Is Fear the Legacy of Crime Reporters?

Someone asked me the other day why I wrote crime fiction. Why did I choose to write about such dark things?

It all boils down to fear.

By writing about horrible things, I am purging my mind of images and thoughts that frighten me.

And boy is there a lot of them. I blame it on PTSD from being a newspaper crime reporter for so many years.

On the surface, I’d probably be considered brave. I’ve watched autopsies without flinching. I lived in a Mara Salvatrucha gang neighborhood in Los Angeles. (If you haven’t heard of the MS gang, take my word for it — they are the baddest fothermuckers you’ll ever meet.) I’ve flown in an FA/18 fighter jet. I’ve slept in a parked car in Jersey City for four nights because I couldn’t afford a hotel room in New York City. (Right now all the New Yorkers are saying this by far is the scariest thing I’ve done, right?)

And yet, my fears are there, invading my thoughts during the most peaceful times.

Last summer my family and I slept in a camping cabin at Yellowstone. One night I had to use the bathroom, but was too afraid to go outside by myself even though it was only about thirty feet away. In the morning, I confessed this to my husband.

He tried to reassure me: “There’s no way a bear is going to come this close.”

Me: “Do you remember that story I wrote about the guy who was eaten by a cougar and all they found were his shirt buttons in the cougar scat?”

My husband didn’t answer. He knew there was nothing he could say.

“But I’m actually more worried about a person,” I said.

Now, he looked confused.

“Cary Stayner,” I said. “The serial killer? You know the one who killed those tourists at Yosemite? Chopped them up? He must have been messed up because his brother had been kidnapped and held prisoner for so many years.”

This time my husband just shook his head. He doesn’t understand, just accepts it. The only people who truly get it are other crime reporters. They know that these thoughts and fears are the legacy of my crime reporting days — I have a story illustrating every worse case scenario:

* It’s a beautiful day so I decide to go for a walk. There are many directions I can head from my house. I avoid the path through the woods even though it is the prettiest route. Too isolated for me.

Flashback: The Concord woman joined dozens of other office workers who took to the wooded walking paths during lunch breaks. She was talking on the phone to her husband when the line went dead. A drifter had grabbed her, dragged her into the bushes, raped her, and killed her before the next walker came along the path.

* When I work at home, I keep all the doors locked, even though I live in a very safe neighborhood.

Flashback: The men who got off the BART train that day wandered into the first open garage door they saw in the upscale suburban neighborhood. They took all the woman’s jewelry and strangled her with a phone cord.

* I swerve madly to avoid a piece of metal in the roadway. And not because I’m worried about getting a flat tire.

Flashback: The driver in front of her ran over the barbell disk in such a manner that it launched the weight into the air, spinning it with such force that it smashed through the windshield and decapitated the woman.

Well, anyway, I could go on and on.

Throughout my day, these worse case scenarios pop up in everything I do. The way I view the world is not a burden. Instead, it’s a backwards gift left over from a career covering the crime beat. Because each time fear shoots through me, it sets off sparks of ideas that can be turned into books.

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Announcement: New Format

Dear Readers, we are making a change.

The weekly Facebook chats will be discontinued in favor of more regular discussions here on the blog. We will continue to host author interviews and guest posts…there will just be MORE material here, too. We’ve decided to have a theme for each month, and individual bloggers will adhere to (or veer from) the theme as they see fit. This month’s theme, appropriate for both Halloween and mystery alike, is FEAR.

Here’s the schedule, beginning tomorrow, 10/15.

FIRST/THIRD WEEK
Monday: Pamela Oberg
Tuesday: Kristi Belcamino
Wednesday: Diane Vallere
Thursday: Mary Sutton
Friday: Visiting Writer

SECOND/FOURTH WEEK
Monday: Sarah Henning
Tuesday: Cynthia Kuhn
Wednesday: Donna White Glaser
Thursday: Theresa Crater
Friday: Visiting Writer

We hope you’ll join us and chime in whenever you can. We love to hear from you.

New Release: The Secrets We Keep

Donna White Glaser’s latest book in the Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery Series is now available!

When psychotherapist and recovering alcoholic Letty Whittaker responds to a middle-thesecretswekeepof-the-night crisis call, she knows helping Trinnie face her demons won’t be easy. However, instead of finding her friend dead drunk, Letty finds her just . . . dead.  And Paul, another close friend, is the primary suspect.

Worse, Trinnie’s Fourth Step—AA’s infamous list of resentments—implicates Paul.  Letty has a choice: turn the list over to the police or use it to track the suspects back through the hard-drinking bar scene. In a race to prove Paul’s innocence, Letty wrestles the dark addictions that nearly consumed her just months ago—and comes face-to-face with the person whose secrets were worth killing for.

For more information, please visit donnawhiteglaser.com.

Congratulations, Donna!

Interview: Terry Ambrose

Please welcome Terry Ambrose, author of the McKenna Mysteries and License to Lie series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day begins with a walk on a warm, sandy beach. With the trade winds blowing gently and the day becoming warmer and more humid, it would seem that nothing could go wrong. Grabbing a couple of hours to write in the shade of some kauaitemptationstall trees would be a fabulous addition. Then, I’d finish it off with a dip in the ocean to feel refreshed and energized for the evening.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
This question seems to come down to style. Mine tends to be island style. Aloha shirts, shorts, and barbecued chicken or fish.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Ed Stackler is the first one on this list. He was my first editor and the one who got me moving in the right direction when it came to writing mysteries and suspense in a way that kept readers intrigued rather than bored. While I never met him, Jack M. Bickham’s book “Scene and Structure” has also had a major influence on my writing. At a time when I found myself wondering what the next step was, I read that book and knew instantly what direction I wanted to take my writing. Number 3 on my list is Ray Bradbury. In addition to devouring his books when I was younger, I was fortunate enough to see him speak at a writers conference.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I’ll listen to music to help set the mood. It’s especially helpful to me to listen to Hawaiian music when writing the McKenna Mysteries.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If Kauai Temptations were chocolate, it would probably be something like the “Chocolate Dome” at PF Chang’s. It’s a deep dark chocolate on the outside and even richer on the inside, then drizzled with a raspberry sauce. Best of all, it’s gluten-free!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a victim of identity theft myself and the feelings that McKenna experiences as he learns about what’s happened are those I went through. While McKenna actually puts his plan to bring the thieves to justice in place, I was never that brave. Maybe this book is me doing what I would have liked to have done at the time—without the whole murder caper, of course.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
My stories usually involve a con artist or scammer of some sort. In the McKenna Mystery series, I’m currently focusing on the issue of redemption. In the License to Lie series, which features a female con artist as a protagonist, I explore the issue of trust—what we must do to gain it and how far we must sometimes go to keep it.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
In the McKenna Mystery series, my protagonist is Wilson McKenna, a guy who is struggling to put his life back together after having fled to Hawaii years before. His “go to” reaction when he’s not in a difficult situation is typically one of fragility and avoidance. However, as the stakes rise, his inner strength comes out and the more trouble he gets in, the stronger his resolve and personality become.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
One part Jessica Fletcher for his sleuthing
One part Thomas Magnum for his somewhat fractured personality and his ability to play a hunch
One part Richard Castle for his sharp tongue, theories, and flighty behavior in mildly difficult situations.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What mystery author dinner party would be complete without Sue Grafton? I’d also love to see Hank Phillippi Ryan attend—I’m sure she’d keep everyone talking with her questions. I met Andrew Gross at a lunch one time and would have really liked to talk with him more, so let’s invite him. I’d also invite a couple of relative “newcomers”: Kim Fay and Susan Elia MacNeal. Both were 2013 Edgar Finalists for Best First Novel, but have been writing for years. And just to keep us all laughing, I’d round things out with Carl Hiaasen.

What’s next for you?
My next project is the sequel to License to Lie, which is called Con Game. In this installment, Roxy Tanner (a con artist) and Skip Cosgrove (a criminologist) have taken their relationship to the next level and are still sorting out whether they can trust each other enough to continue. The book opens with Skip being shot by a man he helped put in jail and Roxy conning an L.A. stockbroker out of a $1 million. In order to save themselves, the two will have to fight off a killer, recover a stolen fortune, and help a homeless 12-year-old to survive.

