Mystery Movies

As the holidays approach, we may be looking for gifts that appeal to writers. In my house, movies are always welcome. Besides the classics like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, here are some of my favorites in the mystery genre or movies involving writers. A happy ending is a must for my taste. This list does not include TV series or the Hallmark Channel mystery movie collection.

movies

AMERICAN DREAMER with JoBeth Williams and Tom Conti.
One of my all-time favorites. A romance novelist wins a contest and a trip to Paris. En route to the awards luncheon, she’s in an accident and suffers a head injury. She wakes up believing herself to be the heroine in her favorite books. A spy caper follows that’s all too real, as she teams up with the author’s handsome son who thinks she’s a nutcase. That is, until someone tries to kill them.

DROWNING MONA with Danny DeVito and Bette Midler.
A funny whodunit in a small town with a wacky cast of characters.

GOSFORD PARK with Helen Mirren and Jeremy Northam.
An English drawing room mystery in the grand fashion that takes place at a country estate. Aristocrats and servants alike have secrets that slowly unravel during a hunting party weekend. Albeit a bit slow-paced, this film requires repeat viewings to catch the nuances.

HER ALIBI with Tom Selleck and Paulina Portzkova.
A hilarious escapade wherein mystery novelist Phillip Blackwood falls for a suspected murderess while searching for inspiration to unlock his writer’s block. Did the mysterious and beautiful foreigner have a hand in the victim’s death? If so, is he foolish to vouch for her alibi and bring her home? And are the accidents that ensue truly accidents, or is he next in line for her lethal highjinks?

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
A Manhattan housewife thinks her next door neighbor is a murderer. She enlists her friends to search for clues. Probably my favorite Woody Allen film out of all of them.

MURDER 101 with Pierce Brosnan.
English professor Charles Lattimore assigns his class to plan the perfect murder as a literary exercise, but when he’s framed for a woman’s death, he has to find the killer before the detective on the case finds him. Will his students help him solve a real murder, or is one of them guilty?

MURDER BY THE BOOK with Robert Hays.
A mystery novelist thinks he’s hallucinating when his hero appears in front of him and talks back. He’s been thinking of changing to a new series and scrapping the sleuth, but now he needs the fellow’s help to solve a real murder.

THE BOY NEXT DOOR with Dina Meyer and Christopher Russell.
A romance writer goes on a retreat to a small town to seek inspiration for her next story. When her next door neighbor is found dead, the chief of police suspects her. Even when her place is ransacked and someone tries to run her off the road, he discounts her theories and refuses to look into the incidents. It’s up to our heroine to prove her innocence and uncover the killer before his next attack turns fatal.

FLOWER GIRL (Hallmark Channel Movie)
This is a classic romance with an element of mystery. The heroine has to choose between two suitors: a staid lawyer approved by her mother, and a writer who answers evasively whenever she asks about his work. Guess who she’ll pick? The revelation at the end is reminiscent of American Dreamer.

What are some of your favorite films involving murder mysteries or writers? Note: I am on a cruise and will not be able to respond, but you can make suggestions and I’ll check back later.

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Waste Not, Want Not

by Brad Parks, award-winning mystery writer

– Note from Jodie: I sold my house (Yay!) and am busy planning my cross-country move, editing a great new thriller for our own Joe Moore and his co-author, Lynn Sholes, and preparing a webinar to present at a cyber conference, so it was perfect timing when Brad Parks contacted me about guest posting on TKZ. – Take it away, Brad!

It was the great and revered mystery author P.D. James who once said, “Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.”

I mention this because, one, it makes me sound well-read and erudite. And, two, because it is exactly the kind of soft-headed, touchy-feely, writer-as-artiste horse-apple I used to completely dismiss.

Of course things that happen to a writer are wasted. I mean, when I was a newspaper journalist I had to write whole stories about peoples’ reaction to the weather (“Boy, is it hot,” said Robert Smith of Manalapan. . . “I’m soooo cold!” said Sarah Jones of Weehawken). Believe me, those are dead brain cells I will not get back.

I think up until recently, I would have been ready to tell P.D. James to take her nothing-is-ever-wasted aphorism and stick it on a poster with kittens, because real writers don’t think of themselves as artists but, rather, as craftspeople. We use a well-honed set of tools – our sense of story, our intuition about human nature, a facility with language and prose, etc. – to craft thrilling tales of suspense. We don’t go in for all that navel-gazing, namby-pamby hogwa…

… And then along came this book. It’s called THE PLAYER, the fifth in my series featuring sometimes-dashing investigative reporter Carter Ross.

I was throwing a few notes together for various talks I’ll be giving at bookstores and libraries in the coming months and I remembered that, back when I started writing it, I thought of it as a book that dealt with the subject of brownfield redevelopment – that is, the cleaning of contaminated sites to make them suitable for new construction.

(Mind you, I no longer call it a book about brownfield redevelopment, because I’d actually like to sell a few of them. When you say “brownfield redevelopment,” peoples’ eyes get glassy. I now call it a book about toxic waste and the mob).

Anyhow, just for kicks, I went back and looked at some of the clips I had written about this subject back when I was a reporter. I tripped across this one story from 2007. It was about an abandoned landfill in Edison, New Jersey that was being eroded away by the Raritan River. The result was that every time the river rose – every rainstorm, every high tide – fifty-year-old trash was being swept into the current.

It was unhealthy, unsanitary, and a major eyesore. And yet because the original owner of the landfill was no longer around, there was no money to clean it up. Basically, the only hope for this dreadful little patch of earth was if a developer came along and decided to build a golf course there – or an office park, or whatever.

When done well, this is actually a great win-win. The contamination gets cleaned up. The developer gets some free land. It’s all good. But of course in the name of journalistic balance you always have to find someone to sound a note of alarm and remind readers that something that sounds too good to be true sometimes is. So I interviewed this environmentalist named Bill Wolfe. Here, I quote from what I wrote:

Wolfe said old landfills have been known to leach benzene, TPC, TPE, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium – a laundry list of killer chemicals. He calls redevelopment schemes “madness.”

“What should have been a public enterprise – cleaning up old landfills – has become a private, for-profit, economically driven enterprise,” Wolfe said. “It really is asking for a disaster.”

When I re-read that not long ago, I was agog. It was the thesis of THE PLAYER, stated in two succinct paragraphs. And I had completely forgotten that I ever wrote it. It was just fifty-six words buried near the bottom of a 1,800-word story. Since it published, I have written hundreds of other articles, to say nothing of a pile of full-length novels. We’re talking about something that was roughly a million words in my rearview mirror. I had no shot of remembering it.

But it was obviously rattling around in my head somewhere. And it managed to leak out onto the page and form a novel. Apparently P.D. James was onto something.

(Oh, incidentally, I did look up Bill Wolfe and sent him a copy of THE PLAYER. I figured it was the least I could do).

Now, maybe for some of you who are more enlightened on this subject, this connection between what you do and what you write isn’t news. For me, it’s been something of a revelation. It’s not that I’ve given up on my view that writers are craftspeople. It’s that I’m opening myself up to the idea that we’re artists, too.

I find myself living more consciously, being more aware of what I’m reading, who I’m talking to or what I’m seeing – because you never know when that article, that conversation or that experience will inform your future scribbling.

After all, nothing that happens to a writer is ever wasted.

Brad Parks is the only author in history to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards. His latest book, THE PLAYER, received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. RT Book Reviews made it a Top Pick for March, saying, “Parks has quietly entered the top echelon of the mystery field.” Visit him at www.BradParksBooks.com.

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Release Day!

Today is the official release date for Shear Murder, my ShearMurder (518x800)tenth Bad Hair Day mystery, so you’re going to have to put up with my shameless self-promotion. That’s the trouble when we authors must toot our own horns. We get as tired of talking about Me as you do hearing about it. Lately I’ve been clogging the loops and social networks with my blog tour announcements. I want to make it worthwhile for my hosts by getting a crowd on days when I guest post. But it means I am constantly tweeting and FB’ing and listing my tour dates and topics. I sent out one email newsletter to my fans already and will send another blast next month on my book’s official sale date.            

What? You thought I said today was the release date? Indeed, I did. However, for this publisher, that means the books are shipped from the warehouses today. They’ll be ready in the bookstores on February 8, the actual “on sale” date. Confusing, isn’t it? It was a lot less so with my prior publisher, who just had one pub date. As it is now, I’m not sure which day to urge fans to buy the book. Does it really matter anymore?

Here are a couple of sample interview questions from my online blog tour:

Tell us about your latest book.

Shear Murder is the tenth book in my Bad Hair Day mystery series. It’s the culmination of a personal journey for my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore. It’s about weddings and new beginnings. Just when Marla is planning her own nuptials, she gets caught up in another murder investigation. Marla is a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the matron of honor—the bride’s sister— dead under the cake table. She has a lot going on in her life, but when Jill pleads for her help in solving the case, Marla can’t refuse. It’s a fast-paced tale with humor, romance, and suspense as Marla races to find the killer before her wedding day arrives.

Considering the book is a mystery, how much can you tell us about the antagonist?

Since the story is a whodunit, I can’t tell you much! Many people had reason to want Torrie, the matron of honor, dead. Torrie was the bride’s sister, and Jill had a secret past that Torrie threatened to expose. How far would Jill go to maintain her sister’s silence? Then again, Torrie’s colleagues each had their own reasons to want her out of their way.

Meanwhile, Torrie’s husband inherits a piece of property that Torrie had jointly owned with her sister. How badly does he need the money from a property sale? And speaking of commercial property, Jill’s uncle and cousin were involved in a shady real estate deal with the owner of Orchid Isle, where Jill’s wedding took place. Did Torrie learn too much about his secrets? And so on. As you can see, there are a number of suspects. You’ll have to read the story to figure out which one of them is the culprit.

What motivated you to write this story?
My books all have happy endings, and so I wanted to give my series one, too. Seriously, my fans wanted to know when the next Marla Shore mystery would be coming out, but my former publisher had cancelled the series. As the markets changed, I decided to finish this book and give my readers the closure they deserved. So I really wrote it as a response to fans and in gratitude for their support. I hope they are pleased with Shear Murder. It was a delight to write, and I had fun bringing back all the secondary characters we’ve grown to know and love. I am grateful to Five Star for getting this book in front of readers. So if you’re looking for a humorous mystery centered around weddings with a whodunit puzzle to solve, check it out.

Watch the Book Trailer
BUY NOW!

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Your First Mystery

How did you get started writing mysteries or thrillers? Assuming you were an avid reader of the genre, did you outline the plots of your favorite stories? Study structure and pacing? Attend writing workshops by seasoned authors? Or did you use a how-to book?
Keeper of the Rings, my fourth sci fi romance now available in digital format, is the story wherein I learned how to plot a murder mystery. It has all the elements for a cozy: a limited number of suspects, most of whom know each other and who have a motive for the crime, a confined setting, and an amateur sleuth.
Here’s the story blurb:

Taurin is shrouded in black when Leena first meets him, his face shaded like the night. At first she believes him to be a simple farmer, but the man exhibits skills worthy of a warrior. With his commanding presence, he’s an obvious choice to be the lovely archaeologist’s protector on her quest for a stolen sacred artifact. Curious about his mysterious background, and increasingly tempted by his tantalizing touch, Leena prays their perilous journey will be a success. She must find the missing relic, or dangerous secrets will be revealed that may forever change her world.

KeeperoftheRings_400px

Who stole the sacred horn that must be blown to reset the annual cycles of Lothar, the god worshipped by the people of Xan? Only the members of the ruling priesthood, the Synod, had access to the holy artifact. Was it Zeroun, the ambitious Minister of Religion? Perhaps Karayan, a friend of Leena’s family and the Minister of Justice, is involved. Or maybe Sirvat is guilty. As Minister of Finance, she has something to hide. So does everyone on this twelve person council, including the Arch Nome himself.

While Leena’s brother is assigned the task of investigating the Synod members, her mission is to retrieve the artifact. Here the story becomes Indiana Jones meets Star Wars. Leena and Taurin survive one peril after another on a desperate quest that takes them around the globe and deep underground beneath the ruins of a holy temple. Do they find the horn before disaster ensues? Is the thief unmasked? Was he responsible for the accident that killed Leena’s mother?

Here’s an excerpt where Leena and Taurin discuss the suspects with her brother, Bendyk, and his assistant, Swill.

Swill tugged at the long sleeves of her burgundy blouse, tucked into a black skirt that hugged her hips. “Magar makes regular unexplained entries in his receipts, which Sirvat deposits into the Treasury. Magar refuses to elaborate on the source. Sirvat’s financial records are impeccable, but the odd thing about her is these trips she takes every so often, returning with a new piece of jewelry each time. The items are created with rare gemstones. Usually, she’s not one to adorn herself.”

“I’ll bet I know where she gets them.” Taurin related what he and Leena had learned about Grotus and Sirvat’s relationship.

“I don’t believe it.” Bendyk shook his head. “She seems so strait-laced.”

Leena gave a small smile. “Perhaps she hides a passionate nature. She certainly has a peculiar bent to fall for a man like Grotus.” Her face grimaced in disgust at the memory of the smuggler. “You know, some of those items I saw in Grotus’s mansion are similar to pieces in Karayan’s house.” She pursed her lips in thought. “Karayan has quite an extensive art collection.”

“Are you implying that he buys his art works from Grotus?” Bendyk asked with a horrified expression.

“Not really. They just share the same kind of artistic taste, although Karayan is a much better dresser.”

Beside her, Taurin snorted. “We’re not here to discuss anyone’s preference in art or clothes. Did you investigate Zeroun? As Minister of Religion, his department is responsible for administering the Black Lands. Someone there has granted the Chocola Company illegal rights.”

“We’ll check into it,” Swill assured him. “We’ve cleared most of the other Synod members but weren’t sure about Sirvat’s trips and Magar’s secretive dealings in his trade commissions. I still feel he’s withholding information from us.”

“You’re wasting your time with Magar,” Taurin snapped. “I suggest you check out Zeroun. The Minister of Religion would also be responsible for—” He held his tongue; he’d nearly said for excising any records of the Temple of Light. “—for the Black Lands,” he finished.

*****
They could easily be discussing suspects in a murder. This was the last romance I wrote before switching to mysteries, but it taught me everything I need to know about plotting a whodunit. How did you learn the craft?

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Where Evil Lurks Beneath the Sun or Picnic at Hanging Rock

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

As I’m in Australia at the moment, visiting relatives and friends, I thought it was about time I discussed some home-grown Aussie mystery. If you’re thinking I’m sunning myself on the beach somewhere you’d be wrong – Melbourne is in the depths of winter so think rain and lots of it! Since I’m in the cultural capital of Australia (sucks to Sydney – you can see where my allegiances lie!) I have to talk about one of my all time favorite mysteries – Picnic at Hanging Rock.

I read the book by Joan Lindsay when I was about twelve and I was convinced it was based on a true story – the eerie mystery surrounding the fate of a party of schoolgirls who visit Hanging Rock was deliciously fraught. Then along came Peter Weir’s film and the whole ambience and sexually charged atmosphere came to the fore. There are even hints that the events in the book may have been based on events in Joan Lindsay’s own life but there has never been any record found of anything similar happening. Yet the mystery endures today, probably because it remains unsolved (although there is a missing final chapter which Lindsay wrote that apparently solves the mystery. It was excluded in the original book and, to be honest, I don’t want to even know what it says).

I’ve visited hanging rock (Mt. Diogenes) and each time I was struck by the strange energy of the place. It is located just outside Melbourne, where I grew up, and is now forever associated with those haunting few words :
“On St. Valentine’s Day in 1900 a party of schoolgirls went on a picnic to Hanging Rock. Some were never to return…”

Hanging rock is a place where anything is possible and there is a distinct evil vibe that is hard to ignore. When you climb the rock, your sense of perspective and time becomes confused. I think that’s what makes Peter Weir’s film so incredible. He captures the essence of a summer day at the turn of the last century, its drowsy, erotic overtones as well as the heady sense of foreboding – that evil of an unknown nature might have taken the girls forever.

The place itself was the most important character in the book as well as the movie. What places have inspired the same fear within you?

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The Ideal (Fictitious) Villain

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole, wrote that “most of the interest and part of the terror of great crime are not due to what is abnormal, but to what is normal in it; what we have in common with the criminal rather than the subtle insanity which differentiates him from us.” I couldn’t agree more – for me, it is the commonality rather than the abnormality that makes a villain truly villainous.

Take Doctor Crippen – an unremarkable man in real life, the least likely man perhaps to have poisoned and dismembered his wife or to have been pursued across the Atlantic with a young mistress in tow disguised as a boy. Part of the fascination with this case is the sheer ordinariness of the supposed murderer – and now, with DNA evidence casting doubt on whether the woman whose body was found was that of Doctor Crippen’s wife, Cora, the mystery of what actually happened may never be solved.

In fiction of course, some of the most fantastical crimes that occur in real life can never be used simply because readers would never believe them. Take for example the man who murdered his wife over an affair that happened 40 years before and then left her body as a gift beneath the Christmas tree. Writers have to walk a fine line with villains too, making them both believable as well as intriguing. Are they merely the flip side of the protagonist? Are they an ordinary person pushed to the brink? Or does some deep psychological wound create the monster within?

As a historical mystery writer and fan, I have a preference for the enigmatic ‘villain or not’ character. I still recall the terror I felt as a twelve year old reading Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca late one night when I realized Maxim de Winter may have murdered his wife.
Part of the pleasure of reading Dickens, for me, is his rendition of such memorably odious characters as Mr. Murdstone, Uriah Heep and Steerforth (and that’s just in David Copperfield!)

As for female villains, I love Annie Wilson in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Even though no murder is committed her vitriolic outburst and her ability to mask her hatred beneath sheer ordinariness and subservience made her a perfect villainess in my book. Then of course there’s Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca and that other Annie in Stephen King’s Misery…now they’re just downright bloody terrifying.

So what makes the ideal ‘fictitious’ villain for you?
Please also join me as I guest blog at Good Girls Kill for Money where I discuss what makes the ideal ‘fictitious’ husband…which is in no way inspired by my musings on villainy…

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