Friday, July 31, 2009

William G. Tapply, R.I.P.

William G. Tapply, author of the Boston lawyer-turned crime-solver Brady Coyne mystery series, died of leukemia Tuesday at his Hancock, NH home. He was 69. He was known also for his collected essays, a book about his father, and his articles and columns in "Field & Stream" and other magazines.

A few weeks ago, Tapply wrote a note on his website that mentioned his poor health and the good news of the imminent publication of five more books of fiction and essays. Dark Tiger, the third book in his Stoney Calhoun mystery series, will be out in September from Minotaur Books.

Beginning with 1984's Death at Charity Point, he wrote a total of 23 Brady Coyne mysteries. Coyne also appears in 3 mysteries he co-wrote with Philip R. Craig. He also wrote The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing a Modern Whodunit (1995).

Bill contributed a wonderful article about his writing, his life, and his books to the first Sports Mysteries issue of Mystery Readers Journal almost 20 years ago.

MidCurrent has an extended obituary including a tribute by Norman Zeigler.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cool Canadian Crime: Anthony Bidulka

Today David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. Today: Anthony Bidulka

Previously, David interviewed
Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen, Garry Ryan. and RJ Harlick. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. More to come.

Anthony Bidulka enjoyed time well-spent and misspent in academia, accounting, footwear, food services and farming. In 1999 he left a decade long career as a Chartered Accountant to pursue writing. Like his protagonist, Russell Quant, Anthony lives in a small city on the Canadian prairie. A great believer in community involvement, he has sat on many boards and committees in Saskatchewan, and is also active in the International Association of Crime Writers and Crime Writers of Canada.

DC: Can you give us a little biography?
AB: Some people who know me today might be surprised to learn I began life as a country boy. I grew up on a grain & cattle farm on the wide-open, wind-swept Saskatchewan prairie, the nearest town six miles away with maybe two-hundred people living in it. After high school I did everything from selling shoes to teaching school, bartending, and working in a uranium mine. I eventually ended a decade-long career with the audit and accounting firm of Ernst & Young when I decided to risk it all, throw caution to the wind, and try my hand at a new career: professional writer.

DC: Do your background and upbringing play any part in the development of your themes and characters? If so, what part?
AB: My protagonist, Russell Quant, was a farm boy who now lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He risked a promising career as a police constable to chase a dream and become a prairie private eye. Perhaps similar to the experience of attempting a writing career in Saskatchewan, the prospects of a gumshoe in a Canadian city of under 250,000 are not readily obvious or spectacular.
As far as characters, I am often inspired by people I meet on a daily basis. The most obvious example of this is the character of Russell’s mother, Kay Quant (nee Wistonchuk). She was drawn from a collection of women—including my own mother (only in part, mom!)—I knew as a child growing up in Prudhomme, Saskatchewan. She was intended to be one of those characters who are more about what they tell us about the main protagonist rather than about themselves being integral to the story. I had only meant for her character to appear once, but she ended up being—and still is today—one of the most asked about and favourite characters amongst my readers.

DC: When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer, and how did you break this distressing news to your family?
AB: I have always known I wanted to be a writer. Since I was old enough to know that pen went with paper, I was jotting down little stories (often with illustrations). In my case, I think it wasn’t so much my breaking the news to my family, but more finding the courage to break the news to myself. I was deep into a career as a senior audit manager, and I found myself asking myself: Is this it? Am I happy? How much do I have in savings? A partner at the firm I was with who promised my job back if I ever wanted it. So, armed with that knowledge, I took the plunge.

DC: Who do you write for? Do you have any notion of an audience "out there" while you are constructing a book?
AB: As the series has progressed, I’ve of course become more and more aware that there are actually people out there who are reading these books and care about what happens to the characters. Even given all that, I try not to write for anyone. I’ve come to believe that if I start to write to please a certain person, or group of people, or whatever, then the writing becomes less honest. Less what it was meant to be. Less than its potential.
And there have been other strong suggestions made. People want Russell to get a serious long-term love interest. Some people want the books to have more sex. Or less sex. More humor. Less humor. I want my audience to be satisfied. But a series of books is like a grand voyage, it’s like a life shared with the reader in 300-page increments. It begins with choosing—or not—to read the series in the first place.

DC: Go back to the days that you spent writing what would become your first published novel. Did you think it was good? Did you think it would be published? In daydreaming moments, did you cast the movie?
AB: I was writing Amuse Bouche, my first published novel and first in the Russell Quant mystery series, until my real book—a thriller I’d recently submitted to countless agents and publishers—was discovered and propelled me to unthinkable fame and success. So, no, I did not, at first, think Amuse Bouche would be the book I would publish. As it turned out, my prairie gay detective novel quickly got attention, whilst my thriller was lost in the piles of never-to-be-reads.

DC: When you first came up with Russell Quant, you probably had no idea the series would be published, and that you would go on to write many more books featuring the character. Had you known, is there anything about him you would have made different right from the start? If so, what and why?
AB: Contrary to some of my colleagues who wish their protagonist was younger, I wish Russell Quant was a little older. At the beginning of the series, Russell is in his early thirties, and now, six books later he’s closing in on forty. I find the development of his character, especially as a single, gay male living in a small prairie city to be more and more interesting, and in some ways challenging, the older he gets. Other than that, I sometimes wonder whether I should have given him more obvious flaws or personal challenges. But like any one of us, Russell has his own little foibles and quirks – some of which I’m just discovering myself. In the end, he is who he is supposed to be. I love that many reviewers comment on his wit and his likeability, two things that I think keep readers wanting to spend time with him.

DC: There is a strong sense of place in your books, predominately your hero’s little-known home town city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, as well as the various exotic locales he travels to throughout the series. Can you tell us a little about how you go about absorbing and recreating these places?
AB: Saskatoon has become another character in my series. And like any character that is unique or virtually unknown to many readers, it has built in mystery. Most of my readers, even Canadian readers, have never been to Saskatoon. Many have never even heard of it. What a wonderful thing to be able to introduce people to somewhere new. I take the responsibility seriously. When plotting, once I know the story, and how much of it will take place in Saskatoon, I will often head out with a camera and scout the city for just the right spots to place my action. In doing so, I’ve found curious little corners that even I didn’t know existed (and I’ve lived her for decades.)
When it comes to writing about the exotic locations, I rely on my own personal travels. With only one exception, everywhere Russell has been, I have been. While traveling, I will sometimes hear a voice that tells me: this is a good place for Russell. So I pay a little more attention, maybe jot down a thing or two of particular interest.
When it comes time to recreate the place on the page, I research the cold hard facts, but for the important stuff, the stuff that really places the reader on that city street, in that pub, airport or desert, I rely on my senses, or rather the memory of my senses: how did it smell, what flowers grew in the pots, was there a breeze or was it a wind, were there animal sounds, how did the food taste.

