V.P. Chandler Review of A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel by Kris Nelscott

As with many other books, I’ve been late on the scene with this series and author. A Dangerous Road made its debut in 2001 but I just discovered it recently. I was fortunate that my book club chose it. So not only did I get to read a great book, I got to read an intriguing mystery that kept me turning pages! And I got to discuss it with good friends.

I primarily write historical mysteries, usually Westerns, but this one takes place in Memphis in 1968. A turbulent time and place. There was a lot that I didn’t know about this time and I can tell that Nelscott did her homework. For example, there was a strike among the garbage collectors and trash began to pile up. The smell and inconvenience added to the tension of the story. The impending marches and the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are churning up hostilities between the races, and among the races. Add to that a black male P.I. who has a white, attractive, female client, Laura Hathaway, and the tension mounts!

The mystery part of the story is about $10,000. Laura Hathaway demands to know why her mother would leave $10,000 to Smokey. He has no idea. He doesn’t know the Hathaways. Could Mrs. Hathaway have been the anonymous benefactor who left him $10,000 ten year prior? It seems like too much of a coincidence. And why would she do that? Laura decides to hire Smokey to find out about her family background, what secrets they were hiding and how he is involved in it, if he is.

That’s what kept me turning pages. I had no idea where it was going to go!

The book starts with scenes from the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940 in Atlanta. (I didn’t know that it premiered there! Did you?) It takes a while until it becomes clear why this event was important to the story. But it’s pivotal.

Which gets me to what I admired most about the book. Not only was it a mystery, but it deftly maneuvered through and around the worlds of 1940 Atlanta and 1968 Memphis. Both eras are complicated. Dalton and the black community have to constantly be alert and careful what they say and do. And not all dangers are outside their own community.

Nelscott dances her way around and through the story, taking the reader with her. I was impressed with its complexity and how she was able to keep the tension throughout. I was not surprised to learn that it won the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery and was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

This reader and writer will definitely be reading more of the Smokey Dalton stories!

Review of Daughters of Bad Men

 

 

Written by V.P. Chandler

Back in September Daughters of Bad Men, by our own Laura Oles, was chosen as the book for the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club at Book People. Now if you’re an author, or even if you’re not, your TBR (To Be Read) pile of books is probably extensive. And if you’re an author, that pile includes books written by friends.

Laura and I hitting the road to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans!

So, since Laura’s book was chosen as a book club choice, that gave me an extra incentive to pull it from my shelf and delve in! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the book club so I’m still brimming with the need to discuss it.

 

So right off the bat, I enjoyed it! It takes place in Port Arlene, Texas, a fictional tourist town near Corpus Christi. Since I grew up in CC, I was immediately interested. She captured the feel of a tourist beach town. I could smell the food, the salty air, and feel the gritty sand that invades everything. And while tourists are having fun eating, basking in the sun, and fishing, they aren’t aware of the seedier side of life that exists along with the plastic fish stuck in nets that are ever-present in the restaurants.

The antagonist is Jamie Rush who is a skip tracer. She also has an extra skill set because she grew up in a family of con artists. She can easily see a con a mile away and she knows all of the tricks that people use when they don’t want to be found. But instead of using her talents to con people, she’s chosen to help people, or at least earn her money honestly. And although she lives in the same area with most of her family, she’s distanced herself and has nothing to do with them.

 

So when her half-brother contacts her, she ignores his messages. The messages become more urgent when he explains that his daughter, Kristen, is missing. This still doesn’t raise a red flag with Jamie because her niece has pulled a disappearing act before. And Kristen usually has her own cons going on the side. But what if she’s truly in danger? Jamie wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something happened to Kristen and Jamie didn’t check it out.

Added to the mix of characters is Jamie’s trusty sidekick, Cookie, an over-sized, intimidating, tacky Hawaiian shirt-wearing, huggable, fiercely loyal friend. (Enough adjectives for you?) Another friend, a woman who runs a betting operation, who learned the ropes from her father. And another woman who comes from a violent organized crime family. (It’s very interesting to see how these daughters of bad men interact.)

Jamie begins digging in Kristen’s life and what she uncovers is a complicated web of love, revenge, and “just business”.

I thought that this story was going to be a typical “p.i. procedural”. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the laid-back pace of beach town life and then it accelerated non-stop to an incredibly satisfying ending. There were a few surprises in there that kept me turning the pages!

So, if you haven’t gotten this book, get it!

 

*Warning- Reading this book will also make you crave fried shrimp, cold beer, and the perfect fish taco. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Seriously, now I need to take a trip to the coast for some fresh seafood and to hear the seagulls.

Further Thoughts on Smell in Literature, or The Dog as Watson

 

 

By Helen Currie Foster

An author can get great mileage by giving the point of view to a Watson sort of character. The Watson can be present for all events, hear all dialogue and see all clues—while not understanding them. The Reader feels clever for having grasped the significance of clues the Watson missed or misunderstood. The Watson can admire Sherlock’s astounding mental feats while deploring Sherlock’s shortcomings (sometimes his manners, sometimes cocaine). Meanwhile the reader can identify with the Watson and can experience, perhaps, the feel and sound and… yes, the SMELL of a scene, while Sherlock is detecting or explaining arcana.

The best Watson I’ve met is…a dog. Yes, it’s Chet, the large (hundred-pounder!) companion and partner of detective Bernie Little in the Chet and Bernie Series. Spencer Quinn (nom de … plume? Or de tail?) of Peter Abrahams is the genius who most recently gave us The Heart of Barkness.

You say you won’t read a mystery told by a dog? I’m not a dog person, and that’s what I said too, turning my inadequate human nose up in the air. (I have donkeys, not dogs.)

Then I met Chet. Chet opened up the astounding sensory richness of the world that lies beyond human (that is, Bernie’s) detection, and, particularly, the world of smell.

 

Here’s a scene—a scent?—from The Dog Who Knew Too Much:

“Autumn didn’t mention your sense of humor.” Anya gave him a not-very-friendly look when she said that, but at the same time I picked up a scent coming off her—faint but unmistakable—that meant she was starting to like Bernie. Nothing about humans is simple: I’ve learned that lots of times in my career.”

        

 

Here’s Chet using his ears as well, when Bernie is banging on the door of the RV where he hopes to find Lotty Pilgrim, the country-western star accused of murder In The Heart of Barkness:

“Silence from inside. Then came footsteps, very soft, but there’s no such thing as footsteps too soft for my ears. Also I could hear breathing on the other side of the door. Plus there were smells of cigarette smoke, coffee, and perfume—and the specific smell of Lotty Pilgrim, which had an interesting milky quality. The door might as well not have been there.

At least in my case. Did Bernie realize Lotty was standing pretty much right in front of us? He raised his voice. “Lotty? Lotty?” Raised it to a level that meant the answer to my question was no.

No answer from Lotty. The milky smell changed, went the tiniest bit sour. I’ve tasted milk both sour and not, don’t like either kind. Water’s my drink. The best I ever tasted came right out of a rock, but no time to go into that now.”

Right there, we see Chet’s astounding ears in action, and his nose. We learn exactly what Lotty could smell like to our human noses, if only the dadgum door weren’t in the way. We learn that Chet can detect that some emotion—fear?—has turned Lotty’s milky smell “the tiniest bit sour.” Then we may wonder whether our human noses could possibly notice, at a subliminal level, what Chet detects as smell? Is our human sense of smell so low-level (Chet’s opinion) that our minds can’t really register certain smells as smells? Instead, perhaps our minds register an emotion, a suspicion, instead of a smell. That is, if we’re on Lotty’s side of the door, which Bernie is not, at least here.

Bernie and Chet make a great team. Chet hears a faraway car sneaking across the desert toward Bernie, way before Bernie hears it. Chet tries to let Bernie know…but Bernie’s slow on the uptake. We readers know peril impends. Listen, Bernie! Pay attention! He won’t, but not until the last second, when Chet must leap into action.

