Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guest Blogger Laura Childs

As we're smack in the middle of the holiday season, which I hope everyone is enjoying, let's stop and give a warm welcome to today's guest blogger. Laura Childs is one of the hardest working authors in the mystery genre, with three New York Times and USA Today best-selling traditional series: teashop, scrapbook, and Cackleberry Club. I was delighted that Laura agreed to guest blog—and absolutely dumbfounded when she sent her copy in early!

Please join me in welcoming Laura Childs!

A funny thing happened a couple weeks ago when Eggs Benedict Arnold, my new Cackleberry Club Mystery, was released. I decided to do a promotion.

Because Eggs Benedict Arnold is a fun cozy mystery about three forty-plus women who run The Cackleberry Club, a café that specializes in egg dishes, I immediately thought of chickens. Wouldn’t it be great, I wondered, if I could run a flock of chickens right down the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis?

Then I thought – hold everything – I could get arrested! Me and the poor chicks could end up cooling our heels (if chickens even have heels) in jail.

That led to a far saner and safer idea. I decided to donate one chick for every copy of Eggs Benedict Arnold sold during the two weeks of my book launch. I immediately contacted Once Upon a Crime mystery book store and they hopped on board.

So it worked just like this: For each book copy sold, I donated a baby chick through Heifer International, a non-profit organization that delivers farm animals to poor families across the globe. Just think about it. A small flock of chickens to a family in Nicaragua or Tanzania guarantees a protein-rich food source, as well as income from selling eggs and chicks. Pretty cool, huh?

At Heifer International’s website you can read about their other projects, too. Like providing a pair of goats to a poor family so they can start up a small herd. Or sending sheep to a group of women so they can launch a knitting business and turn it into a cottage industry that employs more women. It’s amazing how just a small donation can purchase these farm animals and send them around the globe to families and villages in need. What a great concept – a hand up instead of a hand out.

So, did I enjoy a traditional book signing with cookies and tea and holiday cheer? Absolutely. But it was also a joint celebration with caring, wonderful book lovers (like you!) who acknowledged a need and helped someone less fortunate during the holiday season.

What a bunch of wonderful readers. What a lucky author I am!

Happy New Year all, and have a great 2010!

Laura Childs

Saturday, December 26, 2009

WHO KILLED THE PINUP QUEEN? by Toni L. P. Kelner (Berkley)

The second book in the "Where Are They Now?" series is first class! Freelance journalist Tilda Harper is researching two articles—one about former pinup models, the other about an old Western TV show. She soon learns that the pinup models were (like today's wait staff) looking for their break as actors and that some of them will go to any lengths to hide their tawdry past. Can murder possibly hide their secrets? Not with Tilda on the case!

PINUP QUEEN is not only a solid mystery, but an interesting look at old-time television and pop culture. Two thumbs up!

FTC full disclosure - book provided by the publisher

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Blogger Cathy Pickens

Today's guest blogger is Cathy Pickens, author of the delightful Southern Fried mystery series. Cathy lives in Charlotte, North Carolina now, but she sets her books in nearby South Carolina. A Southerner born and bred, Cathy's characters are true to her heritage—down to earth, salt of the earth, and just a little bit wacky.

Please join me in welcoming Cathy Pickens!

Christmas Reading Then and Now
by Cathy Pickens

Our old family photos include one of me, age 8, sitting beside the Christmas tree, wrapping paper and gifts scattered about, my bangs flopped over my eyes, my shoulders hunched over as I read the brand-new Trixie
Belden book in my lap.

Ah, those were the days, when most of any holiday break from school could be spent reading. Even now, picking out just the right book (or books, if I’m lucky to have the time) to enjoy for the holidays is a consuming task
for me.

This year was unusually easy. As soon as Molly’s review of the Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Mistaken Identity appeared on this blog, I rushed to the bookstore down the street for a copy. Hilarious! The good-natured spoof on the Hardy Boys Detective Handbook was only part of the story, but laugh-out-loud funny. And it reminded me how I’d wished
Nancy Drew had a detective handbook instead of a cookbook. But I digress.

If you have younger readers in your circle, give the Brixton Brothers a try. Even if you don’t have any kids who can provide a disguise for why you’re reading the book, get it anyway.

I also shared my latest favorite book with one of my sisters: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Oh, my, what took Alan Bradley so long to “discover” and write about Flavia? Any grown-up Nancy Drew lover will recognize her darkly humorous twin in 11-year-old Flavia. I can’t wait for
the next installment, if the voice is even half as fresh.

Then I moved to less humorous fare. I’d gone to a local bookstore to sign stock for the new paperback edition of the latest in my Southern Fried mystery series: Can’t Never Tell.

Everyone has been raving about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so as a treat, I finally picked up a copy. By page 40, I was hooked. It was particularly comforting, as I read of 30 below zero weather in Sweden, to cuddle in a blanket in front of the fire.

For a holiday motif, I’ll have to re-read the opening scenes of Charlotte MacLeod’s Rest You Merry. Her professor-sleuth Peter Shandy and the holiday shenanigans designed to drive uptight neighbors nuts is one of my favorite mystery openings.

So what have you picked out for your holiday treat/reading? Or for gifts? Do tell us!

And I hope you are having a wonderful, joyous season full of plenty to
make the holiday bright. Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

GUEST Blogger Linda O. Johnston

Today's guest blogger is Linda O. Johnston. I think I opened her first book because of the cover. It featured a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that reminded me of my own dog, the late, great Lollipop. I've spent a lot of time with Linda and her protagonist Kendra Ballentine since then. Linda's a busy lady, as you'll see just from reading her blog today. Please join me in welcoming Linda.

What's Mysterious about the Holiday Season?
I’m delighted to be a guest blogger here at Meritorious Mysteries. This is a fun time to come up with a topic--right in the middle of the holiday season. So, I’ll discuss me, and some of my thoughts about the holidays, and presents, and more.

I write pet related mysteries--the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries, and I’m also working on a spinoff series about Lauren Vancouver, a pet rescuer. Personally, I'm owned by two dogs --adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Lexie and Mystie. (Coincidentally, Kendra also has a Cavalier. Hers is named, again coincidentally, Lexie.)

In addition, I write paranormal romances for Silhouette Nocturne, including a mini-series about Alpha Force, a secret military unit of shapeshifters.

As a result of my pet proclivities, I wonder a lot about what animals are thinking. What, for example, will my Lexie and Mystie think this year as our relatives arrive in waves to celebrate the holidays? My delightful mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law will be traveling to be with us this week, as will our younger son who lives in San Diego. My nephew and his girlfriend, who live in L.A., will join in our festivities. Then, next week, our older son and his wife will visit us from Chicago. Since we’re empty nesters, it’s usually just my husband and me around to be servants to the dogs. What will be on the dogs’ minds with lots of other people around? More treats? More play time? More people to boss around?

And you? Do you have pets? How do they react to the holiday season and any extra folks you have visiting, for parties or family get-togethers or whatever? Is there anything mysterious about their reactions?

Then there are the other thoughts that might only come to authors this time of year, sort of like the beginning of the TV show Castle, where the protagonist points out that that there are only two kinds of folks who think about how to kill people--psychopaths and mystery writers.

I wonder at times, as I stand in the checkout line at Bed, Bath and Beyond, why that guy two people ahead of me is really buying that set of sharp knives. Or whether that rolling pin in the hands of the woman behind me will be used solely for baking projects, or also for battering... Okay, enough of that.

Better yet, I wonder how many people give books as presents. I seem to give a lot, and not just my own books. I’ve purchased books for nearly everyone in the family, based on their interests.

Do you buy books as presents for your family? If so, have you considered buying some of my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries... just kidding. Sort of. But if you’re not buying Kendra books, or perhaps the Nocturne anthology Awakening the Beast, which contains a short story featuring Alpha Force, “Claws of the Lynx”--also available online as a Nocturne Bites--what books are you buying, and for whom?

