Friday, October 31, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, October 31st, 2008

Patricia Abbott, Dead Men Don't Ski, Patricia Moyes
Sandy Balzo, Ammie Come Home, Barbara Michaels
Paul Bishop, Morgan's Rebellion, John Whitlach
David Cranmer, While the Clock ticked, Franklin W. Dixon
Bill Crider, Preacher, Ted Thackery Jr
Charles Cumming, Journey Into Fear, Eric Ambler
Martin Edwards, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell
Lesa Holstine, Ghostly Connection, Elena Santangelo
Scott D. Parker, The Halloween Tree, Rat Bradbury
Ray, Horn Silver, Frank C. Roberts
James Reasoner, Rogue Cop, William McGivern
Sandra Ruttan, The Works of Margaret Laurence
Kerrie Smith, The Collected Stories, W. Somerset Maugham
Barry Summy, Galliano's Circus, Enid Blyton
Dan Wagner, A Dry White Tear, Stephen F. Wilcox
Sarah Weinman, The Pugilist at Rest: Stories, Thom Jones
August West, Thin Air, Howard Brown
Women of Mystery, Come Closer, Sara Gran

Friday's Forgotten Books

Sandra Balzo's first novel, UNCOMMON GROUNDS, was nominated for an Anthony and a Macavity Award, and her first short story, THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER (EQMM), was nominated for an Anthony and won both the Robert L. Fish Award and the Macavity Award for Best Short Story of 2004. Her second short story, VISCERY (also EQMM), won the Derringer Award and was nominated for a Macavity.

GROUNDS FOR MURDER, the second Maggy Thorsen coffee mystery, came out in December of 2007 from Severn House and received a starred review from Booklist. The third book in the series—BEAN THERE, DONE THAT--was released earlier this year and garnered a starred review from Kirkus. The fourth book in the series, BREWED, CRUDE AND TATTOOED, is due out in 2009.

AMMIE, COME HOME by Barbara Michaels

The book is AMMIE, COME HOME by Barbara Michaels. Though AMMIE may have been forgotten, its writer has not. You see, Barbara Michaels is the pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, who is better known for her New York Times Bestsellers written under yet another name, Elizabeth Peters. Ms. Mertz wrote 29 novels under the pen-name Barbara Michaels--the first in 1966, the last in 1999.

AMMIE, COME HOME has been called the best American supernatural mystery of the 20th century. I would add the 21st century (at least so far) to that. The story involves Ruth Bennett, owner of an elegant Georgetown home, and her niece Sara, who is staying with Ruth while attending college. One night Sara starts exhibiting behavior that can be explained as either possession or insanity. It is a beautifully written ghost story, but under the chills and the atmosphere, AMMIE is a story of the unlikely alliance between Ruth, Sara’s scruffy boyfriend Bruce, and college professor Pat MacDougal.

Jim Huang of
The Mystery Company asked me to contribute an essay for his book MYSTERY MUSES: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers. AMMIE COME HOME was my clear choice there, too. I wasn't sure exactly why I loved it so, until I sat down to write the piece for Jim. As I said then:

I vividly remember reading it the very first time. I had checked the book out of the library and I devoured it the moment I got home. I can still hear the crackle of the plastic-covered book jacket as I opened it, feel the weight of the thick paper as I turned the pages, and suck in that lovely, musty “library book” smell as I read.

Since then, AMMIE, COME HOME has become comfort food to me. I return to it when I need to, just as I might to Campbell’s Tomato Soup, or a McDonald’s cheeseburger and orange drink, or—more likely these days—a nice cabernet sauvignon.

Like a glass of good red wine, AMMIE, COME HOME is comforting, but also complex. The art, the language: “...the terror began. It came slowly and slyly, like a trickle of dirty water through a crack.” Or, in describing Sara, simply “the familiar, unrecognizable face.”

I’m more aware of the nuances now; but, when I first read AMMIE, all I knew was that it took me to a place where good was rewarded and evil was punished--even after death. And despite the fact that most
of the characters in the book weren’t related to each other, and I was kin to none, I felt bereft when I closed the book. Like I’d lost a family.
I could regain that family, though, by simply opening the book again.

That was important to me.

You see, AMMIE, COME HOME came out in 1968. My father was dying of lung cancer. I was fourteen.

I was angry, because life seemed so unfair.

I was scared, because I knew my dad would die, as he did that December.

And I was ashamed, because my awful, secret fear was that my mother would die, too, and leave me alone.
In short, I was ripe for a fictional world to disappear into and, particularly, for a book like AMMIE, COME HOME. I needed to believe there was life after death. That family could form where there was none. And, most of all, I needed to believe that there was justice. Somewhere. Somehow.

And isn’t that why we read—and write—mysteries after all?

To face our demons and triumph? To live our worst nightmares and still wake up in the morning?

Barbara Michaels helped me do that. Bless her for that.

Oh, and bless my mother, too. She turned 92 this year.

Thanks, Patti, for allowing me to share my "pick." By the way, I sent Ms. Mertz a copy of MUSES when it came out. She sent me back a lovely handwritten note thanking me for letting her know that "Barbara Michaels" has not been forgotten.

Sarah Weinstein is the voice of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and reviews crime fiction for newspapers across the country.

Thom Jones: The Pugilist at Rest: Stories.

This short story collection is 15 years old and it feels like it was written this past year. It blew me away with its searing depictions of army members in the midst of cracking up, women caught in self-destructive relationships and other people locked into patterns that are destined to repeat themselves and produce worlds of hurt. Jones lived and hurt for years before he produced the stories that made up this 1993 collection, and even though a couple more volumes of stories followed, it really feels like he's been off the radar for years. Hopefully he'll be back soon with more tales of the dark side of reality.

