Peter James is the best-selling author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, including Dead Like You and Dead Man's Grip. In the ninth book in the series, Dead Man's Time, the tenacious Brighton cop faces his toughest adversary yet.
In 1922 New York, a young boy named Gavin and his sister board a ship to Dublin. Their mother has been shot and their Irish mobster father abducted. A messenger hands Gavin a watch and a piece of paper bearing a cryptic message. In 2012 Brighton, Roy Grace investigates a burglary, in which an old woman is murdered and a fortune is stolen, including a vintage watch. Grace's investigation into the stolen watch reveals an ancient hatred and a murderous trail spanning the globe.
In a guest post, James recalls the two incidents that inspired Dead Man's Time, plus some insight into Brighton crime:
In July 2011 I was having dinner in New York with a detective friend in the NYPD, Pat Lanigan. Had he ever told me, he asked, that his great-uncle was Dinny Meehan, the feared and ruthless head of the White Hand Gang—the Irish Mafia that controlled the New York and Brooklyn waterfronts, and much else—from the 1850s until the mid-1920s? It was one of the White Hand Gang’s methods of disposing of enemies in the Hudson that led to the expression, "Taking a long walk down a short pier."
Dinny Meehan was responsible for kicking Al Capone and other lieutenants of the Italian Mafia, the Black Hand Gang, out of New York—which is why Capone fetched up in Chicago.
In 1920 five men broke into Meehan’s home in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and in front of his 4-year-old son, shot Dinny Meehan and his wife. The wife survived, and the boy went on to become a famous basketball player. The culprits were never identified. There was speculation whether it was a revenge attack organized by Capone or a power struggle within the White Hand Gang from Meehan’s deputy, “Wild Bill” Lovett. Meehan’s widow had no doubts, confronting Lovett in a crowded bar, and he was eventually murdered, too.
Pat Lanigan told me he’d had many approaches over the years for the archive material, which he possessed, but the family did not want this personal information released. However, because of our friendship, he volunteered to let me see, in case it might make a good story for me.
I was riveted by what I had read, and it sparked an idea which grew into Dead Man’s Time, where instead of becoming a basketball player, the boy ends up in Brighton as a hugely successful antiques dealer, and we pick up nine decades later, when he is an old man with memories and a still-unsolved family mystery.
In addition to my New York detective’s story, a major part of the inspiration for this book came from an attempted break-in at my Sussex country home two years ago during the night. Fortunately our three dogs did the trick and sent them running off the premises. The police were of the opinion they may have been targeting our cars—I have a bit of a reputation as a petrol head (!)—but it made me curious about what kind of person today’s house burglar is. Thanks to the Governor of our local Category B Prison, Lewes, I was able to get some insights.
One character in particular who I met was 38 years old, a career high-end car thief. He had started as a kid, for kicks, taking cars on joyrides, then got recruited by an Indian gang operating in London that tasered people in expensive cars, then pulling them out and dumping them by the road side. My character told me that with modern car security systems, it had become extremely difficult to simply steal a car by the old methods of hot-wiring. A recent Audi model could take four hours to start, he told me, so it is much easier to break into a house and simply steal the keys. And of course, while you are inside the house, then you might as well steal some valuables there, too.
On the topic of crime in London, people often ask why I choose to set my novels in a hip seaside resort, rather than a real hotbed of crime. Brighton—the city I grew up in and love passionately, and where I know virtually every street and alley—has long endured the sobriquet of "Crime Capital of the U.K." A journalist friend of mine recounted how, in a pub in Brighton a few years ago, he asked a fellow drinker at the bar if Brighton had a drugs problem. The man thought for a moment, then shook his head and said, “Nah, you can get anything you want here.”
Thanks, Peter! Dead Man's Time is out now, and his previous novel,
Not Dead Yet, is out in paperback!
Anne Hillerman's debut novel, Spider Woman's Daughter, revives her father Tony Hillerman's best-selling Navajo mystery series, featuring police inspector Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee. Except this time, the tough and whip-smart Officer Bernie Manuelito is on the case. With Spider Woman's Daughter, our Top Pick in Mystery for October 2013, Hillerman proves that she has a superb talent and voice all her own.
We chatted with Hillerman about her book, writing advice and the best food in New Mexico in a 7 questions interview.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter of this captivating novel below:
The town of Window Rock, the capital city of the Navajo Nation, gets its American name from the red sandstone arch, a low eye in the sky, a graceful portal from heaven to earth. Formed by wind and rain, it's known as Tségháhoodzání in Navajo. Beneath the arch, a natural spring bubbles up, a source of healing water and a tangible blessing in desert country. The spring gives the site its other Navajo name, Ni’ ‘Alníi’gi.
Bernie couldn’t see the arch from the parking lot of the Navajo Inn. Instead she looked at the white pickups and SUVs of the Navajo Police Department, more officers than she’d ever seen at a crime scene. But there had never been a shooting of one of the Navajo Nation’s best-known policemen in broad daylight outside a busy restaurant, with a table full of other cops just a heartbeat away.
The assemblage of officers and chorus of sirens alerted the peaceful people of this largely Navajo town of about 30,000 to the fact that something serious had happened. Restaurant patrons left bacon and eggs in the dining room to watch the commotion; travelers heading west from Gallup, New Mexico, or east from Ganado, Arizona, slowed down to gawk. No doubt they talked about it as they drove—probably good for at least ten miles’ worth of conversation.
Don't you just love a great historical mystery? There's nothing like getting sucked into the terrible secrets hiding in the gaslit streets of Dickensian London, the adventure on the deck of the Lusitania or the deadly truths lurking in the catacombs of 1920s Paris.
For readers who just can't get enough, here are our five favorite historical mysteries of the fall:
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Retired foreign service officer David P. Wagner worked in Italy for nine years. With his debut mystery, Cold Tuscan Stone, Wagner transformed his passion for "all things Italian" into an intriguing art thriller starring translator Rick Montoya. It's the perfect mystery for crime fiction fans who want to do a little armchair traveling. In a guest post, Wagner gives us a little Italian history lesson—a small preview of the interesting tidbits found throughout Cold Tuscan Stone.
My first book was not a mystery, not even fiction.
The Italians have an expression for what makes a small town appealing: a misura d’uomo, "on a human scale." Downtown Rome, the Rome of the seven hills and the Tiber running through it, is definitely "human scale." In the years I worked there, feet were my preferred mode of transportation, so I got to know the maze of streets as well as any city. Their names usually change at every block, so what we might consider the same street can have multiple names. While this may make it confusing for tourists, it provides a fascinating window into what the Romans consider important in their culture and history, since streets are named for famous people, monuments, events and the like.
So, I thought, how about a book about the origins of street names in Rome? Each one is a story, and usually a fascinating one. For example:
It’s been a few centuries since the crossbow makers had their shops on the Via dei Balestrari, but thankfully they kept the name. It is one of the names tied to specific trades that often concentrated on the same street, making shopping easier. You want a trunk, or a vest, or some hay, you know just where to go.
Via del Gambero gets its name from a restaurant that operated on the street, which must have been really good since it closed around 1600. It’s one of various streets with names of businesses or institutions long gone but not forgotten.
Via Salaria starts at a city gate and heads north to the where salt (sale) was found. Salt was a type of currency in ancient Rome, giving us the word salary and the phrase “worth his salt.”
There are numerous streets named for saints, as you might imagine. One is Via Santa Maria dé Calderari. It was a custom that a guild or association of tradesmen would built a church for their members, and there was one on this street dedicated to Mary and financed by artisans who made pots, pans and cauldrons, the calderari.
Many names come from prominent Roman families, like Piazza Rondanini. The name is better known for its connection with Michelangelo, whose unfinished Rondanini Pietá was found in the family palazzo on this street. The heirs sold the sculpture to the museum in Milan where it is can be seen today.
The name of Via del Pozzo delle Cornachie is traced to a well (pozzo) in the courtyard of a palazzo that once stood on this street. Carved on the well were two crows (cornachie), part of the coat of arms of the man who built the house, the English Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey is probably best known for his unsuccessful attempt to convince Pope Clement VII to grant an annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
Via Padre Pancrazio Pfeifer honors a close adviser to Pope Pius XII. Because of the priest's German nationality, the pope used him as an intermediary between the Vatican and German commanders during the city's occupation from the summer of 1943 to its liberation on June 4, 1944. Pfeifer was instrumental in blocking the deportation of many Roman Jews to death camps, and convinced the Germans to distribute food to the city during a winter in which starvation was common.
In the past, Largo del Pallaro was known for an activity which was made illegal in 1780, essentially a numbers racket. A pallaro was a man who collected bets for the drawing of five numbers from among 90. His profession—if you can call it that—could be loosely translated as bookmaker. A street named for bookies? Why not?
I could go on and on—there are enough to fill a book—but that gives you an idea. Alas, I never sold that book, but it led to trying my hand at a mystery whose plot was connected to a riddle about Roman street names. That didn’t sell either, but it got me started in the genre which eventually, and finally, brought success with Cold Tuscan Stone. It takes place in the town of Volterra, which also has some interesting street names, some of which are mentioned in the book.
Thanks, David! David P. Wagner’s debut mystery novel, Cold Tuscan Stone, features stolen Etruscan artifacts, intrigue and murder. It is published by Poisoned Pen Press.
Pierre Lemaitre’s American debut novel, Alex, is a dark and arresting crime thriller with a classic noir edge. The story sets off with a jolt when Alex Prévost is abducted near her apartment in Paris. She is then transported to a deserted, rat-infested warehouse and inhumanely trapped inside a wooden crate that hangs six feet above the floor. A quick-thinking, yet haunted police investigator, Camille Verhoeven, is assigned to the case, but he doesn’t have much information to work with. He barely even has a full witness account of the kidnapping. Alex’s tormentor is determined to watch her die, but as the clock ticks away, Camille becomes committed to finding her in time, especially as stranger and stranger clues come to light.
The number of twists and turns in Lemaitre’s novel is incredible. As the pages turn, the question is raised: Is Alex truly a damsel in distress—or a femme fatale?
Watch the action-packed trailer below:
Catherine Coulter's new international thriller series kicks off with The Final Cut, a globe-hopping thriller with nonstop action that introduces Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond. In his first adventure, Drummond travels to NYC to investigate the murder of Elaine York, the minder of the crown jewels on display at the Met. Then the diamond centerpiece of the exhibit is stolen by an international thief called the Fox, and it's up to Drummond to retrieve the stolen gem before it's too late.
But Coulter wasn't alone in crafting Scotland Yard's newest hero. She collaborated with best-selling author J.T. Ellison, who shares in a guest post (one of my favorites to date!) the process of collaborating with veteran writer Coulter.
A writer’s career is full of moments. Capital M moments. Writing the first line of your first novel. Finishing said work. Getting an agent, then landing a deal. Seeing your book in print for the first time, then on the bookshelf in your favorite store and your local library. That first fan letter. I could go on and on. Trust me, having moments never gets old.
But some moments are bigger than others. Rewind to May 4, 2012. I’d just accepted a three-book deal with Mira books to continue my Samantha Owens series. (I’ve been writing two books a year for Mira since 2006—my debut, All the Pretty Girls, was released in November 2007.) Decent deal, job security, all the things a writer wants from her career. I went into the weekend very, very happy.
On May 7, all hell broke loose, in all the best possible ways. I received a call from my agent who wanted to give me a heads up that Catherine Coulter was about to call me and offer me a job. Cue sheer, unadulterated panic. I knew my name was in the mix for Catherine’s co-writing gig, but so were a lot of others very talented authors, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t ever imagine she would pick me! As pie-in-the-sky dream jobs go, this one ranked up there. I mean, we're talking about Catherine Coulter! I’ve been a fan of Catherine’s books for years—since I read The Cove, and I especially love Savich and Sherlock—and the idea of working with her on a book both scared and thrilled me. Co-writing is a big decision, for both the writers. I was immediately plagued with worry. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was?
Before I could spin myself into a frenzy, the phone rang again. It was Catherine, and all worry was laid to rest. The first thing that struck me was her laugh. She has the most wondrous, wicked sense of humor. She said some very nice things about my writing, and how complimentary our styles were, which turned out to be hugely important down the road, laid out the plan for the books, what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, the characters, the series, everything. I was so impressed by how smartly she’d planned all of it. She knew exactly what she wanted, and I knew immediately we were going to have a good time, and I was going to get an education. So I accepted on the spot.
And suddenly had five books under contract over the course of three days. Moments that turn momentous, indeed.
After a fine bit of juggling with my editors and agent, Catherine and I made arrangements for me to fly to California to meet with her, plot out the book and generally get to know one another. Happily, we found out we have so much in common, so many congruous interests and opinions, that a friendship blossomed immediately.
And that friendship got us through the first few months, when we made pretty much every mistake possible. The Final Cut was my 12th novel, but it felt like my first many times as we sailed into uncharted territory of joint creation. As similar as our writing styles and work ethic are, we still had differences, and we needed to get used to those. Which we did, of course, ultimately parlaying our differences in style into the book’s strengths.
My biggest issue was writing in another author’s voice. I found it an incredible challenge. Catherine’s funnier and lighter than me—I’m a naturally dark, introspective writer—so I had to work twice as hard to both draft the story and find her voice. But find it I did, and the book came together quickly after that. There was a moment (see, they crop up everywhere!) toward the end of the first revision of the book when we were on the phone literally writing together, each contributing words to the sentences, and it was sheer magic. Magic I think comes across quite clearly in The Final Cut.
You have to have a lot of faith and trust in your co-writer to do this, and from the moment I met Catherine, I knew I could trust her, and I know she feels the same. She’s a writer’s writer, which I greatly respect. We have a similar work ethic – there’s no nonsense, no prevaricating, we just get down to it every day and make the words flow, and I think that was a big part of our success with The Final Cut. You absolutely can’t have a successful collaboration if you put a Type A writer with a Type B writer. You’d drive each other crazy.
This experience has been incredibly rewarding. One day, when I have 70 or so books under MY belt, I hope to repay the favor by doing the same thing, bringing another writer along for the ride. For now, I know our moment is just beginning. And I can’t wait to see where it leads us.
Thanks, J.T.! Readers, The Final Cut is on sale today!
Write what you know? Many writers get their inspiration from where they know. Author Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River mysteries are set in a fictionalized version of Chicota, Texas, where he grew up. In a guest post, Wortham talks about the good people of Texas and the flavor of his Texan setting, and gives a preview of the newest book in his series, The Right Side of Wrong.
As my writing career has progressed, I’ve come to realize the setting has become just as much a character as Constable Ned Parker et al. in the Red River mystery series. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but the rural, bordering counties along the river in northeast Texas are alive and well in my memories of the 1960s. My family roots are from that area, and their stories from that time and location are the reason I began this series.
The '60s were a time of change as this country evolved from a primarily rural society to an urban environment. Though the U.S. race to the moon was well underway, a large part of the population still scratched a hard living from the ground. In The Right Side of Wrong, the small community of Center Springs is a microcosm of life and the social and civil changes going on in this country. In addition, this setting is flavored with the speech patterns that define the small community of Center Springs where American Indians, “coloreds,” and the white population struggle to co-exist in a rapidly changing world.
It was the land that defined them.
It was the rural location that encapsulated them.
It was a time between two worlds, as their rural roots withered under the tidal wave of urban change.
My first book in this series set in 1964, The Rock Hole, came about because I wanted to preserve the memory of those coming-of-age years when I was 10. The speech patterns, old words, the simple and changing lifestyle and, of course, the stories told on the porch of that little country store were quickly fading as the old folks passed on.
See, here’s the deal. I believe my mysteries hold the reader’s interest because it’s the land that makes the good, moral characters what they are. Both men and women back then were strong. They stood up for themselves and their neighbors, and they learned the difference between right and wrong from their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and in the tiny clapboard churches that called them to worship every time the doors opened.
In each of my three novels, evil is eliminated when good, honest people cross to the right side of wrong. That’s where Ned Parker comes in. He’s both a farmer and a constable, and a Renaissance man. In a world filled with bigotry and hatred, Ned is simply a decent person who surrounds himself with noble Texans, such as Deputy John Washington, the first “colored” deputy in my fictional Lamar County.
Both of these strong, caring and fair men come from old-fashioned root stock. Big John and Ned are also human, in every sense of the word, and live to defend their community against whatever may come. In their own way, they always try to do the right thing.
Ned, kinfolk Constable Cody Parker and Big John forge strong bonds as this series progresses. In Burrows, John and Cody find themselves trapped in a five story Cotton Exchange warehouse full of garbage. It is a hoarder’s world á la Stephen King. In fact, someone said it was Stephen King meets Harper Lee. To survive their horror and find a serial killer in the monstrous building John and Cody learn to rely on each other without question. It is a bond Ned and John welded years earlier, and now Cody comes into the fold.
In The Right Side of Wrong, Constable Cody Parker follows his main drug smuggler across the Rio Grande into Mexico and is thrown into a prison run by a crooked officer. Ned and John traverse the Lone Star state, and that took some doing back in 1966. When they reach the Rio Grande, a far different artery than their Red River, they find themselves in a radically different culture than their own, but at the same time, they find good people south of the border.
I think you’ll also find the setting in Mexico has also influenced inhabitants of that country, both good and bad. Like those on the Red River, the people who live across the Rio Grande are also defined by the land, but despite the corruption, most mirror their good neighbors to the north.
The land is in the people, it shapes them, and it provides the background for the mysteries in all of us.
Thanks, Reavis! The Right Side of Wrong (Poisoned Pen Press) is out now.
Karin Slaughter's newest thriller featuring GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) detective Will Trent, Unseen, is the type of shocking, relentless thriller that Slaughter's many fans expect. As Trent tries to find crime boss Big Whitey, his lover Sara Linton seeks her stepson's shooter, and the two investigations careen toward one another in one hell of a ride.
We asked Slaughter to share three books she has recently read, and it's clear her tastes in reading are as chilling as her own writing.
I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction, and Burial Rites gives insight into a world completely foreign to me—Iceland during the early 1800s. The story (which is based on true events) follows the last days of a woman sentenced to death for her part in two brutal murders. It’s tense and riveting; as cold and unrelenting as the barren landscape.
By Mo Hayder
I’m not sure what it is about Mo Hayder that I love so much. I think it’s because she seems to visit the same dark places that I explore in my writing; yet, she brings a different perspective that would ever occur to me. Detective Jack Caffery has been in several previous novels, but he seems to have grown up a bit in Poppet. He’s more reflective and cautious, just as you’d expect a real-life detective to be after witnessing the every-day horrors of police work. The crime at the center of Poppet is much more tame than Mo generally fashions, but her trademark turning of the screw still sends shivers down the spine.
By Linda Fairstein
I’m an Alex Cooper fan from way back, and Linda is one of my favorite New York writers. She always manages to find a mysterious, new part of the city to write about. This is her town, and she knows its stories. Death Angel takes place in Central Park, which can be as beautiful as it is dangerous. Linda’s experience as a prosecutor comes full bear in this gripping chase to stop a serial killer. It’s always thrilling to see what she’s going to come up with next.
Be sure to check out all our Private Eye July coverage!
Readers love espionage mysteries for their glamour and intrigue, their far-flung adventures and impossibly cool heroes and heroines—and also for the illusion that we actually know what spies are up to.
While the genre has adapted with global changes, moving from Cold War subterfuge to terrorist plots and technology, there's something classic about espionage thrillers that involve either MI5 or MI6—probably because James Bond will always be the spy.
Don't know the difference? MI5 works in counter-espionage within the UK, preventing the leaking of secrets. MI6 runs covert operations abroad, stealing other governments' secrets. Combined, the two super-sneaky British intelligence agencies have inspired some of our favorite fictional spies. Read on to meet them.
George Smiley from John le Carré
Smiley, an MI6 (called "the Circus" here) operative, appeared in le Carré favorites such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Often called the "anti-Bond," Smiley is a quiet, poorly dressed, disciplined spy who lives less by the gun at his hip and more by his own wits.
Will Cochrane from Matthew Dunn
Reading novels by actual former agents always feels like the author should sleep with one eye open—isn't there a billionaire villain somewhere with a score to settle? Dunn, a former field operative for MI6, turned to fiction with his Spycatcher series and introduced us to globe-trotting master spy Will Cochrane.
Thomas Kell in Charles Cumming's A Foreign Country
All the setup for a first-class spy novel: "a world-weary protagonist; exotic locales (Tunisia and the Sinai, among others); a plot featuring intrigues within intrigues; and a bunch of good guys who might be bad guys (and vice versa)." What else could you want?
Serena Frome in Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
McEwan pokes a little fun at the spy game with his most recent novel. Serena Frome is a young Cambridge grad who works at MI5 in the "Sweet Tooth" program, surreptitiously encouraging writers to produce anti-Soviet fiction, only to fall in love with her assignment, novelist Tom Haley. (Oh, and it's our Top Pick for Book Clubs this month!)
Maggie Hope from Susan Elia MacNeal
MI5 secret agent Maggie Hope started out in the steno pool, but her cleverness and talent for code-breaking makes her one of wartime Britain's most powerful weapons. Maggie's adventures unraveling plots and sneaking behind enemy lines during WWII make for a fun read.
Readers: Do you have a favorite MI5 or MI6 spy?
Throughout Private Eye July, the editors of BookPage share some of their favorite mysteries and thrillers.
Lisa Gardner’s most recent Detective D.D. Warren novel is one that still has me looking around corners a year later. After three days, I found myself with a sink full of dirty dishes as Gardner’s Catch Me delivers a twisted thriller that completely immerses readers in the streets of Boston. Intertwining cases and an unreliable narrator left me stumbling and clueless until the very end.
Charlene Grant is convinced she is going to be killed in four days, and she wants Detective D.D. Warren to investigate her murder. Charlene’s two best friends were both murdered a year apart on January 21, and she believes her murder will be next. As D.D. investigates, she begins to search Charlene’s past and finds more questions than answers.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!