***

Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist.

Website: terryambrose.com
Facebook: https://facebook.com/suspense.writer 
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suspense_writer

Interview: Kathleen Kaska

Please welcome Kathleen Kaska, author of Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Wake up early to a beautiful day; go for a long run along the water; have lunch with my husband; spend the afternoon getting some greats words down, and finally ending a productive day with a big Bombay martini on my patio.

murderatthegalvezDo you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Bracelets; I love ‘em. I make sure I purchase at least one from every country or unusual place I visit. I have a silver cuff from Kathmandu and a gold chain ID cartouche bracelet I bought in Egypt. While in Kenya, I traded my watch for a beaded bracelet. My favorite one is a silver rope bracelet, supposedly an antique, which I brought in Tangier, Morocco. But no matter which one I’m wearing, I always wear a black wristband with the words from the movie Throw Mamma from the Train, “A Writer Writes—Always.”

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Here I’m all over the map and it’s difficult to pick just three. Ornithologist Robert Porter Allen inspired me to write The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story. Janet Evanovich, Raymond Chandler, and Rex Stout inspired me to write my Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series, which I like to call humorous noir.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, if I can’t hear the neighborhood birds or the ocean waves, I prefer silence. Sometimes, when the weed wackers, chain saws, leaf blowers are spiffing up the condo, I use earplugs to block out the noise.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark, rich and full of nuts. I like to describe my Sydney Lockhart mysteries as noir, steeped in history, and full of zany characters.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Murder at the Galvez has a special meaning for me. It is set in Galveston, Texas where my father used to take our family for vacations in the summer. Galveston is also where my husband is from and we’ve spent many wonderful weekends at the Galvez Hotel. I love the Texas coast and Galveston is still one of my favorite places.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The empowerment of women. My stories are set in the early 1950s when women were just beginning to realize their potential and claim their power. Sydney is an independent gal, but she’s not always as strong as she thinks she is or wants to be. I put her in situations where she has to take risks and prove herself. Most of the time she succeeds, but not always. Whatever happens, she learns more about who she really is.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Sydney is twenty-nine. She’s tall and slender and has long, wiry red hair. Her height and built allows her to easily go undercover disguised as a man. The only problem is that her fedora doesn’t always stay in place to hide the hair, which she refuses to cut. As you may have guessed, she’s too opinioned and sassy for her own good.

What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Sydney’s strives to be more like her father: levelheaded, patient, practical, and easygoing, but she fears she has the potential to act like her mother: flighty, demanding, and just plain crazy. But the person who was her greatest influence was her grandfather who taught her to appreciate nature and the simple things in life.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I asked a good friend and reader of all my books this question. Our answers were very close. However, his reasoning was much better than mine, so I’m quoting him.

“Jessica Rabbit: Sydney projects the same flippant allure and knows how to use it to her benefit.”

“Lauren Bacall: Sydney has all that class and ability to take care of herself.”

We both agreed on Lucille Ball, but at the last minutes, I substituted her for wisecracking, tough guy Phillip Marlowe.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’ll pick three of each. Three who have gone before me are: Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Dick Francis. Three who are still living: Martha Grimes, Laurie R. King, and Elizabeth Peters.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on mystery number four, Murder at the Driskill, set at the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. This is where Sydney lives and where I lived for twenty-five years. Austin has changed so much since the seventies when I moved there to go to college. I love doing the research and discovering what the city was like in 1953.

***

Kathleen Kaska writes the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series published by LL-Publications. Her Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC Award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, has been nominated for the George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history.

Website: www.kathleenkaska.com
Twitter: @KKaskaAuthor
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kathleenkaska

Every Story is a Mystery

Last July, I attended a talk by Hank Phillippi Ryan in Cleveland. She told the audience she was once asked, “Could you write a romance without a mystery?” Interesting question, huh?

Hank’s response: “I suppose, but what would they do?”

It got me to thinking. Doesn’t all of the best fiction have a little mystery?

If you look up the dictionary definition of “mystery,” there are several – but they all have one thing in common: the element of the unknown. In that vast genre of crime fiction (encompassing traditional mystery, thriller, and suspense), the unknown is a Mystery. It’s a problem to be solved, a “whodunit.” Mystery readers are very familiar with that concept. Who stole/killed/committed some crime and will the hero find the answer? Who is behind the impending world-wide disaster, and can the heroine stop it in time? These are Mysteries (big M).

But consider these:

  • Will Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy overcome their mutual prejudices to find love?
  • Will Frodo complete his quest to destroy the One Ring?
  • Will Harry defeat Voldemort once and for all?

Aren’t these mysteries too? These are all unknowns. The reader doesn’t know how it’s going to turn out. Isn’t that what keeps us turning the pages, finding out whether love will triumph in the end, whether the quest will be fulfilled, and whether our favorite characters find their own Happily Ever After?

I argue that it does. I mean, one of the most common complains about fiction is “I saw that coming,” or “I knew that was going to happen.” Why read to the end of a 90,000 word novel if you know the ending at the end of Chapter One?

By that definition, every story ever written is a mystery at some level. What a wonderful idea, right?

This holds true of my middle-grade fantasy series, Hero’s Sword. In each book, there is a mini-mystery, some puzzle that must be solved. In Power Play, the first installment, the question is “Who is behind banditry plaguing travelers on the High Road?” In Storm Clouds, I turn to a different type of crime – who stole a valuable gem and why is he (or she) framing Lady Starla of Mallory?

In this way, I just can’t escape from my crime fiction roots. The world of Hero’s Sword is fantastical (being transported into a video game is a big fantasy for a lot of people), but the problems are something that would not seem out of place to Holmes or Poirot.

But there’s another level of mystery, too. When the mini-mysteries of each book are connected, the question becomes, “Who is trying to overthrow the Empire, and can Lyla stop him/her in time?” Once again, the world (the Empire of the Hero’s Sword game), is fantastic – but the race to stop the villain could come out of any adult thriller.

And then there is what I’ve come to think of as the “meta-mystery,” the thread that runs through the series in the so-called “real world.” Will Jaycee find the skills, confidence, and strength she needs to carve out her place in the middle-school world, without betraying the things she believes in? And that’s a mystery anybody can relate to, especially kids. Who am I? Where do I fit in? What do I believe in? These are all personal mysteries we have to solve for ourselves.

We don’t know the answers to these questions. But that’s what keeps me writing – and reading. That little bit of mystery. The finding out is what makes it fun.

What about you? Do you find a little bit of mystery in your favorite stories? I’ll give an e-copy of Storm Clouds (Amazon or Nook) to three lucky commentors!

***

Mary Sutton has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other pstormcloudseople’s stories, for as long as she can remember. After ten years, she decided that making things up was far more satisfying than writing software manuals, and took the jump into fiction.

She writes the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series as M.E. Sutton, and finds a lot of inspiration in the lives of her own kids. A lifelong mystery fan, she also writes crime fiction, including The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, under the pen name Liz Milliron.

Guest Post: B.K. Stevens

Modern Mysteries–Classic Roots

Not long ago, I read Euripides’s Hecuba for the first time. About halfway through, some familiar elements began showing up.  “What do you know?” I thought. “It’s a detective story.”

True, this ancient Greek tragedy doesn’t exactly cut it as a whodunit: The play opens with a visit from the victim’s ghost, who helpfully tells the audience just when, why, and by whom he was murdered. But when his body is found and his mother, Hecuba, wants to confirm her suspicions, she uses tactics all mystery readers will recognize. Greeting the suspected murderer as her “dear friend,” Hecuba asks him a series of pointed questions. Polymestor thinks he’s cleverly hiding the truth, but when he declares he recently saw her son alive and well, Hecuba knows she’s found the killer. After she takes her revenge, we get another kind of scene found in many mysteries—the courtroom drama. Both Hecuba and the blinded Polymestor plead their cases in front of Agamemnon, who, acting as judge, declares Hecuba’s actions justified and imposes further punishment on the murderer.

Stumbling across these mystery elements in Hecuba got me thinking. How far back do our genre’s roots go? How many characteristics of modern mysteries can be traced to classic literary works?

Well, there’s Oedipus the King. This play does qualify as a whodunit—not a terribly mysterious one, true, since everybody in Sophocles’s audience knew the ancient story of Oedipus long before heading to the theater. Nevertheless, Sophocles builds tension by portraying Oedipus as a determined detective, interrogating suspects and examining evidence as he attempts to find out who killed King Laius. In a final plot twist even Agatha Christie would envy, Oedipus faces the horrible truth: In the words of the blind prophet, Teiresias, “You yourself are the killer you seek.” Other Greek plays also center on murder, and on bringing murderers to justice. In the various plays about the Orestes legend, for example, Agamemnon returns from Troy only to be murdered by his wife and the lover she’s acquired in his absence. It is then up to Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, and his sister Electra to avenge their father’s death by conspiring to kill their mother and stepfather. Talk about malice domestic!

When we turn from ancient Greece to ancient Israel, we don’t have to wait long to find crime stories, ones that feature a highly distinguished detective. After eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge, Adam and Eve do what many criminals in modern mysteries do: They hide and deny their guilt. With God as the detective, this approach does not work well. When Adam claims he’s hiding because he’s embarrassed about being naked, God promptly spots the holes in his story: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?” More typical criminal behavior follows: Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Unfortunately for them, they’re appearing before a Judge who doesn’t have much tolerance for excuses.

So the story of the first two human beings is a story of crime, detection, and judgment—the same elements central to mysteries written today. Of course, many mystery fans feel that, with the possible exception of Gaudy Night, the most satisfying mysteries focus specifically on the crime of murder. For murder, we have to wait until the next chapter of Genesis, when the third person to exist on the planet, Cain, murders the fourth person to exist on the planet, Abel. Once again, God is the detective—asking Cain where his brother is, not falling for Cain’s glib assertion that he doesn’t know, stepping into the role of judge to impose a punishment that fits the crime.

It’s not, however, a role God relishes. Still in the early pages of Genesis, he delegates it to humans. After the flood, God gives Noah and his family a rudimentary moral code—just a few rules, in contrast to the many commandments that come in later books of the Bible, but one of these rules demands that human beings punish murderers. There must be a “reckoning” for every human life taken, God declares: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” So the job of bringing murderers to justice passes from God to humans.  The protagonists of modern mysteries accept that job willingly—and can cite the highest authority for doing so.

But the job is tougher for humans than it was for God. We can’t instantly tell when someone is lying, and we can’t rely on the sorts of evidence God uses to convict Cain—“Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” So, in most cases, one human can’t do the job alone. We need police, lawyers, judges—and, sometimes, clever private detectives, resourceful amateur sleuths, and other sorts of justice-seeking characters found in modern mysteries.

The rabbis of the Talmud used God’s words to Noah as the primary basis of what is known as the Noahide Code, the seven laws non-Jews must follow to earn a share in the world to come. One of those laws, naturally, prohibits murder; another mandates setting up a system of justice. I find it interesting that two of the seven laws the rabbis saw as central to ethical human life are also central to the modern mystery. (A third Noahide law prohibits stealing, which also plays a role in many mysteries, and a fourth law regards sexual immorality, which often contributes to motive.) So when snooty sorts shrug off mysteries as trivial entertainment, we can confidently assert that, on the contrary, mysteries focus on some of our most important responsibilities as human beings.

Shakespeare certainly didn’t consider the subject matter of mysteries trivial. Hamlet comes to mind most readily. After resolving to uncover the truth about his father’s death, Hamlet hides his intentions by pretending to be insane, thereby setting an example for later detectives, right down to Lieutenant Columbo, who throw suspects off by playing dumb.  Hamlet also stages a play-within-a-play that comes so close to recreating his father’s murder that Claudius runs from the room. How many modern fictional detectives have used similar psychological ploys to lure killers into revealing their guilt?

