Mysteries Amid the Stacks
Oline H. Cogdill


lehanecon Murderatthe42ndStreetLibrary
Ah, the library—a bastion of knowledge, a home for books of all kinds, a place where one can relax and read or research.

And a pretty good place to set a mystery.

I love libraries.

I spent a lot of my childhood happily in the library of my small Missouri town, reading just about everything in the children’s section.

That’s why I gravitated to mysteries so early—I needed another kind of book than those for children.

And I am happy to give presentations or speeches at area libraries.

Libraries have been able to change with the times, offering audiobooks, DVDs, and ebooks, and that makes them as relevant today as ever.

May libraries and librarians rule forever.

Lately, it seems as if there has been an explosion of mysteries set in libraries—which makes perfect sense to me.

In large libraries, there are lots of places to hide among the stacks or conduct clandestine business or spy on people, and that leads suspense.
jamesmiranda arsenicandoldbooks

So here are a few library-based mysteries worth checking out.

All the Little Liars by Charlaine Harris: After a 13-year absence, Lawrenceton, Georgia librarian Aurora Teagarden makes her return in this lively novel. Charlaine Harris put Aurora on hiatus back in 2003 after Poppy Done to Death. Understandable, since Harris has been a bit busy with other kinds of novels. As usual, Harris uses her amateur sleuth to look at contemporary issues such as bullying and entitlement.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane: What better place to launch a new series than the beautiful and iconic New York Public Library on 42nd Street in Manhattan, with its stone lions in front, multiple levels, and history? Here, librarian Raymond “Ray” Ambler heads the library’s crime fiction section, and his insight into the workings of the criminal mind go beyond his job. Readers will enjoy an inside look at the building’s various floors, forgotten stacks, and the veranda overlooking Bryant Park.

Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay: This series has an apt subtitle—”The Library Lover’s Mysteries.” As the director of the Briar Creek Public Library, Lindsey Norris handles patrons and authors with skill. In her latest adventure, Lindsey finds that the Briar Creek Public Library’s first overdue-book amnesty day—no fines for late returns—brings in more materials than she or her staff can handle. But what is that copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye doing there? It was checked out more than 20 years ago by Candice Whitley, a school teacher who was murdered. Her killer was never found. (McKinlay’s previous effort, A Likely Story, is also just out in paperback.)

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James: Miranda James’ novels about Mississippi librarian Charlie and his Maine Coon cat Diesel are just delightful. There is no other word for them. Subtitled “Cat in the Stack Mysteries,” the six novels are an homage to libraries, cats, and small towns. In Arsenic and Old Books, Charlie is asked to preserve and to substantiate a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. Miranda James is the pen name of Agatha Award-winning author Dean James, who writes several series.


Oline Cogdill
2017-01-07 02:12:23
Mystery Writers Are Indeed Nice
Oline H. Cogdill

toddcharles racing
Mystery writers are nice.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been to one of the mystery writers conferences and experienced firsthand how nice they can be.

For the most part, mystery writers are very engaging with their readers, taking the time to talk with them, sign their books, or just have a good discussion.

And, for the most part, mystery writers are pretty generous with each other—promoting another’s work to a fan, praising another author during a panel, or just enjoying each other’s company at the bar or over a meal.

For me, it is just business as usual. I expect no less from mystery writers. Of course, there are a few who are not so nice, but that is their problem.

A few days ago, a friend went with me to the 20th anniversary of Murder on the Beach, the mystery bookstore in Delray Beach, Florida.

The bookstore is in the circulation area of the Sun Sentinel newspaper, for which I freelance book reviews. Often, my reviews refer to an author who will appear at Murder on the Beach.

While I talked with a couple of authors with whom I have an upcoming panel, my friend, Pat, bought books and got them signed by Charles Todd, PJ Parrish, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Andrew Gross.

While I talked with a few others who were there, and saw an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while, Pat listened to the authors talk to readers, and joined in a few conversations.

On our way home, Pat immediately said, “Those mystery writers were so nice.”

She was impressed with how engaged they were with their readers. How one author listened patiently as someone talked about the book they were writing and asked for advice.

These authors made a new fan that night.

But I expected nothing less.

Oline Cogdill
2017-01-11 17:10:00
Lee Child, Andrew Grant, and Family
Oline H. Cogdill

Not every discussion during an interview makes it into the final story. It’s just a fact of journalism that sometimes interesting little tidbits aren’t included, because the main part of the story is long enough.

That’s also true of the submitted copy. Again, sometimes the story is just too long and a bit of editing is needed. As a longtime editor and copy editor, I know the best tools are knowing how to cut a story without ruining it.

So it is with my interview with Lee Child for the cover story of the current issue of Mystery Scene (Holiday Issue No. 147, published in December 2016).

So here is what was trimmed—and it makes a pretty good blog post, too.

Child and I were discussing family issues—how Reacher is alone, but Child is close to his family.

grantandrew falsefriend
Reacher may be a loner, but writing is a kind of family affair in Child’s life. Child’s brother, Andrew Grant, who is 14 years younger, has written five published action-packed thrillers, and the sixth, False Friend, comes out in January 2017. But big brother says he doesn’t offer Andrew advice.

“We are both alike—stubborn—and I wouldn’t offer advice and I know he wouldn’t take it,” said Child with a laugh. “His career is his own. A book has to be organic. It has to be vibrant on its own. And it has to be written by only one person. As soon as an author starts to wonder, ‘Well, my brother would do it differently. Or Stephen King or Michael Connelly would do it differently,’ then you are lost.”

During Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans, brief interviews were conducted on authors’ most memorable Bouchercon moments. Without hesitation, Child mentioned the 2008 conference in Baltimore, when he stepped away from the bar for a few moments. When he returned Grant was talking with Tasha Alexander, who writes historical mystery fiction. The two were married in 2010. “That’s how I met my future sister-in-law,” Child recounted with a smile. (An interview with Tasha Alexander appears in the Holiday issue No. 117, published in 2010.)

A couple of years ago, Child and his daughter, Ruth, collaborated on a pilot for a TV series that was sold, but, as of now, has not been picked up.

“It was fun doing the pilot and very illuminating to work together as two equal people—rather than as father and daughter. It was a wonderful experience,” said Child, who recently traveled to Los Angeles to pitch a TV series unrelated to Reacher.

“TV is a hungry beast and it constantly needs ideas. Most [pitches and pilots] don’t get picked up.”

Oline Cogdill
2017-01-14 17:20:00
History in Stefanie Pintoff Novels
Oline H. Cogdill

pintoffStephanie cityonedge
Like many readers, I enjoy knowing the “real” story that inspires a novel, especially if historical facts are woven into the plot.

Stefanie Pintoff built her career on utilizing history in her novels.

Her debut In the Shadow of Gotham introduced New York Police Detective Simon Ziele, who was mourning the loss of his fiancée in the 1904 General Slocum steamship disaster. Ziele teamed up with criminologist Alistair Sinclair to hunt criminals in old Manhattan.

Pintoff’s research shows the beginnings of forensics as well as life at the turn of the 20th century.

In the Shadow of Gotham won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author and was nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards.

Pintoff’s new series, which began with Hostage Taker and continues with her latest, City on Edge, is set in contemporary times but still honors the past.

FBI special agent Evangeline “Eve” Rossi leads her Vidocq team of “ex-cons and barely reformed thugs,” whose nontraditional ways allow them to go where normal detectives can’t. Eve’s team knows how criminals think, because each of them used to be one—which doesn’t hurt, either.

Eve’s team is based on Eugène François Vidocq, a French criminal and criminalist during the 19th century.

According to books and websites, he turned from being a criminal to become the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale. He was also the head of the first known private detective agency.

Considered to be the father of modern criminology, Vidocq also inspired stories by Victor Hugo, Edgar Allan Poe, and Honoré de Balzac.

To add to the authenticity in her novels, Pintoff includes a dossier on each of Eve’s team members.

In my Mystery Scene review of City on Edge, I wrote about “Pintoff’s affinity for the hidden corners of New York City, as Eve and her crew go into parts of the city that few people know about. Pintoff keeps the suspense high while keeping readers’ expectations off-kilter. Anything can happen in City on Edge, and does.”

Oline Cogdill
2017-01-22 00:30:00
Author Michael Mayo on Jimmy Quinn


mayo michael
Mystery Scene
occasionally welcomes guest bloggers. Today, Michael Mayo, left, discusses the research behind Jimmy Quinn, who appears in his three novels set during Prohibition-era New York. His latest novel in this series is Jimmy and Fay.

The Jimmy Quinn series also includes Jimmy the Stick and Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s.

Mayo has written about film for The Washington Post and The Roanoke Times. He was the host of the nationally syndicated Movie Show on Radio and Max and Mike on the Movies. His books include American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media, VideoHound’s Video Premieres, Horror Show, and War Movies.


Meet Jimmy Quinn
by Michael Mayo


“I’ve been a thief, a bootlegger, a bagman, and the proprietor of one of New York’s better gin mills. I helped corrupt dozens of cops and politicians, and I was in on the fix of a World Series. It’s been a good life.”

mayomichael jimmyandfay
That’s how Jimmy Quinn introduces himself in Jimmy the Stick. He may not be a model citizen or a conventional hero for a suspense novel, but he is engaging, mostly honest, and he has a sense of humor. He was born while I was doing research for another book, American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. That was non-fiction.

As I learned more about what went on in New York during Prohibition, I realized that if I wanted to go deeper into the subject, I had to approach it through fiction. (Hey, it worked for Damon Runyon.)

I read a lot, particularly the firsthand accounts of day-to-day life in the city. I was surprised to realize early on that many of the most famous characters got into the business at a remarkably young age. Meyer Lansky was 18 when Prohibition began; Ben “Bugsy” Siegel was 14. Luciano was 23.

I wanted my guy to be a little younger than them and to come from their world. I knew he was a kid who grew up on the streets, but has retained enough of an attitude to be a companionable narrator. I also knew the people he’d meet and the real events he’d be part of, but I didn’t have much more. He was an idea, not a person.

My break came with a library book, New York Photographs 1850-1950 (Benjamin Blom. Dutton. 1982). It’s a massive, heavy thing filled with surprising images. I went through it page by page, sticking little flags on the pictures I meant to photocopy, and was almost at the end when I found them—two boys on South Street below the Manhattan Bridge pier, around 1910.

They’re arm in arm, walking on a sidewalk, and you can tell right away they’re up to something. They’re dressed in knee pants, coats and caps, ties yanked to one side. The one on the right looks at the camera and can barely contain a laugh. The kid on the left has a big basket on his shoulder. He’s more serious but there’s intelligent mischief or evasion in his expression.

As soon as I saw him, I knew that was my guy, and I knew his name was Jimmy Quinn. After that, the details filled themselves in.

He was the child of Irish immigrants. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was young, his father wandered off, and Jimmy was raised by Mother Moon, the crafty old gal who owned the Hell’s Kitchen tenement where he lived. He never saw his upbringing as deprived or unusual. Times were good, times were hard, at Mother Moon’s they got by. The kids in her building stole or sold newspapers. She made her payoffs to Alderman Jimmy Hines, so she was able to put food on the table and buy the occasional tin of opium for herself.

Because Jimmy was small, fast and quick, she hired him out to work as a messenger for the gambler Arnold Rothstein. Through Rothstein, Jimmy met a kindred spirit, Meyer Lansky—another young man who refused to let his short stature define him. Lansky was also interested in making money, and would work with anyone who’d help him. He and Jimmy got along.

In the present of the novels, Jimmy lives in the Chelsea Hotel. His speakeasy is right around the corner on the lower floor of a brownstone with a restaurant upstairs. Both cops and gang guys are welcome. Interesting people drop in and unusual things happen.

Photo: Michael Mayo photo courtesy Michael Mayo

Oline Cogdill
2017-01-29 01:20:00
Brad Taylor on Reading

taylorbrad CR Claudio Marinesco

"All I’ve learned about writing I gleaned through reading, which, as it turns out, is probably the best instruction on Earth."

Photo credit: Claudio Marinesco

I’ve just recently felt comfortable calling myself a writer. Even though writing is pretty much my sole source of income, in the past, I felt a little like a fraud saying the vaunted words, “I’m a writer”. I don’t have a degree in creative writing, I’ve never been to a writing workshop, and I’ve had no instruction on putting words on the page. All I’ve learned about writing I gleaned through reading, which, as it turns out, is probably the best instruction on Earth.

I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, starting at a very young age, but I never read what I was supposed to read. I’ll admit upfront, Moby Dick is still the elusive whale for me. People ask me for my favorite book and I always feel a spasm of trepidation, knowing I should answer with some weighty tome, a manuscript of profound gravitas. Because of this, my usual answer is, “I can’t pick just one,” but if the question refers to fondest memories, I’d have to say something like Conan the Barbarian or Doc Savage – an answer that would make them think I was ridiculing the question.

As a young boy, my father said he’d buy me any book I would read. That quickly morphed into taking me to the library any time I wanted because I was tearing through the books. I devoured everything from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series to Ray Bradbury to Richard Adams’ Watership Down, which, truth be told, would be up there as my favorite book. I’m always afraid to re-read it because the feelings it invoked in my youth would not be the same now. Better to let it lie and cherish the memory of the book through the optic of that time.

dent docsavageI was always reading, but never what my teachers wanted. In 8th grade we were forced to read Willa Cather, which I found stupefyingly boring. I learned that if I slipped a book in between the one I was supposed to be reading, I could read what I wanted. I picked Louis L’amour because his novels were short enoughmeaning thin enoughto stay hidden. Eventually, my teacher caught me, and then held the book up in front of the class, castigating me for the horrible crime of reading something so trite as a pulp Western (Hint to teachers: If a child is reading on his own volition, never embarrass him or her on the choice.).

By high school I’d moved on to more mature themes, going through the inevitable Stephen King binge phase, along with anything racy I could find. I remember coming into the kitchen and seeing Dan Jenkins’ Semi Tough on top of the trash in the wastebasket. I said, “Who threw my book away?” My father said, “I did. It’s nothing but smut.” To his credit, it was a little racythe very first page describing a sex scenebut it was also really good.

When I entered college, I joined ROTC, and my reading turned more martial. Still not into the classicsno For Whom the Bell Tolls or War and Peacebut books nonetheless I feel hold their own against those pieces of literature. Books like Sympathy for the Devil, The Dying Place, The Things They Carried, and The Red Badge of Courage. As I was about to enter the US Army, I also began reading non-fiction at a voracious pace. Memoirs like A Rumor of War, Street Without Joy, Chickenhawk, and Everything We Had. The Army loves acronyms, and by the time I graduated, my roommates had created one for my collectionThe B-BOMB. The Big Box of Military Books.

Eventually, I entered the Army as a rifle platoon leader, and my tastes turned to contemporary military thrillersmy future career. Books like Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee, and of course, the entire Tom Clancy pantheon. We’d go to the woods for a field problem and there were two things that would never leave my side, one by necessity, the other because it’s who I was: My weapon, and my book ensconced in a Ziploc bag in my cargo pocket. The infantry field is usually depicted as the bottom of the barrelthe gruntsbut I’ll tell you, they read more than any class of people I’ve ever met. We’d enter a field problem knowing that we’d be trading books, and that’s what always happened. I’d finish mine, then toss out that I needed a book. Someone in my platoon would trade, and I’d find myself reading something that I never would have bought on my own. To this day, I read paperbacks. It’s ingrained in me. I no longer need to, but if it’s called upon, I can waterproof it with a gallon Ziploc and shove it into a pocket.

crane redbadgeofcourageI passed Special Forces selection and began reading Vince Flynn, the master of my genre. Eventually, I began doing the things described in his books, and because of it, I lost interest. Not because of any flaw in the writing, but simply because if you’re living the life, you don’t want to read about it. You want to read about the life you aren’t living. I began reading murder mysteries. I found John Sandford on a trip home from Iraq. My plane had broken down in Germany, which meant a two-day wait, and they had a USO with a “take a book” shelf available. It housed the complete Prey series. I was supposed to take only one, but I took them all. I read every one by the time I got home.

Suffice to say, nobody is more surprised than me that I’m a published author, but I stand on those before me. Everything I’ve ever read is infused in my writing DNA, and I’m unabashed at saying I use it. There is a bit of Conan in Pike Logan, and the Taskforce team wouldn’t exist without Doc Savage and his crew. Ray Bradbury taught me the art of a plot that was subtly much bigger than the one on the page, and my thriller twists are driven by Sandford, Crais, and others. And yes, Fiver and Bigwig are in the mix as well.

Sorry, Mellville. You didn’t make the cut.

Brad Taylor is the author of the New York Times bestselling Pike Logan series. He served for more than 20 years in the US Army, including eight years in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment–Delta, commonly known as Delta Force. He retired as a Special Forces lieutenant colonel and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” eNews January 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
2017-01-17 16:14:41
The Rising: Origins of a new YA sci-fi thriller series

graham rising

Acclaimed thriller writers Heather Graham and Jon Land team up for a promising new NASA-inspired YA series.

The Rising marks a departure from the usual for bestselling authors Heather Graham and Jon Land, as a writing collaboration, as a YA novel, and as a work that blends science-fiction and thriller elements. It's a unique project inpsired by NASA's partnership with Tor Books on a series of science-themed books aimed at educating young readers about NASA’s mission, and stimulating their interest in science.

The story, involves two teenshigh school quarterback and homecoming king Alex Chin, and his tutor and best friend, NASA intern Samantha Dixonwho find themselves on the run after Alex's parents are murdered and the two stumble across some frightening insights about Alex's past. It is a classic chase story replete with gripping, action-packed set pieces, compelling characters (both heroes and villains), and numerous twists. But, one wouldn’t expect less of its two authors, Graham, best known for her long-running Krewe of Hunters series, and Land, the author of 25 novels, including eight about tough-as-nails Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong.

“Collaborations like this can often be logistically difficult because even if it’s something the authors want to do, their publishers may not go along,” said Land, who has been friends with Graham ever since the two met through the International Thriller Writers organization. “In our case, the fact that we were featuring young adult heroes in a branded series for NASA provided a workaround that got everybody on board.”

Though neither Graham nor Land had ever written collaboratively, working together came easily to the two veteran scribes. “I don't know if it would work with everyone, but I think we're both lucky," said Graham. "We just got excited by the ideas we came up with," she added about the project became a launching pad for both writers to attempt something new.

“Neither of us had ever focused on young adults and we’d never written science fiction," said Land. "So I’d say we were delighted by how new and fresh it felt."

Land and GrahamAnd The Rising, a relentless thriller with the relationship of Alex and Samantha at its core, manages to showcase both authors; strengths: Land's action scenes, and Graham's attention to character. "[Graham] is expert at building romantic relationships based on conflict, which fits the relationship between Alex and Samantha to a T," said Land, who added that the balance between his and Graham's sternghts were "the perfect combination.”

“We’re both storytellers who pride ourselves on writing page-turners driven by characters who, well, see love, at least romance, and the right relationships, as an anchor in their lives,” added Graham.

The relationship between the young protaganists isn't the only chemistry in the new series, though. The Rising is informed by real science, inspired by several trips Graham made to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “I don’t think I would have had the interest in writing a book like The Rising if I hadn’t been so inspired by meeting and listening to the scientists here," she says.

Land did “lots of more traditional research and also passed the book through a few experts, one of whom helped design a futuristic, organic computer chip for me and also helped out with some of the other more quantum-oriented science.... We strived to include just enough science to fulfill the great Robert Louis Stevenson’s mantra that 'It doesn’t matter to me if you believe what I’m writing is real; all that matters is that you do not disbelieve it,'” said Land.

The authors also decided to set The Rising out West, closer to NASA’s Ames Center for Astrobiology (located in Mountain View, California), where both authors hope to visit for researching future books in the series. And sequels are planned.

"The Rising is very confined in terms of setting and time. It all takes place in California’s Bay Area in, literally, 48 hours," said Land. The second book in the series, Blood Moon, promises to have a more quest-like structure with Alex and Samantha journeying all over the world over a far less truncated patch of time. "We feel jumping from The Rising into this different approach will keep the series fresh,” added Land.

If the enthusiastic promotional blurbs are any indication, Graham and Land's initial effort has been a resounding success. James Rollins’ said “John Land’s talent at edge of your seat adventure blends perfectly with Heather Graham’s esteemed ability to balance suspense and pathos,” and Tess Gerritsen described the novel as “A mid-blowing, thrill-a-minute ride, a high octane launch of a stunningly inventive series.” The pair finds such praise gratifying.

“More than gratifying, actually,” said Land. The feedback was affirming. "[It] was the first evidence that we’d pulled it off. Every book starts out with a vision, in this case an entirely different kind of vision for both of us. We could just as easily have fallen on our faces, but that early praise showed us we were still standing.”

HEATHER GRAHAM is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has written over 100 novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare.

JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. He is also the coauthor of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Teri Duerr
2017-01-17 17:46:36

graham risingAcclaimed thriller writers Heather Graham and Jon Land team up for a promising new NASA-inspired YA series.

2017 Edgar Nominees
Oline H. Cogdill

Edgar Statues
Those of us who love mysteries/crime fiction know that the Edgar Awards are the Oscars of the genre.

Actually, for some of us the awards, named after Edgar Allan Poe, are better than the Oscars. I have seen only a couple of movies the past year, but have read just about everything on this list.

The Edgar Awards are given by the Mystery Writers of America, and the nominations are announced on Poe’s birthday. This year marks the 208th anniversary of his birth.

The 2017 Edgar Allan Poe Awards honor the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2016.

The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at the 71st gala banquet on April 27, 2017, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.


