Literary Links

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”

How Reese Witherspoon became the new high priestess of book clubs

“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”

The Loser-Spy Novelist for Our Times

James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.

“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”

Read Editor Carmen Maria Machado’s Intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

cover: he Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.

This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.

Orphans and their quests

Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Wish I Could Read for the First Time Again

Recently I came across the article 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again. Off the Shelf editors asked members of their Facebook group which books they wish they could read again for the first time and published some of the responses.

I agree with these titles from the article:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King  
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver  
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman  
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Examining the Off the Shelf list made me consider exactly what qualities make me want to reread a book. Often it’s the enjoyment of seeing how a writer makes a particular story work—the mechanics of getting plot and character to mesh to produce a satisfying whole. Sometimes it’s the experience of spending time with characters who feel like real people, and other times it’s seeing how characters react to situations that we hope we’ll never have to face in real life. Usually it’s the emotional realization that, although we are all individuals, we all share a common humanity. 

Many times rereading a book is more pleasurable because I already know, in general terms, what’s going to happen and who I’m going to meet along the way. Yet there are still some books that I wish I could read again with fresh eyes.

For that reason, here, in no particular order, are a few books I would add to this list:

  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren  
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  
  • “The Lottery” (short story) by Shirley Jackson 
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell  
  • Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz  
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra  
  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson  
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates  
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane  
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy 

How About You?

What makes you want to reread a book? And what books do you wish you could read for the first time again?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

WHEN MURDER COMES HOME

Psychologist J.L. Doucette also writes mystery novels. When a body was found buried in the back yard of a house formerly owned by her grandmother, Doucette began to “question my choice of genre as if by writing about murder I was somehow complicit in bringing violence into the world.”

The 50 Greatest Coming-of-Age Novels

The great power of fiction originates in the universality of the particular stories it tells. Since growing up is something we all must do sooner or later, coming-of-age novels are among the most prevalent and most affecting of all.

cover: Middlesex

Here Emily Temple offers her list. I agree with some of her choices: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, Cider House Rules by John Irving. 

Cover: The Art of Fielding

But there are a lot more I would add: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni.

How about you?

Are there other novels you’d add to this list?

Audiobooks or Reading? To Our Brains, It Doesn’t Matter

I hope we can finally put this tiresome argument to rest, thanks to these study results from the Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

HOW READING ROBERT CORMIER’S DARK YA HELPED ME SORT THROUGH MY TEACHER’S DEATH

Fiction writer Brenna Ehrlich describes how the dark, brooding fiction of Robert Cormier helper her, as a teenager, get through the brutal murder of local teacher. 

The Goldfinch: can a film solve Donna Tartt’s most divisive book?

cover: The Goldfinch

While The Goldfinch was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer prize for fiction, it divided critics. One challenge to film-makers is its length (864 pages in the current paperback edition; well over 300,000 words). It was called “Dickensian” by some admiring reviewers, but the largest Dickens novels rely on highly elaborate plotting and a large cast of characters. The Goldfinch offers neither of these.

I loved Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, but a lot of people did not. The film version will be hitting theaters soon, and I’m eager to see it. But, as this article discusses, many are wondering whether this novel can be made into a satisfactory movie. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

5 “You Can’t Go Home Again” Novels

Recently my husband and I traveled back to our neighboring hometowns for a family funeral. We’d been back for visits periodically, of course, but we haven’t lived there for 50 years. 

Each time we visit, I feel a distinct sense of dislocation. The adage “you can’t go home again” is true for two reasons:

  1. Your hometown is not the same place as it once was.  
  2. You are no longer the same person you used to be.

Most “you can’t go home again” novels I can think of involve small towns. I grew up in a small town in New England. With only one elementary school in the town, I knew all the kids in the same grade with me, and I knew just about everybody, and all their siblings, in the entire school as well. Our parents all knew each other, and many of us had grandparents who knew each other. Some of the roads in the town were named after prominent multi-generational resident families, such as Lyons Road. Janie Lyons was a couple of years younger than me, and her mother and my mother had gone to school together.

All of this intergenerational overlapping within the same limited geographical boundaries makes privacy nearly impossible. Anybody who had a deep, dark secret in their past that they wanted to keep hidden would have to leave such a small town and start a new life somewhere else. This is probably why the protagonists of “you can’t go home again” novels come predominantly from small towns rather than from big cities. And it’s also probably why most such novels have at their heart some damning action or traumatic event from the past.

Here are five “you can’t go home again” novels that illustrate the Big Three of mystery/thriller tropes: secrets, lies, and betrayals.

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All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

cover: All the Missing Girls

In this prototypical “you can’t go home again” novel, Nicolette Farrell returns to the home town she left 10 years ago to help care for her aging father who exhibits early signs of dementia. Now engaged and working in a city, she returns to the place where everyone knew her as Nic and remembers that she, her brother, and her hometown boyfriend were involved in the unexplained disappearance of her best friend back then. 

Soon after Nic returns, another girl vanishes under similar circumstances, and suddenly Nic and those around her are once again under suspicion. To understand what is happening now, Nic begins to try to understand what happened to her friend all those years ago. But does she really want to know the answers to all the questions that her previously unexamined memories turn up?

The Dry by Jane Harper

cover: The Dry

In Harper’s stunning debut novel, federal investigator Aaron Falk travels from Melbourne back to the small Australian farming community where he grew up to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, and Luke’s wife and six-year-old son. The Hadlers were shot in their home, with only infant Charlotte left alive. The working theory is that Luke, under significant financial pressure, killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself. 

But Aaron doesn’t believe Luke would have killed either his family or himself. Back in their teenage years, Aaron and Luke came under suspicion for murder, but the case was never solved. Now Aaron begins investigating the Hadlers’ murders, wondering if this case could be related to that earlier one. What he learns solves both cases and explains why Aaron’s father moved his teenage son to Melbourne, a lifestyle change that young Aaron hated and resented.

 Sharp Objects  by Gillian Flynn

cover: Sharp Objects

Before Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl, she wrote Sharp Objects, the story of troubled reporter Camille Preaker. Camille has just returned from a stay at a psychiatric hospital to her job at a city newspaper when two young girls are murdered in her small, rural home town. When her editor tells her to go visit her family and report on the crime, Camille tries to get out of the assignment, which will reunite her with the domineering, narcissistic mother who never loved her and the much younger half-sister whom Camille barely knows.

But keeping her job depends on her compliance, so Camille goes back to the poisonous environment she’s been trying all her life to escape. The assignment forces her to experience some of her childhood pain all over again but also suggests she may begin to find a pathway toward healing.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

cover: The Lying Game

This novel (my least favorite of Ruth Ware’s novels so far) illustrates a variation on “you can’t go home again” novels: the return not necessarily to home, but to a place where a significant childhood action or event occurred. The crucial location here is Salten, a girls’ boarding school in a small English village near the cliffs of the English Channel. Four girls—all misfits for various reasons—meet here as teenagers and form an exclusive clique. They alienate everyone else by their constant lying game, unending attempts to pass off outlandish claims as true. The main rule of the lying game is that they are never to lie to each other.

Seventeen years later three of these women, now in their 30s, receive a text message from the fourth, Kate: “I need you.” The three women, all living near London, drop their professional and family lives to run back to Salten, no questions asked, to help Kate. The novel then proceeds in two separate strands, one the present time and the other in the past, the year the girls spent at school together. Kate is still living in the home she shared with her father, the school’s art instructor, during that year, and much of the backstory focuses on how much idyllic time the four girls spent together in that house, a kind of surrogate home for the other three with unstable family lives, before their antisocial behavior got them all expelled.

As the complex mystery unfolds, the changed situations of the adult characters strain relationships formed around such a tenuous bond so long ago. As the women come to understand how both their schoolmates and the village residents viewed them back then, they discover that they truly can’t go home again.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

cover: The Chalk Man

This novel illustrates another variation on the “you can’t go home again” formula: Sometimes you can’t go home again even if you never left in the first place. 

In 1986, 12-year-old Eddie and his friends rode bikes around their English village. To stave off boredom they developed their own secret code, chalk stick figures they used to send messages to each other that no one else could understand. This was great fun—until a mysterious chalk man message appeared and lead them to a dead body.

Thirty years later, Ed still lives in the same village. When he and a friend each receive a letter in the mail containing a chalk figure, they think it must be a prank. But when another death occurs, Ed realizes that to save himself, he’ll have to figure out what happened in the village all those years ago.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Feature image by Hermann Schmider from Pixabay

Literary Links

The Edgar Awards Revisited: The Suspect by L. R. Wright (Best Novel; 1986)

The Edgar Awards Revisited, a series in Criminal Element, looks back at award winners not only in their own right, as outstanding novels, but as representative of the their time.

In fact, looking back on 1986, The Suspect may have been the least progressive choice, thematically or structurally, for the Edgar that year, its whydunnit format notwithstanding. Simon Brett’s A Shock To The System features a similar format but, as the British precursor to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, was perhaps considered as outre as its fellow nominee, Paul Auster’s metaphysical detective story, City Of Glass.

10 GREAT BOOKS THAT DEFY ALL GENRE LABELS

cover: The Warehouse

Rob Hart, author of the recently released novel The Warehouse, writes:

Recently I heard a pretty good explanation of the difference between a mystery and a thriller. A mystery is about what happened, and a thriller is about what’s going to happen.

But beyond that distinction, how do librarians and publishing professionals decide into which of many, many inter-related categories a given novel should be slotted? Readers of literary criticism know that the distinction between “literary fiction”—the high-brow, highfalutin stuff—and “mere genre fiction”—the low-brow, inferior stuff most of us love—is a perennial topic of discussion. But Hart here proclaims, “I really am a fan of mixing genres.” He offers a list of books that do just that: “I don’t know exactly what to call, other than very good books.”

On the Growing Influence of Barack Obama, Literary Tastemaker

While we may not be seeing an Obama book club any time soon, the former president provides a rare male voice in a largely female-dominated literary space helmed by the likes of Oprah [Winfrey] and Reese Witherspoon. Covering a wide range of genres, topics and authors, Obama’s recommendations certainly aren’t aimed specifically at male readers, but his voice has helped redefine a literary space often associated — however problematically — with a stereotypically “feminine” vision perhaps best embodied by Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club.

Says Kayla Kibbe, “Obama’s book recommendations read less like an endorsement from a former world leader than a conversation with a close friend who would gladly lend you their own paperback.”

Reading in a Boom Time of Biographical Fiction

Biographer, poet, critic, and novelist Jay Parini addresses the rise of historical fiction over “the last few decades.”

A student of mine recently said to me in frustration: “I just can’t get interested in ‘made-up’ lives.” And I must admit, my own tastes have shifted over the decades away from invented lives. I think I speak for many when I say that it’s biographical novels—which are centered on actual lives and circumstances—that have found a more secure place in my reading (and writing) life.

And here’s why:

Fiction offers the one and only way we have to get into the head of somebody not ourselves. If this person is someone of interest for one reason or another, there is all the more reason to want to know them and their world more deeply.

And there is a truthfulness in fiction that is simply unavailable to the academic biographer.

Recalling a Time When Books Could Give You Indigestion

cover: What We Talk About When We Talk About Books

Jennifer Szalai discusses What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price, an English professor at Rutgers University. The book is not so much about literary history or literary criticism as about the book as physical object and the experience of reading.

The knot of ambivalence contained in this book is appropriate, considering that her subject — “the history and future of reading” — is too enormous and various to speak with a single voice. Recalling an injury that a number of years ago made it hard for Price to read, she says her story “has that most bookish of structures, a happy ending.” This is Price the Book Historian talking; Price the Literary Critic seems to have a different and darker take. Later, reflecting on the desire to see fiction as therapeutic, she wonders how we might prepare for “that most literary of endings, an unhappy one.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

How Kurt Vonnegut Predicted the Automation Crisis

Player Piano may have been written 67 years ago, but its prescience is uncanny — though not inexplicable. It is a product not only of Vonnegut’s extraordinary imagination, but his years of experience working directly with engineers, whose mentality the novel reflects in reaching its logical conclusion.

Getting To The Heart Of The Matter With ‘Heart of Darkness’

This post appears on the blog of Audible, the audiobook-selling arm of Amazon. College student and Audible intern Ama Hagan describes her reactions to Joseph Conrad’s controversial novella Heart of Darkness. This piece of classical literature still appears on the syllabi of many a college course, and I was interested in this perspective from a proud young woman of African heritage.

Authors Steve Cavanagh and Adrian McKinty: How growing up in Northern Ireland’s Troubles shaped them

Cover: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

This article caught my eye because I’ve just recently read both Cavanagh’s novel Thirteen and McKinty’s novel The Chain.

Cavanagh to McKinty about Cavanagh’s mother giving him the book Silence of the Lambs to read when he was 12:

We grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I was in Belfast, you were in Carrickfergus, and a book about cannibals and serial killers skinning innocent people was a bit of light relief from the reality of that low-level civil war. I wouldn’t give my daughter “Silence Of The Lambs,” and she’s twelve right now. We grew up in different times, and I think our generation is desensitized to violence.

Cover: The Chain, Adrian McKinty

McKinty on his youth in Northern Ireland:

A guy a few doors down from us was arrested for murdering three random Catholic men (so in effect he was a serial killer) and all this seemed completely normal to me. The domestic violence, the drunkenness, the chimney fires every night — all seemed just the way things were done. I don’t think my eyes were opened until I started reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I began to see that there were other possibilities of how to live and everything around me was just contingent. When I was about 11 or 12 I read Ursula Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” and I remember when I was done with that it occurred to me that everything the hardmen said was uneducated, quasi-fascist nonsense.

McKinty says that the authors who influenced him the most have been Stephen King, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. Cavanagh lists as his influences, in addition to Silence of the Lambs, the works of Michael Connelly, Lee Child, John Connolly, and Patricia Highsmith.

Read the article to see which seven books each author would take with him if stranded on a deserted island.

THE ANATOMY OF THE BOOK

Boards, signatures, deckles, headbands: Learn all the esoteric terminology involved in book production.

The Hazards of Writing While Female

The nonprofit organization VIDA keeps a count of how many books written by women are reviewed in literary sections, and how many reviewers are female. Every year until 2017, its most recent survey, VIDA has found that male writers and male reviewers dominate books coverage, even though women make up the majority of authors and readers.

Here’s yet another reminder of the long-standing issue of how men and women are treated differently in the publishing world. As one of the authors quoted here says, “a male novelist is primarily a novelist. Nobody talks about his gender. But a woman novelist is primarily a woman.” 

Still, for as long as female authors’ bodies define their work, the seriousness gap will remain

FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN NOVELIST WAS A KILLER NEWSPAPER EDITOR

“The first Native American to write a novel in English lived a life chock-full of contradictions.”

This piece appears as a segment of Disruptive Literary Legends, an “OZY original series explores long-forgotten historical figures who changed the way we write, read and appreciate literature.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

GOODREADS HACKS: GET A DNF SHELF, MARK REREADS, AND MORE

If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!

How We Need Diverse Books Changed The Literary World, According To 15 Publishing Pros

When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.

Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”

Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, United in Soul

Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:

Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witcherature’

Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:

There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.

Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany

In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.

How Tana French Inhabits the Minds of Her Detectives

The crime-fiction writer on unreliable narrators, real-world sources, and the breakdown of genre boundaries in her work.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Authors/Series I Stopped Reading–For Whatever Reason

What a time-consuming yet fruitful project this turned into. When I started looking back at my long-term reading log for the 6 Degrees of Separation meme, I discovered a lot of authors and/or series that I had begun to enjoy in the past but had not kept up with more recently. Many of these authors and series I discovered back in the early days of recorded books, which were called books on tape back then because they came as a series of cassettes in a cardboard box that we mailed back when we were done with them so that we could order more. Back then our daughter was swimming competitively, and we spent lots of time in the car driving to and from swim meets. I therefore went through a lot of recorded books.

Eventually CDs replaced cassette tapes, and then the CDs gave way to downloaded audio files. Those changes combined with the end of my daughter’s swimming meant that I listened to fewer audiobooks. That was when I lost track of many authors and their next publications.

There are a few authors whom I’ve followed faithfully and have read every one of their books in some format (printed book, ebook, or audiobook):

  • Michael Connelly  
  • John Sandford 
  • Harlan Coben  
  • Tana French 
  • (formerly) Sue Grafton

The list below (ordered alphabetically by author’s last name) comprises authors whose works I’ve lost touch with over time. Only a few of them are authors I gave up by choice because their novels no longer worked for me. So unless stated otherwise, assume that I haven’t read these authors recently because of this most cruel fate for book lovers:

So many books,

So little time.

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Kate Atkinson

I first learned about Kate Atkinson back in 1997 when my library book group read and loved her debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I next read Case Histories for another book group, the introductory novel of her Jackson Brodie series, in 2006. Over the intervening years I’ve read a couple more of Atkinson’s novels but none of the Jackson Brodie series. There are now four more, which I’m looking forward to reading after rereading Case Histories.


Alan Bradley

One of the series that I dropped on purpose is the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley.

I know I’m in the minority here, because a lot of people love this series. But after reading the first novel in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I had no desire to read any more. I like a good child narrator, but little Flavia just annoyed me right from the beginning.


Edna Buchanan

I’ve missed Edna Buchanan. In fact, I thought she might have died until I recently came upon this article. Now in her early 80s, she’s still a fixture in Miami but hasn’t published a work of fiction since 2011, a fact that explains why I’d heard nothing about her for a while.

Buchanan first made a name for herself by reporting on crime for Miami newspapers. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986. I discovered her back in 1992 when I read her nonfiction work The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, a compilation of cases she’d reported on. But I most enjoyed her crime novels set in Miama featuring reporter Britt Montero.

For a further look at Edna Buchanan, see the New Yorker profile by Calvin Trillin from 1986.


James Lee Burke

My husband and I both love Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, which we discovered in the mid 1990s, in our heyday with books on cassettes. I’ve listened to seven Robicheaux novels, but I have some catching up to do, since the series is now up to 11 books.


Sarah Caudwell

Sarah Caudwell was the pseudonym of British barrister Sarah Cockburn. She wrote her four-book Hilary Tamar series over the course of 20 years.

Reminiscing about Sarah Caudwell in Mystery Scene Martin Edwards writes, “Sarah Caudwell’s books are admittedly an acquired taste. . . . Readers who crave penetrating social comment or in-depth characterisation in their mysteries should look elsewhere.”

I read both the first (Thus Was Adonis Murdered) and the last (The Sibyl in Her Grave) books in this series but never felt compelled to read the two middle ones. What I remember most about them is that they never reveal whether Hilary Tamar is a man or a woman. This is harder to accomplish than it might seem. Imagine having to construct every sentence so as to avoid using either he or she—and to do so without having the sentences sound awkward or unnatural. 

According to her publisher, Penguin Random House, Sarah Caudwell died in 2000.


Patricia Cornwell

I initially liked Cornwell’s series featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. But I quit that series after book #9, 1998’s Point of Origin because, as Kay Scarpetta became more shrill and self-centered, the story lines also became more improbable. According to Patricia Cornwell’s website, she has published 14 more Scarpetta novels since Point of Origin. She also has two additional series and a bunch of other books, but I won’t be reading them.


Stephen Dobyns

I discovered Stephen Dobyns back in 1994 when I listed to a book (on tape) from his Charlie Bradshaw series, all of which contain Saratoga in the title. The series comprises 10 novels published between 1976 and 1998, plus an 11th book published in 2017. These are entertaining mysteries featuring a former police officer now working, by choice, as a private investigator. One of the recurring themes is Charlie’s mother’s complaints that he should get a real job and his attempts to convince her that he’s a PI because he WANTS to be. These mysteries features some of the quirkiest yet most lovable minor characters you’ll ever meet.

I also have to mention Dobyns’s stand-along novel The Church of Dead Girls, an unflinching depiction of mob mentality couched in a murder mystery. And his novel Cold Dog Soup is, no kidding, about the weirdest yet most engaging novel I’ve ever read.

Dobyns is also well known as a poet and a writing instructor.


Earl Emerson

Earl Emerson was a firefighter in Seattle, WA, for 32 years. He began publishing mysteries and thrillers in 1985. I discovered him when our daughter entered the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, the city where Emerson was born. He’s the author of two series—the Thomas Black series and the Mac Fontana series—as well as several stand-alone novels. His books have won several awards. 

More information about Emerson and his books is available on his website.


 G.M. Ford

I discovered author G.M. Ford at about the same time I became aware of Earl Emerson because both lived in Seattle. (But according to Ford’s current publisher, Harper Collins, he now lives in Oregon.) I’ve read a few of Ford’s 

Leo Waterman novels, which feature a fiesty private detective living and working in Seattle. Ford’s first published book, Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? (1995) introduced the Waterman series and was nominated for three mystery awards. There are currently 11 Waterman novels, of which I’ve read only a few, but I have several more waiting on my Kindle.

Ford also writes the Frank Corso series, which is now up to six novels. In addition, he has published three stand-alone novels.


Sue Grafton

Like just about every other mystery fan, I loved Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. I usually preferred the audiobook format of these novels because I liked hearing a spoken version of Kinsey’s quirky voice.

In detective series, the authors have to balance a certain inevitable sameness — we read these books for the comfortable familiarity of hanging with someone we know — with a need to keep things fresh. Sue Grafton made a dramatic change midway through the alphabet with her Kinsey Millhone series; the books became significantly longer, and less private-eye caper than nuanced psychological thriller, employing a variety of narrative voices (not just Kinsey’s). I liked the change, for the most part, but I heard from readers who didn’t.

Moira Macdonald

Unfortunately, Sue Grafton died in December 2017, after the publication of “Y” is for Yesterday. She had planned to name the next book “Z” is for Zero, but complications from cancer treatment prevented her from doing much work on it. After she died, her family stated that, for them, “from now on, the alphabet ends with Y.”


P.D. James

I first read some of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh series back in the early 1990s, although I didn’t read them in order. These novels use most of the classic mystery plot devices but rely on well-developed characters to hold the reader’s attention. Her Inspector Dalgliesh is an introspective, deeply moral character. The last of the 14 Dalgliesh novels, The Private Patient, was published in 2008. I hope to read the rest of this series.

James also wrote two novels featuring Cordelia Gray, a young private detective, and a few stand-alone novels, which you can read about on the author’s website.

P.D. James died on November 27, 2014.


Jonathan Kellerman

I discovered Jonathan Kellerman’s series featuring clinical psychologist Alex Delaware back in 1992, with the fifth book in the series, Time Bomb. I’ve read eight of these books, but, as the series is now up to book #34, I have a lot more to look forward to. I have #10, The Web, on my Kindle now.

For more information about Jonathan Kellerman and his books, see his website.


Ed McBain

Salvatore Albert Lombino (born in 1926) legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. For more than 50 years he was a prolific writer of fiction, screenplays, and television episodes but is probably best remembered for his fictional 87th Precinct series, 55 novels published under the pseudonym Ed McBain between 1956 and 2005. This series set the standard for what would develop into the genre of police procedural fiction.

The 87th Precinct novels are set in the fictional city of Isola, a thinly disguised version of New York City’s Manhattan. Although several characters appear in many of the novels, the focus is always on the squad as a whole rather than on individual detectives as they work to solve crimes.

In addition to crime fiction, Evan Hunter published science fiction and wrote many film and television scripts under several names before his death in 2005.


Val McDermid

I also discovered Scottish crime writer Val McDermid on tape. She currently has four series going, but I’ve only read (or listened to) several from the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. This series features clinical psychologist Tony Hill working with detective Carol Jordan to solve crimes by getting inside the mind of the criminal. With the next installment of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, How the Dead Speak, due out in the U.S. on 12/3/2019, I have some catching up to do here.

I should also mention McDermid’s stand-alone novel A Place of Execution, which is so good I’ve read it twice.


Denise Mina

Back in 2001 one of my book groups read Garnethill, Scottish writer Denise Mina’s first novel, which won the CWA John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel. Since then, I’ve been aware of Mina’s subsequent publications and the prominence they have brought her. According to just about everyone, her fame is well deserved, so I should try to catch up with her work.

Her complete publication list appears on her website, along with other information about the writer and her career.

Update: Why We Love Denise Mina’s Mysteries


Marcia Muller

I discovered Marcia Muller back in 1996, when I got interested in contemporary portrayals of female detectives. Edwin of the Iron Shoes, the first novel in Muller’s Sharon McCone series, was published in 1977. McCone therefore preceded both Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, both of whom were introduced in 1982 (Milhone in “A” Is for Alibi and Warshawski in Indemnity Only).

Back in 1996 I read the first two Sharon McCone novels. According to Goodread’s Sharon McCone page the series is now up to more than 30 books, with the most recent, The Breakers, having been published in 2018.


Sara Paretsky

Along with Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky revolutionized the portrayal of women detectives with her V.I. Warshawski series.

I’ve read several of those novels, but by no means all. Paretsky lives in Chicago and is an outspoken critic of efforts to silence women’s voices and to take away their rights. More information about both her fiction and her nonfiction is available on her website.


Ann B. Ross

I discovered Ross’s Miss Julia series back in 2000 when my library book group read the first novel, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. Miss Julia is a Southern widow of a certain age, with a sharp tongue and crazy friends. I should read more of these books now that I myself have attained a certain age.

More information is available on the author’s website.


Minette Walters

When I realized that I hadn’t heard anything about Walters, including any new publications, I went looking and found this article in The Guardian dated May 8, 2017. According to the article, Walters helped create the genre we now know as the psychological thriller with “an unbroken run of bestsellers from 1993 [that] ended abruptly in 2007 with her last crime novel, The Chameleon’s Shadow.” Walters attributes this long break to burnout over writing crime fiction. The article heralds Walters’s shift to historical fiction with the publication (in November 2017) of her first novel in 10 years, The Last Hours, about the Black Death.

I love to innovate and, while it pleases me greatly that I’ve helped create the genre of psychological crime fiction, I’d be going against my nature if I didn’t look towards different horizons.

Minette Walters

A look at my reading database and Minette Walters’s website reveals that I’ve read the first seven of her novels, so I have many more—including a few of her early psychological suspense and several more recent pubications—to look forward to.

I particularly recommend her first novel, The Ice House, and her third, The Scold’s Bridle


Stephen White

I discovered the Alan Gregory series by Stephen White back in the early days of books on tape. I listened to the first eight books in this series featuring clinical psychologist Alan Gregory but then lost touch with the series as technology changed and books on cassettes transitioned to audiobooks for download. Finding book #9, The Program (2008), recently on sale as an ebook reminded me of this excellent series.

A recent check of Stephen White’s website revealed that his latest novel, Compound Fractures, is the 20th and final installment of the Alan Gregory series. But White assures his fans that he can’t imagine himself not writing. He’s currently working on the development of two television dramas and has several ideas for novels bouncing around in his head.


Stuart Woods

I don’t remember exactly what lead me to author Stuart Woods, but I know I discovered him back in those heady days of books on cassette tapes. I have first-hand knowledge of four of his series:

1. Will Lee series 

I very much enjoyed Woods’s first novel, Chiefs (1981), based on a family story. This novel became the first in the Will Lee series.

2. Stone Barrington series

After Chiefs, I started reading Woods’s series featuring former NYPD detective now turned lawyer Stone Barrington. I began with the first novel in this series, New York Dead (1991). I read several more of the books in the series but eventually stopped because the stories became progressively more and more outlandish and just plain silly.

3. Ed Eagle series

I’ve read only the first book, Santa Fe Rules, in this series featuring New Mexico lawyer Ed Eagle.

4. Holly Barker series

I’ve also read only the first book, Orchid Beach, in this series.

Woods also has three more series, which you can read about in Liberty Hardy’s article A Definitive Guide to All of Stuart Woods’ Series. But the Stone Barrington series, now at more than 50 books, is obviously the author’s baby. The other series are all much shorter, and many of their main  characters appear at least tangentially across more than one series.

Stuart Woods has also written several stand-alone novels, of which I’ve enjoyed several. For more information, including a downloadable PDF checklist of all Woods’s books listed by series, see his website.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

cover: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager 
Penguin Audio, 2017 
Narrated by Erin Bennett and Hillary Huber

Ten years ago Quincy Carpenter ran from the woods covered in blood—the sole survivor of five young people vacationing in a secluded rental cottage. That experience made her a member of a group no one volunteers to join—Final Girls, the only survivors of killing sprees of slasher-movie proportions. The group is so exclusive that it contains only two others: Lisa and Samantha (Sam). The three women have never met but know about each other.

Now Quincy is doing well, despite her traumatic past, thanks to her Xanax prescription, a steady (and steadying) boyfriend, a popular baking blog, and, whenever necessary, reassurance from Coop, the cop who rescued her as she fled her attacker. But soon after Lisa is reported dead of an apparent suicide, Sam suddenly shows up trying to befriend Quincy. The plot thickens as Quincy and Sam bond while Sam, secretive and jumpy, becomes more and more erratic.

At the beginning I had trouble following how the various characters were connected, but once I got settled in the suspense was nearly nonstop. The ending was a surprise but completely credible, an effect probably heightened by the audiobook’s use of two narrators. If you like psychological thrillers, you’ll probably like this novel, which won the 2018 International Thriller Writers Award for best hardcover novel.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown