Trusting Viktor
Eileen Brady

Who knew geologists led such exciting lives? In this second Cleo Cooper mystery, our heroine almost drowns, parties with a sexy Russian graduate student, then flies out to a drillship looking for natural gas off the coast of North Carolina. And that’s just in the first 38 pages!

Reading about the preparation and science that goes into searching for natural gas and oil was fascinating, and the author, herself a geologist, obviously knows her stuff. It’s on one of those exploration drillships, the Deep Sea Magellan, that the intrepid Cleo is attacked and a crewman goes missing. Both Cleo and her ex-husband, Bud, have invested heavily in Global, the company in charge of the venture, and any delay will put them behind schedule. With another company, SunCo, also drilling nearby, it’s a race they need to win.

Unbeknownst to them, someone on board has a hidden agenda and is searching for clues to a treasure, buried nearby at the bottom of the sea. Is it a coincidence that the missing crewman’s replacement is Viktor, a sexy Russian graduate student who looks like Ashton Kutcher? The police get involved after the missing crewman’s corpse is found with blunt force trauma to the head. Clues and suspects and plotlines multiply as Cleo tries to find out what’s really behind her attack and the murder. There is a bit of a scramble to tie things up at the end, but all in all, this is a fun read.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:14:38

Who knew geologists led such exciting lives? In this second Cleo Cooper mystery, our heroine almost drowns, parties with a sexy Russian graduate student, then flies out to a drillship looking for natural gas off the coast of North Carolina. And that’s just in the first 38 pages!

Reading about the preparation and science that goes into searching for natural gas and oil was fascinating, and the author, herself a geologist, obviously knows her stuff. It’s on one of those exploration drillships, the Deep Sea Magellan, that the intrepid Cleo is attacked and a crewman goes missing. Both Cleo and her ex-husband, Bud, have invested heavily in Global, the company in charge of the venture, and any delay will put them behind schedule. With another company, SunCo, also drilling nearby, it’s a race they need to win.

Unbeknownst to them, someone on board has a hidden agenda and is searching for clues to a treasure, buried nearby at the bottom of the sea. Is it a coincidence that the missing crewman’s replacement is Viktor, a sexy Russian graduate student who looks like Ashton Kutcher? The police get involved after the missing crewman’s corpse is found with blunt force trauma to the head. Clues and suspects and plotlines multiply as Cleo tries to find out what’s really behind her attack and the murder. There is a bit of a scramble to tie things up at the end, but all in all, this is a fun read.

Precious Thing
Vanessa Orr

Female friendships can be dramatic, intense, and in the case of Precious Thing, the debut novel by former BBC TV crime reporter Colette McBeth, sometimes fatal. When Rachel Walsh and Clara O’Connor meet in high school, Clara is the popular one. A decade later, Rachel is a well-known TV crime correspondent, and Clara’s life is spinning out of control after a breakdown lands her in a mental hospital. When Clara suddenly disappears, Rachel finds herself covering the story—until she becomes the prime suspect.

Precious Thing is an intriguing psychological thriller with multiple twists and turns. Because it is written from Rachel’s point of view, she at first seems to be a sympathetic character, especially when she finds that the tables have turned and she is now at the mercy of reporters looking for a sensational story. But after watching her masterfully manipulate everyone around her, it becomes clear that she is not the friend to Clara that she first appeared to be. Flashbacks allow the reader to watch the girls’ bond develop and in time, unravel, resulting in a cat-and-mouse game between the two.

I read this book in one sitting. Just like Clara, the reader is drawn into Rachel’s web and is helpless to do anything but watch as she controls the people and events around her, all the while blaming her friendship with Clara for the actions she takes. The ending, while not surprising, is still staggering—and raises the question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:21:23

Female friendships can be dramatic, intense, and in the case of Precious Thing, the debut novel by former BBC TV crime reporter Colette McBeth, sometimes fatal. When Rachel Walsh and Clara O’Connor meet in high school, Clara is the popular one. A decade later, Rachel is a well-known TV crime correspondent, and Clara’s life is spinning out of control after a breakdown lands her in a mental hospital. When Clara suddenly disappears, Rachel finds herself covering the story—until she becomes the prime suspect.

Precious Thing is an intriguing psychological thriller with multiple twists and turns. Because it is written from Rachel’s point of view, she at first seems to be a sympathetic character, especially when she finds that the tables have turned and she is now at the mercy of reporters looking for a sensational story. But after watching her masterfully manipulate everyone around her, it becomes clear that she is not the friend to Clara that she first appeared to be. Flashbacks allow the reader to watch the girls’ bond develop and in time, unravel, resulting in a cat-and-mouse game between the two.

I read this book in one sitting. Just like Clara, the reader is drawn into Rachel’s web and is helpless to do anything but watch as she controls the people and events around her, all the while blaming her friendship with Clara for the actions she takes. The ending, while not surprising, is still staggering—and raises the question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Roosevelt’s Beast
Eileen Brady

No cell phones. No GPS. In 1914 if you became lost in the Amazon you stayed lost. Roosevelt’s Beast, a fascinating historical fiction by Louis Bayard, plunges the reader into nature at its cruelest. Based on the real life Rondon-Roosevelt 1914 expedition, the plot follows former US President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit on a treacherous journey of the body and mind. Their goal of mapping the Rio da Dúvida, or River of Doubt, rumored to be a thousand miles long, turns into a fight for their lives.

Bayard conjures up a horrifying fictional twist to the real story. He imagines the father and son kidnapped by the Cinta Larga, a tribe of cannibals, while searching for food. The chief offers to barter for their freedom. Their task: to kill the “Beast” terrorizing the village, a creature that has been savagely murdering and disemboweling its victims.

Weakened by infection Kermit struggles to protect his ailing father, who is feverish from malaria. Can he trust Luz, the native girl who translates for the tribal chief? The rich imagery and descriptions made me feel as though I was slogging through the jungle right by their side on the hunt. Is the Beast real or a metaphor for something primitive in all of us? Perhaps a little of both, but it is Kermit’s story of sacrifice and devotion to his father that powers the book.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:23:54

No cell phones. No GPS. In 1914 if you became lost in the Amazon you stayed lost. Roosevelt’s Beast, a fascinating historical fiction by Louis Bayard, plunges the reader into nature at its cruelest. Based on the real life Rondon-Roosevelt 1914 expedition, the plot follows former US President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit on a treacherous journey of the body and mind. Their goal of mapping the Rio da Dúvida, or River of Doubt, rumored to be a thousand miles long, turns into a fight for their lives.

Bayard conjures up a horrifying fictional twist to the real story. He imagines the father and son kidnapped by the Cinta Larga, a tribe of cannibals, while searching for food. The chief offers to barter for their freedom. Their task: to kill the “Beast” terrorizing the village, a creature that has been savagely murdering and disemboweling its victims.

Weakened by infection Kermit struggles to protect his ailing father, who is feverish from malaria. Can he trust Luz, the native girl who translates for the tribal chief? The rich imagery and descriptions made me feel as though I was slogging through the jungle right by their side on the hunt. Is the Beast real or a metaphor for something primitive in all of us? Perhaps a little of both, but it is Kermit’s story of sacrifice and devotion to his father that powers the book.

The Accident
Hank Wagner

Chris Pavone’s follow-up to his Edgar Award-winning debut, The Expats, is guaranteed to leave you sleep deprived. The action of The Accident revolves around the appearance of an explosive manuscript, purported to be an insider’s view of the life of media star and political hopeful Charlie Wolfe, a fictional combination of Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly. The anonymous manuscript, which Wolfe, and certain operatives in the intelligence community with whom he has cooperated over the years, do not wish the public to see, has landed in the hands of agent Isabel Reed, who in turn has pitched it to editor Jeffrey Fielder. Thus begins a lethal race against time, as Wolfe and his deadly allies seek to suppress the book by any means necessary before its contents can become more widely disseminated.

Fans of The Expats will be heartened to know that certain characters appearing in that novel also appear in The Accident, Pavone’s way of establishing a consistent universe among his works. The two books could not be more dissimilar, however, as Pavone’s debut was character driven, while his sophomore effort is propelled more by its plot—readers never really get to know the players in The Accident too deeply, as Pavone bounces madly from set piece to set piece, leaving this reader agape at the carnage. But its blistering pace and myriad surprises makes The Accident a highly effective thriller.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:27:23

Chris Pavone’s follow-up to his Edgar Award-winning debut, The Expats, is guaranteed to leave you sleep deprived. The action of The Accident revolves around the appearance of an explosive manuscript, purported to be an insider’s view of the life of media star and political hopeful Charlie Wolfe, a fictional combination of Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly. The anonymous manuscript, which Wolfe, and certain operatives in the intelligence community with whom he has cooperated over the years, do not wish the public to see, has landed in the hands of agent Isabel Reed, who in turn has pitched it to editor Jeffrey Fielder. Thus begins a lethal race against time, as Wolfe and his deadly allies seek to suppress the book by any means necessary before its contents can become more widely disseminated.

Fans of The Expats will be heartened to know that certain characters appearing in that novel also appear in The Accident, Pavone’s way of establishing a consistent universe among his works. The two books could not be more dissimilar, however, as Pavone’s debut was character driven, while his sophomore effort is propelled more by its plot—readers never really get to know the players in The Accident too deeply, as Pavone bounces madly from set piece to set piece, leaving this reader agape at the carnage. But its blistering pace and myriad surprises makes The Accident a highly effective thriller.

Snapshot
Hank Wagner

Estranged from her former FBI agent father, federal prosecutor Lisa Waldren is taken aback when he calls her out of the blue, asking for help in exonerating a convicted murderer mere days away from execution. The case involves the shooting death of civil rights activist Benjamin Gray in 1964, a tragedy that the four-year-old Lisa experienced firsthand when she attended the rally where it occurred with her father. Although her memories are vague, she recalls the moment, since it was immortalized by a picture her father snapped as she played with a young African-American girl. Although initially reluctant, Lisa caves and visits her dad at his home in Dallas, quickly becoming fascinated by the case. As they accumulate evidence, Gray’s real killer, now a prosperous businessman, becomes aware of their investigation, and sets out to frustrate their efforts by any means possible.

Convincingly melding fact with fiction, Snapshot is a winning blend of history and mystery—Wiehl takes the familiar trope of a race against time and wrests every last iota of drama from it. Exploiting the tensions inherent in her premise, she uses the investigation to provide another view of history, but, more importantly, to bring out facets of her well-drawn characters as they operate under pressure—readers actually witness their evolution, as Lisa becomes a better friend, mother, and daughter, and her father learns to share his problems with his family and friends. The fact that you accompany them as they face life-threatening danger and tackle a daunting mystery is just icing on this tasty literary cake.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:30:21

Estranged from her former FBI agent father, federal prosecutor Lisa Waldren is taken aback when he calls her out of the blue, asking for help in exonerating a convicted murderer mere days away from execution. The case involves the shooting death of civil rights activist Benjamin Gray in 1964, a tragedy that the four-year-old Lisa experienced firsthand when she attended the rally where it occurred with her father. Although her memories are vague, she recalls the moment, since it was immortalized by a picture her father snapped as she played with a young African-American girl. Although initially reluctant, Lisa caves and visits her dad at his home in Dallas, quickly becoming fascinated by the case. As they accumulate evidence, Gray’s real killer, now a prosperous businessman, becomes aware of their investigation, and sets out to frustrate their efforts by any means possible.

Convincingly melding fact with fiction, Snapshot is a winning blend of history and mystery—Wiehl takes the familiar trope of a race against time and wrests every last iota of drama from it. Exploiting the tensions inherent in her premise, she uses the investigation to provide another view of history, but, more importantly, to bring out facets of her well-drawn characters as they operate under pressure—readers actually witness their evolution, as Lisa becomes a better friend, mother, and daughter, and her father learns to share his problems with his family and friends. The fact that you accompany them as they face life-threatening danger and tackle a daunting mystery is just icing on this tasty literary cake.

Runner
Oline H. Cogdill

Patrick Lee proves himself to be an heir to Tom Clancy and Robin Cook, with a bit of Lee Child thrown in for good measure, in Runner. In this new series, Lee smoothly melds heart-pounding action with appealing characters for a first-rate thriller.

Sam Dryden, a former Delta Ranger, has spent the past five years working for an elite black ops team so underground that few even know it exists. Aside from work, Sam lives almost like a hermit, still mourning his wife and child who died in an accident five years before.

Sam’s lost child is on his mind when he encounters a terrified 12-year-old girl named Rachel while he is on a midnight run along a California beach. Rachel is being chased by a group of heavily armed men who want to kill her. A child in danger kicks in Sam’s instincts. He risks his own life to save Rachel, who can’t remember her name, where she came from, or why these men want to kill her.

The danger intensifies as Sam and Rachel are chased cross-country by a never-ending stream of armed men. Rachel begins to recover her memory revealing a sinister plot involving a secret government experiment and mind control.

Lee deftly weaves in technology, medical science, and government conspiracies in a tight plot. Sam has become a loner since his family died. Rachel’s vulnerability brings out his paternal feelings, forcing him to deal with his grief.

Lee’s previous four novels, all paperback originals, mixed adventure with a bit of science fiction and landed him on bestseller lists. The gripping Runner, his hardcover debut, should do the same.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:40:33

Patrick Lee proves himself to be an heir to Tom Clancy and Robin Cook, with a bit of Lee Child thrown in for good measure, in Runner. In this new series, Lee smoothly melds heart-pounding action with appealing characters for a first-rate thriller.

Sam Dryden, a former Delta Ranger, has spent the past five years working for an elite black ops team so underground that few even know it exists. Aside from work, Sam lives almost like a hermit, still mourning his wife and child who died in an accident five years before.

Sam’s lost child is on his mind when he encounters a terrified 12-year-old girl named Rachel while he is on a midnight run along a California beach. Rachel is being chased by a group of heavily armed men who want to kill her. A child in danger kicks in Sam’s instincts. He risks his own life to save Rachel, who can’t remember her name, where she came from, or why these men want to kill her.

The danger intensifies as Sam and Rachel are chased cross-country by a never-ending stream of armed men. Rachel begins to recover her memory revealing a sinister plot involving a secret government experiment and mind control.

Lee deftly weaves in technology, medical science, and government conspiracies in a tight plot. Sam has become a loner since his family died. Rachel’s vulnerability brings out his paternal feelings, forcing him to deal with his grief.

Lee’s previous four novels, all paperback originals, mixed adventure with a bit of science fiction and landed him on bestseller lists. The gripping Runner, his hardcover debut, should do the same.

The Last Dead Girl
M. Schlecht

Michigan magazine editor David Loogan, as readers knew him in Harry Dolan’s previous two novels, Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men, was always a little enigmatic. So, in this prequel to those efforts, it may not be too much of a surprise to find him living in Rome, New York, the owner of a pickup truck with the words “David Malone: Home Inspections” on its side.

The Last Dead Girl opens with the 26-year-old Malone (his birth name) accused of murder. Jana Fletcher, his ten-night stand, has been found dead in the apartment they were sharing. The detective on the case, Frank Moretti, releases him from custody for lack of evidence, but Moretti is not the only one keeping an eye on the home inspector. The true killer has been watching Jana’s apartment from a perch in the woods beyond the backyard and intends on making Malone his next victim. Meanwhile Malone is conducting his own investigation, hunting down clues to help him understand why Jana was killed.

With The Last Dead Girl, Dolan takes the reader to places much nastier and more heartbreaking than any he has shown us before. And he unspools Jana’s story slowly and carefully, using all the thread. Loogan’s backstory is compelling, but her past holds secrets that are truly haunting. Malone learns of a previous murder that Jana was obsessed with, and senses a conspiracy when he discovers Moretti was connected to that case, too. By the time he learns the truth, and confronts Jana’s killer, it’s more than understandable why David Loogan left David Malone, and New York, behind.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:43:28

Michigan magazine editor David Loogan, as readers knew him in Harry Dolan’s previous two novels, Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men, was always a little enigmatic. So, in this prequel to those efforts, it may not be too much of a surprise to find him living in Rome, New York, the owner of a pickup truck with the words “David Malone: Home Inspections” on its side.

The Last Dead Girl opens with the 26-year-old Malone (his birth name) accused of murder. Jana Fletcher, his ten-night stand, has been found dead in the apartment they were sharing. The detective on the case, Frank Moretti, releases him from custody for lack of evidence, but Moretti is not the only one keeping an eye on the home inspector. The true killer has been watching Jana’s apartment from a perch in the woods beyond the backyard and intends on making Malone his next victim. Meanwhile Malone is conducting his own investigation, hunting down clues to help him understand why Jana was killed.

With The Last Dead Girl, Dolan takes the reader to places much nastier and more heartbreaking than any he has shown us before. And he unspools Jana’s story slowly and carefully, using all the thread. Loogan’s backstory is compelling, but her past holds secrets that are truly haunting. Malone learns of a previous murder that Jana was obsessed with, and senses a conspiracy when he discovers Moretti was connected to that case, too. By the time he learns the truth, and confronts Jana’s killer, it’s more than understandable why David Loogan left David Malone, and New York, behind.

Eat What You Kill
Hank Wagner

After experiencing firsthand the negative effects of an “act of God” on the stock of a company he was touting (when that firm’s charismatic leader dies suddenly of a heart attack), high-strung Wall Street analyst Evan Stoess is a little more proactive the next time he is close to a big score, murdering a famous but flighty game designer after shorting the stock of the designer’s company. The obscene amounts of money he reaps as a result leads him to conclude that he has found the perfect business model. Unfortunately for him, however, shadowy characters wish to direct his actions to suit their own purposes.

Utilizing a thoroughly repugnant protagonist is a great risk, but first-time novelist Ted Scofield makes it pay off handsomely. Although loathsome, Stoess and his fragile psyche are fascinating, as his obsession with wealth and his uncanny talent for planning murders leads him into continuously deeper, darker moral waters. That Scofield does so with a generous amount of black humor (reminiscent of Donald E. Westlake’s bravura performance in 1997’s The Ax) makes Eat What You Kill an even better read, one you’ll be pushing on friends throughout the course of 2014.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:46:03

After experiencing firsthand the negative effects of an “act of God” on the stock of a company he was touting (when that firm’s charismatic leader dies suddenly of a heart attack), high-strung Wall Street analyst Evan Stoess is a little more proactive the next time he is close to a big score, murdering a famous but flighty game designer after shorting the stock of the designer’s company. The obscene amounts of money he reaps as a result leads him to conclude that he has found the perfect business model. Unfortunately for him, however, shadowy characters wish to direct his actions to suit their own purposes.

Utilizing a thoroughly repugnant protagonist is a great risk, but first-time novelist Ted Scofield makes it pay off handsomely. Although loathsome, Stoess and his fragile psyche are fascinating, as his obsession with wealth and his uncanny talent for planning murders leads him into continuously deeper, darker moral waters. That Scofield does so with a generous amount of black humor (reminiscent of Donald E. Westlake’s bravura performance in 1997’s The Ax) makes Eat What You Kill an even better read, one you’ll be pushing on friends throughout the course of 2014.

Corpse Flower
Robin Agnew

Despite a rather dark and grim cover that had me expecting blood and gore, this is a funny and sweetly off-center mystery. Gloria Ferris’ central character is Bliss Cornwall, a woman who works several jobs to afford the rent on her crummy trailer after being thrown out on her ear by her ex. She refers to her ex as “the Weasel,” and he seems to richly deserve it. Her next-door neighbor is a working hooker and her other neighbors bear even less scrutiny.

Bliss frequently does odd jobs for her cousin, Dougal, an agoraphobe, while also scoring whatever food is in his fridge. Dougal is a botanist and his greenhouse contains a Titan Arum, a rare “corpse flower.” Corpse flowers bloom only every few years (sometimes taking as long as ten years between blooms), so Dougal is thrilled that his corpse flower, Thor, is blooming. Dougal’s ex, Glory, happens to own another corpse flower, also blooming, and Dougal asks Bliss to be the go-between so the plants can be pollinated. He’s offering $1,000, something Bliss can’t refuse.

Bliss also works at the cemetery, raking and maintaining the grounds, and when her boss is found dead, things get complicated. Another dead body later and Bliss is on speaking, though not necessarily friendly terms, with the local police chief, Neil Redfern. Bliss treats almost everyone with suspicion thanks to her experience with the Weasel. She thinks Redfern is up to no good and does her level best to foil both the police and the bad guys.

Bliss also seems to encounter marijuana everywhere she turns—from Dougal and Glory’s greenhouses to her own aptly named neighborhood of Hemp Hollow. It’s actually the thread that ties the story together—in this novel it’s not cherchez la femme, it’s cherchez le marijuana.

While this plot may sound complicated and Bliss a tad cranky, this is actually a rollicking blast of an adventure story. Ferris certainly has the narrative chops to keep a reader’s interest. Bliss herself is an illustration of what happens to women thrown out on their own with nowhere to go. It's a good look at contemporary mores, and Ferris has a subtle eye and a light touch. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:48:32

Despite a rather dark and grim cover that had me expecting blood and gore, this is a funny and sweetly off-center mystery. Gloria Ferris’ central character is Bliss Cornwall, a woman who works several jobs to afford the rent on her crummy trailer after being thrown out on her ear by her ex. She refers to her ex as “the Weasel,” and he seems to richly deserve it. Her next-door neighbor is a working hooker and her other neighbors bear even less scrutiny.

Bliss frequently does odd jobs for her cousin, Dougal, an agoraphobe, while also scoring whatever food is in his fridge. Dougal is a botanist and his greenhouse contains a Titan Arum, a rare “corpse flower.” Corpse flowers bloom only every few years (sometimes taking as long as ten years between blooms), so Dougal is thrilled that his corpse flower, Thor, is blooming. Dougal’s ex, Glory, happens to own another corpse flower, also blooming, and Dougal asks Bliss to be the go-between so the plants can be pollinated. He’s offering $1,000, something Bliss can’t refuse.

Bliss also works at the cemetery, raking and maintaining the grounds, and when her boss is found dead, things get complicated. Another dead body later and Bliss is on speaking, though not necessarily friendly terms, with the local police chief, Neil Redfern. Bliss treats almost everyone with suspicion thanks to her experience with the Weasel. She thinks Redfern is up to no good and does her level best to foil both the police and the bad guys.

Bliss also seems to encounter marijuana everywhere she turns—from Dougal and Glory’s greenhouses to her own aptly named neighborhood of Hemp Hollow. It’s actually the thread that ties the story together—in this novel it’s not cherchez la femme, it’s cherchez le marijuana.

While this plot may sound complicated and Bliss a tad cranky, this is actually a rollicking blast of an adventure story. Ferris certainly has the narrative chops to keep a reader’s interest. Bliss herself is an illustration of what happens to women thrown out on their own with nowhere to go. It's a good look at contemporary mores, and Ferris has a subtle eye and a light touch. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you can agree with the premise that great detectives come in all shapes and sizes, you will thoroughly enjoy the latest Flavia de Luce novel. A preteen with a remarkable talent for chemistry and sleuthing, Flavia finally learns what happened to her mother during World War II some ten years earlier when her body is found in the Himalayan ice and returned to England.

Shortly after the train arrives with full military honors, a stranger approaches the grieving youngster with a mysterious message of impending danger, but he’s interrupted before he can finish. Within minutes, he is found dead, having been run over by the departing train. Was it an accident or murder, and what does the strange message mean? As Flavia and her grieving father and sisters prepare for the funeral, Flavia comes across a reel of old film that may provide a piece of the puzzle surrounding the two deaths.

Alan Bradley has an uncanny ability to take us into the mind and emotions of our young detective as she deals with both her grief and the mystery, and somehow makes it all believable and entertaining. Although this sixth book in the series is a quick read, it answers many of the questions from previous novels about Flavia and her family.

The first novel in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, won just about every mystery award available, and the series continues to entertain.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 21:53:18

If you can agree with the premise that great detectives come in all shapes and sizes, you will thoroughly enjoy the latest Flavia de Luce novel. A preteen with a remarkable talent for chemistry and sleuthing, Flavia finally learns what happened to her mother during World War II some ten years earlier when her body is found in the Himalayan ice and returned to England.

Shortly after the train arrives with full military honors, a stranger approaches the grieving youngster with a mysterious message of impending danger, but he’s interrupted before he can finish. Within minutes, he is found dead, having been run over by the departing train. Was it an accident or murder, and what does the strange message mean? As Flavia and her grieving father and sisters prepare for the funeral, Flavia comes across a reel of old film that may provide a piece of the puzzle surrounding the two deaths.

Alan Bradley has an uncanny ability to take us into the mind and emotions of our young detective as she deals with both her grief and the mystery, and somehow makes it all believable and entertaining. Although this sixth book in the series is a quick read, it answers many of the questions from previous novels about Flavia and her family.

The first novel in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, won just about every mystery award available, and the series continues to entertain.

The Red Road
Robin Agnew

All mystery writers are concerned, at some level, with morality. It may be the simple right or wrong variety, or the many shades of gray variety. Few are as exquisitely tuned to the shadings of morality as Denise Mina. Mina is able to relate a panoramic story in a tight 284 pages. Her concise turns of phrase have a particularly Scottish flavor: she describes a McMansion as “a chaotic jumble of pointless totems,” a final secret as “…the words (he)…had said assembled in her ear,” discarded letters like “dead albino insects.”

The story Mina tells in The Red Road is a tricky one that rewards close attention. It opens on the night in 1997 when Princess Diana was killed, and then relates the story of a far more squalid and less examined series of deaths. The central characters are Rose, who is responsible at the young age of 14 for the two deaths that kick off the story, and DI Alex Morrow. As the story progresses, it’s obvious Alex isn’t just an effective cop, she’s a good cop in the moral sense, in the face of decaying morality all around her.

At first, it’s unclear how the stories of Alex and Rose are related; Alex’s story begins with her testifying in court and making a connection with one of the lawyers, just as news that another lawyer has suddenly died. All of the people Mina includes in the first two chapters then become essential to the story, but their connection to one another is only slowly teased out as the novel unfolds.

The main investigation concerns the murder of a well-known Pakistani fund-raiser and all-around good guy. Fingerprints are found on the scene that make no sense. As Alex unravels the case, it’s the fingerprints that become the clue to tie everything together.

The reason for the inclusion of Princess Diana’s death now becomes clear: like the Kennedy assassination, it’s an instant point of reference. Everyone knows where they were on that night. This becomes a way for Alex to determine who is lying. Alex combs through facts and criminals to get to the truth. The ways that truth can be bent or distorted is a major theme of the novel and part of the suspense is wondering what Alex will be willing to do about it. Her moral sense is finely honed, which, in this remarkably resonant, thought-provoking novel, leaves her essentially alone.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-25 22:05:22

All mystery writers are concerned, at some level, with morality. It may be the simple right or wrong variety, or the many shades of gray variety. Few are as exquisitely tuned to the shadings of morality as Denise Mina. Mina is able to relate a panoramic story in a tight 284 pages. Her concise turns of phrase have a particularly Scottish flavor: she describes a McMansion as “a chaotic jumble of pointless totems,” a final secret as “…the words (he)…had said assembled in her ear,” discarded letters like “dead albino insects.”

The story Mina tells in The Red Road is a tricky one that rewards close attention. It opens on the night in 1997 when Princess Diana was killed, and then relates the story of a far more squalid and less examined series of deaths. The central characters are Rose, who is responsible at the young age of 14 for the two deaths that kick off the story, and DI Alex Morrow. As the story progresses, it’s obvious Alex isn’t just an effective cop, she’s a good cop in the moral sense, in the face of decaying morality all around her.

At first, it’s unclear how the stories of Alex and Rose are related; Alex’s story begins with her testifying in court and making a connection with one of the lawyers, just as news that another lawyer has suddenly died. All of the people Mina includes in the first two chapters then become essential to the story, but their connection to one another is only slowly teased out as the novel unfolds.

The main investigation concerns the murder of a well-known Pakistani fund-raiser and all-around good guy. Fingerprints are found on the scene that make no sense. As Alex unravels the case, it’s the fingerprints that become the clue to tie everything together.

The reason for the inclusion of Princess Diana’s death now becomes clear: like the Kennedy assassination, it’s an instant point of reference. Everyone knows where they were on that night. This becomes a way for Alex to determine who is lying. Alex combs through facts and criminals to get to the truth. The ways that truth can be bent or distorted is a major theme of the novel and part of the suspense is wondering what Alex will be willing to do about it. Her moral sense is finely honed, which, in this remarkably resonant, thought-provoking novel, leaves her essentially alone.

Jenny Milchman on Doris Miles Disney's Winifred
Jenny Milchman

milchman_jennyA meta-mystery is solved

I was often alone as a child. There were patches of time when I had a gang of kids to rove around with, solving mysteries about the strange feathers floating in the pond, or why Mr. Devlin’s mailbox was open when it wasn’t even time for the postman. But there were just as many days when my friends all avoided me, and that was the greatest mystery of all.

Books were my respite. A branch of our town’s library lay within biking distance, and I used to go there on summer days, escaping the heat and everything else.

The usual suspects applied. Nancy, Trixie, the Oz series. And then one day I discovered a mystery writer named Doris Miles Disney in the stacks.

Her book Winifred had the spookiest skull on the cover—reason enough for a child who liked scaring herself to pick it up. But as I got lost in the pages of this story, I discovered it had much more than that.

It was about a woman named Rita who never quite fit in. She wanted to be liked, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. The scant souls who filled Rita’s lonely days, including a co-worker at her secretarial job, reached out, but only rarely. And then Rita’s mother, like some pre-Internet social media engine, connects Rita with a woman a few years younger who comes from her hometown.

disney_winifredThe antiheroine of Disney’s 1976 novel tries to make this new girl like her. Rita tells a lie or two to nudge things in that direction. The accretion of tiny details—a jaunty decoration in her home, the report of plans for the weekend—eventually adds up to a whole new persona. Someone brighter, more confident, social. And then one day the woman learns that Rita has been lying.

I won’t ruin Disney’s book by saying much more about this chilling tale. But I will tell you two things. First, Winifred has the most jaw-dropping last line of any mystery I’ve ever read, as a child or till this day.

And two, there was a meta-mystery about it. Why, good as it is, did I read it so many times, taking it out of the library over and over, hardly able to return it on time?

Until I wrote this piece, I didn’t realize that the lonely character at its core was in some ways me.

Jenny Milchman is the author of the Mary Higgins Clark Award-nominated debut Cover of Snow and the forthcoming Ruin Falls. Jenny is about to set out on a four-month, 20,000-mile book tour where she will hit most of the great mystery bookstores, and many libraries, too.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews March 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-02-26 19:32:38

milchman_jennyA meta-mystery is solved.

Honoring Aimee Thurlo
Oline Cogdill

thurlo_aimee
It was with great sadness that we report that author Aimée Thurlo has died this week from cancer.

Aimée Thurlo and her husband, David, wrote three separate mystery series, each focusing on a very different investigator but each also showcased the Southwest.

Together and separately, the Thurlos published more than 70 novels.

In one of those twists of life, our latest Holiday Issue No. 132 featured Lynn Kaczmarek’s insightful interview with Aimée and David Thurlo. You can read the full feature online HERE.

Their main series featured Ella Clah, a special investigator for the Navajo Police Department.

The Sister Agatha novels revolved around the former Mary Naughton who was an investigative reporter and teacher before she became Sister Agatha of Our Lady of Hope, a cloistered, financially struggling monastery in New Mexico.

The couple went to the supernatural for their novels about Lee Nez that featured the unusual partnership between New Mexico State Police Officer Lee Nez, who is a nightwalker, a Navajo vampire, and FBI Agent Diane Lopez.

