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Mystery Solved: Sophie Hannah Suggests Five Great Entry Points for Reading Agatha Christie and Why

Agatha Christie's last novel, published in 1976, was Sleeping Murder. Miss Marple's Last Case, as it was subtitled, saw her return to her small village home, hanging up her detective's hat for good. She certainly fared better than Hercule Poirot, whom Christie killed off when Curtain was published the year before (though she had written it decades earlier).

But it seems even death, neither real nor fictional, can keep the great Poirot down. Agatha Christie's estate, for the first time since she passed on in 1976, has authorized a new Poirot novel to be written by British author Sophie Hannah. We'll have more about that closer to the book's publication in September. For now, to celebrate our list of 100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime -- where Agatha Christie is the only author to appear more than once -- we asked Hannah to share her own list dedicated to Agatha Christie's work. Here's what she had to say.


Murder on the Orient Express

GENIUS SOLUTION AWARD: Murder on the Orient Express

This book has the best solution-to-a-mystery of all time. It cannot be beaten, has never been beaten, and will never be beaten. It is perfect, elegant and --best of all -- its brilliant concept can be summarised in five words. I spent years pointlessly wishing I'd thought of it, then more years equally pointlessly wishing I'd thought of something else that was anywhere near as good. The train stuck in the snow is a wonderfully atmospheric setting, and Poirot is at his best in this book.
Sleeping Murder

IMPOSSIBLE PREMISE AWARD: Sleeping Murder

This is the best of Agatha's "It can't be happening and yet it is" books. It begins with the unlikely scenario of a woman finding herself in a house that she knows very well, and recognizes right down to its old, peeling wallpaper -- but she also knows that she has never been there before and so the house cannot possibly be familiar to her. At the beginning of this novel, the reader thinks, "It's a great premise, but it simply cannot be made to work without resorting to ghosts or aliens with special powers" -- and then Agatha makes it work stunningly well, while playing fair with the reader throughout.
Lord Edgeware Dies

MOST SINISTER MURDERER AWARD: Lord Edgeware Dies

Agatha's murderer characters are not always so psychologically developed, but the killer in this novel is so vividly realized, and so horribly plausible, that I would, on balance, prefer to be murdered by any or all of Agatha's other murderers rather than this one. There's a section of the book in the killer's voice at the end, and it is utterly chilling and convincing. I suspect Agatha knew someone with this kind of personality, and based the killer in this book on him or her.
After The Funeral

BEST ALL-ROUNDER: After The Funeral

Everything about this novel is wonderful. The characters are brilliantly drawn, the balance between plot and character is exactly as it should be, and the structure of the story is perfectly sculpted. The clues are where they should be -- visible but not too obvious -- and the motive is one of the most memorable in Agatha's fiction. I wouldn't commit murder for this reason personally, but it's such a unique, persuasive and idiosyncratic motive that, once the solution is revealed, the whole book comes alive in a new way. It's also a double-layered motive, which makes it more interesting. There is an obvious reason why the killing takes place, but beneath that there is another reason -- the true motive 0-- which is so poignant and plausible, it takes the book to a whole other level of excellence.
Three-Act Tragedy

INNOVATIVE IDEAS AWARD: Three-Act Tragedy

In this novel, there are three murders. One is ordinary enough, but the other two are committed for reasons that are conceptually so daring and inspired that you can actually feel the possibilities of the genre expanding as you read. Both of these -- as with the perfect solution to Murder on the Orient Express -- can be summed up in a sentence. When you read this novel, you realize that Agatha never -- not for a second -- stopped thinking to herself "Why else might someone kill? What other reason could there be, that I haven't thought of yet?" You can feel her enquiring intellect at work in these pages, and it is a joy to behold.

Graphic Novel Friday: Must-Reads in 2014

We consulted Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto to find key upcoming releases in 2014, and the next few months are stuffed with infinity gems. Here are but a few we uncovered.

 

The grand and grizzled Gandalf of comics, Alan Moore, has a banner year ahead, beginning with Miracleman Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying, the sought-after but legally hushed series that will finally be available thanks to Marvel’s legal prowess. Billed only as “The Original Writer” in this new edition (per his wishes), Alan Moore kicks off the superhero deconstruction era of comics by writing a single exclamation: “Kimota!” Plus, it features artwork by Alan Davis, Garry Leach, Steve Dillon, and Paul Neary. (May, Marvel) 

 

 

 

The market needs more horror comics, and horror comics need more witchcraft. Enter Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of the Night by Caitlin Kittredge Inaki Miranda to remedy both in a spooky brew. Eve Coffin (that name!) returns home after 10 years to find her supernatural forest murder mystery remains unsolved. Blood, incantations, snakes, and snarky witches galore. (May, Vertigo) 

 

 

 

Very few comics become in-house favorites like the King of the Flies series: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 were both in our Best of the Year picks for 2010 and 2011, respectively. Now, the late Kim Thompson-translated project will finally conclude with King of The Flies Vol. 3: Happy Daze.  The description promises more hallucinatory creepiness and nihilism—and Ringo, the disturbed bowling greaser—but not much else is known. Fitting, since this series has so far been about the coiling questions it raises—do yourself a dark favor and start the series now. (September, Fantagraphics)

 

 

Confession: I’ve never read Elfquest and know very little about it, except that it appears to involve cute, doll-like elves with leather vests, big hair, swords, and animal friends. It’s also beloved by a devoted readership that swears it’s about much more than my limited understanding. Gauntlet thrown! The Complete Elfquest Vol. 1 by Wendy and Rick Pini arrives this summer to set me straight. (August, Dark Horse)

 

 

 Afterlife with Archie should not be this good, but I swear on my Romero DVDs that it is—in every bloody way. Most of this is due to Francesco Francavilla’s never-dull, atypical take on the Riverdale crew—here they all are as young adults, not cartoons. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script is both an homage to classic horror (Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is freely referenced) but also a did-they-really-just-do-that? mature take on the franchise. Awash in autumnal hues, the grisly panels and gallows humor will reanimate any interest in Betty, Veronica, Archie, and company. (May, Archie Comics)

For five more picks in 2014, see also our Kindle Daily post! What are you most looking forward to in this new year, Omni readers?

--Alex

 

The Best of the Year in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Authors of our favorite mystery, thriller & suspense books of the year should be grateful that 2013 was a non-Gone Girl year. Last year, Gillian Flynn's surprise bestseller seemed to suck all the air out of the room. This year, though no one book rose to the all-consuming blockbuster level, crime fiction fans like myself have enjoyed a steady supply of great books, from the works of the masters (Lee Child, John Grisham, John LeCarre, and Stephen King--twice) to some surprisingly assured debuts (Elizabeth Silver, Jenni Fagan). Not to mention the alleged debut from an author named Galbraith.

Here's a look at four of the twenty books on our Best of the Year list.

Joyland

Joyland by Stephen King
Remember the sweet and, if I recall correctly, nearly perfect film, Stand By Me (based on King's novella, "The Body")? That same vibe--coming-of-age tale, with hints of menace--is at work here in the story of 21-year-old Devon Jones, who spends the summer of 1973 at a North Carolina amusement park, where he befriends hard-core carny workers and falls for the beautiful mother of a dying boy (who happens to have a secret gift). At a slender 280 pages, Joyland is a single-session treat, featuring King at his narrative and nostalgic best.

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The English Girl

The English Girl by Daniel Silva
This was not only one of my favorite mystery-thrillers, but among my favorite books of all year. Silva's hero, art restorer and Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, is one of the more believable and likable spies in recent international spycraft. The plot: A beautiful woman is snatched from her Corsican vacation; a ransom note reaches 10 Downing Street; and an ambitious, unfaithful prime minister seriously needs a fixer with Allon's skill set. This is a smart, unpredictable page turner, packed with bits of history, art, heart, and imagination.

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Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Elaborately plotted and addictive, Night Film's spider-webbed storyline builds slowly but eventually swirls into a dark, propulsive, and insatiable mystery. When the daughter of a reclusive horror film director is found dead, a disgraced journalist and two sidekicks become obsessed with finding the killer--and finding the true identity of her infamous father, whose terrifying films have been banned from theaters. Complex, shadowy, and a bit sad, Pessl’s riveting tale keeps us guessing until the final pages, along the way raising questions about reality, magic, art, fear, and celebrity.

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Visitation Street

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s atmospheric novel reads as much like an ode to the ragged neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn as it does a slow-burning mystery. The story revolves around the disappearance of a teenage girl, and is filled with memorably damaged-goods characters. But the real star here is Red Hook. “A neighborhood of ghosts,” one character calls this moody, crumbling, dangerous, and seemingly forgotten place in the shadow of Manhattan.

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See all 20 books on the Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Best of the Year list

The 10 Scariest Books You've Ever Read

It-CoverIn the lead-up to All Hallows' Eve, we asked our Amazon Books Facebook fans to cast their vote (via comments) for the scariest book they'd ever read. Out of nearly 500 votes cast, 38% went to Stephen King. Fans split on which of his books were the freakiest, but there was one clear winner.

1. It by Stephen King: King's story of seven friends from a small Maine town who are drawn back as adults to vanquish the evil they fought as children got twice as many fan votes as any other book. Several said they were too scared to finish it, reported nightmares, and were never able to look at a clown the same way again ("hate those creepy clowns!").

2. The Shining by Stephen King: The Torrance family’s attempt at a fresh start caretaking the off-season Overlook Hotel goes horribly awry as sinister forces gather. Fans recalled being especially unnerved by the woman in the bathtub ("scared the crap out of me") and the playground scene ("Danny in the tube with something else! Terrifying!"). And one cited the Friends episode where Joey was so afraid of this book, he stored it in the freezer.

3. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King: Senior Editor Jon Foro calls this "King's creepy riff on Dracula, shifting the angst from Victorian repression to the secrets of a small town that come out of the cellars after the sun goes down." One fan reported, "I could only read it during the day so the vampires couldn't get me," while others foiled the fangs by sleeping with a cross or blankets around the neck. Yet another swore off scary books for good after this one: "I haven't read a Stephen King book since. Or any other scary book, really."

4. Pet Sematary by Stephen King: As one of King's characters says of the cemetery's effects, "Heroin makes junkies feel good when they put it in their arms, but all the time it's poisoning their mind and body--this place can be like that and don't you ever forget it!" Fans insist the book's even scarier than the movie, and for those who were able to finish, its necrotic claws have left some scars: "Still can't look at cats!"

5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty: One of the most terrifying, controversial novels ever published, The Exorcist became a phenomenal best-seller soon after its release in 1971. Several fans who read this book report being unable to watch the movie (out of self-preservation). Another explained simply, "I don't read scary books anymore."

6. The Stand by Stephen King: When a rapidly mutating flu virus escapes a U.S. military facility and wipes out nearly all the world's population, the stage is set for an apocalyptic showdown. For many, this book terrified because it's so plausible: "It just doesn't seem to be out of the realm of possibility." One fan reports, "I think of it every time I pass through a tunnel."

7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Speaking of real, Capote’s "nonfiction novel" about the brutal murder of the Clutter family by would-be robbers invented a new genre, creative nonfiction, and his scenes of bloody walls and the "thud-snap" of rope-broken necks terrified readers. One fan said, "it bothered me that there are people in the world like that," while another agreed, and noted that "I thought it would be a dull read, but really the creepiest thing out there."

8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: Amazon Senior Editor Robin Rothman notes that "while King is clearly supreme, I still can’t stop thinking about N0S4A2 by his son, Joe Hill. The apple doesn’t fall far from the twisted tree." Our Facebook fans favored Hill's creepy Heart-Shaped Box ("scared the bejesus out of me!"). One gave this testimonial: "I've read horror all my life, practically--the only book that gave me nightmares is Heart-Shaped Box."

9. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski: Our reviewer John Ponyicsanyi said, "Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves." One of our fans described the experience of reading it: "I felt like if I took my eyes off the page and looked up, the room would suddenly and inexplicably have acquired a new door or unfamiliar hallway. Terrifying."

10. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: In late 1975, the Lutz family moved into a Long Island house, knowing that a year earlier, Ronald DeFeo had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters there. Less than a month later, they fled in terror. Whether it’s true or not, the story of a house possessed by evil became a huge best-seller, and it scared the pants off many fans, one of whom called it "absolutely the most frightening book I've ever read!" Another said, it "just made me feel unclean inside."

If you've already read everything on this list and want another jolt of pure literary fear, have you succumbed yet to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House? Jon Foro calls this classic of the genre a "ghost story superbly crafted and unnerving as hell, a book best read alone."

Thanks to all our Facebook fans who shared their scariest reading moments! --Mari

 

Gillian Flynn and John Searles on "Help for the Haunted"

John Searles' third novel, Help for the Haunted, is a chilling mystery and a subtle yet gripping thriller that draws you in emotionally and doesn't let you off the hook until the very end. Or as my colleague Chris Schluep put it in his review, it's "an expertly-wrought, coming-of-age story with a healthy dose of creepiness." It's also one of our Best Books of the Month picks for September.

Gillian Flynn, author of last summer's runaway hit Gone Girl spoke with Searles about the autobiographical nature of his main character, his views on the supernatural, recommended reading, and more.


Help for the Haunted
John Searles

Gillian Flynn: Writers imbue all of their characters with a little bit of themselves. Obviously, Sylvie Mason -- a young teenage girl – is very different from you. What were the challenges of writing her as a protagonist? How did you find a window into Sylvie?

John Searles: I always joke to people that deep down, I'm really a teenage girl. Growing up, my dad worked as a cross-country truck-driver and my older brother was usually off with his friends, so my mom and my two younger sisters and I spent most of our time together in a tiny house with two bedrooms. As an adult, I went on to become an editor at a women's magazine, where I worked in an office full of—what else?—women. So in a weird way, it was almost easier for me to write from a female perspective than a male one.

GF: You've talked before about how your sister's death affected your writing. How so in this book?

Help for the Haunted
Gillian Flynn

JS: After my sister, Shannon, died, my parents divorced, my brother moved out, and I took off for New York City to try and become a writer. In the wake of all that, our youngest sister, Keri, was left behind. Keri was around the age that Sylvie is in Help for the Haunted. At some point during the writing of the book, I realized I was channeling elements of her voice and emotions and experience from that time. She was so young to be faced with such a terrible tragedy, but she proved to have a remarkably resilient spirit.

GF: Help for the Haunted has some seriously scary moments and delves into a subculture that few are familiar with -– that of haunted souls and paranormalists. What inspired you to explore this world?

JS: As a kid, I was obsessed with scary things. I used to make haunted houses in our garage, and when I got my driver's license, I used to load my friends into my station wagon and drive us all down a dirt road late at night, where I'd do my best to scare the hell out of them. So I guess this is a grown-up version of what I used to do as a kid: Writing a scary book as opposed to terrifying my friends in an old station wagon.

Also, I grew up in the same town as the couple who were the real-life inspiration for the movie "The Conjuring." As kids, we used to see them in church and at the grocery store and the sight of them used to frighten and fascinate me. Years later, I saw the woman at an event at our local library. The two of us were posing for a photo for the town newspaper, and I started wondering what it would be like if Sylvie's parents had an occupation that dealt with the paranormal too.

GF: Do you believe in the supernatural? Do you feel you have to believe even just a little bit to tell a convincing story?

Help for the Haunted

JS: In Help for the Haunted, Sylvie says, "I do and I don't believe." Her mix of feelings is very much like my own and like so many people I've talked to who have read the book. Logically, we know better than to believe in ghosts and the supernatural, but every once in a while life serves up some unexplainable phenomena and that little part of us can't help but believe again.

GF: This will be your third book, the first two being the bestselling novels Strange But True and Boy Still Missing. How do you think you've grown as a writer over the course of your career?

JS: I have always tried to take risks with my writing, but in Help for the Haunted, I took more than ever before. I don't just mean telling the story from a young girl's perspective, but also combining a murder mystery with a coming of age tale, plus switching back and forth in time, and introducing the idea of supernatural elements. I used to go to lunch with my editor and ask her again and again, "Are you sure this story isn't too weird?" Thankfully, she loved it and always told me to keep going.

GF: Did you begin Help for the Haunted knowing what was going to happen, or did you follow your characters to see where they'd lead you?

JS: All I had at the very beginning was the voice of Sylvie, a teenage girl, who was left in the care of her tough older sister. The rest of the story came in pieces. The old Tudor in the woods where the family lives was inspired by an old Tudor where I stayed during a writing residency at Yaddo, an artist colony in upstate New York. The sisters' part-time job doing telephone surveys about bubble gum and fast food was one I had in high school, and I decided to use it while writing. The doll in the basement came to me when I discovered old Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in my mother's attic. She had made those things years before, and I forgot about them until they were staring me in the face—and scaring me!—once more.

GF: All writers have quirky habits and rituals for when it's time to work. Could you share some of yours?

JS: Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Push-ups. Chin-ups. Long runs. Coffee. More coffee. Tons of baths. Looking up weird facts on-line. I do all of those things when I am trying to figure stuff out because sometimes you have to distract your mind in order for the ideas to come. Plus, when I go into a real writing jag, I don't bother change my clothes or shower or shave. At one point, while revising Help for the Haunted. I had been in the library for eight hours straight and realized I was starving. I took a break and stumbled into a restaurant, where I sat at the bar and ordered dinner. All of New York City and who sits down next to me, perfectly groomed and dressed all swanky, but Jay McInerney. Someone introduced us and he looked at me with my greasy bedhead and scraggly beard and ripped clothes, and I swear he was about to say, "Excuse me but the soup kitchen is down the street."

GF: As a book critic yourself, you must read so much. What have you read recently that you enjoyed? And what are some books that have had a tremendous impact on you?

JS: Well, I am a huge fan of your books and have loved cheering for them! Also, I just read Chris Bohjalian's The Light in the Ruins and Ivy Pachoda's Visitation Street, which are captivating stories. Plus, there's Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller and Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed. On a much lighter note, I read a really funny memoir called Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy by Ophira Eisenberg that is a total riot and made me laugh.

Fuminori Nakamura's Dark, Existential Thrillers

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Fuminori Nakamura tells me exactly how he would steal my wallet. In Japanese, he explains that the trick is to lift it out of my back pocket with his three middle fingers. By foregoing the thumb (the clumsiest finger), it makes the rest of his hand more difficult for the victim to detect. Nakamura also says that if he were a better pickpocket, he would be able to lift my watch. (I check my wrist, even though I don't wear a watch.)

Nakamura doesn't steal wallets for a living, but he learned a lot about it while doing hands-on research for his novel The Thief, which concerns itself very much with the life of a Tokyo pickpocket. After a botched robbery, the nameless protagonist finds himself at the mercy of the thugs who set up the job. There's a sense of dread that pervades each page, and a surprising Camus-like ennui that provokes existential and deterministic motifs. The Thief is a swift but gloomy literary thriller, light on its feet but sinister in its intentions (much like a good pickpocket).

But for how grim his books are, Nakamura is a surprisingly affable, almost giggly presence. I have a hard time imagining that such a pleasant person could spend so much of his time exploring the darkest recesses of humanity. We meet at Café Grumpy in New York. Nakamura is visiting the States for the first time, both to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where The Thief is a Book Prize nominee, and to support his newly translated thriller, Evil and the Mask, out June 10.

Tonally, the books are similar. But where The Thief maintains an anonymous, distant narrator, Evil and the Mask is very much concerned with its anti-hero's name, or more specifically, escaping one's name. Fumihiro Kuki is born into a wealthy family set on being "a cancer on the world." The one bright spot in Fumihiro's life is an adopted sister of whom he feels protective (and with whom he has a disturbing relationship). To keep her safe, he is often forced to do terrible things. Evil and the Mask is concerned with a twisty sense of morality: is Fumihiro born evil, and can he escape the cruelty associated with his surname?

Whereas The Thief succeeds because of its simplicity, Evil and the Mask is a muddier affair. It's a longer, much more ambitious novel than The Thief, and perhaps a better one. And without giving away the ending, there's actually a bit of optimism in the closing pages of Evil and the Mask--not a lot, but when something is so bleak, even the slightest hints of hope are a welcome surprise.

When we arrived at Café Grumpy, it was sunny outside; by the time we leave, it's overcast and starting to rain. Even though I don't have a jacket or an umbrella, I don't mind. I'll look for cracks where the sun shines through.

Graphic Novel Friday: The Mystery and the Creep

The-Creep_HCAny great detective needs a flaw, and Oxel Karnhus, a private detective afflicted with Acromegaly and, well, his name, fits the bill in The Creep. The disease takes its toll on the once-handsome man--his face is exaggerated, grotesque--and Oxel is all too aware of his affliction. The neighboring teens make fun of him as he exits his apartment; a former flame attempts to hide shock at his appearance; and he breaks out in sweats and headaches due to the agony. The deformity is what gives the recently published compact hardcover its title--Oxel, no matter his good intentions, is an abnormality to everyone upon first glance. He is “the Other,” a creep.

In The Creep, a young boy commits suicide following the death of his friend. The former’s mother is convinced that there is more to her son’s death than depression. Oxel takes the case and it leads him to a secret so shocking that the final revelation left me stunned, even when I was sure I’d correctly read all the dreams and symbols that writer John Arcudi leaves along the book’s path. It’s to Arcudi’s credit that The Creep does not rely on the big secret to drive the story. Instead, it’s Oxel who carries the book. He’s sympathetic--falling in front of the cruel boys who lurk at his stoop, to their laughter and his nosebleed; he makes poor decisions and fumbles toward a resolution without a grand redemption.

And it’s artist Jonathan Case whose beautiful line work takes this story and makes it all the more memorable. Case previously worked on another Dark Horse title, Green River Killer, which was one of Amazon’s Best of the Year picks in 2011. Here he works in color, adding that extra vigor to psychotic hallucinations and Oxel’s fever dreams throughout the book. His Oxel is not a monster--the deformity is prominently displayed without gothic shadows or familiar visual tricks. It’s a frank look at an uncomfortable visage, and Oxel is not alone in Case’s expert portrayal. Characters emote without exaggeration. Readers witness shame, grief, and horror in genuine display, all of which makes the final chapter so vivid. In one flashback panel, the colors appear scratched out of a section, the memory too real to witness in full.

Despite Dark Horse and John Arcudi’s history with supernatural tales (see Arcudi's B.P.R.D., a paranormal investiagtion series), The Creep is a story full of whispers depicted at great volume. The mystery that unfurls is all too human.

--Alex

 

An Evening with Dan Brown

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How do you welcome an author who has sold 200 million books worldwide to New York’s Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center? Show the 2,000 fans in the audience where he lives, of course. At this launch event for Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon thriller Inferno, Today Show host Matt Lauer introduced the author with a clip from an interview he conducted at Brown's home in Exeter, New Hampshire. This rare glimpse into Brown's life reveals that his house closely resembles his novels--full of beautiful old-world furnishings and secret passages hidden behind paintings and rotating bookshelves. (Imagine Tolkien creating a life-size replica of the Shire in his backyard.)

This turned out to be the perfect kick off to the evening, during which Brown opened up about his personal life and the road to his international success. Taking the podium, Brown talked about how his upbringing influenced the major theme of his novels: the conflict between religion and science. As it turns out, this tension manifested itself at a very young age. Brown's mother was the church organist and choir leader and his father was a math teacher. To illustrate their different beliefs, Brown held up the vanity license plates his parents had when he was a child: one read KYRIE (the Latin word for Lord) and the other said METRIC.

He thanked his parents for their lifelong support, noting that if you encourage your kids to pursue creative fields, you will either end up with a happy kid whose rent you'll be paying forever, or they will be popular enough to speak at Avery Fisher Hall and make fun of you.

Continue reading "An Evening with Dan Brown" »

2013 Edgar Award Winners Announced: "Live By Night" Gets Best Novel

Edgar "Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin's feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern. And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life--good or bad-- had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould."

So begins Live by Night, the latest novel by Dennis Lehane, acclaimed author of Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River, and the recipient of the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

The annual dinner and ceremony celebrating the year's best writing (according to the Mystery Writers of America) took place Thursday night at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, where attendees were "Dressed to Kill" and nominees vied for the prize in Best First Novel, Best Fact Crime, Best Short Story, Best Television Episode Teleplay, and more. 

The full list of winners and nominees can be found here, including:

Best Novel

Live by Night

Best First Novel

The Expats

 

Best Paperback Original

The Last Policeman

 

 

Best Fact Crime

Midnight in Peking

Best Critical Biography

The Scientific Sherlock

Young Adult

Code Name Verity

 

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees. Visit TheEdgars.com to see the contenders and outcomes all fifteen categories.

 

Marvelous Books on Marilyn Monroe

"It was a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jeane from the orphanage who belonged to nobody. The other was someone whose name I didn’t know. But I knew where she belonged. She belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world." –Marilyn Monroe

Metamorphosis-MMSince Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 5, 1962, at age 36, hundreds of books have emerged, some celebrating her legacy, others scrutinizing her life in obsessive detail. Controversies still swirl, but we know many of the facts: She grew up in foster homes, devoutly religious and shy. She married her first husband at age 15, and when he went off to war, she started modeling and found the power in a snug sweater to keep up troop morale. She worked her curves on and off camera, propelling herself from wholesome girl next door to ultimate platinum vamp—a transformation most stunningly depicted in David Willis’s Metamorphosis. We learn from Marilyn in Fashion that she often worked with designers to create looks to enhance the Marilyn image, defining sophisticated '50s style. She had dozens of affairs (some public, others deeply private), but Norman Mailer noted—in his seminal 1973 biography, Marilyn, later paired with Bern Stern’s photographs in a lavish Taschen tome—that her “greatest love affair was conceivably with the camera.”

Much of her life beyond her legend remains enigmatic. Marilyn famously said she didn’t want to be rich, she just wanted to be wonderful, and too often she didn't realize that she already was. On film, we saw Marilyn luminously at home in her body: Lawrence Schiller, who photographed her on the sets of Let's Make Love and Something's Got to Give, describes her in Marilyn & Me as a tough, ambitious agent in her own career and a self-assured model.

But her incandescent confidence was a veneer barely concealing her vulnerability and self-doubt, a conflict masterfully dramatized by Joyce Carol Oates in her novel Blonde. Marilyn grew to deeply resent and resist the prison of the sex symbol role in which she had cast herself. She longed to be taken seriously, and despite her stutter and deepening battles with addiction and depression, she devoted herself to becoming a great dramatic actress (beyond the comic genius so evident in Some Like It Hot), and she showed every sign of getting there.

MM-My-StoryShe made up for a missed education by devouring books, writing poetry, and developing intense friendships and affairs with artists, intellectuals, and, most (in)famously, politicians like the Kennedys. Some believe that her autobiography, My Story, was altered after her death to the point that it’s not entirely reliable, but her genuine wit and intelligence is undeniable. Lois Banner's MM—Personal offers the most revealing look inside her everyday life (photos and art and other objects that mattered to her), while we see the introspective, intellectually hungry Marilyn most directly in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, which culminates in a spread of her most cherished books.

 Many assert that Marilyn was coming into her own as an artist and learning to speak with her own voice just as her life ended. Adam Braver's new novel, Misfit, centering on her last weekend at Frank Sinatra's Lake Tahoe resort, brilliantly imagines her struggle to create an authentic identity and the tragic consequences.  Several writers and historians contend, citing convincing detail, that she was decisively silenced: Donald Wolfe makes a meticulously researched    homicide case in his nonfiction work, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, and J.I. Baker's The Empty Glass is a breathlessly paranoid noir thriller that draws on much of the same evidence.

MM-Passion-ParadoxI feel the full loss of her when I imagine how a well, vibrant Marilyn—a woman who pushed the cultural boundaries of the 1950s until they strained at their seams—might have expressed her creative and intellectual self over the course of a full lifetime. Her husband Arthur Miller observed that "to have survived,  she  would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” Lois Banner describes in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox how Marilyn's private funeral, arranged by Joe DiMaggio (whom Marilyn had planned to remarry that same week) ended with fans rushing her grave "in one big wave," tearing apart every floral tribute in their frenzied desire for souvenirs—much like people had tried to take pieces of her dress or hair when she was alive. Marilyn gave too much to deserve that. Books make much more marvelous souvenirs. –Mari Lynne Malcolm

See more of our favorite books about Marilyn Monroe.

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October 2014

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