Sunday, October 31, 2010

If You Like Your Halloween Creepy: Dave Zeltserman, 21 TALES

The full title of this densely packed collection from New Pulp Press is 21 TALES FROM THE MODERN MASTER OF NOIR. It's a good description of Dave Zeltserman's novels, novellas, short stories ... Whether he's writing black crime or marvelously twisted horror, Zeltserman lays the trap that springs all at once and reveals the shadowy, the grim, the very real. I just got around to reading one of his "free stories," "King," and I'll never look at a pigeon the same way again. (Up here in Vermont, crows have a similar role, Dave ... we'll show you, next time you come north.)

New Pulp Press is offering a free read of one of the shorter stories from 21 TALES: "Closing Time." It's a great wicked stroll into life at the neighborhood bar, especially when there's a big shot buying the rounds. And it fits right in with what the neighborhood moms always said about those places. Hey, you looking for Trouble? (Giggle.)

The shortest story in 21 TALES launches the collection: "Danny Smith." Gruesome and edged like a boxcutter, it's unforgettable. Then there's "More Than a Scam," a response from this author-who-used-to-do-computers for all those phishing e-mails coming in. (If you like it, you'll like his equally twisted novels PARIAH and SMALL CRIMES. Really.)

I'm not going to ring out the changes of all the tales in this pulp delight -- but hands down, my favorite is "She Stole My Fortune." And without giving away more than the start of it, I have to let you know that there's a rumor around here that one of the older residents gave all her saved-up fortune cookies to the trick-or-treaters this evening. (They come individually wrapped in plastic, don't panic.) Gotta wonder what she's just given away in all those little treats ... or are they tricks? After reading Zeltserman for an evening, you'll be wondering, too.

So if you dare to dip into the creepy, the horrible, the bizarre, and the all too recognizable detritus of urban life, grab a copy of 21 TALES. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Risk, Suspense, Romance: Carla Neggers Braids Them Snugly in COLD DAWN (3rd in series)

The newest Carla Neggers book releases tomorrow, and I've already heard from my "supplier" that my copy of COLD DAWN is on the way. Hurrah! It will be great to hold the book in my hand, after three times reading the galley in e-form. Bookmarking on e-galleys is a joy when it works ... but all the technology is so new that it's a bit of a distraction from the story.

And COLD DAWN is quite a story! Rose Cameron, youngest (and the only girl) of the Cameron siblings -- familiar to readers of the first and second in this Neggers Vermont series, Cold Pursuit and Cold River -- is strong, independent, and affectionate. Well, the affection extends warmly to her eight-year-old search dog, a golden retriever named Ranger; and to her brothers, of course; and to the women who love them. But she's been protecting her own heart for a long time, especially from her brother Sean's firejumping partner Nick Martini, a wealthy Californian who can't possibly grasp what Vermont and the Camerons mean to Rose. Right?

As COLD DAWN begins, Nick has just arrived in town, to find out for himself. Between the snow and the cold and the unaccustomed layers of clothing, he's at a slight disadvantage in preparing for each adventure. But he's a quick learner.
He'd always expected he'd check out Black Falls, Vermont, at some poiont, but it wasn't his ten-year friendship with Sean Cameron, his business partner and fellow smoke jumper in California, that had finally brought him east to the Green Mountains and Cameron country.

It was a serial arsonist, a killer.

And it was Sean's sister, Rose.
Although Nick believes he's backtracking a long-gone arsonist, Rose soon finds there's nothing "gone" about the criminal activity that's dogged the town and her family. And if she and her siblings can't resolve it quickly, the town (and the Cameron businesses) will lose a huge potential asset: the upcoming visit from the U.S. vice-president and his family.

Nick sees Rose as "dedicate, tireless, determined, and professional." Rose sees Nick as so delicious that he can't possibly be right for her. She's got boundaries, and she expects to keep them in place. Whether she can grab the good things coming into her life is looking chancy -- especially with arson and murder interrupting. And the suspicion that the fresh outbreak began with Nick's arrival in Vermont can't be avoided.

