Saturday, May 26, 2012

Crime and Conversation with Joseph Olshan

Joseph Olshan and CLOUDLAND at Kingdom Books
Many thanks to Joe Olshan, who traveled north today with friend and fellow writer Barry Raine (author of Where the River Bends) to visit Kingdom Books. We enjoyed hearing about his adventures with his new Vermont-set mystery, CLOUDLAND -- and caught up on some details of what he's writing next (oh yeah, sounds like a winner, crime, secrets, friendship ... and a touch of baseball).

To catch some conversation with this New York-born, Cambridge and Vermont-living author, listen to Olshan's recent radio interviews:

VPR: click here.

NHPR: click here.

Both interviews offer written material on the radio websites, as well as the chance to listen to Olshan's literate and thoughtful path and process.

And, of course, we happen to have a few signed  copies now on hand -- your chance to get one for your collection. As soon as Dave's placed them onto ABE, I'll post the purchase link here. Thank you, Joe and Barry.

Looking for a chance to meet Joseph Olshan? Mark your calendar for Bookstock in July in Vermont, or the New England Crime Bake in November outside Boston.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

International Mysteries from Atria

Dave and I drove to Brattleboro last month to meet the Atria Books "Great Mystery Bus Tour," with authors William Kent Krueger, Liza Marklund, John Connolly, and M. J. Rose -- it took two hours to get there, and much longer to get home (we stopped to visit friends), but it was worth it. Kind host David Wilson at Mystery on Main Street swapped stories with us, too.

The cream in the coffee (well, really, it was more like that final swirled heart that the barista magically creates on the top of the cappuccino) was a modest paperback handed out to exiting readers by one of the bus staff: The Atria International Books of Mysteries, Your Passport to a World of Murder and Mayhem; Circle the Globe with 15 First-Class Mystery Writers.

This, of course, was one of that strange breed of "free" books known as "samplers." It contains chapter one -- ONLY chapter one -- of each of fifteen mysteries (crime fiction in this case) presented by authors that Atria (a Simon & Schuster imprint) publishes. How nice that it was a gift, and a softcover one at that. I knew Dave wouldn't mind if I toted the book around casually, reading on the couch, in bed, on the deck. Matter of fact, I barely put it down. Because every single chapter one in this sampler is a good one.

So my "free" book ended up costing me quite a bit, as I scrambled to purchase the books that were started within it. We already had plenty on the shelves by John Connolly and Liza Marklund and Walter Mosley, and a growing section of William Kent Krueger (because I enjoyed finding his books at the mystery shop in Madison, Wisconsin, a few years back). And Spencer Quinn is a regular in the Kingdom Books collections, as is M. J. Rose.

But Paul Cleave, of New Zealand? New to me. And his book Collecting Cooper is a wonderfully dark investigation, a cross between Garry Fisher and Dave Zeltserman with maybe more bodies. Malla Nunn of South Africa? Wow! Kristina Ohlsson, a Swedish author I'd missed in the new Scandinavian fiction craze, is going to be a new favorite, too.

(And don't worry, I'll get to talking about the other authors in there, too. Just not all at once, OK?)

I am ready for a long, long summer of reading. Thanks for the nudge, Atria Books.

Oh, almost forgot -- if you didn't get to one of the bus tour events, you can STILL get a free copy of this sampler, if you don't mind receiving it as an ebook. Here's the link. Go for it!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Slow, Moody, Penetrating: The Spring Mystery by Joseph Olshan, CLOUDLAND

Looking at a list of Joseph Olshan's novels and their publishers, it's clear this Cambridge, Mass., author has long been associated with literary fiction -- the kind that slowly eats its way into you, through the tenaciousness of ordinary people grappling with extraordinary stresses. Here are the titles that preceded this spring's publication of CLOUDLAND:
  • The Conversion (St. Martin's Press, 2008)
  • In Clara's Hands (Bloomsbury, 2003)
  • Vanitas (Simon & Schuster, 1998)
  • Nightswimmer (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
  • The Sound of Heaven (Bloomsbury, 1992)
  • The Waterline (Doubleday, 1989)
  • A Warmer Season (Bloomsbury/McGraw-Hill, co-pub, 1987)
  • Clara's Heart (Arbor House, 1985)
At first glance, that's the genre for CLOUDLAND, too, with its epigraph in French that translates as "The first love is the only love" (we know that's not true), and its opening chapter that's rich in description of the grainy snow of late March. But it is in fact a corpse that's discovered in this opening -- the corpse of Angela Parker -- and our protagonist, journalist Catherine Winslow, may be writing household hints these days, but she was once a major news reporter with crime knowledge of her own.

I sank into the book with something of the same discomfort as tramping in a Vermont early spring, one moment in wet, icy snow, the next in sticky mud or a cow pie. Catherine's life now isn't much different from what she once described as she waited for her daughter's precarious mental health to perhaps turn toward something better: "I lived from day to day in a stupor of anxiety, hardly eating anything myself, waiting for bulletins that were never very promising ... What they didn't tell me, couldn't tell me, wouldn't dare to tell me was, 'She wants to kill herself.'"

Nor is she the most reliable detective. She admits to us, in this first-person narrative, that the absence of a book from its familiar spot on her shelf confuses her. "I began to worry that I'd somehow lent it out and completely forgotten to whom. Perhaps my memory wasn't so good after all."

Yet these twinges of doubt are equally clues to what's gone wrong on the mountain ridge known as "Cloudland," where Catherine and her sparse neighbors barely speak, yet attempt to still be neighborly somehow. Drawing from some of Vermont's unsolved and unfinished murder cases, Olshan crafts a haunted -- and haunting -- progression from unease to risk to deadly danger.

This is a a book that requires readerly attentiveness and patience. But the rewards are powerful and unforgettable. CLOUDLAND will last on the shelf.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Coming Soon: Summer Mysteries

I plan to post a long-ish description tomorrow about the effects of reading a recent ATRIA books sampler, crammed with first chapters of international thriller/mystery authors.

Also, here are some of the reviews coming for this summer, with the publication months of the books:
John Gilstrap, DAMAGE CONTROL, June 
Peter Lovesey, COP TO CORPSE, June
Timothy Hallinan, THE FEAR ARTIST, July
Alexander Campion, KILLER CRITIQUE, July
Martin Limón, THE JOY BRIGADE, July
Lisa Jackson, YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW, August
Barbara Cleverly, NOT MY BLOOD, August
In general, I aim to post a review about a week before a book will release, although sometimes I wait until a little while after the release date. Let us know if there are reviews you'd like to see earlier than that.
Oh yes, the photo here? Well, we don't do "coffee reviews," but we vote with our orders, which we continue to send to Café Grumpy in New York, with great pleasure. The sack of coffee shown here (with blossoming apple branch) is from Rwanda, and each time I've ground the beans and Dave's savored the beverage, we sighed with pleasure and marveled at what the new international connections offer us.

Think about it: International mysteries. International coffees. Oh yes, we buy LOTS of American, too. But isn't it nice to have such wide choices?

As you can tell, it's a happy day here at Kingdom Books.

Joyful News: David Downing's Fifth Berlin Thriller Is Available Now!

Want to know the downside of being a bookseller at Kingdom Books? Here it is: The books we love the most, that are really, really well written, are the ones we talk about enthusiastically with collectors and readers who stop in - and as a result, we keep selling them off the shelf!

That's been the case for every one of David Downing's John Russell novels. Set (mostly) in Berlin, as World War II and its close aftermath unfold, they feature British journalist John Russell and his family: his somewhat estranged teenage son living with Russell's divorces wife; his creative and strong-minded lover, Effi, an actress forced to work for Hilter's propaganda machine, while secretly fostering a Jewish child and helping Jews to escape almost certain death; and most of all, the city of Berlin itself, beloved by Russell and Effi and their friends, but occupied, bombed, shattered, dangerous -- and somehow inescapable, no matter how much safer John Russell would be if he stayed back in England or even Russia, where his travels at one point take him.

LEHRTER STATION opens with an ominous scene from December 1943, then leaps forward into 1945, as Russell discovers that the rash trades he's made during the war, in order to secure the safety of his family members, now require payment -- in a set of obligations that force him into espionage in the most distasteful ways. Effi too is caught in the pinch of threats from international spy forces, end-of-war trade-offs, and the need to track the surviving remaining parent of the child she's taken to her heart. As organized crime enters the picture, thirsting for the spoils of war, Russell and Effi find increasing threats to their safety, their family members, and their honor.

Powerfully and skillfully written, with constant suspense and sudden surprises of satisfaction, LEHRTER STATION is one of the vital 2012 books that I'd pack for a desert island -- or a beach vacation, or a rainy weekend.

Do you need to read the other David Downing John Russell novels first? Well, not exactly ... but it will add a lot of depth and resonance, so I'd recommend it. Look at the bright side: If Downing is new to you, you'll have five rainy-weekend delights ahead of you. And if you already have his earlier titles -- Zoo Station, Silesian Station, Stettin Station, and Potsdam Station -- now you can re-read and refresh before you cruise into this fifth and possibly final in the series. Or will John Russell rise in new ways, with the new Berlin? I wonder.

Donald Hall Celebrates New England Summer

Last winter I found a story on National Public Radio on the 82-year-old poet Donald Hall. Dave and I try to get to at least one of his readings each year. He names the vivid, the deep, and the truthful, all within precise images and stories within his poems. Mostly they say "New England" to us -- but they also speak of honoring what we've seen, who we are, where our lives are taking us.

Today I photographed dandelions, the rock garden by the garage, lilacs budding and blooming. I hope Mr. Hall sees all of those today too, whether out in spring himself, or through his farmhouse window, or in the tender lens of linked memories.

Click here for our list of Donald Hall books on the shelves.  Make it a day to treasure.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak, Age 83, Died This Morning

a PBS image of Maurice Sendak
What a loss for every reader, and especially every parent who ever shared one of Maurice Sendak's book, over and over again (because the kids demanded it!), with a child or grandchild. To my grandson, Where the Wild Things Are is the must-read book of every Skype visit -- "Grammy, read the monster book!" I love the sweet ending, as much as the wild rumpus.

It's raining in Vermont today, a soft gray farewell of the heart.

Publishers Weekly notice here.

New York Times obituary here (first of many).

Wikipedia page here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Collector's Corner: A Special Subset of Donald E. Westlake Books

Here's a piece from Dave today:

I collect titles written by the late Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) and his many other pseudonyms such as Richard Stark. As part of the Richard Stark series Westlake wrote four Grofield Mysteries. In 1990 Foul Play Press/The Countryman Press in Vermont published the four Grofield Mysteries and they are becoming very difficult
to find in very good to fine condition. They were only published in soft cover.
The four titles are:
Lemons Never Lie, 1990
The Dame, 1990
The Damsel, 1990
The Black Bird, 1990

[Want to know more? Click HERE to see our Westlake books available.]

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Clea Simon, CATS CAN'T SHOOT: Dark and Delightful

I dare you to read Clea Simon's CATS CAN'T SHOOT -- because it's the only way you'll be convinced how good this mystery author can be, if you've already sworn to reject any book that might involve a talking animal, or a cat that picks out criminals from a line-up. Oh, I understand: Dave and I get touchy about animal mysteries, too ... But Simon's Pru Marlowe "pet noir" series doesn't purr or meow. It scrapes against bone, dark and sharp, asking hard questions about people and the malicious things they often do. The things that can involve their pets.

When Marlowe gets a call to assist the police in a "cat shooting," the animal expert is understandably furious. Who's been shooting cats? She knows people can be cruel. But it turns out that the white Persian cowering in the corner is literally a killer kitty: Evidence indicates her paw pulled the trigger on a valuable firearm that's caused the death of her owner, Donal Franklin.

Marlowe's more than just good with animals -- she picks up their thoughts from time to time. It's a mixed blessing. After all, what does a dog waiting to go outside think about? (Hint: He's gotta go. Fast.) And how much do you really want to know about a hunter's feelings toward prey -- that is, a cat toward food? Or a cat toward a weakness in its "owner"? Pru Marlowe has had reason to regret her relatively new ability to overhear animal commentary (and their insults of her), especially since she can't explain it to even her closest friends without risking being locked up, herself.

Simon's sharp, quick plotting, sturdily mixed motivations, and decisive characters move this crime fiction along briskly. And if the idea of a pet psychic is a bit outside normal beliefs, it's the only notion the reader will have to swallow against the grain; this title, like its predecessor Dogs Don't Lie, is a thoroughly enjoyable traditional mystery with a likable twist.

And actually, now you mention it ... didn't you say your cat knows which sweater is your favorite, and always chooses to curl up and shed on that one?

Simon's created a worthy shelf companion to the great early titles by Lilian Jackson Braun, with shades of Agatha Christie in the character analysis that eventually solves the crimes. I'm looking forward to more in this series.