Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Agatha Awards shortlist announced

For those who like their malice domestic, here are the nominations for the Agathas:

Best Novel
The Penguin Who Knew Too Much, by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen (Penguin Group)
Hard Row, by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)
A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Murder With Reservations, by Elaine Viets (NAL)

Best First Novel
A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch ( St. Martin 's Minotaur)
A Real Basket Case, by Beth Groundwater (Five Star)
Silent In The Grave, by Deanna Raybourn (Mira)
Prime Time, by Hank Phillipi Ryan (Harlequin)

Best Nonfiction
Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life In Letters, by Charles Foley, Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower (Penguin Press)
The Official Nancy Drew Handbook, by Penny Warner (Quirck Productions)

Best Short Story
"A Rat's Tale", by Donna Andrews (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Sept/Oct, 2007)
"Please Watch Your Step", by Rhys Bowen (The Strand, Spring, 2007)
"Casino Gamble", by Nan Higginson (Murder New York Style, L & L Dreamspell)
"Popping Round To The Post", by Peter Lovesey (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November, 2007)
"Death Will Clean Your Closet", by Elizabeth Zelvin (Murder New York Style, L & L Dreamspell)

Best Children's/Young Adult
A Light In The Cellar, by Sarah Masters Buckey (American Girl)
Bravo Zulu, Samantha!, by Kathleen Benner Duble (Peachtree Publishers)
Cover-Up: Mystery At The Super Bowl, by John Feinstein (Knopf)
The Falconer's Knot, by Mary Hoffman (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books)
Theodosia And The Serpents Of Chaos, by R.L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)

The Agathas will be presented at the Malice Domestic XX banquet on April 26, 2008 being held at Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, Arlington, Virginia. The annual convention of cozy authors takes place April 25-27 and will feature special awards for Lindsey Davis, Charlaine Harris and Peter Lovesey; Toastmaster will be Dan Stashower.

For information, go to:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More March madness

Maybe it's because I'm tired of all the lousy weather or the fact that it's Leap Year, but I continually think about March and what it will bring.

Yesterday, I was thinking St. Patrick's Day and that, of course, led me to Irish mysteries. What would I suggest for a suitable (or unsuitable) tribute to the snake driver?

First, there's Christine Falls, Benjamin Black's '50s era Dublin noir featuring Quirke, a larger -than-life pathologist out to discover how the eponymous woman met her death and what happened to her child. Things get murkier for Quirke as he indulges too much at his favorite pub and endures pressure from within his family and from without. A great read whether you like mysteries or not. Upcoming is The Silver Swan, a sequel also featuring Quirke.

Some of my favorite Ireland-centric mysteries are the series about Chief Inspector Peter McGarr, written by Bartholomew Gill. Through the years Gill has given us a continually well- written series, including Death in Dublin, The Death of an Irish Tradition, The Death of an Irish Lass, The Death of an Irish Consul and The Death of an Irish Lover, to name a few. You don't see these books around much, but they are still in print and that's a blessing.

For historical mysteries, I don't have to go any further than Peter Tremayne whose 7th century tales of Sister Fidelma has been delighting readers for a decade. In the latest entry, A Prayer for the Damned, Fidelma of Cashel and Eadulf are preparing for their upcoming nuptials when a murder of a fanatical abbott puts the on one of the wedding guests.

And, of course, you can't get more Irish than Ken Bruen's Priest in which Father Joyce is decapitated in the confessional of a Galway church. And we can expect more Galway mayhem come March with Cross, which brings protagonist Jack Taylor face-to-face with another horrific case.

And while you're at it take a look at Dublin Noir: The Celtic Tiger vs. the Ugly American, in which Ken Bruen edits works set in Dublin by authors Eoin Colfer, Jason Starr, Laura Lippman, Olen Steinhauer, Peter Spiegelman, kevin Wignall, Jim Fusilli, Charlie Stella, Ray Banks and others. It's sort of a hands-across-the-Irish-Sea collection of short stories all set in the city of sweet Molly Malone.


Writers I'd like to see back in print: Gemma O'Connor, who's mystery novels Following the Wake and Walking on Water, are nowhere to be found.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

March madness

Here we are just past St. Valentine's Day and I am looking forward with anticipation to March. Not that I long for what we in Vermont call Mud Season (although a little thaw would be nice). No, it's a time when new titles will be added to the shelf, and that is reason to celebrate.

As a fan of British short-story writing, I'm looking forward to The Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries, a new collection of stories edited by Maxim Jakubowski. This latest gathering of British mystery writers includes new stories by the creme de la crime with newly told tales by Mark Billingham, Lee Child, Val McDermid, Len Deighton, Colin Dexter, John Harvey and two dozen other practitioners of mayhem.

Vertical Inc., which gave us Keigo Higashino's Naoka several years back will be issuing the first English translation of his Malice. It looks to be a twisted tale in which a bestselling author is murdered and a fellow author immediately confesses to the crime. But with Higashino nothing is obvious and, if nothing else, it should prove to be a real brain teaser. Also from Verical Inc. comes Kenzo Kitakata's City of Refuge in which a man and a kidnapped boy are being pursued by the yakuza and by Detective Takagi, in this paperback original. Other Kenzo books include Ashes, Winter Sleep and The Cage. And one more from Vertical, this time by Seicho Matsumoto comes Pro Bono, in which a high-priced lawyer tells a young woman he cannot help defend her brother; the young woman decides to get some revenge. Matsumoto is an award-winning novelist and author of Inspector Imanishi Investigates.

Next to Victorian England where everything is genteel and aboveboard. Or is it? Blockbuster writer Anne Perry brings back Thomas Pitt in Buckingham Palace Gardens. In this case Pitt is called in to solve a murder of a woman at a stag party thrown by Edward, Prince of Wales.

And let's not forget 19th Century Europe. I'm looking forward to a first novel by Michael Gregorio titled Critique of Criminal Reason. Sounds boring, you say? How's this for a plot: Arriving in the city of Königsberg to help solve a strange series of murders, young detective Hanno Stiffeniis joins forces with his mentor, philosopher Immanuel Kant, to track down the serial killer terrorizing the city. Prussia, it would seem, is as good a place to get bumped off as any and the novel is coming out in paperback from Griffin. Meanwhile, the followup to this novel, Days of Atonement (from Minatour), introduces Stiffeniis to the murder of three children and the disappearance of their mother. Fans of Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters should look to both books if they crave detective work coupled with psychological insight.

For those of us who just can't get enough mysteries featuring castrati, soprano Tito Amato returns for a fourth mystery in The Iron Tongue of Midnight. Author Beverle Graves Myers, who first introduced us to Tito in Interrupted Aria, returns to the rarified world of Venetian Opera. This book, like the three before it, will be published by Poison Pen Press.

And if you like your mysteries modern and cozy, Laura Child is back on the scene. Her Dragonwell Dead will be release in paperback by Berkley the same time her latest hardcover The Silver Needle Murder hits the shelves. In this latest adventure Theodosia Browning and her staff are catering a film festival party when a famous director is shot. (Recipes and tea time tips are included.)

And, in a followup to Dry Ice, psychologist Alan Gregory is in a dilemma when his ex-wife contacts him for help in Stephen White's Dead Time. With a first printing of 100,000 copies,
we can only imagine that Dutton has high hopes for White's latest effort.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Playing Mock the Monk

I watch some TV, usually keeping it to a few shows: Torchwood, Psych, Chuck and Numbers (and Pushing Daisies when I remember its on). While the current season of Monk was written before the writers' strike, the last few shows would have a tough time proving it.

While I don't expect a lot from Psych in the way of mystery (it is, after all, mostly comedy), I do expect Monk with its fine cast to rise above the standards of ... say, Mystery Woman. However, over the last few weeks Monk has lost me. We've had Mr. Monk Joins a Cult (its main clue being a secret door we could never have deduced), Mr. Monk Goes to the Bank (a poor reworking of Murder on the Orient Express, I turned it off half way through the episode), Mr. Monk and the Three Julies (predictable, but a valiant try) and, lord deliver us, Mr. Monk Paints His Masterpiece (my cat solved that one in the first 10 minutes). Even the antics of Tony Shalhoub couldn't save that last one.

I know that doing a mystery series in the constraints of an hour must be difficult, but at least Monk isn't burdened by a rash of guest stars (Howie Mandel, not withstanding) to divert you from the mystery or truly insufferable characters (Jessica Fletcher's nephew Grady comes to mind). It has a solid base of characters that could serve its stories well.

No, Monk's problem is worse; in a stretch to give Shalhoub a chance to strut his stuff as the phobic-ridden detective, the writers have neglected to give the audience well-constructed mysteries. And it is the audience that really counts.

While characters drive a plot in a good mystery series, it would seem as if Monk, in its pursuit to be antic, has forgotten how to be engaging. It has become a family comedy (father Leland, mother Natalie, kid brother Randy, wise uncle Dr. Kroger) in which the nerdy son trips over a new dead body every week. Nerdy Adrian knows something isn't quite right, but leave it to mom and dad ... and sometimes even wise uncle Dr. Kroger ... to doubt him. Haven't they tumbled to the fact that Monk is usually right? Like every sitcom, these characters fail to grow and must learn the same weekly lesson only to forget it in the next episode (unless, of course, remembering it is convenient for a particular plot).

If Monk wants us to believe its characters, it should let them grow. If Monk wants us to believe its plots, someone is going to have to pay more attention to their construction. Either way, if the show doesn't remember its roots in storytelling, one of those dead bodies it encounters will be the show itself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

You're gonna need a bigger boat

One of the most solid actors to come out of the '70s, Roy Scheider died Sunday at age 75. While he will always be remembered for his role in the 1975 film Jaws, the two movies I most liked were The French Connection and All That Jazz. Both films brought him Oscar nominations, for a best-supporting actor in 1971's The French Connection and for best-actor for 1979's All That Jazz, the Bob Fosse film. A political activist, most recently against the war in Iraq, his voice will be sorely missed.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Black heart

Loved Christine Falls and can't wait for Quirke to return in The Silver Swan (to be release March 4). Well, author Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) is back in print in the Sunday New York Times. The Sunday serial is called The Lemur and if you want to read it before Picador gets it on the bookshelves in June 2008, all you need to do is to go to: and click through to the New York Times pages. The serialization began Jan. 13 and currently three chapters are online with, presumably, more to come.

Booker Man Prize-winner Banville has certainly offered mystery before (The Book of Evidence about a confessed murderer) and an exploration of secrets (The Shroud). What a splendid writer; always intelligent, literate, exciting. And what a surprise that the pseudenonymously penned Christine Falls would bring the award-winning Irish writer the recognition in the States he's deserved for so long.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Something 'Wicked' this way comes

I'm not one who normally enjoys books with a high body count, let alone gruesomely detailed deaths by torture. I'm from the Agatha Christie Old School: Meet the characters, kill one descretely (preferrably off stage), interview the suspects and then gather them all in a room for the denoument.

I got none of that from Leighton Gage's first effort Blood of the Wicked which, after a body count in the teens (I stopped counting), still was compelled to read it to the end. While it might not be my typical cup of tea, it proved to be a heady brew of mayhem that keeps you riveted. No one in this book is without sin -- not the assassin of a bishop, not the police, not the land owners and not the farm workers.

Set in Brazil, Blood of the Wicked introduces Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Federal Police and his nephew and partner Hector Costa. Together they investigate the bishop's death, and as the body count increases, the death of a disparate group who may or may not be connected with the initial crime.

Blood of the Wicked is a great start to a new series and Mario Silva, no saint himself, a compelling protagonist. Author Leighton Gage is on tour through March and the Brazilain-based writer (when he's not at home in the Netherlands or Florida) will be an interesting speaker.

For information on Gage's tour (and all other Soho Crime authors), check out Soho Crime's site at Or go to the Events page at for more information.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Screening room

I was recently asked what my favorite mystery movies were. Anyone who knows me knows my tastes are eclectic and somewhat offbeat. And did favorite mean a list of best mystery movies or merely the ones I liked? Anyway, I decided to make a list; one never knows when someone else will ask and at least I've done the groundwork. First, I figured, I'd have to define mystery, although the very word has vagary about it. I eliminated the Bourne trilogy -- more thrillers than mystery -- but then what was I suppose to do with The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train? There's little mystery there, just some solid filmmaking in the thriller mode.

The only way to make a true mystery movie list was to have a crime in the beginning, a detective (amateur or professional) to go about detecting and a solution, preferrably a surprise. Anything else would make it pure thriller. So, was Psycho a mystery and, since we all knew Kim Novak played both characters, did Vertigo enter into it? In fact, would all of Hitchcock need to be eliminated? And by default, the films of Edgar G. Ulmer(Bluebeard, Strange Illusion, Detour)?Anyway, after much grappling and mind changing, I came up with this list (which, of course, could change when a new movie comes along). And as you'll see also, the criteria went out the window.

Laura (1941) -- Vera Casprey's novel gets a stylish Otto Preminger treatment with Gene Tierney as the titular victim, Dana Andrews as the obsessed 'tec and Clifton Webb as the smarmy newspaperman. Mood, mystery, romantic torture all set to David Raksin's haunting and haunted music.
L.A. Confidential (1997) -- A big bruiser of a movie based on a James Ellroy novel. A brilliant cast (Kim Basinger got a well-deserved supporting Oscar) exposes the criminal underbelly of '50s Hollywood. There's corruption, blackmail, shootouts and torture in Curtis Hanson's literate thriller.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) -- The John Huston classic about a hard-drinking P.I. trying to find the murderer of his partner and an elusive statuette of a black bird. A class act from start to finish with some great characters, writing (Huston from Hammett) and a stylish look.
Memento (2001) -- Leonard Shelby's (Guy Pearce) life is seen in reverse as his quest for revenge is hampered by a debilitating memory loss. A gimmicky wonder kept vital by Pearce and Christopher Nolan's tight script and direction. Don't think about it; just follow Leonard down the rabbit hole.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) -- A leisurely trip into classic Christie country as Hercule Poirot (an unrecognizable Albert Finney) unravels the death of an American millionaire. An all-star cast (Ingrid Bergman won a supporting Oscar) and a witty script prove a winning combination under Sidney Lumet's direction.
Out of the Past (1947) -- One of my favorite films of all-time. Classic Robert Mitchum anti-hero stuff: A retired P.I. who's changed his identity is rediscovered by a merchant of menace (Kirk Douglas) in search of the double-crossing moll who stole his money. Directed by Jocquest Tourneur and enhanced by cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) -- Charlie (Teresa Wright) has a soulmate in her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) who is not all he seems. Wonderful tension, great performances and Hitchcock at the top of his game.
The Stuntman (1980) -- No one I know agrees with me, but I love this tale of a convict on the run and the Svengali-like director who takes him under his wing. Great performances and off-the-wall wit. A sinister comedy where reality and fantasy meet.
The 39 Steps (1935) -- A handcuffed Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll cross the heath pursued by spies and police in this crackling Hitchcock concoction via John Buchan. This 1935 film set the standard that later Hitchcock films followed.
The Woman in the Window (1944) -- A mild man (Edward G. Robinson) kills a man in self-defense and is caught in a web of blackmail and more murder. Fritz Lang's masterful direction and Nunnally Johnson's thrilling screenplay get a bolster from Arthur Lange's music. A claustrophic suspense yarn.

Wait. Did I leave out The Thin Man, Anatomy of a Murder, Chinatown, The Big Sleep, Bad Day at Black Rock, Shallow Grave, Heat, The Usual Suspects, Detour, Frantic, The Player, A Double Life?

I guess I'll have to make another list.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

We Disappear

It's not out in bookstores until next month, but I need to talk about it now.

Scott Heim, author of Mysterious Skin, has a new novel on the way -- We Disappear. While it falls outside the traditional mystery genre, there is so much here to like and the mystery, a case of recovered memory and its consequences, is a brilliant piece of writing.

When a drug-addicted son returns home to care for his cancer-ridden mother, a body turns up in a nearby field, bringing with it a flood of memories. It sends the pair in search of the couple who kidnapped the mother years earlier. But is the mother telling the truth. As she retells her story, facts vary and those in her life begin to doubt her state of mind. Then ... it gets really freaky.

As always, Heim writes from the heart and, as his two protagonists crawl painfully toward the redemption that knowledge can bring, his well-honed language etches a portrait of doubt and despair.

Heim's earlier novel Mysterious Skin became the basis for the award-winning 2005 movie, a film that stays with you.

And speaking of movies, Heim has made his own: a trailer for We Disappear. It evokes the sense of loss and melancholy of the book while giving nothing away plotwise. Check it out at

Friday, February 1, 2008

February feast

It's dark, it's dreary, it's February but there's hope in this month's new mystery releases.

Dropping into bookstores Tuesday is Stranger in Paradise, the new Robert B. Parker Jesse Stone mystery. While Stone has never become as popular as Spenser, Parker's books usually offer a cracking good read and Jesse Stone should deliver. Hitting stores the same day is James Patterson's not-for-the-numerically-challenged 7th Heaven, making that the, uh ... seventh in the Women's Murder Club series. (Note: We'd like Sue Grafton to team up at the end of her series with Janet Evanovich to write Z is for Zero, putting Kinsey Millhone and Stephanie Plum on the same case. We can dream, can't we?)

Among the books ready for release in the coming weeks are: Death of a Gentle Lady, the new Hamish Macbeth tale from M.C. Beaton; Martha Grimes' Dakota, featuring amnesiac waitress Andi Oliver being stalked by a killer; and Slip of the Knife, the new Denise Mina mystery about a journalist who discovers a suitcase filled with notes left behind by her murdered reporter boyfriend. All three are available next week.

Later in the month we get Old Red and Big Red back on the murder trail in The Black Dove as they do some "detectifying" in turn-of-the-last-century's San Francisco Chinatown. Author Steve Hockensmith has certainly turned the Sherlock Holmes pastiche on its ear with this way-out-West series. Previous entries (Holmes on the Range and On the Wrong Track) are currently available in trade paperback.

Further (or is it farther?) along this month (February 19 is the street date) we get Amerotke, chief judge of the Halls of Two Truths, looking into the death of some scribes in ancient Egypt in P.C. Doherty's The Poisoner of Ptah. Also on the 19th comes mid-21st century murder in J.D. Robb's Strangers in Death, with Eve Dallas on the case once again. Also on that day (be still my heart) comes the new Maise Dobbs mystery An Incomplete Revenge. Jacqueline Winspear follows Maise into a tiny village where petty theft and strange occurances lead her into danger.

Late in February comes Nancy Atherton's not-quite-dead Aunt Dimity in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter (Aunt Dimity Goes West is now in paperback).

To round out the month there's Criminal Paradise by Steven M. Thomas and A Flaw of Blood by Stephanie Barron (ARCs please!).

And let's not forget that this month brings with it Valentine's Day. It would be criminal not to add a little mystery to his/her life.

Bryant and May mysteries

How could I have missed this series? And why didn't anyone tell me about it?
Actually, one of my customers recommended Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler as a fun read and I decided to give it a go. And what a charmingly eccentric series it is.
Fowler's' earlier books were firmly planted in the fantasy/horror genre but, as he matured, that style easily translated into the idiosyntric tales of Bryant and May, investigators for London's Peculiar Crimes Unit. The first tale, the aforementioned Full Dark House, smacks too much of The Phantom of the Opera, but it is riddled with humor and humanity.
The second book in the series, The Water Room, gave me just what a look for in a mystery: an unsolvable puzzle (by me, that is), great characters and an introduction information I never would have thought I'd be interested in, in this case the lost rivers of London. Drenched in unease and black humor, Fowler seamlessly blends tones of comedy and mayhem.
With Seventy Seven Clocks, The Ten-Second Staircase and The White Corridor still on my shelf (and The Victoria Vanishes on the horizon, due in August here in the U.S.), I will be enjoying Bryant and May novels for quite a while.