Saturday, 29 June 2019 15:46

Michael Niemann, left, grew up in a small town in Germany, 10 kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. For more information, visit:

No Right Way (Coffeetown Press), the fourth in the Valentin Vermeulen thriller series, is set in the fall of 2015. In this novel, the refugee stream from Syria into Turkey has swelled to unprecedented numbers. Valentin Vermeulen, investigator for the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, is assigned to check that the money sent to alleviate the crisis is spent for the intended purposes. He visits a newly established UN sub-office in Gaziantep, southern Turkey, before making his way to a rough tent camp. His investigation into why the refugees in the camp haven’t received any aid leads to the discovery of an audacious fraud.

In this essay, Niemann discusses the politics before No Right Way.

On the first pages of No Right Way, readers meets Rima Ahmadi. She’s in her mid-twenties, a primary school teacher, and she’s a refugee. She’s fled Syria for Turkey after her home was hit by a missile and her family was killed.

From a purely legal perspective, she is a refugee, at least according to the definition in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. She is a person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

This definition is the core of the international treaty that was first adopted in 1951. At that time, the definition applied only to persons who became refugees before January 1, 1951. In addition, signatories could choose to limit the applicability to Europe only. In 1967 a protocol was adopted that removed the temporal limitation, but not the geographical limitation.

The treaty also spells out how a refugee ought to be treated. In general, a refugee is entitled to the same treatment and benefits as any other foreigner legally inside the host country, that is, it guarantees access to education, work, social services, etc. Equally important, it prohibits government from returning refugees to the country from which they fled, unless that country is deemed save again.

So, on paper at least, Rima Ahmadi is entitled everything other foreigners in Turkey get. But this is where reality differs from legal documents. When Turkey ratified the original treaty, it chose to limit its obligation to refugees coming from Europe only. In 1967, Turkey made sure that this limitation remained in place. So people, who, like Ahmadi crossed from Syria are not considered refugees in Turkey. Instead the government considers them “guests” of Turkey.

This means that Ahmadi is not entitled to the services and public institutions available in Turkey. Those Syrians who managed to get into the official refugee camps set up by the Turkish government are certainly treated well, they receive services, medical care, etc., but even they weren’t allowed to work in Turkey until 2016.

Those who don’t live in an official camp—and that’s about ninety percent of the refugees—are on their own. There are, of course, local and international charities and NGOs working with refugees, but their resources are limited and they don’t reach all refugees equally.

I tried to capture what that’s like in the character of Ahmadi. Doing that from the safety of my own existence in the U.S. makes me automatically an “unreliable narrator.” No matter how much I read about the conditions of refugees, even in their own accounts, I did not experience being a refugee. The best I can do is to imagine what it must feel like to be displaced. And no matter how empathetic I might be, I’m a white man, so even my empathy is filtered through those lenses. But, I’m a writer, so I have to try. This is what I imagined.

It begins with not having a place to live. Before the war, urban Syrians lived in solid houses. Living in a tent camp is as bad as things can be. Ahmadi lives in a small tent next to other refugees. There’re no showers, no private toilets. Privacy is non-existent. Even basic safety is precarious, there’s no door you can lock. Yes, there is solidarity among many refugees, but it’s important that the mass of refugees included all kinds of folks, including criminals.

The next thing is the lack of money. Syrian refugees, unlike many others in the world, managed tap into their savings before they left, but paying for transport, bribes, etc., and the cost of living quickly makes a serious dent into their resources. Finding work to supplement the meager support form charities is crucial.

Without a work permit, that means entering the informal labor market and that means working lousy jobs for even lousier pay. Sweatshop work abounds for Syrian refugees in Turkey and agricultural work is just as bad. Wages are low and, given their undocumented status, cheating and exploitation abound. Ahmadi experiences that first hand at the vineyard where she picks grapes.

Educational opportunities are scarce and the language of instruction is Turkish, not Arabic. There are some special schools for refugee kids but those are usually in the official camps. Youths skip school, roam the streets, beg, and sometimes get in trouble. Many Turkish citizens have gotten tired of the Syrian refugees. There are after all 3.5 million of them in the country. The treatment has gotten frostier than it was in the initial days.

Imagine all this and then imagine having to navigate that. Everything you knew is gone, you may have lost some or all of your loved ones. You are destitute and your education and degrees mean nothing anymore. You can’t understand the language and people are angry with you because you don’t. You put up with harassment and, if you’re a woman, with sexual advances and assault. You don’t trust anybody anymore, not even your fellow refugees. What little you have could be stolen any moment. And on top of it, everyone expects you to be grateful.

All this is only a very partial, rough approximation of what it must be like to live as a refugee. All you want is things to be again as they were but you know they won’t be for a long time. That’s the meaning of despair.

No Right Way for Refugees
Michael Niemann
Saturday, 22 June 2019 15:15

No matter which side you are on in the immigration issue—and this essay will, in no way, be political—America is a country of immigrants.

And mystery fiction has often explored the issue of immigrants through stories about newly arrived foreigners, anxious to make the United States their home, to those who are undocumented. America isn’t the only country that also has immigration issues.

Here are some mysteries that include immigrants in their plots.

The Darkness, by Ragnar Jonasson. Days from retirement, Reykjavík Det. Insp. Hulda Hermannsdóttir investigates the death of a young Russian woman who was seeking asylum in Iceland.

The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. The first in Lehane’s sprawling epic trilogy about the Coughlin family also is about the American experience. Cops and gangsters as well as white and black families fuel the three novels that begin in Boston, move to Tampa and, finally Cuba.

Hunters in the Dark, by Lawrence Osborn. A young Englishman loses himself in Cambodia and Thailand to escape his life as a small-town teacher.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The anonymous narrator was a North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army who embeds himself in the exiled South Vietnamese community in the United States. Won the 2016 Edgar Award for best first novel.

Bad Country, by C.B. McKenzie. Arizona bounty hunter and private detective Rodeo Grace Garnet is hired by an elderly Indian woman whose grandson was murdered. The evocative setting is filled with a rough landscape where undocumented immigrants are crossing the Sonoran Desert. Nominated in 2015 for an Edgar Award for best first novel.

Broken Windows, by Paul D. Marks. A sequel to the Shamus-winning White Heat, Broken Windows is set in 1994 during California's Proposition 187, which was an anti-illegal alien initiative. Marks shows how the immigration issue hasn’t changed.

The Foreigner, by Francie Lin. A Taiwanese American financial analyst travels from San Francisco to Taipei to scatter his mother's ashes and re-establish contact with his brother, who inherited the family hotel and is involved with the Taiwanese criminal underworld. Won the 2009 Edgar Award for best first novel.

Asylum City, by Liad Shoham. A look at the immigration policies in Tel Aviv, a destination for asylum seekers from Africa.

The Jasmine Trade by Denise Hamilton. L.A. reporter Eve Diamond follows a story about the “jasmine trade" in which girls are smuggled from Chinese provinces and forced into prostitution.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, by Rhys Bowen. The latest in Bowen’s series about Mary Murphy who leaves Ireland to settle in America.

Immigrant Mysteries
Oline H Cogdill
Saturday, 15 June 2019 18:39

Several years ago, I wrote a feature about gay sleuths for the Sun Sentinel, the newspaper for which I worked for 29 years.

And this being Pride Month, it’s the perfect time to read these novels.

The following list is culled from my previous story and a list that author Greg Herren has been posting on Facebook page and on his blog. At the end of June, Herren plans to post his entire list.

George Baxt—Baxt apparently had the first openly gay male detective to be published by a major publisher, a character named Pharoah Love, who appeared in A Queer Kind of Death in 1966. After a string of novels, Love disappeared until he was brought back in 1994's A Queer Kind of Love after a 26-year hiatus. The Love series never really caught on. Baxt found more success writing historical mysteries involving celebrities or movie stars of the ’30s to ’50s.

John Copenhaver—his novel Dodging and Burning was one of the top debuts during 2018. A riveting look at life for gay men and lesbians during America’s post-WWII era, set in a small Virginia town and in the military. It is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-out tale. Dodging and Burning has been nominated for four best first novel awards: the Anthony, the Strand Critics Award, the Lambda, and the Barry Award.

Robert W. Fieseler—chronicles a fire in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 32 people and its impact on the gay community in Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, which won the 2019 Edgar Award for best fact crime and Lambda Literary's Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. It also was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Shelf Awareness.

Katherine V. Forrest—has written about homicide detective Kate Delafield since 1984.

Joseph Hansen—remains a touchstone in gay mysteries. His series about Dave Brandstetter debuted with Fadeout in 1970. A low-key insurance investigator, Brandstetter was a likable character who approached his work in a professional manner and had relationships with men. Before his last appearance in 1991's A Country of Old Men, Brandstetter had attracted a large cross-section of readers.

Ellen Hart—her traditional mysteries about lesbian restaurateur Jane Lawless and her smart-mouth best friend, Cordelia Thorn began in 1989. Her 30 years of involving stories has earned her myriad awards. She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2017.She will receive the Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic during the 2020 convention.

Greg Herren—the prolific Herren has written multiple series, including the Scotty Bradley and the Chanse MacLeod novels set in his hometown of New Orleans and was the editor of the award-winning short story anthology Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem, and Suspense from the Sunshine State.

Val McDermid—launched her career with novels about journalist and Socialist Lindsay Gordon.

Michael Nava—his novels about attorney Henry Rios took on social issues while delivering solid plots and three-dimensional characters. Nava adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head, into an 18-episode podcast. Carved in Bone, the first new Rios novel is 20 years, will be published during the fall 2019.

Abigail Padgett—her series about social psychologist Blue McCarron began with Blue.

Neil Plakcy—writes two series: Golden Retriever Mysteries about a man whose lifeline is his dog, and the The Mahu Investigations about a gay police detective who lives in Hawaii.

J. M. Redmann—is a multiple Lambda winner, whose hard-drinking, hard-luck heroine Micky Knight set the standard for the hardboiled lesbian private eye.

Christopher Rice
—his suspenseful thrillers have included insightful looks at gay soldiers, coming of age issues and terrorism.

John Morgan Wilson
—became the first openly gay author writing about an openly gay detective to win an Edgar Award for best first novel in 1996 with Simple Justice. His character Benjamin Justice was a burned-out, disgraced former reporter turned private detective.

R.D. Zimmerman—began his career writing two non-gay series and creating mystery jigsaw puzzles until he created a new series with a gay private detective. Zimmerman, a Lambda Literary Award winner and two-time Edgar nominee, began that series with 1995's Closet, an award-winning paperback original about TV news reporter Todd Mills.

And here is a list of some novels, most of them courtesy Greg Herren:

Cobalt by Nathan Aldyne

Adrenaline by James Robert Baker

A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite

Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver

Eye Contact by Michael Craft

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (nonfiction)

Cottonmouths by Kelly Ford

Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest

Fadeout by Joseph Hanson

Wicked Games by Ellen Hart

The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman

Garden District Gothic by Greg Herren

The Talented Mr. Ripley/Carol/Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Faked to Death by Dean James

The President's Son by Krandall Kraus

Brotherly Love by Randye Lordon

Blood Link by Claire McNab

A Body to Dye For by Grant Michaels

The Gold Diggers by Paul Monette

Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava

The Lure by Felice Picano

Mahu by Neil Plakcy

Intersection of Law and Desire by J. M. Redmann

A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice

I'll Be Leaving You Always by Sandra Scoppettone

Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson

Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson

She Came by the Book by Mary Wings

Closet by R.D. Zimmerman

A Simple Suburban Murder by Mark Richard Zubro

Mysteries for Pride Month
Oline H. Cogdill