The Sweetness of el Dia de los Muertos

diadelosmuertos-640x360First of all, like Halloween, there’s candy and revelry, but this short animated film by three female film students shows how the process of solemn remembrance tied to festive celebration can help ease the hearts of loved ones left behind. I’ve heard stories (someday I hope I’ll get to see) of gorgeous scenes of people visiting cemeteries overnight with picnics and flowers and the altars they’ve built, enjoying the peacefulness amid candles set like fairy lights all over. Per the description:

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a bank holiday. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world. In Brazil Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain there are festivals and parades and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.

h/t: Laughing Squid

Also, keep reading below, because our Terrie’s doing an online Halloween bash on Wednesday, October 28th!

Summer Means Happy Birthday, Roller Rinks!

John Joseph Merlin, the Belgian-born inventor of the roller skate.

John Joseph Merlin, the Belgian-born inventor of the roller skate.

Did you know that today, August 11th, in 1866, the world’s first roller rink opened? (Because that happy event occurred in Newport, Rhode Island, I expect that our own Anne-Marie Sutton knows a lot more about it than I do.) But roller skating must’ve been a great way to manufacture your own breeze before electric fans and A/C, so opening in the dog days of summer makes perfect sense!

Did you also know that there’s a National Museum of Roller Skating in Nebraska? Well, there is, and from it, I learned that the first roller skate in recorded history was invented way back in the 1760s by this dignified-looking gent here. We’re also told:

Merlin wore a pair of his new skates to a masquerade party at Carlisle-House in London. Though he was a well-known inventor, he was not a good skater. He could not control his speed or direction and crashed into a large mirror, severely injuring himself and possibly setting back the sport of roller skating for years.

All the early skates were in-line, and the father of the modern, 4-wheel, easier to manuever skate is James L. Plimpton, who, I gathered from The Pandora Society, also founded the New York Roller Skating Association (NYRSA) and, on its behalf, rented the dining room of the Atlantic House, a resort hotel in Newport, to convert for open skating. And that, as they say, is history.

vault-6-navy-lg

The image below is an engraving of Victorians skating indoors, and came from Curbed‘s interesting history of the roller rink, its attendant immoralities (!), and its growth with the nation, by Scott Garner.

Interior of a Victorian roller skating rinkPerhaps coincidentally, or not, this week is also the 35th anniversary of when the roller-skating-disco cinematic awesomeness that is Xanadu opened at the box office. It was about an artist who’s bored with his work and stuck in a rut until he meets one of the Muses. (Couldn’t we all use that kind of assistance?) People‘s Drew Mackie says:

Roller skating. Greek mythology. Hollywood. Olivia Newton-John. Gene Kelly. Electric Light Orchestra. By some measures, Xanadu should have been a hit.

It wasn’t, however. Upon its release in theaters on Aug. 8, 1980 – 35 years ago this week – the disco musical Xanadu was met with negative reviews and middling box office returns. That didn’t stop it, however, and this hypercolor fantasy has persisted, becoming a cult favorite in spite of its inauspicious beginnings.

XanaduIf you’re a glutton, as I am, you can read lots of little known facts about the production and the talented people involved, many of whom went on to do things better-received, though, to be fair, the soundtrack album was a mega-monster international hit. I also didn’t know the fact the film is kind of a sequel of a sequel and also, sadly, was Gene Kelly’s last, for which he choreographed the number he performed with Olivia Newton-John.

So yeah, having a dull day? Take yourself and you various pads and braces and helmets and grandchildren out to have some fun on wheels. After all, the Hickory Record tells me there’s a man who skates every week and just turned 89! Gene Elliott says, “I don’t feel old. When I get out there on that floor, it takes me a while to get loosened up but once I do, I’m back in my 60s and 70s.” I admit it, I have no excuse.

Skating Around the law by Joelle CharbonneauAnd because it’s Women of Mystery, I must also shout-out to Joelle Charbonneau, who’s since become hugely popular with her cool sff/dystopian adventures for younger readers, but who’s also written the Skating Series of mysteries, Book 1 being Skating Around the Law. Description: Rebecca Robbins is a woman on a mission–to sell the roller rink she inherited in her rural hometown and get back to her life in Chicago. Fast. What she didn’t count on was discovering a dead body head-first in a rink toilet. Now Rebecca is stuck in a small town where her former neighbors think she’s a city slicker who doesn’t belong, relying on a police department that’s better at gardening than solving crimes. With the help of a handsome veterinarian, a former circus camel, and her scarily frisky grandfather, Rebecca must discover the identity of the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

So, whether you do it, watch it, or read about it, hope you’re rolling on with summer fun!