DC: Seems to me the eternal question when it comes to series fiction is how do you keep it fresh and interesting. Do you care to answer that and perhaps enlighten me?
AB: I think this is important, not only to keep readers interested and involved and curious about what comes next, but to do the same for you as the writer. I know there is the argument with series novels that formula sells. Readers want to know that when they’re settling in with your book, it is a bit like comfort food. They don’t want their vanilla ice cream to suddenly be filled with chunks of chocolate. If that’s what they wanted, that’s what they would have purchased in the first place. I can appreciate that. But I think there is a balance that can be achieved. One that provides the expected, but with just enough of the unexpected to keep the experience fresh yet comfortable.
One of the ways I try to do this is to convince myself that even when I’m not writing about these characters, they are still having lives. So when it comes time to plot out a new book, perhaps a year has gone by, and I ask myself for each character: what has happened to them over the past twelve months. This has turned into personal life stories that include deaths, births, illnesses, break-ups and new relationships. Sometimes I work these into the plot, other times they are mentioned only through passing reference. My hope is that when you read a Russell Quant book, it becomes like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen for a while.
Another method I use to keep things fresh is to give each book a slightly different focus in terms of ambiance and style. I want people to have no doubt they are reading a Russell Quant book, the same kind of book they’ve come to enjoy, but maybe with a subtle skew in perspective. For instance, whereas Tapas on the Ramblas is more humorous, Stain of the Berry is spookier, Sundowner Ubuntu is the most like a thriller, whereas Aloha, Candy Hearts is the most romantic of the bunch.

DC: I read an interview with Jakob Dylan once, where he said that originality is overrated. What he meant was that he was happy to create within the tradition of music he sees himself a part of. Do you see yourself working within a tradition or genre, or combining elements from more than one? How important is it to you to break new ground?
AB: Mystery is such a rich and diverse genre, with all these wonderful sub-genres populated by some of the most intriguing characters, living the most fantastic plotlines. Although the basic idea behind each of my plots may be rooted in traditional mystery—blackmail, murder, abandonment—that’s where the similarity ends. I often joke that my protagonist, Russell Quant, is the first and perhaps only half-Ukrainian, half-Irish, gay, Canadian, prairie, ex-farmboy, ex-cop, world-traveling private eye being written about today anywhere. Breaking ground? I don’t know about that. But I certainly hope I’m loosening it up a bit.

DC: Okay, you wake up regular time, you have a full work day in front of you. Just you and the pages. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you about this? Would you rather be doing something else?
AB: Can I say eleven?
Every day I wake up feeling fortunate and blessed and eternally grateful for what I get to do every day. I didn’t get here easily, nor by the shortest route, but now that I’m here, I know it is where I was meant to be. I am now more me, than I ever have been.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Michael Stanley & Detective Kubu: August 2

Mystery Readers Int'l NorCal chapter is proud to host Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series set in Botswana, next Sunday night, August 2 at 7 p.m. (Berkeley, CA)

O.K. if you know anything about this terrific series, you know that it's written by the team of Stan Trollip and Michael Sears. We will have Stan Trollip at the At Home (Literary Salon) in Berkeley.

Both Trollip and Sears are retired professors who have worked in academia and business, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning. They were both born in South Africa. They have been on a number of flying safaris to Botswana and Zimbabwe, where they say it was always exciting to buzz a dirt airstrip to shoo the elephants off. They have had many adventures on these trips including tracking lions at night, fighting bush fires on the Savuti plains in northern Botswana, being charged by an elephant, and having their plane’s door pop open over the Kalahari, scattering navigation maps over the desert. These trips have fed their love both for the bush, and for Botswana.

How they decided to write together and the mechanics of writing with a partner will be one of the topics discussed next week. The evening is certain to be entertaining.

I was privileged to have Stan Trollip on my "Around the World with Janet Rudolph" panel at Bouchercon last October, and he's a fabulous raconteur. He was telling a tale of his experiences in Botswana about the charge of an elephant, a harrowing experience, to say the least, when the lights went out in our meeting room. Stan continued his story, and I must say that I felt like we were 100 people sitting around the campfire listening to scary stories. No body moved, no body left. Eventually the lights came back on, and we were glad to find there were no elephants amongst us.

Having read the first book in the series, the award nominated A Carrion Death, I can tell you that Michael Stanley tells quite a different tale of Botswana that the 'other' mystery author who sets his books there. It's a gripping novel that will keep your attention throughout--great characterization, setting and plotting. Stanley's latest mystery is The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu (North America)/A Deadly Trade (elsewhere), and I'll be diving into that this week. Can't wait.

Stan Trollip will be in Berkeley at my home on August 2 at 7 p.m. He'll enlighten the group about writing with a partner, Botswana, his experiences, and many other topics. All are welcome, but space is limited. Please RSVP.

Can't make it? Be sure and read both of these great novels. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to hear Stan Trollip or his alter ego at another time.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Davitt Awards

2009 Davitt Awards (Sisters in Crime Australia). Sisters in Crime will shortly be inviting members to vote on best 2008 crime or mystery novel by an Australian woman. This year 41 books are in contention.

Although a long list, it's interesting to me to find new authors. These are arranged by publisher.

Allen & Unwin
Kerry Greenwood, Murder on a Midsummer Night
Marion Halligan, Murder on the Apricot Coast
Catherine Jinks, The Dark Mountain
Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Exisle Publishing
T J Joyce, Hotel of Secrets

Fremantle Arts Press
Felicity Young, Harum Scarum

Hachette Livre
Camilla Noli, Still Waters
Bronwyn Parry, As Darkness Falls

Alex Palmer, The Tattooed Man
Diane Armstrong, Nocturne

Sydney Bauer, Alibi
Katherine Howell, The Darkest Hour
P D Martin, Fan Mail
Malla Nunn, A Beautiful Place to DieP

New Holland Publishers
Maria Simms, The Dead House (Gibbes Street)

Random House
Leah Giarratano, Voodoo Doll

Soho Press, New York
Caroline Petit, Deep Night

The Five Mile Press
Robin Bowles, The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece

Scribe Publications
Cooee by Vivienne Kelly.

Zeus Publications
Helen Denkha, Many Happy Returns

For the complete list of Davitt Contenders, include Young Adult & True Crime list, go here.

Hat Tip to BV Lawson

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year

Mark Billingham has won this year's Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year for Death Message. This was awarded at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

For the complete list of nominees, go here.


Benjamin Franklin Award: Chris Roerden

Don't Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden (Bella Rosa Books) won the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Literary Criticism. In its 21st year the award is sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association to recognize excellence in editorial and design. Judges include librarians, book critics, retail and wholesale buyers and other industry experts.

Don't Sabotage Your Submission (Bella Rosa Books) shares insider secrets on how submissions to literary agencies and publishing houses are screened --and reveals why 90% of manuscripts are rejected almost immediately. Don't Sabotage Your Submission is the expanded edition, for writers in all genres, of the Agatha Award winner Don't Murder Your Mystery 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D.O.A., also published (2006) by Bella Rosa Books.

Charlaine Harris says, “Roerden’s book is chock full of practical advice for the novice writer. Even seasoned writers could use a copy as a refresher course.”

In addition to the Benjamin Franklin Award™, Don’t Sabotage Your Submission also won ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Bronze Medal for Writing Book of the Year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Buildings

I was looking at a very cool list--you know I love lists--of 55 Strange Buildings of the World, and although I may have seen this before, I thought I should put it on Mystery Fanfare.

How cool is the Kansas City, MO library? Love the bookbindings.

Here's another Library of 'books'-in this case temporary covering for the building before it was completed. Cardiff Public Library. Notice Harlan Coben and a few other mysteries in there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meeting Planner Murdered at Meeting

Truth is Stranger than Fiction. I blogged about the murder of a meeting planner last week on my other blog: Murderous Musings/TeamBuilding Talk and how it mirrored the Murder on the Menu event that I had just written for a a mystery event last week. It was positively eerie. The Murder on the Menu event was a FAM (familiarization) tour for Meeting Planners. The beautiful Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, CA was the setting, and one fictitious meeting planner "Oscar Otter" was bludgeoned and found on a service cart.

The real meeting planner who was killed last week was Ben Novack of Convention Concepts at an Amway Global International convention of 1200 Spanish speaking delegates in Rye Brook, NY. He was found in his hotel room, bludgeoned to death.

The FAM tour that Murder on the Menu did was light-hearted and showcased the hotel: its restaurants, its meeting space its hotel rooms, spa, pool and other outdoor areas. Teams of meeting planners were given lots of clues, reports and information while touring the Portola Hotel & Spa. The teams worked on solving the mystery, although it was no mystery that the Portola Hotel & Spa is the perfect place for a meeting, event, conference or convention. Unlike the real mystery of Ben Novack's death which is still unsolved, the teams of meeting planners after much deliberation, solved the mystery. It was Miss Scarlett with a bottle of wine from the private event dining space/wine storage room. To keep their sleuthing skills honed, everyone on the winning team was rewarded with a mystery novel.

But back to the 'real' case of the murdered meeting planner. It was not Miss Scarlet. No suspects have been named according to an article in today's Corporate Meetings & Incentives. Police have said that the attack on Novack was not a random event, no valuables were missing, and no witnesses reported any sounds coming from the room.

Chief of Police Gregory Austin also said Rye Brook police were in the process of “interviewing witnesses … people at the convention, people staying on the same floor of the hotel” but Novack but had yet to identify any suspects.

In a statement last Thursday, according to the Lower Hudson Journal News, Austin said that police had not ruled out anyone as a potential suspect, adding that anyone in the hotel around the time Novack was killed “is being considered a person of interest.” Cast your net wide!

Novack had a long history with the hospitality industry. His father, Ben Novack, Sr., operated the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach from its opening in 1954 until he lost it to bankruptcy in 1977. Ben Novack, Jr., launched his company, Convention Concepts Unlimited, in 1978. According to its Web site, the company organizes 60 major conventions a year, worth approximately $50 million in revenue, with Amway Global one of its major clients.

According to Hilton Hotels spokesperson Mark Ricci, the Amway Global convention, which had over 1,000 attendees, was brought to completion, despite Novack’s death. Is this a case of the show must go on?

Not content to accept these statements and being a mystery person, I investigated further, especially into the background of Ben Novack, Jr. Let's start with the facts. Novak was found by his wife on her return from breakfast. In the mysteries I read and write, one always looks to the spouse, at least as the primary suspect. According to Miami News, Novak had a very odd marriage. Sex games, fake breasts and death threats were ingredients in his wild marriage.

In a 2002 Ft. Lauderdale police report details of the troubled union of Ben Novack, Jr and his wife Narcy after a bizarre home invasion apparently planned by Narcy over 7 years ago. Novack Jr. was found on June 10, 2002, gagged and tied to a leather chair, claiming a group of men robbed him of over $1 million worth of money and belongings. Read the whole story here in the Miami Herald. His wife confessed two days later to planning the robbery. Her excuse for tying him up? It was all part of a sex game, and Nancy decided to take advantage of the situation and rob him while he was incapacitated. You can read more of this yourself. It's pretty weird.

The Sun Sentinal reported that in a divorce petition filed 16 days after the incident, Novack said he feared for his life because his wife, Narcia "Narcy" Cira Veliz Pacheco, had 'falsely imprisoned' him. According to the petition she later threatened, "If I can't have you, no one will," and warned him: "The Men that helped me remove the property from the house will come back and finish the job." The divorce petition was later dropped!

Oddly, the Rye Brook police say that Narcy Novack is not a suspect in her husband's death. ''Just because of the home invasion doesn't mean she's a suspect,'' the Police Chief said. "The home invasion may open up something that will change that, and we agree it is an important part of the case.'' Duh!

O.k. the facts, ma'am just the facts. Sources say that Narcy Novack's hotel key card was the only one swiped to enter the couple's suite and that no one used a key card to access the room while she was at breakfast.

Rye Brook detectives arrived in South Florida to question family members, lawyers, business associates and friends of Novack's.

Lest you think Novack Jr. was an angel: O.K. you knew he wasn't

According to the NYT, April 7, 1985, a week before his father Ben Novack, Sr. (78), died of heart and lung failure at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, his son asked a Miami judge to find his father mentally incompetent to handle his finances and to appoint a legal guardian, but Juana M. Rodrigues who lived with Mr. Novack, Sr, for 5 years, objected to his son's move, saying he had improperly obtained a power of attorney from his father. Miss Rodrigues, a 30 year old former Miss Uruguay, said the younger Mr. Novack had kept his father oversedated and denied him access to his friends. He did inherit the bulk of his father's fortune.

In addition to his father's fortune, Novack was set to receive and inheritance from his mother Bernice who died in April leaving most of her estate to her only son. Bernice Novack's estate is still in probate. She left everything to her son, except for about $65000 to divide between her sister and two nieces.

The plot thickens: Maxine Fiel, Bernice Novack's sister, said her nephew was very conscientious about his business. ''His habit was to get up early. It makes no sense that he would still be in his room at that hour of the morning,'' she said. Because he grew up at the Fontainebleau resort, he would likely have ordered room service early and been out well before 7 a.m. to get to work with his clients, she said.

She recalled that during his younger years, he lived in the Fontainebleau's penthouse and was often called the ''Prince of the Fontainebleau.'' He got just about everything he ever wanted, she said. Fiel said she was still grieving the loss of her sister when she learned about her nephew's violent death.

She has questions about her sister's April death, which the Broward Medical Examiner ruled was caused by a fall. ''Bernice was not a person to fall, or a tripper. She was not overweight; she worked out and took vitamins,'' Fiel said. She was unable to attend her sister's memorial service, she said, because she was not told when and where it was happening.

