Tuesday, 16 April 2019 20:00

Pictured: Author Maureen Jennings

The British born, Canadian writer Maureen Jennings is best known for her Inspector Murdoch series set in Victorian-era Toronto (which is also a popular CBC television series by the same name). She’s also written a series set in England during WWII featuring Detective Tom Tyler. With her latest book, Heat Wave, she introduces a new series set in 1936 Toronto and a new main character, a private investigator’s assistant named Charlotte Frayne. Mystery Scene's Robin Agnew caught up with the busy author to discuss the author's new Paradise Cafe Mystery series.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: In your new Paradise Cafe Mystery series, you introduce Charlotte Frayne. After two decades spent inside the heads of male characters, how does it feel to be writing a woman?

Maureen: Really nice. I’m using a first-person narrative and it feels very comfortable.

This book is set in 1936 Toronto, so it's a very different feel from Murdoch's Toronto. How has the city and setting changed from the 1880s to the 1930s?

Oh gosh so much. This actually felt like a contemporary novel. Skirts were shorter, conventions looser. Women certainly had more freedom to pursue an independent life in 1936 (thanks to WWI). Technology had advanced (i.e the telephone and dictaphone were in common use). Lots more cars.

Heat Wave begins at the cusp of WWII. How was this time different in Canada than it was in Europe?

Other than the threat of being invaded, which Europe had to face, the issues were similar. For example, how far can one allow tyranny to go?

Can you discuss more about what the Paradise Cafe is? It's such a profound idea to have a cafe started by former POWs.

I had read about POWs who were starving, spending many hours talking about food—meals they had loved in the past, recipes they shared. At first, I was surprised. I thought if you were hungry, the last thing you’d want to talk about would be food, but apparently not.

So I followed up on that and had my four main characters decide to get a cafe and run it together. The city and the country at the time were still in the grip of the terrible depression, so they decide to cook meals that are inexpensive, andunlike what they had been forced to eat while they were prisonerswhat they serve is delicious.

When they were POWs reminiscing and sharing the meals they had loved, they would say, …And that was Paradise." So, they named the cafe, The Paradise Cafe. A place where they know your name and all you have say is, "I’ll have the same."

Your Murdoch novels address important social issues, and your new book does as well. What issues were important to you as you wrote this novel?

Inequality and injustice. Prejudice. The vital attempts to make things better, as my men do.

How likely would it have been for a woman to have functioned as a private eye in 1936?

They certainly existed, but would have mainly dealt with domestic situations, which meant really that they had to spy on the putative unfaithful spouse. Divorces were difficult to get unless you could prove adultery. I don’t stray too far from this in this book. Women were always considered to be more emotional than men, and would deal with emotional situations that they could therefore understand.

After twenty years of writing, what still excites you about our work?

There’s always so much to share. I read a lot in the area I’m researching and there’s always something new that I discover. Then I want to tell everybody about it.

Do you have a favorite character from among those you've created?

Difficult to answer this one. I must say, I do like Murdoch. I suppose there’s something of me in him. At least I give him concerns that I consider to be important. I do like his son, Jack, who comes into Let Darkness Bury the Dead and I am proud of Fiona Williams the ventriloquist (also in that book). I’ve always wanted to study ventriloquism. Having an alter ego can be a good way of saying things you might be too polite to say normally.

And finally, what's next for Charlotte Frayne?

I’m looking forward to sending Charlotte on another adventure. This time I’ve become fascinated with the labor struggles of the period when courageous women in the sweatshops tried to rally and go on strike for better conditions. Charlotte will go undercover to suss out what’s happening.

Maureen Jennings, now a Canadian citizen, was born in the UK and emigrated to Canada as a teenager. After a long career as a psychotherapist, she is now writing full time and has published one novella, 13 novels of crime fiction, and one book of non-fiction relating to creativity, as well as four professionally produced plays. She is the author of the Inspector Murdoch novels as well as being a consultant and occasional scriptwriter for the Murdoch television show. She has been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Bruce Alexander, and Macavity awards, as well as being nominated eight times for Canada's prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for both her novels and her short stories.

Murdoch Mysteries author Maureen Jennings launches a new historical PI series set in 1936 Toronto
Robin Agnew
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 16:41

The International Thriller Writers has announced its 2019 Thriller Awards nominees. ITW will announce the winners at ThrillerFest XIV on July 13, 2019 at the Grand Hyatt, New York City.

November Road, Lou Berney (William Morrow)
Paper Ghosts, Julia Heaberlin (Ballantine Books)
Jar of Hearts, Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur Books)
Pieces of Her, Karin Slaughter (William Morrow)
The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay (William Morrow)

The Terminal List, Jack Carr (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)
Need to Know, Karen Cleveland (Ballantine Books)
Caged, Ellison Cooper (Minotaur Books)
Something in the Water, Catherine Steadman (Ballantine Books)
The Chalk Man, C. J. Tudor (Crown)

The Lost Man, Jane Harper (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Good Samaritan, John Marrs (Thomas & Mercer)
The Naturalist, Andrew Mayne (Thomas & Mercer)
Gone Dark, Kirk Russell (Thomas & Mercer)
Mister Tender's Girl, Carter Wilson (Sourcebooks Landmark)

“The Victims’ Club,” Jeffery Deaver, (Amazon Original Stories)
“10,432 Serial Killers (In Hell),” Emily Devenport, (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“Window to the Soul”, Scott Loring Sanders, (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
“Nana,” Helen Smith, Killer Women: Crime Club Anthology #2 (Killer Women Ltd.)
“Tough Guy Ballet,” Duane Swierczynski, For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon (Pegasus Books)

Girl at the Grave, Teri Bailey Black (Tor Teen)
The Lies They Tell, Gillian French (HarperTeen)
Warcross, Marie Lu (Penguin Young Readers/G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
People Like Us, Dana Mele (Penguin Young Readers/G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
The Perfect Candidate, Peter Stone (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Murder on the Marshes, Clare Chase (Bookouture)
Executive Force, Gary Grossman (Diversion Books)
The Reunion, Samantha Hayes (Bookouture)
The Memory Detective, T.S. Nichols (Alibi)
Pray for the Innocent, Alan Orloff (Kindle Press)

Congratulations to all the finalists!

2019 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees
Mystery Scene
Monday, 18 March 2019 17:01

Tim O'Mara's editorial debut, Down to the River, a crime anthology of 22 short stories, aims to raise funds for the conservation nonprofit American Rivers.

Tim O’Mara’s first novel, Sacrifice Fly, came out in 2012 and I was instantly smitten by his main character, teacher, and accidental investigator Raymond Donne. With a nice mix of humor and grit and a very authentic sense of place, O'Mara wrote a wonderful first novel. He’s now working on his fifth Raymond Donne novel, a standalone high school-based crime drama So Close to Me, and gearing up for the April release of Down to the River, a crime anthology of 22 short stories he edited, the proceeds of which will go to support the work of the conservation nonprofit American Rivers.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: You started out with a terrific PI series featuring a teacher. You also were a teacher. Can you talk a little bit about how your two life threads intersected?

Tim O'Mara: My Raymond Donne series—ex-NYPD cop turned NYC public schoolteacher—started when I was making a house visit to check on a student I hadn’t seen in a while. Here I was, a white guy from Long Island, in the middle of a three-building housing project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and all the other folks were Hispanic, African American and Hassidic Jews. I thought, “This would be a great opening to a detective story.” I’ve now had four Raymond Books published and am working on my fifth.

If you think about it, good schoolteachers and good cops share a lot of the same skills: questioning, empathy, patience, the ability to get people to talk to you. I’m also at an advantage as my brother and brother-in-law are both veteran cops. I have built-in resources whenever I need them.

Publishing is a very changeable business so I know you have to be nimble. What kinds of things have you learned since your first book was published? Would you do anything differently?

Publishing is a weird business. It’s the classic example of “Just when I think I have some answers, they change the questions on me.” I have also learned the value of a good editor, and with Matt Martz at St. Martin’s for my first three books, I had one of the best. The education I received from him was worth as much as my advances.

The other big thing I learned is all I have control over is the book. Writers have to write, plain and simple. I’ve also learned that in between the writing, there’s a lot of promotion and marketing to be done on my end. I married well in that regard.

You have now edited a short story collection, ad I have a couple of questions about it. First of all it’s called Down to the River – so, crime stories set on rivers, I’m thinking? Who came up with the concept?

The concept of Down to the River was all mine. I was inspired by Eric Beetner’s wonderful anthology Unloaded—also published by Down & Out Books—which was a collection of short crime stories with no guns. Down to the River was inspired by my living near the Hudson River and the East River; I love rivers and felt they’d make great settings for crime stories. Based on the 22 stories I received, I was right.

How different was it to sit in the editor’s seat and how did you choose stories for the anthology?

Putting on the editor’s cap for the first time was a humbling experience. It’s a different skill set from writing. I had to be respectful of each author’s story, while at the same time making sure the story was being told in the most creative ways. I was constantly asking myself, “Am I looking to change things because that’s the way I would write it, or because the story is better that way?”

Every writer whose work I edited was respectful of my edits and was not shy about not always agreeing with me. At the end of the day, it’s a fragile balance between how they see their story and making it a better story. This time around, I mostly acquiesced to their points of view. After all, they all generously donated their stories to this collection and the mission of American Rivers.

Short stories are such a great way to discover new writers. What can readers look forward to discovering in Down to the River?

There are many amazing “new” voices in Down to the River. I made a conscious effort to be as diversified as possible in choosing the authors. (I didn’t want the literary equivalent of a Woody Allen movie.) Anyone can fill an anthology with white male authors. I am very pleased with the idea that readers of this collection will be introduced to authors they never heard of before, and some who have never been published.

We read to hear the experiences of others; the more different those voices and experiences are from our own, the more we learn and the more we understand.

This book is going to be supporting the nonprofit, American Rivers. Can you tell us more about the organization?

American Rivers is an organization that advocates for the protection of our fragile waterways, both large and small. They educate the public about these fragilities and the importance of rivers as sources of food, travel, recreation, and how rivers help maintain nature’s delicate balance.

It’s humbling to understand that I can drop a piece of garbage in the Iowa section of the Missouri River and that piece of garbage stands a good chance of making its way to the Gulf of Mexico and then the Atlantic Ocean. Rivers literally connect us all as citizens of the world. We need to respect that.

What’s next for you as a writer or editor?

I am currently working on my fifth Raymond Donne novel, The Hook. My deadline is the end of May, so I’m hoping for a late 2019 pub date or early 2020. I’m also working on a third novella featuring Aggie, who was in Smoked and Jammed, in the books Triple Shot and Three Strikes respectively. Both books were published by Down & Out and also feature novellas from Charles Salzberg and Ross Klavan. Our third collection is due out in the fall of 2020.

I’m also working on a high school-based crime drama, So Close to Me, inspired by the works of Megan Abbott. And I’m teaching "Writing the Novel" to adults and working with incarcerated youth on Riker’s Island in a reading/writing program. (Thank goodness I “retired” a year-and-a-half ago.)

Finally, can you tell us something a little bit unexpected about yourself?

Something unexpected about me? As a crime/mystery writer, I have no dark side. I wish I did sometimes. I had a very suburban upbringing with a solid family support system and a generally optimistic outlook on life.

Also, I do believe that most—if not all—of life’s situations can be better understood through baseball metaphors and analogies.

TIM O'MARA is best known for his Raymond Donne mysteries about an ex-cop who now teaches in the same Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood he once policed. O'Mara taught special education for 30 years in the public middle schools of New York City, where he now teaches adult writing workshops and still lives.

New York author Tim O'Mara edits anthology "Down to the River" to raise awareness and funds for river conservation
Robin Agnew