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True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

 

With the huge popularity of true crime — particularly true crime podcasts– it isn’t surprising that authors would want to explore the genre in their fiction.  For example, I already wrote about how a true crime podcast drives the action in the novel Conviction by Denise Mina (previous post). Today let’s take a look at a novel that takes things a step further, True Crime Story:  What Happens to All the Girls Who Go Missing? by Joseph Knox. The paperback is coming out on December 7, 2021.

The first chapter starts with a black and white photograph of a young woman and the words:

In the early hours of Saturday, December 17, 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old University of Manchester student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years later writer Evelyn Mitchell becomes interested in “What Happens to All the Girls Who Go Missing?” and starts investigating Zoe’s disappearance.  What she discovers unfolds through a series of interviews with the Zoe’s friends and relatives, plus emails, police reports, letters, etc.

Although the central question of what happened to Zoe is a compelling one, readers might find other questions on their minds, such as, “What is the author up to?”

Fiction or Nonfiction?

For a reader who picks up the novel cold, whether this is really true crime (nonfiction) is unclear.  Part of the confusion occurs because the author, Joseph Knox, inserts himself as a character, an author who helps Evelyn with her investigation and her writing. But all may not be as it seems. On the first page is a note from the publisher for the “amended second edition.” It implies Knox is not reliable and there has been a scandal, although the details are muddy.

It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that this novel is entirely fiction impersonating nonfiction. Even the note from the publisher is fiction.

Why did the author choose to create a fictional true crime novel? Perhaps Knox gives the answer on page 377 in the paperback version:

At such times, I remember why fiction is so often preferable to fact.

Homage to True Crime or Satire?

Joseph Knox put an incredible amount of work into this novel. He created interviews with multiple characters plus emails, plus a subplot of the interaction between the character Joseph Knox and Evelyn, the writer.  With the details and amount of time he put into it, one might guess the novel is a homage to the genre. However, an homage should lift up the genre, to show it at its finest, and that’s not the case. He sticks to the dry style of straightforward nonfiction.

If you look up “mimic” in the thesaurus, you will also find the words lampoon, parody, spoof. By mimicking true crime, Knox is likely poking fun at it. But again, it isn’t entirely clear. If that is the case, you’d expect more tongue-in-cheek, more tearing down of the genre, more over-the-top bits. If the intention is pure satire, then it is subtle enough that at least some readers missed it, a fact that becomes obvious when reading reviews.

Perhaps The Times has come the closest with the suggestion Knox both celebrates and satirizes the genre.

Conclusions

What the novel does really well is explore how authors investigating a crime — getting caught up in it — can color not only what they write, but also what happens. In this case Evelyn actually causes the ending. She is an active part of the story. On the other hand, the Joseph Knox character uses his position to conceal his own involvement in a death. All in all it becomes metafiction at its weirdest and best.

How you respond to this novel will depend on you and your expectations. If you are looking for something entirely new and different, if you really like fiction, then this is the book for you. You will be one of those many readers who give it 4 and 5 star reviews.

On the other hand, if you are a diehard fan of true crime and like your nonfiction unadulterated, then you might wonder why Joseph Knox didn’t put all his time and considerable talent into writing a novel that suspends disbelief, rather one than causes it.

Overall, I recommend giving True Crime Story a chance because if nothing else, it raises questions that will likely stick with you long after you read it. Isn’t that the best kind of novel?

True Crime Story:  What Happens to All the Girls Who Go Missing? by Joseph Knox


Disclosure: Book reviewed was an Advance Reader’s Edition. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

 

#BookBeginnings Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R Rendon

 

Looking forward to reading Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

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Girl Gone Missing* by Marcie R. Rendon

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Nineteen-year-old Cash Blackbear goes to Moorhead State college during the day and drives trucks delivering crops at night. She has little time to connect with classmates. That is, until she begins dreaming that the blonde girls who have recently gone missing from campus. Her dreams show they are trapped and trying to escape. What is going on? Can she help them?

First Sentence:

Cash pulled herself up and out of her bedroom window. Her heart beat in her ears and she shivered uncontrollably. She took off running barefoot, zig-zagging across the damp ground.

 

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The truckload of beets weighed a lot more than corn or wheat, probably because the beetroots were water dense. They also tended to have field dirt clinging to them even though the newer machines were better at cleaning the large clumps off the root before they were ever loaded on the trucks.

It was hard to find a place to start and stop the quotes. In the sections I have read so far, the words flow like water. They keep going, moving forward, tumbling to the next and to the next and to the next, pulling you right along like you are being swept along. It is hard to put down.

Neither of the quotes show you Cash, an Anishinabe woman who is smart and mature beyond her years. This is the second in a series. The first was Murder on the Red River, which I have not read.

What do you think?  Are you in the mood for an amateur sleuth mystery?

#amwriting Five Writing Craft Books for Your Favorite Writer

Let’s take a look at five books about writing, any one of which may be perfect for your favorite writer.

Disclosure:  I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

1. On Writing by Stephen King (2000)

Stephen King is a consummate storyteller and it shows throughout this book. Part memoir, part how-to manual, I came away with some treasures about writing. He is a huge proponent of reading as a way to inform your writing. He talks a lot about the “writer’s toolbox,” which are the skills you need to develop in order to write, like expanding your vocabulary and improving your grammar. He is also very candid about how some of his more famous books came together and how some almost didn’t.

Favorite quote:

If there is one thing I love about writing more than the rest, it’s that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects.

Stephen King probably couldn’t have written a straight how-to manual without including the memoir portions because writing is so much a part of his identity. That said, he gives very practical advice.

2. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

This slim volume is a compilation of essays Annie Dillard published about writing over the years. She has had a rich writing life. She has a powerful, commanding voice and she has written some amazing books.

Rather than detailed how-to, the sections are about the writing process and what price tag it might have. It’s more about whether or not to give writing a try.

It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.

She devotes a good number of pages in the book to the physical places where where she has written, such as in a college library after hours, a pine shed in Cape Cod, or a cabin on an island in the Puget Sound. What writer wouldn’t like to get away from it all like that? How many of us can actually achieve it?

Tips more toward intimidating than inspiring at times.

3. This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley


If you are looking for wise, warm, and clear advice on how to get the writing work done — especially for your first novel — this is the book for you.

The process of writing a novel is like taking a journey by boat. You have to continually set yourself on course…It’s not like a highly defined train tracks or a highway; this is a path that you are creating, discovering.

Walter Mosley covers the key points of writing a novel — such as which point of view to choose — very concisely. He also examines the revision process.

His main advice is to read, particularly poetry, and also to write every single day until you have a novel.  Reading this book just might inspire you to do that.

Best for the first time author who is eager to get started.

4. Write Away:  One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George is a renowned author of mystery novels. Her ideas and pointers are at a deeper level than some of the others and this book might be better for someone who has some writing experience. That said, she has some wonderful suggestions.

  1. She recommends keeping a writing journal about writing your novel. She’s not the first author I’ve heard suggest this, but she gives actual quotes for her journals at the beginning of each section. Seeing how it works has inspired me to start my own writing journal and I’m finding it highly beneficial. I use it to keep focused, keep organized, and it also helps me to see the progress I’m making. Try it!
  2. George gives many concrete examples of her various points. For example, when she proposes getting ideas for novels from challenges, she gives two examples of novels she wrote when other authors said that format was too hard to pull off, that it couldn’t be done.

In any case, a great reference that you will likely return to again and again.


Note:  authors don’t always agree on all points. For example, Walter Mosley says “dialogue is action.” Elizabeth George writes that “dialogue is character.”

5. How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook by Mystery Writers of America edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King

This is a collection of essays and short pieces by famous mystery and thriller authors about writing in their genre. It is filled with excellent advice, each contribution is a polished gem. Brilliant!

On the other hand, when you have a basket full of colorful gems, it isn’t easy to pick one or two to use. How to Write a Mystery might work best once you have a first draft and you have concrete questions. That way you’ll know what gems work best for you.

#BookBeginnings Careless in Red

I’m reading Elizabeth George’s nonfiction book about writing, Write Away. To see how she uses the techniques she writes about,  I picked up one of her novels, Careless in Red, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-elizabeth-george

Careless in Red by Elizabeth George (2008)

(*Amazon Affiliate link- As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Summary:  Grieving over the murder of his pregnant wife, former Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley has been on a long solo walk along the coast of Cornwell when he stumbles onto a body. Although the young man appears to have fallen accidentally, it becomes apparent his death is a murder. Usually the lead investigator, this time Lynley is a witness or even a possible suspect.

First Sentence:

He found the body on the forty-third day of his walk.

Discussion:

In the previous novel, Lynley had resigned because of the death of his wife. As a fan, I want to know will he go on with his life or will he return to Scotland Yard? Finding a body is promising that he will return in some capacity. Can’t wait to delve into this one.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

Thomas Lynley returned to them then…He handed over the clothing the DI asked for. It’s absurd, Dairdre thought. He’s going to catch his death if he wandered round like that:  no jacket, no shoes, and just a thin white boiler suit of the type worn at crime scenes to ensure that the official investigators did not leave trace evidence behind.

Apparently a boiler suit is a pair of white coveralls.

Although Elizabeth George is an American who lives on the West Coast, she writes mysteries set in Britain with accurate details like this. I can’t imagine how she writes the setting and vocabulary so authentically.

What do you think? Have you ever read a novel by Elizabeth George? Would you like to give this one a try?

Conviction and The Less Dead by Denise Mina

Time to return two recent Denise Mina novels to the library, but let’s take a few minutes to discuss them first.

Conviction* by Denise Mina (2019)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Brief Summary:   Anna McDonald listens to true crime podcasts to distract herself from her personal problems. When she realizes she has a connection to one of the crimes and that she might be able to solve it, the stars align to send her in search of the truth.

 

Review — With Spoilers:

Anna McDonald’s life is in crisis. One morning her best friend Estelle shows up at the door and announces that she (Estelle) has been sleeping with Anna’s husband, he’s leaving Anna, and even worse, they are taking Anna’s two daughters away on a long trip. Dumbfounded and suicidal, Anna turns to a true crime podcast for distraction only to realize she knows the victim, Leon. Although someone else has been convicted of the crime in the courts, the podcaster says that person is innocent and accuses Leon of carrying out a murder/suicide. However, Anna is sure the podcaster is wrong. With Estelle’s husband as a sidekick, they begin to investigate Leon’s death.

The book is written in the first person, from Anna’s point of view. Right off the bat, Anna seems like an unreliable narrator. There are hints of violence in the scene where her husband and Estelle confront her and take off with her girls. There are also strong hints of secrets to be revealed. Even though I’m not fond of unreliable narrators, given that the horrible events of the first morning would knock anyone for a loop, I was willing to keep reading.

Mina is brilliant at delivering an astonishing bit of information right when the story is seeming to slow down. For example, readers learn that Anna’s husband has done the same thing before. One morning he asked his lover at the time to show up at his previous wife’s door in a similar scenario. The only difference was the first wife did not have children. The big surprise:  the lover in that case was Anna! This wrinkle/twist gives explains Anna’s complex, dark emotions — of being a gravely-wronged victim, but also the guilt of previously having been the perpetrator. What a position to be in!

The surprising twists continue right up to the end, including the revelation that Anna’s name is really Sophie and that even though she was the victim of a rape, she had be vilified by public opinion and changed her identity.  No wonder she was being secretive.

A compelling story.

 

The Less Dead* by Denise Mina

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Brief Summary:  Margo Dunlap’s adoptive mother has recently passed away and Margo is responsible for clearing out the house to get it ready for sale.  Instead, needing some sort of closure, she decides to search for her biological mother.  She meets with her biological aunt — a recovering addict — and learns her mother was murdered years before. Margo’s aunt says she knows who did the murder, but he’s gotten away with it. Can Margo trust her aunt enough to help bring the man to justice?

Review — With Spoilers:

The story is told mostly in the close third person from Dr. Margo Dunlap’s point of view, with a few short scenes from the point of view of an unnamed watcher — creepy.

At the outset, Margo is stressed out. The only mother she’s ever known has passed away and her brother is far away, which leaves her with the task of clearing out the house. At the same time, she’s worried about her best friend’s abusive relationship. Her own relationship is unsteady. She’s left her partner, Joe, even though she is pregnant with Joe’s baby and hasn’t told him.

Things don’t improve as she finds out about her mother’s murder. Before long she is getting threatening letters, but she continues to investigate, uncovering many heartbreaking aspects of her mother’s life.

Although the ending felt a bit more forced than Conviction‘s ending, I like the protagonist better. She is more stable, and up to the end, the instability in her life comes mostly from outside events and influences.

Overall, I liked both of these novels. I will be looking for more titles by Denise Mina.

#BookBeginnings The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

 

Today I’m catching up with The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Silent Patient* by Alex Michaelides

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  After Alicia Berenson shoots her husband Gabriel five times, she gives no explanation. In fact she doesn’t speak at all. Criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to unravel the mystery and begins to visit Alicia at the psychiatric hospital where she is held. Will he be able to reach her?

First Sentence Prologue:

Alicia Berenson’s Diary

July 14

I don’t know why I’m writing this.

 

First Sentence Chapter One:

Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband.

Discussion:

I’ve been hearing about this book all over and now that the author has another book out, perhaps it is time to see what all the fuss is about.

The set up is pretty compelling. I want to know what happened.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

From the diary:

I bought an electric fan yesterday. I set it up at the foot of the bed on the top of the chest.

Gabriel immediately started complaining, “It makes too much noise. We’ll never sleep.”

If one of your main character’s doesn’t speak, I guess having a diary is about the only way to reveal her side of things? It does give a sense of what her life was like.

Have you ever read a novel where a portion of the story is told in diary entries or letters?

What do you think? Have you read The Silent Patient or Alex’s newest, The Maidens?

#BookBeginnings Conviction by Denise Mina

Today I’m reading Conviction by Denise Mina for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Mina

Conviction* by Denise Mina

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Anna McDonald listens to true crime podcasts to distract herself from her personal problems. When she realizes she has a connection to one of the crimes and that she might be able to solve it, the stars align to send her in search of the truth.

First Sentence Prologue:

Just tell the truth. I’ve said that to my own kids. What a ridiculous thing to teach children.

Discussion:

I like that opening. Sentence one. Sentence two. Okay, I know where this is going… Sentence three – bam! The author flips things 180 degrees from expected.

First Sentence Chapter 1:

The day my life exploded started well.

Discussion: 

What a hook! So far I like the first person voice.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The screen blacked out. The narrator, Trina, delivered a trigger warning:  basically, don’t watch this. Don’t watch if you’re too young or old or nervous or squeamish,

 

Have you ever listened to true crime podcasts? Seems like they are pretty popular. I’ve read two novels (fiction) lately that have true crime podcasts as a central, crucial element.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Denise Mina? Would you continue reading this one?

#amwriting Mystery with a Pinch of Humor

Do you love your mysteries with a dose of humor? Want to find more about how to write them?

This week I discovered a wonderful webinar called Mirth & Mystery with Diane Kelly at Triangle Sisters in Crime.

 

 

First Diane sets the stage. As she explains, humor often doesn’t get as much respect as other genres, even though it is incredibly difficult to write. There is only one award for humorous mysteries, the Lefty (the archives is a great place to find books to add to your reading list).

That doesn’t mean it is impossible. Diane gives the names of several popular mystery authors known for their humor. Of the authors on her list, my husband is a huge fan of Carl Hiaasen, I love Janet Evanovich’s  Stephanie Plum series (previous post), and my son is a mammoth Dave Barry fan. What does that say about our family?

Next she delves deeply into the numerous ways that humor can improve your writing, from making your manuscript stand out to agents and editors, to  adding to the emotional range. If you have your readers biting their fingernails with tension, rather than charging forward with more,  provide a bit of relief via a lighter, comedic moment.

I’m not sure how long the video will be available, but this webinar is a gem. Seriously.

Here are Amazon Affiliate links to the two humor writing books she recommends (mainly so I remember to pick them up).

The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus

The Eight Characters of Comedy: Guide to Sitcom Acting And Writing by Scott Sedita

 

Then a few days later I found a webinar by mystery author Kathy McKintosh on “Humor in Mysteries.”  Is the cosmos trying to tell me something?

Look for it at Bear Canyon Library on YouTube (link).  Unfortunately sharing was disabled, so you will have to click through to watch it.

Do you have a favorite mystery author who incorporates humor in their novels? We’d love to hear about it!

@DesertSleuths anthology SO WEST: LOVE KILLS Coming Soon

Interested in mysteries? Like to read anthologies?

A short story I wrote is featured in the latest Desert Sleuths anthology, So West:  Love Kills*, arriving 9/10/2021.

(*Amazon affiliate link)

Here’s the blurb:

Betrayal. Deception. Greed. Love Gone Wrong. Brothers and sisters. Lovers and liars. Fathers and daughters. Mothers and sons. From the wilds of Arizona’s Rim country to its dusty lowland deserts, you’ll find it all within the pages of So West: Love Kills. Bonds forged and broken. Covenants kept and cast aside. Love nurtured and left to rot. Not everything is as it seems. Not everyone can be trusted. But one thing is for certain—love hurts. Sometimes it even kills!

 

Contributing authors:

  • Shannon Baker,
  • Mysti Berry,
  • Meredith Blevins,
  • Patricia Bonn,
  • Lauren Buckingham,
  • Susan Budavari,
  • William Butler,
  • Patricia Curren,
  • Meg E. Dobson,
  • Beverly Forsyth,
  • Denise Ganley,
  • Roberta Gibson,
  • Katherine Atwell Herbert,
  • Tom Leveen,
  • Susan Cummins Miller,
  • Charlotte Morganti,
  • Julie Morrison,
  • Claire A. Murray,
  • Kris Neri,
  • Karen Odden,
  • R K Olson,
  • D.R. Ransdell,
  • Kim Rivery,
  • Elena E. Smith.

 

Lead Editor: Maegan Beaumont.

Co-Editors: Deborah J Ledford, Susan Budavari, R K Olson, Shannon Baker, Meg Dobson

Cover Designer: Maegan Beaumont.

E-books available for preorder now. I’d love for you to check it out!

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