Tag Archives: Tucson

Brigid Quinn is Back and in Serious Trouble


Destination: Tucson, Arizona

Book: Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman

 

 

Becky Masterman, a Tucson resident, created a female character who stands out in the crowd of female detectives.  Fans who read her first novel,Rage Against the Dying, have been eagerly waiting for the second in what they hope will be a lengthy series  featuring Brigid Quinn. A retired FBI agent, married to a retired Episcopal priest, she has recently settled (not that Brigid actually settles) in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

You might guess by the “retired” that comes before FBI agent, Brigid Quinn is somewhere north of 55, but age is just a number, and she’s not counting.  She is insatiably drawn to mysterious situations with a dangerous edge, to the despair of her peace-loving husband.  Brigid still knows how to handle bad guys–and gals–both physically and through meticulous analysis of evidence and application of street smarts.

The new book, Fear the Darkness, shows Brigid trying to fit in to a ‘normal’ life.  She has followed through on a promise to her brother’s dying wife and brought the couples college-age daughter to Tucson to live so that the girl can establish residency for college.  As we learn more about Brigid’s former job as an undercover agent–adapting to roles of prostitute, drug runner, or other lowdown vermin– it is easy to see how she can have doubts about this normal-family-surrogate-mother thing.

I could do this.  I was tough.  I may be small and have prematurely white hair, but I’m as psychologically and physically fit as you can be at my age.  And as I’ve explained, I can disarm a grown man before he could say..anything….Next to somebody like me, Chuck Norris is just a wuss.  How hard could it be to be a good aunt.

To add to her angst, Gemma Kate, the neice, shows some odd quirks of her own.  In fact her behavior is so odd that Brigid begins to wonder if the clever girl is a psychopath. Bad things start happening all around, and Brigid herself becomes  a target of some sort of evil that she can’t quite identify.

The plot is complex–peopled with the sort of friends and neighbors you can recognize without thinking “stock characters.”  This complexity takes a lot of time to set up–the mysterious teenage suicide; the devotion of a friend (the only one Brigid has ever had) to her paralyzed husband; the appearance of an appealing man at church one day; even the rather unenthusiastic minister. Then there’s an arrogant doctor with a wife who seems unhinged; a cop who may be hiding family secrets.  Readers who want their thrillers to leap right in to the action are going to have to cool their heels while they meet these characters and experience how “normal” can slide into a horror show so gradually that you hardly notice.

The climax is frightening not just because of the violent action, presented in proper thriller fashion in a breath-taking sequence, but also because the “I never saw that coming” ending has you wondering about the assumptions you make in your own life. It’s not as though the author didn’t try to warn you.

I admit from the start it’s at least embarrassing to not recognize the devil, but I can understand because I’ve been there…During my time with the Bureau, I lived among killers who cheerfully attended their daughters’ ballet recitals, and men who trafficked in human flesh whole baby-talking their parakeets.

Although I was impatient with the slow setup of this book, I still am a big fan of Brigid Quinn and her smart-ass wisecracks and derring-do. The first book was a nominee for best first novel in the Edgars (mystery writing) and no doubt this one will garner some of the same recognition. Brigid’s dialogue is not the only smart thing about the writing.

Sunset and rain, Tucson
Sunset and rain, Tucson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re wondering what Tucson is like–not just the mountain paths and the wildlife, but also the culture–Masterman weaves that kind of information into the story.  Just one thing threw me, and I’m probably petty for mentioning it, but I can’t resist.

Night Blooming Cactus
Night Blooming Cereus

Gemma Kate and her boy friend  take off for Sabino Canyon and tell Brigid that they are going to look at the “night-blooming cactus and the wildlife”.  Sabino Canyon does have moonlight walks. Except this scene takes place in March. The night-blooming cereus–the night-bloomer that makes the best show doesn’t bloom until late June or early July. Until then, all there is to see is a pathetic plant lying on the ground imitating a dead stick.  I know–picky, picky, picky.

Where you can absolutely depend on Masterman’s research, of course, is in forensic details.  She has worked for years as an editor of forensic medicine books or law enforcement officials, and has a wide array of experts to call on. These nitty gritty details make the novel come to life. And nothing is livelier than the terrific creation, Brigid Quinn.

Disclaimers

The publisher sent me the book for review.  I have met Masterman personally, and interviewed her after her first book was published (you can read that interview here.) Neither of these things affects my giving you my honest appraisal of the book.

There are links to Amazon here, for your convenience. You need to know that I am an Amazon affiliate, so anything you buy through a link on this site makes a few cents to help keep A Traveler’s Library alive. Thank you.

 

 

Solving Crime Puzzles from Tucson to San Francisco

Destinations: Tucson and San Francisco Bay area

Book: Fracture (2011) by Susan Cummins Miller

Want this book? Find out at the end of this review how you can get an autographed copy.

Susan Cummins Miller’s last book, Fracture,  kept me guessing–and reading–until geologist Frankie McFarlaine and her boyfriend unravel the complex mystery that involves Philo’s family. That would be the boyfriend, oddly-named Philo Dain, a Special Forces kind of guy who runs a top-notch private detective agency in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

Frankie and Philo are just getting reacquainted after his recent return from Afghanistan when his uncle shows up wanting Philo’s help locating some valuable coins. Philo doesn’t like his Uncle, but because of inheritance, he partly owns the coins, so he agrees.  The uncles’ trophy wife turns up dead and Uncle Derek, a man used to buying whatever he wants–including respect– is the prime suspect.

The plot is too complex to summarize without giving something away. Tension builds and along with the physical threats to our hero and heroine, plenty of puzzle solving is involved. It even gets a bit Ludlum-esque when a rare coin dealer and an academic get involved trying to “decode” a family chess set that turns out to be museum-quality rare.

Meanwhile, Miller paints a realistic picture of her native Tucson, and similarly evocative scenes in a house on a cliff above the foggy San Francisco coast and the family ranch which holds the final clues to the secrets.

San Francisco fog
Photo from Wiki Commons

This review is another follow-up to the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books. See my earlier review of Townie by Andre Debus III.  And where I saw Susan Cummins Miller, here.

Miller’s Frankie McFarlane mystery series started with the the publication in 2002 of Death Assemblage. Since then she has published a total of five Frankie McFarlane mysteries and has finished a sixth–each with a geological reference in the title. Her newest book, out next year, is Chasm, set in the Grand Canyon.

The earlier books emphasized geology–Frankie seemed to stumble on bodies every time she takes students out in the field for research–and the skill set that being a scientist contributes to Frankie the myster-solver. The importance of Frankie’s geology background is dialed down in Fracture, as Frankie shares focus with the adventure-hero Philo. However, she still is independent, resourceful and smart as the dickens. And we do learn a few things about the composition of the earth around San Francisco–and fractures and earthquakes that take place in the ground as well as those that split families.

The characters are vivid  in Fracture. Miller provides us an almost tactile experience of the contrast between sweltering summer Tucson, and cool, damp San Francisco.  This mystery is a keeper.

WIN THIS BOOK

Tucson Festival of Books
Susan Cummins Miller talks to reader at 2014 TFOB

At the Book Festival, Susan signed a copy of Fracture for me to give to one of my readers.

If you would like to have an exciting (virtual) trip to the Bay area by winning a signed, hardback copy of Fracture, leave a comment below mentioning the word ‘fracture.’  A winner will be chosen at random  on May 20. The book is valued at $30.

Winners must have a United States postal address and must be over 18. There is no limit on the number of entries. See other fine print here.

Notes: The author gave me a copy of the book for review and to use as a giveaway.  My opinions are still my own.  Links here to Amazon allow you to shop easily for this book and others and at the same time support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.

TFOB: Where the Authors Are, Part III

Sunday, March 16th

Tucson Festival of Books
Dedicated reader

On Sunday, Ken and I arrived early and planned to leave early, because he really does not like the crowds at the Tucson Festival of Books. Once again the sun was shining and people arrived toting water bottles and backpacks and books to be signed, streaming out of the University parking garages.

We peeked at the enormous science area, which seems to take up about 1/3 of the land mass of the Festival, but we didn’t go there.  We walked by the beautiful displays in the Southwest Parks tents, including an alluring Native American tent and the Hubbell Trading Post tent festooned with Navajo rugs.

We were not particularly drawn to any of the earliest programs, and wandered among the booths, where I met two women who had written in separate books about the artists of Taos at the same period that I wrote about with Charnell Havens in our book on Quincy Tahoma’s life.

While wandering, I also met representatives from the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University and learned that their publications have recently expanded to include historic novels. They offer a series of lectures entitled Fearless Females: Audacious and Feisty Women of the Middle Ages and Renaissance for people in the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas of Arizona. Now that sounds like fun.

Mystery in the Southwest

Susan Cummins Miller

Anne Hillerman

J.J. Jance

Ken and I decided to check out the lines forming for events we would attend in the underground Integrated Learning Center.  We took the elevator down and parked on a bench in the open-to-the-sky underground patio.  Ken snagged a ticket to his chosen program–the line would later snake across the patio and up the stairs leading out of the Center. He was going to see a panel that included Susan Cummins Miller, Anne Hillerman and J. J. Jance.

I wrote about those first two writers in Part I of this report. J. J. Jance, who writes mysteries set in Arizona is a perennial favorite at the TFOB. She is very entertaining as a speaker, and Ken was definitely pleased with his choice of program.

The Devil’s in the Details

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni at TFOB
Robert Dugoni

Book Cover: Dugoni
Robert Dugoni 
is one of those lawyers who puts his legal knowledge to work writing. His bookThe Cyanide Canary (2004) is a non-fiction legal thriller.  When the fictional The Jury Master won tons of readers in 2006, his publishers asked if he had another David Sloane novel ready. Of course he said “yes,” although he had not previously thought of the book as the start of a series.  The Conviction is his fifth successful thriller featuring the lawyer David Sloane.

In discussing facts he says, “Never assume. Check and recheck.” Use ‘double sourcing’ as though you were a journalist. He also mentioned one of my pet peeves when reading detail-stuffed books.  Sometimes the author puts in facts just to show off instead of because they are needed for the story.

He told a very funny story about getting a fact wrong about a gun in one of his books.  A devoted reader and gun owner called him on it in an e-mail. Dugoni, a gun-owner himself, apologized profusely and since the guy was from Tucson, invited him to come by (much to the consternation of a fellow panelist who was convinced they’d be shot), and he’d give him a free copy of another book.  The guy came by, was a very friendly older man who seemed content with the apology. But when Dugoni returned to his hotel room, there was an e-mail to the web page’s response page demanding the publisher destroy all copies of the book.

Fellow panelist, Jeff Parker, agreed–no matter how well you know guns, and how careful you are, you’re always going to get something wrong. Nobody is quite as obsessive as “gun nuts.”

T. Jefferson “Jeff” Parker

TFOB Jeff Parker
TFOB Jeff Parker

Book Cover: The Famous and the Dead
Jeff Parker  writes police procedurals, so he has plenty of opportunity to get details wrong, since his mysteries depend on details. He works hard to avoid the mistakes. His series about  sheriff Charlie Hood in Los Angeles concludes with the sixth and latest edition, The Famous and the Dead.

Parker, a former reporter, has won two Edgar awards for novels and one for a short story. He has spent his life in L. A.and Southern California, so he knows the settings for his novels very well. He also writes about the borderlands and Mexico, and makes trips to ensure he is getting it right.

He says that he insists on getting it right. ” An ounce of good research can produce a pound of good fiction.”

Masha Hamilton

Masha Hamilton ta TFOB
Masha Hamilton at TFOB

Masha Hamilton has been a journalist in some pretty exciting places. Her experience as a journalist has convinced her that confirming detail is extremely important.  Her latest book,  What Changes Everything (one of my ‘best  books’ of 2013) takes place partly in Brooklyn and partly in Afghanistan.  Since she has both reported from Afghanistan and worked at the U.S. Embassy there, she was well prepared to accurately portray that troubled country.  And she lives in Brooklyn. But she still had research to do.

Book Cover: What Changes EverythingOne of the main characters in What Changes Everything is a street artist and she spent some long nights following street artists as they carried out their illegal art.  One of them, she said, was her son, who said, “This kind of takes the thrill out of it, Mom.”

Masha is so dedicated to accuracy, that she says, “If the facts don’t fit the story, make the story better–to fit the facts.”

Her biggest challenge in writing fiction after being a journalist was to get in touch with feelings. Covering wars and dangerous situations, she had to develop detachment. Literature demanded the opposite. She addresses that issue with a fictional character in The Distance Between Us, about a woman who is a journalist in the Mid East.

When she wrote a book about Africa, she wanted to include information about mosquitos and did voluminous research.  Although all the facts were correct, she totally fabricated the quotes about mosquitoes at the beginning of each chapter, even though they looked real with attribution.  Her mother, one of her first readers loved the book and particularly admired how much time she had put into finding those quotations.  When Masha confessed they were not real, her mother said, “Can you do that?”

Other books and accomplishments by Masha Hamilton:

  • Staircase of a Thousand Steps, set in TransJordan. Her first published novel, it debuted to rave reviews.
  • Camel Bookmobile tells the story of delivering books to remote African villages.  As a result of the research, Masha started a charity to donate books to the Camel Book Drive.
  • 31 Hours, about a mother whose son is threatening to blow up a train in New York with a suicide bomb.
  • Masha Hamilton also makes a difference in the lives of countless Afghan women through the organization she founded, Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

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And, like a good book that you hate to have end, thus ends the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books.  But….there’s always next year.  I encourage you to mark your calendar and plan a trip to Tucson (if you’re not already here) on March 14 and 15, 2015.