The leaves are changing, the temperature's dropping, and the days now form a gentle slope towards Halloween. So how can you compliment your autumnal feelings with the proper literature? We here at The Mysterious Bookshop have a few suggestions...
Many of us know Shirley Jackson for her classic tales The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. But as biographer Ruth Franklin discovered, there's way more to this author than meets the eye. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror." Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. Franklin’s portrait of Jackson gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman). Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is an exceptional work that shines a light on one of our most underrated authors. Signed. $35.00
There are few television shows that are more divisive than Twin Peaks. Some people adore its quirky humor and dark underbelly, while others just don't seem to get what all the fuss is about. Well, both camps may want to check out Mark Frost's latest novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Delving deeper into the central mystery of the town and its residents, Frost's book both accentuates the show and creates something new. Filled with over 100 photos and "primary sources" the book is as visually stunning as it is intriguing. And since there will be a new season of Twin Peaks coming to the screen sometime in 2017, what better way to get primed! Signed. $29.99
First published in 1897, Dracula has had a long afterlife—one that rivals its immortal creation; yet author Bram Stoker has remained a specter in this pervasive mythology. In Something in the Blood, David J. Skal exhumes the inner world and strange genius of the writer who birthed an undying cultural icon, painting an astonishing portrait of the age in which Stoker was born—a time when death was no metaphor but a constant threat easily imagined as a character existing in flesh and blood. Skal draws on a wealth of newly discovered documents with to challenge much of our accepted wisdom about Dracula, Stoker, and the late Victorian age. Signed. $35.00
Note: For a fictional study of Stoker's life, check out our recent Bibliomystery -- Christopher Fowler's Reconciliation Day.
The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows. Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerizing literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary. Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. $24.99.
The Brown Recluse In: Cat’s Claws Are Sharp
(After How Do You Spell 'Cat,' The Brown Recluse and the Cat Trap, and The Brown Recluse and the Cat Ring)
‘Why did you buy her a hot rod? Did she have her mid-life crisis before you did?’
‘She had it before I met her. Anyway nobody had their mid-life crisis before me!’ said Costello with a laugh.
But the laugh died a-borning in his throat as the full, weighty implications of the situation returned to his mind. Somehow his ex-wife Alanna was involved, likely the Paltry Gang was too. The squad got a huge kick out of the fact that the gang apparently had named itself after the Brown Recluse’s insult. The wild card in the equation was the nanny with whom Alanna had run off. Was Luz Marin putting ideas in Alanna’s head? Was she the brains behind the cat-snatching affair? Surely she could come up with a better scheme to make money!
Just then the squad phone rang. Some of the marked money from the extortion attempt on Costello's cat Cinnamon, partly thwarted by ex-cop Burke, had been found at a newsstand. The proprietor had checked a bill against the hot sheet sent out by the department to merchants. It came up a match and luckily an officer happened by who detained a tall, slim, mustachioed man, who was screaming to high heaven about his rights and he didn’t know anything about any marked bills and so on.
Ellen Amora had made up her mind. There wasn’t anything else to do. Raffles needed a companion. Someone to keep him company while she was running the detective agency that she’d inherited from her late husband, Albert ‘Amigo’ Amora. It was his brutal slaying at the hands of River City’s former gang boss that gave rise to Ellen’s taking over the agency and indirectly led to the creation of the Brown Recluse.
Anyway she decided to go to the local shelter and try to find a docile cat who would be a pal to Raffles without encroaching on his space. Fat chance! But at least she would be doing a good deed rescuing a cat from the shelter. It certainly was better than inheriting a cat from a dead gangster! Or a dead anyone. When she arrived at the shelter she strolled the aisles of cages with kitties and narrowed her selection down to two or three of the best looking felines. ‘Hi,’ she heard behind her. Startled, she whirled to face a pleasant-looking woman in very big spectacles who stepped back at the expression on Ellen’s face. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--’
‘Forget it. What can you tell me about this guy?’
‘Oh, that’s Xavier. He’s one of our most popular residents.’
Ellen couldn’t help but chuckle. ‘Residents?’
‘Yes, that’s what we call them. Of course it’s only temporary, and I’m afraid Xavier’s time is almost up.’
‘What do you mean, almost up?’
‘We can only keep them for two months--we simply don’t have the space to house all the strays in this town. But you were asking about Xavier. Well, he’s had all his shots, is in good health, about two years old and gets along very well with children and other pets. Just one thing--’
‘Never mind. I’ll take him!’
‘Great, will you follow me, please?’
And the two women trekked back to the front of the office, where Ellen paid the fee and received a voucher for a vet visit, a carrier thank goodness, and Xavier.
As the bespectacled shelterista was ringing up the transaction, she conversationally said, ‘Are you getting ‘Xave’ as a companion for another cat?’
Ellen was surprised. ‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘I can always tell. So you’ll have the two?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘That’s better than the couple of dozen in our own crazy cat people’s house!’ the woman exclaimed.
Now THAT piqued Ellen’s interest! ‘Where is that?’
‘Over here on Dubose street, off of Maple. You can’t miss the smell, if nothing else!’
Carrier full of kitty in hand, Ellen figured that a reconnaissance mission was in order. The cat-snatchers must have a place to stash their bounty and Ellen was ready to bet the farm that the crazy cat house was the place.
She drove to the area and parked discreetly a couple of blocks away. Then she donned her costume and stood revealed as the Brown Recluse!
Sneaking through the shrubbery at the rear of the house the Brown Recluse was seized with a feeling of deja vu when she peered through the rear window. And talk about deja vu! There was the same mustachioed man from the hostage raid! It was a warm day and the window was open, so the Brown Recluse settled in to listen.
‘Let’s go, Taper.’
And then everyone in the room filed out. Was that all she was going to hear? In the comics, eavesdropping was always much more productive. But where had she heard that name before? Such an unusual name, too!
The Brown Recluse crept back around to the front of the house, no small task since it was broad daylight, and observed the men exiting the house through the front door. Climbing into a waiting Plymouth Valiant, one was heard to say, ‘And another thing--I don’t want any more interference from those broads!’ And then they drove off.
‘Those broads’ must refer to Luz Marin and the former Mrs. Costello. Now what the heck was going on? Well, nothing more to see here, might as well head home. Changing back to her Ellen Amora identity, she was relieved to see Xavier in his carrier none the worse for wear since it wasn’t that hot and she’d only been gone a few minutes. Still, she must be careful of leaving her pal--oops, pals--unattended, especially in the car. She started the motor and cruised back to her house and spent some quality time introducing Xavier to Raffles and vice versa while she pondered her next move.
It was a summit meeting. Costello, Avery, and Ellen Amora were at the latter’s house drinking tea and eating truffles. By some miracle, Xavier and Raffles got along pretty well and were currently engaged in an operation code-named ‘Destroy the Catnip Thing.’
The man who was picked up with the counterfeit bills at the newsstand claimed to have gotten them in change at a bar down the street. However, the bartender claimed not to have seen the man that day, or indeed ever. Confronted with this, he admitted he’d been given the phony money by Taper Marin, husband to Luz, who was now keeping company with Alanna Nashua, ex-wife to Costello. It was all very confusing.
‘Question is, where is Marin now?’ asked Avery.
‘If we watch the house over by the shelter, he’s bound to show up,’ said Ellen.
‘Sure you weren’t burned?’
‘No way! What kind of an amateur do you think I am?’
‘I don’t know. What kind are you?’
Ellen glared while Costello guffawed. ‘After all, you took over Amigo’s agency because he got killed. You wouldn’t be doing it otherwise!’
Ellen said, ‘Nuts! I’m as good an investigator as there is in this city.’
‘That’s debatable, but the point is, how can we stop this cat-snatching?’
And no one had an answer.
Raffles padded down the hallway towards the loud voices and funny smells. Maybe someone would drop something tasty! Sneakily, he’d waited until Xavier was napping before he set out, not wanting to share any bounty. He wound his way around the room in a roundabout fashion, after carefully sniffing the area to locate anything possibly dangerous or delicious. Finding nothing, he continued on his rounds, sitting near each of the humans in turn and looking at them with eyes as big as he could muster, which never failed to generate a snack. Slim pickings today! Twitching his tail in annoyance, he went back over to the fat one. There was something familiar about his smell--what was it?
Raffles thought and thought. He couldn’t for the nine lives of him recall where he’d smelled this person before. Then he decided to try the paw nudge to get a morsel. He tapped Costello’s leg with his left front paw, claws retracted, to remind the man that there was a hungry kitty down here! When that didn’t work, he sank his teeth into Costello’s ankle. Costello howled admirably and he jumped up and made ready to kick Raffles into next week! He shouted, ‘I shoulda tossed you outta the window when I had the chance!’ Realizing what he’d said, he clamped his mouth shut, but it was too late. The other two were gaping at him. Finally Avery said, ‘Wanna explain that?’
Now what? Is Raffles really on to something here? Is Detective Costello involved in this sordid plot? And when will Cinnamon and Xavier get some treats? Tune in next time for more of….The Brown Recluse!
While we’re waiting for the next installment, have a look at some of these titles involving kidnapping:
A family's worst nightmare: Their fifteen-year-old daughter hasn't come home! A search leads nowhere. As time passes, kidnapping doesn't seem to be plausible. Until it does.
Riley wants to snatch Miss Blandish's pearl necklace, but ends up snatching Miss Blandish. The inept kidnappers lose their victim to another gang, even as ruthless detective Fenner barges in. A topnotch classic, not to be missed! A two-in-one tale, with Twelve Chinamen and A Woman.
Hey, kidnappings happen, right? What about the abduction of a member of MI5? That's another kettle of fish, isn't it? The operatives of Slough House are all agents that have screwed up somehow, but they will stop at nothing to rescue their colleague.
Questions/Comments/A furry tail? firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brown Recluse in: ‘How Do You Spell ‘Cat?’
(After The Brown Recluse and the Cat Trap; and The Brown Recluse, The Detectives, and The Cat Ring.)
Ellen Amora was back in business in her secret identity of the Brown Recluse, having dyed her costume back to brown after a stray red sock in the laundry turned her ensemble pink. ‘The Pink Recluse’ didn’t have much of a ring to it.
But her mind wasn’t on her costume, such as it was. The first order of business was to find poor Raffles! Then bring the miscreants to justice!
But how to proceed? Aha! What better way than to lure the fly into the spider’s web? To the grocery store bulletin board!
Ellen was pretty sure that Batman had gotten his start rescuing lost pets, so she was confident that she would not only be reunited with Raffles but also burnish the image of her super-hero alter ego.
She filled out the card and tacked it to the corkboard bulletin holder thus:
BIG REWARD FOR LOST CAT!
Can you help me find my poor kitty?
Lost in the area of Asta Place on Wednesday last.
Orange in color, good-sized, answers to the name of ‘Nero.’
REWARD! call: 555-9998.
Ellen thought it quite clever that she’d given Raffles a nom de guerre. She wasn’t worried that Raffles wouldn’t answer to the name ‘Nero.’ He didn’t answer to the name ‘Raffles’ either!
So back home to await the inevitable visit from...who? Surely the same fellow wouldn’t come back? And how could they catch the hot rodder who, twice now, had made off with suspects? Perhaps Ellen & Avery & Costello could pool their money and get a hot rod of their own? Come to think of it, maybe she should enlist Costello and Avery in this ‘sting.’ Maybe--but wait! There was someone coming down the street! And what a roar! Ellen dashed to the window and looked out. Pulling up in front of her house was a souped-up dune buggy with huge tires, engine parts sticking up from the hood seemingly at random, and fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. But instead of the tall, slim, mustachioed man from the previous ‘sting’ attempt, this was a middle-aged woman, wearing a dress that was much too tight, wearing an overdose of perfume that coated Ellen and her environs from a mile away...and Raffles! She was carrying Raffles! Have none of these people ever heard of a kitty carrier? Why did they all show up holding the cats themselves? But none of this occurred to Ellen until much later, so happy was she at seeing her beloved Raffles!
‘Hi, pal! Where did you find him?’
‘This handsome fellow was hanging around my back porch. I don’t know why--we haven’t barbequed in months!’
‘Well, you never know--just glad to see my Nero!'
‘I don’t blame you, I have two myself.’
‘Oh, then you know how it feels to get them back! Thanks so much!’
‘Don’t mention it.’ The woman turned to go. ‘Oh, I almost forgot--was there a reward?’
Ellen cried, 'I forgot too! Just a minute.’
Seizing the opportunity, Ellen ran into the house and got on the phone. She was able, by some miracle, to get Avery on the line. Breathlessly, she related the situation and rattled off the license plate number so he could run a make. It seemed to take an eternity but at last came back, no wants or warrants. Hmm. So the hot-rod was clean. Well, not really, but there wasn’t any police activity in the past of this particular vehicle. Registered to a Ms. Alanna Nashua at a Terrence Hills address, this was without doubt the hot-rod used in assisting miscreants to escape the law.
But now, how to proceed? Avery and Costello were on the way, they’d dashed off a quick message to the watch commander and left to try and catch the cat-napper in the act of trying to extort rewards from honest pet-lovers.
Suddenly she had a brainstorm. Ellen, not the Brown Recluse! She went back to the front door and apologetically said, ‘I’ve only got a hundred. Do you have any change?’
The woman said, ‘I’m afraid I don’t. Surely your nice kitty is worth a hundred, isn’t he?’
The nerve! Ellen replied, ‘Of course, he means the world to me. But I can’t afford a hundred, I think fifty is fair.’
‘We’re back to square one. I haven’t got any change.’
‘Oh. Well, too bad. Thanks ever so much for bringing Nero back! I really appreciate it!’ And Ellen turned to go back into the house.
Ellen faced the woman. ‘Yes?’
‘I forgot to go to the bank this morning! I’ve got some change after all!’
As the woman Alanna handed over two twenties and a ten, Ellen thought, Yeah, right. Just ‘happened’ to remember that you had some cash. One thing Amigo Amora had taught her before his untimely passing was that the first rule of dealmaking was: Always be ready to walk away!
But now she had what she wanted. In fact, two things. The info on the hot rod’s owner and some cash from her. Now, when Costello and Avery arrived--and here they were! They’d hardly stepped out of their car when Ellen came roaring up to them and screeched, ‘Are these marked bills from yesterday?’
‘And a cheery good day to you, too, Ms. Amora,’ said Costello. ‘Glad you got your cat back too.’
‘I’m sorry, but when it comes to catching these snatchers, small talk is going to have to wait!’ She put Raffles down, who strolled under a shady tree to watch the action, and thrust the money at Avery.
Avery took the three bills and removed a sheaf of papers from a folder in the car and painstakingly undertook the task of checking the serial numbers of the bills against the list of the numbers used in the reward money from the failed Cinnamon caper. Costello and Ellen waited impatiently. Presently Avery put the sheaf of papers back in the folder, stood up, stretched, and said, ‘Yep. Did you get a make on the car? Whose is it?’
Ellen peered at her notes. ‘ A woman from Terrence Hills called Alanna Nashua, driving a fire-engine red Jupiter 8 hot rod.’
Costello sat bolt upright in the front seat of the car. ‘What name did you say?’
‘That’s my ex!’
The silence that greeted this statement was profound. Finally Avery spoke.
‘We’ve got a motive, at least. She wants to get back at you and stole the other cats as a diversion.’
‘I can’t understand that!'
‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,’ put in Ellen, helpfully.
‘But she wasn’t scorned; that was me!’ Costello said. ‘She left me for the kid’s nanny. That was supposed to be my job!’
Another uncomfortable silence. ‘Um...are you jealous that she got to the nanny before you did?’ asked Ellen. ‘Is this gonna be a male ego thing?’
‘NO! Wait. Actually...maybe.’
‘Tell you what, guys.’ This from Avery. ‘Let’s put all that on the back burner for now. Why don’t we go over to this woman’s house--we got the address from the kickback, right?--and pick her up for questioning?’
‘Good idea. Ellen, suppose you stay here and--’
‘Nothing doing! I’ve got just as much right--’
‘You do not have any such right unless you joined the force in the last ten minutes! Now will you please butt out and let us do our jobs!’
Another uncomfortable silence in a day full of them. Finally Avery spoke again, softly this time.
‘Please, Ellen. We’ll keep you posted, promise.’
Ellen pressed her lips into a thin line and folded her arms, not impressed by the promise.
‘Let’s go, Ave. Thanks, Ellen, we’ll be in touch.’
And the detectives hastily left. As they drove out of sight, Ellen muttered to herself, ‘Fat chance,’ and went into the house. Moments later, she appeared, her Brown Recluse costume in an attache case, her lunch in a brown paper bag, and her car keys---sitting on the kitchen table.
After retrieving said car keys, she drove to Terrence Hills. She wasn’t going to be left behind on her case if she could help it!
Is Ellen, alias the Brown Recluse, asking for trouble? Is the cat-snatching ring finally busted? And what’s the deal with Costello’s ex-wife Alanna?
Tune in next time for the answers to possibly some of these questions, as well as the answers to some that weren’t even asked!
Meanwhile, have a gander at some of these:
One of the creators of the popular television show returns with a novel that explores the dark secrets of the characters and prepares readers for the upcoming episodes.
Family comes first, right? So if your 'connected' uncle asks you to spirit your teenaged niece away to Taipei to escape the bad influence of her older gentleman friend, you'd do it, right? And if the niece is spoiled rotten and even more trouble than advertised and puts you and the entire family in even more danger, you just suck it up, right? Right?
Another topnotch historical from the mother-and-son team. Nurse Bess Crawford is on the front lines at the tail end of WWI. Although a German defeat is only a matter of time, there is still fierce fighting, and when an officer of mysterious origin turns up wounded at Bess' station, she is curious. When the officer disappears in Paris, she is even more curious--dangerously so!
Questions/Comments/kitty litter? email@example.com
The Brown Recluse and the Cat Trap
Ellen Amora, alias the noted crimefighter the Brown Recluse, was convinced that the case of the cat stealers was not over yet. Over and above the
fact that the rogue who snatched cats and turned them in for ill-gotten rewards had not yet been caught, she had a sneaking suspicion that this case went deeper than it appeared. She did some of her best and deepest thinking at the laundromat where she was watching her Brown Recluse costume go through the rinse cycle. The fake mustache she’d just have to hand wash. Ellen had to admit to herself that she wasn’t the world’s most domesticated woman and hadn’t her own washer/dryer. So here she was at Bubbles ‘n’ Booze, the combination laundromat/saloon that was one of the hotspots of River City. Although not tonight. Tonight it was pretty dead. At last the spin cycle completed. But what was this? Arrrgh! Someone had left a red sock in the washer, and now her fedora and trench coat were pink! How could she be the Brown Recluse in a pink costume? Thunderclouds blew across her brow as she stalked home. What made it worse is that it was her own fault for not checking before she loaded the machine. Of course, the person who left the sock in the first place was partly to blame too, but that person had only one red sock lonely in the sock drawer by itself, and perhaps that was punishment enough. She unlocked the door to her house, tossed down her bundle, and called for the cat. ‘Raffles!’ ‘Oh, Raffles!’ Nothing. Now that was unusual. What a train wreck this day was! What else could go wrong? Ellen Amora, alias the Brown Recluse, was about to find out.
It had been a pretty average day for Costello, some paperwork, some routine, some doughnuts. And coffee. Always coffee. In fact, a cup would go pretty well right now! Visualizing a hot, steaming mug of delicious joe in his mind’s palate, he had to serve to avoid a squirrel, laughing as he thought to himself that he should have just run over the durned thing! The detective was still laughing as he walked into his apartment. Since the incident involving his family, he had kind of gotten used to the peace and quiet of being alone. Still, Detective Costello needed companionship like anyone else, and so one day a few months before he’d gone to the local animal shelter and picked out the cutest cat they had. Since then, Cinnamon had been his best pal, along with, he supposed, his partner Avery.
Solitude was foreign territory to the detective; he and Alanna had married young and had their three children immediately so he’d never really been lonely but at the same time he often felt crowded. That was why he came to prefer cats, they were such independent contractors. Cinnamon would sit with Costello when it suited him. Other times the cat would crave solitude, just like Costello himself, a need of which he hadn’t even been aware until lately. But, routine day or no, tonight wasn’t one of those nights. For Costello, anyway. Cinnamon might have other ideas, and when the detective came through the front door expecting the usual cheery feline greeting, he was disappointed. Oh well, she’d come out in her own good time. But after fixing and inhaling his supper (during which time he invariably had two saucer-like eyes fixed directly to his plate, but not tonight), he began to wonder. So he looked around the house. Nothing. No sign of kitty, even in her favorite nap places. He began to worry. Where was Cinnamon?
The two warily eyed each other, then both recognized the absurdity of the situation. They were standing in front of the bulletin board at the local grocery, putting up notices asking if anyone had seen their lost cats.
‘Wait, your cat is missing too?’ they said simultaneously.
‘Yes!’ they said simultaneously. Then, mercifully, there was a pause.
‘This is not a coincidence,’ said Costello. ‘Did you see the article in the paper? Avery and me almost had him, but there’s something else going on, I think.’
‘I think so too. Let’s pound this guy into the dust!’
‘I’ve got an idea….’ said the detective, and the two put their heads together.
Many years ago, Costello and Avery had been mentored on the force by an old hand named Burke, and it was his help that they enlisted, to use a neutral apartment for the sting operation. Burke himself was enthusiastic about taking part and was sitting in a chair in the front room. He was wearing shabby clothes and hadn’t shaved or showered in order to look like an older, forlorn man. Presently the doorbell rang.
‘Come in!’ called Burke. In walked a pleasant-looking man, tall, with a dark mustache and hair, cradling a light brown cat in his arms.
‘Cinnamon!’ cried Burke. ‘Oh, where did you find her?’
‘She was under my porch,’ replied the man. ‘I heard her crying and coaxed her out, and then I saw the notice at the grocery store. Here you go.’
And he handed over the cat to the older man. Burke attempted to seat the cat on his lap, but Cinnamon had other ideas, dashing into the kitchen, where by no coincidence Avery and Costello were surveilling, just waiting for money to change hands so they could bust the man.
‘Thank you! Thank you so much!’ breathed Burke.
‘Don’t mention it.’
‘Would you like a cup of tea? It won’t take a moment.’
‘No, thank you, I’ve got to run, but there was something about a reward?’
‘Oh, yes, of course! Here we are.’ Burke reached for his wallet and took out a few marked bills. Just as the cat-snatcher suspect pocketed them, Cinnamon burst out of the kitchen’s swinging door, revealing the detectives despite their efforts to remain unobtrusive.
‘Cops!’ shouted the miscreant. He dashed right out the door before Avery and Costello could stop him.
But from out of nowhere, the Brown Recluse appeared! She was dressed in her newly pink trench coat and fedora. Fortunately her fake mustache remained black. Recalling how the cat-snatcher got away last time, this time she took no chances and tackled the man in a move worthy of a footballer.
While she was astride him, Costello, Avery, and Burke came out of the house a bit sheepishly, as the suspect squirmed in a futile attempt to escape.
The Brown Recluse barked, ‘Just settle down, there, Sunny Jim. You aren’t going anywhere!’
Face down in the driveway, Cinnamon’s would-be snatcher mumbled something about pink elephants.
Costello growled, ‘Who do you think you are, stealing my cat?’ then he froze. He hadn’t meant to reveal it was his own pet!
Raising up slightly, the mustached man grinned in spite of himself. ‘So it’s yours, eh, flatfoot? Ain’t that touching!’
Costello growled again, ‘Shut up, you,’ as he took Cinnamon from Burke.
‘Ok, copper, I’ll shut up. I won’t tell you that your goose is cooked!’
The Brown Recluse slowly let the crook up and shouted in his ear. ‘What did you mean by that, loser?’
The loser looked her up and down and smirked, ‘Why don’t you go peddle your papers, Pinky?’
The Brown or Pink Recluse grumped, ‘I’ll give you ‘Pinky!’ and made as if to go upside his head. At that moment the man broke away and dashed for the street! Costello was so surprised he almost hurled Cinnamon claws-first at his escaping back, but happily thought better of it. At that very moment, a hot rod screeched around the corner, scooped up the suspect, and just like that, they were gone.
The four were silent, standing chagrined on the sidewalk. Finally Burke spoke.
‘Well, what do we do now?’
‘You know, the same darn thing happened the other day! How can these people coordinate these hot rods when I can barely catch a bus?’
‘And he’s got the money. Better get on the horn and put out a BOLO for the marked bills.’
‘Be On The Lookout for the cash, right. What were they, twenties?’
‘Tens and twenties.’
‘All right. Say, where did the Recluse go? And why was she all in pink today?’
Ellen Amora had peeled off her pink costume, remembering for once to lose the fake mustache, nearly in a panic. If these bad people had targeted Costello’s Cinnamon, could her own Raffles be next? After all, she couldn’t find her kitty that morning--what if he’d been stolen? If he hadn’t been, he’d be waiting at the door for her, yowing for supper. Trembling as she opened the outer door, she darted up the stairs and looked. Nothing. No Raffles, no yowing, no nothing. Alternately raging and frightened, Ellen Amora looked up to the sky and plaintively cried, ‘Oh, Raffles, where are you?’
That’s a good question! Where is Raffles? Find out next time here on All Things Mysterious! In the meantime, have a look at some of these new arrivals:
One of the most talked about and controversial criminal cases of the last two centuries is the Jack the Ripper case. Here, the best stories about Springheel Jack are collected in one handy volume!
Speaking of bloody crimes, what do we really know about Bram Stoker, who created Dracula? Little did he know that his iconic brainstorm would have hundreds if not thousands of iterations over the years! Now a new biography delves into the mind of the father of vampire fiction!
Max Allan Collins has collected and finished eight stories of Mike Hammer, available in one volume for the first time. Limited to only 100 copies and signed by Collins and Spillane's widow Jane.
Carl Hiaasen, Razor Girl, Knopf.
Carl Hiaassen is the bard of South Florida, and his novels, which revel in the sun-soaked bawdiness of the Keys, never fail to entertain. A true comic genius, Hiaasen’s books feature ensemble casts and madcap plots, with action that is both tightly-woven and wildly untethered. Razor Girl, his newest, is no exception. A seemingly minor car accident sets a complex machinery in motion, the effects of which reach as far as Hollywood, Italy, and Norway. The plot includes a bedraggled Hollywood agent, a reality star on the run for his life, an ex-cop turned health inspector (Andrew Yancy from 2013’s Bad Monkey), and an assortment of mobsters and con-men.
As with all of Hiaasen’s novels, the humor is sharp and satirical. I thought some of the funniest parts of Razor Girl dealt with the television show central to its plot, Bayou Brethren. Formed to cash into the Duck Dynasty craze, this “reality” show features a comedy troupe from Wisconsin who, on a set in Pensacola, pose as chicken farmers in the Louisiana bayou. When its star goes missing, the producers rejoice, elated by the ratings spike that their cover story, concerning the man’s alcoholism and subsequent rehabilitation, is sure to produce. Of course, audiences eat it up. It’s a vision of the entertainment industry every bit as cynical as that of Billy Wilder’s classic film noir, Ace in the Hole, in which Kirk Douglas unleashes a media frenzy on a man trapped in a mine. The only difference is that, in Hiaasen’s hands, this cynicism is played for laughs, and his book is all the funnier for it. Signed. $27.95.
Alexis, André, The Hidden Keys, Coach House Books.
There is a long tradition in mystery fiction of the gentleman thief. From Raffles to Bernie Rhodenbarr, their audacious heists bring out the Robin Hood in all of us. In The Hidden Keys André Alexis joins this proud tradition and introduces us to Tancred Palmieri, Toronto’s resident burglar. He’s very good at what he does and he’s smart enough to know when to just say no, but a run-in with a local junkie has him intrigued. Willow Azarian is wealthy beyond belief, though that hasn’t stopped her from being able to kick her habit. With the remaining time she has on earth, she wants to Tancred to steal certain items from her siblings—items she hopes will lead to a secret her father buried decades earlier. As in any great heist, things never go as planned. Between two-bit gangsters, hair-trigger thugs, curious taxidermists and a keen detective, Tancred has his work cut out for him. While the thievery and mystery are intriguing, what really makes this book shine is the characters. They add a layer of depth and heart that is usually passed over in favor of fast-paced plot. All told The Hidden Keys is a delightful contemporary take on the gentleman thief genre, one which pays homage to the past while still bringing something new to the table. It would make a fabulous film, I might add. PBO. $17.95
Overholt, Cuyler, A Deadly Affection, Sourcebooks
Griffiths, Elly, The Zig-Zag Girl, Mariner.
Ms. Overholt's riveting first book introduces Dr. Genevieve Summerford, a psychiatrist in 1907 New York City. When one of the women in her therapy group is charged with the violent murder of a prominent doctor, Summerford feels responsible for it was she who advised the young girl to confront the physician, who the girl said had taken her new-born baby from her and gave it to an upper class family. The book is filled with intriguing characters and period details and locations that are sure to please fans of historical mysteries. PBO. $15.99.
Another exciting start of a new series if Elly Griffith's "The Zig-Zag Girl", set in Brighton, England, 1950. When a girl's body is found cut into three pieces, DI Edgar Stephens remembers a famous magic trip, The Zig-Zag Girl and looks up a famous magician he worked with during the war when they were members of a group called The Magic Men. Their job was to find ways of tricking the Germans. When a second murder occurs, also based on a magic trick, Stephens is convinced the murderer may be one of the group. Griffith keeps the pace moving with never a dull page and plenty of colorful characters. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Stephens and the magician, Max Mephisto. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much I went right into the sequel, "Smoke and Mirrors", which is due out in hardcover this month. Ms. Griffiths is also the author of the wonderful mystery series featuring Ruth Galloway, a forensic anthropologist in contemporary Norfolk, England. Trade paperback. $14.95.
Neville, Stuart, So Say the Fallen, Soho.
A common theme in mystery fiction is the is-it-suicide-or-is-it-murder story. Since it is so prevalent, the make-or-break points are found in the surrounding elements. So how about a minister who’s lost his faith, a scheming woman with a sordid past, a detective with cancer in remission and a failing marriage, and a local politician with multiple agendas, all of them unpleasant?
In Stuart Neville’s latest, So Say the Fallen, all of these factors and more are in play.
It’s DCI Flanagan’s job that has caused the trouble between herself and her husband and children, but it’s also the job that gives her life meaning and purpose. Is it worth it, at such a cost?
It’s Father McKay’s job that has caused his guilt; his horrible secret coupled with his loss of faith that has led to his very real crisis.
It’s Roberta Garrick who is not all she seems, it’s Mr. Garrick, the victim of a terrible accident, who maintains hope where little is apparent, and it’s the ability of the human condition to rise to the heights of compassion or fall to the depths of depravity.
And it’s the author Neville who brings us a tale to make us look within ourselves even as we are engrossed and entertained. Signed. $26.95.
Patrick Hoffman, Every Man a Menace, Atlantic.
Hoffman’s follow-up to 2014’s The White Van is a tense thriller that unfolds within the machinery of the global drug trade, featuring an ensemble cast of pushers and producers as they prepare a massive shipment of MDMA en route to San Francisco. Told in sections that focus on various levels of the enterprise, the narrative vividly depicts the lives of those working with the drug; included are characters like Raymond Gaspar, an ex-con fresh out of prison who, low on options, still takes orders from a kingpin inside, Semion Gurevich, an Israeli dealer who launders drug money through his Miami nightclub, and Moisey Segal, his connect, who helps plan the deals from Bangkok. But surrounding these characters are others: men and women caught between greed and fear, who violently oppose competition, constantly seek higher payoffs, and increase the dealers’ supply without negotiation. As the quantity in question grows, so, too, does the tension, all of which is captured in a cleanly-written, tightly-plotted novel, the scope of which grows with every new perspective. Hoffman illuminates the darkest corners of the drug business and reveals the utter confusion hidden therein, as people on every level of this far-flung network of production and distribution struggle to gain control. Signed. $26.00
The Brown Recluse, the Detectives, and the Cat Ring.
One thing that Ellen Amora, who was secretly that scourge of criminals, The Brown Recluse, had in common with her collaborator/nemesis Costello on the River City police force, was that they both owned or were owned by cats.
So they both perked up over their morning coffee when the city’s newest newspaper, the River City Rocket, offered this headline:
‘Catnapping: The Purr-fect Crime?’
It seemed that River City was in the midst of a heinous crime wave where citizens would ‘lose’ their beloved pets and then, magically, they would reappear in the arms of some stranger who would invariably, humbly, shyly, accept a reward. With both hands. Now, it could be that there was a person or persons in the City beloved by cats, a real cat magnet, who couldn’t help the fact that the furry felines flocked to him. It could be that this person was of good character and returned the kitties to their owners. And if in their relief they insisted that he take a little token of appreciation, well…..
But neither Ellen nor Costello saw it that way. Call them cynical, but they both thought this situation smelled to high heaven. As cat people do, they both shared their concerns with their companions:
Costello: ‘Cinnamon, I don’t like this one bit.’
Amora: ‘Raffles, there’s something fishy about this. What? No, I meant that there is something suspicious. No! I just gave you your supper twenty minutes ago! I am not cooking you fish! Don’t look at me like that!’
And so on.
Next day at the precinct, Costello shared his concerns with his partner, Avery.
‘Ave, I think this guy is running a scam! I bet you he’s taking those cats and then returning them for the reward.’
‘Maybe he is, I wouldn’t put anything past anyone nowadays. But so what?’
‘What do you mean, so what? It’s a crime and I want to bust that bum, that’s so what!’
‘Come on, Costello, we’ve got more important things to do!’
‘More important than corralling criminals?’
‘Aw, you’re just saying that because you have a cat yourself!’
‘Don’t bring Cinnamon into this! This is the worst kind of criminal! The kind that preys on people’s feelings! Even you can understand how much people can get attached to their pets, and to steal them and then extort reward money--it’s just wrong!’
‘All right, all right, don’t get your bowels in an uproar! Wait a minute, what do you mean, ‘even me?’ I’ve got feelings too, you know.’
And so it was that Avery and Costello stood in front of the watch commander with their plan to bust this cat-stealing miscreant.
‘First of all, how do you know this guy is actually stealing the cats? Couldn’t he have just found them?’
‘Well, you saw the paper, Captain. They say that there’s been over two dozen cat-snatchings just in the last six weeks!’
Captain Mars scratched his head. ‘That tells me there’s more than one person in on this. No one man could innocently attract all those cats. No, boys, there’s a conspiracy afoot here. Go find them and bust them!’
‘So the only question is, where do we start?’ Avery honestly didn’t know where to begin on this one. He asked while the detectives were inhaling coffee and doughnuts at the Do-Nuttery on Main Street. A boy who looked about twelve ran up to the window outside and shouted, ‘Bad cops, No doughnuts!’ and ran away laughing. That was the first time Avery and Costello had heard that one...today.
‘Trouble is, most folks are not going to report a lost cat as a crime situation, and when they get them back they’re going to be so relieved that they won’t think of it that way anyway.’
‘That’s true, but what about the thing in the paper? That might get some folks thinking.’
‘Maybe. Tell you what--let’s talk to Bennett at the Rocket. Maybe he can put a notice in so people will be on the lookout.’
‘That’ll just scare the bum away.’
‘Worth a try.’
The men quaffed their java and munched their pastries, stood up, and left. But before they could get to the offices of the paper, they noticed the headline on the current edition of the Rocket in the coin box:
ORDEAL OF A CAT-LOVER
All they could read was the first couple of paragraphs through the box’s window, since neither one wanted to part with a quarter to actually buy one. But that was enough, as a woman who’d lost her kitty was pleading for its return. The owner was offering a reward of fifty dollars. Now THIS is what the detectives had been waiting for! They hastened to the woman’s house, introduced themselves, and were ushered into a living room and given tea and cake before they could catch their breath.
‘Mrs. Moncrieff, how long after you noticed your cat missing did you contact the paper?’
‘Well, let me see. I fed Minerva her supper and then settled in to watch that nice Lawrence Welk. That’s my Sunday night habit, you know. Now, Minerva usually sits with me and we watch together after she finishes her meal, but this time she didn’t. I didn’t think much of it, you know how cats are.’
‘Yes, I know,’ agreed Costello fervently. ‘Go on, please.’
‘Well, when the show ended and it was time for bed, I remembered that I hadn’t seen Minerva for hours, so I called her and called her and even looked outside. She was just gone. I was beside myself, I called the neighbors and looked around the neighborhood, and I remembered the article in the paper about stolen cats, and I thought perhaps they could help me find Minerva.’
‘So it was perhaps two to three hours?’
‘Yes, that sounds right. And then not twenty minutes ago, I got the call!’
‘Someone called you and said they had your cat?’
‘Yes, and I was so relieved!’
‘And did they say exactly when they’d bring it back?’ asked Avery.
‘Young man, Minerva is a ‘she,’ not an ‘it,’ and I’ll thank you to remember that!’
Chastened, Avery hung his head and said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ pretending not to notice the smirk on Costello’s pan. Mercifully, his cat-loving partner took over the questions.
‘DID he say when he’d be back, Mrs. Moncrieff?’
‘Why, yes, he said he would bring back Minerva this morning.’
‘And you planned on giving him a reward?’
‘Oh, yes, just like it said in that article, I took fifty dollars out of the budget and plan to give it to him.’
‘Do you mind if we wait for him?’
‘Not at all. Do you have a furry friend too?’
The detectives looked at each other, and Costello answered.
‘Yes I do, ma’am, but we believe this man, and possibly others, are stealing these cats in order to get the reward money.’
‘My land! You don’t say!’
‘That’s why we want to wait and see this man. Also, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention money. Let’s let him ask for it, it will help our case.’
‘My stars! Just like on the television!’
Just then, the doorbell rang, causing them all to jump. ‘All right now, Mrs. Moncrieff,’ whispered Avery. ‘Just act naturally and let him guide the conversation. We’ll be right in the next room.’ And so they ducked into the kitchen and peered out the cracked door.
A tall, lanky man stood in the doorway holding a fat black cat.
‘Minerva!’ cried Mrs. Moncrieff. ‘Oh, thank you so much for bringing her back! Where ever did you find her?’
‘She was hiding under a shrub in my back yard, ma’am. I live over on Connington. I saw the thing in the paper and--well, here I am.’
‘Well, isn’t it a lucky thing you saw her! Thank you again!’
When the man didn’t move, Avery and Costello gave each other a knowing glance.
‘Was there something else, young man?’
‘Would you like some tea?’
‘No, thank you, ma’am but--’
‘Was there something about a reward?’
‘Oh! Where are my manners? Let me get my purse.’ And she strode into the kitchen, where she whispered to Costello, ‘What should I do?’
Costello whispered back, ‘Give him the money. If he pockets it, we’ll take it from there.’
So Mrs. Moncrieff gave the man the fifty, and when he shifted Minerva in his arms to take the bill, the detectives jumped out from behind the kitchen door and shouted, ‘Hold it!’
His face a paroxysm of fury, the man hurled Minerva the cat at the law, and fled on foot. He shouted, ‘You can’t stop us!’ as he dashed down the drive. Suddenly, a figure materialized from out of nowhere. It was the Brown Recluse! She dropped into a crouch to topple the fleeing man, but he anticipated the move and swerved around her, just as a souped-up hot rod came boiling around the corner, scooped up the would-be reward thief and took off down the street.
This all happened so quickly, Costello and Avery and the Brown Recluse seemed frozen in position. Soon it dawned upon them that they had been had.
‘Well, that went well,’ said Avery.
‘I should say that it didn’t go well at all!’ returned the Brown Recluse.
‘Cop talk. Dark humor and all that,’ replied Costello.
‘Did you hear how he said, ‘You can’t stop us?’ said Avery. ‘So now we know that there’s more than one in this ring, and it sure looks like we were right--they’re scamming people for rewards.’
‘Now we put our heads together and come up with a plan where we can nab one of them and put the fear into him and maybe he’ll come clean. Right now that’s our best bet.’
‘Gentlemen, I have a plan.’
What does the Brown Recluse have in mind? Is there really a cat-stealing ring in River City? Will the detectives want to work with a super-hero? And what of Minerva? What of Minerva?
Meanwhile, check out some of these cat-based mysteries:
The Spotted Band is an all-feline rock and roll band made up of jungle cats. When they're not purring a tune, they are battling arch-nemesis Pontius Puma, among other menaces.
A contestant goes missing from a snooty cat show, leading to all sorts of Friedman-style mayhem.
Questions/Comments/Retractable Claws? firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brown Recluse in: Identity
(following Mayhem at Six-Eighteen and The Secret Identity)
Once she got over the shock, and once she had helpfully informed the man that he was actually supposed to be dead, Ellen gaped at him who she had never seen before. ‘I...I don’t know you,’ she could only stammer.
‘But, darling, how can you say that? Let me get a look at you.’ The man slowly peeled her fake mustache off her face. ‘There! That’s the pretty face I remember so well!’
‘But you’re dead!’ shuddered Ellen again.
The man laughed. ‘I assure you, my dear, that I am alive and well. Indeed, the evidence is right before your eyes! Did you not miss me?’
Ellen’s mind was a whirl of confusion. What did he mean, ‘did you not miss me?’ Of course she missed her late husband; he’d been murdered before her eyes in a gangland ‘hit.’ But this man was not he!
‘Listen, buster, I know my husband--I knew him--and you’re not him!’
‘Oh, but I am! How else could I know about the birthmark on your--’
‘Wait!’ Ellen interrupted. ‘Let’s forget that for a minute. Better still, let’s forget it period! What’s going on here?’
‘Oh, these small town cops are just darned sensitive! A few stray shots and they circle the wagons!’
‘First of all, this isn’t a ‘small town,’ and second, what do you expect to happen when you shoot at the police?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know. Why, are you a police?’
‘No, I am not!’ cried Ellen. ‘I’m trying to keep you from getting shot, you toad!’
The imposter, if imposter he was, sniffed, ‘Dearest, I am not a toad. A fine way to speak of your own husband!’
‘YOU ARE NOT MY HUSBAND!’ shrieked Ellen. ‘HE WAS GUNNED DOWN BY THE MOB!’
‘There, there, my dear. Once these peace officers come to their senses and leave, we will get you some help.’
Calmer now, Ellen said, ‘They are not going to leave without rounding up your paltry gang.’
‘Great idea! That’s our name now, men--The Paltry Gang! I like it!’
‘Bully for you. Now why don’t you do the sensible thing and surrender? You’ll only end up dead.’
The other men in the room--and they were all men--had remained silent, up until now. At this point a man with a bushy mustache and suspenders spoke.
‘Lady, why don’t you go back where you come from and tell them coppers to leave us alone!’
‘Ha! Fat chance department!’
The man in charge looked thoughtful. ‘You know, that’s not a bad idea. Out of the mouths of babes…’
‘You calling me a babe?’ This from mustache/suspenders.
‘I’ll call you whatever I please. Any objections?’
Ellen butted in. ‘Once you boys finish your little love spat, you can start planning your funeral! Those cops are not going to just leave!’
‘Oh, but they will, my dear. If they do not leave in five minutes, we shall kill one hostage for each and every minute that they remain. You may go and tell them so.’
‘Listen, Breck, why--’
‘Shut up, you fool! How many times must I tell you--no names!’
‘Aw, gee, boss--’
‘Shut up, I said. As for you, my dear spouse, I don’t like giving orders twice. Go out to those hapless minions of the law and deliver my message, and do it now.’
‘I don’t take orders from any man, especially you! If I were married to you I’d cut my throat!’
‘I might give you the knife. Now get going.’
Ellen Amora was nobody’s fool. She knew an opportunity when she saw one, and rather than argue, she took advantage of the situation to escape the house. But Breck! This was the same man that had pulled the trigger on her late husband! But how had he escaped the law? And why was he claiming to be her husband? She shuddered with revulsion as she ran up to the line of patrol cars.
‘Listen, you guys, I’ve got a message for you.’
‘Run along, honey, and let men do men’s work.’ This from a white-haired officer who had a whole big quilt on his chest and a lot of stripes on his sleeve.
‘WHO ARE YOU CALLING HONEY, YOU BIG BOOB?’ Ellen shouted.
‘Now wait a minute, sir, she might have something. She got into the house somehow. Now what’s the layout?’
Ellen carefully sketched the dining room with the occupants’ approximate positions, leaving out the part where she was dragged into the house by the ransomers instead of using her wits to infiltrate them. She told them of the threat, and while you’d think the police would thus be galvanized into hasty action, this information launched a serious, drawn-out discussion among the various officers, including Avery and Costello, as to what to do. Ellen slipped away in the darkness, over to the big willow tree next door where she had left her costume which she quickly donned.
Standing revealed as the Brown Recluse, champion of justice, she put her plan into motion. Setting off a skyrocket at one end of the back of the hostage house, she dashed around to the other end as those inside all flocked to the noise and light. They’d foolishly left the back door unlocked in their haste, and The Brown Recluse slipped into the house and quickly gathered up all the guns from the table. She dumped them into the bathtub and locked the door. Checking on the hostages, she noted that they were safe for the moment, trussed up in the living room. Satisfied, she dashed into the kitchen and looked into the cupboard. She saw two bottles of canola oil for cooking. Perfect! She emptied them both on the floor between the door and the dining room just as, with perfect timing, the skyrocket burned itself out and the shiny glowing thing stopped. With their walnut-sized attention spans having moved on, the miscreants started to filter back into the house. The Brown Recluse then dropped a frying pan onto the floor, creating a great clatter, which caused the men to run inside to see what the noise was. Skidding all over the place on the canola oil slick, they collided with each other and ended up in a heap on the floor. In a flash, the Brown Recluse was upon them. Thanking her lucky stars that she’d thought to grab an automatic weapon from the pile, she covered the crooks and barked, ‘All of you outside--now!’ Sullenly they clambered to their feet and filed out the door, all fight gone. One of them snickered at The Brown Recluse’s costume of fedora, trench coat, and clear glasses, which earned him a bop on the head with the butt of the gun. Staring in disbelief at the apparent simple end of the situation were the police. As they herded the suspects into the backs of the squad cars, Costello remarked, ‘Looks like the Brown Recluse is here to stay!’
‘Looks like,’ Avery replied.
‘Looks like what?’ said Ellen Amora.
‘Did you see her? She’s fantastic! Imagine catching all those crooks so easily!’ gushed Costello. ‘I wonder who she really is?’
Smiling inwardly, Ellen Amora headed back to her own secret lair, which was actually the home she’d shared with the late ‘Amigo’ Amora. Suddenly it occurred to her--where was Breck? He hadn’t been cuffed and tossed into a patrol car. He must have escaped! Just as well--a worthy enemy for the Brown Recluse! By golly, she’d get to the bottom of this! How had he gotten away? What was the plan behind the hostage taking? Why was he pretending to be Ellen’s long-lost husband? All these questions and more would have to be answered in the further adventures of the Brown Recluse, so don’t miss them---even if you can!
Stay glued to this space for more adventures of the one and only Brown Recluse!
Meanwhile, check out these cool new mysteries:
After thirty years with the LAPD, Harry Bosch has his bona fides in order. In his latest adventure he attempts to locate a billionaire's long-lost heir. But as usual with Bosch, that's just the beginning!
Ex-cop and current PI Jack Kiley is bored. That is, until he runs into rare book dealer Daniel Pike, who, like all rare book dealers, is steeped in suspicion and intrigue.
Questions/Comments/Lame domino masks that don't fool anyone? email@example.com
The Mysterious Bookshop has been privileged to begin publishing the complete Jack Reacher series in elegant bindings of marbled boards and leather spines. Limited to only one hundred numbered copies ($150) and twenty-six lettered copies ($275), each volume is signed by the author and features a new introduction, written especially and exclusively for these books. These prefatory essays provide extraordinary insight and context for the books. Here is the most recent example, produced for Nothing to Lose. For more about the series, click here.
I lived in the south of France for most of 2006, and in March of that year bought a fourteenth-century row house to serve as my office, in the Arab quarter of Lorgues, our local town. It was a tumbledown place - in fact part of it had tumbled down hundreds of years earlier, creating an interior courtyard, which I quite liked. The house was arrayed over three narrow floors, linked by a winding stair. There was a small roof terrace, from which the previous owner had jumped to his death just weeks before. He was a graphic designer, depressed by the onset of Parkinson’s disease, which destroyed his ability to work. I bought the place from his widow, and brought in a desk and a chair, and on the first of September I sat down to start my twelfth book.
As always I had no specific plot in mind, but the background to the story had been building for more than three years. The U.S. military had moved into Iraq and Afghanistan in great numbers in March 2003. Quickly their duty settled down to extreme danger when out on patrol, and a measure of boredom and claustrophobia when holed up inside their fortified posts. They passed their downtime watching DVDs and playing video games, and when those attractions were exhausted, they read books, including mine. The posts and bases all had Internet connections, and they took to e-mailing authors, including me.
At first their communications were all brusque banter and trash-talking. They liked Reacher, and saw him as one of their own, but a jokey sense of alpha-male rivalry made them competitive. They said, “We could kick his ass!” I would write back in the same spirit and say, “No, he could kick your ass with one hand behind his back! And his head in a bag!” This went on for a couple of years, from Delta Force in Afghanistan, and the Marines in Iraq, and all points in between. But gradually I noticed my most regular correspondents edging slowly and tentatively toward more intimate subjects.
Which interested me because, years earlier and for unconnected reasons, I had followed a research project at the Imperial War Museum in London, where letters home from British World War One soldiers were being analyzed. (We had donated my grandfather’s letters to the archive, and were therefore kept informed.) The scale of mobilization had been so huge there were literally tens of millions of letters. The sample size was unparalleled. One minor and very interesting theme quickly emerged: these were literate people, even the enlisted men. They were the second generation after the 1872 introduction of compulsory education (until the age of fourteen) and their requests for books to be sent out to the trenches revealed a staggering range of interests and capabilities – Greek, Latin, all kinds of novels and history titles and polemics. Back then public education was working, clearly.
But the major theme was psychological. Soldiers found it hard to convey their secret worries. For reasons of peer pressure, they couldn’t communicate sideways; for reasons of command presence, they couldn’t communicate downward through the chain of command; for reasons of protocol, they couldn’t complain upward. They never, ever, revealed their worries to their families back home, especially not to their mothers or younger brothers. There were constant examples (my grandfather among them) of grievously wounded men with limbs blown off writing “Just a scratch, nothing to worry about” letters. There were constant examples of clearly terrified men writing home in a chirpy and confident manner. A lucky few had close friends with whom they could be more open. Those letters were grim.
And those were the kind of e-mails I suddenly started to get from Iraq and Afghanistan. A tipping point had been reached. Soldiers out there felt close to Reacher; then, as readers often do, they assumed an identity between the character and the author; so now they felt an illusory intimacy between themselves and me. I wasn’t their mother or brother. I was a safe harbor, an empty vessel. They felt they could be open with me. I began to receive long, from-the-heart messages. All revealed the same thematic progression. The war was badly run; they were risking life and limb for careless and self-interested politicians; they didn’t know why they were there; they knew the war couldn’t be won. In particular I received a message from an infantry company commander, who argued long and eloquently that duty was a two-way street, and that the civilian leadership in the Bush administration was failing the troops in the field they professed to admire so much.
So this was the background I had in mind. My vague intention was to give public voice to those soldiers. I started in the kind of fictional location I love to create – a pair of towns in Colorado that I named Hope and Despair, on a wandering road long ago bypassed by the Interstate system. I let the story develop from there. Hope was a nice place; Despair wasn’t. Reacher was thrown out of Despair because of archaic vagrancy laws; on his walk back to Hope in the dark he stumbled over a corpse, literally.
Then a serious family emergency brought me back to New York, and I never used the French office again. Years later I went back to sell it, and found it like a time capsule – a newspaper from November 2006 still open on the table where I had last eaten lunch, and so on. A thunderstorm had fried my modem and blown up my computer. The courtyard had been colonized by pigeons. It was a sad place. I couldn’t find a buyer. The locals had no money, and the 2008 crash had dried up second mortgages for Europeans seeking vacation homes. In the end I donated it to my alma mater as a student resource, and took the tax deduction. Better than nothing.
I continued the book back in New York, in a rented penthouse at the top of my building. The family emergency had short-circuited our real estate plans – we didn’t have enough space in the city to both live and work. Progress was slow, distracted as I was. But I felt the story was developing in a way I liked. Eventually I needed Reacher to comment on the issues raised by my military e-mail correspondents. I used the long message from the infantry company commander, word for word, as the basis of a fifteen-line speech. (It’s on page 353 of this edition.) It came out well, and was by definition completely authentic. It distilled Reacher’s dramatic motivations throughout the book. Mixed in along the way was considerable skepticism on Reacher’s part about evangelical religion. I thought that was the component that might attract negative comment. I was wrong.
The book was finished, slightly later than normal, in May 2007. Back then I was still a year ahead, so it waited a year to be published, in May 2008. It went straight to number one on the New York Times list – my first hardcover number one in America. It was number one in the UK too, and the Bad Luck and Trouble paperback was simultaneously number one on both countries’ paperback lists – a quadruple number-one week. By a weird coincidence, the day I found out I was on promotion tour and my hotel room number that night was 1111. All good. On top of the world.
Then the hate mail started. The professional critics had been kind, but some amateurs weren’t. Random House US is singular among all my publishers in not vetting reader mail before sending it on. Every day for months I would get rubber-banded wads of letters. Most called me an unpatriotic pinko communist, because of Reacher’s attitude to the war. Most included page 353, torn out of the book, sometimes shredded, sometimes spat on, several times used as toilet paper. I responded on line as often as I could, calling those correspondents chickenhawks and armchair warriors. I reiterated my tour schedule, inviting them to show up and confront me in person. They never did. Just like they never showed up in any war zone anywhere ever. Bullies and cowards.
I never revealed that the fifteen lines they hated so much came straight from the kind of hero their pathetic “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers purported to lionize. That was a private satisfaction. I remain relatively pleased with the book. It’s probably not my best, but it’s an honest, solid product. The threatened backlash didn’t amount to much. I was carpet-bombed with one-star reviews on Amazon, but they didn’t have much effect. The next book went straight to number one. too, with increased sales, as have all the subsequent titles. It was a tough couple of years, overall, for personal and professional reasons, but ultimately it was just a tempest in a teapot.
The Brown Recluse In: Mayhem At Six-Eighteen
Ellen Amora, alias the Brown Recluse, was racing along the street just as fast as her heart was racing in her chest as she dashed to the scene of the ‘Officer in trouble’ call that she’d heard on her police radio. She turned the corner and now where was Six-Eighteen? There! But where was everybody? The street was deserted! There were supposed to be officers in need of assistance here, but there was no one around, not even a stray dog or sparrow. The Recluse checked her upper arm where she’d written the address down: yep, Six-Eighteen North West Way. So what was going on? Almost in passing, she looked at the street sign. Shucks! This was North East Way! Cursing herself for haste making waste, she dashed towards the other side of Grover, where the west side was, and hoped that she could arrive in time to help defuse the situation.
Ellen fervently hoped that no one ever found out about her mistake with the address--in so many ways her private self belied her hard-boiled exterior.
At last she got to the right place, cop cars and officers milling about all over the place, but carefully, since everyone expected more shots to ring out at any moment. She recognized detectives Costello and Avery from her checkered but mostly innocent past as the wife of the recently slain Martin ‘Amigo’ Amora, whose gangland murder galvanized her into a life of crimefighting. They’ll never recognize me in this getup, thought Ellen, as she approached the two men, who had their shields pinned to the breast pockets of their jackets.
Avery eyed her up and down. ‘Kind of early for Halloween, ain’t you, sonny?’
‘Knock off that ‘sonny’ stuff, Avery! Now what’s the situation?’
Avery answered almost reflexively. ‘We’ve got a man barricaded in the house at Six-Eighteen. He’s taking potshots at us and we think that there are at least two other people in the house. Whether they are hostages or not, I don’t know.’
Costello was looking at her funny. Presently he said, ‘Ellen? Ellen Amora?’
The Brown Recluse shushed him, but it did no good. ‘Be quiet, you oaf! Do you want to give my secret identity away to the whole world!’
With exquisite dryness, Costello replied, ‘Your mustache is crooked, and you are wearing your late husband’s trench coat, which I recognize.’
Stifling a laugh, Avery asked, ‘What’s the idea with the super-hero jazz?’
‘I’m doing your job for you! What have you done to fix this situation?’
‘We’re operating according to the book! Why don’t you go home?’
‘Don’t patronize me! I’ll show you how to fight crime!’ And with that the Brown Recluse dashed up toward the house only to be met with a fusillade of gunfire. Prudently backing down, she returned to the perimeter where the detectives were now openly chuckling.
‘Nice work, Batman,’ said Avery. ‘Lucky you didn’t get shot!’
‘Never mind, I’ve got a better idea,’ she squealed.
‘Will you do me a favor and let us handle the police work? Leave your comic books at home, what do you say?’ said Costello.
Seething with resentment at the cops’ condescension, Ellen snuck behind a large tree at the front of the lawn next door and quickly doffed her costume, although in her haste she forgot to remove her crooked fake mustache. It only took a moment, as at this point her costume consisted only of clear spectacles, a fedora, her late husband’s trench coat, and the fake mustache. By this time she’d been forgotten by the phalanx of police outside the besieged house, which suited her just fine. She crept alongside the house next door, being careful to stay in the shadows. Around the back, underneath the deck and through the cobwebs just to be on the safe side, and to the corner. Look, look, look, look...now! Dashing across the gap between the two houses, Ellen thankfully heard no more gunfire, and no more interference from the cops was evident. She peered into the corner of the window at the rear of the crime house, and saw nothing. Why didn’t they turn a light on in there? Did they have something to hide? Suddenly a bank of lights came on, blinding Ellen. ‘There’s someone out here, Jerry!’ cried a voice from within. Then rough hands grabbed Ellen and dragged her into the house.
Several people were gathered around the dining room table, which was covered in weapons and ammunition. No one seemed unduly alarmed, perhaps this wasn’t a hostage situation. But before Ellen could take any action, a man dressed only in camouflage pants ran up to Ellen and yelled, ‘Darling! You waited for me!’ and caught her in a sweaty bear hug that took her breath away. So she couldn’t speak even if she had known what to say. Taking her silence for uncertainty, the man released her, stepped back and said, ‘Don’t you know your own husband? It’s me, Amigo!’
And all Ellen could say was, ‘But...but...you’re dead!’
Tune in next time for the next installment of ‘Mayhem at Six-Eighteen!’
Meanwhile, take a gander at some or all of these titles that have something to do with disguises:
Pen Davenport is a bookaneer, who hijacks popular titles for publication as cheap pirated editions, enabled by lax copyright laws. But this era is ending, and so the bookaneer fraternity plans one last spectacular heist!
Parisian detective Gaston Max, master of disguise, battles two fiends who seek nothing less than the destruction of British society!
Grazia Negro battles a master of disguise and murder code named 'Pit Bull' in this sequel to Almost Blue.
Questions/Comments/Ridiculous costume with a cape that gets caught in doors all the time? firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brown Recluse in: It Begins.
Once, she was Ellen Amora, happily married to Albert Amora, who everyone called ‘Amigo.’ Then she was La Veuve Noire, the Black Widow, who exacted her revenge on ‘Boss’ Mayhew, who’d ordered the hit on Amigo. Now, after the county fair caper, Ellen’s secret identity as the Brown Recluse was known to no one, but feared by all.
Once, he was a fine, upstanding citizen, living in quiet desperation in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children. Then, out of the blue and out of the past, an old acquaintance arrives on his doorstep, ready to collect on a favor and a promise from long ago. Breck then found himself in River City, forced to do the unsavory and occasionally the unspeakable, in return for Mayhew’s silence. How far would he go to keep his past a secret from his family? But now Mayhew is permanently silent, and Breck is at a crossroads. Should he return to his quiet life in the East? Can he? Or will he, as second in command of the Mayhew criminal enterprise, take control of the now leaderless organization?
And what of the Brown Recluse? It was she who took care of Mayhew, remember. Will she want similar revenge on Breck? Perhaps he will engage in a preemptive strike against River City’s newest, and only, super-hero.
How will the city survive the epic battle of two titans, each on their own side of the law?
While we wait for our feature to begin, check out some of these recent titles that your friendly blogger quite enjoyed:
Details and photos of some of the celebrated cases in the NYPD files along with some lesser known but no less sordid tales of depravity, as only the Big Apple can provide! Chock full of photos, some a bit graphic.
A man terribly maimed in a car wreck months before has apparently taken his own life. DCI Serena Flanagan, alone amongst her colleagues and superiors, has doubts. Meanwhile, a minister who has lost his faith and gained a terrible secret, a woman with a past whose facade no one has yet seen through, and a local politician with a self-serving agenda (big surprise!) complicate matters.
The city of Atlanta, under duress, hires eight African-American police officers in this year of 1948. They are not allowed to drive patrol cars, arrest white suspects, or even enter the police building. When a young black woman is seen leaving the car of a white man, and is later murdered, Officers Boggs and Smith suspect some of their white colleagues of more than just bigotry.
Questions/Comments/Megalomaniac Super-Villains? email@example.com