IN HER BONES by Kate Moretti

In Her Bones: A Novel Cover ImageI’ve been really excited about the resurgence of the psychological thriller—while I read all over the crime fiction genre, I especially enjoy reading about authentic women trapped in desperate situations (of their own making or not)—but they can occasionally be formulaic. The reader brings certain expectations, and for me those were blown out of the water with Kate Moretti’s latest, In Her Bones.

The story revolves around 30-year old Edie Beckett—a state employee with just a tenuous hold on sobriety and an unhealthy relationship with her brother.  The latter is the only one who knows that their shared history includes a mother who lives on death row, the convicted killer of 6 women. As Edie tries to exist outside the spotlight of her mother’s infamy, she fights a growing obsession—an unhealthy fascination with the families of her mother’s victims. One night she crosses a line and a man ends up dead—and suddenly Edie has become the prime suspect for his murder, with the detective who arrested her mother (and who has taken a keen interest in Edie) hot on her trail. She decides to go underground to find the real killer and clear her name but as she runs into dead ends, she starts to question whether perhaps she has more in common with her mother than she thought, and wonders if she too might be capable of murder.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that you could change your hair color, throw on glasses and different clothes and go underground. I’m also fascinated by the amount of information you can dig up on the internet –it’s truly disturbing how little privacy we have. Moretti takes these concepts and weaves a twisted tale of a young woman trying desperately to escape a childhood of trauma. This was one of those page-turners that kept me up way past my bedtime (but only for the one night it took to finish!)

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of 6 previous novels, most recently the critically acclaimed The Blackbird Season. Her style has been compared to that of Ruth Ware and Megan Miranda, so anyone who likes the darker side of the domestic thriller won’t want to miss this one.

 

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AFFECTS ON A BRILLIANT MIND : SHERRY THOMAS’ LADY SHERLOCK

Rachel R., who co-leads the 7% Solution Book Club, wrote about Sherry Thomas’s new Lady Sherlock book and Holmes adaptations ahead of the release of the latest book in the series. 

Sherlock Holmes fandom has been active since the publication of the first short stories. It’s a commonly known fact that the only reason Holmes came back from the dead, for example, is because too many fans wrote angry letters at Arthur Conan Doyle demanding his return. These days, it’s almost as common to see a Sherlock Holmes adaptation as it is to see one of Shakespeare. What tends to make or break a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, in my experience, is not a supposed “faithfulness” to the characters or the cases (though that’s too often used as an excuse for lazy writing), but a thoughtful engagement with the world that Holmes and their ilk inhabit. Take Elementary, for example; many of the cases, if they reference the original stories at all, do so in name only, and Holmes and Watson, though true to the spirit of their Conan Doyle counterparts, live in different places in society. They’re not gentlemen of leisure; the detective work is their livelihood. But what makes Elementary so captivating as a Holmes adaptation is the extent to which the show examines what someone with Sherlock’s capabilities would struggle with in the 2010s in New York City: drug use, mental health, et cetera. At one point Sherlock, speaking during an AA meeting, asks, “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been born in a different time…ours is an era of distraction, it’s a punching drumbeat of constant input, this cacophony which follows us into our homes and even into our beds…In my less productive moments, I am left to wonder, if I had just been born when it was a little quieter out there, would I have even become an addict in the first place?”

This attention to place and its effect on a mind as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes’ is no less acute in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, though she still resides in 1880s London. Charlotte Holmes cannot move about society, restricted by her gender, and instead pretends to be an assistant for her recluse brother, the nonexistent Sherlock Holmes. But this gender reversal doesn’t just serve as a story hook, something cool and new and different—there have actually been several Holmes adaptations in which Holmes or Watson or both have been women over the years—but instead Holmes’ gender fundamentally alters the world in which the story takes place. Holmes, no longer the aforementioned gentleman of leisure, desires and wants things from a world that does not immediately provide them: mostly autonomy, bodily, financial, or otherwise. At one point while trying to figure out her financial situation, Charlotte explains, “I do not like the idea of bartering the use of my reproductive system for a man’s support—not in the absence of other choices.” These wants extend past Charlotte herself; she wants that for her landlady and confidante Mrs. Watson, for her sisters, and the many women of all classes that she encounters in the ins and outs of her cases. By changing Holmes’ gender, Sherry Thomas has done something that Arthur Conan Doyle was never able to do: she has made Sherlock Holmes altruistic.

Thomas is well acquainted with the significance of setting in her work. In her romances, both historical and contemporary, the setting often serves to inform the plot beyond mere contrivance. Her young adult fantasy novels, with their rich worldbuilding, still keep one foot firmly in the “real” world, giving each character who crosses over to the fantastical setting the gift of awe at seeing magic for the first time. It is a delight to be a bookseller who reads across genres, watching her become more and more refined in her craft, as she continues to interrogate what is important about stories, whether they be romance, or fantasy, or mystery.

Sherry Thomas will be at BookPeople Tuesday, October 2nd at 7PM to celebrate the release of the third Lady Sherlock book, The Hollow of Fear. The 7% Solution book club (which I co-lead) will be meeting directly before the event on the third floor to discuss the second in the series, A Scandal in Belgravia, before we attend the event together. All are welcome to join, whether or not you finished the book, although there may be spoilers for the first two novels. We usually meet the first Monday of every month at 7PM; upcoming discussion titles can be found on BookPeople’s website here.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go to the Corner Mailbox

Guest Blog by Nancy Boyarsky

I’m insatiably curious about people and the things that go on around me. Sometimes I see things on my morning walks, for example, that strike me as odd and pique my interest. Below is an example, but let me preface my tale with a caveat. To the police, our lower Westwood neighborhood is one of the safest in L.A.—although it might sound not so safe to someone living, for example, in a small-town in the Midwest.

Lately, we’ve had been a scattering of home burglaries and a few street robberies. But most criminals working the area have taken to stealing from cars. The latest wrinkle in car-related crime involves night-time theft of auto parts, like tires and airbags, sometimes catalytic converters. For those of us with homes so old that our garages can’t accommodate modern vehicles, cars have to be left in the driveway or on the street. So we lock them up and hope for the best.

But I’m talking about another type of crime. I witnessed it on a day when I set out to mail a letter. Although the mailbox is only a block away, I drove because it was my first stop in a round of errands.

A young man, late teens to early 20s, was at the mailbox. He was wearing a T-shirt and khakis, and he looked clean-cut. Besides, it was mid-day. Broad daylight. No alarm bells went off in my head.

As I drew closer to the mailbox, I noticed something odd. Instead of depositing mail, he was pulling out envelopes, a few at a time. He had a wire that looked as if it had been fashioned from a coat hanger. He was using it to poke in the box and snag mail.

When I realized what was going on, I decided not to stop. Instead, I circled the block and came back, parking a few houses away from the mailbox. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911. After the usual “what-is-your-emergency?” greeting, I explained that I was, at that moment, witnessing a crime. Even as I said this, the young man had stopped rifling in the mailbox. He’d stepped back and was now scanning the street, as if he expected someone to pick him up.

The 911 operator told me that a crime involving mail wasn’t an emergency, but she would transfer me to someone who would know what to do. I went through several connections, each one seemed puzzled by my complaint. Finally, the last person I spoke to said that a mailbox wasn’t within the preview of the LAPD; it was the property of the U.S. Postal Service, and thereby a federal matter. He gave me a phone number so I could report the problem to postal service.

Meanwhile, the young man, apparently giving up on his ride, was looking around, consulting his watch. He didn’t see me, or if he did, he didn’t give any indication.

I dialed the number for the USPS. Ten minutes or more had passed since I’d first spotted the ongoing crime. But the young man was still on the corner, and I’m not one to give up easily.

When I reached the number I’d been given, I realized it was the general information line for the postal service. The automated voice asked me which language I spoke. In some frustration, I pressed “one” for English. Then it asked if I wanted to track a package, get post office information, ask for re delivery. I was encouraged to sign up for more information at myuspc.com. Finally, I was asked to say in a few words what I wanted.

The young man had started to walk away, taking his time, not in any great hurry.

I kept at it, trying to make the automated call system understand that I wanted to report a mailbox break-in. I’d just about exhausted synonyms for “break-in” when a live person came on the line. By now the perpetrator had disappeared. The man at the postal service listened to my story, then asked for the postal box’s location. He said he’d report it to the local supervisor for my area. I realized that he was somewhere else, maybe in Des Moines, or even Washington, D.C.

Later, I contacted my neighborhood association and learned that people had been complaining that they were unable to use their local mailboxes because someone had put a sticky substance in the mailing mechanism, so envelopes got stuck and did not actually drop into the mailbox. Obviously, this was a more sophisticated approach than using a bent coat hanger.

The next issue of the neighborhood association’s newsletter gave a list of sticky mailboxes. Ours was on the list, even though glue had never been the problem.

With that, I decided that my career as a crime fighter was over. At least for me, writing fiction about crime is more rewarding.

Nancy Boyarsky’s latest mystery, Liar Liar, featuring private eye Nicole Graves, can be purchased at BookPeople.

MEIKE’S REVIEW OF GREEN FEES

Green Fees: A Merit Bridges Legal Thriller Cover ImageAustin attorney Manning Wolfe has brought her considerable legal expertise to the crime fiction genre, and the result is a smart, fast-paced thriller series featuring Texas Lady Lawyer Merit Bridges.

In her latest, Green Fees, Wolfe spins a story of lies and treachery that reflects the perfect blend of humor and chills.  Austin is terrorized by a serial killer named The Enforcer who continues to elude law enforcement, but Merit is distracted when her predilection for younger men leads her to  become involved with the much-younger golf pro Mark Green. When Mark accepts help to pursue his PGA dreams, he becomes indebted to the wrong person—Russian loan shark Browno Zars—and comes to Merit for help. She uses every legal trick she can think of to loosen Zars’ grip on Green, not realizing that her actions have brought her to the attention of The Enforcer. As she’s captured and held against her will, facing certain torture and death, Merit has to dig deep within to confront pure evil.

The award-winning Wolfe strikes all the right notes with this series. Merit is surrounded by complex, relatable characters–like Betty, Merit’s colloquialism-spouting, Ann Richards-hairdo sporting office manager. Merit is mostly serious (she has an illustrious legal career and is a devoted mother to her dyslexic son Ace), but she also knows when to let her hair down and just go after that young man while sipping on some fine red wine. There’s a satisfying variety of characters that operate on all points of the spectrum spanning right and wrong. And as a bonus for those of us here in Austin, Wolfe’s deep love for the city shows in her meticulous and glowing descriptions of our town’s scenery.

MEIKE’S REVIEW OF A TASTE FOR VENGEANCE BY MARTIN WALKER

A Taste for Vengeance: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel Cover ImageIt’s impossible to talk about Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police mystery series without talking about food and wine. (And it’s equally impossible to read the books without getting hungry!) Set in the Perigord region of France, the novels describe the local culinary traditions in great detail and Bruno’s love of good food and fine wine are integral themes of the book.  From his morning croissant to an evening meal featuring copious amounts of duck fat and a few glasses of the local wine, Bruno is a true connoisseur of all that the local farmers have to offer. He’s also deeply invested in the friendships he’s formed, volunteering with local youth and organizing dinners with friends who might not otherwise get to see each other. The Perigord is a region steeped in history (it’s been continually occupied for some 70,000 years) and Walker brings the abundant cultural and comestible traditions to vibrant life.

But don’t be deceived by the seemingly bucolic setting—Walker’s novels aren’t cozies by any means, they’re intricately plotted works teeming with political and international intrigue.

In A Taste for Vengeance, Bruno is adjusting to his new role—instead of being responsible only for the town of St. Denis, his territory will now cover the entire valley and a couple of other jurisdictions. He must navigate a new chain of command while not alienating former peers who now report to him—a delicate balancing act for the modest Bruno.

A friend asks Bruno if he can find out why one of her cooking school students, German tourist Monika Felder, didn’t show up as planned; his investigation reveals that the woman had been travelling with someone other than her husband, a mysterious Irishman presumed to be her lover. When the two turn up dead, the investigation deepens and Bruno learns that the Irishman was operating under an assumed identity and had not only a background in intelligence but also a military connection to Monika’s husband.

Meanwhile, Bruno learns that the star member of the youth rugby team he mentors is pregnant—a development he perceives as potentially catastrophic on the eve of her possible nomination to the national squad.

As always, Walker weaves these disparate plot elements together seamlessly and the reader is treated to a riveting and complex tale of crime while gaining insight into Bruno’s rich and varied personal life.

Meike talks to Martin Walker about Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker’s character Bruno, Chief of Police, is a perennially popular figure in crime fiction. We look forward to each new book, and since Taste for Vengeance is just out, we got to talk with Martin about his inspiration, his writing, and Bruno. If you missed our event with Walker, you can buy signed copies of Taste for Vengeance in our store or on our website.

MysteryPeople Meike: You have an extensive background in journalism.  How and why did you make the transition to fiction?

Martin Walker: I was so entranced by the prehistoric cave art that I felt compelled to write about the kind of ancient society that could have produced such masterpieces and wrote ‘The Caves of Perigord.’ (2002) But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to write about the place now, its lifestyle and the its food and wine and the way the history weaves its way into everything so I began to write the Bruno tales.

MPM: You’re originall

y from the UK but now you split your time between Washington DC and the Perigord region of France, which is where the Bruno series is set.  What was it about that region that drew you in originally and what do you love most about it?

MW: At first it was the landscape and the food and wine and the sweetness of life there, but soon I became fascinated with the history and prehistory of the Perigord, the extraordinary work of the cave painters at Lascaux 18,000 years ago. Visiting the 25 painted caves and the hundred-plus caves with engravings, one can never again think of these people as primitive. Their artistic sensibility is instantly and movingly familiar to us.

MPM: What is the biggest misconception that Americans have about France and its people?

MW: That they behaved pitifully in World War Two. I have learned enough about the Resistance to know better. And never forget that under Napoleon, they took Moscow – something Hitler’s Wehrmacht never achieved.

MPM: Food is an important theme in the Bruno stories, and in addition to being a celebrated writer you have received recognition for your knowledge of foie gras and wine.  Can you tell us a little about those honors?

Photo of Martin WalkerMW: I was elected a chevalier of foie gras by the regional confrerie, which brings together producers, vendors and gastronomes and we run the annual competition to find the best. And I was elected a Grand Consul de la Vinee de Bergerac (founded 1254) by the other Consuls, people in the wine trade, so I began making my own wine, Cuvee Bruno, with friends in the region. I chair the jury of the Prix Rageneau, the regional cookery prize, and Bruno’s Kochbuch,’ which I wrote with my wife for the German market, was awarded by Gourmand International the prize of ‘world’s best French cookbook’ of the year in 2016.

MPM: Food and wine are an integral part of your novels, and indeed an integral part of French culture. What led you to explore the cuisine so fully in your novels? What can we Americans learn from the French in our approach to food?

MW: We all have to eat so we might as well take time to enjoy it and make a ceremony of necessity. It is also a sacrament of community; there are few greater pleasures than dining with old friends and pleasing them with your cooking, even more when the fruit and vegetables come from your own garden. The key is to take your time: think about food, find the best sand freshest ingredients, plan your meal and the wines. And remember the old saying that a Frenchwoman takes greater care in choosing her cheesemonger than in choosing her lovers.

MPM: Can you describe your “dream” dinner?  Who would you invite, and what would you prepare?

MW: If it’s summer and we’re eating in the open air, I’d make my own version of gazpacho from the garden, then fresh trout from the river, grilled with lemon slices, then aiguillettes of duck cooked in honey and mustard seeds and served with pommes de terre Sarladaise, with garlic and parsley and a truffle grated over the potatoes at the table, just before serving. Then cheese and salad and finish with a tarte au citron to echo the lemons with the fish. For the first two courses I’d serve a Cuvee Quercus dry white Bergerac from Pierre Desmartis and then for the duck a Tour des Verdots red from David Fourtout.

MPM: Bruno has a penchant for falling for strong, independent women thus he’s still the most eligible bachelor in the area–will we see him settle down any time soon?

MW: Who knows? He hasn’t told me yet. I keep trying to set him up with interesting new women but Isabelle keeps hauling him back. I learned when I tried to have him seduced by a wicked femme fatale (and he refused) that he has a mind of his own and sometime won’t follow the plan. It’s interesting; he’s more real to me than some of my friends.

MPM: Bruno is a marvelously nuanced character–a decorated war hero yet a gentle soul who doesn’t like to carry a gun, volunteers with local youth, and devotes tremendous time and effort to organizing elaborate meals with his friends. What was the inspiration for Bruno and what is it about him that keeps drawing you back to his story?

MW: The inspiration was my village policeman in France, who may be old and fatter than Bruno and has a wife and family, but the skills and character traits are there. He’s also my tennis partner.

MPM: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

MW: Once I have the book planned, chapter by chapter and the research and character notes complete, I start to write and set myself a firm target of producing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, wherever I am and whatever else I’m doing. For an old journalist, that isn’t difficult.

MPM: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

MW: Write every day, read what you write aloud to yourself and never stop for the day at the end of a chapter, nor even at the end of a paragraph. It makes it much easier to start again tomorrow.