I don’t want to be too specific in case my family members are reading this post, but I’ve already gotten them some biographies and books containing information on a number of topics... as well as a couple of research books I’m wrapping for my husband to give to me!

Please come visit me at my website: www.LindaOJohnston.com Also, I blog each Thursday, mostly about pets, at Killer Hobbies. My fellow bloggers there write hobby-related cozy mysteries. I’m happy to be among them, even though pets aren’t hobbies; they’re family.

Thanks for reading me here at Meritorious Mysteries! I’d love to learn your answers to the questions I’ve posted above, so please comment below.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NEW TRICKS by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central)

There are some authors whose books go immediately to my to be read (TBR) pile. David Rosenfelt is one. Not only does he write great legal thrillers, his protagonist, Andy Carpenter, has a great golden retriever, Tara.

In this outing Andy, who inherited millions, is called by the court for a pro bono assignment: He's to determine who will inherit Waggy, a Bernese Mountain dog pup. When Andy goes to take possession of Waggy, he witnesses a horrific crime. Very soon, Andy has a human client who's facing murder charges. While working the case Andy is delighted to have the love of his life, Laurie Collins, visit from Wisconsin. After Laurie is shot and wounded while playing with Waggy and Tara, Andy realizes that his case might be much more complicated than he suspected.

As always, the legal aspects are clever, the plot is twisted, and the dogs steal the show!

FTC full disclosure - provided by the publisher

BUNDLE OF TROUBLE by Diana Orgain (Berkley)

In only six weeks Kate Connolly goes from bed-rest pregnancy to the beginnings of a new private investigation career—and all because of her husband's n'er do well brother. Before Kate and her husband Jim leave for the hospital, Jim gets a call from the San Francisco coronor's office asking about George. George's bags have been found on a dock where a body has just been fished from the bay.

Almost as soon as Kate and Jim bring baby Laurie home from the hospital, things begin drawing Kate into finding out more about the dead man. A chance meeting with an old friend when Kate goes to the corronor's office to pick up George's bags leads her further into the crimes. Break-ins, questions from a private invesigator, and more questions about George intensify her worries about going back to work when her maternity leave is over.

Orgain divides the chapters into sections following Laurie's birth. Kate's frustrations with breast-feeding, lack of sleep, and weight retention offer chuckles and realistic challenges of new motherhood.

I look forward to Kate's further adventures—and challenges.

In accordance with FTC full disclosure, this book was provided by the publisher.

THE NIGHT MONSTER by James Swain (Ballentine)

It's been a long time since I stayed up past my bedtime reading a thriller, but I did it last night.

Jack Carpenter is no longer a police detective, but he's still doing the same job: tracing and rescuing missing persons. For nearly 20 years he's been haunted by an abduction he witnessed but couldn't stop, that of a young college coed by a monster of a man.

When Jack investigates a man who is filming his daughter Jessie's Florida State basketball team, the man and his partner attack him. Jack realizes the partner is the abductor he's been seeking for years. When Jackie's teammate is taken from her hotel room, he's sure of it.

Jack's search for the missing Sara is complicated, treacherous, and long. The story unfolds as in a newspaper account, not like a movie. Jack Carpenter's commitment to his job makes the journey realistic and worthwhile.

If you've not read this great thriller writer, you owe it to yourself to put him at the top of your TBR pile!

In accordance with FTC full disclosure, this book was provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Guest Blogger Katherine Hall Page

Today's guest blogger, Katherine Hall Page, is a three-time Agatha Award winner. The Body in the Sleigh is the 18th book in the Faith Fairchild series. Please join me in welcoming Katherine to Meritorious Mysteries.

I’ve just had the pleasure of doing three events here in the Boston area with the incomparable Carolyn Hart. Both of our latest books, The Body in the Sleigh and Merry, Merry Ghost are Christmas mysteries from Wm. Morrow. They went on sale the same day in late October with terrific l’heure bleue covers by James L. Iacobelli. Life sometimes offers these pleasurable coincidences. The two books complement each other and in many ways Carolyn and I do too. She’s a treasured friend, and I’m also a long-time fan—especially of this new series. Bailey Ruth Raeburn is my kind of ghost and takes me back to Noel Coward’s play, "Blithe Spirit" and Thorne Smith’s book, Topper, as well as the movie and TV series.

Anyway, Carolyn and I had great fun and each event had its own distinct personality. The questions were different—at one we were asked if we had ever written a mystery without a corpse! I learned all sorts of new things about Carolyn (she’s a huge baseball fan, an avid tennis player and has a fascinating family background that includes a true South Carolina gentlewoman). The one constant at each event was our descriptions of the message we convey in these two books—order will be restored at the end, triumphing over chaos. Light conquers darkness, especially during the times we need it most.

More than a year ago, there must have been something in the air currents that travel back and forth between Oklahoma and Massachusetts. Neither of us knew the other was writing a Christmas mystery; nor that the plot would center on an abandoned child—a child who ultimately finds a safe haven. The first line of my book is: “The Christmas Eve sky was filled with stars the night Mary Bethany found a baby in her barn.” And off we go to follow this Mary’s journey, with Faith Fairchild at her side, along with another odyssey involving two young people on the Maine island where the story is set. Santa arrives on a lobster boat and there’s plenty of Christmas cheer, but as Harlan Coben said about the book, “ Not only is The Body in the Sleigh a gripping whodunit but it’s a classic tale of hope.” (Harlan and I hail from the same town in New Jersey-yay!)

I’ve dedicated the book to librarians and include the names of some who have been very important to me in my life. I’ve also included an Author’s Note at the end about libraries and librarians. It’s an appreciation long overdue. The access to information we have and the role librarians play in our communities is unequalled anywhere in the world.

And now to Christmas. The following is a sample of some of my favorite Christmas mysteries from the past (roughly 1933-1998) and I would love to hear from you about yours, old and/or new ones! My best wishes to all for the holidays and many thanks to Molly for her wonderful blog.

“The Necklace of Pearls” by Dorothy L. Sayers was published in Great Britain by Gollancz in 1933 in the collection, Hangman’s Holiday, which included three additional Lord Peter Wimsey stories, six featuring Montague Egg, and two others. In this tale, Lord Peter is unmarried and has been invited to spend Christmas at Sir Septimus Shale’s country house in Essex “in a touching spirit of unreasonable hope, on Margharita’s [Shale’s daughter] account.” Sir Septimus indulges his wife’s moderne tastes throughout the year, but puts his foot down at Christmas insisting on crackers, plum puddings, and games in the drawing room beneath the holly and mistletoe. It has been Sir Septimus’s custom to present Margharita with a priceless pearl on her Christmas Eve birthday each year and she now has twenty-one, enough to gleam “softly” on her “slender throat.” She takes the necklace off during a game of Dumb Crambo (a rhyme must be acted out silently, similar to charades) and it disappears. The denouement is a marvelous example of “Hidden in Plain Sight,” and provides Sayers with the opportunity to show off both Lord Peter’s ingenuity and theatricality. He arranges for the guests to tear down the Christmas greens and toss them in the fire—even the mistletoe, much to the horror of the culprit, a “man about town” who “speculated,” But the pearls with which he perhaps hoped to recoup some Madoff-type losses had, of course, been removed by Sayers’ sleuth. One straight pin had been enough to tip Lord Peter off that the waxy white flora had been joined by some less perishable cousins.

For Hercule Poirot the notion of an old-fashioned Christmas at Kings Lacey is a chilly one and he is only persuaded to retrieve a priceless ruby lost by “a young potentate-to-be” who was sowing some Western style wild oats by the assurance that the manor house has adequate central heating. “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” (changed to the unfortunate “Theft of the Royal Ruby” in the US) is the title story in the 1960 Crime Club edition, published only in the UK, also containing: “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest”, “The Underdog”, and “Four-and Twenty Blackbirds.” It is the sole collection in which both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple appear; these stories were published in other editions in the US. In an exuberant forward, Agatha Christie declares “This book of Christmas fare may be described as ‘The Chef’s Selection.’ I am the Chef!”

It was a Christie for Christmas and “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” is dedicated to Christmas Past, the celebrations of her youth spent at Abney Hall in the north of England, when “Christmas fare was of gargantuan proportions.” Oyster Soup, Turbot, Roast Turkey, Boiled Turkey, Sirloin of Beef, Plum Pudding, Mince-Pies, Trifle, and chocolates. “We never felt, nor were, sick! How lovely to be eleven years old and greedy!” In this homage, the proof is indeed in the pudding and there are some fun twists and turns for the reader. Hercule Poirot is, of course, never in doubt.

In Dancing With Death by Joan Coggin, Lady Lupin Hastings’ friend Duds Lethbridge is filled with nostalgia for the pre-war Christmases of her childhood as well and determines to do her best to replicate them with a Christmas week house party at Old Place, a modest manor house in Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately, it turns out to be the house party from Hell, especially after the hard-to-obtain liquor runs out and yes, there’s a body too. Duds summons her old friend, Loops, for help.

Dancing with Death was published in 1947, or 1949 according to some sources, by Hurst & Blackett and happily reissued, with the previous three Lady Lupin mysteries, by Rue Morgue Press in 2003. A review of the time aptly describes Coggin: “Here is a detective storyteller with a welcome sense of the ludicrous, or perhaps a humorous writer with a detective flair.” (The Field)

The quartet of mysteries, are apparently the only ones Coggin wrote; the first is Who Killed the Curate (1944); followed by The Mystery of Orchard House (1946); Why Did She Die? (1947), US title: Penelope Passes; and Dancing With Death. The books are addictive—an effervescent cocktail equal parts Nancy Mitford, E.M. Delafield, Gracie Allen, and Carole Lombard with a dash of Faith Fairchild (Lupin is a highly unlikely clerical spouse like Faith).
With strict rationing still in effect, there’s plenty of holly and ivy, but the Christmas pudding is concocted from dried eggs and beer. Hot water is in short supply. The guests, whom Duds has not seen since before the war, are a quarrelsome bunch and she’s regretting her Yuletide impulse, almost upon their arrival. The plot involves an inheritance, blackmail, and disappointed love, concluding with a car chase straight out of "Bullitt."

Ngaio Marsh has one of the best Christmas titles—Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)—and best Yuletide opening lines—“On the 25th of December at 7:30 A.M. Mr. Septimus Tonks was found dead beside his wireless set.” (“Death on the Air”-1947).

In the novel, Tied Up in Tinsel, detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn’s artist wife Troy is painting a portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasman, owner of Halberds Manor. With her husband out of the country and unlikely to return home in time for Christmas, Troy accepts Hilary’s invitation to stay on at Halberds for the holiday, joining a small house party that includes his fiancée, Cressida. Halbers is being exquisitely restored and filled with tasteful and precious objets d’arte. Breathtakingly beautiful, Cressida will be the jewel in the crown. Halberds is also filled with another sort of collection—murderers. Single-job men. They are Hilary’s solution to the servant problem since Halberds is so isolated that more conventional help has been impossible to find. What ensues is a marvelously funny satire with Gothic, Victorian, and even Druidical overtones. It really should have been filmed with Alec Guinness, Terry Thomas, and especially Alastair Sim. Alleyn returns early to find himself in the unusual position of interviewing his own wife in a homicide investigation. And despite an earlier mortal impulse, this time the butler did not do it.

British mystery writers do such ingenious things with wirelesses. One is reminded of Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers. Marsh’s short story “Death on the Air” is satisfying not only because of its intricate locked room plot, but also for her choice of victim—a truly horrible, despot who is crushing the life from his family and employees, especially his secretary Richard Hislop. The corpse could well have been tied up in tinsel and placed beneath the tree to the delight of all. Even the murderer, the doctor who calls in his old friend Roderick Alleyn, discreet and “a gentleman” to spare the family, is portrayed sympathetically, confessing in a final note, “ I’m sorry, Alleyn. I think you knew, didn’t you? I’ve bungled the whole game, but if you will be a supersleuth…”

In 1982, Mysterious Press issued two wonderful volumes of Murder For Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey notable for the trove of short stories, but almost equally for the Gahan Wilson illustrations and covers—a very unsaintly Saint Nick wrenching a diamond ring from the finger of a screaming young woman, as a monkish looking man face down in the plum pudding with a carving knife in his back sits at Santa’s side. Rex Stout’s “Christmas Party” is in Volume II. It was originally published in Collier’s as “The Christmas Party Murder” in 1957 and published the following year by Viking in And Four to Go, with “Murder is No Joke” and two other holiday short stories, “Easter Parade” and “Fourth of July”. Thomas Godfrey’s introduction describes the setting as “that most barbaric of all holiday institutions, the office Christmas party.” He sums up the plot: “Wolfe stews, Archie engages, orchids bloom and a good time will be had by all.” “Engages” refers to Archie’s role as a sham suitor, but that role is usurped by Nero Wolfe dressed up as Santa Claus—needing no padding— the prime suspect so far as the police are concerned.

Valerie Wolzien has written a number of holiday mysteries, (All Hallows’ Eve (Ballantine, 1992), A Star-Spangled Murder ( Fawcett, 1993), Deck The Halls with Murder (Ballantine, 1998), but the two Susan Henshaw Christmas mysteries, We Wish You A Merry Murder (Fawcett, 1991) and ‘Tis The Season To Be Murdered (Fawcett, 1994) will strike a resounding chord with everyone who has ever tried to achieve the impossible: a stress-free, serene holiday. They are a tribute to individuals trying to squeeze in shopping for the perfect gift with cookie exchanges, reproducing Chartres in gingerbread, and mediating between warring relatives, all of whom seem to be staying at one’s house somehow. When the UPS man delivers an additional parcel that he’s found propped up outside the door, it’s a relief for Susan to have something as relatively straightforward as a corpse with which to deal.

The last work, Jane Langton’s The Shortest Day Murder at the Revels draws upon a large cast, literally. Since 1971, the Christmas Revels, a festival of dance and drama that draws on ancient rituals from all over the world to drive the dark away, has been performed at Sanders Theatre in Harvard’s Memorial Hall. It is not Professor Homer Kelly’s thing at all he tells his enthusiastic wife, Mary—“Oh God…Morris dancers. All this folksy stuff, Ph.D.s and computer scientists pretending to be peasants.” Despite his initial skepticism, he becomes captivated by “this fanciful Cambridge version of the Middle Ages. It was nice, it was the Très Riches Heures come to life, enhanced by the mystic Victorian woodwork of Memorial Hall…"

First one death, then another. Homer had dons a mask as part of the performance, which puts him on the spot to unmask the killer. Langton’s lovely poem-and-ink drawings illustrate her own très riches heures, filled with Christmas lore and plenty of wassail.

At every performance of the Christmas Revels, the Master of the Revels sings “The Lord of the Dance” as first the actors, then the audience rise, join hands, filling the aisles and streaming out into the Hall’s corridors:
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

Similarly, all of these writers have led us in a Christmas romp, a merry dance of cheer and fear. What could be better?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Guest Blogger Larry D. Sweazy

Today's guest blogger is Larry D. Sweazy.Larry won the Western Writers of America (WWA) Spur Award for Best Short Fiction in 2005, and was nominated for a Derringer Award in 2007. He has published more than 40 non-fiction articles and short stories which have appeared in, or will appear in, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the MIssing Detective (Best Short Mysteries of 2005); Boy's Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and otther publications. Larry’s first novel, The Rattlesnake Season, featuring Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe, was published by Berkley in October 2009. Three more Josiah Wolfe novels are set to follow with The Scorpion Trail available in April of 2010, The Badger's Revenge in November 2010, and The Cougar's Prey in April of 2011.

Larry lives in Noblesville, Indiana, with his wife, Rose, two dogs, and a cat.

Please join me in welcoming Larry! He'll be checking in today to answer your questions and reply to your comments.

Cross-Genre Mysteries

One of the hottest subgenres in the mystery world today is the Western mystery. Think C. J. Box and Craig Johnson for a start. Both writers are at the top of the list whenever this subject comes up. And it comes up often, at least in the circles I travel in. But those two writers are far from the only ones writing Western mysteries, now or in the past. The question is, are they writing cross-genre mysteries or regional mysteries, and why does it matter in the first place?

“Categories are like walls,” says bestselling author Michael Connelly in a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, “and walls keep people out.”

I wholeheartedly agree, but there are a lot of people who don’t want their mysteries mixed with their westerns, or romances, or science fiction novels, and then there are other people who do. We know categories make it easy for publishers and booksellers to put a book in a certain spot so a reader will find it. How can a reader find a hybrid—a cross-genre mystery? Easy, slap mystery on the spine and it goes in the Mystery section of the bookstore. And readers walk by the other sections (that is, if said imaginary bookstore actually has a section for Westerns) without giving them a glance. I think readers are missing out on some fine writing.
Do you read other genres? And are you surprised when you discover you’re really reading a mystery novel, even though it wasn’t marketed that?

Since I’m obviously focusing on Western mysteries, lets look at a few popular ones. C. J. Box writes the Edgar-award winning Joe Pickett series. Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming. Below Zero, Box’s latest, is the ninth book in the Joe Pickett series. Pickett is an interesting character because he’s pretty normal—married, raising a family, has a decent job, is content without any major demons to battle. His job, however, is one of the major things that makes him interesting. He rides alone with his dog in his pickup covering a huge territory by himself. He doesn’t have a lot of backup, and he has to face the elements of nature, man, and weather alone. Sounds a lot like a cowboy to me. He’s just driving a truck instead of riding a horse (which he does sometimes). There were range wars, water rights, and environmental struggles in the Wyoming of the 1870s.
Question is, if Box would have put Joe Pickett in the past, in the 1870s, would we be talking about him right now?

That question, naturally, brings us to Steve Hockensmith. Hockensmith writes the "Holmes on the Range" mystery series. The two main characters in this series are brothers, “Big Red” and “Little Red” Amlingmeyer. They are fans of Sherlock Holmes and using his methods try their best to employ critical thinking to solve the mysteries they come across. The first book of the series is set in Montana in 1893. This seems to be a true cross-genre mystery, a brilliant intersection of both western and mystery—so why isn’t it in both sections of the bookstore? It’s not. You’ll find it in the mystery section. Would the premise work like C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett series if you changed the time frame, put the Amlingmeyer brothers in modern day Montana? Probably, if they were written as well as they are. I’m just curious why nobody thinks they’re westerns when they really are.
Would the premise work like C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett series if you changed the time frame, put the Amlingmeyer brothers in modern day Montana? Probably, if they were written as good as they are. I’m just curious why nobody thinks they’re westerns when they really are.

Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, also set in modern day Wyoming, is extremely popular right now. His novel, Another Man's Moccasins, won the Western Writers of America (WWA) Spur award for Best Novel in 2009. But it’s a mystery? Well, actually, it’s both, since it’s set in the West. WWA doesn’t categorize by era, but they could.

OK, the mystery field is a diverse playing field. That’s its strength, but it can also be its weakness.

Remember, “Walls keep people out”, which in this case is readers and fans.

Here’s the other side of the coin. Ed Gorman just published another of his Leo Guild westerns, Death Ground. Publisher’s Weekly says, “This is a western for grown-ups, written in a lean, hardboiled style that should appeal to readers who ‘don't read westerns.’” Guild, a bounty hunter, is acting as a bodyguard for a very unpleasant man who is soon murdered, and Guild goes after the killer. It’s not that simple. Gorman’s novels never are. But a dedicated mystery fan, unless they know Gorman’s work in that genre, too, will walk right by the western section and miss a heck of a good book.

Loren D. Estleman is another writer who currently writes both westerns and mysteries. His long-running Page Murdock series about a U.S. Marshal traversing the West shouldn’t be missed by fans of either genre. Port Hazard takes place in San Francisco and has Murdock dodging assassins, an undercover Pinkerton detective, and a dwarf with an attitude. Estleman’s work is always fast-paced, but his true talent is snappy, realistic dialogue. The next Page Murdock novel, The Book of Murdock, comes out in March 2010. You’ll find it only in the Western section.

I could go on about the writers who wrote, or who write, both westerns and mysteries, like Elmore Leonard, Donald Hamilton, and Richard Matheson, to name a few, but that’s a whole other topic—other than to say the cross-genre mix has been going on for a long, long time.
What are some of your own favorite cross-genre mysteries?

Would you consider buying a book “outside” the genre if you knew a specific novel had all of the qualifications (in your mind) to be a mystery novel?

And, finally, what really qualifies a mystery novel to be a mystery? Is it just because the publisher or bookseller said it was one, or is it something else?

What are your rules for a mystery?

So, it’s confession time. I write westerns. But there’s a mystery in each of my novels, a fair whodunnit, red herrings and all. My first novel, The Rattlesnake Season, about Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe just came out in October. I love both genres, western and mystery. But more than that, I love a good story, and I hope you’ll stop and browse outside the Mystery section the next time you’re in a bookstore. You might be surprised that you’ll find a good mystery in a place you least suspect—like the Old West.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guest Blogger Lydia Hirt

Every time I moderate a panel, people ask questions about the publishing industry. Today's guest blogger Lydia Hirt is in a good position to share knowledge from behind the scenes. Lydia is the marketing coordinator at the Putnam and Riverhead imprints at Penguin. She works on a wide variety of books including literary fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, historical fiction, and mysteries.

You can find her on Twitter for Putnam and Riverhead, and also on Facebook. Lydia loves talking to people about books and would like to connect with you!

Please welcome Lydia to Meritorious Mysteries!

Guest Blogger Lydia Hirt

I’ve always identified myself as a reader. Growing up, I was the girl on the playground at recess, reading the Mary Higgins Clark I had smuggled from my house while waiting in line for four square. Directly from college I dallied in the advertising industry and was the only one who never saw our commercials air, since I would be reading Patricia Cornwell or Vince Flynn and inevitably ignore the TV. It seemed natural to me to move to NYC, with the sole determination to find a career in the book publishing world.

I now work in Marketing for G. P. Putnam's Sons and Riverhead Books, both imprints at Penguin Group. I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by books every day and the people that produce them. Just last week I saw Sue Grafton in the hall and was celebrity-struck as I scurried into my office, thinking how I had borrowed her first book, A Is for Alibi, from my high school library.

Many other iconic mystery writers have strolled through Putnam’s hallways, known as the “preeminent publisher of thrillers,” including the renowned John Sandford, Clive Cussler, Catherine Coulter, Patricia Cornwell, Tom Clancy, Ridley Pearson, Robert Crais, Robert B. Parker, Daniel Silva…and the list continues.

Books are to me what the sense of smell is to many others – an instant connection to the past along with a thrill of recognition; especially true with mysteries as I really connect with the characters throughout a series. Mystery authors tend to have a very loyal following, as their characters grow and develop along with an audience (I recently wrote about the Genre that Never Dies). Both Grafton and Sandford have been gracing bookshelves with the same characters since the 1980s.

In addition to working with established authors, it’s always a thrill to be part of an author’s career at the beginning. Each writer has a first book—the question of how to reach an audience and get people talking about a new author in a crowded genre full of well-known talents is something that really does keep me up at night and occasionally invades my dreams.

