Author Archive for Agatha – Page 2

Chevy Stevens: Never Let You Go

When Robin asked me to write a review of Chevy Stevens’s new book in advance of Chevy’s appearance at the store, she wondered if I’d have to reread the book in order to refresh my memory. But, despite the fact that I’d devoured Never Let You Go  back in early September, and have read many mysteries since, the answer was an emphatic no. Believe me, consuming one of Chevy’s books is such a powerful and enthralling experience that you’re not going to forget it anytime soon.

In a thriller the initial setup is crucial, and as usual in her work, Never Let You Go has a compelling hook that lands the reader into her hold. There are two lines of narrative, one told in the voice of Lindsey in 2005, a young and somewhat naive wife trapped in an abusive relationship. At a vacation resort her Machiavellian husband Andrew pulls a power trip that endangers their daughter Sophie, making Lindsey realize once and for all that she and Sophie must escape from him.

Flash forward to 2016 where Lindsey and Sophie have rebuilt their lives on an isolated Canadian island. Unfortunately Andrew has gotten out of prison, mysterious and vaguely menacing things have started to happen, and the drastic measures Lindsey used to get Andrew incarcerated in the first place haunt her in more ways than one.

As we learn how she escaped from her previous hell we also see the fresh one developing around her. Then there’s the narrative from teen Sophie, who doesn’t really remember her father, has been surreptitiously corresponding with him in prison, and is rebelliously sympathetic to his attempts to forge a relationship now that he’s out.

The result is very hard to put down. Stevens knows how to twist a plot without tying it into implausible knots and the unexpected ending makes you wonder how you didn’t see it coming rather than filling you with a desire to throw the book across the room. In a thriller landscape infested with zombie Gone Girl on the Train clones, she stands out because of the deep humanity of all her characters, as well as the sincere empathy she brings to even the most horrifying scenarios. The result is a book that is sensational without being sensationalistic, one that, like many classic “women in peril” mysteries, is, in fact, a commentary on the relative powerlessness of women in society. You’ll race through Never Let You Go, but it will reverberate for a long time. (Jamie)

Vicki Delany: Elementary, She Read

This is a charming book, and Vicki Delany is a total pro at telling a story. Brisk, entertaining, and memorable – the whole package. As far as cozies go, she’s top of the line. The set-up is great. Main character Gemma Doyle lives on Cape Cod and owns a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and teashop along with her uncle, who is the real Holmes buff but more of a silent partner as he’s off on collecting trips. I’ve read books about bookstores before that I found pretty unrealistic, but Cape Cod is a tourist area and because Gemma’s shop sells more than books, I could believe that she was briskly selling lots of decks of Sherlock playing cards, figurines and other tchotchkes.

As the book opens, the shop is busy with a bridge group on a tour, who swarm the tearoom and the shop. Gemma notices a woman who doesn’t seem to belong come in and then loses sight of her as she waits on customers. The woman disappears but when the crowd clears, Gemma finds a bag with an apparently almost priceless copy of a 19th century magazine with an original Sherlock story in it. She locks it in her safe and from there her troubles begin.

Gemma, who has the deductive reasoning powers of our hero, figures out where the mystery woman must be and tracks her to a local motel, but when she finds her, the woman is dead. Gemma becomes prime suspect #1 and the main investigator is a former boyfriend. Things go from bad to worse as Gemma’s house is trashed, the police continue to show up at her home and business for questioning, and she feels she’s being followed. When her ex is taken off the case and the officer in charge clearly thinks Gemma is the guilty party, Gemma takes things into her own hands.

She repeatedly says to herself that the police have greater resources than she does but she can’t help herself and finds her way nimbly through a thicket of clues. The story, the surrounding characters, and the Cape Cod setting all make this a more than delightful read. It feels like a set up to a nice long-lived series, and I hope it is.

Jane Harper: The Dry

The DryTwo things to keep in mind when reading The Dry:

  1. It’s an awesome book to read in the cold, cold winter, as it’s set in the burning draught of Australia as meticulously delineated by Jane Harper.
  2. If you start reading it early in the evening, forget about getting any sleep. You won’t be able to put it down.

