Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wanna see something really scary? Look at the calendar.

Halloween tomorrow, huh? I'll tell you what's scary.

I'm irritated by the speed of Hollywood "reboots." You know, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006)1 didn't exactly set the box office in fire, so we have to start the saga all over again with Zack Snyders' Man of Steel2 last year. Or the Spider-man trilogy begun by Zack Raimi only wrapped up in 20073, but a mere five years later we're heading back to the trough with the new Amazing Spider-Man series.4 Short-attention-span movie-making.5 (Ah well, at least it gives employment to all those British actors playing American icons.)

So I'm sharing my frustration with Primus on the way to school, this time in the context of this year's Godzilla,7 which in my opinion seems to have appeared before the ink was fully dry on the well-deserved death notices for the previous version starring Matthew Broderick.8

"Too soon?" echoes Primus. "Dad, that version came out before I was born."

Shit, he's right. What the hell happened? But on the other hand, sixteen years still isn't long enough to shake off the vision of a nest of dinosaur eggs in the middle of Madison Square Garden.

1Didn't see it.
2Didn't see it.
3Saw all three.
4Didn't see it.
5Okay, I know, I know, it's not without precedent: Bogart's 1941 The Maltese Falcon came only ten years after the first, overshadowed version of Hammett's novel, starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. Still, a good movie and worth a look. Dwight Frye of both Dracula and Frankenstein6 plays the gunsel Wilmer, portrayed by Elisha Cooke, Jr. in the later movie.
6See how I brought this Halloween-inspired rant about aging back to classic horror?
7Didn't see it.
8Saw it. Almost, but not entirely, a waste of time. But try to see the superb original 1954 Japanese film9, not the Americanized version which has a lot of Raymond Burr staring upwards.
9Did it again. You're welcome.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Brother is bothering me.

Phone rings. Long Island number. I pick up and mutter a "hello." Long pause and fuzzy background. Then a distant, accented voice says its "hello," as if it hadn't heard me.

"Yes?" I snap, now completely convinced that this is an illicit marketing call -- I am firmly on the Do Not Call register and these scofflaws piss me off.

"This is Winston Smith, may I speak to the homeowner?"

Aha, rookie mistake, Mr. Telemarketer, giving me the chance to say "no." So I say no and hang up. Ha! I could, of course, vent or string him along, but really, it's not his fault that his employer breaks the law and pushes him into firing line. If that's the only job he could find, he's already having a bad enough day. But my point is that these calls --

Hang on.

"Winston Smith"?

Winston Smith?

Makes me wonder now what he was trying to sell me. Surveillance cameras? Rodent spray? I mean, I know these guys use assumed names, but am I now going to be interrupted on a daily basis by a stream of characters from 20th century British fiction? Mrs. Dalloway doing kids' birthday parties? Leopold Bloom offering package tours to Dublin? Constance Chatterley plugging her live webcam?

If the next one claims to be Bertie Wooster, I'm staying on the line. I could use Jeeves's hangover cure.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes you think I live for these moments?

"A riveting and entertaining read by a master of the mystery genre, Alan Beechey's "This Private Plot" is highly recommended . . ." (Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review)
Wow. Okay, that's gotta be my title from now on. I'm off to get new business cards printed.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Necessary roughness?

Yesterday, the Rye Garnets met the Harrison Huskies for the 84th time in the annual football game that's been described as Westchester county's "premier high school rivalry." (Rye beat Harrison 24-13, thanks for asking.)

The game was played at Rye High School's Nugent stadium, with the visiting Harrison supporters wisely directed to stands on the opposite side of the field from the home team's noisy fans (myself and Tertius included).

Before the kick-off, we have the usual introductions, including the presentation of an award to an outstanding scholar from each team, named in honor of a Rye resident who died on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. This is dutifully followed by a few moments of respectful contemplation of 9/11, fresh in all our minds from the anniversary a couple of days earlier. Silence falls.

Well, not quite. A few Harrison kids in the faraway stands didn't seem to get the message, keeping up the pre-game whoops. There's a swift flurry of  "shushes" from their neighbors that don't get an immediate reaction. And then one exasperated male voice, clearly heard across the entire width of the hushed field: "Shut . . . the fuck . . . up!"

From an earlier year, the Garnets celebrate a victory over the Huskies with the traditional jump into the Blind Brook, which runs beside the High School's sports field. (Used without the photographer's permission, but she won't mind.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dark side? What dark side?

My late mother always told me not to show off. So having posted a set of glowing reviews of This Private Plot yesterday, I'm now required by upbringing, personality, culture, and nationality to appease the universe by trashing myself.

The only trouble is (he said cautiously, fearing the lightning strike from beyond), the reviews have been pretty exclusively, uh, positive.

What do to then to be gloomy and British and self-deprecating? What all publicists do -- take the words out of context!

“Alan Beechey may not win the Pulitzer Prize for This Private Plot."1
Reviewing the Evidence 


"It's easy to forget that there is a potential crime to investigate."3
Mysterious Reviews

"Tangled with twists and odd revelations."4
Joseph’s Reviews

"You'll be wondering about the recesses of the author's mind."5
Reader’s Favorite

"It was the first one I’ve read and worked very well as a stand-alone mystery."7
Laura Hartman for Oswego Patch and other blogs

"He has littered his writing trail with breadcrumbs."8
"Bizarre . . . does it work?"9
Feathered Quill

"The wit gets supercilious at times."10
"As far as literacy is concerned, reading the book is like playing hide-and-go-seek with Shakespearean quotes . . . The constant quoting gets a bit old after a while."11
I Love a Mystery

"Outlandish. Convoluted."12
Long and Short Reviews

"I get a lot of books to review and some are more enjoyable than others. This one I rationed."13
New Mystery Reader

"Awkward,  mentally meandering."14
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

"Twisty. Absurd. Silly. A bit dim."15

1Meredith was referring to the long gap between the second and third novels. "Much has been made of Donna Tartt's decades between novels, but The Goldfinch, while slow in arriving, ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. So what, then, of a novel that has been fifteen years in the making? Alan Beechey may not win the Pulitzer Prize for This Private Plot, but Oliver Swithin fans won't be disappointed."

2“. . . . This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python.”

3"An abundance of wry humor and clever wordplay sprinkled throughout, so much so that at times it's easy to forget that there is a potential crime to investigate."

4"Artfully tangled with twists and odd revelations."

5"You'll be wondering about the recesses of the author's mind as you tease yourself to solve the ongoing mystery." I love this comment.

6"Deliciously tangled plot that is perfectly tied up by the end of the book, with a beautiful, unexpected twist at the end."

7So you needn't bother to read the earlier ones, I guess.

8"He has littered his writing trail with breadcrumbs and is confident his readers will gobble them up."

9"Bizarre, perhaps; but does it work? Absolutely!"

10A quite genuine negative criticism.

11It's this book's puzzle within a puzzle. As Simon Brett once memorably said: "Well done, you spotted it."

12"The whole story is full of outlandish secrets (that really aren’t secrets to anyone except Oliver) and a very convoluted path to the person who finally got tired of Uncle Dennis and tried to clear the path to money and marriage."

13"This one I rationed to make it last longer."

14"If the situation weren’t already awkward enough, the unclothed group discover the body of a well-known BBC storyteller hanging from a tree. Thus begins the third Oliver Swithin mystery featuring the sneezing, mentally meandering, Wodehouseian hero."

15"The plot is nice and twisty, and mostly character-driven. The absurd moments are very absurd. . .  There were silly situations that yet proceeded naturally from the course of events, and there were twists that I didn't call at all -- and I've read enough mysteries that I can generally predict the main twists. . . . Our hero, Oliver, is a nice but occasionally a bit dim chap . . ."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nope, modesty does NOT forbid.

Some well-chosen snippets from recent reviews of This Private Plot:

“Witty, entertaining, and highly recommended.”
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine 

“Entertaining . . . . colorful . . . riotous . . . suspenseful.”
Publisher’s Weekly 

“Delightfully entertaining. A very enjoyable mystery all around, one that's highly recommended.”
 Mysterious Reviews 

“Greatly superior to the average formulaic cozy. Recommended”
 I Love a Mystery 

 “A great mystery. Interesting plot twists . . . keep the pages turning and the reader guessing.”
Reviewing the Evidence 

“What a fun read! a great mystery filled with secrets and British shenanigans!”
Mysteries, Etc. 

“Imagine that Caroline Graham, author of the intricately-plotted ‘Midsomer Murders’ series got together with P G Wodehouse to write a murder mystery. . . . A really amusing and charming book.”
New Mystery Reader 

 “A subtle humor floats through the story, bringing a touch of whimsy to a serious plot. Delightful.”

“The book is full of believable and interesting people. Beechey has created an entertaining puzzle.”
Roberta Alexander – syndicated in the San Jose Mercury and other California newspapers. 

“. . . . This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python.”

“Artfully tangled with twists and odd revelations. Highly recommended.”
Joseph’s Reviews

“Thoroughly enjoyable British humor abounds in this delightful novel.”
Reader’s Favorite

“A wonderful romp. . . Wonderfully British in the spirit of Agatha Christie with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse.”
Laura Hartman for Oswego Patch and other blogs

“Solid entertainment . . . Beechey anchors the reader’s heart with the whimsy of Swithin and the reader is intrigued to turn the page and learn more.”
Feathered Quill

“The author writes a good book with some tongue-in-cheek jokes, plenty of action and a good flow to the story. I was impressed.”
Long and Short Reviews

“I loved it. Oliver’s girlfriend rocks!”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twist, Martext, Cromwell, Hardy, Reed, North, Goldsmith, Wendell Homes . . .

My lead character, Oliver Swithin, is not a fictional version of me, although I'm vaguely aware that he voices a lot of my opinions and prejudices. I will, however, grudgingly allow that he may be living somewhere along one of my own roads not taken.

That forename stuck in my head after a vacation reading of Dickens's Oliver Twist in the incongrous surroundings of sun-soaked Majorca. We don't even have any Olivers in the family.

Or so I thought.

But a recent burst of family tree research has turned one up at last. Yep, I have a 13th great-grandfather called Oliver Chadwick, direct ancestor of pompous Victorian poet and all-round mountebank "Professor" Richard Sheldon Chadwick, whose dubious doings have graced these pages before. I don't have any dates for Oliver, but his son Nicholas, my 12th great, was born in 1550 in Staffordshire, England.

Mathematically, I've inherited an average of 0.000031% of Oliver's genes. That means we have about one in 32,000 genes in common. And since the Genome Project has estimated that humans have only about 24,000 genes, this particular generation gap crosses the line where -- in terms of DNA, anyway -- Oliver's ancestry becomes completely irrelevant to me, and I'm no more related to him by blood than I would to any other sixteenth-century English citizen from the Midlands, such as, oh, William Shakespeare.

Unless, of course, Oliver's name eventually pops up more than once in my lineage, which is increasingly likely the further back you go, with twice as many branches for each generation and a fewer people around to sit on them. At Oliver's level there are already about 16,000 slots to be filled. (Effie Strongitharm has more to say about this stuff in This Private Plot. Just thought I'd mention that. If you're interested.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

"If Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse had a child, he'd have written this book."

Okay, if you know me by now (get to know me!), you'll know that's probably the best imaginable headline for a review of one of my books, ever. (Well, maybe "Spielberg offers half a billion for movie rights to mystery series" might just cap it.)

So special thanks to Laura Hartman, reviewer for Patch in the Oswego area, for all her enthusiasm. And for a magnificent piece of wordplay.

You see, I have a character in This Private Plot called "Lesbia Weguelin," and Laura speculates that it's a double-entendre for something like "let's be a wiggling."  

I love this. It's entirely appropriate in a book that includes a character whose name is the Swedish word for penis. (Quilt-Hogg and Mormal also have dubious etymologies, and An Embarrassment of Corpses includes a company called "Woodcock and Oakhampton." So far, nobody's spotted the filthy joke behind that one.)

Unfortunately, the wiggling is entirely accidental. Here's the true story.

I'm a devotee of the early 20th century "English musical renaissance," and I have quite an extensive collection of CDs by British composers from this period. Hyperion is one of several recording companies that have done an outstanding job of reviving the works of many lesser known composers, with well-chosen artwork for the CD covers. Back in the dark times when we indulged in CDs.

Lesbia - Weguelin. (See?)
For several recordings of big works by Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946), Hyperion astutely chose paintings by contemporaneous neo-classical artists -- you know, all Mediterranean sunlight, diaphanous gowns, and a marked absence of underwear. But this was okay for the Victorians, because the young ladies thus depicted were (a) foreign and (b) from classical literature, so it was educational. Besides, you could always blindfold the piano legs.

And for Sir GB's 1906 hour-long orchestral song cycle "Sappho," coupled with his "Sapphic Poem" -- I'm not making this up -- the selected image was an 1878 picture called "Lesbia" by John Reinhard Weguelin (1849-1927), an English artist despite his name.

You might think this pairing coyly matched the implied sexual theme. You'd be wrong. The real Lesbia was a pseudonym for a former mistress of Catallus, the first-centry BCE Roman poet, and from what was said of her at the time, she was decidedly heterosexual and seemed intent on proving it to as many famous men as possible. A good sport, we might say euphemistically. Well, if you looked anything like Weguelin's slice of Victorian soft-core porn -- history lesson, I mean -- you wouldn't keep it to yourself, would you?

Where was I? Oh yes. I don't have this particular CD, but I saw it a while ago in the Hyperion catalogue with a credit for the cover art abbreviated to "Lesbia Weguelin." And I knew immediately that I had to invent a character with that name.

Boring stuff this, eh? Let's pretend instead that Laura was right all along . . .

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Lesbia Weguelin."

 "Lesbia Weguelin who?"

"Lesbia Weguelin, Miley, your fifteen minutes are nearly up."

Incidentally, were Agatha and PGW to have paired, they'd have been one of those rare couples to have received name-changing honors quite independently. (The wife of a knight get to be called "Lady Whatever" anyway, but in this case, the damehood would be in Agatha's own right.) Other examples are Dame Cleo Laine and the late Sir John Dankworth and Dame Agatha herself, whose second husband, Max Mallowan, had been knighted for services to archeology. Alas, Dame A and Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse could not have sired me, since poor PGW was apparently unable to have children, possibly because of a childhood case of mumps. Oddly enough, I read a 1934 comic story by Agatha last week called "The Girl in the Train" (it's in The Listerdale Mystery collection) that was clearly inspired by PGW and could almost have been written by him on one of his off days. I guess there's more than one way to reproduce.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Daily Insult . . . the adventure continues.

Secundus -- born in Manhattan, schooled in the Westchester burbs -- does a very fine English accent, although he's reluctant to demonstrate it in public.

"Do you get it from listening to me?" I ask. "Or from all the British shows you watch?"

"Actually, I don't notice that you have a different accent," he answers. "That's probably because, in all my life, you're the person I've heard talking the most. Ever."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Call that a silly walk, Hercule?"

Reviews for This Private Plot are coming in. Here's what Booklist said:

"This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python."

Yup. Nailed three of my teenage influences right there, if you include the implied Lewis Carroll reference. It's like she knows me.

Hmm. What if Agatha really did meet Monty Python . . .

"Look, why did the parrot fall flat on his back the moment I got him home?"

"The Norwegian Blue prefers kipping on its back. Remarkable bird, innit, Squire? Beautiful plumage. It's probably pining for the fjords."

"Pining for the fjords? It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He's expired and gone to meet his maker! He's a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed him to the perch, he'd be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! This . . . is an ex-par--"

Mr. Praline broke off as the door to the pet shop opened suddenly. Silhouetted in the doorway was a man whose erect stance and air of dignity made you instantly overlook his lack of height. The newcomer took a couple of paces forward, a slight limp now noticeable, until the harsh fluorescent lighting fully revealed the dandified neatness of his appearance, from his dapper shoes to the freshly brushed Homburg that crowned his egg-like head. His military moustache seemed to twitch as the odor of the dirty cages reached him, and he plucked irritably at sudden stray feather that had floated onto the impeccable cloth of his sleeve.

"One moment, mon ami,"  he cautioned, in an accent that the little Belgian knew would be mistaken for French once again. These cloth-eared English! "I put it to you, M'sieur Praline, that the parrot has not merely expired, as you put it. He was  . . . murdered!"

"Murdered!" gasped the two men on either side of the counter.

"Murdered," confirmed the detective. "He was, 'ow you say, whack-ed. Rubbed out. Bumped off. Dispatched. Iced. Wasted, pasted, wetworked. He's been given a Chicago overcoat. He sleeps with the fishes. He was taken for a ride to the 'appy 'unting ground. He was made to walk the plank, with malice aforethought and extreme prejudice. Polished off and toe-tagged, he has bitten the dust while the fat lady sang. He said no to an offer he couldn't refuse. This . . . is a DOA parrot."

He took another dainty step forward. "Mais oui, mes amis," he continued, glaring at the remains of the blue parrot on the floor in front of his highly polished toecaps. "It is murder, certainment. Murder most foul!"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

See you on the radio.

The title of this post is what 11-year-old Tertius said as he waved me off on yesterday's expedition to the wild and untamed badlands of Greenwich, Connecticut, there to be interviewed by the two wittiest and most talented radio hosts in the business, Kim Burns and Bonnie Levison. (At least he didn't tell me I had a face for radio.)

Kim's a stand-up comic and a writer (and an old friend), Bonnie's also a stand-up and teaches storytelling in connection with New York's the Moth. Their show, "Anything Goes," features on Greenwich's WCGN, and the whole procedure was a delight and relatively painless. My doctor says I should be able to walk again within a week or so, although I may need eschew shorts for the time being.

Listen for yourself [Click here] to some of Kim and Bonnie's earlier podcasts. Go on, you know you haven't got anything better to do, or you wouldn't be here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Is this the world's rudest woman?

Everybody read the previous (i.e., older) post? Good. The scene is set.

I go into Arcade to buy Didi's book. Proprietor Patrick is deep in conversation with what seems to be a self-published author seeking shelf space. So I patiently station myself in front of the counter to signal that, for once, my intentions go beyond that of another author craving validation and sales estimates. I am, ahem, a paying customer.

A few seconds later, Patrick's assistant Aly emerges from the rear office. Simultaneously, the front door is flung open and a woman comes in, talking loudly and angrily on her cell phone about something to do with a renovation that doesn't seem to be going to her satisfaction. She pushes past me, takes up a position at the counter, and without breaking her phone conversation for a second or lowering her voice, thrusts her platinum American Express card at Aly.

(Well, I say pushes past me, but that would suggest she was even slightly aware of my existence.)

Aly, puzzled, looks to Patrick for help. He's forced to interrupt his chat and suggests that the woman might have a book on order. The woman is still half-screaming at a contractor, still flapping the charge card, without making eye contact. Aly reads the name on the card, finds it in the order book, and is able to retrieve the volume. She charges it, gets the woman's signature, and hands her the purchase. Still without acknowledging her surroundings, the woman grabs the book and stomps out of the store, not even pausing for a thank you.

In An Embarrassment of Corpses (now in paperback, did I mention that?), Superintendent Mallard reveals that he keeps a mental list of the people who, in his personal opinion, deserve punishment even if they haven't technically broken the law. Guess who's just gone to the top of my own list?

Friday, May 23, 2014

The end is in sight. (And for once, that's not a bottom joke.)

My friend Maureen Amaturo always reads the final pages of a book first, to see if she's going to like it. As a mystery novelist, obsessed with the architectural unfolding of my story and the power of suspense and misdirection, this pisses me off. But if you, dear reader, skip to the very end of This Private Plot,  you'll see Maureen is the first person thanked in the acknowledgements, despite her appalling reading habits. That's mainly (but by no means exclusively) because she's the founder of the Sound Shore Writers Group, whose members patiently reviewed the book as it emerged, chapter by chapter.

Maureen must be doing something right, because another former member of the group, Didi McKay, is also in print right now, with a charming new children's book called Gifts of the Animals. 

Didi has the enviable day-job of working at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, Connecticut, a frequent destination for the Beecheys when my kids were younger. Some of her colleagues provided the book's lovely illustrations of animals raised by families around the globe.

Here's Didi's book, in a photograph she took of the window of Rye's Arcade Books. It's the blue one under the "O." And do you see what's under the "S"?

(As for the title of this post, it's a bit of an in-joke. Barbara Peters, my editor at Poisoned Pen Press, in an effort to rein in the Briticisms, placed a restriction in the number of times I could use the word "bottom" to refer to Effie Strongitharm's posterior before reverting to "buttocks." I got three in, all in the first chapter.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To whom this may concern.

