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.
Jennie Bentley is the author of the best-selling Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. She doesn't just write about home renovation, she lives it—working as a renovator and real estate assistant as well as a writer. Today, Jennie shares her top 5 cheap and easy renovation tips with Book Case readers.
On March 2, the third installment in my Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries featuring textile-designer-turned-renovator Avery Baker, and her boyfriend, handyman Derek Ellis, will be in bookstores everywhere.
I’ve always done my best to make Avery and Derek ‘real people,’ the kind of fictional characters most of us can relate to and that we might like to hang out with. Inherited house and lapsed medical degree notwithstanding, they’re not independently wealthy and they’re not dilettantes. They’re hard-working people trying to make ends meet the same as the rest of us. At the beginning of Plaster and Poison, they find themselves in a place we all are likely to find ourselves sooner or later, especially in these economic times: short of cash.
In Derek’s and Avery’s case, what this means is that instead of buying a new house to renovate, they’re forced to go to work for someone else until their cash flow situation improves. For the rest of us, being short of cash usually means tightening the belt, skimping on luxuries like going out to eat and going to the movies. Updating our homes go on the back burner, except for fixing important things like leaking roofs or dripping faucets.
Sometimes, though, a change of scenery can do wonders for the morale. Here are a few tips from Avery for updating the look of your home on a budget:
Rearrange your furniture. You’d be amazed at the difference it can make. While you’re at it, try to get rid of some of the clutter, too. We all accumulate lots, and it can obscure and even make you forget the things you like about your home.
Paint a wall—or four. At $20-$25 per gallon, paint is the quickest and cheapest picker-upper, because it can totally change the look of a room. Even if all you do is paint one wall, it’ll change the entire space. With not much more money and a little more work, try a special effect, like sponge painting or crackling. Remember too, that paint doesn’t just work on walls: you can paint floors, doors, furniture, kitchen cabinets . . . all kinds of things.
Have some fun with fabrics. New curtains can make a huge difference, at not too prohibitive a price. Slipcovers are great: they totally change the look of a sofa or chair. Toss some new, cheap throw pillows on the furniture to update the look. For a dining room or kitchen, try a new tablecloth. If you’re feeling adventurous—and have access to a sewing machine—grab some cheap fabric remnants at a craft store and whip up your own pillows and window treatments. Or do a Scarlett O’Hara and recycle an old pair of curtains or even a shirt or sweater. Slipcovers, pillows, and window treatments in different fabrics can transform a room in no time flat.
Update your accessories. It’s amazing how the artwork on the walls and the tchotchkes on the table can define a room. Try changing your accessories to get a different look. Move things from one room to another, and update both spaces at the same time.
Play hardball with your hardware. Change out your doorknobs, the kitchen or bathroom faucets, or the cabinet handles and drawer pulls. The difference something so small can make is profound. On a slightly larger scale, a new chandelier above the dining room table, or replacing an outdated ceiling fan with a new, streamlined model, can make a world of difference as well.
So there you have it. It doesn’t have to take an arm and a leg, or a fortune, to update your house. And if you run out of ideas, you can always pick up a DIY-book for some inspiration. Preferably one of mine.
Jennie Bentley lives in Nashville with her husband (a realtor), two kids, two frogs, two goldfish, a parakeet, and a hyperactive dog. Learn more about Jennie and the DIY books on her website.
A throwaway mention of a new Kate Atkinson novel in 2010 had me Googling up a storm this morning. Sure enough, Amazon.co.uk has a listing for Started Early, Took My Dog—a fourth Jackson Brodie novel—pubbing with Doubleday on August 19.** It's not clear whether this is the U.S. or the U.K. edition, though, since the site also lists a June paperback version coming from U.K. publisher Transworld. Atkinson's previous books were published in the U.S. by Little, Brown. Regardless, it looks like Atkinson fans like me might have something to look forward to this summer.
Few details have been released, but the novel's title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem—perhaps it holds a hint as to the contents?
Related in BookPage: Our interview with Kate Atkinson for One Good Turn. Reviews of Case Histories and When Will there Be Good News?
**since this post was published, we learned that the pub date has changed. Click here for details, and a description of the book.
Happy New Year!
To set the tone for 2010, we're giving away the paperback version of one of 2009's hottest mystery debuts. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a new series starring precocious preteen sleuth Flavia de Luce, who solves mysteries in 1950s England between bouts with her two older sisters.
In our review, BookPage contributor Arlene McKanic said that "Readers will want more, much more, of Flavia de Luce!" If you want to find out what all the fuss is about before the sequel, The Weed that Strings the Handman's Bag, comes out in March, leave a comment telling us about the best mystery YOU read last year. We'll pick a winner from among the entries received before 10 am CST on January 4. Good luck!
Over the summer, I posted about the ABC series "Castle," about a novelist and a cop who form an unlikely partnership when the author decides to make the cop the model for the heroine of a new series. Well, season two is airing now—and more real-life authors appeared in the very first episode. I still get a kick out of seeing writers on TV, especially when Castle starts referring to plot points in their novels in order to get them to let him know where a "tattooed Russian mobster" is most likely to hang out.
But wait, there's more: "Richard Castle's" first mystery starring detective Nicki Heat went on sale—outside TV land—at the end of last month. And for a based-on-TV book, it's getting some great early reviews. (Perhaps those illustrious literary extras were also contributors?) You can watch a trailer here.
Would you read a book that's inspired by TV? Or if you already have, what's your favorite? As a dedicated viewer of the late, lamented (by me anyway) "Passions" I have to admit to checking out a copy of Hidden Passions back when it came out.
At BookPage we’ve been gearing up for the holidays. It may seem early, but since we work 2-3 months ahead of publication dates, we’ve been happily sorting through piles of the best books to give (and receive) this season.
While doing my fiction research, I was surprised to see that Today Show personality Al Roker has a novel coming out this fall. Not so much of a stretch, I thought, since Roker has previously released cookbooks (Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue and Al Roker's Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook) and a memoir (Don't Make Me Stop this Car: Adventures in Fatherhood). But then I saw the title of his novel: The Morning Show Murders. Hmm.
From the publisher: Being cheerful at six in the morning can drive anyone to murder—just ask Al Roker! In his behind-the-cameras debut mystery, a celebrity TV chef has dishes to prepare, millions to entertain and a murder to solve before his show—and life—get permanently cancelled. As fact and fiction collide and the backbiting ignites, The Morning Show Murders will make you wonder: How much of this stuff is real?
Maybe it’s just me, but a thriller from sunny Al Roker is the last thing I expected to see in the mail. But now I’m intrigued . . . maybe just enough to read the first few chapters.
Will you check out The Morning Show Murders when it goes on sale November 24?
It has been four years since her blockbuster debut, The Historian, but Elizabeth Kostova is rising again on January 21 with a second act, The Swan Thieves. Instead of literature, this time Kostova's subject is painting—and painters who struggle to balance love and art. The novel goes from 1870s France to the modern day as a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist tries to discover why one of his patients attacked painting in the National Gallery.
She told Powell's she began work on The Swan Thieves before The Historian was even published. "I felt it was important for me to get back to writing right away — to draw that magic, private circle again."
After the jump, a video of Kostova discussing the novel.
Readers are buzzing about the mystery debut from Attica Locke, Black Water Rising. The L.A. Times calls Locke "a writer wise beyond her years," Sarah Weinman is a fan, and the novel garnered positive pre-pub reviews from Library Journal and Kirkus. [via]
Come July, they can add praise from BookPage to that chorus. Whodunit? columnist Bruce Tierney chose Black Water Rising as one of his four favorite mystery debuts of the summer, calling the mystery "an excellent book by any measure, but as a debut, it is nothing short of astonishing."
Can't wait two weeks? Want to discover Bruce's other favorites before the L.A. Times does? Click here for a sneak peek.