This is a wonderful first novel, featuring Melbourne financial detective Aaron Falk, who has returned to his tiny hometown of Kiewarra for the most tragic of reasons: his boyhood friend, Luke, has apparently killed his wife and toddler son in a murder-suicide. Aaron has gotten a note from Luke’s father demanding his attendance at the funeral. As he arrives, it’s like he’s walking into a terrible steam bath. Harper wraps the suffocating heat around him like a blanket and he’s plunged into the tiny church where the funeral is being held, surrounded by his long ago neighbors and frenemies.

Kind of like the frog in the water that’s boiling but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late, Aaron eases back into Kiewarra despite some terrible past memories and the fresh new grief of losing his old friend Luke. In a room over the pub he’s visited by the local cop in charge, who asks him to unofficially look into the case with him, as he feels something is off.

Unlike many contemporary detective novels, neither Aaron nor the local, Raco, are the tormented type. Yes, Aaron has some baggage that makes him a bit standoffish, but he and Raco are both are at heart good, decent men who want to discover the truth because that’s what’s right. This is almost a western, and they may as well be wearing the white hats of the good sheriff.

This novel is far from corny, however, and Harper uses the setting—the dry, hot landscape—to her advantage as she tells her story, winding it in as part of her plot. That’s a trick only some of the very best writers can pull off (Kent Krueger and Julia Keller both come to mind) and Harper is a very powerful writer. As she interweaves the past and present, creating an incredibly painful backstory, she’s also laid the groundwork for a true mystery with a solution that is a surprise in one way and in another way, it’s not, as she’s set it up so well.

I often feel mysteries can get away with a good story and decent characters. That’s a good read. When all the elements—prose, plot, setting and character are present—that’s a great read. The Dry is a great read. Don’t miss it.

Doug Allyn: The Jukebox Kings

Doug Allyn has long been known as one of the masters of the modern mystery short story—it’s probably harder to find an issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine that doesn’t have an Allyn story in it than to find one that does, and it’s a rare year that he’s not nominated for an Edgar award. But he’s also a fine novelist as well, my personal favorite being the the Mitch Mitchell series, which feature a female Michigan based deepwater diver.

The latest exhibit of his mastery in the longer form is called The Jukebox Kings. It’s not so much a mystery as a crime novel, a story of the rise of a gangster in the Little Caesar tradition. Mick Shannon is a boxer, fresh out of prison, who, after losing a tough fight, finds himself deeply in debt to the mob, in the person of Moishe Abrams, an extremely dangerous relic of the Purple Gang era, who still controls jukeboxes and collections in the black parts of Detroit. Things get rough quickly, and soon Mick finds himself taking the place of Moishe in an extremely fraught environment.

At first the book is reminiscent of early Elmore Leonard (not the worst thing to be reminiscent of!) in its portrayal of a tough, canny protagonist dealing with the changing Detroit of the early sixties. Allyn puts his own stamp on it by introducing another element of his expertise, music.

Mick seizes a tiny music studio from a deadbeat then dead client, and proceeds to learn the ins and outs of the exploding Motown scene with the help of Martika, a savvy and attractive soul sister who happens to harbor a performing talent herself. The synergy between the studio, the jukeboxes that play the products of the studio and a soon acquired nightclub creates a new and successful operation, but also one that attracts the attention of the new look but just as brutal Mafia whose “takeover and acquisition” strategy Mick and his new associates must resist.

There’s plenty of action, atmosphere and snappy dialogue in The Jukebox Kings, as well as an insightful look at the music business and a changing Detroit. The long sweep of the story, which reaches from the Supremes to rap, must have been liberating for an author used to a more restricted form. Although Mick is a violent man who turns to violent means when necessary, he’s a sympathetic character and his story is a winning one.

Laura Joh Rowland: The Ripper’s Shadow

Laura Joh Rowland is well known to mystery fans as the author of the Sano Ichiro mysteries set in 17th century Japan. She’s also taken on Charlotte Bronte in other novels, and here she creates a new character, photographer Sarah Bain, who lives in Victorian London at the same time as Jack the Ripper. While there are many, many books about Jack the Ripper—the fact that he was never found will always be fuel for speculation—he’s almost like Sherlock Holmes in that the permutations and impressions of his life (and crimes) are varied and plentiful, and the interpretations can range from the dull to the nutty to the creative. Rowland goes for the creative.

She creates a central tent pole character who is interesting, flawed, and human at the same time. Sarah is a female photographer struggling to make ends meet on her own, and has found a path to success taking naughty photographs of prostitutes. The photos were the idea of one of the women, but when the women start to die at the hands of the Ripper, Sarah feels her photographs are the reason why. Interweaving fact and fiction, Rowland of course posits a solution to the crimes, but that is almost a McGuffin. To me the real interest of the novel lay in the characters which Rowland chooses to surround Sarah.

They are a varied and disparate lot, yet they seem to have a common thread—some horrible, painful pasts or innate character traits that make them societal outliers. There are the Lipskys, who Sarah meets when she goes to photograph their dead child; Jews expelled from Russia, their painful past can almost be assumed. There’s young Mick, who cadges his living on the streets but takes a liking to Sarah, who ends up feeding him on a pretty regular basis. There’s the dashing Lord Hugh whose secret is that he prefers men to women; in Victorian London, of course, this was an illegal lifestyle choice that could result in prison. And finally there’s the lovely actress and model Catherine, who has posed for Sarah and who the little band unites around in a kind of protective custody arrangement.

As this group searches for the Ripper, Sarah is afraid to reveal the reason for her alarm to the police, fearing her photos could get her arrested. As she hides this essential fact she becomes a target of the investigation herself and finds a frenemy in one PC Barrett.

As Rowland takes the reader on a tour of many of the seamier parts of London, you can almost smell the city as Sarah and crew take their stations in the fog, protecting prostitutes and hoping to catch the Ripper. Sarah’s lonely present is assuaged by her new band of companions, and it’s the growing friendship between all of them—as little bits of their pasts are teased out throughout the narrative—that give this novel real charm. It certainly felt to me like it was set up for a sequel, and I hope it is, as these are characters I hope to revisit.

An Appreciation of Loren D. Estleman

Loren EstlemanLoren D. Estleman feels as though he’s as integral to Aunt Agatha’s as our purple paint or over-stuffed bookshelves. We’ve been lucky enough to have known him for almost 25 years now. When we first met he was newly married to the lovely Debi, and ever since then he’s continued to write book after wonderful book.

When we first met him, he was hard at work on the spectacular historical series he’s nowfinished, each featuring a different decade in Detroit. Spanning from prohibition (Whiskey River, 1990) to the 80’s (King of the Corner, 1992), with both those volumes being stand-outs, he takes a look at race, economics, and culture as well as telling a memorable story in each volume.

He’s also one of the best regarded Western writers in the business, with over 20 Western novels to his credit, which have garnered him several Spur awards as well as a lifetime achievement award,

He also writes the now five volume Peter Macklin series, as well as the film historian Valentino series beginning with Frames (2008) to the most recent Brazen (2016). He’s written some fine stand-alones—a personal favorite of ours is Gas City (2008)—and indulged in some Sherlock love—Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (1979). He wrote his first novel fresh out of Eastern Michigan University, The Oklahoma Punk (1976), while balancing an early career as a reporter.

But for mystery fans I think I can say that the love fest ignites with his Amos Walker books, one of the finest series of private eye novels ever written. Set in and around Detroit, Amos has been going strong since Motor City Blue in 1980, right up through this year’s The Lioness is the Hunter, which brings the Amos count to 26. His voice really roars to life with the first sentence of Motor City Blue: “Faces from the past are best left there. If, two hundred-odd pages from now, you agree with me, this will all be worthwhile.” He goes on to indelibly describe the Detroit street corner where Amos is trying to light a cigarette and tailing a man suspected of insurance fraud.   Amos has even been to Ann Arbor—in one memorable scene, he even visits Aunt Agatha’s (The Sundown Speech, 2015), which was lifetime achievement enough for me.

I read an Estleman book slowly, to savor the prose. I think he’s one of our state treasures, He’s been nominated or has won just about every literary award imaginable—including the National Book Award—and his book count is 82 and rising. He’s only in his 60’s with no signs of letting up. He’s also an incredibly kind and incredibly knowledgeable man—he loves old movies, classic private eye novels, and his home state. He has shared some great stories, his love of books (he can sometimes be found scouting our shelves) and he’s generous to other writers. When I ask him to share an event with someone else, he never objects, and is unfailingly kind to whoever the other author may be. We once had a panel at the Kerrytown BookFest titled “Mentored by Estleman” and other writers lined up to participate.

