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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2019/07/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , crime authors, curtain, , dorothy sayers, , , , , new yorked, potter's field, rob hart, , sleeping murder, their time had come,   

    6 Crime Writers Who Ended a Series Voluntarily 

    Having a hit series of books and a popular character that readers respond to is usually the dream of an author of an genre, but especially the authors of detective novels. But it can also become a burden, trapping the writer in a universe and a type of story that remains in literary amber. Still, most writers happily plug away at a series as long as readers keep showing up, and usually the only reason a popular detective stops accepting new cases is because the author retires…from this mortal coil. But not always; sometimes a writer decides to retire a character voluntarily for their own private reasons—like the six authors on this list.

    Sherlock Holmes, authored by Arthur Conan Doyle
    Doyle famously tried to walk away from Holmes in 1893’s The Final Problem, sending him over the Reichenbach Falls as he struggled with archenemy Professor Moriarity. Doyle regarded his Holmes stories as literary trifles and wanted to focus on more serious writing; he managed to resist the constant pleas for more Holmes stories for eight years before giving in and writing The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in 1901 and kicking off a second wave of Holmes stories that continued until Doyle passed away.

    Pete Fernandez, authored by Alex Segura
    Segura’s Pete Fernandez has been one of the most interesting noir detective characters in recent years, going from a shambling wreck of a life and career to something resembling stability over the course of four tightly plotted, Miami-infused novels. Segura has decided that Miami Midnight, the fifth book in the series, will be the last Fernandez mystery. Which is a shame, because Midnight digs deep into Pete as a character as he’s pulled from unofficial retirement from his unofficial career as a detective, asked by a local gang kingpin to look into the death of his son, a musician. One of the great things Segura has done with Fernandez is make his personal struggles as compelling as the cases he investigates without resorting to overblown mythology. Pete’s interesting because of the sort of personal mysteries we all carry around with us, and he’ll be missed.

    Ash McKenna, authored by Rob Hart
    McKenna’s an interesting character, a self-described “blunt instrument” who begins a journey to being a real, complete person in Hart’s New Yorked, and then continues that journey through three more books that take him all over the world. Hart’s decision to make Potter’s Field the last McKenna novel had everything to do with ending that story of personal development, of finishing the character’s tale purposefully. While he hasn’t ruled out another McKenna story at some point, it’s refreshing to see an author so in control of their character they end their series when the time feels right to them.

    Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, authored by Agatha Christie
    Christie is an unusual case, because she did, in fact, write about her two most popular characters, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, until she died. But she also voluntarily ended both series—three decades earlier. During World War II Christie worried she might not survive, and worried that meant her greatest literary creations would be orphaned without a proper send off. Her solution was to write a final case for both Poirot and Marple, then lock them away with a stipulation that they not be published until she passed away. As a result, Poirot’s final novel, Curtain published in 1975 and Marple’s, Sleeping Murder, published in 1976 just after Christie’s death. While locking novels away for thirty years on the assumption that people will still care in the future is pretty presumptuous, it certainly paid off for Christie and her fans.

    Peter Wimsey, authored by Dorthy Sayers
    Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey isn’t as famous as his contemporaries like Poirot, but he was one of the stars of early-20th century detective fiction—and the ultimate “gentleman detective” character. Wimsey was quite popular, but Sayers’ last Wimsey novel was 1937’s Busman’s Honeymoon, and aside from a short story and some references she never returned to the character. There’s speculation that Sayers, horrified at the violence and terror of World War II, decided she could no longer write about murders and the like. Which is a shame, because Wimsey, who began as a somewhat comical figure, developed into a marvelous and subtle character, and the world could have done with two or three more Wimsey novels.

    Kurt Wallander, authored by Henning Mankell
    Mankell seemed to be planning the end of Kurt Wallander, the depressed, junk food-addicted Swedish detective, more or less since his debut in 1991’s Faceless Killers. Wallander aged with the march of time, and Mankell at one point tried to pivot into a spinoff series with a new character before returning to Wallander. 2009’s The Troubled Man was the definitive final adventure for Wallander, and the character was depicted as dealing with the first symptoms of oncoming dementia, perhaps the worst thing that could afflict a man who relies on his mind and his memory. Mankell continued to write until his death in 2015, but he never returned to Wallander.

    There’s a power in deciding when and where to end your creation. What’s your favorite character’s ending?

    The post 6 Crime Writers Who Ended a Series Voluntarily appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:30 pm on 2014/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , dorothy sayers, , , , , peter wimsey, the man in the empty suit, ,   

    5 Books that Contain Amazing Self-Contained Scenes 

    Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty SuitA great book is more than the sum of its parts—there’s always something you can’t quite put your finger on that elevates a book to a work of art that fully immerses you in the alternate world it has created. Every year a parade of good books come out, and every year a handful jell into greatness. What’s always interesting is that within many good and great books are individual scenes that are, in a word, perfect. No matter how the novel plays out, that single scene is a standalone gem that can be read on its own, out of context Here are four books that contain such flawless sequences:

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace: The Prologue
    Yes, Infinite Jest is huge, sprawling, complex, and difficult to comprehend without repeated readings. But the opening sequence, which actually lies at the end of the narrative, is a perfect organism: You don’t need to know anything else about the book, the characters, or the story to appreciate this amazing scene. Writing in a more straightforward manner than in the rest of the book, Wallace eschews formal trickery to craft a creepy, Twilight Zone-ish scene about a brilliant young man interviewing for college—and being completely unable to communicate. Worse, his attempts to speak visibly shock and horrify his audience. This scene is essentially a masterful short story that gains significance and power read at novel’s end, but also stands alone perfectly.

    Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers: The River Scene
    The Peter Wimsey mystery novels were primarily cosy whodunits, with Wimsey functioning as a hilarious, brilliant sleuth making his way through mildly alarming adventures. In Gaudy Night, however, Sayers slowed down and wrote a novel that’s barely a mystery at all, concentrating instead on the relationship between Wimsey and his love interest, Harriet, and her struggles to balance her desire for a life of achievement and independence and her burgeoning love for him. Though this was written in 1936, the sexual politics are surprisingly modern (except for when they’re surprisingly hilarious), but the scene where Wimsey and Harriet float serenely on the river while Harriet slowly, then pulse-poundingly works out that she is actually in love with this man is sublime—and worth reading even if cosy mysteries aren’t anywhere near your thing.

    Man in the Empty Suit, by Sean Ferrell: The First Hotel Sequence
    This brilliant literary sci-fi novel, about a man who invents time travel and returns to a specific point in the future every year on his birthday to gather with his younger and older selves, is a brain-bending achievement. The scene where the narrator enters the dilapidated hotel and we see him—dozens of him, older, younger, broken and blustering, each version the result of the particular challenges that version of the man has dealt with in his subjective year since the “last” party. It’s an amazing sequence that leads directly into the central mystery of the story, but if you were trying to convince someone that time travel doesn’t have to be silly, show them this sequence and mission accomplished.

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: The “Cool Girl” Monologue
    Very few excerpts in novels have the kind of impact the Cool Girl speech in Gone Girl has had over the last few years. The soliloquy opens like this: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl.” Then it builds from there into one of the most ferocious and memorable inner monologues ever committed to paper. It’s rare to see a film adaptation criticized specifically over a single sequence in a novel that isn’t action-oriented, but the recent Gone Girl film caught some flack because people thought they gave short shrift to the Cool Girl speech. If you’re curious what the fuss about Gone Girl is all about, you can read this speech and suffer no spoilers, but know exactly why you want to read the rest of the book.

    The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner: Part 1
    Yes, it’s a lengthy selection, but the brilliance of this opening sequence to one of the most challenging novels of the 20th century can’t be overstated. Initially disorienting, it can take uninitiated readers quite some time to figure out what’s going on. But the cadence of the writing, the rhythmic tricks Faulkner uses to almost subliminally guide you, and the recurrence of images and sounds and smells slowly coalesce into what amounts to the most thorough introduction to the story you could ever experience, and you’re not even consciously aware of how much information got dumped in these first few dozen pages until you’ve finished the book.

    What’s the most perfect scene you’ve ever read?

  • Ester Bloom 7:00 pm on 2014/07/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , dorothy sayers, , hear my cry, howards end, , island of the blue dolphins, james m. cain, , , , madeleine l'engle, mildred d. taylor, mildred pierce, , possession, roll of thunder, scott o'dell, , the lord peter whimsey mysteries,   

    Our Favorite Fictional Feminists 

    Lonesome Dove

    From Jane Eyre to Janie Crawford, strong female characters make literature go round. All of the best authors seem to concur on their importance. They elevate and add more resonance to dystopian tales like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Gamesand make novels like the Song of Ice and Fire series even more worth reading.

    Picking favorite fictional feminists then presents a challenge. This list is composed of people who do not merely take charge of their own destinies and care about society’s treatment of women, but who would probably agree that they were feminists if you asked them (and, if necessary, explained the term). Clarissa Dalloway would probably smile politely at you and then excuse herself to find the ladies’ room; Miss Jean Brodie would laugh and blow cigarette smoke at you; and Scarlett O’Hara, though she is a successful, independent businesswoman and professional problem solver, would probably throw a drink in your face.

    The women of this list pass the Bechdel test, too: they have another female character around to talk to about subjects beyond men. That helps.

    Favorite Fictional Feminist—Western Division

    Clara Allen (Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurty)
    Virtually all of the women in Larry McMurtry’s fabulously entertaining historical epic about the American West are tough, canny, assertive, even the tertiary ones like the dissatisfied wife Elmira (“’Nobody run off with her,’ Roscoe said. ‘She just run off with herself, I guess’”). Like Lorena, the prostitute powered by the determination to get to San Francisco, they are limited sometimes by circumstance, but not by the inherent frailty of gender. Gus’s old flame, Clara, the tough-minded, practical mother with a Nebraska ranch she runs herself, takes the proto-feminist cake. The cake is red velvet, of course, as befits a queen.

    Shakespearean Division

    Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare)
    How powerful is Kate in Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew? So powerful that he has to insert a monologue at the end in which she supposedly repudiates everything she once thought. Yet, for all her anger, there doesn’t seem to be as much depth in her as there is in Beatrice, who mixes humor in with her candor and so gets a happier ending. One gets the sense though that she remains the same person from start to finish: intelligent and wry, with a gift for understatement (“I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight”).

    Classic British Lit Division

    Margaret and Helen Schlegel, (Howards End, by E.M. Forster)
    The earnestly intellectual Schlegel sisters don’t merely believe in progressive causes, they act accordingly, even when their activism makes their lives more difficult. Though their commitments to morality strain their relationship, ultimately they strengthen their bond as sisters and as friends. They’re even rewarded at the end, as though they have been playing The Price Is Right all along. (A new house!)

    Academia Division

    Dr. Maud Bailey (Possession, by A. S. Byatt)
    Overlook, if you would, the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow played her in the movie version, and Maud becomes much easier to identify with. A passionate scholar and keen literary detective, Maud finds love without letting that goal displace her desire to be successful and taken seriously.

    YA Sci Fi Division

    Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle)
    Mathlete Meg Murry uses every resource at her disposal—including her awkward but fierce individualism—to save both her father and her younger brother from imprisonment on a distant planet. Yay, Meg!

    YA Survivalist Division

    Karana (Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell)
    Could you hold your own against ravenous wolves that killed your brother, ultimately mastering both your fear and the hostile environment in which you have been stranded? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    YA Historical Fiction Division

    Cassie (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor)
    Could you hold your own against the joint forces of The Great Depression and the White Supremacy in power in the Deep South? Yeah, I didn’t think so, either. Cassie comes to understand the grim realities of sharecropper life, but she never lets them dampen her spirit or her resolve.

    Mystery Division

    Harriet Vane (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, by Dorothy L. Sayers)
    A middle class, Oxford-educated country doctor’s daughter, Harriet has only her stubbornness to help her when she finds herself locked up for a sensational crime she didn’t commit. From the depths of Old Bailey, she wins over the sensitive, self-mocking aristocratic detective who saves her life; but how can she marry him when she fears he will sap her independence? Over four hilariously unromantic books, they argue in Latin and simmer sexual tension at each other while solving, and writing, mysteries, and, without sacrificing their individuality, become one of the best couples in British literature. Harriet, especially, earns her happy ending.

    Noir Division

    Mildred Pierce (Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain)
    Care for a pie, or some chicken? The no-nonsense housewife at the center of this small, midcentury masterpiece, tired of being subject to various men, launches her own entrepreneurial enterprise. It goes great! Until, at least, she is undermined by her conniving daughter, who represents Traditional Femininity and a patriarchal society’s desire to keep women in their place. Ultimately, though, we have no doubt that Mildred, like the other feminists in this list, will rise from her own ashes. She is too tough and resourceful to do otherwise.

    Who are your favorite fictional feminists?

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