Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

First Line: He stumbles out from the mango grove and at that moment the thick monsoon clouds, which color the night a dull charcoal grey, shift.

India, 1837: New to the British East India Company, young William Avery feels as though his life is wasting away in Calcutta while he waits to be posted somewhere where he can have adventures and be covered in glory. Now all he can do is run up debts and try to court the fascinating Helen Larkbridge.

All that changes when he's given a temporary promotion and teamed with newly named Special Inquiry Agent Jeremiah Blake to find a famous writer who's disappeared. Avery's partner is a genius at languages and disguises, but he's gone native. Blake has made his discontent with British colonial rule known, so Avery is ordered to keep an eye on him.

The further in country they travel, the more danger they encounter, and everything seems to tie into the mysterious and deadly Thuggee cult. It may be profound culture shock for young Avery, but he's got to learn fast. If he doesn't, he won't be returning to Calcutta to make his report.

Author M.J. Carter brings colonial India to life in that period twenty years before the Great Mutiny of 1857. Life in Calcutta is exotic and expensive. Even a young soldier like Avery is expected to have a minimum of seven servants! To the British, every native of India is inferior-- and so are their language, their culture, their food, their architecture-- nothing escapes contempt. The East India Company is there to keep the peace so they can reap the ultimate in profits. That's the bottom line. The less contact with the natives the better.

At the same time, a fascinating and layered portrait of the Indian people is shown, from the lowest of the servant classes all the way to princes who hand out bags of rubies, sapphires, and diamonds as though they were an endless supply of chocolates. Whenever the political and financial aims of the East India Company differ from what is actually needed and expected in the country, explosive situations arise. The Strangler Vine delves into the devious means the East India Company used to bend everyone to their will.

All this is seen through the eyes of young William Avery, who at first is easily swayed by the company he keeps. Bored and impressionable, he does everything he's expected to do (including running up debts) and even begins to cultivate his own superior air when dealing with the natives. His assignment with Jeremiah Blake is the best possible thing that could have happened to him. Traveling with this taciturn man, Avery gets out into the country away from the stifling influence of the Company to see how the people really live. Blake and his second-in-command, Mir Aziz, are giving Avery an education, and I liked watching the young man change through various encounters both tame and deadly. There's just a touch of Holmes and Watson about Blake and Avery, and it's going to be interesting to see how this relationship grows in future books.

The only two things that detracted from the book for me were its pacing, which kept bogging down, and Avery's romance with Helen Larkbridge, which felt tacked on and unnecessary to the plot. However, The Strangler Vine's setting and its two main characters definitely make me anticipate more books in this new historical series. 

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
ISBN: 9780399171673  
G.P. Putnam's Sons © 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Avery and Blake mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Amazon Vine


Monday, March 30, 2015

David Morrell and Dan Simmons at The Poisoned Pen!

Having been lost in Victorian London with Thomas de Quincey for the past few days in David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art, I got into the car with a great deal of anticipation for the event at my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. Since Morrell was appearing jointly with Dan Simmons, I knew Denis and I would have to get there in plenty of time to get preferred seating. We did. I reserved our seats and then set off to do some browsing.

When do I NOT buy books at The Poisoned Pen?
As I made my purchase, I looked at the number of chairs that already had reserved signs on them and thought, "They're going to need to put up more!" Even though the joint was jumping, my penchant for people watching never kicked in, and I was able to read quite a few more pages of Murder as a Fine Art. (It's easier to tune out the world when you're reading a good book, isn't it?)

I finally made myself stop reading and head for my designated folding chair, and well before the event was scheduled to start, the staff of The Poisoned Pen was busily putting out more chairs. 

"I've been trying to do this for twenty years!"

L to R: Barbara Peters, David Morrell, Dan Simmons

"I've been trying to get David and Dan here on the same day for twenty years!" host Barbara Peters told us as the event began. "Finally all the stars aligned, and they're here this evening, which is marvelous since they've both written Victorian noir-- although I'm not sure you could call these books noir." Both authors admitted that they preferred to call their books Victorian thrillers.

"David, you've reinvented yourself with these last two books about Thomas de Quincey. Dan, you've written a book which has Henry James as a main character. I have to admit that Henry James is one of my least favorite authors!" Both men looked at her in mock dismay, and I just knew that they were going to tease Barbara about this for the rest of the evening.

Barbara continued, "Dan, you reinvent yourself with every book." Dan laughed and said, "I think some of my readers would word that differently. They feel that I build this readership very carefully and then abandon them. Which is true in a way because I get bored with one kind of book and have to move on. I've been very lucky that most of my readers have followed me."

The first book Morrell had published contained a certain character named Rambo. His Thomas de Quincey books are quite a departure. Simmons himself has won many awards in many different categories for his books.

"...how close I could get fact and fiction together."

"Having mentioned your versatility," Barbara said, "I want to know how difficult it is to write fiction with real people as characters." Dan deferred to David on this question.

David Morrell
"I wanted to see how close I could get fact and fiction together," Morrell said. "Seventy years before Freud, Thomas de Quincey developed the theory of psychoanalysis. In fact he invented the word subconscious. We know that Freud read de Quincey's work in Baudelaire's French translation.

"Due to de Quincey's opium addiction, he would have nightmares and upon waking he began to wonder where these dreams came from and concluded that the human mind was filled with 'chasms and abysses, layer upon layer, in which there are secret chambers where alien natures can hide undetected.' And when I read this, I went crazy. I saw a chance to have a real guy working in the 1850s with Scotland Yard. The idea was to have Scotland Yard work with the physical stuff and in would walk de Quincey talking about his reality of the mind. Scotland Yard would wonder what he was talking about, but de Quincey would wind up saving the day."

Thomas de Quincey wrote thousands and thousands of pages ("brilliant stuff"), and Morrell read and re-read these pages until one of his publishers felt he was channeling de Quincey, or had become his ventriloquist. Morrell wanted to be able to make readers believe that they were in London in 1855. "It took years and years of research to be able to do this.

"...that dull writer..."

Dan Simmons
 Dan Simmons said, "I have to tell you that your newest book has the most chilling human ventriloquist scene that I've ever read

"With me, I have these scads of historical characters, some of whom I describe in great depth while others I just have to make sure they really were where I say they are. I never have an historical character say something important that he or she didn't actually say." 

Simmons then went on to tell us about a dinner party scene filled with fascinating historical characters. The conversation was filled with puns. Sherlock Holmes was there, seated across from Henry James ("that dull writer" grinning over at Barbara). "It was the sort of conversation I love, but I decided not to use it, and I'm sorry to have bored you with it, too." (Needless to say, none of us were bored.)

"Whacked out"

Morrell then swept us all to Victorian London with its easy availability of laudanum, a mixture of 10% powered opium and 90% alcohol, which was used for a wide-ranging assortment of ailments and diseases. "The Victorian Era had to be riddled with dope addicts who didn't realize that they were," said Morrell, who then described the lush, many-patterned, soft-surfaced interiors of Victorian homes. "Looking at period photographs, I can't believe how much they resemble opium dens!"

Barbara added, "de Quincey had his opium addiction, and Sherlock Holmes had his own," which led Morrell to bring up Simmons' novel Drood because its main character, Wilkie Collins, was also addicted to laudanum.

Available Now!
"Wilkie is the most unreliable character I'll ever have," Simmons said with a smile. "He was whacked out on laudanum most of the time. I loved him!"

"Edgar Allan Poe loved Thomas de Quincey and saw him as a model," Morrell commented. "He imitated de Quincey's tone in 'The Fall of the House of Usher.' Poe is also credited with writing the first detective story.

"It's also been documented that Conan Doyle wanted to improve upon Poe's detective story, and used Thomas de Quincey as the basis for one of his characters in a Sherlock Holmes story. I see this all as a continuum beginning with Thomas de Quincey."

Simmons nodded. "My beloved Wilkie Collins' mother was a dear friend of Thomas de Quincey at a time when he had no friends. It all goes round and round. A web."

"One of the things I find so interesting about the nineteenth century," Barbara Peters said, "is that up until laudanum, the most effective available pain relief was alcohol, but alcohol wasn't socially acceptable for women. Laudanum was acceptable. We've been talking about these men with their huge addictions, but there were many, many women who became addicted to laudanum."

Plots and Henry James

Available Now!
"Both of you have written books with plots based on real events," said Barbara. "David with the attempts on Queen Victoria's life, and Dan with the death of Clover Adams."

Dan was inspired to write The Fifth Heart after reading a little book titled Five of Hearts.

"I know a lot about Henry James," Morrell said, leaning towards Barbara.

"I'm sorry!" Barbara exclaimed. "I exposed myself, and now I'm paying for it!"

Morrell was a professor of American literature, and he's learned a lot about writing from Henry James. "James invented the third person limited point of view."

Simmons jumped right in. "What Maisie Knew. The story begins from a five-year-old's point of view and then comes back to her at a different age. It's a masterpiece!"

"I know a lot about Henry James," Morrell said, "but I can't even begin to fathom the amount of research you had to do for your book!"

Simmons said, "I don't even call it research. I call it saturation reading. All reading of James is saturation reading. You can't read James lightly."

"And we'll get off him in a second," Morrell said, leaning towards Barbara once again.

Barbara laughed. "You're just punishing me!"

"The Ambassadors is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read," Morrell continued.

"Yes, and we'll fight anyone who says different," Simmons added.

"We will! And James is coming here next week to sell books, right?" Morrell asked Peters.

"I'm not taking you two out to dinner when this is over," Barbara said. "Or I'm going to drink!" which made everyone in the room laugh.

"Why stop at three?"

David Morrell
When Barbara mentioned that Morrell's Thomas de Quincey books take place during the Crimean War, Morrell told us that that war was England's equivalent of our Iraq War. 

"When war correspondents' dispatches from the Crimea came back describing the appalling conditions the troops were fighting in, it actually caused the government to collapse. There was no government for a week!

"This is also going to be a trilogy. I'm already working on the third Thomas de Quincey book," Morrell said. "The three books take place within the span of twelve weeks."

Dan Simmons looked at Morrell and asked, "If you can get three books in twelve weeks, why stop at a trilogy?" This remark met with a lot of approval throughout the bookstore.

"I don't know. I'm writing slower now. My junk detector isn't letting me use things that I allowed in the past," Morrell replied.

Shifting back to Simmons' The Fifth Heart, Simmons referred to Sherlock Holmes as a fictional character and Henry James as a "self-made fictional character-- Henry James created himself." Most people think of James being paired with Holmes, but Simmons sees it as Holmes being paired with James-- Sherlock being the lesser character. "Both are tremendous observers. Both are extremely secretive. I wanted to put them in a small space together. I didn't want them to be in their own milieu, so London was out. I brought them to America instead," Simmons said. "Sherlockians are going to murder me, but it's MY canon!"

Dan Simmons
The Fifth Heart has shifting points of view."It had to," Simmons told us. "James' great fear, after being with Holmes for a while, was that since Holmes was fictional, he was, too-- and that there was some 21st century hack out there writing about him and getting inside his head."

Morrell smiled. "I did my dissertation on John Barth, and this has all the markings of a John Barth story."

This led Barbara to ask the writers, "What is meta fiction?"

"Meta fiction is literature about literature," Morrell replied.


Peters then asked Simmons, "What's next?"

"Omega Canyon," Dan answered. "It takes place during 1944-1945 at Los Alamos. An Austrian physicist is there working on the bomb when his wife and child are abducted, and he's being blackmailed."

One of the fans wanted to know what Henry James novel was each writer's favorite.

"The Portrait of a Lady is close to being the perfect novel for me," Simmons replied.

For David it was The Wings of the Dove. Then he smiled and announced, "I think we sold a lot of Henry James novels tonight!"

"We don't have any!" Barbara stated. Emphatically. (I wonder how that dinner went?)

Another fan didn't have a question, but he did have something to say to David Morrell. In 1972, this man was attending one of David Morrell's literature classes ("I got a B") and remembers Morrell telling the class, "I'm going to write a book some day."

I for one am glad he did. 

For those of you who are interested in listening to and watching this event in its entirety, you can go to The Poisoned Pen's channel on Livestream. What a night!

L to R: David Morrell, Dan Simmons

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Survivor Weekly Link Round-Up

It wasn't easy, but I did survive spring cleaning. Well, I did manage to spray myself in the face with furniture polish and had a couple of other small mishaps that didn't amount to much compared to what else had happened earlier. I never did care for housework, and as I get older, the more I hate it. I'm seriously thinking about hiring someone else to do it while I sit outside with a cold drink and a good book. Wonder if I could find someone who would clean for books?

Last week Denis and I went to see "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," and we loved it. In fact... even if the rest of the movie had been truly awful, there was one line of dialogue that was well worth the price of admission. And who better to deliver it than Maggie Smith? I howled with laughter then, and thinking about it now puts a huge smile on my face.

Denis and I are also busily planning our next trip to the UK. It won't happen for quite some time yet, but that won't keep us from planning. There will be several new experiences for me this time around: a direct flight to London (we've always flown into Manchester), the overnight train to Inverness, a week in a lovely little cottage overlooking a gorgeous beach in remote northwestern Scotland, and spending two days in London before returning home. I do not like crowds, traffic congestion, or anything of that ilk, so I've avoided London. (My heart's in the Highlands!) But I've found that even though I'm dreading the crowds, a part of me is excited about being in London. I'm busy looking at the London A-Z, bus routes, hotel locations....

Oh. You came here for some links? Well, I've got plenty of those. Let me round 'em up for you!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones
  • 25 years after the art heist, empty frames still hang in Boston's Gardner Museum.
  • It's been an amazing month for archaeology. Here are 7 of the most exciting discoveries.
  • A huge tomb complex has been uncovered in Beijing.
  • Italy shows off a restored Pompeii villa.
  • A gem engraved with a goddess's image has been found near King Herod's mausoleum.
  • I might have shared this link about some 2,200-year-old mosaics discovered in an ancient Greek city, but I thought I'd share it again because the mosaics are fabulous. I also found a video about the archaeological work being done in the ancient city of Zeugma. More fascinating stuff!
  • Fun facts about the real Downton Abbey
  • The Neanderthals appear to be the globe's first jewelers. 
  • Meet one of the women who helped Alan Turing break the Enigma Code in World War II.
  • After more than 500 years, England's King Richard III finally gets some respect-- and Benedict Cumberbatch is to read a poem at the king's reburial.
  • After finding so many "worthless" Roman coins at a dig in Navenby, an archaeologist is speculating that there was a McDonald's-style eatery on the site. (I wonder how much a Big Mac cost back then?)
  • An El Greco painting seized by the Nazis has been returned to the owner's family.

Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett
  • Alaska prepares for the return of wood bison after a century's absence.
  • This very cute endangered mammal hasn't been photographed in twenty years. 
  • When I saw this link to a chart listing the longest-lived animals on earth, I had to click on it-- but the list in my head didn't come close to what was on the chart!
  • Why is this little girl getting gifts from crows
  • Meet Biddy the traveling hedgehog.
  • Just what I always wanted to see: a cockroach wearing a backpack. The why of it all is interesting, though.

The Happy Wanderer

I  ♥  Lists

Book Candy
  • This house on Camano Island in Washington is a book lover's dream!
  • If you drooled over the Camano Island link, you're going to drool over how an upstairs landing became a book lover's library!

That's all for now. Don't forget to stop  by next weekend when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure!

Have a great weekend, and-- Read something fabulous!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Suspect by Robert Crais

First Line: Maggie stared at Pete with rapt, undivided focus.

Two post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers come together and heal each other in Robert Crais's novel Suspect

Nine months ago LAPD officer Scott James saw his partner killed and was almost killed himself. He's a man filled with anger and shame, and all he wants to do is find his partner's killers. Unfit for duty in his original unit, he asks for a transfer to the K-9 unit. Accompanied by just a dog, he doesn't have to worry about losing another partner. He's teamed with Maggie, a war dog who survived two tours in Afghanistan sniffing out explosives before losing her handler in a firefight.

They are each other's last chance, and they'll be investigating the one case no one wants them to touch: identifying the men who killed Scott's partner. If only the case were as simple as that....

Before I go any farther, I have a warning: have a hankie in hand as you begin reading the prologue-- especially if you are a dog lover. I found the prologue in Suspect to be gut-wrenching, and although I wanted to wait a few minutes to calm down before continuing to read, I was already hooked.

Crais provides excellent insight into the mind of a dog, in particular the mind of a war or police dog. When Scott and Maggie are partnered, it's a learning experience for both of them, and it was so rewarding to watch them heal each other. 

This isn't just the Scott and Maggie Show, however. Crais gives us some marvelous secondary characters in fellow police officers Cowley, Leland, and Budress. Leland as the hard-as-nails head of the K-9 unit and Budress who constantly risks reprimand for helping Scott may be a touch two-dimensional, but they're the sort of characters you love regardless of their cardboard tan tinge. The female detective Cowley is another story. You're never quite sure what she thinks of Scott. You're never quite sure what she's willing to do to help. You're never quite sure how tough she is. By book's end, your questions will be answered.

The investigation into Scott's partner's death is filled with plenty of danger. Crais is a pro at ratcheting up the suspense. As is always the case when a dog is a member of the cast, readers always wonder about Old Yeller Syndrome, especially in a story involving the police and lots of flying bullets. I'm not about to enlighten you here. All I'll say is that I was hooked from the prologue and couldn't read fast enough. Scott and Maggie are going to stay with me for a long time. They're that good.

Suspect by Robert Crais
ISBN: 9780425278277
Berkley © 2014
Paperback, 416 pages

Thriller, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen  


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

First Line: The fateful note came just as Lenox was settling into his armchair after a long, tiresome day in the city.

One of the few things that can get Charles Lenox away from his cup of tea, his book, and his fire on a bitterly cold day in London is a request from his friend, Lady Jane. One of Lady Jane's former servants is dead of an apparent suicide, but Prudence was engaged to be married, and Lady Jane doesn't believe she took her own life. 

When Lenox takes a look at the dead woman's body and her room, he doesn't think the servant killed herself either, but the owner of the house wants the whole affair hushed up. She's just a servant, after all.

Lenox pays no attention and keeps on with his investigation. Prudence was murdered with a rare poison, and the house where she worked is filled with suspects. When another body turns up at a ball in the same grand mansion, Lenox knows he must find answers before the killer strikes again.

Charles Finch's first mystery to feature Charles Lenox moves a bit slowly from time to time, and the information he shares about such subjects as London gentlemen's clubs in the 1860s could be woven more smoothly into the narrative, but the positives far outweigh these two negatives.

A Beautiful Blue Death is filled to the rafters with memorable characters. Charles Lenox-- even if he's the "leftover" son and not heir to his family's title-- is a true gentleman in both his beliefs and in his dealings with people from all walks of life. In fact he believes so passionately in improving the lives of the poorer classes that he is thinking of becoming a member of Parliament. He's such a "good guy" that quite a varied lineup of people are willing to help him in his investigations. 

One of the people who helps him most is his faithful butler, Graham. Graham not only keeps Lenox's household running smoothly, he's more than willing to do anything Lenox may require during these cases. Equally willing is Lenox's friend McConnell, a slightly disgraced doctor who comes in very handy for medical advice and telling post-mortem details.

Last but not least is Lenox's dear friend, the widowed Lady Jane. Lady Jane's husband died quite some time ago, and she's had offers, but she's discovered that she enjoys  the freedom to be herself that widowhood allows her. Her reputation is such a strong one that everyone overlooks her occasional eccentricities. The friendship between these two is very deep. In fact, it's actually love, but only time will tell if they decide to act upon their feelings.

The mystery in A Beautiful Blue Death is two-pronged. I found one of the "prongs" to be easily guessed, but I forgot one of the major tenets of crime fiction and let the identity of the killer slip through my fingers. Oh well. That's what happens when I enjoy a cast of characters so much-- and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more books in this series!

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
eISBN: 9781429955331
Minotaur Books © 2007
eBook, 309 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Charles Lenox mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

I've Got Judith Flanders Covered!

There you are, walking down one of the Mystery aisles in your favorite bookstore. What are you going to do? Do you have enough time to stop and peruse the spines of all the books to see which titles catch your eye? Or do you decide to take a look at the books that have been shelved face out to see which covers catch your eye?

Decisions, decisions! It might boil down to how much time you have, and if you don't have much, I would imagine you're going to opt for checking out those book covers. 

That could be a bit dangerous if-- like me-- you've been known to read authors who are published in both the US and the UK, and your favorite bookstore stocks some UK editions. That "Same Title, Different Cover" (STDC) plot has tricked me into buying more than one duplicate copy, let me tell you!

Our task this week is to take a look at a STDC to decide which side of the pond got it right according to our discerning eyes. This week, I decided to take a look at A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders, a book I've already read and reviewed. Will my knowledge of the book be of any assistance to me-- or to you? Let's find out!


A Murder of Magpies takes place in the world of publishing and has a great deal to do with a tell-all book about the fashion industry. It's easy to see that each side of the pond had an entirely different take on the cover artwork.

The UK edition opted for focusing on the world of fashion, with a blood-splattered dress on a dressmaker's dummy. A small nod is given to publishing with that little stack of books on the floor. A needle and thread stitch their way around the edges of the cover, and a magpie sits on the shoulder of the dressmaker's dummy. Just one small blurb on the front to tell us that the book is funny-- and I happen to know for a fact that this blurb doesn't lie. Judith Flanders is more well known in the UK, so her name is above the title. All in all, a book that would probably appeal more to females than males, right?

On the other hand, the US edition opted for focusing on the world of publishing, an old-fashioned typewriter pictured front and center with some strange-looking red crow-like birds trying to get some paper in position. The only nod to fashion is the needle and thread wrapped around the paper. Since Flanders is more well-known in the UK, there are two blurbs on the US cover, both from well-known writers on the west side of the pond, and her name is beneath the title.

Now... which cover do I prefer? With the dress on the dummy and the bird on its shoulder, I have to admit that the UK edition reminds me of the mice and birds that put Cinderella's gown together in the Walt Disney classic film. That light beige background doesn't do much for me either.

Even though I don't like those red stand-ins for magpies on the US cover, I like the blue background, and I like the cover's focus on the publishing aspect of the book. Yes, I would give the edge to the US edition.

What about you? Which cover do you prefer? The US edtion or the UK? Inquiring minds would love to know! (And if you have trouble leaving comments on my blog, please feel free to email me your opinion: kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com. I'll be more than happy to include your comment on this post for you!)


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Murder Quadrille by Fidelis Morgan

First Line: Halfway through the dinner party Sarah Beaumont decided that she would definitely leave Martin, her husband of ten years.

Sarah and Martin's marriage is growing weaker by the day, but at Martin's insistence, Sarah is once again chief cook and bottle washer for a dinner party. This time the guests are their bank manager, their lawyer and his girlfriend, and the mystery writer who lives next-door. 

Things aren't going quite as smoothly as Martin would like, so to cover any lapses the guests begin talking about a dead body that was discovered on the Common. And isn't there a librarian missing, too? With spousal tempers running so high in the house, this may not be the best time to talk of murder!

I fell in love with Fidelis Morgan's writing when I feasted on her Countess Ashby de la Zouche historical mysteries set in London in 1700. Not only were the mysteries first-rate, the settings superb, and the characters so well-drawn that I'd instantly recognize them if I bumped into them on the street, I also found myself howling with laughter time and again. Is it any wonder that I wanted to see what this woman could do with a contemporary mystery?

I'm happy to report that, for Fidelis Morgan, time doesn't matter. She took every convention the mystery genre has to offer and stirred them together to create an absolutely wonderful piece of entertainment. The plot is the thing in The Murder Quadrille, so scarcely anything can be said about it without giving away the game. Suffice it to say that the story twists and turns on itself so often that you  may find yourself a bit dizzy from time to time. And-- unlike so many plot-heavy books-- the characters are not static, two-dimensional pieces of cardboard. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Morgan instantly changes speed, direction, and focus, and she does the same thing with her characters. Each dinner party guest has his own point of view (which is definitely not as unwieldy as it sounds), and just when you think you have a character buttonholed, Morgan shows you another facet of personality that has you guessing all over again.

The best thing of all is that, at the most unlikely times, I found myself howling with laughter. Or cheering a character on to get out of danger. Or egging another one on to do something he (or she) shouldn't. The Murder Quadrille isn't a book to be read and dissected in a grim, serious manner. No, this book is quirky and complex and sheer fun. My advice? Just hang on and enjoy the ride!

The Murder Quadrille by Fidelis Morgan
eISBN: 9780957074316
Lulu Press © 2013
eBook, 378 pages

Humorous Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jacqueline Winspear at The Poisoned Pen!

St. Patrick's Day found Denis and me making sure we were wearing green before venturing out to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. I knew it was going to be a capacity crowd, so when we arrived, I made a dash to reserve our seats before doing a bit of browsing and making my purchase. 

My latest book haul...an eclectic mix!
March is the month when this bookstore is really hopping, so I wasn't surprised to see lots of book buyers, many of whom were staying for the event for the creator of Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear. All sorts of books were being purchased, but when folks sat down to wait, they were opening A Dangerous Place and diving right into the story. I was torn between reading my own book and watching others read those first pages of the book. I can remember how stunned I was when I read them, and I suppose I was looking for that same look on the faces of others. 

Soon it became too noisy for me to concentrate, so I went over to take my seat and wound up having a lovely book chat with the woman sitting next to me.

"...Institutional memory..."

L to R: Barbara Peters, Jacqueline Winspear

Since Winspear was still busy signing books in the mail room, host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters took a few minutes to tell us of upcoming events. One author has given Sherlock Holmes a new sidekick: Henry James. I mulled that over for a few seconds, remembering past reading experiences and thinking that I've never cared for Henry James. That's when I heard Barbara say, "I've always loathed Henry James." That makes two of us, I thought. Then Barbara said, "Robert Englund of the Arizona Republic did an interview with the author. We were talking about it afterwards when Robert said, 'I've always hated Henry James.' I replied, 'Funny you should say that!'" I wondered if poor Henry was spinning in his grave with all this outpouring of dislike.

Peters then told us that she and Jacqueline Winspear had spent the day on the Verde Canyon Railroad, which I can attest to being a lot of fun. Once the Tucson Festival of Books was concluded, the two women had also been partying with C.J. Box and Rhys Bowen. Winspear owns horses and made the mistake of telling Box that she once dated a cowboy. It will be a long time before Box lets her forget what the girls who date cowboys on the rodeo circuit are called. By now, Jacqueline had made her appearance and was shaking her head in dismay over being referred to as a buckle bunny.

Jacqueline Winspear's first-ever book signing was right here at The Poisoned Pen. She and Barbara Peters have been friends since she was writing the very first Maisie Dobbs book. "We're a part of each other's institutional memory," Barbara said, looking over at Winspear and smiling.

"That makes us sound like we were in a women's prison together," Jacqueline replied to laughter throughout the bookstore.

"I don't think I could make it any more obvious!"

Jacqueline Winspear
Winspear began by mentioning the fact that after Leaving Everything Most Loved came out, fans were feverishly asking her if that was the last time they would see Maisie. 

"The last five words of the book are 'Yes, she will be back,'" Winspear said. "I don't think I could make it any more obvious that there would be more books!"

Both Peters and Winspear told us that very little could be said of the plot of A Dangerous Place due to the risk of ruining the book for everyone who hadn't read it. Instead the author decided to talk a bit about the book's setting: Gibraltar.

The Spanish Civil War

"How many of you know where Gibraltar is?" she asked. Most of us raised our hands. (Denis and I have a niece who lives there.) "I have to ask because I learned that many people don't know.

"For the last four years, Maisie Dobbs has been a wanderer, and she has experienced profound tragedy. Due to prompting by her family, Maisie is coming home, and it's really not surprising that her journey takes her to Gibraltar. Gibraltar is on the route to so many other places-- like India. It attracts so many British because the weather is so good and it feels so very British. Maisie stops at Gibraltar, gets off the ship, and winds up solving a murder."

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"Rob and I will be going to Gibraltar in two and a half weeks," Barbara said, "and I will be checking to see if Jackie's research is accurate!" We laughed at her teasing.

"The UK helped Franco get back to Spain," Winspear told us. "There were so many Unionists [working men in unions] going to Spain to fight for the common man. Many Germans who were seeing the rise of Fascism and Hitler went to Spain to train the civilians how to fight against Franco." She then read an excerpt from A Dangerous Place-- the actual first eyewitness account of the bombardment of Guernica as published in the London Times. It was chilling.

"How difficult this must have been for Maisie to see," Barbara observed."To see the Spanish Civil War after having experienced World War I. Now having the feeling that it's going to happen all over again... and possibly even worse."

"The instant messaging of the day."

Ever fearful of saying too much and spoiling A Dangerous Place for those in the audience, talk moved on to Winspear's previous book, The Care and Management of Lies, a novel written to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of World War I. 

"I'm not through with Kezia," Winspear said. "There will be a sequel to The Care and Management of Lies. One of the things that struck me in doing research for this book was just how much emotional nostalgia there is wrapped up in food, particularly for soldiers during wartime. During World War I, the German Army came very close to mutiny over food... the lack of it and the poor quality of what little food they were getting. Food can be a real flashpoint."

When Peters mentioned the importance of mail during wartime, Jacqueline said that that was one of the things that the British government got right, building large mail centers in France to ensure that the fighting men received letters and packages from home.

Jacqueline Winspear
"Before World War I, the UK had excellent mail service," Winspear said. "The mail was delivered to people's homes eight to ten times per day. It's not unusual to find postcards that were written and sent during this time that said 'See you at 3.' This was the instant messaging of the day."

I think it took us a second or two to try to imagine what it would be like to have our mail carriers come to our doors eight times a day!

Someone in the audience mentioned that she'd just learned that it's possible to FedEx a horse. Winspear, who has had horses for years, nodded, telling us that her horse has its own passport-- a requirement for being FedEx-ed and shipped out of the country.

"They do the same thing for dogs," Barbara said. "The dogs also have to have their own passports."

Winding down the evening, talk returned to Maisie, and what Barbara Peters called the "brisk efficiency" of the first pages of A Dangerous Place. Winspear nodded. "It was the best and only way to do it," she said. For a moment her eyes met mine, and she looked sad-- as though she knew the beginning of her latest book would probably anger many fans.

When asked what the future holds for Maisie, Jacqueline said, "You're going to start seeing some of the minor characters-- like Billy Beale-- come back. I've known for a long, long time where Maisie is going. I planned her journey years ago."

After a loud round of applause, the last of the cupcakes were consumed, and the long signing line formed. It's going to be very interesting to see where Maisie's journey takes her next.