Los Angeles Detective Paul Bishop is part of an upcoming reality show on ABC called "Take the Money and Run." Bishop interrogates contestants to find a briefcase filled with $100,000.
Paul Bishop is near the end of a 35-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department. As a detective, Bishop has spent most of that time interviewing and interrogating victims and suspects of sex crimes, a career he fashioned for himself. "For whatever reason, I can get those suspects to talk to me," he said. "Our entire focus is interrogation. What is the emotional impact of the words we use and the suspects use?"
Paul Bishop is a terrific mystery writer. His novels include Croaker: Chalk Whisperers, Croaker: Kill Me Again, Hot Pursuit, Tequila Mockingbird, Grave Sins and another dozen or more. His latest, Felony Fists, will be available in August. Bishop also wrote for television, doing episodes of "Diagnosis Murder" starring Dick Van Dyke, "Navy SEALS: The Untold Stories" and "The New Detectives." The latter gig helped him land his new one on this reality show. Bishop just wrapped filming on the new television series for ABC called "Take the Money and Run." The reality series takes place in major cities across the U.S. and pits Bishop and his colleague, author and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Mary Hanlon Stone, against a team of two local police officers and two "hiders.
THE FINALISTS for the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, which will be presented as part of the upcoming Christchurch Arts Festival, have now been announced today.
The award, now in its second year, is made annually for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident. Its namesake, Dame Ngaio Marsh, is renowned worldwide as one of the four iconic “Queens of Crime” of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The award was established last year with the blessing of Dame Ngaio’s closest living relatives.
Over the past two months an expert panel consisting of seven local and international judges has been considering the best examples of locally written crime and thriller fiction published in New Zealand during 2010. The judges are now pleased to announce that the finalists are:
• BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave (Random House) • CAPTURED by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster) • HUNTING BLIND by Paddy Richardson (Penguin) • SLAUGHTER FALLS by Alix Bosco (Penguin)
This year’s winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel will be announced at a ceremony at the conclusion of the “Setting the Stage for Murder” event at the TelstraClear Club in North Hagley Park on the afternoon of Sunday 21 August 2011. New York Times bestselling international crime writers Tess Gerritsen and John Hart will also be appearing at the event. The winner will receive a distinctive handcrafted trophy designed and created by New Zealand sculptor and Unitec art lecturer Gina Ferguson, a set of Ngaio Marsh novels courtesy of HarperCollins, and a cheque for $1,000 provided by the Christchurch Writers Festival Trust.
“The four finalists are a great representation of both the quality and depth of contemporary Kiwi-written crime fiction,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was a particularly tough decision for the panel this year, as judges were impressed by each of the books on the longlist, and there was a real diversity of storytelling, settings, and styles. There were some very good local crime novels published in 2010 that haven’t become finalists, but that’s a good sign of the growing strength of our own indigenous interpretation of a genre that’s popular around the world.”
Like Dame Ngaio in her heyday, local crime writers are now showing that they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder, quality-wise, with their more well-known international contemporaries, said Sisterson. “We should be proud of our best crime writers, and support and celebrate their success, just like we are justifiably proud of other New Zealanders who achieve great things in their chosen field.”
Join Mystery Readers NorCal in Berkeley, CA, on Wednesday, August 3, at 7 p.m. for a Literary Salon with Noir Writer Duane Swierczynski. Swiercyznski is the author of several novels including the Edgar and Anthony-nominatedExpiration Date, as well as Fun and Games, out now from Mulholland Books. He also writes comics, and thrillers with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker.
Fun and Games is the first in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, and I can't wait to read them all. The second comes out October 31, 2011, and the third in 2012. Fun and Games was a fabulous rollercoaster ride. Swiercyznski can really write!
FYI: His name's pronounced "sweer-ZIN-ski." Good to know! Swiercynski lives in Philadelphia, my home town, so this is a special stop and event for me! I asked for water ice, but that's too hard to transport. Maybe a soft pretzel?
I don't usually list an author's works, but here goes. I'm working through the fiction list, then on to the comics and non-fiction!
Secret Dead Men (PointBlank, 2005)
The Wheel Man (St. Martin's Press, 2005)
Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir (Busted Flush Press)
The Blonde (St. Martin's Press, 2007)
Severance Package (St. Martin's Press, 2008)
Murder at Wayne Manor: An Interactive Batman Mystery (Quirk, 2008)
Expiration Date (Minotaur Books, 2010)
Charlie Hardie Trilogy
Fun and Games (Mulholland Books, 2011)
Hell and Gone (Mulholland Books, 2011)
Point and Shoot (Mulholland Books, 2012)
Moon Knight: Annual #1 (Marvel, 2007)
Punisher: Force Of Nature (Marvel, 2008)
Cable #1–25 (Marvel, 2008–2010)
The Immortal Iron Fist #17–27 (with Travel Foreman, ongoing series, Marvel, 2008–2009)
Immortal Iron Fist: The Death Queen of California (Marvel, 2008)
Punisher: Frank Castle #66–70, #75 (Marvel, 2009)
X-Men: The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop #1–3 (Marvel, 2009)
This Here’s A Stick-Up: The Big Bad Book Of American Bank Robbery (Alpha, 2002)
The Big Book O’ Beer (Quirk, 2004)
The Encyclopedia of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, 1950 to Present
The Perfect Drink for Every Occasion (Quirk)
The Spy's Guide: Office Espionage (Quirk)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Frauds, Scams, and Cons (Alpha)
RSVP (make a comment) with your email address for location!
I'm sad to report that Blaize Clement, author of the Dixie Hemingway Cat Sitter Mysteries, died of cancer on July 20. Elaine Viets posted the obituary from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on DorothyL yesterday.
From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Mystery writer Blaize Clement spent the last months of her life working against the ultimate deadline to complete the seventh and eighth novels in her popular Dixie Hemingway series.
And although Clement lost her fight with cancer July 20, her beloved pet sitter character will live on, not only through two upcoming novels, but through her son, John, who has signed a contract with St. Martin’s Minotaur to write at least two additional books in the series, which is set on Siesta Key.
