Friday, December 22, 2006

AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!




Just wanted to take a moment to wish you all the happiest and healthiest of holidays. May the coming new year bring you the things that truly matter--and if you haven't figured out what those things are, may the new year bring you that knowledge.

I happened to find this rather noirish Christmas poem and I thought I'd share it with you.

Open House


Queen Ivy and King Holly
Wait at the door to enter
Lord of the dark hills, the fir tree
Reigns in the Garden Centre
And the changeling Mistletoe

Come into the house
Whoever you are.

Dangerous padded parcels
A red man’s chancy load,
With riddled cores of crackers
Watch for their hour to explode
And the changeling Mistletoe

Come into the house
Whoever you are.

Black heart of the pudding,
Stuffed heart of the bird,
Green hearts of the brussels sprouts
Signal the holy word
Of ancestral Mistletoe

Come into this house
Whoever you are


Anonymous

Friday, December 15, 2006

An Invitation to Book Club Members

As those of you who follow Girl Detective know, I also blog on a couple of other sites: The Good Girls Kill For Money Club and the Cozy Chicks. Well, the Cozy Chicks are running a special holiday promotion for book club and reading group members. Please read below for details!


Dear Readers,

The Cozy Chicks want to welcome you into our worlds! We’re grateful that you’re following our lives on a personal note and our characters’ lives in our various books. To show our gratitude to you and because the season of giving is officially here we want to give you an opportunity to receive holiday baskets that include signed copies of our books! That’s right! Seven books by the Cozy Chicks!

We will be conducting a random drawing of twenty-five winners, to be announced on December 20th. Along with seven books from The Cozy Chicks, winners will also receive discussion questions that go along with each book. The intention here is for you as a winner/reader to spread the word to your book club(s) or to start up a book club. This will provide you with seven months worth of books to read and discuss! By running a Cozy Chicks book club you’ll receive added benefits such as recipe cards, bookmarks, and be the first to know when a new book is being released. We will also continue to change up discussion questions and send out recommendations of other great mysteries to check out.

Also, as an additional bonus, we would like to give you the opportunity to have us join you at your club. For example, if you’re reading one of Maggie Sefton’s books for the month of April, you can either 1. Have a personal visit to the club space, if your club is local 2. Have a phone with a speaker on it, so she can call in, or 3. Set up a web-cast where you can have ongoing dialogue with Maggie for the duration of the meeting where you can ask her questions about the book and her life as a writer. How many book clubs can say they’ve actually had the chance to pick the author’s brains? Now you and your club will have seven opportunities to do so!

We hope you get as excited about this offer as we are to bring it to you. Please take some time to visit all of our websites and check out our latest releases. Thank you and good luck at being one of the first twenty-five winners to receive seven books by the Cozy Chicks and run a Cozy Chicks Book Club.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

The Cozy Chicks: Laura, Diana, Karen, Michele, Maggie, Jennifer and Heather

Monday, November 27, 2006

And Then There Were Four

I figured I would share four more vintage gems from my ever-growing collection. These were the remainder of the old books I picked up at Bouchercon.

DANGER IN PARADISE by Octavus Roy Cohen. Popular Library, 1944.

MURDER TRAILS A HUCKSTER!



So we have an alarmed-looking gentleman cowering behind a girl in a pink bathrobe, both of them facing the business-end of a gun. I'm hoping that the cowering gentleman is not the hero of the piece, Jimmy Drake.

From the back cover: Eight hours after Jimmy Drake welcomed back radio singer Iris Randall, home from a Cuban tour, and renewed his campaign to win her love, they were caught up in a vicious cycle of violence, intrigue and death. It all began with the murder of a nightclub own in Iris's apartment and the puzzling theft of a box of Havana cigars.

First lines: "Six gorgeous girls walked past the door of my office. One of them waved at me and said, "Hi, Jimmy!" and I said, "Hi, beautiful," absent-mindedly.

Smooth setting of scene and character, isn't it?

I have a number of books by Octavus Ray Cohen--I started one once, and was enjoying it, but I got distracted and somehow never picked it back up. Yet. It's funny how that sometimes happens even with books you're enjoying.

Wikipedia has a really incomplete and misleading entry on him. They don't mention his mystery writing, but that's what he's mostly known for. Jon Breen has better info , but as usual the best resource is Michael Grost's A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION.

Next up we have CHALLENGE FOR THREE by David Garth. Popular Library 1948.




"For twenty years Fontaine Shaw, granddaughter of Nathaniel Shaw, railroad and mining tycoon, had lived her life with reckless abandon."

Think about that reckless abandon stuff. Do you think it meant the same thing in 1948 that it means now? Not that anyone really talks much about reckless abandon these days. Maybe we're all living with reckless abandon--think about global warming and Nutrasweet and microwaves. Really doesn't get a lot more reckless than that.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Fontaine Shaw. Fontaine is not a name that you hear much anymore either.

"But her startling exploits (we're talking about Fontaine again) began to catch up with her when she bailed a burlesque dancer out of Night Court and desposited her on the doorstep of Jock Pemberton, a serious young professor of American History at the Brent School."

Oh! This is going to be zany Bringing-Up-Baby madcappery--only, hopefully with violence and bloodshed!

First line: "The usual gay welter that followed the docking of a great transatlantic liner was rampant on the long steel pier--clusters of reunions, porters pirouetting their baggage trucks among the swirls of humanity, white-jacketed stewards streaming down the gangway from the overhanging shipside....zzzzzzzzz...."

Jeez, that's a long line. And still going and going and going...

(Sorry, Dave, you lost me at the pirouetting porters.)

Moving right along we have THE RED HOUSE by George Agnew Chamberlain. Popular Library, 1943.

DANGER IN THE DARK!



This I'm looking forward to, having seen the movie years and years ago. It's effectively creepy despite the fact that it's got the look and feel of one of those 1950s high school science films. In fact, the heroine and her love interest are high schoolers. It's got an eerie and poignant vibe to it, and the use of wind is really effective--fingers crossed that the book lives up the film.

Back jacket: "For fifty years fear of the vanishing red house in the Jersey Barrens had warped the lives of Ellen and Pete Yocum. Old Pete swore that the house moved from place to place and that the screams heard within it put a hex on anyone who ventured near. Meg Yarrow, raised by the Yocums since childhood, experienced the same terror until Nathan, the new farmhand, arrived. One day they started on a search for the red house in the Oxhead woods..."

Ooh! Looking forward to this.

First line: "The Pineys used to hog the whole of the lozenge between the Shore Road and the White House Pike."

Hmm. Apparently it's the foreign language version. Not to worry! I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Finally we have THE CAMERA CLUE by George Harmon Coxe, Dell,1947. (A Kent Murdock Mystery).





Murdock is a Boston news cameraman who gets involved in murder after murder. I have most of the series, although this is an especially nice copy. I even have the MRS. MURDOCK TAKES A CASE (courtesy of Mr. Thrilling last Christmas).

THINGS THIS MYSTERY IS ABOUT--
Two exposed PHOTOGRAPHIC PLATES...
An initialed COMPACT...
A used highball GLASS...
A package of indiscreet LETTERS...
A gigantic SANDWICH MAN...

WHAT???? A gigantic WHAT???

Anyhooo, first line: "A strange coat lay untidily across one arm of the divan, as though it had been flung there hurriedly; beside it, one end trailing on the floor, was a blue and white polka dot scarf."

I feel certain in a few sentences we are going to see someone's broken body, but for now, I must wish you a good evening and happy reading!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Autumn Leaves

It's been several months since I posted. I have to admit that trying to keep up with my weekly blogging duties on The Good Girls Kill For Money Club and the Cozy Chicks blog hasn't left a lot of time for my thoughts on books and films here at Girl Detective.

Truth be told, I haven't had a lot of time for reading, but that doesn't stop me from my intention of owning every vintage paperback in the world. I was a tiny bit disappointed with the pickings at Bouchercon this year--more and more the booksellers seem to focus on the latest book of the authors still alive and in attendance OR really expensive editions of Chandler and Hammett.

I did manage to score a few battered paperbacks for a reasonable amount. Reading copy quality, but since I do fully intend to read them, I can live with a few crinkles and watermarks. ON THE BOOKS!!! Not me.

So here are my finds du jour:

MURDERED: ONE BY ONE by Francis Beeding. No date. It says it is a Wartime book, and I'm certain they don't mean Iraq.





"The murder of Valerie Beauchamp, writer of romances, sets in motion a vicious cycle of horror as, one by one, the legatees under her strange will meet violent deaths in this exciting Beeding baffler!"

Even way back then romance writers were not getting any respect from mystery writers.

The New York Herald Tribune blurb reads "speed, complications and general readability," and delivers a "whopping surprise" in the last chapter.


Now that is not easy to do: deliver a whopping surprise in the last chapter, I mean. Especially to experienced mystery readers.

First line: "Valerie Beauchamp, alias Vera Brown--but the alias was carefully concealed from her numerous public--sat back in her chair and tapped her front teeth with the end of her fountain pen."

See? No respect.

One thing I know about Beeding: he (she?) was the author of THE HOUSE OF DR. EDWARDES, which was the basis of the movie SUSPICION, you know, with a very young and vulnerable-looking Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman (who even with bad hair and glasses looked impossibly gorgeous). I always wanted to read that, so this should be interesting.

By the way, it looks like the HOUSE OF DR EDWARDES is available as an ebook all over the net these days.

THE VOICE OF THE CORPSE by Max Murray. Bantam. 1948.

"DEAD OR ALIVE: she talked too much!"

I work with women like that.





"Angela Pewsey collected other peoples lives. She gathered them up in bits and snatches, from scraps of conversation, stolen letters, spying moments."

Ah. A blackmailer. One of the most satisfying victims in crime fiction. I do love it when blackmailers get knocked off. There's something so low about someone trading in other people's secrets.

First line: "Even in death there was something arty and crafty about Angela."

She gets knocked off singing a folk song--which many would say was poetic justice.

And your favorite motive for murder is--?

Murray was an Australian writer and this was his first novel. During WWII he was a scriptwriter and editor for the BBC. Looks like his last novel was 1957.

DEATH IS A LOVELY LADY by Ruth Fenisong. Popular Library, 1944. (Originally published under the title JENNY KISSED ME--not very mystery-sounding, that.)





"A novel with a startling different approach, filled with smart talk, cutting satire and a sound mystery puzzle."

Hmm. Dissing the genre as a sales tactic. Interesting.

"Gwen Mattice combined lush allure with a realistic capacity for getting what she wanted. But despite her many lovers she never lost sight of the great love of her life--herself!"

Okay, we hate her. Kill her.

First line: "This was the room of Gwen Mattice."

Okay, that's not enough.

"The careless testimony of scattered objects--a handbag, a slipper, a corsage ribbon, a reddened cigarette stub, a belt--was not needed to prove it."

Okay, she's messy. Kill her.

DEATH DOWN EAST by Eleanor Blake. Penguin, 1945.





No info whatsoever, I liked the title and the cover. (See, now you know why publishers don't let authors make these important decisions.) And it's set in Maine, which I also like.

First line: It was pretty awful sitting there in front of the fireplace and just waiting."

All of these have good opening lines, and I'm looking forward to the day I actually have an hour or two to read one!

What are you reading these days?

Monday, August 07, 2006

HOW NANCY DREW SAVED MY LIFE

This week's guest Girl Detective is Lauren Baratz-Logsted,
renowned blogger,
and talented author of the chick lit classic THE THIN PINK LINE
and the literary and erotic suspense novel VERTIGO (among others). In September, Lauren's HOW NANCY DREW SAVED MY LIFE will
be hitting bookshelves everywhere. As you can imagine, I've already
pre-ordered a copy.

===========================================================


A few years ago, an editorial by Maureen Dowd appeared in the New York Times.
It had to do with Osama bin Laden and a particular PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing). Ms. Dowd said we needed someone brash and intrepid like Nancy
Drew involved and wondered: Where had all the brash and intrepid people gone?

In my novel, How Nancy Drew Saved My Life, my heroine comes across
the same editorial. Charlotte Bell is twenty-three years old and heartbroken. A former TV commercial child star who turned to nannying as an adult, she’s spent
the last few years working in the home of U.S. Ambassador Buster Keating,
dealing with his awful wife and loving his two small children. Buster, over
time, convinced Charlotte that his wife didn’t really love him and that
he really loved her, meaning Charlotte. But a brief pregnancy scare put
the lie to that fantasy. In the aftermath, Charlotte moves back in with
her aunt. When she reads Ms. Dowd’s editorial, she becomes obsessed
with Nancy Drew.





Charlotte, growing up, was, like me, more of a Trixie Belden girl.
But, inspired by the editorial, she goes to the local bookstore and on
an impulse buys all 56 volumes of the original Nancy Drew series. She reads
them all and realizes that Nancy, 18 when the series starts, is still 18 when
the series ends. Doing the math, she further realizes that Nancy Drew solved mysteries at the rate of one every 6.5178571 days – a pretty intimidating
figure!

It’s easy to poke fun at Nancy Drew and Charlotte certainly does.
To say Nancy had an overactive imagination is an understatement. Seeing
a truck driving a little too fast, Nancy would be quick to assume, “I
wonder if those men are furniture thieves?” Finding an injured carrier
pigeon, she knows all about how carrier pigeons work and what it all has
to do with Mexico. And don’t get me started on the food! Nancy Drew consumes
such huge meals, with references like “Hannah put a tray of steaming meats
on the table,” that the reader has to wonder, with Nancy’s waist, if
perhaps the girl detective wasn’t just a lit-tle bit bulimic?

But, of course, we only make fun of that which we adore. There’s a
good reason why Nancy Drew – in the original books and in all the myriad incarnations since – has survived in the public consciousness for
decades upon decades. Nancy was brash and intrepid; a girl,
almost a woman, who was never intimidated by danger, who lived by her
wits and would willingly subject herself to dire circumstances where
not just angels but many men would fear to tread, all in the service
of a just cause.

Does Nancy Drew still have cultural relevance? In a world that
has changed so much since her zippy little roadster first hit the
streets of River Heights, does she still have something to teach us?
I think she does. And heroine Charlotte Bell thinks she does too.
Despite occasionally poking fun at Nancy, as Charlotte’s story
progresses, a story that takes her to Iceland and into danger,
the story itself being a sort of comic-gothic, Charlotte adopts as
her mantra WWNDD: What Would Nancy Drew Do? In the end, that mantra
really does save her life.




As stated, the novel is a comedy and, obviously, it is a novel. And
yet, maybe that mantra thing isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe when faced
with dilemmas – Should I help that stranger in need? Can I do
something to stop that crime from being committed? Is there some way
I can make the world a better place?
– perhaps we should all
be asking ourselves: What Would Nancy Drew Do?

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Friday, July 21, 2006

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY

I am now about to do the kind of thing that typically makes me cringe.

I'm about to be a doting aunt in public.

My nephew Sean wrote a story the other day--I don't know what inspired it, where he got the idea, whether he outlined or not, and I don't believe he currently has an agent or a publisher. Unless I count because...yes...I am going to post his story here. Here and now.

I KNOW, I KNOW!!

But I think this story is quite amazing--even if it is not a mystery or crime short.

So here it is, the as yet untitled effort by Sean Douglas Logan.






I have a story to tell you.

Once upon a time there was a war. It was dragon vs. giant cats.

There was a dragon named Jack, he was a Major. The last day of the war Major Jack was on Palm Beach, he was in a war boat. He saw a big hair ball hit a friendly boat. Jack watched the troops fall in the water. He then saw the first aid boats giving hot cocoa to the troops in the cold water.

Then all of a sudden the other troops in the boat said "I want hot cocoa!" and jumped out of the boat. Then Jack saw all the huge bunkers and machine guns on Palm Beach, and of course they were the enemies's.

Thirty seconds to landing on Palm Beach. Jack was loading his gun which was a gum ball launching machine gun as cats don't like gum balls in their fur.

Ten seconds left. Jack's heart was pounding, then the driver of the boat fainted as he saw a huge hair ball coming towards their boat.

They had to wake up the driver of the boat and push the big red button. Once they woke him up they made him push the button and VOOOOSH a big gun came out in the middle of the war boat and blasted the hair ball.

And then finally they hit land. As the door slowly opened, something hit the boat from behind.

A huge hairy war boat was grabbing them from the rear, dragging them out into the cold sea.

Then Jack fired at the Captain of the huge enemy boat and the enemy Captain was walking around with gum balls in his hair and he fell overboard.

Then they had to go into the freezing water, so they went. It was so cold in the water and also there was rumors that there were mines in the cold water. That was confirmed when Jack saw one of the troops step on something in the water and was blown sky high.

Then they landed on the beach. As they were running towards the huge bunkers, hair ball fire was everywhere! One of the troops was blinded by the itchy hair in their face as they were hit.

As Major Jack finally got into one of the huge bunkers he saw enemy troops, then in a huge hair ball gum ball fight he gum balled all the furry felines.

He then placed a charge in the middle of the bunker and ran out like a screaming little girl. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Forgive this rampant chauvinism on the part of my esteemed nevvy--he does have a very girly girl sister and we must overlook the occasional generalizations about our fair sex.)

He then went to the next bunker beside it, this one had really, really long stairs.

When he finally got to it all the cats were on coffee break, so it was easy to gum ball them. Once he placed the charge the door downstairs seemed to be closed so he jumped out the slim window of the bunker falling really fast and praying.

He hit the ground really hard. Then he was congratulated by all the solders and the squad. As they got in their boats and were going home they watched the big bunkers blow up into the sky.

When he got back to head quarters he was awarded the Medal of Honor and given lots of money. After that he got married and he forever cherished the missions he'd gone on.

THE END

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Home Alone

I’m sitting here eating my supper--Guinness Chicken, courtesy of Mr. Thrilling (who does 90% of the cooking around here—-which is only reasonable since he is a much better cook than me) and trying to decide what to watch on the telly. I don’t watch a lot of TV—-not from intellectual snobbery, but because I’m pretty narrow in my tastes. I’m addicted to What Not to Wear and PBS's Mystery!, but mostly I watch old movies—crime and mystery in particular. I like to write with old movies playing in the background. I hope this doesn't eventually lead me into trouble a la George Harrison.

But I do watch a lot of new movies too—and maybe I should talk about the last one Mr. Thrilling and I viewed. It’s called Taking Lives and it stars Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and a number of French Canadian guys (but I don’t blame them, and you shouldn’t either).



Mr. Thrilling and I are in agreement that this is one of the very worst movies we’ve watched--either singly or together. Which is saying something. If you want the edited version of my review: clumsy and derivative.

The oddly lovely Angelina is Special Agent Illeana Scott who is supposed to be a top FBI profiler. The promo material says that she “doesn’t use traditional crime-solving techniques to unravel the mysteries of a murderous mind. Her intuitive, unconventional approach often makes the crucial difference between catching a killer and sending a dead-end case to the cold file.” And we know that to be true because our first glimpse of her is at night at a crime scene lying where the butchered victim was found, so right off the bat it's a given that she is a) brilliant, b) eccentric, c) fearless about grass and blood stains.

(Just for a change I’d love to see a brilliant profiler who actually spends a lot of time poring over files and photos and case histories and books and…you know…investigating.)

Illeana is invited to help the Montreal police in their efforts to catch a “cunning” (as always) serial killer. Which is kind of unlikely, but not impossible--it's the kind of thing for which I'm willing to suspend disbelief--and I loved the idea of this yank FBI agent in Montreal (even if, according to Mr. Thrilling, most of the scenes of Montreal were actually of Quebec). Since Mr. Thrilling hails from Montreal I thought this would be a fun one to share. Fortunately he has pretty much forgiven me, and I'm feeling sure my Guinness Chicken is not poisoned--not that I'd blame him.

Anyway, let's go back to where the movie opens up with -- oh, I should warn you that I am not going to be careful about spoilers -- our teenaged serial killer performing his first (or IS it?????) cunning murder. Basically he pushes another teenager in front of an on-coming vehicle in the absolute middle of nowhere, which has to be the dumbest ever murder attempt EXCEPT Dame Fortune is with this kid, and the on-coming vehicle goes out of control, flips, crashes, explodes and all possible witnesses are killed.

Dude!


Fast forward twenty odd years and a terrified Gina Rowlands (who must be desperate for work) goes to the police with the information that her long dead son, Asher, is not dead after all -- she just saw him on a ferry and he's alive and he's ever so dangerous as you would not believe.

So those of us who can hear over the crunching of popcorn put two and two together and deduce that Gina is the mother of that lucky homicidal youth, that he knows where she lives, that her days are numbered, etc. All roads leading to Mom, as it were.

Anyway, where was I? Right, the Montreal coppers bring in G-Woman Illeana to help with these perplexing serial killings that they can't for the life of them solve on their own. Why is it Americans never bring in Canadians to help, eh?

OH, and there's been a big break in the case because there was an eye-witness to the murder of the last victim. In fact, the police (and the audience) are pretty darned sure the witness IS the murderer...but it's hard to tell because Ethan Hawke has given some uneven performances, so I wasn't quite sure if he was pretending to be a bad actor because he was the killer or if he was just having an off day.

By the way, the best part of this movie is the blooper reel on the DVD. Just an aside.

Sooooo the Montreal Police look to the unconventional Illeana to clue them in as to whether the witness Costa is the real deal. She interviews him briefly and gives him a clean bill of health because when she drops...jeez, now I'm forgetting...pictures of the murder scene, was it? Anyway, he shows shock and horror and so he can't possibly be FAKING that, right? 'Cause even cunning serial killers don't know how to FAKE their reactions!!! How fair would that be?

Back to the promo materials. "With meticulous insight..."

(STOP. What the hell is "meticulous insight?" How can insight be meticulous? Is that just the silliest thing or am I being too picky?)

Sorry. Ahem. "...she (that would be Illeana) theorizes that the chameleon-like killer is 'life-jacking'--assuming the lives and identities of his victims."

So that's what that phrase means. I sort of wondered. And how does Illeana deduce that? Guesswork or more amazing intuition?

"As the pressure mounts to catch the elusive murderer, Agent Scott's unorthodox methods alienate her from a territorial police team that feels threatened by her uncanny abilities."

Those French guys are JEALOUS. It's well-documented that all cops--especially French cops--are chauvinist peegs--even the Canadian ones. They are clearly envious of her meticulous insight.

"Her seemingly cold demeanor belies an unparalleled passion for her work, and she's at her best when she's working alone."

And doing nothing.

"However, when an unexpected attraction sparks a complicated romantic entanglement, the consummate specialist begins to doubt her finely-honed instincts. Alone in an unfamiliar city with no one she can trust,"

People, it's not IRAQ, for God's sake! Her friend and former mentor/colleague invited her up there--why can't she trust HIM? Why can't she confer with her buddies at the Bureau--doesn't she have a cell phone? And what is the matter with her finely-honed instincts that she can't see what the entire audience spots instantly?

(By now I was ready to murder Mr. Thrilling who could not shut up about everything they were getting wrong about Canada, Montreal, train time tables, geography, etc. He was SO missing the point.)

So, anyhooooo, Illeana and her team of crackpots--er, her crack team--go visit Gina Rowlands and while they are poking around her creepy haunted basement (in an otherwise totally normal suburban home) Illeana is accosted by the killer who apparently has been dossing down in the hidden cellar for decades (by the looks of things) and could have killed old G. any time he chose. This must be one of them thar Mother Fixations we read about in True Crime magazine!

Illeana does some kick butt martial arts moves and saves herself, but the cunning killer escapes again. DARN IT ALL!!! I mean, the tension is really mounting here!

Note: the funny little carved figures in the basement that show up on the credits are never explained as far as I can tell. Somebody want to explain there significance to me?

"Agent Scott suddenly finds herself on a twisted and terrifying journey, surrounded by suspects in a case that has become chillingly personal..."

Oh my God. So here's the quick version because it's almost time for the Perry Mason re-runs. Keifer Sutherland (looking as rumpled and disreputable as if they had to wake him up for his walk on cameo) shows up threatening Ethan/Costa, and everyone and their finely honed instincts assumes he is the murderer, and when he is killed by Costa in the MOST preposterous (but unquestioned by all those consumate professionals) scenario imaginable, there is much rejoincing throughout the land--and Illeana gives into those finely honed instincts and goes to bed with him. Costa, I mean. Not Keifer, who was burnt to a rumpled and disreputable crisp.

And their night of rollicking sex causes Ethan/Costa's stitches (don't ask--it's not germane) to open up and they go to the hospital to get him fixed up and while he's there he coincidentally gets into an elevator with Asher's mom (Gina, that would be) and of course she recognizes him....


And when girlishly-happy-and-so-in-love Illeana presses the open button on the elevator, the doors swing open and there is Asher/Costa/Ethan sawing Gina's head off.

Need I say more?

I'm not even going to ask where the heck he got the knife because that is just one too many impossible things to believe before dessert.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cuba, Cats and Murder

Unlike Mr. Thrilling I can watch movies over and over. In fact, I like to write with old movies playing in the background. Music is way too distracting--I either start singing or, worse, I start dancing. Have you ever tried to type and dance at the same time? It is neither graceful nor efficient.

Two of my favorite background movies happen to star Bob Hope. You didn't expect that, did you? You were probably thinking...HAUNTED SUMMER or something on those lines, right? (Actually, I did enjoy Haunted Summer, but even I don't think about Romantic poets 24/7.)

As I've grown older (not A LOT older, mind) I've come to appreciate the genius of Bob Hope. Nope, he wasn't startlingly handsome or particularly dashing--in fact, he got a lot of mileage from playing a wisecracking "coward," but in his best roles he has moments of nice guy integrity where he faces up to his fears usually to help a beautiful dame.

"I don't mind dying, but I hate the preliminaries."


Naturally I love all the Road movies with Bing Crosby (my dad taught us all to sing dozens and dozens of Bing Crosby songs when we were young--and now he's doing the same to the grand kids), but my favorite Bob Hope movies are a pair of comic mystery efforts--both with the beautiful Paulette Goddard.


"I'm shaking so hard the water in my knee just splashed."






THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939)

I have a second generation version of this film--I was lucky to get any version because it is extremely rare and is not currently in print. I found my copy on ebay. There is an earlier version--and a later verison--neither of which I've seen.

Our story takes place way out in the Bayou in a creepy, isolated, mossy mansion inhabited only by the Creole housekeeper "Miss Lou" who sees spirits. And probably imbibes them. But now the remaining relations of Cyrus Norman have arrived ten years after his death for the reading of his will.

Note: Gale Sondergaard does a great job as Miss Lou--she's always wonderful as these intense, teetering-on-the-edge-of-sanity women.

Hope is Wally Campbell a radio star and one of Cyrus's nephews. Goddard is Joyce Norman--I trust they aren't first cousins. There are plenty of cracks about the streak of insanity that runs in the family, and apparently it's not all funning, because the condition of old man Norman's will is that if his sole heir should be found insane within a month of inheriting, a second heir (whose name is in a sealed envelope) will receive everything, no questions asked.

So...everyone seems pretty happy for Joyce (apparently the ramshackle state of the house is no indication of Norman's vast fortune--or maybe it is) although a couple of folks mention that the terms of the will are an invitation to murder. Two nephews are smitten with Joyce--and that's even before she inherits all the alligators in a ten mile radius--and Wally shows a decided interest, although he's eager to escape the house as soon as possible and shows that wiseacre streak that tells a girl he won't be a pushover for her charms.

I should mention that Cyrus has left a letter for Joyce about treasure (a diamond and emerald necklace) hidden in the garden.

Got all that?

MEANWHILE a crazed killer called The Cat, who slashes his victims to death with his long claw-like fingernails, has escaped from the local insane asylum. He's believed to be in the near vicinity. Like the cellar.

Mr. Crosby, the lawyer, suggests that no one tell "the girls" about the crazed killer on the loose, because it might make them nervous. Uh huh. Wally doesn't reveal the confidence, but he does warn Joyce to keep her eyes open. That's how we know he's starting to fall for her, since being a radio personality we can safely assume he's essentially self-absorbed.

Hope has a lot of great lines, although this is definitely a film that could be remade even funnier and spookier--from what I understand the last remake was a bit weak. Carol Lynley. Need I say more?

In an odd reversal, Mr. Crosby (the lawyer) warns Joyce that she's in great danger (but in that oblique hinting way that doomed informants prefer) and then he's murdered. We know he's murdered, but Joyce has her back turned to him and doesn't see him hauled off into the secret passage.

(There is a very scary scene in the library when the thing in the secret passage nearly gets Joyce too.)

Joyce is one of these super-pretty, down-to-earth all American girls--a little excitable once the weirdness starts--but overall as sane as any chick in the 30s. She and Wally join forces and and set out to find who killed the lawyer and is now trying to drive Joyce over the edge.

Portraits with eyes that move, secret passages, buried treasure, maniacs, spirits--I needn't explain why I like this movie. Still, even I can see there are a lot of holes in it. It's still fun--with some genuinely spooky moments. Hope and Goddard make a great team--which brings us to:




THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)
With a bigger budget and better script, this was a successful follow up to the Hope/Goddard 1939 comedy thriller "The Cat and the Canary."

Mary Carter inherits her family's ancestral home on small Black Island located off Cuba (back in the days when you weren't arrested for traveling to Cuba--and what is with that, by the way? We can travel to Red China and the USSR, but not Cuba?). The film kicks off with an eerie electrical storm over New York--which Mary loves, so we know she is a spunky gal and not afraid of the dark--which is lucky, because apparently there is no electricity on Black Island. AND, by the way, Mary's ancestral home is a castle AND it is reputed to be haunted. I'm thinking about the plumbing in a place like that...ugh. Now THAT'S frightening.

Anyway, despite outlandishly high offers for the decrepit homestead--not to mention dire warnings and a death threat or two, Mary is determined to proceed to Cuba. MEANWHILE, radio commentator and personality (to spare) Larry Lawrence has run afoul of the local mob boss. He winds up believing he has killed one of Frenchie Duval's gunmen, and decides he needs to get out of New York fast--and the fastest way is in Mary's trunk.

There are some very funny bits with the trunk and on board the Cuba-bound ship, but not so funny are the attempts on Mary's life. One thing leads to another, and Larry, despite his instinct for self-preservation, decides that Mary needs his protection. Or at least his company--despite the fact that she meets a handsome and debonair acquaintance, Jeff Montgomery, who is probably more her type, anyway. But this is how we know Bob is the true gent. Even though he suspects he is not going to wind up with Mary, he still intends to see her through.

Bob Hope (as one would expect since he is the star of this movie) has most of the good lines--though not all. Mary's role is fun. She's scared but persistent and she's good at the wisecracks even when shaken.

Another plus in this one is the role of Alex, Larry's black manservent. Like Larry, he does his very best to avoid death and danger, but he is loyal to Larry and he generally shows more commonsense (Alex is the one who figures out that Larry is not a killer).

Anyway, Larry and Alex and Mary arrive on Cuba and head for the island where some genuinely scary things happen--the first time I saw this movie, I was about eleven, and I thought it was GREAT!!! Ghosts, voodoo, zombies, a spooky castle and a vein of silver as wide as the island itself--THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!

Originally based on a play by Paul Dickey and Charles Goddard, this was remade as SCARED STIFF with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in the 1950s. The remake is amusing too, but the pace is slowed by all these extra gags for Jerry Lewis that go on and on and on. (Yes, I know he's a considered a genius in France.) However, in the interests of full disclosure, each and every one of my nieces and nephews have found Lewis's Carmen Miranda take-off to be side-splitting stuff.

And your famous vintage comic mystery move is....?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Malice Afterword

I'd mentioned awhile back that when I got a free moment I would elaborate on the vintage mystery novels I picked up in the Malice Dealer Room, so here's a few of the more interesting items I shipped home.

WHAT RHYMES WITH MURDER? by Jack Iams. Dell mapback. No date, but it’s one of the later editions.

Hmmm. Birder? Girder?

“When a lusty Lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!”

It does? I’m thinking Mr. Iams was poetry-impaired, but he does seem to waxed lyrical in this one.

“Ariel Banks, a high-flying, Bohemian poet, had one bad habit: HE LOVED WHERE HE PLEASED.”

Weeell, don’t we all? Kind of? To some extent?

Opening line:
“The news that a British poet was going to lecture before the Tuesday Ladies’ Club would normally have caused something less than a ripple among the ninety-nine percent of our city’s eighty-odd thousand inhabitants who did not belong to, or give a hoot about, the Tuesday Ladies’ Club.”

You know, I like this. Not only did they get the “British” versus “English” thing right, but I am awfully partial to mystery novels about poets. In my opinion the world cannot have too many mystery novels centered around poets and poetry.

But that’s just me.

THE SHADOWY THIRD by Marco Page. Pocket, 1949.

“Marked for slaughter, he was number one on everybody’s hate parade.”

This batch of books goes rather hard on practitioners of the fine arts.

“Dave Calder had been hired to solve the disappearance of a heavily insured violin. Then the owner of the missing violin (Igor Krassin, in case you’re interested) was murdered, and the list of suspects read like a telephone directory.”

I’ll spare you the phone book recital just this one time. Opening line:

“The rehearsal was scheduled for noon but by ten-thirty there were already a dozen musicians in the orchestra dressing room and more were straggling in one or two at a time.”

Uh huh. As you’ve guessed, this kind of plot appeals to me—in particular I love the combination of tough guys and the arts.

Speaking of tough guys…

FINDERS KEEPERS by Geoffrey Homes. Bantam, 1947.

“Here is another toughie by that expert in murder, Geoffrey Homes, who has won a million readers for Bantam Books with his fast-paced, hard-hitting mysteries featuring that two-fisted milk-drinker, the dick with a hard fist and a soft heart, Humphrey Campbell. What more could you ask?”

Is this a sincere question or are you playing with me?

To begin with, I could ask that the dick not be named Humphrey Campbell. I’ll let the Humphrey pass, but CAMPBELL? (Little Scottish folk-singing joke.)

I have to say that Mr. Thrilling was…er…thrilled when I pulled this out of my Malice book box. Apparently he has been longing to read this series by Homes for eons. I myself am not entirely sold on the idea of a writer who pens “toughies” about milk-drinking lads named Humphrey, but….

OH MY GOD. IT’S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT. I tailed off to read the opening line and found this description of our hero:

“Humphrey Campbell, a chubby, tough, ACCORDION-PLAYING sleuth, who was headed for trouble.”

Well, yeeeeAH!

Opening line: “Under the giant sycamore a man in a wheelchair was writing a letter.”

MURDER ENTERS THE PICTURE by Willetta Ann Barber and R.F.Schabelitz. Penguin, 1942.

The gimmick here is an artist-detective, Kit Storm, whose “on-the-spot sketches are important in solving murders.”

Of course they are.

“This is the best book in a unique series of profusely illustrated mysteries, in which the scores of sketches are an integral part of the story.”

And you thought gimmicky mysteries started with recipes and crochet patterns in the eighties!

Opening line:
“EZRA’S GHOST, come back to haunt the Plateau!”

ROLLING STONE by Patricia Wentworth. Popular Library, 1940.

I bought this for the cover since I already have the book in a much later edition. I love all Wentworth’s novels, uneven though they frequently are.

“Spike Reilly, member of a gang of picture thieves that has added murder to its nefarious activities, dies suddenly in a hotel room—and Peter Talbot, unofficial operative of the Foreign Office, decides to take his place.”

Opening line:
“The rain fell in a fine, steady drizzle.”

Ah, to be in England…

My favorite Wentworth novel is called RUN. Anyone read that? I’ve tried unsuccessfully for years to get hold of a copy of THE ADVENTURES OF JANE SMITH (at a price I could afford), which I believe has never been reprinted. Possibly for good reason, but I’m still curious.

VENTUROUS LADY by George Harmon Coxe. Dell, no date again, but I’m guessing late forties.

“In the looming shadows of an old barn where New York actors are producing plays for summer vacationers, mystery rewrites the script—with terror and death as the stars.”

Oh, I just LOVE their work! I’ve never miss one of their shows!

“In the late afternoon the wind, which had been southwest and steady, shifted to easterly, and the sky grew overcast, promising an end to the clear warm days of the past week.”

PIPER ON THE MOUNTAIN by Ellis Peters. Lancer, 1968.

Plenty on the web about this offering from Peters featuring Dominic Fell all grown up and falling in love with a murder suspect, so I’ll move along to…

SING A SONG OF HOMICIDE by James R. Langham. Popular Library, 1940.

Terrific cover and we appear to have a hitherto undiscovered set of married sleuths, Sammy and Ethel Abbott. I wonder if they are somehow related to Pat and Jean Abbott?

Anyhoooooo, no hint as to what the story is about although the title is in keeping with our murder in the arts theme.

Opening line:
“Some people claim that it isn’t nice to laugh at a fresh corpse.”

There we go. It’s interesting how many opening lines focus on weather. Personally I prefer a hint of danger or death the minute the curtain rises.

MURDER OF A NYMPH by Margot Neville. Pocket, 1951.

“She would never steal another woman’s man again!”

Safe to say.

“Beautiful and bad—Enone McGrath had enough wickedness for a woman twice her age.”

Uh…you mean 40? Jeez. What’s that supposed to mean?

“Not even 21, she couldn’t help exercising her charms on other women’s husbands.”

Cute little tyke. Maybe she’ll grow out of it.

“One night someone caught Enone on a lonely road and cooled her off permanently.”

Or maybe not.

Opening line:
“It would have been hard to say just where the train of happenings that led up to the disaster at Come-hither Bend began.”

Oh my. AAAALLLLLLL ABOARD! That’s pretty bad, not even taking into account the Come-hither Bend bit. Let’s ride a little further…

“That question—where events start from, in the primeval cave or yesterday afternoon—opens up a whole field of metaphysical speculation. Better let that lie.”

Agreed. Best to back up slowly and carefully, avoiding sudden movements or any noise…

MYSTERY IN BLUE by Gertrude E. Mallette. Berkeley Books, 1945.

“THE CASE OF THE MISSING BLUEPRINT.

Kerry Owen was a very good secretary. She also had an inquiring mind.”


And inquiring minds want to know!

“And from her very first day as secretary in an engineering office, Kerry’s mind starting asking questions: about the shambles in the files, the way papers were lost one day and turned up the next, and the furtive behavior of some of her coworkers…”

My God, Kerry is working IN MY OFFICE!

(Yes, I do still have a day job—or did.)

Opening line:
“Kerry Owen kept her face as unrevealing as she could while the university placement secretary spoke.”

And I can hear her now: You shouldn’t have taken all those lit and humanity courses, Kerry. What the hell were you thinking? You should have gone for an MBA in Business!

I picked up a few other odds and ends, but the last one I’ll mention here is SCENT OF MYSTERY by Kelly Roos. Dell, 1959.

“The touch of horror, the taste of excitement, the look of murder, and the…SCENT OF MYSTERY”

Yep, Mr. Thrilling is cooking supper once again!

“SCENT OF MYSTERY the first motion picture ever filmed in SMELL-O-VISION!”

I am NOT making this up!

It says right on the cover, “Now a brilliant Michael Todd, Jr. Production.”

You can’t make up stuff like that.

Opening line:
“The young Englishman checked his light meter against the brilliant Mediterranean sun.”

And what are you reading?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

CONTEST #9 OPEN BOOK

PSSSSST! As of this minute, Mr. Thrilling has not yet removed Contest #9,
so here's a chance for all of you who haven't been able to figure
out the previous contests to take a shot. No guarantee how long
the contest will remain up...


1)Which of the following novels was NOT nominated for
a 2005 Agatha in the Malice Domestic Best Novel
category:
a-Owls Well That Ends Well by Donna Andrews
b-Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron
c-A HOE LOT OF TROUBLE BY HEATHER WEBBER
d- The Body in the Snowdrift by Katherine Hall Page

Heather was nominated but for TROUBLE IN SPADES.



2)The DorothyL listserv is named after which mystery writer?
a-Dorothy Salisbury Davis
b-DOROTHY LEIGH SAYERS
c-Dorothy Cannell
d-Dorothy B. Hughes



3) A young Victorian widow’s investigation into her late husband’s mysterious life and death forms the basis of which novel?
a-The Egyptian Coffin by Jane Jakeman
b-A Body in Berkeley Square by Ashley Gardner
c-Murder on Black Friday by P.B. Ryan
d-AND ONLY TO DECEIVE BY TASHA ALEXANDER



4) Leslie Ford’s Washingtonian amateur sleuth Grace Latham is
aided in her investigations by her disapproving but
ultimately indulgent beau:
a-Colonel Mustard
b-COLONEL PRIMROSE
c-Colonel Protheroe
d-Colonel Walker


5) A young mother’s investigation into the death of an
environmentalist on a Northwest Air Force Base forms the
basis of which novel?
a-MOVING IS MURDER BY SARA ROSETT
b-The Big Nap by Ayelet Waldman
c-Confessions of a Naughty Mommy by Heidi Raykeil
d-Mommy Deadest by Jean Marcy



6)Which of the following queens of classic romantic
suspense also wrote children’s books?
a-Mignon G. Eberhart
b-MARY STEWART
c-Dorothy Eden
d-Victoria Holt


7) Who was the first female P.I. to star in a
series of popular and well-written novels?
a-Kinsey Millhone created by Sue Grafton
b-Sharon McCone created by Marcia Muller
c-V.I. Warshawski created by Sara Paretsky
d-MARY CARNER CREATED BY ZELDA F. POPKIN

Yep, decades before Sue Grafton or any of the gals was a twinkle
in their mother's eyes, Zelda F. Popkin was churning out smart
and well-written Dell Mapbacks about a department store
detective by the moniker of Mary Carner.

By the way, in my haste to get this contest up, I mis-typed
Mary's last name as CARVER. My bad! So this one became a freebie.


8) Who said “Book ‘Em, Dano.”?
a-STEVE MCGARRETT
b-Barnaby Jones
c-Frank Gannon
d-Thomas Magnum



9) Which of the following series is NOT by Elizabeth Peters?
a-Amelia Peabody
b-NINA QUINN
c-Vicky Bliss
d-Jacqueline Kirby

Nina Quinn is the sleuth with the green thumb in Heather Webber's
gardening series.



10) Diana Killian’s lord and web-master owns which well-known mystery-related website?
a-A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
b-MysteryNet.com
c-THE THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE
d-Mystery Lover’s Corner

I always tell Mr. Thrilling I married him for his website. He thinks I'm kidding.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's a small world after all!

No, I'm not talking about my recent trip to Disneyland.
(Although...yes, I have to admit, it was really, really fun! Can I admit that as a semi-grown-up?)










Nope, I'm talking about the small world of blogs and bloggers and a fun
little time waster known as blog-tagging. My understanding of how blog-tagging
works is you devise some totally trivial questions and then you "tag"
three or four of your most tolerant pals, and they answer the questions
on your website and their own (I think? Or maybe you're just supposed to
answer on your own blog? Anybody?) and then THEY TAG three or four of their
own most tolerant pals, and so on and so on and so on like those shampoo
commercials for wheat germ hair products. (Remember those?)

Anyway, I was tagged by Heather Webber, who writes the Agatha-nominated Nina Quinn series.

So here are the questions, answers to which will not change the
future of the Western World, but might afford you a few moments
entertainment:

4 MOVIES YOU WOULD WATCH OVER AND OVER:
To Catch a Thief
The Big Sleep
Gunga Din
The Uninvited

Actually, if I like a movie, the chances are good that I will watch it over
and over again. Especially because I like to write with movies playing in the background.

4 PLACES YOU HAVE LIVED:
Glendale
Malibu
Lake Isabella
Ventura

I've lived in California my whole life, so that narrows it down a bit.

4 TV SHOWS YOU LOVE TO WATCH:
I don't watch a lot of TV, so it's easier if I
tell you four of my all time favorite TV shows:
The X Files
The New Avengers
MacMillan and Wife
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues


4 PLACES YOU HAVE BEEN ON VACATION:
Buffalo, New York
Seattle, Washington
Lake Isabella, California
Ventura, California

4 OF YOUR FAVORITE FOODS:
Chicken Chou Mein
Anything chocolate (except chocolate-covered ants, maybe)
Chips and salsa
bacon

4 WEBSITES YOU VISIT DAILY:
(Beyond your own????)
Amazon
Yahoo Groups
Yahoo News
ebay (well, that's off and on--but when it's on, it's OBESSESSIVE)


4 PLACES YOU WOULD RATHER BE RIGHT NOW:
The English Lake District
A swimming pool (drinks on the nearest table, please)
DISNEYLAND!!!!!
One of those luxury trains tooling through the Scottish Highlands

Tag 4 People you think will respond:
Tasha Alexander
Shelley McKibbon
Heidi Vornbrock Roosa
Tori Lennox

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What's in the Bag?

Part of the fun of attending mystery conferences is the “goodies bag”
that you get upon registering. You usually get a copy of Mystery Scene
and EQMM and AHMM, a pin or two, a fridge magnet—but
best of all, you get books. New and totally free books!

The books are donated by publishers who hope to promote new
or potentially hot authors (or possibly they need tax write-offs).
HIGH RHYMES AND MISDEMEANORS turned up the Malice
book bag one year—this year, I’m sorry to say, Pocket was not
one of Malice’s supporters or book suppliers. I try not to blame
them for the M.D. book bag being, in my opinion, a little skimpy.

Really, that’s not fair to say because the book bags are NEVER
as full as I would like. I-- I’m addict. I’m one of those people
genetically incapable of saying, “Enough!” when it comes to books
and book-purchasing.

So what was in my Malice book bag? Well, here’s what I kept
(because not every bag gets the same books, and there’s always
a “book swap” table where you can toss back what you don’t feel
like carting home—or exchange it for something worth the $$$ for
extra-heavy luggage):

THE COSMIC CLUES by Manjiri Prabu. A first novel about a “detective
agency that combines astrological science with investigations!” This
is set in India and it stars Sonia Samarth—she’s out to nab an
“international criminal.”

First line: “This is Stellar Investigations and we don’t
read horoscopes!”

Frankly, this doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but I hung
onto it because my mom might enjoy it—and because if it starts
getting brilliant reviews on DorothyL or elsewhere, I might take
a peek.

FEINT OF ART by Hailey Lind. I was happy to see this in the book
bag because I love mysteries that have to do with art, books,
history, archeology and murders from the past, and I’ve heard
enough about this one to be interested.

Former art-forger Annie Kincaid informs her ex-boyfriend museum
curator that his prized Caravaggio is a fake. Then the museum
janitor is killed and Annie’s ex disappears.

There is mention of a “charming but fickle art thief.”
I am so there!

First line: “Georges, please – try to concentrate on what I’m saying,”
I persisted. It is illegal and immoral to forge art.”

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS by Donna Andrews. I’ve read and enjoyed
one other Meg Langslow novel, so I’m sure this will be fun. Meg goes
to her actor boyfriend’s television series fan convention and soon
after a run-in with the ego-maniacal series star, Meg is suspected
of offing the “Queen B.”

First line: “I woke up when Michael began screaming in the bathroom.”

I like that. It sounds like MY home.

TOO BIG TO MISS by Sue Ann Jaffarian. “Too big to miss—that’s
Odelia Grey. A never-married, middle-aged plus-size woman, she
struggles with her relationships, her crazy family, and her crazier
boss. And then there’s her knack for being in close proximity to
dead people…”

Even if Sue Ann and I had not been partners for the Author-Go-Round
at Malice, I’d have wanted to check this out. I believe Claudia and I
previewed this back in the days of the Wicked Company Book Preview Club.

Originally a self-published effort, Sue Ann sold the series to Midnight
Ink. How cool is that?

First line: “My weekend was D.O.A….dead on arrival.”

And that concludes what I chose to keep out of the book bag.

Now let me tell you what I ADDED to the book bag after visiting
the Dealer’s Room.

O’ARTFUL DEATH by Sarah Stewart Taylor. I’m not sure why I never
bothered to buy this book before meeting Sarah, because it has everything
I love: art, literature, a mystery that ties into the past—and an academic
heroine.

University professor Sweeney St. George is an expert in cemetery art.
Intrigued by the macabre graveyard statue of a beautiful woman, she
starts poking into the statues history and stumbles into murder
both old and new.

First line: “The girl’s nude body lay in the boat, her dead eyes
staring heavenward, her long hair coiling strangely to the ground.”

As already mentioned elsewhere I also bought MOVING IS MURDER by
Sarah Rosett, AND ONLY TO DECEIVE by Tasha Alexander, and MURDER
ON THE ROCKS by Karen MacInerney. I won’t rehash those reviews
here, but I’ll probably do little snippet reviews on Amazon later
in the month (because I just don’t spend enough time not writing books).

As is my want at these things, I scooped up some vintage reprints
from Tom and Enid at Rue Morgue including: THE BLACK PIANO by
Constance and Gwenyth Little (for my views on the Little Sisters,
read my essay at Girl Detective).

“Dick Rouston claimed Jane Cowrer murdered his fiancĂ©e, which made
for a pretty awkward situation, since Jane was equally convinced
that Dick had murdered her.”

Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

GLASS ON THE STAIRS by Margaret Scherf. A Henry and Emily Bryce
comedic mystery. This was a mistake. I was looking for the second
book in the series, but this is the third—it’s not a serious mistake,
because I’ll read it right after I find the second.

“Mrs. Otis Carver walked into Link Simpson’s gun and antique
shop one hot August morning and shot herself.”

Now THAT is a difficult customer.

CORPSE DE BALLET by Lucy Cores. First published in 1944, this
is the second and last book to feature amateur sleuth
(exercise maven, former dancer and part-time ballet reviewer)Toni Ney.

First line “Why don’t you take off your hat and stay awhile?” Toni
said hospitably.

Which is as good a place to stop as any. Later this week I’ll post
on the vintage mystery original paperbacks I picked up.
There's some good stuff there--even Mr. Thrilling was pleased with
a couple of my finds.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I REMEMBER MUMMY

CONTEST #8


1)The “Father” of modern detective crime fiction is
generally held to be:
a-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
B-EDGAR ALLAN POE
c-Wilkie Collins
d-Dashiell Hammett

You could make an argument for Collins being first with
THE MOONSTONE or Doyle being most influential with Holmes,
but Poe is the guy the learned experts (of whom I do not
number myself) tapped for "Father."

2)This Golden Age mystery writer also crafted witty
historical romances:
a-Barbara Cartland
b-Robert Louis Stevenson
c-Jane Austen
D-GEORGETTE HEYER

If you're a fan of the comedy of manners genre, you MUST
read Heyer. She is brilliant. Yes, her mysteries are clever,
but she really comes into her own with the historical
romances.

3)Hilda Adams, Sarah Keate and Cherry Ames share
which of the following traits in common:
A-ALL THREE ARE NURSES AND AMATEUR SLEUTHS
b-All three work as secretaries for overbearing
professional investigators
c-All three are overbearing professional investigators
d-All three unofficially help their policeman husbands
solve crimes


4)Hailed on the Guide to Classic Mystery and
Detection website as “the most important American
detective writers of the Twentieth Century,” Ellery
Queen is the pseudonym of:
A-FREDERIC DANNAY AND MANFRED B. LEE
b-Erle Stanley Gardner and A.A. Fair
c-Frances and Richard Lockridge
d-Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice

Dannay and Lee were cousins as well, which I
consider an interesting bit of trivia.

5)“Thin Man” William Powell appears as detective
Philo Vance in the film made from which of S.S. Van
Dine’s novels:
a-The Gracie Allen Murder Case
b-The Winter Murder Case
C-THE KENNEL MURDER CASE
d-The Dragon Murder Case


6) Theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote about clerical
sleuth:
a-Brother Cadfael
b-Rabbi Small
c-Sister Fidelma
D-FATHER BROWN


7)A famous mystery author’s disappearance for eleven
days in December 1926 was the subject of the film:
a-Julia
B-AGATHA
c-Laura
d-I Know Where I’m Going

Have you seen the film? So-so. Nice period touches, but
just not much substance.

8)Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film Yojimbo was
supposedly influenced by which Dashiell Hammett novel:
A-RED HARVEST
b-The Dain Curse
c-The Maltese Falcon
d-The Big Knockover

You might not expect this of me, but I'm quite a fan
of samurai movies--I've seen pretty much every one
made up until the 1980s.

9)The Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) Arthur Ellis
Awards are named after:
a-The literary critic and crime writer
B-CANADA'S OFFICIAL HANGMAN
c-Canada’s first Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman
d-The first criminal to receive capital punishment in
Toronto

A creepy bit of trivia!


10)The Malice Domestic Mystery Conference is always
held in:
a-Richmond, VA
b-Seattle, WA
C-WASHINGTON, DC
d-Burlington, VT

Actually, Arlington VA would be more correct. I let this one be
a freebie though most folks seemed to guess correctly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wild Kingdom

I'm not having a good week.

It started out all right. We went to the L.A. Festival
of Books at UCLA on Saturday. It was nice and cool--the
haze burned off quite early (toasting Mr. Thrilling to a
sexy crisp by the end of the very long day), and even the
madding crowd didn't irk me too much (although I have to
admit that if I wasn't there signing, wild horses wouldn't
drag me to the campus during the book festival. The mobs of
people and cramped booths do not make for the optimum buying
experience).

I signed at Book 'Em
Mysteries
and Crime Time, and it went fairly well
at both places, but Linda at Crime Time had
some mildly disturbing news: she was
unable to order HIGH RHYMES AND MISDEMEANORS or
VERSE OF THE VAMPYRE from Ingram. Both books
were listed as backordered and unavailable.







Yikes!

Of course there might be a mistake somewhere....

But not the kind of news that soothes a skittish author's soul.

After I'd finished my signings I thought I would lend
a hand at the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) booth.
Alexandra Sokoloff (THE HARROWING--great title isn't it?)
was manning the booth with me, and she had just slipped
off for a few minutes of well-deserved respite when
someone plumped down in the seat next to me.

"I'm going to sit down," announced a woman.

"Oh. Okay," says I. I thought perhaps she was feeling
faint. It was getting pretty hot by then. But she
proceeded to tell me about her cousin, a mystery writer
who she had met for the first time that morning and who
she planned to rendezvous with in The Mystery Bookstore booth.
After a minute or two I realized that she was not...quite
...right.

Alexandra came back and the lady pointedly ignored her while
continuing to occupy Alexandra's seat, staring fixedly at me
and then staring off into space. Alexandra and I sort of talked
around her--and then the lady tuned back in, looked at me
and announced, "It's time for you to go."

"It is?" I said.

"Yes. You need to go now. My cousin is coming."

Okaaaay. She didn't appear to be armed. (Yes, I did
double-check.) So I laughed. "Okay, Well, I'll just wait
till your cousin gets here."

This was not the right answer. She started muttering
to herself and I don't think any of it was flattering
to me. But about then one of the very nice people manning
The Mystery Bookstore booth came along and gently detached
her from the MWA table and moved her outside.

Alexandra and I compared notes on dealing with that
unpredictable animal, John Q. Public.

After the book fest, I persuaded Mr. Thrilling
to stop at Jack in the Box. This took some doing. Mr.
Thrilling is always in favor of cooking real food. This
usually works well because I am all in favor of eating
real food--especially if I don't have to cook it. But
sometimes I don't want real food. I want the food that
Jack built. However, I worked my wiles and got my
got my favorite chicken club salad, and then we headed
home and watched THE LATE SHOW with Art Carney and Lillian
Tomlin, which is now out on DVD.

This is a movie I hadn't seen in years, and I was pleasantly
surprised. It's a tidy little update on the screwball
mysteries of the 30s and 40s. In fact, as the Carney P.I.
character even says to the ditzy Tomlin dame,
"This town never changes. They just move the names around."


Both Carney (as an aging P.I. struggling to keep
his head above water--and retain a little dignity
while he dogpaddles into the sunset) and Tomlin
as a nutty clothes designer and talent agent and cat
owner) do a very good job--the success of the movie
depends entirely on these characters and our instant
affection for them. The plot is brisk
and reasonably tight--overall quite entertaining and
well worth a second look, if you haven't seen it
in a few years.

Mr. Thrilling and I don't have many ops for lolling about
on the sofa eating fast food and watching flickers (and even
occasionally dozing) -- in fact, these days it's rare that we're
even in the house at the same time -- so that was much
needed quality time together. Sunday I worked in the garden
mostly planting seeds and pulling weeds. I noticed
that there seemed to be a lot of bees in the wisteria.

I'm very proud of that wisteria. It took me five years
to coax it to flower--every time I look out the window
at those luscious purple flowers draping through
the whatchamacallit slats I feel like I've successfully
worked a magical spell. The garden is really
lovely right now. The roses are blooming as well
as the lilacs--gorgeous! And I planted them all!
I did it! Me!

But as you would expect with magic, there
are unexpected side effects. On Monday Mr. Thrilling
calls me at work with the news that there is a swarm
of bees apparently taking up residence in the drainpipe
beneath the library (right over the front door, in other
words).

This is not jolly news for any homeowner--and for
someone who freaks out over bees as much as I do
(we must all have our little phobias--and bees and
heights are mine) it is really BAD news.

Mr. Thrilling waged war all day with cans of hornet
killer spray while I--Cassandra-like--waxed doom and
gloom over the phone and advised hiring professional
killers FAST. This is my solution for every problem,
but this time my reasoning was sound. But Mr. Thrilling
was convinced that he could win the good fight and by
the time he left for work he assured me the tide had
turned. So I toddle home and by the time I drive
up about seven o'clock, I can see that our winged
enemies are still buzzing around with the total confidence
of WWI aces--and renewed numbers.
I slipped in through the garage and peeked out the front door.
UPS had left a box--my long-awaited Malice book box!--and
it was COVERED IN BEES!!!

!!!!

Words cannot convey the hideousness of this moment.
Not that I didn't give Mr. Thrilling an earful
of them when he got home. I mean, think of
it: a furry quivery mound of bees all over my
precious treasure chest of books!!

Ugh.

So at last Mr. Thrilling arrived home with the reinforcements
(more cans of hornet poison spray) and by then I
was acting out the last half of the latest horror movie--except
that I eschewed the usual skimpy wardrobe. My view
was that we should abandon the house for the night and
think about putting it on the market the following day.
I was, safe to say, a wee bit stressed.

But Mr. Thrilling insisted that it was now cold
enough to really do some damage to his foe, so
out he went with his trusty spray cans. First he
liberated the book box (the man does share my priorities)
and then he emptied two cans of poison into the drainpipe.

And that's when the fun really started. You could
hear the angry buzzing through the walls--I mean we are
talking thousands of furious bees who had our name and
number and were dialing collect.

Again I pushed for abandoning the house and fleeing
to my parents or my sister's. Mr. Thrilling comes from
pioneer stock, and he was confident that the poison
would soon take effect.

So we waited while the bees buzzed like
all the electrical wiring in the place was
about to blow.

And then two bees appeared in the upstairs hall.

I again suggested abandoning the fort. Mr. Thrilling
suggested turning off the lights, which he said were
attracting the enemy, and retreating to the
downstairs to go through the rescued book box.
Apparently he thought distracting me would be
advisable--or even possible.

So we doused the lights and went downstairs
and, yes, I did calm a little gloating over
my Malice purchases (to be detailed in a later
post). We were about halfway through the book
box when a bee landed on my nose.

You heard me. A BEE LANDED ON MY NOSE.

Mr. Thrilling says there is no doubt about my
Irish heritage given the Banshee-like shriek that
echoed off the vault ceiling. He also made cracks
about my impromptu modern dance routine. Yes, he
was a barrel of laughs as he set about killing
the THIRD bee to infiltrate our sanctuary in less than
an hour. He just couldn't get over the improbability of
mine being the nose the bee would choose to land
on--it would never work in a book or a movie, he
assured me, because it would be too cheesey, too clumsy.

Of course if we had been filming a horror movie,
he hastened to add after I gave him The Look,
as soon as he laughed at me he would be eaten
by a giant bee.

"That's right," I said curtly. "You would be killed."

"I don't mean to laugh at you," he assured me,
trying to keep a straight face. "Really."

WhatEVER.

Anyway, that was it. I told him I was spending the
night in a hotel. It was nearly ten o'clock by then,
and I desperately needed sleep. Mr. Thrilling assured
me that spending nights in hotels with me was high
on his list of favorite things to do, and we grabbed
our night things and headed out for the local Marriot.
No Sleep System, but no bees either.

The next morning the bees were down to a few hundred or so.
Mr. Thrilling dosed them liberally with
poison--and soapy water--and by the time I got
home from work everything looked pretty normal
other than the carpet of dead bees over the lawn
and walkway.

So--feeling a little calmer--I braved the bedroom balcony
to water the plants. And I startled--the feeling was mutual
--the doves that hang out there lately. I noticed one
of the doves seemed pretty darned upset. She flew to the
chimney and kept cooing at me, and I glanced down at
the basket I was watering and realized I had just
watered a tiny, pale pink egg.

Needless to say I was as upset as Mrs. Dove at
this gaffe. I love those doves and now I've
probably destroyed their little baby dove. But
having watered it, there wasn't much I could do.
I went back inside and got a cup of birdseed for
Mrs. Dove in case she decided to come back.
I kept peeking out, but she didn't return to
the nest as far as I could tell.

But then when I woke up this morning both doves
were back on the balcony (in the wrong basket).
Mr. Thrilling went out and watered this afternoon
and said Mrs. Dove was back in the right basket
and she didn't move when he watered everything
on the balcony (which is lucky for him because I told
him NOT to go out there while she was there--whereupon
he asked to see my ID).

And she's out there right now--the wind blowing
like a hurricane and no shelter for that basket
at all if it rains--which it looks ready to do.
I'm afraid Mrs. Dove might be wasting her time....

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MUM'S THE WORD

The results of Contest #7--which was apparently really
tough (because only 3 people managed to get all
ten questions) are as follows:

1) All of the following novels are set in the 1920s
with one exception. Which is the exception?
A-SECRET SERVICE OPERATOR #13 BY ROBERT CHAMBERS
b-Moonlight at Greystone by Louisa Bronte
c-Anything Goes by Jill Churchill
d-Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

2) Using a different pen name, this best-selling
historical author previously wrote a mystery series
featuring a gay TV reporter:
a-Steven Saylor
B-ROBERT ALEXANDER
c-Bruce Alexander
d-Laurie King

R.D. Zimmerman wrote the award-winning Todd Mill's
series back in the gay '90s. See, there is life
after series death.

3) All but one of the following novels is set in
Japan. Which is the exception?
a-The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi
b-The Assassin’s Touch by Laura Joh Rowland
c-Death at the Crossroads by Dale Furutani
D-THE RED PAVILION BY ROBERT VAN GULIK

No, the titles do NOT all look alike. Van Gulik wrote
the Judge Dee series which is set in China.


4) Romance writer Mary Westmacott also wrote mysteries
under the pen name of:
a-Mignon G. Eberhart
b-Mary Roberts Rinehart
C-AGATHA CHRISTIE
d-Nora Roberts

Personally I find the Westmacott stuff a bit depressing,
but anyone who thinks Christie couldn't write characters
needs to investigate her work as Mary Westmacott.

5) Eccentric master sleuths typically outsmart the
police. Who was Nero Wolfe’s favorite law enforcement
nemesis?
a-Inspector Japp
B-INSPECTOR CRAMER
c-Inspector Lestrade
d-Inspector Clouseau

If you put Inspector Clouseau, you get points for having
a sense of humor--but you won't win any mummy cases.

6) Who was John Steed’s first crime-fighting partner?
a-Emma Peel
b-Tara King
c-Purdey
D-DR. KEEL

The MALE Dr. Keel was Steed's first partner in crime-fighting.
Ian Hendry starred as Dr. David Keel. I think he only lasted
the first season.


7) Who is NOT Nancy Drew’s chum?
a-Bess Marvin
b-George Fayne
C-HONEY WHEELER
b-Helen Corning

I'm sure Nancy would have got on with Honey just fine,
but in fact, Honey Wheeler is Trixie Belden's poor
little rich girl pal.

8) How many children did Charlie Chan have?
a-one
b-eight
c-three
D-FOURTEEN

There was some confusion about this question.
See here


9) This Scottish-born author wrote a series featuring
a Scotland Yard inspector:
a-M.C. Beaton
B-JOSEPHINE TEY
c-Ian Rankin
d-John Connolly

Okay, I admit this was a tricky one--the key was
SCOTLAND YARD INSPECTOR. Beaton and Rankin write
about Scottish cops, but Tey wrote about Alan Grant
who works for The Yard--which is in England.
Connolly is Irish. Who cares what he writes.
(OKAY, OKAY, I'M KIDDING!!!!)


10) Which of the following mystery/crime novels does
NOT feature a “real” vampire:
a-Baked to Death by Dean James
b-Death Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
C-VERSE OF THE VAMPYRE BY DIANA KILLIAN
d-Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

At this risk of a spoiler (could this really be a spoiler?)
there are no REAL LIVE (or real dead) vampires hovering
over the lovely village (with the scary crime rate) of Innisdale.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Now that I'm mostly recovered from my adventures at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my trip. First off, I HIGHLY recommend this convention if you are a fan of the traditional or cozy mystery genre. It's a relatively small and very cordial gathering of authors and readers with an emphasis on the tender care and feeding of fans.

I arrived Thursday afternoon following a fast and totally trouble-free flight (you have no idea what a pleasant change that was for me because my flying tends to be plagued by delayed and/or missed flights, terrifying taxi rides, and lost luggage). Anyway, I arrived safely and found that the books and gift basket that I had shipped ahead to the hotel had also arrived safely. Score! So I pre-registered, delivered my "vintage mystery" gift basket, and then settled down to enjoy room service including a bottle of Clos du Bois pinot noir and a box of Sees candy--and let us not forget that delicious cloud of pillows and comforter known as a "sleep system." I rented two really awful movies--UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION and AEON FLUX. Don't ask me why I am always attracted to movies about violent and energetic women in tight clothes because personally I'm much happier in my nest of pillows eating chocolates and drinking wine. Mr. Smith attributes this to my feline bloodline--although I've never met many wine-drinking cats.

Nothing was scheduled to begin on Friday until the Author-Go-Round which is a kind of musical chairs sales pitch whereon teams of authors rush from table to table taking turns synopsizing their books in 90 seconds to folks who actually volunteer to be victims. I was paired with Sue Ann Jaffarian who I believe we previewed a million years ago when Claudia and I ran the Wicked Company Book Preview Club. Anyway, Sue Ann and I met for lunch and chatted a bit about books and publishing (Sue Ann started out self-publishing, did very well marketing her books and has since sold them to Midnight Ink--which is a lovely and encouraging success story, so take heart those of you still struggling to land that first wily fish).

Anyway, the Author-Go-Round was fun in a nerve-wracking way, and at the very last table who should I run into but last week's Guest Girl Detective, Heidi Vornbrock Roosa , which was lucky because it turned out I had her OLD cell phone number and would probably never have managed to find her on my own--given that my tendency at conventions is to go hide in my room and rent terrible movies.

Heidi, who is every bit as smart and charming in real life as she is on the net, chatted for a bit and then we (naturally) headed over to the Dealer Room where she further endeared herself to me by asking for my advice on vintage mysteries. (I steered her towards some Leslie Ford gems and a couple of Little sister novels from Tom and Enid at Rue Morgue. I'll detail my Dealer Room purchases--of which there were many--once the books arrive (I had them shipped home since I sort of--predictably--lost my head and spent waaaay too much money).

Somewhere along the way Heidi and I connected with Sara Rosett, who I've corresponded with a few times, and Tasha Alexander. Sara is one of these sweet and sassy Southern types and Tasha is a wicked and vivacious blonde. Both Sara and Tasha have debut novels--Sara's is MOVING IS MURDER and Tasha's is AND ONLY TO DECIVE. So naturally we had to all head back to the Dealer Room and buy each other's books. Or was that Saturday? It all blurs together, I must admit.




Anyway, eventually Heidi and I headed out for dinner through the amazing underground tunnels that lead from the Marriot to the Metro to...well, I have no idea how far they extend, but they are clean and relatively quiet and full of shops and cafes. Very cool. When we surfaced it was raining. We had dinner at a seafood place and chatted a bit about writing and publishing (what else?).

On the way back to the hotel (in the underground city) we ran across (not literally--although it's a great place to set a murder) Sara and her agent. So Heidi and Sara and I headed off to the bar--the bar accomodations are my one and only complaint about the conference. The main bar closed at 10:00 and the mini bar that we were directed to really did not have the seating or staff to accomodate.

We were joined by Jan Giles who is this amazing woman who had traveled all the way from Bahrain for the convention--more to the point she's a fan and not a writer, so we actually discussed (for a few moments, anyway) something besides writing and publishing.

Just a wonderful day talking (and buying) books. What more could you ask for?

It wasn't until I was lying there snuggled in the cloud bank watching LAW AND ORDER that it occurred to me I hadn't gone to a single panel all day!

Saturday was pretty much the same thing again--Sara and I had lunch and headed to the Dealer Room where she introduced me to Sarah Stewart Taylor (who I always hear I should be reading because her books are sort of similiar to mine) and Karen MacInerney who like me is a BookEnds client. So more buying of each other's books and then signing each other's books and then we found Heidi and Tasha and the gang of us rounded up some chairs and talked about...you'll never guess...writing and publishing!!!



You would think it would be boring, wouldn't you, but it isn't because most of the time you have to refrain from blethering nonstop about writing and publishing because normal, sane people, like your friends and family, can't take it. So you try your best to pretend that you're not obsessed and have regular and reasonable interests too. Sooo...after an afternoon of this--again missing all the panels--I went up to my room and indulged in chocolates and wine and pouring (er--PORING--that was a Freudian slip) over my hoard of new (old) books. Absolute and utter heaven for about ninety minutes before I had to get ready for the banquet.

I wore my new black beaded blouse and slit satin skirt--people wear everything there--I saw denim shorts and vintage clothing, but a banquet means dress-up for me and Miss Manners (besides, I like playing dress up). Anyway I was supposed to "host" a table, but no one seemed really clear about what that meant. If I had it to do again--and that might be next year, now that I think of it--I'd order a bottle of wine for the table and maybe supply some kind of party favors. Anyway I was lucky to have a great bunch of people at the table--two terrific ladies from "across the river" Noreen and... her sister's name escapes me, but I'd have loved to chat with them more. And then Sue Stimpson and her partner Jane Dilucchio--Jane who has a new book out called RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE MURDER. Sue Rice and three other very pleasant ladies who were too far across the expanse of water glasses and candles and butter rosettes to really talk to.

The dinner was the usual unremarkable chicken with equally forgettable salad and side. The award ceremony was brief and rather touching--this was the 18th Malice and there was a great deal of reminiscing.

I won't go into the awards as the winners are listed numerous elsewheres. I agreed with some of the votes and strongly disagreed with others--and that's how these things go. It's a great honor to be nominated and winning depends on many variables. In this case winners and nominees were all equally gracious--and Heather Webber (TROUBLE IN SPADES) gets extra points on sheer classiness for putting aside whatever disappointment she may have felt to take a few minutes to listen to me have a career melt-down moment and offer some wise words.

I wound up that evening with Tasha and Heidi and Sara in the bar where we swore an oath in blood and GTs and formed THE GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club. Well, maybe I exaggerate slightly (at least about the blood--there were definitely GTs involved). There's nothing like a weekend of spending too much money and eating too many carbs--and ultimately confessing your darkest insecurities--to move from friendly acquaintanceship to the basis of real friendships and strategic alliances.

(Anyway, you will no doubt hear many stories of Malice Mischief, but take it from me, The GGKFM Club were the last ones to leave the bar. It's just talk, talk, talk with those other authors.)

On Sunday I had my panel CLASS, MANNERS AND OTHER THINGS--and it was one of the best panels I've been on. The topic is one I think we could have all blabbed on and on about forever. I discussed Leslie Ford (particularly appropriate in that setting!) and it all went really well. I was hardly nervous at all.

One of the nicest moments was when Katherine Hall Page, the Guest of Honor (and Agatha winner for best novel) told me before our panel that she had read and loved SONNET OF THE SPHINX--and she really had read it! She actually was able to discuss Peter and Grace's relationship. That just impressed the heck out of me. How incredibly gracious. She even mentioned the book again when we went into the signing hall--and by the way, I actually had a line of people wanting me to sign their books. I admit that floored me. The last convention I went to was three years ago and I might have been a ghost for all anyone noticed me. (That might have had something to do with the bedsheet I wore over my head--I'm KIDDING!)

So that was my little moment in the sun and then Tasha and I met up at Sara's panel (which also went really well) and then we all said our goodbyes and I had to rush off to catch my plane.

The plan is that next year the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY club will stay over on the Sunday in order to relax and have a little mini-vacation--and maybe go to the Tea, which I had to miss since I was flying out at 3:00ish.

So lovely, lovely trip--and on the flight home all the usual disasters happened.

The one bright spot was Sara's MOVING IS MURDER, which I had the foresight to bring on the plane. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a big fan of books with children--let alone a novel that offers the selling point of a "Mom Zone Mystery," but this was very well done. It's low-key and gently paced--the characters are engaging and believable--and the new mother thing is smoothly handled and provides a nice sub-plot. (Kudos for the baby Livvy being a "real" baby. Part of what is so tiresome in books with children is how totally unreal the children are--too cute, too precocious or too much in the way of the plot.) Anyway, Sara did a great job in creating a unique and interesting setting -- the background being that of military spouse. It's a nicely done debut novel.

Anyway, we arrived late in Phoenix and I had only nine minutes to run across the @#$%^*ing airport and make my connecting flight, they lost my luggage, and when I got to Burbank my shuttle driver turned out to be a maniac who ranted and raved at me for being late, nearly ran us off the road several times, and told me all about his co-workers private lives in loud and embarrassing detail. Holy moly! I was never so glad to see home and my dear Mr. Smith!

And now I can't wait for Bouchercon and the next adventures of the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club.

Monday, April 17, 2006

CHASING AMELIA

This week's guest Girl Detective has more secret identities than me! Heidi Vornbrock Roosa was
shortlisted for the 2005 Crimewriter's Association (CWA) Debut Dagger.
She's also a past winner of the Malice Domestic Grant. Heidi writes
psychological thrillers under the nom de plume of Regina Harvey, and,
as McLean Jacobson, she writes about a psychic girl detective by the
name of Suny Davis.

One of the pleasures of attending Malice this year will be the
opportunity to finally hook up with the multi-faceted Ms. Roosa!

===================================



How is a character born? Take the protagonist, Dr. Jacob Baldwin,
from my first completed novel, Fox and Rainbow. He was born of angst
when I decided I didn’t want to become a psychotherapist in the midst
of seeking my degree. That, and a slow ten minutes following a
pick-up truck with a gun rack mounted in the rear window down a
winding back-county road that itself followed the path of the Patapsco
River.



And that’s pretty typical. Take any emotional state a writer is in
at a given moment. Add an odd event, a chance comment overheard, a
scenario that just begs the question, “What if…?” And voila, a
character is born to witness the event, to hear or speak the
comment, to be the actor who walks the “what if” to wherever it leads.



But sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. Take Suny Davis, the
sixteen year-old protagonist in my series that begins with
Extrasensory Deception. She sprang fully formed from my head,
like Athena, spouting a first-person narration that made me
smile as I scrawled. But if I dare to look a little more deeply,
if I check my calendar, diary and library fines receipts for the same
time, I will find that, in truth, Suny Davis did not spring to life
fully formed. And damn it, she didn’t spring from my head alone.



I owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Peters. The author of
the Amelia Peabody series of Victorian archaeological mysteries,
she has also penned contemporary series featuring archaeological
scholar Vicky Bliss and other stand-alones featuring plucky females
of a decidedly not gothic nature. And this debt I owe her?
Firstly and most heavily, I am in her debt for the hours of
reading pleasure and delicious anticipation of those precious
hours she has given me. But also for three other gifts she gave.





First, a little backstory, (the bane of every author’s existence –
bear with me). After I had finished Fox and Rainbow, I quickly
landed an agent, did multiple revisions, then severed the
relationship. It was an awful time. Here I had this angst-filled
crime novel, born of angst, carved into new form in angst-ridden
hours of editing. Then the realization that my agent and I weren’t
suited. Talk about angst. So what did I do? I stopped writing and
began a completely angst-free period of self-indulgent reading.
And one of the treats I allowed myself? The complete
works of Elizabeth Peters.



Of course, Amelia Peabody, the embodiment of what I have coined
as the “oblivious narrator” is a favorite. She, unaware of her
own comic foibles, leads the reader through a first-person account
of tombs and pyramids, temples and excavations, throwing in a few
dead bodies, a multitude of side characters, a recurring uber-villain,
the care and feeding of her polyglot and precocious son, and her own
romantic interludes with husband, Emerson.




And thus, the first gift I received was the tutorial Ms. Peters
had unknowingly given me in creating a sustainably compelling
character. One of the things I loved about Amelia was her way
of living outside the bondage of societal expectations, daily
using her intelligence, her self-righteous attitude, and her
boldness. And Ramses, Amelia’s inordinately bright, vaguely
annoying, multi-lingual son, had won my heart early on by being
the epitome of what I myself once was to a lesser degree. It was
my love of these two characters, and the way they fit into my own
experiences and understanding of the world, that led me to
create Suny Davis.



Raised more by the books in the libraries where her father
stashed her while off on various globe-trotting adventures
than by the father himself, Suny is a Victorian throwback
teenager, much-traveled and able to speak multiple languages,
though socially-inept, and worse, unaware of her ineptitude.
Imagine my satisfaction as reader after reader has mentioned
Peter’s Amelia in the descriptions of why they love Suny.



The second gift Ms. Peters gave me is the annual Malice
Domestic traditional mystery convention. I discovered it
in a roundabout way. Such a fan am I of Ms. Peters that
I decided to stalk her. Easy enough, she lives in a historic
farmhouse less than thirty miles away from my Columbia,
Maryland home. And -- bonus -- my daughter is friends with
the daughter of the landscape designer who installed her
Egyptian-inspired garden. Alas, after much traversing of
local historic farmland and much begging of the landscape
designer to allow me to personally weed Ms. Peters’s garden,
I still could not get close to the woman. I did, however,
trip over the fact that she would be honored with a Lifetime
Achievement Award at the annual traditional mystery convention
in Washington D.C., Malice Domestic, a convention she helped
bring into being. And, lo and behold, they sponsored a grant
for the encouragement of unpublished writers. The first three
chapters of Extrasensory Deception (then titled Hypothesis for
Murder) won the 2004 Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished
Writers. If her writing had not inspired my obsession, I would
not have gained this experience and recognition.




The last gift I have to thank her for is my name. My pseudonym,
that is. Or, rather, one of my pseudonyms… Truth is, Elizabeth
Peters is the pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, a doctor of Egyptology,
who also writes romantic suspense as Barbara Michaels. Confused?
Wait, let me add a few more names in there. I wanted something cute
and chick-lit-like for the Suny Davis books. My own name is an
unpronounceable mouthful and the pseudonym I was considering for
the darker books I was writing (Regina Harvey) was already, in my
mind, a harder, more sinister name. So I did what Ms. Mertz did
when faced with a publisher who thought her mysteries were too
different from her romantic suspense books. I used my children’s
names to create a nom de plume. Now, Ms. Mertz had it pretty
straight-forward with an Elizabeth and a Peter, but I wasn’t going
to have such an easy time of it. In the end, I use the “Mc” from
my daughter, Mikaela, the “Lean” from my other daughter’s middle
name, Lane, and “Jacobson,” from my son, Jacob. So, if Extrasensory
Deception is published, look for it in the mystery section,
by author, McLean Jacobson.



Too bad it won’t be closer on the shelves to Elizabeth Peters,
but you can’t have it all.



More about Elizabeth Peters can
be found on her fan site.