Escape Velocity
Betty Webb

A conflicted and complicated protagonist appears in Susan Wolfe’s Escape Velocity, and the conflicts are laugh-out-loud funny. Legal aid Georgia Griffin has been a con-artist-in-training since early childhood, and now that her father has landed in prison for his shifty dealings, she is expected to take over the family business. Georgia hates to disappoint her beloved but crooked father, but she’s afraid of prison, and so she attempts to go straight. After finishing a mail-order paralegal course, she moves from Piney, Arkansas, to Silicon Valley, living in her bald-tired car until she scams her way into a job in the legal department of Lumina Software. Once ensconced, she uses her own shifty con skills, this time for the greater good. Or at least that’s how she interprets it. Following the scam-’em-all advice sent by her imprisoned father in his frequent letters, she quickly works her way up the corporate ladder until she is finally admitted into board meetings. Georgia’s own boss, Ken Madigan, is both kindly and honest—just the opposite of Lumina CEO Roy Zisko, whose nonsensical dictates seem poised to destroy his own company. Alarmed at the prospect of losing her job due to massive layoffs, Georgia reverts to type and again reaches into her duplicitous bag of tricks. But she does this so often that she eventually becomes dismayed by her own behavior. “Sounding like Ken and thinking like her father, what kind of hybrid did that produce? [A] cross between Mother Theresa and Bernie Madoff.” If there are any faults in this riotous caper of a novel, it’s that there are enough of Georgia’s boardroom scams to make up four books and still have some left over. But then Escape Velocity wouldn’t be as much fun without them. Or as educational. Escape Velocity offers a satirical take on not only high-corporate life, but the Securities and Exchange Commission itself. The insider information in this book is astounding, but no wonder. Edgar-winning author Wolfe has worked as an in-house attorney for a Silicon Valley company, and obviously knows where the bodies are buried—and who put them there.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 11:02
Seconds to Midnight
Betty Webb

Philip Donlay’s suspenseful Seconds to Midnight brings us another Donovan Nash adventure (after Deadly Echoes and Pegasus Down). This time around, a plane crash survivor in the Arctic holds the key to a terrorist plot designed to start World War Three. The pacing is fast in this one—sometimes too fast for adequate character development—but thrills abound when the Eco-Watch pilot and his team rush to stop an imminent nuclear exchange. Set in various countries—Canada, Austria, England, Poland, etc.—the reader is treated to a whirlwind of violent clashes and personal betrayals, while Nash attempts to make sense of the crash survivor’s scattered memories before the first bomb is detonated. All this is set against the backdrop of a solar storm, which hinders communications from not only one team to another, but from nation to nation. This is a book meant for hard-core adrenaline junkies, and as such, delivers high-octane action from the first page to the last. Don’t read Seconds to Midnight before tightening your seat belt.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:02
We Wish You a Murderous Christmas
Lynne F. Maxwell

Vicki Delany’s seasonal We Wish You a Murderous Christmas is the second entry in her Year Round Christmas Mystery series. Delany employs a winning formula as she chronicles the pre-Christmas frenzy unfolding in Rudolph, New York, a town renowned for its year-round devotion to Christmas. This delightful book features series heroine Merry Wilkinson, proud proprietress of Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, as she prepares for another hectic shopping season in “America’s Christmas Town.” This year, the season’s joys are mitigated when Jack Olsen, owner of popular upscale hotel and restaurant Yuletide Inn, suffers a severe heart attack, and his ne’er-do-well son, Gord, is summoned to oversee the business in Jack’s absence. Gord immediately attempts to cut operating costs at the expense of the quality that is the hallmark of the Inn. In the process, he incurs the wrath of many, including the restaurant’s new executive chef and Merry’s best friend, Vicki, baker par excellence, along with Grace, Jack’s second wife. When Merry discovers that Gord is conspiring with a hotel chain to sell the business and thereby subvert the very essence of the unique “Christmas Town,” she knows that trouble is afoot. True to form, Gord continues to make enemies, and no one seems to be saddened by his inevitable murder. More problematic, though, is the fact that Merry’s father, Noel, the town Santa Claus, becomes the primary person of interest. Fortunately, Merry is not about to allow this unjust accusation to go forward, and springs into action. Happily, like most Christmas tales, We Wish You a Murderous Christmas ends on a suitably positive note, and Merry’s Christmas—and Rudolph’s—is merry indeed.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:02
Deck the Hallways
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kate Carlisle craftily invokes the spirit of the holiday season in her new Fixer-Upper Mystery, Deck the Hallways. Aptly named master contractor Shannon Hammer faces challenges when a subcontractor backs out of an extremely time-sensitive project with a Christmas Eve deadline. This worthy project is a renovation of an old Victorian home in the form of cozy apartments allocated to deserving homeless families. Luckily, Shannon’s father, retired from the contracting business that Shannon took over, volunteers to assist and to enlist the aid of his retired associates. In addition, other volunteers from the town supplement the labor force. Concomitantly, though, Shannon must spend inordinate amounts of time mediating workplace disputes among the volunteers, a situation that is greatly exacerbated by the incessant interference of Peter Potter, an obnoxious, self-important and obstructionist local banker. Not only does Potter lack authority over the project, but he insists upon intruding at every turn, alienating everyone at the site. Of course, no one laments his loss when he is murdered, but Shannon, like Delany’s Merry Wilkinson, must defend her father when one of his tools is identified as the murder weapon. Deck the Hallways features other anomalies, chief among them the appearance of a newborn in the bed of Shannon’s truck. As the novel builds toward its suspenseful and satisfying conclusion, character and plot twists engage the reader to the very end. In the tradition of Christmas narratives, Carlisle provides a magical conclusion as, project completed in a timely fashion, the homeless families flock to their miraculous new living quarters. And, yes, the mystery and destiny of the infant, predictably named Angel, is resolved perfectly. Deck the Hallways is saccharine as only a Christmas story can be, but this is the precise source of its genius. Put this one on next year’s Christmas list if you don’t devour it immediately.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:02
Snowed In With Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

Cold-weather cozy Snowed In With Murder is Auralee Wallace’s third Otter Lake Mystery. If you haven’t met Erica Bloom, series protagonist, and Rhonda, her sort-of sidekick, you are in for a real treat. Erica, a Chicago-based court reporter, is ever-ambivalent about returning to her island home in Otter Lake, New Hampshire. Indeed, this visit is especially fraught, as Erica attempts to resurrect her floundering relationship with Sheriff Grady Forrester, who has professed his love and desire to live with Erica, who is characteristically ambivalent. Planning a romantic getaway with Grady at her mother’s private camp, Erica is instead trapped on the island with a crazed reality show family, as she confronts a mammoth winter storm. Grady, of course, is a no-show because he must work overtime to cope with the storm. When murder strikes, Erica’s rescue comes from an unexpected quarter. I strongly recommend this comically captivating series to readers who enjoy clever, bordering on absurdly hilarious, dialogue. Rhonda rules!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 01:02
Deadly Fate
Hank Wagner

In Deadly Fate, the 22nd entry in New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series, ex-partners Jackson Crow and Thor Erikson reunite to pursue a serial killer who is operating in the great state of Alaska, on the set of a so-called “reality” television show. Although they have their suspicions that the murderer might be someone they’ve tangled with before, the pair can’t be sure, as he seems to have changed his MO in significant ways. In order to bring the ruthless predator to bay, they need to rely on all their skills, both normal (their police training) and paranormal (their ability to communicate with the dead).

A pioneer in the field of paranormal thrillers, Graham once again demonstrates a keen ability to blend genres, delivering a solid tale of suspense that should appeal to a wide audience, whether they be fans of romance, suspense, or action/adventure. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, it builds and reshapes the legendary author’s ideas and concepts, providing readers with a fresh, compelling take on an old premise.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 01:02
Just Try to Stop Me
Hank Wagner

Just Try to Stop Me, the fifth Waterman and Stark thriller from the very talented Gregg Olsen, features the devious Brenda Nevins, a serial killer with a knack for manipulating social media, having gained a large following by chronicling her side of things through a series of bizarre, but compelling vlogs. Using her ability to seduce almost anyone, the convicted killer escapes confinement in order to continue with her grandiose and murderous scheme to achieve worldwide notoriety. It’s up to sheriff’s detective Kendall Stark to divine the killer’s plans before she can wreak even more havoc.

Olsen has created a very compelling antagonist in Nevins, one who is able to seduce readers into turning pages as easily as she manipulates those around her. The “you never know what she’ll do next” aspect of her personality is quite intriguing, providing surprises in nearly every chapter. Olsen also does a terrific job in revealing Nevins’ gruesome backstory, doling it out in bits and pieces as Stark investigates Nevins’ past, hoping to glean information which might lead to her capture. Although it ends abruptly, and on a note of uncertainty (it’s hard to say if the heroes won this battle), it’s truly a great read.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 01:02
Bite
Hank Wagner

If you like your thrillers edgy, apocalyptic, and violent, look no further than K.S. Merbeth’s Bite, certainly one of the strangest bildungsromans you’ll ever read. Bite tells the action-packed, coming-of-age story of a young teenage girl who goes by the moniker of “Kid,” who becomes part of a pack of cannibalistic adventurers who are doing their level best to survive in a desolate futuristic dystopia. The pack, consisting of the hot-headed Wolf, the man mountain Tank, the scheming Pretty Boy, and the lethal Dolly, adopt the Kid as a mascot, but watch as she evolves into a vital member of their strange family.

Reminiscent of literary works such as Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and his Dog” or films like The Warriors and Mad Max, Bite starts fast and only accelerates as Merbeth moves deeper into her harrowing narrative. As adept at writing action as she is at creating colorful backdrops for her set pieces, Merbeth also proves to be quite skillful at handling her main and expansive supporting cast, in this dark, dangerous, and deadly tale of survival against overwhelming odds.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 February 2017 01:02
The Trespasser
Dick Lochte

Tana French is a wonder, continuing to offer, book after book, master classes in the art of creating dimensional characters and totally satisfying complex plotting. Each novel of her series, of which this is number six, presents a detailed investigation by the elite Dublin Murder Squad, focusing on a different member of the team. It’s almost the same concept that Evan Hunter, as Ed McBain, popularized in his 87th Precinct series. The exception is that French has her featured detective narrate the novel, making it not only a procedural, but an in-depth self-profiling by the sleuth. In the author’s last novel, The Secret Place, the first-person narration is by team newcomer, easygoing but determined Stephen Moran, who, of necessity, is partners with the squad’s only female, an ostracized and, because of that, angry and defensive Antoinette Conway. Though the vaguely supernatural aspect of The Secret Place took some of the edge off of the book for me, the characters of Moran and Conway were intriguing enough that their return is a welcome one, especially with Conway narrating. Their investigation involves a recently self-improved young woman found bludgeoned to death in her apartment on a Saturday night with a table set for a cozy dinner for two. Almost immediately Conway’s emotional buttons are pushed by an obnoxious detective named Breslin who’s assigned to “assist” the team. He seems convinced that the victim’s boyfriend, a meek but definitely odd bookstore owner named Rory Fallon, committed the crime. Eventually the case prompts memories and disturbing self-revelations for Conway. Reader Hilda Fay, with a serious (yet always decipherable) Irish brogue, has an actor’s field day capturing the character’s volatile moods, including her purposeful shift in approaches when interrogating suspects. Moran’s dialogue, responses in the main, are usually attempts at calming his partner, but, after a barrage of Conway’s insults, his hurt comes through loud and clear. Fay’s voice for Breslin has a pushy arrogance. Fallon sounds properly nerdy and vague. But this is Conway’s show. French has created her in full and Fay brings her to audio life.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
Hold a Scorpion
Dick Lochte

Set in ever-sunny yet somehow ever-noirish Southern California, with a moderately famous, 40-something actress as its narrator/amateur sleuth, one can safely say Melodie Johnson Howe’s stories featuring Diana Poole are Hollywood mysteries. With a fair amount of sex, snark, and psychological nuance, not to mention intriguingly twisted plotlines, they exist comfortably somewhere between Ellery Queen’s whodunit approach to La La Land, The Four of Hearts, and Raymond Chandler’s character- and cynicism-rich The Little Sister. Unlike those authors, Howe is actually following the old advice of writing about what she knows. A former actress (The Moonshine War, Coogan’s Bluff), she fills her backgrounds with an insider’s knowledge of how things work in cinema city. Her fictional stand-in debuted in a series of short mysteries collected in Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories (Crippen and Landru). In Diana’s first novel, City of Mirrors (Pegasus, 2013), having suffered the loss of husband and superstar mother, she was financially forced to rekindle her never quite above-the-title acting career. Feeling fortunate to be cast in a movie, she found the corpse of the film’s leading lady in a garbage bag, and, while solving the crime, discovered several truths about her own life that were even more devastating. The new sequel begins with Diana trying to forget a broken romance by watching herself on the big screen. The flick’s narcissistic benefit is quickly eliminated by the sight of an apparent suicide-by-speeding- traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway in front of her Malibu digs. The arachnid in the book’s title refers to a bejeweled McGuffin Diana picks up near the scene of the fatality. Everybody wants it, but why? And what has it to do with her deceased mother? Reader Marguerite Gavin’s apparently natural, clear, crisp enunciation is a fine match for our actress narrator. She puts an ounce of whine in it for Diana’s self-serving and self-deceiving screenwriter neighbor, Ryan, gruffs it up for PI Leo Heath, Diana’s ex, and further adapts it to fit a gallery of suspicious characters, from the smarmy head of a upscale rehab center to Ryan’s new playmate, a yoga-enthusiast named Tanya. In all, an entertaining audio package that isn’t as cozy as it first seems.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
Dick Lochte

Presumably the last book to come from the late author, barring the discovery of any dust-covered manuscripts in some antique mahogany chiffonier, this set of four previously uncollected short stories should provide some solace for P.D. James’ fans. Each is finely wrought, with a resolution that manages to be both satisfying and vaguely disturbing. The title story is narrated by an acclaimed elderly crime novelist painfully remembering a Christmas of her youth when, recently widowed by the Second World War, she accepted an unexpected invitation to a weekend at her grandmother’s estate. But instead of enjoying the comfort of family, she’s ensnared in the unpleasant circumstances surrounding an obnoxious guest’s brutal murder. Actress Jenny Agutter (Equus, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) uses a sort of downbeat wistfulness in narrating the story, then does a 180 for “A Very Commonplace Murder,” going full-out disdainful in describing a slimy, porno-loving clerk who can save an innocent man on trial for murder but, for whim or reason, decides not to. The remaining two tales feature the author’s famous series sleuth Adam Dalgliesh. “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” is set in the distant past, with a youthful, newly appointed Sergeant Dalgliesh, hurrying to attend Christmas Eve dinner at his aunt’s. He’s halted by a distraught fellow who’s just found the body of his beloved uncle. The death appears to be a suicide, but to Dalgliesh there are, as the title implies, a dozen clues indicating murder. In “The Boxdale Inheritance,” the then-Chief Superintendent Dalgliesh learns that no good deed goes unpunished when, at his godfather’s request, he pries off the lid of a 67-year-old murder case that had some vague ties to his family. Though reader Daniel Weyman makes subtle adjustments to mark the two different stages of the detective’s career and life, he applies the same proper British mixture of droll objectivity and bemusement he’s used in several audio editions of the series novels. Adding to the amusement-level of the fictions are meta references to the author’s continuing use of Agatha Christie-like situations. There’s also an intriguing essay on the short story by James that, for some reason, Agutter reads quickly and without much feeling, as if it were an afterthought.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being
Jon L. Breen

Early January 2014, Henning Mankell was diagnosed with the incurable cancer that would claim him in October 2015. These 67 short essays, averaging about four pages each, are the memories and reflections of a dying man. The reader will find little if anything about mystery writing or the origins of his series cop Kurt Wallander. For that, see the essay following his last published novel, An Event in Autumn (Vintage Crime, 2013). As the subtitle suggests, he has more profound matters in mind. Areas touched on include philosophy, science, politics, religion, and history, natural and human. Some of the most interesting observations have to do with visual art. A recurring concern throughout is the danger of nuclear waste to inhabitants of Earth thousands of years in the future. I admit, having gone on record more than once, that I am no fan of the Wallander novels. But this collection of vignettes, stimulating and thought-provoking, decidedly not depressing, is surely one of the best books I’ll read this year.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
Where Memory Hides: A Writer’s Life
Jon L. Breen

Richard A. Lupoff is widely known and admired as a science-fiction and fantasy author, anthologist, Edgar Rice Burroughs biographer, San Francisco Bay Area radio broadcaster, book reviewer (at one time for Mystery Scene), popular culture historian (the comic-book history All in Color for a Dime), and detective novelist with the series about insurance investigator Hobart Lindsey and Berkeley cop Marvia Plum. He is also a book editor, with his own Ramble House imprint, Surinam Turtle Press. His autobiography wanders around in time and subject matter, and the reader will be happy to wander with him, for this is as entertaining an account of the writing life, personal and professional, as you’re likely to read. Topics are as varied as jury duty, teaching in a prison, and an IRS audit.

The book was compiled by editor Audrey Parente from previously published sources (book introductions, essay collections, book reviews, interviews, and volumes in the author’s Writer at Large series). Lupoff (born 1935) also provides additions and up-to-the-minute updates, noting for example Senator Ted Cruz’s facial resemblance to Senator Joseph McCarthy). Several mystery writers receive extended discussion, including S.S. Van Dine, Dashiell Hammett, Fredric Brown, Erle Stanley Gardner, and (most valuable because least famous) Avram Davidson. The 39-page bibliography is alphabetical by title.

A few errors were noted. The line “Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance” is usually attributed to Ogden Nash, not Bennett Cerf, and there are some amusing cases of autocorrecting run amuck: Lenore Glen “Oxford” (should be Offord) and “Erie” Stanley Gardner.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
Once a Pulp Man: The Secret Life of Judson P. Philips as Hugh Pentecost
Jon L. Breen

Judson Philips, the prolific pulp writer, later known as Hugh Pentecost, a name adopted for the big-money slick magazines and hardcover book market, is one of several Mystery Writers of America Grand Masters (others include George Harmon Coxe, Baynard Kendrick, and Aaron Marc Stein) who, though very popular in their own time, have fallen into relative obscurity. The journalist author of this welcome biography is determined to get the facts right, and the subject’s life is so varied and interesting that the reader who overlooks the messy organization, awkward repetition, and sometimes tortured prose will be delighted with the informational content, including irrelevant but fascinating tangents (such as an anecdote about Edwin Balmer and Sinclair Lewis that has nothing to do with Philips/Pentecost). In addition to pulp stories in various genres, many American Magazine mystery novellas with unusual backgrounds, scripts for radio and early TV, and books about series sleuths like hotelier Pierre Chambrun and artist-crusader John Jericho, the five-times-married Philips had rewarding but less lucrative careers as the founder and guiding force of Connecticut’s Sharon Playhouse, owner of a weekly newspaper, and volunteer long-term columnist for another. Frequent quotes from his letters and other writings are an added benefit.

The 51-page bibliography is divided into four sections, each of them arranged alphabetically by title: pulp magazines; anthologies and other periodicals; novels; and radio scripts and plays. Items found in agent files but otherwise unconfirmed are noted.

(Personal note: I was pleasantly surprised to find quoted a letter I had forgotten receiving from former American Magazine editor William Hart regarding the 1986 anthology American Murders, which I edited with my wife Rita A. Breen, followed by a reply I didn’t remember writing. The bibliography notes that Pentecost’s “Death in Studio 2” had been included in the anthology. Actually he was represented twice, the other title being “The Corpse was Beautiful.”)

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
The Big Book of Jack the Ripper
Jon L. Breen

Primarily an anthology of fiction inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders, this also provides a handy one-stop reference to the facts and theories of the case. The first section of 136 double-column pages begins with a summary by psychoanalyst David Abrahamsen from his 1992 book Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper, followed by a selection of primary sources (contemporary newspaper accounts from the The Times of London, witness statements, autopsy reports, and the alleged Ripper letters) and various speculations on the killer’s identity, motives, and characteristics. In a new piece, Stephen Hunter debunks the major theories (including Patricia Cornwell’s as “disappear[ing] into nothingness under the gentlest of scrutiny”) before settling on the same familiar suspect convincingly accused by J.J. Hainsworth in Jack the Ripper—Case Solved 1891, though for a different reason.

The fiction entries include Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger in both short story and novel versions; Ellery Queen’s 1966 novelization of the Sherlock Holmes film A Study in Terror in which detective Queen considers a recently discovered Watson manuscript; classic Ripper-related stories by Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Burke, and many others plus new fiction by Jeffery Deaver, Lindsay Faye, Anne Perry, and Loren D. Estleman. All of the entries have substantial introductions by editor Otto Penzler.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 11:03
Crimson Snow
Ben Boulden

Crimson Snow is a Christmas-themed anthology of mostly forgotten reprints of very traditional British detective stories. It features 11 well-selected stories that are as puzzling, in that wonderful locked-room way, as they are entertaining. The most well-known story is Margery Allingham’s “The Man With the Sack,” which finds Albert Campion at an annual Christmas Eve party. The guest list is a casting call of old money, new money, and the horror of no money. When a valuable diamond necklace goes missing, the obvious suspect is the young man playing Santa Claus, but Campion, with a forgivable coincidence to work with and a few nice deductions, uncovers the true thief.

Victor Gunn’s “Death in December” is the longest and most rewarding of the stories. A ghost story set in the Derbyshire hills, it features everything a traditional mystery should: mysterious setting, myriad suspects, a finely plotted puzzle with clues enough for the reader to be able to solve the crime without actually solving it. There is also the bonus of a disappearing corpse, a ghostly apparition that walks without leaving prints in freshly fallen snow, and a protagonist—Bill Cromwell—who is as curmudgeonly and ill-tempered as any I have encountered.

Included also are stories by Ianthe Jerrold, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert, and the clever murder mystery “The Carol Singers” by Josephine Bell. Each is accompanied by an illuminating introductory note, written by editor Martin Edwards, giving context to both story and author.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 12:03
The Whole Art of Detection
Ben Boulden

The Whole Art of Detection is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories written by noted Sherlockian author Lyndsay Faye. It includes 15 tales, many originally printed in the Strand Magazine, and all have the distinctive style and creativity of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. It is a book Sherlock Holmes devotees will want to savor with small samplings, rather than binge read in only a few sittings.

“The Adventure of the Beggar’s Feast” begins with an unidentified man found in an alleyway, beaten and comatose, with little hope of ever awakening. Holmes is intrigued by the incongruity of the man’s fine clothing and his battered hands—marked by the remnants of repeated frostbite—and utterly satisfied when he uncovers the problem’s solution with its touch of charitable holiday cheer. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” features a mysterious death, illicit and hidden loot, revenge, and a conclusion that surprises even Sherlock Holmes. “The Adventure of the Mad Baritone” masterfully develops a kidnapping plot where a trained opera singer, now living on the streets, is repeatedly kidnapped and then released for no obvious reason. And, to round things out nicely, two of the stories are written by Mr. Holmes himself as journal entries, “Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma” and “Notes Upon the Diadem Club Affair.”

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 12:03
Greg Iles On the Refined Art of Reading
Greg Iles

iles gregWriters read differently than most people. We read the way that singers and songwriters listen to music, learning our trade and modifying our techniques by intuitively studying the work of others. In this sense, reading is not a luxury but a critical tool of our profession. As an aging writer, I find that my reading habits have changed significantly. The onset of vision problems has made the process more difficult, and consequently I choose books more carefully. With my “voracious reader” days behind me, I find myself re-reading classic works more often than discovering new novels. It’s not often that I start something new and decide its worth the investment of time required to finish it. As a younger reader I would finish almost everything, but I no longer have that luxury. Today, I would rather re-read a couple of Patrick OBrian novels than struggle through something mediocre. Nevertheless, I do occasionally discover new gems. One has been the Jack Taylor series by Irish novelist Ken Bruen. From the first chapter of the first book, The Guards, I knew that I was in the hands of a pro, and that what I search for in novels—gems of human insight—could be found aplenty in those pages.

To those readers under 40, I say this: don't take your great vision for granted, and build up your bank of vicarious experience and insight while its effortless for you. Your older self will thank you.

bruen guardsOn that note, I dont do product endorsements, but for those experiencing age-related vision problems, I would recommend the Kindle Paper White, which works differently from other digital readers. Im a lover of actual books, not devices, but I find that the Paper White comes closest to the experience of reading on paper. Most important, it projects light sideways through the screen, and not directly into your eye, which is ideal for late-night reading in bed. And of course most devices allow you to increase the font size of what you are reading. Sadly, a digital device will probably never smell or feel like a real book, but it can compensate for human frailty in many ways. So, let technology be your friend, and read on!

 

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene enews March 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 06 March 2017 01:03

iles greg"Writers read differently than most people....learning our trade and modifying our techniques by intuitively studying the work of others. In this sense, reading is not a luxury but a critical tool of our profession."

Anne Hillerman on Mr. Peterson's Books

hillerman anneWhen I was a sixth grader, a wonderful thing happen. A friend of my parents, a large, pale skinned gentleman named Don Peterson, gave me a book for Christmas.

Getting a book wasn’t unusual. My mother and father, both voracious and enthusiastic readers made sure my siblings and I grew up with the luxury of stories all around us. Before I could read, I slept with books. The Pokey Little Puppy and Johnny Crow’s Garden with its fabulous pictures of animals were my favorites.

But Mr. Peterson’s gift that Christmas was not just any book. He gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes, a huge volume bigger than the Bible and obviously meant for grownups because it had no pictures. Most people would not have considered it appropriate book for a shy, awkward 11-year-old. But Mr. Peterson was not the average guy.

I loved Mr. Peterson, maybe as much as my own dad. He worked with my dad at The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. He and his wife and their adopted Navajo twins lived in the same neighborhood as my rambunctious family. I loved Mr. Peterson because he told me silly little jokes about sunburned Zebras, and because he treated me like a grownup. I loved him even more after he introduced me to Sir Arthur Connon Doyle and the world of Baker Street. I read each of the four novels and 56 short stories in that giant book. My mysterious adventure started on Christmas night and lasted through the spring. That also was the year I got my first pair of glasses, but I don’t blame Sherlock or Mr. Peterson. Like many preteen girls growing up in the 1950s and '60s, I’d read Nancy Drew but I abandoned her after meeting Sherlock.

I stuck with my other favorite, however, the magical adventure stories of Edith Nesbit. Some wise adult in my lifemaybe it was Mr. Peterson againgave me Nesbit’s The Five Children and It. I still have that yellow book on my bookshelf, along with the fine, huge old Sherlock. That, and the other Nesbit stories may have appealed to me because they are complicated and clever and funny. Nesbit knew how to build suspense, a key factor in any who-done-it. The Five Children and It features a grumpy, odd-looking being called a Psammead who grants the children wishes, that, fulfilled, lead to trouble. The story enchanted me so much, I went to the library to see if Nesbit had written anything else and I found a few other of her books on the shelf. Like the Sherlock stories, they were full of puzzling developments and unexpected plot turns. I inhaled them.

Books sustained me as an introverted misfit teen. They became my friends, my tools to surviving the emotional roller coaster of adolescence. Because my parents valued good storiesand perhaps because my five siblings demanded much of their timeMom and Dad encouraged me to read broadly and deeply. They were pleased when I asked for a book in which to keep a journal and when I decided to write stories of my own.

My friend Mr. Peterson died before I published my first mystery, but I can still see his pleasure as he watched me open that big Sherlock Holmes book. What gives us readers more joy that sharing books we love with people we think will appreciate them?

 

Anne Hillerman authors the series featuring Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn, and Bernadette Manuelito begun by her father, the bestselling author Tony Hillerman, in the 1970s. 

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews April 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 March 2017 04:03