Reviews
Oline Cogdill

macneal_susanelia
Giving away advanced readers’ copies of a new book isn’t exactly a new idea. Authors have been doing this for decades, to promote an upcoming book or reward devoted readers.

Yet authors are still finding ways to put a new spin on giveaways.

Susan Elia MacNeal, left, who writes the award-winning Maggie Hope series, decided to use a plot device to reward a couple of readers.

Set during WWII, the series follows Maggie Hope, who starts as a “typist” for Winston Churchill but, because of her perceptive skills, ends up becoming a spy for the British. MacNeal’s series is known for its meticulous research and complex, believable characters.

The latest novel in this series, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, opens in 1941 with Maggie working as an instructor at an agent training facility in Scotland. Maggie has been suffering from a “black dog” of depression and the instructor job is a way to get her back on her feet, and, hopefully, back in the field as Britain needs her unique talents. But a series of unusual deaths at the facility bring new lessons for Maggie.

To go with the theme of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, MacNeal decided to find out what kind of a spy her readers would be.

“Since the SOE (Special Operations Executive) was made up of real people with little to no military/spy training, I thought it would be fun to ask folks if they thought they'd make a good spy. I have my own ideas, but I thought it would be fun to hear,” said MacNeal in an email.

(By the way, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organization formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.)

macnealsusanelia_secretagent4thbook
The contest was conducted via Facebook. For a judge, MacNeal turned to a very special person to make the final decision—her 9-year-old son, Mattie.

The winners are readers Megan Walline and Leila Ghaznavi.

Megan won Maddie’s vote when she stated “I would make a good spy because I will mail a box of candy to Mattie if I win the contest. Is that wrong?”

Leila said she would make a good spy because “I'd be a good spy because I'm small and would fit into tight spaces so I can ease drop on people. Also I have brown hair so I blend into the blackness of alleyways. Plus I've trained in aerial acrobatics so I can hang from high places unseen!"

A few other readers offered their ideas on espionage:

Colleen Turner: “I would make a good spy for a number of reasons: I'm super short, have a young looking face, blind hair and blue eyes and very often get taken for sweet and harmless...which I could use to my advantage to infiltrate the enemy and bring them down ! Also, I am very organized and therefore would never misplace my spy equipment or intel or forget where I hid it if the need arose to escape in a flash!”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I’m already a spy; I’m a teacher who hears everything without being seen; knows when the fight is going to happen and breaks it up before it begins; I am around some deviant students who pass off as harmless ones; plus I'm always on the clock. And a teacher as a spy is too cool...I've already been in the trenches and know the weapons (spit balls, paper wads, and lack of deodorant)!!”

Jennifer Marie: “I'd make a great spy. I am a mom. I watch them all day every day. I look to see if their eyes are glassy and might be getting sick. I watch to see if their smile is a touch less bright. And I can always tell when my child is lying.”

Kelly Sullinger Bales: “I've read your books to my students when we did our WWII unit so they could get a better picture of what life was like for Europeans during the war...they loved it! Me too, of course!”

Kathleen Fannon: “I would make a good spy because I have sneak skills honed by years as a mother, I know how to keep a secret because I am a good friend, I am a librarian so I know how to research anything, and since I was a kid once myself, I am good at disappearing when I don't want to do something.”

Airieanne Andrews: “I'd make a good spy because I'm a stealthy lady. I can hide in plain view, sail, shoot, smile, and waive your overdue book fees at the library.”

Sara Miller: “I would be a great spy because 1) I would be the last person people would suspect of being a spy, 2) I can get even the strangest people to talk to me and 3) Even if I tell an enemy my real name, it would be nearly impossible to track me down.”

Mystery Scene suggest our readers buy a copy of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent and tell us what kind of spy you think you would make.

spying-on-susan-elia-macneal
3662
Reviews
Oline Cogdill

longmire_roberttaylor
My Mondays are now booked with the return of Longmire, the western crime drama based on Craig Johnson’s series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.

Longmire’s third season airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on A&E, with frequent encores.

Australian actor Robert Taylor, left, plays the Wyoming lawman.

It’s not become a tradition—OK, two years in a row now—to move the publication date of Johnson’s latest novel to coincide with the start of the TV series.

The 10th Longmire novel Any Other Name (Viking) just hit the bookshelves and reading devices a couple of weeks ago.

In Any Other Name, Walt is asked by his former boss, Lucian Conally, to investigate the death of detective Gerald Holman in an adjacent county. Lucian wants to find out what drove Gerald to commit suicide.

Walt’s investigation leads to evidence concerning three missing women.

Photo: Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire. A&E photo

longmires-back-on-aae
3660
Reviews
Oline Cogdill

fargotv_martinfreemanx
Beware the overlooked man.

The frustrated, inept, ignored man seething with unresolved violence day and night.

Beware this dormant volcano who one day erupts and cannot rein in his violent tendencies.

That describes insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, a sad sack of a man played to perfection by British actor Martin Freeman in the compelling and disturbing drama Fargo, airing 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.

For years, Lester’s diabolical nature has been submerged as he just tried to get through life, knowing that no one had any respect for him—not his wife, his brother, or his boss.

This 40-something man was still being bullied by his high school nemesis who now has brought in his lughead sons to continue the harassment of Lester.

Then one day, Lester has a strange encounter in the emergency room with a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

fargoTV_billybobthorntonIn a kind of Strangers on a Train meeting, Malvo, a remorseless killer, somehow encourages Lester to unleash his demons.

Before he knows what is happening, Lester kills his wife and witnesses Malvo’s murder of the police chief.

And there is no turning back in this Fargo.

Although the TV Fargo shares the same name as the 1996 movie, the same frozen rural Minnesota landscape, and droll dark humor, this version is not a continuation of that film by Ethan and Joel Coen, who are listed among the executive producers. Most of the story doesn’t even occur in Fargo, a kind of joke.


fargoTV_alisontolman
The TV version of Fargo is created by Noah Hawley, a producer, screenwriter, composer, and author. His other TV credits include writing and producing the television series Bones.

Hawley also created The Unusuals and My Generation. Hawley’s novels include A Conspiracy of Tall Men, Other People's Weddings, The Punch, and The Good Father.

Marge Gunderson, so wonderfully played by Frances McDormand who received a best actress Oscar for the role in the movie, is nowhere in sight in the TV version.

Presumably, hopefully, Marge and her husband Norm have a wonderful life with more children, and his career as an artist for stamps is thriving. And Marge is still the police chief and she never again has had to witness the carnage she had to endure that day.

fargotv_colinhanks
In this Fargo reboot, the moral center is another woman cop, this time in Bemidji, Minnesota. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is an insightful cop who the police chief had been grooming to become a detective and eventually police chief.

But that was before he was murdered and now Officer Solverson is saddled with a new chief, Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk), who is as clueless as he is dismissive of her abilities.

Despite her boss’ orders to leave Lester alone—after all, a milquetoast like him could never harm anyone—Molly continues her own investigation.

She finds an ally in Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a fellow police officer over in Duluth, Minn. Gus had an unsettling encounter with Malvo, and he and Molly find a link between Lester and this stranger. But Gus is a reluctant partner. He never wanted to be a cop and, as a single father, his priority is his bright pre-teen daughter.

Tolman and Hanks are terrific in their roles as ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, witnessing violence they cannot comprehend. The two actors also subtly show the loneliness of their characters and the growing attraction each has for the other.

fargoTV_jail
I’ve never cared much for Thornton, even in Sling Blade, but he really gives an outstanding performance as Malvo.

With his odd haircut and steely glaze, Thornton oozes evil. He is not a man but a true evil monster who has no compassion for anyone and kills without thought.

Freeman is such an enjoyable actor who embraces every role, from of Dr. Watson in the new Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the nude body double looking for love in Love Actually, and Tim in the U.K. The Office.

A consummate character actor, Freeman embraces his growing diabolicalness, which was made even more clear in last week’s episode. Lester’s brother sums up his character perfectly: “There’s something wrong with you, Lester. There’s something missing. You’re not right in the world.”

