Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jodi Picoult, LONE WOLF: Book Tour Started This Morning

Jodi Picoult arrives to launch LONE WOLF
What happens to the family of a person who loves his work so much that he can't be there for his wife and children? Could someone bond so strongly with a pack of wolves -- for which everything comes down to family -- that he loses his own?

And when that person, Luke Warren, is incapacitated with a traumatic brain injury, with no likely recovery, how can the people responsible for his life support regain enough of their own souls' ease, to make the right decision?

That's where Jodi Picoult's new novel LONE WOLF begins. As she pries open the Warren family, she also brings the reader through Luke's eyes into the lives of wolves, which she herself researched while preparing to write this.

At this morning's launch for the book, sponsored by the Norwich (VT) Bookstore and held a few miles from Picoult's New Hampshire home, Picoult told of wolf pack structure and personalities; habits of wolves, including how they feed, communicate, and nurture; and drawing three women from the audience, taught them to give three different kinds of wolf calls, creating the sound of a hunting pack.

It was, as always, a fabulous launch to the annual Picoult tour. This year, there will actually be TWO books coming out for this author -- the second is co-written with her daughter Samantha Van Leer and is a "young adult" novel called Between the Lines  (releasing in June). Picoult noted that she often writes as if she were watching a movie and describing it -- and because she and her daughter found themselves writing in the same way, the book grew as if the two shared a single dream.

And for a look even further in the future, Picoult commented briefly on her 2013 title, The Storyteller, which wrestles with the unexpected encounter of a dying Nazi SS guard and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Picoult's tour continues this evening and tomorrow in Massachusetts, goes down the East Coast, then flies to the West, then point in between. Her schedule is at her website. Don't miss the chance to meet and listen to this author, whose novels so often probe the vulnerable cross sections of medicine, law, and love.

PS - We brought back to Kingdom Books two lovely signed copies of LONE WOLF today.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jeffery Deaver, EDGE: And Thoughts on Thrillers

Jeffery Deaver's 2010 stand-alone thriller EDGE recently became available in paperback -- a handy enough reason to take another look at this psychologically intense novel of "catch the hired killer before he gets to his target." Actually the plot is more subtle than that, because the ruthless killer, Henry Loving (ouch!), is only slicing throats and spraying with bullets as side effects to his actual goal: "lifting" information from someone, on behalf of a client who can afford to pay millions in expenses.

For protection officer Corte, working within a highly specialized team, Loving is the Moby-Dick of his career, and while protecting the threatened hero-detective Ryan Kessler and family is Corte's primary mission as a "shepherd," he's also aware of another side of himself, more akin to the fierce nature of a guard dog: He wants to get hold of Loving, end the hired hit man's career, possibly even his life.

Corte's mixed motives add to the tension that Deaver ramps up so well. If a move goes wrong, is it because Corte didn't focus properly? If casualties mount, is it a message from Henry Loving to Corte, taunting him? And how critically maimed is Corte emotionally, from his own life's experiences -- is his deformed emotional landscape lowering the chance that he'll be able to protect the Kessler family?

Reviews have called EDGE a fast-paced thriller, and Deaver is known for his psychological twists and intensity. I particularly savored EDGE because each page is tight, each action believable (within the given world of corporate and political espionage), each action impeccably choreographed. It's a pleasure to enter a book written by a master who never lets down his drive for emotional resonance and pitched movement.

It's also a good moment to reflect on what the "thriller" is, and is supposed to be. I like this recent version from modern noir author Dave Zeltserman:
It’s not necessarily the page-turning aspect that makes a novel a thriller—every piece of fiction no matter the genre needs to get the reader involved and interested enough to want to keep turning pages. What defines a thriller is that it needs to be thrilling—from the first page to the end it needs to keep generating thrills. There are other elements that are common among thrillers, such as the hero being in constant danger and a very loud ticking clock that’s ever present, but the most important aspect is having thrills and plenty of them. 
(For more, check out Zelterserman's full review of Godchild by Vincent Zandri.)

Not only has Zeltserman defined the thriller -- he's also set the bar high for good fiction. That is, the term "page turner" should be a compliment. And in that sense, Deaver's got the bar well jumped.

P.S.: Mark your calendar for the June release of Deaver's next novel, XO, featuring Kathryn Dance.

Friday, February 24, 2012

New Englanders Who Commit (Fictional) Murder ...

