Friday, August 29, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW -- BENEATH THE SURFACE

BENEATH THE SURFACE
by Mike Martin
Baico Publishing Inc.



Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini


In the company of Sgt. Winston Wildflower of the R.C.M.P., Beneath the Surface makes for a nicely plotted mystery and an excellent trip to Newfoundland.

Wildflower is a long way from his home in Northern Alberta and from his Cree roots and yet he is fitting in very well. He has to sort out his own values with some practices in the force and he will. Although the Newfoundland expressions, pace and the local food add an extra element of pleasure to the reading, it is Wildflower who makes it such an engaging read. He is kind, honest and usually very hungry. He’s also a gentle man who can stand his ground and respect his own principles, even if it costs him. I loved this aspect.

The plot works well and, as a young girl has been murdered, the stakes are high and the twists are twisty.

I’m looking forward to more in this series.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

If you are continuing this journey with us, you'll know what today's blog is all about. If not, it started after the four of us -- Mary Jane Maffini, R.J. Harlick (Robin to us), Barbara Fradkin, and me (also known as Erika Chase)-- were on a Capital Crime Writers panel together. There were still bunches of questions for us to answer, so I decided we continue that discussion on Mystery Maven Canada.

Today's question is: "Do your characters reveal your values? How?"



MARY JANE MAFFINI:

I think they do in ways I might not even recognize. For the book collector mysteries (as I am half of Victoria Abbott) I'm re-reading books from the Golden Age of Detection, I notice in Sayers, Christie and Marsh,the characters reflect the class politics and racism of the times (20's, 30's, 40's) unrecognized by the authors, but somewhat surprising to us today. Who knows what biases and prejudices are buried in my own work that will be clear to a later generation?

But never mind all that, I do think that our writing reveals our feelings about relationships, family and friends and pets (ahem). Most mystery writers value justice and the quest for it, but how many of us value our crooked uncles? Just saying.

Seriously though, cozy fiction which I enjoy writing and reading presents and genre in which fairly ordinary people consistently step up to the plate in an emergency and that women (often but not always middle-aged) can be brave, tenacious, cunning and funny. But we knew that.



R.J. (ROBIN) HARLICK:


I imagine most authors project some of their values through their characters. It is hard not to, particularly with a character with whom you spend a lot of time, such as a series character. My series character, Meg Harris’s love of nature and the great outdoors is no different than my own. I gave her the kind of cottage I have always wanted, a rambling Victorian timber cottage perched high on a granite point overlooking the sparkling waters of a northern lake.

She spends a lot of time in her screened-in porch contemplating the view and life’s ups and downs. And while I too like to sit in my screened-in porch contemplating the nature around me, my mind is usually caught up in creating Meg’s world. I mustn’t forget her love of dogs, which mirrors my own and funny thing, we both have standard poodles sharing our lives.

Sometimes our characters become our voices. Meg’s sense of fairness and the need to right injustice could be my own, except she is prepared to do something about it. I don’t always have the luxury. Perhaps that is my reason for creating Meg.



LINDA WIKEN/ERIKA CHASE:


It's hard to write a novel without some bits and pieces of the author being integrated. Everyone will probably have an opinion as to whether that's good or bad. So, it's hard not to have them reflect our values, to some degree.

Writing as Erika Chase, I have the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries with Lizzie Turner as my main protagonist. We share the same values about family and friends and even beyond that, the various communities we are a part of. They are very important to her and they influence how she deals with issues. She is very protective of them. That's the excuse, anyway, for her sticking her nose in to all investigations revolving murder -- when they impact on those she cares about.

She also wants to see justice prevail and the bad guys caught. She is a reading specialist and Literacy teacher, so helping to ensure that students have the skills to take advantage of their full potential is also important to her.

Of course, there's a bit of me in Lizzie. But I'm not even sure where the line is placed any more, after living with her through five books (one leaves for the publisher this weekend!). Of course, maybe it's not a line.


BARBARA FRADKIN:


As a child of the sixties, I was raised with a passion for social justice and social equity, and am naturally on the side of the underdog. What better outlet for this passion than crime fiction? In my books, I explore the social and personal struggles that drive people to desperate ends. My sleuth, Inspector Green, is the only child of Holocaust survivors, which gives him a passion to pursue justice on behalf of the victimized and to be a voice for the marginalized and powerless. But most of my books inhabit that gray world where no one, neither victim nor villain, is all good and evil, and where justice is as imperfect as those, like Green, who strive for it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW -- DYING FOR MURDER

DYING FOR MURDER
By Suzanne Kingsmill
Dundurn

In this third Cordi O’Callaghan outing by Suzanne Kingsmill, we’re travelling again, this time to the much warmer climes of the Outer Banks of South Carolina. If you’re already hooked on this series, you’ll remember that in the second book, Innocent Murder, Cordi was on a research ship in the Arctic. The fascinating settings, as well as all the ins and outs of a career as a zoologist, lead to unusual and interesting plots.

In Dying for Murder, Cord’s car has just been stolen but she’s more worried about the research material that was in it than retrieving the car itself. She’s lost a day’s worth of recordings of the Indigo Bunting she’d just made at Point Pelee. Her good friend and pathologist, Duncan Macpherson is sympathetic and suggests she go to the research station on Spaniel Island in the aforementioned South Carolina, to try again. He has a cottage on the island and is willing to help her get accommodations at the station. So, she’s off with her intrepid assistant, Martha Bathgate.

Her welcome by the head of the station, Stacey is curt and she’s met with varying degrees of interest by the others working there. However, when Stacey is found murdered and Cordi is persuaded to once again apply her sleuthing skills to finding the killer, the others around her become unfriendly and even threatening.

Did I mention, there’s a hurricane warning and an evacuation order of the island in effect? However, finding Stacey’s body has made the group miss the last boat leaving the island and also made it impossible to contact police. When they are informed of the body, they’re unable to get to the island for a few days. The ingredients for the ideal traditional mystery are all present to make this a battle with the killer that Cordi must win. Especially when several attempts are made on her own life.

Suzanne Kingsmill knows her character well and also the world she inhabits. It’s a fascinating view for the outsider and those who share Cordi O’Callaghan’s interests will also be intrigued. The cast of suspects are each menacing in their own way and very believable in their roles. There are some surprises that keep that plot moving along. I can’t wait to see where Cordi ends up next!

Friday, August 8, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH JANET KELLOUGH



Who has influenced you most in your writing career?

When I was about ten, I started reading a series of great historical potboilers by Thomas Costain. He jumped all over the place in terms of era – Biblical, medieval England, the time of Marco Polo – but they were rattling good reads. They haven’t really held up for me as an adult reader, but through them I got hooked not only on historical fiction, but history itself. As a writer, I figured it would be a fine thing if I could that for someone else.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just started the fifth book in The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery series. It doesn’t have a title yet because I’m not far enough in, and I’ll have to put it aside in a few weeks to work on the edits for the fourth book The Burying Ground, which will be released in July 2015.

In what ways is your main protagonist like you?

As a Methodist saddlebag preacher, Thaddeus Lewis constantly analyses and evaluates his actions and attitudes within the framework of his religious beliefs. Although my core moral base is not religious in nature, I too question everything in the light of my personal code of ethics. It sometimes makes me very unpopular. Especially at dinner parties and on Facebook.

Are you character driven or plot driven?


The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries are very much character-driven, but the historical background is the real engine for the series. Rather than leave Thaddeus rooted in one particular time and place, he and his family are moving through the years between Canada’s 1837 rebellions and Confederation. Both the plot and their reactions to events bend to the historical record.

Are you a panster or a plotter?


Oh, I am such a panster. Usually I find fascinating, but unrelated bits of information and then I have to turn them inside out and upside down until I figure out how they fit together. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until the very last moments of the first draft. Sometimes I panic.

What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?


The sense that Canadian history is not boring. It’s just different. Unlike other countries it’s not all about wars and armed conflict, but a very unique set of circumstances that led very directly to the kind of country we are today. If you understand the history, it’s easier to evaluate the headlines you see in the newspaper.

Where you do see yourself as a writer in 10 years?


My initial hope was to complete the Thaddeus Lewis series at Confederation, but I can see that it may well carry on from there. I have also been dabbling in speculative fiction and we’ll have to see what happens with it. But I’ll still be writing. I’m not happy if I’m not writing. Ask my family.

What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?


A lot of my readers also know me as a performer, and even at readings and book-signings I tend to come across as very out-going. They might be surprised to know that I’m really a high-functioning introvert. I need a huge amount of alone time and I’ve never been afraid of long stretches of silence.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

I read a lot of non-fiction, about everything from quantum mechanics to Antarctic exploration. I just like to know stuff. I want to live forever, so I can find out everything about everything. And then I’ll tell you about it.

Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet.

47 Sorrows - Kingston 1847: Lewis & kid Luke find murdered bodies amongst dying Irish emigrants. WTF?



Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who lives in the unfashionable part of Prince Edward County, Ontario, near the cusp of The Marysburgh Vortex. She has written and performed in many stage productions featuring a fusion of music and spoken word and published two contemporary novels before launching into her popular Thaddeus Lewis mystery series with Dundurn Press.


Friday, August 1, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - FRAMED FOR MURDER

FRAMED FOR MURDER
By Cathy Spencer
Comely Press




Framed for Murder is Cathy Spencer’s first mystery but you can tell from page one that she’s not a first-time novelist. Set in Alberta, in a small town outside Calgary, it’s a tale of betrayal, deceit and murder.

It’s late one evening and Anna Nolan is out walking her dog only to stumble across a body. The main problem, beside the fact that the guy is dead, is that it’s her ex-husband, Jack. And that’s where the fun begins. Despite the fact that Anna isn’t the murderer, the proof against her is stacking up. Okay, so she has an alibi for the majority of the critical time frame but she’s not in clear by a long shot.

The parting of their ways after seventeen years of marriage happened because of actor-husband Jack’s many infidelities and the recent inheritance Anna received, which made it possible for her to leave him and be able to care for their toddler son, Ben. She hadn’t seen Jack since the divorce, four years earlier. But phone records showed he had called her house that evening, when she should have been home. To make matters worse, the entire town knew about their past. And then, an old insurance policy that Anna had forgotten about names her as Jack’s beneficiary.

The local RCMP officer doesn’t really believe she’s guilty but when a hot shot detective from the national criminal investigation unit, Sgt. Charles Tremaine, she realizes she’s at the top of the suspect list. But not far behind is her son Ben, who has admitted to many that he hated his father. Anxious to prove both of their innocence, Anna joins forces with an extra from the movie set, Amy, who had been one of Jack's many flings. And topping their list of suspects is the cameraman husband of the female lead. Nothing stops Anna, not even the possibility of getting caught snooping in their house. And she almost does. Anna also has a stuntwoman, the same person who was the final straw in their failing marriage, in her sights.

As Anna draws closer to the truth, and also to Sgt. Tremaine, she’s drawn into a final stand-off with the killer, in order to save Tremaine’s life and bring the killer to justice.

The suspense ramps up as the evidence against Anna keeps mounting. Someone definitely wants her held responsible for the murder.


Cathy Spencer keeps you guessing until she wants to reveal the killer. It's an intricate plot, well-written, and with a touch of romance tossed in to balance out the grim reality of death. Framed for Murder won the 2014 Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery at the Bloody Words conference in June. It's the first in the series, with the second, Town Haunts, released earlier this year. And there is a third book in the series on it's way. Fortunately!

Cathy was interviewed on Mystery Maven Canada for the June 13, 2014 blog post.



Friday, July 25, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

We're back! And if you're following the Criminal Tendencies thread, you'll know that once a month, we four writers (although it's only three this month)answer a question about writing that was "left over" from a day-long workshop held by Capital Crime Writers in the spring. We had so many questions at the ready and so little time, the Mystery Maven blog seemed the ideal way to deal with the remainder. So, we, today being Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin and Linda Wiken, aka Erika Chase, continue.....

Today's question: What is the main challenge of writing a series character and how do you handle it?


Mary Jane Maffini:

There seems to be a trio of main challenges with writing a series character: first is keeping the characters and setting fresh and not writing the same conflicts and same behaviours over and over again, Secondly, the main character has to change and grow as a result of what has happened in previous books and yet, still be the same person that readers care about. The third challenge is providing enough back story about pre-book history and what has happened in the series without giving away any plot 'secrets' or smothering the reader in an info dump.

Never mind! It's all fun.


Barbara Fradkin:


The main challenge is to avoid tilling old soil and boring both your readers and yourself. If you feel you are telling the same old story, it’s time to throw a spanner into the works. Shake up your sleuth’s personal life, change the supporting cast, or change the setting. I’ve done all these over the course of the Inspector Green series. A new baby, an aging parent, or a divorce are all challenges that add to stress and reveal different facets of your sleuth’s character, as well as adding to his humanity. Adding a new boss or sidekick, killing one off, or giving the supporting characters their own crises also greatly enriches the series. As writers we become as attached to our supporting cast as readers do, so give us reasons to care and worry about them. Changing the setting is very freeing; it provides new challenges and alters the type of story you are telling. My Nahanni story is not a police procedural with Green as the master of deduction; it is about Green the desperate father coping with unfamiliar and terrifying wilderness.


Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

The main concern is trying to keep the series fresh so that the reader, and the writer, don't turn off and get bored. However, I think it might be even a bigger challenge keeping the writer excited. One way is to develop the main character into someone who is real. And, as a real person encounters difficulties in day to day life, and hopefully grows from working these out, so too the main character in the series will. To me, Lizzie Turner, my main gal and one of the instigators of the book club, has become real. When having a cup of espresso in the morning, I'll often think about what she might be doing at that point. When a friend is trying to work through a problem, it affects me. And so, I worry about Lizzie and hope she'll find a solution when she's faced with the same. But of course, here I get to step in and solve it for her. If I keep Lizzie alive and fresh and evolving, I'll stay interested, and hopefully, so will the reader.

Friday, July 18, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH SUZANNE KINGSMILL


1. Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?


My mother made sure I was never without a good book, when, from an early age, she started giving me some of the classics. I was a voracious reader but she always had a book for me. If I didn’t like a book she would invoke the 50 page rule: I had to read at least the first 50 pages and if I still didn’t like the book I could abandon it. I remember when I abandoned Dr. Zhivago at page 50 and she looked at me and said, “Ah, but Dr. Zhivago is worth 100 pages.” She was right. She gave me a love of reading and the English language that laid the groundwork for my writing career.


2. What are you working on now?


I am working on a fourth Cordi O’Callaghan mystery and playing around with a thriller and a novel about the relationship between a 17 year old mentally challenged boy and a famous octogenarian who befriends him.

3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?


Cordi has the same moral values as I do and we are both zoologists, although I’m a lapsed one. Other than that, she is fictional and I am real!

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Depends on the book. My Cordi books are predominantly plot driven but I like to think that my main characters stand out.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I do not write to a plot. I have a basic idea of whom the killer is and how the murder will take place and the motive, but after that it’s just sitting down to write and letting my characters lead the way. However, for it all to work, the main plot has to be good enough to really grip my attention, and the attention of my characters, right to the very last polished word.

6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?


A sense of having been transported to another place, at least for a while.

7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?

Still writing! More mysteries. A thriller. At least two non-mystery novels. Maybe another non-fiction book. Editing some fiction and non-fiction books, because that is such a challenge and really keeps you on your toes as a writer.

8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?


The scene in Dying for Murder, where Cordi gets cut off from land by a shark, actually happened to me. That and the fact that I make furniture for a hobby. I know that’s two things, but….

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

Thrillers, literary fiction. I just finished reading The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both about young girls and both powerful, haunting and disturbing. I also enjoy reading murder mysteries, but there is definitely an involuntary work element to it, so it is not entirely carefree reading.

10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet:

In Suzanne Kingsmill’s Dying for Murder, Zoologist Cordi O’Callaghan, solves a murder at a biology station on a remote U.S. barrier Island during a hurricane.



Suzanne Kingsmill has a B.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, a B.Sc. in biology from McGill University and a M.Sc. in zoology from the University of Toronto. She has written three Cordi O’Callaghan murder mysteries, Forever Dead, Innocent Murderer and the latest, published in May, Dying for Murder. Search Suzanne Kingsmill on Youtube for an 80 second book trailer on Dying for Murder. Kingsmill has also written four non-fiction books, including The Family Squeeze: Surviving the Sandwich Generation and Beyond the Call of Duty – a biography of a war vet who won the V.C. She has written for numerous Canadian and international magazines on eclectic topics and is the Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine. She has two sons and now lives in Toronto, after spending 25 years in rural Quebec.