Category: Conferences/Workshops

#amreading #mystery The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey

Let’s take a look at The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey for our ongoing research into older mystery series.

The Salaryman’s Wife* by Sujata Massey


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

First in the Rei Shimura mystery series, originally published in 1997.

Summary:  Rei Shimura is a 27-year-old Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo, where she barely scrapes by teaching English. During a New Year’s vacation to the Japanese Alps, she discovers the body of one of the guests at the minshuku (family-run inn) where she is staying. Before long she’s caught up in the investigation while trying to avoid becoming the next victim.

**Setting**

This novel is all about the Japanese setting. The lodging, the food, the trips to various village and cities all play an essential part in pulling the reader into the mystery. Because the author spent time teaching English in Japan and takes frequent trips there, she is able to move past the tourist experience. She expertly captures the conflicts and inconsistencies between modern and traditional culture, as well as between Rei’s two sides, American and Japanese culture.

 

Public domain photo of Mount Fuji via Good Free Photos

Characters

The main character, Rei Shimura is in-your-face strong, yet sweetly unaware at times.  Her Japanese-American heritage adds depth to the story. It shows the difficulties of seeming to belong to two cultures and yet being fully accepted by neither. Author Sujata Massey’s parents were from Germany and India, so she understands the conflicts of a mixed-cultural background.

The characters in the story are diverse and interesting. At times it felt like there were way too many characters, some of whom played little role in moving the plot forward. By the end, we find out at least some of the characters who seemed extraneous were in fact involved in ingenious ways. For example, she gives a meal to a homeless man in one scene. Later on he rescues her.

Sujata Massey handles the dialogue well, especially the banter between Rei and her love interest Hugh. At times, however, the content of the dialogue seemed contrived. For example, Rei meets a powerful businessman for the first time and grills him for intensely personal information. He gives her everything she wants straight out. It would have been more realistic if she had to coerce him or if he had toyed with her before spilling. This is a problem I have as a writer, too. Instead of giving each individual in the conversation their own or an opposing agenda, as is the case in the real world, they simply say what is needed to move the story forward.

Discussion

Sex Scenes

In the book we are using for our ongoing reading challenge, The Bestseller Code, the authors state that very few bestsellers contain sex as a topic. It seems like some older mysteries, like this one,  do have sex scenes. Massey’s scenes work well because the sex isn’t gratuitous. The scenes move the story forward because they cement the relationship between two characters and gives them a realistic motive to work together.

Conclusion

Although rough in spots, there are enough gems in this book that I enjoyed it. I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.

#amreading #mystery: The Falls by Ian Rankin

After having read the first in the Inspector John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (previous review),  let’s compare it to the twelfth in the series, The Falls.

 

The Falls* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Art history student Philippa “Flip” Balfour goes missing and her rich parents immediately pull strings to make the case a priority. When the new Chief Super Gill Templer assigns Detective Inspector John Rebus the task of checking out a doll found in a casket, he’s pretty sure it isn’t important to the case. Or is it?

What is similar between the two books:

Ian Rankin knows how to write a perfect first line. The first line of Knots and Crosses was eerie:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

For The Falls, it is intriguing:

‘You think I killed her, don’t you?’

As to be expected, both novels are set in Edinburgh, Scotland and the surrounding countryside. Also, both novels give a detailed picture of the inner workings of Scottish police departments.

Once again John Rebus is only one cog in a much larger investigative machine. Once again others, particularly his female colleagues, point him in the right direction or dig up pertinent clues.

Another similarity between the two novels is that there are puzzles to figure out, which makes sense because the main character’s last name “Rebus” is a type of word puzzle. In Knots and Crosses the names of the previous victims is a puzzle/clue. In The Falls, the puzzles — part of a role-playing game — are a central thread of the story. Regardless of his last name, in both novels it isn’t Rebus who works out most of the puzzles, but other characters.

What is different about the two books:

An obvious difference between the two books is the length. Knot and Crosses is a respectable 256 pages.  At 399 pages, The Falls is significantly longer.  Much of the difference in length is due a substantially more complex plot (details would be spoilers).

Some of the differences may be due to the fact that the two books were by different publishers. In Knots and Crosses, there are double quotation marks around the dialogue. In The Falls, the dialogue is set off by single quotations marks. Single quotation marks are more common in British novels.

Another difference is the theme of promotion and retirement within the police department. When Chief Super Farmer retires, John Rebus visits him. He notices how tidy Farmer’s house is and realizing he might be at loose ends, asks Farmer to help out with small pieces of the investigation. An older Rebus looks ahead and is a bit frightened about what his own retirement might look like, whereas in the first book he looked back on what had happened when he was young.

Discussion

Keeping a mystery series moving ahead is no small achievement. Ian Rankin does a wonderful job creating compelling, complex characters and a multi-layered plot. As Rankin and his characters mature, we can only imagine what lies ahead.

#amreading Mystery: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

With an opportunity to meet some great mystery authors coming up in September, I’ve been doing some background reading. Up today is Knots and Crosses: An Inspector Rebus Novel (Amazon affiliate link) by Ian Rankin.

There may be a few minor spoilers.

 

This is the first Inspector John Rebus mystery novel, originally published in 1987.

Summary:  A serial killer is strangling young girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of the detectives assigned to the case, John Rebus is battling his own demons, which include debilitating flashbacks and mysterious anonymous notes. Can he figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together in time?

Mystery Novel Dissection:

The novel starts out with an excellent hook, from the first line:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

That certainly sets the tone and grabs the reader’s attention.

From there, Rankin introduces the characters, starting with Detective John Rebus, the main character. Rebus was in the army, and trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) before becoming a police officer. He also suffers from flashbacks to memories that he has repressed, in many ways making him like Detective Rob Ryan in In The Woods (previous review). In fact, I did wonder if Tana French was influenced by Rankin’s writing.

John’s younger brother Michael is a hypnotist who uses his talents for entertainment purposes. At first it looks like Michael is a side character, but later we learn he is a form of Chekhov’s gun. His ability to hypnotize others helps solve the crime.

Jack Morton is another detective and John’s friend. In one of those funny things that happen when writing, Jack Morton on page 37:

…was thirty-five, six years younger than Rebus.

On page 38,

Morton had been a policeman for two decades…

Doing the math, Jack Morton had become a police officer at a very young 15 years old! Oops… Perhaps “nearly” two decades?

Rather than portrayed as a superhero who does it all, John Rebus gets a lot of help from others along the way, including from a female public information officer (love interest)  who figures out the significance of the anonymous notes. In fact, the help from other people goes a little too far at times, making Rebus seem the passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator. It does make him seem believable and human, though.

In the end, author Rankin makes good use of the “ticking clock” to build suspense towards the climax. Will Rebus be able to find the killer in time, before he kills again as he has promised?

Discussion

For what I’ve read Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses, so he did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. It is a riveting mystery that is well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and believable plot. Rankin doesn’t provide a lot of red herrings or overt clues, but it builds logically to a suspenseful climax. I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

The next mystery novel in the series is Hide and Seek: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin.

 

Photograph from PublicDomainPictures.net

Tucson Festival of Books 2018: Bright Spots and Broad Stokes

I’ve just returned from the Tucson Festival of Books 2018 and I’m a combination of exhausted and euphoric. What an awesome event!

Tucson Festival of Books

 

In case you’ve never heard of it, the Tucson Festival of Books is held on The University of Arizona® campus. It celebrates southwestern U.S. books and authors (for the most part, there are many exceptions) with panel discussions, workshops, and book signings. It is a wonderful place to discover new favorite authors, as well as to glean tidbits about the craft of writing. The festival organization and the venue are fantastic. plus it is free to attend. The only down side is that here are so many things to see and do, it is impossible to cover it all.

Bright Spots

A few authors stood out among the over 500 attending.

1. Author J. Todd Scott (a.k.a Todd Scott)

His newest novel, High White Sun, is coming out next week. It is a sequel to The Far Empty (previous review).

J. Todd Scott is currently working as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the DEA, but also manages to find the time to write exceptional novels set in west Texas.

As for his writing process, he mentioned that for his first novel he started out with a love for the raw beauty of his Texas setting, plus the first line of the novel. He didn’t have a plan or outline, but wrote his first draft straight through. In fact, he quoted E. L. Doctorow:

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

It was good to see Todd Scott invited to speak on a panel. Most of the panels featured writers who were hawking their 6th or 12th or even 57th book. He’s already being taken seriously after one novel.

2. British poet and novelist Sophie Hannah

She discussed her newest, Keep Her Safe: A Novel.

 

Why is a British author at a southwestern book festival? Because Keep Her Safe takes place at a luxury resort in Arizona.

The story came from a real life incident where the hotel receptionist gave her the key to a room that had already been given to someone else. She was tired and disoriented when she entered, so didn’t realize the hotel receptionist’s mistake until the room’s occupant confronted her.  That is creepy enough, but afterwards she began to imagine what if she had seen something that she wasn’t supposed to see. She incorporated that idea into the book.

Sophie Hannah’s writing schedule is the best I’ve ever heard. For her latest novel, she wakes up around 8:30 a.m. Without getting out of bed, her husband brings her tea, a chocolate croissant, and her laptop, which she uses to write for three hours. Then she gets up and starts her day. My jaw has permanently dropped after hearing that.  It is the anti-matter version of my life.

3. Retired Police Captain Isabella Maldonado

Her debut novel is Blood’s Echo (A Veranda Cruz Mystery).

 

Isabella Maldonado (Judy Jance called her “Bella”) is another up and coming author. In her workshop, Writing Authentic Police Procedurals, Maldonado used examples from her experiences with the police force to illustrate how to write an authentic crime-based novel. Tidbits included that it is illegal for a police detective to talk about his or her case with someone outside the investigation, and that if a police officer is involved in a fatal shooting, he or she is “sidelined” for at least a month while under investigation.  She then suggested ways to circumvent the rules, or at least show you as an author understand them.

She also explained big city police forces often have layers of bureaucracy that are too complex to be portrayed realistically without potential confusion and a huge cast of characters. Again, she suggested ways to condense the bureaucracy while making it seem real.

With her extensive insider knowledge, I think she should write a nonfiction book on this topic.

Broad Strokes

In addition to all the great information about writing, it was also possible to make some generalizations about the readers who made up the audiences at the Tucson Festival of Books.

First of all, baby boomers love mystery, suspense, and crime. Whenever the panels where made up of mystery authors, the audience in the room skewed noticeably to the baby boomer generation. Based on what I heard from those sitting around me, plus the speakers, it seemed like a lot of the readers were initially influenced by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. For example, Craig Johnson referred to an Agatha Christie book in his Longmire novel about a crime on a train. Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write new novels featuring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Where were the younger readers and writers? They showed up for science fiction/speculative fiction/fantasy authors, as well as those who specialized in young adult. The early influences of these choices were less concrete, but I heard numerous references to Harry Potter books (one young author “sorted” her characters by which house they would belong to in Hogwarts), Hunger Games, and to a lesser extent, Game of Thrones.  It was not completely clear whether reading the books made the genres more popular, or the books were popular because the genres are.

In any case, the Tucson Festival of Books has a lot to offer for writer and reader alike. If you love books, you might want to put it on your calendar for March 2019.

© 2018 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