January 7, 2010 marks the release of Finnish author James Thompson’s debut U.S. thriller, Snow Angels. It is the first in a series featuring Inspector Vaara and I’m already looking forward to the next installment. Launching an author has unique challenges, but it’s exciting for both us as the publisher and the first time author (James, for instance, is just lovely), and it’s inspiring to help find deserved success.

People read mysteries for a variety of reasons, and I’m interested in hearing yours. Who are your favorite authors and do you remember what originally drew you to their book? Why do you read mysteries, and can you sleep in the dark when you’re finished (am I the only one that has a hard time falling asleep, imagining noises on my patio)?

Thanks for joining me here on Meritorious Mysteries. Molly, thank you for including me on your wonderful site!

Cheers and happy holidays to all!

Lydia Hirt

Connect with me at my http://www.novelwhore.wordpress.com blog or on Twitter
Do you plan to Buy Books for the Holidays?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HOLLYWOOD MOON by Joseph Wambaugh (Little, Brown)

Nowhere are characters more real than that place we all think we know—Hollywood. Whether it is the officers of Hollywood Station or the bad guys, the scam artists ], or the violent felons, Wambaugh's characters jump off the page. As an ex-LAPD detective sergeant Wambaugh knows how to make it real. You will soon feel as if you are on the streets of LA.

You will meet the veterans and the rookies of the precinct, but the bad guys may be more colorful than the good guys. Our leading bad guy is Dewey Gleason. Dewey is married to Eunice—the brains of their operation. She is the computer hacker and Dewey is the field operator, hiring young college kids and punks to do their scams. An aspiring actor, Dewey uses several disguises when connecting with his runners, so they never know they are dealing with the same person.

On the police side are more aspiring actors, like ‘Hollywood’ Nate and the surfing dudes like Flotsam and Jetsam. Then there are policewomen like Dana Vaughan and Mindy Ling. The action never stops—sometimes you think you need a scorecard to keep track of all the players and whether they're bad or good. The pace is fast, it is real, and it all comes together in Joseph Wambaugh’s latest thriller, Hollywood Moon.

Stephen Bank
Stephen is a librarian at the Cary NC Library

Thursday, November 19, 2009

THE DEFECTOR by Daniel Silva (Putnam)

Gabriel Allon is on his own again in Daniel Silva’s latest thriller. Even though it is only six months since his daring escape from Moscow in Moscow Rules, he is again defing Ari Shamron’s order to return to Israel. He is off to London to find out why the defector Grigori Bulganov has suddenly been spirited out of his sanctuary in London. Is Grigori truly a double agent as the British suspect or has he been forcibly taken back to Russia.

Gabriel came within a millimeter of losing his life in saving Grigori, and anti-government journalist Olga Sukhova. They both risked their lives in helping Gabriel bring down the notorious arms dealer Ivan Kharkov. They also brought out of Russia Elena Kharkov, Ivan’s ex-wife, and their two children. Now it appears that they are all on a hit list directed by Kharkov, who seems to have regained his place in the arms world and intends to extract revenge on his enemies.

Gabriel believes that Grigori is not a traitor and he had promised to protect him. So instead of staying in Italy with his beautiful new wife Chiara and returning to restoring precious art works, he is off to London to get to the bottom of Grigori’s disappearance. An assassination attempt in London convinces him that Grigori didn’t return to Russia voluntarily.

Fans of Daniel Silva will enjoy a return to the usual fast-paced world of international espionage and murder as the action moves rapidly among Italy, England, Russia, and Israel.

by Steve Bank,a librarian at the Cary NC Public Library.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guest Blogger Tracy Kiely

Today, I'm delighted to have Tracy Kiely visit Meritorious Mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel, Murder at Longbourn. when Tracy landed at my table during the 2009 First Novelists panel at Bouchercon, I found her to be as entertaining in person as she was in fiction. I know you'll enjoy Tracy's suggestions for dealing with troublesome relatives.

Tracy will be on hand today to answer questions and comments. This is your chance to share stories about some of your relatives--in complete anonymity, of course!

This Relative for Hire by Tracy Kiely

A strange thing happened last week. While I was diligently plugging away on my third book, I happened to glance away for just a teensy second and during that brief moment of distraction, my muse just up and left. I don’t know if she ducked out for a quick cigarette or what, but I haven’t heard from her in days. Frankly, I’m beginning to suspect that she may have been hit by a bus. Either that or she’s sprawled on a beach somewhere in Cancun.

Two things happened while I was waiting for her to come back:

A) I ate a lot of my kids’ Halloween candy. (Which reminds me; for those of you handing out DOTS and Laughy Taffy, please cease and desist. That stuff is awful. Chocolate--buy chocolate. It’s not for me—-it’s for the kids.)

B) I came across some notes from a mystery writing class that I took years ago. What jumped out at me (other than the fact that I have lousy handwriting) was this bit of advice:

“A mystery must have tension, secrets, and characters that inspire strong feelings – particularly murderous feelings.”

And I thought—-hello!—-change out “The holidays” for “A mystery” and the observation becomes even more apt. I mean, think about it--we are rapidly heading into that time of year when facial tics become a part of our daily existence and why? Because of our families! Those lovely people who drive us to the emotional extremes that keep psychiatrists’ businesses booming. Their weird quirks, their prejudices, their emotional manipulations, hell, in some cases just the way they breathe can send you over the edge.

For instance, I remember the Thanksgiving I was ten. My mother had worn herself out prepping her usual fare; a massive turkey, two kinds of stuffing, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and, of course, a pumpkin pie for dessert. That morning my grandfather insisted on taking us all out to brunch. As he made his third trip to the buffet, my mother laughingly said, “Now, don’t eat too much! Remember to save room for Thanksgiving dinner.”

With a dismissive flick of his wrist, my grandfather grunted, “Freeze it.”

Then there’s the relative who, upon eating one of my hors d'oeuvres last Thanksgiving, spit it out into her napkin and crossed the room to where I was getting dinner ready. She then handed the mess to me, and in that way little kids talk when trying to keep their tongues from touching their mouth, said, “I don’t like this.”

Cute story until you consider the fact that the relative in question is a forty-six-year old.

Okay, perhaps they didn’t exactly inspire murderous feelings (although my mom looked pretty pissed), but they certainly inspired strong feelings. We’ve all heard the advice “write what you know” and it’s pretty good advice. By carefully observing those around you, you can create some really solid characters. Characters that make you feel, make you care, and in some cases, characters that make you giggle with glee when they finally get what’s coming to them.

The problem is when we write what we know, we are tempted to write about the people we know—and if we do write about them, nine times out of ten we are going to get busted.

But, my friends, that’s all about to change because I propose we create a network where frustrated writers who are missing their muses can log in and find their inspiration.

Remember Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, where the two men traded murders? Well, instead of trading murders, we trade annoying relative stories! And let’s not limit ourselves; co-workers, bosses, ex-loves are all eligible. It’s a win-win situation. We get to vent and use great material! Should my hors d'oeuvres-spitting relative read about her actions in your book, well, that’s nothing to do with me! And should your Aunt Josephine who lets her dogs eat out of her mouth read about a character eerily similar to her in my book, well, it must be some kind of coincidence, right? Right!

So, tell me your horror stories and I’ll tell you mine. I’m free today as my muse is still MIA. She’s either lying on a hospital bed in a full body cast or on a beach towel sucking down mojitos.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Guest Blogger Tracy Kiely

Tracy Kiely, author of the delightful Murder at Longbourn, will be my guest on Tuesday, November 17. She's got a great suggestion for mystery authors—that "writers trade annoying relatives - that way no one gets busted for using family in their books! Kind of like Strangers on a Train but with characters."

Please join us for a lively discussion.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The kind folks at Simon and Schuster have offered three copies of The brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity for me to give to you! This would be a great holiday gift for a favorite youngster!

