Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year

May your holidays be warm and merry, and may all your resolutions come to pass.

Happy 2013!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Craig Johnson Christmas

As a Craig Johnson fan, I was pleased to hear this announcement from Penguin:

 On December 4, 2012 Penguin will release CHRISTMAS IN ABSAROKA COUNTY ($3.99; ISBN: 978-1-10163471-8) an original eSpecial story collection by New York Times bestselling author Craig Johnson.

 In CHRISTMAS IN ABSAROKA COUNTY, readers glimpse a softer side of Walt Longmire, the longtime sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, as he grapples with the death of his wife Martha and his sometimes turbulent, but ever-loving relationship with his daughter Cady. In these four stories: Ministerial Aid, Slick-Tongued Devil, Toys for Tots, and Unbalanced, Walt is alternately at his best and his worst. He helps a possibly delusional elderly victim of domestic abuse while sporting a bath robe and a mean hangover on New Year’s Day. He’s sidelined by grief when his wife’s obituary appears in the paper and there’s an unexpected knock on his door, two-days before Christmas. He strives to help even those who don’t want it when he picks up a young female hitchhiker and he’s forced into some last-minute Christmas shopping by the Greatest Legal Mind of Our Times, during which he might just end up saving a young Marine chaplain’s Christmas. 

So the holidays have come a little early! I think this might be a nice download for my Kindle--and maybe I'll give it to myself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts

May all roads lead home this Thanksgiving.  Have a happy holiday!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Terri L. Austin on Waitresses in Diners, Nerds Who Speak Klingon, and Movies So Bad That They're Good

Thanks for chatting, Terri.

Your book is called DINERS, DIVES and DEAD ENDS.  So what came first, the title or the idea for the mystery?

First of all, thanks for having me on your blog, Julia! It’s a pleasure to be here.

The book came first. My editor and I cooked up the title. Originally, I had something different in mind, but I think Diners, Dives and Dead Ends sums up the novel pretty well.

Your heroine, Rose Strickland, works at a diner and has a sassy attitude.  Were you at all  inspired by the tv show Alice?

No, but that’s a great show! I made Rose a waitress because I wanted her to be a bit of an underdog who is struggling to make ends meet. Also, working at a diner that is only open for breakfast gives her flexibility to solve mysteries in her spare time!

Your characters have great names.  Ax Graystone is one of my favorites.  Do you spend a lot of time thinking of them, or do they just pop into your head?

Sometimes they suddenly come to me, but most of the time I give names a lot of thought. Names are important, giving the audience insight into the character’s standing, background, and place in life. But then I like turning those notions upside down. Ax was fun to play with. He has this very unusual name, Axton Graystone—an old family name—but he doesn’t live up to his family’s expectations at all. Rosalyn Strickland is a very proper, straight-laced name. But she insists on being called Rose and is anything but demure.  

True !  You reference a lot of movies in the book, and in your author comments you say that you love watching “really bad movies.”  What makes bad movies good?  Do you and Rose Strickland share this feeling?

I think Rose is stuck watching bad sci-fi movies with Ax. She wouldn’t go out of her way to watch a bad movie on her own. Me? I love nothing better than a cheesy movie. I just watched Surf Party the other day, with Bobby Vinton. It was awful, but awesomely so. The bad acting, the silly plot, the horrible, faux beach songs. I couldn’t get enough. I’m weird like that. Give me an MST3K movie and a bowl of popcorn, and I’m pretty happy.

MST3K is the greatest! Are there any other attitudes or ideas that you share with your heroine?

Some Rose-isms might pop out of my mouth from time to time. But my attitude is probably more in line with Roxy. She’s blunt, snarky, and doesn’t have much of a filter from her brain to her mouth.

Have you ever worked at a diner?

No, but I’ve eaten in a lot of them! When I go to my local diner, I watch the waitresses hustle to help customers. The way they whip those huge trays around is like choreography. I don’t think I’m coordinated enough to do that without breaking a lot of plates. I’m not sure I’d make it after the first shift.

It certainly is an undersung profession. Rose is fairly young, as heroines go.  What made you decide on a 24-year-old narrator?

I wanted Rose to have been away from her parents for a few years, but not too many. This way I could show the reader what her life is like. This isn’t a trial run for Rose, this is her reality. And she’s stuck. She’s been on her own for five years, and she still isn’t sure about her future or her education. The mid-twenties are a time of self-discovery. Rose is a conflicted character who is still trying to find herself.

You have a lot of strong women in this novel.   Did you create them consciously, or is it just instinctive for you to write women smart and sassy?

I like smart, sassy women, so I guess it comes naturally to me. I love snappy dialogue and creating distinctive characters. To me, Rose, Roxy, and even Ma are women flying solo and making their own way in the world.

Rose is twenty-four, and since her lawyer friend Dane was in her eighth grade class, that makes him twenty-four, too.  Can you already be an experienced lawyer at twenty-four years old?

I don’t consider Dane to be experienced. He has a foot in the door with a good firm and he’s been blessed with family connections. Now he’s out to prove he’s up to the task. He’s definitely a contrast to Rose. Dane knows what he wants and he’s determined to achieve it. Rose is floundering, unsure of what her next step should be. I like the dichotomy between the two characters.

Whenever Rose mentions the flapjacks at her diner, I want to eat pancakes.  Did you ever consider doing a signing at a diner?

I would love to do a signing at a diner! Just the smell of coffee makes me swoon. Add the smoky smell of bacon, and I’d be in heaven.

Ax is a real sci-fi nerd, loving everything from Star Wars to comic books.  Do you have an Ax in 
your own life?

My husband is an engineer and loves sci-fi movies, so I guess I drew a little inspiration from him. But Axton takes it to a whole different level. He’s fluent in Klingon, he owns action figures, and he collects graphic novels. Axton lives in his own little world and I enjoy that about him.

You mention in your acknowledgements that your husband Jeff made dinner while you wrote.  My           husband Jeff is also the dinner maker in the family.  What would we do without our Jeffs?

Go hungry! My Jeff has been a rock and my biggest champion. We’ve been married for 23 wonderful years and I’d be lost without him. And he makes omelets that rock my morning.

 So wonderful! Will there be more novels in the Rose Strickland series?

The second Rose mystery, Last Diner Standing, is coming out December 3rd. I’m very excited about it. Ma is on a rampage with a rival diner. We get to see more of the quirky characters that inhabit Rose’s world and quite a bit more of Rose’s bad guy crush. And it’s a Christmas mystery, which was a ton of fun to write.

That sounds great!  Thanks for talking with me, Terri, and good luck with the book!

Thanks for having me, Julia! It was fun.

More about Terri's book:

Diners, Dives and Dead Ends
A Rose Strickland Mystery
By Terri L. Austin      
Henery Press

As a struggling waitress and part-time college student, Rose Strickland’s life is stalled in the slow lane. But when her close friend, Axton, disappears, Rose suddenly finds herself serving up more than hot coffee and flapjacks. Now she’s hashing it out with sexy bad guys and scrambling to find clues in a race to save Axton before his time runs out.

With her anime-loving bestie, her septuagenarian boss, and pair of IT wise men along for the ride, Rose discovers political corruption, illegal gambling, and shady corporations. She’s gone from zero to sixty and quickly learns when you’re speeding down the fast lane, it’s easy to crash and burn.  

Terri L. Austin lives in Missouri with her funny, handsome husband and a high maintenance peekapoo.  She loves to hear from readers. Find her on Twitter, FB,, Goodreads and Henery Press. She and her writer friends have a book chat every Wednesday on Little Read Hens. Check it out and join in the conversation!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Invisible Murder

I was very excited to get a copy of this new Nordic thriller in the mail today!!  I enjoyed Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy as well as books by Ake Edwardson (interviewed on this blog), Henning Mankell, and Karen Fossum.  Now I get to read a book by the "Danish duo" of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis.  I'm very excited to read something from Denmark.

Serendipitously, I am teaching Hamlet, and the cover copy of INVISIBLE MURDER says "Something is Rotten in Denmark."  :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Blog Visit from Mystery Writer Sandra Balzo

Thanks for inviting me to stop by, and I have to say it's wonderful timing.  I write two mystery series--the Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries and Main Street Murders--and I'm currently in that lovely sweet spot between the release of one book (the second Main Street) and writing the eighth Maggy.

All right, to be absolutely honest, I'm shamelessly dragging my feet on the new book and blogging gives me the perfect excuse. I'm the world's worst procrastinator¾probably because I know I can function under deadline thanks to my former life in corporate public relations. When I turned to writing, my first home office was in the laundry room and our clothes were never so clean. Then I moved to the dining room and the dishes were always done and dinner on time.  

If you're not familiar with my work, the Maggy books are funny, fast reads--cozies, with a bit of a hard edge. They're set in a gourmet coffeehouse in Wisconsin. The Main Street Murders series is set in the mountains of North Carolina and feature journalist AnnaLise Griggs. Reviewers equate them to the regional mysteries of Joan Hess, Margaret Maron and G.A. McKevett.

In the first Main Street book, RUNNING ON EMPTY, AnnaLise is called home to Sutherton because her mom, Daisy, accidentally bled-out a donor at the local blood drive. When the "accidents" continue, though, it's clear that it's up to AnnaLise to discover whether Daisy is indeed the cause, as everyone else seems to believe, or the target.

In DEAD ENDS, which was just released, AnnaLise's past comes home to roost in the persons of her ex-lover and his wife and daughter. As you might guess, somebody has to die.

Okay, time to work on the new Maggy. Or, as my kids say, "Mom's off to kill somebody again."

FICTIONALLY, of course.

All the best,

Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series from Severn House--the Wisconsin-based Maggy Thorsen Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina and featuring journalist AnnaLise Griggs. 

Find Sandy online at, Pinterest (, Facebook (Sandra Balzo Mysteries) and Twitter (@SandraBalzo).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mystery Writer D.E. Johnson Talks About Loving History, Chasing Clues, and Thinking Female

D. E. Johnson's DETROIT BREAKDOWN is available now.  Thanks to Tanya Farrell for the great questions and Nicole Johnson for allowing me to use the author photo.

What (or who!) inspired you to write historical mystery/crime novel?

Really there are two different inspirations – the first is my love of history. Ever since elementary school, I’ve been interested in American history. The early Twentieth Century is the time period I find most fascinating. Our country was becoming what it is today—both the good and the bad. It was a time of great
upheaval, with millions of immigrants moving into the cities, manufacturing changing the way everyone lived, and a great awakening about our social responsibility.

The second inspiration was Encyclopedia Brown. I poured over those books as a kid, seeing if I could come up with the clues he found. The books were very imaginative and a lot of fun. The thing I enjoy most about writing mysteries is the cat and mouse game with the reader. A good mystery has to present the clues necessary for the reader to solve the crime, but use misdirection to mask them. I love fitting in those bits and pieces that add up to a murderer, but doing so in a way that keeps the reader from seeing it until the “Aha!” moment.

Detroit Breakdown uses two first-person narratives.  What did you find most difficult about keeping Will and Elizabeth's voices distinct? 

The most difficult part was trying to think like a woman. I’d written two books already from Will’s head, and it was a very natural voice for me. I was really stepping out on a limb to write Elizabeth’s narration. Fortunately, I have some early readers—including my wife—who have no compunction about telling me when I’m being stupid. I actually learned a bit about women during the process. 

I had fun moving from there into stylistic differences. Elizabeth not only thinks differently than Will, she sees storytelling differently as well. Her vocabulary is different, which got me a complaint from my father. He worked with concrete in one way or another his entire working life, and here Elizabeth was calling it “cement?” (I had to point out that Will says “concrete,” and I think my dad has forgiven me.)

You must have done quite a bit of research on Eloise Hospital and mental health treatments during the early 20th century.  What parts of your research interested or shocked you the most?

I fell into a rabbit hole filled with radium and uranium. During the early Twentieth Century, Eloise Hospital was one of the pioneers in the use of radiation therapy for tuberculosis. As I researched that (looking for a good way to punish Will for being my protagonist) I found a wealth of information about radioactive curatives.

In the first forty years of the Twentieth Century, many people looked at radiation as a cure-all. You could buy uranium-lined water coolers (or radium water by the bottle, if you had a little more money), as well as a wide variety of, er, Viagra-like radioactive products. I wrote an article about it for Criminal Element, which you can find at:

Can you describe your personal attachment to Detroit and the reasons why you have chosen to center all your novels around this great city?

My research made me fall in love with the city. Detroit was rightly known for decades as the “Paris of the West.” Tree-lined boulevards, sophisticated culture, great art scene, Detroit had it all. In 1910, there was no more exciting city in the world. Manufacturing was growing by leaps and bounds, led, of course, by automobiles, but the city was renowned for hundreds of other industries—stoves, train cars, and cigars being three of the most prominent. 

In 1910, only 10% of Detroit’s population had even been born in the State of Michigan! The city was a smaller version of New York, filled with ethnic enclaves where many people never had to learn English because everything they needed was right there. Many of those immigrants were craftsmen, lured to the New World by the promise of a better life.

Along with all this came crime—white collar (led by the city government), blue collar, and everything in between. Labor activists, socialists, and anarchists were ruthlessly cut down by the establishment, and fought back every way they knew how. The city was prosperous, yet so many of its citizens were destitute. It was a perfect mixture for the extremes of human behavior—exactly the environment a novelist is looking for.

All of your novels involve a theme related to history - organized crime, the electric car industry, mental health - what themes do you have in store for future books?

The fourth book in the series (untitled as of yet), which will be published in Fall 2013, will revolve around women’s suffrage and the 1912 Presidential election. In real life, Michigan had a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow women the vote, and everyone was certain it was a shoo-in. Suffrage was well-supported throughout the state, and the election was thought to be merely a formality.

But the amendment was voted down. Amid the public outcry of a fix, the governor demanded a recount. Tens of thousands of ballots were “lost” and thousands more were disqualified because they were printed incorrectly. The Macomb County Licensed Beverage Association was found to be involved in a conspiracy to defeat the amendment, and most thought the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association was the force behind it. (Suffrage and Prohibition were considered to be nearly one and the same.) Nothing was ever proved, but I’ve made up my mind as to what happened.

Once I finish this book, I think I am going to start a new series in a new city. I do have an idea for Will Anderson #5, which will take Will into the sticky problem of race relations. I’ve been setting up this story for two books, so it’s there waiting. Right now I have my blinders on, though. 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mystery Writer Larissa Reinhart on Coffin Portraits, Japanese Adoptions, and Funny Brits

Larissa Reinhart's new mystery, Portrait of a Dead Guy, is out today!  Here's our interview about her book.

Hi, Larissa!  Thanks for agreeing to be on the blog, and for discussing your book, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, with me.

            You write funny!  They say that writing humor is the hardest kind of writing.  How did you choose to write a humorous narrative, and how do you maintain your funny narration and dialogue?

To be honest, that’s just how Cherry speaks in my mind. She kind of talks out the side of her mouth and uses these descriptive phrases. I love humorous books, so I probably absorbed a lot of humor through reading-osmosis. If I’m having a bad day, I like a good dose of PG Wodehouse or Jasper Fforde. If only I could reach UK-humor level... Brits are hilarious people. I love their dry wit. I’m not so subtle.

