Saturday, August 21, 2010

AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS by Charles Todd (William Morrow)

When World War I battleground nurse Bess Crawford is charged with escorting wounded soldiers back to England, she watches one of her charges closely. He's severely burned and requires special attention, so it's easy for her to notice the photograph of his wife pinned to his chest where he can see it often.

Once Bess has turned her responsibilities over to a hospital, she makes her way to London for a respite before going to her parents' home. At Waterloo Station she sees a distraught young woman clinging to an officer who turns and boards his train. Bess is stunned, not because this is an unusual occurrence, but because the woman is the wife of the pilot she's just escorted to London. Bess tries to follow the woman, but she loses her in the crowd. No amateur sleuth can walk away from such a scene—especially when she learns the woman has turned up dead!

During the Great War, there were no forensics, little communication among law enforcement communities, but there was an intrepid nurse with a great deal of curiosity who wanted to put things right. An Impartial Witness is a marvelous addition to this impressive series.

FTC Disclaimer - Book was provided by the publisher.

ROYAL BLOOD by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime)

Pack your furs and jewels, Lady Georgiana is going to a royal wedding and you're invited! An old school chum whom Georgie didn't know was a princess has requested that Georgie be a bridesmaid at her wedding—in the family castle in Transylvania. Unwilling to disobey a royal command, Georgie sets out with the unlikeliest maid, a dragon-like chaperone, and the chaperone's paranoid companion. Once ensconced in the castle, a heavy snowfall blocks all roads, providing the perfect background for a locked-room murder. Death isn't the only thing to watch for—the figure Georgie sees scaling the wall outside her window couldn't possibly be a vampire—or could it.

As always, an adventure with Lady Georgiana Rannoch is sheer delight.

FTC Disclaimer—Book provided by the publisher

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SKETCH ME IF YOU CAN by by Sharon Pape (Berkley)

This is a new series with an unusual twist. Sketch artist and deputy sheriff Rory McCain works for the Suffolk County Police Department. Her Uncle Mac, a private investigator, has died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Uncle Mac left his Victorian home and PI business to Rory. She discovers that Uncle Mac had an unusual partner, Ezekiel Drummond (aka Zeke), a lawman from the 1870’s, who was shot in the back in Mac’s house. Zeke refuses to leave until he finds out who killed him and wants Rory to help him find the killer (even though the killer has to be long dead!). In exchange, he will help her investigate a current murder that was one of Uncle Mac’s cases. This unusual partnership makes for an interesting cozy, at times funny and sad with some suspense and a surprise ending. It will be interesting see how this series develops.

—Helen Jones

FTC Disclaimer - Book was provided by the publisher

CLOSET CONFIDENTIAL by Mary Jane Maffini (Berkley)

Charlotte Adams goes through life organizing things; after all, it's her business. She knows she's going to have trouble with her latest client: Lorelei Beauchamp is not only one of her mother's long-time friends, she's the image of an international line of cosmetics, and she's just lost her daughter in a tragic accident. Lorelei has the reputation of a diva. Charlotte is prepared for that, but she's totally unprepared for what Lorelei asks her to do: Prove that Anabel's death wasn't an accident—but murder.

I doubt Maffini could write directions for digging a hole without being humorous, but while humor is definitely interspersed, the plotting is crisp, red herrings are genuine, and the characters were realistic.

A BRUSH WITH DEATH by Elizabeth J. Duncan (Minotaur)

Everyone I know was charmed with Duncan's Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery winner The Cold Light of Mourning. I predict they'll be equally delighted with the sequel. Penny Brannigan is now living in the Welsh cottage she inherited from Emma Teasdale and is still cleaning out her friend's things. A packet of letters reveals things about Emma's life which surprise Penny—and cause her to wonder about a 1960's hit and run accident. As Penny investigates, she learns more about her late friend and about the village she now calls home.

Duncan offers a thought-provoking, well presented traditional cozy—and a wonderful look at Wales.

FTC Disclaimer - Book was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guest Blogger - Elizabeth Craig

Protagonist IQ

I came across an interesting article recently on The LA Times blog, that gives White Oleander author Janet Fitchs’ ten rules for writers.  And, don’t worry, it’s not as pushy as some rules articles go (I don’t think writers are great rule-followers to begin with.)

I thought number seven was interesting:

7. Smarten up your protagonist.

Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

My protagonists are always pretty smart—just because, as a reader, I get frustrated with characters who don’t have original ideas or can’t (or at least try) to think their way out of a bad situation. 

I’m never a fan of the female protagonist who knows there’s a weird sound coming from her basement…while there’s a serial killer who just happens to be on the loose…and goes right down into the basement at three a.m.
But I’m also not a fan of writers who come right out and tell me that the protagonist is smart. That’s one of those things I need to be shown, not told about.  I’m always very suspicious that they’re not as smart as they seem…and look for ways for them to mess up.

I thought Agatha Christie handled Hercule Poirot’s brilliance really well—he would always brag about his “little gray cells,” which would invite other characters to laugh at him a little (and maybe the readers would laugh at him, too)—then he’d solve the case with such genius and explain his deductions with such eloquence, that all faith was restored in the little man. 

I’ve noticed that smart characters share these characteristics
A sense of humor

Good vocabulary

The ability to learn from their mistakes

They usually make sound decisions (or at least not dumb ones) in some area of their life. Some characters have a lower emotional intelligence (they have failed relationships, etc.), but still make good decisions within other aspects of their life.

They’re actively engaged in problem-solving, even if their solutions don’t always work out.

People do have many different gifts. Finding out what specifically our character is good at and then showing them excelling at it is another way to showcase our character’s intelligence.

How smart are your characters? How do you demonstrate it? 

Readers, how smart do you like protagonists to be?

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams. The latest is Delicious and Suspicious. She also writes the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and blogs daily at Mystery Writing Is Murder You can also find her at Mystery Lovers Kitchen. or at 
Twitter: @elizabethscraig

Monday, August 09, 2010

A SPIDER ON THE STAIRS by Cassandra Chan (Minotaur)

It always helps an amateur sleuth to have a connection with a policeman. Philip Bethancourt, a modern dillatante, and Jack Gibbons, a Scotland Yard detective, were classmates at Oxford. Still close friends, the two often collaborate on Jack's investigations. Phillip, who's spending a dreary Christmas at his family home in Yorkshire is delighted when Jack rings up to tell him that he's been assigned a case nearby. The murder of a young girl could be one of the infamous Ashdon serial killings, and Jack must investigate.

The two have plenty to keep them busy, especially when another murder intertwines with the first. Jack follows the tried and true police trail, while Phillip picks up clues from his family, friends, and the country set he's known all his life.

The two good friends work well together in sorting out a tangled web of crime.

FTC Disclosure - Book provided by publisher

Penguin Winners

Thanks to all of you who said happy birthday to Penguin by entering the contest. Most of you replied directly to me by email with addresses. Thanks for making things easy for me.

The winners are from Klamath Falls, Oregon and Athens, Georgia.

I hope to have another contest soon.

Happy reading—and stay cool!

Friday, August 06, 2010

A DEADLY ROW by Casey Mayes (Berkley Prime Crime)

Team up a numbers-whiz puzzle maker and a retired big-city police chief and what do you get? Zach Stone's police consulting business hasn't been as busy as he'd like. Forced into retirement by a bullet to the chest at only 42, he's not nearly as content in the mountain home as Savannah (former high school math teacher and current puzzle designer). A double murder in their former home, Charlotte NC, with clues that indicate the mayor of the city will be the next victim has police puzzled—and the new chief calls Zach back as a consultant with virtually unlimited resources and housing at the luxurious Belmont Hotel. When Zach looks at the police reports, he sees that the clues seem to point to Savannah's line of expertise and the two team up in crime fighting.

Although I'm definitely not a numbers person, I thoroughly enjoyed the process Savannah used in figuring whodunnit! I will watch eagerly for more in this this new "Murder by the Numbers" series!

FTC Disclosure - Book provided by the publisher

SCOOP TO KILL by Wendy Lyn Watson (Obsidian)

Normally, Tally Jones and her cousin Bree wouldn't be guests at the Honor's Day event at the prestigious Dickerson University, but Bree's daughter Alice is a whiz kid ending her freshman year at the local school. Alice's embarrassment at her mother's hot, but unsuitable attire is quickly put on the back burner when she discovers a bludgeoned body. The victim turns out to be a PhD student who's in the midst of suing Alice's favorite (but prickly) professor for sexual harassment. Totally against her will, Tally is drawn into helping the professor—who just happens to be 'way to friendly with one of Tally's ex-boyfriend. Did I say the victim was the nephew of the police detective who is Tally's long-time friend? Town-Gown conflicts are not the least of the trouble in Dalliance TX and Tally still has to find time to keep her old-fashioned ice cream parlor, A-la-mode, running.

