Let’s say it right upfront: There are no spiders in this book. The spider’s house of the title is a fevered mind, clotted with the sticky, increasingly poisonous residue of obsession. But whose mind is it? Does it belong to novelist Anna Howell, who has moved with her husband to this postcard-pretty English town? Does it belong to the notorious – if long-ago – murderess, who appears to have some frightening connection to the Howells’ new house? Or does it belong to someone else entirely, someone perhaps who is watching Anna, who knows the house’s history, and who is just waiting for the right, the perfect moment to….act?
In the Spider’s House all but defines the term “psychological suspense.” Publisher’s Weekly called it an “atmospheric, mordant study of compulsive behavior.” Much though we love their use of “mordant” (c’mon, when was the last time you saw “mordant” in print?), we’d just call it a terrific, twisty read. We are delighted to introduce author Sarah Diamond, in her U.S. debut – so delighted that we’re offering In the Spider’s House at a 25% discount.
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.)
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.
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!
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:
Here at Felony & Mayhem, we’re all about love. Passionate love, enduring love, the love of fantasy, of glorious dreams. And when better to celebrate the mystery of love than (slightly past) Valentine’s Day? One week only, 50% off Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal (hint: not exactly a romantic story). Discover why author Karin Alvtegen has been dubbed Sweden’s “Queen of Crime.”
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.” …
Time magazine ran an interesting series of articles marking the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, and the one I found most interesting began with the claim that every era gets the conspiracy theory it deserves. Similarly, it’s probably fair to say that every era gets the sort of mystery it deserves, or that suits it best: Think how cozy puzzle-mysteries must have helped distract and soothe a population wracked with anxieties over the social upheavals following World War I, or how the double-dipped cynicism of classic noir fiction spoke to readers racketing from the horrors of World War II to the Technicolor prosperity of the post-war years.
Our preferred protagonists change as well. You’d have a hard time these days selling even one novel about an independently wealthy aristocrat who solves crimes as an intellectual exercise, but Lord Hoo-Ha and the Honorable Whatsit were all the rage in the early 20th century. The loner with a chip on his shoulder, an alcohol problem and a secret sorrow may appear to be a more enduring type, but in truth he’s changed so much that – with some exceptions – I don’t know that Mr. Chandler would recognize him any more. And the same scenario holds true for the ladies. The damsel in distress was once the most popular girl protagonist: Her sole aim was to escape from the baddies’ intent on doing her in. But over time, she developed a desire not just to evade the baddies, but to hit them where they lived. And this desire was accompanied by the ability to throw her own punches, thank you very much.
All of which leads me to Skeleton Key, the first mystery we’re publishing by the estimable Lenore Glen Offord, who wrote several novels, eight of them mysteries, in the 1940s and 50s. (In her spare time, she served as the mystery reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle…for more than 30 years.) What interested me about the books, from the first one I picked up, was the combo of somewhat old-fashioned puzzle-based storytelling and a heroine – war-widow Georgine Wyeth, in Skeleton Key – who feels astonishingly modern. I had many go-rounds with the artist who designed the book’s (ultimately wonderful) cover; I didn’t think he was capturing the look of a woman of 1943. But the truth is, whenever I think of Georgine, the image that comes to my mind is of “Charlie” girl Shelley Hack, striding across the TV screen in a perfect evocation of 1970s-style women’s-lib independence. Georgine doesn’t have a man in her life, and she doesn’t need one: She’s supporting herself and her young daughter just fine. And when the time comes to strap on a sleuthing-hat, she handles that as well. Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing remotely man-hating about either Georgine or Offord’s books in general. But they serve as a dandy reminder that the 1970s did not invent empowered women.
We were so intrigued by that juxtaposition – gutsy babe + old-school clues and puzzles – that we commissioned Sarah Weinman, who has written knowledgeably about the evolution of women in mystery fiction, to write a foreword for Skeleton Key. I don’t mean to suggest that the book is any kind of academic exercise; it’s all about a swell read. But to my mind, thinking about Georgine in the context of the (fictional) women who both preceded her and came after only adds to the enjoyment. We hope you’ll agree, and we’d love to hear from you. In fact, we’d love it so much that right now Skeleton Key is selling for a bony (bonny?) 50% off!