Tag Archives: Brad Parks

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

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Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

BookPeople

I’ve spent every afternoon this past week wandering, reading, and writing in the wonderful BookPeople Independent Bookstore in Austin, Texas.  I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of bookstores and I know what I like, and don’t like, in a bookstore.  Here are four things that I love about independent bookstores.

Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

Lots of books but specific specialties
A bookstore needs to have books, obviously, but too often the larger chain books stores have a huge variety of different genres but little depth within the genre.  BookPeople has an amazing children’s section; Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, highlights new fiction; and Murder by the Book in Houston . . . well, that is self-explanatory.  What I love is that these bookstores realize that they can’t be everything to everyone so they embrace one or a few genres and really provide great depth and understanding to that genre.

I have also found the even if a certain genre isn’t their genre, independent bookstores can provide books that a bit off the beaten path.  I find the mystery section at BookPeople to focus less on cozy and mainstream mysteries, but instead I have found more international authors or less known series.  It was at BookPeople that I discovered Mark Pryor, Brad Parks, and M. L. Longworth.

Employees are true book lovers
I think there is a box on the application for independent bookstores that states employees MUST love books.  I find that employees that I have spoken with are well-read and happy to share advice or suggestions, but they also understand that sometimes customers just want to peruse.  Some employees of the larger chain bookstores are knowledgeable, but I often find that they aren’t as passionate about what they selling as I am about what I am reading.

I love to talk to a bookseller and state a few of my favorite authors.  A good bookseller can understand the interests of a reader based on favorites and provide ideas for new authors.

Not extraneous “junk”
Independent bookstores sell books . . . not covers for Nooks, not Harry Potter Legos, not action figures or educational games . . . books.  Precious floorspace is filled with books.  Now, you will find the occasional writing journal, books themed t-shirts, and quirky tchotchkes that compliment a book purchase or book gift, but the real reason anyone enters the door is to look at books!

Welcoming places to read, enjoy, and get lost in the books
Chairs and couches stuck in odd corners, quiet nooks to settle in, stools to ascend tall shelves or sit on as you investigate the lower shelves.  The environment has soothing classic music playing and the atmosphere is one of relaxation and enjoyment.  Not as quiet as a library, but still soothing and inviting.

Independent bookstores also seem to have the best cafes!  Tasty treats and delectable drinks to enjoy while reading.  Books, chocolate, and tea . . .  ah, perfection!

How about you?  What are your favorite independent bookstores?

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door

Title:  The Girl Next Door (Carter Ross 3)
Author:  Brad Parks
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2012
ISBN:  978-1-250-01340-8

Book Summary:
Strolling through the obituaries looking for inspiration for a story, Carter Ross reads about the death of Nancy Marino, a waitress and a delivery person for the Eagle-Examiner.  Even though Carter never meet her, he feels that he owes a fellow employee an article about the life of this everyday woman.  Carter heads to her wake to get input from friends and family but the combination of a confrontation with his publisher Gary Jackman and the whisperings of Nancy’s family indicates that there is much more to this story.  One sister clams up quickly but the other one is convinced that her death was not an accident.

Carter searches the scene of Nancy’s hit-and-run death and uncovers a witness whose story indicates that the accident was intentional.  Unfortunately, Carter’s new editor and sometime girlfriend, Tina Thompson, has removed him from the story upon the request of her higher-ups.  Carter, however, cannot let it go.

His quest for the truth involves a English major intern, Lunky, whose knowledge of literature vastly surpasses his ability to write copy; Nikki, Nancy’s fellow waitress at the Greek restaurant; Jim McNabb, local union executive director; and Tommy Hernandez, City Hall beat writer.  The more involved Carter gets into the story, the more his personal and profession life seem to fall apart and he must decide if his job and his life are worth the story.

Book Commentary:
This is the third Carter Ross book I have read and they just keep getting better.  Carter is a truly likable character but he is always very real, very human, and very flawed.  There are times when I am cheering for his decisions and other times I am smacking my face at his mistakes.  He is someone the reader wants to root for.  The author has also done a great job at incorporating multi-dimensional secondary characters; they are interesting and believable enough to help advance the plot without taking away from Carter and his main story.

I really enjoyed Carter’s struggle in this book with “machine of newspaper publishing.”  In this day and age of computers and the internet and instant news, it is sometime difficult to see the necessity of in-depth reporting and research.  Carter’s quest for the truth and the hurdles through which he must jump show just how intricate and complex news and truth really are.

Who might like this book:
The series does a great job at presenting modern journalism in a useful and meaningful way.  The series highlights the classic respect of the newspaper age as it struggles to find its place in a modern world.  However, the stories aren’t meant to be social commentary and the facts about the industry never detract from the main story itself.

It is obvious that the writer is a former newspaperman.  He truly tells a good story.  I have to thank my daughter for this one; I got her interested in the series and she put this book on her birthday wishlist.  I bought it for her but had to read it first!  Guess I will have to give it to her a bit early!

Faces of the Gone

Faces of the Gone
Title: Faces of the Gone (Carter Ross 1)
Author: Brad Parks
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-67280-5

Book Summary:
Carter Ross is an investigated reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner and reporting on a dead body being found in a vacant lot really isn’t big news. However, when four bodies are discovered shot execution style, the public tends to get nervous. In an effort to quell fears, the police leak a story to Carter’s colleagues that the murders are revenge for a bar holdup. As one who has spent some time writing about Newark’s ghettos, the story doesn’t feel right to Carter and he starts to dig. He discovers that although the four murder victims were all drug dealers, they were from various locations and served very different clientele.  When Carter discovers a unique quality to the drugs peddled by the four victims, he begins to see a pattern worth further investigation.

With the help of his intern Tommy and the City Editor Tina, Carter delves into the gritty world of street dealers of Newark. Although encouraged by both the local police and the FBI to let this story pass, Carter feels that he owes it to the families of the dead for truth. When his own life is threatened, Carter knows that he is on the right track. The question is, will he have the conclusion to the story printed under his by-line, or will he be the headline himself?

Book Commentary:
Don’t you love when you discover a series and it already has a number of books in it so you can keep reading!! Brad Parks has written five more stories about Carter Ross and I am really looking forward to reading them. The author is a former reporter for The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger; his writing shows both a deep knowledge about the newspaper industry combined with a direct story-telling style. There is enough detail presented to know what is going on while still keeping the story fast paced and engaging. I really enjoyed the wit and sarcasm of the characters and there is enough edginess to keep the story interesting without turning the reader off.

I like Carter. He has a sense of morality combined with an honest look at reality. He is a good guy but definitely not a hero. His flaws are human; not due to some great mistake or failure of his past, but rather because he is an ordinary man, living in the real world.

Who might like this book:
This book is a great procedural; not a police one but rather one based on news-writing. It is a quick moving piece with very enjoyable characters. There are some coarser moments but none seemed to detract me from the story itself. Anyone who has an interest or experience in journalism will enjoy the commentary and reality of life in the modern publishing age. Readers will also appreciate the humor; the book is funny without being a caricature of itself. I look forward to reading more of Carter’s exploits!