The couple’s latest novel is Pawnbroker, about Charlie Henry who recently returned from special ops work in Iraq and now runs the Three Balls pawnshop.

Their last novel will be Eagle’s Last Stand, due to come out later in 2014.

The Thurlos have received the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, a Willa Cather Award for Contemporary Fiction, and the New Mexico Book Award for Mystery and Suspense.

Our deepest sympathies go to the Thurlo family.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-05 02:26:51

thurlo_aimee
It was with great sadness that we report that author Aimée Thurlo has died this week from cancer.

Aimée Thurlo and her husband, David, wrote three separate mystery series, each focusing on a very different investigator but each also showcased the Southwest.

Together and separately, the Thurlos published more than 70 novels.

In one of those twists of life, our latest Holiday Issue No. 132 featured Lynn Kaczmarek’s insightful interview with Aimée and David Thurlo. You can read the full feature online HERE.

Their main series featured Ella Clah, a special investigator for the Navajo Police Department.

The Sister Agatha novels revolved around the former Mary Naughton who was an investigative reporter and teacher before she became Sister Agatha of Our Lady of Hope, a cloistered, financially struggling monastery in New Mexico.

The couple went to the supernatural for their novels about Lee Nez that featured the unusual partnership between New Mexico State Police Officer Lee Nez, who is a nightwalker, a Navajo vampire, and FBI Agent Diane Lopez.

The couple’s latest novel is Pawnbroker, about Charlie Henry who recently returned from special ops work in Iraq and now runs the Three Balls pawnshop.

Their last novel will be Eagle’s Last Stand, due to come out later in 2014.

The Thurlos have received the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, a Willa Cather Award for Contemporary Fiction, and the New Mexico Book Award for Mystery and Suspense.

Our deepest sympathies go to the Thurlo family.

Aimée & David Thurlo
Lynn Kaczmarek

Thurlo_Aimee_and_DavidPartners in work and life, this writing duo has an abiding love for America’s West.

Aimée and David Thurlo are a dynamo team—43 years together as a couple and 84 books published with more waiting in the wings. In addition to many romantic suspense novels, the Thurlos have written three different mystery series, each featuring a very different primary investigator. In the Sister Agatha series, mysteries are solved by a nun; the Lee Nez series features a partnership between a Navajo vampire and an FBI agent.

Their flagship series of Ella Clah police procedurals is set on the Navajo Reservation near Shiprock, New Mexico, where David grew up. Ella Clah is a Special Investigator for the Navajo Police Department and her 17th case, Ghost Medicine, was published in November.

Since 1995 the two of you have written 29 mysteries, if my count is correct, as well as a number of romances. What made you decide to write together?

Aimée: David and I have been married 43 years, so doing stuff together comes more naturally to us than going solo. It’s more fun, too. When something terrific happens, it’s great to have a partner to share it with. I think it was Oprah who said that one of the hardest things in life is finding another person to be truly happy for you. Only a partner can know how difficult it was to give up a perfect day to stay indoors and write, and how many times a scene had to be rewritten before you could move on.

I read somewhere that you were married three weeks after meeting...true? If so, tell me about that!

Aimée: I moved in to the apartment next door to David’s right after the Fourth of July. We met shortly after that and fell head over heels in love. I knew he was The Guy for me. He felt the same way about me, so July 31st, we got married. Neither of us ever doubted for a moment that it was the right decision. Forty-three years later, we still say it was the best thing we ever did. We’re best friends who live and work together. It really doesn’t get better than that.

You are best known for the Ella Clah series and you’ve written a number of books featuring her (and one featuring her mother...). I’m also assuming that you’re pretty tied into the Navajo community. What are their thoughts about the books?

shiprock_new_mexicoDavid: I grew up in Shiprock, on the Navajo Nation. As a member of a minority living among the tribe, I gained respect for the Navajos, and, at the same time, developed friendships that have lasted to this day. During our last visit to the Navajo Nation, we were invited to speak at The Phil—the community theater and cultural center in Shiprock. Our audience was packed with Navajo readers, and everyone was pleased with our stories, our ability to convey the cultural bridge between modernists and traditionalists—and at the same time giving them a great mystery.

You have highlighted a number of issues facing Native American communities. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges today?

David: Native Americans face the same problems as the rest of the country: access to health care, getting a good education, and dealing with poverty. There is also the added problem of jobs and underemployment. Unfortunately, many Navajos who get a good education are forced to leave the rez in order to apply those skills. The Navajo Nation still has problems with access to good housing, water for household use and irrigation, and a reliable road network.

I am curious about your inspiration for each story. Is it character, plot, setting?

David: Ella Clah came about on our way back from the Navajo Nation after attending my high school reunion. We wanted a female character who was a strong leader and had investigative skills. What we were determined to avoid was a female cop who was constantly in danger because she made dumb mistakes, or one who continually needed to be rescued by a male officer. So, Ella became an FBI agent who took leave to come home and look into her father’s murder—unofficially. After the case was closed, she remained on the rez as a member of the tribal police.

You must do a significant amount of research in order to fold in Native American history and tradition as you do and yet don’t make the books sound like an anthropology lesson. Do you enjoy the research?

David: So much of our research involves working with our sources—former classmates of mine, law enforcement officers, government agents, local experts, and Navajo language instructors. We also draw from my many years on the Navajo Nation and my experiences there. We go back to my hometown, Shiprock, as often as we can, too. It helps us enrich the stories with small details that make the setting come alive.

In your new book, Ghost Medicine, Ella Clah seems to be at a turning point in her life—what is next for her and you?

thurlo_Ghost_MedicineAimée: The Ella Clah series will go on hiatus for a while. Right now we need to concentrate on our new Trading Post series. Each of these romantic suspense books will focus on one of the people who work at The Outpost, a trading post just outside the Navajo Nation. The owner, Jo Buck, is a Navajo medicine woman in training. The first book, A Time for a Change (Forge, 2013) featured Jo. The second book, Looking Through the Darkness, will be out next April.

David: The first book in our new mystery series for Minotaur, The Pawnbroker, will be published in January 2014. This story features Charlie Henry, the proud new co-owner of a pawnshop. Charlie and his best friend and business partner, Gordon, have recently returned Stateside from special-ops work in Iraq.

I understand that CBS had talked about an Ella Clah TV series. Tell me about that.

Aimée: Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin wrote a wonderful screenplay based on our Ella Clah books. CBS optioned it, but it never made it into production. Lee and Bill have now published that script in book form, Aimée and David Thurlo’s Ella Clah—The Pilot Script (CreateSpace, 2013). It’s a must for anyone who wants to know how to translate books into screenplays. They took our character, and without changing the essence of her, created a strong TV heroine.

And then there’s Lee Nez, the vampire police officer. How does one blend Navajos and vampires?

David: I grew up hearing stories of skinwalkers, Navajo witches who wore wolf or coyote skins and preyed upon the people. They were also believed to be capable of transforming from human to animal form and vice-versa. This concept fit well with the stories of werewolves, and when these creatures are around, you usually find vampires as well. So, I came up with the idea of Nightwalkers—the Navajo equivalent of vampires, except that with my biology background (I taught science for 25 years), I decided my vampires wouldn’t be the undead. They’d be a very small number of humans carrying a subvirus that made them vampire-like.

What are you working on now?

Aimée: Our Copper Canyon series for Harlequin Intrigue is going strong. Each book focuses on one of six foster brothers raised by a Navajo medicine man. Our work in progress, Undercover Warrior, features an NCIS agent who comes home to solve a case involving specialized explosive devices stolen from a naval base abroad. Throughout the story, the hero will have to come to terms with things he never understood about his foster father, the man all the brothers called Hosteen (or Mister) Silver, and the impact the medicine man’s legacy makes on his life. Each Copper Canyon book features a high-action story enriched by insights into the Navajo culture.

David is working on Grave Consequences, the working title for the next book in the Charlie Henry pawnshop mystery series for Minotaur. The action begins when there’s a shootout at Charlie and Gordon’s pawn shop. The former special ops team learns that the robbers were attempting to retrieve pawned jewelry stolen from the grave of a murdered Navajo silversmith.

Thurlo_Black_ThunderLet’s talk process.

Aimée: David’s the plotter, though we do talk about scenes and figure out the general direction for a book together, usually during long car drives.

When my name goes first, I do first and second draft. David does third and fourth, then I do more drafts. When the books feature a male protagonist, then David does first and second draft. I go in and do the third and fourth. In other words, the process is reversed. The only difference is that, generally, David does fewer drafts than I do.

David also has the job of making guys sound like guys. A lot of times I make the guys too “talky,” or too feminine in their thinking. I can look at the sentences and know I’m off the mark, but I don’t always know how to fix it. When that happens, I’ll leave a note for David in the text. “D, butch this guy up.” He then takes care of it on his pass.

Would you describe your desk(s)?

Aimée: My office and desk are chaotic. I’ve yet to see David come in and not trip over something. David’s far more organized by nature—which is one reason he can plot better than I do.

David’s desk is filled with maps and folders. Mine has cookie crumbs, coffee stains, stacks of notes I’ve made to myself, lots of pencils, and tons of erasers. (I do first draft on the computer. After that, I work on paper and enter my changes into the computer at the end of the day.)

We set up our first office in our dining room. We shared one desk—a tennis table, complete with net. One side was mine and the other David’s. After we met the page count each day, we’d move our stuff and play a few games.

Do you ever disagree when writing? And if and when you do, how do you resolve it?

Aimée: Our biggest disagreements come when I feel the plot isn’t working. Then we need to hash it out. One time, we just couldn’t agree. After endless, rather loud discussions, we gave our editor the choice and let her decide, though we didn’t tell her whose idea was whose. (She ended up choosing a blend of both.)

What do you read for fun?

Aimée: I love reading dog training books. I’m fascinated by Cesar Millan, a man who came to this country not even knowing the language, and made his fortune by sharing his incredible gift with dogs. As a Cuban immigrant, who later became a citizen, I think he is the epitome of the American dream. I’ve learned a lot about dog training from him, too! I read and re-read all his books.

David loves history, particularly WWII nonfiction accounts of the various battles and so on.

What is on your bedside tables right now?

Aimée: Milk-Bones and notepads. Sometimes the dogs get up in the middle of the night. We tell them to “Down” and then reward them with a Milk-Bone. They fall asleep afterwards, and mercifully, so do we. Being writers with ideas coming at all hours, the notepads speak for themselves.

A Selected Aimée & David Thurlo Reading List

ELLA CLAH MYSTERIES
Blackening Song, 1995
Death Walker, 1996
Bad Medicine, 1997
Enemy Way, 1998
Shooting Chant, 2000
Red Mesa, 2001
Changing Woman, 2002
Tracking Bear, 2003
Plant Them Deep, 2003 (Technically not in Ella Clah series but features Clah’s mother Rose Destea)
Wind Spirit, 2004
White Thunder, 2005
Mourning Dove, 2006
Turquoise Girl, 2007
Coyote’s Wife, 2008
Earthway, 2009
Never-Ending-Snake, 2010
Black Thunder, 2011
Ghost Medicine, 2013

COPPER CANYON SUSPENSE
Winter Hawk’s Legend, 2011
Power of the Raven, 2012
Secrets of the Lynx, 2012
Falcon’s Run, 2013

CHARLIE HENRY MYSTERIES
The Pawnbroker, January 2014

SISTER AGATHA MYSTERIES
Bad Faith, 2002
Thief in Retreat, 2004
Prey for a Miracle, 2006
False Witness, 2007
The Prodigal Nun, 2008
Bad Samaritan, 2010

LEE NEZ NOVELS
Second Sunrise, 2002
Blood Retribution, 2004
Pale Death, 2005
Surrogate Evil, 2006

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #132.

Teri Duerr
2014-03-06 04:53:30

Thurlo_Aimee_and_DavidAn interview with a writing duo with an abiding love for America’s West, from Holiday Issue #132.

True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto
Oline H. Cogdill


pizzolatto_nic
The HBO series True Detective, which wraps up Sunday (March 9) at 9 p.m., has been a showcase for Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who play partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division.

As Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson), the two actors dial down their usual on-screen personas to create a multi-layered story about the hunt for a killer that spans over 17 years.

McConaughey, in his pre-Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club, is mesmerizing as Cohle, a man who has lost everything when the series begins in 1995 and has further spiralled down when he and Hart are called back when the investigation reopens in 2012.

Harrelson’s bombastic personality is channelled into Hart’s arrogance and inability to see anything but his own needs.

As good as McConaughey and Harrelson are, another star is even more important to True Detective—the series’ writer, creator and executive producer Nic Pizzolatto.

Pizzolatto deserves full credit for what True Detective is—a complex look at how an investigation into a horrible murder affects the two detectives, neither of whom was all that mentally secure to begin with.

Pizzolatto’s first novel Galveston was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award. He also has written a couple of short story collections.

In addition to True Detective, Pizzolatto has been hired by Universal to write the script for The Rockford Files movie. Vince Vaughn is slated to play the iconic private detective James Rockford in the film.

Mystery Scene caught up with Nic Pizzolatto before the series began and, with the eight-season series now ending, this seemed the right time to post our interview. And if you are new to True Detective, start at the beginning, which is being encored on HBO and also is On Demand. Or wait for the DVD.

Mystery Scene: How did your background as a Louisiana native play intoTrue Detective’s scenery.
Pizzolatto:
The landscape there has always haunted me and that setting was very important to me during my formative years. I’ve always been one of those people affected by my surroundings. I think of the landscape as the third lead in True Detective.

Mystery Scene: Your novel Galveston was nominated for an Edgar in 2010, and True Detective is very much crime fiction. What are your thoughts on crime fiction?
Pizzolatto:
I certainly have crime fiction authors I love, but I am not a genre guy. I pushed myself into the crime genre because I like a plot. Most of my artistic obsessions—time, memory, character, the unknowability of our lives—that all fits very nicely under sort of existentialism of crime fiction embraced by noir.

I just like a good story. Fundamentally, I am always concerned about character, and I think you see that in True Detective. I am not interested in serial killers and I am not in some competition to see who can come up with the most disgusting serial killer.

I am just concerned about the humanism of these characters locked in this situation. And if you are going to trade in realistic plots, the ones that feature some form of criminality are the ones that are easiest for me to latch onto.

Mystery Scene: Did any one novel or movie influenceTrue Detective?
Pizzolatto:
There have been so many influences from TV and books, but my love of theater also influenced True Detective. Particularly in the narrative style of having the story told. Theater is great story telling and great acting. And in True Detective you see a lot of scenes of the actors by themselves just talking to the camera. I have always had a love for the theatrical concept of the monologue. I love to see characters being given the chance to account for themselves.

Great plays are just characters telling a story. I like that intimacy that gives you a direct link to the character and allows you to see all their evasions and flaws. It also brings out those layered nuances that you have in fiction and that have great appeal to me

Mystery Scene: So many partners in cop novels and films are best friends. Yours are not.
Pizzolatto:
Tension, in any genre, is fundamental in character, and Cohle and Hart have a lot of tension between them. When I started to write this during the summer of 2010, I thought True Detectivewould become a book. And in a way it is a novel that has taken a different form. It’s mainly a two first-person narrative, as it might be in a novel.

Most compelling to me was how these two men react to each other. They are both very complicated men. Each represents a number of contradictions. Neither knows how to live properly and they don’t know how to live in completely different ways. Hart, on the surface, should be the most grounded. He has all the things—family, children, marriage—that should anchor him. Cole is more of an island yet behaves with more control, responsibility and integrity. Both willing to cross the line of civilized behavior if their sense of justice is violated.

Mystery Scene: Were Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson who you pictured in these roles?
Pizzolatto:
It was written with them in mind, and they really make the most of that tension. Then after they really were cast, I went back to the first two episodes and retooled them for Matthew and Woody so True Detective would have their voice.

Photo: Nic Pizzolatto on the set of True Detective. Photo courtesy HBO/Michele K. Short

True Detective's finale airs at 9 p.m. (EST/Pt) Sunday, March 9, on HBO. Frequent encores will run each week. True Detective is available On Demand; DVD will be coming soon.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-08 15:35:02


pizzolatto_nic
The HBO series True Detective, which wraps up Sunday (March 9) at 9 p.m., has been a showcase for Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who play partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division.

As Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson), the two actors dial down their usual on-screen personas to create a multi-layered story about the hunt for a killer that spans over 17 years.

McConaughey, in his pre-Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club, is mesmerizing as Cohle, a man who has lost everything when the series begins in 1995 and has further spiralled down when he and Hart are called back when the investigation reopens in 2012.

Harrelson’s bombastic personality is channelled into Hart’s arrogance and inability to see anything but his own needs.

As good as McConaughey and Harrelson are, another star is even more important to True Detective—the series’ writer, creator and executive producer Nic Pizzolatto.

Pizzolatto deserves full credit for what True Detective is—a complex look at how an investigation into a horrible murder affects the two detectives, neither of whom was all that mentally secure to begin with.

Pizzolatto’s first novel Galveston was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award. He also has written a couple of short story collections.

In addition to True Detective, Pizzolatto has been hired by Universal to write the script for The Rockford Files movie. Vince Vaughn is slated to play the iconic private detective James Rockford in the film.

Mystery Scene caught up with Nic Pizzolatto before the series began and, with the eight-season series now ending, this seemed the right time to post our interview. And if you are new to True Detective, start at the beginning, which is being encored on HBO and also is On Demand. Or wait for the DVD.

Mystery Scene: How did your background as a Louisiana native play intoTrue Detective’s scenery.
Pizzolatto:
The landscape there has always haunted me and that setting was very important to me during my formative years. I’ve always been one of those people affected by my surroundings. I think of the landscape as the third lead in True Detective.

Mystery Scene: Your novel Galveston was nominated for an Edgar in 2010, and True Detective is very much crime fiction. What are your thoughts on crime fiction?
Pizzolatto:
I certainly have crime fiction authors I love, but I am not a genre guy. I pushed myself into the crime genre because I like a plot. Most of my artistic obsessions—time, memory, character, the unknowability of our lives—that all fits very nicely under sort of existentialism of crime fiction embraced by noir.

I just like a good story. Fundamentally, I am always concerned about character, and I think you see that in True Detective. I am not interested in serial killers and I am not in some competition to see who can come up with the most disgusting serial killer.

I am just concerned about the humanism of these characters locked in this situation. And if you are going to trade in realistic plots, the ones that feature some form of criminality are the ones that are easiest for me to latch onto.

Mystery Scene: Did any one novel or movie influenceTrue Detective?
Pizzolatto:
There have been so many influences from TV and books, but my love of theater also influenced True Detective. Particularly in the narrative style of having the story told. Theater is great story telling and great acting. And in True Detective you see a lot of scenes of the actors by themselves just talking to the camera. I have always had a love for the theatrical concept of the monologue. I love to see characters being given the chance to account for themselves.

Great plays are just characters telling a story. I like that intimacy that gives you a direct link to the character and allows you to see all their evasions and flaws. It also brings out those layered nuances that you have in fiction and that have great appeal to me

Mystery Scene: So many partners in cop novels and films are best friends. Yours are not.
Pizzolatto:
Tension, in any genre, is fundamental in character, and Cohle and Hart have a lot of tension between them. When I started to write this during the summer of 2010, I thought True Detectivewould become a book. And in a way it is a novel that has taken a different form. It’s mainly a two first-person narrative, as it might be in a novel.

Most compelling to me was how these two men react to each other. They are both very complicated men. Each represents a number of contradictions. Neither knows how to live properly and they don’t know how to live in completely different ways. Hart, on the surface, should be the most grounded. He has all the things—family, children, marriage—that should anchor him. Cole is more of an island yet behaves with more control, responsibility and integrity. Both willing to cross the line of civilized behavior if their sense of justice is violated.

Mystery Scene: Were Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson who you pictured in these roles?
Pizzolatto:
It was written with them in mind, and they really make the most of that tension. Then after they really were cast, I went back to the first two episodes and retooled them for Matthew and Woody so True Detective would have their voice.

Photo: Nic Pizzolatto on the set of True Detective. Photo courtesy HBO/Michele K. Short

True Detective's finale airs at 9 p.m. (EST/Pt) Sunday, March 9, on HBO. Frequent encores will run each week. True Detective is available On Demand; DVD will be coming soon.

Kansas Honors Sara Paretsky
Oline Cogdill

paretskysara_bleedingkansas
Sara Paretsky, as most of us know, is best known for her mystery fiction about Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski.

But it’s Paretsky’s 2008 stand-alone novel Bleeding Kansas that is getting a push in Kansas.

The Kansas Center for the Book has picked Bleeding Kansas as its “Kansas Reads” novel.

Kansas Reads is a one-book/one-state reading and discussion project for adult readers. According to its website, “titles are selected for broad-based appeal to encourage spirited discussion among readers at libraries, booksellers and other partners statewide. This year, our selection reflects the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement.”

Bleeding Kansas is a tale about farmers, feuds, religion, bigotry and forgiveness.

In my review of Bleeding Kansas, I described the plot as such:

Two farming families are at the heart of the story -- the Grelliers and the Schapens, both of whose ancestors settled into the same valley during the 1850s as antislavery emigrants. Animosity through the years have turned the families into enemies and Paretsky sharply divides the characters into the good, the Grelliers, and the bad, the Schapens. Jim Grellier is a hard-working farmer whose wife, Susan, is into “big causes,” throwing herself into one failed farm project after another. She’s obsessed about the lives and sacrifices made by her husband’s pioneer ancestors.

The Schapens also work hard at their farm, but they also work even harder at spewing hate toward their neighbors. Matriarch Myra maintains a Web site on which she venomously discusses her neighbors’ lives. Both families are devout Christians, yet the Schapens believe only their brand of religion is right.

Paretsky perfectly captures the hardships of family farms, the money woes and each family’s dependence on the other. Kansas is vividly presented, giving not just a view of its beauty but also its political and social landscape, I stated later in my review.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-12 22:59:02

paretskysara_bleedingkansas
Sara Paretsky, as most of us know, is best known for her mystery fiction about Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski.

But it’s Paretsky’s 2008 stand-alone novel Bleeding Kansas that is getting a push in Kansas.

The Kansas Center for the Book has picked Bleeding Kansas as its “Kansas Reads” novel.

Kansas Reads is a one-book/one-state reading and discussion project for adult readers. According to its website, “titles are selected for broad-based appeal to encourage spirited discussion among readers at libraries, booksellers and other partners statewide. This year, our selection reflects the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement.”

Bleeding Kansas is a tale about farmers, feuds, religion, bigotry and forgiveness.

In my review of Bleeding Kansas, I described the plot as such:

Two farming families are at the heart of the story -- the Grelliers and the Schapens, both of whose ancestors settled into the same valley during the 1850s as antislavery emigrants. Animosity through the years have turned the families into enemies and Paretsky sharply divides the characters into the good, the Grelliers, and the bad, the Schapens. Jim Grellier is a hard-working farmer whose wife, Susan, is into “big causes,” throwing herself into one failed farm project after another. She’s obsessed about the lives and sacrifices made by her husband’s pioneer ancestors.

The Schapens also work hard at their farm, but they also work even harder at spewing hate toward their neighbors. Matriarch Myra maintains a Web site on which she venomously discusses her neighbors’ lives. Both families are devout Christians, yet the Schapens believe only their brand of religion is right.

Paretsky perfectly captures the hardships of family farms, the money woes and each family’s dependence on the other. Kansas is vividly presented, giving not just a view of its beauty but also its political and social landscape, I stated later in my review.

Eyewitness: Everybody Must Get Stoned
Kevin Burton Smith

drunkSherlock Holmes, the spiritual father of the private eye hero, was a user himself, much to Dr. Watson’s dismay. Or did you think he was knitting when he bellowed to the good doctor for the needle?

Photo: Jaimie D. Travis

“Sleuthing is not the most rewarding work. However, being a drug addict has its charms.”
—New York eye Dick Shamus in Jon Hammer’s
The Drowned Girl (1990)

Lately, I’ve been digging The Cocaine Chronicles (2005, Akashic Books), Gary Phillips and Jervey Tervalon’s head-twisting new collection of coke-filled short stories from some of today’s leading crime-fiction writers and other miscreants, a selection of hard, uncut hits that go directly to the brain. Several brand name PI authors are present and accounted for: Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Ken Bruen, and that big ol’ editing rascal, Gary himself. They lay out some extremely satisfying (and often very funny) lines of product, but surprisingly, and even a bit disappointingly, none of the stories in Chronicles features their series characters.

That doesn’t mean that the world of fictional private eyes is some sort of drug-free never-never land, though. In fact, right from the beginning, the use (and frequent abuse) of drugs, both legal and otherwise, has been a staple of the genre—and definitely not just by the bad guys. As the epigraph- featured quote from Sir Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four so gleefully points out, Sherlock Holmes, the spiritual father of the private eye hero, was a user himself, much to Dr. Watson’s dismay. Or did you think he was knitting when he bellowed to the good doctor for the needle?

And ever since, private eyes have drunk, dropped, popped, sniffed, snorted, and injected themselves into various states of consciousness, with little apparent regard for their own health or any passing laws of the land. Heck, the hard-boiled private eye we all know and love was born right smack dab in the middle of Prohibition (a.k.a. “The First Great War on Drugs to End All Wars on Drugs”), the first in what would be a continuing series of expensive, misguided, and doomed attempts to legislate social behavior by threatening to throw people in jail. Of course, Prohibition didn’t work—instead it made the selling of outlaw hooch so lucrative that we ended up with (even more) widespread political corruption and saw small, generally unorganized criminal gangs transformed into mighty crime syndicates whose descendants—both spiritual and direct—have profited mightily from each subsequent war on drugs.

phillips_cocainechroniclesSo, even when those hard-boiled Prohibition-era gumshoes were out there dispensing justice, their .45s blazing away in the pages of Black Mask and other pulps of the time, the hip flask was never far away (nor was it all that far from the blazing typewriters of the creators themselves, come to think of it). As Rita Elizabeth Rippetoe asserts in her fascinating and enlightening Edgar-nominated study, Booze and the Private Eye: Alcohol in the Hard-Boiled Novel (2004, McFarland & Company), “the treatment of alcohol within the works informs and illustrates the detective’s moral code, and casts light upon the society’s attitudes towards drink.”

Well, yeah. And that goes for other substances, as well, for the private eye genre has always functioned best as a chronicle of contemporary times, and is therefore always in a state of flux when it comes to its attitudes.

In Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op takes a break from playing two rival gangs off against each other by swilling a concoction of gin and laudanum, no doubt to demonstrate the manly resolution of his hard-bitten, tough-minded nature.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Latimer’s Bill Crane drank for a much simpler reason: he enjoyed it. In the course of five delightfully screwball novels in the early ’30s, Crane enjoyed just about anything he could get his hands on—including at one point embalming fluid—and spends most of his time either high as a kite or suffering from a hangover.

But hey, it was all in “good fun,” the effects of such abuse ignored or more characteristically, played for laughs. Drunkenness and hangovers were a reliable comedic staple in lighter-hearted fare for decades to come (cf. Dean Martin), a tried-and-true laugh-getter in such detective fiction as The Thin Man by Hammett, the Shell Scott series by Richard Prather, and the J.J. Malone series by Craig Rice. More serious-minded novels, meanwhile, generally treated excessive drinking as the weakness of lesser men or, in the cases of the heroes themselves, merely the reasonable response of a sensitive soul to carrying the weight of a corrupt, uncaring world on his trench-coated shoulders, the omnipresent office bottle already halfway to cliché by the time Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe came along.

It would be years before the boozing would be allowed to take its toll of the fictional eye, and then in a hand-wringing, rather romantically tragic way, one of the first instances being Wade Miller’s Max Thursday, who’s introduced to us in Guilty Bystander (1947) as only a step or two above skid row, working as a flophouse dick. Ed McBain’s Curt Cannon, a private eye turned Bowery bum, appeared in several, often brutal, short stories and a novel a few years later.

simon_thebigfixEven good ol’ Mike Hammer went off the deep-end. When he makes his entrance in The Girl Hunters (1962), ten years after his last adventure, he’s been on a seven-year bender, mourning the loss of his beloved Velda. But of course he cleans himself up when he learns that Velda is still alive and in serious need of rescue. It’s worth noting that redemption and sobriety were always close at hand and easily achieved for the soused shamuses of the era. Hammer, for example, drinks as much as ever in his subsequent adventures, with no mention of his alcoholism, an apparently optional malady one could simply choose not to suffer from.

Ah, if only it had been so easy for Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder. When the hangover of reality finally caught up with the genre, it did so with a vengeance. Scudder was a cop who quit the NYPD to drown his guilt over a bad shooting in the first five novels of the series, before finally coming to grips with his alcoholism at the end of Eight Million Ways to Die (1982)—redemption, perhaps, but at a painfully realistic price, for once. The series has gone on to other heights, with the recovering detective never too far from an AA meeting, but those first five, the great Lost Weekend of PI fiction, still pack one harrowing wallop of wretchedness and grim despair.

Not, of course, that booze is the only evil to appear in the genre, the ridiculous and often paranoid demonization of assorted controlled substances (Reefer Madness, anyone?) of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s gradually giving way to a more tolerant or at least informed approach, so that by the ’70s, Roger Simon’s hippie dick, Moses Wine, could smoke a joint and enjoy a good game of solitary Clue in the 1973 classic The Big Fix without the world coming to an end. And in his wake came a steady stream of dicks who would cop to having inhaled, including G.M. Ford’s Leo Waterman, Richard Stevenson’s Don Strachey, and L.A. Morse’s octogenarian Jake Spanner who in 1981’s The Old Dick summed it all up neatly with the rhetorical musing, “Kids today think they invented this stuff?”

But it went beyond pot. Holmes may have favored his beloved seven percent solution, but he’s certainly not the only one to have put stuff into his body that probably shouldn’t be there. Don’t bet on current superstar eyes like George Pelecanos’ Nick Stefanos, Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor, or James Crumley’s dynamic duo of Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue (now appearing in the long-awaited The Right Madness) or currently MIA eyes like Zachary Klein’s Matt Jacob and Michael Cormany’s Dan Kruger (where the hell are they, anyway?) passing any urine tests any day soon. These guys are all equal opportunity substance abusers. Booze, pot, coke, pills—you name it, and these guys will try it—and more than once.

block_whenthesacredginmillclosesNor is the willful use of all these wondrous concoctions restricted to the gentlemen of the genre—for example, Greg Rucka’s Bridget Logan shows it’s no different for girls by descending into heroin addiction to crack the case in the pulpy provocation of Shooting at Midnight (1999).

Yeah, right... Of course, we all know drug abuse isn’t really heroic or funny, and in these oh-so-correct times, it’s seldom played for laughs. But there’s something darkly funny about us waging an increasingly self-righteous and costly war on drugs while the airwaves are saturated with Super Bowl beer commercials aimed at 12-year-olds, and one of Matt Scudder’s fellow travelers sits in the Oval Office. Oh, sure, the increasingly self-righteous can all pat themselves on the back for having deadly pot desperado Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) cooling his heels in the hoosegow (for selling pipes on the internet), but there’s more opium coming out of Afghanistan than ever. Back on the home front, Junior’s on Ritalin, Dad’s had three scotches for lunch, and Mom can’t wait to go running for the shelter of her mother’s little helpers. We love our drugs; we just don’t like to admit it.

So it’s no biggie that the private eye has indulged in various substances over the years—and will in all likelihood continue to do so. Sometimes he (or she) will handle it, sometimes he’ll just say “No.” And sometimes he’ll just be an asshole. Like the rest of us. At its best the genre has always cast a hard and unflinching eye on our society; on all our embarrassing little quirks and hypocrisies and foibles. Including our ambivalence towards drugs. I remember a few years ago, some woman on some online discussion group solemnly announcing her personal boycott of any books where any character, but especially the detective, partakes of any illegal substance—or even tobacco. She was urging others to join her.

Get over it. That raucous laughter you hear is Philip Marlowe’s, as he pours another shot from the office bottle.

Cheers.

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

Teri Duerr
2014-03-14 19:15:10

drunkSherlock Holmes, the spiritual father of the private eye hero, was a user himself...

Laura Lippman, Gwen Florio Share Pinckley Prize
Oline Cogdill

lippman_laura4
The latest copy of Mystery Scene magazine had barely been printed when we got the news that Laura Lippman, at right, whose feature article graces the cover of the latest issue, was being honored with the 2014 Pinckley Prize.

Lippman will share the inaugural Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction with Gwen Florio.

The Pinckley Prizes are named to honor the memory of Diana Pinckley, longtime crime fiction columnist for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The prizes will be presented March 22, 2014, at the 28th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. The presentation will take place at the historic Beauregard-Keyes House at 5 p.m. The Prizes are presented by the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, of which Diana Pinckley was a founding member.

A Baltimore native and now part-time New Orleans resident, Laura Lippman, whose latest novel is After I'm Gone, has been chosen for the first Pinckley Prize for a Distinguished Body of Work.

In their statement about the choice of Lippman, the committee said, “Laura Lippman is one of those writers whose dedication to her home town of Baltimore has captivated American readers. She has created an enduring sleuth in Tess Monaghan, a complex character dealing with the issues that every contemporary woman confronts. And more than that, in her stand-alone works, Lippman has transcended the limits and challenges of genre to become a distinguished writer of social realism. All that, and she has a wicked sense of humor!”

In a statement, Lippman, said, “Of course I'm gratified to receive this award, but it is especially meaningful to me as I had the great luck to meet Diana, socially and professionally. I know we like to think that our culture, our society has moved beyond a point where we need prizes that are for certain genres or genders. But we haven't. And to have a prize that recognizes one's body of work, and to have that prize be part of Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans, a city that truly embraces reading -- I am overwhelmed at the honor of being the recipient. I love my second hometown.”

florio_gwen
Montana resident Gwen Florio wins the Pinckley Prize for a Debut Novel, for her first book, Montana, published by Permanent Press.

The committee’s statement is: “Out of a field of excellent debut crime novels, we picked Montana because we completely fell in love with the main character. It’s often difficult to pinpoint why someone is lovable. Suffice to say that Gwen Florio’s protagonist Lola fully lives on the page, and what is even more compelling about this brave, irascible character is that she continues to live after the book is closed. She's fearless, flawed, intelligent, reckless, and funny, but most of all, she is defined by loyalty to her friend and a relentless pursuit of her killer.”

In a statement Florio said, “As a recovering journalist, I’m honored and humbled that my novel featuring an investigative reporter has received this inaugural award named for a newspaper columnist – and that I share the award with another former journalist. It’s especially meaningful to receive it in this city long known for treasuring journalism, particularly in these difficult times.”

florio_montanaxxx
The Prizes were created in 2012 to honor Diana Pinckley, who was a founding member of the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, as well as a civic activist who gave her time and energy to local and national causes. The WNBA-NOLA group, composed of writers, librarians, publishers, and booklovers, was founded in 2011; it is the local affiliate of the national group, which was founded in 1917.

The judges this year were memoirist Constance Adler; Mary McCay, founding director of the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing at Loyola University; and novelist Christine Wiltz.

Lippman and Florio will each receive a $2,500 cash award, as well as a beautiful paper rosette fashioned from the pages of their books, created by New Orleans artist Yuka Petz.

Submissions for the 2015 Prizes will be open April 1.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-15 19:52:38

lippman_laura4
The latest copy of Mystery Scene magazine had barely been printed when we got the news that Laura Lippman, at right, whose feature article graces the cover of the latest issue, was being honored with the 2014 Pinckley Prize.

Lippman will share the inaugural Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction with Gwen Florio.

The Pinckley Prizes are named to honor the memory of Diana Pinckley, longtime crime fiction columnist for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The prizes will be presented March 22, 2014, at the 28th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. The presentation will take place at the historic Beauregard-Keyes House at 5 p.m. The Prizes are presented by the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, of which Diana Pinckley was a founding member.

A Baltimore native and now part-time New Orleans resident, Laura Lippman, whose latest novel is After I'm Gone, has been chosen for the first Pinckley Prize for a Distinguished Body of Work.

In their statement about the choice of Lippman, the committee said, “Laura Lippman is one of those writers whose dedication to her home town of Baltimore has captivated American readers. She has created an enduring sleuth in Tess Monaghan, a complex character dealing with the issues that every contemporary woman confronts. And more than that, in her stand-alone works, Lippman has transcended the limits and challenges of genre to become a distinguished writer of social realism. All that, and she has a wicked sense of humor!”

In a statement, Lippman, said, “Of course I'm gratified to receive this award, but it is especially meaningful to me as I had the great luck to meet Diana, socially and professionally. I know we like to think that our culture, our society has moved beyond a point where we need prizes that are for certain genres or genders. But we haven't. And to have a prize that recognizes one's body of work, and to have that prize be part of Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans, a city that truly embraces reading -- I am overwhelmed at the honor of being the recipient. I love my second hometown.”

florio_gwen
Montana resident Gwen Florio wins the Pinckley Prize for a Debut Novel, for her first book, Montana, published by Permanent Press.

The committee’s statement is: “Out of a field of excellent debut crime novels, we picked Montana because we completely fell in love with the main character. It’s often difficult to pinpoint why someone is lovable. Suffice to say that Gwen Florio’s protagonist Lola fully lives on the page, and what is even more compelling about this brave, irascible character is that she continues to live after the book is closed. She's fearless, flawed, intelligent, reckless, and funny, but most of all, she is defined by loyalty to her friend and a relentless pursuit of her killer.”

In a statement Florio said, “As a recovering journalist, I’m honored and humbled that my novel featuring an investigative reporter has received this inaugural award named for a newspaper columnist – and that I share the award with another former journalist. It’s especially meaningful to receive it in this city long known for treasuring journalism, particularly in these difficult times.”

florio_montanaxxx
The Prizes were created in 2012 to honor Diana Pinckley, who was a founding member of the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, as well as a civic activist who gave her time and energy to local and national causes. The WNBA-NOLA group, composed of writers, librarians, publishers, and booklovers, was founded in 2011; it is the local affiliate of the national group, which was founded in 1917.

The judges this year were memoirist Constance Adler; Mary McCay, founding director of the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing at Loyola University; and novelist Christine Wiltz.

Lippman and Florio will each receive a $2,500 cash award, as well as a beautiful paper rosette fashioned from the pages of their books, created by New Orleans artist Yuka Petz.

Submissions for the 2015 Prizes will be open April 1.

At Home With Harlan Coben
Oline H. Cogdill

coben_harlaninrain
No author can be everywhere, not even Harlan Coben, at left.

And book tours often alternate between areas—parts of the East Coast one year, parts of the Midwest the next. Publishers and authors want to make sure they don’t visit the same regions year after year.

If an author can’t come to your local bookstore, maybe you can go to the author’s home.

Virtually, that is.

In addition to Coben’s regular in-person stops at myriad bookstores, the author and his publisher are trying something new for the launch of his latest novel Missing You.

Several bookstores across the country will feature “At Home with Harlan,” a live streaming interview with Harlan Coben in his living room talking about his latest novel Missing You, showing off his home and also taking questions.

Kinda like a fireside chat, though I don't know if he even has a fireplace.

cobenharlan_missingyou
The talk will be about 20 minutes and will feature a question and answer session with Coben.

The live web event begins at 7 p.m. March 25. And, yes, you do have to be in the store to hear Coben’s talk.

For details, contact the stores that will host Coben’s talk.

The stores participating are

ALABAMA
Alabama Booksmith in Homewood

CALIFORNIA
Book Passage in Corte Madera
Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego


FLORIDA
Books & Books in Coral Gables
Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach

MISSOURI
Left Bank Books in St. Louis

MICHIGAN
Schuler Books in Lansing

NEW HAMPSHIRE
White Birch Books in North Conway

NEW JERSEY
BookTowne in Manasquan

NEW YORK
Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn

NORTH CAROLINA
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville

RHODE ISLAND
Barrington Books in Barrington

TEXAS
Murder by the Book in Houston

UTAH
The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-22 18:26:57

coben_harlaninrain
No author can be everywhere, not even Harlan Coben, at left.

And book tours often alternate between areas—parts of the East Coast one year, parts of the Midwest the next. Publishers and authors want to make sure they don’t visit the same regions year after year.

If an author can’t come to your local bookstore, maybe you can go to the author’s home.

Virtually, that is.

In addition to Coben’s regular in-person stops at myriad bookstores, the author and his publisher are trying something new for the launch of his latest novel Missing You.

Several bookstores across the country will feature “At Home with Harlan,” a live streaming interview with Harlan Coben in his living room talking about his latest novel Missing You, showing off his home and also taking questions.

Kinda like a fireside chat, though I don't know if he even has a fireplace.

cobenharlan_missingyou
The talk will be about 20 minutes and will feature a question and answer session with Coben.

The live web event begins at 7 p.m. March 25. And, yes, you do have to be in the store to hear Coben’s talk.

For details, contact the stores that will host Coben’s talk.

The stores participating are

ALABAMA
Alabama Booksmith in Homewood

CALIFORNIA
Book Passage in Corte Madera
Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego


FLORIDA
Books & Books in Coral Gables
Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach

MISSOURI
Left Bank Books in St. Louis

MICHIGAN
Schuler Books in Lansing

NEW HAMPSHIRE
White Birch Books in North Conway

NEW JERSEY
BookTowne in Manasquan

NEW YORK
Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn

NORTH CAROLINA
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville

RHODE ISLAND
Barrington Books in Barrington

TEXAS
Murder by the Book in Houston

UTAH
The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City

Why Library Events Matter
Oline H. Cogdill

searlesjohn_helpforhaunted2
As readers of mystery fiction, I think we can all agree on how important literacy programs are and how important it is to support our local libraries.

I love libraries and try to always make myself available to moderate a panel, introduce an author, etc., when asked by area libraries.

Each year in the Fort Lauderdale area there is a terrific event called the Literary Feast sponsored by the Broward County Public Library Foundation.

And next month I will be moderating some panels during Palm Beach Peril put on by the Palm Beach Library System.

Now some of you readers who don’t live in Florida are wondering "what this has to do with me?"

Well, everything.

The Florida connection doesn’t matter. What matters is that each of you has a local library and supporting a library is vital to a community.

During the mystery fiction panel I moderated, everyone one of us had a story that was either shared with the audience or said later in private about how much a library can mean to a community.

My panel included Michael Sears, Archer Mayor, Karin Slaughter and John Searles.

During the panel, Searles, author of the highly rated Help for the Haunted, talked about how as a child he would often go to the library after school to avoid the bullies. The library became a refuge for him and a place to learn about the world outside his home.

slaugherkarin_unseen
Karin Slaughter
is one of the founders of Save the Libraries Foundation, which raises money for libraries around the country. Slaughter told our audience how much she values libraries.

Michael Sears and Archer Mayor also love libraries

I also conducted the interview with Martha Grimes and a separate interview with Robin Cook. Before both events, we chatted about the Literary Feast and how important libraries are.

These library events usually offer books for sale and there also is a ripple effect.

A reader may end up buying more books by an author after the event, or encourage their friends and family to buy those books.

The Literary Feast brings authors to the schools and those high schoolers often will then buy the book or encourage their parents to buy the book.

A library also was important to me as a child. I spent countless hours after school and on Saturdays at the library in my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. I learned so much about the world beyond myself there. And it was after I had pretty much exhausted every children’s book there that my mother suggested I try her mystery novels.

The rest is, as they say, history.

For readers, libraries supply us with so many reading options.

For authors, libraries buy books and often will buy more books by an author if enough readers demand it.

Everyone wins when there is a local library.

Everyone loses when a library closes.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-19 13:12:49

searlesjohn_helpforhaunted2
As readers of mystery fiction, I think we can all agree on how important literacy programs are and how important it is to support our local libraries.

I love libraries and try to always make myself available to moderate a panel, introduce an author, etc., when asked by area libraries.

Each year in the Fort Lauderdale area there is a terrific event called the Literary Feast sponsored by the Broward County Public Library Foundation.

And next month I will be moderating some panels during Palm Beach Peril put on by the Palm Beach Library System.

Now some of you readers who don’t live in Florida are wondering "what this has to do with me?"

Well, everything.

The Florida connection doesn’t matter. What matters is that each of you has a local library and supporting a library is vital to a community.

During the mystery fiction panel I moderated, everyone one of us had a story that was either shared with the audience or said later in private about how much a library can mean to a community.

My panel included Michael Sears, Archer Mayor, Karin Slaughter and John Searles.

During the panel, Searles, author of the highly rated Help for the Haunted, talked about how as a child he would often go to the library after school to avoid the bullies. The library became a refuge for him and a place to learn about the world outside his home.

slaugherkarin_unseen
Karin Slaughter
is one of the founders of Save the Libraries Foundation, which raises money for libraries around the country. Slaughter told our audience how much she values libraries.

Michael Sears and Archer Mayor also love libraries

I also conducted the interview with Martha Grimes and a separate interview with Robin Cook. Before both events, we chatted about the Literary Feast and how important libraries are.

These library events usually offer books for sale and there also is a ripple effect.

A reader may end up buying more books by an author after the event, or encourage their friends and family to buy those books.

The Literary Feast brings authors to the schools and those high schoolers often will then buy the book or encourage their parents to buy the book.

A library also was important to me as a child. I spent countless hours after school and on Saturdays at the library in my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. I learned so much about the world beyond myself there. And it was after I had pretty much exhausted every children’s book there that my mother suggested I try her mystery novels.

The rest is, as they say, history.

For readers, libraries supply us with so many reading options.

For authors, libraries buy books and often will buy more books by an author if enough readers demand it.

Everyone wins when there is a local library.

Everyone loses when a library closes.

Hidden Treasures: Four Underappreciated Writers to Seek Out
Jon L. Breen

treasuremap

That more and more mysteries are being published through more and more channels is both good news and bad news for the writer.

The good news: more ways to get published. The bad news: more ways to be lost in the shuffle. All four of these writers have achieved a measure of success but are less highly valued than they should be. Read on for a treasure trove of good writing!

donnelly_deborahDEBORAH DONNELLY

Do mystery reviewers (male ones especially) have it in for the so-called cozy mystery, so much so that they have made the phrase itself a kind of slur? Not this reviewer. As a descriptive term, cozy is no more pejorative than hardboiled, and if I were forced to divide the whole of detective fiction into the toughs and the cozies, the classical figures I most revere (Queen, Christie, Carr, Marsh) would inevitably land in the cozy column. However, I do get impatient with the current crop of cozies when they are unconscionably padded and/or neglect the basic requirement of a good plot.

A self-described “skinny 5’11” redhead,” Carnegie (named for Andrew Carnegie because her father appreciated the public libraries he funded) was launched in Veiled Threats (2002), but I first made her acquaintance in Died to Match (2002), in which the nuptials are planned for an unusual venue: the Seattle Aquarium. Aside from the humorous narrative style, the inside details of wedding planning, and the fresh background, I was impressed by an element often absent from present-day cozies: real detection from fairly offered clues.

Cozy mystery heroines have all sorts of occupations—caterer, book dealer, tea-shop proprietor, domestic, animal breeder, journalist, landscape architect, teacher, librarian, ghostwriter, tour leader—but one of the most promising is that practiced by Deborah Donnelly’s Carnegie Kincaid: wedding planner. Weddings are as surefire a background for murder as for comedy or romance. The Kincaid series has won a following but, since paperbacks continue to get less review attention than hardcovers, it might have missed some of its potential audience.

Following May the Best Man Die (2003), Carnegie has her fourth case in Death Takes a Honeymoon (2005), in which she goes to the wedding of an old college friend as a reluctant guest but winds up running the show when the bride’s family can’t get along with the designated planner. Meanwhile, she becomes involved in investigating the recent death of her cousin, a firefighter, in an apparent smoke-jumping accident. The two plot elements come together in an exciting forest-fire climax. There’s no clued detection in this one, unless it was too subtle for me, but the plot is nicely involved and the humor on target. A couple of samples that could have come from Ron Goulart’s joke file: the bride, Tracy Kane, has become famous starring as a professional dog walker on a TV sitcom called Tails of the City, and the characters imbibe a local brew called Moose Drool Ale. (For all I know, that last may be authentic!) [Ed. note: It is.]

While Donnelly follows the dubious current practice of having a large cast of continuing characters—Carnegie’s journalist boyfriend, elderly business partner, obnoxious professional rival, Russian floral consultant—they are never dragged in for no reason or allowed to bring plot movement to a grinding halt so they can perform. The rocky romantic subplot is nicely integrated with the mystery. I’m less sanguine about Donnelly’s use of cliff-hanger endings, particularly annoying in the latest book since it’s so incongruous with the light overall tone. But the general quality of these novels disarms gripes.

elton_benBEN ELTON

If Mystery Scene were a British publication, calling Ben Elton an undervalued writer would be laughable. Though famed in the UK as stand-up comic, actor, playwright, and bestselling novelist, he has not gained the audience he deserves in the USA couple of his novels, including the Gold Dagger-winning Popcorn (1996), have found American publishers, but his most recent work is distributed here in its original British editions by Trafalgar Square. Elton has a satirist’s eye for contemporary lunacy, a fine novelist’s ability to create individual and involving characters, and a respect for the traditions of crime fiction.

Popcorn is a searing satire on contemporary society as viewed and influenced by its entertainment and information media. On the evening he wins an Oscar for his over-the-top violent Ordinary Americans, writer/director Bruce Delamitri (clearly inspired at least in his professional persona by Quentin Tarantino) is taken hostage by the notorious Mall Murderers who were inspired to their killing spree by his film. Along with the Oscar ceremony and general Hollywood hypocrisy (the cynical director’s acceptance speech is remarkable for its knee-jerk insincerity), Elton touches on racial politics, cosmetic surgery, rampant litigation, campus political correctness, television news and talk shows, commercials, and numerous other targets in service of his overarching theme: that everybody blames somebody else for everything and nobody takes responsibility for anything.

Elton’s later books continue to explore various crime/mystery subgenres while keeping a satirical focus. The stalker novel Blast From the Past (1997) is a riff on sexual politics, describing a rekindled romance between two extremists, a conservative American career Army officer and a left-wing British woman. Dead Famous (2001) targets a uniquely unsavory current phenomenon (the TV reality show), applies a contemporary frankness in language and sexual explicitness, and uses all this in service of an Agatha Christie-style closed circle whodunit as complexly and fairly plotted as a choice specimen from the Golden Age of Detection. High Society (2002), about an effort to legalize recreational drugs in Britain, shows that personalities more than serious argument determine political decision-making. Past Mortem (2004), a police procedural about an online reunion service and a serial killer of bullies, returns to fair-play detection and is entertaining as ever, but the murderer is too obvious too early.

What could be more welcome in the current market than a writer with a 21st century sensibility and range of references coupled with a classical command of mystery plotting?

emerson_kathylynnKATHY LYNN EMERSON

In her series about Susanna, Lady Appleton, Elizabethan gentlewoman and herbalist, Kathy Lynn Emerson offers a remarkable range of vivid and telling details, whether domestic, scientific, political, social, legal, or religious. She also manages to create dialogue that achieves a period sound without being stilted or unnatural.

In her first appearance, Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie (1997), Susanna is living at Leigh Abbey in Kent, where she has a prickly but not completely unhappy relationship with her husband, Sir Robert, a serial philanderer. The steward at Appleton Manor has died suddenly while inappropriately dining on the elaborate concoction of the title, a delicacy usually enjoyed only by the very rich. Reports that he was frightened to death by the ghost of a young woman have scared off all the other servants. Against the wishes of Sir Robert, who has gone on a diplomatic mission to France, Susanna travels to Lancashire to clear up the mystery.

Like any heroine of a contemporary historical, Susanna is awfully independent and liberated for a woman of her time, but Emerson makes her attitudes and impulses believable. From the first book, the point is made that a widow’s position in Elizabethan society is far preferable to a wife’s, but Susanna doesn’t actually achieve widowhood until the fourth entry, Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross (2000), in which she is accused of bringing it on prematurely. Her trial in the Old Bailey for the murder of her husband is quite different from contemporary proceedings: the same jury are asked to bring verdicts on multiple felonies in a single day and are denied food and heat until they reach a decision.

The eighth novel, Face Down Below the Banqueting House (2005), describes the elaborate cooking facilities at Greenwich, the Maundy Thursday ceremony in which the Queen washes the feet of the poor (after three functionaries have washed them first), and the odd traveling arrangements which allow the Queen to commandeer any house that suits her and banish the inhabitants during her visit—unless they are of sufficiently elevated rank to be kept around. One of the houses selected for a royal visit is Susanna’s, and her exchange with the Queen’s self-important advance man is choice. A banqueting house, described as “a place where a considerable number of people could consume sweets and delicacies following the main part of their meal,” is built in a tree at Leigh Abbey in anticipation of the Queen’s visit, and from it a servant falls to his death. Accident, suicide, or murder?

Perseverance Press is one of the classiest of the regional publishers, producing a well-edited and beautifully packaged product. Still, when an established series becomes a victim of the find-me-a-blockbuster shakeout and moves from a New York publisher to a small specialty house, readers must wonder if this book is to be a bittersweet curtain call. But Emerson reports that another in the series is coming from Perseverance in 2006, and she also turned to a small publisher in launching a series about 1880s New York journalist Diana Spaulding with Deadlier Than the Pen (2004).

Ideally, historical mysteries should provide something on the real history, with a clear delineation of what is real and what imagined. Not until Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross did Emerson append a very brief historical note. Beginning with the sixth novel, Face Down Before Rebel Hooves (2001), Emerson has provided a character list with real people in the cast helpfully asterisked, and the notes have become more extensive. Face Down Across the Western Sea (2002), seventh in the series and last to be published by St. Martin’s, adds a map and a referral to her website for a full bibliography. The short story collection Murders and Other Confusions (2004) has a six-page introduction plus a concluding note to each story placing it in the context of the overall series.

Only one question remains: what if Lady Susanna finds a murder victim lying face up?

telushkin_josephJOSEPH TELUSHKIN

Like Ben Elton, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has more on his mind than pure entertainment, and that may make his work problematic for some readers. If you’ve heard nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager, a longtime friend and sometime nonfiction collaborator of Telushkin’s, you’ll recognize the very traditional religious and social views espoused on such issues as abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, feminism, and the distinct roles of men and women in worship. Telushkin’s first novel even includes a reference to one of Prager’s favorite ethical conundrums: “If you saw your dog and a stranger, both drowning, and you could only save one, which one would you save?”

The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl (1987) introduced Rabbi Daniel Winter, the second major rabbi detective in fiction, following Harry Kemelman’s David Small. Unorthodox was followed by two more, The Final Analysis of Dr. Stark (1988) and An Eye for an Eye (1991). While Kemelman’s purpose was to explain the tenets of Judaism to Jews and non-Jews alike, Telushkin has a broader agenda. Even those who least share Telushkin’s views will find him a skilled writer of fiction, whose prose and character building are fine and whose plotting (much rarer in the current market) recalls the clues-on-the-table puzzle spinning of the Golden Age formalists.

In his essay “Is This Any Job for a Nice Jewish Boy?” (in Synod of Sleuths, 1990), James Yaffe wrote disparagingly of Rabbi Winter’s first appearance, calling him less a character than “a collection of wish-fulfillment fantasies that belong to the vulgarest contemporary notions about success and glamor.” I believe Yaffe’s assessment is too harsh: Winter admits to too many human foibles and uncertainties to be charged with “intolerably smug superiority.” Even Yaffe admitted that Telushkin produced “an interesting puzzle, with good clues and a genuinely surprising solution that is also logical.”

The victim in the first novel is a female rabbi, murdered shortly after she appears on Winter’s radio program, seemingly patterned on Dennis Prager’s first Los Angeles program, “Religion on the Line.”

The Last Analysis of Dr. Stark, about the murder of a Los Angeles psychiatrist, is less impressive because of a problem similar to Ben Elton’s in Past Mortem: the main clue is just too obvious. An Eye for an Eye is perhaps the best of the three Winter novels, if also the one with the clearest agenda. When a man who killed his girlfriend gets off with a conviction for voluntary manslaughter, the victim’s incensed father kills the defendant and is released on bail as a result of Rabbi Winter’s arguments. But then the defense attorney is murdered, the father accused, and the rabbi faced with a crisis of conscience. As before, the puzzle spinning is expert, but in his eagerness to denounce the liberal courts, the author stacks the cards a little too neatly.

By contrast, Telushkin’s most recent novel, Heaven’s Witness (2004), written with Allen Estrin, gives full measure to all points of view in a novel with a theme of reincarnation, generally (to put it mildly) not a part of mainstream Christian or Jewish theology. The villain is a serial killer known as the Messenger, the amateur detective psychoanalyst-in-training Dr. Jordan Geller. With multiple suspects and expert mystery construction, the book struck me as one of the best of its year, and I hope Telushkin is back in the field to stay.

* * *

These four quite different writers represent scores of gifted practitioners, past and present, who have done better work than many bestselling authors. Read them to see if you agree with me, and then look for more of crime fiction’s hidden treasures.

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

Teri Duerr
2014-03-20 03:52:27

treasuremapFour accomplished writers who you may have missed. Read on for a treasure trove of good writing!

James Patterson Top Seller
Oline H. Cogdill

patterson_james5
James Patterson
, left, leads the list of the 10 top-selling authors during the last decade, according to a list put together by Nielsen Bookscan.

While the list has to do with quantity, not quality, it’s interesting that three other mystery writers also are on the list.

Coming in at No. 5 is John Grisham; No. 7 is Dan Brown and No. 9 is Janet Evanovich.

Mystery writers also can claim J.K. Rowling, at No. 2, as her Harry Potter novels are quasi mysteries, and Stephen King, at No. 11, as he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Nora Roberts, at No. 3, also crosses into mystery territory with her J.D. Robb series. (And I don't know why the list includes a No. 11 since the list is billed as the top 10!)

Patterson, of course, is the author of the mega-selling Alex Cross series, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, as well as many, many other novels co-written with a string of authors.

Patterson’s books have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. In 2013, one in five suspense/thriller books sold was a James Patterson book.

He is the first author to have No. 1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children's bestsellers lists and is the only author to have five new hardcover novels debut at No. 1 on the list in one year—a record-breaking feat he's accomplished every year since 2005.

And if that were not enough, Patterson has had 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds the New York Times record for most Hardcover Fiction bestselling titles by a single author (63 total), which is also a Guinness World Record.

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-26 14:03:55

patterson_james5
James Patterson
, left, leads the list of the 10 top-selling authors during the last decade, according to a list put together by Nielsen Bookscan.

While the list has to do with quantity, not quality, it’s interesting that three other mystery writers also are on the list.

Coming in at No. 5 is John Grisham; No. 7 is Dan Brown and No. 9 is Janet Evanovich.

Mystery writers also can claim J.K. Rowling, at No. 2, as her Harry Potter novels are quasi mysteries, and Stephen King, at No. 11, as he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Nora Roberts, at No. 3, also crosses into mystery territory with her J.D. Robb series. (And I don't know why the list includes a No. 11 since the list is billed as the top 10!)

Patterson, of course, is the author of the mega-selling Alex Cross series, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, as well as many, many other novels co-written with a string of authors.

Patterson’s books have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. In 2013, one in five suspense/thriller books sold was a James Patterson book.

He is the first author to have No. 1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children's bestsellers lists and is the only author to have five new hardcover novels debut at No. 1 on the list in one year—a record-breaking feat he's accomplished every year since 2005.

And if that were not enough, Patterson has had 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds the New York Times record for most Hardcover Fiction bestselling titles by a single author (63 total), which is also a Guinness World Record.

The Great American Book Tour
Jenny Milchman

usabookshelfAuthor Jenny Milchman is a lover of bookstores. She shares her favorite independent shops (and nearby stops) across the US. Time to sit back, hit the road, and read your way across the nation.

Image credit: Custom bookshelf designed by artist Ron Arad.

You can drive cross-country visiting amusement parks or baseball fields. You can eat your way across the country road food-style or get your kicks on route 66. But if you're a mystery fan, you can see America bookstore by bookstore—and possibly have the biggest adventure yet.

My family of four set out with stops scheduled at 19 mystery bookstores...

The Mysterious Bookshop (New York, New York)

mysteriousbookshop

We began at The Mysterious Bookshop, located in the snaking skein of streets in lower Manhattan. Mystery Editor Otto Penzler owns this bookstore and has peopled it with booksellers as passionate and learned as he. In addition to being a place where you can snatch up the newest blockbuster, this bookshop also serves as a mystery museum. As you make your way from the front of the store to the rear, you take a journey back in time. You can view the history of our genre preserved behind glass doors. There are rare books, signed first editions, and the largest collection of Sherlock Holmes works in the country. But nothing about the shop is archaic. It's a happening spot in a happening city, with a full calendar of events, launch parties, and a mystery book club that draws members from far beyond New York. The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007. Tel: 212-587-1011, www.mysteriousbookshop.com

Moonstone Mystery Books (Flemington, New Jersey)

moonstonemysterybooks

You can't plan a tour of bookstores and not run into the claim that they are foundering. We found that reports of this demise were greatly exaggerated. How, in this virtual age, are the bricks and mortars continuing to thrive? One answers lies in the booksellers themselves.

Marilyn Thiele is one such person. There is a blend of new and gently used books at Moonstone Mystery Books, which is tucked away on a quiet street in Flemington, New Jersey. Despite the out-of-the-way location, customers are drawn by a myriad of strategies, including a dessert buffet at author events. But cake can only go so far. (Well, in my experience, cake can go very far.) Still, a successful bookstore relies on a whole bouquet of appealing approaches. Readers love finding books set in locations they know, and by local authors, and so Thiele features a wide range of titles with a New Jersey element. But even as a locavore movement surges, the globe also seems to be shrinking. Moonstone Mystery carries contemporary blockbusters, classics, and foreign mysteries in translation—from the Scandinavians to titles from Latin America and China. The Moonstone Mystery Bookstore, 12-14 Bloomfield Avenue, Flemington, NJ 08822. Telephone: 908-788-9094, www.facebook.com/pages/Twice-Told-Tales-The-Moonstone-Mystery-Book-Store

Nearby: Flemington is a charming Victorian town, in which you would expect something like a proper English tea house, and indeed you can have your scones and cucumber sandwiches at Teaberry's. For a more contemporary American culinary experience, try 55 Main or Matt's Red Rooster Grill.

Murder on the Beach (Delray Beach, Florida)

murderonthebeach

A recent James Patterson signing at Murder on the Beach.

Another bookseller who understands the wisdom of local is Joanne Sinchuk of Murder on the Beach, in Delray Beach, Florida. This bookstore specializes in regional mysteries, and indeed its very setting is perfect for a mystery. Wind-swept beaches, rustling palm fronds, and a blue sky that means you simply know all is not well. Inside a reader will find new, used, and antiquarian titles, with an emphasis on signed first editions by Florida authors. Oh, and a skeleton guarding the gate. What's a mystery without a dead body? Murder on the Beach,
273 NE 2nd Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Telephone: 561-279-7790, www.murderonthebeach.com

Mysteries & More (Nashville, Tennessee)

mysteriesandmore

Photo by Jen Forbus from jensbookthoughts.com.