My love affair with Chet is not just his sheer joyousness. It’s his masterful specificity about smell. Here he is, on the job, searching a mountain campsite for traces of a lost boy camper:

     “When it comes to nighttime security, you can’t go wrong by sniffing around. Nothing new to pick up, the scents of the boys still all over the place—although growing fainter—plus Bernie’s scent, Turk’s, and my own, the most familiar smell in the world: old leather, salt and pepper, mink coats, and just a soupçon of tomato; and to be honest, a healthy dash of something male and funky. My smell: yes, sir. Chet the Jet was in the vicinity, wherever that was, exactly.”

Here’s a challenge for you dog people. Give us as detailed a description of your dog’s smell as Chet’s description of his own! Oh, okay, I’ll try to do the same for my donkeys. In November.

Last month I was bemoaning the stinginess of some of my favorite writers in using smells in their writing. Maybe Virginia Woolf—hey, she loved her dogs, wrote about her dogs, doubtless could have described their smells as well as Chet described his, if the times, or the Times Literary Supplement, had permitted—will rise to the challenge. Watch this space.

An Interview with Elizabeth Buhmann, Author of BLUE LAKE

by M.K. Waller

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When I began Elizabeth Buhmann’s BLUE LAKE, I was—I’m ashamed to say—afraid I would be disappointed. Her first novel,LAY DEATH AT HER DOOR, was so well constructed, clues so obviously placed, that I should have been able to predict the ending—but so deftly woven into the plot that the last chapter was a complete surprise. More than a surprise—a shock. That novel was so good, I knew BLUE LAKE couldn’t match it.

I was wrong. BLUE LAKE is different from its predecessor, of course, but just as well written and just as suspenseful.  And when I reached the end, I said, “I should have known.”

BLUE LAKE does not disappoint.

Buhmann hides things in plain sight—the mark of a good mystery writer, and the delight of every mystery reader.

*

“Rural Virginia, 1945. The Second World War had just ended when Alice Hannon found the lifeless body of her five-year-old daughter, Eugenie, floating in Blue Lake. The tragedy of the little girl’s death destroyed the Hannon family.

“More than twenty years later, Alice’s youngest daughter, Regina, returns home after a long estrangement because her father is dying. She is shocked to discover, quite by accident, that her sister’s drowning was briefly investigated as a murder at the time. . . . 

Click here to read the original post on Ink-Stained Wretches.

 

PLAYING FOR PIZZA – by John Grisham

Written by Francine Paino

  The master of suspense took a break from his usual mystery, crime, and thriller books to write Playing for Pizza; a football story hatched as he researched settings for another novel.  

Playing for Pizza tracks a third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in what turns out to be a life lesson – the question is, will he learn?

Poor Rick Dockery. With only minutes left to play, in the AFC Championship game, Dockery comes in as Quarterback with a 17- point lead and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.  Rick ends up in a hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered along with the loss. His agent, Arnie, and the duty nurse discourage him from remembering too much of what had happened, but eventually, poor Rick does remember and then learns that virulent Cleveland fans want to storm the hospital and dismember him – or at least run him out of town on a rail. In addition to the disaster, his agent informs him that the Browns have released him and no other team wants him – he is unemployable in the NFL, but Rick isn’t done with football – he can’t be; it’s all he knows.

Dubbed by an unforgiving and vicious press as “the greatest goat in the history of professional sports,” Rick has hit rock bottom.  His agent suggests that it might be time to find another profession; Dockery, however, refuses to give up. Arnie is running out of patience and ideas, not to mention the fact that he isn’t making any money representing the disgraced Quarterback, yet he makes “one more call,” to an old buddy.

Coach Russo is looking for a QB for the Panthers—of Parma, Italy. They play at a Division 3 level – maybe. Russo wants an American QB to lead his team of tough Italians, whose professions range from truck drivers to airline pilots and everything in-between. These men hold full-time jobs and play for love of the game, and pizza!  As one of the three Americans allowed on any team in Italy, Rick will be provided with a car, rent money and a very small salary – nowhere near the pay scale in the NFL.

With no other options available, feeling the pressure to get out of the States, filled with resentment and self-pity, Rick Dockery accepts the job. He flies off to a country he barely knows exists and a city he’d never heard of before.

The coach meets him at the airport and immediately realizes that Dockery is in for a few shocks. Coach Russo crash courses Rick in Italian football. The Panthers are on an eight-game schedule with play-offs and a shot at the Italian Super Bowl. At the same time, Rick must cope with stick-shift small cars, bumper-to-bumper parking, and the culture of food, wine, and opera– things about which Rick Dockery knows nothing. By his own admission, his education consisted of football, Phys. Ed., more football, and cheerleaders. 

Rick begins the process of adjusting to his new circumstances and his new team. Secretly, he believes he would be hiding out in Parma for a while and would return to the States after other NFL teams forgot his humiliation and offered him a spot.

One vicious reporter from Cleveland, however, finds out where Dockery is and has no intention of allowing him any salvation in football. The reporter stalks him and reports back to the Cleveland Post on Dockery’s progress, turning anything Dockery does well into a series of “lucky breaks.”

Throughout, we watch Dockery cope with the culture shock of a completely alien environment while melding with teammates who are unlike any he’d ever encountered in the States and somehow, play his best football.

Sometimes the story feels like a travel guide through northern Italy and a play-by-play in football, but it’s told through the eyes of a lost soul on a life journey. Dockery learns that in Italy, although “it (footfall) was just a club sport, winning meant something – commitment meant even more.”

By the end of Rick’s story, we see a man emerge from the immature self-absorbed, culturally deficient boy/man who’d arrived in a foreign country only a few weeks before. Moreover, if you are a football fan, the last game is a heart-stopper.

There’s no fairy-tale ending here. Dockery has choices to make, but he finds confidence, becomes comfortable in his own skin, and learns the real meaning of playing for pizza.

It’s not a new release, but it’s still a great summer read.

Review of Billy Kring’s book Degüello

by V.P. Chandler

I just finished reading Degüello: A Hunter Kincaid Mystery (The Hunter Kincaid Mysteries Book 6) by Billy Kring and have to tell you about it.

My introduction to Billy Kring’s writing began with his first Hunter Kincaid book, Quick, and I was both hooked and blown away.

Hunter is a tough, female border patrol agent who doesn’t back down from a fight. She faces incredibly tough situations with grit and feeling. I love her! She can drink beer and eat spicy tacos with the rest of the guys, on both sides of the U.S. southern border. And her tenacity and instincts are still strong in Degüello.

(Some of you may be wondering what “degüello” means. It can mean, slaughter, massacre, a killing off, or a beheading. Wiki also says that there’s a bugle by the same name. “The Degüello is a bugle call, notable in the US for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo to signal that the defenders of the garrison would receive no quarter by the attacking Mexican Army under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.”)

And when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see that this description is appropriate. I don’t know if Kring knew about the bugle when he came up with the title, but it sure fits!

So let’s get to the story. Children are being kidnapped in Mexico and brought to the U.S. to be sold to the sex trade. They are put on an airplane near San Angelo, Texas and transported to other parts of the world. Kincaid comes across the transfer of children along the border and is able to save a child but the kidnappers escape. Then a mother of a missing child begs Hunter to find her daughter. Hunter hesitates because there are rules that she has to follow, but she wants to do what she can to help. Through circumstances, it ends up being all up to her and Ike, a former body guard of a drug cartel kingpin.

The story is full of action and cunning characters. (Poor Ike is taken to the hospital twice.) As the description says on Amazon. “Sorely outgunned and outmanned, but to save the captives, Hunter puts a desperate plan into motion, and what follows is a storm of smoke, fire, and blood, and who will survive is anyone’s guess.”

You can’t beat that!

P.S. As a side note I’d like to add my favorite line that comes towards the end of the book. A character says that Hunter came to the rescue  “Like Wonder Woman charging into No Man’s Land.”

I love Wonder Woman and that’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. And the description is spot on.

So I guess you can tell that I liked it. Go check it out and the other Hunter Kincaid books. Here’s a link to his Amazon page.

Billy Kring on Amazon

How Did She Think of That? And How Did Adamsberg Figure It Out?: Thoughts on Fred Vargas and her Policiers

by Helen Currie Foster

Fred Vargas by Marcello Casal/ABr, licensed under CC BY-3.0 BR. Via Wikipedia

Her sheer imagination, her complex and nearly crazy—yet convincing—plots, have won Fred Vargas three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Associationfor her policiers, or police procedurals. Vargas is the nom de plume of Fréderique Audoin-Rouzeau, a French medieval historian and archeologist (born in Paris 1952) who worked at the Institut Pasteur. Vargas provides a vividly unusual police environment with her Paris-based Serious Crime Squad, headed by Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. I immediately fell for her idiosyncratic protagonist—Adamsberg is Pyrenees born, left handed, a water-colorist who paints in order to puzzle out murder inquiries, and who alternately frustrates and mesmerizes his staff through his unconventional thinking. Vargas has steadily added a cadre of interesting characters to Adamsberg’s team, each quite odd in his or her own way (not forgetting the large white cat which sleeps atop the copier and must be carried to its food bowl—a cat which demonstrates great heroism in This Night’s Foul Work) (tr. 2008).

Click here to read the original post at Ink-Stained Wretches.

A Review of The Secret Lives of Cats

by V.P. Chandler

One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.

 

Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.

 

I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”

 

I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 3.04.41 PM

I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.

 

He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”

 

He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.

 

I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.

 

I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)

 

So go check out The Secret Lives of Cats and the other books listed on her site. https://kriswrites.com/

 

Happy hunting and live long and prosper!

 

Originally posted on vpchandler.com 

Gretchen Archer on Road Trips, Super Spies & Double Knot

DOUBLEKNOTfrontF.jpgGretchen Archer’s biography claims she is a Tennessee housewife who turned to a life of crime (fiction) when her daughters left for college. Don’t let the housewife title fool you.

Gretchen Archer is a writer with mad skills, blending humor throughout her tightly plotted Davis Way mystery series that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Archer is a USA Today bestselling author with a loyal readership that continues to grow with every addition to the series. Fortunately, the latest mystery, Double Knot, hits bookstores and e-readers today.

Gretchen’s ability to create hilarious high jinx in her novels must come from, in some part, raising kids because we parents know how much material our offspring provide. Gretchen’s writing is clever in its ability to draw us in immediately, giving us Davis Way, a ‘super spy’ who works for a covert security team at the Bellissimo Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Super spy she may be, Davis is also wonderfully relatable, allowing her humanity and imperfections to come through with an authenticity that keeps readers rooting for her success.

Double Knot has been praised by Janet Evanovich, who wrote, “Powerfully heartfelt and knock-your-socks-off hilarious. I’m a fan!” Double Knot charts new new territory with this series because it is a locked-room mystery with Davis Way and company traveling on the luxury liner MS Probability. My mind immediately went to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man. Gretchen readily admits that this book was both difficult and exhilarating to write, exploring growth in both Davis’ world and the characters who occupy it. I asked Gretchen to give us a peek inside Davis’ life, how she came to be, and what she sees in the future for her favorite crime caper chasers.

LO: How did you discover Davis Way-or did she find you? 

GA: I was driving from Biloxi to my home in Tennessee on I-65 North in Alabama when I saw an exit sign for Pine Apple, which I thought was hilarious. When I pulled into my driveway three hours later, it was with Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama, who moves to Biloxi. You know how road trips are good for thinking.

LO: What is it about Davis that you think has created such a loyal following of readers? What do you hear most often?

GA: Is it Davis, you think, readers come back for? I hear “I love Davis!” and “Hurry with the next Davis!” but I get even more letters about her husband, Bradley Cole, and her doppelganger Bianca Sanders. What readers have told me they love about Davis is her vulnerability—that she’s human. They love Bradley for the opposite reason, because he’s perfect. (A perfect man is hard to write. Seriously. Because there are no ROLE MODELS.) And Bianca. First, I’ll tell you she’s enormously fun to write, and next, I’ll tell you the letters I get about Bianca are hilarious. “When is someone going to slap that woman?” and “Davis needs to shoot Bianca and get it over with.”

LO: What do you think readers would be surprised to know about Davis?

GA: She loves a good con. She doesn’t say she admires the bandits who cleverly steal from the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, because they usually leave a pesky dead body in their wake, but she’s in awe of a clever thief. Another Davis semi-secret? I wonder if readers remember that Davis had a baby when she was sixteen. I remember it all the time. It’s something they don’t tell you in Mystery Series Writing School, maybe because there is no Mystery Series Writing School (we should start one), but the history you write for your main character in book one stays with her. For the whole series. Another Davis surprise? She can’t cook. You never read about Davis cooking, which is crazy, because I feel like it’s all I do. (“What’s for dinner, Mom?” (“Anything you want! Frosted Flakes! Goldfish! Popcorn!”) What about the fact that Davis never shops? I never send her shopping but her closet is full of fabulous clothes.

LO: How do you feel Davis has changed and grown since Double Whammy?  Are there certain areas or themes you hope to explore going forward?

GA: Davis grew up in a town of four hundred. The biggest change for her has been the people she’s met since leaving Pine Apple. Fantasy is the first BFF she’s ever had, and their relationship is so much fun because they’re so close. And true love. Davis wouldn’t take a million dollars for a hair on her husband’s head. So, her biggest changes since book one are in the personal relationships category.

LO: Are there any special talents that Davis has yet to bring to one of your stories?  Ninja warrior?  Underwater basket weaving?

GA: She might learn how to land a plane. She just might.

LO: Anything else you’d like to share about DOUBLE KNOT or Davis’ world?

GA: Double Knot was a labor of love. I absolutely loved writing it. It’s a locked-room mystery on a two-day timeline. It was challenging and rewarding and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to write one this close to my heart again.

 

Here’s a sneak peak of Double Knot

At midnight, the clock clicking from Saturday to Sunday, I locked the door to my stateroom behind me. I gathered my cat, pajamas, vitamins, toothbrush, and was in a hurry for the bed when I stepped into the gold bathroom and saw an envelope taped to the mirror above the vanity. It was addressed to me. I recognized my name right away; I’ve had it all my life. The problem was—I took slow and steady steps toward the envelope—no one outside 704 knew my name. Correspondence to me aboard Probability should have been addressed to Bianca Sanders. Not Davis Way Cole. I reached for it, curious and apprehensive at the same time. I opened it to find a photograph of my boss, No Hair. My knees gave way and the vanity caught me. Hands bound behind his back, legs secured at the ankles, clothes disheveled, his tie gone and his lower lip split wide open, he was in a straight chair against a wall between two dark porthole windows. No Hair was someone’s prisoner. He looked straight at me when the picture was taken, his eyes apologetic, but everything else about his expression and posture was livid.

My head swam and I saw stars. I backed up to the square porcelain bathtub in the middle of the gold floor and sat down on the wide edge. I read the letter.

Mrs. Cole,

To ensure your safety and that of your guests and loved ones, sit back and settle in, because you’re not leaving your suite. Rest assured no harm will come to anyone as long as you follow these simple instructions: Do not attempt to escape or make contact with anyone. Jeremy Covey will be detained for the duration of the cruise, as will you and your party. You will walk off this ship unharmed if you cooperate.

Unfortunately, the medical staff accompanying you tried to board with controlled substances and was refused passage. They’re not looking for you. Your photography crew has been reassigned. They’re not looking for you. No one is looking for you. There’s no way out. Not only is escape impossible, you will most assuredly jeopardize everyone’s welfare if you attempt any overt attention-seeking endeavors. In other words, Mrs. Cole, don’t start a fire. You’ll burn.

Arrangements have been made to communicate with your husband for you. Should you try to contact him directly and by some miracle succeed, you run the risk of never seeing him again.

Relax, follow these simple instructions, and all will be well. Attempts to escape, alert your husband, the authorities, or other passengers will be met with deadly consequences. It’s up to you.

And that was it.

We were hostages on a luxury cruise liner.

Gretchen_  To learn more about Double Knot and Gretchen Archer, please visit www.gretchenarcher.com. You can find Double Knot at your favorite bookstore or online through Amazon and other retailers.

–Laura Oles

The Premise of a Mystery

A mystery needs a strong premise to succeed in today’s vast sea of manuscripts and newly published books. But what exactly is a premise? And how can you tell if the premise of your book is a good one?

photo (45)

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder defines the premise as the idea that promises to be an exciting or interesting story. It’s a short answer to the question, “What’s it about?” Its job is to make you want to read the book. Premise in this sense is similar to the back cover copy (blurb or description) of the book.

What’s a ginthewoodsood premise for a mystery? A child is murdered and the detective has to catch the killer. Not good enough. It’s a murder mystery, but why read this one?

Three children go into the woods. Two are murdered and the third is found covered with blood. He remembers nothing. Better. I might read it.

But that was 20 years ago. Now there’s been a similar murder in the same woods and the detective is the third child who survived the earlier crime and still has no memory of it. I will definitely sample that book.

A twenty-year-old body is found, that of a young woman. Twenty years earlier, a young man and his girlfriend planned to elope. When she failed to show up, he thought she’d jilted him. The young man is now a detective, and the body is that of his girlfriend.

faithfulplace

In the Woods and Faithful Place are excellent examples of one way to build a compelling premise for a mystery: an interesting crime plus a personal connection with the detective. The fundamental conflict of any mystery—murderer versus agent of truth and justice—is amplified by internal conflict.

Moreover, there is a built-in professional conflict for the detective, because he should recuse himself. In ITW, he keeps it a secret that he was the third child. In FP, he defies orders and investigates secretly on his own.

For Snyder, the premise is a what-if containing elements of both character and inciting incident. For John Truby (The Anatomy of Story), the premise is a short synopsis that includes the inciting incident, the main character, and the outcome.

His example, for the Godfather: “The youngest son of a Mafia family takes revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new Godfather.” The whole story, in a nutshell.

The two different senses of the term ‘premise’ are both widely used. In Story, Robert McKee discusses both concepts, which he calls, respectively, the inspiring idea and the controlling idea.

The story-in-a-nutshell of a mystery is the solution to the mystery. It is what I have elsewhere called the hidden drama. It’s the truth about the murder that is concealed in the enticing set-up.

A mystery needs a strong premise in both senses. The set-up states the mystery (someone has been murdered—why? By whom?) and the hidden drama, when revealed, must pack some sort of wallop to pay off the promise of a good story.

I cannot give you an example of the latter without spoiling a mystery. So that’s what I’m going to do. If you have not read Rebecca, STOP READING NOW! Read Rebecca and come back.

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

A shy, unconfident young woman marries a man whose first wife, Rebecca, has died in an accident. Rebecca was beautiful, talented, seemingly perfect in every way. How can our poor heroine ever compete with the ghost of this paragon?

Not the most powerful set-up (no mention of a crime), but the hidden drama—oh my. It turns out Rebecca was EVIL! Her husband hated her and murdered her! He got away with it—or did he? OMG!!! A witness comes forward! Breathtaking, page-turning suspense ensues. This book delivers on its premise like no other.

Cornwall

On just such a bay in Cornwall, Rebecca De Winter drowned…supposedly.

Call them hook and twist: a compelling crime to be solved and an underlying truth that is both unexpected and confounding. A really good mystery needs both.

Elizabeth Buhmann

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A woman who witnessed a murder lied on the stand. Twenty years later, the man who was convicted on her testimony has just been exonerated and released:

Lay Death at Her Door, by Elizabeth Buhmann