Joseph Finder’s Paranoia on Screen
Oline Cogdill


paranoiamovie_finder
Judging from the previews, the upcoming movie Paranoia, scheduled to open on Aug. 16, looks to be a winner.

Of course, the real proof will be in the film itself; too often interesting previews don’t translate into a good movie.

But I have hope. You can judge for yourself: Here is a link to the preview.

The film is based on Joseph Finder’s fifth novel, which revolved around industrial espionage and high-tech companies.

In a review, I called Finder’s 2004 novel “an exciting, breathless thriller that doesn’t slow down until the author has nailed that last, surprising twist.”

paranoia_finderjoe
The film will star Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as Adam Cassidy, a 26-year-old underachiever whose greatest talent seems to be “winning over” people.

Finder turned Adam into a bona fide hero for whom you’ll find yourself not only cheering, but willing to spend more time in his world. Adam is forced by his corrupt boss, Nick Wyatt, to spy on Trion, owned by the man’s former mentor, to secure a multi-billion dollar advantage.

In his novel, Finder kept the energy high and the situations plausible.

In my review, I said “James Bond’s adventures almost pale next to the industrial espionage that permeates the halls of Wyatt and Trion and the executive with a ‘black belt in corporate politics.’ The author creates a balance between the ‘high-testosterone shop’ at Wyatt and the seemingly calmer atmosphere at Trion. But Finder doesn’t let the reader relax – just as much deception exists at Trion. And the threat of violence against Adam, his father and his oldest friend is quite real. Just when Paranoia seems to be on a predictable path, Finder pulls a twist that is the perfect capper. . . Finder . . . knows how to [deliver] a superior contemporary thriller that will resonate with anyone who has seen corporate politics at its worse.”

Gary Oldman will star as Nicholas Wyatt and his rival, Jock Goddard, will be played by Harrison Ford. Richard Dreyfuss plays Adam’s father.

paranoiamovie2_finder
As yet, Finder hasn’t seen the movie, only the trailer, “which looks great—but I’m optimistic,” he said.

“The casting is terrific—Harrison Ford is perfect for Jock Goddard, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest actors alive, and Liam Hemsworth is going to be a real star. I've seen Liam shoot several scenes, and he really has the chops to carry the lead,” added Finder in an email to me.

Paranoia isn’t the first novel by Finder to make it to the screen. His novel High Crimes was the basis for the Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd movie.

And if the film doesn’t live up to its potential? Finder isn’t worried. “James M. Cain was asked how he felt about what Hollywood "did" to one of his books—The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, I forget. And he replied, ‘They haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it.’ That's pretty much how I feel. If the movie's good, it's like a terrific billboard for the book, and if it's not so good, the book's always there. Either way I'm happy,” Finder added.

But don’t expect to see Finder onscreen along the lines of Lee Child’s cameo in Jack Reacher. “No cameo in this one. The producers didn't invite offer me one this time, unfortunately,” Finder said.

Photos: Top, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford in Paranoia. Bottom, Liam Hemsworth
Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 04 August 2013 06:08


paranoiamovie_finder
Judging from the previews, the upcoming movie Paranoia, scheduled to open on Aug. 16, looks to be a winner.

Of course, the real proof will be in the film itself; too often interesting previews don’t translate into a good movie.

But I have hope. You can judge for yourself: Here is a link to the preview.

The film is based on Joseph Finder’s fifth novel, which revolved around industrial espionage and high-tech companies.

In a review, I called Finder’s 2004 novel “an exciting, breathless thriller that doesn’t slow down until the author has nailed that last, surprising twist.”

paranoia_finderjoe
The film will star Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as Adam Cassidy, a 26-year-old underachiever whose greatest talent seems to be “winning over” people.

Finder turned Adam into a bona fide hero for whom you’ll find yourself not only cheering, but willing to spend more time in his world. Adam is forced by his corrupt boss, Nick Wyatt, to spy on Trion, owned by the man’s former mentor, to secure a multi-billion dollar advantage.

In his novel, Finder kept the energy high and the situations plausible.

In my review, I said “James Bond’s adventures almost pale next to the industrial espionage that permeates the halls of Wyatt and Trion and the executive with a ‘black belt in corporate politics.’ The author creates a balance between the ‘high-testosterone shop’ at Wyatt and the seemingly calmer atmosphere at Trion. But Finder doesn’t let the reader relax – just as much deception exists at Trion. And the threat of violence against Adam, his father and his oldest friend is quite real. Just when Paranoia seems to be on a predictable path, Finder pulls a twist that is the perfect capper. . . Finder . . . knows how to [deliver] a superior contemporary thriller that will resonate with anyone who has seen corporate politics at its worse.”

Gary Oldman will star as Nicholas Wyatt and his rival, Jock Goddard, will be played by Harrison Ford. Richard Dreyfuss plays Adam’s father.

paranoiamovie2_finder
As yet, Finder hasn’t seen the movie, only the trailer, “which looks great—but I’m optimistic,” he said.

“The casting is terrific—Harrison Ford is perfect for Jock Goddard, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest actors alive, and Liam Hemsworth is going to be a real star. I've seen Liam shoot several scenes, and he really has the chops to carry the lead,” added Finder in an email to me.

Paranoia isn’t the first novel by Finder to make it to the screen. His novel High Crimes was the basis for the Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd movie.

And if the film doesn’t live up to its potential? Finder isn’t worried. “James M. Cain was asked how he felt about what Hollywood "did" to one of his books—The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, I forget. And he replied, ‘They haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it.’ That's pretty much how I feel. If the movie's good, it's like a terrific billboard for the book, and if it's not so good, the book's always there. Either way I'm happy,” Finder added.