Mysteries & More outside Nashville, Tennessee, is a cozy place that allows owners Greg and Mary Bruss to surround themselves with the mysteries they loved reading all their lives. Their stock is 90% used and 10% new with an emphasis on local authors. But in a city whose population rallied in protest when the last independent bookstore closed in 2010, M&M holds a special place. The Brusses open their doors to special events such as the 4th of July Free Lunch & Carnival, and these have become the "lifeblood of the store." Mysteries and More, 6965 Sunnywood Drive, Nashville, TN 37211. Telephone: 615-837-3300, www.mysteriesandmore.net

Mystery Lovers Bookshop (Oakmont, Pennsylvania)

mysteryloversbookshop

Laurie Stephens of Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, talks about the bookseller factor when she describes the care taken to make sure that each book recommendation is precisely pegged to the customer who asks. Readers who live nowhere near Pittsburgh routinely phone in orders; Laurie and her staff tuck peppermints into each shipment. This bookstore moves beyond local in another way as well. On MLB's bathroom walls you can find the signatures of every mystery author who has ever visited, which is seemingly every one who has ever written. You may have to climb over the toilet to see it, but yes, that's Lisa Gardner's scrawl up there. Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Boulevard, Oakmont, PA 15139. Telephone: (412) 828-4877, www.mysterylovers.com

Aunt Agatha’s Bookshop (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

auntagathas

Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, won the 2013 Raven award, and indeed the place is like a candy store for mystery lovers. Robin Agnew has held onto everything from the Pocket display rack for early pulp paperbacks to the toy safe that Steve Hamilton's publisher sent out to promote The Lock Artist. The store carries new and used titles. Robin loves the happy accidents—such as when a first edition of C Is For Corpse turned up in a box she was unpacking—but her approach to bookselling is quite deliberate. Robin or one of her booksellers will go so far as to place a title in a customer's hands. The fact that many they suggest wind up on the bookstore's bestseller list suggests they are doing their job—and a service to mystery readers. Aunt Agatha's Bookshop, 213 S. 4th Ave #1A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Telephone: 734-769-1114

Nearby: A few blocks away is Grange Kitchen and Bar, a lovely farm to table restaurant serving local food and fancy cocktails. Also in town is the University of Michigan and its Hopwood Program for Creative Writing, something that tempted me as a teenaged writer, and inspired my daughter to want to go to college after all.

Mystery to Me (Madison, Wisconsin)

mysterytome

Moving farther west, Mystery to Me had just opened in Madison, Wisconsin, when we arrived. The streets were balmy and customers were walking in and out of the store. Bookseller Joanne Berg carries new and gently used titles, with a growing emphasis on children's books. She wants the bookstore to become a hub of the community, and author events are a large part of that. We wondered how a bookstore comes to life in the cyber age, and found one answer in the enormous screen on the wall, which allows authors from all over the globe to appear via Skype—not to mention spooky music played via Pandora to get browsers in the mystery mood. Mystery to Me, 1863 Monroe St, Madison, WI. Telephone: (608) 283-9332, www.mysterytomebooks.com

Nearby: Madison is a very cool college town, with the culture and inexpensive ethnic dining you'd expect with that. For Laotian food, try Vientiane Palace Restaurant. There's also Dumpling Haus and Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar (clearly, I like dumplings). For an upscale meal, try Harvest, which is across the street from the gorgeous white marble Capitol Building and steps away from the Madison Children's Museum.

Mystery One Bookstore (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

mysteryonebookstoreIn Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a mystery lover can find an icon of the field. Mystery One is roughly the size of a box truck whose every cubic inch is filled with books. Owner Richard Katz has an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, and any trip to the store will find first editions, signed and carefully preserved with plastic, as well as scores of forgotten finds. Mystery One Bookstore, 2109 N. Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202. Telephone: 414-347-4077, www.mysteryone.com

Big Sleep Books (St. Louis, Missouri)

bigsleepbooks

Missouri and Kansas may not be states with the densest populations, but they belong on any mystery lover's map. In St. Louis, you can visit Big Sleep, another tiny, book-crammed store. We found an interesting contrast between mystery bookstores; the categories could be described as new and shiny versus gritty and gray. Neither is superior—think blockbuster versus noir. Readers might prefer one over the other, or favor both. Big Sleep falls into the latter category. After a conversation with owner Ed King, any mystery lover will walk away better informed and enriched by at least a few rarely seen reads. Big Sleep Books, 239 N Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108, Telephone: 314-361-6100, www.bigsleepbooks.com

Nearby: Around the corner is one of the more specific museums you will encounter, the World Chess Hall of Fame, four stories devoted to the game, the greats who have played it, and astonishing chess sets, from the precious to the whimsical. A few blocks in the other direction is Forest Park, a 1,400 acre urban greenspace that houses the Saint Louis Art Museum, the zoo, the Missouri History Museum, and many other nifty sites.

MysteryScape Bookstore (Overland Park, Kansas)

mysteryscape

Author Patrick Rothfuss at a MysteryScape reading.

Just outside Kansas City, in Overland Park, there is a bookstore called MysteryScape that is arguably Big Sleep's polar opposite. It's branding for the new millennium, an oasis of innovation. Right down to the logos and display, MysteryScape has its own exquisite design aesthetic. Owner Cheri LeBlond believes that for a bookstore to thrive it must provide both entertainment and a personal connection. She calls her booksellers Escapologists and says the bookstore promises three things: escape, intrigue, and diversion. This could mean anything from finding the perfect, transporting title to watching a play adapted from a mystery tale performed right there in the store. Professional and amateur actors, minimal props and costumes, but plenty of suspense. There'll even be a discussion afterwards along with a potluck dinner. MysteryScape Bookstore, 7309 West 80th Street, Overland Park, KS 66204. Telephone: 916-649-0000, www.mysteryscape.com

Nearby: You know you spend a lot of time on book tour when you live on the East Coast and have a favorite dumpling restaurant in Kansas City. Mine is Blue Koi Noodles & Dumplings, where you can get a plate of maybe a dozen fried ones with several sauces, or a big bowl of them with noodles and greens in a half dozen choices of broth. The Alamo Drafthouse shows new and vintage movies, and has a video arcade with classic games from the 1980s, which is a major but rarely indulged craving of my husband's. Occasionally, they have events where you play video games on the movie screen. How cool is that? A bit closer to the bookstore in Overland Park, a few doors down in fact, is Smallcakes a Cupcakery, which tells you all you need to know.

Murder by the Book (Houston, Texas)

murderbythebook

The great state of Texas is home to one terrific mystery bookstore, and one that's just a little bit different. Mention Houston to mystery lovers and you'll probably hear Murder by the Book. McKenna Jordan's cavernous palace displays new books arrayed on tables like jewels in cases, signed copies, plus a staggering event schedule. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005. Telephone: 713-524-8597, www.murderbooks.com

Book People (Austin, Texas)

bookpeople

In Austin, Book People contains a secret, as does any good mystery. Wend along the aisles of the store and you will come to "Mystery People," the brainchild of "Crime Fiction Coordinator" Scott Montgomery. A series of soaring shelves hold current titles as well as a range of thematic displays. Thanks to Scott's avid love of the genre, and ability to tailor this bookstore-within-a-bookstore, authors who may be overlooked elsewhere find their day in the hot Texas sun. Book People, 603 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703. Telephon: (512) 472-5050, www.bookpeople.com

Nearby: This may be our only bookstore-within-a-bookstore…the great Scott Montgomery’s brainchild. Plus, there is some of the country’s best ice cream around the corner at Amy’s. The talented scoop guys even juggle your dips!

The Poisoned Pen (Scottsdale, Arizona)

poisonedpenbookstore
Image courtesy of litreactor.com

The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona, boasts columns in shades of sand and straw that call to mind their desert home. The Pen is a grand space, and its ambition and reach are grand as well. This bookstore contains mostly new mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels, displayed on tables in tempting starbursts and arrays. Owner Barbara Peters describes what might be called book theater—that intersection between literature and entertainment, which we heard about back in Kansas. "We reinvented The Pen as a media company sometime back," Barbara says. "You can buy a book anywhere, but online you can't buy the experience [of finding it] or the face-to-face with authors. A new book is a ticket to an evening or afternoon out." Events include food and giveaways, a real party either in the bookstore or offsite. Well over 100 authors have signed every single one of their titles in this store. Why not see when your favorite is planning a trip? The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101, Scottsdale, AZ. Telephone: (480) 947-2974, www.poisonedpenpress.com

Nearby: Pane Bianco in Phoenix is a lovely place for artisan pizza and salads. In the mood for Earl Grey Chocolate Tartlets? Try Arcadia Farms Cafe. For new Italian comfort food, Cafe Forte is right around the corner.

Clues Unlimited (Tucson, Arizona)

cluesunlimited

Arizona is home to more than one mystery gem. In Tucson, Clues Unlimited boasts a friendly dog you might be lucky enough to meet, and a range of new and used titles. Bookseller Chris Burke's particular interest is in used copies of out-of-print mysteries, ones that might otherwise be lost to the browsing customer. This bookstore is also the place to find titles that "push the envelope," literary thrillers that at first glance might not be considered to fit within the genre. Clues Unlimited, 3146 E. Fort Lowell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85716. Telephone: 520-326-8533, cluesunlimited.com

Nearby: Tucson has the most perfect museum there could possibly be for kids, The Mini-Time Machine, A Museum of Miniatures. This is 15,000 square feet of miniature houses, rooms, and landscapes, what my daughter calls "scene setups." If you like dollhouses or miniatures, you need to see this place. My son likes it because in many of the scenes are little cars, of all periods and scales, which is his thing. Tucson is also only an hour from Sonora, Mexico, and has too many Sonoran places to name, as well as lots of modernist places, such as the gastropubWilko or Umi Star for Japanese fusion and clever drinks.

Mysterious Galaxy (San Diego, California)

mysteriousgalaxy

Mysterious Galaxy has not one but two locations in southern California and just celebrated its twentieth birthday with a huge gala. (Yes, there was cake). There were also authors from all over the country. One of the owners, Maryelizabeth Hart, explains that MG, as it's lovingly known, carries mostly new titles, including many signed first editions: "the collectibles of tomorrow." This focus on new arises from how "many titles there are to be excited about." Maryelizabeth and the other booksellers here delight in discovering new authors. Events are a big part of bookstore life, as we've seen elsewhere. The store employs a "have books, will travel" approach whereby libraries, fitness centers, and private homes all become sites for unique events. Mysterious Galaxy Bookshop, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111. Telephone: 858-268-4747, www.mystgalaxy.com

Mystery Ink (Huntington Beach, California)

mysteryinkbookstore
Carola Dunn signing at Mystery Ink.

California boasts two other mystery bookstores that are off-the-beaten-freeway, but well worth a trip. Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach is a tiny shop that comes into its own around author events. The number of writers who appear, not to mention their star power, is impressive, especially for such a cozy store. Mystery Ink, 8907 Warner Avenue #136, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Telephone: 714-960-4000, www.mysteryink.com

Book 'em Mysteries (Pasedena, California)

bookemmysteries

Storefront for Book'em Mysteries. Photo from LA Times Blog.

Book 'Em Mysteries in South Pasadena carries a range of new and used mysteries, and exemplifies yet another way in which a bookstore can be an important part of any fan's life. The store sponsors a mystery book club and holds meetings to discuss titles. Book’em Mysteries, 1118 Mission St., S. Pasadena, CA 91030. Telephone: 626-799-9600, www.bookem.com

Seattle Mystery Bookstore (Seattle, Washington)

seattlemysterybookstore

On a steep street in Seattle, down a flight of stairs, lies a semi-subterranean repository of books. Seattle Mystery Bookstore boasts many current titles, with a middle grade and young adult section curated by a bookseller who retains a child's enthusiasm for discovering books. Actually, Fran, JB, and all of the booksellers at Seattle Mystery retain this enthusiasm. It was here that we encountered the most serious collectors of our trip. Authors from Lee Child to Hank Phillippi Ryan hightail it out to Seattle so that attendees at events can have their books signed and dated within thirty days of publication. The chalkboard roster on the wall shows that a trip to the farthest corner of the lower forty-eight is considered well worth it—for authors and readers. Seattle Mystery Bookstore, 117 Cherry Street, Seattle, WA 98104. Telephone: 206-587-5737, www.seattlemystery.com

Once Upon a Crime (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

onceuponancrime

Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, Minnesota is owned by Gary Schulze and Pat Frovarp, who met as collectors and decided to open a bookstore. They stock a blend of new, used, and antiquarian titles, the latter in the Mystery Annex. Like many of the booksellers in this article, Gary and Pat feel that author events, discovering new writers, and communing with readers are some of the greatest pleasures of running a bricks and mortar. And oh, the stories they tell. If you stop in the next time you're in Minnesota, you might get to hear Gary describe the inscribed edition of John D. MacDonald's I Could Go On Singing that he sold. Gary explains, "This was a movie tie-in of a Judy Garland bio-pic, with only one printing ever made. Apparently MacDonald hated it, was perhaps a bit embarrassed by it, and asked the publisher not to reprint it. In the inscription, he wrote To ---- Please don't read this. Priceless." Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55405. Telephone: 612-870-3785, www.onceuponacrimebooks.com

Nearby: The Twin Cities, in high summer at least, include verdant greenery, and my kids playing in the fountain at Whittier Park just before a soft and gauzy rainstorm. Or cooling off at Common Roots with an iced tea spiked with herbs grown in the garden just around the corner. Also nice for French pastries and a light lunch is French Meadow Bakery & Cafe. We don’t only eat out while on the road. Sometimes we stay put for a few days, get groceries, and cook. And we always try to have cereal, milk, and fruit on hand for breakfast. We've come to appreciate nice supermarkets well-placed near bookstores. A particularly nice one is Wedge Community Co-Op, a true local, community-owned, farm-oriented market.

***

We learned on our travels that just as every mystery tells a story, so does every mystery bookstore. There are many ways to find mysteries today. But hearing the tales behind the books, seeing their lore, meeting the authors, and talking to stars as your copy is signed? Well, as Gary Schulze of OUAC might say, that is truly priceless.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer who until recently lived on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called "the world's longest book tour." Jenny's debut novel, Cover of Snow, was published by Ballantine/Random House in 2013. Her second novel, is Ruin Falls (Ballantine, April 2014). She currently lives and writes in upstate New York. jennymilchman.com

Teri Duerr
2014-03-26 20:55:08

usabookshelfAuthor Jenny Milchman is a lover of bookstores. She shares her favorite independent shops across the US.

Mystery on the Air: 10 Great Old-Time Radio Thrillers (Part 1)
Tom Nolan

Suspense2Mystery and crime stories were a main source of programming during the golden age of what is now known as “old-time radio” (1935 to 1960, say).

Well-known literary detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Mike Hammer joined a host of colleagues on radio’s “theater of the mind,” where listeners had the mental pleasure of providing all the scenery and other visual details.

The old coast-to-coast radio networks and their weekly dramatic programs are gone, but radio drama (including mystery stories) persists here and there in America, England, and Canada. Meanwhile, great shows from the past can be enjoyed today on audiotape, on CD, and online.

Most of the shows mentioned below can be found, for sale or for free, from a variety of sources. One such vendor is Jerry Haendiges’ Vintage Radio Site. And SPERDVAC is a longstanding organization of OTR-lovers.

Rebecca
The Campbell Playhouse / Mercury Theater on the Air
December 9, 1938

Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air did many notable live-radio dramatizations of well-known mystery stories during the 1930s and ’40s, including William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes stage-play, G.K. Chesterton’s metaphysical puzzler The Man Who Was Thursday, and Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled novel The Glass Key. The Mercury’s one-hour 1938 version of Daphne du Maurier’s then-bestselling novel Rebecca is of special interest on several counts. It precedes the David Selznick-produced, Alfred Hitchcock-directed 1940 film and in some ways surpasses it, especially in the performance of Margaret Sullavan as the otherwise-unnamed “second Mrs. de Winter.” Also memorable are Agnes Moorehead as a Midwestern snob at prey in the UK, and Mildred Natwick as the creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (“Why don’t you jump now and have done with it? … Go on, go on, go on, go on!”).

orson_welles_1_xOrson Welles (right) became a worldwide celebrity with the broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938. He had already made an impression on a generation of children as the voice of Lamont Cranston in “The Shadow.” Photo: CBS.

