Thursday, September 30, 2010

Powerful Persuasion: I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, Laura Lippman

It's been raining hard today, and the golden leaves lie plastered on the dirt roads, a carpet of color. It seems a shame to drive across them. Underfoot, they slide treacherously.

That's what last night was like, after reading Laura Lippman's 2010 crime novel, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. I thought I'd finished the book earlier in the evening -- well, I had, and rapidly, because the tension rose to the point where I couldn't pay attention to anything except what would happen to Eliza Benedict. A woman with nearly twenty years of compatible, mostly enjoyable marriage, and with a teenage daughter and younger son, her skin is thinner than anyone who doesn't know her would expect. It's because of what's inside her: a good person, but also the fifteen-year-old self that she once was, abducted, raped, terrorized for forty-nine days, by Walter Bowman -- a man about to finally be executed, living on Death Row within a day's drive of Eliza.

Against the odds, Walter has tracked her down and sent her a letter. His death sentence is for the killing of another girl, a death that Eliza -- back then, Elizabeth Lerner -- witnessed. But he killed at least two others, maybe more. Eliza is the one who survived. And it's this strangeness in her life, the unanswered question of why she is alive, that Walter uses to slowly lure her toward a visit to him in the prison.

Lippman is utterly convincing in the long route that it takes for Eliza to pull apart the safety netting of her life and approach the black hole of her past. A "good child" who was easily frightened by the threat of death and violent rape -- dear heaven, aren't we all? -- she gradually gathers strength to finally be able to confront Walter:
"If anyone brainwashed me, it was you," she said. "You intimidated me to the point that you could trust me to do anything. I was scared all the time. ... So scared that I didn't try to get away from you, no matter how many chances I had."
But Walter wants more than another chance to frighten her. And his manipulative need for Eliza's words is burning her at the very moment when her daughter needs her to see clearly, to be a "good parent," not a good child.

All night, images of the years-ago recovery of abduction victim Elizabeth Smart dogged me -- as well as those of veiled women in northern India, dependent on their husbands for the leftovers from dinner (I didn't make that up, I read it in a Heifer report). I flailed among dreams, re-fighting the book's premise. I woke with the taste of it in my mouth.

And that, I have to say, is the ultimate proof of the fine writing that Lippman provides: She not only presents characters and situations that convince; she convinces a willing reader that these stresses and forces exist in ourselves. And if Eliza can find a core of certainly and resistance -- so can we.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Louise Penny's New Book, BURY YOUR DEAD: Signed Copies

There are a lot of good mysteries being released in the next couple of weeks. One that's going to get mega-attention is the newest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache title from Louise Penny, BURY YOUR DEAD.  For our review, click here. And here's the extra good news: We will have author-signed copies on October 4. No, we're not big enough to have a visit from Ms. Penny while she's in the midst of the high-powered publisher-sponsored tour for the book's release, but ... Watson, we have our ways. If your favorite way to shelve good books is with the author's own ink on the title page, you'll be able to get your Louise Penny signed ones here. (We already have some signed copies of the previous book, The Brutal Telling.)

Dave can reserve copies, too -- 802-751-8374 or

The "Other" Gerry Boyle Series: Brandon Blake, Maine Noir

Tomorrow (9/25) is Gerry Boyle's visit here at Kingdom Books. "Excited" underestimates the mood -- and I've got a to-do list that I could have wrapped breakfast in, which would have been a good thing really, considering that I forgot to schedule breakfast today. Seating to put in place, bookjackets to slide into fresh bright archival over-jackets, culinary tasks (blueberry muffins, finger sandwiches, cookies, cider). And most of all, of course, confirming who'll be here among the usual guest of the shop, chatting about Boyle and his writing with them, making a list of signed books needed for anyone who can't make it tomorrow but wants to be sure their copies are set aside.

OK, so I talk a lot when the list is long. But what I want to mention is, somehow I pried open the hours last night in order to snuggle in with the Other Side of this author: the first book in his second series, PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN, featuring wannabe cop (intern at this stage) Brendan Blake.

Major discovery: Gerry Boyle opened an entirely different kind of ink (or blood) for this book than for his first series. The first series, from Deadline to Damaged Goods, is a classic detective series embraced by Robert B. Parker, Tess Gerritsen, C. J. Box -- the folks who write strong traditional work.

The Brandon Blake series, though, turns out to be Really Really Dark. It probes the shadow side of coastal life, of petty crooks turned nastier during each jail stretch, and even of the "harmless" drug scenes of twenty years ago, when pot still got attention in law enforcement, before meth labs were part of the local fire department's training scene. I mean, Blake is just 22, but he's dealt all his life with a missing-presumed-dead mother, no dad around, an alcoholic grandmother ... and now, on practically his first toe-dip into crime, he's got a pyschopath threatening him and the people he cares about.

Rather than do a long write-up here, I'll refer you to Boyle's blog, the section of it that's geared to Blake and the strange parts of Boyle's own life that seem to recapitulate fiction (but strangely, strangely).

Yep, Dave rounded up some copies of PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN for tomorrow, too. Buy 'em if you dare. Keep your "Maglite" heavy-duty flashlight handy. And oh yes, this is definitely written with the same skill and quiet intensity that makes Boyle's first series such a pleasure to read.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

ALA Banned Books Week Begins Sept. 25

I took a quick look at the American Library Association's list of books frequently banned or challenged during 2009, and found two familiar author names: Walter Dean Myers and Jodi Picoult. Most of the titles on the list are children's or young adult books (although grownups often read these, too, when they are good writing!). A few are science fiction. Mysteries don't stand out on the list, except for Picoult's suspense thrillers.

But it seems to me that mystery readers have just been lucky so far -- nobody may have tried to ban Patterson, Grisham, Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis, Charles Todd, Eliot Pattison (unless you count China), Lisa Brackmann (unless you count China again), Stuart Neville, Laurie R. King, John Le Carré, Peter Lovesey, Cara Black, James R. Benn ... but it could happen.

And it wouldn't be because of the style of writing or even the "bad words" (as in Ginsberg's book-length poem "Howl"). It would be the ideas under the plots -- the things that the characters stood for in their choices.

So it seems to me it's worth taking a few minutes this year, as Banned Books Week opens tomorrow, to look at which books are being attacked now, and, if the spirit moves us, to stand up for them in one way or another. At risk today: SPEAK, a 1999 novel by Laurie Halse Anderson involving a girl who is keeping to herself the facts of having been molested. Interested in what the author has to say, and how social media are giving new ways for voices to defend Anderson's book and the right of teens to read it? Click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Local Diversion: Autumn in Vermont, Playful Mode

A few years ago, I wrote the start-up grant applications for rehabbing a local mill building -- not a grain mill, but a woodworking mill, named for its 20th-century owner, Ben Thresher, in Barnet, Vermont. Hence today's quick peek into how the team at Ben's Mill is continuing to raise funds for this great historic and community-oriented site ... Often I think of Vermont Autumn as a sort of holy time, lit by the fires of the mountains ablaze with maple red and gold, and that's really true! But it's also a time for fun like the Ducky Derby Race at the mill, when bystanders purchase a numbered toy duckling among the flock about to be released on the river. Winners are chosen by their ducklings' performances. Photos here show, in order, the ducklings in the Stevens River; a duck mascot on scene; and Craig Marcotte, one of the blacksmiths of the mill's current life, at work on a project. (The mill used to make and fix just about any farming implement, and before than -- wagon and carriage wheels.) This year's race (the 7th annual) is Saturday October 2, with the fun beginning at 10 a.m.; for more info on the mill, here's the website -- -- and for details on the Ducky Derby, call Hiram and Lois at 802-748-8180.

Murder Gets Cooking: GINGERBREAD COOKIE MURDER and More

They did it successfully in 2008 with The Candy Cane Murder, and now they've done it again: Joanna Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier teamed up their novellas for a holiday collection, GINGERBREAD COOKIE MURDER, scheduled to release September 28.

Fans of any of these three authors will want this chunky volume, packed with recipes and bloodshed. The fun ranges from Hannah's Favorite Chocolate Mousse -- the elegant comfort food of Fluke's series protagonist Hannah Swenson, who owns a bakery and appears here in "Gingerbread Cookie Murder," to the ice cream and other feasts in "The Dangers of Gingerbread Cookies" by Levine (it's a spoof on Florida retirement life, as well as holiday family visits), to the Mexican Christmas Salad that Lucy Stone enjoys in Meier's "Gingerbread Cookies and Gunshots."

And the murders? Well, take them lightly. This is "cozy" reading at its friendliest, not meant to mar or scar but strictly to entertain. Hannah Swenson's bakery offerings made my mouth water in Fluke's tale. I definitely wanted to throttle Jaine Austen's mother in Levine's novella, as she insisted in calling Prozac, Jaine's cat, by the name "Zoloft"! More seriously, though,  I confess I'm haunted by some of the images in Meier's piece, which fits nicely into her Lucy Stone series, set in Maine: Four-year-old Nemo, a sweet little boy, gets kidnapped in what's originally a family feud but soon goes very wrong indeed.

If you're collecting any or all of these authors -- or just in need of some fun food ideas for the upcoming season -- add this to your shelf.

By the way, I've indulged in quite a feast of Leslie Meier books this week, catching up with these page-turners that pack a good plot under the everyday life of a part-time reporter, mom, and wife -- and I'm coming to think of Lucy Stone as someone real, who lives in a town I just haven't gotten around to visiting yet. What better compliment could I offer?

Don't forget that Meier has another book out this month, The Wicked Witch Murder -- I munched my way through it in midsummer. Happy reading!

E-Book Sales Jump 150% -- And News for Signed Books

According to PW Daily, the Publishers Weekly e-newsletter, sales of e-books showed a 150% jump in July's figures (presumably the latest available). This can only be good news for readers (more good books available at lower prices) and publishers (finally, an escape from the book-business tradition of accepting returned books from previous "purchases" by shops, and some relief to production and storage costs). What it will mean for authors and bookshops is still up in the air, but here at the Kingdom Books blog, we'll keep letting you know as special e-books appear.

For now, I know what it means for me: If I have a chance to read something as a file first, I may do it -- and then purchase the hardcover book, because it feels better and is gives a nicer reading experience than most e-readers can yet offer. Also, I love author-signed books, with that authenticity endowed by the author's presence. (Yes, that's another reminder about how excited we are to have Maine mystery author Gerry Boyle coming here this weekend to sign stacks of his current and earlier books, right back to the first title. Dave's taking reservations for copies.)

So while the "outer world" is introducing e-books, Dave and I are focusing on providing the nicest copies of author-signed mysteries. Here's our own statistic to accompany PW's: Fifty percent of the mysteries and crime fiction here are signed. That's a 150% increase from last year. Expect more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

News Bites

Crime and noir author Dave Zeltserman has taken advantage of the new and exciting reader access to e-books and brought back into print FAST LANE -- and announced that ON DANGEROUS GROUND: STORIES OF WESTERN NOIR should be available this fall. Good news for those who like it dark (and nice timing for the season!).

Laura Stevenson, author of a lush and lingering novel of Vermont, Return in Kind, is featured this week on Vermont Views. Nice to see this friend and fine writer getting more attention!

I enjoyed rediscovering the three mysteries that British author Sarah Dunant wrote, before her turn to the Italian historical landscape and literary fiction. Fatlands won the Silver Dagger Award for Dunant and features Hannah Wolfe, an independent and feisty private investigator. There's plenty of danger, and there are some very satisfying twists. Here's a Dunant list of works, with the Hannah Wolfe mysteries in boldface:

  • Exterminating Angels (with Peter Busby as Peter Dunant), 1983
  • Intensive Care (with Peter Busby as Peter Dunant), 1986
  • Snow Storms in a Hot Climate, 1988
  • Birth Marks, 1991
  • Fatlands, 1993
  • The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate, 1995
  • Under My Skin, 1995
  • The Age of Anxiety, 1996
  • Transgressions, 1997
  • Mapping the Edge, 1999
  • The Birth of Venus, 2003
  • In the Company of the Courtesan, 2006
  • Sacred Hearts, 2009
Last but not least: Dave's enjoying Maine author Gerry Boyle's newest book,  Damaged Goods. I'm looking forward to Boyle's visit here at Kingdom Books this Saturday. I'm eager to hear about his writing, and I'm curious about the connections between Boyle and Paul Doiron, another Maine mystery author. Reminder: Reserve signed copies of Boyle's books and we'll ship them, if you can't be here in person.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gerry Boyle at Kingdom Books, Sept. 25 -- The Books Are Here!

