California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
The City by Dean Koontz
Bantam, $28, ISBN 9780345545930
On sale July 1, 2014
Dean Koontz has long been known for providing thrills and chills to readers, but his new novel The City is something of an exception. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, it tells the story of Jonah Kirk, growing up as part of a close family in a nameless city and dreaming of becoming a "piano man." Jonah becomes a remarkable boy mostly thanks to his remarkable mother, who gave up her own dreams of attending Oberlin to have and raise him without much help from Jonah's ne'er do well father. Their close relationship is a highlight of the book, as shown in this excerpt, which takes place shortly after Jonah's mother has thrown his father out for good.
After school that day, I walked to the community center to practice piano. When I got home, all she said was, "Your father's no longer living here. He went upstairs to help Miss Delvane with her rodeo act, and I wasn't having any of that."
Too young to sift the true meaning of her words, I found the idea of a mechanical horse more fascinating than ever and hoped I might one day see it. My mother's Reader's Digest condensation of my father's leaving didn't satisfy my curiousity. I had many questions but I refrained from asking them. . . . Right then I told Mom the secret I couldn't have revealed when Tilton lived with is, that I had been taking piano lessons from Mrs. O'Toole for more than two months. She hugged me and got teary and apologized, and I didn't understand what she was apologizing for. She said it didn't matter if I understood, all that mattered was that she would never again allow anyone or anything to get between me and a piano and any other dream I might have.
What are you reading this week?
Tom Rob Smith is back with a new novel of "deep, dark family secrets, long-buried crimes and shocking revelations" in The Farm. Daniel's parents decide to sell their London home and relocate to a remote farm in Sweden for a leisurely, peaceful life.
Yet this ideal is quickly shattered when Daniel's mother suffers a mental collapse shortly after: She's delusional, and she's imagining truly horrific things. But soon Daniel's mother offers a different view, and she pins the blame on his father, whom she insists is part of a violent conspiracy.
Daniel takes on the task of investigating the farm himself, and Smith's thrilling, genre-defying page-turner brilliantly unfolds.
Smith's internationally acclaimed thriller, Child 44, has already been adapted for the big screen starring big-name actors Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman, and we're betting on Smith becoming a household name in no time.
Watch the hypnotising and haunting trailer from Simon & Schuster UK below:
What do you think, readers? Has The Farm made it onto your list of Summer reads?
You heard it here first, folks: The film version of Tom Rob Smith's gripping thriller, Child 44, will be hitting theaters in October. We got the news from the author himself, at Grand Central's BEA party last week.
Set in Stalin's Russia, the book is a nail-biting, gasp inducing thriller of the first order about a civil servant, Leo Demidov, who is investigating a serial killer. Problem is, in Stalin's perfect society, serial killers aren't supposed to exist.
With novelist Richard Price writing the screenplay and actors like Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Gary Oldham (aka Sirius Black), this is one book-to-film adaptation that I have high hopes for. Smith told us that he visited the set in Prague (filming in Russia being sort of tricky these days) and met with the cast—turns out Gary Oldman had read not only the book in question, but the entire series.
What book-to-film adapatations are you looking forward to this fall?
The title of Jeffery Deaver's new Lincoln Rhyme thriller immediately sends my mind into Silence of the Lambs territory:
The Skin Collector's title is an obvious nod to The Bone Collector, the very first Lincoln Rhyme novel and Deaver's 1997 debut, which was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
And with good reason: The new serial killer at large was inspired by the Bone Collector and has developed a way of murdering people through poisonous tattoos. Lincoln Rhyme is joined once again by Amelia Sachs, and they race to catch the bad guy as more and more people fall victim to his sadistic methods.
What do you think? Plan to check out Deaver's newest thriller? It's out today!
The 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award winners—honoring the very best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2013—have been announced! The Edgars are awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America. A few highlights:
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Simon & Schuster)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Scribner)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin)
BEST FACT CRIME
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Knopf)
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Little, Brown)
MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine)
View the full list of nominees and winners here.
Did your favorites win?
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?
It's been an especially fun Women's History Month here at BookPage! Our March issue featured amazing real women who blazed the trail for change. We highlighted the 14 women writers we're most excited about this spring and summer. And we loved choosing 10 favorite heroines in new children's and young adult books.
It's wonderful to see we're not the only ones celebrating Women's History Month in such a big way. Open Road Media is paying special attention to the Women in Mystery this month, spotlighting crime-writing pioneers like Dorothy L. Sayers, Anne Perry, Charlotte MacLeod and many more. Check it out, mystery fans—they've also downpriced several of their eBooks this month, from $1.99!
"I don't want a job at a newspaper, I want to get my book published!" - Ruth Rendell
"Growing up, I had friends whose fathers said, 'You're pretty.' They would say it every day. 'You're pretty.' But that doesn't help a girl get on in the world."
- Susan Isaacs
Watch the full video from Open Road Media:
How are you celebrating Women's History Month?
House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield
MIRA • $14.95 • ISBN 9780778314783
Published on February 25, 2014
Jen Glass lives with her husband and two children in a beautiful home in a suburb of Minneapolis. From the outside, the family couldn't look better. But on the inside, things are falling apart: Jen and her husband, Ted, are barely speaking; their teen daughter is sullen and distant and their young son has developmental delays. Just when Jen thinks things can't get any worse, they do. One night, two men break into the Glass home, but the routine robbery becomes something much worse when the family is held hostage in their own basement. Jen and Ted must overcome their differences in order to make sure their family survives the days to come.
Jen put her hand on the brass knob. Later, she would remember this detail, the warmth of the old brass to her touch, the way she had to tug to clear the slight jam.
Standing in the hallway was her beautiful daughter, her face exquisitely frozen, her lips parted and her long-lashed eyes wide with terror.
On her left, a man Jen had never seen before held Teddy in his arms, her little boy flailing ineffectively against his grip.
On her right, a man who looked unnervingly like Orlando Bloom pressed a gun to Livvy's head.
What are you reading this week?
Good news, Stephen King fans: There'll be double the thrills from the best-selling author this year. We've already told you about Mr. Mercedes, the noir detective story scheduled for June 3—yesterday, the author announced that 2014 would also bring Revival, the story of a charismatic preacher who takes a small New England town by storm in the mid-20th century. Reverend Jacobs creates a special bond with Jamie Morton, a young boy who shares the pastor's "secret obsession." Here's more from King's site:
When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.
Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.
Sounds appropriately ominous to me. Look for the book on November 11.