Tuesday, July 31, 2012

September Treasures in My Closet

I love sharing the treasures in my closet. I feel as if I'm giving you a sneak preview of coming attractions. These books are all coming out in September.

James R. Benn's latest historical mystery is Death's Door, a mystery that takes Lieutenant Billy Boyle to the Vatican. An American monsignor has been found murdered at the entrance to Saint Peter's Basilica. The fact that the Vatican is neutral territory in German-occupied Rome is just one of the obstacles he faces as he disguises himself as an Irish priest.

Lowcountry Boil is a debut mystery from Susan M. Boyer. Private investigator Liz Talbot is a modern Southern belle who blesses hearts and takes names. When her grandmother is murdered, she heads back to her South Carolina island home to find the killer. When her brother, the police chief, shuts her out of the investigation, Liz starts her own. (This one looks fun!)

With one of the prettiest covers of the month, Rosanna Chiofalo's Bella Fortuna is also a debut novel. It's said to evoke the " beauty of Venice, the charm of a close-knit New York neighborhood, and the joys of friendship, family, and surprising second chances."

In Margaret Coel's latest mystery, Buffalo Bill's Dead Now, Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O'Malley are witnesses to history, and murder. After more than 120 years, the regalia worn by Chief Black Heart in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show were supposed to be returned to his people. But, the cartons arrive empty, and a collector ends up murdered. Vicky and Father John must uncover the truth about a blood feud and the original theft, a crime that goes back more than a century.

Vicky Delany will appear for Authors @ The Teague on Oct. 25th. She'll be there to talk about her Gothic suspense novel, More Than Sorrow. Hannah Manning, once a famous war correspondent, is now a woman suffering from a traumatic brain injury. She goes to her sister's small farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario, to recover. She's haunted, lost and confused, but finds comfort in a friendship with an Afghan woman named Hila who was also traumatized by war. When Hila disappears, Hannah faces old enemies, and a threat to the only thing she still holds dear, her ten-year-old niece.

Michael Ennis' The Malice of Fortune transports readers to Renaissance Italy where Leonardo da Vinci's "science of observation" and Niccolo Machiavelli's "science of men" are combined in the attempt to unmask an enigmatic serial killer.

Texas native Sam Hawken's debut crime novel, The Dead Women of Juarez,  takes a look at a horrific phenomenon. "Since 1993 it has been documented that over 500 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez. Most residents believe the true number of those disappeared to be 5,000." When a new disappearance is reported, a washed-up Texas boxer and a Mexican detective believe they can outwit the corruption around them, and find the truth about the female victims of the Mexican border wars.

After writing short stories, Michael Kardos has a debut crime novel, The Three-Day Affair. Will, Jeffrey, and Nolan are lifelong friends who went their separate ways as adults. But, when Jefferey attempts to rob a convenience store and kidnaps a young woman, Will and Jeffrey are caught up in the crime. The three ordinary men find themselves completely out of their element, holding a hostage, without the slightest idea of what to do next.

Charley's Epic Fiascos kicks off a teen adventure series by Kelli London. It's the tale of fearless Charley St. James, "whose can-do attitude leads to a grand, cross-country trip." The author says, "Charly is the epitome of a person who knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it."

I'm going to try Morgan McCarthy's The Other Half of Me, but if it doesn't suit me, I know just the person to give it to. It's a coming-of-age novel set in Wales, where Jonathan Anthony and his little sister grow up in the family ancestral home. They're inseparable, exploring the wild acres of Evendon and inventing magical worlds. When their grandmother returns following a tragedy, the two are elated to have her there, until the family secrets drive a wedge between Jonathan and his sister. When tragedy strikes again, Jonathan is forced to confront the secrets that have haunted Evendon for generations.

Deon Meyer won the 2011 Barry Award for Best Thriller for Thirteen Hours in which South African homicide detective Benny Griessel had to solve a case in a single day. Now, in Seven Days, Griessel has another nearly impossible task. Two police officers have been shot, and the department has received an e-mail from the shooter, threatening more violence unless a cold case, the murder of a lawyer, is immediately solved. When more policemen are shot, the pressure mounts.

Chet the dog and Bernie, his private investigator companion, return in Spencer Quinn's latest mystery romp, A Fistful of Collars. When the mayor lures a movie studio to town to shoot a major production starring bad boy, Thad Perry, he hires Chet and Bernie to babysit the actor. The money is good, but something smells fishy. It turns out the actor had links to the Valley that go way back, and he might just have links to an old crime.

Trent Reedy's Stealing Air introduces Brian, a sixth grader who fears he must leave his dreams of flight behind him when he moves to Iowa. Then he meets up with the coolest guy in the the sixth grade, and Max, the nerdiest. Max is building a real airplane, but he's scared of heights. The three boys team up to finish and test the plan, but a bully, a beautiful girl, and fights at home and school threaten to ground the project.

I have high hopes for Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Other Woman. Jane Ryland, a disgraced newspaper reporter, tracks down a candidate's secret mistress just days before a pivotal Senate election. Detective Jake Brogan is investigating a possible serial killer. As the body count rises and election day nears, it becomes clear to Jane and Jake that their investigations are connected, and they may be facing a ruthless killer determined to silence a scandal. I'm looking forward to this one, and hosting Ryan for Authors @ The Teague on October 1.

Half the featured novels this month seem to be debuts, so it's fitting to end with another one, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub. In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters is born in Wisconsin. While still in her teens, she marries and flees to Los Angeles, where she is discovered by one of the most powerful Hollywood executives. He refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette, calling her Laura Lamont. Despite all the glamour of stardom, this is still a story of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness.

It seems as if all these books are to be released on Sept. 4th. Don't expect all the reviews that day! Now, tell me which books you're waiting for. Or, wait until you see the list of hot titles tomorrow. Then, let me know what I missed.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Criminal by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter referred to her bestseller, Criminal, as a triptych.  She skillfully brings three storylines together, keeping the reader riveted. It takes skill to allow characters in different time frames to bring together a story. It's no wonder Slaughter is considered a master at writing thrillers.

How did Lucy Bennett end up turning tricks in 1974? She came from a nice family, but started taking pills to lose weight when she was fifteen. Then, she became involved with an older man, ran off with him, and eventually ended up turning tricks on the streets of Atlanta. And, one day, she ended up with the wrong man.

In the present day, Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, never has understood his boss, Amanda Wagner. For some reason, she has it in for him right now. She doesn't seem to want him around her current cases. And, when he sees a newscast in which Amanda announces a college girl has gone missing, he's more confused than ever. Running into Amanda at the children's home were he grew up, when she should have been dealing with the disappearance confuses Will even more.

Forty years earlier, though, Amanda Wagner was a young plainclothes police officer, fighting all the sexism on the Atlanta Police Force. When she and Evelyn Mitchell are sent to an apartment where a hooker tells them about other girls who have gone missing, Amanda and Evelyn find it odd. The two women sneak around, investigating a case that doesn't interest any of the male officers. Why are young blond prostitutes disappearing off the streets of Atlanta? Deputy Director Amanda Wagner has secrets connected to those cases forty years earlier, and she's trying to keep Will Trent away from those secrets.

Slaughter's Criminal is filled with sexism and cruelty, and it's not all aimed at the women of the streets. Much of it is aimed at young policewomen in the 1970s. Slaughter has finally told Will's story and Amanda's. But, we've seen traces of Will's over the years. It's Amanda's story that is brutal and revealing.

Criminal is intriguing for so many reasons. The ending, with it's twists, is powerful. It's fascinating to discover Will's story. And, a killer isn't the only criminal in this book. The stories of women, and the crimes against them is revealing.  Slaughter tells stories of women working the streets as prostitutes and cops, and the men who try to beat the life out of them. Criminal is a remarkable crime novel, one that should be read as a thriller that reminds us what life was like for those women who stepped out of the traditional roles for women.

Karin Slaughter recently appeared at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore on her tour for Criminal. Her comments fit with this book review, so I'll include them here.