        Two of my favorites! The premise of your book is unusual .  A struggling artist snags the job of painting a recently-murdered man, in his coffin, as a memorial for the rather odd family.  Therefore, your heroine Cherry Tucker has to spend a significant amount of time with a stiff.  Did this situation strike you as funny or horrifying?

It strikes me as funny, but when I explain the plot I get a lot of “are you a lunatic?” looks. I think I’d rather paint a stiff than take on a killer. That would be horrifying!

One of my favorite characters is a billy goat named Tater, who seems to make it his life’s ambition to annoy visitors (or maybe just Cherry?).   Do you have some experience with goats and their whims?

My personal goat stories are fairly innocuous. However, goats have a love/hate relationship with my sister. As children, any time we were near goats they would flock to her, knocking her down, and attempt to eat her clothes. To this day if we take our children to a petting zoo, she refuses to have anything to do with the goats. She was horrified to hear I had a goat in my story. But I believe in making lemonade from other people’s lemons.

Haha!  Speaking of sisters,  I like the relationship between Cherry and her sister.  Cherry is fiercely ambitious, but Casey “couldn’t find ambition if it drew her a map and hired a Sherpa.”   Do you have sisters, and if so, did you draw from the relationships to write about these women?

I have one sister who is nothing like Casey. She’s a hard worker and a great mom. But I can relate to the sniping and one-upmanship between the siblings. My sister and I don’t do that anymore, but we had some memorable arguments in high school. Because their mother abandoned them as children and they then lost their grandmother when they were in high school, I see the siblings as emotionally stunted. However, they’re all very creative. Cherry’s a talented artist, Casey is an amazing cook, and Cody is a skilled mechanic. Unfortunately, Cherry’s the only one who wants to make her mark in the world. Or start paying her own bills.

      There are a number of men in Cherry’s life—specifically her  ex-husband, Todd, to whom she was married “by accident,” and of course the handsome Luke.  It reminds me of the interesting triangle Janet Evanovich creates between Stephanie Plum, Ranger, and Morelli.  Have other people compared you to Evanovich?

You just made my year! I’m such an Evanovich fan. My sister mentioned it to me when she first read the manuscript, but I didn’t think about any parallels when writing. Originally, Todd (Cherry’s ex-husband) was just going to be a jerky character that popped up and harassed Cherry every now and then. But he turned out to be this adorable guy who was so sweet. Even though Cherry’s not certain if he’s playing a dumb blonde act to sneak back in her life, how could I say no to letting Todd hang around? He’s such a cutie.

   In your first sentence, you say that “in a small town, there is a thin gray line between personal freedom and public ruin.”  Are you from a small town?  And do you know whereof you speak?  J

My hometown is even smaller than Cherry’s. I’m from a farming village called Andover with a population of 600. Luckily, I have not suffered from public ruin (I don’t think), but not much goes by without comment. Of course, nobody gossips. Knowledge of other people’s affairs just seems to hover in the air. More like humidity than smog.

Who are some writers you admire?  And who’s writer who makes you laugh the loudest?

I could not fit all the names of writers I admire without tying up the internet lines. I love the early-mid twentieth century mystery/suspense writers like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dick Francis, Mary Stewart, Colin Dexter, Barbara Michaels and Daphne du Maurier. I also love mysteries by Martha Grimes, P.D. James, Nancy Martin, and Sharyn McCrumb. For humor, I mentioned PG Wodehouse and Jasper Fforde earlier. I even find Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter funny. Of course, Janet Evanovich kills me. Meg Cabot and Charlaine Harris, too. Darynda Jones has me rolling now.

      We share many of the same favorites!!  What are you reading now?

Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series. I love series, and I love to read them all at once, so sometimes I’ll hold out for a bunch of titles before jumping in. Especially if I know they’re going to be good.

       You are an extremely well-travelled person.  What’s your favorite place in the world (aside from your home, of course?)

That’s hard! But I’m going to say Japan, because we’ve lived there three times, so Japan has a special place in our hearts. We just moved back to Georgia from Nagoya a year ago at Christmas, and we’re still homesick for Nagoya.

You’ve taught English and history.  Are you still teaching?

Eight years ago we adopted our first daughter from China, and I’ve stayed at home since. I dedicated myself to writing once the girls started school (we were actually in Japan at that time). I feel very blessed to have time with them, help at their school, and write. I realize how lucky I am!

      Where can readers find out more about you and PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY?

      I’m easy to find on the internet, because I’m usually in front of my computer. My website is and my blog about life in Japan is, but I’m often chatting on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or pinning on Pinterest. Cherry Tucker has her own Pinterest account because she took over half of my boards.

I’m also in a group called Little Read Hens, where we do a book chat on Facebook on Wednesdays. It’s a lot of fun, so feel free to join us!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! Your interview was a lot of fun and gave me some good questions to chew on (mentally, of course)!

You're welcome! Thanks for a fun read, and good luck with the book!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Robert Fate's Latest is Deeply Satisfying

Baby Shark is back, and this time Kristin Van Dijk is not the shell-shocked seventeen-year-old that she was at the beginning of this series. She's tough, and she doesn't back down from a fight, and the men continue to underestimate her to their own peril.

I love the relationship between Kristin and Otis, and the backdrop of 1960 Fort Worth (and the intense heat of Texas) made this an especially fun read for this hot, hot summer.

Here's the link to this great read:

What are you waiting for?  Read and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mystery Writer Charles Salzberg on Making Connections, Writing Hard Boiled, and Loving Literature

Charles Salzberg was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel for his book Swann's Last Song.  In October he will release the second in the series, called Swann Dives In.  He found a moment in his busy (and hot) summer to answer some questions.

Your character’s name is Henry Swann.  This last name has been versatile for your clever titles—(Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In), but are there any other reasons why you chose this as the moniker for your detective?

It sounded right to me, kind of slid off the tongue, and I wanted to have the literary allusion to Proust’s Swann character.  Originally, I didn’t even use Swann’s name in the second book--it was called Bad Reception--but someone suggested I “brand” the series by using the name in each title and so I acquiesced.

This book is set in the present, but it reads like a 1940s P.I. novel (which I assume is the style you’re going for).  Who’s your favorite hard-boiled PI?  Some passages read like homages to Chandler’s Marlowe, so I’m guessing he’s one?

Definitely Chandler, but I was also very influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Ross MacDonald.  I’m also a big fan of the pulp fiction writers like Big Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. But there are lots of other, non-detective writer influences, as well. Thomas Berger’s Who Killed Teddy Villanueva? is one of them, and also Vladimir Nabokov (there are lots of literary allusions throughout both books,) and even a little Phillip Roth thrown in for good measure.

I love Ross MacDonald!  And interestingly, Ake Edwardson (who was just interviewed here recently) also mentions Nabokov as an influence. 

In this book, when he’s not investigating, Swann is hooking up cable.  What made you choose this alternate profession?

In the original ending of the first book, Swann is so disillusioned by what happened (he followed all the clues, but didn’t solve the crime because it was totally random) that he leaves the business.  I wanted him to have a job that was still hooking things up (looking for connections, making connections) and I wanted to bring him into the “real” world, which is now technological.  In effect, he’s doing the same thing he did before: making connections.

At one point Swann surmises that “Isolation [is] now impossible . . .  maybe the less we know about others, the better off we are.”  Does Swann’s view of modernity reflect some of your own views, or is this distinct to his character?

I wish I were Swann--obviously parts of me are him--but he’s much brasher and braver than I am.  And he’s also able to articulate and broadcast things about himself and other people that I wish I could.  But I do think there’s truth to that statement.  The more we know about people, the more chance there is for us to be disappointed.  In terms of modernity, I think I’m much more willing to embrace change than he is.  But to me, that’s what makes him charming and fun to write.

The plot of the book deals with the world of rare books.  Did you have to research this for your novel, or was this already an interest of yours?

I interviewed a rare book dealer named Darren Winston, who was extremely helpful.  Obviously, being a writer and an English major, I knew a lot about the authors mentioned in the book and a whole bunch of the literary anecdotes, but not so much about the world of rare books.  So, I also read a number of articles, in the New Yorker, in the New York Times, and every time I saw something that had anything to do with rare books, I tore it out and saved it.  I also searched the Internet for information and I studied the Bauman rare book dealer ads on the back page of the New York Times Book Review for an idea of present prices for books.  But obviously, I made up certain values for books, but they’re pretty close.

English majors rule!  J

What made you start writing a mystery series?

I had no intention of writing a mystery series.  When I was starting out I wrote very literary, very character-oriented novels, not strong on plot.  I wanted to see if I could write a plot-oriented book, and the best challenge I could find was to write a mystery or detective novel because those depend very heavily on plot.  I wrote Swann’s Last Song, which I thought of as an anti-detective novel, because in the original version Swann does not solve the case.  But publishers wouldn’t buy that, so I had to rewrite the ending (you can find both endings in the paperback version.) I was amazed when it was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, and when I lost, I got pissed off and decided to write another.  It turns out, they’re fun to write and I have a lot of leeway now in what I can write about. 

How many books will there be in the Swann series?

I thought I only had three books in me, because I couldn’t think of anything past a third title--the one I’m working on is tentatively titled, Swann’s Lake of Despair--but now I think as long as I can come up with a good plot and a fun title, I’ll keep doing them.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Jeff Guin’s Go Down Together, about Bonnie and Clyde. And Berlin Noir, by Phillip Kerr.  On my shelf to read is The Art of Fielding and Just Kids, among many, many others.

Swann travels a lot in his quest.  If you could travel anywhere this summer, where would you go?

The funny thing is, I’m not really big on travel, which is probably why I have Swann travel at the drop of a hat.  But if pressed, I’d probably say Ireland and England, because I wouldn’t be language challenged, and Italy, because I’ve never been there and it looks so good in movies.

Where can readers find out more about you and the Swann mysteries?

A friend of mine, Francesca Rizzo, put together a terrific website,, that’s interactive and great fun--primarily because another friend of mine, Ross Klavan, along with Fran, did the various voices of Swann and characters in the book.  She’s now working on another page for the site that’ll be devoted to Swann Dives In.

Thanks for chatting, Charles!  Good luck with the Swann series.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

More great summer reading!

I am currently immersed in Franck Thilliez' thriller, SYNDROME E, which has apparently already been purchased by a Hollywood studio for eventual movie magic.  The tale combines the talents of a female cop who must juggle a sick child in the hospital, another child at camp, a very hot summer, and a busman's holiday of a vacation in which she ends up investigating a very disturbing film that leads to a friend's hysterical blindness.

On a different case (which will soon be related, I think), Franck Sharko, an officer of the Paris police, must investigate the appearance of five badly-mangled bodies recently unearthed at a construction site.

The book is fascinating, not only for its details about film, embedded images, and the unconscious, but also because of its discussion of neuroscience.  A wonderful way to pass a hot summer day!!

Next up is Larissa Reinhart's PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, which looks as though it will be much lighter, less stressful fare than Thilliez' SYNDROME.  But Reinhart's book has a very unusual premise: that an artist is asked to paint a portrait of a dead man for that man's grieving family, and in the process she becomes involved in some unsavory situations.  Looks promising!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Everything but the Squeal

Check out John Barlow's post on Poe's Deadly Daughters this weekend, and be sure to get his free book today!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Longmire Returns!

I'm thrilled to be starting Craig Johnson's AS THE CROW FLIES, especially with the arrival of A&E's LONGMIRE, based on Johnson's mystery novels.

 I've interviewed Johnson here twice (see the list in the right-hand column to read the interviews), and I've also noted the similarities between Johnson and the great Ross MacDonald. So I'm no stranger to Johnson's series, or to the excellence of his writing.

In this eighth mystery, Walt Longmire must negotiate the perilous waters of his daughter's pre-wedding tensions as well as investigate an unexpected death which is not in his territory.

 As always, I'm looking forward to immersing myself in one of Johnson's tales, right after I finish Lori Roy's BENT ROAD, which is currently keeping me in suspense!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What I'm Reading . . .

I'm not quite finished with this gem of a German crime novel, but I'm already a Wolf Haas fan.  What a fun, fresh, clever book!  More on this soon.

Brenner and God will come out soon from Melville Press.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mystery Writer Joyce Yarrow on New York Streets, Russian Gulags, and Indian Poetry

Joyce, I enjoyed reading CODE OF THIEVES; it was exciting and educational!

      Jo Epstein is a cool creation—independent, poetic, street smart, brave.  How did you go about choosing all the pieces of her character? 

Thank you Julia, I’m so glad you connected with Jo.
My brother Rick and I grew up together in a tough neighborhood in the SE Bronx. Rick used his street smarts to become an ace  detective, whereas I chose to write poetry and eventually, novels. 

So in poet/detective Jo Epstein, I created a hybrid, based on both of us.  I also gave Jo some characteristics drawn from a friend who hosts the Seattle Poetry Slam and is capable of quoting Shakespeare or Milton one moment and bad-mouthing hecklers the next. In CODE OF THIEVES, Jo provides security services for Scandals, the fictitious bar hosting the NY Poetry Slam team.

 Jo notes that “Privacy . . . was a word that in our post-911 world was rapidly losing its meaning, like democracy.”  Jo understands, as an investigator, that anyone’s privacy is a tenuous thing.  But is her comment about Democracy fueled by her disenchantment with government (or yours)?

I wrote CODE OF THIEVES around the same time that the story broke about the NSA warrantless wiretapping. So Jo’s views on the value of civil liberties do reflect my own. She is not ‘anti-government’ per se – having seen the danger of anarchy first-hand while growing up in NY. Like most P.I.’s she values her contacts in the police department, while at the same time protecting her sources, and her freedom to act independently.

     Did you travel to Russia to research this book?

Yes – and my trip to Moscow and The Golden Ring proved invaluable. In addition to Vladimir Central Prison (we were the first Americans to tour this infamous prison) almost every place my son and I visited made its way into CODE OF THIEVES—the home where we stayed in Moscow, the Monastery of St. Euthimius and the Matryoshka factory in Suzdal, the headquarters of the Moscow Criminal Police at 38 Petrovka Street,  even the disco at the Vladimir Hotel.

A highlight of the research trip was dinner with a Commander in the Russian Criminal Police, who blessed my plot. Commander Eshau was very generous. He helped me to add dimension to the antagonist in CODE OF THIEVES –who has a strong association with the Russian criminal subculture known the vory v zakone, (thieves-in-law). The vory adhere to an intricate set of rules of conduct –the ‘code’- as referenced in the book’s title.  In the old days, they prided themselves on sharing their loot and contributed to a communal fund that helped the families of members who were imprisoned. Today their ranks have thinned and they have been pushed out by the modern Russian mafia.

     Matryoshki, the Russian  nesting dolls, figure very prominently in your plot.  Do you own any?  How did you go about researching them for this book?

A writer is fortunate indeed to discover a ‘telling detail’ that transforms into a symbol powerful enough to generate a storyline. When I asked myself, ‘how would the blackmailer of a Russian émigré communicate with his victim?,’ the answer came back loud and clear—he would send messages inside a series of Matryoshka dolls that fit together in the same way the plot of a mystery unfolds. From that point on, I knew CODE OF THIEVES would have a solid structure J.

Great! One of your characters says “Everyone in Russia  has at least one ancestor or family member who has been in prison.”  This is a shocking fact!  How did you come to find out this stark reality?
As documented by many historians and of course by Nobel prize-winning Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 14 million people were imprisoned in Stalin’s GULAG ‘labor camps’ from 1929 to 1953 and another 6-7 million were sent to camps in remote areas of the USSR. It made sense to me that most Russians would have a family tree affected by this tragedy.

     Jo identifies Putin as “still undoubtedly the most powerful man in Russia,” but that was written before Putin’s recent rise to the presidency.  Is Putin good for Russia, or bad?

The book was written while Medvedev was President and it was obvious at that time that he was a figurehead and Putin would return to power, just as he has. Russians have always preferred strong leaders, and there is no doubt Putin qualifies in this respect. On the other hand, his persecution of opposition leaders and journalists is well-known and greatly resented by the populace—and personally, I do not think he is good for the development of democracy in Russia.

 Are you of Russian heritage?

My own heritage is murky…but I do know that my last name, Yarrow, was shortened by a busy customs officer on Ellis Island from the original Yaroslavky. This name is common in Belarus, I am told, but it could also be of Polish origin.

      At one point we are told that “Amnesia is a common folk remedy in Russia,” and that Yeltsin was “a drunk . . . who gave away his country’s resources to Mafia thugs.”  Are things better today in Russia, the same, or worse?

Since I am no political scientist, I can only share anecdotal evidence. Some of the young people I met in Moscow were very optimistic about the new economic freedoms. They were also the sons and daughters of the exceedingly rich elite that emerged in the 90’s, due to the boom in oil and gas. The older, and I think wiser, people I met seemed to agree with the French proverb,  ‘The more things change the more they stay the same.’ Although I found this view to be widespread, Russians are not the pessimistic, depressed people portrayed in literature and the press. On the whole I found them to be bright, enthusiastic and well read—willing to stay up all night and talk world politics at the drop of a hat. And they LOVE meeting writers!

One Russian tells Jo that “Americans are seen as misinformed cretins gulping down press releases fed to the media by the military industrial complex.”  Actually, I think it’s not only Russians who have this perception of America—but do you think it is the primary view of Americans by Russians?

The character in the book who utters these cynical words is busy justifying his own nefarious activities by painting others with the same brush. That said, many of the people I met were angry about the war in Iraq. They were also sympathetic with the American people, who they see as betrayed by their leaders – a familiar scenario in Russia.

It’s impossible to generalize about Russia – it is so immense! What I tried to do was to present a well-rounded view based on my own experiences and research.  One of my most treasured reviews was written by a Russian-American, Lyuda West, who said “The author touches different aspects of Russian life, from criminals’ rules and corrupted officials to "New Russian" businessmen and ordinary people, adding to it the mystery of a murder and secrets of the past.”

Are you working on a new Jo Epstein mystery?

Yes. The story has a scientific bent this time…

Have you read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, perhaps the most famous of Russian crime novels?

Yes – Dostoyevsky is a favorite writer and this book in particular. He was so far ahead of his time – in introducing the ‘anti-hero,’ now a fixture in literature, in introducing deep psychological profiling as part of the story, in having the courage to explore the darkest depths of the psyche with compassion and clarity.

     Who are some of your literary influences?

Oh my. As a young poet I’d have to say Rimbaud – and as a budding story writer, the existentialists—Sartre and Camus. Then later, Simenon and Chandler for mysteries and Flaubert and Franzen for literary fiction (alliteration a coincidence). Lately I have been reading Indian authors, since I am collaborating on a book with a writer from Allahabad. I am delving into Rabindranath Tagore’s works—poetry, short stories and plays. I love Kiran Desai.

Wow--a lot of your favorites are my favorites, too!  I teach THE STRANGER and it's become an influential book for me.  I also once taught Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE in a mystery course--such great books!

Thanks for chatting, Joyce!

The feeling is mutual, Julia.  Your questions revealed much about your own passion for looking under the surface and getting to an author’s intentions. I appreciate this opportunity to share some of the underpinnings of CODE OF THIEVES and to re-visit some of the choices I made both as a writer and a traveler.. J

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Now Reading

Code of Thieves, by Joyce Yarrow.  What a fun yet tense book, in which sleuth Jo Epstein, a poet and a private investigator, takes her investigation all the way from New York City to Moscow in order to prove a man's innocence.

The secrets she exposes along the way put her at odds with the police and in danger of losing her life.

I'm impressed with Yarrow's spare writing style and fast-moving plot.

More later, which will hopefully include an interview with Yarrow about all things Russian.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Swedish Writer Ake Edwardson on Mystery, Melancholy, and Macbeth

Ake Edwardson is one of Scandinavia's most successful crime writers; a former journalist, he has won many accolades for his mysteries and three awards from the Swedish Crime Writers' Association. 

His latest novel is Sail of Stone.

Ake, Thank you for chattingSAIL OF STONE is a beautiful book which seems far more about questions than about answers.  Is your detective, Erik Winter, as much a philosopher as he is a solver of mysteries?

He's at least as much a philosopher as a detective. Winter is a moral animal, not a political one. He's trying to live a decent life, and it's the hardest thing. These stories are about the existence, the meaning of life, or, as Winter says, "This job is more about the meaning of death than the mening of life." I think anyone who pushes him/herself to the limit is a philosopher; the heavyweight champions were philosophers first, boxers second.

      Both storylines involve mysteries with elusive subjects.  Even the people who are found and questioned by the police seem to offer very little in terms of satisfying answers.  Do you think that police work is always this frustrating?

 It's very frustrating; it's not for sissies. One of my best friends is head of the crime squad in Gothenburg. He wouldn't do anything but this, but, as he says, "it's like a war you really can't win, but you have to fight it anyway." Yeah, what's the alternative?

      The book is starkly beautiful in its existential focus, from Aneta Djanali, who “dreamed of doors that closed and never opened,” and Erik Winter, who is aware that he “carrie[s] a restlessness in him.”  Are they drawn to their profession because they are restless, or are they restless as a result of their profession?

Very good question. I think it works both ways - you have to have a certain personality to become a detective, and the pressure and desperation of the job is like a drug. It's not healthy. The only other profession I can compare it with is writing.

 Aha! What an interesting comparison!  

There are many allusions to Macbeth throughout the novel, especially appropriate since Winter and his friend McDonald visit Forres and the site of Cawdor Castle.  Is Macbeth a favorite work of yours, or did you just think it had an appropriate thematic parallel?

I've always been a big admirer of the play. It has absolutely everything. In the early '70s I saw Roman Polanski's film adaption of Macbeth (that was shortly after the Manson murders) and that movie took the breath out of you-- it was as if the crew was on location in that horrible piece of the past. So I used this theme in the book; it worked well, I think.

      The sea becomes a grave symbol of relentless nature.  My favorite line is “There’s really no day at sea, and no night.”  It reminded me of a line from a story by Crane or Hemingway.  Are you a fan of either of these authors?

Ernest Hemingway's short short stories changed writing forever, just as Nikolaj Gogol's stories changed everything 120 years earlier. I rest my case. The sea? It's the big mother of it all; if you stay away from the sea you dry up, shrink to the ground before your time.

      Music plays an important role in the lives of both detectives, and it helps to set the mood.  Winter seems especially to like jazz and old American tunes.  Do you share any of his musical preferences?

I'm more a rock'n'roll man, play a bit guitar. Jazz is the grown up man's music; I will never mature that much myself. I've always been into Americana. A favourite now is Richmond Fontaine, out of Portland; the singer and songwriter Wily Vlautin is a friend of mine, and he's also a damned good novelist.

       I love the way that you use color to set the mood.  I found these lines particularly beautiful:

“She smelled like blue autumn evening and salty wind and black mud and gasoline fumes, which together made up this city’s perfume.   It was a blue evening. Vasaplatsen was a blue address.  Kind of blue.”

 And later: “The usual blue light came in through the window.  The streetcars hadn’t yet begun to rumble by . . . .”  For me, this use of blue seems both mysterious and sad, yet somehow beautiful and satisfying.  What did it mean for you as you wrote it?

I'm a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that's why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you'll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand. Yes, blue is the color I would give up last--it sums up all feelings.
Winter has become overwhelmed with deaths and announcements of deaths to grieving families.  He concludes that “Life didn’t belong to eternity, it was death that was eternity; life was the pause between quiet eternities.”  Yet later in the novel he is farther away from despair and ready to embrace “a new era.” 

Is Winter generally a hopeful person, or a despairing one?  Or will he ever fluctuate between the two?

If he didn't have hope, he would give up straight away. That's what distinct these books from James Ellroy's, for instance, his stuff is wonderfully dark but there is absolutely no hope, no lining anywhere in the clouds. I couldn't go that far, neither could Winter. See above also of fighting that war.

           Who are some of your literary influences?

When I was a teenager I read the Russians, Dostojevskij, Turgenjev, Tjekov, Gogol... I also red the classic Americans, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Faulkner. For some reason I'm the only one in Sweden who has read Walker Percy! The latest American book that impressed me the most was Andre Dubus III, Townie, from last year. There are also some wonderful Swedish writers; the best is Wilhelm Moberg, from the 40's and 50's.

       If you didn’t live in Sweden, where would you want to live?

I've been traveling and working abroad a lot, I love almost everything everywhere abroad. A favourite is Penang in Malaysia, or Rome, or Provence, or Andalucia, or Hanoi... I'm the only Swede that I know of who loves Los Angeles!

      You are a former journalist; what do you think of the state of journalism today?  Is there still objectivity in the news? 

It's a "war" you can't win, the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there's wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to mantain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.

      You also write children’s books.  Which do you find easier to do: telling a story to children, or to adults?

Writing is very hard, if you are serious. I don't really tell a story differently for young adult readers compared to adults, and I have written 21 books in different genres. It's just the perspective that can change a little--the style  is the same, the language. Recently I heard Martin Amis say that he could very well write for children, "If I had a stroke." That's a stupid remark from an otherwise bright guy.

Thanks so much for the interview!

All the best to my readers out there.