Patricia Abbott is your host. Patricia Moyes' series.

I don't have adequate time to do Patricia Moyes justice, but when I think back to the various detective series I read in my twenties, one that stands out for me is Patricia Moyes' series of mysteries about Inspector Henry Tibbett, who solved many of his cases with the help of his wife, Emmy. I found their marriage as well as their cases fun.

Anthony Boucher wrote this in the NYT at the time of the first of the series, DEAD MEN DON'T SKI.

“If you’re as hungry as I am for a really good whodunit. you will welcome the debut of Patricia Moyes."

We may not be as hungry for whodunits as we were then, but they can still be very satisfying when done well. If I can count on my memory, these were.

The setting for that first book DEAD MEN DON'T SKI was the Italian Alps, where Henry Tibbett, on vacation from Scotland Yard. Henry and his wife. Emmy, have settled in for some skiing, when Henry uncovers a smuggling ring, which includes hotel guests.
Then a guest who was alive when the ski lift began its descent is found dead when the lift touches bottom.
Henry Tibbett, Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard, gave me many hours of pleasure and I remember sadly the day when I learned of Moyes' death.

Here are the books in the series:

Dead Men Don't Ski (1958)
The Sunken Sailor (1961)
aka Down Among the Dead Men
Death On the Agenda (1962)
Murder a La Mode (1963)
Falling Star (1964)
Johnny Underground (1965)
Murder By Threes (1965)
Murder Fantastical (1967)
Death and the Dutch Uncle (1968)
Who Saw Her Die? (1970)
aka Many Deadly Returns
Season of Snows and Sins (1971)
The Curious Affair of the Third Dog (1973)
Black Widower (1975)
To Kill a Coconut (1977)
aka The Coconut Killings
Who Is Simon Warwick? (1978)
Angel Death (1980)
A Six Letter Word for Death (1983)
Night Ferry to Death (1985)
Black Girl, White Girl (1989)
Twice in a Blue Moon (1993)
Who Killed Father Christmas?: And Other Unseasonable Demises (1996)

Here are some more forgotten book reviewers.

Dan Wagner

Bill Crider

Martin Edwards

August West

Charles Cumming

Barrie Summy

Kerrie Smith

Lesa Holstine

Paul Bishop

James Reasoner

David Cranmer

Scott D. Parker

Sandra Ruttan


Women of Mystery

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michigan Voting Rights

Don't Vote? Check this out:

For Michigan voters:

When In Doubt - VOTE
Voting Myths in Michigan Debunked
From the ACLU

Fact: You have the right to vote without a photo ID in Michigan.
Fact: You have the right to vote in Michigan if you are an ex-felon.
Fact: You have the right to vote if your home is in foreclosure.
Fact: You have the right to vote if you wear campaign gear to the
polls (but for the sake of inconvenience you should take it off first).
Fact: You h
ave the right to be free of intimidation or harassment at
the polls

The important thing is to VOTE!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Farewell to Season Two of Mad Men


Was there ever a more poignant moment than Peggy telling Pete...well, you know if you watched it. If not, I don't want to ruin it.
Or the last two words of the episode.

The emotional content of the series picked up this year. Some might say it became more sentimental, soap-operish. But for me it suited the era. The machinations of the advertising business can only hold my interest for so long.

Instead the writers chose to spend more time off-shop with the cast of complex enigmatic characters that we will never fully understand. If there are occasional minutes when we can read their hearts and minds, there are others when they stand obscured in the shadows, just out of reach.

If my memory of the sixties holds true, and it not just a childish and mistaken impression, people were far more reticent, remote, aloof. It was the late sixties that changed all that--that made us feel we had to spill our guts, share our innermost thoughts.

Does anyone around then share this recollection?

This tune from the sixties captures it all for me and accompanied Betty's bar cruise perfectly.

Or check out this marvelous discussion on the Newark Star Ledger:

(Hat tip to Wallace Stroby)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Your Favorite Poet, Please

Mine is Sylvia Plath because she inspired me to try and put words down on paper. She's a bit shopworn now, somewhat predictably the selection of teenage girls with angst, but an honest pick for me.
We tried to climb up to her grave in Heptonstall, England, near Hebden Bridge 15 years ago, but the climb was steep and the path was slick.
She would have appreciated the attempt.

Who is your favorite? Who inspired you?

Listen to Sylvia read "Lady Lazarus" right here:

From Tulips

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have existed as a franchise since the 1920s. I have lived in Detroit since 1970. In those 38 years, I've spent countless hours watching this losing team play ball...badly. There should be a NFL rule that if you can't produce a winning team after so many years, you must sell the franchise to someone who means business. Kids here deserve better. Adults too.

The Detroit Lions have won four NFL Championships, the last in 1957, giving the club the second-longest NFL championship drought. The Lions have yet to qualify for the Super Bowl. The team has qualified for the playoffs only nine times in the 51-plus years since winning the 1957 championship and has won only one playoff game in that span. Heartbreaking.

After 50 soldout games in their beautiful new home, Ford Field, the Detroit Lions finally will be blacked out this Sunday. I'd like to think this might have some impact on their losing ways. But I don't. Nothing has. William Clay Ford, the team owner, has a lot 'splainin' to do. Because Lions' fans are ridiculously loyal, he's been able to make lots of money despite producing such teams. Perhaps, the US carmakers have profitted from similar loyalty.

Here are Detroit Lions records for the last ten seasons. They have yet to win a game this year.

