At the Scene, Summer Issue #172

172 Summer Cover, Deon MeyerHello Everyone!

Feeling peckish? In this issue, Oline Cogdill offers a tasting menu of 10 delicious new culinary crime novels. Recently there has been an expansion into different ethnic cuisines that adds extra spice to the reading experience. Don’t miss Oline’s guide to mystery-themed cookbooks on page 30.

Craig Sisterson interviews Deon Meyer, often called the King of South African Crime Writing. When Meyer started out, though, he was on his own. “I think most crime fiction in South Africa would have been banned under Apartheid, unless the cop was, you know, an Apartheid supporter standing in support of the government,” says Meyer. “And I think very few authors wanted to write that kind of thing.” Today, South Africa has a thriving mystery writing community. Don’t miss the list of other South African authors to try on page 17.

Michael Mallory reminds us that Sgt. Joe Friday wasn’t Jack Webb’s only foray into crime. Earlier in his career, Webb starred as the world-weary and ethically-challenged Pat Novak, a struggling underdog in post-WWII San Francisco. Pat Novak, for Hire is still regarded highly by old-time radio fans and is available online and on CD.

Have you ever wondered why your favorite book hasn’t made it to the screen? Or why, if it did, the result bears little resemblance to the book? Hank Phillippi Ryan has and she’s assembled a panel of authors, screenwriters, agents, and showrunners to give us some insights into the Hollywood process.

With her two WWII-era novels, Tara Moss has found her focus. “I’m interested in the stories of regular people who had to live in complete turmoil and having their lives uprooted entirely and trying to survive,” she says. “They’re not Churchill, they’re not Hitler, they’re not making the decisions. They’re at the mercy of those who are—like most people were—and I find those stories just extraordinary.” Craig Sisterson talks to the author in this issue.

You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but what about by its author’s name? The pseudonymous Riley Sager says a new nom de plume helped give him a new literary start. His novels were well-reviewed from the very first, but his early ones failed to find an audience. Poor sales begat poor sales until he changed his name and voilà—sales began to match the critical acclaim. John B. Valeri talks to Sager in this issue.

Author Misha Popp says, “I didn’t sit down and specifically say, ‘I’m going to write a mystery.’ It was more like, ‘I’m going to write a book about a vigilante baker who kills bad men with good pies,’ and went from there.” John B. Valeri talks with this first-time novelist, whose debut Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies, is a darker shade of cozy.

Craig Sisterson says, “The Brokenwood Mysteries is a sort of blend of a rural Columbo with an ensemble Murder, She Wrote, seasoned with a dash of Twin Peaks, and then made more unique by its Kiwi settings, humor, and sensibilities.” Brokenwood is one of New Zealand’s most successful TV exports. Brian and I gave it a try and enjoyed it very much!

Also in this issue, Ellen Byron, Susan Van Kirk, Kathleen Kaska, and Gary Lovisi offer entertaining “My Book” essays on their new work.

Enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor in Chief

Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 17:37:28
Summer Issue #172, Deon Meyer

172 Summer Cover, Deon MeyerFeatures

Deon Meyer

A conversation with the preeminent voice of South African crime fiction.
by Craig Sisterson

Pat Novak, for Hire

Before Dragnet’s Joe Friday, Jack Webb played a world-weary underdog.
by Michael Mallory

The Road to Hollywood

Novelists, agents, and screenwriters weigh in on taking their work to screens large and small.
by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Tara Moss

A bestselling author of 14 books, as well as an award-winning human rights and disability advocate.
by Craig Sisterson

Culinary Crime

There’s always time for a snack with these cozy culinary mysteries.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Riley Sager

A real-life man of mystery, right down to his (pseudonymous) name, this author is no stranger to the bestseller lists.
by John B. Valeri

The Brokenwood Mysteries

An unlikely global success, this quirky show offers small-town murders in bucolic New Zealand landscapes.
by Craig Sisterson

Misha Popp

Making her debut with a “vigilante baker who kills bad men with good pies.”
by John B. Valeri

My Book: Bayou Book Thief

Inspired by the extraordinary city of New Orleans.
by Ellen Byron

My Book: Death in a Pale Hue

A new series sparked by an arts institution close to home.
by Susan Van Kirk

My Book: Murder at the Menger

An intrepid journalist-sleuth returns after an eight-year hiatus.
by Kathleen Kaska

My Book: A Sherlock Holmes Notebook

Combining two passions: Sherlock Holmes and collecting.
by Gary Lovisi

Mystery Word Search

by Maya Corrigan

Murder in Melbourne Crossword

by Verna Suit

 

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

The 2022 Edgar Award Winners, Agatha Award Winners, and Lefty Award Winners

 

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Katrina Niidas Holm

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Hank Wagner and Robin Agnew

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Mystery Scene Reviews

 
 

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Advertising Info

 

Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 17:48:14
Summer Issue #172
Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 18:44:25
Harini Nagendra and "The Bangalore Detectives Club"
Robin Agnew

Harini NagendraMeet new mystery writer Harini Nagendra and her mathematically minded sleuth Kaveri Murthy

Harini Nagendra’s first novel, The Bangalore Detectives Club, is set in India in the 1920s in a moment when it is on the cusp of independence. Her main character Kaveri Murthy is a new bride, just out of school and living with her husband for the first time. Kaveri's passions include mathematics and Sherlock Holmes, two interests that along with her penchant for discovering clues, lead her to some amateur sleuthing in Nagendra's lovely and atmospheric debut novel.

