Tag Archives: Sara Paretsky

Recommended Reading: Lee Child, Sara Paretsky

I recently plowed my way through a stack of books and am dismayed at the idea of posting a full review of each one… but they were all varying degrees of good, from pretty good to darn good to excellent.  So I’m just going to give you a mini-reviews and let you search further if you wish to do so.  (Who knows, that may be all you wanted in the first place!)

make meFirst up is Lee Child’s Make Me.  It’s classic Jack Reacherthe outsider rolls into town; encounters a plucky, pretty lady; uncovers a hornet’s nest of evil; vanquishes the foes, emerges victorious!  This time,  Reacher’s traveling cross country with no real deadline when he decides on a whim to get off the train at a rural crossroads called Mother’s Rest (the town!).  His goal: to figure out who the mother is and why she’s resting.  Little does he know that his big size and self-assured manner marks him.  He pairs up with a former FBI agent, now private detective, who’d come to Mother’s Rest to lend a hand to a colleague (the plucky, pretty lady!).  And in this outing, the evil-doers are truly unnervingly evil… and you won’t figure it out until Child wants you to, because there’s the first level of evil and then another level even more evil below it.  It’s no spoiler to let tell you that Reacher is, indeed, victorious.  Make Me‘s one of the best.

brush backAnd speaking of long-time favorites, Sara Paretsky is back with a new entry in her series about Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski – Brush Back.  I recently moved to Michigan after 20 years in the Chicago area, but Paretsky is a Chicago native who lives there still, and she writes about neighborhoods that I have never seen but accept wholeheartedly.  This time around, V.I. reluctantly agreed to help her high school boyfriend prove that his mother did not kill his sister – despite the fact that said mother served 25 years for the crime.  She’s out now and is just as unpleasant today as she was back then.  And worst of all, she’s blaming V.I.’s long-dead but beloved cousin and pro hockey player Boom-Boom Warshawski for her daughter’s death. Between neighborhood ties, the mob, and crooked politicians, V.I. is lucky to escape bloody, but unbroken and reveal the truth.

Homage to Sherlock Holmes

holmesAs you know, the Edgar nominees are out and I am eager to begin reading, reviewing, and ranking, but first I have a number of other books to address, Lunchbox-wise.

One that caught my eye in the New York Times book review section was In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.  This book of short stories is edited by Laurie King, who writes the Mary Russell series, and Leslie Klinger, a Holmes expert.

The stories are inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and were written by some mighty familiar names, including Sara Paretsky, Jeffrey Deaver, Denise Hamilton, John Lescroat, and Michael Connelly, among others.  Andrew Grant contributed “Dr. Watson’s Casebook,” a story told social media-style, including thumbs up and thumbs down, invitations to events, and chat rooms.  There’s a story told in graphic novel style, by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with illustrations by Chris Doherty and Adam Caldwell.  I will admit that neither of these two genre-benders were my favorite!

Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky

That honor goes to Sara Paretsky, whose twist on Holmes (in “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer”) pits the acknowledged expert against the even more clever American detective, Amelia Butterworth.  Holmes underestimates Miss Butterworth, who handily outsmarts him.  The Butterworth character was created by American crime novelist Anna Katherine Green ten years or so before Holmes made his appearance, so this clever pairing of dueling detectives works on two levels!

Sherlock Holmes is clearly enjoying a resurgence of popularity – I love both the  Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman and the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu versions on TV – and both casual and committed fans should enjoy this book!

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Lucy Liu as Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary

Lucy Liu is Dr. Watson and Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes in Elementary.

Printers Row Subscription: Yeah, I’m kind of a chump

I was all compliments when I noticed that the Chicago Tribune was beefing up its pages on books and literary happenings.  And then, look!  They’re doing live programs and podcasts.  This is kind of cool.  It’s not as good as the old days, when they had a separate book section, but it’s pretty neat.  Makes me glad I’m a subscriber.  Little did I know that they were just softening me up.

Building on the brand awareness of the Printers Row Lit Fest (which is fun, I admit, a literary extravaganza of authors, publishers, bookstores and readers), the Trib has launched the Printers Row Journal, a “weekly collection of smart and accessible literary reviews, fiction, author interviews and commentary” paired with some live and online events.  The print version comes out weekly and will be delivered with my Sunday Tribune.

Of course I subscribed. I’m a book nut, an early adopter, and have enough income that 99 bucks is no big deal.  (It’s only $99 since we subscribe to the newspaper, it’s $149 for anybody who doesn’t.)

In one way, it’s an awesome opportunity – a weekly print publication all about books, with a bit of a Chicago slant.  The Printers Row brand is a positive connection.  I like the publishing perspective, the columnists and the reviews.  AND it includes original short fiction – so few places to get that these days, and maybe I could even get a story published.  (A gal can dream).  So, good.

But looking at it another way, the publishers have carved out the people who care about books and are socking it to them, big-time.  It’s the splinter-ization of publishing.  Imagine if the Trib covered sports a little bit in the paper, but you had to pay more to get the Sunday sports section!  Movies.  Opinion pages.  The triumvirate of Tribune advice columnists (don’t you take my Dear Amy).  Or heaven forfend, the funnies!   So maybe I, and my ilk, are making it easier to marginalize readers.  We’re a buncha chumps.

Still, I ponied up.  The paper pinky-swears that it is NOT cutting coverage in the regular Tribune.  This is all add-on content.  And since Elizabeth Taylor, Chris Jones, Rick Kogan, and my personal fave, Julia Keller are all contributing, I just hope they are all being given a big salary bump or are being paid by the piece for the new endeavor.

You can learn more about the offer here.  The preview issue is available for your perusal online and it includes an article by my neighbor Elizabeth Berg, a piece featuring Sara Paretsky, an article about Nicole Hollander of Sylvia fame, reviews, and some original fiction.   In trying to get used to the navigation system, I find myself grateful that it’s not online-only.  There’s lots of add-ons to make participation more engaging, and the Tribune seems a little confused about whether this is publishing venture or a membership community – the sizzle is about the community, but when it comes time to sell the steak, it’s all about the publication.

One note of amusement:  the preview edition of the Printers Row Journal includes a link to Olive, the software platform on which the publication is delivered.  Unfortunately, the home page sales pitch for Olive says “turn your old news into new revenue,” which kind of undercuts the Trib‘s preferred brand position. Of course, I immediately began to think of the myriad of ways that my own employer could use Olive to good advantage… which is good for Olive, but I can’t see the benefit for the Tribune.

Lit Fest: D’Amato, Hellmann, Keller shine at Grace Place

Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago’s South Loop is an amazing place… beautiful, unusual architecture that leads to a feeling of community and contemplation.  In short, an amazing place for Lit Fest’s session where the Tribune’s Julia Keller interviewed Barbara D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann.  Of course, the photo here – from the church website – features more sacred use of that place!

Barbara D'Amato

Both Barb and Libby have been president of the national organization Sisters in Crime, founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to the clear preference among publishers, reviewers, and others for male authors.   The movement began with a letter from novelist Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America re: sex discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar Awards.  At that time, in 41 years, only seven women had received Edgars.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Asked by Keller about Sisters in Crime, the panelists shared that the organization still monitors reviews, reporting that a full 70% of books reviewed have a male author.  By pointing out the lack of balance directly to the reviewers, some progress had been made (60/40), but backsliding has definitely occurred.  SINC looks at published reviews, and everyone agreed that although these are highly visible and very important, the growth in reviews on the internet, through blogs, Amazon, and the like, has become a big factor in recent years, and this is more egalitarian.

I’m a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and support them both.  But it is interesting to see the trajectory of various authors, and there does seem to be a “pecking order” that places thrillers above police procedurals above cozies, for example.

But there’s no doubt Barb D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann are masters of the craft, and they shared some pearls with the audience, many of whom were aspiring authors:

  • Libby makes sure to put a clue in the first few pages; she likes to “play fair” with the readers and thinks that withholding all the clues until late in the book is not doing so.
  • Barb uses a couple of sheets from a legal pad to plot out all the “surprises” in the book… mostly “to keep them all from showing up in chapter 3.”
  • Both women have experienced “pauses” – it hasn’t all been success and roses.  Barb had two books published, then six fallow years.  Libby said her first book sold was actually the fourth book written.  She didn’t want to revisit, though she has cannibalized characters!
  • Although both Barb and Libby are almost constantly writing, they agree that “the book you’re not writing yet is the best one.”  Julia commented that Iris Murdoch said that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
  • What authors do these authors enjoy reading?  Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Marcus Sakey, Kent Krueger, Sean Chercover, Declan Hughes, and Dennis Lehane were all mentioned.

The conversation was very ably moderated by Julia Keller, who writes for the Tribune and is a published author herself, with two previous books and her first mystery coming out in the coming months.  She’s articulate and insightful, and listening to her in conversation is as pleasurable as reading her work in print.  

Hey, the Spellmans are coming to TV!

I spent almost four hours rewriting the current mystery today… so I feel that it is okay to go online and distract myself by posting this exciting news!

In this world of the truly bizarre, cranky-but-lovable Izzy Spellman* and her whacky family and various love interests are coming to TV.  Yes, the producer of the series House is planning to produce a DRAMA series based on the series penned by Lisa Lutz.  You can read about it in Variety.

In case you are not adequately alerted by my use of capital letters and a bold font, I am dismayed by the focus on drama.  How can this be?  Izzy is hilarious.  Her friends are hilarious.  Her family is hilarious.  And frankly, the mysteries, although mysterious, are never really very… dramatic.

So while I would love to see this work out and be an absolutely fabulous thing, I have my doubts.  Can it be done?  Lisa Lutz is said to be involved as a consultant, although other authors, I have heard say “Take the money and run.”  (I can only think of poor Sara Paretsky and what she must have thought of Kathleen Turner’s turn as the indomitable V.I. Warshawski.)

I am eagerly awaiting news as to who will play Izzy.  She is ditsy enough that Kathleen Heigl will be fighting for the chance to play her, but I envision a smarter actress.  Say, Reese Witherspoon.  Or even Ellen Page, if she could play a little older.

*you remember that Izzy always uses footnotes.  They’re often funny, well worth reading!