Essay: Agatha Christie: Her Life and Legacy

This is an expansion of an earlier essay and the basis of a talk I’ve given a couple times.

Like many of you, I started reading mysteries in the form of Nancy Drew in grade school. I was entranced, and in middle school I decided to read every novel by Agatha Christie. I found I could read one a day and after reading a great many of them, I was able to figure out whodunit – sometimes.

During college I discovered Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, and when my husband and I moved to Ann Arbor in 1988, it was only a couple years before we opened Aunt Agatha’s. My husband Jamie worked at Borders for a few years and when we decided to branch out on our own, we went with the mystery genre. We named our store after Agatha and she remains, after 26 years, our bestselling author. read more

Kathryn Casey: In Plain Sight

Kathryn Casey is America’s greatest living True Crime writer, as evidenced by the fact that her books have been reviewed more often by Aunt Agatha’s than any others in that genre. The reason for this is simple—Casey has a firm grasp of the most important ingredients for any writing, fiction or non. First and foremost is character, and her latest has a doozy of a cast. She has a real talent for presenting the histories of the major actors in such sharp detail that the fatal product of their collision seems somehow inevitable. read more

Loren D. Estleman: Black and White Ball

Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. She’s being stalked by his son, Roger, who has gone into the family business – contract killing.

Dividing the segments of the novel into “Me” (Walker), “Him” (Macklin), as well as “Her” (the ex-wife) and “Them” (various, but often Roger) has injected a fresh energy into this novel. As always, Estleman writes tight – this book clocks in at 240 pages – and also as always, his prose and expression are absolute treasures. Reading an Estleman novel is almost like eating a too rich slice of chocolate cake – you have to read slowly, because if you don’t you won’t be able to savor the prose and the witty sleight of hand that comprises Estleman’s dialogue. People in an Estleman novel speak like you wish you could and maybe the way you would if you had a long time to come up with the perfect turn of phrase. Alas, I think there are few human brains that actually operate on that elevated scale, but it’s certainly a delight to encounter it in print. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Dark Angel

Elly Griffiths goes from strength to strength with her Ruth Galloway series. She’s created a long form look at a main character that most readers not only love, but identify with. In this outing as Ruth hits the beach with her glam friend Shona, her discomfort at wearing her old black one piece in public is something pretty much any woman can relate to. But of course there’s more than an identification with Ruth Galloway that makes Griffiths’ novels a standout – she’s an effortless and energetic storyteller who punctuates her writing with healthy dollops of humor. What’s not to love? read more

Jenny Milchman: Wicked River

Wicked RiverJenny Milchman’s talent for suspense is of a very high order. I read lots and lots of mysteries – obviously – but it’s rare that I read a book that makes me so squirmy I have to put it down a couple times as I read it. She reminds me of Joseph Finder, in that I had to keep telling myself that this was fiction and wasn’t actually happening.

The book opens at a lovely wedding, but of course, as any suspense fan knows, this wedding is not going to end well. In this case, it’s not the wedding that’s the problem, it’s the honeymoon. Natalie and Doug have a camping/canoeing trip planned for their honeymoon, one that takes them deep into the Adirondack wilderness. read more

Laura Lippman: Sunburn

SunburnLaura Lippman’s ode to James M. Cain is masterful. As I began reading it, I thought it was going to be based on The Postman Always Rings Twice, and it is, but it’s also based on Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. Cain’s ingenious, scathing stories were pure story, punctuated with the inappropriate yet raging desires on the part of the female characters, whether it was Cora, Mildred or Phyllis, and the somewhat clueless collusion on the part of the males in their orbit. All of Cain’s females have a burning idea of how to proceed. So does Lippman’s Polly – an understatement. She’s also expert at waiting for results. read more

Catriona McPherson: Scot Free

Scot FreeThis light, funny, delightful novel from Catriona McPherson introduces readers to native Scot Lexy Campbell. She’d fallen for a hunky American and ended up moving to California where they married and lived in what she describes as a “beige barn,” the type of house familiar to many Americans as a McMansion. Objections to her husband’s lifestyle choices aside, he’s also a cheater, and Lexy walks out on him on the 4th of July, moving in to the Last Ditch Motel. She’s sure this is temporary. read more

Mariah Fredericks: A Death of No Importance

A Death of No ImportanceThis kick ass book features ladies’ maid Jane Prescott, who happens to be working for the newly wealthy and somewhat clueless Benchley family when a murder explodes the family’s world. Jane has more or less taken the Benchley girls under her wing. Their mother is a feckless household manager and the girls, Charlotte, beautiful and headstrong, and Louisa, plain and shy, welcome the kind of insider society knowledge Jane possesses after working for various wealthy families. It’s 1910 and a good marriage for each girl is uppermost in their minds – and in the mind of their mother. read more

Denise Swanson: Tart of Darkness

Tart of DarknessDenise Swanson is a wonderful storyteller and one of the things she’s exceptionally good at is creating a “mean girl” character. Herself a high school social worker for many years, I’m sure Ms. Swanson knows the type, but in this outing, the first in a new series, she creates a doozy.

The set-up: central character Dani Sloan has left her HR job and has unexpectedly inherited a Victorian mansion. The mansion has not been totally rehabbed but it does contain a new chef’s kitchen, and Dani, in the middle of reinventing herself as a personal chef and caterer, takes it as a sign that she’s on the right path. When one of her former neighbors, college student Ivy, gets kicked out of her former apartment building, Dani takes Ivy and her friends in as boarders. A perfect setting for a new series. read more

Author Interview: Nancy Herriman

Nancy HerrimanNancy Herriman has written several novels, and has now turned her pen to Elizabethan England and a new character, herbalist Bess Ellyott.

Q: Can you talk about your career a little bit? Looking through your publishing output, I see you had two earlier books that seem to fit the romance category and then you switched it up to writing mysteries. Can you talk about that trajectory?

A: I can, and it was a lengthy trajectory! For ten-plus years I tried my hand at various genres—sexy historical romance, historical young adult fiction, contemporary women’s fiction and romance—to no avail. At last, though, my agent found a publisher interested in a “sweet” historical romance I’d written that was set in 1830’s London. The Irish Healer was my first sale. Unfortunately, the publisher closed its fiction line a short few years later, leaving me searching for a new direction to go. Knowing my love for mysteries, my agent suggested I work on one. I did, and she succeeded in selling my first mystery series, “A Mystery of Old San Francisco,” to Penguin Random House. And, as they say, the rest is history. read more