Most of us have gotten pretty familiar with our back yards this year, along with the interiors of our dwellings, especially if you live in Arizona where a hammock comes into play only until June unless you’ve a dedicated interest in sunstroke. Besides the worry and paranoia and being in quarantine, we’ve had the hottest summer of no rain on record here. Combine that with election anxiety, civil unrest and epic cooking fails (some things did turn out) and diving into another world within the pages of a good book has been the saving grace for me. Although I write mostly historical novels, I read just about everything so I wanted to share some of the stories that have intrigued and entertained me over the last few months. I firmly believe as a writer, reading other authors’ work enhances my own writing and it’s rare that I book I like doesn’t teach me something or give me an idea or another option for my own characters or stories.
Like Diana Gabaldon’s “methadone list”, where she gives her readers suggestions for books to read while waiting for her next book in the Outlander series, this is my Covid19 summer reading, while we’re waiting to be out in the world again. Even when that happens, though, we’ll still reading, maybe just not quite as much. As well as historicals, my taste tends to run to great thrillers, fantasies and murder mysteries, but since I’m a judge this year for best western historical novel with Western Writers of America, I’m not going to be recommending any western books. That will be later, after we announce a winner. I’m not going to give anything away there. Let’s start with some books that fall into the category of well…murder, with a touch of the supernatural, written by some masters of their craft.
First up is John Connolly and the Charlie Parker series. John’s Irish, but he writes about the US like he was born and bred here, which I love. Charlie Parker is a private detective who’s had some tragic incidents in his life that have led him down a dark rabbit hole, chasing after villains that sometimes are not entirely human. True evil abounds in these novels, eighteen of them which started with Every Dead Thing and ending so far with the November publication of The Dirty South, but our hero is a mostly white knight. His two associates, Louis and Angel, are usually by his side, very dangerous gentlemen whom Charlie relies on constantly. While the series relies on dirty deeds and bringing those responsible to justice, the thing that’s most noteworthy about John Connolly is the quality of his writing. He constantly amazes me with his lyrical descriptions not just of places, but the emotions and philosophies of his characters. Connolly’s also written some children books and his collection of creepy short stories, “Nocturnes” is a delight.
Phil Rickman is an English writer highly popular for his Merrily Watkins series, some thirteen in all, starting with The Wine of Angels, which the BBC made into a movie, as well as his stand-alone novels, all of which are infused with supernatural situations, some of which are resolved and a few that very definitely are not. Merrily is a vicar in a small village in Hertfordshire, and also the Church of England’s exorcist for the area. (Yes, they really do have them.) Merrily is a widow with a teenage daughter Jane, and Merrily’s love interest is a musician with a tragic past who’s rediscovering himself in this pastoral hideaway, a man who’s highly reminiscent of the late Nick Drake. You will fall in love with the village, as well as the police detective she frequently works with and a colorful cast of characters, from archaeologists to crusty old C of E historians who teach classes in defeating the various supernatural entities that pop up. A fascinating look at English history and superstition from Roman mysticism to witchcraft and everything in between. December is one of Rickman’s stand-alones, and even has its own soundtrack (courtesy of Rickman and his band). A famous rock band gets back together to record an album in the same perhaps haunted castle that they recorded in thirteen years before which ended very badly, to help heal the wounds from before. Mayhem ensues and it’s a grand tale. He’s never written a bad one.
Another favorite of mine is Sharon Bolton, again an English writer, who serves up tales of mystery and murder from London to the Scottish highlands, one of which, Sacrifice, was made into a movie as well. She’s become very popular in the United States in the last few years. These books are all different, deliciously inventive, usually with strong female protagonists, fearless women whose exploits will give you chills. There’s always a lot of “oh no, don’t go into the woods alone” moments in Bolton’s books and you never quite know what’s real and what’s not. I look forward to every new one. There is a series as well, with Detective Lacey Flint, who’s not in any sense of the word “normal”.
Next time, I’ll tell you about some historical fantasy, some Southern gothic goodies and a few that defy category or genre, but all of which kept me glued to the page. In between, there’ll be news of my new book coming out in November, and another now scheduled for March 2021, due to Covid19 publishing delays. Hope you are intrigued by some of these writers and you’ll give them a try. When I was in Dublin two years ago, I sadly missed meeting Mr. Connolly by a day, but the bookstores everywhere in Ireland are a treasure trove. Here in Arizona, we have the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and all of these writers I mention above are available there. Hopefully, bookstores, libraries and publishers will be back to normal before too much longer if we’re all careful. For now, all of these are available on Amazon, of course.