Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another Olympic Page Turned

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Well, the 2018 Olympics are almost over. Did you watch? What did you love?

Who could not like the Nigerian and Jamaica women's bobsled teams? Or the crazy slope-style snowboarders? Or the curling???? (Can you believe curling is a sport??) And the skeleton competitors are certifiable, but so much fun to watch.

But let's get serious and talk about what we REALLY watched (other than the hunky Norweigans.)


Did you have a favorite event? A favorite skater? 

And--this one is really loaded--what about Johnny and Tara? Love them or hate them??

On favorite skating events, I'm torn between the Men's and the Ice Dancing. Although, of course I love the Pairs and the Women's events, but I'm forcing myself to choose.

Favorite performances? I have to say I absolutely adored Adam Rippon. What a triumph for him, to skate so perfectly after being left off the team in 2014.

I can't use current photos because of copyright issues, but here's one I found of Adam in 2009.

How adorable is that? I wish he'd kept the curly hair!

I know he didn't have the technical points to win, but his skating was just exquisite. As was Mirai Nagasu's in the team event.  ( Here's Mirai in 2010, so graceful.)

I loved the French Pairs couple, and I thought Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were just breath-taking in the Ice Dancing. Oh, and the Shibutanis are so cute and talented.

Virtue and Moir, 2014

I can see a definite lean towards the older skaters in my preferences, and I will admit that I'm more impressed by artistry than spectacular jumps. That said, Nathan Chen gets the Comeback Kid award, and I can't wait to see him in four years!

Are you glad the Olympics are over? Or feeling a little sad that we have to wait four years for another Winter Games.... Here's to 2022!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Charles Todd--The Gatekeeper

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's that time of year--as in time for a new Rutledge novel from CHARLES TODD!! I have been a huge fan since A TEST OF WILLS, the first book in the series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, a WWI veteran suffering from shell shock, came out to critical acclaim in 1996. Since then I've been fortunate to get to know both Charles and Caroline, the mother/son team who write as "Charles Todd."

Isn't this a fab cover? Caroline and I got to chat about THE GATEKEEPER here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time and I could just kick myself for not getting a photo! But here is Caroline to share some of the things we talked about with you!

--Did you ever imagine, when you and Charles came up with the idea for A Test of Wills, that you would be writing 20 books (so far) about Ian Rutledge and Hamish? That's just an amazing achievement.

We didn’t even think the first book was going to sell—when it did, we were given only a one book contract!  But St. Martin’s realized that very quickly and renewed it for two more as soon as TEST got so much attention.   We’re just very glad Rutledge had a chance to do more with his career at the Yard, and we could follow it with him.

--And yet time has moved very slowly in the series. Did you make that decision early on?

We felt that the PTSD, the shell shock, was something we wanted to explore, and the only way to do that was to shorten the time period. We didn’t want to let a year pass and readers learn of what has happened in his secret life as a side bar in the mystery.  Shell shock defines Rutledge, and it’s how he deals with the shame of it and with the voice in his head—Hamish—that makes him what he is.   And so we’ve killed off a lot of English victims to achieve this, but I think it has been worth it.

--This case is different from any Rutledge has ever investigated in the series. Can you tell us why?
Because of the state of the English roads in this time frame, Rutledge always arrives on the scene a day—two days—after the murder, when the trail is cold and the local people have trampled all over the evidence that might have been there.  We thought it would be fascinating to see what would happen if he got there just as the crime was committed.  Not in time to see who did it, of course,  but while the blood, so to speak, is still fresh and he can begin straightaway to look for clues.  And we liked what that did to the local man who had his own reasons not wanting Rutledge there.
--A rare book about apples figures in the case. Is it based on a real book? Is there a photo?
How I wish there was a photo.  Years ago someone showed me a book that was fascinating. Plates of hand drawn and painted apples that no longer are grown but were popular in medieval times.  Just absolutely lovely workmanship. It obviously impressed me, because I can still remember the various plates.  Charles had to take my word for them, but he liked the idea.  This is what’s neat about working together.  We have two imaginations to draw on.
 --When you were here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, you talked about this book exploring the dynamics of three different families--can you tell us more?
We were interested in how families work.  There are several in the book, each with a different take on what’s important.  For example, one woman has more or less forced her daughter into accepting an engagement with an abusive man, because he’s such a good catch. Her concerns are more social than motherly.
--What's next for Rutledge? 
We’re over halfway though the next book, and it’s a cold case that Rutledge—for his sins—is assigned to look into. One that’s been revived and looked at before, with no more luck that when the murder happened.  But Rutledge has one advantage.  A bit of gossip, shall we say, that makes him look deeper into the case than his superiors anticipated.  It’s a chase story in a way.   As he begins to search, building one piece of evidence at a time, he’s not sure where this is taking him. And at this stage, neither do we!  So we try to keep writing in between promoting THE GATE KEEPER.
 DEBS: Here's more about THE GATEKEEPER:

 On a deserted road, late at night, Scotland Yard’s Ian Rutledge encounters a frightened woman standing over a body, launching an inquiry that leads him into the lair of a stealthy killer and the dangerous recesses of his own memories in this twentieth installment of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling series.

Hours after his sister’s wedding, a restless Ian Rutledge drives aimlessly, haunted by the past, and narrowly misses a motorcar stopped in the middle of a desolate road. Standing beside the vehicle is a woman with blood on her hands and a dead man at her feet.

She swears she didn’t kill Stephen Wentworth. A stranger stepped out in front of their motorcar, and without warning, fired a single shot before vanishing into the night. But there is no trace of him. And the shaken woman insists it all happened so quickly, she never saw the man’s face.

Although he is a witness after the fact, Rutledge persuades the Yard to give him the inquiry, since he’s on the scene. But is he seeking justice—or fleeing painful memories in London?

Wentworth was well-liked, yet his bitter family paint a malevolent portrait, calling him a murderer. 
But who did Wentworth kill? Is his death retribution? Or has his companion lied? Wolf Pit, his village, has a notorious history: in Medieval times, the last wolf in England was killed there. When a second suspicious death occurs, the evidence suggests that a dangerous predator is on the loose, and that death is closer than Rutledge knows.

And more about CHARLES TODD:

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water.

Caroline and Charles will be stopping in to chat with us on JRW today, so get your questions ready! 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Peter Grainger--Two Terrific British Series Reads

DEBORAH CROMBIE: For me, one of the biggest treats of a lifetime of reading is discovering a new series you really, really love and reading all the books straight through. Last year my friend recommended a novel called AN ACCIDENTAL DEATH by Peter Grainger. It's the first of a series featuring Norfolk Detective Sergeant DC Smith, and I liked it so much I immediately read all seven books. DC (short for David Conrad) is a former Detective Chief Inspector in the fictional Norfolk city of King's Lake, and has chosen a demotion in order to do real police work rather than management. DC is such an original voice, and the books are complex explorations of character and relationships. The series is now at the top of my list of British procedurals, and that's saying a lot.

But there's more! Peter has another series, set in Cornwall, featuring widowed, middle-aged Emily Willows and her much younger neighbor, mysterious former London cop Summer Lane. In LANE: A CASE FOR WILLOWS AND LANE, Emily is taken hostage by thugs involved in a case her detective son is investigating, and the two women embark on a terrifying escape. I dare anyone to put this action-packed book down! 

And now there's a new Willows and Lane, ONE-WAY TICKETS, in which we learn more about Lane's intriguing past.

When a local man, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, goes missing, his parents have good reason to be concerned. Emily Willows is a friend of the family and says that she knows just the person to find him – and, as Summer Lane soon points out, the fact that this also fits in with Emily’s plan to set up her very own detective agency is surely just a fortuitous coincidence. But it isn’t long before the former detective inspector finds herself on a train heading back to London, and back into situations that she thought she had left behind. Some old acquaintances are renewed and some difficult memories must be confronted as Lane searches for the missing soldier and discovers the shocking truth about what happened to him five years earlier.

Here's Peter to tell us more about DC and Willows and Lane!

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you started writing?

There is quite a lot of background by now, so I won’t go into too much detail. I think I was always a reader and English was my thing at school. I ended up doing a degree in English Literature and Philosophy and then discovered that the author B S Johnson was right in saying that this is a really bad thing for prospective writers to have done. I spent the next twenty years trying to stop putting every word I wrote under a microscope.

Mostly I wrote poetry from my teens and into my thirties – prose always seemed more difficult. Then it became short stories. I sent things away sometimes but no-one ever accepted anything. In the meantime, I had become a teacher of English as well, but this actually helped my writing, I think. In explaining to young people the basics of good writing, one really has to go back to the beginning and this makes you look again at your own work. But I didn’t get serious about writing novels until I was into my fifties.

You have self-published both series. Can you tell us why you decided to go that route? Both series are among the best I've read in crime fiction in a long time.

Thank you. For the answer to the question, see above! I’ve had the usual politely discouraging letters from literary agents, though not as many as Scott Fitzgerald, who is supposed to have papered a room with them. When ‘An Accidental Death’ did better as an ebook than I had ever hoped, I tried it again with some agents but no-one took it up. Since then, to be honest, I haven’t bothered them, other than a recent attempt to get some interest in the series for television; this was because several readers had said they would like to see the books in that format, so I said I would try. The result was the same!
You have great female characters, both the secondary characters in the DC Smith series, and the two female protagonists in Willows and Lane. Did you have any qualms about writing two female leads?

Yes, lots, but one of the novels I epublished under the name Robert Partridge, ‘The Rink’, had been written from a woman’s perspective, and it was surprisingly well received; I had some emails accusing me of being a woman using a man’s nom de plume! I wanted to write something quite different from the DC Smith novels, having produced six in a row, so that was an obvious thing to try. I’m a great believer in the French saying vive la difference, but I’m not sure that in the things that really matter men and woman are as far apart as some seem to think.
The DC books are set in Norfolk (I've assumed from the description that King's Lake is King's Lynn) and the two Willows and Lane books in Cornwall and London. Do you have a particular affinity for those settings?

Yes, again. I have lived in all three of them, and after character, getting the setting right is the next most important thing for me when I’m writing. I don’t like description for its own sake when I’m reading a novel – it has to be made significant in some way or it’s just padding. Going back to my academic days, I suppose I’m talking about the pathetic fallacy here. North Norfolk has a beauty and an atmosphere all its own, and there are so many opportunities to make those reflect the emotions and thoughts of the characters. Cornwall is another magical county and I’m already booked up to go there again this summer. One day a sharp-eyed reader will contact me and say that they know where Summer Lane’s name came from!

Your procedural details in both series seem so spot on. Do you have someone you consult? 

It’s a no this time. I am a fan of top-notch crime series on television and have been for years, and sometimes I will make a note of anything that might be useful as far as procedure is concerned. I also get ideas from some of the fly-on-the-wall series about police work. I also read about investigations into actual crimes; some of these can really open your eyes as to what the detectives have to confront. I’ve had three former murder squad detectives write to me saying that they like Smith and that the stories are close to the mark – that has been very encouraging!

Were you influenced by any particular writers?

I will confess immediately that I have not read a huge number of crime writers. When I began to think about moving my writing into a specific genre – ie crime fiction – I did some reading first. Well, quite a lot of reading. I already knew and liked some of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels – having loved the television adaptation – and for the same reason I looked at one or two of the Frost novels. I have certainly learned things from P D James and Ruth Rendell. But I don’t think it would be wise to read a great deal more; there is a danger that one becomes hemmed in by the expectations and rules of the genre, whereas readers are often looking for something that’s a little bit outside the box – but not too much! Beyond that, writers that I admire and re-read are Anita Brookner, Graham Greene and the incomparable Henry James.

Can readers look forward to more books in both series?

That is certainly the plan. Lots of readers assumed that Smith retired at the end of ‘Time and Tide’ but there are some important and unresolved matters to be taken care of, and I am currently listening to them all again, thanks to Gildart Jackson’s excellent recordings, and at the same time puzzling out how those matters can be resolved! I hope to have the eighth story out later this year. And Emily Willows hardly got a word in in ‘One-way Tickets’ – she isn’t the sort to let things rest there!

DEBS: You can find Peter on his Facebook page, and both the DC books and Willows and Lane are available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Any of the books can certainly be read as a stand-alone, but, personally, since they are all available as e-books, I'd highly recommend reading them in order.

Peter will be stopping in to chat from the UK, and has a question for us to start with:

Why do so many American and Canadian readers like crime fiction set in or from the UK?

Oh, and REDs alert:

The winners of Leslie Wheeler's Rattlesnake Hill are Gigi Norwood and Rick Robinson. Please email lesliewheeler at comcast dot net to claim your books! 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My DNA and Me

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I never knew much about either side of my family. Neither of my parents had any interest in tracing their ancestry--in fact, they were more focused on leaving the past and family connections as far behind as possible!

But, having been asked since the first Kincaid/James book why, as an American, I wanted to write about England, I was curious about my life-long Anglophilia. My mother's side of the family had names that might have been French variants (Dozier and Jordan) and I'd heard something vague over the years about being descended from settlers in Kentucky and Tennessee, so I thought perhaps there were French Protestants on that side of the family. But on my dad's side, I had no idea. Darden, my maiden name, is not a common English name, but neither is it French.

So a few months ago, I did an internet search, and found a Darden in Plymouth, England, in 1601. Curiosity in full gear now! Then I got a Facebook message from a man in British Columbia who was doing research on and discovered that our grandmothers were cousins. When I looked at what he'd found, I traced the Dardens back to Alabama in the early 1800s, and the Doziers as far back as Normandy in the early 1600s. There the trail died out--at least so far.

I decided I wanted to do a DNA test, so Rick gave me 23andMe for Christmas. I spit in the test tube and sent it off! (It takes a LOT of spit, by the way.)

Last week I got my results and it's fascinating!

That British connection?
70% British and Irish

The French?
11% French and German 

Then there's another 15% or so Broadly Northwestern European.

All very cool, if not hugely surprising. But--

It seems that sometime in the 1700s, I had ONE fifth-to-seventh great-grandparent who was 100% Scandinavian. Who knew?

And in the 1600s, a how-many-ever great-grandparent that was 100% West African. It shows up on my DNA map as a tiny red dot among all the blues. Now I want to know that story!

What I didn't find was Native American, although I'd always been told that there was some Cherokee on my mom's side of the family. But the results show 0%.

And then there were all the things I didn't expect to learn. Like that I have the gene for fast twitch muscles, like those Olympic skaters you've been watching. (I think I'm a total fail on that one...) 

I have more Neanderthal variants than 96% percent of customers--which makes sense as that was central Germany.

My genes show I prefer salty to sweet (true), that I don't have cheek dimples or a cleft chin, that I have dark  hair, pale skin, and blue eyes, that I can taste bitter things, and that my big toe is longer than the others. I don't have a unibrow or red hair. Isn't that just bizarre?

Those aren't dimples--just laugh lines!
There are dozens of other interesting things, and especially having studied biology and genetics in college, I could easily fall down the research rabbit hole. 

I know that these tests are not 100% accurate, and that the different testing companies can get slightly different results depending on their data bases. But the more people who are tested, the more accurate the data gets, and I LOVE following that genetic fingerprint..

What about you, REDS and readers? Do you find it creepy or fascinating? Have you done a DNA test, or would you like to? If you have, tell us something interesting you learned!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rhys Celebrates Publication of The Tuscan Child

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm so happy today to host our dear Jungle Red Rhys Bowen's new book, THE TUSCAN CHILD, out today! I was privileged to read an early copy and I can tell you you're in for a treat--and that you'll also spend most of the book hungry! Here's Rhys to tell you more about the book and about her adventures in Tuscany. Research is hell, right?

Happy book birthday, dear Rhys!!!

RHYS BOWEN: We authors really suffer for our craft, you know! When I decided I wanted to write the Tuscan Child, of course I had to go to Tuscany to do the research. (I hear your groans). Luckily I was invited to teach a workshop in a Tuscan hill town so I went there knowing that I wanted to be a sponge while I was there and observe everything, taste everything, take in everything.

First there were the sights: the views across the countryside, the misty mornings, the abundance of poppies blooming in the fields.

There enticing alleyways and arches, old men drinking in the square, their loud voices echoing from high buildings as they argued.


Then there was the food: the fruit and vegetables in the market, the local pastas, the rabbit ragu and the desserts!!! Half a lemon stuffed with lemon sorbet or the panna cotta, the rich vin santo with biscotti to dip in it.  You can imagine how I threw myself into this research with enthusiasm, can't you?

We worked hard at our workshop every day but in the evenings there were wine tastings, balsamic vinegar tastings, and visits to Etruscan tombs, to Sienna. We witnessed the Corpus Christi procession around the town, led by the town band. 

 And I had my water colors and sketch book with me to jot down some personal memories.

So when I started to write the book, the town was still so clear in my mind. I have relived the taste of those meals as I wrote the book (eating Tuscan food vicariously contains no calories) 

 Here is one of the simple recipes. You can also top the bruschetta with many other things: liver pate/mushrooms/ tapenade/braised fennel and pecarino cheese... the choice is endless.

Tomato Bruschetta
Serves: 12
  • 8 chopped ripe roma (plum) tomatoes
  • 5 leaves chopped fresh basil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 pinch of dried oregano
  • 1 dash of crushed red pepper
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 2-3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 loaf of Italian-style (or French) bread, cut into diagonal slices
  1. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, garlic, oregano, red pepper, salt, pepper and olive oil. Use more olive oil, if necessary, to coat the entire mixture. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes for flavors to blend.
  2. In the meantime, preheat the broiler. On a baking sheet, arrange the slices of bread in a single layer and brown both sides slightly in the oven. Remove the slices from the oven.
  3. Spread the tomato mixture on the still warm toasted bread slices and serve.
 And I have been invited to teach that same workshop in Tuscany this summer. If you are reading this and have a novel you would love to jump-start or complete, I believe there are still one or two slots still open.  Details are at

THE TUSCAN CHILD is a sweeping story set in two time periods. In winter 1944 a British pilot has to bail out of his stricken plane over Tuscany. Badly wounded, he lands in an olive grove and is hidden in a bombed monastery by a local woman. In 1973 his estranged daughter is going through his things after his sudden death and finds a letter that was never delivered. It is a love letter to an Italian woman and contains a dark secret. Her journey to Tuscany to discover the truth of what happened in that hill town during WWII may prove more dangerous than she believed possible.

RHYS will give away a signed copy of The Tuscan Child to one lucky commenter today.