Skulduggery. Carolyn Hart. With a new introduction by Carolyn Hart. Seventh Street Books, Amherst, NY. November 2012. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-61614-706-8, $13.95. E-book: ISBN: 978-61614-707-5. $9.99. 176 pages.
Here’s a treat for mystery lovers: the earlier stand-alone mysteries and romantic suspense novels by Carolyn Hart. Skulduggery was originally published in 1984, one of ten books that Carolyn said had seemed to disappear into a black hole before she began to win prizes for her Annie and Max Darling series set on a island off the coast of South Carolina. Five Star brought out many of the early ones around 2000, and now Seventh Street Books is bringing some of them out through their Carolyn Hart Classics series.
Here is what Carolyn says about the difference between a mystery and suspense in her introduction to Skulduggery:
I feel fortunate over the course of a long career to have written traditional mysteries, suspense, and romantic suspense. In recent years, my focus has been the traditional mystery but I recall writing scenes of derring-do with great pleasure. The traditional mystery celebrates goodness; the suspense novel celebrates courage.
What affords suspense? Tales of war, adventure, and, always dear to me, the hunt for treasure. I have always been fascinated by the idea of treasure. Treasure figures in a number of my books. A very particular kind of missing treasure inspired Skulduggery, the long lost Peking Man bones that disappeared in the early years of WWII and may have reappeared briefly in New York in the 1970s.
I have now read several of these early books, and I highly recommend them. What did I especially love about this book? I liked learning about the real situation in Chinatown in San Francisco in the 1980s. The problems of the poor, many of them elderly, stirred my compassion, and I liked seeing compassion in the main characters as they encountered Chinese people in desperate straits. I also liked the difficult decision the heroine, Ellen Christie, an anthropologist working for a San Francisco museum, had to make between following her intuitive grasp of the situation she was in versus turning away and choosing the conventional, “safe” way of putting her career first.
A young Chinese man, Jimmy Lee, follows Ellen and persuades her to come with him to see an old skull. It turns out that she is sure, intuitively, that it’s the missing Peking man’s skull, the remains of which were found in China near Peking not long before World War II began, and then the Japanese invaded China in 1941, and these very ancient bones (Sinanthropus Pekinensis, the Chinese man from Peking) appeared to be lost after World War II was over. There were several theories as to how they could still exist and possibly be in the U.S.
What creates the suspense is that someone in Chinatown learns about the bones Jimmy is trying to sell and their extreme monetary value. This man sends his thugs to find them. Both Jimmy and Ellen are at risk, but Ellen lets go much of her cautious, predictable lifestyle up to that point and not only trusts Jimmy and his brother, Dan, but joins them as they try to outwit this man who’s willing to kill to get to the bones.
The book also is a wonderful model for a woman who uses all her wits and resources to outwit a dangerous enemy. For those who, as I do, like a little romance in their suspense novels, you will find that present, too.
I highly recommend this powerful book.
Carolyn Hart is the author of 50 novels. Her 50th novel - DEAD, WHITE AND BLUE, 23rd in the Death on Demand series – was published in May.
Recent titles include DEATH COMES SILENTLY, 22nd in the Death on Demand series. Forthcoming in October 2013 will be GHOST GONE WILD, 4th in a series featuring the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous red-headed ghost who returns to earth to help someone in trouble.
LETTER FROM HOME, a stand alone novel set in Oklahoma, was published by Berkley in 2003. Gretchen Gilman is 13 in the summer of 1944 and working on the small town newspaper. Murder occurs on the street where she lives, changing her life forever. LETTER FROM HOME was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Letter from Home won the Agatha for Best Mystery Novel of 2003 and was a New York Times notable book.
Hart was one of ten mystery authors featured at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2003 and again in 2007. In March 2004 she received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has twice won the annual Oklahoma Book Award for best novel. In April 2004 she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on mysteries in American culture. She received the Ridley Pearson Award at Murder in Grove, Boise, Idaho, in 2005 for significant contributions to the mystery field. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic in 2007 and the Amelia Award in May 2013.
Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism from 1982-85. She is the author of 50 mysteries, winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys.