Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ultimate High

When I saw my first book on a shelf in a bookstore, I thought I was experiencing the ultimate high. I stared at the spine, rereading the title and my name, thinking — this is it. Life will never get any better than this. But I was wrong. A year later, when my book was out in paperback, I had another experience that topped that one completely.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I was riding the Metro in Washington DC, to Union station where I was going to catch a train home to Philadelphia. I was depressed because I had spent a wonderful weekend with my daughter and her family and I hated to leave. While trying to drum up some enthusiasm for the week ahead, I stared at the subway car filling up with people dripping from the rain. My gaze fell on a man in a neat raincoat. He grabbed the center pole and took a paperback book from his pocket and began reading. I was too far away to see the title, but the cover was vaguely familiar . . .

It was MY book!

Someone I didn’t know was reading MY book! I watched his face intently as he read, looking for every nuance of expression. Suddenly he smiled! What had I written that had made him smile? I tried to gauge how far along he was in the book. It looked as if he had read about thirty pages. Let’s see, that would be about Chapter Four. What was that about? I tried to remember . . .

The man was totally engrossed. People jostled him on either side, but he didn’t look up once. Maybe he would be so engrossed he would miss his stop. What a victory that would be! But, no, when the garbled announcement for the next stop came over the intercom, my reader closed the book (MY book), stuffed it into his raincoat pocket, (a little roughly, I thought) and prepared to get off the train. I wanted to rush up and ask him how he liked it, but of course that was impossible. I watched him make his way through the crowd on the station platform until he disappeared. It was like seeing a good friend disappear, although we had never met.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Louise Penny: The Canadian Agatha Christie

I met Louise Penny in Joe and Bonnie’s Black Orchid Mystery Bookshop (sadly no longer with us) in Yorkville in 2006, just after the U.S. release of her debut novel, Still Life. As it happened, I’d already read it on Joe’s and Bonnie’s recommendation (They were never wrong). I was not a fan of ‘cozy’, ‘traditional’ or ‘Village’ mysteries — all terms used to categorize crime novels that lack serial killers, graphic sex and bloody denouements. The only Agatha Christie I’d ever read was And Then There Were None when I was in High School and even then appreciated the inventive plot. Having this year published Bury Your Dead, the sixth entry in her series describing the cases of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, the elite Homicide Squad of the Canadian Province of Quebec-- with this novel, Louise Penny cements her claim, in the repeated opinion of reviewers, to be the modern Agatha Christie. Actually, she’s better.

Her first three novels — Still Life, A Fatal Grace, and The Cruelest Month — are set in Three Pines, a village in rural Quebec just south of Montreal near the Vermont border (not coincidentally, Ms. Penny’s real home is in that same geographical location). Three Pines is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and their secrets, or at least think they do; an Easter egg hunt on the Common is big doings, and the social life revolves around Olivier’s Bistro, a B & B operated by two gay men: Olivier, the business man, and Gabri, the giant chef. In Still Life, the retired schoolteacher is killed by an arrow; in A Fatal Grace, a predatory businesswoman scouting properties, is electrocuted on the shore of a frozen lake as she watches the annual Christmas Curling Tournament; in The Cruelest Month, as the villagers are celebrating Easter with a séance in a haunted mansion, the site of two old murders, the psychic drops dead, apparently from fright. Ms. Penny is a terrifically inventive storyteller: her plots layered, the red herrings ingeniously placed to distract from the fair-play clues and surprising twists. The early novels were published first in Canada, then in the U.S. Still Life won the New Blood Dagger from the British Crime Writers Association in 2004, and the Anthony, Barry and Dilys Awards here in 2006. A Fatal Grace won the Agatha Award for Best Novel in 2007.

The thing that compels reviewers to call Ms. Penny a modern Christie is her literary style and the number and depth of her characters. She is a careful writer, the craft evident in her atmospheric scene-setting, the richness of her language, and the leisureliness of her storytelling. There is nothing flashy with her, no pounding thrills; she simply hooks you into the world and lives of her characters from Scene One.

Her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a big man, a comfortable presence, cultured, sensitive, an intuitive detective. Reviewers compare him to Hercule Poirot, Columbo, Maigret. I don’t think so. He is, instead, kin to Superintendant Martin Beck of the Stockholm police — the detective in the series of ten novels written by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo in the 1960’s and 70’s — but, in Penny’s case, without the Swedish dour. And cut from the same cloth as Inspector Piet Van der Valk, of Nicholas Freeling’s novels set in Amsterdam in the 1960’s and 70’s. Van der Valk is from the blue-collar classes, a maverick to his police superiors to the detriment of his career, but respected by his team. Like Gamache, less polished but with a French wife, Arlette, and a lover of good food. There is no end of delicious descriptions by Penny of the fare consumed by Chief Inspector Gamage and his team at Olivier’s Bistro.

Louise Penny has peopled her Three Pines mysteries with a large, fleshed-out cast of characters. We’re privy to the intimate family life of Chief Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie and the personalities of the cops in his Squad: their private lives and weaknesses. There is his fiercely loyal second-in-command Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, a tireless investigator but short on empathy for co-workers or witnesses. Agent Isabelle Lacoste, reliable, committed, emotionally-solid. Agent Yvette Nichol — the Chief’s special project — smart, disturbed, unreliable. The denizens of Three Pines are even more quirky and numerous: the Bistro couple, Olivier and Gabri, very different personalities (one a potential murderer). Clara and Peter Morrow, both painters, the husband successful but zealous of his as yet unknown, intuitive-genius wife. Myrna, the bookstore owner, a psychologist who fled the City, the only black in the village. Ruth Zardo, a foul-mouthed, septuagenarian poet of genius whose companion on walks around the village is a duck named Rosa. And any number of resident-suspects.

Bury Your Dead, the new Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, is what some would irritatingly call the author’s “breakout book”. Except, Louise Penny is already broke out, her excellent novels long-past discovered. Bury the Dead is outstanding, her best ever. Gamarche is in Quebec City, recuperating from wounds and grief, the cause of which is revealed piecemeal and brilliantly in the course of the novel. He is staying with his former boss and mentor in his house within the ancient walled city during Winter Carnival Week. To divert his troubled mind, Gamache is researching a mystery that surrounds the 1759 Battle of Quebec that gave the English the City. He reads daily in the ancient manuscripts preserved at the Literary and Historical Society, a little-known bastion of the English in French Quebec. And then a body is found in the basement of the Society, recently murdered, and the Chief Inspector is persuaded to lend a hand, which becomes a search for the lost burial place of Samuel de Champlain, the City’s founder, and for the reason that the foremost searcher for Champlain’s body, a Frenchman, ended up buried in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society of the hated English.

Bury Your Dead is the most elaborate and well-constructed mystery I’ve read since Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Penny interweaves three separate storylines — the murder in the basement; the recurrent nightmares of the ambush by terrorists that nearly killed himself and Beauvoir; the reopening of the Three Pines murder investigation (detailed in A Brutal Telling) that put his friend, Olivier, in prison. All is told in startling and original detail, as in this symbolic description of Gamache walking his German Shepherd Henri on the snow-piled streets of Quebec City on an austerely beautiful, numbingly cold evening:

“Picking up a handful of snow, the Chief Inspector mashed it into a ball in his fist. Henri immediately stood, his tail going so hard his entire rear swayed. His eyes burning into the ball. Gamache tossed it into the air and the dog leapt, his mouth closing over the snowball, and chomping down. Landing on all fours, Henri was once again surprised that the thing that had been so solid had suddenly disappeared. Gone, so quickly . . . But next time would be different.”

Friday, January 28, 2011


You will recall that last week I put a trailer together for The Brink of Fame, the second book in the Emily Daggett Weiss mystery series, the one where our intrepid heroine is forced to go to pre-WWI Hollywood and search for a missing silent film star. To my eye, the trailer is charming and totally deserves to go viral. So far, however, the trailer has been viewed only twenty-four times, probably twenty of those times by me.

I went to a party last Saturday — a Burns Night party, awash with single-malt Scotch — and began to complain about my lack of exposure to anyone who would listen. "Does your trailer have cats in it?" someone said. "People like to look at cats on YouTube. You should put cats in your trailer."

"Cats! Brilliant! I'll take a pound of catnip and a video camera to Tabby's Place (a nearby shelter for sick and unwanted cats), get all the cats stoned, and take videos of them frolicking and romping!"

"Great. You can tell them you came to adopt a cat, but your husband is very choosy, and you have to photograph them so that he can look at them."

That would explain the camera. But the catnip — Wait. Would that be ethical, to take catnip to the animal shelter? Or would it be like taking a pound of marijuana to a juvenile home? Should people even give catnip to their own cats? Doesn't that make junkies out of them? Surely that would be wrong.

As I was pondering these issues, another of the party guests pointed out that some cats react badly to catnip, turn into mean drunks, as it were, and that many cats at Tabby's Place were on medications that might cause dangerous interactions.

"Oh, go ahead," my husband said. "Only make sure you take your cell phone, so that you can call me from jail."

Upon sober reflection I gave up the Tabby's Place idea. I'm still looking for goofy footage of cats, however. I have six months to get this book into the public eye. The Cat Trailer may well be my next step.

— Kate Gallison

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dickensian God

Following the Equator,
Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar
—Mark  Twain
In a cottage in a splendid garden on the side of Nevis Peak, on the first morning of a paradisiacal vacation, my husband David asked, "Who do you think we will see today that we know?" I had awakened with the same question in mind. We had not been on Nevis for thirty-five years. The island is remote and relatively unknown. So why you might well wonder would we, two run-of-the-mill New Yorkers, expect to find people we knew, especially since we were staying in a private house and were going to spend our days walking in the rain forest and having lunches at a tiny hotel where we might see twenty other guests at the VERY most. The only reasonable assumption would be that we and all whom we encountered would remain incognito. But considering our travel history, we knew incredible coincidences could happen.

Monkey Rock Cottage
Beginning with our first trip together, and over more than three decades of marriage, we have consistently and amazingly run into friends, or friends of friends, in the unlikeliest of places. On Trip One, we met David's colleague's college roommate in the garden of the Ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli, outside Rome. On another trip, David literally bumped into a friend in Malpensa Airport. In a crowd of half a million at an antiwar demonstration on the Mall in Washington, we found ourselves picnicking next to friends we had not seen in three years.

Garden of the Ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli
The tendency may be genetic, and in fact seems to be intensifying in the next generation. At age seventeen, our daughter met a high school classmate in the fifth floor corridor of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. Last year, at a yoga retreat on a remote beach in Costa Rica, two hours by car from the nearest airport, she met two women, strangers until then, who turned out to be the wife and daughter of a Neapolitan cousin of mine.

Rain Forest Trail
How, I wonder could I ever make such events plausible if I wanted to put them in a novel? Let's imagine a scene. An American couple on vacation on a remote tropical island have had a premonition of meeting someone they know.
Walking through a rain forest on their way to lunch at a small, secluded hotel, they lose their way and stop at a beautiful house to ask directions. The lady of the house graciously helps them and tells them how lovely the hotel is, that it has all the charm of the sugar plantation it once was despite the recent renovations.
Brice Marden

"The new partners have kept everything in the best of taste," she tells them. "They are the American painter Brice Marden and his wife."
Golden Rock Hotel
The couple exclaim, "Brice and Helen! They were our next-door neighbors in Greenwich Village years ago." The New York couple walk on for a short distance and find their old neighbors as soon as they enter the hotel grounds.

Watercolour of Mr Micawber 
from David Copperfield by 'Kyd'
Some writers can make this sort of coincidence work in fiction. I believed it when David Copperfield just happened upon Mr. Micawber again many years after their first acquaintance. I, on the other hand, wouldn't have the nerve to try such a thing in a novel.

My own actual experiences are often stranger than fiction. If there is a higher power guiding my steps, I think he must be the ghost of Charles Dickens.

Annamaria Alfieri
Charles Dickens looks like God to me!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jumping Off the Merry-Go-Round

Kenneth Wishnia teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Long Island, where he is an Associate Professor of English.His first novel, 23 Shades of Black, was nominated for the Edgar and the Anthony Awards and made Booklist’s Best First Mystery list, and was followed by four other novels, including Soft Money, which Library Journal listed as one of the Best Mysteries of the Year, and Red House, which was a Washington Post Book World “Rave” Book of the Year in 2002. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Murder in Vegas, Queens Noir, and elsewhere.

My career trajectory has landed me on more “Retooling in Mid-Career” panels than I’d care to mention. At Bouchercon 2010, I was on a panel with the cheery title of “Deathwatch: Keeping a Series Going or Knowing When to Stop,” which was held at 8:30 AM, no less. (Fortunately Parnell Hall was there to lift our spirits with one of his signature comical ditties.)

This is a provocative subject, considering that I published five novels in six years in my Edgar-nominated series before I jumped off the book-a-year merry-go-round to start working on a Jewish-themed historical thriller that took me nearly seven years to research and write (The Fifth Servant, Morrow 2010). And don’t be fooled by the “five novels in six years” line, either. It took me 15 years to write those books.

But I have no interest in plowing the same field again, even though, at nearly every reading or book event that I do for The Fifth Servant, someone asks me when the sequel is coming out. Well, there is no sequel. Why not? Because it would suck. (That’s a technical term we writers use.) Because I put absolutely everything I had into this one book, and I would just be watering down the recipe if I tried to stretch it to another book. I wish some others would do the same.

I have to admit that, although I respect and admire and--yes--envy my friends and colleagues who have made the transition to writing full time, the recent work of some mighty famous big shots has disappointed me. Several recent titles by big-ticket authors (no names, please) have started out fabulously--because after all, they were written by masters of the craft--before petering out with run-of-the-mill or paint-by-numbers second halfs. And I’m beginning to ask why I should be expected to spend time and money reading a book that the author hasn’t thrown him/herself into utterly and completely.

The answer, of course, is that the system of commercial publication thrives on such production habits.

No disrespect to the folks who are paying their rent by writing yet another installment in a series that, as one writer admitted to me, will not outlive her. I’d love to be paying my rent by full-time writing, too. But since Suffolk Community College is paying my rent (you know, the day job), even though it takes up a great deal of my time, it has also allowed me to write whatever I want, to leap into the unknown, and to risk being called a fool for trying something different. And thanks to that, I’ve grown tremendously as a writer. I’d rather write a handful of books that will still be read in a hundred years than a string of commercial hits that might make me rich, but will soon be forgotten.

Perhaps it’s fortunate that I feel this way, since I’ve been forced into this position by fate and my own missteps when I was younger and much more naïve about the business of publishing. But at this point I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Which is good, since I appear to have no choice.

--Kenneth Wishnia

Monday, January 24, 2011

First Book Signing

Not mine. My seven-year-old grandson, Luke’s. Last spring he had written a “chapter book” for school, entitled “Iron Man.” It had nine chapters and was even illustrated. Some highlights — a trip to the “ Iron Cream Store” to buy “iron cream cones” and a gift of a zebra who wasn’t “potty-trained.” I was so taken with his tale that I rashly promised to publish it.

"Would you like an inscription, or just my signature?"
Luke was thrilled and gave me his manuscript. Weeks went buy, then months, until one day I received a polite email from his mother (my daughter) reminding me of my promise. It seems the author was getting restless. Chagrinned, I told his mother to tell Luke that it usually takes a year to publish a book, and got to work immediately.

I typed the manuscript in 14 pt type and added a dedication: “To Mom, Dad and Maddie (his sister) with love,” and an “About the Author” section at the back, describing Luke’s seven year life, plus a photo of him in his Little League uniform. Then I took his full-color illustrations to a copy-store to copy. Being mechanically challenged (I have probably destroyed millions of dollars worth of equipment in my life) I had to ask an employee to help me. With copies in hand I went home, got out my light table (a relic from a former stint in the graphic arts), scissors and rubber cement, and began the paste-up. (I know, I know, nobody does that anymore. But I don’t have a scanner, and even if I did, I probably wouldn’t know how to work it. I had to fall back on my ancient skills.)

Once the paste-up was done, I took it back to the copy-shop and told them I would like four volumes of the book printed and bound with hard covers. This posed a problem. A hardcover binding can’t be done with less than 1 ¼ inches of paper. Luke’s book was only one inch wide. Sensing my consternation, the young woman, whose name was Erika, suggested I allot a whole page to each illustration, instead of bundling them in with the text. “That might make up the difference,” she said.

Back to the light table. The next morning I took the revised paste-up to the store and told Erika I needed the bound volumes the next day. I was going to visit my daughter that weekend and Luke would be expecting his book. She promised they would be ready. But when I went to pick them up, there was a strange woman at the counter who couldn’t find my order and claimed she knew nothing about it. I panicked ! “Where is Erika?” I cried. The stranger said to come back in an hour, when Erika would be back from lunch. I spent a miserable hour in a coffee shop imagining Luke’s disappointment. He has large, expressive, dark eyes. I was back at the shop on the dot of the hour. Wonder of wonders, Erika was there, brandishing four bound volumes of “Iron Man”! They were beautiful.

The books were received with all the enthusiasm I had expected, and Luke announced, his dark eyes dancing, that he would have a signing after dinner. (He knew all about signings, having attended some of mine.) Various relations gathered in the living room and Luke obligingly signed the four books--one for his parents, one for each set of grandparents, and one for an aunt and uncle. He even held a question and answer session afterward. One relation asked the author if he outlined. With a puzzled expression, he said, “What’s an outline?”

Exactly my sentiments. He must be a chip off the old block.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 23, 2011

THE GOOD SON Is the Real McCoy

Obviously, Robin Hathaway and myself are spiritual Bibliophilic kin. In her blog two Mondays ago, she confessed to a weakness for second-hand bookstores, thrift shops and the Salvation Army’s bookstalls where rare prizes wait to be claimed. She says she has a lot of books. Too many, her husband says. It just now occurred to me that Robin’s MD-husband and my Professional Chef-wife are cut from the same cloth, though you’d never suspect. The other day, we’re sitting in the parlor floor of our three-story townhouse when Rose says to me out of the blue: “So, what are you going to do about them?”

I play dumb. “About what?” I say.

“About the thousands of books you have on those shelves,” she says, exasperated, raising both arms above her head and waving them in a circular motion that puts me in mind of a traffic controller on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, signaling an incoming jet to land or waving him off. But I don’t say what’s in my mind, it would be impolitic. Besides, she exaggerates; maybe I have 1,500.

One of those priceless novels God gave me because I was a first-reader for the 2010 Hammett Literary Prize is The Good Son by Michael Gruber. Let me make clear that my opinion of The Good Son and the other two previously reviewed, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and Iron River, is just that—one man’s opinion, mine. I am one of five first readers of the almost 200 books submitted for the Hammett Prize. My enthusiasms have frequently differed from my fellows’. Eventually, “no less than three, nor more than five” will be nominated and sent to three judges who will select the one. Who will be nominated, who will win, I have no idea—nor do I much care because I have been amply rewarded for my toil by the presence of all those wonderful books on my shelves.

The Good Son is a wondrous novel, alternately set in the spook world of Washington, D.C., Lahore, Pakistan, and Pashtunistan in the Northwest Frontier. Michael Gruber is a master storyteller, insinuating the reader into the dense, fascinating worlds of NSA intelligence plotters, upper-class Pakistani politicians and the Pashtun clan’s warrior culture. From page 1, the first-person voice of half-breed Theo Bailey, U.S. Army Special Ops soldier, born into a Punjabi upper-crust family in Lahore, a teenage mujahideen in the Afghan jihad against the Russians, kidnapped and brought to America through the CIA connections of his American mother—Theo’s voice pulls you into the roiling waters of an al-Qaeda nuclear plot and counter-plot. Theo Bailey is a marvelously-conflicted character—trained U.S. Army killer, native speaker of Urdu, Dari and Pashto, in his heart a Pashtun warrior. The inciting incident of the book is the taking hostage of his mother, Sonia, a world-renowned Zurich-trained Jungian therapist leading a peace conference into a remote region of Pakistan.

Sonia Bailey Laghari’s third-person voice illuminates wonderfully her adopted Pakistani world as well as the alien tribal culture of her Pashtun and Arab captors. For every Muslim death caused by American bombs, a captive academic will be beheaded, the event recorded on a camcorder for viewing on the Internet—Sonia to choose the victim each time. One of the joys of the novel is the dialogues of Sonia, a convert to Islam, a Sufi, defending herself by quoting the Qur’an to her captors. At night, she interprets the dreams of her guards and their wives who have heard of her witchly powers.

No one creates alien worlds more masterfully than Michael Gruber. His earlier novels (under his own name)—Tropic of Night, Valley of Bones, and Night of the Jaguar
are detective novels set in Miami against a backdrop of African voodoo. And no one meshes the intriguing history of place with gripping plots better. I haven’t read as good a spy novel set in Afghanistan-Pakistan since Alex Berenson’s The Faithful Spy, and The Good Son is even better.

(Next time, Nowhere to Run by C.J. Box, and Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.)

Robert Knightly

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Brink of Fame

Here's the trailer I worked up for The Brink of Fame, second book in the Emily Daggett Weiss silent movie series, the one where she goes west to Hollywood.

Last time I made a trailer I started with the pitch, carefully crafted in a pitch workshop in New York City (Algonkian Pitch and Shop). This time I didn't have a straightforward pitch like that. Since Emily's confusion about her husband is part of the story, it kind of muddies what's going on. So I started with a piece of music that captured my fancy. I bought the rights to use the music from an online site (Fresh Music). It wasn't very expensive.

Then, from my collection of old movie clips and stills, I selected the pictures to display while the music played.

Then I wrote the pitch, far simpler than the actual story, to be displayed over the pictures. I still don't feel like doing voice-overs. Well, the books are about silent movies, after all.

I don't know whether trailers sell books, although it's fun for me to make them. I tell you what. It's an excellent book. It will be out in August. You want it. Mention it to your librarian. Ask about it at your independent bookstore. Pre-order it from Amazon as soon as it comes up. Talk about it at your book club. The Brink of Fame, by Irene Fleming, from Minotaur Books. Let's get this sucker off the ground.

--Kate Gallison

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lois Winston

Q: Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in your Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, came out this month from Midnight Ink. How much of Lois Winston is in Anastasia Pollack?

LW: LOL! When I was writing romance, the first question I usually got was about how I researched my sex scenes. Now that I’m writing mysteries, everyone wants to know how much of Anastasia Pollack is really Lois Winston. I like this question much better.

Anastasia and I have similar backgrounds. We’re both North Jersey girls. We both went to art school. She’s a crafts editor for a women’s magazine. I worked for many years as a crafts designer and editor for various kit manufacturers and publishers. I still design for several magazines. We both have two sons and one other relative in common. The differences? My husband is very much alive (thank goodness!), I don’t have a Shakespeare quoting parrot, and I haven’t found any dead bodies glued to my office chair -- at least not yet.

Q: Several reviews have favorably compared Anastasia to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character. Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Other than both series taking place in New Jersey, what do you see as the differences between the two characters?

LW: Anastasia is an amateur sleuth, and quite a reluctant one at that. Stephanie works in a field where she comes into contact with bad guys on a daily basis. And even though Anastasia and Stephanie are both born Jersey girls, Stephanie is the embodiment of blue-collar Central Jersey. Anastasia is more middle-class North Jersey. At least she was until her husband permanently cashed in his chips at a roulette table in Las Vegas and her life crapped out. Now she’s stuck with a mountain of debt, her communist mother-in-law, and her dead husband’s loan shark attempting to shake her down for fifty thousand dollars.

Q: What about the other characters in your series? Are they based on people you know?

LW: Lucille is loosely based on my deceased mother-in-law. I guess that’s why most of my husband’s relatives no longer speak to me.

Q: Where do you get your plot ideas?

LW: Mostly from the voices in my head who demand I tell their stories. However, I’m also a news junkie. I have a loose-leaf binder filled with stories I’ve clipped from magazines and newspapers. Whenever I’m stuck for an idea, I read through my clippings, and invariably an idea will present itself.

Q: Are your books character driven or plot driven?

LW: Both. No one wants to read about cardboard characters or stale plots. However, in a mystery, plot is paramount. Still, I want my characters to come alive on the page, be both interesting and believable to the reader, and never TSTL.

Q: Do you find it hard to write humor?

LW: Absolutely. Humor is very subjective, and I never really know until after the book is written whether or not others “get” the humor I’ve infused into the story.

Q: Do you read reviews of your books?

LW: I do read my reviews, and I don’t expect all of them to be good. Taste is very subjective. Not everyone is going to like my writing or get the humor in my books. I’m fine with that. I just hope at the end of the day there are more people who love my books than hate them. Reviews are part of the business of publishing, and I believe it’s important for an author to know how her books are being received. Word-of-mouth has huge impact in driving sales. Besides, if I didn’t read my reviews, I wouldn’t know that Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. And that’s going to go a long way in taking the sting out of any bad reviews the book may receive down the road.

Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

LW: First, I want to thank you for inviting me to guest today at Crime Writers’ Chronicle. Also, in celebration of the release of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, I’m doing a blog tour throughout January. The schedule is on my website,, and at Anastasia’s blog, Everyone who posts a comment to any of the blogs over the course of the tour will be entered into a drawing to receive one of 5 copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun. (If your email isn’t included in your comment, email me privately at to let me know you’ve entered.)
Q: Thank you, Lois!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Discovering a New Author

Is there anything more satisfying than finding a new author you really like?

This happened to me this week. Someone recommended Hazel Holt, a British writer, and told me she reminded her of Barbara Pym. Since Pym is one of my favorite writers, I ordered Gone Away on my Kindle and it popped up a few minutes later (a miracle that I’m still not used to) and I began to read. Four hours later, I finished the book, and promptly ordered another one. This is not the best way to start a new year and a terrible way to stick by your resolutions. However, Mrs. Malory, the heroine of Ms. Holt’s stories, is the perfect companion on a snowy afternoon—or evening—or even morning. Finding her is like making a new friend who is completely simpatico, and what better way to start a new year than that?

Ms Holt has a light touch, her characters are mostly congenial (except for her villains), and her detective thinks and behaves just the way I do. (Not necessarily a good thing, but it's always reassuring to find that you aren't the only oddball in the world.) And she doesn't stint on description. Her depictions of the English countryside in vile winter weather and of Oxford in the spring, are wonderful. She's also good with cats and dogs.

For anyone who has a few hours to spare (or not), I highly recommend Ms. Holt's novels.

—Robin Hathaway

Friday, January 14, 2011

Carrying On

It almost seems as though everybody died last week.

Dunstan McNichol, investigative journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger. Young feller. In his fifties, I think. I used to follow his work with interest. He outed a lot of significant corruption in New Jersey state government, and sent Wayne Bryant to jail.

Ruth Cavin, legendary editor at St. Martin's Press. Still going to work every day at ninety-two. She was my friend Robin's editor, the editor of many other mystery writers, and a beloved person.

Joe Gores, crime writer, Edgar-winner, author of a huge body of well-respected and greatly enjoyed work.

John Gross, British literary critic and book editor for the New York Times from 1983 to 1989. The Spectator called him "the best-read man in Britain." He reviewed my first book on the very day it came out, thereby launching my literary career, such as it is. (He liked my book! A respectable critic!)

Sad but true that we shan't see their like again, but their lives can still stand as an inspiration to the rest of us. Investigative journalism isn't dead. Just yesterday morning a story appeared in the Trenton Times by staff writer Alex Zdan, exposing a deal whereby a contributor to mayor Tony Mack's campaign was allowed to buy 36 lots from the city, worth almost a million dollars, for one dollar apiece. Great story, nicely researched. (Too bad they ran it on page A10.)

For that matter, fine crime writing isn't dead. Good literary criticism isn't dead. We all just have to get busy and do it.

As for Ruth Cavin, I can't call her death tragic, although she will certainly be missed. Of all the available ways to leave this mortal coil, dying at a ripe old age, still at work and in possesion of all your buttons, seems to me one of the best ways to go. It wouldn't be so bad, to die in the saddle. I just wish I could get into the saddle. I tell you what, there are days when I can't even find my horse. But that's a story for another day.

And so to work.

--Kate Gallison

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On the Loss of Ruth Cavin

Thomas Dunne Books editor Ruth Cavin passed away last Sunday. She was 92.

Ruth has often been described as an “icon” in the mystery world. And, of course, she was. But “icon” is a cold and aloof word, and Ruth was neither of these. She was warm and down-to-earth and funny, as well as an expert editor. She was my first editor and my only editor. She guided me through eight books so smoothly I hardly knew they were being edited.

She had a knack for ferreting out those nasty weak parts that every author knows are there but tries to ignore or cover up. Ruth zeroed in on every one of them, drawn to them like a magnet, and wrote in the margin something such as: “This doesn’t seem to be working.” or “Better look at this scene again.” or “You might want to say this another way.”

Once she wrote, “When are these two going to get together?” referring to my hero and heroine. To my chagrin, they had gotten together in the previous book, but she hadn’t noticed. (So much for my skills at writing sex scenes!)

The wonderful thing about Ruth was, she rarely told you how to fix the problem. She merely drew it to your attention and left the solution up to you. Usually this was enough, but if you needed help, she was more than willing to make suggestions. She viewed her role as a sympathetic guide rather than an all-knowing dictator.

She was also a great friend. I have emails in which we talked about everything from “The Peterkin Papers” (a book we both loved) to pirates and Lenape pow-wows. Once I dropped off a manuscript at her office and she invited me to stay and chat. That afternoon I discovered she liked trolley cars. The next Christmas I gave her a framed print of an old trolley car that I’d found in a used bookstore. You would have thought I’d given her the Crown Jewels!

Ruth was sympathetic and kind, but she also demanded your best work. And, because of her skills as an editor, she usually got it.

I will always miss her.

--Robin Hathaway

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Problem

Lucky me. I am on vacation in the Caribbean. There is a lot to love about being here. It would be ungrateful in the extreme to complain. My difficulty is insignificant in the face of the comforts and beauty of this lovely place. BUT. I do have this miniscule beef. “No problem.” Everyone here seems to say it. Whatever one requests, the immediate response is not, “Sure.” Nor, “Gladly.” Nor, “With Pleasure.” Never even a simple, “Yes.” Always, “No problem.”

So what’s my problem, you ask. Fair enough. It’s this. I have learned to despise that phrase. Fate has dealt me some major annoyances lately: a computer virus, a broken GPS in the car, a preordered e-book that would not download once it launched, and monumentally, a screw up by my DSL-line provider. In the course of trying to get assistance from help line agents all over the US and in Mumbai for these several PROBLEMS, the immediate response from the Helpers was ALWAYS, guess what? “No problem.” But what I was reporting to them were actual problems. And with a fair amount of frequency, the Helpers not only could not solve them, but in two cases, after saying, “No Problem,” repeatedly, they proceeded to screw up my situation further.

Here are examples of dialogs with employees of the DSL provider:

Me: “I responded to an ad from your company offering higher speed for less money and now my bill says I am paying more, rather than less.”

Him: “No Problem.”

Me: “I hope not.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “I hope we can solve this problem.”

Him: “No problem.”

After the first three Helpers could not figure it out, the fourth discovered that instead of upgrading my current service, they had added a new one, and now I was paying for two. The solution was to eliminate the unnecessary extra service.

Me: “You aren’t going to cut off my working DSL, are you?”

Her: “No problem.”

The next day—

Me: “Blah, blah blah… So, they must have disconnected my working DSL, and now I have no connection at all.”

Him: “No problem.”

—Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, January 10, 2011

Secondhand Books

I have a lot of books. “Too many,” my husband says. That’s probably because I can’t pass a bookstore without going in, and I never come out empty-handed. But my favorite sources of books are secondhand bookstores, thrift shops, The Salvation Army, yard sales and flea markets. When you buy books at these places, you often get a dividend that you will never find in an E-book.

For example—an ancient postcard, a pressed flower, a faded photo, a yellowed newspaper clipping, or a forgotten letter. These are the items often secreted between the pages by a former owner that a new book will never offer. Sometimes it is a simple inscription on the flyleaf, scrawled in a spidery hand: “Dear Mary Ellen, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. Affectionately, Aunt Emily.” Or--a silk bookmark embroidered with rosebuds.

These are the things that make my heart stop--mementos from another time, another place, another person. Evidence that this book has been shared by another reader.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stuck in the Middle of a Page

While Robert Knightly is on vacation, a few other writers step into his Sunday spot to offer useful advice on writing. This is from Caroline Todd, half of the east coast mother-son writing team of Charles Todd, author of the Bess Crawford mysteries and the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries. A Lonely Death was reviewed today in Marilyn Stasio's column in the New York Times Book Review. See more about the team on their web site,

One of the questions we're often asked by readers working on their own manuscripts is, what do you do when you run out of ideas in the middle of a page? It's a good question, and I had to think about it, because there are two answers.

The first is, walk away. Go do something else and clear your mind of the problem. Wash dishes, mow the grass, go shopping, call a friend, whatever you enjoy doing. I've had some of my best ideas while mopping the bathroom floor! And that's not on the list of something I enjoy. Whatever, give it a rest. Soon you'll feel the answer coming.

If it doesn't, go back into the story and look for what went wrong. Sometimes it's a conversation that went off track or a bit of characer development that has moved off target. If you fret over it, it will become insurmountable, I've found. So give the problem and yourself a break and let it simmer awhile. Then see what happens. I'll be curious to hear.

--Caroline Todd

Friday, January 7, 2011

Peculiar Shoes

Last month when we put this blog together there was some discussion about whether to moderate comments. Annamaria felt that the immediacy of unmoderated comments, the back-and-forth, was important for blog viewers, while I, in my characteristic terror of the unknown, feared getting hijacked by sinister foreign entities. Annamaria's view prevailed, and it was a good thing.

Yesterday, however, a sinister foreign entity calling itself "Anonymous" tried to post a long essay on shoes, with links to a site selling counterfeit Christian Louboutins, to my personal blog ( We all know who is behind these efforts--Islamist terrorists, white slavers, South American drug lords, Asian gangs--but I'm here to tell you, there's nothing to fear but hilarity itself.

Here for your delectation is the complete piece, unedited, with only the links removed:

Ancient Greek Sandal

The sandal is a type of christian shoes, which has been with us since ancient days, the staying fingers and additional parts of the foot shown. In Andalusia, Mexico and other Latin American places is also described as "flip-flop." In Chile they utter "chala". Other varieties of flip flops are the "flip flops", "sandalias" (Balearic origins, composed of a strip of skin on the jeep, and another one could be inserted either on the jeep or back heel) or louboutin, of Mexican beginning.

Just how much do you are aware pertaining to the progress of the christian louboutin?

LV Shoes esparto or V millennium BC C. encountered in Spain, christian louboutin flip flops are normally utilised in the hot months or the seashore, there are a selection of colorization and types, as style. In Europe and North America are used by both equally men and females, whereas in South America, their utilization is restrained to the women attendees (although in some states of this region there usually are athletic shoes created for adult men, which are put into use as casual louboutin sale.)

Up-to-date sandal

In frigid environments, louboutin footwear, are pretty much solely used by women of all ages who have offered this footwear the reputation of "star" of vogue, by adding a heel. Consequently, the slipper is currently associated with womanly luxury, and can be viewed in the course of the year, at the foot of the ladies when they go to gala events.

Relating to fashion professionals, the sandal is In this modern time, sandals are popular amongst the ages of almost all people mainly because they are very fascinating for women, trendy for working stuffs, more comfortable for the elderly to buy louboutin sandals. Since it is growing hotter and hotter, a broad seleciton of sandals have been released into the marketplace. Lots of of them are highly captivating and stylish, you can not help fall in love with all of them, especially girls and stylish ladies. Nonetheless, extremely several people already know the evolution of the very christian shoes. that very girly, to be used specifically not including socks. Should differentiate between "Chancla" or "Chancleta" of the "sandal", since the former are used every day and "between" house "while the sandal alludes to get louboutin, this is applied for the most part for distinctive events, get-togethers, conferences, workplace, for theirt substances are much better. The sandals are now a trendy item rather than first attempt. This can be accomplished by hand or produced from distinct fabrics.

For example:

knits (Crochet, Macrame, Tunisian, two needles)
jute, material and other woven fabrics
materilas fabricated (tapes)
carton cardstock and derivatives
timber strands of banana leaf or comparable (sisal)

Moreover, relating to the creators in christian louboutin store, the sandals are of 5 major components:

  1. the shoe blazon is informed relating to ergonomic. Shoe physique is variable as well as favorable for an assortment of panic for the visitors;
  2. it is light in weight, flexible and also possesses ideal shock absorption;
  3. sole is authentic valor and abounding of potency;
  4. there is sufficient amplitude for shoes or boots;
  5. mold, odour resilient, breathable, watertight, damp assimilation, quick-drying are all its figures. 
Hardly any quantity in assisting or acreage circumstances, and so forth, there is absolutely no trouble.

--Kate Gallison

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Henry Kisor

Henry Kisor is the retired book editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. He writes of a series of mystery novels set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: Season's Revenge (2003), A Venture into Murder (2005) and Cache of Corpses (2007). See his web site at

I write with a Pentax digital camera as well as a Mac laptop, toting both in my backpack into the wilderness of the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where my novels are set.

They are regional whodunits, a genre in which setting is as important as plot and character. With that in mind, I've taken photographs of places in the U.P. for years, later calling them up on the computer for careful study while writing a new book.

These photos stir my memory. They help furnish my plots with sharply recalled images that might otherwise fade with time from my mind. it's as if I'm there again with total recall.

They also inspire my imagination. Some years ago, driving west of the town of Ontonagon on Lake Superior, I happened upon what appeared to be an abandoned brick mansion, and snapped a photo of it. Investigation revealed that the place was the ruin of the old Ontonagon County Poor Farm, where scores of indigents had worked for their meager keep early in the 20th century.

In the farthest reaches of the building, I later discovered, lay a lonely, chilly chamber called the Dying Room.  It warehoused the terminally ill so that other inmates could not hear their death cries. 

What better place for Deputy Sheriff Steve Martinez to encounter a mysteriously mutilated cadaver decades after the Poor Farm closed? The Dying Room furnished the opening scene for my most recent novel, Cache of Corpses.

The Ontonagon County Poor Farm. The odd legend on its wall was scrawled by a struggling cattle farmer who later owned the place.

In my first novel, Season's Revenge, and the forthcoming Hang Fire, the Finnish outdoor sauna is an important setting that advances both plot and character. In the former Steve falls head over heels for a gorgeous (and quite naked) local historian. In the latter the deputy reaches back to his Native American roots, imagining that he's in a Lakota sweat lodge preparing to ride into battle.

The Finnish log sauna hard by the shore of Lake Superior that has inspired scenes in two novels so far.
In Cache of Corpses I needed a wilderness setting that would serve as a picturesque murder scene. Scrolling through a file of photographs yielded one of a waterfall on the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. I combined the falls with a beautiful glen known only to the locals and had one bad guy eliminate another there, juxtaposing natural beauty and human malice.

Manabezho Falls on the Presque Isle River. It became "Page Falls" on the imaginary Agate River, where "spray from the falls wreathes the place in mist, and through it the setting sun on a summer's evening intensifies and saturates the colors of the forest, turning Page Falls into what we consider the nearest thing to heaven on Earth."
I've got lots of photos of derelict farmsteads abandoned to the elements, their stories -- and their secrets -- long forgotten, and will be consulting them for future novels.

Ruin of an old Finnish farm on U.S. 45 near Bruce Crossing, Michigan. What forgotten crimes happened here? Is their memory fading in the cold-case files?
Another familiar sight in Ontonagon I plan to mine for a future book: the several-times-a-year visits of the lake freighter John B. Munson with loads of coal for the local (and now shuttered) paper mill. Every time it comes in I imagine a shootout on the bridge, perhaps with terrorists who had stowed away at a Canadian port.

The John G. Munson stands in to Ontonagon Harbor past the old lighthouse, already a scene in Cache of Corpses. Law enforcement greets the laker every time it arrives, to make sure miscreants aren't bringing ashore contraband.
And sometimes, when blocked, I can just call up a photo of a glorious Lake Superior sunset and gaze at it, letting my imagination swim wherever it might take me.

Sundown on the Big Lake at the "Writer's Lair," a log cabin six miles west of Ontonagon, Michigan.
These photographs also help me pitch my novels in bookstores and at libraries. Because I am totally deaf and have "deaf speech" that is hard for some folks to understand, I take along a digital projector and screen and show my spiel in the form of a Keynote (the Mac version of PowerPoint) presentation. The background pictures enliven what might otherwise be dull slides of text.

They also add visual interest to my two blogs, and, helping keep my byline afloat between books.

--Henry Kisor

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jennie Bentley/Bente Gallagher

Bente Gallagher is the author of A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin mysteries, from PublishingWorks, as well as the bestselling Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, written as Jennie Bentley. A former Realtor® and home renovator, she lives in Nashville, TN, with a husband and two boys, a hyper-active dog, a killer parakeet, two African dwarf frogs and a couple of goldfish. A native of Norway, she’s spent the past twenty years in the US, and still hasn’t managed to kick her native accent.

A Book by Any Other Name 
First off, thanks to Kate for inviting me to submit a guest blog here on the Crime Writers' Chronicle. It’s quite an honor, being asked to help kick off the first few months of a new writers' blog. Almost like I’ve ‘arrived,’ huh?
So it’s a new year, and with it, I have a new book. It’s being released today, as a matter of fact. It’s the fourth in the Do-It-Yourself home renovation series from Berkley Prime Crime, about Avery Baker, former New York textile designer, and her boyfriend Derek Ellis, a handyman, who renovate houses in a small town called Waterfield on the coast of Maine. This latest installment is called Mortar and Murder, and Derek and Avery have taken on the renovation of a 1783 center chimney Colonial on Rowanberry Island, about thirty minutes away from Waterfield by boat.
I wanted to call the book Island Getaway. That seemed to me to be the perfect blend of cute and clever, yet it had a somewhat ominous ring to it, and it totally captured the essence of the book.
An island getaway, of course, is a retreat, or vacation, or relaxing time spent on an island away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In Derek and Avery’s case, they are spending a few months commuting to the small island of Rowanberry to renovate the white elephant they’ve purchased; for a song, since no one else is crazy enough to take it on.
Things go from bad to worse when they come across the body of a young woman floating in the water between Rowanberry Island and the mainland. She isn’t dressed for April in Maine, with just a short sleeved T-shirt over her jeans, and neither socks nor shoes on her feet. It’s no surprise to discover that she died of hypothermia, possibly as a result of falling from a boat.
Avery is determined not to get involved in the case. It was a sad accident, nothing more or less; it’s none of her concern at all, or so she tells herself... until a slip of paper is dug out of the victim’s pocket, bearing Cyrillic writing. And not just any writing, but the name and address of Derek and Avery’s realtor, Irina Rozhdestvensky. When the dead girl turns out to be unidentifiable, when nobody knows who she is and no one has reported her missing, the ICE get involved, and soon Irina comes under suspicion for illegal immigration, murder, and human trafficking. Next thing she knows, Avery finds herself knee-deep in intrigue after all.
All of which brings us to the real island getaway: when a dense fog descends on the coast of Maine, halting all ferry traffic, Avery is stuck on Rowanberry Island with a murderer, and with no way off the island and back to the mainland until the fog lifts.
See why I thought Island Getaway was the perfect title?
But no, the powers that be didn't think Island Getaway was renovate-y enough, and we ended up with Mortar and Murder instead. That was my second suggestion, so I can't really complain that they're not using my titles, but I would have preferred to have kept Island Getaway.
The same thing happened with DIY-5, which is coming in October. Derek and Avery are participating in a television show, the basis of which is flipping—quickly renovating—a house in a week before putting it back on the market. The name of the book, as well as the name of the TV show in the book, was Flipping Out! I was very proud of it, as I thought it was the perfect title, especially considering that the villain of the book was acting a little crazy, as well.
But guess what? There’s a real TV show called Flipping Out, and I can’t use the title for the book. And now I’m the one flipping out, because I've lost my perfect title!  
Titles are such important things. They can say so much about a story before you even pick the book up. And the best ones make you realize, once you’ve read a little, that what you thought the title meant, isn’t necessarily what it meant. Or not only what it meant, anyway.
Take Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie. It’s about art forgery, but it’s also about... well, you get it. And Welcome to Temptation—Temptation is a town, but the title is also about... I’m sure you get that, too. Terry Pratchett’s Making Money is about—well—making money. As in, printing it. And making it. And making it work. And who could resist a book called Interesting Times?
I think a great title, like so many other things, is more than the sum of its parts. It conjures up more than just the words themselves, and it needs to work on several levels. The more levels it works on, the better it is.
So what are some of your favorite titles? And why?

--Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions Cannot be Rushed

Another New Year. More resolutions. More back-sliding. More recriminations.

This year I resolved to:
  1. Write more.
  2. Eat less.
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Complain less.
So far I have written nothing, eaten everything in sight, haven’t lifted a finger I didn’t have to, and complained all day. So much for resolutions. But, wait! It’s only January 3rd. There’s still time…

Later today—I worked on my stand-alone novel. It seemed to go well. I won’t know,
of course, until I reread it tomorrow. But I felt happy while writing and that’s usually a good sign.

I ate practically nothing. I was too engrossed in my novel. An apple. Some yogurt. A banana.

At mid-day I hit a snag and went for a long walk to work it out. I walked faster than usual because it was cold and that was the only way to keep warm. It felt good to walk fast and think clearly, for a change. By the time I got home I had worked out the snag.

As for complaining? What’s that? All’s right with the world!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 2, 2011

T. Jefferson Parker's IRON RIVER

For me, the best literary mystery of 2010—in fact, the Best Mystery period—is Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Parker begins his morality play in the town of Buenavista, along the porous border between the U.S. and Mexico. A drifter named Mike Finnegan, a hit-and-run victim, is taken to the local hospital, miraculously survives, and asks to see Charlie Hood, an LA deputy sheriff on loan to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) task force trying to staunch the flow of illegal weapons from American suppliers to the Mexican drug cartels (the ‘Iron River’).

Finnegan’s a man of mystery with no verifiable past but an uncanny power to predict the future while speaking as if firsthand of events and people a century ago. Yet, he will function throughout the book as a flesh-and-blood spirit guide to Hood and the lawmen as they battle the Gulf cartel and its rival, the Zetas. The inciting incident is the accidental killing by an ATF agent of an innocent bystander in a shootout, who is the brother of Benjamin Armenta, the leader of the Zetas. The cartel retaliates by crossing the border to kidnap and torture the ATF agent responsible. A federal force, backed quietly by a trustworthy group of Mexican cops, rescues the agent after a pitched battle with the Zetas. And the Zetas come back across to try again.

One measure of a crime novel is its villain. In the Zetas, ex-military, Parker has created one scary, gripping character. Their pitched battles with the ATF are as mesmerizing as they are bloody. Parker’s unhurried, lyrical style, present throughout the book, somehow makes it all palatable in the end. The two sub-plots, integral to the main, introduce an American gun-maker doing business with the Gulf Cartel, who is such a flawed but decent man that you find yourself rooting for him to survive. Not so with Bradley ‘Smith’, newly-minted LA sheriff’s deputy, who believes himself the descendent of Joaquin Murrieta, the Mexican bandit, in whose footsteps he is following. Charlie Hood had lived with Bradley’s mother, who had a shady past that got her shot to death. Parker keeps their shared past a bit ambiguous, which is fine, as he wondrously interlaces their lives and stories. ‘Ghosts’ that his characters carry is a very effective technique Parker employs here as he has in his previous novels.

Iron River has a metaphysical dimension that is hard to describe in words; you just experience it as you would in reading Lehane’s Mystic River, Don Winslow’s Power of the Dog, and Michael Gruber’s Tropic of Night. Ordinarily, I’m no fan of a supernatural element in a mystery. But when done artfully, it works and adds something more to the whole. In Tropic of Night, Gruber’s very fine debut novel, a voodoo background heightens the Miami setting and moves the plot. In Iron River, Parker is more subtle, linking the illusive character of Finnegan with an ending that surprises. Don’t miss this one…or Gruber’s new one, The Good Son, best left for another time.

--Robert Knightly