Jul 21, 2011

Charlaine Harris



Charlaine Harris made headlines last week with the news that book thirteen is it. Sookie and the rest of her cast of characters from The Southern Vampire Series are wrapping up their story lines. The news spread like wild fire throughout both the internet and print press. It was mainly met with sadness. I’m excited. I cannot wait to see what one of my favorite writers has rattling around in that magnificent mind and what group of characters she’s going to introduce us to next. I’m also intrigued. What is her end game? Who will Sookie choose? Or will she just Walk away?

A strange thing happens when a favorite book series hits the TV. It’s even a little stranger when Alan Ball is backing the production. The two and a half seasons of the TV show True Blood have been glorious. Ball has certainly hit upon a lot of the themes Charlaine drives home in the books. If you read this series first as opposed to watching you’re dealing with an altered time-line. It’s all well and good, but different. Looking at sales numbers for the novels, I have to believe that most of the viewers have caught up to the readers. I cannot help but think they’re nodding their heads and thinking to themselves, “I know why she’s special, it’s in her blood.”Those of us who read the books all remember the betrayal and the joy, washing over us all at once. Whether you read first or watched first there is something very special here. A traditional setting, a small town girl with a great heart who believes, sincerely, that all are created equal and have the right to live a happy life. A young woman goes above and beyond to make her world a better place. Sookie makes mistakes, but not many. The most memorable scene from the books is yet to hit your T.V. In this scene Charlaine Harris manages to encompass Sookie’s humanity, heroism and horror with such compassion for where we are as a world today it will break your heart. I hope Ball captures that scene.

Charlaine Harris has afforded me many memorable scenes over the years. I started with Aurora Teagarden. Charlaine’s small town librarian who ends up married to a man of the world. I’m not even sure how I got there. Was it a blurb on the back? Was it a recommendation from a friend? I don’t remember but I do remember I immediately read a Lily Bard. Shakespeare’s Landing came to me at a time in my life where I’d lost control of my own environment. Here was a young woman who’d lived through something much worse than anything I’d ever been through, and was reclaiming her life. Lily did this in the gentle confines of a traditional mystery flooded with contemporary pathos. Even while I was absorbed in the mystery, I was taking strength from this fictional heroine.

Meanwhile Aurora had a list of titles for me. Classic mysteries that I’d never heard of. Reading I began to tackle. I often wonder if I ever would have read Tey or Allingham if not for Harris and Teagarden. I often think I owe Charlaine a lot of effusive thank-yous for this alone. And then she made me laugh. LOL in a way I’d not done in two years. DEAD OVER HEELS was the book. The opening scene has perhaps the most unique body discovery of all time. It’s so entirely ridiculous I couldn’t help myself. I learned a lesson about my reading habits that day. I am a reader who escapes into a book. I’ll never be able to truly deconstruct any novel no matter how many times I read it. That’s okay, I can live with that. It means I’ll always have something I want to read.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know this wonderful belle with a beautiful brain. Charlaine is the southern woman with a story of her own. I’ve seen her give back to fellow scribes. I’ve seen her giggle with fans over any number of things. She’s given me a recipe for Sweet Tea. I’ve been able to share her work with a number of people who don’t read much and discuss how very good and subtle this work is with folks who read a lot.

How I’ve enjoyed her ascent from low mid-list to the upper echelons of sales. 1,000,000 downloads anyone?
How about every book being in print? I remember a night almost three years ago. I was on the phone passing along information to a friend. “Ruth, have you seen the bestseller list?” “No I’m really swamped with Bouchercon but I know you hit # 1.” “No, look at the list, you have to see it.” Through sheer happenstance a fan got to share a moment with one of her favorite authors. A moment that doesn’t come very often. We giggled. A lot.

So I’ll miss Sookie. Sure I will. But baby I cannot wait to see what Charlaine Harris has up her sleeve for us next. I know it will be special.

Jul 20, 2011

I Am a Cult - Guest blog by Colin Cotterill

 
Exposed brickwork is all the rage in Surrey. My Uncle John has an entire bathroom that looks like it was carted over directly from Berlin. But I get the feeling the naked bricks here at the Zuela Guesthouse in Luang Nam Tha, Laos, are more a homage to the cost of plastering. My room’s like a cell. No fridge. No TV. No modern arty pictures of men on buffalos. No closet safe. No closet. No feeling in my limbs after a night on the compressed bread mattress. Outside, the rains are crashing down on the banana plants and the roads are flowing red with mud. The power goes off half-a-dozen times a day. But, believe this if you will… they’ve got Wi Fi. Not even the Hilton gives away the internet for nothing. I just finished a tour of twelve cities in the ‘civilized’ side of the planet and not once did I get free wireless. But here in the hills of the north I can sit at my wonky desk and surf the world. I love this country.

How can I not have extreme feelings for a place that made me what I am today? A cult. Yes, I did spell that correctly. It’s written there in black and white on my laptop. ‘Colin Cotterill is one of the most highly regarded "cult favorite" crime writers today’. One of my two fans sent me the link. I was overwhelmed. I was elated. I didn’t know what it meant. I looked it up. Was I really a quasi-religion? I don’t think so. That only left definition 2.

a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion

So that was it. Like the hula-hoop and the slinky, I was a fad. The people in the next room at the Zuela obviously did not realize that I was the object of devotion or I wouldn’t have had to bang on the bricks with my flip flop last night to get them to shut up. And how would this cult following change me? Obviously not financially, because I believe devotees of a cult are generally reluctant to stick their hands in their pockets in fear that it might spoil me. Commercial success is the death knell for cults like me. And how did it come about, this cultdom? Just ten years ago I was staying in guest houses like this because it was all I could afford. Now I’m here on research. I can wash off the red street mud in a four-star hotel when I get back to Thailand. How did I begin along this path?
(cue harp music played by a tall slim woman with long dark hair and glasses)
It all started in 2000 when I wrote the first of my Lao books, The Coroner’s Lunch. I guess I knew then I wouldn’t be jabbing my nib into the mainstream artery of crime fiction. In fact, I didn’t even consider myself a crime writer. I thought I was just writing stories. (Eight of them last count). Only moderate and playful gratuitous violence. Absolutely no obscenity unless you’re really easily offended. Just a bunch of nice quirky characters doing quirky things. Comparable to other writers only with regard to the exotic location. . I hadn’t set out to make depressed people write rude things about me on Amazon or be disgraced by my books. I wanted my readers to have fun. Colin the Entertainer, that’s what I was.
 I argued myself blue in the face that I wasn’t a crime writer and what happened? They handed me a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger award. You try to argue you’re not a crime writer once that’s happened. So I guess, subconsciously, all the while I was pulling away from the norm. I didn’t want to be in someone else’s genre. I wanted a genre all my own. I briefly considered vampire whodunits. Toyed with Noir fairy stories. But I’m not the serious type. If I weren’t so painfully shy and didn’t need several hours to be spontaneous, I would have been a stand-up comedian. So my new series, my truly cult adventure, would have to be funny.

Four years ago I moved to the south of Thailand to a quiet fishing village on the Gulf. Monkeys collected coconuts. Jelly fish bobbed. Dogs scratched. Some might have considered it boring. I found it utterly charming. There was so little crime that the local jail didn’t even have a lock-up. So what better premise to launch a cult series than to turn this peaceful haven of innocent squid fishing into the hub of sin and iniquity of the Eastern Seaboard? I needed characters who were not clich├ęs nor Thai stereotypes. What better way to achieve that than to take those same stereotypes and turn them upside down? What happens when the beautiful Thai transsexual ages twenty years? What happens to the traffic cop who refuses to take bribes? What happens to the body builder who is a cowardly lion? The tough female investigative journalist who has no crime to report? The organized matriarch whose mind is slowly being turned by dementia? Throw a few mysteries into this mix and a dollop of the ridiculous and what do you have? Killed at the Whim of a Hat, and its follow up, Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach.

I don’t mind being a cult. In fact I’m quite proud about it. What would I do with all that money, anyway? And look where it’s got me. I’m at the wonky desk at the Zuela reading emails from the organizers of September’s Bouchercon to which I am being sent as the token overseas fad. I’m being emailed reviews from German magazines and south African newspapers. My British publisher is hounding me for a new book. My Swedish translator tells me that ‘wanker’ isn’t in the dictionary. All this and I am a mere cult. You wait and see what happens when I get the Nobel.

 Colin's new book is KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT and is on sale now!

He is also one of the guests of honor at Bouchercon in St. Louis

Want to be entered to win a copy of the new book?
shoot an email to
Jon@crimespreemag.com


We'll be sending out at least two!


Jul 14, 2011

BLOODLINE


A funny thing happened at Casa Crimespree when we watched the THORNE mini-series. I fell in love with Mark Billingham's character Tom Thorne all over again. So great to see him back at the beginning of this journey, before the support system and Thorne himself were battered, beaten, left for dead. It was a wake up call to all Billingham has managed to do in the eight books that have been published in the U.S.
Today number nine officially hits bookshops and on-line vendors throughout the U.S.A. BLOODLINE is a remarkable book. A twisty, terrible ride into the mind of two killers and the man looking at the cases they're involved in. What happens when the children of a Serial Killer's victims begin to die? From the epilogue at the very beginning of the book you'll know the stakes are high.
Did I turn you off with the words "serial killer"? Don't let it be so.
For this is a book about choices and history. The characters both heroic and cowardly. The puzzle is truly remarkable. Bloodlines is the kind of book you lose yourself in until you're done..
Once again I've got to go back to the mini-series. When you love an author's work from the beginning you often lose prespective of everything he has managed to accomplish. In Billingham's case he has dealt effectively and compassionately with Alzheimer's, Gay rights, the Iraq War, the socio-economic system, inner-office politics, homelessness. And you forget because you are so caught up in the character of Thorne. Simply one of the best Police to ever grace the page. His books are big. Think McDermid, Robinson, Rankin if you like Brit. Think Harry Bosch and Cork O'Connor if you're a fan of American police procedural.
Back to the mini series though. In watching the TV adaptation I found flaws. All faithful readers do. What I saw was eye opening. Tom Thorne is an over the top every man cop with layers and baggage. He is Jimmy Smit's Simone from NYPD Blues. He is Timothy Olyphant in Justified. He is Rudy Carazzo from the 57th Precinct series. He is Lucas Davenport without the cash. He is Harry Bosch with all the bad political savy.
Mark Billingham and Tom Thorne are the best of reads. There's a depth of character and plot written with the pacing of an airport best seller. It's time to join the party. Out today from Mulholland Books don't miss BLOODLINE.