Please welcome author Delia James of the delightful Witch's Cat Mystery series. Delia has been a writer almost as long as she’s been anything. She started putting stories on paper by drawing stick figures comics based on Maurice Sendak cartoons and never stopped. These days, she writes her magical mysteries from her home near Ann Arbor, Michigan, assisted by her loving husband, Tim, her magnificent son, Alex, and her vocal cat, Buffy the Vermin Slayer.
When you’re a writer, the most popular topic for people to talk to you about is, well, writing.
What do you write, how do you write and where and when and where do you get your ideas, all of that.
The second most popular topic, however, is what do you read. Which is fine by me. Every writer was a reader first, and every writer remains an enthusiastic reader throughout their lives, or, pretty soon, they cease to be a writer. I’d rather talk about books than anything else, except maybe my son. And obviously, as a mystery writer, I get asked about the kinds of mysteries I like to read.
Usually, I talk about my earliest influences; Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey, Daphanie DuMaurier and, of course, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.
But today, considering the renewed and necessary discussion of diversity in publishing, I thought I might talk about some of more recent writers I’ve been reading, a number of whom are African American women.
Now, I write cozies and historicals, but I read all kinds of mysteries, and I admit a love for a touch of the gothic, and the classic. When I opened OF BLOOD AND SORROW by Valerie Wilson Wesley, I was immediately catapulted into a classic hard-boiled detective novel, complete with the down at the heels office, the scrabbling, emotionally scarred sleuth, and the mysterious,slightly unsavory female client who is hiding at least as much as she’s telling. The difference is, Tamara Hayle is an African American woman with a teenage son, struggling to make a living as much as she
is to come to grips with her past, and the case that has just landed on her desk.
An author in the cozy realm is Charlotte Neely, and BLANCHE ON THE LAM. This is the first in a series about Blanche White, an African American housekeeper, who, like Tamara, is struggling with parenting issues (she’s helping raise her sister’s kids) and to make her way in the world. For Blanche, both are an uphill climb. When the story opens, Blanche is quite literally on the run when
she starts. Stiffed by her employer, enough of Blanche’s checks bounced that she was at risk of being sent to jail for check fraud, and she does skip out from the court house. The stakes for her in this mystery are real and immediate from page one. The suspense and the characters were both excellent, and I found myself constantly asking “how is she going to get out of this?”
Of course, if we’re going to talk mysteries, we have to talk cop stories. I particularly like Eleanore Taylor Bland, and the Marti MacAllister mysteries. Marti is tough and practical and has a great working relationship with her partner Vic. The one that hooked me was from later in the series, A DARK AND DEADLY DECEPTION, but even though I was starting in the middle, I caught up fast, and was glad I did. I enjoyed the read and it kept me reading, and guessing all the
Now, here’s where I make a confession. I’m an absolute sucker for suspense, and yes, I went head over heels for GONE GIRL and GIRL ON A TRAIN. If you are also that kind of reader, you need to check out Dorothy Koomson’s THE WOMAN HE LOVED BEFORE. This one had me from the first lines:
Are you her? Are you the one he’s with now? Is that why you came looking for me?
If you aren’t reading this letter fifty or sixty years from now, then it’s likely that I’m dead. Probably murdered.
Please don’t be upset by that…
Now, THAT’S an opening.
But, for me, even better than straight suspense, is suspense with that touch of the gothic. This is the territory Attica Locke lays claim to in THE CUTTING SEASON. Set on a former plantation that has been turned into a tourist attraction, and told from the point of view of Caren Gray, who works as the manager of the plantation where her mother worked as a cook, and where her ancestors were enslaved. This is a complicated, wonderfully written book, rich with contradiction, mystery and the struggle to reconcile the past and the present, both in terms of family and the sweep of history. She doesn’t drop a stitch in this story, and she doesn’t miss a beat or shy away from questions of class as well as race. THE CUTTING SEASON has turned out to be one of my favorite read of the summer.
So, Writer, what are you reading? There’s really only one answer to that:
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THANK You Ms. James. I am with you, I love suspense with gothic touches! I am reading Whispers Beyond the Veil at the moment, but your newest (BY FAMILIAR MEANS) is next up!!