Sunday, January 29, 2012
The cover of Frankie Bailey's 2011 mystery, Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave.
Beginning with her first novel, Death’s Favorite Child, I found parallels with my own books. [Hard cover: ISBN: 1-57072-145-9. Trade paper: 1-57072-146-7. Silver Dagger Mysteries. Overmountain Press. Copyright 2000]
Lizzie Stuart, Frankie’s amateur detective in this traditional mystery, is visiting Cornwall when she meets the first man she has been seriously attracted to, John Quinn. My Penny Weaver meets her lover, Kenneth Morgan, while she’s on vacation in Wales, in my first mystery.
Penny is white and Lizzie is African American, but both have the ability to see people as people first and look past skin color, culture, educational background, etc. In Death’s Favorite Child, the murder victim works at a small family-owned hotel near the beach. In Sands of Gower the dead woman on the beach is a guest at the bed and breakfast house where Penny is staying.
Frankie is gifted at exploring all the nuances of Lizzie’s feelings.
After reading the first four novels in the series I have a strong sense of Lizzie’s character. She has become one of my favorite amateur detectives. She’s quite human, debates within herself a lot, but wherever there’s a mystery or a puzzle, she’s drawn like a magnet. She has to find out, and she takes risks which drive Quinn nuts and anyone else worried about her safety or wanting to protect her. When she’s close to solving a puzzle, she absolutely can’t let it alone.
The second, third, and fourth novels [A Dead Man’s Honor, ISBN: 1-57072-171-8, 2001; Old Murders, ISBN: 1-57072-218-8, 2003; and You Should Have Died on Monday, ISBN: 1-57072-319-3, 2007, all in the Silver Dagger series] take place in Virginia, primarily at Piedmont State University, where Lizzie teaches Crime History in the School of Criminal Justice. Frankie herself teaches Criminal Justice at SUNY-Albany. She grew up in Danville, Virginia, and her fictional town of Gallagher is located on the Dan River.
In these later books present day murders are solved as well as murders that took place many years earlier, for instance, the murder of lynching, which is a more inclusive term than the hanging of a man by a mob, without his having the benefit of regular court trial. "The victim of a lynching might be hanged, burned, shot, and/or drowned. He--more rarely she–might also be tortured and mutilated. The majority of lynchings occurred in the South and border states in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." [A Dead Man’s Honor, p. iv.]
There is a cerebral, almost serene, quality to these books. We take in all kinds of information not generally known, are taken inside horrifying events and have a front row seat as we learn what "really came down." We may know intellectually that human beings are capable of savage cruelty when they are afraid, greedy, jealous, protecting their position or image, keeping things from changing, but here we take it in easily, naturally, swiftly, as our own experience. Frankie’s passion is focused on taking us there so we witness these realities for ourselves.
In A Dead Man’s Honor we go back to 1921 in Gallagher, when a black man was shot, assumed to have killed the white doctor in town. This event has personal meaning for Lizzie because her grandmother had witnessed this lynching and left town on a freight train the same day.
Another African American professor in Criminal Justice is found dead. Is there a connection between the two murders? In Frankie’s books it’s likely. Old murders cast their shadow into the present. History is not dead.
Old Murders continues that theme, as Frankie researches a young black woman sentenced to die in the 1950s after killing her employer. Meantime a Maine developer is persuading the town council to let him build shops, condos, etc., along the river front, and a local developer is furious. A lawyer involved in the arguments between the developers also defended the young black woman at her trial in the 1950s.
In You Should have Died on Monday Lizzie decides to find her mother, who left town shortly after she was born. Lizzie was raised by her grandmother, who had died a few years earlier. Hester Rose had only bad things to say about her daughter Becca. Lizzie has hired a private detective, who finds people who knew her mother in Chicago, where Lizzie heads. The trail then leads to Wilmington, N.C., and to New Orleans. The old crime happened in 1968 and involved Black Panthers, the Chicago Mob, and Becca.
I found myself easily caught up in this fascinating, complex weaving between old murders and new murders, and I was pulled along, not only curious myself but worried about what Lizzie was getting her courageous, risk-taking self into this time. The plot web is always satisfying; the characters and places, alive.
What I especially enjoy and feel a kinship with is how Frankie handles race. There is no undercurrent of rage or resentment against white people or white Southerners because of the way they treated slaves, tenants, maids, or the whole black community then or now. Rather there is a presentation of many individuals, including Lizzie and Quinn, as human, as sometimes deeply flawed, sometimes showing courage and insight one gazes at in wonder.
I want to be there, I find, in every scene, hear every argument, puzzle over every new event and where it fits into the whole tapestry. I have put down each book satisfied, but eager to read the next one.
I myself hope to do something similar as a white woman who has often crossed the racial divide that persists in this country. I also wish to reveal the humanity that lies in us all, the courage and the stupidity, the sublimity, and the dark blood-lust.
Frankie "sees" in the way I want to in my books. You’ll be glad you read her books. They go way beyond mystery stories. They carve a place for themselves out of that elusive, rock-hard quarry we dig in to find the truth about our humanity and how to live well while we’re here on this earth.
Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave, A Silver Dagger Mystery from The Overmountain Press, Johnson City, TN, 2011. Trade paper: 978-1-935692-010. $13.95. 216 pages.
In this, her fifth mystery, Frankie Bailey puts her heroine into a weekend gathering of four ex-military friends, their wives and girlfriends, who are, for the most part, richer than she is and also hold high-powered jobs. We witness how Lizzie Stuart handles this complex situation in the context of the Virginia Eastern Shore, where the historical remnants of slavery and black tenant farming are still part of the landscape, with the more recent addition of Hispanic migrant workers, who are generally treated with suspicion and contempt.
Over and over Lizzie is made uncomfortable by the behavior of the others, and by Quinn, too, to whom she’s now engaged. He’s hiding things from her, and he’s also lying to her. I find I admire Lizzie’s combination of courage and discretion in a nearly impossible situation.
I once realized that what century you are living in can change with where you are geographically. To go into certain parts of the rural South is to return to the mid-nineteenth century, or even to the Middle Ages, when there were lords of the manor, knights back from foreign parts, and serfs, i.e., farm workers attached to the land who were essentially powerless economically and politically.
In this novel, the centuries mix and match. Lizzie, as a professional crime historian, becomes fascinated by two graves from the 1940s at the edge of a bean field, and visible from the highway: Rachel Robinson (1929-46) and Rachel’s Mother (1910-46).
When Lizzie looks in a folder Quinn had hidden from her, she finds a clipping about another death, in 1989, of a former soldier who had tried to kill her baby and then had killed herself. As usual, Lizzie has to find out about these deaths while she tries not to rock the boat at the beach house party. The boat not only rocks, a storm of strange and inexplicable events pursues her and Quinn from the beginning of the book.
I like the way Frankie opens up Lizzie’s mind to us, as she takes in the not so subtle assumptions among the house party about race, faces her mixed feelings and yet hangs on–both to Quinn and to her determination to find out what’s going on. Again, past and present intertwine, and the plot is slowly unraveled, until, with one jerk, the whole behind-the-scenes picture is revealed, and the puzzle pieces fall easily into place.
If you haven’t read Frankie’s novels yet, you are in for a treat.
***Frankie Y. Bailey is a criminal justice professor and mystery writer. Her non-fiction books include African American Mystery Writers (2008). Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave, the fifth book in her mystery series featuring crime historian, Lizzie Stuart, was released in July 2011. She has completed the first book in a near-future police procedural series. Frankie is a former Executive Vice President (the chairperson of the board of directors) of Mystery Writers of America. Currently, she serves as President of Sisters in Crime.
Frankie Y. Bailey
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Cover of Michele Drier's Edited for Death, first mystery novel.
Edited for Death. Michele Drier. Mainly Murder Press, 2011. Trade paper, $15.95. ISBN: 978-0-983682-1-8. 221 Pages.
Smart, classy, and genuinely entertaining. The clever puzzler, taut and tense, nails the high-stakes reality of a devoted journalist on the hunt for blockbuster story. Breaking news: this mystery is a winner!
----Hank Phillippi Ryan, award-winning author.
***Amy Hobbes, Managing Editor of a small northern California town’s newspaper, the Monroe Press, and her best reporter, Clarice Stams, follow leads as to why several deaths are connected to the hotel Senator Robert Calvert, also dead, owned. The local Sheriff, Jim Dodson, in Marshalltown, where the Senator was the dominant force, appears stumped. He shares enough information to keep Clarice busy writing articles and to get Amy’s curiosity aroused and her research instincts triggered.
In order to understand the present, the women must explore the past. With the help of an old journalist friend, who does art news for a San Francisco paper, Amy begins to see connections and is more hooked than ever when the Senator’s nephew also dies at the hotel.
Edited for Death has a lively, clipped, fresh style; the narrator, Amy, a strong voice. The metaphors are exactly right, the dialogue is zesty and entertaining, but the deeper Amy delves, the more serious the subject matter, because Robert Calvert served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was among the troops which liberated Auschwitz and uncovered the tragic remains of the Jews murdered there.
I like Drier’s honesty, both in her humor and in the tragedy behind the events that led to the present-day deaths. The book is light and solemn by turns, and every touch feels right. The characters are well-fleshed out and fully human. The mystery is carefully plotted to keep us both intrigued and guessing until the very end. My hat is off to Michele Drier and Mainly Murder Press for a zinger of a first novel. Now we need the next crime Amy Hobbes’s instincts tell her she must investigate.
Judy Hogan. I admit that Mainly Murder is also to be my publisher, but I'm choosy about the books I believe in and review.
Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz to a pioneer family and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state and has called both Southern and Northern California home. During her career in journalism — as a reporter and editor at large and small daily newspapers – she won awards for producing investigative series. She lives in the Central Valley with cats, skunks, opossums and wild turkeys.
Edited for Death is available from www.mainlymurderpress.com, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Judy's desk with cosmos late last summer, computer to the left.
THANK YOU, MARTIN LUTHER KING
I associate Martin Luther King with flowers. Also with living in Chase Park, an interracial apartment complex set up following the Civil Rights push in Chapel Hill, by the Interfaith Council. It was new when we moved in January 1975, seven years after King died. He was only thirty-nine when he died in 1968. And all he did for us!
My children and I were in the white minority in Chase Park. I learned more about what lay under the surface of the black experience in the South than I had before. Later, I asked my children what they had learned from the three years we lived there.
Not all their experiences were good. Sometimes the black kids picked on them, but they also formed friendships. I remember when I heard Tim, then in first grade, talking with his friend outside the front door in black dialect. I smiled. Tim was already bi-lingual. All my kids said they learned that there were good and bad people of every skin color. A good lesson.
Here’s a poem I wrote in the 80s, thinking back to 1968, Spring, Berkeley, California. It’s from Sun-Blazoned, Sunbury Press Books, Bronx, N.Y., 1983.
I never knew cherry blossoms
until I lived in Berkeley.
I never felt them until the spring
that Martin Luther King died,
and Amy’s babysitter, whom she called her grandma,
died of cancer. I hadn’t known
she was ill, but Amy knew, and said
how she hurt, and aspirin didn’t help.
Her back hurt anyway, nothing helped.
Drifting petals on the warm air
were spring’s tears.
Just as Christmas is green
in a barren month,
so cherry petals tell of loss and hurt
in the most optimistic one, in April.
Now you tell me–every time the subject
comes up–that you are sure
the cherry blossoms will no sooner open
than a hard freeze will come along
and turn them to brown plastic.
Is it so hard for you to believe
that loveliness may escape harm?
That cherry flowers may have their time
of full and eager openness,
that day after day of easy breezes
and benign air may waken all their senses,
until they grieve naturally,
losing what they must lose
to fulfill their time
and their place in that time?
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Michael A. Mallory and Marilyn Victor, the authors of the Snake Jones zoo mysteries
THE SNAKE JONES MYSTERIES
What I like about Michael A. Mallory and Marilyn Victor’s zoo series is that I learn a lot about animals which normally live in the wild, their nature and needs, and also the complex habitats and care that they need when confined in a zoo. I also like the character, Snake Jones, and her Australian husband, Jeff, who both work for the Minnesota Valley Zoo and also for a TV series called Zoofari.
The plots in their first two books are intricately developed and satisfying to unravel. I can identify with the main characters, and I like their priorities: caring for the earth and its wildlife, working at jobs they love and coping with the multiple surprises that a giant saltwater crocodile or an extra large Red kangaroo can provide.
There have been movies and books about the much maligned wolf of the forests of the northern U.S. and Canada, but I learned about the behavior of wolves who had bonded with human beings when puppies.
Death Roll came out from Five Star in 2007. A death roll is what a crocodile does when he gets a victim. He can leap out of the water, and then, once he has gotten his meal into "a bone-crushing grip, he drags it into the water, rolling over and over until he drowns it. Then he’ll stuff the carcass under a log or a rock to rot and eat at his leisure." [Death Roll, p. 37].
Unfortunately, the zoo director ends up in a death roll during the zoo’s major fund-raising dinner. Snake and Jeff’s friend and co-worker is accused of pushing the director in, and Snake sets out to prove his innocence, despite her old boyfriend, the police detective, trying to keep her out of it. The more Snake uncovers, the more dangerous it gets for her. So many people disliked the director, and they all had things to hide.
The second in their series, Killer Instinct, came out from Five Star in 2011. Snake, with others of the Zoofari crew are filming at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. Some wolves are raised there, and the public can see and learn about wolves up close. Other wolves in the wild are tracked and cared for as needed in a large wilderness area.
When some of the wild wolves are shot illegally, the Center has a team of Wildlife Investigators working to find out what happened and who killed the animals. Then a suspect is murdered, and Snake is pulled into solving both the wolf and human deaths.
This is a refreshing series for its focus on wildlife and all the education that is seamlessly slipped in for readers in addition to the fun of knowing characters comfortable with these animals and dedicated to preserving their species and habitats.
Check out their website: www.snakejones.com and their blog: http://zofari.blogspot.com
There’s a newly released trade paperback editor for Death Roll, now available from Amazon.
Marilyn Victor, an animal lover since she could walk, was a volunteer at the Minnesota Zoo for many years and shares her home with a revolving menagerie of homeless pets she fosters for a local animal rescue organization. She has been president of the Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization devoted to promoting male and female mystery writers. She works in the risk management department of a construction company when not writing or rescuing wildlife.
Michael Allan Mallory works in the Information Technology field and is an avid animal lover. He volunteers at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and was an associate member of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. He lives with his wife, Cathy, and two dynamo cats in a suburb of Minneapolis.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Judy's Decorated Night-Blooming Cereus, with Christmas gifts. December 2011
Have you ever read the mystery novels of Julia-Spencer-Fleming? I reviewed her newest book, One Was a Soldier (2011) on this blog back on February 19, 2011. Here is good news. Her first three novels, In the Bleak Midwinter (Jan 3, 2012), A Fountain Filled with Blood (Feb 2012), and Out of the Deep I Cry (March 2012) are being re-released in a new paperback version this year as well as in e-books, on sale for $2.99, in the first three months of this year. For more info: http://juliaspencerfleming.com/bookshop.html#one
Julia is one of my very favorite mystery writers now. Her stories take place in the small town of Millers Kill, NY, and the main characters, Claire Ferguson, an Episcopal priest who has been a helicopter pilot in the Army (and is again between books 6 and 7), and Russ Van Alstyne, who is head of the town police department, fall in love. But Russ is married, which keeps them apart, at least in this series.
These books break stereotypes about priests, policemen, and many other things. She takes up interesting and timely issues in our culture today, like immigrant labor, development, unwanted children, and what happens to returning veterans from Iraq/Afghanistan. She’s worth reading. I can’t wait for the next one, number 8.
Here's your New Year's Poem. I wish you all a lovely, challenging, worthwhile, happy New Year.
THE TELLING THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING
"If one woman told the whole truth about her life, the world would split open."
– Muriel Ruykheyser
December 4, 2011
Truth can be as harsh as the rows of needle sharp teeth
in a possum’s mouth or as unassuming and graceful
as slender stems of grass gone to seed, every single
seed like a tiny Christmas light, and bunched stems,
a glorious blaze, if you have the eyes to see light
where it’s so subtle and delicate you might miss it.
He said, "I like your blood pressure. I like your
baking your own bread, I like your writing." This
from my doctor of twenty years, because I’m
healthy, active, both follow his advice and argue
when I disagree. My new banker looked at my
credit report, which the big bank described as
having "serious delinquency." The trouble spot
was my college student loan, which I’d paid off
four years ago, as the credit report showed. But
the big banks behave strangely these days.
I like my new community-oriented bank, so no
loss there. He said, "I wouldn’t even worry
about it. I’d give you a loan today." There are
other signs lately that I’m valued as I am,
truth-telling and all. Enemies are out there,
and fools abound in every age. But here is a
good place to be planted, to do my writing,
grow food, feed my friends. Any sword is
heavy to lift and hard to wield effectively,
especially the sword of truth. I remember
the ancient Zen wisdom about the butcher
who kept his knife sharp. He cut only
between the bones. Hacking at bones
when you cut up meat means the knife dulls,
and you waste your effort. The same with
people. Wait for the exactly right moment,
when their openness appears, and they are
eager to hear what you have to say. Then
speak as softly as the grass seeds do even
before the light illumines them. Then your
truth penetrates the heart and lodges itself in
the soul. This is spiritual truth. Sometimes
we have to be very patient indeed before
we can speak our truth. Meantime honesty
begins at home. It doesn’t have to be
brutal. Ask yourself what you feel, note it
down, tuck it away. Time changes all
things. Certain truths take longer to mature
and rise to the surface in ourselves and in
those we love. If the connection is good
and true, be content that it is there. More
may arrive in the fullness of time, or not.
But you have known and loved him, enjoyed
his laughter and your own. Be content.
Life showers Her gifts on those who live
well, fulfill the purpose for which they
were born, and go out to meet others with
their hands full, their heart warm, their
smile genuine and freely given.