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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Woohooo! Rizzoli and Isles to be on TNT

I have to say - I am a fan of the Tess Gerritson series that features Detective Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles.  Indeed I just finished reading The Mephisto Club which I found a lot of fun.

So I was thrilled when I learned that TNT is well into producing a TV series featuring the characters. I can only hope that it doesn't take too much away from the books!

When The Mystery Book Club read one of the Rizzoli and Isles books a few years ago, it created a bit of strong dissension during discussion. Some absolutely did not like what they described as graphic gore. I guess I'm immune? I don't know, but I have enjoyed the series and especially the characters that Gerritson created.

I am usually not a fan of screen adaptations, but I will be interested to see how it goes. Premiers on TNT on July 12, 10 pm EDT.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Deadfall - Short Stories of New England Mystery

Level Best books publishes an anthology of short stories by New England author and of course themed for mystery, including thriller, suspense, caper, and horror. Stories may or may not be located in New England, but do feature both recognized and first time New England authors.

There are currently seven books in the series and Our Mystery Book Club is reading Deadfall, the sixth anthology, published in 2008.

We are reading three of these short stories for each meeting of the book club in addition to our monthly novel. At the next meeting, February 26, we will be reading stories #4, 5, and 6.

A "scoresheet" is available for download. It allows us to rank order the three stories each week, as well as note what we felt were the good points and not-so-good points for each story.

Go here to order the book OR download a free copy of the scoresheet.

Al Blanchard Short Story Award - Entry Information

Like New England mysteries?  Want to write one and maybe win a prize?  The deadline for writing a short story focused on New England and mystery is here along with the chance to be the annual Al Blanchard Award Winner.

This prestigious short story award is given annually in memory of Al Blanchard, co-chair of the first three New England Crime Bake Conferences, NEMWA president, and a member of Sisters in Crime.
The deadline for submissions is April 30th (no exceptions).  The award will be presented at this year's New England Crime Bake, scheduled for November 12th-14th, in Dedham, Massachusetts (the winner is not required to attend).

  • $100 cash award.  
  • Publication in Level Best Books' eighth Crime Fiction anthology (  
  • Admission to the Crime Bake Conference.

  • Story must be a crime story by a New England author or with a New England setting.  
  • Story must be previously unpublished (in print or electronically).  
  • Story must not be more than 5,000 words in length.  
  • Story may include the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, and horror. (Please, no torture/killing of children or animals.)

  • Send your story as an attachment in Word format, double-spaced, to:
  • Type "Al Blanchard Award" in subject line. (Without it, attachments will not be opened). 
  • Include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address, as well as your story title and word count, in the main body of your e-mail.
  • We will promptly acknowledge the receipt of your submission. Your entry will be coded to insure anonymity and be sent on to the judges. Therefore, your name should not appear anywhere in the attachment.
  • There is no entry fee.
  • Limit of two stories per person.
  • Deadline for submission is April 30, 2010.
Details are also available at

Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone you think might be interested in submitting a story.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vanished by Joe Finder - How'd you like it?

I'll be writing my reaction to Vanished by Joe Finder right here in this space after the due date - January 29. Yes I've read it! Our Mystery Book Club chose this latest Finder book because of two good experiences with previous books. I think this is the first book where we are giving an author a 3rd read - at least since I have been participating (a bit more than 5 years).

So there is still time to read the book and share your thoughts. Once you have read it, please click on the teensy-weensy comments button, at the end of this article (post) in the little line beginning: POSTED BY RICHARD GOUTAL .... Its OK to have "spoiler comments" if you want.

So others be warned, read the book before reading the comments!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What About Christmas Mysteries?

Our Mystery Book Club just finished discussing A Christmas Guest by Anne Perry. A few years ago we read Tied Up in Tinsel by Roderick Alleyn. You can find a good selection of Christmas themed mysteries from Stop You're Killing Me. But the question we considered was, should our mystery reading include a "Christmas mystery" every December? I'd love to hear your comments - please add them to this post!

Some in our group said, "Yes! Great fun!" Other expressed thoughts like, "They can be boring or fluffy or overly contrived." Such were the very kinds of comments that were heard during our discussion of A Christmas Guest.

Using our group's rating sheet, members gave the book scores of: 65, 69, 72, 79, 85, 85, 85, 90, 90 - all averaging to 80.

On the one hand, Perry does a beautiful job utilizing Grandmama - Mariah Ellison, a side character from her Thomas Pitt mysteries, as the central character. Here is a bitter woman who does not live in gratitude, whose every remark to her family is caustic, who so easily imagines offenses; yet somehow we can identify with her and are drawn to her. I think that takes some artistry on the part of the author.

The story is set in Victorian England, on a marshy overlook of the English Channel. It is cold, blustery, and bleak. Grandmama has been "sent" to spend the Christmas holiday with daughter-in-law Caroline that she never liked who married Joshua, an actor (Disgusting!), upon the death of Edward, Grandmama's son. When Joshua's long lost Aunt Maude is "sent" by her sisters (who live but 5 miles away) to stay at this home, Grandmama is outraged at the "imposition." The mystery begins when Maude is found dead in bed of an apparent heart attack just a few days after she arrived.

Note: Following Perry's description of the family relationships in this book is challenging. Yet it is necessary to make sense of the plot's conclusion. It is so confusing that the book's publisher makes an apparent error in describing the relationships on the book jacket. I had to make a family relationships diagram while rereading parts of the book, in order to be sure of the facts.

Grandmama's curiosity about Maude's death motivates her to investigate. To do so, she must take a horse and buggy ride to the home of Maude's sisters, where she stays overnight. By the evening of the second day, in the midst of a confining snow storm, she meets with the family in the parlor and makes her accusation. A true "cozy."

During the process of the albeit brief investigation, Grandmama's character transforms from one of bitterness to one of freedom from bitterness. That is the Christmas "message" part of the book. But is the message contrived? Is it conceivable that such people can have such a change at that stage in their lives?

Well, that is the big question embedded in THE Christmas story, isn't it? The Christian message is that people can change. (Or "are changed" depending on your theology.) That's why Christmas is seen as a season of hope. Some of us may feel that sugarcoats reality; by extension, "Christmas mysteries" are fluffy.

So - what do you think? Please click here to leave your comment!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cynthia Riggs Shares Her Thoughts on Westlake

I decided to ask Cynthia Riggs about Westlake. I am delighted that she took time to respond. So first comes my letter to her, followed by her reply.
Hi Cynthia,

I'm still puzzling over your Crimebake panel comment about Donald Westlake.

Last week, our mystery book club in Manchester-by-the-sea discussed Richard Stark's Dirty Money.

--Stark's central characters are losers
--Your book's central character is a good "guy" (apologies to Victoria)

--Stark's central character (Parker) has no appeal and seems flat, devoid of depth and feeling
--Victoria is appealing and there is plenty of depth - information about the character that creates the interest and appeal

--Stark's story has no ending; it's like the end of a chapter. It's like a puzzle piece.
--Your stories have resolution.

--While the Dortmunder series has a kind of humor, Stark's series are grim to the core with no real humor (at least to us)
--While Victoria encounters many murders, she is a good sport and there are lighter moments in the stories.

So -

At the risk of sounding really really dumb, and knowing that a fellow panel member happened to agree with the Westlake choice quite independently, still -

What exactly was it or is it about Westlake's writing that you admire?

Dear Richard:

I'm honored that the mystery book club compares my writing with Donald Westlake's. He's one of my favorite not-exactly-mystery writers. And, of course, I like hearing that you think Victoria Trumbull is appealing, has depth, and is a good sport and a good guy.

Westlake's caper books are quite different from his Stark books, which I like, but they're not among my favorites.

Dortmunder appeals to me because I love the concept of a failed burglar concocting yet another elaborate scheme that, yet again, fails. For some reason, I find that comical. I guess reading about losers makes me feel better about my own failed ventures, and thinking that an occasional venture of mine may succeed, unlike Dortmunder's.

Westlake has remarkable control over his writing. I'm sure he intended his losers to seem flat, which they are. Much like the characters in the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His writing boils the story down to its essence. I'd say like poetry, but that's not exactly right. Doggerel, maybe, in its kindest definition. Westlake's settings are sketchy, his dialogue is a mere suggestion of the way people talk. The plot's the thing, leaving all else to the imagination, a carefully crafted, intricately engineered structure with cartoon people moving through. His spare dialogue and the absurd situations he sets up make me laugh. I'm not amused by much of today's over-written, in-your-face humor -- Seinfeld and Janet Evanovich, for instance, treat me as if my reading comprehension is at the third grade level. Reading Westlake I sometimes feel as though I'm the only reader who's ever seen through and around and beyond what he's put on paper, and believe I've discovered new territory. I suspect that's the way his other fans feel.

I consciously imitate some of Westlake's style, and find myself laughing aloud as I write.

Thanks for writing to me.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Dirty Money - Grim

Eight of us met last week to discuss Dirty Money by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) 2008.

We all agreed: Stark gave us excellent and enjoyable descriptions of setting, wrote like the professional and mature writer that he is, and provided believable dialog. But to one degree or another, we also all agreeds that we did not enjoy the book and most likely would not read another by Stark.

OK, frankly our group prefers the "good guy" type of central character. At the very least, we want someone we can like. But in Parker, we felt there was little or nothing to like. He was not a "bumbler" like Dortmunder; Parker is a self-centered, remoreseless killer. In fact, Stark keeps Parker very flat and one-dimensional. We are quite frankly puzzled by the awards that Stark has received for Parker. Perhaps "less is more"?

We thought that the side characters were more interesting; they seemed to be real people with real feelings, more multi-dimensional. This observation includes the B&B owner, the two-timing bounty-hunter woman, and the doctor trapped by his own weaknesses.

Since we had no one in our group who had read the series opener, The Hunter (1962 !), we have no way of knowing whether Stark wrote differently in that book or provided more to like about him. One or two of us thought we might check it out, but that would be primarily a matter of curiosity.

We agreed there is good pacing and enough tension to keep us moving through the book. It's just that we regretted getting to the end. For the ending has no resolution; it just stops. One of our members had read the previous book instead of Dirty Money, and she confirmed that that book also just stopped. It is as though Dirty Money is the next chapter, but "so what."

Coincidentally, as I mentioned in a previous post, Cynthia Riggs and Mark Arsenault both mentioned Westlake as a most admired writer at a New England Crimebake panel two weeks ago. Our mystery book club gave a higher average score to Riggs (for Deadly Nightshade) than we did Stark.

Obviously Parker was an enduring character that lasted throughout Westlake's long writing career. But we would love to hear from some folks that "loved" Dirty Money and tell us why!

2009 POLL #2--Do Mystery Stories and Political Bias Mix? What is closest to your view?