MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader Day

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Lori Rader-Day first appeared on our radar with her first crime novel, The Black Houra wicked tale of murder in academia that pleased every member of the 7% Solution Book Club when discussed. Her second foray into the genre, Little Pretty Things, takes us into a high school reunion from hell as a former student athlete investigates the murder of her recently returned frenemy, and won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

In her third crime novel, The Day I Dieda handwriting expert with secrets to hide is recruited to analyze the ransom note left behind after a toddler’s disappearance. Soon, her son’s investigation into his own past and budding teenage rebellion will put this handwriting analyst on a collision course with her own past, leading to a denouement with a surprising amount of both action and heart. The Day I Died is an IndieNext pick for May and Lori Rader-Day will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this Wednesday, May 31st at 7 PM. 


Molly Odintz: When I first picked up your writing, your voice, more than any plot point, was what initially drew me in. Your books explore ordinary settings in the most hard-boiled of language – did you set out to contrast the banality of the ordinary with the darkness that lurks within?

Lori Rader Day: I set out to tell a story and entertain myself. I never thought of my language as “hard-boiled.” That’s fun. But I do enjoy ordinary settings—Midwestern settings—being tainted by violence. Darkness within that leaks out into bad decisions and bad deeds.

I see what you mean about the hard-boiled language now.

Read More »

Edgar Nominations Announced!

 

mwaThe nominations for the 2016 Edgar Awards were announced last week. This seemed to be the year where great minds think alike – many of the nominees made in on to our best of 2015 lists, put together by Scott and Molly. 

We want to congratulate old friends and new favorites, including Duane Swierczynski, nominated for his novel Canary, David C. Taylor, for Night LifeMichael Robotham, for Life or DeathMegan Abbott, for her short story “The Little Men,” Philip Kerr, for The Lady From Zagreb, Lou Berney, for The Long and Faraway GoneLori Rader Day, for Little Pretty Things, David Joy, for Where All Light Tends To GoGordon McAlpine, for The Woman with the Blue Pencil, Jessica Knoll, for Luckiest Girl Alive, and Adrian McKinty, for Gun Street Girl.

Congratulations all the others who made it. Best of luck to everyone and have a great time in New York.

Click here for the full list of Edgar Nominees.

Molly’s Top 10 U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2015

2015 has been an eclectic year for crime novels. Below, you’ll find historical fiction, reissues, domestic suspense, sophisticated city thrillers, and coincidentally, several books detailing the nightmarish and inescapable legacy of high school. Whether you are looking for dark and dense or light and playful, there’s a book on this list guaranteed to tickle your fancy. 


1. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hugheswomen crime writers 1940s

Hughes’ tale of an homme fatale turns the sexualized imagery of crime novels on its head, and like much of the genre, once again reminds us how to find the eroticism in death, and the violence in sex. In a Lonely Place, after decades out of print, is now available as part of the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers of the 40s & 50s.


2. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegheileen

In Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh takes us on the tour of small town life in mid-century America. Eileen, a repressed juvenile prison administrator stuck taking care of her drunk father in their filthy house, is fearful and disgusted by virtually every bodily function or urge. When a glamorous new coworker joins the prison staff as the new juvenile therapist, the two form an intense bond, liberating each from the confines of their historical context.

Read More »

Molly’s Top Ten of the Year, So Far

  • Post by Molly

innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly

Heda Margolius-Kovaly lost her family to the Holocaust, her first husband to Soviet purges, and the right to visit her native land to her defection to the United States. She also translated Raymond Chandler’s work into Czech, and his style, combined with her experiences, are the inspiration for Innocence, a bleak and hard-boiled noir about a woman who engages in increasingly desperate acts to secure her husband’s release from political imprisonment. You can find copies of Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
The Meursault Investigation may not be shelved in the mystery section, but if The Stranger is considered “Mediterranean noir,” then I dub this post-modern redo of The Stranger, told from the perspective of the Arab victim’s family, “De-Colonial Noir.” The Meursault Investigation reads like Said’s Orientalism as a mystery novel, which to me is the best thing in the universe. Spoiler alert: Meursault did it. You can find copies of The Meursault Investigation on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader-Day

  • Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day’s first novel, The Black Hour, established Rader-Day as an author to keep an eye out for and was heartily approved of by the 7% Percent Solution Book Club here at BookPeople. Her second novel, Little Pretty Thingsuses a murder case as a jumping off point to explore the nature of female competition and friendship while building to a thrilling conclusion. She was kind enough to answer some questions about Little Pretty Things. Read our review of the novel. 


Molly O: Juliet and Madeline, as their high school’s two biggest track stars, are the best of frenemies, spending all their time together, understanding each other’s experience, yet held back from true friendship by their mutual jealousy. Friendship sullied by the nature of competition, and redeemed through female community, is a common theme in narratives exploring female relationships. What inspired the particular relationship of Madeleine and Juliet? 

Lori Rader-Day: I can’t say that I’ve ever had a friendship quite like the one Juliet and Maddy had when they were young, but I’ve definitely had close friends—or I thought so, anyway—turn out not to be life-long parts of my life. And I think it’s quite easy to feel envy for people you love and only want the best for. I’ve told this story a few times already, but I got serious about writing only after a friend of mine from high school published a novel. I was so simultaneously proud and envious of him that I was spurred to action. His name is Christopher Coake. You should read his books; they’re excellent. I don’t think I’ve had a real frenemy before. I only have friends and archenemies. No one in between. That’s a joke, just in case the harsh black and white of the internet doesn’t convey it.

MO: Another theme in Little Pretty Things is the vulnerability of the young, talented and neglected. To riff off of my previous question, Madeline’s talent and beauty, through the jealousy they inspire in other women, isolate her from her peers. Why explore talent not as an asset, but as a trap? 

LRD: It’s more interesting, isn’t it? We all wish we had talent, but most pluses have a minus. And of course all the people we think have it all together have their own dark secrets. We forget it, though. We still do the thing where we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides, and find ourselves lacking, every time. I thought of Maddy as that woman who is so proud of the fact that she’s better friends with a bunch of dudes than another woman. There’s a reason for that, in my opinion. I’ll leave it at that, because I’m already going to get letters.

MO: Little Pretty Things, like The Black Hour, tells the stories of characters feeling trapped, who are released from their humdrum lives by the horror of assault or murder of someone close, and are able to reclaim a sense of ownership over their own destiny through being forced into action. Noir had been described as, “starts bad, gets worse,” but the heroines of your novels tend more towards the “stuck in a rut, experience a trauma, kick some ass, and move on to bigger and better things” model of detective novel. How do you combine noir style and feminist empowerment so nicely?

LRD: Oh, wow, my writing has never been described like that, but I love it. You’re hired. I like dark stories, but I also like stories that end well and maybe even a little hopeful. I think there must be room on the shelf for stories about women facing some real-life shit (as the character Yvonne says in Little Pretty Things) without having to go on suffering forever. I like to punish my characters, but then when they run the maze, they get the treat. I also want to write women characters who win in the end. We don’t, always, and we usually don’t win at all in crime fiction. All those nameless, trait-less dead women in crime fiction… but I digress. There are plenty of feminist crime fiction writers and feminist crime fiction characters—I don’t know that I’m inventing anything here. But I like being in that kind of company, and I think the readers I care about do, too.

MO: Noir generally implies a hero or anti-hero with an addiction, traditionally of the alcohol and cigarettes model. Lately, I’ve noticed a change in the kinds of addictions in detective novels – an addiction is, after all, anything you push too hard at and feel like you can’t live without, and you insert cross-country running into the place previously occupied by less healthy addictions. Did you set out to write Juliet as a character who drives herself with exercise rather than alcohol? Does the modern detective need to overdo at least one thing in their life in order to be a compelling, noir figure? 

LRD: Well, Juliet has given up running when we meet her and she has a new obsession, but I imagine her new twitch is the same kind of thing. She swipes things people have left behind in the motel rooms, lost objects, orphans that nobody else wants or have forgotten. She believes these things will be her downfall eventually, but she can’t help herself. It’s like a drug for her. I feel like we’ve gotten so carried away with the flaws our detectives have to have. They all have to be highly idiosyncratic at this point—seems like a very high standard to keep up with. But really we just want our detectives—all of our characters—to be real people. Well rounded, complex, troubled. They don’t have to be one foot in AA anymore. They just need to have a complex relationship with happiness, like every person you know. When the good guys are interestingly bad, a bit, we know we’re going to go on a ride, with someone else (maybe slightly damaged) driving. That’s what we pick up books for, right?

MO: As someone who has taught mystery writing, and also is now two books in to an authorial career, what’s some advice for aspiring detective novelists? 

LRD: Write the book you want to read. Read a lot and write a lot, as Stephen King says. Bad first drafts are OK, as Anne Lamott says. I just reference a lot of other people, you see. I love writing books, looking for the best way to phrase and remind people of things they need to keep hearing. Most people who want to write study all this advice like tea leaves, so they know it intellectually, but they need to hear reminders and encouragement to keep them moving forward and working. It’s a long game, and they need to hear that, too. The truth is sometimes really hard to hear but then when it IS a difficult, at least they know it’s supposed to be that way. The other best advice is to find some writers to share pages and encouragement. You just need one person, but if you can find a community, even better. For aspiring mystery writers, Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime are really fantastic places to find your tribe.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day

little pretty things

– Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day burst onto the literary detective novel scene last year with her murder-in-academia debut, The Black HourI could tell from the first paragraph that Lori Rader-Day is not just a good writer – she has a perfect handle on noir style, and understands how to marry the toughness of the traditional private eye with the deep psychological insights of, well, a mature female protagonist.

What’s more, she taps into many of the themes prevalent in the wave of recently published domestic thrillers made possible by Gillian Flynn’s runaway success with Gone GirlThe Black Hour takes on class, sex, female community versus competition, and that most controversial of all academia subjects, funding, for a gleeful send-off of modern academic institutions, culminating in a thrilling fight sequence during the college setting’s annual regatta.

 Little Pretty Things, her recently released second novel, takes on a different setting, but many of the same themes. Maddy and Juliet, both former cross-country stars, spent high school as the best of frenemies, and then drifted apart after school. When Maddy shows up at the dingy motel where Juliet splits her time between cleaning and bartending, just in time for their ten year high school reunion, Juliet feels only envy for Maddy’s escape from their small, impoverished town. Plus, she still has a chip on her shoulder from a high school track career spent always getting second place to Maddy’s first.

Juliet and Maddy don’t get much of a chance to work things out, for Maddy is found murdered the day after her arrival in town. Juliet sets out to discover the culprit and clear her own name of suspicion, delving into their complex relationship as she seeks out Maddy’s secrets from a decade before. Through her investigation, Juliet gains new appreciation for all those things she thought she never had, including support from her family and her friendship with Maddy. She even discovers a hidden talent for coaching, and begins to appreciate that Maddy’s exceptional talents, on and off the field, increased Maddy’s vulnerability, while Juliet gained protection and perspective from her own mediocrity.

In Lori Rader-Day’s novels, men are ancillary. They exist, and they play important roles, but a reader is never in doubt – these are supporting roles. Strong female characters pervade Rader-Day’s work, and it’s hard to find a chapter in her work that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Her female characters have names. They are powerful. They talk to each other about many subjects, and they don’t just talk – they act. They are also vulnerable and problematic. Even Rader-Day’s protagonists are far from deified – they make plenty of mistakes, have selfish motivations, and are blinded, at least at first, to the crimes of those they love. I’m a huge fan of tough prose, strong women, and a moody atmosphere, and Lori Rader-Day’s novels make the cut.

Little Pretty Things reads rather like a combination of Grosse Pointe Blank and The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerOr like a re-write of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Romy gets murdered in the first five minutes and Michele forgets all about blue binder guy and spends the whole movie solving Romy’s murder while reexamining every facet of her and Romy’s life. Readers of Megan Abbott, Tana French, Mette Ivie Harrison, and Jamie Mason should get plenty of enjoyment out of Lori Rader-Day’s work, but there’s a limit to any exact comparison – Lori Rader-Day’s got a style and sensibility all her own. But don’t take my word for it – thanks to Seventh Street Books and their affordable paperback releases, you can find out for yourself.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Women In Detective Fiction: A Wider Look


– Post by Molly

At the beginning of March, I contacted many of my favorite women in crime fiction. In honor of Women’s History Month, I asked for a few thoughts on the history of women in crime fiction, the future of crime fiction for female authors, or women’s representation in detective fiction. I also asked for some recommendations to pass on – look out for a thorough list of all the recommendations I got in the next week. I received wonderful responses from Lori Rader-Day, Megan Abbott, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, and Jamie Mason (read her response here), each highlighting the long history of women in crime fiction, the prominent place in the genre of many female authors today, and passing along some great recommendations.

Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, came out last year, and she’ll be releasing her next one, Little Pretty Things, in July. Megan Abbott’s most recent work is The Fever, and her books run the gamut from historical plots set in the golden age of noir to, more recently, plots focusing on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls. Meg Gardiner writes breakneck cyber-thrillers starring extremely capable women. Her latest is Phantom Instinct. Ausma Zehanat Khan recently published her first novel, The Unquiet Dead, to much acclaim.

There is a vast and diverse body of work written by women and shelved in the mystery section – almost an overwhelming amount, when attempting an analysis, especially one written for a blog. Lori Rader-Day, in her response, brought up how “one of the greatest things about crime fiction is how many brilliant women write it. There’s such a long tradition of fantastic women crime writers that I could read for the rest of my life (and that’s my plan) and never catch up.” Meg Gardiner responded, “Women have been the backbone and animating force in crime fiction since the beginning. From Agatha Christie to Patricia Highsmith to Gillian Flynn, women have defined, deepened, and blown up the genre.” Ausma Zehanat Khan, in her reply, mentioned that “most of the mysteries I read are written by women, and I also think women are very well represented as equals in detective fiction, although possibly not as much in higher ranks, which is likely more a reflection of the real world.” I think that we can all agree – women in crime fiction are here to stay.

