Through a Broken Window

by Paul D. Marks

“It is through that broken window that we see the world…” – Alice Walker

Someone asked me why I had written my novels the Shamus Award-winning White Heat and the new sequel to it Broken Windows. White Heat deals with Private Detective Duke Rogers, who finds himself in a racially combustible situation in South Central Los Angeles—on the day the “Rodney King” riots break out. It also deals with race and racism in the context of a mystery-thriller. And Broken Windows (set two years later in 1994 L.A. during the time of California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187) does the same for the immigration issue.—That person wanted to know: Did I have experience: was I a cop or a protester?

Alice Walker said, “It is through that broken window that we see the world…” And Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines through the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

While the storm rages over California’s infamous anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. Along the way we explore the fiery immigration controversy from all sides and no one escapes unscathed.

So, to get back to the question: No, I wasn’t a cop or a protester. But I did live in LA at the time of both the King riots and Proposition 187, and I remember the turmoil, the rallies, the rage on both sides. And I wanted to write about those situations, but not in a didactic way. So my way is to have a thriller story set amongst those backgrounds. For example, while I think the story in Broken Windows steamrolls along like a good thriller, one of the things I find especially interesting about it is how in the context of the Prop 187 debate and era we can get some perspective on the unrest happening today over the immigration issue. By seeing what was happening then, and how the characters deal with the situation, we might gain just a bit of insight into current events.

Also, a long time ago, not too long after the Watts Riots, some friends and I were invited down to Watts by a guy who lived there. He had seen where and how we lived and he wanted us to see where he lived—the “other side of the tracks,” so to speak. We were nervous going there, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. Five or six white kids (teens) sitting in Will Rogers Park (now renamed) in the middle of Watts. Yes, we were an anomaly. But people came over and talked to us. They were curious about us and we were curious about them. But there was no animosity. No tension. It was just people with different backgrounds trying to get to know each other. And that day in particular and for some years after that, I always thought things were getting better along the “differences” lines, even though it might have been a two-steps-forward—one-step-back type of progress. And then a few years ago everything seemed to start sliding downhill again. Getting worse, as if we were largely only going backwards. (Find more of our Watts excursion story here:

Then there was the time I was living in San Diego and took the train up to L.A. It stopped in the middle of nowhere, as I recall. Not at a station. The Border Patrol got on board, handcuffed and took off at least half the passengers. We assumed it was because they had come across the border illegally. It was an aha moment. But maybe there’s something to be learned from it. Maybe the past should give some perspective on today. The same with the King Riots and the Prop 187 contentiousness. Because if we don’t learn from these things, if we don’t learn from the past, twenty years from now our kids will be asking the same questions we are, facing the same situations we are and wondering why nobody did anything about it.

Thank you for hosting me, Maggie. I’ve enjoyed being here.


Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat, which Publishers Weekly calls a “taut crime yarn,” and its sequel Broken Windows (dropping 9/10/18). Publisher’s Weekly says: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though thrillers and set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. Marks says “Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines, like the passionate immigration debate, through the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.” His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story Windward, has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and has also been nominated for both a 2018 Shamus Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea.

Missing Mystery Authors: Update #6

The “Missing Mystery Authors” series is back! Thank you readers, for wanting to know what happened to your favorite mystery authors who, for whatever reason, haven’t published in a while.

Some authors are easy to find, while others are not. Fortunately, many still maintain websites and are active on social media so I can contact them. Often life circumstances put her or his writing on hold. Some are making a comeback with a new series. Sadly, some have left us for the great beyond. Others have seemingly vanished.

It’s always a treat when one of these “missing” folks gets in touch and we strike up an online friendship. Bonus is discovering yet another wonderful author who keeps my TBR list alive and well.

Read on!

Dicey Deere wrote the Torrey Tunet mysteries, set in Ballynagh, Ireland. Titles include The Irish Cottage Murder, The Irish Manor House Murder, The Irish Cairn Murder, and The Irish Village Murder.

Dicey Deere was the nom de plume for Harriet La Barre, a former Cosmopolitan editor. Under her real name, she wrote the following mysteries: Stranger in Vienna, The Florentine Win, and Blackwood‘s Daughter.

Ms. LaBarre passed away in 2015 at the age of 99. Read her obit here.

Earl Emerson, author of the Thomas Black series, featuring a Seattle-based PI. Back in March, I asked for information on this author. A reader informed me that he published a Thomas Black title in November of 2017. Somehow I missed that.

Cate Price wrote the Deadly Notions series, featuring Daisy Buchanan. When one of my loyal blog readers wrote: “I just read her third ‘notions’ book and checked to see if there were any more. Couldn’t find anything after 2015,” I emailed the author. Here is her response:

Hi Maggie!

Thanks for getting in touch, and I’m so pleased that readers are still asking about me 🙂

I had a contract with Berkley Prime Crime for a series of three books, as a writer-for-hire, which means that I don’t own the rights to the series, the characters, or even the pen name “Cate Price”. The series was well-received, but Berkley did not offer for more books, because at the time they were radically downsizing their cozy mystery line. So, as much as I had many ideas for more stories, and loved writing the “Deadly Notions” series, my hands are tied and I can’t self publish.

Readers have also asked what I’m working on now, but part of the contract was that I could never identify myself (my real name) to “Cate Price”. So I’m afraid that will have to remain a mystery!

Please thank your readers for their interest. It really cheers me up to think that people are still enjoying the books.

Best Regards,


It sounds like she’s between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Corinne Holt Sawyer In my last Missing Authors Update, I mentioned Corinne Holt Sawyer, author of the Angela Benbow and Caledonia Wingate series. Angela and Caledonia are “women of a certain age” who live in a retirement community in Southern California and bring killers to justice on a regular basis.

Soon after that post, I began a correspondence with the author. She lives in Southern California and enjoys the same lifestyle she gives her fictional sleuths. She keeps abreast of technology, but, in her words, “I’m not up to blogging.”

When I asked Corinne about her plans for continuing her series, this is what she told me:

After Donald Fine, my publisher, died, my agent had a battle with Penguin (which took over Donald Fine’s lists)…. because Penguin only wanted to do the book in paperback, but our contract with Fine specified hardcover edition first, paperback no closer than 10 months later (or words to that effect).

Agent and Penguin argued back and forth for a year before Penguin gave up and said they would just give us back our manuscript.   After that, agent couldn’t sell the 9th in the series to another publisher. And that was the end of it.

My agent is now too, alas, deceased. I could probably self-publish the 9th in the series, if I were into that. But at age 94 I don’t want to cope with any of the rigors of self publishing.   

I found the following about Corinne Holt Sawyer on Fantastic Fiction:

Very impressive! But is it totally accurate? Not according to Corinne:

Thanks for the link.   I had never seen that writeup and so went right to it…. and yikes!                 

Though my name is spelled right in the headline, it’s misspelled throughout the column. Yes, I took my PhD from Birmingham, but it wasn’t “in the south” it was in England, where they’d moved their entire graduate division of their English Department 35 miles “off campus” to Stratford-on-Avon, where we lived and worked as a community of renaissance scholars (so to speak.). I’ve only  been in Birmingham, Alabama, once in my life…. and not to go to college there!        

I was never station manager of WNCT…  I was what they call “talent” with my own house-and-home program, and a magazine-of-the-air……  etc., etc.   For one year I was their continuity writer as well….. Boooooring job, I fear.

Where on earth do you suppose they got all that misinformation?   And why misspell my name throughout? How very strange…….

I immediately checked my own entry in Fantastic Fiction. It’s accurate but needs updating.

In The Peanut Butter Murders, Corinne’s sleuth Caledonia says “peanut butter” in lieu of swearing (talk about being creative!). When I told Corinne I enjoyed the story, she shared this little known tale:

Oh, here’s a P.S. about “Peanut Butter Murders” — and it makes self publishing look much better, since it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been self-publishing:

I intended that the book start with the little rhyme:

For obvious reasons — the framework story about the girl finding the body beside the railway tracks.

Some editor from Penguin, (she wasn’t MY editor, mind you) told Donald Fine (my publisher) that rhyme shouldn’t be included… it was too gruesome for my readers, who were obviously elderly and easily shocked.  (Oh, puh-leeze!  We used to sing that as we played hop-scotch when we were little kids!)  But,” she said, “I love the title, so keep the title and find another reason for using it.”  So I had to invent the “swear words” for Caledonia, who never used them in any book before or since…..   See?  It’s not so bad not to have a professional editor. They make a lot of mistakes, and they sometimes drive you crazy.

I’ve so enjoyed my correspondence with this delightful author, and loved her behind-the-scenes tidbits. Bonus: she likes my books!

Here’s Corinne Holt Sawyer’s bibliography on Stop! You’re Killing Me. Wouldn’t it be cool if she published #9?

In Memoriam

My friend Rosie researched her own Missing Authors and sent me the following:

Willam G. Tapply and Philip R. Craig William G. Tapply, who died in 2009, wrote some great mysteries about Stoney Calhoun, a Maine fishing guide. He also wrote mysteries featuring attorney Brady Coyne.

I liked a mystery series he co-wrote with Philip R. Craig. These “Brady Coyne and J.W. Jackson” mysteries used Martha’s Vineyard as the setting. Brady Coyne was still a Boston attorney, but his buddy J.W. Jackson (ex-cop) lived on Martha’s Vineyard, and that’s where the mysteries happen! Craig died in 2007 and has three posthumous mysteries released. Craig wrote many J.W. Jackson mysteries that were not collaborations. Those featured his J.W. Jackson character, so when Craig and Tapply cowrote, those mysteries were fun because the reader saw two separate familiar characters. Each author wrote other books/series, too.

Dorothy Gilman died in 2012. I loved her Mrs. Pollifax series. Of course she wrote other books, too. I’m looking at the summary of the Clairvoyant Countess now. See her bibliography on Stop! You’re Killing Me.

Elizabeth Peters’ (Barbara Mertz) Amelia Peabody series really got me hooked. She died in 2013. Her final book The Painted Queen was finished by her friend Joan Hess and released in 2017, and then Joan Hess died in November of 2017. Stop! You’re Killing Me lists the extensive bibliographies of both Elizabeth Peters  and Joan Hess.

◊ ◊ ◊

Posts from my “Missing Authors” series, in chronological order:

Missing Rochelle Krich

Discovering a Lost Author: John J. Lamb

Whatever Happened to Gabrielle Kraft?

Whatever Happened to (Name an Author)?

In Memory of My Favorite Mystery Authors (And Maybe Yours)

Those Missing Authors: An Update

Missing Author Found!

Missing Authors: Update 2

“Missing Authors: Update 3”

“Missing Authors: Update 4”

“Missing Authors: Update 5”

Do you have a favorite mystery author who hasn’t written in some time and isn’t included in one of the above posts? Yes? Include the name(s) in the comments section and I’ll see what I can find out. It may take me some time but I will get back to you, either personally or in an upcoming blog post.


The Unanticipated Joys of Research

By Ellen Byerrum

What if clothes were haunted like houses or locations?

Could a dress be toxic enough to kill?

How would someone dispatch a villain in a dying velvet factory?

These may not be the nicest of questions, but they are among ones I’ve asked myself when writing my Crime of Fashion Mysteries. I wrapped these ideas into the plots of three of the books, but not without looking further into these queries and their answers. While imagination plays the largest part in crafting a story, I also like to get it right, or at least have a realistic place to jump to the realm of make-believe.

That’s where research comes in. It can be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. The hands-on research, that is, the kind that lifts you out of your chair and away from your desk.

Sure, there are a lot of facts at your fingertips via the Internet and Google. And like everyone else, I use my computer for finding information and checking details. However, the web is no substitute for leaving your comfort zone and meeting people, asking questions, or just walking around in the location about which you want to write. In the shoes of your characters, so to speak. However, in my case, it might also be in their dresses.

Where did my question about haunted clothing come from?

I once had the strangest experience of putting on one of my vintage 1940s suits and feeling very strongly that I was supposed to wear Chanel No. 5 with that suit. Chanel No. 5?! Was that a memory left behind by the original woman who owned the suit? Did she wear Chanel No. 5? I don’t particularly care for that fragrance, it’s a bit too sweet for me. But my husband thoughtfully bought me the perfume anyway. I haven’t tried saying, “Honey, the suit wants a diamond necklace to go with it.” Not yet, anyway. Unfortunately for my jewelry box, the suit only wanted the right perfume.

Nevertheless, the idea of a haunted garment—in my case a haunted shawl—started rumbling around in my brain, and I knew there could be a fascinating story there. There’s not a lot of information on the web about haunted clothes, and haunted clothing doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence, either in experience or literature. That question, however, led to one of the most delightful interviews I have ever had. I made an appointment and interviewed two gracious experts in the Costume Collections at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

They had no tales of ghostly garments, although they had one item they called the “bad luck” bridal gown. (The bride died shortly after the wedding.) However, they offered me wonderful information about the collection, which has over 30,000 American garments which date from as early as the 1600s. I was able to view shoes, hats, dresses that the public will never get to see. I was so lucky and so grateful for their insights and I used some of that information for my ninth book, Veiled Revenge.

Deadly dyes and deadly dresses

Though not haunted, a deadly dress is something I explore in Lethal Black Dress, the tenth book in the series. I first heard about a dye known as “poison apple green” in a college class on the History of Costume (Liberal arts rock!) The toxic dye could be absorbed through the skin.

Years later, I worked my way through the literature on the phenomena and found that there were beautiful and brilliant blue and green colors that came from “Paris Green” dye. The dye was toxic, made from copper acetoarsenite, and was used in fabrics and paper, wallpaper and even candy wrappers. Unfortunately, when wet it released an arsenic gas, which could be absorbed through the pores. Some people believe that Napoleon died from arsenic poison emitted from his Paris Green wallpaper on the very humid island of St. Helena.

I consulted a doctor and asked whether such a dye really could kill someone. We tried out various scenarios while she pondered it and concluded, “Sure, why not?” That’s the beauty of fiction. Once you decide something is possible, you can wind yourself down a twisted trail of diabolical suspects and deadly plots, along with Paris Green dye.

And what about that velvet factory?

When I was a working journalist in Washington, D.C., a coworker told me the last velvet factory in Virginia (and the last dress-grade velvet factory in America) was going to close down, and that she knew the manager—I knew I had to see it for myself. I immediately called the manager and asked if I could tour the facility. I explained I was a reporter and a mystery writer, and he remarked, “Well, there are a lot of ways to kill people here.” Words that warm the cockles of a writer’s heart.

I took a day off work and traveled to the small economically depressed Virginia town.

Bolts and bolts of shimmering fabric contrasted dramatically with the dangerous steel equipment required to manufacture it. Velvet is woven with two backing sheets at once, so that a razor-sharp blade must slice through the weave to release the soft velvet in the middle, creating two pieces of fabric. The circular blades used to cut it were at least six feet high.

Making velvet was not automated. Workers had to carefully pull and attach the material on racks with sharp steel teeth to stretch it and dry it. The velvet was then wound onto the teeth of giant spools to be dyed in massive tanks. Each step carried its own hazards.

Not only did I get a glimpse of what it would be like to work in such a factory (and how someone might meet their fictional fate there), I saw what closing the factory, the economic impact, meant to that small town. The factory once had a hundred weavers, but that function had been sent to England and the weaving room was now silent. Other departments were likewise decimated. When I visited there were just a handful of workers left.

It was a lot for me and my character Lacey Smithsonian to consider. That research was crucial in writing Shot Through Velvet, the seventh book in my series.

Ellen’s tour of the velvet factory

I am currently working on and researching a prequel to my series, which is set during World War II in Washington, D.C. It features Lacey’s great-aunt, Mimi Smith, when she was a young woman working for the wartime Office of Price Administration. In researching it, I have spent time visiting various D.C area locations, including Chinquapin Village, a housing development for Torpedo Factory workers. It was located in Alexandria, VA, but dismantled sometime after the war.

Research has a way of bringing things to life that otherwise might just be a heading on an outline. One question can lead you to people who have amazing insights, or to locations that can open up a whole world. It can make a story bigger and more involved. I recommend it.

Ellen Byerrum is a novelist, a playwright, a former Washington, D.C. journalist, and a graduate of private investigation school in Virginia. Her Screwball Noir Crime of Fashion mysteries feature Lacey Smithsonian, a reluctant fashion reporter in Washington, D.C., “The City That Fashion Forgot.” Lacey solves crimes with fashion clues while stylishly decked out in vintage togs.

Her most recent Crime of Fashion mystery, and the 11th in the series, is The Masque of the Red Dress. What do Russian espionage, Washington DC, and the theatre have in common? Spies, lies and a dangerous red dress.

Two of the COF novels, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, were filmed for the Lifetime Movie Network.

The Woman in the Dollhouse is Byerrum’s first suspense thriller. She has also penned a middle-grade mystery, The Children Didn’t See Anything, the first of stories starring the precocious 12-year-old Bresette twins, Evangeline and Raphael.

Under her playwright pen name, Eliot Byerrum, she has published two plays with Samuel French, A Christmas Cactus and Gumshoe Rendezvous.

You can find Ellen Byerrum on her website at



Ellen Byerrum’s Fashion Bites on YouTube:

Buy The Masque of the Red Dress on Amazon:




Missing Authors: Update #5

The “Missing Author” series is back! Thank you readers, for wanting to know what happened to your favorite mystery authors who, for whatever reason, haven’t published in a while. Thanks also for introducing me to some great new-to-me authors. I really enjoyed the late Graham Landrum’s The Garden Club Mystery.

Read on for the latest updates:

Barbara D’Amato, author of three series set in Chicago. Brian D’amato (son?) posts frequently on her Facebook page. But she does not. Curious.

Jane Haddam, author of the Gregor Demarkian series, set in Philadelphia.

I emailed Ms. Haddam on May 25, 2017, asking about her plans for the Gregor Demarkian series. Fighting Chance is the most recent  book in the series, and that was published in 2014. She didn’t respond. However, on January 9, 2018, she introduced the Georgia Xenakis series with Dead Letters.

She’s blogging and has a new Facebook author page. She’s experimenting with a GoFundMe page. Read about it here.

On March 11, she posted that she was in the hospital and not feeling well.

M.D. Lake, aka Allen Simpson, author of the Peggy O’Neill mysteries, set in Minnesota. I was corresponding with the president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime a few months ago; she asked one of the chapter’s members to contact Allen. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m following up.

Ann Ripley, author of the Gardening Mysteries. She’s on Facebook. On February 26, 2017, she posted to a friend:

My agent is looking at a mystery I’ve written. If someone buys it, I’ll go out and drink a couple of margaritas.

I hope Ms. Ripley has had success.

Corinne Holt Sawyer, author of the Angela Benbow and Caledonia Wingate series, set in Southern California.

Here’s her bio from FantasticFiction, and it’s fascinating. Ms. Sawyer has an impressive resume. She last published in 1999.

She’s 94 and lives in a retirement community in Carlsbad, California. Very nice! Apparently she’s enjoying the upscale lifestyle of her fictional sleuths, hopefully sans murder!

Beth Sherman, author of the Jersey Shore mysteries. According to a mutual mystery author friend, Ms. Sherman is a college professor and publishes fiction and poetry in literary journals. She has been pursuing her PhD. Apparently she has moved on from mysteries.

Christine Wenger, author of the Comfort Food Mystery series.

She is publishing western romances, and has a new one coming out on April 3, 2018. Here’s her response to my inquiry about the status of her diner series:

Unfortunately, the series ended after IT’S A  WONDERFUL KNIFE. The publisher didn’t want it anymore. Darn it! I am writing bull rider books for Harlequin right now, but you never know. I might  publish more of Trixie and the gang  myself!!  

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your interest. And sorry for the delay in replying to you.


Updates from Previous Posts

Shirley Damsgaard, author of the Ophelia and Abby series, set in small town Iowa. Shirley accepted my Facebook request and she is a frequent poster. Earlier this year I sent her a Facebook message, asking if she planned to return to her series. She didn’t respond. But I followed a hunch and found this Facebook posting from Shirley on September 17, 2017:

Thanks for all the comments on my little survey! There were so many that I couldn’t reply to each one separately! And a special thanks to everyone who wants more Ophelia and Abby! It means more than I can say that there is still an interest in “the girls!” Even after all this time since the last release! I am trying to get back in the game so to speak and doing some rearranging in my life to make it more conducive to writing.

A little background on what set me pondering the short story-novella question. On Saturday, I had a terrific time attending a reading given by one of my “besties” and fellow author, Tamara Jones (totally unbiased pitch here…she has a new book coming out October 3rd, “Morgan’s Run,” and as one of her first readers, I can tell you, it’s really good! ?) Anyway, at the reading, I also met her publisher, Aaron Bunce, and as things usually go when those involved in the industry get together, the conversation turned to marketing and how to be successful. It brought to mind as to whether or not short stories and novellas could be used as an effective tool to help build a readership, but I wondered just how popular they are.

It seems from your comments, that most of you do enjoy them. AND several of you made important points….1. don’t leave you hanging at the end of the story; 2. Use the story to give you further insight into the series’ characters. The last point was something I really hadn’t considered while working on this current piece, but will now! Tink plays a more central role in this story and, thanks to your comments, I will definitely look at ways to let you all get to know her better!

Again, thanks for the input!

End of Shirley’s post

Shirley did publish a collection of stories, Shadow Tales, in 2011. It includes an Ophelia and Abby story.

Madelyn Alt. I get more requests on her whereabouts than for any other author. I don’t have any info on her beyond this post from 2016.

I’m having a tough time finding information on the status of the following authors. If you know anything, please leave a comment:

K.J.Erickson, author of the Mars Bahr series, set in Minneapolis

Lynda Robinson, creator of Lord Meren, chief investigator for Pharaoh Tutankhamun in ancient Egypt.

Mary Stanton (pseud. Claudia Bishop), a prolific writer of mysteries set in Upstate New York and Savannah, Georgia.

Earl Emerson, author of two series set in Washington State: Mac Fontana, ex-firefighter and arson investigator; and Thomas Black, bicycling-enthusiast private eye. The last Thomas Black story was published in 2015.

Barbara Taylor McCafferty (pseud. Tierney McClellan) and Beverly Taylor Herald, twin sisters and one time prolific authors of several series.

Jean Hager, wrote three series set in Oklahoma and Missouri

Sharon Kahn, creator of Ruby Rothman, a rabbi’s widow in Eternal, Texas

Posts from my “Missing Authors” series, in chronological order:

Missing Rochelle Krich

Discovering a Lost Author: John J. Lamb

Whatever Happened to Gabrielle Kraft?

Whatever Happened to (Name an Author)?

In Memory of My Favorite Mystery Authors (And Maybe Yours)

Those Missing Authors: An Update

Missing Author Found!

Missing Authors: Update 2

“Missing Authors: Update 3”

“Missing Authors: Update 4”

Do you have a favorite author who hasn’t written in some time and isn’t included in one of the above posts? Yes? Include the name(s) in the comments section and I’ll see what I can find out. It may take me some time but I will get back to you, either personally or in an upcoming blog post.

Some authors are easy to find, while some are not. Fortunately, many still maintain websites and are active on social media so I can contact them. Often life circumstances put her or his writing on hold. Some are making a comeback with a new series. Sadly, I find that some have left us for the great beyond. Others have seemingly vanished.

Find bibliographies for the above authors on Stop You’re Killing Me, a great resource for mystery lovers.



WAR and PEACE: My Thoughts on Tolstoy’s Saga

War and Peace is a masterpiece. It’s Leo Tolstoy’s epic, epic account of the history of the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Russian society as seen through the lens of five Russian aristocratic families. It clocks in at 587,287 words.

Why I read it

Call it a personal challenge, my bucket list book. Over the past year, I’ve received a series of nudges from the good reading angel who sits on my shoulder:

  • Author Gayle Bartos-Pool wrote a thoughtful post, prompted by a TV news story about teachers who no longer wanted to teach the classics. She makes a good case for keeping the classics alive and offers examples of the authors we would do well to discover, or re-discover—Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury. E. Phillips Oppenheim. She doesn’t specifically mention Leo Tolstoy or War and Peace, but that’s the title that buzzed through my mind as I read her post.
  • War and Peace is all about Trump. Who Knew?” Naturally the title of Fred Hiatt’s article in the Washington Post intrigued me. Now I won’t comment on our leader but, love him or hate him, understanding him could only be helpful. Mr. Hiatt states that War and Peace is not only about Donald Trump, but that it can guide us in responding to his presidency. Interesting reading.
  • About a year ago my sister told me she was reading it. Sibling rivalry, perhaps?
  • I remembered how I loved Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
  • It’s a classic.

Why I didn’t read it sooner

  • It’s, well, long. I’ve read other long tomes—The Fountainhead, Middlemarch, the aforementioned Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Gone with the Wind, and Atlas Shrugged—but that was before I took up the pen and turned out my own much shorter tomes, giving me less time to read. The idea of devoting two-plus months to one book didn’t appeal.
  • I did try to read War and Peace back in the seventies but quickly got bogged down by the long Russian names that all seemed with start with K.
  • I would have to abandon my runaway TBR list.

Still, the good reading angel persisted …

It was time.

I started War and Peace on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23, 2017) and read THE END on January 29, 2018. Okay, I’m a slow reader, plus I took a break a couple of times to review a book as a favor for an author friend.

What do I think of it?

I won’t offer a literary critique. That’s been done many times.

I will say that it’s magnificent. Tolstoy uses his characters to explore issues of life and death, seeking higher meaning and purpose in both. Some characters are likable, some are not, but they’re all well-developed and compelling. Unlike with my first attempt in the seventies, I didn’t have a hard time keeping track of them. They are not consistently named—a character may be addressed by his/her first name, nickname, various surnames, or title. And my seventies memory tricked me about the names starting with K. I didn’t find that pattern this time around.

The story of the French invasion of Russia and its effect on the country is fascinating. The aristocratic families, with their drama, intrigue, and romance captivated me.

It’s easy to read. The chapters aren’t long, but there are plenty of them. Interestingly, despite the title, there is little peace.

The downside: I guess I’ve mentioned that it’s looooonnng. The plot dragged at times. Tolstoy now and again abandons the characters and lapses into tedious ramblings on philosophy or military strategy. I’d rather read a story from the point of view of the characters. The man really needed a good editor.

As for the president, do I understand him better? Let me think about that one.

As I approached the last pages, I got a catalog in the mail from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and learned of an upcoming exhibit: Napoleon: Power and Splendor. What timing! I’ll be there. June 9-September 3.

A while back I wondered how War and Peace measured up with other long books. The Blah Story (interesting title) by Nigel Tomm is 3,277,227 words and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is 1.5 million words. And no, I have no plans to tackle either. With a word count of only 587,287, War and Peace is a mere novella.

Do I recommend that you read War and Peace?

Definitely. Despite my harping on the length, I heartily recommend this classic and sweeping saga of history and romance. On February 2, the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter. Perfect time to get started. If you’re in a warmer climate, camp out under a tree with the beverage of your choice.

And what am I reading now? Short stories. Really. And there’s that TBR list.