Monday, May 31, 2010

Review of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

From The Telegraph (Calcutta, India) --


By: Ipsita Chakravarty --
March 26, 2010 --

The Swan Thieves By Elizabeth Kostova, Little, Brown, Rs 595

Elizabeth Kostova seems to possess a love for the literal. The Swan Thieves, she tells you, is about “a mystery in the heart of the rise of French Impressionism”; it is “a story about painting and painters”. The subject of her first book, The Historian, had attracted her as she is “interested in history”. Kostova also stresses the role of “research” in both novels. Shortly after starting work on The Swan Thieves, she mentions reading A.S. Byatt. One can’t help feeling this might have been injudicious candour.

Robert Olivier is a painter. He likes the French Impressionists. He’s obsessed with a woman he may not even know. One day, he flies at a painting in the National Gallery. Admitted into a mental home, he refuses to speak. As the story progresses, this rather interesting situation is sidetracked. Olivier must be crazy in the good old-fashioned sense of the word. At least, that’s almost all the explanation you’ll get.

Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, sets out to record Olivier’s history. This entails sentimental reminiscences by women in the painter’s life and trips to exotic locales. Marlow’s perambulations are interspersed by letters between two 19th-century artists who had been lovers. As promised, everyone in the novel paints copiously.

The women are good-looking and, through sheer insistence, one is made aware that Olivier has a looming presence, “dark locks” and dishevelled clothes. Each character comes to that conclusion independently, several times over. Kostova seems to confuse her characters with the paintings they profess to love.

Perhaps this is partly intentional. Kostova begins with a rather obvious mis en scène, conflating text and painting. Presumably, the story that is about to be told must be seen within the framework of this painting. What follows is relentless description, often in an irritatingly formulaic cadence: “it was too pale, translucent”, “The furniture was modern and unobtrusive, incidental”. Sometimes Kostova has a stab at intensity. Lines like “and I felt his selfhood go down through me like lightning” certainly make for a lively read.

A glut of adjectives and frames clutter The Swan Thieves. The novel refers to so many contextual frameworks that it confuses itself. The myth of Leda and the swan is evoked, apparently to question traditional notions of power and sexual domination that it employs. Yeats’s poem is dutifully quoted. Kostova succeeds in making one almost comfortable with this disturbing myth. For a novel about obsession, it’s remarkably placid.

Painters diligently discuss what they feel about painting; a sentiment largely centred on paint under fingernails. Yet the engagement with French Impressionism seems superficial at best. Perhaps Impressionist painting, with its lilt of light and shadow, its fervent brush-stroke of heartfelt immediacy, its rebellious energy, is difficult to depict. Kostova periodically utters “Sisley” and “Monet”, describes paintings in laboured detail and offers a tenuous historical link through the epistolary narrative. Impressionism must serve a functional purpose; it must provide an object for the quest undertaken by Olivier’s psychiatrist.

In yet another ambitious frame of reference, Andrew Marlow is named after Joseph Conrad’s famous narrator. Conrad’s Marlow tells the story of the mysterious Lord Jim and goes on a quest that leads him to the depths of the human psyche, to the very heart of darkness. Andrew Marlow’s quest leads him to Olivier’s secret and, according to Kostova, to a “mystery” that lies at the “heart” of French Impressionism. Only it’s more of a puzzle, complete with clues and a solution, a triumph of the literal.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview with Lisa Scottoline

From The Doings Hinsdale (IL) --

Lisa Scottoline talks about latest thriller --

By: Lilli Kuzma --
March 25, 2010 --

Remember the lyrics from "The Patty Duke Show" that described identical cousins: "They look alike, they talk alike, at times they even walk alike, you can lose your mind, when cousins are two of a kind." But murder didn't enter into that light-hearted show.

In Think Twice, the new book by acclaimed writer, Lisa Scottoline, one twin sister definitely loses her mind, and the other may lose her life as a result. With her multiple-viewpoint thriller, Scottoline delivers a fast-forward story that puts the main character in peril by Page 4, bringing new meaning to the description, "page-turner."

"It's important for any novel to do that, to get the reader involved right away," said Scottoline, 54, speaking by phone from her home in Pennsylvania.

"This is a battle between good and evil, and while there is the 'evil' twin, part of the book is about the good and evil in the same person, and the potential for evil in all of us. With Think Twice there is so much more action, darkness. Everyone has dark impulses, someone may wish someone dead."

Scottoline will be at the Borders in La Grange March 29 for a discussion and book signing. Scottoline has written 18 novels since 1994, and she won the prestigious Edgar Award for her second novel, Final Appeal.

Think Twice revisits the characters of Rosato & Associates, a women's law firm in Philadelphia, adeptly incorporating work dynamics, friendships, romantic relationships, parents and family life as interesting sub-plots. The book is also infused with Scottoline's edgy, hip, often "laugh out loud" humor, woven into what is otherwise a harrowing tale.

"I think I'm writing stories about women," said Scottoline. "I write about smart women in difficult situations. And really smart people are also really funny."

Scottoline should know, as she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in three years, then finished law school with honors at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Scottoline also writes a popular weekly column, "Chick Wit" for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has published a collection of her columns in a humorous book, My Next Husband Will Be A Dog. She is twice divorced and refers to her exes as "Thing 1" and "Thing 2." Her daughter, Francesca, 24, is a Harvard grad and emerging writer.

"I learned to write mostly in law school, logically using facts. And I think my newspaper columns are improving my writing, having to (condense) my thoughts into a short space. It's great to involve Francesca in writing the columns, too."

Scottoline laughs often and speaks freely about her home life, where she dotes on her pet dogs, cats, and even chickens. Her Web site contains many pictures of her beloved animals. Writing with a dog or cat in her lap is the norm for Scottoline.

"I feel as if I live on the edge (in my writing), even though I live the life of a housewife in the suburbs!" she said, chuckling.

But Scottoline did do significant research and field work to develop Think Twice, going so far as to roll around in dirt, creep around a Pennsylvania farm field at night, and travel to the Bahamas to develop the final scenes of the book.

"A cornfield really is near my house and there is a wolf in the woods," she said.

In Think Twice, the "good" twin finds herself buried alive in this field, with a wolf sniffing, biting and clawing at the box she's locked inside of.

"I think I improve with each book," said Scottoline. "Writing in multiple viewpoints, this really changed it up. But I'm not one for lots of exposition. Characters are what they do."

Asked if another book is in the works and what it's about, Scottoline would only say:

"I'm in the middle of it right now. Come to the book signing to find out more!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review of Fantasy in Death by J.D. Robb

From --

Book Review: Fantasy in Death by J. D. Robb --

By: Mel Odom --
Mar 21, 2010 --

J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts) opens her newest murder mystery with New York Police Detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigating a homicide involving a top video game designer in Fantasy in Death. The year is 2060, and the world is just enough different than ours to be interesting, although the chase for the murderer seems very familiar.

I enjoyed Robb's treatment of the entertainment available that late in the 21st century, but after seeing all the entertainment dollars that get spent every month and how much technology seems to jump every three or four years, I think she may have seriously underestimated where video gaming and virtual reality may be in the next 50 years.

Robb is a virtuoso at getting a story underway, though. Within just a few pages, she's introduced us to the murder victim, a new way of gaming, and a host of other SF elements that mesh really well in her story.

As usual, Dallas and her ex-criminal husband Roarke end up chasing the same murderer for different reasons, and they end up at cross-purposes now and again. It's a formula, but it's a formula that works and has worked for over 30 novels in this series so far.

Eve Dallas's family and circle of friends has grown exponentially over the books. Each of them show up for cameo bits pretty much as their lives continually get tangled with each other's.

For the most part, I enjoyed Eve's pursuit of the murder investigation. Robb has the procedure down pat, and she's got her characters firmly in place as she marches them forward.

However, the plot in this one seemed to spiral for a while and become repetitious in the middle. And there was no real reason to expand Eve's suspicions past the three surviving partners. The false leads weren't developed quite as expertly as Robb normally does. And the revelation of the killer's identity wasn't astounding in any way.

I did like the fact that Eve and Roarke ended up fighting alone in the virtual reality world, and that Eve "cheated" the perverted system for the win. Fantasy in Death might not be anything new for long-time readers, but it's a solid entry into the long-lived series.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review of Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein

From South Florida Sun-Sentinel --

Mystery review: 'Hell Gate' by Linda Fairstein --

By Oline H. Cogdill --
March 21, 2010 --

Hell Gate. Linda Fairstein. Dutton. $26.95. 416 pp.

In each of Linda Fairstein's legal thrillers, the author gracefully melds New York City's hidden spots and history into a contemporary novel, showing how little has changed in crime and the ways people treat each other.

This theme is well-served in Fairstein's 12th novel featuring New York City Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper, who specializes in sex crimes. A top-notch plot and realistic situations make "Hell Gate" a first-class tale of New York and the people who built it and now control it.

Politics, sexual trafficking – age-old issues that never go away -- and New York's historical, tax-supported mansions provide a sturdy foundation for "Hell Gate."

Cooper is called to the scene of a rusted freighter that has run aground on a sandbar near Rockaway Beach. The captain has abandoned his vessel, which is loaded with human cargo from Ukraine, including many young women being forced into sexual slavery. The cops also are dealing with Congressman Ethan Leighton whose rising career may be on the skids after he fled the scene of a car accident to cover up an extramarital affair.

Fairstein balances glimpses of New York City history that parallel the contemporary events of "Hell Gate." The horrific importing of young women later forced into prostitution seems ripped from the headlines, but the practice is centuries-old. The 21st century didn't spawn politicians cheating on their wives or denying parenthood, nor are politicial corruption and slush funds modern inventions. All that's changed, Fairstein shows, is the way these events unfurl.

Each outing with Alex brings new insight, and Fairstein is careful not to make her a super sleuth; she is a prosecutor whose job takes her behind the scenes of crimes but, as in real life, the detectives do the investigating.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Interview with Linda Fairstein

From Entertainment Weekly --

Questions for Linda Fairstein --

By: Catherine Garcia --
Mar 19 2010 --

If it seems like crime novelist Linda Fairstein has intimate knowledge of the world she writes about, it’s because she lived it. For 30 years, Fairstein worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, serving as head of the sex crimes unit. Her Alex Cooper series is based on the time she spent there; its 12th volume, Hell Gate, out now and on the New York Times Bestseller List. She spoke with about the writing process, using New York City as a character and what it ’s like being a Law & Order: SVU inspiration.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us a little bit about Hell Gate.
LINDA FAIRSTEIN: Alex Cooper is a young prosecutor, and has the job that I had for 30 years. I always try to take my reader into a world that explores some aspect of New York City’s history or current events. Two years ago, the idea for this was political scandals, [sparked by] two events. One was [former New York governor] Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace. He had been a colleague of mine in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. I was just shocked because I knew him to be a brilliant lawyer and have a lovely family. Shortly after that happened, there was a New York City congressman from Staten Island named Vito Fossella. He had a wife and kids on Staten Island…and it turned out he had a child by his mistress in D.C. Before John Edwards, before Gov. Sanford, I thought about exploring political scandals and the duplicity of people we think have integrity and we’ve elected to public office and how it impacts things.

