Agatha Raisin

I’m a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth mysteries.  Having a laidback constable who’s happy doing his job and staying where he is, with no pretentions of ambition, even though he’s devilishly clever and always solves a case, is a novel twist.  People often underestimate him, and that  works to his advantage.  It’s refreshing to read about someone who’s perfectly satisfied with his life.  At least, so far.  I’m way behind in the series.

M.C. Beaton also writes the Agatha Raisin mystery series, which can now be seen on Acorn TV.  Way back, when the early books first came out, I bought a couple and tried them.  And Agatha annoyed me so much, I couldn’t make myself read another one of them.  I went right back to my clever, amiable Hamish.  But recently a funny thing’s happened.  I ran out of shows in the Shakespeare and Hathaway series I enjoyed so much.  Ditto for the series Rosemary and Thyme.  The Queens of Mystery was even shorter with its witty narrator and sly humor.  I enjoy Longmire, but HH and I only watch one or two of those shows a week.  So we tried Bosch, but that show’s so depressing, we’re going to finish the first series and swear off it.  That led us to try Agatha Raisin on TV.  And we really enjoy it.

I was younger when I first tried Agatha.  I’m not sure if my sense of humor has changed, or if the TV shows appeal more to me than the books would.  And for me, it doesn’t matter.  I think I’ve found a good balance, watching Agatha and reading Hamish.  It lets me enjoy both sides of M.C. Beaton.

What about you?  Have you read M.C. Beaton?  Do you enjoy Agatha and Hamish, or do you prefer one over the other?

 

True Detective

My grandson is here on leave, staying with us this week.  We love watching TV together at the end of the day.  And this time, he came with his lap top so that we could watch the first season of True Detective together.  He’s been wanting me to see it for a long time, but it’s a lot more fun watching it when he’s here, because we’re those awful people who pause shows and yak about plot points and characters while we watch.  We’d never do that at a movie theater.  It annoys me when I pay to see a movie and people talk during it.  But at home, hey, it’s a whole different story.

We haven’t finished the series yet, but we started it last night and even HH got so hooked on it that we binge watched four episodes in a row until we were too tired to watch anymore.  The first thing I noticed was the show’s opening.  The music and images reminded me of the opening for True Blood.  Moody music.  Moody images that flash on screen.  You know, for sure, that you’re not going to watch a Hallmark movie.  And I don’t mean that as a put-down of either.  I happen to enjoy both.

The Long Bright Dark begins with the first body the detectives, Matthew McConaughey and Wood Harrelson, find.  And of course, the victim is staged.  Her naked body is kneeling and bent over with antlers tied to the top of her head and a “devil’s cage” made of twigs hanging over it.  She has stab wounds on her abdomen.  It looks like a ritualistic killing.  And after examining it, McConaughey declares that she isn’t the killer’s first victim.  There had to be more leading up to it.  Woody Harrelson doesn’t believe him but soon learns that his new partner might be odd, but he’s brilliant…and obsessive.

The combination of the new detective–an outsider–and the detective at home in his station and his home town–is used often, because it works.  It creates conflict between the protagonists to add to the conflict of the story’s plot.  And The Long Bright Dark does a great job of both.  Both characters are flawed but view life from really different angles.  McConaughey doesn’t believe in anything–religion, institutions, relationships; whereas, Harrelson is a married man who believes in family values, even though he rationalizes what that means so that he can sleep with someone else.  After all, gritty detective stories can’t have protagonists that are too happy, right?

Just like in the series True Blood, the story is set in Louisiana, and the poverty of many of the settings sets the tone for the serial killer who preys on women and children.  There’s a gritty texture that runs through every episode.  Our grandson keeps reassuring me that I’m going to like the ending of the show, and I hope he’s right, because it’s hard to tell how the protagonists are going to fare from one episode to the next.  And that’s a pretty awesome achievement, in and of itself.  The Long Bright Dark is done well.

 

Mystery Musings

Well, darn.  I’m a late comer to J.D. Robb’s Death series, but once I read the first one–Naked in Death–I had to read the second, Glory In Death, and the third, Immortal in Death.  I enjoy the grittiness, Eve Dallas’s character trying to stay true to herself as a cop while falling hard for rich and handsome, Roarke, who’s been known to bend the law, and the compromises they both make to make their relationship work.  The mystery never takes a back seat to romance, stays the main plot line with the romance as a subplot.

So, when I saw one of J.D. Robb’s books on sale, I bought it, even though it was WAY ahead in the series–#43 of the soon-to-be 51 books.  I mean, I’m so far behind in the books anyway, I thought What The Heck?  The first three books build on each other, but they were easy to read as standalones, too.  I thought Eve and Roarke’s relationship might have evolved quite a bit by number #43, but I expected pretty much the same type of story.  And it IS still a gritty crime that becomes Eve’s case, along with the usual cops who work with her.  And she and Roarke are still crazy about each other, and he still fusses over and helps her because he worries about her.  Nice.  But the TONE of the book really threw me off.  I found it so annoying, I had to make myself stick with it, and I have to say, it wasn’t until the last half of the book that I felt like I was reading J.D. Robb again, that she settled into the rhythm I enjoy so much.

Because books do have a rhythm–and not just words, sentences, and paragraphs.  It’s a balance of concentrating on plot, subplot, and developing and fleshing out characters.  I’m just as hooked on Eve and Roarke’s relationship, her interplay with her friends and fellow cops, as I am in the crime they’re solving.  And for the first half of the book, there was scarcely enough of that for me.

It felt like Robb was telling the first half of the book in staccato.  I went from one scene of Eve snapping orders at one person to Eve snapping orders at someone else.  I understand the intent.  It was to build a sense of urgency.  Which it did.  There was one shooting after another with intermittent interviews of witnesses and searching for clues because Eve knew the killer was just getting started.  And each time she struck, she’d kill more and more victims…because she could.  Occasionally, Roarke just felt like Eve’s lackey, and I didn’t like it.

Finally, a little after the first half of the book, Eve zeroes in on who’s committing the crimes, and Robb let more character interaction enter the story.  The pace settled a little, and I felt like I was reading one of my favorite series again.  The voice AND the tone felt right.

Everyone has his own personal likes and dislikes, and most people are going to like the fast pace and building tension of this book.  Robb created two well-developed villains, especially the girl.  A great character study of a psychopath.  And once I got to the middle of the story, I was a happy reader again.  I finished the book satisfied.

The Long Haul (first fourth done)

I finished writing the first fourth of the latest Jazzi Zanders cozy I’m working on (book 6).  Which means, the set-up of the book is in place.  The set-up always introduces the main character (Jazzi), and since this is a series, hopefully most readers have met her before.  But, again hopefully, some readers might be new to the series, so I try to introduce her in the middle of doing something with her husband, Ansel, to show their relationship and what they’re up to this time around without boring people who already know them.  Just enough information for new readers but not so much it’s repetitive from past books.  A balancing act.

Jazzi comes with a decent-sized cast of characters:  her mom and dad, her sister Olivia and her husband Thane, her cousin Jerod, whom she and Ansel work with flipping houses, and his wife Franny and their kids, along with Ansel’s brother Radley and his girlfriend Elspeth, Jerod’s mom and dad, and friends Walker and Didi and kids.  And then there’s Gran–with the gift of “sight” and her friend Samantha.  I know–a lot, so I try to introduce them a little at a time.  Impossible at the Sunday meal that Jazzi hosts every week to help keep her family in touch with each other.  They all play into the storylines of each book.  In this one, Olivia becomes a major player.  She owns a beauty shop with her mom, and when she bullies Jazzi into coming to the shop before it opens to get her hair cut and shaped, they find the shop’s new employee working on an early customer, even though no one’s given her a key to get inside.   Things go downhill from there, as I’m sure you can guess from my working title:  The Body in the Beauty Shop.

In the first few chapters of each book, I also try to introduce the new house project they’re working on for their flip.  This time, they’ve chosen a grand brick Colonial home in Wildwood Park, a pocket of distinguished old houses surrounded by busy streets.  It’s widow’s walk needs replaced, as does the railing on the balcony over the solarium.  And as usual, the kitchen and bathrooms need gutted and updated.  But other than that, it will be a quick fix.  I’ve started buying more home magazines and looking up pictures of rooms on Pinterest to get new ideas.

And then there’s the matter of a murder or two.  And in this book, I struggled to decide between two different cases and caved by going with both of them.  I’ve never done that before, but I wanted to bring Jazzi’s ex-fiancée back into the stories, AND I wanted to focus on Olivia.  So I have Jazzi trying to help two friends clear their names instead of one.  She just didn’t have enough to do getting ready for her family’s big Easter celebration, and a protagonist at loose ends is a sorry thing to read.

Anyway, the set-up for a new book is always fun to write.  It’s introducing characters, setting,  the story’s big question, and any minor characters we need to know.  It’s all things new.  But once I start on the second fourth of the book, which is now, where subplots start twisting around each other, people lie when asked questions, and everything gets complicated, the writing gets trickier.  And before I know it, I’ve reached the morass of the middle muddle.  Before I wade to the last fourth of the book when things start moving again, I usually end up mired in doubt and positive another book sounds lots more interesting.  But that’s all part of the writing process.  It’s just a matter of putting one word in front of another until I hit solid ground again.  But for now, I’m celebrating.  One-fourth of the book is done!

Wednesday’s Shameless Plug

My fourth Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery is available for pre-order now and is due out March 17, two days after the Ides of March, so you don’t have to beware:)  https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/39309

It’s also available from NetGalley for review right now.  And you can win two POD copies of it on a Goodreads giveaway if you enter fast enough. https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/302087-the-body-in-the-apartment

In this story, Ansel and Jazzi are helping his brother, Radley, move into his first apartment in the same building where his work supervisor lives.  Radley and Donovan are friends who often get together on Saturday nights to play poker.  While they’re loading more of Radley’s things into their van to take to his apartment, Ansel’s oldest brother, Bain, comes to tell Radley he has to come back to Wisconsin to work on their family’s dairy farm.  Tempers flare, and Bain goes to the apartment with them to continue arguing with Radley.  When Donovan supports Radley’s decision to stay, Bain blows up at him before storming out of the building.  A short time later, Donovan returns to his own apartment, and then a gun shot is heard.  When Ansel and Jazzi run to the second floor, they watch Donovan stagger into the hallway, blood saturating his shirt.  Bain is the main suspect in the shooting, and as before, Jazzi joins detective Gaff to try to prove Bain’s innocence.

TheBodyInTheApartment_ COVER

 

 

Mystery Musings

My critique partner and I exchanged manuscripts last week.  We read and marked up each other’s pages and exchanged them again at writers’ club on Wednesday.  I value her comments, and hopefully, she values mine.  We write in different genres, but she reads mysteries now and again, and I read Regencies and enjoy historical mysteries from 1790 to the late 1890’s (I can be had by a Jack the Ripper time period story).

Unlike my friend, I’m not an expert on either the actual events of the prince regent or Queen Victoria’s England.  But Regencies, like Jane Austen, concentrate a great deal on social mannerisms and the aristocracy, and I enjoy both.  When I think of Queen Victoria, unfortunately, I think of squalor and social injustice.   One of the reasons I enjoyed Carnival Row on Prime TV was because it reminded me of Victorian England, which might make you think that I’d love everything Charles Dickens.  But you’d be wrong.  I struggled through his books, mostly because of his writing style.  Now mind you, there’s plenty of squalor and social injustice around today, but it’s too real, so I only read about it infrequently, and only if it’s the background for a great mystery.

Once you hit World War I or the roaring twenties or, even worse, Hitler and World War II, it’s slower going for me unless the story tempts me so much, I bite the bullet and plow through the rest.  I make an exception for Agatha Christie, who did include events surrounding World War II in her mysteries, but then, she didn’t dwell on them and they’re only there to add weight to her crimes.

I was a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, and my friend, Julia Donner, writes Regencies that remind me of hers.  They mix romance and dire circumstances into a stew that keeps me turning pages.  And there’s often humor.  One of the reasons I enjoy Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series so much is the time period–1830.  Men ruled the world and practically owned their wives.  They could beat them as long as they didn’t kill them, but there were always women who proved to be the  exceptions.  Lady Darby’s first husband mistreated her cruelly, and his death brought scandal on her.  But she’s smart and resilient, and her second marriage to Sebastian Gage allows her to become his partner in solving crimes.  Her books offer intriguing chunks of history with clever mysteries.

Another writer who mines historical mysteries during the Regency years is Darcie Wilde with her Rosalind Thorne series.  Again, a noble woman is reduced to restricted circumstances but overcomes her near poverty by solving crimes for wealthy ladies who’d rather keep their secrets…secret.  I read and enjoyed the second book in the series, A Purely Private Matter.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add Gothic literature to my list of time periods that tempt me.  Anna Lee Huber’s novels often have that same dark, brooding feeling, often in an isolated area like the ones old Gothic romances employed.  They make me think of Jane Eyre, an educated woman alone, sent to an imposing house with dark secrets, who falls for the brooding, often rude, man who employs her.  What fun!

Do you enjoy historical novels?  If so, does a particular period tempt you more than others?  Is there a period that you’d rather avoid?  I go back and forth between historical and contemporary novels.  That gives me variety, which I like.  Do you prefer contemporary?  (I love comments.)

Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!