Sunday, April 29, 2012

Agatha Awards and Big Daddy Title

Congratulations to all the fine authors nominated for a 2012 Agatha Award. The winners were announced at Malice Domestic's 24th annual Agatha Awards Banquet on April 28th, 2012 and are listed below.

Best Novel: Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)

Best First Novel: Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown)

Best Non-fiction: Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and   Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz (Linden)

Best Short Story: "Disarming" (PDF) by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - June 2011

Best Children's/Young Adult: The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein (Random House)

Best Historical Novel: Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)

Two weeks prior to Malice Domestic's banquet, a very different type of award ceremony occurred at the Malaga Inn in Mobile, Alabama. Home to Carolyn Haines' Daddy's Girls' Weekend, the ghost-haunted Malaga witnessed fast and furious campaigning by three men vying for the title of "Big Daddy" of 2012.

Anton Strout, author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series, fought bravely for the title, but his Yankee accent marked him as a carpetbagger in this decidedly Southern town. Dean James, who as Miranda James writes the "Cat in the Stack" mysteries, worked equally hard to retain his 2011 "Big Daddy" title. The competition was stiff, and bribery abounded as both men sought votes from the dozens of Daddy's Girls who'd flocked to Mobile to enjoy Carolyn's company for the weekend.

In the end, neither Strout nor James could tally the number of votes given to the ultimate winner, esteemed scholar and Southern gentleman John Hafner. Dressed in his seersucker suit, the distinguished professor of English literature wowed the ladies with his innate charm and Hemingway-like good looks. The booze flowed freely on Saturday evening as hostess Carolyn Haines crowned Hafner official "Big Daddy" amid the cheers of an adoring crowd.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention all the other fun activities that took place during this year's Daddy's Girls' Weekend. Presentations by Haines, James, Strout, and T.R. Pearson filled the daytime hours on Friday and Saturday. Most memorable for me was a presentation by playwright and author Sarah Bewley on "Story vs. Plot". Bewley's insight on the difference between the two and the importance of both in creating a successful novel left me with much to consider re my own writing.

And of course it was a pleasure participating on the "E-books and E-publishing" panel with (left to right) Berkley editor Michelle Vega, authors Dean James and Anton Strout, publisher Ben LeRoy, author Carolyn Haines, literary agent Marian Young, and author Jeannie Holmes. (I'm in the center in the blue shirt.) While the audience as a whole favored the feel of an actual print book, approximately 50% of the crowd said they owned some form of E-reader and used it regularly.

Malice Domestic is a great mystery con for fans who enjoy the genre and can afford Washington prices. For a more intimate, less pricey, and equally fun time where authors and fans rub elbows all weekend long, it's hard to beat an event like Carolyn Haines' Daddy's Girls' Weekend. I hope to see you there next year!


Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Reviews

Here are two reviews of recently released books, the first review by me and the second by Carl Brookins. I hope you enjoy them.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley
ISBN 978038534401
a 2011 release from Delacorte Press
293 pages, hardcover
Reviewed by Mary V. Welk

10-year-old amateur sleuth and scientist Flavia de Luce is back in this highly enjoyable holiday mystery by Alan Bradley. First met in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia once again pits her investigative skills against those of Inspector Hewitt of the Hinley Constabulary when death invades Buckshaw Manor during a late December road-closing snowstorm.

Director Val Lampman is filming a movie at Buckshaw, bringing with him screen diva Phyllis Wyvern and leading man Desmond Duncan. Persuaded by Denwyn Richardson, the local vicar, to stage a brief appearance for the locals in aid of the Church Roofing Fund, Wyvern and Duncan act out a scene from Romeo and Juliet in Buckshaw’s massive foyer. Half the town is in attendance for this rare event, and that same half end up stranded at Buckshaw when waist-high snowdrifts encircle the manor during a raging blizzard.

Forced to camp out on the foyer floor, dozens of Flavia’s neighbors sleep through the cold winter night without thought of further danger. But Flavia remains up and about, and that’s why she’s the one who discovers the dead body in the bedroom.

I enjoyed this book because of the characters in it. Flavia and her teenage sisters Daffy and Feely are uniquely British 1950’s girls raised in an small village by their rather distant father, their mother having died while mountain climbing when Flavia was a toddler. They have more or less raised themselves, and it shows in the way they speak to and act towards each other. Flavia is convinced her sisters hate her, so she’s always either imagining ways to irritate them or actually mixing various chemicals in her attic lab with which to cause them rashes, welts, or other unpleasant physical problems.

Some readers may be horrified by Flavia’s fascination with poisons; I consider this to be more the result of her loneliness than an unnatural obsession. She’s smart to the point of being precocious, but still very much a child and in most ways innocently naïve. Her naiveté shows in this story when she decides that the only way to know if Santa Claus really exists is to trap him on Christmas Eve as he climbs down the chimney. To do this, she concocts a sticky substance called birdlime in her lab and uses it to coat the multiple chimneys serving Buckshaw.

I can’t say the author plays fair with his clues; it’s almost impossible for the reader guess the culprit in this whodunnit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and believe most readers will also.

Murder Unscripted
by Clive Rosengren
ISBN: 9781935797197
a 2012 release from
Perfect Crime Books
111 pages, Trade Paper

Eddie Collins is a sometime Hollywood actor and a part-time investigator. He’s cast in the old style; a loner, divorced, he views the world through plain, cracked lenses. Nothing rose-colored here. He’s an authentic character, one you’d be likely to encounter on Sunset Boulevard. If you made the connection and bought him a drink, Eddie might tell you a story. Like this one.

When the scene opens, Eddie Collins is costumed as a cowboy, perched on a fake rock, chewing on yet another piece of chicken. He’s doing a TV commercial for an enterprise called Chubby’s Chicken. A telephone call to his office sends him, on behalf of his client, a bonding company, to the set of a murder. It turns out the deceased actress is Eddie’s former wife.

The novel benefits hugely from the author’s background. He’s a former theater, film and television actor who has appeared in numerous theatrical films and television dramas. Rosengren uses his considerable experience to infuse the novel with authenticity, but he never slides into the bitterness or the whining of too many journey-actors who made a living but never reached starring level. Eddie Collins has come to terms with his career and that’s why he’s become more of an investigator than an actor.

“Murder Unscripted,” is a short, fast, read, well-plotted and intrinsically solid. The characters are enjoyable to follow and the final emotional twists are logical and just right for the character and the tone of the story. I hope to see much more of Eddie Collins in the near future.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins
Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky