Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

From The Guardian (UK) --

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova --

By Joanna Briscoe --
23 January 2010 --

The Swan Thieves
by Elizabeth Kostova
As reader-gripping devices go, there's nothing like a really good quest. Fictional missions involving arcane codes, old books, missing antiquities or the odd vampire have entranced the public for some years with edge-of-the-seat plots and supernatural surprises ­nestling among the relics.

Given the pulse-racing nature of Elizabeth Kostova's debut bestseller, The Historian, in which Vlad the Impaler was unearthed among archives and mountainous regions, one could be forgiven for expecting another page-turning romp through the paranormal. But in The Swan Thieves, Kostova forsakes vampires for artists – artists beset by talent and torment, all destructive lifestyles and a whiff of linseed, who implode their way through more than 500 pages. This is something of a disappointment. Give us the hair-raising twists of pick'n'mix mysticism any day.

The Swan Thieves examines the link between madness and creativity, territory more effectively covered in recent years by Patrick McGrath. Before we start on the multitude of artists, we are treated to a lengthy biography and professional assessment of psychiatrist Dr Andrew Marlow of Washington DC. A bit of an artist himself on the side, one day he is sent the more accomplished, charismatic and infinitely more loopy painter Robert Oliver as an in-patient.

Oliver has just threatened to attack a painting, wielding his knife near a ­depiction of Leda and the swan, but has not actually slashed it. This is a shame for the plot, and can conveniently stand as a metaphor for this novel: The Swan Thieves is a perfectly decent work that needs a machete taken to it. It could be cut by a third. Better still, a half. Perhaps, after selling 3m copies of The Historian, Kostova may be just too successful to edit. The result is like wading through a superior sort of treacle.

Once resident in Marlow's psychiatric centre, Oliver turns mute, so it is left to the doctor to find the keys to the great one's psyche by setting off on his own sleuthing tour round the country to interview the artist's significant others. First off is Kate, the ex-wife. Then it's a colleague. Then it's Oliver's girlfriend and some far-flung artist contacts, necessitating a spot of foreign travel. However, as is hinted and then revealed with spurts of obfuscation, the real significant other in Oliver's life is a dead person. Nineteenth-century letters and much meandering among obscure French artists thread through the novel as testament to his obsession. We're supposed to see the parallels between these painters' lives, but believe me, it takes some time.

The women in Oliver's life soon discover his slovenly habits, his ­breathtaking unreliability and his ­endless paintings of an unknown woman in 19th-century clothes. This image reappears throughout the novel as Oliver obsessively paints her in different guises, while clutching his bunch of crumbling letters at all times. In the meantime, Kate Oliver, the appealing ex-wife, takes over the narrative, but by the time we know her entire backstory – along with every doorway ever entered and vista ever viewed – a weary sense of plot fatigue takes over. There is also the essential problem that Dr Marlow's search, which pins the novel together, is not believable as a premise and therefore forms a slightly bogus structure. He displays a stalker's zeal in his pursuit of biographical detail, when surely his busy career as senior shrink with painting hobby on the side would consume most waking hours.

As a portrait of a monster with a heavenly gift, the novel is interesting. But it is simply far too long, and rarely achieves real emotional authenticity. Kostova has followed a well-written, superbly paced adventure with a more self-consciously "literary" novel whose prose is not deathless. While the socking supernatural quest behind The Historian gave it the momentum of fear and mystery, this more traditional and groaningly long-winded search is paradoxically less convincing, and appears to put literary aspiration above storytelling. Bring back the vampires, the demon plotting, the chilling revelations. Readers expecting the delights of The Historian, beware.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review of Trial by Fire by J. A. Jance

From SCNow (South Carolina) --

Library urging public to share ‘worthy’ experiences --

By Salley Davidson --
January 20, 2010 --

Trial by Fire, by J. A. Jance: skillfully, Jance delivers relentless suspense in what is surely her finest novel yet in this riveting and addictive series.

In the heat of the Arizona desert, a raging fire pushes temperatures to a deadly degree, and one woman is left to burn. Pulled barely breathing from the fire, the victim has no idea who she is, let alone who would do this to her, or why.

In her hospital bed she drifts in and out of consciousness, her only means of communicating a blink of the eye. And then an angel appears. Misguidedly known around town as the “Angel of Death,“ Sister Anselm has devoted her life to working as an advocate for unidentified patients.

To her burn patient, she is a savior. But to this Jane Doe’s would-be killer, Sister Anselm’s efforts pose a serious threat. Justice is fiercely pursued, but what is discovered is a secret even darker and more twisted than one could have imagined.

Kathleen George book news

From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette --

People in the News: NBC exec say Leno's return was on the money --

January 20, 2010 --

Allegheny County is becoming a favorite location for Mystery Writers of America, the national organization representing crime authors.

North Side resident Kathleen George yesterday was nominated for an Edgar Award for writing the best mystery of 2009, "The Odds," set in, of all places, the North Side. The professor of theater arts at the University of Pittsburgh was one of six nominated for the best book award.

Her other crime novels are "Taken," "Fallen" and "Afterimage."

Last month the writers' group honored Mystery Lovers Bookshop of Oakmont with a Raven Award for "outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing."

The awards ceremony will be April 29 in New York.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview with Charlaine Harris

From Metro Spirit (Augusta, GA) --

Vampire mastermind --

Issue #21.26 :: 01/20/2010 - 01/26/2010 --

Author Charlaine Harris talks about the inspiration behind Sookie Stackhouse and the Southern Vampire Mysteries

AUGUSTA, GA – Charlaine Harris counts herself as lucky. But patient might be closer to the truth.

It’s true that she got her start by taking a college creative writing class from a former editor at Houghton Mifflin, who obviously had the connections to get Harris’ work reviewed by the right people. And that part might have been luck.

But “Sweet & Deadly,” her first book — which she finished as a member of that writing class — was published in 1981. So for 29 years, she’s paid her dues, putting out a lot more than luck.

Harris has published four books in the series about grave-finder Harper Connelly, eight that focus on librarian-detective Aurora Teagarden, and five with crime-solver Lily Bard.

It’s her most recent protagonist in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of books detailing Louisiana barmaid Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures with the supernatural, which has made her nearly a household name. But even that series is almost 10 years old — and despite its current popularity, it wasn’t easy.

“My agent was against it at first,” Harris said. But she was determined to move toward darker fare, the usual realm of male writers.

“I was really tired of people who write amusing things just not getting the respect that people who write darker do — when really they’re both as challenging,” she said. “I just decided to see if I could do it. I think it worked out OK.”

The twist is that Harris didn’t see vampires as inherently dark.

“I thought, ‘Well, what if they’re funny?’” she asked herself.

It took two years for her agent to sell the books.

“It got turned down again and again,” she said, followed with a triumphant but good-natured cackle.

Even after the books caught on with readers, the road to “True Blood,” the HBO television series that focuses on her vampire mysteries, was a long one.

“You know, my books were on the New York Times bestseller list before the show, so I think I would have been fine,” she deadpanned, with the wry humor that characterizes her series.

But they were so popular that she had four offers from television producers. One optioned the rights, but didn’t bring it to fruition. Two were solid offers. But a fourth was from Alan Ball, the mind behind “Six Feet Under,” who wanted to work with HBO again. Ball was looking for a new project. HBO no longer had “The Sopranos” or Ball’s previous series to carry it. They wanted Ball, and Ball wanted “True Blood.”

“You know, it was Alan Ball,” Harris said, stressing his name with all of the gravitas one can muster for a producer who is both critically and popularly acclaimed. “He understood what the books were about, a mixture of extremes: humor, violence, awakenings.”

He was also polite, considerate and believed in putting out the best product.

“When I was out there, I met a lot of jerks,” Harris said, with her characteristic good humor. But everyone who works with Ball, she said, loves him. And that made Ball the most attractive creative partner.

And yet, because so many optioned books never make it to a screen — small or silver — Harris didn’t allow herself to get excited as casting began and scripts progressed. Then, shortly after shooting began, the writer’s strike happened. But the series progressed when it was able, and Ball sent her the opening credits.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to have to move,’” Harris laughed. “It was so extreme.”

It was also more explicit. While the books spend an awful lot of enjoyable time on the sex lives of its characters, Harris bristles slightly at a complaint about Sookie’s dry spell in Book 8.

After all, she isn’t a romance writer.

“If it doesn’t work naturally in the story line, it’s not going to be in the books,” she said.

Yet the TV series is different. A number of the stars have had some very sexy nude scenes, along with takes that frequently require actor Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason Stackhouse, to sit around with his shirt off. Pity the ladies. But no one is complaining — in fact, one Metro Spirit reader sent in a request that Harris consider an all-nude episode. Harris referred the reader to Ball for that request.

“There’s a lot of ‘hottitude,’” Harris said, on the set of the show. “But they’re just all so hard-working, and they’re just people. They all have cell phones and sit and text between takes.”

And the show is only on its third season. The characters have plenty of sexy stories left to tell, and Harris has plenty of books left to write. She plans 13, in all, of the Sookie chronicles, and will decide after book 11 whether to continue the universe by spinning off and exploring one of the other characters.

“I’ll know by then if I’m ready to head towards the stable with Sookie or not,” Harris said. “I’ve loved writing her adventures, but I don’t want it to get stale.”

Author Charlaine Harris
Columbia County Library
Saturday, January 23
Doors, 6:30 p.m.; program, 7 p.m.


Author Charlaine Harris answers questions from Metro Spirit readers

By Stacey Hudson

Author Charlaine Harris gets a lot of questions about her work — and I mean a lot. So here are some answers — compiled from our interview, and from previously available interviews — to the most frequently asked questions Metro Spirit readers sent in!

Is the Sookie Stackhouse series complete?
No, but Harris doesn’t know how many there will be.

How involved is Harris in the “True Blood” television series? Does she like it?
Not very involved, and she loves it all — including the changes that have been made.

Will Sookie ever become a vampire? Will she have a vampire baby? How will the series end?
No, no and she’s not telling.

Will Harris write more of her other series?
There will be no future Lily Bard books, but perhaps Aurora Teagarden will return. However, Harris’ time is currently absorbed by her many Sookie-related projects.

Write faster! Write what I want you to!
Harris writes at the pace — and on the plotlines — that produce her quality of work.

I need more Sookie!
While waiting for the next book in the series, read the following short stories: “Fairy Dust” from the anthology “Powers of Detection”; “Dancers in the Dark,” from the anthology “Night’s Edge”; “One Word Answer,” from the “Bite” Anthology; and “Dracula Night,” from the anthology “Many Blood Returns.”

Review of The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell

From Montreal Gazette --

Book Review: Books at center of murder tale --

By Anne Sutherland --
January 18th, 2010 --

The Monster in the Box, by Ruth Rendell (Doubleday; 279 pp.; $32.95). This is the 22nd novel following Detective Inspector Reg Wexler. In this instalment, Wexler is taken back to the first murder case he was ever involved in. Years ago, he was at a crime scene where a woman had been strangled with the belt from her bathrobe. The back door and the garden entrance of her row-house were unlocked. Wexler sees a stocky man with a dog on the street at the scene, a man who gives him a penetrating stare, and his Spidey senses tell him this is the perpetrator of the crime. Over decades, he sees the same man around, while other unsolved murders remain on the books. Wexler fixates on the man, whom he discovers is the much-married and successful property developer Eric Targo. He unloads his theories on his best chum, Mike Burden, who is skeptical. There's a side story about a young Muslim woman taught by Burden's schoolteacher wife, whom she suspects is being forced into an arranged marriage. Wexler is asked as a favour to look into it. To say more would ruin things. Rendell weaves an intriguing tale. Fans will be happy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Details on Apple Turnover Murder by Joanne Fluke

From Publishers Weekly --

Reviews of New Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Comics --

1/18/2010 --

Apple Turnover Murder Joanne Fluke. Kensington, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-3489-6

Cozy fans will welcome bestseller Fluke's charming 13th Hannah Swensen mystery (after 2009's Plum Pudding Murder). Hannah is working long hours at her bakery, the Cookie Jar, in Lake Eden, Minn., as well as dating two men, dentist Norman Rhodes and local sheriff Mike Kingston. Her personal life gets more complicated with the reappearance of Bradford Ramsey, a college professor with whom Hannah had a brief fling when she was a naïve graduate student. Hannah hopes ladies' man Bradford has forgotten the embarrassing episode. When Hannah winds up serving as a magician's assistant for a charity show, she has the misfortune to find Bradford, the show's host, backstage “stone cold dead.” With her usual wit and flair, amateur sleuth Hannah narrows down the list of suspects in Bradford's murder, but can she catch the culprit before she becomes the next victim? Scrumptious recipes include mocha nut butterballs and chocolate marshmallow cookie bars. Author tour. (Mar.)

Details on Shattered by Karen Robards

From Publishers Weekly --

Reviews of New Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Comics --

1/18/2010 --

Shattered Karen Robards. Putnam, $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-15627-4

After Lisa Grant loses her job at a Lexington, Ky., law firm in this seductive romantic thriller from bestseller Robards (Pursuit), she heads home to Grayson Springs, a once thriving Kentucky horse farm, owned by her mother, who's dying from ALS. Lisa becomes a research assistant for former crush Scott Buchanan, the Lexington-Fayette County DA. While she initially finds Scott's grumpy personality unappealing, she begins to feel differently after looking into a cold case: the inexplicable disappearance of Michael and Angela Garcia and their two children, Tony and Marisa, in 1981. Astonishingly, Lisa discovers that both a treasured childhood doll and herself as a young girl resemble Marisa. Lisa's informal investigation leads to dangerous repercussions, including an act of arson at Grayson Springs, in which she and her mother almost perish. Scott's timely rescue tightens their budding relationship as the action builds to a startling if far-fetched conclusion. (Mar.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review of The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz

From Publishers Weekly --

Book Review: Books at center of murder tale --

1/18/2010 --

The Spellmans Strike Again Lisa Lutz. Simon & Schuster, $25 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9340-9

In Edgar-finalist Lutz's entertaining fourth and final novel about the eccentric Spellman PI clan (after Revenge of the Spellmans), Isabel “Izzy” Spellman juggles the usual family drama—her mother tries to sabotage Izzy's relationship with her Irish bartender boyfriend and younger sister Rae throws herself into freeing a wrongly convicted man—while helping to drum up business in a dreary economy. While Rae works on her “Free Schmidt” campaign, Izzy investigates the whereabouts of a missing valet with a checkered past and sifts through garbage for a screenwriter client. Older brother David, the only Spellman not involved in the family business, grows closer to his defense attorney girlfriend. On the sly, Izzy is also tailing Rick Harkey, a rival San Francisco PI, and discovers that Harkey left behind a trail of suspicious arrests and conveniently misplaced evidence in his career as a cop. Narrator Izzy's biting wit—mixed with a refreshing dose of humility and sadness—easily carries the story. (Mar.)

Lis Wiehl and her book Face of Betrayal

From Canyon News (California) --

Fox News Analyst Lis Wiehl On Crime --

Posted by Tommy Garrett --
Jan 17, 2010 --

BEVERLY HILLS—This week I caught up with an old friend, Lis Wiehl, the author legal analyst and commentator on Fox News Channel, who is also a well-known and respected former federal prosecutor. She is adjunct professor of law at New York Law School and formerly was an associate professor at University of Washington Law School. Wiehl is often seen on Bill O’Reilly’s show as well as heard on his radio program, “The Radio Factor.” Lis is an advocate for women’s rights and debates often on television and at seminars, which offer support for women’s issues in the work place.

In between Lis’s great work on radio and television, the beautiful legal eagle is also penning novels and books to help women succeed in the workplace. One never wastes an opportunity to ask Wiehl about some of the nation’s most prominent and publicized cases. Firstly, with the loud and emotional outcries by the critics of the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to prosecute terrorists in civilian courts instead of through military tribunals, Lis Wiehl had a simple yet very strong stance on it. “Opening up the civilian courts to terrorists will definitely slow up the whole process, but I think the end result will be the same. There will be convictions, but it will take longer to get there,” Lis tells Canyon News.

Lis who is happily married to famed defense attorney Mickey Sherman also discusses the tragedy in the Tiger Woods upcoming divorce case. When asked if it’s true a prenuptial agreement is rock solid in all cases, Wiehl laughed and replied, “Come on Tommy, you know better than that. The Tiger Woods prenup will be broken by a good lawyer [for Elin] because of his [Tiger Woods] actions. I hate to see an icon tumble, especially one that the kids looked up to. It’s actually a real tragedy for everyone, including his wife and family.

When asked about the most infamous case in Hollywood which recently has resurfaced because of the arrest of acclaimed filmmaker Roman Polanski in Switzerland, unlike most legal analysts, Wiehl had a more positive and definitive feeling about the ultimate outcome of the Polanski case. “Polanski is going to fight this all the way. Again, he’s going to tie up the process, but ultimately, I think he will be extradited back to the U.S.,” stated the Fox commentator. Finishing up legal questions, I asked Lis which case we discussed that she’s most interested in seeing and following through the legal process. She took no time to answer, “The terrorist cases and the legal arguments surrounding them will keep us all embroiled for a while.” Fox News viewers and radio listeners will be looking forward to her brilliant legal analysis for a long time to come.

When the subject changed to what Lis preferred to write about, fiction or non-fiction. The beauty’s face lit up and she quickly lamented, “Fiction is definitely more fun than non-fiction because I rely on true stories, but get to change the names to protect the guilty.”

Wiehl’s most recent novel that I enjoyed reading was “Face of Betrayal.” When asked how long it took for her to write it, she replied, “Face of Betrayal took about two years from the concept to actual publication. Once you make the characters alive and created, the writing goes faster because I live with them every single day,” concluded Wiehl.

“Face of Betrayal” took me by total surprise. Just as I thought I knew the ending, Lis threw other facts and anecdotal evidence into play and the story simply became even more interesting, fascinating and believable. Wiehl’s array of novels and non-fictional work are available at bookstores around the country and also on “Face of Betrayal” is one of the most incredible literary works I’ve seen in decades.

The book is a collaboration between Wiehl and esteemed writer April Henry, a mystery writer veteran, on a sizzling political thriller. When 17-year-old Senate page Katie Converse goes missing on her Christmas break near her parents' white Victorian home in Portland, Ore., law enforcement and media personnel go into overdrive in a search for clues. Three friends at the pinnacle of their respective careers—Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor; Cassidy Shaw, a crime reporter; and Nicole Hedges, an FBI special agent—soon discover that Katie wasn't the picture of innocence painted by her parents. It appears Katie was having an affair with a much older man, a senator whose political career could be derailed if the affair was publicized. The seamless plot offers a plethora of twists and turns.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review of Pursuit by Karen Robards

From New Jersey Star-Ledger --

Books: Five thrillers from women authors, including Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb --

By Kathleen Daley --
January 16, 2010 --

Karen Robards
G.P .Putnam’s Sons, 369 pp., $24.95

The heroine of this romantic thriller set in Washington, D.C., is a young lawyer at one of those high-powered firms that fix stuff for the rich and powerful. Her name is Jessica Ford and her job one particular evening is to get the first lady removed from the bar where she is hanging out.

The White House and the media want to talk to Jessica after she survives a crash that kills the president’s wife. Mark Ryan, a member of the first lady’s Secret Service detail, pursues Jessica. She does not trust him initially, but when they finally suspect foul play, they lead a merry chase from Jessica’s hospital room to her boss’ executive suite to Mark’s house — then across the District on the metro, in cabs and on foot. (The reader is relieved when she finally ditches the high heels.)

Despite the repetitive descriptions of Jessica’s angst and eventual infatuation, it’s a nice little mystery fashioned around a bright, tough young woman.

Review of Face of Betrayal by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

From New Jersey Star-Ledger --

Books: Five thrillers from women authors, including Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb --

By Kathleen Daley --
January 16, 2010 --

Face of Betrayal
Lis Wiehl, with April Henry
Thomas Nelson, 320 pp., $24.99

They belong to the "triple threat club." Three women, three friends. Allison is a prosecutor; Nicole works for the FBI; and Cassidy is a television journalist. Periodically, they meet for a meal and talk about their lives and loves — but usually they are all business. The case they are working on involves a 17-year-old girl who is missing.

Set in Portland, Ore., "Face of Betrayal" is a good story. The missing girl, Katie Converse, is a page in the U.S. Senate and posts cryptic messages about Senator X (shades of the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy affair). She also trashes her stepmother. So the investigation begins, suspects surface and the media hover.

Author Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor, is a correspondent for Fox News. So, as she tells this story with the help of mystery author April Henry, she teaches readers about grand juries and television news reporting. And she is not shy about tossing in sidebars about hot political issues.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review of Promises in Death by J.D. Robb

From New Jersey Star-Ledger --

Books: Five thrillers from women authors, including Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb --

By Kathleen Daley --
January 16, 2010 --

Promises in Death
J.D. Robb
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 352 pp., $25.95

In 1992, Putnam, the publisher of Nora Roberts’ romance novels, suggested she adopt a second pseudonym because they couldn’t publish her works fast enough. (Roberts’ real name is Eleanor Marie Robertson.) So the Maryland author became J.D. Robb when she began her "In Death" series of romantic suspense novels set in mid-21st-century New York City.

"Promises in Death" is No. 28. The heroine, homicide detective Eve Dallas, and her rich husband, Rourke, work together to find the killer of a fellow cop, Amaryllis Coltraine, who was romantically involved with the chief medical examiner. All very close to home. The prime suspect is an old lover of Coltraine’s, and that leads to the local prison on a remote pod. Dallas’ new car can go vertical.
It’s all very high-tech.

Dallas is a tough cookie with no sense of humor. She is all business, even during her romps in the hay with Rourke, where the dialogue is not remotely authentic. But Robb’s fans won’t care.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review of Black Hills by Nora Roberts

From New Jersey Star-Ledger --

Books: Five thrillers from women authors, including Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb --

By Kathleen Daley --
January 16, 2010 --

Black Hills
Nora Roberts
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 480 pp., $26.95

Nora Roberts, popular fiction’s Joyce Carol Oates, claims she spends eight hours every day — including vacations — writing. As the author of 170 novels, she must. And by now, she knows how to tell a story.

This one is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The two main characters are Cooper Sullivan and Lil Chance, who met as youngsters when Coop came to South Dakota to visit his grandparents, dear friends of Lil’s parents.

Their romance blooms and dies over the years until Coop, who spent time in New York City as a cop and private investigator, returns for good to his grandparents’ farm. In the interim, Lil opened a refuge for wild animals, and therein lies the makings of the suspense. A serial killer of Native American heritage doesn’t like what Lil is doing with the sacred ground of his ancestors.

Roberts strings the reader along as Coop tries to rekindle the romance. Meanwhile, the killer watches from the hills.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review of Death at the Alma Mater by G.M. Malliet

From Library Journal --

A New Golden Age --

By Jo Ann Vicarel --
01/15/2010 --

Malliet, G.M. Death at the Alma Mater: A St. Just Mystery. Midnight Ink. Jan. 2010. c.282p. ISBN 978-0-7387-1967-2. pap. $14.95. M

Prestigious St. Michael's College in Cambridge needs money and invites its most successful and wealthiest graduates back for a weekend of nostalgia and fund-raising. A murder brings DCI Arthur St. Just (Death of a Cozy Writer Death and the Lit Chick) and Sergeant Fear to the scene, where they find plenty of suspects. VERDICT Fans of Dorothy Sayers's novels and other Golden Age British mysteries will enjoy this contemporary salute, which even includes the traditional gathering of suspects at the end when the detective reveals all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview with Mary Higgins Clark

From The Financial Times --

Continuity, chaos and clan --

By Margaret O’Connor --
January 15 2010 --

Mary Higgins Clark has sold more than 100m copies of 28 novels in the past three decades. The elegant 82-year-old Irish-American splits her time between a mansion in Saddle River, New Jersey, a Victorian property in the seaside town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, a pied-à-terre on Central Park South in Manhattan and a beach bungalow in Dennis, Massachusetts. She is working on her next suspense novel, ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’, about the beatification of a saint.

How does where you live influence the stories you choose to tell?
At least five of my books have been inspired by things I discovered in and around my homes. But the stories in my head tend to overpower my physical surroundings. As long as I’m in a space with natural light, I can buckle down anywhere.

Where did you start writing?

I’ve been inventing narratives since I could string together a sentence. I wrote my first novel on the kitchen table in our house on Walnut Street in Washington Township, New Jersey, where I raised five children. I stored my typewriter and manuscript on the kitchen floor. When I hit the keyboard at five o’clock in the morning I travelled to some scary and wonderful places in my imagination.

What are your most vivid memories of the Bronx from your childhood?

My first memory is looking down at my new baby brother sleeping in my doll carriage because his crib had not been delivered in time. Being a responsible three-year-old “mother”, I was distressed that my favourite doll had to adjust her naptime around my brother’s sleep schedule. The memory of waking to the clipclop of the horse-drawn cart delivering milk and bread to 1913 Tenbroeck Avenue reminds me how much the world has changed during my lifetime. I slept in the little room over the front door and had to vacate it for a boarder when my mother let out rooms during the Depression. We weren’t able to afford the upkeep of that grand home after my father died.

You lived out of a suitcase the year before you married your neighbour, Warren Clark. How did you adapt to travelling the globe as a Pan American stewardess?

Back then, working for Pan Am was the pinnacle of glamour and adventure. It was amazing to see Europe, Africa and Asia in 1949 as the world was on the brink of wide-scale change. The flight crew grew close during our long expeditions; it took three weeks to travel to and from India or a month to do South Africa.

Your first husband died from heart disease early in his life, like your father. Did you leave the home you shared with Warren to escape your shared memories?

I decided continuity would ease the pain of this great loss. One of the superficial things I did several months after the funeral was to buy a new bedspread and paint the bedroom to change it from “ours” to “mine”. I believe it helped the children to finish school where they had started and to remain close to friends.

What drew you to the Saddle River property that is now your primary home?

When I had five children, a husband and mother under the same roof I didn’t know I had a small house. When I was living alone, I decided I needed more room. I wanted to be close to my five grown children and six grandchildren. It’s on a wonderful two-acre plot. The kids enjoy having tennis and pool parties here.

Do your two guest bedrooms see much action?

My son Dave and his two children were guests for five years following his divorce. My family knows I’m serious about my open-door policy. Sharing the joys and sorrows of everyday life keeps me going.

How did you integrate John Conheeney into your home when you remarried 13 years ago?

John needed a sanctuary from the madness of my fiction enterprise. As the former chairman and CEO of Merrill-Lynch Futures, he needed a place to monitor the markets and world news. I created a quiet, second-floor office for him. We also installed a catering kitchen in the basement to minimise the madness in our home. Our combined clan of 30 creates chaos when we’re celebrating birthdays and other special occasions.

You’ve battled with arthritis and broken bones in recent years. How do you navigate a three-storey home?