Your books are very New York centric — the city is like a character. How do you decide what parts of New York make it into the story?
Usually there’s a theme in the book. [Take] Lethal Legacy. I’ve always been fascinated by rare book collectors and rare maps, so I used the New York Public Library as the backdrop for it. It’s such a magnificent building rich with history and treasures.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Coming up with ideas, research, the actual writing?
For me, it’s the writing. It’s why I chose to leave the courtroom and tell stories. Secondly, the research is great fun. I can’t imagine being one of the authors who hires researchers; I just love getting into places and smelling them and feeling the texture and trying to recreate it. Third, the plotting. That’s the toughest. That’s really the hardest part, I think especially writing crime novels, because the readers are very smart and like to puzzle out the clues. You try to be one or two steps ahead of them but it’s not always successful.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I had always, from a teenager on, wanted to be a writer. My father, with whom I was very close, so I say this with a big smile on my face, he was very supportive and he used to roll his eyes and say, ‘Oh, you have nothing to write about, you need a career.’ So my other choice was public service. I went to law school knowing that I really could not sit in a garret and write poetry or the great American novel. But I never gave up the dream that I would one day write. I never guessed how much material I’d get in the D.A.’s office. What actually happened was in the late 1980s, a publisher came to me to ask me about writing a nonfiction book about our groundbreaking work in the D.A.’s office. I got permission from my boss and the city to write that first. It was very well respected and reviewed, so I went back to my boss and said, ‘I’ve always wanted to write novels.’ We just had the same rule we had with the nonfiction rule — obviously you can’t do it on city time. So I did write the first four novels in the series while doing both jobs.

How did you find the time?
Weekends, early mornings, vacations.

What made you decide to pursue writing full-time?
It was 30 years and I loved every minute of it. I left six months after 9/11 happened. I was in my office, I saw the second plane hit the towers ten blocks away, and it was truly a time for me to reassess what mattered to me. My husband had just retired and it just seemed like a perfect time to segue into spending more time with him. There were plenty of great people in the D.A.’s office to carry on my work. I still am a lawyer, I still keep my credits current, and I do a lot of non-profit work for victims of violence so that keeps my hand in the old job. I get to do both.

How much of you is in Alex?
Her professional work is very much my passion — my interest in the work, my temperament and what I loved, how I thrived on trying to get justice for victims of violence. I get to take real poetic license. She’s younger, thinner and blonder. She has a trust fund, which I don’t have. Because she’s younger, she didn’t have a lot of the struggles that women had in the ’70s and ’80s breaking into law. Many of the people in the book are composites — nobody is an exact person, but a lot of my friends are represented warmly by characters like them. People who cross me, watch out! You’ll be in a book! (laughs)

The character of ADA Alex Cabot on Law & Order: SVU was based on you. How does that make you feel?
That got started in the brilliant mind of Dick Wolf, who created the show. He knew our unit and has said publically many times that he based the show on our unit and the P.D.’s unit and Alex Cabot’s character on me, although I get no royalties! (laughs) It was entirely his idea to take the public persona of what I do and what I did and make a character out of it. I’m fine with it. It would be fun if I got royalities or a cameo but I just enjoy it. Both Stephanie March [who played Cabot] and Mariska Hargitay [who plays Det. Olivia Benson] have been wonderful allies in the victim advocacy movement. I adore them. They’ve done a really dignified job of bringing those issues to primetime television, which quite frankly I never dreamed would happen 10 years ago.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

From The Malaysia Star --

Swan song? --

By: Terence Toh --
March 19, 2010 --

The Swan Thieves
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little, Brown, 565 pages

AN art gallery would probably be the last place anyone would anticipate a violent attack, and yet, at the New York National Gallery of Art, the unthinkable has happened: renowned painter Robert Oliver, a man known for his reclusive behaviour, has been arrested. His crime: attacking a painting, Leda, by Gilbert Thomas.

Called in to investigate is psychologist and part-time painter Dr Andrew Marlow, who rapidly becomes interested in the case, despite the reticent Oliver proving unhelpful. While highly talented, the artist exhibits bizarre, almost insane behaviour, most notably his obsession with painting a mysterious woman he has never seen in his life.

The only clue that Marlow finds is a stack of mysterious love letters given to him by Oliver, written in French by obscure painter Beatrice Cherval to her patron and lover in the late 17th century.

In the course of his investigation, Marlow encounters the two women in Oliver’s life: his sweet yet frazzled ex-wife, Kate, and his mistress, the hauntingly beautiful yet conflicted Mary Bertinson. He soon uncovers a complex tale of forbidden love, obsession and art that traverses continents and spans two centuries.