I got quite a kick out of this line from a recent AAA New England article that features Gerry Boyle, Archer Mayor, and other New England mystery/crime fiction authors:
Boyle commits fictional murder easily and relies upon Jack McMorrow and Brandon Blake for happy endings.
OMG. The more Jack McMorrow and Brandon Blake I read, the more I realize the happy endings are always going to be mixed ones, with losses to reckon. But still, it's a great line, and I had fun reading the article. Thanks, Gerry, for passing it along!

Maine crime fiction writer Gerry Boyle
For more about the cover image (which really is Boyle in Maine!), check out Gerry's website blog, http://www.gerryboyle.com. Fun reading, and good to know the next Jack McMorrow, Once Burned, is near the finish line.

Fuminori Nakamura, THE THIEF: Dark, Powerful, Japanese

Reading the local newspaper made me sad this week: people hurting other people in so many ways. There are heroic stories, too -- our community comes together in powerful ways when families and small children are injured, whether by fire, car accident, or birth -- and I usually notice those and let the other stuff slide by. But sometimes the reality is: Those dark, "noir" works of crime fiction are telling some of the truths of our time. And they're not pretty.

Fuminori Nakamura is one of Japan's most honored young writers. He turns 35 this year and has racked up a number of awards, including the Oe Prize, Japan's largest literary award. Named for, and selected by, Kenzaburo Oe -- whose books often embrace the life of the handicapped with deep emotion -- the prize went to Nakamura for THE THIEF. And now, thanks to a translation by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, the book is arriving in the US, scheduled for release by Soho Crime on March 20.

I didn't always like it, but I couldn't put the book down. Brutal at times, always gritty, it's narrated by "The Thief" himself -- a professional pickpocket, not only an artist of his trade but schooled in an alternate reality by his original mentor, Ishikawa, who told him, "If you steal a hundred thousand from someone who's worth a billion, it's almost like you've taken nothing." The apprentice thief had countered with, "But it's still wrong," and his mentor agreed but responded, "As long as there is one starving child in the world, all property is theft."

It's not an excuse, but it's a way to stand up against others who feel they're "saints" compared to the pickpockets. And they, in turn, are among the gentlest in the world of crime, especially organized crime. The Thief, it turns out, has failed to protect himself against such violent and abusive enemies. And since he is human enough to care about some of the people he meets, especially a boy who clings to him, the most criminal planners have a lever to use against him, forcing him to use his skills in deadly ways.

Crime, crime fiction -- the inner and outer life of a pickpocket must fit within such a description. Yet this is also written as "post-modern" Japanese literature, with the choppy language, moody imagery, and painful consequences that readers may have already experienced in, say, The Devotion of Suspect X. So fix a cup of (green) tea, dim the lights, let the room grow quiet, and walk into the book with The Thief and his allies and enemies. It's unforgettable. And it's a part of today's Japan that's worth getting to know.
The guy in the suit went on sleeping, and the bartender hadn't moved a muscle. If I could, I planned to watch them until I fell asleep myself. (Nakamura, THE THIEF)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Collector's Corner: Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), THE OUTFIT: Visuals

Yes, there's plenty of snow here for skiiers, if you head to the tallest peaks. Here on the ridge, the season's been gentler than usual, and tracks this morning revealed a newly active skunk determinedly searching the yard -- especially near where the trash is kept. Thank goodness it's a secure storage place!

To go with the weather, I've been reading "spring releases" both foreign and domestic, both dark and cozy (I'll start writing about them tomorrow), while Dave's been rediscovering some great Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) items. Here they are:

This is the MGM Pressbook for the movie The Outfit. The pressbook is 8 1/2 inches wide by 13 1/2 inches tall. From Richard Stark's (Donald E. Westlake) novel The Outfit. 16 pages. 1973.
Directed by John Flynn and the screenplay was by John Flynn. The stars of the film were Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker, Robert Ryan, & Joanna Cassidy. Interesting twist: For the movie they changed the name of the main character in the Richard Stark novels from Parker to Macklin.
We have two copies of this Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) novel in stock. On the left is a British hardcover published in 1988 by Allison & Busby. This was the first time The Outfit was printed in hardcover. Note the image of Lee Marvin on the cover. The other is the paperback (right), which was published by Avon in 1984.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Picturebook Special: Jan Brett

Many, many years ago (or so it seems), Kingdom Books built a very special collection of signed children's picturebooks. This had nothing to do with mysteries or even poetry -- we just were charmed by these gems from New England authors. Now it's time to let them go. Every few days, I'll add another cluster here. Today's special is a threesome of signed picturebooks from Massachusetts author/illustrator Jan Brett, described as follows, all in near-fine condition:

Jan Brett, The Wild Christmas Reindeer 1st ed, special signed Brett-designed bookplate laid in.

