Posts Tagged ‘mystery books’

Scamp, all zonked out after a round of ball chasing

Like Dorothy Martin’s cats – I’m currently reading her take on life in the cozy mystery Trouble in Town Hall – my canine companion Scamp makes sure I lead a balanced life. I thought about that this morning as we took our 6 a.m. walk around my apartment complex.

Scamp is an almost three-year-old Siberian Husky/Shih Tzu mix who is finally learning my only speed these days is slow. I make up for it by extra walks and lots of soft-ball throwing down my hall, lasting until he gives out and doesn’t retrieve the ball.

Scamp’s the most social dog I’ve ever owned, and a handsome fellow who charms almost everyone he meets here in my large apartment complex. Most of them stop to say hello and give him an ear scratch, which makes his day. Some even carry treats especially for him.

Because of Scamp, I’ve come to know a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

 I also have to get up and get dressed to walk him every day, whether I feel like it or not. By the time we get back from our walk, I’m ready to face the day.

If I didn’t have Scamp, I would probably sleep in and stay in my pajamas all day. Sounds lovely, but I think taking a walk, enjoying the birds and flowers, and smiling at my neighbors is much healthier for this old broad.

Later, when Scamp curls up in my large recliner beside me while I read, the human need for touch is fulfilled. They say petting a dog or cat reduces blood pressure, and since I’ve had to take high-blood pressure pills for 40 years now, this has to be a good thing.

My vocal cords also get daily exercise because I talk to Scamp. And he never disagrees. He simply tilts his head and gives me a questioning look, as if to say: Oh. I understand.

And sometimes I read out loud to him – like Qwillian does with Koko in Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who books.

Come to think of it, a lot of fictional characters have pets that make their lives better: like Tank, in Tinker Lindsay and Gay Hendricks’ Tenzing Norbu’s murder mystery series; or Nick and Nora Charles’ dog Asta in Dashiell Hammet’s Thin Man novel; or Little Orphan Annie’s dog Sandy.

I guess you could day Scamp and I are in good company.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” — Philip Marlow as created by Raymond Chandler in Farewell, My Lovely

Crows: Their flock name is A Murder. — Watercolor by Pat Bean

So Many Lists, So Little Time

I frequently come across lists of recommended books to read, from 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die to The 50 Best Travel Books. There is even a book about book lists, aptly titled A Book of Book Lists: A Bibliophile’s Compendium,

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep was on one of these lists, so I checked it out of the Library. The book, published the year I was born, with its cynical private eye Philip Marlow, was made into a movie in 1946 starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlow and Lauren Bacall as the leading lady.

As a sample of Chandler’s Marlow character, here are a few bits of his dialog:

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.

           “A really good detective never gets married.”

           “The kind of lawyer you hope the other fellow has.”

           “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

“The streets were dark with something more than night.”

Chandler wrote seven and a half Marlow novels with the eighth finished by Robert B. Parker (whose Spenser books I also love) after Chandler’s death. Parker died in 2010.

Perhaps because I picked up Sue Grafton’s D is for Deadbeat (published 1987) to read right after I finished The Big Sleep, I decided Grafton probably had might have been influenced by Chandler’s books because I saw similarities between Grafton’s protagonist Kinsey Millhome and Philip Marlow. Both are no-nonsense characters with a strong sense of morals, their own if not society’s, and fiercely independent.

Says Kinsey in V is for Vengence: “I know there are people who believe you should forgive and forget. For the record, I’d like to say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first.” And in F is for Forgiveness: I pictured a section of the ladies’ auxiliary cookbook for Sudden Death Quick Snacks… Using ingredients one could keep on the pantry shelf in the event of tragedy.”

Grafton, meanwhile, was more prolific than Chandler, getting all the way up to Y in her alphabetical murder series before she died two years ago. But even she wasn’t as prolific as another of my favorite dead mystery authors, Agatha Christi. Her characters, the egotistical Hercule Poirot (“Hercule Poirot’s methods are his own. Order and method, and ‘the little gray cells.” – The Big Four), and the old pussy Miss Marple (“Everybody in St. Mary Mead knew Miss Marple; fluffy and dithery in appearance, but inwardly as sharp and as shrewd as they make them.” — 4:50 from Paddington) have enthralled me almost as long as I’ve been reading, which is well over half a century.

So, what are you reading?

Bean Pat: To all the authors, dead and alive, whose characters and thoughts and knowledge have enriched my life. Thank you!

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, and is always searching for life’s silver lining.


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Lake Powell, the setting for Nevada Barr's "The Rope," and one of my favorite places. -- Photo by Pat Bean.

Lake Powell, the setting for Nevada Barr’s “The Rope,” and one of my favorite places. — Photo by Pat Bean.

            “Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” – R. I. Fitzhenry

“The Rope”

I love Nevada Barr’s books. Not only is she a good writer, but I always learn something new about the places I love, this country’s wild lands  and our national parks.

