Molly’s Top 7 Debuts of 2015

When perusing my year’s end list of favorite novels, I noticed more than a few debuts within the mystery genre on the list (some of the writers mentioned below have previously been published within other genres).  Those that made the greatest impression, I’ve collected for you below. Seven may be a bit of a weird number – think of this list as my top five, plus two!

  • Molly Odintz. 
luckiest girl alive1. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
This may be the most startling novel of 2015. There isn’t much I can say about this book without giving something away. Luckiest Girl Alive functions as a primer in the vicious nature of social competition in all stages of life, while simultaneously remaining sympathetic to the experience of trauma.

 


2. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison writes ‘Mormon Noir,’ which I had bishops wife full sizenever heard of nor conceptualized till picking up this book on the strong recommendation of Scott Montgomery. The Bishop’s WifeHarrison’s debut in the mystery genre, follows Linda Wallheim as she helps her husband Kurt, just appointed bishop, in aiding their community. Linda grows attached to a neighborhood child, and through her investigation of the child’s mother’s disappearance, draws attention to both the vulnerability of Mormon women and the attraction of Mormonism to women.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison has just released her second novel in the soon-to-be-seen-as-classic Linda Wallheim series. Her crime fiction debut, The Bishop’s Wife takes the reader deep within America’s vibrant and evolving Mormon community to tackle issues of family violence and the vulnerability of women within the Mormon family structure.

Her second novel, His Right Hand, was released earlier this month, and expands her critique of Mormon gender roles to men as well as women, delving into the psychological trauma of conforming to an overly strict definition of masculinity. His Right Hand is our December Pick of the Month. Harrison kindly agreed to an interview via email about her latest novel, the future of her Linda Wallheim series, and the future of Mormon feminism.


Molly Odintz: You talk about this some in both of the Linda Wallheim novels – what, would you say, are the causes and concerns of a self-identified Mormon feminist?

Mette Ivie Harrison: Well, I am still in the midst of figuring this out. For much of my life, I have been a stay-at-home mom and have felt at times excluded from traditional American feminism because of that choice. So as a Mormon feminist, I try not to dismiss other points of view and to listen to women who are more traditional than I am as they talk about the way they see their roles within a patriarchal society.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: HIS RIGHT HAND by Mette Ivie Harrison

9781616956103

  • Reviewed by Molly Odintz

Mette Ivie Harrison, Mormon, mother, and mystery novelist, burst onto the crime scene in January 2015 with her thoughtful and intense crime fiction debut, The Bishop’s WifeThe novel explores the power, privilege, and pitfalls of LDS womanhood.

Harrison’s protagonist, Linda Wallheim, a married mother of four living in Utah, aids her husband Kurt in providing religious guidance and comfort to her community. Her husband relies on Linda to reach out to those women in their congregation in need. When one of their number disappears, suspects include much of their insular community, and Linda goes on the hunt for the missing woman.

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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.

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: MONDAY’S LIE, by Jamie Mason

monday's lie

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.


Jamie Mason joins us Tuesday, February 24, at 7pm on BookPeople’s second floor. She appears in conversation with Mark Pryor and will speak and sign her latest, Monday’s Lie. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison


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.


Copies of  The Bishop’s Wife are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Bishop’s Wife is our January MysteryPeople Pick of the Month – read the review. 

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE BISHOP’S WIFE, by Mette Ivie Harrison

bishops wife

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

Bouchercon 2014 Wrap-Up!

scott bouchercon 1
With Brad Parks and his Shamus Award

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.

With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue
With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue

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.

scott bouchercon 3

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.