Clement, who was 78, came late to mystery writing; the first Dixie Hemingway novel, “Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter,” was published in 2006. Its success was a happy accident in a life sometimes marked by physical pain and financial challenges.
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford(1830)
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
-- Sue Fondrie, Oshkosh, WI
The winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who works groan-inducing wordplay into her teaching and administrative duties whenever possible. Out of school, she introduces two members of the next generation to the mysteries of Star Trek, Star Wars, and--of course--the art of the bad pun.
Prof. Fondrie is the 29th grand prize winner of the contest that that began at San Jose State University in 1982. The contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels takes its name from the Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who began his “Paul Clifford” with “It was a dark and stormy night.”
At 26 words, Prof. Fondrie’s submission is the shortest grand prize winner in Contest history, proving that bad writing need not be prolix, or even very wordy.
Winner: Adventure From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages -- which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place -- but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.
--Jack Barry, Shelby, NC
Winner: Crime Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler--who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne--or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses.
--Mark Wisnewski, Flanders, NJ
Winner: Historical Fiction Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.
--John Doble, New York City
Winner: Purple Prose As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.
--Mike Pedersen, North Berwick, ME
Winner: Romance As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.
--Ali Kawashima, Greensboro, NC
Winner: Sci Fi Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta.
--Greg Homer,Placerville, CA
Winner: Vile Puns Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den.
--Joe Wyatt, Amarillo, TX
Winner: Western The laser-blue eyes of the lone horseman tracked the slowly lengthening lariat of a Laredo dawn as it snaked its way through Dead Man’s Pass into the valley below and snared the still sleeping town’s tiny church steeple in a noose of light with the oh-so-familiar glow of a Dodge City virgin’s last maiden blush.
--Graham Thomas, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, U.K.
Ruth Dudley Edwards is a prize-winning historian and satirical crime novelist as well as a journalist and broadcaster. Her Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing and the Families’ Pursuit of Justice won the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. Murdering Americans won the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award.
RUTH DUDLEY EDWARDS: The London School of Murder
I have no sense of direction, and little of place, so don’t look to my mysteries to bring London geographically to life. What I do have—I hope—is an understanding of institutions and the physical, intellectual and emotional world they inhabit. So my mysteries mainly happen indoors, although from time to time my characters go forth blinking into the street and marvel at what they see. Nothing, however, is quite as it seems, since although originally I set out to write serious novels about crime, the comedy kept impinging and eventually I had to admit that I was a satirist.
Corridors of Death (1981), my very first, was set in the British civil service. I had just abandoned my permanent, pensionable job with excel-lent prospects for the precarious life of a freelance writer. My protagonist, Robert Amiss, rarely ventures beyond his Westminster office, the House of Commons or the nearby curry-house where he secretly meets the policeman investigating the death of his horrid boss, Sir Nicholas, to explain to him the intricacies of relationships between civil servants and politicians. The policeman, Jim Milton, gets out more than Robert, and does his fair share of travelling around London, but his psychic energy is spent more on trying to understand the way the establishment works than on admiring the architecture.
In The St Valentine’s Day Murders (1984) my poor Robert has been seconded to a terrible job in a dreary building in outer London but he is mainly preoccupied with trying not to go mad, empathising with people who have to commute long distances to jobs they hate and then trying to work out which of them was desperate enough to kill. I worked in a place like that before the Civil Service and I shudder still.
Having quit the Civil Service in a rage, Robert is unemployed in London until one of his police friends persuades him to take a job in a language school where there are strange goings-on. (My then husband taught foreigners language and negotiating skills, so I knew that world well enough to satirise it.) The good news in The English School of Murder (1990) is that he’s in a posh area of London (near Hyde Park) and frequents comfortable restaurants: the bad is that most of his students are rich layabouts who are in London just to shop and sin. By the end of it, the reader should know a lot about the transient population who regard Harrods as their spiritual centre.
The part of London near Piccadilly that is known as clubland was an irresistible target once I joined a gentleman’s club. In Clubbed to Death (1992) Robert is again an unpaid undercover agent for the police, this time as a waiter in ffeatherstonehaugh’s, a club run by corrupt, decadent geriatrics which nevertheless resembles respect-able clubs in its passion for tradition and daft rules.
Robert answers a call for help from Cambridge (where I was a student) from Jack Troutbeck, whom he knew in the Civil Service, in Matricide at St Martha’s (1994), and finds himself undercover in her women’s college immersed in a war to the death over academic priorities. I had not planned this, but by the end of that book, the domineering, opinionated, brave, insensitive, sybaritic, charismatic Jack Troutbeck—hater of all things politically-correct—had become my main character and Robert was henceforward relegated to the role of clever but complaining sidekick (slightly reminiscent of Archie Goodwin vis-à-vis Nero Wolfe). Thus in Ten Lords a’Leaping (1995)—when as a new member of the House of Lords Baroness Troutbeck needs help to defeat those trying to ban hunting—Robert is based in that glorious building as her research assistant finding out how it ticks and picking his way through the corpses.
In Murder in a Cathedral (1996), Baroness Troutbeck has dragged Robert out of his beloved London to Westonbury to solve the problems of a beleaguered Church of England bishop, and in The Anglo-Irish Murders (2000), they go to Ireland to mediate fruitlessly between warring factions. But they are back in London in Publish and Be Murdered (1997), where Robert is put in charge of rescuing The Wrangler, a distinguished weekly journal, from being ruined by the weird staff who inhabit the decrepit building in Percy Square: the baroness is a confrontational columnist. It is the baroness who takes over when the Chair of the judges of a famous literary prize is murdered in Carnage on the Committee (Poisoned Pen Press, 2004); the Thames sees off one of the others. And although most of Murdering Americans (Poisoned Pen, 2007) is spent in Indiana, London is the location at the beginning and the end.
At the moment I’m writing “Killing the Emperors”—which takes its inspiration from the London art-world’s obsession with talentless conceptual art. As with all the novels since Baroness Troutbeck’s coup, London is a place of one or two memorable buildings and venues where the food is excellent, the waiters skilled and she can bend to her will those she wants to help her preserve the best of Western Civilization and, particularly, the wonders of England and its institutions. The London of my books is that of the people who care about issues to do with academia, politics, culture, tradition and history that im-pinge on the country’s way of life. My books do not try to teach geography, but I hope they’re an entertaining glimpse of what makes London movers-and-shakers fall out and even kill.
FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE DETECTIVE LAUNCHES MANHATTAN MURDER AND MYSTERY TOUR
In his new Manhattan Murder and Mystery Tour, retired NYC Police Detective Ike Ilkiw shows tourists and local New Yorkers 25 of the most notorious crime scene locations in Manhattan. The tour is followed by lunch and a show in Times Square (a murder mystery, of course).
The two-hour driving tour -- in a 38-passenger, fully outfitted luxury tour bus -- includes a drive by the former residence of author Edgar Allen Poe – the originator of the modern murder mystery – as well as locations where crime-related movie classics such as The Godfather were filmed.
For over five years, Ike has been leading tour groups on a walking tour of the hangouts, haunts, and hideaways of New York’s most infamous criminals, telling behind-the-scenes secrets only an authentic New York cop would know. The new driving tour allows Ike to add numerous locations to the itinerary, as well as the lunch and show, giving visitors and locals a quintessential and not-to-be-forgotten real NYC adventure.
Additional tours in development include a Haunted New York Tour, which will visit the spookiest and most haunted locations in New York -- including a stop at what many consider a truly haunted house; the Merchant’s House Museum. (According to The New York Times, it is, indeed, “Manhattan’s most haunted house.”)
“I love sharing the kinds of behind-the-scene stories that only an authentic NYC cop can tell,” Ike says. Despite the crime theme, the tour is appropriate for all ages. “There’s nothing graphic on the tour,” he adds.
The tour last 2 ½ hours and leaves from Soho (Lafayette Street and Cleveland Place) every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. The cost is $109.95 per person, which includes the tour, lunch, and show (excluding taxes, and gratuities.)
ABOUT IKE ILKIW AND NYC ADVENTURE TOURS Ike Ilkiw was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1960s and grew up in Brooklyn. Ike started his police career in 1982, when he was appointed to the NYC Transit Police. He was promoted to the rank of Detective in 1988. It is from his experiences of growing up in New York City and being a NYC Police Detective that he decided to start NYC Adventure Tours (www.nycadventuretours.com) in 2009. Ike is a licensed New York State Private Investigator, and has worked with every level of law enforcement, from New York City to the Federal level, including the FBI, and the DEA.
Poisoned Pen Press announced the winners of their 2011 library book giveaway. In conjunction with the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, Poisoned Pen Press offered librarian attendees the opportunity to win $500 in Poisoned Pen titles donated to a library of his or her choice.
The four winners, selected at random, are:
1. Denise Wilson, who donated to St. Charles Parish Library in Destrehan, Louisiana
2. Michael McIntyre, who donated to Lake County Public Library in Merrillville, New York
3. James Bennett, who donated to the Chazy Public Library Chazy, New York
4. Allyson Dyer, who donated to the Bristol Library in New Harbor, Maine
Each library will receive a donation of $500 worth of Poisoned Pen Press titles.
Robert Rosenwald, Poisoned Pen Press Publisher and President, commented, “In this age of budget cuts and library staff reductions, Poisoned Pen Press felt compelled to offer a special promotion for libraries. It was an honor to give back to the library community, a community that has supported Poisoned Pen Press, its mission, and its catalogue of titles, for nearly 15 years. We extend our congratulations to each of these winners and our special thanks to the loyal and dedicated librarians for their service to readers and communities across the country.”
Also nominated: The Wings of the Sphinx, by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Mantle); Needle in a Haystack, by Ernesto Mallo, translated by Jethro Soutar (Bitter Lemon Press); The Saint-Florentin Murders, by Jean-François Parot, translated by Howard Curtis (Gallic); River of Shadows, by Valerio Varesi, translated by Joseph Farrell (MacLehose); An Uncertain Place, by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds (Harvill Secker); and Death on a Galician Shore, by Domingo Villar, translated by Sonia Soto (Abacus)
Also nominated: The Invention of Murder, by Judith Flanders (HarperCollins); Slaughter on a Snowy Morn, by Colin Evans (Icon Books); In the Place of Justice, by Wilbert Rideau (Profile); The Murder Room, by Michael Capuzzo (Michael Joseph); andMr. Briggs’ Hat, by Kate Colquhoun (Little, Brown)
CWA Short Story Dagger: “Homework,” by Phil Lovesey (from The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime, Vol. 8, edited by Maxim Jakubowski; Constable & Robinson)
Also nominated: “Wednesday’s Child,” by Ken Bruen (from First Thrills, edited by Lee Child; Forge); “The Princess of Felony Flats,” by Bill Cameron (from First Thrills); “East of Suez, West of Charing Cross Road,” by John Lawton (from Agents of Treachery, edited by Otto Penzler; Vintage); and “The Dead Club,” by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer (from First Thrills)
CWA Debut Dagger (for not-yet-published works): What Hidden Lies, by Michele Rowe (South Africa)
Also nominated: A Burial Place for Strangers, by Sharon Hunt (Canada); A Quiet Night in Entebbe, by Peter Wynn Norris (UK); A Vicious Indulgence, by Annie Hauxwell (Australia); Biographies of a Victim, by Gunnar Lange-Nielsen (Norway); The Boy Who Loved Penguins, by S.W.C. Webb (UK); The Greengrocers and Fruiterers’ Convention, by Martin Ungless (UK); Hide and Seek, by Sarah Darby (UK); Men of the Rose, by Jessica Ramage (UK); The Outrageous Behaviour of Left-Handed Dwarves, by Graham Brack (UK); The Temp, by Luke Melia (UK); and Unveiled Threats, by Stephanie Light (UK)
Also nominated: S.J.Bolton (Bantam Press); William Brodrick (Little, Brown); R.J. Ellory (Orion); Jason Goodwin (Faber and Faber); Elly Griffths (Quercus); Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton); John Harvey (William Heinemann); Susan Hill (Vintage); Graham Hurley (Orion); Peter James (Macmillan); Philip Kerr (Quercus); Phil Rickman (Quercus/Corvus); C.J. Sansom (Macmillan); Andrew Taylor (Penguin); and L.C. Tyler (Macmillan)
In addition, an announcement was made about “three key book longlists and one shortlist for the  Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards on ITV3, celebrating the very best of British and International crime thriller fiction.” Here are those contenders.
CWA Gold Dagger:
• Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin (Pan)
• Hanging Hill, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press)
• Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller (Atlantic Books)
• The Cypress House, by Michael Koryta (Hodder & Stoughton)
• The End of the Wasp Season, by Denise Mina (Orion)
• The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton (Orion)
• The Villa Triste, by Lucretia Grindle (Pan)
• White Heat, by M.J McGrath (Mantle)
CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
• An Agent of Deceit, by Chris Morgan Jones (Mantle)
• Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson (Doubleday)
• Cold Rain, by Craig Smith (Myrmidon)
• Savages, by Don Winslow (Heinemann)
• The Cobra, by Frederick Forsyth (Corgi)
• The Good Son, by Michael Gruber (Corvus)
• The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton (Orion)
• The Trinity Six, by Charles Cumming (HarperCollins)
CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger:
• Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson (Doubleday)
• Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad)
• Kiss Me Quick, by Danny Miller (Robinson)
• Or the Bull Kills You, by Jason Webster (Chatto & Windus)
• Sister, by Rosamund Lupton (Piatkus)
• The Dead Woman of Juárez, by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail)
• The Dogs of Rome, by Conor Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury)
• The Poison Tree, by Erin Kelly (Hodder)
ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger:
• The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci (Macmillan)
• Worth Dying For, by Lee Child (Bantam)
• Good As Dead, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown)
• Dead Man’s Grip, by Peter James (Macmillan)
• Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson (Hodder)
Winners in the first three categories will be announced August 22.
The British public is being invited to cast ballots for the ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger. Voting begins July 23. Click here for more information.
Lee Child, British creator of the Jack Reacher series, won the2011 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award for the 14th installment in his bestselling series, 61 Hours.
Speaking after Thursday's award ceremony, which opened the Harrogate crime writing festival, Lee Child said it was "a thrill" to receive the £3,000 award. "I remember when I was writing 61 Hours that I felt it had come out nicely," he said, "but to have the recognition is great."
Read the rest of the article from the Guardian HERE.
Val McDermid introduced P.D. James who received a special award for Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction. There was a standing ovation.
The shortlist for the 2011 Theakstons Old Peculier Award:
From The Dead by Mark Billingham (Sphere)
Blood Harvest by SJ Bolton (Corgi Books)
61 Hours by Lee Child (Bantam Books)
Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride (Harper Fiction)
The Holy Thief by William Ryan (Pan Books)
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor (Michael Joseph)
A few months ago I mentioned that a former red phone box in the UK had been transformed into what must be one of the UK's smallest libraries. That phone box is located near Truro. Now other villages have set up lending libraries in other discarded red phone booths. Long Live the Library!
Mystery Fans Bill and Toby Gottfried just returned from an extended stay in the U.K. and shared these photos. Always good to know that some of my favorite mysteries are available!
The Alphabet Meme is rolling along, and glad that we don't have any purists in the group. We'll go back to C and here's another D. D is for Delany. Today I welcome Canadian mystery author Vicki Delany. Standalones vs. Series? Always a dilemma.
Vicki Delany's newest book is Among the Departed, the fifth in the Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, go to: www.vickidelany.com. Follow Vicki on Facebook, www.facebook.com/vicki.delany and on Twitter @vickidelany.
VICKI DELANY: Standalones vs. Series
As all mystery readers know, there are two basic types of crime novels: Standalones and series.
Standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, verses series, in which the same character or characters feature in book after book.
As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer.
A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.
My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.
Then I switched to writing a series. And found that series novels present a different problem. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.
It can be a challenge to keep the main character interesting and growing and changing but to do it so slowly that the reader’s interest in the character can be maintained over several books and several years.
In the Constable Molly Smith novels (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Negative Image), set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancé, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. By the time we get to the fifth book in the series, Among the Departed, Molly has put Graham’s death behind her, and said her good-byes. Now that she has a new man in her life, new problems arise. Here’s a sample:
As she headed for the passenger door, Adam pulled her into the shop doorway. The babbles on display sparkled in the lights of the windows, a row of gorgeous engagement rings front and center.
“See anything you like?”
She looked up at him, a joke forming on her lips. The words collapsed back into her throat. His dark eyes were serious, his handsome face intent.
She’d wondered why he parked on the main street when plenty of parking was available nearer the concert.
“Molly,” he said, his voice very deep.
She turned her head quickly. “They’re all beautiful. Dreadfully expensive I bet. Let’s go. I’m beat.”
She dashed for the truck, and whatever he had meant to say remained unsaid.
The series format allows me to slowly and gradually explore people’s complicated relationships while at the same time the police are working to find a killer.
Yet it is also important that books in a series don’t flow into each other so much that readers beginning a series in the middle will be lost as to what’s going on. It can be a balancing act, to create a plot that’s self-contained within each individual book, but still allows the characters to grow and to change over time.
Now that the fifth Molly Smith book is out in the world, I’m taking a break from Trafalgar and writing a new standalone for Poisoned Pen Press. New book, new characters, new setting, new challenges.
This one is tentatively titled Walls of Glass (also under consideration, More than Sorrow. Any opinions?) Like my earlier book, Burden of Memory, Walls of Glass is a modern gothic. The traditional British gothic is making a comeback. (Who knew? Not me when I started.) This style of book seems to be suited strictly to standalones. Consider: The character visits at a place with which they are unfamiliar. They come across a long-buried secret that has the potential to still harm people of today. The protagonist must uncover the secret by the end of the book and the consequences of that secret must be traumatic and important.
Hard to do that in a series, I’d say. It might be a bit contrived to keep coming up with yet another skeleton in yet previously unknown another family castle.
Series or standalone? Ultimately it is up to you and me, the readers, to decide.