PEPPERONI PIZZA CAN BE MURDER by Chris Cavender (Kensington Books)

At almost every mystery convention at least one author will reinforce the adage, "You have to suspend disbelief when reading crime fiction: Amateur sleuths and private detectives don't solve murders."

Obviously pizzeria owner Eleanor Swift never went to one of these conferences! Shortly after being held up at gunpoint, after closing A Slice of Delight one evening, part-time waiter and delivery boy is accused of murdering the man whose body is found in the pizzeria's kitchen. Knowing that Greg couldn't have committed the crime, Eleanor and her sister Maddy are determined to find the killer. Unlike the police chief of Timber Ridge NC they don't pin their sights on anyone—they look for motive and opportunity among all their suspects.

Traditional mystery lovers will enjoy spending time with Eleanor and Maddy in the foothills of North Carolina.

FTC Disclosure - This book was provided by the publisher.

Mysteries on September 2010 Indie Next List

Three great mystery authors' novels are on the September 2010 Indie Next List. and they just happen to be three of my favorite writers: Laura Lippman, Charles Todd, and William Kent Kruger. I haven't read any of these books yet, but you can bet I won't be saying that long. Excuse me, I'm off to the bookstore now!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Guest Blogger - Bill Crider

Murder in the Air

Thanks to Molly Weston for inviting me here to Meritorious Mysteries. Can it really have been in 1986 that the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes book was published? How can 24 years go by so fast? Murder in the Air is the eighteenth book in the series about Blacklin County’s sheriff, which comes as a surprise to me. Maybe to others, too. After all, when they’re writing that first book, how many authors really think they’ll still be writing about the same characters nearly 25 years later? Authors with a lot more self-confidence than I have, that’s for sure.

The passage of all that time, which doesn’t actually seem that long to me, reminds me of a couple of questions I’ve been asked once or twice and that I’ve thought about more often than that.

Here’s one. Why hasn’t Sheriff Dan Rhodes aged much since 1986? One answer is that I haven’t aged much since then, either. Not that I like to talk about, that is. Somehow my hair’s gotten a lot thinner and grayer, but that could be some kind of vitamin deficiency, right? Sure it could. And I seem to have developed jowls. I don’t like ‘em, so why should I put the sheriff through it?

The fact is that some writers like to age their characters more or less in real time. Bill Pronzini’s done that with Nameless in his fine private-eye series. And some people like to put their characters through all kinds of terrible experiences. Ken Bruen’s treatment of Jack Taylor springs to mind. I love both those series, but to be honest it never occurred to me to age Sheriff Rhodes or to put him through hell. Some of the books I liked best when I first started reading mysteries many years ago were in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. When I started reading that series in the early ‘60s, it had already been going for nearly 30 years. I read a lot of the books one after the other, and Wolfe and Archie didn’t change a bit that I could see. Wolfe always went to the orchid room and refused to leave the Brownstone. He always wore those yellow pyjamas. Archie and Lily went dancing but didn’t marry. Things continued that way right up to the end, and that was just fine with me. It was the same in other books I admired. Matt Helm never did learn to appreciate women in pants. Lew Archer never hooked up with anybody. Neither did the Continental Op. And so on.

I don’t mean to compare my books with any of those, except to say that I’m writing in a well-accepted tradition. Sheriff Rhodes has gotten a little bit older, and he’s married. There have been other little changes. And in fact, while he hasn’t changed, things around him have. The town of Clearview isn’t the same place it was when the series began. Rhodes and the characters have adjusted to those changes and to others, but they’re the same people. They always will be, I think, and I like it that way.

The other question is this: Do I get tired of writing about those same people after all this time? Not at all. I like the people, I like the town, and I have a lot of fun writing the books. While some things don’t change, every book is a new challenge, and every one has a new topic and a different theme. Sure, it’s nice not to have to invent an entirely new setting every time I start a new book, and it’s nice not to have to invent new characters, but I have to keep it fresh somehow for my own sake, not to mention for the readers. It’s not as easy as it might seem. Trust me.

Now, let’s go back to the time I wrote the first book in the series. I had no idea at the time that I’d still be writing about Blacklin County and the sheriff and his friends this many years down the line. For that matter, I never really dreamed I’d sell the first book, much less 18 more. Yes, you read that right. I’ve sold another one, book number 19 in the series. The Wild Hog Murders (that’s the current title, anyway) will be out in 2011. The question now is whether I’ll sell number 20. It’s up to you. Buy my books and keep me in business! As always I thank you for your support.

If you want to learn more about Bill, his books (he' got many outside this series!) and Blacklin County, visit his website. If you've got a question for Bill, please post it in the comments section below.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Survey Finds Mystery Readers Surprisingly Savvy

A recent survey commissioned by mystery writer Elaine Viets showed that 98 percent of mystery readers are “aware the authors receive no royalties when they purchased used books.”

The nationwide survey was conducted by Trigger Advertising Group.

Some 300 readers of Viets’s books responded. Viets writes two bestselling series: the Dead-End Job mysteries and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novels. Both are published by Obsidian, a division of the Penguin Group.

Word of mouth is critical for these mystery readers. They rely on recommendations from “trustworthy friends, renowned authors or magazines.”

The survey also found that the majority of readers bought between 10 and 30 books per year. They bought books for leisure reading year round, but bought slightly more books during the summer.

Trigger Advertising is composed of recent graduates of the world-famous Journalism School at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

When asked where they usually get their novels, those surveyed had the options of chain bookstores, local/specialty bookstores, online (Amazon, eBay), libraries and borrowing from friends. The option most chosen was chain bookstores, with online purchases coming a close second. A hefty 39 percent go to local or specialty bookstores.

Blogs, e-lists and websites play a key role in providing information about the mystery author: 35% first heard about Elaine Viets on the Internet. The other respondents learned about her mysteries through bookstore and library displays, her former newspaper column and word of mouth.

Book buyers had firm opinions about e-books. They believe “e-book prices should be lower than printed versions.” They would “still buy the e-book at the same price as the print version if it was an author he or she already enjoys.”

Elaine Viets’ latest Dead-End Job hardcover, Half-Price Homicide, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and praise from Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times. Her next Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel will be published November 2010.

For more about Elaine and her books, visit her website.

Happy Birthday, Penguin Books!

On Friday, July 30, Penguin books officially turned 75! They're doing all sorts of things to celebrate, including sending a bright-orange Penguin Mobile (an adorable mini-cooper with the Penguin logo) to bookstores all over the US to bring some of their bestselling authors to parties in their hometowns, increase awareness of The Nature Conservancy, and promote literacy. At each event, a set of 75 Penguin Books is donated to a local library or literacy group. Each author is signing the Penguin-mobile as it makes its way across the United States, and the summer’s events will culminate with a party at the New York Public Library in September where Penguin will auction the car with the proceeds going to the New York Public Library. Penguin is also donating sets of books to numerous U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What does this anniversary mean to you? Penguin has sent books to me to give to to two lucky readers of "Meritorious Mysteries." I've got Tana French's Edgar-winning In the Woods and the ever popular Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. All you have to do to get your name in the pot is either send me an email at mysteryheel @ (with "contest" in the subject line) with your name and mailing address) or post a comment below (if you post anonymously, I won't be able to contact you). The contest will end on Friday, August 6. I'll post the winners' town and state sometime over the weekend.

More about Penguin
Penguin’s founder Allen Lane started the paperback revolution with that little flippant but dignified Penguin (his secretary came up with the name and he sent another colleague off to the zoo to make sketches). One year later, 3 million Penguin paperbacks had been sold. Today, the Penguin imprint alone has over 4000 books in print.

Penguin is hands down the publishing logo most recognized internationally—including the story of Terry Waite, the Anglican clergyman who was held hostage in Beirut. Six months into his captivity, Waite made friends with his jailer, and although they spoke different languages he managed to tell the jailer he wanted a book. He drew an oval, and he drew a penguin, and he said, “find me a book that looks like that, and it will be a good book.” That story says everything about what Penguin stands for around the world.