But don’t expect to see Finder onscreen along the lines of Lee Child’s cameo in Jack Reacher. “No cameo in this one. The producers didn't invite offer me one this time, unfortunately,” Finder said.

Photos: Top, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford in Paranoia. Bottom, Liam Hemsworth
Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Maigret With Michael Gambon
Oline Cogdill

Maigret3_michaelgambon
Maigret: Complete Collection. Acorn Media. 12 episodes, 4 discs, 645 minutes. DVD, $59.99


The old-style detective never goes out of style.

Contemporary detectives may have an arsenal of gadgets, electronics and social media at their disposal, but their methods, in the end, are the same.

Cell phones batteries run down; iPads are bulky to carry and everyone lies on social media.

But good old instincts, interrogations and face-to-face investigations still work.

Take Maigret, for example.

Maigret_2michaelgambon
The French detective Jules Maigret appeared in 75 novels and 28 short stories written by Belgium author Georges Simenon. The Maigret oeuvre was published between 1931 and 1972 and the plots and characters are as much in style today as they were when they first came out.

The novels remain popular and Penguin Books has been reprinting these classics since 2006.

And there is the highly entertaining Maigret series starring Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Singing Detective) as the commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.”

Maigret: Complete Collection with Gambon has now been released on DVD by Acorn Media.

The new boxed set features the 12 episodes that were shown on PBS in 1992 as well as an eight-page booklet with essays about Simenon, the character Maigret and the series.

Gambon gives a subtle yet forceful performance as the pipe-smoking detective whose eye for details never fails him.

In many ways, Gambon gives the same type of performance he did as Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels. Both Maigret and Dumbledore are wise, patient, intelligent and given to wearing a uniform; in Maigret’s case it’s his fedora while Dumbledore has his robes.

Maigret4_sim
A hallmark of the Maigret collection is the variety of the type of cases that the detective investigates.

In “The Patience of Maigret,” the detective investigates the murder of a suspect the detective has tried for seven years to prove was the head of a prolific jewelry theft ring.

Why did the murdered wife of a wealthy American have a gun in her purse in “Maigret and the Hotel Majestic”?

A burglar claims he saw a dead woman when he broke into a doctor’s home in “Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife;” but where is she?

You’ll also spot appearances throughout the collection.

For example, “Maigret and the Night Club Dancer” is quite star-studded with Brenda Blethyn (DCI Vera Stanhope in Vera, also released by Acorn, Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, The Phantom of the Opera), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, 30 Rock, The Queen).

The Maigret episodes are beautifully filmed with a breathtaking view of Paris. The opening credits in black and white are an almost sentimental look at Paris in much the same way that Woody Allen views New York City in Manhattan.

Photos: Michael Gambon as the pipe-smoking Maigret, center, contemplates a case. Minnie Driver has a cameo in one episode. Photos courtsey Acorn Media

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 05:07

Maigret3_michaelgambon
Maigret: Complete Collection. Acorn Media. 12 episodes, 4 discs, 645 minutes. DVD, $59.99


The old-style detective never goes out of style.

Contemporary detectives may have an arsenal of gadgets, electronics and social media at their disposal, but their methods, in the end, are the same.

Cell phones batteries run down; iPads are bulky to carry and everyone lies on social media.

But good old instincts, interrogations and face-to-face investigations still work.

Take Maigret, for example.

Maigret_2michaelgambon
The French detective Jules Maigret appeared in 75 novels and 28 short stories written by Belgium author Georges Simenon. The Maigret oeuvre was published between 1931 and 1972 and the plots and characters are as much in style today as they were when they first came out.

The novels remain popular and Penguin Books has been reprinting these classics since 2006.

And there is the highly entertaining Maigret series starring Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Singing Detective) as the commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.”

Maigret: Complete Collection with Gambon has now been released on DVD by Acorn Media.

The new boxed set features the 12 episodes that were shown on PBS in 1992 as well as an eight-page booklet with essays about Simenon, the character Maigret and the series.

Gambon gives a subtle yet forceful performance as the pipe-smoking detective whose eye for details never fails him.

In many ways, Gambon gives the same type of performance he did as Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels. Both Maigret and Dumbledore are wise, patient, intelligent and given to wearing a uniform; in Maigret’s case it’s his fedora while Dumbledore has his robes.

Maigret4_sim
A hallmark of the Maigret collection is the variety of the type of cases that the detective investigates.

In “The Patience of Maigret,” the detective investigates the murder of a suspect the detective has tried for seven years to prove was the head of a prolific jewelry theft ring.

Why did the murdered wife of a wealthy American have a gun in her purse in “Maigret and the Hotel Majestic”?

A burglar claims he saw a dead woman when he broke into a doctor’s home in “Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife;” but where is she?

You’ll also spot appearances throughout the collection.

For example, “Maigret and the Night Club Dancer” is quite star-studded with Brenda Blethyn (DCI Vera Stanhope in Vera, also released by Acorn, Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, The Phantom of the Opera), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, 30 Rock, The Queen).

The Maigret episodes are beautifully filmed with a breathtaking view of Paris. The opening credits in black and white are an almost sentimental look at Paris in much the same way that Woody Allen views New York City in Manhattan.

Photos: Michael Gambon as the pipe-smoking Maigret, center, contemplates a case. Minnie Driver has a cameo in one episode. Photos courtsey Acorn Media

Sharon Gless on Burn Notice
Oline Cogdill

burnnotice6_cast
For the past seven years, Burn Notice has delivered an atypical spy series, mixing wide swaths of humor with a serious plot and a breathtaking view of South Florida.

