Friday, May 20, 2022

Linda Richards

Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of numerous books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine.

Richards's new novel is Exit Strategy.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Richards's reply:
Considering the type of fiction I write, this may sound odd. But. I’m very careful with my diet of media. I currently find myself in a place where I feel the need to be mindful of what I think about. Mindful about the things I dwell on and the dark corners I visit in my thoughts. I think it was Buddha who said: “We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.”

If that is true — and my heart believes it is — then we need to be clear with ourselves about what we immerse ourselves in. Especially since, when crafting works as densely dark as my current series, you are required to spend some time going down pretty dark roads.

With that in mind, I supply myself with a strongly positive diet of material. The music I listen to is upbeat and positive (currently loving "Alright" by KYTES, "4 Mains" by Wim Mertens, "Soulfight" by The Revivalists and a whole lot of music you would describe as Ambient). The shows I watch are bright and fuel my soul (recently binged Emily in Paris and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). When it comes to literature, with the exception of books I’m reviewing or reading for “work,” the choices I make are meant to feed me brightly, as well.

Right now I am gorging on BrenĂ© Brown’s very lovely Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. Whatever you are expecting, this book is more. First it is beautiful. You want to clear your coffee table so it fits there properly. It is rich and glossy. Part scrapbook, filled with illustrations, plus visual pieces from Brown’s own life along with all the wit and wisdom we have come to expect from this researcher.

Atlas is about connection and emotion. “If we want to find the way back to ourselves and one another,” Brown writes, “we need language and the grounded confidence to both tell our stories and be stewards of the stories that we hear. This is the framework for meaningful connection.”

Will you learn things? You might learn things. But also, you will swim in beauty from all sides. And that will feed your soul.
Visit Linda L. Richards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Endings.

The Page 69 Test: Endings.

Q&A with Linda L. Richards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the Twentieth Century in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Tolstoy's War and Peace:
Years ago, when writers were serious, and editors knew what they were doing, Maxwell Perkins, who worked with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, would give a copy of War and Peace to every new author he agreed to take on. It was, he would tell them, the greatest novel ever written, the measure of the perfection they should try to achieve. Tolstoy might have been amused. War and Peace, he insisted, “is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.”

This is not as strange as it may seem.

“The history of Russian literature since Pushkin’s time not only provides many examples of such departure from European forms, but does not offer even one example to the contrary. From Gogol’s Dead Souls to Dostoevsky’s Dead House, there is not a single work of artistic prose in the modern period of Russian literature, rising slightly above mediocrity, that would fit perfectly into the form of the novel, the epic, or the story.”

Far from a question of literary classification, this points to the very essence of what Tolstoy was trying to do. While Europe, while the West, believed in modern science, progress, and the equal right of everyone to acquire as much wealth as they could, Tolstoy had a different, and a deeper, understanding of what life was meant to be. There are two stories in War and Peace, stories that intertwine with each other: the story of Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia, and the story of how the ungainly, and often confused, Pierre and the lovely young girl Natasha, draw closer until, after engagements and marriages, broken hearts and tragic deaths, they understand that everything has been a prologue to their own marriage, and then, for the first time, understand what marriage means. Everything that happens to them seems a chance occurrence, yet somehow pre-ordained; everything a step necessary in a chain of circumstances leading to a conclusion that no one could have foreseen, and nearly everyone at the time thought the wrong thing to have done.

It begins at the beginning, almost on the very first page, the first page of the more than twelve hundred pages of War and Peace. After wandering around Europe, Pierre has returned to Russia where he offends nearly everyone by his slovenly appearance and drunken bad manners. The bastard son of one of the richest men in the country, he inherits everything and, suddenly the object of everyone’s affection, marries Helene, a woman he does not love, and does so for reasons he cannot explain. His wife is beautiful and stupid, but, to Pierre’s astonishment, all the wealthy and powerful people who attend her lavish parties think her one of the most intelligent women in Petersburg. She is like a glass mirror, reflecting back everything that goes on around her.

Helene’s ignorance is the ignorance of the age. Everyone thinks they know everything; no one knows anything. It is a kind of mass delusion, “the popularization of knowledge,” caused by “that most powerful tool of ignorance - the spread of printing.” Russian society has become enlightened, which means for Tolstoy, corrupt. Russia has followed Europe and, like Europe, has lost its soul; it has become addicted to wealth and power. Instead of real knowledge, the understanding of the place of human beings in an ordered universe, it seeks only the knowledge of how things work, the immediate material causes of whatever one might happen to desire.

The attempt to replace human understanding with the principles of modern science is nowhere more clear than in the history of the war. Nothing happens the way that, according to those principles, it should have happened. Napoleon invades Russia. There is a tremendous battle at Borodino, not far from Moscow. The French appear to win, but Kutuzov, the Russian general in charge, is certain that Napoleon has lost. Everyone wants Kutuzov to attack; Kutuzov retreats. Everyone knows that Moscow has to be defended; Kutuzov abandons it. Moscow is destroyed by fire, and Napoleon, who could have stayed, leaves. He could have attacked, and almost certainly taken, Petersburg, but he decides against it. There is no good reason for what Napoleon does; there is no good reason for what anyone does. Kutuzov did not reason about things; his Russian soul decided. Things happened the way they did because they had to happen that way.

The lesson, a lesson Tolstoy repeats over and over again, is that nothing was done according to any plan; soldiers fought and soldiers died, and even when they thought they were following orders, the orders they received were almost never the orders that were given. Everything that happened in the smoke and haze, the shock and violence, of battle was a reaction to what was going on directly in front of those who were fighting, or what they could see, or thought they saw, in front of them. What happens in war is accidental, irrational, and unknown.

How does Tolstoy know this? What makes him so certain that Pierre, wandering around a battlefield, has as good a sense of what is going on as the commanding general, or an officer on the spot? He knows it from his own observations, and from reading through the official Russian documents, the military reports written at the time. But he learned it first from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had insisted, long before Tolstoy, that the spread of printing was a danger to civilization. In Emile, Rousseau had written that “the facts described by history are far from being the exact portrayal of the same facts as they happened. They change form in the historian’s head; they are molded according to his instincts; they take on the complexion of his prejudices. Who knows how to put the reader exactly on the spot of the action to see an event as it took place? Ignorance or partiality disguises everything.”

Rousseau goes on in a way that reminds you immediately of what Tolstoy writes in War and Peace: “How many times did a tree more or less, a stone to the right or the left, a cloud of dust raised by the wind determine the result of a combat without anyone having noticed it? Does this prevent the historian from telling you the cause of the defeat or the victory with as much assurance as if he had been everywhere?”

Tolstoy thought it impossible to know the causes of events. Those who say that the causes of what happened in Russia “are the conquering spirit of Napoleon and the patriotic firmness of the emperor Alexander Pavlovich, is as meaningless as to say that the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire are that such-and-such barbarian led his people to the west, and such-and-such Roman emperor ruled his people badly, or that an immense mountain that was being leveled came down because the last workman drove his spade into it.”

What then are the causes? History itself, history as Rousseau understands it; history which, after Rousseau, will take the place of God; history as the movement of the human race toward its own improvement, history as progress.

“History in general is defective in that it records only palpable and distinct facts which can be fixed by names, places, and dates while the slow and progressive causes of these facts, which cannot be similarly assigned, always remain unknown. One often finds in a battle won or lost the reason for a revolution which even before the battle had already become inevitable. War hardly does anything other than make manifest outcomes already determined by moral causes which historians rarely know how to see.”

For Tolstoy, all the battles, all the decisions, everything that happened, had, as it were, been pre-determined, part of history’s plan. The proof is simple, straightforward, easy to grasp: all the battles, all the decisions, everything that happened, happened only after all the battles, and all the decisions, of the past. When we look back, what do we see? That everything that has happened has led to this, the present moment. Everything that happens is necessary. This same necessity drives men and women, drives them without their conscious knowledge. It drives Pierre and Natasha to their marriage.

In Emile, Rousseau arranges everything in a way that after Emile and Sophie have fallen in love, they are forced to live apart for two years. This necessity deepened their love by delaying what they both desired. For Rousseau, and for Tolstoy as well, the sexes are each imperfect; only their union makes them into what they are, by nature, meant to be: together one being, together one whole. There is only one reason for marriage, but that reason is fundamental: to give birth and raise the next generation. Pierre and Natasha live their lives, their histories, if you will, guided toward each other, united in what they both instinctively understand. History, their history, has an end. After her marriage to Pierre, Natasha changes; she becomes what, quite unknowing, she has always wanted to be - a mother.

The two stories, the war with Napoleon, the happy solitude of marriage, the two stories, War and Peace, both driven forward by a common necessity that gives direction, and which explains, all the strange and seemingly inexplicable events of the lives of Pierre and Natasha - and not just their lives, but all the others - the desire, the need, to live, both as individuals and together as a country, beyond their own, too temporary existence. For Natasha that meant motherhood; for Natasha and Pierre and their children, that meant Mother Russia.

Maxwell Perkins was right. War and Peace is the greatest novel ever written.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Evie Hawtrey

Evie Hawtrey is a Yank by birth but a sister-in-spirit to her fierce and feminist London detective, DI Nigella Barker. Hawtrey splits her time between Washington DC, where she lives with her husband, and York, UK, where she enjoys living in history, lingering over teas, and knocking around in pubs.

Her new novel is And By Fire.

Recently I asked Hawtrey about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ll tell you what I am not reading—a mystery. Why? Because when I am writing (especially first-drafting) I avoid novels in the same genre to keep my characters’ voices as pure and authentically mine as possible.

So currently I am reading Volume I of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encylopeaedia. It’s non-fiction and illustrated. The description on the back earnestly explains: “the photographs, drawing and texts published in this book are part of a collection of more than three thousand tattoos accumulated over a lifetime by prison attendant Danzig Baldaev.” I would like to meet Mr. Baldaev, but he has been dead since 2005.

The introduction to Volume I, written by Alexei Plutser-Sarno, features one of the best opening lines ever—a line that could just as easily start a novel: “Strang as it may seem, the tattoo-covered body of a vor v zakone (legitimate thief), is primarily a linguistic object.” God, I wish I’d written that. And speaking of God, tattoos on vory that appear religious really aren’t, trust me on this one.

My dive into understanding the body-language of the Russian criminal class is part of the research for my next book—a follow-on mystery to And by Fire. My modern detectives, Nigella Parker and Colm O’Leary, are caught in the middle of another twisty multiple murder situation in modern London. This one involves Russian oligarchs and their associates. Not surprisingly, at least one of their victims has numerous tattoos. For the record, this author has none. There’s a drawing of a cat wearing a fancy hat, lace collar and bow tie while smoking a pipe on page 116 that caught my eye and tempted me. But alas he would indicate that I am “a recidivist convict” with no conscience. Very not me.
Visit Evie Hawtrey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Marion Deeds

Marion Deeds was born in Santa Barbara, California and moved to northern California when she was five. She loves the redwoods, the ocean, dogs and crows.

She’s fascinated by the unexplained, and curious about power: who has it, who gets it, what is the best way to wield it. These questions inform her stories.

Deeds's new novel is Comeuppance Served Cold.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Deeds's reply:
I recently finished Max Gladstone’s Last Exit. Like all of Gladstone’s work, Last Exit features dense, multi-layered prose. Please note, I’m using “dense” in the “rich, fudgy flourless chocolate cake” sense of the term, and I’m a chocolate lover. This may be Gladstone’s masterpiece. While the closest I’ve ever come to an Ivy League college is attending an event somewhere on the Stanford campus, I felt like I experienced the parts of Yale our outsider main characters experienced in their college years. I saw the increasingly horrifying alternate worlds they used their magic, which they call “spin,” to visit, and I shared their fear of the entity following them, the one that calls itself the Cowboy.

Gladstone has mentioned Stephen King’s It as an influence or at least a kind of marker for Last Exit: I felt lots of resonance with an earlier work of King’s; The Gunslinger, the first book (actually a collection of novellas) of The Dark Tower series. In that first book, Roland is less a character and more of a force. Last Exit exists in direct dialogue with that force, as well as the forces of fear, hopelessness and powerlessness. This makes it sound like the book isn’t action packed—trust me, it is. And, he pulls off a convincing optimistic ending.

Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen comes out in May, but I finished an ARC of it. Vo deeply mines folklore from various traditions, the history of the studio system in Hollywood in the early years of film, and her own rich imagination to create the world our main character, who calls herself Luli Wei, inhabits. The magic in Vo’s world is deeply, organically rooted in history, and it is often hungry. It is also beautiful and wonderful. From the family of enigmatic women who seem to always work the ticket booth at the movie palaces, to the strange and dangerous campfires on the studio back lots on Friday nights, to those who become stars, magic is everywhere, and Luli is touched by it. Luli wants to be in movies on her own terms. “No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers,” she tells her boss, listing the stereotypical roles for Asian women at the time. Will she succeed? What will she sacrifice to prevail? It was a breath-taking read.

I’ve been a fan of all of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, and I’ve started The Untold Story, which may wrap up the over-arching storylines of these books. Librarian Irene is closing in on a couple of mysteries, one of which is deeply personal. I’m only about halfway in and I have to say this got dark pretty fast. I’m not sure what to expect next.
Follow Marion Deeds on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Sandra Dallas

New York Times best-selling author Sandra Dallas, the author of 16 adult novels, four young reader novels, and 10 nonfiction books, was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. Dallas’s novels with their themes of loyalty, friendship, and human dignity have been translated into a dozen foreign languages and have been optioned for films.

Her new novel is Little Souls.

Recently I asked Dallas about what she was reading. Her reply:
I review books for the Denver Post, and a few weeks back, I received an advance copy of Everybody Thought We Were Crazy by Mark Rozzo. It’s the story of Dennis Hopper and Brooke Howard’s marriage and 1960s Los Angeles. I loved it. Publication date is May. The love story is set against a background of pop art, rock and roll, drugs, and the new Hollywood. The couple knew everybody from the Fondas to the Black Panthers. I became a Dennis Hopper fan when I saw him in an early television performance in the 1950s. I think it was on The Medic. After Hopper’s marriage to Brooke broke up, I interviewed him when he was living in the Mabel Dodge Luhan house in Taos with his soon-to-be wife Michelle Phillips. The house was filled with pop art, which wasn’t all that popular in Taos at the time. A story I heard was that a man came to install a telephone and asked where to put it. Dennis was absorbed with something and pointed to a wall. The man installed the phone in the middle of an Andy Warhol painting.
Visit Sandra Dallas's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of seven novels. Her latest is The Fervor, a reimagining of the Japanese internment that Booklist called “a stunning triumph” (starred) and Library Journal called “a must read for all, not just genre fans” (starred). Red Widow, her first espionage novel, is a nominee for the Thriller Writers Award for best novel, was a New York Times Editors Choice, and is in pre-production for a TV series.

Recently I asked Katsu about what she was reading. Her reply:
I had the opportunity to do an early read of a number of horror novels coming out in a few months. For those who are unaware, horror has been having a moment for the past couple years: bookstores are bringing back horror sections and filling it with more than Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Publishers are launching new horror imprints. It’s become a big tent, with more psychological suspense and speculative fiction being shelved alongside traditional horror.

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay. Paul Tremblay is a case in point. His work tends to ask big existential questions in unexpected ways, and The Pallbearers Club is no exception. While appearing simple on the surface (and eminently readable), it’s so complex that it ends up being hard to explain. On one level, it’s about a strange friendship that develops between two people, an awkward teenager growing up in a small Massachusetts town and a cool stranger who happens to take pictures of corpses. But as the story develops, you begin to ask yourself what’s really going on here? Is it a memoir disguised as a novel or is it something else? Is it a new kind of vampire story? Is it supernatural at all? It’s a damned amazing piece of storytelling and should be on your radar when it comes out July 5th.

Sundial by Catriona Ward. If the author’s name is familiar, it’s probably because she wrote one of the breakout books of 2021, The Last House on Needless Street. Ward has brought her flat-out amazing voice and storytelling ability to Sundial, the story of the most messed up family ever. Is it psychological suspense or horror? It doesn’t matter: it’s a thriller of the highest caliber. Ward is a wizard with unreliable narrators and implausible plots. She makes the impossible seem real, and her narrative sleight of hand is so good that you’ll never even consider that it’s a trick, let alone figure out how she does it. Out now.

The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias. An extraordinary piece of writing. Violent, yes, but that violence is integral to the story. It’s a meditation on the inescapable violence that runs through many peoples’ lives. But the author manages something that’s almost impossible to do these days: he’s come up with a unique horror element. Out August 2.

The Ghost That Ate Us by Daniel Kraus. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m already so impressed by this novel. You may remember Kraus as the talented author of Rotters. The Ghost That Ate Us is a novel that reads like true crime. True crime meets horror meets social commentary. Smart, so well done, and even with the poltergeist smack in the center of the story, Kraus’ sleight of hand tricks you into believing, over and over, that it’s non-fiction. Out July 12.
Visit Alma Katsu's website.

Q&A with Alma Katsu.

The Page 69 Test: The Fervor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Aaron Angello

Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College.

Angello's new book is The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Currently, I’m teaching, so I am pretty much rereading what I’m teaching. Fortunately, though, I’m teaching a great class I’m calling Weird-Ass Books: Formal Experimentation in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (cool, right?), and I’ve included some books that I haven’t read in a long time, so it’s a great excuse to reread them and experience them again. Here are the most recent books I’ve read:

Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson

This novel in verse takes as its starting point the surviving fragments of the ancient Greek lyric poet Stesichorus’ Geryoneis – a retelling of the story of Heracles and Geryon, from the perspective of the red, winged monster (in addition to being a great poet, Carson is a classicist and translator of ancient Greek texts, including the best translation of Sappho out there, in my opinion). Carson sets the story of Autobiography of Red in a modern world that is both very recognizable and mythic. In her version, Geryon is a boy who just happens to be red and winged. He is also sensitive, a developing artist, a bit broken, and prone to fall in love with the very handsome and insensitive Heracles. Because she chose to write the novel in lineated verse, Carson allows herself freedom to move away from descriptive formulations more typical of the novel. Instead, she consistently surprises the reader with her shocking synesthetic descriptions of otherwise ordinary things:
“Heracles lies like a piece of torn silk in the blue” (54)

“He would remember when he was past forty the dusty almost medieval smell / of the screen itself as it / pressed its grid onto his face.” (36)

“far from the freeway came the sound / of fishhooks scraping the bottom of the world” (44)

“Children poured around him / and the intolerable red assault of grass and the smell of grass everywhere / was pulling him towards it / like a strong sea.” (23)
And she is amazing in the way she plays with verbs:
“his mother / rhinestoning past on the way to the door. She had all her breasts on this evening.” (30)
She gives Geryon the condition of synesthesia, which opens more opportunities for us, as readers to not just intellectually understand what she’s describing, but to have an actual experience, to respond, bodily, to the strangeness:
“It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came / roaring across the garden at him. / He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against / the window screen.” (84)
As a writer, I love that this book reminds me of the value of strangeness. I will, no doubt, revisit this book many times over the course of my literary life.

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov

This is a really fun novel, presented as a scholarly edition of a 999-line poem written by a very Frost-like old poet named John Shade. The protagonist (?) of this novel, though, is the editor of the poem, Charles Kinbote, whose story is told in the notes to the poem. Kinbote may or may not be the exiled king of the possibly made-up nation of Zembla, and he may or may not have been friends with the esteemed old poet, to whom he may or may not have been telling stories of his (or the king’s) experiences escaping the mysterious Shadows and their hired assassin, Gradus. If you thought Humbert Humbert was the ultimate unreliable narrator, give Kinbote a shot.

If on a winter’s night a traveler – Italo Calvino

A colleague of mine in grad school once referred to this book as “po-mo bullshit,” and I suppose it is, but it’s also a lot of fun. Told in the second person (yup), You, the reader, sit down to read Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, but You soon realize that the book only contains the first chapter of the novel! So, You go to the bookstore to complain, and You meet a second reader, and the two of You are off on a quest to read the rest of the novel. Unfortunately for You (but fortunately for us, the readers – of the reader…), You don’t ever read more than the first chapters of several different novels.

If you’re into nerdy grad school stuff like poststructuralism and Barthes and narrative theories and reader-response theories, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, you might still dig it. But you have to be into po-mo bullshit.
Visit Aaron Angello's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fact of Memory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He is the author of over twenty novels, including The Deep Woods and Heirs of Grace, and scores of short stories. His work has been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and other nice places. Since 2001 he has worked for Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field, where he currently serves as senior editor. He lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife and son.

Pratt's new novel is Prison of Sleep: Book II of the Journals of Zaxony Delatree.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Pratt's reply:
I enjoyed a couple of the Harlan Coben adaptation shows on Netflix, and had never read any of his books, so I went to my library site and picked up what they had on hand. That turned out to be mostly the Myron Bolitar series, so I read those (and the newish spin-off, Win, about one of the supporting characters), about a dozen books in all. I love long-running private-eye series (in this case a quasi-amateur PI; Myron is a sports agent with a small background in investigation who gets entangled in various sorts of criminal complications). The structure of standalone stories with ongoing character development across the series always delights me.

The Platonic ideal of the long-running private-eye series, of course, is Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, and the Bolitar books are clearly inspired by those. Myron's humor is very similar to Spenser's, they both have the "pet psychopath" trope with Win and Hawk respectively (I love that trope), there's a focus on idealized romantic love crashing up against human foibles, there's a colorful cast of characters including oddball secondary antagonists who later become allies (Zorra in the Bolitar books is admittedly weirder than Vinnie in the Spenser novels but they serve exactly the same function across their series)... there are a lot of similarities, structurally and in tone.

The Spenser books are, however, better; they have greater philosophical and psychological depth, better fight scenes, and the humor is less broad and deals less in stereotypes. Some of the stuff in the Bolitar books didn't age well, though in the later volumes the characters evolve in their thinking, and I will note there were always sympathetic characters who were bisexual and kinky and otherwise out of the mainstream, though those qualities were often played for laughs in a way that made me wince.

The Bolitar books are Spenser-lite, but they're still fun and compulsively readable enough that I got through the series in a month. They scratched a similar itch, and since there isn't any more Spenser coming (posthumous "collaborations" notwithstanding), I was happy to have them.
Visit Tim Pratt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2022

Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her husband and children in a hundred- year-old house in Coastal Connecticut. Wegert writes mysteries set in Upstate New York while studying martial arts and dance, and is the author of the Shana Merchant series, beginning with Death in the Family.

Her new novel is Dead Wind.

Recently I asked Wegert about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Club by Ellery Lloyd

I consider myself a locked-room mystery superfan, and with its glamorous remote location and closed circle of intriguing suspects, The Club is my favorite kind of locked-room read. This mystery about a murder at an exclusive members-only club offers a captivating glimpse into celebrity culture and uber-wealth, but what I love most is the book’s mounting tension and the restless energy of its characters. The Club is pure entertainment.

Watch Out for Her by Samantha M. Bailey

Fellow Canadian thriller writer Samantha Bailey has penned a mesmerizing domestic thriller that explores motherhood, obsession, and the tenuous nature of trust. Watch Out for Her tells two sides of the same story through the alternating perspectives of a mother and her child’s beguiling babysitter, and I was desperate to know what would happen when the two threads converged.

Silent City by Alex Segura

The first book of Alex Segura’s Pete Fernandez series, Silent City is a masterful contemporary take on classic noir. I was immediately drawn in by down-on-his-luck sports reporter Pete and his unexpected foray into investigative work. As Pete tries to uncover the mystery of what happened to his co-worker's missing daughter, the plot takes some surprising turns. I enjoyed the atmospheric deep dive into Miami culture as well.
Visit Tessa Wegert's website.

Q&A with Tessa Wegert.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Wind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Beth Morrey

Beth Morrey‘s work has been published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies and shortlisted for the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition. She lives in London with her family and Polly the dog.

Morrey's debut novel is The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

Her new novel is Delphine Jones Takes a Chance.

Recently I asked Morrey about what she is reading. Her reply:
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to keep a record of my reading. Too many times, someone has asked me what I’ve read recently and my mind has been a total blank – I can’t think of a single book I’ve read, ever. So I’m writing it down for occasions like this. Referring to my list, I can see I’ve consumed eight books so far this year, and the one I would like to mention is Janice Hallett’s The Appeal. It’s an epistolatory crime novel that tells the story of an amateur dramatics group raising money for a sick child, with a murderer in their midst. It’s told in the form of e-mails, text messages, WhatsApp chats, crime reports, etc, and is completely gripping, highly original and slyly funny.

To prove I have my finger on the literary pulse, one to watch out for later this year is Clare Pooley’s Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. I’ve just read an advance copy, and it’s just as funny, heart-warming and uplifting as her first novel, The Authenticity Project.

Looking further ahead, I’d love to know what Kiley Reid is writing next. I adored Such a Fun Age and expect her next book to be as coolly witty and insightful.
Visit Beth Morrey's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Beth Morrey & Polly.

Q&A with Beth Morrey.

The Page 69 Test: Delphine Jones Takes a Chance.

My Book, The Movie: Delphine Jones Takes a Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue