Saturday, October 21, 2017

Once Upon A Time In A Far Away Land...

Storyteller by Ankar Grossvater


…there was a tragedy.

How many of you think the refugee crisis is over in Greece? By that I mean, how many of you think unseaworthy vessels, filled to multiple times their capacities with desperate families fleeing conflict zones, are no longer attempting dangerous crossings from Turkey to Greece’s eastern Aegean islands?

I ask that question because of a back and forth I’ve experienced several times since returning to America from Greece two weeks ago.  The exchange goes something like this:

“So, Jeffrey, do you have a new book coming out?”

“Yes, in January.”

“What’s it called?”

An Aegean April.”

“Where’s this one placed?”

“On the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos, close by the Turkish coast.”

 “What’s it about?”

“The refugee crisis.”

“I thought that was over.”

I thought that was over is a phase equally apropos to any number of continuing human tragedies plaguing our world should the amount of American press coverage each receives be the measure applied to their significance. 

I’ve come to accept that, in our Trump-driven news world, virtually no story gains traction if it is not somehow tied into his persona. If he’s not involved or commenting, the headline writers are not interested. 

Remember that photograph of three-year old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, on that Turkish beach in Bodrum? 

Two years have passed, refugees of all ages are still dying, and the impact of the ongoing ill-addressed situation is having insidious effects upon refugees and islanders alike.   For the human traffickers, and those who profit by them, it’s all about the money and maintaining control over the inventory. 
Yes, the tragedy continues, whether or not the American media cares to give it much attention.  Here’s a story from earlier this week in Athens’ newspaper of record, Ekathimerini telling it like it really is…to wit, far, far from over:
Tensions Rise on Aegean Islands as Migrants Continue to Arrive.”

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. 

A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning.

The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. 

The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850. 

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. 

Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” 

There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy. 

There are also rising tensions in makeshift migrant camps elsewhere in Greece.

Early on Thursday, in one of several occupied derelict buildings near the port of Patra, a 38-year-old Afghan man was hospitalized after being stabbed by four Pakistanis. The incident followed a recent knife attack on a 23-year-old Pakistani man by an Afghan in the city. 

According to sources, the attacks are part of an ongoing dispute between rival gangs seeking to control the human trafficking trade.

Moria Relocation Center, Lesvos

The difficult thing about writing novels set on the edge of societal change is you run the risk that between when you write the book and its publication, events will pass you by. For all those caught up in this tragedy, I’m sad to say that does not appear to be a risk for this book.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Pat Young, Guest Blogger and One To Watch

I am still in Canada, 'rv-ing' around and getting beeped at for not 'making the turn' when the road is clear. In the UK, we wait to be told to take the right...left? Whatever.

Jeff and Annamaria  may recall me asking them if they would look over a book written  by a Scot but set in the states. They both very generously agreed. The author, the subject of this blog, then went into meltdown at having such famous folk read her stuff.

However, things took a slightly different turn and  let's just say the book went hurtling up the charts  a little later. She tells the story below.

I first met Pat when I was doing a writers workshop. She was so talented I wanted to stab her there and then.  It was no surprise that she won a major prize and then got a publishing deal. Her story to publication though, is an interesting one.

While I have been nagging at her to blog, she has been sorting out the accents for the audio books. No easy feat with this narrative; think me, Jeff and Annamaria and you won't go far wrong.

Just one more thing. Pat says below that the woman has committed a crime and needs to get away. That is true. What Pat doesn't say is that the reader is willing her on every step of the way!

Here's Pat.

"Readers often wonder where writers find their inspiration. ‘How did you get the idea for this book?’ is a question asked at almost every book launch or author interview I’ve ever attended. The responses vary enormously and sometimes the writer doesn’t even know the answer.

I can identify the exact moment in time when I was inspired to tell Lucie’s story. I didn’t know that her name would be Lucie or anything about her or what would happen to her. That came later, once I started writing, but the seed of a plot was planted in my brain one night in September when I was sat in front of the television.

It was the anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps every anniversary is marked with special programs on TV but I had never seen them. Three documentaries caught my attention. I watched them back to back.

One was about the dust that shrouded Manhattan after the Towers fell. It was the first time I’d seen images of people caught in the dust shower. I saw how they became completely unrecognisable. It was impossible, in some cases, to say whether a person was male or female, black or white, young or old. They were walking snowmen. No other way to describe them.

The second report was about a woman who pretended to be a survivor, although she was nowhere near New York State on September 11th 2001. This woman, for reasons known only to herself (and her psychiatrist) set up and became leader of a survivors’ group. She made herself so well-known that she stood by Barack Obama’s side at the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial. No one thought to question her. She was accepted as being who she said she was.

The third programme focussed on crime. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, according to this documentary, many felonies, from the small to the very serious, went undetected, or at least, unreported. As far as the USA was concerned, there was no news, other than the tragedy that had occurred in Manhattan.

A person shrouded in dust beyond recognition, a woman pretending to be someone she was not and serious crime going unnoticed. The three came together and inspired a ‘What if?’ moment. For me that’s the start of every story and it was a great start to this one.

What if a young woman has committed a terrible crime?
What if she’s running away when she gets caught up in the dust storm?
What if such an awful tragedy gives her the chance to take on a new identity?

And so Till the Dust Settles was born.

I pitched the premise to a panel of experts at a conference and got the green light. A year later, at the same conference of the Scottish Association of Writers, Till the Dust Settles won two prizes. It was judged best novel 2015 and won the prestigious Constable Stag trophy, a beautiful silver creature who adorned my sideboard for a year. I also won representation by that marvellous literary agent and editor, Alan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates. Al was convinced Till the Dust Settles would be snapped up by one of the big London publishing houses and every editor to whom he sent it read the full manuscript and enjoyed it. However, a major problem emerged. Till the Dust Settles is set in the United States and the protagonist, Lucie, was American. I am not.
One editor loved the book. She thought its author, Pat Young was an American man. She was poised to buy, apparently. When she found out Pat Young is a middle-aged Scottish woman, it was no deal.
I was downhearted and felt the book needed changes. Al disagreed. ‘Thanks, I’ll take it from here,’ I said as we parted ways, amicably. I will always be grateful to Alan for all he taught me about the publishing world and for having such faith in the book.
Caro Ramsay, who was my first writing teacher, suggested I make Lucie Scottish, which gave me an immediate connection. I trust Caro, so I got on with a re-write and the rest, as they say …
In April 2017 I submitted to Bloodhound Books and within a week I was offered a contract. Till the Dust Settles was published three months later. The joy of seeing my 89 year old mother holding my book in her hands was all the reward I needed but there was more to come. Over one hundred people turned out to my launch and the love in the room was overwhelming. The book is currently being recorded for an audiobook. Readers are calling for a sequel. Bloodhound Books are delighted and the sequel to Till the Dust Settles will be published on March 1st 2018.
What pleases me most among the many heart-warming reviews, from both sides of the Atlantic, are those which comment on how sensitively I’ve handled such a difficult subject. That was my priority, from the moment I first watched those documentaries and thought, ‘What if?’  "

Pat Young Friday  20th October 2017
Guesting for Caro Ramsay

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dying to Live – Greed and Biopiracy

Michael & Stanley - Thursday

What would you do if someone came up to you and offered you a potion that would extend your life for an additional fifty or a hundred years and you would remain in good health?  You’d probably boot the snake-oil salesman out of the house.  But what would you do, if you hear about it such a way that you’re convinced that it may actually exist? And suppose you had the chance to get your hands on it and keep it for yourself and the people you chose to sell it to for whatever you asked? What would you be willing to pay or do for that chance? But you have competition. Perhaps people not a nice as you.  What would they be prepared to do to get your information, your secret formula?  How far would they be willing to go?

Next Tuesday (October 24) is the launch date of our sixth Detective Kubu mystery, Dying to Live.  As with our previous books, this too has a back story of current significance to Botswana and surrounding areas.  In this case, it’s biopiracy—when an outsider steals a plant or animal from an indigenous group who had discovered its medical or other valuable properties.
You can imagine the frenzy when a very old Bushman was found dead in the Kalahari Desert and his body sent for autopsy because he had a broken neck.  And the autopsy showed that this ancient man had the internal organs of a young man.  Even more puzzling was the fact that an old black-powder bullet was found embedded in an abdominal muscle with no sign of an entry wound. 
Had the Bushman found a plant in the desert that conferred longevity and had amazing healing capabilities?
Clearly something was going on, and unsavory characters were interested in the profit potential.  Perhaps that’s why the Bushman’s body was stolen from the morgue.  Who was behind that?
Then a witch doctor, peddling life-extending muti (medicine), disappears.  What’s going on?
It’s left to Detective Kubu and his feisty protégé, Samantha Khama, to unravel the mess.  But not before Kubu is sorely tempted to use the muti for his ailing daughter.


The book was launched to great reviews in South Africa and the UK, so we’re delighted that the US reviewers like it too.
In a starred review, Library Journal’s verdict was: “Stanley once again mixes strongly developed characters, puzzling plot twists, and a textured African setting in an international police procedural with heart and soul that will appeal to fans of Kwei Quartey and Alexander McCall Smith.”
Aunt Agatha’s newsletter said: “This wonderful series only continues to get better. Weirdly, I also think it may be one of the more realistic police procedural series around, as the careful, detail oriented work carried out by Detective Kubu and his fellow officers seems like what painstaking police work may actually resemble. Detective Kubu is also immensely appealing—his happy family life, his love of food and wine, and his leaps of deduction that come while napping (very Nero Wolfe of him) make him one of my favorite characters in mystery fiction at the moment.”
Kirkus Reviews commented: “The sixth installment in Stanley’s franchise…is the best yet, with both an ingenious mystery and a deeper and more textured depiction of modern Botswana and Kubu’s piece of it.”
Finally, in a starred and boxed review Publishers Weekly said: “David “Kubu” Bengu, an assistant superintendent in the Botswana CID, investigates a particularly baffling murder in his sixth, and best, outing…Stanley keeps the intriguing plot twists coming.”

The story that gave us the idea

Hoodia gordonii
A celebrated case of biopiracy in southern Africa revolved around the Hoodia plant, an unattractive succulent of the Kalahari, whose woody material has been used by certain Bushman groups for centuries as an appetite suppressant on their long hunts and travels through the desert.
The story started when South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) spotted the possible value of such a compound in the western world, where people eat too much and are trying to cut down their calorie intake. In 1972, they analyzed the plant for an active ingredient and came up with one they named P57. They then engaged in a joint venture with a British pharmaceutical company that managed to isolate the ingredient.  However, thy claimed it was difficult to synthesize and subsequently released the rights to the material. Unilever snapped them up and reportedly spent ten million pounds on trying to develop a weight-loss drug from it.
Meanwhile, various groups had mounted a campaign to ensure that the Bushmen received compensation for their indigenous knowledge that had led directly to what could be a bonanza. Amid accusations of biopiracy, the CSIR was forced to respond and set up a royalty arrangement for the Bushmen.
The story didn’t have a happy ending. Unilever cancelled the project. Trials hadn’t shown significant weight loss, and had indicated a variety of side effects. The game wasn’t worth the candle. The Bushmen got nothing.
Hoodia is available today as a ‘dietary supplement’ (hence avoiding regulatory tests), and the industry is worth millions of dollars, yet there’s no scientific evidence that it does any good, and at least anecdotal evidence that it can do harm.  I guess it’s what you believe in. And that’s part of the new Kubu story too.


Below are the details of our book tour for Dying to Live. We’d be delighted if you would join us at one of the events! (Okay, that’s it for BSP blogs this year. Normal service will be resumed next Thursday.)

October 24, 7:00pm. 
Dying to Live launch
Once Upon A Crime
604 W 26th St
Minneapolis MN 55405
(612) 870-3785
Discussion and refreshments

October 25, 4:30pm - 6:00pm
Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour (still a few tickets available)
The Dock Café
425 Nelson St E, Stillwater, MN 55082
Admission by ticket only – contact Valley Bookseller at (651) 430-3385

October 26, 7:00pm
Mystery to Me bookstore
1863 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711
(608) 283-9332
Free registration at 
Eventbright or by calling the store

October 27, 6:00pm to 8:30pm
Aunt Agatha’s
213 S 4th Ave # 1A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 769-1114
Dinner (6:00pm) and discussion (7:00pm).
Please contact the store beforehand for details

October 30, 7:00pm
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
7419 W. Madison Street
Forest Park, IL  60130
(708) 771-7243
Discussion and refreshments

November 1, 7:00pm
Barnes and Noble
2100 Snelling Ave, St Paul, MN 55113
(651) 639-9256
7:00pm.  Discussion

November 4, 10:30am.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
514 Allegheny River Blvd, Oakmont, PA 15139
(412) 828-4877
Coffee and Crime

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chickens fly the coop

The chickens flew the coop in Paris. Poulets - a common term for the police and not pejorative  - have left the island of Ile de la Cité, departing their nest at 36 quai des Orfèvres. The Prefecture has been the police judiciare's home for aeons built on the former medieval chicken market, hence the name even today. The PJ is the direct successor of the Sûreté, which was founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq (a thief turned policeman) as the criminal investigative bureau of the Paris police. The Sûreté served later as an inspiration for Scotland Yard, the FBI and other departments of criminal investigation throughout the world. Here's a view from the roof...kind of hard to leave, non?

 An angel guarding the roof of Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame two blocks away.

One of the infamous doorways into the Prefecture. In its modern form, the Parisian PJ was created by a decree by Celestin Hennion, the then préfet de police and father of the elite mobile police units called Brigades du Tigre. Unique for their time, they were created with the support of Georges Clémenceau, who was nicknamed "le tigre" - the Tiger.
The PJ has of late September moved to the Batignolles neighborhood, in a new building shared with the Tribunal de grande instance, Paris's main tribunal (which has moved also from it's former adjoining Court complex on the island). However, for years this move has been criticized because of its cost and the historic status of the 36 which holds the hearts of those who worked there. It's been immortalised in Simenon's books of Inspector Maigret, and so many films.
Built in the 1870's, worse for wear, with it's steeped worn stairways grooved over time, tiny offices and smoke patina'd walls, officers were jammed into offices and cubicles, the attic held scene of crime garments where the blood dried, you found the labs in the basement - where they tested for counterfeit money, the vaulted room of cabinets withfiles upon files of fingerprint cards. Even units overspilling in modulars on the old cobbled courtyards.
The police moved pretty much lock stock and smoking barrel to new quarters. Only leaving the RAID group - big men in black - to
remain at 36 quai des Orfèvres. RAID's the elite Police Special Forces unit of the French National Police.
 Here's the RAID brigade having coffee next door to the grand Tribunal. I think they got to stay because big guys like these who do Counter-Terrorism work and Hostage recovery situations like to rule their own bit of the roost.
Plus, the old Prefecture is in the heart of Paris and RAID teams need to access quickly. You can see the arrondissement with a 1 which is smack dab in the centre. At the very edges of the 17th arrondissement is the Batignolles location and new 'nest' -
Map of Paris with it's 20 arrondissements.
“This was a move that had to happen, the building has never been adapted to our work," said Claude Cancès, a former director. "When we were on the third or fourth floor, one had the impression of being in an old rusted ocean liner. But, it was a mythical place, all the officers dreamed of working one day at the Crim’. In a little more than 100 years, the building saw a lot of Paris pass between its walls, among them the biggest criminals in France. Serial killers Dr. Petiot, Guy Georges and Thierry Paulin have climbed the famous 148 steps.
"It's the end of an era," said Jean-Claude Mules retired head of Brigade Criminelle who oversaw the Princess Diana investigation. "That was my life, so much of it, and part of my's gone." He'd attended the leaving fête, but hadn't been to the new HQ yet...why? I haven't been invited. He let out an old man's sigh. Maybe he doesn't want to visit. So far the news about the new 'nest' has been sparse and guarded. Patrick, who I hung out with in a Saint Germain café last November is a Brigade Criminelle inspector and says he's so busy getting used to the place.
Seventeen hundred people work there and there are only three elevators. An incident happened and it took the brigade too long to get to central Paris with traffic. Of course, there was the usual complaint...a member of the brigade had fumed  - no cars were available and they were stuck out in the new Prefecture.
Geographically it's at the edge by ring road in northwest Paris designed by a famous architect. One officer said, "The new building is modern, but it has no soul. It looks like a hospital. “
What do you think?
But let's time travel back to November when I visited 36 quai des Orfèvres on Ile de la Cité and the chickens were in the nest.
Here's another view from the roof
Here's a glimpse underground with the former cells - the DEPOT,  police booking desk, and souriciere the ancient tunnel leading from the cells to the Tribunal.

What will happen with 36 quai des Orfèvres? It's prime real estate, full of history and no doubt, ghosts.
Cara - Tuesday

Limericks for Mental Health: Bouchercon Hiatus

Annamaria on Monday


For many years now, I have written limericks to let off steam. Perhaps the rigidity of the form forces me into a more logical place in my brain, which would be very helpful when I am about to go over an emotional cliff. Limericks have been a source of glee and groans and, I think, sanity in our house since my husband and I got together. Though he was always a classy man and often hilarious at the higher levels of humor, there ran beneath his quick wit an indomitable sophomoric streak, often fueled by the limericks he memorized in his youth. Those included many I cannot publish here. According to Wikipedia:

“A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following example of a limerick is of unknown origin.

The lim'rick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”

 Here is one of David’s unclean favorites that (with two small changes) I think I can safely include.  He recited it whenever anyone mentioned the woman’s name:

There once was a woman named Harriet,
Who dreamed she made love in a chariot
With seventeen sailors
A monk and two tailors
Dick Cheney and Judas Iscariot

David and I once won a limerick contest. We were traveling in Wales and stayed at a hotel that had once been a castle. The hotel staged a fake medieval dinner each evening in which, in addition to eating lamb stew with one’s fingers, the guests were invited to submit a limerick to a contest. The first line was given.  The weekend we were there, the required first line was: “A Squire with a hole in his shoe.”

The wittiest Brit wrote took second place with:

"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Invented a substance called glue.
The source was a horse.
He boiled it, of course,
And the smell killed a family in Crewe."

But to the great surprise of all, David and I – two Yanks, no less – took first place with this little ditty:

"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Was badly in need of a screw.
With his tool in his hand,
He scoured the land,
But decided a small nail would do."

A few years ago, while renovating our apartment, an architect appointed by the building management was delaying our simple project for months and running up his bill, which we were required to pay.  It was costing me sleep as well as lucre. While I lay awake at night fuming, I preserved my sanity by writing a cycle of twelve limericks describing how an architect by that SOB's name destroyed every great building project in history.  I give you one stanza of my poem, concealing his identity by substituting the words “Sir Note:”

To span an English river of renown,
“Let’s build London Bridge,” decreed the Crown.
But then enter Sir Note,
Who declared and I quote,
“If we never put it up, it can’t fall down.”

By the way, I gave him a Spanish-i-fied  moniker and killed him in my second novel—Invisible Country.  That character, Ricardo Yotte’ is so hideous that it is almost impossible to figure out who killed him, since everyone in the village wanted to.

Not all my limericks have been pejorative.  Some celebrated my friends—their birthdays, their achievements.  But I wrote my favorite one just for fun.  Here is my proudest limerick achievement:

In the subways of Paris, his home
This elf forever will roam.
So if you hear “Tick tock.”
Don’t think it’s a clock
Undoubtedly, it’s Metro Gnome.

I should apologize, but I can’t.