Friday, December 31, 2010

Exciting New Releases for 2011

It's the last night of the last week of the old year, and I've been cramming mysteries into my hours. Tomorrow, January 1, look for a splash on the new translation of THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X (Yogisha X No Kenshin), which won the Japanese equivalent of the National Book Award for author Keigo Higashino. Jan Burke's praise is on the front cover of the advance reading copy.

Plus I'm hugely enamored of DEVIL-DEVIL by Graeme Kent, a new entry for the Soho Crime list -- from a prolific author and BBC broadcasting officer and consultant. Set in the Solomon Islands, it introduces Sergeant Ben Kella and his friends (and among them, enemies). It's a winner!

Also coming in the new year, a fresh Paris mystery from Cara Black, espionage from David Downing, dark crime set Down East from Gerry Boyle, Clea Simon's delightful animal psychic mystery, and the new release from mother-and-son team Charles Todd. I can hardly wait!

If you've got a mystery title coming out in 2011 that you want to talk about, or have in mind one you're waiting to read, mention it here. Why not? We're all in this together ... for the fun of it, and for more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Blizzard of Dec. 27, 2010 ... and Briefly, Sara Paretsky

Dave managed things up on the mountain yesterday, while I drove our guests to the distant train station (60 miles). Today I shoveled, so the book deliveries (and book browsers!) will be able to make it to the door. Thank goodness that's done! It's a glorious blue-sky day here with fierce winds. Along the edges of the back roads, and through our yard, are this morning's deer tracks. I spotted the prints of an enormous buck, as well as tiny ones that seem way too small to manage the snowbanks. Their hungers draw them out of the cedar shelters.

And our hungers for good stories, good mysteries, powerful or funny or complex or daring: These draw us also out of our chairs, to the bookshelves and to investigating the latest work. I'm also on a Sara Paretsky binge, as she's been named Grandmaster of Mystery by the Mystery Writers of America; here's a good interview with her, on the Sisters in Crime blog. I am even more impressed with Paretsky, now that I realize she's a founder of SinC, as well as a steady writer whose Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski, has pressed on through criminal and societal conflicts over the years. Anyone have a favorite to mention, among Paretsky's 14 books?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes of PREY ON PATMOS: Jeffrey Siger, Guest Post

We welcome author Jeffrey Siger, as his third novel of crime fiction and detection is released here in the United States. His adventures in New York City have a lot to do with both his relocation to Mykonos, Greece, and his books featuring Greece's Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis. A quick look at Jeff's website will assure you that he knows his subject in detail from the inside -- but sometimes a conversation takes place outside the usual location and turns out to bring a revelation for a book. Here's Jeff to tell you know it recently happened.

And Just When You Least Expect It…

If you’re open to it, there’s no telling when or where an idea might just sneak up and bite you on your inspiration.  Especially if your writing is situational rather than character driven.  Stephen King, for instance, points to chance encounters as the trigger for many of his ideas—such as one with an abandoned car that led to Christine.  The plot idea for my first Greece-based, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, Murder in Mykonos, came at the funeral of a close friend in one of Mykonos’ more than a thousand churches, and the epiphany moment for my second, Assassins of Athens, was the passing mention of the ancient Greek practice of ostracism at an Athens theater’s virtual reality journey back in time to Classical Greece.

And for my soon to be released third book, PREY ON PATMOS, An Aegean Prophecy, inspiration came on a balmy early winter morning by the sea as I was having coffee in a harbor café at a table shared with three Mykonians.  The situation was not unusual, it was part of my daily routine, but the table wasn’t in Mykonos, nor by the Aegean Sea, or even in Europe, and I knew only one of the three men around it.  He was a friend on holiday in the U.S. and somehow learned that I was in Orlando visiting my son, so he called and said, “Come to Clearwater Beach for coffee with some Mykonians who moved to Florida.”  As Orlando is not within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico, it took me a couple of hours to get there, but there I was, at the edge of the water, listening to my buddy bring a father and son pair of émigrés up to speed on all the news from “home.” 

At one point the father asked me what was my favorite island, aside from Mykonos.  I said Patmos, a place I’d been to many times and at one point knew almost as well as Mykonos. In fact, I’d been there for the 1900th anniversary of Saint John recording the Book of Revelation in a cave on Patmos.  When I mentioned the 1000-year-old monastery that dominated the mountain above Patmos’ harbor, the son said if monasteries were my interest there was no place on earth like Mount Athos, a rugged mountain wildness on a 130-square-mile peninsula about an eight-hour drive north of Athens.  Following a way of life virtually unchanged for 1500 years, hermits utterly withdrawn from secular life living in isolated huts and monks living within massive, fortified monastery walls shared a common commitment to God, prayer, contemplation, and protecting the cherished seclusion of their life in the world’s oldest surviving monastic community.  It was perhaps the last remaining place on earth still using the 2000-year-old Julian calendar.  In the 11th century, 180 monasteries existed there, but times had changed and today only twenty survived: seventeen Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian, each sovereign over their twenty respective self-governing territories.

The son spoke of his trips to a half-dozen of Mount Athos’ monasteries.  Access to the peninsula was only available by boat from one of two cities on the adjacent mainland.  He told of the “smelly, stinky bus” that took him from the port to the region’s little and only city.  To reach the monasteries he had to walk for hours along mountain paths.  He said it seemed strange to see so many construction cranes and trailers, but they were necessary.  Some of the monasteries were spending extraordinary sums on restorations; others were not.  All, though, had one thing in common: They were incredible, almost imaginary, castles overlooking the sea, embracing massive churches filled with extraordinary icons—some free-standing and others covering virtually every space on every wall.  There was no electricity, and those that did not have generators, lit their spaces by candlelight.

At each monastery he’d be greeted with mastiha liqueur, a sweet, and water by a monk assigned to that task.  Most monks would not speak to visitors.  There were two meals each day, generally at ten in the morning and six at night, served on stone tables for twenty to thirty people.  You ate from metal bowls and cups.  There was no meat and little dairy.  The staples of each meal were chick pea soup served in a large metal bowl for the table, olives, bread, apples, onions, red wine, and water, all from Mount Athos.  During dinner one priest would read stories on how life should be led, and another would preach.  The food was good, some exceptional, but the moment the head priest finished eating the room went eerily quiet; at that point dinner was over and it was time to return to prayer, the primary purpose for the lives of the 2000 men who lived on Mount Athos.  There were no women allowed on Mount Athos or men under eighteen years old, and, with rare exception, no female domestic animals.

Services could run for hours.  Mesmerizing chanting in candlelit spaces filled with gray-bearded men in black robes darting their eyes from icon to icon, crossing themselves as they did.  Then it was off to sleep for the visitors in tiny bedrooms filled with not much more than two single beds perpendicular to one another and a scent reminiscent of the bus ride.

Just about then, the father interrupted his son to make a point about a fraudulent land swap and money-laundering scandal growing out of the 2004 Olympics and involving Mount Athos.  It was the most talked-about subject in Greece and the focus of a nationwide media feeding frenzy dragging in high-ranking government ministers and the abbot of perhaps the most prominent of Mount Athos’ primary monasteries—this one, though, had accommodations equivalent to a five-star luxury hotel and played host to such prominent guests as Prince Charles and George H. W. Bush.

Bingo!  An inspirational fireworks moment, and I spent the next thirty minutes scribbling down ideas for what would become PREY ON PATMOS, An Aegean Prophecy.

And yes, I picked up the check for the coffee.

­— Jeffrey Siger

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Greek Crime Fiction: PREY ON PATMOS by Jeffrey Siger

What a delight to discover the strength, confidence, and intriguing plot of PREY ON PATMOS, the third Inspector Kaldis  detective novel from Jeffrey Siger -- this author, retired to Greece and now embracing crime fiction as his new career, has surged in exciting ways beyond his debut Murder in Mykonos and the action thriller Assassins of Athens, to craft a suspenseful and provocative new mystery.

Siger's "Author's Note" at the opening of the book gives fair warning: "To write about Greece and ignore the [Eastern Orthodox] church is as foolhardy as any surgeon who seeks to understand his patient without attending to the heart."

And Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis is a man of the heart. With his assistant, detective Yianni Kouros, his previous investigations have linked him with a magnificent and courageous woman, the lovely Lila, a young, socially prominent widow who's captured Andreas' love. And now Lila is about to give birth to their child. But can Kaldis stay home with her? No chance -- the scandal and complications of a murdered monk on the holy island of Patmos demands the expertise that Kaldis has developed over the years. He is the "fixer" when crime strikes the politically prominent and powerful. And 200 miles from Athens, where the monk's throat was cut in the town square, the mess of such a murder on the Sunday before Easter qualifies as a political hot potato. Hopefully, Lila's muscles and the baby's urge toward air will hold off long enough to solve the crime.

Then again, this may not be one of those crimes that resolves quickly. The silences and secrets of the interlinked monasteries and their leaders begin to involve international intrigue. Old faces turn up with new names. And the Patmos police force, caught in its own net of power and privilege, has already cleaned up the crime scene, moved the body, and fallen into similar silences.

Siger conveys the weight and force of the church in the lives of Greeks, secular and religious alike, while leavening scenes with the gentle humor of these seasoned investigators, for when they arrive at the main church on the isle of Patmos:
Andreas wasn't sure if the monk was taking them the quickest way, or one intended to impress them with the majesty of the place. As they followed the man up a flight of stone steps to a second floor, Kouros whispered, "Do you think we should drop some bread crumbs?"

Andreas stifled a laugh.

The monk turned right, stopped by a heavy wooden door, opened it, and gestured for them to enter. It was a large room with two windows. At the far end there looked to be more than enough chairs to seat every monk in the monastery. The monk pointed to two unadorned wooden chairs in front of a massive wooden desk, then left, leaving Andreas and Kouros alone. They sat and waited.
When the abbot arrives -- and is persuaded to move beyond his usual boundaries in revealing something about the dead monk -- the crime begins to look like it's the means of permanently silencing a monk who has accused others of corruption. And the forcefully searched condition of the dead monk's cell (in spite of the abbot's seal on the door) suggests that dangerous people are making sure the accusations die with the man.

But there are more forces at work than the investigators realize, and soon Andreas Kaldis finds himself entangled on multiple levels, personal as well as police, with Greece's forces of crime and of political pressure. And when Russian mobsters appear to have a stake in how the monasteries are settling their affairs, Kaldis has to admit that his "boss" is right: As a dedicated fixer, he is indeed the only investigator in Greece who can and should be stepping into this territory.

Some great twists of plot and profound realizations about Greek life add to the progress of the book, and by the end, Siger has neatly captured his niche in establishing a detective and a landscape that beckon and bond. I'm looking forward to a long and enjoyable series from this author.

And oh, yes, about that baby on the way ... well, the women in Kaldis' life have their own sense of power and justice. Read on.

NOTE: We're excited to welcome Jeffrey Siger tomorrow, here on the Kingdom Books blog, to reveal some of the intriguing underpinnings of PREY ON PATMOS. Check back in a few hours -- I've got to go cope with the post-Christmas blizzard arriving later tonight.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Adrian McKinty, FIFTY GRAND: Dark, Lush, Bittersweet

Here's a book that came out at the start of 2010, and I've missed it until this week -- and as a result, I kept dodging out of the kitchen to read a few more chapters. Thank goodness, turkey pretty much cooks itself, and the apple cake was done a few weeks ago and set aside in the freezer ... but I did sort of overcook the broccoli. (Sorry, family members!)

It was worth it. FIFTY GRAND by Adrian McKinty, his second crime novel, touches lots of areas that I enjoy: sorting out a father's apparent betrayal of his now grown daughter and son, crossing borders and wrestling with culture clashes, the role of a woman detective in a male-dominated culture.

And it's that woman detective, Detective Mercado, who enthralls in this book. Sneaking across the border from Mexico into the United States with a group of desperate immigrants, she's already at risk, and threatened with rape within hours. A respected detective in Fidel Castro's Cuba -- which is at the transition point as Fidel's brother waits in in the wings -- Mercado needs to know the truth about her father's disappearance and recently reported death. But whether she's a woman in Cuba, an "illegal" in Colorado, or a cop isolated from any team around her, the odds are stacked against her.

Her youth, her loneliness, her gut-level responses to the men who surround her, all are compelling, vivid, poignant, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, and emphatically real. Here's a taste of her voice: "I'll lean into the confusion. The gray area. The dark. Embrace it. Sleep can wait and prayer can wait and into the comfort of the profane world I'll go."

McKinty's background is about as global as it gets: An Irish novelist born in Belfast and educated at Oxford, he lived in the US in Harlem (New York) and Denver, Colorado, where he taught high school English. Now he lives with his wife and children in Melbourne, Australia. How he mixed Cuban, Mexican, and female experiences in to all that is beyond me -- but the details of FIFTY GRAND ring true, and I'd read another of his crime books (this is his sixth novel but only his second crime one, after Dead I Well May Be) in a heartbeat.

By the way, his blog, called "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life," is well worth a visit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reminder: Gerry Boyle's Offer Ends at Midnight on Wednesday

Make three minutes to tune in to Maine crime fiction author Gerry Boyle, as he offers a signed copy of PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN -- check it out.

And coming soon: a swerve away from US mysteries, to a new one from Greece ... complete with guest author blog post. Check in during the next few evenings.

Patricia Cornwell, PORT MORTUARY: Taking Military R&D Seriously

What would you do differently from the start of your career, if you could do it over again?

Kay Scarpetta, speaking directly in "first person" in Patricia Cornwell's 2010 PORT MORTUARY, wishes she'd never tangled with her first politically pressured case, 20 years earlier. The pinch of power and control that caught her has embedded her in an unhealthy relationship with a powerful general for all these years -- and her latest six-month term at a "port mortuary," a location that receives dead soldiers from the distant fields of war as they are shipped home, has kept her away from controlling her own field offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. More specifically, that same manipulative general has kept her away from home, from her own work, and from her ex-FBI husband, Benton Wesley.

In nearly five hundred pressured pages that resemble a never-ending conversation (poor Kay never even gets a nap for more than 30 hours), the forensic investigator peels back layers of murder and threat, while also peeling back the skin and muscle of her own professional life. Stopping her from cleaning up the gangrene that's crept into her workplace is a profound fear: the fear that her husband won't be able to respect and love her if he knows the truth of her first case.

Probably the hardest part of reading PORT MORTUARY is carving out time in one's life to keep the pages turning. This is not a book easily put down. Dr. Scarpetta's endless attentiveness and exhaustion compel a reader's attention, or at least they did for me. And I found the focus on Kay's self-autopsy to be far healthier and more interesting than many an earlier Cornwell volume that pits the death investigator against sickeningly warped criminals determined to torment her and damage her. In this case, she's not really the target, except for one short action scene that Benton quickly resolves; instead, she's confronting the damage that circled outward, into "her" people, from the evil she once allowed to pass unacknowledged, unconfronted.

A delight of the book is that along with a self-autopsy, Scarpetta applies her lens to her marriage, with its embedded and necessary secrets. After all, who expects to know what an FBI spouse really does, 24 hours a day? But what Scarpetta and Benton Wesley clearly do need is the capacity to trust each other in spite of their secrets, and the case in progress tests whether either or both of them can continue to give that trust -- and deserve it.

So although the plot twists depend on facing the nasty inventions that the military forces of the US and other nations are developing -- a plunge into research and development of technical spy devices, embedded hormones, war-mood chemicals -- the horrors that Scarpetta and niece Lucy perceive among those military secrets are less powerful than the rot and infection in Scarpetta's life. At long last, she's got to scrape away the fouled matter, cut down to where the tissue is healthy, give up some blood for the sake of a clean wound.

There's a shred of conversation between Benton and Kay near the end of the book that nails the causes of the pain here, as well as the source of risk:
"Christ." Benton takes a swallow of Scotch. "It's always the one thing you think doesn't matter, the one thing you think can wait."
"I know. That's almost always how it works out. The detail you don't want to bother with."
Kay is acknowledging that she and Benton still speak the same language, have the same drive toward truth at any cost, toward justice at personal price. And she's confirming that even though they can't always know each other's work-related secrets, they do know what forces are operating on each of them. There are good possibilities in this recognition.

Cornwell's written a forceful and effective capstone to Scarpetta's career. And if we readers can't really buy into Kay's fantasy life of cooking and walking the dog in Cambridge for the forseeable future, well, that's our problem. Kay and Benton have enough issues of their own. A resolution of some sort is going to have to happen, as the mastermind behind the latest losses is finally revealed.

A final aside: Despite the cruelty and politically driven dishonesty that Cornwell points out in Kay Scarpetta's experience of military "necessity," this author is clearly a supporter of American forces and the veterans of combat; check out her website for her latest efforts on their behalf.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Win a Signed Copy of Gerry Boyle's PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN

Dave and I enjoyed a visit earlier this year from Gerry Boyle, who intrigued the crowd here at Kingdom Books as he talked about his latest book in his Jack McMorrow investigations series, set in Maine: Damaged Goods. Gerry also signed some copies of Port City Shakedown, his first in the Brandon Blake series, which takes a darker, more gritty route. Scheduled for 2011 release is the second one -- and to make sure we're ready, Gerry is making a great offer this week. Here's what he said:

Port City Giveaway

Hey there. We’re psyched about Brandon Blake No 2, AKA Port City Deathtrap. In fact, we’re so psyched that we want to make sure you’ve read Brandon Blake No. 1. Port City Shakedown, so you’re ready.
So you haven’t read Port City Shakedown? No problem. Do two things. Use the e-mail link below (and if you've got a moment, also leave a comment here on the Kingdom Books blog) --  and shoot me an e-mail before midnight (EST) at the end of Wednesday December 22. We’ll do the random-pick thing and send the winner a signed, personalized hardcover of Brandon Blake No. 1. Read it and be ready.
Blake as a young rookie cop. Blake bringing his baggage, hard-earned in PC No. 1. Blake knowing he’s going to do the right thing, no matter what, no matter who stands in his way. Blake up against some hard guys, and some not-so-hard guys who may be even badder.
Comment. E-mail. Brandon’s waiting.

Gerry Boyle
Read the blog @

HYPOTHERMIA: the 2010 Inspector Erlendur Novel from Arnaldur Indridason

Arnaldur Indridason
What a year for exposure to Scandinavian thrillers and crime fiction, as the hunger for these novels pushes them into translation ... This year, the sixth Inspector Erlendur police novel arrived in the US, HYPOTHERMIA, written by Arnaldur Indridason and translated by Victoria Cribb. And here's an important aspect to the book: Although it's moody and sad at times, it is beautifully written, plotted with an impeccable urge toward justice, and ends with a relieved sense of possibility.

First, a quick side-note about Icelandic names. They don't operate the way American and British ones do -- "Indridason" is a patronymic, that is, a name that specifies who one's father is; it's not a "family" name. So the correct way to talk about this author is to say "Arnaldur." The same applies to the police inspector in the books, Erlendur.

When HYPOTHERMIA opens, it's not clear there's been a crime at all. In fact, every detail reinforces that in spite of the absence of any note, the death of a young woman named María, by hanging, at her country cottage, is clearly suicide.  It appears that Erlendur's involvement in the case will be limited to simply informing the woman's husband in Reykjavík. Yet perhaps it's the enduring sorrow that Erlendur carries with him that induced María's friend Karen to turn over to him a disturbing recording of a session that María experienced with a spiritualist, in her search to connect with her recently dead mother -- a session in which the woman may have heard the voice of her long-dead father speak to her.

Any other police officer probably would have filed the tape in a drawer and left the matter alone. There's no hint of crime there, either. But Elendur is himself haunted by a death that was never resolved: the disappearance in childhood of his brother. And there are two long-ago missing-person cases that also obsess him, well beyond what his co-workers think appropriate. Tying all of these together is a sense of cold: not of climate, but of disastrous danger and death.

Step by step, one interview at a time, Erlendur approaches the braided truths of all of these losses. When clarity finally comes, its price is exacted in grief, loss, and an inability to correct the past.

Although the writing is spare and unpressured, clues pile up like snowflakes adding up to drifts. At page 129 -- out of 314 -- I realized the who and how of the one crime involved. But the langorous unfurling of detail and quietly settling certainty of the rest of the story was well worth the time invested, and I expect to re-read this volume in another winter.

Here's the paragraph that continues to haunt me from the book:
Erlendur drove up to the house in Grafarvogur. It was getting dark, a reminder that winter would soon be here after the short wet summer. Erlendur felt no dread at the through. He had never dreaded the winter as so many did, not like those who counted the hours until the days would start to lengthen again. He had never regarded winter as his enemy. Time seemed to slow down in the cold and darkness, enfolding him in peaceful gloom.
Any victim of a crime who comes to the attention of this determined investigator will surely benefit from his insistent and patient attention.

NOTE: For an intriguing insight into the author, take a look at this interview by mystery author Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tomorrow's News: HYPOTHERMIA and an Offer from Maine Author Gerry Boyle

Here are two jackets (US and UK) for Arnaldur Indridason's remarkable crime novel, HYPOTHERMIA -- check in for a discussion tomorrow.

Also, Gerry Boyle is about to reveal his second in the "Port City" series, a gritty and well-crafted dark crime fiction sequence featuring Brandon Blake. But first, he's making an offer that's hard to resist. Details on Sunday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cozying Up for a Winter Night (or Weekend)

Why don't mystery reviewers tackle cozy mysteries more often? Maybe it's that "paperback original" format -- it's really, really hard to spend a couple of evenings reading a softcover and still have the book in "as new" condition for the shelf! At least, that's what I'm telling myself as I look ruefully at two enjoyable 2010 mysteries that I've savored on the couch and at my pillow. They definitely look "well read."

So I may have to swap them with my sister!

That's okay -- I had a really good time with both of them.

The first is from Krista Davis and is a lively tribute to family and neighborhood antics during the Christmas holidays. It's THE DIVA COOKS A GOOSE -- which is actually the least of what goes on in the kitchen at Sophie Bauer's house from Christmas eve until the New Year. There are a few yummy recipes at the back of the book, but my stomach growled in most of the scenes, which featured marvelous meals and lush desserts. And oh yes, crime, including robbery, assault, and (sob!) murder. "The Diva" is Sophie, who has a domestic advice column. But it's also her rival Natasha, and the first victim, Bonnie, who wants to outdo both of them. Playing supporting roles are three cats, a dog, and some great kids. By the time Sophie realizes what the real motives are behind the murder, the theft of a neighborhood's Christmas gifts, and the odd activities of a couple of fathers of grown children, she's put herself into danger more than once. And there's snowy weather to contend with, too, despite the book's location in the DC area. But decisiveness and persistence are on her side, and the book is a fun romp. By the time I finished, I'd had some good chuckles and had developed a serious and enduring longing for a (Southern) ham biscuit. Recipes welcome.

My second in this binge of merriment was the latest from Sheila Connolly, whose third mystery series begins with FUNDRAISING THE DEAD. The title's a bit misleading -- there's no raising of the dead, and no hitting up spirits for donations. Instead, it refers to protagonist Eleanor "Nell" Pratt, director of development for a Philadelphia historical society. When Nell discovers that valuable (and sometimes not even catalogued yet!) items from the society's collection have gone steadily missing, she has a multi-million-dollar problem on her hands -- one that the elegant Charles Elliott Worthington, president of the group and occasional lover of Nell's -- doesn't seem eager to solve. Or even discuss. Luckily, Marty Terwilliger, descended from so much old Philadelphia and current wealth that she can afford to be direct and smart, is there to nudge Nell along through discoveries, including hunting the thief and discovering a killer along the way. The first few chapters are overloaded with explanations, but the action and humor soon cut in, and I avoided a lot of needlessly repetitive housework because I wanted to know the rest of the story, as soon as possible. The belly laughs that caught me several times in the second half of the book are sure to keep me healthy throughout the season! This is a good paperback to tuck into your suitcase if you're headed home for a visit ... instant escape and enjoyment, without any need for batteries.

A bit of extra info: Davis's Domestic Diva series includes three earlier titles: The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, The Diva Takes the Cake, and The Diva Paints the Town. The author's website adds more cooking tips, too. Connolly already has three Orchard Mysteries, as well as her Glassblowing Mysteries under the pen name Sarah Atwell; her website is pretty far behind, a good clue that she's spent most of her time lately writing, as well as stepping into responsibilities at Sisters in Crime.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

From Dave's Desk:

As 2010 draws to a close, many bookstores and websites are choosing their top bestsellers for the year. Here at Kingdom Books we have another kind of list: the authors whose work we have sold in multiple different titles. Since we started Kingdom Books more than eight years ago we have enjoyed opportunities to carry an author’s long-term body of writing, not just one or two copies of the latest releases. One big "plus" is that we get to know the writer and the books better this way. Here's part of our current list:

Dave Zeltserman
Eliot Pattison
Archer Mayor
Louise Penny
Gerry Boyle
Laurie R. King
Nevada Barr
Dennis Lehane
Donald Westlake
Lawrence Block
Arthur Upfield
Walter Mosley
Deborah Crombie
Carla Neggers
Leighton Gage
Colin Cotterill
Cara Black
Peter Lovesey
Michael Connelly
Barry Moser (illustrator)

We look forward to more good reading and conversations in 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing a Murder Scene? D. P. Lyle Can Help

I just recently discovered the Writer's Forensics Blog written and hosted by author and cardiologist D. P. Lyle, after seeing "teasers" for his columns for quite a while. And I have to say, it's almost as much fun as picking up a new mystery! It's a resource center for writers working on murder mysteries, thrillers, anything that taps into forensics, anything that involves tracking crime and criminals through hard evidence.

Consider the most recent three topics: "Q and A: Can Silver Be Used to Kill a Werewolf?" (this is a great explanation of anaphylactic allergy reactions); a guest post on "10 Most Incriminating Types of Evidence"; and "Bacteria and Time of Death," introducing a potential new forensics tool.

Lyle is a practicing physician in California, and his books have won a Macavity Award and been nominated for the Edgar Award; they include both nonfiction and thrillers. A couple of the covers are shown here. I'm planning to add some of his books to my shelves over the next few weeks.

Have fun exploring his blog:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lee Child/Jack Reacher: WORTH DYING FOR

Dave told me that during last month's New England Crime Bake (the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of American fall conference in the Boston area) he heard people endlessly talking about how much they liked reading the newest Jack Reacher thriller from Lee Child, WORTH DYING FOR. "And women, too," Dave kept telling me, with great surprise.

He should know by now that plenty of women read and enjoy the action thrillers, although we may not talk about them as much as the guys do. And I had the book on my list of "I'll get to that one" without any worries -- knowing it would have plenty of reviews and attention all around.

Now I've indulged in the book for most of my in-between hours this weekend (in between other work that had deadlines, of course!) and here's the bottom line: This is a fast, compelling, blow-by-blow action thriller, with more fistfights (all except one of them clearly planned and won by Reacher) than most TV channels can pull together in 24 hours, and packed with suspense. But the real key to its popularity, I'm betting, is that it's generous and brave and, as someone else commented, a "modern-day Robin Hood epic." Supremely satisfying in terms of who gets what ...

But let's get back to something like the beginning. When we last saw Jack Reacher, at the end of 61 Hours, a massive underground explosion gripped him outside a miserable prison town up north -- and it wasn't clear whether he'd survived the final scene. Well, clearly, he did. Although the "how" isn't revealed until a good ways into this new book, Jack is alive and staggering, in a lot of pain, along a hitchhiker's route toward a woman in Virginia. He only knows her voice -- and her ability to match his needs for information, with clues to her own courage and stamina through how she helped him, long distance. And with no other particular goal, as a displace ex-military copy, his curiosity about her has determined his forward motion.

That's all you'll hear about her in WORTH DYING FOR, because there's not going to be any further movement out of Nebraska until Reacher figures out why an entire town of otherwise strong and healthy adults have knuckled under and become 25-year victims of the Duncan family, a group of four men whose entire purpose seems to be the humiliation of their neighbors. Armed with a ten-man team of football players to exert their brutal commands, the Duncans have it all their way.

Only Jack -- and the reader, through carefully timed windows onto a shipping route through Canada -- realizes that the Duncan regime has a purpose beyond local. Frankly, everyone else in town has given up fighting and wondering. They are simply surviving. Their best and perhaps only tool for that has become a phone chain, but it turns out the Duncans even know about that.

The marvel of this thriller is that underneath the battering and shooting and wham-bam of Reacher working his way through the football-player enforcers, a handful of criminal outsiders shipped to the scene for extra power, and the Duncans themselves, there's a haunting transformation taking place: One moment of resistance at a time, Reacher is teaching the farming town that freedom is indeed worth dying for. But it will be even better if that freedom can be earned back -- and the status of victims properly left behind -- without dying after all. By example, by loyalty returned, and by short clear responses, Reacher builds a ladder and lets the best people around him find their way up the rungs.

That's why this is a Robin Hood story.

And tell me, did you ever get tired of seeing Robin Hood and his Merry Men take back the turf from the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Oh, that voice in Virginia? That's still Reacher's motive for getting out of Nebraska. But first, he does the work set in front of him. Sure, there's a cost. Some things get broken, including part of Jack Reacher. But it's worth it. And worth reading, too.

PS -- This is number 15 in the Jack Reacher series. Although Lee Child says they can be read independently, for maximum pleasure you really need to consume 61 HOURS before this one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Treats at Kingdom Books

Our Open House today was merry indeed, with visiting authors David Stahler, R. A. (Robbie) Harold, and Elizabeth Lee O'Donnell. All brought books with them -- David's speculative YA fiction (including copies of DOPPELGANGER), Robbie's hot new historical mystery HERON ISLAND, and Elizabeth's classic picturebooks (how nice to see WINTER VISITORS in this season). Our neighbor Roberta H. figured out a way to decorate gingerbread people with the initials K B (yumm, Kingdom Books), and created a forest of "lollipop" pinwheel cookies as well. So we enjoyed keeping body and soul happy, as we talked fiction and nonfiction. Here are Elizabeth and Robbie (sorry, David, we pulled out the camera after you departed -- wish we'd though of it sooner), and some of Roberta's goodies.

We're still offering our December special: Purchase two or more books at once, directly from us, and we'll treat you to free Media Mail shipping in the US (or deduct $4.50 from your international or Priority shipping). Just mention this when you order.

I'd chat more about mysteries, but I'm in the second half of the new Lee Child suspense novel just this minute, and I've got to get to the end! Catch me on that one, tomorrow.

Happy holidays ...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cornwell, Gage, Maron, and Women Detectives

We're excited for our friend Leighton Gage, whose new crime novel, EVERY BITTER THING, gets a great tip of the hat from New York Times crime fiction reviewer Marilyn Stasio this coming Sunday -- the review is already available here, and is a great invitation into the life of Brazil's Chief Inspector Mario Silva. Hurrah! Here's our longer review.

On the other hand, Stasio's review could strand us with our lovely copies of Patricia Cornwell's latest Scarpetta investigation, PORT MORTUARY. Well, the bottom line is, if you're a series fan, you've got to have the next one, whether it's exactly to your taste or a bit "otherwise." Dave says we have two copies, freshly signed when Cornwell visited Vermont last week -- and an unsigned one, also.

Glad to see that Margaret Maron's CHRISTMAS MOURNING earned Stasio's approval. I liked it, too; it's a bit more threatening than the usual small-town mystery, with the rewards of family and community nicely spelled out.

Now for something entirely different: Here's an article from Oslo author Ann Holt, as printed in London's Guardian newspaper, naming her ten favorite (fictional) women detectives. Holt is the author of two detective series: one featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen, and the other Vik/Stubo (both coming out in 2011). I was fascinated by the European view, and wondered what would happen if, say, Laura Lippman named her top 10. Any suggestions from you all? Add them here in the Comments slot.

Five below zero when I got up this morning. Brr! The cold weather helped the chickadees re-discover the feeder at the window by my desk. That's quite a pleasure for them and me.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Murder-by-Month Mysteries: Jess Lourey

A very interesting packet arrived here a few weeks ago, from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Inside were some unusual bookplates ("Property of Battle Lake Public Library" -- there is no such library, the town is fictional!) -- signed by author Jess Lourey; a Season's Greeting card saying, "May your mysteries be merry!"; a description of Lourey's 2011 release, October Fest; and, most intriguing of all, a sample packet of the unique Midwestern confection called a Nut Goodie.

And that, of course, was plenty of incentive for me to order a copy of Lourey's most recent book, SEPTEMBER FAIR. I set aside a snowy afternoon, poured a mug of tea, and settled on the sofa. Soon I was seriously irritating my husband across the room, as I escalated from giggling, to frank guffaws, and even read aloud some of the dialogue. There are few accidental detectives as plainspoken (and as hampered by phobias and childhood experiences) than local Battle Lake journalist Mira James. But her friends, like Mrs. Berns and (female mayor) Kennie Rogers, are even more blunt ... and eccentric, to say the least.

SEPTEMBER FAIR (which comes after May Day, June Bug, Knee High by the 4th of July, and August Moon) takes Mira out of the small town where she's been honing her reporting skills (and recovering from years of hard drinking and bad choices), into the midst of the  many events of the Minnesota State Fair. It should be a lot of fun to be covering the fair, tracking down Battle Lake locals, and checking out the competitions, critters, and Big Events. And there's the highly unusual local fair treat of deep-fried Nut Goodies on a stick -- melted chocolate and all.  Unfortunately for Mira, one of the first unscheduled events to take place is the death of Ashley Kirsten Pedersen, winner of the Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy title -- right in front of Mira. Her reputation for running into dead bodies is never going to get lived down, is it?

author Jess Lourey
If you savor a good country fair, you'll find the surroundings achingly familiar (and if you live in a City, consider getting acquainted with how the other half manages). And if you like a mystery that's wickedly funny, sharply astute about country life (and flirtations) and the cleverness of seasoned old ladies (Mira's friends!), put this one on the list. I'll also be watching for the March 2011 arrival of October Fest -- how can I resist a description from Lourey that reads, "What do you get when you cross beer, a conservative politician who keeps putting her foot in her mouth, and polka music? Octoberfest in Battle Lake, that's what." And knowing Mira James's tendency ... well, there's sure to be a body in there, sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Real-Life Roots of HERON ISLAND, from R. A. Harold

We're pleased to welcome R. A. (Roberta, Robbie) Harold as our guest on the blog today. Robbie is a dedicated Vermonter with enough experience of other locations to know how good life is in the Green Mountain State! I'm a fan of her new Dade Wyatt mystery. Here, she gives the back story to the book.

The first Dade Wyatt historical mystery, Heron Island, germinated in spring 2001, when my husband and I made a farewell visit to an island in Lake Champlain's Inland Sea owned by a friend. She was about to sell the birch-shaded, thyme-turfed Eden, whose ten acres featured a bird sanctuary and a miniature Adirondack Great Camp built in 1902 by the heir to the International Paper fortune.
A largely unaltered slice of the past, the Vermont lodge boasted a gallery ringed with trophy heads, huge screened verandahs with white wicker furniture, and acres of Oriental rugs. In a curio cabinet sat an 1895 Mauser rifle—the service weapon, we learned, of Spanish troops in the Spanish-American War.
Teddy Roosevelt
"They say a daughter of one of the early owners married a Rough Rider," our friend said. Local folklore also had it that Teddy Roosevelt had visited the island for their wedding.
A few weeks later, the image of a handsome, mustachioed man with a brimmed hat came into my head, and my detective Dade Wyatt rowed an Adirondack boat into the story. A melancholy widower, former Shakespearean actor, Pinkerton agent, and Rough Rider,  he's providing security for the island's politically ambitious owner, who's trying to lure Roosevelt for a summer visit in 1903. On a dry run for the event, somebody ends up dead. Suspicion falls on an Italian anarchist musician—perhaps from the granite works of nearby Barre, a hotbed of labor radicalism, or from the teeming immigrant slums of New York's Lower East Side.  Wyatt sets off to track down a killer and gets mixed up in more than he bargained for.
I discovered some intriguing historical nuggets in the course of writing and revising Heron Island: Vice-President Roosevelt learned about the shooting of President McKinley in 1901 while attending a reception at the Isle La Motte, Vermont home of Lieutenant Governor Nelson Fisk; Roosevelt and his Cabinet members were frequent Vermont visitors (in some cases summer residents), and the leading Italian anarchist of his day, Luigi Galleani, who inspired the devotion of the more famous Sacco and Vanzetti as well as the "Red Scare" of 1919, hid out in Barre, Vermont from 1903 to 1912, publishing a radical underground newspaper called Cronaca Sovversiva.
There are two terribly sad things about the real-life roots of this story. The Adirondack lodge on the island burned to the ground in the fall of 2007. Our friend who'd owned the island died last year, much too young. Perhaps she'd be pleased that the place lives on in fictional form.
--Robbie Harold

[Thanks very much, Robbie! Kingdom Books is glad to have some signed copies of HERON ISLAND on hand.]

Good Reading in Winter at Kingdom Books

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Couple of Interesting Posts Elsewhere

An interview with Brazilian crime fiction author Leighton Gage on the Mysterious Writers blog:

Fun short inteview with Dana Stabenow, whose mysteries are set in Alaska:

One of the new voices from the UK, Nick Quantrill:

Nifty guest post by medical suspense author C. J. Lyons on Vermont writer Stacy Juba's "25 Years Ago Today" blog:

HERON ISLAND: Guest Blog Post Tomorrow

R. A. Harold begins:
The first Dade Wyatt historical mystery, Heron Island, germinated in spring 2001, when my husband and I made a farewell visit to an island in Lake Champlain's Inland Sea owned by a friend. She was about to sell...

How Dark Do You Like Your Mysteries?

The one point of "taste" agreement among the widely varied booklovers here at Kingdom Books seems to be that a reader may like very dark fiction, or may like the comfy chatter of "cozies" or (my favorite new term) "domestic mysteries" -- but if you're a dedicated fan of one end of this spectrum or the other, you won't often read the books at the other far end. There are plenty of readers who range across the middle and dip generously into either "dark" or "milk" (tea with milk?), and Dave and I certainly read widely. But this observation about taste applies specifically to the readers who have a preference for one side of the spectrum.

That said, here's good news for those who like it dark -- really, really dark. There's an online magazine just for you: DARK SCRIBE.

Not only that, DARK SCRIBE is holding a competition for its Black Quill Awards -- ballots are on the site now and include The Caretaker of Lorne Field, that wild horror novella by crime fiction author Dave Zeltserman -- and here's the deal:
Nominations for the Black Quills are editorial-based, with both the editors and active contributing writers submitting nominations in each of the seven categories. Once nominations are announced, the readers of DSM have an opportunity to cast their votes for their picks in each category. In a unique spin intended to celebrate both critical and popular success, two winners are announced in each category – Reader’s Choice and Editor’s Choice.
All dark genre works published between November 1st, 2009 and October 31st, 2010 are eligible. DSM does not solicit nominations, nor are there any fees associated with the Black Quills.
Please note that only one ballot per email/IP address will be accepted. Multiple ballots received from the same email/IP address will be discarded.
Reader voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, January 21st, 2011.
Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.

Snowstorms in Vermont, Slick Roads, Good Reading

We did have plans for Tuesday ... but the first few storms of winter are often among the worst on the road, and with even the regional ambulance sailing off an overpass, I guess we'll stay put for a while. I'll post photos later on.

Meanwhile, a guest blog post from R. A. Harold -- author of the new Vermont historical mystery (with guest cameo appearance of Teddy Roosevelt), HERON ISLAND -- shares the back story to the novel here on the blog, on Wednesday. Plus I've got more book news, coming right up. Check back in a few hours.

News from the acquisitions desk ... er, that is, Dave: We've got a dandy stack of signed Louise Penny mysteries, featuring Armand Gamache. Wonder whether they'll last into 2011? Some are already spoken for. Also on hand, some freshly signed "goodies" by Dennis Lehane. 

New for the New Year: FROZEN ASSETS, an Iceland Crime Novel by Quentin Bates

The rush to translate Scandinavian fiction has made several good crime series from Sweden and Norway suddenly available in the United States. But sometimes there's no translator needed -- as with Quentin Bates, who lived for a decade in Iceland, married an Icelandic woman, but was originally from the United Kingdom and moved back there in 1990 to become a full-time journalist for a commercial fishing magazine (think small, with lots of business trips on and around boats and harbors).

When he began allocating one afternoon each week to a master's level program in writing, though, Bates also began a novel. And FROZEN ASSETS IS a good one, and will be available from Soho Crime in January -- just a few weeks from now.

A young, ambitious journalist for a tabloid, Skúli Snaedal is eager to meet Sergeant Gunnhildur. Her police team is small, rural, and rarely challenged by serious crime, in the small fishing town of Hvalvík. But she has a reputation as feisty and interesting, and Skúli's tip to interview her is a good one. On the other hand, sent to find her at a local lunch shed, he's not quite ready for salted fish and liquefied fat -- or for Gunnhildur.
The figure looked up and Skúli saw that, in spite of the broad shoulders, the solid woman with the short fair hair was not the bruiser Haddi had given him to expect. Although she would never be a beauty, she had an angular, handsome face that radiated authority. He wondered briefly if this was natural, or the product of a police career. ...

"You must be Gunnhildur?"

She nodded, scraping the bottom of the soup plate. "Known to every man and his dog as Gunna the Cop," she corrected. "And you must be the lad from Dagurinn. I suppose Haddi told you I'd be here, did he?"
Luckily for the young reporter, Gunna's conversational style involves turning every question around, grilling him thoroughly and saving him from eating the "traditional" style of food he can't handle. Even more luckily, he's arrived in town on the same day as the very unusual occurrence of an unidentified dead body off the pier, and Gunna is in hot pursuit of the man's identity -- and the reason for his death.

What looks like the casual drowning of a late-night drunk turns out to be far more ominous, the start of what may even be multiple murders, and the little fishing town is enmeshed in pivotal events on the eve of the 2008 banking collapse of Europe. But that's a long way off from the crime-solving that Gunna determines to pursue, with a fierce competence that surprises her co-workers, friends, and boss.

author Quentin Bates
Bates has turned out a great read, a really surprising first novel that clearly comes from plenty of adventures of his own, as well as a good sense of suspense and of humor. Better yet, this is the first of a two-book package, so there's definitely a second Gunnhildur mystery on the way. I'll be lining up to grab a first printing of the US hardcover edition when it rolls out at the first of the year.

Note: The UK edition of this book is titled FROZEN OUT.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Story Goes With It: An Invitation from Brazilian Crime Fiction Author Leighton Gage

This weekend we welcome to the blog Leighton Gage, who writes the Chief Inspector Mario Silva investigations ("South America's Kurt Wallander" -- Booklist), set primarily in Brazil, where he lives with his wife. His latest book, EVERY BITTER THING, was recently released by Soho Crime.

I live in a little town called Santana do Parnaiba, about thirty kilometers from São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. (And the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.)

But this period between Thanksgiving and the New Year always transports me back to my childhood, in America, well-over half a century ago.

So, rather than writing, today, about this exotic place where I’ve chosen to spend most of my life, or indulging myself by telling you about my métier (Brazilian crime novels) I’m going to make this post a bit different.

I’m going to make it about me, and my mother, and maybe, a little bit, about you.

And a story goes with it.

When I was a kid, my reading matter at the breakfast table was cereal boxes.
In the afternoon, after school, I’d move on to more serious fare: comic books.
But, in the evening, if I wanted to keep that bedside lamp on for just a little longer, there was only one way my mother would agree to it: I had to crack open a real book.

One of those books was the collected short stories of Damon Runyon.

These days, Runyon is probably best-remembered for the hit musical Guys and Dolls.
Based on two of his tales, it was brought to the screen in 1955, with Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra in the title roles.

Runyon had already been dead for almost a decade by then, his ashes long-strewn over his beloved Broadway by Eddie Rickenbacker, racing car driver, WWI flying ace and longtime head of Eastern Airlines.

But I digress.

A Story Goes With It is a title Runyon gave to one of his best.
And also a phrase one could apply to every life ever lived.

When I was a kid, my mother would occasionally drop a remark about her youth.

Like most kids, I wasn’t interested.
She’d shrug.
“Someday,” she’d say, “you’ll want to listen. And, anyway, I’m going to put it all down on paper.”

Someday never came. My mother never wrote her book.

And I, who have lived almost all of my adult life outside the United States, moved far, far away. Our face time together became short. Her calls and letters concerned themselves with current events, never referring, even once, to the life she’d lived before I came along.

Parents, and grandparents.
We’ve all had them.
Children and grandchildren.
Some of us are (or will be) blessed with them.

And, sooner or later, mostly later, the younger generation comes around to wanting to know about the youth of those who’ve gone before.

By which time it’s often too late.

Wouldn’t you love to have a memoir on your bookshelf right now, an account of the youthful experiences of your grandmother?
And don’t you think your grandchildren are going to feel the same way in fifty years’ time?

So why not do your offspring a service and get cracking on those memoirs?
Don’t envision wide publication.
Expect payment only in terms of the gratitude of your thankful progeny.
But write it.

Every life: a story goes with it.
What’s yours?

10 Best Mysteries of 2010 -- According to NY Times Reviewer Marilyn Stasio

One of the fun aspects of the book review section of the Sunday New York Times has been its earliness -- that is, it's always ready before Sunday. For years, subscribers could have the section mailed to them, to beat the weekend. Now it appears by e-mail, and links. So here's the "December 5, 2010" article by Marilyn Stasio on the 10 best mysteries of 2010. She opens with Robert B. Parker's final book, SPLIT IMAGE, which has a lot of emotional value for those who've enjoyed this prolific Boston writer's work over a lifetime. I was pleased to see two of my own faves on the list; what about yours?

Later today (it being already the wee hours of Saturday -- what can I say, it was a long evening with good friends), I'll post Leighton Gage's intriguing challenge. We're also open for book-buying visits at Kingdom Books today (Dec. 4) and next Saturday (Dec. 11), from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Gotta love multitasking. Especially when it includes good books.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Investigating the Author: Leighton Gage

Check in on Saturday for a guest post here from Leighton Gage, whose Brazilian crime fiction creations (the Chief Inspector Mario Silva investigations) prove that politics and policing can enflame each other boldly. Gage reveals more about himself this week, and has an invitation to readers.

British Columbia Mystery: NEGATIVE IMAGE, Vicki Delany

In this fourth in the series featuring Constable Molly Smith, Vicki Delany spins a solid traditional mystery with some great twists of tension. The mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, has just the right amount of isolation to ramp up tension, too, especially for Constable Smith. Young and low in prestige in the local police force, Molly has a lot on her mind -- her father's health, her mother's eccentricity, and worst of all, a stalker threatening her in ways that she's afraid to report, for fear the guys on the job will consider her a wimp.

She's mistaken: Sergeant John Winters thinks highly of her and would have preferred to know about the stalker, right up front. But Winters in turn is sweating a murder case where his own wife looks like a suspect -- and he's so upset with his wife for concealing part of her long-ago past that he's more than half ready to believe she had something to do with the death of famous photographer Rudolph Steiner.

Add the predictable friction of the local force with an overbearing member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (unfortunately, Molly's boyfriend) and Molly's even less likely to take the steps she'd suggest to anyone else in her shoes:
A man stepped out of the dark doorway of Rosemary's Campfire Kitchen, the shop next door. He was dressed all in black, with a toque pulled low over his forehead. "Evening, Molly." He stood in front of her, blocking the sidewalk.

"F*** off."

"Nice night, eh? Can I walk you home?"


He stepped aside and she passed. He fell into step behind her. She stopped and turned. "Go away, Charlie."

"Or what, Molly? Not so tough when you don't have your gun, are you? ... When you're out here, on the streets, you're no different than the rest of us. ... Without all the gear, you know what you are, Molly? You're just a woman."  He cracked his knuckles.
Both Molly Smith and John Winters suffer major losses in this one, and eventually solving the crime won't make up for the personal setbacks. But the courage involved, and the determined efforts of these two investigators, add up to a heck of a good book. Dark enough to portray the real evil of murder and threats, NEGATIVE IMAGE makes it clear that hard winters are the least of the trouble -- it's the people and their pressures that Delany, a retired systems analyst, lays out so skillfully. A tip of the hat to Poisoned Pen Press for bringing this out as 2010 accelerates toward a finale.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worth the Worrying: Margaret Maron's New Judge Deborah Knott Mystery, CHRISTMAS MOURNING

Fans of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series will delight in number 16, released just in time to kindle the Christmas spirit -- family, friends, food, and even forgiveness. But as Judge Deborah Knott gets ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her marriage to Major Dwight Bryant, the chief deputy of the Colleton County (North Carolina) Sheriff's Department, her community is in chaos: After the recent auto accident deaths of two teens, a third in a coma, and a fourth so badly injured that she'll only be able to choreograph her cheerleading team, there's been an added one-car crash that's taken the life of popular Mallory Johnson, the "golden girl" of West Colleton High.

Maron's flawless narrative presents the possibility that this is "another" of those terrible distracted-teenage-driver deaths, due to cell phones, texting, and a touch of substance abuse. But Mallory has never indulged in booze or drugs, and was driving alone, on her way home. Knott and her husband are soon on their way to the "visitation hours" where the teenager's heartbroken parents endure long lines of neighbors and young people -- and where Dwight's canny mother, Miss Emily, lines up the first shreds of evidence that all's not what it seems in Mallory's life.

Deborah Knott hardly has time to explore the issues, though, because her large extended family is rushing with her toward Christmas, and even on her lunch breaks from the bench, she's racing to select and purchase gifts. And at home, there's the friction of living with Dwight's young son Cal, whose mother recently died. Not to mention the inevitable stresses among her siblings and half-siblings and in-laws and all their children, who are cousins closer than many siblings would be.

Moreover, Dwight's distracted by two more deaths, this time a pair of classic "bad boys" in the county. Only when Mallory's death and those of the Wentworth brothers start to connect will husband and wife -- or chief deputy and judge -- be on the same trail.

Each chapter opens with a snatch from a Christmas-related moment in a novel or mystery (I like the Agatha Christie ones especially!), and the movement of this dark cozy (or sweet noir?) pauses often for family scenes of affection and fun. Although there's plenty to mourn, and the roots of the deaths are dark and twisted, Maron makes it clear that life goes on, and can be good, even when bad things happen.

A chart of Knott's family is at the front of the book, and as a first-time reader in her series, I found it handy. It was the right amount of "boost" into a story that's already taken many twists (the 2009 volume was Sand Sharks) and clearly is headed into at least another volume. I was startled by Maron's trademark pauses in the action, interjected even as the detection and discoveries reach peak intensity -- and I was puzzled that Knott's friction at home with Cal didn't seem to resolve much over the course of this -- but I found plenty of suspense, and detailed views of rural North Carolina culture that make CHRISTMAS MOURNING very much a mystery of a particular landscape and community. It's a quiet pleasure to read; just be warned -- in spite of all the food mentioned, there are no recipes!

Which again says, this isn't a typical "cozy" offering. It's more intense, more unexpected, and more insightful -- as befits an author as seasoned and wise as Margaret Maron.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Security Agent in Danger: HERON ISLAND by R. A. Harold

It's time to double-check the holiday lists, including those of gifts, and insert some fresh names and ideas. And the new mystery from Vermonter and Brooklynite R. A. (Roberta, or Robbie) Harold belongs on lots of those lists. A well-plotted and delicious surprise out of the "historicals," HERON ISLAND draws on the labor unrest of President Roosevelt's time, complete with European anarchists, hidden Jews, and merchant princes of the rich American landscape -- economic and political leaders who summered in special locations, including Vermont's Lake Champlain.

Meet Dade Wyatt, who left behind a stage career and rode as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. In service -- with full loyalty demanded -- to paper tycoon Warren Dodge, Wyatt's job as of 1903 is to protect the Dodge family and its prestigious guests. And with the President himself booked into the Dodges' summer quarters on a large island on the lake, Wyatt needs to make sure no unexpected threats are likely to materialize. Could there be violent anarchists in the state, like the one who murdered President McKinley (a death that Wyatt failed to prevent)?

When the husband of lovely and flirtatious Milly Van Dorn turns up dead on the island, there's every reason to hope the death is due to accident. But Wyatt already knows too much to accept that verdict. And the mysterious sorrow of his own past is alerting him to emotional complexities around him.

Harold's hefty narrative -- more than 400 pages -- never grows dull. Details of crime, poverty, and policing are deftly woven into Wyatt's investigations. And although he finds threats to himself as well as to the elegant people he shepherds, he methodically clears away any motives from two trustworthy men -- his boss, and the Louisiana-born cook to the household -- and draws on a new friendship with a Scottish police detective from New York, and soon he has a team able to cope with the complications and criminals on the scene. Whether the President's visit can be allowed, though, that's still a question -- Dodge needs the President to come, but not if there's going to be danger beyond the Rough Rider's reasonable adventure!

Read the first chapter of HERON ISLAND on Harold's website,, where you can also enjoy Robbie Harold's conversational style and get some details of her own variegated background. I'm glad to say there's already a second Dade Wyatt mystery, done and awaiting publication. And we have a few signed copies of this first one, on the shelves at Kingdom Books.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Ten Books -- The Lists Arrive!

Today's New York Times included in the Holiday Gift Guide several great lists of "top ten books" by subject or reviewer. I jumped up and down in excitement when I saw two of my favorite 2010 mysteries/crime fiction on reviewer Janet Maslin's list: Tana French's stirring FAITHFUL PLACE (Irish noir, worth reading multiple times) and the newest Lee Child/Jack Reacher title, 61 HOURS.

My own list (if I could decide!) would definitely also include Stuart Neville's COLLUSION (his second, and I do recommend reading its predecessor, The Ghosts of Belfast, first for maximum enjoyment) and Lisa Brackmann's very modern, sometimes funny, and often gripping suspense set in today's China, ROCK PAPER TIGER.

I'm in the midst of reading R. A. Harold's remarkable HERON ISLAND -- a Vermont book that turns out to be a tightly plotted mystery. More on that, tomorrow. Considering how excited I am at the halfway point this evening, this is another I might add to my "best of 2010" list ... as well as an armful of the international mysteries from Soho Crime, and the latest Donna Leon (the comfort food of crime fiction), the weird wonders by Dave Zeltserman, my discovery fof how very good indeed Carla Neggers and Charlaine Harris are on the "other side" of the mystery genre (the romantic side), and several espionage titles. I'll be posting the nicely refined 10-item lists of many other writers and reviewers as we move toward the end of 2010. What a great year for good books!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you a day of good food, family, and friends, in perfect proportions. I'm immensely grateful for freedoms of speech, images, conversations ... and movement around the country.

I'm catching up on some Vermont fiction this week; back to mysteries tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mystery Writers of America Announces Grand Master of Mystery and Raven Awards

Mark the calendar for New York City on April 28, to celebrate greatnews from the Mystery Writers of America!  Sara Paretsky has been chosen as the group's 2011 Grand Master, announced last week. MWA's Grand Master Award "represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality." I'm determined to attend when Paretsky is presented with her award at The Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

The MWA press release says, "Paretsky revolutionized the mystery world in 1982 with her novel Indemnity. The book introduced detective V.I. Warshawski, a female private investigator who used her wits and fists, challenging a genre in which women typically played minor or passive roles."

Good thing there's a long winter ahead before the awards, so there's time to read or re-read Paretsky's twelve best-selling Warshawski novels. (She also wrote a memoir, two stand-alone novels, and a collection of short stories. How many can we shelve between now and then?)

Paretsky's awards in the past include one from MS Magazine in 1987 for her work in founding Sisters in Crime. On the international scene she's also drawn attention: The British Crime Writers awarded Paretsky both the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement and the Gold Dagger for best novel of 2004.

I like this part of the MWA press release especially:
"The mystery genre took a seven-league stride thanks to Sara Paretsky, whose gutsy and dauntless protagonist showed that women can be tough guys, too," said Larry Light, Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. "Before, in Sara's words, women in mysteries were either vamps or victims. Her heroine, private eye V.I. Warshawski, is whip-smart and two-fisted, capable of slugging back whiskey and wrecking cars, and afire to redress social injustice."
In a surprise double award, MWA also announced that two mystery bookstores receive the 2011 Raven Award that recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing: Once Upon a Crime, in Minneapolis, MN, and Centuries & Sleuths in Chicago. The Ravens also will be presented at the Edgar Award Banquet in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011. Gotta be there!!

Paretsky's Warshawski books:
Indeminity Only (1982)
Deadlock (1984)
Killing Orders (1985)
Bitter Medicine (1987)
Blood Shot (1988) (aka Toxic Shock)
Burn Marks (1990)
Guardian Angel (1992)
Tunnel Vision (1994)
Hard Time (1999)
Total Recall (2001)
Blacklist (2003)
Fire Sale (2005)
Hardball (2009)
Body Work (2010)

Paretsky comments on the award on her blog: