Karin's thoughts on the future of the book are timely and interesting. She's taking a more sociological view than what we've seen before, an important angle on a hot topic of discussion. Give it a read.
CURSE OF THE POGO STICK, by Colin Cotterill. (Soho trade paperback, $13.00) recommended by Barbara Tom, Murder by the Book, Portland, OR, www.mbtb.com : This is the fifth book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series set in 1970s Laos. Dr. Siri is a reluctant coroner, placed in his current position by an imperious Communist government. In his 70s, Dr. Siri still has all his wits about him - plus the wits that should have been allocated to his superior, Judge Haeng - and the energy of a much younger man. He also has a spiritual advisor, the normally dormant Yeh Ming, a long-deceased village shaman. Late in life, besides his association with Yeh Ming, Dr. Siri has developed the ability to see spirits from The Otherworld. They lead him into and out of danger, with unpredictability as their hallmark.
Within the purview of entertainment, not academic disquisition, Colin Cotterill does a good job of representing the Hmong culture, which has survived turmoil, war, and displacement throughout the years. Dr. Siri comes face to face with the hidden and disenfranchised Hmong when his vehicle is attacked and he is taken hostage. His captors are generous, kind, and need his spiritual help. This is in stark contrast to the obligatory party mission he was on when he was captured. It was, ironically, to show how safe travel in Laos had become under the new regime, and it was in the company of sullen and disagreeable Party members.
While Dr. Siri is attempting to restore spiritual balance to the war-reduced population of one Hmong community, his loyal friends and assistants (Nurse Dtui, fiancée Daeng, policeman Phossy, retired Party power player Civilai, and morgue worker Geung) are fighting a terrorist plot in Vientiane. Cotterill writes with humor and respect for the culture that was, and with insight about the unsettled politics of the time. Despite the slightly fantastical terrorist plot (as if seeing spirits weren't fantastical!) in this book, I have found that time has not diminished Cotterill's ability to entrance and illuminate. This is still one of the best mystery series, and one I love to recommend.
WHO KILLED THE PINUP QUEEN by Toni L.P. Kelner. (Berkley pbo, $6.99) Second in the Where Are They Now? series. Recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin' for Books, San Diego, CA, email@example.com : Tilda Harper is a freelance entertainment writer based in Boston. She has a good friend who works at Entertain Me, a magazine where celebrities are revered. Tilda is happy to accept assignments for the magazine, but she also enjoys the freedom of freelancing. She's able to make a living, but doesn't have a lot of spare money. She's been interviewing a former pinup, Sandra Sechrest. Her friend Cooper, a fan boy, tags along. When Tilda realizes she's left her camera at Sandra's home, she returns and finds Sandra's body. What is worse is the realization she could be a suspect.
When the stars of an old western TV show start planning a theme park based on their show, Cowtown, Tilda is hired to help with the planning. This is right up her alley. Part of her job is to interview the stars of the show, and many guest actors, at least those that are still alive. The show had a code of conduct, and it seems someone is no longer living by the code. Strangely, the two assignments seem to be connected. Pinups and Cowboys aren't usually found together, but Tilda is smart enough to make the connection; when she does, she brings the Cowtown Code back to life, and saves the day. When I began reading this book, I had thought I was reading the first in the series, and when I realized my mistake, I was too hooked to stop. Kelner does a great job creating a historical TV show. She also has used her research on pin ups to great advantage. This series is a must for anyone with a love of popular culture, especially of days gone by. The only thing I'd change is have Tilda get rid of her roommate.
EYE OF THE RAVEN, by Eliot Pattison. (Counterpoint hc, $26.00) recommended by Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books, Waterford, Vermont, kingdombks.blogspot.com : His Edgar Award-winning Skull Mantra, set in Chinese-occupied Tibet, made instant fans for Eliot Pattison. Admirers of these tightly plotted thrillers with their undercurrent of spiritual danger and search may need a twist of the arm to jump across to Pattison's other series, set in pre-Colonial America and definitely "historical." But the same isolation and despair that drive Inspector Chan in Tibet propel Scottish exile Duncan McCallum into friendship with a Native shaman. One side of the Atlantic or the other, it's necessary to take a stand against the oppression and cruelty of the English forces. McCallum's medical studies back in Edinburgh equip him to investigate causes of unnatural deaths, and give him the kind of thinking that also tracks down killers.
