Nashville author Bente Gallagher has written three books in a "Do-It-Yourself" cozy mystery series for Berkley under the name Jennie Bentley. This month, she hits bookstore shelves for the first time under her own name with A Cutthroat Business, a book set in Music City that stars Southern Belle realtor Savannah Martin.
So-and-so in this case is your character. Your main one, assuming you have one. Not everyone does. Some people write ensemble books, with whole casts of characters, all in the third person. Others, like me, spend all our time in one character’s head, and write as if we are that character. Given that, it’s not surprising that people wonder how much I have in common with my characters.
Yes, characters, because now I have two series going simultaneously, and two characters in whose heads I spend most of my time. There’s the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries I write for Berkley Prime Crime, under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and the brand new A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin Southern real estate series, written as myself.
And to answer the question: I’m a little like both of them, but not too much like either. They’re not that much like each other, if it comes to that. Oh sure, they’ve both got their insecurities and their little neurotic quirks—as does their creator—but they’re two very different people from two totally different backgrounds, and if they have traits in common, they’ve gotten them from different experiences.
Avery Baker, the protagonist in the Do-It-Yourself series, is a New Yorker born and bred. A sassy city girl and hip textile designer, she’s used to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, so she feels very much like a fish out of water when she moves to tiny Waterfield on the craggy coast of Maine to renovate houses with her new boyfriend, hunky handyman Derek Ellis.
Savannah Martin, on the other hand, the main character in A Cutthroat Business, is a gentle-bred Southern Belle from a small town in Middle Tennessee. She’s sweet and ladylike, quite traditional, not to mention hyper-aware of having to say and do the right thing at all times.
All her life, Savannah has done what was expected of her, from going to finishing school in Charleston and coming out at the Christmas cotillion, to attending the university where her mother and father went and marrying the man her mother approves. Through it all, she fully expects that by doing everything right, life in turn will be perfect.
That is, until she learns that her perfect husband is no such thing, but instead is lying, cheating scum. At which point Savannah divorces his posterior and strikes out on her own for the first time ever. Instead of scurrying home to her family’s antebellum mansion in tiny—and fictitious—Sweetwater, to lick her wounds and wait for her mother to arrange another marriage with another suitable Southern gentleman, she stays in Nashville and begins to carve out a life for herself. For the first time, there’s no one looking over her shoulder and no one passing judgment on her actions. She gets a real estate license—in spite of her mother’s assertion that real estate is a cutthroat business, unfit for a lady—and starts to develop the kind of life she, Savannah, wants.
Into this mix falls the dead body of a competing realtor—chubby throat cut from ear to ear—as well as the last man on earth Margaret Anne Martin, Savannah’s sainted mother, would want her daughter to get involved with. Rafe Collier is the black sheep of Sweetwater, the boy Savannah’s mother, and every other mother in town, warned their teenage daughters about. Six feet three inches of testosterone and trouble, with a murky past and an uncertain future—not to mention a Harley-Davidson and enough sex-appeal for two men—he’s not the kind of guy a sweet Southern girl should want to tangle with, in any sense of the word.
Of course he’s also damn near irresistible.
So now Savannah has to figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, and avoid getting killed—or kissed—by Rafe, all while trying to make a success of her new career before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall. And oh yeah, she has to do it while keeping the whole thing from her family, who would have collective fits if they knew what was going on...
So that’s Savannah. As for me, the author? Well, I’m neither a Southern Belle nor a hip New Yorker, although I’ve lived in both places. I’m not sassy and I’m not blonde, and I haven’t been single for quite a few years. I’ve never had a cheating boyfriend or husband, and I’ve never tangled with anyone I shouldn’t, in any sense of the word. I’ve also never stumbled over dead bodies or buried treasure or anything else that I write about. But that’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? And of reading, for that matter. You get to be whoever you want for a while, whether you have anything in common with that character or not. And that’s a beautiful thing.
A Cutthroat Business went on sale June 29. Find out more about Bente Gallagher and her alter ego, Jennie Bentley, on their website.
Scottish novelist Ian Rankin has become one of the best-known English-language crime writers. Fans worldwide wondered what he'd be up to next after publishing his last Rebus novel, Exit Music, in 2008.
Rankin released a stand-alone, Doors Open [read our review], in 2010, but 2011's novel introduces a new hero that could be as compelling as Inspector Rebus himself. Do we smell a series?
From the catalog:
Nobody likes “The Complaints”—they’re the cops who investigate other cops. It’s a department known within the force as “The Dark Side,” and it’s where Malcolm Fox works. He’s a serious man with a father in a nursing home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship—frustrating problems which he cannot seem to do anything about. The reluctant Fox is given the case of Jamie Breck. He’s a dirty cop, but no one can prove it. As Fox takes on the assignment, he learns that there’s more to Breck than anyone thinks—dangerous knowledge, especially when a vicious murder takes place far too close to home. In The Complaints, Rankin tells an unstoppable story about evil, redemption, and who decides right from wrong.
I have never met anyone who's read more mysteries than our own Bruce Tierney, Whodunit columnist extraordinaire. For years he's been choosing a mystery of the month, and Karin Slaughter has been a pick multiple times. He says her latest, Broken, which went on sale Tuesday, is the best so far: "There are secrets in Grant County, and unearthing some of them can be lethal, even if you carry a badge."
Maybe it's because everyone and her brother has a book idea swirling around in their heads these days, but it seems like the most-asked author question is: where did you get the idea for this book?
That's why we try to share as many "behind the book" stories with you on BookPage.com as we can. The last few weeks have brought two truly impressive contributions that you shouldn't miss.
Mystery lovers should love reading Rosemary Herbert's poignant story of working with the late Tony Hillerman to compile an updated version of Dorothy Sayers' classic, An Omnibus of Crime.
When Oxford University Press asked me to find an important American mystery writer to co-edit The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories with me, Tony leapt to mind. But I wondered if he could make time for the project. So I offered to do all the groundwork and to write all the essays introducing each story and author. I told him all he would have to do is decide on the final contents and write a preface. Tony told me, “That’s not fair. I insist on writing my share of the essays. And I’ll do the preface, too.” And he was true to his word.
Unlike Evie, I didn’t witness a childhood friend’s body being pulled out of the woods, and I didn’t lie to that dead girl’s father, didn’t become friends with her best friend, didn’t start a chain of events that led to trouble . . . big trouble. But I did know a girl who was murdered by a serial killer, and my curiosity about her death led me to obsess about her well into adulthood.
The Last Child by John Hart took top honors for best novel. No surprise there. Who wouldn't want to read about the "lineal descendant and spiritual soul mate of Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield"?
Dave Cullen's Columbine—which has "the immediacy and starkness of a documentary"—won an Edgar for Best Fact Crime.
Several BookPage editors were pleased that Mary Downing Hahn won for Closed for the Season ("Best Juvenile"). Hahn wrote Tallassee Higgins, one of my childhood favorites, and many others. In September, watch for Hahn's new book The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall.
Click here to view the complete list of Edgar winners. For an interesting analysis on why Edgar winners don't typically win more than once, read this article in the Wall Street Journal.
What's the best mystery you read in 2009?
Faithful Place by Tana French
Viking, July 13, 2010
"Howyis," I said, in the doorway.
A ripple of mugs going down, heads turning. My ma's snappy black eyes and five bright-blue pairs exactly like mine, all staring at me.
"Hide the heroin," Shay said. He was leaning against the window with his hands in his pockets; he'd watched me coming down the road. "It's the pigs." . . .
"Francis," Ma said. She eased back into the sofa, folded her arms where her waist would have been and eyed me up and down. "Could you not be bothered putting on a decent shirt, even?"
I said, "Howya, Ma."
"Mammy, not Ma. The state of you. The neighbors'll think I raised a homeless."
Somewhere along the way I'd swapped the army parka for a brown leather jacket, but apart from that I still have much the same fashion sense I left home with. If I'd worn a suit, she would have given me hassle for having notions of myself. With my ma you don't expect to win.
Good news for Robert B. Parker fans: before his unexpected death in January, the author completed at least one more Spenser novel. Our sources at his publisher, Putnam, say that Painted Ladies will be out October 5.
Other posthumous Parker releases include the ninth Jesse Stone novel (Split Image, February), a Cole-Hitch Western (Blue-Eyed Devil, May), and an untitled holiday novel set for a November 2010 publication date.
J. Sydney Jones is the author of 12 books, including 2009’s The Empty Mirror, a “stylish and atmospheric” mystery novel that “breathes life into turn-of-the-century Vienna.” Jones’ latest novel is Requiem in Vienna (published Feb. 2 by Minotaur Books), another mystery starring Viennese lawyer Karl Werthen and criminologist Hans Gross. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author shares the experience that inspired his series—when, as a young man living in Vienna, he was tailed by a watcher for the state police.
I'll Be Watching You
At first I thought it might be a shopkeeper I did occasional business with. That would explain why he looked so familiar. The butcher on Langegasse or the wine merchant in the Altstadt. He had the same general features: slight build, medium height, light brown hair and eyes, gray overcoat. Nothing stood out. A figure that blends into the background.
I would catch sight of him across the Josefstaedterstrasse on my way to the language institute where I taught; see his reflection in a store window on Graben and he would quickly turn away; pass by him leaving the Stadtbahn station, his back to me, his head buried in a day-old issue of the Kurier. Once I actually came upon him talking with my building portier, a guilty look on both their faces.
This was the Vienna of several decades ago. It was still the Cold War. Foreigners living in Vienna fit into a risk category for the state police, anxious to protect Austria’s neutrality. It did not help that a childhood friend, also living in Vienna at the time, had become involved in a nationalist cause in Yugoslavia.
Still, until I discovered that I had my very own watcher, I had been living in another make-believe Vienna of schlagobers and Mozart. I had believed the tourist propaganda of the city of dreams and waltz.
My watcher stayed with me for over half a year, until I moved on for a time to Greece. Returning to Vienna the next fall, I no longer saw him or sensed his presence. But it was a wake up for me. I began to look at the underside of Vienna after the watcher; seeing the city as not only beautiful, but also treacherous. It is a vision that has remained with me, informing all of my writing about Vienna.
—J. Sydney Jones
The popular Welsh novelist and former RAF pilot and jockey died yesterday at his home in the Grand Cayman islands. His son, Felix, who collaborated with his father on four recent novels, says: “My brother, Merrick, and I are, of course devastated by the loss of our father, but we rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man. We share in the joy that he brought to so many over such a long life. It is an honour for me to be able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels.” Sounds like Felix may continue to write, or at least publish any incomplete manuscripts the two may have been working on?
Dick Francis' long string of mysteries set in the world of horse-racing have been solid sellers since the 1960s. Many were written with the collaboration and support of his wife, Mary, whose death in 2000 caused Francis to temporarily retire from writing. Perhaps his fascination with trackside mystery was spurred by his own involvement in one of the sport's most memorable moments: Francis was riding the Queen Mother's horse, Devan Loch, in the 1956 Grand National. In the lead, and just yards from the finish line, the horse inexplicably collapsed. But whatever his inspiration, it's clear that Francis' writing brought hours of enjoyment to millions over the past 50 years.
Related in BookPage: our review of Dick Francis' Under Orders.
For five more days, you can listen to a dramatized version of Dick Francis' Enquiry on the BBC's website.
British author Andrew Grant hit the thriller scene in a big way with his 2009 debut, Even. Starring rogue spy David Trevellyan, the novel was a favorite of Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, among others, and marked the launch of a series that will continue in May with Die Twice. Recently Grant traveled from his home in Birmingham, England, to participate in a conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Here, he gives a behind-the-scenes look at the weekend's events.
Half an hour from the airport, bogged down in heavy traffic, threading our way through the lattice of raised, sweeping concrete highways towards Birmingham city centre. I was starting to feel right at home. But this wasn’t spaghetti junction, and we weren’t in the heartland of England. We were in Birmingham, Alabama, on our way to the Murder in the Magic City writing conference—followed by the annual Murder on the Menu dinner in nearby Wetumpka—over the weekend of February 6 and 7. The first included talks by authors, featuring best-selling writers S.J. Rozan and C.J. Box on Saturday, and the second was a ‘moving feast’ with the same 16 crime fiction authors on Sunday.
Both days offered a wonderful opportunity to meet enthusiastic readers, talk to other writers and listen to a wide variety of stimulating and informative panels. I’d be hard pressed to say which I enjoyed more, but was delighted to part of two evenings that were not only enjoyable, but which raised funds for two very worthwhile causes—the national Crime Lab project, and the Wetumpka Public Library.