2007 7-9
2006 3-13
2005 5-11
2004 6-10
2003 5-11
2002 3-13
2001 2-14
2000 9-7
1999 8-8
1998 5-11

Thank goodness, we are lucky enough in Detroit to have three productive franchises though: the Tigers, the Red Wings and the Pistons. Go team!
And we also had the Michigan Wolverines--until this year.

Check out Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Ours was the only sign stolen. Now I think it was an Obama supporter who couldn't get his own sign.


I heard them pull up around eleven, a door opened, then shut a second later, and then they took off. Ten seconds tops.

The cops, when we called them, seemed quite uninterested although it's against the law to steal signs. Of course they were uninterested when someone stole the mirrors from our car last year too. And uninterested when we told them someone was using our credit card to buy computers and have them delivered a few miles away. They did show some interest when we asked them to install our baby car seat. I guess safety is still important to them.

I know when we take our midday walk, all the signs will be gone. I can't get another one. We already tried.

I wish I could make a semi-professional sign that said "You can steal my sign, but not my vote" although we found out even that wasn't true in 2000. And maybe 2004.

Any signs being stolen in your neighborhood?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Waistline Grows

By this I mean, that the middle of my WIP continues to expand as I delay moving the plot forward. At page 188, it is time to get to the meat of the story, and I know what that meat is, but it's all about numbers/money and I have no head for them.

I just can't focus on numbers at all.
Okay, why did I choose a plot that was about money? Someone advised me (well, my kid) to find a true crime story with the necessary details, a story that I could relate to and make it mine. And it worked as far as understanding the main dynamic, creating some nifty characters. Pages 1-188, I'm into character and having a ball. But now that gun on the mantle has to fire.

Sad to say, I'm not really interested in the mechanics of scams and frauds and money laundering, but now it's time for that to take place. If I don't like it, you can be sure, you probably won't either.
Maybe she can just kill someone and forget the rest. I can live with it.

Do you delay parts of your story or is it just me? Does anyone know a good book that explains these things for the layman?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, October 24, 2008

Patrick S. Bagley, John, the Balladeer, Manley Wade Wellman
Paul Bishop-Embrace the Wolf, Benjamin M. Schultz; Hazell and the Three Card Trick, P.B. Yuell
David Cranmer, The City in the Sky, Max Brand
Bill Crider, Fat Chance, Keith Laumer
Martin Edwards. Five Minutes With a Stranger, Miles Tripp
R.J. Ellory, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Robert Eversz, Despair, Vladamir Nabokov
Rae Helmsworth, The Last Goodbye and The Blood of Angels, Reed Arvin
Lesa Holstine, Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn Crime Novels, D.J. Donaldson
Terrie F. Moran, Thornyhold, Mary Stewart
Scott Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript, Robert Parker
James Reasoner, Fox #1 The Press Gang, Adam Hardy (Kenneth Bulmer)
Ray, Dark Warrior, Peter Cheyney
Shauna Roberts, Websters New Intl Dictionary, Second Edition, Unabridged
Kerry Smith, Quiet as a Nun, Antonia Fraser
Barrie Summy. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richter

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 24, 2008



Tim O'Brien was a young man when he went to Vietnam. He survived the experience, at least physically, but as with all wars there is the emotional and psychological baggage that a soldier returns with that he will then carry for the rest of his life. The Things They Carried is perhaps an exorcism of some of that baggage, but here we do not find outwardly-directed anger or fear, nor do we find a sense of indignant frustration at the way he was treated when he returned. No, we simply find some of the most elegaic and poetic prose that has ever been written about human conflict. There is a dreadful sense of wonder pervading each one of these short stories - from the titular 'The Things They Carried' to such compelling narratives as 'The Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong' - and within each one O'Brien somehow manages to capture the youth that he possessed at the time, the stunning sense of dismay that they all must have felt, and the stark, brutal, terrifying reality of war. The Things They Carried is not a collection of horror stories. Quite the opposite. This collection is a brilliant reminder of the power of writing, how it can give us the most accurate representation of how things really were, and stands testament to the fact that O'Brien, perhaps overlooked, has managed to write one of the most remarkable anthologies of the twentieth century. I have read this book three or four times, and I will read it again without doubt. Stunning prose, brilliant stories, a staggering work of truth. Regardless of whether or not you like 'war stories' you should read this book, for it will serve to remind us not only why we write, but why we read.

Rae Helmsworth is a reviewer for Crimespree Magazine.


If you don't mind, I'd like to mention two books, both by Reed Arvin. Mr. Arvin doesn't seem to participate in the mystery community, and I've never heard his books talked about much, but I think they're superb. The books are both fast-paced and rich in detail; you really care about the protagonists, and the writing is simply fantastic. The Last Goodbye was published in 2004. It's the story of Jack Hammond, a disgraced attorney - he not only slept with his client's wife, he got caught at it. After being fired from his high-end law firm, Jack scrapes by as a court-appointed attorney in a store-front office in Atlanta. When Jack's friend, a former addict, is found dead with a needle in his arm, everyone except Jack thinks it's an overdose. Jack isn't buying it. After some investigation Jack discovers that his dead friend was linked to a woman who has a lot to lose if the association is discovered. And from there, the story becomes ever more complicated, a break-neck tale of love, betrayal, and greed.

The Blood of Angels was published in 2005. The novel's protagonist, Thomas Dennehy, is a prosecutor in Tennessee. He's handed the tough case of trying a Sudanese refugee who's accused of killing a white woman. The case brings racial tensions to the forefront, but worse is coming. As Thomas is preparing his prosecution, a university professor steps forward to say that Dennehy has previously sent the wrong man to the death chamber. And, a woman steps forward claiming that she's the alibi for the Sudanese refugee. Nothing is straightforward, everyone has hidden motives, and there are those who are willing to kill to protect their secrets. I think both books are distinguished by the attention paid to the protagonists' inner struggles. And both books raise difficult moral questions, without ever providing easy or pat answers. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Shauna Roberts is a medical writer, a copyeditor, and an as-yet-unpublished novelist. Her most recent short story is “Elessa the Restless,” a fantasy published in the anthology Barren Worlds (Hadley Rille Books, 2008). Her blog is at

Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, Unabridged

The Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged sits alone, its navy cover worn at the edges, on a tall, isolated bookstand in many magazine offices. Since its publication in 1961,writers have approached its altar with reverence to seek the counsel of this oracle.

Almost forgotten is its predecessor, the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, Unabridged published in 1944. Yet the three fat burgundy volumes of Webster’s Second are the better dictionary in several cases, and here are five examples.

1.Webster’s Second contains 2,987 pages of dictionary entries alone and more than 3,600 pages overall. Webster’s Third, despite its claim to be unabridged, contains only 2,662 pages of dictionary entries and about 2,800 pages overall.

2. Its etymologies are more detailed.

3. It is vastly richer in rare words, obsolete words, and regionalisms than Webster’s Third. Such oddball words are often exactly the ones I need to look up; I already know most common ones.

4. The bottom of each page contains lists of derivative and related words that don’t merit their own entry. Thus, one can find the correct spelling of these words and how to break them into syllables.

5. The three thinner volumes of Webster’s Second are easier to handle individually than the thirteen-pound Webster’s Third.

Webster’s Second has been out of print for nearly fifty years, but you can find it used online.

More forgotten books: PS I am going to be in Maine next weekend so if you are going to do a forgotten book, could you tell me by Tuesday so I can get the stuff ready early? Thanks.

Kerrie Smith
Martin Edwards
Bill Crider
Terrie F. Moran
Lesa Holstine
Robert Eversz.
James Reasoner
Paul Bishop 2
Paul Bishop 3
Scott D. Parker
David Cranmer
Barrie Summy
Patrick S. Bagley

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Shiny People

I have always wondered about guys who claim they grew up wanting to be in a rock band. That is, until I met my grandson. You cannot sever him from his guitar or drums. He is 23 months old and already he takes it completely seriously. Notice how dedicated he is in these pics. What happened to stuffed animals and Seame Street. He's all about dancing and playing his "tar."

The only trouble is, Kevin only wants to play one song and that one song is driving us crazy. We did it more than a dozen times today. And as we drifted away finally, we heard a plaintive "Happy?"
So we are looking for help. What songs other than REM's "Happy, Shiny, People" might he like? It has to have a video we can find on Youtube for inspiration. And preferrably one with a red-haired girl dancing wildly. He likes those girls.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New economy-boosting package under consideration

It feels like that episode of Cheers. The one where Sam loans Diane money to buy a Hemingway novel and she does frivolous things with the money. This is a popular theme in sit-coms. The loan that gets misused.

And maybe in life too. Will China (Sam) begin to see the US as Diane and wonder whether another round of stimuli to 400 million people is just plain frivolous? Will they ask themselves whether Americans should be buying this year's Christmas gifts on their largess? Will they decide our 2008 versions of Hemingway novels are just too decadent?

I don't know much about economics. (NOTHING, REALLY) And I can't remember what happened in the Cheers episode, but I think Sam wanted his money back. Is it "there" to give back to China and if not, what next?Just print some up?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Go With Me, Castle Freeman

Go With Me tells the story of a young woman's quest for help in dealing with an extremely dangerous man almost entirely in dialog. And what dialog it is, managing to be utterly natural and wholly poetic at the same time. I don't think the vagaries and parlance of conversation have even been put down on paper more convincingly.

This lean book is funny, scary, touching and unpredictable. It reminds me of both Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy. But in the end, it's Castle Freeman's totally unique voice and humanity that makes this such a fine book.

Isn't it terrific when you discover a new writer? Or when your daughter discovers one and tells you about him? Thanks. hon. What was the last book someone recommended to you that was as good as promised?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two More Flash Fiction Stories

by Stephen Rogers

Call no woman respectable till she's dead. Maybe you don't think it's condescending and judgmental, but I don't like the implication. Waitress, actress, laundress: the very words make my toes curl. All those ess words, as if women were less than their male counterparts. Respectable. Even worse was what you said, that at least I was respectable. As if you'll allow me the honor of entering your world just so long as I meet some criteria determined by the old boy's club. Lady senator. Female reporter. Chick lit. Maybe I should just stop writing all together. Channel my creative urges into playing peek-a-boo or making my floors shine with a lemony scent. Would you like me to pat the sweat off your face? Mop the pooling blood? Fetch my sewing kit and stitch up your stomach before you bleed to death? Would that be womanly of me? Respectable? Looking at my breasts while you were pretending to read my manuscript. That I could tolerate. I've put up with it most of my life. But you crossed a line when you called me an authoress. Say what you will about women who dare write crime fiction. At least we know where to drive the knife home.

A Million Miles Away
by John McAuley

"Christ, I wish I was a million miles away, having a drink and listening to some old Rory Gallagher tunes."

"Who's Rory Gallagher?"

"Before your time. Before Justin Timberlake, before American Idol... look him up on Youtube."

"I bet he's as dead as that crazy bastard in the basement."

"Yeah...You can drive for the rest of the shift. "

"Cool! Man, that was some weird weird shit huh?"


"I mean why would a guy dress up in one of them old style nurse's uniforms, cut his balls off , and then hang himself?"

"I don't know."

"And that goofy note, 'Don't call a woman respectable 'til she's dead. Now I'm respectable.' I mean what the fuck?"

"Just drive kid. And don't hit the siren unless I tell you to. "

I'm a million miles away....

[If anyone's interested in an old tune by a great player. YouTube - Rory Gallagher - A Million Miles Away (Madrid 1975) ]

Flash Fiction Challenge

The challenge was to create a story using the line, "I have been faithful to you, Cynara in my fashion" or "Call no woman respectable until she's dead." Both lines come from a 1932 Kay Francis movie called Cynara. Here are the resulting stories: Rogers and John McAuley)

By Patricia Abbott

"I have been faithful to you, Cynara, in my fashion."

It was an arresting sentiment, but the note was printed in dull font on cheap paper.

I read the sentence a dozen times as I stood at the foot of the stairs. The elderly female lying dead on the marble floor was a scrub woman and the note had been found crumbled in her pocket. I looked around. The once-chic, single-family house with marble floors and walnut wainscoting had been turned into five mid-sized, middle-income apartments in the nineties. It had been this woman’s job to clean the common areas. A bucket lay overturned but the water had dried up.

“What do you think?” I asked the forensics guy. “Heart attack? Tripped and took a tumble?’

“Only if she fell after she was shot,” he said, lifting the body enough for me to spot the hole in her back.

“Who called it in?”

He nodded toward a young woman perched on the top step. “She runs every morning at seven, gets back by nine, then takes off for work. Today it was closer to ten because she ran some errands. Said the woman wasn’t here yet when she left. The floor was already dry when the girl returned.”

I looked at the note again. “Her name’s Cynara?”

He shook his head. “Runner says it’s Margaret. Doesn’t know much beyond that and that she cleans a couple times a week.”

The Super arrived ten minutes later. He thought Margaret’s last name was Parkins or Perkins. “Sorry. Everyone called her Margaret. Nice lady.”

“How long she been working here?”

“Since before I moved in— fifteen-twenty years maybe.”

“Anyone else likely to have seen Margaret today?”

“Probably not. They all take off pretty early.”

“Front door locked?”

He looked embarrassed. “Only at night. It’s inconvenient to have it locked with no doorman. You know, packages, mailman, deliveries. It’s a safe neighborhood.”

“Until today. Does she stow her stuff somewhere?”

He led us to the basement where her coat, handbag and umbrella were neatly stored in a battered locker.

“Margaret Parker,” I read the name on her voter registration card aloud.

There was nothing unusual in her handbag. Her apartment gave up no clues either. Small and modest digs. A ginger cat complained until someone found food in the fridge. Depressing as hell. Who’d murder a scrubwoman? Did some maniac come in and plug her? Was she known to someone as Cynara in the past? Had this elderly woman inspired such a note? After seeing her apartment, I hoped so.

“Ever clean the tenants’ apartments?” I asked the Super when I returned. “A side job?”

He shook his head. “But she used to clean for the Waverly family before the old man died and they split it into units. We inherited her.”

“Let’s look inside the apartments.” I didn’t know what I was looking for but there had to be something.

He didn’t ask for a warrant and I didn’t have one. Super opened all four doors although I tried Margaret’s keys first each time. No dice.

“I’m sure the locks were changed when they divided it,” he said.

The fifth apartment was on the third floor. The tarnished silver key on Margaret’s ring opened the door easily and I could see the body from the foyer. A man, about forty, lay on the living room Persian.

“Mr. Chesterfield. An actor when there’s work.” Super sighed. “Looks like someone shot him too. A woman scorned, I guess. Probably our Cynara.”

How did Margaret figure in to this? In the bedroom, the bed was rumpled but not unmade. The imprint of a short, squat body lingered on the spread.

“Looks like Margaret was taking a nap when they came in. Chesterfield and Cynara. She probably woke when Cynara fired the gun and then grabbed the note as she tried to escape.”

“She might have made a practice of it. Taking a little snooze before the next job.”

“Chesterfield printed other versions of that note,” I said, looking at the printer. “Guess he never got the wording right or he might still be alive.”

“I was kind of hoping our Margaret would turn out to be someone's Cynara,” the Super said.

“Margaret too, I think,” I said, pulling out my cell to call headquarters. "I guess that's why she took the note."

The End.

Thanks to the contributors.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit

In several ways, General Motors has dominated my life. My father worked for GM dealers for thirty years. All of our cars, growing up, were from GM. The first car I ever drove was my grandmother's '55 Chevy Bel Air, ten years old at the time.

This is exactly the model and it stalled every time I pulled out onto Upsal Street in Philadelphia. Now it is one of the all-time favorite models and these colors: gray and pink are favorites too. I still love to go the car museum at The Henry Ford and breath in its scent. Sometimes I wonder if the scent cars from that era seemed to have was mostly cigarettes.

Our fate rose and fell with the auto industry throughout my childhood although we were near the bottom rung of it. Loaner cars were my father's sole perk as the office manager of a dealership so a variety of models moved in and out of our single-car garage. Even when he bought a car, it was always a GM. No Fords in our garage.

The car I remember best from my teenage years was a gold Pontiac Le Mans. We went out for our maiden ride one autumn day, turned on the radio, and it was the first time I heard the Beatles singing 'She Loves You.'

Marriage sent me to Detroit in 1970. And once again, it was the car industry that dominated my life. We didn't stick with GM anymore, but it was always American: a Ford Torino, a Dodge Dart, a Chevy Nova, a Ford LTD, a Ford Taurus, a Chrysler Jeep. The eighties were scary times for the American car industry but they held on and eventually resurged with SUVs. Big mistake, of course. Maybe their biggest. And certainly the worst for the environment.

Five years ago, we broke down and bought a Subaru. Traitors finally.

