This is very much a St. Martin’s mystery, as I’ve come to know them. Smart, concise plot; vivid characters; interesting setting and a twist of originality. It fits in with many other St. Martin’s authors I’ve loved over the years, from K.J. Erickson to Ellen Hart to David Housewright. This is the first book by Ms. Sims, but it’s told in the assured voice of a pro. The story and set up are great—struggling actress Rita Farmer meets famous lawyer Gary Kwan at the library when she’s doing a story time performance for kids, including Kwan’s. Kwan pulls her aside and offers her a job, one so secret she has to meet him in his office to discuss it. Intrigued, she gets her best friend and working actor Daniel Clements to look after her own son, Petey, while she goes to talk with Kwan. What he wants is simple: a talented and unknown actress to coach his client in the best ways to project herself sympathetically to a jury. Rita is slightly horrified to discover that Kwan’s client is the notorious Eileen Tenaway, a recent widow who is in jail for the murder of her own toddler with an overdose of Valium. Complicating matters is the chance that Rita may just have a shot at an audition with the most revered, artistic movie director of all time, one who routinely directs actresses to Oscar winning performances and careers. He likes to work with unknowns, just like Rita. However, Kwan names an outrageous fee for Rita’s efforts, telling her that it’s an exclusive—no outside auditions while she’s working for him. Intrigued and needing money badly, Rita accepts.
I’m such a big, geeky fan of Elly Griffiths – whose most recent book, The Janus Stone, was on our 2011 favorites list – that I was more than delighted when she agreed to an interview. Her latest Ruth Galloway novel, The House at Sea’s End, come out this month, with the 5th in the series due in the spring. There’s a spoiler in the interview if you haven’t read the first novel. Otherwise, enjoy an interview with one of my favorite new authors.
Q: First off, the obvious – why archaeology? Do you have an expertise, or just an interest?
There are so many serial killer novels, so little time. There are so many that I gave up reading them long ago, and yet – when I come across one that seems to have a different twist, I can’t help but pick it up. I’ve read a couple others in the past few years that offered a twist – A Curtain Falls, by Stefanie Pintoff, which used a historical perspective; and Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey, which seemed to be (and was) a commentary on the street children of Accra, Ghana, but turned out also to be a twisty serial killer story. R.J. Ellory’s joins that company, though his book is the most traditional of the three.
G.M. Malliet is obviously a devotee of the golden age of mystery – Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham – and she takes the old formula made dear to readers and applies it to the 21st century. This novel especially resembles Ngaio Marsh’s Overture to Death, where a particularly unpleasant village specimen is murdered at the piano warming up for an amateur theatrical. The vicar in Marsh’s novel is described as looking like a “Roman Coin,” while in Malliet’s, the vicar instead resembles the contemporary and dishy Hugh Grant.
Deborah Crombie’s skills as a sophisticated novelist have only increased over time. What began as a standard, though excellent, police series based in London, has evolved into a series that’s richly populated with detailed, complex characters, vivid settings, and themes. She’s neck and neck with authors like P.D. James and Elizabeth George, though she doesn’t share their sometimes completely bleak viewpoint.
Deborah Crombie also often highlights something interesting about England in each book – in this novel, she’s chosen sculling, and the Oxford University rowing culture. Her victim is a cop who had Olympic aspirations – Becca Meredith – and who has been contemplating a last shot at the Games. She’s last seen out with her boat, and her ex-husband gets worried about her.
Julie Hyzy unusually combines the skills of a cozy writer with the skills of an accomplished writer of slam bang action. The combination is irresistible. Her main character, executive White House Chef Olivia “Ollie” Parras, has been assigned the job of working closely with her nemesis, Peter Sergeant, as they plan an off site birthday party for the Secretary of State. Uneasy at working together – Sergeant has no use for Ollie’s tendency to get involved with suspicious bodies, or her tendency to think a bit outside the box – they head off to look at a final venue for the party. Unfortunately there are two bodies there ahead of them, and Ollie and sergeant are put under 24 hour guard, as both of the bodies were connected to the White House.