Hamlin: 'Plum Spooky' packs plenty of paperback weirdness --
By Brian Hamlin --
When it comes to finding the best and brightest supermarket paperbacks, it's usually a good idea to steer clear of established, best-selling authors.
Sure, they usually can write quite well, but most of them are caught in a kind of comfort zone created by years of success and fat wads of cash. Somehow they lack the off-the-wall spontaneity that unexpectedly launches a supermarket paperback to the top of the rack.
Fortunately, there are exceptions to this rule, and best-selling author Janet Evanovich has proved it with "Plum Spooky" (2010, St. Martin's Press, New York, N.Y., $7.99, 246 Pages).
In this fast-paced tale of murder, monkeys and missiles, Evanovich pulls out all the stops as her longtime heroine, bail enforcement agent Stephanie Plum, once again takes to the mean streets of Trenton, N.J., to round up a few forgetful clients who have somehow failed to show up in court after making bail.
In "Plum Spooky," however, events take a decidedly weird turn -- again and again and again.
Plum's problems begin when she's assigned to track down a young doctor of quantum physics named Martin Munch, who jumped bail after being arrested for smacking his boss in the nose with a Dunkin' Donuts coffee mug and then absconding with a one-of-a-kind cesium vapor magnetometer.
Under normal circumstances -- of which there are blissfully none in "Plum Spooky" -- Stephanie would be able to corral the boy genius without even working up a sweat, but he proves elusive and leads her and her cohorts on a merry chase through New Jersey.
Hey, everybody needs friends and Stephanie's got plenty of them backing her up. There's Lula, a plus-sized former prostitute who packs a nickel-plated Glock; Diesel, an international man of mystery who hunts down evildoers he refers to as "unmentionables"; Ranger, an armed and dangerous security consultant; and Carl, an itinerant monkey who was unceremoniously dumped on Stephanie's doorstep by a former bail jumper who wanted to have some quality, nonprimate time on her honeymoon.
With a team like that working around the clock, it's hard to believe Munch isn't back in custody within the hour, but he's teamed up with a sinister guy named Gerwulf Grimoire, a ne'er-do-well who drives a black Ferrari and looks like a stereotypical, albeit somewhat handsome, vampire. The pair have fled into the wilds of the Jersey Pine Barrens, where it appears they're working on a diabolical experiment involving rockets, barium and a half-dozen captive monkeys with helmets on their heads.
In pursuit of the pair, Stephanie soon finds herself confronted by everything from the legendary Jersey Devil -- a kind of flying, killer horse from hell -- to hordes of Jeep-eating, incontinent raccoons, a shotgun-wielding Sasquatch and a retiree who's been trapped in a threadbare pink bunny suit for years because the costume's zipper is stuck.
Weird? You betcha.
Janet Evanovich may be an established, best-selling author, but she certainly isn't in a rut and "Plum Spooky" proves it.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
From The Reporter (California) --
Monday, March 29, 2010
From FemaleFirst (UK) --
The Weight Of Silence --
feb (05th) 2010 --
It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.
Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet and gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry, alcoholic husband.
Now, although she denies that her husband could be involved, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.
Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered.
Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanour.
Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
‘The idea for The Weight of Silence, the story of two young girls who disappear in the woods and the desperate hunt to find them, came about one day as I was hiking in a nature preserve near my home.
'I was trudging up a craggy path, the only sounds were my breathing and the rustling of wet leaves and grass beneath my feet. I thought about how terrifying it would be for a young child to be lost in those woods, even more so if that child wasn’t able to speak. So began The Weight of Silence
'I also chose to write The Weight of Silence because, as a teacher for special needs, I spend day after day with young children who have readily shared their experiences, worries, and dreams with me. Despite their candid honesty in sharing their lives, I have come to realize over time that no one can truly know what happens in the privacy of the home.
'While the story of Calli is fictional, the domestic drama found in many wealthy, middle class, or poor homes, is not. Through this novel, my initial objective was to give a voice to the voiceless children of abuse from homes you would not expect, but found that I could not effectively tell Calli’s story without giving a voice to those around her.
'Through my interactions with families in crisis or with families of poverty I have learned that despite circumstances, despite mistakes, people truly do the best they can, however flawed.’
Heather Gudenkauf was born in South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month old, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation where her father was employed as a guidance counsellor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up.
Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing impairment, Heather tended to use books as a retreat and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.
Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education and has spent the last sixteen years working with students of all ages.
She lives in Dubuque, Idaho with her husband, three children and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Maxine. In her free time Heather enjoys reading, hiking and running.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
From Globe and Mail (Toronto) --
Wild at heart, stupid in head --
Reviewed by Michelle Berry --
Mar. 05, 2010 --
Joy Fielding's latest novel, The Wild Zone, begins as a joke (there are three men, Jeff, Tom and Will, in a bar) and it also begins with a joke. The very first sentences: “This is how it starts. With a joke. ‘So, a man walks into a bar,' Jeff began, already chuckling.”
The thing is, Fielding's newest novel is anything but a joke. It is serious, disastrous stuff. Full of violence and mayhem and seriously angry and disturbed people.
Jeff, Will and Tom are in a bar, The Wild Zone (the motto is, “Proceed at Your Own Risk”), and they make a bet: Who can be the first to seduce the sad-looking female in the near booth? Who can take her home? These three completely different personalities – Jeff is handsome and rugged, calm but powerful; Will is shy (a PhD student in philosophy) and quiet; and Tom is the crazed, discharged-from-the-army guy – have three very dissimilar approaches to the bet. However, it's amazing how much they have in common.
Suzy, the “bet,” isn't as innocent as she first seems. She draws these men into her life easily, each one competing for her attention for his own reasons, each one sucked into the vortex of her subtle charm. Actually, nothing is subtle in the book. The sex is wild and violent, the drinking and drugs are intense, the violence is gory and detailed.
Well, it is a thriller. This is what Joy Fielding is known for, what she's good at. And although the story is more than compelling (the jacket sucked me in), there is definitely something missing in the telling of it. The writing is raw, but the characters are all stereotypes: Tom, the violent ex-army guy, is the Incredible Hulk on steroids; his anger seeps from every pore. Jeff, his best friend, is much better looking and gets the girl, and everyone else is somehow doing well in life, even though Tom doesn't think anyone deserves it. So what does he do? He rapes an Afghan girl and is dishonourably discharged from the army. Of course, it's everyone else's fault.
And Jeff – well, he is far too good-looking, too calm and too in control. He has the perfect girlfriend, a good life. But he is so horribly macho that he will induce your gag reflex. Everything for Jeff is about sex – violent sex, sex that's good for him – and his body. Finally, there is Will, your typical student, shy, insecure and not good with girls.
Stereotypes are okay, especially in genre fiction. It's like fast food: You go back again and again because you know what to expect and you know what you'll get. But when all the characters are dimensionless and unlikable (there isn't one character I feel for), the twisted and interesting plot falls flat. Why do all these men end up helping Suzy? There isn't anything interesting about her. She isn't even nice. Is it possible to have suspense if your reader doesn't care what happens to the characters?
I guess it is possible, because The Wild Zone is a strangely compelling read. As Lynn Crosbie said in her review of Fielding's Heartstoppers, creating a story that forces someone to read until the end is an “enviable artistic achievement.” She is absolutely right. It's extremely hard to glue your readers to the page. But The Wild Zone does compel you to read on.
Is it just the violence and sex that keep you reading? Perhaps this is why Joy Fielding is a bestseller-list author. Perhaps this is her lurking talent: She sucks you in with end-of-chapter cliffhangers, violent results and wild sex. Maybe then, it doesn't matter if all the characters are idiots. After all, this is a thriller and, as with all thrillers, there is that twist at the end that forces you read until the very last sentence.
Friday, March 26, 2010
From Nottingham.co.uk --
Q&A with True Blood author Charlaine Harris --
March 05, 2010 --
AMERICAN author Charlaine Harris is best known for vampires-in-the-deep-south True Blood novels featuring heroine Sookie Stackhouse. On Wednesday, she's signing books in Nottingham.
What inspired you to start writing vampire/supernatural stories? Is the deep south really that spooky or did you grow up watching Hammer Horror films?
I had reached a crossroads in my career, and decided to write something different. It seemed interesting to write about a young woman who was dating a vampire. Any region of the US can seem creepy, I'm sure; I just specialise in the south.
You've created a world of "supes" although the fairies have gone. (I'll miss 'em, I love the way you gave them Irish names). Are there any new beings to come?
In the next book there's an incidental character who's of another race. And there are still some fairies hanging around. Hope you enjoy them.
What did you think of the True Blood TV version and were you able to have any input in the series? (They did seem to go overboard on the sex.)
I love the TV show, and I really enjoy seeing my work through Alan's interpretation. (Alan Ball, who created American series Six Feet Under, is creator and producer of the True Blood television series.) My input lies in writing the books the show is based on.
What did you think of our true Brit Stephen Moyer's performance as Bill Compton?
I admire Stephen. I'm so pleased he's in the series, and I think he's given Bill depth and great appeal.
What's in store for Sookie, as the next book is out in May? Will the FBI come back to recruit her?
You'll have to find out then. You'll be surprised.
Why do you think the world's gone bats over vampires?
In depressed economic times people turn to fantasy literature, and my books fit the bill. In our youth obsessed society, vampires represent the ideal in keeping their looks, never ageing, never getting ill.
You also write crime fiction with the Harper Connelly "grave" stories. Would you like to see Harper get the same small screen treatment as Sookie? The latest instalment, Grave Secret, seems to flesh out some characters, such as Manfred and Harper's sisters, aunt and uncle, so there seem to be plenty of cast members for a TV series. Was this deliberate?
No, I fleshed out the characters because they were an integral part of the story. But there has been TV interest in the Harper books, and it may happen, may not.
How do you divide your time between the genres, as we're told writers have to be very focused and disciplined?
It's like switching heads. It's a nice change of pace.
How do you relax?
I read. Sometimes my husband and I go to the movies. We watch my daughter play baseball. I e-mail friends.
You're only making three stops in the UK and Nottingham is one. Do you have a fan club here or is it a hot spot for sales?
As I understand it, it is a hot spot for sales. I don't book my own tours in the US or overseas, and I enjoy seeing different places and different fans.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
From San Francisco Bay Guardian --
Trash Lit: Grafton's craft in 'U is for Undertow' --
By: Tim Redmond --
U is for Undertow
Putnam. 403 pages, $27.95
I love the Sue Grafton books. I bought A is for Alibi in 1983, when it came out, and I’ve read every one of them since. Unlike, say, Patricia Cornwell, whose characters age (and get crabbier) as time passes, Kinsey Milhone is eternal, always young, always living in a town called Santa Teresa that’s a lot like Santa Barbara, always living with her old (but never dying) landlord, Henry, always eating at the foul Hungarian restaurant down the street. Milhone is a comfortable protagonist, never deeply tortured, but never exactly adjusted either, and even her OCD habits (locking her car – and telling us she locked her car – about 50 times a book) are endearing.
This one’s set in 1988, where Milhone is quite at home, and in 1963-1967, where Sue Grafton is less so. Grafton’s got a problem with hippie chicks – one of the central villains in U is for Undertow is a girl named Shelly who later changes her name to Destiny. She’s an almost embarrassing parody of how middle America saw flower children in the late 1960s – except that she appears in 1963, before there were a lot of real hippies about in the land. To make matters worse, she brags that she was part of the beat scene in San Francisco and slept with both Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg – which is fairly unlikely, even in fiction; I don’t know who Allen Ginsberg, a proudly gay poet, was fucking in 1963, but I don’t think there were many hippie chicks on the list.
The horror of the dirty girl is almost too much to believe! Destiny is living in a bus with the son of a respectable family who dropped out of college to join her – and she has a child by another man who’s left the picture! And she’s raising her child (gasp) a vegan! And he runs around naked! And she’s preggers again, this time with his kid, and she insists on natural childbirth! She is, of course, also a total beyotch, who doesn’t respect the mother of the once-nice-young-boy loser who is under her hippie-chick spell.
There’s other stuff I didn’t love in here – one young character, who hates his stepmom, gets in trouble at his fancy private school and is forced to transfer to the horrors of a public school, where he of course meets awful bad kids who corrupt him entirely and turn him into a druggie.
In and around all this, though, is a fascinating mystery. It involves two kidnappings from the '60s, a guy who might or might not have fabricated repressed memories, a dead dog in a dead girls’ grave, and a tangled tale across three decades that weaves the lives of the good and the bad (and it’s deliciously hard to tell which is which) into a first-rate detective story.
We also along the way learn some new clues about Milhone’s past (great trivia about Aunt Gin for serious fans of the series) and get a couple of excellent Grafton comments about the important things in life:
“At the time, I’d introduced [cancer patient] Stacey to junk food, which he’d never eaten in his life. Thereafter, I tagged along with him as he went from McDonald’s to Wendy’s to Arby’s to Jack in the Box. My crowning achievement was introducing him to the In-N-Out Burger. His appetite increased, he regained some of the weight he’d lost during the cancer treatments, and his enthusiasm for life returned. Doctors were still scratching their heads.”
Hippie-chick sex. Hippie chick seduction of a high school kid. Sweet Kinsey-shoots-murderer scene. (“It’s only in the movies the bad guys keep firing. In real life, they sit down and behave.”) I almost gagged on the '60s stuff, but I stayed up way past my bedtime to get to the end.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
From Washington Post --
Book Review of "A Night Too Dark," by Dana Stabenow --
By Patrick Anderson --
March 1, 2010 --
A NIGHT TOO DARK
By Dana Stabenow
Minotaur. 323 pp. $24.99
Dana Stabenow is one of those regional crime novelists who too often don't achieve national attention. She was born in Alaska in 1952 and has lived there ever since, and this is her 17th novel about the Aleut private investigator Kate Shugak. It's an outstanding series and one that has, in fact, won awards and begun to turn up on bestseller lists here in the Lower 48. If you've never visited Alaska, it's also an intriguing introduction to that big, brawling, rather bewildering state. Once you've met the strange characters who inhabit the Shugak novels, Sarah Palin becomes easier to comprehend.
Kate is only 5 feet tall but fears neither man nor beast: Early in this novel she takes down a knife-wielding roustabout and a charging grizzly bear. Her two live-in loves are Sgt. Jim Chopin, a hunky state trooper, and silver-gray Mutt, who's half wolf and half husky and whose ever-changing moods make him somewhat more interesting than the trooper. Kate started her career as an undercover investigator for the DA's office in Anchorage but later moved to the small, isolated town of Niniltna, where she works as a PI and also heads the board of directors of the Niniltna Native Association, the primary governing body in that corner of Alaska.
The plot of "A Night Too Dark" centers on the Suulutaq Mine, where vast gold deposits have been discovered. The gold isn't being mined yet because environmental questions must be answered, but the prospect of a billion-dollar bonanza has various hustlers and corporate vultures circling. (The Suulutaq Mine is fictional, but Stabenow has said it is based on the controversial real-life Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska.) Kate has deeply mixed feelings about the mine; the region needs the jobs but doesn't need the environmental damage and the threat to its way of life. However, she and Sgt. Jim are drawn there after two of the mine's employees mysteriously die and a third goes missing.
This plot unfolds nicely, but what makes the novel outstanding is Stabenow's vivid portrait of the Alaskan culture. In the opening pages we meet an old-timer with a long white beard whose "Carhartt bibs were frayed and stained, the black-and-red plaid Pendleton shirt beneath it patched and faded, and the Xtra Tuffs on his feet looked like they'd been gnawed on by ferrets." We meet the town's four "aunties," Native Alaskan women in their 80s who are the community's social arbiters. We learn that it is unwise to ask an Alaskan "Where are you from?" because so many have pasts they are determined to escape.
We attend a board meeting of the Niniltna Native Association and discover that Native Alaskans are just as angry, stubborn, greedy and duplicitous as anyone else in politics. We learn that in today's Alaska, outsiders sometimes marry indigenous Alaskans for their money -- the Alaska Claims Settlement Act of 1971 having awarded huge amounts of land and nearly a billion dollars to them through regional corporations like the one Kate heads. As a result, at least some Native Alaskans have become prosperous. We see that Sgt. Jim doesn't bother much with dope smokers, bigamists and poachers, if they otherwise behave. We also learn, after a quiet dinner at home, that he and Kate are partial to spontaneous displays of affection: "She laughed harder when he cleared the table with a sweep of one arm and threw her down on it."
Stabenow is blessed with a rich prose style and a fine eye for detail. At one point she devotes two delightful pages to detailing the beauty of Kate's garden ("The deep purple spire of monkshood, its cluster of closed blooms giving off an air of mystery, appeared and disappeared around every bend of trail"), and elsewhere we're treated to a digression on the hunting and cooking of moose ("Old Sam liked his meat crisp on the outside and bloody close to the bone, and this took time and care.").
Stabenow doesn't say much about Alaskan politics, except to have Kate quip, "Anyone in Juneau [the state capital] in their right mind is an oxymoron." However, in an interview with Publishers Weekly, Stabenow said that she'd met then-Gov. Sarah Palin twice, the second time in 2007, when Palin named her Alaska's Artist of the Year. Stabenow added, "She didn't mention the novels either time." This is alarming. It's always wise to greet a novelist with "Loved your book," whether or not you've read the book in question. The writers are invariably grateful, and none has ever been known to demand proof. If Palin can't figure that out, how can she ever hope to lead a great nation?
Monday, March 22, 2010
From Winnipeg Free Press --
Fast-moving tale of bet gone wrong --
Reviewed by: Rebeca Kuropatwa --
Fielding's story is gripping.
The Wild Zone
By Joy Fielding
Veteran novelist Joy Fielding's latest suspense outing is a fast-moving tale of a bet that goes terribly wrong.
Fielding is a rarity in Canadian publishing, a writer of successful commercial fiction rather than literary fare.
She has written more than 20 titles since the early '70s, among them such bestsellers as Kiss Mommy Goodbye and See Jane Run, which have been made in TV movies.
Her work is closer in spirit to Danielle Steel's than Margaret Atwood's, melding topical subject matter with no-nonsense storytelling.
The Wild Zone is set in Florida. It stars two 30ish brothers, Jeff and Will, out one night at The Wild Zone, a South Beach bar, with a married friend, Tom.
Tom, who is carrying a gun, has been Jeff's best friend since high school. They enlisted together in the army and served several tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Jeff, now a charismatic personal trainer, had come home a hero, but Tom was dishonourably discharged for an unprovoked assault on an innocent civilian.
Tom returned from Afghanistan a different man -- "a loose cannon." As the story unfolds, Tom's wife takes their kids and leaves him.
Will left Princeton to visit Jeff, needing to "take a break" from his PhD dissertation.
Jeff proposes a $100 bet on who can be the first to sleep with Suzy, an enticing dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty.
Jeff describes Suzy, who is drinking a pomegranate martini alone, as "just waiting for Prince Charming to hit on her."
The trio even enlist the help of Jeff's live-in girlfriend, Wild Zone bartender Kristin.
Little does this threesome know that Suzy is not just a simple deer caught in headlights.
She is secretly married to an abusive husband and is constantly under his watchful eye. As it turns out, Suzy has a lethal agenda of her own.
Kristin approaches Suzy, and comes back to tell Will, "Her name is Suzy and she picked you."
Hesitantly, Will takes a drink over to Suzy, still raw from being jilted by his last girlfriend. Will and Suzy leave the bar together, much to Jeff and Tom's chagrin.
Quickly, the story kicks into a high gear, a wild ride with a life all its own, strewn with surprises and consequences for all parties along the way.
Fielding's characters and plot are strong and well-developed. The story is gripping, always leaving the reader guessing, and culminates in a deliciously untamed twist of a conclusion.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
From Daily Courier (AZ) --
Detective novelist J.A. Jance holds fans in thrall at YHS 'Tea & Mystery' fundraiser --
By Karen Despain --
Speaking "without looking at a teleprompter and nothing on my hand," bestselling author J.A. Jance entertained a packed room of fans this past Saturday with quips about her former deceased husband and vignettes about beloved dogs in her life.
Readers know Jance for her gripping, grizzly mystery novels, notably the Detective J.P. Beaumont and Sheriff Joanna Brady series, but they may not have heard that her path to success threw some hurdles at her along the way.
From the time Jance read "Wizard of Oz" in the second grade, she knew she wanted to be a writer, she said. But, a University of Arizona professor shut her out of a creative writing class because she was a girl and encouraged her to become a teacher or a nurse, instead. What did she do but marry a man in that class who told her, "There's only going to be one writer, and that's me."
Jance said she endured his alcoholism for 18 years before realizing that "loving him hadn't fixed him." Despite his early admonition to her, Jance secretly defied him by writing in the dark of night and scribbling bits of poetry that she hid in a strong box.
When she had had enough, she loaded her kids and a U-Haul trailer and headed out of Arizona to Seattle, Wash., and sold life insurance to survive.
A Dale Carnegie course became the pivotal point in her career. The instructor asked students to "write about an event that had changed their course in life." Jance put pen to paper and wrote about how her life had intersected with a serial killer in Arizona.
This launched her career, but with a bit of a hiccup. Her first attempt at a novel threaded fact among fiction and was too long, yet her agent noticed her talent for fabricating a great tale.
That was 40 novels ago and before Jance let readers know that she was a woman and not a retired law enforcement officer doing the writing.
Jance laced humor and pathos of her early career in a talk at the Prescott Resort to benefit the Yavapai Humane Society, donating her customary fee to the organization, which netted $5,000 from its Tea & Mystery event. The Worm Bookstore was also on hand to sell Jance's books and donated 10 percent of its profits to the Humane Society.
Jance said her first husband was a "bad idea, but in terms of writing murder mysteries, he was a gold mine." And, she warned, "If you have friends who write murder mysteries, don't make them mad. We have a way of getting back."
Now happily married to Bill for many years, Janice fed animal lovers in the audience stories about their dogs and how they have figured in their lives and her writing.
After her family left South Dakota for Bisbee, Ariz., when Jance was young, she carried home from first grade one day "an incredibly ugly puppy" and told her mother that the dog had followed her. As it happened, her grandparents were visiting and when they were sitting at breakfast, she noticed that her grandmother "began feeding toast to something in the arm of her sweater.
"My mom didn't have enough rank too say 'no,'" Jance said, so Daisy became a member of the family, with many other canines to follow in her household and books.
Two goldens, Nikki and Tesla, named after Nicolai Tesla, make a cameo appearance being walked by their owner when J.P. Beaumont finds himself lost in Bellevue, Wash.," in her book, "Taking the Fifth."
Rescued golden, elderly Mandy died of bone cancer after being with Jance and her husband for only six months but lived on for years as Beaumont's grandparents' dog. Pound puppy Bony appears "in tow" of the Walker family in her books, "Hour of the Hunter" and "Kiss of the Bees" as David Ladd's dog, Oho. Goldens Aggie and Daphne, named for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, appear as themselves in a Maddy Watkins short story, "Highest Best Use," and in a novella, "The Case of the London Cabbie." Daphne's "heroic barking alerted us to the presence of an intruder in our bedroom," Jance said, "and gave me the beginning of 'Damage Control.'"
Jance and her husband travel a lot, and she takes trips to book signings and speaking engagements, as well.
No matter what, "I write every day," she said. "My advice to writers is this: Published or not, a writer is someone who has written today."
Saturday, March 20, 2010
From Independent (UK) --
Crimes of a century: Sara Paretsky on fiction, power and the open case of race in America --
By Arifa Akbar --
26 February 2010 --
Creator of feminist sleuth VI Warshawski, Sara Paretsky soon picked up the trail of her Chicago neighbour, Barack Obama
When Barack Obama was not yet the President of the United States but just another neighbour in Sara Paretsky's leafy corner of Chicago, she would glimpse the handsomely gangly figure of the young attorney tripping round the block, stopping for friendly chats here, idle shakes of the hand there.
After he embarked on his campaign for an Illinois Senate seat in 2004, her admiration turned into an unshakeable hunch - emanating more from womanly instinct than forensic detective work - that this "beautiful" man could attract the not-so-insignificant vote of her state's "soccer moms", if not the prune-faced majority who had already written him off as a "black guy with a weird name."
"I was one of the first people to back his Senate campaign," she says. "David Axelrod [now his senior adviser] held a fundraiser to put the arm on all of Chicago's wealthy Democrats. He invited everyone to his apartment, overlooking Lake Michigan, and all of rich Chicago society thought 'no-one's going to vote for this black guy with the weird name'. But I was sure as soon as the soccer moms see this guy, they'll vote for him... He was so beautiful." Chicago's doubting elite was proved wrong, Paretsky right. "He won the primary, like that, click," she says, recalling the victory with a delicate lick of the lips.
VI Warshawski, Paretsky's fictive feminist PI who in 1982 burst into the detective genre to subvert its patriarchal norms, would surely be proud. As a long-standing admirer of the President, perhaps it is no surprise that Paretsky features Obama in her latest novel, Hardball (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99) - albeit more as political wallpaper than as a central subject.
The story is a nostalgic one, revolving around the activism of Martin Luther King, in a return to the Chicago of 1966 and the bloody Marquette Park riots which erupted that year. King, despite having been granted police protection, was struck by bottles hurled by a snarling white crowd, who were trying to stop the civil rights march for non-segregated housing.
King himself barely features in the book. But his presence in Chicago ignites a terrible face-off between the resentful white community, activists, black street gangs who appointed themselves as King's protectors, and the questionable allegience of the state police. Warshawski's latest assignment leads her to excavate this turbulent moment in American civil-rights history after an elderly black woman asks her to find her son, whose sudden disappearance after the Marquette riots has to this day remained unsolved.
Obama is a shadow but a significant one, one whose photograph has already been hung next to the portraits of older heroes in the drawing rooms of the black families Warshawski visits. Paretsky suggests the timing of the book - finished in the final week of the presidential campaign - leaves it holding its breath, yet she still wanted to place Obama as a symbol of hope at the back of her story. "It was touch-and-go whether he would win. But I felt he was iconic. I was 13 when John F Kennedy was elected and there was that sense of a new generation, a new energy that Barack Obama embodied again."
The roots of Paretsky's 16th novel, and 13th in the Warshawski series, lie in a real-life case that has rumbled on in Chicago for two decades. The Burge case (named after detective Jon Burge, currently embroiled in the Federal courts for perjury), has become a shameful reference-point for endemic police corruption in the city.
A teenager, Joseph Lopez, was arrested in July 2000 without a warrant for the murder of a 12-year-old, and held for four days in an interrogation room, handcuffed to the wall for most of that time. Under these conditions, Lopez falsely confessed, but was later released when the real culprit was arrested. He sued the police and a subsequent inquiry uncovered a 20-year pattern within Chicago's police department of arresting young black men without a warrant in cases involving violent crimes, and detaining them illegally.
This case was one inspiration, she says, but Paretsky also used her own life's topography - her first few years in her adoptive city of Chicago as a student community-service worker - to give her crime fiction a typically politicised hard edge. The book was spawned from an essay she wrote for her 2007 non-fiction collection, Writing in an Age of Silence (Verso), "The King and I". It reflected on her community service of 1966 and her permanent return to the city, from her Kansas hometown, two years later, to work as a secretary. Later she completing a PhD at the University of Chicago.
The first trip as a student "changed my life", she wrote in "The King and I": "I feel a fierce nostalgia for the sixties, a nostalgia like an insatiable hunger. Out on the streets, these were some of the ugliest times in American history, racism made naked for the whole country, indeed the whole world, to see. In the courts and the White House, these were some of the noblest moments. The President... speaking to the nation, talked about the centuries of harm white Americans had committed against black Americans."
Returning to that time, her aim was to view it in the context of what happened to Chicago, and America, in the intervening 40 years. There have been gains yet there is still much to be fought for, she says, with the stridency of a diehard campaigner. There's the Republican hate machine that has left Obama's adminstration limping ("The opposition to him has a very racist edge"), her city's infamous corruption ("29 aldermen are in prison, three recent governors are also there") an iniquitious health care system ("free health care ought to be a slam dunk") and Chicago's enduring cultural segregation, with the black community forming a dangerously impoverished enclave in the South Side.
This latter issue appears to rankle most. "I have African American friends in the city who have experienced racism...The teenage son of John Hope Franklin [an eminent scholar of African American history]who lives near me was questioned by the police. What was a black teenager doing in a white neighbourhood?" She tells another story of a black friend who moved from the South Side to a mixed neighbourhood but "moved back to the South Side because she felt like a giraffe in a zoo."
This trope is one she has employed to describe herself and her intellectual Jewish family, living in the midst of screaming white Republicanism in Kansas. In the city of Lawrence, her father, a microbiologist and native New Yorker, found a job at the university. The most desirable residential areas in Kansas were still barred to African Americans and Jews while Paretsky was growing up. Reflecting on her outsider status in this all-white stronghold, in which her family could never have been white enough, she has written that "We were like giraffes, an oddity that inspired staring."
It is a world she describes vividly in the partly autobiographical novel Bleeding Kansas, which also, painfully, recalls her parents' unravelling relationship and her father's drinking. She bills her former self as something of a dumpy, overlooked teenager, wholly unrecognisable from the pin-thin, stylishly dressed 62-year-old today. The outside, she says, drawing attention to the soft velvet fabrics, pretty neckerchief and hues of green and gold, is meant to be deceptively, perhaps even disarmingly "feminine". "People point out that Warshawski's edgier than almost any other woman in fiction, and I think I'm edgier than most other women. I dress in this soft kind of way, I come in wearing soft colours with my Victorian face... and then I deck them."
There is comedy in this statement, but anger too. As an ardent, self-proclaimed second-wave feminist, much of this outrage is ideological, though one cannot but wonder how much stems from what appears to have been a debilitatingly male-dominated upbringing. Her parents paid for all four of her brothers' education but not their only daughter's schooling; she was expected to be the care-giver, and she remembers her father wearing a badge calling for the repeal of the 19th ammendment, which gave suffrage to American women in 1920.
Yet she says the anger that galvanised her writing in the 1980s came not from personal history but from her disgust at the sexist clichés within the American noir tradition, almost always featuring laconic men with a hardwired distrust of the pouting vamps they meet.
She had read crime fiction since her teenage years and "one of the things that began to trouble me was that the women... especially in American noir were either victims or vamps. The sexually active ones were evil, and the sexually chaste ones good but incapable."
She wrote an angry riposte to this tradition, and the result was Indemnity Only, which readers around the world welcomed – in spite of being told by New York publishers that the PI novel was long dead, and especially one that based itself in the "flyover" city of Chicago. "It was something I was doing from anger at the way women were presented in fiction, and not just crime fiction. I thought if I ever write a novel, I want to turn the tables on that tradition."
Turn the tables she did, so well in fact, that she has redefined the genre, with what detective novelist Val McDermid calls the "transgressive" central character who is "discounted by society". She won the Crime Writers Association's Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 2006.
So 13 Warshawski novels later, is Paretsky still angry? Apparently so. "When I look at the younger generation of women especially in the United States and their reproduction rights, with not enough access to abortion, then I think 'why is it up to me to keep fighting this battle?' I have been doing this since the 1970s. It's time for the younger generation to step up. " There is a pause, and a moment when she contemplates her increasing mellowness with age: the fear that Warshawski may have lost some of her edge over the years. But in the next breath, she is back on the warpath.
"I went to Nashville, Tennessee, not long ago, and I saw Jesus billboards everywhere alongside billboards for Hooters Clubs (a franchise which trades on its waitresses' breasts) and it seemed to be a place about the sin of abortion and Hooters. It makes me furious and baffled at the same time."
So furious in fact, that the experience gave grist to her mill. Her next novel, already written and part of the Warshawski series, focuses on the female body. "It's going to be a kind of Pride and Prejudice with nudity." Tennessee, and Hooters, may be in for a bumpy ride.
Friday, March 19, 2010
From Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier --
Spunky protagonist shines in Spellman series --
By: AMIE STEFFEN --
February 25, 2010 --
Isabel Spellman is not your typical 30-year-old. She's never had a real job outside of her family that she didn't deliberately sabotage. She always runs background checks of current boyfriends. And if she wants to know something about her family, she spies on them.
It's how she was raised in the Spellman household - and she's quickly realizing she can't escape that.
Onetime screenwriter Lisa Lutz has crafted a perfectly dysfunctional family of private investigators living in San Francisco from the viewpoint of eldest daughter Isabel, arguably the most deliciously dysfunctional of them all.
Izzy's past includes a lot of drunken nights with her best friend, Petra, mild drug use, vandalism and other various run-ins with the law. These days, although her adolescence and juvenile record are behind her, she never migrated into what her parents would think of as normal adulthood - unlike perfect older brother David.
Not that it bothers Izzy much. She's happy migrating through various housing situations, various boyfriends and the Philosopher's Club, her favorite watering hole. But she can't seem to shake working for her parents' private investigation business and can't (or won't) stop spying on people, whether it's for business, pleasure or to get the dirt on secretive family members.
Adding to the melee is her younger sister, Rae, who actually admits to a desire to work for the family business and bugs Isabel to no end; and of course, Izzy's own tendency to find the mystery in every situation.
Lutz's style is comedic, but not exactly in the laugh-out-loud way of Evanovich and her ilk. Instead, you find yourself chuckling at Izzy's reluctance, belligerence and general disdain for secrets, authority and stupidity. She's a smart alec but she's also genuinely intelligent - which makes her the unlikely hero to root for in each book.
The author also makes good use of a plethora of footnotes, which usually serve to sum up back stories, provide humorous asides or even refer to stories in previous books ("Check out previous document, ‘Curse of the Spellmans,' now in paperback!")
If you're a fan of humorous mystery novels, and you can relate to a juvenile miscreant who never seemed to grow up (I know I can), you'll enjoy the Spellman books.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
From The Weekender (Northeast PA) --
NOVEL APPROACH: The ties that bind --
by Kacy Muir --
“Blood Ties” is the newest thriller from acclaimed novelist, Kay Hooper. Since her first publication in the early ’80s, Hooper has managed to outlast some of her contemporaries by transcending from romance to thriller. Though there are many categories of thriller fiction, Hooper gives readers a breath of fresh air by incorporating crime with the paranormal.
The story begins in Serenade, Tenn., and brings forward characters from past Bishop/Special Crimes Unit novels. However, this novel does not begin with Noah Bishop, leader of the FBI crime unit, but instead, his wife, Special Agent Miranda Bishop. After Noah’s slight leave of absence, Miranda spearheads the unit.
Miranda and her crew are called to the scene when a runner finds a dead man on a popular woodsy path. The body is mutilated to the point that “flesh and muscle had been somehow stripped from the bones” and “internal organs were gone, including the eyes” and scalp.
When the case goes from one homicide to multiple, the SCU knows that it has a serial killer on its hands. It becomes even more personal when those in the unit realize they are no longer hunting the killer but being hunted themselves: “They knew the bodies were bait and this was a trap, for Bishop and for the SCU.”
The SCU, which is composed of the Bishops, Quentin Hayes, Hollis Templeton, Diana Brisco and Reese DeMarc, all have psychic capacities that aid in criminal cases. They are the elite — agents who have the ability to see something that that most cannot. At first, the bureau is unsure how evidence will be reputed by telepathic phenomena. But later, readers are told that the group is among the 90th percentile, proving that it remains highly professional and successful in solving cases.
The novel, which is both edifying and riveting, is the conclusion to previous books “Blood Dreams” and “Blood Sins.” The dialogue is also quite realistic, and while it is sometimes hard to recognize one character from another in other fiction thrillers, Hooper makes each character unique.
The only real issue in reading this novel is not due to the author. One can be entertained and thrilled by this book; however, it is best to read the whole “Blood” series. That said, Hooper added succinct footnotes for the reader to offer you further direction to understand a given scene. Furthermore, following the epilogue, Hooper wrote character bios for clarification.
The conclusion of the book is unexpected, and Hooper molds the end in a dramatically beautiful way through the language. The book is a must-read, and, without giving too much away, it is not without some sadness as readers will find that one Bishop will fail to reappear in another series.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
From Publishers Weekly --
Fiction Book Reviews: 2/22/2010 --
Eight Days to Live Iris Johansen. St. Martin's, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-312-36815-9
Having injected vampires into 2009's Blood Game, the previous Eve Duncan forensics thriller, bestseller Johansen introduces cryptotheology—the madeup religious stuff of Dan Brown—into this equally outlandish sequel. When Jane MacGuire, Eve's adopted daughter, exhibits her paintings at a Paris gallery, one of Jane's pieces, a creepy portrait titled Guilt, prompts a charge of blasphemy from a dangerous cult. Nailing the dead body of one of Jane's friends to a cross shows the cult members mean business. Last seen in 2006's Killer Dreams, John MacDuff and Jock Gavin show up at Jane's door to protect her. Later Seth Caleb, the mysterious is-he-or-isn't-he vampire from Blood Game, joins the team. An action-packed search to uncover Jane's link to the cult and find a priceless religious artifact takes Jane and company across Europe—a journey that allows little focus on Eve and even less on her trademark forensic sculpting. 500,000 first printing. (Apr.)
Monday, March 15, 2010
From Huntington News --
Review: Sara Paretsy at St Peter's Church --
Review by Rosemary Westwell --
22 February 2010 --
An evening with Sara Paretsy at St. Peter's Church Ely on Saturday, February 20.
On TV, on the radio and moving from Topping's charming bookstore in the High Street Ely to a larger venue - what is so special about Sara Paretsky that makes her so popular? There are SO many crime writers out there, why should she be any different?
It was not until I heard her speak at St Peter's Church in Ely that it became obvious. Her wit, delight in irony and above all, her determination to root out and air the evils of her city Chicago, transfix your attention. You are left with a sense of admiration and awe. This woman is a formidable force and her writing compelling and instructive.
Her latest book, Hardball, pulls no punches. The political corruption that Chicago boasts and past injustices that lie unpunished are presented directly in her story as her intrepid heroine, private investigator V I Warshawski , battles to find out the truth about a missing person. Prejudice, police torture and an intransigently corrupt society provide an almost impenetrable force for VI to overcome. You are compelled to empathize with her sense of injustice.
When Sara worked voluntarily in Chicago in the summer of 1966 the city was one of the most segregated cities in America. African Americans were not permitted to rent or own houses in certain districts; they were banned from beaches and from certain jobs. Martin Luther King was asked to come and join the campaign for equality bringing with him the media that offered a certain amount of protection for the protesters. Sara described how few people understand how violent it had been at that time. She had felt an urgent need to tell the story. This urgent need to explore depths of the corruption that few would dare touch makes her stand out as an inspirational person and stimulating author.
As a Jew she visited Germany and noticed the humility and shame felt by many of the Germans she met. Yet, in America, she senses little of this guilt about injustices of the past. It is no wonder her husband calls her a pit bull ready to take on anyone as long as they are four times her size. Sara is indeed an indomitable force as a writer and campaigner for social morality. There are good reasons why her books published in over 30 countries are among the top best sellers.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
From The Financial Times --
Review by Christopher Fowler --
February 22 2010 --
By Sara Paretsky
Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski is a Chicago private detective bedeviled by fluctuating family loyalties, old enemies, new allies and inconvenient neighbours. In Paretsky’s 13th Warshawski novel, Vic’s chaotic world is developing ever-deepening layers. She agrees to locate a gang member who vanished 40 years earlier on the eve of a legendary blizzard. He had been hired to help protect Martin Luther King when riots erupted over Dr King’s attempts to desegregate city housing. As the political ramifications involve her own family history, Warshawski finds that Petra, her young cousin newly arrived to aid a political campaign, has possibly been abducted.
This second plot strand allows Warshawsky to reveal her more human side, as the wealthy new-gen fem Petra encourages Vic to justify her old-school feminism. Within a racial melting pot, Paretsky hits her own personal best; Hardball takes the thinking woman’s detective to a new level of excellence.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
From The Chronicle-Herald (Canada) --
Veterans’ plight plants seeds of unrest --
By: JoAnn Alberstat --
Feb 21, 2010 --
Maisie Dobbs series brings 1930s London into view
AMONG THE MAD, by Jacqueline Winspear, begins on Christmas Eve of 1931. Londoners have little reason to be merry 13 years after the First World War’s end. The streets are full of people still hurting physically and emotionally, with the Great Depression making matters worse.
Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is reminded how desperate times are when a disabled veteran uses a grenade to blow himself up on a busy street corner as she passes by. The PI, who is also a psychologist, is soon summoned to Scotland Yard, where she learns that a senior politician has received a threatening letter. The author demands that the government come up with a plan to help the unemployed, especially veterans, within 48 hours or acts of terrorism will follow.
The Yard’s special branch team enlists Dobbs’ help, not only because of her expertise, but because she’s mentioned in the letter. The PI has no idea why her name was used but believes the case is linked to the suicide.
As the clock ticks, Dobbs’ probe takes her to veterans’ hospitals and asylums; to 10 Downing St. and Oxford University laboratories.
Despite the weighty subject matter, Winspear keeps the plot simple and moving along as quickly as the female PI. But Winspear takes time to effectively weave details about the period throughout her novel, including the industrial advances, political unrest and burgeoning women’s rights movement.
A few post-First World War mystery series exist but Winspear’s is unique in having a female sleuth. While Dobbs blazes a trail in her profession, the former wartime nurse is acutely aware of her own slow recovery from wartime wounds and losses. Her training as a psychologist also gives her an uncanny insight into the criminal mind long before profilers came along.
Winspear’s interest in the period and soldiers’ mental health is personal. Her grandfather was a Great War veteran who was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme and suffered from shell shock.
This is Dobbs’ sixth appearance, with the seventh, Mapping of Love and Death, set for release next month.
Friday, March 12, 2010
From The Edmonton Journal --
Good counsel from Laura Lippman --
By Colette Bancroft --
February 19, 2010 --
Creator of detective series dishes on the perils of working at home and her true-crime inspirations
"Always throw away your first line."
Novelist Laura Lippman says that is one piece of advice she gives students at creative writing classes.
"Just this week I've been reading Anna Karenina," she says, and was intrigued to discover from the book's introduction that the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy's novel -- "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" -- wasn't the original opening line.
"It was the second sentence, 'All was confusion in the Oblonskys' house.' I happen to think that's a better opening."
Lippman knows something about writing first lines. She has published 14 novels, 10 of them about series character Tess Monaghan. Like Lippman, the quirky, independent Tess is a former newspaper reporter; unlike her creator, Tess became a private eye. Lippman, 50, wrote her first seven novels while still working at the Baltimore Sun, but now revels in writing fiction full time.
The novelist's life is usually a solitary one. She does most of her writing in a coffee house near her Baltimore home. "I like the buzz," she says, because it reminds her of the newsroom. Her usual spot is next to the children's play area, and one day a kid was throwing a tantrum right next to her as she tapped way at her keyboard.
"The manager said, 'I don't know how you can work.' I said, 'Hey, I worked at the Baltimore Sun. This is not the first time someone was screaming and crying while I was working.' "
Besides, she says, she gets more work done than she would at home. "Home is the procrastination palace. If you're a stay-at-home writer, it's 'Oh, the laundry.' Pretty soon it seems like the right time to be cleaning the baseboards with a Q-tip."
Lippman is speaking by phone not from Baltimore but from New Orleans, where her husband, television writer-producer David Simon ( The Wire), has been overseeing filming of his upcoming HBO series, Treme.
"Yeah, I'm kind of getting that whole get-out-of-winter thing."
She likes New Orleans, but says she doesn't think she'll ever write a book set there. "People are lining up to write about it. New Orleans has no shortage of champions. Baltimore needs me."
Her last novel about Tess, like Lippman a Baltimore resident, was Another Thing to Fall, published in 2008. The same year, she wrote a serialized novel for the New York Times, The Girl in the Green Raincoat, in which Tess has a baby. It will be published as a book, although a date hasn't been set.
"I'm really kind of glad for the time to think about it," Lippman says.
She expects to write about Tess again, but it will mean "writing about a significantly altered universe. If I hadn't had her have the baby, I think I would have had to end the series."
Lippman's most recent book, Life Sentences (2009), is a stand-alone novel. "I had never written a book about a writer, and I wanted to do that."
The writer is Cassandra Fallows, author of two bestselling memoirs and a not-so-successful novel. She returns to her hometown, Baltimore (of course), to research a non-fiction book about a former schoolmate whose baby mysteriously disappeared. The self-centred Cassandra discovers that her childhood friends and family members have read her memoirs and don't remember things the way she does -- with some shocking repercussions.
"I also wanted to write about a deeply unpleasant person," Lippman says. "My agent said about Cassandra, 'You know people will think this is you.' That was liberating to me. I thought, I'll make her even worse."
One theme of Life Sentences is the consequences of a writer's use of other people's lives. "It's an issue for all novelists," Lippman says, noting that one of Tolstoy's inspirations for Anna Karenina was a local woman who threw herself under a train. "He even went to her autopsy."
Her books are always based on a true crime story to some degree. "People ask me, 'Did you get permission to write about that?' I know it sounds kind of cold, but I don't need permission. But I understand why they ask."
Lippman turned in the revised manuscript of her next book three days before Christmas. "After spending a year in the life of Cassandra, I wanted to write a novel about a happy person."
She says she expects readers to think the inspiration for I'd Know You Anywhere is the Elizabeth Smart case, but it's not. "I'm being very veiled this time about what inspired the book. It's a not very well-known case of a killer who raped and killed all his victims except one.
"I thought, the one left alive -- wow, what happened to that person?"
In Lippman's novel, after being attacked as a teen she grows up to become a "happy, secure, centred" woman who keeps her past a secret from all but a few people -- until the killer writes her a letter from Death Row.
"Cassandra wrote books that book clubs read. I wanted to write about the person who's in the book club, sitting there with her glass of white wine talking about the book."
Thursday, March 11, 2010
From New Straits Times --
READ: Darker version of ’Bones’ --
By: Rizal Solomon --
by Kathy Reichs
416 pages / Simon & Schuster
LET’S get this out of the way — if you’re coming into this novel hoping to find the same Temperance Brennan you get in the hit Bones TV series, you’ve come to the wrong place.
There’s no Special Agent Seeley Booth nor any of her quirky forensics team. What you get here is a totally different character with the same name, also a forensic anthropologist but very little else in common.
Brennan here divides her time between work in North Carolina and working in Montreal for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. She is divorced and has a daughter named Katy. Her romantic interest in the books is one Detective Andrew Ryan.
What you get is author and Bones producer Kathy Reichs’ meticulous attention to the details of forensic science. Reichs herself has impressive credentials as a forensic anthropologist and academic. The Bones character of the TV series bears more resemblance to her than to the character in the novels.
Devil Bones is the 11th instalment of Reichs’ Brennan novels and the story starts off with the discovery of animal and human skeletal remains in a dingy cellar of a house in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was being renovated. The remains, together with cauldrons and religious artefacts, are arranged in a manner suggesting some ritualistic setting for voodoo or satanic worship. Very soon, the body of a headless teenage boy is found, with a pentagram carved into his torso. News that a satanic occult could be performing human sacrifices sparks panic in Charlotte and a witch hunt ensues.
A practising Wiccan, Asa Finney, becomes the prime suspect, but Brennan and her police counterpart, Erskine Slidell, must dwell deeper when contradictory evidence emerges and all is not what it seems.
The experience and expertise Reichs garnered as a real-life forensic anthropologist shine through the pages with riveting detailing of crime scenes and anatomical science. However, parts of the novel that revolve around Brennan’s life and relationships may not appeal to readers new to the series, particularly since there is a general lack of chemistry between the characters. Stick to the TV series if you want a less darker and more humorous and lighter version.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
From Scarborough Evening News --
Pioneer in world of crime writing --
By Martin Herron --
19 February 2010 --
ONE of the world's top crime writers will walk Scarborough's mean streets on Sunday.
These days crime fiction by women dominates the bestseller charts, with novels by the likes of Patricia Cornwall and Minette Walters, selling in their millions.
But when Sara Paretsky created her character VI Warshawski in the early 80s there were very few female private eyes following in the footsteps of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer.
"Marcia Muller had written a couple of books at that time, but really VI was the first female character to take up a space that, until then, had been totally taken by men," Sara told the Evening News.
"And I wanted her to compete with them directly, on her own terms. That's why I made sure she came from a part of Chicago where girls grow up pretty quickly and pretty tough! I didn't want her to be a fantasy character like Modesty Blaise with all those slick karate moves. I wanted her to be a street fighter – and I sort of constructed her whole character around that."
Paretsky's latest book, Hardball, is the 13th novel to feature Warshawski – played on the big screen by Kathleen Turner in a frankly disappointing movie – and her creator says it can be a struggle to keep such a long-running series fresh.
"It can be difficult to come up with new ideas, though I think VI's managed to evolve quite realistically over the past 25 years. But it's not just a problem with VI – it's with the crime novel as a whole, which can be quite formulaic.
"It's important to keep up the momentum with action and physical engagement but, at the same time, you don't want to take that too far. I'm not a huge fan of the psychological crime novel where everything's internalised. As a reader there's just not enough going on there for me and I think a lot of other readers feel the same."
Hardball is a very personal work, taking a trip back in time to Chicago in the 60s, when Paretsky first arrived in Chicago, the city she is synonymous with. It follows old skeletons from the city's racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets through four decades to the present.
"It's not just personal – you could even say it's self indulgent!" she said. "I arrived in Chicago in '66 and I was researching that time for a memoir and the more research I did, the more I realised how important that time of my life was.
"It was a very turbulent and very exciting time and it was when I came of age. I was doing community work there and we were involved in every aspect of the city from the very top right down to the streets, and the city and its story just became part of who I was.
“I guess if I’d gone to Paris at that age the same thing would have happened there.”
Both Chicago and Paris suffered rioting in 1968 – stateside in August at that year’s Democratic convention, and in France during May when protests by students and trade unionist came close to bring down the government.
“Oh that wouldn’t have bothered me, wherever I go riots follow!” said Sara.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
From The National Post (Canada) --
Q&A with Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Swan Thieves --
by Mark Medley --
February 15, 2010 --
Elizabeth Kostova foreshadowed the current vampire craze when her debut novel, The Historian, was released in 2005. While on the surface the book was a modern reinterpretation of the legend of Vlad the Impaler mixed with a dose of eastern European history, at its root the novel was simply a well-written detective story. The book sold an estimated four million copies and was translated into 40 languages, and a film adaptation is in development. If nothing else, Kostova will always be the question to a Jeopardy answer: She wrote the first debut novel to debut at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Her latest novel, The Swan Thieves, tells the story of a psychiatrist trying to figure out why his patient, a painter named Robert Oliver, attacked a priceless canvas hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Kostova recently spoke to the National Post’s Mark Medley about vampires, obsessions, and French Impressionist painting.
Q: The Historian came out in 2005. What’s been going on in your life since then?
A: Since The Historian came out in 2005, I have mostly been working on my new book, which was released a few weeks ago, The Swan Thieves. The research for that was also extensive - it’s taken most of these four years.
You spent ten years researching and writing The Historian, this one took five. Did you feel rushed?
I felt as if it left skid marks on my desk, honestly ... (With) The Historian I wrote sometimes 10, 20 minutes a day, around the edges, doing a lot of other jobs.
The first novel was obviously a massive success. How did it affect your life?
I still keep a pretty big disconnect between my public life and my personal, private, writing life. And I think that’s important for authors, just for peace of mind. But I also have been really thrilled to have (a) readership. I’ve loved being on tour, reading in public, and getting to meet some of my readers.
Do you have a sense of who your readers are?
I have a strong sense of who my readers are, I think. They tend to be people who are very interested in literature. Many of them are great readers. They’re sometimes particularly interested in a subject matter - Dracula with The Historian, east European history, travel - and with The Swan Thieves I’ve had a lot of people come to readings on this tour who are avid painters, or they love art history, or they love museums, so there’s kind of a connection with art for a lot of readers who show up.
Let’s talk about that. Your first book dealt with the mythology of Vlad the Impaler, and now you’ve transitioned to Impressionist painting. How’d that happen?
I know it seems like kind of a strange jump to make a transition from a first novel about Dracula and the legends and history of Vlad the Impaler to French Impressionist painting, but I really wanted to learn something new with each book, and have a chance to do research that’s completely new to me. Also, in a way, they’re not that different. They’re both books about obsession: obsession with history and the way we’re haunted by history in contemporary life.
What are some of your obsessions apart from writing?
I’m not sure I have any! I think I’m a little bit like some of my characters in The Swan Thieves, who really eat, live, drink, dream, and breath their art form. But I love to travel when I have the opportunity to do that. I also love to read. I’m a great reader and I think that’s something that always fills the well for writers.
I remember when I read The Historian it felt like a throwback to another era of literature. This feels a bit more introspective. Was that a conscious decision?
I think The Swan Thieves feels a little bit more introspective as a book partly because of the subject matter. It’s really a book about people’s internal lives. Their love of their artwork. In the case of the narrator, his knowledge of human psychology. It’s also about people’s personal lives in a very intimate way. There are several rather unusual love stories in the novel. So I think that an introspective tone worked for me with his novel, although there is, again, a mystery that has to be solved by the end of the story. Often a book’s subject matter will determine its tone for an author.
How did you research this novel?
I researched The Swan Thieves in a very similar way to The Historian. I did a lot of traditional research, reading any primary sources I could find, in this case a lot of letters written by 19th century French artists, journals, and certainly other sources like biographies. And for The Swan Thieves I did a lot of looking at paintings in-person. In a way it was a great excuse to go to all the museums I love and not only look at artwork there again but actually set scenes in particular rooms and galleries.
Much like The Historian, The Swan Thieves is, in part, an epistolary book. Why, as a novelist, do you like using letters to tell a story?
I think we all have a secret wish that we could read other people’s letters. And, of course, now the letter is kind of a dying art form. And I really wanted to give that sense of intimacy you get with character and knowledge of the character’s voice, and especially the character’s self-perception, which you can get very directly from a letter.
I find writing about art very difficult to do; there’s a disconnect between images and the words used to describe them. As an author, how do you tackle that problem?
I think it’s very hard. I completely understand what you’re saying. I think, as writers, we always have a loop of words going in our heads - I’m sure you experience this. You’re always thinking ‘How could I describe that in words?’ There is this sort of gap, or as you say disconnect, and it makes you feel, well, there’s the visual and then there’s something that goes in black and white on the page in letters and words, and then somehow through that we get a window again on the visual. I invented a lot of paintings for [the book]. As you know, a lot of the paintings are fictional, actually, although they’re based on particular artist’s work or styles. And I tried really hard to write the way you would sketch without looking at the page, if that makes sense. I’d try to look with my mind’s eye the painting that didn’t exist or one that does exist and to choose words for it that had as much to do with reactions as with descriptions. It’s very hard not to be cliched when you write about a painting. And you can also end up doing a pure description that’s just colour and form and ‘This is in the middle’ and ‘That’s in the left hand corner.’ And what I really wanted to convey was a character’s reaction to a painting, but still give some visual guide to it.
What do you hope people take away from the novel?
I really hope readers take away from The Swan Thieves some kind of renewed or freshly kindled love of painting. Paintings are so refreshing to me. Because they’re static, and we’re so used now to quick media imagery or the visual equivalent of a sound bite, there’s something incredibly restful about standing in front of a painting or looking at great reproductions of paintings on the page. Although I have to say the Impressionists don’t reproduce very well. It’s wonderful to see their brush work in the flesh.
Can I ask what you’re working on next?
I started work on a new novel in November. I had an idea very suddenly last summer and I’ve been making notes for it for awhile. I keep hoping that I’ll somehow write a novel that’s about 200 pages long and involves no historical research but I just don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m losing hope.
Monday, March 8, 2010
From Scotsman News --
Book review: Hardball --
Review by MARILYN STASIO --
21 February 2010 --
By SARA PARETSKY
Hodder & Stoughton, 464pp, £12.99
THE thing about Sara Paretsky is, she's tough – not because she observes the bone-breaker conventions of the private-eye genre but because she doesn't flinch from examining old social injustices others might find too shameful (and too painful) to dig up.
In the dozen novels she's written about VI Warshawski, her stout-hearted but short-tempered Chicago private eye, Paretsky has questioned the memories of Holocaust victims, reopened wounds from the McCarthy era and repeatedly attacked the local political machine for its flagrant corruption.
Paretsky is in full Furies mode in Hardball, which reaches back to the tumultuous summer of 1966, when Martin Luther King led civil rights marches in Chicago and was met by race riots that cut through families and across generations, even spilling over into the churches. Warshawski, who was only ten at the time, assumes the burden of other people's memories when she agrees to help an old woman who hasn't seen her son since he disappeared during the January blizzard of 1967.
The son, Lamont Gadsden, was in a black street gang whose members saw the light and became Dr King's personal bodyguards, and he was at his side in Marquette Park when rioters killed one of King's followers. So the very white and very female private eye looking into the youth's disappearance finds herself ignored, insulted or attacked by every bent cop, crooked pol and angry political activist who'd like to keep his own shabby sins buried in the past.
Unlike many popular crime writers, Paretsky doesn't turn out books like some battery hen (the previous novel in this series was published in 2005), so it's a distinct pleasure to hear her unapologetically strident voice once again.
Her themes here may be familiar – Chicago's legacy of police brutality and political corruption is a never-ending source of material – but she gives them a personal spin by drawing on her own experiences as a community organiser during the summer of 1966 and sharing them with a large cast of voluble and opinionated characters, whose memories are as raw as her own.
There's a real sting both to the anger of a black man who took care of a friend beaten to insensibility by racist cops and to the grief of an elderly white woman who has been displaced from her family home. Voices like these can ring in your ears for – oh, 40 years and more.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
From CBC News --
Quebec's Louise Penny shortlisted for Agatha mystery award --
February 20, 2010 --
The Brutal Telling by Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny has been nominated for an Agatha Award in the U.S. for best novel of 2009.
The latest murder thriller by the Toronto-born journalist debuted in the top 20 on the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for three weeks.
The Agatha Awards, to be handed out May 1 at a ceremony in the U.S., honour works that typify those written by British author Agatha Christie. The novels must not contain explicit sex or violence.
Penny, who now lives in a village south of Montreal, is a favourite of the American prizes, which honoured her with a best novel accolade in 2007 for Dead Cold and then the next year for The Cruelest Month.
Her mysteries revolve around Chief Insp. Armand Gamache, head of the homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec, and murders that occur in the bucolic Quebec countryside.
Penny, who once worked for the CBC before leaving to write her mystery novels, burst onto the mystery scene with her first Insp. Gamache book, Still Life, in 2005.
The debut novel garnered several prizes including the New Blood Dagger award in the U.K. and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel.
The Brutal Telling — her fifth book, which concerns the murder of a new inn owner in the fictional Quebec village of Three Pines — is up against:
Swan for the Money, Donna Andrews.
Bookplate Special, Lorna Barrett.
Royal Flush, Rhys Bowen.
Air Time, Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Other prizes for best short story and best children's/young adult fiction will also be handed out.
Friday, March 5, 2010
From Decatur Daily --
Book Review: ‘Sizzle’ turns out to be more of a fizzle --
By: Carolyn Brackin Orr --
By Julie Garwood
Ballantine, 320 pages, $26, hardcover
Julie Garwood’s latest novel, “Sizzle,” has all of the key ingredients for an explosive read. The hot stud hero and the sexy damsel in distress heroine running for their lives seem to be essential parts of modern suspense thrillers.
Garwood has penned many best-selling novels, and I have long been numbered as one of her fans. This book, however, may have been better titled, “Fizzle” rather than “Sizzle.”
Damsel in distress Lyra Prescott is a film student completing her graduate assignments and preparing a documentary. She is beautiful, desirable and just a wee bit helpless. Through no fault of her own, she photographs a crime in progress and is targeted by the mob.
Enter Special Agent Sam Kincaid (hero), a Scottish-American FBI agent who is assigned to protect leading lady, Lyra. Muscle bound, intelligent and intimidating, he is a language specialist and acts as an interpreter for the Bureau.
Milo Smith, a minor character in the tale, is a wannabe James Bond. Each assignment that he is given by the boss is botched up in hilarious ways. While attempting to steal items from Lyra, he fancies himself in a relationship with her. Sadly, this romance exists only in Smith’s imagination. His role offers the only bit of humor and freshness found in “Sizzle.”
Other players include: Lyra’s money-loving parents; her aged, but still very alert grandmother; her roommate, Sydney; and fellow students.
Oh yes. Lyra is also filthy rich while Kincaid is heir to a Scottish castle. Writing checks for more than $100,000 seems to be an everyday occurrence in their lives, and I had a hard time absorbing this information. What economic times are they living in?
I have read and enjoyed many Julie Garwood books in the past. But I think that she, like other authors, may be substituting quantity for quality in an effort to keep selections on the bookshelves.
I grow weary of people falling in love and planning a future together in less than three weeks. I know that fiction novels are offered as a means of escape from reality, but readers should demand more than what we are being offered in this book.
This is not Garwood at her best. If you must read it, visit your local library.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
From The Edmonton Journal --
Mystery novel inspires love-hate response --
By: Robert J. Wiersema --
February 14, 2010 --
Story reels from beautiful to painfully boring;
Elizabeth Kostova made a big splash with her debut novel, The Historian.
The Swan Thieves
Elizabeth Kostova Little, Brown 564 pp; $32.99
Here's a conundrum: How can one write about a book when they're unsure whether to highly recommend it, or suggest it is best avoided?
Is it possible to love a book and not really like it, simultaneously?
Apparently so: that's the quandary I'm facing with The Swan Thieves, the new novel from Elizabeth Kostova.
Kostova entered the publishing world with a splash with her bestselling 2005 debut novel The Historian, which interwove a re-envisioning of the gory life and legend of Vlad Tepes (Bram Stoker's model for Dracula) with a 20th-century investigation into the Vlad myth, using first-person narration, letters and other texts, and historical scenes.
Kostova uses a similar, though simplified approach with The Swan Thieves.
In 1999, Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist and amateur painter based in Washington, D.C., takes on the case of an artist, Robert Oliver, who has been arrested for attacking a painting in the National Gallery of Art. After a brief conversation following his hospitalization, Oliver falls silent, and spends his days repeatedly sketching and painting an enigmatic woman. Unable to communicate with his patient, Marlow attempts to understand his obsession with the mysterious woman. His investigation takes him into conversations with Oliver's ex-wife and his former lover, and, as pieces begin to fall into place, he begins to research the history of the painting which Oliver attacked, and the life of a little-known Impressionist, Beatrice de Clerval.
Threaded through the narrative of Marlow's investigation are Beatrice's letters, which Marlow steals from Oliver to have translated, and third-person scenes from Beatrice's life.
The premise and the approach of the novel are certainly promising, with their overtones of obsession and passion, and the compelling mystery at the core of the book. Whether it actually works, though, whether The Swan Thieves fulfils that promise, is an unresolved question.
There were times that I found the novel utterly engrossing, when I read compulsively and at every available opportunity, and there were times that I was bored almost to the point of frustration. There were times when I found the characterizations rich and complex, and times when Marlow, in particular, had about as much depth as the paper he was printed on. There were times when the 19th-century scenes seemed utterly pointless and an unwelcome departure from the contemporary storyline, and other times when Beatrice's story formed the more compelling line of the novel. There were times when I found the novel beautiful, gracefully written almost to the point of being breathtaking, and other times when I found the language of the novel so overwrought as to be almost painful. And the resolution of the novel is, on the one hand, completely satisfying while at the same time disappointing.
I guess what it boils down to is this: I found The Swan Thieves to be an engrossing if not altogether satisfying reading experience. I would recommend it, guardedly, with all of the above caveats.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
From Oklahoma's NewsOK --
Review: 'Fire and Ice' by J.A. Jance --
By: John Harrington --
February 14, 2010 --
The burned body of a Hispanic woman is found in the Washington Cascades. J.P. Beaumont of the Washington state attorney general’s investigative unit has five other cases with the same method of operation. The victims haven’t been identified, because they’ve been burned, and their teeth were removed. But this victim’s teeth are intact.
At the same time in Arizona, Sheriff Joanna Brady has a murder case. A campground caretaker is found dead in what appears to be an accident. Beaumont’s investigation leads him into Brady’s territory, and it appears their cases may be related. Besides murder, they may involve an international drug and prostitution ring.
It’s a good read for J.A. Jance fans, but the jumping between two states and a large cast of characters may leave you confused.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
From Winnipeg Free Press --
MYSTERIES: Seamless narrative of escalating suspense --
By: John Sullivan --
A two-year sabbatical brings a reinvigorated Tami Hoag back to the bestseller lists with Deeper Than the Dead (Dutton, 432 page, $34), a serial-killer whodunit set at the dawn of behavioural profiling and DNA forensics.
When four kids stumble upon the half-buried remains of a young woman, the quietude of a prosperous California town is shattered. The discovery of an earlier, similar victim and a new disappearance, all with ties to a local women's shelter, bring FBI profiler Vince Leone into the lives of the children, their families and a protective teacher.
A bracing psycho-thriller with romantic underpinnings, Hoag delves deep and comes up roses.
Monday, March 1, 2010
From The Detroit News --
Crime novelist nominated for literary awards --
By: Susan Whitall --
February 11. 2010 --
Grosse Pointe's own Megan Abbott, the "crown princess of noir fiction" and author of such hard-boiled crime novels as "Bury Me Deep" and "Queenpin," is up for two prestigious literary awards.
Last month, Abbott was announced as one of the nominees for the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for "Bury Me Deep," a chilling noir based upon the real life tale of 1930s "trunk murderess" Winnie Ruth Judd. Now the International Association of Crime Writers (IACW) has nominated Abbott's "Bury Me Deep" for its Hammett Prize for literary excellence in the field of crime-writing. The award is named after Dashiell Hammett, author of "The Maltese Falcon" and other classics of the genre.
Award winners for both organizations will be announced later this year.