The USA Network series, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, has followed the attempts of spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) to find how why he was fired—or got his “burn notice”—and how to get back into the espionage business after being dumped in his hometown of Miami.

Until he is back in the spy game, Michael works as an off-the-books private investigator, helping those private citizens in need.

He has been aid by on again/off again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and retired spy Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). In the fourth season, former counter-intelligence agent Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the group.

Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Jesse have supplied the action, the adventure and the romance of Burn Notice.

burnnotice5_2013
But the heart of Burn Notice has always been driven by Michael’s mother, Madeline Westen, played subtly and forcefully by Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk).

Gless’ character was originally described as “a Miami mom,” but the actress has done so much more with this character.

While the others have the showy roles with explosions, guns and chases, Madeline has been the one at home. And that home has acted as a refuge for Michael, more than he has wanted to admit. It’s been a safe house for clients, for ex-spies and been invaded by criminals and federal agents.

Madeline knows Michael better than anyone, and especially understands why he became the man he is. In the early seasons, she was not above manipulating him to help a neighbor being blackmailed, an ex-con who wants to start a new life, businesses being terrorized.

burnnotice8_gless
During the series, bits about Michael’s childhood have come out. Madeline’s husband didn’t turn out to be the good man she thought he was. He was a terrible father prone to verbal and physical abuse.

Yet Madeline revealed through snippets that she felt it was better for the family to stay with her husband than to leave him.

Now in its last season, Burn Notice has taken a darker tone as Michael’s deal with the devil to protect his friends and family and get his job back has, in the process, left him sinking in the mire.

Although she is back home in Miami, Madeline again relies on the inner strength that has gotten her through life. Madeline is trying to get full custody of her toddler grandson since his father—her other son—was killed and his mother is in rehab. Madeline also has joined forces with Fiona on some of the cases.

Gless has long been a personal favorite, bringing the nuances to Madeline has she has to all her roles.

Take Cagney & Lacey, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1988 and garnered many Emmys for the series and the two leads.

cagneylacey_dvd30th
Gless as Sgt. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey were pioneers in crime drama. This was the first drama to feature two strong women with full careers and private lives. Lacey was married with children while Cagney was single. They were police partners as well as friends who really cared about each other.

Both women brought a sense of realism to their roles. They were good at their jobs, but also made mistakes.

As much as I liked Lacey, it was Cagney who caught my attention each week. Cagney wasn’t perfect, and that made her all the more believable. She was an alcoholic who, through the series, finally came to terms with it. She had father issues and trouble with relationships. She was also intelligent, loyal and witty. And Gless quickly became one of my favorite actresses.

A special 30th anniversary Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series recently was released. There also is Cagney & Lacey ... and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde by the Emmy Award-winning producer Barney Rosenzweig, who also is Gless’ husband. Gless has said in many interviews that she has not read it. (I have, though, and I recommend it.)

burnnotice7_gless
A couple of years ago, Gless was in Coral Gables doing the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage. The play is Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Gless then took the play to London for a successful run.

Following a rehearsal, my husband and I interviewed Gless; he as a theater critic for his website Florida Theater on Stage and I for Mystery Scene. (His interview is here and his review is here.)

In person, Gless is as charming, witty and personable as she presents herself on screen.

I wanted to hold the conversation for the last season of Burn Notice, which has come way too soon.

Q: What first drew you to Burn Notice?
A:
They offered it to me. [She laughs] No, actually, I was at a fat farm in California and I did not want to leave. And the script was sent to me by my agent, and I read it, and I was alone, and I was laughing out loud. You know how unusual it is to laugh at something out loud when you’re by yourself? I was especially attracted to the narration. I thought it was so funny because everything he [Michael Westen] was doing was rather dramatic. He was in life-threatening situations but the dialogue was so counter to that, the emotion. I thought that was very clever. I only had two scenes. But I thought what the hell. I’ll go do it; it was in Miami [where she has lived part-time since 1993]. So I showed up and did my two scenes [for the pilot] and I went away. And frankly, I forgot about it. And when it sold, my agent called me and I didn’t remember. He had to remind me that I had done it.

Q: Madeline has changed over time. But she is a force in that show, she’s the grounding.
A:
Well, I thank [creator and producer] Matt Nix for that. Because she’s only described in those two scenes as a chain-smoking hypochondriac. I can do half of that. There really wasn’t a lot of substance to her; it wasn’t needed in the pilot. [When production started] Matt said let me give you one note: He [Michael] gets all his smarts from her. I said OK. That’s all I need to know. And he started writing her, very slowly, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I had that information.

I always do a backstory on anyone I play because we’re all a product of what we’ve gone through. If you give them a backstory, then you can string your beads along and bring that underneath. [Matt Nix] said [Madeline] went to college to find a husband, and found this great guy, who was not being so great. It’s written into the text that he was abusive, but not quite. The only thing that was in the pilot was [that Michael] never came to [his father’s] funeral. That was a little hint that there was trouble between the son and the father. I ran with this information and knew that there was abuse in this house. OK, so that’s one of my beads. [Madeline] carries that all the time now and chooses to put a totally different spin on it. She knows it’s there but she also says “but look at the good things, look at these pictures.”


burnnoticegless_sharon
Q: There was the scene in which two youngsters were staying at Madeline’s and they see a photo of the Westens taken at Christmas. They said they never had a home like that and Madeline says neither did we.
A:
I am so touched that you remember that particular scene because because I was looking at the picture and seeing the bruise. After I finished that scene, the crew told me they saw the change [in my expression] and the crew applauded the scene. And I was stunned because they don’t do that. It’s all that stuff that Matt gave me that I get to play. I tell you we’re nothing without the writers. Nothing. And he gave me enough information and every week they write me a little gem. They do. And I’m, just the lucky woman who gets to play her.

