Sunday, 14 December 2014 05:12

duncan lois
Each year the Mystery Writers of America pick an author—sometimes two—to be named a Grand Master.

This isn’t some random title but an honor to recognize those authors who have made contributions to the genre by setting a new course through their works.

I hate the term “transcend the genre,” because I don’t think the genre needs transcending. Instead, a Grand Master is an author whose work enhances, expands, and energizes crime fiction.

Two authors have been named the 2015 Grand Master and while Lois Duncan, at left, and James Ellroy, below right, couldn’t be more different, they are each deserving of this honor.

The Grand Masters will be presented their awards during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Lois Duncan’s work has been familiar since the mid-1960s. Duncan was only 13 years old when she sold her first short story to a national magazine. She was 18 years old when her first novel, Debutante Hill, came out. That was in 1957. While Debutante Hill sounds like one of those simple tales about rich girls that were so popular in the 1950s, Duncan brought a sense of social issues to the novel, an approach that she would continue to expound on in all her some 50 novels.

In Debutante Hill, wealthy teenager Lynn Chambers spends her senior year hanging out with her rich friends, waiting for letters from her college boyfriend and planning to become a debutante when this tradition starts up in her hometown. But when her father refuses to allow her to participate, Lynn suddenly is no longer part of the “in crowd.” Now an outsider to her wealthy friends, Lynn becomes aware of teens who are not in the same economic class. She begins to develop strong opinions about prejudice and social status, and rethinks her relationships with her former friends.

ellroy james
Pretty heady stuff for a teen a novel in the 1950s, especially one written by an author who was a teenager herself.

But that was mild compared to Duncan’s two novels credited with revolutionizing young-adult fiction. In Point of Violence and Ransom, both published in 1966, Duncan used a realistic viewpoint, presenting her main characters with choices and decisions that had consequences, paving the way for many other young-adult authors that followed.

Social issues are a mainstay of her novels. For example, Daughters of Eve tackled societal sexism, Killing Mr. Griffin the pressure placed on teens to perform and get into good colleges, and I Know What You Did Last Summer dealt with the Vietnam War and society’s reactions to it, plus the struggles of returning veterans.

Duncan has been nominated several times for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile, and her books have been made into films.

James Ellroy’s novels are the complete opposite of Duncan’s work. One would never mistake Ellroy’s books for young-adult novels.

Ellroy writes about a dark Los Angeles that is fueled by crime, sexism, racism, and homophobia. He lays bare those issues, showing their ugliness and the decay that chips away at society.

L.A. Confidential probably is his best-known and most accessible novel, and was made into a brilliant movie that starred Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger.

This 1997 film earned nine Academy Award nominations and took two, including best supporting actress for Basinger.

Previous Grand Masters include Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

Congratulations to both Grand Masters.

(Coming Wednesday: A look at the Raven winners.)

Tuesday, 09 December 2014 04:12

coben harlan-credit-Claudio-Marinesco small
We are officially in the holiday season and that means gifts—those you buy and those you receive.

After all, books can make the best presents for the reader on your list.

And what started as a small campaign to encourage book buying—and support literacy—seems to have grown by leaps and bounds.

Penguin Random House has launched its #GiveaBook social media campaign that encourages books as gifts and works as a way to help donate books to U.S. children.

Each time the hashtag #GiveaBook is used on Facebook and Twitter by Dec. 24, the publisher will donate a book to the aid organization Save the Children. The publisher is committed to donating up to 25,000 books.

And this campaign has taken off with other publishers, libraries, and bookstores getting into the act, not to mention many authors. People are creating videos of themselves naming a book they are giving to someone and why and then challenging at least two others to make their own #GiveaBook video.

Among the mystery writers who have posted #GiveaBook videos are Sara Paretsky and Harlan Coben, left.

Other mystery writers who are posting about their #GiveaBook ideas are Megan Abbott, Dennis Tafoya, Laurie R. King, and Gary Phillips.

Also doing #GiveaBook are J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts (presumably they have discussed this between them) as well as many others from all genres.

Put #GiveaBook at the top of your list.

And if we have left out any other authors participating in the #GiveaBook campaign, please add your name.

Friday, 05 December 2014 11:12

burke alafairx
Heroes or heroines elevate mystery plots, and, in the case of series, are one of the reasons we look forward to the next novel.

Isn’t that why we want to read about Harry Bosch, Tess Monaghan, Kinsey Millhone, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, Spenser, Quinn Colson, Thorn, Doc Ford, Helen Hawthorne, Jane Ryland—OK, I am going to stop now because this list could get massive.

But where would these series characters be without villains to bring to justice? Heroes/heroines need villains, and readers need both.

I've been thinking about some outstanding villains lately who have made a plot even stronger. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the year's best villains.

A good villain has to be germane to the story. The kind of criminal who Harry Bosch pursues in Michael Connelly’s police procedurals isn’t the same kind of criminal that Connelly’s attorney Mickey Haller goes after. Alafair Burke’s NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher and her Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid each have different caseloads. A cop would be in a different kind of situation than a lawyer would be.

It’s doubtful that the set of criminals who wander into the small Mississippi town where Ace AtkinsQuinn Colson is sheriff would be the same kind that James W. Hall’s Thorn deals with in South Florida.

connelly michael2013
Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan, Kelli Stanley’s Miranda Corbie and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone would find similarities in their stories since both are private investigators. The differences being, of course, locale—Baltimore for Tess, San Francisco for Miranda, and Santa Barbara for Kinsey—and era. Tess operates in the 21st century while Kinsey is still in the late 1980s and Miranda’s time frame is just before WWII.

Robert Crais’ private investigators Elvis Cole and Joe Pike would also find that the type of villain they are after would overlap with those who bother the clients of PI V.I. Warshawski in Sara Paretsky’s series.

Reporter Jane Ryland in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s series chases stories that revolve around nasty deeds. But Ryan’s villains are not career criminals, rather they are ordinary people who see an opportunity and let greed and power take over their soul—and in some ways that is much worse.

Carrie La Seur’s The Home Place, M.P. Cooley's Ice Shear, and Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter are debuts set in small towns, and that brings up a whole new set of people to deal with.

Elaine Viets’ Helen Hawthorne, Alison Gaylin’s Brenna Spector, Julie Hyzy’s Oliva Paras, Tim O’Mara’s Raymond Donne, and Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod each have a different sort of lowlife with whom they cross paths.

Tell us your favorite type of villain.

Photos: Top: Alafair Burke; Bottom: Michael Connelly