Neggers spins a strong and fast-paced adventure, giving room for Rose and Nick to struggle with their feelings and plans, while working even harder to crack the case, protect the people they care about, and salvage some safety for the wintery tourist-economy town in the Green Mountains. The one drawback to the tale is the network of strands that bind it to the previous two books, so that Neggers reminds us often of who's rescued whom and how from the earlier sequence. (I confess that I kept getting interrupted, so I drew a chart of the siblings and romances, to keep it all straight.) But this is a minor disadvantage, and by the end of COLD DAWN, Rose, Nick, and their community might as well live just down the road -- because they're so alive and important, and have worked their way into this reader's heart. I look forward to following the handful of dangling strands still remaining, into the next Neggers book in this series.

What a way to ride into winter!

PS: Carla Neggers keeps an active and exciting website, complete with a great photo blog. Check it out for a glimpse of some truly cold rivers -- and of the gorgeous sites that Neggers incorporates in her books:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A New Answer to "Signed Books" -- Signed Crimes?

The crime TV shows (CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, etc.) expose us all to the notion of a career criminal's "signature." But only Archer Mayor -- in his visit here yesterday -- would compare it to the notion of signing his own books! Pointing toward the volumes he had already inked, he went on with the plot:

"If you commit the perfect crime," he proposed to the jammed bookshop of fans, "what's missing?"

"Nobody pays attention to you!" The reply came from half the crowd at once.

"That's right," agreed the author of RED HERRING (the 21st Joe Gunther police procedural). Then he offered the notion that started him on this particular book: the idea that a frustrated "perfect crime" artist might leave behind a single drop of blood at each crime scene. Mind you, it's not the criminal's blood. Or the victim's. And the source of it differs from one crime scene to the next.

Trust Joe Gunther, moody but companionable Brattleboro-based statewide investigator heading up the Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI; fictional but we wish it were real), to rustle up the connections and procedures to break the case.

Thanks again, Archer, for coming north ... nearly two hours up the road, then back again to check on a dead body (honest! -- this author's part-time job, added to his full-time authorship AND his full-time police role, is as a "death examiner"), then back on the road again before supper. We really appreciate your visit! And I know I'm speaking for the folks who filled the seats, as well as the ones who ordered copies in advance, for Monday morning's mail and other delivery routes.

Hint: We've got a few signed copies still on hand; Dave says, "Tell people to order soon, they won't last. Holidays are coming, you know."

John Lawton, A LILY OF THE FIELD -- Top-Notch Police/Espionage

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." (Matthew 6: 28-29)

US cover
No elegantly arrayed ladies take center stage in John Lawton's A LILY OF THE FIELD (2010). Yet two of the women he presents use the "lily of the field" image, without the rest of its religious context. And in doing so, they take it nearly to the name of the blossom of the family Sternbergia, almost surely named in a cottage garden in England, hyphenated as if to show its heritage: lily-of-the-field.

There are no flowers, either, in this intense crime investigation among the British World War II survivors -- except for their scent, differentiated in two different and significant perfumes, only one of which is Chanel No. 5.

But there are Jews, real and mistaken (here's another English flower name, the "stinking Benjamin"). Concentration camps. Music lovers, music haters. Parallel lives of people whose roots coincide but whose paths take them into various forms of darkness -- and light, light as both the bath of blessing that washes us clean, and light so intense that it means death: "I am become Death, the destroyer of world," from the Bhagavad Gita as quoted by the "father" of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer.

And most of all, there is Inspector Frederick Troy, known mostly as "Troy" and a character of strengths, secrets, persistence, and precisely detailed agony over how murder detection for the police force repeatedly insists on choices that have long-range effects and soul-deep shock waves. Whether he is waiting for his brash brother Rod to process complex griefs about the war, or keeping one-legged hero Angus company on a bender, or witnessing the tears of an Auschwitz survivor, Troy's path takes him into sorrow and fear on a daily basis.

There have already been plenty of reviews of this book, giving parts of the plot lines -- for there are two of them initially, one for a teenaged cellist mistakenly seized in Vienna and bundled into a train headed for the most brutal of German projects, and the second for a physicist caught in holding camps in multiple nations. Inspector Troy's arrival comes about a third of the way into the book, and with that, there's a sort of relief, because with familiar police presence, maybe the confusion of war and displacement will prove to be the warp and woof of a unified and wonderful tapestry.

UK cover
So, indeed, it is -- such a grand tapestry with so much vibrant color and form that the book belongs on the shelf squarely between John Le Carré and Alan Furst, embracing both the stunned pain of England and the dark desperation of the rest of Europe during and immediately after the war. Lawton adds deft helpings of tenderness and familial love, as well as friendship. There are enough layers, and enough beautifully wrought satisfactions, that this book goes onto my "desert island" list: a book I'd be willing to read multiple times, whether in this weekend's gray cold of early winter, or hiding from a soft summer rain.


Note: I persist in being fascinated by the differences in US and UK cover designs. I vote for the train (see above).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Louise Penny's THE BRUTAL TELLING Captures Anthony Award for Best Novel

The Anthony Awards, announced today at Bouchercon, went to:
  • Best Novel: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (Armand Gamache series, #5; Minotaur)
  • Best First Novel: A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield  (Stella Hardesty series #1: Minotaur)
  • Best Paperback Original: Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley (Gus Carpenter mysteries  #1: Touchstone). 
  • Best Short Story: "On the House" by Hank Phillippi Ryan in Quarry: Crime Stories by New England Writers  (Level Best Books). 
  • Best Critical Non-Fiction: Talking About Detecive Fiction by P. D. James (Knopf). 
    For a delightful glimpse at how it felt to hear her book announced as the best novel for the Anthony, check Louise Penny's blog,

Mystery Awards at Bouchercon ... drum roll, please!

Later today, the Crimespree, Derringer, and Anthony awards will be announced at Bouchercon in San Francisco. Here are the other awards that have already been given:

The Macavity Awards 2010 were presented by Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal, on Members of Mystery Readers International nominated and voted on these.
Best Mystery Novel: Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman: Tower (Busted Flush Press)

Best First Mystery Novel: Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Delacorte)

Best Mystery Nonfiction: P.D. James: Talking about Detective Fiction (Alfred A. Knopf)

Best Mystery Short Story: Hank Phillippi Ryan: "On the House" (Quarry: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Level Best Books)

Sue Feder Historical Mystery: Rebecca Cantrell: A Trace of Smoke (Forge)
The Barry Awards 2010 were selected by readers of Deadly Pleasures Magazine:
Best Novel:  John Hart:  The Last Child (Minotaur)

Best First Novel: Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Delacorte)

Best British Novel:  Philip Kerr:  If the Dead Not Rise (Quercus)

Best Paperback Original:  Bryan Gruley:  Starvation Lake (Touchstone) 

Best Thriller:  Jamie Freveletti:  Running From the Devil (Morrow)

Best Mystery/Crime Novel of the Decade:  Stieg Larsson:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Knopf)

Best Short Story:  Brendan DuBois, "The High House Writer" (AHMM July-August 2009)
 The 2010 Shamus Awards were presented  by the Private Eye Writers of America:
Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: Locked In, by Marcia Muller (Grand Central)

Best First P.I. Novel: Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks (Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Sinner’s Ball, by Ira Berkowitz (Three Rivers Press)

Best P.I. Short Story: “Julius Katz,” by Dave Zeltserman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2009)

Best P.I. Character: Sharon McCone

Lifetime Achievement Award: Robert Crais
Congrats to the authors and their publishers -- and to the eagle-eyed readers. Gotta love the way the bedside stack of "must reads" is growing!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Check it out: Magna Cum Murder: Charles Todd, John Gilstrap, William Kent Krueger, more

It's Bouchercon week in San Francisco, and guest of honor Laurie R. King (with her web maven Vicki) is making sure those of us who can't be there can still get the flavor of the huge and prestigious mystery convention; peek at their work here.

But there's more coming up to think about! Thanks to recent e-mails from "McM," I've been reading a lot about the upcoming MAGNA CUM MURDER gathering, Oct. 29-31, and I wish I'd known about this annual Indiana event sooner. The roster of distinguished guests is top-notch, yet the gathering is small enough to meet and talk with everyone. Here's a description from the event web site 
Lovers of crime writing will enjoy a weekend of panels, programs, interviews, and presentations by forty or so of their favorite writers! Each year an amazing array of crime fiction authors, fans, booksellers, and other publishing industry professionals meet in Muncie, Indiana, for Magna cum Murder Crime Writing Festival. The enthusiasm generated by the last fifteen Magna cum Murders has made this event one of the most popular and well respected forums for crime fiction aficionados in the United States."It's a murderously fun house party for several hundred of your closest friends."
One of the treats of the McM website is that the interviews with Todd, Gilstrap, and so on are archived on the site, easily accessible. Todd (a son-and-mother team) writes haunting British detective novels set during and just after the Great War (World War I); Gilstrap provides fast-paced espionage; William Kent ("Kent") Krueger's Cork O'Connor investigations are rich with the out-of-doors. And Parnell Hall, a New England author with a talent for puzzles, will also be on hand this year.

Worth browsing the website -- and if you're able to fit attending McM into your schedule, I envy you! Registration deadline is (gulp) October 15.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Laurie R. King: Download "A Mary Russell Companion"

As Bouchercon 2010 approaches, the guest of honor, mystery author Laurie R. King, has been gearing up with reflections on previous Bouchercons (a grand annual celebration conference for mysteries and their readers and writers). She is also offering special stories through her website. I suggest stopping by to download "A Mary Russell Companion: Exploring the World of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes Series." What a treat! I can also recommend highly the newest mystery in the series, The God of the Hive, although I recommend reading its predecessor first (The Language of Bees).

Hip Deep in Alligators -- Err, Cats, Dogs, Koalas?

Clea Simon
As usual, the gaps on this blog are the times when I'm reading like mad, and thinking about what I've consumed. I found Sandra Parshall's BROKEN PLACES to be much darker than I expected, and well written; I'll pull together more of a write-up later in the week. Clea Simon's DOGS DON'T LIE won't come out until next April, but the author kindly sent along an early advance copy, and it was great fun! Check out her web site, which includes some cute critter pix, too. And I'm almost done with Betty Webb's THE KOALA OF DEATH. All three books feature active animals and fascinating interactions.

Also on the front burner this week: ordering copies of RED HERRING (another live one!) for Archer Mayor's event here on Saturday Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. Wonder whether we need to add another case ... make sure you let us know how many signed copies you'd like of this terrific new Joe Gunther volume:

Friday, October 08, 2010

Interlude: Poetry for an Autumn Night

Wonderful surprises: DOGGED HEARTS (2010, Tupelo Press) by Ellen Doré Watson startled me time and again, with its fresh language, powerful images, and lashings of love. A tree thrusts out its arms so that "its joy threatens the house as we speak." After a miscarriage, a woman prays to the "Dear Rash World so far outside / my window, oh f***, may this third new nub of child live." At the emergency room, the evaluation of a man with multiple fractures, aged 55, includes that "There is some kissing left in his mouth."

And that's just in the first three poems. The central portion of this fourth collection from the Massachusetts poet and editor (and director of the Poetry Center at Smith College) packs female and male against each other, in "Baker & Tess." And the third, which has the most variations in form, is "Dreaming We" -- where I especially like the opening of "Ghazal for Shahid":
So, if there's a God, does He comfort or jeer first?
Write the poem backward, you said: put the fear first.
With her final poem, "God or No God," Watson summons the value of life itself, while wrestling with sump-pump and cumin seeds and kisses. This is a collection crammed with the flavors of life.


Call me a skeptic, but when I realized Rebecca Dunham's second collection, THE FLIGHT CAGE (2010, Tupelo Press), would riff on the life on Mary Wollstonecraft, I whimpered a bit. Then I opened the book. Oh, wow!
Cassandra's not the only
prophetess. I will not be confined,
content to peacock and preen

my manifold eyes.
Before I had quite caught up with the multiple layers of image and meaning, I found poems in which Dunham presented material from the Salem Witch Trials -- and discovered some of the parallels, some of the voices that seemed to call and respond.

Like Watson's collection, this one features a center section that stuns: It's a crown of sonnets thorned with collaged text from Wollstonecraft's letters, pounding the losses of thwarted life and the sense of woman as midwife to the world. And then the final section, "Séance," tilts all the pieces off the table into a cage as wide as the night sky, a song of both lament and power. It's going to take several readings (and the endnotes are essential) -- but I expect to get more from Dunham's poems each time I encounter them again.


You can take the poet out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the poet. It's clear from THE PUZZLE MASTER AND OTHER POEMS (2010, NYQ Books) that F. D. (Franklin) Reeve hears jazz riffs within most conversations, and can reshape the words to beat back and forth in joyous improvisation. Reading aloud -- especially with multiple voices -- makes the ekphrastic "A Girl and Two Doves" climb from the page. Try this part:
She walks barefoot on her journey
                                         like the great runner
who, when her parents were her age,
                                                       carried news
of the victory at Marathon
                                         home to his people,
unaware she would come
                                        and in her own way die.
There are more investigations of art, infused with questions about human and God, as well as war. The forms are light and sometimes very short; the topics are deep, as befits a man who walks a Vermont farmscape and ponders which trees to cut.

Most of this slim volume is devoted to "The Puzzle Master" -- a "verse text for a jazz opera," which indeed is being set to music for future performances. Riffing off the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, complete with a Chorus, the verse-play also evokes "The Tempest" in its setting on an imaginary island in the Caribbean. But it teases with its direct application to ordinary life at the same time, as Ingram (Icarus in the myth) asks his inventor father Delling (Daedalus):
A turbocharger on a lawn mower, Pa?
How will you do that? Besides,
supposing you succeed, what then?
Won't it take off on its own?
Could I fly away with it instead
of having to mow our endless lawn?
Seeing this on stage, with layers of jazz, is sure to be a treat. While you wait for the performance, you can pick up a copy of this enchanted and brightly lit book from New York Quarterly:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New from Michael Connelly: THE REVERSAL -- and Good Reasons to Buy That First Enhanced E-Book

It's the 16th book in the Harry Bosch series, and the third in the Mickey Haller set -- and in one intense package, Michael Connelly has drawn together his two well-liked series of crime fiction in THE REVERSAL. A fast-paced courtroom drama with investigations on the side, it's a daring tour-de-force in the way it plays the protagonists against their situation.

Haller, a defense attorney who works from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car, is the newer of Connelly's protagonists, brash, ambitious, and eager to win back the respect of his ex-wife and their daughter. A surprising offer from Gabriel Waters, district attorney (DA) of Los Angeles County, gives Haller a chance to switch sides in the courtroom battle: a chance to work as an independent attorney to re-try a murderer who ironically has been freed by DNA evidence -- yet is almost certainly the killer he was revealed to be, 24 years earlier.

It's the sound of the phrase "Mickey Haller for the People" that lures Haller across to the prosecutor's table. That, plus being assured he can have his dream team: his ex-wife Maggie McPherson (a.k.a. Maggie McFierce), who is already a seasoned prosecutor; and the finest investigator possible -- his half-brother, Harry Bosch.

Connelly handles this startling conjunction by writing from two viewpoints: Mickey Haller in first person ("It should have made me feel good. It should have made me feel like I was part of something that was noble and right. But all I had was the bad feeling that I had crossed some sort of line within myself."), and Harry Bosch from the narrator via third person ("Bosch did a double take. Not because he didn't recognize Haller. They were half brothers and he easily knew him on sight. But seeing Haller in the DA's office was one of those images that didn't quite make sense.")

I have an awkward suspicion that in "real life," a threesome like Mickey, Harry, and Maggie would be considered way over-connected and wouldn't be allowed to work together. But with daughters who are cousins and haven't yet met, a lifetime of experience in LA County, and enough back story in previous Connelly volumes to give them a sense of how far they can trust each other -- pretty far, by now -- it's an ideal trio to tackle a truly tough assignment: Without letting the jury know that Jason Jessup was convicted and jailed, get a conviction for him all over again, in spite of the dicey DNA evidence.

Fans of the moody and dark Harry Bosch won't get quite enough of him this time -- but his darkness pairs with an apparent threat from Jessup against Harry's home and daughter, and that puts the stakes about as high as they're likely to get. What I missed here was the front-row seat to Harry's struggles with himself and his past; this story is more gray than noir, partly due to the sane, strong thinking of both Haller and Maggie in so many of the scenes.

But it's a good read, and it sets up another leap for the series. Umm, should we expect that the two have now merged for the forseeable future? There are clearly complications ahead as Harry's daughter and Mickey's daughter become accomplices in outwitting their parents ... On the other hand, the presence of the two girls may mean that the criminal defender and the criminal investigator have to keep things safer, cleaner, clearer -- have to create boundaries around the dirt and disaster of their work, to keep the girls protected. At any cost? Hmm, that's promising for the books ahead.


FLASH! The e-version of THE REVERSAL is already available. And there's an enhanced version for Apple devices (iPad etc.) that contains so many goodies that I am going to have to purchase it: 

  • Contextual in-line video footage relating to the storyline
  • Interactive maps of Los Angeles featuring locations from The Reversal
  • Commentary by Michael Connelly for Enriched Edition readers
  • The Reversal Video Reading Group Guide hosted by Michael Connelly
  • Timeline of Major Events in the Life of Mickey Haller
  • Timeline of Major Events in the Life of Harry Bosch
  • The Reversal location photographs
  • Author Q&A
  • Linked glossary
But I can't do it today, and probably not even this week... life is already jammed. So, if YOU have your copy already, please let the rest of us know how it feels. Wow!!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kindness Among Mystery Authors

"Cozy" mystery author Kate Collins won't be promoting her new book, Dirty Rotten Tendrils, as ambitiously as planned, because her husband died just as the book's release date arrived. Three cheers and a hug for the Cozy Chicks blog group and newsletter, which stepped in to do some of the work for Collins and made a good suggestion: To honor Kate Collins's husband at this time, pick up a copy of this "Flower Shop Mystery" book for yourself -- and consider buying a second copy to donate to your local library.

For the Reference Shelf: Deborah Blum, THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK

I've been enjoying Deborah Blum's meticulous history — THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. When I reached the final page, at the end of the author note, I realized that marriages are definitely affected by the presence of mystery books and their contents, whether fictional or not. Blum writes there:
There are mornings, lit by the cold winter light, when I start talking about a poison in my book, revealing my own dangerous expertise, and as I do, I watch my husband quietly, not really thinking about it, slide his cup out of my reach.
With a chuckle, I realized that my husband Dave would respond the same way if I were writing a book on poisons and delighting in my discoveries. As it is, we read a lot of the same books, and our explorations out on the road (this is a gorgeous season for Vermont road trips!) often include long discussions of twists and turns of plot and character. And we certainly share a speculative gaze at the gifted crime authors we meet along the way.

THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK isn't really a how-to volume; it's more of a long double biography of the two men who created modern forensics in New York City, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. From cyanide and mercury to the perils of alcohol substitutes during the period of Prohibition, the nasty substances that kill people need to be tracked and measured in order to make sure their users serve jail time. And, heaven help us, in order to deter others from the same methods!

Blum's book reflects, I think, her long-time career of writing newspaper science: Her paragraphs cluster in "stories" of a page and a half or two pages, linked one to the next, twining around a chapter topic. Eventually the cases involved snowball: An "angel of mercy" using chloroform to kill off terminally ill patients becomes part of the impetus for laboratories and for creation of a coroner's office that isn't subjected to political whims, for instance. Or Tony Marino and the Mike Malloy conspirators reveal how determined and inventive a set of killers can become.

The book makes great late-night reading because it's built in short segments and you can't get lost if interrupted. I did find it challenging to stick with it over longer periods of time because the segments jump around so often. But I got used to it, and enjoyed it. The gentle persistence with which Blum builds up the portraits of Norris and Gettler through their work is a delight to discover.

In the end, Blum reveals what her years of research led her to grasp:
I see poisoners -- so calculating, so cold-blooded -- as most like the villains of our horror stories. They're closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don't mean to dismiss the latter -- both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, love into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.
Keep that in mind as you open your next thriller.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Notes: Louise Penny in Vermont

Louise Penny in V
It's cold up here -- but the "killing frost" held off last night, by a couple of degrees. The thermometer said 30ºF, but the plant leaves looked fine, even the ones that I didn't have enough sheets and blankets to cover. Whew!

So we headed down the highway, nicely bundled up in jackets, but without the gloves, hats, and scarves that will soon be part of daily life. The Norwich Inn, less than an hour south, was our destination -- where a luncheon for Louise Penny was hosted by the Norwich Bookstore. Tasty tidbits reached us a few minutes before Penny began to speak about her new book, Bury Your Dead. That is, she mostly didn't speak about it, because it is so tightly tied to the preceding volume (The Brutal Telling) and so tightly plotted that almost any discussion of it risked being a spoiler for the 50 or so readers munching their salads. So Penny read from a couple of sections in the new book where Chief Inspector Gamache is thinking about Quebec and Canadian history -- particularly the still mysterious disappearance of the body of explorer Samuel de Champlain. Penny elaborated on how frustrating the absence of this historical corpse is, "translating" for her American guests: "I mean, can you imagine you guys losing Washington?"

In response to an audience question about the way these two recent books are linked, Penny admitted, "When I started [The Brutal Telling], I knew exactly what these two books would be." Then she drew gasps from the crowd by adding matter-of-factly, "And I know what the next three books will be."

Emphasizing, as she usually does in person, that her books are not "about murder" but about valuing life, in all its complexity of sorrow, loss, and redemption as well as joy, Penny explained: "I tried to write a book every decade of my life until I was well into my forties. And I think the trouble was, I was too inexperienced -- and callow." As the books finally blossomed in her mid forties, she felt that the gift had required a specific kind of experience in her own life: to be hurt enough to learn compassion and empathy, and to know what intolerance and loneliness feel like.

That fits well with the gift Penny recently gave to "Good Reads," a Canadian literacy group. This best-selling author presented the group with an 80-page novella, The Hangman, to use as both a strong story for new readers (not children, but teens or adults), and to generate funds for the group's work.

Dave and I love such small treasures, and this story is a good read -- Chief Inspector Armand Gamache applies his understanding of human nature to an apparent suicide by hanging, as well as to a related note left behind, and finds his way to the solution of a murderous crime. Told in short, direct sentences, The Hangman makes it clear that compassion and caring are vital assets of a good detective.

We've added signed copies of The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, and The Hangman to our listings on Here's a link to find them. I'll update it now and then.

What a gift to spend time listening to this warm, creative, and intelligent author.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Mystery News at Kingdom Books

Dave and I enjoyed Louise Penny's talk in Brattleboro, Vermont, this afternoon -- and learned that she plans to alternate locations in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series: one in the (fictional) Eastern Townships village of Three Pines, the next in another location, then back again. This week's great new release from Penny, her sixth, is BURY YOUR DEAD -- and it's set (mostly) in Quebec City. So you know where the setting is for the manuscript of number seven, which she handed to her editor last week. Penny's reason for the decision: Otherwise, she'd use up too much of Three Pines as either murderers or victims (although she restricts herself to one murder per book, she noted!).

Tomorrow (Monday) we'll place some more signed copies of Penny's books online, and we'll add news about an intriguing novella of hers, as well.

Waiting to order your signed copies of Gerry Boyle's Maine mysteries? Don't wait too long ... although we had stacks of every single one of Boyle's newspaperman-turned-detective novels here for his visit on Sept. 25 (as well as the first book of his Brandon Blake series), half of them are already sold and gone. Thanks, Gerry, for the great talk you gave, for the signatures, and for the "shout out" on your blog.

Dana Stabenow, whose Alaska mysteries feature Kate Shugak, will release her next book, Though Not Dead, on Feb. 1 -- still a lot of weeks and a lot of snowfall from now -- and she also announced that her hard-to-find first book, A COLD DAY FOR MURDER, is being reprinted by Poisoned Pen Press in hardcover, with the same release date. Click here for her newsletter.

Last but not least, Michael Connelly's new book, THE REVERSAL, comes out this week -- as the 16th in the Harry Bosch series and the third for Mickey Haller. More on that, later in the week.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

S. J. Rozan, ON THE LINE: Bill and Lydia -- Apart!

Fast-paced, tightly plotted, and -- if you picture the scenes as they'd unfold in, say, a film -- riotously funny at times, ON THE LINE is S. J. Rozan's 2010 release in the series featuring Bill Smith and Lydia Chin, partners in investigation, specializing in Chinatown crime. And rather than a classic detective story, this one's a suspense tale, a thriller of New York City not-quite-cop against ex-con.

The action starts on the first page, as Smith's cell phone gives the special ring he's programmed for Lydia. When he asks "What's up?" the reply from Lydia, in a tone that instantly puts him on alert, is, "Nothing good." Sure enough -- Lydia's being held captive, and from here on, Bill is at the mercy of a sadistic, game-rigging criminal recently out of prison, determined to get back at Smith through what he assumes is the girlfriend in his life.

Series readers already know that Bill and Lydia haven't managed to develop a romance successfully, although they are "I'd die for you" friends. In a book filled with car chases, explosives, hostages, and time pressure, they sure won't get a chance to explore their inner selves this time, either! And Rozan sets up Bill Smith to work this one without his partner, for the most part -- but with two clever "kids" able to muster the resources of the Internet and social media on behalf of Lydia and Bill, even when that requires working in tandem with some of Chinatown's habitual criminals. It is, after all, a fitting game response to the way the electronic-voiced hostage-taker is trying to use Chinatown against Bill.

Maybe you need experience living with a bright and "cool" teen to buy the conversations Bill has with Linus (think Pauling, not Peanuts) and Trella -- but the exclamations of "Dude!" from Linus struck me as close enough to reality, and Trella is clearly the right "Dudess" for this loyal geek. I had a great time riding with the action and cheering for Bill and his team.

Even as I type this, I'm seeing the chase scenes all over again. This book is fun! Rozan knows how to spin a crazy situation into something that demands the teamwork that only real friendship can produce. Love it!

For a bright interview with Rozan about her choices in this one, take a look at her web site.  Nice to see the major reviews, too.