In Eye of the Raven, Pattison's newly released sequel to Bone Rattler, the year is 1760 -- and the most powerful art within the colonies is that of the surveyor, whose pins and lines mark off wealth for landholders and claimants. Although Duncan McCallum is following, studying with, and attempting to protect his friend Conawago (a shaman caught in the New World equivalent of a clan war), his ignorance of the powers and histories around him make him helpless. At first his investigation is part survival strategy, part desperate effort to free his friend. It soon tangles in ritualistic murders that seem obviously connected to the shamanistic beliefs of the Iroquois natives. The darkness and despair that ensue turn this tale into pre-Colonial "noir." McCallum's detective work will stumble against many big issues: Is it right to "save" the Natives through Christianity, or does this simply transplant Hell from the Old World to the New? What is the price of wealth? How can McCallum investigate the results when his own exiled and anti-establishment nature has already made him a target?
Pattison provides a compelling tale worth reading slowly. If you're not a fan of historical mysteries in general, this may be the one that walks you across the gap of time and pattern. It's both a fast-paced detection thriller and a wildly promising exploration of what a lonely man can become, if he chooses his few friends wisely.
DEAD AIR: A SAMMY GREENE THRILLER by Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid. (Oceanview Publishing hc, $25.95) recommended by Stephanie Saxon Levine, Murder on the Beach, Delray Beach, FL, www.murderonthebeach.com : What do you get when you place an outspoken native New Yorker on a staid New England college campus, and give her the job of talk-radio host on the campus radio station? When you throw in the suspicious death of a professor, a suicide, and several student disappearances, you have a tension-filled page-turner. That is exactly what Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid have given us in Dead Air.
Protagonist Sammy Greene, curious and audacious by nature, with a journalist's drive to uncover the truth, delves deep to find the answers to the mysterious deaths and disappearances. In addition, she has her own demons and concerns, past and present, impelling her forward, along an increasingly dangerous path. The closer she comes to solving the mysteries, the greater her personal peril. All this makes for a suspenseful read. While the college campus isn't normally my "beat" as a reader of detective fiction, I found the characters, setting, and plot of Dead Air made it intriguing reading. It was good to be back in college again, although the campus of Ellsford College appears to be a very dangerous place indeed.
CITY OF DRAGONS by Kelli Stanley. (Minotaur Books hc, $24.95) Recommended by Fran Fuller, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA, www.seattlemystery.com : "Miranda didn't hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk." From the first sentence, Kelli Stanley grabs your attention and after that she will skillfully transport you to 1940's San Francisco with an assurance and style you'd expect from a long-established writer. In City of Dragons we meet Miranda Corbie, former escort turned PI. No one cares about one dead Japanese kid in Chinatown, but he died at Miranda's feet, and from that moment on, she makes it her mission to discover why he was killed.
Stanley's a fan of Hammett and Chandler, and it shows. Her prose is as sharp and staccato as Miranda's high heels on the pavement. While some readers may find the short, terse sentences and free-flowing imagery difficult at first, Stanley's style and talent will pull you into Miranda's search for truth, filled with hard cops and duplicitous dames, double crosses and betrayal, and just a glimpse of love and hope. With the music of the day weaving a poignant counterpoint through Miranda's investigation, I certainly found myself drawn completely into her world.
Miranda Corbie drinks hard, smokes constantly, and refuses to be put into her place by anyone. Kelli Stanley has created a strong, memorable protagonist, and I think that Sam Spade would have had her back when the chips were down.
One of the things I like to do in mystery bookshops is to check out the names of the special sections. The categories here at Seattle Mystery Bookshop are very good: there's the Sherlock section, there's the animysteries, the cheap thrills, the capers and crimes for kids. There's also a section just for bibliomysteries, where I was happy to find a copy of Vincent McCaffrey's novel Hound (published by Small Beer Press, where I'm an editor). And, this being Seattle, there's the northwest section, and there's even a "murder in the far northwest" section, where they have the Chabon, so that must be Alaska.
The problem I was facing, when I arrived in Seattle to sign copies of my novel The Manual of Detection (a finalist for the 2010 Hammett Prize, I've just learned!), was my lack of an umbrella. I don't like being without one, and the kind folks here at the bookshop have kindly given me one. In return, I've been making bookmarks. The bookmarks are hand-stamped, and each has a mystery written just for the recipient. Here's the one I made for Adele, one of the booksellers here.
The stamp I've been using for these bookmarks has a latin inscription, the meaning of which had been a mystery to me. But in addition to an umbrella, the good people here have given me the solution. Fiat justitia ruat caelum means "Do justice, let the sky fall."
Good enough. It can fall all it wants to, now that I have my umbrella.
I'll read at Elliott Bay tonight, and then it's off to Portland, and then to San Francisco, where I'll read on Saturday with Laurie R. King for the SF in SF series. Come find me if you'd like a bookmark of your own.
So here I am, second day of the book tour for CITY OF DRAGONS, hanging out with some of my favorite booksellers at the fabulous Seattle Mystery Bookshop!
After an amazing launch yesterday at M is for Mystery, I'm running on coffee ... but luckily, I'm in the city that revitalized itself with caffeine. It's always wonderful to be here--I was born in Tacoma, so I'm a native Washingtonian coming home--and today, despite the early rain, is beautiful. Down in Pioneer Square, it's easy to picture Miranda here on a case ... and who knows? Maybe she'll take the A train here on a subsequent book.
For now, I'm just so thankful to be in a real bookstore--and one of the best!! And one that is fully stocked with fellow Macmillan authors, thank you very much. ;)
Big, big thanks to JB, Fran, and the rest of the staff in Seattle for hosting me on the tour ... and I hope the City of Coffee will enjoy the City of Dragons! :)
Guess what, no matter what Amazon does, you still can push my buttons. Go ahead, try, I won't mind. Just look for ASSASSINS OF ATHENS and/or MURDER IN MYKONOS and press away. In fact, let's turn this into a referendum on the whole battle. If you agree with Macmillan buy ASSASSINS, if with Amazon make it MYKONOS. How's that for democracy in action...a Greek creation I should add:)) But just to keep the playing field level, make sure to buy your choice from an indie...after all I'm typing this on one's blog:).
Sometime over the weekend, a wise decision was made at Amazon and they agreed to the pricing structure for e-book downloads long pushed by the major publishing houses. This has been characterized variously as 'surrenduring' and 'capitulating'. What does it mean? It means that Amazon will no longer have a stranglehold on e-books and anyone selling them for an e-reader - whether the new iPad, Sony's gizmo or the Kindle - will will be on a more equal footing. As will readers.
Why, you may ask, was Amazon willing to escalate this struggle into what was described as being a 'knife fight'?
"Because Amazon has discounted the price of most new and popular e-books on its Kindle e-reader to $9.99, it loses money on most of those sales. Amazon’s goal has been strategic: it aims to establish a low price for e-books that will have the ancillary benefit of helping it sell more Kindle devices. " This was the explanation of the New York Times today. Simply put, by being so huge that they could afford to lose money on their sale of e-books, they were trying to lock in as many people as possible to their proprietary device - the Kindle. They were, in effect, attempting to corner the market on e-readership. If they could charge less than anyone else, the market would obviously tilt towards them. After all, once you buy a Kindle, you're locked into being an Amazon customer. And that is what they wanted.
And, by being as dominating as Amazon is in the book world, Amazon was expecting to be able to dictate their pricing structure on the rest of industry - or, at the very least, they didn't care if they damaged the book industry as a whole (which was the over-riding fear of the publishers and authors and why they needed the price to go up to the $15 area) and lost money doing it, as long as they locked up as many people as possible into their system.
There is a social, political and economic philosophy in this country that 'bigger is better'. Let us hope that the economic and banking collapse of 2009 will finally bury that view. No one is well served if one outfit - being it Amazon or AIG or Enron or any other financial monster - can hold that much sway over a large segment of the economy, whether they're selling energy or toxic mortgages or electronic books. No one entity should be able to single-handedly damage an entire sector of the economy or culture.
Bigger is Better quickly can become Too Big to Fail and we should all start to worry at that point.