Category Archives: Crime

Q&A with Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky allowed herself to be pinned down by a mix of my usual profile questions and some more bespoke Sara-questions. When it comes to certain things in life, if in doubt, I tend to ask myself what Sara would think about it.

Sara Paretsky

The first time we spoke was seven years ago, and you were – I think – cautiously optimistic about Obama as your next President. ‘Things will be better, but it will not be fabulous.’ How do you feel now, looking ahead to 2016?

I think I was right about Obama – things are better, but not fabulous. Looking ahead to 2016, though, I‘m terrified.

You also talked about women crime writers, getting fewer hardback books published, leading to fewer reviews, and I assume, smaller sales and less income. Is it still as bad?

I think almost everyone is having a rough ride in today’s publishing world and we’re all trying to sort out how we find readers and what medium we want to publish in. As President of Mystery Writers of America, I’m learning that the writers most seriously affected by contracts in the industry are writers of colour. I’ve written about this in detail in an essay for the US trade publication Book List and the essay is on my website.

Do you ever think about retiring from writing about V I? (Please tell me you’re not. Except I can understand if you do.) Does it ever feel as if you’ve got a tiger by the tail and can’t let go?

I can’t imagine retiring from V I although I know there will be other books in other voices I will want to write. It’s not having the tiger by the tail – V I is an intimate part of my creative mind.

Is there anything you would never write about?

I shall never give graphic descriptions of serial killers’ work, or rape or dismemberment.

What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened to you through your writing?

I haven’t expected anything that is happening to me! It is often a slow, but amazing journey.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I make the best cappuccinos on the south side of Chicago – and I am a very still sleeper as I don’t toss and turn at night!

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Dag Hammarskjöld.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I stack books around my bed – like a wall – as I read them. Everyone now and then I’ll shelve them. I read three or four at a time and if I wake up in the night, I just reach out for one.

Please tell us about your new dog.

Chiara has two speeds – zero and 120 mph. In the home she mostly sleeps and outside she is in motion all the time … and she is a love bug.

Do you still love the Chicago Cubs?

It’s no longer the passionate relationship – it’s more the quiet contentment of long-standing love.

OK, moving on to the important stuff; what do you reckon really happened at the end of this season of NCIS? What would you prefer to have happened?

I was horrified when Gibbs was shot and that should never have happened. However, too many of the dead major players have been either female, black or gay… so from a PC standpoint it was good to have a straight, white, male take a few knocks!

And could you write an episode of NCIS?

Curiously, although I love the show, I never imagine myself into it, so I think the answer must be no …

I had to go and watch that ending again. I think we can resurrect Gibbs, even with a different scriptwriter than Sara Paretsky. And from one still sleeper to another, I wasn’t in the least surprised by Sara’s choice of Swede. Respect.

Brush Back

You have to admire the ageing gymnastics Sara Paretsky does to keep some of her characters younger than they possibly can be, while others move a little faster through life, and letting V I Warshawski’s darling dogs stay as they are.

Sara Paretsky, Brush Back

Brush Back is the story Sara wrote because she wanted to place a crime under Wrigley Field, and in the end she had to hurry as they started a major overhaul of the Cubs’ home ground. She also had to make things up, as they never replied to her emails asking to come and have a look around.

Just as well, since this way Sara could do what she liked, and what she likes is always tough on V I, but eventually ends OK for most of them. I could see two people as being in the danger zone – apart from V I herself, of course – and knew one of them would ultimately be OK, but worried that the other one wouldn’t be.

V I’s dead cousin Boom-Boom is back, so to speak. A childhood friend of his – and V I’s some time boyfriend – Frank comes asking for help when his mother is released from jail for having killed her daughter thirty years earlier. It’s not totally obvious to V I what Frank wants her to do, but being V I she starts digging anyway, and soon unearths lots of shady dealings and people who suddenly want to harm her.

She has a new young and spirited protegé from Canada living with her, which is good for Mr Contreras. V I upsets old boyfriend Conrad Rawlings again, although I’d say he’s mellowing a little. Plenty of baseball, icehockey and lawbreaking – and not all of it by V I – feature in Brush Back. Plus a small cameo by NCIS. (Keep them coming!)

It’s good to be back in Chicago, and it’s good to be back with old friends. Sara knows how to grab her readers.

Dead Good Marnie!

She won! I could find no reason why Marnie Riches shouldn’t win her category in Harrogate. I really couldn’t. But ever modest, Marnie seemed to feel there was no reason she would beat Oslo or Nepal.

Shortlisted for the Patricia Highsmith Award for Most Exotic Location in the Dead Good Reader Awards, going round killing people in Amsterdam seems to have been exotic enough to win Marnie a bespoke magnifying glass trophy. No home is complete without one.

I should have been there…

I’ve got it covered #1

When they sent me the paperback of Simon Mason’s Running Girl, I so wanted to read it, just because of its cover. Isn’t it great?

Simon Mason, Running Girl

But, you know, I’m a busy witch, and I read and adored Running Girl 18 months ago. So I didn’t read it again. And each time I caught sight of the new cover I wanted to grab the book and sit down with it.

There should be danger warnings, really. Look out; book will grab!

Brush Back with Sara Paretsky

If I’d had one of those buttonhole cameras I’d have taken a photo of Sara Paretsky as she gave me that searching look after signing my copy of Brush Back at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh last night. But I didn’t, which is a shame because she looked particularly pretty and happy at that point. I, in turn, got all tongue-tied and eloquently uttered ‘what?’ like the teenager I’d turned into.

Sara Paretsky

Oh well, I don’t think I had spinach between my teeth, and I hope there will be a next time when I might have grown up a little. It’s a blessing that Sara has friends near Edinburgh and that she was willing to break her holiday to meet her fans for an extra early book launch, and that Blackwell’s Ellie had had the good sense to snap her up. (There would have been Harrogate, but it’s another of those things I’ve cancelled, so this was a most welcome break for me.)

Sara Paretsky, Brush Back

And for many others. There were lots of chairs set out, and then there was floor space to stand on or stairs to sit on, because Sara has masses of fans, most of them women who don’t look like they go round murdering people. Or not much.

As Sara was being introduced, she squeezed past where I was sitting on one of the comfy sofas and rested briefly on the armrest (something that slim people can get away with), before standing in front of us saying she hoped we’d have a good time, herself included.

Sara Paretsky

Normally she starts a book because she has a crime she wants to write about, but this time Sara was wanting to set a story at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs* ‘pretend to play baseball.’ Having had Harrison Ford beat her to a chase scene somewhere else in Chicago, she wanted to get in and write about Wrigley Field before Harrison got there. Built in 1923 from poured concrete it is virtually indestructible (although I imagine V I Warshawski could have something to say about that), to the extent that rumour has it there is a toilet which has not been flushed since 1927. After reading the first chapter, she invited us to ask questions, warning us that as an author of fiction her answers could be fiction too.

Sara Paretsky reading from Brush Back

The first questions was what she thought of the film. Not much, is the short answer, but Sara told us much more. In effect she has signed away the rights to her character, and Disney – who own V I – once phoned her regarding ‘a product of theirs that Sara had once been involved’ with…

But it got V I attention, Sara had the opportunity to tread the sacred grass at Wrigley Field; even running the bases. And falling on the home plate. Kathleen Turner also bought Sara and her husband Courtenay dinner, handing Courtenay her private phone number.

Sara Paretsky

The next question was about Totall Recall, which was a very personal book for Sara, featuring Lotty in 1930s London. She’d have loved to write more on London in the thirties and forties, but reckoned it’d be hard to get right. The book came out in America on September 4th 2001, with a reader contacting her to ask who the Taliban were.

Sara Paretsky

Asked how V I came to her, Sara said she’d been fantasising about turning the tables on old style hardboiled crime, and her first character, Minerva Daniels, was much harder than V I. Sara realised after a while that she didn’t want Philip Marlowe in drag, but a woman like herself and her friends who say what they mean.

The final question was one Sara mentioned she’d just answered on Facebook (which I’d seen), about how long it takes her to write a novel. Between nine and 24 months, with research, meaning it’s anything between a human pregnancy and that of an elephant. Sara has been working four months on her next book, and has 16 usable pages. She has an uneasy feeling this one is an elephant baby.

With Sara you always get nice, long answers to your questions, even though she apologised for the length. (It’s good to go in-depth and find out more!) But very sensibly the talk had to end giving Sara enough time to sign a lot of books. You can’t have too much queue left when the shop closes. As I already had my copy, I jumped in early. And then I did that juvenile thing… Sigh.

Sara Paretsky

*Apparently they are ‘over 500,’ which is the same as winning the World Cup, which Sara knows is as incomprehensible to us as cricket is to her. And to me.

The Winter Horses

There was never any time to read the crime proof by Philip Kerr, several years ago. It looked good, though. And the book survived my culls, simply because I really wanted to read it. And I didn’t know about Philip’s children’s books. Then I was surprised to find him described as a Scottish crime writer, because I didn’t know that either. Seems he was born in Edinburgh, but doesn’t live in Scotland. Though I could be wrong on that.

Philip Kerr, The Winter Horses

But I’m not wrong about how great a book The Winter Horses is. Set in the Ukraine during WWII it makes for grim reading, but is also enormously uplifting. It’s mostly about Przewalski’s, which are very unusual horses, and during the war they were facing extinction because they weren’t pure enough for Hitler.

The ones in this book are almost human (which is more than you can say about the men who killed most of them), and although wild, can adapt to circumstances. 14-year-old Kalinka has seen all her family killed by the Germans, and most of her home city too. She won’t accept that the Germans will get these last horses as well.

With the help of an old man, this starving girl manages to get a pair of horses away, and manages not to freeze to death on the winter steppe.

This is a children’s book, so I think I’m allowed to say that much. You know there has to be something positive at the end. But I won’t tell you what or how. Only that I had been correct in feeling I’d like Philip’s writing.

A borrowed interview

And while I’ve not got much time to blog, I have a borrowed interview to offer you.

Cambridge University’s Varsity had the good taste to interview ‘old’ girl Marnie Riches about her novel The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die.

I’m only a little annoyed. I wish I’d thought of it. And I wish I’d done it so well.

That’s all.

Read it here.