While the book's country club murder is a traditional set up, Nagendra’s novel has a fresh and wide-ranging story, full of history, Indian culture, rich settings, and colorful characters. Nagendra skillfully brings all to vivid life. The Bangalore Detectives Club is a joyful book in many ways and a wonderful first novel. Readers will no doubt be as delighted to discover Kaveri and as I was—and I was equally delighted at the chance to discuss Nagendra's new series with the author herself.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: Setting your book in 1921 is such an interesting time, with India on the brink of Independence, but not quite there. Can you talk about your choice a bit?

Harini Nagendra: The struggle for India’s freedom was at different stages in different parts of India in the 1920s. Mysore State, where The Bangalore Detectives Club is based, was one of British India’s few Princely States, ruled by the Maharaja of Mysore. In many ways, life was easier for the Indian population in Bangalore as compared to Madras, Bombay, or Calcutta, where oppression was stronger and calls for freedom were correspondingly louder. But there was a strong non-cooperation movement gathering force in Bangalore, with Mahatma Gandhi visiting the city in August 1920—and over 40,000 people turning up for a rally.

And this was of course the classic Golden Age era, post WWI, when people spoke of modernity and progress, suffragettes demanded women’s rights to vote (yes, even in India), and women started businesses, opened schools, and launched magazines. Alongside these positive changes was the persistence of prejudice, poverty, and colonial brutality. In short, it was a complex and a fascinating time, full of opportunities and setbacks. I loved what my research uncovered, and enjoyed writing about the times.

I loved many things about Kaveri, but there was one thing I was curious about: Why did you make her a mathematician?

Kaveri parachuted into my imagination one day in 2007 and demanded that I write a book about her. I can make her do some things, but for the most part she is a pretty determined character of her own, so she decides quite a bit on her own. And she loved mathematics, so that was that!

But if I had to give you an answer about where her love for maths came from, I could hazard a guess that it came from my own deep-rooted maths phobia. It’s only later, thanks in part to meeting my husband who loves physics and maths, that I started to get over my phobia and appreciate their aesthetic beauty. My daughter is in the ninth grade, and unlike me, she’s adores mathematics—in large part because the time she spends with her father working out maths problems. The whole experience got me thinking about why young women have STEM phobia, and how unfair it is that we as a society permit these biases to continue today.

In Bangalore of the 1920s, girls who had completed middle school were often unable to continue on to high school because they had not studied English, Mathematics and Science. But they couldn’t, because these subjects were not widely offered! Since Kaveri is such an iconoclast, it made perfect sense to make her a nascent mathematician pushing back against societal obstacles. Kaveri rejects this hypothesis of authorial control and insists that she loves maths purely of her own volition though!

The Bangalore Detectives Club coverKaveri and Ramu’s marriage is an interesting one and I assume perhaps not so typical of the time. Can you talk about creating these two characters and the kind of couple they would be?

As was quite typical of those times, Kaveri and Ramu had an arranged marriage. But once married, they have tried to forge a new kind of relationship that goes beyond the then-standard idea of the wife as domestic goddess and husband as intellectual and provider. They married when Kaveri was only 16, though even that was somewhat of a late marriage for those times.

Kaveri only joins Ramu as his wife three years later, at the start of the book, when she turned 19 and moves to his house in Bangalore. When they stumble across a crime scene, even though they’ve been married for three years, they’re very much a newly-wed couple who are just getting to know each other. Kaveri is feisty, independent, but also loves her husband and wants his support. Ramu is first bemused by his wife, then admiring of her, fast becoming one of her strongest supporters.

Through their domestic encounters, cooking, cleaning, and swapping home duties—and in scenes where Ramu teaches Kaveri how to drive, or takes her to an Anglo-Indian store to get her first swimming costume made—I explore the way in they start to appreciate each other as individuals, and create a strong partnership.

You obviously love classic detective novels—your characters even refer to Sherlock Holmes—and it’s evident in your story structure. Can you talk about this influence?

I grew up on a steady diet of classic detective novels, starting with the Enid Blyton Five Find-Outers and Famous Five series, moving on to Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and then Sherlock Holmes, along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot, and so many others. That’s in large part what inspired me to turn to writing one of my own, of course. The influence is probably subliminal, more than planned—and therefore all pervasive.

I love the way in which these classic novels bring the setting alive, use elements of basic human psychology and inductive reasoning to find out whodunit rather than relying on technology, and also illuminate broader societal issues such as sexism (which the Nancy Drew series so brilliantly overturned) or intellectual snobbery (Holmes being a perfect example since readers love him but also cringe at how contemptuous he is of Watson at times).

I wanted to make sure The Bangalore Detectives Club had elements of many of these: the atmospheric setting, where the weather and elements of nature have a major role to play; the exploitation of human psychology and of gossipy, curious neighbors by the detective; the contrast between the rich and poor; and finally, the satisfactory resolution where ultimately, justice is achieved and wrongs are amended, even if not completely set right. I hope readers who love these classic detective novels as much as I do will find they connect to The Bangalore Detectives Club!

Kaveri’s mother-in-law is conveniently off canvas for much of the story, but she will obviously be a factor. Will her influence be felt in future books?

Yes, absolutely. Kaveri’s mother-in-law Bhargavi plays a much greater role in subsequent books in the series. The tension between the two women is strong, and pervades Kaveri’s life through The Bangalore Detectives Club—even when Bhargavi is away. Kaveri’s mother-in-law has trenchant views (such as her ideas that too much education is bad for a woman). She is also very attached to Ramu, her only son, and is worried that as he gets closer to his wife, he might distance himself from her. Will Kaveri be able to successfully navigate her thorny relationship with Bhargavi in future books? We’ll have to see.

The tension between British colonists and Indians was depicted with much nuance. There’s so much to it and you illustrate it really well through character. I’m thinking about the character of British Mrs. Roberts, contrasted with some of the Indian women who move in the same circles.

Mrs. Roberts, the wife of the main British doctor who heads the hospital where Ramu works, is typical of many British expatriates of those times, imperious, commanding, and opinionated. She can be very warm towards Indian women of whom she approves; for instance, she absolutely loves the fact that Kaveri drives a car and enthusiastically discusses fashion and dress design with her. But she is also rather obnoxious to the people who work for her such as her maids and gardeners, blithely renaming them with familiar British names if she finds their names difficult to pronounce or castigating them for minor offences. (This was, unfortunately, a fairly common British custom of the times). She also has a tendency to pass excessively patronizing comments on Indian culture and customs which Kaveri finds grating, but she has to bite her tongue.

I also liked the depiction of some of the “outer” classes: cowherds, prostitutes, etc. What kind of research did you do for this part of the narrative and the book?

Thank you! Kaveri and Ramu, and many of their neighbors and friends (Uma aunty, Mrs. Iyengar, Mrs. Reddy, Indira, Inspector Ismail) are from relatively privileged backgrounds, unlikely to experience hunger, abuse, or daily insecurity. I wanted to portray the other side of Bangalore as well, a city filled with people pushed to the margins: the cowherds, prostitutes, urchins, house maids, and so many others. I also wanted to make sure these people were an integral part of the story and played a substantive role in reaching the final resolution, not just acting as props or background.

In my day job, I am an ecologist and university professor who studies the ecological history of Bangalore, amongst other things. This is a short way of saying I am very fortunate to have 16 years of archival data on Bangalore that includes old maps, diaries, gazettes, annual reports, ledgers, newspapers, photographs and many other types of information. For the other aspects, I drew on stories told by my mother and older relatives and interviews with people like grazers in their seventies and eighties, whose stories of their childhood are not very different from what life would have been like in the 1920s for them. There are other scenes where I draw on personal memory, such as the one where I describe a woman making cow dung patties by throwing balls of dung onto a large boulder near Ulsoor Lake. These are sights I have seen myself, about 40 years ago. They have now disappeared from the city, but are still a part of my memory.

Kaveri uses the science of fingerprinting in her first case. How widely was it used in the 1920s?

The idea of using fingerprints to identify people is very old, described in a Chinese document on how to deal with a crime scene in the 3rd century BC. People in India used hand and fingerprints to sign off on important documents for centuries as well. But the modern practice of using fingerprints to identify criminals originated in colonial India, initiated by Sir Henry Edward in Calcutta, and developed into a science by two of his Indian subordinates, Khan Bahadur Azizul Haque and Rai Bahadur Hemchandra Bose. By 1895, the city of Madras had a fingerprint bureau of its own and fingerprints began to be used to identify criminals across British India by 1897. By the 1920s it was widely used across the region. Kaveri, with her keen mind for science, was a natural to pick up something like a bloody fingerprint and understand what it could be used for—not just to convict a suspected criminal, but also to clear someone unjustly suspected.

I loved the characters of Uma aunty and Inspector Ismail. Will they return in future books?

I’m so glad to hear that! Uma aunty was very much a part of the book as I initially envisaged. But I did not plan for Inspector Ismail to be in the book. He walked in one day, and took over a scene, booting out an incompetent (and somewhat boring) younger policeman whom I was writing about. After that, he just stayed. I adore them both too. They are key members of The Bangalore Detectives Club and will certainly be a part of the future books in the series. I would love for readers to get to know a little more about them, their families and personal histories.

Finally, what book for you was a transformational read, one that led you to a writing life?

I can’t remember the first great book I read, but I always had a book in my hands. I truly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to read a good story, and to make them up myself. I wrote little books and short stories for my father, who traveled a lot, and begged my older sister to make up stories for me. So it’s hard to identify one transformational moment or read. The earliest authors I remember being engrossed by are Enid Blyton (the Wishing Chair adventures), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows), A A Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Lewis Carroll (much more than Alice, it’s Through the Looking Glass I truly loved). I always wanted to tell stories like they did, transporting people to a different world.

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University, and is internationally recognized for her scholarship and speaking on issues of nature and sustainability. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her first crime fiction novel. Her nonfiction books include Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future, and two books coauthored with Seema Mundoli—So Many Leaves, and Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities, which received the 2020 Publishing Next Awards for best English nonfiction book in India and was featured on the 2021 Green Literature Festival’s honor list. Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes.

 

Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 19:30:20
The Younger Wife
Robert Allen Papinchak

With a clever nod to two 1940s classics, the 1944 noir film Gaslight and the game Clue, Sally Hepworth gives readers a spellbinding, whippet-paced psychological domestic thriller, The Younger Wife.