Q: Madeline is the real moral center, of that show.
A:
She’s very practical, very manipulative. She knows exactly how to get to him. But she makes Michael human. Matt wrote in one of Michael's voiceovers, what it takes to be a CIA operative and especially in special ops like Michael. It takes someone with no emotion and that family dynamic of what happened to him as a child made him that way. And she’s totally aware of it. Michael was the oldest one and probably tried to protect his mother. And there were times she couldn’t protect them. Matt gave me a great line – and the staff of writers – the one with FBI. The guy’s grilling me and they bring in these guns and I say they’re mine, from, the garage. And he says, you’re going to pay for your son’s mistakes? And I say, he paid for mine.
Those writers just give me such a gem.
It could be just one line and I know it has impact because it informs about Michael and I think that’s what she does, she grounds him in her own perverse way and she makes him human.
So much of it comes back to that phrase: the smarts he gave to her. Yes, she’s smart. You can’t manipulate and not be smart. She knows exactly how to get to him. She’s smart, so when they do send her undercover, she’s good at it. And I love playing it. Her life is not rich and full in that house, but she manipulates lonely.

Q: Do you get response from viewers, about smoking or the family dynamic?
A:
I don’t get that much written fan mail, but my publicist sends me the comments from Facebook. Usually they are very positive. But every once in a while, someone says I wish she didn’t smoke. . . . But it’s so a part of who she is. It’s so much an extension of her body, so much of who she is, that it doesn’t offend them,

Q: Do you read mystery fiction?
A:
I don’t get to read a lot because I get to work a lot. But my favorite books and the books I am most attracted to are psychological thrillers. The Red Dragon, nothing ever frightened me like that, then came Silence of the Lambs, but nothing ever frightened me like Red Dragon. As a child I read Nancy Drew. I do love being frightened. I like reading and my heart pounding.

Q: On working on Burn Notice
A:
I am so lucky to work with those four actors. Believe me, I am truly blessed. I never take any of this for granted. It is a fun show to be on. I also am so grateful that at my age, they let me do it. You know about the film and television industry is—for women, ageism reigns. It’s one thing to have a job; it’s another thing to have a job with those four actors. I only come two, maybe three days a week, but I really say I get to go to work.

PHOTOS: Top: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar; Next, Gabrielle Anwar and Gless in Burn Notice.
Photos from USA Network

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 20 July 2013 03:07

burnnotice6_cast
For the past seven years, Burn Notice has delivered an atypical spy series, mixing wide swaths of humor with a serious plot and a breathtaking view of South Florida.

The USA Network series, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, has followed the attempts of spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) to find how why he was fired—or got his “burn notice”—and how to get back into the espionage business after being dumped in his hometown of Miami.

Until he is back in the spy game, Michael works as an off-the-books private investigator, helping those private citizens in need.

He has been aid by on again/off again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and retired spy Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). In the fourth season, former counter-intelligence agent Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the group.

Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Jesse have supplied the action, the adventure and the romance of Burn Notice.

burnnotice5_2013
But the heart of Burn Notice has always been driven by Michael’s mother, Madeline Westen, played subtly and forcefully by Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk).

Gless’ character was originally described as “a Miami mom,” but the actress has done so much more with this character.

While the others have the showy roles with explosions, guns and chases, Madeline has been the one at home. And that home has acted as a refuge for Michael, more than he has wanted to admit. It’s been a safe house for clients, for ex-spies and been invaded by criminals and federal agents.

Madeline knows Michael better than anyone, and especially understands why he became the man he is. In the early seasons, she was not above manipulating him to help a neighbor being blackmailed, an ex-con who wants to start a new life, businesses being terrorized.

burnnotice8_gless
During the series, bits about Michael’s childhood have come out. Madeline’s husband didn’t turn out to be the good man she thought he was. He was a terrible father prone to verbal and physical abuse.

Yet Madeline revealed through snippets that she felt it was better for the family to stay with her husband than to leave him.

Now in its last season, Burn Notice has taken a darker tone as Michael’s deal with the devil to protect his friends and family and get his job back has, in the process, left him sinking in the mire.

Although she is back home in Miami, Madeline again relies on the inner strength that has gotten her through life. Madeline is trying to get full custody of her toddler grandson since his father—her other son—was killed and his mother is in rehab. Madeline also has joined forces with Fiona on some of the cases.

Gless has long been a personal favorite, bringing the nuances to Madeline has she has to all her roles.

Take Cagney & Lacey, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1988 and garnered many Emmys for the series and the two leads.

cagneylacey_dvd30th
Gless as Sgt. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey were pioneers in crime drama. This was the first drama to feature two strong women with full careers and private lives. Lacey was married with children while Cagney was single. They were police partners as well as friends who really cared about each other.

Both women brought a sense of realism to their roles. They were good at their jobs, but also made mistakes.

As much as I liked Lacey, it was Cagney who caught my attention each week. Cagney wasn’t perfect, and that made her all the more believable. She was an alcoholic who, through the series, finally came to terms with it. She had father issues and trouble with relationships. She was also intelligent, loyal and witty. And Gless quickly became one of my favorite actresses.