From my brief synopsis, I would not be surprised if readers dismiss The Swan Thieves as a Da Vinci Code knockoff. However, rest assured that The Swan Thieves is nothing like that. In fact, it moves in a completely opposite direction from Dan Brown novels, relying on slow-building tension and character elaboration rather than non-stop suspense to hook readers. Of course, whether it succeeds in doing this is up for debate.

The Swan Thieves is the second novel by Elizabeth Kostova, an award-winning American author most known for her debut work, The Historian, a gripping re-imagination of the Dracula legend that as of 2005, proved to be the fastest-selling hardback debut novel in American history. In The Swan Thieves, Kostova revisits the same plot elements that brought her debut novel such success: multiple points of view, frequent forays to the past and romantic melodrama.

The result, however, is disappointing. Despite showing a lot of promise in the beginning, Kostova’s novel ends up unfulfilling, unresolved and, ultimately, unsatisfying. It is a chore to read, being wordy and dragging.

At 500 parts, this is a whopper of a story. Much of the book is used to elaborate on the back stories of the characters, rather than focusing on the more intriguing mystery elements of the tale.

A lot of the novel feels unnecessary and, honestly, the story could have been told in three-quarters of the book.

The narrative alternates between modern-day and the 18th-century world of Beatrice Cherval, but this is handled rather awkwardly. While the story of Beatrice proves important to the plot, it is shoe-horned into the story at inappropriate parts and feels disconnected from the main narrative.

To make things worse, there are too many flashbacks where very little happens.

Kostova’s characters are also uninteresting. While her supporting cast are all right, they are all introduced too briefly (such as Marlow’s kind-hearted father) or too late in the story to make an impact (such as Pedro Caillat, an eccentric art collector).

Her main cast are humourless and all sound too alike to engage the reader. While Oliver, the character central to the mystery is quite well-written, we never get to hear things from his perspective.

The story does have some interesting things to say about the power of obsession and the power of art to inspire, preserve and destroy.

Overall, however, Kostova’s second novel proves to be a disappointment, with unlikeable characters, a tedious narrative and an unsatisfying ending.

It is recommended only for art lovers and insomniacs looking for the best way to fall asleep.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review of The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz

From Nashville Scene --

With The Spellmans Strike Again, Lisa Lutz brings a quirky mystery series to a delightful close --

By: Lyda Phillips --
March 17, 2010 --

The Spellmans Strike Again
Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster, 379 pp., $25

Lisa Lutz grew up in Southern California, and spent the next decade or so college-hopping and working a string of odd jobs, including a stint in a family detective agency. During that time she wrote the screenplay for a mob comedy called Plan B, which was made into a movie in 2000. Lutz considered the film "unwatchable," so she swore off screenwriting and began The Spellman Files.

"Ten years later, I remember the [detective] job as basically me in the basement shredding old files, a lot of invoicing and paying bills, and maybe five days of doing fun investigative work," she says. But detection occurs in The Spellmans Strike Again — the close to Lutz's four-novel mystery series and another outing with this delightfully dysfunctional family of detectives — most of it by members of the family investigating one another.

That family saga is narrated by Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, whose life has been a series of bad choices, poor judgment, bone-headedness and other deep character flaws. Fortunately for Izzy — described by People magazine as "the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy" — her mother, father, uncle, sister, brother and assorted friends and lovers are equally eccentric, and equally annoying and lovable. Izzy's life is an addictive romp from the first page of the book to the last, including all the footnotes and appendices.

"I suppose the most defining characteristic of my family is that we take our work home with us," Izzy explains in the first chapter. "If your family's job is investigating other people, you inevitably investigate each other. This single trait has been our primary point of conflict for most of my life."

This mélange, reminiscent of a Left Coast Royal Tenenbaums, lives in literally armed conflict in a Victorian house in San Francisco (don't call it San Fran), when they aren't sulking, running away, locking each other in closets and/or trying to have a life. Through all four novels, starting with the New York Times bestselling The Spellman Files — now in movie production — and continuing through Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans, Lutz takes readers on a tilt-a-whirl emotional ride, but in this last volume she brings everything to a tidy conclusion. Izzy wins her true love at last, sister Rae spurns Yale for Berkeley, brother David hangs onto his great new girlfriend, Mom tears up her list of required lawyer dates, and Dad returns the missing doorknobs and light fixtures.

