Tag Archives: Sara Paretsky

A is for Alibi

You can tell I’m a little behind, can’t you? Only by 33 years, but still. Sue Grafton was only known to me as the woman who wrote the alphabet crime novels. For years I didn’t know if they were good, quality, or just light crime. And when one day I came across A is for Alibi in a charity shop, I decided this was the right book to start with.

And then a few more years passed. When Sue died, not long ago, Sara Paretsky said some lovely things about her peer. And more recently she said some more, and someone else whom I respect also mentioned how important these books were to her, and I got the A book down from my bookcase.

How things have changed! Published in 1986, it is almost a lesson in modern history, what with phone messenger services, and typewritten case notes stuffed in desk drawers.

I enjoyed this tale about the ghastly man who was murdered, and whose second wife was believed to have done it. Now out of jail, she wants PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really did kill him.

My instincts were right. Partly. The whole case was more complicated than was first obvious, and with a few more killings, Kinsey had a lot to look into.

Loved her comment at the start, that the police believe ‘murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.’

Also loved that Sue began by plotting to kill her ex-husband, but decided to write a book instead. Good idea.

What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

Total Recall

Total Recall is one of my Sara Paretsky gold nuggets; picked up second hand and kept until such a time as I needed more Warshawski to read. This last week was it, and I was struck by how Sara introduced her story with a mention of Oxford (just as I was leaving that place) and the Resident IT Consultant’s old college.

Sara Paretsky, Total Recall

The book is almost twenty years old, and deals with two things. First the crime, which is insurance crime in Chicago, and I couldn’t help noticing how it pre-dates the things we are so concerned with today. You can put a few bad guys in prison, if they survive their brush with V I, but they don’t run either the local police department, or the country. People’s lives are in jeopardy, and their money, but there is less of the wholesale fear for your existence that we see today. And mobile phones were not what they are now.

So I enjoyed the crime, if one can say that. It seems that lightning can strike in the same place twice.

The second topic of the book, which underlies all that happens, has to do with Lotty Herschel’s past in Vienna and her time in London after being evacuated. Anything that goes back to the Holocaust is harrowing, but in some way I see Lotty’s current suffering as being more that of anyone looking back to a point in their childhood and youth. It’s the child’s fears, and the lack of control you had as a young person when things happen.

Partly told in Lotty’s own words, we learn many new facts about her and Max, and others previously mentioned in these books. (This makes me wonder how it works when an author starts writing. Sara couldn’t have known everything about the characters she put in the first story. And as the author makes new facts, and then more new facts, it’s fascinating how it all fits in, and makes that person more of who she or he is.)

There are many wise words and sentiments about loss and death and guilt and all those bad things we sometimes believe in. I hope Sara can remember them for herself, but then we are always our own worst enemy, as proven by Lotty in this book.

Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

Courtenay Wright, aka Mr Sara Paretsky

One of ‘my’ dear authors, Sara Paretsky, lost her husband, Courtenay Wright, on Thursday. I was very sorry to hear about this, having felt honoured to have been able to read various bits of news about him, and the dogs, which Sara has shared over the years. You feel you get to know people you’ve never met.

The first I ever heard of him was that he’d served with Eisenhower in WWII, and my immediate reaction was that this wasn’t possible, and followed that by thinking ‘he must be really old, then.’

Yes, thankfully Courtenay got to be quite old. He was 95 last month, on the same day as Sara’s latest book was published, and he was treated to a book launch-cum-birthday party. What’s more, he looked happy and chirpy, and that pleased me very much.

When Sara shared her sad news on social media this morning, she linked again to the recent piece on her blog, where she talked about Courtenay and what he’d meant to her, first published after a second 95th celebration, with colleagues at his old university. It’s the kind of speech that makes you want to have met him even more.

He was clearly a remarkable man.

V I goes to Vienna

This V I Warshawski novel from five years ago, originated in Vienna. As you can see, Bookwitch liked it a lot:

Oh wow! Sara Paretsky always gets to me, but in Critical Mass she has got closer than ever. We at Bookwitch Towers might not rub shoulders with Chicago’s worst, but in all other respects this latest V I Warshawski novel touches on all sorts of things.

Physics, autism, Caltech, Europe, WWII, the King of Sweden. All that.

Critical Mass is about Austrian physicist Martina Saginor, whose daughter Käthe was a childhood ‘friend’ of Lotty Herschel’s. (And incidentally, Sara has skated beautifully around the age problem. In reality Lotty would be a bit older and a bit more retired, but by stretching a little here and a little there, it is all completely believable and right.)

Sara Paretsky, Critical Mass

V I finds a very dead body out in the countryside, as well as another dog (I kept wondering how that was going to work out), and this leads to Lotty’s old friend, and Käthe’s daughter Judy and grandson Martin, who has just disappeared. ‘Something didn’t add up.’

As always Sara has written a story which is more than a crime novel with a puzzle. Critical Mass is also a – very severe – comment on all that’s wrong in the world today. It might be Homeland Security in this instance, but every country has something a bit like it. And we don’t like it, much.

You can’t keep under their radar, unless you are very clever and at least two steps ahead of HS at all times. In fiction I tend not to be too scared of the baddies, unless they are the ones with almost every right to misbehave, like these federal agents.

In her normal fashion V I ends up far deeper than she ever intended, but she needs to find Martin who, like his great grandmother Martina, is a physics genius. There is an old mystery behind all that happens, but it’s not quite clear what. Between the nazis in the war and the wealthy businessmen of today there is much that is wrong.

We don’t see a lot of Martina, who of necessity has to be dead. But what we see has to be admired, despite her lack of social skills. And V I should always have our admiration, along with Sara who entertains while making a statement.

Shell Game

That dreadful feeling you get when your whole existence might be at risk, because you’re a foreigner and something minor, or something not to do with you, has cropped up on someone’s horizon, and you are innocent, but can see your life, as you know it, ending. That.

In Shell Game, Sara Paretsky writes about this and much more. It’s about what her country has become. There are always unfortunate people needing help in her crime novels, but usually V I Warshawski can help them, and the law usually will allow this help to happen, sooner or later. Now though, she, and we, know there’s much less chance of this. Nothing is quite what it was, and that helplessness is masterfully described from the word go.

Sara Paretsky, Shell Game

There are always people doing the wrong thing for money or power in V I’s world, but this time there’s an edge to it we’ve not encountered before. People can be bought more easily, and Government employees perhaps have tick boxes of [bad] things that have to be ticked. Just because they can.

And that leaves the rest of us struggling.

This is a story about family. Lotty Herschel’s great nephew Felix is suspected of murder, and V I gives him her support. Then her nieces Harmony and Reno – through V I’s ex-husband – turn out to be in dire need of help as well. By adding sexual abuse and a general fear of terrorists because of people newly arrived from Syria, we have everything that is currently deemed to be bad.

V I has to work harder than ever. But she’s V I, so you know you can trust her. Mr Contreras is by her side as ever, but this time I was struck by our changing world, and how mentioning his Anzio war history could very soon appear meaningless in a world that has moved on, with a new generation running it.

It’s hard to come to terms with, but I trust V I, and Sara. Someone has to write about this, and we need to read it. I imagine that even people with all the paperwork in the world to prove their right to live in their own country, could become a bit nervous on reading Shell Game.

The question is what they – we – can do.

Death on the Edge

It was lovely to be offered a short story by Sara Paretsky last week, as we wait impatiently for her new novel Shell Game which will be out in four weeks’ time.

Death on the Edge features V I Warshawski back in her childhood neighbourhood, sorting out a fatal dispute with a school background, under the critical eye of her former boyfriend Conrad.

It’s a story that has all that you expect of a V I story, except that it is shorter.

Aimed at the American market (or did the rest of us just get forgotten?) it’s not entirely easy to buy this short e-story. But I set the Resident IT Consultant to work, and after masquerading as his younger brother for ten minutes, the story was in my possession.

Sara Paretsky, Death on the Edge

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

Gorgeous Giles

Those are not my words, btw. I am quoting from a lady fan; someone I used to encounter a lot at book events near me, ‘many’ years ago. While I did find Giles Milton quite interesting to listen to, I had no real hankering to read his books, not even the fiendishly cleverly titled Paradise Lost. And I don’t fancy the man. Maybe she didn’t either, but she definitely saw a handsome man when she looked.

Giles Milton 2

I am merely using Giles to illustrate what I am writing about here, namely the familiarity with which I look upon photos in the press. The more I’ve seen or met an author, the more he or she feels like ‘mine’ when they pop up in a newspaper or magazine. Or for that matter, on television. Not that we have as many programmes featuring authors as we should have.

Just saying.

Like family, really. And it’s nice. It shortens the distance between me and them, when I feel I ‘know’ someone.

I feel especially proprietary if the photo in question is ‘ours.’ (As you can tell, I don’t mind claiming Daughter’s pictures as almost mine.) What I’m trying to say is that it’s akin to finding your mantelpiece photo in the press.

Francesca Simon

And the description Gorgeous Giles has a familiar ring to it, although I suspect it will never be used about me. I’m more the type to have my picture taken with ten glasses of wine next to me. Just in case. (Yes, I know that is another ancient photo. Less grey in it.)

Sara Paretsky, wine and the witch

The green backdrop is another familiar aspect, and I notice it all the time, even if I wasn’t there or I don’t know the author.

Henning Mankell

(All photos by various – and gorgeous – Gileses.)