Saturday, 03 January 2015 03:01

korytamichael 3
I try not to get involved with those games or quizzes on Facebook. Thank you very much, but I can waste time on my own.

But the one that is still circulating about how many states you’ve visited drew me in. I wasn’t too surprised that the quiz showed that the only states I haven’t visited are Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

I immediately had two thoughts: "I need a road trip" and "I thought I had been to many of these states." 

And I have…through mysteries.

When the novels are so detailed in their scenery, it makes me feel as if I am there. As they should.

So here’s a look at why I thought I had been to some of these states.

Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels are set in Wyoming, but he also has dipped into other states such as in A Serpent’s Tooth, which deals with polygamy groups in Wyoming, which is right across the border from South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado.

C.J. Box's series about Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, gives us breathtaking scenery, area politics, and a complex hero.

Andrew Hunt’s 2012 novel City of Saints took us to Salt Lake City in 1930 when it was a fast-growing town with big-city concerns, dominated by the large, striking divisions between the wealthy and the middle class, and between those who follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and those who are not Mormons. The rough-hewn countryside, both beautiful and unforgiving, shrinks as the city limits expand. This Depression-era Utah background proves to be an evocative and mesmerizing setting for City of Saints. (Description comes from my review of City of Saints.)

Nevada Barr can be counted on to take us to just about every state in the union with her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon. In The Rope, Barr takes us back to how Anna became a ranger, spending the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.

Patricia Cornwell gave us a quick trip to Utah in her 1997 novel Unnatural Exposure in which Kay Scarpetta visits the U.S. government's huge biological defense
facility in Utah.

Nevada Barr comes through again with her 2001 Blood Lure that takes place in the Glacier/Waterton National Peace Park in Montana.

Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, which I think is one of the best novels of 2013, skillfully melds a thrilling adventure story set against the Montana wilderness with a poignant coming of age story. To keep him safe, a teenage witness to murder is placed in a Montana wilderness training program for troubled teens run by a survival expert. Koryta, photo above, portrays vivid Montana landscapes pulsating with the smells and sounds of the great outdoors.

C.J. Box’s The Highway probably scared me more than any novel has. With three-dimensional characters and a gripping plot, The Highway is even more frightening because of its backstory. Box bases his story on the real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker—the FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force. While the FBI’s task force statistics are numbing, Box never stoops to the prurient while delivering an edgy, compelling novel.  Set in the remote corners of Montana, the isolated landscape lends a chilling atmosphere where the whine of an 18-wheeler and an unlit back road ratchet up the suspense. (Description comes from my review of The Highway.)

Carrie La Seur’s debut The Home Place, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, chronicles a woman’s complicated relationship with her hometown of Billings, Montana, her relatives who stayed behind, and her ancestral history. In The Home Place, La Seur poignantly shows how characters are influenced by a sense of place, affecting their choices in life. The Montana land that makes up “the home place” has been owned by a family for generations, representing all that the family was, what it will be, and what it struggles with now. No one lives on the property, yet no one wants to sell the homestead either. This home place, about an hour from Billings, is a refuge, an offer of security, a place of contention, paralleling the family’s lives. (Description comes from my review of The Home Place.)

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Elizabeth Little’s debut, Dear Daughter, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, revolves around an unlikable protagonist with a biting personality who was sent to prison for her mother’s brutal murder. The case was sketchy at the time, and now, 10 years later, the conviction has been overturned because of mismanaged evidence. Scant clues lead Jane to the tiny, crumbling town of Adeline, South Dakota, and the adjacent community of Ardelle. The barren, soulless South Dakota towns succinctly mirror a struggle with identity in this exciting debut by Little, photo at right.

Lori G. Armstrong has two series set in her home state. Former Black Ops Army sniper Mercy Gunderson has an uneasy return to civilian life on her family’s ranch in South Dakota in three novels. Private investigator Julie Collins looks into crime near Bear Butte in four novels.

Photos: Michael Koryta, top, Elizabeth Little, right.

Saturday, 20 December 2014 07:12

jack irish
With all the holidays bearing down on us, many mystery fans are looking for those last minute gifts.

Books are always nice. Here’s a list of my picks for the year that has run in various newspapers around the country.

But sometimes you just want to watch, not read. So I am turning to Acorn Media for some of the best in mystery viewing with DVDS that can be enjoyed all year.

And these films may introduce you to the novels on which many are based.

Many of these also are available on the “best British TV streaming service” on Acorn TV…and while the streaming may not make the “present” you want to give, it will give you a break from all the holiday planning.

Jack Irish: Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) broods away as Jack Irish, a former lawyer turned private investigator and debt collector, in these films based on Peter Temple’s novels. Originally broadcast on Australian television, the Jack Irish series is addictive. Expect a lot, and I do mean a lot, of brooding, from the often scruffy Pearce who struggles with grief and bad guys.

Republic of Doyle: Set in Newfoundland, this comedy drama from Canada is as much about solving crimes as it is the relationship between Malachy and Jake Doyle, a father and son detective team. Ex-cop Malachy, played by Sean McGinley, and Jake, played by Allan Hawco, are a tight-knit family who, like any family, bicker and jab at each other. They also have their share of troubles with girlfriends, ex-wives and one rebellious teenage daughter. And how many times do we see any mystery set in the lovely St. John’s area of Newfoundland? Fortunately, the series makes the most of this area.

barbary coast
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Line of Duty:
Police corruption is at the center of this British series that examines a different case each season. As gripping as the investigations are, the characters are so well sculpted that we care deeply about their complex personalities. A true ensemble series in which each role, no matter how seemingly small, is important.

Barbary Coast: How did this short-lived American series get into this mix? Not sure. Barbary Coast aired for less than a year, beginning in 1975, and with its combination of western and espionage was, no doubt, inspired by The Wild Wild West. Set in 1880s San Francisco, it featured post-Star Trek William Shatner as Jeff Cable, an undercover government agent, and Doug McClure as Cash Conover, a gambler and casino owner whose motto was “Cash makes no enemies.” Maybe. But the two of them certainly had their share of corruption in dealing with a post-Gold Rush city rift with violence and corruption. The series holds up fairly well, and while the outlook is a bit dated, the crimes they pursued are not. Corrupt bankers, casino robberies, racketeering, stolen shipments—all that still happens in the 21st century. On a personal note, I had forgotten how handsome Doug McClure was.

Mr. and Mrs. Murder: Also from Australia is this witty series about Charlie and Nicola Buchanan who are crime-scene cleaners. Their assignments often lead them into solving the crime as well as wiping out all traces of it. The chemistry between the couple, played by Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart, comes across quite nicely. This is a couple you’d like to spend time with, but you do not ever want to visit them at work.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 06:12

ravenoline mwa
The Raven Award, which is presented by the Mystery Writers of America, is one of my favorite awards.

And the reason is purely selfish. I had the honor of being presented this award in 2013, a thrill that never ends. I have my Raven placed prominently on my dresser so that each morning when I see it I never forget the prestige and pressure that comes with this honor.

So I feel a kinship with each person who is awarded a Raven, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

This year, two Ravens will be awarded to three people—each of whom is passionate about the mystery genre.

Jon and Ruth Jordan, founders of Crimespree magazine, will be awarded a Raven.

The Jordans, who met at a Bouchercon in 1999, have chaired or co-chaired and planned numerous Bouchercons through the years. We have them to thank for the outstanding Bouchercons in Baltimore (2008), St. Louis (2011), as well as others. They already are in the planning stage, along with Erin Mitchell, for the St. Petersburg Bouchercon, scheduled for 2018.

They also are the co-founders and organizers of Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, a crime-fiction conference set in a Milwaukee suburb that this year became Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee.

In addition, Crimespree magazine sponsors the Crimespree Awards.

The other Raven winner is Kathryn Kennison, the founder and “the heart and soul” of Magna cum Murder, a well-regarded Midwestern mystery conference that celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013.

jordan jonruth
Back in 1993, Kennison suggested a three-day mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana. She envisioned a “sedate weekend affair” with about 65 people and maybe three or four authors.

Boy, was she wrong.

That first conference ended up with 265 registered guests including 40 authors, and the festival has only grown since then.

Guests of honor have included Alexander McCall Smith, Mary Higgins Clark, Donald Westlake, Sara Paretsky, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Louise Penny, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Charles Todd, Jeffrey Deaver, William Kent Krueger, and John Gilstrap. It has retained its roots as a fan festival.
Previous Raven winners include Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, The Poe House in Baltimore, MD, and myself.


MWA also will present its Ellery Queen Award, which was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

This year, the Ellery Queen will go to Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, which debuted in 2004 as an homage to the great pulp fiction paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960’s.

Those years are considered to be the golden age of paperbacks. Those also are the books that helped shape and influence many generations of crime writers as well as the genre itself.

kennison kathryn
Launched by Ardai and Max Phillips, Hard Case quickly established its impact on the crime fiction world.

Domenic Stansberry’s The Confession won the Edgar Award for best paperback original and several other Hard Case authors have been nominated for Edgar Awards through the years.

Hard Case has brought back into print forgotten novels by Donald Westlake, Erle Stanley Gardner, Harlan Ellison, Pete Hamill, and Lawrence Block.

Since it was launched, Hard Case has published more than 100 books, many of which have been nominated for awards. He also published Joyland by Stephen King. 

He also acquired the rights to the lost James M. Cain manuscript The Cocktail Waitress.

Previous Ellery Queen honorees include Mystery Scene magazine, Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group, and Poisoned Pen Press, published by Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald.

The Raven and Ellery Queen honorees, along with the presentation of the Grand Masters will be held during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Congratulations to all the Raven and Ellery Queen honorees.


PHOTOS: Top, The Raven himself; center, Jon and Ruth Jordan; bottom, Kathryn Kennison