October 2011

October 9 HoTXSinC Meeting

Marian K. Williams

Postal Inspector/Public Information Officer, Houston Division

U. S. Postal Service Service

presents

The U.S. Postal Service Is Also a Crime Fighter

Sisters in Crime is happy to have Marian K. Williams as our speaker on October 9.  Marian is the Postal Inspector/Public Information Officer, Houston Division, for the U. S. Postal Service.

United States Postal Inspection Service

Image via Wikipedia

*

First appointed in 1772, Postal Inspectors were America’s first federal law enforcement officers. As the primary law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service supports and protects the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers, enforces the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use, and ensures public trust in the mail. To learn more, visit http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

*

Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter, meets monthly on the second Sunday of the month at 2:00 p.m. at the Westlake Barnes & Noble bookstore, located at the southeast corner of Loop 360 and Bee Cave Road, in The Village at Westlake shopping center.

For information contact Joyce Arquette, Publicity, at (512) 266-6543.

 *****

Before & After the Meeting                                                                          

Before the meeting on October 9, 2011, HoTXSinC invites you to join us for lunch around 12:30 at Hangtown Grill at The Village at Westlake Shopping Center–down the drive from Barnes & Noble Westlake.  They have a selection of burgers and sandwiches, and you can usually get a meal for about $10.00.  

After the meeting we will be taking to dinner our speaker, Marian K. Williams of the Postal Inspection Service, to La Madeleine Westlake, around the corner from Hangtown Grill, at the opposite end from Barnes & Noble, along the same drive.  La Madeleine has a selection of entrees, and a buffet with salads, quiche, soup, and, of course, desserts.  You can usually get a meal there for $10.00 to$15.00.

*****

SinC Celebrates 25th Anniversary

October marks the beginning of Sisters in Crime’s 25th anniversary celebration. All chapters are encouraged to participate. To see how some chapters are celebrating, click here.

*****

2011 Texas Book Festival 

The 16th Texas Book Festival will be held at the Texas State Capitol on October 22 and 23. More that 250 authors will be in attendance. The official poster is Mark Burckhardt’s Full Cry.

Steven Saylor at the 2007 Texas Book Festival,...

Stephen Saylor at the 2007 Texas Book Festival - Image via Wikipedia

Mystery authors participating in the 2011 Texas Book Festival include Austin Bay, Kathy Reichs, Stephen Saylor, Margaret Coel, Joe Lansdell, and Jim Lehrer.

For more information about the Texas Book Festival, click here.

*

*

*****

Scott Montgomery on Bouchercon: “That was fun,” or “Scarred for life”

Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator at MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s “store-within-a-store,” sat down with us in the BookPeople coffee shop to share some of his experiences at last month’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest crime fiction conference.

Bouchercon XLII (2011) was held in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 15-18. Named for mystery fiction critic, editor, and author Anthony Boucher, the conference has been held in a different city each year since 1970. Between 1500 and 2000 people attended this year; more than 150 authors were in attendance.

Named “Stunt Coordinator” (“crazy guy for ideas”) by 2011 chairman Jon Jordan of Crimespree magazine, Scott moderated a special evening panel discussion: “Bad Seed: Sex, Violence, and Bad Language: Everything That Makes a Book Great.” He also chose the panel members: authors Scott Phillips, Jonathan Woods, Ben Whitmer, Craig Johnson, Chris Holmes, John Rector, and Christa Faust. S. J. Rozan, though not officially on the program, sat in on the discussion as well. Scott joked that, after sitting through the lively discussion, members of the audience reported two reactions: “That was a fun panel,” or, “I’m scarred for life.”

Scott also moderated a panel focusing on crime fiction that takes place in the West. He noted that in Indianapolis two years ago, a similar panel included only one woman. Three of the five participants on this year’s panel were women.

Asked about other trends, Scott said that more women are writing noir fiction, and that they’re “going new places where male authors haven’t”: writing honest depictions of sexuality and relationships. He mentioned Christa Faust (whose Choke Hold is MysteryPeople’s Pick-of-the-Month) and Kelley Armstrong (Exit Strategy).

He also said that rural noir is “taking off.” As examples, he noted Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana, and Peter Farris’ Last Call for the Living.

Scott characterizes the authors who attend Bouchercon as both writers of mysteries and fans of the genre; they appreciate their fans and are happy to be among them. He advises soon-to-be-published writers to attend to network–meet readers and other authors, and get blurbs for upcoming publications.

