Friday, August 1, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - FRAMED FOR MURDER

FRAMED FOR MURDER
By Cathy Spencer
Comely Press




Framed for Murder is Cathy Spencer’s first mystery but you can tell from page one that she’s not a first-time novelist. Set in Alberta, in a small town outside Calgary, it’s a tale of betrayal, deceit and murder.

It’s late one evening and Anna Nolan is out walking her dog only to stumble across a body. The main problem, beside the fact that the guy is dead, is that it’s her ex-husband, Jack. And that’s where the fun begins. Despite the fact that Anna isn’t the murderer, the proof against her is stacking up. Okay, so she has an alibi for the majority of the critical time frame but she’s not in clear by a long shot.

The parting of their ways after seventeen years of marriage happened because of actor-husband Jack’s many infidelities and the recent inheritance Anna received, which made it possible for her to leave him and be able to care for their toddler son, Ben. She hadn’t seen Jack since the divorce, four years earlier. But phone records showed he had called her house that evening, when she should have been home. To make matters worse, the entire town knew about their past. And then, an old insurance policy that Anna had forgotten about names her as Jack’s beneficiary.

The local RCMP officer doesn’t really believe she’s guilty but when a hot shot detective from the national criminal investigation unit, Sgt. Charles Tremaine, she realizes she’s at the top of the suspect list. But not far behind is her son Ben, who has admitted to many that he hated his father. Anxious to prove both of their innocence, Anna joins forces with an extra from the movie set, Amy who had been one of many flings. And topping their list is the cameraman husband of the female lead. Nothing stops Anna, not even the possibility of getting caught snooping in their house. And she almost does. Anna also has a stuntwoman, the same person who was the final straw in their failing marriage, in her sights.

As Anna draws closer to the truth, and also to Sgt. Tremaine, she’s drawn into a final stand-off with the killer, in order to save Tremaine’s life and bring the killer to justice.

The suspense ramps up as the evidence against Anna keeps mounting. Someone definitely wants her held responsible for the murder.


Cathy Spencer keeps you guessing until she wants to reveal the killer. It's an intricate plot, well-written, and with a touch of romance tossed in to balance out the grim reality of death. Framed for Murder won the 2014 Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery at the Bloody Words conference in June. It's the first in the series, with the second, Town Haunts, released earlier this year. And there is a third book in the series on it's way. Fortunately!

Cathy was interviewed on Mystery Maven Canada for the June 13, 2014 blog post.



Friday, July 25, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

We're back! And if you're following the Criminal Tendencies thread, you'll know that once a month, we four writers (although it's only three this month)answer a question about writing that was "left over" from a day-long workshop held by Capital Crime Writers in the spring. We had so many questions at the ready and so little time, the Mystery Maven blog seemed the ideal way to deal with the remainder. So, we, today being Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin and Linda Wiken, aka Erika Chase, continue.....

Today's question: What is the main challenge of writing a series character and how do you handle it?


Mary Jane Maffini:

There seems to be a trio of main challenges with writing a series character: first is keeping the characters and setting fresh and not writing the same conflicts and same behaviours over and over again, Secondly, the main character has to change and grow as a result of what has happened in previous books and yet, still be the same person that readers care about. The third challenge is providing enough back story about pre-book history and what has happened in the series without giving away any plot 'secrets' or smothering the reader in an info dump.

Never mind! It's all fun.


Barbara Fradkin:


The main challenge is to avoid tilling old soil and boring both your readers and yourself. If you feel you are telling the same old story, it’s time to throw a spanner into the works. Shake up your sleuth’s personal life, change the supporting cast, or change the setting. I’ve done all these over the course of the Inspector Green series. A new baby, an aging parent, or a divorce are all challenges that add to stress and reveal different facets of your sleuth’s character, as well as adding to his humanity. Adding a new boss or sidekick, killing one off, or giving the supporting characters their own crises also greatly enriches the series. As writers we become as attached to our supporting cast as readers do, so give us reasons to care and worry about them. Changing the setting is very freeing; it provides new challenges and alters the type of story you are telling. My Nahanni story is not a police procedural with Green as the master of deduction; it is about Green the desperate father coping with unfamiliar and terrifying wilderness.


Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

The main concern is trying to keep the series fresh so that the reader, and the writer, don't turn off and get bored. However, I think it might be even a bigger challenge keeping the writer excited. One way is to develop the main character into someone who is real. And, as a real person encounters difficulties in day to day life, and hopefully grows from working these out, so too the main character in the series will. To me, Lizzie Turner, my main gal and one of the instigators of the book club, has become real. When having a cup of espresso in the morning, I'll often think about what she might be doing at that point. When a friend is trying to work through a problem, it affects me. And so, I worry about Lizzie and hope she'll find a solution when she's faced with the same. But of course, here I get to step in and solve it for her. If I keep Lizzie alive and fresh and evolving, I'll stay interested, and hopefully, so will the reader.

Friday, July 18, 2014

SCHMOOZING WITH SUZANNE KINGSMILL


1. Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?


My mother made sure I was never without a good book, when, from an early age, she started giving me some of the classics. I was a voracious reader but she always had a book for me. If I didn’t like a book she would invoke the 50 page rule: I had to read at least the first 50 pages and if I still didn’t like the book I could abandon it. I remember when I abandoned Dr. Zhivago at page 50 and she looked at me and said, “Ah, but Dr. Zhivago is worth 100 pages.” She was right. She gave me a love of reading and the English language that laid the groundwork for my writing career.


2. What are you working on now?


I am working on a fourth Cordi O’Callaghan mystery and playing around with a thriller and a novel about the relationship between a 17 year old mentally challenged boy and a famous octogenarian who befriends him.

3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?


Cordi has the same moral values as I do and we are both zoologists, although I’m a lapsed one. Other than that, she is fictional and I am real!

4. Are you character driven or plot driven?

Depends on the book. My Cordi books are predominantly plot driven but I like to think that my main characters stand out.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I do not write to a plot. I have a basic idea of whom the killer is and how the murder will take place and the motive, but after that it’s just sitting down to write and letting my characters lead the way. However, for it all to work, the main plot has to be good enough to really grip my attention, and the attention of my characters, right to the very last polished word.

6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?


A sense of having been transported to another place, at least for a while.

7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?

Still writing! More mysteries. A thriller. At least two non-mystery novels. Maybe another non-fiction book. Editing some fiction and non-fiction books, because that is such a challenge and really keeps you on your toes as a writer.

8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?


The scene in Dying for Murder, where Cordi gets cut off from land by a shark, actually happened to me. That and the fact that I make furniture for a hobby. I know that’s two things, but….

9. What do you like to read for pleasure?

Thrillers, literary fiction. I just finished reading The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both about young girls and both powerful, haunting and disturbing. I also enjoy reading murder mysteries, but there is definitely an involuntary work element to it, so it is not entirely carefree reading.

10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet:

In Suzanne Kingsmill’s Dying for Murder, Zoologist Cordi O’Callaghan, solves a murder at a biology station on a remote U.S. barrier Island during a hurricane.



Suzanne Kingsmill has a B.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, a B.Sc. in biology from McGill University and a M.Sc. in zoology from the University of Toronto. She has written three Cordi O’Callaghan murder mysteries, Forever Dead, Innocent Murderer and the latest, published in May, Dying for Murder. Search Suzanne Kingsmill on Youtube for an 80 second book trailer on Dying for Murder. Kingsmill has also written four non-fiction books, including The Family Squeeze: Surviving the Sandwich Generation and Beyond the Call of Duty – a biography of a war vet who won the V.C. She has written for numerous Canadian and international magazines on eclectic topics and is the Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine. She has two sons and now lives in Toronto, after spending 25 years in rural Quebec.




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - UNDER COLD STONE

UNDER COLD STONE
by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press



This review will be biased as I always look forward to the latest book in the Constable Molly Smith series and am in a very good mood when I get my mitts on it. Vicki Delany has managed to hold my attention through six previous novels and she didn’t let me down this time.

The central characters in this excellent British Columbia-based police procedural series are Constable Molly (Moonbeam) Smith and Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar police, but Molly’s mother, Lucky Smith, adds verve and humour to each book. Lucky is my favourite character in a crowd of major contenders. Lucky’s hippy leanings and environmental activism have been at odds with her daughter’s choice of career and have made the young officer’s life more difficult than it needed to be. They’ve also given the reader much enjoyment. Lucky’s full of surprises though and the latest one is her deepening relationship with the Chief of Police, Paul Keller, despite their differences over, well, practically everything.

Their romantic Thanksgiving getaway to Banff Springs Hotel goes off the rails when Paul’s estranged son, Matt, becomes connected to a murder and the subject of a manhunt. But Lucky also has a connection to Matt and it’s not a good one.

Meanwhile Molly is trying her hand at making her fiancé a traditional Thanksgiving meal with hilarious results. Next to that, solving crimes looks easy. Good thing, because Molly is soon on her way to help her mother and the resulting search in the back country makes for gripping reading. Once again, Delany uses the setting to enhance a strong plot. The relationships are deep, interesting and unpredictable throughout this series. Molly continues to grow and develop as a police officer.

Vicki Delany never fails to deliver strong female characters who don’t shy away from conflict or danger. She does a great job of exploring family bonds and conflict with characters you care about. No wonder I stayed up half the night.



Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini
As half of the writing team Victoria Abbott,
The Wolfe Widow, #3 in the Book Collector Mysteries,
is coming in Sept., 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

BLOG HOPPING FOR A DAY


This is something fun and different. I’ve been asked to be part of a Writing Process blog hop, so hope you don’t mind this bit of diversion. You can blame my friend Cathy Ace if you’re not pleased! :) She invited me to join this cross country check-up. It's for one day only, though. Tomorrow this blog site reverts back to the Vicki Delany review.

Here's where you'll find more about Cathy Ace as she blog hops along. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cathy-Ace-Author/318388861616661?ref=hl

And here is mine!


1. What am I working on?

I’m looking ahead here because once Erika Chase (my alter ego) sends in book #5 in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries, I’ll be starting on a new series for Berkley Prime Crime. Written by Linda Wiken! So, while I’m not actively writing it at this point, the ideas are congealing way back there in a corner of my brain. I can tell you it will be called the Culinary Capers Mysteries and it’s about a supper club.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Cooking and food mysteries are very hot right now in the cosy world but this will be the only one with a supper club as the theme. These five people meet monthly, taking turns at hosting. That host chooses a cookbook (a real one) and an entrée from it, while the others each bring another course, also chosen from the book. There's a lot of discussion about the book and the food. And of course, it’s understood that one of the courses will be a murder! Should be fun…and deadly.


3. Why do I write what I do?

I write cosies because I want to entertain readers. Also, I write what I enjoy reading. I do read the occasional edgy crime novel or thriller but mainly because I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the publishing world. But these days, I like to unwind with a lighter read. That’s not to say a cosy can’t be serious or be about a meaningful topic. In fact, I think the best ones do just that. They combine the elements.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s a fluid system, in transition at times. Mainly the part about what time of day I write. I used to write early mornings but now that time is devoted to power walking. Then, it was mid-morning. But now I find that a good time to deal with the 'business' of writing -- the emails, Facebook, Twitter, guest blogs, all those necessary but fun tasks. Writing time is now all afternoon long, or whatever portion it takes to write my minimum 1000 words. What does remain the same is I start with a synopsis. It’s a valuable tool that my editor inflicted on me when I started my other series. But it’s made all the difference. I wouldn’t start a new book without one. It provides a road map I can follow, very handy if I take a wrong turn. However, seldom is the completed book a complete match with its synopsis. It’s written in pencil, not in stone!



Don't miss the rest of the blog hop. Posting on July 28th, at their own sites are my writing pals Vicki Delany and Jamie Tremain (aka Pamela Blance and Liz Lindsay):


Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Under Cold Stone is the seventh in the Smith & Winters police series set in the B.C. Interior. She also writes the light-hearted Klondike Gold Rush books, and Rapid Reads novellas, including Juba Good. In February, look for By Book or By Crook, the first in the new Lighthouse Library series from Penguin Obsidian by Vicki’s pen name, Eva Gates.


Find Vicki at www.vickidelany.com and Eva at www.lighthouselibrarymysteries.com.




Jamie Tremain is the pen name for Pam Blance and Liz Lindsay. These yet to be published friends and collaborators are finishing their third novel. You can find out more about Pam and Liz on their blog where they enjoy interviewing other authors to help promote their books.

http://jamietremain.blogspot.ca https://www.facebook.com/jamietremainwrites Twitter @PamLizWrites







Friday, July 11, 2014

MYSTERY REVIEW - UNDER COLD STONE

UNDER COLD STONE
by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press



This review will be biased as I always look forward to the latest book in the Constable Molly Smith series and am in a very good mood when I get my mitts on it. Vicki Delany has managed to hold my attention through six previous novels and she didn’t let me down this time.

The central characters in this excellent British Columbia-based police procedural series are Constable Molly (Moonbeam) Smith and Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar police, but Molly’s mother, Lucky Smith, adds verve and humour to each book. Lucky is my favourite character in a crowd of major contenders. Lucky’s hippy leanings and environmental activism have been at odds with her daughter’s choice of career and have made the young officer’s life more difficult than it needed to be. They’ve also given the reader much enjoyment. Lucky’s full of surprises though and the latest one is her deepening relationship with the Chief of Police, Paul Keller, despite their differences over, well, practically everything.

Their romantic Thanksgiving getaway to Banff Springs Hotel goes off the rails when Paul’s estranged son, Matt, becomes connected to a murder and the subject of a manhunt. But Lucky also has a connection to Matt and it’s not a good one.

Meanwhile Molly is trying her hand at making her fiancé a traditional Thanksgiving meal with hilarious results. Next to that, solving crimes looks easy. Good thing, because Molly is soon on her way to help her mother and the resulting search in the back country makes for gripping reading. Once again, Delany uses the setting to enhance a strong plot. The relationships are deep, interesting and unpredictable throughout this series. Molly continues to grow and develop as a police officer.

Vicki Delany never fails to deliver strong female characters who don’t shy away from conflict or danger. She does a great job of exploring family bonds and conflict with characters you care about. No wonder I stayed up half the night.



Reviewed by Mary Jane Maffini
As half of the writing team Victoria Abbott,
The Wolfe Widow, #3 in the Book Collector Mysteries,
is coming in Sept., 2014.

Friday, July 4, 2014

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES


Thanks for all the feedack about the first Criminal Tendencies blog. In it, four Ottawa crime writers, Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, and Linda Wiken/Erika Chase answered a question about writing, and in effect, we had a writing tips blog!

These questions were "left over" from a panel we appeared on earlier in May. We thought they were such good questions, we're writing them up for Mystery Maven Canada, one a month. Here's today's question:


Which character (protaganist, villain or victim) has more freedom?


MARY JANE MAFFINI:

When I grow up I want to a villain! What? Oh. You're right, of course. I'm a good guy. But the villains can do anything. They can not only kill and mame, but they can be rude, forget to walk their dogs, break all the rules and not show up for Christmas. Try any of that if you're a protagonist. And really? A victim is dead. Not so much freedom there, unless they arranged their own funeral.

As a writer, I can have fun with villains. Of course, I feel for the victim and am fond of the protag. Sometimes it's good to be bad.


R.J. HARLICK:

A tough question. I would like to think that the protagonist has the most freedom in a crime novel, but he or she doesn’t, particularly if they are a series character. To be credible as a person, they have to operate within the boundaries of the personality that the writer has developed for them. He or she can’t suddenly do something that isn’t in keeping with this personality. For example a shy protagonist can’t become the life of the party unless a credible reason is provided for this dramatic change in behaviour.

Similarly the villain is also bound by the character that the writer has developed for them. Though I think he or she has a bit more freedom, since often the character of this person isn’t as well developed as that of the protagonist. Still you can’t have a villain who has been portrayed as anti-social suddenly becoming Mr. Nice Guy whom everyone loves.

Perhaps the individual who has the most freedom is the victim, primarily because often his or her character is the least developed. Though it seems counter intuitive to say a dead person has more freedom. Usually though during the course of the murder investigation aspects of the victim’s character are revealed to help flesh out the motivation behind his or her murder. But again like the protagonist and the villain, anything the victim did before they were killed must be within the boundaries of their character.


ERIKA CHASE

I would have to go with the villains. We don't have to like them, in fact it's better if we don't. Therefore, they don't have to play by the rules, they don't have to be fair, they don't have to be nice. What freedom!

In fact, the meaner and nastier they are, the more we cheer for the protagonist, who does have to play by the rules. Go get 'em!

And while the good guys use mainly their wits along with the possible backup of a weapon, the villains can concoct methods to torture and kill that make the reader shudder. Now, understand that by villain I don't necessarily mean the "bad" guy. Who doesn't love Bernie Rhodenbarr, the "bad" book thief in the burglar series by Lawrence Block. Yes, sometimes we do root for the person breaking the law. But they're not villains. They're not Hannibal Lector. Three cheers for that!


Barbara Fradkin


The villain, of course! The protagonist has a specific job to do, and everything he or she does has to drive the story forward towards the solution. Even a moment of play or fun had better serve the story. He or she also has to live up to certain standards that we as readers expect from our heroes. Flaws are okay, but if the hero does something really stupid, illegal, or even nasty, the reader may well toss the book aside. The victim has no freedom of action within the book. They may have done all kinds of wild and crazy things to stir things up and get themselves killed, but once they are dead, they are silenced.

With the villain, however, the possibilities are endless. They can be any sort of person, motivated by the vast range of human conflicts and needs. They can be desperate, frightened, vengeful, clever, bumbling… They are a blank canvas on which the writer can play. In a good whodunit, the reader meets the villain early on but doesn't know their guilt and their motive until the end. That's 300 pages of freedom for the villain. Freedom to lie, manipulate, create red herrings, or to panic, despair, self-destruct, and wreak more havoc as they try to stay one step ahead of capture. Every character in a book should be textured and human, but none more so than a good villain.