Tuesday, December 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Sue Grafton's latest is her best

From The Star Press (East Central Indiana) --

BOOK REVIEW: Sue Grafton's latest is her best --

December 20, 2009 --

NEW ORLEANS - U Is for Undertow (A Marian Wood Book/Putnam, 403 pages, $27.95) by Sue Grafton - can it really be 27 years since Kinsey Millhone sifted through clues in A Is for Alibi?

And can Sue Grafton really be approaching the end of the alphabet?

The answers are yes, and yes, and as the end of the series looms, Grafton has never been better.

Millhone, who is still solving crimes in the 1980s and just about to turn 38, has changed little since that first novel. She's still living alone and slightly in love with her landlord, Henry.

By this time, though, the plot is more complicated than usual, and much darker.

Millhone is working in her office when a man shows up unannounced and tells her a recent newspaper article about a 20-year-old kidnapping has unleashed a flood of memories for him. It was his sixth birthday, Michael Sutton tells Millhone, when a 4-year-old-girl was kidnapped. In his recently restored memories, Sutton remembers being in the woods behind his house that day and he thinks he knows where child was buried.

Millhone is skeptical, but reluctantly agrees to devote a day to the case.

Among the first things she finds out is that Sutton has a reputation for not telling the truth. Still, there is something about his tale that rings true for her, so she pushes on.

In this novel, Grafton switches voices and points of view, leading the reader through distant events and current happenings.

"Here's the odd part. In my ten years as a private eye, this was the first case I ever managed to resolve without crossing paths with bad guys," Millhone writes. "Except at the end, of course."

The action switches between the 1980s, and Millhone's investigation, and the 1960s. In this earlier period, we meet Deborah Unruh, an upper middle class homemaker whose son Greg has dropped out of college and taken up with Shelley, an unpleasant young woman, and her 6-year-old son. The trio has been panhandling or outright stealing to make ends meet. But now Shelley is pregnant and they crash at the Unrhus in an old bus they park behind the house.

"What fascinates me about life is that now and then the past rises up and declares itself," Millhone writes by way of introducing her latest case. That also applies to her personal life.

As all fans know, Millhone is a loner, raised by a cantankerous aunt after her parents were killed in a car crash. Her feelings for family have been bitter and distant. Her mother was disowned for marrying her father and Millhone didn't know any of her relatives until a few books back.

That is another situation Millhone also needs to clear up, and in U is for Undertow, she finally does.

BOOKS: Two historic towns and madness (Katherine Howe)

From The Washington Times --

BOOKS: Two historic towns and madness --

By Philip Kopper --
December 20, 2009 --

By Katherine Howe
Hyperion, $25.99, 371 pages

By Elyssa East
Free Press, $26, 291 pages

Two books make fascinating forays into a storied corner of New England and two occult worlds — contemporary and colonial — with special reference to ancient witchcraft, modern sociopathology and that timeless element of the human condition, evil. Given the coincidence that the narratives occur in two historic Massachusetts towns, a dissonance between them is more important: that one is a delicious novel and the other a tart sachet of history and journalism.

It bears mention that each book arose from its author's graduate work, Elyssa East's in an art history project, Katherine Howe's in the hybrid historical discipline, American studies. Was there ever a better argument for going to grad school? If a parent worries about the expense, don't quarrel. Tell them: "But Mom, Dad, I might get a best-seller out of it."

In "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane," Ms. Howe spins a sort of white magic to create from whole cloth a splendidly persuasive community in Marblehead upward of three centuries ago. It has real historical similitude as she weaves details of colonial life that differ from our own, such as the use and meanings of words. "Physick" has to do with human health, healing and the botanical substances used to treat illness; "Deliverance" is a given name in a period when parents often named children for desired virtues. (Does anyone name their daughters Charity any more, let alone Chastity? Or their sons Increase?)

It might seem too cute or autobiographical that the book opens as Connie Goodwin, doctoral candidate, is actually sitting for her oral exam before a panel of august Bostonians. The dust jacket states, "The idea for this novel developed when Howe was studying for her doctoral qualifying exams and walking her dog through the woods between Marblehead and Salem."

Be that as it may, Connie is convincingly human — by turns pedantic, intellectual, curious, sexy, anxious, sly, nervy, bitchy and justifiably terrified. Like her creator, she too has a dog, Arlo. Connie passes the acid test of her orals, then (conveniently) must find a subject for her dissertation under the supervision of a predictably duplicitous Yankee professor who is at once sympathetic and driving. A pipesmoker in tweeds, he coddles his grad students while using them as indentured intellectual servants to dig up new grist for the corpus of his own lifelong scholarship into colonial occults.

Summer comes and Connie sojourns to Marblehead to claim and tidy up a house she has inherited. Standing vacant for 20 years, it is a derelict overgrown and alive with spores of its past lifetimes. Her long-dead grandmother was a gardener and healer, like some of her ancestors, thus a feral garden surrounds the place: "instead of a lawn, riots of wild herbs and plants … standard to a home kitchen garden: thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, a few different mints." There are obscure flowers that Connie "knows only from horticulture books: monkshood, henbane, foxglove, moonwort." She asks, "Hadn't Granna known that a lot of those flowers are poisonous?"

Of course Granna knew, how else to explain the root that Arlo digs up and drops at her feet, mandrake, "among the most poisonous plants known to man." Flashback to 1682 and neighboring Salem's infamous witchhunts. Enter the title character Deliverance Dane, in due course an accused "witch that she ha' murdered his darter [daughter] as part of her pledge to do the Devil's work."

Thereafter the narrative swings back and forth between Connie's world and the colonials'. At one apogee, our heroine advances her academic search for as-yet-undiscovered source material, nay the aforementioned Physick Book. At the other, Deliverance and her daughter practice their arcane arts and find their fates. If Ms. Howe's denouement is a bit forced and tidy, her counterpoint is genuinely entertaining and the two worlds delightfully realized. Furthermore, it offers some genuine social history.

"Dogtown" is a more difficult book that starts in academe. In search of a study topic, Elyssa East became an almost accidental author after stumbling on the work of the early 20th-century artist Marsden Hartley and found it mesmerizing. She was especially taken by the abstract landscapes he painted in a bizarre wild place that captivated him near Gloucester on Cape Ann. The place called Dogtown was wild when Harley found it and much of it had been denuded by logging. Its strangest feature was and is a scattering of huge boulders in extraordinary shapes and configurations, erratics in the vocabulary of geology, pushed here by Pleistocene glaciers millennia ago.

Ms. East found it a magical setting, albeit much of the magic is black. Boggy and thin-soiled, this had been a hard place for human habitation since early English immigrants settled here. They ultimately abandoned it, but people kept coming there, drawn by some impalpable attraction. Some moderns say it lies above an electromagnetic hotspot, others that it is simply and irrevocably haunted. According to one local mystic, nature is "constantly broadcasting across a frequency that only a few knew how to turn in to. Dogtown happened to be one of the places where the signal was strongest. And when people listened to the earth, it listened back." But it was not always benign.

Twenty years before Ms. East arrived, Dogtown was the scene of a particularly heinous murder. A gentle schoolteacher who loved those now-deep wild woods was attacked while taking one of her long rambling walks on a rainy morning. The killer smashed her head with a rock, stripped off her clothes, then dragged her body from the trail and hid it. When her husband went searching, he was led to the body by her faithful dog.

The book "Dogtown" is a fabric of many strands: the murder; the trial and conviction of one Peter Hodgkins, a local ne'er-do-well who appears crazy by every standard except legal ones; the failure of our institutions to cope with his madness; the human history of the place; its geology, botany and ecology. One pedestrian theme is the sorry possibility that Dogtown may be developed as real estate. A more moving theme is Dogtown's healing affect on some troubled souls, the artist Hartley for one, the author for another. She closes with an epiphany in a discovery that the reader had best experience for himself.

Consider: "The silence of this rock grove was so deep it seemed as though I could hear the sound of the trees drawing up water through their roots, the lichen and moss breaking rocks into dust, the soft burrowing of every animal. It was as though the Earth's hidden, most essential forms had risen up from deep inside its core and spilled over into this little valley." Dogtown is one of those special places to see before you die. Deliverance Dane is a dame I'd love to meet.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Closing in on the letter Z (Sue Grafton)

From Los Angeles Times --

Closing in on the letter Z --

By Sarah Weinman --
December 17, 2009 --

A talk with Sue Grafton about her latest Kinsey Millhone mystery, 'U Is for Undertow.' For the series' first half, people bet that she couldn't finish it. 'Now,' she says, 'they are rooting for me.'

Reporting from New York - In 1982, reviewing Sue Grafton's first private detective novel, "A Is for Alibi," the pseudonymous New York Times crime fiction critic Newgate Callendar wondered, "Will the series take hold? This first book is competent enough, but not particularly original." Twenty-seven years on, Callendar's dismissive attitude toward the book -- and its tough-minded thirtysomething heroine Kinsey Millhone -- demonstrates the dangers of prognostication and how instantaneous judgments don't age well.

