Friday, May 22, 2015

Nancy Thayer...Mystery Fiend?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING here, stepping in for Rhys for the day. One of the great pleasures of being a writer is meeting other authors - usually at conferences or literary festivals or bookstores. I met today's guest in an entirely different fashion. I was headed to Nantucket - you all remember my wintery island adventure, right? - and my agent said, "I have a client/friend who can come pick you up at the ferry. Her name is Nancy Thayer."

"Nancy Thayer!" I squealed. "I love her books!"

"That's good," my agent said, "because she loves yours."

Nancy Thayer, like the heroines of her intimate family sagas, seems to have come to rest in an enchanted place. For the past thirty years, she's lived in a lovely historic home in Nantucket with her witty, good-looking husband, Charley. She's been on the New York Times bestseller list 157 times (roughly.) Her life is enriched with kids (2), grandkids (4), cats (several), and the praise of book reviewers everywhere. Her newest book, The Guest Cottage, is out now, just in time for your Memorial Day weekend.

I’m delighted that Julia Spencer-Fleming invited me to write a guest post on Jungle Red Writers. I’m a mystery fiend. Just ask Julia, who sat in our Nantucket living room with our bookshelves packed with books and after a moment asked me, “Why don’t you write mysteries? That seems to be all you read.”

Or ask my good friend Jill, who knows about my obsession and made me a notebook cover AND a fleece-lined throw out of Nancy Drew material.

What IS it about a good mystery that is so inviting and delicious? Part of it is, maybe, the brain-fun of trying to solve a puzzle. Much of it is getting to know the characters who become part of my life. (When I first met Julia, I hope I said hello before demanding: “Does Clare have her baby?”) It might also be the location, the sense of being in another place while tucked away at home. There’s the excitement, too, the What’s-Going-to-Happen? that makes my heart pound and keeps me reading until I’ve finished the book. And, for me, I suppose much of it comes from the sense that by the end of the book, someone will have set things right, at least for a while. 

Oddly, my favorite season for reading mysteries is winter. It’s great to know I won’t be interrupted. Nantucket is crazy busy in the summer, and lonely, dark, and isolated by gale force storms in the winter. This is what you see on my little book shrine when you enter our front door in December.

I’m also fascinated with women who write mysteries. I write novels about families, and to me families are enormous mysteries. My sister and I still argue about whether our father loved her more than me. (He did.) But I haven’t yet succeeded in writing a mystery. . .maybe someday.
Now that I’m a grandmother, I’m happy to say I’m continuing the tradition of mystery reading in my grandchildren. 

One of my top five favorite pleasures is curling up with a brand new mystery and a huge bowl of popcorn, or a nice box of chocolates. I take the phone off the hook and silence my cell for 45 minutes. My husband and children have learned not to speak to me when I’m in my special zone.

I wonder: Do any of you have a similar habit of curling up in/with a book?

Nancy Thayer’s newest novel is The Guest Cottage. Sophie and Trevor are strangers dealing with deep personal losses in their lives. They rent a house on Nantucket for the summer to help them and their children heal. When it turns out to be the same cottage, they decide to make it work, and all is well, so extremely pleasant that they begin to fall in love with each other. But a handsome, wealthy, gentle European pursues Sophie and a hostile, gorgeous, territorial widow tries to claim Trevor. In the midst of this all, Sophie rediscovers a talent that awakens her to the joys of life.

Nancy Thayer is the author of twenty-seven novels, including The Guest Cottage, Island Christmas, Nantucket Sisters, A Nantucket Christmas, Island Girls, Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, and twelve other novels available in e-format. You can find out more about her books on her website, and visit her on Facebook, where she posts daily.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sex and Ethics: Anne Cleeland on the lovelorn sleuth

HALLIE EPHRON: One of the nicest things about traveling to book festivals is the authors you meet. At the Los Angeles Book Festival this year I found myself sitting next to Anne Cleeland. We had a lovely chat, and I tried but could not get her to move to Boston ("We've got water, lots of water," I said!) The best I could do was bring her to Jungle Red.

Anne writes mysteries laced with romantic suspense. Her New Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle gets romantically entangled as well as ensnared in murder investigations.

Kate is a newly minted detective, an Irish redhead of humble origins and modest means. The object of her affection is Chief Inspector Acton, a British lord who has established himself as a brilliant but enigmatic figure with a knack for solving London’s most high profile homicides. And oh my, did opposites attract.

I asked Anne how she came to her blend of mystery and romance.

The “defective detective” is a familiar trope in many mystery stories—the protagonist has relationship problems stemming from a tragic past and/or substance abuse, mixed in with generous amounts of cynicism and bitterness. After seeing the
worst that society has to offer, the sleuth has become a dysfunctional loner, dragging emotional baggage around like Marley’s ghost.

Frankly, I’ve never been able to see the appeal. As for me, I’d much rather see a lovelorn sleuth—someone who’s inner demons are burning with yearning, rather than moping with coping

Several Jungle Red writers make this premise work in spades: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s priest heroine falls for the very married chief of police.  Ah, forbidden love—now, isn’t that a million times more interesting than alcoholism, or PTSD?  Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy can’t quit the man who deceived her in spectacular fashion.  Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid falls into bed with a subordinate officer who tells him in no uncertain terms that it can never happen again. (Oh, come on! Of course it can!)

Elizabeth George, one of my favorites, would fit right in; both of her characters are so lovelorn that the storylines thread through multiple books like a soap opera; Lynley yearns after his best friend’s wife, Havers yearns after her married neighbor, and the odds definitely don’t favor a happily ever after.

My Scotland Yard detective has a romantic relationship with her superior officer that is fraught with ethical dilemmas—she’s discovered that he’s something of a vigilante.  What to do?  She loves the man, and he loves her (maybe a little too much) but on the other hand, she’s sworn to uphold the laws that he’s breaking on a regular basis.
And lest we forget, the age-old knock against women detectives is
that they are too emotional for this type of work, which means that a lovelorn female detective is a plot-generator extraordinaire.  Who can forget that courtroom scene in Jagged Edge, where Glenn Close realizes that her lover is the killer, and has been playing her for a fool?  Or the courtroom scene in Witness for the Prosecution, where Marlene Dietrich realizes the same thing?  (The difference being that Marlene, because she’s Marlene-freaking-Dietrich, promptly stabs her lover to death with Exhibit A.)

So, I’m with Shakespeare; give me a protagonist who loves not wisely, but too well—moping is for losers. Just ask Marlene Dietrich.
HALLIE: Sounds like New Scotland Yard has a lovelorn detective falling for a defective detective and trying to make it work. Fascinating idea!

What are the romantic attachments in crime fiction that have stayed with you?

Anne Cleeland is a lifelong Southern California resident, and currently makes her home in Newport Beach. An attorney by trade, she's been reading mystery and romantic suspense since her Nancy Drew days.  The Acton & Doyle series features two Scotland Yard detectives, and if you are a fan of Masterpiece Mystery, you may enjoy their adventures. She also writes a historical series set in 1814 because she loves historicals, too. Being a romantic at heart, all her stories have a strong romantic element.

Murder in Hindsight
There’s an unusual killer combing London’s streets—a vigilante is at work, killing suspects from prior cases who were never convicted; those who’d gotten away with murder, in hindsight. It’s a puzzler, though; this vigilante is staying to the shadows, and covering his tracks so that Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle is left to guess at his motivation.  Is the killer guilty about his own role in helping murderers get off, or is it someone who’s just had-it-up-to-here with the imperfect justice system?

Meanwhile, the crises keep piling up; Chief Inspector Acton, her husband, is up to something having to do with brassy female reporters and the heir to his estate, and when Acton is up to something, murder and mayhem are the certain result.  Not to mention she’s needed to quash a messy little blackmail plot, and do battle with the dowager Lady Acton.  All in all, it will make for a busy few weeks; now, if only the ghosts that haunt the manor house would leave her alone. . .   


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hannah Dennison's Deadly Desires in the English Counryside

RHYS: I am so delighted to welcome fellow Brit Hannah Dennison today as I am currently living the life she writes about in her wonderful Honeychurch Hall mystery novels. The beauties and quirks of the English countryside, and to be more specific, the West Country.  Hannah has a new Honeychurch Hall mystery out and will be giving away two copies, so read on:
HANNAH DENNISON: “O To Be in England.  Now that April’s here.” Well … it’s actually May, but I think Robert Browning’s “Home Thoughts From Abroad” sums up my feelings perfectly.

After twenty-two years as an ex-pat, I find I’ve become more English rather than less. Perhaps that’s because both my mystery series—The Vicky Hill Mysteries and The Honeychurch Hall Mysteries—are set in Devon. So you could say that physically, although I pen my novels in Oregon where I now live, mentally, I’m always in England.

