Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

Lethal Lineage is the second book of the Lottie Albright series by Charlotte Hinger. You don’t need to have read the first book to understand what’s going on in the small Kansas town where Lottie lives. This is a big plus, because I was introduced to the character with this book.

The first thing that impressed me was the sense of place. Hinger takes us into the vast Western Kansas plains and wraps us in the relentless wind that shapes her characters. Readers who have driven across Kansas can appreciate Lottie’s sister’s opinion of the drive and her husband’s remark about having heard all the jokes.

Lottie is a busy woman, working for the historical society, holding down a second part time job as county under-sheriff, and dealing with the problems of church, home, and family. Life gets complicated on all fronts when the minister drops dead during the first service at their tiny new Episcopalian church, St. Helena. The death sets us up with all the makings of a locked room mystery. Readers must untangle knots of family relationships and delve into grudges as old as the Kansas frontier before discovering what really happened at that fateful Sunday service.

One of the biggest problems with Lottie’s investigation is her prickly relationship with the sheriff of the adjacent county. She steps on his toes early and gets locked up in his jail overnight. From there, the relationship goes downhill.

Hinger is an historian and a talented writer. I was impressed with her firm grasp of the history and politics of Kansas. She also has a talent at creating complex characters. Mystery writing is a tricky art, and I felt that the red herring on which her plot turns left me twisting a little in the Kansas wind. This is a small flaw in an otherwise perfect gem of a book. I look forward to seeing more from Charlotte Hinger and encourage you to read her work.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Dandy Gliver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

I was introduced to Catriona McPherson’s novels last month when preparing for Bouchercon. Molly Weston, owner of Meritorious Mysteries, and moderator of the panel I was on, suggested that each panelist read one of the works by the others. Consider this your disclaimer. Now that I have met Catriona in person, I am delighted to number her among my friends. That said, let’s talk about her book.

McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series falls into the “cozy” mystery category on book store shelves. Judging by Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, the book is not an entirely comfortable fit in the cozy category.

The series is set in the 1920’s and mirrors the style of mystery’s golden age. Dandy is McPherson’s genteel lady sleuth. I have not read the other books in the series, but in this book her amateur detective goes under cover as a ladies’ maid to assist an acquaintance who fears her husband is planning to murder her. The plot becomes more complicated when the husband is murdered and Dandy must confront the possibility that her client, Mrs. Balfour, has brought her into the household as her alibi for the crime.

The book is a well plotted and well written puzzle mystery handled with a humorous hand. However, there are deeper layers to the story. Below stairs, Dandy is drawn into the world of the serving classes. She must watch the political upheaval of general strike that made her own class fear a European revolution similar to the one that had just occurred in Russia. Though the book does not bash us over the head with politics, the political climate of the time is too important to allow us to take the subject lightly. McPherson does an excellent job of balancing the details of a socially tense time with tongue in cheek humor and irrepressible wit.

What I found most interesting in this book was the fact that the more Dandy learns about the working class, the more she must examine her own values. I doubt that Mrs. Gilver will emerge from her encounter with the serving class unchanged. I look forward to seeing what sort of character growth shows up in the next book.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Weekend Writer: Bouchercon, Magna Cum Murder and More

In case you're wondering, no I haven't forgotten my blog. Life for a weekend writer gets crazy sometimes. These days, life is crazy most of the time. Maybe I'm just crazy...humm...I could see getting a lot of writing done while confined to a mental hospital.

Seriously, Sarah and I have a lot of events coming up and are busy preparing for all of them. We each have one panel at Bouchercon 2011, September 14-18 in St. Louis. Her panel is early in the event, and I do mean EARLY! From 8:30 to 9:30 AM on Thursday morning, she and her paranormal cohorts will be discussing the creepy side of writing. If you like things that send a chill along your spine, stop in for:

Making things go bump in the night.
Monette Draper (M), Dakota Banks, Angie Fox, Sarah Glenn, M.R. Sellars, Jason Starr

My panel is talking about that delicate balance between story and research. Which means that I need to do some research on my fellow panelist. By this time next week I hope to have finished reading at least one book by each of the other panel members. If you care about the details stop in and give a listen to us, 1:00 to 2:00 pm Friday afternoon.

Balancing research and the whodunit
Molly Weston (M), Charlotte Hinger, Gwen Mayo, Catriona McPherson, D.M. Pirrone, Carolyn Wall

As exciting as Bouchercon is, it isn't the only event on our schedules this fall. October 15 we will be heading across the Indiana border to visit THAT BOOK PLACE in Madison, Indiana. This is our first trip to this bookstore, but our friends Marian Allen and Stephen Zimmer speak highly of Frank and Kim Hall, who own and operate the store. We met Frank while attending the Harrodsburg Festival of Books and Art this past June and are looking forward to seeing him again.

October 22 is a hometown event. Sarah and I will be attending a Halloween event here in Lexington. It was originally named A Day of Mystical Blood Lust: Vampyres versus Lycans, but now that it has been moved to a college campus they've toned down the name to "A Halloween Event by Mystical Events" to keep National College happy. Since Sarah and I both signed the contracts for the new Halloween Horror anthology from Pill Hill Press, we should have that to promote along with our novels and existing short stories.

October 28-30 we will be heading back to Indiana to attend Magna cum Murder. Sarah is really excited about this one because Parnell Hall is the Guest of Honor. Magna is put on by Ball State University. The event is always great and I am looking forward to participating again this year. Look for updates on this one as we get our panel assignments.

Once we get back from Ball State, we will be kicking into high gear getting ready for the Kentucky Book Fair. I don't have a new novel this year, but Sarah does and we are really looking forward to showing it off in Frankfort. The Kentucky Book Fair is an awesome annual event for Kentucky authors. I can't wait to see old friends again this year.

As you can see, we weekend writers are spending a lot of weekends on the other side of the writer's life. Promotion, meeting fans, talking about books, and learning from other authors is almost as essential to writing success as producing a good book. But, as you can see from this post, it is a time demanding task. Writing and promoting don't go hand in hand. Instead, each pulls in different directions. I have seen many good writers give up the business because promotion took too much time and energy. I am not likely to do that because I really enjoy meeting and talking to people who love books. That doesn't mean it is easy for me.

There are times that I am discouraged. It is hard to finish a full day at the office, then go home and try to write. Sometimes, I use the evenings to work on blog posts or do research. Sometimes, when I am not pushing up against a deadline, I just kick back on the couch and rest.

When words flow from my brain, when the manuscript is coming together, when the story is working and I know what to write next, being a weekend writer doesn't seem hard at all. Those are rare times, but they are the times that make it worthwhile to keep tapping away at my keyboard.

I feel the same way about promoting. When I am on a panel discussing my work with others, when a fan comes up with my book to be signed, when a review is good, or someone stops to tell me how much they liked my book, I am ready to keep writing forever.