Lone Rock at Lake Powell: I camped in sight of this rock on a Lake Powell beach the first night of my RV travels back in 20004. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Lone Rock at Lake Powell: I camped in sight of this rock on a Lake Powell beach the first night of my RV travels back in 20004. — Photo by Pat Bean

Her books have taken me from Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains to the South’s Natchez Trace, and from Yosemite’s high country to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – and lots of other places in between.

But Nevada’s writing has a dark side to it. You can expect, at least somewhere in the book, to find her leading lady  in a deadly place that leaves her body ravished to the near point of death. The scenes fit her fictional character, Anna Pigeon, who is on the opposite side of the planet from Janet Evanovich’s  fun-loving Stephanie Plum.

While Stephanie’s biggest nemesis is a mother who wants her to settle down and get married and a grandma who gets her kicks at funerals, Anna fights against lost love, alcoholism and depression.

I can read Janet’s books in a day, but Nevada’s get stretched out over many days because I have to stop for a while so I won’t get too caught up in the tension.

Take last night for example, when I settled down with an audible version of Nevada’s “The Rope,” a flashback novel that explains Anna’s National Park Service career beginnings. It starts off very dark. And when I put the book down and fell asleep, I also fell into a nightmare – which thankfully I awoke from before it got too scary.

Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell. — Photo by Pat Bean

I admonished myself to stop it, then went back to sleep and had a crazy dream in which I was treated royally at a funky party by a gray-haired, but handsome, Arabian man.  It was definitely more inspired by Stephanie than Anna.

This morning, I listened to a bit more of  “The Rope,” because of course I have to know how Anna gets out of her hole – and because I love reading about Lake Powell, the setting for the book. I’ll eventually finish the book, but I doubt I will take it to bed with me again.

My nighttime mystery reading from now on will be cozies, where there’s more mystery than blood. Even Anna, in her thoughts about her seemingly inescapable situation in the opening of “The Rope,” decided she was living a Stephen King novel.

The Wondering-Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering-Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: Mystery Fanfare http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/ This is a good blog to follow if you like mystery books.

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  “Without mysteries, life would be dull indeed. What would be left to strive for if everything were known?”  — Charles de Lint

Can you identify this bird. Or will it remain a mystery.

Can you identify this bird? Or will it remain a mystery?

Which Is Why I Enjoy Bird Watching

“My detective story begins brightly, with a fat lady found dead in her bath with nothing on but her pince-nez. Now why did she wear a pince-nez in her bath? If you can guess, you will be in a position to lay hands upon the murderer, but he’s a very cool and cunning fellow…” – wrote Dorothy Sayers as she plotted her first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery in the early 1920s.

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers' feminist essays. -- Wikimedia

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers’ feminist essays. — Wikimedia

When the book, “Whose Body” came out in 1923, the naked victim was male, but the pince-nez clue was still there. Many Lord Peter Wimsey books followed. I think I’ve read them all.

Along with writing the Wimsey mysteries, which like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple books, continue to be popular today, Sayers was a poet, playwright and advertising writer.

One of the latter efforts included a toucan jingle for Guinness Beer: “If he can say as you can. Guinness is good for you. How grand to be a Toucan. Just think what Toucan do?”

This same kind of humor continues in the Wimsey mysteries, which is consistent with the character’s name-play on the word whimsy.

DVDs of some of the Lord Wimsey films I checked out of the library get the credit for this blog idea.

DVDs of some of the Lord Wimsey films I checked out of the library get the credit for this blog idea.

The joy of reading Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries for me is that it is all about figuring out whodunit before the killer is revealed.

It’s sort of the same with bird watching. You have to read all the clues – profile, coloring, beak size, and a jillion other field marks – if you want to make an identification before the bird flies away.

The Wondering-Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering-Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: She’s a Maineaic  http://tinyurl.com/psgwdqx Einstein said what about anger?

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  “Than indecision brings its own delays, and days are lost lamenting o’er lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


My travel book would include details about my search for Mother Nature in places like the New Hampshire woods where I came across this peaceful creek. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Too Many Unfinished Projects

Writing a first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days has given me confidence for the old-broad writing days that still remain to me. There’s no question that I will write, for doing so is for me the same as breathing. I was fortunate that I found a way as a journalist to do it almost daily and get paid for it for 37 years.

When I retired from the job, however, I never saw myself retiring as a writer. I thought I would continue as a free-lance writer of travel and birding articles.

The Internet changed all that, however. The sources I had, including writing for my own former newspaper, dried up after a couple of years.

Suddenly it was a whole new world out there, and I faced either changing or being satisfied with writing only for myself. But it’s never worked that way for me. I both want to be read and to be paid for my writing as a way of personal validation


The photo of this hippo I took while on my African safari appears in Fodor's recently released "African Safari Guidebook." -- Photo by Pat Bean

The other change in the world of writing has been that self-publication is no longer considered a vanity, as it was during earlier days. In fact, many writing guides and teachers are encouraging wanna-be authors to go this route.

I’m seriously considering the possibility.

My immediate problem, however, is which project should I tackle first. Until NaNo, I failed to complete any major projects that didn’t have a pay-off deadline. The reasons are many, beginning with my own self doubts about a project’s worth. As former NaNo winners predicted, this inner questioning hit during my second week of the novel challenge. Working past it felt great.


The bear at Lake Walcott State Park in Idaho -- Photo by Pat Bean

So, with this said, let me explain my options – at least as I see them. Actually, I think I’m writing this blog as a way to get my own head straight.

First, there is the NaNo novel, which my ego says has good possibilities. Ever since I was a teenager reading Nancy Drew, I’ve wanted to write a mystery. The NaNo one is my second. The first is one of those uncompleted projects that never went beyond the first draft.

Then there’s the travel book I’ve already written, which needs a bit of rewriting. It has been read by critics who gave it mostly thumbs up, although all said it needed my voice. I now think I’ve developed my voice.

It would be the quickest project to finish. It’s called “Travels With Maggie.” I said in an earlier hunt for an agent that I thought it would fit nicely on the book shelf between Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and Kuralt’s “On the Road” with a little bit of Tim Cahill thrown in and written with a feminine voice. .

Then there is the African safari travel/picture book that I started and which now begs to be finished.

Then there is a commitment to put together a nature book about Lake Walcott State Park in Idaho, where I spent last summer as a campground host and where I will return again this coming summer.

And finally there is a the memoir that is beginning to demand I write. It would be a story of a high school honor roll student who dropped out of school at 16 to get married and who had four children by the time she was 21, and who went on to become a reporter, city editor and finally associate editor of a 66,000 circulation newspaper. There’s a lot of skeletons, heartache, joys and growing up in between.

I’m giving myself a break until Monday to come up with an answer, after which I’m counting on the discipline of NaNo to help keep me to whatever deadline I set for myself.

I’m leaning toward the travel book as my next project.. What do you think? I really want to know.


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Sunflowers and books brighten all my days. -- Photos by Pat Bean

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile through without breaking it, or explore and explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.” – Edward P. Morgan

Travels With Maggie

As this morning’s writing prompt, someone in my Story Circle Network writing group asked the following questions:

“What is your all-time favorite book … what does it say about you?.” I immediately started writing down the names of books and authors and couldn’t seem to stop.

I finally realized that I had used up all my blog writing time, especially since I have to get on the road today and drive 300 miles on vehicle-jammed California interstates that annoy my nature-loving soul.

Sadly, I had to stop writing, because when it goes to favorite authors I could ramble on for pages. And since I don’t have time to post a blog, you get this list instead.

Favorite Books:

“Your Erroneous Zones” by Dwayne Dyer, which I read in the 1970s, was the most influential book in changing my life that I ever read.

This red-rock country, which Edward Abbey described in vivid detail in his "Monkey Wrench Gang." -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell was the most fascinating book I read as a teenager. I read it three times and each time imagined a different meaning for Scarlett’s final words “Tomorrow is Another Day.”

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand was the most mind-blowing book I ever read. It got me, for the first time in my life, thinking about who I was. .

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books have given me many floor-rolling laughs and I buy each new one as it comes out.

Robin Hobb’s fantasy books have given me many hours of reading delight. Her characters are vivid and vibrant, her plots surprising, and her writing superb. Start with the Assassin’s Apprentice trilogy, then on to the Liveship series, and then to the Fool’s series to begin. I love how she brings all her plots and subplots together in the end. And she’s a great writer. I read her books way too fast because I want to know what’s going to happen. Unless you’re really into the weird, however, I’d skip the Soldier’s Son trilogy.

Other fantasy writers that top my list are J.R.R. Tolkien (of course), Mercedes Lackey (especially her Valdemar series and more recently her Elemental Masters’ series), Jane  Lindskold (Through Wolf’s Eyes), David Eddings, J.K. Rowling and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

And what fan of Harry Potter doesn't know about Track 9 3/4? -- Photo by Pat Bean

Osa Johnson, Tim Cahill, Charles Kuralt, John Steinbeck, Peter Matthiessen, Edward Abbey, Bill Bryson, Beryll Markham and William Least Heat Moon’s books have fed my love of nature and travel.

Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, Blaise Clement, Susan Wittig Albert, Rhys Bowen (my latest great discovery), Lillian Jackson Braun, Anne George, Mary Stewart, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Nevada Barr have all intrigued my mystery-loving soul. I find it interesting, since I just jotted these down off the top of my head, that all but one of these are women, the lone exception being John. D, but I read every single Travis McGee book and actually cried when MacDonald died.

Irving Stone, Carl Sagan, Margaret Mead, Shirley Maclaine, Dr. Seuss, and Charles Darwin have all fascinated and educated me.

I’m stopping here only because I’ve run out of time. I know I’ve left out at least a hundred more books and authors. The ones above, meanwhile, have done everything from simply giving me pleasure to changing my life.

What do my choices says about me?

Simply that I love to read, I think.

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