BEST NOVEL
The Ex by Alafair Burke (Harper)
Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow)
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry (Penguin Books)
Dodgers by Bill Beverly (Crown Publishing Group)
IQ by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books)
The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Dancing With the Tiger by Lili Wright (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Lost Girls by Heather Young (William Morrow)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott (Polis Books)
Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts (Thomas & Mercer)
The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books)
A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum (Seventh Street Books)
Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street Books)

BEST FACT CRIME
Morgue: A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell (St. Martin’s Press)
The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer (William Morrow)
Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder: The Unsolved Murder That Shocked Victorian England by Paul Thomas Murphy (Pegasus Books)
While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent Into Madness by Eli Sanders (Viking Books)
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale (Penguin Press)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL
Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese)
Encyclopedia of Nordic Crime: Works and Authors of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden Since 1967 by Mitzi M. Brunsdale (McFarland & Company)
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula by David J. Skal (Liveright)

BEST SHORT STORY
“Oxford Girl” by Megan Abbott (Mississippi Noir, Akashic Books)
A Paler Shade of Death by Laura Benedict (St. Louis Noir, Akashic Books)
Autumn at the Automat by Lawrence Block (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
The Music Room by Stephen King (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books)
The Crawl Space by Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Dell Magazines)

BEST JUVENILE
Summerlost by Ally Condie (Dutton BFYR)
OCDaniel by Wesley King (Paula Wiseman Books)
The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere (Simon & Schuster BFYR)
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (Simon & Schuster BFYR)
Framed! by James Ponti (Aladdin)
Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (Paula Wiseman Books)

BEST YOUNG ADULT
Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger (Simon Pulse)
The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry (Henry Holt BFYR)
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Little, Brown BFYR)
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen)
Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor (Dial Books)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
Episode 1 - From the Ashes of TragedyThe People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Teleplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (FX Network)
The Abominable Bride - Sherlock, Teleplay by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Hartswood Films/Masterpiece)
Episode 1 - Dark Road - Vera, Teleplay by Martha Hillier (Acorn TV)
A Blade of GrassPenny Dreadful, Teleplay by John Logan (Showtime)
Return 0Person of Interest, Teleplay by Jonathan Nolan and Denise The (CBS/Warner Brothers)
The Bicameral Mind” – Westworld, Teleplay by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (HBO/Warner Bros. Television)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
The Truth of the Moment by E. Gabriel Flores (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Dell Magazines)

GRAND MASTER
Max Allan Collins
Ellen Hart

RAVEN AWARD
Dru Ann Love

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Neil Nyren

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

The Other Sister by Dianne Dixon (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)
Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub (William Morrow)
The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd (William Morrow)

Oline Cogdill
2017-01-19 14:11:27
Ausma Zehanat Khan
Oline H. Cogdill

In her Detective Esa Khattak novels—set in Toronto—Khan shows the struggles of a devout Muslim living and working in a secular world.

khan ausma

A Ph.D. dissertation on the Bosnian War, concentrating on military intervention and war crimes, may not sound like fodder for a police procedural set in Toronto, but for attorney and human rights activist Ausma Zehanat Khan, a mystery was the perfect vehicle to help people understand the horrific 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.

“A mystery allowed me to present the story of the war and genocide in a way that would not overwhelm the reader—or me. A mystery gave me a little bit of distance to approach the story. And a mystery gave the reader a little bit of distance so they are not overwhelmed by the series of horrors,” said Khan, who studied the war in Bosnia for about 12 years, beginning in graduate school.

“To simply say these things happened isn’t enough. But to tell the story from the perspective of a detective—that is so relatable and personalizes the story. A mystery also leaves it up to the reader to decide what is justice. A mystery allows the reader to come to the story on their own. I knew I always wanted to tell the story of the war in Bosnia, and I tried to tell it in several different ways. I tried the traditional novel and found it difficult to get inside the head of my characters. I found it difficult to be as authentic and accurate as the story needed to be to the experience of war,” added Khan, whose first name is pronounced US-ma; her middle name Zay-HAHN-at.

The result was Khan’s gripping debut, The Unquiet Dead, part thriller, part police procedural centered on Canada’s Community Policing Section, the agency tasked with handling minority-sensitive crimes. The department is headed by Detective Esa Khattak, a devout Muslim, and his partner, Sergeant Rachel Getty. In The Unquiet Dead, the two investigate the seemingly accidental death of Toronto resident Christopher Drayton, who fell off a cliff. But the case becomes politically charged when a war crimes historian suspects that Drayton was an alias for Drazen Krstic, one of the Bosnian war criminals responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which Khan writes is “Europe’s greatest atrocity since the Second World War.” Characters’ flashbacks and discussions, as well as passages from testimony at war crimes trials, become an important part of the plot.

Khan’s ability to write about war atrocities and highly charged issues yet avoid writing a treatise while wrapping her story in the intriguing elements of a mystery, resonated with readers and critics. The Unquiet Dead made several best-of-the-year lists and made Khan an author to watch.

Khan brings that same mixture of facts and politics to her second novel, The Language of Secrets, which already has garnered several positive reviews. Based on a real Muslim terrorist plot foiled by Canadian law enforcement in 2006, The Language of Secrets has Esa and Rachel investigating the murder of Esa’s estranged friend, who had secretly infiltrated a terrorist cell planning a devastating attack.

Even more than The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets showcases Khan’s ability to take an issue and weave it into a mystery without resorting to didacticism. It also shows Esa’s struggle with being a devout Muslim whose religion is often a source of conflict while living and working in a secular world.

Persian and Urdu poetry play a special part in The Language of Secrets, an aspect inspired by the author’s parents’ love of poetry and storytelling. Khan’s India-born parents celebrated an oral tradition of storytelling. Her father, a psychiatrist, and mother organized “beautiful poetry evenings” called mushairahs that would include their four children. This instilled a love of writing from an early age.

“The importance of learning the Qur’an was impressed on us, so I grew up with a respect for the written word,” said Khan, who was born in England, raised in Toronto, and now lives in Denver with her husband, a professor of Middle East Studies and “a handy resource” at the University of Denver.

Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She has practiced immigration law and taught human rights law at Northwestern University and York University, and was the founder and editor in chief of Muslim Girl, a magazine targeted to young, Muslim women.

khan theunquietdeadThe Unquiet Dead had been inside me for so long,” she remembered. “Because I hadn’t turned my dissertation into a book, as events on the ground were changing too quickly, I always felt I had left [people’s] stories untold. I had a responsibility to the survivors. Here I had all this material and it would have seemed like a failure to the people who needed me to speak for them.”

Working on The Unquiet Dead became a sort of cathartic experience for Khan. “Once I had written The Unquiet Dead, I felt such a sense of relief. My responsibility was fulfilled. If I had not done something with the knowledge I had, I would still carry the burden of not having represented the human rights of this particular group of people.”

The timing was also right apropos of the global political climate. Muslims were increasingly being vilified in entertainment and for political expediency.

“I had qualms about writing about a Muslim, especially in the climate in the US. I see stories in the news all the time and in pop culture and thriller novels. The Muslims are the bad guy, the terrorist, they want to destroy our world,” said Khan, herself a practicing Muslim. “And to me, making the Muslim the bad guy is a very simplistic and banal kind of conversation. This group of people is being misrepresented or talked about or spoken for, but they rarely get to speak for themselves. You don’t hear their voices. This rise of Islamophobia, especially during election season, has become a selling tactic for votes. The war in Bosnia began with hate propaganda directed at the ‘Other.’”

And to tell her stories, she needed a special kind of protagonist. Insightful and often charming, Esa also may be one of the first devout Muslims to be considered a hero—rather than a villain—in a mystery series. The first time readers meet Esa in The Unquiet Dead, he is kneeling on a prayer rug woven by his Pakistani ancestors when he receives a call about an investigation. After he takes the call, he finishes his Maghrib prayers before heading to the scene of the crime. In creating Esa, she drew on her background, making him a part of the same Pashtun tribe as her parents and herself. “But he is more reserved, keeps to himself, very different than I am,” she said.

“Esa has a great talent for tackling investigations head on. He is a believer. He is comfortable in his faith—he knows how to make it work. He is very much a part of the society in which he grew up in. And I thought the greatest challenge I could present to him personally and professionally in The Language of Secrets was to add a terrorist group to his investigation. And how a terrorist cell should not be [assumed] to represent the entire religion. I thought that presented a lot of good knotty material for Esa to work with.”

Balancing Esa is his partner Rachel Getty, who “could not be more Canadian,” said Khan. “She has a hockey-playing identity and is very tough on the outside. She has a lot of empathy for people, but also is rather awkward and has flaws, as do all of us. The readers seem to like Rachel.”

Despite Khan’s years of legal work on behalf of genocide survivors, her activism, and the time spent on her dissertation, she still needed to research the war when it came time for her to write her novel. That meant digging out the six large boxes of survivor testimony, United Nations statements, and government reports she had in her garage, and rereading a 7,000-page court document on the Netherlands’ role in one of the massacres that she had used for her dissertation.

“Once you’ve read survivor testimony, it never leaves you. Snippets come to you every now and then,” she said. “But I had to refamiliarize myself with the research. I needed to bring myself up to date on current survivor testimony, what crimes had come up and which people had been convicted. I was immersed in this a long time, deciding which story I wanted to tell. I was looking for stories that were both personal and emblematic of the larger Bosnian experience.”

This fresh look at research took Khan about a year and a half as she learned new details about the war and genocide that had been discovered. Yet, Khan was careful not to make The Unquiet Dead sound like another academic journal and to keep that research subtly, yet forcefully, woven through her novel.

khan thelanguageofsecrets“I was very aware of the pitfalls that all that research could bring. I didn’t want my novel to sound as if it were propaganda,” she said. Khan had entered The Unquiet Dead in the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. Khan didn’t win, but Elizabeth Lacks, the Minotaur editor who read her manuscript, felt strongly about the novel. Khan gives credit to Lacks for helping to shape her debut. “I had a very talented editor who was quick to tell me if my story was too much or the research was overwhelming. You have to let the reader come to it on their own, not overburden them with the research.”

A series that tackles war criminals, terrorist cells, and political prisoners—the subject of Khan’s forthcoming third novel—would seem to leave little room for levity. Nothing could be further from reality. During an hour-long telephone interview, Khan came across as both a serious scholar and passionate about human rights but also as an energetic young woman with a good sense of humor. She said she is a big science fiction and fantasy “geek” and is a fan of the CBS series The Big Bang Theory and comics who “have a quintessential Canadian, dry humor.”

She has finished a draft of her third novel and will soon start her fourth in the series. She is also working on a four-book fantasy series scheduled to launch in 2017 with The Bloodprint: Book One of the Khorasan Archives. Khan said the series will be set in a politically nuanced world inspired by the current political climate of the Middle East, and will be helmed by a heroine named Arian who embarks on a dangerous quest to reclaim a sacred text.

Writing mysteries fulfills a lifelong dream for Khan, who also sees another goal she is achieving.

“I have been reading mysteries all my life but have not often seen characters of color or writers of color. To have the chance to add my voice and perspective has been very heartening and could be an opening for other writers down the road. I feel so lucky to have my voice out there.”

Teri Duerr
2017-01-31 18:10:39

khan ausmaIn her Detective Esa Khattak novels—set in Toronto—Khan shows the struggles of a devout Muslim living and working in a secular world.

Crossword L.A. Requiem, Issue 141

by Verna Suit


Web page created by Crossword Compiler.

Brian Skupin
2017-02-05 17:23:53
Brian Skupin
2017-02-05 18:46:18
The Dry
Craig Sisterson

If there was an X Factor for crime debutants, then Jane Harper would get a standing ovation and cries of “You’ve just got something special” from ecstatic judges. And we’d all definitely want to see more.

Harper’s remarkable debut, set in the parched, rural landscape of Australia, combines exquisite slow-build storytelling with a terrific sense of place and richly drawn characters that provoke a range of emotions in the reader. Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his drought-stricken hometown of Kiewarra for the funeral of a childhood friend. Luke Hadler seems to have broken under the strain of his harsh life, shooting his wife and son, then himself. It is a shocking event, even in a community that faces life-and-death choices every day.

Falk’s visit is meant to be fleeting—he has no desire to linger in a place he and his father fled 20 years earlier after accusations swirled following the suspicious drowning of a young woman. But as Falk and a local detective begin to doubt the murder-suicide scenario, Falk stays, only to find that his digging into this latest tragedy unearths secrets from the past, from a time when Luke provided him with an alibi. With townsfolk who still harbor plenty of unpleasant beliefs, and a community struggling to survive in a tinder-dry landscape, Falk must tread a tightrope as he lights a match to illuminate the truth.

The Dry is a tale of a man versus the environment, a town, and his own past. Beautifully written, Harper teases us with sips before we grab the bottle to gulp our way to an exciting finish.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 17:57:43
World, Chase Me Down
Ben Boulden

World, Chase Me Down, Andrew Hilleman’s fine debut novel, is a fictional retelling of the exploits of kidnapper Pat Crowe. In the early hours of a cold December Omaha, Nebraska, morning in 1900, Crowe and an accomplice, Billy Cavanaugh, kidnap the teenage son of the wealthy owner of a meatpacking plant, Edward Cudahy. The plan is simple. Snatch the boy, Eddie, Jr., send a ransom letter demanding $25,000 in gold coins, secure the ransom money, release the boy. And it works perfectly until Pat is recognized by his former employer, Mr. Cudahy, while the ransom is delivered.

Crowe spends the next five years running from wanted posters, lawmen, and detectives. He scrambles around the globe finding trouble in every corner. He fondly recalls looting an entire New Mexico town while the marshal was locked in a cell, and a visit to South Africa during the hardest fighting of the Boer War. The narration style is easy with a humorous slant and a comfortable structure; chapters alternate between the kidnapping and Crowe’s backstory, a backstory that explains more than a little about Pat Crowe’s descent into crime.

World, Chase Me Down is an exciting adventure tale told with style and humor. It’s a campfire tall tale with an antihero protagonist as interesting as he is despicable. Crowe is a dime-novel villain with a reputation far larger than its reality could ever be, towering above the stage where he performs. He, the real Pat Crowe, died in 1938 and the date of this fictional telling is 1939, adding a layer of tongue-in-cheek to this welcome tale.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 18:03:09
I See You
Katrina Niidas Holm

Clare Mackintosh’s adrenaline-fueled follow-up to 2016’s I Let You Go thrills, chills, and intrigues while delivering incisive commentary on the state of privacy and security in the internet era.

Office manager Zoe Walker is reading the London Gazette during her evening commute when she spies a picture of herself in an ad for a premium-rate chat line. The phone number is a dud, and the website is password-protected, so Zoe’s inclined to forget the whole thing and move on. Then, however, she stumbles across an older version of the ad. Zoe recognizes the spotlighted woman as Cathy Tanning, a theft victim featured in a recent news story about crime on the London Underground, and decides to call the cops.

Enter Kelly Swift, the police constable who took Cathy’s statement. With the help of the North West Murder Investigation Team, Kelly discovers that other women who have appeared in the chat line’s ad have fallen victim to crimes such as sexual assault and murder. The police launch an investigation to figure out how the ads and the crimes are connected, but until the perpetrators are caught, Zoe can’t help feeling as though there’s a target on her back.

Readers in search of a head-scratching whodunit will find plenty here to love: Mackintosh’s central mystery features a host of viable suspects, a wealth of clever clues, and a veritable school of red herring. Her pacing is perfect, her plot is complex, and while it’s debatable whether Mackintosh earns every one of her whiplash-inducing twists, the ride is so fun and so wild that it almost feels petty to nitpick.

What really elevates this book, though, is Mackintosh’s stellar character work. Zoe and Kelly share the narrative, and Mackintosh does a wonderful job distinguishing their voices and using each woman’s storytelling style to achieve a different effect. Zoe’s first-person, present-tense account confers intimacy and immediacy, and her fear and paranoia are contagious, giving her chapters a claustrophobic feel and helping to maintain tension throughout. Kelly, on the other hand, takes a more traditional approach. Her tale unfolds in third person past tense, a style which reflects her professional remove, provides an objective point of view, and offers readers an occasional respite from Zoe’s waking nightmare.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 18:08:11
Desert Vengeance
Kevin Burton Smith

I hope Betty Webb has a lot of loyal readers, because Desert Vengeance, the ninth Lena Jones book—sure to play a pivotal role in the series—is gonna need it. It leans very, very heavily and unapologetically on the Ghosts of Books Past.

When we first catch up with Lena, the rough-and-tumble cowgirl private eye is cooling her heels in an Arizona parking lot, waiting for former foster parent and convicted child rapist Brian “Papa” Wycoff to step out of the prison van, after serving almost 30 years. Seems Wycoff raped nine-year-old Lena and several other children in his charge back in the day, and it was partially Lena’s testimony that helped send him away. Lena’s holding a ten-inch knife she calls “The Vindicator.” She’s thinking of killing him.

Fortunately, Lena’s better angels (almost) prevail, and she settles for merely stalking and harassing him. But within days, Wycoff is found murdered, and Lena is the prime suspect—until trailer camp owner Debbie Margules is charged with the killing, and turns to Lena for help.

The problem with Desert Vengeance isn’t just the morally queasy WTF? or the dubious about-face of Lena working so diligently to clear Debbie—Lena’s the first to question her own motives. No, the real problem is that Lena’s dogged investigation, full of heart-wrenching confrontations with Wycoff’s other, now-adult victims (and potential suspects), is overshadowed, narratively and emotionally, by her continuing efforts to deal with the slowly coalescing fragments of her own disturbing past, which include being shot in the face at the age of four.

Further narrative distractions tossed into the mix are the return of Dusty, an untrustworthy old flame, and what seems like an important development in the slowly dawning relationship between Lena and Jimmy Sisiwanquest, her hunky Pima partner and computer guy. Plus, as an added bonus for animal lovers, Lena buys a horse and acquires several kittens.

As a longtime fan, I’m torn. The author has set in motion several major changes in Lena’s life, but offers very little real closure. Will Lena ever find her real parents? Why was she shot? Will Jimmy and her hook up? And will she come to her senses and get rid of all those cats?

Not the best entry point, then, but for those of us who’ve traveled this far, a must-read. And a definite selling point for the next one.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 18:26:11

webb desertvengeanceNot the best entry point, but for longtime readers, a pivotal must-read.

Winter Issue #148 Contents

148cover465

Features

Belinda Bauer

Disappointment and betrayal as fuel for mystery fiction.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Fave Raves of the Year

Mystery Scene critics recommend the best of 2016.

The Hook

First Lines That Caught

April Smith

Stymied by a writer’s strike, this successful TV writer and producer turned to novels.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Ian Rankin: Edinburgh’s Finest

A failed accounting exam led to the creation of an iconic copper.
by Andy Martin

Trials & Tribulations: Recent Legal Thrillers

They fought the law and...well, it gets more complicated from there.
by Jon L. Breen

My Book: Illicit Trade

Investigating crime at the United Nations.
by Michael Niemann

How to Be a Writer Without Writing Anything, Part One

The key is getting someone else to do the work.
by Lawrence Block

“Mystery à Clef” Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2017 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominations. Mystery Writers of America 2017 Grand Masters Announced.

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 21:24:49
At the Scene, Winter Issue #148

148cover465Hi Everyone,

Betrayal is a part of life. We are all betrayed at some stage in our lives, in small ways and in big ways. I think that is the basis of every crime novel... —Belinda Bauer

One of the first betrayals in novelist Belinda Bauer’s life involved growing up under apartheid in South Africa, where the government systematically repressed one seg- ment of the population and lied about it to the other. Belinda Bauer vaulted onto the UK’s crime scene with her first novel, Blacklands, which won the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger for Best Novel in 2010. Since then, she has moved from strength to strength with her subsequent novels, including the remarkable Rubber- necker, one of my favorites. Oline Cogdill talks to Bauer in this issue.

What books really got to you last year? What characters lingered in your mind? What writers changed your outlook or widened your perceptions? We asked our critics these questions and the result is our annual “Fave Raves” feature. Do let us know if you think we hit the mark—we’d love to hear your fave raves, as well! Just write or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Anyone sending us a fave rave is automatically entered in a drawing to win a free book.

Lawrence Block displays admirable self-insight (as well as a nice turn of phrase) when speaking of his writing career: "I’ve known for some time that Ego and Avarice are the two coursers who haul my chariot through the streets of Literature."

No one can deny his success. Still, what if both of these desires could be satisfied without actually doing any work? He examines that intriguing possibility in this issue.

Hard work is nothing new to E.O. Chirovici. After publishing 15 books in his native Romanian, Chirovici wrote the original man- uscript for his thriller The Book of Mirrors in English. This was no easy task: “You carefully pack up all your storytelling skills and move them into your new ‘home,’ the new language you’ve chosen. You have to put together a whole new toolbox, which is no easy task...” It may not have been easy, but the result created a publishing feeding frenzy. Craig Sisterson talks to Chirovici in this issue.

Jon L. Breen is Mystery Scene’s resident expert on courtroom dramas. (In fact, he won an Edgar Award for the first edition of his reference work Novel Verdicts: A Guide to Courtroom Fiction.) “Trials and Tribulations” is his overview of recent legal thrillers.

Ian Rankin is one of the world’s top crime novelists—but did you know he was originally fated for a career in accounting? Well the bean counters’ loss is our gain, as Andy Martin explores in his interview with the author.

April Smith is committed to realism in her fiction. How committed? Well, for her latest novel, Home Sweet Home, set in South Dakota, she rode with cowboys, branded a cow, and attended cattle auctions and barbecues at ranches. “I have to physically experience what the characters have, immerse myself in their world, and then draw on it,” says Smith. Learn more about Smith in Oline Cogdill’s profile.

Enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2017-02-07 21:33:30
Beyond the Book: Craig Rice’s John J. Malone
Dick Lochte

rice craigBACKGROUND

Craig Rice (born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) worked in public relations and radio until, at age 31, she began a crime-writing career that so successfully mixed hard-boiled action and screwball comedy she became the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Though she authored one-offs (Home Sweet Homicide, Innocent Bystander), a second series about a pair of genial con men named Bingo and Handsome (The Sunday Pigeon Murders, The Thursday Turkey Murders), ghosted (George Sanders’ Crime on My Hands), and wrote screenplays (notably The Falcon’s Brother and the unjustly forgotten Lady of Burlesque, adapted from Gypsy Rose Lee’s The G String Murders), her popularity was due mainly to her series featuring the raffish, hard-drinking, corner-cutting Chicago defense attorney John J. Malone. Malone not only solved crimes he frequently offered to defend the guilty. His debut was in the 1939 novel 8 Faces at 3. In that and ten novels that followed, Malone shared the crime-light with his best friends, Jake and Helene Justus, the former a fast-talking publicist, the latter a bright, beautiful heiress—in other words, a considerably more boozy Perry Mason combined with a slightly less boozy Nick and Nora Charles. Rice cleverly employed Jake and Helene in each plot, but as the series progressed Malone moved closer to center stage. And, as many short stories, radio, television and at least one of his three film appearances would prove, the shrewd, charismatic lawyer worked well as a solo act.

AUDIO

Most, if not all of the Malone novels are available, used or e-booked, but, as best I can tell, none is available in audiobook format. The books are worth seeking out and ordering or downloading, particularly The Big Midget Murders (my personal favorite), The Lucky Stiff, and a surprisingly harder-edged Trial by Fury.

FILM

Having Wonderful Crime (1945), adapted from Rice’s 1943 novel of the same name, features the ideally-cast Pat O’Brien as Malone (given a new first name of Michael for reasons lost to cinema history), with George Murphy and Carole Landis, perfectly acceptable as Jake and Helene, in a classic screwball mystery.

The Lucky Stiff (1949). Produced by no less a celebrity than Jack Benny, this adaptation of one of Rice’s better novels (her favorite) by director-screenwriter Lewis Foster eliminates Jake and Helene but Brian Donlevy as Malone, Claire Trevor as his loyal assistant Maggie and Dorothy Lamour as a nightclub singer who seemingly returns from the dead act the hell out of a script that doesn’t quite capture the novel’s wit and charm but gets the 1940’s attitude and atmosphere just right. Comic actor Billy Vine is notable in the role of Malone’s favorite bar owner Joe the Angel.

Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone (1951). The short story on which this fast-moving, entertaining B-flicker is based, Once Upon a Train, by Rice and Stuart Palmer, finds their series characters, Malone and schoolmarm-sleuth Hildegard Withers, faced with a murder on a moving train. James Whitmore is a fine boozing and womanizing Malone to Marjorie Main’s Mrs. O’Malley, a shrewd, no-nonsense small-town moralist substituted for Ms. Withers who may still have been under contract to RKO. (See her sleuthing in The Penguin Pool Murders, Murder on a Bridle Path, et al.)

(Crime and Mrs. O’Malley are available as a “mystery double feature” DVD from Warner Archive. Stiff was recently removed from YouTube, but, at the moment, several DVD-R copies are available from www.lovingtheclassics.com, quality not sampled.)

RADIO

• The Old Gold Comedy Theater (1945) presented a half-hour adaptation of the film Having Wonderful Crime. The show’s master of ceremonies, film comedy legend Harold Lloyd, introduced O’Brien, reprising his Malone role, and as the Justuses, Tom Conway and June Duprez. (Available from the Internet Archive of Old Time Radio.)

Murder and Mr. Malone (1948) was the first radio series to feature Rice’s Chicago barrister, initially portrayed by Frank Lovejoy. In spite of the fact that each show had at least one homicide, the title was shortly changed to The Amazing Mr. Malone. During its four-year run of 30-minute episodes on ABC and then NBC, Lovejoy left to pursue a film and TV career and Gene Raymond stepped into the courtroom. Eventually George Petrie starred as the lawyer whose practice before every type of bar has become a legend. (A few shows may be streamed or downloaded from www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com.)

TELEVISION

The Amazing Mr. Malone (1950), a TV movie/pilot, featured Gene Raymond, who was radio’s Malone at the time. Also on hand was Fred Clark, from the radio show, and Raymond Burr in one of his first TV appearances.

The Amazing Mr. Malone (1951–1952). These 13 30-minute episodes, which may have been live, starred Lee Tracy as John J. Malone. Neither the series nor the TV movie seem to be available.

Mystery Writers Theater (aka George Sanders Mystery Theatre) (1957). Host Sanders introduces Rice’s And the Birds Still Sing. The original short story that debuted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine featured Malone. This adaptation stars John Archer as a Los Angeles lawyer very much in the Malone mode but named Frances Parnell. It’s a good little mystery, available for the moment on You Tube (from which shows are disappearing at an alarming rate).

For an extensive coverage of Craig Rice’s eventful, hard, and relatively short life, along with a closer look at her books, I recommend Jeffrey Marks’ Who Was That Lady? (Kindle, Hardcover and Audible, read by Natalie Baker Shirer).

Teri Duerr
2017-02-10 17:15:12
Hester Young on Reading

young hester CR Francine Daveta Photography

"Books were never embarrassed by my questions, never condescending or superior as they informed me of the workings of the world."

Photo credit Francine Daveta Photography

I’ll admit, my attraction to books was purely physical at first. As a toddler, I couldn’t keep my hands off them. I loved riffling through their pages, inhaling the scent of aging paper. My father had to wrap his bookshelves with chicken wire to keep me from absconding with his paperbacks. Eventually, I realized I wanted more from books than just something to chew on.

I taught myself to read at the age of four, and in doing so, began the kind of relationship we all dream of, one that has consistently conquered loneliness and boredom, one that challenges me to grow and learn, one that incorporates plenty of fantasy and role play.

I discovered early on that books would tell me things the adults in my life wouldn’t, that I could depend on them for unflinching honesty. At six, I found a copy of Where Did I Come From, an illustrated book about sex and birth, at a local library. It clarified many things in my life, including the lyrics of certain pop songs my mother didn’t want me singing along to. Later that year, I read a Judy Blume novel that dispensed with the Santa myth, and it became clear: reading was my path to adulthood, the only instruction guide I’d ever get.

In a time before internet, books held all the answers. They were never embarrassed by my questions, never condescending or superior as they informed me of the workings of the world. When Nancy Drew, my constant companion in third grade, proved too tame, books indulged my changing needs. They allowed me to explore the darker side of human nature. By ten, I was tearing through Lois Duncan, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King. My parents, strong in their anti-censorship stance, never objected to my reading material, although my mother did feel some pangs of guilt after I read The Silence of the Lambs and couldn’t sleep for two weeks.

I’m still enthralled by dark explorations of the human psyche, but my reading nowadays is not constrained by genre. I can read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Tana French, C.S. Lewis or Philip Pullman, Ray Bradbury or Suzanne Collins. I can immerse myself in parenting manuals, biographies, books about animal intelligence or behavioral economics. Sometimes, I am too busy to read, but books are patient. They wait for me to come back, and I do. I always return to them. We’ve been together more than three decades now, and the physical attraction—what first drew me to books—hasn’t died. I still love the sight of black ink against paper. I still can’t wait to turn the page.

Hester Young holds a master’s degree in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawai‘i Review. Before turning to writing full-time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. Young lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews February 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
2017-02-13 16:21:07

young hester CR Francine Daveta Photography"Books were never embarrassed by my questions, never condescending or superior as they informed me of the workings of the world."

The Girl Before
Vanessa Orr

This is a creepy, creepy story, and I mean that in the best way.

Jane is looking for a new place to live after a traumatic pregnancy results in a stillborn child. She moves into One Folgate Street, a home that, while beautiful, also puts her at the mercy of the building’s architect, Edward Monkford, who has established a strict set of nonnegotiable rules for anyone who lives there. He issued this same set of rules to Emma, a former tenant, who was later found dead at the bottom of the home’s stairs.

The chapters alternate between Jane’s story and Emma’s story, starting from the first time that each of the women see the home. Drawn to its minimalist style like moths to a flame, they both become involved in unhealthy relationships with the enigmatic and mercurial Monkford, who controls every aspect of their lives under the guise of transforming them to become worthy of the space he designed.

Sections of the book are highlighted by the questions that the women had to answer on their applications to get into the home, starting with, “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life,” and getting stranger and more invasive from there. Not only does this device highlight Monkford’s control over his tenants, but it involves readers in the same sort of psychological mind game as we stop to consider our own answers.

While Emma and Jane both seem at first to be victims of a controlling psychopath, as the story develops, it becomes harder and harder to determine who is playing whom—and who will emerge victorious in this Hunger Games version of home sweet home. Once you cross the threshold, you’re not going to be able to close the door on this book.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 16:57:11
A Death in the Dales
Robin Agnew

This is the seventh book in Frances Brody’s historical Kate Shackleton series.

A Death in the Dales finds Kate taking a break from detecting to holiday in the village of Langcliffe, England, with her niece Harriet, who is recuperating from a long illness. Kate has been invited by her suitor, Dr. Simonson, to stay at his recently departed Aunt Freda’s house, but she is barely installed there before a neighbor of Aunt Freda’s comes by and tells Kate about a murder Freda saw from her bedroom window. Seems Freda went to her grave tormented by the belief that the wrong man was executed for the crime, and Freda had always meant to ask Kate to look into it.

When Dr. Simonson finds out about the investigation, he’s horrified and annoyed with Freda’s neighbor, but Kate is indomitable and gets to work on the coldest of cold cases. She’s also drawn into some corollary mysteries Nancy Drew style—the hunt for some missing letters and a missing brother—and these serve to take readers around the Dales and familiarize them with the different characters who live there.

I really enjoyed Brody’s cast of memorable characters—all of them, not just Kate and Harriet. Set in 1926, Kate is scarred by the war, as were so many of her generation. Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd have covered this period, but Brody is a softer companion to these writers. She’s cozy without being twee and covers some serious issues. The storytelling style is soft, but the actual threads of the story are taut. Kate uncovers some very dark happenings in the most unexpected of places. And unlike Winspear or Todd, Brody lives in the UK. Her familiarity with the landscape, culture, and dialect is very natural and adds to the story she’s telling in this delightful read.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 17:01:28
The Rising
Hank Wagner

During the most important game of his high school football career, quarterback Alex Chin selflessly takes a vicious hit that sends him to the hospital with what appears to be a concussion. After a CAT scan, Alex’s doctor seems shaken, but before he can reveal his concerns, he is brutally cut down by an unknown assailant. His death is only the beginning in a series of strange events that will impact Alex in the coming days, as the young man is forced to flee the hospital and hit the road with his best friend and tutor, Samantha Dixon. Hunted by several parties, all pursuing their own agendas, the duo must uncover the secrets in Alex’s past as they fight to stay alive. Little do the two realize that Alex may be a key player in a coming conflict where the very existence of humanity may be at stake.

There’s truly something for all lovers of genre fiction in The Rising, whether they be fans of mystery, suspense, thrillers, YAs, science fiction, or romance. Fortunately, this genre smorgasbord is the canny creation of two experienced storytellers. Although a collaboration, The Rising presents a clear, consistent voice in an expertly written, well-paced story that blends big ideas with action and romance. Although it ends on a note of uncertainty, this is to be expected, as sequels are planned.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 17:05:11
The Believer
Jean Gazis

Weaving together the stories of diverse and compelling characters, The Believer takes the reader from the backstreets of Stockholm to artsy, trendy New York City and London, where seemingly disparate events ultimately reveal unexpected connections.

Syrian refugees Yasmine and Fadi grow up inseparable in Bergort, a rough immigrant suburb of Stockholm. Big sister Yazz protects little brother Fadi until she abandons her childhood home for glamorous New York. While Yasmine begins to find success as a trend-spotter on the Brooklyn street-art scene, Fadi is adrift in Sweden, drawn into a web of Islamist radicalism and recruited into the ranks of jihadists. Not long after he is reported killed in a drone strike in the Middle East, someone emails Yasmine a picture of a young man who looks like Fadi in a Bergort cafe. Yasmine immediately returns to Stockholm to find out the truth about what happened to her brother.

Meanwhile, Karla, a Swedish researcher with a public-policy NGO in London, has her laptop stolen and returned under mysterious circumstances. Shortly afterward, one of her colleagues is pushed in front of a subway train, just days before the major report she is working on is to be delivered at an international conference in Stockholm.

As the summer heat builds tension among disaffected youth and riots break out around Bergort, Yasmine tries desperately to find Fadi. Will she find him before he takes dangerous action against those he believes have betrayed him? Who is stirring the young people of Bergort to violence? Why is the symbol of a fist in a star suddenly appearing everywhere?

Touching on current issues from the privatization of public functions such as policing to the turmoil in the Middle East, The Believer is contemporary and convincing. The action-packed story is firmly grounded in the abiding love between Yazz and Fadi, who mean everything to each other despite the separation of time and ideologies.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 17:08:18
Behind Her Eyes
Katrina Niidas Holm

From British author Sarah Pinborough (They Say a Girl Died Here Once), comes a vertiginous tale of obsession, manipulation, and betrayal.

When 34-year-old single mother Louise Barnsley meets David Martin in a London pub, she can’t believe her luck; David is handsome and charming, and the chemistry between them is undeniable. The duo shares a drunken kiss before David apologizes and flees the scene. Louise is determined to shake off the encounter—until she shows up for work the next morning and discovers that David is her new boss, and he’s married to a gorgeous 28-year-old named Adele.

Louise has no intention of sleeping with David or befriending his wife, but within weeks she’s done both. The closer she grows to David and Adele as individuals, though, the more apparent it becomes that something is off about the couple’s marriage. If David is so unhappy, why doesn’t he simply leave Adele? Why is the David that Adele describes so different from the one Louise has come to know? And why does Adele insist on hiding their camaraderie from David?

With Behind Her Eyes, Pinborough has crafted a story that’s part mystery, part thriller, part romance, and part supernatural-tinged horror. The writing is evocative—at times, uncomfortably so. The characters are so sharply rendered they could draw blood; every thought, word, action, and reaction rings 100 percent true, and their emotions are so palpable that it’s painful. Pinborough’s prose is peppered with stunning turns of phrase and insightful observations. Her pacing is deliberate, but deliciously so, and while the book’s capping twist may prove too preposterous for some, no one can claim her plotting lacks originality or ambition.

Louise and Adele share the narration, and Pinborough uses this device to inform character and ratchet tension. Louise may be keeping secrets from her best friend and her lover, but she bares her soul to the audience, and her motivations are always clear. Adele, on the other hand, never lets her guard down; her chapters are shrouded in intrigue and shot through with menace, calling into question her intentions, her sanity, and the safety of everyone involved—Adele included.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 17:14:43
Different Class
Sarah Prindle

An all-boys boarding school in England is the setting of a new mystery by author Joanne Harris. St. Oswald’s has known its fair share of mystery, as chronicled in Gentlemen and Players (2005), and Latin professor Roy Straitley is hoping 2005 will be a normal school year. Intrigue follows the school into another term, though, when a new headmaster arrives. Johnny Harrington is a former St. Oswald’s student whom Straitley has never trusted, and Harrington’s new policies of dismantling the old ways do nothing to endear him to Straitley. Beneath Harrington’s smooth, charismatic public persona, Straitley senses he is still the same boy who, during the 1981 school term, gave false testimony that helped get a friend and fellow professor, Harry Clarke, arrested and jailed.

What starts out as Straitley “rebelling” against Harrington’s policies soon becomes an investigation into what really happened during the 1981 scandal. Questions arise about Harrington, the two odd boys he hung out with as a student, Mr. Clarke’s personal life, and a suspicious death that happened in the infamous “clay pits,” a deserted area near a canal used by residents as an unofficial dumping ground.

Straitley enlists the help of a mysterious young man named Winter and an unlikely ally, Dr. Devine, a professor who is united with Straitley in their shared disgust for the direction Harrington is taking the school. Looking into a 22-year-old scandal leads to a dangerous and revealing confrontation with a deranged killer—and leaves the characters with hard questions about how well they really know their friends and coworkers.

Different Class is a fascinating read, helped by elderly Straitley’s sarcastic yet honest personality, which readers won’t be able to help but like. Readers will sympathize with him as he tries to find a balance between old traditions and new ideas in a world where technology is changing society quickly. Different Class raises questions about crime, people’s eagerness to believe the worst about each other, how lives can be ruined by quick judgments, and the often-painful transition between old and new ways. Harris’ book will stay with readers for a long time to come.

Teri Duerr
2017-02-13 17:19:31