I installed an elevator. It was the smartest $40,000 investment I’ve ever made.

Do you observe a seasonal or functional migration between your homes?

I enjoy keeping one foot on either side of the Hudson. Central Park South serves as my dressing room for the philanthropic functions I attend in the city. I’ve been a director of the Irish American Society, Catholic charities and the Mystery Writers of America – all of which give me ample reasons to be in town. Summers at our two beach homes recharge me in different ways. Sitting on the porch in Spring Lake with a pot of tea or a glass of wine, I enjoy great craic with friends stopping on their way to and from the beach. Our place on Cape Cod is much more isolated. Seeing the sun set on our deck is like watching the arms of God embrace the end of the day.

Have you ever returned to your Tenbroeck Avenue home in the Bronx? You render the property in great detail in your memoir Kitchen Privileges.

My brother and I stopped at the front door after a funeral but decided not to ask for a peek inside. Other happy lives are being shaped there now.



Paintings, photos, figurines

My Edgar. Being chosen Grand Master of the 2000 Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America was one of my proudest professional achievements.

The painting over my fireplace I picked up during a special vacation along the Seine. In Normandy a cardinal who was travelling with us insisted we climb the 900 steps to the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel, where he robed up with the monks and said mass.

The photo of my mother Nora which is hanging behind my writing desk, encourages me to persevere. On seeing it, one of my bishop friends remarked: “If she’s not in heaven, then who is?”

The Royal Doulton figurines in my living room evoke the prosperity my mother enjoyed – and lost – in her lifetime. I especially like the one of a woman drinking tea. My mother always had a cup and saucer at hand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review of The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell

From Montreal Gazette --

True Blue --

January 15th, 2010 --

The Monster in the Box
By Ruth Rendell
Doubleday, 279 pages, $32.95

Ruth Rendell is another beautiful writer. Her latest, The Monster in the Box, is also one of a series, the 22nd following the career of Detective Inspector Reg Wexler.

In this instalment, Wexler is taken back to his earliest days as a policeman and the first murder case he was ever involved in. Years ago, he was at a crime scene where a woman had been strangled with the belt from her bathrobe. The back door and the garden entrance of her row house were unlocked at the time. Wexler sees a stocky man with a dog on the street at the scene, a man who gives him a penetrating stare, and his Spidey senses tell him this is the perpetrator of the crime.

Over decades, he sees the same man around, while there are other unsolved murders on the books. Wexler fixates on the man, whom he discovers is the much- married and successful property developer Eric Targo. He unloads his theories on his best chum, Mike Burden, who is skeptical.

There's a side story about a young Muslim woman taught by Burden's schoolteacher wife, whom she suspects is being forced into an arranged marriage. Wexler is asked as a favour to look into it.

To say more would ruin things. Rendell weaves an intriguing tale. Fans will be happy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Patricia Cornwell news

From MovieWeb --

Kerry Williamson to Write the Film Based on the Patricia Cornwell Novels --

January 13th, 2010 --

In a story from The Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Kerry Williamson is going to adapt a feature screenplay that features medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. This character is the star of the best-selling mystery series written by Patricia Cornwell.

Fox 2000 grabbed the rights to the books in April. Angelina Jolie is attached to star.

There is talk that the Scarpetta movie might be the launch of another franchise for Jolie as there are 17 Scarpetta novels. Putnam Publishing released Cornwell's most recent effort, "The Scarpetta Factor," this past October.

The screenplay is said to draw from the world and characters that Cornwell has created but will not be derived from any novel's specific plot.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Charlaine Harris and her book Grave Secret

From The Sydney Morning Herald --

'I'm just a gruesome person' --

January 14, 2010 --

Draining every drop of her deep Southern cordiality, Charlaine Harris holds out on explaining exactly why her latest heroine is involved in an incestuous relationship.

The author behind the popular HBO series True Blood isn't into psychoanalysing her sexy murder mysteries, even though their kinky characters cry out for it.

But otherwise thoughtful and conventional people who have found themselves glued to the television adaptation of Harris's work might need a session or two on the couch to explain why they can't get enough of a story based on sex with vampires. Vampires are, after all, creatures who are dead.

Necrophilia and incest are not themes you would usually associate with a 58-year-old churchgoing mother of three who has lived for 20 years in the Bible-belt state of Arkansas. "I'm just a gruesome person," she says, matter-of-factly.

But there's no avoiding the contradiction between the writer and her subject matter. Speaking from her home in Magnolia, Arkansas, she is unnervingly relaxed.

Harris admits the contemporary gothic subject matter of her work is so confronting that it took two years to find a publisher for Dead Until Dark , the first of the Sookie Stackhouse series that was turned into the television hit. The first book was published in 2001.

The adaptation, True Blood, has catapulted her taboo topics into the mainstream. It was written and produced by Alan Ball, of American Beauty and Six Feet Under fame.

Since True Blood was released in Australia in February, sales of Harris's books have skyrocketed. In July, nine of her Sookie Stackhouse series were in the top 10 places of science fiction and fantasy. In December they occupied six.

On the surface, the concept sits happily within its official genre. Unable to exist in daylight and dependent on blood, vampires have "come out of the coffin" because a synthetic replacement to human blood has been invented in Japan. Vampires no longer need to feed on humans. They can resist the desire to bite.

But Harris wants to do more than entertain. Her aim is to challenge the reader.

Vampires turn into a race subjected to deep prejudice but the telepathic Sookie finds herself sexually drawn to them and submits to her lover's fangs. The series explores exclusion, Harris explains, and she has acknowledged the vampires' struggle is a metaphor for gay rights.

The author herself says she's "not a big fan of biting". But that's not the idea. "I wanted to talk about who the monsters are," she says. Too often monsters are blamed for social ills when in fact it's the human race causing all the problems.

With Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series still a bestseller, it is easy to draw the conclusion that a craze for bloodsuckers is sweeping cinemas and bookstores. Vampire experts argue the interest has been around since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and Harris sees herself as following on from Anne Rice, whose Interview with the Vampire was published in 1976.

Harris also describes herself as a social observer. In her latest book of the "Grave" series, Grave Secret , the main character, Harper Connelly, is still living with the trauma of a childhood surrounded by drug addicts. At age 17, she was struck by lightning, giving her the ability to find and listen to the dead. She becomes an amateur sleuth in the process. "She gets to see the worst of human behaviour; its folly, silliness and the evil," Harris says.

Harper also carnally loves her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, her escort on all her assignments. They plan to get married. The dysfunction of their shared childhood is at the forefront of the story, which includes frequent steamy scenes in their hotel room. "I will be the first to admit: it's kind of icky," Harris says of Harper's "love affair". On the other hand, "they're not related to each other. They are just dependent . . . Every now and then someone gets totally squeaked out about it but that's OK." Most people, she says, accept it and are happy for them.

In Magnolia, Harris serves in the respectable role of secretary of the vestry at the Episcopalian Church. The message is clear: judge not lest ye be judged.

She is a pure product of the Confederacy: born, schooled and married in the deep South with all of its segregation, voodoo and religion. But unlike the deeply damaged fictional characters she creates, Harris's upbringing was stable.

She grew up on a cotton farm in what was then the poorest county of the United States: Tunica, Mississippi. Her father Robert switched from farming to teaching and her mother became a librarian after having children. In this bookish household her late younger brother Ashley loved higher literature, while she stuck with genres such as mysteries.

Living in the middle of a cotton field, she says, taught her the greatest skill of being a writer – being alone. She has written for as long as she could spell, she says. But events since leaving home have given her material for her own mystery plots. She gathered her own sorrows. "There were a lot of things that happened that were less than pleasant," she says.

Her first marriage dissolved after three years when she and her husband realised they had made a mistake. Single again, she was living in Memphis, Tennessee, where she had gone to college, and while in her early 20s was raped by an intruder who threatened her with a knife. The perpetrator was a serial rapist and later convicted. An early book, A Secret Rage , is about a serial rapist who terrorises a college town in Tennessee.

In her late 20s, Harris met her husband Hal (she prefers to keep his surname out of interviews) at a New Year's Eve party in Atlanta, Georgia. Hal bought her a typewriter and gave her a metaphorical room of her own in which to write. A chemical engineer who works for a military supplier, he has always supported her writing.

What the neighbours and her three children think are another matter. Her children struggled with the idea of their mother being a professional writer, unlike other mothers. And she worried that the raunch of True Blood would mean social death in Magnolia.

But since the success of the TV series, family and friends have enjoyed the accolades. Patrick, 25, Timothy, 22, and Julia, 19, posed on the red carpet with lead actress Anna Paquin. "They are very excited to have a cool mother," she says.

Caring about what people think does not seem to be high on Harris's agenda. After Julia was born, she took to weightlifting, a sport that evolved from a passing passion for karate.

These days the only exercise she gets is walking her three dogs. Harris maintains a blog in which she reviews other writers' work and despairs at domestic challenges, such as finding the time to put out her Christmas decorations and where to store her college-age children's gear.

Sookie Stackhouse and Harper Connelly have, meanwhile, adopted lives of their own. She expects the "Dead" series will outlive "Grave" by 13 books to four.

She's on to her next heroine but won't divulge her character. "I think if you talk about things you don't end up writing them." But expect a tricky character: "Damaged people are more interesting to write."

Grave Secret, by Charlaine Harris, is published by Gollancz, $29.99.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book World reviews Sue Grafton's 'U Is for Undertow'

From The Washington Post --

Book World reviews Sue Grafton's 'U Is for Undertow'Book World reviews Sue Grafton's 'U Is for Undertow' --

By Gerald Bartell --
January 11, 2010 --

By Sue Grafton
Marian Wood/Putnam. 403 pp. $27.95

Sue Grafton's "U Is for Undertow" arrives with a double layer of suspense. There are the absorbing details of PI Kinsey Millhone's latest case, and for fans there is the question of whether this latest installment, just five letters from Case Z, lives up to its often great predecessors in the author's alphabet series of mysteries.

Fans, relax. Grafton has delivered another winner. In this one "the past rises up and declares itself," as Kinsey observes, embarking on an investigation that uncovers powerful secrets long concealed. Not since Laura Lippman's "What the Dead Know" and Nancy Pickard's "The Virgin of Small Plains" has the rattling of skeletons been so harrowing.

On an April afternoon in 1988 (a month before Kinsey's 38th birthday), Michael Sutton, good-looking and still preppy in his mid-20s, asks Kinsey to investigate a scene he stumbled upon in 1967, when he was 6. At the time, a 4-year-old named Mary Claire Fitzhugh had just been kidnapped. Playing near a friend's house, Michael spotted two men digging a trench. Nearby lay a blanket-wrapped bundle. Now, 21 years later, a news update on the unsolved kidnapping has stirred his memory, and he insists to Kinsey that the bundle held Mary Claire's body.

Michael's conviction is gossamer, perhaps rooted in the memories of an overly imaginative child. But he can't let it go. He worries about his own safety. The men who were digging had asked for his name, and he gave it. And he wants to help Mary Claire's mother find closure, a need that hooks Kinsey on the case. Looking at a photo of the 4-year-old smiling brightly, wearing a ruffled dress and holding a stuffed bunny, Kinsey remarks, "the story made something in my chest squeeze down."

But soon she finds reasons to question Michael's veracity. He was fired from a job selling radio ads when someone discovered he'd lied on his job application about having a degree from Stanford. Worse, his sister, a reporter, tells Kinsey that Michael, nudged on by a self-aggrandizing psychologist, accused his mother, father and brother of abusing him sexually as a child. He later recanted the charges, but his parents were devastated.

If Grafton had stayed with just the kidnapping, the two diggers and Michael's story, she would have given us an entirely satisfying puzzle to solve, something like the trim installments she began producing with "A Is for Alibi." But "U Is for Undertow" runs to 403 pages, and there's no padding. In no hurry to cut to the chase, Grafton devotes the core of her book to tracing and probing her characters' motives, as Kinsey makes the familiar but disturbing discovery that a need to survive can drive innocent people to do evil.

A misguided attempt by city engineers to create a safe harbor in Kinsey's home town, Santa Teresa, illustrates this theme. Kinsey observes that, however well intentioned the project may have been, it created riptides that swept people to their deaths. "As with so much in life," she says, "good intentions often generate unexpected results." Working with this theme, Grafton periodically interrupts Kinsey's brisk narration to tell the absorbing stories of several characters living in Santa Teresa during the '60s. She describes their lives in keen, observant detail, often with a twist that makes something in the reader's own chest "squeeze down." Here, fat, prepubescent Jon Corso tries to eat a cold grilled-cheese sandwich after his mother has died: "Because of his braces, he couldn't bite down on a sandwich without getting bread sludge stuck in the wires, so he broke off bites one at a time, thinking of her."

These stories from the past inevitably link to one another and then, finally, to the kidnapping. With each connection, Grafton affords the reader the palpable satisfaction of a safecracker listening to tumblers fall into place. Indeed, the intertwining narratives pull at a reader so strongly that they nearly turn the case of Michael Sutton into a McGuffin. But not entirely. Grafton comes up with clues to savor and puzzle over -- marked bills, the tags on a dead wolf dog and, in a subplot, some old family letters. In a touching epilogue that ends "U Is for Undertow," the missives send Kinsey on her own journey into the past to learn that for her, at least, the tides of her early days were more placid than she remembered.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Jack Batten on U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

From Toronto Star --

Review: Jack Batten on U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton --

By Jack Batten Books Reporter --
Jan 10 2010 --

The ever-gracious Grafton maintains her craft, from A through U

I interviewed Sue Grafton when she was only up to "I".

The interview took place in 1992 – on the afternoon of April 22 to be specific – when Grafton came through Toronto promoting I is for Innocent, which was at the time the latest in her series of crime novels featuring the California private eye Kinsey Millhone. As her legions of fans are aware, Grafton's books have titles that march their way through the alphabet, and my interview on the subject of the "I" novel was for a CBC-TV Sunday afternoon arts show (now long defunct) under the guidance of a savvy arts producer (now long retired).

To tape the interview, the producer organized an informal studio with a cameraman, a sound guy and their equipment, in a suite at the Sutton Place Hotel. To add to the relaxed atmosphere, the microphone was tucked out of sight in a potted plant standing beside Grafton and me.

Just as I was launched into the first of my carefully scripted questions, one about the spiffy new tweed jacket that the usually non-chic Millhone wears in I is for Innocent, an electric saw began noisily buzzing in the room overhead.

The producer waved the interview to a halt and phoned down to the hotel desk about the intrusive saw. Soon the saw shut down, and the producer instructed me to again ask the question about the spiffy blazer. Half way through the question, the phone in the sitting room rang. The exasperated producer raised her arm in another stop signal and answered the phone. It was the desk downstairs telling us what we already knew, that the saw had ceased its buzzing.

The interview continued on its misbegotten way for another half hour, and throughout the shambles, Grafton remained more than agreeable. She was game, funny and answered questions she'd no doubt heard a thousand times as if they were fresh to her that day.

When the afternoon finally wound to an end, she picked up my copy of her book and wrote in it, "For Jack ... who addresses potted plants ... `could you just go back to the question about the blazer?' ... Thanks much. I had a ball. Take care. Sue Grafton."

If all of this gives you the idea that I'm predisposed to look favourably on anything Grafton writes, that would be an accurate impression. But her new book also deserves praise on the basis of merit. U is for Undertow happens to be as brisk, engaging and inventive as anything in Grafton's novels from "A" to "T".

Like all the books in the series, the new one takes place in the 1980s – April 1988 in this case – and like many of the previous books, the plot finds its beginnings in tragic and murky events several years earlier. Back in the 1960s in Kinsey Millhone's hometown of Santa Teresa (a stand-in for the real Santa Barbara), a 3-year-old girl was kidnapped; though the kidnappers were left the demanded ransom, they never picked up the money, nor was the child ever seen again. Now, in 1988, a client with fresh information about the crime hires Kinsey to reinvestigate the very cold case.

This becomes an intricate business, introducing a dozen or more disparate characters to the tangle of criminal involvements. One of Grafton's strengths lies in her skill at keeping the story on the move no matter how many good guys, bad guys and in-between guys stick their noses into the plot. In lesser narrative hands, the range of characters, the time frames and the subplots might overwhelm the book's purpose, but Grafton keeps the people of U is for Undertow coming through clearly, their motivations consistent and their actions fathomable.

For Kinsey, the dogged private eye, the sleuthing is complicated by action in her personal life, something that has gathered impact in recent books. Kinsey, 37 in 1988, has a flinty side. "I'm bitter by nature," she says in the new book. Kinsey may be a little too hard on herself, but as an orphan raised by a maiden aunt who came up short in lavishing anything like affection on the little kid, she has reason to take a jaundiced view of life.

A few novels back, Kinsey discovered relatives she never dreamed she had. They live further north in California, and they're growing increasingly insistent on making connection with the long lost or misplaced Kinsey. She's of two minds about the idea. Having been burned by two divorces, Kinsey prefers the solitary life.

Grafton stretches the tantalizing personal angle in ways that add texture to Kinsey's character. It makes her more than just another private eye on a case, and we can probably assume that she won't work out the family dilemma until the series reaches "Z."

In the meantime, reading the latest novel, a Kinsey fan can justifiably say, in Grafton's own phrase from April 22, 1992, "I had a ball."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thriller writer Tami Hoag returns after 2-year break

From Erie Times-News --

Thriller writer Tami Hoag returns after 2-year break --

January 10. 2010 --

Although 1985 was only 25 years ago, it's almost medieval in terms of the advances in technology and crime detection. In fact, it seems nostalgic to remember a time when DNA seemed like a myth, when FBI profiling was in its infancy and cellular phones were carried in suitcases.

Best-selling author Tami Hoag uses 1985 as the backdrop for a multilayered thriller that looks at the advent of groundbreaking crime detection.

"Deeper Than the Dead" (Dutton, $26.95) also explores parental skills and how one's determination to save face can be pathological. Hoag has built a reputation for highly entertaining thrillers, but in this novel, her first after a two-year hiatus, the author hits upon a complex story that is full of plot surprises and character studies.

At the center of the book are three children from three very different homes.

Tommy's doting father is a well-respected dentist and his mother a controlling witch. Wendy's lawyer father is never home, but her mother is patient and loving.

And Dennis' father is a deputy sheriff who heaps abuse on his mother and himself.

Chillingly, Hoag tells the reader right away that one of these parents is a serial killer who has been targeting young women in the small California town where they live.

Each child's personality has been shaped by their home life. These fifth-graders' discovery of the latest victim in a park will affect each in unpredictable ways.

The only adult who seems to have the children's best interests in mind is their teacher, Anne Navarre, who has her own father issues. Trying to both shield the children and help with the investigation, Anne is drawn into the case more than she expected, especially when an intriguing FBI agent begins an investigation.

Hoag's first-rate exploration of her characters imbues "Deeper Than the Dead" with compelling plot twists. Each character has two sides -- the personality they show to the public and their not-always-pleasant private side.

The author shows the story both from the viewpoint of these children and from their parents without giving away her plot secrets. Hoag utilizes the 1985 time frame well, weaving in developments in crime detection while keeping the plot buoyant.

Tami Hoag has written 16 novels, including "McKnight in Shining Armor," "Rumor Has It," "Night Sins," "The Last White Knight" and "Still Waters."

"Deeper Than the Dead" ranks high among them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blood Ties (Betty Webb)

From New York Times --

Blood Ties --

January 8, 2010 --

When the subject is polygamy, who thinks about boys? Betty Webb does, in her new Lena Jones mystery, DESERT LOST (Poisoned Pen, $24.95), pointing out that there aren’t enough girls for all the boys who come of age in a cult where “if one man can have 10 wives, nine men will have none.” Lena, an Arizona-based private investigator, is made aware of the fate of these unwanted youths when she tries to help a woman whose son is about to be expelled from one such compound. Once they reach 18 and no longer qualify for welfare, these unskilled and ill-educated boys are turned out onto the streets of big cities and left to fend for themselves. Webb offers a chilling glimpse into the life of one young man, struggling to survive in Phoenix. But in dropping this raw narrative thread to pursue a lame subplot about a celebrity stalking in Los Angeles, she herself is guilty of abandoning one more lost boy to the streets.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oil and murder mix in a Texan bayou (Attica Locke)

From Guardian News & Media (South Africa) --

Oil and murder mix in a Texan bayou --

Jan 08 2010 --

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Some novels never quite recover from the brilliance of their opening chapters. Screenwriter Attica Locke's debut is one of them, but it's still a powerful and skilfully constructed conspiracy thriller -- Chinatown without the air of despairing fatalism.

We're in Houston, Texas, in 1981, not long after Ronald Reagan's installation in the White House. Jay Porter is a struggling lawyer with a strip-mall practice that mostly handles minor personal injury claims. Short on cash, but determined to mark his pregnant wife Bernie's birthday memorably, he hires a rickety old barge belonging to the cousin of one of his clients and takes her on a moonlit cruise along Houston's Buffalo Bayou.

All is calm until suddenly they hear a woman's scream, then gunshots, then the splash of a body hitting water. Instinctively, Jay dives into the murky river and emerges clutching a distressed but alive white woman whose refusal to tell him anything about what has happened to her he attributes -- mistakenly -- to her fear of his blackness.

Actually, her reticence echoes Jay's reluctance to get involved. He's only too familiar with "the long, creative arm of Southern law enforcement": in his youth he was a Black Power activist who narrowly avoided being imprisoned on a trumped-up charge of conspiracy to murder.

So he and Bernie drive the woman to the nearest police station and leave her at the door. For anyone else that would be the end of it. But when Jay learns that a man was indeed killed near the bayou that night, he feels compelled to dig deeper. He even returns to the scene of the crime, as if he himself had committed it.

The plot unfolds against a backdrop of rising oil prices and union unrest. Houston's black longshoremen are threatening to strike and Jay's father-in-law, an influential minister, wants him to represent a young man who claims he was beaten up by a port official. Jay isn't sure and Locke makes us feel the force of his uncertainty, his reservations about the value of intervening even when he knows it's the right thing to do.

He's a tortured soul with a "sensitive, almost exquisite sense of the world as black and white", as any African American would be who had grown up in a place called Nigton -- a shameful contraction that speaks for itself -- and heard repeatedly as a child the story of how his father died when a white hospital refused to treat him after he had been kicked in the head by rednecks.

The black water of the title is, of course, oil and it's no surprise when Jay's investigations link the murder to the corrupt practices of Big Petroleum. Locke has an extraordinary gift for reinvigorating tired thriller conventions. The ransacked apartment; the sinister man who shadows the hero and warns him at regular intervals to forget his quarry and go back to his family; the eccentric journalist who has to be persuaded to help the hero out with crucial information -- all are present and correct, but the writing is so attentive to depth as well as surface, and to the swampy atmosphere of a city where everyone has his air conditioning ramped up to the max, that we don't care.

Locke lingers on the port strike, but then it is the catalyst for Jay's political reawakening. Where she's less successful is in her depiction of Houston's mayor, a white woman Jay knew (and loved) when she was a student drawn to black politics. A cynical exemplar of radical chic, Cynthia Maddox failed to support Jay when he stood trial, then disappeared, resurfacing years later as a petite powerhouse of Reaganism. She's a fascinating type but no more than that and it's hard to understand what Jay would have seen in her, or why she continues to exert such a hold on him.

The ending lacks the punch of the beginning, but leaves plenty of room for a sequel. Jay is a compelling character who coheres despite his contradictions. It would be a pleasure to meet him again.-- © Guardian News & Media 2009

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

‘Cruel Intent’ has twists, turns to keep book interesting (J. A. Jance)

From The Courier of Montgomery County (Houston) --

'Cruel Intent' has twists, turns to keep book interesting --

By Pat Williams --
01.07.10 --

There’s no mystery about the crime: vicious serial murder. The perpetrator appears at the beginning of the tale exhibiting his barely-controlled anger and his diabolical acts in the murder of a beautiful young mother. The man is proud of his well-planned executions, and works diligently to avoid the mistakes others make. This killer is a professional in the community, well-educated, and in a social level in which he would not be directly targeted. He is technologically astute, and uses his computer system to find and manipulate his victims.

Ex-television journalist Ali Reynolds has experienced success in marriage and career, but has also tasted the other side of the coin. She lived through the illness and death of her first husband, endured her second husband’s unfaithfulness and then was wrongly accused of murdering him, and quietly tolerated the emotional and social stress of such an untenable situation. Returning home to Sedona, Arizona, Ali retreats from the limelight to enjoy being close to family, spending time remodeling her home, and renewing herself.

On hearing that a young woman had been killed, Ali becomes aware that the victim is identified as the wife of the Bryan Forester, the contractor handling Ali’s renovation project. She has always respected and liked Bryan, and when he was arrested for the murder, Ali was unable to believe he could have committed such an act. After her own experience of trying to prove herself innocent, Ali felt a deep desire to find the truth.

Complications arise when Ali’s good friend and occasional romantic interest, Dave Holman, began to assert his position as police detective and question Bryan in a manner that seemed accusatory to Ali. Ali soon found herself exhibiting a defensive manner when Dave was on the work site questioning Bryan’s crew, while Dave was irritated to find Ali expressing compassion toward someone who was a viable suspect for murder.

Using her internet, Ali soon found that Bryan’s wife was not the faithful person she liked to portray, and that her home life was obviously troubled. While Ali was beginning her search for other facts, the computer sites she used were also being watched by the murderer. Unaware that her personal information had been identified, Ali also did not know the killer was beginning to consider her a problem that could be removed – another murder, if necessary.

The story flows smoothly, and the book is easy to read. Ali Reynolds appears in the fourth book of a series, with a fifth to be published early in 2010. J. A. Jance has written innumerable books involving different characters, and while each series features a different personality with an independent plot, they are written so that the books need not be read in order of their publication.

Jance’s current plot stresses various uses of the internet, as well as the dangers involved in others being able to intrude into an individual’s website. In addition to the evil intent of murder, the author creates suspense and tension by having murder charges falsely brought against a person with which the reader can develop empathy.

As the lead character, Ali is more developed than in other serial-type novels. She has obvious character flaws, yet is family-oriented, kind, strong, successful, and smart. Not a bad composition for someone who is always right on target in helping to unravel mysterious deaths in odd situations.

Along with other unexplained deaths, lying witnesses, and strange coincidences, there are enough twists and turns in the story to keep the reader interested and intrigued. Jance proves her writing skill in this series, and the pleasure found in reading this current book only whets the positive anticipation for the next suspenseful adventure.

Guest blog: Beloved book characters on Twitter (Laurie R. King)

From The Christian Science Monitor --

Guest blog: Beloved book characters on Twitter --

by Rebekah Denn --
January 5, 2010 --

...Mystery author Laurie R. King tweets in the voice of Mary Russell, heroine of “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” and its sequels, for instance...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

(Rhys Bowen) Fiction Book Reviews: 1/4/2010

From Publishers Weekly --

Fiction Book Reviews: 1/4/2010 --

1/4/2010 --

The Last Illusion: A Molly Murphy Mystery Rhys Bowen. Minotaur, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-38540-8

Set in New York City in 1903, Bowen’s winning ninth Molly Murphy mystery (after 2009’s In a Gilded Cage) opens with a magic show at Miner’s Theatre on the Bowery, attended by Molly and her fiancé, police captain Daniel Sullivan, who wants her to give up her unconventional profession of private investigator. When the sawing-a-lady-in-half trick goes fatally wrong, this “horrible accident” brings the evening’s entertainment to an early end, preventing Molly and Daniel from seeing the show’s main attraction, Harry Houdini. After both Signor Scarpelli, the magician whose stage equipment was apparently sabotaged, and his female assistant’s corpse disappear, Houdini’s wife, Bess, who worries an enemy of her husband is out to get him, asks Molly for help. Later, an act the handcuff king attempts almost ends in another death, confirming Bess’s fears. The gutsy Molly, who’s no prim Edwardian miss, will appeal to fans of contemporary female detectives. (Mar.)

Fiction Book Reviews: 1/4/2010 (Linda Fairstein)

From Publishers Weekly --

Fiction Book Reviews: 1/4/2010 --

1/4/2010 --

Hell Gate Linda Fairstein. Dutton, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-525-95161-2

At the outset of bestseller Fairstein’s winning 12th legal thriller featuring New York County ADA Alex Cooper (after Lethal Legacy), the bodies of human trafficking victims wash up on Rockaway Beach. At least one young woman appears to have been dead before she hit the frigid waters. Meanwhile, Ethan Leighton, a rising Manhattan congressman, has fled the scene of a car accident, possibly to avoid exposure of an extramarital affair and a love child. Leighton’s paramour, who calls 911 to report that Leighton has threatened her, later disappears amid signs of violence. Both cases attract the keen attention of Vin Statler, New York’s ambitious post-Bloomberg mayor, who adds political pressure to the crime solving. Fairstein throws a City Council slush fund into the mix, but manages to resolve the various plot threads nicely. While the main criminal’s identity will surprise few, readers seeking a realistic depiction of law-enforcement work will be more than satisfied. 8-city author tour. (Mar.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

(Sandra Brown) This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --

This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back --

By Margaret Cannon --
Sep. 18, 2009 --

By Sandra Brown, Simon & Schuster, 367 pages, $29.99

This is a great fat escape novel by one of the queens of the romance/mystery combination. The setting is moneyed Atlanta, where rich and powerful Paul Wheeler is killed during an armed robbery. His gorgeous mistress, Julia Rutledge, wants his killer punished to the limits of the law. Wheeler's nephew Creighton is accused of the crime, and his family has hired the best legal talent around. Is Creighton guilty? If not, who is? Julie Rutledge won't rest until someone is convicted. This is definitely one of Brown's best.

(Sara Paretsky) This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --

This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back --

By Margaret Cannon --
Sep. 18, 2009 --

By Sara Paretsky, Putnam, 464 pages, $33.50

Sara Paretsky's detective, V.I. Warshawski, has had some completely impenetrable storylines to follow. But Hardball isn't one of those. Fixing her sights firmly on the civil liberties that the Bush administration snatched away from Americans in the name of “the war on terror,” Paretsky is on a roll.

It all begins as Vic takes on a pro bono case. The chaplain for a local home for the aged has asked her to find out whatever became of a man named Lamont Gadsden. He has been gone for more than 40 years, but his aunt, a woman of great faith, has never given up hope that he'd be found.

Now she's dying, and all she wants is to find out what became of her beloved nephew before she dies. There's no money and not much in the way of thanks, but she's going to give the old, cold case a good try. How this small tragedy leads Vic to conspiracy, abuse of power, murder and her own near-death is what Hardball is all about.

I love Warshawski and respect Paretsky, but I must say this book has a major flaw. That's the irritating and totally unbelievable young woman Paretsky uses to focus the plot. Petra Warshawski, Vic's twentysomething niece from St. Louis, is dim and ditzy. Nothing from her lingo to her motives works. When she disappeared, I hoped she'd turn up dead, but no such luck. It's great to have V.I. back, but Petra should take a hike.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back (Kathy Reichs)

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --

This week: Temperance Brennan and V.I. Warshawski are back --

By Margaret Cannon --
Sep. 18, 2009 --

By Kathy Reichs, Simon & Schuster, 308 pages, $32

Kathy Reichs's 12th novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is tight, taut and filled with the kind of solid science her fans love. Reichs has always been a writer who learns from her mistakes. Characters a bit thin? She adds depth. Plots weak? She works them out more thoroughly. Too much scientific hugger-mugger? She tones it down. 206 Bones has suspense to burn and a terrific plot, and all of Reichs's talents are on show.

The story begins with a truly horrifying setting. Tempe Brennan awakes to find herself hogtied in the dark. Not only is it dark, it's dank and cold and she quickly realizes that she's somewhere underground, buried alive.

It begins in Chicago, where Brennan and her ex-lover, Montreal Detective Lieutenant Andrew Ryan, have delivered a set of bones to the Chicago coroner, and where Brennan seems to be accused of some form of dereliction of duty. The dead woman has been identified as Rose Jurmain, a Chicago heiress who went missing three years earlier while on a Quebec holiday. The remains show no reason to think a crime was committed, and Brennan's work is sound, but it appears that someone is out to smear her, and that someone seems to be in the Montreal lab.

That story line lets Reichs jump to three more bodies in Quebec. All are older women killed ruthlessly and with no apparent reason. The work leaves Brennan little time to search for the person who put the Chicago coroner on her trail. It also makes her a bit oblivious to the fact that the Montreal lab staff is uneasy. Something is wrong, and the tension ratchets up.

Reichs keeps moving back and forth between Brennan's horrific present and her muddled past. As she tries to free herself, she's unravelling the mess of the past several months, including her unresolved feelings for Ryan.

206 Bones is Reichs at the top of her game. Unlike many of her crime author contemporaries, she has pared down her prose, not plumped it up, so this is a solidly edited 300-page novel that moves like lightning, which I read in a wonderful, day-long rush.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sue Grafton's 'U Is for Undertow' is her best

From Erie Times-News --

Sue Grafton's 'U Is for Undertow' is her best --

December 27. 2009 --

Can it really be 27 years since Kinsey Millhone sifted through clues in "A Is for Alibi?"

Yes, it is, and as the end of the series looms, Sue 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 the time of her latest novel, "U Is for Undertow" (Marian Wood/Putnam, $27.95), though, the plot is more complicated than usual, and much darker.

A mysterious man tells Millhone that 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 the child was buried.

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

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

"Here's the odd part. In my 10 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 Unruhs 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.

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 knows few of her relatives.

That's another situation Millhone needs to clear up, and in "U Is for Undertow," she does.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joy Fielding takes readers' questions

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --

Joy Fielding takes readers' questions --

Apr. 06, 2009 --

Joy Fielding has a story familiar to every writer who's ever made it: The first work she ever submitted was rejected.

Only in her case, she was eight years old and the editor who rejected her story worked at a children's magazine called Jack and Jill . She also felt the bitter sting of rejection at the age of 12, when a TV script about a 12-year-old girl who murders her parents was also turned down, according to the mini autobiography on her website.

Fielding has of course since gone on to become one of Canada's most successful authors, writing dozens of bestselling novels centred around the lives of women in jeopardy, often because they're involved with a bad man.

Her books, which are part thriller, part psychological drama, are never nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize or a Governor-General's award, but they sell around the world by the millions and have a huge following.

Fielding's latest novel, Still Life , is about a successful interior designer whose every bone is broken in a car accident, and who discovers in the hospital that, while she can't see or talk, she can hear everything being said around her. “She quickly discovers that her friends aren't necessarily the people she thought them to be – and that her accident might not have been an accident at all,” says the blurb on the jacket flap.

Fielding was born Joy Tepperman in Toronto in 1945. She had a brief career as an actress, appearing in one film and an episode of Gunsmoke , before moving onto full-time writing. She changed her name to Joy Fielding as an homage to the English writer Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones ).

Her first novel, The Best of Friends , was published in 1972, was well received, and the New York Times called her 1981 novel Kiss Mommy Goodbye “a knockout.” But it wasn't until the release of See Jane Run in 1991 that Fielding hit the big time and made it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

“Probably my favourite book to date is See Jane Run ,” Fielding says on her website. “I'm not sure why it is so special to me. Maybe because it accomplished everything I wanted it to do. I felt it was an important story, one that existed on many levels, and I was very proud of both the writing itself and the story line.”

Fielding says she gets her ideas from news articles or takes them from the experiences of people she knows. And she still brings a bit of the actress to her writing.

“My main characters are all aspects of my own personality, although their stories are very different from my own,” she writes on her website. “Still, I find that I approach the heroines as if I were a Method actress. I think, how would I react if this were happening to me, what would I say if someone spoke this way to me? Sometimes, I try to take the easy way out by neglecting the characters and concentrating on the plot. This never works and I have to start again.”

Fielding lives in Toronto and Palm Springs, Fla., and also lived for three years in Los Angeles. “I think I have a fairly American sensibility, although this is very much tempered by my Canadian upbringing,” she says. “Generally, I set my books in big American cities.... The American landscape seems best for my themes of urban alienation and loss of identity. I am much more interested in the landscape of the soul.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Anne Rice: Interview With the Vampire Killer

From LA Weekly --

Anne Rice: Interview With the Vampire Killer --

By Gendy Alimurung --
December 24, 2009 --

It’s Angel Time for the famed author

On a rainy December afternoon, Rice is resting in her suite at the Mission Inn, the historic Riverside hotel where she will be signing copies of her new book, Angel Time. She leans back in her chair, arms folded primly across her chest. Having emerged from the proverbial darkness, she looks thin and frail, her once-inky bobbed hair now grown snowy gray, but her voice is precise, matter-of-fact and forceful still.

“I am curious as to whether anyone will show up,” she says. “You never know. Maybe no one will come.”

It is her first signing in four years. Worry sounds quaint coming from someone who’s written 29 novels and sold 100 million books, but there is something to it. Her new novel is about angels. Clearly, in this society, you can bank on vampires. But angels?

Three decades ago, Anne Rice did for the vampire what Martha Stewart did for housekeeping: She made it sexy, modern and marketable. Everybody who comes after her with a variation on that theme owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.

So Rice is not surprised when she sees the fresh generation of vampire fans, who lately seem to be everywhere, with their own conventions, TV shows, musicals, video games and even vineyards (vampire merlot, anyone?). Blood is certainly the new black. They remind her anew of the richness of the original vampire concept. “I remember how it excited me in 1976, when not a whole lot had been done with it,” she says. “Just Dracula and some old Hollywood films.”

That was the year she published the seminal Interview With the Vampire. The setting was her childhood home, New Orleans. She was 35 years old when that first novel came out, and a devout atheist. With the addition of The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, her Vampire Chronicles trilogy became required reading for the black-lipstick-and-sunscreen set.

One consequence of not having to crank out vampire stories is a freedom to finally enjoy them. She finds HBO’s True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, to be great satirical fun. Harris’ novels are the clever, postmodern response to Rice’s decadent Southern Gothic vampires, who creep around in decaying, antebellum mansions.

While she hasn’t read the Twilight novels, Rice has seen the movies. “They’re romances for very young kids. They’re about a young woman wanting and needing an older, mysterious figure who’s protective and yet something of a menace,” she says. It’s the Brontë sisters and Jane Eyre. “It was almost genius on Stephenie Meyer’s part to set it in high school. It works perfectly.”

Rice isn’t jealous of Meyer’s success. If anything, she is sympathetic. “You know, when you’re very, very popular the way she is now, a lot of people want to tear you down,” Rice says. “But she deserves credit for making a lot of readers happy.”

Meyer’s genius may be in getting teenage girls to fall in love with vampires. But Rice’s was in establishing the persona to be fallen in love with. Her books, written from the vampire’s point of view, are about the monster’s suffering and agony — the ultimate outsider: himself. What would it be like to interview a vampire? To get him to tell you his whole story?

“You wanted to know, what does he do when he’s alone?” she explains. “What does he do for kicks besides drink blood and turn into a bat? What books does he like to read? I took it in the direction of having that vampire open up to you and tell you all those secrets.”

There were inklings of things to come. When the film version of Interview With the Vampire came out in 1994, producer David Geffen told Rice that he’d noticed an awful lot of teenage girls attending the preliminary screenings. This was unexpected. “They didn’t make that movie for young teenage girls,” Rice says. “Producers saw it more as a gay allegory. They chose those handsome men, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, with that in mind.”

She stayed away from the public, not for lack of love for her audience but for personal reasons. When the popularity of her Vampire Chronicles books reached its pinnacle, she did marathon signings. “We did an eight-hour [signing] once at a Walmart in Denver,” she says, with a grin and a shiver. National book tours are glamorous but hard. Rice, who is a Type 1 diabetic, would be sick for months afterward.

The past four years have been especially rough. Poet Stan Rice, her husband of 40 years, died in 2002 of brain cancer. She sold the last of their three houses in New Orleans mere weeks before hurricane Katrina hit, and moved to Rancho Mirage to be near her son, Christopher, who lives in L.A. The move was painful, she says, but she needed the change.

When Rice did book signings in the old days, she adds, you couldn’t presume who would show up. You couldn’t tell whether there would be more men or women. Just when she’d think her typical reader was a goth kid in black velvet, up would march a bunch of soldiers just back from the first Gulf War, saying they’d read the books there. Or she’d be approached by a country kid in a cap with a bill, who’d ask, “Where’s Lestat? When’s he comin’ back?”

The infamous vampire Lestat — equal parts Casanova, trickster-god Pan and Justin Timberlake — is never coming back.

God has taken the vampire’s place. Rice came through the turmoil of the past few years by finding faith. She converted to Catholicism. In 2002, she consecrated her writing to Jesus Christ, declaring that she would henceforth write only about salvation, not alienation.

Of the novels that made her famous, Rice says, “To me those stories are about grief, about suffering, about atheism. They were stories I told because I was going through that kind of crisis. People respond to those books strongly, particularly if they’re going through a rebellion of their own, where they feel kind of lost. They can identify with the darkness in them.”

The world is never lacking for lost souls. Many of her fans wanted her to keep going with the dark stuff. To keep driving a hearse and to keep showing up at book signings in a coffin. (Even if Catholic dogma wasn’t her style back then, she surely took cues from its theatrics.) But Rice is done with seductive, demonic adversaries. At least, to the extent she can be. Good, after all, cannot exist without evil, and God and Satan are always at their game of chess. Demonic adversaries are inevitable. Mainly, she wants her work to reflect her faith, just as the earlier work reflected her unhappiness and despair. “Why can’t you redeem the vampires? Why can’t you save Lestat?,” Rice’s fans ask.

Though not in so many words, that is exactly what she’s doing. Angel Time, as its title suggests, is about angels. It too will be part of a trilogy, this one called Songs of the Seraphim. Instead of being visited by a vampire, the doomed hero is visited by an angel. After a decade of conscienceless killing, government assassin Toby O’Dare is visited by the angel Malchiah. It is never too late to repent, Malchiah tells him: “I’m here to tell you that everything can change for you. I’m here to take you to a place where you can begin to be the person you might have been.”

Vampires and angels may seem like opposites, but they aren’t, Rice argues. They are similar, especially in the way vampires are used at this particular cultural moment. In the works of Harris and Meyer, they function as guardian angels. True Blood’s Vampire Bill is perpetually rushing in to save his human girlfriend, Sookie, and Twilight’s Edward Cullen would sooner die than ravage his flesh-and-blood crush, Bella Swan. No, actually, he’d rather take her to prom.

“I’ll be very interested to see who’s lined up downstairs,” Rice says. The only generality she can make after all these years is that she has yet to see an 80-year-old at a book signing. “Though, maybe 80-year-olds don’t go to book signings,” she says, slyly.

She recalls a personal appearance in Toronto some 30 years ago, in the earliest days of Interview With the Vampire. It snowed. No one came. Bored, Rice pulled books off the shelves and started reading. “It was very upsetting to the store people. They were so embarrassed,” she says, laughing.

Today’s signing — and Rice has only ever done signings, never readings, preferring instead to let her characters “speak” for themselves — is taking place downstairs, in the Mission Inn’s overly warm lobby. A toasty fire crackles in the hearth. The halls are decked with gold ribbons, lights and cheery, creepy animatronic elves. The whole florid setup leaves you dazzled and slightly sweaty, much like Rice’s prose. Major scenes in Angel Time are set in the Mission Inn and its environs. “A giant confection and confabulation of a building ... an extravagant and engulfing place sprawling over two city blocks ... unfailingly lively and warm and inviting, and throbbing with cheerful voices and gaiety and laughter,” is how Rice describes the hotel in the novel’s noirish opening pages.

“The hero comes here,” she says. It is his refuge, as it has been Rice’s. “He’s given an assignment to assassinate someone here. It’s upsetting to him. I was dreaming of the book when I visited the Mission Inn. I got a huge lift from being here.”

She hopes to do for angels what she did for vampires. She loves the idea of powerful messengers of God coming down to Earth to answer prayers. Rice’s angels aren’t weak. A being from heaven, living in the presence of God, she imagines, would be a strong, complex spirit. “I really want to write about the good guys,” she says, “to prove that they can be as interesting.”

Angels, with their wings and halos, sound like a tough sell to a jaded public. But then again, a generation ago, one might have said pretty much the same thing about vampires.

As it turns out, Rice needn’t have worried about people not showing up. The fans, a mixed bunch as predicted, are lined up around the block. They clap when they spot their idol, the former queen of the vampires, in her long, black-velvet skirt. Rice’s assistants stand at the ready with extra pens and Diet Coke. “She’ll be signing books for hours,” says the doorman.