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Good Times I Remember*

Throwback

As I post this, it’s Thursday, or as lots of social media users say, Throwback Thursday. So I thought it might be fun to take a ‘throwback’ look at some famous crime writers and see what they were like when they were young. What you’re about to see are 10 pictures of people who grew up to become famous crime fiction authors. Can you guess who they all are? If you’d like to, you can vote in the polls that go with the pictures. I’ll post the correct answers tomorrow. Ready? Let’s turn on the time machine…
 
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And finally…

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*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Pankow’s Old Days, made famous by Chicago.

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And I’m Standing Here For All the World to See*

Main CharacterThe lovely and talented D.S. Nelson, and her sleuth Blake Heatherington have invited me to be a part of the ‘Meet the Main Character’ Blog Tour, and my own sleuth Joel Williams and I couldn’t be more excited and honoured. 

Blake Heatherington is a retired milliner who lives in the village of Tuesbury. He’s got a real eye for his clients’ personalities and characters, which is why he was successful at creating just the right hats for them. He still loves creating hats, but he keeps getting drawn into mysteries…   Do go visit D.S. Nelson’s terrific blog and find out more about her, about Blake Heatherington, and about the writing process. 

Now, since it’s really Joel Williams who’s being interviewed here, I’m going to go get some errands done and let him answer these questions:

 

What is your name? Are you a fictional or historical character?

 

I’m Joel Williams. You won’t find my name in any history books or journal articles, so I guess that makes me fictional. But if you ask Margot, I’m very real.

 

When and where is your story set?

 

I live and work in the Pennsylvania (USA) college town of Tilton. I’m a professor of criminal justice at Tilton University, where I’ve been teaching for the last eight years.

 

What should we know about you?

 

To be honest, I’m a rather private person, but here’s a little about me. I come from a blue-collar, working class family. While I was in high school I decided I wanted to be a cop. The TV cop shows made it look like an interesting – OK, let’s be honest, cool – career, and at the time, I didn’t see myself as the ‘university type.’ Ironic, isn’t it?  Besides, I really liked the idea of solving cases. I wouldn’t call myself a serious crime novel fan, but I did like reading mysteries.

I trained as a police officer and had a solid eighteen years on the force – made detective after five years. That’s how I met my wife, Laura, actually. She’s an Assistant District Attorney. She was in law school doing an internship when we met. I’d been working a murder case, and she was assigned to collect the facts for the DA’s office. We got married three years later.

Eighteen years is a long time to be a cop, and I started to feel myself burning out a little. It was definitely time for a change. I’d  gone to school at night anyway to get my undergraduate degree, and I decided I liked the college setting. Then after I got my degree, I was invited to do a couple of presentations for undergraduate criminal justice students and that was all it took. It wasn’t easy, but I went to school full-time, got my Ph.D. and now I’m the ‘professor type’ I hadn’t imagined I would be. And I love it.

 

What is the main conflict? What messes up your life?

 

They say, ‘Once a cop, always a cop,’ and I guess that’s true. Murder may be glorified on TV and in films, but in real life, it’s ugly and it scars everyone who’s left behind. I hate to see that happen, and when it does, I can’t resist trying to get some answers for the people who have to live with the aftermath. And I can’t help it – I’m curious.  Even my wife will tell you that I can’t leave things alone.

Oh, and anyone who tells you that being a professor is easy has never tried it. There are always student issues, campus politics, research work, and meetings. And paperwork. But we won’t talk about the paperwork; I think it’s the thing I like least about my job.

 

What is your personal goal?

 

My main area of interest is the juvenile justice system in the US. I’ve done some research on it – even had a book accepted for publication. We need to do something to make the system work better, so that young people who make stupid mistakes don’t get thrown away by the system. Young offenders are not the same as adults. At the same time, though, there are some truly dangerous kids out there who really are a threat. We need to face that problem too. It’s a difficult balance, and presents some hard challenges. I’d love to be a part of solving this problem and I try to, when I’m not teaching, at meetings, or solving other cases…

 

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

 

Well, Margot’s waiting for news about one of my stories. We won’t know all the details until we learn whether it will be published. But I can tell you that she and I have decided to call it Dying to See You, at least for now. It’s about the time I worked with two colleagues from two other schools on a research project. We were studying Second Chance, a Philadelphia alternative school program for students who’d gotten in trouble. We were doing some background reading when we found out about a student there who’d been killed two years earlier. The more we looked into that death, the more trouble we found.

 

When can we expect the book to be published?

 

That I can’t say yet, for a number of reasons. But Margot has a big mouth. I’m sure she’ll tell you as soon as we find out.

While you’re waiting, though, you can catch up on my other stories Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat.

Oh – sorry. Time to get ready for my department meeting. It’s been a pleasure. Here’s Margot to say a few final things.

 

Thanks, Joel. And thanks, D.S. for inviting us to be a part of this meme. Now it’s my turn to pass the baton to other writers and ask them to introduce us to their main characters. Here are a few that you may find interesting: 

 

Jill Edmondson’s Sasha Jackson

K.B. Owen’s Concordia Wells

Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney
 

So I’m inviting these authors to share more about them. At the least, you’ll want to pay those authors’ blogs a visit!

 

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Shameless.

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The Mysterious Affair of Styles ;-)

StylesWhether you’re getting ready to pull out your spring wardrobe or plan your fall wardrobe, clothes can be important. So it’s a good time for…

 

…a quiz!! Oh come on! Don’t tell me you expected to escape without a quiz! ;-)

 

Most of us have something distinctive about our style of dress. And as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all about your favourite sleuths’ clothing styles, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question with the correct answer. Then submit your answers. When you’re done, you’ll be able to review your answers to see which ones you got correct.

 

Ready? Open the dresser drawer to begin – if you dare ;-)

Dresserdrawer

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In The Spotlight: Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. For many people, there’s just something about the academic setting that lends itself particularly well to a crime novel. First there’s the physical setting, often lovely and full of history. Then, there’s the fact that university campuses bring together all sorts of diverse people with their own backgrounds, conflicts and so on. There’s also the fact of campus politics, which often have a role to play in university life. Put these together and you have quite a context for a murder mystery. Let’s take a closer look at one today. Let’s turn the spotlight on Christie Poulson’s Murder is Academic (AKA Dead Letters)

The novel begins with the death of Margaret Joplin, head of the English Literature Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge. Her colleague Cassandra James finds the body in the swimming pool when she goes to Joplin’s home to collect some final exam papers. At first, it looks as though the death was a terrible accident. But it’s not long before certain hints begin to suggest otherwise.

One possibility is that Joplin committed suicide. There doesn’t seem to be much motive, though, and James doesn’t really believe it. If it was murder, James now has to face the possibility that someone she knows could be a killer.  And soon enough, it’s clear that the killer may be targeting her. As she gets to know more about her former boss, James sees that there’s more than one suspect. For one thing, Joplin had a complicated personal life. For another, there’s reason to believe someone from the department might have been responsible.

In the meantime, James has other matters on her mind. She’s been named Acting Head of the English Literature Department, which means increased administrative responsibility. It also means she will be responsible for getting the department ready for the next Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The department’s funding depends critically on how successful it is at passing the exercise. It will be James’ responsibility to get everyone’s scholarship, including her own, up-to-date and impressive-looking.

As if that’s not enough, she discovers that she’s pregnant. She loves her partner (and the baby’s father) Stephen Lawton, but neither was ready for such a major change and permanent commitment. The pregnancy puts everything into a different light.

It also makes James more vulnerable as she tries to get everyone ready for the RAE and find out who killed Margaret Joplin before the killer gets to her first. In the end, and after another tragedy, James finds out the truth about how everything is connected. She also finds out some other surprising truths.

This is an academic mystery, so we get a close look at what life is like at a Cambridge college. There are papers to read and mark, plenty of campus politics and the inevitable student issues. And there is the never-ending pressure to publish, as well as the jockeying for funding. Life at Cambridge is certainly far from peaceful, even when there aren’t murders.

For all that, the novel also shows us the positive side of the academic life. There is a sense of camaraderie in the department, although everyone is shaken by the events in the novel. And of course there’s the beautiful Cambridge setting. There’s also the enjoyment these scholars get from their own literary interests. It may not be easy to be in academe, but these characters couldn’t really imagine not living the academic life.

And characters are an important element in this novel. First, there’s Cassandra James. An expert in Victorian literature, she’s independent and intelligent, and she enjoys what she does, despite its stresses. She isn’t overly keen to become a sleuth. At the same time, though, she feels the need to deal with her own sense of grief and loss at her boss’ death. There’s also the fact that discovering the body was a very traumatic experience for her. Part of looking for answers arguably has to do with her need to get closure for herself. As the novel moves on, and it’s clear that someone could very well be targeting her, we also see that James is as vulnerable as any of us would be, all the more so as her pregnancy progresses. She doesn’t take implausible chances, but at the same time, she wants to go on with her life and not give in to her fears.

There are other interesting characters in the novel as well. For instance, there’s Alison Stirling, the department’s specialist in 16th and 17th Century literature. And there’s Adien Frazer, the department’s newest hire, who has an Edwardian kind of look about him, and a real appeal for the female (and some of the male) students. There’s also her colleague Merfyn, who’s interested in séances and believes that he’s been channeling Arthur Conan Doyle as he writes. Each of them has a share of eccentricities, if you want to call it that, but they all contribute to the department. And they all contribute to the sense of atmosphere in the novel. Also, without spoiling the story, I can say that some of the situations involving them add some solid humour to it.

The mystery itself is a ‘whodunit,’ and when we learn the answer to that question, the ‘whydunit’ part is logical. And James discovers what really happened in a way that fits both her background and expertise, and the university setting. It’s also worth noting here that, while this isn’t a really light novel, there is a minimum of violence. The tension and suspense in the novel (and they certainly are there) are more psychological than they are dependent upon violence.

Murder is Academic is a uniquely ‘university’ academic mystery, with a distinctive Cambridge setting and characters who will be familiar to those who know the university context. It features a protagonist who fits into that context, and a close and sometimes wryly humourous look at life in the world of higher education. But what’s your view? Have you read Murder is Academic? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 28 July/Tuesday 29 July – The Collini Case – Ferdinand von Schirach

Monday 4 August/Tuesday 5 August – The Anatomy of Death – Felicity Young

Monday 11 August/Tuesday 12 August – Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Hagashino

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The Turnover

The TurnoverIt was Ramón who saw it first. He and Mateo had been sent to replace the carpet and do the painting in Apartment 1305 to get it ready for the next resident. Their company was always called in to turn over apartments at Mission Heights Estates; it was a steady source of income and the boss made it clear he wanted it to stay that way. Anyone sent there had to do the job right the first time.

They pulled up in front of the building and got their equipment out of their truck. It took a while, what with having to haul down the stepladder, painting materials and plastic-sheeted rolls of carpet. Finally they were ready to go in. Ramón unlocked the door and pushed it open, using a heavy can of paint as a doorstop.

Then he and Mateo went in. They decided to start by pulling up the bedroom carpet and headed in that direction. As they passed down the hall, Ramón noticed that the hallway closet door was slightly open. When he leaned over to shut it, he saw the foot. He pulled the door open and saw the rest of the body. Then he turned back to Mateo.

One look at his partner’s face was all Mateo needed to know that something was very wrong. ‘What is it?’ he asked.
Ramón pointed at the body. ‘There’s a goddamned dead body in there!’
Mateo looked over Ramón’s shoulder. ‘Holy shit! That’s the resident! The guy who was supposed to move out. His name’s Saunders. Him and his wife lived here. They got a kid, too.’
‘You know them?’
‘A little. I’m here all the time.’

They looked back at the body: at the dark hair covered with dried blood, at the tan polo shirt liberally spattered with brown patches, and at the other brown patches on the carpet around the dead man.
‘We better call the cops,’ Ramón said shakily.
‘Yeah, we will.’
‘Thank God you didn’t bring Carlos with you today.’ Carlos was Mateo’s sixteen-year-old son, who went along with his father whenever he could. He wanted to own his own apartment turnover company someday and right now he was learning how to do the job.
‘Yeah, well, Carlos is spending a couple of weeks with his grandparents. Good timing.’

The moment of almost normal conversation calmed both men down and Ramón started to pull his ‘phone out of his pocket to call the police.
‘Wait a sec,’ Mateo held a hand up. ‘That’ll be Graciela. We need to tell her. I don’t want her finding this.’ He waved his hand at the body.
‘I don’t, either,’ Ramón said. He put his ‘phone away and the two men went to the door of the apartment

From the doorway they could see Graciela coming towards them. Part of the apartment community’s housekeeping/maintenance staff, she was lugging a large rolling bucket full of cleaning supplies and a pile of folded towels. Her glossy black hair was pulled into a ponytail that fell across one shoulder. She smiled when she saw them. Ramón dreamed of that smile at night, and of those golden-brown arms around him. He’d do anything for Graciela. One day he’d work up the courage to ask her out. He’d already found out she wasn’t married; he just had to find the words to say what he wanted to say. Now he swallowed hard as she came up to them.

‘Wait,’ he said when she got to the door.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked as her smile morphed into a puzzled frown.
‘You can’t go in there right now,’ Mateo said. ‘We gotta take up the carpet.’
‘I’m starting in the kitchen,’ she said, ‘I won’t be in your way.’ Then she tried to push past them.
‘Seriously, Graciela, you need to wait,’ Ramón insisted.
Now she glared at both men. ‘What the hell is going on?’ she demanded.

Mateo and Ramón looked at each other. Finally Mateo stepped aside and Graciela walked in. She’d only gone about two steps when Ramón stopped her. ‘You don’t want to go back that way,’ he said, pointing towards the hallway.
‘Why not?’
‘There’s a body in the closet. The guy who lived here. He’s been killed.’
‘Saunders? He’s dead?’
Mateo nodded.
‘Oh, thank God!’

For a moment, neither man could think of anything to say. Graciela watched them both and then said, ‘Saunders was a bastard. He wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept pestering me to work for him.’
‘Work for him?’
‘The guy was a drug dealer. Very careful about it. Not a lot of people knew. He wanted me to get involved. My daughter Ynéz, too. Said we’d be good for business. It got too much for Ynéz. She – she had to go. I sent her to stay with my sister. I haven’t seen her for a year.’
Ramón finally found the words he’d been looking for. ‘I didn’t kill him, Graciela, but now I wish I had.’
She smiled a little. ‘Doesn’t matter now. Whoever did it deserves an award. Now I can tell Ynéz it’s safe to come home.’

Mateo had been silent, but now he said, ‘Bastard!’ startling Ramón and Graciela. Then it hit Graciela. ‘You, too?’ she asked gently.
Mateo nodded. ‘Carlos,’ he said. ‘He stopped wanting to come here. He wouldn’t say why at first, but then one day I finally got him to tell me. That’s why I sent him to his abuelos for a while.’
‘What about the cops?’

Three hours later, Brenda Saunders pulled into the parking lot near the apartment building. Part of her knew she shouldn’t come back; it was only asking for trouble. But she had to. What if Lucy had dropped something? She’d been hysterical as she ran out of the apartment, so she could have, and one tiny piece of evidence would be all the cops would need. They wouldn’t care that Dave had tried to get Lucy to ‘work’ for him. Scum! Why Brenda had ever married him in the first place, she couldn’t even remember. Some dream about a father figure for Lucy, probably. What a laugh! And then Dave telling them that the family was going to move. No, not telling them – ordering them. Well, they were free of him now.  And the way she saw it, Brenda was just doing her job as a parent to make sure Lucy would be safe.

She glanced around to make sure the parking lot was empty. Then she saw it. The cleaning company’s truck. What the hell were they doing there so soon? She broke into a sweat. There were no cop cars around, but it wouldn’t be long. Oh, God, what if Lucy had dropped something? They’d thrown the hammer into a nearby creek, so that was all right, but what if there was something else? Her mind whirling, Brenda stepped out of the car. She was going to have to think of something to say.

She’d just started towards the building when she saw the two guys from the cleaning company come out of her apartment. Not hers any more. They were carrying a load of trash towards the dumpster when one of them saw her. He nudged the other one, who started in her direction. She’d seen that guy before. Damn! He’d remember her. When he got closer, he said quietly, ‘Mrs. Saunders, right?’
‘Yes.’ Then she felt the need to add something. ‘I – I came back because I think I left something behind. In the apartment.’
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, looking straight into her eyes. ‘Our company has the best reputation in the business. We clean everything, and we do it right the first time. Nothing gets left behind.’
‘But – I – ’

Then the other guy joined them. ‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘We cleaned the whole apartment very carefully. It looks like new.’
It slowly dawned on Brenda that she and Lucy might actually be safe. She looked from one to the other of the two men, watching their faces, watching them nod reassuringly.
‘Thank you,’ she finally said.
‘No,’ the taller one said. ‘Thank you.’

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