Do women write crime fiction differently than men? Ausma Zehanat Khan responded, “Generally speaking, I think women write better detective novels with deeper characterizations and greater empathy, although I’m never really sure that you can generalize.” Women are certainly more likely than their male counterparts to have strong female protagonists, yet many male authors do write powerful and intriguing female protagonists. Lori Rader-Day, after writing “I look forward to anything new by Tana French, Catriona McPherson, Denise Mina, Clare O’Donohue, Sara Gran, and Gillian Flynn,” made sure to mention that “I read male authors, too, of course, and I can be enchanted by a male author who captures a female protagonist well, like Alan Bradley and James Ziskin.”Perhaps, in analyzing fiction, we’ve moved beyond wide generalizations based on gender, and this is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

While women may be well-represented in the ranks of detective novelists today,  not many classic female detective novelists (with certain exceptions, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker and the great Patricia Highsmith) have stayed in circulation. The history of women in crime fiction is long, yet consistently undervalued. Many of those women who helped to originate, develop, and explode the genre of detective fiction are no longer in print. Those who have remained in print are generally from the British tradition of detective fiction, rather than American noir. Others who helped to originate the detective genre have found a home in classics, their history as genre fiction subordinated to their position as literature.

Meg Gardiner, when asked about the history of women in crime fiction, responded: “Hell, go back to the earliest days of great fiction—who wrote the original novel of tension, terror, and adventure? Mary Shelley. She gets credit for sparking science fiction and the horror genre. She’s also a founding force for suspense fiction!” I had contemplated Mary Shelley as an originator of horror, but had never thought of her before as paving the way for thrillers. I’m adding a belated New Year’s resolution to my already long list: I resolve to remember that the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is a fine and porous line, and like any definition, fraught with ambiguity.

However, the prognosis for our ability to appreciate classic female detective novelists is good. Megan Abbott, in her discussion of the history of women detective novelists, brought to the fore “the Library of America’s upcoming volumes devoted to female crime writers from the golden age of noir. These volumes will be edited by Sarah Weinman and will finally push back into print some of the true masterpieces of the genre.” (The Library of America’s collection of Women Crime Writers comes out this September. Preorder now.)  Abbott points out in particular the inclusion of “Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place, Vera Caspary’s Laura, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall and Margaret Millar’s Beast In View. These were books that were wildly successful in their day, and had a huge impact on crime fiction to come, but have been unjustly forgotten. It’s a thrilling development.” That the Library of America has chosen to bring back into print these volumes is a statement of confidence in the canonical status of each writer included in the collection. People have always read the novels of women crime novelists writing at the time, but now is our chance to explore the lesser known classics that paved the way for women writing in crime fiction today.

While many of us fans of crime fiction by women did not grow up reading the classics of female noir, we did benefit from the splintering and diversification of the detective genre in the 1970s and 80s. Not only did the feminist movement spur a vast array of more widely politicized detective fiction by women – this time period also saw a diversification of voices in regards to ethnicity, class, and sexuality. Many of these authors have stayed in print and are still read widely. There is a strong continuum of forward momentum from this point onwards, and women are now near-equally represented in the genre.

The forward momentum of increasing diversity, however, has slowed in the intervening decades, and the representation of authors of color, of any gender, has fallen woefully behind. Ausma Zehanet Khan responded, “What I’d like to see more of in detective fiction is more diversity – more women and men of color in leading roles, and also as writers of detective fiction. I love learning about different perspectives on the world, on crime, and culture. For example, I loved Attica Locke’s ‘The Cutting Season.’ And although I’m starting to see secondary characters who are from diverse backgrounds, there is still a long way to go.”

As a female reader of detective fiction by both male and female writers, I believe the biggest gendered problem in detective fiction right now is not a lack of female authors, but an intensification of violence against women by some male and some female writers.  The detective genre is certainly a violent one, to its core, and gendered violence is a world-wide issue that cannot be simply subsumed to a socialist realism narrative – when I read a detective novel, I want a nutshell version of a realistic society, and that includes violent, gendered crimes. However, I have lost track of the number of detective novels I have read that not only hideously torture and murder women in uncommon-in-real-life ways, but deny those women any kind of voice, spending more time describing a dead body than a vibrant soul, lost to the world and yet deserving of remembrance. Women are not just corpses – they are characters.

The more women writing crime fiction, the less we will see female characters treated as disposable playthings and the more we will see women enacting their own stories and determining their own agency. There are also plenty of male authors out there bucking the trend – writing strong female characters and taking a responsible attitude towards the representation of violence against women. I’d say the future of women in crime fiction – as authors and as characters – is looking pretty darn good.