Fargo is beautifully shot, making the most of this snowbound area, showing its beauty and lethalness. Last week’s shootout in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, with myriad whiteouts, was brilliant.

Dark comedy swirls in the FX Fargo, as humor is found the absurd situations. The comedy works well in this series.

The violence often doesn’t.

While the film version had violence, the Coens were careful to show most of it off camera, saving the real impact for that woodchipper. And even in that scene, the viewer—and Marge—came in toward the end, seeing enough of a glimpse to know what was going on without a gratuitous long scene.

The TV Fargo has a level of violence not often seen on the small screen. Even the brilliant Justified, which also airs on FX, or the even more brilliant The Wire, didn’t go this far. And those are stronger series for their restraint.

Fargo’s sixth episode, which aired this past week, was especially disturbing. It went too far in showing every detail. We know when someone is being killed, we don’t need that close-up view. Compelling storytelling shouldn’t make the viewer cringe.

This season of Fargo will have 10 episodes and its ratings have been quite good. It hasn’t been announced yet if the series will be renewed for another season.

I hope we get to visit Fargo again, and please, please bring back Tolman and Hanks.

PHOTOS: From top, Martin Freeman; Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks. Bottom photo: Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), left, and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), right, surround Lester (Martin Freeman). FX photos

fargo-intriguing-but-too-violent
3656
Reviews
Oline Cogdill

segura_alex
Alex Segura, left, is a novelist, comic book writer, musician, and journalist whose debuted with Silent City, set in Miami.

Silent City revolves around Pete Fernandez who squandered his once promising career as an investigative sports reporter. Since his return to Miami following the death of his police detective father, Pete spends most of his time drunk, routinely coming to work late and making serious mistakes in his job on the Miami Times’ sports desk. A coworker’s request to find his estranged daughter who has vanished lulls Pete out of his angst.

Here’s what Segura has to say about his career.

Q: Currently, you edit the Archie superhero graphic novels and have written the Archie Meets KISS series. How does your background in graphic novels infuse your crime fiction?
A:
Comics are very visual—and the really good ones are cinematic and almost fluid in how they present a story. You don’t feel like you’re looking at static images. So, if there was any influence, it was about being concise with words but also clear about the visuals and action. I wanted the prose to be easy to follow and effective and a little rough. The latter was probably more because I was new at it than any grand design. I always envision what I write like a movie—what’s the opening scene? How do we cut from one scene to another? Comics are about merging the visual with the mental, and that's what I tried to bring to the book: a prose story you could see in your mind without much prodding or over-explaining. Whether I succeeded or not is up to the reader.

Q: How different is it in writing crime fiction as opposed to a graphic novel?
A:
Comics are much more collaborative. You have a writer, an artist—sometimes more than one—a letterer and a colorist. You have to relay your vision to one person and then, like a game of telephone, it continues down the line. Novels are very solitary. You still have people giving input, but it’s usually an editor or agent and it’s usually after you’ve spent a long time writing a draft. It’s much lonelier and less about brainstorming with someone else. It’s more about creating and fine-tuning on your own and then turning it over to someone to give you notes on a completed thing. Whereas comics are about creating parts and leaving other spaces open for others to chime in. It’s more musical, like jamming. Comics—at least writing them—are more akin to putting a puzzle together: I need to fill 20 pages with X amount of action and I have this many panels to play with on a given page. Novels are more free-form, which is great and also hugely intimidating.

Q: Had you considered making Silent City a graphic novel?
A:
The thought had crossed my mind. But part of me wants to keep the two worlds separate for now. Most of my comic writing has been with Archie—Archie Meets KISS, a few one-offs and I have a few more in the pipeline—which is pretty light, humorous fare. My novels are crime books—gritty, noir, violent, not PG. I don’t want to say never—because who knows, the opportunity may arise—but for now I’d like to keep my crime writing in the prose world and stretch my genre muscles in comics if I can.

That being said, I love me some crime comics. Stuff like 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Stray Bullets by David Lapham inform all of my writing. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too.

seguraalex_silentcity
Q: You also have a background in journalism and started as a reporter. Obviously this played a big part in Silent City.
A:
It did. I think that, plus the setting and a lot of things about Pete, the protagonist, goes back to just writing what I knew at the time. Not because I felt that was a rule, but because I was comfortable doing that. And I also wanted to show a realistic version of Miami and create a person I could see myself hanging out with or knowing back home.

The journalism stuff came naturally because I’d worked as an editor and interned as a reporter in Miami [and in] South Florida. I knew that world and tried to be honest about it. Pete is at a low point in his life, too, so everything is terrible in his eyes. Even though, from an outside perspective, he has a decent job and seems to have friends who care for him. But that’s the case with anyone going through a dark time.

Q: Newspapers have changed a lot since you were a reporter, what kind of research did you do to make your scenes in the newsroom so authentic?
A:
I have a lot of friends still in the business. I did the first draft based off my own memories and ran them by some beta readers. My editor at Codorus is still in journalism to some degree, and he vetted a lot of it. His validation was really important, because I wanted real journalists—not someone who dabbled for a few years and went on to something else—to read the book and not get jammed up by incorrect details or tonal errors. So, when he and a few others read it and agreed the journalistic descriptions were accurate, I was happy.

Q: While you are a Miami native, it has been a long time since you lived in the Magic City. Why set your novel in South Florida?
A:
I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, but Miami still feels like home. I’m not sure that’ll ever go away. And when I first started writing Silent City, I felt completely overwhelmed by New York. I had no sense of the personality or history of the city and felt wholly unprepared to write about it. That’s faded somewhat since then, so I’d feel more comfortable doing a N.Y. book now. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing Pete to N.Y., but nothing beyond idle thoughts.

Also, a big reason for setting it in Miami was because I hadn’t really read a Miami mystery that spoke to me—aside from Vicki Hendricks’ amazing Miami Purity. Which isn’t to discredit people who have written about Miami or South Florida. I’m sure there are great books that I haven’t read yet. But I wanted to write a story about my hometown as I remembered it, with the kind of characters that I would recognize and that others would, too, or at least find compelling enough to hang out for a while.

Q: What next?
A:
I’m revising my second novel, Down the Darkest Street. Once that’s locked in, we can figure out when it’ll hit shelves. I’m halfway through a third Pete novel, too, which I’ll shoot to finish once the second one is off. I’m writing some more comics--a few issues of the main ARCHIE title. I also have a short sci-fi story in the upcoming anthology Apollo's Daughters, edited by Bryan Young (Silence in the Library Publishing), and a horror comic short in another upcoming anthology. Those last two are with a co-writer I’ve been friends with for a long time. I also have another Pete short story working its way out of my brain. All tricky to execute with a day job, but so far, so good.

alex-segura-on-silent-city-comics
3657
Reviews
Oline Cogdill
grecian_alex
Many authors of crime fiction also write graphic novels and comic books. Often times the authors’ works in these two genres parallel each other.

Alex Grecian’s works are vastly different.

Grecian, left, sets his crime fiction in Victorian times with a look at Scotland Yard during 1890 when the shadow of Jack the Ripper loomed over London. This was a heady time for Scotland Yard as crime soared and the use of forensics was in its infancy.

Grecian’s novels are steeped in the history and culture of Victorian times. His latest The Devil’s Workshop is a chilling look at what happens when some of London’s worst killers escape.

Here’s a look at the trailer for The Devil’s Workshop. Grecian currently is on tour for The Devil’s Workshop.

As for Grecian’s comics, that’s a whole other world.

grecianalex_devilsworkshop
Along with artist Riley Rossmo, Grecian created the Proof series of comics that revolve around John “Proof” Prufock who is a sasquatch.

“As a Bigfoot, he is vastly larger and more powerful than a human being,” Grecian writes on his website. “Proof is exceptionally cultured for a feral beast; he is often seen wearing expensive suits and custom-made shoes.”

According to Grecian’s description, “Proof works for a top secret government agency, The Lodge, hunting cryptids with his partner Ginger Brown.”

Cryptids, apparently, are animals whose existence have been suggested, but never proved.

Like a Bigfoot.

alex-grecians-crime-fiction-comics
3650