Many of us have a favorite French mystery. Paula's is [surprise] Bruno, Chief of Police/Death in the Dordogne, the first in Martin Walker's wonderfully charming series. Ann's choice is somewhat grim [another surprise], Allan Massie's Death in Bourdeax, set in Vichy France early in World War II.
What's your favorite French mystery? Send the title and author to firstname.lastname@example.org
(subject line: quiz). A prizewinner (a $25 gift card) will be randomly drawn from all submissions.
Lots of you had name suggestions for our new garden plot mascots, our pair of domestic fowl, who will make their debut in the spring. This month's winner is Marilyn Hill of Albany, Oregon. (No, we won't reveal her suggestions.)
Each month we note birthdays of some of the masters of the mystery genre, with hopes that readers might read (or re-read) one of their gems.
Wilkie Collins, author of The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) among others, was born in London on January 8, 1824. He died in 1889, having written some of the earliest "mystery" novels.
Manfred B. Lee, born in Brooklyn on January 11, 1905, was one of the two cousins who were Ellery Queen for 42 years, until Lee's death in 1971. Through their anthologies and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, they were themajor influence on mystery short stories in America. Their novels and short stories about Ellery Queen provided reading and viewing pleasure to generations.
The novelist Walter Mosley
born in Los Angeles on January 12, 1952, gained success and fame following the exploits of Easy Rawlins, a hard-nosed African-American PI in LA and World War II veteran, through the changing racial landscape in Los Angeles to the Patty Hearst era.
, a noted
feminist academic (Carolyn Heilbrun), was the queen of American academic mystery writers. Born on January 13, 1926, in East Orange, NJ, she was the first woman to get tenure in the Columbia University English Department. Her mysteries reflect her feminist beliefs and are often extremely critical of universities' treatment of women. She died in 2003.
Edgar Allan Poe
, the father of
detective fiction, was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. A notorious gambler, drunkard, and drug addict, he was a leading literary figure in 19th-century America. His
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is recognized as the first detective story. Since 1946 the Edgars, awarded each year by the Mystery Writers of America, honor the best in the genre and his memory.
, best known for her dark psychological mysteries, was born in Texas on January 19, 1921. The author, who spent most of her life living abroad, was best known for her Strangers on the Train (1950) and later her series featuring Tom Ripley. Her life was not made happy by her fame. She died in 1995.
Some of you already do this, but just a reminder that there's something you can do for other mystery readers--and it's free.
Forward them our newsletter. If they enjoy it and would like their very own free subscription, tell them to sign up by emailing us at email@example.com. We're pleased to have subscribers throughout the United States as well as many internationally.
What better way to carry your books (or anything else) and at the same time demonstrate your love of mysteries than with our signature black bag?
Made of durable fabric with reinforced 20-inch handles, the bag sports our recognizable logo. ($7)
Remember, if you've taken your Mainely Murders bag on a trip, let us know. Send your photo (jpg) and details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for supporting
Mainely Murders and other small independent booksellers. At a time when you have other choices, you've shown a commitment to those of us who are part of the local community and who consider customers to be friends and neighbors.
We take great pride in talking with our clientele, whether it's trading viewpoints on favorites or recommending new titles and authors.
. . . and a sincere thanks for another wonderful year. As we closed our doors on 2018 a few days ago, we couldn't help thinking back eight months when we opened them for the year. Then, we wondered if we had the books you wanted. Now we know that mostly, but not always, we did.
Time really does fly when you're having fun--and get to talk to people who like the same things we like. (Well, occasionally people like what Ann likes.) Eight years have blown by. We sell ever more books--and get ever older, which is less good.
We're often asked, "How long will you do this book thing?" Our answer: "Until it's not fun anymore." So far, it's still fun.
Before we sit down to assess the year, there's plenty to do: putting away holiday decorations and clearing off what remains of our Ho-Ho Homicide shelves. Emptying the outdoor sales cabinet. Then we cover the shelves.
We'll soon be leaving for our winter home in Paris. For those interested, we'll begin our travelogue in our next issue. Ann's considering a short blog of desserts, mostly little tart pictures, if she remembers to photograph the desserts before she consumes them.
For those new to our newsletter--or for benefit of longtime readers who might have forgotten--you will continue to hear from us over the next four months, despite our store's closure. We hope we might hear from you, too.
Partners in Crime
P.S. Thanks to generous customers, this year's Toys (Books) for Tots campaign was a big success, allowing us to provide age-appropriate mysteries to needy youngsters. You stuffed our collection jar, wrote checks, and spoke of the mysteries you read as a child and teenager. (Yes, we were all teenagers once.)
From Our Friends
Throughout the year--and not just the holidays--our customers are forever surprising us with gifts.
Knowing our affinity for food, they often bring us gifts of homemade cookies and pastries and home-canned jams, jellies, relishes, and pickles. (We suspect they believe, and rightly so, that baking and canning aren't our strong suits.)
And, then, there are book-themed messages. ("So many books; so little time" is more than just a T-shirt slogan.)
Comparing a movie to its original book is
something most of us do. Which usually wins? We know, and so do Harvey
and Gen Marks
of Metheun, Massachusetts, who presented us with mugs that say it all.
T-shirts are the perfect canvas for some of our feelings about the books we love. Dawn Jordan of Standish, Maine, and her brother-in-law, Charles Jordan of Livingston, New Jersey, apparently thought so, too, when they presented us with our favorite tees: "If It's Books, It's Not Hoarding" and "I'm Not Addicted to Books; We're In A Committed Relationship."
We don't know who they had in mind--them or us?
--but Charlie and Cheryl Wallace of Portland said they couldn't resist this sign. We've chosen to hang it in our house, rather than the shop. After all, you do, indeed, make us very happy!
Our 'Small World' Department
Anyone who doesn't believe it's a "small world" has never owned a bookstore.
Here's one courtesy of Spencer
and Patricia Elrod
of Ashville, North Carolina. During their October visit, we discovered one of those "small world" connections. Spencer hails from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and is a graduate of Arkansas State University, where several years later, we both taught--Ann (history) and Paula (journalism). While their paths didn't cross there, they discovered friends in common: Spencer's best childhood pal? Paula's department chairman.
Traveling Book Bag
There's absolutely no truth to the rumor that we send our book bag out on the road to recruit customers. It's entirely coincidental that after living in Ketchikan, Alaska, for the last eight years Kelly Connarton is returning to the "lower 48," and a new home in Cape Neddick, Maine
Fiona Barton, The Suspect [Kate Waters #3]
Alan Bradley, The Golden Tresses of the Dead [Flavia de Luce #10]
James Lee Burke, The New Iberia Blues [Dave Robicheaux #22]
E.J. Cooperman, Bones Behind the Wheel [Haunted Guesthouse #10]
Tim Dorsey, No Sunscreen for the Dead [Serge Storms #22]
Kate Ellis, The Boy Who Lived With the Dead [Albert Lincoln #2]
Lindsay Faye, The Paragon Hotel [NS]
Joseph Finder, Judgment [NS]
vid Housewright, First, Kill the Lawyers [Holland Taylor #5]
Gregg Hurwitz, Out of the Dark [Orphan X #4]
Michael Koryta, How It Happened [NS]
John Lescroart, The Rule of Law [Dismas Hardy & Abe Glitsky #21]
Thomas Perry, The Burglar [NS]
Nick Petrie, Tear It Down [Peter Ash #4]
Bill Pronzini, The Flimflam Affair [Sabina Carpenter & John Quincannon #7]
Mark Pryor, The Book Artist [Hugo Marston #8]
Mathew Quick, The Night Agent [NS]
James Rollins, Crucible [Sigma Force #14]
Brad Taylor, Daughter of War [Pike Logan #13]
F. Paul Wilson, The Void Protocol [ICE Sequence #3]
* Maine author
What We're Reading
"What are you reading now?" is a frequent question, especially from first-timers. (Ann sometimes lies and says she has. Apparently, the devil makes her do it.) So, each month, we each select an author (or title) from our reading the previous month.
Adrian Magson (Ann)
Tough times in tough places, that's where Adrian Magson's Marc Portman, deep cover protection specialist, shines. Somalia. Ukraine. Russia. He's in the background, protecting people who don't even know he's there--for government agencies in the U.S. or Britain who want complete deniability.
Of course, remaining in the background is the
ideal. Most of the action in these books comes from the problems his targets come to face (often because of betrayal by or ignorance on the part of those who put them in danger's way). Then the action barrels along.
Portman himself is a shadowy figure, known to a few in the intelligence community as the Watchman (also the name of the first book in the series).
He obviously has a high-skilled military background and is a solitary figure whose home, when he has time to be there, is in the U.S.
These are great action-adventure books, and you learn a lot about places where you are deeply grateful not to live. And learn more that you might like about drone and satellite surveillance. (It's not only Amazon or the phone companies who know where you are. Even in the back of beyond they know.)
Normally one would expect these books to be right up there with Peter Ash's Nick Petrie books or Greg Hurwitz's Nowhere Man series. Alas, they have no U.S. publisher and no mass market publisher in Britain. Instead, they are published by Severn House, which specializes in good but underrated authors like Caro Ramsay and have fairly high prices.
P.S. Magson has another series that I'm also pretty high on: one about a 1960s French policeman, Lucas Rocco. Rocco is sent to the countryside because he doesn't follow orders especially well and immediately finds out that the rural powers don't want him to rock the boat. He does and continues to do so through six books.
Megan Abbott (Paula)
I didn't want to read Megan Abbott. I try to avoid reading authors described with superlatives, like "the 21st century's answer to Patricia Highsmith." I'm also not a big fan of that psychological stuff.
Still, I felt compelled. After all, I'm a bookseller. And Abbott is an author who, year after year, appears on lists of the most critically acclaimed titles. But, I told myself as a reached for a couple of her books, "I'm not going to like these."
I was wrong. I was really wrong! (Ann contends that those few words are always music to her ears.)
I started with Abbott's
most recent, the highly touted, Give Me Your Hand
. I intentionally avoided reading any reviews before I started. By the time I completed this tale of friendships, rivalries, and secrets among women in the highly competitive medical research field, I was sold; this woman is good.
Next, I read You Will Know Me (2017), set against the backdrop of the equally competitive--and creepy--world of elite women's gymnastics.
Looking back at some of the author's earlier books--her 2005 debut was Die A Little--it's easy to see that Abbott's stock in trade are stories about young women (cheerleaders, gymnasts, and, most recently, ambitious young scientists).
Abbott's honest portrayals of not always likeable characters made me suspicious, uncomfortable, and, at times, a little queasy. After all, things are never exactly the way you thought they'd be. Pretty much like life. She's that good.
From the very beginning, Sara Paretsky has been a pioneer among mystery writers. Along with Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton, she's credited with the creation of the tough-gal PI. And she is one of the most socially engaged.
A Mystery Writers of America Grand Master--along with just about every other honor for lifetime contribution to mystery writing--Paretsky and her creation, V.I. Warshawski, still reign supreme. Thirty-six years after her series debut, Double Indemnity (1982), Paretsky continues to take on the perils (and politics) of Chicago.
Marilyn Brooks of Needham, Massachusetts, recently weighed in on the writer's latest, Shell Game.
Every novel by Sara Paretsky is wonderful, and her latest is no exception. Shell Game brings Chicago-based private detective V. I. Warshawski into the all-too-timely issue of immigration, both legal and illegal, that is facing the United States now.
Shell Game opens with V.I. (Vic) making her way through the woods with a Cook County deputy sheriff and Felix Herschel, the nephew of her dearest friend Lotty. Felix was contacted by the authorities to identify the brutalized body of a dead man who had Felix's name and phone number on a note in his jeans pocket. His response to the officer in charge, Lieutenant McGivney, and V.I., when seeing the body strikes them both as strange. "I don't know him. Where is he from?"
Felix, a Canadian citizen, is a graduate student at the Illinois Institute of Technology and is active in the university's Engineers for a Free State. He tells Vic that he and several other international students had been picked up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities a few weeks earlier, and he had been held for several hours by ICE without benefit of legal representation before he was released. Although ICE said it was checking on the immigration status of all foreign students, Felix said that only students from the Middle East or South America were actually detained. As a favor to Lotty, Vic is willing to look into the case, but Felix will tell her nothing, and without his help there's not much she can do.
The next morning V.I. is greeted at her apartment house by an unexpected visitor. It's her niece Harmony, the daughter of her former husband's sister. Harmony has come to Chicago to look for her sister Reno, who had arrived in the city several weeks earlier to look for a job. She got one through her Uncle Dick, Vic's ex, but he was less than enthusiastic to see his niece and told her that this was the only favor he was doing for her and not to bother him again.
All Harmony knows about what happened to Reno is that she obtained a job at Rest EZ, a payday loan company, and that shortly after she started she received a promotion and the opportunity to fly to the Caribbean for the company's Mardi Gras party. When Reno returned, she was upset and agitated but wouldn't tell her sister more than that. Becoming upset herself, Harmony flew from Oregon to Chicago to talk to Reno, but Reno is no longer working for Rest EZ nor is she at her apartment. Uncle Dick professes to know nothing and to care less, so it's up to "Auntie Vic" to find Reno.
As always, Vic is the person you want if you need a private investigator. She is smart, determined, loyal, and tough. And she's always on the side of the underdog.
Sara Paretsky is clearly the godmother of current authors like Julia Keller and Auzma Kahanet Khan, who infuse their mysteries with current events (drug abuse and war refugees respectively). In addition to being exciting books with strong protagonists and stories, they bring readers issues straight from the headlines.
is yet one more example of Sara Paretsky's skill in invoking a strong heroine in today's world.