What an exceptional year for mysteries and thrillers! We've selected our 10 favorites, but we'd love to hear yours. Browse all our Mystery and Suspense coverage here, and share your 2015 favorite in the comments below.
"The premise of Dean Koontz’s mesmerizing new psychological thriller, Ashley Bell, is compelling but not complex: When doctors inform 22-year-old Southern California surfer girl and budding novelist Bibi Blair that inoperable brain cancer will shorten her life to a matter of months, she replies, “We’ll see.”"
Read more of our interview with Koontz.
"I made the erroneous assumption that Vietnam-born Vu Tran’s debut novel, Dragonfish, would be set in an exotic Southeast Asian locale, and I was a tiny bit disappointed to find that the exotic locales would be Oakland, California, and Las Vegas. But I quickly forgot my disappointment after discovering that Tran’s characters are a motley crew equal to anything ever dreamed up by Elmore Leonard or James Crumley."
Read more of our review of Dragonfish.
"In the chilling opening of Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, a sequel to his 2014 bestseller Mr. Mercedes, three words jolt elderly literary lion John Rothstein from a sound sleep, alerting him to the fact that he’s become the victim of a home invasion: “Wake up, genius.”"
Read more of our review of Finders Keepers.
"With The Girl on the Train, British author Paula Hawkins has written one of those books with a plot so delicious, you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Rachel Watson takes a commuter train from her slightly grubby suburb into London every day. It used to be to get to work. After she gets fired for drinking on the job, Rachel still takes the train so her roommate won’t know just how far she has fallen."
"The English-language debut of best-selling Korean author J.M. Lee, The Investigation, is the first-person tale of Watanabe Yuichi, who reluctantly served as a prison guard in Japan during WWII: “The war ended on 15 August 1945. The prisoners were freed, but I’m still here.” Incarcerated by the Allies for low-level war crimes, Watanabe now has time to reflect on his wartime investigation of the murder of a fellow guard."
Read more of our review of The Investigation.
"Italian-born author Elsa Hart lived in China for a time, absorbing knowledge of its history, customs and manners, and in her exceptional debut mystery, Jade Dragon Mountain, she evokes its essence for readers in often dreamlike, mesmerizing prose. Scholar Li Du is in exile, wandering the geographic borders of 18th-century China, far from the imperial capital and his former role of librarian in the Forbidden City."
Read more of our review of Jade Dragon Mountain.
"For nine months The Girl on the Train has been lauded as the best thriller of 2015, but it has some real competition with the arrival of The Killing Lessons, a dark, violent novel from British author Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf) writing under the pseudonym Saul Black. Set in San Francisco and Colorado, it’s a cross-country race to catch two serial killers that channels the atmosphere of Scandinavia’s celebrated TV noirs with female heroes like “The Killing” (Forbrydelsen) and “The Bridge” (Broen)."
Read more of our review of The Killing Lessons.
"A handful of contemporary espionage writers can be counted on to deliver complex and unerringly atmospheric historical suspense novels each time they put pen to paper. Philip Kerr, David Downing and Alan Furst jump to mind, but no such list would be complete without Joseph Kanon, whose Leaving Berlin weaves together a pair of seemingly unconnected but pivotal events of the early post-WWII era: the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949 and the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era."
Read more of our review of Leaving Berlin.
"Woe be unto the free-range American reader who casually picks up any of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries, set in the French-Canadian village of Three Pines, expecting a “Murder, She Wrote”-style cozy. The author erupts at the mere suggestion. “To call them cozies is to completely misread!” she protests by phone from her home in Sutton, a French-speaking village in Québec, east of Montreal."
"Dennis Lehane, author of such best-selling thrillers as Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River, continues his epic portrait of the Coughlin family with the riveting WWII crime novel World Gone By. In 1942, Tampa ganster Joe Coughlin appears to have left his criminal past behind, but the mob isn't through with him yet."
Read our Meet the Author Q&A with Lehane.
Readers, what was your favorite mystery or thriller from 2015?
There are seven ways to kill someone that aren’t detectable by law enforcement. But Clay Stafford, founder of Killer Nashville, won’t share what they are. “No one needs to know,” he says, and he’s probably right. He then points out that perhaps the swirl in his latte could suggest someone had slipped poison into it.
Potential murders aside, Killer Nashville celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend, attracting an estimated 500 attendees from around the world. Since its beginning in 2006, the goal of the four-day writers’ conference hasn’t changed: They want to help writers at whatever stage of their career, providing information about the writing process, connecting them with agents, publishers and reference resources, and so much more. Highlights of the conference include the Claymore Award, which honors an unpublished crime literature manuscript, and forensic seminars by law-enforcement officials.
In honor of Killer Nashville’s 10th year, Stafford has edited and published Cold-Blooded, an anthology of short stories by Killer Nashville alum, including favorites such as Jeffery Deaver and Anne Perry, as well as several first-timers. And the diversity of the conference is reflected in the anthology’s range of genres.
“This is a mystery and thriller conference,” Stafford says. “Either the world is about to explode, or someone’s about to poison someone else.” But elements of mysteries, suspense and thrillers make up any good story, he explains. Thematic limitations don’t represent Killer Nashville; he just wanted great stories. “We’ve got a wide open door here. . . . Probably 90 percent of everything we discuss applies to anyone who’s writing, no matter what their genre’s going to be.”
After the four-day conference comes to an end, Killer Nashville doesn’t stop, as 40 to 60 volunteers work all year long to help aspiring writers connect with each other, with accurate information, with publishers and with new readers. “Out of this year, I know there will be 40, 50 success stories,” Stafford says. “When people walk in this building on Thursday or Friday, they are going to walk out of here with dreams attached, and that is why I do it every single year.”
Last year, Killer Nashville donated $80,000 worth of books “to needy libraries, school systems, battered women’s facilities, places where these books can be utilized” and contributed to building a library in Malawi, Africa. As Stafford writes in the introduction to Cold-Blooded, “Writers and readers both champion against injustice, they right wrongs, they say eloquently the things that others dare not say, they change the world; collectively in my romantic mind, they are the true Round Table.”
South African author Sally Andrew makes her fiction debut with the first in a new crime series. It's a winning combination, an enjoyable mix of unforgettable characters and all the charm of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, but it also tackles very serious issues such as South African politics and the worldwide problem of abused women.
Middle-aged widow Tannie Maria loves to cook, and she loves writing her advice-and-recipe column for the Gazette. But her own painful past comes rushing to the surface when she receives a letter from an abused woman—and then the same woman turns up murdered.
I ran my fingers over the writing on the envelope. I could learn a lot about someone before I even opened their letter. The writer used capital letters and pushed too hard with the pen, as if their message was very important. The address was written in the Afrikaans way, with the number after the street name, Elandstraat, 7. The words of the letter were pressed onto a lined page with a black ballpoint pen:
TANNIE MARIA. I'M SCARED MY FRIEND'S HUSBAND IS GOING TO KILL HER. HE BROKE HER ARM. HE THINKS SHE'S LEAVING HIM AND HE SAID HE'LL KILL HER. SHE DOESN'T WANT TO CALL THE POLICE. SHE SAYS I MUSN'T GO TO HER HOUSE. IF I KILL HIM IN SELF-DEFENSE OF HER, FOR HOW LONG WILL I GO TO JAIL?
I put my head in my hands.
"Hey, Tannie, what's up?" asked Jessie.
I gave her the letter. She read it in three seconds.
"Gosh, you look peaked, Maria," said Hattie. "Can I make you a spot of tea?" I nodded. "What's the letter say?"
"It's another bastard dondering his wife," Jessie said, handing the letter to Hattie. "Threatened to kill her. Jislaaik. I wish there was a giant insecticide for these guys. DDT that we could spray from an airplane."
What are you reading today?
October is National Bullying Prevention Month! Eighteen-year-old Aija Mayrock has written the ultimate guide for any kid struggling with bullies, The Survival Guide to Bullying, based on her own difficult experiences. In a guest blog post, Mayrock shares how she went from victim to anti-bullying spokesperson.
The first time I was told I was worthless, I was 8 years old. I felt like I had my purpose taken from me. I was bullied every day at school. When I got home, it didn’t end, because I was cyberbullied as well.
