The Agatha Best Contemporary Novel Nominees

Hi. Barb here.

Yesterday, Leslie Budewitz, an Agatha-nominee for Best First Novel blogged about her novel and those of all of her fellow nominees. I thought is was such a great idea, I’m borrowing it today. It’s easy for me to comment on all the nominated books, because I love all my fellow nominees’ books and (with one exception, noted below) would have read all of them anyway.

The Agatha Awards honor the “traditional mystery.” That is to say, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others. The are given in six categories: Best Contemporary. Best Historical, Best First, Best Short Story, Best Nonfiction and Best Children’s/Young Adult. The winners will be announced at the 2013 Agatha Awards banquet to be held at the Malice Domestic conference on Saturday, May 3, 2014.

And the Agatha nominees for Best Contemporary Novel published in 2013 are:

Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming

throughtheevildaysMany Maine Crime Writers blog readers (and readers everywhere) are familiar with Julia.

Here’s the blurb.

In Through the Evil Days, New York Times bestselling author Julia Spencer-Fleming raises the stakes for Russ and Clare, putting their new marriage, their unborn child, a missing teen, and their very own lives on the line.

Julia’s been on my “don’t ask any questions, just buy it in hardcover as soon as it comes out,” list for years. I loved this book, stayed up way too late to finish it and marveled at how Julia keeps this series so fresh after eight books.

Pagan Spring by G.M. Malliet

paganspringThe one fellow nominee who’s books I previously hadn’t read was G.M. Malliet. I’m glad that’s changed, now and forever.

Here’s the blurb.

G. M. Malliet has charmed mystery lovers, cozy fans, and Agatha Christie devotees everywhere with Wicked Autumn and A Fatal Winter, the critically-acclaimed mysteries that introduced former spy turned cleric Max Tudor. Now, Max returns to the small English village of Nether Monkslip, where some new residents cause quite a stir.

You’d think with a setting like the English village of Nether Monkslip and a protagonist who is an Episcopal priest, these books would be as cozy as they come. (Julia’s protagonist is also an Episcopal priest. My friends have been joking about me sitting between the two of them on the Agatha nominees panel at Malice.) But give the priest a background at MI5, and a love interest whose spiritual leanings are decidedly not high church, and it all gets very interesting.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

howthelightgetsinIf you haven’t read every single book in Louise Penny’s magnificent series, go do it right now!

Here’s the blurb.

Christmas is approaching, and in Québec it’s a time of dazzling snowfalls, bright lights, and gatherings with friends in front of blazing hearths. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache discovers that a missing woman was once one of the most famous people not just in North America, but in the world, though she now goes unrecognized by virtually everyone.

Louise Penny’s book The Trick of the Light is one of my desert island reads and her series continues just a strong with this one. I am awed to even be on a list with her.

The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan

wronggirlHank Phillippi Ryan’s body of work was another I knew well before we ended up together on the Agatha nominee list. I’ve been a fan of both her series.

Here’s the blurb.

Does a respected adoption agency have a frightening secret? Tipped off by a determined ex-colleague on a desperate quest to find her birth mother, Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland begins to suspect that the agency is engaging in the ultimate betrayal—reuniting birth parents with the wrong children.

For my money The Wrong Girl is Hank’s best book yet. I was so engrossed, I just kept turning the pages. I completely recommend it.

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross

Clammed Up coverIn case you just started reading this blog today, here is the blurb.

Summer has come to Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and tourists are lining up for a taste of authentic New England seafood, courtesy of the Snowden Family Clambake Company. But there’s something sinister on the boil this season. A killer has crashed a wedding party, adding mystery to the menu at the worst possible moment. . .

What can I say, except that I’m thrilled to be on this list with some of my writing heroes. Clammed Up is the only paperback original and the only first-in-series on the list. I’m still not sure how it happened, but I’m going to enjoy the whole ride.

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And A Good Time Was Had By All

2014 MAINE CRIME WAVE POSTER SMALLKate Flora here. It’s not my day to blog, but today’s scheduled blogger is lost in a sea of confusion. Not surprising.  This weekend, many of your friendly neighborhood Maine Crime Writers were gathered at the Glickman Library in Portland for the inaugural Maine Crime Wave, the Maine crime writing community’s own day to get together and make each other’s head’s explode.

Okay. I don’t mean that literally. Despite a closing panel that discussed crime scenes and buried bodies and ended with some details about who has jurisdiction in different parts of the state to fish a body out of the water, attendees departed with their own body parts intact. It’s just that the inside of their heads were bursting with information and ideas.

The Maine Crime Wave began when an idea that had been bouncing around for years solidified into a

Paul Doiron, Alice Adams, and a man named Jim

Paul Doiron, Alice Adams, and a man named Jim

committee at another mystery conference, The New England Crime Bake. It got its name from MCW alum Paul Doiron. On what was very short notice, the committee–me, Paul, Brenda Buchanan, and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance director Josh Bodwell–targeted April 19th, created a schedule, and organized panels and workshops and recruited presenters. Then the word went out, and we waited for Maine’s crime writers to sign up.

Ever give a dinner party where no one showed up on time? Well, it was like that. There was a flurry of excitement and then, well, uh–not much. Then MPBN, the Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News, and other newspapers began to pick up our theme: Why is it, if Maine is the safest state in the country, that it is so attractive to crime writers. As a setting? As a place to live? Why is there a perception of Maine as a dark, mysterious place?

Soon the committee was sending around this quote from Conan Doyle:

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”
“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
“You horrify me!”
“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
Sherlock Holmes in “The Copper Beeches” (Doubleday p. 323)

Gerry Boyle and Jim Hayman in the bar

Gerry Boyle and Jim Hayman in the bar

Saturday’s lineup included: Gerry Boyle, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Chris Holm, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, and Paul Doiron. There were workshops on plot, character, setting, and the challenge of creating suspense in fiction. The keynote was by the always charming Tess Gerritsen. Editors including Tiffany Schofield from Five Star/Cengage, Genevieve Morgan from Islandport Press, and Jane Karker from Maine Authors Publishing joined Julie Hennrikus, President of Sisters in Crime New England, to discuss the Business of Writing.

The day closed with a retired Portland Detective Sergeant, Bruce Coffin, and Roger Guay, a retired Game Warden who is now a private investigator, giving an inside look at how crimes are investigated and crime scenes are handled in Maine.

Maine Crime Writers regulars Lea Wait, Susan Vaughan, and John Clark were there.

You know you’ve done a good job when no one wants to leave.

Committee member Brenda Buchanan in the bar

Committee member Brenda Buchanan in the bar

Mystery writers are a fun and generous lot, and it’s a great community. It was good that we had a chance to get together. Friday night at the bar and Saturday at the conference.

But where were you?

So if you’re feeling left out, mark your calendars for next April, and look for the announcement.


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Weekend Update: April 19-20, 2014

This is our special Maine Crime Wave edition. If technology cooperates, we’ll be adding to this post from the venue in Portland. If it doesn’t, look for more follofallsbooks1w-up in future posts.

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by James Hayman (Monday), Barbara Ross (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Wednesday), John Clark (Thursday), and Kate Flora (Friday). 

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

Lea Wait: On Tuesday, April 22, (spring vacation week for Maine’s schools) I’ll be speaking about my latest book for young people, Uncertain Glory, at 3 p.m. in the Wiscasset Library, on High Street in Wiscasset. I’ll be bringing with me some primary sources … and some 19th century kitchen utensils and memories of Wiscasset. Readers of all ages invited, and copies of my books will be available for purchase and signing.


An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora:


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My Library Story

Hi. Barb here.

Caroline Furness Jayne

Caroline Furness Jayne

Over the years, many of us Maine Crime Writers have told the story of the library that most influenced our lives. I was supposed to tell mine last year, but National Library Week coincided with Boston Marathon week, and I found I just couldn’t.

So I’m trying here again.

I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, but in the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved to Wallingford, Pennsylvania, a southwestern suburb of Philadelphia. We moved into a development called Heatherwold, a small community of sidewalkless, winding roads and houses of brick and stone built just before the second World War.

HKFphotoFor me, the most amazing thing about Heatherwold was that the community library, The Helen Kate Furness, was right in our development. I was, at ten, at last allowed to walk to the library by myself, any time I wanted. One of my most vivid sense memories is of walking there one evening in the fall. The sky was dark, the air crisp, and as I walked, I drank in the freedom that you feel when you are a child, on your own, in charge of where you’re going for the first time. An enormous flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, so noisy I can hear them still.

At the Helen Kate Furness, I read everything I could in the children’s library, books that would now be labeled young adult, and then the librarian gently suggested that I go upstairs to the adult library. I did and never looked back, inhaling mysteries, historical fiction and classics in the adult collection.

lindenshade-loc-3Heatherwold and the library were built on the land of Lindenshade, the country estate of Horace Howard Furness (1833-1912) whom Wikipedia describes as the “most important Shakespearean scholar of the 19th century.” The library is named for his wife and collaborator. His brother was the noted Victorian architect Frank Furness and Lindenshade is attributed to him.

When I was a child, only two widely separated wings of Lindenshade still stood. One was the brick library built for H.H. Furness’s collection. In the early 1960s when I lived in Wallingford, the former library wing was a rental property where my friend Alison lived. When I look at this photo of Furness in his library, I wonder how that worked.


Horace Howard Furness in his library.

Everything you read about Lindenshade says it was demolished except for its library in 1940. But I am certain that when I lived in Wallingford in the early 1960s, the two-story wing you see in the foreground of the photo below still stood. And in it lived the descendents of H. H. Furness’s daughter Caroline Furness Jayne.


Jayne was an enthologist who in 1906 published the definitive work String Figures and How to Make Them: a study of cat’s cradle in many lands. It is still in print today, and just to bring us full cycle, in 2000 D.R. Meredith wrote a cozy mystery, By Hook or By Book, about a missing Jayne manuscript and a murder at a string figure conference.

The wing that still stood was at the end of a lane at the edge of a wood, and in it lived three beautiful little girls with long braids. And beyond their house, and its stables, in a wild wood, was the basement of Cornelia Furness Jayne’s old mansion, called Sub Rosa, the remains of a marble swimming pool and a bamboo forest. The woods were a magnet for children and we spent hours and hours playing there.

Sub Rosa

Sub Rosa

I cannot tell you how many times those woods, those ruins and those three little girls have appeared in my writing–short stories, novels, what have you. It is the place of my childhood imagination.

Today, Google maps shows me, H.H. Furness’s library has an addition, which makes it look like a comfortable home. The old wing where the Jayne girls lived has either been radically remodeled or torn down and rebuilt, the same for the stable. The woods are now called Furness Park. The Helen Kate Furness Library had a second addition in 1974 and goes on as the community library.

(Note: Many of the photos here and some of what I learned of the history is from the personal website of Richard Griscom.)

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Support Your Local Library

In honor of National Library Week, here’s a post we did as a group way back when MCW was young. The sentiment still holds–writers love libraries. We love our local libraries, we love the libraries we visit, and we love the librarians who converse with us through the blog, on Facebook, at mystery conferences and at gatherings we’re attending. For many of us, libraries were the temples and/or refuges of our youth and helped us keep our noses buried in books.

(And note: one lucky commenter on one of this week’s blogs will win a bag of mysteries)

Kaitlyn Dunnett: I made the mistake of making the following suggestion: how about writers and

Lea Wait, Al Lamanda and Jim Hayman at the Kennebunkport Library.

Lea Wait, Al Lamanda and Jim Hayman at the Kennebunkport Library.

libraries as a group topic? We could relate funny/good experiences, talk about some of the neat-looking buildings around the state, and maybe make a plug to “support your local library.” The immediate response to this from our resident guru (that would be Kate) was “Feel free to start that post with a story.” I immediately went blank. I can’t even count the number of Maine libraries I’ve visited, on my own or as part of a Sisters In Crime panel. There are lots of lovely memories. Unfortunately, I’m not always sure which memories go with which library. This is doubly embarrassing because Maine libraries often have unique features. Patrons have to walk across a bridge over a stream to reach the Wilton Free Public Library, which backs up against a cliff on the other side. Once or twice, it has been completely cut off by high water. I did one of my very first book signings there, way back in 1985 when my first novel, The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle (w/a Kathy Lynn Emerson for ages 8-12 and published by Down East Books) came out. Here’s a picture taken that day, back when my hair was brown instead of gray. Another unique library is the Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine, a center of boat building. Those same boat builders constructed shelves that slide back out of the way to create an open space for programs. Many of our small Maine libraries sponsor reading groups as well as inviting authors to speak. I’ve met several times with the mystery readers’ group at the library in Rumford and always have a wonderful time.

The Friend Memorial Library, Brooklin, Maine

Okay, that’s a start on good thoughts about Maine libraries. What stories do the rest of you have to tell?

Lea Wait: Maine is the kind of state where you don’t tear down or throw out. You re-use. So some of my favorite libraries had former lives.  The Wiscasset Library was once headquarters of the 19th century Lincoln and Kennebec Bank;  the original vault is still in the basement. The Winslow Public Library had its start as a roller skating rink;  the center of the rink is now a wonderful oval children’s department. The Thomaston Library was once an elementary school. And, of course, too many libraries to be counted started their lives as large elegant homes.

Sarah Graves: While thinking about what to say here, I realized that my relationship with libraries large and small, public and private, is one of the longest and strongest relationships in my life. From the tiny three-rooms-above-the-fire-station in Pewaukee, Wisconsin through the wonders of government and university collections and now back to Eastport, Maine’s excellent Peavey Library, I’ve relied upon them for all kinds of things. Information, of course, and entertainment…but also for peace of mind, that sense that here is something worth having and saving for all of us, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. And for humility…because there’s nothing like the sight of the book that was the Big New Thing in 1955 to lend  perspective to whatever my little writing-tale-of-woe happens to be that day.

Paul Doiron after a book talk at the Curtis Library in Brunswick

Paul Doiron after a book talk at the Curtis Library in Brunswick

Kaitlyn: I doubt there’s room enough here to mention all the libraries that have done good things for Maine writers over the years. The public libraries in Portland and Bangor are large but writer-friendly. I still have the tee-shirt from a panel Kate Flora and I and some others did there eons ago. It says: “Solve a Mystery . . . Read.” The Maine State Library in Augusta has a collection of books by Maine authors. In addition, the librarians there are always willing to help with research. The library also offers free access to MARVEL, which provides the text of articles online. I use Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington regularly for research and keep the inter-library loan staff very busy every time I start a new book. With a courtesy card from that branch, I can request books online from anywhere in the University of Maine system (URSUS) and from other libraries connected to it through MAINECAT. The little libraries are great for research, too, especially in local history and genealogy. They can all order inter-library loans.  And many of them function as mini-museums, too, with permanent exhibits of items of local historical interest. Even with budget cuts, most rural Maine libraries still manage to provide all kinds of extras to patrons, everything from computer access to photocopying services. And, of course, books.

Gerry Boyle: What would we do without libraries and librarians, the best “handsellers” in the book business? From Biddeford to Portland to Bangor and beyond, I’ve always enjoyed my visits with library patrons. But I must say my favorite is the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village. Where I live. Where I was, for many years, president of the board of trustees. Now I’m the guy who lovingly mows the library lawn.

I’ve spoken a couple of times at “my” library but I must say it always seems a bit odd. The patrons mostly know me as a neighbor and friend, somebody to chat with at the post office or the transfer station. So when I go and read from one of my books or sign books there it seems kind of pretentious. When I ask for questions, I expect somebody to say, “Gerry. Good to see you here. When are you going to return my wrench?”

That said, our village library, like others, is a mystery lovers haven. A room full of titles, new and old. I can take out a yellowed John Creasey or the newest release. I can ask Mary Grow, the librarian, what she recommends. She’ll tell me what she thinks, the feedback she’s getting, whether she thinks I’ll like it. When I finish a book, I not only return it, I give my unofficial review.

So when a reader says, “Sorry, I don’t buy your books. I get them at the library,” I don’t complain. These are places where the reading is the thing.

Barb Ross:  I’ve been to the Friend Memorial, too.  On a panel with Katherine Hall Page, Valerie Wolzien and Wiscasset’s Janet Morgan.  What a gem! My library gigs, in Maine and throughout New England have been great.  Many librarians could give many booksellers lessons in how to manage an event, in my opinion.  How’s that for a grand generalization and a controversial statement to boot?

Here I am at my first library panel in Wells, Maine with Kate Flora, Jayne Hitchcock and Anne Mosey introducing. Can it really be just eleven months ago? I was nervous and very glad to be in the capable hands of Kate Flora.

Kate Flora: Among my memorable experiences at Maine libraries I have to put a very special night at the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, with Lea Wait and Ruth McCarty. It wasn’t just that the librarians were so kind and friendly, nor that the crowd that night (and it WAS a crowd–our Maine librarians are good at giving us an audience) was so receptive and asked such intriguing questions. It was the refreshments. I’ve posted this photograph on a number of occasions, because it is such a prize, and it has inspired many another library to do the same.

Biddeford Library serves finger cookies for a mystery event

Camden Library serves finger cookies. Who can resist this very unusual spin of the term, “finger cookies?”

And no one can say our librarians lack ingenuity and creativity. See the cake the Freeport Community Library provided for a crime story/Poe’s Birthday event. And the Camden Public Library did themselves proud with an entire buffet of mystery treats for a panel that Gerry, Jim and I did there.

Freeport Library hosts “Poe’s Birthday” with a special cake

Camden’s “Cake to Die For”

My “home” library, of course, is the Vose Library, in Union. It’s where I had my first job, helping the librarian after school. And where they’ve invited me to participate a few times in their annual “Soup and Suspense mystery event.

And of course, while the list could go on and on, since visiting Maine libraries is one of my favorite “pastimes,” I cannot end this (though I know this group will be back to the subject of libraries many times) without mentioning Carol Briggs, a serious author supporter at the Curtis Library in Brunswick, and Charlene Clemons, at the Ellsworth, Maine library, who has declared herself my biggest fan. I wonder if people realize how much such a declaration means?

Jim Hayman: For those of you who haven’t heard the brand new 3,500 square foot library opened on Swans Island on July 8th, just a couple of weeks ago.  The old island library, which had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, burned to the ground in 2008 after being struck by lightning. Here’s a shot of the fire.

Swans Island library burns to the ground.

Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (I’m on the board) is planning to contribute some of the books entered in last month’s Maine Literary Awards to the new library.  I’ve added copies of my own to the mix.  Anyone who has new books they’re willing to contribute might also consider sending them along.

 Julia Spencer-Fleming: My local library, the Salmon Falls Library, is typical of what you find in many of Maine’s rural areas. It’s reused from an older building (in this case, the first kindergarten in the Buxton/Hollis area, donated to the town by its most famous author, Kate Douglas Wiggins.) It’s open about 20 hours a week and has one paid employee, the director. (She also acts as children’s librarian, acquisitions director, programming manager, etc., etc.) The wonderful thing is, there are three other libraries serving the two towns; West Buxton, Hollis Center and Berry Memorial. Between them, area residents have the same choices and hours that library-goers in the city enjoy.

I support my library as a volunteer and  as a donor. I also recently became the President of the Friends, by virtue of being the last one to arrive at the annual meeting. Finally, I’m the Salmon Falls Library’s Writer-in-Residence, which means I get the key and can work there when the place isn’t open to the public. Since it’s the only place around with air conditioning, I’m there quite a lot in July and August!

Kaitlyn: One last comment from me. Support your local library. Volunteer. Check out old favorites from the stacks, since whether or not they are culled depends upon how recently they were read. And donate books (in good condition) that you’ve read and don’t need to keep. Even if they aren’t added to the library collection, they can help raise funds at library book sales.


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