A special 30th anniversary Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series recently was released. There also is Cagney & Lacey ... and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde by the Emmy Award-winning producer Barney Rosenzweig, who also is Gless’ husband. Gless has said in many interviews that she has not read it. (I have, though, and I recommend it.)

burnnotice7_gless
A couple of years ago, Gless was in Coral Gables doing the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage. The play is Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Gless then took the play to London for a successful run.

Following a rehearsal, my husband and I interviewed Gless; he as a theater critic for his website Florida Theater on Stage and I for Mystery Scene. (His interview is here and his review is here.)

In person, Gless is as charming, witty and personable as she presents herself on screen.

I wanted to hold the conversation for the last season of Burn Notice, which has come way too soon.

Q: What first drew you to Burn Notice?
A:
They offered it to me. [She laughs] No, actually, I was at a fat farm in California and I did not want to leave. And the script was sent to me by my agent, and I read it, and I was alone, and I was laughing out loud. You know how unusual it is to laugh at something out loud when you’re by yourself? I was especially attracted to the narration. I thought it was so funny because everything he [Michael Westen] was doing was rather dramatic. He was in life-threatening situations but the dialogue was so counter to that, the emotion. I thought that was very clever. I only had two scenes. But I thought what the hell. I’ll go do it; it was in Miami [where she has lived part-time since 1993]. So I showed up and did my two scenes [for the pilot] and I went away. And frankly, I forgot about it. And when it sold, my agent called me and I didn’t remember. He had to remind me that I had done it.

Q: Madeline has changed over time. But she is a force in that show, she’s the grounding.
A:
Well, I thank [creator and producer] Matt Nix for that. Because she’s only described in those two scenes as a chain-smoking hypochondriac. I can do half of that. There really wasn’t a lot of substance to her; it wasn’t needed in the pilot. [When production started] Matt said let me give you one note: He [Michael] gets all his smarts from her. I said OK. That’s all I need to know. And he started writing her, very slowly, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I had that information.

I always do a backstory on anyone I play because we’re all a product of what we’ve gone through. If you give them a backstory, then you can string your beads along and bring that underneath. [Matt Nix] said [Madeline] went to college to find a husband, and found this great guy, who was not being so great. It’s written into the text that he was abusive, but not quite. The only thing that was in the pilot was [that Michael] never came to [his father’s] funeral. That was a little hint that there was trouble between the son and the father. I ran with this information and knew that there was abuse in this house. OK, so that’s one of my beads. [Madeline] carries that all the time now and chooses to put a totally different spin on it. She knows it’s there but she also says “but look at the good things, look at these pictures.”


burnnoticegless_sharon
Q: There was the scene in which two youngsters were staying at Madeline’s and they see a photo of the Westens taken at Christmas. They said they never had a home like that and Madeline says neither did we.
A:
I am so touched that you remember that particular scene because because I was looking at the picture and seeing the bruise. After I finished that scene, the crew told me they saw the change [in my expression] and the crew applauded the scene. And I was stunned because they don’t do that. It’s all that stuff that Matt gave me that I get to play. I tell you we’re nothing without the writers. Nothing. And he gave me enough information and every week they write me a little gem. They do. And I’m, just the lucky woman who gets to play her.

Q: Madeline is the real moral center, of that show.
A:
She’s very practical, very manipulative. She knows exactly how to get to him. But she makes Michael human. Matt wrote in one of Michael's voiceovers, what it takes to be a CIA operative and especially in special ops like Michael. It takes someone with no emotion and that family dynamic of what happened to him as a child made him that way. And she’s totally aware of it. Michael was the oldest one and probably tried to protect his mother. And there were times she couldn’t protect them. Matt gave me a great line – and the staff of writers – the one with FBI. The guy’s grilling me and they bring in these guns and I say they’re mine, from, the garage. And he says, you’re going to pay for your son’s mistakes? And I say, he paid for mine.
Those writers just give me such a gem.
It could be just one line and I know it has impact because it informs about Michael and I think that’s what she does, she grounds him in her own perverse way and she makes him human.
So much of it comes back to that phrase: the smarts he gave to her. Yes, she’s smart. You can’t manipulate and not be smart. She knows exactly how to get to him. She’s smart, so when they do send her undercover, she’s good at it. And I love playing it. Her life is not rich and full in that house, but she manipulates lonely.

Q: Do you get response from viewers, about smoking or the family dynamic?
A:
I don’t get that much written fan mail, but my publicist sends me the comments from Facebook. Usually they are very positive. But every once in a while, someone says I wish she didn’t smoke. . . . But it’s so a part of who she is. It’s so much an extension of her body, so much of who she is, that it doesn’t offend them,

Q: Do you read mystery fiction?
A:
I don’t get to read a lot because I get to work a lot. But my favorite books and the books I am most attracted to are psychological thrillers. The Red Dragon, nothing ever frightened me like that, then came Silence of the Lambs, but nothing ever frightened me like Red Dragon. As a child I read Nancy Drew. I do love being frightened. I like reading and my heart pounding.

Q: On working on Burn Notice
A:
I am so lucky to work with those four actors. Believe me, I am truly blessed. I never take any of this for granted. It is a fun show to be on. I also am so grateful that at my age, they let me do it. You know about the film and television industry is—for women, ageism reigns. It’s one thing to have a job; it’s another thing to have a job with those four actors. I only come two, maybe three days a week, but I really say I get to go to work.

PHOTOS: Top: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar; Next, Gabrielle Anwar and Gless in Burn Notice.
Photos from USA Network

Murder She Taught: the Puzzling Career of Hildegarde Withers
Michael Mallory

PalmerPenguin_Pool_Poster_copy_2Read today, The Penguin Pool Murder is not only a fascinating snapshot of New York City immediately after the 1929 stock market crash, it is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training.

