Thursday, March 30, 2017

Petrona Award Shortlist: Scandinavian Crime

Six crime novels from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have been shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

The award, established to celebrate the work of the late Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The shortlist, revealed today (30th March), was judged by journalist Barry Forshaw, Dr Kat Hall, researcher at Swansea University, and novelist Sarah Ward. It includes two entries hailing from Finland, two from Norway, one from Sweden and one from Iceland.

Neil Smith, whose translations have won the Petrona Awards for the past two years running, translated two books on the shortlist: The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson (Doubleday; Sweden), in which a retired Swedish police chief is drawn into investigating a cold case, and The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö (MacLehose Press, Finland), a novel set in 1938 Helsinki on the eve of the Second World War. The latter, by taking on a larger historical dimension, was described by the judges as offering "an insightful exploration into the legacy of the Finnish Civil War, and the rise of German and Finnish fascism in the present".

Half of the shortlist is published by Orenda Books:  

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated by David Hackston (Orenda Books, Finland), exploring discrimination faced by Roma people and the lot of refugees migrating through Europe;  

The Bird Tribunal, a "haunting" psychological thriller by Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie Hedger (Orenda Books, Norway) and  

Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett (Orenda Books, Norway), said to be written in the traditional US-style genre "but with abrasive Scandi-crime social commentary".

Why Did You Lie? by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton, Iceland), rounds off the shortlist, praised "a compelling exploration of guilt and retribution, which builds to a nerve-jangling finale."

The judges commented:
“It was difficult to choose just six crime novels for the Petrona Award shortlist this year, given the number of truly excellent submissions from around the Scandinavian world. Our 2017 Petrona Award shortlist testifies to the extremely high quality of translated Scandi crime, with authors from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden making expert use of police investigations, psychological thrillers, private eye novels and historical crime fiction both to entertain and to explore pertinent social, political and historical issues. We are extremely grateful to the translators for their skill and expertise in bringing us these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction.”

The winner of 2017 Petrona Award, sponsored by David Hicks, will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 20th May during the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 18th - 21st May 2017. 

The above is from The Bookseller. Hat Tip: Craig Sisterson

Birthday Mysteries: Happy Birthday to Me!

Today's my Birthday. Sorry you can't be with me to celebrate, but you can read one of these Birthday Themed Mysteries. Every year I get older, and the list gets longer. Raise a glass of champagne, eat a chocolate truffle, and grab a book, as you virtually join me Behind my Garden Gate!

Birthday Crime Fiction

Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni and Anselm Hollo
A Birthday to Die For by Frank Atchley 
Birthdays Can be Deadly by Cindy Bell
The Birthday Murderer by Jay Bennett
Birthday Can Be Murder by Joyce Cato
A Catered Birthday Party by Isis Crawford
The Birthday Gift by Ursula Reilly Curtiss
The Birthday Party: Family Reunions Can Be Murder by Chari Davenport
A Birthday Secret by Nickolas Drake
Murder Can Botch Up Your Birthday by Selma Eichler
Birthday Sprinkle Murder by Susan Gillard
The Nanny by Dan Greenburg
The Happy Birthday Murder by Lee Harris
They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer
Birthday Cake Waffle by Carolyn Q. Hunter
The Birthday Treasure Mystery by Kaylee Huyser
Birthday Party by Marne Davis Kellogg
Birthday Party by C.H.B Kitchin and Adrian Wright 
The Birthday Girl by Stephen Leather
The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis
The Birthday Killer by W. Kay Lynn
Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride
False Scent by Ngaio Marsh
Birthday Party Murder by Leslie Meier 
Birthday, Deathday by Hugh Pentecost
The Birthday Club by Jack Peterson
The Birthday Party by W. Price
Birthday Dance by Peter Robinson
The Birthday Bash by Elizabeth Sorrells
Don't Scream by Wendy Corsi Staub
Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson
The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine
The Birthday by Elizabeth Wells
The Mortician's Birthday Party by Peter Whalley
The Fortieth Birthday Body by Valerie Wolzien
The Birthday by Margaret Yorke

"The Birthday Dinner" by Donna Andrews in Death Dines In, edited by Claudia Bishop & Dean James

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Dogs

Mystery Fest Key West: June 16-18, 2017 & Whodunit Writing Contest

The 4th Annual Mystery Fest Key West - June 16-18, 2017

Join your favorite mystery writers, aspiring writers, and mystery fans in America’s southernmost city! From South Florida's favorite storytellers to writers of international renown, this is a meet-and-greet where authors can catch up with old friends and readers can chat with their favorite mystery writers, collect signed books -- and participate in workshops, panels, and presentations where bestselling authors explain how and why they do it.

The 2017 “Murder & Mayhem in Paradise” themed Mystery Fest Key West is to include multiple writers workshops, presentations, panel discussions and social events where attendees mingle with acclaimed mystery, suspense, crime fiction and true crime writers, including headliners John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest and author of “Strange Tribe,” Keynote Speaker Clifford Irving, and Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter past-President Randy Rawls; New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham; bestselling and award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen; award-winning crime and science fiction writer James O. Born; bestselling Buck Reilly adventure series author John H. Cunningham and many others. 

Register Here.

Mystery Fest Key West has announced a call for entries for this year’s Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition. The winner will claim a book-publishing contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free Mystery Fest Key West 2017 registration, airfare, hotel accommodations for two nights, meals and a Whodunit Award trophy to be presented at the 4th Annual Mystery Fest Key West, set for June 16-18 in Key West, Florida.

Sponsored by Absolutely Amazing eBooks and supported by the Marion Stevens Fund at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, candidates wishing to compete for the 2017 Whodunit Writing Competition are invited to submit the first three pages (maximum 750 words) of a finished, but unpublished manuscript to no later than April 15, 2017. There is no fee to enter, finalists will be notified by May 1, and will have until May 10 to submit full manuscripts.

“Why just the first three pages? That criterion is a nod to late author Jeremiah Healy, a world-class mystery writer and a great judge of mystery writing,” says Shirrel Rhoades, co-founder of Mystery Fest Key West. “Jerry's opinion was that a book either captures a reader in the first three pages…or it doesn’t. The competition judges all agreed with that assessment, and decided to use it as a yardstick for the competition.”

Complete Whodunit Writing Competition guidelines and submission details are available at

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Secrets of Bletchley Park: Guest Post by Rhys Bowen

RHYS BOWEN is the New York Times bestselling author of two historical mystery series: the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in early 1900s New York City, and the lighter Royal Spyness series featuring a minor royal in 1930s Britain. IN FARLEIGH FIELD is her first stand-alone thriller and was over a month as a #1 Kindle bestseller. Her books have won multiple awards and been translated into many languages. She is a transplanted Brit who now divides her time between California and Arizona. 

Rhys Bowen:
The Secrets of Bletchley Park

When I came up with the idea for IN FARLEIGH FIELD, my thriller set in the second world war among the British aristocracy, I knew that it would have to do with spying and secrets and what people knew but couldn’t tell. So I started by reading everything I could about M.I.5, the British spy agency, and about Bletchley Park, the code breaking center that nobody even knew about until a few years ago.

I found that when Bletchley was set up they recruited mathematicians from Cambridge, people who were whizzes at crossword puzzles and DEBS. That was a shock to me. I knew that some debutantes had worked there, but I was amazed to find that they had actually been sought out. The thinking behind this was that upper class girls were brought up to do the right thing. They wouldn’t get drunk and spill the beans. They wouldn’t have hysterics. They would do their duty and soldier on in deplorable conditions. And amazingly they did.

Of course I had to go and see for myself. At first glance Bletchley Park must have looked like the sort of setting they were used to: a sprawling Victorian house with attached conservatory, extensive grounds with a lake with swans on it. How delightful! But then the new arrivals would have noticed the rows of long, ugly make-shift huts on one side of the property. Those were where the actual work was done: where the German Enigma code was broken, where daily messages from Germany were intercepted and decoded. The huts were about as unappealing as any building I have been in; fiberboard walls, bare floor boards, freezing cold in winter and heated only by the occasional smoking oil stove, and hot in summer. And yet Alan Turing invented the computer in such a hut! Thousands of British lives were saves when news of a U Boat attack was decoded. It literally was the hub of the British war effort.

And yet nobody outside of Bletchley knew about it. Everyone who worked there had to sign the official secrets act, forbidding them to say anything about their work. And that act remained in place until the mid 1990s. And so families never knew what heroic work their sons, daughters, wives were carrying out. They were looked down on as not being part of the armed forces, as only doing “office drudgery”. How sad that many parents were dead before the restriction of the act was lifted and their son or daughter could never tell them what a big part they had played.

Actually the debs didn’t get to play a big part on the whole. The decoding was normally reserved for the men. The girls did the back up work—filing, transcribing, although those with language skills (and many had been to finishing school in Switzerland or Germany) were given translating assignments.

I find myself in admiration of these girls—taken from a life of privilege, of having a maid to dress them, their meals served in great dining rooms, their entertainment going out hunting or up to London for balls, and suddenly they find themselves billeted in a grim room next to the railway line, eating bread and dripping and boiled vegetables, working long shifts and not able to say a word about it when they were occasionally allowed home on leave. There was recreation at Bletchley. The organizers knew that the young people might well crack under the strain so there were concerts and dances, tennis and various games on the lawn, a cinema in the nearby town and long bicycle rides on days off. And there were plenty of romances. After all they were all young people, thrown together in a tense and unreal situation. However, as one of my characters points out, “I think he’s more interested in equations than in my legs.”

And recently I was delighted to find that The Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother had been one of those girls working at Bletchley during the war. Duchess Kate’s family had only recently found out about it because she too had kept her silence faithfully. I hope my book gives families a taste of what their loved ones went through, the strain of code breaking and being able to tell no one.

Such a fascinating time to write about, and to research. Bletchley is about an hour by train from London and you can easily spend a whole day there with interactive exhibits and recreations of the working conditions in the various huts.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: When Grammarians Grill

I Shape My Protagonist, and She Shapes Me: Guest post by Sally Andrew

Sally Andrew is the author of the new Tannie (‘Auntie’) Maria mystery series. Recipes for Love and Murder is followed by The Satanic Mechanic (available from Ecco, HarperCollins in the USA). Sally lives in a mudbrick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo, South Africa, with her artist partner and other wildlife, including a secretive leopard. Her background is in adult education and political and environmental activism. Her Tannie Maria books are being published in fourteen languages by twenty-one publishers internationally. Twitter: @TannieSall

Sally Andrew:
I Shape My Protagonist, and She Shapes Me

We create our fictional characters, but what writers don’t always tell you is that our characters start to shape us. And I’m not just talking about the weight I put on testing Maria’s recipes.

My protagonist in the Tannie (‘Auntie’) Maria mystery series is a fifty-something, plump, Afrikaans agony-aunt for the Klein Karoo Gazette. She lives in the small town of Ladismith, South Africa, was abused by her late husband and is obsessed with food (she gives recipes as a main ingredient of her agony-aunt response, and uses food to entice clues from suspects). Along with her co-worker, Jessie the kick-ass investigative journalist, she gets drawn into a murder mystery.

I also live in the Klein Karoo, but that’s where the parallel ends. Okay, I’m not far from fifty, but it will take me a few years to catch up with Tannie Maria. My book is written in the first person. I have to get inside Tannie Maria’s mind and voice, and she thinks and speaks quite differently from me. “Isn’t life funny?” Maria says in Recipes for Love and Murder. “You know, the way one thing leads to another in a way you don’t expect.”

She is a grounded, intelligent woman, although she is not highly “educated” in the academic sense. She has completed high school. Her English-speaking father (a journalist) was often absent. Although she has taken in many of his values, she is more comfortable with her mother’s Afrikaans (a language which descends from Dutch). My books are written in English, but sprinkled with Afrikaans for flavor. As one reader put it, “Tannie Maria is speaking Afrikaans, but in a way that English people can understand.”

My background is in adult education and social activism, and I have worked with, and written for, workers who speak English as a second language. This trained me to communicate complex ideas in an accessible way. (It also developed my Xhosa and Afrikaans speaking skills). This was very useful to me in finding Tannie Maria’s voice. After a while she developed a life force of her own (yes I know it’s corny, but it’s true). She is unpretentious and will not use the flowery words with which I might want to decorate the page. She often talks and thinks poetically, but the metaphors she uses are related to real things, mostly those that can be found in the kitchen or the dry Karoo veld. In The Satanic Mechanic she says, “I was maybe too hungry for love and ended up with murder on my plate.”

Tannie Maria is a small-town white Afrikaner. Stereotypically she would be portrayed as conservative. It was the white Afrikaners who engineered apartheid after all, and small-towns can produce small-mindedness. But Tannie Maria is open-minded, and open-hearted too. She is grounded and wise and funny. She has taught me how to laugh and to love – and, of course, how to cook. Until the Tannie Maria series, I’d never read a recipe book. Dinner time is when I peek in the fridge and throw something together quickly – it’s not time for reading, for heaven’s sake. But now I have waded through dozens of traditional South African recipe-books and tested and tasted hundreds of recipes.

But as well as teaching me how to laugh, love and cook, Tannie Maria’s has forced me to address political and social issues in a different way. I was an activist in the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. Comrades and friends were killed, tortured and arrested daily. There were taps on our phones and spies in our organisations. I was threatened and angry and fighting. We were at war, and I had no patience for ‘the enemy’: racism, sexism, apartheid, capitalism, and anyone who was tainted by them. There was little softness in my fists, or in my heart.

Tannie Maria is very clear about justice, and does not shy away from difficult issues, but she addresses things in a down-to-earth way, and with a big heart. The high-horse judgment that might characterize my own political perspective is very differently expressed by her. In The Satanic Mechanic, Maria joins a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) group, to unravel issues from her past that are interfering with her relationship with Detective Henk Kannemeyer. The therapy group contains a cast of characters who’ve experienced a range of South African traumas (armed robbery, violent xenophobia, scarring experiences in the apartheid army, torture by the police, homophobia, child-abuse, wife-battery and rape). Maria hears them all. After listening to the story of Dirk, who had abused his wife, she states, “In my mind, it was difficult to forgive him, but somehow my heart did it so easily.”

Members of the group are encouraged by the counselor (known as The Satanic Mechanic) to forgive themselves. This is the path to healing.

Maria has opened a space in my own heart to face up to my dark past, personal and political. She shows me that Yes, we must seek justice, and act, and fight, but we can do so in a way that heals ourselves and others. As Slimkat (a land-rights activist in The Satanic Mechanic) says, “Fighting can make you bitter. But sometimes it must be done. If you have to fight, then you must do so with soft hands and a heart full of forgiveness.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: The Confession

Home Fires: The Final Season

Home Fires, The Final Season On MASTERPIECE (PBS)
Sundays, April 2nd – May 7th, 2017 at 9pm ET

Home Fires returns on April 2. It follows the story of a group of inspirational women in an English village during World War II. As the conflict takes hold and the separation from their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers becomes more painful and acute, the women rely on one another and the friendships forged through village life. Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Reckless) head the extraordinary cast.

Orange Chocolate Chip Scones for Afternoon Tea

Summer Afternoon (Tea in the Garden):
Theo van Rysselberghe, 1901
There are few hours in life more agreeable
Than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
--Henry James

As a tea drinker, I can definitely confirm that. I love a cuppa and a scone around 4 p.m. Grab a book and a cat, and I'm good to go. Many of you know that I have another blog,, where I post a chocolate recipe or review every day. This post originally appeared there.

So what do you know about afternoon tea? Well, Anna Bedford, was the Creator of Afternoon Tea. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, inadvertently invented Afternoon Tea in 1840. At that time, the main meal of the day shifted from midday (luncheon) to evening. English high society didn’t dine until 8 p.m. Anna needed something to tide her over, so she ordered tea with brown bread to be brought to her room around 4 p.m. Initially this meal was brought surreptitiously, but after awhile she began to invite her friends, and “afternoon tea” expanded, both in what was served and the number of friends who partook. When Anna Bedford returned to London, she continued her afternoon teas, and soon Afternoon Tea became the rage of the elite. In addition to brown bread and small sandwiches, there were sweets and special “tea cakes.” The custom spread and tea rooms and tea gardens opened to serve tea to all classes. 

Afternoon Tea is not the same as high tea. Afternoon Tea is a lighter meal, and scones are almost always served. I love clotted cream with my scones, and luckily, fresh clotted cream is readily available at my market. I enjoy 'plain' scones, but these Chocolate Chip Orange Scones are yummy! Make some for your afternoon tea today!

Chocolate Chip Orange Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
Victorian postcard: Afternoon Tea
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons sweet butter, chilled and grated (keep cold until ready)
1 -1/3 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup miniature dark chocolate chips
3 tablespoons orange juice (1 large orange and zest from 2 oranges)

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or smear with butter.
In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
With pastry blender or large fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. You can also do this with your hands.
Put in freezer for 5 minutes.
Take out of freezer and add cream, chocolate chips, orange juice, and orange zest.
Mix together.
Turn out dough on floured surface. Pat or roll into 9 inch circle about 3/4 inch thick.
With 2 1/2 inch fluted biscuit cutter, cut out about 12 scones, pushing dough scraps together for last few, if necessary.
Transfer scones to baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven until golden-brown, about 10-12 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Serve with clotted cream and jam--and a good mystery!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Books for Sale: Marv Lachman

Mystery Readers Journal columnist Marv Lachman is selling many of the books (about 5,000) from his 60 years of mystery collecting. This includes Hardcovers, Paperbacks (many of which are paperback originals), Sherlockiana, Short Story Anthologies, Reference works, and Biographies. If interested, please get in touch with Marv at the following e-mail address (copy and omit spaces)

mysterybooks315   @

Cartoon of the Day: Writing

Cartoon of the Day: Motion Denied

Friday, March 24, 2017

10 Qualities of a Great Mystery/Thriller (and 10 Novels That Get it Right

I came across this article by award winning thriller writer Brian Freeman on Bookish, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  Brian checked with Bookish, and they agreed to allow a reprint of his brilliant article. Thanks, Bookish and Brian. Love to hear your comments.