Slaughter said when she finishes writing one book, she immediately writes the first chapter of the next one. One story she tells in Criminal is that of a nice girl from a solid middle class family. Like many girls, her history involves getting involved with the wrong boy, and spiraling down. That's Lucy Bennett in 1974

In the present day, the same thing is happening, the same trouble. Right now, there are more women and children in slavery than ever in the history of the world. Slaughter wanted to show that girls can come from a nice family, people who cared. And, one awful meeting, one stupid mistake can lead to downfall. Teenagers have a sense of invulnerability, especially girls in the middle class. If they get addicted, there is a loss of self-control and self-determination.

Will Trent and Sara Linton are together in this book. There's lots of Will's story as part of the triptych. Slaughter knew a long time ago that we'd learn about Will. He had lots of choices. He was raised in foster homes. He chose not to end up in a bad life. Will took control of his life, and did something about it.

Slaughter said she was more interested in Amanda Wagner, Will's boss. She's a harsh person. In Criminal, Slaughter shows how she got to be that way. She's sharp, and hard on Will, but she's fair.

Angie, Will's wife, grew up with him. She spiraled down while he went up. It's a story out of Dickens, self-determination. Will is modeled on Karin Slaughter's father. His dad was such a bad alcoholic that he got kicked out of the Klan. Slaughter's father pulled himself out of that life. He wanted something else out of life. He was a car salesman, but he gave his daughters a solid middle class life. Slaughter thinks of her dad when she thinks of Will.

Amanda was a woman who came up in the Atlanta Police Department. Women had to put up with a lot in the '70s. Slaughter talked to a lot of women who came up then. Slaughter said women are their own worst enemies. The number one report to the Atlanta Police Department in the '70s came from women who called to report that they saw a woman stealing a police car. When asked what the woman was wearing, they said scandalously, pants. It never dawned on the women calling that a woman would be a police officer.

In the 1970s, Atlanta was one of two major cities with a black mayor. The city had the largest black middle class of major cities. Maynard Jackson appointed a black police commissioner. Jackson exploited the federal government for money. He said he was the biggest, fattest, loudest mayor in the country. Slaughter said she admired him because he didn't like discrimination, racial or gender discrimination. He didn't see black or white. He only saw green. He was for women's rights. Author Pearl Cleage was on his staff at one time. The staff went to a restaurant, and they were told, we don't serve women. Jackson said then we won't do business here, and they all left. Atlanta is a huge business center, a cosmopolitan city.

Slaughter said she had to find a way to get Sara out of the country and into Atlanta for Criminal. Sara moves to the city, and has stronger ties there.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, said Karin Slaughter has always been a careful, thoughtful writer. Slaughter said she's always had a long-term plan, and she plans her books two or three ahead. Unseen, the next book in the series, will be set in Macon. Will, Faith and Amanda will be in it. Slaughter said she ended the stories set in Grant County. There was only so much she could do in that area. But, there are 159 counties in Georgia, so she has at least 159 books to do. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation can go anyplace in the state.

Slaughter would like to set the book after Unseen totally in the 1970s if possible. Then, the next book will show where Angie goes when she leaves.

Karin Slaughter said she's always been a writer with a vision of what she wants her worlds to be like in her books. And, Barbara Peters ended with, "Being god in her own universe; that's what being a writer is all about."

Karin Slaughter's website is www.karinslaughter.com

Criminal by Karin Slaughter. Delacorte Press. 2012. ISBN 9780345528506 (hardcover), 434p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark

Those readers who complain about amateur sleuths who enthusiastically jump into investigations might want to check out C. Hope Clark's first Carolina Slade mystery, Lowcountry Bribe. Slade is the most reluctant sleuth I've come across in a book. But, don't mess with a woman when her children are threatened.

Carolina Slade (Slade) is the county manager for the Dept. of Agriculture in Charleston County, South Carolina. She approves and handles loans to rural residents. She admits she spends more time trying to get the money back because of the poverty in rural South Carolina. Slade is a black and white person who firmly believes in following the rules. When one of her farmers, Jesse Rawlings, offers her a bribe, she hesitates only for a short time before reporting the attempted bribe. Her office is already in turmoil following the disappearance of her boss and the suicide of a man in the office. If she had known the trouble she was bringing down on herself and her family, she might have let it slip by unnoticed.

Slade doesn't need any uncertainties in life. Her marriage is lousy, and she's only hesitating about filing for divorce because of her two kids. In fact, the situation at home is so uncomfortable that she and her husband are waiting each other out to see who will file for divorce first. It won't take much to push her over the line. Alan's reaction to the attempted bribery might be just enough.

Slade is annoyed when Wayne Largo, Senior Special Agent form the Inspector General Office in Atlanta, shows up in response to her phone call. Wayne and his co-worker, Eddie, seem to be interested in investigating more than an attempt at bribery. Now, she's forced to become a "Cooperating Individual" in what Largo refers to as a teaching case. Slade's reluctant to force the issue, and, when she feels threatened, she just wants to get the case over. But, the set-up goes wrong, and Slade is left hanging out there by herself. Now, she has to worry about herself, and, even worse, her children have been threatened.

Slade isn't a typical sleuth. She was reluctant to get involved, but, with her view of life as black and white, she felt obligated. This isn't the typical book I read. I'm not fond of women and children in jeopardy books. But, Slade is a fascinating character, reluctant to get involved in her own life. And, suddenly, she's forced over the edge. Slade is going to have to take action.

Lowcountry Bribe deals with a lifestyle most of us are not familiar with, a rural community where people are often poor and desperate. C. Hope Clark shows us that crime and corruption are not limited to cities. Rural life can be just as gritty. It takes a strong woman to work with the good ol' boys day after day. And, it takes a strong woman like Slade to fight for her family and what's right, and do it without the back-up she expected.

C. Hope Clark's website is www.chopeclark.com

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark. Bell Bridge Books. 2012. ISBN 9781611940909 (paperback), 270p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


No blog today. I worked all day Friday on a couple projects, and came home to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I'm certainly not putting the Olympic rings up on my blog. The Olympic Committee doesn't seem to have a sense of humor, and they blocked a funny post featuring Queen Elizabeth and Daniel Craig parachuting into the stadium. Too bad. It was funny.

So, in honor of track and field, here's an Internet picture of athletes getting ready for their event. (There will be a real blog tomorrow.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jesse Kellerman at the Poisoned Pen Conference

The Poisoned Pen Conference was held at the Arizona Biltmore. Barbara Peters mentioned that the room we were sitting in was once the movie room for the Wrigley family. We were in the Aztec room, the room that from the outside has a copper roof. But, Jesse Kellerman told us he thought of it as the "Tea Room". Eight or nine years ago, his family spent Passover there. They were on a Passover Package Vacation. He wrote about those trips in an article called, "Let My People Go to the Buffet."

Kellerman's latest novel is Potboiler. He had a delightful time writing it. He wandered through the narrative. All of his novels are unwieldy beasts. There has been a gap between his novels because he has a three-year-old child. Kellerman said he once had an ambitious writing schedule of ten pages a day. Then it went to seven pages, then five pages.

Potboiler is a thriller and a parody of a thriller. It follows a failed literary novelist, Alfred. His best friend, Bill, became a massive bestselling author and got the girl. But, Bill was lost at sea. Alfred flies in and reconnects with the widow. Then, Kellerman's book takes a hard left turn. Every time the reader gets comfortable, Kellerman tweaks it. He deals with a curse. The first book is so successful that the author lives in terror that the next time they sit down to write, they have a blank mind. Harper Lee comes to mind as an author who only had one book.

Kellerman said Potboiler pokes fun at the publishing world and the thriller world. He has fake blurbs at the front of the book. He thought it would be funny to have fake blurbs for the book the author wrote. He wanted blurbs for the fake series and the fake character. Stephen King and Lee Child both agreed to write fake blurbs. Lee Child had one he always wanted to use. "Of all the books I have read this year, this is one of them." There's even a reference to Barbara Peters in the book.

