Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Police Procedure & Investigation - A Must-Read Handbook for Mystery Writers


This book is part of the
Writer's Digest Howdunit
Series.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve joined Sisters in Crime and the local chapter, Capitol Crimes. The local chapter meets monthly, and each month guest speakers share their expertise in either writing mysteries or being connected in some way to concerns of the mystery writer. One such concern is always whether a writer is presenting crime scenes or police procedures that are accurate. Last month we were fortunate to have Lee Lofland, the author of Police Procedure & Investigation, as our guest speaker, and he addressed those very concerns. 

Lee Lofland is a former police detective, and the bad news is that much of what you see on your favorite crime show is misleading and/or inaccurate. His book, on the other hand, is a very thorough coverage of everything an author would want to ask their local police department. Blurbs by best-selling mystery writers (including two of my favorites, Rhys Bowen and Hallie Ephron) give his book high praise, and I was pleased to find that the writing – entertaining and sobering by turns – is always a good read. He presents facts that you really want to know in a way that don’t make your eyes glaze over. A few examples:
The difference between police officers and detectives; how they’re trained; what they do.  
Arrest and search procedures.
The differences between homicide, murder, and manslaughter.
The difference between a crime scene and the scene of the crime.
DNA and fingerprinting
What can send you to prison and what can send you to jail.
A section on different drugs and the effects of each one.
Differences in weapons (with photos) and how they work

The book’s appendices include a glossary of terms, police 10 codes, a drug quantity table, and a federal sentencing table. It isn’t necessary to read this book straight through, chapter by chapter. There’s a thorough index that helps when you just want to look up something useful at that moment in your writing, along with good visual aids (charts, diagrams, photos of tools, etc.) throughout the book. This is a must read for any mystery writer who wants their police procedural scenes to ring with accuracy.

Lee also shared with us the Writers’ Police Academy, held in August in Appleton, Wisconsin. Yes, there really is such a thing. You can register now and have hands on experiences that will enhance your scenes. For more information about what is covered, check out their website HERE  .

Lee’s book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon HERE .

You can contact the Lee Lowland at his website, The Graveyard Shift, HERE, and learn even more about police work to enrich your mysteries from his frequent blog posts.  
The author and friendly officer.

A must have book.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Samuel Craddock Mystery Series

Book Three in the series
I’m always looking for new mystery authors. (New to me, that is. Some of my discoveries have actually been publishing for awhile before I’ve discovered their books.) Last spring, when I attended a panel to listen to four mystery authors talk about their writing, one of the authors was Terry Shames. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to get hooked on her Samuel Craddock series, based in a fictional small Texas town called Jarrett Creek.

I started with book one, A Killing at Cotton Hill, because I like to see how an author jump starts their series. I liked it so much that next I had to read The Last Death of Jack Harbin. I’ve just finished her third in the series, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (shown here), and I’m already looking forward to her fourth, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, which comes out next month. But you don’t really have to read them in order to enjoy them. Each story is complete in itself and the author deftly slips in back story and characters' gossip and memories so that you feel like you know these people right away.

The main character, Samuel Craddock, a retired police chief, is a widower who lives on a small acreage at the edge of town, and has a kindly affection for his cows. He grew up in Jarrett Creek, but developed a taste for fine art through his deceased wife. As a result, he has an  enviable art collection on his walls, a collection fraught with memory, since he and his wife purchased many of the paintings together.
Craddock is a an affable sleuth, full of homegrown wisdom and sterling character virtues. He can be firm when he needs to be, and while his manner is encouraging and disarming as he makes his enquiries, he doesn’t miss a thing. He often reflects on the other characters' lives, the locals he grew up with. His voice is so authentic, I can almost hear him when I read his narrative (which is in present tense, a tense that works very well in these mysteries).
The cluster of characters Samuel deals with are also three dimensional, with voices of their own, each one a memorable personality. To name a few: Loretta, Craddock’s neighbor and friend who brings him baked goods and gossip almost daily (and tries to pry out of him facts about the current case). Jenny, a lawyer and a good friend with whom Craddock dines out occasionally -- solely for companionship, as he is still grieving his wife.
And, of course, the current police chief, Rodell Skinner: self-important, lazy, spending more time at the bar than the police station. Because of Skinner’s alcohol problems, the townspeople have more confidence in Craddock than in him. Consequently, Samuel is the one they turn to when something goes wrong. In Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, Skinner’s drying out, so once again Craddock has to solve the case.

The series is set in Jarrett Creek, a marvelously drawn small town with just the beginnings of suburbs. A few farms outside the town. A main street with family businesses. The local high school. The town hall. The café in town, called, appropriately, Town Café. The bank. The various churches. The town jail. I leave these books feeling I know this place. It feels familiar, as if I’ve been there personally, even though the place is a pure work of fiction.


Best of all, these plots are true puzzle mysteries, and Shames weaves the threads of clues back and forth with expertise. As Craddock ruminates on facts he unearths while interviewing people connected to the case, each person becomes a believable suspect until the very end. And the ending is always satisfying, evoking that combined response: “Huh? Oh. Of Course!”

I’ve posted the book cover of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, but you can find all of her books on Amazon HERE   

Her Website is  http://www.terryshames.com . If you hurry over and subscribe to her newsletter before Apri1 1, you have a chance to win a  copy of A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge.

You can also visit Terry Shames on Facebook HERE and follow her on Twitter HERE

Terry Shames

Win a copy of this.








Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Mystery You Can't Put Down



I love a good mystery. So when Catriona McPherson -- current President of Sisters-in-Crime at the national level -- was speaker at the local chapter (Capitol Crimes), I was delighted. I was already hooked on her Dandy Gilver series, featuring an aristocratic sleuth in 1920s Scotland.  

But it’s one of McPherson’s stand alone contemporary mysteries, that recently grabbed me: As  She Left It is a layered mystery that keeps unfolding in new surprises, just when you think you’ve figured it out.

In As She Left It, Opal Jones left her alcoholic mother when she was twelve to live with her father and step-family in Whitby. After her mother’s death, Opal finds the old home --  one half of a cottage on Mote Street in Leeds -- is now hers, and she moves back.

At first it seems the old neighborhood really is “as she left it” thirteen years ago. The Mote Street Boys in the corner house still play their gigs. Opal used to take trumpet lessons from one of them, Fishbo, who is so happy she's come back.

But Margaret Reid’s three-year-old grandson, Craig, disappeared ten years ago, on a Saturday, and the neighborhood has never recovered. And in the crooked foot posts of a bed delivered from an antique store, Opal finds secret messages that hint of a little girl's  abuse many years ago.

When Opal sets herself to solve these two mysteries, she uncovers only more: Someone was paying the house bills after Opal’s mother died. Who? And why? Mrs. Pickess, the neighborhood gossip, provided brandy in large quantities to Opal’s alcoholic mother through the years. Why? On some nights, Opal hears a man crying in the other, rented half of the house. Who is he? What secret is Fishbo, her beloved old music teacher, hiding? And why does it start looking like little Craig disappeared on a Friday instead of a Saturday?

I was mesmerized by both the brilliant plot and the lovely writing. The characters, some of the most endearing you’ll meet in a mystery, are three dimensional. Opal is unforgettable, by turns brave and nervous, gullible and cynical, bitter and hopeful, and thoroughly believable. 

And a picture in her head, the little lost boy and the little girl -- who sounded pretty lost to Opal -- had joined hands and were walking away into darkness, maybe going to be lost forever, unless Opal followed them and brought them home.

As She Left It -- winner of the 2014 Anthony Award for best paperback original -- is the kind of mystery you read more than once.

To learn more about McPherson's books, see her Amazon page HERE 
or visit her website HERE
You can also contact her on Facebook HERE
And on Twitter HERE

What kind of mysteries do you prefer? Series or stand alone? Cozies or psychological? 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mysteries Prevail Today

The long silence since my Christmas
posting was due to the exciting news that my middle grade mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, will be published in June by MX Publishing. I was busy with formatting and editing issues to get it ready. (MX Publishing specializes in Sherlock related books, so Sherlock fans can go HERE to see a wonderful selection.) You can also read more about my book  next  door on my Victorian Scribbles blog HERE:

Not surprisingly, I have been reading a lot of mysteries both for young people and for adults. I recently joined Capitol Crimes, the local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime, since I'm currently working on a cosy mystery for adults. I was invited there by a friend, and it's her book I want to talk about today: Flint House, by Kathleen L. Asay, published by Bridle Path Press.

Flint House is a mystery, in fact a bundle of mysteries revolving
around what happens when disparate lives intersect over what should be a tragic event and stir up past events each character would like to forget.

Liz Cane, a cynical journalist with The Sacramentan, goes for an interview with Maisie Flint, the unpleasant owner of Flint House, a Victorian landmark in town. At one point, Maisie interrupts the interview to check on something upstairs. A few minutes later she tumbles down the stairs and dies.

Did she trip? Or was she pushed?

The tenants of Flint House are life's strays, hiding out from life in this rickety, shabby old Victorian. One mysterious tenant is called The Princess. No one knows her real name, but all the tenants seem to adore her, whereas none of them were especially fond of Maisie. The tenants also face eviction once Maisie's distant relative shows up to claim the house. The Princess claims to have a solution that will save Flint House. Then she is found in an alley, beaten nearly to death.

A random attack by a stranger? Or was she attacked by someone who knew her?

Despite herself, Liz gets drawn into their lives. She finds herself pursuing the story, partly as hard-bitten reporter, and partly because she cares about this motley collection of people who have become a family to each other. She's also obsessed with solving the mystery of The Princess's real identity.

I know it's almost a cliche these days to say "I couldn't put the book down," but I couldn't.  It was an engrossing read, and the characters are memorable. Despite the events I've mentioned, it's also a heartwarming read. I highly recommend it.

And no spoilers here. You will have to read the book to answer the questions raised above.

You can buy the book HERE: and HERE:

You contact the author at her website HERE:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A CHRISTMAS MOMENT WHEN PEACE PREVAILED


German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front, in December 2014. Photo is in Public Domain
Taken from an article
  HERE 





Twice, now, I’ve blogged at this time of year about Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the overall story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred.

For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget.

I was reminded of it again when the Sacramento Bee published an article in Saturday’s paper about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front.

In Flanders Field, the site of John McCrae’s famous poem comparing the blood of slain British warriors to red poppies, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and even small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. And then, as in the movie above, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years, at Christmastime they stepped up the fighting to ensure no one would even think of a truce.


So here it is again, the New Year approaching, and the Christmas message hovering still. 

Best wishes for the coming year, and for a time of peace, when people can forgive the atrocities of war and unite again in their common humanity.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back with a Review of a Marvelous Book on Writing

My writing corner when it's tidy.
         
Although this is what is usually looks like.





Hello, again, at last, after the long silence. I have keenly missed blogging and connecting with blog friends, but I had to put writing first these last few weeks, and it's paid off. I finished my mystery, and now I'm doing the re-thinking, re-conceiving, additional research, etc. that is so much of the re-writing process. And I have been reading a wonderful book that I just have to share. The Art of Character, by David Corbett.



I first came across Corbett's insights in an article titled, "Characters, Scene by Scene", in the January, 2015 issue of Writer's Digest. (Yes, I know it's not January yet, but that's how magazines do things.)

In his article, Corbett emphasizes that "dimensional characters are born from drama—not description." Yes, you should know descriptive and biographical details: eye color, hair color, height, weight, hobbies, work history, biographical information, etc., but that doesn't create characters who live and breathe. What brings them alive on the page is interaction with others in scenes that serve a purpose in the story.

To paraphrase just one of his examples: How your character looks isn't as important as, say, how her appearance makes her feel, how it makes others feel, and how this translates into behavior. The same is true of age: How does her age affect her interactions? I have to say that just reading this article inspired several insights into my main character and a couple of others, and I immediately sent off for his book, The Art of Character.   Here's the book at Amazon, although several sites sell it.                                                      
And I bought the paperback, not the kindle. (When I read something this pithy, I do a lot of underlining.)

The Art of Character does not disappoint. It's like a course in creative writing, with exercises that are challenging but oh-so useful if you want rounded out characters that truly drive your story. It's also like a course in psychology, probing your characters' fears, desires, hates, loves, spirituality or lack of it. Or a course in sociology. Or philosophy. Or literature. (Corbett gives solid examples of stories, plays, novels, that illustrate the concepts he covers.)

You can tap into this book as deeply as you feel your work calls for, but the advice and insights gleaned from it are useful for any genre: light fiction, cosy mystery, MG or YA novel, literary adult fiction. It's the best book on writing I've come across in a long time. And it's the kind of book you can return to again and again.

You can visit his website to learn more about this book and the best-selling mysteries he writes. Meanwhile, I have to get back to the last chapter, the one on "voice". Happy reading.

And happy writing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Out While I Finish My Book


One of the most interesting bookshops ever: Centésima Página
on Avenida Central in Braga. That's me, there, wishing I
could read Portuguese, a beautiful but challenging language.

A delightful café bar called Copa. Again, in Braga, Portugal.

Hi, Friends,

I have not been posting because I've been working hard at finishing my book. Almost there, too. I have two more chapters that I'm determined to finish this week before we head home.

Next week I'll be posting again, and when I take writing breaks, I'll be visiting and reading your blogs, as so many of them inspire me. Meanwhile, I leave you with two pictures above from Braga, Portugal. Once we are home, I'll be writing more about that trip as well as bits and pieces about Galicia.

Hasta entonces . . .