Tuesday, April 30, 2019

 "20 Essential Books About Paris" – I've been working on this list for my publisher to coincide with publication
of my next book...Murder in Bel-Air, more on that next time. But I still pinch myself that I get to keep doing this - who knew, I didn't, when I started writing that I'd get intimate with a fictional character and have a long term relationship.
My writing journey became Murder in the Marais with a detective, Aimée Leduc who is now celebrating a book birthday of sorts - it’s been twenty years since Aimée Leduc’s first investigation.

To me, these 20 Paris based mysteries, thrillers, novels, autobiographies, and off the beaten track guides make an essential booklist about Paris. Not the beret and baguette stereotype. Some are classics, many are vintage, a few not as well known as they should be. I’ve read and re-read these over the years and hope you might enjoy finding another side of the City of Light as I have.

1 120 rue de la Gare by Léo Malet If there’s ever a first page that grabbed me and never let go it’s this - a fellow POW returning to France is shot on the train station platform and his dying words to pal Nestor Burma is 120 rue de la Gare. Nestor Burma, PI is France’s answer to Chandler's PI Marlowe. Imagine sardonic Gallic wit, a mystery pulling you deeper and politically incorrect characters of a Paris that’s gone.  Malet set 15 of his Nestor Burma novels in the different arrondissements of Paris and was my inspiration for Aimée Leduc’s investigations.

2 The Headless Corpse by Georges Simenon My father read Simenon religiously and I found these slim Inspector Maigret novels engrossing. But The Headless Corpse hit me because I stayed on the canal where the story took place. I’ve never looked at Canal Saint Martin the same again. 

3 Murder in Memoriam by Didier Daeninckx The book speaks to me - it’s noir and brings alive France’s recent past and stirs up social issues. Daeninckx’s book loosely veiled Maurice Papon, then head of the Police exposing his war time collaboration and sanctioned massacre at an Algerian protest in 1961. I wish he were better known outside France.

4 Camille Claudel Mind of Steel and Clay - Enrique Laso I like this biography of the artist and sculptress, Rodin’s muse who disappeared from history for many years. Her traces in Paris aren’t hard to find; the Ile Saint-Louis atelier where she worked, her sculptures in the garden of the Rodin museum.  It gives me a deeper understanding of what a woman and artist faced in the shadow of a famous man.

5) The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta - When I need an update on Paris - here’s the refresh. Here’s the latest in the rapidly evolving worlds of food, wine, pastry, coffee, beer, fashion, and design. Tramuta’s curated a directory of favorite places to eat, drink, stay, and shop. Trés au courant.

5 The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas. This is the first Detective Adamsberg novel and we join a pedestrians view of Paris streets, quirky characters and a serial killer who uses chalk. Vargas is a pseudonym of a French historian and archeologist. Start with this book. 

6 Walks Through Lost Paris  by Leonard Pitt I bring this book to Paris. It’s a must. The book plunges into Paris's history focusing on then and now Paris and the effects Haussmann’s urban redesign made on today’s Paris. Replete with amazing photos.

7 Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque Here’s a doomed love story of stateless émigré’s set in Occupied Paris and topical now. Themes of identity, a world in chaos all the more remarkable because though written in 1945  Remarque’s story could be set today. I love the language.

8 The Occupation Trilogy by Patrick Modiano Modiano won the Nobel prize for Literature for his body of work and this trilogy is a good introduction. Born in 1945 of an actress mother and Jewish black-marketer father it’s a darker side of Paris. Haunting, incredibly descriptive and evocative of a lost time and a boy’s lost childhood.

9 Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. An anonymous hitman is hired by the OAS to assassinate de Gaulle. We all know it didn’t happen but the heart pounding, tense pace and storyline and the genius of a Parisian policeman who hunts him down makes me look. Yes, every time I’m in front of Montparnasse station I look up to find the window where the Jackal hid to take out de Gaulle. A master thriller.

10 Cheri by Colette This book is set in the Belle Epoque in the world of kept women and spoiled, rich young men dealing with a romance between such a young man and his older lover, a courtesan. Tragic yes, and it captures that era, and sense of loss. Colette’s dialogue carries the story.

11Escape by Dominique Manotti It’s 1987 and two Italian prisoners break out of prison. One escapes to Paris becomes a security guard and writes a story of the Red Brigade which his concierge loves and helps him find a publisher. I love this story within a story and unique take on an established trope. Dominique won the International Dagger Award and is a must read.

12 Anything by Honoré de Balzac He’s the Charles Dickens of France and my personal hero. Any writer who could drink 50 cups of coffee a day, hide from creditors at his door to keep writing and produce the opus of post-Napoleonic French life is worth it. Then go to the Balzac museum and see his writing desk with coffee stains.

13 Metronome: A history of Paris by Lorent Deutsch He is a French TV personality who wrote the guide to Paris for obsessed Parisians who love their history. Deutsch made a few errors - Mon Dieu - and Parisians were up in arms. So get the corrected version. But this is how a local likes their history.

14 The World at Night by Alan Furst It’s 1940 in Paris and a French film producer is trying to make his movie when the British secret service enlists his service in newly Occupied Paris. It reads like a black and white movie - drenched with ambiance. I love the lyrical prose and evocation of war-time Paris

15 The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo  It’s become a bestseller again in France after the fire at Notre Dame. The heartbreaking tale of the Hunchback and his love for Esmeralda the gypsy and the jealous archdeacon. It’s Hugo’s paen to to culture and Gothic architecture 

16 The Piano shop on the Left Bank by Todd Carhat This seemingly simple tale of an American’s  travails in trying to buy a used piano illustrates the complex relations of an ex-pat living among Parisians but his inner journey to understand music, childhood and Paris. I love this story which makes one look inside and question the simple things.

17 The Lover by Marguerite Duras I re-read this book every year. It’s a poignant love story set in French Indochine and Paris. The writing pulls me and I inhale the prose. 

18 Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet Here’s a free flowing autobiographical novel of his journey in the Parisian underworld and those living on the fringes of society. Fascinating. Genet’s the original French bad boy; former vagabond, criminal who took to writing under the wing of Sartre. Good thing.  

19 Résistance by Agnès Humbert - because if you’re going to read about the French Resistance read this book by a woman who was there, lived it and organized one of the first cells in Paris. Authentic, haunting and the courageous Agnès will stay with you and make you wonder what you would have done given terrible choices.
20  Paris Noir, Jacques Yonnet This book goes to the darker quarters of Paris's Left Bank written during the Occupation and post-war period. It’s a world of ordinary workers, tradesmen, artists, con men and criminals with a sense of mystery and supernatural events. Think magical realism set in a grungy Left Bank with Nazi’s and Sartre drops by…what more can you ask for?

Cara - Tuesday
PS looking forward to Crimefest in Bristol and seeing Zoë, Caro and the boys!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Talking about the Unspeakable

Annamaria on Monday

We are all thrilled and have been bragging about and congratulating our blogmate Sujata Massey for winning the Mary Higgins Clark Award.  It's a great achievement for any novelist.      But it is even greater in this case.  Sujata did it AND she did so with a novel that discusses a topic no one talks about: menstruation.

Yes, my friends, I am saying that word - the one no one says in public - right here on MIE, in front of all of you.  Sujata's book brings up the topic in connection with the inhumane way menstruating girls and women were treated in early Twentieth Century India.  By caging them.  Not in the Middle Ages.  Less than a hundred years ago.

In many places - to this day - menstruating girls are isolated, considered filthy.  Orthodox members of major religions consider them literally untouchable.

Yet this taboo - as a subject AND as a process - is an essential part of human reproduction. If your mother had never menstruated, YOU WOULD NOT BE HERE!

Yes, now I am shouting and talking about your mother.

Women through the ages have greeted the arrival their monthly bleeding with glee if they did not want a baby, or tears if they were longing for a child.  This part of the cycle of human reproduction often comes with quite a lot of pain.  Certainly with inconvenience and discomfort.