A movie poster from the 1932 film adaptation of The Penguin Pool Murder.

Half a century before Jessica Fletcher snooped her way to celebrity on Murder, She Wrote, there was another fictional schoolteacher-turned-sleuth who had a talent for tripping over bodies: Hildegarde Withers. The tall and bony, fortyish, umbrella-toting spinster was a staid fixture at Manhattan’s Jefferson School before stumbling into her true calling as an amateur sleuth. Along with her good friend (and, briefly, fiancé) Inspector Oscar Piper, who labeled her “God’s gift horse to all dumb cops,” she developed a penchant for cutting through incredibly complex puzzles with a combination of diligent questioning, attention to details, and an unwillingness to let Piper settle for the easiest, most convenient, most politically expedient answer.

Hildegarde Martha Winters was the creation of Stuart Palmer (1905–1968), a reporter turned novelist who would go on to make his name as a screenwriter. Proudly old-fashioned, she is popular with her third-grade students, with whom she tries to be stern, but her affection for them usually shows through. When it comes to adults, however, she suffers no fools, yet through it all remains a closet romantic. Hildegarde often uses her teacherly wiles in investigations, stating: “I’ve taught school long enough to know when anybody is telling the truth or not.” During interrogations she keeps notes in shorthand for her and Piper’s later use, and she often makes detailed sketches of the crime scene (more for the benefit of the reader than anyone else).

In her debut novel, 1931’s The Penguin Pool Murder, she is thrust into the action by way of discovering a body floating in the penguin tank of the New York Aquarium, where she has taken her class. Once she has been drafted into the investigation, she confesses to Piper, who works in the city’s homicide division, “It is the ambition of my life to play detective.” With that declaration was launched the most disarming and delightful relationship between a law enforcement official and a wily, brash amateur this side of John Steed and Emma Peel.

Read today, The Penguin Pool Murder is not only a fascinating snapshot of New York City immediately after the 1929 stock market crash (which is a key plot point, in fact), it is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training. Chapter by chapter, Palmer’s initially purple, dialogue-heavy prose smoothes out and the story solidifies as it goes along, before toughening like cooling steel for the climax. An odd mix of cozy and hardboiled styles, Penguin Pool’s characters also waver a bit in their particulars. When Hildegard is first introduced, for instance, she is said to have been born in Boston; later when it becomes important to the story that she hail from Dubuque, Iowa, she suddenly does, with no explanation for the discrepancy.

palmer_puzzle_of_red_stallionThe Penguin Pool Murder was successful enough for Hollywood to take notice, and the film adaptation, starring Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde and James Gleason as Piper, was released in 1932. Stuart Palmer was so delighted with the casting that he actually began tailoring novels to follow suit! In subsequent books Hildegarde became somewhat older and started being characterized as equine in order to conform to Miss Oliver’s good-natured description of herself as “horse-faced.” Meanwhile, the cigar-chomping Inspector Piper, whom Hildegarde calls “young man” throughout the first book, was recast as an older and flintier career copper to more resemble the middle-aged bantam image established by Gleason. Ironically, while the literary Hildegard remained in the image of Edna May Oliver, in subsequent films the actress was replaced, first by Helen Broderick and then by ZaSu Pitts, neither of whom quite captured the character.

The 1930s were an incredibly productive period for Palmer, who followed up The Penguin Pool Murder with Murder on Wheels (1932), in which it is revealed that Oscar and Hildegarde reconsidered their earlier decision to run off to City Hall and get hitched; Murder on the Blackboard (1932); The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933); The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934); The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1935); and The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937). At the same time Palmer was turning out Hildegarde Withers short stories, many for the magazine Mystery, which was sold exclusively in Woolworth’s stores. All of the Withers novels and stories feature complicated plots and contain a wealth of Manhattanisms and time-capsule references to such luminaries as Boss Tweed, Herbert Hoover, even Adolf Hitler. The author’s sense of product placement, meanwhile, would go unrivaled until the advent of Stephen King.

Having turned his attention to scripting movies by the late 1930s, Stuart Palmer had far less time for writing novels. That, in addition to Palmer’s growing, chronic case of writer’s block, meant that only seven more Hildegard Withers books appeared over the next two decades. The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan came out in 1941, followed by Miss Withers Regrets (1947); the short story collection The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947); Four Lost Ladies (1949); The Green Ace (1950); Nipped in the Bud (1951); and Cold Poison (1954).

Beginning in 1950, Palmer embarked on an unprecedented collaboration with prolific author Craig Rice (real name: Georgiana Craig) to combine Hildegarde Withers with Rice’s character, the boozy Chicago mouthpiece John J. Malone, in a series of stories that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Never before had two completely different established characters from different living authors teamed up for a new series. These stories were eventually collected in the 1963 volume People vs. Withers and Malone, and one of them, “Once Upon a Train,” became the basis for the 1950 film Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone, only without Hildegarde. Malone’s female foil in the film was Hattie O’Malley, played by Marjorie Main at her most obstreperous.

