Tuesday, 06 December 2016 08:10

james peter
Mystery Scene occasionally welcomes guest bloggers. Today, Peter James discusses research behind his new novel, Love You Dead.

James is an international bestselling thriller writer who is published in 37 languages. His DS Roy Grace crime novels have sold 18 million copies worldwide. In 1994 Penguin published his novel Host on two floppy disks as the world’s first electronic novel. He is Overseas Vice-President of International Thriller Writers in the U.S. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the 2016 CWA Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence, and he was publicly voted by WH Smith—Britain's biggest book selling chain—The Best Crime Author Of All Time. Visit him on YouTube: www.peterjames.com/youtube.

His latest novel, Love You Dead, is about Jodie Bentley, who has two dreams—to be beautiful and rich. She's achieved the first, with a little help from a plastic surgeon. Her philosophy on money is simple: you can either earn it or marry it. Marrying is easy, it's getting rid of the husband afterward that's harder, that takes real skill. But she has not bargained for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.

James offers us a peek at his research.

Researching Venomous Reptiles for Love You Dead
By Peter James

On a tour of Fulham Police HQ back in 2014, I saw two large tins of chocolates on a very overweight detective’s desk. I couldn’t help making a mischievous comment.
“Like these, do you?” I asked him with a grin.

“Actually they’re not chocolates in there—it’s food for my poisonous frogs,” he replied.

I stopped in my tracks.

In that moment, in the curious way my mind sometimes works, I sensed a plot for a new novel. A “black widow” targets rich men and murders them using poisonous creatures!

I quizzed him for the next hour, and viewed images on his computer screen of his pets, the world’s deadliest amphibians, poison arrow frogs. They are so called because their secretion is used for the tips of arrows. I also learned from him the difference between poisonous and venomous. Poisonous is something you touch or eat; venomous is something that bites you.

Then I learned something else. Out of their South American habitat, the poison loses its strength. Sensing my disappointment he said, cheerily, “What about venomous snakes? They kill more people every year, throughout the world, than guns. And often more quickly.”

I’m often asked if I ever get scared.

The answer is a resounding yes!

jamespeter loveyoudead
If I had been asked what the scariest thing that has ever happened to me during my research, before Love You Dead, then it would have been a close call between being locked in a coffin for 30 minutes, submerged in an upturned van in a harbour, going into a burning house with the Fire and Rescue Service, or walking at 2 a.m. with an unarmed police officer up to a car, in a deserted car park, believed to have a dangerous armed criminal inside it.

But with Love You Dead I’ve topped all that by quite a margin. I’m scared by a lot of ordinary things that affect many of us. I’m deeply claustrophobic, to the point where I can’t sit comfortably in the rear of a two-door car; I have a fear of heights; and I’m really not comfortable around spiders, creepy crawlies in general, or snakes.

Researching for this novel I did two things I never, ever thought I would—I held a live scorpion in the palm of my hand, and I had a 15-foot boa constrictor wrapped around my body.

My “black widow” character, Jodie Bentley, is an expert in venomous creatures, and keeps a host of them in a secret room in her home in Brighton. To learn more about them I spoke to a number of experts in the UK and abroad, all of whom told me the best place to learn about them would be to visit one of the regular reptile shows at Houten in Holland or Hamm in Germany. So I did. Gulp! I went to Houten and what I learned rocked me to the core.

It was an exhibition centre the size of Olympia, filled with rows and rows of stands selling everything from Black Widow, Trapdoor, Redback and other charming spiders, to all kinds of snakes including Taipans, the world’s most venomous snake, and Saw Scaled Vipers, which kill the greatest number of people.

The reason being, it was explained cheerfully to me, is that the Taipan lives in remote areas, so rarely has contact with humans, but the Saw Scaled Viper, common in India, lives in populated areas. It kills a staggering 53,000 people a year in India alone. By comparison, 45,000 people die in car accidents and 15,000 are murdered, annually, in the USA.

The Saw Scaled Viper’s venom destroys the ability of its victims’ blood to coagulate, essentially liquidising their insides. They start to bleed from every orifice, their eyes, nose, mouth and all others. If the antidote is not introduced within two hours, the bite is almost always fatal. I met a survivor of a SSV bite, a very charismatic young man, who told me that he managed to get to a hospital where he could be treated within the requisite two hours. But even now, six years on, several times a year he is bedridden with flu-like symptoms. He was lucky. One of the less publicized long-term effects of some venomous snake bites is that a male’s sex organs become permanently shrunk.

I kept well away from those creatures!

Then I made the mistake of chatting to a man selling scorpions. He told me that one of the most docile of all was an Arabian Flat Rock Scorpion, he produced one from a box and asked me to hold out my hand. He then laid the creature on it. It was huge, about the size of a small lobster, and felt warm. I was shaking with terror! Nice scorpion! I said to it, repeatedly, unsure what else to say to the creature, and hoping it wouldn’t misinterpret my jangling nerves as some manifestation of hostility. When finally he took it back, to my immense relief, he said, It’s OK, if it had stung you it would be no worse than a bad bee sting!

He then opened another clear plastic box—no bigger than a sandwich container, inside of which was another scorpion, which he cheerfully told me could kill me in five days, in agony.

All of these creatures were on sale for prices ranging from $50 to $150.

Further, there are no laws against bringing them into the UK.

All you have to do, if you walk through Customs with one, is say you are going to apply for a license within 48 hours.

But as the cost of a license can be as high as $1,500 per annum, not that many purchasers do.

And there is no one to monitor them…

Peter James Meets the Black Widow
Saturday, 03 December 2016 19:08

collins maxallen
The Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master award is perhaps the greatest honor the MWA presents, perhaps even more of an honor than winning an Edgar.

That’s because the Grand Master has been a reflection of the state of the genre, showing how crime fiction continues to evolve as well as honoring the genre’s history.

This year is no different—the Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen honorees are truly deserving. (OK, full disclosure, I received the Raven in 2013 so my affection for that category is extreme.)

All will receive their awards at the 71st Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 27, 2017.


hart ellenThis year, MWA is honoring two Grand Masters—Max Allan Collins, top left and Ellen Hart, at right.

As the MWA states, the “Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”

Collins has been a mainstay of the genre since he sold his first two novels in 1972 while a student at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

Since then, he has written more than a hundred novels. Those include his award-winning and groundbreaking Nathan Heller historical series, starting with True Detective (1983).

His graphic novel Road to Perdition (1998) was the basis of the Academy Award-winning 2002 film starring Tom Hanks.

He also has written the syndicated strip Dick Tracy; his own Ms. Tree; and Batman. For the hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he wrote 10 novels selling millions of copies worldwide, and his movie-tie in novels include Saving Private Ryan, Air Force One, and American Gangster.

Hart’s credentials are equally impressive.

Hart has written 32 crime novels.

She is the six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, the four-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, and the three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award for mystery.

In addition, Hart has taught crime writing for 17 years through the Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation.

Previous Grand Masters include Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

druann love
The MWA describes the Raven Award as recognizing “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.”

Dru Ann Love, at right, will be honored with the 2017 Raven Award.

Dru Ann Love is owner/editor of dru’s book musings (https://drusbookmusing.com/), a blog where characters give a glimpse into a day in their life, as well as her musings.

She also is a guest blogger at the Stiletto Gang.

Dru Ann’s blog was nominated for a 2015 Anthony Award for Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work. She also serves on the Bouchercon standing committee.

Previous Raven winners include Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.


The MWA established the Ellery Queen Award in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

I can’t think of a better honoree than Neil Nyren.

nyren neilNeil Nyren,left, is the Executive VP, associate publisher, and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Random House.

He has been at Putnam for over 32 years, and before that, at E.P. Dutton, Little Brown, Random House, Arbor House, and Atheneum.

Nyren’s current crime authors include Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, C.J. Box, John Sandford, Robert Crais, Jack Higgins, W.E.B. Griffin, Frederick Forsyth, Randy Wayne White, Alex Berenson, Ace Atkins, Alex Grecian, Carol O’Connell, Owen Laukkanen, Michael Sears, and Todd Moss.

Nyren also worked with Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Daniel Silva, Martha Grimes, Ed McBain, Thomas H. Cook, and Thomas Perry

Nyren was the first to publish books by Carl Hiaasen, Jonathan Kellerman, Gerald Seymour, Garrison Keillor, and Ian McEwan.

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.

Collins, Hart Grand Masters
Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, 19 November 2016 19:15

harrischarlaine allthelittleliars
Charlaine Harris
All the Little Liars begins with a wedding announcement of Aurora Teagarden.

Yes, after 13 years, the favorite librarian of Lawrenceton, Georgia, is back.

And Harris wastes no time in reestablishing her appealing character.

Since the wedding announcement is the first paragraph of All the Little Liars, we are not giving anything away.

The best man is the groom’s best friend—Jeff Abbott of Austin, Texas.

Abbott, of course, is a bestselling author, now best known for his globe-jumping Sam Capra novels.

This makes sense because Aurora’s husband, Robin Crusoe, is a mystery writer. Abbott, of course, also is an award-winning author.

Abbott’s latest novel in his Sam Capra series is The First Order.

Harris’ reference to another mystery writer is one of those little Easter eggs that readers adore.

"Jeff and I have known each other for many, many years. I picked Jeff because he is a friendly guy, and Robin is too, and they write the same sort of books. They might easily bond. Plus, Jeff is a Southerner also. But mostly because he said "yes" when I asked him,” said Harris in an email.

abbottjeff thefirstorder“I have only used names of my close friends before, to give them a fist bump," Harris added.

For his part, Abbott almost forgot about his debut in Harris’ book.

“Charlaine and I are friends; she had asked me a couple of years back if she could use my name and I said yes, but had forgotten about it until someone with an ARC posted about it on Facebook. I haven't read the book yet, it's on order but hasn't arrived. I hope ‘Jeff Abbott’ survives until the next book,” Abbott said in an email.

Read All the Little Liars to find out the fictional Jeff Abbott's fate.

A New Role for Jeff Abbott
Oline H. Cogdill