10 Qualities of a Great Mystery/Thriller (and 10 Novels That Get it Right) 
By Brian Freeman 
Author of MARATHON

1. A Sense of Place: 
LOS ALAMOS by Joseph Kanon 

The best mysteries have a “you are there” quality, where every chapter feels as if you’ve been dropped down in the middle of the action, and you can hear, see, taste, touch, and smell everything happening around you. That’s true in a lot of series novels (Laura Lippmann in Baltimore, James Lee Burke in New Orleans, etc.), but there are wonderful stand-alones with a great sense of place, too.

LOS ALAMOS captures not only “where” but “when” in its setting. Kanon’s novel is a murder mystery set in 1945 at the atomic bomb facility in New Mexico. He is equally vivid in bringing the arid but beautiful Santa Fe desert landscape to life and in capturing the culture, uncertainty, and fear of people living in the midst of war and secrecy. It’s like going back in time.

2. A Gripping First Chapter: 
THE UNLIKELY SPY by Daniel Silva 

When I’m buying a book, the first thing I do is read the first page. Does it grab me by the throat? Does it immediately conjure an atmosphere of suspense and drama? Yes, there are great novels that unfold slowly — but most of my favorite mysteries hook me in the opening pages.

Before there was Daniel Silva’s series hero Gabriel Allon, he wrote a brilliant debut THE UNLIKELY SPY. Here’s the first line: “Beatrice Pymm died because she missed the last bus to Ipswich.” Ten pages later, after back-and-forth sequences between the perspectives of Beatrice and her killer, I dare you to stop reading.

3. A Human Hero: 

I don’t like to write about super-heroes. The moral grayness of the mystery novel — we’re writing about murder, after all — demands a hero who is human and flawed, with a determination to find justice in an often unjust world, sometimes at the cost of his or her personal happiness.

That’s why readers relate to a hero like Harry Hole (I love the name) in Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian crime novels. Harry is weighed down by personal loss, including the devastating murder of a colleague in THE REDBREAST that Nesbo handles with great emotional depth. And yet Harry ultimately rises above his own struggles to solve a wrenching mystery with roots from the distant past. This is a novel that shows how solving crimes takes a little bit of the hero’s soul with every case.

4. A Page-Turning Pace: 

I once had a reader tell me she’d been reduced to taking “illicit bathroom breaks” at work to get in another chapter. Great mysteries and thrillers give us a story so “unputdownable” that you have to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

I bought THE CHANCELLOR MANUSCRIPT as a teenager in the 1970s, and even now, you can see why Ludlum revolutionized the thriller genre. I started reading it as I walked out of the store, and I don’t think I stopped reading — or even took a breath! — until I finished it hours later. The story, about a novelist writing a political conspiracy thriller that may be too close to the truth, never lets up for a single page.

5. A Sense of Humor: 
THE CHARM SCHOOL by Nelson DeMille 

Most mysteries and thrillers deal with dark themes. People die. Things blow up. Serial killers lurk in every abandoned building. It makes you wonder how writers get up in the morning — so I love it when a writer tells dark, hard stories with a wink and an irresistible sense of humor.

DeMille may be the best novelist around in that regard. Most of his thrillers have a narrator with an ironic wit that makes them irresistible. You can’t really go wrong with any DeMille novel, but THE CHARM SCHOOL is my own pick. It’s a Cold War novel about the Russians training moles to work their way into American society. Dark, right? But he manages to lighten this gripping thriller with a sly, charming hero.

6. A Lot of Clues: 
SUSPECT by Michael Robotham 

Mystery readers are detectives themselves. They want to solve the crime before the hero does, and that’s part of the fun. So readers expect the author to play fair — by dropping in clues throughout the story that give you a shot at figuring out the ending. (Mind you, don’t expect us to make it easy!)

Australian crime writer Michael Robotham wrote an amazing debut with SUSPECT, in which psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin starts as a consultant — but soon becomes a suspect — in the murder of a former patient. The denouement has the perfect mystery quality: The clues stare you in the face throughout the book, but then you slap your head at the end and wonder how you missed them.

7. A Spectacular Twist: 
I KILL by Giorgio Faletti 

OMG! Isn’t that the reaction we want in every mystery? We want to turn the page and have our breath taken away by a surprise we never saw coming.

The late Giorgio Faletti was one of Italy’s great crime writers. His bestselling novel I KILL tells the story of a serial killer who calls into a radio show to taunt a popular host. It’s a long and winding road to get to the heart of the mystery, but the “whodunit” in this whodunit is simply brilliant. You’ll never guess the killer’s true identity.

8. An Elegantly Simple Solution: 
BLOOD WORK by Michael Connelly 

I love mysteries that are so multi-layered that they inspire what I call a “delicious confusion” in the reader. However, when you get to the end, the best mysteries take your breath away because the solution is so, well, simple. It should make such perfect sense that you wonder why you didn’t expect it.

BLOOD WORK isn’t a Harry Bosch book, so it’s not as well known as some of Connelly’s other novels (despite a Clint Eastwood movie adaptation). However, it’s my favorite Connelly book, because the resolution of the mystery is so elegant. Along the way, the motive of the killer seems horrifyingly random — but then you discover the gruesome logic underlying the entire book.

9. A Sense of Closure: 
11/22/63 by Stephen King 

Yes, we expect to solve the mystery at the end of the book — but a great mystery or thriller gives us more than that. We should also feel like the ending gives us the last piece in the psychological puzzle and a sense of closure for the characters.

Stephen King won the Thriller Award for 11/22/63 (the year before I won for SPILLED BLOOD). By writing a time-travel thriller about a man trying to stop the Kennedy assassination, he sets a high bar for closure, because we know he can’t really “stop” the assassination. (Or can he?) King manages to have his cake and eat it, too, by bringing pitch-perfect emotional resolution not just for his hero, but for the rest of us who live in a post-1963 world, too.

10. A Story You Want to Read Again: 
IN A DRY SEASON by Peter Robinson 

The best mysteries and thrillers aren’t books that you can simply put aside when you’re done. They should linger in your heart. The story should be so compelling — and the characters so richly drawn — that you want to go back and experience it all over again. When you do, you pick up wonderful nuances and subtleties that you missed the first time.

Peter Robinson’s IN A DRY SEASON revolves around crimes in the present and distant past. It has all of the other nine qualities on this list, which is what makes it one of my favorite mysteries of all time. And what a great premise — a World War II murder that is only discovered when a dry lake exposes the ruins of a small town that was flooded years earlier. I won’t tell you any more than that. Just read it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Keyboard Adaptations

From Rhymes with Orange. Cat in photo is my Barclay.

Noir City Hollywood

NOIR CITY: HOLLYWOOD returns to the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre this Friday, March 24 to take audiences on a 10-night trip back in time as the program replicates the movie-going experience of the classic noir era––ten double bills, each featuring a major studio "A" paired with a shorter "B" movie.

Opening night kicks off with the first cinematic pairing of Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, This Gun for Hire (1942). The "B" feature will be Quiet Please, Murder (1942) starring George Sanders and Gail Patrick. The FNF's Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode will be your hosts. There will also be a cocktail hour between the screenings, with live music, for all ticket buyers.

Some of the "A" films in the series include The Dark Corner (1946), The Accused (1948), Chicago Deadline (1949) Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and The Big Heat (1953). Among the B rarities unearthed for this festival: Address Unknown (1944), Behind Green Lights (1946), Backlash (1947), I Was a Shoplifter (1949) and the always crowd-pleasing Wicked Woman (1953), which will bring down the curtain on April 2.

The FNF's Eddie Muller will be on hand for the Friday-Sunday shows, with Alan K. Rode presenting the Monday-Thursday programs. The full schedule and program notes can be found on the American Cinematheque's website.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Mystery of Human Rights: Guest post by Eliot Pattison

Described as "a writer of faraway mysteries," Eliot Pattison's travel and interests span a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica. An international lawyer by training, he received “the Art of Freedom” award along with Ira Glass, Patti Smith and Richard Gere for bringing his social and cultural concerns to his fiction, published on three continents. He is the author of thirteen mystery novels, including the internationally acclaimed Edgar award-winning Inspector Shan Series, set in China and Tibet and the Bone Rattler Series, set in Colonial America. His books have been translated into over twenty languages. A former resident of Boston and Washington, Pattison resides on an 18th century farm in Pennsylvania with his wife, three children, and an ever-expanding menagerie of animals. Eliot Pattison’s new novel Skeleton God, ninth in his award-winning Inspector Shan series, has just been released. He was recently awarded the Art of Freedom prize by Tibet House to honor his support for the cause of Tibetan human rights. 

Eliot Pattison:
The Mystery of Human Rights 

Readers and critics sometimes have a difficult time categorizing my Inspector Shan novels. Some call them police procedurals, others Asian noir or literary thrillers, even political tragedies. A British editor once announced that with this series I had invented a new genre, that of ”campaign thriller.” I leave it to others to conjure up labels, but I do believe that what causes many to stumble in characterizing my novels is their unique undercurrent of human rights advocacy.

After extensive travels around the planet, and experiencing first hand the effects of political tyranny, I began to realize that many activists in the West have sucked the humanity out of the fight for human rights. For them it often seems a matter of ego rather than virtue. Instead of embracing human rights in their hearts they’d rather just wear the cause on their sleeve, and as their voices get louder their causes seem to get smaller. They focus too much on partisan politics and classes of people rather than people themselves. In doing so they avoid the hard and inconvenient questions arising out of modern geopolitics and ignore the truth of the most poignant human rights credo ever articulated: “When a good man is hurt,” the ancient Greek Euripedes observed, “all who would be good must suffer with him.” That credo doesn’t distinguish between suffering just down the road and suffering on the other side of the planet.

It was partly in reaction to this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that I launched the Inspector Shan series. With these novels I always seek to provide not only an engaging read but also a more personal, visceral look at some of our planet’s most abject human rights abuses. It’s a fine line for a novelist to take. My readers don’t pick up my books to be lectured to, and I work hard not to get up on a soapbox. Some grim lessons about the human cost of modern geopolitics are offered in all my books but the only way to be successful at such messaging is not to force them on readers. I want them to keep turning the pages because of my storylines and characters, and just absorb those lessons along the way..

I admit, however, that I do make it difficult for my readers to engage with my plots without experiencing the painful realities of daily life under tyranny. When, for example, a murder is staged as just another self-immolation protest in the prior Shan book Soul of the Fire, disturbing moral questions are implicit in the incident. What misery are these simple, deeply spiritual people enduring that makes self-immolation a common event? As Shan proceeds with his unofficial, unauthorized investigation and effects his usual makeshift justice, the experience of the Tibetan people takes on much more texture. The unrelenting persecution of Tibetans in their own land is a backdrop to all my novels in the Shan series. An investigation inside a prison or internment camp gives the reader a chance to experience their physical and spiritual brutality through Shan’s eyes. When Shan visits an idyllic nomadic camp or a remote, timeless village, I try to make the reader invested enough in the serenity and natural pleasures of such places to share the gut-wrenching pain when government agents arrive to extinguish that way of life.

The stages I set in my books always have that shadow around their edges, that uncertainty about larger scale injustices lurking below the more focused thefts and murders at the center of my plots. Those stages may get dark at times but all of my books end not just with a triumph of the human spirit, but also with a small but meaningful victory over a system that has institutionalized human rights abuses, a system to which the West has long turned a blind eye. If I am successful I will have prompted my readers to confront questions they had forgotten to ask and ponder that much greater puzzle, the mystery of our modern morality.

Cartoon of the Day: Robber GPS

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Colin Dexter: R.I.P.

Sad News. Colin Dexter: R.I.P. I met Colin Dexter in Oxford several years ago. Such a charming man. Loved his books.

From The Independent:

Author of the Inspector Morse books, Colin Dexter, has died at the age of 86.

"With immense sadness, MacMillan announces the death of Colin Dexter who died peacefully at his home in Oxford this morning." his publishing house said in a statement on Tuesday.

Dexter, who was awarded an OBE in 2000, wrote 14 Morse novels, between 1975 and 1999, which were subsequently adapted for the long-running ITV series starring John Thaw and spawned spin-off shows Lewis and Endeavour.

Dexter made cameo appearances in almost every episode of Inspector Morse.

The novels in his Morse series were as follows:
Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
Last Seen Wearing (1976)
The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
Service of All the Dead (1979)
The Dead of Jericho (1981)
The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
The Wench is Dead (1989)
The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
The Way Through the Woods (1992)
The Daughters of Cain (1994)
Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
The Remorseful Day (1999)

Cartoon of the Day: Editor

Monday, March 20, 2017

To Team or not to Team, That is the Question: guest post by Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith is the (solo) author of more than a dozen books, including the Edgar finalist Holmes on the Range. In addition to the two mystery series he's worked on with collaborators, he also created the "Secret Smithsonian Adventures" graphic novels with co-writer Chris Kientz. So maybe he's not as much of a collaboration-hating prima donna as he sometimes pretends. Maybe. 

Steve Hockensmith (and no one else):
To Team or Not to Team, That Is the Question

Until a few years ago, there were only three writing partners I had any interest in working with: Me, Myself and I. And I had my doubts about I, to be honest. Seemed a bit needy and lazy. But Me and Myself…those two I knew and trusted. Sure, they had their faults and quirks, but together we'd always gotten the job done.

At the time, I couldn't even understand how a writing team would work. Bringing in a partner for writing made as much sense as bringing in a partner for making toast. I'm a grownup. I know how to do this. And I don't need someone looking over my shoulder and saying, "Does it smell like it's burning?"

Then I had a revelation. I wish I could say it was about the importance of open-mindedness and the creative vitality that comes from embracing fresh ideas and new perspectives. Nope. It was "I really want to cash this check. Guess I'll have to give that open-mindedness malarkey a try."

The check was from Quirk Books and it was for a series of middle grade mysteries with do-it-yourself science projects woven into the plot. My problem: When it comes to science projects, I am not a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I'm a try-to-do-it-yourself-until-you-break-everything-then-give-up-cursing kind of guy. So if I wanted the new series to happen, I'd have to learn to work with someone other than Me and Myself and that jerk I.

Fortunately, I found a collaborator who was so good with science it was practically his middle name. In fact, it was practically his first name. "Science Bob" Pflugfelder was an educator and do-it-yourself enthusiast who shared my enthusiasm both for middle-grade fiction and cashing checks. So we teamed up to write Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab. Science Bob came up with the projects and science facts. Mystery Steve figured out how to build plots around them. And since we didn't kill each other in the process, we kept doing it, creating six "Nick and Tesla" mysteries in all.

With apologies to Science Bob, I will admit that, although homicide was never a serious possibility, there were times when I did consider a little light assault and battery. Take the time Science Bob suggested that we include a solar-powered hot dog cooker in a book. Would anyone have asked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to throw some sun-baked weenies into The Hound of the Baskervilles? Could Raymond Chandler have worked out a way to make a delicious, sun-warmed frankfurter an integral plot point in The Big Sleep? I think not. (By the way, the sixth book in the series is Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown…and there's a solar hot dog cooker in it. It is not, however, integral to the plot. What am I — better than Chandler?)

With the success of the Nick and Tesla books (which I call a success because we got an Edgar nomination for one of them and I never did kill Science Bob), I felt empowered to branch out beyond Me, Myself and I again. So when a friend told me about a fantastic idea she had — a book about a tarot reader who uses her abilities to help her clients — I said, "That sounds like a mystery. Wanna do it together?"

This April, the third book in the Tarot Mystery series, Give the Devil His Due, was released by Midnight Ink. Both I and my co-author, Lisa Falco, remain very much alive. (For the record, Me and Myself are still alive, too.) So maybe I've gotten the hang of this collaboration thing after all.

Just don't tell me how to make toast.

Cartoon of the Day: Bad Cop

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lefty Award Winners

Lefty Award Winners

The Lefty awards were announced tonight at the Left Coast Crime banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Congratulations to all!

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel:
  • Ellen Byron, Body on the Bayou (Crooked Lane Books)
Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial) for books covering events before 1960. 
  • Catriona McPherson, The Reek of Red Herrings (Minotaur Books)
Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  • Alexia Gordon, Murder in G Major (Henery Press)
Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories). 
  • Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning (Minotaur Books)
The Left Coast Crime Convention is an annual event sponsored by mystery fans, both readers and authors. Usually held in the western half of North America, LCC’s intent is to host an event where readers, authors, critics, librarians, publishers, and other fans can gather in convivial surroundings to pursue their mutual interests. Lefty Awards have been given since 1996.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Cold War Reenactors

Lambda Literary Award Nominees

The 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards–or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known–kick off another record-breaking year with today’s announcement of the finalists. The winners in all categories will be announced at a special ceremony to be held at the New York University Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Best Lesbian Mystery: 
• Blood Money Murder, by Jessie Chandler (Bella)
• Bury Me When I’m Dead, by Cheryl A. Head (Bywater)
• Collide-O-Scope, by Andrea Bramhall (Ylva)
• Final Cut, by Lynn Ames (Phoenix Rising Press)
• Pathogen, by Jessica L. Webb (Bold Strokes)
• Requiem for Immortals, by Lee Winter (Ylva)
• Under Contract, by Jennifer L. Jordan (Clover Valley Press)
• Walk-in, by T.L. Hart (Bella)

Best Gay Mystery: 
• Bitter Legacy, by Dal Maclean (Blind Eye)
• Homo Superiors, by L. A. Fields (Lethe Press)
• Lay Your Sleeping Head, by Michael Nava (Korima Press)
• Nights in Berlin, by Janice Law (MysteriousPress/Open Road)
• Speakers of the Dead, by J. Aaron Sanders (Plume)

Hat Tip: The Rap Sheet

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

St Patrick's Day Crime Fiction

Erin - Go - bragh! St. Patrick's Day figures in several mysteries, so here's my updated St. Patrick's Day Crime Fiction list. Irish aka Emerald Noir is very popular right now, so you can always add titles to your TBR pile from the many Irish crime writers available, although they may not take place specifically during St. Patrick's Day. Declan Burke has a great post on his blog CrimeAlwaysPays Overview: The St. Patrick's Day Rewind. Be sure and spend some time on his blog!  

Mystery Readers Journal had an issue that focused on Irish Mysteries. It's available as PDF or hardcopy.

As always, I welcome comments and additions to this list. 


Susan Wittig Albert: Love Lies Bleeding
Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, & Marcia Talley (editors): Homicidal Holidays: Fourteen Tales of Murder and Merriment
Mary Kay Andrews (aka Kathy Hogan Trocheck): Irish Eyes
S. Furlong-Bollinger: Paddy Whacked
Harry Brandt (Richard Price): The Whites
Isis Crawford: A Catered St. Patrick's Day
Nelson DeMille: Cathedral
Janet Evanovich: Plum Lucky
Sharon Fiffer: Lucky Stuff 
S. Furlong-Bollinger: Paddy Whacked
Andrew Greeley: Irish Gold
Jane Haddam: A Great Day for the Deadly
Lyn Hamilton: The Celtic Riddle
Jonathan Harrington: A Great Day for Dying
Lee Harris: The St. Patrick's Day Murder
Dorothy Howell: Duffel Bags and Drownings 
Melanie Jackson: The Sham
Diane Kelly: Love, Luck, and the Little Green Men 
Amanda Lee: The Long Stitch Good Night
Wendi Lee: The Good Daughter
Dan Mahoney: Once in, Never Out
Leslie Meier: St. Patrick's Day Murder
Sister Carol Anne O’Marie: Death Takes Up A Collection
Ralph M. McInerny: Lack of the Irish
Janet Elaine Smith: In St. Patrick's Custody
JJ Toner: St. Patrick's Day Special
Kathy Hogan Trochek (aka Mary Kay Andrews): Irish Eyes
Debbie Viguié: Lie Down in Green Pastures
Noreen Wald: Death Never Takes a Holiday

Check out Dublin Noir, a collection of short stories edited by Ken Bruen, published by Akashic Books in the US and Brandon in Ireland and the UK.

Read Val McDermid's take on the Popularity of Irish Crime Fiction.

Read Lisa Alber's guest post on Travels to Ireland, or, Bah, I Scoff at "Write What You Know"

Some Irish crime writers you might want to read: Tana French, Erin Hart, Benjamin Black, Declan Hughes, Jane Casey, Brian McGilloway, Alan Glynn, John Brady, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, John Banville (Benjamin Black), Ken Bruen, Jesse Louisa Rickard, Eoin Colfer.

Who are your favorite Irish authors?

And, if you want something CHOCOLATE to go along with your stout, have a look at my DyingforChocolate blog for some Killer St. Patrick's Day Recipes including:

Guinness Chocolate Silk Pie
Chocolate Guinness Cake
Guinness Chocolate Stout Brownies
Chocolate Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Ice Cream
Bailey's Chocolate Trifle
You Make Me Want to Stout Cupcakes (Scharffen Berger)
Bailey's Irish Cream Fudge

Guinness Chocolate Cherry Bread & Guinness Brown Breads

Monday, March 13, 2017

Cartoon of the Day-The Robbery

The Novella Renaissance: Guest Post by Nathan Walpow

Nathan Walpow’s The Logan Triad, out this month from Down & Out Books, includes three novellas about urban vigilante Logan and his crew of young apprentices. His recent collection Push Comes to Shove takes its name from a story selected for the Best American Mystery Stories series, and includes the novella-length expansion “Push.” His website is at 

Nathan Walpow:
The Novella Renaissance

Libby Fischer Hellman’s post about novellas last month resonated with me, because I too have been exploring this long-neglected intermediate story length. I’ve written four of them over the last few years, and I find 25,000-ish words a very sweet spot to write in. And it’s not just me.

In 2013 a couple of dozen mystery writers signed up to write for Stark Raving Press, a new imprint that promised to put crime novellas on the map. We would write them, they would format them, upload them to all the e-book outlets, sell them for $2.99 each, and promote the hell out of them. Mine was one of the first published, a tale about Logan, a vigilante of sorts who chases down people who do bad things to women and children.

There was lots of excitement, there was a big meeting of a whole bunch of authors … and the whole thing fell apart just as it was getting started. But at that meeting I ran into Paul Bishop, who was running another e-novella press. Mostly boxing stories, but starting to branch out into other martial arts. I had a pro wrestling story called “Push Comes to Shove” which I was rather fond of, and I offered to expand it to novella length. Which I did. The result was called Push, and I had a grand old time learning more about my unnamed wrestler’s life and travails. (You can read a bit about the process here.)

I found I enjoyed working at this in-between length. Once I got cooking, I could kick out the first draft of a novella in two weeks or less. Rather than facing many tens of thousands of words to be written, I had a goal that I could keep in sight even as I began. I decided to write another Logan, self-publish it, see what happened.

Which wasn’t much. You have to price an e-book at $2.99 or more to get a decent return. But everyone and his sister has been putting out full-length novels at that price (many of them utter bilge, but that’s another post), and no one wanted to pay that price for 25,000 words.

Then I found out that my friend Gary Phillips (another veteran of Stark Raving) had a collection of three novellas coming out from Down & Out Books. And Charles Salzberg (also an SRG vet) had a novella in another D&O volume, along with similar-length stories from two other authors.

So I sent a query, and shortly thereafter I had a contract for a book of three Logan novellas. I wrote the third, and The Logan Triad comes out this month in trade paper and e-book formats. My return to traditional publishing after several years of e-book purgatory. And I am so much more comfortable there. (That, too, is a story for another post.)

Next year Down & Out will publish the long-awaited (by me, at least) fifth Joe Portugal novel. The year after, a Logan novel. But with these two long-form works on the horizon, I want to be careful not to forget my newfound fondness for the novella. Libby’s book, as well as the ones Down & Out is publishing, show that there’s a place for mid-length work in today’s market. I’ll be watching for opportunities to help fill that place, and I know several other authors who’ll be doing the same.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Murder Weapon

Alfred Hitchcock Day

Today is National Hitchcock Day. No apparent reason for this date as he wasn't born on this day, nor did he die on this way. Not sure who sanctions these "Holiday" dates, but here goes. Lots of Hitchcock stuff to do today.

1. See a Hitchcock Movie on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu --or buy the DVD Collection: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (15).
2. Watch the TV series: Alfred Hitchcock Presents
3. Go see Sir Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock.
4. Take a Train Trip. Be careful whom you talk to.
5. Try to Spot Alfred Hitchcock Cameos
6. Read a Book about Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light

Alfred Hitchcock on how to Master Suspense:

Alfred Hitchcock on The Birds:

 The Trailer for Notorious


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Cats at the Art Museum

Happy Caturday!

