Browsing Tag


Who Wants Free Books?

Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you do so it’s a good thing I’m doing another giveaway!

Lydia from Putnam has generously offered me three advance reading copies of Rough Country, the latest by John Sandford, bestselling author of the Prey series with Lucas Davenport. The lead character in Country, though, is Virgil Flowers, an investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This is the third Flowers adventure, with the following synopsis from Sandford’s website:

Virgil’s always been known for having a somewhat active, er, social life, but he’s probably not going to be getting too many opportunities for that during his new case. While competing in a fishing tournament in a remote area of northern Minnesota, he gets a call from Lucas Davenport to investigate a murder at a nearby resort, where a woman has been shot while kayaking. The resort is for women only, a place to relax, get fit, recover from plastic surgery, commune with nature, and while it didn’t start out to be a place mostly for those with Sapphic inclinations, that’s pretty much what it is today.

Which makes things all the more complicated for Virgil, because as he begins investigating, he finds a web of connections between the people at the resort, the victim, and some local women, notably a talented country singer, and the more he digs, the move he discovers the arrows of suspicion that point in many directions, encompassing a multitude of motivations: jealousy, blackmail, greed, anger, fear. And then he discovers that this is not the first murder, that there was a second, seemingly unrelated one, the year before. And that there’s about to be a third, definitely related one, any time now. And as for the fourth… well, Virgil better hope he can catch the killer before that happens.

Because it could be his own.

To enter the random drawing, leave me a comment answering this question: What’s the roughest territory or environment you’ve ever been in?

For me, it was Viet Nam during the early ’70s where, if my family wanted to eat chicken, we had to grab a live one and kill it ourselves. Ain’t no KFC there.

Your experience didn’t have to take place in another country, and “environment” could just mean a setting, like a family reunion or the prom. Let’s hear your survival stories!

To be eligible, you also have to:

  • be a subscriber or follower on Twitter
  • be a resident of the U.S. or Canada

If you’re on Twitter, you can get two extra entries by tweeting about this (my handle is @popculturenerd) but that’s completely optional. Entries will be accepted until 9 p.m. PST, Monday, September 28. Remember, I’m giving away THREE copies so you have a good chance of snagging one!


Exclusive First Look at Robert Crais's FIRST RULE

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

Last week, author Robert Crais unveiled excerpts from his hotly anticipated novel, The First Rule, at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, California. The pub date is vaguely scheduled for January or February 2010. (UPDATE: At Crais’s site, it now says January 12, 2010.) But wait! Stop banging your head against your desk, please! Crais let me tape his reading to share with those who couldn’t attend.

Since this is a Joe Pike novel, I’ll be Pike-like and keep the setup brief. Somebody murdered a friend and former colleague of Pike’s. HUGE mistake. With Elvis Cole’s help, Pike goes hunting, ready to unleash some serious hurt on the perpetrators. Yay!

Crais read three different passages, one in each video. Afterwards, check out the teaser Q & A I did with him about The First Rule. (UPDATE: Win an ARC and read my longer interview here.)

Watch, read, then let me know your thoughts!

PCN: My mother taught me the first rule is to always wear clean underwear in case I get in an accident. What does the first rule in your title refer to?

Robert Crais: The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so take your pick: The East European organized crime gang sets operate under eighteen written rules called the Vorovskoy Zakon—which means the thieves’ code—the first rule of which says they’re not supposed to have a family. But the title, The First Rule, might also be interpreted from Joe Pike’s point of view, which suggests his first rule is that you take care of the people you love, and everything that implies. And if that’s the case, then the first rule for the rest of us is pretty simple: Don’t piss off Joe Pike.

PCN: In the excerpt, you mentioned how Pike’s walls are empty. Why isn’t Elvis on there?

RC: Elvis is in Joe’s heart.

PCN: What’s on your walls?

RC: I have more people in my life than Joe has. My walls are filled with pictures of my family, my friends, cool things that have happened along the way. Art. A couple of human heads. The usual.

PCN: You seem to take pop culture cues for your author photos. For The Two Minute Rule, it was the Brokeback look, and you’ve got an Agent Smith, Matrix thing going on with the last two books. What do you have in mind for the next one? Lederhosen a la Brüno?

RC: I was going for the lederhosen look until Brüno swiped it. Fashion is such a bitch, I’ve decided to pass on clothes. We’re going with a nude shot.

Look who's nerdy---me & Crais

Look who's nerdy--me & Crais, WITH clothes

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Review: Michael Robertson's THE BAKER STREET LETTERS

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and have read most things ever written about him so when I heard about Michael Robertson’s debut novel, The Baker Street Letters, I had to get my hands on it. I’m so happy I did. It’s a funny, clever tale with only a tangential link to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation but much of the spirit of his stories.

Reggie and Nigel Heath are London barristers who have just rented offices at 221b Baker Street, well-known address for the fictional detective. The rent is cheap because part of the deal is they have to respond to mail from real people asking Holmes for help. Instead of sending a standard form letter in reply, Nigel decides to fly to Los Angeles to follow up on one, believing the young woman who wrote it is in grave danger.

Problem is, he departs without telling anyone of his plans and leaves behind a dead body in his office. Reggie must then track down his brother in America, keep Nigel away from police in both countries who want him for murder (they stumble upon more bodies in L.A.), protect the young letter-writer from very real danger, and solve the twenty-year-old case of her missing father before it reaches an explosive conclusion.

Robertson’s lively prose, strewn with dry humor, makes the pages fly by. He imbues Reggie and Nigel, as well as Reggie’s actress girlfriend Laura who tags along, with deductive skills evocative of Holmes’s. They’re an engaging lot I’d like to see more of so it’s a good thing this book is first in an intended series.

Furthermore, Warner Bros. has optioned television rights and I’ve got just the actor to play Reggie: Rupert Penry-Jones, who’s apparently available after leaving a Jerry Bruckheimer pilot. As for Nigel, I think John Simm, who starred in the BBC versions of Life on Mars and State of Play, could knock it out of the park.

Nerd verdict: Well-written Letters


Free Stuff: Giveaway of Autographed Galley of Kathryn Casey's BLOOD LINES

Kathryn Casey, true crime writer and novelist, is generously offering a signed, personalized galley of her upcoming mystery, Blood Lines, to one of my readers, even if you’re outside the U.S.! The book is the second (after last summer’s Singularity) to feature Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong and here’s a synopsis from Kathryn’s website:

Cassidy Collins is living the dream. The latest teen singing sensation and the darling of the fan magazines, Collins has money and fame. After growing up poor, she’s escaped her trailer park beginnings to become a star. Everything is perfect. Everything except for one complication, a potentially fatal one: the stalker who threatens to take her life.

Meanwhile, Faith Roberts believes her dead sister, Billie Cox, is contacting her from beyond the grave. What does Billie want Faith to know? Is she trying to tell her who pulled the trigger?

A year after tackling the most dangerous case of her career, profiler Sarah Armstrong is back and charged with untangling two troubling cases, that take her from Houston oil mansions to behind the scenes at rock concerts and the world’s biggest rodeo.

In the end, Sarah’s forced into a battle of wits with a brilliant criminal intent on murder.

To be entered in the giveaway, you have to be a subscriber (see below or upper right corner of this blog) and leave me a comment expressing your interest. You’re not automatically entered if you’re already a subscriber; I’d like the ARC to go to someone who really wants it. As previously mentioned, international readers are eligible, too.

I’ll take names through next Monday, June 15, after which I’ll randomly select a winner. If you win, you can impress your friends when they ask you, “What are you reading?” by saying, “Oh, this new book that doesn’t come out until July 21.” You can further impress them by showing off Kathryn’s personalized inscription to you. Even if you don’t read the genre but know someone who might enjoy the book, enter anyway because Kathryn will sign it to whomever you’d like.

Good luck!

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Jim Kelly's DEATH WORE WHITE Has Dark Edges

I love a good locked-room mystery and that’s essentially what Jim Kelly’s Death Wore White (out June 9) is, except it takes place outdoors. One winter evening during a blizzard, eight drivers are trapped after taking a detour down a small road surrounded by a wide ditch on one side and marshland on the other. A felled pine tree lies across the road, making it impassable, and the last car in line somehow gets stuck sideways, preventing the drivers from backing out. And of course, they’re in a black hole with no cell signal.

When the police arrive about three hours later, they find a corpse behind the wheel of the lead vehicle. No one at the scene saw the murder and there are no incriminating footprints in the snow surrounding the truck. How can this be? Furthermore, the viciousness of the stabbing would have resulted in a lot of blood in the truck and on the killer, but there’s none on any of the other drivers and only a small amount in the cab, implying the man was killed elsewhere. What the hell?!

Detective Inspector Peter Shaw (Scotland Yard’s youngest DI) and his partner, George Valentine, catch the case on the same night they find the corpse of another man washed up on a nearby beach. Before they can get to the bottom of either mystery, more bodies pile up and the puzzle becomes more puzzling. Shaw and Valentine are also dealing with unspoken tension between them resulting from a twelve-year-old case involving a murdered boy which Valentine worked with Shaw’s father, Jack. Valentine and the senior Shaw were accused of planting evidence in that case and Jack eventually died of heartbreak from disappointment. While dealing with all the murders happening on his watch, Peter is also re-investigating the cold case to maybe clear his father’s name.

Death Wore White is interesting in that it reads like an old Agatha Christie novel but the detectives text-message each other and the story is very much a contemporary one. Jim Kelly piles on a lot of subplots and many twists but he deftly juggles them and resolves everything by the end. Except for one subplot, which sets up the next novel featuring Shaw and Valentine. I normally get annoyed when all mysteries aren’t cleared up but in this case, it makes me really eager to see what happens next in this new series.

Nerd verdict: White will suit most mystery fans


Mystery and Mirth Mingle at Malice Domestic 2009

Malice Domestic is a mystery convention that takes place every year in the D.C. area., honoring the traditional mystery (no explicit sex or violence). The organization hands out the Agatha Awards, named for Agatha Christie. This year’s convention took place May 1 – 3 in Arlington, VA and author Elizabeth J. Duncan (The Cold Light of Mourning, which I reviewed here) attended as a panelist. She generously sent me the following insider account and photos of the festivities, which included an interview with Anne Perry. Thank you, Elizabeth!


This was my fourth Malice. In 2006, I was a prize winner (William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic grant); in 2007, I was nobody in particular; in 2008, I was a prize winner again (St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic contest) and this year, I attended as a published author.

Of course my book, The Cold Light of Mourning, had only been out for five minutes (published April 28). There was a stack of 12 of them in the dealers’ room on Friday. I walked by every now and then. Yep, still 12.

On Saturday morning I attended the new authors breakfast, sponsored by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, publishers of Mystery Scene magazine. Talking to facilitator Cindy Silberblatt, we got a chance to promote our books to a very targeted audience. Then it was on to my first panel as an author. Imagine how thrilling it was for me to share a platform with Katherine Neville, Ann Cleeves, Hannah Dennison, Maria Hudgins–-all authors of wonderful novels–-to discuss mysteries set in foreign places. Mine is set in North Wales, where every hillside is dotted with sheep. We were up against stiff competition, as the nominees for the best novel were having their panel at the same time, so we were especially pleased that attendance in our salon was rather good!

signingThen it was on to the group author signing session. This was my first signing as an author. I wasn’t nervous about the signing part-–I was afraid no one would show up as I was signing at the same time as Carolyn Hart, Anne Perry, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen and other heavy hitters in the traditional mystery world. Remember those 12 copies of The Cold Light of Mourning stacked up in the dealers’ room? Not anymore! I was delighted to be kept rather busy signing copies for readers and, bless their hearts, I hope they enjoy the book.

The banquet menu was standard three-course fare for this sort of event at a hotel like the Marriott: salad, pecan-crusted chicken breast (yum!) with pureed sweet potatoes and sautéed green beans. Dessert, or pudding, as we say in Wales, was a triple chocolate Charlotte–-a richly layered mousse.

The awards presentation started during dessert and I was touched when Harriette Sackler, who is a lovely, gracious woman, acknowledged me and G.M. Malliet, two previous winners, before she named this year’s winner of the William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant: Kimberly Gray.

And in case you haven’t heard yet, here are this year’s Agatha Award winners:

Best novel – The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny, St. Martin’s Press
Best first novel – Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet, Midnight Ink
Best non-fiction – How to Write Killer Mysteries – Kathy Lynn Emerson, Perseverance Press
Best Short Story – “The Night Things Changed” – Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe, Penguin Group
Best Children’s/Young Adult – The Crossroads, Chris Grabenstein, Random House

One of the convention’s best-attended events was a sit-down chat between Anne Perry and Don Maas, her New York literary agent. Here are some highlights:

perryMaas began by describing Perry’s prolific volume of work: 25 novels in the Pitt series, 17 in the Monk series, seven Christmas novellas, and six in the World War I series, to name the most popular. Her books have continuously been in print for 30 years.

Composed and self-assured, Perry answered his questions with warmth and honesty.

Maas: What drives you?

Perry: I think I’m finally beginning to get the hang of it! I always think the best book is the next one. I feel I am writing stronger, more complex books now that go deeper and push characters into more dilemmas. There are always more things to learn and I enjoy that.

Maas: How to you develop your characters?

Perry: I imagine them at the end of the world overlooking an abyss. What would he do now? I think about all the things I see and hear. How would they deal with certain situations, like disillusionment.

Maas: Can you describe your writing process?

Perry: I live on the east coast of Scotland, about three hours north of Edinburgh in a small fishing village. I have a secretary who comes in three days a week and my brother, a retired physician, is my researcher and he comes in four days a week. I do write on the road. A hotel room with the door closed can be a fine and private place. I outline my work pretty tightly and the less familiar I am with the material, the more I outline. The outline for a book of 12 chapters will be about 24 pages.

Mass: Do things happen in your stories that surprise you?

Perry: Occasionally. Once I discovered I liked the culprit too much so I had to give that role to someone else.

Maas: Is it true that a single copy of the first edition of Cater Street Hangman (first in the Pitt series, 1979) now sells for more than the advance you received for the book?

Perry: That’s true!

Maas: You bring the Victorian world vividly alive. How do you call out all that detail and still keep things fresh and interesting?

Perry: I am getting better at cutting things out and I keep reminding myself that the detail has to serve the story.


Gillian Flynn’s Creepy DARK PLACES

When I received my copy of Gillian Flynn‘s Dark Places (out today), I yelped with joy because I’d been waiting three years for the follow-up to her superb, Dagger-winning Sharp Objects. My reaction is ironic because there’s no joy in this story—it’s a vicious tale of mass murder and the aftereffects on the lone survivor. But, to paraphrase Tina Fey, you want to go to there because of Flynn’s exceptional prose.

The story concerns Libby Day, who at age 7 survived the slaughter of her family in the so-called “Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She then testified that her 15-year-old brother Ben committed the murders. Twenty-five years later, Ben is serving a life sentence and Libby is drifting aimlessly, running out of money from strangers who’ve been sending sympathy checks since she was little. As her trust fund manager explains, she’s now a has-been because there are new victims every day.

Fortuitously, Libby is contacted by the Kill Club, a group of true-crime aficionados who believe her brother is innocent and that Libby should review the case and recant her previous testimony, which they think was coached by a child psychologist. They offer to pay Libby to interview Ben and other people involved with the case and report back any new findings. Libby at first agrees to the scheme strictly for the cash but soon starts to question what she really saw that night. She’s ultimately forced to confront the terrifying Darkplace which she’s managed to block out most of her life.

Yes, all this sounds pitch black but Flynn’s prose is so exquisite, she makes you want to go with Libby to that Darkplace, perhaps even lead the way, wielding a flickering flashlight. Flynn’s descriptions instantly paint vivid pictures and you envy her literary skill even as you sometimes recoil from the image. She talks about a man who’s such a cheat, he steals fake money from the bank when playing Monopoly with his kids. She describes a house so dilapidated, it’s “a home past the expiration date.” A girl who looks “sexy-sleepy…like you woke her up from a dream she had about you.” And then there’s this personification of a residential neighborhood: “The houses reminded me of hopeful, homely girls on a Friday night, hopping bars in spangly tops, packs of them where you assumed at least one might be pretty, but none were, and never would be. And here was Magda’s house, the ugliest girl with the most accessories, frantically piled on.”

It’s fitting that even the house is a misfit because Flynn’s characters are mostly anti-heroes, nasty bitches and oily bastards. But her razor-sharp prose will cut through any preconceived notions you might have about such people and convince you their point of view should at least be counted. Libby might be pissed at the world, lacking in social skills, and a serious klepto, but Flynn still manages to make her relatable without asking for an ounce of pity. It’s as if the author reaches into your brain and adjusts it by giving it a slight twist, counter-clockwise. All of a sudden, you see things differently, like maybe you’ve got some blackness in you, too. But instead of hiding it, Flynn suggests you embrace it like klepto Libby clutching her stolen knickknacks.

Nerd verdict: Embrace the Dark side


Crais, Parker, Winslow & Wambaugh discuss “Cops & Crooks in California” — Conclusion

This is part two of my report on the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel held this past Saturday, April 25, as part of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. (Click here for part one.) The participants were crime novelists T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) with Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator.

Crais had asked the panelists why they write crime fiction. Parker launched into a story about a signing he did in Norwalk, CA, where a woman asked what his book was about.

“It’s about friendship, love and hate, crime and betrayal,” Parker responded. The woman asked, “What’d you want to write about that stuff for?” Parker said he found those subjects compelling. The woman then said she could afford only one hardcover book a month and had already bought it but wanted Parker to sign it. She proceeded to pull out a copy of a Robert James Waller bestseller, which Parker dutifully signed. “Somewhere out there, there’s a copy of Bridges of Madison County with my name on it!”

Wambaugh had his own funny anecdote about a signing he did at the East Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. A woman came looking for the writer Irving Stone and was disappointed to find Wambaugh there. “You’re not Irving Stone,” she said. “No, lady, I’m Truman Capote,” Wambaugh quipped. The woman looked him over and said, “But, Mr. Capote, on television you look so much more masculine!”

Crais chimed in with his story about a signing he did with four other writers. A man came sniffing around the table, looking over everybody’s books. “Me being me, I said, ‘Are you gonna buy something?’ ” Crais said. The man asked, “Whose book is the cheapest?”

Not to be outdone, Winslow shared details of one of his bizarre signing experiences. “The lady who owned the store had me come in and there was a flood that day…there were sandbags in front of the store. I had to take off my shoes and wade…nobody came. It was a two-hour signing. After an hour ten minutes into it, the lady said, ‘Just lock up for me.’ Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I sat there, robbed the till, then left.”

After the laughter died down, Crais asked, “So, you’ve been on tour, you’ve met the fans. Have you ever been frightened?”

Winslow went first with a story about a signing in Greenwich Village where a woman showed up dressed in full S & M garb. She wanted him to sign a book called Slave Girls of Rome [when Crais mentioned this title during introductions, Winslow said it was another Don Winslow, an 82-year-old man, who wrote it]. This woman approached the author, “her voice dropped an octave and she said, ‘I love your other stuff, too.’ Mine went up two or three octaves. ‘No, you don’t! No, you don’t!'” Winslow said.

“I think she came to one of my signings in D.C. She said, ‘You should read Don Winslow,'” Crais said. He then talked about a Philadelphia appearance where a woman came up to him with a toddler. “She plopped that boy on the table and said, ‘Here’s your daddy!'”

“What was your comeback, Bob?” Parker asked.

“I said, ‘Looks just like Jeff Parker!'” Crais answered.

At this point, Crais opened the floor to audience members and invited questions. The first person up asked whether or not the authors have any control over who reads their audio books.

Wambaugh said he had no control and the others agreed. “I’ve never listened to one of my books. I don’t know why. Can’t bring myself to read them, either,” Wambaugh said.

Crais said he finds it hard to listen to audio versions of his novels because he hears them in his voice so it’s jarring to hear them in someone else’s voice. “Most I can listen to is eight to ten minutes. I did do the abridged version of Hostage. That, I can listen to over and over.”

Next, someone asked whether the authors create outlines or just start writing and let the plot write itself (!).

“I do both,” Parker said. “I once started with a bar napkin with four character names circled on it. That was Little Saigon.” But he’s learned to outline because “I can’t hold a 500-page manuscript in my brain.”

“I’m an outliner,” Crais said. “I figure eighty percent of the stuff out beforehand. I’m a fan of notecards. I’m a very visual person and actually like to see the continuity of it. I actually believe that it helps me to balance and pace my books because if a lot of the scenes and stuff where nothing is really happening—if that’s all jammed to one side—I think, ‘Man, I’d better have something happening there’ so then I start moving cards around.”

“James Ellroy does 350-page outlines before he starts writing,” Wambaugh said.

A woman in the audience asked why in his books, Crais refers to the good guys by their last names but the bad guys by their first. She wondered if it was an intimacy issue.

“I never thought about it before. Now, I’ll obsess about it and never write again,” Crais said.

Another audience member asked how the writers felt about the Kindle.

“I’ve never seen one before,” Crais said, but added he’d be open to it if someone wants to send him one. Winslow said, “I don’t care, as long as people are reading.” He said he likes the tactile feel of books and how he can drop them in the tub and it’d be okay.

At this point, a woman behind me asked, “Can you explain what a Kindle is?”

Wambaugh threw up his hands and said, “I have no idea!” Another woman behind me helpfully held one up for all to see.

The last question was something about characters [how they’re created? Sorry, my handwriting was illegible here after an hour of scribbling].

“All writers are cannibals. You eat up your life,” Crais said. He explained that he infuses his characters with a lot of his worldview.

“I think characters are everything. If people don’t like them, they’re not going to care what happens to them,” Winslow said.

Parker said, “You pull from everything, little pastiches, combinations of everyone I’ve ever known. They represent something, an extreme of some kind, traits you recognize.”

“You guys have said it,” Wambaugh said. “I think I have one thing to offer. When you’re dealing with an audience like this that can be agenda-driven, ready to skewer you with political questions, give them a very brief two-word response to everything. Example: ‘Are you a Republican?’ Not yet!…’Are you Jewish?’ Not yet! ‘Are you gay?’ Same answer!”

On this note, the discussion ended, the authors hugged it out before fans swarmed them for photo ops.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!
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From L: Winslow, Wambaugh, Parker, Crais

Crais with my friend Betsy

Crais with my friend Betsy


"Cops & Crooks in California" Panel at L.A. Festival of Books with Crais, Winslow, Parker & Wambaugh

Remember in the ’70s when you bought K-Tel compilation albums because you didn’t want to buy a bunch of albums by different bands where most cuts were just filler? This past Saturday, at the annual L.A. Festival of Books, the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel was like a K-Tel collection, with Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) and Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator. Everyone was a hit and you got them all in one place.

Apparently this panel sold out quickly so for those of you who couldn’t get in or don’t live in the area, I took notes and thought I’d post the highlights. There’s no way I can capture all the hilarity but there’s still plenty of juicy info to be had. Many thanks to Debbie DeNice, who helped me recall quotes in parts where my memory was foggy and my scribbles illegible. I’ll publish this in two parts so be sure and come back for all the good stuff.


After introducing the panelists, Crais’s first question was whether there was “something about Southern California that’s particularly identifying” to the other writers. He addressed Parker first.

“I was born here. I don’t have to go to a new place and ask questions and learn anything because it’s right in front of me,” Parker said. “You know, it’d be very hard to go set up a story in Boston and have the same sort of casualness to the story. I’d have to work really hard.” He equated being a native Californian to Nicholson having floor seats at Lakers games.

“I came out on a case [as a P.I.], went down the PCH, saw Laguna Beach, called my wife and said, ‘We’re moving out here,'” Winslow said.

Wambaugh said he came out here when he was 14. “Would it have been the same if I’d written East Pittsburgh noir?”

“I’d be terrified to go somewhere else and set a novel,” Parker added. “I lived in Orange County for 45 years. My big move was from Orange County to Fallbrook. It was 34 miles but I felt like Magellan.”

Crais next asked the writers how they felt about writing standalones vs. a series.

wambaugh_hollywoodcrowsWambaugh said, “I wrote a sequel to Hollywood Station because I thought maybe it’d be easier since I had some of the characters…But I found some of the characters didn’t want to come back…They didn’t help me plot. Plotting’s the hardest thing.” He added that on his tombstone, it’ll probably say “At Last, a Plot.”

“I didn’t know better,” Winslow said. “I thought all P.I. novels had to be series [he wrote the Neal Carey series].” He stopped writing about Carey when the detective became a “whiny, petulant, little bastard” and the author got tired of him. Winslow told a funny anecdote about a fan asking at a signing if he was anything like Carey and he denied it while his wife nodded vigorously. He then mentioned that the Dawn Patrol gang will be back in his next novel, The Gentleman’s Hour, which made me squeal internally. Hour will be released in the U.K. in June but won’t be out in the U.S. until next year.

Parker said he didn’t look at it as writing a series, more like “writing one big book that’s 2,000 pages.” He mentioned that Charlie Hood from L.A. Outlaws and The Renegades will be back for his third adventure next year called Iron River.

Crais next asked the other writers to share their Hollywood experiences. “Is screenwriting work as important as your prose work?”

“Screenwriting—adapting, I should say, a novel—is the only writing that’s actually fun. It’s like a crossword puzzle,” Wambaugh said.

fallen“I have a guy turning The Fallen into a series…Maybe I can learn something new. Can’t wait,” Parker said. He then added, “Don’t hold your breath, though.”

Winslow had considerably less enthusiasm for Hollywood. He told a story about having a meeting at a studio “that shall remain nameless.” But then he said when he arrived, the guard told him to “go up Mickey Street then left on Dopey Lane.”

“So this was at Paramount?” Crais joked.

Winslow continued, “I told the guard, ‘I took a left on Dopey Lane back in ’89 and didn’t make it back onto Mickey Street until ’92!’ ” The guard said, “Don’t repeat that upstairs.” When Winslow finally got in to see the movie exec, who had several books on his desk, Winslow asked if he’d read them all. The exec answered, “I don’t read. I have people who read.”

monkeysraincoatCrais then told his own story about the “studio that shall remain nameless.” He said when The Monkey’s Raincoat first came out, he received a call from Michael Eisner’s office saying the then-CEO of Disney liked his work and wanted Crais to write a movie based on an original idea Eisner had. When Crais arrived for the meeting, he was met by an exec who said Eisner couldn’t make it. The man then asked Crais if he’d heard of Beverly Hills Cop. When Crais said yes, the exec said that Eisner felt “Beverly Hills as a location hasn’t been exhausted yet at the box office.” Crais said, “Great. What’s the idea?” The exec looked confused and said, “That’s it.”

Crais’s next question was why the men chose to write crime fiction. He said he does it because “I love this stuff” and he’d be reading it if he weren’t writing it.

“I guess if I knew anything about ballet, I’d write about ballet. I was a cop,” Wambaugh said, shrugging.”I went to CalTech to do some research and did end up writing a crime that took place at CalTech. The answer is: What else can I do?”

“Who do you like?” Crais asked.

“I like Tom Wolfe…that’s a guy you can learn something from. For those of you who are novelists or journalists, whatever—he can really put it together. I highly recommend him,” Wambaugh said.

Next, Winslow shared why he writes crime novels. “Same answer—you write what you know and frankly, I grew up around criminals…I always loved the genre, I love reading it. I think as a writer it gives you everything. I’m really greedy as a writer, I want it all. With the crime novel, you can take everyday life if you want drama, then you can also do murder and mayhem and political issues, the nexus of government…so for me, it just gives me that whole world. Any of that piece you want, you can do it in a crime novel.”

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion, when the panelists discuss scary tour experiences, their plotting techniques and how they feel about the Kindle.



Mystery books often have dark, ominous-looking covers full of shadows and doom. So you know you’re in for something different when you pick up Elizabeth J. Duncan‘s debut mystery novel, The Cold Light of Mourning. The cover is dewy green with the title spelled out in red fingernail polish.

It’s a clue to the profession of the book’s protagonist, Penny Brannigan, who owns a manicure salon in a Welsh village called Llanelen. Penny is an expatriate Canadian who had stumbled upon Llanelen on a backpacking trip twenty-five years earlier, fallen in love with its beauty and decided to stay. The story begins with the death of her longtime friend, Emma Teasdale, and the disappearance of a bride on her wedding day. Penny had done the bride’s nails that morning and may have been the last person to see her. She teams up with a friend and a couple of inspectors to solve the case, working from intuition and making sharp observations of details even the seasoned cops would have probably missed.

If you like your mysteries with a high body count and bullets flying, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a fan of the kind of gentle mysteries that Alexander McCall Smith writes, this would be your cup of tea. Winner of the Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel award, the story is more a celebration of Llanelen’s charms and a study of its quirky denizens. It’s a tribute to the strength and vitality of women who are no longer in their 30s and who prefer sensible shoes to Jimmy Choos. At one point, one character bemoans how middle-aged women are treated like they’re invisible. The way Duncan paints them, they’re colorful and very much alive.

Nerd verdict: A cozy Light


One Cool Ride with Don Winslow’s THE DAWN PATROL

My friend Betsy had been recommending Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol to me for a few months but I’d resisted ’cause I found out it was about surfing. I’ve never surfed, don’t know anything about it, am afraid of big waves and didn’t think I’d want to read about a bunch of surfer dudes. Boy, was I wrong. I finally picked up the book and, like a big wave, it slammed into me, rolled me a few times and didn’t let me up for air until two days later.

Boone Daniels and his five friends make up the Dawn Patrol, a group of surfers (five guys, one girl) who meet every morning at dawn to tackle the waves at Pacific Beach in San Diego. Then the others go off to “real” jobs while Boone moonlights as a private investigator, but only enough to afford fish tacos on flour tortillas because “everything tastes better on a tortilla.” He takes a supposedly easy case—locating a missing stripper who was supposed to testify in a major trial—but finds out a little girl has also gone missing. This brings back memories of the case which resulted in Boone’s quitting the San Diego Police Department, one involving a missing little girl he was unable to find. Boone is determined not to fail this time and as he gets farther into the investigation, it forces him to choose sides and do things that might ruin the brotherhood of the Dawn Patrol.

Though the subject matter turns out to be heart shattering, the book has many hilarious moments. The scene where the gang takes one of its members, Hang Twelve, to a strip club for his birthday made me laugh out loud. “Naked asses” and “buffet” really should never be in the same sentence. Everyone in the patrol is funny, compelling and cooler than cool but their easy, jokey banter belies the fact they would fiercely watch each other’s back.

My friend Betsy with Winslow

My friend Betsy with Winslow

The thing I love about Winslow’s breezy style is that he paints clear pictures in succinct strokes. In describing a man about to be attacked by thugs in his home, Winslow writes, “He’s on his third Corona when the door comes in.” He also pulls off something I’ve never seen before—a complete sentence consisting only of the same word repeated three times as subject-verb-object, as in the final sentence here: “Now he drives his truck…with his best friend in the back, a man who is like family to him. But like ain’t is. Is is is.”

Winslow is so good with his prose, he even makes the history behind the surf culture interesting. Normally, I would’ve skipped over these sections to get to the whodunit but with Winslow, you don’t want to miss a word because none is wasted.

Rating: Brilliant