Friday, August 27, 2021

Avery Bishop

Avery Bishop is the pseudonym for a USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen novels including the newly released One Year Gone.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Bishop's reply:
Like many writers, I'm often reading several books at the same time, and I often like to read in many different genres. Usually I'm reading a book on my Kindle, an ebook on my phone, a hardcover or paperback, and listening to an audiobook when I'm driving or shopping or walking the dog.

On my Kindle: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. A short novel, not even 45,000 words, but it's dark and gritty and has a lyrical quality to its prose. I'm currently halfway through and really enjoying it.

On my phone: The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado. A thriller about an FBI agent who got away from a serial killer when she was just a girl, and now the killer is back and targeting her. I'm only a few chapters in and so far I'm enjoying it. (Usually the books I read on my phone lean toward the thriller end of the spectrum: fast-paced with short chapters that I can leave for a few days and jump back in at any time.)

Hardcover: The Push by Ashley Audrain. I just started this one but am already loving it. The prose is tight and smooth and compulsive. I'm a huge fan of second person POV (see A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan), and this novel uses it well, though it's more the narrator utilizing it as she speaks to her ex-husband as opposed to the second-person narration by the protagonist.

Paperback: Unclean Jobs For Women and Girls: Stories by Alissa Nutting. I love short story collections but often take my time with them, reading a story here and there as opposed to consuming a collection within a few days. Nutting's stories are quirky and dark and very entertaining.

Audiobook: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale. I've been slowly moving through the whole Harry Potter series. For a time I'd taken a break and am now trying to finish. The books are fun, of course, but I'm finding this one to be a bit bloated. However, an audiobook narrator can make or break the entire experience, and fortunately Jim Dale is an amazing narrator so I'm happy to be along for the ride.

As an aside, I'm trying to read more translated works, especially thrillers. A few weeks ago I read Heatwave by Victor Jestin. It's billed as a novel but it's only 25,000 words long. Still, it holds quite a punch, and the writing is great. In terms of the story, the 17-year-old narrator is on vacation with his family and one night he comes across another boy his age who's asphyxiated by the ropes on a swingset. The narrator, feeling culpability for some reason, decides to hide the body, and as you can imagine, things spiral out of control from there. (It's no surprise it's being compared to Albert Camus's The Stranger.)

A few other translated works on my TBR pile include Central Park by Guillaume Musso, Confessions by Kanae Minato, and The Others by Sarah Blau.
Visit Avery Bishop's website.

Q&A with Avery Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of Brass Lives and eight previous Tom Harper mysteries, seven highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and two Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Recently I asked Nickson about what he was reading. His reply:
I tend to have a few books on the go at once. As a rule (though not always) it’s non-fiction downstairs, and a novel for bedtime.

Currently, I have Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell on the couch. I’d loved the Hilary Mantel trilogy and the TV series of Wolf Hall. This gives the real man, yet it also emphasizes the difference between fiction and biography: a good novel can take you deeper into the person than most biographies that are shackled by facts. The further you go back in time, the truer that becomes, and with someone like Cromwell, where much of his early life is shadowy…well, he was made for the novelist. Still, it’s a fascinating book and portrait of a man.

I also have Sailor Song by Gerry Smyth, a book of and about sea shanties. I’ve had a fascination with folk song for much of my life, and I’ve used it in books. Shanties come under the folk song umbrella, although I know little about them. Once I’ve read this, I hope I’ll know a little more. On first glance, some great illustrations, too.

Upstairs, it’s re-reading The Cartel by Don Winslow, the second in his Border trilogy. A big, masterful book. With these, he really found his voice, and takes us into a world so few of us know. Once I’ve finished that, next on deck is Love, the new one by Roddy Doyle, one of my favourite novelists. It’s impossible to read his dialogue and not hear it in an Irish accent, which is a remarkable achievement.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morgenthau at the University of Chicago where he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Buffa was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years and his Joseph Antonelli novels reflect that experience.

The New York Times called The Defense "an accomplished first novel" which "leaves you wanting to go back to the beginning and read it over again." The Judgment was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel of the year. The latest Joseph Antonelli novel is The Privilege.

D.W. Buffa lives in Northern California.

Here is Buffa's take on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade's End:
Winston Churchill described the Victorian Age, which ended, not with the death of Queen Victoria, but in l914 with the First World War, as a time when “the world belonged to the few, and the very few.” Thirty years later, in l944, the fact that the pilots who fought the Battle of Britain had not been the sons of the British aristocracy who attended Cambridge or Oxford, but the sons of the British middle class, showed Churchill that the few, the very few, had lost the moral authority to govern the nation. It had been a very long time since they had been able to rule themselves.

The last one who knew, not just how to rule himself, but what it meant, may have been Christopher Tietjens, the central character in the four novels that together are known as Parade’s End, the extraordinary attempt by Ford Madox Ford to describe England as it really was when the world decided to destroy itself. The first novel, Some Do Not…, was published in l924; the second, No More Parades, a year later, in l925; the third, A Man Could Stand Up—, the year after that. The fourth and concluding volume in the quartet, The Last Post, came out in 1928. They were published together as Parade’s End in l950 by Alfred Knopf in a volume that runs a little more than eight hundred pages. The novels, either individually or combined into one long consecutive story, would never be published today.

Parade’s End is too far outside the normal experience. It is a novel about war and sex in which there is not any violence, and there is not any sex. There is not, in the way we have, at least most of us, learned to understand things, any action at all. Or so we think at first. But then, suddenly, somewhere in the back of our mind, we remember that while everything, every word, has to advance the story, conversation, what people say to other people, what they say to themselves, is the most compelling form of action there is. And then we begin to realize that Parade’s End captures, like nothing else we have ever read, a vanished civilization, what life was like before the First World War, the Great War, destroyed the last vestiges of what the world once thought decency and honor.

Parade’s End is a love story in which sex becomes more a human failing, love’s poor substitute, for those who never learn love’s meaning. It is a novel in which nearly everyone hates the novel’s main character, precisely because the main character is so much better than themselves. He makes no sense to them, and half the time he makes no sense to himself. In all of English literature, Christopher Tietjens is unique. Considered by some to be the most brilliant man in England, his wife, Silvia, one of the most beautiful women anywhere. They were married because she was pregnant; Tietjens is almost certain she was pregnant by another man.

Silvia, according to her own mother, “hates her husband,” and, though she may have slept with a number of them, regards all men as “repulsive.” At the very beginning of the novel, Silvia has left Tietjens to go abroad with another man. She has been gone for four months when, one day at breakfast, Tietjens receives a letter from her asking, “without any contrition at all, to be taken back.” Asked by a friend, if he will do so, he replies simply, “I imagine so.” When his father asks him if they might divorce, he replies, with what today would be thought utter madness: “No! No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.”

Tietjen’s father may be the head of Groby, a baronial estate that for centuries has been part of the established order, but, though the youngest but one of his children, Christopher is the one who has that order, that sense of duty and obligation, in his bones. He does not read novels, because nothing worth reading has been written in England since the l8th century, “except by a woman.” An old woman who happens to be the mother of Valentine Wannop, a suffragette, a pacifist, and, in her twenties, a woman who still believes that somewhere, far away from the dismal necessities of men who “over-ate and neighed like stallions, there were bright colonies of beings, chaste, beautiful in thought, altruist and circumspect.”

Instead of the world she dreams of, the world she lives in has entered upon the Great War, a war Tietjens has predicted and which he believes will do nothing but bring “unnumbered deaths.” If he stays in England, he will be one of those planning and directing the war, and rather than do that, he will go to France as a soldier. His conscience will not let him use his “brain in the service,” but he has “a great hulking body,” which he is willing that his country should use. As he explains to Valentine, he has “nothing to live for: what I stand for isn’t any more in the world.” He is an idealist, and idealists “must be stoned to death. He makes the others so uncomfortable.”

Tietjens tells her this, and more; he tells her that he will “put to you things I have put to no other human soul.” They are drawn to each other. Ford describes this in a way that makes you believe something like this was then really possible, and makes you wish that it still was: Valentine, he writes, had “beautiful inclinations toward Tietjens, for she could not regard it as anything more…” And Tietjens, she knows, has “beautiful inclinations toward her.” And still, underlying it all, is a passionate longing made all the more intense by the fact of its suppression. All Tietjens had to do was “approach her to make her feel as if her whole body was drawn toward him….The moon so draws the tides.” The word love was never mentioned; every word they spoke confessed it.

Tietjens has one night left before he goes to France. He asks Valentine to be his mistress, and she says yes. “But we didn’t. We agreed that we were the sort of persons who didn’t. I don’t know how we agreed. We never finished a sentence. Yet it was a passionate scene.” For Valentine, “abstention not only strengthened her in her predilection for chastity; it restored to her her image of the world as a place of virtues and endeavours.”

Tietjen’s wife, Silvia, is waiting for him when he comes home at two in the morning. He had “never been spoken to with such hatred.” Not because he had been unfaithful, but because he had not. She wanted him to sleep with Valentine, because that “might satisfy my affection for the girl…and feel physical desire for her….But she knew, without my speaking, that I had not….” Silvia threatened to ruin him, to drag his name “through the mud….I never spoke. I am damn good at not speaking. She struck me on the face and went away.”

Later, after suffering shell shock and losing, for a time, half his memory, he again goes to France, now certain that he will be killed. Before he goes, he has another scene with his wife, who blames him for everything that has happened.

“If you had once in our lives said to me: ‘You whore! You bitch!….May you rot in hell!….’ If you had only once said something like it…you might have done something to bring us together.” Worse than his failure to call her the names she deserved, which would at least have shown some real feeling for her, is his near perfect rectitude. He has never done a dishonorable thing in his life. In “the name of the Almighty, how could any woman live beside you…and be forever forgiven? Or no: not forgiven; ignored!”

In France, waiting for death, Tietjens tries to write down, to get straight in his no longer reliable mind, a clear account of what had happened. He has no doubt that he has developed "a sympathetic, but not violent attachment for Miss Wannop,” a feeling she returns. However, and this is a measure of how much the world has changed, “Neither Miss Wannop nor myself being persons to talk about the state of our feelings, we exchanged no confidences.” He saw Miss Wannop sometimes at his mother’s house or on social occasions. “No expressions of affection on the part of either of us ever passed. Not one. Ever.”

Shortly before he left for France this second time, Tietjens was walking along a railing above some tennis courts. For a few brief moments, he watched white clad players who look like “marionettes practising crucifixions.” And with those three words, Ford Madox Ford captures perfectly the scenes of slaughter in which millions, an entire generation, the best of England, did what those who held the strings of power told them to do, and in the fields of Flanders played their final deathlike game. Quite willing to be one of them, Christopher Tietjens somehow survives the war. What he and Valentine feel for each other survives as well, but nothing else is the way it was. Whether for the better or the worse is a question that, whatever you and I might think a hundred years later, Christopher Tietjens would not have had the slightest doubt how to answer.
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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Sarah Warburton

Sarah D. Warburton lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. For ten years she was the lead writer for the monthly magazine UpClose. She has studied writing with Pam Houston at the Taos Writers Workshop and with Justin Cronin in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Southern Arts Journal, Women on Writing, Embark Literary Magazine, and Oyster River Pages.

Warburton's first novel, Once Two Sisters, was a Publishers Weekly pick of the week, a Crimereads recommended debut, and a PopSugar featured title.

[My Book, The Movie: Once Two SistersQ&A with Sarah WarburtonThe Page 69 Test: Once Two Sisters]

Her new novel is You Can Never Tell.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Warburton's reply:
I always have a few books going at once. While I drink my morning coffee, I actually like to read culinary memoirs. Right now I’m rereading Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee. Each chapter takes Lee to a different part of the United States known for a (sometimes unexpected) immigrant cuisine. The writing is beautiful and it’s a luxury to travel vicariously. Lee’s also generous with his own personal story, so that it’s easy to understand why people open up to him. And he includes recipes at the end of each chapter that put his own personal spin on the food he’s experienced.

As a member of five book clubs, I’m always either reading or supposed to be reading a book for one of them. I listened to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on audio, but have bought that one to read again and pass on. It’s the most uplifting book on a dark subject: how we’ve medicalized the experience of aging and what we do with the elderly. Gawande uses the personal stories of individual people to create the same kind of empathy novelists hope to inspire through their characters.

I’m almost done with One by One by Ruth Ware. This one is sheer fun for anyone who loves a locked room, Agatha Christie-style mystery. From the first page, we know four people won’t make it and as the avalanche comes and the power goes out, the tension builds. I’d actually been saving this one as a treat, and it’s delivering!

And while I’m saving Dream Girl as my next treat, I am reading Laura Lippman’s book of essays, My Life as a Villainess. Love her Tess Monaghan novels, love her stand-alones, love her Twitter feed, and I love these essays. Despite the difference between fiction and narrative nonfiction, I think there’s a recognizable voice throughout. Good reminder that you don't have to be nice and you don't have to be thin to like how you look. Smart, sometimes snarky, and so relatable.
Visit Sarah Warburton's website.

Q&A with Sarah Warburton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Ellen Byron

Ellen Byron is the Agatha Award-winning author of the Cajun Country Mysteries. The USA Today bestselling series has also won multiple Best Humorous Mystery Lefty awards from the Left Coast Crime conference. She also writes The Catering Hall Mysteries (under the pen name Maria DiRico), and will launch the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries (as Ellen) in June 2022.

Byron’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. She’s written over 200 national magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. She also worked as a cater-waiter for the legendary Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing.

A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Byron lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and rescue chi mix, Pogo. She still misses her hometown - and still drives like a New York cabbie.

Byron's new Cajun Country Mystery is Cajun Kiss of Death.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The other day I found myself short on reading material, which is kind of ridiculous because I have tons of physical books in my house and e-books on my Kindle Fire. But I think I was propelled by the urge to do something denied to me during the pandemic – pay a visit to my local library and browse its shelves. As I scanned the books, I came across the Ian Rutledge series written by the mother-son duo that goes by the pseudonym Charles Todd. I adore historical mysteries. It may be my favorite genre. I read and loved the Todd’s series in the past because it features a British WW1 veteran-turned-Scotland Yard inspector who suffers from shell shock, which we now know as PTSD. I’m fascinated with WW1 because no matter how often someone tries to explain to me what triggered it, I don’t understand. I also have an odd fascination with trench warfare. (For the best description of that, I recommend Robert Graves’ autobiography, Goodbye to All That.)

Back to the Todds. I checked out their 2019 release, The Black Ascot. The title refers to the first Ascot horse races after the death of King Edward VII, when attendees all dressed in black from head to toe, eschewing their usual colorful outfits and chapeau. I’ve just begun the book, which revolves around a man who may or may not have committed a murder shortly after the Black Ascot, and then disappeared. Ten years later, Inspector Rutledge hears a rumor of a sighting and sets out to find the man and possibly absolve him of the charge. I’m in my happy place when I’m reading one of the Todd’s fine historical mysteries.
Visit Ellen Byron's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Ellen Byron & Wiley and Pogo.

Q&A with Ellen Byron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Veronica Bond

Death in Castle Dark is Veronica Bond's first mystery in the Murder and a Mystery series; as Julia Buckley she writes several series for Berkley Prime Crime, including the best-selling Writer's Apprentice Series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This summer I have immersed myself in audiobooks, and though I love many of the mysteries written by men, I focused on female writers of the British Isles: specifically Elly Griffiths, Tana French, Denise Mina, and J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. (Also Elizabeth George, though only her protagonist is English). I have plowed through the series of each writer, enjoying the threads that tie the various novels together.

Elly Griffiths won me over long ago with The Crossing Places, an atmospheric mystery set in the Salt Marshes on the English Coast. Griffiths makes great use of her setting while writing about the solitary Ruth Galloway, an archeologist called in by police to determine whether a body is the result of a modern murder or the displacement of ancient bones. Griffiths' recurring themes are the mystery of time, the notion of God and how people perceive, or disbelieve, in the existence of a higher power. One of Ruth's best friends is a Druid, while the police inspector she works with is a Catholic, and Ruth herself is an atheist. The mystery is compelling and beautifully written, and I have caught up with the series up to the latest book, The Night Hawks. I highly recommend that people read them in order.

Denise Mina writes the wonderful Alex Morrow police procedurals, which explore the gritty crime world of Scotland. Alex Morrow is tough and brave, yet vulnerable in unexpected ways. She is a hero worth rooting for, and I have done so through five books now, starting with Still Midnight. I also highly recommend Mina's novel Conviction, a standalone that is alternately horrifying and hilarious, thanks to the unforgettable narrator, a woman who begins by telling us that she has a past which has caught up with her.

Tana French was a late find for me, despite her popularity. Her writing is undeniably compelling and intelligent, as I found when I began with The Wych Elm and later with In the Woods. French draws readers in with a strong first-person narrator; in her Dublin Murder Squad series, this narrator changes from book to book. Each narrator has some compelling thing that drives him or her; in In the Woods, the detective who tells the story was himself a victim of a terrible crime that happened in his childhood; it resulted in the disappearance of two of his friends, and he has driven the trauma from his memory. The specter of this old mystery looms over his investigation of a new murder that brings him back to the place where his childhood terror occurred. French is brilliant with twists and cliffhangers and I anxiously await her next title.

I didn't expect to like the Richard Galbraith books, I'm not sure why, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved them. The character of Cormoran Strike, the one-legged private detective (formerly a military policeman) is quirky, loveable, and admirable despite his many bad habits. In the first book he meets a young woman sent by the temp agency. He can't afford her in his one-man operation, but he promises to pay for a week. The woman, Robin Ellicott, soon becomes indispensable to Strike, and the two make a wonderful and often funny duo. The murders are grisly, the motives dark, but Strike and Robin keep the books from unrelenting grimness with their ever-evolving relationship. I plowed through all five books in short order, starting with The Cuckoo's Calling.

I was also delighted by the books of Jane Casey, specifically the Maeve Kerrigan mysteries. Casey's protagonist is tough and ambitious, and though she is only "PC Kerrigan," she has been selected for an investigative team by a man she admires and she hopes to make a good impression in the first novel, The Burning. What I have come to love most about these gritty mysteries is the unexpected moments of humor, which come from the relationship between Maeve and her insufferable superior, DCI Josh Derwent.

Finally, when I ran out of books in those fine series, I decided to return to the Elizabeth George books I had read in the 90s. They hold up nicely thirty years later, still compelling and impeccably written. George delves into the details with a poetic gift for description, and her contrast of the sophisticated, Eton-educated Inspector Thomas Lynley with the working class, highly sensitive but smart as a whip Sergeant Barbara Havers is a brilliant pairing, one that becomes richer with time, and which often provides wonderful moments of humor in the novels. George is not tied to happy endings, but her themes are powerful and remain with the reader after the books are closed.
Visit Julia Buckley's website and follow Veronica Bond on Facebook.

Q&A with Julia Buckley.

--Marshal Zeringue