Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Murder Mysteries

I used to read mysteries from time to time... it was the genre I preferred for 'light' reading, as opposed to the brain heavy stuff I love when I have no other preoccupations, or the thriller/suspense stuff I choose when I have emotional freedom, but not extra brain power. I've begun though, reading mysteries with a new eye.

In February, I read two Iain Pears Art Mysteries (and enjoyed them a lot) but that was background on ART THIEVES for my trilogy. At the end of February, it was suggested my voice fit very well with cozy mysteries and I began to explore the genre.

You know my FAVORITE thing about this? I have read a couple books by people I KNOW, and that is a totally exhilarating, impressive experience—to read a published book by someone I know.

I fessed up to being a lousy liar yesterday, right? I mean... I can NOT say stuff, but I don't tell anyone anything that is NOT TRUE. I just had to get that off my chest, because what I have to say might sound like sucking up.

THE PEOPLE I KNOW WRITE BETTER BOOKS THAN THE PEOPLE I DON'T. There. I've said it. Oh, I know. There are some darned impressive writers out there, but among the mysteries I've read in trying to figure out the ins and outs of WRITING ONE, I've decided I know some impressive people.

Brief reviews from people I don't know:

I began with two Kate Collins novels—both flower based, and I loved certain aspects of them. They were witty, light... My only real complaint was some use of stereotypes—there was a 'sex trade' story involving Chinese women who'd been 'stolen' which for starters, was incongruent enough early on that it was obviously related to the deaths, and frankly... not a light enough option to be treated lightly. I mean I don't think it was intentionally distasteful, but my feminist edges have been too sharply filed for this to belong in a cozy. It's NOT FUNNY, and though it wasn't exactly presented as funny, it WAS presented as characature. The other one I had fewer issues with, but there was still some leaning on stereotypes. What I liked best was the friendships the MC had with the women who worked with her.

The one I am in the middle of 'Snow Place to Die' also has a couple stereotypes—an Asian businesswoman who is ALL BUSINESS and the couple black characters fall neatly into boxes.

I have one in my stack upstairs that looks more promising... The Scent of Murder by Barbara Block, but then... the Collins ones looked impressive up front, too...

But among people I KNOW...

The first I read was a sneak peak that I possibly can't mention by a certain somebody who has helped me a lot. Her characters are FANTASTIC, her humor, fabulous, and the story wonderful... but I will save it for the book release.

The actual reviews for today are two books: A Real Basket Case by Beth Groundwater and The Prairie Grass Murders by Patricia Stoltey. They aren't 'as cozy'... but they were GREAT examples of mystery writing. So here goes:

A Real Basket Case by Beth Groundwater

[I've only had a few interactions with Beth, but she was among the first authors I began watching, as when I started this networking thing last May, so was promoting her newly released book, and she is very nice]

Claire Hanover is approaching a midlife crisis with an overworked (always absent) husband and an annoying paunch to her belly. She decides aerobics with friends might slim her (and attract the hubby's interest) but is tempted into getting a massage (at her home) by her hot instructor and massage therapist. During their first massage session, as she lays there in her underwear, he is shot in her home, and her husband is blamed...

What I love about this book is the real emotion—the self-doubt, partner doubt, the cynical friend. It all rang VERY realistic to me. There were two 'loops,' if you will, stringing in suspects, both of them plausible, and it kept pulling Claire into a battle of 'friends versus husband' when her husband had been pretty darned lousy.

It was sassy, periodically naughty, but only in a PG way, and a very fun read.

The Prairie Grass Murders by Patricia Stoltey (who also writes a lovely blog

[note, Pat sent this to me because she is a nice lady and I had mentioned that I was reading some mysteries, but I haven't paid for ANY of these (most are library lends), and I ALWAYS call it as I see it... that is sort of me—you know... naked.]

The book starts with a Vietnam Vet who is nearing retirement and wanting to visit the area in Southern Illinois where his family grew up. Willie is a bit odd, or so the conservative locals see it—marching to the beat of his own drummer. He has small features of shell shock—acute anxiety over loud noises and small places, but he also returned with a careful perceptiveness—the kind that keeps you alive. He decides to wander a drainage ditch, as he used to as a boy, and a Turkey Vulture alerts him to a particular location along the ditch. It's a tenacious bird... clearly hiding something. When Willie reports the body he finds to a deputy along the road, he is promptly taken to the county home and tossed unceremoniously in the loony bin.

But Willie, unlike some well meaning citizens who get on the wrong side of small town law enforcement, has a sister who is a circuit judge in Florida, and LKNOWS Willie is not bonkers, so something is fishy. She comes to first check him out of the crazy ward, then help him investigate... the plot thickens as important town citizens get pulled into the web.

I loved this story, primarily for the characters—they were smart. There was a stupid mistake or two, but they were of the variety people really make when pressed and stressed. Neither fell into stereotypes, though they maintained enough features for their 'kind of character' to be realistic. I loved the relationship between the two because of the balance. Sylvia is an important and respected judge, but she is also the 'little sister' so they struggle with the dynamic a little, each resenting any reining in the other tries to do.

I enjoyed too, the struggle to free themselves from their 'Norwegian sensibilities'. My maternal line goes back to Norway, and this small town could have sat on the Iowa/Minnesota border and included my extended family, so it was just a nice perk.

Pat's writing isn't as 'cozy', but on the other hand, the mystery is tighter—it wasn't 'light' but neither was it horribly gory, and it was far more realistic, so I think it would appeal to both cozy readers and more traditional mystery readers.

My Conclusions

Either this genre has seriously improved in the last decade, or I just hit a couple clinks from the older list of people I don't know... who knows, maybe since I am reading from the library, the really GOOD older ones wear out.

But I think it's more likely that I've just met the really impressive people, so if you TOO want to be impressive, an important first step is to be my friend.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it!

AND THIS JUST IN:  For writers ready for some feedback, there is a contest giving away some GREAT prizes, including critiques, and lunch with some big wigs.  Check it out.


Fire and Ice said...

Have I told you lately how much I enjoy your blog? I may not comment everyday, but I do read it and enjoy it immensly.
I havent got to read any of your 'coziness' yet but I am definately looking forward to it.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

LOL. Ok, wanna be my friend? Ok. Now am I impressive? Really? Excellent! ;)

Great post! Mouah!


I do so love reading your blogs they are very informative and what's more you know what you're writing about.

Take care.

Watery Tart said...

*huggles Leesh* Thank you, my friend! Hopefully we'll HEAR about the possibility of Cozy me SOON!

AA: (Jessica, right?) I feel funny using AA because of its other connotations. YES! I want to be your friend!

Yvonne-THANK YOU! I'm not sure I KNOW so much, but maybe there is a little something in there...

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Not Hannah said...

I've never really enjoyed mysteries. I accidentally got stuck in an Agatha Christie one time in early adolescence and almost never got out. HOWEVER, your reviews make both of the above sound tasty enough to give the genre a try again.


Megan said...

Nice blog today Hart. I love a good mystery (when I have time to read anything other than my Vine stuff and friends works). Lehane and Coben are my faves. I'll have to check out the above books. Thanks for the reviews.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm trying my comment again now that I've had my second cup of coffee. :)

I'm glad you're diving back into the world of mysteries, Hart! There is some good stuff out there--you just have to look for it! You've picked some great writers to read.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Elizabeth, you confused me for a minute (not hard to do)-but there you are again. Yes, my brain blips when it's short on coffee, too! I still have Pretty Is as Pretty Dies on order from the library--hope they get it in soon!!

NotHannah-I like Miss Marple (Agatha) but am not as big a fan of her others. These really are pretty great though--worth giving them a shot!

Megan, I'll have to add those to my list! Thanks!

Lola Sharp said...

I agree with Megan's Lehane suggestion. Excellent mystery writing. Not light and cozy, but well written mystery.

For a more funny, female MC, lighter 'mystery', have you read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series? They are high-larious!! Straight-up, fast paced, laugh-out-loud funny. If for some odd reason you have never read any of them, go to the library and get number one (one for the money) RIGHT NOW. Then get naked, get in the tub and suck that book down in one sitting.

Happy Hump Day!

Watery Tart said...

Oh, Lola, you know me too well. I always take ANY suggestion that includes getting naked! I will go put myself on the list for One for the Money right now!

Sugar said...

I'm still confused. But since you know me (sorta) my book (when it's done) will be the bestest ever!! woohoo!! lol.
The Stephane Plum series are awesome too btw! Loved them

Beth said...

I enjoyed this whole post, and may look for those books, but my very favorite line was "If you want to be impressive. First be my friend!" LOL ... lets be friends! K?

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, Hart, for the great review and the links. It really is fun to read friends' books, which is why I read and mention so many of the Colorado authors I've met through conferences and organization memberships. Now that I'm in the blogging world, I've also been reading books by blogger friends. Have you read Elizabeth's "Pretty is as Pretty Dies." I love her Myrtle Clover character.

Watery Tart said...

Uh oh, Sugar! How have I confused you?

Thank you, Beth! GLAD to be friends!

Patricia, you're very welcome, and thank you for sharing your book with me! It was fabulous! I'm still on the waiting list for Pretty Is as Pretty Dies, but I will get there!

Marjorie said...

The only mysteries I was ever able to get into were the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. BUT I think I may give them a try. It's all thanks to you, or it's all your fault as the case may be.

Watery Tart said...

Oh sure, blame the naked chick! *snort* (Marjorie has heard this a great many times)

Marjorie said...

Too many to count! Of course I have to blame the naked chick as she's such an easy mark.

Anonymous said...

I'm not typically a mystery reader, but I admit you have piqued my curiosity with these titles and reviews! I just told myself I would stay away from the book store, too.... Oh, well there is that gift certificate I got from Amazon. ;)

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

yep it's Jessica :) *kiss on cheek*

Watery Tart said...

Yay! It's a Tart's job to tempt, so I'm glad I've succeeded, Kimberly!

*smooches Jessica*

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks for the review and introductions.