Bouchercon, however, is not all about books. This year’s conference included a basketball game, a bowling tournament, and a dance with music provided by Max Allan Collins’ ’60s band, Cruisin’.

Ending our talk on a more serious note, Scott said that the late David Thompson, publisher and publicity manager of Houston’s Murder by the Book bookstore, was to have served as co-chair of this year’s conference. Thompson’s sudden death just over a year ago left a void felt keenly other conference planners. They set out to put on a conference their friend would have been proud of. When Bouchercon was over, Scott said, all involved agreed they had accomplished their goal.

*

Scott Montgomery is Crime Fiction Coordinator at BookPeople’s MysteryPeople. He informs buyers about mystery fiction, blogs, interviews authors, coordinates author events, teaches the History of Mystery class, hosts the History of Mystery book club, and maintains MysteryPeople.

*****

Premeditated Prose

This month’s fiction selection is “Jacob Grimm, Hollywood P.I.,” by Gale Albright. Gale is a member of HoTXSinC, a former Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writer, and a 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest Winner, YA Division. She is working on a historical novel for middle grade readers and a mystery novel. She originally authored this story using the nom de plume Gale Hathcock.

“Jacob Grimm, Hollywood P.I.” chronicles just another day in the life of a legendary West Coast gumshoe. 

Jacob Grimm, Hollywood P.I.

By Gale Albright

 It was going to be another hot, sultry day. A puff of gritty wind whipped a newspaper down the cracked pavement in front of my office. It wrapped around my Wingtips for a moment. The headline read “Studio Mogul’s Daughter Killed in Fiery Crash.” I kicked the paper away and climbed the narrow, dingy flight of stairs between Jake’s Barbershop and Harley’s Liquor Store. My office was at the top of a dim landing‑‑dim because the cheapskate landlord never heard of a light bulb bigger than 25 watts. The top half of the door was frosted glass, stenciled with my name: Jacob Grimm, Private Investigator.

My office was a dingy little dump. All I had was a big, scarred desk littered with papers and overflowing ashtrays, a couple of cracked leather chairs and a beat‑up file cabinet. I didn’t have a fancy peroxide blonde secretary waiting for me with a cup of hot coffee in her manicured paws. I didn’t have an office on Sunset Boulevard or Hollywood and Vine like some of my well‑heeled competitors. I was strictly the low‑rent type.

I sat down in my creaky swivel chair and called the answering service. A tired female voice answered. “Grimm Investigations.”

“Hi, doll. This is the old man. You got any hot tips for me?”

Her voice turned surly. “Just one, Mr. Grimm. There’s a Mister Babe Bear wants to talk to you. Something about a missing person. His number is Fairfield 975.”

I wrote down the address and number. Hey, maybe some rich hubby was looking for his runaway wife. Maybe I could get some moola today. “Anything else, sweetheart?”

“Mr. Grimm, the boss wants to know when you’re gonna pay your bill. It’s two months overdue right now and…”

“What? You haven’t got the check yet? Doll, I mailed that two weeks ago. Are you sure? Maybe it got lost in a file or something.”

A man’s voice came on the line. “Look, Mr. Grimm, this is Chick Little, and I’m telling you unless you pay up by noon on Friday, you can kiss this answering service goodbye. We don’t do business with deadbeats!”

“Take it easy, pal. It’s not like the sky’s falling down or nothing.”

He kept on squawking, so I clicked down the receiver.

I called this Bear guy up. A snooty sounding dame answered the phone. “Bear residence. May I ask who’s calling, please?”

“Hey doll, this is Jacob Grimm. I got a call from a character named Bear. Would that be you, honey?”

I could hear her heavy, ragged breathing. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, young man. You must have the wrong number. Please don’t call back.” Then the dame slammed the phone in my ear.

I lit a Lucky Strike and picked the tobacco off my lips. I knew that dame was lying, just as sure as I knew Joe DiMaggio was the Yankee Clipper. Acting on a hunch, I put on my fedora, straightened my tie, and headed down the stairs and out to the cabstand.

When I found a hack driver I told him to head out for 1725 Woodsy Way and make it snappy. He tried to start a dumb conversation, but I ixnayed that. I didn’t have time to listen to some hack driver’s life story. “Just drive, buddy. Leave the entertainment to Jack Benny.”

Woodsy Way was an old neighborhood that had seen better days. Most of the houses could use some paint, and I noticed a couple of “For Sale” signs in the front yards. I paid off the hack and strolled down to 1725. It was a little white cottage with a sagging front porch and some tired old trees drooping over it. A sign in the front window said “Room to Rent.” So much for Mrs. Rockefeller on the telephone–I knew that dame was a phony with that high‑toned act. This street was strictly on the skids.

I strolled across the withered yard and stepped into the porch shade. It was a scorcher alright. I took off my hat and wiped my forehead with the back of my sleeve. I grabbed the tarnished brass knocker and rapped it hard against the front door. I must have stood there rapping that damn knocker for a good five minutes. Finally, the door creaked open about an inch. I saw a bloodshot eye peeking through the crack. “What do you want? If you’re selling something please go away.”

It was Mrs. Rockefeller. I shoved the door open with my shoulder. A skinny little dame in a flowered housecoat and high-heeled mules stood weaving in the dim foyer.

“Oh,” she gasped, and I caught a whiff of gin.

“Hey doll, I’m Jacob Grimm. Remember our little phone conversation? I’m here to see Babe.”

Her eyes widened and she blew some more gin breath on me. “Young man, I told you not to call back.”

I elbowed past her and walked into the living room. “Hey, is there a Babe Bear here?” I yelled into the gloom.

The old bat stumbled into the room after me and headed for the phone. “I warned you. I’m calling the police,” she said, only it sounded like “poleesh.”

Suddenly, out of the dark hallway, a young guy appeared and took the phone away from her. “Please mother,” he said in this real soft voice, “Don’t do that. Just go to your room and lie down.” He was a short guy, maybe in his mid‑thirties, with wavy red hair and thick glasses. I pegged him for a real mama’s boy.

“Babe, make him go away,” she said, beginning to stagger.

Babe grabbed her arm and took her down the hall. I heard the floorboards creak and a door close gently.

The living room was crammed with bric‑a‑brac and overstuffed furniture. I had to try three chairs before I found one that was just right. It was hotter than a Turkish bath. The old lady must be part lizard to live like this. When Babe came back, I motioned him out on the porch where it was only about a hundred and ten degrees. I took off my hat and lit up a butt. I offered one to Babe, but he shook his head primly. “No thanks, I never indulge. Mother doesn’t like it.”

I shrugged and took a deep drag. “Okay, pal, you got a missing person around here? If you need somebody found, I’m your man.”

Babe chewed on his lips and looked anxiously at the front door. “There’s a girl who stays here. She’s renting a room, I mean. And, uh, I haven’t seen her since last Tuesday night.”

“What’s her name, pal?”

His voice got dreamy. “Goldie. Her name’s Goldie Lox. She’s twenty‑one and very pretty. She’s got long, blonde, curly hair and big blue eyes.”

I could tell the guy was stuck on this Goldie dame. “You got a picture?”

He shook his head. “No. But she’s been in the movies. She works as an extra for King Studios. She was about to get a big part when she disappeared.”

Goldilocks Gardner, the third daughter of Mast...

Image via Wikipedia

“What makes you think she disappeared,” I asked, blowing smoke rings lazily up to the porch ceiling. “If she’s such a good-looking young doll, maybe she’s shacked up with some producer. A lot of these guys are big, bad wolves, you know.”

Babe flushed bright red. “No, she wouldn’t do anything like that. She’s a nice girl. She and I go to the movies and the malt shop together all the time. She likes me, believe it or not, Mr. Grimm.” His blue eyes glistened with tears. “I know I’m no Prince Charming, but Goldie Lox really likes me.”

I kept my opinion to myself. “Where’d she come from? Have you heard from her folks?”

Babe shook his head. “No, she was an orphan. She just showed up in Hollywood one day, right off the bus. She was looking for a room. She was so sweet. My mother didn’t like her, but mother is … well, mother’s not well.” He turned suddenly and grabbed my arm. “Look, Mr. Grimm, I want to hire you to find her, please. I’m so afraid something might have happened to her.”

“I could certainly use the job, pal, but why haven’t you called the police?”

He looked alarmed and glanced at the front door. “Oh, no. Mother couldn’t handle having the police come around here. It’s her nerves.”

“Okay, pal, I’m your man.” I put on my hat. “Did anybody drop by or call for her last Tuesday?”

He nodded. “She got a phone call from a Mr. Woodsman. He works at King Studios. She told me it was about her big break in the movies.”

I left him sitting there on the sagging porch. Poor sap. I guess Mama Bear didn’t think little Goldie Lox was good enough for her baby. I caught a cab on the next block and had it take me to a drug store just across the street from King Studios. I bought a pack of Luckies and used the payphone to call this Woodsman character. I wondered if he was a big shot and if Goldie was just a little tramp looking for a meal ticket.

I told the studio receptionist I was an LAPD detective and she put me through to Woodsman on the double. His voice was deep and soothing, kind of like an undertaker’s. “Yes? Is this the police?” He sounded curious. Or maybe a little nervous.

“Yeah, this is Jacob Grimm. I got a report on a missing person name of Goldie Lox. I’d like to talk to you about her.”

There was a long silence. “I don’t understand.”

Oh, he understood all right. “Look pal, there’s this party that’s missing from her house on Woodsy Way since last Tuesday night. There was a witness saw you pick her up.” This was total baloney, but I had a hunch I was on to something.

There was an even longer silence than before.

“Look, Mr. Woodsman, how about I come to your office and you answer a few questions for me. Or we could go downtown.” That got him. It usually gets them. He told me to come to his office. I walked out of the drug store and across the street to King Studios. It was all fake adobe and red tile roofs and palm trees. I told the guard at the front gate that I was expected by Mr. Woodsman. He confirmed it on the phone, and directed me down to some tan-brick bungalows. I knocked on one of the doors. A mammoth-sized guy opened it.  He was as big as a grizzly and almost as hairy.

“I’m Orion Woodsman. Are you Detective Grimm?” It was the same voice, deep and firm. I stepped around him and went into the office. It was a swell layout, with lots of blond furniture and a white carpet.

“I’m here about Goldie Lox.”

“I’d offer you a drink, but since you’re on duty I guess you can’t…”

“Sure. You got any Bourbon?” I took off my hat and put in on his desk. I lit up a Lucky Strike. He looked at me strangely. “It’s okay, pal. I’m a detective, but not a police detective. So I’ll take that Bourbon.”

His mouth twisted and he slammed down the bottle. He looked big enough to do considerable damage to my willowy frame.

“Hold on, pal,” I said, “Don’t do anything reckless. You wouldn’t have let me come in unless you knew something about this Goldie dame.”

“Why Orion, I didn’t know you had a visitor,” said a deep, husky voice.

A dame stood in the doorway. Of course, calling her a dame was like calling the Mona Lisa a postcard. She was tall and blond and built like that Venus de Milo character, only she was wearing all her clothes. She smiled at me with those big, lush, red lips and glided into the room smelling like a whole bottle of Chanel No. 5.  I knew who she was. She was Regina Power, the “queen” of King Studios, the biggest star in Hollywood.

I tore my attention away from Regina Power and glanced at Woodsman. He had turned about two shades whiter, and I could swear I saw his hands trembling. “Miss Power, this is Jacob Grimm. He’s investigating a missing person.”

She looked at me with her big baby blues. “Missing person? Anyone I know?”

“I’m looking for Goldie Lox. She’s been missing from her house since Tuesday night. I’m here looking for leads.” I offered her a cigarette. She took it, and I lit it for her. I could be a gentleman when I had to be.

“Goldie Lox? Oh, yes, I think I’ve seen her. She’s just an extra isn’t she?” She was looking at Woodsman.

“Oh, yes, she is. Just an extra. That’s all.”

I took a drag off my Lucky. “I heard she got a big movie break last Tuesday. That was the last time anybody saw her.”

“Why that’s awful, Mr. Grimm. Orion, please do anything you can to help find the poor girl. Very pretty and blond, isn’t she?” She smiled and took a deep drag on her cigarette. “My husband is very protective of his people–even the bit players and the extras.”

Her husband was like a god in Hollywood. Bob White had founded King Studios back in the ’20s when he started cranking out pie-throwing, slapstick silent comedies. Now he was as powerful as Louie B. Mayer or Harry Cohn. Then I remembered the newspaper headline I’d seen that morning. The girl who just died in a fiery crash was Regina’s stepdaughter, Snow White.

“I’m very sorry about your stepdaughter,” I said, stubbing out my cigarette in a big crystal ashtray. “I just heard the news today.”