"To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

As an adoptee, I attribute myself to four parents: in chronological order the two who supplied the nature, and the two who supplied the nurture.* But having by now lost three of them, I wonder what Wilde's Lady Bracknell would accuse me of? Gross negligence?

On this American Mother's Day, I'm happy to report that one of my co-mothers is alive and well and Morris dancing in Maidstone. (If you can call that living.**) And just as Laurence Olivier was eleven years older than Eileen Herlie, who played his mother, Gertrude, in his film of Hamlet, so my lovely Mum is actually far younger than me.***

But switching to the three I lost, I was very happy to memorialize my adoptive parents at long last in the dedication of This Private Plot, with apologies to the friends who are going to have wait for another book before their turn comes up. (I promise to write more quickly this time.)

Here's the text, so you know who to blame.

*This does reflect a development in This Private Plot, but you'll have to get to Chapter 39 before you see the connection.

**Sorry, puzzled American readers. The ritual trashing of Morris dancers is a British meme.

***That joke would be funnier if she didn't actually look it. By the way, Hamlet is also given a workout in TPP, not least by the Theydon Bois Thespians in their first appearance on the stage in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Out! Out, I say!

Sunday (May the Fourth) was Star Wars Day. (It thurroundth uth and bindth uth).

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. (Spanish for "Just mustard, please.")

Then what's a good reason for partying today, May 6, 2014? (Well, it's the tenth anniversary of the "Friends" series finale . . .)

Benighted mortals! Today is the official publication day of This Private Plot, the third title in the somewhat optimistically styled "Oliver Swithin Mystery Decalogy," although if I continue at this rate, I'll be 107 before Oliver and Effie get to third base.*

Anyway, don't waste your time reading this blog entry. Go and buy it! Now! (We cozy authors are tough.)

Or better still, mail me $5 directly, then you don't have to read it.

The other titles are also out in paperback today, for the first time. Buy them too.

*Just kidding, that happened between An Embarrassment of Corpses and Murdering Ministers. But most of This Private Plot is about Oliver's failure to score a home run in the bedroom of his childhood.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Isn't this the plot of that new Johnny Depp movie?

I step into my bedroom/office, where Tertius is sitting at my desk, fiddling with his iPod.

"Now I know where you are," he exclaims cheerfully, showing me the screen. It displays a map that is somehow tracking the location of my iPod.

"You know where I am because I'm standing two feet away from you and you can see me," I remark.

"But this is digital, which makes it more official."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Feelin' stabby.

Planning a Spring break camping expedition to Harriman State Park. Secundus seems to have an unhealthy focus on equipping himself with every sharp implement known to REI. I try jokingly to deflect his demands for a sizeable ax.

"It's just that I don't want to wake up in the tent one morning with my head chopped off," I tell him.

He smiles. "Oh, you won't wake up . . ."

*The trip was postponed because of predicted overnight temperatures below freezing. In April. His mother bought him the ax anyway. And there's a whole other story.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"You sure look purty in that fig-leaf, Meriwether!"

Tertius finds a nickel in his bedroom minted in celebration of the Louisiana Purchase. I guess that it was issued in 2003, the two hundredth anniversary, which holds T's interest for a second or two because it was the year of his birth. (2003 that is. Not 1803.)

I use the rapidly closing window of opportunity in his attention span to mention that the Louisiana Purchase spawned the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"Were they real?" he asks.

"Lewis and Clark?" I echo. "Yes, they were real."

"Only I get them confused."

"Who with?"

"Adam and Eve."

"A bit different," I assure him.

"Were Adam and Eve real too?"

Ah, now there's a whole other conversation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another curtain call.

Four years ago, this blog celebrated the hundredth birthday of my friend, actress Sylvia Davis. (If you want to find out more about her, use the "Sylvia Davis" label at the end of this post and read the posts in date order.)

I wrote that Sylvia had found a late burst of popular fame in her nineties because of a brief commercial she did for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. People would stop her on the street and ask her to deliver the opening line, "I've survived the depression . . ."

I couldn't find it online then, but YouTube eventually yielded up the goods.

Sylvia passed away in November 2010, six months after her centenary celebrations, a rich life well lived. Enjoy her talent and her enduring memory in one of her greatest hits:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sex and other failures.

I'm asked to send my publicist a thousand-word excerpt from This Private Plot, so I select a couple of sequences that are self-contained and spoiler-free. Only afterwards do I realize that they're both centered upon misplaced nudity. (Or, to be more accurate, misplaced clothes.)

I'm happy to write "cozy" mysteries. It's my dream to win an "Agatha," the top prize for cozies given at the Malice Domestic conference, since the MWA's Edgars tend to go toward the hard-boiled end of the spectrum. A cozy is typically characterized as having most of the "unpleasantness" take place offstage, whether it's violence or sex. In that earlier post, in which I tallied up eight murders so far in my published career, only three unfold in the real time of the narrative, and two of them are that cozy-safe method, poisoning.

In This Private Plot (one death by hanging, offstage but on cover) I also have a little deliberate fun with the second convention. It's a running gag that Oliver, who is determined to carve his first notch on the virgin bedpost of his teenage bedroom, is constantly thwarted every time he gets close to a moment or two of intimacy with his steady girlfriend, Effie.

But that's okay, as are the number of characters who seem to lose their clothes during the narrative.
Because it's also a "Traditional British" mystery, and for my generation, frustrated sex and lost trousers are neither tragic nor titillating but just plain embarrassing . . . and therefore a potent source of humor. Or humour.

Here's an extract from the book, which explains it. Oliver is consulting criminal expert Dr. McCaw of St. Basil's College, Oxford, to help him figure out what victim Dennis Breedlove may have done to attract the attention of a blackmailer:
Dr. McCaw thought for a moment.

“Sex,” she stated.

“Sex. Why?”

“Because whatever happened in the past still bothered Breedlove to this day, to put it mildly. And sex is the only thing the British fixate on forever . . ."

She took a sip of tea. “It doesn’t apply to the Europeans,” she continued. “They have an adult acceptance of sexual mores. The American attitude to sex, on the other hand, is positively infantile. But the British, as in so many things, are bang in the middle. They stay mired in their adolescence. They can’t stop thinking about sex, but they never get it right. That’s why the British can be funnier about their sex lives than any other nation.”
 Let's hope so, anyway.

Monday, March 31, 2014

But I'm not paying any more for the IMAX version.

It's Tertius's birthday. He shows up in the kitchen for breakfast wearing eyeglasses that are just black plastic frames. He says he looks like Austin Powers. I think it's more like Clark Kent.

"These are 3D glasses," he announces, showing me the lettering on the temples. They certainly are, since they seem to have been taken from a movie theater, but the lenses are missing.

"They won't work," I tell him.

"They do," he insists, putting them back on and looking straight at me. He stretches forward with his hand and squeezes my nose. "See? 3D!"

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Entertaining." "Colorful." "Riotous." "Suspenseful." I'll take that.

Thanks, Publisher's Weekly, for a decent review. (Phew!)
"Quiet country life turns out to be anything but in Beechey’s entertaining third mystery featuring children’s author Oliver Swithin (after 1999’s Murdering Ministers). During a nighttime stroll in the English village of Synne, Oliver discovers a dead body hanging from a tree. Oliver recognizes the corpse as Dennis Breedlove, a well-known children’s radio star known as Uncle. From the length of the rope, Oliver believes the cause of death is murder, not suicide (as the village police suspect). Meanwhile, Oliver’s uncle, Det. Supt. Tim Mallard of Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime Directorate, is in Synne rehearsing for an amateur performance of Hamlet. While Mallard warns Oliver and his girlfriend, Scotland Yard detective Effie Strongitharm, not to interfere, they cannot resist investigating. The author provides numerous colorful suspects and several red herrings leading up to a riotous, yet suspenseful resolution that takes place during the final scene of the Hamlet performance."
(Okay, Kirkus, do your worst.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Call yourself an American?

As a humorous intro to my presentations, I list the number of murders I have so far accomplished in print:

   Pushed off a high building (1)
   Shot with a crossbow (1)
   Bludgeoned to death (1)
   Bludgeoned and then drowned (1)
   Hanged (2)
   Poisoned (2), including one shot in the bottom with a dart gun.

If you include the completed but unpublished works, there's a strangled, another bludgeoned, and a frightened to death by a six-foot pink rabbit.*

But I've never shot anyone with a gun containing bullets. Yet.

*I know, I know. I'd read that one, too. But it was a badly timed Sherlock Holmes parody, and no editor wanted it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A moment with greatness.

Every once in a while, I remember that this blog is supposed to be about writing mysteries. My presentation (see the previous entry) includes several examples of the craft of superb story-telling, and now, thanks to PowerPoint, the audience can see the words up on the screen instead of having to listen to me -- or a hapless participant -- read them aloud.

So in the spirit of exposing you to the best (and exposing my meager graphic design skills), here's one of my favorites, from Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know. It continues a description of a defense attorney, already described as an "alcoholic old lizard."

A brilliant instance of the "show, don't tell" mantra. From three sharp sentences ostensibly describing Bustanante's appearance, we see her entire life -- once-elegant past, decrepit present, and a fair anticipation of a future as a serious thorn in the narrator's side. Nothing's wasted. And nobody does it better.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kicking and screaming into the, uh, twentieth century.

To Valhalla (no, not that one, the one in New York) and to Portland (no, not those two, the one in Connecticut) for, respectively, my sixth appearance at the Young Authors Conference for high school students and my fifth appearance at the Unicorn Writers Conference for anybody.

This year, they fall within a couple of days of each other, and I decide it's about time I went hi-tech. Well, hi-er tech, but that's not hard when in previous years I've managed with a flip chart and a blown-up Peanuts cartoon mounted on a giant piece of foamboard.

My presentation to the young authors is called "Just Shoot, Stab, Strangle, Smother, or Poison Me: Writing the Murder Mystery." For the older punters, it's "The Top Ten Things You Need To Know About Writing a Murder Mystery."

(No mystery about where I nicked that idea. And imagine my embarrassment when at the presenters' dinner I found myself sitting next to the former head writer for "Late Night With David Letterman."*)
The presentations aren't the same, but there's a fair bit of overlap, so I decide to put them both into PowerPoint at the same time.

How do I know it's time for this leap forward in technical wizardry? When 12-year-old Secundus looks at me with scorn and announces: "Nobody uses PowerPoint these days, Dad."

Nifty, huh? And the pie chart appears with a circular wipe!

*It was homage, Joe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

No MSG. Because He'd know.

Primus's teenage posse hangs out in the basement of the local Episcopal church, where one of his friends is the son of the verger. They have an apartment on the first floor of a house that's part of the church complex.

I'm chatting to this friend's mother in front of their house when a car pulls into the car park, containing a confused-looking driver with a Chinese food delivery. She goes over to help.

"Oh, you want the Man Upstairs," she tells him.

And just for a moment, I wonder: "Does He order in?"

I look up in awe toward the church spire, but catch sight of the choirmaster, who lives in the second-floor apartment, signalling from the window that he's on his way down to collect his dinner.

Still, if it had been a take-out for the Almighty, you just know he'd be a good tipper.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Love what you've done to the place.

The observant reader of this blog* will have noticed that, as well as getting a minor facelift, it's changed its name from "This Private Plot."

The persistent reader of this blog** will have noticed that this follows more than half a year of nothing else happening.

These two facts are connected. We're shifting gears around these parts. For the plain fact is that, up to now, my blog was largely about the stuff that amused me -- generally from my present and past life -- while I was writing, editing, and attempting to sell a book called This Private Plot, the third in the Oliver Swithin mystery series. (Hence the old name of the blog, for the reader who has trouble making connections.***)

But all that changed last year. For the magnificent and highly esteemed folks at indie mystery publisher Poisoned Pen Press agreed to publish not only This Private Plot in a slew of formats, they're also bringing out the two earlier books -- An Embarrassment of Corpses and Murdering Ministers -- in paperback for the first time.

So the blog's downtime is partly due to the distractions of the final edits and text preparation of three books, which all spring from the presses in May (and also partly due to some rather time-consuming health-related stuff within the family, which is all turning out okay).

And now it's back, with a new focus on the entire series from the point of view of a newly published author, but probably still largely devoted to funny crap my kids say and blatant, blinkered adoration of my dog, Leila. Plus ca change . . .

*Thanks, Kent.
**Thanks again, Kent.
***Not you, Kent.