I’ve never lived in London. In fact, the first taste I had of life in the big city was when I moved Los Angeles way back in 1993. It was a culture shock of such magnitude—rather like my first earthquake—that it needs a post all of it’s own. In a way, writing about England helps cure my acute homesickness especially as I discovered wonderful Anglophiles eager to hear about the charming—and often strange—customs and quirky oddities that we like to think make Britain great and that I often take for granted.

It’s not just the cream teas we Brits are famous for, but also the village flower shows, amateur dramatic performances in freezing cold parish halls, church fetes or the odd Morris dancing festival or two. These things you just won’t find in London. So I thought I’d share a few photos from last summer’s Diptford Garden Show in Devon. Competition was fierce, feelings ran high, lamas ran rampant and feathers were definitely ruffled.



The charming thing about village life is that in some places milk is still delivered to the front door. My mother lives on a country estate where “Malcolm the Meat” comes on Mondays and “Fred the Fish” on Fridays. Walk through any village and you’ll come across empty jam jars full of freshly cut flowers or punnets of raspberries or tomatoes alongside a little honesty box. That would never happen in Los Angeles!

RHYS: I should add that when it was suggested that Hannah's mother's house was maybe too much for her and she should look for another, simpler place to live, instead she went and bought a wing of a stately home!

I feel lucky to be able to write about a place I love so much. In fact, we’re giving away two copies of “Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall” in a free raffle so you can read about it too.
RHYS:All you need to do is to visit Hannah's website,, and find out in which English county Honeychurch Hall is set, then leave a comment guessing the correct location Your location options are: Shropshire, Kent, Devon, Cumbria or Surrey. Hannah will select two winners at the end of the day. And if you want a vicarious trip to England, then just read her books!

 HANNAH: Rhys, thanks so much again for hosting me on Jungle Red, one of my absolute favorite blogs.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In the Land of Noir

RHYS: I've been in England for the past week, and am pausing a moment for reflection (maybe because it's bloody-well raining!)
The first days were at Crime Fest in Bristol. The setting was ideal--on College Green with the Cathedral next door and the river down below. The one thing that struck me right away was that I know almost nobody. Then that British crime writing is so different from American. I read the bios: her debut thriller is about a serial killer abducting children. ... in her debut novel a child is taken from a primary scheool and... in her brilliant first novel a series of young women are found mutilated and...

You get the picture. Not a cat or a yarn shop or even a cupcake in sight. In Britain Molly Murphy is considered uber-cozy. And Skandanavian crime is the gold standard. Hank, Hallie, Roberta, there were so many good Skandanavian names here. We would have been so impressive at our game show at Malice when we had to name Skandanavian crime writers and you challenged my Ingemar Sigermarsdottil!

So it makes me wonder whether Mrs. Average Briton really doesn't enjoy a good cozy. Whether she laments the vanishing of Miss Marple. I hope so. My books are now being published in UK, so we'll see. But it was a strange feeling being at a convention and not once being stopped in the hall to have someone tell me that she loves my books. Humbling and good for me, I expect!

The featured writer was Lee Child and I was so glad to see someone who came across the room to give me a hug! He is always so gracious at these things. So low key. The event finished with a gala dinner at which they gave awards. The toastmaster was James Runcie, of Granchester fame and he gave a brilliant speech, contrasting the literary novel with the crime novel. So funny and so true.

But it was good to escape and to come down to Cornwall to my sister-in-law's lovely manor house where the spring flowers are blooming on the hedgerows and life is peacefully going on as it has for centuries. We also visited my home town, Bath, and every time I am struck by the incredible beauty of the city and the abbey.

So now I only have to do some copy edits, which naturally arrived the day I left home, and I can realx and enjoy ceam teas and Cornish pasties for a few days. Oh, and get ideas for some more horribly cozy mysteries!

And I've been trying desperately to add pictures to this post and Blogger won't let me. So Im sorry. Bath and Corwall will have to remain in your imagination.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Confessions of Ugly Clothing

RHYS: I've been doing a lot of weeding out of my closet recently. Too many clothes I no longer wear. And among them I have found some things that make me exclaim "I wore that? What was I thinking?"  A pair of summer cotton pants with large tropical flowers all over them? Shudder. Truth be told, I don't think I ever wore them.

Then the other day I was out hiking in the DC area. It was a warm day and most people were in jeans and T shirts, except for one man who was in plaid Bermuda shorts. And I thought--they must be the ugliest item of clothing ever invented. So I've been thinking of my worst fashion choices. The hot pants and long white boots in the sixties (actually I looked good in them!) The long, flowing and flowery in the Seventies. The shoulder pants that looked as if I'd left the coat hanger inside in the Eighties. So I'm curious, dear Reds: what do you think is the ugliest item of clothing ever invented, AND the worst item of clothing you've ever owned. Pictures if you can....

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh I so need to do more weeding. For example, I have a whole wardrobe of tennis skirts that I should let go. I don't play any longer, they're out of style, and they probably don't fit. (Actually, I'm almost certain.) But they remind me of the days when I first met my John, so I have a nostalgic attachment.

As for ugliest fashion, I have a feeling Hank won't agree with me, but...women's shoulder pads should be in the running. And I wore lots of them. With little men's bow ties to go along with the power suit look. (This was well before I was a writer and could lounge around in pajamas for most of the day.) Although I'm adding a photo of a pair of pants that might be a candidate too. The thing is, I had the idea that if I only cut them off and hemmed them, they'd be cute. But maybe not...Rhys?

RHYS: No, please don't. There is no way to turn these pants into anything other than a pillow in an Appalachian cottage.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I know someone is going to jump on the comments and vociferously disagree with me, but I think the ugliest women's clothing item are gaucho pants. Culottes run a close second, but I have seen some flowy culottes that look enough like skirts to...not be entirely horrid. But gaucho pants? Yes, if you look like Bianca Jagger circa 1973, you might be able to carry them off. Note - carry them off. Even if you are Bianca Jagger, anything else would be an improvement. For those of us NOT 6 feet tall, model slim and dressed by Halston, gauchos are not only unattractive, they convey a confused and clouded mind. What's the message? "I can't decide between a skirt or knickerbockers?" "I identify with Agentine cowboys?" "I heard bell bottoms make the leg look longer, so I'm going to have bell bottoms at my knees?" No.

If you're really tempted, watch Rudy Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Then ask yourself: am I Rudy Valentino? Is this 1921? If the answer to either question is no, eschew gauchos. The world will thank you.

HALLIE EPHRON: I have formidable shoulders so I generally took the shoulder pads out of everything I bought that had them. And gaucho pants? Maybe Audrey Hepburn could wear them. You have to admit they're very comfy.

What astonishes me now is how short I once wore my skirts. I hope I didn't bend over. Also shoes with chunky heels and thick soles.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Like Hallie, I have square shoulders that would do a linebacker proud, so always took shoulder pads out. But, heavens, they were awful. I am divided between gaucho pants and Bermuda shorts  as ugliest thing every invented, but think I would have to come down on the side of Bermudas. No one, not even insect tall and thin models, looks good in Bermuda shorts. Just not possible. Thank goodness I don't think I ever owned a pair. I've certainly had my share of uglies, though, including a few years of elastic waisted "comfort pants" for around the house. So glad someone invented yoga pants!!!! (Danskin makes great ones and they even come in petite so I don't have to hem them.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nope, nope, nope, I'm sure you've all had ugly items of clothing, and you think they're the ugliest, and I must say I have never owned gaucho pants (YUCK) and I have one pair of shorts, which are men's, because I agree there is no such thing as good-looking Bermudas. And shoulder pads? I must say, yes, Lucy, I am a fan. Of smallish ones. Even with my own shoulders, which, I am happy to say, are big. Yay.

However!  I must say, this time, I have the ugliest item of clothing that ever existed on the planet. THE WORST. Don't even try to get uglier than this jacket. It can't happen.

Here it is, in all of it's unbelievable glory. You will note that although I have had it for maybe--six years? The price tag is is still on it.

Please note: the pattern. AHHHH!!  The ruffles on the sleeves. The ruffles on the BACK! I mean--I ask you.  WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Okay, I had a fleeting moment of: Over a white dress, on Nantucket. With white pants, on the Vineyard.

But really? How about: in the trash can? But  I knew it would be perfect for something.

RHYS:I I can't believe you ever thought you'd wear this, oh woman who wears nothing but black! In fact if I ever saw you in it, I'd believe it was the evil twin sister you'd never told me about. I used to wear flowers long ago and mother insisted on sending me flowery items until she died. She would have loved that for me!

So gentle readers, we need your confessions too. And I have to share a picture of the occasional perfect item. I found this in a chic boutique in Santa Monica when I was touring with Cara Black. It was white leather, French and cost $2500. Luckily a little too small.