Most shocking of all, Izzy grows up, sort of, although it takes the death of her 85-year-old friend Mort to settle her down to earth. "Every day we get older, and some of us get wiser, but there's no end to our evolution," she reflects. "We're all a mess of contradictions; some of our traits work for us, some against us. ... Over the course of a lifetime, people change, but not as much as you'd think. Nobody really grows up. At least that's my theory; you can have your own."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Interview with Deborah Crombie

From Belleville News Democrat --

Writer Deborah Crombie is obsessed with her characters --

By: Connie Ogle --
Mar. 17, 2010 --

Some suspense novelists grow weary of reprising their characters in book after book and seek respite by writing stand-alone novels.

But Deborah Crombie's fans need not worry.

"I hear writers say they are bored and that they would like to do something else, but I don't feel that way at all," says the creator of the Duncan Kincaid/ Gemma James mystery series, which follows the personal and professional lives of two Scotland Yard investigators in London. "I miss them when I'm in between books doing research. I always want to be back with them, back in their lives."

Crombie speaks with a friendly Texas drawl - she grew up in a Dallas suburb and now lives with her husband in McKinney - and sounds as if she could happily talk about Duncan and Gemma and their friends and family for a good long time. She likes them that much, although she admits that Gemma's young son Toby is "lots of fun, but if I had to live with this kid, I would kill him."

Solving crime and domestic disasters plays a part in Crombie's works, with the domestic issues as important as whodunnit. The relationship between Duncan and Gemma has deepened over the 13 novels: Crombie's latest book, "Necessary as Blood" (Morrow, $24.99) involves not only the disappearance of a young mother and the murder of her solicitor husband but also a big development in the lives of the couple. The two finally joined households in "And Justice There Is None."

The menage now includes two dogs and a cat, given that animal lover Crombie has two cats and two German shepherds. (You can see photos at

"I have a soft spot for cocker spaniels, too," she admits, "which is why Gemma has Geordie, her cocker. But I sneak some shepherds into the books, too."

Q: When you first started the series, was there any criticism about your being "an American who writes about England"?

A: Not as much as I thought there would be. Martha Grimes was already published, and so was Elizabeth George. ... I don't know if I would have had the nerve to do it otherwise. I've wanted to write since I was a teenager. I was not an English major. I was a biology major. But I took a creative writing class that kept me from writing for about 10 years. The teacher hadn't published anything but would tell you what was wrong with what you wrote and persistent in telling you that you have to write what you know. I think that's true in a certain sense. You need depths of research to learn about your subject, and you need to create authenticity, but if you take it literally, nobody would ever write anything! We'd have no science fiction, no historical novels, no women writing from men's viewpoints. And I thought, "I don't want to want to write a story about a girl growing up in suburban Dallas!" I loved English crime fiction.

Q: So when did you finally settle down and write your first book?

A: When my daughter was born in 1983 I was working on a master's in humanities, not because I wanted to teach but because I had grad-school syndrome. I quit because I couldn't juggle everything. ... But when she was 4 or 5 my ex-husband and I made a trip to Yorkshire and stayed at the place that becomes the time share in "A Share in Death." I had thought, "Wouldn't that be a fun place to set an updated country-house mystery?" I went home and thought about it. I thought, "I need a detective," and went from there.

Q: Were you thinking in terms of writing a series?

A: Yes, because that's what I like to read. I had very specific things in mind for the characters. Not in terms of the story arc - I didn't know that when I started - but I had really specific things in mind for the people. I was tired of severely emotionally damaged characters. I wanted to write about people who were police officers because they were good at it, not because they were alcoholics or their fathers were serial murderers. I wanted people who I could identify with and who readers could identify with. And with Gemma, in particular, I had a small child at the time. I had functioned like a single mother though I was married, and I wanted to write about a character who was dealing with those things and still really cared about her job and wanted to do well at it. I wanted the characters to be different in background and class, so you would have those irritants in the relationship.

Q: Did you worry about breaking the cardinal rule of fictional relationships when you brought Duncan and Gemma together as a couple?

A: That was a deliberate decision from the first book. I don't want to write static characters. You knew Inspector Morse was never going to get sober, and if he loved a woman she'd be the victim or the murderer. I want to write about characters who have real lives. People said about Duncan and Gemma's relationship, "You can't get them together. You'll kill the series!" But people move on in their lives. Relationships evolve.

I very seldom get letters from people about the crime in the books. About 95 percent of my e-mail is about Duncan and Gemma and what's going to happen with them. Obviously something hits the reader about them as much as it does me.

Q: All of your books touch on some intriguing bit of British life - say, the history of the narrowboats in" Water Like a Stone" or Scottish whisky making in "Now May You Weep." Why do you enjoy including those sorts of things?

A: I would have been a perpetual grad-school student if anybody would have paid for it. But I had to get a job! I was a huge Dick Francis fan, and in his books everything had something to do with horses, but you could tell he would find something he was interested in and research it and work it into the story, like hot-air ballooning or the jewelry business. I always loved that. I'm a real magpie. I'm into all kinds of things.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Interview with Lisa Lutz

From The Tribune (San Luis Obispo) --

20 questions for author Lisa Lutz --

By --
Mar. 17, 2010 --

"The Spellman's Strike Again," the fourth installment in Lisa Lutz's best-selling, award-nominated, humorous crime series proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Isabel Spellman, no matter how much she matures, will never be able to follow Rule No. 1: Act Normal. Perhaps she inherits some of her quirkiness from her creator, who identifies the essentials in life: coffee and vodka, like this: "One makes the morning tolerable. And coffee lights up the evening."

This and more words of wisdom for modern living in 20 Questions with Lutz. A film based on the first book in the series ("The Spellman Files") is in development with Paramount Pictures, with Laura Ziskin producing, but while we're waiting, enjoy "The Spellman's Strike Again," released this week.

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

"Young at Heart." While I've teared up listening to The Ramones on many occasions, there's something utterly beautiful and moving about watching old people sing "I want to be sedated."

2. The fictional character most like you?

That's a tough one. I asked a friend for help and he said I already was the fictional version of myself. I'm not exactly sure what that means.

As a child, I most identified with Pippi Longstocking, so I'll go with that. Although I'm not an orphan and I can't lift a horse. I was, however, briefly famous for my feats of strength; at about age 11 I could competitively arm-wrestle a full-grown man.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Impossible question. I can maybe narrow the list by periods of my life:

High school: Germs, "Live at the Whisky"

College: Patti Smith, "Horses"

My 30s: Lucinda Williams, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" or Steve Earle's "Transcendental Blues"

Band I listen to most: The Ramones

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

"Star Trek," and only because I've enjoyed Leonard Nimoy's and William Shatner's musical contributions to society. Otherwise, couldn't care less.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Public transportation. Now that I work from home, there's only so much I can learn from staring out the window and my brief interactions with the UPS guy.

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

Juggling. Because it is absolutely useless.

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

Curing cancer. However, I am more likely to be remembered for writing goofy crime novels.

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

I've always adored the filmmaker Sam Fuller. The first time I watched "Shock Corridor" was such a magnificent discovery. I love his lack of subtlety, the way he tackles serious topics with bold and inappropriate humor. His autobiography is one of my favorite books ever.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

"Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon. I've always been obsessed with the idea of disappearing and becoming someone else. Even if you don't share that obsession, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

10. Your hidden talents ...?

What, juggling isn't enough for you? Sorry. That's all I got.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

If I followed advice, I would never have run off and written a novel.

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

During my sophomore year abroad in Leeds, England, my college roommate adored Elvis and was a gifted shoplifter.

When I returned to the U.S., I found a fake ID of Elvis at a drugstore. I pocketed it and sent it to her. It was the first and last thing I ever stole.

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

Pajamas. I wear them to sleep and to work.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Marlon Brando, Patti Smith, Peter O'Toole, Joey and Johnny Ramone (just for the bickering) and of course, Sam Fuller.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Last Saturday, party at my house. In the do-over, I quit after my third beer. The next morning was rough, to say the least.

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

I get more relief from learning about other people's lives. So how about interviewing a hitman on Prozac at a spa?

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

Coffee and vodka. One makes the morning tolerable. And coffee lights up the evening.

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

Country. Anywhere with snow and icicles and people who call you honey and sweetheart, even though you never met.

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

Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Quitting can wait until after you've left office.

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

I just finished collaborating on a crime novel with my ex-boyfriend. We'll see if it's the beginning of a Things You Should Never Do phase.

Review of Shattered by Karen Robards

From The Olympian (Washington) --

The Romance Reader: 'Shattered' --

By Lezlie Patterson --
March 17, 2010 --

"Shattered" by Karen Robards; Putnam (2010), 388 pages, $25.95 (hardcover)

Karen Robards has become a master at blending romance and suspense, offering readers a healthy dose of drama while satisfying our yen to watch a strong hero succumb to love.

She does it again in "Shattered."

Last year Robards wrote a compelling story ("Pursuit") that was very heavy on suspense, while still working in satisfactory amounts of romance. This time there seems to be a better balance of romance and suspense, with neither suffering from the other's presence.

On the romance end, Lisa and Scott are perfectly matched. Lisa grew up privileged, the only daughter of an adoring mom who was a well-loved scion of Kentucky's horse breeding world. She grew up as generations of her family had before her, at Grayson Springs, a majestic plantation home surrounded by pastures of horses.

Scott grew up near Lisa, but they were worlds apart. He lived in a dump, with an alcoholic and abusive father. Scott worked odd jobs around Grayson Springs, and his physique caught the interest of spoiled Lisa and her likewise spoiled friends.

But Scott wouldn't play.

Scott worked his way through law school, and became the county's respected district attorney, with his eyes on the governor's seat. And his physique was still quite fine. Lisa was a lawyer in Boston before moving back to Kentucky to take care of her terminally ill mom.

Lisa managed to keep her mom at Grayson Springs, but financially it was crippling. She asked Scott for a job, and he reluctantly hired her as a research assistant.

While sorting through cold case files, Lisa's co-worker found a photograph of a woman who could have been her twin. The woman in the picture, along with her husband and two children, disappeared around the time Lisa was born.

Once Lisa takes that file, her life seems to be threatened. She narrowly escapes death, and finds herself in the middle of a mystery with Scott there to help.

As they try to solve the mystery of Lisa's connection to the missing family, they are forced to admit their feelings for each other.

Overall rating: 4-plus of 5 hearts, even though Robards does leave readers with a few questions. Like, what happened to Grayson Springs? Did Lisa keep working for Scott and if so, did he make her continue as a research assistant? What happened to Scott's family? Robards leaves it to our imaginations to fill in those gaps. Perhaps it is more fun that way, but many of us are suckers for epilogues that answer all these questions in a happily-ever-after manner for us.

Hunk appeal: 10-plus. Scott triumphed over a rotten childhood, but he didn't dwell or brood on it. Major points. He was tough, competent, strong and ruggedly masculine and demonstrated the depth of his feelings for Lisa without giving any of that up. And refusing to be discreet just pushed him right into plus territory.

Steamy scene grade: XXXX. Beyond competent, strong and masculine.

Happily-Ever-After: OK. Oh, the suspense part wrapped up very well, and it was beyond touching to see how quickly Lisa and Scott bonded as a couple. But there were those unanswered questions. So I'm choosing to believe that Grayson Springs was renovated and Lisa and Scott lived there happily with their wonderful healthy children - when they weren't in the Governor's Mansion. I also decided that Scott's father's stint in rehab worked and Ryan sobered up on his own and raised his son well.