She said Novack meant everything to her sister. ''It would have devastated her,'' Fiel said. "She didn't interfere with his marriage. She just didn't want to interfere even when they bickered.''

Ben Novack told police that a week prior to his mother's death, she had taken a bad spill on a concrete sidewalk. She was treated and released the same day, but had not felt well since. Her son found her on April 5, face down in a pool of blood in her utility room. She had suffered a fractured skull, a broken jaw and broken teeth. An autopsy showed she died from blunt trauma to the head. Blood was spattered throughout several rooms of the house and inside her car.

The autopsy report is not yet complete, according to the medical examiner's office. Hmmm.

You can't make this stuff up, not even in my Murder on the Menu events, and let's face it.. in this case truth is really stranger than fiction.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing Mystery

Forty years ago today, man set foot on the moon for the first time. One small step for mankind!

I love to make lists, but I'm afraid I haven't found any mystery novels that involve the Moon Landing. Peter over at Detectives Without Borders found one, though. Reginald Hill's novella One Small Step (1990), in which Dalziel and Pascoe blast off into space to solve a murder on the Moon.

How did I miss this?

If you know of any others, let me know.

RJ Harlick: Cool Canadian Crime

Today David Cole continues his Cool Canadian Crime interviews. I hope you're finding them as enlightening, as I am. Great questions, wonderful answers and exposure to some top Canadian authors. Today: RJ Harlick.

Previously, David interviewed
Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran, Gail Bowen. and Garry Ryan. This group of authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel. More to come. Thanks, David!

RJ Harlick
is an escapee from the high tech jungle. After working for over twenty-five years in the computer industry, first for major computer corporations such as IBM and DMR Group, then with her own management consultancy practice.

Originally from Toronto, she now divides time between her home in Ottawa and a log cabin in West Quebec. Her love of the outdoors shows in her Meg Harris mystery series, where the wilderness setting plays almost as large a role as the main character.

She has also published short stories with the latest When the Red, Red Robin… appearing in the Ladies Killing Circle Anthology, Bone Dance. One of her stories, Lady Luck, was a winner of the 2002 Bony Pete award and appears in the Bloody Words Anthology.

DC: You have a wonderful sense of place in your series. I feel as if I am right in that canoe with you rushing down the river. How did you come to select this Quebec location? And what does it mean to you?

RJH: I love the Great Canadian Outdoors. I spend much of my time skiing or hiking the many trails that meander through the forests that surround our West Quebec log cabin or canoeing its many waterways. So when I set out to write the Meg Harris mystery series, it was only natural that the setting be this Quebec wilderness. And what better place for murder, for as we all know, a forest no matter how beautiful can be a dark and dangerous place.

DC: Your series character, Meg Harris, is neither a private detective nor a cop, but a private person with a strong sense of fighting against injustice. Why did you decide to use an amateur sleuth?

RJH: I felt that I would have more leeway in my story telling by using an amateur sleuth. I would not be bound by the protocols of police procedure. Rather Meg Harris has the freedom to solve the crime in a manner that suits her and the particular crime best. Meg doesn’t need a murder to set her into action. Often it involves an issue that is close to Meg’s heart, such as the potential destruction of her northern paradise by a gold mining operation in Death’s Golden Whisper.

DC: Is there any of you in Meg Harris? In fact do any of your novels reflect or are influenced by real people, places or events in your life?

RJH: I suppose there is some of me in Meg. We both share a love for the outdoors. We both come from Toronto. And we both have black standard poodles, in fact Meg’s dog Sergei is the only character based on a real one, my poodle DeMontigny. But Meg is younger and suffered from an abusive marriage. I, on the other hand, have been very happily married for 35 years.

I do however sometimes draw on my own experiences for the story telling. The whitewater canoe trip Meg makes with Eric in The River Runs Orange is based on a canoe trip I did with my husband and I’m afraid Meg’s apprehension of whitewater pretty much reflects my own.

DC: The native theme plays prominently in your series. I believe you are not of aboriginal descent, so am curious to know what prompted you to tell their stories.
RJH: At university one of my favorite professors brought the culture of the Iroquois and other Indian tribes alive for me. So when I realized that West Quebec is the traditional territory of the Algonquin First Nation, I knew that I had to include an Algonquin Reserve. Initially I planned on only one or two Algonquin characters, but I’m afraid I fell in love with them and so did Meg, in fact one in particular. So their stories, the issues facing Algonquins today and their traditional ways have become the focus of the Meg Harris series. In the latest book, Arctic Blue Death, I have broadened this focus to include other indigenous people, in this case the Inuit.

DC: Given that you write about other cultures, research must play a key role in the writing of your books. How do you go about conducting this research?

RJH:Much of my research is gained through the internet and books. But the research I find most valuable and also the most fun is to visit the communities, such as the Kitigan Zibi Algonquin Reserve near Ottawa. For Arctic Blue Death, I spent a week in Canada’s Arctic, on Baffin Island visiting the towns of Iqaluit and Pangnirtung and met a fabulous bunch of people who were more than generous with their time in helping me discover the far north and its people.

DC: How do you construct your novels? Do you follow an outline or go where the characters take you?

I have tried to outline, but I’m afraid before I know it Meg takes me in directions I never planned on and often the story ends up being quite different from the one I initially intended. In fact, in most cases I have no idea whodunit until the very end. So I find myself frantically writing the last chapters, just so I myself can find out whodunit.

DC: I noticed that you spent many years in the high tech industry before becoming a mystery writer. What prompted you to take up writing? And why crime writing?

RJH: One summer, after a significant birthday, I asked myself what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and knew the answer wasn’t continuing to work in high tech. Since I’d always had the idea of writing at the back of my mind, picturing myself in some idyllic location plunking away on my novel, I decided that the time had finally arrived to live out that dream. And because I love reading mysteries it was a no-brainer that I would try my hand at writing a mystery novel. As for the idyllic location, that too has come to pass, for much of my writing occurs at my log cabin deep within the Quebec woods.
DC: Who do you write for? Yourself, your publisher or the reader?

RJH: I suppose I really end up writing for myself and, of course, Meg, for she has many stories she wants told.

DC: Could you tell us about your next book?

Arctic Blue Death is scheduled for release in September. As I mentioned earlier, it takes place in the Canadian Arctic. This book is about Meg and her family. When Meg was a child her father’s plane went missing on a flight over Baffin Island. He was never seen or heard from again. Suddenly thirty-six years later, her mother receives some anonymous letters and curious pictures that suggest he might be alive. Meg flies to Iqaluit to search out the truth no matter how painful and in so doing finds herself embroiled in the world of Inuit art forgery and murder.

In this book I not only delve into Meg’s past and the events that helped shape the person she is today, but I also explore the land of the Inuit and the culture that has helped to sustain them for thousands of years.

DC: I believe your publisher RendezVous Crime publishes one of the largest selections of Canadian mysteries. The books, however, aren’t widely distributed in the U.S. Where can people go to buy your books?

RJH: As much as I wished my books were readily available in the big box bookstores, they aren’t. But they can be obtained through special order. They are also readily available online via Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online US booksellers. And I know several independent mystery books sellers keep them in stock, such as the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pa.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ghost Orchid Blooms in Florida Swamp

As many of you know, I'm very fond of orchids, especially those in the wild--Brenda Starr and all that (read my past blogs). I even put Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief on our weekly mystery book discussion list, even though it is non-fiction. The Orchid Thief was made into the movie The Adaptation, but I much preferred the book. In any case, a rare ghost orchid has bloomed at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Southwest Florida. The elusive Ghost Orchid has no leaves and appears to float in mid-air when blooming.

Growing on an ancient bald cypress tree, the first bloom on this particular Ghost Orchid was observed on July 7 with eight other buds visible through a spotting scope. Flowers of the Ghost Orchid are white to creamy green and are usually 4 1/2 to 5 inches. Ghost Orchids are very infrequent bloomers and years may pass between seasons when they do bloom, making them very rare. However, this particular plant in Corkscrew bloomed three times in the summer of 2007, the first time with 12 blossoms, the second time with 10 and the third time with three. Last year it bloomed again three separate times. Area biologists are calling this plant the Super Ghost, since typically the Ghost Orchid has between 1 and 3 blossoms per year... if they bloom at all.

The Ghost Orchid dendrophylax lindenii is a perennial epiphyte from the orchid family. It gets its epithet "lindenii" from the Belgian plant collector Jean Jules Linden who saw this orchid for the first time in Cuba in 1844. Fifty years later, it was also discovered in the Florida Everglades.

The Ghost Orchid is an endangered orchid in the wild, not that that has stopped the orchid thieves. Cultivation outside its native environment has been difficult-- almost impossible. Grown from seed, it might take 7 years to bloom, but rarely does.

It is estimated that 2000 individual plants reside in the swamps of South Florida. Of these, approximately 5-10% bloom each year, and of those only about 10% are pollinated by the giant sphinx moth. The orchid blooms between June and August with 1-10 fragrant flowers that open one at a time. Because the roots of this orchid blend with the tree, the flower seems to be floating in air, hence Ghost Orchid. Pollination is done by the giant sphinx moth, the only local insect with a long enough proboscis.

Wish I could be at Corkscrew Swamp. Hard to say that about a Florida swamp in July, but I join the ranks of those who search for and revel in rarity and beauty. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is located just northeast of Naples, and has a wonderful boardwalk throughout the swamp--so no need to slog around hip deep in swampy alligator-infested waters. It's one of my favorite U.S. "gardens". So, although I can't go this summer, maybe you can. And if you go, check out the Ghost Orchid discounts at several near-by hotels, spas and restaurants.

I have been to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a fantastic preserve, but regret I have never seen a Ghost Orchid. I'm in good company, though, neither has Susan Orlean.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Craig Johnson: Cowboy, Raconteur, One Helluva Writer

We were lucky to have Craig Johnson and his wife Judy here yesterday for an At Home (literary salon) while they were in town for the Book Passage Writers' Conference. What an afternoon! Wyoming writer Craig Johnson, the author of The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpublished, Another Man's Moccasins and The Dark Horse, regaled us with stories about himself and his writing. He's an absolutely fabulous raconteur--so very entertaining and informative--on so many topics. He discussed writing, publishing and his own life and many other things.

The Cold Dish was a Dilys Award Nominee and was translated into French in 2009 as Little Bird (yes, English, it's a name) and was just named one of the top ten mysteries of the year by Lire Magazine. Death Without Company was selected by Booklist as one of the top-ten mysteries of 2006, won the Wyoming Historical Society's fiction book of the year. Another Man's Moccasins was the recipient of Western Writer's of America's Spur Award as Novel of the Year and the Mountains and Plains Book of the Year. The Dark Horse, the fifth in the series has received starred reviews by all four prepublication review services, the only novel so far this year to receive that honor.

O.K. so there's the press, and it just emphasizes what I know--that he's a great writer and deserving of the awards and press. Johnson gave many insights into his writing. His main character Walt Longmire, Sheriff of Absaroka County, doesn't age much from book to book and since the books come out every year, we know in 'real' time what's going on with Walt and the supporting characters. I really like this since I so often wonder what happened in the 'unwritten' years to so many characters in other series novels. Johnson's books also are written through the seasons, each book a different season. Johnson intends to keep this continuum. Johnson's supporting characters return in the books with varying importance, and its the development of these characters and Walt that connect so many people with his books.

Johnson also talked about his experiences with the local Sheriff of his county in Wyoming and how he vets his books for discrepancies. I've learned a lot about Wyoming from the books, and even more from yesterday's talk.

Don't want to say too much else about the books or his writing at this time, because Craig Johnson is soon to be featured on our At Home Online. Stay tuned. Johnson will be interviewing William Kent Krueger At Home Online on the Mystery Readers website. Craig Johnson, in turn, will be interviewed by another terrific writer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kate's Mystery Books to close August 1

By now you've probably heard the sad news that Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge is closing. Another independent mystery bookstore bites the dust. Kate Mattes opened Kate's Mystery Books in 1983. Last year she won the Raven Award from MWA "for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing."

J.Kingston Pierce has more of the story at The Rap Sheet.

There will be a big sale and packing day on August 1 from 11:00-5:00.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More Charlie Chan releases

Academy Chicago re-releases the next two titles in the Charlie Chan Mystery Series. Available now: Behind That Curtain, The Black Camel, The House With a Key and The Chinese Parrot.

In the third installment, BEHIND THAT CURTAIN, Charlie Chan finds himself back in San Francisco working with an inspector from Scotland Yard to investigate a series of murders in which each victim is found wearing ominous Chinese slippers.

In THE BLACK CAMEL, Charlie Chan is aided by a mysterious fortune teller named Tarneverro the Great to solve the murder of a glamorous Hollywood movie star who has been killed on location in Honolulu.

The two remaining Charlie Chan novels, Charlie Chan Carries On and Keeper of the Keys, will be published this fall by Academy Chicago.

Besides being fun books to read, Academy Chicago does a great job with the covers and format. They're lovely books to hold in your hand. Comments, Kindle folks? Not sure it's the same. In any case, Biggers was a great plotter, and you'll really get into the puzzles in each story. I particularly like the settings, and I look forward to re-reading Behind That Curtain, set in my home town.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CWA Dagger Awards

CWA (Crime Writers' Association) announces Winners!

Dagger in the Library: Colin Cotterill
This annual award is given to "the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to library users"; authors are nominated by UK libraries and Readers’ Groups and judged by a panel of librarians. In making the award to Colin, the judges said An unusual hero in an unusual setting. Quirky, funny and very appealing. His books are a truly beautiful read.

International Dagger: Fred Vargas and translator Sian Reynolds, with the first in the series of Adamsberg novels, The Chalk Circle Man
This Dagger is awarded for crime, thriller, suspense novels or spy fiction which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication. The Dagger and cheque for £1000 prize money for the author and £500 for the translator was presented at a drinks reception held at the Tiger Tiger nightspot in London on the evening of July 15. The judges commented ‘This first Adamsberg novel is already a remarkable demonstration of Vargas’s ability to open with an odd event and follow it into an unhappy past.’

Short Story Dagger: Sean Chercover for "One Serving of Bad Luck" from Killer Year, edited by Lee Child (Mira)
The judges commented that his story was Neat, tight and economical, this is a new take on the private eye; the auguries are good for a major crime writing career for this writer.

Debut Dagger: Catherine O'Keefe for The Pathologist.
The judges described it as An uncomfortable, sophisticated, read that also manages to be suspenseful.

Congratulations to All!!

Raymond Chandler Cameo Double Indemnity

I'm a big Raymond Chandler fan, so I found the discovery that Raymond Chandler had a cameo in Double Indemnity to be very fun, indeed. 60 years after its release, a French cinema historian and two US crime-writers simultaneously happened on the same bizarre discovery. Mark Coggins, tipped off by mystery author, John Billheimer, posted the news on his blog. Around the same time, French journalist Olivier Eyquem wrote on his blog (in French) about the same discovery.

Cameos are usually reserved for actors, but we all know Alfred Hitchcock had cameos in all his films. Graham Greene, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter Thompson all appeared in cameos on the big screen, but they were recognized at the time.

So here is Raymond Chandler 16 minutes into the movie, sitting outside an office as Fred MacMurray walks past. Chandler is reading a paperback. What he's reading is not decipherable, but I can only imagine its one of his own novels.

Perhaps you saw this on other posts, but in case you didn't, here's the link to the Guardian article.

Later 7/15: Here's a link to Carolyn Kellogg's article in the LA. Times Jacket Copy Blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cool Canadian Crime: Garry Ryan

Here's the latest installment of Cool Canadian Crime Writers. Today mystery author David Cole returns with another interview in his Cool Canadian Crime series: Garry Ryan Previously, David has interviewed Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, and Mary Jane Maffini, Thomas Rendell Curran and Gail Bowen. These interviews were organized by David Cole, a US author and CWC member. The group of 13 authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel.

Garry Ryan was born, raised and lives in Calgary, Alberta. He received a B.Ed and a Diploma in Educational Psychology from the University of Calgary and taught for more than thirty years in Calgary public schools. His first novel, Queen's Park, sprung from a desire to write a mystery with an emphasis on the rich diversity and unique locations of his hometown. The Lucky Elephant Restaurant is the second title in his Detective Lane series and winner of a 2007 Lambda Literary Award.

David Cole: In what ways do you think your upbringing has influenced the kind of writer you've become? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, and how did you break this distressing news to your family?

G.R: The biggest influence was living in Southeast Asia for two years. It taught me to look at my home (Canada) through a different pair of eyes.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always been a reader and needing to write. Some of my family is embarrassed/scandalized by my subject matter. Some are incredibly supportive. Some have never read my books and probably never will but have already made up their minds about me and the writing.

D.C: Which do you prefer to write: stand-alones or series books? Can you say something about the strengths and weaknesses of both, from the writer's perspective? Maybe you can give me some tips, so I can convince myself to take a break from Rebus.

G.R: I’m trying to do both. I like both. A series allows the reader and the writer to enjoy and develop a relationship with a character. Stand-alones offer the chance for a one of a kind experience. It’s hard to recreate the magic of a stand alone book. With a series, it seems I’m always chasing the magic.

D.C.: Whom do you write for? Do you have any notion of an audience "out there" while you are constructing a book?

G.R: That’s a good question. I think people write for the same reasons we breathe. It keeps us alive.

D.C. I'm fascinated by the way real life can impinge on a fictional universe. Have you experienced anything similar? Maybe you could give us some examples.

G.R: I come at it from the other end. There are people and circumstances from my experiences who become characters in different circumstances and a different setting. So, I see a personality and put it into a different environment.

D.C: If you were to appear on "Oprah," what would you want the caption to say after your name: mystery writer?

G.R: Canadian, Misfit

D.C: Your house is on fire, and you can save only two books: one by yourself, one by another author. Which do you choose?

: The one I haven’t finished writing.
The one I haven’t finished reading.

D.C. What does the word "evil" mean to you?

G.R: Fundamentalism.

D.C. You wash up on a desert island. Which three items would you wish to find awaiting you? (No boats and outboard motors allowed.)

G.R: A freezer full of popsicles and a shower.

D.C.: As a Calgary writer, how do you feel about being awarded the LAMBDA Literary Award and Calgary Freedom of Expression awards?

G.R: They settled on my shoulders as honours and a responsibilities.

D.C.: Let's start with a philosophical question. In the universe of your work, where does evil come from?

G.R: Evil is self-interest; a total disregard for the needs of others and an obsession with getting what the evil individual wants no matter the cost to others.

D.C.: Seems to me the eternal question when it comes to series fiction is how do you keep it fresh and interesting. Do you care to answer that and perhaps enlighten me?

G.R: It’s the characters. They grow, change, go through unique experiences, do unexpected things. They offer up their surprises to the author and the reader.

D.C.: How do you construct a novel? Plot first? Character journey first?

G.R: Sometimes it’s a title, sometimes a photograph and sometimes it’s a map (diagram) of the characters and their relationships that forms the foundation of a novel.

D.C.: If you consider that Lane is on a character arc or journey, where in general can you say he is going? Or is that asking you to give away the store?

G.R: He’s looking for a place to belong; a family.

D.C.: Before this showed up in your e-mail, what were you working on? I don't want a general description of the book you're on. Tell us about the very page you were writing. What was happening? What does it mean?

: Sharon (the main character) just killed fifteen men. She is in the middle of a war, has a particular talent for aerial warfare and is revolted by this talent.

D.C.: What was the question you wished I had asked you but didn't? Just the question. I don't want the answer.

How come you like popsicles so much?

D.C: I've chided you (affectionately) for working too much. You're the only writer I know who can babysit his grandson, do home renovations, keep the house clean, do the wash, shovel the sidewalk (Will it ever stop snowing?), volunteer to work at schools, do yoga and walk your pain-in-the-ass dog. Is this energy, or fantastic organizational skills or what?

G.R: An enervating environment.

D.C.: Have you ever fantasized about being a reclusive, respected writer who never does promotion, is impossible to locate, and maybe is even reputed to have a bad temper?

G.R: No, I’ve fantasized about making enough money from writing so we could live on it, though.

D.C.: Do you find it difficult being yourself? What I mean is, do the expectations that publishers and readers bring to you ever feel limiting? Or have you arranged your career in such a way that you can pretty much try the books you want to try?

G.R: I’m beginning to feel that I have to keep Lane going but, at the same time, determined to write some historical fiction.

D.C.: How about a tiny sneak preview of the next novel?

G.R: Smoked is about the games adults play to get what they want and hide their appetites from everyone else. It’s also about the intelligence and sensitivity of damaged children.

D.C: What would you like to see more of, and less of, in crime writing these days?

G.R: More of a sense of humour. Less science.

D.C.: When you decided to write fiction, why did you choose crime fiction?

G.R: It can allow you to tell the truth about the society its set in.

D.C.: As a writer, what have you not done yet that you'd like a chance to do?

G.R: Travel to Europe to research the historical novel I’m working on.

D.C.: What are you working on now?

G.R: An historical fiction piece set in Britain in 1940. The main character is female and has a bit of an attitude. The more interesting women I know have a `bit of an attitude’.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thrillerfest Awards

Thriller Awards: ITW Thriller Award nominees and winners. Winners in Bold.

2009: Awards Presented July 11, 2009 in NYC
ThrillerMaster: David Morrell
Silver Bullet Award: Brad Meltzer Silver Bullet Corporate Award: Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Best Thriller Of The Year
Hold Tight by Harlan Coben
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver
The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver
The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross
The Last Patriot by Brad Thor

Best First Novel
Calumet City by Charlie Newton
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Criminal Paradise by Steven Thomas
Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton
The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd

Best Short Story
Between the Dark and the Daylight (Ellery Queen Magazine) by Tom Piccirilli
Last Island South (Ellery Queen Magazine) by John C. Boland
The Edge of Seventeen (The Darker Mask) by Alexandra Sokoloff
The Point Guard (Killer Year Anthology) by Jason Pinter
Time of the Green (Killer Year Anthology) by Ken Bruen

Friday, July 10, 2009

Oh to Be in England

Upcoming Mystery Conferences in England:

July 23-26, 2009: Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Crown Hotel, Harrogate, England.

Mary Kennedy reminded me that it's not too late to get in on this wonderful crime writing festival.

Authors, Agents and Publishers. George Pelecanos, Val McDermid, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Mark Billingham, Reginald Hill, David Simon and so many more. Big Read: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Read more about the outstanding program.


May 20-23: 2010 CrimeFest 2010.
Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, Bristol, England
Guest of Honor: Colin Dexter. Toastmaster: Gyles Brandreth. Highlighted Authors: MC Beaton and Ariana Franklin. To see more authors and participants, go Here.

Like Left Coast Crime, CRIMEFEST follows the format of US conventions where—with exception of the highlighted authors—all delegates pay the same registration fee to enjoy a convention that includes interviews, panels, a Gala Dinner, and one or two surprises.

Workshops: Crime Writing Workshop
Inspired by the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, CRIMEFEST is organising a crime writing workshop for aspiring writers. Tutoring the workshop will be Peter Guttridge and Janet Laurence.

Trips: Always unique and exciting. Three day pre-convention trip focusing on Agatha Christe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Daphne du Maurier. Based in Torquay will include tour of Greenway (Agatha's home and National Trust property) by John Curran, Christie expert and author of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. Day two will focus on Daphne du Maurier with a scholar who will discuss her works. Day three set on the moors with a talk about Conan Doyle by Peter Guttridge.

This is always a marvelous convention. Book now.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Virtual Convention: PP WebCon

The Poisoned Pen at the forefront of so many things in the mystery world will be hosting a The World's First Virtual Convention on October 24. Yes, virtual.

Poisoned Pen Press and The Poisoned Pen mystery bookstore of Scottsdale AZ will host the first major virtual mystery convention online, PP Web Con. "Top mystery and crime writers from all over the world will meet and mix with readers and others online in a virtual convention center on October 24th, 2009." PP Web Con's blog is blank now, but it promises to list all the latest news about the convention's planned events and attendees.

Guest of Honor: Dana Stabenow; International Guest of Honor: Lee Child; Fan Guest of Honor: Adrian Muller

Panels and Discussions: Groups of authors discuss and debate various topics. Live events and presentations and 'on demand' recordings. Video, Audio and Text based panels, debates and discussions on topics related to mystery and crime writing, featuring authors from all over the world.

There's even a coffee shop to meet authors and others, and chat with them live. Not sure where the bar is.

Registration is $25 USD. 100% of the profits will go to a public library to be chosen at random from registrants' nominations. Lots of benefits of Registration, including a $20 book voucher, a Goodie Bag (with e-books, of course) and more.

Have a look at the website to learn more.

So what do you think? Comments welcome here.

Cool Canadian Crime: Gail Bowen

Here's the latest installment of Cool Canadian Crime Writers. Today mystery author David Cole returns with another interview in his Cool Canadian Crime series: Gail Bowen Previously, David has interviewed Louise Penny, Barbara Fradkin, and Mary Jane Maffini and Thomas Rendell Curran. These interviews were organized with the assistance of Cheryl Freedman, executive director of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC), and David Cole, a US author and CWC member. The group of 13 authors were chosen by David to represent a variety of mystery genres, styles, and historical periods. Some of the authors have won or been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award for best mystery novel.

Gail Bowen is currently Mystery Writer in Residence at the Toronto Reference Library. Bowen’s mystery series features Joanne Kilbourn, a university professor, sometime political columnist, and a wife, mother and grandmother. McClelland Stewart published The Brutal Heart, the 11th book in the series, in August 2008. Bowen’s short story “The King of Charles Street West”, which appeared in Toronto Noir (2008) published by Akashic Books, New York, was singled out for special praise by Publishers’ Weekly.

DC: Why do you prefer to write a mystery series rather than stand-alones?

GB: I’m now working on my 12th novel in the Joanne Kilbourn series, and I still find this approach congenial. As a reader, I have always been drawn to the development of characters and the sense of a real and changing world that a series offers. As a writer, the luxury of having 3500 pages in which to develop the character of my protagonist and the people who shape her life is seductive. Ruth Rendall once told me that I would regret letting my protagonist age; for once, Ruth Rendall was wrong. The fact that Joanne Kilbourn has grown into late middle age in my series and will eventually grow old allows me to explore my own thoughts about aging. Readers tell me that they come to the books as much to discover what’s happening in Joanne’s life as they do to read about the specific murder on which the novel focuses. As well, a series allows me to create a repertory company of secondary characters upon whom I can draw to develop plot-lines or simply to create interest. I get a great deal of mail about the Kilbourn series, and readers are open about letting me know when they feel Joanne is, for example, drinking too much or attracted to the wrong man. I answer every letter I receive, and I take readers’ comments very seriously. Readers of series are in there for the long haul, and they have a very keen sense of what rings true. They trust me, and I honour that trust.

DC: How did you feel about the movies made from the Kilbourn series?

GB: Shaftesbury Films in Toronto produced the first six books in the series as movies starring Wendy Crewson as Joanne. We are now talking about producing the last four novels, which feature Joanne and her new husband Zack Shreve, a criminal lawyer and a paraplegic. Although I’ve been told that the odds of having an optioned book make it to the screen are the same as the odds for being hit by lightning, I have my fingers crossed that the last four books will make the transition. The first six movies continue to be shown both here and in the U.S. with a frequency that surprises me. They are more action driven than my books, but people like them. I like them, too, but I think the next movies could be even stronger if people had a chance to come to know Wendy Crewson’s Joanne more intimately. Wendy looks great in leather, but she also is a fine actor. I’d like to see a little less of her sensational legs and a little more of her intriguing character. And I think we’re all ready to see a passionate relationship between two smart and funny people in their 50’s.

DC: P.D. James says “A first class mystery should also be a first class novel.” Agree or disagree.

GB: Who could disagree with P.D. James, and in this case, of course, she’s absolutely right. Those of us who write mysteries are obligated to give our readers the best novels we can write. Not much irritates me, but at the beginning of my career I was annoyed by the number of people who asked me when I was going to write “a real novel”. In fact, I was on a panel at a university and a feminist academic likened women who write mysteries to 19th century women who painted china rather than risk creating what she called ‘real art’. Well, as a feminist, an academic, and a crime writer, I believe that crime writers, both male and female, do write real novels. We understand that readers of crime fiction deserve characters with dimension with whom they can empathize and from whom they can gain insight into the business of being human. We know that our readers deserve plots that not only keep them turning pages but also lead them into examining existential questions. Finally, readers of crime fiction deserve to experience the sense of ‘felt life’ that Henry James said is the responsibility of all serious fiction. I have never believed that being a crime writer excuses sloppiness of thought or of prose. As a wise person once noted, there are only two kinds of writing: good writing and bad writing.

DC: You’re in the midst of a term as Mystery Writer in Residence at the Toronto Reference Library. How did that come about, and how’s it working out?

GB: I did my Masters’ thesis on Robertson Davies, and one of my favourite Davies quotes comes from “Fifth Business”. The hero, Dunstan Ramsay, reflecting on life and chance says “When life pushes you in a certain direction, it’s spiritual suicide to resist.

I’d never considered being a Writer in Residence, but last January, my home province, Saskatchewan, was deep in the miseries of the mother of all winters, so when a friend forwarded the Toronto Public Library’s ad for a mystery writer in residence, I felt a cosmic nudge. The position started on May lst, and I was going to be in Toronto, reading at a function for World Literacy on April 29th – synchronicity. The nudge became a push, and I applied. When the email asking if I would accept the position arrived, I answered with the concluding words of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy: ‘yes I said yes I will. Yes.”

I am still fervently enthusiastic about my position. Like all good contracts, the contract between me and the library is clear about our mutual rights and duties: I am to devote 60% of the residency to a work in progress and the remaining 40% to reading and assessing manuscripts submitted by the general public, counselling people on their submissions, conducting writing workshops and showing up where I’m invited. The library is responsible for giving me a place to work, a person with whom to work and a cheque.

The Toronto Public Library has honoured their commitments with whipped cream and cherries on top.

My office, on the fifth floor of the Reference Library is the Arthur Conan Doyle room, a book-lined space that houses the library’s Conan Doyle collection. The room is large and gently lit; the furniture is period, and the ambiance is bygone London. Peggy Perdue, the special collections librarian with whom I work most closely is, like another famous citizen of bygone London, ‘practically perfect in every way’. Peggy protects my time; is there when I need her and trusts me to do my job. She’s smart, funny and lovely—the ideal companion for a writer in residence.

During the 60% of the residency allotted for my work-in-progress, I have worked on my next Joanne Kilbourn mystery, “The Nesting Dolls”. I’m pleased with my progress, but I think the real value of my time as writer in residence is found elsewhere.

Several years ago I was invited to the Banff Playwrights Colony. In his welcome to us, the Director said “We don’t measure the value of this program by what you produce in the next few weeks. If you want to stand on Tunnel Mountain Road and look at the mountains, do that. Somewhere down the line, what you experienced here will find its place in your work.”

In the month I’ve been in Toronto, I’ve been to two operas (one shimmering; one fusty); learned from my neighbour how to keep growing bok choy safe from racoons (first under inverted vegetable crispers; later under an elaborate system of bricks and discarded oven racks); heard A.S. Byatt and Michael Ignatieff read; seen Niagara falls; mastered the Toronto public transit system (well almost); learned the best place to buy coffee in Kensington market; witnessed a superb production of “Sunday in the Park with George” and become a temporary member of the congregation of St. James Cathedral (where I worship next to a genuine Tiffany stained glass window and listen to homilies delivered by a warm, brilliant and very young female priest of Chinese descent).

Thanks to the Toronto Public Library and Robertson Davies, I have been uprooted and transplanted, and like my neighbour’s bok choy, I am thriving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fourth of July Mysteries

Another holiday, another list! Fourth of July (Independence Day) is one of my favorite holidays. I'm from Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation (or so we claim). In all of the mysteries below, the Fourth of July plays a major part. Even if you're not celebrating the Fourth of July, you can celebrate this great group of mysteries! Something for everybody's taste!

Speaking of which, check out my Fourth of July Chocolate Recipes to be posted shortly on

Dead on the 4th of July by Meg Chittenden
The Fourth of July Wake by Harold Adams
Hair of the Dog by Laurien Berenson
Someone to Watch Over Me by Jill Churchill
Red, White, and Blue Murder
by Bill Crider
Dead on the Fourth of July by R. E. Derouin
Tool & Die by Sara Graves
Act Of Darkness by Jane Haddam
Yankee Doodle Dead by Carolyn Hart
Exit Wounds by J. A. Jance
Die Like a Hero by Clyde Linsley
Knee High by the Fourth of July by Jess Lourey
The Fourth of July by J.D. Kincaid
Star Spangled Murder by Leslie Meier
4th of July by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Iron Ties by Ann Parker
King Suckerman by George P. Pelecanos
Can't Never Tell by Cathy Pickens
Death by Deep Dish Pie by Sharon Short
Some Welcome Home by Sharon Wildwind
Star Spangled Murder by Valerie Wolzien

Short Story:
Rex Stout's "Fourth of July Picnic" in Century of Great Suspense Stories Edited by Jeff Deaver

Children’s Mysteries
Fireworks at the FBI (Capital Mysteries Series #6) by Ron Roy, Timothy Bush (Illustrator)
Murder On The Fourth of July: Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mysteries 28

As always, I welcome additions and comments.
Have a great holiday!!