The groom is in his early sixties, the bride in her thirties. The Prologue is narrated by an unidentified, uninvited guest at their wedding and ends with the celebrant’s white pantsuit soaked in blood. Who killed whom with a candlestick in the sacristy? Spoiler alert: It’s not Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet.

Gathered together in a nondenominational chapel in post-pandemic Melbourne, Australia, are the dysfunctional game players: the groom, a successful heart surgeon and “affable sexist” Stephen Aston; the groom's adult daughters, Tully (a neurosis-driven kleptomaniac) and Rachel (a stress eater and baker); Pamela, Stephen's recently divorced wife who is battling Alzheimer’s; and Heather Wisher, a young interior designer soon-to-be the next Mrs. Aston.

Every one of them hides toxic secrets and lies.

Hepworth slyly withholds one bombshell revelation after another as the whodunit unfolds while keeping the tension high. She also introduces humor with a pun-dropping, drop dead gorgeous delivery guy, Darcy, whose “eyes were green with a hint of mischief about them” and Tully’s two toddlers who don’t wear nappies and prefer a spinach and feta omelet to “McDougal’s” chicken nuggets. Even the victim of the heinous crime gets a laugh thanks to a whimsical newspaper headline.

By the time all the threads are tied up, Hepworth adeptly handles psychological family traumas, sibling rivalry, parental ignorance, female bonding, and a satisfying “soul-affirming” aftermath in the art of casual dining and redemptive comeuppance. Her devilishness makes this a difficult one to put down.

Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 21:34:24
The Bangalore Detectives Club
Robin Agnew

What a joy it is to read a first novel that truly sings, as Harini Nagendra’s first effort does. Set in Bangalore, India, in 1921, the book follows Kaveri Murthy, a new bride who has been married for a while but has just come to live with her husband. She and her husband Ramu, a doctor, are adjusting to married life and slowly discovering that they like being married. As natives in a land run by another country, they are in an uncomfortable position, and in 1921, stirrings of freedom were afoot in India. However, closer to home, Kaveri is learning to cook, finding ways to take a swim, and hoping to continue her mathematical studies.

When the Murthys attend an event at a country club with a mix of British and Indian couples, Kaveri discovers she has much to learn about living in Bangalore and functioning as a high-society wife. During the dinner, she slips out into the garden where she sees her milkman being threatened by a beautiful woman, and then a bit later, the woman held by her throat against a tree by a strange man. She’s unsure what to do with this knowledge—beyond the fact that she’s been slipping the milkman’s young brother a few scraps of food as the man seems to have abandoned his family—but when a dead body is discovered in the garden later that night, her mathematical and curious mind sets to work.

The milkman seems to be the likeliest culprit, and when his wife is later assaulted, things look dark for him. Kaveri feels curious, but also obligated, as she’s become fond of the milkman’s young brother and wants to help. It’s not in her to sit at home and cook all day while she waits for her husband, so she gets to work. Luckily, her mother-in-law has left to visit her sister and Kaveri finds time not only for detection, but for studying math.

Nagendra sets up a nice network for Kaveri. There’s an older woman across the street who accompanies her on some of her investigating and proves very helpful, as she’s lived in Bangalore for so long she knows almost everyone. When the two women venture further afield to areas of the city considered unsafe, in particular unsafe for women, it’s Kaveri who takes the lead. In this way, they make a good team.

Kaveri is also supported by her husband, who welcomes her curiosity, her desire to learn, and her growing expertise at cooking. (He notices his pants are getting tighter.) She’s also made a fan of Inspector Ismail, who agrees to include her and Ramu in the official investigation.

This was a lovely novel of exploration: Kaveri’s discovery of Bangalore, the Murthys learning that their marriage will be a strong and loving one, and the journey of solving the murder of the man in the garden. This is a book for fans of the traditional mystery novel—Sherlock Holmes is even referenced. The setting is rich and the characters are wonderful, with room for further development in future books. I am now counting myself a fan and am looking forward very much to book two.

Teri Duerr
2022-05-16 22:13:29
Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies
Debbie Haupt

Misha Popp’s cozy series debut Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is equal parts charming and chilling and just about good enough to eat. Her protagonist, magic pie baker Daisy Ellery, is the latest in a long line of magical women with powers that have been passed from mothers to daughters for generations. Her grandmother sewed magic into her clothing creations; her mom put magic into her client’s haircuts and perms; and now, Daisy bakes magic into her pies. Some are good for what ails and some can kill—well, only if you deserve it.

It was an accidental killing by pie that has kept Daisy on the run since she was orphaned at age 17. But finally, at 23, Daisy thinks she may have found a home in Turnbridge, Massachusetts. She’s baking pies for a local diner, making good friends, and has hopefully found somewhere she can permanently park Penny, her pink-and-white vintage RV.

That is until someone leaves a blackmail note on her door. Popp’s debut is part whimsy, part thriller, and all fun. Through the course of the book she gradually feeds readers Daisy’s life story as Daisy attempts to suss out who’s trying to upturn her new life. Popp’s characters are engaging, but it’s definitely Daisy who’s the superstar. She’s a multifaceted baker on a mission. She’s compassionate and wise beyond her years, and she manages to surround herself with a worthy group of compadres.

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies goes down as smooth and sweet as butter cream—until the middle when the author hits readers between the eyes with an OMG plot twist that’s more like a banana cream to the face. The pièce de résistance is the delectable recipes at the end of the book. Fans of baking mysteries and magic realism (à la Sarah Addison Allen) will devour this one.

 

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 00:34:52
My Book: A Sherlock Holmes Notebook

A Sherlock Holmes Notebook cover

A passion for collecting meets a love of Sherlockania

In my new book A Sherlock Holmes Notebook, I take the reader on a fun-filled journey that combines two of my great passions: the love of everything Sherlock Holmes and the joy and discovery of collecting. In this profusely illustrated volume, you will encounter an incredible array of Sherlockania—reconnecting with some old friends and items that some of you will be familiar with—bringing back fond memories—as well as books and many rare items you may never have seen before, some of which might just be a revelation. Everything Holmes and the joy of discovery is a big part of what this book is about—and I want to share it all with you. I have written these articles with the same enthusiasm and joy of discovery I felt for each of these items.

My new book is a celebration of Sherlock Holmes in many different venues, each of the articles detailing a specific aspect of the Great Detective—just for the fun of it—just for the love of Holmes!

For instance, did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle created the first “hardboiled” detective? Yes, that is true. You must read “The Strange Case of Birdy Edwards” to find out the details on how a Brit created that crime subgenre years before Carroll John Daly or Dashiell Hammett. Or have you ever seen any of the rare Holmes and Challenger vintage paperbacks—some over 100 years old now—featuring truly amazing covers? Many are shown in the book. Many more rare Holmes hardcover first editions are also highlighted in the text with cover illustrations.

Meanwhile, I also examine some Holmes stage plays—on Broadway, and very much off- Broadway—one of them obscure and generally unknown, but an excellent work. There are also stories about a host of fascinating and rare German, Mexican, Spanish, and British cigarette cards, serial magazines, and trade cards, some never seen by most fans or collectors.

Then there is “The Ironic Story of The Stevenson-Doyle Letters,” that covers a touching aspect of two great Scots writers—Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. The two famous writers never met—except through their fascinating correspondence. This is just a small sample of the works that you will discover in this book.

As a Sherlock Holmes reader and fan I am sure you will enjoy the various aspects of this book as they relate to our famed detective hero. Also, you do not have to be a collector to enjoy the images and information that is contained in this fact-filled book. Even Holmes scholars will have a blast going through the articles and images collected here, which presents something of interest for every fan and collector of the Great Detective.

A Sherlock Homes Notebook collects 22 articles I have written over a 40 year period as a Holmes reader, fan, and collector—and also the author of numerous Holmes story pastiches and novels, including my Holmes story “The Adventure of the Missing Detective” which was short-listed for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award. Most recently my novel, Sherlock Holmes in Oz appeared in January. So you can see that my roots in the world of Sherlock Holmes run wide and deep and in this new book I present to you a cornucopia of Sherlockania that I am sure you will enjoy.

A Sherlock Holmes Notebook: A Cornucopia of Sherlockania, Gary Lovisi, Stark House Press, May 2022, $15.95 tpb

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 01:03:52
Death Warrant
Katrina Niidas Holm

Set in Portland, Oregon, 50 years in the future, Bryan Johnston’s Death Warrant opens with talented but obscure mentalist Frankie Percival interviewing to be a “participant” on an episode of Death Warrant, the most popular television program in history. If the showrunners select Frankie, they will broadcast her assassination live. She’ll pay a fee—earnest money, with the amount depending on how painful, dramatic, and exotic a death she desires—and in return, her chosen beneficiary will receive a percentage of the ad revenue, usually about $7.2 million.

Before Frankie leaves the Death Warrant offices, she’ll be hypnotized to forget she applied for the show, thus minimizing her stress and maximizing the surprise. Frankie signs on, as this is the only thing she can think of to help her brother, Galen, who has a ton of debt and no way to pay it off, owing to catastrophic injuries sustained in a freak accident. Then, memory wiped, Frankie goes about her life.

She meets a guy worth dating, books some high-profile gigs, and develops an illusionist act that seems poised to take her career to the next level—but all the while, the Death Warrant production team toils in the background, contriving the perfect moment to end it all.

Subtle yet effective world-building, deftly drawn characters, and a dynamite premise elevate Johnston’s latest, which is, by turns, a speculative thriller, a decidedly nontraditional murder mystery, and a love letter to all forms of stage magic. Frankie’s snarky, endearingly candid first-person-present narration thoroughly invests readers in her fate, inspiring dread and against-all-odds hope in equal measure.

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 19:05:44
Buried in a Good Book
Robin Agnew

The premise of Tamara Berry's Buried in a Good Book is a bit meta: thriller writer Tess Harrow has headed to her grandfather’s cabin in the woods with her surly teen daughter, Gertie. The cabin has no electricity or running water and horror of horrors, no cell phone coverage, but Tess wants to get away to write and to get Gertie’s mind off the fact that her father has abandoned her. It’s a rough landing for the two women as they are greeted with the sound of mysterious explosions and shortly after, fish corpses as well as human body parts start raining from the sky.

That’s not exactly what you would call a cozy situation, but the natural, humorous voice of this author places her very comfortably in the cozy universe. As Tess tells her story to the sheriff, she’s struck (and here’s the meta part) by his resemblance to her series hero. As it turns out, he’s a fan of her books, but in person he finds Tess quickly becoming something of an annoyance in her unrelenting quest to discover the who and the why of the human arm that fell on her. While the small town is in the middle of nowhere, Berry populates the story with some interesting characters, including Nikki, an itinerant librarian, who drives a bookmobile all over the county.