I have never been a fan of big business but I have to admit when I read an article yesterday advising GM and eventually Ford to accept their fate and declare bankruptcy, it gave me pause.
The writer wanted them to declare bankruptcy only so they could retool the way the airlines have, ditch union contracts and big pensions. Nasty and what if it doesn't work out that way. It's barely working for the airlines.

Am I prepared to see GM, Ford and Chrysler go the way of the steel industry? Or all the rest of the industries that once employed people like my Dad. I guess not. As imperfect as that industry was, it's been a big part of my life. There is a creative act in designing cars and as a resident of Detroit, I hate to cede that to Asia. We have a local college (College for Creative Studies) where car design is a popular major.

This is us. This is Detroit. Can we change into something else fast enough?

I've only been to the North American Auto Show once but I'd be sad to see the big show only taking place in Tokyo, or Beijing or Seoul. Did Pittsburgh mourn the demise of the steel industry. Yes, but they moved on to other things--but more service industries than manufacturing, I think. Can we exist solely on the success of industries like fast food, health care and higher education?

GM, Ford, Chrysler, come back before it's too late.

The House Across the Street

Sometimes it's a house that makes me want to write a story. This house is across the street from my much more modest abode and right next door to a house with two kids in it.
The place is actually divided into four apartments. There are four mailboxes, four garages and a huge driveway.
We have lived here, on this suburban street outside Detroit, for 10 years. In those years, no one has ever lived in this house. Or at least no one we can see. The house is kept up meticulously. New windows a few years ago, new garages, painted recently. This year a new roof.
They could have sold it during the boom and made a tidy profit. Now, not so much.
What's the story with this house? What would your plot look like?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Summing Up. Friday, October 17, 2008

I must say that Westerns have picked up speed over the course of this project. This is a really diverse group today. Thanks for contributing.

Someone suggested that I put a counter on here to determine if the number of hits I get on Fridays makes the project worth it as it hits the six-month mark. I have no idea of what is a high number, of course, but yesterday, I got 535 hits. That seems like a large enough number to journey on a bit longer, counting on our core group of book devotees to keep coming up with recommendations along with the one-timers I manage to seduce with parting gifts like the at-home version of Friday's Forgotten Books. It is, oh, so nice, when someone old or new to this project contacts me to do one instead of me having to twist their arm.

Thanks to everyone who has done one in the last six months. Truly, the fun outweighs the work for me.

Change of subject: If anyone is planning on posting a flash piece Monday, let me know where. I hate to miss anyone. Thanks.

Archavist, The Goodnight Trail, Ralph Compton
Linwood Barclay, Marathon Man, William Goldman
Cara Black, Mayhem, J. Robert James
Bill Crider, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, David Madden, editor
Josephine Damian, The Good Brother, Chris Offutt
Martin Edwards, The Dying Alderman, Henry Wade
Chris Ewan, Love and War in the ApenninesL, Eric Newby
Lesa Holstine, A Medieval Mystery, Kathryn Swinebrooke
Randy Johnson, Jirel of Joiry, C. L. Moore, A Collection of Fantasy Stores
Juri Nummelin, Half Breed, Clint McCall
Scott D. Parker, America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, Michael Uslan; Stolen Woman,
Wade Miller
Andrew Pyper, How Insensitive, Russell Smith
Ray, The Leather Boys, Gillian Freeman
James Reasoner, West on 66, James H. Cobb
Kerrie Smith, Maigret Takes the Waters, Georges Simenon
Susan Smith, Iron Lake, William Kent Kruger

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 17, 2008

Chris Ewan is the author of the forthcoming THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO PARIS, the second title in the Good Thief series, which began with AMSTERDAM.

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby

Eric Newby’s brilliant fictional memoir, Love and War in the Apennines, is the standout title from a classy collection of travel fiction. It tells the story of Newby’s war years, opening with his capture as part of a doomed Special Boat Section mission off the east coast of Sicily and touching on his internment in a prison camp close to Parma.
If that sounds like the ingredients for a bleak tale, rest assured that this whimsical story is anything but. Part of that has to do with Newby’s gentle humour – at times he comes across as a P.G. Wodehouse character - but two things really set his tale apart.
The first is that following the Italian Armistice in 1943, Newby and his fellow prisoners evaded the advancing Germans and took shelter in the mountains and countryside south of the River Po. Here, Newby was hidden, cared for and fed by a motley network of local peasants and farmers, passed from one precarious location to the next, eventually ending up in a mountain cave.
His saviours come vividly to life, described with real affection and wit, as do the high mountain peaks, the simple Italian food, the colourful morning skies and all that other good stuff that comes from a neat piece of travel writing.
But what really tugs at the heart is the developing romance between Newby and a local girl called Wanda. Communicating in pigeon English and Italian, chaperoned by nuns, separated by mountain passes and the dangers of the war, they fall swiftly in love, destined to spend the rest of their lives together.
It’s sentimental, sure, and Newby is the first to admit that the lines between fact and fiction are more than a little blurred. But even so, it’s strangely poignant to read of how cut-off Newby became from any larger knowledge of the conflict raging all around him, and I defy anyone to read the epilogue, set some twelve years after the end of Newby’s ordeal, without
a lump in the throat.

Andrew Pyper is the author of the newly released THE KILLING CIRCLE and THE WILDFIRE SEASON.

HOW INSENSITIVE, by Russell Smith (Porcupine's Quill, 1994).

Perhaps this novel isn't so much forgotten as merely Canadian. As with most books published north of the 49, How Insensitive had little life beyond its originating borders. Too bad. Not only because it's author is a friend of mine (full disclosure), but far more importantly, because it's a sharp, funny, social satire of its place and time (that is, Toronto in the early '90s). In this case, the "place and time" part are especially crucial for me, as it marks where I was as a writer starting out. And How Insensitive is all about Starting Out as a Writer in the Big City.

Canadians aren't known for their literary satires. Now that I think of it, we aren't known for our sense of humour either (at least not in our literary fiction). But How Insensitive is a scathing satire of 90s-style hipsterism and media wannabe-quests. And there's some set pieces here that are true gut busters. For a book published by a (very) small press, it caused quite a stir at the time of its publication. People actually bought it, actually read it. People under forty years old! It was a mini-scandal in the drier precincts of Canadian literary guardianship. But that's part of what made - what still makes - How Insensitive so much fun.

More Forgotten Books:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Well Do You Know Your Characters

before you write the first word.

I was advised at Breadloaf Writer's Conference by a famous writer that I should know my characters very well indeed. That I should know what he/she ate for breakfast and what their closets look like.

Now Robert Boswell, in his THE HALF-KNOWN WORLD: On Writing Fiction suggests something very different.

"The listing of characteristics in advance of real narrative exploration tends to cut a character off at the knees. Such a character may be complicated but is rarely complex. Moreover, such characters tend to become narrower as the narrative progresses."

This resonates with me. The work of Alfred Hitchcock, who planned every scene of a movie before he started shooting, is a good example. Although his work is interesting for the exciting plots, he rarely created an compelling character. And when he did, say in Rear Window, the character bled through from the original work. Movies are not the same as fiction, of course. The actor himself contributes to the process as well. But you get the idea.

What do you think? How do you work? How much do you know about Sam Adler when you typed the first word? Do you discover him along the way or bring him in fully formed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Questions from my panel at Bouchercon.

How would you have answered these questions?

What three books would you take to a desert island? (We did this last month but I changed my mind and you can too.)
What was the last book that really wowed you?
What are 2-3 of your favorite crime fiction series?

1) In Cold Blood, Daughter of Time, The Moonstone
2) I Am Legend
3) Van Der Valk series, Nicholas Freeling, Hoke Mosely series by Charles Willeford, and damn, I can't remember the third series. I was going to pick Martin Beck by Sjowal and Wahloo but someone picked it first.

Oddly enough, yesterday I went to the library and found a first edition of DAUGHTER OF TIME on sale for a $1.00. Wasn't even a library book but a donation. Weird, huh?

October Ovation: Who Do You Most Admire?

OCTOBER OVATION (The brainchild of Barrie Summy)

I gave some thought to writing about Eleanor Roosevelt or Charles Darwin or Jonas Salk, but they're people I only know from a distance. I don't really know the kind of husbands or wives or fathers they were. A few months ago I might have chosen John Edwards, for Pete's sake.

So I am picking the person I know best in the world and the one I admire most,
my husband. In the 41 years we've been married, he has never said one mean word to me. I have never gone to bed angry or hurt over something he said or did. He has worked hard every day of our lives and was the best father imaginable. He was chair of the PTO, coach of the Little League teams, room-parent every year. He drew pictures with my daughter, threw the ball with my son and read to them both and now lavishes the same care on our grandson. He attended every event in all of our lives.

For the last five years, he has helped me care for my parents with little complaint. He drives me to their apartment at least once a week, does many errands for them and for me, bucks me up when I'm down.

He has written thirteen books, fifty articles and won many awards for his teaching and research. He respects his students and never complains about teaching, grading papers, keeping office hours, a rarity among professors.

He cooks our dinner every night, plants a wonderful garden every year, never blames me for earning very little money over the course of our marriage. He reads every word I write and always proclaims it wonderful. I truly can't think of a single person I have ever known or read about that I admire more than my husband.

How was I lucky enough to find this guy at seventeen and marry him at nineteen?
And it's his birthday this week! If he sounds too good to be true, I've painted him right. Happy Birthday, Phil. Check out Barrie Summy for more October Ovations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Living Well" in Yellow Mama

Lots of other good stuff to read too. Thanks to Cindy Rosmus for her great work.

What's Wrong with Network Television?

'Cause it's apparently tanking. Especially the shows introduced before the strike last year. Was it the strike that did them in or were the shows just bad?

I've seen Pushing Daisies a few times, and at first thought it creative and different, but after last week I decided it was too fey and/or twee for me.

Dirty Sexy Money: how about writing one likable character? And rich is out, right? Watching the hue of Donald Sutherland's tie and shirt change from scene to scene is not enough.

Fringe, a YZ version of X files.

Desperate Housewives:
those forty-something designer faces are beginning to look like grimaces.

Life on Mars show promise but since the first episode was a replica of the BBC show it's hard to tell. Loved the BBC version so maybe this...

The X list. Thirty-somethings in a kid's plastic pool? Will it be a playpen next week? The long-reach of Friends/Seinfeld where growing up is for suckers.

Is there anything you really like on TV? How about in Canada and the UK? For me, it's Dexter, Mad Men, Big Bang Theory, The Office and Thirty Rock. I'd watch Friday Night Lights but it's on Direct TV. Could it be any more frustrating?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit

At her crepe stand, Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes, for about five bucks, Tonya Blanchard and her merry band of crepe-makers will create you one of her 20 delectable crepes, hot off the griddle, made in a space barely big enough for two to stand, let alone cook.The 48-square feet space is small. A gas line, prep cooler and sink were installed. So far, business has been good. "I've been pleasantly surprised," she says. "And I haven't had to dress up as a crepe and walk up and down Woodward to get people to come here!"For the 30-year-old, born and bred Detroiter, opening anywhere but in the city proper was not an option. "Yes, it would have succeeded instantly in Ferndale or Royal Oak, but that's not the point," says Blanchard. "This is a French city, and I think we need to be known for crepes."For Detroiters not familiar with the French treat, Good Girls' menu provides a primer. On the Right Рor sweet РBank, there's the simple Seine, with butter and sugar (Blanchard's daily breakfast, she admits) and the tart Melinda, with lime and brown sugar. The Snyder is a m̩lange of fruits, and the Katie re-creates an apple pie.To Blanchard's pleasant surprise, a full half of the crepes she sells hail from the Left Рor savory РBank of her menu. The most-popular Allison combines hummus, hot sauce, spinach and herbes de Provence cheese, while the Rose is a simple blend of mozzarella, tomato and basil drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.Aside from crepes, she sells fair trade organic coffee for a buck a cup, and that's about it. She does plan to complicate things a bit by adding an enclosed patio for the coming colder temperatures. Plus, Etienne will make the move to Eastern Market's Shed 2 when Blanchard gets a double griddle for her John R spot. Yes, she'll be busy, but she wouldn't have it any other way. "It's nice to be a little uncomfortable," she says.Now that Blanchard has taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, she says there's no turning back. "You have to ask yourself, 'Who am I living for?'" she says. She acknowledges that "a bi-weekly check or a sense of security" may be missed, but says, "You're only young once, might as well see how it works!"Blanchard encourages anyone thinking about opening a business to go for it: "The hardest part of opening a business Рit's not the money Рis taking a leap of faith."

This story comes courtesy of Model D. Check out Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


My big thrill so far was sitting between Bill Crider and Lee Child on my panel. Sadly they both had to remind me to use the microphone everytime I spoke. That learning curve is getting to be a long one.
Other tidbits: could Jen Jordan be any more gorgeous? Could Vicki Hendrick be any nicer? Could Judy Bobalick and the Jordans work any harder without complaint? Could Laura Lippman be more of an inspiration in every way to the 2000 people here? Is there anyone more gregarious than Val McDermid-to friend and fan alike.
It was awfully nice to have my story in the Boucercon issue of Crimespree and really nice to meet the people I have met. A day and half is enough for me though.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Forgotten Friday Hiatus

Come back next week for some new suggestions of forgotten books.

Oh, and please let me know a few days ahead if you'll have a flash fiction piece for the 20th and where you post it (your blog or on Powder Burn flash.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud.

Every time Paulson comes on TV to reassure us, he doesn't. He needs to hire someone who doesn't sound like he's headed off a cliff to make his addresses.
I figure his face and voice are worth a 400 pt decline each time. Can any of us take these hits?

What Are You Reading Right Now?

I'm just finishing up Daniel Woodrell's GIVE US A KISS.

It's one of those times when you know whatever you read next will pale in comparison. I keep shuffling a dozen books on the TBR pile, trying to decide.

What are you reading? Or what did you read recently that you would recommend?


I hope to meet some of the people on this blogosphere at Bouchercon if only to thank them for participating in Forgotten Books. I'll be working the registration desk tomorrow and have a panel on Friday at 4 or so. Please hunt me down. I look like that--or did three years ago.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is it Just Me

or do you feel like you're standing on the deck of the Titanic and watching everything that isn't nailed down begin to slide off the edges?

And I'm not one of those objects nailed down.

Indicative of the effect this is having on me, I have banged my head on various impediments four times in the last week, sprained my ankle and bumped my knee. Are you feeling off-kilter too? Are your nails digging into what's no longer there?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Welcoming Busted Flush Press to blogland.

Busted Flush Press is one of the neatest small presses publishing crime fiction today. Take a look at their first blog post and welcome David aboard.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit's Riverwalk

For most of the years that I've lived in Detroit, the area along the Detroit River, quite a sizable stretch of property, was severely under-utilized and still wore the look of a deserted factory district, which it once was. It seemed like however much Detroiters complained about it, no one could quite decide how to develop it.

Plans to turn the abandonded Ford Auditorium, for instance, once the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, into an aquarium, like the one in Baltimore, always went awry. There were little spots of activity along the route, but it was not integrated functionally in anyway. It was very depressing to see other cities with waterfronts use the areas so creatively.

Windsor, across the water, developed their riverway in a series of small parks and sculpture gardens, but Detroit wanted a slightly different focus. One of the major concerns in Detroit is always how to bring people into the city. It seemed important to make the riverwalk more than a spot for a Sunday afternoon stroll. It needed to be a destination for many rather than a time-filler for conventioneers and nearby residents.

The dream of a riverwalk is finally becoming a reality.

The Detroit RiverWalk is a 5½-mile promenade along the Detroit International Riverfront running from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. The path is located directly on the river, sometimes bridging it. The path is 62 feet (18¾ meters) wide in most places, with separate lanes for pedestrian and wheeled traffic. Pavilions, fishing piers and benches are located at intervals along the path.

The east RiverWalk connects various riverfront developments, including Hart Plaza, the Renaissance Center, GM Plaza and Promenade, Tri-Centennial State Park, Stroh River Place, Chene Park, and Gabriel Richard Park. The RiverWalk is designed to supplement new retail and residential development. Architect Eric J. Hill aided in its design.

The first 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of continuous RiverWalk and two of the four planned pavilions opened to the public on June 6, 2007. Rivard Plaza located at the foot of Rivard Street features a covered seating, a carousel, conecessions and bike rentals. Richard Plaza located in Gabriel Richard Park features covered seating, conessions and a butterfly garden. The west RiverWalk development is not expected to be completed before 2012. It will eventually connect to River Rouge in the southwest side. There is also a spoke, the Dequindre cut, which will take the walkway north soon.

Check out more My Town Monday posts at the wonderful Travis Erwin's blog: