Friday, 14 September 2018

An Interview with Miriam bat Isaac, Sleuth Extraordinaire



Hello mystery lovers. My name is Concordia, daughter of Marcello Gaius Segundus. It’s almost high noon on three days after the Calends as I wait for Miriam bat Isaac here in Zenon’s café near the Central Plaza of Alexandria’s agora. Against the rasp of soldiers’ boots and the blandishments of peddlers hawking olives, boiled elephant beans, and honey-sweetened water, I’ve been rehearsing the questions—

Oh, wait. Here she comes, stunning in a short-sleeved, floor-length lavender tunic, matching veil, and a light blue, woollen himation pinned to her shoulder with an antique fibula. Certainly not the thirty-something-year-old, wide-hipped matron I expected! I stood to greet her and pointed to a chair facing the shop’s graduated marble shelves of glassware, cutlery, and crockery.

 “Thanks for coming, Miriam. This interview is important. Your community is already aware of your success as an amateur sleuth. Now it’s time for the rest of Alexandria to recognize your contributions.” I hope she didn’t notice the jagged rise in the pitch of my voice. Fortunately, with a few deep breaths, the constriction eased.

Miriam slapped some imaginary dust from her clothes and with one smooth gesture, calmed her skirt, ran her hand over the seat of the chair, and took her place. No sooner had she gotten settled when a mousy-haired, knock-kneed waiter cut a clean line around the tables shouldering a tray of tiropita and proffering her a clutch of flatware rolled in an Indian cotton napkin.

I dismissed him with a wave of my hand.

“My pleasure, Concordi—”

“Call me Dia.”

“Dia.”

I nodded. “I asked you to come so I could learn about the books June Trop has written about you. But first, more generally, why does June write about you?”

“She writes about me because she knows when I undertake a case, justice will prevail, that I have the will to persist and the hunger to survive. Once I had to follow a suspect through the midnight underbelly of our Rhakotis Quarter, where thieves prey on the nameless and dump their corpses into the canal. But even the flickering light of my dying lantern, the stench of the dankest alleys, and the scratch of every whirling piece of trash whispering threats in my ear didn’t discourage me.”

Miriam looked around to make sure no one could overhear us and then lowered her voice to an intimate pitch.

“And I permit her to write about me because she plays fair. She gives her readers all the clues so they have a good chance of not just helping me but coming up with the solution before me. But I’m proud to say—and forgive me for bragging—no one ever has.”

“What’s been your most mystifying case?”

“I think my latest one because it was so complex. June has called it The Deadliest Fever because the definitive clue came from the bite of a rabid bat. She was amazed at how I figured out the connection between a jewel heist in Ephesus—Did you know that the thieves who’d stolen the treasure from the Temple of Artemis sailed here? Anyway, I was able to figure out their connection to the death of a sea captain and the desecration of the Torah mantle in the Great Synagogue.”

“Sounds like quite an adventure. So, how did you get started sleuthing?”

Miriam steepled both hands and pressed her index fingers to her lips. Then she folded both hands in her lap. “June wrote about that in The Deadliest Lie, her first book about me. During my family’s Shabbat dinner, documents were stolen from my home, records so valuable that the bearer, if caught, could be summarily executed.” Miriam spread her palms open on the table. “So, of course, I had to get them back, if only to save the thief’s life. That meant I had to find out who stole them, and I had to do it fast.”

“What are June’s plans for you now?”

Miriam tilted her head slightly and gently stroked her chin. “She’s written a fifth book, The Deadliest Thief. She hasn’t let me read it yet—it won’t be released until next year—but she says it’s about when my Phoebe was kidna—”

Alarm flickered in Miriam’s eyes.

Her mouth hinged open.

“Phoebe? You were saying Ph—”

“Oh, Dia. Over there. Someone has a dagger—Can’t explain now—Just a few words about my chronicler. June Trop has a website, http://www.JuneTrop.com. You can learn about me and her books—four out already—even read an excerpt or buy them right there simply by clicking.”

With that, Miriam wheeled out of her chair, nearly toppling it over as I called to her back, “Thank you, Miria—” And then, turning to the crowd that had gathered before us, I announced, “Mystery lovers, you can read all about my interview with the intrepid Miriam bat Isaac as soon as I can post it on the bulletin board by the East Gate.”

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Dancing With Myself: SARALYN RICHARD interviews SARALYN RICHARD



In today’s “Dancing with Myself,” Saralyn Richard, author of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT (US) and NAUGHTY NANA, interviews herself.

INTERVIEWER:  Thanks for inviting us into your family room today. Lovely décor, and your Old English sheepdog, Nana, is quite lovely.

SR: My pleasure. Nana and I both enjoy having company. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that Nana is no longer naughty, as she once was.

INTERVIEWER:  So the children’s book, NAUGHTY NANA, is fact-based, then?

SR:  Yes, it is. Just picture the wildest, most mischievous puppy you’ve ever known, and that was Nana. She was in the top one percent of naughty dogs worldwide.

INTERVIEWER:  Speaking of the top one percent, let’s switch gears to your new murder mystery, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT. What made you decide to, er, switch gears from children’s literature to writing about murder?

SR:  It wasn’t really a huge leap, since there is a bit of a mystery to solve in NAUGHTY NANA, and if Nana hadn’t learned to be nice, there might have been a bit of a murder there, too. In truth, I was always on a road to be a mystery writer, and I’ve read and enjoyed an estimated ten thousand murder mysteries. The children’s book was a gratifying side path along the way.

INTERVIEWER:  So, (looking around the family room) I’m noticing that you don’t appear to be in the actual top one percent. Why did you choose to write about the ultra-wealthy, and how did you know so much about how they live?

SR:  You’re right. By some statistics, to be in the top one percent in New York City, one would have to have an annual income of $2,006,632. I would have to sell a lot of books to get there. I’ve always been fascinated by wealth and how it affects the people who have it, who don’t have it, and who had it and lost it. It took quite a bit of research to learn about the ways of the rich and powerful, but in general people were happy to help me write with authenticity. I even had the pleasure of attending an extravagant dinner party just like the one in the book.

INTERVIEWER:  Your book takes place in New York and in the horse country of Pennsylvania, yet many reviewers compare it to Agatha Christie’s British parlor mysteries. Can you explain why?

SR:  I suppose there are more cultural similarities than differences between ultra-wealthy men and women in England and in America. I binge-read Agatha Christie novels many years ago, and I suppose they left an imprint on my imagination. I also binge-watched Downton Abbey, and before that, Dallas. That long fascination with the wealthy I mentioned earlier apparently crossed the ocean and back.

INTERVIEWER:  Some readers have seen similarities between your characters and wealthy individuals who are in power in America today. Would you care to comment?

SR:  MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental…

INTERVIEWER:  That seems to roll off your tongue, but, really, are any characters patterned after real people?

SR:  Not in my mind. Remember, the book was written awhile ago, and people rotate in and out of the public eye over time. That said, I believe that once a book is published, it no longer belongs to the author. It belongs to the reader. So if a character resonates with a reader in a specific way and reminds him of a living person, far be it from me to shoot that down.

INTERVIEWER:  While we’re on the subject of characters, which character resonates most with you?

SR:  I was afraid you’d ask that question. It’s a little like asking which of your children is your favorite. Even if there is one, I’d feel guilty to name him. Truthfully, there is a piece of me in every character, even the most heinous. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to create him, give him actions, put words in his mouth. I am partial to all of them, but for different reasons. Preston Phillips, for example, is deliciously wicked. He says and does the most outrageous things, and he is so much fun to put on paper. Andrea and I share a number of characteristics, since she is a relatively down-to-earth crime writer, but I’m neither an equestrian or a billionaire, so the resemblance stops there. Detective Oliver Parrott, though African-American and male (neither of which am I), is probably the character who resonates most with me. He is clever and ambitious, has a strong moral compass, and approaches his job with a large dose of humanity. He’s not perfect, but he’s got a good heart and he works hard.

INTERVIEWER:  Congratulations on selecting a highly unusual murder weapon. Would you tell us how you came to use palytoxin?

SR:  I’m a person who faints at the sight of blood, so early on, I knew I wouldn’t have my victim mucked up. I purchased a book about poisons and read it from cover to cover, looking for one that would match the circumstances of my characters and plot. (My husband became a little anxious over my bedtime reading material.) With over a hundred different options, I couldn’t find a single poison that fit, and I was discouraged to the point of considering scrapping the whole idea. Then a friend of mine, who is a doctor, read about this “new” naturally-occurring poison whose symptoms look like a heart attack. It was perfect for the story.

INTERVIEWER:  You must be gratified with the excellent reviews MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is receiving. What’s next for you and for Detective Parrott?

SR:  Having a successful debut novel is a little like hitting the lottery on the first ticket. One might think that would be enough excitement to last for a lifetime, but actually, it just fuels the fire for the next book. I’ve completed a standalone mystery, and I’m working on another Parrott novel.  Both Parrott and I are just getting started.

INTERVIEWER:  Coming full circle, I can’t help but ask this last question. Why did you give Parrott a pet cockatiel, instead of a fluffy sheepdog like Nana?

SR:  Haha! It’s funny how every interview starts and ends with Nana. I considered having Nana make a guest appearance in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, sort of like Hitchcock’s bits in his movies or Toulouse Lautrec’s images in his paintings, but it just didn’t seem practical for a detective who lived alone and worked crazy hours to care for a sheepdog, who requires constant attention and grooming. Horace, the talking bird, seemed a better fit for Parrott’s lifestyle. He was a gift from Parrott’s fiancée Tonya, and he serves as a kind of Greek chorus throughout the book. I checked with Nana before sending off the manuscript, and she was okay with sharing the spotlight. She likes her role as narrator of NAUGHTY NANA better anyway.

INTERVIEWER: Well, that concludes our interview for the “Dancing with Myself” column. Thank you for your time. I’ll just mosey back into the office now and work on a new chapter.


Friday, 31 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE RUNNER by PAUL HEATLEY


Set in the town of Amble, The Runner is anything but. It sets off at a cracking pace and ends in a sprint finish where not everyone will make it to the line. Muscular and brutal fiction.

Blurb: 

Davey Hoy's money has gone missing. Jackson Stobbart thinks he knows where Cathy has run with it and he follows her north-east to their seaside home town. He's hoping to get it back before anyone notices it's gone. Unfortunately for him, Cathy has run to her ex-boyfriend to hide-out, and Jackson's never been much of a fighter. However, if Jackson has to go through the ex-boyfriend to get it, well, he'd rather do that than tell Davey the truth. 

Meanwhile, back in Newcastle, Davey has problems of his own. Desperate to prove himself to Michael Doyle, a man he despises, Davey has to try and keep his cool while dealing with people he knows to be lesser than himself. And that's before he finds out that someone has done a runner with the money he's been stealing from Doyle. 


The Runner is now available from Amazon (US). 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: 'TIL DEATH by ED McBAIN


Steve Carella's sister is getting married. On the morning of the wedding, Carella is called by his future brother-in-law (Tommy Giodarno) who needs some help. The first element of support relates to his worries about his impending wedding night. What's he going to do if he can't perform or his new wife is disappointed? The second issue comes in the form of a tiny package which has been left outside addressed 'To The Groom'. Inside it is a Black Widow spider. Tommy wants to play it off as a wedding day prank, but both men know that there's a more sinister intent in there somewhere. 

Carella has to think quickly. He enlists the help of Hawes and Kling and they shelve plans for the day to attend the celebrations and act as bodyguards. Meanwhile, Meyer Meyer is out on the streets chasing the only lead Carella can come up with, a disgruntled ex-serviceman who blames Giodarno for the death of his friend in Vietnam. 

As the day unfolds, the dangers to the bride and groom become all too real and the pace quickens nicely to it's electric climax. 

The plot is nicely put together. It stretches the imagination at points, but that's what books do. All the pieces fit. There are red herrings, blue herrings and green herrings which all keep the reader on their toes. The finite time and confined location work well in a time-honoured way and the story benefits from all the advantages these offer. 

What is particularly pleasing about this one is the insight into the lives and characters of the detectives. McBain adds details and layers to his characters in each book, but in 'Til Death (US) he drills down further than usual, particularly into Steve Carella's past. The wedding takes place in the home in which he grew up; we meet his parents; get to see his childhood bedroom; find out about the Italian community; feel the friction between him and his heavily pregnant wife as he meets an old flame on the dance floor; understand his loyalties to his sister and her beloved; experience his own nerves about becoming a father for the first time; and get a flavour of the relationships between him and his colleagues. We also find another window into Cotton Hawes and he mixes business with his pleasure and finds himself in uncharted waters in each. 

In short, this is an exciting and well-rounded read that is a must for fans of the 87th.  

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: CANNERY ROW by JOHN STEINBECK


'If a man ordered a beer milkshake, he thought, he'd better do it in a town he wasn't known - they might call the police. A man with a beard was always a little suspect anyway. You couldn't say you wore a beard because you liked a beard.'

Great things can come in small packages, as so perfectly illustrated by John Steinbeck. If ever a tale could lift the spirits, then it's Cannery Row (US). Beautiful, inspiring and with the power to make you feel, think and smile at strangers. If you're reading this, then you're a lucky human being. If you buy the book and make the effort, you're luckier still. 



 

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE GENTLEMEN'S HOUR by DON WINSLOW


Boone Daniels surfs with two groups of buddies. The first is the Dawn Patrol, a tight bunch of friends who spend time on the sea before work starts. The second is a bunch of old-timers who don't need to hurry off and can afford to chew the fat while lying on their boards during the Gentlemen's Hour. 

The reason Boone can hang with both is that he has little else to do. He's a creature of habit, picks up the same free breakfast every day, misses his old flame, Sonny, is kind of dating a lady called Peter and he spends evenings wherever his hat is hanging. On top of living his life, he does a little work as a Private Investigator. 

The PI business soon draws him in a direction that is going to ruin his Nirvana. He takes on work for a defence team representing a young surfer who murdered an international surfing hero. In doing so, he risks alienating every friend with a board that he's ever had. The problem is that he knows it's the right thing to do and, if there's one thing that Boone's going to do it's that. 

At the same time, he takes on a gig from a wealthy member of The Gentlemen's Hour (US) who believes his wife might be cheating on him. 
On the fringes of these plotlines are local gangsters, members of cartels and a terrifying torturer. 

The loops of the story overlap and tighten like nooses around Boone's neck. The only saving graces are that he's good at his job and knows a thing or two about investigation and looking after himself. 

This is a brilliant read. The hooks go in right at the beginning. The main thrusts of the novel are gripping and the tangents are fun and informative. Boone's a terrific character and his crew are outstanding people. No one with a heart will be able to stand firm when faced with the impending bust up of the community. 

Much as everything fits neatly into place and every ounce of juice is sucked from the bones of the story, it's the voice that's the ace in the pack. It's another of Winslow's triumphs, allowing the reader to get to know the ins and outs as if they're standing right in the middle of it all rather than watching from the outside. 

10/10, A+, 5 Star, take your pick. It's definitely one of those. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: KILLER'S WEDGE by ED McBAIN



A lady walked into a bar. 

Ouch. 

It was an iron bar. 

A lady walks into the 87th Precinct squad room. 

Ouch. 

She was carrying a revolver and a jar of nitroglycerine and she wanted Steve Carella dead.

Carella doesn't know this, of course. He's over at the doctor's finding out that his wife is pregnant and that his life (whatever's left of it) will never be the same. 

The woman with the jar of sauce is called Virginia and she doesn't give a monkey's about Carella's news. As long as she gets to blow his head off, she doesn't care about many things. And she has lots of time. All the time in the world. 

The reason she wants Carella dead is that she holds him responsible for killing her husband. He didn't. The only part he had to play was arresting him and sending him to the prison in which he died. 

It's the job of Kling, Meyer, Byrnes and Cotton Hawes to persuade her on the error of her ways. The problem they have is that she's holding them hostage and seems unstable enough to blow the department up and them with it if they try anything. There's an interesting examination of the loyalties of the men here. Byrne, who possibly feels the most love for Carella, is in the position of having to weigh up the lives of everyone in the room against that of one individual. The others, all brothers in the 87th, are prepared to put their lives on the line if need be and don't necessarily agree with their boss's approach. 

As time goes on, the detectives all take turns in trying to calm the situation and get themselves out of a mighty hole. Not that Virginia's listening. She's sharp and alert and has a mean streak that's wider than the band of grey in Hawes's hair. 

In a parallel universe of sorts, Carella is trying to get to the bottom of a suicide that doesn't smell right. There are similarities between the situations at the station and on the case. Both are set in confined spaces. Each is limited by the ticking of the clock. None of the people involved are in the mood to cooperate and Carella is the main player.

Star of the show is a violent hooker who brings a pleasing freshness to proceedings and keeps life in the squad room interesting when it might otherwise have lost some lustre.  

The pressure builds at the station and in the family home of the suicide/murder victim. Tension mounts at a steady and pleasing pace and there are enough spanners in the works and plot twists to keep the eyes glued to the page. 

Lots to love about this one. It stretches plausibility on occasion, but McBain handles it all with enough skill to force any questions to the back of the mind. 

Killer's Wedge (US) is another gem in the series. It may be less polished than some, but its value is high all the same. Go on. Give it a rub and watch it sparkle.