Now for some good news.  This nice story about menstruation began when I met my friend Sarah Lesiamito, a Samburu-Maasai teacher, working in a remote part of Northern Kenya.  She has mounted a singled-handed effort to save the girls in her tribe, especially her students, from circumcision and forced early marriage.  To do this, she needs to keep the girls in school.

Moved by her devotion to her goal, I wanted to do what I could to help her.  I asked her what she needed for her girls.  I thought she would say books, or school supplies.  I had thoughts of shipping her pens and notebooks.  Her immediate answer was, "Sanitary napkins."

While I was recuperating from my surprise at her answer, she explained that the girls in her school have no way of dealing with their monthly flow.  During those days, they find it impossible to go to school.  So they stay home.  This means that they miss a week of school out of every four.  Eventually, without 25% of the instruction that the male students are getting, many of them fall behind, become discouraged, and drop out.  At which point, they have no other life choice but to submit to circumcision and being sold, in exchange for goats and cows, into marriage to a man who is likely at least three times their age.

I promised Sarah I would find a way to supply what the girls need to have life of their own.

Again, being the cockeyed optimist that I am, I found the solution to be more difficult than I imagined.  My first approach - begging the supplies from an American manufacturer and sending them to Sarah - turned out to be undoable.  There would be import taxes and customs complications.

We needed a local supply, and best of all, a reusable solution.

The path to the answer went this way:

Tony Sargent, friend in NYC, a real estate agent, had introduced me to a FaceBook friend whom he had never met who lived in Nairobi: Lydia Halliday.   There, Lydia had introduced me to her friend Jessica Ramey, who works as a consultant in the fashion industry.  Months later, when Jessica heard about the plight of the Samburu school girls, she said one of her clients might know of an answer.  She introduced me to a woman in New York, who works for one of her client companies.  That woman put me in touch with Charlotte Horler who works for SOKO, a cooperative of women seamstresses, who sew clothing in Nairobi.  They make reusable sanitary napkins from the scraps left after producing all-cotton women's clothing.

Voila'!  And Whew.  The trail took a year and three months.  We achieved our goal as of this week.  These little items are ready, just in time for the beginning of the school year.

Sarah's husband is arranging for 480 of them - enough to supply 60 girls - to be transported seven hours from Nairobi to Samburu.

Study hard, girls!

And thank you to all the kind hearts and informed minds that got us to success.

The journey took a village, but we arrived.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

One Hundred - And One More For Good Measure - And Why

-- Susan, every other Sunday

I've spent the last eleven months (almost to the day) traveling across Japan, attempting to climb 100 famous Japanese peaks within a year of completing cancer treatments.

The purpose of the climbs actually went far beyond the physical challenge. Without engaging in too much navel-gazing here (I'm writing a book about the journey, for those who actually want to know details) I undertook the challenge, in large part, to hit a reset button on my life.

The Kumano Kodo: Reset in progress . . . 50% complete . . .

Spoiler alert: it worked.

As I got close to finishing the 100 Summits climbs, people often asked me "Do you know which one will be number 100?" and "Did you choose the final mountain for a reason?"

Although the smart-aleck in me was always tempted to answer "was I supposed to end on a special one?" the truth is, I had planned the truly-final mountain almost before the climbs began, and the next-to-final one (which was actually #100) ended up in that position through a series of unusual circumstances that I now attribute to "it was meant to be."

The smart aleck in me likes this deer, too.

My journey took me to all four of Japan's major islands, and most of its 47 prefectures. In addition to mountains appearing on the official "hyakumeizan" (100 famous mountains) list, I climbed a variety of peaks with historical, religious, and geological significance. Essentially, I tried to climb a "greatest hits" of mountains in Japan.

Mt. Fuji - definitely one of Japan's greatest hits.

With that in mind, I chose to end my odyssey on one peak that has enormous significance for the nation of Japan and another one that has enormous personal significance for me.

On April 14, 2019, one year and four days after my final chemotherapy infusion, I traveled to Nara, which served as the capital of Japan from 710 until 784. The roots of Japanese culture, government, and society were formed during this era, historically known as the "Nara Period."

The trail up Wakakusayama

For that reason, I selected Wakakusayama--a small mountain immediately adjacent to Nara's sacred Mt. Mikasa, where the deity Takezuchi-no-mikoto appeared, astride a white deer, when called to protect the city and its people during the early eighth century.

Sacred Mt. Mikasa remains off-limits to this day, but neighboring Mt. Wakakusa was available, and it only seemed fitting for me to end my journey across the Japanese mountains in the place where Japan as we know it began.

With Laura VanArendonk Baugh on the summit of Wakakusayama

From Nara, my friend Laura (who accompanied me on the final climbs) and I headed south to Koyasan, another sacred mountain that was instrumental in my decision to move to Japan and climb 100 peaks. I fell in love with Koyasan the first time I visited its sacred summit valley in 2016, while researching my sixth mystery, Trial on Mount Koya.

Konpon Daito, the three-story pagoda that holds a 3-dimensional mandala inside.

The mountain is home to the Koyasan Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism, as well as the largest cemetery in Japan (Okunoin) and dozens of thousand year-old temples that open their doors to visitors from around the world.

It is a place unlike any other in the world, and a place I love so deeply that no matter how many times I visit, my heart still longs to return.

Okunoin, the largest cemetery in Japan.

I visited Koyasan three other times during my hundred summits journey--one of which transformed the mountain, and its meaning, in an even deeper way.

Annamaria Alfieri and I had planned to climb one of Koya's peaks during her visit last October, but her husband, David, passed away the day before our scheduled climb. We traveled to Koyasan anyway, but chose to spend our time in a more important way, honoring David's life and beautiful spirit in the most sacred parts of Koyasan.

With Annamaria at Okunoin. One of the most precious memories of my life.

That experience forever deepened my already deep and abiding love for this sacred mountain, and since the completion of my climbs came almost exactly 100 days after David's passing, I decided to climb one final summit--which, depending how you count them, was actually either peak 100 or 101--to bring my journey full circle and to make this sacred mountain--so important to me personally--the final stop on my 100 Summits pilgrimage.

On the summit of Koyasan's Manisan - summit 100 or 101, depending on the numbering

So yes, I did have a plan for those final mountains. And although the climbs themselves are now complete, the experience, and the things I learned, have made it the adventure of a lifetime.

Buddhist shrine on the summit of Manisan


Saturday, April 27, 2019

It's Easter on Mykonos



It is my distinct pleasure to announce that at Thursday evening's Mystery Writers of America's prestigious Edgar Awards dinner our blogmate, the one and only SUJATA MASSEY, won the "Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award" for THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL ( Soho Crime).  CONGRATULATIONS from us all, Sujata!

Now back to our regular scheduled programing...


Last week I wrote of the history behind how to determine when Easter falls within any given year, and why Western and Orthodox Easter so often occur on different dates—plus how Passover fits into the literal middle of it all.

But no matter how the date is determined tomorrow is Easter in Greece, by far the main event in Orthodoxy.  It is preceded by more than a week of significant religious and cultural observations.  And on Mykonos, Easter literally brings the island back to life.

In the winter, Mykonos is a sleepy island village with virtually no tourists, no business, few open bars, fewer restaurants, and no clubs.  But come Easter Week everything changes.  Red and yellow springtime poppies burst to life all over the island’s hillsides, and those and still more varieties of flowers embroider the blanket of green covering the nearby holy island of Delos.  There are Church services every day of Holy Week, as well as daily preparations for the feast to come at the end.  Breads and cookies are readied on Monday and Tuesday, baking is done on Wednesday, and eggs are dyed red on Thursday, the day before Christ was put up on the Cross.

By Thursday, Mykonos is filled with mainland Greeks flocking to their vacation homes and others looking to participate in a perfect example of spiritual and temporal coexistence: Easter church rituals strictly observed during the day, followed by the island’s as nearly hallowed party traditions through the night.  But that taste of the coming mid-summer craziness is short lived, for if you don’t catch the action that weekend come by in June, because Mykonos is back in hibernation come Tuesday. At least that’s how it’s been up to this year, but with local and EU Parliament elections coming at the end of May, and tourists already streaming onto the island, we shall see.

Evening services on Good Friday start at seven in the old town’s three main churches, Kiriake, Metropolis, and Panachra.  At precisely nine, each church’s clergy and worshipers leave their church in separate processions carrying their church’s epitaphios (the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ on a bier elaborately adorned in spring flowers and symbolizing his tomb) along a prearranged route, winding past the other two churches before ending up back at their own to complete the service.  It represents the funeral of Christ, and Mykonians and visitors line the route, some standing on balconies and sprinkling the participants below with a mixture of rose water and perfumes, the rodhonoro used on Christ’s body when taken down from the cross.

The same three churches serve as the scene of the following night’s Holy Saturday services.  Most generally start heading off to church around ten, but for certain everyone is there by midnight.  For that is the high point of Easter, when church bells ring out across Greece and even total strangers exchange the traditional Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti greetings that Christ has risen, kiss each other, and light each other’s candles to share the light and joy of the occasion—a light brought to Greece for just this purpose from the Holy Flame of Christ’s nativity cave in Jerusalem.  Worshipers carry the light back into their homes or their favorite restaurants, except for the hearty souls who remain in church for the balance of a service that lasts hours more into the morning.

Now it is time to challenge each other with the customary one-to-one smacking of those dyed-red eggs for good luck to the winner (mine always cracks first) and devour the traditional mayiritsa soup (made from parts of a lamb you may ask me about if you really want to know), fluffy tsoureki easter bread, and salads to break the forty-day fast leading up to Easter.

But the big feast, the one everyone looks forward to, comes on Sunday.  That’s when all the work of the week and all the spring lambs find their purpose.  There is church, too, of course, but this day is more about celebrating with family and friends.  And eating.

Dieting starts Monday.  Kalo Paska


My Upcoming Events

Monday, April 29, 7:00 PM
Pittsburgh, PA
Author Speaking and Signing

Wednesday, May 1, 6:30 PM
New York, NY
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, May 2, 7:00 PM
Naperville, IL
Author Speaking and Signing

Friday, May 3, 7:00 PM
Chicago, IL (Forest Park)
Author Speaking and Signing

Saturday, May 4, 2 PM
Milwaukee, WI
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday May 9, 5:00 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Nobody Would Believe it if You Wrote it: Fake News, Post-Truth and Changing Words,” with Fiona Erskine, William Shaw, Gilly Macmillan, moderated by Paul E. Hardisty

Friday, May 10, 5:10 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Sunshine Noir,” with Paul Hardisty,  Barbara Nadel, Robert Wilson, moderated by Michael Stanley

October 31-November 3
BOUCHERCON 2019---Hyatt Regency Dallas
Panel Schedule Yet to be Announced

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Falls Of Lora

This is a place called Connel. It's famous for the Falls Of Lora.
She did not fall, and she wasn't called Lora.

This is  the  Connel bridge . It's quite impressive.

This is a very stupid dog who thought she could walk on floating seaweed.
She is not impressive.
She caused a memory card incident but He managed to save the images on it once he got a) a big computer b) a memory stick c) some sellotape d) a dry dog

This is the slip way the stupid dog fell off of.

Seemingly this sign means something. I thought it was hysterical but the confined space register is about..... confined spaces. Like narrow bore sewers, mines etc- all to do with the build up of noxious gases and getting out. Rescue services know about them.
But I still think it's funny.

The water makes interesting patterns

You can start to see  it on the far side of the water.

Like a huge shoal of fish

Or some manatees with a bad sat nav.

Then there is this...

The Falls Of Lora

Loch Etive is flowing down from the right...or trying to

The tidal waves from the ....sea?...  on the left... have a wee donner up and run right into the loch water coming down.

 the folk in this house should be in a novel,  with their view of the every changing power struggle in the water below.

 a large whirlpool formed right in front of us, it made a horrible sucking noise.
 As some relative of mine lost his fishing boat down the Corryvechan, I ran away  at this point. Just in case   they have a vendetta against Ramsays.

Across the inlet.

At times there is a 1.5 metres height difference between the loch and the sea  which creates the phenomenon. We saw it at it's weakest. At it's strongest it can form a bore wave that will run  up the loch. There's a website that lists, very precisely, the tidal times of greatest disparity   of the waters so canoeists, surfers and folk who like getting very cold and wet can enjoy themselves.
We will keep an eye on it and if we get the chance, go up and do what intrepid bloggers should do. (photograph it)

If you look at a map of Scotland....
you can clearly see the scar of water that nearly divides the country . Connel is at the lower left hand side of that just as the sea water narrows to go inland.

 we saw this, no idea how to pronunce that.


Caro Ramsay  26 04 2019

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Oh God!

Stanley - Thursday

Oh God! There are still eighteen months to go to the next US elections.

Some people think that the give and take, thrust and parry, of the run up to the nominations is essential for the voters to see how people function under pressure. I understand the argument, but just look at the results. It's bad enough listening to all the rhetoric from the candidates, but other issues bother me perhaps even more.

A hot issue in the 2018 congressional elections was healthcare. The Democrats did pretty well pushing hard on the need for good healthcare and the erosion of the same under the Republicans. To a large extent this resulted in the House switching from being Republican-controlled to being Democratic-controlled.

As you would expect, healthcare is still the prominent issue, with Democratic candidates ranging from supporting free universal care to improved overall coverage with no exemptions for pre-existing conditions. Any suggestion of universal coverage is immediately met with the SOCIALISM defence by the Republicans. For reasons I don't understand, the word SOCIALISM conjures up in many Americans' minds images of faceless bureaucrats and large concrete structures. For them, SOCIALISM is anathema to the American way - despite there already being huge, popular, socialist programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare is a national, premium-free insurance program for people over 65 and for people under 65 with certain disabilities. It can still be costly to be sick even if you have Medicare, and people who can afford it buy supplemental coverage. Medicaid is insurance for people with little or no income and few assets. It is a joint federal/state program that varies enormously from state to state in terms of coverage.

Now these programs are under attack from Republicans - in my mind partly to help reduce the deficit they incurred with their latest tax plan, partly because they are SOCIALIST, and partly....

What depresses me about the healthcare debate is how many people acknowledge that it would be nice to have a system like those in Northern Europe, but feel the USA couldn't get it to work. The country is too big, they say. It is too diverse. I understand that size and diversity would make universal coverage more difficult, but it is a new phenomenon to hear Americans say their country can't accomplish something it sets its mind to.

The Nordic countries, for example, believe it is in the national interest to have a healthy, educated population, even if it means higher taxes. Many Republicans disagree. I have friends, Republican friends, who don't want their taxes helping ne'er-do-well, down-and-out malingerers (sub-text: Blacks).

The USA spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, yet the outcomes are generally not as good. In both infant mortality and under-5 mortality, for example, the USA is lower that thirtieth in country ranking. Every European country is better. Damn SOCIALISTS!

It is also estimated that about 1 million Americans file for bankruptcy every year because of medical bills! And bankruptcy stays on your record for 10 years, I think, adversely affecting all sorts of other aspects of your life.

The second issue that depresses me about the US elections is the amount of money spent on them. In 2016, over $6.5 BILLION was spent with nearly $2.4 BILLION being on the presidential race alone. In the 2018 congressional races, over $5.7 BILLION was spent. God knows what it will be by November 3, 2020.

It boggles the mind. It sickens me.

The third aspect of the elections that makes me sizzle are the attack ads. Rather than addressing issues of policy, many candidates spend their time attacking their opponents, often snipping comments out of context to show bad the other is. I hope that the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination will stick to their positions and not sink into using personal attacks or scurrilous innuendo. Stick to the high road, I say.

I think I'm going to throw away my TV remote until November 4, 2020. And I hope Bose will develop some politician-cancelling headphones.