There’s no doubt our literary culture would be poorer without Mr. Estleman to enrich it. Of all the blessings we’ve counted at Aunt Agatha’s through the years, he’s one of the biggest.

Kathryn Casey: Possessed: The Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder

PossessedEver since the loss of Ann Rule, the True Crime world has been in a bit of a funk. To some extent the books that used to come out by the dozens have been replaced by semi-documentaries that proliferate on television. Of course, like so many, these programs suffer from a lack of depth and a questionable “reality” show standard of journalism. So thank goodness for Rule’s friend Kathryn Casey, who with her new book Possessed: The Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder serves up a delectable slice of real life crime, detailed research, twisted personality and plain old you-couldn’t-make-this stuff-up goodness.

The first hook is one you might already be familiar with:

The woman’s face twisted into a pained grimace, and she pointed a bloody finger toward something on the floor near the dead man’s head, a size-nine, cobalt blue suede stiletto, its five-and-a-half-inch heel stained with blood that held tufts of what appeared to be strands of the dead man’s white hair.

The woman is Ana Trujillo, who on June 9th, 2013 killed her former boyfriend Stefan Andersson by beating him over the head with the stiletto heel of her shoe. Casey begins her tale with the shocked first responders, and their quick realization that there’s something a little hinky with Ana’s tale of deadly force in self defense.

The book then rewinds, taking a deep look at the biographies of both victim and killer, expertly detailing their characters, until there seems an almost tragic inevitability that when the trajectories of these two star crossed people intersect something awful will occur.

Stefan Andersson was born in Sweden, blessed with a brilliant mind but cursed with a father who was abusive to his family and jealous of a son who would outshine him. Eventually Stefan escaped to the United States in order to pursue biochemistry in corporate and academic jobs, but he remained damaged, popular and successful, with many friends, yet insecure, uncomfortable with true intimacy and saddled with a bit of a drinking problem. Getting older, with a failed marriage and a string of unsatisfying romances, he longed to shake his life, hoping for, perhaps, a spicy Latina to spice things up. Be careful what you wish for.

Ana Trujillo, a woman whose outgoing nature verged on exhibitionism, had risen from her own humble roots to become, at one time, a successful wife, mother and businesswoman. Gradually, however, perhaps because she had forced to be prematurely responsible at an early age, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, she slowly slipped into a life of careless hedonism. It was a slow spiral downward into drugs, sex and bad company, her fitful and grandiose attempts at providing for herself regularly ruined by her inability to apply herself to anything but hedonism for any length of time. There were always guys, though, to pay for drinks, crash with and generally pick up the pieces. These relationships would just as regularly be sabotaged by her increasingly unhinged behavior and inexplicable eruptions of violence.

In each, the other initially found a savior of sorts. Only later would it all turn out to be misimpression and camouflage.

When Stefan and Ana met in the lobby of his high rise apartment building he saw her as the missing piece of his life. Even when he learned enough to want to avoid her, he can’t be firm enough to make a clean break or avoid her appeals to his compassion, haunted, perhaps, by the memory of his father’s brutality to his mother. As Max used to say on Hart to Hart, when these two met it was murder.

Once the deed is done the ever manipulative Ana tries to game the system, claiming to be a battered woman who feared for her life. The police and prosecutor soon see through her, but her claims make for a powerful defence in court.

As Ann Rule herself said, Casey is “one of the best true crime writers today,” and Possessed is a truly compelling read, with not only a precise presentation of the facts, but also a novelist’s eye for character and setting, the whole producing one of the best examples of the genre to appear this year. (Jamie)

Jonathan Moore: The Dark Room

I like starting a new year with a new discovery. I read an advance reading copy of this novel, which I plucked from the giant slush pile we have of such books. Sometimes one will call to me, and this one did. It feels very much like a series book though it apparently is not (that would be my one objection). Set in San Francisco, we meet homicide cop Gavin Cain, who is called in by the mayor after the mayor receives some compromising photographs with a request from the anonymous sender that the mayor do the world a favor and kill himself. When Gavin has his initial meeting with him, the mayor denies knowing anything about the photographs, which show a woman handcuffed, then undressed and obviously drugged.

Initially annoyed to be called in, Gavin’s been taken away from the culmination of another case involving the exhumation of a body. He has to dispatch his new, green partner to keep watch in the ME’s office and make sure everything goes as it should.

The FBI is involved with the mayor’s case as well, and the FBI agent in charge and Gavin form a good working partnership. As Gavin makes headway he also meets with the mayor’s disturbing family – a wife who is obviously an alcoholic and a daughter in art school who seems to take off all her clothes every time she’s around Gavin. He makes sure not to be alone with her. At that point, I was strongly reminded of Ross MacDonald’s California stories of wealthy and dysfunctional families.

Telling too much more of the plot would involve massive spoilers, but it’s not giving much away to say that the two cases are connected. There’s also a personal wrinkle for Gavin: he lives with a woman who hasn’t left her home in several years because of a traumatic incident in her past. The book is stuffed with great backstories begging to be revealed, an interesting main character, and good police procedural detail that makes a tricky, well crafted plot move ahead like lightning. As mentioned before, I wish this was a first in a series, but it’s a well told, enjoyable story. I would definitely seek out more titles by this author.

A visit with our Book Club

Aunt Agatha's Book ClubOur book club has been meeting for 23 years now, with inevitable changes in membership through the years. We have some members who have been with us from the beginning, and we always love meeting new people. Through the years our discussions have gotten more focused, though the discussions are always very passionate, one way or another! All of us, I think, have read books we otherwise wouldn’t have and through discussion have come to enjoy books we may have initially disliked. I asked our members about their participation in the book club and what stands out to them. For my part, I’ve enjoyed discussing the books I love with this wonderful group for over 20 years.

Tori Booker: (I’m a) director of a small non-profit that provides legal services to immigrants in need.

I’m proud to say that I’m an original book club member! In the summer of 1993 (I think), I was taking a knitting class at the Fiber Gallery right next door to Aunt Agatha’s. I noticed a postcard announcing a new book club, went next door to buy Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes by Marcia Muller and became an official member of the club. In that first year, we also read Colin Dexter and Robert Crais – authors completely unknown to me. And that’s what I’ve appreciated the most about book club – the exposure to hundreds (after 23 years, “hundreds” is accurate) of authors and stories I never would have considered on my own. If I limit myself to the last decade or so (23 years is a long time to remember all of the books I’ve liked or disliked), some standouts are: Elly Griffiths, Lisa Lutz, P.J. Parrish, Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith) and The Keeper of Lost Causes (Jussi Adler-Olsen).

Apart from reading unfamiliar authors, I love that book club offers a comfortable opportunity to connect with other avid readers with whom you can be completely honest. I still remember Maria, one of my favorite original book club members with whom I shared similar reading tastes. The current group has been meeting and discussing for several years now. We talk about new jobs, new babies, weddings and travel, and when I have a strong opinion about a particular book, (The Darkest Secret, Alex Marwood), I’m anxious to hear what the others think. Authors often join our discussion, and no matter what we thought about the book, we are always diplomatic and polite. They have brought t-shirts, slideshows, and cookies. Some have smoked while talking and others have been hard to connect with, but they are all grateful for our interest. The most memorable author discussion for me was sharing a meal with Louise Penny and her husband; both so kind, friendly and appreciative to be with us.

Over the years I’ve recruited mystery-loving friends to join our book club, and several years ago my dad participated in one of our discussions. I hope that in a few years my 11 year old son will too.

Editor’s note: Tori mentions author visits – on one occasion we skyped with an author – A.X. Ahmad, author of The Caretaker – and Tori really helped facilitate the discussion and make it a better one.

Vicki Kondelik: I work as a cataloger at the Graduate Library, and I’m writing a novel in my spare time.  I’ve been in the club at least ten years, even though I haven’t been able to go to every meeting.  I still remember the first time I went, the book we discussed was Emperor Norton’s Ghost by Dianne Day.  There are many books I enjoyed very much that we discussed in the book club, but one particularly memorable discussion was of In the Woods by Tana French, because opinion was so divided on that book.  I remember that people either loved it or hated it.

Editor’s note: Vicki says she has been coming for 10 years, but I think it may be more like 15! Time flies. She is an especially avid fan of historical mysteries and of Louise Penny.

Joyce and Mike Simowski: Mike and I are still newcomers, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the discussions.  We are both reading authors we hadn’t tried before, or in my case an author on my ‘wannaread’ list now becomes a priority so I can discuss it at our meeting!  We look forward to each new book. Thanks for making reading fun!

Roxie & Rob Weaver: Rob: I recently retired from ITC Holdings, Michigan’s electric transmission provider, where I was a Senior Systems Analyst. Basically I was a small contributor to a large enterprise tasked with keeping high voltage electric power flowing so that “Michiganders” could read their Aunt Agatha’s books after dark and keep ice cream cold in their Frigidaires.

My post-retirement agenda includes as much traveling with Roxie as can be budgeted, seeing as much of the country as possible; also includes a regimen of biking, hiking and walking to commune with nature and stave off decrepitude. Of course, there is much reading to be done, stuffing the remaining brain cells with quality fiction. Fiction is usually sufficient to explain what I observe in human nature. For example, in just the last couple of months, we have seen Orwellian fiction become reality right here in the U.S.A.

Along with Roxie, I have been an Aunt Agatha’s customer and enthusiastic attender of  author events since 2006 but I did not immediately join the Aunt Agatha’s book club, preferring to hang out at Expresso Royale on Main Street while Roxie went to Aunt Agatha’s once a month. After being convinced that you weren’t reading cozies or romance novels I began attending the book club in 2013. I’m glad I did.

I think it is important to belong to a book club because I am introduced to the works of authors with whom I am often unfamiliar. The same could be said for attending author events. Aunt Agatha’s provides both the book club and author events. Robin and Jamie direct me to the “good stuff”, otherwise I gravitate to “mainstream” mystery, crime, espionage… Mainstream is good but expanding my literary exposure universe is priceless.

Roxie: I own a small mobile art business – Geiser-Weaver Crafts where I teach pottery, painting, drawing and jewelry to children. I travel all over Southeastern Michigan doing so. I also design and sew American Girl Doll clothes, my specialty is Super Hero Costumes. I am also a Lularoe Consultant with my daughter Morgaine. I am a retired mental health therapist. I love to travel and find that the flexibility of my multiple self employment gigs allows me to do so. My husband Rob and I have traveled all over the United States having walked in all 50 states and are currently walking all the capitals. We also like to bike and have done some distance biking – biking from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD and from Cumberland to Washington, DC. I read primarily mysteries and like to try new authors. I am not a huge cozy fan, but have been known to read a few. I have a knack for figuring out who committed the crime, which can be both fun and frustrating. I read fast, so I read a lot. I started coming to the book club right after we relocated from the west side of Michigan to the east about 10 years ago. My first book club meeting I remember going to supper with Catie & Angel. I have been hooked ever since, I enjoy the banter and the diversity in opinions – it is enjoyable to hear different viewpoints on the same book. Seldom do we all the like book or hate it, so the discussion is lively.

Editor’s note: We can all attest to Roxie’s gift for guessing the killer.

Tammy Rhoades: I enjoy the book and author recommendations, the new authors I am introduced to, the people I meet who enjoy reading, the discussions about historical novels, the opinions of the group on different books and their reasons for liking them or not – these are very insightful.  I enjoyed meeting Julia Keller and Carrie Smith and hearing of their writing process and all that goes into creating a work of fiction. It is a great way to spend an evening!

Linda Arnsdorf: As you, know, I am a retired person who works.  Currently just a Nurse Practitioner, part time.  I am not sure how long I have been a member of book group but more than 20 years, I think maybe more than 20.  I like hearing other people’s thoughts on a book we are all reading.  Most times I like the book more or if I hear that the line is overused and I like the book, I will still like it but would think twice about recommending the book to my friends.  Members have come and gone but a few of us continue.  I am always happy to see old members who come and go as well as when there is a new member.

Editor’s note: Like Tori, Linda is an original member – 23 years. 

Author Interview: Laura Joh Rowland

Laura Joh RowlandLaura Joh Rowland wrote the long running, beloved Sano Ichiro series set in feudal Japan. She has also written mysteries featuring Charlotte Bronte, and now is writing a series set in 1888 London featuring photographer Sarah Bain. In the first of the series, The Ripper’s Shadow, Sarah ends up in the crosshairs of both the police and the Ripper himself.

Q: Your first series, set in feudal Japan, was always really popular with our customers, and I wonder how you picked that particular time period?

A:The short answer is, I watched too many samurai movies while I was in college (at the University of Michigan. Go Blue!). The longer answer is that when I decided to write mystery novels, I needed to carve out a territory for myself, and feudal Japan was wide open. It was a marriage of interest and opportunity.

Q: I often think historical mystery writers are the most “pure” detective novelists working at the moment, as they aren’t using all the new forensic tools available to contemporary detectives, they have to use good old fashioned shoe leather and deductive reasoning to solve the crime. What are your thoughts on that?

A: I agree. Modern forensic tools are amazing, but even nowadays they don’t always solve cases. It often comes down to what a jury believes. I was a scientist when I started writing fiction, and I chose historical novels partly because I wouldn’t have to write about the scientific instruments and techniques I used at my day job.

Q: You now have had quite a long career, with an impressive number of books, all of them in the historical mystery genre. What drew you to historicals? Are you trained as an historian?

A: I’m not trained as an historian, but I love tracking down information. There’s no thrill quite like finding a fact that I need for a story. It’s like a treasure hunt. I like historical novels because they’re a welcome break from modern problems. Whenever life seems rough, I can look back and remember that in Victorian England, public hangings were popular entertainment.

Q: After a long run in feudal Japan, you jumped to Charlotte Bronte. Hw did that come about?

A: I’ve always loved Charlotte Bronte’s own story as much as I love her novels. She was a talented, ambitious woman who became a best-selling, famous author despite her humble background and plain looks. Through her novels and in her personal writings she expressed a desire for adventure. I wanted to give her an adventure that I think she would have liked.

Q: Was it difficult using such a famous literary figure as a character?

A: Writing about famous people can mean challenging readers’ assumptions about them. I think a lot of readers see Charlotte Bronte as a prim church mouse who never left Haworth and never did anything but write. Those readers probably didn’t like my books, in which she travels, solves crimes, and has a passionate love affair.

Q: Your new novel, The Ripper’s Shadow, centers on probably the most famous unsolved serial murder case of all time. What are you brining to the party that’s different?

A: I’m refreshing the idea that the Jack the Ripper case was solved by somebody who was flying under the radar. Many mystery novels about the Ripper focus on rehashing the historical evidence and putting forth a theory about which of the real suspects was actually the Ripper. That didn’t interest me because I think the evidence is too time-worn to prove anything, the case will never be solved, and the culprit was probably none of those suspects. My book focuses on the dilemma of a fictional photographer named Sarah Bain, who has inside information about the Ripper murders and personal reasons for keeping it secret.

Q: Has it been refreshing, both in this novel and in your Charlotte Bronte novels, to utilize a female central character rather than a male?

A: Yes. Women and men really do live on different planets. It’s fun to explore Venus after spending so much time on Mars. I particularly like writing about women’s personal relationships, which I think have complications that are sometimes lacking in men’s.

Q: Who are your influences, mystery-wise? Any contemporary mystery authors you especially enjoy?

A: When I started writing mysteries, P.D. James and Elizabeth George were big influences, although my stories aren’t much like theirs. I enjoy Sophie Hannah, Carol Goodman, Robert Harris, and Thomas Cook.

Q: What book in your life was transformational – made the reading light switch on? It can be anything from something you read at age 5 on up.

A: I can’t remember! It’s as though I was born loving to read, and all the many books I’ve read are such a part of me that I couldn’t say which was the most important. That would be like choosing between my lungs and my kidneys. In retrospect, the transformational moment was when I got old enough to pick out library books for my father. He was too busy or lazy to go to the library himself, so my mother picked out his books until she passed the job on to me. He loved mysteries, so I became very familiar with that section of the library, and I started reading and loving them myself. The rest is history.

Q: Finally, what’s next for you?

I’m working on the next book in my Sarah Bain series. It’s called The Monster’s Child, and the mystery is a kidnapping case that was inspired by the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping.