Mystery Scene Magazine

At the Scene, March 2012               Solving the mystery of what to read next!
In This Issue
Nicci French on Reading
Shakespeare Overheard
Crime Time TV
Agatha Award Nominees
MS New Authors Breakfast
New Renewal Policy
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MS 123, Lisa Gardner
Winter Issue #123 out now!

March Greetings
Nicci French on Reading, Lucy Liu as Watson, Awards Continued, MS New Authors Breakfast at Malice

Hi everyone!

Research is definitely the theme in this issue of Mystery Scene. Lisa Gardner, for example, goes to great lengths - even into the boxing ring! - to bring realism to her fast-paced thrillers. She contends that imagination is no substitute for actually hitting someone - or being hit yourself. 

Gardner was a working writer before she graduated college, publishing 13 romance novels by the time she was 25. "The disadvantage of starting to write so young is that I didn't have a trade first," she tell Oline Cogdill in this issue. "A lot of suspense writers were lawyers or reporters so they already had a knowledge base they could draw on. I don't." Hence, the prodigious research that make Gardner's thrillers so immersive and so very popular.

Jon L. Breen surveys Simon Brett's considerable body of work in this issue, just in time for this master of the whodunit's Lifetime Achievement Award from the Malice Domestic Convention in April. Jon also did some research into the favorite tipples of Brett's detectives, including, of course, Charles Paris' beloved Bell's Whisky.

Art Taylor considers the eternal appeal of Agatha Christie's little Belgian sleuth in "The Celebrated Poirot." As you might expect, Christie offers endless avenues for research. For example, did you know that Charles Laughton was the first actor to ever play Hercule Poirot? (See page 35.)

And speaking of 'tecs and their tipples, here is Poirot in Three-Act Tragedy:
"The sherry, I prefer it to the cocktail, and a thousand times to the whisky. Ah, quelle horreur, the whisky. But drinking the whisky, you ruin - absolutely ruin - the palate." 

A little research can pay big dividends if you're a book collector. In this issue Nate Pedersen discusses "association copies," books whose values are increased by interesting connections to their authors or owners. (Check out the pride of my husband's book collection on page 40!)

It was the difficulty of research that turned Nicola Upson into a novelist. She had intended to write a biography of Josephine Tey, author of The Daughter of Time. Instead she found that a series of novels, carefully researched but also sympathetically imagined, better captured the character of this complex woman.
Research isn't always the final answer, though. Many sources declare unequivocally that Lester del Rey wrote the infamously (and deliberately) bad short story, "Rattlesnake Cave." Not true. For the real story on the worst story ever written see the note from Larry Block on page 46 or visit the Mystery Scene Blog

This April, Brian and I, as well as a number of MS contributors, will be at the Malice Domestic Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. We're particularly looking forward to the New Authors Breakfast which we're sponsoring again this year. Hope to see you there!


Best wishes,

Kate Stine


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Wilkie Collins
The first US edition of Wilkie Collins' classic printed in 1860.


Nicci French on Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White 


The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, was published in 1860. Even today, it's one of those books you read and ask yourself: Where the hell did that come from? The first half of the book is like a feverish dream; it begins with a mad woman appearing out of the darkness, and is full of storms, shadows, nightmares, spectral moonlight, and a sense of dread. Then we encounter Marian Halcombe, the most extraordinary "heroine" in Victorian fiction: she's ugly, she has a light moustache, and she's utterly compelling. Marian's adversary is Count Fosco, the prototype of the evil, horrifying but charismatic villain. He is Italian, he is enormously fat, and he keeps white mice in his pocket that he plays with as he talks.


Count Fosco and his confederate, Sir Perceval Glyde (even the names are evil), concoct a plot to steal the fortune of Laura Fairlie. The idea is not to kill her, which would be too easy, but to steal her very identity and replace her with a woman who looks like her. For how do you prove that you are yourself?


There is also a kind of love story between the hero, Walter Hartright, and Laura Fairlie (the names are a bit of a giveaway) but the true, hidden love story of the book is that between Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco, two outsiders who recognize each other's intelligence.


The Woman in White is the first great psychological thriller, based not just on violence and murder but on the slipperiness of identity and the perception that in our ordinary lives we are skating on thin ice and beneath is madness, disorder, and tumbling strangeness. Anyone who writes - or reads - psychological thrillers owes a great debt to Wilkie Collins.



BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French

Nicci French's latest book is Blue Monday (Pamela Dorman, March 2012). 

"Writers on Reading" is a special ongoing Mystery Scene series available as a first look exclusive to our newsletter subscribers. 
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From you have I been absent in the spring,

When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,

That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,

Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell

Of different flowers in odor and in hue,

Could make me any summer's story tell, 

Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.

Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.



William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98. The opening line inspired the title of Agatha Christie's early work Absent in the Spring, which was written under her nom de plume Mary Westmacott.



ABSENT IN THE SPRING by Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie) 



One of six early novels written as Mary Westmacott, this 1944 edition of Absent in the Spring reveals a side of Agatha Christie's work quite different from her mysteries.




Crime Time TV Roundup

Lucy Liu to play Joan Watson in Elementary, a US update of Holmes

Blasphemy or breakthrough? Tell us what you think.

Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu, the new Watson
Britain's popular new TV show Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman 
re-envisions Dr. James Watson as an Iraq War vet in 21st-century London. But what will audiences say to mystery's most famous sidekick as a modern-day Chinese American New Yorker? And a mighty attractive female one at that?

CBS' new pilot, Elementary, casts 43-year-old Lucy Liu (SouthlandCharlie's Angels) as former surgeon Joan Watson opposite Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting), a brilliant, former Scotland Yard consultant living in New York City while undergoing rehab.

The Internet is already abuzz about the nontraditional casting, with many fans upset over the demise of "one of the great bromances of all time." What say you dear readers, breakthrough or blasphemy?

Tweet us your thoughts @MysteryScene.

Missing, starring Ashley Judd, on ABC
Thursday, March 17, 8/7c
MISSING starring Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd stars as Becca Winstone, a woman haunted by tragedy. Her husband was murdered and ten years later her teenage son, Michael, goes missing while studying in Rome.

Not content to be a mere drama about a mother's desperate search for her child, Missing tosses in gorgeous European locales and espionage-like thrills. As the show's website has it, "Both [Becca] and Michael's father used to be lethal CIA agents, and whoever took Michael messed with the wrong mother." 



White Chapel on BBC America is back
Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 10/9c


Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Detective Sergeant Miles (Phil Davis) return to solve grisly new cases in London's notorious East End for three more episodes of White Chapel this March on BBC America.

White Chapel, produced by the Emmy Award-winning folks of Downton Abbey, finds the detectives' latest cases connected to a vast archive of crime files discovered beneath the incident room. As old crimes become clues to cases in the present, the detectives are joined by historian Ed Buchan (Steve Pemberton) as they close in on a killer.



Agatha Award Nominees

The Agatha Awards honor the "traditional mystery" - books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. Winners will be announced at the 2011 Agatha Awards banquet to be held at Malice Domestic on Saturday, April 28, in Bethesda, Maryland.

The 2012 Guest of Honor is Jan Burke, the Toastmaser is Dana Cameron





Full nominations including Best First Novel, Best Nonfiction, Best Short Story, Best Children's/YA, and Best Historical at 

Mystery Scene New Authors Breakfast
Malice Domestic, Bethesda, Maryland, Saturday, April 28, 7:00 am 

 TEMPEST IN THE TEA LEAVES by Kari Lee Townsend  WHO DO, VOODOO? by Rochelle Staab  DIRE THREADS by Janet Bolin

On the hunt for the best new authors? Looking to expand your reading list?

Then join Mystery Scene at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland, for breakfast and a chat with more than 20 of the most exciting new authors on the scene including Malice Best First Novel nominees Janet Bolin (Dire Threads), Rochelle Staab (Who Do, Voodoo?) and Kari Lee Townsend (Tempest in the Tea Leaves).

The Mystery Scene New Authors Breakfast is open to all registered attendees of Malice Domestic. It will run from 7:00 - 8:30 am on Saturday, April 28th. Anyone who hasn't registered for Malice but wants to can easily do so by going to Coffee's on us!
Important Notice to Print Subscribers
Don't  miss an issue due to late renewal!
MS 123, Lisa Gardner
Mystery Scene will no longer be able to offer courtesy subscription "gap" issues to subscribers who miss an issue due to late renewal. 
MS will send you renewal reminders via email and/or regular mail. Please renew promptly in order to avoid missing an issue! 
Missed issues will be available for back issue purchase at $10 each at the


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