CRIMEFEST celebrates its fifth anniversary next year. Since it came into existence as a spinoff from the Bristol Left Coast Crime convention in 2006, we thought we'd acknowledge that by inviting two LCC06 Featured Guest Authors back: Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver (as the Toastmaster). Confirmed Highlighted Author: Philip Kerr, this year's CRIMEFEST eDunnit Award winner for Best Crime eBook. We can't think of a better way to start CRIMEFEST 2012 than by announcing the participation of these authors! (For a list of all authors registered to date visit the AUTHORS & DELEGATES page.)
£100 EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION
The £100 early bird registration for a full CRIMEFEST pass ends on 31 July. The fee will incrementally go up to £140. If you sign up at the bargain rate before the end of July, the savings will pay for a ticket to next year's Gala Dinner. So don't wait and REGISTER now!
BODIES IN THE BOOKSHOP
Can't wait until next year's CRIMEFEST? In that case the next big date in the crime calendar is 19 July when Heffers once again hosts Bodies in the Bookshop. Make murder your business and join a sleuth of crime writers and readers for a glass of wine to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Heffers' and Richard Reynold's annual crime fiction extravaganza! Tickets cost £7.50 and can be obtained from Heffers Bookshop, 20 Trinity Street, Cambridge or by contacting Richard Reynolds: Tel: 01223-568532 (email: email@example.com).
Participating authors include: Michael Arnold, Richard Blake, C.J. Box, Alison Bruce, Will Carver, Jane Casey, Barbara Cleverly, Charles Cumming, Ruth Downie, Patrick Easter, Kate Ellis, Mark Ellis, Jane Finnis, Meg Gardiner, Elly Griffiths, Peter Guttridge, Sophie Hannah, Tarquin Hall, Oliver Harris, Suzette Hill, Lis Howell, Rebecca Jenkins, Ben Kane, Jim Kelly, Deryn Lake, Patrick Lennon, Katia Lief, Andrew Martin, Rose Melikan, D. E. Meredith, Roger Morris, Martin O'Brien, Christine Poulson, Ann Purser, Philip Purser, Sheila Quigley, Linda Regan, Imogen Robertson, Andrew Rosenheim, Leigh Russell, Zoe Sharp, Harry Sidebottom, Michelle Spring, Lyndon Stacey, Frank Tallis, Simon Toyne, L.C. Tyler, S.J. Watson, Jason Webster, Emily Winslow and many more.
HARROGATE CRIME WRITING FESTIVAL
And if that isn't enough to satisfy your lust for crime (fiction), just two days later sees the start of Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (21-24 July) in Harrogate. This year's line-up includes David Baldacci, Linwood Barclay, Lee Child, Martina Cole, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane and Howard Marks. For more details visit the Harrogate website.
I'm one of the judges for the New Zealand 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The 8 fabulous books on the Longlist span the world of mystery. It's going to be a tough choice to rate these books from 1-8. I've set up my own personal criteria that includes character, style, pacing, setting, storyline, originality, and whether or not the book stays with me after I've finished. I have a few other criteria, but those are the main ones. Still, some hard choices need to be made. They're all such great reads.
I've really loved reading this books, and now, you can, too! Craig Sisterson, blogger at CrimeWatch, has organized a competition whereby readers anywhere in the world can win a full set of all eight longlisted titles.
According to Craig “You can enter the prize drawing simply by e-mailing a photo of yourself reading any New Zealand crime, mystery, or thriller title--contemporary or from days gone by. Send the photo to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The book in your picture doesn’t have to be set in New Zealand, as long as the author is associated with New Zealand (lives in New Zealand, was born or grew up in New Zealand, etc)...The winner of the competition will be randomly drawn from the entered photos, and announced just prior to the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award on 21 August 2011.”
Earlier this year, I posted about the Deluxe Librarian Action Figure. Perfect for the collector of action figures. That plus the Original Librarian Action Figure could be the beginning of a collection, but it's true that two does not a collection make. The Rap Sheet posted another action figure last week of James Garner as Rockford. The figure even holds the cookie jar where Rockford kept his gun. Nice touch. Unfortunately, this figure is unavailable, having been made by a fan for a show.
O.K. so if you can't have this action figure, what figures can you add to your collection? Detective Barbie. She's no longer available new, but you can find her popping up on eBay from time to time.
From CBS News: Sherwood Schwartz, writer-creator of two of the best-remembered TV series of the 1960s and 1970s, "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch," has died at age 94.
Sherwood Schwartz and his brother, Al, started as a writing team in TV's famed 1950s "golden age," said Douglas Schwartz, the late Al Schwartz's son.
"They helped shape television in its early days," Douglas Schwartz said. "Sherwood is an American classic, creating 'Brady Bunch' and 'Gilligan's Island,' iconic shows that are still popular today. He continued to produce all the way up into his 90s."
Schwartz dreamed up "Gilligan's Island" in 1964. It was a Robinson Crusoe story about seven disparate travelers who are marooned on a deserted Pacific Island after their small boat wrecks in a storm. The cast: Alan Hale Jr., as Skipper Jonas Grumby; Bob Denver, as his klutzy assistant Gilligan; Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer, the rich snobs Thurston and Lovey Howell; Tina Louise, the movie star Ginger Grant; Russell Johnson, egghead science professor Roy Hinkley Jr.; and Dawn Wells, sweet-natured farm girl Mary Ann Summers.
Sherwood Schwartz was working on a big-screen version of "Gilligan's Island," his nephew said.
Continuing the Mystery Author Meme today with D is for DeSilva. O.k., we're a bit out of order, but I'll do a summary when we finally finish up :-) Today I welcome Edgar Award winner and Macavity Nominee Bruce DeSilva.
Bruce DeSilva is the author of “Rogue Island,” winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel of 2010. Rogue Island has also been short-listed for the Anthony, Barry and Macavity awards. “Cliff Walk,” the second book in the Providence, R.I.-based crime series, will be published early next year, and DeSilva is currently writing the third. He worked as an investigative reporter, editor, and writing coach at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant, and, most recently, The Associated Press, before retiring from journalism two years ago to write fiction. Stories he edited have won virtually every major journalism prize including The Polk (twice), The Livingston (twice) and The Pulitzer. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times book review section, and he continues to review fiction regularly for the AP.
Ever since I read a paperback copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye about fifty years ago, I have loved hardboiled crime novels; but when I finally sat down to write my first one, I confronted a problem:
How could I write in a form that has been around for eighty years and still produce a book that would feel contemporary?