Breaking the Law to Die with Dignity: Guest Post by Sara Blaedel

International bestselling author Sara Blaedel, Denmark's Queen of Crime, is known for her gritty crime thrillers set in Denmark, but her latest twist-filled novel, THE LOST WOMAN (Grand Central Publishing), is her most personal yet. As Marilyn Stasio put it in the New York Times Book Review: "Although 70 percent of Danes support euthanasia, it's illegal in their country, which drives the narrative into that gray territory where compassion can become a crime and kindness can lead to coldblooded murder."

Sara Blaedel:
Breaking the Law to Die with Dignity

Before even sitting down to do my usual obsessive planning for The Lost Woman, the type of intensive outlining and storyboarding that is an essential part of my process for all of my books, I knew I wanted to include and explore assisted suicide as a central theme. The concept became personal for me a few years earlier, after my parents were ill.

My mother, on top of being gravely sick, was suffering a loss of her identity. She tried to convey how profoundly she no longer felt like herself (“I’m not me anymore”), and how certain she was that she didn’t want to keep living with all that she was up against. She described wanting to secure a way out; a door being left open that would lead to freedom. I, of course, as her adoring daughter, was stunned and stricken by the very idea. I couldn’t imagine losing her; couldn’t even think about it. I cried and urged, and tried to reason, but my feelings were completely about my own experience. I couldn’t let go. What’s more, I couldn’t make sense of taking part in the passing of a loved one. For me at that time, it was new territory, and positively unthinkable. I’ve traveled miles since then.

My mother’s journey was the catalyst for my deep-rooted research into assisted suicide. Research is an integral part of my work as an author. Regardless of what I am writing about, it is imperative to me that I bring authenticity to my storytelling, be it about police procedurals, where the tales are set, or the elements that play a role in the lives of my characters (like crime, journalism, foster care, or religion, to name a few). I highly value research, and absolutely love the pursuit of information and an in-depth understanding of any given subject. I’ve developed a close and wonderful relationship with some heroic law enforcement figures, whose work I have studied, and who have been most generous with me over the years, advising, instructing, and making accessible the facts and figures I seek in order to organically capture the work they do. I travel to the locations in which I set storylines, even if it means flying to other countries (like England) or continents (the USA, for example). I go to the very spot where action will play out in my books, and take a measure of the atmosphere. It is super important for me to know how things look, feel, and sound, as I imagine my characters moving through a scene. Getting it picture perfect and pristine is not only a necessity, but a part of the process that I find especially rewarding and exciting.

I was hungry to learn as much as I could about assisted suicide; how it works, what is at stake, the territorial legalities, and the significance of it as an option for those who are suffering severely, with no hope of recovery or chance for an end to their torturous pain. Assisted suicide is an extremely divisive matter, and as such, fierce debates play out across the world. In the USA, it is legal in some states, but not most. Stories of people who have taken their own lives with professional help have graced the covers of magazines and sparked emotional and political arguments. A high-profile pathologist (Dr. Jack Kevorkian) went to prison, willingly, so committed was he to providing relief, self-determination, and dignity to those who felt helpless and defeated. In my home country of Denmark, assisted suicide is against the law despite the fact that 70% of Danish citizens are in favor of the act being legal and available. 

What I have tried to do in The Lost Woman is to introduce this urgent and timely issue with balance and honesty. My purpose was not to preach or influence, but rather to promote awareness and show both sides of this important debate. I hope I’ve moved readers to think, discuss, and dig in for their own research, while telling a story they’ll find compelling.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cartoon of the Day: Literary Allusions

The Evolution of a Millennial Mystery: Guest post by R.J. Noonan

R. J. Noonan is a New York Times bestselling author and a graduate of Wagner College. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes in the shade of some towering two-hundred-year-old Douglas fir trees. Where the Lost Girls Go is her first mystery for Crooked Lane Books. 

R. J. Noonan: 
The Evolution of a Millennial Mystery 

Story ideas come from surprising places. The idea for the Laura Mori Mysteries, which debuted last month, with Where the Lost Girls Go, went through a few incarnations before it was driven by Laura, a smart, agile rookie cop.

To be honest, it all began as an idea for a cozy mystery series. The protagonist was going to be a Jessica Fletcher-type retired schoolteacher who transitioned to coffee shop owner in her retirement. I figured the coffee shop would be a fabulous venue to reveal the quirky locals and their ancillary mysteries.

But Crooked Lane’s inventory of cozy mystery series was full, and as I was writing the proposal I stumbled a bit at making a woman from the baby boomer generation, a woman like me, seem old. Sixty may not be the new thirty, but I was having trouble making my main character dynamic while old enough to be a grandmother.

Going back to the drawing board, I landed on a much younger main character: a rookie from a traditional Japanese family, a smart young woman who was a bit more driven than most millennials who raise eyebrows when mentioned in pop culture pieces. Oh, those enigmatic millennials! They may be criticized for being lazy, entitled job-hoppers, or praised for breaking with tradition and valuing lifestyle over material wealth, but they are sending interesting ripples through the conventions of their predecessors.

For the past twenty years I have been surrounded by millennials, some of whom I love, well, like a mother. Just as I hear their chatter and music rising up from the basement, I sometimes hear their voices in my head when I’m working on a scene with Laura or one of her contemporaries.

Of course, Laura isn’t a classic millennial. She is smart, enthusiastic and diligent about finding answers and evidence to explain a crime. But her talents are largely unappreciated at home, where here parents have always been determined that she pursue a more scholarly, respectable career. As a writer, I dig into the conflicts that are organic to a story when writing about a “fish out of water,” a woman in what was once a man’s profession. Laura shares the values of varied and conflicting worlds, respecting the eastern traditions of her Japanese roots while understanding the daily patter of social media and indispensable cell phones.

You might say I’ve been on a millennial spree lately, as Pretty, Nasty, Lovely, my next novel for Kensington Books (Sept. 2017), is driven by Emma, a college student in her early twenties. When I submitted the proposal for a book that explored peer pressure, campus suicide, “frenemies” and a secret baby, my editor zeroed in on Emma, insisting that she be the protagonist of the story.

For me, the crisper, fresher view of the world through the younger eyes of Laura has given me a new perspective. When a character can bring a writer more “into the moment,” there’s a certain magic that sparks. The magic of make-believe.