So, what do writers do when they aren’t writing? They read.
Currently, I’m working on my own new mystery and sending out the last one to publishers. However, I also must keep up with my reading, both in my genre as well as with books outside the mystery realm. These are some of the books I have been reading in the past month.
Jane K. Cleland, superb mystery writer, has been on my mind lately because I’ve read both her craft book and her first Josie Prescott antiques mystery. Mastering Suspense Structure and Plot is an excellent craft book about how you structure your mystery to get the strongest pacing. Pacing is the speed at which you whirl readers around, reverse their thinking, and push them into danger with your protagonist. Cleland’s book centers on the two spheres of planning: thinking and writing. Her thinking stage offers a road map with strategic points where you must accomplish certain tasks. She breaks it down into the main plot and at least two subplots. Then, she uses wonderful examples of book excerpts to illustrate her ideas. The Writing section centers on techniques that will add to the pacing. The devil is in the details. It’s a great read for mystery writers who want to improve the speed of their novels to keep their readers enthralled.
Consigned to Death is the first book in a twelve-book series (so far) about Josie Prescott, antiques appraiser and dealer. I read Cleland’s first book because I wanted to see how her road map in the book above worked in an actual mystery. Face-paced and thrilling, Consigned to Death made it clear that Cleland follows her own plotting ideas. Josie Prescott is hired to do an assessment for a valuable and intriguing antiques/art collection when the owner is found stabbed to death, and Josie’s fingerprints are clearly on the murder weapon. The Rocky Point detective, Ty Alverez, immediately interrogates Josie and takes her fingerprints. She is released, however, and must run her antiques business, train and work with several employees, deal with the family of the deceased, and run interference with the evidence indicating she is the killer. With the help of a newspaper investigator and a lawyer, Josie plays a cat-and-mouse game with the actual killer and finds herself attracted to the detective on the case. I really enjoyed this first book in the series … and the pacing is first-rate.
Old Black Magic is an Ace Atkins’s book. He writes the Spenser series for Robert Parker’s estate. I must admit I laughed out loud at several points in this book. (However, Putnam’s—the publisher—needs to hire some better proofreaders.) Even the Amazon book plot online has some errors of fact. In this plot Spenser is hired by a Boston museum to find three valuable art masterpieces stolen twenty years earlier. His investigation takes him to underworld characters, old mafia dons, and various thieves who may or may not have these paintings. He’s surrounded by intriguing characters who all want the money. A five-million-dollar reward is not as interesting to Spenser as having the medical bills paid for a former detective who worked on this case for years and is now dying. The detective, an old pal, passes off the case to Spenser, hoping he can solve it. I enjoy Ace Atkins’ sense of humor as much as I enjoyed Spenser and Hawk’s highly politically incorrect conversations in the earlier Parker books. It’s a quick read and light fun.
G.M. Malliet has a 6-book series about ex-M15-operative-turned-clergyman, Max Tudor. I have read several of her books. Devil’s Breath is the most recent. Tudor has concluded that he can’t outrun his old job, so he occasionally helps M15 with cases that are difficult. In this book, the body of Margot Browne, has-been actress, has washed ashore from a yacht filled with possible suspects. Each seems to have a motive to kill the obnoxious Browne. Malliet organizes her chapters around each of the suspects as Tudor investigates the murky backgrounds of Hollywood artists, producers, directors, actors, and stylists. I smile because the readers’ comments online at Amazon are all over the place, illustrating beautifully the subjective nature of reading. I tend to agree with those who think this book is not as interesting as earlier ones that took place in her quaint English village. I also felt that information allowing the readers to solve the murder was left to the end of the book. Readers NEVER like that. The use of “devil’s breath” was quite clever, and I’m not going to give that away.
Currently, I’m reading three books, two of them mysteries, and one a biography. Stay tuned for comments on these. The mysteries are A Hole in One (A Glass Dolphin Mystery) by Judy Penz Sheluk, and Treachery in Tuscany (A Jordan Mayfair Mystery) by Phyllis Gobbell. Judy is a fellow Sister in Crime member, a Canadian writer, and a friend; Phyllis Gobbell’s books were published by Five Star Publishing (like my Endurance mysteries), and she’s now with Encircle Publications. The biography is of Paul Simon, called Paul Simon, the Life by Robert Hilburn. Working on these in June. And what might you be reading this month?