Monday, September 24, 2018

Assault and Beadery by Mollie Cox Bryan

First Line: "How did we let ourselves get involved with this?" Cora Chevalier whispered to best friend and business partner, Jane Starr.

Cora Chevalier isn't happy about being coerced into painting the backdrops for the latest production of the local theatre group, especially since she and best friend Jane Starr have their first-ever Crafty Moms' Escape Weekend coming up. The theater group always seems to be "one more thing" it wants the two women to do for them. But when Stan Herald, the obnoxious director, is found dead and their friend Zee is arrested, Cora knows that there is one more thing she must do before the final curtain comes down: find the real killer.

Author Mollie Cox Bryan has a knack for choosing and describing crafts that makes me want to head for the nearest store to buy up all the necessaries and start to work. After reading Assault and Beadery, I now want to take up beading. 

Aided by two characters from the author's Cumberland Creek cozy series, Cora and Jane have their work cut out for them in a very well-plotted mystery that will keep readers guessing. There are so many people with so many secrets and hidden pasts and agendas that Cora wonders if she should also run background checks on all the people attending their retreats as well as the teachers-- but she's not really serious. However, that passing thought does highlight one of the things I like about this series: Bryan lets readers see the business side of running a small craft retreat.

Like any cozy series worth its salt, the cast of characters is first-rate. Cora Chevalier spent many years running a shelter for the victims of abuse. She's seen more of the dark side of human nature than most people have, and she made the conscious decision to leave that life and do something that would not only help people but bring herself joy. But she cannot deny the very basic part of her nature that wants to help those in need. It's not an accident that her last name is Chevalier, which is French for "knight". Her empathy, her compassion, has made her a knight in shining armor for people in trouble.

To leaven Cora's nature, there are two other characters. Victim of domestic abuse and mother of a small daughter, Jane Starr is the very practical and logical one in the business and friendship. Her life has taught her to be cautious, and this is something that Cora needs during her murder investigations. The third character is the older woman, Ruby, whose son is a lawyer who's proven invaluable in these cases. Ruby is a local and a hard worker, but she's a gossipmonger and is a bit too abrasive for me to like her much-- but who says we have to like everyone?

Good setting, good crafts, good mysteries, good characters. That's what you get in Mollie Cox Bryan's Cora Crafts series. Give it a try!

Assault and Beadery by Mollie Cox Bryan
eISBN: 9781496716453
Kensington Books © 2018
eBook, 320 pages

Cozy Mystery, #4 Cora Crafts mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Jenn McKinlay & Paige Shelton at The Poisoned Pen!

Denis always enjoys seeing Paige Shelton and Jenn McKinlay when they appear at The Poisoned Pen, but their appearances tend to be on Saturdays when he works, so he was tickled pink to discover that this latest event was on a Thursday. We arrived in plenty of time to reserve our favorite seats, and then we adjourned to the back table to read. I'd wondered if Barbara Peters was going to interview them, but I learned that she and her husband were on a month-long European trip with Laurie R. King. Instead, Paige would be asking the questions. I was really looking forward to the evening, and that seemed to make time fly. Once again, my handy-dandy recorder did its job, so I'm going to don my headphones and start typing. Let's get started!

L to R: Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay

Paige: It's great to be here, and it's wonderful to be able to interview Jenn and ask her some questions. Jenn and I kind of know each other; we've hung out a little bit, so I might take a few different angles but I have okayed all the secret questions with her.

Jenn: There are secret questions?

Paige: I'll give you a brief biography of what I know about Jenn and then she can maybe fill in with some extra stuff.

Jenn is a mom; a great mom with two amazing boys-- I adore them. She's a wife; her husband is over there. They are the most creative group of people you will ever be around, and the kindest and the sweetest. So it's truly an honor to know them all. Jenn is also a writer, and-- I'm not just saying this-- she's one of the best writers in the cozy genre. She is unquestionably the funniest. You can have a conversation with her in real life and she is every bit as funny even when you're talking about dark subjects... such as... well, we probably don't talk murder much. She's been a writer for quite a few years. When did you start taking it seriously?

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: The idea to be a writer came when I was sixteen, but I didn't do anything with it until I was about twenty-five. I graduated college and got a full-time job working in a library; I was the adult services librarian. It was a very small town, and... it was so boring! The people were lovely, the community was lovely, my co-workers were very sweet, but... you know-- you're twenty-two. I went from being a bartender in a rock and roll club to a librarian, and it was like [making a sound of screeching brakes]!

I worked there for three years, and I noticed that I was spending a lot of time in the medical reference book section. 'Oh my god, it's a tumor, I'm going to die! I'm so bored-- I'm going to die!' Then I realized that I wasn't pursuing my dream. I wasn't writing. When you're working full-time it's very difficult to be a writer. Writing takes an incredible amount of time.

I was twenty-five and I quit that job. I moved from Connecticut to Arizona without a job, without benefits. I lived off my savings...

Paige: That's like a life's dream for so many people. Just pick up and go! And it worked out.

Jenn: Sort of... I didn't publish for about seven years.

Paige: That's not bad at all, though.

Jenn: Well, I had to get a job, so...

Paige: But you became a librarian here...

Jenn: I did!

Paige: Which was much more exciting.

Jenn: Oh yes, Phoenix Public-- which is well represented! [in the audience] There was no boredom there. I started out in what was called the Telephone Reference Section. This is before you had voice mail or messaging systems. So you sat in a room with two or four-- depending on the hour of the day and how busy it was, and there were six live lines coming in. And they would ask you anything, from 'What's the S&P today?' to 'Is it a tumor?' [laughter throughout the bookstore]

Paige: Did you ever mess with anyone and say, 'Maybe...'?

Available Now!
Jenn: We did have this one guy... what was his name? My husband might remember... I met my husband in the library... We had this one guy... this is terrible! Don't think poorly of librarians. We were young, we were... not awesome. We used to call him Brain Dead. Because he'd call up and say, 'I need you to look up a word for me'-- literally look up a word in the dictionary-- and then you had to spell it for him, and then you had to spell it for him again, and again, and again. Then you had to read the definition, then read the definition again, and again-- do you see what I'm saying? And he called. Every. Single. Day.

We had these amazing shelves called wheels. We had a tiny wheel which was literally a tiny bookcase, but it was fun. You had to spin the wheel to get the quick reference. Then we had the big wheel which was three massive shelves. This thing was as big as a car. You would have to do a full body you know to get the wheel to move and have the books come flying around.

The best part of this is, there was a shelf at the bottom of the big wheel, and that's where we used to lay out a buffet. Spin it to get a carrot stick or a doughnut...

Paige: Speaking of adventures in libraries, Hitting the Books is the ninth book in the Library Lovers series, and again, guys, it's hard to get to nine books in a series. I'm not saying it's hard to write them, I'm saying it's hard to find publishers who want to publish them. How many more are you contracted for in this series, Jenn?

Jenn: I just turned in the next one called A Word to the Wise...

Paige: So this is book number what for you?

Jenn: This is number thirty-eight, and I have books thirty-nine and forty ready to come out. Those are written. I'm writing forty-one right now.

Paige: Amazing!

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: Well, you're right up there! Paige is being very sweet and [whispers] she's going to be publishing something new and different!

Paige: We'll see! We'll see how it goes.

Jenn: Well, how many have you written? Cuz you're up there, too.

Paige: Not even twenty!

Jenn: That's awesome. I know people who've written, like, three. Double digits is amazing.

Paige: Talk about looking out the window of your library. Have you ever seen anything outside the window of your library that caused you to jump up and run outside to see what's going on? There might be a reason why I'm asking this that could be tied to this current book...

Jenn: I'm an observer, not a participant! The library I worked at here in Phoenix was the Burton Barr Library. It's a beautiful building, and the people who work there know that the park is a residence for some people, so we did observe a lot of behavior out there. I didn't run out of the building, but I was doing story time in the children's area which is on the ground floor. There were big windows and a ledge running below the windows, and one day a gentleman took a nap on the ledge without his pants on. So I had to hurry and move the puppet theater in front of the dude...

Paige: And you've told me that all sorts of crazy behavior goes on inside the library. [emphatic nod from Jenn]

Jenn: The thing with libraries is that you're free. You're open to everybody. And you get everybody. I never minded the people who needed to come in and cool off, and I never minded the people who needed to get to a quiet place to gather their thoughts.

The ones I minded-- before everything was on the internet-- we had a business department, and we'd have the Standard & Poors and the Value Line and we'd take ID for them, and this is how people would look up their stocks and see how they were doing. This was in the '90s, and we would have businessmen come in suits and literally get into fist fights over the books. I minded them! The rude ones. If you were kind to me, I'd do anything for you. If you were rude...

Paige Shelton
Paige: Your chapters always end at a very good cliffhangery point so you really pull people into the next chapter. And you're very funny at the same time. I know you outline. When you're outlining, how much of your chapter endings are you aware of, or is that a little more organic as you're writing it?

Jenn: When I'm writing, I'm very aware of wanting to keep you up, I want you to lose sleep, I want you to go to work tired, I want you to have OMC-- One More Chapter Syndrome-- I want you to curse me in the morning. Then I know I have done my job.

I'm aware of wanting to do this as I write, but it's organic in that I don't know exactly where it's going to happen. There have been times when I've written through a cliffhanger, realized what I've done, and gone back to cut it in half and make it a cliffhanger.

Paige: Do you laugh at yourself when you're writing?

Jenn: Constantly. I think my family thinks I'm having a fit.

Paige: This probably isn't a fair question. Do you think you're funnier than your readers think you are?

Jenn: Mmm... probably! Humor is so subjective. I've actually had people tell me that I'm not funny. Have you ever met people who don't have a sense of humor? I think they're missing a puzzle piece or something. Honestly, if I thought I wouldn't laugh within the first fifteen or twenty minutes after I woke up, I don't think I'd get out of bed. My house is filled with critters and boys, and there's always something to laugh about.

Paige: Tell us about your next Library Lovers and your next Cupcake one, too. Oh, and your romance! Tell us everything!

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: I always forget... which one am I working on? Hitting the Books came out this week, that's why we're here... the next one to come out is The Good Ones-- the romance [comes out next February]...

Oh. My. God. Here's trouble! These two are trouble! You're looking at the crackerjack security team for the Burton Barr Library. We're going to have a reading, which is something I never do. [Someone starts looking up the correct pages in Hitting the Books.]

So the next book to come out is The Good Ones which is set in a romance bookstore in North Carolina.

Paige: And there's a cowboy on the cover.

Jenn: And a kitten. A year ago, I rescued a gray kitten that was only a day or two old. I wanted to write him into the book, so I thought-- no problem-- they'd put a gray cat on the cover. He's orange. That's the publishing life; you have no say about your cover. Get used to it.

And then in May, Dying for Devil's Food is the next Cupcake Bakery mystery. And I don't remember the plot. No, wait! I do! Angie and Logan go to their fifteenth high school class reunion and someone dies. Next fall, A Word to the Wise will come out. That's the next Library Lovers.

Here's a question as a writer: How's your sense of time?

Paige: Well...

Jenn: Cuz mine is not good!

Paige: If you want time to fly, get married. If you want time to really fly, have a child. If you don't even want to notice time moving from one year to the next, have writing deadlines. It is just insane. I just can't keep up with it.

Jenn: I can't either. Part of the problem of being a writer is-- it's just hilarious-- people will say, 'Oh, Hitting the Books is out!' and I'm like, 'Did I write that?' I'm over it. I turned that in a year ago! ...HA! [The proper pages in the book have been found, and it's time for a special reading.]

Jenn reading from Hitting the Books.
Small introduction. When I worked at the Burton Barr Central Library, we've talked a little about some of the stuff we'd see looking out the windows. This is a five-story building. Each floor is the size of a football field. It's massive.

When you're at a service desk-- I used to work in Teen-- you'd be alone. Crazy things can happen, and you need to have back-up. You need to be able to hit the panic button and know that someone would come. Two people who are here tonight are two of the guys who-- if they came running-- I was sooo happy because they are just the best. I saw these two, with two other men, take down a guy who was having an 'episode', shall we say, and the four of them were riding this guy like a bronco to bring him to the ground. I think this went viral on Youtube. It was crazy! Needless to say, these two won.

Anyway, for years I've been like I've got to write my two buddies into a book. Leo and I talked, and at first I thought it would be hilarious to make them two dogs. But then I thought the only way I could write them into a book about a small town library was to make them patrons because small town libraries don't have security. So... here we go.

[Jenn then proceeded to read a section of her book, and when you read Hitting the Books and come across two patrons snoozing in the library, you now know that they are based on two security guards at the Burton Barr Library here in Phoenix, Arizona!]

Jenn: I want Paige to tell us what she's doing!

Paige: Oh! I am working on a Scottish Bookshop series and an Alaska thriller series. I've turned the first thriller into my agent, and I'm waiting to hear back from her. I'm terrified that she's going to hate it. Other than that, everything's going well!

Jenn: For the Alaska one, do you have a title yet?

Paige: Thin Ice, which is actually a title that Jenn and Kate Carlisle came up with. It used to be 'Murder on Ice', but now it's Thin Ice. It's set in Glacier Bay National Park. We'll see what happens.

L to R: Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay
[Bookseller Pat King then wanted the two to tell us about the twice-yearly writing sessions that Jenn, Paige, and Kate Carlisle have here in town.]

Jenn: Dude! That's top secret! [much laughter] We go to the Valley Ho. We eat a lot. Have you ever had the milkshake at the Valley Ho? It's like pound cake on top of a milkshake-- it's crazy. Kate drinks wine. We drink other things. We like to call Bloody Marys 'salad.' We usually clock in on Friday and work straight through to Sunday.

Paige: And it is real work despite the fun that we do have.

Jenn: The milkshake is like the carrot at the end of a thirteen-hour day of writing.

Paige: Plotting non-stop.

Jenn: And some arguing because Kate's mean!

Paige: She's not only mean, she knows what she's talking about. So irritating!

Jenn: No, we love Kate. Kate and I met in San Francisco at a conference. This is kind of where the whole plot thing started. We thought of all the people we knew, and we both liked Paige, so we decided we were going to make her do this, too. Kate is kind of our butt-kicker: 'This needs more conflict! It has to be real!'

I torture them by making them help me plot out my romances, and then we start talking murder. We worked on Paige's Thin Ice. We show up with one or two pages of notes. Paige told us, 'It's in Alaska. Someone's going to die...

Paige Shelton
Paige:'s not a cozy. So work with that. Tell me where we go from here.'

Jenn: It's just three intense days of work.

Paige: I actually thought it would be more fun. It is fun, but it's hard work. It's exhausting.

Jenn: I'll ask you this and then we'll stop torturing everybody. What's your primary method of murder?

Paige: I have no idea. I never really thought about it. What's yours?

Jenn: I am such a librarian, anal retentive-- I made a pie chart! It's so sad. I'm sitting there. The book isn't writing itself, so I think, 'I'm going to go through all forty books to see how I kill people. It's a really pretty pie chart. I picked complimentary colors; Martha Stewart would really be proud. But come to find out, I am a STABBER! And then I like bludgeoning. Then poisoning. Then I think I had a couple of stranglings, drownings, but so far, only one person has been shot.

Paige: So was this being anal retentive, or were you just avoiding a deadline?

Jenn: [innocent look] I had to take my pie chart one step further to see what percentage of my victims were male or female and what percentage of my killers were male or female. My victims are primarily men, and my killers are primarily women. FYI! So-- you haven't done that?

Paige: No!

Jenn: So next time you have writer's block...

And the next time Jenn and Paige are at The Poisoned Pen, I'll be there! (And after reading this recap, I think you know why!)

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Batduck & Piper Weekly Link Round-Up

Last week, some of you let me know that I'd been remiss and hadn't shared photos of two of the newer members of my pool paddling, so I'll have to take care of that today.

It's been another quiet week here at Casa Kittling. Alexa and Gracie aren't talking back to me, and I've been enjoying afternoons in the pool reading the latest books by two of my favorite authors, Craig Johnson and J.A. Jance. Next week I have another follow-up appointment at the eye doctor's which will hopefully lead to the "sanding down" of my second eye. I really want to get this show on the road so I can have much better eyesight for my Christmas present this year!

As promised, here are Batduck and Piper--

Now it's time to mosey on out to the corral and take care of those links. Head 'em up! Mooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Ten animals who have broken into the library.
  • How hungry baby urchins are saving Hawaii's reefs.
  • Do not fear the drones air-dropping 50,000 mosquitoes from above.
  • What the deaths of more than 300 reindeer teach us about the circle of life.
  • This fish outlived dinosaurs, but oil and gas drilling may threaten its survival.
  • Nineteen things to know about hummingbirds.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

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

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

City of Silver by Annamaria Alfieri

First Line: Santiago Yana approached the mine by night.

When Inez de la Morada, the daughter of the rich and powerful mayor of Potosí, dies in the convent of Santa Isabella de los Santos Milagros, it looks as though she committed suicide. However, Abbess Maria Santa Hilda believes it was murder-- even though the girl was in a locked room. The abbess is in an unenviable position. If she allows the girl's death to be considered suicide (which means she cannot be buried in consecrated ground), she will be in very real danger from the all-powerful mayor. If she says the girl's death was murder and allows burial in the convent, she will be in mortal danger from the Inquisition. There's only one thing Maria Santa Hilda can do: prove Inez was murdered before the King's representatives come to Potosí. She has very little time.

I don't like admitting it, but my knowledge of South America is woefully inadequate; however, it is due to books like Annamaria Alfieri's City of Silver, that I'm taking up some of the slack. This book takes place in 1650s Potosí in what is now Bolivia. At that time, it was the largest city in the Western Hemisphere (comparable in size to London) and the richest city in the entire world-- a position it had held for almost a century because of the area's fabulous silver mines. And due to its 14,000-foot elevation, it's also the highest city in the world.

The setting alone almost blew me away. The author's tapestry is so carefully and closely woven, you almost don't realize how much you're learning about the time and place. When readers start learning about the social history, it gets even better. What it's like living at such high altitude when the windows of the buildings are unglazed (have no glass in them). What it's like to have such unheard-of wealth at your disposal that your everyday dishes are solid silver. My mind was almost boggled-- and I loved it.

But City of Silver is no mere history lesson; it's also a marvelous mystery. From the opening scene in a mine that raised the hair on the back of my neck to the investigation surrounding Inez de la Morada's death, the mystery is multi-layered and totally compelling. The book is imbued with high altitude chill and a pervading sense of danger. The characters are revealed slowly, and almost all of them grow and change with the circumstances.

If you enjoy historical mysteries set in exotic places, I highly recommend Alfieri's City of Silver. Part of me is still on that mountaintop in Potosí.

City of Silver by Annamaria Alfieri
ISBN: 9780312383862
Minotaur Books © 2009
Hardcover, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Santa Fe Mourning by Amanda Allen

First Line: We cannot express the depths of our disappointment, Madeline.

When her beloved husband dies in the trenches of World War I, Madeline Vaughn-Alwin takes the opportunity to leave her wealthy New York family and head to California. But when she stops in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she falls in love with the place and decides this is where she can concentrate on a career as an artist.

She hires a local Native American family to help out around her new home, but when the father is found murdered in the alley in back of a speakeasy, the police brush it off as just another drunk dying. Maddie cares too much for the family to let that be the man's epitaph, so she does some investigating on her own with the help of a few friends.

The major reason why I chose to read Santa Fe Mourning is its setting of Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1920s, and in this respect, the book certainly does not disappoint. The landscape comes to life and so does the time period. In the 1920s, Santa Fe was a place where people with lung ailments went for cures-- and where ne'er-do-wells and rich families' "black sheep" went so they wouldn't be an embarrassment. We also get to learn about some of the real-life people who called the place home. All in all, I was given some happy researching to do about the area's history-- and I'm also planning a return trip.

The mystery surrounding the man's death is solid, although I did find whodunit rather easy to deduce. For me, the major downfall of the book is in its characters. Maddie is a strong main character, and her wealthy background does give her an advantage when trying to tease out some of the clues, but the rest of the cast is rather two-dimensional. I was most disappointed in Maddie's love interest-- a handsome British doctor who comes to work at an area hospital. The man has very little to say for himself. The two meet for dinner, but we're told more of what they spoke about than actually hearing their conversation. The doctor helps Maddie out in her investigation, but we don't hear it from him; once again we're told what he discovered. When a character is supposed to be so wonderful, I want to find out for myself, not be told secondhand, and I would imagine many readers feel the same way.

So... I have a dilemma. Do I read the next book in the series because I love the setting and the time period so much? Or do I give it a miss because the characters are disappointing? I'm afraid the jury is still out.

Santa Fe Mourning by Amanda Allen
eISBN: 9781683315483
Crooked Lane Books © 2018
eBook, 288 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Santa Fe Revival mystery
Rating: C
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Under the Covers with Minette Walters

Today, I thought I would take a look at several covers of one of Minette Walters' mysteries, The Scold's Bridle, but first I have to tell you an anecdote that I find a bit funny now.

I remember seeing this book in a bookshop when it was first released. With the word "bridle" in the title, I thought it might be a mystery that had something to do with horses. When I read the synopsis, I could see that it didn't have a thing to do with my second favorite four-legged critter and put it back on the shelf. But that title stuck in my mind, and I looked up the definition of "scold's bridle" when I got home. (This was pre-computer, so I looked it up the old-fashioned way.)

A scold's bridle was an instrument of punishment, as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head. A bridle-bit (or curb-plate), about 2 inches long and 1 inch broad, projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue.

Naturally, this form of punishment was for women, because-- heaven knows-- men never gossip, grumble, or complain. When I discovered what the item was, it made me so mad that I never wanted to read Walters' book, even though it was an award winner. As you can see, I never overreact! *cough* Will I read it now? It's possible, but with the current state of my to-be-read shelves, it's unlikely. You want to know something else? The idea of a scold's bridle still makes steam pour out of my ears... but I digress. Let's take a look at some of the covers that were devised for this book with the interesting title.

UK. Looks like a Halloween cover to me!

US. The bridle must be in the tub...

UK. Creepy! Looks like it's hanging on the wall of the dungeon.

UK. Audio Cassette cover.







Now... as your eyes rambled down the row of book covers, did you notice anything in particular? (Besides the fact that none of them are particularly pretty.) I have a feeling that some of you saw the same thing I did: the covers for The Scold's Bridle editions published in the US and Australia have nary a bridle on 'em, while every single one of the UK covers does.

What does this mean? I would imagine it all boils down to ignorance. Although I think the Puritans made use of the things, most Americans aren't going to have a clue what a scold's bridle is, and from the looks of things, publishers didn't think the Australians would either. I'm not sure what this says about the British!

Which covers do you prefer-- with bridle, or without? Or neither one? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Taste for Vengeance by Martin Walker

First Line: On this cool, damp Sunday afternoon in spring, with clouds and rain showers sweeping in from the Atlantic a hundred miles to the west, Bruno Courrèges had his day off.

When one of the tourists doesn't show for a luxurious cooking vacation outside the small French village of St. Denis, the hostess is quick to call Bruno for help. The tourist is nowhere to be found, her husband is unreachable, and just when Bruno learns that she may have been traveling with her lover, both she and her lover are found dead. Her lover was an Irishman with a background in intelligence as well as ties to the woman's husband. It's a case that raises more and more questions the more Bruno investigates.

He also has a more personal "case"-- the young star of the local girls' rugby team that Bruno coaches is pregnant, which puts her chances of being named to the French national squad at risk. This, too, has Bruno asking questions, questions of himself and his beliefs.

At the beginning of this eleventh Bruno Chief of Police mystery, readers learn that Bruno has been given added responsibilities, and some of the more interesting parts of the book have him dealing with these as well as members of the police force that we've never met before. I liked seeing him out of his comfort zone. Not everything ran smoothly, and he often had to think quickly to avoid disaster.

The past few books in the series have had Bruno involved in cases in which the French government works with other countries-- especially when the investigation has to do with terrorism. A Taste for Vengeance does involve terrorism (from a source which surprised me... and should not have), and Bruno gets to work closely with counterparts in the American and British governments. I do like seeing that governments can actually work together for the common good. We need more of that.

It was refreshing not to have a mystery that linked to World War II, and in many other respects, this book shows us the Bruno that I've known and loved since the very first book. I only have one small quibble, which will make some people shake their heads: if anything, there is too much food throughout the book. Yes, I love the cooking-- the tastes, the smells, the history of the food and drink, watching it being prepared, the camaraderie. But there were too many such scenes that kept taking me away from the investigations. Removing one or two would've sharpened the pace and the suspense yet still had me hopping in the car to go to the local French grocery store.

But as I've already said, A Taste for Vengeance shows me the Bruno and the St. Denis that I love-- and that I'll always come back to. If you love mysteries that are recipes filled with well-seasoned intrigue, characters, and a setting so pitch-perfect you'll start speaking with a French accent, you simply have to read Martin Walker's Bruno Chief of Police mysteries. Ils sont magnifiques!

A Taste for Vengeance by Martin Walker
eISBN: 9780525519973
Alfred A. Knopf © 2018
eBook, 337 pages

Police Procedural, #11 Bruno Chief of Police mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hank Phillippi Ryan & Steve Hamilton at The Poisoned Pen!

When I learned that Hank Phillippi Ryan and Steve Hamilton were going to appear at The Poisoned Pen to promote their new books, it wasn't difficult to persuade Denis that we had to go even though we were going to be spending the Labor Day weekend with two dozen authors just a few days later. I think Denis just wanted to do something with me that took us outside the house yet still involved air conditioning. Whatever the reason, we were at our favorite bookstore nice and early to get the seats we wanted, and the time flew by.

L to R: Hank Phillippi Ryan & Steve Hamilton

Barbara Peters introduced the pair and then left center stage to them because, as she said, Ryan is a vastly superior interviewer. And since I now record these events, go home, listen to the recordings and type up the recaps, I'm just going to proceed as though I'm writing a screenplay. (Hope you don't mind!)

Ryan: How long have you been on book tour?

Hamilton: For almost two weeks.

Ryan: Do you have any idea what day it is?

Hamilton: Um... it's the middle of the week, right?

Ryan: I don't know! Book tour is so crazy. What a wild trip it is. It's so much fun, but you have no idea what day it is. There are mornings when I wake up in hotel rooms and think, 'Where am I?'  Do you have that?

Hamilton: Yes. It is a great privilege because we get to... Writing is such a solitary thing. You're in a room alone late at night, or if you're a morning person, early in the morning, and you can forget that there are people out there who read these books and they spend so much time with your characters. That's such an amazing thing, especially now when so many people don't read books. So it's great to come here and be reminded that there are still readers out there. It's something that I'll never take for granted.

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Ryan: I am not a morning writer. Lee Child always said nothing good ever happens before noon, so every time I put it off and put it off and put it off. But I think because I've been a television reporter for forty years I get more prolific as the night goes on. I think it's because I'm always half-ready for the eleven o'clock news, so at ten o'clock I can really write because I know my news deadline is coming. But in the morning I have plenty of time to put the story together. Do you write at night as well?

Hamilton: Yes, I do. I can't imagine getting up before dawn. We know writers who do it that way. William Kent Krueger in a coffee shop in Minnesota while the sun comes up, writing his books. That's like science fiction to me.

Ryan: Exactly! You would find my head clonked on a computer. [Holding up a copy of Hamilton's book] People are just effusive about Dead Man Running. This is marvelous. And it's not just because it's a fast-paced, interesting, compelling book; this has really touched some people.

Hamilton: Well! Thank you by the way... It's been five years since the last book with this guy, and actually as I go around this month, it's kind of mind-blowing that it was twenty years ago this month that A Cold Day in Paradise was released. Twenty years! And all the things that have happened since then. It's just incredible to look back on it. And now, five years since the last book... I knew I'd go back to him. I was here for the last few books, and I hope I said it whenever anyone asked about Alex-- that I'd go back to him. [character Alex McKnight]

Ryan: Why don't you tell us a bit about where Alex came from; he's such a favorite with readers! Do you remember the moment you first met him?

Steve Hamilton
Hamilton: Yeah, I remember the exact moment because I was trying to write what I thought was a private eye book. Which is the guy in the office with the hat and the thing and the bottle and the gun... you've got the whole thing in your head already. It's kind of formula, but there's nothing wrong with that formula, by the way. It still works really well. I loved that kind of book when I was growing up. I wanted to write that kind of book.

I had all this time set aside to write that kind of book, and I failed so utterly and completely. It just didn't happen.

Ryan: How did you know you had failed? Every author feels that at some point. It's not good... whose idea was this... this isn't going to work... but you had a pure, compelling thought that you were just on the wrong track. How did you know that?

Hamilton: When, after sixteen days, I had written two words. That was my clue. The words were 'Chapter One,' by the way. I mean, after all this time, I felt like such a failure. I just wanted to do this so bad, and I just thought, 'You're never going to be a writer. You don't have what it takes-- whatever that is. It's just not going to happen for you.'

And then at that point of giving up, I just decided that I was going to write something else. I had this idea about a guy who felt like I did. It felt real. I just thought of Alex McKnight sitting in a cabin in the most remote place I could think of. I thought, 'Why is he there? Why is he feeling this way?' It's a strange way to begin a story with that feeling of despair, so I just started answering questions about it. Maybe he's a cop. What's the big failure for a cop? His partner was killed and he didn't stop it. He left the force. He came to this place to get away from his life. And that first book was about how your life will always find you.

Available Now!
Ryan: What do you mean by that?

Hamilton: Well, it's like you can't get away from the past. You can't run away from your demons. And that was the point of that whole first book. It wasn't a private eye novel, it was a personal coming-to-terms-with-his-past novel. It just came about in a way that I never would have expected.

Ryan: When you start with your character in deep despair, you have two choices. You can have them come out of it, or not. Did you know you were writing a series, and how do you keep the idea that the core started with that despair but you can't keep despair going throughout the series?

Hamilton: No, you can't. He kinda gets dragged out of it. He kinda gets tricked out of it. I wasn't thinking of a second book, or a third book... or an eleventh book now. When the first book was published, they asked me where the second one was. I said, 'It's coming right up!' And when I went back, I realized that there was more stuff that he could do. This book is a lot different, though.

Ryan: Why?

Hamilton: Coming back from a break, it's like... have you seen the movie Skyfall? That was a brilliant movie I thought because all the stuff that had built up around the franchise was done away with. They made the decision to go back to what it was about this character that made us want to read the books and go see the first couple of movies when it was this new amazing thing before all the fancy cars and stuff. I was inspired by that. What was it about Alex McKnight twenty years ago that made me want to keep writing about him?

Steve Hamilton
Ryan: So you fell in love with your character all over again.

Hamilton: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I got back to back to that idea, and that's why he's alone in this book. It's about him on his own. It takes him out of his comfort zone, and it's a very different sort of circumstance. The book starts in the Mediterranean Sea with this guy who's on a cruise with his wife. He checks the video feed on his house back in Scottsdale, Arizona. He sees that something's not right. He checks the bedroom and sees there's a dead body in his bed.

In the next scene, you're in Arizona and they've captured this guy-- kinda too easily actually-- and the FBI is interviewing him. The guy tells them that there's one victim still alive, but you're going to have to take me to Michigan to find this ex-cop from Detroit, and you're going to have to bring him with us. That's the only way I'll cooperate.

Ryan: That's weird!

Hamilton: It is weird, especially when Alex gets there and this guy knows everything about his life-- and Alex has never seen him before.

Ryan: And that's one of the things about your books that is so terrific, that the two stories come together so beautifully. The personal story and the crime story. How do you weave that together? Do you plan it all, or does it just come together as you write?

Hamilton: This just comes out of Alex. It's who he is and how he deals with things. He uses his gut instincts to make his way through this nightmare that he's plunged into. It does tie into his own life, and there's a big twist at the end that we won't talk about. It's just part of making a story that's a complete story because you need all of that.

Ryan: To newcomers to the series, you don't have to start with the first book. They're a series of standalone books, right? That you can read in any order...

Hamilton: Right.

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Ryan: Did you know you were doing that with the first book, giving it that standalone feel?

Hamilton: I didn't know anything about the series when I wrote that first book, but as you go, you learn that it's a balancing act.

Ryan: I've learned so much about the difference between writing a series and writing a standalone because this is my first standalone, my first psychological standalone after writing nine series books. Two different series.

Hamilton: So let's talk about this book now.

Ryan: Okay!

Hamilton: I was reading your book on the plane to Phoenix, and here's the thing that struck me about it: we do these tours and events and conferences, and all that stuff is secondary to the words on the page and whether when you pick up the book that it really works for you as a reader. That's what really matters and what will last long after we're gone. As I was reading your book, I forgot that I was going to see you today and that I wanted to ask you questions about it, I just wanted to read because it's a really good book. It really pulled me in.

Ryan: It's interesting, because at the beginning of the book-- just like your Alex book, Mercer Hennessey-- who is a journalist-- quits her up and coming job as a writer to stay at home with her husband and daughter. Just to be a mom. This is what she wants to do. A year before the start of the book, she loses her husband and daughter in a terrible accident, and as the book begins, Mercer is writing in the steam on the bathroom mirror four, four, two-- the number of days since her family was taken from her. This is her daily ritual.

She can't find a reason for her to get out of bed in the morning, and she gets what may be a lifeline phone call from her old editor, asking her to cover the trial of a notorious party girl/murderer-- alleged murderer-- who's accused of killing her own daughter. Should Mercer cover the trial? Her grief over losing her own daughter is still so raw, but she's a journalist and she can be objective. So she's assigned to write the true crime coverage-- like In Cold Blood-- of this murder trial.

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Hamilton: And you actually read some of the things she's writing about the trial, so you kinda see it from the other side. She's trying to imagine herself in the mind of the person who's on trial.

Ryan: It's interesting because the first part of the book is a book in a book. So you read about Mercer's life and how she's covering this trial. She's under tremendous pressure because the book must be finished by the time the defendant is sentenced. She's under intense deadline pressure. She's writing like crazy. She's researching. She's watching the trial on a video feed in her house. She's in this sort of locked room situation with this grisly story about a horrible murder coming through the video feed.

You see Mercer covering the trial, and you see what she thinks about it. Then you're also reading the book she's writing about it. So we know what happens to the accused murderer through Mercer's eyes and through what Mercer is writing, and we can see Mercer trying to stay objective. And then everything changes, which I can't tell you about at all!

Hamilton: I know! The plane landed, and all I want to do is get back to the book and start reading, which is the highest compliment you can pay a writer, I think. I think tonight will be a long night because I want to see what happens next.

Ryan: What happens next is so fascinating because it's why we all read crime fiction. We want to see what happens in this case, we want to find out whodunit. 

This is a little-known story, and I'll tell it quickly. I was assigned many years ago by a big fancy publishing house to write the true crime novel of the Casey Anthony trial. I had to cover the trial and write the book and be done when the trial was over. I was supposed to hit send and the book was to be published the day she was sentenced to life in prison because, of course, she was guilty. Everyone knew that.

Hank Phillippi Ryan with Trust Me
I had three computers. I had one to do research, I had one where I was watching the trial feed, and I had one where I was writing the book. I wrote eighteen to twenty hours a day like crazy. I have to tell you that, at one point, I thought, 'This is really good, this is a good book. I have found my calling. It's going to be the new In Cold Blood!'

And then... and then... she was acquitted. The publisher called me and said, 'Thanks so much. We don't need this book.' It was over. But here's the point of it. When that happened to me, I realized that I had written this book which was supposed to be objective through the brain and eyes of a person-- me-- who really thought she was guilty. Now I'm a criminal defense attorney's wife. I can tell you why anybody is not guilty, but in this case, I really thought she was guilty.

It was very profound to me to have it revealed how I had actually been writing that book. Not objective in any way, and also, the jury had come up with a completely different version of the truth than I had. How could that be? That's when I realized that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. And that's what you see on the cover of the book.

[Looking at Hamilton] Do you know how your books will end before you start writing them?

Steve Hamilton
Hamilton: I used to sort of not know. Really, when I was first starting out, in the first ten McKnight books. I'd just start out with something really interesting and then ask myself what's the worst thing he could get himself into next. Okay-- so what has to happen next? That's a pretty good North Star for a writer. It seems inevitable, but you can work your way into some pretty big surprises. And you can really surprise yourself.

Ryan: Isn't that kind of fun, though, when you're typing and something gets put on the page and you think, 'Really? That happened? I didn't see that coming!' That's such a joy when that happens.

Hamilton: Unless it's something really horrible, and then it's not. It's 'Wait a minute! This can't happen!'

Ryan: One of the things I say about Trust Me is 'I dare you to show me the liar.' It's an obsessed journalist and a troubled mom in a cat-and-mouse game about this terrible crime, but only one can prevail. Which one is the cat, and which one is the mouse? And I dare you to find the liar. If you look at the book this way, see what the cover says?

Available Now!

Isn't that amazing? And once you see that it says 'LIAR', you can't unsee it.

Hamilton: That's really cool!

Ryan: They did a great job!

Hamilton: Was this your first standalone?

Ryan: Yes, it was. What was your first standalone?

Hamilton: I did a book called Night Work. Then any sensible person would've gone back, but I had this big idea for this eighteen-year-old safecracker who never talks.

Ryan: I remember interviewing you for The Lock Artist and asking 'Why would you choose to write about a character who never talks? That's hard for a book...'

Hamilton: I didn't know that was going to happen until about fifty pages in and he still hadn't said anything!

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Ryan: That has just stuck with me forever because that's absolutely what you were talking about... that you didn't even plan that, and if you had-- forgive me-- but if you had, you wouldn't've done it because it's such a stupid idea!

Hamilton: Exactly! Exactly! Maybe it was a stupid idea because it certainly felt that way.

Ryan: Did that not win the Edgar?

Hamilton: It kinda won the Edgar, yeah.

Ryan: Then that's not stupid.

Hamilton: But it still felt stupid in the middle. I was stuck and it would've been so helpful if my guy would just say something! But in that first scene, I just knew there was something different about him besides his talent with locks and safes. What is it about this kid that makes him different from everyone else? And as I wrote, he just kept his mouth shut. He would not say anything!

Ryan: That's just classic. And you could've gone on to write more books about him, but it would've been tedious and wouldn't work. And here's where the difference between writing series and writing standalones is so profound. In a series, Alex McKnight is not going to die because he's going to come back in the next book. So the tension in your book is from whatever the situation is.

But in a standalone, this is the biggest, most tectonic-plate-shifting thing, the most life-changing thing that has ever happened-- or will ever happen-- to Mercer Hennessy and Ashlynne Bryant. This will not happen again. This is a moment in time. This is a cat-and-mouse game that can only happen once. Only one can win. This makes a standalone be so no-holds-barred! You can do anything, you can kill anybody, anybody can be guilty.

Steve Hamilton
Hamilton: How did that feel not having any of your characters... because normally you know these guys, you know the place-- it's like coming back home-- and you gave up all that to write something totally from scratch. Was that scary?

Ryan: It was fabulous. I have to say that I'm in love with writing standalones.

As I said before, my husband is a criminal defense attorney, and I listened to him give his closing argument for a big murder trial. I told him that he had a slam-dunk acquittal.

Then I pictured the wife of the prosecuting attorney across town doing the same thing. That's what caused me to write this book-- whether I could take the same set of evidence and make two completely different stories that were equally believable.

Hamilton: So it sounds like we're going to see more standalones?

Ryan: Yeah, it's due Friday! It's almost done-- really!

And then after Hamilton admitted that, after recently losing his father,  he realized how much of his father was in the character of Alex McKnight, there was a short Q&A session.

It was another fun and informative night at The Poisoned Pen which Denis and I talked about all the way home. I hope you enjoyed it, too!