I thought perhaps I could create my purpose again through words. I created fantastical worlds to escape into. I wrote in class, out of class, at home and everywhere I went. But soon I stopped writing. My classmates told me that I wasn’t good enough to write. And I guess because I was 8 years old, I believed them.
So I ventured to the school library every chance I got. I read as many books as I possibly could. And that’s where my dream of writing a book began to blossom. From my early teenage years, I wanted to help other kids survive bullying. But I didn’t know how.
I always read how-to guides on making friends or having confidence. But none of them ever really addressed the issues I was going through. I was terrified of going to school every morning, in fear that I would be torn to shreds by my classmates. I began to hate everything about myself. I lived an online life where I was cyberbullied terribly, yet I didn’t know how to protect myself.
I knew there was a way to shine a flashlight into the unknown for the rest of the kids being bullied. So I started re-reading my diaries that I had kept since the age of 8. I decided to build a book from 8-year-old Aija’s fears and foes.
Eventually my streams of consciousness turned into a guide that could help any kid navigate their way through going to school, having confidence, cyberbullying, finding their creativity and living a happy, healthy life.
It was the guide that I always needed, but never had.
I self-published it a year ago on October 1, 2014. I spoke at local schools and tried to get it into as many kids' hands as possible. My dreams came true when Scholastic published it this summer.
I wake up to hundreds of messages from kids around the world who have heard my story or read my book. I now realize why the bullying happened.
It took me so many years to be able to stand up after being knocked down so many times. It took me even longer to be able to pick up a pen and paper and know that I was worthy enough to write.
I found my purpose in a book I created to help others being bullied find THEIR purpose. It always takes a dark night to be able to see the stars.
The Southern Festival of Books is our favorite time of year! So many phenomenal authors are flocking to Nashville this weekend, but of course we've got our favorites. Check out a list of the events we're most looking forward to this weekend, and come say hi at Booth #28!
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9
David Gregory, author of How's Your Faith?
12:00-1:00 pm | Auditorium, Nashville Public Library
Ed Tarkington, author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart (2016)
Tim Johnston, author of Descent
M.O. Walsh, author of My Sunshine Away
Heartbreaking Reckonings: Literary Suspense Novels
12:00-1:30 pm | Commons Room, Nashville Public Library
Michael Sims, author of The Adventures of Henry Thoreau
12:00-1:00 pm | Conf. Room 1A-B, Nashville Public Library
Nicola Yoon, author of Everything Everything
1:00-2:00 pm | Banner Room, Nashville Public Library
Jason Mott, author of The Wonder of All Things
Pamela Schoenewaldt, author of Under the Same Blue Sky
Miraculous and Tragic Powers: Novels on Loss, Love, and Supernatural Healing
2:00-3:00 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Christopher Scotton, author of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
3:00-4:00 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
David Levithan, author of Another Day
3:00-4:00 pm | Auditorium, Nashville Public Library
Phyllis Gobbell, author of Pursuit in Provenance
Elise Blackwell, author of The Lower Quarter
Linda Thorne, author of Just Another Termination
Who Can You Trust: Three Mysteries
3:00-4:30 pm | Room 29, Legislative Plaza
Music City Romance Writers present "Love Between the Covers" Film Screening
3:00-5:00 pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10
Lauren Acampora, author of The Wonder Garden
Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
Ron Rash, author of Above the Waterfall
Hester Young, author of The Gates of Evangeline
Women's National Book Association presents Coffee with Authors
9:30-11:00 am | Auditorium, Nashville Public Library
Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini
Catherine Seltzer, author of Understanding Pat Conroy
A Conversation with Pat Conroy
10:00-11:00 am | Conf. Room 1A-B, Nashville Public Library
Matthew Guinn, author of The Scribe
Kent Wascom, author of Secessia
Of Greed and Grit: Novels amid Rebellion and Reconstruction
10:30-11:30 am | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Holly Goldberg Sloan and Gary Rosen, author and illustrator of Appleblossom the Possum
11:00-noon | Room 30, Legislative Plaza
Greg Iles, author of The Bone Tree
12:00-1:00 pm | War Memorial Auditorium
Rick Bragg, author of My Southern Journey
12:00-1:00 pm | Conf. Room 1A-B, Nashville Public Library
Ann Hite, author of Where the Souls Go
Leah Stewart, author of The New Neighbor
Mining the Mountain's Secrets: Two Novels
12:00-1:00 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Scott Dannemiller, author of The Year Without Purchase
David James, co-author of Going Gypsy
Veronica James, co-author of Going Gypsy
Alex Sheshunoff, author of A Beginner's Guide to Paradise
Ditching the Daily: Chronicles of Simple Living, Finding Joy, and Letting Go
12:00-1:30 pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Stephan Pastis, author of Timmy Failure: Sanitized For Your Protection
12:30-1:30 pm | Auditorium, Nashville Public Library
James Riley, author of Story Thieves
Nicholas Gannon, author of The Doldrums
Robert Beatty, author of Serafina and the Black Cloak
Choose Your Own Adventure: Imaginative Stories for Young Readers
1:00-2:30 pm | Room 30, Legislative Plaza
Gail Nall, author of Exit Stage Left
Cynthia Lord, author of A Handful of Stars
Anne Bustard, author of Anywhere but Paradise
Change for the Better: The Struggle of Adapting in Middle Grade Fiction
1:00-2:30 pm | Commons Room, Nashville Public Library
Tom Piazza, author of A Free State
1:00-2:00 pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
George Hodgman, author of Bettyville
Harrison Scott Key, author of The World's Largest Man
Honor Thy Mother and Father: Memoirs on the Complex Relationships between Parents and Children
2:30-3:30 pm | Commons Room, Nashville Public Library
Ron Rash, author of Above the Waterfall
2:30-3:30 pm | Auditorium, Nashville Public Library
Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord
2:30-3:30 pm | War Memorial Auditorium
Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
3:00-4:00 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Alan P. Lightman, author of Screening Room
3:00-4:00 pm | Conf. Room 1A-B, Nashville Public Library
David Maraniss, author of Once in a Great City
3:00-4:00 pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover
3:30-4:30 pm | War Memorial Auditorium
Lauren Acampora, author of The Wonder Garden
Holly LeCraw, author of The Half-Brother
Behind Ivied Walls and Well-Kept Houses: Stories of Disquiet in the Northeast
3:30-4:30 pm I Commons Room, Nashville Public Library
Martha Brockenbrough, author of The Game of Love and Death
Erin Bow, author of The Scorpion Rules
Sharon Cameron, author of Rook
Breaking the Rules in Love's Contest: Intrigue and Romance in YA Lit
3:30-5:00 pm | Room 29, Legislative Plaza
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11
Paul Theroux, author of Deep South
12:00-1:00 pm | Conf. Room 1A-B, Nashville Public Library
Jason Miller, author of Down Don't Bother Me
Tom Cooper, author of The Marauders
Oil and Coal Can't Tar Our Souls: Comic Crime Noir
12:00-1:00 pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Julie Cantrell, author of The Feathered Bone
Nancy Reisman, author of Trompe l'Oeil
The Invisible Scars of Family Tragedies: Two Novels
12:00-1:00 pm | Conf. Room 2, Nashville Public Library
Kenneth Oppel, author of The Nest
1:00-2:00 pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Kristy Woodson Harvey, author of Dear Carolina
Amanda Eyre Ward, author of The Same Sky
What Matters Most: Novels of Finding Family
1:30-2:30 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Nickole Brown, author of Fanny Says
Caki Wilkinson, author of The Wynona Stone Poems
We speak for ourselves: The Southern Female Voice in Poetry
1:30-2:30 pm | Conf Room 3, Nashville Public Library
James Scott, author of The Kept
2:00-3:00 pm | Commons Room, Nashville Public Library
Steve Stern, author of The Pinch
Lorraine Lopez, author of The Darling
Shelly King, author of The Moment of Everything
A Crack in the Spine: Novels on the Power of Literature
2:00-3:30 pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Matthew Diffee, author of Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People
Mary Laura Philpott, author of Penguins with People Problems
Drawing Laughs: New Yorker Cartoons and Random Penguins
2:30-3:30 pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Lisa Sandlin's debut mystery opens in 1973, 14 years after Delpha Wade was convicted of killing one of two men who were raping her. Delpha's just been released on parole, and she takes the first job she can get, as secretary for Tom Phelan’s brand new detective agency. Their first case is all classic noir, with a missing boy, the stakeout of a cheating husband and a mysteriously poisoned dog.
I can't think of a better book to recommend to fans of J.K. Rowling's Robert Galbraith mystery series (The Cuckoo's Calling), as Delpha and Phelan are the toughest, most unforgettable detective team since Robin and Cormoran Strike. Sandlin's prose is as well crafted as it is readable, and there's something about The Do-Right that feels like a classic mystery that has been brilliantly contemporized.
"Have to be honest with you, Miss Wade. Think I already found a secretary."
No disappointment in those blue eyes, no hope either. She just passed a certificate with a gold seal across the desk. The paper said she typed seventy words a minute, spoke shorthand, could do double entry. The brunette with the Dusty Springfield voice claimed all that too, but she'd backed it up with a giggle, not a diploma from Gatesville.
"Your first choice of a job a P.I.'s office?"
"My first choice is a job."
Touché. "What number interview would this be for you?"
"I'm flattered. Get off the bus, you come here."
The blue eyes let in a smidgen of light. "That doesn't count the eleven place I applied 'fore they showed me the door. And one other that didn't have what you could call an interview."
No wonder Joe was pushing her. "Had your druthers, where'd you work, Miss Wade?"
"Library. I like libraries. It's what I did there."
There being Gatesville Women's Prison. Now that she'd brought it up. "How many you do?"
Phelan quelled the whistle welling up. That let out check kiting, forgery, embezzling from the till, and dope. He was aabout to ask her the delicate when she handed it to him on a foil tray. "Voluntary manslaughter."
"And you did fourteen?"
"He was very dead, Mr. Phelan."
What are you reading today?
Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
After Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most hyped book of 2015 was the new Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web. Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy with this authorized sequel, and according to the publisher, 100,000 copies sold on day one, and it has already gone back for a second and third printing. As with Go Set a Watchman, Spider's Web comes with a bit of controversy, as many readers insist Larsson's trilogy shouldn't be continued in his absence. Lagercrantz has compared his depiction of Salander to Christopher Nolan's Batman, and thus readers should consider Lagercrantz's Salander a reimagining of Larsson's character. Her motivations should remain true to the original, but the vision belongs to someone new.
Having accepted this, I still found that Lagercrantz's Salander paled in comparison to the original. Perhaps she's too iconic. That being said, the novel itself is thrilling, textured and brilliantly constructed. It's tight and smart as it explores questions of artificial intelligence, with the slow build to Salander and Blomkvist's reunion easily one of the book's greatest highlights.
From the prologue, set one year before the novel's events:
This story begins with a dream, and not a particularly spectacular one at that. Just a hand beating rhythmically and relentlessly on a mattress in a room on Lundagatan.
Yet it still gets Lisbeth Salander out of her bed in the early light of dawn. Then she sits at her computer and starts the hunt.
Readers, what do you think? Will you read Lagercrantz's continuation of the Millennium series?
English professor and YA author Joseph Monninger (Finding Somewhere) dedicated his new book, Whippoorwill, to his late dog, Laika: "Last of the sled dogs. No truer heart ever lived." Whippoorwill drives straight to the heart of dog- and animal-lovers everwhere, with the story of a 16-year-old girl who takes it upon herself to save a dog named Wally.
In a guest post, Monninger shares another story—a myth that captures the "essence of dog."
Here is a myth about a dog. Whippoorwill is about a dog, and this myth gets to the essence of dog. I could tell you about writing Whippoorwill, where I got the idea and so on, but wouldn’t we all prefer a story? I think so.
The Ponte della Maddalena, a bridge in Italy’s Tuscany province, is also known as the Devil’s Bridge. It is a beautiful bridge, and legend holds that the builder, seeing its potential beauty but unable to complete it, invoked the devil to help him. The devil consulted with the builder and promised to help finish the work, but the price would be the first soul to pass over the bridge. The builder consented and the work went along rapidly. The builder, tremendously pleased with himself and with his expanding reputation as a designer and architect, had forgotten about the devil’s bargain until the day before the bridge opened.
“I have come for my soul,” the devil told the builder. “Tomorrow, when the bridge opens, I will take the first soul that crosses.”
The builder, so filled with dread he could not sleep, came to his morning coffee not knowing what to do. He asked God for a sign, though he did not believe God would interfere with the devil’s work. He spoke softly to his wife. He had not told her what Satan required, but he could not be certain he would see her again. He kissed his boy on the forehead, ruffled the youngster’s hair and walked slowly toward the bridge.
He made one stop to buy bread. As he tucked the bread inside his shirt, a dog began to follow him. Many dogs roamed the street in Lucca, and at first the builder took little notice. But then, as he neared the bridge, an idea came to him.
“I am ready to pay my debt,” he announced to the devil.
“Very well,” said the devil, “give me my soul.”
With that, the builder drew the bread and waved it in front of the dog. When the dog could hardly contain itself, the builder threw the loaf across the bridge. The dog sprinted after the bread and the devil, bested by a mere builder who had remembered at the last moment that a human soul had never been stipulated, accepted the dog’s soul and disappeared. The dog, too, vanished, but the bridge remained and may be crossed today without fear and with much admiration for its lovely shape. The dog’s name was not known and therefore could not be forgotten.
If you know a dog, if you’ve ever been in the presence of a fine, true dog, then you know how gladly a dog would give itself to protect its human guardian. I wrote this novel with all the dogs I have ever loved in mind. If someday I should die and go to heaven, and if my dogs are not there to greet me, I’ll ask to go where they are, because dogs—for me, anyway—are the measure of my happiness.
National Suicide Prevention Week is September 6 - 12. Suicide and depression aren't the easiest subjects to talk about, but they're often addressed unflinchingly and thoughtfully in young adult fiction. Ann Jacobus' upcoming debut YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, is a haunting and surprising story about a girl in Paris who falls for two boys while struggling with intensely dark inner demons. Along with writing, Jacobus also volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. Here she writes about the necessity of speaking honestly and openly about suicide.
It’s National Suicide Prevention Week.
Kindly repeat after me: “Are you feeling suicidal?”
Most people don’t want to ask a depressed friend or family member this question. Even or especially if the person is exhibiting any telltale signs. We’re frightened into silence on the whole subject. We’re also afraid that we might plant the idea in someone’s head.
Believe me, if the idea is not in a person’s head, you won’t be able to put it there unless you’re an incredibly skilled hypnotist.
If the idea of suicide is there, your friend will likely be deeply relieved to acknowledge the truth to you.
At San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a crisis line where I volunteer, we ask this question hundreds of times a day. It gets easy to ask. Many people who call in answer “no.” They just feel depressed and overwhelmed and need someone to listen.
In a nationwide Centers for Disease Control study of tens of thousands of high school students in 2011, almost 30 percent had felt hopeless and depressed for more than two weeks running, just in the previous year. Seventeen percent had seriously considered attempting suicide and 8 percent had attempted. It’s the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. That’s a lot of people. You’re likely to know one. They not only have the idea of suicide in their heads but are dealing with the kind of pain and despair that makes dying seem like a viable option, instead of a devastating permanent fix to temporary problems.
The subject of suicide has been a taboo too long (in the West anyway). This diehard stigma has cost us untold numbers of lives and it intensifies the suffering of surviving family.
We can’t address this problem if we can’t talk about it.
Once upon a time, I was one of those high school students seriously considering suicide. I could admit it to no one, and didn’t for many years. I’m grateful and lucky to have gotten through that period alive.
One way to tackle this subject is with stories. Happily, in the last 15 years, more and more books have been written for young people that deal frankly and accurately with suicide and its heartbreaking aftermath. I only had Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, but it did a fine job of reassuring me that I wasn’t alone.
My new YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (out from St. Martin’s Press October 6), features an 18-year-old protagonist who is suicidal. It’s fiction—a thriller—but based on hard facts. Stories are how we readers and writers make sense of the world.
I now understand that talking about suicide is up to me, my colleagues at SFSP, those who have survived thinking about or attempting to take their own lives, and all of us worried about depressed and possibly suicidal friends or loved ones.
Let’s talk about it, this week and every week.
Ann Jacobus writes children’s and YA fiction, blogs and tweets about it, teaches writing and volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Francisco with her family. Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is her first novel. To learn more, visit: www.annjacobus.com/