Murder by the Bye
a monthly newsletter
Murder by the Book
In November’s newsletter you’ll find forensic tales, mysteries set in foreign lands, chilling stories set right here in the USA, a selection of classic tales, and a classic detective who continues to inspire today’s writers. So grab a cup of something hot, get those fires going in the fireplace and start reading. Those big piles of leaves you need to rake will still be there tomorrow.
In 1990, Patricia Cornwell burst on the scene with Postmortem featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta. The book was the first to sweep the major awards, including the Edgar and the Anthony for Best First Novel. Her devoted fans love how the prickly Dr. Scarpettta uses the latest forensic techniques to solve cases, all the while juggling complicated relationships in her personal life. In her 21st outing, Dust ($28.95) Scarpetta is recovering from the trauma of a particularly challenging case when she gets a call about a body discovered at MIT. A graduate student was left posed on the rugby field and the trampled ground around her reveals traces of an unusual residue. This evidence links the case to a series of unsolved homicides in Washington, D.C. that Scarpetta’s FBI profiler husband has been investigating. With series regular Pete Marino at her side, Scarpetta is once again targeted by the killer she is pursuing.
Danish Red Cross Nurse Nina Borg returns in Death of a Nightingale ($26.95) by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. First seen in The Boy in the Suitcase, which was chosen as A Notable Crime Book of 2011 by The New York Times, Nina is a mother of two whose dogged devotion to social causes often puts her own life at risk. At the Red Cross center where she works, Nina has been helping to care for the child of refugee Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian woman accused of murdering her fiancé. When an attempt is made to abduct the child and Natasha escapes from the police, Nina becomes involved in the case which has ties to crimes in the Ukraine in the 1930s. Readers are given an insider’s view of both Denmark and the Ukraine and as the authors have said “Eastern Europe is intensely interesting to us Danes because geographically it is very close and yet many of us have no idea what it looks like and what it is like living there.”
Fans of Scandinavian crime fiction might also be interested in The Dinosaur Feather ($24.99) by Sissel-Jo Gazan. Set in Copenhagen, it features Anna Bella Nor, a graduate student and single mother who becomes caught up in crimes that are centered around her university. This debut novel, which provides a behind the scenes view of high pressured academic life combined with a compelling personal story, was hailed in Denmark as one of the best crime novels of the last decade.
Alexander McCall Smith sure knows how to title a book! Starting with 1998’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to this year’s The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon ($24.95) his uniquely titled stories have charmed readers. Although he has written several mysteries that take place in Scotland, his best known series features Precious Ramotswe –the owner of The No. Ladies’ Detective Agency – and is set in Botswana. In her 14th outing, Mma Ramotswe is asked to look into strange goings-on at a local beauty parlor. It seems that someone is not happy that the business has opened; rumors are spreading that the salon is not safe and the owner has received a sinister warning in the mail. A second investigation requires Precious to check up on a young man who claims to be in line for a large inheritance. Meanwhile, there are some unexpected developments at the detective’s office, could Mma Makutski be expecting? Younger readers first meet Precious in her first adventure The Great Cake Mystery and can read more about the young detective in The Mystery of Meerkat Hill ($12.99.) By the way, Mma is pronounced "mah", with a long a.
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) is best known for his science-based thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990) but he also published several books under the pseudonym “John Lange” while he was in medical school. Hard Case Crime is reissuing all 8 titles, including his first book Odds On ($9.95) published in 1966 when the author was 24 years old. Crichton worked closely with Hard Case Crime, re- editing and even adding chapters to the novels which were written between 1966 and 1972. In Odds On, Crichton created a world where computers helped plan heists and beautiful women crafted plans of their own and in 1969’s The Venom Business ($9.95) we meet a handler of venomous snakes who takes on a seemingly straightforward job as a bodyguard. With taglines such as “The deadliest creatures can be the most beautiful” and pulp style cover art, these early works are sure to please both fans of Michael Crichton and of Hard Case Crime.
Ruth Rendell introduced us to Inspector Reginald Wexford in 1964’s From Doon With Death and has continued writing about the Sussex policeman ever since. In No Man’s Nightingale ($26.00) the retired Chief Inspector is intrigued when his cleaning woman relays her latest bit of gossip involving one of her other clients. The chatty cleaner happened upon the body of Sarah Hussain, a local vicar with progressive views and an unhappy congregation. When the police are called in to investigate, Wexford joins his former associate Mike Burden on a search of the victim’s home and discovers a key piece of evidence. Rendell’s writing has been described by Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times Book Review as “Subtle,” “cunning,” “clever,” and “sly” and fans of the series won’t be disappointed in her 24th Inspector Wexford mystery.
Barry Maitland’s first book The Marx Sisters won a star from MBTB when it came out in 1994. Jill Hinckley, who founded MBTB back in 1983, praised the debut saying “Maitland offers well-drawn characters, an intriguing situation, and some diverting side plots; all wrapped up in graceful, percipient prose.” Main characters DI Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock return in their 12th outing in Raven’s Eye ($25.99) and find themselves investigating the supposedly accidental death of a woman found on a houseboat. Complicating the case is the fact that their new Commander wants to rely less and less on their impressive skills as investigators and more on the latest technological advances in crime solving. Brock and Kolla have a great deal of respect for each other’s abilities and their working relationship is always at the center of Maitland’s plots. Over the years MBTB often recommended this series to readers who loved Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter.
Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In The Bleak Midwinter (2002) is another debut that took the mystery world by storm.Winning numerous awards (including The Dilys Award given by independent mystery booksellers to their favorite book of the year) In The Bleak Midwinter is set in upstate New York in a small town called Millers Kill. Episcopal priest Clare Fergusen and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne both provide needed services to their community and over the years their professional and personal paths have frequently crossed and their relationship has evolved. In Through The Evil Days ($25.99) the 8th book in the series, the Reverend and the Police Chief have escaped the pressures of their jobs in order to take a wintry honeymoon at a secluded cabin on a frozen lake. Alas, a quiet honeymoon is not in the cards as the pair become involved in the case of an abducted child from Millers Kill and wrestle with major changes in their professional and personal lives. Much of the story takes place outside in the dead of winter, so be sure to bundle up before settling in for a good read.
Author Bill Pronzini offers the following definition of noir crime fiction “The noir crime story deals with disorder, disaffection, and dissatisfaction, a quality noir story must emphasize character and the problems inherent in human behavior. Character conflict is essential. The crime or threat of crime with which the story is concerned is of secondary importance. It must be reflective of the times in which it was written, providing an accurate, honest, and realistic depiction of its locale and of the individuals who inhabit that locale.” For many years Akashic Books have published a series of Noir collections set around the world. USA Noir ($16.95) edited by Johnny Temple, the publisher and editor in chief of Akashic, contains 37 stories gathered from the collections set in the United States. With stories including those from Boston’s Dennis Lehane, Baltimore’s Laura Lippman, Minnesota’s William Kent Krueger and New York’s Megan Abbott, readers are in for some powerful story telling. Also out this month is Dallas Noir ($15.95) edited by literary agent David Hale Smith. His introduction sets the tone for this collection “In a country with so many interesting cities, Dallas is often overlooked- except on November 22nd every year. It has a permanent black scar on its history that will never be erased, no matter how many happy business stories or hit television stories come from here.”
Noir film buffs will relish the release of The Noir Style ($35.00) by Alain Silver and James Ursini. Background information is given for classics such as A Touch of Evil, and The Postman Always Rings Twice among others. This volume also explores the influence of classic noir films on today’s filmmakers and highlights some of the genre’s best known stars.
Raymond Chandler once said “Dashiell Hammet wrote scenes that seemed to have never been written before.” This is high praise coming straight from one master of hard boiled crime fiction to another. Hammett, the creator of such memorable characters as Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles is said to have drawn on his experience working for The Pinkerton Detective Agency to bring his characters to life. The Hunter and Other Stories ($25.00) edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett contains never before published stories along with several novella- length screen treatments. Also included is “A Knife Will Cut For Anybody”, a fragment of a long lost Sam Spade story. Richard Layman, the author of Hammet’s biography Shadow Man collaborated with Julia M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter and fellow trustee of his literary estate on the project. Hammett fans can hope for more of his work to surface in the coming years.
Coincidentally, Pinkerton’s Great Detective ($32.95) by Beau Riffenburgh is also due out in November. Filled with tales from the agency’s heyday, this work focuses on the legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland who infiltrated the Molly Maguires and also tracked Butch Cassidy. His fascinating career inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to include a character based on McParland in the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Valley of Fear.
Sherlock Holmes, often called the world’s most famous literary character first appeared in A Study in Scarlet published in 1887. Despite the death of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1930, Sherlock has lived on in countless books and films and this month his fans are offered a wide variety of Holmesian delights.
Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes ($24.99) edited by Loren D. Estleman offers readers stories written by Doyle (“The Field Bazaar”) as well as those penned by Estleman, Anne Perry and others. This collection was authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate and includes a story by his son, Adrian Conan Doyle.
In The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Grimswell Curse ($9.95) by Sam Siciliano, we find Holmes investigating the case of a cancelled engagement and its connection to a supposed family curse. While visiting the bride- to -be’s estate on the moors, a shadowy figure is seen roaming the countryside accompanied by a large creature. Shades of The Hound of the Baskervilles perhaps?
Who says you can’t have fun with a legendary character? Emma Jane Holloway did just that with the first book in her trilogy A Study in Silks ($7.99) which introduces Sherlock’s crime solving niece, Evelina Cooper. When describing the books Holloway says “It has something to do with bad dogs in Dartmoor, but why stop there? We have a prince, automatons, sorcerers, sundry pirates, talking mice, a large mechanical caterpillar, castles, ballrooms and murder. And, yes, Holmes and Watson take their turn upon the stage. What type of stories are these? They are one part mystery, two parts adventure and a wee pinch of romance.” And we say, “Why not?” A Study in Darkness ($7.99) comes out this month and once again Evelina is battling the forces of darkness, this time surrounding 221B Baker Street.
In more Sherlockian news, The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes continues at Portland’s OMSI through January 5th and will head to Ohio after that. Benedict Cumberbatch fans rejoice: the third series of BBC’s Sherlock Holmes will begin airing on PBS on January 19, 2014. Viewers are promised 3 new episodes of the wildly popular series.
MBTB’s Book Group
Our book group led by local author Lori L. Lake usually meets the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. Barbara Tom, one of the former owners of MBTB chooses the book to be discussed each month. Meetings are held at the Belmont Branch Library, located at 1038 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd.
Due to a scheduling conflict with the library, our November meeting will be held on Thursday, November 21 at 6:30 p.m. We will be discussing Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Orphan Master’s Son.
The Friends of Mystery Book Group meets at the Belmont Library on the third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday, November 20th they will discuss Coffin Man by James Doss.
Local readers are in for a treat when Portland writers (and former MBTB staffers) Chuck Caruso and Nick Slosser read from their work on Thursday, November 14th. They will be appearing at Rain or Shine Coffeehouse (5941 SE Division) at 6:30 p.m. Please come and support local authors and a local business.
November is National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo) and you can join over 165,000 (!) writers who have pledged to write a novel during the month. Find out more here: http://nanowrimo.org/