Hildegarde Withers stories continued to appear in the pages of EQMM well into the 1960s, but by then time was running out for Stuart Palmer. An inveterate cigar smoker, the onetime MWA president contracted cancer of the larynx, which led to his death in 1968. He left an unfinished Hildegarde Withers novel, which was completed by Fletcher Flora, who was one of the regular ghostwriters of the Ellery Queen byline. Published in 1969, Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene finds a retired, but rather hip, Hildegarde living in California and getting involved in the case of a missing flower child, which eventually leads to a murder. Putting Miss Withers into the hippie culture of Haight-Ashbury sounds like a gimmick, but it works remarkably well, thanks to Palmer’s sensitivity toward and understanding of the 1960s youth culture, and instilling the same in his sleuth. In 1972 the book was adapted for a television movie titled A Very Missing Person, starring Eve Arden as Hildegarde and James Gregory as Piper.

palmer_cold_poison_copyHildegarde Withers has sometimes been referred to as “the American Miss Marple,” but the resemblance is purely superficial. While both are spinsters, Miss Marple seems to have been born elderly, whereas Hildegarde was only 39 in Penguin Pool (though to the 25-year-old author, that may have seemed old). The sharp-tongued Miss Withers is a keen and proactive detective who thrives on the hunt for clues, whereas the gossipy Miss Marple processes information through her own experiences and knowledge of people to come up with solutions. What’s more, Jane Marple never seems to have held a job, whereas generations of New York schoolchildren learnt under the steely gaze of Hildegarde Withers—a few were even drafted to be her Baker Street Irregular-style assistants.

The remarkable thing about the Hildegarde Withers books is that, despite the fact that they are in and of the time in which they were written, they do not date. If anything, they present a wonderful window into the ongoing decades, anchored by a constant lead character, not unlike Michael McDowell’s Jack and Susan series written in the 1980s, but set in successive decades. More pertinently, they are finely tuned, challenging puzzle stories that feature a delightful, witty protagonist whom some of us would have vastly preferred to our real third-grade teachers.

The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries

The Penguin Pool Murder (1931)
Murder on the Blackboard (1932)
Murder on Wheels (1932)
The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933)
The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934)
The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1936)
The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937)
The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941)
Miss Withers Regrets (1947)
The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947, ss)
Four Lost Ladies (1949)
The Green Ace (1950)
The Monkey Murder (1950, ss)
Nipped in the Bud (1951)
Cold Poison (1954)
The People vs. Withers and Malone, written with Craig Rice (1963, ss)
Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene, completed by Fletcher Flora (1969)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 04:07

PalmerPenguin_Pool_Poster_copy_2The Penguin Pool Murder is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training.

The Fire Witness
Eileen Brady

The Swedish invasion of carefully crafted, dark mysteries continues with The Fire Witness, the latest offering from Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for the husband and wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril). Blood flows freely in Birgittagarden, a state-approved home for desperately troubled girls. Nurse Elisabet Grim and 15-year-old resident Miranda have been murdered, and a new girl, Vicky Bennet, is gone, leaving behind only a bed soaked with blood. In her apparent haste to get away, Vicky steals a car, not realizing that four-year-old Dante is strapped in his car seat in the back. The kidnapping and the murders mobilize the media and the search for Vicky and the child escalates. Inspector Joona Linna of the National Police is sent as an observer to help the local police. Known as a “lone wolf,” he is specifically instructed not to become directly involved in this case.

But hope for a good outcome is dashed when the stolen car, its windows shattered, is found submerged in a treacherous river. Divers suspect the bodies have been carried away by the swift current and police declare the case officially closed. Only Linna remains convinced that Vicky and Dante are alive. Alone, he continues a stubborn search for the truth and butts heads with his superiors, the local police, and anyone else who gets in the way.

After several false starts, Linna finally tracks down Vicky’s last known home, an abandoned subway car called Dennis located in Johanneshov, south of Stockholm. (Who knew the Swedish gave their subway cars names?) What follows is a haunting glimpse into the underbelly of Swedish society. Keplar describes life in the streets with blunt honesty: drugs, abandonment, sexual predators, hunger. While Vicky struggles as a fugitive, Linna finds himself distracted by people from his past. Is Vicky a murderer or a victim herself? Readers will enjoy the intricate plot that continues to surprise right up to it’s unpredictable conclusion.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 05:07

The Swedish invasion of carefully crafted, dark mysteries continues with The Fire Witness, the latest offering from Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for the husband and wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril). Blood flows freely in Birgittagarden, a state-approved home for desperately troubled girls. Nurse Elisabet Grim and 15-year-old resident Miranda have been murdered, and a new girl, Vicky Bennet, is gone, leaving behind only a bed soaked with blood. In her apparent haste to get away, Vicky steals a car, not realizing that four-year-old Dante is strapped in his car seat in the back. The kidnapping and the murders mobilize the media and the search for Vicky and the child escalates. Inspector Joona Linna of the National Police is sent as an observer to help the local police. Known as a “lone wolf,” he is specifically instructed not to become directly involved in this case.

But hope for a good outcome is dashed when the stolen car, its windows shattered, is found submerged in a treacherous river. Divers suspect the bodies have been carried away by the swift current and police declare the case officially closed. Only Linna remains convinced that Vicky and Dante are alive. Alone, he continues a stubborn search for the truth and butts heads with his superiors, the local police, and anyone else who gets in the way.

After several false starts, Linna finally tracks down Vicky’s last known home, an abandoned subway car called Dennis located in Johanneshov, south of Stockholm. (Who knew the Swedish gave their subway cars names?) What follows is a haunting glimpse into the underbelly of Swedish society. Keplar describes life in the streets with blunt honesty: drugs, abandonment, sexual predators, hunger. While Vicky struggles as a fugitive, Linna finds himself distracted by people from his past. Is Vicky a murderer or a victim herself? Readers will enjoy the intricate plot that continues to surprise right up to it’s unpredictable conclusion.

