Friday, September 18, 2020

BLOODY SCOTLAND PRIZES

I'm really enjoying Virtual Bloody Scotland Conference. Such fun. Thanks to the organizers for making this available to all and sundry. Right now they are awarding the McIlvanney Prizes.


McIlvanney Prize

Francine Toon: Pine
 



Bloody Scotland Debut Prize

Deborah Masson: Hold Your Tongue


Thursday, September 17, 2020

SIXTY IS THE NEW FORTY: Guest Post by Robert Dugoni

This article by Robert Dugoni originally appeared in The Mystery Readers Journal: Senior Sleuths (36:3) Fall 2020

Robert Dugoni: Sixty is the New Forty 

More than twenty years ago, I wrote the first draft of my first novel, The Jury Master. As is often the case with authors seeking publication, I threw every great idea and great character I’d ever thought of into that book, uncertain I’d get the chance to write another. The Jury Master, featuring attorney David Sloane, was published in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller. In the novel, Sloane meets Charles Jenkins, a Vietnam Veteran and former CIA officer living in seclusion on Camano Island in Washington State. 

Many readers contacted me wanting to know more about Jenkins, an African American who abruptly left the Agency and went into seclusion. They asked me if I’d given consideration to writing a Charles Jenkins series. Truthfully, the real Charles Jenkins was my law school roommate—though he never served in Vietnam or the CIA, at least not to my knowledge. I had once promised to put him in a novel and make him larger than life; no easy feat given that Chaz is 6’5” and built like a linebacker. 

The years passed and I wrote more David Sloane legal thrillers, with Charles Jenkins becoming his private investigator. In 2018, I was contacted by a man who had read The Jury Master, and was particularly interested in Charles Jenkins’s role as a former CIA officer. He told me he had a story to tell. In the interest of time and brevity, this man’s story gave me the idea to bring back Charles Jenkins in his own novel, The Eighth Sister. I came up with a story line I thought would be both timely and intriguing, a story in which Charles Jenkins is drawn back into the CIA and sent to Moscow under false pretenses. When he realizes he has been duped, Jenkins foils plans to kill him in a life or death chase across Russia, Turkey, Greece, and ultimately back home. 

I write much like an impressionist painter, adding layers to the plot and the characters with each new draft of the story. During one of those rewrites it dawned on me that we had celebrated the 50th year anniversary of the start of the Vietnam war which, doing the math, made Charles Jenkins a year or two beyond 60. Uh-oh, I thought. Big problem. How many protagonists exist in thriller fiction, or action/adventure films who are older than sixty? Not many. 

I lamented about this for several days and it dawned on me that I too am almost sixty! Yikes. Though certainly no spring chicken, and unable to do some of the physical things I could once do as a young man, I also don’t consider myself old and decrepit. I can no longer run for exercise—a new hip (degenerative arthritis) prevents it, but I do golf several times a week, swim, take long walks, do Pilates, and ski in the winters. I have friends who have done much more than that— they’ve climbed Mount Rainier in their sixties, run marathons, and competed in Ironman triathlons. 

Charles Jenkins could be one of these men. With a younger wife and a new family to raise, he would be motivated to stay in great shape, as he had done as a younger man. He’d certainly be aware of his age and maybe a little self-conscious, but on a day-to-day basis, how many healthy men and women stop to consider their age? Age, I decided is nothing but a state of mind, and certainly not something one considers when he is trying to outwit and out run Russian FSB agents. 

Besides, shouldn’t a protagonist avoid stereotypes and clichés? Shouldn’t he be unique and interesting and intriguing? An African American, former CIA Officer in his sixties certainly meets those requirements, as the backlash in Hollywood over the dearth of actors of color nominated for Academy Awards certainly attests. 

So I pushed on. 

My editors at Thomas & Mercer greeted the story with applause, and not a single question about Charles Jenkins’s age. In fact, after reading The Eighth Sister, my editor and I hatched a plan to write a sequel, The Last Agent, as well as an untitled third novel, and perhaps a series. The Eighth Sister also garnered significant attention from Hollywood because Charles Jenkins is unique as a lead character. But, alas, the subject of his age did come up, though not out of concern that Jenkins couldn’t physically do everything I had tasked him with in the novel. The concern was the limited pool of African American actors his age making action-thriller motion pictures. 

We culminated a sale to Hollywood of both The Eighth Sister and The Last Agent, and we discussed a possible continuing television series. While we did discuss making Hollywood Charles Jenkins younger—an Iraqi veteran instead of a Vietnam veteran—that inquiry was more a product of finding an A-List actor to play the part. Time will tell whether the concern is legitimate, or simply a misconception about actors, and the age of the characters they can play. 

In the interim, I tell anyone who will listen that sixty is the new forty, both in literature and in real life. At least I hope that’s the case. 

***

Robert Dugoni is the bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series, the Charles Jenkins Series and the David Sloane series. His books are published in more than 25 languages and has sold more than six million copies. THE LAST AGENT, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on September 22, 2020. Visit him online at www.robertdugoni.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Mysteries during the Days of Awe: Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, begins tonight. The Days of Awe are the days between the beginning of the New Year and Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. That a murder would take place on Yom Kippur (or during the Days of Awe) runs counter to Jewish belief. Let's hope murders only take place in fiction!

Here's a short list of Mysteries that take place on Rosh Hashana, the Days of Awe, and/or Yom Kippur. As always, I welcome any additions to this list.

Mysteries set during the Days of Awe

Three Weeks in October by Yael Dayan
The Day of Atonement by Breck England
Days of Atonement by Michael Gregorio
The Yom Kippur Murder by Lee Harris
A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn
Day of Atonement by Faye Kellerman
Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry by Harry Kemelman
The Day of Atonement by David Liss
A Possibility of Violence by D.A. Mishani
Nights of Awe by Harri Nykanen
Devil Among Us by Jack Winnick

Short Stories:  

Murder is no Mitzvah: Short Mysteries about Jewish Occasions
Mystery Midrash: An Anthology of Jewish Mystery & Detective Fiction, edited by Lawrence W. Raphael
Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishia
"The Lord is my Shamus" by Barb Goffman

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Cartoon of the Day: Dogs

 


CONFRONTING GOLDEN AGEISM: Guest Post by Helen Jacey

Helen Jacey:
Confronting Golden Ageism

Raymond Chandler’s Anna Halsey in Trouble is My Business had a remarkable effect on me. I read the rest of the novel wanting more of her and less of sleuth hero Philip Marlow. Why? Well, not only did Anna possess all the straight talking sass and jaded worldview I admire in a P.I., she is arguably one of the only female private detectives in 1940s noir. I wanted to follow Anna’s cases, find out what her client list looked like, and how she got results. She was my kind of older gal! Marlowe is often vicious about the ugliness of older women he encounters. He lives in a time when women over twenty five were considered over the hill. While he doesn’t mince his words about Ms Halsey’s looks (fat and old), he has professional respect for her. Chandler for once allowed an older female character, and a fellow sleuth, to have a big dollop of charisma in her characterisation.

Encountering Anna Halsey may have played a small part in why I decided to create, Elvira Slate Investigations. As a self-confessed noir crime addict, I adore 1940s style but loathe the values of the era. The ageism, sexism, racism and homophobia populating books and movies of the period are abhorrent in even those considered ‘classics’ of the genre. Honoring the wisdom of Toni Morrison, I wrote the book I wanted to read –1940s set, noir, but revisionist. The one book turned out to be a book series – Elvira Slate Investigations. Book one, Jailbird Detective was published in 2018, followed by Chipped Pearls a year later, both published through my company Shedunnit Productions.

The invisibility of older woman in 1940s noir is astounding. In movies of the period, the roles are decidedly limited: the strange housekeeper, the distant (often wealthy) aunt, the creepy governess or the dowdy maid, the sad spinster, the professional woman who shuns glamor (often denounced as ‘female impersonators’ by men who expected women to be young and beautiful. Positive traits are hard to come by, usually in minor characters, a friendly foil to the glamorous young protagonist.

The glaring absence of older female protagonists reflects the misogyny of the decade – and what happens to female representation when men are exclusively decision makers and power brokers. Men, as the gatekeepers in Hollywood and publishing, kept the older woman protagonist out.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is one of the better-known older woman sleuths. She inhabits the comfortable somewhat cozy genre of English Golden Age crime fiction where most female private eyes are amateur, because law enforcement doesn’t yet accept women in their ranks. Marple solves crimes with ingenuity born out of her outsider status as a elderly spinster, confounding both criminals and cops. Her status as a white, older woman, genteel in manners and gentle by nature, lends her agency in crime busting. She is ultimately respectable by standards of the day.

Subverting the negative stereotypes of older women was really important to me in Elvira Slate Investigations. I purposely want the series to be dominated by a cast of all kinds of women, older, diverse, LGBTQ., to give them complex and dimensional lives.

While Elvira Slate is mid-twenties, her mentor Beatty Falaise is in well into her sixties and could be pals with Anna Halsey. Beatty is top of the female private detective food chain in my fictional version of Los Angeles, and chair of the Association of Women Detectives of Southern California (a fictional body, but if guys can have their clubs, why can’t the dames?). She’s a woman who has it all – happily married, a fashion fiend, as well as a highly successful businesswoman. Her one regret? She didn’t have her own daughter.

Beatty is central to Elvira’s rehabilitation from damaged ex-felon to skilled private eye. Not only is she one of the few women to see the potential in Elvira, she gives her a break. She’s the all-important professional role model every young woman entrepreneur needs. She teaches Elvira the tricks of the trade, and coaches her through her first cases. And like any self-respecting cynical sleuth who has seen it all, Beatty doesn’t mince her words. When Elvira messes up, Beatty insists she cleans it up.

And it’s a reciprocal relationship. Elvira becomes the daughter-figure Beatty needs. One thing 1940s noir - in films and books - isn’t so hot on is representation of healthy mother/daughter relationships. Think Mildred Pierce and that pathologically manipulative relationship. So creating an empowering mother/daughter symbolic bond was top of my agenda.

Other sexagenarian characters are Tatiana Spark, a retired silent movie star, and transwoman Joyce who runs a nightclub for the queer community. Both have fulfilled careers, and live life on their terms. With Tatiana, I wanted her to represent a woman who might still have secret wounds borne out of a world that didn’t allow women to be unwed mothers, but a woman who uses her money to lead a fulfilled life of travel, of culture, and ultimately, of empowering other women.

 Joyce lives in her rightful gender, after an unhappy marriage as a man, and provides an important social hub for the queer community in 1940s LA. Joyce is ahead of her time, and best friends and more with many of the lesbian characters. She has experienced transphobia but doesn’t tolerate it. She’s dignified and merciful: she sometimes gives less informed characters a chance to wise up she is a real woman. If they can’t, then there’s no room for them in her life.

And there are plenty of women in their forties and fifties upwards, doing their thing, looking fabulous and enjoying life: top screenwriter Martell Grainger, artist Olive Harjo, gangster Reba T, Sal, the cab driver, Mrs Loeb the front-desk woman, and many more to come!

So what are my emerging feminist tropes for the older woman in my feminist revision of 1940s noir?

• They can have fulfilling sexual relationships, not just lonely spinsterhood
• They have social lives
• They have career success
• They aren’t defined only by regret or guilt
• They don’t agonize over fading looks
• They can be lesbian, trans, diverse and live fulfilled lives in spite of the repressive 1940s
• They support and empower other women acting as role models
• Menopause and post-menopause are not taboo subjects

In short, life might not be a bed of roses for the older woman in my 1940s noir world, but she isn’t just tending the garden in her glamorous housecoat.

***

Helen Jacey is the author of the Elvira Slate Investigations 1940s crime noir series, and the founder of Shedunnit Productions. She is a screenwriter and story mentor for the international film industry. Her screenwriting guide The Woman in the Story: Writing Memorable Female Characters (2nd ed 2017) is published by Michael Wiese Productions. Helen holds an MA and PhD in Screenwriting (University of the Arts London). She launched the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at Bournemouth University. Helen lives in East Sussex, UK

Monday, September 14, 2020

CALL FOR ARTICLES: Mysteries set in Ireland

CALL FOR ARTICLES: Mysteries set in Ireland: Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 36:4)

The next issue of Mystery Readers Journal will focus on Mysteries set in Ireland. We're looking for Reviews, Articles, and Author! Author! essays.

Reviews: 50-250 words; Articles: 250-1000 words; Author! Author! essays: 500-1000 words.

Author essays are first person, about yourself, your books, and your unique take on "Ireland' in your work. Think of it as chatting with friends and other writers in the bar or cafe (or on Zoom) about your work and your 'Ireland' connection. Add a title and 2-3 sentence bio/tagline.

Deadline: October 5, 2020

Here's a link to Mystery Readers Journal past themed issues.

Send to: Janet Rudolph, Editor. janet @ mysteryreaders.org

Please forward this request to anyone you think should be included.

Subscribe to Mystery Readers Journal. Themes in 2020: Environmental Mysteries; Italian Mysteries; Senior Sleuths; Ireland.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

VAN DER VALK starts tonight on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

Van der Valk starts tonight on Masterpiece Mystery! Check your local PBS station for time. And, if you're a PBS Passport member, you'll be able to watch all the episodes now. If not, you'll be able to watch a new episode every week.

Amsterdam—city of bikes, boats, and bodies. At least, that’s the way steely-eyed cop Piet van der Valk sees his murder-infested beat. Marc Warren (Beecham House, The Good Wife) stars as the title character in Van der Valk an all-new, three-part series based on Nicolas Freeling’s legendary crime thrillers.

Co-starring are Maimie McCoy (Wallander) as Van der Valk’s right-hand woman, Lucienne Hassell; Luke Allen-Gale (Dominion) as the scruffy sergeant, Brad de Vries; and Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Jericho) as the squad’s brainy new guy, Job Cloovers.

The recurring cast also includes Emma Fielding (Les Misérables) as Van der Valk’s incorruptible but indulgent boss, Julia Dahlman; and Darrell D’Silva (Game of Thrones) as the team’s hard-living, virtuoso pathologist, Hendrik Davie. Together they face a trio of challenging cases that give a new slant to Amsterdam’s renowned sophistication, for it appears that the city’s stylishness and toleration go hand in hand with murder.

Friday, September 11, 2020

MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL: SENIOR SLEUTHS (36:3)

Mystery Readers Journal: Senior Sleuths (Volume 36: 3, Fall 2020) is available as a PDF and hardcopy. Subscriber copies should arrive this week. PDF Contributor Copies went out. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue.

MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL:
SENIOR SLEUTHS (Volume 36:3)
Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ARTICLES
  • I Want to Be Mrs. Pollifax When I Grow Up by Patricia Cook
  • Marlowe’s Last Bow by Jonathan Woods
  • Supreme Senior Sleuths by Robert J. Stern
AUTHOR! AUTHOR!
  • Difficult Endings by John Harvey
  • Yooper Sleuthing in the Golden Years by Deb Baker
  • Senior Sleuths Can Be Geezers or Geezerettes by Mike Befeler
  • The Silvering Sleuth by Baron R. Birtcher
  • Cat Caliban and M.J. Smith by D. B. Borton
  • My Senior Sleuth by Garry Disher
  • Observations Lead to Older Detective Duo by Carl Brookins
  • Sixty is the New Forty by Robert Dugoni
  • Write the Age You Know by Kaitlyn Dunnett
  • How Quickly Does Your Detective Age? by Martin Edwards
  • Subjected to History’s Judgment by Daniel Friedman
  • A Conversion with Bronson by L.C. Hayden
  • Detectives of a Certain Age by Richard Helms
  • A Different Kind of Sleuth by Russell Hill
  • Confronting Golden Ageism by Helen Jacey
  • From the Golden Girls to Jessica Fletcher: The Road to Poppy Harmon by Lee Hollis
  • Where Age Is an Edge by Ron Katz
  • Senior Sleuths and Older Writers: A Conversation by Ellen Kirschman and Terry Shames
  • Rancho de Taos by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • White-Haired Love by Chris Knopf
  • Who You Calling Senior? by Vicki Lane
  • Why I Wrote the Gladdy Books by Rita Lakin
  • “See You Later” But Not “Goodbye” by Gayle Leeson
  • The World’s Oldest Working Cop by Peter Lovesey
  • My Senior Sleuths Are Still on the Case by Ed Lynskey
  • Sleuths of a Certain Age by Annette Mahon
  • Old Age Can Be Deadly, Unless You Are the Fog Ladies by Susan McCormick
  • A Senior Author Tries Sleuthing by Rosemary Mild
  • Molly and the Inspector by Larry Mild
  • Sneaking Into the Life of My Protagonist by Radine Trees Nehring
  • Better than a Homicide Detective by Richard Osman
  • Considering Writing a Senior-Themed Cozy Mystery? I Did. Here’s What I Learned by Carol Novis
  • Senior Sleuths: Not Dead Yet! by Ang Pompano
  • A Much Younger Sleuth by Cynthia Riggs
  • Murder and Mayhem in a Modern Noir Style by M. Glenda Rosen (aka Marcia Rosen)
  • Old Folks Are Just Neat by Nancy Swing
  • Why My Protagonist Is a “Woman of a Certain Age” by Ilene Schneider
  • Edward Gorey, Detective by C J Verburg
  • Mysteries After Sixty by Livia Washburn
COLUMNS
  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Sandie Herron, Lesa Holstine, L.J. Roberts, Lucinda Surber
  • In Short: You’re Never Too Old by Marvin Lachman
  • Just the Facts: A Cop for Three Quarters of a Century! by Jim Doherty
  • Real Italy Mysteries by Cathy Pickens
  • Crime Seen: Miss Marple and Beyond by Kate Derie
  • POV: The First Hundred Years Are the Hardest by Rita Lakin
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Diana Rigg: R.I.P.


From BBC News:

Actress Dame Diana Rigg, famous for roles including Emma Peel in TV series The Avengers

and Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, has died at the age of 82.

Her daughter, actress Rachael Stirling, said she died of cancer, after being diagnosed in March. "She spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession," she added.

Dame Diana also played the only woman who became Mrs James Bond. She played Tracy in 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Her more recent roles included the Duchess of Buccleuch in ITV's Victoria and Mrs Pumphrey in Channel 5's new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small.

Stirling went on to say: "My Beloved Ma died peacefully in her sleep early this morning, at home, surrounded by family. I will miss her beyond words." 

Sir Tom Stoppard added: "For half her life Diana was the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was what used to be called a Trouper. She went to work with her sleeves rolled up and a smile for everyone. Her talent was luminous." 'She swept all before her' 

Fellow playwright Sir David Hare said the actress had a "dazzling change of direction in middle age as a great classical actor". He said: "When Emma Peel played Euripides' Medea, Albee's Martha and Brecht's Mother Courage she swept all before her." Her four Tony Awards nominations resulted in a win for her searing portrayal in the leading role in the stage play Medea in 1994.

In 1990, Dame Diana won a best actress Bafta TV award for playing a difficult mother-in-law in Mother Love. She also won a Bafta special award in 2000 for The Avengers, shared with the series' other stars Honor Blackman, Joanna Lumley and Linda Thorson. Dame Diana was also nominated for nine primetime Emmy awards, winning for her role as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca in 1997.

Detectives in the Shadows: The Search for American Leadership: Guest Post by Susanna Lee

Susanna Lee: 
Detectives in the Shadows: The Search for American Leadership

In graduate school, years before I wrote Detectives in the Shadows, I designed and taught an undergraduate class called “Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction.” Most undergrads who came in didn’t know exactly what “hard-boiled” meant but they knew that it was vaguely cool, somehow connected to film noir, that there were guns involved, rainy streets, treacherous women, probably cigarettes. We started out reading the essay “Simple Art of Murder,” where Raymond Chandler writes that Dashiell Hammett “took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the gutter.” Students loved it. (I should also say that the Yale Library had an incredible collection of 1930s and 1940s crime novels, many of which hadn’t been checked out for decades, which was heaven for a fan of detective fiction.)

At that time, I was writing my first book on religion and the nineteenth-century French novel, looking at questions of why characters do what they do, and why things happen to them. When trouble comes, whose fault is it, what is driving the narrative? Is it an accident, a character flaw, fate? And all the while I am reading – for pleasure and for the hard-boiled class – twentieth-century crime fiction that focuses relentlessly on individual accountability, on doing the right thing no matter what the circumstances, on being your own person. Even leaving aside the question of religion, the entire concept of blame – blaming others, or society, or inequitable institutions – is in some sense very foreign to the hard-boiled. It’s not that the genre doesn’t believe systemic obstacles exist, but it treats them as ultimately surmountable or at least survivable.

In teaching that class, and then while writing my second book about moral authority and American character, I thought about why the hard-boiled private detective is such an iconic American image. And I noticed that there is this curiously dual quality to American thinking about individualism. One part says: I can take care of this, whatever comes down the pike, I’ll deal with it. That’s the “rugged individualism” that Hoover campaigned on in the 1920s, that’s what Chandler described when he wrote, “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything.” But there is another part of the American dream, namely that heroes like these are out there. They already exist. And so individualism, paradoxically, isn’t really a lonely or even solitary proposition. You’re not alone because you’re in the company of a world of tough guys, or tough people, who are competent. And these are the kind of people taking care of dirty work in America. The hard-boiled holds out that promise that this is American individualism, this is what you can be like. But it also lets you say, “that is who I want in charge.”

This is important, because the more I researched Detectives in the Shadows, the more I saw that fictional detectives responded very directly to leadership crises in America. When you look at when these novels came out, at what was going on the country at the time each iconic character became popular, you see that for every tough season in American history, there is a detective who came out to handle it. During the Depression, the Continental Op was resilient and humble and empathic. During the Cold War, Mike Hammer was an indestructible anti-Communist. Jump forward a few decades and when Nixon lies to the public, television detectives like Jim Rockford are simple straight shooters. In many cases, what we lacked in political representation, we made up for in fictional private detectives. This certainly happened with America’s numerous underrepresented communities. We had female detectives (Sharon McCone, Kinsey Milhone, VI Warshawksi, Tess Monaghan) and detectives of color (Easy Rawlins, Blanche White, Ivan Monk, Elouise Norton, Pete Fernandez, Jack Yu), queer detectives (Roxane Weary, Bobbi Logan), to name only a few. In some cases, and I discuss these in the book, a private detective embodies what we want in a leader and actual political representation follows suit. But it doesn’t always happen. Let’s hope that when we hold our election in November 2020, we can bring in the kind of competent, honest, ethical, and service-minded straight shooters we like to read about. We as a people have never needed national clean-up more than now!

***
Susanna Lee is a professor of French and comparative literature at Georgetown University. She is the author of three books, including Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-Boiled History, now available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Viktor Shklovsky and Me: Guest Post by Peter Abrahams aka Spencer Quinn


PETER ABRAHAMS aka SPENCER QUINN:

VIKTOR SHKLOVSKY AND ME

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Viktor Shklovsky, but for the one or two who may have temporarily forgotten him, here’s the Cliffs Notes version. By the way, Viktor died in 1984 (age 89) and Cliffs Notes began in 1958, so it’s conceivable that Shklovsky knew of Cliffs Notes! Did he come across them in his long and varied career in the literary world? If anyone out there has information on a Cliffs Notes – Viktor Shklovsky connection, please get in touch. My guess is he would have loved Cliffs Notes, but my mind is open.

Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky was a Russian literary theorist – as well as a novelist, poet, critic, and screenwriter, but our interest in him here today is strictly on the theoretical side, where he is chiefly known for introducing the idea of ostranenie. Ostranenie - as I scarcely need remind you – can be rendered as defamiliarization or estrangement in English. It’s all about breathing life into the overly familiar in art – but let him tell it: “And so, in order to return sensation to our limbs, in order to make us feel objects, to make a stone feel stony, man has been given the tool of art. The purpose of art, then, is to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition. By ‘enstranging’ objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and ‘laborious.’ The perceptual process in art has a purpose all its own and ought to be extended to the fullest.” (Shklovsky, Viktor. Theory of Prose. Translated by Benjamin Sher, Dalkey Archive Press, 1990, p. 6.)

And there you have it! Although at this point you may be asking what this has to do with the writer (me) of a series of mystery novels (Chet and Bernie) narrated by the detective’s dog (Chet). Answer: plenty! First, Chet is not a talking dog. He’s as canine as I can make him. And therefore we believe in the reality of how he experiences the world we share, he and us. But his take is very different from ours. He defamiliarizes the overly familiar. Ta-dah! We end up seeing things, to say nothing of smelling, hearing, tasting them – talk about the perceptual process! - in a brand new way. Voila! The tool of art in action! Fresh mysteries for sale, out of an old Russian oven! Meet Chet, four-legged master of ostranenie!

By now you’re probably wondering whether I myself would have been welcomed in 1920’s Soviet literary society. What other answer can there be but “with open arms?” At least at first, but with the Gulag looming later.

Did I know all this theory before I began writing Chet and Bernie, and is it therefore all just an exercise to illustrate a recondite point? Of course not! I only became aware of it quite recently, when I learned that the Chet/Shklovsky axis was a topic of conversation in certain academic circles. What fabulous news, I thought, because I know there’s resistance to the Chet and Bernie series from a kind of reader who believes the stories will be “cute” and lacking in literary depth and rigor. To those dissidents I can now say: Take it up with Mr. S!

***
Spencer Quinn aka Peter Abrahams is the bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie mystery series, as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling Bowser and Birdie series for middle-grade readers. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife Diana—and dogs Audrey and Pearl. Of Mutts and Men is the latest in the Chet and Bernie series.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Cartoon of the Day: Concert in the Time of Covid

From The New Yorker


 

KENTUCKY DERBY MYSTERIES

Authentic won the146th Kentucky Derby that took place Saturday in front of empty stands due to the corona virus. There were no people cheering on the horses, women in big hats, or special Kentucky Derby celebrations. Nevertheless, I've dusted off last year's list of Kentucky Derby mysteries and added a few more titles. And, you can also read horse-racing mysteries to celebrate the Derby --  or you can watch the movie The Kentucky Derby (1922). It's full of grit and crime. Have a piece of Derby Pie (recipes on DyingforChocolate.com), filled with chocolate, bourbon and nuts. Or make some Mint Julep Truffles or Kentucky Derby Bourbon Truffles.

Kentucky Derby Mysteries
King of the Roses by V.S. Anderson
The Silver Falcon by Evelyn Anthony
Triple Crown by Jon Breen
Death in Lilac Time by Frances Crane  
Triple Cross by Kit Ehrman
Intercept by Mary Jane Forbes
Bonecrack by Dick Francis
Triple Crown by Felix Francis
Silent Partner by Karen Jones
Snip by Doc Macomber
Murder at the Kentucky Derby by Charles Parmer
Dark Horse by Bill Shoemaker (Triple Crown)
The Accurst Tower by John Winslow

Kentucky Derby Short Stories
"The Gift" by Dick Francis is set at the Kentucky Derby. It is in the collection Field of Thirteen. "The Gift" first appeared as "A Day of Wine and Roses" in Sports Illustrated, 1973.
Derby Rotten Scoundrels: A Silver Dagger Anthology, edited by Jeffrey Marks
Low Down and Derby, a collection of fast paced mystery stories set around the Kentucky Derby, by fifteen authors from the Ohio River Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime, edited by Abigail Jones.
Murder at the Races, a collection of Short Stories including "A Derby Horse," edited by Peter Haining.

Children's Mysteries
The Mystery at the Kentucky Derby by Carole Marsh

Non-Fiction
Great Horse Racing Mysteries: Tales from the Track by John McEvoy
Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby (and 5 other non-fiction books about Thoroughbread racing and equine law) by Milton Toby

And there once was a thorough-bred named Mystery Novel. He did not win the Kentucky Derby.

Movies
The Kentucky Derby (1922)

Authors who Write Horse Mysteries 

(not necesssarily about the Kentucky Derby)

Gabriella Herkert, Jo Banister, Ben Petersen, Sasscer Hill, Kit Ehrman, Jody Jaffe, Bruce Alexander, Fern Michaels, Jody Jaffe, Carolyn Banks, Michele Scott, Dick Francis, Laura Crum, J.R. Lindermuth, William Murray, Mary Monica Pulver, Rita Mae Brown, Janet Dawson, Maggie Estep, Dick Francis, John Francome, Alyson Hagy, Michael Kilian, Peter Klein, Lynda La Plante, Holly Menino, John McEvoy, Jassy Mackenzie, Robert Nicholas Reeves,J. R. Rain, Bill Shoemaker, Laura Young, Lyndon Stacey, JD Carpenter, Lisa Wysocky, Sally Wright

Other Horse Mystery Short Stories
Murder at the Racetrack, edited by Otto Penzler
Field of Thirteen by Dick Francis

Sunday, September 6, 2020

GARY ALEXANDER: R.I.P.

What sad news. Mystery author Gary Alexander passed away on August 17 after a short battle with cancer. I knew Gary for many years, through Bouchercon and then via email. He often contributed to Mystery Readers Journal and wrote for Mystery Fanfare, as well. Gary frequently sent me his latest novel to read and review. Gary wrote 24 novels, 200+ short stories, and sold travel articles to 6 major dailies. His most recent novel, set in December 1941, is Harry Saves the World Again.

His family wrote this touching obituary on his Facebook page:

Gary Alexander, the best Daddy in the world, left us early in the morning on 8/17 after a mercifully short battle with cancer. In his last weeks he liked to say that he beat those actuarial tables* for long enough. He was happy, spirited, and spouting fun random facts right up until the end. He talked often, in his final days, that he would not succumb to self pity because he had had a good long life with a loving family; more than most people get. He was such a proud, protective, loving, funny, wonderful father, grandfather, and husband and we will miss him so, so much. As son-in-law #3 said, “He was such a beautiful person, and sometimes when things are really beautiful you also have to accept the really bad stuff too.” 

Thankfully, Gary is done with the really bad stuff and is now off wherever he wanted to go, probably eating dark chocolate, drinking strong black coffee, and hunting and pecking stories out on some ancient typewriter. (clack clack clack clack clack) 

We want to thank you all for being a part of Gary’s life, even if it was just here on Facebook. He enjoyed and appreciated everyone so much, and in our opinion, liked to stir the pot of interaction quite a bit! 

Read his Funeral Home obit here.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

STRAND MAGAZINE CRITICS AWARDS 2020

The Strand Magazine announced the winners of  the 2020 Strand Critics Awards last night at a fun Zoom Part. Hank Phillipi Ryan and
Andrew Guilli officiated. Great fun! Such a pleasure to attend on Zoom. The Awards recognize excellence in the field of mystery fiction and publishing. 


THE STRAND MAGAZINE CRITICS AWARDS

Best Mystery Novel
The Sentence Is Death, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper)

Best Debut Novel:
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton)

Bronwen Hruska of Soho Press is this year's recipient of the Publisher of the Year Award. 

Tess Gerritsen and Walter Mosley were awarded Lifetime Achievement. 


Friday, September 4, 2020

LABOR UNION CRIME FICTION

Another holiday, another list! Labor Day!

I'm only aware of a few mysteries set during the Labor Day Holiday: Lee Harris's Labor Day Murder, Sharyn McCrumb's Highland Laddie Gone,  Sandra Balzo's Running on Empty; Meg Macy's Bearly Departed, and Mary Jane Maffini's The Devil's in the Details (Labour Day Weekend-Canada). There's also the short story "Labor Day" by R.T. Lawton in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. There are a few other "Summer Mysteries" that include Labor Day, but not as the main subject.

Labor Unions, on the other hand, are rife with settings and situations for crime fiction. This is an UPDATED Crime Fiction list involving Labor Unions with links to two great articles. Please let me know any books that are missing from this list.

LABOR UNION CRIME FICTION

The Knife Behind You by James Benet (Department Store Union Organizer)
For the Love of Mike by Rhys Bowen (Garment Workers Union)
White Hot by Sandra Brown (Labor Dispute)
Big Boned by Meg Cabot (Graduate Student Union)
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (Insurance)
All Men Fear Me by Donis Casey (IWW)
Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi (Farm Workers' Union)
Airframe by Michael Crichton (Union Trouble)
Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (Waterfront Strike)- coming out this Fall
The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle (Union Group called the Scowrers)
Third Strike by Philip Craig and William Tapply (Steamship Authority Strike)
October Heat by Gordon DeMarco (1934 San Francisco General Strike-Longshoremen)
Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle (The Scowrers)
The Bramble Bush (aka Worse than Murder) by David Duncan (San Francisco General Strike)
American Tabloid by James Ellroy (Teamsters)
LA Quartet by James Ellroy (Movie Unions)
A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett (Coal Mines)
The Peripheral Son by Dorien Gray
Dead Reckoning by Patricia Hall (Union Strike)
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (IWW organizer & Copper Workers; Strike Breaking)
"Busting Red Heads" by Richard Helms in EQMM (short story)
A More Perfect Union by J.A. Jance (Iron Workers' Union)
As Dead As it Gets by Cady Kalian (Creative Artists' Union)
The Longer the Thread by Emma Lathen (Garment Workers)
Death at the Old Hotel by Con Lehane (Hotel Workers' Union)
Through a Glass Darkly by Donna Leon (not a union exactly but unsafe working conditions and pollution in the Venetian glass industry)
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (Police Union)
Through a Glass Darkly by Donna Leon (Unsafe environmental pollution in Venetian glass factories effecting workers)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Long Shoremen's Union)
Deadly Dues by Lulu Malone (Actors' Union)
Stiff by Shane Maloney (Meat Packing)
Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti  (Union rep in Cathode-ray Tube industry)
Champawat by Lia Matera A Novella in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Labor Unions & the Clash between Anarchists & Democrats)
Organize or Die by Laura McClure (Union organizing)
Conferences are Murder by Val McDermid (Journalists' Union) 
Death at Pullman by Frances McNamara (American Railway Union)
The Viewless Winds by Murray Morgan (Murder of a Labor Leader's wife)
A Red Death by Walter Mosley (Aircraft Manufacturer and Labor Union organizer)
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely (Domestic Workers)
Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky
Mr Campion's Fault by Mike Ripley (Mineworkers)
Death and Blintzes by Dorothy and Sidney Rosen (Garment Workers Union)
A Bitter Feast by S. J. Rozan (Restaurant Workers' Union)
Some Cuts Never Heal by Timothy Sheard (Shop Steward)
Judas Incorporated by "Kurt Steel" (Rudolf Kagey) (Pro-Union)
The Big Both Ways by John Straley (Lumber)
The Labor Union Murder aka Fourth of July Picnic by Rex Stout (novella)
Absolute Rage by Robert K. Tanenbaum (Coal Miners' Union)
Fallout by Paul Thomas
The Porkchoppers, Yellow Dog Contract by Ross Thomas (Politics & Unions)
Killy by Donald Westlake (Manufacturing Union)

For further reading:

The Strange Connection Between Detective Fiction and Union Busting by Erica Eisen

Radical Noir: 26 Activist Crime Novels by Molly Odintz

Have a great Labor Day Holiday!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Cartoon of the Day: Dogs


CONNECTING WITH MY "INNER AGATHA": Guest Post by Marty Ambrose

Marty Ambrose:
Connecting with my “Inner Agatha”

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing in a time when the world seems to be chaotic.

Mystery writers create stories about a sudden crisis entering a community and turning it upside down. A local official is murdered, a wealthy neighbor is kidnapped, a child goes missing. Something happens that is out of the ordinary and, as the sleuth tracks down the criminal, the world turns dark and generally more sinister things happen. I write historical mysteries, but the basic plot is similar; it’s just that my characters experience these events in the past. That’s the kind of fiction that I write. But it’s fiction.

Most of us who write mysteries don’t live through those kinds of traumas, much less a global upheaval.

We might read about them but our lives, for the most part, are made up of routines at the computer with occasional research trips and writers’ conferences. Until now. We’re living through the kind of world turmoil that happens once in a lifetime—hopefully. As this pandemic has unfolded over the last months, it’s permeated every aspect of our lives, and it’s required a huge amount of focus to keep writing (sometimes I don’t quite make it). Many times, my own creativity proved to be elusive no matter how hard I tried to find it. After a particularly difficult morning of staring at a blank screen for two hours, I turned in desperation to the Mother-of-All-Mystery-Writers, Agatha Christie, for some inspiration. She was a prolific author and enjoyed a long career; I’d loved her books forever. Surely, there were some lessons to be discovered from her life.

I found all of that—and more.

Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She went through two world wars, the 1918 pandemic, the Great Depression, and other cataclysmic social changes. Yet she kept writing. In fact, she wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short stories. What was her secret to keep going in trying times? Well, it took a little digging, but I found that her curiosity always sparked her focus when craziness erupted around her. She kept occupied with her interests, bordering on obsessions, and filed them away for future books. In fact, her experiences during WWI made her want to be a writer.

When the war broke out, she lived in her native Torquay in Devon, England, and volunteered as a nurse, learning about the nature of wounds, which she later used in her murder plots. Even more intriguing, she worked in the dispensary, learning about medicines and tonics, where she relates, “I first conceived the idea of writing a detective story . . . Since I was surrounded by poisons, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.” Only Christie. She began her first book in her spare time, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was published in 1920. It wasn’t a great success, but it set her on the road to becoming a novelist; she also began her lifelong love of killing off characters with deadly chemicals. Throughout the war, she worked long hours, endured the loneliness of a being an absent soldier’s wife, and gave birth in London at the end of pandemic. Yet she somehow found the momentum to keep going as a writer.

Certainly, nothing prepared Christie for such tough times (the sight of blood initially made her faint), but she found something about every catastrophe that engaged her inner strength to keep searching for something new and intriguing. During WWII, she volunteered again as a nurse in the dispensary and acquired even more knowledge of poisons for fresh methods of murder. This type of obsession might sound odd to the average person, but for a mystery writer it’s business as usual to find new ways to dispose of characters. Reading about Christie’s secrets for getting through her trials and tribulations, one quote stood out for me: “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certain that just to be alive is a grand thing.” Wise advice.

I may not be able to volunteer as a nurse, but I can be involved in my community by donating to food banks, checking in on my neighbors, finding a mutual aid network. It helps to negate the isolation. Writers tend to spend a lot of time alone creating imaginary worlds, but it’s important to spend part of the day rooted with the people in my surroundings—doing whatever I can to help. Thank you, Agatha.

I may not be consumed with poisonous substances, but I can delve into another deadly subject for my fiction writing. My novels are set in nineteenth-century Italy, so I decided to build my next plot around a mysterious dagger. I’ve been studying about the cinquedea, a long knife that was popular during the Italian Renaissance; its name means “five fingers” because that was the width of the blade. And it was lethal. I researched its history—the shape and style—and how it was used as a weapon. It’s riveting, and I can’t stop reading about it. Thank you, Agatha.

During all of my research, I’ve been reflecting on Christie, trying to imagine her pounding away at the typewriter as disastrous world events swirled around her. I realized that she wasn’t just a mystery writer; she was a remarkable woman who has shown me what it means to have been blessed and cursed to “live in interesting times.” And somewhere in the creative process, maybe a little positive energy goes out into the world as a light in dark times.

 As Christie reminds us, we can’t forget that life is a grand thing.

***
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature from the time she first read Agatha Christie mysteries and British Romantic poetry. Marty pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, both in the U.S. and the U.K. so she could teach students at Florida Southwestern State College about the writers that she so admired. Three decades later, she is still teaching and has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned over fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, and Thomas & Mercer. Marty Ambrose lives in Florida with her husband, ex- news anchor Jim McLaughlin. She is currently working on the third book in her trilogy, Forever Past. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Cartoon of the Day: The Jury


BLOODY SCOTLAND PRIZE: SHORTLIST

Bloody Scotland announced their Shortlist for the McIlvanney Prize. Winner will be announced on September 18 at Virtual Bloody Scotland.

McIlvanney Prize Shortlist

Andrew James Greig: Whirligig 
Doug Johnstone: A Dark Matter 
Ambrose Parry: The Art of Dying 
Francine Toon: Pine

Read more here