beyond their famed culinary skills. In fact, they see dead people—so the paranormal features prominently here, as well. A ghost from Gram’s past appears, beseeching our heroines to rectify the cover-up of his family members’ deaths in a brutal factory fire years ago. Unfortunately, a wrathful ghost also appears, threatening Betts and Miz, as they investigate crimes of yore. Lovers of the supernatural will be intrigued by the ghosts that populate the book, while lovers of symmetry will be relieved to know that all of the plot strands cleverly connect in the end. It’s a wonder that our protagonists have time to cook amidst their otherworldly adventures, but the recipes included in the book attest to the appeal of country cooking, Missouri-style.