The Blacklist: Why I Love Reddington

Raymond Reddington is my new favorite spy. On the first episode of NBC’s new show The Blacklist, Reddington surrenders himself to the FBI by going into the lobby, taking off his jacket, getting down on his knees (on the seal no less), putting his hands up, and announcing who he is: a criminal on the ten most wanted list, a former government spy turned bad, now turned good. Maybe.

It’s obvious from the first that Reddington has his own agenda. He’s not going to be put in jail. He has his own most wanted list. He will help the FBI catch them, but will work only with newly minted agent Elizabeth Keen.

Who is probably his daughter. Who is married to undercover agent, Tom Keen. Who married her to get to Reddington, we think. Who tells Elizabeth when he’s caught, “You were my job.”

Reddington is quirky. He runs an effective, diverse team of experts and spies. He’s connected to every underworld and terrorist figure worth knowing, it seems. He kills people who betrayed him without blinking an eye. He doesn’t flinch at the most horrendous torture or abuse of people. Yet he has remained human. Loveably, amusingly human.

Reddington delights in life. In the middle of torturing the man who’s pretended to be Tom Keen’s brother, Reddington takes a break to watch his favorite Marx’s brothers stunt on television while he enjoys room service. In the latest episode while his associate copies a book with a secret inscription, Reddington reminisces about a time a man in Pagosa Springs (a hot springs town in Colorado I love) fixed his water pump when it blew out on the mountain. His joy seems real, not a ploy to unnerve his victim.

When one of the FBI agent loses the love of his life, Reddington warns him not to take the path he himself took—revenge. It will not bring you the satisfaction you think it will, he says, and it leads down unexpected waysides that are impossible to turn back from. At the end of the episode, he sends the agent a note that beautifully describes how grief works. He tells him that every day when he wakes up it will be the first thing he thinks about, that one day in the far future, it will be the second thing. Then he goes on to explain how he will heal enough to live again, but he will never be the same.

I love Reddington because he has seen the worst. He became corrupt. Reddington burned out. He got beyond disillusioned. He was more than inconsolable. But he didn’t stay in any of these places. He came out the other side.

Reddington has accepted the world as it is. Corrupt, violent, cruel, unfair, mean. He has accepted the world as it is. Beautiful, wonderful, surprising, miraculous, extraordinary. He goes about his business with a Buddha-like detachment, but a deadly efficiency. He has no causes left—except perhaps to return and be the father he could not be before, to guide Elizabeth through the horrific, marvelous world he helped bring her into. As he ruthlessly hunts down killer after criminal after terrorist, he always stops to smell the roses, enjoy a sandwich, and tell a very quirky story.


Spying on the Home Front

Wow, there are a lot of different kinds of spies! Spies in the movies, spies snooping in our neighborhoods, glamour-ized spies, traitor-ized spies, spies everywhere.


But what about spies here on the home front?


We don’t hear much about those stories, but there were actually a couple of real occasions during WWII when German soldiers landed on U.S. soil. One such spy was George John Dasch (you can google him and read more!) when he was recruited by the Nazis to land a team of spies on U.S. soil. The spies were given minimal training to set bombs, and they intended to sabotage factories, bridges, and some of the locks on the Ohio River. In June 1942 they landed in New York and Florida, having been set ashore by German submarines, but only 2 months later their plans fell apart when Dasch turned informant after seeing too many flaws in their preparations. He got 30 years in prison, one of his accomplices got life, and the others got the electric chair.


WWII was a time when ordinary citizens dared to commit outrageous acts of bravery, often beyond their training. It was a time when everyday folks became spies for a cause they put above their own personal safety. And many of them succeeded! Could we, in our comfy lives today, ever match such acts of derring-do? I wonder.


My interest in these tales began when I was a child, listening to the stories of my great-uncle. He used to be postmaster of a very small town in the hills of southern Ohio around the time of WWII. My uncle had a great sense of humor, and he loved pulling my leg. I never knew if he was teasing or telling the truth when he confessed about spying from the post office, tracking German spies who allegedly passed through town. In those days, on the home front in the early days of WWII, nobody knew what might happen. I suspect my uncle exaggerated his tales, but it doesn’t really matter if they were true or not. They were stories, and I loved hearing them.


They got me thinking and wondering. What might’ve happened on the home front in those early days after the U.S. entered WWII? Dasch’s story became a jumping off point for one of the subplots in a novel of mine under another pen name (The Jigsaw Window, by Cameron Kennedy). When I write, I like to throw in my own speculations, blend them all together, and end up with a story.


My story only speculates about an invasion plan, but I have to wonder: did my long-deceased uncle really have a hand in bringing down Dasch and his team of spies? Probably not, but it makes a nice story and turns my uncle into a hometown hero. My favorite kind of spy.


What do you think?

A Glimpse at a Better Life, Just $3.99 a Pop

I had a period after college where I really loved to read gossip rags. You know the kind: US Weekly, OK!, and People (though it’s a bit less of an offender). Plus, a couple of times per day, I’d peruse Perez Hilton and TMZ for all the intrusive bits the weekly rags didn’t have.

And though the words were fun to read, I was really in it for the pictures. The gritty ones, taken with telephoto lenses longer than a standard rifle. Stars in their element, where they thought they were safe. But they’d find out a few hours later that they weren’t, just as soon as their pic went to the highest bidder.

I don’t know why I got so into this, but I have an idea.

In college, we’re still thinking about what our lives could be. What job we could snag, where we could move, what cool apartment/friends/experiences we could have.

But when you’re out of college, reality hits. You’re at your first job. You’re making money (invariably not enough), and “real” work kind of sucks. There’s nothing really cyclical about it like college. There’s no summer break/internship to pine over. There’s no safety net of cramming before a test or dropping a troublesome class. There’s just reality: bills, the work week, life.

And though I was happy, working my first couple of newspaper jobs with my awesome (and also new) husband, I suppose I needed an escape.

And what better escape than spying on someone whose real life is much more exciting than your own?

Plus, I didn’t have to dirty my hands with the actual spying myself. Nope, I could just pay $3.99 or type in a well-worn web address and I had all my spying done for me. The words and pictures setting scenes in lavish places I’d never been to and probably never will, with beautiful people and big drama and huge dreams.

I don’t seek out those magazines much anymore, except for the occasional People buy at the airport. I’m not even sure if Perez or TMZ are still functioning (though they probably are). And if I do happen to see one of those grainy shots of celebs in their element, I feel guilty even looking.

Maybe my change in heart has to do with growing up. Or maybe it’s because I have a family of my own (those pics of celeb kids are kind of terrifying). Or maybe it’s because my own life keeps me busy and doesn’t leave me wanting to live vicariously through a starlet or two.

I’m not sure, but this sort of spying through a medium has lost its luster for me. Now, I’d much rather spy on the kiddo and his cousins at the kids’ table on Easter Sunday.

How have your tastes in spying changed over the years?

Interview: Vicky Delany

Please welcome Vicky Delany, author of Under Cold Stone and other books.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I have two perfect days. One, a winter writing day. Just being home alone while the snow flies outside. I’ll write in the morning for about four hours, then deal with email and the business side of things. Work on a jigsaw puzzle for a couple of houunder cold stoners before dinner. After dinner, read or watch a British TV drama on Netflix.

Second. A hot summer’s day. Writing in the morning on the deck and then read and relax around the pool in the afternoon, and friends over for dinner in the evening.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
That’s an interesting question. I can’t think of a single thing.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I learned how to write a novel by taking a course at a community college. The teacher was named Lynda Simmons, and I am still in touch with her. My many, many friends in the Canadian mystery community have always supported me, and we’ve laughed all the way. That’s a lot more than three, isn’t it?

Do you listen to music when you write?
Mozart and only Mozart. I once heard that Mozart was good for creativity. I don’t know if that helps, but it’s my habit now. I don’t listen to anything else, nor do I have the radio on, because that would be too distracting.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
It would be a slab of dark chocolate, rich and dense and large enough to be passed around. Under Cold Stone is about family, with all its complexities, as is the Constable Molly Smith series as a whole.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’ve been wanting to take Molly Smith out of Trafalgar, the setting of the previous six books in the series. The difficulty was in finding something for the other characters in the books, her family, Sergeant John Winters the lead detective, and the rest of the police force to do. Trafalgar itself is very much a character in the books, so I still needed to have things happening there. The idea of Molly having to go to Banff, which is not too far away, to help out her mom seemed as though it would work. Meanwhile, back at home…

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Family. The books are police procedurals, but family is always a key storyline. Good families, loving families, dysfunctional families. Molly Smith’s family and John Winters’ play important roles, as well as relatives of victims/suspects/passers-by/other cops etc. ..

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Molly Smith is a cop. She’s a young woman, still just a beat cop in the small town where she was born and raised. Her fiancé was killed in a senseless attack and after she pulled herself out of her grief she decided she wanted to be a police officer. Her name is really Moonlight Legolas Smith, because her parents were hippies. Her mom is still very active in every controversy in their community. So things can get a bit embarrassing for her sometimes.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’m coming up blank. Perhaps she’s an original.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I don’t read the classic mysteries much, so all my picks are living. Come to think of it, all of them are people I consider friends and have broken bread (or downed a glass) with. So not much of a stretch. Louise Penny, Linwood Barclay, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, R.J. Harlick and C.B. Forrest come to mind. Come on over, guys.

What’s next for you?
Something totally, totally different. I have a three book contract for the Lighthouse Library series from Penguin Obsidian. It’s very cozy, set in a library in a lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Because it’s such a change for me, I have a pen name: Eva Gates. The first book in the series, By Book or By Crook, is finished and will be released February 2015. I am writing the second one now. I am really enjoying writing these. It’s just plain fun.


“It’s a crime not to read Delany,” says the London Free Press. Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Under Cold Stone is the seventh book in the Smith & Winters police series. She also writes the light-hearted Klondike Gold Rush books and novels of gothic suspense. Her Rapid Reads book, A Winter Kill, was shortlisted for a 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for best novella.

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst, Vicki enjoys the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Visit Vicki at, on Twitter @vickidelany and Facebook at She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (

We Heart Spies

Take a look at film and literature, and it’s pretty clear. We love spies. (We also love ninjas, but that’s a post for another day.)

We have Cold War spies (Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy; The Spy Who Came in From the Cold). Gadget spies (Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise). Gritty spies (Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy). There are humorous spies (Austin Powers). Heck, there are even kid spies (Spy Kids). Spies that combine action, humor, and romance (True Lies).

Several of these started in books. Others are film creations. But they illustrate the point: we love our spies.

But why is that? These people are not necessarily “good.” They live in the darkness. They aren’t afraid to lie, steal, or even kill to complete the mission. Well, maybe not the kids. Not many of them would make good spouses – or parents.

So why do we love them?

It’s hard to argue that we don’t. Ludlum and LeCarre are giants in the genre. All of the Bourne films have been blockbusters. James Bond has been thrilling audiences, and making women swoon, for six decades making it the longest running, and second-highest grossing, film franchise to date. Mike Meyers did three Austin Powers movies, and even action titan Ah-nuld got in the game.

Perhaps it’s the over-the-top nature of the genre that attracts us. Face it, most of us will not travel the globe, live mysterious lives, or seduce women (or men) in the way these fictional characters do.

Or maybe it’s escapism. For two hours (movie running time) or however long it takes us to read a book, we get to go places and do things vicariously that we’d never dream of doing in real life.

Or maybe it’s the gadgets. Honestly, sitting in an endless traffic jam, who hasn’t thought of Bond’s little Astin Martin, more than sufficiently equipped to clear the road and set us free.

Whatever it is, spies touch a nerve. Despite the occasional moral ambiguity, these wild men, and women, lead glamorous lives of danger, drama, and mystique. And we are more than happy to go along for the ride.

I feel the sudden urge for a martini. Shaken, not stirred, of course.

So readers, what about you? Do you love spies? Why or why not?

Stop. Look. Listen.

I like to keep an eye on the competition.

It’s not so much that I want to be better than someone else, it’s that I want to be better than I am. I’m competitive by nature, and I’ve found that just knowing what others are up to makes me rise to the occasion—regardless of what the occasion is.

Take learning to play the flute: I had weekly lessons during the school year, and I was mediocre at best. My instructor had the patience of a saint, listening to me not improve over a nine month period. She collected money from my parents and showed up each week. (Now I’m starting to understand where she found the patience of a saint!)

During one summer, I went to my best friend’s house. I arrived early, during her French horn lesson, and I listened to her play. So. Much. Better than I was. Surprisingly, that was the motivation I needed to practice. I spent the rest of the summer getting up to snuff, and when my instructor returned, she was shocked at the transformation. From then on, I was one of her star pupils. I even anchored the annual recital.

I find myself spying on the competition—watching them without telling them their being watched is spying, right?—and taking away that push to make myself better. I took away contests from one author, newsletter tips from another. Twitter tips from a third. Not because they gave me advice, but because I stalked them followed them and watched what they did.

What it comes down to is that some people do things better than I do, which makes me work harder to be the better than I am.

What about you? Ever spy on the competition to help raise your own bar of excellence?

Spying is a Window into Another World

By Kristi Belcamino

Reporters are nosy.

It goes with the job description.

And it is probably a small part of why reporters decide to jump into the journalism rat race. (Hint: we don’t do it for the money!)

Although as a writer, I’ve done my fair share of eavesdropping into another person’s world (hello reality TV, or while sitting at a cafe or riding the bus), as a reporter, I have a first-class ticket to be a spy. Sort of a VIP pass.

Because as a reporter, I’m essentially spying into another person’s world. Sometimes they know it (when I identify myself as a reporter). And sometimes they don’t: When I hear about what is happening on the city streets by listening day in and day out to the police scanner.

But either way, I have a VIP Pass to be a spy into another world.

For instance, while most people slow down at an accident scene (lookie loos) and try to figure out what just happened, I pull my car over, flash my press pass, duck under the crime scene tape (not always) and walk over to a guy who gives me all the details.

Yes, a VIP Pass to Spying – or Nosiness, if you will.

Or when the rest of the world is wondering just why on earth this man went off the deep end and killed his parents, I go talk to him in a jail cell and he tells me what was going through his mind.

Sure, especially in that above example, sometimes it is better off not knowing (often ignorance is bliss), but the mere fact that I’m a reporter makes people want to talk to me. It makes people want to share their stories and innermost thoughts. Sometimes I don’t get it, but just go with it.

Because I realize that my VIP Pass comes with some heavy responsibility. These people are entrusting me with their stories, their pain sometimes, and officials are trusting me with information they assume I will correctly convey to the mass public. I know that to do my job well and to do it in a way in whichI can live with myself, I have to have the upmost integrity in how I obtain this information and in how I pass it along to others.

But at its heart, I realize it is also another way for me to indulge my nosiness and spy on another person’s world.