There’s a good number of odd and almost-inexplicable happenings as things proceed, adding to the mysterious aspect of this story. For one, there’s some kind of bigfoot in the woods that the sheriff is obsessed with tracking down. There’s even a flight of toucans out there too. Ultimately, the weirdness gets serious when one of the deputies guarding Tess and Gertie disappears in the woods.

The story is a complex one with some pretty convincing red herrings. Berry is excellent at the nuances of character and human behavior. Despite her fame and writing skill, central character Tess is all too human as she struggles with Gertie, portrayed as a pretty believable teen with reason to be emotionally bruised. Tess operates with a combination of smarts, instinct, and memories, making her lurch toward the truth extremely relatable. Thankfully, she never makes the clichéd rush into the dark alone (though she still ends up in some dicey situations). This first in a series is truly original, funny, and well written. A real standout.

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 19:10:07
Rx Mayhem
Hank Wagner

Rx Mayhem is the latest by F. Paul Wilson writing as Nina Abbott. (The author, accustomed to being relegated to the bottom of the thriller section, has a conspicuous habit of adopting pseudonyms at the other end of the alphabet, like Abbott, and, previously, Andrews.)

It begins mere hours after the conclusion of 2021’s Rx Murder, a welcome blend of thriller, mystery, murder, romance, and ghost story, featuring the appealing, angsty Noreen Marconi, MD. Here, the good doctor deals with the aftermath of the events of that novel and launches a personal investigation into the disappearance of her godfather, Corrado Piperno, at the behest of her father.

Did I mention that Noreen’s godfather disappeared some two decades prior, or that the request came from a dead man? Or, that you’ll gain some insights into small medical offices, malpractice suits, and big pharma along the way?

Well, you will, and you’ll have a good time doing it.

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 19:14:33
The Goodbye Coast
Dick Lochte

Joe Ide, author of the splendid IQ series featuring L.A.’s South Central Sherlock Isaiah Quintabe, has joined the line of fine writers who continue to add to the late Raymond Chandler’s regrettably few novels about private eye icon Philip Marlowe.

His reinvention of the sleuth finds Marlowe strolling the mean streets of today’s Los Angeles, bespoke-suited and brash, observed objectively rather than via first-person narrative. He’s assisted by his recently widowed, alcoholic, get-off-my-lawn father, an LAPD detective dismayed by his son’s failure to earn a badge. If all this doesn’t set your hair on fire, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this hard-boiled, better-than-average private eye yarn.

Ide’s street-level view of 2022 Los Angeles is every bit as convincing as the Great Ray’s pre- and post-WWII take. The prose is fast and snappy and much of the dialogue has a Chandleresque touch. (Marlowe throwing shade: “Such a big heart. If you opened it, a moth would fly out.”) Even characters who initially seem stereotypical— the self-obsessed fading movie star; her entitled, way-beyond-OCD teen stepdaughter; and assorted Russian and Armenian thugs and villains—are presented in depth with quirky uniqueness.

The plot, as complex as Chandler’s if not more so, has Marlowe simultaneously working for the aforementioned actress whose aforementioned stepdaughter has gone wandering and an appealing British schoolteacher whose young son has been kidnapped by her ex-husband.

As both cases converge, sort of, reader Vikas Adam keeps the action and rat-a-tat dialogue flowing at the proper pace, while swiftly shifting attitudes and tones, from the angrily gruff Marlowe, senior, to the willful, ultra-spoiled stepdaughter to the wan yet seductive teacher to the snarling, thickly accented villains.

His Philip Marlowe, as scripted, is endowed with a glib tongue and the over-confidence and impatience of youth. If he sounds much closer in tone to Robert Crais’ breezier Elvis Cole than Chandler’s classically downbeat hero, is that really a bad thing?

Teri Duerr
2022-05-17 19:22:53
Murder on the Orient Express Revised for Theater
Oline H Cogdill

I have said several times that Agatha Christie never goes out of style and she seems to be having a resurgence in popularity.

The new novel The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont takes a new view of the 11 days Dame Christie disappeared—a vanishing that has never been explained; The Christie Affair now is in development for a television series planned for 2023. The television series Why Didn't They Ask Evans? directed by Hugh Laurie currently is available. Authors such as Val McDermid, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley and Elly Griffiths are contributing short stories to the collection Marple: Twelve New Mysteries, to be published in September

Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express also has a new life, first with the film directed by Kenneth Branagh and now with a retooled play adaptation by U.S. playwright Ken Ludwig, best known for Lend Me a Tenor.

Ludwig’s Murder on the Orient Express has been produced at a variety of venues including McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., and theaters in Houston, Philadelphia, Japan, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Kalamazoo, Michigan, among others. A production is currently at the Chichester Festival Theatre in West Sussex, England. It will open at the highly respected Drury Lane in suburban Chicago.

So how is the new Murder on the Orient Express?

Here is a review by South Florida’s highly respected theater critic Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater on Stage on the currently production at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables. Full disclosure—Bill is my husband. I also saw the production with him on opening night and completely agree.

Murder on the Orient Express Reimagined as Comic Trip

By Bill Hirschman

Do not go to Actors’ Playhouse’s stage production of Murder on the Orient Express expecting the grim locked-room mystery at the heart of the films with Albert Finney or Kenneth Branagh, or even the gravitas of Agatha Christie herself.

