If you love books and you love mysteries, it would make sense that you'd love mysteries with a bookish backdrop. Or "bibliomysteries," a "small but elevated category of literature" that Otto Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop and the publisher of Mysterious Press) recently discussed over on the Open Road Media blog.
And there are so many good ones out there! Might I recommend a few?
Love cozy mysteries: Death on Demand by Carolyn G. Hart
The very first in Hart's Death on Demand mystery series introduces mystery bookshop owner Annie Laurance Darling and the endearing cast of characters who populate this South Carolina setting. The prime suspect of a murder, Annie becomes a reluctant sleuth, and her adventure is peppered with references to classic mystery authors that will undoubtedly lengthen your TBR list.
Love historical mysteries: Anna's Book by Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine
Originally published as Asta's Book in the U.K. (long out of print but now available in eBook), this is an unexpected gem from Rendell's extensive oeuvre. A diary written by a young Danish woman in turn-of-the-century London becomes a huge commercial success; years later, these memoirs shed light on two unsolved murders.
Love literary thrillers: The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer
It seems fitting that the author and narrator of this book have the same name; it is, after all, a mystery about writers and writing. It's packed with bookish delights, including a sinister book collector, lots of literary references and shrewd insight into the publishing world.
Love collecting rare books: Bookscout by John Dunning
After years out of print, this one's now available as an eBook—though it's short enough to be considered a short story. Things get desperate for a rare book hunter, and the result is an interesting balance of book-collecting facts and mystery.
Readers, chime in! What bookish mysteries do you recommend?
Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from UPenn, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins, and he takes all that surgeon's knowledge and puts it to better use (in my opinion, but I'm biased) with his debut medical thriller, Doing Harm.
We meet chief resident Steve Mitchell, a rising star with a bright surgical future who our reviewer calls "engagingly flawed." But then a patient dies of mysterious circumstances, and the killer starts toying with Steve, threatening his career, his marriage and even his life. And with an actual surgeon behind it, Doing Harm is the perfect blend of authentic hospital atmosphere and tense life-and-death moments.
To find out more about the high-stakes hospital world, we chatted with Kelly Parsons in a Q&A about patients, medical school and the fascinating character of Steve Mitchell—who we're reluctant to trust, or even like. And Parsons agrees:
"Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust Steve. They certainly don’t have to like him. But what I hope they do, on some level, is relate to his dilemma. I want readers to understand why he makes the choices he makes, however flawed those choices may be. The story is essentially about Steve’s moral journey. With some help along the way, Steve finishes the book a much different individual than when he began it."
Doing Harm is out today! Will you check it out?
Diane Setterfield returns this month with Bellman & Black, an irresistible Gothic and ghostly read that is absolutely perfect for these dark winter months. William Bellman makes a grave mistake as a child when he thoughtlessly kills a rook with his stone catapult. He goes on to build a successful and enviable life, until a mysterious stranger appears and threatens to rip away everything he holds dear.
Our reviewer Matthew Jackson calls it "a slow-burning, creepily realistic tale, woven together with practical but often magically transformative prose." Although the suspense is often center stage, Setterfield also includes some breathtaking meditations on nature, mortality and love that make this a very well-crafted novel indeed.
Watch the short and spooky trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Are you in the mood for some post-Halloween creepiness?
With Halloween lurking just around the shadowed bend, we conjured up a list of 13 of 2013's most fright-inducing reads to get you in the spirit. Haunted houses, werewolves, vampires and serial killers—this list has got them all, and more!
THE SHINING GIRLS
By Lauren Beukes
South African novelist Lauren Beukes returns with The Shining Girls, a creepy, supernatural thriller set in Chicago, where a dilapidated House (yes, capital “H”) containing a mysterious portal sends the book’s villain back and forth through time. Throughout the 20th century, he dispatches a series of women in brutal fashion, removing a small item from one victim here, depositing it with another there, then materializing back at the House to review his exploits. (Read the full review.)
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Stroke by stroke, scare by scare, [Boyne's] latest novel deliberately sets out to beat Henry James at the diabolical game he played in the best ghost story of all time, The Turn of the Screw. Boyne’s mimicry and mischievous corruption of both the form and the content of James’s tale are surely the book’s most uncanny elements. All the Jamesian paraphernalia is there: the clueless governess at the remote country estate who narrates the story; her predecessors who meet violent ends; the nervous bystanders who infuriate both the heroine and the reader with their stupendous reserve. (Read the full review.)
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John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books push the limits of the whodunit genre. They read like detective novels, but then they step over the line into Stephen King country, where apparitions dance at the periphery of the senses and where evil becomes palpable—and ever so believable. Connolly’s latest, The Wrath of Angels, finds the intrepid P.I. sitting in a bar, listening to a strange tale about a private airplane that went down in the dense woods of northern Maine. (Read the full review.)
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Never before has Gaiman’s fiction felt this personal, this vibrant or this deeply intimate. Gaiman’s hero is an unnamed narrator who returns to his childhood home as an adult and is flooded with memories of a farm at the end of the English country lane where he grew up. We relive those boyhood memories as he does, beginning with an odd tragedy that brought him to the doorstep of the Hempstock family. There he met 11-year-old Lettie, her mother and her ancient grandmother, who claims she was around when the moon was first made. (Read the full review.)
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Joe Hill says it took him quite a while to find the spark that would make his riveting new horror novel roar to life. Though he ended up writing the bulk of NOS4A2 in about seven months, getting the book started wasn’t easy. “I struggled with figuring out how I wanted to write a female lead,” Hill says. . . . The novel’s main character, Victoria McQueen, is a tough, wild thing with an unusual talent. When we meet her as a young girl, Vic has just discovered that sometimes, much to her surprise, her beloved Raleigh bicycle takes her to a covered bridge that shouldn’t exist. (Read the full interview with Hill.)
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Hill's allure—whether in these two novellas or in her famous 1987 novel, The Woman in Black, adapted for the London stage in 1989 and playing there ever since—springs from the serene decorum of her prose, which remains mellifluous even at the most catastrophic turn of events. This set of novellas provides another “safe haven” for those fans who prefer to take their horror with a smooth pint of bitter. (Read the full review.)
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In an author’s note at the end of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King explains how the idea of writing a sequel to The Shining—his third novel, published in 1977—was planted by a fan at a book signing back in 1998. King mulled it over for more than 10 years before sitting down to figure out how 5-year-old Danny Torrance fared after his narrow escape from the horrifyingly haunted Overlook Hotel. As one might suspect, Danny didn’t fare very well. (Read the full review.)
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The perilous pleasures and imperiled children that await you in John Lindqvist’s magnificent collection of stories, Let the Old Dreams Die, require constant illumination. The darkness of this writer’s imagination is profound, the terrors manifold and the writing merciless in its reckoning of every human being’s worst fears, groundless hopes and bizarre capacity to love against all mortal odds. It would be tempting to call Lindqvist a philosopher, so relentless are the questions his characters ask about the meaning and the meaninglessness of our existence. (Read the full review.)
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“All love is desperate.” With this phrase, celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates manifests love gone wrong in Evil Eye, four novellas ringing with Gothic horror. Taking a page from du Maurier’s Rebecca, Oates puppeteers her childlike heroines through scenes of despondency set in the twisted, delusional reality that can be love, with the backdrop of oppressive circumstances and possessive men with gnarled secrets. (Read the full review.)
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When you talk of talented writers under 40, Benjamin Percy is a name that must come up. His second novel is Red Moon, a fat, multilayered page-turner that has fans of Percy and lycanthropy alike gnashing their teeth in anticipation. Yes, it’s about werewolves, but it is also about coming of age, young love, racism, xenophobia, warfare’s moral complexities and the zeitgeist of 21st-century America. (Read the full review.)
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Scott McGrath is the novel’s central character. Once a prominent investigative journalist, his career has very publicly crashed and burned after he made outrageous accusations and a not-so-veiled threat against the elusive cult filmmaker Stanislas Cordova. When McGrath learns that Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter Ashley has been found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. McGrath sets out to solve the mystery of Ashley’s death, but ends up on a risky and very different sort of journey in pursuit of an entirely different magnitude of truth. (Read the full review.)
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By Andrew Pyper
David Ullman is a prestigious professor specializing in biblical literature and tales of demons, and one of the world’s foremost experts on John Milton’s epic poem of heaven and hell, Paradise Lost. Though religious literature is his specialty, David doesn’t believe a word of it. His interest is unshakably academic, until a woman visits his office with a strange proposition. Just days later, tragedy strikes, and David finds himself battling dark forces and a ticking clock in a desperate effort to get his daughter Tess back. (Read the full review.)
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THE NEVER LIST
By Koethi Zan
Sarah and Jennifer believed that to be informed was to be prepared, so they became versed in all of the statistics of threatening situations and created a list of things to never do. They strictly followed the list until one night in college when they got in a car with a stranger—a devastating choice that led to five years of unspeakable torture, as Sarah and Jennifer were held captive with two other girls in an unforgiving cellar. (Read the full review.)
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!
This fall's publishing season has a lot of abduction thrillers, an especially creepy trend considering the real-life stories of the three women in Ohio who were found this year after being held in captivity for a decade. One of the best of these abduction thrillers is Carla Norton's debut, The Edge of Normal, the story of a former kidnapping victim who uses her experience to help a fellow victim.
Norton is also the author of the true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box, which details the true story of Colleen Stan, a 20-year-old girl who was kidnapped and tortured in captivity for seven years. Norton's true crime expertise and research into a real kidnapping situation set her apart from most other authors of abduction thrillers, so I hoped a Q&A with Norton would help illuminate the "why" of this trend.
Check out my Q&A with Norton, where we discussed the nature of evil, the process of writing true crime vs. fiction, the exploitation of victims and much more. Norton didn't hold back:
Do you look at the world any differently after writing these books?
I suppose writing about crime heightens your paranoia. And while some of my characters may not like certain legal institutions or members of law enforcement, I have tremendous respect [for] those who give up their time to do their civic duty and those who risk their lives in law enforcement. When a killer comes through your window, who do you call? Who is going to come to help? Seriously, those people face dangers we don’t even want to see on the page.
Also, true confession: I keep a copy of Perfect Victim in my car. When I spot the occasional female hitchhiker, I offer a ride on the condition that she’ll read the book, and then I lecture sternly about the perils of hitchhiking.
It’s often said that a writer must have compassion toward all of their characters, but Duke is a villain of the vilest sort. How were you able to write about a person who will elicit absolutely no empathy from the reader?
This might be the biggest difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. I found Duke very entertaining, so maybe it’s not a question so much of having “compassion” for your characters as it is enjoying some aspect of them. Hannibal Lector would have been repulsive in real life, but he’s fascinating on the page.
While you wouldn’t personally want to spend time with these people, you want to create fearsome villains to drive the story. Character is revealed through conflict, so you want to set your protagonist in opposition to a frightening antagonist—a David-and-Goliath-type dynamic—and that’s what I was aiming for with Reeve and Duke.
Read more here. The Edge of Normal is out today! Will you check it out? Do you read abduction thrillers?
John Rector, author of Already Gone and The Cold Kiss, has started to make quite a name for himself in the suspense genre. Already Gone was nominated last year for an International Thriller Award, and after his novella Lost Things won the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Short Story. In a guest post for BookPage, Rector introduces his newest thriller, Out of the Black, and discusses his climb to writing success.
I was at a convention once where I heard a writer tell a group of people that publishing a novel was similar to what Lewis and Clark must’ve felt when they crossed the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They believed that once they passed that first line of mountains, it would be downhill all the way to the Pacific. But when they got to the top and looked out, all they saw were more mountains, an endless blue stretch fading out toward the horizon.
I don’t think writing a novel is quite the same as the Lewis and Clark expedition, but I understand the analogy.
When you’re a working writer, there is no end goal, only an endless string of peaks and valleys. You climb one, and there’s another one right there waiting for you. All you can do is keep writing, keep moving forward. Scale the peak in front of you and try to survive the desert valley on your way to the next.
This constant struggle isn’t a bad thing. It’s exactly how it should be, but it can be shocking for a lot of newly published writers who, having climbed that first impossible peak, naively believe they’ve arrived.
At least that’s how it was for me.
My first peak came in the spring of 2009 when I got a call from my agent telling me Tor/Forge had made an offer to publish my novel, The Cold Kiss. I’d written one previous novel, The Grove, but it hadn’t sold. Publishers told me that it was too in-between genres, that if chain stores couldn’t figure out where to place it on their shelves, they weren’t going to buy it.
It was disappointing, but I didn’t see any reason to cry about it. What I did instead was write another book, this time with a specific genre in mind. I started working on a bleak, claustrophobic noir tale about a young couple trapped in a roadside motel during a vicious Iowa blizzard.
The Cold Kiss was a suspense novel with heavy noir overtones. When I finished and read through what I’d written, I was worried it would be too dark. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded, and after an excruciatingly long wait, Tor/Forge bought the rights to The Cold Kiss and agreed to publish the book in the U.S.
A few weeks later, Simon & Schuster stepped in and bought the rights, along with The Grove, and a third, unwritten novel, to publish in the U.K.
I was thrilled.
I’d reached that first peak, and for a while things were perfect, but it didn’t take long to realize that the mountain I’d scaled was nothing more than a crowded jumping off point. The real challenge was still ahead.
My focus immediately shifted from getting published to staying published. The problem, as I saw it, was that I had no following, no readers, and a strong aversion to social media and self-promotion. But I also felt that I was coming into the industry at the perfect time. New players and new technology were opening doors for writers that didn’t exist a few years earlier. And while this experimentation made me nervous, all I had to do was look around at the path I was on to see that it was littered with the corpses of talented writers who’d come before me, but who were unable to find an audience. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what my future held if I didn’t try something new.
When I finished my next novel, I turned down a good offer from Tor/Forge and signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer. I’m still with them, and I’ve never looked back.
So far, three of my books have been optioned for film, and my third novel, Already Gone, hit the top ten on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Already Gone was also nominated for an International Thriller award in 2012. I didn’t win, but the nomination was a wonderful validation.
I followed Already Gone with a dark, Hitchcock-ian novella called Lost Things. I liked the book, and readers seemed to like it, too, but it was short, and I didn’t expect much.
Then, earlier this year, while working on edits for my new novel, Out of the Black, I got word that Lost Things had been nominated for an International Thriller Award. So, I packed a bag, hopped a plane, and flew to New York. But unlike the year before with Already Gone, this time I won.
The award is nice, beautiful actually, and it looks damn fine on my shelf. It’s my first major award, and the recognition from my peers means more to me than I can say, but I’ve also learned enough to know that when you’re standing on one of your peaks, it’s not the actual awards or book deals or film options that keep you going.
It’s the view.
There are a lot of good things about this job, but the great things only come around once in a while. If you’re a writer standing on the summit of one of your peaks, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a minute to look around and breathe. Look back at where you started and what you’ve accomplished, then focus on the horizon and what’s coming next. Let the view recharge you, and then get back to work. Keep writing. Keep moving forward. Because there’s always another peak out there, waiting.
And that’s exactly how it should be.
Thanks, John! Out of the Black is out in bookstores today.
This morning has revealed the cover for John Grisham's upcoming novel, Sycamore Row. The long-awaited sequel to Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, will be available October 22. In our XTRA newsletter reader poll, Sycamore Row was voted the #1 most anticipated book of the fall—quite a feat, given this great group of upcoming releases.
I always love finding out what an author's research process is, so when I learned that writer Ingrid Thoft actually attended and graduated from the University of Washington private investigator program, I simply had to see how that helped her pen her debut crime fiction novel, Loyalty.
Loyalty is the story of P.I. Fina Ludlow, a kick-butt heroine who's the black sheep of a super-powerful, super-dysfunctional Boston family. When her brother's wife goes missing, the cops assume the husband's to blame, so Fina is called it to figure out what really happened. Fina's digging reveals so family secrets no one expected her to find, and as Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney writes, "Her allegiances will be tested, as will her detective skills, for it is likely that someone close to her is singularly undeserving of her loyalty."
I just love Thoft's answer about the coolest thing she learned in the P.I. program:
"One of the cases that stands out was part of a presentation done by a scientist from the Washington State Police crime lab. She discussed trace evidence and the idea that we all leave things behind wherever we’ve been and pick something up from that location as well, whether it’s fiber, hair or residue of some sort. Her example was ash from the Mount St. Helen’s eruption. The ash that was deposited into a suspect’s car filter could only have come from a particular place at a particular time. Suspects can be fastidious and cunning, but you can’t outsmart Mother Nature!"
Meg Gardiner's new novel, The Shadow Tracer, is an explosive thriller about Sarah Keller, a single mom and a skip tracer. But what is a skip tracer, anyway? We asked Gardiner to share some insight on skip tracers and introduce readers to the heroine at the heart of her gripping new book.
Sarah Keller is a skip tracer. She hunts down bail jumpers, debt dodgers and people evading arrest. She searches for people who can’t be seen directly, because they avoid the light. But they cast shadows. And that’s what Sarah traces.
To penetrate those shadows, she has become a chameleon. A skip tracer, she says, is a hunter, a manipulator and a professional liar. But Sarah’s more than that. She’s a guardian.
Sarah is mother to 5-year-old Zoe. The little girl came unexpectedly into her life, and Sarah has rebuilt her world around protecting her. That’s how she ends up in Oklahoma City, trying to be a good mom while chasing down deadbeats and criminals. She has become a skip tracer to learn every trick about staying off the grid—not just to catch people on the run, but to train for the day she might have to run herself.
Disappearing is hard to do these days. Going dark in the age of Facebook and PRISM takes smarts, luck and incredible discipline.
That’s what Sarah Keller needs, because she has her own secret, and if it’s exposed, Zoe will be in danger. And that’s just what happens. An accident reveals Zoe’s whereabouts, and sets some scary opponents on her trail.
With their cover blown, Sarah takes Zoe on the run across the Southwest. She scrambles for safety with only her wits, her skip tracing skills and her meager savings to rely on. She’s backed up—maybe—by a U.S. Marshal and a nun. She’s up against the FBI and a criminal clan that wants to grab Zoe for their own purposes.
It’s a chase, a game of hide and seek, with a little girl’s life at stake. And at bottom Sarah is fighting to keep Zoe from being grabbed by her father’s family. The clan will do anything to get hold of Zoe. Sarah’s every brave and desperate move is designed to save Zoe from them.
Sarah considers herself half shepherd, watching over Zoe, and half wolf, running down rogues. But when push comes to shove, Sarah’s a hero. She’ll have to be, if she’s going to survive.
Thanks, Meg! The Shadow Tracer is out now! Readers, will you check this one out?
Stay tuned for many more guest posts from mystery and thriller authors throughout Private Eye July!