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Ben Winters interview


Last fall we talked to Ben Winters, author of the “Last Policeman” trilogy of mysteries set in a near future in which the end of civilization is near, courtesy of an asteroid set to collide with earth. In the midst of the chaos the ensues, the hero of the trilogy, Henry Palace, a newly promoted detective, somehow continues to do his job, solving cases even as the world falls apart around him. Henry is a quietly determined, profoundly decent young man, the sort of person you would want around as the apocalypse approaches. Last summer Julia read through the entire trilogy at speed and, having enjoyed the books, interviewed the author via Skype. Below is that interview, split into two parts. Winters is up for an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original tonight, for the last novel in the trilogy, World of Trouble; we wish him the best of luck.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Ngaio Marsh in her voice

Marsh as Hamlet web optimized

A while back we talked to Sarah Rayne about her choice of the early 20th century as a favorite time period to set her novels in. It was the voice, she said: Because recordings from that time exist, we know what people sounded like back then in a way that we don’t with, say, the Victorians. There is indeed something charming about hearing what a person sounds like. True, Ngaio Marsh was turning out “Inspector Alleyn” mysteries into the early 1980s, and is thus much more of a contemporary than one imagines at first given her association with the Golden Age of mystery. Even so, hearing her voice in a scratchy, casual recording not intended for publication is an experience of both historical distance and intimacy. In other words, we think it’s pretty cool to listen to Marsh’s voice. Here, for example, is a collection of audio bits and pieces from Radio New Zealand. And here is Ngaio Marsh describing how rain and boredom led to her writing A Man Lay Dead, from Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

That photo, by the way, is Ngaio Marsh as Hamlet, taken by William Baverstock (courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).

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Left Coast Crime Video Interviews, Part 3


As I put up this post, the third part of a series of brief interviews with mystery readers and writers recorded at the 2014 Left Coast Crime mystery convention, I am actually in Portland, OR attending the 2015 LCC. It has been a special delight to run into some of the same people again and play the videos for them. (See also the first and second parts of the interview compilation.)

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Left Coast Crime Video Interviews, Part 2


Here is the second of our 2014 Left Coast Crime attendee interviews (see the first part here). Having done this now at two conventions, Julia’s favorite question to ask is “If you were ever in trouble, which fictional detective would you call?” The two most often given answers are Sherlock Holmes (for his problem solving skills) and Jack Reacher (for his punch-throwing skills), but other sleuths have also made an appearance on grounds of competence, sexiness, kindness, or just the sense one has that they might be fun to hang out with in times of trouble. Lots more answers to this particular question in our Bouchercon 2013 video interviews and, as always, we would love to hear your answer.

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Left Coast Crime Video Interviews, Part 1


It took us a year to put up these videos, but here finally is a compilation of the interviews we recorded at the 2014 Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Monterey, CA. We asked attendees three questions:

    “What got you hooked on mystery fiction?”
    “What annoys you in a mystery novel?”
    “If you were ever in trouble, which fictional detective would you call?”

We edited your answers into three short videos, each featuring 4-5 participants’ answers. Below is the first one of these, with the other two to follow Thursday and Friday. We shot these in black and white by happy accident then, pleased with the look, decided we were going to think of it as an homage to classic film noir. We talked to quite a few more people, but for various technical reasons we couldn’t include everyone’s answers. To everyone who talked to us: Thank you so much! To everyone going to Portland this week for Left Coast Crime 2015: We will be there with a camera!

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The Nevermore Song


The Nevermore Awards were a parody awards show presented every year at celebrated (and deeply missed) Greenwich Village mystery bookstore Partners & Crime. There were a number of songs written for the events, and we recently had the idea of recording some of these, starting with the song below. So we gathered up a bunch of friends in Maggie’s apartment and did just that. Actually, we recorded two versions: a 60 second one for the FedEx Small Business Grant competition (and hey, you can vote for us there every day until March 17!), and a complete and unabridged version for posterity. Here, to the tune of “My Favorite Things,” is “The Nevermore Song,” a celebration of the mystery genre:

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Excerpt from Sarah Weinman’s Introduction to Skeleton Key


Lenore Glen Offord was new to me until quite recently. But once I delved into her not very large body of work – twelve novels between 1938 and 1959, eight of them mysteries – I discovered a writer of utterly delightful tales that mixed a strong sense of fair play, a wry wit, and a shrewd sense of domestic relationships that were, for their time, quite innovative, even subversive. How near-modern to trip across a mystery with a blended family in the making, where the murder-solving gets equal time with mother-daughter bonding. Here is crime fiction without airs, thunderous moralizing, or ponderous prose. The touch is light, even sprightly. It’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Offord herself wore multiple hats, as a novelist, a literary critic, a passionate theatergoer, and a mother.

Lenora Frances Glen was born on October 24, 1905 in Spokane, Washington to Katherine and Robert Glen, the latter a longtime newspaper editor in the city. She lived on the West Coast for her entire life, making ample use of Pacific Northwest and California settings in her fiction. She moved to Oakland, California for college, received a B.A. (cum laude) from Mills College in 1927, and after marrying Harold Offord in 1929, migrated to Berkeley, CA, ostensibly for graduate work at the city’s University of California outpost. They remained in and around Berkeley for nearly sixty years, with Offord giving birth to a daughter, Judith, in 1943.

For a time the Offords lived in the San Francisco neighborhood of Russian Hill, which provided the setting and title of her first novel, Murder on Russian Hill. That book introduced Coco Hastings, a voracious reader of mystery novels who, with her antiquarian husband Bill, gets embroiled in an actual murder in her own proverbial backyard. The pair returned for their second and final engagement in Clues to Burn (1942).

In between Offord ventured into more mainstream territory with Cloth of Silver (1939), about a girl reporter at a local newspaper contemplating love and marriage (she dedicated the book to her father: “To Pops, who told me so”); Angels Unaware (1940), a family drama where the arrival of unexpected guests exposes long-dormant fault lines; and the standalone thriller The Nine Dark Hours (1941) more in the classic domestic suspense mode of an ordinary young woman caught up in increasingly sinister events. (Offord’s superior standalone thriller, My True Love Lies, set in the San Francisco art world, was published in 1947.) Yet mystery/suspense was always Offord’s favorite genre, as she explained in a 1949 interview with the Oakland Tribune. “It is the first, and sometimes forgotten commandment for any novelist that he have a story to tell…I think [mystery novels] are sound discipline for the writer.”

With Skeleton Key, published in 1943 by Duell, Sloan & Pearce, Offord mixed a smart, curious heroine, her own insider’s knowledge of California, and a deft hand with the foibles of domestic conflict – and fashioned the start of her most artistically successful works. Skeleton Key introduces Georgine Wyeth, a twenty-seven-year-old widow, with a small child, whose personality emerges, fully-formed, in a descriptive paragraph early on in the novel: “one glance…left you with no more than a vaguely pleasant impression. A second proved unexpectedly rewarding; those who troubled to take it saw her eyes and thought ‘lonely,’ her mouth, and thought ‘sweet’; and then this increasingly sentimental gaze, having reached her chin, was brought up with a round turn. The set and tilt of the jaw spoke of stubbornness and humor, and more than hinted at a peppery though short-lived temper.” …

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British v. American: A Ngaio Marsh Dilemma


Publishing mysteries which have already been out in multiple editions often puts us in the position of having to choose between text variances, especially for books, like those in Ngaio Marsh’s “Inspector Alleyn” series, which have been published in both British and American editions. Here is an example: In Ngaio Marsh’s Clutch of Constables (the “Constable” in question being not the policeman you might expect in a mystery novel, but British painter John Constable), Agatha Troy, Inspector Alleyn’s painter wife says:

‘For pity’s sake,’ Troy said, ‘don’t take my word for anything. I’m not an expert. I can’t tell, for instance, how old the actual canvas may be though I do know it’s not contemporary and I do know it’s the way he signed his major works. “John Constable. R.A.f” and the date, 1830, which, I think, was soon after he became an R.A.”

In the British edition, the paragraph continues with Troy’s thoughts on whether the painting under discussion is a copy of an original Constable. The American edition, however, has one of Troy’s interlocutors, an American tourist, interrupt Troy with a question about the significance of the “R.A.f.,” adding a bit of dialogue, including a joke at the expense of the Americans (and how lucky that that most hapless of Brit fiction characters, the American tourist, happened to be present!):

“R.A.?” asked Miss Hewson.
“Royal Academician.”
“Hear that, Earl? What’s the ‘f’ signify, Mrs. Alleyn?”
There was a considerable pause.
Fake it!” Miss Hewson said in a strangulated voice. “Did you say ‘fake?’”
Dr. Natouche made a curious little sound in his throat. Mr. Lazenby seemed to choke back some furious ejaculation. Troy, with Caley’s devilish eye upon her, explained. There was a further silence.

Clearly this was written by Ngaio Marsh, probably at the request of American editors who assumed that their audiences wouldn’t know, offhand, what “R.A.f.” stood for (and they couldn’t google it either, in 1969). We had to decide which variant to use and, when it turned out that the staff of Felony & Mayhem, including our Anglophile publisher, were as ignorant of the significance of the Constable signature as poor Miss Hewson, we decided to go with the Little, Brown edition.

Tell us, dear reader, did you know what Troy meant? And would you have gone American, or British?

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