Feb 202015

"Eve is like a kid with an ant's nest - one of those glass-sided jobs. She knows that if she goes poking round, ordering 'em about, she won't learn much, so she just sits and watches. It's her toy, and she won't let any of the other kids touch it."

As the book featured on this week's podcast, Lament for a Lady Laird, stars an anthropologist by profession, I thought this might be a good time to mention another classic where anthropology and an anthropologist play a central role. The book, The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest, by much-honored British author Peter Dickinson, is being re-released next week in e-book formats from Open Road Media (which provided me with a copy for this review).

The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest, first published in 1968 in the U.K. with the title Skin Deep, was the first of Dickinson's mysteries featuring Superintendent James Pibble. Jimmy Pibble seems to have a talent for solving quirky, unusual cases, and he certainly finds one here. We are presented with the surviving members of a primitive New Guinea tribe, transported to London after most of the tribe was wiped out by a Japanese massacre during World War II. The survivors are living in a home owned by an anthropologist, who studies and records their behavior. When the leader of the tribe, Aaron Ku (the tribe is known as the Kus, and all the members have the surname "Ku") is murdered, Scotland Yard moves in quickly and sends Jimmy Pibble, because of the unusual nature of the case and, frankly, because it doesn't seem important enough to warrant sending anyone else.

What we have in The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest is a novel that was somewhat ahead of its time, dealing as it does with unusual and primitive rituals, black-and-white relations and even gender role reversals. The anthropologist, Eve, holds some of the keys to the mystery, and serves as Pibble's guide (and ours) to understanding the behavior of the Kus. The book was awarded the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association as the best book of the year when it was published. There are elements of both police procedural and traditional mystery here, plus more than a hint of modern noir, along with memorable and very unusual characters including the rather unheroic Jimmy Pibble. It's quite a book.


UPDATED to add the words "is murdered" after the parentheses in the first paragraph, inadvertently omitted in the original post.


Feb 062015

Word today from the British Crime Writers' Association (via Janet Rudolph and Mystery Fanfare) that the Crime Writers' Association will present this year's prestigious Diamond Dagger Award to Catherine Aird. The award honors her long - and, happily, continuing - career as a writer of traditional mysteries, including the long-running series called "The Calleshire Chronicles" featuring Inspector C. D. Sloan of the Calleshire police.

I have had the pleasure of writing about several of Aird's earlier novels - you can find my podcast reviews on this blog's backlist page - several of which have been republished by the Rue Morgue Press. Her books can be fairly hard to find in the US, which I think is almost criminal negligence. Her mysteries are stylish, with some police procedural elements, some very interesting plots, delightful characters, and witty and often quite deliberately funny writing (Sloan, for instance, usually finds himself stuck working with Detective Constable Crosby, who is known behind his back among his colleagues as "the Defective Constable).

The CWA explains its Diamond Dagger this way: "Nominees have to meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence, and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime writing published in the English language, whether originally or in translation." Congratulations to Catherine Aird for a well-deserved honor. The award will be presented in London in June.

Jan 312015

Malice Domestic, the organization of traditional mystery writers and their readers, has announced its list of nominees for the Agatha Awards, the awards named after Agatha Christie and inended to honor authors who continue to follow those traditions.

The nominees are:

Best Contemporary Novel

  • The Good, the Bad and the Emus, by Donna Andrews
  • A Demon Summer, by G. M. Malliet
  • Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  • The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny
  • Designated Daughters, by Margaret Maron

Best Historical Novel

  • Hunting Shadows, by Charles Todd
  • An Unwilling Accomplice, by Charles Todd
  • Wouldn't it Be Deadly, by D. E. Ireland
  • Queen of Hearts, by Rhys Bowen
  • Murder in Murray Hill, by Victoria Thompson

Best First Novel

  • Circle of Influence, by Annette Dashofy
  • Tagged for Death, by Sherry Harris
  • Finding Sky, by Susan O'Brien
  • Well Read, Then Dead, by Terrie Farley Moran
  • Murder Strikes a Pose, by Tracy Weber

Best Nonfiction

  • 400 Things Cops Know: Street Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman, by Adam Plantinga
  • Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey, by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  • Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, by Kate Flora
  • The Art of the English Murder, by Lucy Worsley
  • The Poisoner: the Life and Crimes of Victorian England's Most Notorious Doctor, by Stephen Bates

Best Short Story

  • "The Odds Are Against Us," by Art Taylor
  • "Premonition," by Art Taylor
  • "The Shadow Knows," by Barb Goffman
  • "Just Desserts for Johnny," by Edith Maxwell
  • "The Blessing Witch," by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Best Children's/Young Adult

  • Andi Under Pressure, by Amanda Flower
  • Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
  • Uncertain Glory, by Lea Wait
  • The Code Busters' Club, Case #4, The Mummy's Curse, by Penny Warner
  • Found, by Harlan Coben

The winners will be announced at the Agatha Awards Banquet on May 2, 2015, part of the annual Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Jan 302015

Perhaps British author, critic and man-about-town Mike Ripley needs to check his calendar. Although we are still in January, he has just published his February column for the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine, "Getting Away with Murder." As always, it's a good look at the state of crime fiction in the U. K. (primarily).

In this month's edition, Mike is off on his usual round of publishers' parties, drinks, new books, drinks, new publications, new/vintage Penguin Book covers (take heart, Green Penguin fans!), old mystery movies, a French police drama series on TV, and drinks. Also: a former US basketball star's first mystery for adults, starring Sherlock Holmes's older brother Mycroft; Sarah Weinman's new blog, including her critique of some narrators of new "domestic suspense" novels who appear to be "TSTL" (Too Stupid To Live); a couple of James Bond, er, "continuation novels"; a forthcoming mystery convention in Italy sponsored by Chianti producers (yes, please); and some chatty previews of books coming down the road - at least, so far, in the U.K. Go read, go enjoy. By the way, this is his 99th column - and he insists the next one, number 100, will be his last...

Jan 012015

I'm not sure I would elevate any of these thoughts to the status of a "New Year's Resolution," but I do intend to try a few new things with this blog and podcast, to keep the blood flowing and prevent hardening of the mysterious arteries.

First, although I'm participating in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Challenge again, I will try to include some additional mysteries - ones that were not necessarily written before 1960. I need 36 mysteries to fulfill my challenge commitment, but that still leaves 16 other weeks, not to mention that there's no rule that says I can't do more than one a week, at least on the blog.

While I'm at it, since the podcast is now 7 1/2 years old, I think it's time I go back and bring some of the original reviews to your attention. As I didn't really start the blog until the podcast was nearly a year old, and since I started by reviewing some of my all-time favorites, I think it might be good to call some of them to your attention. I'll do this sporadically, and they'll usually be headlined "Looking Back."

Oh, and there are a lot of other, smaller challenges out there. I may jump into some of those from time to time.

I hope you'll come along for the ride. I'm very grateful to all of you who visit here, and I hope you enjoy the reviews - and that you'll enjoy the books themselves even more.

Dec 182014

The end of the year is fast approaching - and so are the deadlines for registering for some of next year's great mystery conferences and saving yourself a bit of money, too.

Let's start with Left Coast Crime, coming up in Portland, OR, March 12-15. Register by December 31 and the price is $175. Dawdle until January 1 and it goes up to $195. Also, early registrants (prior to January 23) will be able to take part in the nominating process for four categories of awards. Click here for their registration page.

Next up is Malice Domestic, that annual celebration of the traditional mystery held each year in Bethesda, MD. In 2015, the conference will be held from May 1 through May 3. Price varies (depending on whether you want to attend the Agatha Awards banquet, which you should), but all prices increase on January 1. Those who register before December 31 get to help select the final nominees for the awards. Click here for registration information.

And in the fall, there is Bouchercon 2015, the oldest and largest of the conferences, coming up in Raleigh, NC, from October 8 through October 11. The price for this one is $175 until January 1, after which it goes up to $195. Their registration page is here.

Never been to a mystery conference? Maybe this is the year for you to try one. Each of these conferences attracts hundreds of mystery authors and more hundreds of readers who want a chance to meet and mingle with their favorite authors - and to learn about new authors and books they might enjoy. There are entertaining and informative panel discussions, rooms full of book dealers, prestigious awards, well-known guests of honor, autograph sessions, welcoming bags filled with books to take home, and the opportunity to make a great many new friends. I attended all three this past year; in 2015, I'll be missing Malice (much to my regret), but looking forward to attending all of them again in 2016. Try one. You'll enjoy it.

Dec 152014

Love her or hate her, British crime fiction author (and critic) P. D. James, who passed away last month, was one of the strongest defenders of the modern British crime novel. Over the course of a writing career that spanned 50 years, she wrote only about 20 novels, eleven of them featuring police detective Adam Dalgliesh. While she certainly had ties to the traditional mystery, she was more interested in creating realistic characters involved in crimes which generally grew out of their personalities rather than being imposed as puzzles.

Perhaps her closest approach to the traditional mystery may be found in her first Dalgliesh novel, Cover Her Face, originally published in 1962. It's the story of the murder of a young woman, a maid in one of those traditional English country houses. Cover Her Face is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

Sally Jupp loved to keep secrets - making it very clear to everyone, however, that she was in possession of those secrets. She had an illegitimate child, for example, but wouldn't identify the father. She irritated almost every member of the household where she worked, and she even announced that the family's son had proposed to her.

Well, as one of the characters says, “She liked amusing herself with people…They can be dangerous playthings.” Apparently someone, pushed beyond endurance, kills Sally - in a locked room, no less. And so Adam Dalgliesh - a mere Detective Chief Inspector in this book, he would later be promoted to a Commander of the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard - arrives at the estate to investigate the murder.

While James plays with the traditional English mystery ingredients - the country house setting, the locked room, the "upstairs downstairs" relationships between the family suspects and the servants - she is quite clearly more interested in giving us the memorable characters who populate this book. Although there are plenty of traditional clues to the identity of the killer, the solution to the mystery really comes from the interplay among the characters and the uncovering of their petty (and not so petty) secrets, often under the guidance of Dalgliesh. It was a pretty impressive debut performance for James. Over the years, her stories became longer and more complex - and, to me, less enjoyable, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Cover Her Face.


Dec 122014

The calendar says it is still 2014, but the Mystery Writers of America have named the recipients of some very special 2015 awards, which will be presented at the annual Edgar Awards banquet next April.

The 2015 Grand Masters Awards, which are really life/career achievement awards, go to two fine, long-standing authors, Lois Duncan and James Ellroy.

The group is also awarding two Raven Awards, which are presented for outstanding achievement outside the field of creative writing. The awards will go to Jon and Ruth Jordan of Crimespree Magazine and to Kathryn Kennison, the founder of the Midwestern mystery conference Magna Cum Murder - a conference I haven't yet attended, meaning I ought to get up and go. 

The MWA is presenting its 2015 Ellery Queen Award to Charles Ardai, the editor of the publishing (and republishing) house, Hard Case Crime. The award is designed to honor writing teams (such as the team that was Ellery Queen) and/or leaders in the mystery publishing industry.

You can find full details about the awards and the winners here. They will all receive their awards at the Edgar banquet in New York on April 29, 2015. Congratulations to the honorees!

Hat tip to Xavier Lechard, of the At the Villa Rose blog (via Facebook).

Dec 082014

Sorry I had to miss the Wolfe Pack's annual Black Orchid weekend in New York. The annual events, which include a gala banquet, take place each year on the first full weekend of December, in honor of author Rex Stout's birthday.

At the banquet, the annual Nero Award, presented to an author "for the best American Mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories," was given to this year's winner, David Morell, for Murder as a Fine Art. The winner and runners up:
  • Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell, Little, Brown & Company
  • Ask Not, Max Allan Collins, Tor & Forge Books
  • Three Can Keep a Secret, Archer Mayor, St. Martins Press 
  • A Study in Revenge, Kieran Shields, Crown Publishing Group
  • A Question of Honor, Charles Todd, William Morrow/Harper Collins

Working jointly with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the Wolfe Pack also presented the annual Black Orchid Novella Award to author K. G.McAbee for his novella, "Dyed to Death." The award celebrates the novella, the long short story/short novel format at which Rex Stout excelled. 

Congratulations are in order for the winners and all the runners-up. From what I hear, it was - as usual - a pretty fabulous event.