Thursday, February 25, 2016


RHYS BOWEN: As you probably know, I'm going to be writer-in-residence at a workshop in Tuscany this summer (and there is still one place to be filled if you get a sudden urge for the Tuscan sun). I'm starting to prepare my pre-workshop handouts and this includes a reading list. So I thought I'd get imput from the Jungle Reds and readers who between us are the most mystery-literate group on the planet.

These are my categories for books suggestions: (and as you'll see, I need help here. I'm sure there are so many great books I'm missing. I'm brain dead having just finished a book.)

I'd choose Hallie's book on mystery writing,
Stephen King on writing.
Maybe Anne Lamott's Bird on Bird.

I have: Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny as great examples of rich, full-bodied characters.
Mystic River.
In the Bleak Midwinter
On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

All of the above (so maybe I just need a category called GOOD MYSTERY NOVELS)
Michael Connelly's Bloodwork
Hank's books.
Hallie's There Was an Old Woman

Hank's books.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Well, if you need another instructor in Tuscany at the last minute, I'm your gal....
( RHYS.. I wish I could take all my Jungle Red sisters along with me)

The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
On Writing, Stephen King
Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler

Anything by Alan Bradley
Anything by Laurie R. King
Anything by Alice Hoffman (her books aren't usually shelved with mysteries, but usually contain a crime/murder/mystery anyway)

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson (RHYS: oh yes, good one. Perfect.)
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown

Anything by Raymond Chandler
Anything by Harlan Cobern
Anything by Louise Penny

Anything by Rhys Bowen
Anything by Jane Thynne
Anything by Kerry Greenwood
Anything by Charles Todd

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh Rhys, seriously thank you SO MUCH for the vote of confidence on my WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL! And seriously I’d kill to be going with you.

My recommendations:
I'd happily recommend Jane Cleland’s book coming out in April, Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats from Writer’s Digest Books
Also Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene

Lucy’s Key West Food Critic series
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk
Rhys’s Her Royal Spyness

The Town (aka Prince of Thieves) by Chuck Hogan
Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connely
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

Anything by Elmore Leonard of course
Anything by Robert B. Parker
Citizen Vince by Jess Walter
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George HIggins

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series
Any of Susan's Maggie Hope books
Any of William Tapply's books, especially Bitch Creek
Tony Hillerman's books

LUCY BURDETTE: That sounds like such fun Rhys! I won't pile on to the super suggestions that have already been made, but I thought of 3 additional writers who are amazing with both setting and character: CJ BOX'S Joe Pickett series, W KENT KRUEGER'S Cork O'Connell series, and ARNALDUR INDRIDASON for his gloomy detective and the Icelandic setting that feeds his mood.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rhys! I am floating. Thank you. Thank you.  ( I am very proud of my plots and dialogue. Thank you.) And your students are SO lucky!

So just some additions--I agree with the writing books. I cannot live without Stephen King's On Writing.  Hallie's and Paula's and Jane's, too . Stellar.

SKILL IN PLOT: Linwood Barclay's TRUST YOUR EYES  (amazing, truly, a master class)
Peter Abrahams NERVE DAMAGE  (breaks every rule! so original)

CHARACTER: Spencer Quinn's Chet in the Chet and Bernie series...Chet is a DOG! How does he do that?
Sue Grafton's Kinsey--a classic. reliable, but always new
Maggie Hope--start with Susan's Mr Churchill's Secretary
Rachel Howzell Hall's Elouise Norton

Charles and Caroline Todd's  Inspector Rutledge books--start with TEST OF WILLS
Lady Georgie!
Dennis Lehane's Mystic River

Oh, now I'm really thinking about this. There are SO many more. And I'll remember them as soon as I hit send.


Thank you, Rhys, I'm very flattered!

A couple of writing books suggestions:

For creative impetus: Writing Done the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
For the best how-to: Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson
For character: The Art of Character

Skill in Character:

All the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher (not sure if these actually count as mysteries, but one of my favorite characters in fiction, period.)
Peter Grant novels by Ben Aaronovitch
Bryant and May novels, Christopher Fowler

Skill in Plot:

Already mentioned, but one of the most cleverly plotted books I've ever read is On Beaulah Height by Reginald Hill
The Verdict by Nick Stone

Skill in Dialog:

Anything by Julia Spenser-Fleming
Anything by Hank

Setting, Sense of Time and Place:

Rhys's Molly and Georgie books
Susan's Maggie Hope books
Billy Boyle novels by James Benn
Charles Todd
Laurie R. King
Jacqueline Winspear

RHYS: Thank you all so much for these. As I read down the list I kept saying out loud, "Of course. Why didn't I think of him/her?"
So I now have a stellar list but I don't think I can expect my students to bring this many books in their carry-ons. And now it's your turn: who have we left out of this list?


Joan Emerson said...

You’ve already mentioned so many wonderful writers and good books, especially the books penned by the Jungle Red ladies . . . . .
I might add any of Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunter stories, especially for setting and sense of place; James Grippando, especially for unexpected plot twists . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Fabulous lists. For time and place I'd add Jeri Westerson's disgraced knight Crispin Guest series. You are IN 1300s London.

Hallie Ephron said...

YES on Archer Mayor and Jeri Westerson! Saving this list - thanks, Rhys!

FChurch said...

So many great titles! I'd add anything by Julia S-F for character-driven, also. And for setting, time, place, AND characters, I'd add Anne Perry's William Monk series, especially, and Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series.

Alexia Gordon said...

I found Writing Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell helpful, especially in combination with Christopher Vogler's book

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

I'm printing out and saving this list. Great post, Rhys! And again, if you need someone else in Tuscany.... ; )

P.S. I would put the Jungle Red ladies on every list, but didn't want to seem too biased. But I wouldn't be!

Brenda Buchanan said...

Skill in plot: Anything by Ann Cleeves
Anything by Tana French

Tuscany, ah. Wishing you and those who study with you a wonderful, enriching time.

Kristopher said...

I'd second Hank's suggestion of Linwood Barclay's TRUST YOUR EYES. A vastly under-rated novel. Also DEFENDING JACOB.

As for books on writing: Bird by Bird is a classic, the King book is indispensable. But one excellent choice that has not been mentioned is Elizabeth George's Write Away. So much valuable information in that one, especially on developing characters and location.

Keenan Powell said...

For writing: David Corbett's The Art of Character. For character, plot, time/place and dialogue: anything Adrian McKinty has written especially in the Troubled series. The Cold, Cold Ground is the first of that series. It has a gorgeous opening sequence that gives you place/time and the protagonist's character beautifully.

Roberta Star said...

I've read most of the books on writing recommended here. The best of the best, imho, is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to writing in the 21st century by Steven Pinker

Reine said...

I would like Steven Pinker's hair. Other than that I'm here because I love all of you. xo

Susan said...

Just reading all these suggestions is like a master class in its self! I would add, for both sense of place and plotting, anything by Laura Lippman. And for realistic, comfortable dialogue, it's hard to beat Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott books.

Mary Sutton said...

So many fantastic books already listed. I don't think I could live without my copy of Bird by Bird. It's a periodic re-read. And Alexia, I also had an epiphany with Bell's Write Your Novel from the Middle.

Hank, your dialog is beautiful.

For setting, I'd add books by Annette Dashofy, her Zoe Chambers series from Henery Press. I've lived in southwestern PA for 20 years, but the first time I read the first book, I had to get a map and make sure Monongahela County was really fictional. She nailed it.

Edith Maxwell said...

Ive never been to that part of the world, Mary, but I feel like I have from Annette's book. And now she's nominated for an Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Love all these suggestions! But now I must go google Steven Pinker to see the hair...

Karen in Ohio said...

As one of the participants of the retreat, I'm viewing this enormous list of titles with alarm. Are we meant to read many of these before we get to Castellini?

Has anyone mentioned Hallie's The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel?

Susan D said...

What riches! I would second Nancy Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains for plot; equally, her Scent of Rain and Lightning.

TFJ said...

Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series for character and sense of place (Alaska is a character).

And now I must go off in search of some of these authors.


Michele Dorsey said...

Paula Munier's Plot Perfect and Harry Bingham's Writers and Artists Guide to How to Write; All books Tana French, Elizabeth George and JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbreith for mystery plot, setting and character.
I must print this list. It's fabulous and would be even better if read in Tuscany!

Jerry House said...

For a sense of place and character I'd go with Bill Crider's Dan Rhodes series and Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series.

Mary Sutton said...

Edith, I know! Those of us in the Pittsburgh SinC chapter are over the moon for her.

Kaye Barley said...

For sense of place I would suggest Margaret Maron's Deborah series. Perfect character development also.

on the craft of writing I would suggest Gillian Roberts' "You Can Write a Mystery."

and always Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing," although it's gotten difficult to find.

Jerry said...

Excellent choices. 2 more for your consideration: Donald Westlake (Stark series); Donna Leon. They fit across several categories.

Beth said...

On writing mysteries, don't forget "Breaking and Entering" edited by Marcia Talley with great ideas from many of you writers. It 's so humorous and portable. Have fun and see you all at Malice!

Kathy Reel said...

Wow! What great lists. I agree with all of the Reds' placement in the different categories, although I'd add Debs to setting, as I have loved exploring the different areas of London through her books. Another great series for setting is Peter May's The Lewis Trilogy. Blackhouse is the first in May's trilogy and probably the best in setting. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, one of her time traveling historians books, is one of my favorites for witty dialogue, and it's a short book, which is helpful for inclusion purposes. Carla Buckley's books are always great for character. I like Lyndsay Faye's books for plot, as well as Hank's. Sense of time is one reason I love Susan's Maggie Hope series so much. Now, I'm going back and listing Reds that I've already agree should be listed in all the different categories, so I'll stop.

For books on writing, a couple of people have mentioned James Scott Bell. I just bought his book on voice, Voice:The Secret Power of Great Writing. It looks really interesting, with examples from all genres. When I worked with students on writing, there was always that one rare individual who had the magical "voice" in her/his paper that captured your attention. Is voice an illusive quality that magically appears. This is what Bell addresses in this short book. I love the way he starts out in his introduction. He talks about a court case involving the decision whether or not a particular movie was obscene. Justice Potter Stewart stated that he didn't know how to define obscenity, but "I know it when I see it." Bell compares this statement to how people approach voice in writing. However, he promises that it is not a have it or don't super power.

Pat D said...

Well, I've already forgotten the categories (ADD?)but here are some of my favorites not already mentioned. I guess these would fit in most of the categories anyway.
Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian novels with Spencer Arrowood. Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey Regency mysteries. Ann Cleeves' Shetland Island books. Anything by Diana Gabaldon.

Julia said...

Argh! I've been caught out late to class and with my homework undone. I'll add two of my favorite "for writer's books": Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. Michele Dorsey mentions one of Harry Bingham's excellent guides; Bingham was a student of Swain's at the Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma, which was the Iowa Writer's Workshop for authors of commercial fiction (ie, jamokes like us, who want to get paid in more than contributors' copies.)

Both books aren't specifically about mysteries, but both authors are well known for their genre work.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

This is such fun to read!! (and thank you for all for wonderful comments about my dialogue. Ah..thank you! That is so..inspirational.)

(my brain isn't working at all today, I have a huge cod, laryngitis, (still!) and our back fence blew down. Other than that, great.)

Back to books..xoxo Yeah, Kristopher, I can never understand why TRUST YOUR EYES wasn't a wild bestseller.
And you know the lawyer in Defending Jacob (LOVE that book) is based on my husband Jonathan, right?

Kaye, I;ve never heard of that Bradbury book--GOT to find it!

Ms. Allison said...

David Corbett's book on Character is very helpful, as well as Robert Scott Bell's on Plot and Structure, and Alex Sokoloff's on the three act structure.

There are so many good books out there, Lamentation by Joe Clifford is a recent one that is fabulous for plot and character. I wish I could go back to Tuscany!

Kait said...

So many good books, but you've hit most of my favorites. I never thought On Writing was a good "how to" writing book, but I love it for the energy it gives me every time I read it.

Edith Maxwell said...

Hope that cod cooks up nicely for you, Hank. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

readerlady said...

For sense of time and place -- Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. You are in Victorian London reading those books.
Character -- Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series -- all the inhabitants of All Souls and later, McCone Investigations have their own identities and feel like people I know.

Cayce Osborne said...

I think one of the all-time, most skillfully written characters is Travis McGee in the mystery/crime series by John D. MacDonald. I'd also put these books in the best of the best for the setting/time/place category. They practically drip with a sense of what Florida was like in the 60s-70s-80s. And even when the books tend to edge too far toward tough-guy chauvinism for my liking, the characters and the writing and the mystery pull me back in every time.

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Libby Hellmann said...

HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION by Carolyn Wheat... Best book I ever read about plotting mysteries vs thrillers...