Leslie Budewitz

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Erin Hart’s fourth novel in her acclaimed Nora Gavin series blends Irish legend and archaeology with present-day murder in a sad tale tinged with sweetness. In The Book of Killowen, American pathologist Nora and Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire are building a quiet life together in Ireland, healing Nora’s wounds and caring for Cormac’s elderly father, Joseph. Absent for much of his son’s childhood, Joseph is now suffering from a stroke, his ability to speak frustratingly garbled. When a bog body is found in Tipperary, near Killowen Bog, the trio and Joseph’s new caregiver move to Killowen Farm, a nearly idyllic retreat center and artist’s colony, to take over the excavation.

But the bog body has a modern companion—a murder victim. Detective Stella Cusack is eager to solve the crime, and the string of incidents that follow it, before losing the case to higher ups. Fortunately, her assistant has the experience with antiquities that she lacks. The murdered man’s identity is quickly discovered, and suspicions center on his estranged wife and her companion, frequent guests at Killowen Farm. But despite his brilliance, he had no shortage of faults—or enemies.

While Cusack untangles the secrets of the residents and neighbors, and their ties to the victim, Nora and Cormac study the treasures found with Bog Man for clues to his identity and his relationship to an ancient scriptorium once located nearby. Could he be the mysterious 9th-century philosopher and author of the controversial Book of Killowen? And where is the book? New secrets touch on the old, leading to blackmail and fiery danger.

The first book in the Nora Gavin series, Haunted Ground (2003), was nominated for Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. In The Book of Killowen—Killowen means “Church of Owen”—Hart explores not only the mysteries of the Irish bogs, but also the ancient and modern mysteries of language and the power of secrets. Hart’s own language sings with sharp and powerful observations, of what she calls “characters in the great book of human events.” Pour yourself a Guinness, or brew a pot of tea, and dig in.

 

Leslie Budewitz’s debut mystery, Death al Dente, first in The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, will be published by Berkley Prime Crime in August 2013. 

Erin Hart’s fourth novel in her acclaimed Nora Gavin series blends Irish legend and archaeology with present-day murder in a sad tale tinged with sweetness. In The Book of Killowen, American pathologist Nora and Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire are building a quiet life together in Ireland, healing Nora’s wounds and caring for Cormac’s elderly father, […]
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“We aren’t us anymore,” one of the focal characters of Laura Lippman’s newest stand-alone thriller, The Most Dangerous Thing, thinks of her childhood clan. “Maybe we never were.”

Many of us can recall a time and a group of friends that seems to symbolize our childhoods, to represent those years forever—no matter how long they lasted or how they ended. For the Halloran brothers—Tim, Sean and Gordon (aka Go-Go)—and two neighborhood girls, Gwen and Mickey, that time was short but vivid. Kids still ran freely in the 1970s, and these five spent long hours exploring the wooded park near their Baltimore homes. As they began to mature, Gwen and Sean paired off. With Tim focused on school and a future scholarship, smart-but-reckless Mickey and impulsive young Go-Go spent more time in the woods, some of it with a reclusive man who lived in a shack, played the steel guitar and disappeared for months without explanation.

Then one night in 1979, in the midst of a hurricane, a tragedy simultaneously united and divided the five. No one individual knew the whole story, but what they did know, they kept to themselves, and they drifted apart.

Now, more than thirty years later, Go-Go, the youngest at 40, is found dead. Accident or suicide? After his death, the secrets of the past resurface, and the remaining four are thrown together again. Tim and Gwen, separately, learn facts that compel them to search for the truth, both past and present. Tim, Sean, Gwen and Mickey must confront the past for themselves, deciding what to do about it now, and how that knowledge will reshape their memories and influence the future. Lippman’s series character, private investigator Tess Monaghan, makes a brief appearance.

Lippman writes with confidence, using shifting point of view and even a section in second-person plural that captures perfectly that time of childhood when children are not yet fully conscious of themselves as individuals rather than as part of a group. She portrays the shifting sands of adolescent sexuality and relationships with insight and compassion, although Mickey’s revelations may unsettle some readers.

Lippman’s novels have won every major mystery and crime fiction award. They are less about crime, though, than about cause and effect: what we think we remember, and what memories mean to us. After you read The Most Dangerous Thing, you will not think of your own childhood in quite the same way.

Leslie Budewitz’s reference for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure(Quill Driver Books) is just out.

“We aren’t us anymore,” one of the focal characters of Laura Lippman’s newest stand-alone thriller, The Most Dangerous Thing, thinks of her childhood clan. “Maybe we never were.” Many of us can recall a time and a group of friends that seems to symbolize our childhoods, to represent those years forever—no matter how long they […]
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There is nothing a writer craves more than to be told she is on the right path, that her creative processes and habits will inevitably produce a head-turning work of fiction—and nothing a writer needs more than to be denied that assurance and told firmly by one who knows to get back to work. The Secret Miracle, edited by Peruvian-American novelist Daniel Alarcón, does both.

In a Q&A format, many notable writers contribute valuable insights. The book’s strength is the range of writers included: literary icons Amy Tan and Mario Vargas Llosa; crime novelist George Pelecanos; household names Stephen King and Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket); prize-winning novelists Edwidge Danticat, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem and Roddy Doyle; and dozens more. The geographical spread is vast: writers live in Cairo, Mexico City, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Paris and across the United States. Several are published in English in translation. The questions asked range just as far: What, and how, do you read? Is there a book you return to over and over? What do you learn from other art forms? Do you research? Outline? Plan a novel’s structure or let it happen? Identify with a character? Draw from your own life? Writers talk about their schedules, where they write and how they measure a successful day. When do you share a draft, how do you revise, what about false starts?

That breadth is also the book’s weakness. With so many writers on so many topics, some answers are too short to offer much help. Contradictions are inevitable, but delightful, and may fan the occasional flames between writers and readers of literary and genre fiction. Still, it isn’t only genre writers who value plot, or literary novelists who savor language. These people stand on common ground, though their walk and talk varies tremendously.

Proceeds from the book will benefit 826 National, a nonprofit network of tutoring and writing centers in eight cities, named for its original location, at 826 Valencia in San Francisco. In 2009, more than 4,000 volunteers worked with 18,000-plus students ages 6 to 18 on creative and expository writing; offered 266 workshops for students and teachers; provided after-school tutoring for 130 students a day; and produced more than 600 student publications. Each center also sponsors roundtable discussions with published writers.

Read a page of The Secret Miracle when you’re stuck or need a break from your own writing, or if you’re a reader, when you want a glimpse of the world behind the page. Dip in, then get back to work.

Leslie Budewitz’s short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine, and The Whitefish Review.

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Interview with editor Daniel Alarcón

There is nothing a writer craves more than to be told she is on the right path, that her creative processes and habits will inevitably produce a head-turning work of fiction—and nothing a writer needs more than to be denied that assurance and told firmly by one who knows to get back to work. The […]
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In Erin Hart’s much-welcome third mystery, False Mermaid, pathologist Nora Gavin feels compelled to return to the States to investigate the five-year-old murder of her younger sister, Triona. It was Nora’s despair over that death, and her inability to pin it on Triona’s husband, Peter Hallett, that drove Nora to return to Ireland, her childhood home. Now Peter is remarrying, and Nora is determined—driven—to prove his guilt, even though it means temporarily leaving Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and their deepening relationship.

In Minnesota, Nora reconnects with Detective Frank Cordova, the original investigator still plagued by both the cold case and his interest—unrequited—in Nora. Cordova is as willing as she to focus on Peter, and as frustrated by their failure to link him to the murder. Wanting to prove her theory, and protect her niece Elizabeth, now 11, Nora pleads with Peter’s new wife to see what she is getting into. She is met with icy refusal and the same accusations Peter levels: that crazy Nora is still after him. Worse, the pair insist that Nora did not really know her younger sister, and that Triona’s own risky behavior led to her death.

But when another woman’s body is found, in the riverside park where Triona often ran and where evidence suggests she was killed, Nora believes Peter has struck again. Through her expertise in bog bodies—the remains are preserved in Ireland’s ancient bogs—and her contacts in the forensic community, Nora discovers the reverse: whoever the killer was, Triona was not the first victim. Working with Frank to review evidence old and new, Nora gets closer than ever to the proof she craves—and is led back to Ireland, where the old legend of the selkie might cast light on her sister’s death.

Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground (2003) was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony for Best First Novel. Once again, Irish music, myth and history are integral to setting, character and even plot. The reader will find herself almost believing, along with Elizabeth and Triona, in the ancient stories of the selkies, humans on land and seals in the sea.

Leslie Budewitz sometimes sings Irish folk songs in her car while driving around western Montana.

In Erin Hart’s much-welcome third mystery, False Mermaid, pathologist Nora Gavin feels compelled to return to the States to investigate the five-year-old murder of her younger sister, Triona. It was Nora’s despair over that death, and her inability to pin it on Triona’s husband, Peter Hallett, that drove Nora to return to Ireland, her childhood […]
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Unleash with Category 5 fury a modern master of mood and metaphor. Turn him loose on a city in turmoil. Let him speak with the righteous indignation of Dave Robicheaux, the recovering alcoholic, Cajun detective who struggles for justice whether within the system or outside it. Then settle in for a heck of a read: James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown.

In the whirling winds of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, a junkie priest takes a bus into the 9th Ward. A white father and daughter struggle to cope after her gang rape. Across the street, a crime boss a florist by day has fled to higher ground. And four young black men on the prowl in a stolen boat hit the jackpot in the florist's empty house. As they flee, gunfire leaves two dead, one paralyzed and the fourth Bertrand Melancon terrified and on the run. New Iberia Sheriff's deputy Robicheaux is lent to New Orleans to help out, where he investigates the shooting and the theft. As Dave gets closer to learning what Melancon found in the florist's home, and to what happened in the flooded streets, he finds himself and his family the target of forces as destructive and unforgiving as the wind and water.

The Tin Roof Blowdown is Burke's 16th Dave Robicheaux novel. Twice an Edgar Award winner, once a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Burke is justifiably admired for his rich prose and for the character of Robicheaux, a complex, compassionate man always striving to understand human motivation. Everything readers love in Burke's novels is intensified by the storm, and by Robicheaux's barely controlled rage at the government's inability to take care of those most in need in a vibrant old city. Deft shifts of points of view allow for a more fully fleshed story than Robicheaux alone could tell.

This is a powerful portrayal of the human cost of a storm that will long reverberate, and that blew the roof off the illusion of equality in America. Like Robicheaux, readers will be pondering the true nature of good and evil long after the last page.

Leslie Budewitz writes from northwest Montana.

Unleash with Category 5 fury a modern master of mood and metaphor. Turn him loose on a city in turmoil. Let him speak with the righteous indignation of Dave Robicheaux, the recovering alcoholic, Cajun detective who struggles for justice whether within the system or outside it. Then settle in for a heck of a read: […]
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Sicily, 1149 A.D. The Second Crusade has just ended in the Christians' defeat. The balance of power between the Western empires and the Arab world is unsettled. Thurstan Beauchamp, a young man of Norman heritage, serves King Roger of Sicily as Purveyor of Pleasures and Shows a traveling entertainment scout. In his not-so-public role as purse bearer, he also conveys official bribes. When his supervisor, the insightful, secretive Arab Yusuf Ibn Mansur, sends him to buy herons for the king's falcons to chase, Thurstan discovers a troupe of Anatolian musicians and belly dancers and arranges their performance at court in Palermo. Then, on a political errand, he encounters Lady Alicia, a wealthy young widow whom he'd loved when both were teenagers. Blinded by promises of love, marriage and land, Thurstan becomes an unwitting pawn in an assassination plot designed to destroy the kingdom he respects.

Three times shortlisted for the Booker Prize and 1992 co-winner for Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth never writes the same novel twice. The British-born author, who now lives in Italy, scatters his stories throughout time and geography. His 15th novel, The Ruby in Her Navel, takes readers to a 12th-century Mediterranean pulsing with political, religious and racial tensions. Do a young man's hopes to claim a knighthood stand a chance when ambitious men are all too ready to sacrifice others' desires for their own plots and goals? Any human life lies in the future as well as in the past, Thurstan says. It also lies in what one cannot see and the reader, being less innocent, will glimpse some of Thurstan's future before he does. But that only adds suspense and keeps the reader alert, knowing that harm will befall our courtly narrator, but unsure of its precise nature and how he will respond. In the early chapters, Unsworth's dense sentences require close reading, but the effort reveals a story of the past with parallels to our own present and future.

Every year, a traveling friend brings Leslie Budewitz a jar of capers from Sicily.

 

Sicily, 1149 A.D. The Second Crusade has just ended in the Christians' defeat. The balance of power between the Western empires and the Arab world is unsettled. Thurstan Beauchamp, a young man of Norman heritage, serves King Roger of Sicily as Purveyor of Pleasures and Shows a traveling entertainment scout. In his not-so-public role as […]
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Memory is fragile and flexible. Even its failures serve us at times. The Madonnas of Leningrad, the first novel by Seattle professor Debra Dean, is the story of Marina, a young museum docent who takes refuge in the Hermitage during the 1941 siege of Leningrad. The paintings and artifacts are gone, carefully packed and shipped out of reach of German bombs. On the advice of a babushka, an older woman on the museum staff, Marina builds a memory palace: a museum in her mind where each painting still hangs on the wall. The memory palace serves as Marina's anchor and salvation, an exercise of imagination where she pictures a future for herself and the baby she is carrying. Of all the works in the famed collection, the paintings of Madonnas most inspire her. After the siege, Marina finds her beloved Dmitri in a German POW camp. They make their way to Seattle, where they raise two children who know little about their mother's wartime experience.

Dean merges past and present in prose that shines like the gilt frames in the Hermitage. The story shifts seamlessly from 1941 to the present, just as Alzheimer's shifts time within Marina's mind. The heart of the story is its flashbacks, when we walk the Spanish Hall with Marina, aching with loss and hunger. As she commits scenes, colors, even brushstrokes to memory, the paintings come alive. Chapters narrated by her daughter Helen show us the present, when Marina slips away at a family gathering. During the search, Helen, herself a mother and an artist, wonders about the memories parents choose to tell their children and the memories they keep secret.

Drawn in part from Dean's observations of her grandmother's life with Alzheimer's, The Madonnas of Leningrad is an artful story, lovingly told, that illustrates how humans deal with trauma the physical privations and fears of war, and the slow deterioration of the mind itself. Like the empty frames on the museum walls, this novel of memory and forgetting glows with love and hope.

Leslie Budewitz writes, reads and paints in northwest Montana.

Memory is fragile and flexible. Even its failures serve us at times. The Madonnas of Leningrad, the first novel by Seattle professor Debra Dean, is the story of Marina, a young museum docent who takes refuge in the Hermitage during the 1941 siege of Leningrad. The paintings and artifacts are gone, carefully packed and shipped […]
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Myla Goldberg’s debut novel, Bee Season (2000), was a word-of-mouth hit that garnered the kind of critical praise not usually bestowed on first-time novelists. Her quirky and intimate look at the life of a nine-year-old spelling bee champ climbed the bestseller list and was a finalist for several literary awards. Readers eager for a follow-up finally get their wish this month with Wickett’s Remedy, Goldberg’s fictional account of the 1918 flu epidemic. Clearly imagined and lovingly told, Wickett’s Remedy tells an epic story the way it was lived, through the voices that laughed, cried and echo still.

Young and unaccountably brave, Lydia Kilkenny sells men’s shirts in a Boston department store. There, she meets the painfully shy, well-to-do Henry Wickett, who woos her with flowery love letters and Friday lunches. Their marriage inspires Henry to quit medical school and create Wickett’s Remedy, a patent medicine sold by mail order. But a ruthless business partner steals the remedy, just as "Wilson’s War" and the flu epidemic steal Lydia’s hopes. As the flu’s grip on the city—and the nation—tightens, she signs on as nurse in a study of how the flu is transmitted, and begins to discover that the things we are meant to do are often the very things that make no sense to those around us. BookPage recently talked to Goldberg about this remarkable novel.

BookPage: How did you become interested in the 1918 flu epidemic?
Myla Goldberg: About five years ago, I came across a newspaper article that listed the five most deadly plagues of all time and the 1918 flu epidemic was one of them. I consider myself an amateur disease nerd and I’d never heard of the 1918 flu, which meant that I immediately had to learn everything about it that I could.

BP: The margin notes, which are the whisperings of the dead, highlight the flaws and lapses of memory. What inspired those voices?
MG: One of my all-time favorite books is Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov, which is a novel essentially written in annotations. I knew that I wanted to write a book in which the text misbehaved in some way, and when I realized that I was writing a book about the unreliability of memory it occurred to me that marginal voices were a great way to approach this idea.

BP: You started this book before Bee Season (soon to be a film starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche) was published. How did the success of Bee Season influence your work on Wickett’s Remedy?
MG: Bee Season’s success didn’t particularly influence me, partly because Wickett’s was already underway when Bee Season started doing so well, but mostly because the expectations I have for myself and the pressures I place on myself have always been so extreme that nothing the outside world serves up can possibly compete.

BP: Lydia seems driven to do the unexpected, in a time and place when good girls from good, close families didn’t do that. What sparks that desire?
MG: Good girls from good, close families still don’t do that. Lydia is driven to do the unexpected for the same reasons someone would be now—by her innate ambition, motivation and especially her curiosity, qualities fairly rare in any age.

BP: The right details transport the reader, just as the pneumatic tubes in Gilchrist’s department store magically carried the customers’ change to the waiting shop girls. How do you find the key details that bring a long-gone place to life?
MG: I love research. I read all sorts of books about the flu and about the period. The details I chose to use in the book were the ones that painted pictures in my head when I first came across them.

BP: You’ve written about a Jewish family in the 1980s and an Irish-Catholic girl in South Boston early in the past century. What time and place beckon next?
MG: I’d like to try my hand at the present day, for a change. Writing about the present is a scarier prospect for me then writing about a period that has already passed because your entire readership is made up of experts who will know immediately if something rings false.

Leslie Budewitz lives in Montana and is a legal consultant for writers.

Author photo by Jason Little.

 


Myla Goldberg’s debut novel, Bee Season (2000), was a word-of-mouth hit that garnered the kind of critical praise not usually bestowed on first-time novelists. Her quirky and intimate look at the life of a nine-year-old spelling bee champ climbed the bestseller list and was a finalist for several literary awards. Readers eager for a follow-up […]

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