Thursday, May 30, 2024

Eva Gates

Eva Gates, also known as Vicki Delany, is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty-five books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Catskill Summer Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

The latest Eva Gates Lighthouse Library mystery is The Stranger in the Library.

Recently I asked Delany about what she was reading. Her reply:
Summer is my best reading time. Nothing I love more than sitting in the sun by the pool with a good book. But, before the Great Canadian Summer gets into full swing, here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

The Hunter by Tana French. Easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. French is Irish and the book (follow up to The Seeker) is set in a small, rural patch of Irish countryside where the people are not exactly accepting of strangers, and definitely into following everyone else’s business. The plot is interesting, the atmosphere perfect, the characters well drawn and fascinating, but the best part, to me, is French’s skillful use of the Irish accent and idioms that cleverly give the English speaking reader a taste of the dialect without making it something you have to parse through to understand. When local words are used, they’re well placed in context so you understand without having to look them up. Highly, highly recommended.

The Lantern’s Dance by Laurie R. King. I’ve been reading this series about Mary Russell and her mentor/husband Sherlock Holmes since the publication of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice thirty years ago. The series sagged a bit in the middle, but I kept on reading because I love the characters so, and I’m glad I did as this latest is as good as ever. In particular, I love the Russell character, every bit Holmes’s equal in every way. The Russell and Holmes books have a prominent place in my own virtual bookstore, The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium which I write under my own name of Vicki Delany.

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay. I am not much for reading fantasy (with some exceptions) but for some reason I thought I’d give this one a try. I didn’t even finish. I was interested in the characters and their story but when it got all wound up in the intricate politics of the world, which became nothing more to me than a jumble of made up words and names, I decided not to continue.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and Facebook, and visit Vicki Delany's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death By Beach Read.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Death Knells and Wedding Bells.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2023).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's newest novel to be released (July 2024) is Evangeline, a courtroom drama about the murder trial of captain who is one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship.

Buffa is also the author of ten legal thrillers involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. 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 America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Fiction's Failure:
In the middle of the last century, before everyone had a kindle, or some other small electronic device to keep them entertained, when millions of commuters rode the bus or the train sometimes more than an hour to work, the introduction of the paperback novel revolutionized the reading habits of Americans. Instead of expensive hardcover books, paperbacks, some of which cost less than a dollar, gave the seat-bound commuter four or five hundred pages of page turning fiction, an escape from the crowd around her and the thought of her dull, tedious, and often thankless job. The books were thick, the covers sometimes lurid, the prose, though nothing like as graphic as it is today, fast-moving and easy to understand. A number of writers made a great deal of money writing books like this, but no one was better at writing what the critics, with some justification, called trash, than Harold Robbins, about whom a better novel could be written than any novel he wrote himself.

Harold Robbins loved booze, loved women, and hated writing, hated it so much he had to be locked in a room before he would even start. It is true that it was not a bad room; it was, quite often, one of the most expensive rooms in one of the most expensive hotels in New York. But Plaza suite or jail cell, confinement, as they say, concentrates the mind. The difference was that what they did to Robbins in a New York hotel, no Georgia county sheriff would ever have been allowed to do. The hotel or, rather, Robbins’ friend and agent, who gave direction to the hotel staff, would not send in food. Not until, each day, Robbins had written the requisite number of typed pages.

Among his other contributions to American fiction, Robbins wrote The Carpetbaggers. Based loosely on the life of Howard Hughes, the book was an enormous best-seller when it came out in paperback. Robbins got richer still when Hollywood made a movie out of it, a movie in which the girl who was about to marry the Howard Hughes character, asked what she would like to see on her honeymoon, replied, “Ceilings.” The audience was properly shocked and could not wait to tell their friends. Like everything Robbins wrote, The Carpetbaggers followed the time tested formula of a powerful, ruthless, and yet somehow vulnerable man involved with two kinds of women: the kind you would like to take home to meet your mother, and the kind you would like to take to the Plaza Hotel, if she had not, at some point earlier in her life, been there, working, on her own.

Working all day, banging out his stories of sex and redemption, becoming more hungry with each page he finished, Robbins would pass under the door what he had done. His friend and agent would check to make sure Robbins had not cheated on his daily quota, and only then allow room service inside. Finally, after weeks of cold sober writing, the novel would be finished, and Robbins and his agent would again have all the money they needed. They did what any serious writer and literary agent would do: they got falling down drunk, and stayed that way, delirious with happiness in an alcoholic haze, a party that lasted as long as there was money to spend and women to help spend it. Then, broke again, Harold Robbins would plod back to his typewriter and his locked room at the Plaza Hotel and punch out another enormously successful novel. Every writer has his routine.

Graham Greene, who wrote much better fiction, including such one-time classics as The Power And The Glory and Our Man In Havana, had a peculiarity of his own. He wrote every morning the same, exact, number of words, five hundred, not one word less, not one word more. And it did not matter where that word was, the first, the last, or in the middle, of a sentence; five hundred words, he was done for the day. What was never quite clear was how long it took to get to that final five hundredth word. Was it two hours, an hour, less than that? Five hundred. The number, not the time, was all that counted. Anthony Trollope, like Greene a British writer, but one who lived and wrote in the twilight of the Victorian Era and whose Palliser Novels continue to be read, measured both words and time, and did it with an astonishing, mechanical, regularity.

Every morning at precisely five-thirty, Trollope would begin to write; every morning at precisely seven-thirty, he would put his pen aside and stack together the sheets of paper on which he had written, without exception, precisely two thousand words; words written in a way that would have brought cheer to the face of an army drill sergeant or a sadistic dance instructor. With his pocket watch open on his desk, Trollope, as meticulously as the perpetually repeated motion of the watch itself, would write every fifteen minutes exactly two hundred fifty words. If you read Trollope’s novels, and they are worth reading, stories that give a better sense of the lives of the British aristocracy than anything else written at the time, you begin to become aware that your eyes are moving with the same mind-numbing efficiency as the author’s hand, one line to the next, one paragraph, one page, one chapter, to the next, like the endless movement of a metronome.

There is an important difference between writers who think in terms of how much they can write, and writers who want to write what deserves to be read. And if it is a difference that has gone missing, all the better to remember great writers and the different way they worked. Flaubert wrote fewer novels, and far fewer pages, than Anthony Trollope, or the other two popular writers mentioned, but what Flaubert wrote will be with us as long as there are still serious readers. No one had to lock up Flaubert to get him to write, he did not count how many words he had written or keep a watch next to him to tell him how long it had taken to write them. He once spent three days in the struggle to find the one perfect word he needed. Another great writer, James Joyce, replying to someone who complained how difficult it was to read Finnegan’s Wake, said with cruel indifference that it had taken him sixteen years to write it and he did not care if it took that long to read it.

Friedrich Nietzsche understood what the emergence of a mass market meant for the future of literature: “When everyone learns to read, no one will know how to write.” This, to the modern, democratic, eye, seems to make no sense at all. What difference does it make if everyone, instead of only a small minority, knows how to read? As it turns out, all the difference in the world. When reading was limited to those who had the time to read and think about what they read, when, instead of a source of entertainment, a thoughtless diversion, a book was expected to say something, and say it in a way that was, in every sense of the word, memorable, an author who could not write well was considered no author at all.

The distinction between the kind of writing required to reach a mass audience and the kind that appealed to an educated reader with the time, and the ability, to reflect on what he read, is itself a pale imitation of a distinction drawn when reading and writing first became available to people who were neither the rulers, nor part of the priesthood, of an ancient city or nation. There was first the fear that writing would weaken, and perhaps eventually destroy, the ability to remember what we hear; the fear that, by writing everything down, the memory of what someone said would be lost. If Homer is raised as an objection, the Iliad and the Odyssey among the few great works that have been read for more than two dozen centuries, it needs to be remembered that Homer was not read in ancient Athens. His two long stories were recited in public by rhapsodes, men who committed Homer’s words to memory.

The other, more serious, objection was that it was dangerous to put in writing what could be used against you by those in power, whether the tyrant, always quick to murder, or the demos, always quick to condemn anyone out of step with the majority. The problem was how to write in a way that would reach those capable of understanding without raising the alarm among those who could make sure you could never write at all. The answer, beginning with Plato, was to write in a way that, appearing to agree with what everyone believed, or claimed to believe, suggested a deeper meaning, a secret teaching somehow hidden in plain sight. The first words of Plato’s Republic - “I went down to the Piraeus’ - would seem, on first impression, nothing more than a brief, straightforward description of where Socrates was going, until, later, you discover, or you remember, that the Piraeus, the port of Athens, was the heart of the Athenian democracy and the place where different ways of life were brought from different parts of the world. And then, remembering that, the careful reader might wonder what it means that Socrates goes down, i.e. looks down, on the Athenian regime.

The need to disguise the meaning of what one writes made writing a form of art. A story, any story, was not interesting unless it was written well. Among those who wrote for a popular audience, no one understood this better than Shakespeare. In Hamlet, he has Ophelia explain, “Now, this overdone, or come tardy-off, though it makes the unskillful laugh, cannot but makes the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance overweigh a whole theatre of others.”

The question whether to make the unskillful laugh or the judicious grieve has now, in our time, been answered in a different way. The judicious reader has all but disappeared. There are still some left, but not enough to determine how a larger audience wants to spend its time. The real question, the question that will decide if literature, and therewith civilization, can be saved, is whether, in an age of mass produced entertainment, there will still be writers who believe what, among others, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford believed, that writing about the human condition is the most serious thing a writer can do. The prospect seems doubtful.
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.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

Third Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Peter Colt

Peter Colt was born in Boston, MA in 1973 and moved to Nantucket Island shortly thereafter. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and a 24-year veteran of the Army Reserve with deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. He is a police officer in a New England city and the married father of two boys.

Colt's new Andy Roark mystery is The Judge.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Colt's reply:
I am currently reading Robert Mazur’s excellent book The Infiltrator: The True Story of One Man Against the Biggest Drug Cartel in History. Mazur’s story is a riveting look inside his complicated and dangerous undercover assignment to infiltrate the Medellin Cartel in the 1980’s. Mazur used his business and family background to pose as money launderer. He simultaneously got close to high-ranking members of the cartel as well as corrupt banking officials at Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). The book, which I bought for research, reads like a spy novel. It is a must read for anyone interested in the 1980’s drug cartels or daring undercover operations.

I also just finished reading Yesterday’s Spy by Len Deighton, which is a classic, cold war era spy novel. It is Deighton, doing what he does best, weaving a tail of espionage, tradecraft, and betrayal. The two protagonists are bound to each other by their past working with the French resistance and find that their shared past has bearing on their present-day mission. Like all of his books, Yesterday’s Spy is effortlessly entertaining but not as serious (or as good) as the outstanding Bernie Sampson novels.
Visit Peter Colt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Back Bay Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Back Bay Blues.

Q&A with Peter Colt.

The Page 69 Test: Death at Fort Devens.

My Book, The Movie: Death at Fort Devens.

My Book, The Movie: The Ambassador.

The Page 69 Test: The Ambassador.

The Page 69 Test: The Judge.

My Book, The Movie: The Judge.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Clea Simon

Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of three nonfiction books and thirty-one mysteries, including World Enough and Hold Me Down, both of which were named “Must Reads” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

A graduate of Harvard University and former journalist, she has contributed to publications ranging from and Harvard Magazine to Yankee and The New York Times.

Simon’s latest mystery is Bad Boy Beat, which kicks off a fast-paced amateur sleuth series starring Em Kelton, a Boston crime reporter with a nose for news.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Simon's reply:
This is such a great topic because, of course, writers are first and foremost readers first. The problem comes when I’m asked to name just one book. Like a lot of us (I suspect), I’ve always got a couple of books going.

I recently finished Caroline Leavitt’s new Days of Wonder and I’ve been dipping into Philippa Gregory’s Normal Women, a massive history of the half of humanity that’s been left out of 800 years of English history.

But the books I keep coming back to these days are Deanna Raybourn’s. I had not thought myself interested in her – too romance-y! Too soft! But after devouring her Killers of A Certain Age, I realized she was one of the smartest writers in any genre! Now that I’ve read through her Veronica Speedwell series, I’m devouring her Lady Julia Grey books. Yes, they are historical mysteries with a heady dash of romance (thanks to the infuriating Nicholas Brisbane), and they’re just wonderful! I’m currently out on the windswept moor with Silent on the Moor and loving it.
Visit Clea Simon's website.

The Page 69 Test: To Conjure a Killer.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Boy Beat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Nolan Chase

Nolan Chase lives and works in the Pacific Northwest.

A Lonesome Place for Dying is his first book featuring Ethan Brand.

Library Journal's (starred) review said “Chase debuts his lonesome, reflective lawman with this well-written, complex case. Fans of Craig Johnson’s Longmire will enjoy.” Publishers Weekly's (starred) review called A Lonesome Place for Dying a “standout procedural ... Chase throws a lot of balls in the air, and he juggles them like a seasoned pro, managing to carve out a distinctly memorable protagonist in the process.”

Recently I asked Chase about what he was reading. The author's reply:
Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian

The Aubrey-Maturin novels great fun, and O’Brian evokes the period with knowledge, wit, and a violence which is both startling and entirely appropriate to the setting. They’re not easy reads, relying on a knowledge of nautical and medical jargon, Latin and Greek, geography and natural history and classical music. But they’re worth the effort for the camaraderie of the characters and the author’s storytelling prowess.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Coming from the mystery genre, Austen’s world can seem small, but she turns that to advantage by creating characters who bump up against that claustrophobia. Money, family, gender roles, politics and fate all play important parts, and the marriages aren’t so much happy endings but peculiar arrangements of fate which the characters have to work for and sometimes adapt themselves to.
Visit Nolan Chase's website.

--Marshal Zeringue