Jan Brett, Hedgie Blasts Off, 1st ed, signed w/ small drawing.

Jan Brett, Berlioz the Bear, 1st ed, special signed Brett-designed bookplate laid in.

If you're a Brett collector or just want something very special for the grandkids, now's your chance: the three books together, for $25, with free shipping via Media Mail in the US; first e-mail to reach us at KingdomBks@gmail.com asking for these captures the threesome.

Diversion: A New Low-Residency MFA Program for Writers

Poet Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise, dropped us a note last week -- he's now heading a new low-residency MFA program on the shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Here's his invitation, just in time for planning a commitment to creativity:

Sierra Nevada College is pleased to announce its new low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. Classes begin in January 2012.

Low-Residency MFA:
The Inspiration You Want. The Flexibility You Need.

Pursue your artistic and professional development on your own terms. Over the course of the 2 year program at Sierra Nevada College, you will attend 4 eight-day residencies in Lake Tahoe and one abroad, followed by 4 semesters of instructor-supported learning at home. This low-residency design provides opportunities for both engagement and retreat. Become part of a nurturing community of writers without disrupting your current lifestyle.

Residencies develop your individual voice through intense, creative dialogue with internationally known writers. You will focus on your chosen genre while pushing the boundaries of your art through exploration of other forms. Full of inspiration, you will transition from these high-engagement residencies to working one-on-one with your mentor during the semester. The semester is a period for contemplation, productivity and individual application of new knowledge. At the end of the program, you will emerge with publication-quality manuscript created through solitary discipline but shaped by interaction with some of the best writers in the world.

Sierra Nevada College is located in Incline Village, Nevada, on the beautiful shores of north Lake Tahoe. From moonlit snow shoe walks to kayaking the deep, clear blue waters of the lake to simply sitting under a canopy of pines to enjoy a good book, Lake Tahoe offers many opportunities for artistic inspiration. In this beautiful setting, we will gather together to create a community of writers and nurture a lifetime engagement with the art of writing.

Meeting Artists, Making Art
Each residency is an eight-day intensive series of workshops, seminars, readings, and more that will expand a writer’s sense of possibility within the written and spoken arts. From down to earth tricks-of-the-trade to the elevated heights of conceptual nuances, residencies will explore the wide landscape of the writing life. For eight days each January and July, you will find yourself building valuable lifelong connections with star writers within the literary world. Spend time in one of the most inspiring locations on earth, with artists who can help you channel that inspiration into your own work.

Faculty mentors will meet with you during each residency to identify your goals for the upcoming semester. You will receive personalized attention that is focused on your individual creative and critical work. Our faculty members are gifted, worldclass writers and artists in their field. They are also incredible teachers of their art. Faculty work one-on-one with you extensively during the semester, providing written critiques and feedback of your work.

Creating A Community, Building A Career
While spending time on the shores of Lake Tahoe, you will develop close, professional relationships with some of the best writers in the world.  These writers will inspire you to greater heights in your own work and will form the professional network that will allow you to take the next step in your career. You will leave our program prepared for a lifelong engagement with literature.  Become the newest voice in a larger literary conversation.

World Class Writers and Professors
Brian Turner  
Patricia Smith 
Kelle Groom 
Nathalie Handal
If you are interested in adding your voice to the discussion, and if you are intrigued by the possibility of working with teachers and peers who are passionate about the art they love, then please contact us—we look forward to meeting you.


Donald Westlake: New Material from an Old Taped Interview

Donald and Abby Westlake at Kingdom Books
If you're a Westlake fan, as we are at Kingdom Books, check out this piece by Vince Cosgrove, exhuming part of an interview he did with Donald Westlake in 1973.

By the way, there's a nice list of Westlake's pen names at his Wikipedia site now -- reaching a total of 17. When he was here at Kingdom Books, though, we came up with 22 (and the Grand Master admitted there might be another one or two).

Our faves are books authored by "Richard Stark" and the short but emotionally compelling series by "Tucker Coe."

Cara Black, MURDER AT THE LANTERNE ROUGE -- 12th Aimée Leduc Investigation

The twelfth Aimée Leduc investigation from Cara Black, MURDER AT THE LANTERNE ROUGE, is scheduled for March 6 release -- so it's a good time to pre-order a copy if you're a series fan. This one's a must: Black takes us back to the Marais, and to the Chinatowns of Paris, as Aimée searches for the missing girlfriend of her partner René. It's clear very quickly that the pretty young Meizi must be one of Paris's many illegal immigrants. But that's not enough justification for the violence surrounding Aimée's investigation.
Aimée bit her lip, adrift on a sea of conflicting emotions. She was not eager to voice more suspicions of Meizi, fracture her crumbling image, or hurt René. Every part of her wanted to protect him.
And as the young private eye races through ancient streets and buildings, in leopard-skin coat and high-heeled boots, her past and future are both racing toward her. Everyone's got eyes on her this time: partner, boyfriend, the flics, the secret service, and ... but of course, at least two groups of criminals. It's hard to tell where her godfather Morbier fits into all this, too.

Narrated in Black's staccato, caffeine-propelled style, MURDER AT THE LANTERNE ROUGE is one of the most complex investigations yet for Leduc. You can read it without knowing any of the other volumes, but it's richer, and even more suspenseful, if you've been reading along with the series.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Helene Tursten, NIGHT ROUNDS: New Swedish Crime Fiction

Hurrah for the fad of Scandinavian crime fiction in the United States, because it's pushing and pulling some really good books into translation. NIGHT ROUNDS by Helene Tursten is another in the Detective Inspector Irene Huss series (Detective Inspector Huss; The Torso; The Glass Devil). Set in Göteborg, Sweden (Tursten's home), it opens with a death at a small hospital -- not exactly an unlikely death, because it's a patient on a respirator, after surgery, but nobody expected this patient to fail in his recovery. Unfortunately, since the hospital's lost power and the emergency generator hasn't clicked on, reviving the patient in the intensive care unit is tougher than usual, and doesn't succeed. Nurse Siv, wobbling back to the nurses' station while the upset doctor goes searching for the apparently missing other nurse, isn't happy with the death or the dark corridor:
Out of habit she glanced through the ward window. A bone-white moon augmented the mild glow from the streetlamps outside. In the cold light from the windows, she could see a woman moving in the stairwell, her back to the nurses' station. The woman's white collar glowed against the dark fabric of her calf-length dress. Her blond hair was pinned back severely, and above it she wore a starched nurse's cap.
Unfortunately, that's enough to topple the nurse into a fit of sobbing on the floor. The nurse she's just seen has been dead for fifty years -- yet the antiquated uniform and even the hair and face match the photo that's hung around the ward, of the hospital's own ghost.

It's a situation that Irene Huss and her irascible and not always healthy boss Superintendent Andersson aren't really equipped to handle. They're not set up for ghosts as killers. And the friction between Andersson and pathologist Yvonne Stridner, which has built through the series, is another factor making crime solving tough for the usually resilient Huss.

At the police station, Huss's team is still plagued by the blatant sexism of one of its members, and at home, she's wrestling with her daughters being almost old enough to leave home, and her professional chef husband is working such long hours that her love life is sagging. Plus she's not really recovered from the violence she received at the hands of a Hell's Angels gang in an earlier investigation (see Detective Inspector Huss).

Huss is one of my favorite detectives, because her life makes sense: When she stays out too late, she suffers at work. When her husband comes through for her, she does better. She's startled to find her widowed mother investing emotionally in a new relationship. And she's as frustrated and worried as the other woman detective on the team, Birgitta Moberg, about ongoing malicious hazing activity in the squadroom, activity that Superintendent Andersson is slow to grasp and halt.

No nightmares from reading this one, no unbearable terror or detailed descriptions of gore -- this is the other kind of Scandinavian crime fiction, a sturdy and well put together police investigation of murder and malice, with a detective team that's quietly likable. Laura A. Wideburg's no-nonsense translation doesn't give much flavor of Swedish culture or ambience, but it lets the calm braiding of plot threads gleam quietly, proof of Tursten's capable narration and sensible probing of human motivation.

And that ghost? Come now -- do you expect Superintendent Andersson to buy into that kind of nonsense? ... even if Irene Huss is starting to understand why the hospital ward is in fact haunted, by factors rooted in envy, anger, and pain.

On sale February 14, published by -- of course -- Soho Crime.

Location, Location: Creating Fictional Towns for Mysteries

It's a cold, windy day up here on the ridgeline, and it's hard to tell from one minute to the next whether it's snowing, or just gusts of February throwing up flakes from an earlier dusting. I shot a few photos last week of the river at the foot of the road, to remind myself of how tricky it can be in winter: From some angles it looks frozen solid, as if you could walk across it, but the movement of water under the surface keeps the ice fragile and treacherous. I expect I'll include this aspect in an upcoming story.

The Maine Crime Writers blog has a great new piece by "traditional" mystery author Kaitlyn Dunnett, on how she created the Maine town of Moosetookalook for her character Liss MacCrimmon. I enjoyed Dunnett's newest mystery, Scotched, and look forward to more in this series of neatly enfolded plots and likeable characters.

So, along the same train of thought, here's an interview with Louise Penny, provided by J. Sydney Jones -- I like Penny's approach to "playing God" with the village of Three Pines, where more than half the action of her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series takes place.

And here's one more intriguing post, from Rob Kitchin -- with reference to crime novel locations as handled by Raymond Chandler and Janet Evanovich, as well as his own.

Your turn: Do you prefer a fictional location for crime fiction, or a place you already know, like Lawrence Block's New York City? Give an example, would you please?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mystery Treats: Free or Under a Dollar (And It Helps to Own an E-Reader)

Deborah Crombie lives in Texas but is an experienced Anglophile and writes British mysteries: the ones that feature police detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. For an informative and interesting interview with Crombie, done by fellow mystery author Sandra Parshall, check out today's post on the blog Poe's Deadly Daughters. If you leave a comment on that post, says the blog intro, you'll be entered to win an autographed copy of Crombie's newest book, No Mark Upon Her.

For "a limited time," Archer Mayor, who's now publishing his back list of Joe Gunther mysteries as e-books, is offering Open Season as a free download at his website.

 Readers have rediscovered Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series since The Lock Artist won an Edgar Award -- but may have missed collecting a good story of Hamilton's in the 2003 zine Plots With Guns. "Filmmaker Nick Childs adapted it into a short film starring David Strathaim and it went on to win Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival," Hamilton says. So Hamilton now has the story on his website, a good read on a winter day: "A Shovel With My Name on It."

S. J. Rozan is still celebrating the publication of Ghost Hero -- and with it, she's placed links to two stories on her website, which cost 99 cents each, in e-form. A nice deal.

And Dave says he "never wins anything" but he really did get chosen for a copy of Secrets of the Lost Summer, the newest paperback-original title from Carla Neggers (this one's rather more romance than mystery, but a fun read for New Englanders, as it hinges on the four Massachusetts villages that vanished in flooding for Quabbin Reservoir). He also received a T-shirt, which he sweetly picked out in my size (getting ready for Valentine's Day, honey?). The message on it ensures I'll be wearing it regularly!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Graeme Kent, ONE BLOOD: Second in a Lively Series, Solomon Islands

Graeme Kent's series featuring Sergeant Ben Kella of the Solomon Islands Police Force and the determined young nun Sister Conchita has flavors reminiscent of Louise Penny's "Three Pines" series featuring Armand Gamache -- Kent, like Penny, has broadcast experience: in his case, head of BBC Schools broadcasting in the Solomon Islands for a stretch, and later an educational broadcasting consultant for the South Pacific Commission.

And it's irresistible to bring in G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries -- Sister Conchita, like Father Brown, has no doubts about her faith, but she's up against a formidable challenge, trying to persuade an outdated mission order of nuns to open up to the world again. (It's her assignment.) But the Stan Jones mysteries that feature Nathan Active may be the closest parallels to Ben Kella, who, after all, is a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper among the Lau people. As their aofia, he has responsibilities that far exceed ordinary policing. And slowly, he's convincing Sister Conchita that the "native" spiritual beliefs demand her attention.

But the carefully negotiated relationship between Ben Kella and Sister Conchita is far from the center of the action. In the second book in the series, ONE BLOOD (releasing Feb. 7), money, greed, and a callous disregard for both human life and island ecology -- in 1960, when ecology wasn't yet a by-word -- make a deadly combination that opens with acts of sabotage at a logging operation and a dead tourist in the mission church. By the time the two co-investigators (who surprised themselves by crime-solving together in Devil-Devil) realize their cases are related, they've also tangled in with the new American President coming into power: John F, Kennedy, whose naval crew spent time in the Solomon Islands. Is there evidence on the islands of what happened back then? What's it worth? Who will it hurt or help?

You'll get the flavor of this brisk, incisive, and often very entertaining author from a passage in the life of each main character -- first, this scene at Sister Conchita's "open house" at the mission, which the elderly nuns have resisted:
A bulky female American tourist in shorts stretched dangerously across her thighs had stopped in the open doorway and was brandishing a carved model of a turtle above her head.

"Where do I pay for this?" she demanded.

"We must all pay for our transgressions eventually," said Sister Brigid coldly before Sister Conchita could reply, her voice rising and falling like a dagger plunging with deadly accuracy into a body. "How and when lies in the hands of the Almighty."

Not if I get to you first, Sister Conchita promised herself vengefully, squeezing past and emerging from the front door of the two-storey mission house onto the stone terrace leading to the beach and the calm lagoon beyond.
And here is Sergeant Ben Kella, determining what's caused a work stoppage at the logging landing:
"If you know that I am the aofia, then you will know that my duty is to keep the peace among Malaitans," said Kella. "That is why I have come to Alvaro, just in time, I think, to see you preparing to chew on rifle bullets. What is the problem? Why haven't you started work yet? Are you so tired that you have decided to work the white man's hours?"

The Malaitan snorted contemptuously at the implied jibe. "The first work party that left to go into the bush this morning met a kwisi bird," he explained. "It spoke only once. Do you know what that means?"

"Of course," said Kella, comprehending the problem with some relief. The matter was serious, but not has grave as he had feared. "I may have spent many years away from Malaita at the white man's schools, but I still remember our customs. Leave this with me."

He walked back to the big Australian. "They have had a custom sign warning them not to work this morning," he said.

"Am I supposed to be impressed?" exploded the big man. "What those kanakas want is a boot up the backside!"

"You don't understand," said Kella. "Those men are Malaitans, the fiercest warriors in the Solomons." He raised his voice so the technicians could hear him. "You lay a hand on just one of them, and you and every one of your men will be dead on the beach before the sun rises further over the trees, and I'll have a hundred forms to fill in afterwards. I doubt if you're worth it."
Even though Kella finds a solution to the logging impasse, there are more threatening situations just ahead. And some of them will affect Sister Conchita as well.

UK cover
The US covers are at the start of this blog post, and I'm ending with the UK covers, for the sake of a cultural contrast. It's increasingly clear that "American" and "British" are two different languages -- I can't imagine a mainstream American mystery proclaiming "exotic" on the cover, as these UK versions do! Here's a rare exception, then, to the frequent discovery that British covers can show up better than the US designs ... because I would definitely vote in favor of the US ones here, from Soho Crime.

Much more to the point for readers of this series, Graeme Kent knows how to weave a good story and validate the local ways of belief, tradition, and community.

UK cover
If you've collected the Arthur Upfield books, you'll want the Graeme Kent ones on your shelf for a modern contrast. (If you don't know Arthur Upfield's work, or that of Stan Jones, mentioned earlier, you have some great treats ahead.) File this series also under spunky women, and wonderful independent local residents who know a whole lot more than the armed colonizers landing among them. And, of course, under respectable detection methods and marvelous psychological juggling of detective, criminal, and witnesses.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Farewell to Dorothy Gilman and Mrs. Pollifax

Now that I read the serious espionage of Alan Furst and David Downing, should I be embarrassed that I cut my espionage teeth on books by both Helen MacInnes and Dorothy Gilman? No, I refuse to blush -- I had a great time with each author's books, and I'll surely read them again. What better could a reader say, especially so many years later?

So I was sad this morning to hear the news that Dorothy Gilman died on February 2. She gave us a lively, independent, 60-ish widow from New Jersey who dared to travel the world and tackle the work of being a secret agent, no matter how much older she seemed than the people giving her instructions.

Here's the Mrs. Pollifax series, which actually makes up less than half of what Gilman wrote: 
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966)
The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax (1970)  
The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax (1971)  
A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax (1973)
Mrs. Pollifax on Safari (1977)  
Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station (1983)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha (1985)  
Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle (1988)  
Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish (1990)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief (1993)  
Mrs. Pollifax Pursued (1995)  
Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer (1996)
Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (1997)
Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled (2000)
The New York Times obituary is here; for another view, visit the Dorothy Gilman Fan Site.

PS -- as of this writing, Kingdom Books has three books by Dorothy Gilman available.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Chinatown Mysteries: S. J. Rozan, Henry Chang, More

The wide range of international mysteries suddenly available in the US is exciting. Equally intriguing are those set in American (and other!) Chinatowns, where another "country" seems just a few blocks away. It's a good time of year to indulge in Chinatown mysteries, with the start of the Year of the (Water) Dragon just behind us, and the beginning of the Chinese astrological New Year tomorrow.

Henry Chang has staked out generous turf in New York City's Chinatown with Detective Jack Yu, in a trilogy of police detection books: Chinatown Beat, Year of the Dog, and Red Jade. In an interview with fellow mystery author J. Sydney Jones, Chang announced last year that he's now working on a sextet of Jack Yu books to follow the first three. The books are set in the 1990s, Chang's way of creating a bit of personal distance -- and also some protection against accidentally revealing a prosecutable crime, as many of the details in his books come from firsthand experience in the Chinatown neighborhoods, as well as recollections shared by retired criminals. A native New Yorker himself, Chang has an immigrant heritage and uses the tension of parental and community expectations to ramp up the pressures on the characters in his novels. I'm especially fond of Chinatown Beat, and in this trilogy, I'd advise starting from the first book; there are details in the third one, Red Jade, that make a lot more impact if you've consumed the series in order.

S. J. Rozan, whose heritage is not Chinese but who spends plenty of time in New York's Chinatown, offers a very different set of perceptions and tensions in her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. The most recent of these is Ghost Hero.  Chin is increasingly warm toward Smith, her detection partner and possibly, some day -- if Chin's mother can't stop it -- a more intimate partner. But there isn't much time for the two of them to connect, as they involve another Chinese-American private investigator to help them probe the complex world of modern Chinese art and high-stakes investment. Unlike Chang, Rozan sets her books very much "now" and one of the best secondary characters is Lydia Chin's cousin Linus Wong, a computer geek with both edge and (oddly) innocence. There are ten other Lydia Chin/Bill Smith books -- the series alternates in narration, from either Chin's or Smith's point of view -- and in this case, there's no need to read them in order. Jump in anywhere. My current favorites are Ghost Hero  and On the Line.

The 2010 release of a work of nonfiction by Yunte Huang, Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, provoked a number of recent thoughtful investigations of American Chinese mysteries and their authors,  and Henry Chang shared with us an essay by Merle Jacob, surveying "Asian" mysteries over a wide range than extends to India and Korea as well. (Chan wasn't a Chinatown figure; that detective shows up in the 1920s books by Earl Derr Biggers, which have become very collectible.) The essay led me to pick up a crime novel by Ed Lin, Snakes Can't Run (2010) -- it's his third novel, and is the second featuring Chinese American detective Robert Chow. The Chow books are set in the 1970s in New York's Chinatown, and run dark and gritty; they're worth reading.

Finally being talked about more often are the reasons that Chinatowns exist in America, and it doesn't really boil down to "like lives with like" -- there's a nasty piece of anti-Asian bias in American history that came to a head in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which, among other effects, prevented Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens. (This didn't ease until bodies were needed for World War I.) For a not-so-dark detective mystery that opens up these details a bit, there's Murder in Chinatown, one of the "Gaslight" mysteries by Victoria Thompson, set in turn-of-that-century New York.

If you have a favorite Chinatown mystery, or want to add to this list in other directions, please do leave a comment here. Meanwhile, a fortunate Chinese new year to you. Gung Hay Phat Choy!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Justice: Eliot Pattison Reflects on His Three Detection Series

Great news: Not only is Eliot Pattison's Ashes of the Earth (first of his post-apocalyptic detection novels) being released in softcover this April -- but also, there's a new interview with Pattison available through Blog Talk Radio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/conversationslive/2012/01/28/author-eliot-pattison-on-conversations-live

Pattison describes his protagonist Boone in this series as someone who's "lost all hope" and says he's provoking readers to consider what it's all about, "who are you when you strip away your television, your automobile, your electricity, your technology ... what really is important, and how do you cope when everything else is gone?"

But fear not, Pattison (an international attorney) threads the demands of investigation and crime-solving just as insistently in this series as he has in his Inspector Shan series and his Colonial America series.

For a longer look at Ashes of the Earth, click here; other Pattison reviews are also on our blog.