Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Killer of a Dinner Party

By R.J.Harlick

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why?

Meg Harris wasn’t the least happy when I proposed that she and her husband, Eric Odjik, host the dinner party for some of her fellow crime fiction characters.

“Three Deer Point is the perfect place to hold it,” I continued. “Your guests will love your Victorian cottage with its enormous pine timbers and fieldstone fireplaces. Your dining room can easily handle eight people and you have more than enough dishes and silver that you inherited from Aunt Aggie.  And if the conversation stalls, people can comment on the marvelous view of the lake. Best of all, it’s isolated with no cell coverage. You could entertain without fear of any of your guests being pulled away to solve a murder.”

“Yeah, I suppose, but I hate entertaining,” she said pulling at a stray wisp of red hair. “Particularly with strangers. I don’t know any of these characters. You’re the one who reads crime fiction, not me. Besides they’re so much better at solving murder than I am.”

“Don’t cut yourself short,” I replied. “You always catch your man or woman as the case may be. But who knows maybe during the course of the dinner you’ll learn a few tips.”

“Meg, I say let’s do it,” cut in Eric, the cook of the family. “I know exactly what we’ll serve. We’ll give them a taste of the wilds of Quebec. I have at least eight venison steaks in the freezer. You could pick some of the chanterelles and blueberries I saw growing along the trail that leads to the old sugar shack. With a little red wine, they’ll make the perfect sauce for the venison. We could start with the trout I smoked last week.  Your arugula is almost ready for picking…” His grey eyes gleamed with anticipation.

“But who will we invite? I don’t know anybody. And there are a zillion crime novel characters to choose from.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll put together the guest list.”

“Make sure you pick another amateur sleuth. It would be interesting to compare notes with them.”

“Camilla L√§ckberg’s Erica Falck is a possibility. She also happens to be a crime writer so is quite up on the latest sleuthing techniques.  She has a habit of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, something you’ve been known to do. Mind you, like you, it invariably helps her uncover the killer. But having a husband on the Swedish police force doesn’t hurt her either. You two could also trade winter horror stories.  How about we invite her but without her husband, since someone needs to stay home to look after their children?”

“Sounds good to me. Don’t some of those British books have characters that are members of the aristocracy? It would be fun to invite one.  Great-grandpa Joe would laugh in his grave if some fancy lord ate in his dining room.”

“I know the perfect aristocrat, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. He’d love roughing it in the colonial wilds and could show the other guests how to properly use Aunt Aggie’s fancy cutlery. His man, Bunter, could be useful in the kitchen and help serve the food. Lord Peter’s an amateur sleuth too, so could offer you some helpful tips though they might be somewhat outdated, since he hasn’t solved a murder since 1942.”

“Okay. What about a cop or two? It wouldn't hurt to learn about proper police procedure. But where do you start. It seems that most crime fiction has a policeman as the main character.”

“You’re right, a very difficult choice. I was thinking of retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch since I’d love to meet him myself, but I imagine he is at the top of everyone’s guest list, so I suggest we invite a lesser known policeman. One candidate is John Farrow’s Sergeant-Detective Emile Cing-Mars with the Montreal police force. He has quite the Gallic panache about him and he would be able to answer any of your questions regarding the inner workings of a Quebec police force. I suspect he would enjoy baiting us maudits anglais.

“And he won’t have far to drive either,” Meg laughed. “Who else? How about a female cop? I want to ensure that the sexes are equally represented. Besides it makes the seating plan easier, if I follow Aunt Aggie’s rules of boy-girl-boy, etc..”

“I know just the cop. Another Brit, Ann Cleeves’ Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. Her track record in catching killers is as good as Harry Bosch’s. She doesn’t mince words, has quite the way about her and could care less about the proper way to use a fork. It might be fun to see her butting heads with Lord Peter.”

“She sounds like fun. I’m beginning to enjoy this. Who else?”

“What about a private detective?” Eric offered. “There are plenty of terrific hardboiled P.I.s, like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe”
“I see you know your P.I.s.”

He grinned. “Nothing beats reading a good detective novel in front of a roaring fire with a glass of Lagavulin.”

“Is there anyone you would particularly like to meet?”

“Yup, I’d like to meet Sam Wiebe’s up and coming detective, Dave Wakeland. He’s gritty, has a brutal streak in him and sure lives by his own rules, but he has a soft side too that makes him very human.  I hear he likes his beer. It would be fun to compare notes on Vancouver brewpubs.”

“Okay, we need one more guest. May I suggest a female private detective, Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan. She’s a very independent and able woman and like you, tends to concentrate on the psychological motives behind murder. I think the two of you would get along very well.”

“But, these are all the good guys,” Meg said. “Don’t you think we should also invite a bad guy? It would keep everyone on their toes.”

“Who would you suggest? One of the villains you caught?”

“They’re either in jail or dead. No, let’s make it a surprise. We’ll put out an extra chair and see who shows up.”

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lively Dinner

Terry Shames here, with this week’s topic: the dinner party: who I would invite and where it would be held.

The last part is easy. It has to be at my house around my dinner table. I love to cook. I love to present people with good food and wine.


But who would be there? I’m looking for widely-read people with strong opinions and the thinking to back up their opinions.

My husband would have to be there, of course. He has a wide-ranging intellect and is not afraid to say he doesn’t know something. He is eager to learn. I’ve seen him equally interested in car mechanics, scientists, and students. When confronted with a differing opinion, his ego doesn’t get in the way of the conversation.

I want James Anderson. Not only did his 2015 book, The Never-Open Desert Diner fill me with awe, but conversations I had with him were deeply satisfying. I’ve read his opinions about authors’ work and he always has an interesting slant. He’s a gentleman and won’t allow the conversation to get out of hand. Besides, if I invite him, he might bring me a copy of his long-anticipated new book, Lullaby Road.

Camille Minichino has to be there. She’s one of those rare people who you sit down to converse with and before you know it hours have passed. She’s smart and has a deadly wit. And she doesn’t hesitate to say what’s on her mind.

If David Corbett isn’t there, it would be a shame. I love his writing. Each of his novels has depth and breadth. Did I say I want someone with strong opinions? Well, he provides that along with a great, shouting laugh. His wife Mette has to come, too. She of that warm smile, and the ability to hold conversation on her own as well.

Laurie King would be a great addition. Another author whose books I admire for their density. Because she seems quiet and self-contained, you may think she is a wallflower. But when she talks, she brings amazing energy to the conversation. I always come away from conversation with her thinking over something she said.

This gets harder as I come down to the wire. I think a dinner party cannot be more than eight people.

My last two: George Saunders and my friend Joan Waranoff.

I have always read Saunders’s brilliant short stories, and read Pastoralia with awe. I recently read Lincoln in the Bardo and was staggered. What an amazing imagination he has. The only thing I would worry about is whether he is so much in that dizzy head of his that he would not be much of a conversationalist. I once spent an evening in the company of Don DeLillo, and I’m not sure he said three words. I got the feeling if I could persuade him to talk, he’d be fascinating. To drag Saunders out, I’d have to seat him near my husband, the master of asking probing questions. Oh, and one little perk: Saunders is a fellow Texan.

As for my friend Joan, when I read a book that she has also read, I can hardly wait to hear what she has to say about it. We recently read a highly acclaimed novel, which disappointed both of us in different ways. Her comments made me laugh out loud. What she found irritating was something I never noticed, but once she mentioned it I couldn’t imagine how I missed it. As for opinions, she is content to hear what others say, and then she drops the bomb. She’ll keep it lively.

Wait! That’s nine. Oh, well. Who’s counting?

Oh, what to serve at this dinner party. It can’t be something fussy, because I want to be there for the whole thing. I don’t know who has dietary differences, so I have to have something substantial in every category. So the vegetable part it would be ratatouille—strong enough to stand on its own for a vegetarian; then chicken, because everyone likes chicken, and some people don’t eat red meat, and some people don’t like fish—I’d probably cook the Chicken Thigs with Lemon from Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore; and a lovely salad with goat cheese. Dessert? French cheese with honey and a dessert wine. Oh, about the wine. Something exquisite, both a red and white. And for those who don’t drink, I’d probably make a homemade ginger ale, which is better than most wines.

Maybe I’ll start doing this once a month. That way I can include all kinds of people that I long to include.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Why Crime Fiction?

Why did you decide to become a writer and in particular a writer of crime fiction?

by Paul D. Marks

To make lots and lots of money and be famous and see my name and picture plastered on billboards and the sides of busses and go visiting on Fallon and Kimmel. That’s why.

But, I’m not getting rich and the only place my picture is plastered is in the post office. So time to
delve into the whys and wherefores and open up that whole Pandora’s Box of psychopathology that makes me, uh, me. And that made me want to become a writer of crime fiction. But we won’t delve too deep. You never know what you might find down in the depths.

So, besides the riches and fame, what prompted me to write crime fiction: I write it so I can kill people...on the page that I can't kill in real life...........

Related to that is the desire to see justice served as it so often isn’t in real life. That said, in much of what I write there are no neat bow-tied endings. And even when parts of the stories are tied up other parts are left open-ended. Kind of like life. So, justice is often served on some level, but maybe not neatly and maybe not legal justice, but some kind of street justice. Unless it’s a totally noir tale where there truly might not be justice, at least not in terms of how we normally think of it.

Writing crime fiction also gives me a way to comment on things that I want to comment on. Also to explore different points of view about those things, via various characters, including those that might not necessarily jibe with my own thoughts. Kind of like when you did debates in school and you had to take the other side of the issue, whether you agreed with it or not.

And, as RM said in a post from a while back, “With crime fiction I get to write about people in trouble, not just criminals and victims, but the people who happen to be police officers as well.” It's so true, and crime fiction is about so much more than whodunit. It's about all the people affected by the crime. As such, it gives us a vehicle to explore the human condition (now that sounds pretty hifalutin) but in a structured story with a plot that keeps us interested (hopefully) and moving forward.

But ultimately I want to entertain. I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t want to beat on a dead Sturges, but the Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels makes the point very well about entertaining. It’s the story of a film director who makes movies like Ants in Your Plants of 1939. But he thinks it’s light and silly junk. He wants to make the ponderous message movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. But through his adventures he learns that what people really want is to laugh – and to be entertained.

Now, there’s not generally a lot of yucks in crime fiction, though there are some exceptions. But the best crime fiction is entertaining first. Sam Goldwyn famously might have said, if I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union. Which is not to say that crime writing can’t have a message, just to say that it shouldn’t hit you over the head. The best writing makes you think, but it doesn’t tell you what to think. A crime writer can illuminate aspects of society, good and bad, without being preachy or moralistic. My novel White Heat deals with race and racism in the form of a fast-paced, intense mystery thriller. And while I hope I make some points about those subjects, my first goal is to entertain. The sequel to White Heat, which may actually see the light of day one of these days, does the same thing about another pressing issue of life today – immigration.

And, of course, I enjoy reading crime fiction and watching crime-related movies. As I’ve stated here before, I’m a “movie guy,” and I came to a lot of crime fiction via the movies. Anyone who knows me knows I love film noir and in that genre there are few heroes, at least of the conventional variety. I’ve done a lot of different types of writing, mainstream, humorous/satire, screenplays of various genres. But crime writing/fiction and noir allow me to explore what good and evil are and where the boundaries between them are sometimes blurred.

So there you have it, now I can stuff the bats back into the belfry and close the lid to Pandora’s Box.

Why do you write crime fiction?


And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my website: www.PaulDMarks.com

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Why did you decide to become a writer and why a crime writer?" by Catriona

I wanted to be a writer my whole life, ever since my big sisters taught me to read and write, playing at schools when we were wee.

But it took me till I was thirty-five to take the plunge. Thing is I didn't know any writers, I'd never even met any writers and it was outside the scope of my dreams. (Does anyone else remember finding out that books didn't just exist, like rocks or rivers, but that someone had made them? I do.)

So I went to university to study English literature, and that might have been the springboard right there, right? Except the way English literature was studied sucked all the joy out of novels for me.  So I switched to linguistics, and fiction went back to being fun on the sidelines again.

After I graduated, I went to work in a library. Another near miss, because I was a long way from the fiction, working in the local history department. After two years of swithering between a postgraduate degree in library science and more linguistics, I plumped for linguistics and did a PhD.

There's a sort of a greased slope with steep sides, when you're doing a PhD. In your last year you apply for academic jobs along with everyone else. So I did. And I got one. It was in a school of English, forty literature scholars and four lonely linguists. Again, I was brushing up pretty close to a lo-ho-hot of fiction. And again I hated it more every day. That job, that place, sucked even more joy even more thoroughly out of even more kinds of literature. Novels, poetry and plays all started to feel grey and pointless.

One night, when I was moaning to my friend about how much I hated my job, she asked why I didn't do something else. I told her there was nothing else within reason I wanted to do. The only thing I really wanted to do was write fiction. There was a long silence as a big unspoken bubble of 'Duh' formed over us. The next day (in my memory, but then I make things up for a living) I resigned.

I sat down to write the first word of my first book on the first of January 2001 and have loved every day since, have never had a full day of undiluted regret.

Twenty-something books later, I don't regret the first thirty-five years. Not even the five years teaching at the University of Deathly Despond. The way I look at it now is the only way to get where I am is the way I came and there's nowhere I'd rather be.

And why crime fiction?  Come on!  It's all of the above plus a wit-pitting puzzle to boot. What's not to love?