CRIME CANDY: Nursery Crimes

Lately I’ve been thinking about the rap sheet of my youth. Item One is bad and I know it. I was eleven and in thrall to a Mean Girl (she’s earned her caps, trust me). M.G. broke into and thoroughly trashed our neighbors’ house while they were on vacation because their twelve-year-old son didn’t like her back. I watched, still as a bunny under the eye of a hawk. Never touched a thing, but also never said anything. But maybe this incident put me off crime permanently—except on the page of course—because Item Two is ridiculous: peach wine cooler filched from parents’ fridge, age sixteen. And there isn’t an Item Three, unless we want to start counting parking tickets. So why am I obsessing about this? Three upturned, pearly little faces, that’s why. Mothers worry about everything. I should probably switch to the H1N1 flu or Kindergarten readiness, especially since my oldest are still in preschool, but crime has always been the more appealing subject. Plus I’m serious when I say I worry about good kids gone mysteriously bad. I’ve seen it happen, but that’s a story for another day.

Field of Blood by Denise MinaThinking about these little and not so little nursery crimes naturally brings to my mind a few novels that have done well by the subject. I’m not talking about Lifetime movie-of-the-week type thrillers with a kidnapping or worse thrown in for good measure. Those creep me out, and not in a good way. I mean novels that have dealt as honestly as possible with the parallel-yet-all-too-permeable world that is childhood and what happens when crime infects it. Close to tops on my list is Denise Mina’s Paddy Mehan series, which begins with Field of Blood. Finally! You should know that I’ve had to stop myself from writing about Denise Mina in every Crime Candy installment. Vintage doesn’t publish her and she hasn’t got a new book out (damn and double-damn). I’ve made it two entire columns without metaphorically throwing myself at Mina’s feet in abject worship. That’s achievement enough I think. Set in Glasgow in 1981, Field of Blood introduces Paddy Mehan, a working-class young woman just shot of her teens who has by dint of thankless toil as a copyboy secured a coveted promotion to cub reporter at the Scottish Daily News. Everyone, including her close-knit family, hates her for it. 1980’s Glasgow is a sooty, crumbling city with little sympathy for a heavyset lass who ditches her perfectly acceptable Catholic fiancé for a career. Within days of Paddy’s promotion, the Garnethill by Denise Minacity coughs up a horrific crime: a ten year old boy named Callum is accused of murdering another child. As Paddy learns the particulars of the case, she realizes that she alone at the newspaper has a valuable personal connection to the accused boy. He is the cousin of her shelved fiancé. What follows is a brilliantly written stay-up-til-the-wee-hours exploration of crime, childhood, class, morals, and ambition. Mina doesn’t shy away from gritty truths like the fact that poverty chips relentlessly away at childhood but neither does she turn a blind eye to anything good that might happen in a strapped neighborhood like some crime writers do in a forced effort to be “extra-noir.” That’s what makes these novels feel real. And as accomplished as this series is, her Garnethill Trilogy is even better. If you haven’t read Denise Mina, I urge you to. Her next crime novel pubs March 22, 2010. I’ve already let my husband know that upon return from the bookstore that day I’ll need 24 hours alone and a large supply of chocolate bars and coffee. Can’t wait.

The Sister by Poppy AdamsNext up is a poisonous, gorgeous gem of a novel—The Sister, by Poppy Adams. I have recommended this satisfying novel to every crime-loving friend I have (except that one who inexplicably insists on reading only tea cozies. Why?!? I’ll pay someone to run over Aunt Dimity’s stuffed pink rabbit.). And all have loved it. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the crumbling Victorian mansion stuffed to the gills with moth and butterfly carcasses and the tale of its lone inhabitant, the elderly, eccentric Ginny Kendal, last of a long line of distinguished natural scientists? Ginny is waiting with impatience for her younger sister, Vivi, to arrive for a visit. It’s been fifty years since Vivi has last been home. And why might that be? Adams deftly takes the reader back through the sisters’ decidedly unhinged childhood to find out. And what a deliciously chilling journey it is. Ginny’s sharp-yet-unreliable memory contrasts with Vivi’s modern-day implacable “see-no-evil-hear-no-evil” attitude to excellent effect. The last chapter of this novel is superb—creepy, amusing, and perfectly final all at once. Don’t miss it.

Poe's Children edited by Peter StraubOn a semi-related topic, do you treat yourself to some Halloween reading every year? I do. One book I’ve been dipping into is Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub. This collection of short stories is packed with A-list authors like Dan Chaon, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Kelly Link. But most importantly, these stories are actually scary. Really scary. Maybe too scary. I could not get to sleep last night after reading a few of them. Time for another viewing of the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice as a palate cleanser. Since I clearly need to parcel out stories from Poe’s Children if I have any hope of sleeping well, I’ll gladly take suggestions for further holiday reading. Halloween really is the best holiday, isn’t it? My ideal Halloween reading combines crime with a bit of a traditional scare. Light on the gross-out factor, please. I’ll also admit to a pathetic partiality to vampires. The first five people to post a recommendation or comment will get a copy of The Sister or Poe’s Children. Your choice.

Congratulations to National Book Award Nominees!

Today the National Book Foundation revealed their list of nominees for the National Book Award 2009, and we here at Vintage/Anchor are thrilled to see two future titles on the list (the first ten readers to comment will receive a free paperback edition of their choice):

Jayne Anne Philips’ LARK AND TERMITE, an “intricate, deeply felt…incandescent and utterly original” novel (according to Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times) was nominated for the 2009 NBA in Fiction.

T.J. Stiles’ THE FIRST TYCOON: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the “illuminating, authoritative portrait of Vanderbilt that has been missing for so long,” (according to Alice Schroeder at the Washington Post) received a nomination in the Nonfiction category.

An enthusiastic “congratulations!” to both from the Vintage/Anchor team.

LARK AND TERMITE will be released as a Vintage Trade Paperback in spring 2010; THE FIRST TYCOON will be available in paperback the following summer.

Congratulations as well to their fellow nominees, after the jump:

Continue reading

It’s Easier to Talk about Music than Suicide

I know it sounds strange, but lots of people have asked me about the music Blue GenesI used behind this video about my book, BLUE GENES: A Memoir of Loss and Survival.

I figure it’s easier to ask me about the music than to discuss the painful world of suicide.

To explain how I choose music for all my documentaries and videos I have to go back to early childhood. I was lucky enough to attend a co-ed boarding school in Vermont. To be sure, we had to do farm chores and household duties there, but we also got exposed to great  classical music.

By the time I was ten, I could sing in a chorus, play in an orchestra; by the time I was 15, I could dissect a Mozart symphony, conduct in various meters, and sing madrigals.

The downside of this was that I never heard pop music until I got to college. And I’ve never cottoned to it, except the Beatles, of course. I mean who doesn’t like them?

The upside of my schooling was that the rigid, tyrannical, explosive conductor of our chorus and orchestra at that school was one of the greatest teachers I would ever have, leading me to green pastures; giving me comfort with endless fields of great music whenever I needed them. All I had to do was put on a phonograph record, a tape, or a CD.

When I entered documentary television production, I had five or six pieces of music that I was dying to use. Favorites from high school. Holzt’s The Planets was one. Another was Bachianas Brazilieras No. 7 by Villa-Lobos. There were others, some by Bach, some by Erik Satie. I managed to get all of them into one show or another by the time I was forty.

Then what? I’d run out of favorite pieces!

Luckily, I met a cellist who was with the New York Philharmonic, but who also played a lot of chamber music. He came to our house once a year to play a dress rehearsal of pieces with musical colleagues; we invited twenty friends to listen and have a buffet dinner. One of the pieces was a Chopin sonata for cello and piano. It is the second movement of that sonata that I used in the video about my book, played by Avron Coleman and his pianist friend, Gildo.

I’ve been lucky to hit the music jackpot as a youngster, and to keep getting to play with new music all these years.

Anyone who has a piece of music for me – answer this blog, please.

KitLukas* Christopher “Kit” Lukas is the author of BLUE GENES, an Anchor Trade Paperback, on sale: October 6, 2009.

The New Gutenberg?

Another day, another device destined to revolutionize publishing. Newfangled or fantastic — what do you think?


From the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy

Insta-book machine to debut in Boston today with E.L. Doctorow’s help

September 29, 2009 |  7:50 am


The independent Harvard Book Store is gearing up for this afternoon’s unveiling of its new Espresso instant book machine, which can print a library-quality paperback book in just 4 minutes. Author E.L. Doctorow — who is doing a reading later in the evening — will be on hand to celebrate the machine’s debut, and to give it a new name.

Sadly, he won’t be cracking a bottle of Champagne over the Espresso’s bow — the bookstore decided a ribbon-cutting would be less sticky.

The Espresso machine, still fairly rare, heralds a possible new direction for bookstores. It addresses two of the boggy areas of the publishing business. First, publishers have always had to print and ship books to stores, which is costly and time-consuming. With a machine like the Espresso, all that needs to be shipped is a digital file. And at the end of book’s shelf lives, those that go unsold are returned to publishers, who, according to the traditional business model, buy them back. Again, this is costly, and for years authors’ royalty statements will show the cost of returns deducted from the money earned from sales of their books. With an Espresso, the bookseller would only print a book when a customer was ready to buy it, and returns would become moot.

That’s still largely hypothetical, however. Only a few publishers have signed with OnDemandBooks, the company that makes the Espresso, to deliver digital files to its bookstore machines. But its offerings expanded significantly — to the tune of 2 million public domain books — when it signed an agreement with Google earlier this month.

One of those public domain books is “Facsimile of First Edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre.” Commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, it was the first book ever printed in the American colonies, in Cambridge in 1640. Honoring that history, it’ll be the first book to roll off the Espresso machine this afternoon.

“The level of response from our community has been amazing,” Heather Gain, the bookstore’s marketing manager, told Jacket Copy on Monday. “We received over 500 entries in our machine-naming contest.” In that phone interview, as the machine was going through its final calibrations, she admitted that the staff was excited about the machine. “We’ve been playing with it all day,” she said, “and it’s absolutely fantastic.”

— Carolyn Kellogg