There's plenty of talk of summer reading lists as the days grow warmer and longer, but this time, I'm suggesting you add a whole series to your stack. Start with David Downing's Zoo Station and make your way through the adventures of Anglo-American journalist/author/spy John Russell, then grab Downing's newest, Lehrter Station.
This series is best enjoyed from the beginning, and historical suspense fans will agree with Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, who insists "Downing’s deft weaving of fiction and real-life WWII history is second to none."
We chatted with Downing about the fifth installment in the story of John Russell, and I loved his answer to this question: "If you could travel back in time to any decade, where would you go and what would you do while you were there?" Read his answer.
Will Lehrter Station make your summer reading list?
Psychological thriller Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham is our March Mystery of the Month! Whodunit columinst Bruce Tierney says it combines "the insights of a trained psychologist; the savvy street smarts and irreverent observations of a retired cop; and intricate plotting from a first-rate author."
BookPage chatted with Robotham in a 7 Questions interview, where he shares insight on writing, his experiences with Jackie Collins and what he's working on next.
Read on for an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Bleed for Me, when psychologist Joe O’Loughlin questions a boy whose mental health is being reviewed (Dr Naparstek is the boy's psychiatrist):
If I could tell you one thing about Liam Baker’s life it would be this: when he was eighteen years old he beat a girl half to death and left her paralysed from the waist down because she tipped a bucket of popcorn over his head. As defining events go, nothing else comes close for Liam, not the death of his mother or his faith in God or the three-years he has spent in a secure psychiatric hospital – all of which can be attributed, in one way or another, to that moment of madness in a cinema queue.
‘It’s been a while since I saw you last, Liam. Remind me again why
‘I did a bad thing, but I’m better now.’
There it is: an admission and an excuse in the same breath.
‘So why are you here?’
‘You sent me here.’
‘I must have had a reason.’
‘I had a per...per...personality disorder.’
‘What do you think that means?’
‘I hurt someone, but it weren’t my fault. I couldn’t help it.’ He leans forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on the floor.
‘You beat a girl up. You punched and kicked her. You crushed her spine. You broke her jaw. You fractured her skull. Her name was Zoe Hegarty. She was sixteen.’
Each fact resonates as though I’m clashing cymbals next to his ear, but nothing changes in his eyes.
‘What are you sorry for?’
‘For what I d-d-did.’
‘And now you’ve changed?'
‘What have you done to change?’
He looks perplexed.
‘Hostility like that has to come from somewhere, Liam. What have you
done to change?’
He begins talking about the therapy sessions and workshops that he’s done, the anger management courses and social skills training. Occasionally, he looks over his shoulder towards Dr Naparstek, but I ask him to concentrate on me.
‘Tell me about Zoe?’
‘What about her?’
‘What was she like?’
He shakes his head. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Did you fancy her?’
Liam flinches. ‘It w-w-weren’t like that.’
‘You followed her home from the cinema. You dragged her off the street. You kicked her unconscious.’
‘I didn’t rape her.’
‘I didn’t say anything about raping her. Is that what you intended to do?’
Liam shakes his head, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. His eyes are focused on the far wall, as if watching some invisible drama being played out on a screen that nobody else can see.
‘You once told me that Zoe wore a mask. You said a lot of people wore masks and weren’t genuine. Do I wear a mask?’
What about Dr Naparstek?’
The mention of her name makes his skin flush.
‘How old are you now, Liam?’
Tell me about your dreams.’
He blinks at me.
‘What do you dream about?’
'Getting out of here. Starting a n-n-new life.’
‘Do you masturbate?’
‘I don’t believe that’s true, Liam.’
He shakes his head.
‘You shouldn’t talk about stuff like that.’
‘It’s very natural for a young man. When you masturbate who do you
‘There aren’t many girls around here. Most of the staff are men.’
‘G-g-girls in magazines.’
‘Dr Naparstek is a woman. How often do you get to see Dr Naparstek? Twice a week? Three times? Do you look forward to your sessions?’
‘She’s been good to me.’
‘How has she been good to you?’
‘She doesn’t judge me.’
‘Oh, come on, Liam, of course she judges you. That’s why she’s here. Do you ever have sexual fantasies about her?’
He bristles. Edgy. Uncomfortable.
‘You shouldn’t say things like that.’
‘She’s a very attractive woman, Liam. I’m just admiring her.’
I look over his shoulder. Dr Naparstek doesn’t seem to appreciate the compliment. Her lips are pinched tightly and she’s toying with a pendant around her neck.
‘What do you prefer, Liam, winter or summer?’
‘Day or night?’
‘Apples or oranges?’
‘Coffee or tea?’
‘Women or men?’
‘In skirts or trousers?’
‘Long or short?’
‘Stockings or tights?’
‘What colour lipstick?’
‘What colour eyes does she have?’
‘What is she wearing today?’
‘What colour is her bra?’
‘I didn’t mention a name, Liam. Who are you talking about?’
He stiffens, embarrassed, his face a beacon. I notice his left knee
bouncing up and down in a reflex action.
‘Do you think Dr Naparstek is married?’ I ask.
‘I d-d-don’t know.’
‘Does she wear a wedding ring?’
‘Maybe she has a boyfriend at home. Do you think about what she does when she leaves this place? Whether there is someone waiting for her? What does her house look like? What does she wear when she’s at home? Does she sleep naked?’
Flecks of white spin are gathered in the corners of Liam’s mouth.
Dr Naparstek wants to stop the questioning, but the Judge tells her to sit down.
Liam tries to turn but I lean forward and put my hands on his shoulders, my mouth close to his ear. I can smell the sweat wetting the roots of his hair and see a fleck of shaving foam beneath his ear.
In a whisper, ‘You think about her all the time, don’t you, Liam? The smell of her skin, her shampoo, the delicate shell of her ear, the shadow in the hollow between her breasts . . .every time you see her, you collect more details so that you can fantasise about what you want to do to her.’
Liam’s skin has flushed and his breathing has gone ragged.
‘You fantasise about following her home – just like you followed Zoe Hegarty. Dragging her off the street. Making her beg you to stop.’
The Judge suddenly interrupts. ‘We can’t hear your questions, Professor. Please speak up.’
The spell is broken. Liam remembers to breathe.
‘My apologies,’ I say, glancing at the review panel. ‘I was just telling Liam that I might ask Dr Naparstek out to dinner.’
Will you pick up Bleed for Me? It's out now!
Our February Mystery of the Month, Defending Jacob by William Landay, taps into a parent's worst nightmare. No -- worse.
Assistant D.A. Andy Barber's son seems the most likely suspect for a neighbor's brutal murder. Andy finds himself desperately defending his son, holding his family together and keeping at bay that tiny nagging doubt. Writes Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, "Defending Jacob is one of the most disturbing books of the year, and soon to be one of the most talked-about."
Check out an excerpt from Chapter 1, when Andy is being questioned by the prosecuting attorney:
In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with a teardrop-shaped desk for a chair-arm. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor’s power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a “no bill” and the case is over before it begins. In practice, “no bill”s are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already — over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he’d been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.
I knew it, too.
Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I’d taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it’s been played the last 500-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination — lure, trap, f*ck.
Does it sound like your type of thriller?
With dozens of bestsellers under his belt, it wouldn't be surprising if author Dean Koontz took some time off to rest on his laurels. But the indomitable author, who believes that writing talent must be used, instead continues to craft an alarming number of bestsellers, fiction and nonfiction alike (his stories about his dog, Trixie, have been optioned for a family comedy).
His latest story, What the Night Knows, published today, is billed as "a ghost story like no other." We asked Koontz a few questions about writing and got some surprising answers. Click over to the Q&A to find out which literary character he'd like to spend time on a desert island with, why he never talks about a work-in-progress, and more.
Any Koontz fans out there excited about this new book?
After editing five crime anthologies, Rosemary Herbert joins the mystery-writing ranks with her first novel, Front Page Teaser (Down East Books).
Describe your book in one sentence.
Set in Boston, and following the adventures of a gutsy, underdog, tabloid newspaper reporter on the trail of a missing mom, Front Page Teaser: A Liz Higgins Mystery is not just a fast-paced puzzler, but a love song to the news reporting life.
What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
“Think tabloid.” My first editor at the Boston Herald told me this with a wink, because she did not mean to suggest that I write as if I were reporting for the National Enquirer. What she did mean was to cut to the chase, keep the pace lively, write with attitude and verve, and especially to get to the heart of the matter. When I was young, my creative writing teacher, Mr. Alfred Haulenbeek, told me to believe in myself and to “grow in the appreciation of fine language.” Put these pieces of advice together and you have a winning combination.
How would you earn a living if you weren't a writer?
As a librarian. I have worked as a reference librarian at Harvard University and as a children’s librarian in Maine. In fact, subplot in Front Page Teaser is drawn from my library experience. When my reporter-sleuth Liz Higgins asks librarians to reveal the reading habits of a missing woman, the librarians stand as bastions protecting the privacy of library patron circulation records. I added this to my book as a tribute to librarians and librarianship.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Being nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing. I served as editor-in-chief for this volume.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one fictional character, who would you want it to be?
Nancy Drew. I’m sure she would get us out of the desert island “scrape” with pluck and aplomb. Meanwhile, we could trade some clever sleuthing clues.
What are you reading now?
Tony Hillerman’s Landscapes (Harper) by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, with photographs by Don Strel. Because Tony Hillerman is not here to celebrate the recent paperback publication of our book A New Omnibus of Crime (Oxford University Press), I have been missing him. Anne’s book makes me feel closer to Tony and his work.