Maine mystery author Gerry Boyle
We always hold our breath for shipping deadlines ... but all the books have arrived, in wonderful stacks of Gerry Boyle's great mysteries, from first to last! Dave just gave me the following to share:

Kingdom Books hosts Maine author Gerry Boyle on Saturday September 25 at 11 a.m. We hope you'll ink in this hour for your foliage weekend schedule -- because Boyle doesn't often come this way, and we have copies of his 2010 Jack McMorrow mystery Damaged Goods, as well as his first book, Deadline, and his eight others.  Kingdom Books has been able to obtain many hardcover editions of all of Gerry Boyle’s backlist, including third printings of his elusive first book Deadline printed in 1993 by North Country Press.

A bibliography of his Jack McMorrow books is as follows:

Deadline (North Country Press, Maine, 1993)
Bloodline (Putnam, 1995)
Lifeline (1996)
Potshot (1997)
Borderline (1998)
Cover Story (1999)
Pretty Dead (2003)
Home Body (2004)
Damaged Goods (2010)

Boyle has started a second series in 2009 in the Brandon Blake Series beginning with the title Port City Shakedown and we have first edition, first printing copies of this book in hardcover. The setting is the waterfront in Portland, Maine.

Signed or inscribed books can be ordered in advance (or for shipment) or when you get here.

Kingdom Books is at 283 East Village Rd in Waterford, but closest to East St. Johnsbury, just half a mile from Route 2. There's only one turn in the village and that's the one; go across the little cement bridge and bear right onto East Village Road. Look for the cinnamon-brown place on the left, half a mile up the hill, with plenty of signs.

This event is free, and we'll have blueberry muffins and more, to salute this great author. To reserve a seat or a book (or two!), call us at 802-751-8374 (yes, we're glad to ship signed copies, too), or

Free from Mystery Author J. A. Jance, Sept. 20-27

J. A. Jance is offering a free download of the corrected e-book edition of HOUR OF THE HUNTER this week. Details on her web site, We found it at iBooks and, after three tries, are excited to now have this downloaded for reading later this week. Many thanks to Jance and her publisher, Harper.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interlude: Poet Donald Hall and His Next Book

Autumn arrives in Vermont.
Last night we traveled to Plymouth State University to enjoy an evening with Donald Hall and his poetry -- the 13th time in a row that Hall has brought forth the Eagle Pond Author Series at this lovely campus. It was a hard drive, especially on the way home, through driving rain, wind, and the mountain wilds of Franconia Notch. But it was worth it.

Hall read entirely new work, from a book of poems he has just completed: MEATLOAF. The opening poem for the book (and the evening), "The Things," came out in The New Yorker earlier. It explores the presence of "stuff" in the farmhouse where this poet lives, the one where his grandparents lived before him.

Poems that followed often used stanza forms, which Hall confirmed he began to use "again" about two years ago. From "Chanteuse" to "Meatloaf" ("one of my friends called baseball / almost poetry") to "Conclusion at the Union Lake," the poems bind both Hall's family heritage and his loves and losses -- or, more particularly, the losses of his beloved baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. The audience, mostly gray-haired but with a decent number of students, gave a warm reception to these -- but it was for the poem "Apples, Peaches," a series of "jumprope rhymes" that opens with one that Hall found in the Treasury of New England Folklore and continues with his own improvisations mocking death, that the audience members cracked up in laughter and saluted with wild applause.

My husband Dave called some of Hall's poems last night "bad-boy poems," delightfully funny yet ribald; one involved a couple making out in a car in 1926 and ended wildly. Balancing these was the somber pantoum called "The Number" that fingers the ache and imagery of the attack on the World Trade Center at September 11, 2001.

A few poems in this collection evoke the presence of Hall's deceased wife, the much-loved poet Jane Kenyon; Hall calls her "Jennifer" in the poems, but the references are clear and he mentioned the use of the written substitute name. Another goes back to the final days of a dog that readers of Donald Hall's work may recognize.

There is much to appreciate and salute in this new collection, with sorrow redeemed by affection and the art of treasuring life as it comes and goes. MEATLOAF will find as warm a welcome in publication next year, I believe, as the poems did last night. After an encore poem ("The Gardener," a Jane poem), Hall commented, "I started writing poems when I was twelve and they were always sad. So I'm coming into this naturally, seventy years later." At eighty-two, he is frail and smaller in size -- but not in stature. He gives a heck of a good reading -- worth every dark and rainy mile to get there, and back.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Crime Fiction to Track Down: Christopher West's China Series, and the British Crime Fiction of Ruth Dudley Edwards

I just finished reading an advance copy of Henry Chang's November release, RED JADE, which is the third in his Chinatown trilogy featuring Detective Jack Yu. Jack's home turf is New York City's Chinatown; RED JADE picks up the trails of two killers that eluded Jack in Chinatown Beat and Year of the Dog. Sometimes it takes me a while to decide how to shape a review, so while I mull this one over, I've been looking around ... and pulled off the shelf the Summer 2006 issue of Mystery Readers Journal. This issue features "Murder in the Far East" (wish it said "Asia" instead). Ten articles and an extra sidebar introduce work by authors who link their mysteries to Japan and China, and others go to India, Laos, and other Asian locations. It's a stunning collection of articles, packed into 80 pages of focused, passionate writing; look around for a copy or see if you can get a back issue from Mystery Readers International (

The trouble with browsing here, of course, is discovering authors I hadn't realized I'd missed. Now added to my list: Christopher West, whose books set in China begin with Death of a Blue Lantern (HarperCollins UK 1994, Berkeley Prime Crime 1998). I also found West's web site ( -- careful with the suffix, there are other authors named Christopher West), and the very enjoyable linked blog.

Most frustrating: This is the second time this week I've found an author whose books have flown onto the "must catch up" list. The other one is Ruth Dudley Edwards. Born in Dublin, her mysteries are set in England, as far as I can tell from a quick look at the one we've got here (Matricide at St Martin's) and at her website, which emphasizes her roles as journalist and satirist and her enduring connection to Ireland. And what makes me convinced that I need to read her work is the presence of a note of thanks to her in the acknowledgments in Stuart Neville's new book Collusion. Anyone thanked so simply and sincerely by Neville has to be worth tracking down and reading, I figure.

I'm not just reading "foreign" mysteries this week -- I doubled up and read an advance copy of the newest Vermont romantic suspense novel from Carla Neggers, and it's a keeper. Reviews ahead, as things settle into place. And I haven't forgotten about that Dennis Lehane one ... what an amazing season of mysteries being released. Sure wish this were the only thing I needed to get done.

Oops -- heading back to the kitchen to preserve some of the garden's harvest. That's the really tight deadline, with the second half of September just arriving.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Want to Write Mysteries Like Dennis Lehane? Check This Out ...


The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College announces the addition of four new $1,000 fellowships for writers: the Dennis Lehane Fellowship for Fiction; the Michael Steinberg Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction; the Jacqueline Woodson Fellowship for a Young People’s Writer of African or Caribbean Descent; and the Sharon Olds Fellowship for Poetry.

All fellowship awards are based on the quality of a writing sample.

Fellowship applications are due October 15, 2010 (not a postmark date; materials must be received in our offices before or on October 15). Fellowship applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early. Notification letters will be mailed to winners only on November 1, 2010. Awards must be applied toward the winter residency/spring semester directly following acceptance; fellowships cannot be deferred or applied toward a summer residency/fall semester start.

About our donors (underwriters of the Sharon Olds Poetry Fellowship wish to remain anonymous):
A former staff writer for HBO’s The Wire, Solstice MFA writer-in-residence Dennis Lehane is author of eight novels, including Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone, Baby, Gone —each of which has been made into a feature film— and the fall 2008 release, The Given Day.
Solstice MFA writer-in-residence Michael Steinberg is a memoirist, essayist, and founding editor of the literary journal, Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. His memoir Still Pitching was named the 2003 Independent Press memoir of the year.
Solstice consulting writer Jacqueline Woodson is author of numerous books for children and young adults, including Feathers, a Newbery Honor Book; Miracle’s Boys, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award; and Locomotion, winner of the Horn Book Award.

Directions to Pine Manor College, complete bios of these authors, and more information about the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program can be found at

Calendar Alert: Agatha Christie Performance, Vermont, Sept. 29

Coming up at River Arts, 74 Pleasant Street, Morrisville, Vermont:

Agatha Christie, creator of Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot: Wednesday, September 29th at 1:30 p.m.

A living history performance by Helene Lang - learn about how a typewriter in Torguay spawned over 80 mysteries.... discover why Christie was so knowledgeable about the poisons used in her stories... call River Arts for info! 802-888-1261 - E-mail:

Calendar Alert: Adam Zagajewski in Vermont, Sept. 17

from the Vermont Studio Center website:
First Annual Literature in Translation Forum

Lowe Lecture Hall, Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT
Friday, September 17, 8:00 p.m.
The first annual Literature in Translation (LiT) Forum, co-sponsored by the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) and the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), will feature Polish poet Adam Zagajewski and his translator Clare Cavanaugh. The two internationally recognized writers will present a joint bi-lingual reading and will discuss translation as it relates to literature, and, more broadly, to creative work across genres, media, and cultures. They will also be available for a question and answer period and a book signing.

Mr. Zagajewski is one of the most well-known and highly regarded poets in Europe and the United States. After September 11, The New Yorker published his poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” on its back page – a rare departure from the cartoons and parodies that usually occupy that space. In 1992 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. His most recent books in English are Eternal Enemies (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2008) and Without End: New and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2003), which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of a book of essays and literary sketches, Two Cities: On Exile, History and the Imagination (1995), and Solidarity, Solitude: Essays (1990). He now lives part of the year in Krakow, Poland, and he teaches at the University of Chicago.

Clare Cavanaugh is a professor of Slavic and Comparative Literatures at Northwestern University, and the former president of ALSCW. She is a prize-winning translator of Polish poetry including Adam Zagajewski and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska. Her most recent scholarly book is Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale University Press). She has received the PEN/Book of the Month Club Translation Prize, the MLA William Riley Parker Prize, the AATSEEL Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in Slavic, and Guggenheim, ALSC, and SSRC Fellowships for her work on Russian and Polish poetry. Her work has appeared in Literary Imagination, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, TLS, and The New Republic.

The LiT program was launched in 2009 as a natural extension of the 25 year tradition of welcoming international artists to the Vermont Studio Center. Month-long residencies, as well as public forums featuring distinguished writers and translators are both part of the LiT program. The forum on September 17 is free and open to the public; and it is equipped with an Assistive Listening Device. Reservations are encouraged but not required. For more information about the forum or local accommodations, contact Gary Clark.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sequel to The Ghosts of Belfast: Stuart Neville, COLLUSION

UK cover on left, US cover on right.
Dave is almost used to it by now: I plow four chapters into a really good dark thriller/mystery, then pause for air (and to put on a cup of tea) and give him the death count. In COLLUSION, Stuart Neville's breathtaking sequel to The Ghosts of Belfast, my count was five deaths by page 14.

As it happened, I was wrong. But I couldn't know that until five pages later. And there were so many to follow -- and significant deaths, at that -- that the numbers stopped having a lot of impact.

But every death in this violence-haunted book matters and is pounded into effect with vivid detail, as two professional killers circle under the whip of Bull O'Kane, unfortunately still alive at the end of The Ghosts of Belfast. And both Detective Inspector Jack Lennon and the tragic figure of Gerry Fegan commit their lives and souls to saving the people they love and putting an end to the killing.

Unfortunately, Lennon and Fegan, for different reasons, already know they're not good at loving. Oh, they do love, from the bottoms of their murder-stained hearts. But the people they love suffer terrible losses, and it's not hard to see that Lennon and Fegan open the doors to these disasters.

Neville writes from and of Northern Ireland, where bigotry and imperialism and corruption seeded a legacy of bitter feuds and killings. After reading so many books set in Ireland this year, I have a longing to go there, to sample the geography of myth and music. But I would carry with me some sense of the pain of this small nation's people, and I'd stay out of dark places, for sure.

Ironically, Neville's own portrayal of the killers, even the hell-drenched Bull O'Kane, has the intimacy of love. Meticulous details of what killing looks like, feels like, and endures like -- these drive the book as powerfully as its plot, which opens with deadly force and threat, and never lets up for a moment.

But in this second volume (and yes, you'll get a lot more from it if you read The Ghosts of Belfast first -- it will help you bleed more for Gerry Fegan, as well as for Jack Lennon), Neville plunges the blade beneath the skin and muscle of today's Northern Ireland, to the bones that shape the conflict. And they turn out to be not religious difference, not social standing, not even history, but greed: hunger for power and wealth that drives multiple factions into a rotting, festering symbiosis that Neville and his lovers/killers name collusion. It emerges first from an explanation of one of the least likeable people that Lennon has to tackle, the corrupt attorney Patsy Toner, a man rotting with fear:
"I kept telling myself it was over and done with, all settled, all swept under the carpet. But I knew. I knew someone would come for me. And then I heard about Kevin Malloy, so it was just a matter of when. I knew they wouldn't let me go."

"Who's they?" Lennon asked.

"They?" Toner gave a short, sharp laugh that choked in his throat. "'They' is f***ing everyone. The cops, the Brits, the Irish government, the party, f***ing Bull O'Kane."

Lennon eyed Toner, wondering if he had lost it. "That's a lot of people," he said.

"Collusion," Toner said, his voice dropping to a low, angry hiss.
Lennon persists in running interference on the killings, not as a cop or "peeler" but as a man desperate to save a child, and with this, to save something of his soul. "I have a chance to make it right," he explains to an informer before beating him brutally to get the information he needs to track down that chance.

Both Lennon and Fegan -- who I won't describe more here, because there's no way to do so without spoiling both this book and its predecessor -- put their bodies and souls on the line repeatedly in order to ransom their past horrors. And they are unforgettable. They are men who burn with singular passion in spite of all the threats marshaled against them. Lennon will lose and regain his position in the police force repeatedly here, as different factions force him to act in their favor. Fegan will sacrifice what's left of his heart.

But the darkest figure in this volume, the Traveller -- an old term for gypsy, with an evil tint of antisocial malice -- is the one who'll haunt readers, bringing his increasingly infected and damaged eye and his "undead" version of strength to bear across the landscape of graft and crime. Bull O'Kane's liaison with the Traveller exhumes the corpses of the old and newly dead, sending an expanding breath of foul stench that steals the air and sunlight from the land and its people.

COLLUSION is scheduled for hardcover release on October 1 in the United States (it's already available in the UK under the same title -- note that the UK title for The Ghosts of Belfast is The Twelve). An e-version of the book comes to the market sooner, on September 16, also available in a package version with Neville's other title.

If you like 'em dark, here's an necessary addition to your collection. And if you don't think you like "dark" but have read this far ... well, give the book a try. Between the powerful characters, the compelling plot, and the undeniable underlying truths of what violence grows from and into, this is far more than a "crime novel." It's a necessary exploration of our time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dependent on the Internet ... and Our WiFi

Sorry to appear silent -- our Internet service is under repair. Fear not, I'm preparing quite a few books for review. With luck and good tech support, I should be loading them online by Monday evening. Meanwhile, back to reading, that lovely activity that -- I now realize -- is very much dependent on connections, even though many books will remain in printed-on-paper form for years (generations?) to come.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Watching Over Tess Gerritsen's Shoulder

Rizzoli and Isles, on TNT
Dave and I are enjoying the new TV show, Rizzoli and Isles, based loosely on Tess Gerritsen's books. I say "loosely" because the dialogue and plot details often come from the books, but the inter-character dynamics are vastly different. So watching the show is a bit like seeing a movie made from a book. So far, the only films that haven't disappointed me after reading the books have been pretty much the Dennis Lehane ones (especially Gone Baby Gone) and the Stieg Larsson films from Sweden (we've seen numbers one and two).

So to focus on Gerritsen herself, as well as her books, here's a link to the grand blog of crime writers, Murderati -- with Gerritsen describing her workspace. Nice digs, Tess. I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees horizontal surfaces as designed for piles of stuff.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Faces of Fear: Jeffery Deaver, THE BURNING WIRE

At a quick count, this 2010 crime novel from Jeffery Deaver is his ninth to include irascible and brilliant detective Lincoln Rhyme, confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal injury that's left him without the use of legs or arms -- just his neck and head and one hand function as THE BURNING WIRE opens. And, of course, his mind: organizer of crime scene forensics at a level that will eventually catch the small necessary traces of master criminals at work.

Rhyme needs all possible speed and resources, as an electrical troublemaker threatens to blow up New York City's generating plants, electrocute the innocent in public places, kill police officers and federal investigators. Previous Rhyme books have shown how dependent this investigator is on the the electrical systems that keep his broken body functioning and that link him to the people who are his legs, arms, even eyes on the scene. This time, Rhyme's partner and lover, detective Amelia Sachs, gets a taste of how brutally dangerous an electrical trap can be; her unavoidable fear of the pain and death in store are shared by assistant Ron Pulaski, pressured between Rhyme's sky-high expectations and a mastermind's high-voltage threats. Inevitably, the team begins to make mistakes.

Deaver braids the conflicts of multiple response teams, the shocks of urban terrorism, and the stresses of modern investigation -- as reliant on computers as it is on legwork -- to craft a compelling page-turner. Philosophizing in the steps of Mickey Spillane, Deaver has said that his job is to take the reader rapidly and intensely to the end of the book, through both action and mood.

Thriller readers will find the explanations of electrocution hazard -- so easy to create in our daily lives! -- to be sharp and vivid. Long-time fans of Deaver's characters, particularly Rhyme and Sachs, may not be as happy with this one, though. The usual frictions of the partnership are glossed over, and the intensity of the plot isn't reflected in the interactions of Rhyme with his team, his caregiver, the Mexican police leaders, Homeland Security, the FBI ... all those areas where logjams and ego ought to leap into action, crippling the investigators and their work.

Two themes of the book add some spice: one, details of and quotes from Thomas Alva Edison, American inventor par excellence; and two, characters literally quoting back to Rhyme his principles of forensic evidence, particularly the ones that insist that the presence of a criminal on a scene inevitably leads to an exchange of "bits" from the person to the place and back again, bits that become evidence when collected and analyzed.

This is a solid crime thriller, with accelerating pace, fascinating details, and new sources of fear, as Amelia in particular discovers that almost anything can become deadly when it's wired up right.

But I closed the book at the end with a twinge of regret: By the final chapter, Rhyme has committed to changes that scare his friends and lover. It's clearly a setup that calls for a sequel. But neither Rhyme's decisions nor Amelia Sachs's actions have shown in THE BURNING WIRE the high cost that life lived fully demands. So this one won't be my favorite on the Deaver shelf.

Then again -- I wouldn't miss a one of the investigations that this master of crime constructs.


Here's a nifty video interview with Deaver. Too bad the publisher/promoter missed the spelling ...

And it's worth looking at Deaver's web site, not just for the announcement of his November stand-alone novel EDGE, but also for his James Bond effort underway!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Update: Colin Cotterill Announces Second Mystery Series

Check this New York Times interview -- I am so excited about this! Not only does Colin Cotterill give the title of his next Dr. Siri Paiboun crime novel, Slash and Burn, but he also announces the start of a second series: and leaving Laos, the series heads for Thailand. Yes!!!

Oh, Dave asked me to mention that we're well stocked on Cotterill's books just now.

[PS - You probably can tell I've been reading everyone else's "stuff" today. Tomorrow: a few comments on Jeffrey Deaver's 2010 Lincoln Rhyme title. - BK]

Hurrah! Garry Disher Scoops a Crime Fiction Award -- and Oh Drat!

Great news: Garry Disher's newest book of crime fiction, WYATT, won the prestigious Ned Kelly award in Australian fiction at the Melbourne Writers Festival this past weekend. Check out an interesting take on the book and award at Craig Sisterson's New Zealand "Crime Watch" blog.

And oh, drat, and double drat -- the book just isn't available (at any reasonable price) in the US at this point! Good moment to go back and read some of the others, like Blood Moon.

Book-Appropriate Food? Check It Out ...

Here's a link to Leighton Gage's marvelous photos and explanation of the centerpiece of Brazilian traditional food, the feijoada. I enjoyed soaking up more information as background to where his Chief Inspector Mario Silva operates. And if you have time to browse further on "Murder Is Everywhere" (which features "six renowned crime authors from different corners of the world"), you'll find an amazing "book cake" and more notions of yumm -- as well as international insight worth reading.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

New Charles Todd Series Continues: AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS, Featuring Nurse Bess Crawford

Following on the heels of Katie Towler's guest post about how she's woven her fiction against the framework of America's war participation in the 20th century, and James R. Benn's newest Billy Boyle World War II crime novel, here comes Charles Todd with the second book of an entirely new series: one that features a nursing sister, Bess Crawford, daughter of a socially prestigious and militarily well-connected family, taking care of soldiers at the edge of the World War I ("Great War") battlefields in France and escorting the seriously wounded back to Britain for treatment.

Readers of other "woman-centered" mysteries embedded in the two World Wars will find the opening chapters of AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS familiar ground. And of course, it will be even more so if you've read the 2009 Charles Todd volume, A Duty to the Dead, where Bess made her debut. Bess takes to nursing with courage and determination, despite her parents' awareness that their daughter is at almost as much risk as a soldier son would have been. An independent young woman whose heart is not yet captive, she shares rooms in London with other nurses (unlike the American term where "sister" would have implied being a nun, the British term "nursing sister" meant a graduate nurse). Her involvement with crime begins simply as a moment of compassion: Fatigued after a difficult transport, she's ready to spend her 36-hour leave catching up on lost sleep before returning to France. Emotionally raw from caring for a group of gas victims and a severely burned pilot, she witnesses a scene in the train station that catches her attention: a woman sobbing, and a man in uniform, surely not an unusual pairing. Yet Bess's ability to "see" clearly what's in front of her causes her to hesitate:
Her distress stopped me in my tracks for a moment. Watching them, I wondered at his reluctance to touch her and at the same time I was struck by the air of desperation about her. I'd seen this same desperation in men who had lost limbs or were blinded, a refusal to accept a bitter truth that was destroying them emotionally.

But there was nothing I could do. ... I felt a surge of pity, and my training was to comfort, not to ignore, as her companion was doing.

I was about to walk around them when a whistle blew and she lifted her head to cast an anguished glance at the train, as if afraid it was on the point of departing.

I had the shock of my life.

I'd seen her before. There was no doubt about it.

Hers was the face in the photograph that the pilot, Lieutenant Evanson, had kept by his side like a talisman during his treatment in France and in all the long journey home. His wife, he'd said. There was no doubt about that either.
The coincidence, with its emotional impact, throws Bess off balance. But she's used to such jolts, from nursing, and her sane, emotionally reliable parents have helped her learn to stay centered and go on with life. It's clear that's exactly what she would be doing next -- if only the newspaper arriving in France a few days later hadn't revealed the murder of the woman from the train station.

So it is that Bess, impartial initially in her observation, is quickly swept up by an enduring sense of responsibility: to let Scotland Yard know about the scene in the station, and later, as events pick up steam and levels of complication, to uncover the facts leading to Mrs. Evanson's tragic death -- and to see justice done.

The son-and-mother writing team of Charles Todd taps a lifetime of research into England and its wartime role and burdens in writing AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS. But in several significant ways, this book differs greatly from the Inspector  Rutledge series that Todd has crafted. Most obviously, the protagonist is a young woman, not a middle-aged police investigator turned wartime officer returned to peacetime police duty. Bess Crawford has not yet "loved and lost" in any deep way. Nor has she led others to death; she doesn't carry the disastrous psychological burden that Ian Rutledge does. In keeping with these differences, there is no dreaded haunting here (Rutledge carried with him the voice of a man whose death he may have caused). And, perhaps most dramatic, the Todd writing team tells this story in the first person, not third -- so we are comfortably present with Bess as she struggles to sort out facts and motives. Her emotions won't swamp us in the raw pain that Rutledge so often suffers.

Interestingly, although this makes AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS less steeped in agony than the Rutledge series, it doesn't weaken the writing at all. Todd's narrative is expertly paced, smoothly written, and offers a good challenge to the reader in terms of examining motives closely and appraising Bess's "take" on the people and situations around her. I do hope this second Bess Crawford means there will be more volumes featuring this plucky and honorable nurse and the concerned and intelligent friends and family that surround her. The book is a breath of fresh air among the newest wartime narratives -- one in which the twists and tangles are more in the plot than in the psyche. I like it very much, indeed.


Two postscripts: (A) The cover art on this book is silly -- it has no connection to the plot and I have no idea why anyone would pair it with this well-written mystery. (B) For another set of insights into the book, see today's brief review in the New York Times by Marilyn Stasio.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Farewell, George Hitchcock, Poet, Publisher, Playwright -- and Enduring Rebel

Alas, George Hitchcock -- founder of the poetry magazine Kayak and determined to escape any and all tedium -- died on August 27 at his home in Eugene, Oregon, at age 96. The full obituary is in today's New York Times. I also found the earlier one in the Santa Cruz paper to be worth reading. We've got one interesting piece of his on the wall in the poetry/fine press room, plus a copy of the 2003 "George Hitchcock Reader," One-Man Boat. Wish we had more.

Also, for those of you interested in writing about the man and his work: His Wikipedia article is criminally brief. How about adding to it?

America at War: Within the New England Fiction of Katherine Towler

What a delight to finally read the concluding volume in the Snow Island trilogy from New Hampshire author Katherine ("Katie") Towler. From Snow Island to Evening Ferry to Island Light, Towler carries her characters through the trauma and triumphs of America's wars, as well as evoking the tender (if sometimes claustrophobic) community life of an island off the New England coast.

Because the mysteries of Charles Todd, James R. Benn, and Jacqueline Winspear have recently drawn attention to how wartime shapes people's choices and possibilities, we asked Katherine Towler to share with us her approach to this powerful area of American history in her novels. Welcome, Katie!

War became the backdrop for the three novels in my Snow Island trilogy because it’s a fact of human existence I cannot understand. At heart I’m an idealist and an optimist. I accept that wiser minds than mine have grappled with this topic and concluded that war will always be with us in some form.  I like to think this is not true. Maybe I am just naïve. War became a theme in my books because the question of why human beings continue to kill each other in sanctioned combat kept troubling me, kept asking to be explored.
I grew up hearing stories about World War II from my father, who was stationed in the Pacific. I heard stories as well about my grandfather, who served as an ambulance driver in France during World War I and left a scrapbook of photos and letters with haunting accounts of his experience. I drew on this family history in the first volume of my trilogy, Snow Island, which features a World War I veteran and is set during World War II. In the second volume, set in 1965 and ’66, I looked at the attitudes of the isolated island community toward the growing involvement in Vietnam. The third volume takes place in 1990 and ’91 and chronicles the uneasy months leading up to the first Gulf War.
In addition to telling the stories of a linked collection of characters through the three books, I was interested in the distinct natures of the three wars and their impact on the isolated island community. World War II swept up the entire population in a patriotic fervor and energetic response, evidenced by the children who serve as airplane spotters and collect rubber on the island. Though in 1965 the war in Vietnam enjoyed widespread support, the signs of trouble to come were already visible. The first Gulf War had its critics, but for the most part, the American people (and my islanders) watched the war on television and remained mute. Through the three books, I chronicle the shift as the military is transformed into a professional operation and the American people become detached from the wars fought in their name. During World War II, every family felt the impact of the war directly. In the first Gulf War – and today in Iraq and Afghanistan – the U.S. involvement has had virtually no effect on our daily lives, though we may pay a long term price in a changed economy.

My books look at key moments in time during the second half of the 20th century and use the lens of one small community through which to view them.  I reach no conclusions – my purpose is to tell stories – but I hope that my characters and their island home will make readers think about the toll war takes both on those who go off to fight and those left behind.

Friday, September 03, 2010

ASSASSINS OF ATHENS: Jeffrey Siger Spins Modern Greek Mysteries

The first crime novel from Jeffrey Siger, Murder in Mykonos, came out in January 2009 from Poisoned Pen Press. This year's title, also from Poisoned Pen, is ASSASSINS OF ATHENS. I picked it up after noting that Siger and Brazilian mystery author Leighton Gage are across-the-ocean friends. And the two authors have more in common than their writing of crime fiction: Both are silver-haired, urbane, sophisticated thinkers who've already packed one career under their belts and are enjoying the transition to writing full-time now. In Siger's case, the career was corporate law in New York City; the author's reinvention takes place on the island of Mykonos, 90 miles from Athens.

And what Gage has done for Brazilian crime, Siger now does for Greece: He explores the intimacy of social communities, the pressures around wealth and power, and the chinks in the social fabric that give operating space to psychopaths and their buddies. Most importantly, he's crafted a character worth following: Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, whose friendly management style is countered by the intensity with which he digs for criminals.

As ASSASSINS OF ATHENS opens, Andreas and his sidekick, officer Yianni Kouros, confront a corpse behind a really nasty nightclub -- the corpse of a young man, brutalized and tossed into the dumpster, then brought to police attention by an anonymous phone call. Clearly, the killer wants attention. But it's not the police attention that's critical here, but the putting the murder into the view of socially prominent and wealthy Athenians through the press and the grapevine. This isn't just a killing -- it's a message.

Meanwhile, Andreas is struggling with loneliness, susceptible to the attractions of the women crossing his path as he pursues the grim motives for the crime. A hooker, a socialite, each has a different way of penetrating his increasingly fragile defenses. And it's all confusing him, along with the stresses of what he ought to be doing:
Which was exactly why Andreas was yelling at himself in the shower. "Just how stupid are you? How could you think for a moment that a hooker could walk into his club with two gorillas, take over a table in the VIP section, and Giorgio wouldn't know exactly what was going on? What are you, Kaldis, a goddamned rookie?"

Andreas finished with a string of more expletives directed at himself and a decision to get the investigation back on track. Enough with this grand conspiracy bullshit. It was a distraction. The murder trail was getting cold. He wondered if that was intentional; the boy's death simply revenge for the Linardos girl's humiliation and Marios' performance a debt owed to the Linardos family repaid by an elegant ruse. Nothing was outside the realm of possibility. He turned off the shower. Back to rule number one: trust no one.
Siger's plotting is tight and plausible, his twists deft, and his narrative delightfully seasoned by his portrayal of modern Greek society and the roots and motives of crime. And if occasionally the writing turns a bit bashful and awkward in the love scenes, that's understandable -- the author clearly knows the strong feelings that Andreas experiences, just hasn't quite nailed how to show them yet.

Siger's third book, Prey on Patmos, is scheduled for January 2011 from Poisoned Pen Press. It's a good time to collect this fresh work and appreciate the adept way that Siger is bringing this neglected geographic region into crime fiction. A lover of Greece and its people since the 1980s, Siger shares his passion for the land where he's chosen to retire and reinvent himself. It's a pleasure.

For a good interview of Siger, check out this blog post from J. Sydney Jones:

Reminder: Check in Saturday for a guest blog post from New Hampshire author Katherine Towler, as she explores the role of war in her fiction.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Got a Moment? Visit an Interview With Margaret Coel

Dave and I are always intrigued by how hard it can be to get nice first-edition copies of Margaret Coel's books, particularly the early ones. Readers seem to "read 'em to death" and that's good.

Beth Groundwater's blog today features an interview with Coel, whose next book, The Spider's Web, releases on September 7: It's a writing craft interview, pleasant reading.

The Spider's Web is the latest in Coel's Wind River series, which can be picked up at any point but yields a wonderful richness if read in order:

1995 The Eagle Catcher
1996 The Ghost Walker
1997 The Dream Stalker
1998 The Story Teller
1999 The Lost Bird
2000 The Spirit Woman
2001 The Thunder Keeper
2002 The Shadow Dancer
2003 Killing Raven
2004 Wife of Moon
2005 Eye of the Wolf
2006 The Drowning Man
2007 The Girl with Braided Hair
2008 Stand Alone Novel: Blood Memory
2009 The Silent Spirit
2010 The Spider’s Web
For photos of the Wind River Reservation in west central Wyoming, check out Coel's web site.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

James R. Benn, RAG AND BONE - A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery

There are plenty of political and military adventures embedded in the years of World War II, and at the opening of his fifth Billy Boyle mystery, James R. Benn samples the tensions of December 1943. Billy Boyle, a young Boston police detective whose family thought he'd get an "easy war" by working for his "Uncle" Ike (General Eisenhower), is looking forward to some rest and recreation on the island of Capri, outside Naples harbor. His hard-earned relationship with his British girlfriend Diana has sweetened; the weather is gentle; and he's been given his silver bars for first lieutenant.

But Billy's task is to tackle the complications that Uncle Ike needs swiftly and quietly solved, whether behind the lines or in front of them -- and his holiday hopes are dashed when a murder in London threatens to unravel the alliance of Yanks, Brits, and Russians. Colonel Harding gives him the bad news and orders to head north, in advance of Eisenhower's upcoming visit. It looks as though the murdered man might have been a member of Russia's secret police, the NKVD. Billy presses for more information:
"What was he doing in London?"
"Getting a bullet in the back of the head. This may involve the Poles. See Lieutenant Kazimierz as soon as you can and find out what he knows. You leave as soon as we dock in Naples."
And that, at least, ought to be the silver lining to the cloud -- Billy hasn't seen his friend Kaz in a couple of months, and if it weren't for giving up the chance to spend time with Diana (soon to head out on her own mission), Billy'd be excited and eager for the chance to reconnect.

Yet there are storms ahead, because the killing seems to mimic a mass murder of thousands of Poles -- and it looks as though Kaz may have one of the strongest motives for the death. Loyalty to country, friend, and Billy's strong ideas of how investigators ought to behave quickly tangle, and when a powerful underworld figure begins to pressure Billy, and German bombings resume in London, even the guidelines that Billy's Boston police relatives had given him aren't enough to keep him safe.

Benn's deft weaving of friendships and conflicts deepens the narrative, giving it depth and value. And though the absence of Diana from most of this volume may be a bit disappointing for those who've followed Billy's struggles with her independence and daring, RAG AND BONE is delightfully filled with the new revelations about Kaz and details of a little-known but significant massacre that challenges the Alliance. What price will Poland pay in order to survive? Billy's actions help shape the bottom line.

Curious about the title? It's from a Yeats poem mentioning "the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." An amazing amount of control may yet turn on whether Billy can dig up enough strong lines of poetry himself, as he races to resolve the crime, capture the murderer, and escape being killed along the way.

You don't need to read the other Billy Boyle adventures before this one -- Billy Boyle, The First Wave, Blood Alone, and Evil for Evil -- but you'll have more fun if you do, especially Evil for Evil. What a great way to start September.

* * *
Speaking of war and its effect on plotting and character: On Saturday we'll welcome novelist Katherine (Katie) Towler with her reflections on the role of 20th-century wars in her Snow Island trilogy.