Book Review: Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards

Gone Too FarGone Too Far
Natalie D. Richards
Sourcebooks Fire, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4022-8554-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Send me a name. Make someone pay.

Piper Woods can’t wait to graduate. To leave high school-and all the annoying cliques-behind. But when she finds a mysterious notebook filled with the sins of her fellow students, Piper’s suddenly drowning in their secrets.

And she’s not the only one watching…

An anonymous text invites Piper to choose: the cheater, the bully, the shoplifter. The popular kids with their dirty little secrets. And with one text, Piper can make them pay.

But the truth can be dangerous…

Piper is like the majority of kids trying to get through high school—keeping her head low, avoiding the top echelon of jocks and cheerleaders, keeping up with her studies so she can get the heck out of Dodge and make a life for herself—but even her walls can’t keep her completely distanced from what happens to Stella one day. Stella, one of the golden kids, falls prey to a vicious verbal attack and Piper is right beside her when it happens. Afterward, Piper walks away but she can’t help feeling drawn to Stella in her pain.

Piper should have paid attention to her own misgivings for the unthinkable happens and Piper can’t help thinking she could have done something. And what about the notebook she picked up that day, the one that seems to contain secrets her classmates wouldn’t want spread about? Whose notebook is it and what does it have to do with Stella’s humiliation? Piper is about to find out and, before long, her own guilt and anger pull her into a spiral of revenge and judgement, leading to betrayal of the worst kind.

Piper is a girl who represents all those kids who are on the fringe, not a part of the favored few, and I felt a really strong connection to her, as well as to her best friend, Manny. What surprised me most was how appealing I found some of that inner circle, how vulnerable they were despite their privileged lives. Nick is a good guy in flimsy disguise but Tate…ah, Tate. That’s a boy who learns the hard way what really matters.

Gone Too Far is the second book by Ms. Richards that I’ve read, following Six Months Later, and I loved this one just as much. This author has a sure touch when it comes to depicting teens and their world, a world we all go through but one which is not always remembered in quite the right way. She sees into these kids and finds their innermost beings, their hearts and souls, whether good, bad or indifferent. I hate that I have to wait for her next book but this was a fine way to end this year and Gone Too Far will be on my list of favorites for 2014.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

An Excerpt from Gone Too Far

I unzip my bag, rifling through stuff that’s worthless right now: proof sheets from the homecoming dance, my history textbook— might be useful if I hadn’t already taken that test—an extra lens cap. My fingers close around a slim, spiral-bound spine. That notebook I found.

I pull it out. Maybe, by some stroke of cosmic luck, it’s someone else’s AP chemistry notes. Fat chance, but I’m desperate.

I open the book and frown at the three large words handwritten on the inside of the cover.

Malum Non Vide

Great. Latin notes. I think it’s Latin, anyway. Regardless, it’s useless to me.

I sigh, running a finger down the cardboard pocket insert that protects the first page. Funny. I’ve never seen anyone use these stupid things, but I can feel a thick lump in this one. I pull back the cardboard far enough to see what’s inside—pictures. A whole stack of them. A photographer not checking out a stack of prints is about as likely as a cat resisting an open can of tuna. It’s not exactly snooping, more like creative curiosity.

I slide a couple of photos out by the edges. Poor quality black and white snapshots taken around the school from what I can tell. I straighten the top photo to get a better look. It’s Isaac Cooper…but it’s wrong.

Isaac’s eyes are empty. White sockets glare out at me, windows to a place where Isaac’s soul used to be.

I feather my thumb over the face, feeling the jagged scrapes and tears in the photo. The eyes weren’t just colored over—they were gouged out. And someone took their time about it, picking out bits of iris and pupil, leaving nothing but a pale oval framed by his eyelids.

A chill ghosts up my spine, nesting in the hair at the nape of my neck.

Who would do this? I try to picture it; someone hunched over with a needle, scratching away. The image sends my stomach into free fall.

I flip to the next picture. Anna Price. Her eyes are gone too. I keep flipping—Kristen, Ming, that guy who always seems to be dating one of the cheerleaders. Three more pictures. Six more gaping holes where eyes should be. My heart beats faster, pushing ice into my veins.

I put the pictures back with shaking hands.

What the hell kind of book is this?

Come back on Friday to enjoy my
interview with Natalie D. Richards.

Books ‘n More Books—and a Giveaway!

Kathleen Delaney with Books 2Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with her thoughts on some of the books she’s read and enjoyed in 2014.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. PureBred Dead, the first in a new series, will be out in the spring of 2015.

It’s over. Presents have been unwrapped, the last of the turkey has been consumed, the eggnog is gone, and tomorrow we celebrate a New Year by taking down the tree as we watch parades and football. The New Year opens before us, we have make good resolutions, most of which we know we won’t keep, but we’ll try as we attempt to make this year a good one.

One of the most popular presents given recently seem to be gift cards. The sales that started the day after Thanksgiving have taken on an even greater intensity now Christmas has come and gone and merchants want to get rid of all that merchandise that didn’t sell. The bargains are tempting. So, are you going shopping? Or perhaps you’d prefer to use those cards to truly indulge yourself. You’re going to buy books. Only, which ones? Maybe I can help.

I don’t do reviews, and am not going to now. However, I do read a lot, and thought I’d share a few books I’ve read this year I really enjoyed and am glad I own. Well, I don’t own them all. I bought a lot of them as Christmas presents, and we all know you can’t give a book you haven’t read. There are many more good books out this year than the ones I mention here, but hopefully these will give you a few ideas.

Elizabeth 1, by Margaret George is a fictional version of the last years of Elizabeth 1’s life and it’s as big and powerful as the lady was herself. It’s a compelling novel, full of romance, intrigue, adventure, and betrayal and it’s all true. A monumental work, impossible to put down. Also impossible to read in bed. It’s over 600 pages, but don’t let that stop you. This is a wonderful book.

Three novels of suspense I particularly liked were all written by women, who at one time were considered incapable of writing this type of story. If that theory needed proving untrue, these three did it, and beautifully.

Jenny Milchman, Ruin Falls, absorbing, suspenseful, terrifying at times. This is her 2nd novel. She keeps getting better.

Julia Dahl, Invisible City. Set in NY’s Hasidic community, its’ rich in suspense while handling complex characters with insight and compassion. This is her first novel. I hope it won’t be the last.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Truth Be Told. Already has won Library Journal’s Best of 2014, and I agree. It’s a Jane Ryland novel, full of twists and turns, explores the ethics of the journalists’ world (yes, they do have ethics) as well as being a gripping tale of suspense. A terrific read.

We can’t leave out the guys and at least one of them gave us a book that is smart, funny with just the right touch of romance, and delightfully reminiscent of James Herriot. I read the review of Dog Gone, Back Soon, by Nick Trout on this blog, bought the book, and am very glad I did. Which brings me to another topic.

How do you find these books? How do you search through the piles of books in Barns and Noble, to find the one you really want to take home? Or the smaller piles at your local bookshop? Actually, that’s easier. They can tell you a lot about the books, and once you get to talking, they’ll put one in your hands you’ll just love. But if you don’t have an independent book seller close by, and chances are you don’t, how do you go about sorting it all out? By publisher? By on line book reviews? By blogs such as this one? Yes.

Look at the publisher of the book you just finished. Then go onto that publisher’s web site and see what else they are offering. Chances are, you’ll find another one you’ll enjoy. Books are pretty subjective and publishers, as well as readers, tend to pick books with certain characteristics. I don’t mean the books are all the same, but if you start to pay attention to publishers, you’ll find they tend to publish books that appeal to readers with certain tastes. Look for the house that appeals to yours and roam their web site Murder by Syllabuboften. On line book reviews, yes. But be selective. Anyone can write a review but they are not all objective informed reviews. I’ve read reviews, of my books and others, where I wasn’t sure the reviewer and I were talking about the same book. If you sample enough of them you’ll soon learn which ones are objective, thoughtful reviews that don’t give away the ending. Blogs, absolutely. This one is excellent, and there are others. Pay attention to them, and then pick out a few you like for whatever reason.

Go talk to your librarian, to your local bookseller, join a book discussion group, ask your friends at the gym what they’re reading, if they like the book and why. Many of them have read something recently and they’ll all have an opinion on it. It may not be the same as yours, but it can be another book to explore. You’ll find some stinkers, but some gems as well.

I’ve left out a lot of books I liked, many of them mysteries but by no means all. It would take more space than I have to talk about all of them. Then there are the “self published” books. Some are outstanding, some not so much. We’ll talk about this difficult subject in another blog.

And, please, keep up with the web site of authors you’ve enjoyed. How many times have you read a book, liked it, started to tell someone about it and couldn’t remember the author’s name? Lots, I’ll bet. So, write down the name of the authors you like, then pay them a visit. They all have web sites, blogs, have Facebook and Twitter accounts. “Like” or follow them. Believe me, they’ll like or follow you right back, and you’ll find out when their next book is due in a bookstore near you.

Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Murder by Syllabub by Kathleen Delaney,
leave a comment below with one or more
book recommendations. The winning name
will be drawn Friday evening, January 2nd.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Book Reviews: Two Futuristic Zombie Novels by Rhiannon Frater

The Last Bastion of the LivingThe Last Bastion of the Living
A Futuristic Zombie Novel
Rhiannon Frater
CreateSpace, June 2012
ISBN 978-1475206319
Trade Paperback

From the author—

As long as the undead hordes of the Inferi Scourge howl outside the dying city, the last remaining humans struggle to survive inside The Bastion. Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her entire life within the towering walls. Her only refuge from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts, and food shortages is in the arms of Officer Dwayne Reichardt. Then Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy the Inferi Scourge and reclaim the land and resources in the valley beyond the wall. If she succeeds, the city may be saved.

But if she fails, humanity faces extinction…

Does Rhiannon Frater write terrific zombie books? A few reviewers elsewhere have panned her for what may or may not be mistakes with such things as gun details and one even gigged her for a sentence that is reason enough to pass on this book (after a lot of other complaints). Here’s the way I look at it—I don’t care if all the technical details are correct because (1) I don’t know one way or the other and (2) I’m not looking for perfection in my zombie books because, hey, it’s FICTION and all I want is to be entertained. When it comes to zombies and survivors, it can be serious or humorous or a blending of the two but I want characters I can connect with and a plot that makes at least a little bit of sense but campy will work for me, too. With those criteria, I have to say that Rhiannon Frater is one of my very favorite authors in the zombie field.

One of Ms. Frater‘s talents is in scene-setting. The opening scene in this book is visceral and left no doubt in my mind what kind of zombie story this was going to be. Maria is shown to be a woman determined to do what needs to be done and yet shaken by that very duty, a woman who is, in fact, normal, no superhero. Facing her is a horror we hope we’ll never have to confront but the roiling, endless wave of the Scourge is so vivid that I completely understood Maria’s moment of paralysis.

Then, terror.

Not all is doom and gloom, though, as evidenced by our brief introduction to Chief Defender Dwayne Reichardt. The touch of humor in his first remark to Maria is a welcome break in the nightmare and a peek at what kind of person he is.

I liked the liaison that developed between Maria and Dwayne. They’re a sort of May-December couple but it works because they have their war experience in common and I appreciated the way Ms. Frater didn’t make her readers suffer through the agonies of a budding relationship but plopped us right in the middle of it. They have to deal with the realities of life, though, chief of which is the near-certainty that humanity has no long-term future.

And then Maria is offered a chance to make a real difference. Is science really the answer? In forty-eight hours, Maria will begin to find out and the answers will be shocking.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Last Mission of the LivingThe Last Mission of the Living
A Futuristic Zombie Novel #2
Rhiannon Frater
CreateSpace, August 2014
ISBN 978-1500959357
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction…

Vanguard Lindsay Rooney has faced the undead hordes of Inferi Scourge and lived to tell the tale, but she has also suffered horrible losses. Like millions of other civilians, she had hoped that The Bastion would recover after a team of modified soldiers eradicated the undead hordes of Inferi Scourge that infested their valley. Yet the city still crumbles around them, along with any chance of survival.

Lindsey’s growing friendship with Torran MacDonald, an officer with the Science Warfare division, is her only solace as the decline of the city continues. When food riots fill the streets, martial law is enacted, and the upper echelons of government battle for control of the city, Lindsey is conscripted by her superiors to embark on a dangerous mission into the dead world beyond The Bastion. To add even more complications, Torran and the SWD join the squad.

Soon, Lindsey realizes that her mission is more than what it seems, and there are secrets that could both destroy The Bastion and take her life.

Much has changed since the Special Ops team cleared out most of the Scourge but there are still Scrags to be killed and, worse still, Abscrags, those that have been turned into thinking undead. It could be, though, that the most dangerous battle is taking place inside the Bastion where  a struggle for power is taking shape.

We first met Lindsey as a secondary character in The Last Bastion of the Living when the Vanguards made a deadly and mostly fruitless attempt to rebuild the wall. Best friends with Maria, Lindsey was given a desk job after being severely disabled but that desk job, and her hacking abilities, were ultimately more critical to the Special Ops team than could have been anticipated. Now, she’s asked to go on a mission that could mean survival for the last humans and her friend, Torran MacDonald, will be going with her but he has a hidden agenda that she’ll resist with all her being.

Lindsey and Torran have a relationship that grows from friendship to something more and its evolution feels right, not created by the abnormalities of a post-apocalyptic situation. Whether they, or their feelings for each other, will survive the continuing fight against the Scourge and the traitors in their midst is questionable but their devotion to duty will survive. Won’t it?

A bit of fun comes near the end when we learn where the Bastion is in our current geography. The revelation was completely unexpected and a breath of fresh air to me and this small tidbit of information is one of the reasons I love Rhiannon Frater‘s work—her worldbuilding is so good I can see what she wants me to see but there is always something new around the corner. Is this the end of the story for Lindsey and Torran? Perhaps. Both The Last Bastion of the Living and The Last Mission of the Living are seemingly self-contained and there are no real cliffhangers but I’d love to know more about this world and its people so I hope that, someday, there will be at least one more book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

Book Reviews: Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger and The Likeness by Tana French

Sons of SpartaSons of Sparta
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0314-5
Hardcover

Author Jeffrey Siger and Poisoned Pen Press continue their winning collaboration with this sixth entry in the excellent Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series. Set in turbulent, often corrupt, politically chancy, modern Greece, the novel enticingly exploits a full range of Mediterranean attractions. The history of Greece from Athens to Corinth to Sparta, and beyond is filled with thrilling exploits, good wine, fine food, smuggling, piracy and fierce familial ties. So too, this novel. No mistake, the author is very sympathetic to the passions and cultural attitudes, but he observes with a keen and balanced eye.

Yiannis Kouros is a young special crimes division detective. He’s also a member of an old and still powerful family descendent from ancient Spartan warriors. A family with ties to the full range of past illegal activities. When the head of the family, his uncle, calls, he must appear, worrying that he will be compromised in his loyalty to his boss and mentor, Chief Inspector Kaldis. It is the beginning of a long and complicated case of murder, old wrongs and new chicanery.

Kouros, Kaldis and the other member of the successful police triad, Tassos Stamatos, an aging, exceedingly competent homicide investigator buddy of Kaldis, combine their experience to protect Kouros from family pressure and simultaneously help solve the murder of Kouros’s uncle. The case involves a range of interesting criminals, crimes and members of Kouros’s family. It explores Greek culture in illuminating ways but the author is careful to maintain the focus of this novel on the interesting police procedures and the deductive processes of the cops in a government environment as corrupt and dysfunctional as one might ever encounter.

The plot is complicated, intriguing and well-considered. Occasional excursions into sexual dalliances are appropriately included to add interest and rhythm to the fabric of the novel. Pace almost never lags and the conclusion is satisfying.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The LikenessThe Likeness
Dublin Murder Squad Series #2
Tana French
Viking, July 2008
ISBN: 978-0-670-01886-4
Hardcover

First she wrote a best-seller, In The Woods. Now comes a second novel following the activities of a mythical Murder Squad in Ireland. The principal is again, Cassie Maddox, a fine detective, but one who seems doomed to tread the perilous paths of psychological involvement at very high levels.

After working murder and as an undercover operative, Cassie has moved on. Physically and still mentally damaged, she needs something with less stress. She finds it in what amounts to a desk job in the Domestic Violence unit. But her past will not let her alone.

When the novel opens, Cassie’s current boyfriend , Sam, a detective still on the murder squad, importunes her to visit a crime scene. A young woman has been found dead in an abandoned cottage in a small town outside Dublin. Cassie goes to the scene where she is mightily shocked to discover that the dead woman appears to be almost her twin. What is even more unsettling is that the dead woman is identified as Alexandra Madison, a name and persona used years ago by Detective Maddox in an undercover operation.

Unsettling as all that is, Cassie’s former boss of undercover operations sees the situation as ideal to help them solve the murder—by hiding the fact of Madison’s death for as long as possible and infiltrating Cassie into the dead woman’s life in order to solve her death. This situation is not without problems, several of which the author has left un-resolved. Moreover, the convoluted plot, including the question of who Alexandra Madison really is and who killed her does not lend itself to simple answers. Like her debut novel, which also leaves important questions in limbo, the narrative is handled in a stately and protracted manner. The novel is a good deal longer than it needs to be, but French’s style and high level of skill with language mitigates many of those problems.

In spite of my reservations, at least for traditional mystery fans who thrive on psychological tension, this is a mesmerizing novel with compelling characters, logical and precise progress, and an outstanding evocative sense of place. A real winner for serious fans of the psychological thriller.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Some Really Teeny Reviews

As you might surmise, I love to read and I
manage to do so pretty quickly. What I’m not
quick about is getting reviews written. I’ll get
around to these but, in the meantime, I thought
I’d share just a sentence or two about some
of the books I’ve enjoyed in the last year or so,
some perhaps more than others but I fancied
them all. Clicking on the links will take
you to a fuller description on Goodreads.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bubble WorldThe Christie CurseThe Case of the Purloined Painting

Bubble World by Carol Snow—imagine you’re a teen living in a utopia where everything is perfect and nothing ever goes wrong…and then it does. A nice mix of laughs and creepiness.

The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott—a nifty little mystery about rare books, shady uncles and an Agatha Christie play that may or not exist. Loved the characters, even the perps, and the plot kept me guessing.

The Case of the Purloined Painting by Carl Brookins—missing art from World War II, a missing woman and a body in the river are at the core of this mystery featuring a very short P.I. with a very tall girlfriend and a determination to see his cases through to a just resolution. Sean Sean is a cool guy and this noir-ish story has a lot of sly humor.

Not a Drop to DrinkRunnerCozy Food

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis—a future world in which water is so scarce it’s worth one’s life to protect what you have. There are only a handful of characters but each one, especially the young Lynn, is vivid and among the most engaging I’ve come across. I cared about these people and their world.

Runner by Patrick Lee—Sam Dryden, a former Special Forces guy, comes across a 12-year-old on the run from men who want to kill her but there’s a whole lot more to her story. I love Lee’s thrillers and this one is no exception, so much so that I read it AND listened to the audio book. Sam is the guy I want on my side in a crisis.

Cozy Food edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis—a collection of favorite recipes from cozy mystery authors along with a section giving information about the authors and their books. The recipes are as varied and interesting as the authors and, while I’m not heavyduty into cooking, I did try a few of them and they turned out to be as good as they sounded and I think I might try the pet food recipes for my kitties and granddog and grandkitty. This is a great way to find some new authors and some new food.

The Sound and the FurryTwilight Is Not Good For MaidensShattered

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn—Chet and Bernie are in the Louisiana bayou on the trail of a missing man and their foes include a menacing gang, Big Oil and a hungry gator. These oh-so-appealing detectives are as wonderful as ever and nobody tells a story better than Chet does.

Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens by Lou Allin—the last entry in the Holly Martin RCMP series in which young women are being attacked and a colleague of Holly’s is accused of one of the assaults. Tension runs high and it’s interesting to see how a woman fares in the Mounties. Lou was one of my favorite Canadian crime writers and I called her friend for many years ; because this was the last book of hers I read before she passed, I have found it difficult to write a review but I did, indeed, enjoy it.

Shattered by Kevin Hearne—#7 in the Iron Druid Chronicles and Atticus has brought a mentor from 2,000 years ago into the modern world while his apprentice, Granuaile, is battling a sorcerer in India. As always, I listened to the audio book because narrator Luke Daniels is the best there is and I especially love his interpretation of the conversations between Atticus and his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. This wasn’t my favorite of the series but it’s still a charmer.

A Killer RetreatKiller Instinct 2We Were Liars

A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber—yoga instructor Kate Davidson heads to a resort with her German Shepherd, Bella, and her boyfriend, Michael, and, of course, finds a body. This second in the series will be out in January and I found it just as entertaining as the first book.

Killer Instinct by Robert W. Walker—FBI medical examiner Dr. Jessica Coran is up against a particularly vicious killer who loves to torture his victims and he has Jessica in his crosshairs. This is the first in Walker’s Instinct series and I had read it before but had the opportunity to try the newly-released audio book. For the most part, the narration was well done and I was reminded of how well Walker can write this kind of story.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart—a privileged family spends every summer on a private island and the four teens find this summer to be, shall we say, a challenge in more ways than one. I’m always on the lookout for really good crime-related young adult fiction and this one is terrific with a twist you won’t see coming. It will be on my favorites of 2014 list.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check back in a day or two—with a little bit
of luck I’ll have a few more recommendations.

Who Said That? And a Giveaway!

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. A Wedding and a Killing is the eight installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series.

In addition to her series set on Deep Creek Lake, Lauren Carr has also written the Lovers in Crime Mysteries, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates, who were introduced in Shades of Murder, the third book in the Mac Faraday Mysteries. They also make an appearance in The Lady Who Cried Murder.

Lauren launched the Lovers in Crime (first introduced in Shades of Murder) mystery series in September 2012 with Dead on Ice. Real Murder is the second installment in this series.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This year, several books, over a variety of genre, written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services, which is currently accepting submissions. Visit Acorn Book Services website for more information.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Websites: http://acornbookservices.com/   //   http://mysterylady.net/
Blog: Literary Wealth
Facebook   //  Gnarly’s Facebook Page
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page   //  Acorn Book Services Facebook Page
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

 

You Can’t Always Judge an Author by Her Characters

Recently, I was delighted when a friend of mine, who is admittedly not a reader, finally broke down and read A Wedding and a Killing. Yes, it is my twelfth book and it took her that long, but we won’t mention that.

Of course, she wanted to discuss the various characters and what I was thinking when I wrote certain sections of the book.
In talking about Carmine, a jolly good-natured fellow and trustee of the church in which the murder had been committed, she brought up an interview with the police in which he declared, “… so then we’ll all end up in hell for an eternity with all the stupid atheists … After five minutes of saying ‘I told you so,’ then what are we going to do? Do you know how long an eternity is? It’s a long time.”

With a cringe, she said, “That was pretty strong language, don’t you think? It didn’t sound like you.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but that’s what Carmine said.”

After a moment, a slow grin crossed her face. “Yes, Carmine would say that.”

She got it—even though she’s not a reader herself. Maybe all those years of knowing me, some of my long winded rants about my characters taking over scenes in books had gotten through to her.

Unfortunately, some readers do fail to realize that usually things that come out of a character’s mouth do not accurately reflect the writer’s own thoughts, feelings, personality, or even beliefs.

That’s because serious authors, good writers, make it about the story, the book, not themselves. Admittedly, there are some writers who use their books as soapboxes, but most of us only want to spin a good story. The best ones include intriguing characters from all walks of life and each one has a different personality—sometimes in direct contrast to that of the author.

Some well-loved fictional protagonists have actually been hated by the very writers who had brought them to life. For example, Agatha Christie grew to despise Hercule Poirot, the detective who made her world famous. Forty years after creating him, she had been quoted as calling Poirot a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.”

Therefore, would it be reasonable for readers to assume that Hercule Poirot accurately reflected Agatha Christie’s own personality?

A handful of readers were outraged because a scene in my latest Mac Faraday Mystery, A Wedding and a Killing, included the murder of a homosexual couple. In their rush to judgment, some readers assumed that since I allowed two men engaged in homosexual sex to die violent deaths in my book that I, myself, am homophobic and was in some way acting out my hatred toward homosexuals.

What if, instead of a homosexual couple, it was a heterosexual couple murdered in A Wedding and a Killing? Would these same readers accuse me of heterophobia? Would they label heterophobic every mystery author who has offed a heterosexual? That would make well over ninety-five percent of murder mystery writers hateful toward heterosexuals. Seriously?

In my upcoming book, Three Days to Forever, I introduce a new positive character who is a vegan. He doesn’t eat meat (though he does eat fish and seafood), diary, or processed foods. Does that mean I personally don’t like people who eat animals?

Exactly, what can readers of my books gather about my personality, fears, beliefs, and prejudices based on my characters?

In Real Murder, the murder victim was an elderly woman who turned out to be a retired madam. This character was portrayed as a very sweet woman—she was a positive character. Therefore, I guess readers can assume that I approve of madams and believe prostitution should be legalized.

Dead on Ice includes a scene in which two elderly church ladies get into a brawl in the sanctuary. In A Wedding and a Killing, Police Chief David O’Callaghan recounts to Mac Faraday about being head-slapped by a church lady when he was a child. That was a true incident that happened to me! I guess readers can conclude that I really hate church ladies. (Not true. I am one myself.)

A reader once accused me of being prejudiced against fat people because one of the victims in It’s Murder, My Son was obese. Yet, I killed eight people in It’s Murder, My Son. One was obese. So-oo, taking into account all of the other murder victims in my books who did not have weight problems, is it safe for readers to conclude that I am bigoted against thin people?

In The Lady Who Cried Murder, readers get a closer look at Catherine Fleming, the wife of Garrett County prosecutor Ben Fleming. We learn that Catherine had come from a political powerful family and background, as did her husband—from the opposite political party. Who belongs to what party is not identified.

A Wedding and a KillingReaders also meet a villain, who is a corrupt senator backed by Catherine’s party. Yes, he is a white male who believes he is above the law. Therefore, I must believe all rich white males are corrupt. Wait a minute! My protagonist, Mac Faraday is a rich white male and he’s a good guy!

Catherine Fleming becomes a senator and is presented as a positive character. Therefore, based on that, readers can conclude that I am a feminist who believes that women make better politicians than men.

If that’s true, then why in A Wedding and a Killing do I have a “ditzy” blonde announce that she is running for the town council because “any idiot can get elected to office?” Surely, Catherine Fleming is not portrayed as an idiot, is she? Why would I say that? I didn’t say that. Marilyn did.

In A Wedding and a Killing, Edna, another positive female character and single mother, turns down a full time position that offers much more money and benefits because the job would take time away from her daughters.

Maybe I don’t believe women should have a job outside the home? But Catherine works outside the home in a demanding and important job that often takes her away from her husband. Two positive women who make two opposite career choices? Isn’t that a contradiction on my part since I’ve created both of these characters?

Yes, it is a contradiction. For me, it’s all about the mystery. It is a joy to write books that consist of a collection of characters who mix and match and contradict each other.

As a writer, if I limited my characters only to those who mirrored my own personality and beliefs—who walked and talked and acted like me, then that would make for a very boring book. My cast of characters would consist of Me, Myself, and I. I’d just change the names and clothes—but everything else would be the same.

Authors create characters to play roles in the books that they are writing. When they breathe life into the character, that character will take on their own personality, with their own wants and desire. Sometimes, they will mix well with the other characters (like Mac Faraday and his half-brother David O’Callaghan) and sometimes they won’t.

I had to fire a character in Shades of Murder, because she didn’t play well with my other characters.

The best way for characters to mix well is to complement each other—where one is weak, the other is stronger. Where one may have one set of beliefs, the other character may disagree, which will lead to the witty bantering that my readers so enjoy.

For example, protagonist Mac Faraday was the victim of a painful divorce due to his ex-wife’s infidelity. Plus, he has investigated several awful murders brought about by a high-risk lifestyle involving sexual promiscuity. Therefore, Mac strongly believes in leading a disciplined sex life. He’s in a committed relationship with his lady love Archie Monday.

In contrast, Police Chief David O’Callaghan has a weakness for pretty ladies. He’s also got a colorful history of embarking on casual affairs with the wrong type of women, including at least one who was married.

Both of these main characters are positive and well-loved in my books. In The Murders at Astaire Castle, David, upon being confronted by Mac about a long ago affair with a murder victim, asks, “Is my list of sexual conquests published somewhere?”

To which, Mac replies, “I hear it’s quite a list.”

So, based on what my characters say and do and the crimes in my books, where do I fall when it comes to sex?

Don’t ask me. I’m not going to tell you.

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Coming in February
Three Days to Forever

Three Days to ForeverWith three days left to the year, Deep Creek Lake is hopping with holiday vacationers and wedding guests pouring into the Spencer Inn for Mac Faraday and Archie Monday’s huge wedding ceremony which is being touted as the social event of the year.

But droopy flowers and guests who failed to RSVP are the least of Mac and Archie’s problems when a professional hit squad descends on Spencer Manor to send the groom, Joshua Thornton, the bride’s mother, and Gnarly running for their lives.

Three Days to Forever (the 9th Mac Faraday Mystery is scheduled for release February 10, 2015. Click on Book Cover to pre-order in ebook.

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Giveaway:
Three ebook copies of Lauren Carr’s
A Wedding and a Killing!
To enter the
drawing, just leave a comment below
about how much you identify an author
with her characters or the plot.
The three winning names will be drawn
on Monday evening, December 29th.

A Merry Christmas To All…

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