This 2017 edition, perhaps the only one written for the stage, is penned by Ken Ludwig, the popular playwright best known for such expert farces as Lend Me A Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo.

So, if you can wipe the tone of those earlier efforts from your mind, you will likely find yourself chuckling much of the night at this cast of skilled South Florida theater veterans having a good time turning Christie into a cute, often funny two-hour comedy sketch.

At one point the voluble and five-time married Mrs. Hubbard tells a character, “You know you remind me of one of my husbands.” The character asks, “Which one?” Not waiting for the rimshot, she answers, “The next one.”

At one point, a suspect bristles that his lover will be questioned. He says, “Well, I don’t like it! Do you understand? And you can put that in your meerschaum pipe and smoke it!” To which Poirot’s friend retorts, “That is Sherlock Holmes.”

A photo is, indeed, worth a thousand words: Glimpse the tableau above and you’ll get the intended tenor perfectly.

The plot does remain rooted in Christie’s brilliant if complex and impossibly convoluted tale of revenge written in 1934 and turned into radio plays, television editions, Sidney Lumet’s 1972 film and Branagh’s 2017 cinema outing, both of which had jabs of humor about detective Hercule Poirot’s fussy demeanor and the aristocrats’ hauteur.

Here, there are a few plot changes and additions, and the number of suspects has shrunk from 13 to 8 for Poirot to interrogate. So, for a moment or two, you wonder whether Christie’s ingenious solution will remain intact. But never fear. (In the pre-curtain speech opening night, director David Arisco asked how many people knew whodunit and amazingly only a smattering of hands were raised. Where have they been?)

In keeping with Ludwig’s vision and Arisco’s strength in comedies, most of the characters – and they are now Characters – are played just this side of over-the-top with a League of Nations of accents.  No one onstage or backstage is taking any of this seriously as a murder mystery. But if you accept their approach, Arisco has a skilled gang for his partners in crime.

Terry Hardcastle, who has been a stalwart at this theater and around the country for decades racking up Carbonells, makes a more solid serious Poirot who exudes the detective’s unwavering curiosity. As the straight man to the rest of the characters, he doesn’t get as many opportunities for laughs other than rolling his eyes at the antics, but he provides the fulcrum for the evening.

But heading the acting list of quirky oddballs is Irene Adjan’s annoyingly nasal bray with an attitude, the widow from Minnesota, Mrs. Hubbard. Adjan‘s much honored local career has encompassed broad farce in Summer Shorts and affecting drama like The Cake. Here she gets to have a blast making Mrs. Hubbard someone you’d hate to be stuck with on a snowbound train for three days.

But the rest of the cast also capably lets themselves go inhabiting intentionally one-dimensional cartoon characters: Lourelene Snedeker  as the aging Russian émigré Princess Dragomiroff; Mallory Newbrough as the fretful Swedish companion Greta Ohlson, a part far removed from her Equus horsewoman or her Beehive Janis Joplin; Krystal Millie Valdes as Debenham; Gaby Tortoledo as the lovely married countess whom Poirot gets a crush on; Alexander Blanco as the murder victim’s aide; Seth Trucks as the busiest train conductor in Europe; Michael McKenzie as the rail line’s executive (we saw him for a few seconds this week on a new Law & Order episode) and Iain Batchelor as both Valdes’s Scottish military beau and the soon-to-die mafiaso Ratchett.

If you’re going to adhere to Ludwig’s vision, you would be hard pressed to find local director better suited to this than Arisco, who can direct high tragedy handily, but whose skill at light comedy is close to unmatched down here.

For all the humor, Arisco and Co. respect that Ludwig does change gears for the finale more in keeping with introspective facet of the original in which Poirot struggles to come to terms with what he sees as a moral dilemma.

Some of the audience gasped at the first sight of the set pieces designed by Tim Bennett and executed by Production Manager Carlos Correa and Technical Director Gene Seyffer. The entire stage in the upstairs auditorium contains two halves of the train’s exterior, and then when the halves slide back into the wings, revealing the lounge car, and, then the whole thing slides offstage to reveal three adjoining compartments. From a technical and mechanical standpoint, it is a bit of a marvel, although the time required to move then in the often changing scenes does drag the pace down a bit.

Ellis Tillman, the dean of local costuming, once again devises character-revealing garb for the cast, notably the white travelling outfit for the countess and the ornate regalia for the princess.

Prior to the pandemic, this was a popular title for regional theaters across the country including the Asolo Repertory in Sarasota (with local Gregg Weiner in the cast) which closed just before the virus exploded, but never made it to Broadway.

Overall, it’s a pleasant amusing ride to buy a ticket for.

Murder on the Orient Express runs through June 5 at Actors Playhouse on the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Wednesdays – Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $65 to $100. Running time 2 hours including one intermission. For more information, call (305) 444-9293 or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.

 Photo: What? Another body? Poirot hold back the suspects in Actors’ Playhouse’s Murder on the Orient Express / Photo by Alberto Romeu.



Oline Cogdill
2022-05-30 19:25:08
Writers on Reading: When King Came Knocking
Chris Holm

Chris Holm

 

 

 

What the heck is a Tommyknocker?!

In the gilded light of memory, the book atop the nightstand beckoned like the idol in the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though it was dictionary thick, its cover was lurid, tantalizing—emblazoned with an eerie image of a farmhouse in silhouette, the sky above an unearthly green.

