Monday, 28 August 2017 23:17

The heartbreaking news and photographs show the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and the surrounding areas.

But the news and photos also show us the spirit of people, of complete strangers coming to the aid of another. A truck driver rescued. People carrying what means the most to them—their children and pets. Volunteers from across the country who want to help.

So most people might think that reading a book is the last thing on anyone’s mind. A novel pales next to having your home and most precious possessions underwater.

But Houston bookstores also are proving that they are more than a place to buy a book, but are vital parts of their community.

Many of Houston’s bookstores seemed to have had little damage during Harvey, but, of course, are closed and have canceled events.

But these stores want to reach out to offer a bit of refuge.

That’s because brick and mortar stores do what online shopping cannot—care about the community and the residents. People aren’t just faceless customers but friends and neighbors.

McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, reported on the store’s Facebook page that it “has a few damp places where water came in, but it is minimal compared to what we expected.”

On Monday the store opened, not to sell books but to offer a bit of comfort.

Murder by the Book, at top, offered free coffee, cookies, charging stations, Wi-Fi, and restrooms to anyone who came by. Free books also were available.

“No need to buy anything. Come visit, let us know you're OK, and take shelter from the storm. We'll be doing the same thing all week for those who can't make it,” Jordan wrote on Facebook. “Please pass this along for those who have lost electricity, or who just need a break from sitting home in the rain.”

The homes of all Murder by the Book staff are dry and have power, Jordan reported. “We're, of course, all still watching the weather, and have a few rough days ahead, but so far we feel very fortunate. Stay safe, be kind, and we hope to see you tomorrow." Of course, Jordan stressed that no one should venture out unless it is safe.

Jack Reacher also will be on hand to greet people at Murder by the Book. No, not the character in the novels, but Jordan’s dog, who was named after Lee Child’s character.

“Those who came in were SO appreciative of the coffee and being able to get out of their houses. We've all been feeling a lot of cabin fever. I expect for us to have many more in [rest of the week]. So many people are still unable to leave their immediate area,” Jordan wrote in an email to Mystery Scene.

Murder by the Book still has on its calendar appearances by Louise Penny, Tess Gerritsen, and Craig Johnson.

Book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness reported that Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston canceled its “signature poetry event of the year.” But the store’s Facebook page said, “We stopped by the shop, and all is well. We are very lucky. We continue to keep our bookselling friends and community in our thoughts and hearts.”

Before Harvey, the Galveston Bookshop in Galveston cleared its lower shelves of books and canceled upcoming events. According to Shelf Awareness, the store was “dry, undamaged as of Saturday afternoon.”

Brazos Bookstore in Houston also canceled its events, including Customer Appreciation Day. The store stated on Facebook that it “might have to retitle [the event] Hurricane Appreciation Day.” September author events remain on Brazos’ schedule, including Attica Locke’s signing for Bluebird, Bluebird, scheduled for September 13.

Katy Budget Books in Houston reported on Facebook that the store will make its decision day by day whether to remain closed.

Richard Deupree, manager of Katy Budget Books, told Shelf Awareness in an interview that “A crisis like this brings out the best in people. Utility linemen working to restore power in blistering winds and driving rain, risking their lives so others will be more comfortable. People from Louisiana (they call themselves the Cajun Navy) working their way to Houston as we speak, with small boats in tow to help with search and rescue. Neighbors helping neighbors...

“Ironic is it not: out of catastrophe comes unity."

Photo: Murder by the Book montage courtesy McKenna Jordan.

Houston Bookstores vs. Harvey
Oline H. Cogdill
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 22:45

burleyjohn quietchild
Welcome to Cottonwood, California.

Until last month, I had never heard of Cottonwood.

That’s no offense to the good people of the town of about 3,300, located in Shasta County in the northern part of California.

I’m from a small town, and doubt many people have heard of my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. Or the nearby towns of Bertrand, East Prairie, or Wyatt in Southeast Missouri, nicknamed The Bootheel.

For history buffs, Cottonwood was a stagecoach town with a settlement established in 1849. The first post office opened in 1852.

In 1997 the movie Almost Heroes was filmed there. The movie starred Matthew Perry and Chris Farley; it was Farley’s last film.

And now Cotttonwood, California, makes an appearance in two excellent mystery novels—The Quiet Child by John Burley and Y Is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.

Burley sets The Quiet Child in 1954, and Cottonwood becomes a metaphor for fear.

Here, the residents of Cottonwood are uncomfortable in the presence of six-year-old Danny McCray, who has “elective mutism.” He doesn’t speak, ever, and the townspeople blame Danny for the town’s economic decline and any of the residents’ suffering. To them, Danny is “a ghost child, a quiet child the townspeople referred only to in whispers.”

Then Danny is kidnapped along with his ten-year-old brother, Sean, who is the only person who seems to truly love Danny. The kidnapping—and the search—launches the tight, gripping plot of The Quiet Child. People care about Sean but few want Danny found.

graftonsue yforyesterday
Burley keeps the suspense high and the story realistic as he looks at family relationships, unconditional love, and fear in The Quiet Child.

Kinsey Millhone makes a trek to Cottonwood, during the course of an investigation in Sue Grafton’s Y Is for Yesterday.

Kinsey remembers as a child reading about naturally occurring asphalt that was discovered near Cottonwood. It is a memory of Kinsey’s childhood as she read about it in an old encyclopedia that her Aunt Gin had bought.

Y Is for Yesterday is, of course, the second to last Kinsey novel that Grafton has planned. Regardless of the plot, many of us look forward to each Grafton novel because we just want to know what Kinsey’s been up to.

And Grafton is ending her series on a high note with the outstanding Y Is for Yesterday.

New Mystery Destination: Cottonwood, California
Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, 19 August 2017 21:37

vera series 7 Brenda Blethyn Kenny Doughty
So many people help make the mystery genre what it is today—authors, editors, publishers, a few critics.

Add to that list those actors, directors, and more who bring the mystery genre to the screen.

One of those actors is Brenda Blethyn, the Academy Award and Emmy nominated, Golden Globe winning actress who stars as DCI Vera Stanhope in the series Vera, based on Ann Cleeves’ novels.

So it makes perfect sense that Blethyn is being honored with the Poirot Award at Malice Domestic 30, which will be held April 27 - 29, 2018.

I love the TV series Vera, not only because I am fan of Cleeves’ novels but also because of Blethyn.

The actress so winningly brings to life this cantankerous but brilliant detective who solves unthinkable crimes in northeast England.

veraseason7 Brenda Blethyn
Blethyn gets to the heart of Vera, showing, of course, her crusty side but also her vulnerability.

Vera thinks like no other detective she works with, and she wants to impart this knowledge to her young colleague DS Aiden Healy (well played by Kenny Doughty) who joined the series in the fifth season.

The announcement of the Poirot Award couldn’t be more timely as the seventh season of Vera has just been released on Acorn TV.

The four episodes that comprise Vera’s seventh season are 90 minutes each, and each is a standout, proving why the series is one of Britain’s most popular detective dramas.

The series can be viewed at Acorn. Or you can buy the DVD at Acorn.

Here’s a synopsis of the four episodes:

Natural Selection: Vera investigates a wildlife ranger’s death, taking the detective to a remote island off the coast of Northumberland.

Dark Angel: Vera looks at an old case to find out who killed a drug addict.

Broken Promise: Vera’s latest case is finding out if a promising university student who fell to his death in suspicious circumstances was murdered.

The Blanket Mire: This may be my favorite of the four as Vera looks into the death of a teenager, whose body was found buried on the moors. Vera doesn’t just accept the findings of the original investigation as she delves into the victim’s secret life.

PHOTOS: Top, Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn. Bottom, Brenda Blethyn. Photos courtesy Acorn TV.

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
Oline H. Cogdill