Monday, June 26, 2017

Writing Setting, Writing Tokyo: Guest Post by Michael Pronko

Michael Pronko’s Tokyo-based mystery, The Last Train, was released May 31, 2017. Michael is the author of three collections of award-winning writings on Tokyo Life, Beauty and Chaos, Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens, and Motions and Moments, the latter won twelve indie press awards. He is a professor of American Literature and Culture at Meiji Gakuin University, in Tokyo, where he has lived for the last twenty years. He also writes about jazz on his site Jazz in Japan. He is currently working on the next mystery in the series, Japan Hand, due out in early 2018. @pronkomichael 

Michael Pronko:
Writing Setting, Writing Tokyo

Setting is one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel. It can enrich a scene or dampen it, act as a springboard or a wall. When I set my mystery, The Last Train, in Tokyo, I wondered how much readers would have seen of Tokyo, if anything. “Lost in Translation” maybe? I knew the setting was integral to the story, but how to get that across to readers with only a few telling, or rather showing, images?

I had it easy when I wrote columns about Tokyo life from a foreigner’s point of view for Newsweek Japan. The readers of the Japanese-language column were mainly Tokyoites, so I could skip a lot of description. If I wrote, “ramen shop counter,” everyone in Tokyo knows just what that looks like and what happens there. If I wrote, “large sake bottle,” people know what the size and shape and color is, how one pours from the big bottle into a teensy cup. So, how to choose the right details for readers who have never been to a sake bar or to Tokyo at all? That was the challenge.

Action helps immensely. When I write a Tokyo setting, certain actions make sense: taking trains, looking up at the buildings, weaving through the crowds. So, I included those actions as part of the overall setting, and integrated them into the story. Typical, everyday action adds to the static descriptions of setting to make it come alive. Tokyo without the ceaseless trains, blinking neon and fast-moving crowds would not be Tokyo. The dynamism of each setting keeps it from becoming static description and helps the reader feel that this action—and this story—could only take place in this setting.

When writing about Tokyo for people who may have never been there, it is hard to know which details work best, and in what proportion. Too much detail and the setting sinks like a dead weight. Too little detail and the story could take place anywhere. I’ve lived in Tokyo for twenty years, so when I started working on the settings, I spent a lot of time thinking back to my first impressions of the city. I also watched tourists (there’s been a tourist boom recently) to see what they were looking at, and imagining what grabbed them. When I write the first draft, I always slather on way too many details. I jam in every color, object, smell, size and sound I can. But then on successive drafts, I ask myself, what is quintessentially Tokyo? With that in mind, I peel off and discard what’s unneeded. It’s more chiseling and whittling than writing.

Another way I think of setting is cinematically. When visualizing a scene, I try to think like a cinematographer. (Check out the documentary “Visions of Light” on cinematography.) Lighting, framing, angles, distance should all be part of the description of a setting. Most importantly, a setting should create the feeling of motion. I think in two ways, long shot and close-up. I try to look around a scene to find both a sweeping detail for the big picture (“Lighted signs listing the clubs zipped up the sides of buildings from sidewalk to rooftop.”) And then small, pointed details bring it up close, like the name of a club, “Black Moon, Kingdom Come.” That doesn’t have to be like a helicopter over the city kind of shot, or a long, lingering shot on the face of the heroine, which is a bit outdated, but just a sentence or two that moves the reader’s mind’s eye over the space and then onto a central focus.

To get setting right, I close my eyes a lot when I write, and often go back to places I want to describe. Tokyo is big so that takes a lot of time. I go there and let my emotional response direct me towards details and words. And sometimes I google things. What does a metal lathe look like? I kind of know, but since it’s a key object in one setting, the main character hides money below the lathe, pulling up a few images of lathes and looking them over helps decide how to present that part of the setting. All of this is aimed at making the reader not just see the lathe, but smell the machine oil and dust of the factory floor, to not just see the glass holding cold sake on a humid night, but to taste it. When I wrote: “The sake flowed gently over the top of the lip of the glass into the box, arousing the aroma of cedar and fresh rice,” then the first sip of sake is anticipated. Or, at least, it is for me.

In working with the setting of Tokyo, I am lucky, I feel. The city is photogenic in all kinds of ways, and endlessly diverse. It’s also a huge place, so I’ll never run out of settings. I’ve lived here writing and teaching for long enough to know the city well, but that’s not enough. I always re-view and re-imagine Tokyo from the reader’s point of view. In The Last Train, I wanted to be sure readers could not just see Tokyo, but feel they were in Tokyo, or want to be.

Cartoon of the Day: Mystery Writer

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What's in a Name? Guest Post by Sofie Kelly

Sofie Kelly is a New York Times bestselling author and mixed-media artist who writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Cats Mysteries and, as Sofie Ryan, writes the New York Times bestselling Second Chance Cat Mysteries.

Sofie Kelly:
What’s in a Name?

I swipe people’s names. No, I’m not some kind of identity thief who will take out five credit cards in your name and order every single product advertised on late-night TV. But if I like your name, it may end up in one of my books.

As a teenager, I wanted to be named Jennifer. That’s because in my mind, girls named Jennifer had long, flowing hair, kind of like Susan Dey of The Partridge Family. (Yes, I know Susan Dey was not named Jennifer. My teenage logic was not necessarily logical.) I did not have long, flowing hair, although I did briefly have an ill-advised Afro after a home perm that went very wrong. But that’s a story for another day.

For me, names often have identities attached to them. Sometimes when I name a character I also give him or her some of the qualities of the real person with that name. For instance, Idris, a name I used for a dead character in the Magical Cats mysteries, came from a tombstone. The real Idris outlived two wives and buried them side-by-side in a double plot. I began to imagine what he might have been like. Practical, obviously. He didn’t buy a new plot or a new headstone when his second wife died. He used what he had. Not overly sentimental, either, I decided, because otherwise I don’t think he would have left his two wives to rest side-by-side for eternity. When I created the fictional Idris, I gave him the qualities I had imagined for the real man.

Hercules always makes me think of actor Kevin Sorbo, from the campy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. So when I gave that name to one of the Magical Cats, I also said that’s who he was named for. The fact that Sorbo was born and raised in Minnesota, the state where the Magical Cats mysteries are set, just felt like a sign that Hercules the cat had exactly the right name.

On the other hand, the only thing the fictional Marcus from my books and the real Marcus share is their name. The real Marcus is a talented artist and teacher with a funky style and a great sense of humor. The fictional Marcus is a lot more serious and stiff.

Because names can carry their own baggage with them, sometimes I don’t use a name I like. In one manuscript, I named a con artist Peter and realized my mistake almost immediately. I have a friend named Peter; he is kind and gentle and far more likely to give you the shirt off his back than try to scam you out of yours.

It’s not just associations that make me like a name, though. Sometimes it’s just the way the name sounds. Case in point: Benjarvus Green-Ellis (former running back for the Patriots and the Bengals.) I just like the sound of his name when I say it. I like his nickname too: The Law Firm. Both are probably a bit too distinctive to use in a book, though. Then there’s Siobhan. It’s Irish. I love that the name looks one way and sounds another. And not only do I like Ogden Nash’s name, I like his poetry too. They’re both a little quirky.

Are there any names that have a particular association for you? Or maybe your name is one I’d like to add to my “collection.” Please share.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Write What You Know

Global Warming, Modern Day Espionage, and Writing Thrillers: An Interview with Bernard Besson

Global Warming, Modern-day Espionage, and Writing Thrillers:  
An interview with Bernard Besson

Bernard Besson is an award-winning French writer and former top-level French intelligence officer who writes smart, modern spy novels. In his Larivière espionage thrillers, a team of freelance operatives navigates today’s complex world of espionage and global economic warfare while trying to lead normal lives in Paris. Whether they are unravelling the geopolitical consequences of global warming or discovering the intricacy of high-frequency online trading, they struggle to maintain their independence in a world where the loyalties of official agencies are not so clear and corruption and political machinations are everywhere. Here Bernard shares some of his insights about global warming, writing thrillers, and his novels. Anne Trager of Le French Book interviews Bernard Besson.

One of your thrillers is about global warming, which is quite topical these days. What did you learn from writing it? 

The Greenland Breach changed my views on global warming, which I used to consider to be a kind of end of the world. I realized there had been several ends of the world—from both cooling and warming. Humanity is capable of adapting to climate change. It has done so on several occasions in the past and it will do so again in the future. I am more afraid of errors made by governments than I am of changes in the weather. What we have to fear is that nations will not manage to live together peacefully. One of the key battlegrounds is business, and both countries and multinational corporations are fighting for key strategic knowledge they hope to be the first to use. Those with the best information will win the battle.

Why write thrillers? 

I got inspired to write my first thriller when I was at the DST, which is French counter-espionage, or the equivalent of the FBI. I was very lucky to be working during the fall of communism and the Soviet Union. We were able to understand how networks of Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech and Romanian spies worked with their allies in France. There were some good stories to tell. Fiction makes it possible to tell more truth than an academic work filled with numbers and statistics—and it’s much more enjoyable to read.

Two of your titles have been translated into English. What inspired them? 

In our world of rapid climate change, The Greenland Breach gives you an entirely different perspective on how we are all being impacted. The blood splattered on the ice sheets of Greenland belongs to shadow fighters, mercenaries fighting battles we don’t learn about on the evening news.

Similarly, we are living in an age of technological disruption. In The Rare Earth Exchange, you get a heart-pounding story that could have been ripped from the headlines. What happens when a grain of sand throws off the well-oiled international finance machine?

Limited-time Giveaway of The Rare Earth Exchange. Sign up by June 25.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tony Hillerman Prize

At the Western Writers of America Conference in Kansas City, MO, Minotaur Books announced that Carol Potenza’s Hearts of the Missing has won the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize for a best first mystery novel. Minotaur Books is planning to publish Potenza’s debut in the fall of 2018.

Potenza has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California San Diego and is now a College Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and she and her husband now live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They have two children.

The Hillerman Prize is awarded annually to the best debut crime fiction set in the Southwest. In 2004, Anne Hillerman, Tony Hillerman' daughter, launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference. The awarding of the Hillerman Prize became a feature of the conference, before it becoming a part of the annual Western Writers of America conference in 2017.

Cartoon of the Day: Stray Bar

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: A Writer's Journey

A Conversation on Anatomy of Innocence and the Innocence Project: June 28

A Conversation on Anatomy of Innocence and the Innocence Project 
Sponsored by Mystery Writers of America/NorCal and Book Passage 
San Francisco Public Library, Koret auditorium 
June 28, 2017, 6:00-8:00 

Wrongful conviction is a nightmare, for the individual and for society. Long thought to be rare anomalies in an otherwise sound justice system, in fact, convictions of innocent men and women happen with frightening regularity. In Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, fifteen high-profile crime writers tell the heartbreaking, harrowing, yet ultimately hope-filled stories of fifteen innocent people, each of whom was found guilty of a serious crime, cast into the maw of a vast and deeply flawed American criminal justice system, then eventually— miraculously—believed and exonerated.

Anatomy of Innocence editors Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger are joined by Linda Starr, co-founder and legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project, and contributor Laurie R. King to talk about the ways people are falsely convicted, how the Innocence Project works to exonerate them, and what happens to the people they help set free.

Laura Caldwell, bestselling author of 14 novels, practiced as civil trial attorney and is now a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She founded Life After Innocence to help exonerees re-enter society and reclaim their rights as citizens.

Leslie S. Klinger is a New York Times-bestselling, award-winning editor of many crime collections who practices business law in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Chicago, Klinger is a longtime supporter of Loyola University Chicago’s Life After Innocence project and has volunteered his assistance on tax matters.

Linda Starr, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, is the co-founder and legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project.

Laurie R. King is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer and president of Mystery Writers of America, NorCal, sponsors of this conversation along with Book Passage, the bookseller at the venue.

Free, but seating is limited—tickets here:
More information on the MWA NorCal events page ( or write us at

Expanding the Meaning of "Deep Ecology": Guest Post by Judith Newton

Judith Newton is professor emerita at U.C. Davis in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. Judy is at work on the second in the Emily Addams Food for Thought Series. Oink. A Food for Thought Mystery was published in April 2017 with She Writes Press.  Judy is the author of five books of non fiction. Her memoir, Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen, came out in 2013 with She Writes Press and won twelve independent press awards. Read her post on Mystery Fanfare: What's Corn Got to Do with It? How Food Can Define a Mystery's Worldview. 

Judith Newton:
Expanding the Meaning of "Deep Ecology"

My novel, Oink. A Food for Thought Mystery, is a sly send up of universities in general for their ever increasing devotion to profit, individual advance, the big and the strong. It is also an affirmation that communities organized around a thirst for social justice have the power to revitalize a different set of values, values that emphasize community and the common good and that give importance to the smallest life forms. In Oink the latter set of values is embodied in characters who participate in a political alliance among faculty in women’s and ethnic studies and who resist having their programs defunded by a newly corporatized administration. (The story is based on real life experience.)

Since Oink is set at a land-grant university known for its agricultural past and its biotechnological future, I couldn’t help but relate this clash of values to the ecological issues in which so many scientists on campus were involved. Many scientists, for example, in life and in the book, support a view of the natural world which gives value to community, the common good, and the importance of the smallest forms of life. This support is often referred to as “respect for biodiversity,” “biodiversity” being most simply defined as the variety of natural life. Biodiversity is often studied within particular “ecosystems,” communities of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. To show “respect for biodiversity” means attaching value to the smallest kinds of life in such environments and it means understanding that harm to one form of life poses a threat to all the others to which it is connected.

Some scientists and many non-scientists as well extend “respect for biodiversity” to incorporate “deep ecology” which posits a more intimate connection between humans and the natural world. According to Chris Johnstone, deep ecology “involves moving beyond the individualism of Western culture towards seeing ourselves as part of the earth. . . . It means experiencing ourselves as part of the living earth and finding our role in protecting the planet. “

In Oink, the Native Elder Frank Walker expresses respect for biodiversity and deep ecology both when he speaks about “ecology as a way of thinking about life that brought together the sacred source of creation with plants, animals, human beings, and the light of the sun. . . . We do nothing by ourselves. We are part of a continuum extending outward from our consciousness, living in harmony with living things. Even rocks are living energy . . . we cannot hurt any part of the earth without hurting ourselves . . . always remember your grandmother is underneath your feet."

The novel’s protagonist, Emily Addams, experiences something similar to this when she enters her garden after a particularly hard day: “I opened the dining room sliders and entered the quiet of the yard. Off to the side lay a vegetable garden where full red tomatoes and pale green tomatillos lingered. Black figs hung heavily, like wrinkled pouches, upon the large tree. I could smell their winey ripeness. Song swallows made warbling sounds. A hummingbird whirred in the air feeding on purple salvia, and a bronze monarch silently winged its way past. I listened to the quiet. The garden surged with life, and I was a part of it, receiving and tending to it. But all the while it went on without me.”

That many animals and plants just appear in Oink as the human characters are carrying on their daily business is meant to enforce this deep sense of interconnection between human and natural worlds as is the fact that many characters are described as looking like plants or animals. The Vice Provost with her long nose reminds Emily of a hummingbird. The scientist Tess Ryan makes Emily think of a “young and vigorous stalk of corn,” and the villain, Peter Elliott, is compared to a pig by another character though the actual pigs in the novel are far more charming than he.

Ironically, as Emily observes during a meeting over the latest budget crisis in the university, it is possible to have respect for biodiversity in the natural world without extending that respect to biodiversity in human communities as well. Many scientists at the meeting, for example, anxious to preserve money for their own research projects, propose to offset the budget crisis by raising student tuition and cutting staff, thereby further burdening the staff who remain. Emily regards these sentiments as expressions of disrespect for biodiversity in the university community, a disrespect that is potentially harmful to the university as a whole since its research and administration are supported by and, indeed, dependent on overworked and underpaid staff.

Another example of disrespect for human biodiversity is suggested by the fact that the programs in women’s and ethnic studies are being threatened with extinction, despite their significant contributions to the university, because they are small and staffed by those who have been historically regarded as marginal. Were the women’s and ethnic studies programs to be defunded, Emily points out, the university would be robbed of experts who devote their research to exploring the ways in which gender, race, class, and sexuality structure human societies and culture. The university would also lose those most devoted to mentoring marginalized students and to providing a sense of community to faculty who might feel isolated because of race or gender in their own departments. All of this would undermine the university’s formal espousal of “diversity” as one of its central goals.

Oink, therefore, tries to expand the meaning of respect for biodiversity and deep ecology to include human communities as well, and, in so doing, it implicitly modifies Chris Johnstone’s line about “deep ecology”: Deep ecology, involves moving beyond the individualism of Western culture towards seeing ourselves as part of the earth and part of a human community as well and finding our role in protecting the planet and the people living on it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Narrative Tension

Prime Suspect: Tennison starts Sunday, June 25 on PBS Masterpiece

Don't miss Prime Suspect: Tennison on PBS Masterpiece. This 3 part starts Sunday night June 25 for three episodes. This series is the backstory to the highly acclaimed series Prime Suspect that starred Helen Mirren. In this new 3- part story Masterpiece dials back the clock to spotlight the influences that turned 22 year old rookie policewoman Jane Tennison in to the savvy, single-minded crime fighter that we loved for seven seasons. This new series stars Stefanie Martini as the rookie WPC Jane Tennison -- the iconic role immortalized by Helen Mirren.

A prequel to one of the most innovative crime series in TV history, the program also stars Sam Reid as Jane's mentor, DCE Len Bradfield; Blake Harrison as Bradfield's volatile sergeant DS Spencer Gibbs. Jessica Gunnis is Janet' female colleague and friend, WPC Kath Morgan, and Alun Armstrong is crime family kingpin Clifford Bentley.

I loved this new series. Prime Suspect: Tennison really captures 1973 in every detail. Hats off to the producers, director, writers, and actors. Each episode is an hour and a half, so I binged. Time well spent.

Prime Suspect: Tennison is based on Lynda La Plante's novel Tennison. La Plante won the Edgar for Prime Suspect.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: How Your Cat Sees Your Keyboard

Lambda Literary Award Winners

The 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards–or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known announced the winners last week at a special ceremonyheld at the New York University Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. There are many categories, but of most interest to this blog:

Best Lesbian Mystery:
• Pathogen, by Jessica L. Webb (Bold Strokes)

Best Gay Mystery: 
• Speakers of the Dead, by J. Aaron Sanders (Plume)

Hat Tip: The Rap Sheet

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Vesper Martini: 007

Today is National Martini Day, and perhaps the most iconic Martini is that of James Bond aka 007! The Vodka Martini is as synonymous with 007 as the Walther PPK and the Aston Martin DB5. James Bond first ordered his trademark drink  in Ian Fleming's debut novel Casino Royale (1953):

'A dry martini,' he said. 'One. In a deep champagne goblet.'
'Oui, monsieur.'
'Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?'
'Certainly, monsieur.' The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
'Gosh, that's certainly a drink,' said Leiter.
Bond laughed. 'When I'm . . . er . . . concentrating,' he explained, 'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name.'

Having invented his own signature drink for Bond, Fleming left the reader hanging for the name for the drink until Vesper Lynd entered the novel. Bond thought her name was perfect for his preferred drink:

'Vesper,' she said. 'Vesper Lynd.'... She smiled. 'Some people like it, others don't. I'm just used to it.'
'I think it's a fine name,' said Bond. An idea struck him. 'Can I borrow it?'
He explained about the special martini he had invented and his search for a name for it. 'The Vesper,' he said.
'It sounds perfect and it's very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world. Can I have it?'
'So long as I can try one first,' she promised. 'It sounds a drink to be proud of.'

The 'Vesper' Martini created by Bond in Casino Royale and liked by Fleming:

Add 3 measures Gordon's Gin
Add 1 measure Vodka
Add 1 measure blond Lillet vermouth
Shake very well until it's ice cold
Garnish with a slice of lemon peel

The medium-dry Vodka Martini preferred by James Bond in the films:

4 measures Vodka (use a tbsp or an oz as a measure to fill one cocktail glass)
Add 1 measure dry Vermouth
Shake with ice. Do not stir. (Shaking gives the misty effect and extra chill preferred by Bond)
Add 1 green olive ( James Bond prefers olives)
Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel
Serve in a cocktail glass

Thanks to for the citations

CWA Dagger in the Library

The CWA Dagger in the Library is a prize for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire.

The winner of the 2017 Dagger, this year held in partnership with The Reading Agency, has been announced.

The 2017 winner is:

Mari Hannah

The Dagger in the Library is one of the most prestigious crime writing awards in the UK and previous winners include Elly Griffiths, Christopher Fowler, Sharon Bolton, Belinda Bauer, Mo Hayder, Colin Cotterill, Craig Russell, Stuart MacBride, Jake Arnott, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephen Booth, Peter Robinson and Lindsey Davis.

This year's Longlist included: Kate Ellis, Tana French, James Oswald, C.J. Sansom, And Andrew Taylor.

HT: Bill Gottfried

Hallie Ephron: How the idea for You'll Never Know, Dear crept up on her

HALLIE EPHRON is the New York Times best-selling author of suspense novels including You’ll Never Know, Dear. She is a four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and her Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel was nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. She lives near Boston and was the Boston Globe crime fiction book reviewer for over a decade.

How the Idea for You’ll Never Know, Dear crept up on her

Usually my book ideas grow out of my own experience. Giving birth to my first child and going to yard sales inspired Never Tell a Lie. Watching my neighbor get carried out of her house in the dead of winter, and firefighters going in and finding a hoarder’s den inspired There Was an Old Woman. Growing up around the corner from an infamous Hollywood murder (Lana Turner, Johnny Stompanato…) inspired Night Night, Sleep Tight. I’ve always set my books in places I know well: New England, New York City, Beverly Hills.

My new novel, You’ll Never Know, Dear, is my first book inspired by someone else’s experience and set in a place I’ve barely visited.

The idea came from my friend Mary Alice who told me about helping her mother, Blanche, move out of their family home in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Blanche had always been a talented crafts person. An artist, really. She made porcelain dolls, so her house had been full of supplies for doll making—modeling clay, molds, glazes and paints, a kiln, and of course a battalion of finished dolls with their little shoes and embroidered dresses and panties.

My friend told me that her kids refused to sleep in the bedroom where Blanche kept dolls. They said, “You’d wake up and they’d all be looking at you.” Blanche proclaimed those grandchildren of hers “little sissies.”

No sissy herself, Blanche slept with a pistol tucked into an eyeglass case (the kind you squeeze the top to open) under her pillow. Detail upon detail, I could feel Blanche turning into a character into my head.

As my friend was helping Blanche empty her house, under every bed she found boxes and boxes of doll parts. Arms. Legs. Bodies. Heads. Eyeballs.

 “Creepy,” I said when she told me that.

 “Put it in your next book,” she shot back.

And I did. Blanche is the inspiration for my Miss Sorrel, a 70-something doll maker who suffers no fools in You’ll Never Know, Dear. And those doll parts? They’re a key element in the plot.

The book opens with Miss Sorrel and her grown daughter, Lis, having sweet tea and egg salad sandwiches on the porch of their home. We meet Miss Sorrel for the first time.

Miss Sorrel rocked gently in the glider and sipped sweet tea from a glass dripping condensation. With her powdered face, spots of rouge on each cheek, and lipstick carefully painted on, Miss Sorrel was starting to look like one of the porcelain dolls she so prized. That, despite the un-doll-like creases that ran from the corners of her lips down either side of her chin, the crinkles that radiated from the corners of her eyes, and the skin that had started to lose its grip on her fine-boned skull. 

Forty years ago, Miss Sorrel’s younger daughter, 4-year-old Janey, was taken from their front yard. The special porcelain doll Miss Sorrel had made for her disappeared with her. I knew Miss Sorrel and Lis, the older sister who was supposed to be watching Janey, would carry a burden of grief and guilt over the loss.

In the book’s opening scene, Janey’s doll comes back. A woman who delivers it refuses to tell Miss Sorrel where she got it, interested only in the reward Miss Sorrel is offering. The doll is old and battered, creepy the way old dolls can be. Miss Sorrel is sure it’s the doll that was Janey’s. Lis isn’t convinced.

I wanted to set the book in Beaufort, South Carolina. I’d visited there twice, briefly, but a fresh visit convinced me that I’d have to fictionalize it. My prose could never match native son Pat Conroy’s. Plus, one of my characters had to be the sheriff, and Beaufort had a larger-than-life sheriff who served for decades, called himself a white witch doctor, and was so beloved that they named a bridge after him. Anyone who lives within a hundred miles of Beaufort would balk at my fictional sheriff.

So I invented “Bonsecours.” I hope, a ringer for Beaufort. Gracious homes, live oaks, camellias and wisteria; Spanish moss hanging indiscriminately from tree branches, phone wires, and fences. It’s got a charming downtown with a riverfront park, and shrimp boats (Forrest Gump was filmed there). The riverbanks are thick with sticky mud and the river has treacherous, nine-foot tides.

Writing Southern characters was another challenge. I had to slow down and kept telling myself: We’re not in Boston anymore. The narrative needed to be a bit more leisurely and my characters, bless their hearts, had to have southern accents and have mastered the art of the gracious insult.

After I wrote the opening scenes, I had no idea what happened to Janey. But I knew that doll parts would be the key to unlocking the mystery, and that the river would play a part as well. Somehow. It wasn’t until I finished writing the book that I figured out how

PHOTO: Hallie with one of Blanche’s porcelain dolls

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ngaio Marsh Award Longlist

The Longlist for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel: The Ngaio Marsh Award represents the very best in Kiwi Crime. 

• Dead Lemons, by Finn Bell (e-book)
• Pancake Money, by Finn Bell (e-book)
• Spare Me the Truth, by C.J. Carver (Bonnie Zaffre)
• Red Herring, by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
• The Revelations of Carey Ravine, by Debra Daley (Quercus)
• The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton, by Katherine Hayton (Katherine Hayton)
• Presumed Guilty, by Mark McGinn (Merlot)
• Marshall’s Law, by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
• A Straits Settlement, by Brian Stoddart (Crime Wave Press)
• The Last Time We Spoke, by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby)

Craig Sisterson, organizer of the Ngaio Marsh Award, is a lapsed Lawyer, and major Crime Fiction Fan and Writer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He also blogs at Crime Watch.

Here's what Craig has to say about this year's long list:

A self-inflicted, self-described cripple dangling off the edge of a cliff above the raging sea near the bottom of New Zealand, clinging precariously to life after getting too noisy with his dangerous neighbours, probably wasn’t the kind of hero Raymond Chandler ever had in mind. 

 “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid,” wrote the cranky king of crime fiction in “The Simple Art of Murder”, an oft-quoted essay for the Atlantic Monthly published a few short weeks after the end of the Second World War. 

Seventy-plus years on, the hero of Otago author Finn Bell’s exciting crime debut Dead Lemons is both tarnished, and afraid. And he’s not the only ‘hero’ among this year’s crop of Ngaio Marsh Award longlistees who breaks the classic crime mould. New Zealand authors are unafraid to put their own spin on crime, blending it with other genres, and taking their tales into varied locales and times. 

A record number of entries gave the judging panel plenty to ponder, with plenty of new blood joining the local #yeahnoir ranks (credit to Steph Soper of the Book Council for the cool hashtag). 

Candidly, it was a tough ask for our judges to narrow down the longlist, with plenty of good local reads that judges liked missing out. While that’s a great situation for the overall health of New Zealand crime writing, it made for some tough calls, differing opinions, and debate. 

With such variety on offer (and the fact I’m only personally batting about .500 in terms of correctly picking the winner over the years), I’m not even going to try to play bookie with the contenders. 

If you’re a fan of crime fiction, or just good writing, I’m sure there’s something here that could tickle your fancy.

The international judging panel of Ayo Onatade (UK), Greg Fleming (New Zealand), Janet Rudolph (United States), Karen Chisholm (Australia), Paddy Richardson (New Zealand), Stephanie Jones (New Zealand), and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland), are currently considering the long list.

The finalists will be announced in August, along with the finalists for the Best First Novel and Best Non Fiction categories. The finalists will be celebrated and the winners announced at a WORD Christchurch event in October.

Father's Day, Fathers & Sons , Fathers & Daughters in Crime Fiction

Father's Day. My father passed away 14 years ago, but I still think about him every day. He encouraged and supported me throughout my many careers and educational pursuits, and he always told me I could accomplish anything and succeed in whatever I did.

My father was the ultimate reader. His idea of a good vacation was sitting in a chair, reading a good mystery. It never mattered where he was, the book took him to other places.

My father and I shared a love of mysteries. Over the years my taste in mysteries changed. I now read more darker crime fiction. So many times when I finish a book, I say to myself, "I have to send this to Dad. He'll love it." My father engendered my love of mysteries through his collection of mystery novels and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. I like to think he's up there somewhere in a chair surrounded by books and reading a good mystery.

Here's to you, Dad, on Father's Day!

My Father and Me, many years ago

Father’s Day by John Calvin Batchelor
Father’s Day by Rudolph Engelman
Father's Day: A Detective Joe Guerry Story by Tippie Rosemarie Fulton
Father’s Day Keith Gilman 
Dear Old Dead by Jane Haddam
The Father’s Day Murder by Lee Harris
Day of Reckoning by Kathy Herman
Dead Water by Victoria Houston
Father’s Day Murder by Leslie Meier
On Father's Day by Megan Norris
Father’s Day by Alan Trustman

Murder for Father, edited by Martin Greenberg (short stories)
"Father's Day" by Patti Abbott --short story at Spinetingler
Collateral Damage: A Do Some Damage Collection  e-book of Father's Day themed short stories.

Let me know if I missed any titles.  

And a very short list of Crime Fiction that focuses on Fathers and Sons and Fathers and Daughters. Have a favorite Father / Son Father/Daughter Mystery? Post below in comments.


His Father's Son by Tony Black
Secret Father by James Carroll
The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
Hot Plastic by Peter Craig 
The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
Lars and Little Olduvai by Keith Spencer Felton  
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
King of Lies by John Hart
The Good Father by Noah Hawley
A Perfect Spy by John LeCarre 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Son by Jo Nesbo
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Roman Hat Mystery; other novels by Ellery Queen (Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay)
Paperback Original by Will Rhode
The Father by Anton Swenson

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: The Story Coaster

From the incredible Grant Snider

Where Ideas Come From: Guest post by Carl-Johan Vallgren

Carl-Johan Vallgren is one of Sweden's most loved writers. He has been awarded the Swedish August Prize for Best Novel of the Year, and has been translated into 25 languages. He's also a talented musician with Warner Music. 

Carl-Johan Vallgren:

Some five or six years ago I had an experience that changed the direction of my writing. It was a Friday in May, and I’d been working hard the whole week, trying to get a grip on the novel I was writing. This day was no exception. I lost track of time and place, and when I looked at my watch I got a shock. It was 5 p.m.

The kids! I’d been supposed to pick them up from daycare two hours earlier! Twenty minutes later I arrived. My six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son were the only kids left—and exhausted after a long day. I apologized to the daycare attendants, looked at my cell phone, and saw that it was full of texts from my wife: ”Where are you?…Have you picked up the kids?…It´s Shabbas tonight and we need some groceries for the meal.”

I slipped my son into his stroller, grabbed my daughter by the hand, and walked hurriedly down to the Kristineberg metro station. It was late afternoon and the station was full of commuters on their way home for the weekend. I showed my ticket and entered the gate for strollers, stress running through my veins.

At Kristineberg station, the tracks are elevated, and the best way to reach the platform is by using an elevator—at least with two small, tired kids and a stroller. But my daughter had different ideas; she wanted to take the stairs! A quarrel started. I tried to tell her that it was impossible with all the people and her little brother in the buggy, but she insisted, got angry, and started to scream at me. In that very moment, a woman turned up from nowhere. Apparently she had overheard our conversation.

”You can walk the stairs with me if you want,” she said to my daughter with a smile. ”And then we can wait for your father and your little brother upstairs until they come in the elevator.”

She was in her sixties, well dressed, and her voice was soft and friendly. Used to grandchildren, I remember thinking.

And for a moment I was on the verge of letting my daughter go with that friendly middle-aged woman, following the law of minimum possible resistance—until my ”father instinct” kicked in a second later. After all, the person in front of me was a complete stranger.

”Thank you for your sweet offer, but my daughter comes with me!” I said.

I grabbed my little girl by the hand and dragged her into the elevator with her brother, and I pushed the button for the platform level.

The elevator ride took about ten seconds. And in that time the writer inside me ran completely amok: What’s is the situation here? What is the worst case scenario?…What could have happened?…A stressed father leaves his child to walk the stairs with a friendly older woman at rush hour in the subway. And by the time he reaches the platform in the lift, the child has vanished!

I knew it immediately: It was the first chapter of a book—and not just any book. It had to be a crime novel.

I had the whole first chapter in my head before we got home that afternoon. And about a year later, after finishing my other book (a ”normal” novel), I sat down and started to write the first book in the Danny Katz series: The Boy in the Shadows—which starts with the abduction of a child in the Stockholm subway.

Now I’m incredibly proud to present the second book in the series, The Tunnel. Danny Katz is still the main character. And Katz, too, was born that Friday in May. It was Shabbas, and I remember thinking in the elevator: The man to solve the mystery has to be a Jewish guy. I owe that to my children and their mother, because they seem to constantly provide me with literary ideas.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Dogs

Barry Lancet Literary Salon: June 21

Join Mystery Readers NorCal for an evening with Award winning Suspense Author Barry Lancet

When: Wednesday, June 21, 7 p.m.
Where: RSVP for venue address (Berkeley, CA)
This is a free event, but YOU MUST RSVP to attend.
Bring books by Barry Lancet if you'd like him to sign.
RSVP required. Address of venue sent with acceptance.
RSVP: janet @

Barry Lancet is a Barry Award­–winning author and finalist for the Shamus Award. He has lived in Japan for more than twenty-five years. His former position as an editor at one of the nation’s largest publishers gave him access to the inner circles in traditional and business fields most outsiders are never granted, and an insider’s view that informs his writing. He is the author of the Jim Brodie series: The Spy Across the Table; Pacific Burn; Tokyo Kill; and Japantown, which received four citations for Best First Novel and has been optioned by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Brothers.

The latest entry in the James Brodie series is The Spy Across the Table (Simon & Schuster) sends Brodie careening from Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to Japan, South Korea, the DMZ, and the Chinese-North Korean border, in a story that predates recent headlines. Lancet is based in Japan but makes frequent trips to the States.  on Twitter @BarryLancet. Check out the Video of Barry Lancet below.

Upcoming Literary Salons in Berkeley:

July 13: Ellen Kirschman, 7 p.m.

July 20: Cara Black & Susan Shea, 7 p.m.

July 26: James Ziskin, 7 p.m.

September 13: Amy Stewart, 7 p.m.

Cartoon of the Day: Grammar

From Pearls Before Swine:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

50 Unique Bookstores: One in Each State

I may not agree with all the choices below, but I guess I'll have to go on a road trip to be sure.

From The Culture Trip:

Across the US, independent bookstores are having a comeback. Often combining bookselling with a cafe or bar, these stores will usually stock rare presses and obscure publishers, alongside classics and bestsellers. The below are no exception, but also have that little something extra which makes them stand out from the rest. 
CA: The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA. Multi-level space offering books, records, and local art. 

View the list here.

How many have you visited? Any you'd like to add?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Cats

Hat Tip: Jayna Monroe

Red Sky: Is Diplomacy Enough? Guest post by Chris Goff

Chris Goff writes International thrillers and the birdwatcher's mystery series. Her debut thriller, DARK WATERS, is set in Israel, smack dab in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Dubbed “a sure bet for fans of international thrillers" by Booklist, it was nominated for the 2016 Colorado Book Award and Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. RED SKY, which opens in Ukraine with Diplomatic Security Service Agent Raisa Jordan investigating the downing of a commercial airliner with a fellow DSS agent onboard. Traveling through Eastern Europe and Asia, Jordan tests the boundaries of diplomacy as she races to prevent the start of a new Cold War. Catherine Coulter had this to say, "Breathtaking suspense, do not miss Red Sky." The book will be released on June 13, 2017. 

Chris Goff: 
RED SKY: Is Diplomacy Enough? 

At the end of my first thriller, DARK WATERS, it's clear that Diplomatic Security Service Agent Raisa Jordan is headed to Ukraine on personal business. So when People’s Republic Flight 91 crashes in northeastern Ukraine with a U.S. diplomatic agent on board, it stands to reason Jordan is sent to investigate. The agent who died on board the flight was escorting a prisoner home from Guangzhou, China, along with sensitive documents, and it quickly becomes apparent that the plane was intentionally downed. Was it to silence the two Americans on board?

The idea for RED SKY came to me shortly after the July, 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The plane was shot down over Ukraine while on a routine flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The aftermath raised a lot of questions about who was responsible and what should be done. It happened at the time of Russia's incursion into Crimea, and several international investigations determined that the plane was mistakenly blown out of the sky by pro-Russian insurgents in possession of a Buk missile launcher. The Russians and insurgents denied responsibility, countering that the plane was being followed by a Ukrainian military jet and placing the blame squarely on Ukraine if for no other reason than the plane crashed there. In the end, Malaysia proposed that the UN Security Council set up an international tribunal and prosecute those deemed responsible—an idea that gained a majority vote, but was ultimately vetoed by none other than Russia. Yes, Russia. Does anyone else think it ironic that Malaysia's only recourse was to turn for justice to a UN Security Council that was controlled in part by the very country perpetrating the injustice?

But I digress.

I've always been fascinated by geopolitics. Conflict driven by human and physical geography is a theme that crops up in all of my books—most notably in my thrillers. In DARK WATERS, Jordan finds herself smack-dab in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In RED SKY, she finds herself in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis. Both places wrought with emotion, exacerbated by any number of key issues, and offering a breadth of opportunity for developing complex and motivated characters that must face incredible adversity. One could hardly ask for more conflict—the basis for great story.

I was lucky enough to spend time in both Israel and Ukraine. I lived in Tel Aviv for two months, during a time when the suicide bombings were gearing up. My family and I experienced firsthand the fear of going about daily tasks: taking a bus, going to the grocery store, drinking coffee in a street-side café. Every venture out was filled with risk, yet we were infused with a sense of defiance as well as the buzz of anxiety and excitement. In Israel the divisions were clear. Not so in Kyiv. While we were in no danger there, the people were somber. Many seemed torn by conflict. While strongly nationalistic, many Kyivans had also grown up under communism. Many of their monuments pay tribute to Russia, and most eastern Ukrainians have Russian family and friends. And, much like during our own Civil War, in Kyiv there were families divided, with brothers fighting brothers, and fathers against sons.

Unfortunately, sometimes, diplomacy is not an option, as it soon becomes clear in RED SKY. This book is an international thriller "packed with pulse-pounding thrills and a white-knuckle joyride for fans of Gayle Lynds." Strap yourself in. RED SKY hits the stands June 13th.

Enjoy it!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Writer

Rankin, McDermid, Levy: RSL Fellows

From The Bookseller:

Authors Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Deborah Levy are among a roster of names made Royal Society of Literature fellows for 2017.

The newly-elected fellows will be introduced at the Society’s Summer Party on Monday 19th June. While the RSL chair Lisa Appignanesi reads a citation for each fellow, they will be invited to sign their names in the roll book which dates back to the Society’s founding in 1820. New Fellows sign the RSL roll book using either T S Eliot’s fountain pen or Byron’s pen.

The RSL will be hosting the evening on Monday 19th June at the Bloomsbury Hotel 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN at 6pm.

Read more here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: T-Mongrel

Hat Tip: Kate Derie. Love this!



David Schmid, Ph.D. received the 2017 George N. Dove Award for Contributions to the Study of Mystery and Crime Fiction. David Schmid, Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York), was selected to receive the 2017 Dove Award. The honor is bestowed for outstanding contributions to the serious study of mystery, detective, and crime fiction by the Mystery and Detective Fiction Area of the Popular Culture Association. The award is named for George N. Dove, one of the area’s early members, a past president of the Popular Culture Association, and author of outstanding presentations, articles, and books on detective fiction, especially the police procedural.

The 2017 award recognizes Schmid’s contributions to many different areas of crime fiction studies, including publications, presentations, and course offerings. The author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture (2005) and The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction (2016), as well as the co-editor of Globalization and the State in Contemporary Crime fiction: A World of Crime (2016), Schmid has also published numerous essays and book chapters on topics ranging from Dexter and Hannibal to issues of masculinity in the works of David Goodis. He has a variety of reference and review articles to his credit as well, and his works in progress focus on the uses of space in crime fiction and violence in American popular culture. His many public speaking engagements and conference presentations also cover a wide range of topics, and he has taught courses in crime fiction and mystery fiction at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Not least of Schmid’s many accomplishments are his online activities: he writes a blog; posts regularly on Facebook about wide-ranging topics, including detective fiction; and manages a listserv on crime and detective fiction open to anyone interested in joining, whether academics or not. As his nominator says, David Schmid is “the type of scholar we’d like to recognize as someone who joins together interests in crime and detection as well as traditional and digital scholarship.” 

The 2017 Dove Award was announced at the Mystery and Detective Fiction Area meeting on April 14 during the PCA/ACA annual conference in San Diego.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Process: Guest post by John Connolly

JOHN CONNOLLY is the author of the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collection Nocturnes, the Samuel Johnson Trilogy, and (with Jennifer Ridyard) the Chronicles of the Invaders series for younger readers. A Game of Ghosts will be published July 4 (Atria Books). He lives in Dublin, Ireland. 

John Connolly:

Many years ago, when I was starting out on my vocation as a novelist, I made a pilgrimage to the home of James Lee Burke. Burke’s work had been a huge influence on me: his poetic use of language; his instinctive understanding of the relationship between landscape, or setting, and character; and his refusal to accept that genre fiction could not aspire to the condition of literature.

What I took from our conversation, apart from a conviction that Burke the man was as worthy of respect as Burke the writer, was the realization that our working methods – our respective ‘processes,’ to use the word that arises most frequently in discussions of the writer’s craft – were similar. Burke would begin a novel with little conception of where its path might take him, and few concerns about commencing a journey whose route, never mind a destination, remained unknown to him. Part of the pleasure of creation – for Burke, as for me – lay in revelation: the gradual discovery of the nature of thing itself.

It is sometimes believed (mainly by those who don’t know a great deal about the subject) that mysteries and thrillers are plot-dependent. But all good fiction, whether genre-based or not (and, to paraphrase Duke Ellington, there are only two types of writing: good writing, and the other kind) is character-dependent. Plot emerges from character. Plotting is what people do. It’s possible to write an almost entirely plot-driven novel, and relegate character to an also-ran, but the result will be flawed. It will feel thin. A novel heavy on plot and light on character may pass the time, but, like eating fast food, it will ultimately leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, and slightly ashamed.

So I usually begin with a character. Sometimes it’s my series detective, Charlie Parker. At other times, it’s someone with whom Parker is destined to come into contact. Often I won’t quite know what is troubling either of them. It’s enough to begin writing, and see what emerges, although when I start I can usually see a little farther than the end of the first page, but not much farther.

I think it was the late E.L. Doctorow who drew the analogy between writing a novel and driving home along a dark country road late at night. At the start, you can only see as far as the headlights of the car will allow, but gradually you begin putting more and more of the road behind you until, finally, you see the lights of home.

That’s me. I’m the guy in the car, and I like driving by night.

In A Game of Ghosts, for example, I knew that the novel would begin with Parker being asked to find a missing private investigator, Jaycob Eklund. But that was it. That was all I had. Yet by the time I had completed the chapters dealing with Parker and the FBI agent, Ross, who engages Parker to search for Eklund, I knew what the next couple of thousand words were going to be, and I moved on.

That’s the other thing: I don’t look back when I write. I find the creation of the first draft very slow and difficult. It’s the flipside of writing the way I do, the shadowy inverse of it. By planning a book, however loosely, the writing of the first draft becomes easier. Some writers – Jeff Deaver, to take one instance – plan in such detail that the outline itself almost counts as a first draft.

But I can’t write to a plan. Were I to outline a book in such depth, I wouldn’t want to write the book itself once the outline was finished. That pleasure of discovery, the sense that I, like Parker, am engaged in my own process of investigation, would be lost. Then again, one might take the view that the more heavily plotted the novel (and Jeff’s novels are very intricately plotted), the more an outline may prove helpful, or even necessary. Yet my novels, too, have intricate plots: it’s just that I, like Parker, am unaware of the intricacies until I begin unraveling them.

The other downside of writing with a plan to hand is that doubt, the great undermining influence on the novelist, is a more intimate companion than one might wish. Doubt is part of the creative process. Doubt is the one person in the crowd who isn’t clapping. Doubt is the critic who has figured out what a fraud you are before you’ve even managed to complete the object under examination. Doubt is always present. Doubt is the bastard ying to the yang of arrogance that allows writers to present the fruits of their labors to the public, and perhaps demand payment in return.

I have just completed work on my 24th novel – my 28th book – and every one of them I have wanted to abandon somewhere around the 40,000 word mark. For me, that’s when doubt begins to set in. I start to worry that Parker and I will ultimately hit a dead end; that the investigation will peter out into inconclusiveness; that I have begun something which does not have, and for which I cannot create, a conclusion.

And when that happens, I hear the siren call of the new idea. It’s the little voice in my head that says “Well, that wasn’t such a good idea, was it? It really let you down. But I’m the shiny, new idea, and I won’t let you down. I would never do that to you. So if you simply abandon the old idea, all things will be well. Trust me.”

But there are no good or bad ideas; there are only problems with the execution, and leaving stories unfinished isn’t the solution. In fact, it sets a pattern that can only end with a drawer filled with unfinished poems, or stories, or novels. All creative individuals begin their lives with a limited supply of confidence. Each time you abandon a project, you chip away a little piece of that confidence, never to be retrieved again, until at last you have none left.

So finish what you start.

Here endeth the lesson.

Cartoon of the Day: Books

Thanks to Sarah RH for sharing this. She and I share the same addiction.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Three to Get Ready: Guest Post by Bill Schutt

Zoologist and author of Hell’s Gate and Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding CreaturesBill Schutt’s new nonfiction, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, debuted to widespread acclaim in 2017. His 2nd novel, The Himalayan Codex, was released yesterday and has already garnered a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

Bill Schutt:
Three to get Ready

Mystery Fanfare readers might find it somewhat odd (but in some ways, I hope, interesting) that in the past year I’ve had three books published: a non-fiction book on cannibalism and a pair of WWII-era thrillers (Books 1 and 2 in the R.J. MacCready series). I should also mention that when I’m not writing or hanging out with my family and friends, I’ve got a full-time gig as a Professor of Biology at Long Island University—Post. So, how did that come about? Perhaps a better question might be: Why haven’t my wife and son murdered me in my sleep? The answers to these and other book-related questions will follow, if you’d care to tag along with me for a few paragraphs.

First bit more personal information (and I promise it will fit into the story). I’m a Cornell-trained zoologist who spent much of the past 25 years studying bats—especially vampire bats (their anatomy, behavior and evolution, mostly). The bulk of that research took place in Trinidad and Brazil as well as my home base at The American Museum of Natural History in NYC (where I’m a research associate in residence). It was in Brazil that I first visited the central plateau region that became the primary setting for my first novel, Hell’s Gate. I remember looking up at the spectacular cliffs and telling a friend and colleague Betsy Dumont, “Jeez, if it were 70 years ago and someone really wanted to hide something from the rest of the world, this would be the place to do it.” Years later, after teaming with my coauthor, J.R. Finch, (and with the guidance of my agent Gillian MacKenzie) we not only came up came up with “something to hide” (a declassified Nazi super weapon), but also an offbeat hero (zoologist and Army Captain R.J. MacCready) to investigate the nefarious Axis plot. Finally, Finch and I added the residents of the plateau cliffs to the mix—the last hundred individuals of a species of prehistoric vampire bat (Desmodus draculae). I knew that these fantastic creatures inhabited the region until fairly recent times and that sealed the deal. Of course we made our vampires a tiny bit larger—with raccoon-sized bodies, 10-foot wingspans and some rather unique predatory behavior. Hell’s Gate came out in June 2016 and we were simply thrilled at the response—many readers commenting on the real-life science in our novel (much of it explained further in an extensive afterward section).

Okay, one book down and two to go.

I had been looking for a follow-up to my first popular science book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, published in 2008. (Readers may be detecting a pattern here.) I’d seemingly found a niche between the sensationalist books that were out there on vampirism and the few scholarly works on the subject. I’d decided to demystify the topic, eliminating the jargon and injecting some humor—where appropriate. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (February 2017) turned out to be my next logical step and before you can say, “Don’t eat that!” I was working with Donner Party researchers, wading through mud holes teeming with cannibalistic spade-foot toad larvae, and being served placenta à la osso boco in Plano Texas. Note: Amy Gash, my editor at Algonquin has a strong stomach and a great sense of humor.

Happily, the incredibly talented J.R. Finch and I had signed a two-book deal with William Morrow, working with the amazing thriller editor, Lyssa Keusch. In The Himalayan Codex (June 2017) we decided to take “Mac” (who’s been described as “the Indiana Jones of Zoology”) and his invaluable Brazilian assistant Yanni, to a colder climate—the remote mountain valleys of Tibet. The critters in our novel are bigger this time and the bad guys just as evil. But instead of the young German rocketeer storyline we ran in parallel to Mac’s trek in Hell’s Gate, we decided to alternate our 1946 tale with one in which the Roman historian and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, journeys into the same snow-bound and mysterious region nearly two thousand years earlier. Our readers already know that we’ve populated our novels with interesting real life historical figures (Hitler’s favorite test pilot, Hanna Reitsch, for example in Hell’s Gate) and we plan to do so in the third R.J. MacCready novel, an adventure that takes Mac and Yanni on a Cold War adventure with some seriously nasty surprises. The plan is for us to follow our heroes through the 1950s and beyond, blending the geopolitical events of the day with a touch of cryptozoology. Finch and I hope our readers will continue to come along for the ride.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Loch Ness: New British Crime Drama on Acorn TV

Acorn TV Original Series and New British Crime Drama: LOCH NESS begins on Monday, June 19, 2017.

LOCH NESS (aka The Loch in the UK), an atmospheric murder mystery thriller starring Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad, The Missing) and Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley, Downton Abbey), will be shown as a 6 part series. The beautiful, haunting shores of Scotland’s most iconic loch is the stunning backdrop for the new six-part crime drama written by Stephen Brady (Fortitude, Vera) and produced by ITV Studios for ITV in the UK. Shortly after its ITV broadcast, LOCH NESS will premiere in the U.S. beginning on consecutive Mondays, starting June 19, 2017 through the finale on July 24.

In a community nourished and sustained by myth and bordered by untamed nature, the search for a serial killer becomes a matter of life and death for local detective Annie Redford (Laura Fraser). When the body of local man Niall Swift is found at the foot of Carn Mohr Mountain and an isolated human heart on the loch shore, the town’s normality is shattered and the nightmare begins. Set against a backdrop of rolling Highlands and the vast loch, the landscape becomes a character in its own right, adding a haunting depth to the community’s plight.

Within the tightly knit town, a sense of horror begins to dawn as the villagers realize that there is more than one kind of monster in their midst. The series also stars Siobhan Finneran, John Sessions (Florence Foster Jenkins), Don Gilet (Brief Encounters), Gray O'Brien (Coronation Street) and William Ash (The Tunnel).

Flea Market and Garage Sale Mysteries

Last Sunday was Flea Market Day, and I went to the Alameda Flea Market aka Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire. I'm an avid Flea Market goer, and the first Sunday of every month is pretty sacred in our household. Having been to Flea Markets all over the world, the Alameda Flea Market remains one of my favorites. It can't be beat for a spectacular view of San Francisco, either. The Flea Market aka The Alameda Point Collectibles Faire is located on the old Alameda Navy Base and literally runs into the Bay. The Flea Market is about 2 miles long and 1/3 mile wide. I love going on the first Sunday of every month to this great show. For me, it's like visiting a museum filled with treasures.

I used to frequent the Marin Flea Market which really dates me since housing replaced that space in Sausalito many years ago. I always go to Portobello Road when in London. Not sure I'd call Portobello Road a flea market, but I've been there early on a Saturday morning when the stalls are setting up. I adore the Paris Flea Market, and I have many finds from there, including a huge hand-knit rabbit, Pierre. I love flea markets, estate sales, boot sales, garage sales, jumble sales, and collectible shows (although they sometimes tend more to the antique), not that that's a bad thing. .. I also won't turn my nose up at a dumpster. Lots of treasures.

So it should come as no surprise that I enjoy reading mysteries with a flea market, boot sale, picker, or garage sale theme. I've posted a list before, but this is an update. Some of the books in the following list do not focus as much on the 'flea market' as an item found at a flea market, that becomes the springboard for the story. And an FYI: flea markets are great places to find mysteries!


The Flea Market by Randal Adam
Antiques Flee Market by Barbara Allan
Savannah Blues, Hissy Fit by Mary Kay Andrews
Flea Market Fatal by Brianna Bates
The Flea Market Folly by B.J. Belekis
Mobbed by Carol Higgins Clark
Death is a Bargain by Nora Charles 
Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
The Unraveling of Violeta Bell by C.R. Corwin
Wig Betrayed by Charles Courtley
Death of a Garage Sale Newbie by Sharon Dunn
Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
The Flea Market Mystery by Virginia Besaw Evansen
Buried Stuff, Dead Guy's Stuff, The Wrong Stuff by Sharon Fiffer
The Toyotomi Blades by Dale Furutani
Tight as a Tick by Toni L.P. Kelner
Killer Stuff, Dead Guy's Stuff, The Wrong Stuff, Buried Stuff by Sharon Fiffer 
The Emma Chizzit Mysteries (several titles starting with Emma Chizzit and...) by Mary Bowen Hall
First Monday Murder by Lisa Love Harris
Tagged for Death, A Good Day to Buy, All Murders Final!, The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris
Something to Kill For by Susan Holtzer
Unidentifed Woman #15 by David Housewright
A Dress to Die For by Dolores Johnson
The Executor by Jesse Kellerman
Double Dealer by Barbara Taylor McCafferty & Beverly Taylor Herald
Resolution by Denise Mina
Leave a Message for Willie by Marcia Muller
Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pineiro
Murder, by George by Jeanne Quigley
Next Week Will Be Better by Jean Ruryk
Murder of a Smart Cookie by Denise Swanson
Garage Sale Stalker by Suzi Weinert

YA:  The Flea Market Mystery by Virginia Besaw Evansen

Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy is an antiques dealer, but he employs a wonderful picker, so I might include his books on this list. He and his sidekick do a lot of foraging at sales and in stalls looking for valuable antiques.

Anthony Oliver has another favorite antique themed series. My favorite is The Pew Group.

There is definitely a difference between Flea Markets and Antique Shops, but often the same characters inhabit both worlds. If I put together a list of Antique Mysteries, I'll certainly include books by Jane Cleland, Lea Wait, Tamar Myers, and many others.

Mystery Readers Journal has had several issues focusing on Art & Antiques Mysteries. Have a look at the Tables of Contents: HERE and HERE.