I approached with trepidation and peeked inside. “Late last night and the night before,” began the epigraph, “Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.”

I suppressed a shiver. My skin prickled with gooseflesh.

What the heck is a Tommyknocker?!

“I want to go out,” it continued, “don’t know if I can, ’cause I’m so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.”

Thus began one of the great literary loves of my life.

I was nine.

Stephen King, The TommyknockersThe nightstand in question belonged to my aunt, who—unless I’m mistaken—was away at college. Her bedroom was a childhood trapped in amber. My grandmother, sick of babysitting, had sent me in there on a mission. “There are lots of books in Amy’s room. Go pick one. Anything you’d like. You can even take it home with you.”

There were lots of books in Amy’s room—Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Madeleine L’Engle—but I’d read most of them already.

That’s when I spotted The Tommyknockers.

I’m convinced it’d been left behind by a guest who’d slept in Amy’s room while she was away—and, further, that my grandmother had no idea it was in there, because if she had, she would’ve forbidden me from reading it.

Still, by the letter of the law, it was fair game.

The Tommyknockers was the first novel for adults I ever read. (My internal editor would like to change that to “adult novel,” but the latter phrase conjures another animal entirely.) In retrospect, it’s not Stephen King’s best—King himself has referred to it as “awful”—but nine-year-old me was enthralled.

I soon became a superfan, a Constant Reader, devouring every King story I could get my hands on and taking his recommendations as gospel. He turned me on to such incredible writers as Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, Clive Barker and Michael McDowell, Shirley Jackson and Anne Rivers Siddons, to name but a few—and sparked a love of genre fiction that continues to this day.

Not too shabby for a chance encounter with a book its own author doesn’t even like.

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, which recasts the battle between heaven and hell as old-fashioned crime pulp; the Michael Hendricks novels, which feature a hitman who only kills other hitmen; and the standalone Child Zero, which Stephen King said thriller fans would enjoy “to the max.” Chris’ work has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Teri Duerr
2022-06-15 15:53:58
The Blue Diamond
Jay Roberts

A series of brazen and mysterious thefts from high-end hotels serves as the catalyst for author Leonard Goldberg’s latest Daughter of Sherlock Holmes mystery The Blue Diamond.

It’s November 1917 and World War I is still blazing across the globe, but in London, a high-profile robbery has Joanna Holmes on the case. Scotland Yard is baffled as to how a thief stole a massive, uncut diamond from the room of the South African governor- general days before it was to be given as a gift to the King of England. It’s up to Joanna and both of the Watsons, her husband John, Jr. and the aging but still sharp-witted father-in-law John, Sr. (the former partner of The Great Detective himself), to figure out the locked-room mystery they’ve been dropped into.

However, when another theft occurs just days later in the same hotel and the hotel’s night manager is found dead, a simple case of robbery begins to reveal a more sinister plot in play. As Joanna grapples to figure out the criminal mastermind’s plan, she and her partners soon find themselves the target of assassination attempts. Someone really doesn’t want them to uncover the truth. Racing against time, betrayals, puzzling clues, and possible death, they have to unravel a conspiracy that will take them from London’s criminal underworld to the very heights of the British government in a case that could change the course of The Great War itself.

With The Blue Diamond, author Goldberg amply demonstrates once again just how compelling a figure Joanna Holmes has become. While her status as the offspring of Sherlock Holmes opens doors for her in a time when that wasn’t always the case for women, it is her own great intellect that helps her carve her own path. Aided and abetted by her husband and father-in-law, the daughter of Sherlock Holmes grabs the attention of readers and doesn’t let you go until the mystery is solved.

Simply put, this series is one of the best continuations of the Sherlock mythos that one could hope for.

Teri Duerr
2022-06-16 13:35:13
The Investigator
Jay Roberts

Readers first met Letty Davenport as a resourceful young girl growing up hard in the Lucas Davenport thriller Naked Prey. In author John Sandford’s The Investigator, Letty takes center stage. Long ago adopted by Lucas, she’s now in her mid-20s and working for a U.S. Senator in a job she finds less than fulfilling.

She’s ready to quit when her boss offers her a new assignment that will put her “in the field,” something that fits Letty’s skill set much better than a desk job. Teamed with skeptical John Kaiser, a former Army master sergeant who is ex-Delta Force, Letty sets off to Texas tasked by Homeland Security to track down answers behind complaints from oil companies about stolen oil. The investigation is just a cover, though. Homeland is less concerned about the missing oil than what the stolen oil money is being used for. There are rumors of a militia, a plot, and a mysterious leader.

As Letty and John search for answers, they soon find what they were looking for—and it’s a whole lot more than some stolen oil money. Letty will have to face off with an enemy using all of the skills she’s learned over her life to not only save the day, but reach the end of it alive.

I’ve loved Sandford’s Letty Davenport character since her first appearance in the Prey series. She was a compelling character then and a complete badass now in her first solo outing. The way Sandford builds the partnership between Letty and Kaiser is expertly crafted from their initial resistance to their meeting of the minds as a team that makes both of them better. I loved these two together. I also love Letty’s practical nature. She doesn’t shy away from who she is and what she’s done in life.

When you take all that and add in a story that is both real-world topical and packed with thrills aplenty, The Investigator is another home run from John Sandford that will have readers begging for more Letty adventures.

Teri Duerr
2022-06-17 16:40:22