“Yes, it’s very sad. Her father is simply devastated. She’s his only child, and of course I loved her as though she were my very own. Last Tuesday was the worst night of our lives. When the police came to the door and told us Snow had crashed her car off the coast highway–well, her father just went to pieces. Her body was burned beyond recognition, but the police found an antique ruby ring on her finger. It belonged to her mother.”

Woodsman poured himself a shot of Bourbon and muttered, “Yes. Very sad. We’re all devastated. I’ve known her since she was a little girl. I came to work for Miss Power here when Snow–I mean Miss White–was just five years old.” He looked dreamy. “She was so pretty. She had skin like snow, hair like ebony, and lips as red as blood.”

“Orion!” Regina Powers glared at him. “For god’s sake.”

They exchanged a look. I didn’t know what it meant, but it meant something. I decided to put the pressure on Woodsman. “What do you do for Miss Power?”

He looked startled. Regina Power smiled and patted him on his burly shoulder. “Orion is my bodyguard. He takes very good care of me.”

Woodsman grabbed my hat and shoved me toward the door. “You’ve worn out your welcome, Mister Grimm. Can’t you see we’re in mourning for Snow White?” He slammed the door in my face.

I walked back to the drug store and called the service on the payphone. Babe Bear had called again. I hung up before Chick Little could squawk at me anymore about my overdue bill and called the Bear house. Babe answered on the first ring.

He sounded angry. “Mr. Grimm, my mother made a confession to me. She told me that she saw Goldie leave the house last Tuesday when I was at work. Mother saw her get in a big black Duesenberg. But she didn’t see who was driving.”

“Had she ever seen this car before?”

“No. But she noticed something odd. Goldie had dyed her hair black.”

I frowned. “Black?”

“Yes. Mother said it was as black as night. She told mother that the studio wanted her to dye it for her big part. She loved her blond hair. It must have been a pretty good offer for her to dye it black.”

I promised him I’d call him as soon as I found out anything and hung up. All kinds of alarm bells were going off in my head. Just like when I was torpedoed in the South Pacific and my ship sank. I lit a Lucky and got a cup of coffee at the soda fountain. I watched the studio through the plate glass window. I went to the payphone and called the receptionist again. She said Mr. Woodsman had just left the office.

I paid for my coffee and flagged down a cab. We idled in front of the studio for about five minutes, the meter running, until I saw a big, black Duesenberg pull out of the front gate.

“Follow that car, buddy.”

We followed the Duesenberg past Hollywood and Vine, past Metro and Warner Brothers, past MGM and RKO.  After awhile, we got onto the highway and headed north. We passed an endless row of brown hills, and then the Duesenberg turned left on Route Six. That’s when I saw the circus tents. Now I remembered. The circus was in town and camped out at the old fairgrounds. The Duesenberg parked close to the sprawling tent city and Woodsman got out. He hurried toward the flapping sheets of canvas. Somewhere a lion roared. An elephant answered back. I told the cabbie to wait and hurried after Woodsman. I wound between the tents, smelling hay and manure and popcorn. I couldn’t tell where one tent ended and the other began. Suddenly, a choked scream came from behind me. I fumbled for a slit in the canvas and stepped inside. Woodsman had a woman by the throat, forcing her against the tent pole. I shoved him off her and gave him a right to the jaw. He staggered back. I finished him off with a punch in the gut. He lay there gasping for breath. I looked at the dame. She was cowering by the pole, holding her hands over her face. She had on sunglasses and a cheap-looking blond wig.

I grabbed her and dragged her up to the lantern light. She fought, but I was stronger. I snatched off the sunglasses and ripped off the wig. She stood there, blinking her eyes and gasping for breath.

She had skin as white as snow and hair as black as ebony. And lips as red as blood.

“Hello Miss White,” I said. “You look very nice for a dame who burned up in a car cr

Snow White's Scary Adventures

Image by BestofWDW via Flickr

ash on the coast highway last Tuesday.”

Tears welled up in her big, dark eyes and she trembled. “I didn’t know what to do. He said Regina would kill my father if I didn’t…”

I caught a whiff of Chanel No. 5. I turned around and saw Regina Power holding a rod in her beautiful hand. She wore a wide-brimmed black hat and a black dress that hugged her body. I figured she had dressed for my funeral. Woodsman stopped choking and stood up slowly, brushing dirt off his expensive suit. He looked like he wanted to do some serious damage to me.

“Well, well, the gang’s all here,” I said.

“Don’t move,” said Regina, leveling the gun at my chest.

Her baby blues burned with fury. “You betrayed me, Orion. I knew something was wrong when you were acting so nervous in the office, so I followed you. You promised you’d kill her. So what’s she doing here?”

Woodsman looked sick. “Regina, I tried, but I just couldn’t…I’ve known her since she was five years old…she’s been like a daughter to me. I came here to take care of her tonight, but I don’t know if I could have gone through with it.”

Snow started to sob. Her shoulders shook.Reginasmirked at her.

“Just can’t get rid of you, can I sweetie? I didn’t know old Orion here was so sentimental.”

Woodsman clasped his hands together. “Regina, you know I love you. You know I’ll do anything for you. But I can’t do this.”

“So, let me see if I got this straight,” I said. “You get this doll Goldie Lox, an orphan with no folks, you tell her she’s got a movie part, get her to dye her hair black, and then Woodsman picks her up last Tuesday night. How did she wind up in Snow White’s car?”

Snow wiped her eyes. “Mr. Woodsman kidnapped me from the studio and forced me to drive my car out to the coast highway where the Duesenberg was parked. He made me give him my mother’s ruby ring and then he tied me up and gagged me and threw me in the back seat of the Duesenberg. I must have fainted. When I woke up, I smelled gasoline and Mr. Woodsman was untying me. I could see flames shooting up from the beach. He said my car had gone over the rail. Then he drove me here to the circus and said if I didn’t disappear permanently,Regina would kill my father.”

Regina laughed. “Well, darling, it’s not too late to make you disappear permanently. I’m so sick of hearing that you’re the apple of your father’s eye. You’re nothing but poison to me! If you think I’m going to let your father put you in the movies, you are very wrong. I’m the queen of King Studios, and I don’t need a magic mirror to know there’s room for only one queen in Hollywood. When I finish you off, I’ll take care of your father, too. I can play the grieving widow very convincingly. Then I’ll own the studio.”

I crushed my cigarette butt in the dirt. “So, you didn’t want any competition from Miss White. You were afraid when the audiences saw her, they’d say she was the fairest of them all.” I looked at Snow. “And you were right.”

Regina waved the gun around. “I’m going to get rid of you and this little bitch. And Orion is going to help me. Aren’t you darling?” She smiled at him. “We can rule this town together, don’t you see?”

I was gathering myself to rush her when all of a sudden her legs went out from under her and the gun went flying up in the air. She fell in the dirt, right on her beautiful nose. Seven little men swarmed into that tent and held her down. They were dressed in dusty work clothes and had straw in their hair. One of them ran up to Snow White and hugged her. “Are you all right?”

She hugged the little guy back and nodded. She looked at me. “Mr. Woodsman used to work in the circus before he came to work for my stepmother. He asked his friends here to watch out for me. They wanted to call the police, but I was afraid Regina would hurt them.”

I stepped over to Snow White and took her in my arms. She was the most beautiful dame I’d ever seen. No wonder Regina was jealous. I looked at her blood-red lips and kissed them.

“No more tears, princess. This story definitely has a happy ending.”

And while the music swelled and the screen faded to black, I knew it was just another day in LA for Jacob Grimm, Hollywood P.I.

 *

“Jacob Grimm, Hollywood P.I.” was published in New Literati, St. Edward’s University New College Literary Journal, Copyright © New Literati, New College Writers, 2006.  One time publication rights for individual works. All rights retained by authors.

*****

Book Review

Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer

Reviewed by Margaret-Anne Halse

Blacklands is not your ordinary thriller. It does not involve international conspiracies and wild chases after colorful criminals over half the world. The world of this book is narrowly defined; it is a town on the English moors. The setting, with its evocative descriptions of rain, wintry countryside and general gloom, provides a backdrop in harmony with the unhappiness of the family whose story this is.

The author of what is primarily a psychological study has taken on a challenging task: to convey to the reader the worlds of two people, seen largely through their own eyes, and tie them together in a satisfying conclusion.

The first person is a young boy called Steven. His family, consisting of his mother, grandmother and younger brother, was devastated by the murder of his uncle, a young boy himself at the time, nineteen years before the story opens.

Because of the circumstances, his uncle’s body was never found, and the lack of a final resolution haunts the damaged family and twists the relationships among them. The reader learns about Steven, his life at home and at school, and his hunt for some sort of release from the emotional misery of his home life, as his inner thoughts are exposed.

This inner turmoil follows Steven into his friendship with another young boy, Lewis, a kind of love-hate interaction that is loaded with emotional ambiguities. Lewis betrays Steven’s friendship at one point, but in the end redeems himself by helping to save Steven.

Running in parallel with the story of Steven is the tale of Avery, a serial killer imprisoned for the murder of several children some years ago. He is a man who is without empathy or remorse, and interested only in getting out of prison and picking up where he left off, in the interests of exercising power.

The connection between Steven and Avery is established early on in the book. The bulk of the novel develops and elaborates this connection as the protagonist’s point of view switches from Steven to Avery and back again.

A recurring theme is that of digging, literally and figuratively. Steven digs on the moors; he also digs in his little vegetable patch, where he is growing carrots with the help of his “uncle”, an old boyfriend of his mother’s who is a strong and loving influence in his young life. He digs around in the past. Avery digs, too.

And the author digs about in the minds of Steven and Avery, to reveal their shapes and textures. If you flinch from the excavation of a murderer’s thoughts and motivations, this is not the book for you. It requires a strong stomach to stick with Avery.

The tension in the story builds to a cliff-hanger of an ending, which takes place fittingly enough on the moors. The critical reader may find some of the events that get Avery to the meeting place a little too serendipitous to be true, but it is a small price for the final payoff after all that digging.

Blacklands
Simon & Schuster, January 2010
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-10: 1439149445
ISBN-13: 9781439149447

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FTC Disclaimer: A review copy of Blacklands was provided to HoTXSinC by the publisher. That did not influence the reviewer’s opinion.

*

Margaret-Anne Halse is a member of HoTXSinC. She was a Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writer in 2011.

*

*

*****

The Word on Our Members

On October 15, Janice Hamrick, Robin Allen, and Kaye George will give a panel on their  mysteries at the Pflugerville Public Library, 1:00-3:00 p.m.

*

Dave Ciambrone has two books coming out in 2012. In June it is another Adam Thomas mystery called The Trashy Grommet. In the fall is another Virginia Davies series mystery called Dangerous Threads. Dave is also working on an as yet unnamed novel about a coroner (Jack Parker, Ph.D.)  for a New York publisher who requested it.

*

In October, Sisters in Crime member Vallie Fletcher Taylor will venture south from her Hico area ranch to spread the news of her book Eyes in the Alley around south central Texas. On October 10, Taylor will speak to the Victoria Genealogical Association.This group meets at First Christian Church located at 2105 N. Ben Jordan St. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm. Taylor’s message will include the importance of first person narratives written by ordinary people rather than individuals who became famous celebrities, politicians or military commanders.

“I am either blessed or cursed with a non-stop memory” says Taylor, “which lets me travel at will back to the Great Depression and World War II when my family lived in San Antonio. My book stresses the extreme differences in family, school and community life from the world in which we live today. I do this in the same manner ancient wisdom keepers once taught tribal history around campfires…I simply tell stories. I think readers may get a much more realistic view of family life in Texas during the Great Depression than they would from the writings, filled with dismal terms, penned by social historians. People who are still in a state of shock over our current economic downturn will find a lot of (unintended) advice when they realize we lived quite happily without things they consider an absolute necessity.”

On October 26, Val will be guest speaker at the San Antonio Academy of Learning in Retirement. Professor John E. Fagin will be introducing the Great Depression to his adult class which is sponsored by the North East Independent School District Community Education. The class meets at 1:00 p.m. at 8750 Tesoro Drive.

*

Kaye George spoke on “Getting Your Name Out There” on October 6, at the San Gabriel Writers’ League at the Georgetown Library.

On October 13, she will be the distinguished local author at the Taylor Public Library Gala, 6:30-8:30 p.m. The cost of the benefit is $25.00.

On November 5, she will sign copies of Choke at the Arboretum Barnes & Noble, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

On November, she will be interviewed in KAZI for the new anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly, 12:45-1:00 p.m.

On November 11-13, she will be at Comic Con, selling All Things Dark and Dastardly.

And on December 2, she will sign copies of her books at Hill Country Bookstore (name changing to Square Books) in Georgetown, 5:30 p.m.

****

 Opportunities

“The William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grants Program for Unpublished Writers will award grants to two unpublished writers in the malice domestic genre at Malice Domestic 24 in April 2012… Materials will be accepted between September 15 and November 15, 2011 only…” The two $1500 grants are to be used to defray expenses related to attendance at a writer’s workshop or conference. Grants also include registration and lodging at the following year’s Malice Domestic. See item under Events, below, for more about Malice.

*****

Links

New SinC officers and board members can be found at the SinC website.

*

Jane Friedman provides “A Checklist for Marketing Your e-Book,” on Writer Unboxed.

*

Need help naming your characters? American Surnames  is a collection of links to websites listing surnames from a variety of geographic and ethnic origins.

*

SinC Guppy and attorney Leslie Budewitz shares “A look at the mystery convention,” on The Book Case, the Book Page blog.

Leslie’s book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure is available this month from Quill Driver Books.  Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure & Investigation, calls it, “The Bible of legal research for writers.”

*

Subscribe to Book Page’s E-newsletters here.

*

For information on personality disorders, check PubMed Health.

*

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, reports on how readers discover e-books, on the Smashwords blog.

*

Julie Ann Dawson explains “Why Your Sales Have Dropped,” on Write to Publish. (She also explains how to fix it.)

*

TinEye allows you to discover whether your online photos are being stolen. See how it can be used on HeatherBlog. 

*

HoTXSinC member Kaye George, Steve Metz, and Mary Ann Loesch discuss their new anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly Anthology—Finding the Darkness Within, as guest bloggers on Rasana Atreya’s On Getting Published, Good Books, and Living Goddesses.

*****

Calendar

10/11 @ 7:00 p.m.John Sandford will speak and sign copies of his new novel, Shock Wave. MysteryPeople @ BookPeople.

10/19 @ 7:00 p.m.Jeff Lindsay will speak and sign copies of his new novel, Double Dexter. MysteryPeople @ BookPeople.

10/22 @ 7:00 p.m.Daniel Woodrell will speak and sign copies of his collection of stories, The Outlaw Album. MysteryPeople @ BookPeople.

10/30 @ 7:00 p.m.Jeri Westerson will speak and sign copies of her new novel, Troubled Bones. MysteryPeople @ BookPeople. (“Put on your medieval garb…and join us for refreshments…”)

11/6 @ 4:00 p.m.--John Connolly will speak and sign copies of his new novel, The Infernals. He will also speak about his mysteries and the latest Charlie Parker thriller, The Burning Soul. MysteryPeople @ BookPeople. 

*****

HotSinC 2011 Program Schedule

  • January 9 - Jerry Carruth, Retired Federal Prosecutor, and George Sanchez, Retired Federal Investigator: Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling
  • February 13 - Claudia Grisales:  Crime Reporting in Austin, Texas
  • March 13 - Texas Ranger Sergeant Cody Mitchell: The Texas Rangers
  • April 10 - Satish Chundru, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner
  • May - Texas Mystery Month
  • May 15 – Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event
  • June 12 - George Arnold & Ken Squier present:  An Author’s Guide to Successfully Selling Your Book
  • July 10 - Jennifer Aguirre: Crime Scene Analysis
  • August 14 - Shelia Hargis: Making Sense of Crime in Austin–Crime Analysts in Action
  • September 11 – Hector Gomez: Lone Star Fugitive Task Force
  • October 9 - Marian K. Williams: The United States Postal Inspection Service
  • November 13 - Ron Franscell, Author of Delivered From Evil: My Life of Crime: A Crime Writer’s Journey
  • December 11 – Karen and Mike Cross: Christmas Mysteries

HotSinC 2012 Program Schedule

  • January 8 – Detective Ruben Vasquez presents “Murder Investigation Step by Step”
  • February 13 – Gordon A. Bowers presents “Property and Evidence Management”
  • March 13 – Durriyah Chinwalla presents “Banking as You Don’t Know It, or Laughter Is the Best Medicine

******

Nolo Contendere

Please send news for the October issue of HOTSHOTS! to katherine.waller68 (at) gmail.com by October 25.

*

As always, if you find errors or omissions in this (or any other) issue of HOTSHOTS!, please notify me at katherine.waller68 (at) gmail.com. Blogs are very forgiving–I can easily make necessary changes.

******


About HOTSHOTS!

Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter meets the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00 p.m. at Recycled Reads in Austin, Texas. All meetings are free and open to the public.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.