Rounding out our virtual vacation month is Barry Eisler--he of the fabulous Rain thrillers. I've been bugging him all month for a blog and he's been kind enough to send me one, in spite of a schedule that would make lesser men keel over:
A blog for readers and writers of crime fiction
Rounding out our virtual vacation month is Barry Eisler--he of the fabulous Rain thrillers. I've been bugging him all month for a blog and he's been kind enough to send me one, in spite of a schedule that would make lesser men keel over:
Looking back over our virtual vacation month, one thing surprises me. Many of our posters took a trip back in time, rather than to a place in the present. I suppose that nostalgia is probably the sweetest journey of all.
And having arrived home after midnight last night after a weekend on the road promoting my new book, after my flight was delayed and delayed, I can see the appeal of traveling in the mind and in the past. Air travel was more pleasant for one thing. No removing shoes, standing in intermidable lines while security crews, using no common sense at all, frisk an eighty year old Jewish couple and then let a couple of young dark men with backpacks stroll past them.
In those days flight attendants treated us like honored guests. There were linen table cloths, proper silverwear, and yes, a meal!
When I am struck with nostalgia, it's for various places around the world. Having lived in England, Europe, Australia and now the States, I find there is no one place I define as home. I was brought up in England, spent happy times in Wales, was partly educated in Germany and Austria, moved to Australia and then my family followed me "down under", so there has never been that defining little winding road that leads to home. And wherever I go, I always have this deep seated longing for somewhere else. Born with wanderlust, I suppose.
Ah well, off to Denver, Salt Lake City and Portland in a few minutes. No peace for the wicked.
But good news that my new book, Her Royal Spyness, is already in a third printing.
WISH YOU WERE HERE . . . ON STEAMY HILTON HEAD ISLAND
When we moved from the snowy, blustery shores of Lake Erie just west of Cleveland to the subtropical isalnd of Hilton Head, South Carolina, I promised my husband I'd never grouse about the heat. Okay, so I lied. It’s hot! In fact, it’s damn hot. Yesterday on the way back from running errands, I watched the outside temperature readout in my car slide up to 97. And for all you desert-dwellers, no, it’s not a dry heat. It’s a steamy, smothering, feel-like-you’re-in-a-sauna blanket of humidity that saps your energy and almost—almost—makes you long for a cold snap.
It's strange. When we lived in Ohio, we hibernated between November and April--March if the weather gods smiled. Here we’re housebound in the summer. It’s not only the heat. The place is crawling with a good chunk of our two million annual visitors, crowding the roads and the malls, the grocery stores and the beaches. Going out to dinner is an option only before 5 p.m. and after 10 p.m..
So why, you ask, am I wishing you here? Last night a gentle breeze rippled in off the water. I sat at dusk on the upper deck of our condominium and gazed out over the tidal marsh that abuts our thin strip of back lawn. Dozens of heron, ibis, and curlew picked their way daintily on sticklike legs among the waving grasses, their beaks snatching up any unfortunate sea creatures stranded in the pluff mud at low tide. Across the way, a solitary sailboat rounded the end of Bram's Point and glided from the Intracoastal Waterway into Broad Creek. The setting sun turned its sails a soft pink, gradually fading to orange. Down below, a mockingbird squawked, and a pair of pileated woodpeckers attacked the loblolly pine that partially blocks my view. I looked for the young raccoon I’d noticed at twilight a few nights earlier, lumbering along the shore in search of any stray morsels the birds might have left behind. The air was heavy but sweet with bougainvillea and hibiscus.
I wiped a thin sheen of perspiration from my forehead and told myself how lucky I am to spend every day in the midst of this breathtaking natural beauty, heat and tourists be damned. Such surroundings calm the heart and feed the writer’s soul. It’s almost Paradise
Kathryn R. Wall, author of the Bay Tanner mysteries, including the seventh and newest, SANCTUARY HILL, has lived on Hilton Head for thirteen years with her husband, Norman. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hi -- Lyn Hamilton here with another of my favorite places for our virtual vacation tour. This time it's the Orkney Islands.
A group of tiny islands off the north-east coast of Scotland, Orkney is just a little off the beaten-path for many, and generally unknown to most of us. And yet, there on those islands on the edge of the world, the sweep of Northern European history can be seen and touched and smelled. The whole place is a living, breathing museum. All it takes is an ordnance map, a guidebook or two, a car, a spirit of adventure, and the willingness to strike out on your own.
And while I was researching The Orkney Scroll, that is exactly what I did. I saw Europe's oldest houses at Skara Brae, paid homage to the tomb and temple builders of Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, had a look 'round for hints of the belligerent Vikings, and explored impressive World War II bunkers and the romance of Scapa Flow (where the British fleet felt secure until a German submarine sank the Royal Oak). I also wandered around seemingly remote parts of the Mainland, as they call the main island, crawling on my hands and knees into ancient tombs. Sometimes I didn't see another soul for hours. The islands are an astonishing repositiory of several millennia of history. After two weeks of exploration, I was very much in Orkney's thrall.
The lure of Orkney is difficult to explain. In some ways, it is the most orderly of places, the fields neat, the hedges trim, the towns clean, the homes, with their flowering window boxes, lovingly cared for. But you have only to stand on the west coast of Mainland, where the open sea stretches without any land break all the way to northern Canada, where the waves crash against the high cliffs like thunder, and the wind whips your breath away, or perhaps hike the purple hills of the big island of Hoy, where fierce buzzards dive at your head, and the cliffs are so steep, the descent is nothing less than terrifying, to know that there is a wild side to Orkney, too.
I expect that Toronto, the place I call home, was the same when I returned from that trip as it was when I left, but it felt different to me. Stylish, yes, cosmopolitan, yes, but also noisy, crowded and harried. I wanted to go back to Orkney. Rationally, I do know that in deepest winter, they have about ten minutes of daylight. I am aware it rains much of the time. I'm sure it gets crowded during the tourist season. But when I was there, the air was soft, the sunshine golden and glorious, the sunsets, orange and pink shot through with amethyst, beathtakingly beautiful, the people reserved but generous of spirit, the monuments to the past a palpable reminder of where we've come from, and the pace on those gentle, orderly slopes an indication of how gracious life really should be. I'd like to be there now.
My daughter graduated from high school in June, and as a graduation present, she and I (and several of her friends) went to the Costa del sol. We flew to Malaga and then traveled to Nerja, a small resort village about 40 minutes away. It was my first trip to Spain and I found it.... interesting.
First, getting there (and back) was no picnic. It took three flights: Chciago to JFK, JFK to Paris, Paris to Malaga: the a taxi to NErja. So I was pretty much fried by the time we arrived.
But not fried enough to ignore the beauty. Nestled on a cliff in the foothills of the Sierra del Almijara mountains, everything in Nerja is white and sparkles in the sun: the architecture, the sidewalks, the walls. In fact, the sidewalks are mostly mosaic tiles, making them the prettiest sidewalks I’ve ever seen, but terribly slippery.
Our villa was, of course, white with bougainvillea spilling over the walls. It had two bedrooms, and pretty much all the comforts of home, including a toaster, microwave, coffee pot, satellite TV, even a small washing machine. In fact, European appliances, as well as cars, and even living spaces, are smaller and more compact than Americans.’ They have mastered the efficient use of space. We Yankees could learn a lesson or two.
The weather was perfect: 80 to 85 degrees during the day, not a cloud in the sky. Every day. For ten days. At night, it dipped down to the 60s, with a soft Mediterranean breeze. Never did I feel the need for A/C.
The beach was rockier than I expected, but still beautiful. There was no boardwalk with wooden planks, but a street just a few yards from the beach was crowded with restaurants, markets, and stores that sold beach gear. And Spanish prices – for lodging, food, and gifts, are among the lowest in Europe and the US.
The village promontory, a cliff that overlooks the sea, is called the Balcon de Europe. A luxury hotel sits just behind it, but you can walk to the edge of the cliff. The view of the sea at dusk – mysterious and dark -- is the stuff that could spawn stories. A few hundred yards on the town’s plaza dancers performed the tango at night. Clowns, jugglers, and magicians entertained the crowds, too.
So why am I not gushing more passionately?
Because it didn’t feel foreign enough. Nerja bustles with tourists. In summer it’s overrun by them. And most are from the UK. The Costa del Sol is for Brits what Florida is for us. A two-hour flight, and the miserable weather is banished. Consequently, a lot of UK'ers have invested in property there – most of the villas in the complex at which we stayed were owned by Brits, Scots, even an Irish family or two.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the UK or its people (really, Rhys)--it's just that the ambiance in Nerja was so very English. Less foreign. Less “European.” Most of the menus were in English. Some of the restaurants featured “authentic British breakfasts.” All the bars played American or English music, and the satellite TV in our villa brought in nothing but British TV.
We ate dinner fashionably late – it didn’t get dark until 10 PM, anyway. Afterwards, the kids went to the bars. (Did I mention the drinking age in Spain is 18?) One night I dropped by one clustered on a plaza with 6-7 other bars. The place was mobbed with young people, some from the UK, some from Denmark, France, America and even Buenos Aires.
I was astonished by how indistinguishable everyone looked. Time was you’d go to France, Switzerland and even Britain, and you could see the difference in how people dressed. Shoes were different. Trousers and sweaters, too. Now, though, everyone wears jeans, tanks, t-shirts (most with English logos), and sandals. You can’t tell one from the other. They all have cell phones, too. The sameness of it all was somehow disconcerting.
I realize I’m not being entirely charitable. Of all the member counties in the EU, spain seems to have benefited the most. Everywhere we went (including a side trip to Gibraltar, where I waved to Africa) we saw construction, cranes, workers, and billboards announcing new developments -- most of them in English, btw. Clearly, the country is prospering. That’s good for Spain, and for the rest of Europe. And aside from Gibraltar, I realize I didn’t see much of Southern Spain. Not Granada, not Ronda, which I'm told is beautiful and quaint. Didn’t even see a bullfight. We did go to Frigiliana one night for dinner – it sits in the mountains above Nerja. It has stone steps and old churches, so it was a start.
Still, from most of what I did see, something has been lost. Perhaps that’s the price of progress.
Libby Hellmann is a past president of Sisters in Crime. Here is a photo of the villa she stayed in:
My good Buddy Don Bruns, who writes a mean Florida novel himself, remembers prolific Florida writer John D. MacDonald on the latter's birthday:
Point Crisp Road, according to John D. Macdonald, is a 'spit' of land that runs off of Siesta Key, Florida, and was named after a robber-barron named Crisp who probably won it in a crooked poker game. The houese that John D. build and wrote many of his Travis McGee books is almost to the end of that spit of land. On a road where more than half of the housese have been bulldozed and mansions have sprung up where humble ranch style homes once stood, Macdonald's home remains as he left it.
The property is now owned by a doctor and his family, who are proud of the literary history of the home. In a loft that is off the living room and up a small flight of stairs, you can see the open water in front of the house, and in back of the house. Peaceful, serene, a quiet setting thta gave the father of the Florida mystery genre the solitude he needed to write his incredible stories.
In the parlor, the doctor will tell you, is where Hemmingway once played chess with the mystery writer, and a slew of famous friends came and visited with John D.
John D. was born July 24th, 1916 in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and while his birthplace is far from the sites he made famous, far from Cedar Key, and the wonderful world he created with his boat, the Busted Flush, I choose to remember Macdonald's home in Sarasota. The one on the spit of lad called Point Crisp. On his birthday, I'd like to be there, and try to soak up some of the briliance he showed as a writer. On the anniversary of his death, December 28th (1986) I will be there. I'll drive out to the point and watch the water, and maybe take a copy of The Green Ripper, and re-read some of my favorite parts.
If you don't know John D., here are some of his works.
For further reading: John D. MacDonald and the Colorful World of Travis McGee by Frank D. Campbell Jr. (1977); A Bibliography of the Published Works of John D. MacDonald by Jena and Walter Shine (1981); John D. MacDonald by David Geherin (1982); A Special Tribute to John D. MacDonald (1987); Meditations on America; John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee Series and Othrer Fiction by Lewis D. Moore (1994); Contemporary Popular Writers, ed. by David Mote (1997); Mystery & Suspense Writers, vol. 1, ed. by Robin W. Winks (1998); The Red Hot Typewriter by Hugh Merril (2000)
Selected Travis McGee novels:
SEA, 1978 (also television adaptation 1982)
Lake Michigan is three hundred and fifty miles long, and close to a hundred miles wide at the widest, one of the most beautiful bodies of fresh water on earth. This summer the water near shore has frequently been over seventy degrees.
On July 23, Raymond Chandler’s birthday, I will be floating offshore near one of the sandy beaches, raising a toast to the master of the hardboiled. Chandler was born in Chicago, and even though he spent most of his life elsewhere, this tribute is appropriate.
Okay, it’s a SpongeBob SquarePants float, which detracts a little from the hardboiled picture. And instead of three fingers of rye, maybe a chilled Vernor’s ginger ale.
It’s the thought that counts.
I’ll be The Lady in the Lake. I’ll read The Big Sleep. After all, I write crime fiction. Trouble Is My Business.
Farewell, My Lovely. This is The Long Goodbye.
Barbara D'Amato is former president of Mystery Writers of America and has had a long, distinguished career as a mystery writer.
I loved Claire Matturro's first novel, Skinny Dipping. Sort of Janet Evanovich with a legal edge that kept me laughing and page turning all the way through. Her blog shows a very different side from the wise-cracking lawyer, revealing that we aren't always what we write....
WishYou Were Here: A side-trip on the way back home
By Claire Hamner Matturro
Paris in the Twenties, drinking Pernod with all those artists and writers. Hemingway and F. Scott with a buzz on, expounding on Life with a capital L. Drifting through Montparnasse, catching sight of Picasso, or Gertrude and Alice, or watching Ezra Pound playing chess on the terrace of the Dome. How cool would that be?
That was the first thing that jumped into my head when Mary Anna Evans asked me to guest blog on the topic of where I’d like to be if I could be anyplace, anytime.
Upon further thought, however, I decided I’d rather be in the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount. Listening to Jesus as he gave us the Beatitudes, as he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, as he counseled us toward forgiveness, love, kindness, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. To be there. Getting it right. Getting it straight from the mouth of the Master. How enlightening would that be?
Given the fantasy option of being anywhere, anytime, I stayed right there with the Sermon on the Mount as my choice for a couple of weeks, until the evening I went for a walk down my driveway and hit Wildlife Grand Central, and not for the first or last time.
First let me explain about my driveway. It’s a quarter of a mile long, meandering bumpily through the woods in Georgia until it ends on another dirt road, which wash-boards a few miles through more Georgia woods before ending on a third dirt road that cuts between Mr. Gainey’s corn field and a bog where every summer the wild marsh mallows bloom, big and white. This evening, in the early twilight, with the hot bright light of a summer day leaving the woods in a slow-mo fade, I saw a fawn. A little guy. Really small, and shaky on those tiny legs. Spotted. Big dark eyes, black nose. While I watched, the fawn found a hole in the base of an old Live Oak, and snuggled down to hide. Its momma, I suspected, was out there somewhere, foraging for her dinner, knowing her baby was safer hidden than tagging after her on those wobbly legs. Still, I went back to the house to get Bill, my husband, who is a certified wildlife rehabilitator, and we went together, walking side by side in the warmth, and we studied on the fawn, nearly invisible in the crack at the base of the tree, and we knew to admire, but leave it be. As we walked back to the house, I heard the tell-tale snort of a deer just deep enough in the trees to be out of our eyesight, and we smiled at each other, thinking: Yep, Momma.
But being me, I had to go back and check later on, and sure enough, there was the fawn, curled up, sleeping. The next morning when I checked, the fawn was gone, and I knew its mother had come back for it, and that this is the way of the deer in the wild. But that night, as I tiptoed away from it, I saw two mother turkeys crossing in the clearing just ahead of me. Turkeys are excellent mothers, and I’ve seen these two with their broods before, picking the huckleberries by our house, the momma turkeys keeping watch while the juveniles hop up, like little, feathered brown and gold jack-in-the-boxes, to get the berries—I know these turkeys by the count of the clutch, and because one of the turkey babes is a blond one. Domestic turkeys are this blond color, so there’s been a touch of interbreeding going on with the wild, brown turkeys, and I love the thought of the domestic turkey that got away, was adopted by the wild turkeys, and lived a free life—instead of becoming somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner.
But I digress. I watched the mother turkeys scout out the area, then one stood watch in the center of the driveway—like any careful school guard—while the other Mom turkey led the babes across the narrow way. Nearly dark by now, I stood and watched till the last of the turkeys disappeared into the woods, following a trail by a branch of Buck Creek, on a path used by turkey and deer for decades.
As I turned back to my house, I saw a snake, stretched out on the edge of the driveway, head up, alert, and I carefully approached to see what kind. The unmistakably raised head was that of a pit viper, a poisonous snake. Now I am not one to get scared at the sight of a snake as I grew up in a southern childhood rich with times of roaming in the wilds with kith and ken, and my people taught me early on about snakes. That snakes are handsome and useful—they eat rats!—and that if you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you. Don’t misunderstand me: I have enough sense and enough respect for a pit viper not to stray within striking distance. Yet I was curious about this fella and eased on up to check its markings. The head-up pose was like a moccasin, but this snake wasn’t a moccasin. It definitely was not a rattler. Finally I decided it was a copperhead, and let it be, and went on back to the house.
Back to the house my husband built with his own hands. Now Bill was an environmental attorney before he was a certified wildlife rehabilitator, and there’s nothing in either occupation that teaches you how to build a house. So, yeah, we’ve got some funky corners here and there, but the house is sound, it’s environmentally sensible, and it’s beautiful. And Bill built it himself. Okay, sure, he got help with the wiring and the sheetrock. No reason to be dogmatic.
And, in this house he built himself, when I told him back in 1999 that I wasn’t going to renew my contract for teaching at Florida State University College of Law, but was going to write legal thrillers instead, what Bill said was, “Fine.” Then he built a room on the side of the house for me. “You’ll need an office,” he said, my own place where I could write in peace.
In this den, I’ve written five novels. In five years. And once while I was sitting in there, Bill came shouting for me to come outside, and so I did, and there was a bald eagle flying over head, flying so low, so slow we could see it in great detail. And once when we were sitting on the deck, at dusk, a bobcat walked right by us in the thick grass between the garden and the woods. Stopped, looked us in the eye, ignored Bill when he called, “Here, Kitty, Kitty,” and kept on going.
So, here’s the thing, yes, if I could be anywhere at anytime, I’d want be on the front row at the Sermon on the Mount and listen to Jesus as he spoke, as he laid out his words of love and justice and kindness and forgiveness.
But come dusk, I’d want to come right back home, to my house in the woods. And sit on the deck with Bill in the gloaming of the day, and watch the light leave the sky, and know the wildlife around me is varied and true and beautiful.
Claire Hamner Matturro was a newspaper reporter, a lawyer, and a college teacher before tackling legal thrillers. Her debut, SKINNY-DIPPING, won ROMANTIC TIMES= BEST FIRST MYSTERY award, first place in the SEAK Legal Fiction competition, was a BOOKSENSE 2004 Pick, and received a Barry nomination. WILDCAT WINE, her second, received a Georgia Author of the Year nomination. Her third, BONE VALLEY, just became available in paperback, and SWEETHEART DEAL is due out November, 2007. Matturro was a visiting professor at the University of Oregon School of Law this past winter, but hurried home to Georgia in time to get the tomatoes planted in the garden. Learn more at www.clairematturro.com
One thing has always puzzled me about Oxford. How come so many detective novels are set there? After all, it’s hardly notorious as a hotbed of crime. When I spent three years there as a student in the 1970s, two or three bicycle thefts amounted to a crime wave. Yet there’s something about the city of dreaming spires that has sparked the imagination of generations of crime writers. For me, though, the appeal of the city isn’t in its potential as a backdrop for fiction (though I did once set a short story in Victorian Oxford.) It lies in Oxford’s infinite capacity to enthral and surprise.
Oxford is full of contrasts. It reeks of history and learning, but in many ways it’s a typically modern city, noisy and bustling and alive. The constantly changing student population helps to keep it fresh. And ‘town’ is as important as ‘gown’ –
Oxford isn’t as dominated by the university as Cambridge, and that’s a good thing, lovely though ‘the other place’ is. London is within easy reach, but the gorgeous countryside is, thankfully, even closer. A stroll through Christ Church Meadow soothes the tautest nerves. Punting on the river is an experience not to be missed. The loping deer of Magdalen College, the gentle click of leather on willow as cricketers play in The Parks, the rattle of croquet balls on lawns in the college quadrangles, are just a few of the elements that make Oxford a special place for me.
Whenever I make the journey back to Oxford, I remember student visits to the Paperback Shop in Broad Street, now sadly no more. I was too short of cash then to spend money on buying new detective novels, and that meant I didn’t purchase a copy of a mystery novel by a local author that received a little modest publicity during my undergraduate days. It’s a pity, for a first edition of Colin Dexter’s debut novel would have been a terrific investment. But at least the dream I had as a nineteen year old, of seeing my own detective stories on those shelves was realised before the shop closed (I don’t think the decision to sell my books was entirely to blame for the closure, but you never know...)
And there’s one other thing about Oxford that makes it, for me, truly unforgettable. It happens to be the place where, all those years ago, I met the girl who years later became my wife….
Today we are pleased to have another distinguished British writer, Martin Edwards, as our guest blogger. It is interesting that several of our bloggers have chosen to make their travel stories journeys in time and not space. I suppose the best places are those in our memory....