Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: printed books

Hey authors, don’t kill the dog!

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In this guest article, animal behaviorist and author Amy Shojai examines the peril novelists face if one of their murder victims has four legs.

I’m a dog lover (and a cat lover) and I adore reading fiction that includes unique pet characters or animal plots interwoven in a creative and believable way. But don’t you dare, kill the dog…or I’m liable to lob that book into a dumpster and cross you off my TBR list. And I’m not alone.

My perspective isn’t purely emotional, either. As a certified animal behavior consultant, I deal every day with pet owners who desperately need help understanding and solving their pet peeves. I address these issues directly in my nonfiction pet books, and in my thrillers, animal behavior remains intrinsic to the plot.

My September Day thriller series features an animal behaviorist and her service dog Shadow, a German Shepherd Dog with his own viewpoint chapters. Both September and Shadow go through hell. Shadow even has his own story arc and has such a presence, the series would die should he become a victim of the antagonist. There are other animal characters introduced peripherally, along with veterinary or animal welfare plots, and in the real world, I know all tooShow-and-Tell-pet-novel well bad things happen.

Including pets can be lazy writing

Killing pet characters is a furry line I won’t cross, not just because it hurts my heart. It can be bad business, and too often is simply a lazy shortcut to demonstrate the antagonist’s level of “evil.” At the other extreme, writers may be advised to give their hero a pet to make the protagonist more likeable.

Honestly, I have to argue that it’s not owning the pet, but the relationship with that animal (or any other character) that makes the hero likeable or the antagonist unlikeable and unsympathetic. A pet character in a story opens an opportunity to show a relationship, and that, indeed, will broaden a character’s depth and the reader’s engagement.

But when pets are used as a prop, interjected simply as a label like “red headed killer” or “dog loving taxi driver” or the tired old ploy “serial killer starts by killing pets,” there’s no relationship. You want that relationship, so readers care, and good writers ensure that readers are vested in what happens to their story characters including the pets. Killing the pet, however, after the reader becomes emotionally invested, betrays the reader’s trust in a horrific way. Done purely for shock or as a shortcut, killing pets in novels is a cheap shot pet-loving readers rarely forgive. Here’s why.

Why killing pets backfires

Today, pets are considered to be members of the family, in some cases surrogate children. Just as many readers become offended by fiction that details “on-stage” murder/mayhem directed at children, so too, are they offended by the same directed toward pets. Continue Reading →

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Stave off the winter blahs with an engrossing read

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Two new novels, a thriller and a mystery, promise unusual excitement in diverse settings. Brendan Reilly’s An Unbeaten Man moves from a deceptively serene college campus in Brunswick, Maine, to a hidden laboratory in the United Arab Emirates, to a showdown at an isolated dacha outside Moscow. In Bryan E. Robinson’s Limestone Gumption, the plot leads readers from a small quiet Florida town into underwater caves in this fast-paced cozy mystery.

Unbeaten-man--web-optiAn Unbeaten Man: A Michael McKeon Book
Brendan Rielly
Down East Books Nov. 2015
334 pages
$24.95 hardcover

 

 

 

 

A microbe that instantly cleans up any oil spill, no matter how large, by devouring the oil should be the breakthrough that defines a career, but for Bowdoin College microbiologist Michael McKeon, it unleashes a nightmare.

In An Unbeaten Man, American, Russian and Saudi leaders fly to Moscow in a last ditch effort to defeat ISIS and its splinter groups and stop the Middle East from burning by creating a Middle East Marshall Plan. At the same time, The Global Group sabotages those efforts by capturing and threatening to kill Michael’s wife and daughter unless he uses his microbe to annihilate hundreds of billions of barrels of Saudi and Russian oil.

As Michael races against the clock, Deputy NSA Director Melissa Stark joins forces with Michael’s oldest friend, an NSA agent code-named Longfellow, to stop The Global Group and save Michael and his family. Framed for Michael’s kidnapping, she escapes.

With The Global Group, the NSA, the Secret Service and the FSB after them, Stark and Longfellow must stop the plot even if it means sacrificing Michael’s family. Just as he successfully contaminates the heart of Saudi oil production at Abqaiq, Michael is captured and tortured by Saudi security forces.

Forging a new alliance with a deadly Saudi agent, he agrees to save Saudi oil in order to save his family. When Global Group assassins nearly kill him, Michael faces the grim reality that his family may already be lost.

Brendan Rielly is an attorney who lives with his wife and three children in Westbrook, Maine. He’s the middle of three generations of Maine authors with his father and son (as a high school senior) also published. This is his first thriller.

 

Limestone-Gumption-web-optiLimestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery
Bryan E. Robinson
Five Star Publishing  Jan. 2016
314 pages
$19.95 trade paper

 

 

 

 

When Brad Pope returns to his boyhood hometown to settle a debt with his long-lost father, the 35-year-old psychologist becomes a prime suspect in the murder of football legend turned cave diver, Big Jake Nunn. Perched high on the east bank of the Suwannee River, the sleepy town of Whitecross, Florida, is known for its natural crystal-clear springs and underwater caverns. Locals are online and computer savvy, but if asked about blackberries, they think cobbler, not wireless. And townsfolk die of natural causes, not murder.

Until now.

As if being accused of murder isn’t shock enough, the psychologist’s hopes of confronting his father and reconnecting with his cantankerous Grandma Gigi are hindered by the surprised horror surrounding his father’s whereabouts and sinister secrets of the Women’s Preservation Club (WPC).

The six quirky “sisterfriends” in the club founded by Grandma Gigi—whom Brad expects to jabber about preparing Sunday’s church bulletin or the next bake sale—start to look more like cold-bloodied killers than church ladies. As Brad learns of more dead bodies and that each sisterfriend has reason to kill Big Jake, his suspicions sour into the clabbered taste of fear.

Bryan Robinson is a novelist and licensed psychotherapist. His thriller received the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award for best mystery. He is a veteran author of 35 nonfiction books, has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, World News Tonight, The Early Show, and NBC Nightly News. He maintains a psychotherapy practice in Asheville, N.C., where he is working on book 2 in the series.

How to multiply the benefits–and pleasures–of reading

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One of the worst pejoratives that anyone in our book group can hurl at the monthly selection is to compare it to “Children of the Arbat,” a profile of Stalin and Russia in the early 1930s. Although I enjoyed the book, many group members considered the 1988 historical novel to be ponderous. At every book group meeting, one of our members must listen to the criticism (or praise) of the book he has selected. That’s how the group works. And I love it.

Book groups–or clubs–are so popular, so commonplace now it prompted this headline in a recent issue of The New York Times: “Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?” The article’s author, James Atlas, says when he meets a friend on the street he says, “‘What’s your book group reading…’ Not: ‘Are you in a book group?’”

Atlas says that five million Americans belong to book groups, but I suspect that’s an understatement. Katie Wu writing in McSweeneys.net says there could be more than 100,000 book clubs in the United States. One of the largest, according to Wu, is Pulpwood Queens, which has 350 chapters throughout the country and also includes men. The book club membership numbers probably don’t count online book groups. The website Goodreads.com lists more than 10,000 of those.

Book groups go back a long way–but not as far back as Gutenberg. In the 15th century printed books tended to be on the religious side, and in many areas of the world at that time debating the merits of scripture could result in serious disfigurement.Stack of books B&W John Grisham and Ann Rice wouldn’t come along for some time–in fact, it was centuries after Johannes Gutenberg that the first modern novel was written.

“In 1840, Margaret Fuller [author and Emerson colleague] founded the first bookstore-sponsored club in Boston,” Wu writes in McSweeney’s, “and by the mid-1800’s, book clubs were spreading throughout the Midwest both as social events and intellectual opportunities.”

My group is both social and intellectual. The main reason I’m in the group is the other guys. We’ve been together for about seven years. We laugh and have fun. We enjoy each other’s company. And we read books. There’s just six of us now that one member of our group died.   We’ve talked about adding someone, but we haven’t yet, perhaps over worries about upsetting the group’s chemistry.   We shouldn’t be concerned, however, because we have a chemist in the group, as well as professionals from other fields, and two members are ivy league grads.

And for the most part, we like the same sort of books.

Explaining the exact types of books we like, however, is difficult. Our list over the years has included a broad selection of authors, topics and genres. And that’s the other reason I love the group. I’ve read dozens of wonderful books that likely I would never have been exposed to. Our authors have included Sara Gruen, Raymond Chandler, Bryce Courtenay, Erik Larson, Philip Roth, Constance Millard, Pat Conroy, Graham Greene–and even Steinbeck, Dickens and Dostoyevsky.

I prefer to call our book gathering a group instead of a club. I still remember when book club referred to an organization that sold books through the mail. I was thrilled when the first book I wrote was picked up by the Book of the Month Club. The BOMC is still around, though I don’t see its advertising anymore and I doubt it adds much to my CV.

Our group, like many others, likes to eat. We meet in late morning, discuss our selection at one or another of our homes, then head to a restaurant for lunch. Unlike many groups, however, we select our restaurants based on the book we’re reading.   For example, when we read “Two Years Before the Mast,” we had seafood. When we read Faulkner we sought southern cooking, and Donne Leon’s latest Venice mystery led us to an Italian restaurant.

We have few rules. Each person takes a turn at selecting a book, something like dealer’s choice poker. Usually the person making the selection has read the book, but it’s not mandatory. It’s assumed that everyone will read the book and, although one member of our group sometimes finishes a last chapter while someone else drives him to the meeting, we all do.   Novels predominate, although some members like history and biography, and as a result we’ve read some masterpieces in those genres.

We don’t always agree and that can lead to thought-provoking discussions–what a book group is all about. I could (but won’t) list two or three books we’ve read I thought were stinkers, but even those literary disasters provided me with keys to authors I will avoid in the future.

Our group doesn’t have a name. One of our members was lamenting that the other day. Maybe we should call ourselves the Children of the Arbat.

Hyperlinks:        

New York Times on book groups

Katie Wu on the book club phenomenon

Note:  Starting today I will post articles and stories on Tuesday afternoons, rather than Wednesday.

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