Because I have trouble being the fourth caller or the tenth person to email, I thought I'd make this easier (for me). Just post a comment to this entry and tell me who your Brixton Brothers reader would be (you don't have to give a name—my sixth-grade nephew is fine) and why s/he would enjoy reading this book. Of course, if the intended reader makes a comment, that's even better.

Be sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner! If you don't have an email associated with your comment, just email me at mysteryheel [at] mac [dot] com.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, shame on you. I reviewed the book on November 3. Just scroll down, you'll see it.

CONTEST DEADLINE - Sunday, November 22, 12:00 midnight EST

A CADGER'S CURSE by Diane Gilbert Madsen (Midnight Ink)

Reviewing a friend's book is always hard. Telling folks about the book—and the friend—is easy. So, let me tell you how this all started.

Several years ago, I volunteered to be a judge in the St. Martin's Malice Domestic Award contest. The first year, I received more than 50 entries! My office was absolutely full of plain brown envelopes. I wonder what my postman thought I was ordering! As I began reading the manuscripts, I quickly realized there were major differences in the entries. Some were laden with grammatical errors; some were poorly written; many were good beginnings, but needed major polishing; and, a very few, were very, very good—almost ready for publication.

Diane's DD McGil story fell into the latter category. While a traditional mystery, it was high-tech, edgy, and featured a protagonist who was sassy, smart, and brave. In short, she was a lot like VI Warshawski, Sharon McCone, and Kinsey Milhone—and many other contemporary hard boiled female PIs. Comments from publishers were good, but they were, quite simply, looking for the next generation of female sleuths.

Diane and her husband Tom moved from Chicago to Florida, and Diane was caught up in the move and a new job. But. She didn't forget DD McGill and she didn't stop writing. Fortunately,during that time, trends shifted again. A few months ago she called me with great news: Midnight Ink was publishing A Cadger's Curse. It wasn't the same manuscript I'd read, but it featured DD (and I recognized a couple of scenes and situations that were familiar).

Here's the new situation. A few days before Christmas, DD is asked to run background checks on new hires at a high tech company. On her initial trip to the client, she discovers a body. Unbelievably, it's someone she knows. Even as DD continues with the assignment, family holiday plans march on. The Scottish Dragon (Great Aunt Elizabeth) arrives with a bag full of contraband (Scotch whiskey and a genuine(?) Robert Burns manuscript).

As bodies continue to fall, DD must determine whether they're concerning her case or the manuscript.

DD and Auntie Elizabeth head a cast of well-drawn characters involved in a fast-paced mystery that I recommend wholeheartedly. Welcome to my world, Diane and DD!

This book was provided by the publisher.

Thanks, Pat Bertram

Thanks, Pat, for guest blogging yesterday. Thanks, too, to all of you who posted!

Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A DRUNKARD'S PATH by Clare O'Donohue (Plume)

I've read a number of light mysteries lately and have met detectives (all women) who are either caterers, dyers or gardeners. When I saw that this was about quilters, I wasn't excited.
Actually the quilting part worked very well. The quilting group gives a reason for the characters to work together to do their detective work. Even though there are a lot of fairly major characters, the author gave each a trait which made her identifiable: one is a grandmother, Kennette is mysterious, another opens a coffee shop.

Less realistic was Rich, the teenager who was regularly committing crimes and always being let off for them. While the crimes were always of the breaking and entering type, I doubt that he would still be on the streets for long in reality.
I found the relationship of the protagonist, Nell, and her sort of boyfriend, Jesse, more problematic. With her behavior in the book— constantly interfering in his work and going behind his back—I found it difficult to imagine why he would ever want to continue the romance or whatever it was. I appreciated that they didn't just live happily ever after, but I wondered why he would want to ever continue with her at all.
The author writes well and it was an interesting book and, all those facts about quilting were interesting, informative, and non-distracting. I have no more interest in quilting than I did at the start, but I did learn a lot.

—Stephen Hennessey

This book was provided by the publisher.

Guest Blogger Pat Bertram

I'm delighted to welcome Colorado author Pat Bertram as a guest blogger today. Pat's the author of three mysteries, most recently Daughter Am I. Today, she shares some of the notes and thought processes which brought the book to fruition.

I finished writing the first draft of Daughter Am I on February 2, 2005, and after the all subsequent years of rewriting and editing, I’ve managed to forget most of my original ideas. I recently dug out the notebook I kept while writing the novel and was surprised to see all the preparation I did beforehand. I have pages of notes about Chicago, particularly about the section of the city called River North. I hand drew a map of the neighborhood with a star to mark the location of my fictional bar. I even have a description of the bar, though I don’t remember if that description came from a guidebook or my imagination. According to my notes, the bar was originally a speakeasy during prohibition. The building dates from 1872 and has housed a tavern since 1921. The bar retains many of the fixtures from those days, including a brass rail for the feet, an old cash register, and faded ads on the walls.

I noted odd bits of history: both the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the FBI shooting of Dillinger took place on North Lincoln Avenue. Serendipity came into play when I discovered that seven bushes mark the spot of the massacre, which is now (or was when I wrote Daughter Am I) a grassy area next to a senior citizens home -- the perfect place for one of my feisty octogenarians to live.

I have many notes about Tombstone, Arizona, though I used very few of them. Apparently, I was quite taken with the Bird Cage Theater because I have a full page of notes about that music hall where Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt, and Lillian Russell all performed. The Bird Cage Theater was also the site of the world’s longest continuous poker game. In all, $10 million dollars exchanged hands. I cannot even fathom how much that would be in today’s dollars. A hundred million? A billion?

I have notes about mileage for Mary’s journey. Denver to Julesburg is 182 miles. Julesburg to Ogallala is approximately 29 miles. Ogallala to York is 231 miles. York to Omaha is 106 miles.

I have a life-size drawing of the gun in Mary’s handbag -- an Astra Cadiz .38 revolver. One of my editors questioned that Mary would feel the extra weight of the gun, but the answer is here in my notes -- the weapon weighs two pounds, so yes, it would be noticeable.

I jotted down bits of dialogue, some of which, like this, never made it into the book:
“He’s good people.”
“What does that mean? That there’s more than one of him?”

I made some cryptic notes, such as: “all roads lead to Cincinnati,” which refers, I think, to the beginnings of the national crime syndicate. And “Covington was the proving ground. When they went to Las Vegas, they already knew how to run big casinos.”

I kept two timelines -- a current one detailing Mary’s journey, and an ancestral one. Her great-grandfather was born in 1901, her grandfather was born on January 16, 1921, her grandmother was born on June 23, 1927. Why such specific dates? I don’t know.

Strangely, I even have detailed character sketches of all my characters. The only reason it’s strange is that I’ve never done that before. But then, I never wrote a book with so many characters who were onstage at all times.

Thank you for indulging me today. I hope you enjoyed leafing through my notes as much as I did.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Guest Blogger Pat Bertram

Pat's new book is Daughter Am I. She'll be blogging here on Tuesday, November 10. Please drop by and meet her.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

THE BRIXTON BROTHERS: THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam Rex (Simon & Schuster)

What a hoot! Twelve-year-old Steve Brixton wants more than anything to become a detective. He's read all 57 of the Bailey Brothers' Mysteries and The Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook and he can quote from them. He even solves a case that's boggled the entire Ocean Park police department. When a homework assignment involves him in his own case, he's happy to recall Bailey Brothers' maxims—until he realizes he's not nearly as big, as strong, and as old as the Bailey Brothers. The reader, however, realizes he's probably much smarter!

I think this might well be an answer to the prayers of folks who've worked to get young boys interested in reading. Steve Brixton is smart and funny, and he's incredibly realistic to our times. Here's hoping there will be as may Brixton Brothers mysteries as there were Hardy Boys--er Bailey Brothers books!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

THE RATTLESNAKE SEASON by Larry D. Sweazy (Berkley)

What a treat it is for me to review this book! I met Larry many years ago at Magna cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana. He showed me a chapter from a mystery manuscript then, and my mouth, literally, dropped open when I finished it. I was surprised to hear from him that he'd written a western for publication, but he assured me that I'd find a mystery in it. I not only found a mystery, but I'm already waiting for the next installment of Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe.

Wolfe, a young Civil War veteran, answers the call when Captain Hiram Fikes invites him to re-join the Texas Rangers. Their first mission: to capture Charlie Langdon, Wolfe's former deputy and fellow veteran. Things go badly almost from the beginning, and Wolfe has many reasons to reconsider his decision, but loyalty to Fikes and a vision of justice keep him on the job.

After growing up with the cowboy movies and TV shows that glorified the Old West, I was enthralled with a story of the hardships that were part of everyday life and with the politics that affected Reconstruction. I'll be sharing this book with contemporaries who love either mystery or western novels.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First in Series Re-Releases

I know so many people who won't start reading a series if they can't read them in order from the beginning. This often knocks them out of some really good reading. I was happy to find re-issues of the beginnings of two popular series in my mail recently.

Introducing Aunt Dimity, Paranormal Dective by Nancy Atherton (Penguin) is a trade paperback with the first two Aunt Dimity titles, Aunt Dimity's Death and Aunt Dimity and the Duke.

First Degree, Open and Shut, and Play Dead by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central Publishing) are all in paperback (the first two are at a special $4.99 price). This is one of my favorite legal series. Try it—you'll like it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

RIZZO'S WAR by Lou Manfredo (Minotaur)

Joe Rizzo is a veteran cop who lets people think the worst of him—even his new partner, Mike McQueen. Mike was just promoted to detective after saving the mayor's daughter's roommate from a rapist. Rizzo takes a free meal here, overlooks a petty crime there, but exhibits real insights into crime and genuine empathy for victims. Readers spend nearly a year riding with the Brooklyn detectives and meet the Internal Affairs cops who are trying desperately to pin something on Rizzo's former partner, and, by extension, on Joe. We meet Rizzo's family, the wife and daughters who anchor him. McQueen often questions Joe's actions, but the veteran always answers him with a saying from his grandfather: "There's no right, there's no wrong, there just is.

Rizzo's War is compelling, realistic, and cerebral. It's also a winner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

THE BRUTAL TELLING by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

If you haven't yet  discovered Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series, you are in for a treat. The Brutal Telling, Penny's latest outing, returns to Three Pines, a picturesque  village in Quebec. The novel opens with the telling of a tragic mythical tale which weaves its way through the novel.

Olivier, the charming and successful bistro owner, is rudely awakened to the news that the body of an unknown man has been found in his restaurant. Threatened by the eminent opening of a rival spa and inn, Olivier and his partner, Gabri, are for the first time unsure  of their business and friends in Three Pines. Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir set up homicide investigation headquarters in the old Railway station.

The return of such memorable characters as poet Ruth Zardo and her sweater wearing duck Rose, is like meeting up with old friends. Clara and Peter Morrow continue their artistic pursuits. Havoc Parra and his family keep secrets about their Czech community. The investigation takes Gamache beyond Three Pines and Montreal to the Queen Charlotte Islands on the Canadian Pacific Coast.

Louise Penny's stories are told in the traditional Agatha Christie mystery style. With the setting as  much a character as dear Inspector Gamache and his team. I personally recommend Penny's series be read  in order for all the intricate back stories to fall in place. Louise Penny's characters, settings, multi-layered plots, and beautiful prose are always a joy to read. Thank you, Ms Penny.

--Karen Kiley

Karen is one of the driving forces in mystery at the Cary (NC) Public Library. This is her first review, but I hope she'll write many more!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Christmas and the Late Bailey Ruth Raeburn

Carolyn Hart

When families gather at Christmas, there can be old resentments, present passions, failed relationships. Yet there are other ghosts of Christmas, memories of happy times and loving faces no longer present, generosity and unselfishness, and, always, the ineffable grace of the Child in the Manger.

This year for me there is also my own special holiday ghost, the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, who first appeared last fall in Ghost at Work. Bailey Ruth’s new adventure - Merry, Merry Ghost - is a Christmas mystery.

And oh what a glorious, happy, rollicking time I spent with my impetuous, redheaded ghost.

I’ve truly never had as much fun writing as I have had in penning three tales about Bailey Ruth. (Ghost in Trouble will be published in Fall 2010.) I first met Bailey Ruth in Ghost at Work as she swung around a cumulous cloud on her way to apply at Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions to return to earth to help someone in trouble. When she was a young girl, she was rescued from drowning. She went on to have a long and happy life. In Heaven, she realizes she would like to help someone in turn.

Her association with the Department and Wiggins, its supervisor, has its ups and downs. Bailey Ruth is impetuous, impulsive, and scarcely ever met a rule that she wouldn’t ignore if she felt the circumstances warranted. She well understands this is likely why she hasn’t been called for a second assignment.

However, she decides to try again, this time vowing that she will be careful, circumspect, avoid appearing (Wiggins frowns upon emissaries appearing), and generally remain unobtrusive.

When she arrives at the Department of Good Intentions, Wiggins admits she’s been on his mind for a particular assignment because she loves Christmas. Bailey Ruth, true to her impulsive nature, responds immediately in this passage from Merry, Merry Ghost:
I was swept by that wonderful feeling of the season when workaday cares recede and we glimpse a world bright with love. “Ooh. Christmas.” Every Christmas Eve, Bobby Mac (a robust tenor) and I (an energetic soprano) entertained Rob and Dill with our duet of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as we pulled a sled laden with gifts into the living room. A two-foot tall stuffed reindeer with a shiny red nose was harnessed to the sled.
I came to my feet, quickly attired in my best Mrs. Claus suit and floppy red Santa hat, and belted out my most spirited version of Rudolph. Tap was popular when I was young and the wooden floor of the station a perfect venue. . . . four slap ball changes, four shuffle hop steps, a shuffle off to Buffalo . . . Sweeping off my Santa hat, I ended with a flap cramp roll and a graceful bow.

Flushed with success, I lifted my gaze to Wiggins.

He sat, brown eyes wide, expression bemused.

Had the man never seen a hoofer before? Had I blown any chance for adven - to be of service? Had my impetuous nature once again landed me in trouble?

So, yes, Bailey Ruth loves Christmas, and Wiggins dispatched Bailey Ruth to her beloved hometown of Adelaide. I hope you will enjoy going home for the holidays with Bailey Ruth as she protects a little boy, assists a determined grandmother, encourages young lovers, and corrals a killer in time to put the sparkle back in Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

Carolyn Hart

To learn more about Carolyn Hart, vist her website.

Katy Munger (aka Chaz McGee)

Katy, urr Chaz, will be at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh Friday night, Sept. 25, at 7:30 to talk about her new book Desolate Angel. She's bringing along her friend Joe Newberry, an old-timey & bluegrass musician, who will play the song he wrote by the same name as the book. I hope to see lots of friends at this fun event!

Carolyn Hart

Carolyn will be a guest blogger tomorrow, Friday, September 25. She'll write about holidays, her newest protagonist, Bailey Ruth Rae Raeburn, and the second Bailey Ruth mystery Merry, Merry Ghost. Please join us!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

THE LAW OF SECOND CHANCES by James Sheehan (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

I just got an email from James Sheehan. The sequel to the fabulous Mayor of Lexington Avenue has just come out in mass market paperback. If you've not met Sheehan's protagonist, Jack Tobin, there's no better time to get acquainted. Both books are now available for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn—and far more satisfying!

SCARY STUFF by Sharon FIffer (Minotaur)

Antiques picker Jane Wheel's family is front and center in this latest outing. While visiting her brother in California Jane learns he is being accused of swindling folks on eBay. On a stop to visit her parents at their EZ Way Inn on the way home, she offers to help Swanette, an old customer who is moving to a retirement apartment, determine if her family's collections are worth selling. They are.