Vacation Reading

In late July I wrote about the books I had saved up to read on a family vacation in Vermont vermont

and I promised reviews when I returned. I also wrote:

“But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual.”

Very much the case. ☺ I only read two of my five books, certainly a low for me on vacation. However, they were two extremely good ones. Here is my report.

The Whites by Harry Brandt. whitesThat is a pen name for highly regarded New York novelist Richard Price (Lush Life, Clockers). He is a stunningly excellent writer, whoever he says he is. The title does not refer to race but literature. Every member of a group of cops,old friends, has a case they call “the white”, the big one they can’t forget, the horrible crime they couldn’t quite pin on the person they knew was guilty. The white whale of their career. When one of those suspects turns up murdered, bleeding out at Penn Station, it looks like justice has finally caught up with him. Maybe. And maybe it is something else. crime

The story revolves around Billy, the only one still working as a cop, who has pieced together a real life. Never mind that he works nights; that his father, who lives with him, is deteriorating from dementia; that his hard-working wife suffers from bouts of depression, carrying something inside she can’t even talk about. And then an unknown someone starts to threaten his family in mysterious ways for some unknown reason.

It’s a dark story, with all the characters carrying darkness within as they deal with the darkness outside. There are only a few faint beams of light. Did I believe all of it? Or even most of it? Afterwards, perhaps not. While I was reading, it seemed as real as real life. That is the power of the writing.

A note: this is a complicated story with a lot of characters, so pay sharp attention at the beginning.

I like Ann Cleeves books a lot and have been looking forward to jumping into her most recent Shetland mystery, Thin Air. cover thin

It did not disappoint. I usually enjoy the remote, strange and beautiful setting, and must confess that though I have never been there, I have been to the Orkneys. They are almost as remote, mapshetland and I have fun picturing it all. Cleeves often weaves in old customs and old legends, without overdoing it, adding an lovely extra dimension to the story.

A group of friends have come up from London for a traditional “hamefarin”, a party to introduce a new bride to the Shetland-dwelling family and friends. And one of the women disappears. Just like that, into thin air. Of course it is not “just like that” and it becomes a job for Detective Jimmy Perez, the series protagonist and Shetland native,plus some investigators from the bigger world. It is “simmer dim”, the mysterious days of the long summer twilight. simmer Anything can happen, it seems, even the repeated appearance of the ghost of a long-ago drowned little girl. Jimmy’s job is to see through the mists and uncover the real story. shetland

It’s wonderful twisty, traditional mystery with a very rich background. I thought I’d guessed the crucial fact early on, a possible connection between characters, well-buried in the story. Nope. I could not have been more wrong. The solution was a surprise, but the kind where you say, “Ah. Now it make sense.” Who doesn’t recognize that as classic mystery writing?

Media news: PBS is running a series based on Cleeves Shetland books, and the ones I’ve seen are excellent, with actors familiar from other BBC productions and great scenery. And rumor has it that there is a movie deal for The Whites.

In case there are any doubts – ☺ – I am strongly recommending both books.

TV’s Hannibal: Gross, Perverse, Artistic. I Like It!

Mads Mikkelsen stars as the cannibal and serial killer Dr. Lecter in TV's Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen as TV’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Based on Thomas Harris’s novels, the Hannibal TV series, created and produced by Bryan Fuller, is not for the squeamish. But I’m not. I just ask that gore be purposeful, be interesting, be done with care for what it causes and the consequences. Hannibal mines the rich inspiration of art that’s in the books and marries it with aesthetically inventive visuals, sharp but minimal dialogue, and great performances to make a show that doesn’t feel or look like any other. Dramatic, cultured, very close-up and personal, it meanders the deceptive byways of the human mind. As far as shows that could be considered mainstream horror, you can think of Hannibal as the other end of the axis that the also-unique Walking Dead occupies.