Deadly Ink and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Oline Cogdill

harris_rosemary2
The intimate Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is back on track with the 12th convention scheduled for Aug. 2 to 4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference organizers certainly have chosen well for its guest of honor.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel The Other Woman has garnered a lot of buzz, critical acclaim and five award nominations, is scheduled to be the guest of honor. Well, anyone who has read the novel about adultery, politics and murder, and a few “other women,” knows why Ryan has been getting a lot of attention lately. Ryan was profiled in Mystery Scene's Fall 2012 issue, No. 126.


Ryan will be joined by toastmaster Rosemary Harris, left, author of the Dirty Business series featuring Paula Holliday, a former television exec with a passion for gardening and sleuthing.


At this point, Deadly Ink has about 45 people signed up but the organizers are hoping to top 70 people.

As usual, authors will lead an array of panels and workshops. The conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Aug. 2. Ryan will present “Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start.”

Rosemary Harris will teach “Characters and Setting,” followed by Jane Cleland with “Red Herrings.” Classes wind up with “The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected,” by author and agent Lois Winston.

Authors scheduled to attend include Brad Parks, Jeff Cohen and Donald and Renee Bain, authors of the Murder She Wrote series, and Patricia King who writes as Annamaria Alfieri.

“Deadly Ink is New Jersey's own mystery conference, and like our state, we may be small but don't count us out,” said author Roberta Rogow, vice-chair of Deadly Ink. “New Brunswick is right in the middle of everything, only a few blocks from the train station, with plenty of parking for day trippers.”

parks_brad
Unlike Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink is a more smaller conference, which several authors said was an asset.

“I enjoy smaller conferences where you get a chance to interact with virtually everyone there – whether it’s because of a panel, a smaller breakout session or just a chat at the bar. Also, Hank Phillippi Ryan is Guest of Honor and Rosemary Harris is Toastmaster this year, and they’re both awesome. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong,” said Brad Parks, right, the author of the Carter Ross novels including Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, and The Good Cop, his latest. Parks is the winner of the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award. A profile of Parks ran in Mystery Scene's Spring 2013 issue, No. 129.

“The conference is small and I do like that, because I get to talk to actual readers and not feel like I'm trying to be noticed in the third tier of Yankee Stadium,” said Jeff Cohen, author of the Comedy Tonight series. Under the name E.J. Copperman, Cohen writes the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which began with Night of the Living Deed and continues with An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, and Chance of a Ghost. The series will continue in November 2013 with The Thrill of the Haunt.

Registration is still open. For more information, visit the Deadly Ink web site, or like it on Facebook.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 06:07

harris_rosemary2
The intimate Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is back on track with the 12th convention scheduled for Aug. 2 to 4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference organizers certainly have chosen well for its guest of honor.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel The Other Woman has garnered a lot of buzz, critical acclaim and five award nominations, is scheduled to be the guest of honor. Well, anyone who has read the novel about adultery, politics and murder, and a few “other women,” knows why Ryan has been getting a lot of attention lately. Ryan was profiled in Mystery Scene's Fall 2012 issue, No. 126.


Ryan will be joined by toastmaster Rosemary Harris, left, author of the Dirty Business series featuring Paula Holliday, a former television exec with a passion for gardening and sleuthing.


At this point, Deadly Ink has about 45 people signed up but the organizers are hoping to top 70 people.

As usual, authors will lead an array of panels and workshops. The conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Aug. 2. Ryan will present “Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start.”

Rosemary Harris will teach “Characters and Setting,” followed by Jane Cleland with “Red Herrings.” Classes wind up with “The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected,” by author and agent Lois Winston.

Authors scheduled to attend include Brad Parks, Jeff Cohen and Donald and Renee Bain, authors of the Murder She Wrote series, and Patricia King who writes as Annamaria Alfieri.

“Deadly Ink is New Jersey's own mystery conference, and like our state, we may be small but don't count us out,” said author Roberta Rogow, vice-chair of Deadly Ink. “New Brunswick is right in the middle of everything, only a few blocks from the train station, with plenty of parking for day trippers.”

parks_brad
Unlike Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink is a more smaller conference, which several authors said was an asset.

“I enjoy smaller conferences where you get a chance to interact with virtually everyone there – whether it’s because of a panel, a smaller breakout session or just a chat at the bar. Also, Hank Phillippi Ryan is Guest of Honor and Rosemary Harris is Toastmaster this year, and they’re both awesome. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong,” said Brad Parks, right, the author of the Carter Ross novels including Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, and The Good Cop, his latest. Parks is the winner of the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award. A profile of Parks ran in Mystery Scene's Spring 2013 issue, No. 129.

“The conference is small and I do like that, because I get to talk to actual readers and not feel like I'm trying to be noticed in the third tier of Yankee Stadium,” said Jeff Cohen, author of the Comedy Tonight series. Under the name E.J. Copperman, Cohen writes the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which began with Night of the Living Deed and continues with An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, and Chance of a Ghost. The series will continue in November 2013 with The Thrill of the Haunt.

Registration is still open. For more information, visit the Deadly Ink web site, or like it on Facebook.

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
Sunday, 14 July 2013 03:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 11:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:07

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
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 04:07

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
Thursday, 18 July 2013 01:07

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
Thursday, 18 July 2013 02:07

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
Friday, 19 July 2013 04:07

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
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 10:07

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
Tuesday, 23 July 2013 05:07

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
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 05:08

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
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 12:07

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
Thursday, 01 August 2013 08:08

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
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 11:08

carlisle_kate_bookshelfA most patriotic puzzle