Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Sixth Sense for Crime: Peter Lovesey, STAGESTRUCK

With some 25 crime novels to his credit, expectations are high when Peter Lovesey brings out a new one. For the past few days, he's been touring in the US for STAGESTRUCK (Soho Crime), an homage to the complexities of the Theatre Royal, Bath. The book is a perfect backdrop for the English traditions and phrases that make his mysteries such fun for American readers, and the theater stage is exactly the right blend of "ordinary" and "fabulous" on which to position his characters -- starting with the unfortunate pop singer Clarion Calhoun, looking for a boost into a dramatic change of her career, and instead grievously wounded as the book opens.

It's a case where nothing is quite what it seems: not Clarion's motives for being there, not the bonds attaching the members of the theatre company, and most of all, not what Detective Peter Diamond is seeing and feeling as he struggles to isolate the actual crime and the escalating criminal or criminals involved. Is "all the world" a stage? What is giving him such a dose of theater phobia as he pursues fleeting glimpses of the solution? Is it a sixth sense for a ghost, or for evil? Or is it more personal?
With a curt, 'Do you mind?' Titus made a beeline for the steps to the royal circle entrance. He had such an air of authority that no one challenged himm or took photos and no one gave Diamond a second look.

If they had, they would have seen his face taut with stress.
This is the eleventh Peter Diamond mystery, and it's a quiet, often tender one -- but as I look back on my favorites of Lovesey's, such as Diamond Solitaire, I see that's how he has generally crafted this series, in spite of the genre label of "crime." In fact, what's changed during the series are the violence and darkness now almost commonplace in today's thrillers and police procedurals. Compared to, say, a Lee Child or Tana French book, Lovesey's writing now appears gentle, almost in the mood of a traditional "house mystery" moved to the police station and downtown.

Pick this one up for a relaxed evening apart from summer's exertions. Stronger than a "cat and tea" cozy mystery, but without the desperate or painful edges of today's noir, STAGESTRUCK is a nicely plotted, generously presented, traditional mystery. There's a place and a time for that ... and I'm glad the book came my way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Three Components of a Wonderful Book Event: Lea Wait, Thank You!

Of course, the "capacity crowd" that filled all the seats in our new "reading room" added to the great fun we had today during Maine author Lea Wait's visit. With copies of all five of the "antique prints mysteries" that Wait's written -- lots of copies of her most recent, Shadows of a Down East Summer -- Dave and I were both very busy introducing guests to these lovely traditional mysteries, as well as to each other.

But the three components that made the event especially interesting came from Lea Wait's preparation and contributions. Here they are:
1. She arrived with intriguing stories about her path into writing, working her way from her New Jersey and Maine connections to her career writing for a giant of industry to her adoptions of four daughters from four Asian nations -- all this done as a single parent! And I especially enjoyed hearing how she analyzed the mystery field before entering it, calculating how the books were constructed in order to figure out, for instance, how many suspected candidates there could be for the role of murderer.
2. She brought samples of Winslow Homer's work, borrowed from her own antique print business, so that people had a chance to learn something new and stretch their interests. Those who wished could even take home a list of the artist's wood engravings from 1857 through 1875.
3. She knew exactly how much to tell of the plot and characters of the newest mystery, whetting everyone's appetite for the story and for its predecessors (and, we all anticipate, successors!).
In fact, I was so caught up in listening and then in helping books connect with their new owners that I nearly forgot to snap a photo -- and this one doesn't do Lea justice, because she has a lovely smile and animated expression to light up the room for listeners, but you can see that at the moment captured here, she was totally focused on conversing with a new fan of her work (while also signing a book). She really tuned in on readers, and that's a fourth -- and wonderful -- component of today's very enjoyable event.

Thank you, Lea, for coming all the way from Maine to meet Vermont readers. I'm going to pick up some of your middle grade historical novels this summer, to sample more of your range of storytelling and your portraits of Maine, historical and current.

For title lists, and more about the author, check out

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Michael Connelly: BLACK ECHO (Short Reflection)

A family member of mine just moved to a short-term rental in Echo Park, a Los Angeles district that features in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Coincidentally, another family member got hooked on Connelly's new series featuring Mickey Haller, the "Lincoln lawyer" of the new film; and yet a third enjoyed the book The Lincoln Lawyer last week.

So I've been talking about Connelly and his work a lot lately, with people who aren't necessarily seasoned readers of his crime fiction. It reminded me of the power of his books, and the impact of reading his Edgar Award-winning first one, Black Echo.

So here's a link to Connelly's website, the portion that describes his first book, Black Echo: -- if you have a Nam background, you'll probably know about the nonfiction background of the tunnels of Cu Chi, and the tunnel rats. And if you aren't/weren't tuned in to that war and region, the story is so good that you'll be soaking up info while biting your nails. At least, that's what happened for me.

Although it's hard to find nice-condition copies of this 1992 book, Kingdom Books has a decent hardcover reprint right now:

Reminder: Lea Wait will be at Kingdom Books on Sat. 6/25 at 11 a.m., featuring her new Down East Maine mystery, Shadows of a Down East Summer. She's bringing some Homer Winslow artwork with her, a great reflection of the novel's turning points. Reserve a signed copy by calling 802-751-8374 or drop us an e-mail at Glad to mail the books if you can't be here in person (but it's much more fun to be here!).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Local Literary Reminder: In the Footsteps of Robert Frost

Frost Place to host event featuring North Country anthology writers

FRANCONIA--The Monadnock Institute at Franklin Pierce University and The Frost Place in Franconia will co-host a reading this month featuring Franconia area writers whose essays appear in the new publication, Beyond the Notches: Stories of Place in New Hampshire’s North Country. The event, the first to feature local authors reading essays, will be held at the Frost Place on Sunday, June 19, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Maudelle Driskell, executive director at The Frost Place said, “We are delighted to bring this program to The Frost Place as it represents one of the ways that we can highlight the connection of The Frost Place to the local community. We look forward to welcoming residents of the area to this event, which is free and open to the public.” 

Franconia and Sugar Hill writers Rebecca Brown, Jack McEnany and Meghan McCarthy McPhaul will be featured, along with writers whose essays connect to the Franconia area. These will include Suzanne Moberly and Fran Lavoie of Littleton and Jeff Woodburn of Dalton.  Kay Morgan, first project director at The Frost Place and co-editor of Beyond the Notches, will also share excerpts from the anthology and her essay about the Town of Franconia’s purchase of The Frost Place as a bicentennial project in 1976.

This event will also highlight the participation of local high school students in the anthology. Profile High student Allie Baker and graduates Cory Snyder and Maggie North have been invited to read their essays, which were selected by anthology editors Mike Dickerman, John Harris and Kay Morgan. “I am particularly pleased that we were able to include high school writers in the volume,” Morgan said, “because student writers don’t often have a chance to be published in a book like this.”

In addition to the writers, anthology cover artist Amy Delventhal, who paints in her studio in Bethlehem, will be present to show the paintings she did for the book, as well as some of her other work.

Copies of the anthology, which will be available for purchase, will be presented to the Abbie Greenleaf Library, the Franconia Heritage Museum and to Profile High School in recognition of the role that each institution plays in the preservation of the heritage and culture of the region.

A Mystery of Winslow Homer -- and a Town in Maine (Lea Wait, SHADOWS OF A DOWN EAST SUMMER)

Preparations are intensifying now for our June 25 event (11 a.m. here at Kingdom Books), when Maine author Lea Wait presents SHADOWS OF A DOWN EAST SUMMER, the fifth of her Maggie Summer mysteries. These are strong, traditional mysteries set in a seacoast town and featuring a likable woman who's an expert in antique prints. In this case, the story turns on whether the noted (and real) artist Winslow Homer had any children, presumably outside of marriage.

So one of the items on my "get ready, get set" list is to gather some actual Winslow Homer prints to have at the shop next Saturday. Kim Crady-Smith at the nearby Green Mountain Books & Prints is helping me to search. If you're coming and can bring one, or even a book about the artist, please do! Meanwhile, to remind you, I'm placing a one of his works here, "A Fair Wind," from the collection at the National Gallery of Art. And here's a great website for refreshing what you know (or want to know) about Winslow Homer, too.

PS -- Yes, we'll have Lea Wait's earlier Maggie Summer mysteries, too, although not as many of these as of her current book.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Diversion: Poetry from Lesle Lewis -- LIE DOWN TOO

I liked Lesle Lewis's two earlier books: Small Boat, and Landscapes I & II. I liked watching her read aloud from her books, too. So often the lines she crafts are such complete surprises that I'm lost in thought, scrambling for context, and when she reads those lines aloud, they seem to simply belong together. I was eager to sample her 2011 collection from Alice James Books, lie down too.

Scattered through the pages of this elegant square-format book are poems that hint at the calendar (and mostly appear in the same order that the months would). Some actually suggest those calendars that had a "Girl" for each month -- like the poem "September Girl," which begins, "She runs away. // When she goes home again, she gets punished." The next three lines are longer and hint at a wider story, although no narrative actually links them -- but the "girl" ends the poem naked, sitting on an abandoned farm machine. How my mind leaps, searching for that image on the calendars I've seen in car repair shops over the years.

I love the start of the poem that follows this one, with the title "Conscience and Gloom." (The provocative design of the book places the titles to one side, suggesting that that might come before, come after, or simply accompany the verse lines.) This one starts, "A man does the same thing in many versions over and over. // He realizes art has no infinite shelf life." His travels and troubles superimpose themselves, and by the final line, "He is standing frozen in the banks where they stop plowing Cook Hill Road."

Ellen Bryant Voigt, teaching a group of high school teachers one summer, gave me the words to talk about what happens when I meet poems like this: My "hunger for narrative" has to stand on the sidelines. Something magical is happening, but it has nothing to do with the pockets of the poet or the price of admission. It's a coupling of familiar with new, of phrases almost remembered but twisted in mid air like a lasso, settling on the head of an unexpected animal. It's seriously fun.

Whether the voice of the poem is walking with someone down a wintry avenue of birches, or literally seeing air and sampling happiness, it is a voice that's rich, full, and wondering. "Froglike and tender," as another line in the book asserts.

I'm so glad I opened this book and worked my way from page to page. My "narrative hunger" is a wolf that growls when it isn't fed. But there's a poem in here that tackles "fear of wolves," pinning it crosswise on the page. "We let our questions off our leashes," Lewis writes. "Something else could happen." And in this book, indeed, it does.

A Book to Haunt the Mind: BREAKING SILENCE, Linda Castillo (June 21 release)

BREAKING SILENCE is the third in the Amish murder/thriller series by Linda Castillo -- preceded by Sworn to Silence in 2009 and Pray for Silence in 2010. But Castillo's "backlist" includes some 15 novels before this series.

And that goes a long way toward explaining why every book featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder has been powerful, tautly plotted, and written so well that it can haunt a person for weeks, even months, after reading. I gasped at the end of BREAKING SILENCE and finally managed to croak to my husband Dave, "Get them all. All of the books in this series. We need them."

Kate Burkholder grew up in Amish country and survived -- barely -- an attack on her family by a serial killer. With her survival came a personal departure from the Amish, and from their countryside. Twenty years later, she's back in the region she still cares about, working with people whose way of life can appear fiercely obstinate, backward, even cruel. She's no longer part of the community's most fervent segment. But she's passionate about standing up for them, especially when crime -- or the hierarchies of policing -- take aim against them.

Castillo offers a pair of chapters from the view of other characters before reaching, in her third chapter, Kate herself, being woken by a phone call from the dispatcher. That is, if you can call it woken when chronic insomnia has set in. Kate was just wondering how long she'd make it before repercussions from long-term sleeplessness would strike her like an ax. And then -- well, there's no good news at five in the morning. Three people are down in a manure pit, floating in the animal waste and in danger of rapid death from the fumes. All emergency services are needed, and Kate's on her way.
Alarm rattles through me. Born and raised Amish, I'm well aware of the dangers of a poorly managed manure pit. Methane gas. Ammonia. Drowning. The Slabaughs are Amish and run a hog operation just out of town. I can tell by the smell when I drive by their place that they don't utilize good manure management. "You call EMS?"

"They're on their way. So is Pickles."

"Victims still alive?"
"Far as I know."
But after a heartbreakingly difficult rescue operation, watched by the victims' children, there are no survivors after all. And slowly, Kate comes to realize that the deaths -- or what led up to them -- may have been part of a string of vicious hate crimes in the area, aimed at the Amish in general.

Or could there be other motives for intentional death?

Castillo writes with double strengths that I think add up to a truly good crime novel: a plot that hinges on real social or cultural or "greed" issues in a community, and a protagonist whose personal pain, shame, anger, or confusion gets braided into the pursuit of the criminals. When investigator John Tomasetti from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation gets assigned to Kate's case, the lingering dishonesties between Kate and her much-liked colleague blaze into potential destruction of one of the best parts of her life. Plus, there are hints that she could lose her job over this case -- maybe even her life.

For an intriguing interview with Castillo, done just after she'd handed in the manuscript for this page-turner, check this BookReporter website. Castillo's author site is good but doesn't reveal a lot; instead, here's a recent blog post of hers from The Lipstick Chronicles that makes good reading, especially for authors and other self-driven creative people.

I look forward to more of this gripping and well-crafted series.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Best Rainy Day: Dave Zeltserman at Kingdom Books

Dave Kanell (L) and Dave Zeltserman (R), books and more books!
A huge thank-you to Dave and Judy Zeltserman, who came up to Kingdom Books in the rain today to meet local fans. Dave read to us a new story about to appear in Ellery Queen Magazine (quite a twist there!) and offered a couple of scenes from his crime (heist!) novel Outsourced. The local crowd was small but highly appreciative with great discussion, and we had plenty of pre-orders, and Dave signed a gazillion books of his.

By the way, Judy Zeltserman -- partner in crime for Dave's trip up here -- is a homeopathic consultant, so we had some great side conversations about her "alternative" healing biz based in Needham, MA. Her web site,, gives some nice insight into her work. (New clients welcome!) Dave's book Bad Karma  draws wonderfully on his wife's expertise.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Colors of Darkness: Differences Among Dave Zeltserman's Books (and a SPECIAL OFFER)

In many ways, Outsourced is a different shade of "dark" than the best-known of Dave Zeltserman's novels, Small Crimes and Pariah. For one thing, the book has achingly funny moments in it, as well as some inevitable complications that baffle the protagonist but leap to the reader's eye. It's close to a caper novel in the tradition of Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, and it's going to be enjoyable to re-read. (Knowing the ending will be fun on the second time through, I think!)

Zelterserman also provided a horror novella last year, The Caretaker of Lorne Field. And yet there's so much tenderness and passion woven into this cautionary tale that the best colors to describe it would be a weeping rich green like rainy gardens, and a haunted silver of moonlight, with maybe a few streaks of crimson grief. You can tell I really like the book, even though there's pain within it.

Yet another "color" in this author's dark writing comes in Bad Karma, a searing Western drama of marriage, crime, danger, and perhaps recovery. Tint this one with colors of the desert: burnt dark red, dry ochre, eye-aching brightness and heartache. Sometimes it amazes me that such a nice guy with such a long-term, steady, pleasant marriage can write so many varieties of "what goes wrong." But he does.

Which is why "my" Dave and I are especially pleased to welcome Dave Zeltserman back to our Vermont mystery center -- and to make this very special offer, just through Saturday. Here's how my husband explains it:
Dave Zeltserman is making his third visit to Kingdom Books this Saturday June 11 at 11 a.m. to read and to sign from his newest book Outsourced, which is published by Serpent’s Tail Press. We will also have Dave Zeltserman’s earlier work, especiallyi a fine stack of his book Bad Karma, published by Five Star Press. Bad Karma is a Bill Shannon mystery with the setting in Colorado. The hardcover book had a small first printing and our copies are in fine/fine condition.

For Saturday we will be running a Special Sale for one day only: We will have signed copies of Bad Karma for $15 (regular cover price is $26). For those who want the book shipped, the shipping charge will be $4.95. That shipping price is also good for a two-book or three-book order, so consider combining this with Outsourced, also $15 per copy, signed.

Call Kingdom Books at 802-751-8374 (e-mail: to reserve a copy of one or both books.
Dave Zeltserman

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Stella Rimington Interview: Toward August 2011 Release of RIP TIDE

Stella Rimington, courtesy of Bloomsbury
This video interview link just arrived from Bloomsbury -- very interesting indeed!

Cats in Detective and Crime Fiction, and a Farewell to Lilian Jackson Braun

Clea Simon's 2011 "pet psychic" mystery DOG'S DON'T LIE twists a lively plot and some characters that are worth following onward from this (I hope) first in a new series for the Massachusetts author. It's a bit edgier than a classic cozy, and I like that aspect -- like adding a slice of lemon to a summer iced tea, the zing is worthwhile. Not only are the dogs and cats (and a ferret!) in the book endowed with strong and eerily realistic personalities, but the narrative also offers insight into how pet lovers interact with the intelligent creatures who share their lives. Especially when murder intervenes ...

Collectors of mysteries that include cats will appreciate the loss of author Lilian Jackson Braun, who died last weekend at the age of 97. She is known as the founder of this subgenre, and in a recent blog essay, Sarah Weinman gives a fine summary of Braun's writing and influence.

For a list and good discussion of cat-theme mysteries, check here. This list is made up of "cozies" -- mysteries in which a dead body shocks the discoverer but rarely shows up in full gory detail, and in which there will be a mostly happy ending. There is also a very small genre of cat "true crime," for which the Gothamist article here is a good sample.

Check out this Gothamist "true crime" cat work.
It's easy to categorize cat mysteries as almost always cozies. The same is emphatically not true of dog ones, though (including Clea Simon's latest, mentioned at the start of this post). Spencer Quinn offers some of the wittiest of the "dog noir" work that's now erupting. We'll have more on that, later in the summer.

Right now, though, I've got to get back to setting up chairs and baking cookies for Saturday's big Kingdom Books author event with Dave Zeltserman -- emphatically not a "cozy" writer! We'll feature his newest crime novel, Outsourced, this weekend; it's a darkly funny caper tale of a group of long-out-of-work computer geeks who dare to launch a bank robbery, thinking they can keep crime clean. Ha! We'll also have a lot of Zeltserman's other work, and Dave is going to announce (later today) a special offer on the hardcover first printing of Zeltserman's Bad Karma. Stay in touch.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

At Kingdom Books, Sat. June 11: DAVE ZELTSERMAN, featuring OUTSOURCED

Hurrah, the roads have been repaired, Kingdom Books is jammed with great stuff, and -- Boston author Dave Zeltserman will be here Saturday June 11, at 11 a.m., for an outrageous exploration of his latest books, mostly featuring OUTSOURCED. What's this one like? Well, imagine you've been out of work for months ... and more months ... and you're good at what you do (computer geek!) but the young grads with the newest techniques are getting all the jobs and hope is fading (along with your marriage). How long will it take before you start fantasizing about robbing a bank?

And what if you knew there was a security hole in that bank's software?

In Zeltserman's experienced hands, that question turns into a caper mystery, sometimes painful, always funny, and tightly plotted, sure to win awards later this year. Come get acquainted with this author and his 2011 book. Chances are, he'll also talk about other 2011 books of his (yes, that's books, plural) -- I'm especially excited about his Julius Katz and Archie adventure, in the shoes of Rex Stout's delightful classic detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

IF YOU'RE COMING: Dave likes to know ahead of time whether you'd like a book reserved. We have a nice stack of OUTSOURCED and a great selection of other Zeltserman titles. Drop us an e-mail at or phone Dave at 802-751-8374.

Hope to see you soon!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Murder Crosses the Atlantic: Leslie Meier, ENGLISH TEA MURDER (Lucy Stone!)

The newest Lucy Stone mystery will release at the end of this month, but series lovers may want to reserve a copy now -- for the adventure of seeing this Maine mom away from her family and familiar landscape, discovering that crime and death don't hold back at the border.

Lucy and a group of her friends are taking a vacation, one of those university packaged tours. This one's in London, and Lucy, Sue, and Pam are eager to sample English tea -- the meal with all its touches of scones, jams, cream, and of course tea itself -- but you know how travel is, don't you? Things happen. And around Lucy, death happens. Not that it's her fault, of course. And this particular death, which threatens to strand them on the airplane instead of in the Tower of London, is one of those awful health accidents that nobody could have predicted: an allergy reaction suffered by their tour leader, so severe that even the doctor on the plane can't reverse it in time.

Soon even the British inspector agrees with that assessment:
The inspector was now standing at the front of the cabin, addressing the group. "Thank you all for your cooperation. You're free to go, and I hope there will be no further unpleasantness to spoil your visit to the UK."

They were starting to stand up when a rosy-cheeked man with slicked back hair suddenly appeared. "I'm Reg Wilson from British Airways, and I, too, want to thank you for your cooperation. Furthermore, I have arranged transport for your group to your hotel. Now, if you will gather up your things, I will escort you to immigration and on to the baggage area."

Pam was bouncing on the balls of her feet, itching to go. "Let's get this show on the road," she said.

Lucy smiled, resolving not to let Temple's death ruin her vacation. After all, she hadn't really known the man. And she was finally here in England. "Tallyho," she said.
Lucy's resolve is destined to crumble, though -- there are some really strange people on this tour, including a group of students whose connections eventually reveal themselves as more than weird. And, well, scary things keep happening. Plus teatime keeps eluding her, at least the teatime she's so looked forward to.

It's fascinating to watch author Leslie Meier take the journalist and amateur sleuth out of her home turf and away from the family that plays such a strong role in earlier Lucy Stone mysteries, out into a place where recognition springs from TV dramas and books, and help comes with a different accent and a skeptical raised eyebrow. I missed the Maine connections -- but I enjoyed seeing Lucy's dawning realization of what was going on around her. And the twist of the book's ending was a delicious surprise.

Make room in the beach tote for this traditional mystery: a pleasant summer read, and a clever diversion for the series.