For me, the shock value of the usual red-dyed corn syrup wore off after, oh, maybe watching the already dated Toolbox Killer in high school. Most horror isn’t that horrible once you’ve seen a bunch, and when you suspect a new story is just graceless, hopeless, manipulative three-card monte, it can lose its appeal. I make an exception for trope-licious campy fun, sometimes great fun, as TV’s American Horror Story often plays in this sandbox. In my least favorite kind of horror, the effects of all the bizarrities and carnage have no cumulative effect on the characters. They could be stepping through the stations of Candyland for all it matters. That’s how you know the writer made the victims of cardboard, because not even their nearest and dearest seem to care. The slaughter-forget-repeat cycle isn’t that captivating.

But it’s not merely horror, because Hannibal is also a lawless serial killer. Whether his pursuers on TV are now retired, estranged, or recuperating, it’s their connections to law enforcement, FBI specifically, that brought them into contact with Dr. Lecter. This show is set before the events of the novel Red Dragon– seen in the movie versions Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002)–and the even later-set novel Silence of the Lambs, the basis for the 1991 movie of the same name. In the TV series, we’ve gotten to backward to see the FBI’s star-profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikklesen) for the first time. We have explored the earliest, dangerous, see-sawing interaction of hunter and hunted. Later, we know, the cannibal will perfect with profiler Clarice Starling a method of corruption which is in-development here with Will Graham. Now, in the show’s third season, Hannibal has escaped the U.S. after dramatically revealing himself as no ordinary psychiatrist-consultant to the feds. His pursuers, who are all now also profoundly wounded victims, are closing in. Which is exactly what he wants. What he craves.

I know this kind of fare is NOT to the taste of everyone among the WoM or our regular visitors, not by any means. However, I thought I’d make a stab (ha) at trying to explain the appeal of the form and of this show in particular. I’ve been doing weekly show recaps at Criminal Element. Each week, I try to explore at least one of the cultural or artistic elements raised in the episode with more detail as bonus info, if you will. The episodes you’ll notice are all named after courses or categories of cuisine. Season 1 was French, Season 2 was Japanese. This season, which takes place partially in Florence and Palermo, is appropriately Italian. So here are the links to those posts if you’re interested!

Hannibal 3.01: an “Antipasto” of Drains and Snails — more on comic opera Don Pasquale and the medieval torture device called the Catherine Wheel

Hannibal 3.02: “Primavera” Springs Will Graham — more on true-crime killer, Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence, and Botticelli’s painting Allegory of Spring

Hannibal 3.03: “Secondo” Means Choosing — more on ancient Rome’s meat apportioning and how Death’s Head moths and entomological imposters are used on screen

Hannibal 3.04: “Aperitivo” Whets the Bloodlust — more on the conspiracy to kill Caesar, mythological death goddesses, and John Donne’s sonnet “A Fever”

This will be the show’s last season on NBC, and credit to them for sticking so long with something so different. However, I have high hopes this quality show will be picked up by another network or streaming service. After all, it has a built-in base of passionate fannibals, and there’s a whole world of cuisine, art, architecture, and music left to explore!

Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

HainesBone to be Wild is the fifteenth book in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. Sarah Booth’s old friend, Scott Hampton, is bringing his special brand of the blues back to Zinnia in the wonderful old club located at the crossroads of Sawmill and Pentecost roads. It was rumored to be “the location where the devil made more than one bargain for a musician’s soul.” Playin’ the Bones would be the happening place—unless someone kept Scott from fulfilling his dream.

See my full review at Criminal Element. Carolyn Haines is a prolific writer from Mississippi, and her heroine Sarah Booth Delaney is a charming private investigator who doesn’t let her Southern politeness keep her from digging up the truth when it’s needed.

Check out www.criminalelement.com!

A Day at Henry’s Palace

Neely Powell 2014-31-1Jan Powell and I make up the writing team called Neely Powell. We recently were privileged to go to England together and explore the familiar landmarks while visiting with my son and his family, who live in Weybridge.

Not far from Weybridge is the town of Hampton Court, where the famous Hampton Court Palace, a favorite home away from home for Henry VIII. It’s just ten miles from London and rises up beside the River Thames. Stepping through the gates takes you back in time 500 years. You actually feel the enormity of the history. All of Henry VIII’s wives came here. Henry’s heirs were born here.

HCPalaceThe first thing you notice is the immensity of it. There’s no way you can stand in the grounds and fully comprehend how big the palace is. There’s also no way you can see everything in its mighty walls in just one day, so I’m sharing some of the highlights that we really enjoyed. It was one of 50 or 60 palaces Henry owned, but it was by far his favorite.

You can feel the power still hovering in the corridors. Epic decisions and petty jealousies were familiar guests in the royal bedrooms. The amount of food and wine consumed in one day is staggering. The court required 600,000 gallons of bear every year and around 10,000 gallons of wine. FountainThere is actually a replica of a wine fountain in the courtyard used to provide unending red wine during a peace conference, complete with resident drunkards. A temporary palace made to look like Hampton Court was erected just for the conference, which was called “Field of Cloth of Gold” because of the many gold-plated tents used for housing.

Henry’s life was defined by his lavish lifestyle and preponderance of wealth. When he visited Hampton Court Palace, he had a court of 1,000 people. It’s interesting to note that the Great Hall, where Henry and his court dined was the last medieval great hall built for English royalty. Henry was so anxious to have it done, he made the masons work by candlelight at night.

When we walked down The Gallery outside Henry’s chambers, we hoped for a sighting of the ghost of Catherine Howard. Throughout the day a number of events are portrayed by actors in the palace. We happened upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, just outside the king’s court. He confided in us that he had found evidence of the queen’s deceit and had informed the king. However, Henry was reluctant to believe him, and he was distressed. Of course, Henry came to believe the Cardinal, and Catherine was beheaded for adultery while married to the king.

CardinalIt was fascinating to speak with the actor who portrayed the Cardinal. He never dropped character. We felt like a part of the tense drama going on in the palace. As we watched the dialogue between Henry and members of his court, the audience weighed in with their opinions on matters. It was great fun.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the grounds when they were closing for the night. We strolled along the river as we made our way back to the busy 21st street with its traffic and familiar noises.

We finished our day enjoying Sticky Toffee Pudding at a pub across the street from the palace called The Mute Swan, where we promptly began plotting a short story. We are now working on this little murder mystery, which will include a visit to one of Henry VIII’s favorite palaces.

MWA Symposium

Mystery writers took over New York! Did the crime rate go up? No. Mostly we just talk about crime, though I did once hear the late, great Donald Westlake claim he learned about bank robbery by pulling a job. He was kidding. I think

EdgarThis is the week of the annual Mystery Writers of America get together.The Edgar Awards dinner. (“Dress to kill. Black tie preferred.”) A launch party for an MWA collection. Editors and agents invited to a cocktail party to meet mystery writers. Note to all: that is free for members. I’m not sure if anyone finds an agent that way, but it can be a fun way to meet and greet.

One day is usually a daylong symposium, a series of talks or panels that are a mystery writer’s mini-conference. Is it worth the fee? And a day away from work, whether day job or writing? And traveling if you are not in New York? I’m only a subway ride away, but some years the speakers were not exciting or the topics were just not useful enough for me. Another memorable year, the opening speaker was so terrific his talk alone was worth the entire price.

Plus, I was invited to meet various old friends for lunch and dinner. So there is that. Retired from my day job and mostly home writing, a day in Manhattan and some socializing obviously counts as a mental health day. 2 Pershing-Square

Herewith, my report. The opening session, on crossing genres, a topic of no interest to me, was lively and fun anyway, due to the smart, entertaining panelists. The second session on location, moderated by the distinguished reviewer, Oline Cogdill, was excellent. I made a potentially useful contact with one panelist, and on a frivolous note, I was fascinated to learn that Karin Slaughter is that famous writer’s real name, and that though she writes violent stories, she is in person a delicate-looking woman with a wispy voice and wispy hairdo. The third session, on research, was a little too wordy at times with five panelists but worthwhile anyway. One panelist, Julia Dahl, wrote an Edgar-nominated book about the Hasidic world in Brooklyn, and we had a conversation after about special Brooklyn resources. eagl0491

Otto Penzler interviewed new Grand Master James Ellroy. It won’t surprise anyone who’s read his books – or even a review of them!- that he is a pretty unusual person. It was impossible to figure out how much of the flamboyant, gonzo character was shtick,how much might be camouflage for whoever he really is, and how much is real.It was both entertaining and annoying. New Grand Master Lois Duncan was interviewed by Laura Lippman, so of course that was entirely a five-star interview, beginning to end.

Duncan Ellroy

Adding on the cocktail party, it was a very long day but worthwhile day.

Why I Love To Write About Newport, Rhode Island

100_0041[1]

One of the many stunning ocean views in Newport. The Atlantic forms a rocky coastline where waves break across the cliffs.

Please welcome to the blog our brand-new Woman of Mystery, Anne-Marie Sutton!

When I began to think about writing my first mystery novel I had many decisions to make as to my characters and the plot, but on one thing I never wavered. I would set my story in Newport, Rhode Island.

While I didn’t hail from the city, I had spent a lot of time there. The ocean beaches and Narragansett Bay offered recreation. The famous mansions from the Gilded Age, known to their illustrious residents as summer cottages, were fun to visit. There was always something new to learn about the long history of a city which began life in the colonial period when Newport was a thriving port. And I like to include some history in each of my books.

After World War II when Newport went into decline, the old houses and mansions were rented or left empty to deteriorate. No developers were interested in what might replace them. Now, in 2015, all this makes for happy results for the city’s booming tourist industry.

Newport features architecture which spans more than 300 years. Historical and art venues abound. The Preservation Society of Newport County maintains ten properties open to the public, including The Breakers and Marble House, once summer homes of the Vanderbilt family.

As a writer who wants to sell books, the choice to set my mysteries in Newport was one of my smarter decisions. After all, what makes a better souvenir than buying a mystery that takes place in the town where you just vacationed? Unless it’s two books… or three.

Yes, I have written three books set in Newport. And this year I am planning to bring out a fourth:  Invest In Death.

Doing research for the books often takes me to Newport. What a terrific excuse to visit a place I have grown to love. Due to the popularity of the mansions, all the plots of my books revolve around a murder connected to a mansion. I don’t use the actual ones everyone knows, but I do like to meander around the city ‘scouting locations’ as the film people say.

Houses which catch my eye are relocated to another street, given a new name. My main character, an amateur detective named Caroline Kent, owns a mansion called Kenwood Court which she has turned into an inn. The estate’s gazebo is the scene of the murder in my first book,  Murder Stalks A Mansion. Kenwood is patterned on a real Newport house, but for literary purposes has found itself placed on the Cliff Walk.

The Cliff Walk, the three mile path overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, has served nicely for some thrilling scenes in the books. (See the climax of Gilded Death.) One of the pivotal opening scenes in Keep My Secret takes place in the famous Black Pearl Restaurant. The passages from the books which describe the characters’ movements around Newport are never difficult to write; there is so much to describe about the streets, the water views and the architecture.

100_0051

The Breakers, the summer home of Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt II, built by Richard Morris Hunt in the style of a Renaissance Italian villa, has seventy rooms. The house was used by the family for only twelve weeks each summer.

My yearly events calendar always includes book signings at the Preservation Society’s several gift shops. My personal favorite is in The Breakers. Its shop is spread over five rooms in the basement formerly used by the servants. Being there really puts you in the mood of the house and its history. I have met people from all over the world here. Newport is an international tourist destination, and the popularity of cruise ships has increased their numbers. Even when they don’t buy my books, the visitors are fun to talk to!

I’ve never regretted my decision to write about Newport. There are many days when I am home in Connecticut and find myself missing the place. Then I know that it’s time to plan another trip. Next I’m scheduled to participate in an author’s program at the Newport Public Library on March 22. I’ll go for the weekend and spend some time checking out locations for possible scenes in Invest In Death, take a walk on the Cliff Walk, treat myself to a visit to one or two of my favorite restaurants.

If you’d like to read a short story I wrote set in Newport, here’s “The Gigolo,” published online at Mysterical-E.

The City of Blood–New Release

BloodAnother complex case for one of my favorite detectives, Chief of Police Nico Sirsky in romantic–and deadly–Paris, France. The City of Blood by Frederique Molay has him dealing with a corpse that has been buried for thirty years while facing his mother’s health crisis.

This case is unusual and fascinating. The famous artist, Samuel Cassian, created art with his famous banquet tableau, which he buried three decades ago to be dug up by archeologists. The site of the famous artwork was once a famous slaughterhouse. The art not only contains the remains of a banquet frozen in time, there’s also a corpse that is possibly the missing son of the artist.

“Cassian was no starving artist, though,” the prosecutor said. “He made a surgeon’s fortune from his pieces. Then he opened pop-up restaurants and organized interactive banquets.”

“In the eighties he got tired of doing the same thing over and over and decided to have a final banquet,” Cohen said. “He wanted his guests to bury the remains, and he planned to have the whole thing dug up years later.”

The excavation had started a few days earlier, when reporters, scientists and artists came together to disinter the fragments. They planned to study the remnants and determine the work’s sustainability. It was nothing less than the first excavation of modern art.

“This is quite a scandal,” the prosecutor said. “Samuel Cassian is a prominent figure. The organizations sponsoring the event are going to go ballistic.”

“We’ll have to get to the bottom of this quickly,” Cohen said.

Time is working against Nico on so many levels it keeps the pace of the book at the breakneck speed. You’re constantly wondering what will happen next.

Once the homicide of the corpse is revealed, Nico and his team are relentless in their pursuit of the murderer. Though they have a body, evidence of murder, and all the elements for a court case, it’s possible the prosecutor’s office will consider it beyond the statute of limitations. While working this case, Nico’s crew is also dealing with a homophobic serial killer who’s cutting a chunk out of the shoulders of his victims.

When Nico’s beloved mother, Anya, is rushed to the hospital, his thoughts and judgements are definitely affected. He finds himself thinking of the old religion he dismissed from his life so many years ago. The introspection and the pressure from the case has Nico thinking about deals with the God he has ignore for so long.

Watching Nico pull the strings of this case together is like almost poetic in its symmetry. His guts lead him in ras directions, but the support of his team and his soulmate, Caroline, help him cope with the stress. As the case is reaching its climax, his mother health crisis becomes critical.

Back in his office, Nico called Caroline. She picked up immediately.

“Any news?” he asked.

“I talked to Dr. Fursac. They took her off sedatives this morning. Anya’s been moving a bit.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s a good sign. It means she’s waking up. But let’s not jump to conclusions yet. We still have to wait. I’ll call you early this afternoon.”

“Thank you, my love.”

He could almost hear her smiling.

Frederique Molay has a wonderful ability to put in your Paris, make you feel the detectives’ frustration and motivation, and bring it all together for a satisfying ending. All the pieces of the complicated story in place, and you’re ready to go back to beginning and read it again.

The City of Blood is out today. I really enjoy a good mystery with a foreign locale. In light of recent events, it’s good to read a story where the good guys win.

Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress

I’ve always had a secret desire to be a spy. (I think I may have confessed that here once or twice.) But since that profession didn’t readily present itself when I was ready to choose a career, I had to settle for reading about them.

John LeCarré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighten, Ian Fleming, all captured my young imagination with their daredevil characters and exotic settings. But no one more so than Helen MacInnis.

A Sunday New York Times Book Review Critic’s Take article “Spies Like Her” brought it all back to me. As the writer, Sarah Weinman, suggests Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress, was ahead of her time, writing about such events as Israel bombing Gaza and the Russians invading a part of the Ukraine years before the recent events.

She was married to Gilbert Highet, a classics scholar who was also a MI6 British intelligence agent. And, it was generally thought she might have used classified information in creating some of her 21 books. In fact, according to a biography of the writer on Wikopedia, her third novel, Assignment in Brittany was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Her novels took me all over the globe and painted a vivid picture of a world very different from mine filled with more intrigue and adventure than a girl from the Bronx could expect. A world I would love to have been a part of, and I like to think, that I’ve captured in my own writing.

I checked my bookshelf before writing this and found two of her novels, Agent In Place and Message from Malaga, both of which I plan to reread as soon as possible.

51lvZbTY-QL._AA160_Agent In Place
When the idealist is duped to reveal sensitive information, when the ‘agent in place’ is forced into the open, disaster strikes.
The NATO Memorandum, classified Top Secret, is the lethal prize sought by Soviet Intelligence in the deadly game that continues relentlessly beneath the dubious veneer of détente. A cryptic telephone call to a Russian ‘sleeper’ in Washington, a mugging-murder of an unidentifiable man in New York’s Central Park, an anonymous Memorandum—and Helen MacInnes’s new adventure is launched.

51hZgAgV7kL._AA160_Message From Malaga
Sunny Spain, sudden death!
Ian Ferrier, on vacation from the U.S. Space agency, would not have believed his reunion with a trusted friend would lead to murder, or that he would hold the key to expose a vicious conspiracy for assassination, or that he would be plunged into a desperate pursuit in which he was as much the hunted as the hunter. Yet that is the opening of this spellbinding tale set in the deceptively serene and vividly picturesque cities of Malaga and Granada.