Tag Archives: Laura Lippman

Stat monkeys astound me

KBIt’s January 1, 2013, and the stat monkeys at WordPress have issued my blog’s annual report.  Literary Lunchbox has grown exponentially this year, to my delight and astonishment.  The nitty-gritty details are fascinating to me, “meh” to you, so here are just a few highlights.

I’ve had over 22,000 page views in 2012.  The busiest day of the year was October 9, for no discernible reason whatsoever.  My post for that day featured Breakfast Club actress Molly Ringwald and called her book “better than expected.”

My reviews of the Harry Potter book and movies have attracted the largest number of visitors, followed by MWA Edgar nominee reviews/rankings.  Edgar smack-downs, if you will.  Posts about Laura Lippman, Christa Faust, Carol O’Connell and Libby Fischer Hellmann all generated lots of visits to my blog, as well.  (Thank you, ladies!)

How are they finding me?  Tons through Google.  Google UK, Google France, even.  Facebook and Goodreads also account for a good number of visitors, as does She Writes.  Linked In, not so much.  Pinterest is making headway, considering that I just started using it for this purpose!   I have a couple of dozen followers – people who have signed up to get my blog via RSS feed.  Some of them are even people I don’t know personally.  I’m grateful to all.

Whence came they?  Mostly from the United States, but 135 countries in total were represented, and the U.K. and Canada were pretty big.

Is the conversation two-way?  Um, not so much.  I don’t get a lot of comments, and when I do get one, it really gives me a thrill.  Even when they’re nakedly plugging own web site.  As in “Great post, Karen, you might be interested in my thoughts on a similar topic, nude sumo wrestling!  Just click here.”  Because I tend to respond positively to comments, I am my own #1 commenter.  Sad, really.

What’s ahead for 2013?  I’m giving some thought to a second blog… not that this one doesn’t suck up a lot of time and energy!  Topic?  Business, organizational behavior, marketing, consumer behavior, etc.   Still pondering, though.

So to all Literary Lunchbox visitors, thanks so much for your interest and support this year!  The community of readers is a wonderful one and I’m proud and happy to be a part of your community.  Happy 2013!

new year

Evil lives at Bouchercon

Two of my three Friday Bouchercon panels featured evil, and I couldn’t have been happier.  Keeping to my commitment of three panels a day, evil was supplemented  with writing, a blog post, and even a visit to the fitness center (yay, me!).

First panel up, Evil Going On, was a hit.  Does evil truly exist?  Panelists were divided and the conversation was hot.  The moderator was the very erudite Reed Farrel Coleman, with panelists including John Connolly, Thomas H. Cook, Peter James, Laura Lippman, and Daniel Woodrell.  I was jazzed for the topic and also for hearing so many of my favorites.  Some key thoughts:

  1. There are two schools of thought about evil: nature (person is born irretrievably flawed and does evil things) vs. nurture (bad things done to child twist him, now he does evil things).
  2. The motivation for evil is often selfishness.  Rationalization plays its part.
  3. There is a trend today toward complicated protagonists, who may do wrong in order to achieve justice.
  4. Addressing the evil of man in a book is one thing – addressing it in real life, when there is risk and danger, is another.

The “evil” trend continued with the Dark Angel panel, where Chris Holm, Bill Cameron, Blake Crouch, Leighton Gage, Theresa Schwegel and Michael Wiley discussed morally challenged heroes.   Ideas generated:

  1. Noir heroes tend to be morally challenged.
  2. A corrupt setting leads to a hero who has to bend the rules but still seeks justice.
  3. Heroes can be moral in one way – the good cop – and immoral in another way – having an affair.
  4. Immoral?  Amoral?  Or moral ambiguity?  Discuss.

The final panel of the day was perhaps the least directly instructive – no notes on ideas of things to do – but the most fun.  It was moderated by the witty and endearing Joseph Finder with a panel of articulate and passionate women, including Laurie R. King, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid and S.J. Rozan.

Absolutely the most fun hour I’ve spent at Bouchercon, and included anecdotes related to a smack-down between Val and Ian Rankin, Laura Lippman’s husband’s work on the TV show Treme, S.J. Rozan’s dream basketball team, and Laurie King’s endeavor to let Holmes age, but never die.  Photo here is Val McDermid, who is fun and witty, and everything she says sounds even better because of her rich Scottish accent.  I looked for a photo of her wearing devil/angel garb.  No go.

I got to ask the question “What new authors are you reading now that you would recommend?”  Here’s the list.  Go buy some books.

  1. Gillian Flynn
  2. Megan Abbott
  3. Lisa Lutz
  4. Sarah Grand
  5. Lindsay Faye
  6. M.J. McGrath
  7. Stuart Neville
  8. Taylor Stevens
  9. Nathan Larson

Lunchbox offbase on Edgar picks this year

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the Edgar Award winners!  And unlike last year, where my taste totally reflected the taste of the judges… we are not in synch.  In fact, 180 degrees difference.

I picked Tana French’s Faithful Place for Best Novel.  MWA picked Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist.   I placed this one… dead last in the running.  Augh.  A revisit of my review reveals that I still agree with my comments.   Hamilton is a great author – I’ve loved his previous series – and The Lock Artist was very creative and a fun read, but I didn’t find it to be my preference.

Similarly, for Best First Novel, my pick was Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston.  MWA’s choice: Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva.  Again, this book was at the bottom of my list.  I looked back over my review.  Yep, still agree with it.  The book has sheer verve going for it, but it’s not as edgy as I prefer.

Bottom line:  If you haven’t read all the nominees, do so!  They’re all excellent and well worth your time.  You can’t go wrong with the established authors nominated for Best Novel, including Tana French, Harlen Coben, Tom Franklin, Timothy Hallinan and Laura Lippman.

For the debut novels, you may find that Rogue Island is your favorite, or perhaps the humor and quirky characterizations of David Gordon’s The Serialist will float your boat.  All five nominees are an opportunity to expand your “must read” list.

My final take on being so wrong?  No biggie.  It’s like the Oscars.  “Predict the Oscars” contests reward those critics who are best are predicting what nominees will be selected by the Oscar voters.  I am more like the critics who pen “who should win” columns.  But even with that perspective, this undertaking is all very subjective! Still, it’s terrifically fun, so 2012 will find me doing the same thing.  Maybe I’ll even go to the ceremony!

Edgar Rankings: Who the heck is Poke Rafferty?

I had never read anything by Timothy Hallinan prior to my instantaneous purchase-by-Kindle of the Edgar-nominated The Queen of Patpong.  With nothing to hold in my hand – no blurb on the back of the book, no book jacket bio – I plunged into the the underbelly of Bangkok.  Bar girls, tough guys, and plenty of bought-and-sold.  In the first chapter, a predatory American circles and pulls in a 16-year-old bar girl, only to be stopped by a corrupt Thai policeman who is ready to let the girl go to certain torture and death – for a price.  Between the two of them, they scare the cr*p out of the girl, who takes off in a big hurry for the farm she left behind.  In the final paragraphs, it becomes obvious that the policeman and the tall American are in cahoots, with the goal of saving the girl.  And that was it.  I was hooked.

It turns out that this is the fourth Poke Rafferty novel, Poke being the tall American and Arthit his policeman friend.  Poke’s evidently a travel writer, although we don’t see much traveling or much writing in this book.  He’s married to a former bar girl, Rose, and they’ve adopted a 13-year-old named Miaow (but she wants to go by Mia).  Life gets exciting and scary when a man from Rose’s past – a seductive mercenary who has left a trail of murdered young women behind him – finds her again.  Fortunately, he’s the kind of sociopath who likes to play with his prey, because if he had just gone for the kill right off the bat, the book would have been maybe 50 pages long.

If you’re noticing, this is the fourth book out of the six nominated that hinges on action from the past.  If the trend continues and we end up six-for-six, that’ll really be something unusual.

For sheer engagement, The Queen of Patpong is tops.  The reader sees the love between Poke and Rose, the family the three of them have made together, and their friendship with Arthit.  The backstory is well-told and is doled out over time, ratcheting up the suspense.  By the time I was reading about Rose’s encounter with Howard Horner on the rocks – he has plans to kill her, but she outwits him – I couldn’t read fast enough.   It reminded me Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 – you know the astronauts survive, but you’re on the edge of your seat anyway.

Also good about the book – the bad guys were not just believable, but real, and the meta-message – that the U.S. government would protect black ops mercenaries who killed civilians for fun – was chilling, but in today’s world, also believable.

The downside to The Queen of Patpong is pretty minor:  if you haven’t read about these characters before, it takes a little catching up.   The world of Bangkok is not readily familiar, so that takes a little catching up, too.

This is quite a different novel, some mystery but mostly thriller, and Rose fills the pages.   It’s a tough call, but it doesn’t quite edge out Laura Lippman’s book, although it’s definitely ahead of Harlan Coben’s Caught.   I “amazoned” Hallinan, and I see he has quite a backlist… guess I know what I’ll be reading when the Edgar countdown is over!

Lunchbox rankings for Best Novel:

  1. I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman
  2. The Queen of Patpong – Timothy Hallinan
  3. Caught – Harlan Coben
  4. The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton

Reading the Edgar Nominees on Kindle. In Hawaii.

Faithful reader, I am in Hawaii right now.  Do not hate me, despite the daily 80-degree, sunshine-filled days at the Royal Hawaiian (a pricey but worth-it splurge).  I “paid” for this time  with a little work for the ADA and the new dentists in Hawaii.  (Six hours with enthusiastic young people.  It’s awful.)  With the exorbitant fees for checking baggage, I decided the way to get in my goal of reading all the Edgar nominees for Best Novel by making heavy use of my Kindle.

Now, even though I’m not a technophobe, I am a fairly late adopter.  I also learn better if I’m shown something – reading the manual doesn’t really do it for me.  As a result, while the Kindle has all kinds of bells and whistles, I don’t use them. After reading five of the six nominees for the MWA 2011 Edgar award for Best Novel, I can tell you… this is a mistake.   So for the sixth – Laura Lippman’s excellent I’d Know You Anywhere I got my husband to show me a couple of things.  Much better!

In my previous review of the book, I gave it a big thumbs up.  On rereading, there is no reason to change my mind.  I’d Know You Anywhere is well-written.  The characters are fully three-dimensional, and although far from idealized, are dearer, and more heart-wrenching, because of it.  Lippman is particularly skilled with point of view – I was struck by her retelling the scene where 15-year-old Elizabeth Lerner meets her captor, Walter Bowman.  Elizabeth is seeking a shortcut to a fast-food hangout, but the stream she planned to cross is higher than she expected.

Then she saw a man on the other side, leaning on a shovel.  “It’s not so swift you can’t wade through,” he said.  “I done it.”  He looked to be college age, although something told Elizabeth that he wasn’t in college.  Not just his grammar, but his clothes, the trucker’s hat pulled low on his forehead.  “Just go up there, to where that fallen tree is.  The water won’t go above your shins, I swear.”  Elizabeth did, taking off her boots and tucking them beneath her armpits, so they were like two little wings sticking out of her back… And the man was nice, waiting to help her scramble up the banks on the other side, taking hold of wrists.  He wasn’t that much taller than she was, maybe five seven to her five three, and his build, while muscled, was slight.  He was almost handsome, really… His T-shirt showed sweat stains at the armpits and the neckline, a drop of perspiration dangled from his nose. “Thank you,” she said.   He didn’t let go.

From Walter’s perspective.  He has just raped and killed another teenage girl:

She should be flattered, this girl who no one else had claimed, that a man, a nice-looking man, wanted her.  A man who would please her, if she would allow herself to be pleased.  “Are you going to tell?” he asked.  She said she wouldn’t, and he wished he could believe her.  He didn’t, though.  So he did what he had to do.  He was tamping down the hole he dug when he saw the other girl coming.  How much had she seen?  Anything, everything?  He thought fast, told her how to cross the stream.  He held his hands out to her, and she didn’t hesitate.  Her hands felt cool and smooth against his, which were burning with the new calluses from the digging.

The story travels back and forth in time, between the 15-year-old Elizabeth and her twenty years older self, Eliza, who suddenly receives a letter from Walter.  He claims to want to talk with her, to apologize, perhaps even to tell her what other girls he abducted and where they are buried.   He presumes on their 39 days together, as if they had a special friendship, and wants to play on her guilt to get her to recant her testimony in hopes of escaping his coming execution.  What guilt, you might wonder?  The guilt that comes from being “the girl that lived.”

As with last year’s Edgars, I’ll be reviewing and ranking the nominees.  Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, so far, is the one to beat!

I agree with Steve.

Stephen King named Laura Lippman‘s I’d Know You Anywhere as one of his top ten books of 2010.   I’m a little late in entering the blogosphere on Laura’s behalf, but I found the book acutely mesmerizing.   So when I read King’s Entertainment Weekly column naming the book “the best suspense novel of the year,” I said, “Yes!”

Laura Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan series, starting with her debut mystery, Baltimore Blues.  Tess is a former newspaper reporter-turned-PI, and each book in the series is solidly entertaining.

But I’ve enjoyed Laura’s standalone books even more, and I’d Know You Anywhere is clearly in contention for an Edgar this time up.  (Sure enough, it’s on the list.  Click here to see the competition.)

Haven’t heard the buzz for some reason?  Not to give away too much (no spoilers!), protagonist Eliza Benedict is settled and happy, a young mother with two bright kids and a successful husband.  But she’s a woman with an unfortunate past…at the age of 15, she was kidnapped and held for weeks by a serial killer. With an execution date looming, the kidnapper is bent on convincing Eliza to admit the truth.  But what is the truth?  You’ll know – and be satisfied with the outcome – at the end.  But it’s a twisty, fascinating read every page of the way.  If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift, head for Borders.  You can get the book gift-wrapped by the Boy Scouts while you’re there.