Friday, September 22, 2023

Holiday Fiction

By Abir

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?


Holidays are tricky times for our family. Our elder son is autistic and often finds it difficult to adjust to changes in his daily routine, therefore holidays need to be planned with the precision of a military operation. We need to make sure that wherever we go, he has a room or space where he can chill out, without too many sensory pressures upon him; that he has enough of his favourite snacks to help calm him and get him through any rocky patches, and most importantly, make sure there’s a strong wifi connection for his tablet. As a result, we tend to prefer staying in cottages and Airbnb accommodation rather than in hotels. Then there are the activities and the days out, which can’t be too noisy or busy or which might threaten sensory overload.


Having said all that, it does mean that we do spend quite a bit of time on more leisurely activities: playing board games, going for walks and of course, reading.


Reading for me, has evolved over the years. Whereas a decade ago, before I became a writer, I would read for pleasure, for fun, for relaxation; nowadays, a lot of the time I’m reading to prepare for panels I’m chairing at festivals – often three or four books in a short space of time; or reading early copies of books by other writers so that I might provide a quote for the jacket. It means I often have two or three books on the go at any one time. Right now, I’m reading The Night House by Norwegian author, rockstar, economist and all-round legend, Jo Nesbø in preparation for interviewing him next week; I've just finished Past Lying by Val McDermid (due out next month – spoiler: it’s brilliant); and am half way through The Trees by Booker Prize winner, Percival Everett. It was recommended by a friend and it is fantastic.  Too often though. I find myself reading crime novels not for plot or character, but for prose and style, dissecting a book to see how the author has achieved something – essentially to see what I can learn from them, and while this is great, I do feel I’ve lost some of the joy that I used to get from reading crime fiction.


So on holiday, I like to spread my net a bit more broadly. I will, of course, take a crime novel along (if only to help make a dent in my TBR pile), but I’ll also take along some non-fiction – generally history (though I’m period and geography agnostic – anything from ancient Egypt to the Cold War is fine, though I seem to have an aversion to the Tudors). I also like listening to non-fiction audiobooks on the drive (generally science based – I’m fascinated by relativity and space-time and the multiverse theory, but often lose the thread after the first few chapters). My wife prefers music in the car (not my music though) so the audiobook generally goes off pretty quickly.


I sometimes wish I could go back in time to the days when I could read crime fiction for pure pleasure, because it was, and still is, my favourite kind of fiction. Alas, those days are gone, but I can’t complain too much, because these days, I get to write it.


Have a good weekend


From our most recent holiday. This hotel featured in a TV adaptation of a famous crime novel. Any guesses which one?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Read, Write, Revise, or Hatch a Story from James W. Ziskin

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

I mostly read when I’m driving. That is to say I like to listen to audiobooks when I’m in the car. It’s the only multitasking I’m able to do since I usually can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Listening while driving is the exception.

I also listen to audiobooks when I’m cooking, but only if I’m not following a recipe. In that case I need to pay attention to the words, and the audiobook goes in one ear and out the other.

When I’m on vacation, I don’t usually read. Trips are filled with things to do and places to see. Dinners, wine, museums, etc. Not much time or energy left for reading. I always have my iPad with me, so I can download and read at a moment’s notice if the urge strikes me. In fact, I find I prefer reading on an illuminated screen to a paper page. I know that’s sacrilege to many readers. But just wait till your eyesight starts to go and you’ll understand why. Blurriness is one thing, but much of the difficulty I have with reading is light. The brighter the better.

Back to this week’s question. While I may not read a lot on vacation, if it’s a staycation I’m probably writing something. I don’t think of writing as a job that I need to get away from. Sure, it’s hard and tiring, but not something I feel the need to put on hold to recharge my batteries. 

When I finish the first draft of a novel, however, I do want a break from the mad dash of getting to the end. For me, it’s an all-out sprint to get the first draft down on paper (screen). The process is intense and all-consuming, so at the end I need to stop creating for a while. And that’s when I revise. It’s not the same obsession as writing a first draft, and I enjoy it without feeling pressured to finish.

So, no, I don’t read a lot on vacation, but the writing process never stops. Even if I’m in between a book or short story, I still am engaged in thinking about some future project or other. If I’m not reading, writing, or revising, you can bet I’m hatching.




Wednesday, September 20, 2023

It never stops

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

by Dietrich

As much as I love to read crime fiction anytime, I don’t limit myself to it. Any well-written book interests me. There’s always conflict of one kind or another in a book, but for me, it doesn’t have to be crime fiction, per say. Right now, I’m reading The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. It’s been described as a murder mystery wrapped inside a Great American Novel, and that about sums it up. No matter how you describe it, McBride is a writer to read. And another one I’m going to start soon that shows a lot of promise is Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto. It’s set in ’71 Harlem, and I’m looking forward to a darkly funny tale of a city under siege and a searching portrait of the meaning of family.

When I’m on a train or plane en route to some destination, it’s always good to have a book or two along. I love the sway of the train. It’s relaxing and it’s a great place to read as the miles roll away. Once I’m at my destination, the books get tucked in the suitcase, and I’ll get back to them on the homeward leg. 

Vacation is actually the perfect place for an eReader. As much as I prefer the printed page when I’m at home, an eReader is backlit and easier to read in low light, and not to mention it’s almost weightless. A dozen books — no problem.

I also like to have along any device ( a phone, laptop, or MP3 player) that plays music. I always bring tunes along, and when I feel the inspiration to write a few pages early in the morning, or while I’m waiting for a connection, then I’ll usually cut out the white noise around me with music, and I’ll write for a while. Never turning the volume so loud that I might miss that ever important last boarding call. And if I’m driving a long distance, road tunes are pretty much a necessity.

I think the most important thing I can bring along on any vacation is a simple notepad for when those ideas snap into my head. I have to jot them down, or they tend to disappear as quickly as they came. Sometimes one idea leads to the next, and I end up with quite a few useful notes to sort out by the time I get back home.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Vacation Reading!


Terry here, with our question of the week: When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all? 

 Funny this question comes up right now. I’m on vacation in Iceland. Or at least I will be by the time this is posted. I’m actually writing it in advance. The answer to the question is that I read, read, read on vacation. And, as usual, I read most everything. As much as I love several different variations of crime fiction, I don’t read it exclusively. I sometimes need a break. 

For example, in preparation for my trip, a couple of weeks ago I read Iceland’s Nobel Prize-winning author Haldor Laxness’s brilliant book, Independent People. As is true of most Nobel Prize winners, the book was by turns dark, hilarious, frustrating, and deeply affecting. I loved it. Update: Mid-trip, I find myself thinking about the book often, with its descriptions of sheep farming and the brutal life of a farmer in the early twentieth century. 

When I travel in another country, I like to read books set there, so I’ll be tackling two other books by Icelandic authors, Animal Life, by Audur Ava Olafsdaottir; and Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. I find it lends richness to my travels when I read things about the area I’m visiting. Update: At Bouchercon last week, I was astonished to find that I was on a panel with Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson, so I picked up a copy of his thriller, Outside and it’s a great read. I read it on my way to Iceland, in full panic mode the whole time. 

 I also write on vacation. My fourth book, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, was almost entirely written on a tiny iPad keyboard in Africa. Every afternoon, while all the other members of the tour were sleeping, I wrote. Whether I’ll have time to do that in Iceland, I don’t know. But since I just last week wrote “The End” on Samuel Craddock #11, I don’t feel a huge compulsion to write. (By the way, just because I wrote The End doesn’t actually mean it’s finished. I already have major revisions in mind.) 

 That said, I need to get cracking on the second Jessie Madison book, a new series about a member of the FBI dive team. Will I manage to do that while I’m on vacation? Stay tuned. All I know now is that I just got word that the bang-up team at Severn House is working on the cover for the first, which comes out next April. Update: No writing as of halfway through the trip. 

 More Update: On the first week of our trip I’ve gotten lots of recommendations for books about Iceland. Most frequently recommended is, How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island, by Egill Bjarnason. I probably won’t have time to read it on the trip, because every day is crammed with adventure. 

Note the troll guarding the glacier pictured. Icelandic people believe in trolls and elves!

But I don't only read local fiction. The last few nights I’ve been reading a hilarious book, Play the Fool, by Lina Chern, a debut author I heard talk about her book at Bouchercon. (Highly recommended). 

Today at a fascinating museum I snagged another book in English by the Nobel Prize-winning Haldor Laxness, called Under the Glacier. While I was talking to the young man who was in charge at the museum, he told me he enjoys reading Laxness because in Icelandic he writes with no usual punctuation and he refuses to stick to proper spelling. That’s the kind of interesting tidbit you learn when you talk to people about what you’re reading in another country. 

 Finally, our guide promised us that we will go to a bookstore with lots of Icelandic titles translated into English, and that I’ll be able to find more Ragnar Jonasson there. So I guess I’ll be busy reading right on through the trip.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Holiday Reading

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

Brenda at the keyboard.

I have to confess that I'm a crime fiction junkie. While I might detox with a more literary work from time to time, my go-to relaxation fare is always in the crime fiction genre. I always have a book on the go when I'm writing. My favourite thing to do is to write for a while, read a chapter of whatever book I'm currently reading, write some more. Repeat.

But this week's question asks if and what I read on vacation. I can confirm that I always have a book with me when on holiday, and it is invariably crime fiction or thriller. When I flew to Thunder Bay for a week to visit with family this past June, I took along The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. My book club had picked Yellowface by Rebecca Kuang for its next selection, and after I finished reading it, my neighbour lent me The Plot, a book with a similar theme but with more thriller/murder mystery elements. I was half-way through, and so The Plot came along with me on my trip.

I used to enjoy reading Gail Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn mysteries when I travelled. They made for soothing reading, especially at the end of a long day when I was snuggled up in the motel bed. Joanne is a woman-next-door kind of protagonist with a big family and the series is set in Saskatchewan. Joanne solves murders but the family plot line is an important part of every book.

And then you can't beat a thriller by Harlan Coben, Rick Mofina or Linwood Barclay for lounging on a beach or sitting in a deck chair at a cottage. Fast-paced and engrossing all. 

The prerequisites for my vacation selection are that the book holds my interest, is light enough (subject-wise) for me to pick up and put down without losing my place in the story, and is well written. Luckily, the crime fiction selection is varied and plentiful. Other favourite 'holiday relaxation' authors include but are not limited to: Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly, Adrian McKinty, Mary Jane Maffini, Karen Slaughter, Deon Meyer ... and many more too numerous to mention.

All I need now is another holiday with a jaunt to my local bookshop before setting out....


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Friday, September 15, 2023

Time to Be Inspired, by Josh Stallings

Q: Are there crime fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.

A: I evolve year to year not only as a writer but also as a reader. That’s true for most of us. As a teenager I attached my identity to the bands I listened to, books I read, movies I dug. It was a way to connect with like minds. I wore tight pants, long scarves, platform shoes, a leather jacket. 6’4” and skinny, I must have looked a sight, but I was a walking billboard to attract my people. 

We listened to Bowie, Velvet Underground, Eno, Queen. We read Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Albee, we did scenes from Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. I read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, but doubt I told anyone. I loved Cotton Comes To Harlem and Superfly. As an adult I find Curtis Mayfield’s classic Superfly soundtrack holds up better than the film. 

At sixteen I moved to LA. I was alone a lot and Raymond Chandler kept me company. I slowly discovered what I personally loved to read. Hard Boiled Crime consumed me for a long time. Here are a few writers that gave me a good grounding in the field:

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye is my favorite, but you can’t go wrong reading anything he wrote.

Charles Willeford, the Hoke Moseley series is gritty brilliance. Miami Blues is worth more than a few reads.

James Crumley, is the poet laureate of brutally self effacing hard boiled crime. Dancing Bear remains my favorite, and has the best last paragraph of any book I’ve ever read. 

Andrew Vachss, the Burke series introduced me to the possibilities of what a crime family of choice could look like, that and Bullmastiffs. He wrote about the pain of childhood abuse and the need for avenging knights in tarnished armor. Flood is the first in the series and the place to start.

James Lee Burke has published twenty-three Dave Robicheaux books. The first, Neon Rain is amazing, as are all that follow. Dave and Clete Purcel are opposites in some ways, but maybe more, they are two sides of a tarnished and pitted coin. They give Burke a chance to examine morality from two perspectives. Dave who does hard violent things to set the world right, but suffers guilt and spiritual pain for having done them. Clete acts to protect those he loves and if he feels any guilt, he drowns it in whisky. 

If you dig your crime fiction Hard Boiled these five writers will give you a grounding in the sub-genre. They did for me.

My evolution as a reader is taking me farther away from crime fiction. Don’t get me wrong I still read a ton of crime books. Just finished the amazing Naomi Hirahara’s Evergreen. A brilliant, tough LA novel that we all need to read.

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. WOW! She is a bloody master of style and form. The three books are set in the same time and have many crossover characters, but each book feels stylistically entirely different. She has her characters drive the prose. I find writers working in speculative and sci-fi are freer from tropes and reader’s structural expectations; this is exciting as a reader and maybe impossible as a writer. All writing is a high-wire act, but Atwood walked over the Grand Canyon without a net or a wire. Moments in it took my breath away. 

A well written book will entertain. A brilliantly written one inspires.

Which books inspires you? Your list will be different from every other writer or reader’s.

What book am I waiting for today? 

Lou Berney’s A Dark Ride, out 9/19. Lou is one of my favorite authors, his work is full of thrills and chills and buckets of heart. He creates people you will not forget. Where ever he’s going in this new novel, I’m buckled up and ready to go. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Comfort, with a body count, by Catriona

Are there crime-fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.

I'm splitting this into two questions. 1. Do I hold onto crime-fiction books? Ahem.

2. Do I re-read them? 

Not many. I consult them a fair bit, looking for something I'm sure I remember seeing there, when I'm truffling around for examples (good or bad) to illustrate a workshop or article. And I visit lots of them briefly, reacqainting myself with the names of characters or the length of chapters. Of course, I could do that with the click of a button, but see that big, open book on the stand in the picture? That's my dictionary, over to which I scoot on my typing chair when I need to check a word. (On the shelves underneath are a Scots dictionary, a thesaurus, an etymological dictonary, and a nifty little book of 20th-century words, dead handy for weeding out anachronisms.)

I do re-read by listening on Audible a fair bit. Right now, I'm refreshing my memory of Stephen King's  Mr Mercedes novels in advance of reading HOLLY (which I'm going to try to save for the Christmas holidays). And I listened to WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN, just before I read WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN NOW. But as a sighted person, I listen to books in a different way from how I read print: while cooking, cleaning, driving, falling asleep or gardening. Never while sitting in a chair and never while paying the attention owed to a first read.

Speaking of Christmas and Mary Higgins Clark, I do re-read the Willy and Alvirah stories regularly, by fairylight, breathing in the scent of spruce. They remind me of the Christmas I spent in Manhattan and always feel like a visit to old friends.

That's pretty much the case for all of my crime re-reading. It's comfort all the way.

 My top three re-reads are:

SLEEPING MURDER, by Agatha Christie (just edging out THE MOVING FINGER as my favourite). I love a house in a book and the house in this novel is front and centre as well as the plot being one of Christie's cleverest.

A SURFEIT OF LAMPREYS, by Ngaio Marsh. It's got another great house - complete with floorplan - and a family of eccentrics who're right on the line between endearing and insufferable. Marsh seeming to know that helps though. There's also a hefty dose of real creeping horror in here. Brrrrr.

THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE, by Margery Allingham. My favourite crime novel. It's not as oblique and tricky to follow as Marsh's books sometimes are (looking at you, THE BECKONING LADY and THE CHINA GOVERNESS), and she never revels in the gothic more than she does here. Also - as I've said before - the climactic scene is the best treatment of the difference between goodness and evil I've ever read, including "Paradise Lost", and I'm not even kidding.


Old friends...and new... by Cathy Ace

Are there crime fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.

Oh good grief…how long have you got?

My house is awash with crime fiction books I can’t bear to get rid of…and, no, I might not re-read all of them, but…you know…you never can tell when the mood will take me to dive into a book for the second, or even sixth time, so stay with me they must - “just in case”.

Beautifully bound - my Christie collection

Those that have been with me the longest are those I found earliest in my life. My collection of Agatha Christie books made the trip with me when I migrated from the UK to Canada, and collecting them was a labor of love (or…maybe…obsession?). I was lucky to work in London just around the corner from the world-famous Foyles book shop on Charing Cross Road, so I was able to spend countless hours there “just browsing” (who am I kidding? I wore the numbers off my credit card in there!).

It took a couple of years to gather together all the titles you see here, and I have continued to add the “new” books by Christie that have come out since (though not in the same bindings, which is a shame). I look across at this shelf from my desk on a daily basis, and Christie’s work-ethic spurs me on, though I cannot imagine I’ll ever equal her output in terms of quantity, nor quality. But I can try!

More recently, my Kindle tells me that I have re-read books several times, and I don’t feel guilty about that at all. I don’t find it annoying to re-read books where I already know whodunnit, because I read them again for a different reason – to enjoy the writing as well as the storytelling. The books I have re-read most often turn out to be those written by Lawrence Block…which I think speaks to the richness of his writing, as well as his ability to spin a yarn that’s just as engaging on its third or fourth iteration – a true master. Indeed, his Evan Tanner books are so bizarre and complex that I usually can’t even remember “what happens next”, so there’s the added bonus of the constant delight of rediscovery as I read. And the Diamond books by Peter Lovesey also allow me the fun of a re-read that inspires, but isn’t dulled by familiarity.  

Much-loved copies of beloved books I've owned, and re-read, for decades!

Beyond that? While dealing with crimes of many types, I wouldn’t call Nana, by Zola, a work of crime fiction, but I find myself re-reading that frequently, and I revisit Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain every couple of years too. Also, by way of full disclosure, I still find myself drawn to many of Shakespeare’s tragedies which never cease to astound and thrill me with their use of language and tempo.

If you'd like to find out more about my work, you can do that at my website:

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Be Kind, Rewind by Gabriel Valjan


Are there crime fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.


Why revisit crime fiction when you already know who committed the crime? I’ve always been cautious about revisiting past reads because memory is beguiling, deceptive, and tinged with fear and apprehension. Nothing sucks more than realizing that something you liked in the past doesn’t hold up. You mumble to yourself, What was I thinking?


Certain books are Proustian to me, the feel of the pages and the scent return me to a particular time and place in my life. Movies do the same thing to me, but in a different way, as they remind me of time spent with others. Not the case with books since they were always solitary adventures for me. Me and my thoughts, at a certain age and stage in life.


It’s harder for me to enjoy books now because I’ve learned the ‘tricks of the trade.’ My metronome is jaded, if not sensitive to pacing, to the give-and-take of dialogue that either reveals Character or advances Plot. It’s hard for this Writer to be a Reader again. I don’t read Friends of Eddie Coyle for the story anymore. I search for familiar snippets of dialogue, and I analyze How and Why they work.


Writers start as Readers and we learn as we go to become Writers, or we remain Readers. There is a Yin and Yang delicacy to a writer’s appreciating another writer because we’ve all worked in the kitchen. There was a saying when I worked as a waiter as teenager, dealing with coked out chefs with sharp knives, ‘Once you’ve worked in the kitchen, you would never eat in the restaurant.’


Which is why I say, Be Kind, Rewind.


Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1939).


The standing policy in my elementary school was that if you were done with an assignment, you did independent reading. The school had a modest library. I mowed through those shelves, and my teacher loaned me her copy of the Christie title in her purse.


Nobody was ‘woke’ back then, and nobody blinked an eye at how wildly ‘problematic’ the book was. If you don’t know the controversies, Google the original titleor, if I may be self-serving, read my afterword to my Shane Cleary novel HUSH HUSH. I was a kid. I was Mikey from the Life cereal commercial. I read everything.


Thomas Harris’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1988)

Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL (2012)

Donna Tartt, THE SECRET HISTORY (1992)


I lump these novels together because they were a revelation in narrative strategies. All three stories deal with unreliable characters. And rather than the crime story being a Whodunit, Howdunit or Whydunit, they were a Howcatchems. I marveled at how hard it was to create and sustain suspense.


Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s DANGEROUS LIASIONS (1782).

Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA (1955)


It is difficult for me to explain to others why this I found this epistolary French novel both captivating and terrifying. Perhaps, it because it is depicts how both men and women are treacherous when it comes to affairs of the heart. Love. Betrayal. Revenge.


As I honed my chops as a writer, I found myself looking outside of my American-slash-Anglo-speaking culture for other approaches and attitudes to crime. French, German, Italian, and Spanish crime writers offer a different perspective on crime, justice, and especially violence. For instance, almost always in American cinema, the good guy has to kill all the bad guys. It’s not enough to leave them wounded. It seems like a weakness to show mercy. In foreign cinema and novels, the damage is done, the threat neutralized, so carry on.


Volumes have been written on Humbert Humbert and sexual obsession with Lolita, so I won’t say more.


Nabokov intrigues me as a writer because he is a trickster and a Word Nerd par excellence and like Joseph Conrad, English was his third language. Speaking of Conrad, his short story “Point of Honor,” the basis for the Ridley Scott film, The Duellists, is a favorite.


Walter Mosley’s DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1990).


There was a time when I went on hiatus from reading crime fiction, turning instead to nonfiction because it was ‘real’ whatever that means. I’d burned through the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco books, and Robert Harris’s Cicero Trilogy. Sense a theme there?


Then I discovered Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, and I was hooked. Like early Ellroy, I enjoyed the flip-side to Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. I enjoyed Chandler, but I could see that he’s a dangerous influence for writers for his overcooked similes and metaphors. Hammett I enjoyed, but his corrupt landscape could be Anywhere, USA. Not the case with Mosley.


Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER (2001)


I live in Boston, so the appeal is obvious. I don’t find many male writers who write women well, but Lehane does. MR is Shakespearean in scale and a chaotic and tragic tour de force. 


What books do you like to revisit and rewind?


Monday, September 11, 2023

Portable Magic

 Q: Are there crime fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.


-       from Susan


There are a lot of crime fiction books I hold on to even though I’m not likely to read them again. Why? Because writers I admire, writers I’m in awe of, writers who are justly loved by everyone, or writers who - gasp - became my friends wrote them and signed them to me. I look at their spines and smile. Being in the same community has been an ongoing thrill for me. A line of books signed by Sara Paretsky, a fellow member of Sisters in Crime. A growing shelf of personally autographed novels by the prolific and creative Rhys Bowen. All of Terry Shames’ and Jim Ziskin’s signed books. Cara Black’s long-running Aimee Leduc novels….And there are more, more, more! 


There are books I keep because they or their authors made me wonder if I could write something as enjoyable when I first dared to dream: Marcia Muller, Lia Matera, Laurie King, Sue Grafton, Gillian Roberts- note they’re all women, their protagonists are female, they’re all from the same recent writing generation, and they were all accessible to new writers in northern California. Just having those books on the shelves reminds me of the early days when I tiptoed into the world of possibility. These authors and a few others genuinely and specifically inspired me.


There are classics in the genre that I just enjoy and re-read when I want the guarantee of a cozy, familiar experience. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series have a permanent place, the tattered mass paperbacks lined up waiting for those moments. Some of Agatha Christies mysteries do that for me, although not all. I have the collected John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories and re-reading a handful at one time makes me smile. Sarah Caudwell’s sadly short series does the same and I have re-read all of them. Ditto Josephine Tey. Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series stay fresh and funny for me.


Current writers I have gone back to include Tim Hallinan and his Poke Rafferty series set in Bangkok, Laurie King’sMary Russell/Sherlock Holmes stories, especially the ones set in exotic non-Western places, and Colin Cotterill’scompletely unpredictable Dr. Siri mysteries  set in broken down communist Laos, which seems to be hospitable to ghosts. The settings are so deeply part of the stories that I  always pick up something new in the re-readings.


I could go on. I am a book addict. Recently, I brought 250 paperback mysteries to Goodwill, and another 50 or so hard back crime fiction novels to Friends of the Library. It hardly made a difference, in part because most of my shelves had double rows of books and the more I removed, the more I exposed! 


I do use Kindle, but somehow those books don’t count. Why is that? Do you feel the same way about e-books that you do about paper versions?

My own latest:






Friday, September 8, 2023

Acting the Part

 You’ve done the impossible - sold your book/series for the screen. Who would you choose (living or dead) to play your protagonist? Why?


By Abir


Great question!


This is the dream of many a novelist, at least when they’re starting out, that their story will make it to the big (or increasingly the small) screen. The best part of that is what we call the game of fantasy casting, and I’ve been prone to a bit of that myself.


Now my Wyndham and Banerjee novels have three central characters: Captain Sam Wyndham, an ex-Scotland Yard detective who finds himself in India, working for the Imperial Police, mainly because it’s slightly preferable to suicide; Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee (known as Surrender-not by his British colleagues who can’t or won’t pronounce his name properly); and Annie Grant, an Anglo-Indian woman with whom Sam has a rather complicated romantic relationship.


In terms of casting, I’m going to come at them in reverse order, starting with Annie Grant, because that’s the easy one.


Annie Grant was inspired by the Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, particularly in her role as Victoria Jones in the film Bhowani Junction, based on the book of the same name by John Masters. Victoria is an Anglo-Indian woman, serving with the British Army towards the end of empire, unsure of her place in the racially divided world of British India. I remember watching the film and being captivated by Ava Gardner’s performance and when I came to writing A Rising Man, the first in the series, it was Gardner whom I pictured in my head as Annie, so much so that I gave Annie Grant her initials. So in an ideal world, I’d have Ms Gardner play the character who was based upon her.

Here's the Trailer for Bhowani Junction:,vid:cGbIUEx9kg4



However, in the here and now, which actor would I wish to play Annie? That’s a tougher question. Like Ava Gardner, she would have to have that olive complexion – neither Indian or white – someone who could pass for either. In my head, I picture someone like Gal Gadot. But I heard her singing this during lockdown, and it’s put me off her a bit.


In terms of others, there’s the Indian actor, Swastika Mukherjee, who’s starred in a range of Indian films, including the femme fatale in one of my favourites Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.

Let’s move on to Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee. That’s also quite easy, because the actor Kunal Nayyar, who played Raj in the Big Bang Theory has expressed an interest in the role, and when we came to write the pilot script, we reimagined much of it from Banerjee’s perspective, increasing the weight of the role. 


If Kunal happens to be busy, then I’d go for Dev Patel or a young actor called Mikhail Sen, who provides Suren’s voice in the audiobook for the fifth in the series, The Shadows of Men. Mikhail also played Amit Chatterjee in the recent BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.


Then of course, there is my wife’s favourite, Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays the deceased father in the Netflix series, Never Have I Ever. I personally think he’s far too handsome and that my wife should be banned from the whole casting process.


And then, finally, we come to Captain Sam Wyndham himself. This is a tough one, mainly because I don’t know what Sam actually looks like. Maybe this is because when I’m writing, I tend to see the world through his eyes and don’t really look at him. You’ll be surprised at just how many authors have a similar blind spot for their main character. The truth is, my vision of Sam is less important than the reader’s vision of him. At the end of the day, that is what matters.


My old art teacher, Mr Wilson was kind enough to paint me a picture of what he imagined Sam looked like. It’s different from how I imagine him (even though I can’t picture him precisely), but then again, my wife’s view of him is different to mine too.


In terms of actors though, my list would include men like David Tennant and Daniel Craig, but really, I’m open to other opinions here. If you have a good one (for any of the characters) drop it in the comments below.





Thursday, September 7, 2023

Casting Call for Ellie Stone from James W. Ziskin

You’ve done the impossible - sold your book/series for the screen. Who would you choose (living or dead) to play your protagonist? Why?

I confess that I’ve never been able to picture anyone playing Ellie Stone, the protagonist of my seven-book series. That’s probably because I don’t watch many new shows or moves. And thinking back over actresses of the past (do we still say actress?), I’m not having much luck either. 

She should be young, fairly small, with longish curly brown hair. Other than that, I can’t give you many more details. I like to think of Ellie as one of those characters you see on book covers. They’re all viewed from behind, so you don’t know what they actually look like. This gives readers the freedom to imagine them as they want to, with minimal guidance. I like that. And so, for Ellie, I offer no one.

But a friend who knows about these things once said that Hailee Steinfeld would be a good match for Ellie. What do you think? I’m not sure. She’s great, but I’m no expert on casting. They do wonders in Hollywood in recreating looks from the 1960s, so maybe she’d be perfect.

Okay, that’s Ellie Stone. What about her best pal, Ron “Fadge” Fiorello? Fadge is Ellie’s best friend in the world. He’s the huge, lumbering Watson to Ellie’s Holmes. He’s also a little sweet on her. This one was a little easier for me. I’ve always thought a John Candy type would be perfect for him. Especially as he appeared in Uncle Buck.

Let me know what you think. Suggestions from readers are welcome in the comments below.