Grafton's alphabet-titled series not only took hold, but the books are also available in 28 countries (and 26 languages) in abundant quantities, well into the millions of copies. In the last two years, Grafton has won lifetime achievement awards on both sides of the Atlantic. Without her and crime-writing colleagues Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, the female private detective subgenre would simply not exist. And with the end of the alphabet in sight, no author is more closely identified with reader expectations -- especially when "Z Is for Zero" shepherds Kinsey and her hometown of Santa Teresa to a fictional end.

Grafton has certainly reaped the rewards of this bigger picture: But what's been lost in the collective race toward the finish line is that Grafton, interviewed on the first day of her book tour for "U Is for Undertow" (Putnam: 404 pp., $27.95), has produced a better book each time out, and "U" is her most structurally complex, psychologically potent book to date.

The 69-year-old woman I met at the Four Seasons Hotel, where she stays regularly when visiting the city, was comfortable in the skin of her black sweater, gray speckled skirt and black boots. But just underneath the extroverted mask she presents at bookstore appearances is the deeply contemplative writer still determined to stretch her chops and chart territory that removes any semblance of a comfort zone. Rather than rest on her laurels, Grafton does the exact opposite.

The main story line in "U" concerns the disappearance of a 4-year-old girl in the late 1960s -- a topic "fraught with emotion" for Grafton, who has a granddaughter the same age.

"I could hardly bear the subject matter," she said. "Children are so precious, and it was very difficult to talk about the disappearance of a child, because I could identify all too well with the agony that parents and grandparents must go through."

Grafton had actively resisted working on such a story line for a while -- it was one of six possible plots she considered and took notes on for her previous book, "T Is for Trespass" -- but found it worked this time once she decided to keep the crime itself off-camera. While her books by definition deal with homicide and violence, Grafton doesn't want to "repel her readers" and rub the gory details in their faces.

Instead, Grafton is more concerned with what happens in the gray areas, when ordinary people cross the line.

"Many criminals are not evil people," she says. "They are not pathologically twisted. Many ordinary folk somehow wander from the straight and narrow. And those kinds of deviations and crimes are interesting to me because they are closer to the norm. They are outside what I consider acceptable behavior, but not as cut and dried."

Echoing her last two books, Grafton no longer relies on Kinsey as the sole narrator, but "U" goes a step further: There are several additional points of view from characters with deep connections to the kidnapped child, told in alternating time sequences between the late '60s and the "present day" of 1988. The added rigors kept Grafton off-balance in the two years it took to complete the novel.

"It was the most bizarre thing: I could 'see' the story, like it was a little light box, but I couldn't figure out how to break down the elements and how to present them, what was the beginning, middle and end," she said. "So I kept dumping it. But every time I would do that, it was like there was a figure tapping my shoulder, insisting I keep trying. I must have started the story wrong about three times. It was like throwing dinner plates at the wall in order to see what sticks."

As frustrating as the process is for her (Grafton confessed there were days she "nearly burst into tears" when the writing wasn't working), she takes comfort that she's gone through similar routines every time -- and can prove it by looking back to the voluminous journals she's kept for each of her books. (Notes dating back to "G Is for Gumshoe" are archived on her computer; Boston University, to which she donated her archives, houses the journals for the series' earliest installments.)

Of course, the looming specter of "Z" -- which will coincide with Kinsey's 40th birthday in 1990 -- can't be completely ignored. With just five more letters in the alphabet, Grafton estimates she'll be an octogenarian when she shuts the door on Kinsey -- and no, there won't be more using the Cyrillic alphabet, or double letters, or anything of the sort. "I'll never do linking titles again," she said.

But who's to say she needs to continue the sequence? She's the author, the god of her writing, and surely, she could stop whenever she likes?

"Well, I don't know," Grafton said, a half-smile on her face. "When I started writing the series, who even knew this was going to work? Was that gall, was I being cheeky or not? For the first half of the alphabet, people bet I couldn't [get to the end]. Now, they are rooting for me."

Talking to Grafton reveals some of the yin and yang between author and readers. On the one hand, she stresses that she "has to put up a wall" and tune out most of what they might suggest for Kinsey: "[They want her] to have more than one dress, get better haircuts, diet improved. If I did all that she wouldn't be Kinsey Millhone."

But a letter from a reader named Pat did spur one of the most important story pieces in "U": a deeper investigation of Kinsey's personal history (first delved into in "J Is for Judgment") and the motivations of both her rich, distant grandmother and her aunt and onetime guardian, Virginia. Why did this letter hit home more than any of the other missives that Grafton gets? "It was a message I must have been ready to receive," she said.

Grafton is also adamant that Hollywood won't get its hands on Kinsey. She's joked in the past that she'll haunt her kids if they ever capitulate, but the long-running reticence has concrete roots in the 16 years she spent as a screenwriter (the latter portion with her third and current husband, Steven Humphrey). "Part of my issue with Hollywood is that if an actress is attached to the series to play Kinsey, she's going to be in my head. I can't afford that. Once they own her, once money changes hands, [Hollywood] can do whatever they want."

She may have left the film and television world behind 20 years ago, but some lessons are hard to forget. "I know how those meetings sound and how the decisions are made," Grafton said. "They court you up front and all they want to do is get your stuff. Anyone who falls for it is a fool. It's like being picked up in a bar: If you really believe when the guy tells you you're beautiful, you're going to be in for a big surprise."

The Angels Among Us (Anne Rice)

From Parade --

The Angels Among Us --

By Anne Rice --
published: 12/20/2009 --

Author Anne Rice started the vampire craze 33 years ago with her novel “Interview With the Vampire.” Recently, she has turned her thoughts—and writing—to angels. (Her latest novel is “Angel Time.”) In this season of holiday spirit, we asked Rice why we need angels.

What are angels? Did we invent them the way we invented Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Boogey Man who frightens little children into being good? Where do angels come from?

These days, we see angels everywhere. Gift shops offer gold-and-silver angels as Christmas ornaments and statuettes. Angel faces are featured in beautifully framed paintings and on greeting cards. Angels in plastic or porcelain decorate mantelpieces and dashboards. Countless books on angels, some filled with accounts of visitations, others claiming to know secrets about angels, fill shelves. Some even suggest how to talk to angels and how to hear their voices in return.

Almost any schoolchild can describe angels. They are nearly always tall, slender beings with soft shoulder-length hair and graceful flowing robes. They may wear sandals, but they never wear shoes. Most of the time, their toes peek out from beneath their gowns. But what really makes an angel is a pair of huge, spreading, white-feathered wings. Even roly-poly baby angels, called cherubs, have those all-important white wings.

Wherever and however they appear, angels offer consolation. They smile with infinite patience; they look lovingly on those of us whom they guard. Friends offering angel gifts are seeking to remind us that angels provide safety and peace.

Angels are not a modern invention. And they may not be an invention at all. They come to us right out of the pages of the Bible, complete with their powerful wings. In the Book of Exodus, winged cherubim are carved on the Ark of the Covenant. And in the Book of Isaiah, the prophet sees the powerful winged seraphim singing before the throne of God.

A choir of angels sings to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And Jesus assures us that little children have their special guardian angels, while later on, in the garden of Gethsemane, an angel comes to comfort Jesus himself.

Indeed, all we know about angels comes from holy writ, and countless biblical scholars have developed our notions of guardian angels and angels sent to Earth in answer to our prayers.

Though no female angel appears in the Bible, there is no reason, apparently, that angels cannot take a female form. They themselves are beyond gender, and the bodies in which they appear are either illusions or specially made for a particular purpose and soon discarded once no longer in use. Angels are pure spirit; their natural dwelling place is Heaven. But they are always very busy on our behalf here on Earth.

It is no surprise that these beings fascinate us, splendid and ethereal as they are. We cannot help but wonder what angels think about as they come and go, intervening in our lives for the good. Do they have feelings? Do they like one assignment better than another? Do they learn from us as we learn from them?

Hollywood films have given us a variety of angel personalities, from the delightful little Clarence Oddbody of It’s a Wonderful Life to John Travolta’s beer-drinking, belching angel in Michael. In the TV shows Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven, the angelic stars, played by Roma Downey and Michael Landon, were known by their innate serenity and tireless good will.

Today, as readers and audiences obsess over vampires, one can’t help but wonder if those fans aren’t really seeking angels. After all, in the best-selling book (and blockbuster movie) Twilight, Edward the vampire is the protector of the young heroine Bella, saving her from evil humans as well as evil immortals. A good vampire also strives to protect against a bad vampire in the Vampire Diaries novels, now a show on the CW network. And in True Blood, the HBO series based on the popular books, waitress Sookie Stackhouse finds a stalwart guardian in the person of a handsome vampire as well.

Like angels, vampires are powerful and mysterious beings who aren’t subject to the ravages of old age or time. Like angels, vampires are often described and portrayed as extremely beautiful. Like angels, vampires look human and sound human, though they are not.

But vampires are sad creatures. They speak to us of confusion and the longing to be human. They struggle in the darkness, lamenting the loss of the light.

Perhaps the whole vampire craze can be related to the age-old yearning for a loving, eloquent supernatural presence that will save us from the perils and disasters of ordinary life.

With angels we are most certainly on surer ground. Our oldest religious texts assure us that the Almighty does indeed have such wondrous messengers and helpers, and that He sends them to Earth only to do good. One cannot help but be glad that once the present vampire craze is over, angels will still be busy guarding their earthly charges and answering prayers.

Angels are dazzling expressions of God’s love for his children. Not only do they bring hope to the weary, but they are always pointing upward, promising that at the end of life’s journey, they will be there to carry us to that greatest of all mysteries, the bliss and splendor of our heavenly home.

Christmas and murder: With Perry’s novels, the combination works (Anne Perry)

From Palm Beach Post --

Christmas and murder: With Perry’s novels, the combination works --

By Scott Eyman –
December 15, 2009 --

A CHRISTMAS PROMISE, by Anne Perry. Ballantine; 193 pages; $18.

Anne Perry gets one primary problem out of the way: The murder that motivates the plot of A Christmas Promise takes place before the book begins, which removes the bloody corpse, which invariably stifles Christmas cheer.

Truthfully, though, Perry’s remarkably successful annual Christmas novels are among the strangest confabulations in publishing, Christmas and murder not being often used in the same sentence, except in daydreams.

Anyway. In the frigid East End of London, a little 8-year-old girl named Minnie Maude Mudway is looking for her donkey Charlie. Charlie was being driven by Alf, her uncle, who was killed three days earlier. She misses her uncle, but she misses the donkey more.

Touched by the child’s desperation, Gracie Phipps, 13, takes up Minnie Maude’s case, and enlists the aid of a local man named Balthasar, who runs something of an old curiosity shop. The two little girls fight the elements of a freezing Christmas to find the donkey, for in finding the donkey they will surely find the killers of Uncle Alf — unless of course Charlie has met the same dire fate.

This is the most Dickensian of Perry’s seven Christmas books, and it flirts with a sentimentality that she has mostly avoided. Were I a much harsher man, and were it any season but this, the plight of two bedraggled children ranging far and wide over Victorian London in search of a donkey would send me into fits of giggles. Not only that, but Perry writes the whole thing in stage-Cockney dialect (“Yer talkin’ daft. Oo’d wanter ’urt Alf?’ ”).

But I confess that I am helpless before this particular kind of expert kitsch — blame it on being hopelessly maimed by Greyfriars Bobby and the sad fate of the aged Donald Crisp. And don’t get me started on Roddy McDowell and Lassie, Come Home.

In truth, A Christmas Promise is made up almost entirely of clichés, roughly speaking equal parts The Little Match Girl, and a conflation of various Dickensian themes. Yet, somehow, it’s not only not offensive, it’s pretty effective, largely because Perry is a master — mistress? — of her chosen period, and she always knows when to stop applying the melodrama and write luscious Victorian atmosphere:

“Most of the lamps were lit, and there was a yellow warmth to them, like lighted windows to some palace of the mind. There was a slight fog rising, muffling the sound of distant wheels, and every now and then the mournful bellow of a foghorn sounded somewhere down on the river.

“There wasn’t much to show that Christmas was only a couple of days away, just the occasional wreath of leaves on a door, some with bright berries; or someone passing by singing a snatch of a song, happy and lilting, not the usual bawdy version of the latest from the music halls.”

Also, there’s a core of moral reality at the base of Perry’s work, as there is with any serious crime novelist: “What kind of people understood evil? Good people? Wise people? People who had faced it and come out hurt but had ultimately survived?”
The character of Balthasar is potentially queasy-making, because of the possibility of overstressing the parable about the wise men and the manger. Balthasar turns out to be wise, yes, but also something of a man of action — dare one say (Sherlock) Holmesian?

Perry artfully piles on the Victoriana, and Charlie and all the innocents have a happy, gentle ending. May the same be said of all of us.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anne Rice masterfully ascends to angels in latest thriller


Anne Rice masterfully ascends to angels in latest thriller --

By Carol Memmott --
2009-12-15 --

Angels, not vampires, are the supernatural creatures at the center of Angel Time, a metaphysical thriller by Anne Rice.

Billed as first in a series titled The Songs of the Seraphim, Angel Time is the story of Toby O'Dare, a young man who suffered unbearable hardships growing up in New Orleans (the city where numerous Rice novels have been set). A family tragedy on the day of his high school graduation turns him into a killer. He's a government assassin who operates, seemingly, without a conscience, but after a decade of dispatching people to the afterlife, he's visited by the angel Malchiah, who assures him it's not too late to change his ways.

To make amends, Malchiah says, Toby must travel back to 13th-century England to protect a Jewish family accused of the ritual murder of their young daughter.

Though the segue from modern-day America to the 13th century seems abrupt and awkward, Rice's fascination with the time period and the treatment of Jews more than makes up for it.

As always, Rice brings an energy and sincerity to her story. Toby, like outcasts in her other novels — vampires, the castrati and people of mixed blood, for example — is a sympathetic character who will evoke an emotional response in fans.

Readers can enjoy the story's sense of urgency as Toby attempts to save himself and take or leave Rice's overriding message, based on her own religious fervor, that God can forgive the transgressions of all who seek him out.

'Angel Time' an engaging tale (Anne Rice)

From The Macomb Daily (Michigan) --

'Angel Time' an engaging tale --

By Rasha Madkour --
December 14, 2009 --

Angel Time
By Anne Rice
(Alfred A. Knopf, 288 pages, $25.95)

A hardened 28-year-old hit man is given a second chance at life when an angel asks him to use his wits, cunning and courage to help answer people's prayers, instead of cutting them short.

This is the premise of Anne Rice's latest novel, "Angel Time," which recounts Toby O'Dare's tragic childhood and how he became a roving killer. After accepting his new assignment, O'Dare is taken back to Norwich, England, in the Middle Ages to help a Jewish family facing accusations of murder by an incensed mob. This comes at a time when Jews were forced to wear yellow patches to distinguish themselves from the rest of society, and when two Christian boys — Little St. William and Little St. Hugh — were said to have been victims of ritual murder by Jews. In this case, the family is accused of killing their daughter because she attended a Christmas pageant.

What follows is a relatively engaging tale, rooted in both the supernatural and real history. Angel time is defined as being in contrast to humans' natural time, since the celestial beings see all eras with equal clarity. This novel is the first in Rice's new series, "Songs of the Seraphim."

Rice, known best for "Interview With the Vampire" and other books in her "Vampire Chronicles" series, made a commitment in 2002 to dedicate her writing entirely to Jesus Christ. This promise is overtly carried out in "Angel Time," where parts of the book dealing with redemption and salvation come off sounding preachy.

Rice's religious zeal is rivaled only by her apparent obsession with architecture, as she rambles on with descriptions of the Mission Inn and various chapels.

Despite the novel's shortcomings, its unusual story line and cliffhanger ending are intriguing enough to make a reader look forward to the next installment.

10 years of notes and interviews become Carlin's 'Last Words' (Diane Mott Davidson)

From Arizona Daily Star --

10 years of notes and interviews become Carlin's 'Last Words' --

12.13.2009 --

"Fatally Flaky"
By Diane Mott Davidson
(Morrow, $25.99)

Diane Mott Davidson has become the queen of the culinary mystery, and her 15th novel showcases her plotting and characterization skills. For the record, Davidson's recipes equal her plotting; I still use her stovetop chocolate soufflé from "Dying for Chocolate."

In "Fatally Flaky," Davidson's Colorado caterer Goldy Schulz has been hired to prepare a wedding reception for a bridezilla. A local physician's death is linked to a town scandal, insists Jack Carmichael, Goldy's godfather. Is all this because of the secrets at a high-end spa?

Davidson's novels have become fan favorites because of her attention to characters and plotting. Goldy started as a new divorcee escaping an abusive marriage from a prominent doctor, showing that domestic violence could happen in the best of homes. Her now happy home life, strong marriage and relationship with her son have added new dimensions to this beloved, entertaining series, as "Fatally Flaky" shows.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Q&A with Anne Rice on 'Angel Time'

From Southern California's Press-Enterprise --

Q&A with Anne Rice on 'Angel Time' --

December 12, 2009 --

Bestselling author Anne Rice held her first book signing event in four years Saturday at The Mission Inn. Her new book, "Angel Time" is set at the historic inn and is the first in a new series called "Songs of Seraphim."

While writing portions of the novel, she stayed in the Amistad Suite - where much of the action in the book takes place.

Before the signing event, we met in the Keeper of the Inn suite next door to the Amistad suite to discuss how "Angel Time" came about.

Dean: What made you choose The Mission Inn as the setting for the novel?

Rice: We came and I fell in love with it. I thought right away, I'm going to put my hero here and have him experience The Mission Inn. That's a great thing for a writer, when you see a place sparks your imagination and you begin to think of a story in details. And, I really didn't have any thought before that. I just fell in love with the place and I stayed in the Amistad Suite, which they've renamed the Anne Rice suite. So this became a big part of the book for me. And I think loving New Orleans as I do, it was natural for me to fall in love with this place. It has history, it's charming and excessive and all that. This is the Inn Keepers. I was in the Amistad both times and I wrote quite a few notes and plans and stuff. And did a lot of thinking and dreaming and meditating. Taking photographs and so forth.

Dean: How long have you been in Rancho Mirage and what made you choose the area?

Rice: Since 2006, spring. I left New Orleans because my son had moved out to New Orleans and my husband was gone. And I wanted to be closer to my son. He lives in LA. The weather was a big deal to me because I'm a Southerner and I really like the sun and warmth. Christopher suggested that Palm Springs - that area - would be perfect and we've found it to be really nice. And one of the great things about being there, of course, is you can take all these side trips - there's the snow in Big Bear and Idyllwild, and you can come here for something completely different. We've been enjoying that aspect of California.

Dean: Do you identify with your main character, Toby O'Dare?

Rice: I don't think a book is going to be very good if you don't identify to some extent with your characters, even though they seem extravagantly different. He's 28 years old, but he's from New Orleans and he has a past that's very troubled , he's very conflicted. So I see continuity between the book and the other books I've written. And I see the same concerns. It's really fun though to write about him because he has a bright future now. He has real possibility. And that's what challenges me and gives me a new creative energy.

Dean: Do you know how many novels will be in the "Songs of the Seraphim" series?

Rice: I'd love to just do a continuing series with Toby. I'd never really planned a series before. I've done books that turned out to be series, but they were never planned that way. And when you plan it, you can develop all kinds of wonderful themes that move book to book to book and I'm really enjoying that.

Dean: Will the other books in the series be set at The Mission Inn as well?

Rice: The second book is set at The Mission Inn too and the third, I'm sure it will continue to be a really important place.

Dean: Was there a lot of research involved in "Angel Time?" I understand the story of little Saint William of Norwich was real.

Rice: I made a fictional story about that community but there really was a little Saint William and the Jews were accused of killing him ritualistically. That was the first time they were ever accused of that in the middle ages and that became a common accusation in Europe for a long time. And I thought, I didn't feel I could do justice to that story so I made up a similar story.

Dean: Is Malchiah modeled after a Biblical figure?

Rice: He's a fictional angel and his name is fictional but we do know about the Seraphim from the Bible. There's a beautiful description by the prophet Isaiah of seeing the Seraphim singing before the throne of God. So of course I read a lot of theology, a lot on angels and what we believe about angels. It's always been believed that maybe special people could have special guardian angels ... that a special angel might come to recruit somebody as special. He'd have a guardian angel too, but he has come to the attention of this higher angel. But all angels are constantly answering prayers. That's what the Bible tells us, that they are looking out for people and answering prayers.

Dean: What is a Seraphim? Are the terms angel and Seraph interchangeable?

Rice: It's a choir of angles. There are archangels like Gabriel who serve certain functions and then there are the Seraphim who are before the throne of God. I love that name, Seraphim, and I love the idea of them singing constantly before the throne of God. I think it's beautiful.

Dean: How does it feel to write about angels rather than vampires and witches?

Rice: It's very energizing because for me, writing about vampires and witches always had to do with the sadness and grief and searching for faith, yet not finding faith ... and struggling in a kind of nihilistic darkness and I really did enough of that. I felt I had no more stories to tell with those characters. On Facebook my readers are always asking, "Will you write one more book with the vampires? Will you write one more book with the witches?" But I can't. I really don't see the world that way anymore and that universe is not my universe anymore. It used to be. I used to feel that way before my faith came back to me and it was natural to talk about it in that way. And I loved those characters. But this is to me much more exciting and in some ways this is a huge challenge. I mean, it's hard to make an angel interesting. I'm not sure that Malchiah is at all as interesting as he will get in the books as they go on. If you are trying to make him true to the Biblical idea of a powerful angel, it's quite a challenge. It's easier to take a vampire and make up anything you want for that character.

I'm kind of enthralled with that. And I'm curious how it'll work out, whether other angels will come into the picture.

Dean: What do you think of the current vampire types like those in "Twilight" and "True Blood?"

Rice: It's fun. I think there's nothing there to be frightened about or upset about. I've seen both the "Twilight" series and I think they were just romances for young teens. I mean, it's the same formula as "Jane Eyre" basically. The young girl ... the other mysterious figure takes an interest in her and is both protective and yet is a threat. And it's kind of, I think, Stephenie Meyer hit on that formula and it's a formula that always works. She's just done it in a new way. I'm amazed that parents are kind of frightened. I think the kids reading the book know that it's fiction. There were people a hundred years ago frightened when people were reading the book "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë. There's nothing to be frightened about. It's just fiction.

And I think "True Blood" is very clever. I really like Bill Compton. I think he's a nice, really melancholy, tormented vampire. I think Southerners really like "True Blood" because they got the South right. It took a vampire show to get it right. So often they get it totally wrong, but somehow or another, it totally works.

Dean: How have you felt while writing this series? I understand how close you must get to the characters and storyline. Can you describe the feeling?

Rice: I get into that character and I start seeing the world from his point of view and the roadmap for the book kind of goes out the window and the book becomes a series of discoveries and surprises. I really enjoyed it, very, very much. As I said, I felt a huge surge of energy that Toby had hope and would be doing things and one thing that means a lot to me is I really like to do historical research and I really like to wander through history. I did it in the vampire chronicles and I really, fixing this device the angels can take him to any time and place in history. Well I was setting that up for myself because I really love that. I really love that. I want him to go to Renaissance Italy and I want him to go back to England in the later middle ages. And I want him to go in Elizabethan times and who knows where. Ancient times and some modern times. But he probably won't go into the future just because that's not something that interests me. But there's no telling where he could show up.

Dean: Why did you decide to do a book signing again after four years?

Rice: The mission inn invited us to do a signing and we thought it would be a great idea. They've been very gracious to us. I never expected them to respond this way. I sent them the book, but only after it was set in type, so I thought, maybe they won't like this. But they were wonderful, they were very gracious. They invited us to come and they've treated us wonderfully. We're really enjoying ourselves. We're enjoying the Festival of Lights. We really love the hotel, I mean, you can tell by the book. So this is really fun. The next book is written. I'll come here often. It's really nice to get away and come here.

Dean: Have you ever thought of writing children's fiction?

Rice: I have. I just haven't developed anything, but I've been invited to do that by my publisher and I'm thinking about it. And one thing I'd really like to do is write a very big Christmas book. But I don't know yet when I'm going to get that done. There are so many things I want to do.

Author Anne Rice finds inspiration at the Mission Inn for new series

From Southern California's Press-Enterprise --

Author Anne Rice finds inspiration at the Mission Inn for new series --

December 12, 2009 --

Best-selling author Anne Rice sat before a fire blazing in a stone fireplace at the Mission Inn in Riverside on Saturday, readying for her first book signing in four years.

Outside, hundreds of stalwart Rice fans stood in the chilly rain waiting to meet the author who has sold more than 75 million copies of her books worldwide and is considered by many to be among the top fiction writers for adults in the century. Her best-sellers include "Interview With the Vampire" and "The Witching Hour." On Saturday, she was signing copies of "Angel Time."

The novel, which was released in October, is the first in her new series titled "Songs of the Seraphim" and is set at the Mission Inn. Rice said inspiration for the setting struck her during her first stay shortly after she moved from New Orleans to Rancho Mirage in 2006.

"We came and I fell in love," Rice said during an interview in the Keeper of the Inn suite at the historic hotel. "I thought right away, I'm going to put my hero here. That's a great thing for a writer ... when you see a place sparks your imagination."

Mission Inn owners Duane and Kelly Roberts had no idea the makings of a book were going on under the Inn's roof until it was a completed product.

"I sent them the book, but only after it was set in type," Rice said. "I thought, maybe they won't like this ... but they were wonderful. They invited us to do the signing. We're really enjoying ourselves."

While researching and writing the first two novels, Rice spent a great deal of time in the Inn's Amistad Suite, which is where most of the book's action takes place. The suite already bears a dedication to Canadian author Anne Cameron, and the owners decided to surprise Rice with a similar dedication on the other side of the suite's entrance.

"They've been very gracious," Rice said. "I'm so honored."

signed copies

Starting with Saturday's book signing, the Inn's gift shop began selling signed copies of "Angel Time."

"Since she moved to the Palm Springs area, the Mission Inn has been a great getaway for her," said Duane Roberts. "It's really very exciting having an author of her stature write about the Inn."

"Angel Time" follows the story of Toby O'Dare, an assassin with a tragic past who often takes refuge at the Mission Inn and visits surrounding real missions like the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Throughout the book are vivid descriptions of the Inn, including the Amistad Suite, scene of O'Dare's final murder.

Rather than vampires or witches, the book focuses on a different host of supernatural beings -- angels. O'Dare is given the option of returning to his lost faith and becoming a helper to a very powerful type of angel called a seraph who goes by the name of Malchiah.

He makes the leap and soon finds himself in 12th-century England, charged with the task of saving two Jewish settlers who have been wrongly accused of ritualistically murdering their own daughter.

Character connection

Rice feels a strong connection to her lead character, as she has in the past with several others.

"I don't think a book is going to be very good if you don't identify to some extent with your characters," Rice said. "He's from New Orleans and has a past that's very troubled; he's very conflicted. So I see continuity between the book and other books I've written.

"It's really fun to write about him because he has a bright future now. He has real possibility. That's what challenges me and gives me a new creative energy."

The sequel to "Angel Time" has already been completed and Rice has begun working on the next in the series.

"The second book is set at the Mission Inn, and in the third, I'm sure it will continue to be a really important place," Rice said.

Rice plans to continue telling O'Dare's story for quite some time, and with the way the plot is set up, there are seemingly infinite possibilities.

The seraph Malchiah will send O'Dare all over history, each time tasking him with a mission that utilizes the skills he once used for evil.

"I really like to do historical research and I really like to wander through history," Rice said. "I did it in the 'Vampire Chronicles.' In this ... the angels can take him to any time and place in history.

"I want him to go to Renaissance Italy, and I want him to go back to England in the later Middle Ages. I want him to go in Elizabethan times and who knows where."

While writing of O'Dare's adventures, Rice will continue visiting the Mission Inn for meditation and inspiration.

"I'll come here often," she said. "It's really nice to get away and come here."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quartet of crime-busters from arcane to addictive (J.D. Robb)

From Winnipeg Free Press --

Quartet of crime-busters from arcane to addictive --

By: John Sullivan --
12/12/2009 --

There's nothing terribly futuristic about the milieu of the even-more-enduring In Death series by J.D. Robb (aka insanely prolific romantic suspense author Nora Roberts), an envisioned 2060 so overtaken by recent technology as to seem almost quaintly understated.

No matter. Lieut. Eve Dallas and her bad-boy zillionaire husband Roarke are as addictive as ever in Robb's latest installment, Kindred in Death (Putnam, 384 pages, $34), where Robb/Roberts again explores her dark side in a series of grisly rape-murders.

Some Robb fans seem put off by this twisty tale of grim vengeance killings, leavened only by Eve's neo-feminine snarkiness, social ineptitude and patented Dallas-Roarke banter. Tough. Eve knows what she's about, and her legions of acolytes do too.

Quartet of crime-busters from arcane to addictive (Sue Grafton)

From Winnipeg Free Press --

Quartet of crime-busters from arcane to addictive --

By John Sullivan --
12/12/2009 --

Long-running mystery series ebb and flow, until they crash and burn, wither away or (rarely) expire with a bang, their stars deceased or honorably pensioned off.

So it's gratifying to find Sue Grafton still surfing the flow with the 21st Kinsey Millhone alphabet caper, U is for Undertow (Putnam, 416 pages, $35).

A poignant tale of lives left fractured by the accidental death of a four-year-old tot during a botched, decades-old kidnapping by a pair of troubled teens, Undertow has no true villains, only victims.

Grafton is sure-footed here, with Kinsey's familiar family-driven angst a backdrop to her realistic, methodical sorting of a pitiful crime involving all-too-human players. One of her best.

Q&A: Mystery Writer Sue Grafton (Sue Grafton)

From TIME --

Q&A: Mystery Writer Sue Grafton --

By Andrea Sachs --
Dec. 11, 2009 --

Mystery writer Sue Grafton has one of the most recognizable trademarks in fiction: the books in her series, from A Is for Alibi in 1982 to her new book, U Is for Undertow, are all named after a letter of the alphabet. That formula regularly takes Grafton's books to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, and Undertow is no exception. TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs talked with the prolific author about the ABCs of writing crime novels during her recent visit to New York City.

What's the origin of the alphabet tradition?

In the back of my mind, when I thought I would write a mystery novel, I understood the virtue of having titles that readers-at-large could recognize so that they'd know you had a next book out. I was reading an Edward Gorey cartoon book called The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and his book is a series of pen-and-ink drawings of Victorian children being done in various ways. If you have not read it, it is truly amusing. His book goes, "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who [wasted away]," on down the alphabet. And I thought to myself, "God bless it. Why couldn't you base a series of crime novels on letters of the alphabet?" (See the top 10 fiction books of 2009.)

This is the 21st book in the series. How have you come up with so many different plots?

Part of what I do is keep charts of the books I've written, so I have a record of the gender of every killer, the gender of the victim, the motive for the crime and the nature of the climax — how does the book end? I also have a series of log lines for each book. In A Is for Alibi, Kinsey Milhone is hired to prove the innocence of a woman just out of prison for the murder of her husband. In B Is for Burglar, Kinsey Milhone is hired to find and get a signature on a minor document. So I know the setup for each book, and when I move to the next in the series, whatever that may be, I go back and review what I've done and figure out a way to come up with a story that is not a duplicate of something I've already done.

Tell me about your heroine, Kinsey Milhone. What is she like?

I claim she is a loner, and she is to a certain extent. She's perfectly happy in her own company. She says at one point, "I am not half of something looking for the other half." She's been married and divorced twice. She also says, "I keep my guard up along with my underpants." So she's careful about sexual connections with guys because to her it represents a hazard. She likes working for herself. She's persistent. She's curious. She's not above breaking and entering if she thinks she can do it without getting caught. Loves to lie — oh, she's so good at that, and kind of takes pride in it, you know. Eats bad food. Cuts her hair with a pair of nail scissors every six weeks. Owns one dress. Now she owns, actually, I think a skirt as well, and she's pretty proud of that. She has no clue about makeup or fashion, so she's always watching women, wondering how they figure it out, and she's not above imitating women if they'll give her a little counsel.

Is she like you? Is it at all autobiographical?

Yes. She is the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. When I was growing up, I didn't get, "You could be a police officer," which might have been really, really fun. I have great respect for law enforcement, and I think it is an interesting career. I worked in the medical field before my work began to support me, and I like medicine and I like law enforcement because they're life on the edge. You are dealing with people who are in trouble by in large, and you learn a lot about human nature from seeing people who are stressed out. I always say that I'm just like Kinsey Milhone unless you don't like her, and then I disavow any connection.

Your new book deals with false-memory syndrome. How did you become interested in that?

There have been many instances in cases where people have been accused of sexual molestation, sexual abuse, satanic rituals with children, where it is purely the artifact of a therapist who decides that you have this problem and little by little elicits memories from you that are totally false. They are planted; they are conjured out of smoke ... Eventually — sometimes, if you're lucky — these people will recant, but the torture they put their families through is incredible because there are some people who are sexually abused, so it's difficult to sort out the true from the false in that circumstance. What interested me was the whole issue of what happens if you have no credibility, what happens if you've been in this circumstance and you've accused your parents of dastardly deeds and then recanted, and then the next thing you come up with, nobody is going to believe you. So I thought that was an interesting idea, the boy who cried wolf.

You are nearing the end of the alphabet. What is going to happen?

Well, given that I have been doing two years between books, which is making my life bearable, that means I've got five books to go, which is 10 years. I just don't know if any of us know what we are going to be doing in 10 years. Maybe I'll get a nursing degree. Maybe I'll become a professional ballerina. I don't know. [Laughs.] And I don't know what's going to happen to Kinsey Milhone because it's none of my business until I get there. Each of her adventures that I document, she's generous enough, and I speak of her as though she were a real person, but after all these years of living with her, I think of her that way. So we'll see. I don't tell her; she tells me. I'm just along for the ride and happy to be part of her strange and glorious life.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mystery Novels Guaranteed to Excite and Thrill: Murder, Murder, More Murder, and a Search for Napoleon’s Missing Treasure (Anne Rice)

From Tucson Citizen --

Mystery Novels Guaranteed to Excite and Thrill: Murder, Murder, More Murder, and a Search for Napoleon’s Missing Treasure --

By Larry Cox --
Dec.12, 2009 --

Angel Time
by Anne Rice (Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95)

Anne Rice is based in Rancho Mirage, California, and the author of twenty-nine books, most of which focus on vampires and the supernatural. Think of her as Stephen King in drag. Her latest novel is set in the present and at the center is Toby O’Dare, a contract killer who takes his orders from “The Right Man.” When he accepts an assignment to kill again, he meets a mysterious stranger who offers him a chance to save lives, not destroy them. Without a doubt, Anne Rice still has the ability to write prose that shocks and sticks to the literary ribs long after the final pages have been read. “Angel Time” is no exception. Intriguing characters and a climax that hits the reader like a runaway freight train is what gives this book its power and punch.

Book Review - A child shall lead them to solve a harsh mystery (Anne Perry)

From Winston-Salem Journal --

Book Review - A child shall lead them to solve a harsh mystery --

By Linda Brinson –
Published: December 6, 2009 --

A CHRISTMAS PROMISE. By Anne Perry. Ballantine. 193 pages. $18.

When Anne Perry writes her Christmas novels, it's almost as if Charles Dickens has come back from the grave to treat readers to another heartwarming holiday story.

Perry, in her two series featuring investigators William Monk and Thomas Pitt, has long been a master at bringing the world of Victorian England back to life. She puts that knowledge and skill to good use in her Christmas tales, each tied up neatly like a choice package under the tree.

A Christmas Promise, the seventh of Perry's Christmas novels, depicts the squalor, poverty and crime that readers of Dickens and Perry know are often just around the corner from the well-lighted, comfortable, fashionable streets of London.

And it also shows us the courage, spirit and loyalty that can help even children triumph over hardship.

Gracie Phipps, 13, has grown up knowing hard work, cold, hunger and hard times. She also has a keen sense of right and wrong, and she can't turn away when she sees a tearful 8-year-old Minnie Maude Mudway alone on the streets. Minnie Maude, Gracie soon learns, is determined to find Charlie, her Uncle Alf's missing donkey.
Uncle Alf, a rag-and-bone man who made his living picking up what others discard, has been murdered, and his cart and Charlie are missing. It's winter, almost Christmas, and Minnie Maude is worried that Charlie is cold, hungry and lost.

Gracie has no idea what she's getting into when she promises to help Minnie Maude find Charlie. The more they look for Charlie, the more questions they ask, the more the two girls begin to realize that their quest might endanger them. The day he died, Uncle Alf had taken on another rag-and-bone man's route, and along the way he had picked up a mysterious, beautiful golden box. The box, now missing, may hold the clue to Uncle Alf's death.

The girls' search for Charlie takes them to the exotic shop of a wise man named Mr. Balthasar, who advises them to stop searching for the box. They promise to go home and stay put, and he promises to make inquiries about the donkey.

But Minnie Maude is determined, and Gracie soon finds to her horror that the little girl also has disappeared. There's nothing to be done but beg Mr. Balthasar for help, even though the girls disregarded his warnings.

Perry makes the dangerous, often depressing streets of London very real. The girls touch your heart as they cling to strong values despite their harsh lives. They also cling to dreams and aspirations, especially their desire to learn to read and write someday, so they won't have to work so hard to memorize things they want to remember.

Readers will expect a Christmas novel to have a satisfying, uplifting ending. They won't be disappointed on that score, but they may well be surprised at just how things play out. Read Anne Perry's latest, and your spirits will be lifted. That's a promise.

Ice by Linda Howard

From The Coventry Telegraph --

Ice by Linda Howard --

By Marion McMullen --
Dec 8 2009 --

MORE than winter chills can be found between the pages of best-selling writer Linda Howard's Ice.

An ice storm is looming and Gabriel McQueen sets off to make sure former schoolmate Lolly is not trapped alone in her mountain-side home.

But events take a sinister turn when he spots strangers with guns at the property and Lolly a prisoner. Lolly and Gabriel weren’t exactly the best of friends back at school, but now they have to join forces if they want to survive the elements and armed killers.

Linda Howard never disappoints and Ice offers a potent mix of danger and romance.

The biting cold seems so real that you’ll start longing her a hot water bottle, but temperatures certainly rise as Lolly and Gabriel realise they have more in common than they thought.

A real case of love in a cold climate.

Rating * * *

Five new mysteries to end your year, and fill out your wish list, on a thrilling note (Louise Penny)

From Cleveland's The Plain Dealer --

Five new mysteries to end your year, and fill out your wish list, on a thrilling note --

By Michele Ross. Special to The Plain Dealer. --

December 02, 2009 --

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Fans who have followed this seductive series from its 2006 beginning with "Still Life" -- and if you aren't yet a fan you should be -- will be in for more than the usual share of surprises in "The Brutal Telling," as gentlemanly, shrewd Montreal Inspector Gamache once again explores murder in the quaint village of Three Pines, just inside the Canadian border.

This time a body is found in the village bistro, and the village regulars, whose surprisingly original personalities elevate these books, cope with fear, hope and suspicion.

Grade: A

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

20 questions for author Sandra Brown

From Bradenton Herald --

20 questions for author Sandra Brown --

PopMatters.com --
Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2009 --

Known for her taut thrillers, Sandra Brown is a perennial presence on the New York Times fiction bestseller list.

With 70 million copies of her novels in print, Brown has delighted readers and critics alike with her brand of blistering suspense. Taking a new literary direction into historical fiction her latest, "Rainwater," is inspired by her grandfather's experiences during the '30s. "Rainwater" is a moving story about honor and sacrifice during the Great Depression, and about love in all its forms.

The successful author chats about her weep-inducing wavering confidence, a quintessentially stern schoolmarm, and advises that one should be wary of hiring a discount hit man. Warning: Brown can be a bit "over the top."

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Whichever one I'm presently writing. I cry because whatever the current project is, it's the worst book I've ever written. It's the one with the weakest plot, the sappiest protagonist(s), and lamest villain. This literary equivalent of a dung heap will expose me as a lucky fraud who's managed to fool publishers and readers for 30 years and 70-plus books.

Last year, at this stage of writing my most recent New York Times bestseller, I felt exactly the same way about it. That one managed to squeak by. But this one, this one, will spell my ruin. So I cry.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Melanie in "Gone with the Wind."

3. The greatest album, ever?

George Strait's "50 Number Ones." I know the words to every song. Every song tells a story, which is why I like country. Like every good story should, each of these songs has a beginning, middle, and end.

4. "Star Trek" or "Star Wars"?

Honestly, neither is my thing, but if I had to pick one - "Star Wars." It's the Bible, the Arthurian legend and a John Wayne movie rolled into one.

5. Your ideal brain food?

The BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice" with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I can watch all six or eight hours, whatever it is (and I don't care), in one sitting. It's got the three elements that really sell a movie for me: horses, capes, and swords.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I "climbed" Sandia Peak outside Albuquerque. Which is really piddling as far as mountains go. It's a mere 9,000 feet and some change, and what I went up was a path on one of the gentler slopes. It's about seven miles to the summit, and I walked it with my husband, son, and brother-in-law. For me that was a tremendous accomplishment.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

Being nice. Sappy, I know. But the Golden Rule isn't gold for nothing, you know. When my mother told me, "Don't be ugly to anybody," I figured she meant it, so I've tried to obey.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Miss Stokes, my 7th-grade English teacher. This was in the '60s, but she dressed like it was 1945. She wore her untinted gray hair in a bun. No makeup. She wore sensible shoes and always had a lace hankie in the pocket of her suit jacket.

Her suits looked like those Myrna Loy wore in "The Thin Man" series, except without the glam. They were grey, brown, or blue gabardine. I'm not making this up. She looked 70, but was probably 40-something.

She scared the living daylights out of me. She never had a kind word for me, or anyone. I never saw her smile. Not once during the whole school year. But she knew her stuff. Her teaching method was fear, but I learned so much. Wherever you are, Miss Stokes, thank you.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." It's so wonderfully white-trashy - Maggie flouncing around in her slip, Brink drinking till he falls down, people parading in and out of their bedroom. Even the preacher paid a call to the chamber.

You gotta love it. If submitted today as a novel, a bad editor would say, "Tone it down. It's a little over the top."

10. Your hidden talents ...?

I can apply false eyelashes. And, give me a blender and the right ingredients and I can make a mean frozen margarita. I just can't drink the margarita if I'm going to be applying false eyelashes.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

"Don't get the world's attention unless you have something to say."

My very first book editor Vivien Stephens told me that when I was stewing over whether or not to self-promote my first book, a series romance. Her point was that a writer's focus should be on writing the best book possible. "Write a good book," she said, "and the rest will follow."

On the other hand, if I stayed focused on all the other stuff and short-changed the book, then no amount of self-promotion ... Wait a minute. Why am I doing this questionnaire?

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My first computer was an IBM Display Writer. With all its components, it was roughly the size of a bass fishing boat. I borrowed $12,000 dollars from a banker who had faith in me. (Yes, this is ancient history.) That banker, now in his 80s, still brags about that loan to anyone who'll listen. Bless you, Art.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?

I can't decide, so I wear them together - a red silk Armani jacket I bought in Tokyo when I went to Japan to do promotion. I wear that jacket with jeans. The combo is one of my wardrobe mainstays.

In my opinion, Armani, better than any other designer, does great things for the female form. And a pair of Levis does great things for the male physique. Not that I look.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Thomas Jefferson. Katherine Hepburn. (Too many redheads?) Tennessee Williams and Richard III. Did he really order those princes killed? Did he actually have a hump, or was Shakespeare being metaphorical?

I share Lady Godiva's views on over-taxation, so I'd like to commend her for her courage, but if the Ritz has a dress code, I guess she's out.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

It would be a terrific character study to watch the transformation of Henry VIII from the rock star status of his youth to the obese, ailing tyrant he became. If he was submitted as a fictional character, a bad editor would say, "Tone him down. He's a little over the top. And isn't the beheading of two wives stretching credulity just a bit?"

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Hit men are expensive. At least that's been my experience, and you definitely get what you pay for. I'd be very suspect of a discount hit man. Spas are more affordable. But I don't want my masseuse or masseur chattering to me during my massage. Or I may have to hire a hit man.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?

Fritos. They're made of corn, and everything made of corn tastes good because it's solid sugar. They're fried. No self-respecting Southerner will eat something baked, broiled, grilled, stewed, poached, sauteed, or flambeed when it can be deep fried. Fritos are good with cheese, pinto beans, chili, dip, salsa, whatever. But they're delicious straight out of the bag.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Hilton Head Island, S.C. If you have to ask why, you haven't been there. It "restoreth my soul." And, just for the record, I've never played a round of golf in my life and don't plan to.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Why are children encouraged to stay in school, to be ambitious, show initiative, and pursue "the American dream", when, if they are successful and their efforts are financially rewarded, they are then maligned for becoming one of "the rich."? Isn't that contradictory?

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

For the first time in 25 years I'm carrying over a character from the last book and giving him his own story. Dodge Hanley first appeared in "Smash Cut" as the hero lawyer's irascible but capable investigator. He was so cynical and had such a low regard for human beings and life in general, I wanted to discover what made him that way.

I'm weaving his back story into a present day conflict. "Tough Customer" will come out next August. Luckily I have an editor who likes things over the top.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie

From Chicago Tribune --

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie --

MCT News Service --
November 4, 2009 --

"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny; Minotaur (372 pages, $24.99)

Canadian author Louise Penny's gentle series about insightful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache continues to be an homage to the traditional mysteries of Agatha Christie as well as a riff on those novels.

Penny continues her high standards in this fifth installment. "The Brutal Telling" is laden with dry wit, an involving plot and detailed perspectives about the human condition. Penny knows that mysteries set in quaint little villages run the risk of succumbing to Christie's St. Mary Mead syndrome an unrealistic amount of crime for such a small place.

But Penny uses the limited surroundings in this case the Quebec village of Three Pines to her advantage while poking fun at this genre tenet. "Three Pines had no police force, no traffic lights, no sidewalks ... The place didn't even have crime. Except murder. The only criminal thing that ever happened in this village was the worst possible crime."

The disarmingly charming Gamache is again called to Three Pines when the body of a stranger turns up in the successful bistro run by the popular Oliver Brule. That no one had seen the man, even passing through, is odd for Three Pines. What's even odder is that the body had been moved at least twice. Gamache and his savvy team's instincts lead to a cabin in the woods where the stranger lived for years undetected except for visits from someone who regularly brought supplies. Gamache's investigation leads to the past of some of Three Pines' most prominent residents.

"The Brutal Telling" has frequent laugh-out loud passages coupled with realistic plot twists. Penny avoids loading Three Pines with eccentric residents. Even when a few characters are over the top, the author supplies a veneer of believability such as a cantankerous poet who keeps a pet duck, husband and wife artists jealous of each other's talents and a couple renovating an old home into spa.

While Penny puts Gamache at the center of "The Brutal Telling," she also uses an ensemble cast of characters. Each of Gamache's team is thoughtfully shaped as individuals. And many of Three Pines residents show signs of sticking around for upcoming novels we hope.

The award-winning Penny again shows her skillful storytelling in "The Brutal Telling."

Book Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

From Blogcritics --

Book Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny --

Author: Warren Kelly –-
Published: Nov 17, 2009 --

"All of them? Even the children?" The fireplace sputtered and cackled and swallowed his gasp. "Slaughtered?"

Any time a book starts with that paragraph, you know it's going to be a fascinating, suspenseful ride. And The Brutal Telling is that, and more. It's an exploration of the human condition.

The Brutal Telling is the latest of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels. Penny brings the reader back to Three Pines, a quiet, isolated village in the woods. Inspector Gamache has been called back to solve another murder, but it's going to take a lot of detective work and intuition to peel back the layers of lies covering the truth behind the shocking murder of an unknown hermit.

We know some of the lies from the beginning; Olivier, who finds the hermit's body lying on the floor of his own bistro, says he doesn't know the man, even though we know that he does. In a normal murder mystery, that would be enough for me to say without a doubt that he did it. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Penny doesn't make things so easy on the reader. With the introduction of every new character, we see someone who may have been able to do it. Penny has woven subtext, red herring, and truth together into a plot as rich as any tapestry hanging on the wall, and even at the end of the book, I wondered if the police really arrested the right person; in spite of all the physical evidence, I really thought there was something missing, some way that the police could have been wrong.

The Brutal Telling isn't a typical murder mystery. All the traditional elements are there, of course, but there are elements that are present that seem to have nothing to do with the actual murder investigation, except peripherally. There is a sub-plot involving a talented artist and her husband, and her desire to have her works shown in a major gallery. It seemed to me at the time that the only reason this plot was there was to introduce an art expert or two to the book, which plays a somewhat important role in the investigation.

But it was more than that, and I didn't realize it until the end. Penny presents us with a picture of humanity, and what we are capable of. But more importantly, we see what we fear the most. The fear of consequences — the fear that what we do has ramifications that we will have to face, if not immediately, then certainly in the future. And consequences have a way of catching up with us.

The characterization in the book is rich; it feels like Penny has written full biographies of each character in the book, along with details of how they interact with other characters. I really felt that these were real people, could picture them in my mind as they interacted and worked, trying to solve this mystery that confronted them. These are people I cared about almost immediately, just because of the way they were written. There was clearly backstory that I didn't know about from previous books, but nothing that wasn't explained was important to the plot or my enjoyment of the book.

The Brutal Telling is highly recommended. It's not a "beach book," and it's not light reading. But it's an outstanding mystery, and I look forward to reading more about Chief Inspector Gamache and the people of Three Pines. The last time I was this impressed with a mystery was when I first read Jaqueline Winspear's Maisy Dobbs books. Of course, now I need to make some time to head to the library to read the rest of the series, before the next one is published.

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell

From The Observer --

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell --
The author, 53, in her own words

By Stuart Husband --
Sunday 29 November 2009 --

My proximity to death – both as a former morgue worker and crime author – hasn't made it any easier to face. We're interested in death and violence because we're afraid of them and want to make sense of them. We never will. But seeing death point-blank has left me less convinced that life is finite. Having spent so much time around the husks of corpses, you ask yourself: where did all the vitality and energy of this person go? Surely it went somewhere? So my spiritual outlook is perhaps more vital than it was before.

My brothers spent a lot of time when I was a little girl telling me how ugly I was. If I'm vain now, it's because I'm still insecure about the way I look.

I've witnessed the moment of death. I saw a murderer executed by lethal injection. The family of his victim asked me to attend with them. It was a bizarre experience. I asked the mother afterwards, do you feel closure? And she didn't. The guy went out screaming abuse; his relatives were all stirred up; the guys in the penitentiary were banging on the walls. It was so violent and ugly and upsetting, and I wondered what purpose any of it served. It convinced me that the death penalty is a very bad idea.

I would never go into politics. I'd be awful. There are too many scandals in my life that would get thrown in my face.

I hate the term "mystery". That's not what I write. I think the Scarpetta novels are much more character-driven than an average puzzle solver. Writing should be like a pane of glass – there's another world on the other side and your vision carries you there, but you're not aware of having passed through a barrier to get there.

I'm not militant about being gay. I live openly because I think it's important to be what you are. I don't politicise it. I leave that to others.

My sensibility isn't morbid as such. I had a fearful imagination as a child – I made up ghost stories and spooked other kids. Halloween was my favourite time of year. I guess I was a little goth, but these days they call me Ms Worst-Case Scenario. I think I'm just being realistic.

I've needed security. I've been stalked. I've had threatening letters. It only takes one person who thinks they have a point to prove… I take steps to limit my vulnerability.

I've never seen the Saw movies – something like that would scare me to death. People should monitor what they're exposing themselves to, and keep a check on their desensitisation levels. Self-censorship is a much undervalued quality.

I'm still having trouble adjusting to the fact that writing has made me rich. The good news is I've never done this for money. I need to write more than I need people to read what I write. The bad news is it brings the predators out. And if you've come from a background like I have, where you shopped at thrift stores and couldn't always pay off your credit cards, it's a huge responsibility. I've actually given away a lot of money.

America is becoming more galvanised in its differences. People seem to be more and more afraid of the things they don't understand; they're running into their own camps and bolting the doors. I think psychologists call it group polarisation. It's very troubling to me.

My biggest fear? Snakes. Me and Indiana Jones both.

No bones about it, Scarpetta is back (Patricia Cornwell)

From Independent.ie --

No bones about it, Scarpetta is back --

By thrillers myles mcweeney --
Saturday November 28 2009 --

THE SCARPETTA FACTOR Patricia Cornwell. (LittleBrown stg£18.99)

It's the week before Christmas in a grey and depressed post-credit crunch New York and forensic pathologist Dr Kay Scarpetta, now working pro bono for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, has a puzzling case.

The murder victim, a young woman called Toni Darien, was found dead at the edge of Central Park, apparently raped and killed by a blow to the head. Scarpetta's findings suggest a different scenario; that the victim had been alive and unconscious for some time after she had been struck on the head. Where had she been kept for the 36 hours she lay in a coma, and who had attacked her?

Later that evening Scarpetta, who has a contract with CNN as their senior forensic analyst, is asked on live television about the startling disappearance some weeks before of Hannah Starr, a famous financier who is missing and presumed dead. To her dismay Carley Crispin, the TV presenter, then links that case to the death of Toni Darien. Crispin has information that suggests there is a leak in the investigating team.

When she returns to the apartment she shares with her husband Benton Wesley, the former FBI agent who has become a prominent psychologist treating the criminally insane in Bellvue, a suspicious package is waiting for her. As long-time friend Pete Marino, now working for the NYPD, deals with this apparent threat to her life, Scarpetta finds herself embroiled in a deadly plot that involves a famous actor with unspeakable sexual impulses, a deranged former patient of her husband and a psychotic consultant on the paranormal with a long-nursed grudge against Benton Wesley.

Worse still, it appears that Lucy Farinelli, Scarpetta's brilliant and wealthy gay niece, may have shared a secret past with the vanished Hannah Starr. But as Benton Wesley begins to put things together, his greatest fear is that that a deadly spectre from his and Kay's shared past is again reaching out to destroy them.

This is the 17th Scarpetta novel, and signals a welcome return to tip-top form by the author who invented the now somewhat crowded female-forensic-pathologist-as-heroine genre.

Patricia Cornwell cleverly adds a lot of interesting meat to the bones of her regular cast of characters, and her fascination with up-to-the-minute information and medical technology is used to great effect to drive the story forward at a relentlessly accelerating pace to its genuinely suspenseful conclusion.

In Print : First look at new Fairstein mystery

From The Martha's Vineyard Times --

In Print : First look at new Fairstein mystery --

By Jack Shea --
Published: November 25, 2009 --

"Hell Gate" by Linda Fairstein, Dutton Adult, March, 2010, 416 pages, $26.95.

Visitors to New York City occasionally glimpse one of the handful of restored 18th and 19th century manses, most on the edges of Manhattan. Chilmark summer resident Linda Fairstein uses several of them, including the mayor's official residence, Gracie Mansion, as key elements in her latest crime thriller, "Hell Gate."

The hefty book is scheduled for release in March 2010, published by the Dutton imprint of Penguin Books. It is the 12th in Ms. Fairstein's series of crime mysteries that feature protagonist Alexandra Cooper, head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office.

The book takes its name from a turbulent strait in the East River between Astoria, Queens, and Manhattan's Randall's Island that claimed hundreds of ships and their crews during New York's early maritime days. In the novel, a freighter with human cargo has run aground off a beach in Queens, dumping bodies into the cold January water.

Ms. Cooper gets the call because it's become clear that the rusty Golden Odyssey has human cargo that includes women passengers bound for the sex trade. Earlier the same morning, an up-and-coming New York City family man congressman lands in legal hot water over his girlfriend, a development that may be related to the white slavery beaching. Ms. Cooper catches the congressman's case as well.

Her job is to protect women such as the washing ashore eastern European waifs who've been branded with iconic tattoos identifying them as the property of a specific white slaver, or "snakehead" in police jargon.

Ms. Fairstein had that job, protecting women, for 30 years. She spent the last 25 years of her career leading sex crime investigations and trials involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicide for the Manhattan District Attorney's office. The Vassar and University of Virginia Law school graduate left her legal career in 2002 after writing her first book, "Final Jeopardy," in 1996. Like her protagonist, Ms. Fairstein divides her time between the canyons of Manhattan and the beaches of Chilmark where she and husband Justin Feldman have a home.

Her approach to a female crime-fighting character is different from the norm. Most other popular female crime heroines, like Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, are tough, wrong-side-of-the-tracks characters, talking the spare, staccato street talk of the crime novel genre. They are bounty hunters and private investigators - sleuths without portfolio, so to speak.

Not so Ms. Cooper. She is well-bred, well-educated and well-heeled. Car doors are opened for her. Her speaking style is long and lyrical. Make no mistake, though. Ms. Fairstein talked her fictional talk in her real life. The infamous "Preppy" murders (the prosecution of Robert Chambers in 1988), and a seemingly endless string of "wilding" crimes in that era occurred on her watch.

This reviewer is used to reading crime novels that race to their conclusion, but the uninitiated Fairstein reader must often slow down. This book is a page-turner - but not at top speed. For one thing, there is civility to the dialogue, despite the wisecracking of sidekick cop Mike Chapman. For another, Ms. Fairstein includes a lot of real-life behind the scenes procedural detail that some readers might prefer to skip. But there are benefits to slowing down the read and paying attention to the real life aspects.

For one thing, the author is an experienced New York courtroom lawyer, arguably the world's largest legal circus. She plans carefully and connects the dots. Go too fast and you'll miss something - like the fact that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were co-counsels in one New York trial case.

For another, New York City is a central character in her novels. Manhattan's massive and endlessly fascinating sprawl has been creating history for nearly 400 years, and each of Ms. Fairstein's books plumbs an aspect of city history, twinning her plot line with often seemingly mundane historical antecedents that tie to the plot in innovative ways.

Other novelists as disparate as E.L. Doctorow and Jimmy Breslin have found themselves fascinated with the various workings of the city, like New York's system of water pipes and aqueducts, but Ms. Fairstein provides a decidedly different take on the subject, as demonstrated in her 2007 novel, "Bad Blood." Other Alexandra Cooper plots involve city museums, the public library and Lincoln Center.

Would I like the action to go faster? Yes. Would I like Alex Cooper to be harder, crisper and tougher? Yes. But do I believe that I've read a real account of thinly-disguised crimes and the workings of a politically-tainted big city criminal justice system, written by someone to whom justice is extremely important? Yes.

The Scarpetta Factor, By Patricia Cornwell

From Independent.co.uk --

The Scarpetta Factor, By Patricia Cornwell --

Reviewed by Barry Forshaw --
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 --

When interviewed by this newspaper, Patricia Cornwell demonstrated the qualities that have put her in pole position in crime fiction: a fierce intelligence and a determination to be the best at what she does – both characteristics of her forensic pathologist, Kay Scarpetta. But Cornwell shares another characteristic of her heroine's, which undercuts her rather fearsome reputation: a certain vulnerability. When asked about the pretenders whose books are routinely straplined with the phrase "the next Patricia Cornwell", she replied plaintively, "I want to be the next Patricia Cornwell!... I want to be one of those young guns again."

It's this combination of determination and insecurity that (channelled into Scarpetta) has made the books so distinctive, even when Cornwell went through a period where her writing seemed tired. In The Scarpetta Factor, the 17th book, Scarpetta is suffering from the effects of the credit crunch. She decides to work on a pro bono basis for the New York City office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But she finds she cannot do the quiet, methodical work that is her métier – and also discovers the price of instant celebrity. She is interviewed on air about the high-profile disappearance of financial planner Hannah Starr. There is a shocking call-in from a psychiatric patient once in the care of Scarpetta's partner, Benton Wesley. Arriving home at the apartment she shares with the psychiatrist, she discovers a suspicious-looking package. Is it a bomb?

As often before, Scarpetta finds her life is on the line as she becomes embroiled in a bizarre conspiracy involving a missing wealthy woman who has a secret connection with Scarpetta's gay niece Lucy. All of this is handled with the customary Cornwell assurance, although the plotting here strains credulity at times.

How much mileage is left for the Scarpetta franchise? Those who have been worried by what seemed uncomfortably like self-parody in recent books can rest easy. The Scarpetta Factor is a novel that has clearly engaged Cornwell in the same fashion as her vintage work.