Monday, 17 April 2023

David Baldacci photo by Allen Jones

"Book banning and book burning...unfortunately, have a long shelf life. And readers know neither has ever had good historical outcomes, quite the reverse."

I was born and raised in heavily segregated Richmond, Virginia, the old capital of the Confederacy. I grew up with people who, to this day, believe the “old ways” were best, and we should make all due haste to return to them. What perhaps saved me from a similar fate was reading. I would go to the library and learn about folks who didn't look, speak, learn, or pray like me, but we shared the common core of humanity.

When I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I didn't realize it was just the warmup for Huck Finn, and his momentous acceptance of choosing an eternity in hell over ratting out his friend, who happened to be a Black slave. Harper Lee continued my education with To Kill A Mockingbird, but her “savior” story had limitations and suffered from what I would term “blinder boundaries” of a white person writing about the Black experience in America. However, Native Son by Richard Wright, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin brought it all home for me and fueled my escape from a life perspective that still engages far too many.

Baldwin Ellison Wright © Montage JA : Ulf Andersen / Aurimages via AFP

James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright © Montage JA : Ulf Andersen / Aurimages via AFP

My belief is that readers are more far tolerant, curious, open-minded, and willing to change their minds when presented with compelling evidence than are nonreaders. Those who embrace books have a firm context within which to place and measure current events. Two such examples are book banning and book burning, which, unfortunately, have a long shelf life. And readers know neither has ever had good historical outcomes, quite the reverse.

Opening a book for me is a welcoming invitation into the author's imagination. As a reader I longed to be a writer, the one whose imagination others would be invited to visit. When I write a book, I give readers a template only. And a book is never depleted to zero until the last reader experiences it. The half-life of uranium has nothing on books!

Next time you open a book, appreciate the work and discipline that went into it. And then sit back and commence to lay your own imprimatur on the story—it's a way to keep books alive forever, which should be our sacred duty.

David Baldacci on Reading for an Open Mind
David Baldacci
Friday, 14 April 2023

Mystery writer Anne Perry passed away on April 10, 2023, at the age of 84, at a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a decline in health and a heart attack in December 2022.

Perry published her first book, The Cater Street Hangman, in in 1979. It featured detecting duo Victorian police officer Thomas Pitt and his eventual wife, Charlotte Ellison, and launched an accomplished mystery-writing career that would go on to span four decades, put 26 million copies of her novels into print worldwide, and earn Perry an Edgar Award (for best short story “Heroes” in 2000), the Premio de Honor Aragón Negro award, and inclusion in The Times “100 Masters of Crime” list.

Despite her well-earned fame as a novelist, Perry’s true-life association with crime often threatened to overshadow her career accomplishments. Born in London as Juliet Marion Hulme in 1938, she was 15 years old and living in Christchurch, New Zealand, with her family when she was convicted in the murder of Honorah Parker, the mother of Perry’s childhood best friend, Pauline Yvonne Parker.

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne PerryThe crime and the trial was much sensationalized at the time, with a media focus on Hulme and Parker’s intense attachment to one another and the gruesomeness of Honorah Parker’s death by bludgeoning. Hulme served 5 years in prison as a juvenile, and was given a new identity upon her release. She eventually moved to Scotland, then, in 1967, to California in the United States, where Perry fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a writer.

Perry had already enjoyed success as a mystery writer for more than two decades, when in 1994, her past came to light around the time Peter Jackson’s film based on the real-life crime, Heavenly Creatures, was released. Perry found herself once again reluctantly in the media spotlight. In a 2003 interview for the Guardian, she said, “It seemed so unfair. Everything I had worked to achieve as a decent member of society was threatened. And once again my life was being interpreted by someone else. It had happened in court when, as a minor, I wasn't allowed to speak and I heard all these lies being told. And now there was a film, but nobody had bothered to talk to me. I knew nothing about it until the day before release.”

Perry’s own work often dealt with themes of morality, revenge, and repentance. In addition to her long-running (32 novels) Charlotte and Thomas Pitt historical series, she authored a Daniel Pitt spinoff series (featuring the couple’s grown son). The sixth installment of Daniel’s adventures, The Fourth Enemy, hit book shelves in the United States just a day after Perry’s passing.

Perry was also the pen behind the much-beloved Hester and William Monk series set in Victorian London, beginning with The Face of a Stranger (1990), for which she completed 25 books in all. Her readers always looked forward to her annual Christmas books, and enjoyed the writer’s other series, including her WWI series, and her most recent, featuring Elena Standish, a photographer pre-WWII, which Perry began in 2019 with A Death in Focus.

There is moment in Standish’s second book, A Question of Betrayal, in which Perry pehaps says it better than anyone else: “Pieces of our lives being chipped away reminds us of our own fragility, and how precious life is."


Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Series
The Cater Street Hangman (1979)
Callander Square (1980)
Paragon Walk (1981)
Resurrection Row (1981)
Rutland Place (1983)
Bluegate Fields (1984)
Death in the Devil's Acre (1985)
Cardington Crescent (1987)
Silence in Hanover Close (1988)
Bethlehem Road (1990)
Highgate Rise (1991)
Belgrave Square (1992)
Farrier's Lane (1993)
The Hyde Park Headsman (1994)
Traitors Gate (1995)
Pentecost Alley (1996)
Ashworth Hall (1997)
Brunswick Gardens (1998)
Bedford Square (1999)
Half Moon Street (2000)
The Whitechapel Conspiracy (2001)
Southampton Row (2002)
Seven Dials (2003)
Long Spoon Lane (2005)
Buckingham Palace Gardens (2008)
Betrayal at Lisson Grove (U.S. title: Treason at Lisson Grove) (2011)
Dorchester Terrace (2012)
Midnight at Marble Arch (2013)
Death on Blackheath (2014)
The Angel Court Affair (2015)
Treachery at Lancaster Gate (2016)
Murder on the Serpentine (2016)

Daniel Pitt Series
Twenty-One Days (2018)
Triple Jeopardy (2019)
One Fatal Flaw (2020)
Death with a Double Edge (2021)
Three Debts Paid (2022)
The Fourth Enemy (2023)

Hester Latterly and William Monk Series
The Face of a Stranger (1990)
A Dangerous Mourning (1991)
Defend and Betray (1992)
A Sudden, Fearful Death (1993)
The Sins of the Wolf (1994)
Cain His Brother (1995)
Weighed in the Balance (1996)
The Silent Cry (1997)
A Breach of Promise (alt. title: Whited Sepulchres) (1997)
The Twisted Root (1999)
Slaves of Obsession (alt. title: Slaves and Obsession) (2000)
A Funeral in Blue (2001)
Death of a Stranger (2002)
The Shifting Tide (2004)
Dark Assassin (2006)
Execution Dock (2009)
Acceptable Loss (2011)
A Sunless Sea (2012)
Blind Justice (2013)
Blood on the Water (2014)
Corridors of the Night (2015)
Revenge in a Cold River (2016)
An Echo of Murder (2017)
Dark Tide Rising (2018)
Elena Standish Series Death in Focus (2019)
A Question of Betrayal (2020)
A Darker Reality (2021)
A Truth To Lie For (2022)
The Traitor Among Us (forthcoming, 2023)

The World War I series
No Graves As Yet (2003)
Shoulder the Sky (2004)
Angels in the Gloom (2005)
At Some Disputed Barricade (2006)
We Shall Not Sleep (2007)

The Christmas stories
A Christmas Journey (2003)
A Christmas Visitor (2004)
A Christmas Guest (2005)
A Christmas Secret (2006)
A Christmas Beginning (2007)
A Christmas Grace (2008)
A Christmas Promise (2009)
A Christmas Odyssey (2010)
A Christmas Homecoming (2011)
A Christmas Garland (2012)
A Christmas Hope (2013)
A New York Christmas (2014)
A Christmas Escape (2015)
A Christmas Message (2016)
A Christmas Return (2017)
A Christmas Revelation (2018)
A Christmas Gathering (2019)
A Christmas Resolution (2020)
A Christmas Legacy (2021)
A Christmas Deliverance (2022)

Tathea (2000)
Come Armageddon (2002)

Timepiece Series (young adult novels)
Tudor Rose (2011)
Rose of No Man's Land (2011)
Blood Red Rose (2012)
Rose Between Two Thorns (2012)

Other Books
The One Thing More (2000)
A Dish Taken Cold (2001)
I'd Kill for That (2004, co-written by multiple authors)
Letters from the Highlands (2004)
Heroes (2011)
The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel (2010)
The Scroll (2014)

Short Story Anthologies
Death by Horoscope (2001, edited by Perry)
Much Ado About Murder (2002, edited by Perry)
Death by Dickens (2004, edited by Perry)
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Biblical Mystery Stories (2005, edited by Perry)

Anne Perry (October 28, 1938–April 10, 2023), Dies at Age 84
Mystery Scene
Monday, 10 April 2023

Jesse Q. Sutanto

Jesse Q. Sutanto has written what is so far one of my favorite reads of 2023. Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is hilarious, sweet, and anchored by the utterly fabulous character of Vera Wong, who owns a tiny tea store in San Francisco. Sutanto has written books for young adults and middle grade readers, as well as adults, and her book Dial A for Aunties is being adapted into a film with Nahnatchka Khan (Fresh Off the Boat and Always Be My Maybe) for Netflix. This year alone Sutanto has four books being published, so I am truly grateful she had a moment to sit down and answer a few questions.

Robing Agnew for Mystery Scene: I just loved this book! Vera’s voice is so strong and she just gets inside your head. Can you talk about creating her?

Jesse Q. Sutanto: Vera was almost unfairly easy to create, because she is basically my mom combined with a dash of my dad, with the dial turned up to 100. All of her little snippets of wisdom, such as believing that drinking cold water would freeze the fats in your arteries and give you heart disease, are practically direct quotes from my parents. Just FYI, my parents would like all of you to stop drinking cold water.

I loved the characters so much, I wasn’t even thinking about the mystery part. However there is a mystery here: What was important to you as you were crafting the puzzle part of the novel?

This was the first time I’d ever written a whodunit, so it was a very tricky process for me! The most important thing for me while writing was to make it possible that any of the other four characters might be the killer. That nearly broke my brain.

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. SutantoYou got your start in young adult novels. What are the differences between writing young adult books as opposed to novels for adults? I’ve noticed that YA authors who cross over to “grown up” books come equipped with the gift of pacing their books.

I haven’t had to change much between each age category. I certainly don’t “dumb down” the writing or anything like that. The main thing I do is to be very aware of the different boundaries and life goals that come with each age category. For example, in YA, my characters are all in high school, which comes with a certain set of rules. They usually have curfews, they have to abide by school rules, etc., and this naturally helps to shape the story.

I loved the setting of Vera's little tea room. There’s a great amount of detail about the different teas. Can you talk about that a bit? Research? Personal love for tea?

My grandparents all came from China, and my maternal grandfather felt strongly that I should be able to brew and serve Chinese tea competently, so I grew up learning about a lot of different Chinese teas. When I was 16, I went on a trip to China with my family and we visited a tea farm, where I learned even more about various Chinese teas. So I came into the book already with a good foundation of knowledge, not just about Chinese tea, but also about quite a few of the ingredients that Vera uses in the book. I still had to do a bit of research, but I was pleased to find that for the most part, my research served to affirm what I’d learned from my grandfather years ago.

I also loved the food. It’s a book where the food practically jumps off the page. Are you a cook yourself? Did you make yourself hungry when you were writing about it? I got hungry reading it!

I do cook, but not the complicated dishes that Vera does! I live in Indonesia now, so I have easy access to a lot of Chinese food, but this wasn’t the case when I lived in Oxford, England. I was sooo homesick then. The dishes that I put in the book are ones that I missed very, very much when I was away from home. Total comfort food for the soul.

This book was sweet, but not in a corny way. It’s well balanced by humor. Can you talk about creating that balance?

I started out by creating broken characters; everyone in the book is broken in their own way, even Vera. And from there, I sought to make them more whole by the end of the book. The humor came naturally, because again, I was always channeling my parents, and I’d just ask myself: “What would mama say in this situation?” So I didn’t really think too much about creating a balance, it was just based on whatever felt right for the scene.

Did you have a favorite character to write, other than Vera? All of them undergo some kind of transformation or growth which must have been fun to write.

My favorite character to write other than Vera would have to be Sana. Did you spot the self-insert, by the way? Sana’s mom is a writer who obnoxiously releases four books a year…ha ha! Sorry, I crack myself up. I was very tickled when I came up with the idea of Sana’s mother, and I really enjoyed exploring how having a mom like that might put extra pressure on poor Sana. (I hope I’m never like that toward my own daughters.)

What’s your favorite thing about sitting down to write every day? And what is your least favorite?

My favorite part is when you get into this magical state where everything falls away and you’re fully absorbed into the story. The words flow out faster than your fingers can type, and it’s a beautiful feeling chasing the story as it rushes out of you. Truly, nothing better than that sensation. My least favorite is some days, the words come out fighting every step of the way. I don’t know why, but sometimes it just happens, and on those days, I have to grit my teeth and grind all the way through until I hit my word count goal.

Can you name a book that was transformational for you, as a reader or as a writer?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It transformed the entire suspense genre for me. I used to love the genre, but it was so dominated by male authors and after a while, all of the graphic rape scenes got to me. Then I picked up Gone Girl, and it blew my mind. Blew everything else out of the water. I’d never come across anything so diabolical, so complicated, and so well-thought-out. Pure genius. We’re so blessed to have Gillian Flynn’s books.

What’s next for you? A vacation? Will there be another Vera book? (I hope!)

I actually have four books scheduled for publication this year! Vera, the sequel to my MG Fantasy Theo Tan and the Iron Fan, my adult suspense I’m Not Done With You Yet, and my YA rom-com Didn’t See That Coming. I’m so excited about all of them! I finished writing a new book last month, so currently I’m on a break, but I do plan to start writing again sometime in May—an epic fantasy that’s been on my mind for years. Wish me luck because it is going to be a hefty project!

Jesse Q. Sutanto is a Chinese-Indonesian author. As of 2022, she has published six novels, including for adults, young adults, and middle grade readers. Her novel Dial A for Aunties won the 2021 Comedy Women in Print Prize and has been optioned for a film by Netflix. She currently lives in Jakarta with her husband, who is English, and their two children.

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.


Solicited Advice from Jesse Q. Sutanto
Robin Agnew