Peters asked Kellerman if there was pressure growing up wanting to be a writer in a family with two bestselling authors, his parents, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman. He answered that his goal was to do it his own way. It was not to distance his parents, but he has a different voice. It's not a collective family voice. There's always sales pressure, but it was not a goal to sell as many books as his parents. Jesse Kellerman has written five books. He has a distinct voice. Hopefully his readers now read him for him, and he has his own readership.

Kellerman said his father quotes Bob Parker. He doesn't understand the concept of writer's block. Plumbers don't have plumber's block. It's your job. But, some people just have one book in them. He brought up Harper Lee again. He thinks all authors really only have one story. That's their central theme, and it resonates in their work. It's consistent, and they spin their ideas in many different books.

It's sad when an author only has one book, but it can be graceful if an author knows when to stop. Think of writing To Kill a Mockingbird. Fame can be intimidating. It's a tragedy to peak early. Kellerman will be thirty-four in September. He hopes his best years are ahead of him. Every book is a chance to learn and grow.

Peters mentioned that Kellerman's publisher, Putnam, specializes in thrillers. He called them "Thrillers-R-Us." They have Clive Cussler, Randy Wayne White, and Stuart Woods. Jesse Kellerman is an anomaly at Putnam.

He admitted he had privileged access to the publishing world because of this parents. It would be arrogant and disingenuous of him to say he didn't have access. There were two repercussions. He was twenty-four when he sold his first novel. Putnam signed him thinking they'd get Kellerman light, that he'd produce a series and be reliable. But, that's not who he was. As a result, they were a little perplexed as to how to market him.

Kellerman was published a little before he was ready to publish. He was not ready at twenty-four. He should have waited two or three more years. He was a playwright when he was published. Kellerman wrote his first play at thirteen. He loves the theater, but only have the work is done by the author. He was ready to write for the theater. He can't say he was ready to write novels.

Jesse Kellerman writes standalones. That gives him freedom because everyone is the book is in jeopardy. He creates a whole new world in each book. It's extra work. The characters, setting, tone and style change in every book. Readers don't know what may happen in a Jesse Kellerman book.

Kellerman then summarized his earlier four books, telling us what inspired him. Sunstroke is southern California noir. A woman is in love with her boss who goes to Mexico and disappears. She goes to find him, and gets embroiled in a lot. That's inspired by his mother-in-law's co-worker.

In Trouble, a young medical student witnesses a crime on the street. He intervenes, and kills the attacker. He becomes a hero, and goes on to have a sexual relationship with the woman he saves. That was inspired by his wife's experience on the medical ward. There's a thin line between kindness and cruelty.

The Genius is about an art dealer in New York City. He was disowned by his family. Then, he gets a call from his father's right-hand man. He has an apartment filled with art for him to look at, and they want to sell it. It connects to boys who were murdered forty years earlier.

The fourth book, The Executor, is about a student at Harvard who can't finish his dissertation. His girlfriend kicks him out, and he's homeless. He answers an ad for a conversationalist. His client is a housebound woman who likes to talk philosophy. He may never want to leave the job.

Kellerman just loves Potboiler, his latest book. He was giggling while he wrote it. He finds it hilarious. It's satire. To appreciate satire, a reader has to be familiar with the subject that is satirized. In this case, readers who know and love themes of thrillers might appreciate it. There's the person who is wrongly accused. There's the woman who betrays him. There are all the tropes of a thriller. Kellerman uses a singular stake for an ordinary person, asking himself, what would I do as an ordinary person. Everyman stories appeal to him.

When Peters asked him what he's working on now, he said he's doing three books at one time. One involves the anatomy of a murder in San Diego where he lies. It's set against the backdrop of the housing crisis. His pet project is a comic novel. It's bizarre, and he doesn't know what he'll do with it. The third project is one he's working on with his dad. His father told him he had an idea for a book outside of his series. He pitched the idea to Jesse. Jonathan Kellerman is outlining it. Jesse's writing the first draft, and then they'll collaborate on the rewrite.

He said he prefers his parents' standalones. He likes Jonathan Kellerman's The Butcher's Theatre. He likes Billy Straight. And, he likes his mother's book, The Quality of Mercy.

Asked if his parents read his manuscripts before he submitted them, he said they did at one time. They gave his honest critiques. He argued with his mother about it. As he matured, he went to them less and less for feedback and guidance. They were always parents who would almost pin his stuff on the refrigerator, "My son, the writer". He said he doesn't trust their feedback. They think everything he does is brilliant, and he should be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Kellerman said he can appreciate the qualities needed to write serial novels. It doesn't hurt to be obsessive-compulsive and like routine. His father and Lee Child are organized. It's how they learned to work. He isn't like that.

Jesse ended by saying he was leaving before they end of the day since the conference was on a Friday. His family keeps an Orthodox household, and they keep Kosher. That makes it difficult to travel. He flew to Phoenix and back in one day. His father says he's too old to that shit anymore.

Jesse Kellerman's website is http:jessekellerman.com

Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman. Penguin Group (USA), 2012. ISBN 9780399159039 (hardcover), 336p.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Winners and World War II Mysteries

Congratulations to the winners of the last contests. Crime Montage by Patricia Morin will go to Charlotte W. of Covington, GA, Kat B. from Winterset, IA, Ginger R. of Chandler, AZ and Linda L. from Camden, AR. And, Emma Sweeney's As Always, Jack will go to Gayle S. from Castle Rock, WA and Beth H. of KY. The books will go out in the mail by Saturday morning.

Speaking of Jack, this week, I'm giving away two autographed ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) set just before the Second World War. Jack 1939 is Francine Mathews' historical novel about Jack Kennedy. The story includes a number of actual figures. Mathews' novel suggests that Kennedy toured Europe acting as a spy for FDR.

Rebecca Cantrell's A City of Broken Glass takes Hannah Vogel back to Berlin just before Kristallnact, the Night of Broken Glass. The journalist was in Poland on a minor story for her Swiss newspaper when she learned about 12,000 Polish Jews who had been deported from Germany. But, her attempt to cover that story takes her straight into danger, forcing her back to Germany.

Which autographed ARC would you like to win, Jack 1939 or A City of Broken Glass? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Jack 1939" or "Win A City of Broken Glass." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end Thursday, Aug. 2 at 6 PM PT. Good luck!

Truth Be Told by Larry King

I miss Larry King. And, I didn't think about it until I read his book, Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions. When this book came out in hardcover last year, King admitted he still had people he would have liked to have interviewed after his show on CNN ended, and questions he would have liked to have asked.

Larry King never had a political agenda when he interviewed guests. He didn't put a negative spin on his interviews. He came from the same ordinary background as so many of his listeners did. And, he was curious. He always wanted to be in front of a microphone. King wasn't a tabloid journalist going after the sleazy questions. He was a curious man asking questions that would reveal the important aspects of his guests. I miss that. It's easy to come across the sleazy and negative interviews today. It's not so easy to come across an interviewer who is curious and fair.

The paperback edition of Truth Be Told has just come out. When the hardcover was released, King had left CNN, and he wanted to clear up some misconceptions. He spent a little time doing that. But, most of the book includes short pieces about some of his favorite interviews and subjects. The chapter about music is a treat for those of us who are fans of 20th century music. He covers Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Elvis, Garth Brooks. In fact, it truly is a time capsule of some of the prominent figures of the 20th century.

When I was asked if I wanted a review copy of Truth Be Told, I was also sent a piece that I was told I could use. If you miss Larry King, as I do, you might appreciate the piece. He's still curious, and still has people he would have liked to have interviewed. And, this book just makes me miss him and his curiosity all the more. Nothing could entice you to read a book more than words from the man himself. Thank you, again, Larry King, for twenty-five years of interesting interviews. I was in front of the TV to hear many of them.

Truth Be Told
By Larry King,
Author of Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions
I was speaking at The University of Texas -- Pan American not long ago and a student asked me a question that had never been asked of me in more than fifty years of broadcasting.
"What fictional character would you like to interview?"
My first thought was Superman. Of course, there's the obvious question we'd all like answered:
Isn't it kind of incredible that after you took off your glasses no one recognized you as Clark Kent?
When I took off my glasses in front of the crowd at Pan American, they laughed. Hey, it's plain to see, I'm still Larry.
Dick Tracy is another fictional character I'd like to have had on Larry King Live. I would've asked him:
  • What made you so crazed about crime as to put all other things secondary? Did something happen in your childhood?
  • Why? Why only yellow coats?
  • Who gave you your watch?
  • How come your hat never fell off?
Then there's Hamlet.
  • Ever think you'd become famous?
  • Did you like what Bill wrote?
  • A ghost comes to talk to you. You bought that?
  • Did you ever just think it was your imagination?
  • Do you really speak that way? C'mon, speak to me real?
Over the years, people have asked about the subjects I always wished I had a chance to interview. Off the top of my head, there are three.
The first is Cuba's revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. I went to Havana to try to arrange an interview with him a few years ago. I was shocked to find out how many people in Cuba knew who I was. As I walked down the street, people ran over, screaming: Senor Larry! Senor Larry!
Unfortunately, the interview couldn't be arranged. But here are a few of the questions I would've asked Fidel:
  • Did you ever communicate with an American president?
  • Was your revolution a success?
  • How do you measure success?
  • How does it feel when your daughter speaks out against you?
  • What did you make of the fall of communism in the Soviet Union?
  • How has the blockade hurt you the most?
  • Did you ever think that the United States would change its policies?
Then there's Prince Charles. To be quite honest, I've never been a big fan of our shows on British royalty. Certainly, the death of Princess Di was a major new story, and we covered it thoroughly. But it seemed to me we did way too many shows on the royals than were necessary. I understand the appetite among the public for all things royal. But Prince Charles is a figure of interest to me simply as a man. I'd like to ask him:
  • How does it feel to have things given to you that others have to strive for?
  • What's the biggest burden of royalty?
  • In British history, is Gandhi a hero?
  • How do the British see Benedict Arnold?
  • How do you view prime ministers? Do you want to speak out more politically?
  • What are your thoughts on America?
  • What can you tell us from the heart about Lady Di?
Then, there's the Pope. I would've liked to have interviewed any Pope. Once, the producers at Larry King Live got a maybe from John Paul II, but it never worked out. If I could sit with Pope Benedict XVI, I'd like to know:
  • Did you want the job?
  • Did you lobby for the job?
  • What are the biggest failings of the church?
  • What was the most disturbing part of the priest/child molestation scandal in the United States?
  • In truth, how difficult is celibacy?
  • Will we have a black pope?
Ordinarily, at 78 years old, I might look upon these questions with sadness that they were never asked. But now that ORA.tv, my new Internet company, is about to get started, they just may. You never know . . .
© 2012 Larry King, author of Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions

Author Bio
Larry King, 
author of Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions, was the host of CNN's Larry King Live, the first worldwide phone-in television talk show and the network's highest-rated program for twenty-five years. the Emmy-winning King also founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars and provided lifesaving cardiac procedures for nearly sixty needy children and adults.

Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions by Larry King.  Weinstein Books. 2011. ISBN 9781602861619 (paperback), 225p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

August Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

Cameos this month are by Stormy and Josh. Jinx showed up, and is behind the books for most of the book chat. Enjoy the cats and the chat!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney

Originally published in 2002, Emma Sweeney's As Always, Jack was reprinted this year. It's a poignant, touching, sometimes humorous collection of love letters. And, it's poignant because Emma Sweeney's pilot father wrote them while he was courting her mother. Emma's father, Jack, died while her mother was expecting her. These letters were the closest Emma ever came to hearing her father's voice.

Emma Sweeney's parents knew each other for only eleven days before he left with his flight squadron, headed for China in 1946. Over the course of seven months, he wrote Beebe forty-five letters filled with humor and love. He courted her in those letters, and married her three weeks after he returned home.They had four sons, and Beebe was pregnant when Jack's plane went down in the Bermuda Triangle, disappearing there on Nov. 9, 1956.

Emma never saw a picture of her father until she was ten. Her mother remarried, and never really talked to her about Jack until Emma was in her twenties. She left her a packet of letters, these letters, when she died. A year later, Emma read them, looking to learn who her father was.

There really aren't any spoilers in the above description. Emma Sweeney wrote most of that information at the beginning of As Always, Jack. As funny as some of the letters are, as romantic as they are, it's sad to know that Emma never knew him, and searched for answers for years. Who was her father? What was he like? Did he even know he was going to be a father again? As Always, Jack is a small book, filled with history, love, and the answers for one fatherless child. Jack and Beebe Sweeney's story is a beautiful love story representing a moment in U.S. history.

Now, I have two copies of As Always, Jack to give away. I'm only running the giveaway for two days. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com if you'd like to win a copy. Your subject heading read, "Win As Always, Jack". Include your name and mailing address. The contest closes at 6 PM Thursday night, July 26th. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney. Axios. 2012. ISBN 9781604190489 (hardcover), 179p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received this book to participate in the TLC Blog Tour.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Baby Shark's Showdown at Chigger Flats by Robert Fate

It's been three years, much too long, since the last time Kristin Van Dijk, Baby Shark, cleaned up the streets of Texas. Now, she's back, in Robert Fate's e-book, Baby Shark's Showdown at Chigger Flats. She's a little older, a little more streetwise, and just as determined to fight for justice. I've always cheered for Baby Shark, and this time, there's more reasons to cheer, as Baby Shark gets her men.

It's May 1960 in Fort Worth, Texas, when Baby Shark witnesses an ambush about to happen, and rescues her partner, Otis Millett. The story starts with a bang when a few guys with shotguns went after the P.I., but Baby Shark saw them coming. "Three dead and me wounded and no idea who, what or why. But, like Otis said, we'd sort it out." And, they sorted it out to discovered that Walter Fairchild had broken out of prison, and he swore to get everyone who put him there, including Otis, who was a Dallas police officer in 1949 when he arrested Fairchild. Now, all the Fairchild gang is out to get Otis, but the pair are smart enough to see them coming. One night, though, Baby Shark is in a pool tournament when Otis disappears, kidnapped. And, nothing is going to keep Baby Shark from getting her partner back. She teams up with Henry Chin and a woman who loves Otis to fight their way through the Fairchild clan looking for Otis. And, if she has to add a handsome Deputy U.S. Marshall to her team, she will.

Readers who haven't met Baby Shark before need to know where she comes from. She tells her stories, beginning with 1952.  "That was the winter Henry Chin lost his son and I lost my father to some rampaging thugs. They thought they'd left Henry and me dead in a burning building, but we survived. We survived, became family and took revenge. A homeless, seventeen-year-old orphan girl, an immigrant Chinese widower, and an ex-police-detective-turned-P.I. named Otis Millett found a way to work together and take back our lives." And, you can bet Baby Shark will find a way to take back her partner as well, if the Fairchilds haven't killed him.

I've said before, if you cheered for the "Rocky" films, you'll love Kristin Van Dijk. She knows she might not live long. But, "I had vowed long ago to never be afraid again, never to be taken advantage of again. Anyone who started it up with me should be ready to fight to the death." Kristin is a tall platinum blond who can handle herself in a fight with guns, knives, or her body as a weapon. She comes as a surprise to so many in west Texas who expect a lady to be a lady in the late 50s and early 60s. Part of the enjoyment in these books comes from observing everyone's astonishment when Baby Shark can take on two or three tough men in a shoot-out. It's been part of the problem with her romance with Lee Pierson, a Dallas police officer. They lived together for three years, but never married. Kristin understood that he upheld the law while she and Otis were more concerned about justice.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Coit Bowden faces Kristin down when she points a gun at him. He's looking to bring Walter Fairchild to justice, but Baby Shark won't let him stand in her way. All she wants is Otis back. It might start out as an uneasy partnership, but the U.S. Marshal and Baby Shark can both handle themselves in a fight.They both live by they're wits; they're loners, and they're perfect for each other.

What can I say? I've been a fan of these violent triumphant novels in which good wins out over evil from day one. I'm a Baby Shark fan. It might have been three years, but the story is just as fast-moving, Baby Shark is just as quick in a fight, and the criminals are just as wicked. And, it's about time Krisin Van Dijk found a man who can match her brains and ability. Welcome back, Baby Shark and Robert Fate. Baby Shark's Showdown at Chigger Flats is one more notch in the belt for a series that deserves to be better known than it is.

Robert Fate's website is www.robertfate.com

Baby Shark's Showdown at Chigger Flats is an Amazon e-book. It can be downloaded at http://tinyurl.com/7sn4xw3

Note: My blog says I will not accept books in e-book format. That hasn't changed. However, I have been a fan of Baby Shark since the first book came out in 2006. Robert Fate Bealmear's publisher went out of business, so he brought this book out as an e-book. I bought my copy for my Kindle so I could read book five in the series. This is an exception. My policy has not changed.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


After three long weeks working on a project at work, we can see the end. I took Saturday and went to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the National Theatre (London) production of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature.

Noir kind of day, as evidenced by this picture taken by Chantelle Osman. And, just couldn't work up any energy after getting home.

So, all I can say is, after three weeks, ending with an achy back, tired feet and legs, and a loss of two pounds (YAY!), today, I'm crashing. I'm home with the cats and a book, and none of us are leaving the house.

So, no real blog today. We're resting.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sticks & Stones by K.J. Larsen

Hot men. Murder. Funny family scenes.Eccentric sidekicks. If you're thinking Janet Evanovich, you're wrong. When K.J. Larsen's first Cat DeLuca mystery, Liar, Liar, came out, I referred to Cat as Stephanie Plum with brains. After reading Sticks & Stones, I'm sticking with my opinion. The latest Cat DeLuca crime caper is as much fun as the early Evanovich books.

After Cat DeLuca caught her husband cheating, she was more than capable of operating a Chicago detective agency called Pants on Fire Detective Agency. She catches liars and cheats. She might be the disgrace of her large Italian family of cops, and her mother might spend all her time praying for her thirty-year-old single daughter to find a husband, and stop taking dirty pictures, but Cat's good at what she does. She even hired a former client, Cleo Jones, after Cleo caught her husband in bed with her sister, and shot his backside full of buckshot. She told her she'd get her dog back from her cheating husband, Walter, and the money he took. But, when Cleo and Cat showed up at Walter's house, someone had already shot him. And, Cleo, captured on video screaming she was going to kill him, is the number one suspect. Cat would have been right there with her, considered an accessory, if she wasn't related to half of the local precinct.

All of Chicago might think Cleo's guilty after seeing that video, but Cat is determined to prove she's innocent. She rallies the troops, her hot FBI boyfriend, Chance Savino, Tino, owner of Tino's Deli, who was once a covert operative for the U.S. government, and Max, a friend and former colleague of Tino's, and Cat's best friend and older brother, Rocco. Men drift in and out of Cat's kitchen, as suspects pile up. Walter had a few enemies, and quite an interesting past. There's a famous Chicago designer, Walter's former boss, a childhood friend. Cat's determined to find the real killer, even as she prepares for a family wedding, and continues to spy on cheating husbands.

The Cat DeLuca mysteries have my favorite quality in a book, wonderful, quirky characters. It's enough to make a reader wish to be part of a large, loving Italian family with all that good food. The stories are filled with cops, including a cop hangout, Mickey's. Then, there's Cat, who won't settle for being a cop's wife and brood mare. She's found a job she loves, and despite her mother's prayers, she sticks to it.

The dialogue in this book creates the humor. The story is fast-paced, and Cat does not always come out on the best side of every meeting. But, those situations, her family, and the other characters are priceless.

If you're a fan of Janet Evanovich's early works, or Deborah Coonts' books, I'm recommending K.J. Larsen's Sticks & Stones. Meet Cat DeLuca, a private eye with a heart of gold in mysteries filled with humor, hot food, and hunks.

K.J. Larsen's website is kjlarsenauthor.com

Sticks & Stones by K.J. Larsen. Poisoned Pen Press. 2012. ISBN 9781590589236 (paperback), 229p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of this book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Last Temptation by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Wicked, wicked Gerrie Ferris Finger. Her latest thriller, The Last Temptation, is filled with deception and lies. She tries to kill off her main characters, but they fight back. The Last Temptation is a worthy follow-up to The End Game. That  novel won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel award. It was a fine way to start. But, this one is so much more twisted.

Moriah Dru is an ex-cop who owns Child Trace in Atlanta. Most of her business comes from the state's public safety agencies when she's hired to look for missing children. In this case, the court is handling an on-going custody battle between two parents, Bradley Whitney and his ex-wife, Eileen Cameron, when Eileen and her daughter, Kinley, disappear from their Palm Springs, California home. Although juvenile judge Portia Devon doesn't like Whitney, she hires Dru to find Kinley and bring her home. Dru doesn't like her client, either, and has her staff, along with her lover, Lieutenant Richard Lake, check into her client's past. The deeper they dig, the slimier he appears, but they can't find enough on him before Dru has to fly to Palm Springs to talk to people who might have known Eileen.

Nothing feels right to Dru in Palm Springs, from the policeman who greets her at the airport, and seems too chummy with the missing woman's movie director husband, to an Indian artist named Tess who is related to everyone on the local reservation and the chef with the fake French accent. No one seems to want to talk about Eileen and Kinley. Everyone in the small circle seems to be connected. Dru feels as if they're keeping secrets from her, and that feeling is heightened when she accompanies Tess to a ceremony and spots a young girl who doesn't seem to belong. Before she can ask questions, Dru feels herself getting sick. That sickness is followed by kidnapping, fire to a jeep, and the greatest danger of Dru's life. When Dru tries to report her story, no one is willing to believe her, not even Lake.Dru is sure Eileen is dead, but there are too many suspects, and Kinley is still missing.

When she returns to Atlanta, Dru forces herself back into the case, working with Lake on the continued investigation of her own client. The two find themselves caught up in a coast-to-coast investigation. Who do you trust when everyone is lying, and even the client can't be trusted? Before they can find a solution, the investigation takes an odd turn, and a resolution becomes personal.

Finger's The Last Tempation has one of the most unusual cast of potential villains I've come across in a long time. But, they're perfect for this book filled with odd characters. Gerrie Ferris Finger captures the reader's attention immediately with a case involving missing girls. And, just when you think you know where she's heading, she adds a twist. The Last Temptation is a thoughtfully crafted mystery with the heart-stopping moments of a thriller. (And, anyone who reads the book will understand the heart-stopping turn of phrase.) There's always possibilities for stories in cases involving children. Let's hope Gerrie Ferris Finger and Dru have a number of stories in their future.

Gerrie Ferris Finger's website is http://gerrieferrisfinger.com

The Last Temptation by Gerrie Ferris Finger. Gale. 2012. ISBN 9781452825898 (hardcover), 370p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Winners & a Crime Collection Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed copies of Linda Fairstein's Night Watch. They are: Andrew B. from Wethersfield, CT, Doreen D. from Long Beach, CA, Sandie H. from Sarasota, FL, Shirley M. from Dallas, TX, and Susan O. from Ringgold, GA. Thanks to everyone for entering. There were 93 entries in this giveaway.  I'll put the books in the mail on Saturday.

This week, I'm giving away four autographed copies of Patricia L. Morin's collection of crime short stories, Crime Montage. Morin's stories are everything from noir to a Christmas poem about a crime. If you like short stories and mysteries, you'll want to enter this contest. Thanks to Patricia for sending these copies for the giveaway.

If you would like to win, send me an email at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read, "Win Crime Montage." Include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

The contest will end on Thursday, July 26 at 6 p.m. PT. Good luck!

Francine Mathews at the Poisoned Pen Conference

Left to right - Francine Mathews, Me, Dana Stabenow

I loved Francine Mathews' latest book, Jack 1939, so it was a pleasure to hear her talk about it at the Poisoned Pen Conference. That book is written under Mathews, but she also writes the Jane Austen mysteries under her maiden name, Stephanie Barron (Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews). She said she changed publishers, going from William Morrow (Avon) to Bantam (Random House). Now, she's at Riverhead. When she moved, they wanted a different name. She writes in two genres, and under both names. As Barron, she writes literary women's mysteries. As Mathews, she writes grittier espionage novels.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, reminded us that Mathews actually was a CIA spy. She had a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle called "Bond Girl". She didn't have them vet the article. "Bond Girl" is about her training with the agency. Mathews worked as an analyst, with a specialty in Eastern Europe. After the Wall fell, she did personality profiles of East European leaders because they were brand new to the West. She also worked in counter-terrorism. She worked on the investigation of Pan Am 103 that was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. There were three agency people on the plane, as well as the son of the head of Operations. There were three people from the Beirut station on it. At first, they believed it was a targeted hit, and the investigation was misdirected as they searched for the Hezbollah hit. Instead, it was a Libyan program.

Mathews said the CIA was a career-driven program. She had paramilitary training. She learned to do dead drops, surveillance, disguises, all the spy training. That's fabulous background if you want to leave the agency and write. But, you have to submit books that deal with the CIA. She submitted her books The Cut Out and Blown. She was asked to change one word in The Cut Out.

Jack 1939 is historical espionage. The CIA didn't exist then, so she didn't have to submit it. In 1941, Roosevelt tapped Wild Bill Donovan to head the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, to be a liaison with British secret intelligence. We had no intelligence whatsoever. There was Naval Intelligence, and J. Edgar Hoover desperately wanted to expand the FBI's job into surveillance. Roosevelt wanted it to remain separate. The OSS involved into the CIA.

Mathews said most of us see Jack Kennedy as frozen in time. But, she found a photo of him in 1937. His clothes are a mess; mismatched. His hair is tousled.  He was twenty years old. He was juggling oranges in Nuremberg. Kennedy was bumming his way through Europe.That picture is a moment captured in time, a picture of raw joyous youth. But, he was in Nazi Germany in 1937. Jack was just a kid.

In 1939, Jack Kennedy traveled alone, all over Europe from London to Moscow through Sept. 1939 when Hitler took Poland. He was researching his senior thesis. He arrived in Prague in late 1939, and couldn't get into Czechoslovakia. The Germans had closed the border. Kennedy showed up at the border, and demanded that George Kennan come and get him. Kennan was posted as a diplomat in Prague at the time. He sent a telegram complaining he had to babysit Joe's Kennedy's ignoramus college kid. Joe Kennedy was Ambassador to Great Britain at the time, and FDR didn't like him.

FDR had a remarkable network of people tapped to report to him. They were often friends of friends. There would be one person in the embassies who reported directly to FDR. Mathews' premise in Jack 1939 is that he adopted Jack as one of those people to use him deliberately against his father. The book is also about FDR and J. Edgar Hoover. Mathews found it hard to get into the mindset of Roosevelt. FDR recognized what was coming. So, the book shows what Mathews saw in him. She had not understood how precariously in power he was in the '30s. In the mid-thirties, business titans,  including the head of General Motors. banded together with the American Legion to fund what they hoped would be a military putsch against Roosevelt. A general reported it to Hoover. Hoover was given power to investigate sedition. At that time, it was extreme right-wing sedition. By the 1950s, Hoover used that power against people suspected of Communism.

In the 1930s, there was a fear of a Fascist movement in the U.S. There was a movement in Britain. Joe Kennedy wasn't a fascist. He was a pragmatic businessman. He abhorred war. He was terrified of losing his sons. He worked with Chamberlain to broker an agreement with Germany. People thought they could avoid war. Mathews has Jack talking to Roosevelt about it. Joe was a businessman. Jack was a politician. Joe said war was bad for business. Jack was torn between supporting his father and recognizing what was going on.

Mathews deals with Jack Kennedy's illnesses in the book as well. He was constantly ill. He was misdiagnosed with leukemia at seventeen. He had persistent blood disorders. He couldn't keep weight on, and was always underweight. He would sign himself into the Mayo Clinic regularly. Kennedy used to say he wouldn't live to see his 30s. He spent a great deal of time in hospital beds. He wrote letters and read voraciously. He wasn't a great student. His brother, Joe, was a model student. Jack was more of a rebel. But his teachers thought Jack was the better thinker, a complex thinker. Bruce Hopper, one of his advisors, is in the book. There are lists of what Jack was reading.

Jack Kennedy was obsessed with Poland in 1939. Danzig was the German name for Gdansk, a free city. Kennedy knew the Germans wanted Poland. Danzig was a free international city, an economic powerhouse. It was the only access the Polish navy had to the sea. It was between Germany and Russia.

Jack Kennedy had a young raw energy. He was sharply aware of his own mortality. He had to quit the London School of Economics because of illness. He was diagnosed with Addison's disease in 1945. That's a failure of the adrenal system. It regulates sodium in the body. He would cut a slit  in his calf and put a pellet of a steroid into the muscle of his calf or thigh. That had the long-term effect of deteriorating his spine. Kennedy had spinal surgery in the 1950s, which is supposed to be fatal to someone taking the steroid he did.

What was most poignant to Mathews is the image of Sept. 3, 1939. It's a shot of Joe, Jr., Kick and Jack. Jack is twenty-two; Joe is twenty-four, and Kick is twenty. They're walking into Parliament. By the end of the 40s, Jack was the only one left of the four oldest. Joe and Kick were dead. Rosemary had been lobotomized in 1941. The only ones left were Jack's much younger siblings who he didn't really know well. Ten years after that picture, all but Jack were gone.

Jack Kennedy was a serial womanizer. He was in love with Frances Ann Cannon, the heiress to the Cannon towel fortune. He proposed to her, but she refused because he was Irish, Catholic, and Joe Kennedy's son. She sent him a telegram when he left for Europe saying, "Stay away from the hay, darling. (Jack would describe himself as having hay fever when he wasn't well.)  Love you, darling. Frances Ann." That telegram is in the Kennedy Library. That meant Kennedy kept that telegram for his whole life. Frances Ann went on to marry John Hersey, the author of Hiroshima and A Bell for Adano. John Hersey wrote the first account of PT109.

Barbara Peters mentioned Francine Mathews' early mystery series featuring Merry Folger. Those books are set on Nantucket. She's written eleven Jane Austen mysteries. Then, she has two standalones, one about Queen Victoria, and one about Virginia Woolf.

Mathews told the audience she writes to find things out that she doesn't know. She loves to write. She said two thirds of her books feature people who lived. She fills in the gaps of their lives with fiction. She's fascinated by gaps in the record. What she writes could be called alternative history. It's a mosaic of fact and fiction.

Jack Kennedy did go to the places she has him go in the book. She follows his chronology. And, he meets many real people in the course of the book. She did create fictional characters. The most important is a female British agent. And, she eliminated a trip he took to Palestine. It didn't fit into her story. At one point, he traveled with Byron White, who went on to become a Supreme Court justice. At the time, he was a football player and Rhodes Scholar. One draft of the book had him in it. He was just one character too many so Mathews took him out. She's creating fiction, not writing a biography.

When someone mentioned Pamela Harriman, Mathews said she's in her next book. Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman was married to Randolph Churchiill. They met when she was nineteen. Randolph always proposed to women he wanted to sleep with. Pamela accepted. She produced an heir, and then went her own way.

Francine Mathews ended by recommending a book, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson. It's about Edward R. Murrow, Averall Harriman and John Gilbert Winant, the Ambassador to Britain.

Francine Mathews' website is www.francinemathews.com

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews. Riverhead Books. 2012. ISBN 9781594487194 (hardcover), 368p.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alex Kava at the Poisoned Pen Conference

At the Poisoned Pen's annual conference, Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, introduced Alex Kava as the author of the Maggie O'Dell thrillers. Fireproof is her twelfth book, and her tenth Maggie O'Dell. Kava came on her own dime to the bookstore when her second book came out. The publisher of her first book didn't believe in book tours. They believe is sending authors to Sam's Club, Walmart, and places like that. Kava likes going to real bookstores. Peters said Kava's from Nebraska. The publishers probably didn't want to send her on book tours because few people from New York can see over the Hudson, and if they do, they see the west coast. Barbara said she had a true story. A publisher contacted her about sending an author on Book Tour, and said the author would be in Houston the day before, and they could fly to Denver, Albuquerque, and do the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale that evening. Peters said, no that wouldn't work, so she'd have to drop out. And, the publisher didn't understand that they couldn't get to all three places. "They look so close together on the map."

Kava has had two standalones, One False Move and Whitewash. Whitewash, a political thriller, remains one of Kava's favorites. It taught her about building character. It's set in Tallahassee, Pensacola, and D.C.

Maggie O'Dell, an FBI agent, is home in D.C. in Fireproof. As an agent, she's on the road a lot. Kava said it was time she kept her at home, and gave her time with her dog. Alex didn't start out wanting to write a series. When she wrote A Perfect Evil, the first book, she didn't really like Maggie. Maggie didn't even appear until chapter seven. Then, Kava's publishers wanted a sequel. Kava didn't even read series. She had to learn to write a series. Kava found Maggie annoying. Her friends told her what she found annoying about Maggie were her own qualities. And, it took a friend in law enforcement to tell her to lighten up about Maggie, and not be so intense, that people in law enforcement had lives and senses of humor. So, this has been a journey for Alex as well. She's been getting to know the character along with the readers.

Peters asked Kava what makes a book a thriller rather than a mystery. Kava said a thriller has more urgency. The crime is of consequence, something bigger than one person's life. It involves a serial killer or a mass murderer. After book four, Kava realized she needed to do something different in the books. Fireproof involves a serial arsonist. Alex tries to stay away from the typical FBI profiler cases.

Arson is at the heart of Fireproof. The fires are in the warehouse district of D.C. where the homeless are. D.C. has a mini metro bus service. The buses take the homeless out to the warehouse district to sleep shelters at night, and then the buses take them back downtown during the day since the food pantries and other services are downtown. They ship them out at night, and back again, so they're neatly tucked away.

Maggie is investigating the cases involving the serial arsonist, and there is another killer. A body is found outside a burning building. Or, is that killer actually the arsonist? Maggie has her half-brother, Patrick, living with her. He has finished his training, and he's a firefighter for a private company. Insurance companies hire private companies. As a public servant, Maggie has a problem with private companies hired to do the same job. Maggie sees them as driving by houses on fire to get to the one that's insured. Maggie's family is screwed up. The father she saw as a hero was a firefighter. He had an affair and died. Patrick is the result of that affair.

Fireproof is the tenth in the series. Readers don't have to have read earlier books, but Kava does include tidbits in this book for those who have read the series. She brought back a character from the second book, a psychiatrist who is bonkers. She based him on a law professor she had who scared her to death. He was the coroner for Omaha. He would be lecturing, and all of a sudden he would jump on the table.

Peters quoted her friend, author Laurie King, as saying a first novel is like packing a trunk. The author puts all kinds of stuff in there, and doesn't know if they'll ever use it in future books. When an author goes to write the next in the series, there's a whole universe or planet they've already created.

When it came time for questions, Kava was asked if she ever worries she might be influencing people to do evil. She answered that she does, but it's out there anyways. Law enforcement officers tell her stories, and she couldn't make up that stuff. The strangest things you read are usually true. For instance, there's an undercover cadaver business that sells body parts that are illegal to sell. People are already doing things that the average person couldn't imagine.

What are the reasons for arson? Arsonists do it for money, because they are hiding another homicide, or they like setting fires. It's said that the Son of Sam started by setting fires. An arsonist might get a sexual thrill out of it.

Kava had mentioned a law professor, so someone asked if she went to law school. She said she only took a law class. She graduated with English and art majors, and a psychology minor. She spent fifteen years working in PR and graphic design.

A Perfect Evil, Kava's first book, was based on a crime that occurred when she was working at a newspaper as a copy writer. Fifteen years later, she used that crime to write her first book. She had seen it turn a small community upside down. When A Perfect Evil came out, she was called "The next serial killer lady".  Alex didn't even know she was writing a thriller. Her publisher was Harlequin. They saw it as a way to break them out of the romance field, but then they didn't know what to do with her.

Kava comes from a PR background. People who buy one of her books, and send her the receipt, can get mugs or sports bottles. They say, "I stayed up all night with Alex Kava."

She wrote A Perfect Evil, her first novel, after she was burnt out and quit her job. She gave herself a time limit, a deadline to write a book and sell it. She taught herself. Kava had no resources in law enforcement. She knuckled down and wrote it.

She ended the program by discussing the serial killer triad. John Douglas and others who established FBI profiling learned through their interviews of serial killers that they all had three things in common.

!. They set fires.
2. They tortured animals.
3. They were all bedwetters at a young age.

Barbara Peters' conversation with Alex Kava was the perfect start to the day-long Poisoned Pen conference.

Alex Kava's website is www.alexkava.com.

Fireproof by Alex Kava. Knopf. 2012. ISBN 9780385535519 (hardcover), 320p.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Linda Fairstein & Joseph Kanon

Joseph Kanon, Barbara Peters, Linda Fairstein
Linda Fairstein and Joseph Kanon kicked off this year's Poisoned Pen conference at the Arizona Biltmore. Linda said she'd been told never to share a stage with Joe because no one will know you are there.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, said they have hosted Linda for all of her books, and hosted Joseph for all his books except his first one, Los Alamos.  Peters said in trying to come up with a common theme, she decided on food.

Kanon said he had a fabulous lunch in Istanbul, the scene of his latest book, Istanbul Passage. The book is set at the end of World War II. It's an espionage book in the same vein as Erik Ambler and John LeCarre. Istanbul is the main character, and all the chapters are named after neighborhoods. He told us all of his books begin with place.

He immersed himself in Los Alamos when he wrote that book. He wanted to learn more about it, what it was like to be there, to live there. Kanon does "literary archaeology". He can find the neighborhoods, the smart restaurants. What is most difficult is putting his head back in time. Istanbul Passage takes place in Istanbul in 1945. The end of the Sultanate was in 1922, only twenty-three years earlier. That's not impossibly far away. It's as far as 1989 and Ronald Reagan is from now. Kanon wanted readers to know what it feels like. Turkey is just out of the Ottoman Empire. Adults who lived during the empire were forced to be western. The harem had been abolished in 1909, just thirty-six years earlier. There were adult women alive in 1945 who had been brought to Turkey as slaves, and had been part of the harem. What happened to those women?

Kanon invented a character, Lily, a former harem girl. He was able to kill two birds with one stone. There are beautiful mansions on the Bosporus. Lily makes the perfect host for parties there. She went from a harem girl to a socialite.

Peters mentioned that Joseph Kanon had been an editor before he was a writer. He said every writer is different. There are no rules. He makes it up as he goes along, and doesn't use an outline. He was one third into The Good German before he knew who killed the victim in the first chapter.

According to Kanon, readers remember characters, not storylines. The real interest is in the people, their moral values, the kind of life they lead.

Some places just capture your imagination. Kanon went to Istanbul as a tourist, and fell in love with the city. He likes the perennial student aspect of a city. There's 1000 years of Byzantine history. All of Kanon's books have been set in the immediate years around World War II. Istanbul was neutral during World War II. He was intrigued as to how a city could remain neutral with war all around it. What he discovered is that war comes to you. There were all kinds of spies in Istanbul. The city was a chess board for everyone to play out maneuvers. It was like catnip. Everyone had operatives at the Park Hotel, which is now being developed as condominiums. The Americans were amateurs in the OSS. The Russians were there along with the Turkish police. There were Nazis. They were table hopping, buying each other drinks.

Kanon likes interesting moral questions. In Los Alamos, the scientists couldn't resist having the bomb go bang. This book deals with making of webs. There's an appeal to the secret life. It's based on lying. How does lying spill into other parts of life? The post-war period was a pivotal time. It was inherently dramatic. Kanon told us he was going to use a movie metaphor. The war begins with the black and white clarity of "Casablanca". It ends with "The Third Man", grey with moral compromise. Peters said there's murder and a love story. She jokingly referred to it as "Fifty Shades of Istanbul".

Linda Fairstein's Night Watch is the fourteenth book in the Alexandra Cooper series. Alex has been having a romance with a man in France for a while. Her books, like Kanon's, have a great sense of place. Her books are set in New York City. It's a character in Fairstein's books. Each book includes a short history of some section of New York. Fairstein enjoys exploring the history of familiar places. They may seem familiar, but have a dark underside.

Alex has the job Linda had for thirty years, sex crimes prosecutor for Manhattan. The books are about Alex and her two detective friends. Those three people can be set anyplace. Fairstein said people enjoy reading series because of the relationship with characters, and you can come back to them.

Fairstein's editor didn't want her to take the story to France. It's only the second time the series has gone out of the country. Fairstein told us most of her email asks, "When is Alex going to get together with Mike Chapman?" Her email about Luc, Alex's current lover, says he's not a keeper. Move him along. She takes readers into his world in Night Watch. There's a murder in the south of France. Usually the mysteries involve exploration of historic places. Alex is usually working on a related case.

While Fairstein was writing this book, a housekeeper in a hotel claimed she was sexually attacked. It pained Linda that she wasn't involved in the case. She tried, but wasn't able to get involved in it. Fairstein said she's been shocked as a prosecutor. You're helping a victim, giving them everything you've got, and still sometimes they lie. The accuser's story begins to change. Fairstein watched that New York case. It had an irresistible pull. People asked Linda what she thought happened. What happens when your victim lies? Linda's friend Jane Stanton Hitchcock told her she had to write about it. There were race and power dynamics. Fairstein created her character, and made him live near Luc's restaurant.

For pacing purposes, Fairstein had to get the story done in a week instead of dragging it out. She put in a twist, and wove the two stories together. Like Kanon, she doesn't outline. She knows early on who did it and why. It's the prosecutor in her. She likes a story to take twists and turns.

The title Night Watch is a police term from the time when a police force worked all day. Then, a private person, one man, was hired to be the Night Watch from midnight to 8. In New York City, that shift is called the Night Watch.  Police on that shift work that case only for those hours, and then turn it over to regular investigators.

Fairstein said she wanted to call her first book Night Watch, but her agent said she and other older people would find it too related to World War II with the night watch and subs. Instead the book was called Final Jeopardy.

Barbara Peters mentioned that Night Watch involves Lutece, a New York restaurant where she never had dinner, and she regrets it. Kanon said he did eat there once. It was a great restaurant in the early '60s. It represented fine dining, very fancy French food. Now, dining in New York is more casual. Too formal might make people feel uncomfortable.

When Dorothy Parker came back from France and went to a restaurant, she was asked, "Would you like a beverage with your main?" She almost wept. Lutece was famous for publisher lunches. They'd go to the French restaurant, and have two or three martini lunches.

Fairstein said she'd let us in on a secret. The first love of her life was the man who created Lutece. Luc in the book is the son of that man, Andre Surmain. Andre was Linda's first love before her husband. He lived for food and fine dining. When he opened Lutece, complaints were that it was outrageously expensive. He charge $8.50 for lunch in the '60s, and had to lower his price. He was the first to use French crystal and dinnerware. Andre is alive and well, and unhappy that the character is named Luc. Linda said she ate well when she dated him.

Why is Luc in New York? He owns a restaurant in France. He wants to open one in New York, and needs backers. When you see a famous chef heading a restaurant, there is a business person behind them. It costs millions of dollars to run a restaurant. It's a dirty business. Many restaurants are owned by business conglomerates. Luc wants to do it the old-fashioned way. And, he wants to have great wines.

Asked about restaurants, Kanon said he lists the top restaurants in Istanbul on Facebook.

The three of them discussed the restaurant 21. It was well-known for its gates during Prohibition. The bars and shelves all collapsed. When the Feds showed up, there was a first gate outside where the guards could see who was there. Then there was a second gate. When the bartender pressed one button, the shelves collapsed. All the bottles broke and ran into the gutter. In the basement, there was a secret door opened using a pinhole. There was a door because the governor or stars couldn't be found in a bar. There was a side door into another building. 21 was raided, but alcohol was never found. Joseph Kanon joked that he was seated across from Trump at 21, and he wanted a door. He looked at his comb over, and thought, "How could you?" It's good if they know you at a restaurant. Linda had the best line in the book. A good restaurant is one where they know you.

Kanon said L.A. and New York restaurants have status. There's a food culture in Manhattan. Michael's is the current writers, publishers place.

People told Kanon he was going to hate book tours? He said, compared to what? Meetings and piles of paper? He said it's an interesting country. He enjoys meeting people, and it's a way to see things. How is it out there? He said once he gets out of NYC, he realizes how important driving and cars are to most of the country. He owns a car, but doesn't drive it much in New York.

Peters asked Linda if she was going to continue to set parts of the Alex Cooper books in Martha's Vineyard. After she said yes, Joseph said product placement really matters. That's Linda's lesson. Writing about 1945 isn't doing him any good.

Asked if he went to Istanbul intending to write a book, Kanon answered that he went as a tourist. He found it so interesting that he went back. He likes walking the city. He does it alone. He wants to know the city as his characters would. Where was their apartment? Would they take the train? He has to have a sense of the city, and knows it.

He said when his book, The Good German, was made into a movie, he had nothing to do with it. George Clooney was in it. But, the scriptwriter didn't get it. He knows no one really wants the author's input. But, the screenwriter didn't go to Berlin. He said he knew he couldn't put Lena on a plane out of Berlin because it would remind people of "Casablanca". But, the screenwriter had her sailing out of Berlin. Kanon asked if they could put her on a train or something. He really thinks the screenwriter has to go to the place. He had her sailing to Amsterdam, and there's only a small river there. That can't do justice to the story.

Asked which book was their favorite, Linda Fairstein answered the new one, fresth out of the box. Of the other thirteen, it would be The Bone Vault, set in The Museum of Natural History. There are fifty million human bones there.

Kanon agreed with Linda that you always like the one you just did. You're always hoping you're getting better. The first one is great because it's the one that started everything. His favorite is The Good German. He did what he wanted to do with that one. He likes parts of books. In Stardust, there's a page and a half when a man hears the the whole of history in a song.

What did Kanon learn as an editor? Listen and take what an editor says under advice, but from the other side, the only name on the book is yours, and you sometimes have to go with your gut instinct. Fairstein agreed. After 9/11, she included a scene about it, and her editor wanted her to take it out, saying it wouldn't be timely by the time it was published. But, Linda loved that scene. She said my readers will want to know what the characters were doing on 9/11. She's had more positive comments about that scene than any other. Kanon mentioned that editors say speed up the action. No editor says slow it down. He said we have a television culture. He said both authors use a lot of dialogue. There are ways to trim the material.

In discussing Turkey, Kanon said Istanbul is becoming the center of the region again. He has a Turk in the book say, "You think of it as a bridge. We see it as the center of the world." Istanbul was the center of the Ottoman Empire. The empire was not just Mideastern, but also Eastern European, and even went up to Russia.

Kanon said his books don't always have the same titles when they're published in other countries. His German publisher was always changing the titles. In Germany, you can't use a title if it's already been used. "The Good German" was a term used in the late '40s. It's not a good title for them. So, the publisher called it In the Ruins of Berlin. Joseph gave in to his publisher. Then, when he did his media tour there, everyone asked him why the name was changed. When Kanon told his publisher, the publisher said, see, they're talking about the book.

Barbara Peters said an author has to give you the feeling the place is real and you want to go there. Kanon agreed, but said if you do get it wrong, you get a slew of emails. Joseph Kanon ended the program by saying he has a theory. The more we accept spin in our public life, the more we expect authenticity in our fiction. Sometimes authors just want to say, "We made it up."

Linda Fairstein's website is www.lindafairstein.com

Joseph Kanon's website is www.josephkanon.com