Friday, December 14, 2012

Newest Scottish Noir: T. Frank Muir, HAND FOR A HAND

US cover
Scottish noir? Crime fiction fans know it's been around for a while; from William McIlvanney to Ian Rankin to Denise Mina to Quintin Jardine, this grim and often deeply satisfying group of authors and their books belongs on the shelves for savoring and re-reading. More established than Scandinavian noir, the tight geography and urban flavor of much of the group also means it's common to notice the connections among the authors, adding an extra level of intrigue to these books.

This year, 2012, is the first for a conference dedicated to Scottish noir: The BLOODY SCOTLAND conference was held in September, and I wish I'd been there -- what a range of authors and topics! Check it out here.

A few weeks ago, the first U.S. edition of HAND FOR A HAND by T. Frank Muir arrived, thank to Soho Crime bringing this author across the Atlantic. Muir already has three investigations in print in the United Kingdom, so we can expect to see the American versions arrive quickly.

UK cover
HAND FOR A HAND is Muir's debut crime novel, but well seasoned in writing style. How the author got there is hard to figure, as his website leaves his past well shrouded in mystery. That's fine with me, as long as the books keep coming! As this one opens, a frightening discovery on a golf course demands the attention of DCI Andy Gilchrist. There is, literally, an amputated hand in the sand bunker, clutching a note addressed to the investigator by name, and saying: Murder.

Against some views of protocol, Andy seems likely to become the senior investigating officer for this defacement of Scotland's golf-course reputation. But that slot turns out to stay with the Chief Superintendent after all. And what the Chief Superintendent decides, is not available for argument. That includes the infuriating, appalling assignment of Gilchrist's long-time enemy Ronnie Watts to the police team. "In this Division I don't want anyone to harbour past grievances," explains the Chief to Gilchrist. Bygones should be bygones.

But they really can't be, considering what's happened between the two men in the past. And as it turns out, most of Gilchrist's past and present life is at stake with a criminal who's determined to hurt him as much as possible -- over and over and over again.

With the intensity and pace of a Lee Child ticking-clock thriller, added to the insight and detailed police procedural style that Scottish noir so often features, Muir provides an action-packed investigation that will ruin your plans for the weekend. So change those plans -- it's urgent to read this one now, because there are at least two more lined up. Good reading ahead.

Alert for collectors: Muir's crime fiction covers include three forms of his name -- you can see see here, on the US and UK covers, both T. Frank Muir and Frank Muir; another UK one (see his website) reads T. F. Muir. As I said earlier: This is an author of mystery, in himself as well as his books.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 Mysteries to Give to People You Like/Love -- 1

Why isn't Barbara Cleverly more famous? She's a top-notch writer with meticulous pacing and a deep and likeable detective Joe Sandilands; each time I pick up a new one in this series (2012 brought us number 10), I make time as soon as possible to read it -- because I know I'll be engrossed in the story, intrigued with the details, determined to solve the mystery/crime, and step out the far end of the book more relaxed and pleased with life.

On the other hand, there are three things that weigh against the books climbing the charts, at least in the United States: (1) The author is a former British teacher. (2) The books are set in the 1920s and 1930s. (3) In this Internet-conscious time, Cleverly appears to have no "official" author website. (Her Wikipedia page, here, notes her awards but even so is pretty sparse.)

OK, fine. She's not going to get famous. But her 2012 book, NOT MY BLOOD, gave me a very good couple of days last summer, and I'm recommending it as a gift to mystery readers this season, whether those readers are your friends/family, or -- just you!

It's 1933 in England and mid-winter as NOT MY BLOOD opens. One of the boys at a Sussex boarding school, Jackie Drummond, is contemplating running away. He has a list of resources that his mother, back in India, gave him, and on it is the name of Joe Sandilands -- who has settled back into postwar English life as a Scotland Yard detective, and in chapter 2 gets one of the strangest calls in his life, to come rescue his "nephew." What the boy discloses involves, blood, probably a murder, and a complicated and sinister situation that reveals that the school has been "losing" boys -- they've been going missing -- for years. That means there are jurisdiction issues, of course. Here's Sandilands trying to enlist the local police:
Sensing that the inspector was beginning to flounder, Joe took over. "I agree, it's a possibility which we must consider. And I concede that, sadly, it is a perversion that plagues the capital. Children are harvested, Martin -- scooped up off the streets and railway platforms. Bought and sold like apples. Sometimes by their own families. Our Vice Squad closes down one of their ghastly scenes of operation one day, to find it's sprung up the next in a neighboring street. But I expect you see as clearly as I do the essential difference between these operations and the potential horrors we could have to deal with here?"

"Oh, yes. Class. Wealth. These aren't kids off the street."
The strength of character that's made Sandilands a compelling character ever since The Last Kashmiri Rose  introduced him in 2001 overlaps with revelations from Joe's private life, and the involvement of small boys makes the risks and costs escalate in this mystery. A stunning historical puzzle emerges, and the finale is deeply satisfying.

Soho Press brought this out under the Soho Crime label; you might want to order two copies, so you can keep one for your own holiday pleasure.

Friday, December 07, 2012

An Evening of 40 Authors, 2 Publishers, 1 Editor, 1 Agent -- and Dozens of Mystery Lovers

Gala Mystery Night, New England Mobile Book Fair
[all photos by Dave Kanell]

Last night (Thurs. Dec. 6), the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands, Mass., hosted its first Gala Mystery Night, featuring 40 mystery authors and all the great people who come along with them (publishing teammates, spouses, volunteer photographers, you name it) -- and dozens of people eager to talk about mysteries, meet the authors, and purchase books signed right there in front of them by the hands that wrote them. It was a resounding success, thanks to owner Tom Lyons (read his story here), organizer David Ambler, and all the happy readers and writers on hand. If you've ever attended one of the famous holiday parties held at (now sadly closed) Kate's Mysteries in Cambridge, Mass., you'd recognize this gathering as a direct descendant with some great changes: more space, hourly changes of featured authors, and the largest independent bookstore in New England to explore whenever you need a break from the merry crowd.

I was excited to be there with COLD MIDNIGHT -- I may have brought the only "young adult" mystery, unless you count the books Jennifer McMahon (also of Vermont) is spinning out, which often involve teen characters but aren't usually called YA (these are dark, fierce, wonderful books -- and I'll be talking about her January release in a couple of weeks).

Linda Barnes, James Benn, McMahon, Steve Ulfelder, and Katherine Hall Page all signed their books for us; Dave got a chance to visit with Dave Zeltserman, as well as talking for quite a while with Benn, and briefly with Michael Palmer, Hallie Ephron, and Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose blockbuster thriller THE OTHER WOMAN is doing so well. (See review here!) Dave also enjoyed time with William Landay and William Martin, and caught some great photos of Joan Parker, widow of mystery Grandmaster Robert B. Parker, receiving a special award from the bookstore and giving, in return, a wonderful reading of a letter from her late husband.

BIG NEWS! Ellen Larson, the editor of the new YA imprint of Poisoned Pen Press -- titled, with charm, the Poisoned Pencil -- chatted with a number of authors at the event, and (ta-DAH!) has finished her initial readings of submissions for the imprint, choosing three manuscripts to go forward as an initial publication round. Larson, a seasoned "substantive editor" and writer herself, is looking forward to this next stage of helping authors get their books ready for publication. I can hardly wait to find out whose work she's picked and what the mysteries are! For more about Poisoned Pencil, check out the press announcement here.
Yours truly, with COLD MIDNIGHT

Dave Zeltserman

James Benn

Joan Parker receives award from Tom Lyons

Joan Parker reading letter from her husband Robert B. Parker

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Reading the Recipes First? DEATH OF A COUNTRY-FRIED REDNECK by Lee Hollis

Joanne Fluke has neatly tied up the major market in "cozy" mysteries with a cooking twist -- her Hannah Swenson series includes a bakery in the plot, so cookie, cake, and other dessert recipes about in the volumes. I believe it's thanks to Fluke that I now thumb through the recipes first, when one of these mysteries arrives at Kingdom Books!

It's not a new approach -- Virginia  Rich (with eventual collaboration from not-yet-famous Nancy Pickard) gave us The Nantucket Diet Murders and The Baked-Bean Supper Murders. And in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, although there aren't recipes in the actual books (they are given later in a cookbook), cooking and kitchen maneuvers make up a large part of the background to gourmand Nero Wolfe's part-time labor as a crime solver.

But there's always a new twist, and Lee Hollis -- actually the brother-and-sister team of Rick Copp and Holly Simason -- brings us the "Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails" mystery series, set in coastal Maine, where Hayley's job as food columnist at the Island Times gives her a chance to jump desks and join the hunt for a killer. In DEATH OF A COUNTRY-FRIED REDNECK, Hayley fits the classic role of an "amateur sleuth" (the best definition of what are often called cozy mysteries) by stumbling into a crime when she tags along after her favorite country music star, Southerner Wade Springer. Inspired to seek a catering slot in order to meet the legendary performer (who is comfortably single!), she brushes off her country-fried chicken recipe, among others. And each time the narrative pauses to give one of Hayley's columns, there are recipes -- not just for cooking but also for refreshingly different cocktails.

Hollis focuses on plot twists and recipes, and not much on depth of character -- Hayley's eventual solution of the murder mystery in her lap depends mostly on trying out every possible combination of blame and suspicion until she stumbles onto the actual killer and motive. But it's a cute ride, with an unusual combination of New England atmosphere and displaced dishes, as well as some entertaining friction between Holly and her teenaged daughter Gemma. For a light read, stack this one on the bedside table or even in the kitchen.

But -- no, no, no -- clipping out the recipes from a real book is absolutely not allowed. Either work on them directly from the book pages, or copy them out somehow. And if you need a few more, especially for the outrageous cocktails, check out the author's very relaxed blog at

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Australian Crime Fiction: Garry Disher, Again

Dave and I have both written about Australian author Garry Disher's books. There are two crime series to follow, among Disher's more than 40 books; both series have been available in Australia for quite a while. Here they are:

The Wyatt Series
Kickback 1991
Paydirt 1992
Deathdeal 1993
Crosskill 1994
Port Vila Blues 1996
The Fallout 1997
Wyatt 2010

The Detective Inspector Hal Challis Series
The Dragon Man 1999
Kitty Hawk Down 2003
Snapshot 2005
Chain of Evidence 2007
Blood Moon 2009
Whispering Death 2011

In some ways it's a bit strange that the books have taken so long to reach the US market, but there are two factors to note: the gaps of years in the series (especially the 13-year gap in the Wyatt books), and the relative youth of international crime fiction imprint Soho Crime. It's hard for a publisher to make good progress when releasing more than one book per year by a given author (although see the recent blog post on Timothy Hallinan's "Junior Bender" series -- NOT a young adult series in spite of the word "Junior"). When the Wyatt series took flame again in 2010, Soho Crime began bringing the rest of Disher's books here.

Most recently, in August 2012, Soho Crime brought us PORT VILA BLUES. It's a fascinating look into Wyatt's life, a life that's remained mostly mysterious through the series. And we don't get details of his childhood or any other normal "sheet" on a criminal. What we see, though, through the quiet consistent narrative from Wyatt's point of view, is how the world can make sense to a psychopath. Wyatt knows his emotions are not "normal" but they are normal for him and he has no choice -- he operates on a basis of well-planned criminal activities, spread apart by stretches of a mostly uninteresting and anonymous life. Without family, without close friends, he's almost safe from long-term identification, other than the scary rumors about him that circulate in the underworld.

At the opening of PORT VILA BLUES, Wyatt is neatly conducting a technologically savvy, methodically planned burglary, based on a tip from a  dying colleague. In an almost compassionate move, Wyatt's linked himself to Jardine, who still has the capacity to connect Wyatt with a good fence. Or so the two men think.
Wyatt watched Jardine carefully. Jardine's face had grown more elastic in the past few minutes, as if his mind worked well if he had something to stimulate it. Wyatt even recognized an old expression on Jardine's face, a mixture of alertness and absorption as he calculated the odds of a problem.

But the burglary wasn't as simple as it should have been, and the fence turns out to be a "sheila," Liz Redding, who's also not what she appears. Eventually, despite the opposition that will rise between Redding and Wyatt, there's also realization of a similarity: Redding's drive may oppose Wyatt's, but it comes from an interior that's nearly as emotionally stripped. When someone on the side of law enforcement verges on being a psychopath, do we name that tendency, or do we label it an asset instead?

I'll be reading this again. Disher's steady-fingered probing of Wyatt's psyche and of his reluctant connections to others creates a back-music to the books that stays fresh even during a second or third reading, and continues to raise questions about the criminals among us today.

There's a "new" book from Disher releasing in the US on December 18, in the other crime series, the one featuring Hal Challis and Ellen Destry. It's called Whispering Death and I'm about to order a couple of copies for Kingdom Books. I started out more deeply drawn to the Challis and Destry series -- it probes a warmer, more "human" part of the psyche -- but by now, after comparing Wyatt favorably with Donald Westlake's darker books and also Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I'd say I want both Disher crime series on my shelf. And my desert island.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Carla Neggers, THE WATERFALL: Vermont Suspense With a Glimmer of Romance

Life gets complicated. And tough. And challenging.

So, thank goodness for Carla Neggers. In her three or four active suspense series, I can depend on an adventurous, savvy protagonist who'll make smart choices in her world, take risks but not for the sake of risk alone, and see the community around her as worthwhile, for its friendships, beauty, creativity, and intelligence. (I'm thinking particularly of Heron's Cove and Saint's Gate among her recent titles.)

This season, Neggers and Harlequin have collaborated to bring back into print THE WATERFALL, her 2000 title set mostly in Vermont, featuring young widow Lucy Blacker Swift and her two children, as well as international security expert Sebastian Redwing. In explaining the decision to re-issue the book, Neggers mentioned earlier this year that it was, for many of her readers, the book that first drew them into the special form of suspense novel that she crafts.

Lucy's situation is complicated, of course: In the three years since her young husband's unexpected death, she's left behind the political rush of Washington, DC; established her own adventure travel company; and now is trying to help her restless daughter adjust to rural life, when her father-in-law keeps offering to host a return for the teen to the posh world of the city. Her son is younger, and more willing to enjoy country pleasures. Things are almost going well for all of them, though, when a string of violent attacks on their home banishes the sense of security Lucy has worked so hard to craft. That's what takes her in search of Sebastian, a man her late husband had told her to consult if danger ever arose. But -- sigh -- Sebastian is complicated, too, enmeshed in something from his past that's dark and unforgiven and, oddly, seems to be connecting to whoever is attacking Lucy and her family.

Sorting out the threats and dealing with them will take forms of courage that Lucy and her family don't expect to have -- but, when challenged, prove able to summon. And when the best people work together in the best ways, it's not surprising that Carla Neggers shows how their actions lead to a highly satisfying conclusion.

Highly satisfying after such complicated, tough, and challenging plot moments -- and a huge relief from those same real-life stresses. Count on Neggers for an ending that puts life back into proportion, even as winter arrives, the holidays are steaming toward us, and everyone's expectations tangle up with the slow recovery from the Great Recession.

Oh, yes -- thank goodness for Carla Neggers. And THE WATERFALL.

Steve Liskow, CHERRY BOMB: Detection and Danger in Urban Connecticut

Steve Liskow's 2012 thriller CHERRY BOMB gave me some uneasy moments in a nice little motel in Virginia in October, as I devoured the book, unable to leave it behind in my room. Thanks to its provocative cover -- suggesting sex with teenaged girls (or younger) -- I kept hiding the book against my sweater or under my newspaper. And as I read, I leaned forward over the pages, not wanting to suggest what this "Yankee grandmother" found so compelling in its pages.

Private investigator Zach Barnes is understandable skeptical when an insurance-company CEO with a broken marriage shows up in his office, insisting his daughter's missing. Michael Kendall might drive any daughter into running to the other parent -- domineering, unfriendly, even callous. His idea of asking for help for his daughter Stacy sounds more like a command to clean the yard: "She's disappeared. I want her back."

When Barnes finds out the 15-year-old has been missing for three days and her boarding school has ignored her absence, he has even more reason to dread what he'll find. Neither of her separated parents has tuned in on this girl; even her roommate at school isn't close to her. And three days ... if she's been abducted, three days means there's little hope of finding her alive. And all the signs do indeed point to abduction, including the girl's unused cellphone and abandoned life.

Despite his reluctance, Barnes has a personal reason to take the case: Stacy Kimball looks like Barnes's dead wife, enough so to be scary. That's a loss he's nowhere near over. He's got to take the case, even knowing it will burn and damage him.

Liskow brings to uncomfortable but very real life the scummy district on the edge of every urban region where the "pussy palaces" stand and twisted adult men go looking for cruel satisfactions from women trapped in terror and pain. This district really exists near Hartford, Connecticut, but it's recognizable in other places, too (I'm thinking New Jersey near the Lincoln Tunnel, for instance, and just outside Camden and Philadelphia.) The near-porn cover turns out to tag the situation that Stacy, if she's still alive, has fallen into.

But the truly creepy part of this well-spun thriller is: Why Stacy? It turns out there's a reason, and it's far from accidental.

Liskow is turning out more thrillers rapidly, having reached a "sweet spot" in his writing, and Run Straight Down is already on hand as a second 2012 offering. Before you go to that one, snag a copy of CHERRY BOMB. This writer keeps getting better, and it's a shame that his books are being self-published -- some savvy mainstream publisher should already have snagged him. Maybe one of them soon will.

Coming in January: Stuart Neville, RATLINES

UK cover on left; US cover on right.
The first three Irish crime novels from Stuart Neville -- The Ghost of Belfast, Collusion, and Stolen Souls -- drew me into the dark compulsions of Irish history. Liberally threaded with belief in the paranormal, these three make up the "Belfast  Trilogy" and convinced me that escaping the presence and pressures of history is rare, unusual, and maybe even impossible. The darker that history has been, the more the souls of its descendants have been scorched and warped by it. It's hard to picture a form of reparation that can atone for the horrors of oppression and poverty that Irish generations have sustained.

In Neville's newest thriller, RATLINES (Soho Crime, Jan. 2013), a different darkness emerges to drench the Irish in guilt and terror: that of Nazi collaborators and even Nazi leaders, welcomed into the island nation after the war, if they'll leave their past behind and contribute generously to the wealth of the communities around them. The book opens in 1963, with the Emerald Isle planning to welcome U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the land of his roots. Thus, when the third murder of a foreign national occurs within a short time in Ireland, just as it's vital to present the country as civilized and safe, Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence gets the call to investigate and quickly put to rest the crimes.

But there is no simple route for Ryan as he uncovers an intense, even incestuous, network of collaborators, still living the personal habits forged by Nazism  and Fascism in pre-war Germany. Ryan's obligations to his superiors and his assignment force him to protect German Colonel Otto Skorzeny, a task that turns his stomach. More pointedly, Ryan's personal life, from his aging parents to his wartime record to his accidentally acquired girlfriend, become hostages to his performance of his duty. Skorzeny is a terrible enemy, and even a treacherous and dangerous ally, as one informant tells Ryan:
Papers scattered as she slapped the tabletop with her palm. "If Otto Skorzeny desires a man's death, or a woman's, then death will come. Don't you know this? He plucked Mussolini from a mountaintop. He f**ed Evita right under Perón's nose. Then he robbed the fascist bastard blind and was thanked for it. This is his power. Not an office, not a title. No law will stop him."
But when duty leads to the preservation of evil people and works, and the repression of justice -- where does personal loyalty lie?

I highly recommend this book, to the point of suggesting a pre-order for it, so you'll have an early copy when January arrives.  I found myself arguing with only one page out of 352 -- and even so, I realize that page may be intended to launch a sequel, a thought so exciting that I can forgive one soft page after all. The rest of this book is tense, taut, and terribly insistent: Evil exists. What can we do but make our choices and strive to protect our lives and loves?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Hank Phillippi Ryan, THE OTHER WOMAN: Great Suspense for a Political Year!

I was a bit late getting around to reading THE OTHER WOMAN, which came out at the start of September. But what a great read this book is! Ryan's sense of pace and plot is clearly carefully tuned, and I enjoyed the riveting suspense of following Jane Ryland's career twist, as she tackles newspaper journalism instead of the TV stardom she's accustomed to. She's lost her camera face thanks to not revealing a source and thus getting blamed for a "wrong" story that she knows, really knows, wasn't wrong at all ... so a second-rate newspaper is the best she can find for a new employer.

Still, Jane's sense of news is right on target, and the hunt for a politician's possible playboy lifestyle takes her into the middle of a threatening and confusing tangle of sinister intentions, not to mention situations that test the courage and integrity of the women around her (as well as her own).

Hank  Phillippi Ryan's own career is a double one: an award-winning investigative TV reporter herself, but also a suspense author who's crafted the start of a strong new series. Here's a bit from her bio:
Agatha, Anthony and Macavity award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution.

Along with her 28 EMMYs, Hank's won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.
And here's an example of the speedy insight and action that make Jane Ryland an exciting new protagonist:
Floor four. Jane thought back. "Hardly. I mean, who knows. It was pitch dark. He was in the middle of the ballroom floor, doing his meet and greet thing, rent-a-cops around him, people pushing to get close and -- damn." Kenna Wilkes. Gone again.

"What?" Alex said. "Jane, you sure you're okay? You'll be able to get us info and file a story, right? There's no one else there to cover it."

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Jane said. Kenna Wilkes is still in this hotel. She can't just disappear. "I'm fine. Thanks. I'm -- listen. Do me a favor. Look up the name Kenna Wilkes, okay? K-e-n-n-a. Wilkes with an e. There can't be many people with that name. She'd be like, age twenty-five-ish. Curly hair, blue eyes. Just see." ...

Third floor. As Jane swung around the corner to the concrete landing, the stairwell door flew open. She jumped back, barely missed getting slammed by the metal door and run over by the man racing through.
Now that the Presidential election is over, there's time to indulge in some good political suspense. I've already been suggesting to a lot of Kingdom Books that THE OTHER WOMAN may be one of their pleasures for the wintry reading season in front of us all.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Congrats to Archer Mayor, Reviewed in Today's New York Times

It's a delight to see New York Times crime fiction reviewer Marilyn Stasio select Archer Mayor's newest book -- again! -- to be among the very small number she can fit into her every-second-Sunday column in the Book Review section of the paper. Tackling PARADISE CITY lets Stasio describe Mayor's protagonist Joe Gunther as "raw-boned," which gave me a chuckle and is probably right on target.

This is Joe Gunther #23, and it's a Vermont detection series well worth collecting.

Photos here are from Archer Mayor's most recent visit to Kingdom Books last month; we have plenty of signed copies of PARADISE CITY available at cover price, as well as most of the earlier Joe Gunthers, signed. Click here to browse the list.

Timothy Hallinan, CRASHED: So Good, It's Worth Pre-Ordering

We had a moment of confusion here at Kingdom Books the other evening, as I made ecstatic sounds on the couch while reading CRASHED, the new book from Timothy Hallinan (of Poke Rafferty fame) and told Dave he was going to love it -- and he looked up in puzzlement from his iPad grazing in the armchair across the room and said, "But isn't it a young adult book?"

No, it's not -- emphatically not, since much of the plot turns on the making of a Hollywood "adult movie"! Turns out the reason Dave thought it was for the teen crowd was the name of the book's burglar-protagonist, Junior Bender. The cover design subtitles the book "A Junior Bender Mystery" and Dave, reading it as a tad old-fashioned, assumed "Junior" must be a kid detective.

That said, this is one of those books you long for, wait for, and find once or twice a year -- with an innovative plot (one of those fictional situations where the reader like me says "OMG, of course there had to be a mystery based on this"), an action-packed pace (lots of short chapters, seven or eight pages; if this bugs you, steer clear -- I was surprised at how quickly I adapted, though, and loved the wry chapter titles); and best of all, a burglar protagonist (stand back, Lawrence Block and the late Donald E. Westlake) whose occasional bunglings don't take away from his overall skills and smarts, and whose people-wisdom and inner tenderness drive the action and the solution.

Gotta love it.

Short summary: Junior Bender is a pro burglar, and accepts contract work for others. While attempting (successfully) to steal a Paul Klee painting, he lingers too long and gets trapped by very nasty Rottweiler guard dogs. Through a clever twist of plot, this results in Bender becoming the advocate for a child-actor-grown-up who's about to earn her way into her next round of drug use by acting in a porn flick, under organized crime pressure.

Here's a taste of the writing, from the moment when Bender's buddy Louie (the Lost) shows him an old TV show where the child actor performed (Bender is not a TV watcher himself, despite hiding out in crummy motel rooms where the TV is the "second largest" item of furniture):
She came in, but walking as though she was heading into a ninety-mile an hour wind. It seemed to take every muscle in her body to travel four steps. I could almost see her hair blowing behind her.

"How does she do that?" I asked.

"She did that or better every week," Louise said, without taking his eyes from the screen, "for eight years."

... "What happened?"

Louise got up and went to the window, using one finger to part the curtain. "They're still out there." He turned back to me. "She grew up, I guess. And no show lasts forever ... She was worth it. She'd been working since she was little, carrying the thole thing, and she probably got fed up." He looked with some longing at the dark screen. "She was something, though."
I've already decided I'll re-read this book at least once a year for the rest of my reading life, for the sake of trying to figure out how Hallinan packs so much human hope into a crime novel packed with violent episodes, betrayal, crashes, and more. I hope mobs of people pre-order this book (due out Nov. 13), whether at bookstores or online. Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series was/is terrific -- and this is even better.

Oh yeah, it's going to have a sequel. Two! The second book, Little Elvises, will come out in January, and the third, The Fame Thief, in June 2013. (Who knows why?) (NOTE: Paul Oliver at Soho tells why, in the first comment that follows this post -- do read onward!) One more quick item of very good news: Hallinan gives credit to Soho Crime editor Juliet Grames for helping bring out the best of CRASHED. Grames is rapidly creating a room (much more than a shelf!) of some of today's best crime fiction. Count on more to come.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Collector's Corner: A Challenge from Dave

Ephemera today. This " I LIKE PIKE"  pin was handed out in 2011 at the Bouchercon Mystery Conference in  St. Louis, Mo in 2011. The author is 59 years of age and lives in Santa Monica, Ca. He is the author of 18 mystery/thriller titles. He has two series characters and he has written three stand alones. He has been nominated for many mystery award over the years. Can you name his character in the two series that he has created? By the way, we have 14 of his titles in stock at Kingdom Books.

Friday, October 19, 2012

This Dilys is a Dilly - Tomorrow is the big day!!

Things at Kingdom Books have been wildly busy this week, so I haven't posted as many recaps of Dilys winners as I'd hoped to this week -- here's the list:


1992, Carl Hiassen, Native Tongue
1993, John Dunning, Booked to Die
1994, Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
1995, Janet Evanovich, One for the Money
1996, Michael Connelly, The Last Coyote
1997, Michael Connelly, The Poet
1998, Janet Evanovich, Three to Get Deadly
1999, Dennis Lehane, Gone, Baby, Gone
2000, Robert Crais, L.A. Requiem
2001, Val McDermid, A Place of Execution
2002, Dennis Lehane, Mystic River
2003, Julia Spencer-Fleming, In the Bleak Midwinter
2004, Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book
2005, Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter
2006, Colin Cotterill, Thirty-Three Teeth
2007, Louise Penny, Still Life
2008, William Kent Krueger, Thunder Bay
2009, Sean Chercover, Trigger City
2010, Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Poe
2011, Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead
2012, S. J. Rozan, Ghost Hero
 I'll toss a few quick notes here: Although Mystic River is one of the finest Dennis Lehane books for reading, I'm just plain hooked on the film version of Gone, Baby, Gone -- Dave and I must have seen it three or four times already, and I'd watch it again. I love the Boston tough-tender of Lehane's books.

Dave's the Crais reader in the house -- honey, are you listening??

Whenever I've read a not-so-great-yet author and need to get the "awkward" out of my head, Val McDermid is one of the authors I return to. A Place of Execution is stunning, and worth re-reading.

I've collected Jasper Fforde's first five or six books -- the puns are wonderful fun, although it would help if I had more of a "literary" background (I gained my book sense mostly by reading and listening, not from college classes).  But a good familiarity with Alice in Wonderland made the first few of his books hit home for me. I think of them as "caper books for classic readers"!

Darkly Dreaming Dexter proved that Jeff Lindsay's writing could reach at least two generations at once -- I like the book, gruesome though it can be, and one of my sons is an ardent fan of the TV series ("Dexter"). How about you?

Colin Cotterill writes wonderful fiction set in Laos and Cambodia; he's also a great person who sent us signed and illustrated bookplates to use in his books here. I line up his newest as a pre-order, to give myself a treat. Always a book I'll feel good about, as well as intriguing plotting.

I've written so much about Louise Penny and her remarkable arc of narrative across multiple novels that I can't add more -- browse this blog using her name if you have a moment.

Back to Dave for Krueger and Chercover. I do mean to read Krueger; we're just suffering from a scarcity of his books, and the Kingdom Books law is, you can't take a signed copy to bed with you (somehow the bottom of the spine always gets soft that way), so I have to wait until our stock of these expands. Chercover is definitely in Dave's area more than mine.

How on earth did Allan Bradley's "young adult" fantasy-mystery get onto the list of mysteries booksellers enjoyed selling the most? Simple -- it's a really, really enjoyable book, so one can't help talking it up to other readers. Bend your own self discipline and dip into this series about Flavia De Luce. Worth every minute (and a reminder that Good Books come in all age ranges).

Last: S. J. Rozan, whose Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series is both entertaining and a classic mystery series. Read about GHOST HERO here --

Tomorrow we welcome Archer Mayor, to celebrate his 23rd Joe Gunther book, PARADISE CITY. We'll nominate his work, once again, for the Dilys (maybe enough others will join us this year, to push it to the top!). S. J. Rozan is a friend of his, and we'll honor DILYS week by giving away a signed Archer Mayor book at our event tomorrow, as well as two signed copies of the trade paperback of GHOST HERO.

Are you going to be here? If not, you can still order a signed copy of Archer Mayor's PARADISE CITY -- just drop us an e-mail at before noon tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Michael Connelly, Dilys Awards, 1996 and 1997

There is actually a drawback to the phenomenal success and sales of each new Michael Connelly crime novel: Readers are always looking ahead to the next book, which now means finding out which of Connelly's two current series protagonists -- Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller -- will take the lead in the next book from this master of the detective novel. Even more intriguingly, how will the two interact, now that Connelly is bringing them into the same books?

With all that forward motion, sometimes I forget to look back at (re-read!) Connelly's earlier work. His noted The Black Echo and The Black Ice (from 1992 and 1993, his first and second books) were extraordinarily powerful early work; his fourth and fifth engaged independent mystery booksellers so securely that they swept the Dilys Award (for the book those sellers in IMBA have most enjoyed providing to readers) two years in a row.

So here's a refresher: In The Last Coyote, LAPD detective Harry Bosch goes onto "involuntary stress leave" for attacking his boss -- and finds himself investigating the murder of his own mother. And in The Poet, crime reporter Jack McEvoy begins to investigate police suicides, only to discover a serial killer at work. (The Poet was reissued in 2004 in softcover with an introduction by Stephen King.)

Although The Poet appeared to be a stand-alone diversion from the Harry Bosch series, Connelly would later tie its characters back into more of his fiction.

It's no exaggeration to say that early on, Connelly established a high standard for American crime fiction. Each of his subsequent books has been compared against that standard. No wonder we race for each new title. On November 26, the newest will release in the United States: The Black Box. It's a Harry Bosch title, dipping into 20 years of Bosch's career and files. After this Dilys week is over (and I hope you're reading ALL of our posts for it!) and the signed copies of S. J. Rozan's Ghost Hero have been awarded (here at Kingdom Books, we'll give them on Sat. Oct. 20 as part of Archer Mayor's 2 pm event), there will be about five weeks until the new Michael Connelly. Think you can fit in re-reading all the earlier titles?

I might try it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

1995 Dilys Award: Janet Evanovich, ONE FOR THE MONEY

Who would have guessed that amateur sleuth and bail bondswoman Stephanie Plum would still be arriving, fresh and funny, on our bookshelves for so many years? Not only are there 18 wonderfully wacky crime fiction titles, each with a play on words that contains the number of the book -- but Janet Evanovich has also provided novellas in between, aimed at holiday periods or quirky intermediate angles.

I particularly like the review posted on "April Books," a blog written by Lauryn April, whose specialty is young-adult fiction -- and who therefore is both delighted by the plucky sleuth, and careful to warn readers that there are real complexities mingling with the Evanovich humor, like being threatened by criminals, some violence, some friendly sex. Here is the start of the review -- read more of it at April's blogsite:
This was a very entertaining and funny read. Janet Evanovich has a wonderfully witty writing style that gives Stephanie Plum a sassy but also honest voice. Divorcee and jobless Stephanie has been selling off her furniture and appliances to keep from having to move back in with her parents. She is stubborn to the core and a little naïve, which is in part how she ends up as a bounty hunter chasing down her ex-fling Joe Morelli.

The whole book is filled with colorful and engaging characters. Grandma Mazur in particular was an awesome character, she was so funny. Everything she said had me laughing. I loved that every character had their own voice. From the hookers, to the boxer Ramirez, to good cop gone ‘bad’ Morelli, they were all well developed and interesting. This is an adult book with some adult themes, including sex and murder, but I enjoyed that. I was glad that Janet didn’t water down any of the issues she deals with.
That gives a good idea of why booksellers had so much fun with ONE FOR THE MONEY that the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association awarded the book the Dilys Award in 1995. Evanovich's series would capture a second Dilys, too, in 1998, for Three to Get Deadly

Here's the list of the 18 Stephanie Plum adventures so far -- check in at Evanovich's official website for more titles. The November 2012 release of Notorious Nineteen will give this author and her sleuth a chance to be the first to capture three (!) Dilys awards. Or do you think there's already another 2012 book that has given booksellers so much pleasure in the promotion that it's sure to win?? Let us know your guess.

Stephanie Plum Series (in order written)

  • One for the Money
  • Two for the Dough
  • Three to Get Deadly
  • Four to Score
  • High Five
  • Hot Six
  • Seven Up
  • Hard Eight
  • To the Nines
  • Ten Big Ones
  • Eleven on Top
  • Twelve Sharp
  • Lean Mean Thirteen
  • Fearless Fourteen
  • Finger Lickin' Fifteen
  • Sizzling Sixteen
  • Smokin' Seventeen
  • Explosive Eighteen

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Second Dilys Award: John Dunning, BOOKED TO DIE

John Dunning was born in 1942, and began receiving awards for his writing in 1981. His Dilys Award, however, didn't arrive until 1993, when independent mystery booksellers discovered the pleasure of pointing readers to Dunning's first Cliff Janeway detective novel, BOOKED TO DIE. Today Dave, whose expertise covers a wide range of mysteries, fills in the details:
One of my favorite mystery books is John Dunning’s first mystery in the Cliff Janeway series, titled Booked to Die. Janeway is an ex-policeman who has become a bookseller in Denver. There are five books in the series and they were all sought after by mystery collectors and readers and are considered bibliomysteries. The titles are the following:
Cliff Janeway novels
Booked to Die (1992)
The Bookman's Wake (1995)
The Bookman's Promise (2004)
The Sign of the Book (2005)
The Bookwoman's Last Fling (2006)
Dunning's awards for the Cliff Janeway series are the following:  Booked to Die won the Nero Award and was nominated for the 1993 Anthony Award in the "Best Novel" category; the book also won the Dilys Award for 1993. The follow-up to this novel, The Bookman's Wake, was nominated for the 1996 Edgar Award in the "Best Novel" category. Dunning had also been nominated early in his career (1981) for an Edgar Award (best paperback original) for his mystery by the title of Looking for the Ginger North, which was a stand-alone.

Booked to Die is one of the books that I constantly recommend because it has the themes of book collecting, bookselling, police work, and mystery. I have given more than 12 copies to friends and family over the years, and without fail everyone loves this book. Maybe that's why first edition, first printings that are signed are fetching from $650.00 to $1,200.00.

Find a copy and let us know what you think!

PS from Beth -- nice bio of John Dunning from Old Algonquin Books here. Also, if you haven't already seen it, please see our earlier post in this week's "This Dilys Is a Dilly!" We're building up to Archer Mayor's visit to Kingdom Books on Saturday Oct. 20 at 2 p.m., with a giveaway of one copy of his new book PARADISE CITY and two signed copies of S. J. Rozan's Dilly of a book, GHOST HERO.

This Dilys is a Dilly! And it started with Carl Hiassen's book ...

Actually, it all started with a group of bookstore owners -- the ones who specialize in mysteries and who formed IMBA, the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. And when these booksellers realized they had a much different view of the books in their stores than did the industry or the trade publications, they came up with a wonderful idea: The Dilys Award.
The Dilys Award has been given annually since 1992 by IMBA to the mystery titles of the year which the member booksellers have most enjoyed hand selling. The Dilys Award is named in honor of Dilys Winn, the founder of the first specialty bookseller of mystery books in the United States.   
What a great idea -- an award that reflects enjoyment in one's chosen (and delightful!) career. It's been fun every since.

The first Dilys award was given to a Carl Hiassen's book NATIVE TONGUE (check it out here: It's the fourth solo book from this (still active) journalist, sardonic and funny and also a classic caper mystery -- and set in Florida. That made Hiassen's books a 180-degree change from the Florida mysteries best known before that, the ones of John D. MacDonald. That series featured Travis McGee, attempting to live quietly on his boat but pulled again and again toward resolving some crime that hurt some friend of his -- during the course of which, McGee would fall reluctantly in love once again, and somehow lose his chance at happiness. (I don't mean to sound dismissive: I read every single one of the Travis McGee books and they were marvelous escape fiction at the time. But eventually rather predictable.)

So Hiassen's sassy journalistic tongue and willingess to offend came with a fresh breeze, and mystery booksellers got a lot of pleasure out of introducing his books to those readers who'd appreciate them.

That last sentence really sums up what independent mystery booksellers do: We get to know readers, get familiar with their tastes, and point them toward titles they haven't yet read, some of which will become new favorites and bring lots of pleasure.

Below is the entire Dilys list; we'll be exploring more of the authors and titles this week, during THIS DILYS IS A DILLY!, the celebration of 20 years of the award. 

Then, on Saturday October 20, Kingdom Books -- like other participating bookshops -- will give away two signed softcover copies of GHOST HERO by S. J. Rozan, the winner of the most recent Dilys Award. Join us also in welcoming author Archer Mayor, a Vermont friend of Rozan's and author of the Joe Gunther investigative series -- he'll be here at Kingdom Books at 2 pm for lively conversation around his own newest title, PARADISE CITY. We're giving away one of those, too!

BUT YOU NEED TO BE HERE TO WIN ONE OF THE THREE BOOKS! So please mark your calendar, and let Dave know you're coming ( and how many books you'd like to purchase. (Hint: The holidays are coming!) Join us to celebrate both the new Joe Gunther, and this Dilly of an award.

Oh yes, Archer Mayor's books get nominated for the Dilys, time and again ... maybe this will be the year he snags this enjoyable award for Joe Gunther at last.

Friday, October 12, 2012

DEATH'S DOOR: 7th Billy Boyle World War II Mystery from James R. Benn

Considering that the United States only took part in World War II for three years, James R. Benn is doing a fantastic job at packing an entire series of mysteries into the timeline. The seventh of the Billy Boyle investigations -- rich, lively, exciting, and tautly plotted -- opens in February 1944, as the Irish-American police officer recruited to assist "Uncle Ike" in Europe is juggling a mix of fear and resentment: His beloved, Diana Seaton, a special agent also working for the Allies, has reportedly been captured by the Gestapo and is being held in Rome.

And not only is Billy unable to get there, and unsure of whether Diana is alive -- he's being ordered back to England.

Luckily, by the third chapter, Billy and his close friend Kaz -- that is, Lieutenant (and Baron) Piotr Augustus Kazimierz, of the Polish Army in Exile -- have found a way to turn their backs on home and move toward Rome, where the power politics of the Vatican and the Gestapo together create a level of threat equal to, maybe even exceeding, what's come their way in earlier volumes.

Benn's dexterity with his battles-and-brigades timeline runs much deeper than a tale of war coupled with detection (Billy's role). He enriches the novel with the growth and changes of Billy and Kaz's friendship, as well as their pursuit of Diana's whereabouts and hoped-for safety. Diana's role as an agent also makes this series especially enjoyable, as she navigates the line between being Billy's lover and being a strong and savvy agent able to choose her own risks.

Most of all, Benn pushes both Billy Boyle's curiosity and our own, along with sometimes unsettling observations in the casual voices of the two friends. After Billy and Kaz search for details and truth from some of the Vatican's finest, they talk over what they've unearthed:
"Interesting," Kaz said after May had left. "Two men, Brackett and May, in the same circumstances. One retreats inward, not daring to take any chances. The other seems to thrive, rising about the situation he finds himself in."

"You never know about a guy," I said. "Before the war, Brackett was probably a big shot, and May a servant. War, even if it isn't a shooting war, puts pressure on everyone. Some can take it, others can't. There's no predicting." I looked at Kaz, who'd been a skinny student before the war. He probably never thought he'd go near a gun or harm anyone. Now he was a scar-faced killer -- wiry, wary, and strong.

"No," Kaz agreed. "Life is strange, Billy. It is why I have come to appreciate it."
DEATH'S DOOR goes onto my re-read shelf because of this willingness to explore character and change. Benn's not just taking us through the war -- he's taking us through the formation of people's inner selves. Loyalty, integrity, and courage all demand testing. I found myself cheering for Billy precisely because of the way he handles those testing moments.

How many more Billy Boyle mysteries will there be? I'm sure James Benn has it planned -- but don't tell me. I'm enjoying the suspense from book to book. I'm also appreciating Benn's ability to surprise me with intriguing details of the war, and to keep the war itself suspenseful -- even though we believe we know how that part will eventually end.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Anna Loan-Wilsey, A LACK OF TEMPERANCE - Murder and Adventure Among Women Activists, 1892

Living in the place I love best -- northern Vermont -- does mean I don't travel in the South very much. That can be a drawback: I lack knowledge and experience, other than from a few short visits to, say, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, northern Florida.

But that same gap becomes a plus, when I find a well-written mystery or work of crime fiction that carries me beyond the Mason-Dixon line and brings a location vividly into my mind's eye. Karin Slaughter's Criminal did that for me this year (Atlanta, GA), and so did Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills (West Virginia); this week, I savored another introduction to a Southern locale, with Anna Loan-Wilsey's debut mystery, A LACK OF TEMPERANCE.

You already know from the review title that this is a "historical" mystery: It takes place as American women struggled to set aside the bonds of the Victorian era, and while women's right to vote (which wouldn't arrive until 1920 in the United States) was still tightly engaged with another "family values" issue -- drinking alcohol. Prohibition, the outlawing of alcohol, would pass nationally before women voted nationally. Like the vote, thought, it was attempted many times locally, and still holds in some "dry" towns.

Loan-Wilsey opens her well-paced and adventurous tale with a scene of fiery risk, as "typewriter" (secretary/administrative assistant) Hattie Davish tries to find her new employer in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Referred to the position via telegram from her previous and much-adored employer, Hattie has no idea who "Mrs. Trevelyan" is, or even how to find her -- the hotel provides Hattie with an adjoining room, but Mrs. Trevelyan isn't on hand to welcome the secretary. What a shock to discover that the tiny elderly lady at the heart of the downtown demonstration, swinging an ax through a saloon window and screeching "Home wrecker!," is Hattie Davish's newest boss. As the police carry off the struggling anti-alcohol campaigner, Hattie's bewilderment vies with a sense of horror. She's expected to work for this?

Yet Loan-Wilsey cleverly captures the elements that readers know can lead rapidly to crime: passion, extreme commitment, public violence, gender battles, jealousy, naked ambition. About the only strong motive not in play is love, and although a touch of lust-with-romance raises its head now and then, A LACK OF TEMPERANCE avoids mushy scenes and instead presses briskly forward, attentive to the complexity of a political organization, a social crisis, and the frictions among and against a large group of committed women.

Soon Hattie herself is seized, literally, by an angry stranger on one of the resort town's near-vertical staircases, someone who's determined to dissuade Hattie from any role in the action:
"Why couldn't you leave it alone?"

"Let me go."

"Why couldn't you keep your stupid mouth shut?"

"Let me go!"

I kicked out and struck a blow with the heel of my boot. The figure yelped, releasing me from his grip. Futilely grasping for a hold, I screamed, powerless to stop my backwards fall. For a few heartbeats, I was airborne. I tried to brace my fall with my hands but my knee hit first, tossing me hard onto my back farther down the stairs. I gasped for breath. Something wet dripped down my face and I could taste blood in my mouth. Cold air pierced the exposed skin on my shoulders and legs; my stockings were in shreds. My right foot was tangled in the torn hem of my dress. My knee throbbed and the palms of my hands stung. I could feel what was left of my bonnet crumpled beneath me, the ribbon still attached to the hatpin in my hair.
(That sure puts those dated clothing items in their place, doesn't it?) Hattie's a tough cookie, and this won't slow her down. Is her new employer missing? Languishing in jail? Hiding? Davish is on the trail, and a mere brush with death won't stop her.

Harding Springs
When I finished reading A LACK OF TEMPERANCE -- which I enjoyed very much -- I checked on whether Eureka Springs was an actual place. Indeed, it is: A "Victorian resort village" with steep winding streets, it sounds like a Martha's Vineyard village turned vertical (there's my New England background coming through, sorry), and it includes more than 140 springs! Small wonder that it is both a location of Native American significance and a place where people sought cures from "the waters."

Moreover, the town for a short time was the home of Bible-toting Temperance campaigner Carrie Nation, who swung a hatchet along with her Good Book. I'm delighted to have discovered this patch of vibrant American history, in the midst of reading a lively "amateur sleuth" novel.

Carrie (Carry A.) Nation
One more detail: Although this is technically a debut book for librarian/information specialist Anna Loan-Wilsey, I can't believe it's her first book; there must be a  thick stack of earlier manuscripts in a drawer (or on a hard drive). A LACK OF TEMPERANCE brings an Ozark town and a good mystery to life, and promises more of the Hattie Davish mysteries to come. (See the author's website for details...) Well done!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Reviews This Week, and Dilys Celebration

Coming up: Much pleasure in reading a delightful debut mystery from Anna Loan-Wilsey, A Lack of Temperance. Also a discussion of the newest in the Billy Boyle series from James R. Benn, Death's Door, and a much-mulled-over  consideration of Port Villa Blues from Garry Disher.

Also, during Oct. 13-20 we're celebrating the Dilys Award, given since 1992 by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association -- check in for review of titles and authors that earned the award in the past, as well as the most recent one, Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan.

Grand finale for the Dilys week: Meet Archer Mayor here at Kingdom Books at 2 pm on Saturday October 20. Mayor's new book Paradise City is the 23rd Joe Gunther investigation. At the end of the event, we'll give away two signed trade paperback copies of Ghost Hero courtesy of the publisher; we first met its author through Archer Mayor, so it all fits together!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Professor/Detectives: The Mysteries and Knowledge of Carole Shmurak

Carole Shmurak
It's a pleasure to welcome Carole Shmurak as guest author here today. We share authorship in Stacy Juba's amazing authors' anthology 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror -- and I was excited to discover the her extensive background in "academic mysteries." One of my (s)heroes is Harriet Vane, sleuthing partner to Lord Peter Wimsey, and I hoped she might make Carole's list, but a little research proved Harriet had not taught at her college (even though she may have prepared research on Sheridan Le Fanu). Welcome to Kingdom Books, Carole, and thanks for sharing your knowledge and research with us!
Academic Sleuths: A Brief History

Before I set out to write my Susan Lombardi series of mysteries, I had been a longtime fan of academic mysteries.  Academic mysteries are usually set at colleges or universities, although there are some set at the elite British or American private school, and more recently some at American public schools. In many academic mysteries, the protagonist is a police officer investigating a murder in the ivy-covered halls. As a cop, he or she is an outsider and the world of academe is an alien culture.  Paula Gosling’s Monkey Puzzle and Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning are good examples of this.
But there is another subset of the genre: those in which the detective is an insider — a professor.  And this is the tradition that I set out to learn about before I published my first mystery Deadmistress. It turns out that the professor/sleuth has a long history.  The first academic detective, Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus Van Dusen (better known as The Thinking Machine) appeared in 1906, closely followed by Austin Freeman’s John Thorndyke. Both Professor Van Dusen and Dr. Thorndyke have multiple academic credentials, though their stories are not often set on college campuses.
I also found several trends in the history of academic sleuths:

·      With the exception of one classicist, the first professor/detectives tended to be scientists.
·      The first English professor appeared in 1944 — Gervase Fen of Oxford, the wonderful creation of Edmund Crispin.   
·      The first female professor didn’t appear until 1964, when Carolyn Heilbrun of Columbia University created her Kate Fansler series; this scarcity of female professors in detective fiction is probably a good reflection of college faculties prior to the 1960s.  (On the other hand the fictional sleuths who were K–12 teachers were all female, again reflecting reality.)

            When female detectives started to appear in large numbers in the 1980s, they occupied every rung of the social ladder and worked in a great variety of jobs: housemaids, taxi drivers, lawyers, actresses, policewomen, private eyes, and CEOs. So it was inevitable that some of these detectives would be professors, and, as it turned out, an overwhelming number of these were professors of English. Heilbrun had made mystery writing almost respectable for English professors, and many of them wrote mysteries with protagonists like themselves. So the last twenty years of detective fiction has seen a turnaround, both in the number of women and the number of English professors with a flair for the mysterious.  The scientific detective has been replaced by the literary one.
            There are no professors of education, like my Susan Lombardi, and, more surprisingly, very few professors of psychology; the only one I could find among the contemporary detectives was Maggie Ryan, an educational psychologist and statistician created by P.M. Carlson. So while I’m pleased that Susan is a part of a long tradition of academic sleuths, I’m also happy that she is unique as well.

Carole's Susan Lombardi mysteries
Below is a chronological list of academic detectives; it is a representative, rather than a comprehensive, list. For each detective, I’ve listed his/her academic field, the author who created the detective, the date and title of the first story, and whether it is part of a series.

Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., L.L.D., M.D., F.R.S., M.D.S.
Jacques Futrelle,The Thinking Machine (1906). (short stories)

Dr. John Thorndyke, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at St. Mary’s Hospital and barrister-at-law, London. R. Austin Freeman, The Red Thumb Mark (1907). (series)

Craig Kennedy, professor of chemistry at Columbia University.
Arthur B. Reeve, Silent Bullet (1912). (series)

Dr. Lancelot Priestley, former professor of applied mathematics at a British university. John Rhode , Dr. Priestley’s Quest (1926). (series)

Henry Poggiolo, professor of psychology, Ohio State University.
T.S. Stribling, Clues of the Caribbees (1929).

Cyrus Hatch, professor of criminology.
Frederick C. Davis. Coffins for Three (1938). (series)

Theocritus Lucius Westborough, professor of classics.
Clyde B. Clason, Man from Tibet (1938). (series)

Peter Utley Shane, professor sociology and criminology, University of Chicago.
Francis Bonnamy, Dead Reckoning (1943). (series)

Gervase Fen, professor of English language and literature, Oxford University.
Edmund Crispin,The Case of the Gilded Fly (aka Obsequies at Oxford) (1944). (series)

Professor Pennyfeather, professor of literature. D.B. Olsen, Love Me in Death (1951).

Kate Fansler, professor of English, large prestigious university in New York City. Amanda Cross,  In the Last Analysis (1964). (series)

Nicky Welt, professor of English language and literature, a New England college. Harry Kemelman, Nine Mile Walk (1967).

Dame Millicent Hetherege, professor of medieval literature, Wilton University, New England. Robert Bernard, Deadly Meeting (1970).

Peter Shandy, professor of botany, Balaclava Agricultural College, MA.
Charlotte MacLeod, Rest Ye Merry (1978). (series)

Nan Weaver, professor of English, University of California Berkeley.
Valerie Miner, Murder in the English Department (1982).

Sarah Deane, professor of English, Bowmouth College, ME.
J.S. Borthwick, The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites (1982). (series)

Roz Howard, professor of English, Canterbury College, ME.
Susan Kenney, Garden of Malice (1983). (series)

Maggie Ryan, educational psychologist and statistical consultant.
P.M. Carlson, Murder is Academic (1985). (series)

Loretta Lawson, professor of English at London University.
Joan Smith, A Masculine Ending (1987). (series)

Carl Burns, chair of English department, Hartley Gorman College, TX.
Bill Crider, One Dead Dean (1988). (series)

Beth Austin, professor of English, Midwestern University.
Edith Skom, The Mark Twain Murders (1989). (series)

Joanne Kilbourn, professor of political science, Canadian university.
Gail Bowen, Deadly Appearance (1990). (series)

Nick Hoffman, professor of English, State University of Michigan.
Lev Raphael, Let’s Get Criminal (1996). (series)

Karen Pelletier, professor of English, Enfield College, MA.
Joanne Dobson, Quieter than Sleep (1997). (series)

Susan Lombardi, professor of education, Metropolitan University, CT.
Carole B. Shmurak, Deadmistress (2004). (series)

Carole B. Shmurak, Professor Emerita at Central Connecticut State University, is the author of eleven books, including  Deadmistress, which introduced professor/sleuth Susan Lombardi, Death by Committee, Death at Hilliard High and Most Likely to Murder.   Under the pseudonym Carroll Thomas, she is the co-author of the Matty Trescott young adult novels, one of which (Ring Out Wild Bells) was nominated for the Agatha for best young adult mystery of 2001.
  You can find Carole online at:
Facebook author page,
SPECIAL TREAT: Pick up a free copy of the anthology 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror with this link: At checkout, type this code: KP74F. Many thanks to editor Stacy Juba for making this available! 

PS -- Beth's blogging today at Carole's site: -- come visit!