Since all writers are also readers, we at Maine Crime Writers are pausing today to share some of our most recent reading experiences. We hope you’ll chime in with comments about the books you’ve been reading.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Back around Christmas, I read a post on Facebook about a movement to reread Susan Cooper’s YA fantasy, The Dark is Rising in the winter time frame in which it takes place. That sounded like a fine idea to me, but since there are actually five books in the series, starting with what appears on the surface to be a middle-grades mystery (Over Sea, Under Stone) but turns out to be much more, I decided to reread all of them. I finished the final volume, Silver on the Tree, in early March. Another writer in this genre, Madeleine L’Engle, once said that when she had something serious and complex to convey in fiction, she wrote that book for children. This is true of Cooper’s books as well and I heartily recommend them for both kids and grown ups.
John Clark: Confession time. I got a romance paperback from Paperbackswap a couple months ago and read it in a couple hours. It was smart, snarky and fun, so I borrowed another by the same author. that was 9 books ago and I’m working my way through everything she’s written. The author is Rachel Gibson and one thing I particularly like is how she weaves characters from one book/series into others. Sure, the plots are similar, but so are ice cream sundaes. Both are delicious, guilt laden and so much fun.
Bruce Robert Coffin: As I have previously admitted, my prior profession did not allow me sufficient free time to indulge my passion for novels, at least not beyond my addiction to the horrors penned by Mr. King. As such, I hadn’t read much in the way of mystery novels. However, now that I am writing mysteries, I’m like a kid in a candy store devouring everything in sight. My most recent reads have been the works of Tess Garritsen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Kate Flora, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, James Hayman, Karen Slaughter, Paul Doiron, Gayle Lynds, Harlan Coben, Ed McBain, Roger Johns, and Brian Thiem. If you’re seeking good reading, I’d recommend any or all of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for another treat!
Maureen Milliken: As a journalist, I’ve been involved in having to ask this question of people for decades. Want to know something? People never answer “I’m binge-reading everything by Jackie Collins, or “the latest People magazine.” But I really AM reading War & Peace. In Russian. The annotated edition. The notes are in Russian, too. Okay, you got me. I’m not. Usually I’m a voracious mystery reader, but when I’m in the midst of trying to pound out a book, like I am now, I can’t touch mystery fiction. It’s not a choice, I just can’t read it. All I can think about is the writing. The author’s. Mine. Ugh. But what I do find myself drawn to are true crime books. I can’t get enough of them. I recently tried reading every true crime book with the word “Cruel” in the title. It didn’t go well. But one I can recommend, is “The Death of Innocents: A True Story of Murder, Medicine and High Stakes Science,” by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. What I thought was a true crime book about Munchausen by proxy (latest obsession) is actually an incredibly in-depth study about how Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was misinterpreted for decades and became a medical money game. I know that sounds dull, but it’s anything but. The thread goes back to a doctor, desperate to make a name for himself. A prosecutor who wouldn’t let go of something everyone told him was bull, even though it wasn’t in his county. And on and on. First published 20 years ago, it makes you realize that some of those misconceptions are still in play. Oh yeah, and it’s a kick-butt true crime mystery. Now if I could just find an annotated Russian edition…
Susan Vaughan: I’m reading The Janus Stone, the second book in British author Elly Griffiths’s mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The Janus Stone is a gripping follow-up to the first book in the series, Crossing Places. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties and lives alone with her cat in a remote area near Norfolk, where Iron Age peoples once lived. In The Janus Stone, Ruth’s expertise is needed when a child’s skeleton–minus its skull–is uncovered during a house demolition. Suspicion falls on many people, and Ruth’s personal connection to Detective Harry Nelson further complicates a complex case. The author’s style is very readable and touches of humor, especially wry British humor, add color and ease the tension of the emotional story. I cannot put this one down, and I’ve already purchased book 3.
Kate Flora: I’m in the midst of editing my 9th Thea Kozak mystery, so most of my reading stays far away from the mystery genre. I’ve just finished a book about a man walking across Afghanistan after 9/11 called The Places in Between by Rory Stewart. Currently breaking my rule about reading mysteries by reading Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. Interesting use of language, descriptions, and multiple points of view., not all of which move the mystery along. Next up is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which my husband is reading and enjoying very much. (It’s a nice thing about the kindle–we can easily share books.) Unfair as it is, in March while snows ravage New England, I am doing this reading while sitting by a pool. Hate me?
Barb Ross: I just finished Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall’s engaging analysis of what makes a mega-bestseller from Gone with the Wind (1936) to The Da Vinci Code (2003). I’m not sure I’m buying all his arguments but it’s a fun, thought-provoking read. Now I’ve moved on to Alexander McCall Smith’s A Time of Love and Tartan, the eleventh book in the 44 Scotland Street series.
Brenda Buchanan: Unlike some of my peers, I not only enjoy reading crime fiction when I’m writing, I find it essential. Different strokes, I guess. On the cozier side of the bookstack, I just finished Barb Ross’ latest, Stowed Away, and loved it. I have grown so fond of Julia, Chris, Gus and the rest of the Busman’s Harbor gang. Well done, Barb. Can’t wait for the next one.
This week I’m reading Sarah Graves’ newest, Death By Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake, which features longtime fave characters Jacobia Tiptree and Ellie White, now co-owners of a bakery that I wish was in my town. As is their habit, Jake and Ellie find themselves neck-deep in Eastport shenanigans, and Graves’ marvelous sense of humor is present on every page.
Since the holidays I have inhaled two books with newspaper reporter protagonists, vocational cousins to my own Joe Gale. I thoroughly enjoyed both Brad Parks’ Eyes of the Innocent, featuring wise-cracking reporter Carter Ross, and Gwen Florio’s Montana, which is the first in her very fine Lola Wicks series.
I also enjoyed Deborah Crombie’s To Dwell in Darkness (if you haven’t read her Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series, you are missing something special) and bestseller-for-good reason Little Fires Everywhere by the magnificent Celeste Ng. Between novels I’ve been absorbed in a set of essays about crime fiction before Stonewall called Murder in the Closet. Edited by Curtis Evans, it is a brilliant collection.
On tap this St. Patrick’s Day weekend? News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I’ll Stay by Karen Day, Smoke by Catherine McKenzie and Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. I’m so glad the days are getting longer . . .
Lea Wait: My most recent read was William Shaw’s THE BIRDWATCHER. Set in a bleak part of the U.K., Sergeant William South is a loner, the result of a troubled past. As a child he found serious bird watching an escape from the realities of his day-to-day life, and, as an adult, he’s continued pursuing his quiet passion, which he shares with a similarly isolated man who lives close by. They talk weather. They talk birds. They don’t talk about their lives before they met. And then his friend is found brutally murdered, and South’s own quiet life is disrupted by not only the death, but also its investigation. Sergeant South’s own secrets begin to be revealed –as well as those of his friend. I loved the atmosphere, the non-traditional characters …. definitely recommended.
Sandra Neily: Lately I am reading for Voice (capital V) where the sound and whole being of a character is so unique that readers know it anywhere. I’ve been reading Craig Johnson (of Netflix Longmire fame). Most recently, Junkyard Dogs, Dry Bones, and Cold Dish.
Using Flesch-Kincaid analysis for Johnson’s first novel, Cold Dish, I found Longmire’s voice already strong and clear, the craft subtle but impressive. Walt Longmire’s narration generally uses four to six characters per word (very simple), but the complex concepts and sentence constructs are at Ph.D comprehension level.
That explains a lot. Johnson gives us a complicated but plain-spoken, sensitive man whose dusty, violent days are full of his flaws as well as his glorious appreciation of a world that often betrays him but simply surprises us.
Living in an unfinished shack of a cabin he’s too depressed to supply with comforts, Longmire just sings it out, fabulous metaphor and all. “I don’t know what the exact physical dynamics are that cause a shower curtain to attach itself to your body when you turn on the water but, since my shower was surrounded on all sides by curtains, I turned on the water and became a vinyl, vacuum-sealed sheriff burrito.”
Here’s how the physical world comes to us when it’s been indelibly filtered through a character’s Voice: “There were clouds at the mountains, and the snow pack reflected the sour-lemon sun into one of the most beautiful and perverse sunsets I had ever seen. The clouds were dappled like the hindquarters of an Appaloosa colt, and the beauty kicked just as hard.”
I am grateful to Longmire and Johnson not only for page-turning reads, but also for a Voice that stays strong in my ears even when the book is closed. And I can’t get this line out of my head: “Seeing her again was like unearthing an emotional library card with a lot of overdues.” Oh my.