Merry Happy Everything

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share her thoughts about how our holiday season has lost some of its charm.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Once upon a time there were reasonable time gaps between Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each holiday had its very own month and we had breathing space between festivities. Somehow, over the years, the lines got blurred. Now there is no recovery time between the last piece of candy corn and the first candy cane. It’s demoralizing to walk into Walmart or Costco and see Christmas trees next to cornucopias.

Why the rush? The pressure is on from retailers for us to shop NOW. Stores compete with each other to be the first to put out holiday merchandise. This year they even moved Black Friday to three weeks before the real Black Friday (which is not real, just a marketing ploy to induce buying frenzy).

I blame the Hallmark Channel for paving the rush to Christmas. They haul out holiday films right after Halloween and promise hundreds more movies waiting in the vaults. There are only so many treacle-sweet plots and kisses under the mistletoe with Mister Finally Right before the audience is in a diabetic coma.

   

Not only have we forgotten “the reason for the season,” but it’s become a sport of one-upmanship to outdo each other in the presents department. A friend told me recently that her nieces and nephews scorn her gifts because they expect pricey stuff. They’ve grown up with everything money and their parents can buy. Their love comes with a price tag and no satisfaction guaranteed. I wouldn’t just put coal in these brats’ stockings, I’d wrap up a bag of charcoal briquets.

There’s no “over the river and through the woods” for Thanksgiving anymore because Grandma is tired of doing all the cooking. Granny wants to go to the casino and her holiday spirit comes in a cocktail glass. And why not? I hear so many people complain about having to travel in bad weather, which house is hosting, sitting next to people they dislike, catering to vegetarians and the gluten-free, too much drinking and unwinnable arguments. What should be a joyous celebration becomes a dreaded yearly penance.

Luckily, I’m on the sidelines of the whole holiday frenzy. As a single woman, there are no children in my life, no relatives and my close friends know I don’t have expendable income lying around. To be honest, none of my friends really need more presents. At our age we’re clearing out our attics and basements, closets and cupboards. The only justifiable gift-giving are books and edibles. For my cats I might rub some catnip on their scratching post and treat them to Fancy Feast. They’ve been pretty good all year (except for you, Cookie, my little monster).

Sorry if I sound too humbug about all of this. I just wish people would make the effort to simplify and take the self-induced pressure off themselves. Ignore expectations and do what gives you joy. Be around people you enjoy, dial back the gifts. Don’t just give the blessings, but count them.

Auditing the Grand Master’s Course, Part 2

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

It’s been said that Agatha Christie has given more pleasure in bed than any woman in history.  If the sale of two billion books is any measure, it has to be true.  Certainly any course titled “The Pleasure of Crime Fiction” would have to include at least one of Dame Agatha’s mysteries and Lawrence Block, who is teaching such a course at Newberry College, included two.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the one that will be discussed in class, but I know that book too well.  I chose to read his second suggestion, The Body in the Library featuring the estimable Miss Jane Marple.

Christie’s critics have assailed her for her cardboard characters, vacuous dialogue, and myriad clichés.  A body in the library is, itself, a cliché. But in a forward to the book, Christie described how her mind worked to subvert an orthodox and conventional scene by desecrating it with a wildly improbable body.  To that shocking violation of normality, she added characters and imaginings “like the ingredients in a cookery recipe.”  The plot moved briskly, the pleasure quotient was above average, and only the pickiest of nitpickers would pause to bemoan its literary deficiencies.

It must have given Block a glow of pleasure when James Sallis dedicated his book Drive to three great American writers – Ed McBain, Donald Westlake, and Larry Block.  I mean, what writer wouldn’t feel flattered?  Whether or not the accolade had any influence, Drive made it onto Block’s list of required reading.  Driver, the protagonist, is as different from Miss Marple as a serial killer is from a serial knitter.  One passage in this book seems to encapsulate the formula of most murder mysteries and, in truth, most novels.

Driver had the keys bunched in his hand, one braced and protruding between second and third fingers.  Stepping directly forward, he punched his fist at alpha dog’s windpipe, feeling the key tear through layers of flesh, looking down as he lay gasping for air.

In his rear view mirror he watched the young tough’s buddies stand over him flapping hands and lips and trying to decide what the hell to do.  It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.

Maybe he should turn around.  Go back and tell them that’s what life was, a long series of things that didn’t go down the way you thought they would.

Besides being one of life’s essential lessons, that’s the guiding principle of all writers.  Obstacles, complications, fatal miscalculations.  One of Driver’s friends, a scriptwriter, sums it up this way.  “We sit on our butts all day guiding things toward disaster.”  I enjoyed Drive and, in spite of the waves of lapping blood, no harm came to the cat.

No author of crime fiction has given me as much pleasure as Donald Westlake, the past master of guiding things toward disaster.  He and Block were friends.  Both were awarded the title of Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America; both set their novels in New York City; and both created burglars as protagonists.  Bernie Rhodenbarr is Block’s burglar, a competent planner whose jobs usually go well unless he happens to trip over a dead body.  John Dortmunder is Westlake’s burglar, a stoop-shouldered two-time loser with “hair-colored hair” and a hangdog face.  He’s a brilliant and meticulous planner, but Dortmunder was born under a bad sign.  His best-laid plans inevitably go spectacularly and hilariously wrong.  Drowned Hopes, the caper novel Block chose for his course, is a study in comic frustration.

Arriving home one night after a failed jewelry store heist, Dortmunder finds one of his ex-cellmates waiting for him.  Tom Jimson, released from an overcrowded prison on his 70th birthday, needs Dortmunder’s help to retrieve $750,000, the haul from an armored car robbery before he was sent up for the last time.  He buried the loot under the library in the quiet little town of Putkin’s Corners.  Unfortunately, during his incarceration, the state of New York condemned the land surrounding Putkin’s Corners and built a dam.  Tom’s money now lies under three feet of dirt and fifty feet of water.  That is discouragement enough for Dortmunder to decline Tom’s request for help, even with the promise of a nice cut of the proceeds.  However when Tom threatens to blow the dam and flood the villages below, Dortmunder has no choice.  If he’s to prevent a human catastrophe, he has to concoct a plan to salvage Tom’s money.

Westlake writes with an effortless wit and excellence and his well-drawn characters exhibit a perverse, irresistible charm.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to read about Dortmunder’s drowned hopes without laughing.  I will never forgive the man for dying, but thank heavens he was prolific.  If you like capers, Westlake’s contributions to the genre are pure pleasure.

My Times as a Camp Fire Leader @MarilynMeredith

Marilyn Meredith, who writes the RBPD mystery series as F.M. Meredith, is the author of over 40 published books. She once lived in a small beach town much like Rocky Bluff, and has many relatives and friends in law enforcement.

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com/

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.meredith

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marilynmeredith/

And she’s a regular on these blogs:

2nd and 4th Tuesday: https://makeminemystery.blogspot.com/

4th Monday of the month: https://ladiesofmystery.com/

This topic was chosen for me and I am happy to oblige. For ten years I was the leader of a Blue Bird group, Camp Fire Girls, and then Horizon Club.

My daughter was in the Blue Bird group, and the leader wanted someone to take over, no one volunteered, and though I felt inadequate, I agreed to do it. At the time there were only about 8 girls in the group. Some stayed with me for the whole ten years.

Camp Fire Girls About 5th Grade

From the beginning, we sold Camp Fire candy every year. The girls were extremely competitive about who could sell the most boxes.

My daughter reminded me of “kidnap” breakfasts. I and other moms picked girls up at their homes, waking them up and hauling them off to a restaurant dressed as they were.

We did a lot of camping in the mountains and at the beach. Together, we became experts at cooking outdoors—including a turkey buried in the sand. (Turned out great!) As the girls got older (high school), we back packed in the wilderness. I’d never back packed before. I got some tips from some Boy Scouts I knew and learned the rest right along with the girls. At the time we were 20 strong.

We went on many trips: to Pacific Ocean Park, to Hollywood to see free TV shows, San Diego for a big Horizon Club convention and much more.

We began planning a bus trip to the Grand Canyon for the girls’ senior year. Two years ahead of time, I arranged for a Greyhound bus, the cost $1000. Of course this meant we had to earn a lot of money. We collected Blue Chip and S & H Green stamps and turned them in for cash. We had bake sales. But our most ambitious efforts were putting on two musicals. The first was a spin-off of Peter Pan. One of the girls who sang in it became a back-up singer for Barry Manilow.  The play that was the most fun was based on the soap opera Dark Shadows which was popular at the time. The closing song was “Let the Sunshine In.” (And yes, I wrote both plays.)

I should point out that all of my girls came from poor families. Many of them had never been out of Ventura county until I started hauling them around. We lived in a racially mixed neighborhood and our group was also racially mixed. The girls came from three different high schools.

Camp Fire Girls Now

We did get some financial help from a women’s group, and by the time our trip rolled around, I felt like we had enough money. Another Horizon Club joined us as we needed 40 people on the bus. Besides the other leader and myself, we had two young adult women as volunteers. Our first stop was the Gene Pumping Station where the water starts from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. We were fed and housed for free, all we had to do was watch a movie about the building of Hoover Dam.

Then on to the Grand Canyon. We’d made arrangements for our housing there and spent two full days sight-seeing. The bus driver was so generous to us. Some of the kids hiked down the canyon, and the bus driver took the others on a tour to various locations.

From there we went for one night in Las Vegas. We stayed in small groups in the homes of other Horizon Girls. Everyone did different activities.

Then it was home. On the way the bus driver suggested that he and I start a company that would take rich girls on similar trips. My answer was “No way, these girls respect me because we’ve been together for so long.”

Our last event before graduation was a boy-girl party at our home. Many of the boys were already out of school, working or in college. I chose two of the boyfriends to be like “chaperones” so I didn’t have to interfere. They took their jobs seriously and the party was a success with no problems.

We’ve had two Camp Fire reunions in the past and the mothers who helped me came as well as some of the girls. I’m still in touch on Facebook with several of the girls—who are all in their 60s. Some are even fans of my books.

Looking back, I wonder how I was so brave to do the things we did. One of the gals, who now is an in-law, told me I taught her not to be afraid to try new things.

It was a most rewarding time of my life—and I have great memories of those days and my girls.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Blurb: The discovery of a skeleton, a welfare check on a senior citizen, and a wildfire challenge the Rocky Bluff P.D.

Buy link: https://tinyurl.com/yxpd8mxy

Imagine That

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about that quality all authors and readers have in abundance—imagination.

Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, will be released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/

I’ve been going through some old computer files, deleting those that are years out of date, and came across a piece I’d written about my youngest son and his friend, Helen.

Eric was four, not yet old enough for kindergarten when his brother and sisters started back to school that year. He had been playing in the back yard the morning Helen came into our lives. I called him in for lunch. He looked up and asked, “can Helen have some lunch, too? He’s real hungry.” Startled, I looked around but there was no little girl in the yard, no little boy, dog, cat, turtle or anything else that I could see. But he stood in front of me, eyes expectant, and I nodded. Not sure what my next step should be, I watched as he pulled out his brother’s usual chair, climbed up on his own, and looked at me. Hurriedly, I took down another plate, cut the sandwich I had prepared in half, poured two small glasses of milk and put half the sliced apple on each plate. One plate went in front of Eric, the other in front of the empty chair. I went off to fold laundry. When I returned both plates and glasses were empty. “Can we have a cookie now?” I was asked. Silently I handed him two cookies and watched as he went outside, holding the door open for his friend. Mid-afternoon he came inside, alone. I asked where Helen was. He’d gone home, I was told. Was it time for the school bus?

Helen stayed with us all that school year, showing up after breakfast, staying for lunch, going with us to the store, but always leaving before the school bus arrived in the afternoon. He didn’t go on summer vacation with us and then it was fall and time for the new school year. I stood with all of them waiting for the school that first morning of school, consumed with curiosity. Finally, I asked if Helen was also going to kindergarten. I was informed, in scathing tones, that no, he was just a little kid. Then, following his brother and sisters, my no longer a little kid son climbed on the bus.

Imagination. How do you define it? It’s what got my child through what could have been a very lonely year. But it’s good for a lot more than conjuring up an imaginary playmate. Michelangelo imagined what it might look like when God created Adam and painted his vision on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Bell had to have an image in his mind of what the phone could do, and Edison must have envisioned what his light bulb was capable of. We use our imaginations in much more down to earth ways all the time. When we go to the nursery, we imagine what our yard will look like when those new bushes grow a little or how the color you liked on the paint chip will look on the living room walls. When we are young we imagine what it will be like to be an adult with excitement, when we get older we imagine life when we retire. Our imagination influences more of our decisions than we realize.

And then there are writers. We are probably more aware of our imaginations than most people but then, we spend most of our lives letting ours run wild. We invent lots of imaginary friends, only we call them characters. We conjure up landscapes, build towns, weave stories out of thin air, hoping we can transport our readers to our imaginary worlds for a few hours, and that they enjoy their journeys there.

Imagination. I’m not sure where exactly it’s located in our brains but am sure it would be a lonely old world if we didn’t have it.

Authors: Keep Your Eyes (and Ears) on the Audiobooks—and a Giveaway! @TheMysteryLadie

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://mysterylady.net/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

In 2004, my first book, A Small Case of Murder, came out. That wasn’t so long ago. Believe me!—not when you compare it to when the dinosaurs were lazily grazing in Yellowstone National Park.

Anyway, back to what we want to talk about …

At that time, one of my friends instantly asked when my book would be available in audio. My eyes glazed over and I stammered out, “Eventually.”

This friend only listened to her books on audiocassette. She had a long commute to work and that was when she would listen to her books. She would go through a couple books a week.

Not long after that, I discovered that another friend only did audiobooks. She suffered from extremely bad eyesight. While she wasn’t legally blind, her eyesight was so poor that the only way she could enjoy a book was if it was available in audio.

Mind you, this was before the age of digital downloads. Audiobooks were available on cassette or compact discs back then. I considered myself lucky when a traditional audiobook publisher picked up my first three books to be produced in audio (compact disc and eventually digital download)—until I started receiving my royalty checks. I was lucky if I made over two hundred dollars a year! I would take a few copies of the compact discs to book events—only to have them gather dust. Eventually, I tossed them into the back of my closet, where they still rest.

Flash forward.

Audio Publishers Association Survey: Nearly $1 Billion in 2018 US Sales

“In its annual audiobook sales survey for 2018 released today (July 16). the US-based Audio Publishers Association has announced that audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled US$940 million. These figures represent a 27.3-percent increase in unit sales.”

For authors, this means we have an entirely new and growing pool of readers to introduce to our books.

I believe that the audiobook market is where the e-book market was about ten years ago. When my books first came out in e-book, it was a big deal for me to sell any. Now, the lion’s book of my books sales are in e-book, but I have been seeing a gradual increase in sales in audiobooks. Currently, I make more in monthly royalties for my audiobook sales than I do for my print books. Note, that is after splitting my royalties with the producers!

A few years ago, Amazon suggested I make my books available through their company ACX (https://www.acx.com/help/about-acx/200484860 ). Audible, the leading seller of audiobooks, falls under Amazon’s massive umbrella.

In the same way that I independently publish my ebooks through KDP, I essentially self-publish my books in audiobook format—thus, keeping all of my rights. Over the years, I had seen on my royalty statements how many thousands of dollars my audio publisher had been making annually on the sales of my books. So, producing my books in audio myself was quite appealing to me. However, knowing back then that the market was slow, I didn’t want to invest a lot of money into the venture. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest any money at all.

With ACX, authors have a choice of options for having their books produced:

1.      Share your royalties with the narrator/audio producer. This costs the author nothing, because the audio producer invests the time and expense into producing the book. In exchange, the author agrees to split their royalties for the book’s sales fifty-fifty with the producer. If the book ends up being a flop, then the producer loses out on their investment in the project. However, if the book ends up making thousands of dollars a month in audiobook sales, then the author could end up wondering about what could have been.

2.      Hire an audio producer to produce your book. This option means the author hires the narrator/producer on contract (and pay!) to produce the book. With this option, the author gets to keep all of the royalties for their audio sales. So, if your book makes a million bucks in royalties, it’s all yours! The downside of this option is that you have to pay out a lot of money up front—money that it could take a while to earn back. We are talking thousands of dollars. A friend of mine found a narrator she liked, who refused to work for shared royalties. He would only work on contract with the cost starting at $5000.

3.      Narrate and Produce the Book Yourself. This is not as easy as it sounds. The author has to make sure there is no background noise and the final product does have to pass ACX’s quality control regulations. As the author, I have proofed some of my audio books, thinking they were perfect—only to have ACX pick up a flaw that I had not noticed. Once I read an interview with John Grisham in which he said one of his biggest regrets was narrating one of his books for audio. He thought the end product was awful. As with anything—I prefer to leave it up to the pros.

I opted to share the royalties and let the producers take the financial risk.

Since my books have been coming out in Audible, I have found that I personally enjoy audiobooks more and more. Many book enthusiasts, like myself, will read books in both e-book and audio. (For just a few bucks more, readers can include the audio version of a book with their ebook purchase.) I love to read in bed in the evening. After spending the entire day working on my laptop, my eyes will be tired. So, I’ll switch to the audio version of whatever book I am currently reading to listen to a great book until I fall asleep. With Whispersync, my tablet will pick up my ebook in audio where I have left off in reading.

I’m not the only one. More and more readers (and book reviewers!) are making the switch to audiobooks as APA’s sales figures prove! I know more than one book reviewer who started reading my books in print, then switched to ebook, who are now only reviewing audiobooks.

If you’re an independent author and you haven’t explored this market, then I highly recommend you take a hard look at it. If your books are already in audiobook, then consider booking an audiobook virtual book tour with iRead Book Tours (http://www.ireadbooktours.com/ ). There’s a growing list of audiobook bloggers in search of great audiobooks.

Here’s the way I look at it: Book lovers are book lovers. We come in all different shapes and forms. That means they enjoy their reading in all formats: e-book, print, and audiobooks. Even if fans of one format are a smaller number than another—they are still your fans and deserve the reading experience they enjoy the most! As an author, you’d be negligent to not make your books available in audio!

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

To enter the drawing for an audiobook
promo code for Ice by Lauren Carr, just
leave a comment telling us when is your
favorite time to listen to audiobooks. In the
bathtub? Commuting? Doing housework?
The winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, October 21st.

 

You Can’t Go Home Again

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share her thoughts about her high school past and 50th reunion.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Last Saturday was my 50th class reunion. It was being held at the local Indian casino and was well organized. I had a dress, shoes and jewelry picked out ahead of time. What I didn’t plan on was the head cold that hit a few days before the event. Reunions are the one time you want to look well-preserved and see all the people missed over the years. I was showing up as Typhoid Mary.

Via FB, I let the others know what I was bringing to the party. I struggled to decide whether to show up and quarantine myself by giving air hugs and keeping everyone at sneezing distance or spare everyone and stay home in bed with tissues and cough drops. Ultimately, I donned a surgical face mask and sallied forth, my friend and neighbor Ana there for support.

In 1940 Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled You Can’t Go Home Again. He warned that if you try to go home to a place you remember in the past, it won’t be the same. It’s true; in 1969 the small town of Lemoore, CA, population 4,219, had no McDonald’s, no movie theater and only one stop light. The town was named for Dr. Lee Moore. Basically agricultural and primarily Portuguese, the area was also known as Dairy Country. The smell of cows permeated the air.

With little to do for entertainment, the town focused on its teenagers. We were conservative back then, wearing dresses to school with boys sporting dress pants, not jeans. We were bussed in from rural farms, small towns and the nearby Navy base. School events were town events. Football games, homecoming parades and school plays were supported by the entire community. We grew up safe, happy—and bored. We strained against the tethers to get away, to see the big city lights and experience the world.

Despite what Wolfe says, many of us did come back. Some came home for family reasons, some to raise their own children in a safe environment. No, it’s not the same town we remembered. It’s better. The population has grown to 26,474. There’s a movie theater, 3 supermarkets and not only a McDonald’s but also a Burger King, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Fosters and several pizza chains. There’s a Starbucks and a junior college, plus a huge casino in our backyard. We hold bragging rights to the largest mozzarella factory in the world.

   

The Lemoore High Class of 1969 was an outstanding class in every way. We seemed to win all the prizes, made the best floats, had the most spirit. Not only did we celebrate every decade but met for mini reunions as well.

That spirit came back in full force when we came together on Saturday. Sure, I had trouble remembering some of my classmates. Yes, we’d all changed quite a bit. Homecoming queens became homemakers, nerdy guys transformed to nerdy men with PhD’s. Our exchange student Peter flew all the way from Italy. The years had broken down any cliques that existed. We celebrated each other’s success, grew teary-eyed at the Memoriam for those who were taken away too soon.

I made it to the end, winning a gift basket and receiving a pumpkin table decoration from the Bowen’s who didn’t want to cart it all the way back to Colorado. I was on shaky legs as Ana poured me into the car. The next day was spent in bed as the cold beat me into submission. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I can’t wait for the next 50 year reunion!

Auditing the Grand Master’s Course @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

Lawrence Block, Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, has accepted a teaching position at Newberrry College in South Carolina.  One of his courses is titled “The Pleasures of Crime Fiction” and he has published his assigned reading list of fourteen books by fourteen different authors.  In a letter posted to the International Association of Crime Writers, Block says he might easily have picked different titles by the same writers, or chosen fourteen altogether different writers.  He precluded the possibility of hearing alternative suggestions.  “I don’t want to seem uncaring, but I flat don’t care.”

It would be a wonderfully rewarding experience to attend Block’s course.  Not only is he a terrific writer, he is also a historian of the finest exemplars of the genre.  He has hobnobbed with some of the authors whose books are on the list.  His reminiscences would be rich, I’m sure.  But I live diametrically across the country from Newberry.  I decided to read the works he selected (in no particular order) and draw my own conclusions about how great or not-so-great a pleasure they provide.

I began with The Fabulous Clipjoint, the winner of the 1948 Edgar Award by Fredric Brown.  Brown hated to write and did anything else he could think of to avoid it.  When he did sit down at the typewriter, he preferred stories in the range of one to three pages, primarily science fiction.  Clipjoint was his first full-length mystery.  Part pulp, part coming-of-age story, the book introduces Ed Hunter, an eighteen-year-old apprentice linotype operator whose drunken father is bashed over the head with a beer bottle and murdered in an alley.  Ed teams up with his Uncle Ambrose, a street-wise carny worker, to track down the murderer.  Brown lets Ed sum up his attitude toward mystery novels:

“I started a [detective] story and it was about a rich man who was found dead in his hotel suite with a noose of yellow silk rope around his neck, but he’d been poisoned.  There were lots of suspects, all with motives…In the third chapter they’d just about pinned it on the racketeer and then he’s murdered.  There’s a yellow silk cord around his neck and he’s been strangled, but not with the silk cord.

I put down the book.  Nuts, I thought, murder isn’t like that.”

That passage made me laugh out loud, but Ed didn’t often speak so humorously and appealingly.  I will probably skip the following six books in the series.

My next pick on Block’s list was The Right Murder by Craig Rice, a female author I’d never heard of.  The forward to the novel describes her thus:  “The Dorothy Parker of detective fiction, she wrote the binge but lived the hangover.”  In addition to this intriguing biographical tidbit, I found the black-haired, fiery-lipped vamp depicted on the book’s cover irresistible – especially the outline of a corpse where her right eye should be.

The protagonist is a short, fat, Irish lawyer named Malone.  “What do they do to murderers in this country?” asks a visitor from abroad. “Not a damned thing when they have Malone for a lawyer,” comes the answer.  Unfortunately, the reader never gets to see Malone in action in the courtroom.  He is too busy drinking gin and collecting obscure clues from the outstretched hands of dying men.

The attorney is assisted in his investigation (or abetted) by a madcap heiress named Helene Justus and her devil-may-care husband, Jake.  The amount of alcohol consumed per page by these three makes Nick and Nora Charles look like zealots from the Temperance League.  Block’s recovering alcoholic Detective Matt Scudder would suffer a relapse just breathing the fumes off this book.  There’s a zany, over-the-top energy to Rice’s writing, but although the murders are eventually solved and explained, there’s a yellow-silk-cord craziness looping through the plot.  If your taste runs to the screwball, you’ll love it.

The Case of the Sulky Girl by Erle Stanley Gardner had a sobering effect.  Written in 1933, the year Prohibition ended, this was the second novel featuring the attorney Perry Mason and Perry didn’t fog his brilliant brain with booze.  After 119 novels, 30 movies, and 271 TV episodes, only an alien from outer space would ask what happens to accused murderers represented by Perry Mason.  They’re always proved innocent.  During his investigation of the Sulky Girl case, Mason is forced to undertake a risky re-enactment of the murder in order to achieve that result.  “There are times,” he says, “when caution is a vice.”

While short on clever dialogue and character development, Gardner’s fast-paced, suspenseful, no-nonsense story delivered plenty of action and accurate legal details.  At the time of his death in 1970, he was the best-selling American author of the century – reason enough to include him in a class on the pleasures of crime fiction.

Stay tuned.  I’m moving down the list, eleven books to go.