Back in 1968, I had sat in a darkened dormitory rec room with fellow college students to watch a screening of “The Maltese Falcon.” Within minutes, most of us were chuckling, and by the third scene the chuckles were replaced by belly laughs.
The dialogue in John Houston’s 1941 masterpiece was so clichéd, and the characters were such stereotypes: the cynical detective who worked both sides of the law, the spunky but loyal secretary, the trench-coat draped gunman who talked out of the side of his mouth, the femme fatale who manipulated men with the promise of sex.
We reacted as if we were watching a parody like the one Carl Reiner directed when he poked fun at the genre in his 1982 movie, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” with Steve Martin in the lead role.
But to those who saw “The Maltese Falcon” when it was first released—or who read the Dashiell Hammett novel it was based on when it was published in 1930—every scene was a revelation. Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Wilmer, and Brigid O’Shaugnessy are stereotypes today, but Hammett and Huston were the artists who first gave them breath. “The Maltese Falcon”–both the movie and the novel—were works of astounding originality.
Before the “Maltese Falcon” appeared, there were two kinds of crime stories.
Most were puzzle mysteries in which murders were committed in drawing rooms and solved by clever detectives like Sherlock Holmes, who unmasked the guilty through unlikely deductive reasoning.
In them, the world was portrayed as a just and orderly place. When a crime intruded, it created a sense of menace and disorder. Then the detective arrived on the scene, solved the crime and restored the natural order of things. It was a Victorian world view, one of faith in progress and human decency.
When that faith was shattered by the carnage of World War I, a new kind of story was born. In it, Chandler explained, the world was a madhouse that had “created the machinery for its own destruction, and was learning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine gun. The law was something to be manipulated for power and profit. The streets were dark with something more than night.”
At first such tales were sordid and poorly written, appearing only in five-cent pulp magazines that men read in barbershops and hid from their wives and children. But with their mastery of style and storytelling, Hammett and Chandler lifted this new kind of story from the pulps and turned it into literature.
In doing so, Chandler said, they took the murders out of the drawing rooms and gave them back to the people who actually committed them.
Chandler’s and Hammett’s heroes, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, established the archetype on which nearly all private detectives who followed were based:
n The detective’s attitude toward authority. (“It’s a long while,” Spade said, “since I burst out crying because a policeman didn’t like me.”)
n His invulnerability to the wiles of women. (“You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly in your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like, ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.’”)
n The detective’s code of honor, essential to maintaining self-respect in a treacherous world. (“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it,” Spade said. “It doesn’t matter what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”)
But by the late 1960s, many of us who revered Chandler and Hammett had grown aware of how dated all of this had become. Many wondered if a great contemporary hardboiled novel was even possible anymore. The knight errant with a pistol in his shoulder holster (Browning, not the poet but the automatic) had become an anachronism.
“Back then,” says my crime writing buddy, Ace Atkins, “most people looked at it as a museum piece.”
Lucky for us, however, Robert B. Parker and Gregory Mcdonald appeared on the scene in the 1970s and breathed new life into the genre—although Parker is the one who received most of the credit for it.
The traditional hardboiled detective had always been a loner. But Parker’s hero, Spenser, was a modern man. He had close friends. He respected women and (some) cops. He had a long-lasting, monogamous relationship. He even cooked. Parker turned this hero loose not just on underworld murders but on modern problems including child abuse and schoolyard bullying.
Most importantly, Spenser faced the problem of the anachronistic knight-errant head on, turning his novels into an examination of the limits heroism in the modern world.
Mcdonald’s two series characters, a non-conformist investigative reporter named Fletch and a quirky Boston police inspector named Flynn, addressed the problem differently.
Although Fletch was something of a loner, Flynn was a family man, something almost unheard of in the genre.
“Neither of them could have existed before the 1960s,” Mcdonald once told me. “In the great mystery novels of the ‘30s and ‘40s, the woman was either a Madonna or a doll. Neither Fletch nor Flynn has this regard for women. Women are their equals, their friends. Their regard for authority is also completely new and contemporary. They are not anti-authoritarian for the hell of it, nor do they give in to authority for any reason. They see it for what it is—something set up by humans that is fine only when it works.”
If it weren’t for Parker, Atkins says, “I wouldn’t have a job now.” But Mcdonald deserves some of the credit, too.
Still, it’s going on 40 years since Parker and Mcdonald’s characters burst on the scene, and now they can feel a bit dated, too. But today, a host of writers including Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Robert Crais are following their lead, creating modern detective heroes for today’s complicated world.
My series character, Liam Mulligan has joined them. Like Fletch, he is an investigative reporter for a metropolitan newspaper. And like Fletch, he’s got a smart mouth that often gets him into trouble.
But newspapers were thriving in Fletch’s day. The newspaper Mulligan is working for is dying, like most newspapers are now. He’s never sure how long he’s going to have a job, giving the plots an extra layer of tension and making them not only hardboiled stories but lyrical tributes to the fading business that he and I love.
Mulligan is a 21st century man with complex, often troubled, relationships with the opposite sex. He’s got a strong but shifting sense of justice that leaves him uncertain about the right thing to do in a world where neither movies nor problems appear in black and white.
And the cases he investigates involve not just murders but the larger issues of today’s society. For example: the second novel, “Cliff Walk,” which will be published next year, has a plot built around an unsolved murder, but it is also an examination of sex and religion in the age of pornography.
Does this work? Reviewers seem to think so; the notices for the first novel have all been raves. But ultimately, that’s a question for readers to decide. Still. the comment I’m most proud of came from Joseph Finder, a New York Times best-selling thriller writer, who said this about my first book:
“Bruce DeSilva has done something remarkable: He takes everything we love about the classic hard-boiled detective novel and turns it into something that is fresh, contemporary, yet timeless.”
Now I’ve got to get back to work to see if I can do it again.
Join Mystery Readers NorCal for a Literary Salon with Pulitzer prize winning author William Dietrich on Monday, July 18 at 7 pm. in Berkeley, CA.
William Dietrich is a NY Times bestselling author who has written fifteen books, including historical thrillers that have sold into thirty-one languages. The Barbary Pirates, The Dakota Cipher, The Rosetta Key, Napoleon's Pyramids, The Scourge of God, Hadrian's Wall, Dark Winter, and others. Blood of the Reich (HarperCollins) was published in late June.
Deitrich will talk about the writers' life, his interest in different historical periods and the characters with which he interacts--and probably lots of other topics.
Deitrich shared a Pulitzer for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and was one of the first reporters to the scene of that story. He also covered the eruption of Mount St. Helens, losing a photographer friend in that disaster. A winner of the PNBA Award for Fiction, he is a contributing writer at the Seattle Times.
The NYT reported today that Masterpiece Mystery! has finalized a deal to add a late addition to its schedule for three weeks starting Oct. 16. “Case Histories,” based on the book by Kate Atkinson, will feature Jackson Brodie, played by Jason Isaacs!
Martin Woodhouse, inventor, novelist, screenwriter for The Avengers, died at the age of 78. From the Guardian:
After writing a number of tongue-in-cheek thrillers shot through with action, cynicism and humour, Woodhouse combined many of his interests (electronics, computers, writing) in creating the first e-books. His programme, Illumination, developed in 1987-88, was capable of "publishing" full-length novels, with both text and graphics, on a 3.5in floppy disc. Between 1992 and 1995, Illumination Publishing produced some 20 e-books, from volumes of poetry and children's short stories, to illustrated brochures and a 190-page colour graphic novel. In recent years he had been developing the Lightbook, an e-reader powered by sunlight that could be mass produced for as little as $10 per unit and used for education in developing nations.
In 1962 Woodhouse became one of the team of writers on The Avengers; his first script introduced Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, partner to Patrick Macnee's John Steed, and established her as an equal rather than just a sidekick. Woodhouse went on to write a number of episodes, often with scientific backgrounds that underpinned surreal, humorous and threatening situations. He wrote six episodes for Blackman and one for her replacement, Diana Rigg, which memorably saw Emma Peel in Robin Hood fancy dress (based, said Woodhouse, on a dream). Woodhouse also wrote Emerald Soup (1963) – a children's science-fiction serial with ecological themes – and episodes of The Hidden Truth, The Protectors, The Man in Room 17 and Dr Finlay's Casebook, before deciding to try his hand at writing a novel.
Thrillerfest is taking place in New York right now, and sadly I'm not there.
In honor of Thrillerfest I'm reading a thriller: Andrew Grant's Death in the Kingdom. It's a terrific read.
Lots of thrillers have "Safe Houses" in them. Here's the Ultimate Modern Safe House. This secure house was designed by KWK Promes and transforms into a modern fortress. When the “Panic” button is pressed, concrete panels and walls move in to protect the house from attacks. During peace times, the occupants of this 6,100 sq. ft. house can swim in the swimming pool or watch movies projected on a giant screen.
I loved the BBC production of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, starring Alec Guiness. I've recently seen it again, and it really holds up. However, Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, feels the need to make a movie. Here's the Trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. November release.
Anyone who reads Agatha Christie, the Poison Queen, is aware that Foxglove is poisonous, and of course, Castor Beans. What else grows in the garden? Hemlock, yes, Lilies, yes, Monkshood, yes. Besides poisonous plants there are those that cause hallucinations and cardiac arrest. Aconite, Datura, and let's not forget Oleander. Don't put your marshmallow on an Oleander branch. Every part of the oleander is poisonous. Drying the plant doesn't help, not to mention that the crushed seeds of the oleander have been used to commit suicide in India.
Look around your garden and see if you have any of these--or design your own poison garden, if you're so inclined. Following is a list of some poisonous plants you might find in the garden.
Foxglove: Digitalis: Throw a few leaves in a salad, eat and die. Agatha Christie used this in one of her novels. Yew: Taxus bacata. The berries are lethal. Cherry Laurel: These looks like regular cherries but are quite lethal. Interesting to note that the edible cherry and the laurels all share the same family name (Prunus). FYI: The Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica) has cyanide compounds in its leaf. Don't burn it! Aconitum: Monkshood, Wolfsbane, Leopard's bane Arum: Cuckoo pint
Buttercups Colchicum: The autumn crocus. Can be fatal if eaten Convallaria: Lily of the Valley Christmas Rose Cytisus: Broom: All parts can be fatal if eaten. Daphne: Shrub grown for its beautifully scented flowers. Can be Fatal Delphinium: All parts highly toxic - can be fatal if eaten Difffenbachia: Dumb Cane: Very common houseplant. Keep away from cats & puppies Euphorbia Gloriosa superba: The beautiful Gloriosa Lily! Laburnum: Beautiful golden rain flowers. Can be fatal if eaten Lantana: Now very popular in the summer border or planted pot! Nerium: A beautiful conservatory plant Phytolacca: The poke weed Ricinus communis: Castor Oil Plant. Not to be confused with Fatsia. Taxus: A hedge favorite. Veratrum: The false Hellebore. Bleeding Heart Capsicum species: Red Pepper, Cayenne Pepper Chrysanthemum: Daisy, Feverfew, marguerite Daffodil Deadly Nightshade: Atropa Belladonna. Leaves and Berries are toxic. Water Hemlock (Cicuta): Called the most violently toxic plant in Northern America
Hydrangea Hyacinth Iris Jasmine Jimson Weed: First plant poisoning death credited to Jimsonweed. Jamestown, VA settlers used jimsonweed to poison British soldiers. Also called Devil's Trumpet, Angel's Trumpet, Stinkweed, Locoweed, Hell's Bells Jonquil Lathryus: Sweet Pea Lily of the Valley. Be sure and wash up after touching it. Lobelia Mistletoe Narcissus Rhubarb: (leaves) Tulips Water Hemlock Wisteria Laurels, Rhodendrons and Azaleas
Of course, many different mushrooms
And a few others: Wild clematis (old man's beard) was once used by professional beggars who rubbed its sap into scratches to make temporary weeping ulcers. Laburnum causes convulsions, vomiting and foaming at the mouth Strychine (Quaker's Button).. well we all know about this one. Henbane Daphne (berries, bark and sap are potent) Phytolacca: Pokeweed Veratrum: False Hellibores
Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, but you know about those. Not in my garden: Manchineel (Hippomane Mancinella): Native to Florida, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America & South America. Name means "little apple of death." Entire tree is toxic to humans and animals. Don't stand below this tree, as the sap could cause blindness and respiratory problems.
One of the non-growing poisonous elements of a poison garden would be cocoa bean hulls, often used for mulch. Although the cocoa bean hulls smell terrific, they're not good for dogs. I've always used cocoa bean hulls mulch in my own garden, and I've been lucky with all my dogs so far. None seem to be interested in the mulch, probably because it smells too good and not like skunk. The theobromine in the hulls can lead to vomiting in dogs.
So have a look around the garden and see how many poisonous plants you have. There's a proverb that says, "A Book is Like a Garden carried in your Pocket." If it's a mystery, it must be a poisonous garden.
Two years ago in the UK, a 66 year old gardener found Devil's Snare (Thorn-apple) in his garden. This mystery plant is used by Amazonian tribes to poison their darts. These plants turn up occasionally in waste and cultivated ground, having been brought to the U.K. in bird seed.
Today I welcome Canadian Crime Writer Jack Batten. Thanks to mystery author David Colefor arranging this. In 2009 David Cole interviewed 13 Canadian Crime Writers for Mystery Fanfare. Scroll down to see links to those author interviews.
Jack Batten is an author, journalist, reviewer, and radio personality. He has written over thirty books on subjects that include biography, crime fiction, law and court cases, and sports. Jack Batten’s first career was as a lawyer. After four years, he turned to writing. He has been a staff writer at Maclean’s Magazine and the Star Weekly. Batten has written for many magazines, including Chatelaine, Rolling Stone, and Toronto Life. He has written radio plays for the CBC and a jazz column for The Globe and Mail. Nowadays, Jack Batten writes books and reviews crime novels for The Sunday Star. The Man Who Ran Faster Than Everyone is Jack’s most recent book, for which he was nominated for the Norma Fleck Award for nonfiction, the biggest prize in Canadian Children’s literature.
For years, I've read crime novels. For almost as many years, I’ve made my living writing magazine articles and nonfiction books. Now and then, back in the late 1980s, I thought idly about putting the two together, the reading and the writing. I would write mystery novels. But I didn’t seriously crank up with this ambition until Eric Wright and Howard Engel began publishing crime novels. I’ve known those two guys for years, and I thought to myself, somewhat arrogantly, if they could write successful crime novels, why couldn’t I?
Of course it turned out to be much harder than I dreamed. But to make it easier, I borrowed freely from my own background when I wrote about my made-up characters. Isn’t that what every novelist does? For my central character, whom I named Crang, I chose as his day job the profession of criminal lawyer. Why criminal lawyer? Because I knew at both first hand and second hand how criminal lawyers go about their business.
I practiced a little criminal law during my four not entirely happy years as a lawyer in Toronto. That was one source for my knowledge about criminal law. Even better, after I left law to become a writer, I wrote a series of nonfiction books about lawyers of all sorts, including the criminal variety. I interviewed dozens of criminal lawyers. These people love to talk about the wild things they get into with their clients. I saved up the stories, and gave many of them to Crang, my own fictional criminal lawyer.
Something else I gave to Crang, to shape him as a character, were my own likes and dislikes. Crang drinks the same beverage as I do (Polish potato vodka) and listens to the same music (jazz covering the period from Lester Young’s emergence in 1935 to Bill Evans’s death in 1980). For almost twenty-five years, I reviewed movies on the CBC’s Toronto morning program, Metro Morning. I didn’t give my movie knowledge to Crang. I gave it to his girlfriend, Annie. She holds down a freelance job in the books as—can you guess?--the movie reviewer for Metro Morning.
That’s another indentifying characteristic in the Crang books: the place is specifically Toronto. I name the names; the names of radio programs, restaurants, neighbourhoods, sports arenas, buildings and just about everything else are the real thing. I didn’t make up any of this stuff (except the plots) because I wanted Toronto to appear in the books as it really is. Novelists often say of the areas where their books are set that the place is intended to be something like a distinct character in the books. That’s how I thought of Toronto in the Crang books.
For plots, I arrived at a kind of pattern that runs through all the books. First comes a more or less minor crime, which I define as not up to the level of murder. In Crang Plays the Ace, the first of the four books in the series, the crime involves a private disposal company that is playing fast and loose with pricing. In the second book, Straight No Chaser, someone swipes a jazz musician’s beloved tenor saxophone. In both instances, Crang is hired to get to the bottom of the trouble. Up to that point in each book, Crang is acting more or less in his capacity as a criminal lawyer. Then someone gets murdered. That’s when Crang begins to perform more like a private eye.
In real life, he would back away from events and allow the cops to solve the murder. But in the books, Crang insists on sticking around until he gets to the bottom of all the crimes he’s encountered, including the killing. His motivation is largely a matter of conscience; he feels it’s part of his job to see the case to its completion. But the other factor that comes into play is Crang’s own bumbling; he’s not always on top of events, and often finds himself roped into dicey circumstances without intending to end up as deep in trouble as he gets. He needs to solve the murder in order to avoid potential grief from either the bad guys or the cops or, worst of all, from both.
Crang’s name comes from my childhood. When I was a kid growing up in the Forest Hill neighbourhood in Toronto, the most mysterious person on the block lived in a big house hidden behind a circular driveway and a large stand of very tall trees. All I knew about this elusive figure was his last name—Crang. I gave the name to my guy, leaving it at just plain Crang because I thought it was distinctive all by itself (in the same mode as the late Robert. B. Parker’s Spenser).
Years after I wrote the Crang books, I met a man who was a friend of the original Mr. Crang in the Forest Hill mansion. He told me that the real Crang’s first name was James, that he made a lot of money as a stockbroker, and that among the books in his library were the four novels in the Crang series. The man who told me all this added that Mr. Crang was a fan of the series. He loved seeing his name attached to a criminal lawyer who acted more like a private eye. He hoped I would write more Crang books.
** Cool Canadian Crime Interviews by David Cole on Mystery Fanfare: 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.