Beach Reading

I am in Cancun, hopefully sunning myself (with an appropriately large hat and SPF 100 on),  for today’s blog so wanted to get some beach reading recommendations. I’ve managed to convince my husband to read the excellent Australian mystery by Jane Harper, The Dry, while I indulge in some YA reading and research for my current WIP. I’ve also got James Comey’s  A Higher Loyalty to read – but I’m not sure that qualifies as much of a beach read! On spring break I started to read Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent but found it was too dark and damp to read at the beach…so that’s been set aside for a rainy day. It’s funny how you need just the right combination of intrigue and atmosphere when you’re trying to relax:)

So TKZers, what are you looking forward to reading this summer? Are there some juicy new mysteries or thrillers you would recommend for by the beach, by the lake, or for up in the mountains? I’m planning on spending quite bit of time up in the mountains this summer while my boys are on Boy Scout and Avid4 camps – so I need some good recommendations for books that can keep me up turning the pages at night. I haven’t had one of those reads in ages!

Thanks in advance! I’m hoping to be able to check in on your recommendations while sipping cocktails beneath a beach umbrella:)



Why Mysteries Matter

By my reckoning, this is my last blog post until January 2016 (with TKZ’s regular winter hiatus coming up) and I thought it was important, especially given recent tragic events, to end the year on a more hopeful note – focusing on why, for us as writers and readers, mysteries still matter, perhaps more than ever.

When I talk at book events I’m often asked why I chose to write a mystery. My answer is that I actually never originally set out to write a mystery but rather a hybrid of a range of genres with historical fiction at the core. However, before I sold my first book, my agent felt the book really fell squarely within the mystery genre and that is how we pitched the book to potential publishers. I’ve since found the mystery/crime fiction genre to be an ideal vehicle for my work – providing a framework which enables me to explore characters, history and events in a way that also keeps me focused on keeping the reader engaged.

As a reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction, I also enjoy being transported to different eras, places and the deeper (often darker) aspects of humanity that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience. Mysteries provide me, as a reader, a vicarious means through which I can try and comprehend the world – in terms of the good, the evil and the grey areas in between. So why do mysteries matter, especially when faced with the complexities and tragedies of our modern world?

Here’s what I think:

  • Mysteries provide readers a means to explore and possibly understand a complex world often in its darkest terms;
  • They usually adhere to rules that enable a reader to make sense of the events that occur and gain the satisfaction of seeing justice done or, at the very least, a satisfying resolution;
  • They expose us to situations which most of us (hopefully) will never experience and lift a a mirror up to society’s ills, frailties as well as its horrors;
  • They may be one of the few ways we can explore, understand or make sense of situations that in the real world seem incomprehensible; and
  • In my case, they can illuminate periods of history in a way that is engaging and exciting (which sadly history as it’s often taught, isn’t)

So what do you think? Why do you write and read mysteries?Why do they matter to you?

Here’s wishing you a safe, joyous and book filled holiday season.



Religion in Mysteries

While at Malice, I was on a panel about Religion in Mysteries. It’s a topic I really hadn’t thought about before. So how do mystery writers handle this subject? Fellow panelists were authors whose protagonists included a hospital chaplain (Mindy Quigley), a minister (Stephanie Jaye Evans), a rabbi (Ilene Schneider), and a Scotland Yard Detective (Anne Cleeland).

clergy  priest  rabbi

What made my series different was that my sleuth Marla is a hairdresser. As I told the crowd, women see their stylists a lot more often than their clergymen. They willingly confide in their hairdressers and overhear juicy conversations in the salon, whereas people confess to priests or to chaplains on their deathbeds. So while people approach the ministry to be absolved for their sins, Marla has to worm their secrets out of them. Thank goodness she’s a skilled conversationalist.

The moderator posed some interesting questions. If those other protags were not clergy, would it matter to the series? And if my heroine was more religious, how would that change things? Ask yourself this question about your main character. In Marla’s case, it would make a big difference. She’s not particularly religious but she has a basic belief in Judaism and follows the traditional holidays. As the series progresses, so does her romantic relationship with Detective Dalton Vail who isn’t Jewish. This probably wouldn’t happen if she were more devout. They enter into an interfaith marriage where they respect each other’s traditions and beliefs.

Here’s another question to pose to your characters: How does their view of religion color their view of the world? Marla’s outlook is more expansive. She encompasses other viewpoints with tolerance and understanding. A priest or rabbi’s attitude will be focused on their own kind, while a hospital chaplain has to minister to patients of all faiths.

What role does religion play in your books? Is it a central or peripheral part of your plot? Does religion influence your protagonists’ search for justice?

How important are your protagonists’ careers to the stories? Would the slant be different if they were police professionals or hairdressers or members of the clergy?

Do holidays play a role in your stories? I’ve had Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and New Year’s in my series, if you count the book I just turned in. Holidays in my books are where friends and families gather and where their ties are strengthened. But you could easily have a contentious family gathering where tensions escalate instead.

seder table    seder wine

Perhaps this thematic content is something you haven’t considered before. But as a writer, your views of religion and sense of right from wrong color your perceptions. Do they influence your protagonist’s view as well?

Read my report on Malice 2015 here: Malice 2015

Contest Alert!
Enter May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. Two runners-up will each win an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2).