Othello also tries to play detective, but his investigation goes tragically wrong. “I’ll have some proof” before believing Desdemona is unfaithful, Othello says. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of saying it to Iago. Now we have another character type found in many modern mysteries, the false ally who undermines the detective while pretending to help. Iago provides proof, all right—a seemingly incriminating handkerchief, an overheard conversation—but manipulates the evidence to lead Othello to the wrong conclusion.

Other Shakespearian tragedies—Macbeth, for example—also have murders and the attempt to establish the truth about murders at their centers. In Shakespeare’s history plays, we find more elements of modern mysteries and thrillers: conspiracies, betrayals, political assassinations, doubts about who can be trusted. Richard III provides an especially chilling portrait of a murderer—ruthless, shrewd, driven not only by political ambition but also by pains and resentments stretching back to childhood. He’d be right at home in a modern psychological thriller, and he provides solid proof that Shakespeare, like many modern mystery writers, finds the connections between abnormal psychology and crime fascinating. (It seems wrong to mention Richard III without also mentioning Josephine Tey’s wonderful The Daughter of Time, which re-investigates the case of the murdered princes and finds Richard innocent.)

Even some of Shakespeare’s comedies could be considered crime fiction. In many ways, Much Ado about Nothing feels like the comic flip side of Othello. Once again, a military leader with a strong sense of honor (in this case, Claudio) falls in love with an innocent young woman (in this case, Hero) but rejects her as unfaithful because he’s misled by false evidence planted by a cunning, remorseless villain (in this case, Don John). The only thing that keeps the story from turning tragic is the arrival of Dogberry and his crew of inept but well-intentioned police officers, who stumble across evidence of Don John’s scheme and reveal it just in time to let the play end with weddings, not funerals. Today’s mystery readers know good detective work can make the difference between tragedy and comedy; evidently, Shakespeare agrees. And Dogberry and his helpers set the pattern for the cops and constables we meet in countless mysteries, from Sherlock Holmes sagas to private eye narratives to current cozies. Even when they’re too dim to understand what’s really going on, these clueless officers often play a crucial role.

It’s tempting to look ahead a century or so, to the various contenders for the distinction of being the first real novel written in English. We’d find plenty of crime, plenty of mystery—from Defoe’s Moll Flanders, which tells the story of an accomplished thief and borderline prostitute; to Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa, which center on rape or attempted rape; to Fielding’s Jonathan Wild, a fictionalized account of a real-life thief, or his Tom Jones, which features a number of crimes and the central mystery of the truth about Tom’s birth. P.D. James has argued persuasively that Austen’s Emma is essentially detective fiction; at least one literary critic thinks Brontë’s Jane Eyre is the first real mystery novel; and crime is a central element in several Dickens novels, not only The Mystery of Edwin Drood but also Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and others. On the other side of the Atlantic, Hawthorne explores crime, secret sins, and guilt in works such as The House of the Seven Gables, Melville paints a sympathetic portrait of an accidental killer in Billy Budd, and Poe gives the mystery a distinctive form.

But perhaps such works are too recent to be considered “classic” in the full sense. Perhaps it’s best to stop with Shakespeare. It seems clear, at any rate, that mysteries are not a fad, that their popularity does not stem from the corrupt, morbid taste of contemporary readers. Literary works that have survived for centuries—in some cases, for millennia—tell us people have always been fascinated by mysteries, wanted to understand more about the criminal mind, and recognized the importance of detecting crime and bringing the guilty to justice. So the roots of the modern mystery go very deep indeed—to some of our earliest literary works, and to the essence of the human mind and heart.

***

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published over forty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. A 2012 story, “Thea’s First Husband,” was nominated for an Agatha and has now been nominated for a Macavity as well; it also made the list of “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2012” in Best American Mystery Stories 2013.  One Shot, a satirical e-novella from Untreed Reads, takes on issues ranging from gun control to reality shows. Awards include a 2010 Derringer from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and first place in a suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. A long-time English professor, B.K. has also published three non-fiction books, along with articles in The Writer and The Third Degree. She and her husband, Dennis, live in Virginia.

Website: http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com.