Welles himself is fine as the vague, tormented master of Manderley. And this adaptation of Rebecca, being the first commercially sponsored Mercury show after the troupe’s notorious War of the Worlds broadcast, comes wrapped in lots of extravagant Wellesian puffery—and Campbell’s Soup.

Splendid, too, is the music of composer-conductor Bernard Herrmann, whose orchestral interludes create near-visual effects to underscore and link the scenes.

Finally, “direct by short wave from London,” there’s an interview with author Daphne du Maurier, who gives these directions to the “real” Manderley:

“Get into a train at Paddington Station and travel west. When you’ve been 250 miles, get out of that train and walk southeast for half an hour. You’ll come to some iron gates, a lodge, and a narrow twisting drive. If you ever find your way to the end of that drive, you may discover Manderley.”

The Fallen Sparrow
The Lux Radio Theater
CBS; February 21, 1944

“Deep in the hearts of most of us, there must be a suppressed longing to emulate Sherlock Holmes and the other masters of his profession,” guessed Lux host Cecil B. DeMille in his introduction to this broadcast. “How else can you explain the appeal of the mystery story to farmer and financier, haberdasher and housewife, chorus girl or—clergyman? A shiver running down the spine is no respecter of persons.”

Mysteries were often done on the Lux Radio Theater, a weekly show that ran from 1934 to 1955 and specialized in presenting live-radio versions of recent hit movies. Lux was a big-budget show broadcast from Hollywood, and often featured most if not all of a spotlighted film’s stars. Also included were a full orchestra, a large ensemble of character and atmosphere players, and elaborate sound patterns. All of this helped create the effect of a motion picture on radio—all performed live for a theater audience. These were deluxe productions, so to speak.

young_ohara_fallensparrowJohn Garfield and Maureen O’Hara (left) starred in the 1944 film The Fallen Sparrow and in the radio adaptation on The Lux Radio Theater. Photo: RKO Pictures.

Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara, and Walter Slezak are the leads in this adaptation of the RKO picture The Fallen Sparrow, based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes (Ride the Pink Horse, In a Lonely Place). Young plays a fellow escaped from a Fascist-Spanish prison after fighting for the Loyalist cause. He’s made his way to New York in 1940 to look into the suspicious death of the police-detective friend who helped him to freedom; he’s convinced his pal was murdered, and he thinks he knows who did it: Axis agents who covet the Loyalist relic that Young’s character smuggled out of Spain. Mingling with the émigré-refugee set in Manhattan, the hero hunts the German spy he’s certain is on his trail.

The Fallen Sparrow is interesting for its evocation of global politics before Pearl Harbor, and for Young’s performance as the emotionally damaged torture victim who can go from wisecracks to panic attacks at the sound of an echoing footstep. (“The wounds on his body are mended, but the wounds on his mind are slow to heal.”)

Other fine Lux mysteries and thrillers include versions of The Thin Man (June 8, 1936), Laura (February 5, 1945), Murder, My Sweet (based on Farewell, My Lovely; June 11, 1945), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (April 18, 1949), and 5 Fingers (October 13, 1952).

A Passage To Benares
Suspense
CBS; August 23, 1942

One of the best and longest-lasting U.S. radio-drama series was Suspense, which began its regular run in 1942. Supervised during its best period by the highly-regarded producer William Spier, Suspense used top Hollywood talent (including Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Joan Crawford, and James Stewart) in adaptations of crime-fiction tales by such genre masters as Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett—and T.S. Stribling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of this bizarre gem, which begins in Trinidad and ends somewhere in the Twilight Zone.

robson_suspenseProducer-director (and occasional actor) William N. Robson (right) in the control booth. Robson started out on the West Coast in the mid-1930s as the writer-producer of Calling All Cars. Moving to New York, he worked on The Man Behind the Gun (a wartime series), Escape, Suspense, Columbia Workshop, and many other shows. Photo: CBS.

Paul Stewart (the creepy butler in the movie Citizen Kane) plays the American psychologist Henry Poggioli, on Caribbean sabbatical when he learns of the murder of a young Hindu bride, slain during a night spent in a temple for a purification rite. Five beggars found sleeping at the scene are immediately suspected, but Poggioli presses ahead with his own informal investigation—with extraordinary results.

Among the fine supporting cast is Barry Kroeger (who doubles as the show’s announcer). The music of the peerless Bernard Herrmann is superbly integrated into the texture of this strange saga, whose final line sends the listener’s mind reeling into another surreal dimension.

Perfect Alibi
The Whistler
CBS; June 12, 1949

This well-written, well-acted show was heard only on the West Coast for most of its 1942–1955 run. It was narrated sardonically by the eponymous shadow-lurker who saw all and told all a bit at a time, taunting and mocking the modern fools whose criminal schemes he chronicled.

In “Perfect Alibi,” LA private investigator Johnny Seltzer (played by Jack Webb) is approached by a beautiful would-be heiress who offers him $50,000 to help her escape the clutches of a local hoodlum. Johnny falls hard for this temptress, and he thinks he has the perfect scheme to win them both what they want. But given the Whistler’s penchant for a story with a sting in its tail, Seltzer’s plans are almost certain to fall flat in some unforeseen manner. In the late 1940s, it seems, only the cosmic gall of the Whistler could foil the success of the sort of tough-talking private-eye then ubiquitous on the airwaves (Webb himself starred in three such series).

Pass to Berlin
Escape
CBS; May 19, 1950

The talented William N. Robson was the producer/director of Escape, a “dramatic adventure anthology” which ran from 1947 to 1954 as a sort of low-budget, high-energy supplement to Suspense. The series mixed adaptations of short stories and novels (Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon) with original scripts like this exercise in radio noir by Morton Fine and David Friedkin.

In “Pass to Berlin,” a US soldier in postwar Berlin (played by radio stalwart Stacy Harris), on the run from a crime of passion, falls under the spell of a blind female nightclub entertainer, a “mentalist” who seems to have tumbled to his guilty secret. But perhaps she’s simply an instrument of fate, sent to provoke his self-destruction. Then there’s the woman’s blackmailing partner, whose interest in the increasingly frantic narrator-protagonist is merely mercenary, if no less dangerous.

As with most of the series mentioned in this compilation, the choice of one episode as “best” is arbitrary. “Pass to Berlin” is representative of Escape’s high level of quality. For a less crime-oriented but unforgettable listen, hear Escape’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Poison” (July 28, 1950), in which William Conrad succumbs to a fit of hysterical bigotry doleful witnessed by Jack Webb.

Read Mystery Scene's "Mystery on the Air" Part II.

Read Mystery Scene's "Mystery on the Air" Part III.

Tom Nolan is the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography and the editor of the recently published The Couple Next Door: Collected Short Mysteries by Margaret Millar (Crippen & Landru).

Correction: In the original publication of "Mystery on Air" from print Issue 90 of Mystery Scene, the actor John Garfield, pictured with Mary O'Hara in the 1944 film The Fallen Sparrow, was mistakenly identified as the radio actor Robert Young. The error was corrected for the online publication of the series.

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

Teri Duerr
2014-03-26 21:49:18

Suspense2Mystery and crime stories of the golden age of what is now known as “old-time radio.”

A Fond Farewell to Psych, Justified
Oline Cogdill

psych_usasseries_s
I offer an appreciation as well as a fond farewell to two vastly different crime dramas: Psych, which ended its eighth-year run last week on USA network, and Justified, which ends its fifth season this week on FX but will return for its final sixth season.

(The season finale of Justified begins at 10 p.m. EST Tuesday on FX.)

The two shows could not be more different—one a comic-drama mystery, the other a hard-charging, often violent series—yet each was/is completely satisfying in its own way with realistic characters who drew you in to their exploits, good plots and, especially in Justified’s case, crisp dialogue.

Psych finished its series—no spoilers here, I promise—with an episode that paid homage to the series’ comedy, yet also gave a bit of a serious subtext; it wrapped up certain story threads, yet left room for a glimpse of these character’s future. And there were also a couple of clever surprises and a brilliant reference to a former, much beloved USA series about another defective detective.

Psych is about Shawn Spencer, wonderfully played by James Roday, whose claims of being a psychic somehow lead to him being a consultant for the Santa Barbara police department and setting up a private detective agency with his best friend Gus Guster, the equally terrific Dule Hill.

Shawn’s “heightened observational skills,” of course, have nothing to do with him being a psychic but from the intense training he got since childhood from his father Henry, a former officer with the Santa Barbara police department.

Henry, perfectly played by Corbin Bernsen, wanted his only son to be a cop but Shawn’s rebelliousness lead him to a different path. A bit of a slacker, Shawn used this early training into what began as a con game but developed into real career at which he was quite good.

Psych had its roots in those same “heightened observational skills” in the novels about Sherlock Holmes, the TV series The Mentalist and so many other detective stories in which a detective uses his wits and intuitiveness to solve a crime. Shawn could spot an errant button, a spot of blood, a misplaced book a mile a way and use that information to save the day.

The last episode featured Billy Zane, who has been referenced so many times on Psych that he has deserved an ending credit for years. And we finally got to meet Det. Dobson, played by another actor mentioned numerous times on Psych. I’ll let you figure out which police consultant was referenced as being “in the kitchen, alphabetizing the pantry.”

During the season run, Shawn, perhaps against his nature, began to grow up. He began to see his father not as an adversary but as a concerned parent. His growing relationship with Juliet "Jules" O'Hara (Maggie Lawson) has been a catalyst for the past three season’s action.

But a main point of Psych has been the unshakeable friendship between Shawn and Gus. Buddies since they were children, they are the epitome of the bro-mance. It has always been obvious how much these two men care for each other as true friends who believe in each other and support each other. Gus is the more solid, more adult but he never gives up on Shawn, even when Shawn is messing up or acting immature, which has been often in the series.

justified_goggoly
A “bro-mance” of sorts also is at the heart of Justified. But this one is quite a different kind.

The story of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (played to perfection by Timothy Olyphant, right) and the criminal Boyd Crowder (also played to perfection by Walton Goggins) has given an extra texture to Justified.

The two men grew up together and know how each other thinks. As each is fond of saying, “We shovelled coal together,” a phrase that may not mean anything outside of Kentucky's hills but implies a code of mutual obligation for those who live in Harlan County.

Each man could easily have turned the other way and each knows that.

We root for Raylan, of course, as he is supposed to be the good guy, but, in a way, we also want to see Boyd succeed. Both men are capable of incredible violence and incredible tenderness. Raylan can never completely commit to a woman, while Boyd is devoted to Ava (Joelle Carter).

This season of Justified has been perhaps the darkest in a very dark series with Ava in jail and Boyd caught up with even nastier people than usual both for business but also to get Ava freed. Too many people from big cities have underestimated the country Boyd. Hint, never smoke a cigarette with Boyd.

Raylan’s tangling with the very odd and very criminal Crowe family has brought another set of issues, including a turn in Raylan’s relationship with Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Art is the kind of father that Raylan’s own father wasn’t; Art, as Raylan said, “is the only man I truly care about.”

Each actor on Justified is terrific. This year the main villain in the Crowe family is played by a sneering, no holding back Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The dialogue is pitch perfect, as it should be since it is based on Elmore Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole.

TV will be a little less fun without Psych and Justified.

Photos: Top: James Roday as Shawn Spencer, Dule Hill as Gus Guster on Psych. USA Network photo
Center:Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). FX photo

Oline Cogdill
2014-03-29 15:55:34

psych_usasseries_s
I offer an appreciation as well as a fond farewell to two vastly different crime dramas: Psych, which ended its eighth-year run last week on USA network, and Justified, which ends its fifth season this week on FX but will return for its final sixth season.

(The season finale of Justified begins at 10 p.m. EST Tuesday on FX.)

The two shows could not be more different—one a comic-drama mystery, the other a hard-charging, often violent series—yet each was/is completely satisfying in its own way with realistic characters who drew you in to their exploits, good plots and, especially in Justified’s case, crisp dialogue.

Psych finished its series—no spoilers here, I promise—with an episode that paid homage to the series’ comedy, yet also gave a bit of a serious subtext; it wrapped up certain story threads, yet left room for a glimpse of these character’s future. And there were also a couple of clever surprises and a brilliant reference to a former, much beloved USA series about another defective detective.

Psych is about Shawn Spencer, wonderfully played by James Roday, whose claims of being a psychic somehow lead to him being a consultant for the Santa Barbara police department and setting up a private detective agency with his best friend Gus Guster, the equally terrific Dule Hill.

Shawn’s “heightened observational skills,” of course, have nothing to do with him being a psychic but from the intense training he got since childhood from his father Henry, a former officer with the Santa Barbara police department.

Henry, perfectly played by Corbin Bernsen, wanted his only son to be a cop but Shawn’s rebelliousness lead him to a different path. A bit of a slacker, Shawn used this early training into what began as a con game but developed into real career at which he was quite good.

Psych had its roots in those same “heightened observational skills” in the novels about Sherlock Holmes, the TV series The Mentalist and so many other detective stories in which a detective uses his wits and intuitiveness to solve a crime. Shawn could spot an errant button, a spot of blood, a misplaced book a mile a way and use that information to save the day.

The last episode featured Billy Zane, who has been referenced so many times on Psych that he has deserved an ending credit for years. And we finally got to meet Det. Dobson, played by another actor mentioned numerous times on Psych. I’ll let you figure out which police consultant was referenced as being “in the kitchen, alphabetizing the pantry.”

During the season run, Shawn, perhaps against his nature, began to grow up. He began to see his father not as an adversary but as a concerned parent. His growing relationship with Juliet "Jules" O'Hara (Maggie Lawson) has been a catalyst for the past three season’s action.

But a main point of Psych has been the unshakeable friendship between Shawn and Gus. Buddies since they were children, they are the epitome of the bro-mance. It has always been obvious how much these two men care for each other as true friends who believe in each other and support each other. Gus is the more solid, more adult but he never gives up on Shawn, even when Shawn is messing up or acting immature, which has been often in the series.

justified_goggoly
A “bro-mance” of sorts also is at the heart of Justified. But this one is quite a different kind.

The story of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (played to perfection by Timothy Olyphant, right) and the criminal Boyd Crowder (also played to perfection by Walton Goggins) has given an extra texture to Justified.

The two men grew up together and know how each other thinks. As each is fond of saying, “We shovelled coal together,” a phrase that may not mean anything outside of Kentucky's hills but implies a code of mutual obligation for those who live in Harlan County.

Each man could easily have turned the other way and each knows that.

We root for Raylan, of course, as he is supposed to be the good guy, but, in a way, we also want to see Boyd succeed. Both men are capable of incredible violence and incredible tenderness. Raylan can never completely commit to a woman, while Boyd is devoted to Ava (Joelle Carter).

This season of Justified has been perhaps the darkest in a very dark series with Ava in jail and Boyd caught up with even nastier people than usual both for business but also to get Ava freed. Too many people from big cities have underestimated the country Boyd. Hint, never smoke a cigarette with Boyd.

Raylan’s tangling with the very odd and very criminal Crowe family has brought another set of issues, including a turn in Raylan’s relationship with Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Art is the kind of father that Raylan’s own father wasn’t; Art, as Raylan said, “is the only man I truly care about.”

Each actor on Justified is terrific. This year the main villain in the Crowe family is played by a sneering, no holding back Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The dialogue is pitch perfect, as it should be since it is based on Elmore Leonard’s 2001 novella Fire in the Hole.

TV will be a little less fun without Psych and Justified.

Photos: Top: James Roday as Shawn Spencer, Dule Hill as Gus Guster on Psych. USA Network photo
Center:Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). FX photo