Before Jane and Tim (her best friend and successful antiques dealer) can begin to sort through the house and several barns, Nellie, Jane's mom, takes her to a fully decorated Halloween house and introduces her to elderly Cousin Ada, "Her hair hung to her waist, gray and knotted, and her hands were as gnarled as the roots of those oaks… One held…a knife. It was a large, gleaming silver knife, with an evil serrated blade, pointed directly at Jane.

From one case of, hopeful mistaken identification, and two opportunities for her antiques business, events soon provide Jane with three cases for her new private detective career. Readers will realize they've learned a lot about the "junk" in their attics.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Joyce & Jim Lavene Featured

I knew this husband and wife team had been writing great mysteries together, but I didn't know how it all began. Cabarras Now Magazine gives a great profile on the two.

Joyce and Jim came to our daylily farm and gave a great program about poisonous plants soon after their first Peggy Lee garden mystery was published. Time surely flies—their fifth, A Corpse for Yew, was released this spring. The second in their Renaissance Fair series, Ghastly Glass, is on my nightstand now.

Craig Johnson…

just posted on Facebook that he's doing a "happy dance." Another Man's Moccasins just won the Mountain and Plains Independent Bookseller's Fiction Book of the Year. Congratulations, Craig!

If you've not read this wonderful series, what are you doing on the computer?

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Lipstick Chronicles has a new look!

Mystery lovers know it's not good to believe in coincidence. That said, I added a series of "favorite links" to my page this weekend. Today I got two invitations via Facebook to see The Lipstick Chronicles' new look. Coincidence? I think not. Join me in checking out this updated site—today on "Manly Mondays," TLC welcomes Gregg Hurwitz.

Even if you don't read everything, it's worth a look for the cool 1950s artwork!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely (Minotaur)

Every so often a new author comes along with a book that propels the reader along from beginning to end. Such is the case here. Fans of Jane Austen have already latched on to it—both the protagonist and others in the story are big Austen fans who quote her often, but for story form, I think the style is straight from Georgette Heyer. The situations are similar to Heyer's Regency books, but the content is definitely 21st century.

Elizabeth Parker faces the New Year without her two-timing boyfriend so she accepts an invitation to a murder mystery party at Great Aunt Winnie's new Cape Cod B&B. There she meets a drop dead gorgeous Englishman, a couple who own a New York antiques business, and her childhood nemesis, Peter McGowan. Guests at the party include the nasty millionaire who covets Winnie's B&B, his trophy wife and his cold daughter as well as two septuagenarian women-one wealthy, one poor.

Mystery readers will not be surprised when the murder party turns real. They will, however, enjoy the entertaining rest of the story. This debut has "Agatha" written all over it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SWAN FOR THE MONEY by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)

When Donna told my husband and me she was setting a book at a flower show, even Noel got interested in mysteries. When she asked me if I'd like to be a character in the book, I was delighted. Sure enough, the rose show that Meg Langslow is asked to coordinate works right into her parents' new hobby, but it has her running from swans, climbing fences, dodging goats, and finding bodies. Meg's wacky family has brought us all a lot of laughs over the years, and this outing is no exception. Their wackiness is balanced nicely by the eccentricity of the wealthy Mrs. Winkleson who owns the estate where the Caerphilly Garden Club's first rose show will be held. (Mrs. Winkleson is sponsoring the prize for the blackest rose at the show. Meg soon learns that Mrs. Winkleson also has a thing for black horses, swans, and decor.)

The story moves from one calamity to the next, but somehow they all seem plausible. The goings on at the rose show are spot on for flower shows—except I've never heard of anyone's discovering a body! Swan for the Money deserves a spot at the head table!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FACE TIME/AIR TIME by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mira)

Ryan won the Agatha Award for her debut Prime Time and I was delighted to catch up with her protagonist, Charlie McNally. Like Ryan, Charlie is an Emmy-winning investigative reporter.

In Face Time, Charlie gets an opportunity for an exclusive story with the Constitutional Justice Project as they try to prove "Deadly Dorie" Sweeney (who, by the way confessed to killing her husband) is innocent. The CJP's new evidence turns up just as Oscar "Oz" Ortega, who just happens to have been the lead prosecutor in Sweeney's case, announces his candidacy for governor.

Charlie's juggling of her career with her new love life and visiting her mother who's in town for cosmetic surgery add comic relief to the very real concerns of finding the truth behind the crime.

In Air Time, Charlie and Franklin, her long-suffering producer, are on the trail of fake designer purses. Turns out, the high fashion industry is a hotbed of grand larceny, organized crime, and murder. Making their job tougher, a young consultant has the ear of the news director, and she's trivializing their hard-hitting news story with cute puns and artificial deadlines.

While both stories are highly entertaining quick reads, they also bring the reader into the world of journalism and investigative reporting. Journalists who go undercover to reveal the truth behind these stories really do put themselves at risk. Ryan relates the true picture in entertaining, well-plotted mysteries. More, please!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A BAD DAY FOR SORRY by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur)

Stella Hardesty has something of a split personality: By day she runs a sewing/sewing machine repair shop and by night she tracks down abusive husbands and boyfriends and teaches them a lesson. She knows firsthand there is little recourse for abused women other than moving to a shelter. Stella wants more for them—much more. She wants them to have respect and upkeep. Her most recent client, Chrissy, simply wants help with her piece-of-trash husband. Roy Deen shouldn't be much of a problem, but then he disappears with Chrissy's two-year-old son. Very quickly, things turn ugly. Stella is sure she's in over her head, but it's too late to find a boat.

I don't usually like to be in the head of people outside the law—and Stella is definitely outside the law, but Stella is right: Somebody has to do something to help these women. You, too, will find yourself saying under your breath, "You go, Stella!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interview: Craig Johnson & William Kent Kruger

If you ever wonder why I'm always including these two guys in my library programs, take a look at this excellent interview—then dash to your favorite independent bookseller and stock up on their fabulous books!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

SAND SHARKS by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)

You can tell by the title—Deborah Knott won't spend much time in Colleton County in this outing. Like most Maron fans, I was a bit disappointed to see the judge leave my favorite spot, but that didn't last. Deborah goes to the North Carolina coast for a judges' conference and some of the home folks are there with her. It doesn't take long for a body to turn up—one who in North Carolina parlance, "needed killing," so there are plenty of suspects. Deborah is drawn into the hunt for the killer, and while she's sleuthing, the readers get to visit some outstanding Wilmington restaurants, learn about the state's movie industry, and meet someone from Deborah's past.

Admittedly, I'm a huge Margaret Maron fan. In fact, I buy these books and give them to a lot of folks who've recently moved to or visited North Carolina so they'll understand what we Tarheels are all about. That said, I think this is the best non-Colleton County book yet. It's summer. If you can't come to an NC beach in person, this is the next best thing!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

THE FITZGERALD RUSE by Mark de Castrique (Poisoned Pen Press)

Iraq amputee Sam Blackman has just opened a new detective office in Asheville with new partner and love of his life, Nakayla Robertson. Before they can even get their furniture placed, they get a case—which, truth be told, doesn't appear to require exceptional skills to handle. Appearances are deceiving, however, and soon the pair is surrounded by dead bodies, death threats, old people, and literary icons.

Once again, de Castrique uses his extensive knowledge of Asheville, its families, and, this time, the Jazz Age to give a contemporary story a sense of nostalgia. The Jazz Age connection to Asheville is F. Scott Fitzgerald, who stayed at Asheville's Grove Park Inn during the summers of 1935–1936.

The story is lively, conditions are compelling, and the mystery incredibly clever. Match your wits against Sam's.

Mark de Castrique will be in the Triangle with the NC Men of Mystery Tour. (See listing on Meritorious Mysteries July 25.)