Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Is this the end of The Wire?

Word is that HBO’s The Wire, probably the best show on television, might not be brought back for a fourth year. If this were NBC we were talking about, the show’s axing would be a done deal. It’s a little disheartening to see that HBO, which has far less need to slavishly follow the ratings, is acting like they are no better or wiser.

In a multi-channel cable universe dominated by programs that appeal to the least-demanding audience, HBO has stood head and shoulders above the rest, demonstrating a commitment to quality programming that is unmatched anywhere else.

That attitude, along with a willingness to take risks on an unconventional show, has paid off with The Wire. For three seasons now, the cast and creators of the show have produced what is arguably the finest television being created today. Unfortunately, the audience hasn’t been as accepting as the critics, causing a steep downturn in the ratings this past season.

The network has to accept a large part of the blame for that, however. After successfully using The Wire as counter-programming its first two seasons, running it against the summer rerun onslaught, HBO decided to air the show on Sunday nights in the middle of the fall season. Doing so placed it in direct competition with ABC’s breakout hit Desperate Housewives, as well as the NFL on ESPN. No show could survive that battle unscathed.

It’s a shame, too, as The Wire is the rare show that actually deserves a little special consideration. Although The Sopranos is the show that gets the majority of the plaudits and attention, The Wire is arguably superior. It features sharper writing and more complex plots, while at the same time not relying on tropes that are at least as old as The Godfather.

What The Wire has done so well – and what makes it such a great show – is capture the essence of fine crime fiction and present it in a vibrant, dramatic fashion on the small screen. The elements that make the crime novel work (e.g., moral ambiguity, multi-faceted, often unsympathetic characters, twisted and suspenseful plots, insight into police and criminal procedure) are all part of
the stories The Wire tells so well.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise, given the quality of talent responsible for writing the show. Not only is David Simon (the creator of Homicide) the Executive Producer and one of the writers, but also on board are acclaimed crime writers George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. That line-up surely gives this show the most prestigious literary pedigree on television.

The novelistic background of the writers of The Wire serves the show well, as they have the courage not to pull their punches, something that is almost never seen in network television. In a medium where writers are generally desperate to make their characters likable caricatures, The Wire goes in the opposite direction. They don’t care about making nice; they just want to get it right.

There are times when the show’s villains – most of them drug dealers – are the most amiable and admirable figures. The character of Stringer Bell (played by Idris Elba), in particular, is fascinating, with his attendance at college economics classes and other attempts to elevate his mind and his status.

On the other hand, Jimmy McNulty (played by Dominic West), the nominal hero of the show, is quite often something of a creep, drinking himself into oblivion, pissing away his career, using his kids to help tail a suspect – the same young children he leaves home alone at night to answer a bootie call – and otherwise making a hash of his life.

Of course, the complexity of the characters is part of the problem the show has in developing an audience. Most television viewers like their shows to be simple, with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. They want to cheer and hiss like the audience at a melodrama; they don’t want to think or be challenged.

They also want shows that are easy to follow, with simplistic stories and tidy endings. The Wire doesn’t deliver those things either. The story arcs last the entire season; they take time to develop and grow, and require the viewer to put in a little effort to keep up with the plot. (Along with Fox’s 24, this is really a show that you have to watch each week to fully appreciate.)

But the pay-off is more than worth it, as the stories are fresh and compelling and as entertaining as anything you will see on TV. With such quality programs as The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO has proved that it is the place for the best shows on television. If they can’t find room for The Wire in their line-up, that would really be a crime.

Write to HBO to request they keep The Wire alive.


Writing Suspense: Fiction vs. Reality

Writing Suspense: Fiction vs. Reality
By Michele Martinez
Author of Most Wanted, due in February 2005

As a federal prosecutor in New York City, I spent most of a decade locking up hardened criminals. Specializing in narcotics and gangs cases, I knew crime inside out. By the time I left that job, I’d done so many drug trials, listened in on so many wiretaps, and debriefed so many cold-blooded killers and thugs about so many different types of crimes that I could have gone out and committed one myself. And gotten away with it. So it seemed like an obvious evolution to start writing suspense novels based on my gritty real-life experiences. I figured crafting a page-turner out of that material had to be a piece of cake, right?

Far from it. There’s a lot more to writing good suspense than knowing the ins and outs of the drug and murder biz. Here I was in possession of the world’s best raw material, but when I sat down to write fiction, I was staring at a blank screen just like anybody else. I wasn’t trying to write a memoir. This wasn’t a chronicle of my daily life in the Brooklyn courthouse or a recitation of the elements of proof for a heroin conspiracy charge. It was a novel. It needed to grab the reader by the neck on page one, sustain interest over hundreds of pages in the middle, and rush to a stunning and startling conclusion. I might have harrowing inside details at my fingertips, but I was a novice when it came to arranging them into a winning story. I needed a riveting plot, compelling characters. I needed a surprise ending. I needed to learn how to create suspense.

You see, if you’re doing your job right in law enforcement, there just isn’t that much suspense involved. In real life, you arrest a guy on -- say -- a heroin charge. He’s facing ten years to life in federal prison, so he decides to talk. “Flip,” we call it. He tells you, hey, the drug dealer supplying heroin to my organization is a major player. He’s moving heavy weight every week out of such-and-such location. And, by the way, remember those bodies that turned up a couple of months back with the arms and legs chopped off? His people did that. I can ID the shooter for you and tell you exactly where and how it happened.

Nine times out of ten, your informer is telling the truth, but you still have to prove it. So you spend months meticulously building your case from the ground up, looking for corroboration and admissible evidence. You use all sorts of tried and true but dull investigative techniques, like subpoenas for telephone or bank records, and drawn-out wiretaps that require tons of paperwork. And you end up with a solid case against the same guy you knew months ago committed the crime. No gun battles, no stay-up-all-night suspense, no big surprises. Hardly the stuff of great fiction.

So the first thing I did was sit down and spend six months pounding out a pretty rough first draft. I literally threw that draft away -- didn’t even keep a copy. But it was invaluable, because I got the bones of my book down. I had my basic cast of characters, led by federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas, who decides to go after a headline-grabbing murder case at the worst possible moment in her personal life -- when she has a new baby at home and discovers her husband is cheating. The first draft also contained a host of secondary characters who I knew were keepers, from Melanie’s overbearing boss Bernadette, to the sexy-as-hell FBI Agent Dan O’Reilly, to the wealthy, silver-tongued murder victim Jed Benson, to Slice, the psychotic killer suspected in Benson’s death. And it had the basic plot as well: murderer kills victim with the assistance of certain surprising accomplices; prosecutor must solve crime before she becomes the next victim. Now I had something to work with.

But a lot was missing, and I wasn’t even exactly sure what. I felt the draft was flabby. It had too much detail in the wrong places. And it wasn’t scary enough. So I decided to take a break, and use the time to embark on a big reading campaign. I wanted to go back and re-read my favorite suspense writers to get a better feel for what made them so masterful and their books so compulsively readable.

The basic answer turned out to be pretty obvious: great characters, evocative settings, believable dialogue, compelling plots. I felt I had the seeds of those things, but I needed to work, work, work. I started carrying a small notebook at all times to write down snippets of overheard conversation, resonant song lyrics, powerful visual images that I happened across in the course of a day. I saved the best things and worked them into my draft. I revised dialogue again and again, read it aloud, played with it in my head, until I was sure it sounded right. And I paid attention to the technique in my favorite books. I read “above the lines,” as they say. Here are a few of the things I observed that helped me improve my own writing:

Point of View. I realized that generally the suspense novels I found the most engrossing were written in the third person and frequently told the story from more than one viewpoint. I had been working in the first person, but ultimately this felt too limiting technically. I wanted to show the reader action beyond things that happened directly to my protagonist. I wanted to write the killer in his lair polishing his knife, or the innocent eyewitness watching television late at night, unsuspecting, about to be disemboweled. I wanted to plant clues for the reader that the protagonist was unaware of. I wanted to branch out and make my story bigger and more memorable.

Cliffhangers and a ticking clock. I realized I just hadn’t structured my book carefully enough. I needed to pay more attention to the transitions between chapters, to give the reader that burning desire to keep turning the pages. I needed to hold back more, tease more. And it couldn’t hurt to come up with a good “ticking clock” -- a bomb that would explode and kill the characters if not defused in time. My favorite ticking clock of all time is the girl in the pit in Silence of the Lambs, who will die within days if Clarice Starling doesn’t catch the killer. I went back and re-worked my draft, paying much more attention to these structural elements, and really giving serious thought to how I could build suspense with each chapter.

Misdirection. I also realized I was too closely wedded to my real-life law enforcement experience, where we generally knew who the villain was from the outset. That just didn’t make for compelling narrative. So I set about crafting sub-plots that would provide alternative scenarios for the murder. They had to be credible and well-realized enough to throw readers off the scent, so when the true killer(s) were revealed in the end, there would be an element of surprise.

Armed with these observations, I sat down and did what every real writer must do: spend huge gobs of time rewriting, rewriting and rewriting again. And that, ultimately, was the real lesson I learned. No matter how much I thought I knew about crime, there was plenty more to learn about writing, and always a way to improve that once-blank page.

Michele Martinez, a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Law School, is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. Her debut thriller, Most Wanted, is available in hardcover from William Morrow and audio CD from HarperAudio wherever books are sold. For more information, visit www.michelemartinez.com.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Final

Here it is again: Christmas. It does seem to roll round so quickly these days, not like when I was young...

Anyway, here's one or two final links from me before the big day:

The Independent gives us a list of 2004's winners and loosers. In the main, waves of applause for Richard and Judy and Independent Publishers, but a chorus of boos, please, for HarperCollins and Supermarkets.

If you have any interest in the award at all, I urge you to check out the People's Choice page for the first ManBookerInternational Prize 2005. Have a vote; go on.

Since discovering it last week, I've spent about three hours bumming around there, looking at the authors that people think should get the award, and the various comments. Margaret Atwood is in front. While I'd like her to, I have a hard time believeing that she really will win. She's far too obvious. For its inauguration, they're not going to go for someone obscure (and they're definitely not going to go for Yann Martel; to put his name forward is frankly ridiculous, I think, based solely on a single novel), but I don't really think they're going to go for someone safe and predictable, either. They'll want a little spice to it, after all. They don't want people walking away thinking "well, duh". The problem is, who else is there? Apart from Atwood, Roth and Updike (who undoubtedly all do deserve the prize), who else is there who has done so well and is yet not obvious? Why, J.M. Cotzee! you might say. Possible, but I highly doubt they'll give it to someone who won the Nobel a mere two years ago... You might suggest Haruki Murakami, who is excellent also, but he's only really caught on here very recently... That leaves....well... Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (watch out for Don Delillo, too). Unless the people who suggested Paulo Coelho were actually serious... (Indeed, Clive Cusser too, come to that.)

Anyway, my final link before Christmas will take you to The Man Who Fell Asleep, my humourous website of the year. Basic premise: he's a man who writes down the snatches of conversation he heard on the London Undergund, then puts them on the internet. They're hilarious (most of them.) For example, this gem: "I took paracetamol. Then aspirin. Then ibuprofen. But I feel worse than ever. "

Want another? "No one is going to vote for Kerry. Have you seen the size of his chin?!?"

Another?: "We went into that posh bar and had a raspberry beer. We were the only people there."

Another?: "Who is that girl? She's like... twelve... and she's singing about relationships."

Another?: "Toto was the dog. Dorothy was the girl."

Another?: "Michaela is pregnant again. I can't remember a time when she hasn't been pregnant."

Another?: "She said she wanted a facial. I said I'd give her one... she didn't think it was funny."

Another?: "Diagnosis Murder? Diagnosis fucking rubbish, more like."

Another?: "I never know what they mean by 'smart casual'."

Another: "Have you made sure that Chrissy can't find the medicine bottle?"

Sorry, I'll stop that now. I think they're hilarious. But that 's probably just me.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Am-a-gan-zett?

According to Yossarian's latest online column over at the Ottakar's website, Mark Mill's Amagansett is being retitled The Whaleboat House for it's UK paperback release due to research showing that people couldn't pronounce it. (This entry's title is how I've always thought it would be - am I right?) Now, granted, it may not be a common word among the average Briton's vocabulary, but I still find this a little silly. Granted also, an easy-to-grasp title is conducive to good sales, whereas one that is not, is not. But does it take that much effort to get to grips with this one? :

"Ama... what?" *Prospective Buyer stops to take a closer clarifying look* "Oh, Amagansett".

Surely it's no more difficult than that? Surely retaining the original title will bring rewards enough, considering that it's been heavily reviewed and won the Creasy Dagger a mere matter of weeks ago?

(Also, has anyone noticed how very simialr this new paperback's cover is to the paperback of Henning Mankell's The Return of the Dancing Master? Well, I though so, anyway...)

Further:

Hening Mankell's given an interview to Der Spiegel about an issue close to his heart, (and the heart of much of his non-crime-fiction fiction), the AIDS plight in Africa.

And amazon.co.uk interview Ian Rankin for Christmas, and provide a [very] short-story from Alexander McCall Smith.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Michael Crichton contest -- final day

Okay, folks, here's your last chance to win! You could win a copy of Michael Crichton's new book, State of Fear, or other cool prizes.

Go to this page and enter the following locations. Each one you enter gives you a chance to win instantly.

Paris Nord, France
Pavutu, Africa
Pahang, Malaysia
Shad Thames, London
Tokyo, Japan
Vancouver, BC
San Francisco, CA
Point Moody, CA
Punta Arenas, Chile
Weddell Station, Antarctica
Beverly Hills, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Century City, CA
City of Commerce, CA
Diablo Canyon, AZ
McKinley State Park, AZ
Arroraville, AZ
Oakland, CA
Santa Monica, CA
Resolution Bay, Gareda
Pavutu, Gareda

Good luck!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Michael Crichton scares up big sales

According to Nielsen Bookscan, Michael Crichton's latest techno-thriller, State of Fear, was very popular with book buyers its debut week, landing at #2 on the Bestselling Fiction chart with sales of 108,000 copies.

I haven't read it yet, but my sense of it based on the reviews and word-of-mouth is that it's good, not great, with some interesting scientific information, although it gets preachy. (Crichton is trying to point out to readers how the fears of global warming are based more on propaganda than evidence.)

I don't feel as strong a need to read Crichton's work as I once did, but I do still find him a fascinating figure.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Prospect

In response to Sarah's post over at her blog, and because there are so damn many books that I'm looking forward to in 2005, here's the list of what I will be looking out for particularly next year...

1. Barbara Vine's The Minotaur, which is to be Rendell's first Vine novel in over three years.
2. John Connolly's much anticipated Charlie Parker novel, The Black Angel
3. Obviously, The Closers (which I have a really special feeling about, for some reason...)
4. Beloved Poona, by Karin Fossum, the fourth of her books to be translated from the Norweigan, and
5. The Man Who Smiled, the final Kurt Wallander novel from the pen of Henning Mankell, which is actually fourth in the series chronological order
5. Puccini's Ghosts by Morag Joss
6. Jeffery Deaver's next Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Twelfth Card
7. Crusader's Cross, the very intriguing-sounding next Dave Robichaeux novel from James Lee Burke - hopefully I'll have finished the rest by the time it comes out...
8. Arnaldur Indridason's second novel in translation, Silence of the Grave
9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which beats even Barbara Vine, as this one's his first novel in five years
10. As he's got two, I'll put them both in this slot... 44 Scotland Street and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith
11. Faithless by Karin Slaughter
12. Val McDermid's The Grave Tattoo
13. The Stranger House by Reginald Hill
14. Lifeless by Mark Billingham
15. Stephen Booth's sixth Cooper and Fry book, The Dead Place
16. Donna Leon's Blood from A Stone
17. The Field of Blood by Denise Mina
18. Ian McEwan 's Saturday (which, even at this stage, is surely a favourite for a Booker shortlist place next year?)
19. Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt
and, finally,
20. Strange Affair by Peter Robinson

I'm also getting excited about The Forgotten Man, One Shot, Caroline Carver's Hidden Beneath the Snow, the new Andrea Camilleri,and a couple others, but I forced myself to limit the list to 20. 2005 looks very good indeed...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Latest Chicago Sun-Times Column

My latest column ran in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning. The books included are:

They were all entertaining reads, although I was particularly impressed by the Koontz book, one of the best things I've read all year.


Friday, December 10, 2004

And fleeting delight crossed her face...

Richard and Judy have announced their list of 10 books for 2005. There's no word on the official site, but they've announced it on the show, and there are a few links around the place.

This list is becoming, potentially, one of the most important of the year. Now, that may seem to be giving it more gravity than it deserves, but the effect on the sales of these books could potentially be huge, such as last year's Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor, which failed to win the final prize, but stayed in the top-ten charts for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Here's the list:

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
The American Boy - Andrew Taylor
The Promise of Happiness - Justin Cartwright
Feel - Robbie Williams and Chris Heath
The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Sixth Lamentation - William Brodrick
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson - Paula Byrne

Now, that is a diverse list to say the least. Of course, there's the requisite Booker novel in the form of Mitchell's great book, in a futile attempt to convince the literati that the endeavour is nothing more than an excersie geared to pander to the proleteriat (they will never be convinced). You've got non-fiction, Euro-fiction, celeb biographies, humourous fiction, serious fiction, crime fiction... As they pride themselves, something for everyone. They hope.

Anyway, I'd like to briefly enthuse about the inclusion of The Shadow of the Wind. It's already hovering just below the number 10 slot on the bestseller lists, and is bound to rise higher now. (Now it suddenly makes a lot of sense that Phoenix published that impromptu trade-paperback... They'd had a nod from somewhere, methinks.) Go Carlos Ruiz Zafon! Go! I am putting my unreserved support behind this book (just to make it official). Now it may find the huge audience it deserves.

And Andrew Taylor's The American Boy is there as well... yay!

(*May I just point out the stupid quote from Richard, from the Guardian article...Consider that the Book Club only saw its inception last year, so there has only been one other list...
"There's no doubt that this year's selection of book club entries is the best yet.

)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Holiday Gift Giving Guide -- Book Version

Some gift suggestions for the readers in your life!

Latest Bestsellers

From the Book Standard, the public face of Nielsen BookScan, comes this week's fiction bestsellers, based on actual sales at bookstores and other retailers around the country. 89,000 books sold by Mitch Albom this week!
  1. THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN, Mitch Albom (Hyperion, Hardcover)
  2. A SALTY PIECE OF LAND, Jimmy Buffett (Little, Brown & Co., Hardcover with CD)
  3. BLACK WIND, Clive Cussler (Putnam, Hardcover)
  4. THE DA VINCI CODE, Dan Brown (Doubleday Books, Hardcover)
  5. NIGHT FALL, Nelson DeMille (Warner Books, Hardcover)
Chart Note: Once again, 3 of the top 5 are mystery or suspense books.

Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for First Mystery

Mysterious Press announced today that a winner has been selected for the first Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for debut mystery novel. The award, which is in honor of Mysterious Press' longtime editor who passed away in June 2003, was given to Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson. The award consists of a $10,000 advance and publication in hardcover by Mysterious Press, an imprint of the TimeWarner Book Group.

Set in New Haven, Sacred Cows features Annie Seymour, a police reporter for a New Haven daily who is covering the murder of ayoung woman who was a student at Yale. Sharp-talking with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Annie is a fresh and original new sleuth on the mystery scene.

In announcing the award Mysterious Press editor Kristen Weber said, "Sara Ann had a flair for discovering new talent and this novel continues that tradition." It will be published in September 2005.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year

The Times released their list of the 100 Notable Books of 2004.

My unbroken streak of being 180 degrees out of the touch with the literati continues, as I hadn't read a single one of them.

In my defense, though, I had heard of a few...

The Son of the World's Worst Interview

Hack Writer Victor Gischler is back with another round of The World's Worst Interview. This time his victim is the delightfully funny Julia Spencer-Fleming, who writes a series about a priest who flies helicopters.
VG: Zapa-dappitty-doo-wap-doowap diddly-DOO! What do you think of that?

JSF: Victor, I had no idea. Next time we get together, you and I are going jitterbugging. No excuses.

I loved the part about Denise Hamilton wanting to mow down the bookstore workers with an assault rifle.

Marcia Muller named Grand Master by MWA

The Mystery Writers of America has named Marcia Muller, "'the founding mother' of the modern hard-boiled female private eye novel," a Grand Master. Other authors to receive the organization's highest designation include Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Tony Hillerman, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Graham Greene, James M. Cain, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler.

Congrats to Ms. Muller!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A late entry in the Top 5 Favorites list

Dylan Schaffer, author of the superb debut Misdemeanor Man, adds his contributions to Mystery Ink's Top 5 Favorites list.
  • The Narrows by Michael Connelly -- I recently saw Connelly's book, and various other titles, on sale in an obscure town on the Vietnam/China border. Any writer who has infiltrated a former enemy this deeply deserves our awe. And it's an un-put-downable, thought-provoking, nearly perfect book.
  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson -- I realize I'm getting to this late, and everyone else in the world has read it, but the evocation of Chicago, circa late 19th century, and the portraits of two men, one essentially good, and one totally evil, was as compelling as I've ever read. Not exactly a crime/mystery, but definitely worth reading if you're one of the eight people left who hasn't already done so.
  • Train by Pete Dexter -- Others have already said why, and I agree. A fabulous, moving, disturbing book.
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem -- I came late to this one, too, but I loved it. If you grew up anywhere near the NY area in the seventies, this one will be like going home.
  • Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick -- I'm researching a book about Elvis, and this one is at the top of the heap, particularly if you're interested in Presley's late career. It's eminently readable and profoundly sad. Even if you're not that interested in Elvis, it's worth checking out.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Top Five Favorites for 2004

Mystery Ink polled over 50 fiction writers, reviewers and other assorted readers, asking them to name their five favorite books they read during the year. They didn't have to be new, didn't even have to be mysteries. We just wanted to know what people liked.

You can see the complete lists over on the website. The responses were very interesting, as you'd imagine. This is a well-read bunch!

Some interesting stats from the results:

Most-cited book: Scott Phillips' Cottonwood -- 7 picks
Second most-cited book (tie): Ken Bruen's The Guards and T. Jefferson Parker's California Girl -- 6 picks each
Most-cited author: Ken Bruen -- 11 picks
Second most-cited author: T. Jefferson Parker -- 7 picks
Third most-cited author: Lee Child -- 6 picks
Most-cited debut book: J.A. Konrath's Whiskey Sour -- 3 picks
Most-cited unreleased book (tie): Kent Harrington's Red Jungle and Ray Banks' The Big Blind -- 2 picks each
Most-cited non-crime fiction book: Pete Dexter's Train -- 3 picks
Book I most wish I could have included: Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing -- I read it last year, thus it wasn't eligible.

The contributors were (in alphabetical order): Ace Atkins, Yvette Banek, Michael A. Black, Lawrence Block, James O. Born, C.J. Box, Steve Brewer, Lee Child, Oline Cogdill, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Sean Doolittle, Barry Eisler, Aaron Elkins, Robert Ferrigno, Bill Fitzhugh, Jim Fusilli, Victor Gischler, Lee Goldberg, Maggie Griffin, Denise Hamilton, Steve Hamilton, Libby Fischer Hellman, Gregg Hurwitz, Julie Hyzy, J.A. Konrath, Harley Jane Kozak, Rochelle Krich, William Kent Krueger, Terrill Lee Lankford, David Montgomery, Chris Mooney, Heidi Moos, David Morrell, Eddie Muller, T. Jefferson Parker, George Pelecanos, Thomas Perry, Ralph Pezzullo, Gary Phillips, Scott Phillips, Rob Reuland, M.J. Rose, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Olen Steinhauer, Charlie Stella, James Swain, Duane Swierczynski, Fiona Walker, Robert W. Walker, Robert Ward, Sarah Weinman, Kevin Wignall and Brian Wiprud.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Synopsize Me

As a result of my incessant browsings on amazon.co.uk, here are a few very-recently posted synopses, that I've not seen anywhere else, of some books coming out next year:

First, Kathy Reichs' Cross Bones (which sounds a little...odd):

The latest gripping thriller from world class forensic anthropologist, Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of Bare Bones and Monday Mourning Temperance Brennan has a mystifying new case in this eighth novel from New York Times bestselling author and world-class forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. Tempe is called in to interpret the wounds of a man who was shot in the head, but while she tries to make sense of the fracture patterning, an unknown man slips her a photograph of a skeleton, telling her it holds the answer to the victim's death. Detective
Andrew Ryan is also on the case and, as his relationship with Tempe heats up, together they try to figure out who this orthodox Jew in the Israeli "import business" really was. Was he involved in the black market trade in antiquities? And what is the significance of the photo? With the help of Jacob Drum, a biblical archaeologist and old friend from the University of North Carolina, Tempe follows the trail of clues all the way to Israel. In the Holy Land, she learns of a strange ossuary at Masada, a shroud, and a tomb that may have held the remains of Jesus's family. But the further she probes into the identity of the ancient skeleton, the more she seems to be putting herself in danger...


This has been up for a while, but as it's predecessor hasn't even been released in the US yet, here's more detailed info on Stephen Booth's The Dead Place:

Bones where there should be none and a chilling warning of an imminent killing lead Peak District detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry to a crypt full of skulls in the sixth novel from award-winning author Stephen Booth. The messages could be the work of a hoaxer obsessed with death, but when a woman is abducted from a multi-storey car park the mystery caller who taunts the Derbyshire Police with talk of the irresistible scent of death cannot be ignored - particularly when the warnings grow ever more ominous. Meanwhile Ben Cooper's attempts to put a name to some unidentified remains lead to an ancestral home whose dark secrets have become the stuff of legend in the White Peak area.

Reginald Hill's first stand-alone in years, The Stranger House:

Things move slowly in the tiny village of Illthwaite, but that's about to change with the arrival of two strangers. Sam Flood is a young Australian post-grad en route to Cambridge. Miguel Madero is a Spanish historian in flight from a priests' seminary. They have nothing in common and no connection, except that they both want to dig up bits of the past that some people would rather keep buried. Sam is looking for information about her grandmother who left Illthwaite courtesy of the child migrant scheme four decades earlier. The past Mig is interested in is more than four centuries old. They meet in the village pub, The Stranger House, remnant of the old Illthwaite Priory. They don't take to each other. Sam believes that anything that can't be explained by maths isn't worth explaining; Mig sees ghosts; Sam is a fun-loving, experienced young woman; Mig is a 26-year-old virgin. But once their paths cross, they become increasingly entangled as they pursue what at first seem to be separate quests, finding out the hard way who to trust and who to fear in this ancient village whose lines of power run from Illthwaite Hall, home of the Catholic Woollasses.


Laura Wilson's A Thousand Lies (which has actually been up for ages as well...):

In 1987, Sheila Shand was given a suspended sentence for killing her father. At the trial it emerged that farmworker Donald Shand was a sadistic brute who had terrorised, beaten and sexually abused his wife and two daughters for almost forty years. In 2004, novelist Amy Vaughan is researching for a book when she comes across Sheila Shand's senile mother, Iris, in an old people's home. She's curious about the elderly woman who sits poring over a photograph album of family snaps, because Amy has been aware from an early age that photographs tell lies - her mother, who suffers from Munchausen's by Proxy, used snaps of her 'sick' daughter to try to keep the affections of her father, a charismatic but elusive conman. Then he appears on Amy's doorstep after a long absence and tells her that he is dying of pancreatic cancer. On past records, she shouldn't believe him. Amy agrees to let her father stay for a while, and, as she reluctantly becomes embroiled in some of his shady schemes, she discovers that he is hiding from a creditor who is very angry indeed and prepared to stop at nothing in order to reclaim his cash. She also begins to find out more about the Shand case, and realises that there is much more to the murder than the police ever discovered, including the mysterious disappearances of both Sheila's sister Mo and the wife of Donald Shand's employer, and the discovery of a long-buried skeleton in woods in near the Shand home...

Barbara Vine's The Minotaur:

Kerstin Kvist didn't quite know what to expect when she took up a job with the Cosway family at their odd, almost grand home, Lydstep Old Hall, deep in the Essex countryside. The family turned out to be even odder than the house: the widowed Mrs Cosway lived with her three unmarried daughters, in thrall to the old lady. A mysterious fourth daughter - a widow herself and apparently quite rich - came and went, with ill-disguised contempt for the others. More puzzling still was Mrs Cosway's son, John, a sad, self-absorbed figure in his thirties who haunted the house. There's madness in the family' offered one of the daughters by way of explanation, but Kerstin had trained as a nurse and knew it wasn't right to be administering such powerful drugs to a vulnerable figure like John. Barbara Vine's new book, her twelfth, is compelling in its depiction of the sex, lies and secrets within an apparently respectable family, at a time when the sixties revolution hadn't quite reached rural England.
The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason:

Building work in an expanding Reykjavik uncovers a shallow grave. Years before, this part of the city was all open hills, and Erlendur and his team hope this is a typical Icelandic missing person scenario; perhaps someone once lost in the snow, who has lain peacefully buried for decades. Things are never that simple. Whilst Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his own family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain. The hills have more than one tragic story to tell: tales of failed relationships and heartbreak; of anger, domestic violence and fear; of family loyalty and family shame. Few people are still alive who can tell the story, but even secrets taken to the grave cannot remain hidden forever.
And, finally (I've got more but I'll stop), Puccini's Ghosts by Morag Joss, her most recent novel since winning the Silver Dagger last year:

It is the summer of 1960 and fifteen-year-old Lila's life is about to change forever. Set free from the confines of school, her prison is the small unremarkable town of Burnhead, on the west coast of Scotland. She dreams of escape: from Burnhead, from the damp, from her mother's hysterics, her father's stolidity, and her parents' loveless marriage. Salvation arrives in the form of her beloved Uncle George, a music teacher from London who decides to stage an amateur production of Puccini's Turandot. Lila, in love for the first time, maps out a future for herself in which reality and fantasy fuse to form a dangerous mixture, threatening to destroy herself and all those around her. Beautifully written novel and intently observed, Morag Joss's new novel about conscience and consequence is an stunning, complex journey into the dark, claustrophobic heart of a family in crisis.
Oh, and they often change, but for those obsessed (a la me), they've also put up UK cover photo's of the next books by Harlan Coben and Lee Child.

Book Sense Picks for January

Book Sense, an arm of the American Booksellers Association, announces their picks for the best books of January 2005. Here are the crime fiction titles that made the cut:

  • THE COLD DISH, by Craig Johnson (Viking, $23.95, 0670033693)
  • OUT: A Novel, by Natsuo Kirino (Vintage, $12.95 paper, 1400078377)
  • ENTOMBED: A Novel, by Linda Fairstein (Scribner, $26, 0743254880)
  • REVOLUTION NO. 9: A Novel, by Neil McMahon (HarperCollins, $15.95, 0060529180)
  • VALLEY OF BONES: A Novel, by Michael Gruber (Morrow, $24.95, 0060577665)
  • THE VANISHED HANDS, by Robert Wilson (Harcourt, $25, 0151008418)

Latest Bestsellers

From the Book Standard, the public face of Nielsen BookScan, comes this week's fiction bestsellers, based on actual sales at bookstores and other retailers around the country:
  1. NIGHT FALL, Nelson DeMille (Warner Books, Hardcover)
  2. THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN, Mitch Albom (Hyperion, Hardcover)
  3. LONDON BRIDGES, James Patterson (Little, Brown & Co, Hardcover)
  4. THE DA VINCI CODE, Dan Brown (Doubleday Books, Hardcover)
  5. BLUE DAHLIA, Nora Roberts (Jove Books, Paperback)

Note that 3 of the top 5 are mystery or suspense books.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Mystery Bookstore's Top 10

The staff at L.A.'s Mystery Bookstore, a great place to buy books, offer up their picks for the best of the year.

Here are the choices of owner Shelly McArthur:

Jilliane Hoffman, Retribution
Jodi Compton, The 37th Hour
John Shannon, Terminal Island
Alan Furst, Dark Voyage
M.C. Beaton, Death of a Poison Pen
Barry Eisler, Rain Storm
Jack Kerley, The Hundredth Man
John Dunning, The Bookman's Promise
Gayle Lynds, The Coil
Liz Evans, Sick as a Parrot

Some nice picks. A couple of those (Eisler & Lynds) are probably going to be on my list as well.