Sunday, March 16, 2008

Easy Innocence Tackles Some Hard Choices

Libby Fischer Hellman introduces a new Private Eye series with the publication of Easy Innocence, and it's a good start. Georgia Davis, an ex-cop, get hired to find evidence that might clear Cameron Jordan, an autistic man whose been accused of murdering a high school girl named Sara Long. At first, the forensic evidence against Cameron seems insurmountable, but the deeper Georgia Davis digs into the case, the more frayed ends she finds.

As these ends begin to unravel, she uncovers a number of unpleasant facts about the well-to-do and well-to-do wannabes on Chicago's North Shore. Even more disturbing, the prosecution is rushing to wrap up the case as quickly as possible. The reason soon becomes apparent, though not surprising when you remember that the rich and powerful make special efforts to protect their own.

A high school hazing that took place at the time of the murder places the prosecuting attorney's daughter at the scene of the crime, opening up the possibility that others were involved in Sara's death. And as Georgia begins to question the dead girl's friends, someone starts following her, and one promising lead winds up on a slab in the morgue. Eventually, Georgia learns some shocking revelations about Sara and her high school buddies that reveal just how far teenagers will go to maintain their status in a high school where the content of your closet is more important than the content of your character. It may lead Georgia to the secret that got Sara killed...if she can stay alive herself.

Libby tackles several timely social issues, including peer pressure, the sexualization of young girls, and the pursuit of status, all without preaching or alienating the reader. She does it by simply telling a great story. It had me guessing about the identity of the killer until the very end, and also had me thinking about this book long after I turned the last page.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How Do Reviewers Make Their Choices?

Every year, tens of thousands of titles are published, and yet, only a few hundred ever make it into a print review (newspapers & magazines). With such a competitive arena, I've often wondered how those choices are made. Well, here's an article that provides some insight into the process of how books are chosen. It was posted on David J Montgomery's crime fiction blog. Some of the nation's top reviewers are interviewed in the March newsletter of Sisters In Crime. It includes another link if you'd like to download the newsletter in its entirety:

Mystery Fiction - Treating Women Badly?

I highly recommend the book reviews by Marilyn Stasio which appear in the Sunday NY Times book section (online & print). They are often chock full of interesting and new writers, both from the US and abroad. Today's article is no exception. But I don't think that women are treated badly by the genre.

Does our fiction really treat women with indignity? Mystery fiction, that is? To be fair to Miss Stasio, allow me to quote her word for word.

"Denise Mina’s bold, brave crime novels make up for all the indignities women suffer in genre fiction — especially the notion that a female protagonist is better off being likable than being real. Mina smashed that false article of faith with her dead-grim Garnet hill trilogy, featuring a hard-bitten heroine who fights the social conditions that lead to the abuse of women, children and the elderly in a Glasgow slum."

That may have been true in the field of mystery writing fifty, sixty years ago (Nancy Drew comes to mind as a likeable protaganist). And much of noir fiction of the 40's and 50's treated women as either brainless broads or scheming sirens.

But this certainly not true of mystery now. And it didn't start with Denise Mina.

Sara Paretsky introduced us to a tough gritty heroine in 1982 by the name of V.I. Warshawski. That's just the first name that comes to mind. How about authors Sue Grafton and Terris Grimes? And many more.

One can even find good female heroines in noir fiction from fifty years ago, albeit often in re-prints. Branded Woman by Wade Miller, re-issued by Hard Case Crime is one example.

And for those of you who haven't discovered her, I urge you to read Denise Mina. But start with the original Garnethill, which won the 1998 John Creasy Memorial Award for best first crime novel.

I hate coming into a series after it's started, don't you?