Fiction Review

Mary Miley’s Favorite Mysteries

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Mary Miley is the author of three historical mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties. The third in the series, Renting Silence, was just released in the U.S. The books feature Hollywood “script girl” Jessie Beckett. Mary summarizes the book. “This latest book takes Jessie from silent films back into the world of vaudeville to track down a performer with something to hide. At the request of her silent film star boss, Mary Pickford, Jessie uses her vaudeville talents the investigate the murder of an extra by a Hollywood actress already sentenced to death for the crime. Her inquiries lead to the discovery of a blackmailer and more than a dozen actors facing ruin or even death if their secrets are exposed. If the convicted actress is innocent, then who killed the blackmailer?”

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You can find out more about Mary Miley at her website, http://marymileytheobald.com. And, we can order Renting Silence and Miley’s other Roaring Twenties mysteries through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2h4bxw7

Mary responded when I asked mystery authors to tell me about their favorite mysteries of 2016. She picked two.

“I write historical mysteries because I love reading historical mysteries, so it is no surprise that I’m blogging today about two of my favorite historical mysteries that were published this year.”

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1. MURDER AT HESSIAN’S BRIDGE by Rod Sterling, published by Silver Leaf Books. A paratrooper hero of D-Day survives the war in one piece only to be beheaded by evil spirits in his home town – or was he? While being initiated into a secret society, George Panabaker must spend the night on a so-called haunted bridge. The next morning his body is identified only by the Airborne tattoo on his arm because his head is missing. The locals hush it up to avoid negative publicity. So it’s up to George’s paratrooper buddy, private detective Tony Donohoo, to get to the bottom of the story. With the aid of his sexy, mouthy, red-haired girlfriend, Mindy McCall, he unravels the mystery. This is the third in Sterling’s series set in New Jersey in the 1950s. Since the author is a former investigator who worked in New Jersey in the 1950s, the story reeks of authenticity, with many of the details borrowed from his own experiences. Readers who grew up during the Fifties will delight in the subtle references to people, movies, food, and clothing of the era; those for whom the Fifties are ancient history will get a kick out of Sterling’s fresh voice and off-beat sense of humor. MURDER AT HESSIAN’S BRIDGE is a romp back in time.
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2. JOURNEY TO MUNICH by Jacqueline Winspear, published by Harper. Maisie Dobbs goes undercover for the British Secret Service to escort an elderly British citizen home. On the surface of it, not a particularly difficult an assignment . . . but of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. Mystery readers love a series where they can really come to know the characters, and Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs is one of the best. This is Winspear’s 12th book, set in 1938 in Hitler’s Germany just before the outbreak of World War II. The author capably portrays the tension in pre-war Europe while delivering what I would call a spy story more than a traditional mystery. My suggestion to readers is to begin at the beginning of the series—and not as I did, in the middle—so the characters and overarching plot will be clear.
We’ll have to special order the books for you, but give Poisoned Pen a chance through the Web Store. http://store.poisonedpen.com/

Jane Cleland, In the Hot Seat

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Jane Cleland, author of Glow of Death, is actually here at The Poisoned Pen for two events on Saturday, December 10. She’s hosting a writer’s workshop from noon to 2 PM, and she and author Ellen Crosby are signing books at the Champagne Christmas Party at 2 that day. Before she is caught up in the book tour whirl, I caught up with Jane for an “In the Hot Seat” interview.

Jane, would you introduce yourself to readers?

Sure…. hello! I’m Jane Cleland, the author of the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries, now eleven strong. (Glow of Death came out this past November.) Josie is an antiques appraiser who uses her knowledge of antiques to solve crimes. The books are often reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. One of the Josie short stories, “Killing Time,” is available on my website if any of your readers want to give Josie a whirl to see if she’s their cup of tea!

I am also a teacher of writing. I’m a member of the fulltime faculty at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York system (CUNY). In line with my teaching efforts, I wrote a book about the craft called Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, which seems to resonate with new and expert writers alike. I’m thrilled about that!

In addition, I chair the Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA, www.nerowolfe.org) given by the Wolfe Pack, the literary society that celebrates all things Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout’s legendary detective, in partnership with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

I’m married, and I live in New York City.

I’ve been impressed with the changes in Josie Prescott in the course of the series. Would you introduce her?

Thank you! Right out of college, Josie landed a plum of a job at Frisco’s, one of the biggest and most important antiques auction houses in the world. A few years later, she got caught up in a major price-fixing scandal. (People went to jail… this actually happened, by the way. It involved Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Everything else I’m telling you is fiction!)

Josie was the whistle blower. She thought she’d be honored for doing the right thing. Instead, she was shunned by her so-called friends, hounded by the press, and eventually, she lost her job “for not being a team player.”

Then her much-loved father died, and two weeks after that, her boyfriend at the time (who is always and only referred to as Rick the Cretin) dumps her, saying she’s gotten to be a total downer. Can you imagine?

Josie lives by her father’s precepts, one of which says that when you feel as if you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on, and if you can’t hang on, move on. Josie lasted about a year, and then she moved on. She moved from New York City to Rocky Point, New Hampshire, and opened her own business, Prescott’s Antiques & Auctions.

Her company runs monthly themed, high-end auctions and a weekly tag sale. Her business is doing well, and growing at a good clip. Since her boyfriend, Ty Alverez, a training guru for Homeland Security, might get a promotion and therefore, they’d need to relocate to Washington D.C., Josie is positioning her company to expand—maybe she’ll open a second location in Georgetown.

At first, Josie was reeling from her losses. Over time, though, she’s found friends she cherishes and a man she adores.

Without spoilers, tell us about Glow of Death.

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Glow of Death, the 11th Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery (from St. Martin’s Minotaur), tells the tale of rare Tiffany lamps, broken dreams, and betrayal.

Josie is called in by Edwin and Ava Towson to appraise a purported Tiffany lamp, and to her delight, she is able to report that it is genuine. Within days, Ava is murdered, and when Josie is asked to identify the body, she’s realizes she’s been snookered—she’s never met the real Ava Towson, now dead. Kirkus wrote: “An antiques appraiser get scammed, gets mad, and gets even… A cozy replete with antiques lore, likable characters, and a more complex mystery than usual.”

You and Josie have both worked in the antiques world. What was your favorite antique in the course of the series, and the story behind it?

I’ve enjoyed researching many of the antiques I’ve written about including a rare Chinese vase (Killer Keepsakes) and Fabregé eggs (Blood Rubies), but my favorite is probably the art stolen by the Nazis (Consigned to Death).

I owned a rare book store back in the 80s. One day I went to a woman’s house to look at her books; she was thinking of selling them. I was 28 and to me, she seemed old. Seventy or more. As an aside, I will mention that once I hit my fifties, seventy doesn’t seem the least bit old to me! In any event… on that day back in the mid-80s, this woman led me through her house to the study… I’ve never seen so many paintings in one place in my life, museums included. Every inch of wall space in the entry hall, the living room, even in the hallway, was covered. Don’t misunderstand—the paintings weren’t artfully arranged… they were wedged in. As I passed by, I recognized what I assumed were reproductions—a Matisee, a Monet, a Cezanne. We turned a corner and boom, there was the most beautiful painting… I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Rembrandt self portrait. I gasped and exclaimed… suddenly realizing that it must be real. No way could those tones and that brushwork be a reproduction. And if it was real… was it possible that they all were real?

“It’s gorgeous,” I said.

“Yeah, nice, huh?” she replied. “It’s a little something my brother brought home from the War.”

I didn’t know what that meant, not really. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later when Elizabeth Taylor was sued by a woman claiming that a Renoir Ms. Taylor owned had been stolen from her Jewish relatives by the Nazis that I realized the significance of those paintings on that woman’s walls. I don’t mean to imply her brother stole them… think of the difficulty the allies must have had returning them to their rightful owners after the War…  most of the owners and most of their heirs were dead. Still… how did a U.S. soldier come into possession of scores of master works? I got curious and my curiosity drove me to research. Through my research I learned that the FBI estimates that nearly 20 percent of all Western art was stolen by the Nazis during the War. Twenty percent! They think that nearly 100,000 pieces are still to this day missing. That woman’s throw-away line… a little something my brother brought home from the War… that’s the basis of the plot of the first Josie book, Consigned to Death.

You’re hosting a Writer’s Workshop at The Poisoned Pen. What do you cover in those two hours?

The name of the workshop is called Mastering Story Structure With Jane’s Plotting Roadmap. Here’s the description: Structure is the foundation of your story—you’ll learn when to use a linear structure and when a nonlinear structures is the better choice. Using Jane’s Plotting Road Map helps you translate your story into a well-structured and deliciously complex plot or storyline. This workshop shows how to use structure to build suspense, and is based on my book, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot. The book was published last spring by Writer’s Digest Books.

Tell us about your love of Nero Wolfe.

Lesa, this is an excellent question, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer it.

I feel a deep, visceral connection with the two protagonists, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. It isn’t merely as if I know them; it’s as if they know me, that we’re family.

I don’t merely love the stories, I’m a student of them. As an author, I study them for pacing, characterization, backstory, and a gazillion other factors. The author, Rex Stout, was a master of plotting, dialogue, and lean descriptions. As a fan, I’m active in the Wolfe Pack, the literary society that celebrates all things Nero Wolfe. I’m the chair of the Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA), an annual award we give  in partnership with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

I discovered the books when I was in college. My favorites are those written in the late 1940s to the late 1960s. (Mr. Stout wrote them from 1934 to 1973.)

One of the things I love is finding themes in the books. For instance, the books are, on one level, a love story to New York City. They’re also a story of devotion between two men who, on a superficial level, differ in almost everyway: Mr. Wolfe is sedentary. Archie is a man of action. Mr. Wolfe is agoraphobic (undiagnosed). Archie loves getting out and about. Mr. Wolfe is a gourmet. Archie loves corned beef sandwiches from Al’s Diner down the street. And so on.

Each year, the Wolfe Pack sponsors a banquet. One of the things we do is have attendees give toasts, one each to Mr. Stout, Mr. Wolfe, Archie, Fritz (the chef and housekeeper), and “other,” which includes anyone or anything the toaster chooses. Here’s the toast I gave to “other” a few years ago, which I think explains what I’m talking about. I just love these books!

Jane K. Cleland’s Toast to “Other”

To Sally and the Gals

About a year ago, when rereading one or other of the titles for the umteenth time, I became aware of a theme in the opus that I had never before noticed: Gals who try to do the right thing.

Archie admires them. Mr. Wolfe respects them. Fritz frets over their presence. And tonight I want to toast them.

There’s Amy Jackson, better known as Julie Jacquette of BIG MAN, GO GO fame, who can say the alphabet backwards and who puts her life on the line in Death of a Doxy to help catch her friend’s killer.

There’s Madeline Sperling who, in The Second Confession, helps Archie learn facts about the family and guests. She invites him to visit when he was pretty much persona non grata, telling him that he was welcome … that if she can’t let him in openly, she’d just as soon he stay out. She was helpful and supportive and she didn’t push. As an aside, Archie said he was going to follow up with her, and I’ve always been sorry that he didn’t. I like Madeline Sperling.

There are others, of course: Annabel Frey who in In the Best Families, tried to hire Archie to find a killer; Mr. Wolfe’s daughter, Carla Britton, who in Black Mountain, goes to Montenegro to protect the cause she and Marko cared so much about, and died for her efforts. And let’s not forget Phoebe Gunther from The Silent Speaker who, Mr. Wolfe said, “…displayed remarkable tenacity, audacity, and even imagination in using the murder of Mr. Boone for a purpose he would have desired, approved, and applauded.” Phoebe also died trying to do the right thing.

But to me, the quintessential gal who tries to do the right thing is Sally Blount from Gambit. Sally sells her jewelry to raise $22,000—a fitting amount, she thinks, because she’s 22 years old. She hires Mr. Wolfe to save her father from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in the face of extraordinary opposition. Her mother, Dan Kalmus, her father’s lawyer, even her father himself tell her, beg her, even order her to stop. But she sticks with it, because as she explains to Archie and Mr. Wolfe, this is the first good thing she’s ever done.

So I ask that you join me tonight in toasting Sally Blount and all the gals who try to do the right thing. To Sally and the gals!

We often are invited to host a Wolfe Pack banquet at Bouchercon. Our next one will be at the 2017 Toronto Bouchercon. I hope your readers will join us and see for themselves what all the fuss is about! We have so much fun!

As host of Writer’s Room, you interviewed crime fiction authors. What was your favorite question to ask them? Would you answer it?

Q: Why did you write “that”?

A: My answer: I don’t know. Seriously, I learned from these extraordinary authors that while we can understand some aspects of the writing process, much of what we do happens on a deeper, less conscious level.  There’s more mystery in the production of art than many people, myself included, want or  expect.

What authors have inspired you?

William Zinsser, for whom teaching writers was a calling. Dr. Michael Austin, whose textbook, Reading the World: Ideas that Matter, lived up to the promise of its title, and changed my life. Ruth Chessman, an extraordinary mystery writer, and my mother.

Other than your own, name several books you would never part with.

In alphabetical order, by author:

 

  • Michael Austin, Reading the World: Ideas that Matter
  • Ruth Chessman, Bound for Freedom
  • Georgette Heyer, Cotillion, Frederica, The Reluctant Widow, and Venetia, among others.
  • Paul Huan & Ned Deloach. Reef Fish Identification
  • Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • Irwin Shaw, Nightwork.
  • Rex Stout, Before Midnight, Black Mountain, Death of a Doxy, Murder by the Book, Plot It Yourself, The Silent Speaker, among others.

 

  •  William Zinsser, On Writing Well

What author would you like to recommend who you think has been underappreciated?

I don’t know that Maria Semple is underappreciated, but I certainly recommend her! I suggest readers start with Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Thank you, Jane. As I said, you can meet Jane on Dec. 10 at The Poisoned Pen. And, you can order a signed copy of Glow of Death through the Web Store.  http://bit.ly/2ggN3QE

 

James Church & Inspector O

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You probably missed the fascinating story about “James Church”, the mysterious author of the Inspector O crime novels set in North Korea. Written by Tim Sullivan, it was featured on AP’s “The Big Story” in August. http://apne.ws/2gah2Il

Now that we have signed copies of the latest Inspector O novel, The Gentleman from Japan, we thought you might want to read Sullivan’s story about the author.

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Here’s the summary of the book.

James Church’s Inspector O novels have been hailed as “crackling good” ( The Washington Post ). Now Church-a former Western intelligence officer who pulls back the curtain on the hidden world of North Korea in a way that no one else can-comes roaring back with an unputdownable new novel.

A Spanish factory near Barcelona is secretly producing-under the guise of a dumpling maker-a key machine for the production of nuclear weapons. Western intelligence has gotten wind of this and believes that the machine is meant for North Korea. It is deemed imperative either to disable the machine before it leaves the factory or intercept it. Inspector O is recruited by an old friend to take part in an operation to disrupt the plans for shipping the machine.

The buyer of the machine has constructed an elaborate double-blind story, making it appear as if the purchaser is a Japanese criminal organization acting on behalf of the North Koreans. Information has been carefully planted and events set up to lead Western intelligence operatives to that conclusion. The feints include a flurry of murders in the northeast Chinese city of Yanji, on the border with North Korea, where O’s nephew is the chief of State Security.

Church’s latest Inspector O novel full of suspense, is not one that you will be able to stop reading.

You can buy a signed copy of The Gentleman from Japan through the Web Store.  http://bit.ly/2gefSNs

Kaye Wilkinson Barley’s Favorite Christmas Mystery

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I should have known what Kaye Wilkinson Barley would pick as her favorite Christmas mystery when I asked friends in the crime fiction community to write pieces for the blog. But, I’m saving the special photo for the end.

You might know Kaye from DorothyL or Jungle Red Writers (www.jungleredwriters.com). She has the space at Jungle Reds on the first Sunday of each month. She’s the author of Whimsey: A Novel, and My Name is Harley and This is My Story. Barley has also written short stories for anthologies including this year’s Bouchercon collection, Blood on the Bayou. Kaye blogs at www.meanderingsandmuses.com. Her author page is www.kayewilkinsonbarley.com.

Thanks for the piece, Kaye!

*****

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My favorite Christmas mystery is Margaret Maron’s “Corpus Christmas,”  and I re-read it every year during the holidays.  The scene is The Erich Bruel House, referred to as “a relic of Manhattan’s Gilded Age.”  This is a Sigrid Harald novel and probably my favorite of the series, although I recommend the series be read in order.  Sigrid and Oscar Nauman, famous artist and Sigrid’s significant other, are attending a Christmas party at the Bruel House in Oscar’s honor.  The Bruel House has lived many years on art donations, public monetary donations and a trust fund that is dwindling.  Trustees, old and new, have differing opinions on how to bring The Bruel House back to its once proud glory.  A trustee is found dead the morning after the party and Sigrid returns to the scene to investigate, which is much more her métier than party guest, as she is not a social person, by any means.  There’s no shortage of suspects as the dead trustee was pretty much no one’s favorite person.  If you like Christmas mysteries, you’ll enjoy Corpus Christmas. If, like me, you’re a fan of art and the people who populate the art world, this is a book for you.

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Kaye Wilkinson Barley and Margaret Maron

If you’re looking for copies of Margaret Maron’s Corpus Christmas or Kaye Wilkinson Barley’s Whimsey: A Novel, we can special order them through the Web Store for you. http://store.poisonedpen.com/

Mark Pryor and His Love of Paris

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Author Mark Pryor set several of his Hugo Marston mysteries in Paris, including his first one, The Bookseller, and his most recent, The Paris Librarian.

If you’re a fan of the series, or of Paris, you might want to read Pryor’s article in The Good Life: France Magazine. Pryor discusses his love of the city in “Paris Mon Amour“. http://joom.ag/GjkQ/p50

Mark Pryor’s books feature Hugo Marston, former FBI profiler turned head of security at the U.S. embassy in London. They’re available through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2grxvLv

Pierce Brown for AuthorShorts

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Pierce Brown, author of the Red Rising trilogy, recently did an AuthorShorts for Penguin Random House. He talks about his career before writing, and the ideal environment for writing.

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Here’s the clip. https://youtu.be/uYavZJ1LJKU?list=PLAEeCVmw82hVA1X0cNUrLx7swnfiBokxb

Pierce has been at The Poisoned Pen several times. Red Rising and the sequels are available through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2gRd2N6

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Hot Book of the Week

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Did you see that Linda Fairstein’s Into the Lion’s Den is the Hot Book of the Week?

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Here’s the description from the Web Store if you’re thinking about buying it as a gift.

Watch out, Nancy Drew—Devlin Quick is smart, strong, and she will DEFINITELY close the case in this thrilling new mystery series for girls and boys from New York Times bestselling author Linda Fairstein

Someone has stolen a page from a rare book in the New York Public Library. At least, that’s what Devlin’s friend Liza thinks she’s seen, but she can’t be sure. Any other kid might not see a crime here, but Devlin Quick is courageous and confident, and she knows she has to bring this man to justice—even if it means breathlessly racing around the city to collect evidence. But who is this thief? And what could the page—an old map—possibly lead to? With her wits, persistence, and the help of New York City’s finest (and, okay, a little bit of help from her police commissioner mother, too), Dev and her friends piece the clues together to uncover a mystery that’s bigger than anyone expected—and more fun, too.

With all of the heart-pounding excitement that made her internationally bestselling Alexandra Cooper series a hit, Linda Fairstein paves the way for another unstoppable heroine . . . even if she is only twelve.

We have signed copies available. http://bit.ly/2gQZJfL

Linda Fairstein has been writing mysteries since she was just about Devlin Quick’s age, as shown in this video from Penguin Random House. https://youtu.be/C_8jnUO4Euw?list=PLAEeCVmw82hVA1X0cNUrLx7swnfiBokxb

Just think, your gift of this book could set a new writer on the same path as Linda Fairstein.