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Tuesday, 3 August 2021

An Eye on the Murder Squad by Peter Lovesey


Peter Lovesey on an unexpected challenge

This was an unsettling and almost mystical experience: a fleshed-out character with his own distinctive voice arriving in my book, Diamond and the Eye, without any obvious input from me, the author. I can’t explain how it happened. Johnny Getz was on the scene, ready to give my case-hardened detective superintendent the drubbing of his life. Creating a character is normally a slow, accumulative process for me, a fusion of memories and imagination. I like to feel I’m in control. Not this time.

    ‘Mind if I join you?’
    Peter Diamond’s toes curled.

    There’s no escape when you’re wedged into your favourite armchair in the corner of the lounge bar at the Francis observing the last rites of an exhausting week keeping a cap on crime. Tankard in hand, your third pint an inch from your mouth, you want to be left alone.

The stranger’s voice was throaty, the accent faux American from a grainy black-and-white film a lifetime ago. This Bogart impersonator was plainly as English as a cricket bat. His face wasn’t Bogart’s and he wasn’t talking through tobacco smoke, but he held a cocktail stick between two fingers as if it was a cigarette. Some years the wrong side of forty, he was dressed in a pale grey suit and floral shirt open at the neck to display a miniature magnifying glass on a leather cord.

The man in the armchair, Peter Diamond, had arrived at Bath Police thirty years ago in The Last Detective, so I know him pretty well by now. He has mellowed a little from the ex-Met man with a record of bullying witnesses. He still scares his colleagues a little, but he’s smart enough to survive in the much-changed modern police. He takes short cuts and gets reprimanded and has no respect for his so-called superiors and no ambition to join them. He’s had big shocks along the way, quit the police for a while and worked as a security officer in London, but agreed to return in The Summons, when Bath police needed him more than he needed them. Since then, good colleagues like DI Julie Hargreaves have found him unbearable and transferred to other police authorities. All in all, you would expect him to be a match for a sharpie like Johnny, but this first encounter doesn’t work out like that.

            ‘Depends,’ Diamond said.

‘On what?’

‘Should I know you?’

‘No reason you should, bud.’

No one called Diamond ‘bud’. He’d have said so, but the soundtrack had already moved on.

‘I got your number. You’re the top gumshoe in this one-horse town and you’re here in the bar Friday nights when you’re not tied up on a case. What’s your poison? I’ll get you another.’

‘Don’t bother.’ Diamond wasn’t being suckered into getting lumbered with a bar-room bore who called him bud and claimed to have got his number.

‘You’ll need something strong when you hear what I have to say.’ The bore pulled up a chair and the voice became even more husky. ‘Good to meet you, any road. I’m Johnny Getz, the private eye.’

‘Say that again, the last part.’

‘Private eye.’

Against all the evidence that this was a send-up, Diamond had to hear more. ‘Private eye? I thought they went out with Dick Tracy.’

‘Dick Tracy was a cop.’

‘Sam Spade, then. We’re talking private detectives, are we? I didn’t know we had one in Bath.’

‘What do you mean – “one”? I could name at least six others. The difference is they’re corporate. I’m the real deal. I work alone.’

‘Over the hairdresser’s in Kingsmead Square.’ An address that lacked something compared to a seedy San
Francisco side street, which was probably why the self-styled PI added, ‘The Shear Amazing Sleuth. Like it?’

As a reader, I can’t get enough of the American private eyes. I came early to The Continental Op and Philip Marlowe and loved the laidback style and deadpan wit. I moved on to Mike Hammer, Lew Archer, Travis McGee, Mitch Tobin, Amos Walker, Easy Rawlins, Kinsey Millhone and V.I.Warshawski. Happily, the list is endless and I’m still finding more. They operate with impunity in America, rarely troubled by the police. I won’t say it’s impossible to write a convincing PI novel set in Britain. Conan Doyle managed it, even if you’d think twice about calling the world’s most famous consulting detective an eye.  Peter Cheyney pulled it off with Slim Callaghan, although his better-known character, Lemmy Caution, operated in America. Ingenious British writers like Liza Cody, Stella Duffy, Mike Ripley, John Lincoln, Cathi Unsworth and Kate Atkinson continue the tradition. Making this genre believable in a UK setting is a rare talent.

So how does Johnny Getz elbow his way into a Peter Diamond novel? In truth, he’s a fantasist, a false eye. He loves the aura of back-street San Francisco. He has done his reading and can quote key passages from Chandler and Paretsky. At intervals he takes over the writing and gives his withering opinions on Diamond and the Bath police. But I suspect it’s all done with mirrors. Johnny has no experience and only one client. He is driven by his dreams. At the start, he is smart enough to reel Diamond in slowly.

There was a pause while the conflict in Diamond’s head – contempt battling with curiosity – raged and was resolved. ‘What did you say your name is?’

‘Johnny Getz.’

‘How do you spell that?’

‘Getz? With a zee.’

Diamond sighed. ‘Is it real?’

‘Sure. You heard of Stan Getz?’

‘The jazz musician? You’re not related?’

‘I should be so lucky.’

‘It was his real name as far as I know,’ Diamond said. ‘Is yours your own?’

A shake of the head. ‘In my line of work, you gotta make a noise in the world.’

‘You play the sax yourself?’

‘Nah. I’m talking publicity.’ He took a business card from his pocket and snapped it on the table like the ace of trumps. ‘Johnny Getz. Gets results. How does that grab you?’

Diamond had a pained look, and not from being grabbed. ‘What do you want with me, Mr Getz?’

‘Johnny to you.’

‘Mr Getz. I keep first names for my friends.’

Johnny Getz took a moment to reflect on that. He refused to take it as a putdown. ‘What do I want? I want your help with a case.’

‘Don’t even start,’ Diamond said, seizing his chance to end this. ‘I’m a police officer. We don’t get involved outside our work.’

‘This is your work. It’s got your name all over it.’

Here I must stop. You’ll have guessed that Diamond, for all his unease, gets into a sort of partnership with the Shear Amazing Sleuth. I say ‘sort of’ because they are rivals as well. At times they compete to solve the mystery. Throughout the book they hold each other in contempt and yet they are forced to pool information to make progress. Authors are often asked whether characters seem to develop in ways they had never planned. Johnny came to me fully grown. He drove the plot from page one. It was a takeover.

Diamond and the Eye
is published by Sphere.
 You can find more at Peter’s website

Monday, 2 August 2021

Writing Experiences of an Ex-Pat by Jill Amadio


Jill Amadio

 Talking with Valerie M Burns

 Which of Kensington Book Publishing authors keeps its editors hopping? Probably V. (Valerie) M. Burns. Writing three mystery series that run the gamut from settings and characters involving a bookshop, dogs, detectives, and a fairy tale or two, she also manages to fit in a full-time job.

V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in the Midwestern United States. She currently resides in the warmer region of the country. 
Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers of America, Crime Writers of Color, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. 

website at  

You write three cozy series. Why so many?

It takes a long time to write a book (months) and during that time, I spend a lot of time with the characters. I write every day. After spending every day together for months, by the time I finish a book, I’m really tired of those characters and need some time apart…a separation.

However, I’ve learned from experience that if I just take time away from writing, it’s hard to get back into a rhythm of writing every day. I’ve found that what works best for me is to write three series. When I finish one book in a series, then I move onto the next series and spend time with those characters. Eventually, I am ready to circle back to the first series.

Describe briefly how you came up with them.
Each one of my series contains a piece of me. The first series that I wrote was my RJ Franklin Mysteries. It features a policeman who solves crimes with the help of his godmother, Mama B. It’s set in a fictional town, that is a lot like my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. This series includes soul food recipes and all of the titles come from Negro Spirituals and includes the heart and soul of my upbringing in a mid-sized Midwestern town including the food, the songs, and the spiritual aspects of my culture. For many years when I lived in Indiana, I competed with my toy poodles, Coco and Cash in canine agility and obedience. Later, I moved to Eastern Tennessee just like Lilly Ann Echosby in my Dog Club Mystery Series.In my Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series, Samantha Washington dreams of quitting her job and opening a mystery bookshop and writing British historic cozy mysteries. This is Sam’s dream and also happens to be my dream.

How different are they from each other? Was Dog Club inspired by your poodles.
Each of my series are different and represent different times of my life. One common thread in all of my books is that they all have a dog. I love dogs and my two poodles, Coco and Cash were the inspiration for Snickers and Oreo in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. In fact, those are my dogs on the covers of that series. I now have a black toy poodle, Kensington (yes I named her after my publisher) who was the inspiration for Aggie in the Dog Club Mystery series. My sister used to have a standard poodle named Chyna that I also featured in the Dog Club Mysteries.

How did you get into writing books? When did you start? Whence came the passion?

I have been an avid reader my entire life. I grew up three blocks from my local branch library and spent almost every day at the library, especially in the summer. When I was young, I was introduced to Agatha Christie and fell in love with cozy mysteries. After reading a ton of mysteries, I developed a list of ‘I wish someone would write a book about…’ After decades, I decided that maybe I should try to write the books I wanted to read.

You have a day job. Do you ever sleep? Whats your writing schedule?I do have a day job. Sleep? What’s that? Just kidding. When the day job is over, I take 30-60 minutes to eat and then I write. I set a weekly writing goal of 7,500-10,000 words. If I can write 1,000-1,500 words per day, then I can hit my weekly goal. Some days my brain is fried after the day job and if I don’t write, that’s fine. I can usually make up a day or two on the weekends. Usually, at 8:00 my dogs require my attention, so I take a little time with the poodles and then we all sleep.

Where do you write? Do you have a special writing space?

I turned one of the bedrooms in my house into an office. That’s where my computer is setup. However, I try to keep a notebook and pen in my car and purse. If I find myself sitting for any extended periods then I write long hand and type it up later. If I can’t find my notepad, then I’ll write on napkins, envelopes, or receipts (you don’t want to see the inside of my purse).

You are also a book reviewer – how did that come about and for which publications/blogs?
I’m not an official book reviewer for any specific publications. However, as a mystery lover, I read a lot of books. As an author, I know how important reviews are to authors, so I always try to leave reviews whenever I can. I often write book reviews for my website, I also leave reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble,
Goodreads, and Bookbub.

Does your home state of Tennessee inspire you, or any other setting? Definitely, I find inspiration in the lush green mountains of East Tennessee and looking at Lake Michigan when I lived in Southwestern Michigan.Your story-within-a-story is well-handled (Bookshop). What inspired this literary device and drew you to that historical era?

Initially, I was only going to write a mystery about a woman writing a mystery. The only murders would happen in the book she was writing. I thought it would more realistic. That’s where the title came from for the first book, The Plot is Murder. However, I wondered if mystery lovers would be engaged if the protagonist wasn’t actually solving a mystery. That’s when I got the idea to include two mysteries, a story-within-a-story. My dream was to write British historic cozy mysteries, so this gave me the opportunity to do that. I’ve always been fascinated by England at the start of World War II. In my opinion, the British showed so much foresight to see what was coming and courage to enter the war even if they had to fight alone. I wanted to recognize the courage and bravery of the British in my own small way.

What’s your publishing history?

The first book I wrote was Travellin’ Shoes the first book in my RJ Franklin Mystery Series. In 2008 I attended a writing conference and pitched my not-yet-finished book to a publisher who seemed interested. However, she wasn’t able to accept a manuscript unless it was sent to her by an agent. It took a year for me to finish the manuscript. Then, I started my search to find an agent. I sent query letters to practically every agent in the U.S. I got a LOT of rejections. After many years of frustration, I decided to research some of my favorite authors and try to follow in their footsteps. One of my favorite cozy authors is Victoria Thompson. Her biography stated that she was an adjunct professor in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Seton Hill has a low-residency MFA program. I applied and was accepted in June 2012. I had two ideas for mysteries. Travellin’ Shoes became my thesis project and I also had an idea for the Mystery Bookshop series, which I started during my last term. I graduated in January 2015 and sent query letters for both books. The Plot is Murder. was accepted by an agent later that year. In April 2016 I had an offer for a three books. Publishing is slow. My first book wasn’t scheduled to release until November 2018. So, I wrote the next two books in the series and started a fourth. My publisher asked if I would write another series for their Lyrical Underground imprint. They weren’t interested in Travellin’ Shoes, so I submitted a proposal for the Dog Club Mystery series. I believed in Travellin’ Shoes and submitted it to a small press who accepted it.

How do you do your research?
There’s a wonderful used bookstore near my house and I love looking for books about World War II and biographies. I also do a lot of research online. I can spend hours looking up details that don’t often make their way into the books, so I have to watch the amount of time I spend surfing the web. I also try to make sure that I find reliable sources

Do you attend conferences?

Before the pandemic, I attended quite a few conferences. It’s great to meet authors, readers, agents, editors, etc. The writing community is a tight-knit group. Being on panels helps new readers discover my books. I’ve also made great connections with other authors.

Have you been to the UK?
I have been to the UK several times and I LOVE it. There’s never enough time to see everything. I don’t know if I sell well in the UK, but I sure hope so. Generally, when my books are discounted, I pick up quite a few sells.

Which writers’ organizations do you belong to?
I’m a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers of America, and I’m on the board of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the National Board for Sisters in Crime.

Any marketing tips to share with writers?

I don’t know that marketing is my forte, but I have found that networking is important. It’s not easy to attract new readers, but established authors with a fanbase are often very generous and will promote other authors in their newsletters and join in blog tours or Facebook parties which will help introduce your books to others. Sometimes, reaching out to other authors with similar themes can be great. I’ve done promotional activities with other other authors with similar themes can be great. I’ve done promotional activities with other authors who have a bookstore theme or who feature dogs in their books.

What is your life like now – are you able to handle job and writing calmly?
I don’t know if I’d call my life ‘calm.’ Before the pandemic I had a routine that was great. I had to find a new routine when my home office became my only office for over 1.5 years. However, I think I’m finding the balance.

Which book did you have the most fun writing?
I’m tempted to say whatever book I’m working on at the time. However, I think I have the most fun writing about Nana Jo and ‘the girls’ in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. These senior sleuths are feisty and I never know what havoc they will create in my books. I wish I was as uninhibited as they are.

What/who is your DIY muse?
My muse is fickle. She comes and goes at will. If I need inspiration, that usually means my tank is empty. So, I take time to reread my favorite books (usually Agatha Christie or Rex Stout) and binge watch mysteries that I’ve seen a million times, but still love (Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, etc.). After a weekend of reading and watching
mysteries, I’m usually ready to get back to my computer.

Favorite authors?
Oh, this could take a while. I’m a HUGE fan of Agatha Christie. I also love Rex Stout, Emily Brightwell, Victoria Thompson, Susan Elia Macneal, Jill Churchill, Heron Carvic, Patricia Wentworth, Alexia Gordon, Ellery Adams, Sue Grafton, Dorothy Gilman, and Martha Grimes.

Writing tips/advice for first-time authors?
Write. Lots of people dream about writing one day. Don’t wait until the planets are aligned and everything is perfect. Writing is long, hard work. If you want to be a writer, find the time and write the book you want to write. Write the book that keeps your butt in the chair.

Your current work-in-progress?
I am currently writing the 4th book in my RJ Franklin Mystery series. The current working title is Wade in the
Water. I’ve ended my Dog Club Mystery series after five books, but I’m excited to be starting a new series. So, follow me on social media to learn m

Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K, like the character in her crime series, Jill was a reporter in Spain,  Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller, writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.  She lives in Southern California.

Her new book
In Terror's Deadly Clasp P
Published 16 July 2021