Mystery fiction is a young genre. In the English language, the first mystery novels are only about 150 years old. While those stories are historical fiction to us, they were very much contemporary to their original audience—the first Sherlock Holmes readers knew exactly what a gasogene was and probably had pocket lanterns themselves. Same goes for Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers: Even though their earliest books depict a world from almost a century ago, they were writing about the world they were living in.
And they reflected the prevailing mores and attitudes of their day. Whereas in the historical mysteries that we are reading now, even though the stories themselves could be set a millennium ago, the mores and attitudes the authors ponder are those of our own day.
The most notable female sleuth Agatha Christie created, for her own era, is an elderly spinster. In Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, set almost 800 years before Miss Marple, the heroine, Adelia Aguilar, is a trained medical examiner. Miss Marple, presumably, has never been in any kind of compromising situation. Adelia Aguilar bears a child out of wedlock—her lover has been appointed a bishop by King Henry II and therefore can’t marry her—and carries on with barely a second thought.
Miss Marple would have been shocked—Victorian morality is a potent thing. Even I am shocked—and then I have to remind myself that women’s lives weren’t always as restricted as they were during the Victorian times.
Which makes it all the more interesting that historical mysteries set during the Victorian and Edwardian era, especially those featuring female protagonists, are determined not to be bound by those constraints. Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell had no interest in what others thought of her. Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell, an expert lepidopterist, tells readers up front that she conducts discreet affairs when she is overseas gathering rare species of butterflies and then basically ghosts those lovers when she leaves!
It’s a comment on the pressures, overt and subtle, women still face today that they rebel so hard as fictional historical characters.
When I decided to write a gender-bending Sherlock Holmes story, the first choice I had to make was how my Lady Sherlock would deal with all the strictures on her life that her male counterpart never had to think about. The first book in the series very much revolves around her bid for freedom and what happens when that bid goes wrong.
And now Charlotte Holmes will join a proud sisterhood of strong, cool-under-pressure women who use their wits to save the day.
Learn more about Thomas’ books below!
Off the Grid, the sixteenth Joe Pickett novel by New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box, is being published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 8. Strong advance buzz has been building for this book, which revolves around how terror is found – and fought – in the wild expanses of Wyoming. Game warden Joe Pickett, his best friend Nate Romanowksi, and Joe’s daughter Sheridan are embroiled in multiple plot lines that unfurl with urgency, harrowing suspense and surprising twists.
The Joe Pickett character entered the literary world in 2001 and a reviewer for The New York Times once wrote, “ … Box introduced us to his unlikely hero … a decent man who lives paycheck to paycheck and who is deeply fond of his wife and his three daughters. Pickett isn’t especially remarkable except for his honesty and for a quality that Howard Bloom attributes to Shakespeare – the ability to think everything through for himself.” Fellow Penguin Random House author Lee Child has called Box “one of today’s solid-gold, A-list, must-read writers.”
Read on for a Q&A with C.J. Box.
C.J. Box agreed to respond to the following questions for Igloo:
Sixteen novels in, what do you think accounts for the wealth of themes, storylines and characters that have kept your Joe Pickett series fresh and filled with surprises?
Although the first Joe Pickett novel (Open Season) was written as a one-off at the time, the characters, themes, location, and style introduced in that book provided a great framework for the series to grow. I’ve never had to regret the foundation laid in that book. Also, because the books take place in real time the characters mature and change from book to book. For example, Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan is seven years old in Open Season and now 22 in Off the Grid. Because the characters get older and benefit (or not) from previous situations in the books I think that helps keep the series fresh. Plus, since each book includes a theme or controversy unique to the story (endangered species, alternative energy, the ethics of hunting, or in the case of Off the Grid — domestic terrorism) they are all stand-alones in their own way.
A lot of your longtime fans will be happy that your character Nate Romanowski features prominently in Off the Grid. From a writer’s standpoint, what is involved in making Nate so interesting and unpredictable?
Unlike just about every other character in the series, Nate Romanowski is based on a friend of mine although I’ve exaggerated (Thank God) his personality. The buddy I grew up with was a big blonde middle linebacker who later went on to join the military and special forces. He took me falconry hunting and through him I was introduced to the very strange and fascinating world of falconers and the mindset that goes with it. And, of course, Nate carries one of the largest handguns in the world and he’s good with it.
For a reader coming to your Joe Pickett novels for the first time, which of your backlist titles, from Open Season onward, would you recommend they check out first and why?
Tough question, since in their way each book stands alone. No reader would be hopelessly lost starting with any book in the series. Of course, those who’ve read them all say it’s important to start with OPEN SEASON so the reader can experience Joe’s family growing and changing, and I probably lean that direction. But there are certain books —Winterkill, Free Fire, Breaking Point, andOff the Grid – that I think could be good entry points into the series.
Find out more about C.J. Box’s books below.
On the occasion of Marian Wood Books’ publication of X, Sue Grafton’s 24th Kinsey Millhone Mystery, we are pleased to present Vice President and Publisher Marian Wood. As Grafton’s longtime editor, she agreed to answer three questions involving her work with Grafton. Marian admits, “These questions brought sort of a walk down memory lane: 34 years of memories, to be exact. Foolishly, I went to my bookshelves and picked up A is for Alibi and began reading, and couldn’t stop.”
What initially attracted you to Sue Grafton’s writing style and her approach to the mystery novel form?
Well, although Sue never writes the same novel twice and her books consistently surprise me, rereading “A” brought back that incredible rush I had on my first reading. Here was an original voice: tough, funny, smart, without an ounce of self-pity but also without any superhero ego. From the first I knew she was a serious stylist, that her characters were fully formed and she was using genre the way earlier mystery writers (the men who gave us noir) had: to make telling points about the (largely corrupt) world their characters moved in. Be it Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald, their protagonists were loners, honest but flawed (and usually, unlike Kinsey, very heavy drinkers), who took on cases the way a knight errant might take on causes. The world Kinsey navigates is not as corrupt as theirs, but it is often just as twisted and dangerous.
In “A,” Kinsey tells us she is 32, twice divorced, no kids, no pets, no houseplants. In short, she is independent and alone. What we learn as the series progresses is that she is also nobody’s sidekick. Unlike so many female characters in the mysteries that preceded her appearance, she is not a loyal helpmate or willing employee or second banana. Now, how refreshing is that? And when she finds herself in serious danger, she is tough enough to fight her way out—even when it means killing or maiming her attacker. But it bothers her that she has to. So in addition to being tough and honest, she has a conscience. Mayhem for mayhem’s sake is not on her resume. Her novels also do not depend on technology or gadgets for their denouements. Brains and determination are what matter. There are no James Bond gimmicks, and no saviors in white hats to come to Kinsey’s rescue.
Through Kinsey, Sue is able to wrestle with some very current social ills. She doesn’t preach, but she does observe. And her intelligence in these matters raises the books to another level. You won’t find her giving facile answers to homelessness, but you will find her pointing out all sides of the problem. How you take this is your call as a reader. Sue is not here to convert you—but she wants readers to understand the human toll such problems take. And she is not here to solve our social problems. She can’t tell us how to stop the abuse of elders, for example. But she can, in horrible detail, show you how it happens.
Perhaps this makes the books sound “heavy.” They are hardly that. One of the very great attractions of Sue Grafton’s writing is just how clever (both witty and funny) Kinsey is and how tellingly Sue leads her characters into crazy (but all too real) human interactions. And a large part of her success in doing this is that she has such a terrific grasp of the human condition, which is another reason her characters resonate long after you’ve finished the book.
How would you describe the nature of your editor/author process when working with Sue Grafton and how has it evolved over the years?
Our relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. Sounds corny, but it’s true. There may have been a few bumps early on because Sue bore some real scars from her years of working with Hollywood know-it-alls (“They all seemed to be barely out of high school,” she has said). Books, however, are not movies, and editing is a matter of supporting the writer not taking over her book. (Some of you may know of instances of editors taking credit for the quality of their writer’s book. Personally, if the writing was that bad to begin with, I’d want no part of it.) With Sue, as the years and books progressed, our working relationship, never problematic to begin with, became a sheer delight. Sue is a professional and a dedicated craftswoman. I like to think the same applies to her editor.
There have been a few occasions during the writing when the plot line seems temporarily to stall out. Sue says dreaming often resolves a knotty plot line, and I say that what cannot be resolved in dreams is usually a relatively easy fix that a trusted reader can suggest. Mostly that first reader is her husband, Steve Humphrey. As someone who was long-married to a writer, I know the pitfalls that can happen when a spouse is called upon to read, but in the 34 years I’ve known them, their working relationship has been nothing short of miraculous.
What has contributed to the popularity of the Kinsey Millhone character and the series, and what elements in the new novel, X, do you feel will resonate most strongly with readers?
Sue never runs in place. I have read many writers who begin a series wonderfully and then, at about book 4 or 5, stall out. The books become padded, the plots are listless, the characters repeat themselves. Not so Sue. In fact, Sue brings a freshness and originality to each new book. Even those instances in which she needs to reintroduce a character from an earlier book or reprise some earlier plot line–so that a reader coming new to the series need not begin with “A”—are deftly handled and, for the veteran reader, often contain welcome new information. I think the reason the series continues to appeal so strongly is that Sue takes her writing very seriously. To turn in a listless effort would be to cheat her readers—and herself.
The second part of your question is harder to answer because it would give away much of the plot of X. Let me just say this: There are three extraordinary plot lines in X. The reader will initially be hard pressed to know which is the prime plot, which secondary. But all are supremely interesting. One is outrageous—but many of us will be familiar with the neighbors from hell and, in its own way, it is very comic. Another is a complex scam that has grown out of the broken marriage of two hot-tempered people who should have taken the time to cool down. And the third? It is the harrowing story of a vicious sociopathic serial killer who has left a trail of dead women going back nearly thirty years. The victims have either been declared suicides or they have simply vanished. The killer is at large, and Kinsey is in his sight lines. Dark, chilling, and clever, X is also infinitely wise in the matter of human misbehavior—or why we are often our own worst enemy.
Read more about X here.