LONE STAR LAWLESS Is Here!

LONE STAR LAWLESS:
14 Texas Tales of Crime

by

Austin Mystery Writers and Friends

Paperback and Kindle formats  available from Amazon.com 

Proceeds to be donated to Ellis Memorial Library in Aransas Pass, Texas
to help replace collections destroyed in Hurricane Harvey

Wildside Press, 2017

***

 And watch for Laura Oles’ first mystery novel 

DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN

November 14, 2017

 

 

Pets and the Fourth

 

Today we have a guest blogger who is a former AMW member, Kaye George.

 

If you’re reading this, you either like to read or to write, right? Or you’re a loyal friend of one of the Austin Mystery Writers. I’ve seen an odd connection between lovers of the written word and the love of animals. Or maybe that’s just a universal thing, or a thing with people who hang around in cyber space. Anyway, I’d like to appeal to those of you who love animals.

running dog

If you have a dog or cat, take care of it tonight! Please don’t leave it outside. Between July 4th and July 6th, animal control services nationwide see a 30% rise in missing pets!* If you live in Texas, among many other places, fireworks will start well before the 4th, so you’ll need to take precautions in the days leading up to Fireworks Day, as well as the days afterward.

 

If you have an animal that is overly anxious, you might want to give him medicine to soothe him during the height of the booming. Hugging or wrapping tightly can help some dogs. If you can distract your pet with other noises, that might help. Also, it’s good to have at least an ID tag, at most a chip, just in case he gets out and runs away, confused and frightened by the unusual noises.

 

If you should see an animal running loose and scared, you can report it here:

https://www.petamberalert.com/report-a-pet-sighting/

 

One more if. If you’re fortunate enough to have a laid-back furry buddy who can ignore fireworks, count yourself lucky and enjoy the holiday. Happy Fourth!

 

*https://www.petamberalert.com/blog/keeping-your-pets-safe-on-the-4th-of-july/

The Novella in Your Line-Up

Some writers never struggle to find enough words; they struggle to prune over-long manuscripts. Other writers, like me, start out with a premise and work through an outline to a rough draft that is . . . short.

As I expand on my first draft, I worry about length. Optimal length for a novel (most genres) is between 70,000 and 90,000 words. What if your story comfortably winds up in the low range, 30-000-50,000?

You have a choice: complicate and expand to novel length or call it a novella.

In an article for Writer’s Digest, Chuck Sambuccino addresses this choice. His advice: Expand your story until it’s a novel. But he is talking to writers who want to query agents and land contracts with major publishers. Print publishers will rarely take on a novella, and “rarely” probably means “never” for the unknown first-timer.

heartThe novella has taken on new life in recent years, however, with the rise of digital publishing. Remove the cost of hard copy printing, binding and distribution, and the shorter literary forms are more than viable—they are attractive to readers and authors alike.

The novella is a time-honored and well established literary tradition—I need only mention Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton and Ernest Hemmingway. An interesting article on the novella in Wikipedia includes a reading list that will keep you happy for a couple of months at least.

What the novella can do for you

Everybody knows that after the blog tour and the boosted posts, the best way to keep your book selling is to write more books. With a very small publisher, or by self-publishing, you can get new titles out there about as fast as you can write them. But if you once make the leap to the big-time, the process slows down. How do you stay on the radar in this fast-paced market?

Thought I Knew You is currently #11 in the Paid Kindle store on sale for $.99 (as of today, August 17, but not for long)
Thought I Knew You is currently #11 in the Paid Kindle store on sale for $.99 (as of today, August 17, but not for long)

One way is to write a novella. Case in point:

Bestselling author Kate Moretti debuted her knockout first book, Thought I Knew You (Red Adept Publishing), in September 2012. She followed with Binds That Tie a year and a half later, in March, 2014. About that time, TIKY hit the New York Times bestseller list, and Moretti caught the eye of literary agent Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group. Gottlieb parlayed this fast start into a two-book deal with Atria (Simon and Shuster).

Moretti had momentum and a growing fan base. But by stepping up to the big five, she was facing a two-year gap between book two and book three. How to keep her fans engaged? Enter the novella.

At half the length of a full novel (and proportionately fewer subplots and complications), the novella can be written in half the time. A small independent publisher can turn the ebook around in half the time it takes a major print publisher to get a novel out the door.

wywgWhile You were Gone is a tangent to TIKY, with all new characters, as engaging as we have come to expect from Moretti, plus a tight, fast-paced story, and a strong twist at the end. It is available for pre-order now, at $2.99, and will be released on September 1, 2015.

From a fan’s perspective, this is perfect—a short (130 pages) dose of Moretti’s unique blend of mystery/suspense and women’s fiction between the longer works. From the author’s perspective, she stays out front on the market with a book and keeps building her fan base in preparation for The Vanishing Year (coming in 2016). This is what a novella can do for you.

Kimberly Giarratano has done the same thing. Readers loved her YA mystery with ghosts, Grunge Gods and Graveyards (4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on 74 reviews). That book came out in May 2014, and Giarratano followed up just one year later with a spin-off novella, The Lady in Blue, which she self-published.

ladyinblue

Giarratano takes the logic one step further. In between GGG and LIB, she self-published a lovely YA ghost story, One Night is All You Need—just 21 pages, but hey, it’s free! And a reader who gets a taste of this story and likes it (how could you not) will surely take a look at one of the other books.

All this is good news to me. When I start working on a story and doubt assails me as to whether I have material for a 90,000-word novel, I relax. If it comes out short, I will have written a novella.

I love reading them myself. More than a short story, less than a novel, just the right length for a late-summer afternoon curled up in the reading chair. Perfect!

Elizabeth BuhmannElizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door: “The bill for lies told decades earlier comes due for Kate Cranbrook, the complex narrator of Buhmann’s superior debut… and more blood is shed along the way to a jaw-dropping, but logical, climax that will make veteran mystery readers eager for more.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

2015 Reading Challenge

Wouldn’t it be great to have a list of every book you’ve ever read? An aunt of mine kept such a list.  We found it when she died at ninety. It would be a wonderful gift for a child, to give her a blank, lined notebook along with the idea of keeping such a list.

In January, I started writing down what I’ve read this year, and I’m curious to see whether I will read 100 books in 2015. Along the way, just for fun, I’ve already completed a reading challenge:

Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2015 Reading Challenge

2015-Reading-Challenge

You’re supposed to read 12 books in each category–that’s a lot! I read one in each. My twelve books:

A BOOK I’VE BEEN MEANING TO READ: The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. She does not usually write in the murder/crime genre, but here she does. Loved it!

A BOOK PUBLISHED THIS YEAR: YOU, by Caroline Kepnes. I amended this category to “a book published within the last year.”

A BOOK IN A GENRE I DON’T TYPICALLY READ: The Battle for Saigon, a military history by Keith Nolan. I read it because I am writing up a friend’s experience living in Saigon during the 1960s and ‘70s. I glossed over the jargon, hardware and acronyms, of course. When he wrote about an NCOIC and three augmentees in a M113 APC with a .50-cal MG, I took this to be a bunch of guys in a truck with a big gun. I don’t like war, but this was by turns interesting, appalling, and exciting. Well researched, too. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A BOOK FROM MY CHILDHOOD: I couldn’t think of a book from my childhood that I wanted to reread (Nancy Drew doesn’t work for me anymore), so I listed Winterdanceby Gary Paulson, because it’s such a great and perennial favorite of my inner child. It’s about sled dogs and the “fine madness” of running the Iditerod. Charming, wonderful read (especially if you’re foolish over dogs like me) (and out of 295 customer reviews, a whopping 255 are 5 stars–read this book).

winterdance

crackingrailwaybazaar

A BOOK MY MOTHER LOVES: The Sleep of Reason, by CP Snow. My mother didn’t love this book. I am not even sure she read it. She mentioned it in such a funny way that, fifty years later, I was curious enough to read it. Weird.

A BOOK ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE: The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino, a fabulously well-plotted murder mystery.

GOTpayingA BOOK “EVERYONE” BUT ME HAS READ: Ugh, do I have to? I bounced off a few of these—there’s a reason I haven’t read them—and finally settled on The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This book will mess with your year-end total—it’s 800 pages long! A Pulitzer Prize winner with 21,000 Amazon reviews.

A BOOK I CHOSE BECAUSE OF THE COVER: Malice, also by Keigo Higashino.

A BOOK BY A FAVORITE AUTHOR: Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux. This is a reprise of Dark Star Safari, which you should read instead. In fact, if you are not already a fan, start with The Great Railway Bazaar.

A BOOK RECOMMENDED BY SOMEONE WITH GREAT TASTE: Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa.  Thanks for the recommendation, O you with great taste, Kathy Waller! I loved it.

A BOOK I SHOULD HAVE READ IN HIGH SCHOOL: Moby Dick. DNF. Once again.

A BOOK THAT IS CURRENTLY A BESTSELLER: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. Great read. Inspiring that a mid-list author rolled the dice with a genre shift and hit the big-time!

Elizabeth BuhmannElizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door. An old murder comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated.

Murder in the Far East

Elizabeth BuhmannBy Elizabeth Buhmann

Continuing the series, Murder in Exotic Places.

The digital image below hardly does justice to the exquisite jacket on Keigo Higashino’s most recent murder mystery, Malice. I paid top dollar for the hardcover because it was just so beautiful. Loved the book, too, a murder mystery set in modern-day Japan.

maliceI liked Malice enough that I also read The Devotion of Suspect X, a major bestseller in Japan a couple of years ago. And WOW!!! The best, most ingenious murder plot EVER. Sorry to shout, but seriously, this plot is one in a million. Move over, Agatha. Really. What a murder!

Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland, is first in a series of more than a dozen detective mystery/thrillers set in 17th century Japan, in the days of Samurai and the corrupt, cutthroat, intrigue-ridden court of the Shogun Tokugawa. Rowland’s detective, Sano Ichiro, is one of the most admirable and lovable protagonists ever. Shinju, about an apparent ritual suicide between two star-crossed lovers, was almost too unbearably suspenseful for me!

ookaI cut my teeth as a mystery lover on the Tales of Ooka, Solomon in Kimono. The books I read as a child in the 1950s, by IG Edmonds, are hard-to-find collector’s items now. The character of the wise Judge Ooka is based on a real 17th century magistrate, Ooka Tadasuke, who rose to fame and high position with his famously wise and fair administration of justice as well as his incorruptible character.

A favorite Ooka story: the case of the stolen smell. A rich, miserly restaurant owner complains that a poor student is stealing the smell of his food. He wants to be paid! Ooka hears the case and demands that the student produce all the money he has. It’s only a couple of coins. Ooka tells him to drop the money from one hand to the other, then rules that the merchant has been paid for the smell of his food by the sound of clinking coins.

calamitousShamini Flint is an attorney who lives in Singapore and has traveled extensively in Asia. Her mysteries are set in India, China, Singapore, Bali  and Malaysia. I loved them all! I will suggest starting (as I did) with the one set in China: A Calamitous Chinese Killing.

Speaking of China, and if you like characters based on real-life historical figures, Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee series is a must-read. Dee was a seventh century Chinese magistrate (read about him in Wikipedia). Here is the Amazon list of the Judge Dee books.

lakebell

mazedee

The Celebrated Cases Of Dee Goong An is an honest-to-goodness 18th century Chinese detective novel based on Dee’s legendary career. The book was translated by Van Gulik (who was quite the Sinologist). His foreword about early Chinese detective fiction is fascinating. Many features of these books (the supernatural elements, the torture, their length) make them a tough read for the modern and/or Western reader. And in fact, what I recommend is that you read Van Gulik’s own Judge Dee novels first, rather than this one.

chanI’ll close with a cheat and a post-script. The cheat: Charlie Chan! A cheat because the books are not set in China, and Earl Derr Biggers had nothing to do with China. The House Without a Key is set in Hawaii, but at least Charlie is Chinese. Charlie Chan is not as well known as he once was (read about the books and films). I say he’s due for a revival.

Finally, a postscript to last month’s Murder in Africa. At the time, I had just picked up a novella by Kwei Quartey. When I finished that I tried his Darko Dawson series, and I must add it to the Murder in Africa list—love this series! The first book is Wife of the Gods. I guarantee that you will go looking for the rest of the series after you finish it. Dr. Quartey, I am anxiously awaiting the next book!

For more murder in the far east:

Elizabeth Buhmann is author of Lay Death at Her Door, and Amazon Top 100 Bestselling mystery about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted for it is exonerated.

Neo-Noir?

I recently wrote to a friend and said, “Hey, next time you’re putting an anthology together, let me know. I’d like to contribute.”

He contacted me the next day. “Thanks for the idea! It’s all set. I’ve lined up all the writers and it’ll be Texas noir crime/mystery stories!”

What? That was fast. Noir? Images of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in trench coats came to mind. Now there’s nothing wrong with Cagney or Bogart. They were excellent actors who were in some great films. I’ve read some Raymond Chandler and he was very talented. He had a gift for unique metaphors that were brief and got right to the heart of the matter. I’ve never read Mickey Spillane but heard he was really good too. Lots of good writers of the genre out there.darkedinburgh_darklight

But, I’m not a fan of that type of setting. (Yes, I know. I heard your collective gasp. Please don’t throw tomatoes. Put down those pitchforks.) While there are some great stories out there, I’m not keen on men calling women “dames” and saying they have great “gams”. Not thrilled about guys punching other guys just to make a point that they’re tough. If I wanted to watch that, I’d have continued teaching high school.

I understand about noir and hard-boiled crime fiction, why it came about in America when it did. I have no problem with gritty books and movies, nor with the era. I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock, for example.

So now I’m thinking, great, what am I going to write? How am I, a kid from the ‘70s and ‘80’s, going to write about detectives swilling whiskey?

Put down my latte or I’ll give it to you right in the kisser!

I don’t think so.

I first started thinking about recent stories that were gritty. Surely there are modern (neo-noir?) stories. How gritty does it need to be? Aren’t crime/mysteries by definition dark? The only exception I can think of are cozies, but even sometimes they can be dark.

So I decided to do what I usually do several times a day. I Googled it. Apparently, according to Wikepedia, people can’t decide on the definition either. Then I fell back on my other source of information, my friends on Facebook. Since I have so many friends who are writers, this is a font of information. I received many good answers. A few of the recommendations were shows like the Longmire series and True Detective. Some of the books mentioned were The Bitch (yes, that’s the name), The Package by Cleve Sylcox, anything by Walter Moseley or Kelli Stanley, the Harry Dresden series, and an anthology called Lone Star Noir.lone star noir_

Okay, I think I’m getting there, closer to something that I could write. Dark stories, maybe like the Coen Brothers? I thought of Fargo, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, movies I really liked. Those had elements of crime and mystery. An idea popped into my head, something that I could really write. I’m sure some of the other writers for the anthology are wondering if a little housewife could possibly create something dark enough to fit in with their stories.

I think I’m up to the challenge.

So  how about you? Do you have a favorite story or movie that you consider to be noir?

Murder in Africa

Elizabeth Buhmann

MURDER IN EXOTIC PLACES, continued.

by Elizabeth Buhmann

Last month, I wrote about books set on the Indian subcontinent. How about books set in Africa? I have never been to Africa, but I’ve read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. The subtitle is “Overland from Cairo to Capetown.” Think about that for a minute. Not a journey for the faint of heart! But not one you have to make, because you can read a blow-by-blow that offers all the wit and keen observation of the most astute, acerbic and entertaining travel writer ever.

kenya

I loved that book, but I must have murder, and fortunately Africa is the setting for several outstanding detective series. Among the very best are Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper
presentdarknessnovels, set in South Africa during the 1950s, at the height of the Apartheid era. Malla Nunn is from Swaziland in South Africa and now resides in Australia.

All four books in her series are excellent. I started with the third, Blessed are the Dead, in which a young Zulu woman is murdered in the Drakensberg Mountains. This is a dark, gritty and well-plotted murder mystery with a fascinating geographic, social and political setting. I highly recommend it. Her latest is Present Darkness.

Botswanahouse

If you prefer light and delightful to dark and gritty, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is a wonderful read. It’s the twelfth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series sattentby Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. The books are set in Gabarone, Botswana, and the main character is the wise and charming Precious Ramotswe.

You may already know about these books, since they have been wildly popular for more than ten years now, but did you know that there are fifteen books in the series? Here’s a checklist, so you can be sure you’ve read them all. The BBC/HBO television series captures the books perfectly, by the way; Season 1 is available on Amazon Video.

acarriondeathLess well known, and also set in Botswana, are the Kubu mysteries, by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who publish as Michael Stanley. Both men were born in Africa and have traveled extensively there all their lives. Their lovable detective is the portly David Benga, affectionately known as Kubu (the Setsama word for hippopotamus). The series achieves a perfect balance between light humor and serious crime. A Carrion Death, their debut, is a good place to start.  There are four Kubu books altogether, plus a cook book.

But actually, if it’s African food you crave (and if you have ever tried African food, you surely crave it), try Jessica Harris’s Africa Cookbook, Tastes of a Continent. Babotie! Curried cabbage! Pigeon Pie! It takes all day to cook, and a village to eat, such a dinner!

zanzibar2

MM Kaye, you may recall from the first post in this series (Murder in Exotic Places) was born in India and lived there much of her life. After India’s independence, she followed her husband, a Major-General in the British Army, to Africa. There she wrote two more romantic suspense novels: Death in Kenya and Death in Zanzibar.

africacookbook

deathinkenyazanzibarlaydeath

I stumbled on MM Kaye’s mysteries when researching my own book, Lay Death at Her Door. My main character, Kate Cranbrook, is from Kenya, daughter of American ex-voyagerpatriates, and events from her teenage years in Nairobi reach across decades of her life to haunt her.

Finally, I have just discovered a series of mysteries by Kwei Quartey. I’m currently enjoying Death at the Voyager Hotel,  set in Ghana. I’m close to the end, and I don’t know whodunnit yet!

Next: Mysteries set in the Far East.

Mystery/Thriller Recommendations

It’s that time of year! A time for reflection on the past year and anticipation of the new. If you’re like me, you hear a lot of people mention a good book or movie and you think to yourself, “That sounds good! I gotta remember that.” And then you don’t.

So, since I have a lot of friends on Facebook who like mysteries and thrillers, I’ve asked them to recommend at least one good book or movie they discovered this year. And of course, each of us here at AMW has a recommendation too.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Mandy Eve Barnett (author): mandyevebarnett.com – Lucy – it is unusual, exciting and a great twist at the end! A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

2. Beverly Nelms (personal and book club friend) – A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman from a John LeCarre book. It’s about a (most likely) innocent Muslim man being ground up in the system by the Taliban, then by us. PSH plays a German operative with a small group of “assets” who is trying to help him. Underdogs helping the underdog. The view of agents, especially ours, is devastating.

3. Laura Wilson (personal and book club friend) – I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, book much better than the movie, by Stieg Larsson. The main character is a girl with a troubled background who is brilliant with technology and a research savant. There is torture, murder, blackmail and deceit all over this book.

4. Billy Kring (mystery author) www.billykring.com – Suspect by Robert Crais. One of my top reads of the year, and highly recommended. LAPD cop Scott James and his female partner are ambushed, and Scott is wounded, his partner killed. He is broken, suffering, and angry, textbook PTSD. As a last chance, he is partnered with a german shepherd with her own problems. Maggie is a two-tour bomb-sniffing dog who lost her handler in an ambush. She is also suffering from PTSD, and it is her last chance, too. When they begin to investigate the case where Scott’s partner was murdered, they have to rely on each other, and what they encounter in the case could well break both of them.

5. David B. Schlosser (writer, editor) – www.dbschlosser.com – The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. This terrific Australian mystery explores the traditional aspects of a crime/cop story — good guys, bad guys, and their travails — as well as some really interesting cultural challenges in Australia.

6. Kelly Pustejovsky (personal friend) – I watched Dream House yesterday on Netflix, surprisingly good.

7. Tara Madden (personal friend) – Wilde’s The Gods of Gotham and it’s sequel. Fairly new mystery series about the very beginnings of the NYPD set in the 1840s. Very good. Really pulls you into the story. Great richly created characters.

8. Jeanne Kisacky (writer) – It’s been out a while, but Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity defied my ability to see where the plot was going. It was truly remarkable to read a book and not have any of my guesses pan out.

9. H.M. Bouwmann (author and professor) – www.hmbouwman.com – I’ll second the Code Name Verity recommendation. And I enjoyed both Robert Galbraith (Rowling) mysteries–though I loved the first more than the second. Also, just as an FYI, the opening couple of pages are not great. Then: very good.

10. Roger Cuevas (personal friend) – I love Alice LaPlant’s “Turn of Mind.” It’s narrated by a woman, a former hand surgeon with Alzheimer’s. Then one day her neighbor and long-time friend is found dead and the body’s hands have been expertly removed. Did she do it? Our narrator just can’t remember…

11. Morris Nelms (personal, book club friend, professor of fine arts, and musician) (Yea, he’s a cool guy) – The Afghan, by Forsyth. Frequencies, a sci-fi whodunit movie. Crescent City Rhapsody, a sci-fi thriller about what happens when an EMP disables everything.

12. Joseph Huerta (personal friend) – The two “Blood” books by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell that feature warfare against the forces of Armageddon, including angels and devils and a secret band of priests who were once vampires. Yes, it doesn’t really sound like a Joe-book but it was truly fascinating. The third book will be out this Spring.

13. Angie Kinsey (writer) – www.angiekinsey.com – The Martian by Andy Weir – a not too far fetched sci-fi thriller about an engineer who gets stranded on Mars. He has to figure out how to stay alive with the resources he has until he can connect with home. Entertaining and thrilling!

14. Debbie Woodard (personal friend) –  I discovered the BBC’S Sherlock this year. Fantastic production, great actors, character-driven-well-written scripts.

15. Elizabeth Buhmann (AMW member) – I’ve read a lot of good mysteries this year. I think I’ll go for Present Darkness, the latest by Malla Nunn, but my recommendation is not to start here but to start with her first, A Beautiful Place to Die. The setting for these books is South Africa in the 1950s, at the height of the Apartheid era.

16. Laura Oles (AMW member) – My favorite this year isn’t a traditional mystery but I loved it because it had a strong mystery component and very strong storytelling. It was Leaving Time by Judy Picoult.

17. Gale Albright (AMW member) – I was fascinated and awed by Tana French’s In the Woods, from the very first paragraph because her writing is lyrical and compelling. It’s set in Ireland and is her first book about the “Dublin Murder Squad.”

18. Kaye George (AMW member) – I’m JUST like that. I vow to remember the good books I’ve read, but, alas, my memory doesn’t really go back 12 months. I know that every Harlan Coben I read is my favorite. Recently I read “Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger and it was terrific. It’s the first Cork O’Connor book. I’ve read others, but had never read this one.

19. Kathy Waller (AMW member) – Terry Shames’ A Killing at Cotton Hill. She captures small town life in a southern town while mixing humor with suspense and mystery. I couldn’t put it down. It won the 2014 Macavity Award. 

20. My favorite book that I read this past year was Jackaby by William Ritter. I loved the mix of historical fantasy and mystery. Jackaby is an investigator of unexplained phenomena and the story is told from the POV of his new assistant, Abigail Rook. It’s a bit like Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter. It was delightful and intriguing.

So there you have it! A whole slew of books to add to your TBR (To Be Read) list.

Celebrating Mystery Author P. D. James

0kathy-blogWho’s your favorite mystery author?

A Sister in Crime recently posed that question.

I told her my favorite mystery author is–

Agatha Christie / Donna Leon / Josephine Tey / Margery Allingham / Ngaio Marsh / Ruth Rendell / Mary Roberts Rinehart / Sarah Caudwell / Sophie Hannah / Ellis Peters / Elizabeth Peters / Elizabeth George / Dorothy L. Sayers / Patricia Highsmith / Minette Walters / Mary Willis Walker / Kaye George / Terry Shames / Karin Fossum / Cammie McGovern / Laura Lippman / Anne Perry / Ann George / Joan Hess / Faye Kellerman / Daphne DuMaurier / Carolyn Keene . . .

And others too numerous to mention.

That’s typical. When asked to choose a favorite, I come down somewhere between wishy-washy and overwhelmed. There are so many writers whose books I enjoy, each for a different reason.

I like Josephine Tey for her ability to keep readers feverishly turning pages of a mystery in which there’s not even a hint of murder.

I like Sarah Caudwell for her wit and for her erudite narrator, Professor of Medieval Law Hilary Tamar, who couldn’t solve a crime if the answer jumped up and bit her.

I like Donna Leon for her vivid depiction of Venice, and for Commissario Guido Brunetti, increasingly cynical about the possibility of dispensing justice in a corrupt society, who finds refuge in his home and family.

I like Ruth Rendell for her complex and amazingly tight plotting, and her ability to drop in one more revelation when the reader thinks all questions have already been answered.

I like Daphne DuMaurier for–well, for the reasons everyone else likes her.

My Sister, however, pressed me to give her only one name. The reason? She had an idea for a SINC ~ Heart of Texas Chapter (HOTXSINC) program focusing on a mystery author, a celebration of that writer’s life and work.

To that, the answer was both immediate and obvious: P. D. James, acknowledged by both critics and readers as the premier writer of mysteries in the English language.

I like James for her complex plots, and for characters so fully realized that their lives seem to extend beyond the pages of the book. I like her because she plays fair with the reader, hiding clues in plain sight. I like her for her clean, elegant prose and her literary style. James feels no need to start with a murder on page one, but takes her time, introducing characters, establishing relationships, orienting the reader in time and place. Her pace is leisurely, and the reader who tears through a James novel, intent on learning the identity of the villain and moving on to the next title on his To-Be-Read stack misses half the pleasure her mysteries offer.

In addition to the skill and stature that make James a perfect choice for HOTXSINC’s program is the fact that a television adaptation of her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is scheduled for airing on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! at the end of October.

Finally, there’s the fact that on August 3rd of this year, James celebrated her ninety-fourth birthday. The birthday of a favorite mystery writer certainly merits a party.

The Sister who came up with the idea for the celebration is Sarah Ann Robertson, past president and treasurer/membership coordinator for HOTXSINC. As is only fair, since it was her idea, I asked her to coordinate it. As always, she’s done an excellent job.

The program will feature presentations by members on James’ life and work, including Youtube videos of interviews with the author. Special guests Maria Rodriguez, Director of Programming for KLRU-TV, will present an overview of KLRU/PBS “Mystery!”, based on mysteries by female authors, and Linda Lehmusvirta, KLRU Senior Producer for Central Texas Gardener and a P. D. James enthusiast, will speak about P. D. James’ televised mysteries on KLRU/PBS.

sinc teapots web 2014-08-27 007 After the program, members and guests will be treated to a traditional afternoon Texas-style English tea.

The celebration will take place at Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78756, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., on Sunday, September 14. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Please join us.

*****

For a bibliography of P. D. James’ publications, click here.

To read about the traditional English afternoon tea, click here.

*****

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (kathywaller1.com).

 

 

Why Read When You Know the End?

Whether you’re reading Mystery, Romance, Thriller, or Adventure, the ending is almost always predictable. We hope the bad guy will be caught, the couple that’s at odds with each other will come together, the deadly virus won’t kill everyone on Earth, and the hero will complete his quest.

So why do we read these books? I think it’s because of three things.

  1. We love a good story. I think the human brain is wired for stories. For millennia that’s how we’ve passed down our history, folklore, and myths.
    photo by Irish_Eyes

    I believe it’s almost like a form of magic or time travel. Our minds are transported to another place. We are immersed in the story and feel for the characters. And if the writing is really good, you get a sense that you know the characters personally. I mean really, how cool is that?

 

 

 

  1. We like the ritual. It can be comforting to know how the story will end. Everyone loves a hero and likes to root for the underdog. (Of course some heroes are anti-heroes. Not very likeable but they get the job done.)
    Photo by krosseel

    We like coming of age stories and romance because good prevails and we get to believe in true love. It’s also comforting to know that the bad guy will be caught. It’s something to hold onto in an uncertain world.

 

 

 

 

3. We like the journey and the tingly excitement of uncertainty. We’re in it for the ride. We like to see how the clues will unfold, how the problems will be solved. We’re often surprised with twists and turns, just like on a roller coaster. “Holy moly! Now what’s going to happen?” And, of course, what often keeps us on the edge of our seats is knowing that possibly not all of the characters we’ve come to love will make it to the end. That little bit of uncertainty keeps me turning pages!

 

So, as with most things in life, it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. Hopefully we’ve learned a little something along the way, (maybe a new survival skill!), become reacquainted with an archetype, and been along for a fun ride, twists and turns and all. It’s a magic that keeps us coming back for more.

Posted by VP Chandler

Austin Mystery Writer Valerie Chandler
VP Chandler