Saturday, 01 October 2016 16:03

hartelsa whitemirror
A couple of weeks ago, I had a mad craving for Chinese food. And it had to be Chinese—not Thai or Japanese or Indian. Chinese.

Now, I love Chinese food—as I do just about any kind of food, to be frank—but this was a real craving.

It was only when I was halfway through my lunch that I realized where my craving came from. I was reading—and enjoying—The White Mirror by Elsa Hart.

Hart’s excellent second novel looks at the politics and culture of China during the 1700s.

In my Associated Press review of The White Mirror, I wrote, “Hart’s precise research makes 18th century China seem fresh and relevant as she steeps The White Mirror with vivid scenery and believable characters. Hart manages to find the commonalities between centuries while keeping the sensibilities of historical China.”

This isn’t the first time my reading has merged into my meals. In fact, it happens quite often.

Naomi Hirahara’s Sayonara Slam had me rushing to my favorite sushi restaurant to bond, no doubt, with her character Mas Arai, an eightysomething Japanese-American gardener.

Elaine Viets’ Brain Storm had me wanting gooey butter cake, a specialty of St. Louis, where the novel is set. Of course, being from Missouri, I am quite familiar with this regional dessert.

Charles Todd’s The Shattered Tree had me thinking about the big English breakfasts I had several years ago at an inn near Salisbury, England.

seguraalex downthedarkestcrner
vietselaine brainstorm
Down the Darkest Street
by Alex Segura encouraged me to have dinner at John Martin’s Pub in Coral Gables, Florida, one of the many Miami spots the author references in his Miami-based novel.

Boston cuisine played heavy in my mind while I read Ingrid Thoft’s Brutality and Pamela Wechsler’s Mission Hill, both of which take place there.

I was ready for some blue crab, crab cakes, and pit beef after reading Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, even though none of those dishes are even mentioned in this Baltimore-based novel.

Linda Fairstein’s Killer Look had me longing for New York City and the wonderful restaurants set there. Of course, I feel that way every time I read one of Fairstein’s novels about Alex Cooper.

A recent interview with Joanne Fluke, which will appear in the winter issue of Mystery Scene, made me dream of pastries and those famous chocolate chip crunch cookies that are the specialty of her baker and sleuth Hannah Swensen. Fluke also brings those chocolate chip crunch cookies to each of her book signings for her fans. Another reason to attend one of her events—buy a book and enjoy a cookie.

Ace Atkins’ The Innocents had me longing for fried catfish and shrimp and grits, which I’ve enjoyed many times in Mississippi, where the author’s Quinn Colson novels are set. Again, food isn’t mentioned Atkins’ series—except when Quinn’s mother is cooking—but the subliminal message was there nevertheless.

And my food memories were strong when I read Jason Miller’s Red Dog, which takes place in the Little Egypt area of Illinois. This area includes Cairo, Illinois, which is located seven miles from my family farm and where I was born. Red Dog had me longing for Shemwell’s Barbeque, where my parents and I used to go a lot. I would love to have one of Shemwell’s bbq sandwiches with its hot bbq sauce.

So, readers, do you have food cravings when you read a mystery?

By the way, I just started the latest Randy Wayne White novel, Seduced, and I really want some orange juice. (If you read the novel, you’ll understand why.)

Eating With Mystery Writers
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 18:20

girlonthetrain emilyblunt
I am not a fan of process stories—those statistics-laden stories meant to tell us how things work. Usually, they just make my eyes glaze over.

But when it comes to books and reading habits, I am happy to hear statistics that show good news.

According to The New York Times, paperback book sales are up. Independent bookstores are thriving again, and e-book sales have tumbled.

The Times reports: “Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 percent in the first three months of 2016, and children’s books dropped by 2.1 percent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 percent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 percent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 percent, and paperback sales, which were up by 6.1 percent.”

OK, so it is not all good news.

But any increase of books, no matter the platform, is good news.

The Times acknowledges that several factors might have made book sales at the beginning of this year slightly worse than those in the same period last year.

The Times states that “like the movie business, publishing depends heavily on a few outsize hits each season to drive profits. In the early part of this year, there wasn’t a huge, breakout bestseller, certainly nothing like 2015’s The Girl on the Train, which came out in January and sold two million copies in just over four months.”

But I am sure that we’ll see an increase in the sale of the paperback version of The Girl on the Train when the movie version comes out in a few weeks.

The advance clips of the film version, starring Emily Blunt (pictured), look great.

And I hope that inspires more people to buy Paula Hawkins’ book, as well as other mystery novels.

If you are looking for a list of mysteries written by women that are equal to or even better than The Girl on the Train, let me suggest a few: Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Alex Marwood, Megan Abbott, Julia Keller, Clare Mackintosh, Jennifer McMahon, Val McDermid, Alafair Burke, Allison Brennan, Lisa Unger, Karin Slaughter, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Elizabeth Hand, and a slew of others.

And yes, there are an equal number of wonderful mystery writers who are men, but I am making the comparison to The Girl on the Train, not Boy on the Train.

Bottom line: read, buy books, buy audiobooks, buy paperbacks.

Just read.

Photo: Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train. Photo courtesy DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment

Paperback and Audiobook Sales Are Up
Oline H. Cogdill
Sunday, 25 September 2016 17:15

marwoodakex darkestsecret
Some people call them Easter eggs, others little gems.

I call them bits of business, and sometimes homages.

I am referring to those little references to other authors that many writers include in their plots. A kind of wink-wink to readers.

Some writers will have their characters reading others’ novels. Some will have their characters run into another character, or even another author, making the encounter an organic part of the plot.

For example, in Ace Atkins Robert B. Parker’s Kickback, Boston private detective Spenser makes the evening news. His story is reported by Hank Phillippi Ryan, who, in addition to being the award-winning author of the Jane Ryland series, also is an award-winning television journalist, having won 32 Emmys and 13 Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.

But one of the most unusual—and poignant—references is in Alex Marwood’s newest novel, The Darkest Secret.

Marwood, who is profiled in the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine (Fall 2016, No. 146), honors her grandmothers, who were both authors.

Marwood, whose real name is Serena Mackesy, comes from a line of authors.

Both her grandmothers were successful novelists in Great Britain. 

Her maternal grandmother was the award-winning Margaret Kennedy, whose novel The Constant Nymph was the top bestseller of the 1920s and was recently relaunched in the U.K.

Her paternal grandmother, Leonora Mackesy, supported her family by writing under the names Leonora Staff and Dorothy Rivers in the genre called “housemaids novels,” or, as Marwood added, “straight-up romance.”

So Marwood sprinkles references to her grandmothers’ works throughout The Darkest Secret. One character is referred to as The Constant Nymph.

There are references to The Midas Touch, which was published by Kennedy in 1938 and was a Daily Mail book of the month.

Marwood makes several references to works by her grandmothers, both of whom would, I think, be proud of their granddaughter’s gripping, well-plotted novels.

Alex Marwood Homage to Grandmothers
Oline H. Cogdill