- Post by Molly
1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly
1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly
Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full, comes to BookPeople Tuesday, February 24, at 7 pm, to talk about her new novel, Monday’s Lie. She joins us in conversation with Mark Pryor, author of the Hugo Marston novels.
– Post by Molly
Whether you’ve been reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, or Jamie Mason’s just-released thriller, Monday’s Lie, you may notice a trend in the genre: authors are finally addressing the primacy of relationship violence as opposed to stranger danger. These three novels all explore the strange ways in which love slowly turns to hatred, and marriage becomes a battlefield with increasingly deadly reactions to ever smaller offenses.
Monday’s Lie begins with Dee, unhappily married to Patrick, and struggling to express her frustrations, fearing the loss of normality that she has worked hard to achieve. Dee’s reason for seeking a cookie-cutter lifestyle in the suburbs with a man she doubts, fights with, and possibly fears? The roots lie in Dee’s childhood, where her mother, a CIA operative gone at the drop of a hat on sometimes lengthy missions, taught Dee and her brother extensive memory and observation skills. Dee, as an adult, craves the stability and normalcy she never had as a child, and links her intensive observation skills with the unhappiness she felt at her mother’s profession. As the novel continues, and Dee’s marriage reaches a crisis point, Dee must re-activate her childhood abilities, this time not as a game, but as a matter of life and death.
Monday’s Lie is a novel of subtle, numerous ironies. The story zeroes in on how a person can ignore warning sings through the novel’s ironic depiction of a CIA-trained woman unwilling to take seriously the warning signs she can’t help but notice. Mason also explores the irony of keeping up appearances. All Dee has ever wanted was to be normal. She then realizes “normal” is based solely on the public expression of her life, and has nothing to do with who she is. By striving for normality, Dee sets herself up for the gulf between reality and appearance, a gap that grows wider as her husband becomes increasingly distant in private while presenting himself as boisterous and loving in public.
Mason has written not only a fascinating exploration of observation and deliberate ignorance, but also a darn-good thriller whose plausibility reminds us that sometimes, fear is not just paranoia, and to pretend the world, and the people in it, are harmless is to give up one’s ability to anticipate others’ actions. Mason’s protagonist is incredibly observant, and as the danger to her increases, she must come to terms with her power, and act on the things she observes, in order to preserve her own safety.
I think I enjoyed this book so much because Mason, instead of writing a story about a woman who must learn how to empower herself, tells the story of a woman who already has agency, but must empower herself simply by being willing to use that power. Dee continually weakens herself through ignoring her own powers of observation in favor of falsely upheld notions of domestic bliss, and when she comes to terms with that which is already in her, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.
As women, we may not all have through-the-roof detection skills learned from our mothers, but we all have some knowledge, some power, that we refuse to use effectively. We may or may not feel that “normalcy” is a goal to strive for, with its implication of feminine weakness as a desirable quality, but we all could use our talents a little more, and let ourselves be blinded by our own desires a bit less. In other words, we could all benefit from a read-through of Monday’s Lie.
Our January Pick of the Month, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, has been getting a lot of buzz. The book, loosely based on at true crime in Utah, looks at a crime within a Mormon community from the perspective of the Temple Bishop’s wife. Mette, who has penned serveral YA novels, delivered a mystery like a seasoned practitioner, fully using the form’s ability to explore a subculture and several issues. We caught up to her to discuss the novel and her approach to it.
MysteryPeople: Your story is loosely based on the disappearance of Susan Powell and the years-later murder-suicide of her husband and children. What was it about the the real crime that made you want to use it for a story?
Mette Ivie Harrison: The real disappearance of Susan Powell unfolded in Utah over a period of years, and even now that Josh (the real life husband) and the two boys are dead, no one knows where Susan’s body is. That was a great mystery to begin with.
But as a Mormon, I wondered how Josh was able to disguise himself so long within the church and why Susan was unable to ask for help. Some of the answers are the same as any abused wife, but some are tied to the Mormon doctrine of “forever families,” I think.
MP: As someone who has been involved with the Mormon Church what did you want to get across to the reader about it?
MIH: I wanted very much for Mormonism to be seen as a legitimate faith and not, as I have so often been accused, of being a cult. But I also feel strongly that refusing to acknowledge problems within the church makes us seem more secretive and less sympathetic.
MP: I thought it was interesting how it’s Linda’s skill as a mother that helps her follow what is going on. What did you want to explore about motherhood?
MIH: Of all my roles (wife, mother, author, athlete, daughter, Mormon) I feel most fulfilled and find most meaning as a mother and I wanted to write about a character who felt the same. I also wanted to write about a mother who had suffered an unbearable loss of her daughter, as I have.
Mormon culture, as most American culture, sometimes overlooks and underestimates mothers. Linda Wallheim plays on that and still is a powerful character who enacts change in her community for those she sees as her “children” in a broad sense. But it is not without cost.
MP: I thought you did a brilliant job of juxtaposing Linda’s internal thoughts with the dialogue. How did you approach a lead who felt she couldn’t always publicly say what she thinks?
MIH: That’s almost completely autobiographical. I write and think prodigiously, but don’t speak well in public for various reasons (autism runs in my extended family). All of my books in the YA world are known for strong internal monologue, though it doesn’t appeal to every reader. I think Linda loves people genuinely and tries to speak to them in a way that they can listen to. She is also only rarely confident she is right enough to act on her instincts, ignoring others.
MP: This being your first mystery, did you draw from any influences?
MIH: Linda and Kurt are named after Linda and Kurt Wallander in Henning Menkell’s wonderful series. I also probably draw a lot on the Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton, who I have been reading for about 20 years.
MP: What did you take from writing YA into mystery?
MIH: YA demands quick dialog and a strong, unmistakable voice. Also I’ve spent years working on my fantasy world building skills, which came in handy depicting the Mormon world. But adult also allows more reflection, which I enjoy.
Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife is the most talked-about mystery of 2015. The novel gives us an insider’s perspective of The Mormon Church with a story loosely based on a true crime connected with a Utah temple, a fact which has already brought the novel considerable attention. The Bishop’s Wife also shows the author’s acute understanding of faith, family, and female position in Mormon culture and wider society.
The title character is Linda Wallheim, the mother of three grown boys and wife of a Mormon bishop in a small Utah town. One night a temple member, Jared Helm, shows up with his daughter, Kelly, in the middle of the night with a story of how his wife took off. When holes start to appear in that story, the temple and community are drawn into a plot of sex, dark obsessions, extreme beliefs, and murder that Linda finds herself in the middle of.
Harrison has created an intriguing lead with Linda. It’s her skill as mother, dealing with Kelly, that allows her to see the events from a perspective others don’t. This aspect is given emotional depth due to the fact that Linda lost her only daughter during childbirth. Harrison deftly plays with both dialogue and interior thought to portray a character who feels she can’t always speak her mind, even though she has a lot to say.
The Bishop’s Wife is a great mystery to bring in the new year. The plot engages the reader, and the story takes a very human look at as American subculture. It is definitely worth all the talk.
Copies of The Bishop’s Wife are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Long Beach, California is known for sunny weather and soft breezes. Thursday, November 13th it became gloomy and overcast with rain. Some blamed this on the hoard of crime fiction fans, writers, publishers, and booksellers recently arrived in town. It was the first day of the 2014 Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference, where we talked about dark stories under an eventually bright sky.
The first night, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner for the authors and supporters of Seventh Street Press, celebrating their second anniversary. It was fun to hang out with my friend Mark Pryor, creator of the Hugo Marston series, and meeting Allen Eskens, whose debut, The Life We Bury is a must-read for thriller fans, and Lori Rader-Day. Terry Shames arrived late, but had the excuse of winning The McCavity Award for best first novel on her way to dinner.
At the most entertaining panel I attended, titled Shaken, Not Stirred, writers discussed their use of drinking and bars in their work. Con Lehane, a former bartender, opened the discussion by stating that James Bond’s vodka martini is not really a martini because it is shaken. After he described the process of making a vodka martini, no one argued. Johnny Shaw said the more his characters drink, the more they surprise him. Eoin Colfer spoke of how he loved bars because a bar is a great equalizer, where anybody can walk through the door. When asked about the new smoking ban in Irish pubs, he said “It’s horrible. You can smell the men.”
The most enlightening panel I attended was Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Peter Rozovsky moderated a panel of learned crime writers and scholars who picked an author they felt deserved their due. Max Allan Collins, one of my favorite hard boiled writers, talked about Ennis Willie, who wrote about mobster on the run Sand in the early Sixties. Collins described the books as a Mickey Spillane imitation, but also discussed how these novels had a lot in common with Richard Stark’s Parker, who debuted the same year. Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an upcoming anthology of stories by female thriller authors of the forties and fifties, introduced me to Dolores Hitchens. Gary Phillips gave a history of Joe Nazel, who formed a triptych of Seventies African-American crime writers, along with Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.
Bouchercon has proved to be a great source for upcoming books. All of us who met Mette Ivie Harrison couldn’t wait to read her new novel, The Bishop’s Wife, coming out at the end of December. Harrison, who has had an interesting history with the Mormon Church and her own faith, has written a novel based on a true crime set in her community. I also got into a conversation with Christa Faust and CJ Box as Christa talked about the research she’s doing for her next Angel Dare book, where she puts the hard-boiled ex-porn star into the world of rodeo. CJ and I were both impressed by her knowledge of the sport.
There were also personal highlights. I got to hang out with Bobby McCue and Richard Brewer, the two men responsible for hiring and re-hiring me at The Mystery Bookstore, my first book slinging job, and showing me the ropes. It was also probably one of the best Dead Dog Dinners (the meal shared by the people who remained Sunday night after the conference has closed) as we talked about the state of the industry, books that moved us, and plotted 2015 in Raleigh. And if that wasn’t enough, there was this moment with Texas Author Reavis Wortham and a cheerleading squad.